An Image to Remember

In 1992, the major comic book publishers of the day had no problem putting out a book with some cool new character or villain, if they could be convinced it would sell. As open as they were to taking that chance, those major publishers (you know which ones) were eager to the point of falling all over themselves to screw creators out of their intellectual property rights, stamp a logo on the characters that had been created for them, and forever make them corporate assets. For their creativity, ingenuity, and hard work the creators were shown the most meager form of gratitude imaginable; a paycheck. Not an extravagant one, mind you, just whatever the going rate was for illustrators, most of whom were (and really still are) contract hires. Certain rock stars could ask for more, but that was about it. If creators were going to maintain ownership of their creations, and have a say in the kinds of stories they would like to tell, something would happen to change. In 1992 a daring group of comic book illustrators were fed up enough with the comics publishing industry to split off and try something really bold, and things did change. Image Comics was born.

One of the launch titles of the fledgling publisher was a little book called Spawn (now up to issue 275) created by one of the comics’ industries most well-known madmen. It was violent, dark, and didn’t look like anything else on the shelves. I was instantly hooked. Now, it’s possible that my fondness for this book is colored somewhat by looking at it through nostalgia colored glasses. I hope that’s understandable. I was fifteen when I picked up that first issue, and was in the throes of teenaged rebellion, trying to prove I was my own person. In short, I was sure my parents wouldn’t approve (they didn’t). Even so, it remains enough of a favorite comic even today that I went back and reread a number of the first issues when they became available to borrow through Comixology Unlimited.

It was…very nineties…which is not bad, exactly, but comics have changed a lot in the last twenty five-years. In a lot of ways, Image was responsible for that change. In the books back then the pages have way, way more text than they do now. Female characters in the story are sexualized in a way that would get the creator excoriated on social media today. Remember, nothing like today’s internet existed twenty-five years ago, much less Twitter or Facebook, so publishers and creators were MUCH less accountable to their audience. The character designs themselves were something that would illicit no end of giggling today. Lots of spandex, big spikes, exaggerated pieces of armor (for the male characters, female characters were typically drawn going into battle wearing what amounted to sexy underwear), many times in interesting (though, in hindsight, pretty silly) asymmetric configurations. Then there’s the writing, oh the writing…hehhaha…I inserted that to convey that I’m struggling to write this with a straight face, forget trying to talk someone through it. To be clear, the writing wasn’t exactly bad, but it was very, very different. Many of the comics I’m reading now are telling the same stories I’ve read for years, but the writers are telling the stories with characters making fairly grounded, real-world, natural choices. There’s little in the way of melodrama. Spawn grabbed the drama throttle and put the afterburners on full blast.

As I was reading this and chuckling at the same scenes that years, and years (and years) before had stunned me into slack-jawed wonder with the sheer force of their awesomeness, a thought occurred to me. What on earth would young adults today think of Spawn as he appeared in the nineties? On the heels of that thought I was struck with the giggles so hard I fell out of my chair and writhed on the floor until they stopped. In a world where it’s cool to hate things, everyone has an opinion, and they’re trying to one up each other on appearing to be disaffected and indifferent, all of the visual hyperbole that is Spawn would get treated…disdain just doesn’t do it justice.

Naturally, the next step was imagining Spawn himself when he inevitably decides “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” McFarlane’s character is fun to draw to begin with. I could happily draw an entire sketchbook full of nothing but Spawn, with all of his chains, and the cape, and the weird green glowing power. As fun as that is, it’s hard to imagine any drawing unlocking my joy vault quite the same way as drawing Spawn with a handlebar mustache wearing skinny jeans.