Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Generation X #17, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 1996. Enjoy!
Man, remember when comics didn’t take themselves so seriously? I know this came out at the height of NINETIES X-TREEEEEEEM action, but Gen. X was a book that often poked fun at itself and the conventions of the genre, as we see from this delightful first page. Chris Bachalo doesn’t have too much to do, but he does give us a nice 4 x 3 grid so he can fit in a lot of Mr. Stanley Lieber (73 years old at the time, and looking spry!). At this point in his development, Bachalo tended to draw heads a bit out of proportion to bodies, and we can see that with Lee, who’s not grossly out of whack, but slightly. Bachalo remembers to put the “17” on his hat (it’s the 17th issue), and he does a nice job with Lee’s body language even though you’ll notice his mouth never changes from that shit-eating grin Bachalo draws (if I were Stan Lee, I’d have a shit-eating grin on my face all the time, too – dude has had a good life). Lee directs us across the rows, and Bachalo uses the fourth-wall breaking well – Lee still remains aware that he’s in a comic book and that there are panel borders. He gives us a good visual representation of Angelo’s and Jonothon’s powers, and while the X-Cutioner (shouldn’t there be an extra syllable where the hyphen is?) is kind of goofy-looking, Bachalo tries to make him menacing, with the slanted eyebrows, the baleful stare, and the beak. It’s hard to do, but he almost pulls it off.
Scott Lobdell gets a lot of grief, but to me he’ll always be a decent writer who shows flashes of greatness, and I enjoy his run on Generation X. He’s much sillier on this title than he was on Uncanny X-Men (even though he did delve into some serious topics on this comic), and we see that with this page. It’s basically a teaser for the issue, and while we might think it’s a waste of space, consider that today Marvel would put this kind of information in a boring text block on the first page. This is much more fun. Lobdell introduces Lee, who promotes the issue and introduces our three principals. Lobdell tells us that Angelo has stretchable skin, Jonothon is a “living furnace,” and the X-Cutioner … well, we don’t know what he does, but look at his name, people! Lobdell is channeling Lee, of course, but he does it pretty well, and it makes getting into the issue a lot of fun, rather than just reading a few lines of text.
The two unsung stars of the page are Richard Starkings and Steve Buccellato (Mark Buckingham inked this, but I don’t have much to say about the inking). Starkings and Comicraft really go all out to make the lettering stand out, from the circus-like feel of “Greatest Show In All Of Comicdom!” to the personalized “Stan Lee” signature in the first row, from the bubbly font on Angelo’s panel to the crackling font on Jonothon’s. Starkings switches sizes and emphasis easily and logically, too, not like many of today’s comics, where words are stressed for seemingly no reason. “Marvelous” should be bigger than everything in that word balloon – not only is it the hyperbolic descriptor, it connects back to the company publishing this comic. We can almost hear Lee building up to the “Death That Walks Like A Man” line, which is why it’s larger and heavier than the others in that word balloon. Meanwhile, Buccellato does a wonderful job. The obnoxious striped curtain and background never let us forget the carnival atmosphere that Lobdell and Bachalo are trying to create on this page. Buccellato also colors Stan teal and yellow, an unusual combination that nevertheless highlights his carnival barker persona and also sets him apart from the background. I don’t know if Buccellato or Starkings colored the lettering, but the purple in Angelo’s lettering and the red and orange in Jonothon’s are very well done. Buccellato and Starkings may have still been sharing office space at this time, so presumably they collaborated on the “effects.” Buccellato was a pioneer of digital coloring (I think he was no longer affiliated with Electric Crayon at this time, but I’m not sure), and we see that in Jonothon’s “furnace” effect, which makes him look a bit scarier than if it had been colored the traditional way.
This is actually a fairly serious comic, but Lobdell never lets it become too gloomy, and it’s a nice balance. We see that on this page, with Lee being a huckster but the final two panels kind of preparing us for something darker. If you picked this up cold, I think this first page is a fine lure to turn the page. I mean, who doesn’t want to read a “super-sensational 17th-issue spectacular”?
I’ve gotten a few neat suggestions for October, during which I will feature comics that the readers want! Remember, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the comics you’d like to see. You can do it, readers!
Next: Hey, I’m quoted on the back of this comic! That’s pretty keen, I tells ya. I don’t think I’m quoted on any other comics in the archives, but you can still check them out!
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