Sunday, February 11, 2007

More on Shiny Beasts
and the Veitch Universe,
Bissette Zombies,
Back from the Grave!

and My Sunday Bitchfest


While I'm shamelessly huckstering Rick Veitch's upcoming anthology of his (and our) Epic short comics creations, Shiny Beasts, it occurs to me that an explanation for Veitch's book title is in order, especially for those of you who don't know about Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart.

Yep, Rick's latest King Hell book indeed appropriates its title from one of Rick's stories collected therein -- "Shiny Beast," from the Epic magazine procession of tales Rick crafted under the steady helmsmanship of vet writer/editor Archie Goodwin -- but that story itself lifted its moniker from Captain Beefheart's first solo album with the (new) Magic Band after his live album with Frank Zappa, Bongo Fury (1975).

[An aside: Now, dig. When Bongo Fury came out, I was still in Johnson State College in Johnson, VT, dreaming of drawing comics and not knowing Veitch -- whose work I knew only from his underground comix collaboration with his brother Tom, Two-Fisted Zombies -- and it was in my lowly sub-human Governor's dorm sub-floor room, shared with Joe Mangelynx, that I first spun that brand-new Zappa/Beefheart album. I still recall my first listening, looking out of our picture window that overlooked the lower entrance to the dining hall and student post office and lounge, drinking in the new blast of Beefheart. Little did I know then that Rick was still in the belly of Bellow Falls, VT, keeping head above water and likewise dreaming of doing comics, full time and forever.]

By the time Beefheart's Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (1978) hit, Veitch and I were best friends and had just graduated from the Kubert School. Shiny Beast was an omen, a godsend, an adjunct to our new life -- as cartoonists, artists, making our way into the new world. Shiny Beast was also a mind-blowing comeback album for Beefheart after a fallow stretch, and it immediately became a staple spin in our lowly shared Dover, NY digs (shared by yours truly, Veitch, John Totleben, Tom Yeates and Tom's girlfriend Sue Balinski). What a record!

Every tune evokes memories for me to this moment. "Apes-Ma" entered our lexicon (and sketchbooks), as did "The Floppy Boot Stomp" (an uncanny bit of occult Beefheart Americana) and all the other tunes on Shiny Beast: "Candle Mambo," "Tropical Hot Dog Night," the blissful "Harry Irene," and my personal fave, "When I See Mommy I Feel Like a Mummy."

It was inevitable that something more refined would emerge from the fusion of Beefheart music and the comic art factory that is Veitch's brainpan.
  • Now, ya gotta brush up on the Captain's bio and legacy,
  • and understand how vital Captain Beefheart's music was to Veitch to grok the many links between the man, the music and Veitch's "Shiny Beast" story (and, for that matter, much of Rick's comics work). It was Don Van Vleit's poetry, too, that mattered to Rick, and evidence of that influence marks not only stories like "Shiny Beast" (which is textless, but don't let that fool you) but also his "L'il Tiny Comix" for Heavy Metal (itself a spin-off from Rick's homemade, one-of-a-kind L'il Tiny Comix that were drawn over the years as birthday gifts over the years for many of Rick's friends and family) and other key works, up to and including his most recent graphic novel Can't Get No (DC/Vertigo, 2006). Knowing both Rick's art and writing and Beefheart's music and lyrics as I do, subterranean primal beats mark my every reading of these Veitch creations; I hear the music in my head, heart, and it's as much an echo of Van Vliet as it is Rick's own iconographic visual tone-poems that coax these secret rhythms and unheard melodies from this humble reader.

    So, Shiny Beasts owes its name to both Rick's one-shot Epic story (splash page pictured here) and Beefheart's album and legacy -- but there's more. Rick's graphic novel legacy began, of course, with our collaborative effort on the ill-fated Heavy Metal/Simon & Schuster movie adaptation graphic novel 1941, which we completed in a heated couple of months in 1979 for publication at the end of that year (to coincide with the release of Steven Spielberg's feature, which was his first theatrical and critical flop). A lot of Beefheart fueled that work, too, though it isn't self-evident. The rocky relations Creative Burnouts endured throughout that collaboration -- due in large part to my lackadaisical lack of discipline on the project, savoring as I was my return to my Vermont roots, having just fled Dover, New Jersey to live in a brick schoolhouse in Grafton, VT, initially sans electricity or plumbing, driving Rick nuts and making the whole thing even more of an ordeal than it already was, though we came through in the home stretch -- indeed burned us out.

    Still, that gig was landed in part due to Heavy Metal art director John Workman's shot at "Monkey See," the story you'll see in its totality in Shiny Beasts; John dug what Rick and I had done with that piece, even if it ended up at Epic, and we were shoed-in-to 1941: The Illustrated Story after John's first choice, Alex Toth, declined the project despite John's best efforts.


    Thus, the burnout of Creative Burnouts via 1941: The Illustrated Story led directly into Rick's most fertile creative relationship of the 1980s: his work with editor Archie Goodwin. Archie was already a legend to our generation via his work as a writer in comics, credited (his scripts and editing chops defined the entire Jim Warren horror comics line via the debut issues of Creepy and Eerie, etc.) and uncredited (Secret Agent x-9 scripting for Al Williamson, His Name is Savage script for Gil Kane, etc.), and Rick couldn't have conjured a better editor or mentor in the wake of Rick's tenure working with/under Joe Kubert.

    In terms of personality, Archie was quite different from Joe, but he lent as steady (though less paternal) guidance to this phase of Rick's development as Joe had to Rick's years at the Kubert School and just after. Rick's work blossomed under Archie's tutelage, no doubt about it, and one can still see and savor Rick stretching and reaching for new vistas throughout this run of stories. It's Rick's ongoing work with Archie at Epic that really brought Rick's comic work to a whole new level, refining his considerable skills as an artist and storyteller via the procession of tales collected in Shiny Beasts, and
  • culminating in Rick's first (serialized) solo graphic novel, Abraxas and the Earthman, which I reviewed here (and you can purchase via this link, too, via PaneltoPanel.net).


  • That Abraxas review includes a bit more 'inside info' on the particulars of Rick's relationship with Archie and with Marvel, and the creative theft that unfortunately cast a bit of a shadow over his triumphant run in Epic with this serialized epic (one of the few works in Epic to deserve that word association). Given Rick's recent first-time collection of that serialized work into a single volume, the leap between Rick's first solo graphic novel Abraxas and his latest,
  • Can't Get No (my review awaits you here, if you're interested),
  • isn't as great as it seems, though literally two decades+ lay between their original publication.

    There's also the further fruition of Rick's and Archie's creative dynamic evidenced in Rick's Epic miniseries The One, and his Marvel Graphic Novel Heartburst -- next in line in the King Hell reprint series, I believe -- all of which is also worthy of revisiting, or reading for the first time, if all of this is new to you.

    It's amazing to contemplate how almost
  • all of Rick's comics work is currently in print and available (from PaneltoPanel.net, natch),
  • and what a remarkably consistent and cohesive body of work it is, too.

    With the ongoing King Hell reprint series placing all this in easy reach, and Shiny Beasts gathering a previously 'missing link' in Rick's artistic evolution between two covers at last, it's time to access and re-assess Rick's place in comics history and his generation of comics creators. For too long, Rick's work has been seen only in the context of his most visible mainstream comics work -- his tenure on Swamp Thing, initially with the team I was part of (Alan Moore/Bissette/John Totleben/Rick Veitch), then pencilling the series during Alan's final run as writer, then picking up the reins to write and pencil the series until the ill-fated Swamp Thing #88 censorship debacle -- rather than in its true context.

    Rick's distinctive chronology is only punctuated, not defined by, his work on Swamp Thing: in fact, impressive as it was and remains, Rick's Swamp Thing work is arguably the least of his accomplishments, given all he did before and has done after.

    It's time to tap for many of you to catch up with, and on to, what really makes Rick's comics and comix tick -- and Shiny Beasts provides an ideal entry point.

    Reading while spinning the good Captain's Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), on vinyl or CD, is likewise heartily recommended.

    "Apes-ma? Apes-ma? Your cage is getting too dirty, Apes-Ma..."

    __________________

    Bissette, Back from the Dead??

    "Baby Blight" (c) 2007 S.R. Bissette

    Yep, I've just turned in my first comic gig of 2007, and it's packed with zombies, amigo.

    I mean, lots of zombies. Twenty-nine of them, in fact, one of which will be living on the cover of the upcoming Accent UK anthology Zombies. The rest will be malingering inside, like maggots.

    This is all thanks to
  • Leah Moore and John Reppion, whom Marge and I met and spent some great times with in Copenhagen, Denmark back in April of 2006
  • (thanks again, Arni, for orchestrating the invite!). It was Leah and John who eased Marge and I over to the Accent UK booth at the Copenhagen comics convention, where we met Dave West and Colin Mathieson, which inevitably led to talk of the planned 2007 Zombies anthology. John in particular is a rabid zombie movie fan, which led to John extending the subsequent invite, via email, to get involved. So, kudos to John, Leah, Colin and Dave for opening the door so generously and pleasantly.

    This mini-Bissette-zombie-jamboree you now have to look forward to also owes a huge debt to my son Daniel, who co-created the four-page "An Alphabet of Zombies" with yours truly (Dan pencilled half the zombies and really pulled the whole thing together with his writing and sense of humor, which is a bit sharper than mine in these musical matters -- yep, it's a rhyme). Mind you, it was Dan's invite to draw a comic for his fanzine Hot Chicks Take Huge Shits in 2006 that got my appetite up for even doing anything for publication again.

    There's also a huge debt due to everyone at the Center for Cartoon Studies. Dave and Colin were also up for the CCS students contributing to the anthology, and a group of them did just that -- I'll post more info, names, and art on this blog in the coming weeks, offering a snapshot of the CCSers whose work will appear in Accent UK's Zombies and a peek at images from their stories.

    The conjunction of these various persons and places has led to the first of the comics work you'll be seeing from me in 2007. What are you waiting for? Time to visit
  • the good folks at Accent UK, and click on the Zombies link on the left-screen menu after scrolling down a bit.
  • They'll be updating the site soon, as everything from CCS and yours truly was just turned in, and Dave and Colin will be making their final decisions of what makes the cut in quick order -- well, as soon as Colin gets back from Scotland, I reckon.

    More zombie news, art, and tantalizing tidbits to follow -- keep your eyes on this blog!
    ____________________

    As of this morning, it was impossible to post via the usual ("old") blogger dashboard. I was thus forced to sign on to the new blogger service this AM, damn it!

    This required reading and agreeing to the following contract, and there's nothing I love less on a very early Sunday morning than being forced to read, and agree to sans negotiation, a contract. I take to Sunday AM contracts like cops to aviators -- hell, I'd even prefer to deal with a ruptured septic tank this early on a Sunday, thank you (and have).

    Luddite that I am, though I intellectually grasp all the issues, particularly this new corporate consolidation of the blogger realm (it's been a-comin' since 2005), I resent the transition process, which involved cow-towing to Google's new corporate reality or simply disappearing from this space.

    The reading of this contract took some time, given all the active links to additional conditions, terms and definitions one is agreeing to with a click, and it's a brave new world of infuriating contracts that waits for all of us ahead!

    Those of you with blogs know the routine first-hand, and likely didn't resist as long as I did, but for you casual readers, here's the new terms. Let this make your Sunday morning, too!:
    _________

    Blogger Terms of Service

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    Although we may attempt to notify you when major changes are made to these Blogger Terms of Service, you should periodically review the most up-to-date version (http://www.blogger.com/terms.g). Google may, in its sole discretion, modify or revise these Terms of Service and policies at any time, and you agree to be bound by such modifications or revisions. If you do not accept and abide by this Agreement, you may not use the Blogger service. In the event of an inconsistency between the Blogger Terms of Service and either Google's general Terms of Service (http://www.google.com/intl/en/terms_of_service.html) or the Google Privacy Policy (http://www.google.com/privacy.html), the Blogger Terms of Service (http://www.blogger.com/terms.g) shall control. Nothing in this Agreement shall be deemed to confer any third-party rights or benefits.

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    __________________

    Whew! C'mon, admit it, you didn't really read it, did you?

    Well, shit howdy, I did. Damn it.

    Have a great Sunday...

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    5 Comments:

    Anonymous Bob said...

    Yeah, this "new blogger" thing has been a bit of a pain, especially for stuff hosted outside of blogspot. I don't know why they have to complicate everything so much.

    Great looking zombie there, looking forward to finding out more about the anthology. And fascinating as always to hear about those early 1980s comics days (and see how I did that for once without badgering you about getting the long-promised bibliography of yours online. Oops).

    2/11/2007  
    Blogger HemlockMan said...

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    2/11/2007  
    Blogger HemlockMan said...

    Yeah, post details on the zombie anthology stuff.

    I can't get over this amazing fascination with zombies that's filling the shelves with zombie fiction right now. At first I thought it was cool, then I figured it was just too much. Now...now I'm tempted to write a zombie novel. Haven't much thought about that little sub-genre since I wrote the story that finally appeared in TABOO (was it #9)?

    2/11/2007  
    Blogger SRBissette said...

    Bob, hope this week's posts thus far have greased your interest in the old days. Mucho art, now, I can post freely, and more to come!

    James aka Bob, you should be doin' THE zombie book. I've yet to plug your excellent primordial bird novel here -- sorry, it all got caught up in the massive move. I'll make up for it with a proper FLOCK review once my copy turns up in the unpacking.

    2/12/2007  
    Blogger HemlockMan said...

    Thanks! Looking forward to a review.

    2/13/2007  

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