Horror is a notoriously difficult genre to pull off in comics. The reader controls the pace, so scares and surprises don't work the same way they do in other media, and once you've seen enough of them, shocking twist endings can feel routine. Every now and then, though, there's a creator who has the ability to pull it off, crafting unforgettable visuals and a moody setting that feels oppressive, unknown and terrifying, and Bernie Wrightson, born this day in 1948, is unquestionably one of the masters.
Over the course of a career that began in 1968, Wrightson has crafted stories full of twisted figures and haunting apparitions, and he's never stopped experimenting with how he can do it better.
On February 16, 1968 in Essex, England, Warren Ellis materialized fully-formed, flicked a lit cigarette at the world, and went off to write brilliant comics, essays and stories that read like compressed and condensed versions of the man himself, full of all the prescience, bile, and heart that flows out of this creative giant.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe had its Big Bang in 2008, with Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr.’s debut as the incorrigible Tony Stark. In casting a charismatic leading man, feeding him some genuinely fresh one-liners, and stitching them together with a few impressive action setpieces, producer and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige had struck gold. He then went to work methodically stripping the mine clean, roping Chrises Evans and Hemsworth into multi-film contracts and watching as the billions rolled in. He devised a winning formula of easy screen-idol mass appeal and an eminently palatable house visual style to go along with it, a method still yielding massive success to this day. (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor 3, and Spider-Man Who Even Knows What Number, coming to theaters in 2017!) And it all began with R.D.J. as an irresistible new breed of defender, the sort of guy you either want to be or be with. One year earlier, Marvel’s idea of a blockbuster superhero was Nicolas Cage as a flaming CGI skeleton clad in S&M biker gear.
Born on this day in 1954, Matt Groening's instantly recognizable visual style, off-kilter humor, and knack for depicting the innate dysfunctionality of personal interactions have defined him as one of the most influential cartoonists of the late 20th/early 21st century. From self-publishing comics in the late '70s, to overseeing a multi-media empire in the new millennium, he's followed an unorthodox and unlikely path to fame and fortune, without compromising his idiosyncratic vision.
When you think of fantasy art, and in particular of the kind of paintings that have long been a mainstay on the covers of mass market paperbacks, you're either thinking of Frank Frazetta or someone who was directly influenced by his work. Featuring violent barbarians, scantily clad sorceresses, and armies of ogres, Frazetta's art is the very definition of fantasy artwork, because it was his work in the 1960s and '70s that redefined it. Every artist, and particularly every painter, who has dabbled in Sword and Sorcery illustration in the last fifty years is either drawing on Frazetta or reacting against him.
There's a point for every monthly comics fan when it really sinks in that there's a whole world of comics beyond the Big Two, and that point looks different for everyone. As someone literally born months after Image was, and thus missed out on the '90s boom and bust, for me it was Chew.
Written by John Layman and drawn by Rob Guillory, Chew ended last November at 60 issues. When it began in 2009, I was in high school, and newly in love with monthly comics.
The history of comics can be hard to trace, but there's one figure we can absolutely say played a major role in the early development of what we now think of as European and American comics. Rodolphe Töpffer was a Swiss cartoonist and caricaturist who created stories out of captioned panels. His 1837 book Histoire de M. Vieux Bois is regarded not only as the first European comic book, but it was translated into English and published in the United States as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck in 1842, making it the first American comic book as well.
If you grew up in the 1980s, The Snowman was inescapable, especially around Christmas. Not Frosty, you understand, but the nameless, wordless living Snowman in the green hat and scarf, who befriended a little boy and took him on a magical adventure. Even children of the time understood on some level that this was a different sort of Snowman, more contemplative in his nature, more artistic in his realization. The Snowman wasn't a commercial product, like Frosty the Snowman has almost always been. It's the creation of an artist with vision, Raymond Briggs, and while it's certainly the most prominent, it's far from his only contribution to art and culture.
There’s something about the evil doppelganger that’s irresistible in superhero comics, and among a crowded room of Bizarros, Reverse Flashes and Sabretooths, one dark mirror of a villain stands out as the most iconic; the sinister symbiote known as Venom, which made its first full appearance in comics on this day in 1988.
On this day in 1981, the Rocketeer, a high-flying two-fisted hero created by the legendary Dave Stevens, made his first full appearance in comics. But the Rocketeer isn't a hero of 1981, he's a hero of 1938. In a very real way he's the product of both time periods, and united them in a manner that would influence many comics to come.
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