My first comic anthology was published in the early 1980′s. It would be called an “indie-press” comic nowadays, but back then, there was no such thing as independent comic publishers. The local shop called it a “fanzine,” though, to me that implied what we were doing was more derivative than we thought it was. Some of the folks with whom I put together this humble bimonthly have gone on to great things. One (I won’t mention his name because he’s a humble cat) was recently referred to as one of the “comic industry’s top talents.” Another became an editor. One is a lawyer. One does something for Apple. One makes movies. One was rumored to have been killed in a drug-related shooting, but I’ve never been able to confirm that. I hope it isn’t true.
The early 80′s were a great time for the comic industry. They call it the (something) Age now. I forget what metal they use. It isn’t gold or silver, but it’s still a nice metal. My friends and I would hit the local comic shop during school lunch breaks and pick up whatever we could afford. Most memorable to me today were Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, and Walt Simonson’s run on Thor. I also got into the growing independent market. Obscure publishers telling off-the-beaten path stories, often in grainy black and white. I believe, that while I enjoyed the super hero book, it was these other stories that inspired my love of the comic medium.
A few books I will never forget:
ElfQuest by Wendy and Richard Pini. If you check out their webpage, all of the comics are there in color, but the original run released them in stark black and white. This was the first exposure a lot of us had to a black and white comic with a never ending story where the focus rarely centered on a particular climactic battle. And the artwork was something totally unique in the comics world.
Lone Wolf and Cub by Kotsure Ookami and Kozure Okami. A Japanese classic adapted to an American audience. Also in black and white. Something I had never seen before: the starkness of line… sometimes a panel would be nothing but motion lines… yet, you always knew what was going on. And there would be whole pages of silence… no text. You as the reader had to infer what was going on. A big change from the Big Two comics, where every character had to explain his backstory and outline his motivations in every single issue.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It is easy to diss this book because of how it fell quickly into self-parody. But the first nine books (released bi-montly) were spectacular. It worked simultaneously as a humor book and as a hero book, with compelling reoccurring characters and antagonists; plot threads gave way to new plot ideas. And the era ended with a satisfying bang. They should have left it there. Basically, once the cartoon came out, what I loved about the comic had gone. I went over the artwork with a magnifying glass. Literally. The use of cross-hatching shading stimulated my own drawing style. Learned later that they used overlays to achieve the shading effects. I did it with a ruler!
And finally, Usagi Yojimobo by Stan Sakai. I never got into animal books, as such, but I liked the flow of Usagi. I liked how he handled violence… especially as mainstream comics were becoming increasingly violent. I liked the history implicit in ever Usagi story.
Also black and white. Given that my favorite comics of my key comic-loving period were all in black and white, why did I start doing Melandra’s Galaxy in color? The answer to that question in a future entry, I’m sure.