Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.
When I was 14, my friend Roy introduced me to Monty Python. Or, at least, I thought he did. See, after watching the Pythons’ infamous Dead Parrot skit, I had this moment of clarity and realization, and I suddenly found myself, as a six year old, on a plane to LA, listening to the in-flight radio’s comedy channel—and laughing my tuchus right off at the very same Dead Parrot skit.
The point of that little anecdote is that, for a while now, I’d been telling people that my journey into indie comics started when I got into Oni Press in the late ’90s (a topic I’ll probably cover in the next edition), which, upon closer reflection isn’t actually true. In fact, I probably got into indie comics around the same time as a lot of kids my age. Well, one indie comic in particular anyway; you might have heard of it: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Squiggly flashback lines
Let me take you back, dear reader, to the early ’90s—to a time when Guns N’ Roses was more than just Axl and everyone was down with OPP (yeah, you know me). Before The Walking Dead showed the world that indie comics could become a massive franchise, the Turtles were a juggernaut and every kid was nuts over them, myself included.
I had all the toys and watched all the episodes. But I also remember that, on my school bus, one kid actually had a reprint of the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They were, to my seven-year-old mind, a lot darker than the cartoons and I was naturally enthralled. They were superheroish like Spider-Man, but not. I mean, come on—in that very first issue [20-YEAR-OLD SPOILER] they killed Shredder! Do not pass Go; do not get sent back to Dimension X.
Sadly, because it was one copy being passed around, I didn’t really get to digest it until last year when IDW Publishing reprinted the first couple of issues in a massive hardcover. IDW, interestingly enough, also has ties to the second time I was exposed to indie comics.
Victims, weren’t we all?
James O’Barr’s The Crow had a similar effect on me, seven years after the Ninja Turtles. Like any 14-year-old in the mid-90s, I was angsty and brooding and wore more black clothes than was sensible in a tropical Singaporean climate. And it was all because of Alex Proyas’ adaptation of O’Barr’s comic, the movie that was famed for being Brandon Lee’s last role.
Again, I devoured everything I could that was related to The Crow. I had the soundtrack on cassette (ask your parents, kids) and I rewatched the film on laser disc (seriously, ask your parents) so many times that I could recite entire scenes by heart.
I also borrowed a reprint of O’Barr’s original comic from my friend Paul and was astounded by what could be done in terms of comic storytelling. It was more a bloody piece of poetry than a tightly cohesive story, but it said everything that needed to be said. The art was a mix of a grimly manga-infused, almost cartoony style and gorgeously painted, emotionally charged pages that, up till then, I never thought could be part of a comic.
Years later, I picked up the trade paperback for myself. And recently, I found out that IDW’s roped in John Shirley, one of the screenwriters for Proyas’ film, and O’Barr himself, to pen new stories revolving around The Crow legend.
All the comics who independent, throw your hands up at me
Like I said at the start, these two books were really just the first few drops of what would be the torrent of indie comics I’d find myself drowning in. I said earlier that Oni Press will probably be the focus of the next edition, but after laying the groundwork here a bit, I might want to also talk about what the term “indie” really means in the confines of comics. Or I might not. Look, as I also already established with the opening paragraph, I don’t exactly have the most reliable memory.
Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much. And, yes, he had a goth phase. Look, he was 14, OK?