Marvel bullpen mainstay George Roussos died last weekend.
It's not a name that jumps out at you, is it? Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if the vast majority of you reading this column hadn't a clue as to who I'm talking about. He was just one of the long-time Marvel grunts, if you'll forgive the term. He toiled in the Marvel Bullpen, and spent more than 50 years in comics. A profile of him in MARVEL AGE #13 (Apr 1984) mentions that he worked with Bob Kane on the original BATMAN strip. While he spent most of his time in the last 25 years in the bullpen as a colorist, he also inked a fair share of comics (including THE FANTASTIC FOUR), mostly under the pen name "George Bell."
I can only imagine the number of artists and colorists he helped out over the years there.
FIRST LOOK - BOOB TUBE
You may have read the report in The Comic Wire earlier this week. THE COMIC READER magazine is coming back, including a new comic strip from Chris Eliopoulos. What you see here is the first promotional image for the upcoming strip, entitled VIRTUAL REALITY. The magazine itself is due out in June.
WRITER/ARTISTS: YOUR LIST
This week we'll see what names you all suggested for the best writer/artists of the past decade or so. Next week, I'll chime in with my list, some of which will surprise and/or confound you. I have a funny way of doing that sometimes. I'll eliminate repetition by saving my favorites completely for next week. (So if you don't see a name in here you just knew I'd mention, drop by next week. Then yell at me if I forget! =)
The name that came up in more e-mails than any other is Frank Miller. I couldn't argue with that. In fact, I think it's so obvious, I'm putting it here first and won't even bother writing about him next week. SIN CITY and 300 are terrific books. 300 in particular deserves every award it wins, and then some.
Ray Cornwall writes in to suggest a creator whose work I've never read, but always heard good things about:
"Peter Gross of the BOOKS OF MAGIC. People dismiss this title as a Gaiman-less Vertigo franchise, but unlike THE DREAMING and the SANDMAN PRESENTS books, both of which tend to be uneven, Peter's work is some of the best in comics over the last two years. He took over the writing duties on issue 51, and made the book tougher, scarier, and totally gut wrenching. He's the most brutal "new" author out there (although he did write EMPIRE LANES years ago), and he doesn't pull punches with readers. He's one to watch."
Michael Thomas chimes in with Howard Chaykin.
"We haven't seen Chaykin do much drawing in this decade (BLACK KISS and POWER & GLORY are 2 of 3 I can get off the top of my head), but anyone who's ever read BLACK KISS will understand why Chaykin rules. He runs circles around those try to write "intricate" stories. And he draws the sexiest women and men with attitude. Just a shame he's not drawing more."
I have to agree with you there. I've read comparatively little of Chaykin's work, but enjoyed it immensely. Alas, he's more or less run away to Hollywood for good. He does, after all, have to put food on the table. But it's an event when he comes back for a book. I'm working on picking up the AMERICAN FLAGG series somewhere along the way, and I'll be sure to review it here when I finally do.
We start the controversy with Joshua Kern's suggestion: John Byrne.
"I suppose that as a long-time Byrne reader I should cast a vote for him in the writer/artist column. If one were to count everything he's done in the '90s, maybe not, be he had great runs on NAMOR (I think his art never looked better than when he started doing inks on NAMOR) and NEXT MEN, not to mention BATMAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA and GENERATIONS. Even AVENGERS WEST COAST was pretty good. Beyond say, '95, though, he hasn't put out consistent good work on a monthly book. Except Hidden Years."
I hadn't thought of putting Byrne on the list -- his tastes mostly running afoul of mine in the past few years -- but you're right, Joshua. He definitely does deserve to be on the list, and for all the books you cite. The fact that NEXT MEN has never been finished is one of the great publishing tragedies of the '90s. NAMOR was one of the first titles I started reading from its first issue, and remains to this day a favorite. When you first start reading comics, your earliest ones probably influence you the most. NAMOR, for better or worse, was one of those.
NEXT MEN didn't start all that much later, but I'm forever indebted to my local comic shop owner of the time. The sad thing is that I can't even remember his name anymore, and the comic shop is long gone, not even making it through the boom years. (From what I hear, there were legal reasons for this, but I was only about 15 at the time and didn't pay much attention to that stuff.) When the first issue came out, I was really interested in getting it, but held off on it. The owner, knowing my tastes, asked why I wasn't getting it that week. I told him it was because I just couldn't afford it, but that I should be able to next week. He told me to take it anyway because it was going to sell out, and pay him back when I had the money. I did so next week, but I made sure to buy all the future issues of the book from him. (At least, I did until he went out of business, which wasn't all the much later.)
The owner was a true comics fan, and the comic shop was actually a 1950s throwback ice cream parlor/diner place. Half of the store was devoted to comic books. The place made the bulk of its money from the restaurant half, so the owner got to have fun with the comics, to a certain extent, always giving discounts to his regulars and talking comics all you wanted.
Ah, another trip down memory lane completely derails the topic at hand: Writer/Artists.
Louis Bright-Raven nominates Mike Mignola.
"While Byrne did dialogue the first [HELLBOY] miniseries, SEED OF DESTRUCTION, at his request, Mike Mignola has taken the character and imbued with a wonderful uniqueness and historical references. An extremely well researched book (many of the legends Mignola refers to are traceable, if you care to read some of the myths and historical data), the series provides what is, to my mind at least, the best product Dark Horse has put out in the late 1990s. More importantly than that, Mignola is smart enough not to overwork himself. He makes certain his product is the level of quality he wants it to be before he solicits it."
HELLBOY isn't something I go out of my way for, but I do enjoy it when I read it. I picked up a TPB in San Diego last year and liked it. Maybe I'll continue that tradition this year. Mignola has a huge artist fan-following.
I can remember back to those misbegotten early years of comics collecting when I thought he was the anti-Christ. Did you see what he did with that early issue of X-FORCE?!? Yuck!
Live and learn, eh?
Ryan Sieroty asks for Mike Allred:
"Perhaps one of the finest storytellers out there. In all of his projects, each has its own pace and own voice. His pencils are nothing short of exceptional. Look at RED ROCKET 7; his pencils capture the persona of each rock star that is inscribed. His work on MADMAN is perhaps one of the few mainstream/alternative [books] that is admired by both fans. If you want superheroes done by Allred, look at the wonderful job he did with Kurt Busiek on UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN annual with Spidey and the Fantastic Four. He captures the Kirby essence. His love of kitsch is there and wonderfully displayed. If you want the complete package, Allred is the one: Writer/Penciller/Actor/Director/Musician/Owner of his own production company. DaVinci would be proud."
I don't know. I've never understood Allred's stuff. In all honesty, I still find most of it unreadable. However, I did enjoy the UNTOLD annual a lot. I also know he has a huge following, so I won't deny it. He's also a terribly creative person, creating his own characters and concepts. He's done movies and music. I can respect him for all of that. I like the concept of a guy for whom comics are just on creative outlet, and not the be-all and end-all. It gives our industry a different perspective.
Mike Loughlin votes for David Mack:
"Unquestionably, the finest writer/artist of the '90s is David Mack. His comics are intelligent, engaging, and stunningly beautiful. The words and pictures flow, merge, and play off each other in KABUKI unlike anywhere else. Mack's shear range of art style (pencil, ink, paint, realistic, cartoony, surreal) and rampant use of symbolism make him the new yardstick. Writer/artists for years to come will have to measure up to his work. I realize how flowery I'm sounding, but I find KABUKI head and shoulders above the rest of what's on the stands."
I'm a latecomer to Mack's work. I've only read his DAREDEVIL issues so far, but his style intrigues me. I intend to pick up some of that KABUKI stuff at some point this year.
Rocky Parsons verges into funny animals, sort of:
"My hands-down recommendation for consistency, variety and quality is Stan Sakai for USAGI YOJIMBO. Ongoing since around 1985 through several publishers, he utilizes elements of horror, classical drama, political intrigue, comedy, even space opera through the central figure of Usagi, the wandering rabbit warrior. With a relatively simplistic but clean and beautiful style with painstaking research of feudal Japan, this series always entertains whether with single-issue gems or big multi-issue epics. One of my main goals is to meet the man someday for autographs and a sketch. It's suitable for all ages. Everyone should give USAGI a try."
Who am I to argue? I actually have never read Usagi. Like some of the other stuff mentioned above, it's not that I'm rejecting it out of hand. It's just a matter of only being able to buy and read so much, and there only being so much time in the day. Should I break down and decide to read USAGI, however, where do I start?
There are a bunch of other nominations from the e-mails I've received. Briefly: Bob Fingerman, Adam Warren, Arthur Adams, Evan Dorkin, Walt Simonson (although I'm not sure how much stuff he both wrote and drew in the past decade), Terry Moore, Matt Wagner, Paul Chadwick, Mark Schultz, Linda Medley, Jim Mahfood, Dave McKean, Brian Wood, Jim Valentino, Jerry Ordway, Teri S. Wood, Dan Jurgens, Dave Sim, Zander Cannon, Mike Grell, Jim Starlin, Stuart Immonen, and David Lapham.
The assembly-line method of storytelling seems to predominate more in the deadline-conscious super-hero mainstream titles. Most of the best of the writer/artists out there are smaller press people, or people who own their own work and guide their own destinies. No, this isn't a hard and fast rule, but it seems to track out pretty well.
AMERICA'S BEST CHALLENGER?
A few weeks back, I asked what comics line or company could come close to matching the quality of the output in Alan Moore's line, America's Best Comics. Three e-mails I received mentioned Marvel Knights. Alas, I inadvertently used the wrong e-mail in the column. Mike Thompson had written in first to suggest the line and I promised him I'd quote it. So here's an excerpt from his e-mail, which makes more (and better) points than I did. =)
"I would say that the closest any other company has come (or at least has a chance to) is the Marvel Knights line. The INHUMANS, BLACK PANTHER and the first issues of Mack's DAREDEVIL have been great, visionary storytelling. In each case it's been the revitalization of a tired or seemingly unworkable concept, something Moore himself has done a few times. It might be too early to say if Marvel Knights will hold up, but the future looks good…
"The strength of the best Knight's books is the same as the best ABC books: character. Jenkins made the INHUMANS interesting instead of super powered freaks. Priest gave us a man struggling to be a hero and a king. Mack seems to be bringing us back to the Frank Miller Daredevil (granted, we've only had two issues).
"The biggest weakness of the Knight's books is also the same as the ABC books: lateness. Both companies need to really get a back load of books finished before releasing them. Knights will have a better chance seeing as many of their projects are limited series, although they will probably rush production on the first few issues, and be late with the rest."