The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Thirteen.

§ June 19th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 16 Comments

So here we go, the last of the single-vote getters from this informal survey way back when. That means the two-voters are next! Are you excited? Sure you are!

Tales from the Heart (Entropy Enterprises/Slave Labor Graphics (1987-1994)

Hoo boy, okay, here’s the one when I first saw it mentioned I realized “I’ve got a lot of vamping up ahead given the number of comics in this list I haven’t read or even have stories about.” And I apologize…I do recall this comic, about a volunteer in the Peace Corps and her work in Africa, coming out and having a small but loyal following at the shop. Written by Cindy Goff and Rafael Nieves, and illustrated by Seitu Hayden, the series spanned three publishers: the eleven black and white issues from the companies noted above, and two one-shot color specials published under Marvel’s Epic imprint in the early 1990s.

That the series details the difficulties of trying to provide help is in contrast to the 1980s “raising money for Africa” trend that spread through pop culture, primarily though benefit concerts/songs and comic books. Which is of course a good thing, raising money for, and awareness of, those in need. But staying at home and donating cash is a more…removed experience from actually going there and doing the work. And there are criticisms all around, against what good the Peace Corp actually is doing, but look, I am but a humble comics blog simply Googling about, I don’t know the whole story. All I’m trying to say is that here’s somebody trying to relate what it’s like to be doing this sort of work and I think that’s an interesting standout for the period, especially in comics.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Mirage Studios 1984-1993)

Where do I even start. Well, first, only one vote? Very surprising, even given the rather limited reach of my “poll.” Anyway, pictured there is issue #2 of the original series, the first to make it out to my local shop at the time (to be followed by a reprint of #1 a few weeks later). The first four issues were magazine-sized (apparently due to a misunderstanding between creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and their printer), before finally going to a more standard comic size.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what this comic’s about, and there is a boatload of lore, both in-universe and behind the scenes, that I’m not even going to scratch the surface of here. But this is the series that launched a thousand comic book spin-offs, cartoons, movies, video games, toys, live music concerts, whathaveyou, making lots of people very rich (including the creators, for once), and inspiring piles of rip-off comics that flooded the market in the hopes of Getting Rich Quick. Oh, the schemes I could share.

Anyway, the Turtles are immortal, and even though their first series ended in ’94, many relaunches followed, and I believe the current ongoing series from IDW is at around 150 issues. Reprints abound in multiple formats, a new “kid-friendly” (i.e. closer in style to the ’80s cartoon) launched recently, and Turtles stories will continue coming out long after all of us are dead. Pretty good for a comic parodying very specific comic characters, artists, and trends of the time.
Timespirits (Marvel/Epic 1984-1986)

I didn’t read Timespirits, but I should have, given I’m a fan of artist Tom Yeates, who, with Steve Perry, produced all eight issues of this series.

I’m going to cheat a little and let this website do the talking for me, as this is a good overview not just of the series itself, but of the the problems that arose when Perry and Yeates began to disagree with the direction of the book. Lots of citations from Amazing Heroes and The Comics Journal, which saves me from digging through my own copies.

However, I do still want to search my Journals when I have a little more time, as I do seem to recall a article about Yeates secretly investigating some political gathering or ‘nother as research for a story. Assuming this event didn’t form solely in my brain from a strong bump on the head, this seemed like a pretty wild thing to do for, well, a comic book. But hey, you got a story to tell, a message to get out, you do what you have to do. Allegedly. Look, it may not even have been Timespirits he was doing that for, but that’s how it stuck with me. I’ll check into it, if only to ensure that I’m not crazy.

Also, in searching around I’ve seen a handful of accusations that James Cameron’s Avatar movie “borrowed” from this series. Trying to find an article that goes into detail, though it seems to focus mostly around a blue “native” character? Anyway, looks like the “hot” comic sites have picked up on it, so maybe good luck trying to complete a run of this.

EDIT: I’m not crazy! Well, at least not about this. I found the article about Yeates’ investigation. I’ll post about it on Wednesday.
Wordsmith (Renegade Press (1985-1988)

I could’ve sworn this series ran longer than it did, but on the other hand, the three or four year duration of the series was a lot longer than its twelve-issue run would suggest.

Written by Dave Darrigo, and illustrated by R.G. Taylor, the story concerned itself with Clay Washburn, a pulp writer active in the first half of the 20th century, contrasting his real world struggles with the heroes he’s scripting (whose adventures also occasionally pop up in the comic). It’s a neat concept for a series, and a shame it didn’t get more issues as I thought it did in my head. (See also Timespirits above for more of my possible delusions.)

There was also a one-shot spin-off in 1990, self-published by Darrigo, called Heroes from Wordsmith, focusing on the adventures of a couple of pulp characters from the main series. It’s hard to find info on this (even the Comics Database entry has nuthin’) but from what I gathered, this reprints material from the main series under a new Taylor cover, maybe? If anyone knows for certain, please inform me.

Also in 1990 Caliber Press would release two trade paperbacks, reprinting the whole series. Caliber would reprint the series again, a half-dozen years later, in a series of comics. Some of the issues of that series would be “flipbooks,” featuring other Caliber titles.

It feels like nearly anyone else would have taken this concept and given Washburn the ability to bring his pulp heroes “to life” and have them escape the printed page into his real world. Picturing this as a full-color superhero book from, I don’t know, Image, and running a long time and getting TV/movie deals and such. But good on this series for taking the more subtle and human route.

• • •

And that’s that for the one-voters! Thanks to everyone for reading and please come back when I start tackling those comics at least two people agreed on!

16 Responses to “The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Thirteen.”

  • Sean Mageean says:

    I definitely recall enjoying reading Wordsmith back in the day and I appreciated that it gave its readers some insight into what the life of a pulp magazine writer during the Great Depression might have been like. Renegade Press also had other interesting titles going at the time…one was an anthology comic called Revolver which featured some Steve Ditko stories…The Silent Invasion was also great.

  • Johnny Bacardi says:

    Steven Bissette and (I think, it’s early) Al Williamson also pitched in on fill-in stories for Timespirits.

    The blue character was called “Thornypaws”, she was an alien musician of some sorts (with a manager who was drawn to look like Peter Falk as Columbo, if memory serves) and she was in the very issue that you posted the cover of. Avatar swiping? Hm…

    I kinda made “online friends” with Perry as the result of me blogging about the series, and he actually wrote a short outline of a TS story for me to draw. Sadly, I never did. He was a nice guy who got into some bad situations and came to a tragic end.

    And hey, looky here, a link to the overview I wrote about the series on the old blog and CBR was nice enough to pick it up and run it!

    Enjoyed your take, Mike.

  • Chris V says:

    Yeah. I don’t think you need to look too hard to find the accusations that Avatar “borrowed” from this or that source. At this point, the surprise would be if there was a claim that anything from the movie was original. The plot was very heavily influenced by an Ursula K. LeGuin novel, another major premise of the movie was taken from a Poul Anderson science fiction short story.

    I remember there was controversy about the Timespirits comic at the time due to its criticism of US support for the Contras in Nicaragua.
    I thought it was one of the standout early releases from Epic Comics. I’m not sure if the Epic timeline, but it seems as if Timespirits was part of the original Epic line.

  • G Thomas Mueller says:

    Yes, Timespirits is pretty awesome I recently put together a full run myself. And I like that you linked to the totally epic blog, the same guy also has overview blogs of Eclipse, Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink, Vortex, and I believe Renegade press iirc. Pretty neat resources for us cool guys that enjoy this era of comics so much. And yeah Ninja turtles only getting one vote is a huge surprise

  • Oliver says:

    The Turtles wuz robbed.

  • Chris Gumprich says:

    I was a fan of WORDSMITH when I discovered it in the late 90s. Took me a while, but I tracked down every issue (though I’ve never seen a copy of the HEROES OF series).

    Interestingly, I was testing ChatGPT and I decided to prompt it to tell me about “Wordsmith by Darrigo and Taylor, published by Renegade”. I got some unusual responses, including this one that completely missed the point.

    “”Renegade” is a comic book publisher that publishes a series called “Wordsmith,” written by Matt Darrigo and illustrated by Max Taylor. The series follows the story of a young woman named Kayla who possesses the ability to manipulate language and use it as a weapon.

    Kayla is a former linguistics student who is recruited by a secret government agency to fight against a group of rogue linguists who are using their powers for evil. With the help of her mentor, Professor Samuelson, and her team of fellow “Wordsmiths,” Kayla battles against these rogue linguists and tries to prevent them from unleashing a devastating linguistic weapon on the world.

    Throughout the series, Kayla learns to harness her powers and uncover the truth about the agency she works for, all while struggling to maintain her relationships with her friends and family. The series is known for its unique premise and engaging characters, as well as its action-packed storytelling and intricate world-building.”

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Oh, the schemes I could share”

    Please do!

    “accusations that James Cameron’s Avatar movie “borrowed” from this series”

    Isn’t Terminator/T2 allegedly borrowed from some SF writer, also?

    “The Silent Invasion”

    That series looked cool, but I never got around to buying an issue.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    Snark Shark:

    If you get a chance, track down The Silent Invasion. Great Cold War paranoia comic series set in the early ’50s as I recall…with a premise somewhat similar to the old sci-fi TV show The Invaders. I think the full series runs less than 20 issues.

    Yes, Harlan Ellison sued because he felt that Terminator ripped of several of his Outer Limits teleplays: $Demon With a Glass Hand” and “Soldier.”

  • Chris V says:

    Harlan Ellison also sued the creators of the RoboCop movie claiming they plagiarized his short story “Brillo”.
    Bill Mantlo did outright rip-off the Ellison short story “Soldier” in an issue of Incredible Hulk. Since Ellison loved comics, he agreed to not sue Marvel if they allowed him unlimited life- time subscriptions of any Marvel comics.
    I’m sure Ellison would have been able to find elements of Avatar he felt Cameron copied from some of his work. After all, everyone else has been doing so, and Ellison was a bit sue happy. All love to Harlan, one of my favourite genre fiction writers. He is missed.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    I wonder if that lifetime subscription to all Marvel Comics was honored or not and if so, if Harlan felt that the last decade or so worth of Marvel Comics that was published before he passed away pretty much blew?

  • Chris V says:

    I always wondered about that agreement, myself. I had never heard Ellison speak about it in later years. He was very outspoken in his criticism and dislike of most comic books during the 1980s and 1990s. I remember him praising a book like “Delgado’s” Hellblazer (not remembering Jamie Delano’s name), but he had to pay for that series. I was imagining Ellison growing more and more perturbed with the Marvel Comics life-long subscription as the years went by, if it was honoured.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    Chris V. :
    Thanks for the insight. I can see where Harlan might have appreciated some of the Vertigo books and Alan Moore’s work, but a lot of Marvel and DC books diminished in quality after the Bronze Age ended, in my opinion. And even now a lot of independent comics seem bland, formulaic, or obsessed with zombies, vampires, and horror tropes in general …often with mediocre art. By contract, the early ’80s was truly a renaissance for independent, forward thinking, highly imaginative comics.

  • Daniel T says:

    Harlan definitely got the lifetime subscription at the time, but I’ve no idea how long it lasted. Knowing about Ellison, it seems almost certain he would have gotten the agreement in writing, but the bankruptcy could well have ended it.

  • BobH says:

    I’d highly recommend TALES FROM THE HEART, as unfinished as it is. There were also a few reprints in the mid-1990s, I think collecting the first six issues in two books, under the title HEARTS OF AFRICA, first one has a Jill Thompson cover and Neil Gaiman introduction.

    HEROES OF WORDSMITH has what I’m pretty sure is a new story of Clay writing his First World War character, Hunter Hawke, and a reprint of another Darrigo/Taylor story from QUADRANT #6 in 1985, not really Wordsmith related (involving modern jet warfare in a hypothetical then near future 1995 Africa), except a bit in tone.

    I got an issue of TIMESPIRITS a while back for the Williamson/Bissette/Veitch/Totleben guest art, and liked it enough to get the whole series soon after. Strange but compelling book.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “The Invaders”

    Also, briefly, a comic book, I think!

    “Demon With a Glass Hand” and “Soldier.”

    Yeah, that’s it! Good episodes, and there IS a resemblance. Soldier also starred an actor who would later play a Klingon on Star Trek! Michael Ansara, also a Blue Djinn in “I Dream of Jeannie ” who was married to Barbara Eden. Stuff like that is why I LOVE old hollywood.

    “in an issue of Incredible Hulk.”

    Good issue! I wonder what the hell Mantlo was thinking, though!

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    There is a contemporary comic – manga inspired art – called Word Smith (two words) that has had a couple of Kickstarters – so I’m guessing the AI picked up on that. I haven’t read this “manga steam punk inspired” version, so I can’t speak directly if the description fits or not.

    Had Drew Ford not died so suddenly, I always suspected that the Renegade Wordsmith and Tales from the Heart would find their way into his reprint stream – they are consistent with the other books he rescued…