Hello neighbor! Welcome back to my little comic book corner of Muddy Colors! I often find myself reaching again and again for certain books which continually inspire, entertain and inform my work. Some of the ones I reach for are no surprise to any comics art enthusiast: Frank Miller’s body of work, Hellboy, and Akira are all pretty much cemented as part of the modern canon. I was thinking the other day about how some of my lesser-known favorites, with covers acquiring wear, have an interesting trait in common: they are unfinished.
It’s pretty common for comics to not be completed for one reason or another. Maybe it was budget or scheduling issues, or low sales. Also publishers go out of business from time to time or the creators move onto another project. Often an unrealized project has a haunting beauty to it that endears it to the audience. Visit three of them with me.
The Marquis by Guy Davis
Guy Davis is perhaps most well-known currently for being a big part of the design team on Guillermo del Toro’s films. He was also the regular artist on the comics Sandman Mystery Theater, and BPRD, both of which are excellent series. There may not be a finer monster designer working these days. He was awesome on the Pacific Rim kaiju designs in particular. My favorite of his works is The Marquis, an 18th century dystopian story featuring a black-cloaked demon hunter. Incredible historical costumes and architecture abound in this work. Also, there are tons of manga-style screen tones used in the work quite effectively. The story is excellent. The most notable thing about this series is the incredible, grotesque and disturbing designs for all the demons encountered by The Marquis. You will never forget them! Exciting and clear storytelling is abundant here. I’m not sure why Guy never finished the series, but he published a handful of stories which were collected into a single volume. Unfortunately, the book is getting very hard to find, but on Amazon’s ComiXology the digital version is easy to get.
Opus by Satoshi Kon
A few years ago, I was at a convention with my friend, James Harren. We were walking by a bookseller, and he saw a copy of Opus, handed it to me and said “Buy this, just buy it.” At first, the work looked to me a lot like Otomo, maybe even a bit too much like him. I later found out that Satoshi Kon was an assistant of Katsuhiro Otomo’s, and contributed to the artwork of Akira. He became a renowned director of anime classics like Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers, and Perfect Blue. Tragically, he died of cancer in 2010 at age 46. Opus is the story of a comic creator who finds himself existing inside of his own manga.
Satoshi Kon was a particularly gifted draftsman, and each page exhibits a cinematic quality with the camera movement that is very sophisticated, and a delight to read. A bit Twilight Zone, and a bit Akira. The book was never actually finished, but the way that it was collected still manages to have a perfect ending. It’s a satisfying read, a masterclass in panel composition, and these meta-stories are always fun.
Winter Men by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon
At many dinners/drinks after a long day at a comic convention, I have heard professionals bring this book up with reverence and enthusiasm. It is good. A creator-owned series, Winter Men came out around 2009, and I believe it was supposed to be an 8-issue series, but for some reason was cut down to five issues plus one double-sized issue. A lot of times a big change like this can completely derail a project, but somehow Lewis and Leon produced a real classic here despite the setbacks and limitations. Equal parts The Sopranos and Metal Gear Solid, this is a post-Soviet crime story that almost nobody bought and has sadly been out of print for years. If it were possible, I would put a copy in everyone’s stocking every Christmas, even if they had been a total jerk.
What is so impressive to me about this comic is that each page is lavishly drawn and expertly composed. He demonstrated an immense amount of care and endurance on each page. All of the characters stay on model and the believability of the locations is impressively accomplished. Lots of signage in Russian demonstrates John Paul Leon’s commitment to craftsmanship. He was going for it!
Maddeningly, this book is long out of print and copies are getting expensive. If you’re lucky, you can still find the single issues in the dollar bins of comic shops. John Paul Leon passed away in 2021 after a long battle with cancer, which prompted his good friends to produce an Artist’s Edition of Winter Men featuring the glorious, oversized scans of the original artwork. Worth every penny.
I hope you have some luck tracking these down. Let me know if you love them!