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My Life in Comics – Image is everything part 1

A good way to feel old is when round number anniversaries come up, one that took me by surprise is that it’s 30 years since Image Comics started up. It puts the length of my collecting into perspective as the long time it has been. Whilst away, I had some thoughts on Image and its place in comics history and here they are.

In the late 1980’s/early 1990’s the art of Marvel’s superstar pencillers, X-title pencillers Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee along with Spider-Man artist Todd McFarlane, had just done on 3 issue 1s a total in excess of 15,000,000 in sales for 3 comics. This was a big win for Marvel and this meant those 3 guys, plus other rising stars Whilce Portacio and Erik Larsen as well as more experienced hands like Jim Valentino and Mark Silvestri were the stars of the day and could do no wrong. Marvel had pretty much given them the keys to the car already. Jim Lee was now the driving creative force in the X- Men helping end Chris Claremont’s 17 year genre defining run, just after and Rob Liefeld had seen off Louise Simonson from New Mutants either by throwing her off, or helping her jump, now giving Liefeld plotting duties on the comic as well. There’s a lot of he said/she said in these tales. Whilst I am more a writer fan than an art fan, it’s a visual medium and you have to go where the money is and in that 1988-1991 period, the art was the selling point. Marvel followed the money and gave more power to the artists. Whether it was right or not, isn’t the point, it is what happened. I was there as a fan for some of this, seeing art pushed over word, style stressed over substance, but the artists were the ones making the money and then one day, they were gone.

 Imagine that, 7 of the biggest names in your industry leaving the place that made their names? Pick your all-time favourite sports team line up, now take a 3rd of them away and what does that look like? Imagine the cast of the MCU, then take away all the most recognisable …… okay, that’s a bad example.

 Now I am not really going to go into the history of this industry changing event, why the 7 left or any of that. That was told in the documentary The Image Revolution, which is available on Amazon Prime Video, or at least that’s where I saw it. But what I did want to do is check out that first batch of titles from the founding members of Image Comics. What were they? What was going on? If anything what is that IP doing now?

First amongst that group was Rob Liefeld and Youngblood.

Youngblood #1 was released April 17, 1992 from Rob’s Extreme Studios.

Someone had to go first and it was always going to be Rob Liefeld. He was the youngest of the group and had an energetic quality that 30 years later is still very much present. I have vacillated wildly in regards to my opinion of Liefeld. Starting from a negative viewpoint, but time has a way of changing your perceptions and I realise now that much of his brash and cheeky mentality as shown is a mix of media distortion and age, think about yourself in your early 20’s, do you have it together? Or you the best version of yourself? But on the positive side, he was a character idea factory and he had an energy and style that was unlike any of his peers. Yes you could argue a lack of artistic skill, the man couldn’t really draw eyes, or feet, or backgrounds most of the time, but here’s the thing as an artist in the comic industry he had to make his product fun, accessible to as wide an audience as possible and to an extent disposable.

Consider it like a blockbuster movie on the printed page and you get the idea. In that regard he’s the Michael Bay of comics. You may feel it lacks artistic merit, but you can’t deny their popularity or the associated success. X-Force #1 sold in excess of 5,000,000 and lets be honest, most of us bought one.

But, I imagine you ask, what about the comic?

Youngblood is a government sponsored super-team that has official merchandise and licensing deals. Rather than the urban vigilante with a secret identity, these characters are more like movie stars and top-level athletes in their popularity and profile. This is red carpet super-heroes long before Robert Downey Jnr told the movie going world “I am Iron Man.” Structurally Youngblood comprises of a home and an away team, the home team doing super-hero stuff on US soil and the away team being used as a quasi-military team sent across the world. The home team consisting of team leader Shaft and comprised of Chapel, Vogue, Combat, Die Hard and Bedrock. The away team being team leader Sentinel joined by Cougar, Brahma, Riptide, Photon and Psifire.

As well as the celebrity angle, this was a more militarised super team, all grim faces and guns, many of those mentioned were armed to one extent or another. It’s fast paced, full of energy and new concept ideas. It’s not Citizen Kane, but it was different to what the big two comic companies were doing. Another difference was the flip book format. Issue 1 was split into a action packed tale of the away team in a thinly veiled Iraq analogue being invaded by the team and on the flip side was the home team gathering to face the returning threat of the Four. The away side is light on characterisation, but chock-full of action, but the home team story was the opposite, being more about the heroes being summoned from their lives and having little action.

So is it good?

Well it’s okay and that carried along for this first run of Youngblood comics. Full of energy, new characters and well not much else really. This was really good foundation that never really got fleshed out enough for there to be any longevity.

What happened after?

Well after the initial run petered out, there were several restarts in different creator owned imprints like Maximum and Awesome and little else, but the series came back a few years ago to Image comics and it was a really fun little series with a new generation of Youngblood characters trying to redeem the name and concept. If this IP made a proper comeback, or moved to a new medium, I think it could really have something to say about celebrity culture and accountability. Like many of Rob Liefeld’s ideas, it’s a great idea waiting to be fully realised.

That’s pretty much all I have at that point. I wonder what everyone else’s memories and thoughts about Youngblood are.

Next time: The man behind the 3,000,000 selling Spider-Man #1 takes us into the hell-born world of Spawn.

Posted in Comics n Stuff, Miscellaneous

My Life and Comics: The Secret Origin

I worked out recently that I have been a comic fan/collector for 2/3 of my life. More than any job, school or family relationship outside of my parents, it has been a constant. Whether this is a good, or in fact a bad thing, well that really isn’t the point. It is what it is.

When I was younger I lived in Yorkshire, I was born in Merseyside, but my earliest coherent memories were of Yorkshire. It was there when I started reading comics with Original X-Men 1, which I talked about here. There were other things I read of course, but they left an impression. This was bolstered by the glut of action/adventure cartoon shows that were on when I was younger, a veritable golden age of kids cartoons. Some of these featured characters I was familiar with. In fact my first exposure to Namor, Thor, the All New All Different X-Men and Doctor Strange were watching Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, but I digress.

When we returned to our old haunts while I was still in primary school, I ended up living in a terraced house in the southern part of the city. I changed over that time from a quiet but cheerful primary school kid with several friends, to being alone in secondary school. Feeling isolated and socially awkward, I used comics as both an escape and to feel part of something. Whilst in secondary school I found two newsagents that sold American comics. One sold mostly DC and one sold mostly Marvel. I read Justice League stories, Spider-Man, West Coast Avengers, the occasional Green Lantern and the even more occasional Batman and more besides and more and more, I had found something I could pour all this attention and appreciation into. This was something no one else liked, I was a marginalised or niche interest and there was more than a little teasing and mockery whenever anyone else found out about it. But with a limited budget (more than once a 10p price increase cost me comics) and some accidental losses of comics I had, it was still only ever a side thing that I liked that no one else got. Although I had comics, I was still as I ever was alone.

But things were about to change.

It was 1991 when through some means I don’t recall, I learned of a comic mart in the city centre at the Blue Coat Chambers. It’s a weird feeling finding your tribe. It’s something I experienced again back in November 2019 when I was at the Thought Bubble convention. Here were comic fans, people who knew the world I had been spending (possibly too much) time in. It was looking on tables and through boxes that I found one of the many variant covers of X-Men vol 2 #1, still to this date, the highest selling single issue of all time. With 5 variant covers, 4 of which interlock, it’s not that surprising really is it? One of the vendors at the mart worked for a local comic shop known as World’s Apart and before I went home I visited there. I had issues 1-3 of vol 2 of X-Men and issue 17 of my beloved Guardians of the Galaxy. I had a LCS and I would spend most weekends of the next few years and more than a little of my pay, when I started working. X-Men vol 2 does have an interesting place in both comics history and my own history with comics. Other than it’s sales, it was the point that Chris Claremont, the man who made the X-Men left the book. (Okay a point of digression here, Chris Claremont in fact created very few of the X-Men characters, we need to look to others for that. But lets be honest, without him and the artists he worked with, no one would care who the X-Men were. So it’s fair to say that he made the X-Men what they are.) The Claremont era had come to an end, just as I arrived, yet the themes, characters and relationships that he started off would be some of the reasons that I was so invested in the property. Comics in general and the X-Men in particular would be a large part of my free time and disposable income for a long time to come.

One of the things happening in that era was the rise of the superstar artist. Spider-Man had Todd MacFarlane and Erik Larsen, X-Men had Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Mark Silvestri and Rob Liefeld. In 1992 for several reasons of their own and for their treatment by the higher ups at Marvel, all of them along with Jim Valentino the man who brough the Guardians of the Galaxy back to the spinner racks all quit. One of the reasons I am writing this, is that the 30th anniversary of this event is this year. But these 7 people then formed their own company, Image Comics. The Image explosion was one of the two times that I was in on the ground floor for something along these lines and will most likely write more about later. The other launch of note in 1992 was the 2099 imprint from Marvel. Set in a corporate dystopia (which looks a lot more like the world we are in that it did in 1992) this set of comics were sort of future relaunches of established characters, from X-Men, to the Hulk, from Ghost Rider to Spider-Man. To be honest Spider-Man was the stand-out title with career best art by Rock Leonardi and written by Peter David who was riding high from his successes on Incredible Hulk and X-Factor. That comic in particular spoke so much to me that years later I would have that character tattooed on my left arm. Within a couple of years I started visiting other comic shops (it was the 90s and the city could support 3 comics shops) including Liverpool Comic Co, which was were I was visiting when Zero Hour happened.

Up until this point, I was still very much a Marvel Zombie, but Zero Hour offered a jumping on point for several DC characters as well as the new Green Lantern which I was already enjoying. I read many of the DC comics for many years afterwards, including Flash, Justice League, the reboot era of the Legion of Super Heroes and Superman. Superman was another one I got in on at the end. I read the death of story a year or so earlier and some of the Reign of the Superman story after that, but again, the clean slate Zero Hour offered kept me reading that character for many years, even clearing the rest of the 90s and into the early months of the new millenium. A year or so after Zero Hour led me to the new comic shop, I started working there on a Saturday morning, mostly taken in comics. Up until 11 years ago, it was the job I got the most job-satisfaction out of. I spent the rest of the 90’s doing that, I watched the fall and rise of Marvel, saw the speculator bubble burst, the changing of the guard, several times in editorial staff of the big two and several events. I also got to read some of the slightly older stuff that was considered classic. This included (but was not limited to) Crisis, Secret Wars, Batman Year One, Dark Knight Returns, Man of Steel, V for Vendetta, Killing Joke and of course Watchmen.

There were fallings out and that feeling of being made less than welcome and then that all went away. It’s amazing how few comics you’ll get when you start paying full price for them again. I read Grant Morrison’s X-Men and Joss Whedon’s, but as the 00’s wore on, I bought less and less comics, a few trades here and there. In the 10’s I went digital and with that read so many older comics whose original copies would cost the Earth. I was less connected to fandom then, my weekly comic shop visits became bi-weekly and so on. To the extent that when I was still buying new comics regularly I started buying them through an online shop, connected to a LCS from down south of me.

The thing that changed for me was podcasts oddly enough. I have extolled their virtue often enough here and more than once mentioned why they are important, but from the podcasts and podcasters I become more involved online, which is one of the reasons that I am writing this today. Without those podcasters, there’d by no Munky on Merseyside.

In closing, because I have rambled enough here, comics have been with me through much of the life I can remember and beyond my most close family are the only constants. With so much of comics and geek culture being lauded now because of the movies and other media that has been pulled from it, I wanted to remember the days when comics were just those small magazine things that were once my only friends and links to the world that lay outside of my reach. I genuinely can’t remember why I started writing this, but apparently I had a lot to say on here.

If you are a comic fan, I want to ask, what is your history what is your Secret Origin?

My love to all of you internet people.