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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Help Lift the USA Ban on Moebius

In just under a month (on March 10th), it will mark one year that we've all lived in a world without Moebius. And with his passing, American comic book fans have been virtually assured that none of his works yet published in English will ever be.

It's even possible that currently available titles from Humanoids (the US branch of the company founded by Moebius himself, and the original publishers of Metal Hurlant) will disappear once their current contract expires. Why? The rights reside with artist's estate, who seem unwilling to negotiate the licensing. That means no Blueberry, no Arzach, and possibly no more Incal (so snatch these up while you can!)

Moebius was born Jean Henri Gaston Giraud in the suburbs of Paris on May 8, 1938. By the time he was three, his parents would divorce amidst the Nazi occupation of France and an indelible rift of country and family would contribute to his penchant for pseudonyms later in life. Giraud studied art at age 15, and within a year he was drawing his own cowboy strips. After completing military service in Algeria 1961, Giraud apprenticed with famed French comics pioneer, Joseph "Jijé" Gillain. By 1962, he partnered with writer Jean-Michel Charlier to create Blueberry.

Superheroes didn't catch on in France like they did in America. In French comics (or, la bande desinée) it was Western adventure stories that were king, and Blueberry had the impact of Spiderman and Batman combined. It's since been translated into 16 languages, and helped launch a cottage industry of genre adventures.  His famous nom de plum was borne in 1963, as a means to produce darker, sci-fi works without carrying his more experimental style over into the Blueberry strip. By 1964, Giraud had abandoned the Moebius identity as censorship loosened in France, allowing him to  bring explicit and esoteric themes into Blueberry as well–mirroring the freedom of the new French cinema. It would be ten years until he revived it, forming the "Les Humanoides Associes" collective and launching Metal Hurlant magazine. When the magazine launched in the US as Heavy Metal, it introduced an entire generation (myself included) to French creators of la bande desinée and Italian masters of fumetti. Moebius' partnership with cult film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky would yield the internationally acclaimed L'Incal series which became a huge influence on filmmakers and helped Jean embark on a lucrative career as a storyboard artist and visual futurist, and later a concept designer and animation director. The films include Alien, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, The Fifth Element, and Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.

Effective as he was in these other capacities, none could hold a candle to his comics. If you've been lucky enough to see his work in Heavy Metal or the Dark Horse and Humanoids reprints, you know what a loss it this ban is to English speaking audiences. So how can we change this?

There's a facebook petition

There you will find an archive of facts and testimony by publishers, creators and influential fans, all of which plead for Moebius' widow (his second wife, Isabelle Giraud) to allow Humanoids to negotiate the English language rights (primarily in the US) for all of his unlicensed titles to a competitive marketplace, insuring that his heirs receive free market compensation, and preserving the artist's legacy among the largest consumer base of sequential art. The world's second largest market, Japan, is also annexed currently, so I hope someone will take charge there also.

But as it stands, even Casterman, the original French publisher of most of Giraud's pre-Humanoids output is at the mercy of his heirs, who seem indifferent to his published legacy. 


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Comic Book Dream Come True!

Sixteen months ago, my friend David Mack (on one of his frequent trips to Los Angeles) almost spent his birthday alone. He was a guest in a house without a host in a week when almost everyone else he knew was out of town. Luckily, his temporary residence was square between the gallery where I work and the apartment I used to rent. So my roommate and I (who both share birthdays within a month of David's) demanded that he let us take him out for a celebratory meal. That evening proved quite pivotal, not only in a friendship that has since included an art exhibition and a future publishing project, but in realizing that regardless of where you are from, as you progress through life you'll find other people from completely different backgrounds who are just like you.

In the course of a conversation that eclipsed the operating hours of a pretty great little gastropub in Silverlake, Mack mentioned that he was working on a script with Brian Michael Bendis for the final Daredevil story–a sort-of The Dark Knight Returns for old horn head. It's no secret that I share the opinion of most comic book academics that Daredevil is perhaps the best written character in superhero fiction. From Frank Miller's two incredible and groundbreaking stints on the title, through many high-calibre stories (including a run by David Mack) to Bendis' who-thought-it-would-be-possible-to-unseat-Frank-Miller-as-the-best-writer-of-Daredevil run, to the holy-shit-I-can't-believe-Ed-Brubaker-improved-upon-the-Bendis run, to the current series which won yet another Eisner Award for Mark Waid & Paolo Rivera, Daredevil has been in some very capable hands.

As a strawberry-blonde teenager named Matt with aspirations to attend law school, and whose dad had been an amateur boxer (long before retiring from a lifetime of government service), I had more than a little in common with blind attorney, Matt Murdoch. I, too, got very into martial arts at a young age, and even did a little pee-wee boxing; I dabbled in non-competitive kick-boxing in my twenties, but I never became a ninja. I got to keep my eyesight, though, so I guess it's a fair trade. Almost as a joke, I told David to feel free to write me in as a shit-bag mob lawyer in whatever story he was writing.

Deadly serious, he looked at me and said, "Are you sure? I'm working on a character right now who doesn't have a name yet."
I was floored. "Hell yeah! That would be awesome!" It was like it was my birthday, not David's.

A few months later I got this text: Just got done proofing your page at Bill Sienkiewicz's place!
I replied: Sin-KEV-itch! Drawing me?
Mack texted back: Bill's inking. Klaus Jansen drew you :)

The man who collaborated with Miller on the original Daredevil run and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was in turn collaborating with the artist on Miller's way-outside-the-box Elektra: Assassin, only this time their roles are reversed, with Klaus penciling and Bill inking. And they were illustrating the words of talented Kabuki scribe and Echo creator David Mack in conjunction with Brian Michael Bendis, whose achievements are too lengthy to list, so I'll just call him the King of Marvel Comics. Somewhere (probably on facebook), there are a few pictures from that night, and hilariously, my silver suit jacket and striped tie have made it onto the page.

I'm not sure if colorist Matt Hollingsworth (Death: The High Cost of Living) is aware, but he nailed it.

In a gracious turn, the lads made me much taller and instead of making me a mob lawyer, I'm the guy that replaces Matt Murdoch as Foggy's business partner.

The law firm of Nelson & Kennedy is referenced no less than three times in the first panel at left. In a bit of unforeseen coincidence, my next door neighbors growing up on Western Ave. in Lynn, MA were The Nelsons. No lawyers there, though.

I wrote about this series last October, when the first issue hit the shops, and I'm happy to say it remains as strong as that initial promise portended. I'd say it's the most engaging masked series out there, probably because of the freedom that tackling a story outside the regular continuity affords. The work is worth the collective talents of the names attached, which is above and beyond any number of manufactured marketing ploys or subpar vanity projects. When the omnibus is finally released it will be great to have all the alternate covers collected in a single volume with the individual issues–especially since both David Mack and Alex Maleev have produced their own versions. Since Michael Lark wasn't a collaborator on either Mack or Bendis' stints at the helm (Lark penciled the Ed Brubaker series apex), I doubt they'll call him in for a cover, but it would be the cherry on top of a pretty sweet series. 

Of course I got my dessert early. Thanks David!