A while back I was talking to a friend of mine. It was during the early days at Image and he was an influential figure in the world of comics and I was trying to coerce him and a pal of his into coming on over to Image Comics and creating their own creations.
He didn’t have anything at the time. Neither did his pal.
But I didn’t let that stop me. I went on at some length about the joys of creation. How, despite having done well-received runs on “Spider-Man” and “Amazing Spider-Man” that “Savage Dragon” was this thing that I had created out of whole cloth and I remember telling him how great it was to work on something where there was nobody that could tell me that I couldn’t do something. It was mine to do with what I wanted.
He said that he’d think about it and see what he could come up with.
It is pretty great blazing your own path. There’s something that is really satisfying about coming up with something that is yours and nobody else’s. And there’s a reason why Sergio Aragones will be forever remembered for Groo and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby will be forever remembered for the Fantastic Four, Thor and the Incredible Hulk and why Howard Chaykin will be forever remembered for American Flagg and Mike Baron and Steve Rude will be forever remembered for Nexus and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko will be forever remembered for Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and Bob Kane (along with Bill Finger) will be forever remembered for Batman and Dave Sim will be forever remembered for Cerebus and Will Eisner will be forever remembered for The Spirit and Jack Cole will be forever remembered for Plastic Man and Colleen Doran will be forever remembered for A Distant Soil and Richard and Wendy Pini will be forever remembered for Elfquest and Todd McFarlane will be forever remembered for Spawn and Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster will be forever remembered for Superman. These creators created something from nothing and they were the people who blazed a trail.
You may have a run on Spider-Man, even a well-loved run on Spider-Man, but as long as you stay on Spider-Man you will never be the creator of Spider-Man.
Which is not to say that you shouldn’t work on Spider-Man or that working on Spider-Man is a thankless task. It is great to work on well-established characters– characters you grew up with and characters that you loved as a kid. It’s a lot of fun to pick up where another creator left off and keep the ball rolling and add to the mythos. I’m not trying to take away from that. That’s fun. That’s great.
But Frank Miller will be remembered longer for having created Elektra and telling her story during his tenure on “Daredevil” than any of a dozen creators that had as lengthy a run, but added nothing of lasting value to the book.
As entertaining as Howard Chaykin’s runs on the “Shadow,” “Blackhawk” and the “Challengers of the Unknown” were, he’ll go to his grave being remembered for “American Flagg.”
It’s nice to be the creator of something. There are dozens of creators who have come and gone that made no lasting mark in the funnybook field. They came and went and their contributions will be all but forgotten because they left nothing they could call their own behind.
Look at Spider-Man. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created nearly every cool villain the character ever had in a 38-issue run. It’s amazing to think about. Look at the Fantastic Four. In 102 issues, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a veritable universe.
What would the world have been like if these guys just stuck it out at other companies? What if Jack Kirby was never unleashed? What if he just drew Superman for a while like any number of other creators?
Superman, whose arch nemesis was an angry bald guy and whose second greatest foe was an angry bald guy with green skin and whose third greatest foe was an angry bald guy with purple skin…
That would suck.
If I may be so bold, I’m grateful that Jack didn’t just become another cog in another machine and that he contributed something of lasting value.
It’s bizarre to me to hear creators talk about wanting to be “just like Jack Kirby” and want to draw the Fantastic Four or Thor or Captain America or the Demon or the New Gods or any other Kirby creation. Y’see, that’s not what Jack would have done. Jack worked on those characters because he created those characters and if he hadn’t created those characters he would have created other creations. To really do Jack proud you need to blaze your own path not follow his.
Not every creation is gold.
Sometimes you spit out a Prez or a B’wanna Beast or a Brother Power. But you’ve gotta try. What would you be if you didn’t try?
My friend thought about what he wanted to do. He did some sketches and tossed names around. He talked to his buddy and they tossed ideas back and forth and eventually they both came up with some pretty nifty characters.
My friend didn’t bring his creation over to Image.
He felt (and perhaps rightly so) that there were too many creators at Image who were a little too influenced by his work. He didn’t feel comfortable being part of that group and I can’t really say that I blame him. I was pleased to have lit the fire under his ass that got him moving and I was tickled to see what resulted from that fire having been lit.
My friend took his book to Dark Horse comics. His name is Arthur Adams and his book was “Monkeyman and O’Brien” and along with Arthur went his friend Mike Mignola whose creation was “Hellboy.”
Now I’m not going to claim that I was responsible for the creation of “Monkeyman and O’Brien” and “Hellboy.” Arthur and Mike are creative guys and if I hadn’t said anything I’m sure that somebody would have said something. The early ’90s was a creative period in comics where a lot of people were creating a lot of characters and a lot of people were extremely successful. But it’s kind of nice to think that I might have contributed in some small way.
I caught up with Arthur and Mike at WonderCon in San Francisco. Arthur and I talked at some length about creating comics and things we wanted to do, but hadn’t yet done. Mike and I sat down and talked at length about creating characters and the joys of creation.
No hard sell here.
But I would like to say to the hundreds of creators out there that haven’t created anything yet, give it a try– even if it’s for a single issue or a short story or even a sketch. Just-try it out and see how it feels.
And maybe you’ll kick out a Prez or a B’wanna Beast or a Brother Power.
But maybe, just maybe, you’ll create a Groo, or a Fantastic Four or a Thor or an Incredible Hulk or an American Flagg or a Nexus or a Spider-Man or a Doctor Strange or a Batman or a Cerebus or a Spirit or a Plastic Man or a Distant Soil or an Elfquest or a Spawn or a Superman or maybe even a Savage Dragon, Monkeyman and O’Brien or a Hellboy.
But you could.