Wednesday, June 9, 2010
A Wedding Gift From Barry Kitson
(Be Warned: The following is fairly unironic and even kinda sweet in places.)
In 1998, I wasn't reading a lot of comics. My monthly list was down to Robin, Impulse, JLA and Nightwing. Untold Tales of Spider-Man was cancelled the year before, so there were no Marvel books for me to read.
But my favorite comic that year was JLA: YEAR ONE. Mark Waid and Barry Kitson made a 12-issue masterpiece starring the "original" team of Justice Leaguers (Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Flash & Aquaman). Waid didn't just heap a pile of fightyness on us; he showed the insecurities, failures, and differences between all these people that came together to try to do some good in the world.
I emphasize differences, because my favorite aspect of the series, and my favorite part of Mr. Waid's work in general, is the layers of interesting personality tics and quirks he gives to each of his characters. In Ruse, there was Simon Archard, the genius mystery solver that refused to learn any language but his beloved English. In Fantastic Four, Reed Richards has such guilt over exposing his family to radiation that he dedicates his life (without telling them) to ensuring that the public love and trust them. In JLA: Year One, my favorite character was Aquaman. He was a congenial king of the seas, a fish out of water, trying to do good for a part of the world he was unfamiliar with (that being the part of the world not covered in ocean).
How unfamiliar? When Aquaman spoke, no one could hear him; he was used to the ocean currents carrying his voice further than air could. His hushed voice emphasized how out of touch Aquaman was with the the surface world. He was an earthling, but on land he was as alien as Martian Manhunter.
The best example of this, and my favorite page of this great series, is in Issue 2, Page 3. Aquaman sits on a dock (not on land, not on water), teaching himself to read with a kid's picture book. As he frustratingly makes his way through the stupid English language, Manhunter flies down to commiserate with his teammate, and impart a helpful tidbit. In one page, Waid and Kitson have crystalized the greatest parts of the American dream (a bunch of people from all sorts of different places, trying to get along in a new land and live together), teamwork, friendship and heroism. This isn't a manufactured scene forced between fight sequences to tell readers "Ooh look, they're people just like us! And they're happy to be helping us!" It's a natural, unrushed moment between good people that're unfamiliar with their surroundings, but determined to make a difference.
All that typing up above was a long-ass way of thanking my friend Barry Kitson for giving me the original artwork to JLA: Year One #2, Page 3. I talk to Barry about this page all the time (I'm sure he's tired of me bringing up a non-fighting page he drew 12 years ago), and I'm honored that the artist of my favorite page from one of my favorite comics would give me the greatest wedding gift a punk-ass Mississippi boy could ever ask for.
So Mr. Waid, thanks for writing such a great page for Barry to draw. And Barry, thanks for your friendship, kindness, and for giving me the first piece of comic art I'm going to have framed and proudly display on my wall.