Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Comics - Creator v. Character pt. 3

A re-run of part 3 of my series over at In the Mouth of Dorkness. Enjoy.

Comics – Creator or Character Part III: You mean actual people write and draw these things?


Like most kids, when I discovered comics, I gravitated to those characters with which I was already familiar. For me, that included the Flash, G.I. Joe, Star Wars (from Marvel), and the Fantastic Four. And from there, it snowballed, with more titles being added to my pile every week. It was all about these colorful characters and the newness of this storytelling medium that combines words and art. But eventually, we all grow up and discover that there are actual creators behind the stories we love.


The first comic I remember picking up because of the cover art – both the content and the style – was Legends #1.

I didn’t know who that figure in the background was. And the only characters I really recognized were Captain Marvel, known to me better as Shazam, and the Flash. It was the Flash that caught my eye because I’m pretty sure I was aware of his demise at this point. But it was the art that hooked me and made me want to look inside. And was I in for a treat, because the book was indeed drawn by the same artist – John Byrne. Though, I do know that it was years (at least, it seemed like years) until I realized that Byrne had drawn the cover.

Thankfully, the story inside was as enjoyable as that piece of art was tantalizing, and I was haunting my local bookstore for subsequent issues, waiting what seemed like an interminable months-long trial for that final, late issue. I still pull out Legends every once in a while to re-read and reminisce about what it was like to be young and discovering these new and exciting characters on an almost weekly basis.


It was around this point, maybe a bit earlier, that I was also introduced to the work of George Pérez. I was ordering back issues from those ads in the comics, mostly from Mile High Comics, and perusing the catalogs that were included with each order. Through the examination of these catalogs, I discovered that the Flash – MY FLASH! – had died in issue #8 of a series titled Crisis on Infinite Earths.

So, of course, I ordered that issue, plus all the others that were available. When I got that shipment and had a chance to see this book, I knew then and there that Pérez was my guy.

To this day, he’s still my artist of choice, even with all the other talented creators that have come along since then. There’s something about the way he draws characters – all the detail, and his exceptional attention to the body language of these characters – that speaks to me. I’m sure a lot of it is nostalgia, but there’s also his high level of craft at work, as well. Pérez is a master storyteller who is able to give readers their money’s worth with all the minutiae he packs into the panels, while never making things cluttered. His work is clear, crisp, and beautiful, and he has continued to grow as an artist during these decades that he’s been working professionally. And for that, as much as for anything else, he remains at the top of my list.


These examinations of the back issue catalogs also introduced me to another influential creator – whose work I have avidly collected since that time – Alan Moore.

Arguably the greatest writer the comic medium has ever seen, his work is imbued with an intelligence and a poetry rarely seen in comics. This first collection of his Swamp Thing work was my introduction to the estimable scribe from Northampton. And the first story in there, the brilliant “Anatomy Lesson,” which completely re-imagined the reality of Alec Holland’s relationship to the Swamp Thing without invalidating any of the stories that had come before, opened my eyes and showed me that comics could be so much more.


Once these creators were on my radar, I began to seek out other work they’d done – Pérez on New Teen Titans and Wonder Woman, Byrne on Superman and the Fantastic Four, Moore on Miracleman, V for Vendetta, the Killing Joke, and Watchmen. It was a magical time, and I still have longboxes dedicated to these creators.

I pored through my back issue catalogs, hunting for their names next to any entry. It was an obsession, as comic collecting so often becomes, and it afforded me an opportunity to read some of the best comics produced in the past thirty years, bar none. The characters were cool, but it was the creators that made these comic books so enjoyable for me.


The 80s was a new golden age for comics. You had the British invasion at DC, led by Moore – though the door to American comics was opened by creators such as Chris Claremont, John Bolton, and Barry Windsor-Smith – with the likes of Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Chris Weston, Warren Ellis, and Neil Gaiman following him – a movement that birthed such seminal works as the Sandman, the Invisibles, Transmetropolitan, and Preacher. While at Marvel, landmark runs on the Fantastic Four, Thor, and Daredevil, were being created by luminaries John Byrne, Walter Simonson, and Frank Miller. It was a great time to be a comic fan, to be on the ground floor of important works that would influence writers and artists for years to come.

Creators were ascendant during the 80s, and it would result in a new way of approaching comics –for the creators more than the companies – which would give us readers some of the best work within the medium.

But that’s something to delve into next time.

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