MARKLEY’S FEVERED BRAIN: WORDS
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by Wayne Markley
I spend a lot of my time reading. I know it is old fashioned, but I delight in the process of how words create images in my mind’s eye and I am able to experience whole worlds I have ever been to or never will get to. For the most part, outside of comics, I like mysteries and history. (Sorry I am not a science fiction or fantasy fanatic, which I know is sacrilege.) I also greatly delight in comic books, which gives you far much more direction and assistance in terms of how the words are processed in your mind’s eye, as there are pictures d, yet your mind fill in the blanks. This is one of the main reasons I ramble on so much about bad storytelling. I say this all the time in reference to DC’s new 52, and there are a number of other books where I do not point out the problems with their storytelling because I do not feel it serves any purpose in this blog to give certain titles a bad rap. I only do it to DC because of my lifelong love affair with their characters and I can see the potential for them to once again be master storytellers. all of that aside, I thought I would take this column to talk about a handful of writers whom I consider to be masters of the word, at least in comics. some of these writers I have picked out because of their ability to use words, but many of them I have picked because they can tell a story (combining both words and pictures) and the worlds they create to me are breathtaking. When I am done reading, I am sad there is not much more to that world.
I have raved over and over about the writing of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Jodorowsky has the amazing ability to create whole worlds out of his mind and with collaborations with terrific artists (most notably Moebius), who are able to delineate his visions of worlds that explore everything from science fiction to the Amazon (the rainforest, not the web-site) to fantasy. His vision is also apparent in his movies, which are as complex and as stunning as his graphic novels, and at times as aggravating trying to understand what he is trying to say. Jodorowsky always has a beginning, middle, and end to his stories, and what I find many amazing is he is able to create complete and fancy worlds with his words and his stories are filled with twists and turns that practically no one would expect. I would recommend practically anything he has written but I would highlight a few books such as The Incal, Metabarons, or Madwoman of the sacred Heart.
Osamu Tezuka to me is a Japanese version of Jodorowsky, except he was first, has far much more work to choose from, he wrote and drew the stories, and he had a studio to assist him vs. writing by himself. but like Jodorowsky, he is able to create whole worlds with his worlds that are both engrossing and fascinating. Also, both Tezuka and Jodorowsky have the amazing ability to take you on a ride that takes your breath away. They do not necessarily tell a conventional story where you travel from point A to point B to point C etc.; they both can and do tell stories like the film Memento where you bounce back and forth in time, space, or locations. Not all their work is this surreal, but when it is the payoff is well worth it. Tezuka has done everything from straight forward comics such as Astro young boy (science-fiction) to Black Jack (medical thriller) to some of his much more distinct storytelling such as Phoenix and Ode to Kirihito, which is a trip that very few storytellers can match. I do not think there is anything from Tezuka that I would not highly recommend.
Superman: Whatever happened to the man of Tomorrow?
Alan Moore is possibly one of the most highly praised writers in modern comics. So I am not going to spend a lot of time heaping much more praise on him, even though he is without question worth it. Briefly, I would recommend what I consider his two best works, V for Vendetta, a biting political view of 1980s England that has become a part of pop culture; and Whatever happened to the man of Tomorrow?, which was a two part story that ended Superman and action Comics (one of numerous times they have re-booted the character I am afraid). He summed up in two issue what made practically fifty years of Superman the true icon he was. I would also highly recommend his ongoing league of remarkable Gentlemen, DC universe by Alan Moore, and his run on Swamp Thing, which has set the conventional for every version since, none of which has ever come close to his work. (Mind you, reading his Swamp thing today, it seems a bit mediocre, but at the time it came out it was groundbreaking and was a major influence on numerous modern comic writers). I also think it is worth chasing down some of his work for 2000AD, such as his Future Shocks (sort of like the old EC comics, short stories with twist endings) and his very entertainingD.R. and Quinch. and let’s not forget his other work, such as Watchmen, From Hell, Halo Jones, The killing Joke, Promethea, top Ten, Tom Strong, and others. need I say Moore?
The late Archie Goodwin was possibly best known as an editor, but he was also an outstanding writer. because Archie spent so numerous years behind the scenes editing and overseeing some of the most creative comics out there (The early Warren magazines, epic Comics, Batman, and a number of other titles), his writing typically gets over looked. Fortunately, there are a few collections that will allow you to experience his masterfull use of words. Fantagraphics published a collection of one of his best work, Blazing Combat, a magazine devoted to wars stories from thoughout time. Not only did Archie write all the stories, the stories are drawn by some of comics’ best talent. The magazine only lasted four issues in the 1960s (it was canceled because the magazines most significant retailer, the army and Air force PXs, refused to carry any issues beyond number four due to the magazine’s perceived anti-Viet Nam stance. If you read these stories they are just reasonable depictions of war, not anti any particular war.) Archie also wrote one of the best DC mini-series, well back up stories really, in Manhunter. It was just a short eight part story to fill out the pages of Detective Comics, but along with Walt Simonson the two of them created a masterpiece in both story and art. Archie also wrote newspaper strips; yes the daily strips back when they were worth reading and were actually telling a story. For numerous years he wrote secret agent Corrigan (one of the best secret agent strips ever) along with Al Williamson, and these stories are just phenomenal. thankfully for us, IDW has collected the complete Goodwin and Williamson run in five stunning hardcovers. These books define page turner. In addition, Archie also wrote the star Wars newspaper strip, again along with Al Williamson, and once again it was excellent. Archie also wrote a number of other comics; many noteworthy is Batman, and DC is soon going to do a collection of his Batman stories. Mr. Goodwin may no longer be with us, but his legacy shines bright.
J. Michael Straczynski is possibly best known for his television series Babylon 5. Which, as an aside, is an outstanding show that over its five year run tells an amazing story that has a beginning, middle, and end. and the last episode ties directly into the first episode. It is one science fiction television series I would recommend. Straczynski is also a very talented comic book writer. He has written a number of diverse titles, all which are excellent. some of the books that come right away to mind are his run on Spider-Man and his run on the first revival of Thor, post Heroes Reborn. I found his version of Thor much better than Matt fraction and Kieron Gillien’s runs which came after JMS. He also has written two outstanding graphic novels about Superman called Superman earth One, and this is a major accomplishment as there is very little you can finish with Superman that has not been done before. He also wrote an outstanding mini-series for marvel called The Twelve, about a number of their golden age characters. and he has a new series on the way from image called ten Grand, which is noted in the new Previews. one of the knocks on Straczynski is he does have a tendency to run late with his monthly books (when he does one) so I would recommend you look for his work in a graphic novel or a collection.
There are also a number of other writers I greatly enjoy, such as early writings of James Robinson (whatever happened to you James?), Steve Seagle, Brian Bendis, Garth Ennis, David Liss, Steve Englehart, and numerous others. but I have already prattled on too long. possibly I will do another column down the road about other writers I greatly enjoy. If you ever want to read some terrific writing by a non-comic book writer, I would highly recommend Sinclair Lewis, who to me was a master wordsmith.
Once again, let me emphasize the immense contribution an artist brings to a comic book writer’s words. A bad artist can destroy a good writer’s vision and distract from the story so much that you just cannot delight in it. Some are all-in-one wonders, such as Tezuka, and others are very careful about whom they collaborate with. I do hope that you will take the time to try reading some of the works of the above creators. I also hope you will leave me feedback about the writers I have chosen. As always, everything written here is my opinion and does not reflect the thoughts of opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. I look forward to any and all feedback can be sent to MFBWAY@AOL.COM or it can be left here on the blog.