Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Pulp Writers and Fans Roundtable About Comic Books (or the PWFRACB)

Comics and pulps have a lot in common (and not just the cheap paper stock they used to be printed on). But which comic book creators today still pay homage to that style of writing? Once again, we picked the brains of some of today's top New Pulp creators and fans.

Which contemporary comic book writers (the past 20 years) best exemplify the spirit of pulps?

(To honor the spirit in which folks answered this one, I'm going to let it run as a dialog thread. It's more fun that way, anyway.)

Lee Houston Jr.: The first name that pops into my head is Dennis O'Neil. Although it's out of your time frame, as far as I'm concerned, he wrote the Shadow perfectly when DC had the license in the 1970s and with the Marvel Graphic Novel Hitler's Astrologer. Moving closer to the present, I would love to see Marvel produce more Mystery Men stories, provided David Liss stays on as writer. But otherwise, the only other names that stand out for me in recent history are Marv Wolfman on Night Force, Don McGrageor on Nathaniel Dusk, and Ken Janssens on his recent Sherlock Holmes mini-series.

R.B. Propst: Christopher Mills easily.

Ron Fortier: Hmmm, past 20 yrs, writer...pulp style of writing.  ;-)

Sean Taylor: Of course you're at the top of list, Cap'n Ron (of Airship 27).

Nancy Hansen: Bombers came to mind immediately, Ron.

Ron Fortier: Thanks Nancy.  The Good Lord willing, maybe some day I'll actually get to write the sequel.

Ian Watson: This would be a much easier question if we could delve back to the era of Eisner and Kirby. Since we can't I'd suggest:

Frank Miller - his minimalist style, his frequent choice of "noir" subject matter, his visceral gut-punch storylines all scream pulp. Love him or hate him, he's right there at the top of the list.

Pat Mills and John Wagner - perhaps not as well known to US audiences, these two creators revitalised the whole UK comics scene with creations like Judge Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock, Robo-Hunter, ABC Warriors and others. The traditional UK comics format was a weekly publication with eight or ten strips of between three and six pages each, so the medium required very tightly-packed concentrated punchy storytelling of the kind pulp tends towards.

Jeff Parker - in mainstream comics Parker is probably at the forefront of the pulp style, blending the traditional "Marvel" approach to sub-plots, character development and conflict with some older tropes and techniques. His influences are clearest in Agents of Atlas, which of course features characters drawn from Timely's 1950s publishing history.

Nancy Hansen: I don't read many comics, just not that excited with them. But I do enjoy very much Thorgal, which is a Belgian comic (it has been widely translated) that I stumbled across in a dollar store when my boys were young. I have a couple copies and wouldn't mind more, it's so well done. Star traveling aliens crash on Earth and their son is raised by Vikings to be the ultimate warrior leader—strong, skilled, persecuted by the gods and his adopted people, and yet compassionate to the core. You can't get much more pulp than that! The series has had a long run.

Bobby Nash: Would I be too vain if I said me? :-)

Sean Taylor: Certainly not. I think any list of pulp comics creators would be remiss if it didn't include Bobby Nash. It's easy to just cite your Domino Lady work, but even your work on Yin Yang flows from a pulp sensibility.

Erwin K. Roberts: But writing pulp-like doesn't necessarily mean good/enjoyable comics. In my opinion, only, Miller, and those who emulate him, are a main reason I stopped buying almost all new comics about twenty years ago.

Ian Watson: I enjoyed Miller's early work, especially Daredevil, but found that when he moved to other material he was something of a one-trick pony. The Dark Knight was the last of Miller's material that I really enjoyed (Batman: Year One was on the cusp), although I've appreciated some of his movie adaptations including RoboCop, 300, and Sin City.

What I didn't like was the overwhelming wave of Miller-wannabees who tried to emulate him across mainstream comics. Like Kirby, Miller is a very distinctive creator and most people who try to pastiche him produce very awkward and painful material. Miller's one trick did not translate well into many other comic series.

Of course, the question only asked which comics creators were most pulpy. There are also pulp creators out there whose work I don't particularly care for.

One creator I missed off the list was: Howard Chaykin - as well as often setting his stories in the "high pulp" 30s era, Chaykin tends towards principal characters drawn directly from pulp roots such as Dominic Fortune, American Flagg, and Cody Starbuck. His seminal Black Kiss is a noir pulp story writ large.

Sean Taylor: Any Brubaker fans? I've always thought Brubaker's work captured that sensibility, though more in a sort of "back door" way, if that makes sense.

Bobby Nash: Brubaker has said he's a pulp fan and his work on Criminal and Incognito definitely has a pulp flair. Brubaker probably tops my list.

Ron Fortier: I love Brubaker, he's the reason I'm loving Captain America again. 

Bill Craig: Roger Stern, John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Ed Brubaker

Sean Taylor: I'd also have to add Chuck Dixon and Beau Smith to the list. Both of them have a direct, to the point style that hearkens back to the pulps, I think. Both also tend to jump straight into the action and use minimal set-up scenes with talking heads standing around doing nothing. Punch, kick, shoot, talk a very little, shoot and fight some more.

Chris Glasgow:  James Robinson (for his Starman series).

Michael Gordon: Matt Wagner.

Alex Miller: A guy who's had a ton of success, but started with some strong pulp roots is Rick Remender. Look at Sea of Red, Strange Girl, Fear Agent and even his recent creator owned project The Last Days of American Crime and you'll see his love for pulp in spades. Even look at his work for Marvel and there's a pulp sensibility to it. Sure it's divisive...You either loved or hated his run on Punisher and Frankencastle, but it had the novelty of never being tried. I can't get enough of the guy's work.

Duane Spurlock: Grant Morrison's work on the first story arc for BATMAN AND ROBIN, with Frank Quitely on art, reminded a bit of Norvell Page's SPIDER adventures. Dark stories with truly fiendish villains.

Pete Miller: For my two cents I say: Mike Mignola for Hellboy and BPRD, Steve Bryant for Athena Voltaire, Brian Clevinger for Atomic Robo.