On History: Mike Parobeck & Missing History

By | Tuesday, July 28, 2015 1 comment
I've read and heard many stories over the years of people who read comics as kids, but then dropped out them for a while (usually during high school and college) and pick them up again years later. I was never like that. I've had comics for as long as I can remember and, when I did waffle a bit on whether I should remain interested beyond my 11th birthday, John Byrne's Fantastic Four hit me like a ton of bricks and I was sucked in for life.

Now, of course, when I was a kid, I didn't know much of the history of comic books. For that matter, I didn't know much of the present of comic books. My knowledge was limited mostly to Marvel books, and it was only as broad as it was because I was reading up on the Fantastic Four's history -- which is effectively the history of Marvel Comics. But my knowledge of DC was largely limited to what I saw Super Friends and everything else was beyond notice for me.

As I grew into a teenager and young adult, I naturally read and learned more. I kept expanding the scope of my interest, and was reading about other publishers and independent artists and the like. I was no expert, by any means, but more knowledgeable than I was before. My point is, though, that I've never taken a break from comics.

And yet, there was this chunk of goings-on that I completely missed in the early-to-mid-1990s while I was in college. I still kept up with my favorite books, but there was stuff going on that I was absolutely clueless about. Case in point, I was talking Jim McClain this weekend, and he mentioned that he had liked Mike Parobeck's work. I hadn't ever recalled hearing the name before and asked who he was. Apparently, he was a very talented and well-respected artist who was known primarily for his work on Batman Adventures in the early 1990s, but died from diabetes complications in 1996 at the age of 30.

Parobeck's first professional work was as an inker in Secret Origins #37 circa 1989. His entire comics career lasted a scant seven years, starting just before I left for college and ending tragically within a year of my finishing. I had evidently been so isolated in that bubble of college (where even Jack Kirby's death barely hit my radar) that I missed Parobeck's entire career, only to discover decades later how big an impact he had on people.

What strikes me, then, is what else I might've missed from that same period. I mean, I've known for decades that there was comics history worth exploring from before I was born and I've studied a fair amount of that. And the gaps in my knowledge are ones I do know about -- I'm woefully ignorant of the underground comix movement, for example. But this period in the early '90s where I was active in comics, but somehow disengaged from the industry as a whole, seems to be another hole that I didn't even realize was there.

I was aware of Image Comics founding, Jack Kirby's death, Marvel's bankruptcy... I was nominally aware of Bone starting, although I didn't actually read it until about decade later. Gimmick covers were impossible to miss. And because I recall hearing about those things while they were going on, I've long assumed I knew what went on in that time. But evidently, not as much as I would have thought.

It would be easy to dismiss the whole decade with "die-cut and foil embossed covers" but that glosses over far too much. And even after reading books like Comic Wars and Black Superheroes, Milestone Comics, and Their Fans which cover much of that period, and obtaining a large collection of Wizard Magazines which was perhaps the dominant news outlet for comics during that period, there still would appear to be much to learn.

Don't let your own personal experiences drive your assumptions about the industry. Just because you were still part of the comics scene during any particular period doesn't necessarily mean that you caught everything that was going on. Sometimes you have to study up on the history, even when it overlaps your own!
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Greg said...

I was just thinking about him the other day. His run on BATMAN ADVENTURES is finally being collected in 10-issue chunks and is fantastic! Can't recommend those stories enough for the art OR story.