Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Little Monster

Shortly after my son, Alex was born in 1995, I made the decision to stop working for comics. Most of the work I had done for British comics was 'hack' work, in the sense that it was work for hire, either inking other people's pencils or drawn in a style that was appropriate for the relevant publications. I don't mean 'hack' in the sense of rushed or slapdash. I always put as much craft as I possibly could into the work, but I was essentially doing a job for pay, and that isn't what I had hoped for, when I chose to pursue a career in comics. I had managed to do a few strips that I considered  worthwhile, with my own style and my own voice, notably for Crisis and Deadline. Finally I had produced a graphic novel in four parts, called  Strange Embrace, originally published by Dave Elliott's UK office of Tundra Publishing, which was later published as a collection by Richard Starking's Active Images.

1993 was not a great year for independent comics. Strange Embrace was published into the middle of a glut of indie black and white books and disappeared without trace. There was no internet to connect with whatever reader-base I may have had, and it felt as if no one was even looking at the thing. I imagined the few thousand copies we printed, languishing in remainder boxes across the USA. I did get some feedback from fellow professionals and was even offered the chance to publish a 'sequel' as a creator owned book from Marvel UK in 1994. I can hear one or two gasps of disbelief there, but yes indeed, in the early 90's Marvel UK, with Paul Neary as editor-in-chief, was planning a whole line of creator owned books under the title Frontier Line.  Evil Eye was planned as a graphic novel in the style of Strange Embrace, though not strictly a sequel. I wrote and drew a short story for the anthology book Marvel Frontier Comics Special. The story combines traditional horror/mystery and what in 1993 was a startlingly innovative new concept - Virtual Reality. Reading it now, it feels like a throwaway piece. If I remember correctly, line editor Michael Bennent asked me to come up with a short piece to showcase the lead character, Michael Hellman.  Atomic Avenue has a short review of the Frontier Comic Special:

"This is a sampler comic for Marvel UK's Vertigoesque Frontier Line, which by the time of publication had packed up and died...Most intriguing are prologues for two never seen again series. "Troubling Deaf Heaven" is a whimsical tale of reincarnation excellently drawn by D'Israeli, but, slim though it may be, David Hine's Evil Eye is the star turn, introducing a gloomy psychic detective investigating a locked room murder."

What most people are unaware of is that Evil Eye was indeed commissioned as a series. The first issue was written and drawn and partially inked when the axe fell. When I have the time, I may scan the script, which was done in the form of pencil layouts with rough hand-letters. I later turned it into an unpublished novel, parts of which became the basis for Daredevil: Redemption, published in 2005 by Marvel US. A long and convoluted journey to publication. When Marvel UK's Frontier Line failed to materialize, that was pretty much the end of it for me. I did a few more strips over the next few years but by 1996, with a young child to look after, it made no sense to be working 60 hours a week or more on work which was less than satisfying. Gradually I moved into commercial illustration. Below is an unpublished illustration I produced under the name Art Gang. It's a Photoshop piece that combines photographs of myself and my son into the eponymous 'Little Monster'. Those are my angry eyes and mouth super-imposed onto Alex's face. The title was constructed with Alex's magnetic fridge alphabet, with some drop shadow added. The line "What makes Little Monster so different, so appealing?" is a nod to Richard Hamilton's Pop Art collage, 'Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?' I suspect there is also a subliminal cry of frustration on my part. I really did miss comics.


  1. Sales of that special were over 50k units. That wasn't enough for them back in the day and Marvel used it as an excuse to can the line. Reality was that the then EiC of Marvel UK felt threatened by the content even though he contributed a script... The individual preceding Frontier mini series had sales of between 40k and 100k units. There was a good chance for this to work, especially with Vertigo being successful, but it as never given a chance. Corporate politics got in the way.

  2. 50k does sound like a lot now, doesn't it? I think the content of the Frontier Special was fairly tame, at least by today's standards, although my plans for Evil Eye went a lot further, as you know. (This is a comment from the former Michael Bennent, who should know what he's talking about as he was the group editor of the Frontier Line). I guess the nervousness may have come from the wicked glint in your eye.

  3. Wicked glint, moi? You flatter me good sir.