It's the birthday today of The Mighty Richard Corben, legendary of course for his fantastic photo-realist artwork full of huge, great, pendulous swinging....well, actually pretty much everything in a Richard Corben strip is huge, great, pendulous and swinging. Let's look at a couple of humorous pieces today: First off, here's something chucklesome from the August 1975 issue of Creepy. Who would'a thunk the universe would end...like this!!
And from Fantagor, here's a typically Corben-esque take on The Garden Of Eden myth, full of loads of huge, great etc. etc.
And what about this accompanying illo for the above story, one of the all too rare collaborations between Rich & Vaughn Bode. Why didn't these two ever do a series together?
Here's a slightly odd piece, courtesy of Sal Quartuccio's Hot Stuf'. Sonny Trinidad is one of those Phillipino artists who kind of got lost in the rush next to giants like Alcala or Nino, but I always like the 'busyness' of his linework. This is a great example of that, with crowded layouts that amazingly work, and touches of Alcala, Nebres and even Buscema throughout. There's a couple of strange things about this strip tho', the first of which is the bizarre, stilted dialogue & captions. It feels like it was translated, and translated badly. Also it feels like a prologue, or at least a portion of a much larger story. When you get to the last page, check out the little 'fini' accompanied by a head shot of Lenka, our Red Sonja-esque heroine. I suspect this is a Fillipino serial that our pal Sal bought up a portion of, maybe with aims of printing the whole thing. It's good stuff, whatever it's source.
I don't normally disparage Bronze Age ads, but this one always bugged me. And everytime I come across it in a back issue it irritates me all over again. I understand that you can't give Atomic Man the exact same powers as The Six Million Dollar Man for fear of hordes of lawyers coming down on your back, but think about it: Surely, if you've only got one atomic leg that can run 200 miles an hour, doesn't that mean that your other leg would end up A BLOODY STUMP trying to keep up? Honestly, that annoyed the hell out of me.
I don't think G.I. Joe actually made it to the shores of Blighty in the '70's. I could be wrong, but as we already had Action Man doing much the same thing for Queen & Country I can't imagine Brit kids would've been interested. As for me, I'd rather spend my money on comics anyway.
Here's Bulletman The Human Bullet ( fresh from The Dept. of Redundancy Dept. ) doing his bullettastic thing in another ad from the same period. Who drew these things, anybody know? There's a bit of Romita, a bit of Leiber, and even a bit of Giacioa in there. It's like a weird mix that makes no sense. A bit like Bulletman's costume, which more closely resembles Condom Man. Were there any more of these? I'm starting to like 'em...
Ok, I've talked about this briefly before, but I'm gonna mention it again 'cos, well, I think it's funny. Looking at that Sabre post reminded me of this particular affliction that seems to affect only comic fans: I've suffered from it my entire collecting life, and it still bugs me. I am, of course, talking about getting slightly different versions of the same material. I got that Sabre run about a year & a half ago at a second hand book/comic shop here in sunny Norwich, BUT I only bought issues 3 to 14 ( when the run ended ) and not the first two issues, which reprint the original graphic novel, in colour.
At the time, the collector in me was wrestling with my common sense, and urging me to get those issues. Bravely, I resisted. Firstly, they were prohibitively expensive for material I already had, and secondly THEY WERE MATERIAL I ALREADY HAD. The other day, I popped back into that shop, and sure enough those two issues are still there. (You'd think, if you hadn't sold something in a year and a half, you'd get the message and lower the price, wouldn't ya?) Anyway, I still refuse to buy 'em. Yeah, it does mean I don't have a complete set of Sabre, which as I'm sure you all know, is the most irritating itch in a comic fan's life. And, if I did buy 'em, I could easily justify it in all kinds of ways: There's a couple of new Gulacy covers, it's in colour so that's slightly different, there might be a back up or two, there's bound to be a new introduction from McGregor, the letter pages are always good in Sabre, and on & on. But no, dammit, I'm NOT gonna succumb! This is ridiculous! How many copies of the same thing do I need?! Take Gil Kane's classic newspaper sci-fi epic Star Hawks, for instance. I've got this book, lovingly produced by Uber Kane fan Daniel Hermann, and ok, it's got a few production faults, but it's the whole series. I own the whole series of Star Hawks.
So why oh why, if I'm at a convention, and I see either of these two books do I want them?!
Well, Pete, you get a couple of new Gil covers, and anyway, they're just nice to have and...NO! NO! THE MADNESS HAS TO STOP SOMEWHERE! I've got shelves full of Essential's & Showcase's, and as an English comic fan, who originally read most of this stuff in black & white anyway, I don't mind the lack of colour. You can get a better feel for the artwork and inking. But I still want half of the original's reprinted in those books. Still want the Epic Killraven graphic novel, still want Shazam! No.3, still want a complete set of Tales Of The Zombie. Why?! It's in BLACK & WHITE!! I'VE ALREADY GOT IT!!! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?!!
"At his worst, he could be overwritten and almost incoherent in his pretensions. At his best, he brought to comics...a literary style and philosophical ambition, and a maturity even in Comics-Code approved stuff, that's rarely been matched. He makes Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore look like...well, like comic book writers." The Masked Bookwyrm
"Too many words, Don!" Gene Colan
People either love or hate the work of Don McGregor. As you may've guessed, I'm somewhere in the middle. Like the above quotes intimate, people have a problem with McGregor for several reasons: His work is oftimes ludicrously florid, breathtakingly pretentious, and insanely dense & verbose. You can't skim through a Don McGregor book; You open up one of his stories, you're there for a while. Sabre, the graphic novel published by Eclipse that was a big part of starting the whole direct sales movement, is a prime example of McGregor Mania, and even as a fan, I have mixed feelings about it (see previous post, back issue fans!) A couple of years later, Dean Mullaney of Eclipse gave Don and his creation another spin, in a regular series, firstly reprinting the graphic novel in colour, then heading full pelt into a sequel: An Exploitation Of Everything Dear, and you know what? I think it's better. Here's the cover to the first installment, full of the kind of dialogue that'll make Don haters wince in pain. (And this is just the cover!)
I'll admit, it makes me chuckle in a kind of "Only Don McGregor..." way, and the lettering is unbelievably amateurish for a professional book, but it's a great cover. In fact, most of the covers on this series are great, done as they are by Kent Williams. It's a shame he couldn't do the insides too.
The interior art is actually by Don's frequent collaborator Billy Graham. Now, as a kid I hated Billy's work (which is why I never got round to reading their Black Panther series properly), but I've since grown to appreciate his style, though I still feel he really shone with a good inker. Like in the first couple of issues here, where he's paired with George Freeman.
Anyway, the last time we saw Sabre he was walking away from his pregnant lady love, the test-tube created Melissa Siren. This time around, he's been captured by the fascist police state now in charge of America and flung in a cell, awaiting execution. His old adversary/best pal Blackstar Blood is trying to help him break out, and we're also introduced to fellow prisoners, and gay couple, Deuces Wild & Summer Ice. In this first issue, we also get to meet the new bad guys, Joyful Slaughter, a spendidly venal good ol' boy who's running for President, and who sees Sabre's death as a perfect political showpiece, and his sidekick, animatronic assassin The Lounge Lizard, who smokes a pipe and wears a silk dressing gown while dismembering rebels.
Joyful is a great villain, all fake bonhomie & psychotic tendencies. The Lizard sadly, is a bit of a non-character. Maybe it's the way Graham draws him, but I just didn't feel the same menace I did from his predecessor Grouse, from the original story. That scene between Sabre & Joyful also points out another thing that irks McGregor's detractors. It's the way his characters will suddenly go off on long winded tracts about the meaning Don wants to impart from the story, and I guess sometimes it does feel slightly shoehorned in. But then, on the other hand, Sabre does talk like that all the time. There's also the names Don comes up with for his characters, some people hate that. Yeah, it is a little wearing I suppose, but then Dickens did it, so why not? For those who care, about halfway through the run, it's explained that in this future world, it's the fashion for people to rename themselves in such a florid way. But above & beyond all that, what I like about this series, especially compared to the original, is that here the characters do feel like real, breathing people. No, nobody talks like this, but in the world of McGregor, it's such a total package, where you're clearly not in the real world, you can kind of go with it. Anyway, Sabre, Deuces & Summer escape from Joyful & his cronies, and head across The Rockies, our hero hell bent on reaching Melissa before the birth of their baby. Meanwhile, we're treated to several scenes of Melissa waiting for her man in the company of Willoughby, the Woody Allen-esque schlump who used to be on the bad guys side. Along the way, we also get this nice flashback about how the two first met, and at last, we start to feel like, yes, this is a real couple, and yes, they do love each other.
Moving on into the radiation soaked Oklahoma, Sabre & companions discuss, at great length, how it all went wrong in this Land Of The Free & Home of The Brave. Again, this is a little wearing, but I think even Don realizes this, as he repeatedly has Deuces & Summer tell Sabre to shut the hell up. Why I'll defend McGregor to the skies, even with all the stuff that annoys me nearly as much as everybody else, is when he hits upon heart-rendingly poignant scenes like this, where an old couple have died, hand in hand in their radiation suits.
Deuces and Summer work ok as supporting characters, though there is the feeling that Don is trying just a little too hard to make them personifications of opposing viewpoints (Deuces the 'man' of the relationship, as tough & can do as Sabre, and Summer the shrill, moaning 'woman' who eventually comes into his own) Finally reaching the rebel stronghold (really just a collection of shacks) we're introduced to another great tough woman, in the tradition of Killraven's Mint Julep & Volcana Ash, the viper mouthed Midnight Storm. Midnight is a rough, tough hero like Sabre, except she stays and defends her people, instead of gallivanting around like Sabre does. That's the way she sees it, and is willing to let our otherwise preoccupied hero know about it. I suspect these two might be ex-lovers, but at this point, Midnight's animosity is unexplained. This rest of the series is a tour-de-force, as Joyful, The Lounge Lizard, Blackstar and a small army invade the village, laying waste to all and sundry. McGregor's experimentalism is in full flight, as he spans most of three issues detailing the battle from various angles and character viewpoints, that in real time would probably take only ten minutes to elapse.
And then there's ish 7, which is where we've been leading up to all this time.
It's a great issue, not least because Melissa giving birth is by no means a shock tactic, or a sales gimmick, but a vital ( the vital ) part of the story. According to the letters pages, several distributors were unwilling to stock this issue at the time, but it just works (and why wouldn't it?) and it's an issue that confirms the Don fan in me.
(Love how Sabre holds his baby just like Kunta Kinte in Roots. I don't know if the inference is deliberate, but it works for me) By the last couple of issues, everybody's 'arc's' converge in the tiny shack where Melissa is still giving birth. Willoughby, in an uncharacteristic act of heroism, buys it, Deuces & Summer prove their worth (to themselves if to nobody else), and the final face-off, refreshingly, isn't between Joyful & Sabre, but Joyful & Blackstar.
It all ends semi-happily, for Sabre & Melissa anyway, who don't actually seem to give a stuff for anybody but each other and their (by now two) babies.
An Exploitation Of Everything Dear is a pretty great series in the end, with some real soul to it. Although McGregor nay-sayers may not find anything here to change their minds either. Sometimes, he's so obtuse, you feel like you're missing the meaning of everything he's trying to say, and looking for stuff that isn't there. But like I say, the heart I felt missing from the original book is here in abundance, not least in the fantastic letters pages, where Don's love for & care in his work beats strong, just like in the old Killraven days. You just don't see letters pages like that anymore. Plus there are some great backups with Melissa, Blackstar & Willoughby. Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm prepared to accept the pretension, the speeches and the poetry,' cos I like the heart. And there was more to come...
Stalker was another fantasy book that DC released to great ballyhoo in mid '75, only to last a mere 4 issues. It was one of the first professional sales of fan turned pro Paul Levitz ( who, of course, later became top banana at DC ), and like Atlas' The Destructor, was yet another masterful collaboration between Steve Ditko & Wally Wood. Unlike most of the other sword & sorcery strips released in the wake of Conan, Stalker wasn't just another hack n' slash epic, but something a little different, a little stranger. As opposed to every other fantasy hero, Stalker isn't after revenge for the murder of his family or tribe, but is trying to make up for the One Big Mistake he made which ruined everything. It's also a great costume, simultaneously suggesting Robin Hood and a demonic court jester. In terms of the art, Steve & Wally are on top form on this lost classic. Woody was always more into the fairy tale kind of fantasy anyway, and though seeing a Ditko Conan would've been wild, I doubt it would've suited his style as much as this did. If I tell you any more, it'll just spoil it, so here's the brilliant first issue.
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