Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Book of the Dead # 16, 17, 18 & 19

These books act as an encyclopedia of characters who have died in the Marvel Universe. They are a companion to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, but for some reason I couldn't get those at my local Wackers drug store or the used book shop that had comics in my town. Just the "Dead" ones.

Each entry has many images of the character along with their stats, history, powers, etc... and of course, the way they died. I loved reading all the stats. You can learn everything you need to know about every obscure character in the Marvel Universe. Which helped turn me into an ├╝ber-geek and further ostracized me from my friends who were more interested in football.

I'm still amused by reading the "Stength Level" entries for everyone:

But these books also taught me a lot about drawing and writing.

Each entry begins with a full-body shot of the character in costume. As you flip through the pages, you get a variety of ways of drawing super-heroes by practically every artist that worked for Marvel in the '80s. Being a 5th grader in a small town, I didn't have access to life-drawing classes of any kind. But I had these comic books, which became my first lessons in anatomy and drawing while the artists became my silent drawing instructors. I studied how the muscles connected to each other, and how they changed shape with different poses. I learned proportions, shading, expressions, and even a bit of how clothes hang on a body. Marvel Superhero comics are great for a beginner course in anatomy, because the muscles are exaggerated while the drawings are paired down to the essential lines needed to define those anatomical distortions. And the "House of Marvel" style dictated an overall blandness that made many of the artists adhere to more "realistic" style. By the time I started learning real anatomy, I already had a strong foundation of how all the muscles and body parts fit together.

The backstories and stats of each entry made me realize that characters are more than just a costume-design and an alter ego. Good characters, of any kind, need a fully realized history. Not only could a character actually die, but they also had spouses, relatives, friends, hometowns and occupations. Who needs Creative Writing 101?

I learned that Baron Blood is survived by a grand-nephew named Kenneth Chrichton; IT, The Living Collossus had a day-job as a special effects designer; Hyperion II used to be a health club manager; The Living Monolith is a widower; and there is "allegedly" a widow left by the Purple Man:

This got my young mind thinking about how even these heroes and villains, that I'd barely even heard of, had a full life outside of their brief appearances in the comics. I soon began writing long backstories for the hundreds of characters I was inventing in my own sketchbooks:

I loved how the wrap-around cover designs all connect to make one image of a graveyard full of Marvel ghosts. I still think about this when I'm working on the layout for one of my own books.

And finally, these books have the added bonus of giving lessons in bad costume design. The '80s Marvel Universe was in serious need of a Tim Gunn.

(what is with those little bat-wings on his ankles?)

Though, it wasn't long before I was asking my mom for real anatomy books and art lessons, these books were a big part of the beginning of my education as an artist and cartoonist.

Side note- There's something about Hammer and Anvil. Their marital status is "unrevealed." Perhaps if they'd been given the civil right to marry each other, they might not have turned to a life of crime.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #192

I don't remember what the first comic book I read was. My older brothers had some, which I would once in a great while be allowed to hold in my grubby little hands, so it was probably one of theirs. I do, however, remember exactly what the first comic I bought was. The Uncanny X-Men, issue #192. Up until then, I had spent my allowance mostly on candy and Star Wars cards, and maybe G.I.Joe figures. My interest in comic books had been growing, though, and I regularly looked at the spinner rack of comics at the local Meijer grocery store. In 1985 I decided I'd finally spend my allowance on buying my own comic books.
I think I had already been drawn to the X-Men, for no particular reason, other than they seemed very unusual; so different from the Spider-Man and Superman comics. The X-Men were weird. I had a couple dollars to spend, and I kept looking at all the comics, trying to decide what I'd buy, and my eyes kept returning to the X-Men. Issue #193 - a special double sized issue, with a spectacular battle raging across the cover, had just come out. The thing was, #193 cost $1.25, while all the other comics cost 65 cents. So I figured purchasing issue #192, despite it not looking as cool, would leave me with money left over to buy some candy. Or Star Wars cards.
Looking at it now, this is a pretty unusual issue to be the comic that would instantly convert me to an X-Men reader and general Marvel zombie. Wolverine only appears in a couple panels, and he's just standing there. Magus, the super techno alien father of the New Mutant Warlock, shows up, and really, I can't have had any idea who he was or what he did. There's already some Chris Claremont space-time bending sub plot. And despite some good action, a lot of the issue seems to be fairly verbose.

I think there's lots of reasons that this issue would be so attractive to my young ten year old self... the alienation of the mutants, the fact that Rogue had never been kissed (just like me!), the powerful heroes lacking confidence, who are just waiting for the world to wake up and see how great they really are. All the things any kid with a martyr complex would relate too.
Visually, John Romita Jr's art is deceptively strong. There's some great panels in this issue, and page compositions that are striking and dynamic. The story itself seems to move along quickly, even though the issue reads as if it were longer than the 22 pages of content.
Above all, though, what this issue does is hint at something more. I couldn't help but wonder how Colossus and Rogue would gel with the team, or how Nightcrawler would handle the mantle of leadership, even though I didn't really understand what this team was. I wondered why people hated mutants, and who this professor guy was. I was intrigued by this really bad-ass Wolverine character who's so awesome that he can't even be the leader because he's so awesome.
Looking at it today, I would almost think this comic would be too dense and convoluted for a ten year old kid to really appreciate, too dependent on back story to stand alone as a single issue, too strange to pull someone in after reading just one issue. For me, it came at the exact right time, I guess, and did just the right things to my developing brain, and its importance is seared deep into my psyche. It was just what I needed.

-Jeffrey Brown

Thursday, March 26, 2009

where did everybody go?

I'm thinking about another post for this blog.
Is anyone else still on here?
It's like a ghost town.