One of the nicer things that my vast fame and fortune has brought me is that I get interviewed from time to time about the comics that were most influential on me and my career…the comics that matter. And I’ve been asked enough that the answer is down to a science now.
The first one is BATMAN #251, THE JOKER’S FIVE WAY REVENGE. This is the first DC comic I ever purchased with my own money, and WOW, what a doozy to start with. There’s a great saying that goes–“The Golden Age of everything is 12 years old”. That’s when your opinions form, that’s when you find the best version of TV, movies, comics, fiction, girls…the stuff that you measure all the others against for the rest of your life, and this is one of the comics that falls into that category for me. I often wonder if I’d be doing this for a living if my first comic had been something by lights lesser than the great DENNY O’NEIL and NEAL ADAMS! And it’s not just a comic by these titans, it’s the comic that re-introduces the Joker to the world, with a brand-spanking-new homicidal bent to him like never before.
In previous years, the Joker had been a tepid character…robbing banks with rubber chickens, and kidnapping clowns, and the like (gems like “JOKER’S MILLIONS” were still undiscovered by me at the time, so I didn’t know Joker much beyond his TV show version…) But this story involves Joker murdering his entire gang, just to make sure he got the one member who was an informant. He kills these guys with bombs, electrocution, and ends with tossing an old guy into a shark tank, wheelchair and all. Illustrated by Neal Adams in his “new” exciting style, this was like no other comic I’d ever seen, and I instantly wanted more, more, more. Sadly, Neal only drew one further Batman comic (for a while anyway) before handing the series over to the wonderfully skilled Irv Novick…but it didn’t matter. I was addicted to both Batman and Neal Adams for the rest of my life, and still am. As an adult, I go back to this comic and re-read it, and I use it as a teaching tool in my TORONTO CARTOONISTS WORKSHOP classes to show off story and character construction. Fortunately, it’s not just my own nostalgia that makes this comic a classic, and everyone I show it to, is as blown away by it as I am.
Next up: These two issues of the Avengers were the first two Marvel comics I owned. Purchased by an older brother when I was about seven years old, and left (in very lovely condition) at my Grandmother’s apartment until years later when I got to read them, probably at the age of twelve. Again…for a first introduction to these characters of Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Blank Panther, Yellowjacket, Wasp and of course…the Vision…this was a magnificent place to start. EVEN AN ANDROID CAN CRY is often cited as one of the best written superhero comics of the sixties, and I’d be in no position to argue.
Roy Thomas‘ script is touching, exciting, and intelligent, something this child of STAR TREK and TWILIGHT ZONE (my favorite shows as a kid) recognized as different from the other stuff that comics were about. And the artwork by John Buscema and George Klein is stunningly good. It remains, to this day, my mind’s eye version of the what the PERFECT Marvel comic artist should strive to achieve….with layouts that jump around the page, but still lead the eye correctly from panel to panel. Human bodies, drawn with exquisite anatomy and detail, are leaping and jumping from the first page to the last, and the second issue in the two parter is essentially a long conversation about what to do with the android in the building that tried to kill us. A conversation?!? And it was that exciting and lively? If I ever get half this good as either a writer or a penciler, I get to retire with a smile.
These three comics (along with a few issues of Mad Magazine, Tintin and Asterix that were also left to me by older siblings) are the bedrock foundation of my love of this biz. If, instead, I’d purchased as my first comics, BROTHER POWER THE GEEK, PATSY WALKER, or RED WOLF, we can rest assured I’d be a baker or a plumber at this point in life.
Besides getting me into the lifestyle…I’ve been influenced more directly by these comics by mining them for scripts and images more than once. Seen above, my cover for BATMAN ADVENTURES #31 is clearly an homage or an all out steal of the #251 cover. At the time I drew it, I was not conscious of the similarity, but that’s what an influence is…it’s there inside your brain telling you “If you want to make it more dramatic, make the Joker one hundred stories tall!” without realizing why you’re doing it. It’s not theft, it’s INFLUENCE…
The Vision story I stole far more directly. When I was assigned the writing chores with AVENGERS UNITED, one of the first scripts I turned in was a re-working of Thomas/Buscema’s original VISION story, only with the twist that my issue was called “Androids Can’t Cry”, and I switch out the ending. This one I WAS conscious of ripping off, and I had so much fun playing in the sandbox that had been there since I was a child, it’s hard to explain the joy. When I met Roy Thomas, years later, the first words out of my mouth were babbling nonsense about apologizing for stealing his story, but I couldn’t help myself, etc. I’m certain he walked away from the meeting believing I was a madman and has mercifully forgotten me.
Since I brought ’em up, next time out in “COMICS THAT MATTER” I’ll discuss the early Tintin and Asterix and Mad stuff that sits inside my brain, below even this superhero stuff.
Ty the GuyShare:
When I was very small, I had reprints of Amazing Spider-man #96-98. I read them exactly one bazillion times. They screwed me up forever.
Those are Gil Kane, I’m guessing, leading up to the six-armed Spidey…so either Morbius or Lizard, I’d wager? Am I close?
No, wait…the prison stuff, with Harry all strung out on the “stuff”. Ah, I’m just guessing…
Yep. The Harry-on-drugs story, with the Green Goblin. Pencils by Gil Kane. Romita inked #96 (and redrew some of the heads, according to Kane). Frank Giacoia inked the other two.
Issue #96 is very tense. Everybody remembers it as the “drug comic” that didn’t get Comics Code approval, but the really interesting narrative is Norman Osborn’s gradual but unstoppable slide (back) into super-villainous insanity. The Green Goblin appears only on the last page of the issue, in an unforgettable full-page panel. It’s paced magnificently.
What a fantastic post… and a great kick off a (hopefully) long line of personal retrospectives. I eagerly await your run down of Tin Tin and Asterix and MAD and beyond!
Y’know, this is a great choice to show off Neal Adams. His Batman work, his Deadman & X-men pages are innovative and beautiful to this day, and his scattered short horror stories are classic… and this is coming form someone who’s not really crazy about Adams’ general style (which is weird because I like a lot of folks influenced BY him).
When I was 9, the local comic shop dealer sold me Dark Knight Returns #3 for 3 bucks. “Red headed Robin?”, I thought, “Not bad, weird cover, nice paper… there goes my lunch money for the week.” I couldn’t afford (or find) the TPB until I was 12, but that issue was quickly seared into my mind’s eye.
My zone of “twelve to fifteen” includes Python’s Holy Grail, Star Wars, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, solo Beatles projects (Band on the Run, Lennon’s Walls and Bridges, Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, etc.) Star Trek the Motion Picture, and the first season of Saturday Night Live, ALONG with Neal Adams Batman, Kurtzman Mad reprints, the Roy Thomas Avengers and NEW Asterix every year, so I’ve been imprinted with that set of bench marks as my cultural DNA no matter what I do. Everything gets asked the question, “does it measure up to these benchmarks?”.
We’re all stuck in that bubble, to some extent, my mother LOVES the Ritz Brothers more than the Marx Brothers, simply because she saw them first at just the right age. ( I was about eleven when I first saw Duck Soup, and Groucho and Harpo are more of those touchstones in the zone, as a result)
A most interesting post, Ty. Thanks. Batman 251 was a big deal in my comics-collecting life as well. I was heading off to university in 1973, and had pretty much given up on comics a bunch of years previous, when Batman 251 beckoned to me from a comic book rack at the “Base Exchange” in Victoria. I happened upon Kull the Conqueror 8 (Len Wein, Marie&John Severin) and Swamp Thing 5 (Len Wein, Berni Wrightson) on the same comic rack at about the same time and I was hooked on comics all over again. I can’t say for sure which of the three was most potent in getting me rehooked, but Batman 251 was certainly a big part of it. I eventually graduated from university, but I don’t expect to leave comics behind any time soon.