On the Facebook group Comic Book Historians, moderator Jim Thompson issued a “Call to Arms” to occupy and cheer up those of us who are working from home or unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The challenge: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject until May 1st (if not longer).
Jim had already been posting his 1000 Horses series for the past three years, each day showcasing artwork featuring a horse drawn by a different artist. Group member Mitchell Brown has done several shorter themes, most recently “My Enemy, Myself” featuring “evil twin” stories.
Mitchell sometimes collects together some of these FB posts on his entertaining & informative blog, the appropriately named A Dispensable List of Comic Book Lists. That inspired me to do the same with my blog. Here is the first installment in the Hopefully Almost Daily Comic Book Coffee. From the work of how many different artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee? I guess we will just have to see.
1) Shannon Wheeler
Let’s start off with the obvious choice: Too Much Coffee Man by Shannon Wheeler. Too Much Coffee Man first appeared as a self-published mini comic in 1991. In a 2011 interview with The New Yorker, Wheeler explained the origins of the series:
“In 1991, I drew an autobiographical cartoon for The Daily Texan with themes of alienation and loneliness. When I described it, people’s eyes glazed over. As a cheap gag, I started “Too Much Coffee Man.” I still address the same themes, except now there’s coffee. People like coffee.”
That’s certainly true. I’m drinking coffee at this very moment, right as I’m typing this sentence.
From such humble beginnings, Too Much Coffee Man has been in near-continuous publication for almost three decades. The series has enabled Wheeler to humorously explore existential angst, the lunacy of American society, and the dangers of overindulging in caffeine.
Here is Too Much Coffee Man living up to his name on page two of the story “TMCM vs. TM©M” which sees a ruthless corporate executive shamelessly steal our protagonist’s name & imagery, and then hit him with a cease & desist order. In the battle of indy original versus big business rip-off, who will win? (Hey, maybe Mitchell Brown can do a “My Enemy, Myself” entry about this story!)
“TMCM vs. TM©M” first appeared in Too Much Coffee Man #1 published by Adhesive Press in July 1993. I read the story in the Too Much Coffee Man’s Parade of Tirade trade paperback released by Dark Horse in November 1999, which reprinted the first eight issues of the Adhesive Press run. The story, and a whole bunch of other caffeinated goodness, can also be found in the Too Much Coffee Man Omnibus published by Dark Horse in 2011, with an expanded edition in 2017.
2) Dan Jurgens & Al Vey
This artwork is from Common Grounds #5 from Image Comics, cover-dated June 2004. Script is by Troy Hickman, pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Al Vey, letters by the Dreamer’s Design team, and colors by Guy Major. I’m going to quote from my own previous blog post about Common Grounds…
Published by the Top Cow imprint of Image Comics in 2004, Common Grounds was a six issue miniseries written by Troy Hickman, with contributions from a number of extremely talented artists. It initially began life as a mini comic titled Holey Crullers that Hickman had worked on with Jerry Smith a few years before. Common Grounds was set around a nationwide chain of coffee shops that were frequented by costumed heroes & villains, a sort of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for super-humans. The various Common Grounds stores serve as “neutral territory” where both crime-fighters and criminals can gather peaceably to enjoy a cup of joe and some doughnuts.
Hickman and his artistic collaborators introduce a cast who, on the surface, are expies for famous DC and Marvel characters. Hickman utilizes these to both pay homage to and deconstruct various storytelling structures and devices of the superhero genre. What I like about how Hickman goes about this is that he does so with a surprising lack of sarcasm or mockery. All of his jibes are of the good-natured sort, and he takes equal aim at the implausible silliness of the early Silver Age and the grim & gritty trappings of more recent decades. Common Grounds is simultaneously extremely funny and very poignant & serious.
I’m fairly confident I’ll be featuring work from some of the other Common Grounds art teams in future installments! It’s definitely due for another re-read.
3) Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott
If you’re going to talk comic books, sooner or later (probably sooner) you’re going to have to discuss Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Whatever the specific division of labor was (and all these decades it’s almost impossible to determine that precisely) the two of them working together in the 1960s created the majority of the Marvel Universe.
It all started in August 1961 with the Fantastic Four, a group who right from the start were characterized as much by their all-too-human disagreements as their super-powers. And no one was more dysfunctional than the gruff Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, who had been transformed by cosmic radiation into a monster.
Early on Ben Grimm very much straddled the line between hero and villain, and in those first few issues the rest of the FF found themselves wondering if the Thing, consumed by anger & self-loathing, might violently turn on them. However, the Thing gradually evolved into a character who was both gruff & comedic. We see one of the first hints of that here, in this scene from Fantastic Four #5, cover-dated July 1962. Ben is attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee, only to get razzed by literal hothead the Human Torch.
This is one of those pages that really makes me appreciate Kirby. I love the panel with the Thing holding the cup of coffee. This was when he still looked like orange oatmeal, very much a horribly disfigured individual, before he evolved into the almost cartoony orange brick form we are all familiar with. There’s this simultaneous humor and tragedy in that panel, as Ben Grimm, now this huge, grotesque figure, is almost daintily holding that coffee cup & saucer, a very human gesture, and a reminder of what he once was, and longs to be again.
Inks are by Joe Sinnott, his first time working on FF. Lee wanted Sinnott to become the regular inker, but soon after Sinnott received the assignment of drawing the biography of Pope John XXIII for Treasure Chest. Sinnott had inked about half a page of Kirby’s pencils for the next issue when he got the Treasure Chest job, and so had to mail the art back to Lee, who then assigned it to Dick Ayers. Sinnott fortunately got another opportunity work on the series in 1965, commencing with issue #44, and for the rest of the 1960s did a superb job inking Kirby. Sinnott remained on FF for the 15 years, inking / embellishing over several pencilers.
In a case of Early Installment Weirdness, we see the Torch reading an issue of The Incredible Hulk #1, which in the real world had come out two months earlier. It seems at this point in time Lee & Kirby had not quite decided if the Hulk occupied the same fictional universe as the FF.
4) Werner Roth & John Tartaglione
X-Men #31, cover-dated April 1967, was penciled by Werner Roth and inked by John Tartaglione. “We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!” was written by Roy Thomas.
X-Men in the 1960s was a title of, um, variable quality. Series creators Lee & Kirby both left fairly early on, and newcomer Roy Thomas sometimes struggled to find a successful direction for the book. Thomas was paired with penciler Werner Roth, who did good, solid work… but regrettably did not possess a certain dynamic quality necessary for Marvel-style superheroes. Also, I’m not sure if Tartaglione’s inks were an especially good fit for Roth’s pencils.
Roth was, however very well-suited to drawing romance, war and Westerns comic books. He certainly was adept at rendering lovely ladies, as seen in his exquisite art on Lorna the Jungle Queen in the 1950s, which he inked himself. So it’s not surprising that some of Roth’s best work on X-Men was when the main cast was in their civilian identities, and the soap-operatic melodrama was flying fast & furious. Witness the following…
Here we have two different coffee-drinking scenes on one page. At the top, Scott Summers, Warren Worthington and Jean Grey are hanging out with Ted Roberts and his older brother Ralph at a greasy spoon known as the Never-Say-Diner… really, Roy?!? Ted was a short-lived rival to Scott for Jean’s affections, and Ralph was (spoilers!) a short-lived villain named the Cobalt Man. Elsewhere, Hank McCoy and Bobby Drake have taken their dates Vera and Zelda to their semi-regular Greenwich Village hangout, Coffee A Go-Go, where Bernard the Poet is, ahem, “reciting his latest masterpiece.” The scene closes with Bobby creating the world’s first iced espresso.
5) Joe Staton
This entry is drawn by one of my all-time favorite artists, the amazing Joe Staton. “Vamfire” is a short story featuring E-Man and Nova Kane, the awesome characters created by Nicola “Nick” Cuti & Joe Staton at Charlton Comics in 1973. This story was originally planned for Charlton Bullseye in 1976. It did not see print until a decade later, in The Original E-Man and Michael Mauser #7 (April 1986) published by First Comics, who had the E-Man rights in the 1980s.
I’ve blogged at length about E-Man on several occasions. Suffice it to say, it’s an amazing series, with brilliantly humorous & heartfelt writing by Cuti and wonderfully imaginative artwork by Staton. This six page story introduces E-Man’s negative energy sister Vamfire, a sort of proto bad girl anti-hero who would reappear in later stories. “Vamfire” also introduces Nick and Joe’s Café, and Staton draws himself and Cuti as the proprietors. Nick and Joe’s Café would also return in later stories, with the running gag that their coffee was always terrible. Nevertheless they somehow managed to stay in business, no doubt due to being strategically located near Xanadu Universe in Manhattan, where innumerable sleep-deprived college & graduate students were desperate for a caffeine fix to keep them awake during the school’s interminable lectures.
“Vamfire” was later reprinted in 2011 in the excellent trade paperback E-Man: The Early Years, which collected the entirety of the E-Man stories from the 1970s under one cover. It is apparently still available through the publisher. I highly recommend it.
Thanks for stopping by to sample our fine four-colored espresso. I hope you will come back again soon when we will have five more examples of Comic Book Coffee from throughout the decades.