I read comics.
For me it’s probably the perfect medium because I love reading and I love art and a comic (when it’s done right) is the perfect meeting of the two. I’ve gone through phases with them over the years and there have been occasions when I haven’t read one in months. My tastes have changed a lot over the decades, there have even been periods when I’ve been completely obsessed and spent a minor fortune on them. It all began Once Upon a Time…
When I was very, very young my dad got me into Hergé’s Tintin and Goscinnny and Uderzo’s Asterix. For all intents and purposes they were awesome graphic novels – a term that wouldn’t be coined for a long time yet. These stories were very influential and to this day Albert Uderzo is one of my favourite artists. Heck, I learned to draw trees from studying his artwork! As a kid I read Dandy and Beano and I had a weekly British comic called Monster Fun – which is where this story really begins.
One week when I was just getting ready for my birthday there was a small pull-out sample of a brand new comic called 2000AD. There were dinosaurs and time travel, there were men with jetpacks. There were guns and motorbikes and a guy that could have been the Six Million Dollar Man. I was hooked – I had to buy this comic! When it came out I raced to the newsagent’s at the bottom of our street one Saturday morning and parted with my 8p. There was a cool red space spinner on the cover – which I promptly lost – but the stories inside were amazing. Of course the following week prog 2 (with it’s cyborg stickers) introduced Judge Dredd and I was hooked for a very long time indeed.
2000AD gave me mostly science fiction, but there was also horror and fantasy, humour and superheroes. Some of the great names in comics have worked on 2000AD over the years – Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Dave Gibbons, Alan Grant, Mark Millar, Brian Bolland, John Wagner, Ian Gibson, Simon Bisley, Carlos Ezquerra – the list goes on and on. I had a long association with the galaxy’s greatest comic over teh years and even today I don’t mind having a read. I’m rather looking forward to the new Judge Dredd movie coming soon – just because it’s Dredd.
Move the clock forwards a few years and you’d find me in Preedy’s newsagents in Bilston on a Saturday morning on my knees checking out Marvel comics. The first ones I picked up weren’t the obvious ones mind you – it was Conan the Barbarian and The Micronauts.
At 25pence each they were a little pricey for me but they were in full colour – something that my beloved 2000AD didn’t do. The American comics had a totally different flavour to British fare like Warlord. The odd thing about the comics I chose was that Conan was an adaptation based on the stories of Robert E Howards and the Micronauts were based on a line of kids toys! I guess that reading the Conan comic influenced me somewhat because some years later I became obsessive about collecting the novels and short stories and that was how I came into contact with the amazing Frank Frazetta’s artwork.
In the UK there was a habit of re-printing American comics in black and white or dual colour format. That was how I came to read the origins of Spider-man and Thor when I was very young indeedin Spider-man Comics Weekly. I knew Batman from the TV series and I’d seen Superman and Hulk and several others. I read British re-prints of a lot of Marvel stories over the years.
My love of comics continued and eventually expanded to take in Marvel’s superhero line. For some reason DC’s characters never really appealed to me in the same way that Marvel’s did. I was aware of Spider-man and the Fantastic Four and all the rest from TV and the occasional comic but the first superhero comic I really got into was The Uncanny X-Men. There was something about these characters that gripped me. I’m not sure if it was Claremont’s writing or the art by Dave Cockrum and John Byrne but something drew me in and kept me hooked.
The Dark Phoenix storyline is still one of my favourites ever and the time travel twists of Days of Future Past are amazing. They killed characters! Okay, admitedly the characters didn’t stay dead and the twisty shenanigans that have gone on since with Jean Grey are brain melting. But back then it was awesomely bold.
I became hooked on superhero comics. I hit a point where I was spending a minor fortune each month on just about every Marvel title I could get my hands on. I was mail ordering to get them early and diving on the package as soon as it came through the post. From back in those days I love the bold Demon in a Bottle storyline in Iron Man. Walt Simonson’s run on Thor was stunning, magestic and wonderfully crafted. It still stands up as one of my favourite runs on a comic series with the bold way he incorporated the superhero, science fiction and Norse mythology elements to create something special.
John Byrne’s Fantastic Four was another personal favourite as was his run on Alpha Flight – the shock ending to issue 12 of AF is purely brilliant. Likewise Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil was inspired and resulted in another one of those huge comic book moments from back in the day. I read the event comics, I read the limited series and I even managed to still pick up British re-prints and original works. That was how I discovered the fantastic V For Vendetta in the pages of issue #1 of Warrior.
I wasn’t just a mainstream Marvel head – I segued off into the realms of the more indie works too.I read Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal and Marvel’s Epic line which led me to Alien Legion and Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta’s Starstruck. The Pini’s Elfquest was delightfully epic, Dave Sim’s Cerebus the Aardvark was quirky and politically intriguing and Laird and Eastman’s epic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was…well…epic! I didn’t completely neglect DC but strangely enough the stories that attracted me were mainly by Allan Moore. Batman: The Killing Joke blew me away and his run on Swamp Thing was both astounding and sometimes weird as hell. Watchmenwas another one of those incredibly well written pieces that drew you into a complex and intriguing world. The only big story I liked from that era that Moore didn’t have a hand in was Frank Miller’s legendary Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
Eventually though the word of superhero comics lost some of its appeal to me and I began searing for something new, something fresh and exciting. I found it in the world of Japanese anime and manga. It pretty much started when I fell in love with Ottomo Katsuhiro’s Akira. I adored the film and when I got the chance I ate up the story of revolution, psychic children and friendship. The word “epic” doesn’t do this work justice. It punched all the right buttons for me and led me into the world of Japanese storytelling. There was something fresh and vibrant about these stories and they engaged me in a way that Western comics no longer managed.
I adored Manabe Joji’s Outlanders and Caravan Kidd, fell in love with Takahashi Rumiko’s Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2, Toriyama Akira’s Dragonball and Dr Slump and when I came across Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell by Shiro Masamune I almost lost my mind; Shiro rapidly became another of my favourite artists. At that time in the US there weren’t that many writer/artists. You had Simonson, Byrne, Miller and a few more so one of the biggest standouts for me was that my favourite mangaka did both.
I slowed down on my comic consumption somewhat over the last bunch of years but I still return to it to wade through a story or three once in a while. I like the occasional Batman, I love Brubaker’s work on Captain America, Garth Ennis’s Preacher was fantastic and I still buzz over the original story from Niles 30 Days of Night.
The big standouts recently have been Kick-Ass and The Walking Dead. With Kick-Ass Millar and Romita Jr produced one of the most insanely fun comics I’ve picked up in years. The concept is so simply and brilliantly executed (pun intended) that it’s a wonder nobody thought of it before. And let’s face it, anything with a psychotic ten year old assasin is pure class all the way. The sequel carries the story to an innevitable and bloody conclusion in a very satisfying manner.
The last current read on my little list is Kirkman and Adlard’s The Walking Dead. I can’t say enough good things about this comic and if you’ve seen the TV series you’ll have an idea of why I love it. The comic is way better than TV show by a mile and does things that leave me screaming at the page. The characters are fantastically crafted and Kirkman never pulls back from the harsh brutality of his zombie infested world.
It’s rather scary to realise that I’ve been reading comics for roughly four decades now. I don’t honestly think I’ll stop, and why should I? As long as I continue to find things that are entertaining, fresh and innovative I’ll keep on reading them.