Deep Background

Hello. Welcome to my space. Here, when I get around to it, I’ll be discussing comics as a medium, individual comics, the place of comics in the larger artistic world, comics-based movies, and more than a few other things. A lot of what you’ll see will be original. Sometimes, I’ll run a piece that I wrote in my days as a fanzine reviewer and columnist. I hope you’ll take a look at this blog from time to time. When you do, I’ll try to entertain you. For now, an autobiographical introduction.

I bought my first comic book out of a vending machine like this one.

Comic Book Vending Machine 02

It was January, 1971, and my family had just returned from two years living on Okinawa. Mom and Dad were preparing to pack six kids, a German Shepherd dog, and a cat into a used Oldsmobile station wagon for what became a week-long drive from San Francisco to Chicopee, Massachusetts.

I was eight years old, wriggly and somewhat loud, but I loved to read. To keep me quiet, my mother gave me 15 cents for the comic book machine. I dropped the coins in and pulled a lever. My comic fell to the bottom, and I spent the next little while reading a Superman adventure. I can’t recall what the story was about, but it was the beginning of more than 40 years as a comics reader, fan, and reviewer.That time has seen me go from casual reader to fan to hard-core reader to small-time collector and back to a more relaxed position.

By 1980, I was buying a dozen or so comics every month. That August, I moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where I discovered my first direct-sales comics shop — The Comiclogue, owned by Ken King. I also discovered fanzines and small press publishing, courtesy of The Iowa Comic Book Club.

The ICBC’s humbly named It’s a Fanzine started even more humbly than its name, as a twelve-page collection of reviews and cartoons from a talented bunch of people herded by their stalwart editor, Gene Kehoe. I started by contributing a handful of brief reviews. A couple of years into  IAF‘s run, I had the gall to submit a longish piece to Gene that began by claiming to be the first installment of a continuing (if irregular) feature. Having unilaterally promoted myself to columnist, and nicking a title from a recent issue of The Avengers, I dove into longer-form comics criticism.

Gene even asked our in-group logo designer (a pleasant man with the unlikely name of the Rev. Lawrence M. “Butch” Stewart) to put something together. That’s how I came to open IAF #21 and find this.

UV original logo

Frankly, it was not what I’d had in mind. I was a pretentious college kid serious young writer at the time, and the logo seemed frivolous and playful. I may have been unintentionally frivolous, but playful was not my style. I sulked a bit until Butch took pity on me a few installments later and gave me the more sober, even moody, version of the words that I use as the header for this blog.

Once I started writing “(Un)Limited Visions,” I found myself thinking more deeply about comics. It was a good time for that. More mature themes were starting to make their way into mainstream comics. Alan Moore reached the U.S. with imports of Warrior and his early American work on Swamp Thing Frank Miller was borrowing from Asian movies and Will Eisner and Jim Steranko, but bringing his own experiences as an outsider in New York City to Daredevil. Mainstream hero comics continued to dominate, but even they were infusing their stories with stronger emotions and less-predictable plotting. “The Dark Phoenix Saga” in Uncanny X-Men had broken rules that wouldn’t ever be repaired. Something like “The Judas Contract” in The New Teen Titans couldn’t have been published without “Dark Phoenix.”

New comics publishers, working outside the Comics Code Authority and generally called the “alternatives” or “independents,” made their way into direct-sales comic book shops around the time I got to college. Pacific, First, Eclipse, Capital, Fantagraphics, Comico, and others started publishing material often inspired by classic hero/action comics but that couldn’t ever have gone out under the imprints of Marvel or DC. Without the Comics Code holding them back, titles like Love & Rockets, American Flagg!, and Sabre could tell stories about adults.

They weren’t necessarily good stories. Some of them were dominated by sex and violence just because the creators now were free to be carnal and bloody. Some of them were phatasmagorical only because the editors didn’t care how stoned the creators were. Some of the stories were thinly disguised political or economic screeds (that’s you, Mr. Ditko). They were honest, though, and they affected me in the way that good prose fiction and better movies did. By that time, comics were, truly, not just for kids.

That was the world I lived in, when I became a comics reviewer, critic, essayist, columnist, whatever you might like to call me. I only wrote ten installments of “(Un)Limited Visions” between 1983 and 1990, when IAF took a long-term break. Since Gene revived the ‘zine as an occasional item in ’96, it  has stressed older comics, historical coverage, and a bit of nostalgia. It’s a great read, but not somewhere I fit.

In 2006, I joined a media forum called “The Zone,” an offshoot of “Ain’t It Cool News.” It has a comics discussion area in addition to TV, movies, music, and other boards. Although I was never as active there as I was with IAF, I wrote occasional entries that I thought were interesting. Other people sometimes said they liked my writing, as was the case with my work for IAF. Those encouraging words have inspired me, slowly. Finally, some friends on Facebook, including Gene, prodded me until I turned my musings about a blog into what you’re reading.

Watch this space. I will try hard not to bore you.

signature first name

Dennis Morrigan McDonough

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