As a kid in the desolate American suburban landscape of the 1980′s, there were few outlets for my adolescent development. Aside from the exposure to whatever science fiction novels I could sneak out of my older brother’s room, I was pretty much left to my own imagination… until I discovered a spectacular magazine just sitting at the bottom of the rack at knee level. Epic Illustrated.
Epic Illustrated was an offshoot of Marvel Comics in a time when Marvel was far cooler than anyone cares to remember. In 1980, Frank Miller was on Daredevil, Claremont and Byrne were on X-Men, Perez was on The Avengers… and Epic was their very own sci-fi anthology mag. Epic has been called a poor man’s Heavy Metal and I guess that’s fair, but even so, where else could you get an article on Wally Wood, Harlan Ellison short stories illustrated into comics and Rick Veitch‘s brilliant Abraxas and the Earthman?
As a teenager, this blew my mind. As an adult, it still does. For a scant six years, Epic published the best science fiction tales I have ever seen. A unique experiment originally called ‘Odyssey’ headed by Rick Marschall and later Archie Goodwin, Epic Illustrated also allowed creators the unusual opportunity to retain ownership of their work (something we’ll likely never see again from Marvel or DC).
The mag ran the wondrous gamut of established creators like Byrne (The Last Galactus Story) and Claremont (Marada The She-Wolf) to newcomers Steve Bissette, John J. Muth and Wendy Pini (later famous for the Elf Quest comics).
This was a magazine unlike anything I have ever seen before. By carrying it to school I got cred for the Frazetta naked lady painting on the cover but the stories inside were worlds away from the ‘good will always prevail/support the establishment tales that I was reading in monthly comics.
‘Run For The Stars’ retold the Harlan Ellison tale of the last Earthman left behind by his people as a human bomb capable of destroying the entire planet. But he was smart and figured out how to rig the device to detonate via a push button control that he held out for all to see. Where he was once a loser, he had ascended to King of his own planet (in fact, I still own this ratty mag).
Back before the phrase graphic novel had become a phrase that operated toward a bound collection of Jughead comics and the work of painters and graphic designers working with acclaimed novelists… there was Epic; a magazine you could roll it up and stuff it in your back pocket and featured breathtaking art suitable for framing. In other words, when comics acted more and posed less.
* Dreadstar by Jim Starlin
* Marada by Chris Claremont and John Bolton
* Abraxas and the Earthman by Rick Veitch
* The Last Galactus Story by John Byrne
* Young Cerebus – a series of vignettes of the early life of Cerebus by Dave Sim
* Ken Steacy‘s adaptations of Harlan Ellison short stories
Sadly, Marvel has not announced any plans to reprint selections or even a collected run of this forgotten jewel.
The Icon imprint is the closest that they have come to ‘creator-owned’ comics, but it’s mainly the Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack show for all its worth. I yearn for the days when you could pick up a magazine that held between its covers Steve Bissette, John Buscema and comic book adaptations of Franz Kafka.
For two bucks.