A Sudden Occurrence (or my biggest influence in comics)
One of the most oft-repeated questions that is asked of indie comics creators (and has certainly been fired at me in interviews and signings) is:
"Who was your biggest influence in comics?"
To which my reaction always began with:
Now, mind you, I've read a plethora of comics in my day, but you could argue that I wasn't the type to check the credits to see who edited Iron Man #197 or see who drew Atari Force #1. No, the draw (ha! ) to comics for me originally was to tell stories first by utilizing my own art as the crude tool to do it. I didn't really start noticing nor emulating anyone until the whole rock star movement of Image Comics in the early 90's.
It's odd, because I listen to several interviews with creators, be they artists or writers, and they all draw (ha! again!) from a specific professional that they read in their youth. I couldn't tell you who moved me in industry. I knew who Stan Lee was, because EVERYONE knew of him, thanks to his Marvel Bullpen. Jim Shooter? Sure, I recognize his name. Didn't he do Secret Wars AND The New Universe? (funny story about him for another day!)
Nowadays, when asked what my biggest influence is on comics, I answer with "Cinema".
That's partially true, in terms of my visual storytelling. Specific directors and cinematographers can convey a message with an image in various creative ways, and I wanted to bring that same perspective to my own panels. But that's still not an accurate answer if we're talking about who fueled my passion throughout my adolescence til this very day. In truth, movies have only influenced me in the post 90's era, with the exception of a few choice 80's gems. While that would be fun to explore which and what, that may be needed for another blog in the near future.
The other day, I was conversing with a classmate from high school who also is a creative individual. He had recently reconnected with my brothers and I to compile thoughts for a book he was writing. As we texted back and forth we discussed how we had mentors in our lives who put us on the paths that we developed a passion for. Right then I had a sudden occurrence that dawned on me: through these short conversations I realized that my biggest influence in comics wasn't Alan Moore or Frank Miller.
No, mine was my oldest brother Dave.
If you've heard me talk about my first getting in to comics on a few podcasts, I ALWAYS credit my two older brothers for getting me started. Tale as old as time itself, they had comics around their room. They also created their own characters and made 5.5" x 4.25" sized comic books filled with their own adventures (modeled after the Marvel/DC formula, of course.) Dave, I distinctly remember even put together a giant-sized issue where all of his characters go toe-to-toe in a battle royale. But usually after noting them as the match to the fire, I jump to other points of inspiration in my life. However, I didn't realize that a majority of these were also connected to Dave as well. Shall we begin?
Around the age of four (1978-79), Dave, along with my second oldest brother Darin started making their home-made comics. Characters like "Bee-Man", "Metrus Man", "Aquarion" and the not-so-originally named "Blade" are part of my oldest's pantheon. He also wrote and illustrated a sci-fi comic and a Mad Magazine/Cracked inspired one called "Nuts". Such a simple activity was easy for me to emulate, even if I could only spell the word "no". At this point, my only comic characters created are the robot detective called Beebles (who would later see print alongside my 2nd creation in a series called "Poverty Pack") and Whistleman.
Oh, and the funny thing about Dave's comics? I still have them!
Throughout the 80's, both my grandparents and Dave would continue to inadvertently expose me to a multitude of comics. Dave, in the later half of the decade, revealed a host of mature comics and what was called 'underground comics' then. Titles included Heavy Metal Magazine, Epic Magazine, Warlock 5, Faust and Rip-Off Comics to name a few. He also enjoyed films with visual flair like Blade Runner, Dune and Big Trouble In Little China, all which I too, have come to greatly appreciate.
This, combined with the fact that he was entering art school at this time, inspired me to examine where this would lead. While his tenure at Paier College of Art in Hamden, CT, my mother would take my Jr. High-ass on weekend road trip visits to see him. Along the way, I would see in both Hamden and New Haven (where he would stay part of his time), a few comic book shops that tormented me like a siren's song. Yes, comic shops were starting to sprout around everywhere now. Before, you would either travel to New York City for a variety of shops or Newbury Comics in Boston. Connecticut and Rhode Island were finally catching up, and soon it seemed I was becoming engrossed in the culture.
When the 90's started, so too did Image Comics, arguably comics biggest moment of that decade (next to the Death of Superman, maybe?). It was when a group of the industry's finest artists defected and banded together in defiance of both Marvel and DC to push creator-owned comics, that where high in stylized artwork and quality. This started a new age of comics where fans were more drawn (ay!) to the value of a book, versus the actual content. This really started to bubble during the advent of Tim Burton's Batman a few years earlier and now there was a growing fever of comic frenzy. I began to get back into drawing my own comics, and I did both for some choice classmates and for myself. it is here where I created Khep-Ra (a.k.a. "The Golden Scarab"). By the time I had graduated high school, my mother decided to move my siblings and I to Southern California. It was there, where I intended to make my splash into the comic industry (to be so young and naive!). Once again, Dave anchored me to that goal by first working at Mile High Comics in Anaheim and then getting me into San Diego Comic Con for free. Even if I wanted to escape it, comic books would have none of it, and pull me back in.
Dave's final act (as of now) was the final doorway that I stumbled through. Disgruntled from working at his job, he and some like-minded roommates attempted to recruit a large group of people to start a comic company. Already having pages of work produced for the Golden Scarab, I was in and ready to go. But as exciting the notion was, people quickly lost interest once actual labor was involved. It's like I always say: People love the idea of doing comics until they realize they have to DO comics.
After that group dissipated and splintered off, I worked with several comic book hopefuls. The results were primarily the same until one other like-minded person and I FINALLY self-published the aforementioned Poverty Pack. Since then, I've moved on to The Maroon and the rest is history.
I know this may have been a bit of a bloated entry, but it's worth noting because now I have a clear answer to the question oft repeated time after time. So to my brother Dave:
Give yourself credit for keeping me obsessed with this medium - this art form -and thank you for the inspiration you probably had no idea you were bleeding out on to me!