Paint a (Comic) Picture

Guest Post by Andrez Bergen

Sneak Preview_Tales to Admonish 2_2014 art by Matt Kyme

2013 was, for me, a year of comic book reacquaintance verging on renaissance.

It was (and still is, at least for a few more days) the year I finally dug in heels to read and indulge in the absolute pleasures of Alan Moore’s Watchmen (art by Dave Gibbons) and V for Vendetta (with David Lloyd).

I brushed up on Jim Steranko’s entire run with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1966-68), went back to the late ’70s basics of Judge Dredd that I barely remember thanks to The Complete Case Files 01, spent glorious time with Will Eisner’s The Spirit and such femme fatales as P’Gell and Sand Saref, and then re-examined the 1960s development of The Avengers and Thor.

Jim Steranko_Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

2013 was that kind of moment.

HeropaThis might come as no surprise to those who know I published my third novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? in September — a noir/pulp-flavoured mystery that’s heavily influenced by 1940s (Golden Age), 1960s (Silver Age) and early 1980s (Bronze Age) comic books.

Thing is, I finished tarting up that manuscript in February and most of the comics reading has come since wrapping it.

Call me reignited with the four-colour passion.

And this, after years of estrangement from contemporary American and British comic books.

Over the past decade or so I’d stayed afloat via endless re-reads of Jack Kirby/Stan Lee Fantastic Four and Captain America from the 1960s, Roy Thomas & Barry Smith’s work with Conan in the early ’70s, Byrne/Claremont’s dawning 1980s X-Men, and Frank Miller’s mid ’80s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Plus all the manga surrounding me over here in Japan.

So it’s been a revelation to step back into the fray, discovering Western sequential art new, old and middle-aged alike.

Of the recent, the standout American title has been All-New X-Men by Brian Bendis & Stuart Immonen, even if I sometimes get frustrated with the pacing and characterizations. Mostly this has been a romp. I also dig what Gail Simone & Walter Geovani are doing with Red Sonja.

Back in Australia the indie comic book scene is booming far more than it did when I lived there, with some great titles including Ben Michael Byrne’s Kranburn and Craig Bruyn’s From Above.

Also look out for the diverse work of fellow Aussies Paul Mason, Matt Nicholls, Bernard Caleo, Paul Bedford and Frank Candiloro.

Uncanny Adventures2013 saw my own baby-steps in comic book activity, since I had sequential stories published in collaboration with artists Drezz Rodriguez, Andrew Chiu, Michael Grills, Marcos Vergara and Nathan St. John, and did my own art and story for another. These came out in The Tobacco-Stained Sky, The Condimental Op and Uncanny Adventures.

Best of all, I finally got to publish my first comic book in collusion with fellow Melbourne artist Matt Kyme — who’s been an absolute revelation to work with.

This is a guy who improves leaps and bounds with every frame he draws, and is able to channel old school artists like Kirby and Eisner without ever once coming across derivative. I love what he does, his sensibilities, and the fact we bounce off one another like well-aligned elastic bands.

Tales to AdmonishOur Tales to Admonish #1 came out in October as a full-colour glossy with three yarns included, and we’re about to wrap #2 for early 2014.

In between, while doing press for Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, I’ve been blessedly enabled to share email words of “wisdom” with Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, Steranko’s manager, and Robin Snyder — who works extensively with comic book legend Steve Ditko.

Oh, and by the way, in case you think I gush too much, there were some bombs in this annual reading matter.

However you may look at it, some of the new stuff filtering through from Marvel and DC lacks… soul, since I’m clutching at the right word to use. This material is invariably slick and gorgeous to look at, but polished up too much and occasionally comes across banal. Look to your roots, guys — there’s no harm in employing a rear vision mirror while addressing the future. Dust adds depth.

And the other reading matter, especially the ’60s Avengers and Thor, too often came across as over-worked staff putting on a listless soap opera drama in which dames are weak and the men sprout the same lines each issue. Not to fault the art so much, but the scripts and dialogue pale when compared with the Fantastic Four material from the same era.

The X-Men post-John Byrne, in the latter half of the 1980s especially, was a suffering slog since Chris Claremont appears to have sunk into repeat-mode and the artists never matched Byrne at his peak.

The graphic novel covering the Supergirl revamp in 1996 by Peter David and Gary Frank was basically a waste of time that I struggled to finish, and I wasn’t so impressed with Mark Waid’s rejig in 2011 of Daredevil with artists Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin.

Daredevil 181 by Frank MillerA far superior dram was returning to Frank Miller’s Daredevil of issues 168-182 (1981-82) thanks to Daredevil Visionaries Frank Miller, Vol. 2, which was better than I remembered — and I already held it up to nostalgically high standards.

And digging up older still material from the 1940s — lesser-known characters such as Bulletgirl and Tarpé Mills’ Miss Fury — has been another highlight for the year.

The joys do continue somewhat unabated.

I’ve just found out that Titan Books will be putting out a collection next year from essential 1970s British comic Action (featuring such mad romps as ‘Hook Jaw’ and ‘Death Game 1999’) — and I hear Santa Claus is going to gift me with an omnibus by Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill that I haven’t yet read.

More, please.



Paint a (Comic) Picture