Friday, June 08, 2007

Rick Veitch

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 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.


Anonymous said...

“Brat Pack”, supposedly his finest work, left me under-whelmed. I do love his art, and his general nastiness. But in “Brat Pack” it just came off as a whiney expose of his time at DC. Abraxas seemed much better, but I haven’t read it since it came out (I still have several issues of Epic as well, including #1 with the Frazetta cover!) so my memory is pretty hazy. I trust your judgment that it was a good read.

Since you brought it up, here is my list of favorites from that fine, doomed magazine:

"Heads" - Arthur Suydam
"Metamorphosis Odyssey”: - James P. Starlin (insane ink wash technique)
"Berni Wrightson's Frankenstein" (inspired a generation of illustrators)
A piece I remember as “This is Just a Test” and another called “Lifehutch”

Also if you got a kick out of Epic you would probably love Paul Gulacy's “Paradox”

Adam Thornton said...

I'll check out "Paradox" when I go to get the next "Army@Love," thanks for the suggestion!

I see your point about "Brat Pack," it WAS whiny, and even though I didn't read it until a few years ago, I can't help wondering...didn't it come out a bit too close to "The Watchmen" for comfort?

I remember Epic really hyping "Metamorphosis Odyssey." I didn't enjoy it when I was younger -- I had a knee-jerk reaction to what I assumed was a superhero story, simply because of Vance and his nifty sword. Reading it again a few years ago I fell in love with the art...though the story still seemed a bit "off" to me. I did get curious about the sequels, though...

"Frankenstein" was gorgeous, even though it was just a "preview." Did Wrightson ever finish and publish it?

"This is a Test" (?) was a fun, gory gag! And "Lifehutch" was (I think?) written by Harlan Ellison and drawn by that guy who did the "Sacred and the Profane" serial. Moody, tense, still a good read today.

I also liked Suydam's "Cholly and Flytrap" stories, and there was an extremely odd three-part series -- black and white pencils, almost photorealistic -- by John Muth called "Mythology of an Abandoned City" that really tweaked my imagination.

Looking back at issue #16 I'm wondering what happened to Marc Hempel, I love his style.

Anonymous said...

If I recall, Wrightson was commissioned to do several plates for someone-or-others edition of the classic Mary Shelley work. Apparently those who have seen the originals say the work was never shown properly. According to that was/is being corrected in a new volume that uses more accurate and expensive print technology. If this is true, I will definitely purchase one.

Adam Thornton said...

It's amazing that this has gone so long unreleased; the work was beautiful, and not even Epic's reproductions could do it justice.

The only other Wrightson work that I remember in Epic was "The Potty's Over," a real tribute to the horror comics of yore -- and pretty darn horrific, too.

"Ever try to flush a towel down the toilet? You need to TWIST it and CRUSH it..."