Desert Island Comics – Episode 68 – Cy Dethan
Another week, another wonderful selection of comics to while away the days and months one comicker will be spending on one of FPI’s select desert islands. This week we have writer Cy Dethan:
Dethan is the writer behind the much lauded Cancertown series, two volumes of which have been published through Markosia. Other titles from Dethan include Starship Troopers, Slaughterman’s Creed, The Indifference Engine and White Knuckle. He’s working on the Unseen Shadows transmedia project right now, but in past lives he’s been a copywriter, editor, and a professional magician. A few weeks back he provided us with his Best Cover EVER? pick and now he’s here to entertain us with a great 8 comics, and possibly the best luxury item we have had thus far.
Desert Island Comics – Episode 68 – Cy Dethan
The Mighty Thor: The Hammer and the Holocaust (Marvel Treasury Edition) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Generally speaking, I don’t read a lot of superhero comics – but there was a time when I could hardly imagine anything else in this world being worth my attention. I liberated The Hammer and the Holocaust, an 82-page epic concerning the triggering of Ragnarok by the unstoppable Mangog, from my primary school reading bin in 1976. I almost literally read the covers off that thing, and still treat my copy like a holy relic. I’d go so far as to say that there is nothing to know about Marvel superheroics in the 1970s that can’t be found in this book.
Samurai books are a big deal in my personal history as a comics reader, and I thought long and hard about which Kazuo Koike / Goseki Kojima collaboration to include in my list. Lone Wolf & Cub might have seemed the highest profile and most natural choice, but in the end I went with the tighter, more focused Samurai Executioner. Its protagonist, Yamada Asaemon, is in some ways the shadow of Lone Wolf’s Ogami Ittō – a sword-tester and professional executioner whose purpose is as much to examine and reflect the world he lives in as to drive the story itself. The art in this book is unfailingly, brutally beautiful and the storytelling is a masterclass in economy and power.
Black Hole by Charles Burns
Charles Burns firing on all cylinders. I first discovered Burns’ work in 1988, via the outstanding documentary film, Comic Book Confidential. Before that time, I had no idea that a comic could provide a genuinely creepy reading experience. That is, I’d read and loved plenty of horror comics, but had never really seen one that stuck with me. Black Hole, with its sexually transmitted mutations and rich vein of nightmarish metaphor, is among his strongest, purest visions.
Stray Toasters is a perfect example of what happens when a creator with the skill, scope and sensibilities of Bill Sienkiewicz is given enough rope to hang himself – he makes damn sure he takes us all with him. Stray Toasters is one of the most visually striking books of its decade – endlessly influential and boasting a level of glorious insanity in its storytelling that makes his better-known work on Elektra: Assassin seem almost tame and pedestrian by comparison.
William Gaines meets William Burroughs in this legitimately unsettling exercise in altered-state-of-the-art craftsmanship. David Hine and Shaky Kane complement each other’s styles more fluidly and troublingly than virtually any other creative pairing I’ve seen in comics. Layers of misdirection and non-linear navigation elevate an already outlandish tale into a true celebration of exploration in the medium. The Bulletproof Coffin is comic book psychedelia at its best – grotesque, hypnotic and expertly, deliriously warped.
Pat Mills and Kev O’Neill, individually and in collaboration, have been responsible for some of the most memorable reading experiences of my life. Toward the end of the 1980s, I was suffering from a growing sense of discontent with mainstream comics – largely due to having my eyes opened to the possibilities of the medium by books like Maus, Ronin and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. At that critical moment, Marshal Law exploded onto my radar and threw all my dissatisfaction with traditional superheroics into pinpoint focus. This book is an utter demolition of the superhero, untainted by sentimentality or affection for the subject matter. Subsequent Marshal Law stories, at least for me, gradually moderated in tone and never quite lived up to the brutality of this first arc, but Fear and Loathing stands the test of time in its clarity of purpose and total lack of compromise.
The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
Probably the single most important item in this list, Luther Arkwright just floored me when I first encountered it. Stylistically and conceptually, that book was doing things I’d never heard of in the medium and breaking rules I didn’t even know existed. It’s interesting to speculate with any great “milestone” comic whether or not it would have the same impact today that it did at the time, but with Bryan Talbot’s work I don’t think you ever need to ask the question. If you challenged me to describe a legitimately timeless classic that still stands out as innovative today, my answer would be The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!
Okay, this is a tough one to explain – a collection of the frankly unhinged works of Fletcher Hanks between 1939 and 1941. While superficially a set of adventure-type stories native to the era, there’s an undeniable undercurrent of nihilism, misanthropy and rage flowing through the work. Imagine Robert Crumb trying to tell a Superman story without ironic intent for a rough idea of the experience – then reflect for a moment on the fact that Crumb himself describes Hanks as “a twisted dude”. The book concludes with an account the compiler’s own efforts to track down Fletcher Hanks, his findings throwing the material into an unexpected, oddly desolate new light and elevating the collection into something unforgettable.
Assuming for a moment that I can’t just pick my partner and serial collaborator Nic Wilkinson for this, I think most people trapped in a desert island scenario would ask for an Apache attack helicopter, wouldn’t they? I mean – that’s just common sense, isn’t it?
Brilliant luxury item though it is, there is the slight problem of it being a potential means of escape from the island. So we’ll give Cy the Apache. But don’t tell Cy we’re going to conveniently forget to fuel it.