Monday, December 31, 2018

Of Pot-Shots and Parodies: The Illusion of Critique!

Reproduced here is one of the panels (from Megaton Man #2, Kitchen Sink Press, February 1985) that gave rise to the idea that Megaton Man was parodying the contemporary comic book industry circa 1984-1985. As I've explained elsewhere, this was an erroneous perception.

Panels like this one - pot-shots, really - gave fans (and the publisher) the impression I was making fun of the current comic book market, like Jim Valentino was in normalman. Far from it; I was basically trying to integrate and burn off the influences I had absorbed from reading comics a decade earlier. From Megaton Man #2 (Kitchen Sink Press, February 1985). ™ and © Don Simpson 2018, all rights reserved.

I was parodying the Silver Age comics of the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, the material I grew up reading. I got hooked in the summer of 1972, but there were still comics circulating among older kids in the neighborhood dating back at least five years. The mid-seventies was also the heyday of "Giant-Size" and "Treasury" reprints, Origins of and Son of Origins by Stan Lee, and even monthly reprint series -- all of which looked dupey and blown out (the reproduction was terrible).

However, to the extent that the major companies were still mining the same Lee-Kirby-Ditko veins in the 1980s as they had been for fifteen years, it was possible for Megaton Man to be mistaken as a critique of current comics. Throw in a few pot-shots like this one (of the still-recent Secret Wars) and a few other jabs at current creators and controversies, and it might of seemed I was conducting an aesthetic war on the 1980s industry.

In a sense, I certainly was, but I was seldom seeing more than the covers of any of the books that were coming out of New York; I had outgrown superheroes and really couldn't stomach the work of a bunch of derivative hacks whom I regarded as inferior to industry stalwarts and workhorses (and well-rounded craftsmen) like John Romita, John Buscema, Gil Kane, and Jack Kirby.

I recall an interview in Amazing Heroes in which John Byrne, a fan of Megaton Man #1-2, speculated that perhaps, for all he knew, I was satirizing some of the things he had been doing on his titles, in addition to what Stan and Jack had done. Sorry, no; I never regarded any of the late-70s or early 80s perpetuations of any of the mainstream superhero comics to be anything other than counterfeit.

Kirby monsters meet Steranko, Neal Adams, and Berni Wrightson inking influences, with some Artie Simek lettering (talk about a melting pot!). From Megaton Man #2 (Kitchen Sink Press, February 1985). ™ and © Don Simpson 2018, all rights reserved.

I had outgrown superhero comics by the time I had "turned pro," although I still was trying to rid myself of all the stylistic influences - from Jim Steranko to Burne Hogarth's Dynamic Anatomy series of how-to books - in my cartooning. To some extent, I never would accomplish this, and as I look back on my early work from this period, it's pretty clear the superiority complex I suffered from was unearned. My work was just as crude, derivative, hackneyed, deficient, and neurotically overworked as the mainstream work-for-hire work of my contemporaries that I thought I was putting to shame.

What endures for me about this work is not the parody aspects - the overt references to popular icons - so much as my assimilation of technique, and ultimately, the flecks of character and personality that begin to emerge in my cast of characters, even at this early stage. Although diamonds in the rough and encrusted with gratuitous stylistic quirks, Trent Phloog (Megaton Man), Stella, Pammy, Preston, Bing (Yarn Man), Rex Rigid, and even Kozmik Kat seem now to me to be wholly original in personality, even if trapped in the makeshift roles and costuming of parody.

Read my YA prose experiment: The Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series!
First Chapter | All Chapters | Latest Chapter  

Also: Will the Real Megaton Man Please Stand Up? | More on Megaton Man and Why I'm Still Drawing Him!

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