Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Resurrecting Immortality

Inevitably, even the most die-hard comic fans stop buying them. They get married, have kids, move far away or into smaller, shared spaces, or get downsized, sick or otherwise preoccupied and let go of their collections. I have done this, myself, on several occasions. But after each move, separation, career change and spiritual cleansing there is always a handful of comics I just can't let go and Brendan McCarthy’s art has been in most of them. An original, four-way-folded Revolver promo poster has survived a dozen relocations for twenty years, and at some point I made the conscious decision to trash almost every photograph from my childhood, but kept several beat-up issues of the British punk newspaper SOUNDS because of the Electrick Hoax comics in them. I lost my social security card ages ago, but I know that my Skin graphic novel, the disturbing tale of a thalidomide baby cum angry adolescent skinhead, is between my high school yearbook and the manuscript of my first novel. 

Why? Well, for one, Brendan McCarthy is a genius.

Most of the innovations in comicdom’s past twenty-five years can be directly traced to his and writer Peter Milligan’s experimental forays into sequential storytelling, which stretch back to the late 1970s. The first person to suggest that superhero costumes were silly and toss a jacket on them, McCarthy has also been far ahead of the curve on superhero sexuality and post-modern narrative devices. McCarthy not only incorporated dadaic psychedelia and surrealism before it was cool, he helped design (and redesign) many of the characters that ushered those concepts into the mainstream. Brendan’s groundbreaking work at 2000 AD, Crisis, and Revolver paved the way for DC’s Vertigo imprint by either influencing, introducing or collaborating with the writers who helped launch it. His penchant for over-the-top (albeit, tongue-in-cheek) excess was also humorlessly co-opted by Image Comics, but we won’t blame him for that.

As important and as often overlooked as Steve Ditko was before him, Brendan McCarthy is a revolutionary. He’s an innovator’s innovator. He’s a modern day Jim Steranko with a better sense of story. He’s a visionary stylist who hasn’t sacrificed awareness for aesthetics. He’s exceptional but unassuming.

A collected volume of Brendan’s long out-of-print comics is not just way overdue; it’s essential.

I’m proud to confess that Brendan McCarthy’s work has highlighted some of the most pivotal events of my own, actual life. When I kissed my very first girlfriend at the age of thirteen, I had a copy of Strange Days #1 in my left hand. For the life of me as I write this I can’t remember that girl’s name, but I remember the comic and how awkward it was holding onto it and her, too; trying not to roll it up or drop it, but ultimately losing on both counts–losing on three, technically, if we include the girl.

When I was nineteen and jobless, fresh to Los Angeles from the northern Boston suburbs, I sold my first comic book collection to a shop sporting a sun-faded Rogan Gosh poster (“He’s Hot, He’s Hindu… In Revolver!”). I told the owner I’d price all ten boxes and run his sports card operation if he gave me a job, which he did. That shop’s manager was a sharp Chilean named Gaston Dominguez who shared my interest in dystopian British comic strips and grindcore. We became best pals, roommates, and I even helped physically build his fledgling shop. Meltdown Comics and Collectibles was at least partially financed by our joint, original comic book art sales–including most of the 25 pages of Shade the Changing Man #22. I say “most,” because I kept page 24, the full, psychedelic splash, which was also the first interior page featured in my Pop Sequentialism exhibit and book. To me it's the epitome of the British New Wave influence on modern comics: great style and great substance.

Peter Milligan
’s text, “What’s left when you’ve left too soon,” resonates with greater poignancy as I grow older. McCarthy integrated the text as pop art, perhaps as a gentle reminder that we are only immortal for a limited time, but our work lives on.

When I curated my first massive, multi-artist exhibition as director of La Luz de Jesus Gallery I had the pleasure of including not one, but two Brendan McCarthy pastel drawings. It was at a later incarnation of that same show that I met my wife. I don’t think these events are unrelated. There is a string that runs through the entire body of Brendan’s work that draws people to it. Those people respond and bring something additional to the narrative, which manifests in creative ways. For evidence, one need look no further than the work of Grant Morrison, whose vast canon of meta-fiction is in many ways an extension of Milligan & McCarthy’s work on Paradax. It’s serious fun, and I mean that nonironically: it’s both intelligent and satirical, but above all, the work is significant. Dark Horse recently announced that they plan to release an omnibus including all of Brendan McCarthy’s work with writer Peter Milligan. This will preserve for future generations, one of comics’ all-time, greatest collaborations.

Hopefully that's what's left when we've all left too soon.

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