Though he’s far better known for his more inventive work on such titles as Promethea, Batwoman and Sandman Overture, it was from his work as the regular artist on the short-lived but beloved series Chase in the late 1990s that I became a fan of the art of J.H. Williams III. While the prices being asked for pages from the aforementioned titles are out of reach for me, Williams’ work from Chase is more affordable, and I decided to pick up a couple of boards from a dealer through an online transaction recently.
Comics inker Mark McKenna brought a particular eBay listing to the attention of his Facebook friends and followers this week. The item was billed as “John Romita Jr. original art,” and it appeared to be a Daredevil drawing, the sort of quickie head sketch one might get from an artist at a convention.
If there’s one thing I can say for certain about the Oscars is that they’ve never been delayed due to snow. It was hectic week here at Eye on Comics, between regular work and snow removal in recent days. But a lazy Sunday afforded me the chance to finish the second half of the 2018 Glass Eye Awards. Previously, I covered the best comics and graphic novels of the year (as best my review of material available to me and memory allowed), and but now, I’m looking at the creators whom I thought had the best year creatively. Your mileage may vary, of course, and this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive or definitive list.
Are you all abuzz about the Golden Globes? Gearing up for the Oscars? Pshaw! They hand out those awards every year. Truly prestigious honors are only presented every few years — at least that’s the premise I’m going with for this post. Join me as I dole out dusty ocular prosthetics and discuss the top comics and industry creators of 2018.
Eye on Comics hasn’t seen a best-of list in six years, mainly because this is a one-man operation and there’s only so much time for comics. With that in mind, please bear in mind these “awards,” such as they are, are by no means to be considered comprehensive. My picks for the best books of the year are based on nothing but a quick perusal of my files from the past year and my best recollections (which are far from the best they could be).
I think the first time I saw (or at least took note of) Tom Grummett’s art was on his run on Adventures of Superman, specifically during the “Reign of the Supermen” arc in the wake of the November 1992 “Death of Superman.” He and writer Karl Kesel crafted an interesting and lasting character in the cloned version of Superboy. I’m pleased to see the character design is about to make a comeback in the relaunched Young Justice comic from DC in the months ahead.
That work, and Grummett’s tenure on the subsequent Superboy spinoff series, really cemented Grummett’s reputation in the comics industry, not to mention some wonderful work on Robin. He offered some memorable visuals on the DC/Marvel Amalgam book Challengers of the Fantastic in the late 1990s, and perhaps the strongest evidence of the height of his “star power” in the mainstream comics industry was his participation in the striking but short-lived Gorilla Comics imprint at Image, through which he and a throng of top-tier talent — Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Stuart Immonen, Kesel and many more — delivered some strong creator-owned genre titles.
Grummett’s prominence seemed to wane in the wake of that endeavor, though he’s remained a constant presence in comics, notably contributing to many Marvel titles in recent years. Perhaps the brighter tone of his style fell out of vogue, but it’s a shame, because he always brings a great energy and sense of fun to his work. As demonstrated with his work on Superboy and Robin, he’s adept at instilling a convincing youthfulness in his characters, and he’s shined time and time again when playing with the creations of the late, great Jack Kirby. I’ve always enjoyed Grummett’s style, so when I got a chance to acquire a couple of pieces of original comic art on which he worked at prices that worked well within my budget, I jumped at it.
When it comes to stretchable heroes in mainstream comics, my favorite has always been the Elongated Man. This is no doubt due in part to the fact that he was the first of the elastic heroes I encountered when I started reading comics as a kid, but I think there’s a little more to it that just being first out of the gate in my world. Plastic Man was goofier, yes, and Mr. Fantastic was smarter. But Ralph Dibny was always the most human, a regular guy. I’ve been loving Hartley Sawyer’s turn as the character seasons 4 and 5 of The Flash on TV.
Despite my appreciation of the character, my collection of original comic art was always devoid of an E-Man appearance… until now. But even better than Ralph’s addition to my collection is the fact that I’ve now got a board featuring the bright and attractive linework of artist Chuck Patton.
Comics writer and Astro City creator Kurt Busiek recently wrote in a Twitter thread that often, younger readers discovering comics typically choose a thicker one as their first foray into the medium. “Young readers may not know the characters well, or care about creators, but they understand ‘more,’” Busiek posted.
He’s absolutely right. My introduction to comics came in a hospital room, as I recovered from a broken arm as a kid. My brother and friends from across the street visited me and gave me three comics. The one that grabbed my attention was Batman Family #19. It offered more content, more characters, more stories, and I couldn’t get enough of these colorful crusaders and criminals. After that, when my mom would take me to corner stores to buy new comics, I gravitated toward DC titles to its Dollar Comics in particular.
As I’ve noted in other recent features as of late, I’ve been delighting in deals on Bronze Age comics that have allowed me to flash back into comics history, and one thing I always check out in those decades-old back issues are the letters columns. While we still see the occasional letter-col in modern comics, those missives printed in the backs of pre-Internet publications strike me as being a little more special, given it requires greater effort and even a little expense for readers to offer feedback to comics editors.
Another reason I love perusing those old-school letter-cols is the names one finds occasionally at the bottoms of those letters. Case in point: the letter-col from Jonah Hex #63, published April 1982 (though cover dated August 1982)…
My local comics retailer is having a huge sale on its non-key back issues and bundles on comics, scaling up the discounts from week to week. I started thumbing through those long boxes at 50 per cent and got some great deals, but when the discounts hit 70 and 80 per cent, I was a man on a mission. I got everything you see here at those deep discounts, which means most of those Bronze Age goodies came in at well under a buck apiece.
As those with an interest in comics history (and specifically when it comes to the super-hero genre) know, Black Lightning is an African-American super-hero created by writer Tony Isabella with artist Trevor Von Eeden for his own short-lived title under the DC Comics banner back in 1977. While it was one of many casualties of the DC Implosion, which saw the cancellation of a slew of titles, the character has lived on through the decades, both under Isabella’s guidance (sporadically, due to conflicts with the publisher over the years) and in stories penned by other writers.
Recently, the character’s profile in the broader pop-culture consciousness has seen a huge bump with the success of the first season of the Black Lightning television series on the CW.
But when perusing a back issue of another DC title recently, I discovered Black Lightning debuted long before 1977. In fact, the name showed up in a DC comic three years before Isabella was even born.
Used-book stores and flea markets were key for this small-town kid who loved comics and didn’t have access to a comic-book store until his high-school years. But even with a great local shop these days and the availability of just about anything a comic collector could want online, I still like to hit a flea market from time to time in search of treasures.
The problem I’ve encountered, though, is that many vendors at these markets and even at used-book stores are turning to price guides — both printed and online ones — to guide them in pricing comics. Often, they don’t know how to grade or interpret those guides — I saw one flea-market vendor offering a copy of Freedom Fighters #1 that looked as though it had been run through the wash for $10; it wasn’t worth a quarter, though I would’ve paid 50 cents to read that bit of comics history from 1976. Other vendors don’t completely understand the marketplace, such as those who feel Superman #75 from late 1992, featuring the “death” of the Man of Steel, should be worth big bucks, but they don’t understand just how many copies of the first printing are out there and how many other ways there are to read that story.
But once in a while, you happen upon a vendor at a flea market who knows what a flea market is about: haggling and clearing out stuff he or she doesn’t want lying around anymore. And this weekend, at the weekly Sunday flea market in a school gym, I happened upon just such a vendor. In addition to many non-comics related flea-market fare, he had a small stack of Bronze Age comics, all bagged and boarded, most with sticker prices ranging from $14 up to $40. Definitely pricier than what I was looking for, but the array of these 1970s and 1980s books were just so appealing.
I’m looking forward to DC’s No Justice “event,” a series of four one-shots that will bridge the current Justice League series and a relaunched title, to be written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Jim Cheung. The No Justice one-shots will run weekly in May, and I’m always interested in weekly stories, and I’m a fan of several of the creators involved in them (such as Snyder and artists Francis Manapul and Marcos To).
Based on the promotional artwork, it appears the main Justice League team is fractured, and key members have formed their own squads. Included in those lineups are some unlikely members, including several Teen Titans and, oddly enough, some villains. Sure, No Justice isn’t shaping up to be particularly cerebral, but the unexpected array of characters do promise a lot of super-hero genre fun.
However, when I first heard of these No Justice comics, the weekly schedule and the promise of a fractured Justice League forming new teams, I was immediately struck by the fact that DC has travelled down a similar road in the past. Justice Leagues was one of DC’s “fifth-week events,” something it would do to fill out its publishing lineup in months that had five Wednesdays, or five days in which new comics shipped to direct-market comic-book stores. That story, published in 2001, also featured a divided League forming alternate versions of the title team.
I was reading the sixth issue of writer/artist Sean Murphy’s superb Batman: White Knight when something on the cover caught my eye. I hadn’t noticed it before on the covers of any of the previous issues I’d read. I checked into it, and I realized the reason: I picked up the regular cover editions of the all previous five issues, but for #6, the variant cover (also by Murphy) had been tucked into my pull slot at my local comic shop.
I looked online at the other variant cover editions for the previous issues, and I spotted the same thing. A subtle little trick: the variants boasted a different masthead, specifically, the part reading “Batman.” And there’s something hidden in Batman’s name in those sans serif logos: Batman himself.