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Len Wein (1948 – 2017).

§ September 11th, 2017 § Filed under obituary § 2 Comments


And so soon after losing Bernie. And like his most famous artistic partner, I am sure Mr. Wein still had so many great stories left to tell that we’ll never get to see. I believe I even saw a recent interview or ‘nother where he was talking about still writing even more Swamp Thing after his recent return(s) to the character. I know I had my criticisms of the last mini-series, but dangit, this was still new Swamp Thing written by the co-creator and I would have welcomed more.

And yes, I know he did much more than Swamp Thing, though, if you’ve been hanging around my site long, you know that’s my favorite of his work. He had a…comfortable narrative style in those early Swamp Things, one that pushed along the plots while simultaneously evoking the necessary dark moodiness of the stories’ settings and events and digging into the psyches of the characters and paying heed to the necessities of (semi-)monthly serialization. It’s a difficult balance to maintain while still making it all so accessible and fresh and seemingly effortless, and one I’m beginning to re-appreciate as I plow through those comics in detail in my ongoing project to reread and examine each issue.

Wein has left behind an enormous body of stories and creations, the most famous of which being Wolverine, introduced as an antagonist in some mid-1970s issues of Incredible Hulk…and of course Wein wrote the reintroduction of the X-Men shortly thereafter, bringing in Wolverine and cocreating new additions to the team (such as Storm and Colossus). Wein also wrote what seemed like every other DC comic I read as a kid, which is an exaggeration I’m sure, but not much of one. I can still feel how blindsided I was after reading “Whatever Happened to the Crimson Avenger?” in DC Comics Presents #38, which I thought would be just another in that “Whatever Happened to…” series of entertaining but not terribly significant back-up stories in that title, only to get hit with a serious emotional whammy regarding a character I previously hadn’t thought much about.

It was Wein who got Alan Moore to write Swamp Thing, which likely saved that title from cancellation (everything I’d heard at the time from the shops I frequented was that the newly-revived series was probably on the chopping block, or close to). And of course Moore went on to do Watchmen with Dave Gibbons, with Wein as editor. (Wein would later write the Ozymandias title for DC’s much-maligned Before Watchmen event…I know we’re supposed to not like those comics, but Wein’s effort, with artist Jae Lee, was actually pretty good.)

One of Wein’s later works was the mini-series DC Universe: Legacies, which was a fun ride through (and sort of a last hurrah for, with the New 52 looming ahead) the extensive history of DC’s superheroes. That just sort of let Wein do what he did best: play with DC’s army of characters and put ’em through some entertaining paces.

And that’s what Len Wein did: he wrote stories for pretty much every character DC and Marvel had, and always came through with something fun to read. Didn’t even scratch the surface of everything he’s done (well, okay, Wolverine, X-Men, and Swamp Thing are pretty deep scratches) but he was one of the primary building blocks of what made comics Comics for pretty much my entire life, and I’m going to miss seeing new work from him. But thankfully, he left plenty of work behind that we can continue to enjoy.

So long, Len. And thanks for being a sport and autographing my Swamp Thing chalk:


Still makes me smile every time I see it.

Adam West (1928 – 2017).

§ June 12th, 2017 § Filed under adam west, obituary § 2 Comments


I know Adam West did more than just Batman, but it’s Batman he’s going to be remembered for…and not just any Batman, but Best Batman. It’s been pointed out by many others how great it was that the ’60s Batman TV show was “rediscovered,” and that Mr. West, in his later years, got a whole new rush of appreciation for his landmark role…and a whole lot more work, too! By all accounts he was a good guy with a sense of humor about his relationship with the Caped Crusader, and I’m glad he got to hear from an enormous amount of people how much he meant to them.

That image above is a screenshot from an 11-year-old post of mine…I posted it to my Twitter, but wanted to repost here as well. That’s from the 1966 Batman theatrical film…it’s a great line, and the perfect statement of purpose for West’s Batman. Sometimes people just remember the silliness and the POWs and BAMs, but there was this occasional moment of truth as well.

I’ve written a bit about the Batman TV show in the past: here’s a defense of the show in the context of differing approaches to Batman; I look at one of its tie-in products; Batman sets a young man on the straight-and-narrow; and the role Adam West was born to play…Batman in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. West’s hosting of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon…which included a certain film, Zombie Nightmare, featuring…Adam West.

Adam West, you were an absolute treasure, and you’ll be missed. So long, Adam.

Rich Buckler (1949 – 2017).

§ May 21st, 2017 § Filed under obituary § 7 Comments

I’ll always have a soft spot for Rich Buckler, because he drew these two Roy Thomas-scripted issues of DC Comics Presents teaming Superman with the Marvel Family and I must have read ’em a million times:


In fact, Buckler drew a lot of comics around that time that made quite the impression on a Young Mike still trying to figure out this whole funnybook thing. I particularly enjoyed All-Star Squadron, another book he worked on.

My condolences to his family, friends, and fans. So long, Rich.

Bernie Wrightson (1948 – 2017).

§ March 20th, 2017 § Filed under obituary, swamp thing § 4 Comments

There are a lot of fantastic illustrations by Bernie Wrightson in those early Swamp Things, but this is the one I keep coming back to:


The strange perspective, the incredible detail, the full page reveal coming late in the story after we’d already seen the werewolf a couple of times…all combining to make this an image that impressed itself into my brain for all time. Funny that it’s a pic from this series that doesn’t even feature the title character, but this splash from #1 does take a close second in the “Bernie Wrightson Drawings I Think of When I Think of Swamp Thing” category.

But flip through pretty much any issue of Wrightson’s Swamp Thing and you’ll see no end of intricately-detailed illustrations, their impact diminished not at all by the cheap printing and yellowing paper. If anything, the impact is enhanced, the drawings made even more moody and mysterious by the decaying pulp on which they are presented.

Wrighton’s covers from the period are eye-grabbers as well, looking like nothing else on the shelves. This Lovecraftian critter on this House of Mystery clearly represents something that should be unnatural and repellent, but Wrightson’s linework makes it endlessly fascinating. You want to pick this comic off the rack and see just what’s going on here:


…And this cover here…where do you even begin? This was 1971, and Wrightson, in his early 20s, had only been in the comics business for a couple of years. And here he is, already creating images as perfect as this:


And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the man’s work. These drawings are all from the early years of his career…his impossibly-detailed Frankenstein work was still ahead of him. His “Captain Sternn” stories, both the short in Heavy Metal and the later mini-series (plus the related back-ups in Dreadstar. The Weird. Batman: The Cult. National Lampoon strips and illustrations. Tons of horror shorts for Warren magazines. The Hulk/Thing graphic novel. Batman/Aliens. The “Howard the Duck for President” button. The Spider-Man: Hooky graphic novel. The comics adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow, plus all the other illustrations he provided for King’s novels. Even Punisher comics…and much more, besides.

Saying “he was a great talent and he will be missed” doesn’t seem like enough. He embodied a particular aesthetic that took inspiration from horror comic artists and fantasy illustrators that preceded him, and formed it into something unique, something so his own that the term “Wrightson-esque” easily conveys its meaning. He didn’t just redefine the horror genre. He was his own genre.

So long, Bernie. Thanks for letting us see, for so many years, what your wonderful imagination created.

And you didn’t think I was going to let this go without at least one picture of Swamp Thing, did you?


 
 

images from Swamp Thing #4 (April-May 1973); House of Mystery #204 (July 1972); House of Mystery #195 (October 1971); Swamp Thing #6 (September-October 1973)

Dan and Bernie.

§ February 1st, 2017 § Filed under obituary § 3 Comments

Longtime comics artist Dan Spiegle has passed away, and his frequent creative partner Mark Evanier has an extended remembrance of the man and his work.

I met Dan Spiegle once. He had come into my previous place of employment a couple of decades back, trying (if I recall correctly) to find out if an art job of his that he’d completed for another publisher (which had gone under) had been published by someone else. I don’t remember the exact thing he was looking for, now, all these years later. My vague memory is that he had done something for Classics Illustrated, maybe, just prior to CI’s then-publisher First Comics going under, and was trying to see if someone else put it out. Not this issue, which was published, but, like, something much later in the run. Ah well, whatever it was, I don’t recall, but I did enjoy that brief time I got to speak with him and at least try to help him out.

What helped me recognize him right away was a couple of things: one, I’m pretty sure I’d seen a self-caricature or two of him around by that time, though trying to Google one up now didn’t turn up the picture I remember. Two, there was the then-recent “Famous Comic Creators” trading card set which featured the card pictured above. Those cards were handy mugshots for funnybook stars back in those pre-widespread common-use-of-the-Internet days.

Also, I should mention that Mr. Spiegle had a big, friendly smile. I can still picture just how happy a guy he seemed to be.

Anyway, I enjoyed Mr. Spiegle’s work over the years, as I’m sure many of you did as well. I think I first ran into his art in the back-up “Nemesis” stories from Brave and the Bold in the early 1980s, though I’m sure I’d seen it before. There was a strange one-shot story in the Omega Men run that still sticks with me after all this time. And should Mr. Evanier happen to read this, he can add me to the list of people who read Hollywood Superstars. The one series he worked on that I did not read extensively is his collaboration with Evanier on Blackhawk, which is one of those runs I always meant to get around to gathering and reading but never had the opportunity, unfortunately. I still intend to…the one or two stories I have read were great, and I certainly want to see more. I may have to wait for a reprinting, or a digital version, or for a full run to fall into my lap in a collection I purchase. Maybe someday!

So long, Dan…thanks for all the great comics, and I look forward to finally getting around to that work of yours I haven’t read.

• • •

In other comic creator news, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Swamp Thing cocreator Bernie Wrightson as retired due to health reasons, leaving him essentially unable to draw. You can read the announcement at his official site. That really is a shame that someone so talented is left unable to do what he does so well, and I very much hope that someday there’ll be improvement enough to let him back back to it. Best wishes to Mr. Wrightson and his family.

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016).

§ December 28th, 2016 § Filed under obituary § 2 Comments


I know Carrie Fisher was more than just Princess/General Leia. She was a gifted writer, a funny person, a mental health advocate, a dog lover, a heralded script doctor, a talented actor in roles beyond That Big One which made her famous, a survivor, and someone who just had no time at all for anyone’s horseshit.

She was something else, and I’m sure going to miss her.

So long, Carrie.

Asuncion.

§ December 12th, 2016 § Filed under obituary § 10 Comments

The morning of Saturday, December 10th, my girlfriend Nora’s mother, Asuncion, passed away at the age of 79 after an extended struggle with pulmonary fibrosis. She was surrounded by family at the time, chatting and joking up with them up until the end, when she simply closed her eyes, took a couple of final breaths, and departed.

She was the much-beloved matriarch of the family, and spent a lifetime raising, caring for, and sharing her love with her many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She will be greatly missed. If you can, please spare a brief thought for both her and those who grieve her loss.

I did it for the Chicks, man.

§ October 26th, 2016 § Filed under obituary, pal plugging, self-promotion § 7 Comments

hitherechickSo, about Jack Chick. On one hand, he seemed to be an always-present part of the weirdo comics landscape …his little religious funnybook pamphlets were just some strange thing we’d come across once in a while, in a variety of circumstances. I’d get them with Halloween candy as a kid. I’d see ’em at the local church neighbors attended. A neighbor of another friend “witnessing” to me (at me?) would press one into my hands. Some years back, my old high school friend and former coworker Rob would actively collect them, and a couple of his spares he’d pass along to me.

Nobody I knew took them very seriously. Well, maybe that one friend’s neighbor. But they were all amusing in some dark fashion…little morality tales of horror and death, all footnoted with Bible verses, where “bad” people were punished for doing shitty things to their fellow humans, and for not accepting the tenets of Chick’s particular interpretation of Christianity. That one booklet about the dangers of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons is a highlight, much parodied and mocked over the years.

Some of the images still stick with me…the “lake of fire” that I’m pretty sure was used and reused in many of Chick’s comics. The construction worker trapped in hell, wondering if he’d get to see his friends again, and being told he’d be alone forever. The dead fella being forced to watch all the sins he committed in life, aghast that he’d have to watch himself tell the filthiest joke. “No, not that joke, not here!” Usually the comics were crudely arranged and drawn, but there was that occasional moment of frisson achieved, sometimes more by accident than by design, but still there.

On the other hand, beyond the amusement value, mixed in with the sporadic positive religious message, were messages that were anti-gay, anti-science, anti-Catholic, anti-anything Jack Chick personally didn’t care for. That undermines the pop-culture jocularity a bit. True, these were in the usual ham-fisted style and thus hard to treat seriously at face value (though I know some folks did), but it still revealed the ugly undercurrent of ignorance. Even saying that would make me one of those sinners in these comics, shouting and sweating and exclaiming my bad points of view, while the even-tempered hero calmly explains why I’m wrong and surely going to hell.

Still, I felt that I should note Jack Chick’s passing. Something…unique, shall we say, has gone from the comics world, what could be described as an odd sort of “outsider” art aside from the fact that Chick’s tracts are probably some of the most widely-read pieces of the comics artform ever.

• • •

In other news: pal Tim, who wrote this lengthy essay that you should read if you haven’t already, has published his follow-up which I think you should read as well. Tim’s gettin’ back into the old blogging game somethin’ fierce, and if you’d like to help him out, he’s got one of those Patreons that you can throw some simoleons at if you’ve got a couple to spare.

I’ll be contributing myself in the next couple of weeks, as soon as I get through a month with the quarterly sales tax payment, car stuff, plus other big expenses, and by total coincidence here’s a link to my own Patreon.

That time Steve Dillon drew Swamp Thing growing some…herbiage for John Constantine’s 40th birthday party.

§ October 24th, 2016 § Filed under obituary, swamp thing § 2 Comments

hellblazin63
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Steve Dillon, artist of Punisher and Hellblazer, as well as the co-creator of Preacher, passed away over the weekend at the much-too-young age of 54. I’m sure I’d come across his work before this, but it was his run on Hellblazer (with writer Garth Ennis) that I really began to notice and appreciate his work. As I said on my post about his passing on the store site (where I scanned and posted a Preacher sequence that I particularly like), he had a very clean, uncomplicated style that managed to convey huge amounts of detail and wide ranges of emotion. In a way, his style reminds me a bit of Jaime Hernandez’s, particularly in his later work (as opposed to that slightly rougher-edged, but still wonderfully expressive, artwork on view in those panels above).

He was a wonderful artist, and judging by some of the tributes I’ve seen on Twitter, he seemed to be a pretty darn good guy as well. I mean, look at this swell Scarecrow he drew for a little kid.

My most sincere condolences to his family, friends and fans. So long, Steve.
 
 

image from Hellblazer #63 (March 1993)

Tim Durkee (1976 – 2016).

§ September 2nd, 2016 § Filed under obituary § 1 Comment

One of my fellow Troublemakers over at Trouble with Comics, Tim Durkee, passed away this week. Alan David Doane has posted a remembrance over at the site that I hope you’ll take the time to read.

Tim’s last contribution to TwC was this convention report, which went up only days before his passing. Of course, you should check out his other posts on the site as well.

I didn’t really know Tim beyond what he wrote for the site, but clearly he loved comics, loved the community, and loved writing about both (even if either/or didn’t quite live up to his standards!). I’m glad he had the opportunity to share his thoughts on this industry, and sorry that he had to leave so soon. My condolences to his family and friends.

So long, Tim.

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