I decided to reflect on the comics that infected me with the desire to want to create my own comics. These aren't what I'd consider the best but rather the comics which came into my life at particular times: as a kid, a teenager, an adult. These comics fanned the flames. They are the works that had the greatest influence in my pursuit to create comics.
I'm 9 or 10 years old walking into a local book store and see an image of a Ninja Turtle poking out from the shelves. Like most kids my age, growing up in the 80's meant that you were exposed to cartoons that were solely designed to sell toys. He-Man, Thundercats, Transformers, (no GI Joe - Ma didn't like guns) and eventually Ninja Turtles. I see this book and I assume it's about those pizza eating characters I'm watching on after school cartoons. I'm not ready for what I see in those pages. Rough, dark, almost crude drawings. There's blood. There's weapons. There's cursing! This was like listening to heavy metal or hip hop for the first time. This was raw. This was street. This turned my world upside down. My first real intro into the comic book world.
But it wasn't just those "naughty" things a pre-adolescent kid relishes that got me. There was this Christmas issue where the pages are split between silent panels of Leo fighting the Foot and one bottom panel reserved for the antics of the others at home. It all eventually crescendos with the Leo panels going through the window, merging both environments. The action of the ensuing battle are obviously awesome, but even down beats stuck with me.
This was the first time I recognized comic books for it's storytelling telling art form. Looking back, this is the epitome of what the spirit of indie books are to me and not because it was a hit. I never see these creators mentioned in discussions of great artists probably due to their overwhelming success but it's a shame. I drew more Laird and Eastman styled Turtles in my childhood than I did trees and clouds.
If I picked just one comic for this list, it would have been the twelve issues that encompassed this run. Rather, it would have to include the forward that was in the 1994 trade paperback I had, written by then Wolverine scribe Larry Hama. As if he wrote just to me, he pinpointed what it was I was feeling about this book. "BWS does the whole product, he pencils it, he inks it, and he colors it. He gets partial credit for lettering. It's all his."
Done. Game over for me. That's it. That's what I wanted. You know those times you daydreamed in silence with only your thoughts and fantasies? Like imagining what it's like to have a million dollars or winning the big game? Well this was my daydream: imagining what it would be like to have those same titles attached to my name on a comic in my hand.
The most incredible thing this story arc does is tell some of Wolverine's secrets in the same veil of mystery as was written of it prior, and does all that while giving him only a few lines of dialogue. Unparalleled.
If you've ever taken an art course, figure drawing is the 101 but at times it felt like having to learn physics when you just want to race a car. Despite all the urging from teachers and books, it wasn't until I saw a near naked Wolverine that I realized I must take fundamental skill seriously.
Gen13 by Choi and Campbell
On scraps of computer paper with Bic mechanical pencils, I began making my own comics. X-Men was the end-all-be-all to me at the time, but seeing my renditions of those characters next to the pros did not inspire me much to continue down that path. Instead, I found a limitless excitement to making comics with my friends, my brother and myself. The stereotypical super power origin and coming together as a team to overtake those who gave us said powers. Around that same time, Gen13 was released and it took a hold on me. Gen13 played a heavy influence on my teenage work. X-Men then felt like a thing of the past and something new could surpass a legend if there was enough energy behind it.
J.Scott Campbell is a guy who won an Image talent search and was dropped into the limelight with Jim Lee and Brandon Choi's next creation. The way Campbell illustrated a five issue mini series gave me so much energy. His panels were dynamic and figure drawing was top notch. More than that, the unique elements to his facial features gave each character their own look. Each were distinguishable from a lineup of other men or women in a scene; a talent rarely seen in comics.
This miniseries was more of a torch lighting my fire than a match. Despite all the things it does right, it was more how apparent Campbell's abilities increase with each issue that gave me inspiration. Comparing the first issue to the last, it looks more like an artist growing into their own within a five year span, rather than five issues. This, along with the fact that he was not a professional comic artist, propelled me to keep plugging away at the little comic I was making if only to see my growth within five issues.
There's often a period of time in a comic reader's life where they step away from the game for a bit. Being a teenager means you are focused on dating or college which deplete finances and attention. For these and other reasons, most comic collections usually stop growing in high school. But sometimes there is a book that brings you back into the fold and this was mine.
It wasn't that I stopped reading, really. It was just a weird time for comics. Marvel was in bankruptcy, and making some not-so famous stories. The all-stars who left to form Image were coming off their legendary highs. And then the speculator market crashed. It was a lull for the industry as a whole at the same time I was going off to college.
When I started working in Manhattan a few years later, Marvel and I had grown. The city had a couple great shops and I would also wait for my departing train through Grand Central in the magazine store, all equating to being able to get a steady monthly dose of what was going on in the comic world again. I discovered Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti were trying to lay the pavement to the long road of success Marvel revels in today. Marvel Knights was breathing life into characters, the company, and my sleeping comic appetite.
The books I saw are good again but nothing stops me in my tracks like Alex Maleev's art. This was the closest a comic had come to capturing the NYC energy onthe page. I was walking around in what I was seeing in those pages. It felt like the comic was taking place in a different part of the city at the same time I was walking to my desk job.
This was occurring on the heels of 9/11. Books were coming out addressing this reality from the Marvel perspective. Maybe it was because I grew up there, but for me, comics were part of New York, and New York was part of comics. (Even Joe Quesada himself feels the same way). I didn't read to escape but to add more color to the world around me. And suddenly, comics became important again. This desire I have wasn't just a kid fantasy that never died out. I could be an adult and write and draw adult things in a comic book.
The dream was always to be a comic book artist. I "wrote" my comics just to be able to draw the things I wanted to. My interest in comics peaked when the artists were peaking. The books I bought were all focused on art and driven by art, and I, like many a fan, couldn't get enough of it.
Years later when the storm settled, my adult mind graduated to actually reading comics only to discover I missed out on a whole world of written masterpieces. Moore, Miller, Milligan. Ennis, Ellis, Etc.
As great as it was to catch up, my comic creation process would remain unchanged. A few notes, and adding dialogue to pages as the last step, a.k.a. the Stan Lee/ Marvel method.
But for some reason I read Scalped and I started dissecting the written word rather than the art. Or even what is not written on the page but behind the scenes in the script. This book is about a forgotten Native American society, drugs, murder, and so many things I don't like and don't want to read about, yet I couldn't put it down. Like a story by the camp side, it's how Jason Aaron dictates to us and parcels out what he wants us to know in his slow burn manner that he does so well. This isn't his best work. He's gone on to be acclaimed for other amazing works as well as written for almost every single Marvel book, but this was his first major run at a time he was beating down doors for work.
Maybe this just entered my life at a later stage but I started trying to take a serious take on writing full scripts, read more books on writing, and even took an online course. All just because a guy used a pair of nunchucks in a bar fight in the opening pages of Scalped.