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Twizted Tuesday

You know when something is twizzy. It’s dark for the sake of it. It appeals to the kid who spends a lot of time at the mall, not because he likes shopping but because his home-life is such a nightmare. It’s for the Korn fans of the world.

Comics went through a grueling period where almost everything in the creator-owned field had this flavor. It was a nightmare for reasonable adults. Here’s a few awful flashbacks.

Something called Violent Messiahs that apparently features the cousin to Venom, Grendel, and Spawn (the lame cousin no one invites to family gatherings). Any time you use heart motifs like this, you know you’re in twiz territory. But even without this lame cover, we’d still be talking about a comic called “Violent Messiahs” which, by nature, is for kids without strong father figures.

I should be praising indie creators who struggle to get a hit, right? Damn, man. This one makes it hard. Look at this character’s hair? Most proto-Slipknot thing I’ve ever seen. Fun fact: This issue has seen over twenty print runs. Even if those are runs of as low as 1000, it’s a crazy total. I’m having a vision of standing in line for a mall pretzel behind a fan of this book.

That’s it for this week’s Twizzy Tuesday. Maybe next week I’ll highlight the grandaddy of all gothy-nu sequential art: THE CROW.

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Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants plus Levis 501 Denim

Back in the early 90’s I remember seeing a commercial for Levi’s Jeans that featured a young up and coming artist named Rob Liefeld. The commercial was directed by none other than Spike Lee, who at the time was directing a lot of Nike’s commercials. In the background you can see images of The New Mutant comics that Rob had begun illustrating for Marvel. The title was in a major slump until Rob came along and pulled it out. Later on Rob would leave and start Image comics along with some other great artists. Rob has been no stranger to controversy his career like many other artist has been plagued with many ups and downs. But I would rather focus on some of the milestones instead. These are few of my favorite New Mutant’s issues.


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Checking out SPAWN?

This seems like as good a spot to start as any. As I mentioned in my earlier Greg Capullo post, he may have done Spawn better than McFarlane himself, and even a circa 1992 Grant Morrison is one worth looking into. How did I not know these existed until doing some research today? I guess writing a three issue run on Spawn isn’t something that Grant Morrison is necessarily screaming from the clocktower about these days.

One thing should be said about Spawn, and specifically the first say 50 issues – they knew how to throw down a cool looking cover. That might be the only thing to be said, but major kudos to Capullo, McFarlane and Co…

And if collected editions are your thing, here it is in all it’s glory.

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Greg Capullo, an appreciation.

Greg Capullo started as a comic artist with a style that, while not always the most critically applauded, had it’s own feel. If you know his name, most likely the first thing you think of, however, is his work on SPAWN, which people will argue was just a reference piece rip of Todd McFarlane’s style. It brings to light the question, what role does originality play in terms of recognition of quality. I would like to take a minute to appreciate the fact that Capullo was a master of form, and anything lacking in terms of originality was more than made up for in terms of aesthetic and growth over the years.

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite. Quasar.

This is the era with which I recognize the most uniquely “signature” form in Capullo’s style. While he will reference John Buscema as a notable influence, I would say that his style in this period was somewhere between Arthur Adams and the mid ’80s work of Sal Buscema. It had some of the same flair for emotive, but simple facial expression that Adams somehow mastered. Compare the rest of his figure illustrations and then the faces of these figures. His use of fine details in his figures should be seen in a nice contrast with his very simple faces. His focus instead – in his finer moments – in the face was to direction, eyes, and emotion. Capullo did this well, and while his style does not share that fine detail with Adams, it begins to work in sharp but defined lines that work very well with motion and proportion, ala Sal Buscema’s work on Spectacular Spider-Man. I could go on, but just go with me here.

While I definitely enjoyed Capullo’s work (for some reason I vividly remember some of these issues of Quasar featuring Makkari moreso than many of the much more big name Marvel romps of the time) I also will not deny that it had it’s failings. His facial work fluctuated from the emotive style I mentioned above to simple flat and lifeless. Arthur Adams soft, rounded lines helped to cover the deadface moments – with Capullo’s near “L” shaped jaws there’s no room for a lackluster moment. He had those. And it hurt.

When he moved on to be the successor of Rob Liefeld on X-Force, the pressure was on. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel was trying to have a bit on visual continuity on one of it’s more valuable properties at the time. Capullo gave a downright Darwinian effort – he evolved his style to a more bombastic, detailed effort that should be seen as both a success and failure. He was slowly moving away from some of the simple angles that could draw comparison to the work of Sal Buscema, but was also moving towards that Liefeld style of nuclear-steroid musculature. He managed, however, to keep a faithful hand to proportion, a welcome change on X-Force that held it together after the big name ticket left the title.

Given the situation, Capullo did a much more than competent job and by the end of his run on X-Force (10 issues, as compared to Liefeld’s 9) the series had transformed from a vehicle for a single entity to a living, breathing comic book.

And that might be his greatest strength. When Capullo moved to SPAWN, his style again had morphed. This time it echoed with the ever present McFarlane style, with uber-detailing and his angles and line softening, it also can be compared with some of the best work of Adam Kubert in the mid to late ’90s.* He was able to take McFarlane’s level of style and make it an applicable long standing form that transformed the book much the same way he helped to transform X-Force. From a fan’s perspective, Liefeld’s X-Force and McFarlane’s Spawn were merely vehicles for artist/creators who were larger than life, larger than the project. It can be compared to watching a Chicago Bulls game in 1993; you weren’t watching the Bulls really. You were watching MICHAEL JORDAN. Sure there were 9 other players on the floor, coaches, organizations, history… all of that was secondary to this individual.

And it takes something, or someone, transcendent to take interest that is focused on the strength of an individual and redirect it to a more intangible entity. Capullo did this. Twice, in my opinion. And to even do it once is something that should be exalted.

*I would have given my right arm to see what Capullo would have done with some of the Marvel X-Men books in ’90s. It would have been just awesome.

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Walking Dead Compendium

Walking Dead is about to explode on the small screen, and so far the reviews on it are decent. I am skeptical at best, but the comic has done very well and become somewhat of a cult phenomenon.

What I do love is that Image has made it really easy for a broader audience to check the book out. They have pushed it consistently as well as continuing to use events like Free Comic Book Day to introduce the book to anyone willing to give it a whirl. Here is my favorite look for the book – a 48 issue compendium collection that takes you from issue 1- and on for about 1000 pages or so. Great look, and the edition looks awesome. This retails for $60, so scoop it up for $31.99 + $3.50 shipping. Not too shabby.

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For the Image Superfan Only

The ashcan format is typically used to pitch to publishers. An aspiring creator makes a miniature version of his or her proposed comic, typically with 10 or fewer pages, and presents it to an editor in the hopes of being noticed. From a legal standpoint, printing it out is useful down the line if someone tries to steal your intellectual property. You can say you’ve published it (the law doesn’t see much difference between mass printing and a run of 30 at Kinkos) and own the rights.

Ashcans are also used as promotional items. Or were for awhile. I don’t see it nearly as often anymore. Maybe it’s because people aren’t really interested in looking at a tiny, shitty version of an upcoming comic when they can just look at PDF’s of it online.

Here’s some ashcans from third-tier and largely forgotten Image books. Why would you want something that is already mediocre in a format that furthers its shittiness? Direct that question to the guy asking $124.99 for a PITT ashcan. Wow. Thinking about that just made me giggle. I want one-billion spacebucks for my copy of Web of Spider-man #50 (featuring Rocket Racer) that my dog peed on.

Oh Pitt, we hardly knew thee.

A very necessary SECOND Pitt ashcan. This advertising blitz won me over. I have to take my hat off to the seller here. Not only is he/she asking way too much for something barely cool, he/she also has the balls to only provide a blurry photo. This person is bold. I respect it.

This one I had to Google. What the hell is Darker Image, you ask? It was a four-issue series intended to introduce us to such crucial characters as… whoever that guy on the right is. But it only ever made it to one issue. Come to think of it, that’s probably all the introduction needed.

Mixed feelings well up inside me here. Larry Stroman, to me, is one of the best artists of his generation. Totally undervalued. But, without the benefit of a strong editorial staff, he ties himself to some unreadable material.

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Savage Larsen

Since that post detailing the Gaiman/McFarlane beef, I’ve become obsessed with one of that debacle’s periphery players- Erik Larsen. I mentioned in that post that Larsen seemed to be going for a Dave Sim level of commitment to his creator-owned book. Like Cerebus, The Savage Dragon has that insular feeling one gets from a piece of writing that has no editor. I mean that in the kindest way possible.

I follow the Twitter accounts of a few dozen comic pros, and uniformly the ones working for the Big Two hint at the art-by-committee nature of swimming in that pool. Larsen, more so than even the other Image Comics originators, does his work unprotected. No rubbers in Larsen’s world; dude operates without a net. The man drills a hole in the side of his head and allows whatever hits the page to stay there. Wether that’s to his benefit or detriment is a matter of opinion, but you’ve gotta respect the singular vision it takes to swat the flies away and do things on your own terms.

Here’s a smattering of Dragon paraphernalia from over the years. Let’s start with the basics. Savage Dragon issue #1. Check out the absolutely awful lettering on the cover. It was 1992, I guess. I had no idea there were variants on this issue and I had no idea the variants were just different colors on the logo. But apparently that passed for a variant back then.

Remember when every intellectual property needed trading cards?

Here’s a animation cell from the Savage Dragon cartoon, which aired on the USA Network in ’95. Check out these muscles. I’m usually not one to comment on comics or cartoons “not making sense” but what the hell am I looking at here? At least the sky is cool.

Here’s a decent Savage Dragon figure from McFarlane Toys. Dragon has a half-dozen toys in his likeness, but this is the one that works. The others have had him looking like a Muppet auditioning for the Village People.

Do yourselves a favor and follow @ErikJLarsen on Twitter. Some people compare it to beating your head against wall made of dried dog shit, other people find it insightful. I just like that the dude knows how big his professional cock is and doesn’t fear swinging it around. That’s what you get when you’ve been doing things your own way for 20 years.

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When Tigers Fight

So (further) verdict came down the other day and it seems that Neil Gaiman is entitled to royalties from use of characters he created for Todd McFarlane’s Spawn book and their subsequent (in the court’s view) renaming and continued use by Todd. This isn’t good for Todd because that millionaire’s company is struggling with bankruptcy as result of the “Tony Twist” case. I’m not a Spawn reader or a lawyer specializing in intellectual property, so instead of speaking on matters I don’t fully understand, I thought I’d give our readers the heads-up on auctions for some books from the key players in this thing.

For most of my youth Neil had the same sort of following Anne Rice is plagued with. You knew he was a good writer, but you didn’t want to be “into” him, you know? Cerebus was for the artier-than-thou kids who pretended they understood it, manga was for the spazzes, and Neil’s Sandman series was for the mopey loners. As it turned out, the series was great. But for my money, I thought this spin-off limited series was a creative high-point for the writer.

Here’s the issue that started the protracted legal dispute. Neil came up with some characters, Todd eventually didn’t want to pay, so he made characters that are nearly identical. I’m not picking sides here, but I thought creating nearly identical characters is central to comics? Regardless, I’m gonna be straight-up about this: Why anyone, even if money was at stake, would want to claim ownership of these characters is beyond me. I didn’t like Spawn when it came out, and I don’t like it today. I respect anyone who commits themselves to world-building and runs with it, but man, the Spawn universe is a world I could do without. Mercenaries, hellspawns, evil clowns… I know that probably sounds like fun to a lot of people, but it was entirely too Juggalo for my tastes. That said, Todd has made comics history a few times. Here’s another example, though it may not be history he cares to revisit.

What does Erik Larsen have to do with any of this, you ask? Well, Erik was the head of Image when the initial ruling against Todd came down (2002, maybe?). So this whole thing probably has some residual sting for him, but moreover, he’s an outspoken dude who didn’t shy from comment on the subject, then and now. His Savage Dragon book didn’t keep my interest long, but I’ve recently revisited it and while I’m still not a regular reader, his commitment to the book impresses me. I think he’s going for a Dave Sim longest-single-person-narrative-in-human-history sort of thing. This issue was apparently during Obama’s town hall meeting tour of comicland, because he was in every damn book for about two months.

And here’s an issue of Marvelman, er, Miracleman. Why do I include this? Wikipedia it. A lot of this Neil/Todd beef has overlap with the incredibly complex ownership entanglement over this British property Neil used to work on. Marvel Comics says it owns it now (that’s their reward for bankrolling Neil’s lawsuit… read the wikipedia entry), but who’s to say? If they told me Dr. Dre had majority shares in it, I would believe it at this point. Maybe I own it. I chose an Alan Moore issue of the book because I liked the insane asking price; Neil’s work came later.

If you want to watch professionals take shots at each other in a public forum, I urge you to follow as many of those involved as you can on Twitter. It’s like pro-wrestling but just slightly more literary.

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Rob Liefeld and the Easter Bunny?

Two things that a young boy in the late 80’s might still really dig. 

And then… slowly but surely,  they start to fade away. The easter bunny begins to become a fat inducing, diabetic bunny who just won’t stop growing. And Rob Liefeld? 

Well we all know… big guns distract you from his ankles. And feet. And hairlines. And general body proportions. But whatever. It’s almost Easter, a lot you reading probably know about Rob’s faith – he’s probably pretty excited. So, here’s a couple of Liefeld originals to adorn your house, maybe not necessarily appropriate for hanging by the Easter baskets.

Siryn. Warpath. Toad. Top tier here people.

Actually a personal favorite. The only bummer here is the Hulk’s head/hair… but otherwise this is my absolute favorite non- New Mutants Liefeld work. So cool.

Oh and this gem…

In interviews, Liefeld has compared himself to other popular artists who experience meteoric success and acclaim early in their careers but near-pariah status afterwards, notably Britney Spears, who “became vapid pop music, and perhaps I was nothing more than a vapid comic book artist.”

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