Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about audiences and about screaming into the void.
One of my earliest ongoing creative endeavors was writing fan fiction inside the Final Fantasy II (Japan IV) universe. I was writing it just to write it, but then I discovered a few other like-minded folks on the internet and we had a small, shared universe of fiction. Honestly, I have no idea how 14-year-old me put it all together – the details are a blur. It was mostly just that same handful of people who were reading it. No one was writing for attention or exposure. We were all writing for the joy of writing.
The same is true for my songwriting. I spent years writing songs for no one to hear before I started pushing to play them for more people. Even after being in a gigging band for years, to this day the vast majority of my catalog has never been heard outside of our house or this website because I write so darn many songs. I’d have to put out an album a year to keep up and tour constantly.
I have the luxury of doing those things for fun. My fanfic was niche and so is my music, but it doesn’t really matter. I am happy to cast that art out into the void knowing no response would echo back at me.
The problem with doing art for the love of it comes once you’ve actually earned some attention. What happens when more than a handful of people like your writing or your music? Now you have an audience. If you were making art for the love of it, their eyeballs and ears shouldn’t make any difference to you. Yet, it’s hard to avoid their influence, even if you aren’t performing craven acts of fan service to keep them all pleased. Once you’ve seen an indicator that your art is actually being consumed it’s hard to ignore it completely.
Let’s advance that to it’s end state: a popular artist who has followed their own path and pleased fans along the way now wants to do something inherently less popular – or simply something different. I’m not thinking about the dangers inherent in each new release. Instead, consider an independent artist experimenting with a new genre or a big money director wanting to make a decidedly non-mainstream film. J.K. Rowling is a terrific example; after Harry Potter, she didn’t want to write another young readers opus, but that’s what everyone wanted!
It’s a risk. Do they trust fans enough to compartmentalize this work of otherness away from their main oeuvre? You might not be able to afford the detour if it turns too many people off. In Rowling’s case, she released one novel under her own name (The Casual Vacancy) and then another under a pseudonym (The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith). Neither detracted from the fervor for Potter, but the latter earned higher marks from fans and critics, called “a brilliant debut.”
Was it the quality of the Galbraith book that made it more successful, or that it was free of baggage? How would you enjoy the new album from your favorite artist if you didn’t know it was by them?
Collects Savage Hulk issues #1-4 written and penciled by Alan Davis, with inks by Mark Farmer and colors by Matt Hollingsworth. Also includes X-Men (1963) #66 written by Stan Lee with pencils by Sal Buscema.
Tweet-sized Review: Alan Davis writes/draws a lovely, clever sequel to X-Men #66, a face-off w/Hulk, in this ode to early-70s Marvel.
CK Says: Consider it.
This Alan Davis Hulk and X-Men story is a love letter to early-70s comic books and it’s possible you simply won’t care. His tale in The Savage Hulk, Vol. 1 – The Man Within branches off from a bash-em-up encounter between the heroes in X-Men #66, the last comic before the hiatus ended by their Giant-Size comeback in 1974.
In a follow-up to that orphaned story, a recovered Professor Charles Xavier feels compelled to design a device that could help Bruce Banner control the Hulk as repayment for Banner’s cure for his mental exhaustion. However, the Hulk is being hunted by the military after causing serious damage in Las Vegas, while Xavier has unwittingly attracted the attention of Hulk’s foe The Leader.
Everything about this comic is a wonderful throwback, from the overly explained technical McGuffin to the crazy one-off consequences that would never fly in today’s world of continuity obsession. It feels completely of a piece with the classic issue, which is included in the trade for reference.
For those who aren’t rewarded by the retro sensibilities of the story, there’s still the modern marvel of Alan Davis’s artwork. Davis is a pro who has been in the business for over 35 years and his pencils are just as beautiful today as they were at any prior period in his career. It’s a delight to see him lovingly illustrate these X-Men characters in their youth – particularly Jean, for whom he’s always had a knack. The action beats are kinetic, especially in a trip inside Bruce Banner’s brain.
I lingered over every page, which is especially a credit to Matt Hollingsworth’s colors. It’s hard to pick a favorite from Marvel’s deep bench of extraordinary colorists, but Hollingsworth is surely one of the most remarkable. His colors never overwhelm the linework from Davis and longtime inker Mark Farmer and neatly avoid the cheap-looking gloss of so many modern books. There are so many panels I keep returning to – especially the double-page splash of an enraged Hulk nose-to-nose with Xavier, followed by a sequence of tight shots on his face.
I have no idea how or why Marvel greenlit this book. Davis is no longer a sure seller and Hulk isn’t enough of one to merit an anthology series in addition to his main title – in fact, I’m positive this story would have sold better under the banner X-Men: The Hidden years! Even if it had sold like gangbusters, the take won’t lead anywhere. It’s the comics equivalent of turning a dead end into a cul-de-sac – less unsightly, but still the end of the road.
Despite all that, I’m very happy this run exists. I’ve gone back to it repeatedly to page through Davis’s pencil work. And, unlike a lot of extensions of the X-Men’s early years that feel extraneous, I would absolutely read this after future readings of issue #66.