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Roger Ash

by Roger Ash

I like all sorts of pop culture enjoyment – comic books, TV, movies, music, etc. some of what I take pleasure in might not be considered “Art,” but that doesn’t bother me. As long as I take pleasure in it, that’s what’s important. What really gets me jazzed is when I find something I take pleasure in that’s a bit different; something where the designer takes it to a different level than I’ve experienced before. That’s amazing and exciting and guarantees that I’ll be back for more. nearly every stand-up comedian I’ve ever seen has talked about their relationships, but it takes bill Cosby to make a trip to the dentist funny, John Pinette to show the humor in buffets, or Kyle Kinane to show how selling cake decorations can evoke laughs. When I first heard the bands Madness and The English Beat, they sounded similar to other music, but the ska rhythms and pure fun they evoked while typically singing about severe subjects put them in a place all their own as far as I was concerned. The same can undoubtedly be said for comic creators as well. I’ve written before about my love of Steve Gerber’s work, so I won’t dwell on that, but it is a best example of what I’m talking about. no one else could have created Howard the Duck or had the Defenders face the Headmen. His was a singular voice. There are other creators I would put into this category but I’m just going to talk about two this time, Jim Starlin and Jeff Smith.

Jim Starlin’s Warlock

Back in the late 70s/early 80s, marvel published a title called fantasy masterpieces which reprinted Stan Lee and John Buscema’s Silver Surfer series. It was a lot of fun but I was in a surprise with issue #8. with that issue they began reprinting Jim Starlin’s Warlock stories as a backup. It was a revelation to me. It was a superhero story yet the story and art was different than anything I had seen before. The story touched on “adult” topics like religion and madness, but it wasn’t preachy. It was exciting, fun (Pip the Troll added some great comedy relief), sexy (Gamora), hazardous (Gamora), and could Warlock himself be both the hero and the villain of the story? It was a heady mix to be sure and the art fit it perfectly.

Starlin’s Captain Marvel

When fantasy masterpieces ended, I searched out the conclusion to the Warlock saga in the back issue section of a local comic shop and in ads printed in the comics (this was way before such a thing as the Internet existed). It was a satisfying experience and the story ended as enigmatically as it had begun. It remains one of my favorite stories to this day. This led to me seeking out Starlin’s work on Captain marvel (in which the mad Titan Thanos, who plays a major part in Warlock’s story as well, really came into his own) and later on The Metamorphosis Odyssey and Dreadstar and now ‘Breed. His work tends to be very cosmic and very personal all at the same time. There’s something in the way he combines the two that really speaks with me.

Jeff Smith’s Bone

Jeff Smith’s Bone was one of those books that took a while to find its audience, but once it did, it took off and became bigger than I think any individual would have ever expected it to. I chalk this up to Smith putting out something that was not only good, but different than anything else at the time (and I’m sure there was a certain amount of luck involved too). When I first saw the cover for Bone #1, I was attracted by Smith’s cartoony style as it reminded me of classic animation. I wasn’t the only one “Looney Tunes meets Lord of the Rings” became a common shorthand way of describing the book. but it was a lot more than just that. The story and art is wonderful, but the characters are what kept me coming back. I really wanted to know what happened to Thorn and Fone Bone and all the rest. and it’s a true all ages book. I take pleasure in it just as much as my eight year old nephew does and we have some terrific conversations about the book.

Jeff Smith’s RASL

When Bone ended, Smith could have done a similar book and I’m sure it would have been terrific and I would have took pleasure in it. What he did instead was something very different with Shazam!: Monster society of Evil and now the much a lot more adult RASL. What makes all these books special for me is that no one else could do them – they are distinctly Jeff Smith books (which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned). Yes, Shazam! was a DC book and other creators have told tales of Captain Marvel, yet these were distinctly Smith stories in much the same way that no one else could tell a Frank Miller Daredevil story or an Alan Moore Swamp thing story.

Jim Starlin and Jeff Smith are just two of the lots of creators who, for me, take what they do to that next level and make reading comics a joy. how about you? who does that for you? Share your comments below and let me know.

Now, go read a comic!

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