Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Works In Progress

Just a quick post, a few random pieces in various 2 pages left of a 5 parter to do (then scan and grayscale colour) then 4 pages of TMSAV and possibly another strip, plus a few requests/commissions have popped up recently so busy busy!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Memory Lane Epilogue


After I started my thread about my comic history, the magazine Back issue has twice inspired me to hunt out some back issues (Dr Fate and Legion of Substitute Heroes issues) while on facebook, people have been posting Bronze Age covers that have also fuelled my retro kick.

As a result, I have picked up a handful of key issues from my early childhood, not so much as a nostalgic link to my childhood but to go reconnect with that huge thrill comics brought to a young mind interested in drawing.

Above are covers of my recent acquisitions: just enough, I won't pick up any more  but these are the keys issues for me. I already had Jungle Action but I picked up Marvel Two-in-One featuring Stingray (again semi-inspired by Back Issue but also my first copy of the series, preceding its later reprinting in Rampage monthly). I was bequeathed a copy of Marvel Super Action (thanks, Tone!).

I tracked down those vividly remembered issues of the Six Million Dollar Man and Mighty World of Marvel. I picked up the first JLA/JSA crossover I ever had...much as I recalled my first real exposure to characters like Dr Fate, Power Girl and the Golden Age Green Lantern, I was surprised to see the original Hawkman wearing the metal helmet he had adopted in the 70s All Star Comics. I only ever recalled his cowl and when I first saw his helmet years later, that surprised me as I had never been aware of it before...though obviously I was, I had merely forgotten that fact.

However, the one thing that really blows my mind...I was really eager to get hold of that very first golden comic for me, that Justice League issue when I was off school ill. From timescales, i narrowed the issue down to a year and wracking my brains, kind of gravitated to a cover or two but nothing really screamed t me.

So, I posted on Facebook to ask if any Bronze Age aficionado could identify the issue...ALL I could remember was the heroes' heads in the cover banner, the Elongated Man catching the falling Atom from the sky in one panel (importantly I recalled a FENCE in the background!) and a certain ad that exposed me to treasuries of Captain Marvel, the Golden Age Flash and others.

Amazingly, within about 10 posts, not only had the issue been identified but that key panel posted. I was ecstatic...not jumping up and down all a' holler but y'know..the corner of my lips lifted in a half smirk. I found the issue for a couple of quid and when it arrived, to be DEFINITE it was that very same issue, not only did it feature that image...but the ad as well. I would have been less than 5 when I was given that issue.

All was well with the world and at last, I could finish where I very much started...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Memory Lane Part 7: PROPER Collecting


So, now older and with greater income, I could afford comics more easily and soon got hooked again. I started with the US Marvels...I fell out of love with the X-Men during Cockrum's second run and only saw 2 issues of the Paul Smith run but I found myself easily falling into the latest issues, illustrated by Spidey artist John Romita Jr. The characters rather than the plots took centre stage and this was probably the most "humane" era in Claremont's run. As a huge Byrne fan, I also went straight back to Fantastic Four (have only ever seen his first 3 issues before dropping comics), as well as latching on to Alpha Flight...I appreciate it more now but was doubly annoyed as he'd killed off a favourite character of mine and the team almost never actually got together! I followed Byrne to his excellent Hulk run but other than those titles, I'd pick up practically any series I could: the Spidey and Avengers titles, New Defenders, Cap, iron man, New Mutants, the lot.

I missed a week or so of school when we had to escape to a refuge and the only thing I had to do was walk to the shops and back. It was here that I started getting into DC for the first time...the Crisis was starting and a great buzz was building.

For me, the post-Crisis era was DC's best, wiping away the cheesy old titles and ushering a new era of greatness such as Byrne's Superman & Action, Perez's Wonder Woman, the JLI, Jackson Guice's Flash, the Lightle Doom Patrol following on from his Legion run and so much more. DC were experimenting with adult stories, different formats and paper stocks and the late 80s became a truly great time for comics.

Helping things along, I stumbled across a newsagent in town stocking direct market comics. At first I eschewed the indie fare like Nexus, Scout, Mai and so on in favour of more interesting DC fare and future Marvel releases (from the usual newsagent schedule anyway). Then a comic shop opened up in town during Jim Lee's X-Men run and I became a regular who occasionally helped out (and even designed the store logo), eventually taking a trip up to London to my first comic shop, Mega City Comics in Camden.

Eventually, the LCS closed own and I began making regular sojourns to Forbidden Planet in Milton Keynes before taking notice of an ad in Blast! for ACE, a comic shop with a thriving mail order company based in Essex. My first advance order was the month of Jim Lee's X-Men #1 in 1991 and I'm still using the service.

At the time, there was the youthful joy of collecting...still a thrill to complete a mini series or pick up a first issue, I had every ongoing Marvel #1 (except Darkhawk, which I could never find) for about 5 years. Yep, I even had obscure crap like Tomorrow Knights and Terror, Inc. Most were crap but occasionally I would follow series for a while, such as the first few years of New Warriors but this was a time when comics were still affordable enough that you could easily take a punt on titles, hence my following titles such as Quasar, Wonder Man (both favourite characters of mine), Gruenwald's Captain America, the Eric Masterson Thor and the first 6 issues of the revived Ghost Rider.

Now working, I could also afford to buy back issues and complete runs of Uncanny X-Men and Byrne's Captain America, FF and Alpha Flight, plugging gaps in between issues I already had.  During this time, I followed series such as Starman, Bone, A Distant Soil, Preacher and Leave It To Chance and still have complete runs.

Somewhere along the way though, maturing tastes, declining quality in the 90s and the relative ease of buying comics meant the thrill of comics was dying for me a bit. I quit the long-loved X-line when I realised I was buying 5 or 6 series a month just to keep up with 3 or 4 characters who were being mishandled in comics I never particularly enjoyed. I was coming dangerously close to leaving comics behind altogether, just picking up a few scant titles each month which happened to have work by artists I like. It was then that I decided to start collecting as much Adam Hughes art as I could: a huge favourite of mine, tracking down and obtaining his work kept my interest in the field at a time when the standard output was pretty poor.

Eventually though, comics became more interesting after the boom and burst when sales dictated better quality. I tracked down the vast majority of Hughes work but gave up collecting when I was picking up issues just for his cover or illo and utter hating the rest of the issues (Wonder Woman and Rose & Thorn, I'm mainly thinking you here). By this time, I had lost my connection to Marvel and DC as mishandled series and characters, rising costs, storage limits and changing tastes meant I still had an interest and nostalgia for the lines but was no longer a devotee of their universes.

It wasn't all doom and gloom though as this meant I could explore different comics. I began following artists more and hunted out major work by artists like P Craig Russell, Adam Warren, Steve Rude and legends like wally Wood, Al Wiliamson and Alex Raymond. Excellent archive editions were being produced, allowing me to obtain great work a little off the beaten path. A reluctant convert to the trade format (I would previously pick up monthlies as you never knew if anything would be collected and besides issues felt more like "real" comics!), I eventually saw the light when frustrated at the lack of anything decent to read, I'd take a punt on things that may not have been my usual visual cuppa but sounded good reads. As a result, I became a fan of series such as Y The Last Man, Runaways, Fables and the Walking Dead.

After reaching back through the decades of US comics in various reprints, I also began looking further afield. I tried manga and generally struggled with it, although I found a few gems. I had more luck wit the European fare, particularly the albums issued by Cinebook: the sci fi Aldebaran/Betelgeuse/Antares series is a firm favourite of mine, as is the Bournesque Largo Winch.

That brings us up to date with just one coda to come...

Friday, 2 August 2013

Memory Lane Part 6: Collecting

So, I started buying my own comics with aplomb. The US titles were a bit of a scramble: with no idea of schedule, they just seemed to appear in random selections at the newsagents so there was little chance of following anything regularly.

The Marvel UK titles were a different thing entirely, appearing each week and easily obtainable. The Dez Skinn titles were eventually replaced by less interesting fare like Marvel Action (reprinting Buscema Thor), the seriously awful Marvel Super Adventure (Colan DD and Kirby Black Panther)Glossy-covered weeklies and Captain America (featuring Iron Man and Dazzler backups).

Eventually the line metamorphosed into a slicker affair, with the return of glossy covers, the addition of partial colour interiors and nice Alan Davis-drawn headers for each strip. Sadly, titles like Thor and The X-Men were not only already antiquated, reprinting 60s work by Kirby, but the awful colouring problems helped make them entirely unpalatable. Blockbuster was the only notable new monthly but this quickly faltered despite an interesting mix of Iron Fist's original series, the Neal Adams Inhumans and obscure character Omega the Unknown.
With the US titles, my loyalties would swing from time to time between Marvel and DC as I navigated the waters of the comics world and learned my tastes. Essentially though, I was a Marvelite. A lot of DC product didn't appeal to me (Superman was just so old-fashioned in the 70s/80s, the war, supernatural and western genres of no interest) but I usually enjoyed any Marvel issue I read...except if it had poor art, a problem I still struggle with.I loved Marvel Two-In-One...until Ron Wilson took over from Perez but I didn't really have an early fave title, picking up whatever struck my fancy.

Somewhere along the line, comics kind of fell away for me. I hated Cockrum's return to the X-Men (though loved his first run) but enjoyed the dying months of the Byrne reprints, following it from Rampage to Marvel Superheroes and finally to a relaunched, horrendously produced Mighty World of Marvel. When the Byrne run finished, I dropped comics altogether. I probably would have still followed Captain Britain in the Daredevils but I never saw that. According to the Grand Comics Database, that would have been 1982.

Couple of years later, I was bored rigid in 3rd year physics and began doodling Shang-Chi on the cover of my roughbook. The guy I was sitting next to recognised it and we got talking. He had still been buying  comics regularly and had healthy runs of certain titles as he lived about two minutes away from a newsagents. I couldn't believe what he was telling me. Spider-Man has a new black outfit? So do the FF? Robin is now Nightwing? There's a Secret War? Even bigger stuff coming for the DC characters?

My mind was reeling about all these developments and then not long after, I ventured into a newsagents, dragged in by mum. On the shelf, I saw a copy of Tales of the Teen Titans #47. Nightwing seemed to be shouting at me, demanding my attention. Right next to it was Marvel Team-Up #146, featuring the black-garbed Spider-Man.

I bought both issues, immediately loving the designs for Nightwing and Spider-Man. It was late 1984 and my comics passion had been reignited...