In the U.K. in 1987, right at the height of the Reagan/Thatcher era of populist conservatism, a group of former members of the left-wing think tank Big Flame somehow decided it was a good time to launch a new, staunchly socialist, tabloid Sunday newspaper. The mistakes made at The News on Sunday may have gone down in legend among Britain’s journalists, but history will give them credit for one thing: Somebody there had great taste in comics.
The paper featured two strips by two creative teams from two classic runs in 2000AD, producing work that was almost identical in nature to what was being commissioned by that era’s Tharg, Steve MacManus. Fresh from their work on Slaine, Pat Mills and Glenn Fabry originated the strip “Scatha,” another Celtic-themed slice of sword and sorcery (the strip was featured by the Bear Alley blog way back in 2008). Pete Milligan and Brendan McCarthy, just off 2000AD‘s “Sooner or Later,” came up with “Summer of Love,” a similar mix of social commentary, puns, quips and surrealism.
The greatest comics of all time don’t appear on bestseller charts or canon lists or big-box bookstore shelves. They are the property of the back issue bins and thrift store crates and convention hawkers of America, living like the medium itself in the unseen crags and pockets of publishing history…
Paradax! Remix, drawn by Brendan McCarthy, colored by Frankie Stein and McCarthy, scripted by Peter Milligan. Cover-dated August 1987. Published by Vortex Comics.
How acquired: As a major proponent of old-school analog back issue hunting, it pains me to admit that everything leading to my ownership of this comic happened online. Brendan McCarthy is one of a very few great cartoonists whose complete works can be feasibly tracked down by normal dudes with rent to make and girlfriends’ acting classes to pay for, and having decided to become one such dude, I used the unofficial guide that can be pieced together from this Comics Comics Magazine comments thread as a road map for a shopping spree at an online back issue retailer. Two weeks later a box of McCarthy comics, including this one, showed up.
“Pop!” one-page strip in Solo #12 (2006). Brendan McCarthy.
At times the things that can be achieved by comics’ usual mode of sequencing — strings of single panels after single panels — can seem almost limitless. Looking at it from the inside out, as a comics-literate reader who can see the vast differences in approach to sequence that distinguish a Ware from a Kirby from an Eisner, it’s easy to get lost in just how diverse the pages can get. But take a step back and look at comics as one visual medium among many, a vehicle for creating information to be absorbed through the eyes, and the methods of sequencing used by its artists begin to look surprisingly limited.
Think about it — or better yet, get out a bunch of your comics, all genres, all drawing styles, as diverse and differentiated a selection as you can find, and give them all a flip-though. While comics have no shortage of different colors on their pages and different methods of mark-making swimming through their panels, a ridiculously large majority of them stick to that one typical mode of sequencing — boxed panels following boxed panels, groups of them fit more or less perfectly together like puzzle pieces, jammed snugly into the rectangle of the page. The grid, as wonderful and variable a sequencing tool as it is, possesses a downright tyrannical stranglehold on the comics form.
Now I don’t know about you, but personally I like reading comics better than I like reading prose chiefly because their pages don’t all look the same. And it’s frustrating to see how many comics lock themselves into prose’s side-scrolling, line-above-line sequencing pattern to put their information across. Try to think about a page of comics as a painter or a sculptor would and it’s almost laughable. Why does everyone stay in those safe little boxes all the time? A page of comics is a canvas, a big pure space that can contain anything, and yet for over a century now, its artists have jailed their pictures in panel borders rather than exploring the possibilities of setting them free on the page, leading readers’ eyes along lines that aren’t straight and short and easy.
Brigid did a round-up yesterday of various holiday gift-giving suggestions, so I thought I’d follow suit with some that I’ve seen lately.
• The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is auctioning off original art by Paul Pope, Eric Powell, Gabriel Hardman, Tom Fowler, Dan Paosian and many more, as well as lunch with Chew writer John Layman in New York next week.
• I remember shoveling a whole bunch of quarters into the X-Men arcade game back in the day; my friend Mike and I beat the game as Nightcrawler and Wolverine. If you have an Xbox fan in your life, they too can fight the Blob, Magneto and more in side-scrolling action, as the game will be available on Xbox Live Arcade Dec. 15.
The PlayStation Network, unfortunately, won’t get it until February, so you’ll have to find something else this holiday season for the PS3 fan in your life. Joy to the world! The game will hit the PlayStation Network Dec. 14!
• Comics creator Ben Towle has a 20 percent off sale going in his web store, where you can purchase original art from books like Midnight Sun, signed copies of Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean and superhero commissions.
If you’re a fan of Brendan McCarthy or the short-lived DC series Solo, do I have the post for you … The Strangeness of Brendan McCarthy has posted two sketchbook ideas “generated when Brendan was working out material for his issue of DC Comics’ SOLO,” both featuring redesigns of the Flash.
And if that’s not enough, they’ve also posted info and images on a new Judge Dredd story that will appear in 2000AD Prog 1712, which goes on sale this week in the U.K. “In a new story called Dr. WHAT? Judge Dredd tracks down a time-travelling Doctor who rides a Mega-City Portaloo along the timewaves, altering history and changing the future in a potentially catastrophic way,” the blog says.
Hello and welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, where the Robot 6 crew talk about the comics and graphic novels that they’ve been enjoying lately. Today our special guest is Bill Reed, who contributes to our sister blog Comics Should Be Good!. To see what Bill and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click the link below.
Publishing | Marvel reportedly has issued a round of Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices to Google in an effort targeting Blogger sites that serve as clearinghouses for links to pirated comics. (Blogger was purchased by Google in 2003.) One such blog, Comics Invasion, already has been shut down. [Bleeding Cool]
Passings | Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Paul Conrad passed away Saturday of natural causes. He was 86. The winner of three Pulitzers, an achievement matched by just two other cartoonists in the post-World War II era, Conrad worked for the Los Angeles Times for nearly 30 years, and earned a place on President Nixon’s infamous “enemies list.” [Los Angeles Times, Comic Riffs]
And it needs a home. Any takers?
Warning: People who use the phrase “playing the race card” need not apply to the following post. I guess that rules out, y’know, our entire political class, but oh well. Anyway, a trio of recent pieces have taken on the issue of race in contemporary superhero comics and movies.
Perhaps the most high-profile of the three pieces is Chris Sims’s essay on “the racial politics of regressive storytelling” for Comics Alliance. Sims argues that DC Comics’ current penchant for restoring the Silver Age versions of Green Lantern, the Flash, the Atom, the Legion of Super-Heroes and so on has the unintentional but regrettable effect of pushing their successors — in many cases, non-white characters created to replace their slain or off-stage white predecessors — to the sidelines. While he’s quite clear that he doesn’t believe Geoff Johns or any of the other writers or editors involved are motivated by racial animus, he laments the way in which several decades’ worth of minority characters are now becoming “footnotes” in the race to create comics that evoke the creators’ and readers’ memories of their childhood favorites. I’m sympathetic to the obvious truth in Sims’s argument — replacing Ryan Choi with Ray Palmer, for example, does indeed “whiten” the Atom concept once again. But as I wrote in an essay on my own blog, I think the blame lies not with Johns and his Rebirths and Brightest Day and so on, but with the creators who, instead of creating strong non-white characters out of whole cloth like Luke Cage or Storm or Black Panther, simply put new guys in the old guys’ outfits, thus all but inviting readers to think of them as substitutes and pine for their original favorites.
Even though we live in a golden age of reprints, there are still deserving comics that, for one reason or another, fail to get collected, translated, or reprinted in nice, shiny, new books. This monthly column is dedicated to those books that, we feel, need another round in the spotlight.
The welcome return of artist Brendan McCarthy to the world of comical books with Spider-Man: Fever got me thinking about how most of the comics he’s done (mostly with Collect This Now’s patron saint Peter Milligan) are sadly out of print. That’s a shame, as his bibliography contains a lot of great work that deserves re-examination, including Rogan Gosh, Paradax and the topic of today’s column, Skin.
One of the more interesting things about Skin actually is that it had a bit of trouble getting published initially. Originally Skin was supposed to be published in 1990 in Crisis, a spin-off of the classic British anthology series 2000 AD. The printers refused to handle it, and the publisher got cold feet, and it didn’t end up seeing the light of day until 1992, when Kevin Eastman’s Tundra press released it with little fanfare.
What made so many of these fine folks reluctant to print the comic? Well, for one thing, it could have been the subject matter. You see, Skin is about a Thalidomide baby. More specifically, it’s about a Thalidomide kid who’s a skinhead, has sex with hippies and eventually ends up getting revenge on the people who made the drug by going after them with an ax. (oops, spoilers!)
When I first saw the solicitation for Marvel’s upcoming Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield? one-shot, I thought it was just another Deadpool parody comic. But while Deadpool does make an appearance — or the Golden Age version, anyway — he’s not the only character making fun of Captain America. The book will feature a new Forbush Man story written by Jason Aaron, a Doctor Strange/Captain America mash-up by Matt Fraction and the previously mentioned Golden Age Deadpool tale by Stuart Moore. Marvel.com talked to all three writers about their stories.
“Dr. Stephen Rogers, transformed by the Super-Satan formula into the pentagram-bespangled sentinel of the arcane, Doctor America,” Fraction said. “On behalf of the Undergovernment he goes mano eeeee mano with Richard Milhous Manson, aka the sinister Red Dick, and his genocidal assistant Bebe Rebeyonder to save the soul of the swinging, sinister, ’60s.”
Fraction’s tale, appropriately, will be drawn by Brendan McCarthy, as you can see to the right. OK, now I wish I’d pre-ordered this …
One of the biggest problems with comics these days is that Brendan McCarthy simply isn’t making enough of them.
The UK artist, known mainly for his inspired and frequently surreal collaborations with writer Peter Milligan during the 1980s and 90s, (most notably Skin and Rogan Gosh) hasn’t produced any sequential art since his mind-bending issue of Solo (fittingly the last issue in that late, lamented series) six years ago, a comic which in itself marked a lengthy hiatus. In between those periods, McCarthy has opted instead to mostly work on various television and movie projects like Reboot, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies and most recently a potential fourth Mad Max sequel.
Thankfully Marvel is about to change all that. The company that Disney bought has enlisted McCarthy to write and draw Spider-Man: Fever, a three-issue limited series starring the wall-crawler and Dr. Strange that will arrive in stores this April (or at least the first issue will).
I talked to McCarthy over email about the new series and the challenges it offered.
Comics Alliance scored themselves an exclusive preview of writer-artist Brendan McCarthy’s upcoming Spider-Man/Doctor Strange miniseries/voyage into prime Ditko psychedelia, Spider-Man: Fever. I hear that if you press play on The Dark Side of the Moon when you open the cover, it syncs up perfectly.
You can breathe, breathe in the air from Doc’s Sanctum Sanctorum when the book hits this April.
(Via Douglas Wolk)
I’ve been waiting for this one for awhile … Marvel.com released an early look at the Spider-Man solicits for April, and I’m ecstatic to see that Brendan McCarthy’s Spider-Man mini-series is kicking off then. Here’s the solicitation text:
SPIDER-MAN: FEVER #1 (of 3)
Written by BRENDAN MCCARTHY
Pencils & Cover by BRENDAN MCCARTHY
One of comics’ most innovative and original voices, Brendan McCarthy, brings SPIDER-MAN: FEVER — a truly unique and surreal story evoking the classic Silver-Age psychedelia of Steve Ditko’s Dr Strange. In FEVER, Spider-Man is abducted by a depraved tribe of spider-demons to a bizarre dimension, where he is to be eaten alive. Dr. Strange goes on a perilous occult quest to rescue his friend — and tangles with some very peculiar characters along the way…
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99
Mark Kardwell shares with us an “idea sketch for a ‘Coming Soon” type of advert” for Fever, the upcoming Dr. Strange/Spider-Man miniseries written and drawn by Brendan McCarthy. This Marvel Knights series is due in April, McCarthy told Kaldwell.