Tuesday, 5 February 2013

'Warp' - A play and a comic!

First Comics was part of the mid 1980s indie attack on the big two. They were genre based and had a no holds barred attitude to storytelling. Without fail they produced interesting comics by top creators. Standouts in their line included American Flagg, Nexus, Starslayer, Sable, Badger, Grimjack and Dreadstar. Many of the titles were pre existing creations or extensions of book lines.Their books always seemed to have both an edge and an angle that set them apart from the crowd. They represented experimentation that we like to see these days in the Image Comics line of books.

Founded in 1983 First Comics found a home in Chicago. They had a little bit of a turbulent history and often featured in the news pages of The Comics Journal. At one point they took Marvel Comics to court claiming that they were unfairly influencing their shared printers and in doing so attempting to elbow them out of the market.

Whether it be comedic superheroes, galactic pirates, interdimensional hitmen or schizophrenic kung-fu masters they were never afraid to push boundaries and experiment. I loved their books and still have an almost complete set to this day.

However adapting a short lived hippy dippy stage play (even these days) would seem a little strange. And that is what Warp was (well originally at least.)

Warp was a book that remained ignored by me for quite a while (along sadly with Marrs which was another great title).  It was a book that had great dollops of quirky charm. It's history seemed an interesting place to take a look at for the blog.

Back in 1971 Warp was a stage play that was written by Stuart Gordon and Lenny Kleinfeld (writing under the pen name Bury St Edmunds). It was written for a Chicago based theater company and eventually it made it to Broadway for around a week in February 1973. the original production featured 'Home Alone's' John Heard.

It seemed to consist of the usual late 1960s / early 1970s hippy BS with 'Dave Carson' (a bank teller) being transported to a far flung space civilisation and becoming Lord Cumulus. (On a Planet called 'Den-La' no less). I shit you not that the villain was called 'Prince Chaos'.

The writers claimed Marvel characters Doc Strange and Thor as inspirations and when the production hit Broadway they had Neal Adams as artistic director.  The play actually won awards for costume design. It was intended that the play have a 'serial' aspect to it and that it would run through a number of stories. (and to think that we are now left with crap like 'Rent' and Les Miserables' - I would have def paid to see Warp).

From the research I have done so far the fact that it came to First is still a bit of a mystery.  I can only guess that since both were Chicago based there was some form of cross over between creative types of the time.

Warp the comic had a longer run than it's play. Although it only ran as a regular title for nineteen issues. (The Warp Special ran for a further three issues.) First comics of the time generally had longer runs than this. But throughout it's run it utilised some great talent. The creative mainstays of the main story (that mostly featured Lord Cumulus) were Peter B Gillis, Frank Brunner and Bob Smith. It has a John Carter/ERB feel to it (a man transplanted and possessing great power) and a mystical fantasy element (similar to a Moorcock's Elric and Brass novels). Although let's be completely honest here - it was tongue in cheek thoughout!

Gillis had been a mainstay at Marvel and would return there both during and after.  He had both edited and written there. Writing the actually pretty darn good post Jack Kirby Eternals 12 issue mini series and working on the ground breaking Strikeforce Morituri.

Frank Brunner brought the Robert E.Howard panache to the title and in a book that had been mostly designed prior to the Star Wars revolution it had a great look. (albeit some rather strange cod piece action).

They also had some great talent on the back up stories. Jack C Harris and Steve Ditko's 'The Faceless Ones' being a highlight. Other creators who turned up during the run include Howard Chaykin, Joe Staton, John Ostrander and Bill Willingham.

It may be that the book suffered from the 'too many chefs' problem. It remains a strange fish even in the First Comics stable. It's well worth a look though. So have a look in the dollar bins.


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