On History: Launching Pads

By | Tuesday, July 22, 2014 Leave a Comment
I attended the Comic Mania Convention in Elgin, IL this past weekend. It's not a large convention, by any means. It's one-day event with around two dozen people tabling, and organizer Bob Cassinelli said that they had less than 1,000 attendees. It was a really nice, intimate show in a great venue (The Gail Borden Public Library).

One of the cool things about a smaller show like that is that there's a little more flexibility when it comes to talking with creators. Not only is there less background noise to contend with, but there are fewer people poking around at the tables while you talk with them. Which, in some ways, is a bit of detriment to the folks tabling (they make less money that way, after all) but it definitely works in the attendees favor. Which leads me to getting a good chance to chat with Chris Ecker (who co-founded Big Bang Comics and created the Knight Watchman) and Matt Hansel (who inks the Knight Watchmen webcomic).

I'd been reading the Knight Watchmen webcomic since it launched about six months back. It's a fun spin on Golden Age Batman-type stories, and does a good job re-creating the feel of those old books and strips, particularly the Shelly Moldoff stuff. What I didn't realize -- and I kicked myself over this repeatedly while standing there -- was that Ecker has been doing these for about 20 years! His first Big Bang Comics came out in 1994, and Image started publishing them in 1996! How I completely missed these for this long, I have no idea! But I quickly dropped a small chunk of change to pick up several of the trade paperbacks, and some original art.

As it happened, I also received this weekend the copy of The Shadow Hero which I pre-ordered months ago. It's a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew recounting a new origin story for an incredibly obscure superhero named the Green Turtle. Evidently, the character was created by Chu F. Hing as the first Asian superhero in an American comic, but his publisher refused to accept that a non-Caucasian could take a lead role like that and Chu spent the entire time hiding the character's intended race from his boss, blocking even the reader from getting a good look at him. In Shadow Hero, Yang and Liew expand on the character's mythos and try to figure out some in-story rationale for some seemingly odd design decisions. (They do a fantastic job of it, I might add!)

Finally, I also found in the quarter bins at Comic Mania, about half of the run on Kirby Genesis, a relatively recent comic series imagining all of Jack Kirby's creator-owned characters inhabiting the same universe. While the style is marketedly different (Kirby's concepts here are primarily from decades after the previous items) and the content is licensed from the Kirby estate, they're still using older work as a platform to launch new works.

At some level, you could say that any continuing comic (Superman, Archie, X-Men, etc.) is basing the new work on what's been previously published, but in those ongoing series, the build-up is slow, taking place over decades one issue at a time. There really very little connection between Action Comics #1 and the latest issue of Superman. The characters have evolved significantly over the past century. Current creators aren't evoking older stories, so much as evoking just the previous issue.

It's kind of curious that I happened to wind up with a number of different works deliberately skipping over the immediate history and diving at least a few decades into the past. And these newer works aren't slaving over the existing material, as is done with contemporary stories, but just using the basic ideas and concepts and exploring them further with some degree of hindsight. I don't know that it's really popular enough to be a thing per se, and it's certainly not something that's never done elsewhere, but seeing these varied pieces come in at the same time makes one appreciate the effort new creators take in examining the old concepts and seeing how/why they might still be relevant today.
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