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Editor’s Note: With Valentine’s Day coming up next Saturday, we’ve declared this the week of Robot Love. And to kick things off, we’ve resurrected one of our favorite features, I ♥ Comics, where we ask comics creators, bloggers, retailers and fans to discuss the things they love about the medium.
Our first guest contributor this week is Scott Wegener, the artist on Atomic Robo, which is written by Brian Clevinger and published by Red 5 Comics. The first issue of the third volume, Atomic Robo and the Shadow From Beyond Time, is in this month’s Previews.
by Scott Wegener
Ask a guy like me why I love comics and the answer is likely to be a verbatim repetition of my answer to the other question people are constantly asking me –“Why do you love oral surgery?” I love comics because they are necessary, because they promote good overall health, and because I really enjoy the way my gums throb after a good issue of All Star What’s-His-Face.
Seriously, it’s much easier for me to come up with an essay about why I hate comics. I don’t know if that’s because there really is a lot wrong with the industry or if it’s just always easier to criticize than it is to praise? I won’t bore you with a list of things that drive me nuts about comics -we’ve already done that on Atomic-Robo.com. It’s enough to say that I expend more time than it’s worth taking a verbal dump on comic book culture.
And yet there came a time just a few short years ago when I took a hard look at my life and decided that I didn’t like where it was going. And when I tried to figure out what it was that I really loved in life, I found the answer on my mental hard drive under >Geek/Adventure/Comic Books. And so I stopped doing what I was doing, and started doing what I’m doing now.
Looking back on it all, I guess I’d always known that I loved comics, but the 1990’s really jaded me. “Oh Christ,” I can here you thinking. “Another jaded Thirty-Something with a ‘boo-hoo 1997 killed comics’ ax to grind.” Well just keep your pants on for about two paragraphs so I can get it off my chest, and then I promise we’ll roll on to the unicorns and rainbows.
One minute I was a high school intern at Marvel Comics and life was good. I was reading fan mail addressed to Peter Parker (seriously), assembling (page by page) “preview” copies of every Marvel title then published to be delivered to the various editors — 90 percent of whom threw them away without reading them — trying desperately to make friends with the old war horses in the Bullpen, and ogling Joe Mad’s first submissions to Marvel and photocopying them on the sly to take home with me.
Then suddenly I was in college and I was in a store holding a copy of Battle Chasers (henceforth known as Boobie Chasers), throwing nervous glances over my shoulder less anyone catch me looking at this thing. And that was the Moment. It wasn’t Joe specifically. I’m sure he’s a really swell egg. He was just drawing what sold: mostly-naked girls, giant breasts, foil hologram covers (with trading cards!), and enough variant covers to choke a cat. I put the comic back on the shelf, left the small pile of books I’d planned on buying sitting on the back issue box where I’d placed them a moment before and I walked out. For about ten years I never looked back.
Then a friend of mine convinced me to do a short story for an anthology he was putting together. His name is Tom Mauer, and as far as I can tell he letters or edits every single book put out by the “Indie Press” — in fact, he was ret-conned and given credit for works dating back to the Golden Age of Comics. A little while later I got a few random emails of praise from The Internet and it was time for another Moment. It wasn’t that complete strangers were telling me that I was awesome, (which was awesome by the way). It was that I’d done something that made people -four beautiful people- happy. A story about a guy, blowing up another guy, with an ironic twist at the end, had brightened the lives of four people enough that they took the time to write me and tell me so.
It was Care Bear Stare time – you know what I’m talking about. Well, you youngins who wear my childhood plastered across your carefully pre-worn T-shirted chests won’t understand, but you old bastards will. That’s the part of the show where all the Care Bears (and later their Cousins too) hold hands and shoot a giant beam of flesh-searing Love out of their stomachs and incinerate every living creature within a quarter mile. The black chain-smoker’s tar was stripped away from my heart…for a few minutes anyway. But it was long enough. Long enough to remember my prized collection of TMNT comics, Grendel: War Child and Robotech. I can even tell you that my very first comic book was actually a comic magazine, handed to me by my mother in an effort to keep my amused as we flew to Scotland for the first time. It was 1980, and I was five. The only story from that magazine I can remember was the tale of how Ben Kenobi kicked young Darth Vader’s ass and dumped him into a pool of lava – I loved it. All these warm fuzzy memories came flooding back. They didn’t cancel out the negative aspects. They just sort of mingled with them.
It’s been like that ever since. Comic books are like friends or spouses or significant others. You’re not going to like everything about them, and you might even hate certain things about them. But if the good outweighs the bad, then you do whatever it takes to make them a part of your life. I’m looking at my bookshelf right now, and I never noticed before how happy it makes me to see some of my old favorites like Appleseed, Hellboy and Bone, sitting spine-to-spine with some of my new favorites like Top Ten, Scarlet Traces, Invincible, Tom Strong and Powers.
Because comic books are a sub-genre of the wider pop-culture world, they follow the same pattern. There is a mind-boggling array of content of varying quality and intellectual merit. There are rare individuals whose tastes (or lack there of) are wide enough to embrace most of what is foisted at them. For most of us, though, I think it can be overwhelming. There’s only a limited portion of the pie we find appealing, and finding it in amongst all the other noise (pie noises?) can be hard. But it’s worth it. Because every so often you find the comic that just works for you. It works so right that it inspires you to write a letter, it inspires you to make your own comic or it creates a memory about an airplane ride that sticks with you for 28 years.
And speaking of friends, that’s the other thing. The people who make, sell and read comics. Yes, it’s true, there are creepy comic book people. There are also creepy accountants, creepy firemen and creepy stock brokers. In the short time that I have been making comics, I have met some of the most wonderful people. I’m not just talking about people I enjoy working with. I’m talking about people whose friendship makes me feel complete, I’m talking about the new friends I’ve made and the old ones I’ve reconnected with.
And that’s what I love – that’s what it’s all about. Those comic book gems you find on the shelves, and those comic book gems you find yourself sharing a drink with.