Thursday, 6 December 2007

A vision of how Marvel Comics could have been...

Okay, let's get this properly started, shall we?

I'm a comics nut. I'm not too proud to admit to it. I'm Marvel's bitch and I know it, but like most people who read comics with any element of seriousness I still entertain the notion that I could do just as well, if not better, myself. I read books and think to myself, "If only they'd used Artist X with writer Y, here," or, "If only they'd had to balls to end it THAT way".

Throughout my childhood, and in particular in the early 90s, I read Marvel comics' Marvel UK imprint - with some fairly high level of fanaticism. When the imprint took off I was amazingly happy that, finally, somebody was going to write some books set, or at least directly associated with, my homeland. And in a format which would be taken seriously.
Sure, up to this point we had had some noble attempts - notably Alan Moore and Jamie Delano's Captain Britain runs, and Chris Claremont and Alan Davis Excalibur, but this was going to be a mass explosion of ongoing British characters. Death's Head, Dark Angel, Motormouth & Killpower, I loved this stuff! Marvel UK EiC Paul Neary had brought together a number of prominent Comic Book talents, who survive in the US market today. Writers like Dan Abnett, Artists like Salvador Larocca, Jimmy Cheung, and Carlos Pacheco...

And then, after just over 2 years of a quite serious amount of material, Marvel's head office pulled the plug on Marvel UK. It was a bad time for the comic book industry. It was like its equivalent of a 1940s Great Depression period, and Marvel UK was a casualty, just as they were in the process of launching a whole new range of more mature, artistically and creatively sound titles. Some saw the light of day, in the last few months of the imprint, some (Like Alan Davis' ClanDestine) got printed by Marvel US, but many titles were never finished and lost forever - half-completed or only ever planned...

It's a great shame, as from reading the concepts, and seeing the brief glimpses of cancelled projects in the years since then, what Marvel UK were trying to do was about 5 or 6 years ahead of its time. Some of the approaches tabled there, have since been tried by Marvel in the United States. But only much ore recently.

Most of the artists and writers unearthed by the imprint, in Britain and across Europe, were lucky enough to be given further work by Marvel, who fitted them into their mainstream books. But this was still the mid-90s and Marvel's look of the time was very much inspired by Jim Lee's approach of artwork, that which was used on revamping the X-Men. Everyone was expected to fit to his kind of style, with big guns a plenty, and simple colouring. Not everybody could fit that shape.

A fine example of that is artist Mark Harrison.

Harrison did a lot of the cover work for Marvel UK's Overkill anthology. He works in primarily in oils, and he's pretty bloody good at it.

I came across this a while back:

This is a link to the Loose Cannons limited series that Harrison was illustrating for Marvel UK at the time of its demise. I remember it because it was very heavily advertised in other Marvel UK titles at the time. And it was a bold example of what Marvel UK's new approach was trying to achieve. A four issue series which was entirely painted rather than inked, on canvas. It was something special, and I had planned to grab it when it was released.

Sadly, it never was.

When you look at what Marvel US have done recently, with projects such as last year's Garth Ennis penned Ghost Rider limited series, the concept of producing books painted on canvas is now one that they are more willing to embrace, but back then they weren't willing to take the gamble. No loss to Harrison. On the back of that big advertising push 2000 AD were more than happy to give him work, and his revamp of Durham Red became very highly rated.

Harrison later tried to persuade 2000 AD to print this book, with him finishing the material from the final issue, but with so many Marvel owned characters involved this wasn't possible. But he's posted it up online, and it's well worth a look. Any fans of Marvel UK's characters will want to take a look at this. Admittedly it's largely a spin-off from their Warheads series, but features a large number of characters from other books, rendered in oils in a way you wont have seen before. Especially Death's Head.

Just think of what could/should have been...

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