Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Special 200th post!

This is the 
200th blog post
I've done for the 
Great Comic Book Heroes. 
Working on this blog has been an amazing ride.

Scott McCloud speaks about the vast world of comics in his classic Understanding Comics. 
I started writing the Great Comic Book Heroes in January 2011, about 4 and a half years ago because I was looking for a more rewarding way to spend my time and I wanted to get into my passion of Comics more deeply and maybe give something back to the Comics Community that gave me so much.
I have been reading Comics for most of my life and have been touched greatly by certain Comics so I thought it would be cool to write about those Comics that have touched me the most. It's a daunting task to say the least. In the last 200 posts I feel like I've just scratched the surface of those Comics and creators that I wanted to write about.

Comic Collector Heaven!
I started seriously reading Comics in April of 1984 when I was waiting for a movie to start, I stopped in a newsstand and an issue of X-Men #183 caught my fancy. I purchased it not realizing the profound repercussions this purchased would have on my life even to this day.

X-Men #183, July 1984, by Chris Claremont and John Romita jr. has Colossus and Juggernaut clobber each other in a bar. 
I had a handful of Comics at home that I had previously bought but I wasn't actively buying Comics at the time. Reading this Comic excited me so much that I felt compelled to find more like it. I started buying all the X- Men comics I could find and when I couldn't find any more I started buying other Marvel titles like the Avengers and various Spider-Man titles.

Here are some of the Comics I bought to feed my new addiction (and I did buy all of these). From a Marvel house ad in September of 1984.
Comics became like a drug for me that altered the very state of my being. Something about the combination of pictures and words gave me a tremendous adrenal rush that nothing else had ever done before. So much so that when I would go into a comic book store, my mind would race and my hands would shake with excitement and anticipation. Comics were my new addiction; My monkey that demanded to be fed.

This caption from Crumb's tribute to Kurtzman has been altered slightly to fit the blog post. 

Comics were so thrilling to me because they were a visual medium that told stories. I had always been attracted to the Visual Arts; Graphic Arts, Fine Arts, it didn't mater to me. I ate up all forms of Visual Arts. A great composed page would create a visual rhythm that effected me the way a great piece of music would someone else. I would stare at a picture and let it affect me, causing my insides to churn and alter; I could feel new channels being created inside my brain and body; It was a physical thing as well as an emotional thing. I would feel it create an excitement in my belly and come out my finger tips and toes. At times I felt like I would explode and only buying new comics would assuage the anxiety.
Certain art like William Blake's illustration from his Book of Urizen perfectly captured the feeling of terror, making it palpable and real for me. 
Comics were a revelation to me. Not only did they have compelling graphics that stimulated the part of me that was interested in the Visual Arts, but Comics also had a narrative aspect that allowed me to connect to the work in a literate way as well as a visual way. While sometimes the significance of Fine Art could be vague (for example in the case of a Landscape or Still Life) Comics were very specific about what they wanted to convey. Comics, at their best, were pretty as well as meaningful.
I also became enamored with Comics and their heroes. They were like modern day mythology. The Greeks had their Odysseus and we had our Spider-Man. I would see these strange new characters in their compelling costumes and I had to know more about them. Who were these heroes that I was reading about. What were their powers? How did they get them? There were all these fascinating characters with vast histories that I knew nothing about, creating in me an urge to discover their origins and fascinating back stories.

Here we get a hint of Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow's back story in Amazing Spider-Man #86, (July 10th, 1970) teasing us about what incredible epics we may have missed out on.
I quickly found a store that sold nothing but Comics. I was in Heaven! I would take the bus down town 2 or 3 times a week to pick up new books. This was the time when Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars was in mid swing and Crisis on Infinite Earths was right around the corner. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 was the biggest thing since Swiss cheese and the Independent Comics craze was really taking off. Claremont/Byrne's X-Men and Miller's Daredevil were hot commodities, legendary series that the rest of the industry was trying to emulate and imitate their success.

1984 was the year that Alan Moore first broke into the American Comic market with his writing on the Swamp Thing. First Comics was making Independent Comics very relevant with hits like Mike Grell's Jon Sable and Howard Chakin's American Flagg. Meanwhile over at Marvel John Byrne had taken over the Fantastic Four and Roger Stern and Paul Smith were killing it on Dr. Strange. 
I had gone through a number of Marvel titles like the various Spider-Man series, the Avengers, the Hulk, and Power Man and Iron Fist but I didn't stay with any of them for very long because there wasn't much continuity from issue to issue and the quality wasn't very good. There were a few good books that I really enjoyed like Denny O'Neil and David Mazzucchelli's Daredevil, and Bill Seinkiewicz' New Mutants but for the most part most books were not stimulating enough to keep me reading.

I was a huge fan of Bill Sienkiewicz work on the New Mutants. I would get so excited when I knew it would be coming out. But one day when I picked up New Mutants #26April 1985, the romance with the book had died for me. The art was good but Claremont's writing on it was so disappointing that I couldn't get excited about it any more. 
And then one day my whole world changed. My older brother said that he read good things about a strange DC comic that I had no previous interest in but I was always game for good new books, so I went out and picked up a copy of Swamp Thing #40, (Sep 1985), the infamous werewolf issue, by Alan Moore, Steven Bissette and John Totleben. It was the first comic I ever read by Alan Moore and I did not look at comics the same way since.

Swamp Thing #40, (Sep 1985) was a hot issue with readers because of Moore's mixing the werewolf mythos and it's connection to the full moon with women's monthly period. Some of the female readership of the Swamp Thing did not take kindly to the way Moore resolved the story by having the protagonist impale herself on a knife display but it made for some extremely compelling reading for me.

Afterward I got everything I could get my hands on that was written by Moore and 9 times out of 10 I was not disappointed. I picked up the rest of the Swamp Thing issues, any back up stories that occasionally appeared in various DC titles as well as a new series that Eclipse was coming out with, Miracleman. Anything Moore got his hands on was golden!

The thing that I really loved about Alan Moore's work was the way he mixed concepts or jumped scale that never occurred to you and blew your mind.

In Alan Moore's contribution to Green Lantern Annual #3, July 1987, he uses the clever concept of a Green Lantern Corp member having to give a power ring to an alien life form that doesn't see light and has no words for it in their vocabulary or anything related to it like a lantern. 

Moore also has a way of jumping scale as he did in Watchmen #12, Oct. 1987, when Dr. Manhattan casually says, "I think perhaps I'll create some (life)". He is the greatest comics writer and perhaps one of the greatest writers to ever live. It was kind of hard to get excited about other comics after being spoiled by the best. 
I loved all kinds of Comics not just superhero Comics. I would check out anything that people would recommend. One of my favorite sources of info on Comics was the Comics Journal. I would pick up a lot of cool stuff about Comics from the Comics Journal. This is where I first heard about Chester Brown's Yummy Fur. At one point I had more fun reading about Comics in the Comics Journal than actually reading Comics themselves. It got me excited about them again.

The Comics Journal was so passionate about comics that it opened my eyes to a lot of new things and broadened my horizons quite a bit. If I hadn't read Comics Journal 113, Dec 1986, I probably wouldn't know who R. Crumb or Gil Kane were . 
Because of the Comics Journal I would experiment and buy things I wouldn't otherwise buy like R. Crumb's Zap Comix and Love and Rockets. I eventually phased out of buying superhero comics except for the occasional Moore or Miller comic and would only get excited to buy Underground or Alternative Comics like the new Flaming Carrot or Yummy Fur. Unfortunately, unlike the Comics of the big 2 (Marvel and DC) which came out monthly, Alternative Comics came out so infrequently but they were usually worth it. It was actually because of chasing down these Alternative and Underground Comix that I stumbled onto one of the greatest comics I ever read, Raw Magazine!

I picked up Raw Magazine #7, the Torn-Again Graphix Mag, May 1985 as a fluke when I was looking at Underground Comix, but when I got it home, I did not know what to make of it at first. There were the strangest assortment of comics and graphic arts pieces in it that bewildered and confused me. It was only after I began to digest it that I truly began to appreciate it. Now I think it's one of the most important works to come out in my life time. 
Raw Magazine was an oversized art magazine that Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly edited. In it they had the most diverse assortment of experimental comics anyone had ever put together till that time. And though all the work was very different from each other, there was an unifying overall theme to the magazine. There was an emphasis on graphics and on Comics though sometimes the "Comics" were abstract but most of the contributors were doing Comics that gave a unique twist to what we think of as Comics.

Spiegelman and Mouly would choose work that expressed things they were interested in like the possibilities of the Comics medium. Most of the contributors were experimenting with the medium in unique and interesting ways. Here we see some of the regular contributors to Raw Magazine like (from top left to lower right) Gary Panter with his scratchy primitive style of art, Kaz with his strange and whimsical way of playing with the narrative flow of the comic page, Charles Burns with his odd satire on 50's romance comics, Mark Newgarden (below left) with his playful deconstruction of the classic cartoon character Nancy, and Mark Beyer with his surreal and darkly delicious comics. 
Occasionally the big 2 would put out some work by some incredible albeit unknown comic artists that would blow me away. And though it was head and shoulders above anything that was being produced, even by the long time pros, it would generally go unnoticed by the mass comic readers.

I would hungrily snatch up anything that I saw by some of my favorite artists of the time like Tony Salmons (Marvel Fanfare #19, Mar 1985, Upper left), Sandy Plunkett (Solo Avengers #19, June 1989), Kevin Nowlan (The Outsiders Annual #1, Nov 1986) and Michael Golden (Doctor Strange #43, Oct 1980)
Comics are a strange and wonderful world that has enriched my life and supplied me with endless amounts of entertainment, wonderment and food for thought. And it's equally been a pleasure and a privilege to write about them and their creators in this blog, the Great Comic Book Heroes! Thanks so much for reading!

If you have enjoyed this post and are curious to read more, please check out some of the older posts I've done on these subjects and creators. And please help support the blog by clicking on an add or using the Amazon link below to purchase a comic or item from them. Thanks a million!

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