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FULL BLEED: CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECTS AND DEPICTIONS

June 27, 2019

 

Yeah, I know. Cloth doesn't work like that.

 

Well, in all my copious free time, I'm reading comics again. Of course, being me, I'm not reading regular comics that people are talking about now. I'm reading old comics. And I'm not even reading the old comics that people who talk about old comics are reading. I'm just reading weird stuff.

 

Like SABRE. For those of you who don't know, SABRE started out as a graphic novel back before the term even existed. It was created by Don MacGregor and Paul Gulacy, published by a very young Eclipse comics, well before MIRACLEMAN and such (given that's what they're most remembered for these days, which is a shame since they put out a range of diverse and brave material, only ten years or more ahead of their time.) Eclipse exists in an intersting kind of interzone, being born before the direct market started to take hold, printing material from a bunch of outsiders and some old-timers and reprint material (not unlike what Fantagraphics was doing at the time, only not coalesced around THE COMICS JOURNAL as a central core.) Like I said, ahead of the time.

 

So, SABRE is a near-future (now in the past) kind of SF/action/meditation book. It's ambitious, to be sure. And the fact that it wasn't really published with any kind of commercial appeal in mind is astonishing. Yes, MacGregor and Gulacy were relatively big names, or at least known out in comics in the seventies, but they weren't a guarantee of big sales. And indeed, the makeup of the DM and the patchwork kind of distribution system for comics (remember when we had more than one distributor?) didn't do it any favors. The material didn't do it any favors, either, refusing to shy away from controverisal subjects and relationships and frank depictions of sex would put it in the MATURE READERS category well before that became a thing in comics.

 

 

Delays between issues and a rotating cast of artists (some more well-accepted than others) and its idiosyncratic style probably contributed to an early demise as well. But still, it got fourteen issues (the first two were really reprints of the graphic novel in color, and the only ones that Paul Gulacy worked on). Today? Can a book even make it this long being this deliberately prickly and so goddamned determined to be its own thing? Pretty miraculous, honestly, probably because it was a book that MacGregor really wanted to have out there. And that's admirable. I hope the creators made money off it, but I know the realities, particularly of the comics world back then, and it's entirely likely that this was a pure labor of love. Yeah, admirable.

 

It's also insane. And I mean this in the best possible way. The only other books like it are those crazy adventure books that Marvel put out in the seventies (because, yeah, Don MacGregor wrote those and had some great artists like Craig Russell and Billy Graham working on them.) You may not necessarily like MacGregor's writerly voice, but it is unmistakable and might be the strongest force on the page, even moreso than the grid-breaking layouts of his collaborators (Graham and José Ortiz in particular), which is saying something.

 

And they put SABRE out for fourteen issues over a space of four or five years. Just unthinkable today.

 

 

Anyways, SABRE might not be my favorite comic ever, but there's absolutely nothing else like it, the way it distorted time and combined very personal views of sensuality and responsibility with raw politics and the morality thereof. Just wonderful, and you'll know if it's for you within a few pages. No problem there.

 

The other big thing I read was the Mike Baron/Pander Brothers GINGER FOX miniseries from Comico in 1988. The Pander Brothers had I think just finished their work on Matt Wagner's GRENDEL series for Comico, which was already a pretty crazy book, super stylized and of the time. But GINGER FOX made GRENDEL look sedate and realistic by comparison. It's pure, expressionist delight. There's not a lot of realism to be found, so if that's your thing, you should look elsewhere. 

 

GINGER FOX takes place in LA, following the eponymous lead character who's now the head of a movie studio and deals with motherhood, a vendetta put on by a psychotic gossip columnist, mountains of drugs, armies of sleazeballs, a feckless board of directors, a maniac ex-husband, murders and kidnappings, oh and a ninja or two. Storywise, things keep rolling and never settle for very long, but the star of this book is the artwork and its depiction of a highly graphic LA in a highly graphic period. And as an aside, the crew that worked on these comics was slated to do the MAX HEADROOM comic book that was pulled I think after original solicitation (or maybe just an announcement in AMAZING HEROES.) Anyways, well worth your time if you want a taste of something different.

 

 

Oh, okay, I read a current comic too. This one being ALIENS: DUST TO DUST, the collection of the recent series by Gabriel Hardman and Rain Beredo. I really loved this book. Gabriel Hardman (disclaimer, he is a friend) is one of the best storytellers in comics today. And DUST TO DUST is pure action and horror, with pauses only long enough to catch your breath before things explode again. It's a fast read, but you'll want to go back and look over the art a second time. By the by, it's a good fast read. It's fast because it's constructed to go fast, not really linger because if you do the aliens will rip you to shreds. It's the closest you're going to get to the vibe of the film ALIENS in a comics page, so if that appeals, go get it.

 

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