Monday, May 10, 2010

Chris Samnee, Sherlock Holmes and Atomic Comics

Schedule, unrelenting back pain and a wicked cold have conspired to prevent much drawing this past week but I’m not letting that get me down. The weather has been simply glorious and I had a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend with my parents and finally got to hang out with Christian at Legend after a month of trying. A false alarm at work early this morning did give me the chance to nail down a layout for the drawing I’m doing for my Cromdaughter, Lilah so, work permitting, I may be able to post something later this week.

While looking for reference for the character, I came across the blog of one of my new favorite artists, Chris Samnee. I first noticed his work when he took over drawing THE MIGHTY from Peter Snejbjerg who has a similar style. I love guys who draw with bold lines and have a gestural, almost cartoony quality to their work. My love for Darwyn Cooke and Bruce Timm is well documented. There’s also Cameron Stewart, Javier Pulido, Cliff Chiang and Marcos Martin. These guys all seem to come from the Alex Toth school of comic art and I’m torn between absolutely loving them and being driven insane with envy at their talent. Chris Samnee in particular drives me nuts. I stumbled across a Rom sketch of his a few months back that made me just cry. Like Darwyn Cooke, his drawing style makes it look like he just throws the ink on the page in a frenzy. But it always ends up so perfect. And he combines that with an awesome design sense and a Frank Miller-esque grasp of positive/negative space, not feeling the need to draw a solid line around his figures. Check out his blog HERE. I’m sure you’ll dig it.

Every once in a while, the cover of a comic will catch my eye and I’ll just have to buy it. Unfortunately, that rarely happens with first issues. This usually results in a frantic search for back issues. Sometimes, that search is fruitless (as was the case with NORTH 40 recently) and I end up waiting for the trade. Last week, after about two weeks of searching, my friends at Nostalgia Plus hooked me up with the complete run of VICTORIAN UNDEAD, the Wildstorm series billed as “Sherlock Holmes versus zombies.” I confess to not being a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and only recall reading the story about the Redheaded League or some such in high school and I enjoyed the Peter Cushing version of HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. That’s about the extent of my experience with the character. But the series was about zombies, after all, and the art was really nice, including some enticing cover work. So I gave it a shot. Sometimes, it seems, you can judge a book by its cover. VICTORIAN UNDEAD was a real hoot. It’s well-written and the writers seem to have done their Holmes-work (heh), as there are quite a few references to Holmes canon. I didn’t realize it was a miniseries until I got to the end and was very saddened to see the story end. It’s left me with a taste for Sherlock Holmes stories and I think I’ll seek out one of the ubiquitous hardcover collections at Barnes and Noble. If you haven’t read the series, I highly recommend you try it. (Rod Hannah, this seems to be particularly up your alley.)


During my parents’ visit this weekend, we got on the subject of cities with really bad traffic. New York and Los Angeles came up, of course, but when Virginia Beach was mentioned, it sparked some comic-related memories. I lived in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area briefly after college when an old school friend of mine invited me down to help him start a video production company under the umbrella of his father’s market research firm.

The whole thing ended up being a disaster but I do have some pleasant recollections. I was completely unfamiliar with the area but managed to find a tiny (and I mean tiny) apartment just off the ODU campus. It was my first time living by myself so, through the friend of my aunt, I adopted Toonces, my now-19-year-old little buddy. Sometimes Suzanne would come down from Richmond and visit us and spend the weekend. (Those weekends were the only times I could really be said to eat well.) The job paid less than peanuts so my disposable income was almost non-existent. I did manage to get back into buying a few comics, though, after having to give them up almost completely during college. During our school years, I would go with Mike (who was much wiser with his money) to Nostalgia Plus but only occasionally would I be able to actually buy anything.

Now that I was working for a living, my priority in my new home — after locating the nearest grocery store and laundromat — was finding a comic shop. I got out the Yellow Pages and found one called Atomic Comics that seemed to be somewhere nearby. I didn’t have a map so I ventured out in my car on one of the rare Saturdays I didn’t have to work and drove all around the neighborhood, trying to find the place. No luck. Disappointed, I went home, figuring the place had closed down. I’ve found, whenever I move to a new location, it’s easier to get a feel for a place on foot, rather than behind the wheel of a car when you have to worry about running stoplights or hitting a parked car. So, one evening, when I got home before sundown, I set off on foot to walk the area, not particularly worrying about Atomic Comics. Astonishingly, without really intending to, I stumbled onto the place...about two blocks from my apartment!

It’s hard for me to express the elation I felt. For me, at that point, getting to a comic shop had always been dependent on Mike. There were no decent shops in Lynchburg so, once the comics industry went direct sales only, I relied on Mike to drive us to Roanoke, fifty miles away, once a week, for our fix. In college, though I wasn’t buying much, I’d ride with Mike on his trips just to keep up with what was coming out. Now, here was a shop I could walk to, maybe a hundred yards from where I slept. I was giddy. Thinking back, it wasn’t much of a shop. About the size of a small barber shop. But it had all the new releases and a few boxes of back issues. And the proprietor, a young guy about my age, was pretty friendly. I don’t remember exactly what I bought. This was 1991, so I was probably buying THE FLASH by William Messner-Loebs and Greg Laroque and I was pretty into the SUPERMAN books. But I do remember buying THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN which was being drawn by Sal Buscema. Until college, I’d had a complete run of the title and it was particularly painful when I had to stop reading it. Now I had the chance to catch up. I think the shop had a few months worth of issues and I picked them up cheap.

I took my haul back to my apartment. The luster had started to wear off my new job and I was starting to feel a little depressed, away from home and far away from Suzanne and my family. But something so simple as having an armload of new comics really boosted my spirits. It sounds ridiculous but it was true. It was something to cling to. I curled up on the couch in my tiny living room and savored those books, reading well into the evening. I’ve rarely enjoyed reading comics as much as I did that weekend.

The next week, I got paid and decided to head on out Saturday morning to see if I could scrounge a few more back issues of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. Arriving at the store, I was shocked to see the place locked up tight, a “GONE OUT OF BUSINESS” sign taped to the inside of the glass on the door. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe my new comic shop was gone...after one week! The empty-handed walk back to my apartment seemed much, much longer this time than it had a week prior. However, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in JURASSIC PARK, comic readers will find a way. I eventually located a new shop a few blocks down from where I worked but the walk from the office was along-side a freeway and a little treacherous. Driving was an unpleasant option because crossing the traffic was difficult unless you wanted to pay tolls (which I didn’t.) It was a much nicer shop than Atomic Comics, large, well-stocked and, I don’t know...shiny...but the same thrill just wasn’t there.

It was all moot, anyway. After only three months or so, it had become apparent that my friend’s dad had no intention of following through with starting the video production company and I’d ended up doing low-end focus group videos and designing brochures for the marketing research firm. Not bad work but the hours-to-salary ratio was unacceptable and, frankly, I didn’t care much for my friend’s father. So Tooncie and I packed our bags and back home we went.

My little affair with Atomic Comics only lasted one visit but it made one hell of an impression and it remains one of my more vivid comic book memories.


Warren said...

That was a nice story. These days it's easy for an aging fanboy like me to forget what comic books have meant to me throughout my life. Thanks for reminding me.

Brian said...

Matt, I know what you mean about the excitement of accidentally finding a comic store.

While out driving one day in my new - now 16 year old - neighborhood, I caught, out of the corner of my eye, a Thor statue in a store window.

I had stopped reading comics in high school - some 20 or so years pior - but had held on to my collection and my love of the art.

I circled back and, even though the store was not opened, I got out of the car and did a little window shopping.

I did not immediately go back to buying and reading comics, but I eventually did and I owe all the great friends I have made and the fun that I have had reading comics, attending conventions and even trying my hand at writing comics to that glimpse of Thor in the window of a little comic book store.

Josh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh said...

I know the feeling about Atomic Comics. None of the comic book stores I've been to, except I don't know about two of them, haven't lasted long. As far as I know, the first one I've ever been to lasted the longest.

Note: I mispelled "to" in the last sentence, so I deleted the comment and reposted it with the correct spelling.

Matt Wieringo said...

That's a great story, Brian. Josh, I know what you mean. I've been fortunate that my friends at Nostalgia Plus have been around as long as I've been in Richmond. But I've seen a lot of shops go away, usually around the time I come to depend on them.

Heywood Jablomie said...

Hey Matt!

Nice story!

I know how you feel too. Thru the early to mid 90's I had the same experiences, and actually stopped buying books for a while because it was getting to be too much of a pain in the ass to drive around to go to a store just to find that they closed as well. Missed out on a lot of cool stuff because of that, most of it being Mike & Todd's Spidey run and Tellos.

And I am totally a huge fan of Victorian Undead. One of my faves of the past year for sure. I've been trying to get people to read it for a while now. Hopefully it gets a trade release as well.

Squeeze said...

Wow we had a lot of fun in that little tiny apartment. The kitchen was a renovated closet. You could not open the oven all the way- it hit the cabinets on the other side! I love that picture we have in the guest room of you, Mike and your Mom out on the little stoop the day you moved in.
That apartment was where Toonces and I finally bonded. He's not a cat that snuggles up to you unless he's cold. But a wicked case of fleas cured that. He would stay in my lap while I took the flea comb to him to remove the little blood suckers. A dip for him and a couple of flea bombs later and they were gone thankfully.