Fill in the blank
I get to claim coolness for a brief period in my life. It’d be about 1994 through 1999, the latter-day Ph.D. and young prof years, spent mostly in Gainesville, FL, and for my first prof job in Valdosta, GA. I was in superb physical shape due to fightin’ tons of people in tons of martial arts styles as if I were in one of those movies or comics, I was publishing my first role-playing game, I was doing and publishing really interesting science, I was romping in adventurous fun romances with no hassles and then got into a surprisingly sane actual relationship … and I read the coolest comics. Spread’em out on the shelves and coffee tables. Watched eyes pop and blood redistribute itself.
I wasn’t interested even a little in the shenanigans at Marvel or any other major company of the time, nor in collectability. My titles included Poison Elves, Omaha the Cat Dancer, Cerebus, Box Office Poison, XXXenophile, Goblin Lords, Finder, and quite a lot of short-run titles that popped up here and there. My favorites among those were Colin Upton’s Buddha on the Road, Jason Lutes’ Jar of Fools, Jeff Nicholson’s Through the Habitrails, Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard’s Codeflesh, and my topic for today, Christopher J. Hicks’ superb Mister Blank. It was published by Slave Labor Graphics (Amaze Ink imprint) from 1997-2000.
I dunno why this isn’t a legendary series. I can’t even snark about it, it’s too readable, unpretentious, intelligent, and plain fun. You can read about it at the website linked at the end, or order the collection there too (I guess, I haven’t tried, and the website’s not new). It’s a big phonebook, novel-length for real.
The guy can compose. His action is a knockout.
Its glorious blacks are only made stronger with his use of grey as a color; most people who do the latter end up screwing up the inkwork. [apologies for bad scans – I made a wrong choice about that – trust me, the rendering is awesome]
It’s loaded with possible favorite characters, and although King Whirlwind places a close second, mine is Bogart:
It sort of gets profound a few issues in, turning an SF romp into a pretty good conspiracy and time-travel piece, and then even builds to a remarkably moving series of confrontations in the last phase.
The one odd thing … well, OK, the primary visual conceit of the book is that the main character’s face is depicted as a very blank, well, blank. It’s not a mask nor even anything “in the fiction,” it’s the way he’s drawn. The idea is explicit, that he’s “just a guy” and the reader simply ‘ports in whatever guy-ness works best for a white, male, nondescript American character who inhabits the kind of movie in which an ordinary guy lands into un-ordinary hijinks indeed.
I get the theory, which is straight outta McCloud’s Understanding Comics and ties into the idea that you are the hero, not this fictional guy … but I never felt it worked for me in this book. Looking at the incredible faces of the other characters, I get sort of bummed that Sam – who does have a distinctive personality and point of view – seems shorted by comparison. Besides, there’s more than one of him, which you’ve probably figured out from some of the images (here’s another), so the blank-induced visual emphasis on this exact one guy is reduced.
So … am I alone in a dimension just one phase-step off from everyone else? Is everyone reading this going “never heard of it” and finding only a 404 at the link? It seems the only explanation for why the title isn’t a standard pop reference and benchmark for modern comics work.
Links: Author’s webpage
Next: The Big Bang: The Punisher, 1986-present
Posted on January 28, 2016, in The 90s me and tagged Christopher J. Hicks, Mister Blank, Scott McCloud, SLave Labor Graphics, Understanding Comics. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.
That looks neat (though I see what you mean with the face) – never heard of it, either personally or from friends. Personally means little to the “am I alone” question, but I do know enough self-described comic geeks that if it were widely known as a secret classic, one of ’em might have mentioned it.
The store link on the website does seem to be 404. Tracking the phone number uncovered the sad fate of Slave Labor Graphics, right in my back yard (I’ll leave it up to Ron if he wants a link to the somewhat old GoFundMe – or folks can search it out themselves).
The book (Mister Blank Exhaustive Collection) can be found on Amazon at $70 and up. The author does have another website at http://com652.wix.com/christopherhicks, mostly covering his non-comics career. If my cash is ever in the same space/time as a copy of this, at a price that makes sense to me in that moment, I’ll probably end up with grey-inked paper rather than green-inked paper. I only wish it’d go to author and/or SLG.
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I picked up the individual issues years back, though the collected is all that’s still with me. It’s one of my favorites. It came at a time when I was moving away from a lot of US comics between the two problems of a) Chris Clairmont walls of text/exposition, and b) stilted artwork posing action scenes of the 90s. Here was a comic that was really embracing the visual storytelling without overloading on dialogue (Larry Hamas’ was the other person I enjoyed for that) and really dynamic action scenes, which you could actually follow.
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