The Annotated Stephen Bissette : SWAMP THINGS & TABOOS & TYRANTS

During my formative years I discovered this comic SWAMP THING by relative newcomers Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben.

I was a kid, but old enough to realize even then that this was something special. Alan Moore’s words and Bissette and Totleben’s visuals even at the time, and it was a strange time because everything felt in flux and on the brink of changing, even at the time, getting these off the stands, the combination of these three men working together felt like greatness.

And some things are hot in the moment, but some things, some work that is rushed out for the masses, to meet deadlines for a castigated medium, some work screams greatness from the go, and time only makes it more great.

More Hallowed.

From pioneers like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway and Steve Englehart and Chris Claremont and Kraft and Giffen and O’Neil and Neal Adams and Jim Steranko and Bernie Wrightson there was a new generation building on the foundation they laid down.

Creators such as…

Don Lomax (who I had the pleasure to interview) would give us VIETNAM JOURNAL.

Doug Moench, a pioneer in his own right, off of MASTER OF KUNG FU (issues 38 and 39 remains the best two parter ever) would do some of his most heartfelt work in Moon Knight (that first 21 or 22 issues is gold, everything from dealing with the death of John Lennon, to familial abuse)

Frank Miller would give us DARK KNIGHTS and RONINS and YEAR ONES.

William Messner Loebs would create a frontier masterpiece, unfotunately a hidden gem to most, with JOURNEY.

Bruce Jones – With his TWISTED TALES would almost singlehandedly give birth to a new EC inspired golden age of Horror Comics, but making comics that were horrifying to a Reagan era age.

and of course… Alan Moore.

Alan Moore would birth many such works, particularly in the waning decades of the 20th century. SWAMP THING was one of his earliest successes and remains one of his most iconic works. And for me one of his most beautiful works, working with the art team of Bissette snd Totleben, they were visual storytellers that could really add and evolve and enrich the scope of Moore’s script, throwing in their own ideas and visuals.

It is very much the work of three young men riffing on their loves, and remains now 30 years later still very seminal work.

Bissette in the years since has become one of the most respected instructors, teaching at the celebrated Center for Cartoon Studies in vermont.

One thing you may not know about him, and I first discovered listening to an Indie Spinner Rack podcast episode (that great now defunct show) is he is a FANTASTIC speaker. He is such an engaging and erudite and interesting wealth of information on this beloved hobby and artform and the personalities behind it.

And I love podcasts to begin with, so combining this walking encyclopedia of not just comic lore, but film and film journalism, books, the art of creating, of self publishing, of blogging, and for me… that is entertainment.

So ever since I’ve listened to him, whenever I catch him interviewed on a podcast.

So here without further ado is hours of audio greatness with one of the best artists in Comics, and one of its most engaging speakers.

INDIE SPINNER RACK #79 8 May 2007 – My first introduction to Stephen Bissette post SWAMP THING, this put him on my radar as just a fantastic and informative speaker. A great interview/conversation.

Talkcast #102 8 Oct 2011 – Very annoying hosts makes this one almost unlistenable, but fast forward to where Bissette finally gets to speak about fundraising and HP Lovecraft.

LOST IN THE STATIC #99 -25 Nov 2013- Fun informative hosts lead inro a really compelling interview on Bissette, that includes Edgar Allen Poe, Greg Irons, Skull #6, Moore, Veitch, Totleben and the Saga of the Swamp Thing. Indie work on Gore Shriek, Shriek, and the ground breaking Dave Simm funded TABOO. Structure of TABOO inspired by Harlan Ellison’s brilliant DANGEROUS VISIONS and AGAIN DANGEROUS VISIONS. Bruce Jones TWISTED TALES, X-MEN’S Brood Saga. TABOO designed by Bissette to be taken seriously, and push the envelope and make people ‘drop it on the ground’. Kirby Awards. A must listen podcast.

Adam Greenfield’s great podcast MAKING COMICS has had Stephen Bissette as a guest three times, and all three are brilliant, with nice Vincent Price/Poe Intros. Well worth hunting down. Oct 2014,2015, & 2016.

DECONSTRUCTING COMICS #465,#500 – Sept 2015, June 2016

POD SEQUENTIALISM #2 – October 2015

TV GUIDANCE #228 – May 2017

RADIODROME #323 – Mar 2017

UNDER CONSTRUCTION – Come back as I flesh out the content in all the interviews and conversations!

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PODCAST OF THE DAY: FATMAN on BATMAN 45

PODCAST OF THE DAY: FATMAN on BATMAN 45

Okay combine the writings of living legend Alan Moore at his best, with the impassioned reading of Kevin Smith and you have something excellent to accompany you through an hour or two of work.

Smith has an excellent voice for radio/podcasts, and using it to recite one of Moore’s most imaginative tales, makes this podcast a must listen.

Whether or not you have any interest in comics, Kevin Smith’s passion for the subject, and masterful reading is just addictive and entertaining. Highly recommended!

Go here to listen!

Jason Aaron vs. Alan Moore vs DC Comics vs the History of Comics

I think most people are aware of this brouhaha.

But for those late to the game Alan Moore, was interviewed, as is wont to happen, and was asked about DC’s plan to do new stories in the WATCHMEN universe that he and Dave Gibbons created nearly 3 decades ago. Moore’s response was typical Alan Moore, both erudite and acidic and a bit tongue in cheek. Satire and epiphany are strengths not just of Moore’s writing, but his speaking.

Deconstruction is the term you typically hear in regards to Moore. But epiphany is more accurate. SWAMP THING and WATCHMEN and MIRACLE-MAN are often lumped under the lazy man’s term of deconstruction.

They are not.

Moore takes old tropes, and he twists it till you see it, in that rarest of ways, in a brand new light, until you get a moment of… clarity of purpose, not just about the character you’re reading about, but in some crazy way, you get a clarity of purpose about yourself.

Epiphany.

That’s what Moore does at his best, he gives you moments of epiphany.

And that Epiphany is in that interview he does with Adi Tantimedh.

Moore started his career with comedy, true comic strips, I would say he has forgotten more about humor than most people will ever know, except I don’t think he’s forgotten anything. So with this in mind, in the interview he responded to DC’s claim to be putting top-flight talent on these new Watchmen stories. He responded the way pretty much anyone would… with a bit of incredulity. But more than that with a valid question of, “if this talent is so top-flight, why don’t they create their own tales” (paraphrasing there), rather than try and retread Moore and Gibbon’s 25 year old tale.

I have to say, I think that’s a pretty valid question. You can read his post in Rich Johnston’s very nice summation of the issue here!

But when you do read it, you’re going to see it’s pretty typical Moore. And given his problematic history with DC, that they’ve treated him not exactly the greatest, for someone who has pretty much defined that company in the 80s, and his shadow, seemingly continues to define that company; it’s an understandable distrust/dislike he avows.

It’s hard to say, what building blocks if removed causes the house of cards to come tumbling down, but I would say for DC, that building block is named Alan Moore.

Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING, its success created Vertigo, buried the comics code, sanctified the idea of DCs hiring of British Talent, and his WATCHMEN would give birth to this idea of comic books as BOOKS. As Graphic Novels, as something worthy of true literary consideration. So arguably if Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING fails, then the idea of the British invasion fails with it, and you don’t get Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis or Mark Millar or Garth Ennis, and DCs revitalization of the late 80s… is stillborn.

So even by the most jaded eye, what DC owes Alan Moore, cannot be overstated, or easily repaid. And even by the most jaded eye, DC has done a piss-poor job paying it.

So all that backmatter goes into Moore’s comments on DC ‘revisiting’ WATCHMEN.

And like stated Moore’s questioning of putting ‘Top-Tier’ talent on their WATCHMEN cash grab (let’s call it what it is) sounds like him quite rightly questioning what the hell that ‘catch-phrase’ means. Seemingly it’s a veiled attempt to placate users, that see messing with Moore’s opus may be a bit of heresy, by saying “we don’t have the original creators, but we’ll have top-tier talent”. To which, if it was my legendary property, I would have the same question Moore has, namely… “if they are such Top-Tier talent they surely have their own legendary story to work on. Don’t they?”

That’s the gist of Moore’s statement.

At no point does he mention any creator.

Yet Jason Aaron, gets so incensed, he states “Fuck You Alan Moore” and goes on a tirade. His tirade you can find at the link above. It is quite inexplicable. Since as pointed out, without Alan Moore you don’t get a Vertigo, which means you don’t get someone picking up Aaron’s THE OTHER SIDE, which means you probably don’t get Jason Aaron as a comic writer.

“F**k you Alan Moore”? seriously? Something in that article incensed anyone that much? Typically the only thing that gets people riled up that much, about an article their name is not in, is their conscience. They feel for whatever reason… the article is an attack on them. Seemingly they see a truth unspoken, except in their hearts. What truth Jason Aaron saw, what doubt or slight it called to mind, I don’t know. But whatever it was, I didn’t see it in the Moore article I read.


“Alan’s fight with DC Comics led to DC being much nicer to comic creators so as not to have a repeat performance. Their creator ownership/creator participant contract for certain titles, including Scalped, was a direct result of that. Indeed, Vertigo itself as a imprint owes more to Alan than any other creator. Without Alan, there wouldn’t be a Scalped – at least, not published by DC.

Alan generally does these kind of interviews in a very self deprecatory, ironic to[n]e. It’s the way he talks. I gave an example of that at the beginning of the interview, because I know how his words can be taken if read in a different manner. Try watching the video, then reading the piece again in that voice. When Alan is talking about the comics industry having no top flight talent – he’s including himself in that analysis. And I don’t think he’s blaming any creator for his problems, or the problems of a retro-looking industry, he’s blaming the companies.”— from BLEEDING COOL

Jason Aaron would perhaps be better served, by thinking clearly, and perhaps thoroughly, before he speaks, or types. Better yet, perhaps burying the hatchet with Alan Moore and apologizing would not be a bad thing for him to consider.

Being loud and outraged is easy. Being stand-up when you’re wrong is hard.

But it would win Aaron points in many people’s books, and I think even in his own.

I think Aaron, if he judges it quietly and well, must see he went off for no good reason, seeing an enemy where no enemy was. Aaron has proved he can be loud and think he’s right, unfortunately we all can do that (even Alan Moore who has had his own share of tirades); but can he be loud and admit when he’s been wrong?

I like Aaron as a writer. I thought his THE OTHER SIDE was great. I haven’t followed anything past the first trade on SCALPED, but have heard good things about it. And have caught his Marvel work sporadically.

He’s a good writer.

But I think you have to come to the plate with more than good, before you call down the thunder on someone who has done a lot better than good. Has done a lot better than great.

I’ve never particularly been a fan of the British invasion. I think people tend to forget that long before Moore or his ilk, writers like Doug Moench (hugely underrated writer) and Chris Claremont and Kraft and Giffen and Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber and Jim Shooter and Denny Oneil and JM DeMatteis were teaching the medium how to be better.

So I say the following, not being an Anglophile or British Invasion bandwagon rider, not being a particular fan of many British Writers. I say the following, being very glad we have great American writers like Brubaker, and Fraction and Hickman and Christos Gage, and Priest (get back to writing!) and Geof Johns and Greg Rucka and Joss Whedon and Johnathan Hickman and Robert Kirkman and… yes, Jason Aaron…, being very glad of all the aforementioned writers… I say: Alan Moore has been called the best writer in comics for one simple, undeniable reason… he is.

He has the work to back it up. Not everything he does is a home-run. His Avatar work… not a fan. But Moore’s missteps are few and far between, and his successes… will stand the test of time.

So bottom line, you don’t call out Stan Lee, until you’ve done what he’s done. And you don’t call out Alan Moore, until you’ve done, what he’s done.

So for one professional to go off like a crazy fan-boy to another professional, does nothing but put your own professionalism in doubt. If you thought he was slighting you personally, drop the man an email or give him a call, and get a clarification. But make sure you have reason to rant, before calling out an elder statesman of your medium.

It’s just common sense.

Perhaps not so common.

Classic Comics from 1995: Mark Millar’s SWAMP THING issues 153-161

Here’s a quick review of Mark Millar Swamp Thing issues from 15 years ago.

A few standout reads when he sticks to self contained stories.

153- The 2nd Part of the River Run storyline, is like all the parts easily enjoyed without reading the others. SWAMP THING is lost between worlds, stumbling from Earth to Earth in an attempt to save the soul of a young writer. In 153 we are introduced to a world where Germany won World War II, and Marilyn Monroe is the wife of the new Fuhrer. It’s an interesting stand alone story, nothing that will amaze, but a solid read, and Chris Weston does a solid job on art. The letters page BAYOU RHYTHMS contains mostly praise for issues 149-150. B-.

154- Sees the return of the art team of Phillip Hester and Kim Demulder, bringing their A game in what amounts to a really fantastic issue of Millar’s run, “THE BAD SEED”. It’s a really quite creepy and disturbed issue. Strong recommendation. A great issue. B+.

155-It took me a couple attempts to actually finish this issue, I’m not quite sure why, but once done I have to say it was quite a great issue. An earth with a familiar Solomon Grundy, and a hero to face him, and the secrets that lie in Slaughter Swamp. Really quite well done, with great art by the team of Hester and Demulder. B+.

156- Sees the paper quality go up dramatically over the newsprint seen in the previous issues and this really makes the art/colors pop off the page. Add to this the art is by Phil Jimenez, definitely channeling the great work of Totleben and Bissette from the glory days of the series, and it looks gorgeous. The best work I’ve seen from him. I love to see an artist play with the layout, panel compositions, textures, it just makes the story come alive. And Kim Demulder does a great job inking, add to that Millar is telling a fantastic story of a world where Alec Holland has not yet become a… Swamp Thing. Great issue! B+/A-.

157- “The ugliest person in every relationship has to be the breadwinner.” That line alone makes me love this issue. :)While it doesn’t stand on its own as a self contained story like the previous issues what is there is page turning good. Have you ever received a chain letter? What did you do with it? This is the story of a comic book writer who may have done the wrong thing with it. B+. Nice thoughtful letters on issue #153 topic of fascism run rampant.

158- This is the wrapup to the RIVER RUN storyline that has been running, and its pretty uninspired. The story is really underwhelming, and undeserving of the issues prior. And Phillip Hester’s art here is very uninspired. He is given a splash page to make the Parliment look awe-inspiring, and they look like nothing much at all. The Fantastic is obviously not Phil Hester’s strength. All in all a very poor issue. D-/F.

159-Mark Millar follows up one of his worst issues on the title with one of his best. A great stand alone story (it’s obvious that’s where Millar’s strength is) about a boy and his lost dog, and a most exclusive men’s club. The art is by Jill Thompson who is very welcome after the abomination of the last issue. Really entertaining issue. B+/A-.

160-161- Could not get into these two issues at all. Lot of exposition for expositions sake.

Check status or purchase your issues of Mark Millar’s SWAMP THING here

That’s all for this installment.