Hip Flask, &c

John let me borrow a shit ton of comics a week or so ago, and most recently I finished the Hip Flask series, including the Elephantmen series, and a few other random issues here and there.

I was originally smitten by the pilot episode, in a pretty oversized binding with some of the most detailed artwork I've ever seen in a comic (by Ladrönn). The story seemed cool too. It was a great sci-fi pulp action concept: here's what the website says:

2162: THEY ARE THE SURVIVORS of genetic engineering experiments
and indoctrination by Doctor Kazushi Nikken and MAPPO,
a sinister organization which sought to create suprahuman
weapons of mass destruction.

FREED AND REHABILITATED by the United Nations Intelligence
Taskforce, the 'Unhumans' now live amongst men.
Legitimized by the 'Elephantmen' act, they are nevertheless denied
the right to bear arms and must survive on their wits alone...

The series is okay. Its biggest problem is that it never seems to get beyond those two paragraphs. Almost every issue re-explains that origin story and shows how short the stick is that the Elephantmen get. The former is just sloppy writing that can be fixed as soon as someone tells Starkings as much. The latter just shows a lack of imagination, which is really unfortunate since both the cyberpunkesque world and the disturbed characters have such potential. X-Men, f'rinstance, is all about people that get the short of the stick, but X-Men isn't always about that. The X-Men do stuff when they're not being shat on.

There's a huge imbalance between the good guys and the bad guys, too. The good guys, including Hip Flask, Ebony, and a handful of humans, are Disney-like until someone messes with them, then they have a flashback, tear stuff up, and return to their former
melancholic but jolly demeanor. Obadiah Horn--the rhino--and his wife, Sahara, show off much greater depth of character, despite the former's apparently transparent goals and the latter's deceptively shallow personality. The problem there is that I end up not caring that much about the good guys and caring a whole lot about the baddies. But I'm not being fair: the so-called bad guys aren't typical antagonists. They're likable, and might end up not being the antagonists after all. Nonetheless, their personalities are tested in much more interesting and much more mature ways than are those of Hip Flask, Ebony, and some of the others.

All said, though, this series has more potential than anything else I've read in a while. The geography, the recent past, and a large part of the politics of Hip Flask's world haven't been touched on yet, and neither have most of the character's personalities, to any great extent. The series doesn't need anything drastic, just a really good writer who can bring a few good storyarcs to really test the characters in new and fresh ways. This sounds like a job for Alan Moore.


Richard Starkings said...

A job for Alan Moore?


But you're right, Alan has a remarkable capacity for taking other people's characters and concepts and making them compelling. I love reading his books. I have lettered his books and loved lettering them.

But has Alan actually created any characters of his own that are as interesting and ripe with possibilty as Superman, Superboy, Batman, Wonder Woman, Doc Savage, the Spirit, the Charlton heroes, Marvelman, Swamp Thing, the Invisible Man, Jekyll and Hyde, James Bond, Alan Quartermain, the cast of Dracula, Wendy, Alice or Dorothy?

I think not. Alan is a wonderful wordsmith and spinner of yarns -- a larger than life character and a gentleman and a scholar to boot -- but I think even he would be insulted on my behalf if you suggested to him that he could make a better job of telling stories and creating characters that are unique to me and that bring me (and my small -- but growing --readership) immense pleasure. And I think insult would turn to injury if you told him how much money I could make available to him as compensation for his endeavors. Better yet, five or six years ago I actually did ask him to write a HIP FLASK story for me -- to be illustrated by Tim Sale. And I'm so glad he -- very warmly and politely -- declined.

ELEPHANTMEN and HIP FLASK are my attempts to honor creators like Alan Moore, Dave Sim, John Wagner, Scott McCloud and Jack Kirby. Creators who talked openly and often about the inherent injustice of the work for hire system. Creators who encourage us all to Create, and to Own what we create so that our creations cannot be taken away from us and randomly assigned to more popular and expensive creative teams.

My storytelling may need some work, and I may not be providing readers with easy to follow character motivations and story arcs, but I can assure you that I approach every single issue of each book with passion. I care very deeply about the characters and the directions in which they are headed. Hip Flask, Obadiah Horn, Ebony and Miki sprang from my heart and I am very protective of them.

Your comparison with the X-MEN is understandable but unfair. There have been over a thousand X-MEN stories told now, and millions of copies of the movies sold on DVD. Their origin story has been told and re-told and revamped and reinterpreted twenty or thirty times. How many times has Magneto returned? How many times has the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants re-formed. How many times has Phoenix died and been reborn? How many times have we seen the X-MEN in the Danger Room? How many All-New All-Different reboots? Could you really tell me what was different each time?

What's interesting to me about the Elephantmen is who they are and how their personalities develop as they relate to the world of man and how that world relates to them. It's not a book about superheroes slugging it out with supervillains, it's a book about a different world -- one where science and nature have collided and people's concepts of humanity and humanism have come into question. That's the kind of book I want to write, because that's the kind of book I want to read, and if it doesn't quite fit your perception of what a good comic should be, it's because I'm not trying to fit a particular model, I'm trying to develop my own.

I do appreciate your comments, as any articulate response to my work helps me define and refine my own direction and attitude, and I hope you stick around to see where I'm taking the story. Just bear in mind, I won't be taking it to Alan Moore.


Jason said...

Rich, I'm glad you brought up my unfair comparison to the X-Men. Hip Flask & Elephantmen haven't had the chance to rehash old storylines yet, so I wasn't thinking of them in my comparison, but your bringing it up assures me you won't be going that route, and that more than anything'll keep me reading. I consider the rehashing most of the mainstream superhero titles do to be the biggest violation of the reader's trust (and dollar), since, at the end of the day, you know your core cast will always be there, doing their thing, for decades to come. That's what I think people like Moore, or Veitch, or (occasionally) Miller do well--they breathe fresh air into a series, which a lot of series need. Elephantmen doesn't--it's too young, and has a lot of ground to cover yet, though I obviously had some suggestions.

I'm no pro, and I haven't put out the body of work most cartoonists have, but I understand being protective of your characters. Sorry if the Moore comment, or any comment, came off as harsh--they weren't meant to be. Like I said, you have a great world and a great cast, and Elephantmen has more potential going for it than any series I can think of. I'm interested to see where you'll take it.