Big Bang Comics. What began as an homage to a fading tradition has developed its own history.
Some context, free of charge; comics have always been a part of my life and in fact, I used to work at a funny book emporium more years gone than feels possible. It was the early 90s, I was 18 years old and my claim is that I was sexy as hell and I am sticking to it!
It was a time of the infamous speculation bubble and before that sucker burst absolutely everyone was putting out their own comic book universes cut from whole cloth to challenge the big publishers long dominant in the field. Shelf space was in great demand, collected editions were in their infancy and shops still ordered extra copies for the back issue bins. A gallon of gas was under a buck.
There was also Big Bang Comics. I remember the book on the shelves back then, proudly Silver Age retro during that self-declared Modern Age, stubbornly anachronistic. This was the passion project of Gary Carlson and Chris Ecker, I have learned. They have been doing it off and on for 4 (holy shit) decades, and that achievement deserves a low whistle of respect, touch fingers to hat brim. In that time comics “grew up” and went dark, the industry exploded, then imploded, then went corporate. All the while, these dudes kept making the comics that appealed to them, developing a rich cast of characters with deep history.
Golden and Silver Age comics, with their optimistic storytelling and straight-faced approach to absurdity, seemed immature and shallow to me at the time. I hadn’t the experience yet to appreciate the artistry of these more innocent Ages and their creators. They had unashamedly been made for kids, and ones of my Dad’s sepia-toned generation, at that! I felt they were now behind me and with shame I confess that I even believed they deserved to be left behind. I was not alone, as the meteoric popularity of the early Image style and that thoroughly modern approach would soon attest.
In that (long) time since I was that sexy young devil slinging the four-color funnies, my tastes have evolved. I have aged and in some ways matured. I have discovered the charms of the comics that preceded my immediate experience and I finally get why “Silver Age Goodness” is a real thing geeks say. In this time of Reprint Renaissance my shelves groan beneath the weight of Silver Age collected editions. I thrill when I see the names of the men and (sadly, too few) women who built the art form show up again when new works or long out of print material become available. I recently reviewed (and adored) Binge Books’ similarly nostalgia-fueled THE HEROES UNION #1. I have fully become the target audience for Big Bang.
My first Big Bang Comic was KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE (BIG BANG ADVENTURES # 8) and I jumped in cold, no prior knowledge of the characters and story. I felt this would emulate the childhood experience of grabbing a random dollar-box comic based on an exciting cover. A comic boasting nostalgia sensibilities should (and yes, did) give me the context I need to follow and enjoy.
Pedro Angosto writes, Pablo Alcalde draws, Simon Loko colors.
The Alcalde cover is lovingly rendered and feels inspired by the Silver Age and yet not of it. It has an 80s small publisher colored-pencil effect from Loko and the cover design is of an iconic gatefold “team photo” type that wan’t common until much later.
There’s a variant cover that left me cold overall, busy and with colors that I found off-putting - but the artist Jorge Santamaria has this Barry Windsor-Smith thing going on in his Dr. Weird figure that I really like.
The title page is pure vintage, then Alcalde gives us a full-page team pin-up that is a palate cleanser for that B-cover. My faith was rewarded with a roster roll call that delivers a quick bullet point or three for each character. The villains have adorable trading-cardy images… oh heck, check it out!
The comic takes right off, jumping into action as the Knights of Justice come up against the Alliance of Evil and as with the cover, Alcalde brings his retro-inspired character work to modern widescreen panel layouts. Loko’s coloring is best when it’s that soft colored-pencil effect I liked on the cover, but it’s a little inconsistent and some pages (thankfully few) are less pleasant.
Angosto makes a few odd narrative choices, like a page warning of dire societal consequences, that features some jolting imagery. Vita-Man is taken out of the story in a way that begs the question of why he was there to begin with. However, some very nice character work elevates the story, like the amusing scenes with Venus in the Underworld and Thunder Girl’s sacrifice at the bank of the River Lethe. The scene where The Beacon and The Blitz encounter Saturn also stands out. Cameos of other Big Bang characters hint at a broader tapestry before the story comes to a satisfying and appropriate resolution.
The pin-up section is generous, featuring not only the Knights characters from this book but many others from Big Bang’s history. The character design work really shines and while it’s fun to see some Big Two influences peek through, it’s obvious that the Big Bang stable have become their own unique brand. There’s an enthusiasm still evident after 30 years that makes me want to be a part of this special thing, this comic book underdog.
Having begun at an early incarnation of Caliber Comics and then published by Image for most of its existence, Big Bang Comics is currently being self-published at IndyPlanet.com, where you can score a copy both digitally and via print-on-demand. The book is a massive 52 pages and you can expect to pay from $3 to $9, depending on print or digital. That you can’t easily get a print copy at your local comics shop, and for a more standard price point, cannot be doing Big Bang any favors for audience growth. However, if you head to BigBangComics.com it looks like you can order much of the print backlist for standard print prices, which is super goddamn cool. They also have some collected editions, merchandise and, wait a second. Is that Tom Freakin’ King writing the Knight Watchman newspaper-strip style webcomic?!
Big Bang Comics. I am looking forward to checking out more!
Plenty of Pulp, by Max Cage, for Wednesday Pull List