Art, Graphic Novels and Me

This post is probably going to meander a bit so in order to try and keep things readable I’m going to try and keep it chronological. The point of it is to try and look at my own journey with art and graphic novels, maybe try and explain what has influenced me along the way and where I am now.

The start of it all has to come from my Dad’s collection of science fiction paperbacks. They all had these amazing covers by Bruce Pennington and I would sit and look at these covers for hours, imagining what was in those books. I was too young to read them, but I was hooked. Even now, the work of Bruce Pennington is a massive influence on me.

It wasn’t too long after that I discovered the beauty of Lovecraft. I’m not going to talk too much about Lovecraft here but his work has affected me in many ways that I’ll try and address in another of these rambles.

Next on the list has to be 2000AD. In the 80’s a lot of us would read 2000AD – Judge Dredd, Rouge Trooper, Slaine – all great characters. Rouge Trooper was illustrated by Dave Gibbons, who went on to illustrate another great influence: The Watchmen.

Watchmen was a bit of a landmark in the world of graphic novels. It took apart the genre, expertly written by Alan Moore. When I first started to read it I was disappointed at these old saggy super heroes who weren’t really super. But as I continued, the story evolved with layers upon layers of depth. As it grew so did my appreciation of what a graphic novel could really do. I’ve never looked back.

This next bit is going to be a bit random, but keep with me. In the early 90’s, I was looking for a new T-Shirt. I found this t-shirt with the most amazing artwork. It was for the Grateful Dead’s album Aoxomoxoa. If you’re not familiar, the artwork was by the surfer/artist Rick Griffin. I bought the album first (which I loved) and then bought the t-shirt. Yeah, a bit random but hey, it worked! From there on, I developed a love for Rick Griffin’s art. I bought one of those Paper Tiger books of his work, which started talking about Zap Comix.

And so…Zap Comix….where to begin? This was like an explosion inside my head when I bought my first copy. It had a beautiful Rick Griffin cover but the inside was just mental. Not all good, some downright hideous, but it made me aware of such amazing talent like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Sheldon.

Whilst I have my reservations about Mr. Crumb (based purely on the brilliant documentary Crumb!), his art work blew me away. His work in the Kafka book has to be one of the most perfect alignments between art and words that I’ve ever seen.

Gilbert Sheldon is perhaps best known for the Freak Brothers comics. Obviously a bit naughty in their subject matter, I was in my University days when I discovered those ribald chaps. I loved every single one of their comics. The earlier comics had an art style I loved, a style that seemed to change in the later editions. But still, even now, they remain one of my all time favourite comics.

By this time I had discovered the joys of punk rock and was fully immersing myself in all things punk. This led on to me discovering how punk rock worked its way into comics. I was intrigued by the works of Raymond Pettibon, who provided the legendary icon for Black Flag as well as numerous covers for SST bands like Minutemen. But this wasn’t quite enough. So when I stumbled across Love and Rockets I was instantly hooked.

Jamie Hernandez, the artist responsible for Love and Rockets, created two (at least) of the most engaging characters: Maggie and Hopey. I’m not ashamed to say I had a crush on both of these tear-aways. Probably still do. Hernandez drew them so beautifully, explored their personalities, their strengths, their weaknesses, in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a comic. Truly inspiring stuff.

Whilst not a great an artist, Pete Bagge also produced one of the more memorable character in Buddy Bradley. Hate was (is?!) a fantastic comic. I wouldn’t say I identified with every part of Buddy but there were definitely certain aspects of his character I could relate to. His love of music, for one.

That pretty much takes us up to when I left the country. For about 10 years or so, I was away from England and lost connection with what was going on in the comic world. I’ve since gotten back into comics and graphic novels, but I’ll go into that in more detail in another post. If you’re still reading, thank you for making it this far! Let me know what are your favourite graphic novels/characters/artists in the comments below…I’d love to hear what else I’ve been missing out on.

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4 thoughts on “Art, Graphic Novels and Me

  1. Very interesting influences Russ, I’m of an age where the graphic novel completely passed me by, although I loved my comics in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

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    1. Cheers Steve! What comics did you like? A fair amount of graphic novels are simply collections of comics. For example, the Dark knight Returns was originally released as 4 comics….

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  2. I think in the late 80s/90s the whole Vertigo imprint by DC comics was really interesting – and so much British talent poached from 2000AD. Also, Akira came out at this time on Epic Comics, the first big Manga release in this country.

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