Bugger the robot head that steals my cigars. I love these Gil Kane BLACKMARK pages. It’s pretty genetic post-apoc barbarian fantasy. Archie Goodwin, once again writing for Kane, does his best, but he had to follow the genre (“Obey and enjoy the genre,” Michael Moorcock once said), and, you know, it was the 1970s… it’s pretty prog-rock purple.
But the pages… Kane was working very fast. But he always worked very fast, and his eye and hand were exact. The pages are almost abstract, at first look, great sweeps of marker pen, weird angles, forced perspective and wonky pin-camera compositions. But when you take that step back from the pages — when, in fact, they reduce in the eye to the size they’d be printed at — suddenly all the lines lock together and the page disgorges precise, crystalline information. This is a man who knew his craft to an exquisite tolerance. Instinctively. A knowledge derived from drawing very fast, with great attention, at great volume, for many years.
BLACKMARK was released in the same size as a paperback novel, the form called MMPB for Mass Market Paperback Book, selling for the same price as a regular paperback novel. Black and white, cheap paper. A graphic novel that’d fit on a shelf with your other novels.
The book didn’t sell well, attributed to various causes by Kane, including publisher screw-ups and strident personal criticism by TARZAN artist Burne Hogarth, whom we previously met in the jungle hacking his way towards a DO ANYTHING 2 that would presumably be all about him, possibly all about teaching, but, as various reports and interviews suggest, probably all about pissing off people who were otherwise disposed to like him. He was a great figure, Hogarth — his TARZAN (which he draw for 12 years between 1937 and 1950) was regarded as beautiful craft on a level with PRINCE VALIANT, and his books of illustration teaching were hailed for decades. I dimly remember the Comics Journal’s coverage of one of Hogarth’s last public appearances, a panel he shared with the Hernandez brothers (of LOVE AND ROCKETS, if you’re one of the three people reading this who haven’t heard of them), where he questioned the brothers so severely about their work and ambition that the audience turned against him. The reporter — it may even have been Gary Groth, founder of the Journal and a great supporter of Kirby in his later years — from what I remember, felt that Hogarth was trying to draw artistic statements from Los Bros, but came off as haranguing them. As this report from a 1976 conference, written by Israel Shenker for the New York Times, illustrates, this may well have been a lifelong trait:
Suddenly there rose from the audience a husky-looking man who identified himself as Burne Hogarth, artist of the TARZAN comics. Throwing back his head, as though about to summon the animals of the jungle, he began shouting harsh verities in long words. Adumbrate, explicate, anomalous, androgynous. Proscribing “comic strip” in favor of “picture fiction” or “visual narrative,” he described the art as “form in an activity state.” The precious object was dead, he cried, the Renaissance defunct, baroque interred, and the future lay with — what else? – the primitive.
One could get an entire DO ANYTHING 2 out of just that one paragraph there.
The year after BLACKMARK, Burne Hogarth released his own graphic novel, TARZAN OF THE APES. Large-format and sumptuously produced, it did well enough for a follow-up in 1976.
Imagine what the comics of the 1970s might have looked like, if BLACKMARK had sold successfully in bookstores. Imagine, right there, next to the CONAN fix-ups and the endless M*A*S*H GOES TO books, a little renaissance. With that sort of thing happening through book publishers, maybe Steve Gerber might have thought twice about putting that funny duck character into an issue of MAN-THING, and perhaps HOWARD THE DUCK would have appeared as An Illustrated Novel In The Tradition Of BLACKMARK. Howard Chaykin, one-time assistant to Gil Kane, might have gone straight there with CODY STARBUCK –
(Chaykin on Kane: “Everything I know I learned sitting and watching television with Gil Kane. Gil Kane taught me everything. He taught me how to be a professional.”)
– and may not have adapted the sf novels THE STARS MY DESTINATION and EMPIRE into graphic novels later in the decade, and may not have produced the beautiful short graphic novel THE SWORDS OF HEAVEN, THE FLOWERS OF HELL with Michael Moorcock, which was not Mike’s first foray into comics (as in the years when Crumb and Spain and Flenniken and all the others were defining underground comics, Mike was writing a Jerry Cornelius comic for Britain’s underground newspaper INTERNATIONAL TIMES, because Mike is everywhere, at all times, working with Druillet in 1968, spooking around London with Alan Moore (and writer Iain Sinclair, who once did an interstitial graphic novel with Dave McKean in the book SLOW CHOCOLATE AUTOPSY) in these early years of the 21st Century as well as peering at me as I inexorably fall asleep during a slideshow while sitting on a panel with him in 1997, the first time I’ve met him and probably not the most impressive way to do it) nor his last foray into comics, possibly the most major of the later endeavours being his collaborations with Walt Simonson, who as an artist can be viewed as one part Kane to one part Kirby, who was in fact instrumental in the revival of Kirby’s Fourth World creations in 2000, an early graphic novelist himself in collaboration with Archie Goodwin as well as a sole writer/artist, and who once co-founded a company called Upstart with Howard Chaykin –
– Howard Chaykin, one-time assistant to Gil Kane, might have gone straight there with CODY STARBUCK, his grand sf series of the mid-Seventies that was instead produced for “ground-level” publisher Star*Reach. Which was the kind of company formed, in part, in the realisation that if even Jack Kirby can get cornholed by friendly old Marvel and DC, then, guess what? Everyone was getting screwed with their pants on.
HYPERDUB – 5: FIVE YEARS OF HYPERDUB is really, really good. Burial, Zomby, Darkstar, Kode9. If you don’t like Hyperdub, you probably don’t like music.
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DO ANYTHING IS © WARREN ELLIS 2009, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.