Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Epicly Illustrated Journey to Dreadstar

After writing so much about old Marvel and DC comics in my last posts I wanted to write about an independent comic - well, sort of. It´s one of the comics on my reading pile and while it had many incarnations at various independent publishers its roots lie with Marvel Comics.

Or rather with their Epic line. And yes, while this post is about a new edition of DREADSTAR it´s once again time for another trip with the " Way Back When Machine " back to the 80s when Marvel was the House of Ideas instead the House of Big Events ( or the House without a Clue ).

Back to DREADSTAR and Epic, for those younger readers out there, during the 80s there was a big boom where everybody was trying his hands at independent comics. Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman had managed a giant hit with their TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES which was a black and white comic nonetheless. Which proved that it was possible to compete with the big two without having to produce color comics, which at that time was too expensive for some indie publishers. The thing they could offer however which the big two didn´t was creative ownwership.

Up to this point while you could become a big star at DC or Marvel the thing you never got was copyright. Everything you did was still work for hire and everything you created belonged to the company you worked.

Now the smaller publishers could offer you the intellectual ownership of all your ideas and creations. There was no guarantee your comic would be a hit or sometimes even that you would be paid. But if it was successful it was totally yours. So in order to prevent all their top creators from abandoning ship and trying their luck elsewhere Marvel started the Epic imprint where creators could retain the rights to their creations and get royalties. Which is where the story started for me, not with one of the many series they launched later like COYOTE ( or DREADSTAR ) or ALIEN LEGION but with their EPIC ILLUSTRATED magazine, which was simply called EPIC when it came to Germany thanks to the Condor Verlag in 1983.

Yes, the Condor Verlag did not only publish the much hated pocket books they also tried all kinds of formats like regular comic size, magazine sized " albums " like they are called here in Germany and magazines like EPIC.

I´m not sure but I think this was when Volksverlag published U - COMIX


so I was probably reading those two anthology magazines on a regular basis. The thing was you couldn´t get those in Neckarweihingen and I had to go to the newsstand in Ludwigsburg for that. But I could buy EPIC at the local stationary store where I went every week for the lottery ticket.

Now what I liked about EPIC was that it featured some of the artists I already knew from my super hero comics like John Byrne, John Buscema or Barry Windsor - Smith but also artists I knew from SCHWERMETALL like Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson or Jeffrey Jones. And like those other publications the stories were aimed at an older target audience and more explicit. Yay for nudity ! Well, this was a big deal for me back then.

And I guess it was an additional selling point for american comic creators. Not only were they given ownership, they had more artistic liberty ( which also was a plus for Marvel since they could do more adult material ) and the printing was much better than the usual three colour system. All of the covers and even some of the stories in EPIC were fully painted.

But what does this all have to do with DREADSTAR you might ask. And you probably are bored out of your mind by my ramblings about now. Well, one of the serials in EPIC was the METAMORPHOSIS ODYSSEY by Jim Starlin which first was in black and white but which later on made full use of the improved color palette.  It´s one of the best science fiction stories you will ever read - period - and it introduced the character of Vance Astrovik who would later on star in his own series under the title of DREADSTAR.

But for me that series was still in the far future as I only got the parts of METAMORPHOSIS ODYSSEY that were in the german EPIC magazine and also another milestone comic from Condor by Jim Starlin : The Death of Captain Marvel which kicked off the Marvel Comic´s Graphic Novel line.

I think I read somewhere that Marvel is reprinting all those classic graphic novels from the 80s and 90s which may not be such a good idea keeping in mind that they want to sell those new graphic novels they do NOW.

Because if you want to sell your customers the drivel you are currently producing it´s not really the best strategy to hit them over the head how much better you product used to be. While preparing for this post I was going through my graphic novels and boy, it´s like a Who´s Who of current and up and coming comic superstars. Another thing I noticed is that - as usual - my comics are original copies, german translations and spanish editions. The originals are all from later on in my comic reading career which is one of the reasons why there was a huge gap in reading the adventures of Dreadstar since I never got the DREADSTAR graphic novel you can see at the top of the post. The graphic novels I got were the ones I could get in Germany and in Spain, of course the first ones where those I could get in the spanish translation because Spain was - and still is - at least one decade ahead of Germany in comic trends.

From the spanish editions I only have two which is sad because FORUM produced these high end hardcovers with fabulous glossy paper that lasts for decades : SWORDS OF THE SWASHBUCKLER by Bill Mantlo and Jackson Guice, PIRATAS DEL ESPACIO ( Space Pirates ) in the spanish version.

Like the spanish name suggest it´s a really cool sci fi series about pirates in space and - if I remember correctly - a young earth girl whose granny is somehow connected to their captain ( the horny woman with the green shirt ). The story of the graphic novel was continued in a 12 part series.

And ELRIC CITY OF DREAMS by Michael Moorcock, Roy Thomas and P. Craig Russell which is called .... well, basically the same thing in spanish.

Man, if there ever was an artist born to bring Michael Moorcock´s nightmarish landscape of the albino prince to life it´s P. Craig Russell. If you are a fan of Michael Moorcock´s books and a comic fan you must get this graphic novel as well as the other adaptions Craig Russell has done.

But let´s get back to my big pile of Marvel´s 80s graphic novels : now the german versions by Condor are all softcovers and like most german comic publications they are not confined to a single series. Since Spider - Man is the most popular one in Germany the graphic novel HOOKY was issue 1 of DIE SPINNE JUBILÄUMS - COMIC - ALBUM under the ominous title of DER KAMPF DER HEXENMEISTER ( Battle of the Warlocks ) - that´s probably because the original title doesn´t sound very spooky in german.

The rest of Marvel´s graphic novels were first published as the Epic Comic Collection albums, which ran from 1983 to 1985

and later on as MARVEL COMIC EXCLUSIV, from 1987 to 1993.

Now, of course I can´t mention the german versions without mentioning the different covers some of the comics had like - for instance - SUPER BOXERS by Ron Wilson, John Byrne and Armando Gil. Looks pretty good.

And here´s the german version. WTF ? Now who in his right mind would think this is a better cover than the original ? The boss´ son in law ?

But wait, I got an even better one for you. Here´s the original cover to John Byrne´s SENSATIONAL SHE - HULK graphic novel by the man.

And here´s the abomination that was let loose on german readers which undoubtly led to years of intensive therapy sessions down the road.

Inside was - of course - the same terrific art by John Byrne and the story was pretty risque. I don´t know if Marvel ( well, Disney ) would allow a story where She Hulk had to strip naked in front of a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. I´m not even sure if they would allow this dress.

" Oh, but what about those graphic novels by Marvel in the original language ? " you might ask yourself. Well, I also have a lot of those - in softcovers as well as in hardcover - but once again our time is up for Today. And I really could do a whole post on those wonderful novels alone.

If you haven´t read them please go to your local comic shop and check them out. They are probably not very expensive and most shops have them in stock. One of my personal tips is THE INHUMANS written by the great Ann Nocenti, who used some of them as part of the supporting cast during her fantastic run on DAREDEVIL. The art is by the often underrated Bret Blevins one of my personal favorites who is hugely missed from our four colored publications. The comic landscape is a bleaker space for it. 

As usually I got distracted a bit, talking about Epic Illustrated and graphic novels by Marvel and all this stuff so you´ll have to wait until the next part to find out how and where I finally discovered the DREADSTAR series. But first let me give credit to those that helped put this post together :

OPEN LETTERS MONTHLY has an interesting post by Justin Hickey about P. Craig Russell´s adaptions of Elric and The Jungle Book ( of which none of the pics ended up on the post ), Ben Djarum´s post CODEX APOCRYPHA : BOYHOOD INFLUENCES is just full of cool - but also very graphic - stuff ( it provided the Elric art for the post ) and last but not least the EPIC THURSDAY ! post by Sean Robson at TALES FROM THE FLAMING FAGGOT provided the much appreciated Metamorphosis Odyssey page. Airwolf !  

Now before I wrap up this post there have been some complaints about the lack of pictures with big breasted cosplay massitas in my latest posts. Which is totally unacceptable and will be rectified right away. It is still a few days until BIG CULO DAY 2014 so I hope this Lara Croft helps a bit.

As for the video at the end here´s the first part of the Metamorphosis Odyssey. There are a few about this and Dreadstar on YouTube but this is the only one I found with music. Princes of the Universe, indeed.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest


Terry Hooper-Scharf said...

And once again you forget to mention D-Gruppe and its two Marvel graphic novels! What? That never happened???? I'm sure it did before a re-boot....or it may just be the meds...anyway,I loved the pocket books. But that might be because the UK comic reader of the 1860s had quite a few to read -the 100 pager Tex Willer and others. Great post though!**

Terry Hooper-Scharf said...

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!! did I write "1860s"?? I aint that old!!!

SUBZERO said...

Well, the pocket books by Condor ( I think that is what we are talking about ) were not very popular with german readers because they reduced great monologues to " grunt, biff, snarrll, take this " in most of the cases.

And don´t worry, I sometimes also think I read comics back in the 1860s although I´m pretty sure they weren´t even invented yet. Just an old fart.


This post is just what I consider a well thought out posting. Straightforward as well as the point. I'll definately keep a look out for more posts like this.
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SUBZERO said...

Yeah, this might be an exception because normally I´m not that coherent. So don´t be disappointed if some of my more recent posts don´t live up to this level of quality.

Only joking.

Okay, halfway joking. I´m glad you like my post and welcome to the blog.