On History: '90s Nostaglia

By | Tuesday, May 02, 2017 Leave a Comment
While I was traversing the floor at C2E2, I caught sight of a booth for Guardian Knight Comics. Specifically, the art for something called "Gears & Bones" caught my attention. It had kind of a steampunk vibe with a large anthropomorphic rabbit. I'd never heard of the comic and/or the publisher before, so I stopped by.

The guy I talked to started by asking what types of comics I was into, noting that they had comics from several different genres. He then went into a reasonably solid, well-rehearsed sales pitch for Moon Streak and then Gears & Bones. I picked up the first two issues of the former and the TPB of the latter. What struck me as interesting, though, was that in pitching both titles, he made repeated reference to the Image comics of the 1990s, and that was such an awesome time that all the creators involved really wanted to invoke that feeling. Flipping through the books as he was talking, I could see some artistic stylings that did harken back to Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee from that period. Not outright mimicry or anything, but there was a similar visual sensibility. (I haven't read the books yet, so I can't comment on how good they actually are.)

I also picked up a series called Weird Weird West, which is kind of like the David Carradine Kung Fu TV series except the lead character is a robot ninja with a set of tentacles in place of one of his arms. Author William Haun noted that he was inspired by the Eastman/Laid version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While technically, that was a book that first came out in the 1980s, I found it more reminiscent of Eastman and Laird's later work on the title from 1992-1993.

Having grown up more on comics from the '70s and '80s, it would be easy for me to snark on "crap" from the '90s. How the decades prior were much more furtive creatively speaking, and the '90s were all leather jackets, pouches, and being "extreme." But you know, there was actually material from that period that I enjoyed. Much of it is imperfect, but so is the material from the '80s. And '70s. And '60s. And so on. I've noted repeatedly that I don't care for nostalgia. So my complaint (for lack of a better word) is that it's strange to me to see people deliberately trying to go back and recreate old material because that's what they enjoyed when they were a kid.

All art is a product of its time, and we respond to it in the context of the time we experience it. Which is why some works grow or lessen in relevancy -- they might speak to issues that became insignificant or unnoticed shortly after the work's creation, only to see those same issues rise to the fore again years later. I heard a piece on NPR just last night about Neil Gaiman's surprise at how the American Gods TV show seems to have a political edge to it when there was nothing of the sort when he first wrote it a decade and a half ago -- the political climate has changed sufficiently that immigration is a hot topic now.

But because art is a product of its time means that what spoke to readers in the 1990s touched them, in part, because it was the 1990s. And while some elements of that era are still relevant today, certainly not all of them are. Which means trying to repeat the reactions and feelings that came from 1990s' art won't be successful. At least, not in the way that something may have been in the '90s. Because the context is different.

Like I said, I haven't read the Guardian Knight books yet -- they might be absolutely brilliant, and speak to me here in 2017 in a way that nothing else has. But it's still strikes me as a challenging way to approach storytelling at best, and an inherently self-defeating approach at worst. Best of luck to anyone looking to recreate the feeling they got from reading Image books in the 1990s, but it's not a direction that makes much sense to me.
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