Monday, September 19, 2005

THINK ABOUT COMICS 5

By Pat Markfort

Okay, if all goes according to plan, this should be posted on Monday, September 19th, and I think that Mondays will be the new day for TAC updates from here on out. Maybe. I’m trying hard to incorporate writing this column into my now much busier schedule, and I don’t know that I’m quite there yet, hence the absence of a column for last week. Sorry about that.
In any case, this week I thought I’d present a single feature, one which I hope you’ll enjoy, and one which I’d love to see some of the other comics bloggers work with.

There are certain comic books that have an important status in the history of the comics medium, books such as Action Comics #1, or Zap Comix #1, for example. I’m not going to be talking about those kinds of comics today. I’m going to be talking about comics which have an important status for me. Not necessarily my favorite comics (although some of them are), these comics are the ones which represent specific turning points in my relationship with and understanding of the art form. Also, they’re not all comics, but “My Most Important Comics, Comics Related Publications, and Assorted Ephemera” didn’t have quite the right ring to it.
These are not listed in order of importance, but in (roughly) the order that I encountered them. Enjoy….

My Most Important Comics

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #3 This is the one that started it all, folks. My first comic book. I may have a dim memory of some Flintstones comic books or the like sent to me by my grandparents, but this is the first comic book I sought out and purchased (or, had my parents purchase for me) at an actual comic book store. I was a fan of the cartoon show and action figures, and decided I wanted to have the comic books as well. I have no idea how I knew that there even were TMNT comic books, and I didn’t know any other kids who had read comic books, but somehow I found my way to this issue. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures was published by Archie Comics and based on the animated series, which was of course based on the original, B&W Mirage comic books by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (more on those below). It began with a three issue mini-series before re-launching as an ongoing, and the mini-series and first four issues of the ongoing adapted scripts from the show. After that, with the fifth issue, the series spun off into it’s own continuity, featuring storylines and characters not featured in either the Mirage comics or the show, although some of the characters originally featured here were eventually enveloped by some of the other incarnations of the franchise. It was really sort of wonderful. At first I didn’t understand that comic books were released on a regular, monthly schedule, so I would constantly hound my parents to take me to the comic book store in the hopes that a new issue would have arrived. And let me tell you, I read the hell out of those comics. Really, these things were in shreds by the time I was through with them, barely retaining the properties of a solid. At one point, I had to send a bunch of them to work with my mom to be re-stapled, they had become so crumbly and tattered. Oh, christ, you know what? Now I really want to track down the entirety of this series and bask in the cuddly glow of nostalgia. Maybe this list was a bad idea…and don’t even get me started on the Mighty Mutanimals

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Books I - IV, by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. This was the series of oversized, color reprints of the original Mirage comic books put out by the now defunct First Comics. Apparently, I was determined to purchase every Turtles comic book not published by the original creators. Actually, I did follow the Mirage comic books that were being released at the time, although much more sporadically than I did the Archie comics or this series of graphic novels. I found these books fascinating, as they presented a darker, more “pure” version of the characters I thought I knew so well. I received many of these as gifts, and my favorite was Book IV, featuring the return of the Shredder. I loved the battle between Leonardo and the Foot Soldiers in the snow. Very cool.

3. Marvel Universe Series 1 Trading Cards - My introduction the world of superhero comic books. I guess something about these caught my eye when I saw them at the register while purchasing the latest TMNT Adventures. For me, these were a wonderful introduction to the Marvel Universe, providing an overview of the history of the characters and events which had shaped it up to that point. I was, frankly, overwhelmed by the sheer number of colorful characters presented on these cards, but I knew I wanted to make them a part of my life. This was also the point at which I was able to convince my friends that comic books were cool. We all bought these cards, and then the comic books upon which they were based. It was a lot of fun. Since that time, I’ve met a lot of other comics fans my age who tell me that these cards were their introduction to comic books, as well. It kind of makes me wonder how much success Marvel would have if they tried something like this today?

4. Fantastic Four #356, By Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan. This was the first place I went after the trading cards. I chose to follow the Fantastic Four because they had the easiest roster to remember. No, really, that was the reason. I got lucky, because this issue was the first of a long and pretty decent run on the title by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, so it was a good jumping on point. What I remember most about reading this series is my naiveté in regards to the “big changes” the creators introduced. Alicia is a Skrull?? Johnny is a fugitive?? Reed Richards is DEAD?!?!? There’s no WAY they can set the reset button on these HUGE, SWEEPING CHANGINGS! NOTHING WILL EVERY BE THE SAME AGAIN!!! Ah, to be young again...

5. Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four, Vol. 1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. One of the best Christmas presents I have ever received, and one of those comics where the memory of reading it is intimately tied with the content of the book. I devoured the entire tome in the basement of my house on Christmas morning. My first exposure to Kirby(!), my first exposure to “old” comic books, and the beginnings of my understanding as to how the style and form of comics had evolved as much as (or more than) the characters.

6. Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, by Les Daniels. This was a book my younger brother received (maybe that same Christmas?), and it formed the basis for my knowledge of comics history. This was where I first understood the difference between the Golden, Silver, and Modern “ages” of comics, where I first heard about people like Frederik Whertham, and where I first began to grasp the significance of what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had done at Marvel in the 1960’s. It was also when I learned that I found the history of comic books as interesting to read about as the comics themselves.

7. Dark Horse Presents #54, by various. This comic book represents the first I purchased, not because of a character, but because of a creator. That would be John Byrne, whose Next Men serial debuts here, and whose work I first became aware of via his run on Fantastic Four. I’m pretty sure the series wouldn’t hold up to my memories of it, but it nevertheless represents a shift in my way of thinking about comics.

8. The Guyver #1, by Yoshiki Takaya. Published by Viz, in a *gasp!* left-to-right, “flipped,” 22-page comic book format. My first manga. Very “superhero-y,” and probably collected in digest format these days, no?

9. The Comics Journal # 243 I purchased a couple of issues before this one, but this is the first that really stands out for me, with an excellent Dylan Horrocks interview. The extent to which The Comics Journal has expanded by understanding of and deepened my appreciation for the comics art form cannot be overstated. I’m really grateful that I finally stumbled across this essential magazine, and am only sorry I didn’t do so sooner.

10. Fear of Comics, by Gilbert Hernandez. I’m pretty sure this is the first graphic novel I purchased based on a Comics Journal review, and it completely fucking blew my mind. Probably the most unlikely introduction the work of Los Bros. Hernandez, this collection of comics from Gilbert’s New Love series nevertheless served as a marvelous introduction to a whole new world of comics, a world of endless possibilities and imagination. I had always said that comic books were capable of achieving the literary and artistic heights of any other medium, and I believed it, but I don’t think I every really understood it until I read Fear of Comics. The discovery of this book was, for me, an EVENT.

There you have it…..the comics which are most “important” to ME. Now, how about YOU?

- Pat Markfort
patmarkfort@yahoo.com

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