I am not a reader of comics, I guess because I rarely find a comic that I like. I don't think superheroes are exciting and lycra just doesn't appeal to me. Even when comics get all dystopian, I still can't help thinking that most of them are mass-produced pulp.
Way back in February 1983 I was suffering through an extremely dull visit with my grandparents. My father -- equally bored -- took me down to the Short Stop and promised to buy me a magazine. I saw a brilliant cover of a dead angel in the water and decided that it was the one for me: Epic Illustrated #16, a quote-unquote "adult comic" monthly that gradually died under the commercial pressure of rival Heavy Metal's T&A.
Epic was great. After tossing out all my issues when I first moved from home, I've managed to re-collect them all and see them again through adult eyes. Sure they were selling sex -- even a little kid could see that -- but more often than not their stories were also complex, intelligent, and downright strange. And they could be really gross too.
Strangest, grossest, and brainiest of all in issue #16 was an episode of Rick Veitch's ongoing saga, "Abraxas and the Earthman." A looney re-telling of the Moby Dick saga, it had the great (red) whale pursued by a peg-legged madman...through space, assisted by an earthman with all his skin ripped off, his disembodied head sidekick, a six-breasted leopared-woman, and a swarm of manipulative insect creatures who could creep into the subconscious and smush your brain together. And that's just for starters.
I loved all of Veitch's Epic comic creations -- man-eating banana-plants, sentient suns, pre-Matrix men caught in a computer virtual reality, sexy bulls, a John Waters look-alike with a horrific sexually-transmitted disease -- and I later discovered his work on Swamp thing, and then his TRULY twisted graphic novels. I love his loose plotting style, the long story detours that usually end up in the most unexpected places. I love his depressingly average people who suddenly suffer catastrophic revelations. Most of all I love his human faces: greasy people with brow-wrinkles and acne, messy stubble, inbred chins and stupid eyes. Nobody draws a redneck like Rick Veitch does.
Not only has "Abraxas and the Earth Man" finally been released on graphic novel format, but Veitch is working on a six-part mini-series called "Army@Love." I'm coming into it late and I've just read the first six issues. It's a vile satire of the Iraq war. Sometimes it clubs you with a sledgehammer, but it's most effective when it's subtle.
Veitch doesn't have much love for war profiteers and bumper-sticker patriots...as it should be. In his "Afbaghistan," soldiers are being enticed with promises of excitement and kicks, where the ultimate high is to have sex during combat and therefore join the "Hot Zone Club." This is the only way the government can continue to market the conflict after ten years of an impossible war.
As sick and tasteless as that Lynnie England cover of issue #2 is, Veitch is dead on...but he's also weaving a great story, and he's the only person who could get me buying a monthly comic again.
And I'm not just saying that because I've been in love with him since 1983.