Will Pfeifer on “10 Comics That Screwed Me Up”
Will Pfeifer has a cool blog called X-Ray Spex, where Will talks about comics, pop culture and the comics he writes (like Catwoman, new issue out this Wednesday).
For his guest entry, Will is sharing with us “10 COMICS THAT SCREWED ME UP.”
Fredric Wertham wrote a book (and helped maim an industry) with the hypothesis that comic books can screw you up royally. I’m not here to say that the good doctor was right, but I have to admit that they’ve done their job on me. Without comics, I might be doctor, a lawyer, or some other upstanding member of society. But thanks to them damned funnybooks, I’m…well, I’m a comic book writer. Fitting, eh?
So, in the spirit of warning the rest of you (though if you’re reading this site, I’m guessing the comic book monkey has its claws pretty deep into your back), here are ten comics that warped my mind. Check ‘em out – it’s not like they could do the same to you, right? Right? Of course not!
1. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 122
Mom bought me this to read on a trip to grandma’s house. It hit the stands around May of 1973, making me just under six. I had probably learned to read a few months earlier. Perfect time to dive into a comic with Gwen Stacy’s corpse, the Green Goblin’s death and Harry Osborne whacked out on acid. Thanks, mom. (No, seriously. Thanks!)
2. DC COMICS PRESENTS 11
Bought this one myself, on a trip with dad to the local convenience store. I still can’t remember why – I didn’t even read comics then (late spring of 1979) and this one had nothing special to recommend it. In fact, it’s lame. But I bought it, read it, and for some reason, I was hooked. And I have been for the past 27 years.
3. THE HAUNT OF FEAR 19
OK, I’ve never really read a copy of THE HAUNT OF FEAR 19. It hit the stands in the heyday of EC comics, way back in 1953. That was 14 years before I was even born. But sometime in 1979, a mere two panels from that comic reached across the decades and really got me. The story was Jack Davis’ “Foul Play!,” a revenge drama where the good guys (!) punish the bad guy by chopping him up and playing baseball with his body. His arms and legs are the bats, his intestines are the baselines, and his head…well, you can guess. Wertham reprinted two panels in SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, and the OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE reprinted the same ones, which is where my innocent pre-teen eyes saw ‘em.
I was upset for weeks. No kidding. Now that’s a comic!
4. MAD SPECIAL 24
Had to look the date on this one up. I never owned it, and wasn’t sure what issue it was. All I remember was some kid brought it to fourth grade and, sneaking peeks during homework time, I devoured the reprinted comic book spoofs FLESH GARDEN! and MOLE! (with art by the incomparable Wally Wood and Will Elder, respectively). Suddenly, every other comic book seemed bland and tame. These comics were clearly not for kids – not really. I didn’t get all the jokes, but I got Elder’s dark, spooky art and Wood’s insanely voluptuous babes. A copy of THE MAD READER paperback a year or so later gave me a bigger taste, and there was no going back. I still say those original comic book MADs are the finest comics ever published.
5. THE SPIRIT 12
Aside from a few panels in an old COMICS JOURNAL, this issue of Warren reprints (a few years old when I bought it at a comic book store) was my first glimpse of Will Eisner. Like MAD, it was one of those moments when a door opens and there’s no looking back. The genius was apparent in every brushstroke, and the stories (like MAD) were clearly written for grown ups. You kids today, with your SPIRIT ARCHIVES collecting ever story – In order! In color! -don’t know how lucky you are.
6. X-MEN 134
I actually bought this sort of by mistake, thinking it was an issue of Marvel’s AMAZING ADVENTURES, which was then reprinting the old Jack Kirby X-MEN (and I loved me the Kirby). But this was something different. And, despite being dropped into a stew of convoluted continuity (Wolverine? The Hellfire Club? Nightcrawler? Who the hell were these people?) I was hooked, and hooked for years. See, I’d been a fan for years, but it wasn’t until I started buying X-MEN that I become a fanboy.
7. AMERICAN FLAGG! 1
Finally, a comic book for adults that arrived when I was, well, if not actually an adult ( I was about 16) then ready to start reading and appreciating adult material. This one had everything – a brilliant view of the future, killer art, nasty humor, complex characters, sex, violence and all those garter belts. What more could you possibly want in a comic? I read it at least once a day until then second issue finally arrived a month later, then read them both until the third hit, then…well, you get the idea. Still might be my all-time favorite comic book series. Anyone know if that much-delayed hardcover collection is still coming out? I’d really like to know.
8. LOVE AND ROCKETS BOOK 1
Sure, we take it for granted now, but remember how thrilling LOVE AND ROCKETS was the first time you saw it? My exposure came when, at the recommendation of a very wise friend, I picked up the first book collection at a Cleveland comic book show. I read it over and over, blown away by Beto’s complex plotting and Jaime’s eye-popping art. Like FLAGG, I read it over and over until I got my hands on another issue, then another, then another. I’m still buying it today. Thank god Fantagraphics is still publishing it.
9. EIGHTBALL 1
And speaking of Fantagraphics, that’s who brought this bit of black-and-white nightmare comedy into my life. I’d followed Dan Clowes’ LLOYD LLEWELLYN, but that book’s sly humor didn’t prepare me for the sheer brilliance of EIGHTBALL. Besides a funny Lloyd story and a dark Jack Chick tract parody, this issue introduced me to Young Dan Pussey and kicked off Clowes’ Lynchian serial, “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron.” And here’s the best part: As good as this issue was, it would only get better. Much better.
10. JLA: EARTH 2
I could’ve picked a lot of Grant Morrison comics for this list. I consider him one of comics best, most imaginative writers, and I count his works – ANIMAL MAN, DOOM PATROL and especially FLEX MENTALLO – among my all-time favorites. But this one-shot graphic novel is the one that got under my skin in a creepy way. Morrison took a corny old premise – there’s an Earth where instead of being good, the Justice League is evil – and ran with it, straight into some dark and disturbing corners. These villains aren’t comic book evil, they’re genuinely evil, and so is the rest of their screwed up world. When the Justice League – our league, the good one – admits there’s no way to save a world where good is doomed to fail, it’s a chilling moment. Hell, it still creeps me out just thinking about it. Thanks, Grant. (No, seriously. Thanks!)
So that’s the list. Got any of your own? Warp your mind enough, and you too might have a future as a comic book writer.
Oh, and speaking of that…the new issue of CATWOMAN (written by yours truly) hits the stands Wednesday. It guest stars Zatanna, gives a pretty solid clue to who the father of Catwoman’s baby is and even contains a geeky homage to the shower scene in PSYCHO. Check it out, won’t you?)