MONDAY, 11:00 A.M.
I just found out five minutes ago that Mike Wieringo passed away this weekend. I'm still processing the news as I type this, which probably isn't the best way to write, but I had to do something.
. . .
And I just sat here staring at the screen for the last two minutes trying to figure out where to start.
Mike was an amazing artist. Sure, he tortured himself constantly for all the world to see on his blog. It's not unusual for artists to be their own harshest critics. But he was wrong. He was a great artist, period and end of story. His ability to draw a wide range of characters and situations -- as you could see on his blog three times a week -- delighted those of us who checked in regularly.
His sense of hope, awe, and wonder was an inspiration to us all. Just look at TELLOS. Look at FANTASTIC FOUR. Look at this year's SPIDER-MAN AND THE FANTASTIC FOUR mini-series. Look at the SPIDER-MAN work he did with Todd Dezago back in the day. The energy leapt across all of those pages. His style was adapted more from European comics and Disney animation than 80s superheroes and anime, setting him apart from the pack and often making his art tougher to cast in modern comics. But I have to believe that there's always room for someone like Mike Wieringo, and that the comics world is a much poorer place today for his absence. Worst of all are the things we'll never see from him now. We've been robbed of a bright future -- of rocket ships, fantasy worlds, anthropomorphic adventurers, and, yes, some fun superhero adventures.
I only met Mike a couple of times at conventions over the years. He tended to stick to the more local cons in the Southeast in latter years. (And, God bless him, he came to loathe Wizard World.) But we swapped e-mails a few times and I even had the chance to interview him once. I can tell you that the persona you see on his blog and read in the MODERN MASTERS volume dedicated to him is the true Mike Wieringo. He's a guy that really did love comics. He absorbed the art he saw around him. He appreciated every kind word said of him, and he loved to talk about TELLOS, European comic artists, and so much more. He loved to learn more. He loved to share what he discovered.
And it's making me cry as I type this now because it sucks that it's all in the past tense.
The good news in all of this is that we've had the last 15 years of output from the man to enjoy over and over again. His FANTASTIC FOUR work is reprinted entirely in trades and hardcovers from Marvel. The upcoming TELLOS collection will be his most tremendous achievement and the saddest purchase of the year now. You might still be able to pick up that SPIDER-MAN AND THE F4 mini-series off your local retailers' shelves. Heck, you can probably find his SUPERMAN or ROBIN work in a back issue bin somewhere. Maybe you'll get lucky and find an issue of THE FLASH from the early 90s.
It's that horrible old cliché we resort to when a creator dies -- he may be gone, but his work will always be there to be enjoyed time and time again. When someone asks you why you have all those comics sitting in boxes in corners, in closets, in the basement, in storage, what have you -- that's why. To remember. To enjoy. To be thankful that we've had the chance to enjoy the light while it shined.
And Mike Wieringo's candle was pretty blinding. He'll be missed tremendously.
IMAGE COMICS -- AFTER THEY LEFT
When seven superstar artists left Marvel Comics to form Image Comics in 1992, it left Marvel with a large hole to fill. We think now of the years that followed as being filled with copycat hacks imitating Jim Lee's style and Image's characters (remember NIGHTWATCH?), with fancy covers and promotional stunts. While, true, all of those things happened, there was much more to it than that.
I took a look back at the books that the Image creators left to see what happened in their wake. Were they replaced with clones, or the next generation of superstar artists? The results surprised me. Let's go one by one:
Marc Silvestri left WOLVERINE with issue #57, after a nearly two year long run as the book's regular artist. Larry Hama was the long-time and fan-favorite writer. It was a fun book for the time, with some great stories and a beautiful style. Fanboys from the day fondly recall Jubilee skating her way around the title, too. It makes me feel old to see the run now collected (mostly) in ESSENTIAL WOLVERINE editions, as a matter of fact. I even had a couple of letters printed in the later stage of Silvestri's run, too.
Who replaced Silvestri? Darick Robertson did the first two post-Silvestri issues, which worked out rather well. That was followed by a run by Mark Texeira, fresh off of GHOST RIDER, as I recall. Adam Kubert followed Texeira up. Clearly, WOLVERINE was a high profile title that demanded strong, bankable artists.
Jim Valentino left GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY after issue #29. Michael Gallagher replaced him as writer, with Kevin West taking over art duties. West had fill-ins from both Scott Eaton and Dale Eaglesham, the latter currently artist-in-residence at JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA.
To their credit, Gallagher and West took that book all the way to its end with issue #62. In doing my research on this, I was surprised to see the title lasted that long. West can currently be seen as the artist on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET after a many year break from comics, while Gallagher's work has sporadically appeared in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG and MAD KIDS.
Erik Larsen left adjectiveless SPIDER-MAN after a couple of short serial runs on the book. The book became a LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT type of title, rotating creative teams through one to three issue story arcs, including ones written by Ann Nocenti, Howard Mackie, CBR's own Steven Grant, David Michelinie, and others. It also got swept into events like MAXIMUM CARNAGE and the Clone Saga.
Todd McFarlane had already long left Marvel when Image started up. You could follow the trajectory over at AMAZING SPIDER-MAN from him to Larsen (including a Colleen Doran fill-in issue) to Mark Bagley, if you wanted. Bagley turned out not to be no slouch.
Jim Lee left the adjectiveless X-MEN book after it was clear he was drawing less and less of it. By the time his inker, Art Thibert, drew an issue of the book on his own, it was clear that the overall look of the book was more Thibert than Lee. Fabian Nicieza and Andy Kubert replaced him for a relatively long run on the title, followed by Scott Lobdell and Carlos Pacheco.
Rob Liefeld left X-FORCE, and Nicieza stayed on. Nicieza was writing just about every other Marvel book at that time, including a legendary run on NEW WARRIORS. Liefeld was replaced by a relative newcomer named Greg Capullo, who later shot to bigger fame as Todd McFarlane's SPAWN clone. Tony Daniel was the regular artist after that, and now he's over at DC, after periods independently at Image and Dark Horse.
Whilce Portacio left UNCANNY X-MEN after just six issues. Tom Raney followed for a short run, before Brandon Peterson took over the pencil work for a few issues. That was all followed by a run from John Romita Jr. Certainly, that's nothing to sneeze at.
While the lesser titles might have suffered from having bigger names sucked up to the top books, the top line titles at Marvel that the Image Founders left did not suffer much.
Writer/Artist Doug TenNapel has a warped mind. In his latest effort, BLACK CHERRY, he effectively mashes up PULP FICTION, THE GODFATHER, THE X-FILES, THE EXORCIST, CONSTANTINE, SIN CITY, and JACKIE BROWN, bringing along BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and DOCTOR DOOLITTLE for good measure. It's a romantic horror religious action mafia noir movie set on paper. I'm almost surprised that AiT/PlanetLar isn't the publisher on the book -- you can't get a concept too much higher than that. The book is out now from Image Comics for just $17.99 (black and white, 140 pages).
This is the story of Eddie Paretti, a "down-on-his-luck Mafioso," the back cover copy tells us. He owes money to his boss. It's so much money that a rival gang leader's offer to pay the money off and then some sounds like a good idea, even if it means ripping off the boss Eddie owes big money to. OK, that's a straight enough story so far. Throw in some gambling, some strippers, a long lost love, and you've got the beginnings of an interesting story. Wait - you haven't gotten to the aliens, the demons, and the giant talking squirrel yet. I'm not sure how much more I can describe without spoiling things.
This is Doug TenNapel for you. He's a man who, once a year, pours out his brain in the form of heavy black ink into one big original graphic novel. It's crazy, it's a genre mash-up, and it's a lot of fun with a particularly deranged sense of humor that's right up my alley. BLACK CHERRY is a fast read, where the talking heads pages are limited in number and in density. There is plenty of plot here, and you just have to buckle yourself in and be ready to take the ride, accepting every crazy thing that TenNapel throws out you for close to 200 pages. When you think things can't get stranger, they do. You'll either accept and enjoy that, as I did, or be driven mad by it.
In either case, you have to admire TenNapel's art. It's so vibrant and filled with energy that it leaps from the page. TenNapel is not a "pretty" artist. He doesn't worry about getting every line "just so" or in adding all the right details. He paints with a very broad brush, capturing the mood and the action of a scene with as many or as few lines as he needs. He whittles each scene down to its barest form. This book, in particular, reminds me of SIN CITY. It has a similar simplicity and sense of light and dark. It isn't as carefully laid out as Frank Miller's work, though. It doesn't strive to capture just the right angle and just the right trick of storytelling. It's a little more raw, which I appreciate.
As TenNapel points out in the opening text piece, he's going to catch flack from both sides of the aisle on this book. TenNapel has the reputation for including religious elements in his stories. Critics now seek to find the tiniest morsel of religiosity to paint TenNapel as a lunatic radical religious freak. And they'll find that in this book. When a foul-mouthed gun-toting cigarette-smoking gangster uses the word "gay" in a negative way, you know some will link that back to TenNapel's mind, instead of the gangster's point of view. (Having grown sadly used to hearing that word used by teenagers as synonymous to "stupid," hearing a gangster use it pejoratively doesn't strike me as being out of bounds.)
They'll also have a hard time with the ending, which uses religious themes as the book's cure-all.
Meanwhile, the religious part of his readership will cringe at all the cussing, the stripping, and the violence in the book.
Hey, some people just can't win. Hopefully, there will be enough of us in the middle of his readership to enjoy both halves, to understand where they're coming from, and to enjoy a good read.
But, please, do read the text piece before reading the book. It's a smart bit of writing about the state of religion in the popular arts in this country today.
BLACK CHERRY is out now through Image. Any of TenNapel's graphic novels from recent years are worthy reads. The safest one to recommend, though, is probably IRON WEST, last year's western/robot mashup.
- Quick question for those who went to San Diego via plane: However did you get those 300 shields home? They were huge! I can't imagine they fit into your luggage. I can only imagine the look on the stewardess' faces when a line of people carrying cardboard shields boarded the plane. . .
- If you're a comic artist wannabe, I have some must-listening material for you. Check out Around Comics #118 -- their July 18th show -- as they interview Skottie Young and Mike Norton on what it's like to be a comic book artist. They cover a broad range of things, from handling the business to handling scripts. Fascinating stuff. I could have listened to that one for hours. Just be warned: there's adult language in there.
- If you missed it, go check out Mike Allred's MADMAN #3 on the stands now. It's an insane issue, with Allred aping the styles of dozens of other comic artists. I have one quibble that his Carl Barks homage looked more like Floyd Gottfredson's style, but it's an otherwise remarkable achievement.
- I've mentioned this one on the podcast before, but here's the link at last to the New York Times' Comic Con photo gallery. If that link works correctly, you can all see Green Lantern in front of a urinal. (If not, click on "Next" or "Previous" until you get there.) The NYT now photographs people in the men's room. I hope that guy doesn't have a Bashful Bladder problem.
- Check out Dave's Long Box for his recent Suicide Squad Week, which is now well into its third week. There's a lot of great memories there for fans of John Ostrander and Kim Yale's classic series. It's all you need to know to get excited for the upcoming SHOWCASE release of the first batch of issues, as well as Ostrander's new mini-series. (You can start with Dave's video introduction.)
- I'm still waiting for a LONGSHOT hardcover collection of the classic Ann Nocenti/Art Adams mini-series, and an INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS hardcover of those three mini-series. LONGSHOT, at least, is long out of print, so a hardcover there is more likely. With Art Adams working at Marvel again, perhaps they could even commission a new cover from him. The INFINITY trades have been updated in the last few years, but I'm not sure they're seeing multiple printings or anything. Maybe it's time for a hardcover there, too. Fingers crossed.
- Did Erik Larsen really say in San Diego that he wanted Image to do a MONKEYMAN & O'BRIEN oversized collection?!? Count me in!
- I've made a major decision in my comics life: I'm going to write this column for another ten years, just so I'm eligible for an Inkpot Award.
Please note that I didn't say I was ever going to win one, but I do want to be eligible for it. So let's countdown to my retirement on June 8th, 2018. We've got plenty of time to plan the party.
Next week: A review. Of something. I promise.
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The Various and Sundry blog -- my personal home site. Come read about everything that's not comics-related. Last week featured a long post on choosing the correct men's room at work.
More than 700 columns -- maybe even 800 -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.