The cover feature of Back Issue #19 is the life and career of the near-legendary cartoonist, Don Newton. Newton was a legend for a few reasons. For one thing, his art was always quite gorgeous and unique. Newton had a very individual style to it, one that I find hard to compare with any other artist. He’s also a legend because he’s a classic example of a longtime fan artist who made it big. Newton toiled for years in fanzines, appearing in some three dozen issues of the old RBCC, before finally going professional. He truly lived every fan’s dream. Newton went from drawing Captain Marvel for little or no money for fanzines out of passion for the character to being paid good money by DC to draw the character professionally. It’s every fan’s dream come true, detailed wonderfully by Barry Keller and Jay Willson. Willson’s piece about Newton is especially moving because the two men were friends for many years. Willson’s piece details Newton’s life as only a friend can, talking with intimacy about the joys and frustrations his friend had in his too-short life. Along with lots of artwork by Newton, this issue presents a long overdue portrait of a really wonderful cartoonist.
This issue also has a bunch of other wonderful features. I loved the Pro2Pro dialogue between Gene Colan and Steve Gerber about their work on Howard the Duck in the ’70s. Gerber and Colan were really a perfect match on that most improbable hit comic, and their great friendship and passion for the duck come through in the interview. I like how Gerber and Colan are quite honest in the interview. For instance, Gerber talks a lot about the ill-fated Howard newspaper strip, and how the gross incompetence of Marvel’s upper management doomed the strip and ultimately led to Gerber leaving Marvel. This sort of insight adds an extra level of interest to a great comic strip.
Another piece I really enjoyed was Dan Johnson’s history of Marvel’s long running “non-team,” the Defenders. Johnson tracked down many of the people who worked on the comic, and uses them to present a history that does a nice job of talking about both the comic on the page and the people who worked on it. It’s worth buying this issue just to read what creator talks about his “*sshole years.”
There were other pieces that were well written but which I was less excited about. I wasn’t reading Marvel Comics when Assistant Editor’s Month happened, so I just wasn’t that interested in the Mike Carlin/Danny Fingeroth interview about it. The tribute to Gruenwald that followed the interview was wonderful, though. I also didn’t get much out of the short interview with former Marvel inker Bob Wiacek, since it talked much more about work he did on one commercial in 2003 than his long career in comics. I also didn’t care much about the abortive Brigitte Nielsen She-Hulk movie of the early ‘90s, which is covered in this issue.
Back Issue #19 is another mixed bag issue, which is sort of the point of a magazine like Back Issue. Every reader comes to the magazine with their own interests, and Back Issue accommodates people with lots of different interests in comics of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s fun to have such a diverse magazine out there.