I love comic books. There’s no better way to put it. They have been a major part of my life for most of my existence. As a child, I grew up with my uncle reading comics to me. Spiderman, Iron Man, Conan the Barbarian, the X-Men; we were Marvel fans all the way, True Believers! The first comic I ever bought myself was Ghost Rider. I guess a motorcycle riding demonic spirit of vengeance appealed to my prepubescent self. Comic books expanded my vocabulary, enhanced my love of reading, taught me some elements of storytelling and inspired me with their colorful and dramatic images. They made me the man I am today.
In high school, I discovered independent comics, titles put out by companies who were not one of the big two, DC and Marvel. Eastman and Laird were local celebrities when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first came out. I still have some of their first and second printings of the early TMNT and I think they even did a signing at the comic shop in Portsmouth, NH that I used to go to. I would read and reread issues of Dave Sims’s Cerebus the Aardvark, both because of the intricacies of some of the art and to catch the humor as they lampooned the world of comics, as well as several other favorite targets, such as politics and religion. Teenage me loved the sex and violence that characterized Howard Chakin’s American Flagg. There was one time, during a final exam, I finished the test early and was required to sit quietly at my desk, while other students still worked, taking full advantage of their allotted time. Fortunately, anticipating this very situation, I had brought comics with me. One of these comics happened to be the finale of Matt Wagner’s first Mage series. I got so caught up in it, I forgot where I was and, at the end, almost jumped out of my seat and cheered for the hero’s inevitable victory. Like any art form, be it music or movies, comics have a way of creating an emotional response that can just sweep one along.
College interrupted my love affair with comics as certain other interests took their place. Not to mention that I wasn’t exactly rolling in money. It was reignited when I transferred out to a California school, where I didn’t know many people. Having more freetime, without overwhelming social obligations, I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes, wandering through libraries. It turned out that my university’s library had a graphic novels section, I happened upon it when I had a 2 hour break between classes. Browsing the stacks, I found a copy of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and sat down to read it. I could not put it down. I skipped my class and burned through it in 3 hours and got up unsteadily when I was done. That book rocked my frickin’ world. Taking an almost equal role during that time period is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Somewhere in that time period I also discovered underground comix. I could say a few words here and there about the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Cherry Poptart and Fritz the Cat, but the two main influences to come out of this genre are Robert Crumb and Rick Griffin.
I still read comics. The titles I currently follow are (in no particular order) Ms. Marvel, Lazarus, East of West, Walking Dead, Wildstorm, Saga, The Injection, Scarlet to name a few. At the height of my comic addiction, I was probably buying 40-50 titles a month. I own complete, or nearly complete, sets of The Boys, Preacher (Love Garth Ennis), an entire box of Batmans, a bunch of special events, like Blackest Night, Flash Point, Infinite Crisis, etc. To appease my wife, who would often look in horror at my exponentially growing collection, I eliminated roughly a third of my comics, meaning I currently only have 2,000 to 2,500 comics left. Don’t worry; I’m already building it back up again. Don’t let my wife know.
I’ve made this too long already. I wanted to talk specifically about comic artists that I love, that have influenced my work, but I think I’ll move that to another post. Given the internet’s love of top 10 lists, I’m going to make a list of MY top 10 favorite comic book artists for next week’s blog post.