Welcome to Barbara Slate Week, a (work) week’s worth of spotlights on the work of Barbara Slate, an underappreciated comic book creator who I’ve long been a fan of.
I’ll be going at this chronologically, so we begin with Slate’s acclaimed off kilter 1986-87 DC Comics series Angel Love, about a group of young people living in New York City during the 80’s.
Angel Love was really an extremely daring comic by DC to invest in. Here you have a book (written and drawn by Barbara Slate, with inks by John Lopez) that looked like it was a kid’s book but had content that was not even approved by the Comics Code! This was before DC had an imprint in Vertigo that was DESIGNED for off-kilter books. This was just sent out to retailers along with Fury of Firestorm, Blue Beetle, Action Comics and the rest. The legendary Karen Berger was the editor on this one. Man, don’t you just have to adore Karen Berger? As a complete and total tangential thought, you know who reminds me a little bit of Karen Berger? Mark Chiarello. He has that same great eye that Berger had and the same willingness to try different things. While it sucks that we’ve lost Berger from the world of comics, at least we still have Chiarello. That, of course, like I said, is quite a tangent. On to the task at hand, Angel Love.
The story centers around Angel Love herself, a struggling artist in New York City who works as a waitress to make ends meet.
One of the key points of satire in Slate’s early work is the general New York City “scene” of the mid-1980s. It is some of the sharpest work in Angel Love, and I’m pleased that she pursued the idea further in the next work I’ll spotlight this week.
Angel shares an apartment with a rich ditzy wannabe actress. They live in a building with a friend of theirs and, of course, a bunch of cockroaches. Bizarrely (but awesomely) we can hear the cockroaches talk. One of them scares Angel’s roommate and their friend arrives because of the screams…
You have to love that the cockroach was actually killed.
One of the biggest plot points of the early issues is Angel dealing with the fact that her boyfriend has a problem with cocaine…
Slate handles it well. She doesn’t get too preachy.
What I love about Angel Love is just how discordant the whole thing is. Here’s a perfect example from a later issue. It opens up with Angel accidentally drawing her own guardian angel (while Angel interacts with us, the readers, through the fourth wall)…
and then has a plot with a waitress friend of Angel’s dealing with an unwanted pregnancy!!
The series ended after eight issues. It ended on a major cliffhanger (a BIZARRE major cliffhanger – Angel’s mother got sick and she needs a bone marrow transplant and only Angel’s long-lost sister can save her. Angel tracks her down but she is not interested in helping. So Angel breaks into her apartment and holds a gun on her at the cliffhanger).
Luckily, Slate was given an extra-sized one-shot in 1987 to wrap everything up. It has a real bittersweet resolution to the sister plot.
Angel Love was certainly not a perfect series. There was definitely some parts that were rough around the edges. However, it was a bold series that took an approach that few were taking, particularly in mainstream comics and it definitely marked Slate as a creative voice worth watching. Which is what we’ll be doing this week.