Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sign Here, Please: Larry Hama

Having already been indoctrinated in the ways of the Force since just after my birth, I was introduced to something new at the age of five in 1982. That was the year I received my first G.I. JOE figures, Breaker and Snake-Eyes. Breaker was pretty cool, but not the most exciting toy in the world. Snake-Eyes, on the other hand, was more than just an ordinary soldier toy. He was dressed in all black, and he wore a mask. A soldier who wears a mask must be badass, right? I was intrigued, and it wasn't long before I realized there were monthly adventures to be followed in G.I. JOE from Marvel Comics. Issues #2-#10 held my attention (I didn't get a copy of #1 for a few years), but things really picked up in the teens. Characters like Destro, Dr. Venom, and Scar-Face were introduced. Betrayal occurs in the ranks of Cobra, and Baroness suffers for it. Something else happend when the series got to issue #21, though, a chapter without even a single word of dialogue. It had already been established that Snake-Eyes didn't speak, but this was a silent issue, and it introduced Storm Shadow, the Cobra ninja. Ninjas? Really? I was hooked.

I followed the series for years. Zartan and the Dreadnoks came next, and as the origins of Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, Zartan, and Cobra Commander were fleshed out, I grew increasingly eager for each month's new installment. When the animated series debuted in 1985, it was a tremendous disappointment. This cartoon was nothing like the comics I had been reading! '85 was also the year I really got into DC Comics. I had always loved Batman, and I already had several of the Super Powers figures, but the Super Friends and Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show cartoons were the media fueling my interest. Once I read Crisis On Infinite Earths, I knew there was more to superheroes than what those shows could offer.

But even as I read titles with Batman, Superman, Firestorm, and the Justice League, it was G.I. JOE I read religiously. I could not miss an issue of that book. The stories weren't talking down to me like the animation was, they provided me with history and character development, and people actually got hit by bullets (not lasers!) in combat. This meant something to me. I didn't want to see parachutes every time an aircraft was lost in battle; I wanted consequences. Larry Hama, who wrote an amazing 149 of the 155 issues (in addition to over two dozen issues of G.I. JOE: Special Missions and most of the file cards from Hasbro's line of action figures), provided them.

It was Mr. Hama's work that most inspired me as a youth to take English and creative writing seriously in school, his storytelling that made me want to be a writer. I've only had one piece of fiction published, but I have managed to earn a living in the past as a proofreader and as a copywriter, and that likely would not be the case if I hadn't been so greatly influenced by Mr. Hama. When it was announced that he would be a guest the 2007 G.I. JOE Collectors' Convention in Atlanta, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to meet a creator who'd had such an impact on me. Sure, I wanted to see the new 25th Anniversary action figures that were being shown for the first time, and I wanted to experience the convention itself, but my primary motivation in making the trip was a chance to meet Mr. Hama. I no longer have the G.I. JOE #21 I had as a kid, but I had replaced my old copy of G.I. JOE Yearbook #3, which contains the second silent story. I took it with me to Atlanta to have it signed by Mr. Hama.

Larry Hama: G.I. JOE Yearbook #3

After so many years of admiring his writing, meeting Mr. Hama, who was both friendly and humble, is a memory I will always keep with me.

There are several writers and artists I hope to meet at some point, creators like Frank Miller, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Jeph Loeb, Brad Meltzer, Tony Isabella, Grant Morrison, and Dennis O'Neil. I'm thinking of making the trip to NYCC next fall, so maybe I'll get a chance to scratch a couple of those guys off my list.

Sign Here, Please: Larry Hama

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sign Here, Please: Matt Wagner

One of my favorite artists to draw Batman in the last decade also happens to be one of my favorite writers to script his adventures. Matt Wagner's Batman and the Monster Men and Batman and the Mad Monk are modernizations of Golden Age Batman stories, reaching back to the Dark Knight's early career with two tales that occur during the timeline of Batman: Year One. The former depicts Batman's first confrontation with Hugo Strange, while the latter involves the Caped Crusader's first encounter with the supernatural. Both are equally fantastic, but perhaps even better is 2003's Trinity, which covers the first meeting of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The story is terrific, and Mr. Wagner provides what is probably the most beautiful artwork in superhero comics today.

I am always impressed with the successful execution of a writer/director in movies, a filmmaker who crafts the story from start to finish. The same is true for a writer/artist in comics. Not that collaborative efforts don't result in great books, but one person handling both tasks ensures that there is no disconnect between the intent of the author and the interpretation of the artist. When I had a chance to meet Mr. Wagner at HeroesCon last year, I brought my Trinity hardcover to have signed. Like Ethan Van Sciver, he did more than simply sign the book. See for yourself:

Matt Wagner: Trinity

The few extra seconds Mr. Wagner took to sketch out the Big Three put this book near the top of all my collectibles. I enjoyed meeting him, and it's always nice to find out someone so talented is also very down-to-earth and friendly.

One more installment left for tomorrow, and I've saved the most important for last.

Sign Here, Please: Matt Wagner

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sign Here, Please: Ethan Van Sciver

Next on my Superman/Batman list is Ethan Van Sciver, the man behind all the fantastic Green Lantern art of the last four years. After seeing what he did with Hal Jordan, my curiosity was obviously piqued when he was announced for a brief run on Superman/Batman. His work on the first three issues of the "Enemies Among Us" story is simply astounding. Not that Matthew Clark's pages in the second half the story were subpar or anything, but Van Sciver's drawings just jump right off the page at you. He's definitely among my top ten favorites in the industry today, so I was happy for the chance to have him sign my "Enemies Among Us" hardcover at HeroesCon 2008. What really got me, though, was how he autographed the book:

Ethan Van Sciver: Superman/Batman Vol 5

What I found so impressive was how quickly and casually he sketched the Dark Knight. I realize it's something he does just about every day, but for someone without a shred of artistic ability like me, it's really fun to watch. Seriously, I can't even draw a stick figure. I also bought a wicked Black Lightning print from Mr. Van Sciver, but the guys who sell the top-loading print holders had sold out of the size it requires, so I have it put away for safe keeping until this year's con. Anyway, there's more to come from last year's HeroesCon, including another incredible sketch-o-graph.

Sign Here, Please: Ethan Van Sciver

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sign Here, Please: Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

Going back to what I said in the previous post about the significance of meeting creators, I'm not one to chase down an artist or writer's signature just for the sake of having it. I'm not one to set a stack of fifty comics in front of a guy and expect him to sign all of them, either, but I digress. There are plenty of names from comics I've truly enjoyed over the years, but never thought to have them sign anything, even when they were a guest at an event I attended. For me, it's my core favorites that motivate me to seek an autograph. Near the top of those favorites is Ed McGuinness; in fact, I have the cover art from Superman/Batman Secret Files & Origins 2003 permanently inked on my right arm.

Getting my Superman/Batman Volume 1 hardcover signed was a priority in 2006, when both Mr. McGuinness and inker Dexter Vines were appearing in Charlotte. Mr. Vines was first, as he was signing and doing sketches at Heroes Aren't Hard To Find on Free Comic Book Day in 2006. After being forced to cancel in '05, Mr. McGuinness was a guest at HeroesCon in 2006, giving me the opportunity to add his signature to the book and pick up a signed print, too. I love the exaggerated style he brings to superhero comics, and I'm a big fan of the Superman/Batman series in general, so this was a nice score. I can't say the pleasure was all mine, either, as Mr. McGuinness got a real kick out of seeing my tattoo, even pulling other artists away from their signing tables to gloat. At some point, I'm hoping to complete the hat-trick by adding Jeph Loeb's signature to the cover.

Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines: Superman/Batman Vol 1

Warren Ellis was signing at HeroesCon that same year, but the line was unreal. I just didn't feel like spending a whole day of the con waiting around in it, but maybe I should have. I don't know that I'll ever get another chance to have Ellis sign something. Live and learn!

Sign Here, Please: Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sign Here, Please: Dwayne McDuffie

While I only have a few, I'm very pleased with my small collection of autographed comics. I've never bought a signed book, and I never will. There's no appeal in that for me. While the signature on the book is cool, what I like so much about it is the experience it represents, having met a writer or artist in person. Over the next few days, I'll share some of the ones I've managed to obtain, starting with Milestone Media cofounder Dwayne McDuffie.

While I'd always enjoyed Mr. McDuffie's work in comics (especially stuff like Hardware, Static, and Blood Syndicate), it was his writing on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited that really hooked me as a dedicated fan for life. When it was announced that he would be appearing at Cine Noir in Wilmington, NC, I immediately began making plans to attend. Winner of the Trailblazer Award in 2006, Mr. McDuffie hosted a "Superhero Cinema" panel, showing episodes of Static Shock and answering questions from the audience. I had the opportunity to pick his brain a bit more over lunch before I headed back to Charlotte, and it was a lot of fun to spend time chatting with a creator whose fiction has been such a great source of entertainment for me over the years.

My original plan was to bring a Static Shock DVD for him to sign, but I decided instead to go with the one-shot Fantastic Four Special he'd written. I'm not much of a Marvel fan in general, but in an old Marvel "Pro File" on McDuffie from a Marvel bulletin page in the '80s, he listed his, "greatest unfulfilled ambition in the comics field," as writing Fantastic Four. For that reason, the one-shot book seemed like the best choice.

Dwayne McDuffie Fantastic Four Special

Sign Here, Please: Dwayne McDuffie

Mad Love: JLU Harley Quinn on

Just three days after Valentine's Day, Mattel is now taking orders for their new JLU Harley Quinn figure. Yes, Clock King, Scarecrow, and Bane are included in the set, too, but Harley! I've only been begging the Mattel guys to work a new Harley figure into the line for the last few years, and now it's just a matter of waiting on her to be delivered to my front door. Speaking of which, I wish all of the JLU figures were this easy to buy, but that's another topic for another day. I'll just celebrate the moment for now.

You can order your own set here.