Tag Archives: Superman

Superman #400 (Oct 84)

I just read Superman #400 yesterday from October 1984.  It’s a thick anniversary issue with no ads, mostly written by Eliot Maggin and featuring stories set at different point in the future when Superman is no longer around. The art is great throughout except there’s no Curt Swan in it! The stories are a mix — mostly good. The last one is written and drawn by Jim Steranko, and it starts out like it’s going to be the greatest science fiction story ever written but ends with a terrible cliche.

Anyway, I’m not here to review this thing. (You can read the whole thing here: http://theages.ac/400/cover.html) I just wanted to post a gallery of some of the amazing pin-ups that are in it.

Howard Chaykin

Howard Chaykin

Bill Sienkiewicz

Bill Sienkiewicz

Brian Bolland

Brian Bolland

Jack Davis

Jack Davis

Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko

Will Eisner

Will Eisner

Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby

Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson

Fisticuffs

Gaze into the Fist of Dredd

"Gaze into the Fist of Dredd" by John Wagner & Alan Grant and Brian Bolland. From "Judge Death Lives" (2000 AD #224-228). IPC Magazines, 1981.

 

One Punch

"One Punch" by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire & Al Gordon. From "Gray Life Gray Dreams" (Justice League #5). DC Comics, 1987.

 

Burn

"Burn" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. From "For The Man Who Has Everything..." (Superman Annual #11). DC Comics, 1985.

 

Hot Roll Grab

"Hot Roll Grab" by Jack Kirby. From "Street Code" (Argosy vol 3 #2). 1990.

 

 KS

Superman’s Citizenship

I’d completely forgotten about the whole Superman’s citizenship business until I read this today: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2011/05/is-superman-still-renouncing-his-citizenship/

The fact that I consider myself a “Superman Fan” but had forgotten all of this probably shows how out of touch I am with the current iteration of the character.

As for the reason I forgot about it the minute after I read about it, let me make the following simple points. I don’t understand why message board threads on the topic are running 13 pages long:

1) Superman is an alien being FROM ANOTHER PLANET.

2) Superman is an ALIAS. “Clark Kent” can be an American citizen, but “Superman” cannot except in an honorary sense.

3) Superman co-creator Joe Shuster was born CANADIAN.

4) Superman is a FICTIONAL CHARACTER.

KS

P.S. One scene I really hated in Superman Returns, was the scene where he flies up into space above the Earth and listens for all the bad stuff going on, and then flies down to stop a bank robbery IN METROPOLIS of all the shit going on in the world.

 

Review: World’s Finest #244

(Story: Bob Haney, Art: Jose Luis Garcia Lopez & Murphy Anderson. DC Comics, 1977.)

Some observations on World’s Finest #244:

In what few World’s Finest comics I’ve read — which always featured Superman and Batman team-ups — Superman usually got incapacitated by Kryptonite or something.

And the only thing I know about Bob Haney — the writer of this story — is that he’s the guy who wrote that legendary “Batman digs this day” line, and apparently all his stories were nuts. Notably in this comic, Superman and Batman are always wound-up jerks.

Vinnie Barbarino as Superman. Thanks, Neal.

Page 1: “Three killings — three human snakes who deserved to die!” Apparently the reader is assumed to be on different moral ground than Batman and Superman then.

Page 2: People in this comic speak almost exclusively IN SLANG.

 

Okay, so three criminals die mysteriously. Batman offers to buy the coroner a weird stethoscope.

Say what?!

 

The underworld thinks it was rival gangs that did the killings but Superman and Batman know otherwise and have to stop a gang war, so Batman crashes a meeting of the bosses.

They have to rationalize shooting him all at once.

 

Page 7: I like the way Superman has to always lug Batman around in these comics.

 

Watching videos of the three murders, Superman is discovered to be at the scene of all of them. So he agrees to be thrown in jail in “honor custody” when word breaks out to the media about his possible involvement in the crimes. It’s hard to believe the Silver Age DC public would turn on Superman so easily, but anyway he breaks out, replacing himself with a Superman robot, and making me wonder what the point of agreeing to the honor custody was in the first place. Note that his rational is that subbing in the robot doesn’t constitute breaking his honor code which is completely morally fucked up.

Also, in the crime boss scene, Superman was able to catch all the criminals bullets without being noticed. Surely he could have subbed in the Superman robot the same way and avoided having to destroy city property?

 

What exactly is sulking super-style…?

 

A weirdo shows up at Wayne Enterprises looking to make a major alloy purchase and Superman steals his watch. At this point, I’m thinking, “Why NOT put Superman in jail?”

 

Even Batman agrees.

They follow the guy who travels through another dimension to reach… Arizona!! Important: Superman is able to recognize on sight when something “fades into another time dimension.”

It turns out this guy is from the future, which explains his miraculous death ray. He has no qualms about killing criminals, but he had to STEAL 20th century money to use back here.

But the main thing is: in the future the environment is destroyed and everyone lives under totalitarian rule. Since mankind is so miserable, Barton aka Robespierre Two, has been sent back in time to create a full size death ray to mercifully wipe out humanity before it reaches that stage.

 

He impersonated Superman in the videos so he’d get locked up and be out of his way. And he placed the big order with Bruce Wayne to keep Batman occupied. My question is: If he’s going to kill everyone on Earth anyway, why not just KILL Batman with his invisible death ray in the first place?! 

Somehow, Superman knows that by coming back in time, Barton has changed the future. Considering the amount of time travel Superman used to do in this era without consequence, I find it hard to believe he’d think that. And how does he know Barton hasn’t made the future even worse by coming back in time?

 

And when Superman and Batman defeat Barton and he returns to the future, the old Terminator question comes up: Why not just keep sending him back over and over again?

KS

P.S. This story is readable in full here: http://diversionsofthegroovykind.blogspot.com/2010/01/grooves-faves-worlds-finest-comics-244.html

My SDCC 1997 Sketchbook

Mike Allred

I asked him about the Madman movie, and he said, “All I can tell you is the potential director’s initials are DH.” I said, “D.H. Lawrence?!” and he said, “Who?!”

Mike Mignola

He seemed slightly reluctant to have to draw Rasputin for some reason…

Scott McDaniel

Ron Garney

Art Adams

Mark Schultz

Terry Moore

Geoff Darrow

One of my favorites of these. It’s amazing how much expression he gets out of so few lines, and yet he’s known for his hyper-detailed style.

Mark Texiera

I wanted a Punisher. He was, like, “Man, the Punisher is a dead character!” I was, like, “O-okay, Mr Texiera. Vampirella then please!”

Phil Foglio

Len Wein

Phil Foglio

Stan Sakai

Kevin Eastman

Rick Geary

Gary Gianni

Unusual to see anything by Brom in just pen-and-ink instead of fully painted!

Dick Ayers

Batton Lash

Eddie Campbell

Eddie seemed slightly annoyed to see me walking around wearing a From Hell shirt, and asking him to sign From Hell books. He seemed disappointed that I wasn’t into Bacchus, but I did end up buying three tpbs off him!

Matt Wagner

Larry Marder

Marie Severin

Sergio Aragones

I wanted a Punisher. He was, like, “I never drew that character!” I was, like, “O-okay, Mr Aragones. Superman then please!”

Steve Bissette

I wanted an Abby, but my friend warned me beforehand that Bissette didn’t like doing sketches of her because she was hard to draw. But I figured I’d give it a shot. First, I got him to sign my copy of Swamp Thing #21 (“The Anatomy Lesson”) and I told him about how I’d recently bought page 1 of that issue (it is the one piece of original art I own). He asked me how much I paid for it. I said, “$900” (this was pre-eBay, remember.) Bissette: Poker face. So then I asked for an Abby sketch, and he was, like, “Wellll…” So I quickly said, “How about a Swamp Thing?” He said, “Okay, but can you go get me a Coke?” So I went and bought him a Coke, and when I came back this beautiful drawing is what was waiting for me! Thank you, Mr. Bissette!!

Jill Thompson

Carl Macek (R.I.P.)

Me & Carl Macek

He was the first creator I met at the show, and the only one I got my picture taken with. For better or worse, ROBOTECH has had an abnormally huge effect on my life. I was sadder than I should have been when he passed. He died at age 58. Meaning he must’ve been about 33 when he produced Robotech. Wow.

Mark Millar

Mark Millar had just finished his run on Swamp Thing, which I absolutely loved, but he was still relatively unknown in the US. I was determined to meet him to talk about his Swamp Thing work, but he never seemed to be around the first day or two. Finally, he was signing at the DC booth. At the table were Grant Morrison — at the peak of his super-popular JLA run — on the left, and Millar on the right. The mega-line was feeding into Grant (JLA artist Howard Porter may have been there too), and people would theoretically then travel along to Mark. Nuh uh. People would get Morrison to sign their stuff and then veer off into the ether. Millar was sitting there looking bored, and to be honest, a little sad — hard to imagine these days, I know! Anyway, so I’m in the line. Finally, I get to Morrison and I walk right past him to Millar. Morrison looks slightly taken aback — whether at being ignored or Millar getting eager attention, I don’t know. Millar is slightly shocked by the crazed fan too. In any case, we had a great lengthy chat (as far as Comic Con goes) about the whole legacy of Swamp Thing and his wonderful work on the series and he seemed to really appreciate my support too. Unfortunately, I haven’t liked much of what I’ve read of Millar’s work since, but that was always one of my favorite con memories. And who knew he could DRAW Swamp Thing so well to boot!

KS

Review: PHANTOM ZONE #1-4 & DC COMICS PRESENTS #97

(PHANTOM ZONE #1-4: written by Stever Gerber, art by Gene Colan & Tony DeZuniga, 1982. DC COMICS PRESENTS #97: written by Steve Gerber, art by Rick Veitch & Bob Smith, 1986.)

As usual, I can’t remember exactly how or why these comics ended up on my wish list. I think I may have read something about it in the Krypton Companion, and I do like learning minutia about Silver Age Superman mythology, so maybe that was it.

Anyway, first up is the Phantom Zone miniseries by Gerber and Colan. There is a guy at the Daily Planet named Kweskill who we learn was once incarcerated in the Phantom Zone but upon his release somehow lost both his powers and memory and is now living like the Average Joe. Except the villains still in the Phantom Zone are psychically manipulating Kweskill to build a Zone projector which releases the criminals while trapping Superman and Kweskill inside. The pair then spend the remaining issues trying to escape, while Zod and the other escapees build a giant Zone projector to phase the whole planet Earth into the Zone.

The concept of the Zone is that you can only think and observe while you are there — no feeling or aging, though criminals can psychically communicate with each other. So I actively disliked the way that Superman only had to do a bunch of stuff to escape — much the way he came back from the dead in the 90s. Somehow the way Gerber delineates the Zone in such physical detail detracts from the existential horror of the idea. And the whole idea is so huge that plot holes are bound to emerge if you try to describe it too much. I have to admit though that I found Gerber’s approach less disconcerting on a second read through. Still, at times it was almost as if he bit off more than he could chew. Gerber’s best notes are played on Kweskill, who is the kind of Man-On-The-Street Gerber excelled at writing and often appeared in Gerber’s Howard the Duck. In fact, the fact that he makes time for the panel below amongst the chaos is classic Gerber.

But there is some weird stuff in this series. One the very first page of issue one, in the very first sentence, there is a misprint which reads: “Perry White is a newspaper of the old school.” Ironically, this page is about newspaper editing. (It’s so blatant part of me wanted to believe it was some kind of meta-commentary by Gerber.) We get a bit of history of Jor-El’s discovery of the Zone as well. Jor-El proposes the Zone as a punishment for criminals instead of cryo-freezing them and rocketing them into orbit as they do currently and the council seems to accept this after one day of deliberation — no scientific investigation or anything. Jor-El explains that the criminals are in the same physical space as them after they are projected into the Zone, but it’s not clear how they “travel” from place to place — how did they get to “Earth space” 30 years later? The council decides to rocket the projector into space to protect people from the psychic influence of the prisoners. This makes no sense since the criminals do not exist in the projector, and dooms them to eternity in the Zone no matter how long or short their judged terms were. It’s also very, very fucked up that Perry forgets that Kweskill was a Kryptonian until Batman reminds him in issue 3! And why does Superman keep a “disintegration pit” filled with “radioactive Kryptonian fuel” at his Fortress? Where did he get that fuel anyway? It’s also weird that Superman only has to destroy Zod’s mega-projector to return Earth from the Zone after being half phased into it. Really? So all you have to do is destroy any projector and whatever’s inside pops back out? Finally: Zod escapes and his one goal is to completely destroy the Earth — but his motive is never given. As far as we know, the Earth never did him any wrong. And if he kept the people alive, with his superpowers he could rule over them as slaves.

In terms of art, the work by Colan — a frequent collaborator of Gerber on Howard the Duck as well — is beautiful and moody and horribly reproduced. The heaviness of it is well suitted to the wasteland-like Zone. So why did they choose to make the covers so “comedic”? Weird. And I found it odd that when the villains manage to launch nuclear bombs against the Earth and Superman is forced to watch helplessly from the Zone, his face is practically emotionless. Also — probably not Colan’s fault — I disliked that Zod was bald. Aren’t Braniac and Luthor enough bald villains for Superman?

DC Comics Presents #97 (the last issue of the series) on the other hand, is one of the best superhero comics I have ever read. Gerber returns to write, this time with Rick Veitch on art, to create the final chapter of the Phantom Zone’s history in which the living entity which is the Zone becomes corporeal in our universe, fusing with Mr. Mxyzptlk, and releasing the prisoners once again.

As the cover states, this is an “Untold Tale of the Pre-Crisis Universe” — meaning Gerber had almost complete freedom to mess things up as much as he wanted since the continuity he was writing for no longer existed — much like the freedom Alan Moore had with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW. In fact, Gerber seems to have had so much freedom, that some of the events in here involving Mr. Mxyzptlk seem to contradict directly what Moore did with his story.

There is a very obvious Moore-influence here. Gerber often narrates in the first person here, instead of the omniscient third person narration he used in the miniseries. And the Zone, as a sentient being, speaks in an appropriately “unhuman” version of English — something too difficult for the 11-year olds reading the miniseries, but something Gerber seems quite comfortable with after Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing bomb hit DC Comics in 1984. This isn’t a knock-off though — it’s more like Moore revealed to Gerber more tools in his shed that he could be making use of, and Gerber used them to craft his own kind of house. (Although it is possible that the miniseries and this issue are each enriched by reading the other.)

Veitch’s work on this story is phenomenal. Gerber covers a lot of the same Zone backstory that he did in the miniseries (was it already in place before then even?), but he’s far more passionate about it here, and Veitch — Moore’s frequent collaborator on Swamp Thing — attacks it with the eye of Victor Moscoso, abstracting and intensifying the layouts. Characters are sweaty and paranoid and visceral — I felt like Veitch was channeling Justin Green the whole time. I haven’t seen superhero characters look this emotional since Kirby. After reading this and Veitch’s Heartburst and Shiny Beasts recently, I am convinced that Veitch is one of the true greats of comic art, and I wish sometimes he could draw every superhero comic.

 

(Faora and Binky Brown — separated at birth?!)

The other great thing about Gerber’s freedom on this book is that the ending is negative in a way that I don’t ever recall seeing in a superhero book up to that time. It’s almost like the DC Universe version of Miracleman #15, with Metropolis largely destroyed — which totally makes sense if Kryptonian villains were allowed to run rampant on earth — and Mxyzptlk having seemingly become a god.

Excellent. A heady, feverish experience of a superhero comic book. Highly recommended.

KS

Warlock 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!

The comic I’ve been reading this week is Warlock 5 — the “complete” issues 1-13, by Gordon Derry and Denis Beauvais, and published by Aircel Comics.

Years ago I owned a copy of issue #7 which I bought new off the shelf in what must have been 1987. I have no idea what happened to that copy, but a brief “appreciation” of the series on Newsarama a few years back prompted fond memories of that single issue I owned and curiosity about the rest of the series. So I put it on my want list, and finally got around to ordering them a few weeks back.

I said “fond memories” before, but that does not accurately describe my feelings about Warlock 5 #7. Warlock 5 #7 was categorically badass. Back in 1987 when I was reading Superman, Transformers, Excalibur, and I’m sure something else which I can’t quite remember right now, I would still scan the shelves at the comic shop even for the indies, which I did not read, and the cover of Warlock 5 #7 refused to be denied. I mean look at this thing!

There were very few painted covers on comics at the time, and this one was beautifully executed with an awesome range of character designs the likes of which only I myself could have come up with at that age. I mean, who cares if the robot is a Terminator rip-off? It’s still such a wicked visual. The air-brushed black-and-white interiors were not exactly photo-realistic per se, but they had a three-dimensional solidity to them which I had never seen in any other comic before — certainly never in any of the 4-color Marvel and DC books I was enjoying at the time. To this day I remember the last panel here:

And I loved the violence of this sequence:

And then, at the end of the book, there was this:

Holy Shit!!! Boobies!!! Believe me, at 13 years old, I spent A LOT of time with that last panel above. I mean, MASSIVE amounts of time. I mean, INCREDIBLE, MASSIVE, WHOLE LOTS OF TIME. HOURS AND HOURS OF TIME. MEGA COLLOSAL, HUGE TRACTS OF TIME. REAMS OF TIME. GARTANTUAN, MONOLITHIC GALLONS OF TIME. I MEAN, STUPENDOUS, INCALCULABLE AMOUNTS OF TIME.

Anyway, there was no “Mature Readers” label on the cover. I wondered if the guy at the counter would sell it to me — I would have been 12 or 13-years old at the time. I had to own those boobies no matter what. I had to give it a shot. Hopefully he hadn’t read it and wouldn’t know that I should not actually be allowed to buy it. So I took it up to the counter and, as I recall, the guy sold it to me without a word.

This comic never made any sense to me. And, really, if you’re jumping on at issue #7 it’s unlikely it would. It begins with some kind of medieval battle between a witch and a sorceress on the top of a castle, when a knight in armor enters the fray; then it’s the present and some dude gets stabbed by two women in the street and the women are pursued by bikers in armor, and that’s kind of it. But that cover and the art is still riveting. And I still love the scanned scenes above. The incomprehensibility of the plot only made the comic more compelling as an object in my mind — like a page ripped out of someone’s diary that you find in a gutter. I got a dream-like sense of the greater tapestry beyond the reach of my conscious awareness. And, speaking practically, how many more of these would I be able to sneak past the guy at the cash register anyway?

Finally reading the complete series this past week, it is sadly disappointing. When you read a single issue, you can only imagine the greater framework. Seeing that actual framework, you realize how terribly flawed and dishearteningly uninteresting it is. You realize how many of the same traps it falls into that other black-and-white indies of the era did — this thing wants to hyper-accelerate the construction of a giant comic book universe without any meaningful development and the resulting impression is of a typical kind of Marvel knock-off conceived by a 14-year old. (In fact, every founding title from Image Comics suffered this same juvenile approach.) I mean — Great Krypton — weren’t any of these people reading Love and Rockets or Cerebus, or at least ElfQuest?

From issue #1 the plot still makes no sense. Supposedly the book is about: “five Guardians struggling for control of a Grid that is the intersecting point of five conflicting realities” (so says issue #12). The back pages are filled with supplementary matter to help explain the structure of the universe — almost all of it is confusing mumbo-jumbo that fails to illuminate anything. Characters regularly spout lines full of generalities like: “Maybe the only way to solve the imbalance of the universe is to change the present reality. I’ve discovered that the turbulence of cosmic energy is centered on this time” (actual dialog from issue #12). As if this helps to delineate anything. Sometimes they even try to clarify the plot in the letters pages! While the “grid” seems to operate according to certain rules, there is no discernible internal logic to the magical abilities people seem to randomly display.

At the end of issue #3, one of the Guardians is about to kill the other four with a nuclear bomb and the caption says: ‘To Be Continued.” At the beginning of the next issue, everything is back to status quo with no mention of what happened — and, no, I didn’t skip an issue. They apologized for this TWICE in the letters pages: once explaining that it was some kind of radical new storytelling technique where the readers were supposed to imagine for themselves what happened, and the second time explaining that they had to cut short story pages resulting in the gap (and yet the issue in question also contained a back up story and house ads).

Most issues fall into a basic pattern of one or more Guardians showing up to fight one or more of the others, while the remaining one(s) try to convince the others to stop fighting until the next issue. One of the fatal flaws of the series is that a Guardian seems to die in almost every issue only to be shown to have survived in the next. If you’re going to kill off and bring back, say, Colossus or Kitty Pride every 100 issues or so, that’s one thing, but in Warlock 5 the cycle is only two or three issues long — the formula almost instantly becomes predictable and tedious.

An exceptional issue is #13 which oscillates between wince-inducing cliché / Alan Moore pastiche, and some really interesting formalist sequences, the likes of which had never been even hinted at in the series before:

But worst of all: there are no boobies in any issue except #7.

Denis Beauvais’s art, though, improved with each issue. Issue #1 in fact is a bit clunky, alternating from somewhat not-ready-for-prime-time line work, to his signature airbrushing:

I’ve only seen one or two other Aircel books — Demon Hunter and Samurai (illustrated by the one-day-to-be-famous Dale Keown) — but they did seem to have a kind of “house style” — a kind of fetishistically shaded Eastman and Laird — and Beauvais definitely fits into that category at first. But by issue 4 or 5 he hits his stride and distinguishes himself. (Demon Hunter by Barry Blair and Samurai samples below.)

Aircel is a company I know almost nothing about except that they were based in Canada, and they seemed to survive the Black & White Boom and Bust, which is a fascinating event in comics history in itself. Another weird thing about Warlock 5 is that, while I called it “complete” above, in fact there were a lot more issues. The thing was taken over by a radically different creative team after issue #13 and went on for a further, something like, 15 issues (illustrated by Barry Blair of Demon Hunter above). What’s odd is that on Beauvais’s website he states that: “15 issues were created in total, issues #14-#15 unpublished.” This is odd because Derry and Beauvais owned the copyright on the series. So how did they end up losing control of the series — what the heck is the story there…?

Long story, short: to some extent I actually regret having read these comics. They’ve destroyed the illusion of greatness I got from issue #7. Fortunately, none of it is very memorable, so my plan is to sell off all of them except #7, forget all about them, reconstruct my awe around that one issue, and climb back once again into the moist, sultry womb of nostalgia.

“Let me taste fish” and the Magic of Amar Chitra Katha

So, I’m trying to figure out what the earliest comics I read were. As a 5, 6, 7, 8-year old I was crazy for Superman, but mostly in the form of cartoons and t-shirts. I don’t think I read or owned any Superman comics. I didn’t read Archies until I was in about the 11-13 range.

But I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have at least a few Amar Chitra Katha comics around.

Amar Chitra Katha for many years at least seemed to be the monopoly comics publisher in India. I don’t know when they started or anything about the history of the company (though given that this is the Internet, I should probably look that up), but for as long as I could remember, if you bought comics in India, they were Amar Chitra Kathas.

Actually, this is not entirely true. I began devotedly reading and collecting comics in 1986/1987, so when I went to visit India in 1988 I was on the hunt for anything I could find. What I discovered were not only Amar Chitra Kathas, but also Western strip reprints in the English newspapers, and these things:

In 1988, this thing cost 3.00 Rupees (equivalent to about US$0.07) and is so flimsy it almost fell apart on my scanner. I would tell you what it’s about but — as you can see — the art is too horrible to make the effort worthwhile. Although, to be fair, the art is no worse than that found in any number of Robotech comics published by Eternity. Bafflingly, it ends with a one-page Henry strip. I really have no idea what the editorial rationale could have been:

There were also repackaged DC books like this (this one published by India Book House), which seem to have been shoddily recolored for some reason. And check out that threatening “SHAAK!” on the cover — better jump out of the way, Superman! (Art: Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell, Script: Elliot S! Maggin)

… And this Tarzan book, which also looks like reprints from somewhere else. (I remember copying art out of this comic as a kid.)

On the outside back cover you are commanded to “MAKE MORE WORDS.” Must’ve had trouble selling ad space for this issue…

Plus there were two different James Bond books on the racks from two different publishers. One was this hideously drawn thing from Star Comics / India Book House (art by Anand Wadekar):

And the other was this, which looks drawn professionally enough that I have to assume they licensed the art from overseas. And yet it’s been poorly translated (into English) and shoddily lettered. I also am not sure who exactly published it. In the back it says: “For regional language rights please contact Peacock Features,” “Published by SP Ramanathan,” and “Glidrose Publications.”

But what is REALLY amazing about this book is that it featured actual nudity!!! Look, boobies!!!

I mean, this was in a comic book in India?!?! This is a country that doesn’t allow the depiction of kissing in movies, and put out an arrest warrant for Richard Gere for kissing a woman in public and therefore corrupting the morals of the nation’s children. Never mind the Kama Sutra and the fact that this is the second highest populated country in the world. Just don’t ask where those babies came from. Perhaps, since it was illustrated they could get away with it in the same way they get away with all those topless dancers on the temple walls. Believe me, at 13 years old, I spent A LOT of time with that last panel above. I mean, MASSIVE amounts of time. I mean, INCREDIBLE, MASSIVE, WHOLE LOTS OF TIME. HOURS AND HOURS OF TIME. MEGA COLLOSAL, HUGE TRACTS OF TIME. REAMS OF TIME. GARTANTUAN, MONOLITHIC GALLONS OF TIME. I MEAN, STUPENDOUS, INCALCULABLE AMOUNTS OF TIME. (Of course, she could have had a bikini on in the original which they “colored out” in the Indian reprint.)

Weirdly, this comic ends with a bunch of trivia and activities for kids and a Hindu mythology text story, which brings me all the way back to…

Amar Chitra Katha, which still seemed to have a stranglehold on the religious and moral stories for the longest time. (Although by the time I visited in 2001 there did seem to be a least one competitor in this department as well in the form of Archie-digest-sized “Diamond Comics,” though it was really a very poor cousin). Amar Chitra Katha comics fell into a few basic categories: religious comics (stories of the Hindu gods), animal fables, and occasional historical comics. As far as I can tell they produced a few hundred in total and then just kept reprinting them a gajillion times. When you went to a newsstand, you were lucky if you found a title you hadn’t seen before. Sometimes issues would come with checklists in the back pages which were about as random as the figures pictured on the back of Kenner Star Wars figures. I think they re-numbered the series from time to time too. Anyway, I bought a stack when I visited India in 1988, and when I went to buy more during my 2001 visit they still had all the same titles on the racks, only now with glossy cardstock covers and slightly better paper. (In the only days, both the covers and interiors were printed on passable newsprint.)

As a kid and even now as an adult, the animal fables are okay and all, but it’s the religious titles that are really spectacular. By which I mean craptastic.

If you have only brushed against Hindu mythology in even the vaguest way, you can probably imagine without anyone having to tell you that Hindu religious stories — like all religious stories — are pretty bonkers, overflowing with illogic that is readily drowned out by multi-armed, multi-headed, multi-skin-toned, fanged gods, loaded down with Mr. T level jewelry and crowns, and constant warring between each other and each other’s camps.

The problem is that most of the artists on the Amar Chitra Katha books were journeymen at best, and the work was generally substandard. The interiors were never a lick on the painted covers. Ye olde bait and switch (Interior Art: Chandrakant D. Rane, Script: Anant Pai):

And you rarely ever saw one artist do more than a couple of issues at most. I don’t know much about how Amar Chitra Katha works, but judging from comic industries in general, and the fact that this is India we’re talking about here, I have to imagine the artists were treated like shit, paid poorly, and then never paid again for the tens of thousands of reprints of their work across multiple languages. Of course I could just be slinging mud here where none is deserved.

At any rate there was one artist who stood out: C. M. Vitankar. He had a warm, clean line; did fine figure work with a command of facial expressions; and had solid storytelling chops. This guy knew what he was doing and he was good enough to be the only Amar Chitra Katha cartoonist I know of that appears in Lambiek’s list of cartoonists. (Note the signature of the Jataka Tales cover above.) But sadly like other Amar Chitra Katha artists, he only did two or three issues that I know of. This does not, however, keep his “Ganesha” from being one of the great comics of all time in my book. (Script: Kamala Chandrakant)

Ganesha Cover

But all this intellectual talk about art and artists distracts from the heart of the matter, which is that the central appeal of these comics for me as a kid was that they were horrifically violent and featured regular mutilations, dismemberments, and decapitations. While my parents might have hesitated to allow us watching violent cartoons (actually they were quite liberal, and mostly just complained about such cartoons rather than banned them), they had no qualms or comments about us reading things like this:

The Decapitation of Ganesha. Art: C.M. Vitankar, Script: Kamala Chandrakant

… or this:

From “Dasha Avatar.” Art: Pratap Mulick, Script: Kamala Chandrakant

… among dozens of other such scenes. The reason for my parents’ “lax” attitude couldn’t have been religious since Dad is a staunch atheist. It must have simply been because the comics were Indian so they were happy for us to be consuming them. But as a kid, my response to these scenes was: “Blood! Guts! Awesome!” I remember taking these comics to school in, like, Grades 5 and 6 and showing them off to the other kids who were duly impressed or sometimes stupefied that I owned such things and that this was a religion wholly unlike anything they’d ever read in their bibles. (I guess all those kids must have skipped the Old Testament and the crucifixion.)

Those panels and stories have stayed with me my whole life. I wanted to avoid titling this post “Early Influences” because I have trouble identifying the direct influences in my own work (though believe me, I know full well that WCT is a pastiche). But I’m shaped and therefore inspired by everything — every book, every song, every sitcom episode — and every person I’ve ever met in my life. They have all had some hand in the formation of my personality, physiologically encoding themselves into my RNA as memories. I’m inspired constantly: I see something funny or frightening and I feel like picking up a pen.

But I have to admit that the ultraviolence in Weird Crime Theater must have a direct lineage going back to the Amar Chitra Katha religious comics which dissolved any inhibitions I might have otherwise had about such things. What a colossal debt I owe them, and what a profound effect they’ve had on the makeup of my personality, unconscious or otherwise.

Something I never imagined would happen, but has is that there seems to be an interest in Hindu mythology developing in the West. A few years ago Virgin Comics attempted and failed to launch a line of Hindu mythology comics in the US. I flipped through a few of these but the dreary, muddy coloring made them unreadable in my eyes…

“Ramayan 3392” I think it’s called.

Where were all the colorful costumes and jewelry? And the art seemed to be aping the current art styles at DC and Marvel. One of their titles seemed to be some kind of Ramayana set in the future! Despite Virgin’s sad-to-say-it predictable failure, Grant Morrison is supposedly working on some kind of Mahabharata CGI movie, we’ve just had Nina Paley’s fine animated Ramayana adaptation called SITA SINGS THE BLUES, and Cartoon Network in Asia is supposedly airing a series of Amar Chitra Katha adaptations. (Incidentally, many, many years ago, I once submitted a proposal to Dark Horse for a comic book series adapting the Ramayana and I never heard a peep back from them.)

Still, none of these “slick” modern interpretations have any of the visceral emotional impact that those old Amar Chitra Katha comics gave me in my youth and still do to this day — or, at least, the memory of them.

 

Epilogue:

Just a few months ago my parents were visiting India and I asked them to buy me a few Amar Chitra Katha’s for when they came to see us in Australia. But what they brought me was THIS:

P.S. PLUG: Yes, there is a whole other comics scene in India these days as well. This anthology features work by an Internet acquaintance of mine, Bharath Murthy.