Marie Severin: 1929 to 2018

Longtime comic book artist Marie Severin passed away on August 30 at the age of 89.  Severin, a very talented artist who was possessed of a wonderful sense of humor, was one of the few women to work in the comic book industry in the 1950s and 60s.

Marie Severin and friends
Marie Severin and some of her friends from work

Severin got her start in the 1950s as a colorist at EC Comics, where her brother, John Severin, was working as an artist. Following that, Severin began working at Marvel in the late 1950s.  Initially working as a colorist and in the production department, in the mid 1960s she also began drawing for the House of Ideas.

Severin had a decidedly unconventional, often wacky style to her artwork.  She also acknowledged that she really did not care all that much for super-heroes.  That made her the perfect fit for Marvel’s outlier characters.  She became only the third artist on the Doctor Strange feature in Strange Tales beginning with issue #153, cover-dated Feb 1967.  Soon afterwards, Severin began drawing the adventures of Marvel’s two moody, violent anti-heroes, Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk.

In the early 1970s Severin penciled several stories written by Roy Thomas featuring Robert E. Howard’s introspective warrior king Kull the Conqueror.  On the Kull stories Severin was inked by her brother John, and it was a beautiful collaboration.

Kull the Conqueror 3 pg 3

However, it was in the humor field that Severin really found her calling.  Her style was perfectly suited for comedy, and for sending up the characters at Marvel and their competitors.  Severin’s work appeared in all but one issue of Not Brand Echh, which ran for 13 issues in the late 1960s.  All these years later the wacky, satirical stories from Not Brand Echh are well-remembered, in major part because of Severin’s distinctively crazy artwork.

I was born in 1976, so I only discovered Not Brand Echh years later via reprints.  I think once I reached my 30s and started taking super-heroes a lot less seriously was when I finally began to really appreciate the parodies of the genre that Severin & her colleagues had done.

However, for the thoughts of someone who did read Not Brand Echh when it was being published, I recommend reading Alan Stewart’s blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books.  Earlier this year Alan did a blog post looking back at Not Brand Echh #9.  Severin’s drew the cover artwork for on Not Brand Echh #9 and penciled “Bet They’ll Be Battle!” featuring the Inedible Bulk and Prince No-More the Skunk-Mariner, a parody of the Hulk vs. Sub-Mariner story published in Tales to Astonish #100 a year and a half earlier, which Severin had also penciled.

Nevertheless, of the Not Brand Echh material I have seen via reprints, one of my favorite pieces is the satirical two page “How to Be a Comic Book Artist” vignette which Severin drew, and which she apparently also wrote and colored.  It was originally published in Not Brand Echh #11 (Dec 1968).  Here it is…

Not Brand Echh 11 pg 34
How to Be a Comic Book Artist page one
Not Brand Echh 11 pg 35
How to Be a Comic Book Artist page two

“How to Be a Comic Book Artist” always leaves me chuckling, especially the second panel on the first page.  “Work in pleasant, inspiring surroundings – to keep your thoughts alive and creative!”  Yes, yes… of course! 😛

I showed this two-pager to my girlfriend Michele, who is an artist.  She shook her head and muttered, “Yeah, that sounds like everybody I know.”

Severin continued her humor work at Marvel in the 1970s, contributing to the short-lived color comics Spoof and Arrgh! and the long-running black & white Crazy Magazine.  In the early 1990s she also drew a few stories for Marvel’s later-day humor comic What The–?!

Much of Severin’s work for Marvel in the 1980s and early 90s was on titles geared towards younger readers.  Her artwork appeared in the Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock and Alf comic books.  Once again, her style was very well-suited to that material.

On occasion Severin did return to straightforward super-heroes.  In the mid 1990s she worked on a few stories during David Quinn’s memorable run writing Doctor Strange, doing nice work.  I especially enjoyed her artwork on the Doctor Strange & Clea story that appeared in Midnight Sons Unlimited #6 (July 1994) which, although it was a mostly-serious tale, was drawn in a semi-cartoony style, and which had a fair amount of comedic background details, such as the depictions of late 1960s counter-culture elements.

Midnight Sons Unlimited 6 pg 7

I only met Severin once, briefly, at a comic book convention in June 2000.  At the time the only book I had on hand which contained her work was the graphic novel Dignifying Science.  Written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by a talented line-up of female artists, Dignifying Science spotlighted several important female scientists.  Severin drew the book’s prologue & epilogue, which touched upon the life of Marie Curie.  I got my copy autographed by Severin.  I wish I’d had some of the other books she worked on to also get signed, but at least I did get to meet her that one time.

Marie Severin had a very lengthy career in comic books as an artist and colorist, and I’ve only briefly touched upon a few highlights in this blog.  For an in-depth examination of her career, I highly recommend the book Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics written by Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan from TwoMorrows Publishing.  In addition, Severin was recently interviewed by Jon B. Cooke in Comic Book Creator #16 (Winter 2018) also from TwoMorrows.  Please check them out.

Preview: Go To Sleep, Little Creep by David Quinn and Ashley Spires

Writer David Quinn is a versatile and imaginative creator.  Although he is best-known for co-creating the adult horror comic book series Faust: Love of the Damned, and for writing Doctor Strange for two years at Marvel Comics, Quinn has written a wide range of material over his 30 year career.

Quinn’s newest project is in collaboration with illustrator Ashley Spires.  Go to Sleep, Little Creep is a rhyming picture book about baby monsters and their monster parents who are trying to get them to go to bed.

Go To Sleep Little Creep cover

Quinn was kind enough to e-mail me a preview copy of Go to Sleep, Little Creep.  It was a very charming read.  Quinn’s prose is sweet and humorous.  Spires’ wonderful illustrations are adorable and funny.  The designs of the baby monsters are wonderfully sweet.

By the way, as a huge fan of both cats and scary stories, I think the Mummy Cat, the pet of the Baby Mummy, is very cute.

Go To Sleep Little Creep Baby Mummy and Cat

Go to Sleep, Little Creep is for children ages 2 to 5, although I honestly think older readers, and even adults, will find it charming.  It is scheduled for release on July 24, 2018 through the Crown Books for Young Readers imprint of Penguin Random House.

Previews and behind-the-scenes info can be found on David Quinn’s blog, In Walked Quinn, where he discusses the conception and development of the book.

I definitely recommend Go To Sleep, Little Creep to genre fans, both those with and without children.  No matter how young or old you are, it is an enjoyable read.

Go to Sleep, Little Creep, Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

On Sale Jul 24, 2018

ISBN 9781101939444

Copyright 2018, David Quinn

Illustrations copyright 2018 Ashley Spires

For more information and to pre-order

David Quinn’s Doctor Strange, part three

Here is the third and final installment of my look back at the bizarre, experimental, amazing run on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme by writer David Quinn.  Many of the major subplots of Quinn’s arc come to an epic conclusion in issue #s 72-75, the four part “Last Rites.”

Previously Doctor Strange had assembled the mystic artifacts he had collected into a Forge, and had used it to tap into the “Gaian Aura” of the Earth itself to gain access to a new source of magickal energy.  As “Last Rites” opens, Strange believes he is finally ready to confront his usurper, the ancient Salome, who has assumed the title of Sorceress Supreme.  After a year shielding himself in his null space Sanctum Sanctorum beneath Trinity Church, Strange opens up the gateway to it, expecting Salome will take the bait and come charging in, ready to do battle.  However, this doesn’t happen.  Instead, the mystic entity Agamotto materializes, warning that he and the other beings comprising the Vishanti have granted Salome their benediction.  Strange is horrified, believing that now Salome will be even more difficult to defeat, and despairs that his months of preparations have been in vain.

Obsessed over both stopping Salome and traveling to the Dark Dimension to assist his former lover Clea, Doctor Strange decides he must reclaim the energy he invested in the creation of the artificial beings “Vincent Stevens” and “Strange.”  He uses the Gaian Aura to create an aetheric sword & suit of armor which will protect him from the corrupting energies of Salome’s Dance still within him.  Doctor Strange then head off to confront the Strangers.  Arriving at the Tempo Building, he finds the pair preparing to finally merge together to ensure their continued existence.  Neither of the Strangers is ready to simply hand over his life energies to their “father,” and so a battle quickly erupts.

Dormammu has a bone to pick with Clea
Dormammu has a bone to pick with Clea

Elsewhere, in the Dark Dimension, a despondent Clea is preparing to enter into an alliance with her uncle, the dread Dormammu, deposed ruler of the realm.  Clea is reluctant to side with her evil relative, but she feels that she has no choice, given that Doctor Strange was unable to aid her in restoring order to her war-ravaged home.  Entering the magick dampening field of the Sanctuary, Clea and Dormammu prepare to sign a peace accord.  However, even stripped of his mystical energies, Dormammu is not powerless.  Treacherously, he brutally, bare-handedly rips the spine from one of his own soldiers and hurls it at his niece.  The only thing that saves Clea is her advisor Nobel, who throws himself between the two, receiving a mortal wound.  Clea’s ragtag army quickly flees, with Dormammu and his forces giving pursuit.

Back on Earth, Doctor Strange is attempting to convince “Strange” that Vincent Stevens intends to betray his would-be ally.  Indeed, Stevens plans to use his techno-magick not to merge with “Strange” but to take possession of his form.  Stevens’ own technology is eventually turned against him, and the doppelganger is destroyed.

With just “Strange” left, the Doctor tries to induce the entity to willingly give up his existence, so that both Earth and the Dark Dimension can be saved.  However, the aetheric entity refuses, hollering to his creator “If you want to amend your errors, give me a REAL life!”  He argues that Doctor Strange is acting just as selfish and manipulative as Vincent Stevens was before, proving himself a monumental hypocrite.  And despite all that is at stake, the Doctor finally realizes that his creation is right, that sacrificing “Strange” with an ends-justify-the-means rationalization will make him just a bad as the entity who harbored all his darker, buried impulses.

The Doctor is forced to acknowledge that “Strange” is sentient, that he has a soul, a right to exist.  The magician tells his creation “I am willing to sacrifice what I most desire… in order to give you life!”  The two pool their energies, and the master of the mystic arts transports “Strange” to the Dark Dimension.  There, “Strange” merges with the dying Noble, becoming a new, composite entity known as Paradox, who embodies the personalities & qualities of both beings.  Paradox saves Clea from Dormammu and his Mindless Ones, transporting her to safety, ready to fight by her side in the future.

Strange Sacrifices
Strange Sacrifices

Doctor Strange, knowing that Clea is safe, returns to his Sanctum to confront Salome, who has at last arrived.  Strange realizes that, for all his plots & planning, in the end he is nowhere near powerful enough to defeat Salome.  His only hope is to utilize strategy and try to bluff the Sorceress Supreme.  Indeed, although Salome probably could have defeated Strange easily, she has become so utterly obsessed, so insane with the thought of humiliating him that he is, just barely, able to outmaneuver & trick her into defeating herself.  An unexpected ally is also presented in the form of Sister Nil.  The Lilin has come to care deeply for Strange and is ready to sacrifice herself for him.

Salome is banished once more from Earth’s dimension.  The corrupting energy of Salome’s Dance finally removed from his body, Doctor Strange completely rejuvenates himself, physically becoming a much younger man. Donning a pair of mystic spectacles, he safely emerges from his Sanctum to finally walk the streets of New York, ready to restart his life.

The near-total revamp of Doc’s physical appearance is odd and unexpected.  As others have commented, this new form, as drawn by Peter Gross, bears a more than passing resemblance to John Lennon.  I was rather surprised by this.  I e-mailed Quinn to see if he would share his memories of this redesign.  Here’s his response:

“I think that was the powers that be’s guidance. I reached out to Evan, but he was on vacation, so we’re going on my hazy memory of an uncomfortable time. That’s an important context to capture − Marvel’s ownership was decimating the system of distributors and stores and sales were plummeting across the line. (All we could claim with Doc was that our sales were slipping more slowly than the rapid freefall of other titles — not enough.) Editors were losing jobs every week and desperate to grab attention for their books. So with hindsight, I think Evan’s bosses saw our new empowered Doc and steered it toward a more youthful look. Ironically, he ended up looking like a 25 year old Harry Potter. Look at other books at the time and you might detect other desperate measures to temporarily pump up sales to keep editorial employed.”

As a reader who witnessed the tumultuous upheavals of Marvel in the mid-1990s, I have to agree that Quinn’s memory of  where the directive to de-age Doctor Strange came from sounds plausible.  I can certainly imagine how editorial and/or management might say “Hey, if we make Doc young & hip, more teenagers will read him!” After all, these are the same people who just a year later gave over Captain America and Avengers to Rob Liefeld.

Uh oh, looks like the Doc has been dropping some Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Uh oh, looks like the Doc has been dropping some Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Regarding the other aspects of “Last Rites,” I was initially surprised that Quinn had spent three and a half issues focusing on Doctor Strange’s confrontation with the Strangers, and only the last half of the double-sized #75 was devoted to his final battle with Salome.  This pacing seemed an unusual choice.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Doctor’s most important conflict was not with Salome, but with himself.

Even before Quinn’s run, Strange had always been a rather distant, aloof figure, often detaching himself from the world he had pledged to protect.  After he was stripped of his position as Sorcerer Supreme, depowered, and afflicted with Salome’s Dance, he then began to act in a ruthless, manipulative manner.  Strange kept his allies at arm’s length and in the dark concerning his intentions.  He created, used, and then discarded his aetheric agents the Strangers with a disturbing casualness.  In his obsession to overcome Salome, he had allowed himself to become alienated from his own humanity.  It was more important for the Doctor to confront the consequences of his actions, and for him to acknowledge that much of the Strangers’ ruthlessness & brutality came from his own long-buried flaws.  Finally, the Doctor had to be willing to sacrifice his happiness, and perhaps even his life, to both enable “Strange” to exist and to save Clea, even if it meant that he might not be powerful enough to survive his own confrontation with Salome.  Much as he had to do many years before studying under his mentor the Ancient One, Doctor Strange had to re-discover humility and serenity.  It was by rising above his obsessions, as well as by his past decision to try and care for & redeem Sister Nil rather than punish her for her crimes, that Strange was finally able to banish Salome.

There was, I admit, one aspect of Quinn’s overall storyline that I felt was underdeveloped: who, exactly, is Salome?  According to her own words, she was the Sorceress Supreme of Earth thousands of years ago.  From this we can infer that in the past, in some manner or another, she did act in the role of Earth’s protector.  But obviously something must have occurred at some point to change this.  Perhaps she became arrogant, corrupted by the power & authority she wielded.  This could have been what led to her original banishment to another dimension.  I really would have liked to have seen Quinn explore who Salome was.  In his work with Tim Vigil on Faust: Love of the Damned, he has scripted the vile characters of M and Claire in such a brilliant way that, for all their depraved acts, the reader can, if not sympathize with them, at least understand their points of view and what it is that drives them.  I wish he had done something similar, gotten into Salome’s head to show us what makes her tick.

The final final four issues in Quinn’s run, #s 76-79, are written with the assistance of editor Evan Skolnick, who co-writes #77 and scripts #s 78 & 79 from Quinn’s plots.  Several new plotlines are set up.  Doctor Strange assumes the identity of Vincent Stevens and takes charge of his corporation in an effort to clean up the corruption and destruction caused by the Strangers.  The Doctor also begins a slow, painful reconciliation with his former aide Wong, who still harbors bitterness over the death of his fiancée Imei.  There are further developments with Clea and Paradox.  Modred the Mystic and Wildpride briefly resurface, the later revealed to be Strange’s disgruntled short-lived apprentice Kyllian.  Most ominously, the elder god Chthon’s impending rebirth is on the horizon.  No doubt Quinn would have developed all of these over future issues.  But he was replaced as the series’ writer before he had the opportunity.

Quinn shared a few brief comments on where he had hoped to take both the character and the series…

“My focus at the end of Last Rites was to give a reunited Dr. Stephen Strange earth magick based powers of his own acquisition, versus tricks borrowed from the Vishanti. He would stand on his own for the first time, be much more powerful and confident — and future adventures planned some aggressive earth magick around the MU of the day. I thought it was about time he grew up, and stop just being the MU’s cosmic babysitter / plot device. (Sound familiar?) Since we had also gradually empowered Clea, I thought a more adult relationship would be interesting to explore − if Strange could stand up on his own, he better be okay with a woman who does, too!”

Quinn was unfortunately not able to enact these plans…

“Evan was laid off. His replacement was swamped and kind of let the last issues run on autopilot while preparing yet another new direction in a year… and the good Doctor has never sustained a successful run since, in terms of sales.”

The temptation of Sister Nil
The temptation of Sister Nil

The strongest of Quinn’s last four issues is his final one, #79.  In “Farewell, Nightmare Music” Sister Nil is restless, wanting her complete freedom, to explore the world of human beings.  But Strange is wary of this, as she still has no control over her cancerous death kiss.  Taking advantage of this potential schism is Strange’s old foe Nightmare, who offers Nil the chance to assume a crucial role in his dream realm.  Quinn & Skolnick write Nightmare as his usual mocking, arrogant self, yet they also imbue him with a sympathetic, tragic quality.  It is a nuanced depiction.  As I said before, Quinn excels at portraying his antagonists in a multi-faceted manner that explores their inner workings.

The artwork on these eight issues is certainly of a high quality.  Regular artist Peter Gross works on most of these, doing really amazing visuals.  On the first two chapters of “Last Rites,” Gross is inked by Lee Sullivan, who I remember very well from his cool art on the comic strips in Doctor Who Magazine.  They work well together.  There is this one page in #73 that especially jumped out at me, when Salome first penetrates the Sanctum Sanctorum.  Gross gives her the most expressive body language as she angrily grasps at Doctor Strange’s cloak of levitation, believing him to be in it.  Realizing it is empty, this transforms to triumphant luxuriating as she indulgently wraps herself in her prize.

Chapter three is a nice fill-in job by another very talented artist, Steve Yeowell, who manages to retain his own style while fitting in well with the previous two issues done by Gross & Sullivan.  The final chapter of “Last Rites” in issue #75 has Mark Buckingham contributing pencil breakdowns, with Gross doing the finishes.  And, wow, does the collaboration between the two of them look amazing!

Salome: sorceress supreme, house crasher, fashionista
Salome: sorceress supreme, house crasher, fashionista

Also present during David Quinn’s final issues is veteran Marvel artist Marie Severin, who previously worked with the writer on one of the segments in Midnight Sons Unlimited #6.  Severin provides breakdowns to Doctor Strange #78, with Gross drawing the finishes.  On the next issue, #79, she does full pencils, and consequently much more of her style comes through.  I really enjoyed Severin’s work on “Farewell, Nightmare Music.”  She did such a fantastic job illustrating this emotional, surreal story, closing out Quinn’s run with class & style.

I have one last note, concerning the coloring by “Heroic Age,” which appeared throughout Quinn’s entire run.  This was some of the earliest computer coloring in a Marvel title.  Consequently, I think it got off to a pretty rough start, looking very garish in the first few issues.  I guess the folks at Heroic Age must have worked on reefing their techniques, though, because over time the coloring improved.  There was a real noticeable difference in quality in Doctor Strange Annual #4.  From then on, they did increasingly good work.  In these last eight issues, I was quite impressed by the coloring.

Okay, now that I’ve come to the end of this three-part look back at the period when David Quinn wrote Doctor Strange, you might well be wondering “Why?”  Why devote three lengthy posts to some little-known comic book stories written in the mid-1990s, a period that is, often deservedly, looked upon as a nadir in quality for the entire comic book industry?  Well, simply put, it is exactly because of that perception that I felt these comic books deserved an analysis.

In the last several years I have become a fan of the work David Quinn has done with Tim Vigil on Faust: Love of the Damned.  This motivated me to take a second look at Quinn’s run on Doctor Strange.  I discovered I really enjoyed it.  His writing is filled with energy and insane ideas and off-the-wall mystical concepts and the sort of dark lunacy typically associated with Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison’s work for DC / Vertigo.  I was very curious to see what other people thought of Quinn’s stint on the series, so I did a few searches on the Internet.  And I discovered that there was almost nothing there, aside from the occasional brief write-up or reference in someone’s blog, certainly nothing in-depth.  So, I thought, why not do it myself?  Why not perform that detailed retrospective of Quinn’s Doctor Strange material?

Truthfully, in certain respects, I barely scratched the surface.  I could probably have written twice as much as I did about these stories.  But I didn’t, and part of that is I hope people will take a look at them for themselves, and discover just how cool and interesting these overlooked stories are.  Fortunately, all of these comics can be purchased relative inexpensively on Ebay or from online retailers.  So do yourself a favor, and check them out.

David Quinn’s Doctor Strange, a suggested reading order:

  1. Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #60
  2. Marvel Comics Presents #146
  3. Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #61-63
  4. Midnight Sons Unlimited #5
  5. Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #64-66
  6. Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme Annual #4
  7. Midnight Sons Unlimited #6
  8. Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #67-79

David Quinn’s Doctor Strange, part two

In the second part of my look back at writer David Quinn’s run on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme, we pick up from the events of Annual #4.  As “Strangers Among Us” concluded, both Vincent Stevens and “Strange” had discovered that they were not true living beings, but mystical creations of Doctor Stephen Strange based upon aspects of his own personality.  Now both of them were slowly beginning to discorporate, and each was desperate to maintain his existence.  Stevens thought the solution lay in technology, whereas “Strange” believed that he and Stevens needed to merge together into one being.  Meanwhile, in the Dark Dimension, Clea was attempting to travel to Earth and reach Doctor Strange, in the hopes that he could aid her in quelling the mystic civil war engulfing her home.  She was unaware that her former lover had been infected with the energies of Salome, forcing him to take refuge in his new null space Sanctum Sanctorum.

In Midnight Sons Unlimited #6, we find Doctor Strange in the midst of assembling the “Forge” out of the numerous mystical items previously collected by “Strange” on his behalf.  Perhaps subconsciously sensing that Clea is making her way to Earth, Stephen Strange finds his thoughts drifting to his one-time student & paramour.  He relates to Sister Nil, his Lilin prisoner/ward, some of his past history with Clea.  The Doctor recounts three occasions when he and Clea encountered Verdelet, a scorned would-be lord of vampires who was passed over by his sire Varnae in favor of Dracula.  Their various encounters with this undead fiend through the years highlight the progression of their relationship.  Quinn does excellent work examining the couple’s shifting, developing roles over time.  In the first segment, Clea is very much the wide-eyed novice discovering a new world, in need of Doctor Strange’s guidance & protection.  In the second, they are teacher and pupil, with Clea honing her abilities by aiding Strange in his war against mystic menaces.  And in the third, we see them as equals, confidently working alongside one another.

Midnight Sons Unlimited 6 pg 22

Each of the flashback segments is illustrated by a different artist.  The first one, set early in Strange & Clea’s association, is  drawn by Marie Severin, one of the artists to work on the post-Ditko issues of Strange Tales in the late 1960s.  Appropriately enough, this tale seems to be set in that exact era.  Severin, who is probably best known for her work on Marvel’s self-parody title Not Brand Echh, adds a humorous touch to this tale of the undead via her colorful, off-the-wall depictions of the hippy counter-culture.

The second part also features work by a former Doctor Strange artist.  The super-talented Gene Colan drew the series throughout the 1970s.  He is inked here by Dave Simons, who previously embellished Colan’s pencils on Howard the Duck.  Making an appearance is Colan’s vampire-hunting co-creation Blade, who crosses paths with Strange and Clea as they engage in their second match with Verdelet.

Quinn returns to present-day events in Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #67.  Clea arrives on Earth and is shocked to discover that Stephen Strange’s Bleecker Street home is now a vacant lot.  Looking for clues to the Doctor’s whereabouts, she explores Greenwich Village disguised as a punk rock chick.  Finally, Clea realizes that her long association with and intimate connection to Strange allows her to reach out with her mystic senses to locate his new Sanctum.  The two are reunited, and each learns of the tragic circumstances that has befallen the other of late.  Clea understands that Strange is, at the moment, unable to help her.  As the spell that transported Clea to Earth fades and she returns to the Dark Dimension, each of them comes to terms with the need to go on alone in their respective quests.

Issue #68 is a fill-in written by Dan Abnett focusing on the two Strangers.  He does a nice job of getting into Vincent Stevens’ head, exploring his desire to continue to live.  Stevens may be immoral and unscrupulous, but he has still developed into a living, sentient being.  You can feel his anguish at his slow disintegration.  Abnett’s issue ties in very well with Quinn’s ongoing story.  It seems that editor Evan Skolnick did a good job coordinating the scripts of the two writers so that events would smoothly flow from one point to another.

Doctor Strange 69 pg 11

Quinn returns with Doctor Strange #69 and, honestly, I think it is one of the strongest issues of his entire run.  Having been rejected once and for all by Stevens, a disoriented “Strange” is wandering about, desperately searching for another being to merge with.  “Strange” crosses paths with Polaris and Forge from X-Factor, en-route back to Washington after a conference on human/mutant affairs.  They are in the midst of arguing about the role of mutants in society.  Forge thinks it crucial that mutant-kind band together in a unified front to ensure their security.  Polaris, however, believes that different views ought to be expressed, and debate encouraged among mutants about what role they should play in the world.

“Strange” is drawn to Polaris as he senses that due to her status as a mutant she is an “outcast” much like him.  He wants to merge with her, making them both, in his mind, complete.  While they are fighting, Polaris slowly begins to comprehend that “Strange” is a being who wants to be accepted & understood.  Forge, however, perceives “Strange” as a threat, and attempts to destroy him.  Polaris’ first instinct is to chastise her teammate for rash action.  But when “Strange” abruptly reforms, she reacts with fear.  A disenchanted “Strange” flies off, telling Polaris to “remember your hypocrisy.”  And perhaps she comprehends for the first time the perspective of ordinary humans who fear and attack those that are different from themselves.

The guest art team of David Brewer & Pam Eklund do excellent work illustrating Quinn’s extremely compelling, thought-provoking plot.  And the issue is topped off by an absolutely amazing cover by Mark Buckingham.

Doctor Strange 69 cover

The quests by both Vincent Stevens and “Strange” to perpetuate their existences continues in issue #s 70-71, the two part “Half Lives.”  Stevens believes that he has finally found the solution via “techno-magick.”  He intends to use this to take over the form of the most powerful being on Earth, the Hulk.  He summons the green goliath to his Tempo skyscraper by masquerading as the real Doctor Strange… an appropriate enough thing to do, I suppose, since for the past several months people have kept mistaking Stevens for the Master of the Mystic Arts.

“Strange,” on the other hand, is drawn to the Hulk’s oldest friend Rick Jones, who also once shared his form with Captain Mar-Vell. “Strange” believes this makes Rick uniquely suited to merge with him.  Rick, on the other hand, has only just married his true love Marlo Chandler.  Looking forward to embarking on a new life with her, he certainly has no desire to go back to being one half of a composite entity.

The debate between Rick and “Strange” is abruptly interrupted when the Stevens-possessed Hulk crashes in, ready to destroy his aetheric “brother” as payback for weeks of harassment.  It seems Stevens is on track to do just that until Rick, who knows the Hulk all too well, uses psychology to make the gamma-spawned giant’s true personality angry, giving him the strength to reassert control.  Stevens’ consciousness is banished.  Desperate, Stevens claims that he has changed his mind and wishes to merge with “Strange.”  The two flee back to the Tempo, leaving the Hulk and Rick to try and sort things out.

While all this has been taking place, Doctor Strange has been in his Sanctum.  He has completed his Forge, and is now attempting to utilize it to channel the magick influence of the Earth itself, thereby gaining a new supply of power.  This, he hopes, will allow him to leave null space and take back the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme from Salome.

At the same time, the Doctor is ready to just casually stand back and allow “Strange” and Vincent Stevens to “dissolve naturally.”  He seems unaware, or unwilling to admit, that the two Strangers have become independent entities, clinging tenaciously to life.  So, despite his vow to no longer treat “those who trusted me like mere chess pawns,” Doctor Strange is as yet unwilling to accept the consequences of his creating the Strangers.  Quinn ably demonstrates this glaring moral blind spot in the Doctor’s philosophy.  It is one the writer will examine in-depth in his next four issues.

Closing out #71, we finally catch a glimpse of Salome, who has been absent the past several issues.  Still searching for Doctor Strange, the mad sorceress contacts the Vishanti.  Salome offers up her services to these cosmic beings in exchange for the power to destroy Strange, the man who previously rejected them.  Thus is the stage set for the final confrontation between the two.

Doctor Strange 70 pg 14

“Half Lives” features the debut of the new regular artist on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer SupremePeter Gross had worked on Dr. Fate and Books of Magic for DC Comics / Vertigo, as well as Hellstorm for Marvel itself.  That made him well suited to draw another mystical-themed title such as this.  I do think the more traditional superhero action elements in these two issues with the Hulk do perhaps come out a bit awkward.  However, Gross does amazing work on the much more bizarre and esoteric sequences featuring Doctor Strange and Salome.  The scenes of Strange in the Forge Canal are really eerie, containing a surreal quality.  As we will see, Quinn’s upcoming “Last Rites” arc will definitely play to Gross’ strengths as an artist.

In part three, we will be taking a look at the final portion of David Quinn’s work on Doctor Strange, as featured in issue #s 72-79.

David Quinn’s Doctor Strange, part one

In my June 6th blog post, I talked about how I was tracking down David Quinn’s run on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme.  Having finally done that, I’m going to take an in-depth look at Quinn’s innovative, offbeat, and downright bizarre run.

Unlike many creators who come in to take a series in a brand-new direction, David Quinn did not simply sweep under the rug everything that came before him.  Rather, he built upon what had gone before.  To wit, in the months preceding, in stories by Len Kaminski, Roy Thomas & Geof Isherwood, Doctor Strange’s mystic patrons the Vishanti had called upon him to fight on their behalf in the War of the Seven Spheres.  Believing this conflict would last for several millennia, and not wanting to leave Earth unprotected from other supernatural threats, Strange refused.  As a result, the Vishanti stripped him of the title of Sorcerer Supreme.

So, when Quinn came onboard, his protagonist was vastly reduced in power & ability.  And Quinn totally ran with that, showing just what drastic measures the Master of the Mystic Arts would take to continue in his role of protector of the Earth.

Doctor Strange 61 cover
“Siege of Darkness”

Y’know, in certain respects, I have to think that Quinn didn’t have the most ideal of circumstances under which to begin his stint on Doctor Strange.  Here he is, ready to kick off a brand-new storyline with sweeping changes in issue #60 and, by the way, it just so happens that that issue is going to be part 7 of a multi-title Midnight Sons crossover titled “Siege of Darkness.”  Indeed, Quinn does get off to a bit of a bumpy start.  I mean, Doctor Strange is competing for page space with Ghost Rider, John Blaze, Vengeance, Morbius, the Nightstalkers, and the Darkhold Redeemers, all fighting off an assault on Strange’s Bleecker Street home by the demon sorceress Lilith, and her children the Lilin.

(Having said that, I’m sure that being part of a huge crossover centered on Ghost Rider was a really great way to hook new readers!)

Quinn manages to squeeze in a couple of key plot points in #60.  First, Doctor Strange has a brief premonition of the future.  Second, one of the Lilin, Sister Nil, penetrates Strange’s house and attacks the Midnight Sons.  The de-powered Strange is unable to fight Nil himself, and is forced to make a terrible choice.  He uses his remaining power to summon Morbius to save them, but as a result is unable to prevent Nil from using her cancerous touch to murder Imei, the fiancé of his longtime ally Wong.  And, as the issue concludes, the Doctor’s house is destroyed in a mystic explosion.

Anyway, long story short, the Lilin get banished, but their ally Zarathos is still hanging around.  And he immediately finds another group of supernatural baddies, the Fallen, who take up the battle against the Midnight Sons.

Salome arrives, first in Doctor Strange's nightmares, and then on Earth
Salome arrives, first in Doctor Strange’s nightmares, and then on Earth

Quinn actually introduces a major player in his own overarching storyline in between Doctor Strange #s 60 and 61.  Marvel Comics Presents #146 was part 14 of “Siege of Darkness,” and in an eight page tale illustrated by Isherwood, Strange finds himself in a bizarre dream along with his ancient foe Nightmare.  However, this time the lord of the dream dimension isn’t Strange’s true enemy.  Rather, he comes face to face with the mysterious and lethal Salome, a vampire-like being who feeds on dark emotions.

This leads right into part 15 of “Siege” in Doctor Strange #61.  Salome, who is one of the Fallen, finally returns to Earth after thousands of years of exile in another dimension.  This is an altogether more focused issue, as Quinn has the other Fallen, uncertain of how Salome is going to affect their plans, decide that they are better off waiting things out on the sidelines.  That enables Quinn to focus on the conflict between Doctor Strange and Salome, the latter of whom makes a beeline to the Midnight Sons, who are gathered at the ruins of Strange’s house.

(For the nitty-gritty, click on the above images to enlarge!)

Engaging Doctor Strange and his allies in battle, Salome declares that she was “Sorceress Supreme” of Earth millennia before, and that she is now ready to reclaim her title.  Strange, already depowered and weakened from the battles with the Lilith and the Fallen, is obviously in no shape to fight off this lethal contender.  Ceding the title to her, he vanishes in a vortex of mystic energy, all his arcane possessions disappearing along with him.  The furious Salome is ready to vent her anger on the remaining Midnight Sons, when suddenly a bizarre figure appears.  His face covered in a mask, his costume superficially resembling that of the Master of the Mystic Arts, this being known only as “Strange” drives off Salome with a berserker fury.

It is in issue #s 62 and 63, freed from dealing with the whole “Siege” crossover, Quinn really begins to advance his story arc.  Skipping forward four months, we see that the masked being “Strange” has been crisscrossing the globe, collecting various mystic artifacts with a ruthless efficiency.  Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, a man named Vincent Stevens, who bears a striking resemblance to a somewhat younger Doctor Strange, has been using his powers of hypnosis to both manipulate the financial market and establish ties with organized crime.  Constructing a towering skyscraper known as the Tempo, Stevens leads a hedonistic lifestyle, throwing lavish erotic parties for the wealthy.

Neither of these individuals is the genuine article, though.  The true, original Doctor Stephen Strange is dwelling in his new Sanctum Sanctorum located in a “null space” in a vast cavern a mile beneath Trinity Church on Wall Street.  Gaunt, haggard, and decidedly short of temper, the former Sorcerer Supreme is clearly in trouble.

Quinn takes a detour in Midnight Sons Unlimited #5, bringing the sixth century sorcerer Modred the Mystic into the proceedings.  Modred’s philosophy can be summed up with the saying “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”  He firmly believes that the key to protecting the Earth from the forces of darkness is to master those very forces to use against his foes.  In past stories this has predictably backfired, and on at least one occasion he ended up a pawn of the elder god Chthon.  Obviously not having learned from his mistakes, Modred, along with his new disciple Wildpride, manipulate several members of the Midnight Sons into attacking Salome.  The whole affair is merely a ruse, an attempt to make Salome his servant so she can aid him in killing Doctor Strange, enabling Modred to become the new Sorcerer Supreme.  Of course this spectacularly blows up in Modred’s face, and as the story closes we see the sullen, humiliated Mystic being mocked by Wildpride.  (Not to worry, though, those two will pop up again soon!)

Obviously Quinn set up a lot of mysteries in these first several stories.  Once again, unlike many of his contemporaries on other 1990s Marvel titles, having set up these subplots, Quinn quickly followed through, delivering a number of unusual answers in the four part “Strangers Among Us” arc that ran in Doctor Strange #s 64-66 and Annual #4.  As editor Evan Skolnick quite reasonable explained in the letters page of #66…

“When a writer presents his readers with a mystery, it behooves him or her to eventually reveal the previously-hidden facts. We’ve been leaking them slowly over the past six months, giving you enough hints for you to guess… but it’s a fatal error to raise a question and then wait too long to answer it.”

A very strange arrival
A very strange arrival

Quinn reveals that the mystic treasure hunt by “Strange” has been conducted on behalf of the real Doctor Strange.  The sorcerer is amassing these objects in his new Sanctum.  There, he is also keeping Sister Nil as a prisoner, a constant reminder to himself of Imei’s death so that he will not fail again.  After the Doctor is unable to convince his one-time ally Namor the Sub-Mariner to give up an ancient Atlantean artifact, the Coral Crab, “Strange” takes it upon himself to retrieve the object from the ocean floor.  This brings him into conflict with not only Namor, but also a mystic sea serpent and, upon returning to New York City, former ally Vengeance.

All of this attracts the attention of Salome.  A necromancer, the Sorceress Supreme divines events by peering into mystic skins literally made from the flesh of her followers.  She observes “Strange” referring to “the Other,” and learns this is Vincent Stevens, who she mistakes for Stephen Strange.  Salome has brought the disenchanted Wong into her service by convincing him that she has resurrected Imei, although in fact it is actually a winged skeletal demon named Xaos.  Wong and Xaos abduct Stevens and transport him to Salome’s sanctuary in Iraq.  Salome quickly realizes that Stevens is not Doctor Strange.  And then “Strange” appears, ready to once again battle Salome.  It is at this point that the Sorceress Supreme finally deduces what has been going on.  In an effort to convince both “Strange” and Stevens to ally with her, Salome offers up explanations.

During the events of issue #61, in the midst of Doctor Strange’s explosive disappearance, he created a “stasis spiral,” stopping time.  In that frozen moment, he literally created “Strange” and Vincent Stevens via “aetheric discharges.”  Because Doctor Strange could not generate life from nothing, he derived their personalities from aspects of his own.  “Strange” was the savagery and violence he had long repressed.  Vincent Stevens embodied the selfishness and materialism of his former life as a wealthy surgeon which he overcame many years before when he studied under the Ancient One.  Doctor Strange had to create these twin beings to act as his agents in the outside world.  Because he had been infected by the energies of “Salome’s Dance,” if he left the null space of his new Sanctum, he would instantly disintegrate.

The origin of the Strangers.
The origin of the Strangers

From within his Sanctum, the Doctor manages to take psychic control of Vincent Stevens and, through his form, engages Salome in battle.  But even with the help of “Strange,” the Doctor cannot best Salome.  He is forced to channel the energy of Salome’s Dance in his body and use it against her.  This finally drives her off, but the Doctor knows that it is only a temporary victory.  And he wonders if his use of her dark powers has corrupted him.

There is also a back-up story in Annual #4 written by Tom Brevoort & Mike Kanterovich.  “Desperate Needs” brings us up to date with Clea, the lover and student of Doctor Strange.  The War of the Seven Spheres has touched upon her native Dark Dimension, causing horrific carnage.  Clea, unaware of her former partner’s own dire circumstances, sets out to journey back to Earth’s dimension and recruit Doctor Strange’s assistance in saving her world.  Brevoort & Kanterovich’s story works as both a nice stand-alone character piece and as a lead-in to issue #67.  But I’ll be looking at that in the next installment.

Sooooooo, what do I think of David Quinn’s work on Doctor Strange?  In this first arc he does very good work.  After an understandably rocky start during “Siege of Darkness,” the writing really takes off.  I realize, reading through the letters pages of these issues, that at the time these drastic changes were met with very mixed reactions.  But, in hindsight, I think that the series did need shaking up.  Roy Thomas did some decent writing, and he worked well with both Jackson Guice and Geof Isherwood.  But after more than four years, Doctor Strange was due for a change.

In his editorial in issue #60, Skolnick stated that he was trying to recapture “the original, defining aspects” of the Steve Ditko & Stan Lee stories from Strange Tales.  If you look at those original Ditko & Lee tales (go out and get Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1) you will see that it did take several issues for them to really hit their groove.  I think the exact moment when that occurred can be pinned down: Strange Tales #126, the introduction of the dread Dormammu.  This kicked off a more or less uninterrupted storyline that lasted until #146, Ditko’s final issue.  And during this 21 issue arc, there really was no status quo.  Doctor Strange spent most of the time on the run from Baron Mordo and his myriad disciples who had been empowered by Dormammu, searching across the Earth and through various dimensions for the means to overcome his awesomely powerful adversaries.

David Quinn’s writing on Doctor Strange definitely contains the same sort of tension and unpredictability as that classic storyline, the suspense and mystery inherent in waiting to see how the Master of the Mystic Arts would outwit his enemies.  Quinn puts his own unique spin on it, via the moral ambiguity of the Stephen Strange’s actions, the mystery of the two “Strangers,” the alienation of his allies, and the introduction of a brand-new arch-villainess, Salome.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, I really did enjoy the work of Mel Rubi and Fred Harper, who were the art team on the first several issues of Quinn’s run.  I believe that this was Rubi’s very first published work.  He starts off a bit shaky, but you can see him grow from issue to issue.  As for Fred Harper, I’m probably biased since I’m friends with him, but his inking is great.  It really gives the art a tangible mood and atmosphere.  He is another artist who has really grown, consistently getting better & better.  If you look at his current painting & illustration work, it is absolutely fantastic.

The artwork on the Annual was courtesy of Kyle Hotz.  He reminds me a bit of Kelly Jones.  There is this sort of twisted, intricate detail to Hotz’s art that really suits the final chapter of “Strangers Among Us.”  And his layouts & storytelling are extremely dramatic.  He really gives the battle between the Strangers and Salome a hell of a punch.

Strange vs Namor the Sub-Mariner
Strange vs Namor the Sub-Mariner

And, of course, Mark Buckingham contributes several excellent covers for the “Strangers Among Us” arc.  We’ll be seeing more from him in upcoming issues.

One last thing: the lettering on the Annual is courtesy of Janice Chiang.  She has always been one of my favorite comic book letterers.  Every time I see her work, I can spot it almost instantly.  There is an element of calligraphy incorporated into Chiang’s fonts.  It works wonderfully well, and feels very organic.  The role of letterers is usually overlooked, so I wanted to make sure to highlight her efforts here.

Okay, this post went on much longer than I intended.  In part two, when I cover Doctor Strange #s 67-71 and Midnight Sons Unlimited #6, I promise I won’t ramble on so much!

Strange Mails

I got a package in the mail today containing some inexpensive comic book back issues that I purchased on Ebay last week.  Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m trying to get rid of stuff, not accumulate more of it.  But when I was over at my parents’ house a few weeks ago to get some boxes of comics that I was planning to either sell or give away, I also made sure to take home a handful of issues that I wanted to hold on to.  Among those were Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #s 60-62 and 69.

Let’s cast a glance back at far-off 1993… twenty years ago, believe it or not!  After several years of Roy Thomas writing Doctor Strange, the book underwent a radical shift.  The series moved under the “Midnight Sons” umbrella of titles, just in time for a massive and (admittedly) rambling crossover titled “Siege of Darkness.”  And as this change-over was taking place, brand new Doctor Strange editor Evan Skolnick came up with the mad genius idea to set Faust: Love of the Damned co-creator David Quinn loose on Marvel’s master of the mystic arts.

I was in high school when all this was going on, so I seriously doubt I had ever even heard of Faust at that point.  I don’t think I would actually even read an issue of David Quinn & Tim Vigil’s erotic horror magnum opus until I was in my twenties, and it would be several years more before I became a hugely passionate fan of the book.  So when Quinn came aboard Doctor Strange in the autumn of 1993, I had no idea who he was.  I certainly did not know what to expect.  Those few issues of Doctor Strange written by Quinn that I did pick up back then seemed majorly bizarre, as well as somewhat confusing.

Doctor Strange 64 cover

Looking back on it, a couple of things occur to me.  First, I believe that if Quinn’s Doctor Strange run had been published even a few years later, I would have had a much greater appreciation for it.  By that time, I was well on my way out of the Marvel/DC/Image superhero niche, exploring a number of independent and small press titles.  Second, keeping in mind just how homogenized so much of Marvel’s output was in the mid-1990s, as the company attempted in myriad ways to somehow duplicate the titanic success of some of the early Image Comics titles, it really was a gutsy move on Skolnick’s part to recruit an edgy independent creator like Quinn to helm a long-term property such as Doctor Strange.

Fast forward back to 2013.  A couple of months ago I came across a very well written blog post by a Gary M. Miller wherein he detailed his picks for the top ten greatest Doctor Strange stories.  Among his choices was Quinn’s run on the series.  And soon after that, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I re-read my copy of Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1, which collected the original Strange Tales stories by Steve Ditko & Stan Lee.  So once I had the chance to dig through all those comics in my parents’ basement I thought to myself, “Hey, why not take another look at those David Quinn issues?”  Reading Doctor Strange #s 60-62 last week, I really enjoyed them, and I immediately decided I wanted to pick up the rest of the run.  I was able to order copies of issues #s 63-68 and Annual #4 pretty much for cover price.  Hopefully I’ll get the rest of Quinn’s issues at a later date.

Doctor Strange 67 cover

Once I am able to read the entirety of Quinn’s run, perhaps I’ll have an opportunity to write up another post detailing the specifics of his issues.  For now, though, it is worth pointing out that not only is the writing on these comics top-notch, so is the artwork.  The first several issues are penciled by Mel Rubi and inked by Fred Harper.  Rubi would go on to work on a variety of titles, refining his style along the way.  Several years back he had a lengthy run illustrating Red Sonja for Dynamite Entertainment.

At the time he was inking Doctor Strange, Harper was also doing some great work drawing the Ghost Rider and Vengeance features in the bi-weekly Marvel Comics Presents anthology series.  A couple of years later, I met him at a convention, and we soon became friends.  Fred has such a unique, atmospheric style, and I love his inking over Rubi on these issues.

Another artistic contributor well worth mentioning is Mark Buckingham, who contributes several extremely striking covers.  Soon after, Buckingham would go on to become the series’ regular interior artist, as well, working on the book for the next few years until its cancellation in 1996.

That’s the nitty-gritty.  I’m definitely looking forward to digging in to these issues.  Should be quite interesting.  I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Mocca Arts Festival 2013: a convention report

Last Saturday I went to this year’s Mocca Arts Festival.  The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art was recently acquired by the Society of Illustrators, and so this was the first Mocca Festival organized by the Society.  As with the last few years, the Festival was held at the 69th Regiment Armory on 68 Lexington Avenue.

Originally, due to a limited budget, I wasn’t planning on attending this year’s show.  But at the last minute my girlfriend Michele Witchipoo had the opportunity to share a table with two other artists.  So I went to the show with her.  One of the books Michele was promoting was An Invitation to the World of Luisa Felix, Cartoonist.  Luisa Felix was an artist who unfortunately passed away in January of this year.  This tribute book of her work was assembled by Paul Curtis & E.J. Barnes.  Michele was one of several artists to illustrate a tribute piece for the book.  It’s a very lovely volume, and you can read more about it on her Witches Brew Press blog.

One of the first artists I stopped over to see was Teylor Smirl.  I first discovered her at Mocca Fest two years ago.  She does this sardonic mini comic Flightless Birds.  I really enjoy her art style.  Since I wasn’t at the show last year, I picked up her last two books, Flightless Birds Vol. 2 and Wild Turkey.  That later one is, as you can imagine, about drinking.  Brought back some odd memories for me, since back during my wild drinking days, I’d go out on Thanksgiving and knock back shots of Wild Turkey to celebrate the holiday.  One type of turkey was as good as another, I would drunkenly reason!  But, anyway, I enjoyed Teylor’s latest work, and it was nice to see her again.

Flightless Birds Vol 2
Flightless Birds Vol 2

I also went over to say “hello” to David Quinn, co-creator of Faust: Love of the Damned.  A few years back, Quinn, along with collaborators Michael Davis and Devon Devereaux, produced The Littlest Bitch, which they issued under the banner of “Not For Children Children’s Books.”  This darkly comical volume is the story of a little girl who plays the role of a ruthless corporate CEO.  I’d been meaning to pick this one up for a while now, so I’m glad I finally had an opportunity.

My pal Justin Melkmann is the guitarist in a local punk band, World War IX.  For the last few years he’s been putting out a self-published comic book titled Earaches and Eyesores, which recounts the real-life trials & tribulations of the band.  Justin was at Mocca Fest to promote the fourth issue, which relates the misadventures involved in the group having to find a new lead singer.  It was a really fun, crazy read.

World War IX Presents Earaches and Eyesores #4
World War IX Presents
Earaches and Eyesores #4

Sitting next to Justin at the show was artist Charles Fetherolf.  I wasn’t familiar with him, but he was sitting there doing these absolutely amazing sketches.  I purchased a copy of his self-published mini comic Dear Aunt Mollie.  It is an illustrated version of a letter which was written by his grandfather, an infantryman who fought in the trenches during World War I.  Fetherolf is hoping to be able to expand this to a full-length graphic novel in the near future.  I definitely wish him luck, because this was a really well done book.

Another artist whose work I really enjoy is Jodi Tong.  I’ve gotten several really lovely sketches from her over the last few years.  Jodi does a web comic called House of LSD.  It’s about three cat sisters who run an adult film company.  Yeah, it sounds naughty.  But, really, it’s actually quite sweet & funny.  Jodi was able to publish a collection of her strips from 2008 to 2010.  I read those on her website a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed them.  So I was happy that she was able to get them into print.  It was definitely fun re-reading them in book form.  I really hope that a second volume is forthcoming.

House of LSD
House of LSD

I was able to get a few sketches done at the show.  Teylor Smirl, Charles Fetherolf and Jacob Chabot drew some very nice pieces in my sketchbooks.  I’ve posted scans of them on the Comic Art Fans website:

http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=60

As I said, I was on a budget, so I really did not pick up too much else.  Which is a real shame, since there were so many amazing creators who had interesting books for sale.  There is so much creativity going on in the independent and small press corners of the business.  Mocca Fest is a fantastic show to go to in order to discover what is taking place outside the mainstream.

Some of the Museum’s collection of artwork was on display in a section of the show.  It was a very nice mix of old & new, of mainstream and alternative.  Among the artists whose work was on display were Walt Kelly, Ken Bald, Milton Caniff, Jose Gonzalez, Alex Raymond, Bill Griffith, Marie Severin, and Mark Texeira.  I wish I could remember more names.

Anyway, yeah, Mocca Fest 2013 was a great show.  I had a lot of fun.  I think the Society of Illustrators did a fantastic job organizing the weekend’s events.

Comic book reviews: Faust Love of the Damned Acts 14 & 15

“Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 1888

Writer David Quinn and artist Tim Vigil’s erotic horror magnum opus Faust: Love of the Damned made its debut in 1988. Now, 25 years later, the final two chapters of the saga have been released by Rebel Studios, with Act 14 coming out in October 2012 and Act 15 in late December.

A quarter century may seem like a rather long time to produce 15 issues. To be fair, during that time Quinn & Vigil also collaborated on several Faust-related side projects published through Avatar. And, of course, they each had various other books they worked on separately. I think that Faust: Love of the Damned was their baby, though, and they really wanted to take their time with it. Was it worth the wait? Well, I’ve only been following their work for about a dozen years now, so I cannot speak for those who have been here since the beginning. But for myself, I thought that the final two acts were pretty darn good.

Faust Love of the Damned Act 15 cover
Faust: Love of the Damned Act 15 cover

As Act 14 opens, the diabolical M, who is strongly implied to be the fallen angel Lucifer, is preparing to bring about the end of the world via the summoning of a titanic seven-headed serpentine monstrosity while impregnating Jade DeCamp. To accomplish the later, M enthralls Jade and, twisted fiend that he is, assumes the visage of her father, who molested her when she was a child. Meanwhile, John Jaspers, the man who sold his soul to M and became a psychotic vigilante, has risen from the grave, determined to thwart M.

Quinn’s scripting is very sophisticated and labyrinthine, his dialogue for M especially so. As was pointed out by Vigil in an interview posted on the Rebel Studios message boards, M is in love with the sound of his own voice. Indeed, the infernal one spends a great deal of his time in these two chapters philosophizing aloud about the state of the universe while he is in the midst of attempting to destroy it.

Actually, it is very interesting to look at M’s ideology. Unlike many depictions of the Devil in fiction, he is not motivated to commit evil simply for the sake of being evil. M appears to have a deep-rooted resentment against God. All these millennia later, he is still embittered at having been cast out of Heaven. M looks upon humanity, who God supposedly favored, and is actually disgusted that mortals so easily fall to his infernal temptations, turning the world into a dark morass of corruption and despair. As a result, he has adopted a goal of cosmic nihilism, a wish to sweep away everything in existence, including “the so-called Almighty’s miserable mistake, his foul offal… infestation Man.”

Faust: Love of the Damned is very much a story of fathers and sons. The pattern of M having failed and defied God is repeated in the relationship between M and John Jaspers. When Jaspers gave his soul away, he was remade as a near-unstoppable killing machine. However, he did not live up to M’s expectations, and then chose to stand in opposition to him. M is disgusted that Jaspers has rejected his creator, and is unappreciative of the “gifts” he was given. In Act 15, a bitter M tells him “I empowered you with pure desire, liberated you from the fog of thought and trivia of reason. Made you a god!” And, just as much of M’s motivation for wanting to bring about the apocalypse is to thumb his nose at the Divine One, so too does Jaspers want to stop M, to not out of any particular love for the world, but simply out of spite for his surrogate father.

It is to Quinn’s credit that M, despite being an extremely depraved figure, is not totally unsympathetic. Beneath his sick perversity, one can perceive the actions of a being angrily striking out at the perceived injustices heaped upon him by his creator, looking upon the world and questioning why the Almighty allows such chaos & despair. Underneath it all, M is actually a very human figure.

Another relationship poisoned by jealousy and bitterness is the one between M and Claire, his sadistic, sexually perverted paramour. The later has thrown in her lot against her demonic spouse, spurned by his choice to use the “innocence” of Jade DeCamp to usher in annihilation, rather than “a chalice so befouled.”

Quinn’s characters are deeply dysfunctional. They represent a microcosm of humanity, demonstrating how the potential nobility and goodness that we can be capable of is all too often derailed by our petty resentments, our obsessions with the past, and our defiant desires to take charge of our own destinies at the expense of all others.

Casting an eye at the art on Faust: Love of the Damned, one finds exquisitely detailed work from the pen of Tim Vigil. Simultaneously beautiful and twisted, Vigil’s art is stunning. One of the benefits of this series spanning a 25 year period is that we can witness his development as an illustrator and storyteller. Looking at the early chapters, you can see a young artist with energy and a great deal of potential, albeit with certain rough edges. Fast forward a quarter century, and Vigil work has become an extremely polished, his layouts dynamic, his inking full of precise detail. The grey wash tones add a tremendous amount of atmosphere to the finished work. Really, it looks magnificent. Even on the pages that are awash with graphic violence and explicit sex are stunning for the lavish attention that Vigil gives the subject matter.

And that brings me to a crucial point. Faust: Love of the Damned is undoubtedly an X-rated affair, intended for a mature, adult audience. But it seldom seems to stray across the line into exploitation. The blood and nudity, the acts of copulation, rarely seem to be glamorized. I do think that the cover to Act 14, showing Jade with her face covered in gooey white gunk, is one of the exceptions, and is probably an image that ought to have been saved for the interior artwork. But the majority of the time, the creators are not setting out to sexually arouse their readers, but to achieve an atmosphere of disgust and revulsion, feelings of true horror.

(Having said that, it seems like Vigil does enjoy doodling naughty stuff 🙂 )

Now that Faust: Love of the Damned has concluded I hope that Quinn and Vigil will be able to reprint the entirety of the series. I’d certainly like to be able to re-read it from beginning to end, especially since I’ve never seen most of the middle chapters. I believe I would get a lot more out of this story once I am able to experience it in its entirety. In any case, most of the material has been collected into a series of Communion editions, which, along with the new issues, can be purchased at the Broken Halos website. Definitely check it out.

To reiterate what I wrote in my October 29th blog entry, now that Quinn & Vigil have finished the story of John Jaspers, it would be great to see them return to some of the other characters from the Faust universe, such as Joanna Tan and the pairing of Kia & The Wrath. There is a lot of potential in them, and their past stories have left me interested in learning what happens to them next. Whatever the case, Quinn & Vigil are an amazing creative team, so I hope that we will see further collaborations from them in the future.

Comic book reviews: Faust / 777 The Wrath

With Halloween right around the corner, I wanted to do a horror-themed post. And, as I’m stuck at home this morning with a hurricane bearing down on the area, now is the perfect time to sit down and write.  I am going to be discussing Faust/777 The Wrath: Darkness in Collision, a graphic novel written by David Quinn and illustrated by Tim Vigil.

Faust/777 The Wrath is a side project to the main series that Quinn & Vigil have been producing on and off since 1989, Faust: Love of the Damned, published by Rebel Studios.  A modern-day reinterpretation of Christopher Marlow’s play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Quinn & Vigil’s series can be described as a cocktail of ultra-violence and explicit sex laced with extreme profanity.  It concerns how John Jaspers sells his soul to a diabolical figure known as M (as in Mephistopheles), in the process becoming a brutal, bloodthirsty vigilante.

Faust/777 The Wrath, which was released through Avatar Press, was actually my first exposure to the entire Faust “universe.”  I purchased a copy of the trade paperback from Quinn and Vigil at one of the old Big Apple Comic Cons (ironically this was in the basement of a church) back around 2001.  The first time I read it, I was in the dark about the back story of Jaspers and M, so I struggled to comprehend exactly what was taking place.  Even though it was a difficult read because of this, I nevertheless enjoyed it, and found the characters & situations intriguing enough that I subsequently read a handful of issues of Love of the Damned, as well as another tie-in miniseries, Singha’s Talons.  I also have on DVD the movie adaptation directed by Bryan Yuzna.  That said, it has been a number of years since I’ve read those comics, and my memory of them has sort of faded.  So it was interesting to re-read Faust/777 The Wrath last night for the first time in a decade.  Knowing the basic background of Quinn & Vigil’s story arc made for a much more informed experience.

I am not certain if Faust/777 The Wrath takes place contemporary to the events of Love of the Damned, or subsequent.  But as it opens, M has been reduced to an un-substantive spirit, and John Jaspers is “lost in a purgatory of [his] own rage and pain.”  In order to regain corporeal form M needs the blood of the undead vigilante known as the Wrath, as well as the sexual energies of the Wrath’s lover/mistress, the twisted fallen angel Kia.  M dispatches his sadistic wife, the satanic seductress Claire, to capture the pair and bring them to his mansion.  The abduction is observed by Joanna Tan, a woman who, much like Jaspers, sold her soul to M in exchange for a pair of lethal blades (the eponymous Singha’s Talons) and a set of superhuman abilities.  Joanna is out to revenge herself on M, and follows Claire back to his domicile.  She sets about freeing the Wrath.  Meanwhile, Claire has used that undying vigilante’s blood to begin to restore M to physicality, and to complete the process she seduces Kia.  While Joanna and the Wrath are busy cutting a bloody swath through M’s followers, the revived tempter takes his turn having sex with Kia, giving him access to the energies he needs to return Jaspers to this plane of existence.

Faust / 777 The Wrath: Darkness in Collision

As you can undoubtedly tell from my summation of events, Faust/777 The Wrath is an extremely brutal tale rife with hard-core sex.  It could be easy to dismiss it as exploitive crap, except for the fact is that it is so very well written and illustrated.  David Quinn’s scripting is magnificent.  He gives all the best lines to M, a twisted philosopher who remarks that “the desires we deny find us as fate.”  M is the quintessential figure of the tempter, deftly mixing truth and lies to confuse & ensnare his victims.  His relationship with those whose souls he has bought, such as Joanna Tan and John Jaspers, is complex.  In one respect he uses them as pawns, manipulating them; in another he regards them as his children, taking perverse pride & joy in their bloody actions.

Joana Tan is an intriguing figure, and much about her past is tantalizingly alluded to throughout Faust/777 The Wrath.  She is extremely conflicted, unsure if her deal with M was a gift or a curse.  I believe that her origins are delved into in the aforementioned Singha’s Talons miniseries.  I really wish I could recall what took place in that story arc.  If I could, I’d re-read it now, but I believe those issues are buried (along with most of my collection) amongst a huge pile of boxes in my parents’ basement in their house up in Connecticut.  So those books are unfortunately out of reach for the time being.  In any case, in many ways Joanna is the protagonist of Faust/777 The Wrath, and after reading this arc, she is a character I would be happy to see again.

Kia and the Wrath are also intriguing.  They are an extremely dysfunctional couple, engaged in the ultimate love/hate relationship, their drugs of choice sex and violence.  As I later found out, they originated in a separate series by Quinn & Vigil, published by Avatar in 1998.  So that makes Faust/777 The Wrath something of a crossover.  The book ends with Kia observing to the Wrath “I don’t know whether you’re sliding towards life, or death. We’re changing.”  It left me interested to see where the characters went after this.

The artwork on Faust/777 The Wrath is absolutely gorgeous.  Tim Vigil, aided & abetted by inkers Tim Tyler & Johnny B, delivers exquisitely detailed work.  Vigil is an artist whose style can be simultaneously beautiful and grotesque.  His women are sexy, his violence visceral.  Claire, the “artist of sexual violence,” is rendered in a stunning coalescence of eroticism and savagery.  I’d like to describe Vigil’s artwork as a fusion of gothic horror and black metal, if that makes any sort of sense.  The soundtrack to his illustrations, and to Quinn’s writing, that I’d chose would have to be the album Sinthetic by Shade Empire.

I think it was timely to take a look back at this as, after a nearly quarter century stretch, the flagship title in Quinn & Vigil’s dark universe, Faust: Love of the Damned, is finally coming to completion.  The penultimate installment, Act 14, was released this month, with the final chapter, Act 15, due out before the end of the year.  With the conclusion of Love of the Damned, I hope that Rebel Studios will now be able to publish a compilation volume of the entire series.  After that, ideally it would be fantastic for them to collect all of the now out-of-print tie-in series published by Avatar, among them Faust/777 The Wrath and Singha’s Talons.

And looking to the future?  I would enjoy seeing Quinn & Vigil continue their long-time partnership, and have them return to the stories of Joanna Tan and Kia & the Wrath.  As I observed in looking at Faust/777 The Wrath, there is a great deal of potential to these characters, and I would be very much enthused if Quinn & Vigil were to continue chronicling their bizarre, twisted adventures.