Monday, July 4, 2016

"Happy Independents Day"

Redartz:  Happy Fourth of July, everyone! Today, in honor of our (for those of us in the ol' USA; of course all our international friends are enthusiastically welcomed- the day is all about freedom, after all) Independence Day, we shall honor our 'independents'! In other words, we shall declare our independence from the Big Two, and look at some of the revolutionary, upstart, pioneering comics published by such companies as First, Comico, Pacific, Aardvark-Vanaheim, etc. And for such a momentous occasion, our good friend Martinex1 is here as well! We both will start things off with a few of our favorites, and then the rest is up to you...

Ms. Mystic #1, 1982

Martinex1:  And a happy Fourth of July to all BABsters!   I had limited access to Local Comic Shops back in the day, so the first independent company to catch my attention was Pacific Comics.  PC has
a long and storied history in the comic industry as it was started by a couple of teenage brothers. Steve and Bill Schanes, as a mail order company and then a series of comic shops; they followed up by making PC a significant distributor and finally evolved into publishing.  They managed to convince Jack Kirby to create Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers for PC late in his career.   But the comic that caught my eye was Ms. Mystic by Neal Adams.  The story involved a witch from the Salem trials, who returned in modern times as a protector of Earth and its resources.  With her magical sword and powers, she was a super-environmentalist.   Some of those ideas and concerns were about twenty years ahead of the mainstream. The art was of course fantastic, as Adams was still creating wonderful covers and intricate panels.   He moved the title after the second issue to his own label Continuity Comics when PC imploded.   Nine issues appeared throughout the 80s; it was a missed opportunity for an interesting concept.

American Flagg! #1, 1983

Redartz:  Howard Chaykin is a name familiar to any Bronze age comics fan. In 1983 he introduced us to "American Flagg!", from First Comics.  Reuben Flagg is our protagonist: a former actor who now finds himself serving as a "Plexus Ranger", a kind of police officer/soldier. In this series, we watch Flagg tackle the entrenched corruption and depravity of society in Chicago, after most of that society has collapsed (the government moved to Mars following the multiple crises of 1996).  The artwork and writing mesh quite effectively, and there's enough socio-cultural commentary to last until the Tricentennial. Part of the fun of reading it now is noticing how familiar some of the story elements seem, in our digitally obsessed age. Very entertaining, very thought provoking, and very controversial. Oh, and Flagg also has a talking cat...

Flaming Carrot #9, 1985
Martinex1: Bob Burden created perhaps one of my favorite “comic” comic characters of all time.   I was introduced to the Flaming Carrot just after college and the sense of humor, sarcasm, and satire seemed to fit the zeitgeist of the mid to late 80s.   Appearing in a series of books from Aardvark-Vanaheim to Renegade Press to Dark Horse Comics, the title character is a goof who read too many comic books on a dare and emerged from the experience as a carrot masked adventurer.   He seems to make his way through his challenges with the advantage of sheer luck or utter stupidity.   With a simple catch phrase of “Ut!” the flame headed root faces off against the likes of Hitler’s cloned boots and the man in the moon.   With a super pogo stick, flippers on his feet, and a utility belt loaded with rubber bands, the character made me laugh more times than I could count. 

Journey #1, 1983
Redartz:  Another fine book from an artist/writer, in this case William Messner-Loebs, was "Journey", from Aardvark-Vanaheim.   Beginning in 1983 (a very good year for comics, btw) this series tells the story of frontiersman Joshua "Wolverine" Macalistaire (and no adamantium claws here). "Old Joss", as the title character is known, is remarkably skilled in all the requisite woodsman tasks. As he travels across the Michigan frontier of the early 19th. Century, he faces all manner of challenges; from wild bears to tornadoes, from mad poets to  British agents preparing for the War of 1812. Messner-Loebs brings in a wide, charming, and well-defined cast of fascinating characters (including historical figures such as Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet). This book is unique for its' historical detail, humor, and Messner-Loeb's frequent insertion of authentic frontier lore.

Martinex1: The Maze Agency, was a mystery series that started under the Comico banner and was later picked up by Innovation.  It was the brainchild of writer Mike W. Barr, and although Alan Davis
The Maze Agency #1, 1988
penciled an early version Adam Hughes was the main artist through much of the series (the art chores did rotate through many including Joe Staton and Greg Shoemaker).  The book follows the adventures of Jennifer Mays, a private detective and proprietor of the title agency, and Gabriel Webb, a crime novelist and sleuth.   Each issue stands alone as they solve various crimes and murders, interact with the local constabulary, and compete with other gumshoes.   For the most part, the books play fair with the clues of the crimes although they can be elaborate and far-fetched.  A favorite of mine was an issue where the detectives teamed with Ellery Queen.  The real fun in this book is the balance of the mystery and the romantic interplay between the lead characters.  Great characterization and humor and art throughout.

Mister X #4, 1985

Redartz: Creators Dean Motter and Paul Rivoche gave us "Mister X", from Vortex Comics. This mysterious, visually-striking series tells of an architect with numerous identities, but who calls himself "Mister X". Mr. X is obsessed with trying to save Radiant City, which he helped create. His psychologically-inspired designs were distorted, driving many in the city to madness; and he seeks to restore his original vision. The storyline features many twists and turns, and the artwork is unique and integral to the book. As an art student at the time, this book positively gripped me with its accent on fine graphics. There were four beautiful promo posters offered at the time, they still hang on my studio wall. The first four issues are a special treat- drawn by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, of "Love and Rockets" fame. Later issues featured art by Seth, Klaus Shonefeld, and others


Humanbelly said...

Happy 4th o' July, Teammates!
(If we're not utterly rained out tonight, as forecast, I'll be doing a bit of barbershop quartet, pre-fireworks, at the festivities on the lawn of HBWife's church, next to University of MD.) (BBShop is about as fun a singing can get-!)

Hey, let me go right ahead and enthusiastically reinforce my recent mention of New England Comics' THE TICK (esp Ben Edlund's original run). The first two or three issues are clearly works of fan-boy love, in a "wouldn't it be funny if-?" vein (sort of like Terry Pratchett's first two Discworld novels). But he quickly built an utterly delightful mini-universe around it. It's the rare series where you just ache for more, even though it kinda wasn't coming. Some of the later series and volumes were pretty darned good, other were "enh" when writing/art chores were doled out to others. Edlund's precise feel for property's engaging quirkiness seems to be his alone-- which helped the cartoon and live-action television versions immensely, but left no time for continuing with the comics, one assumes. . . (BTW, in a bid for Geek of the Day crown, I'll submit that I signed HBWife up as a member of the Mystic Order of Arachnid Vigilance about 20 years or so ago-- Member #5985. The entirety of the membership kit is mounted in a shadow box on the wall of our guest bathroom. . . )

Image Comics was darned strong for awhile there while I was still buying comics. Both ASTRO CITY and INVINCIBLE hailed from there. Although Invincible really isn't Bronze Age, I suppose.

Hmmmm-- and where did Megaton Man come from, exactly--? Got a few fun issues of him bouncing around somewhere. Not as good as the Tick, perhaps-- and the similarity between them was obvious. . .


Edo Bosnar said...

Great choices, fellas.
Whenever Pacific comics comes up, it always hits a few pleasant nostalgia buttons for me. Pacific was just getting started when I discovered my first comic book shop, so I started buying Captian Victory, Ms. Mystic (just the first issue, as the second one came out almost 2 years later), etc. right from the start. My personal favorite, though, was Starslayer, not just because of the cool lead stories by Grell, but also the lovely Rocketeer back-up stories in the first three issues. It was a bit sad that Pacific folded only a few years after launching, as they were putting out some cool stuff.
As for the other titles you mention, I've always been interested in Flaming Carrot and Maze Agency (and in the latter case, one could say that creators of Castle just lifted the basic concept and tweaked it a little to avoid a potential infringement/royalties lawsuit), while I have the 2 tpbs reprinting the initial run of American Flagg sitting on my shelf waiting to be read...

For my contribution to the discussion, the first title that came to mind is actually the first indie comic I ever read, called Ismet: here's a gallery of the covers. It's really hard to find descriptions of the series, because it was really obscure, even for an early '80s indie comic. Basically, it's funny animal-looking characters in a very serous and somber SF setting in which they're an oppressed underclass who have to serve humans. The titular character is a dog who tried to start a rebellion and then gets banished to another planet. The only reason I knew about it was because the creator, who self-published it, was a guy I knew when I was a little kid. I actually made it a point to seek out and buy the back issues, mainly for sentimental reasons.

William said...

First of all, great idea for a 4th of July topic. It should become an annual event.

I didn't read a lot of the indies growing up, but I am familiar with all of the comics you mentioned (except for "Journey"). And they all sound pretty interesting.

A note of interest. There was a 2 issue comic series that came out in the 90's called "The World's Worst Comics Awards" from Kitchen Sink, and it featured an Academy Awards Style presentation of all the worst things in comics history. Categories included stuff like: Worst Artist, Worst Costume, Worst Character, Worst Team, Worst Science, etc. and it all culminated with Worst Comic Series and Worst Single Comic. And Martinex1, I'm sorry to report that "Ms. Mystic" was pretty high on many of those lists. (Including worst Series). It was all in good fun though and extremely entertaining. I still own both issues and pull them out for a good laugh every once in a while.

As far as indies that I read and enjoyed myself, I'd have to put "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" at the top of the list. I have the first twelve issues or so in 4 full color TPBs that I got years ago. (I never bought any indy comics as single issues, only trades). The original series was nothing like the silly animated show that followed years later. No, the original comics were packed full of some pretty serious martial arts adventure. One of the most fun comic series I ever read in fact. The spirit of those comics was best captured in the first TMNT movie (the one with the guys in rubber suits). Unfortunately the whole property has degraded into kiddie schlock over the years, but those original comics were pure high octane entertainment.

A few other indy series that I thought were quite good were "Elf Quest" by Wendy and Richard Pini, and "Mage" by Matt Wagner. I had both of those in TPB collections as well. But I sold them off a few years back during my first comics purge of the 1990's.

Martinex1 said...

William, I think some of the dislike for Ms. Mystic may be related to the infrequency of issue releases that Edo alluded to. The second issue came out in 1984 while the first was released in '82. It took until 1992 to produce a whopping 9 issues. In retrospect I still think that Adams' art carries the day. Although the writing is a bit hammy, I think as a group of comics it is not bad at all. But perhaps this should have been one of my 5 Guilty Pleasures from a couple of weeks ago. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

The summers between college semesters I had a decent cash flow from crappy temp jobs and low living expenses. A local comic shop had a lot of the '70s & most of the '80s in its copious back issue bins. I couldn't afford a lot of the "big" books of the era, but I did pick up American Flagg! 1-12 and Jon Sable Freelance 1-33 for a good price. JSF is one of my favorite action/adventure titles of all time. Mike Grell crafted a great-looking series with a good sense of humor and a touch of pathos when necessary. At some point I want to track down the rest of the Grell issues. They were all of a similar high quality.

William- The current IDW TMNT title is really good. It's a reboot that retells some of the early comic book stories while still going its own way. Kevin Eastman oversees it. I bought a few volumes on sale from Comixology, and ended up buying several more. I recommend it to anyone who liked old-school Tyrtles.

- Mike Loughlin

Redartz said...

HB- I'd love to be there to see your barbershop performance! As it is, I'm pretty much indoors due to the rainy weather. Good call on the Tick, very fun book (and loved the animated show too) But what was the Mystic Order...?

Edo- nice story about Ismet; and very cool that you knew the creator when. And I didn't realize there were Rocketeer backups in Starslayer. Wonder if those were reprinted in one of the tpbs.

William- yes, this topic would be well worth revisiting; loads of titles to cover!
Kitchen Sink published the Spirit magazine for awhile, including the great Spirit Jam with some of Denis Kitchen's humor included...

Martinex1- On your recommendation, I picked up that issue of Ms. Mystic this weekend from one of your famous'quarter bins' (actually, it was 50 cents) at the local flea market. Adams' art does look great; will give it a read...
Incidentally, also picked up Marvel Premiere 4 that you mentioned in the comments the other day. It did feature Barry Windsor Smith pencils, actually inked by Frank Brunner! Perhaps Frank's first work on the character.

Garett said...

Loved American Flagg, Mister X and Flaming Carrot. Yes Ms. Mystic was a forward-thinking idea, and if Adams would have focused on that title alone and put it out monthly, it could have been a big hit. I've never read Maze Agency, would like to check it out.

I agree with Mike L. about Jon Sable-- fantastic series! Great writing and art by Grell.

Edge of Chaos by Gray Morrow was a Pacific miniseries about Hercules that I enjoyed.

Anonymous said...

I bought all my comics off the rack back then, so I never saw any of the indie stuff until years later. I've been meaning to check out American Flagg for a long time, so I should probably get to it one of these days. I have a feeling I'd like Starslayer (since I'm a big Grell fan) and I have read (and liked) some of the Rocketeer stuff. Another Starslayer spin-off that sounds interesting is Grimjack...I'd like to check that out sometime.

About the only early 80s indie stuff I've read completely is Jon Sable--did I mention I'm a Grell fan? As Mike Loughlin and Garett already said, it's a great series...great art, great story, great characters.

I tried to get into some Groo stuff years ago, but it kinda seemed like they all ran together after a while...if you've read one, you've read them all sorta thing; but maybe I should give it another chance.

Mike Wilson

Edo Bosnar said...

Redartz, yes, the all of the original Rocketeer stories by Dave Stevens were collected several times: there were at least two paperback collections in the late '80s/early '90s, while more recently (in 2009 or 2010 I think), IDW did a hardcover reprint with some extra material (of which I found a cheap used copy a few years back). I think IDW also did an oversized edition as well.

William said...

Oh yeah Edo, I almost forgot all about the Rocketeer. Definitely one of the great indy comics of all time. In fact I just picked up the recent hardcover that reprints the entire original run by Dave Stevens. A really fun read, and a great movie.

Redartz, I have a copy of "The Spirit Casebook" TPB from Kitchen Sink, as well as a copy of "Comics and Sequential Art" by Will Eisner. I have the latter signed by the man himself. Back in the mid-90's I took his class the "Comics and Sequential Art Workshop", and I got him to sign my copy of "Comics and Sequential Art" (which we used in the class as a textbook). But even better, I also got an original inked sketch from Will as well that he created in the class as a demo. I asked if I could have it, and he happily signed it and gave it to me. He was a very cool guy. I liked him a lot.

Rip Jagger said...

Pacific Comics is the first name in Independents (except well for...ahem First Comics). Captain Victory remains an important book, the first of the Indies to hit with a major talent attached. Not long after they unleashed Rocketeer, and after that a number of fascinating genre books. They flamed out quickly, but burned a path.

First Comics was to my mind the most professional organization, or at least they felt like it. They produced comics with a steady pace, something many of the Indies couldn't do, and something which was a major irritant for me. Warp, E-Man, Sable, and so many other strong comics.

Eclipse was a slow go for me, they came along with the great Eclipse Magazine and Eclipse Monthly and had some great stuff. Rio is the stand out for me, but they had some good Ditko as well.

Of the others they were often defined by one title such as Aardvark-Vanaheim and Cerebus, Fantagraphics and Love and Rockets (though later that changed), Capitol and Nexus, Ktichen Sink and The Spirit, Warp with Elfquiest and a bunch of others.

One that hasn't been mentioned I don't think is AC Comics which eventually found its footing with Femforce. Bill Black's outfit is still with us, though they have had to tap into some sometimes bizarre niches to find a market. They tried to revive the Charlton brand and did some great work early on with reprinting some vintage material in the days when that stuff wasn't as easy to get hold of as it is now.

The early 80's were a ripe time for a comics fan, a great time.

Rip Off

Redartz said...

Edo- thanks for the info; those IDW publications are pretty impressive.

William- That must have been an incredible experience, taking a class with Eisner as the instructor. He is my all-time favorite comics creator, and of course a huge figure in the history of the medium. Wish I could have met him. That signed sketch is a treasure!

Rip- First was a pretty solid publisher. "Mars" was another of their titles I followed regularly. Never tried Jon Sable, but have heard much good mention about it. You're right: the early 80's was a remarkable era in comics, with so much being tried by so many. Some worked, some lasted, some didn't; but it was always an adventure hitting the local comic shop to try something new.

William said...

Redartz - Yes taking that class was indeed an incredible, once in a lifetime experience. You would have definitely loved Will Eisner if you'd met him. And if we could post images on here I'd show you the drawing he gave me.

True story. During the time I was taking his class (in South Florida), there was a comic convention at the National Guard Armory in Ft. Lauderdale, and I went with my wife and my friend Tony DiTerlizzi (co-Creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles) who was taking the class with me.

Shortly after we arrived who should come in but Will Eisner himself, and he spots us and comes over and we all start talking (like normal people). So, I asked him if he was a guest at the convention and he says "No, he just wanted to come by and hang out." Next thing we know we are surrounded by throngs of fans who start gushing all over Will. My wife was totally blown away as she didn't realize we were hanging out with comic book royalty. (I guess she didn't believe me when I explained what an icon he was when I started taking his class).

Well as luck would have it the people running the convention soon got word he was in the building and they swooped in and begged him to go sit up on the dais. He sort of reluctantly agreed (because like I said, he was a super nice guy), and he says to us, "I really would have preferred to stay down here and hang out with you guys." My wife later said she felt like we were friends of a Hollywood celebrity or something. Then I told her that we kind of were seeing as the comic book academy awards are called "The Eisner Awards". LOL

That turned out to be a very memorable convention in other ways too. John Romita and John Romita Jr. were the main guests, and we got to meet them as well. John Sr. was doing free Spider-Man head sketches (of which I still have mine). And John Jr. was flirting with my wife big time. He basically asked her what a girl like her was doing in place like that. It was pretty hilarious, and she ate it up. Probably the best convention I ever attended. Although I went to another convention around that time where I got to meet Stan Lee, so it's sort of a toss up.

Redartz said...

That sounds like one of the all-time great convention experiences, William! Great story, thanks for sharing it...

Martinex1 said...

William that is a very cool story. It would be great to see the original Eisner and Romita art sometime. Great story.

William said...

Thanks guys. If we can figure out how, I'd be more than happy show you those sketches. I have a couple of other interesting ones as well.

Man, those were good days. I have a ton of other convention stories. If the topic ever comes up around here I'll share some more.

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