It’s after 10 p.m. at Dick’s Last Resort, which means they’re finally serving burgers, not that it matters to me because I won’t eat those nasty, greasy cow pies, but the company I’m keeping has their mouth all set for the Big Dick, or whatever they call it here in San Diego’s Gas Lamp district. I’m really not sure who’s more sloshed, Mark Texeira or myself. Tex is drinking more, but he’s bigger, at least taller, and I’m not eating anything, just sucking down Newcastle Browns. Jordan Raskin, who sits across from me, keeps asking why I’m not eating. I suppose he’ll figure it out eventually. Toby Cypress is there, too, but he’s quiet as a church mouse and obscured by the colossal Tex who keeps jumping up to greet his homeboys. Everyone’s his homeboy. I’d seen this before but now it’s confirmed: Tex is a supernatural, primeval event that draws partiers like moths to a flame. There seems to be a surging tornado of chaos all around him. It’s not his fault, he’ll tell you, but what does it matter?

He whips out his new Conan script from Dark Horse and I give it a peek. Here’s Jimmy Palmiotti telling Tex to clothe the barbarian. “This isn’t Marvel’s Conan!” he warns. It’s true. In some ways it’s superior, especially with Tex on the job. No one since John Buscema has drawn the Cimmerian with such power. But forget the politics. Maybe it’s the Newcastle Brown talking.

Our waitress is back to yell at us for not drinking quick enough. “What are ya, studying nursing?” She burps with gusto. At least, I hope it’s a burp. Par for the course at Dick’s, a hotspot here in old San Diego. The yelling is part of the shtick. At the next table, two blokes are wearing large phallic hats supplied by their waitress. One guy’s hat reads, “I Like Blowing Bubbles.” The other guy’s says, “I am Bubbles.”

Tex tears himself away from the chaos long enough for a plug. He pulls out a Pscythe ashcan, the promo for his current Image project, which will be two issues of prelim teaser stuff before the five-issue story arc set for 2005. “Pscythe is my first creator-owned thing,” he says with a mixture of pride and fear. “I’m nervous about it. I just hope the fans like it.” I tell him not to be nervous. I tell him the fans will love it. The guy’s work is golden. The women he draws make you want to throw away your family and job and take up the needle again. Our boy has been in the biz twenty years and worked with all the top guns. He’s a top gun, too, but sometimes you have to remind him. Maybe he’s just humble. Maybe it’s the Newcastle Brown.
Tex points to a series of panels. “I’m going way out there from a cinemagraphical point of view,” he explains. Then he stops to think. “Is that a word?” I tell him it isn’t. He laughs. “Well, I’m a huge fan of noir films, so I’m following things that way.” Pscythe is the story of a fallen angel named is Maurai, which is loose Latin for miracle. Tex says it takes place after Lucifer’s legion has been defeated. Fat chance of that, I tell him, but it’s a cool idea. And the ashcan is impressive. And the equally cool backup story, Raskin’s Industry of War, is already getting looks from Hollywood. “Jordan has his shit together,” Tex says. I look across the table and Jordan shrugs. Just then, our waitress returns. She makes that noise again. I seriously hope it’s a burp.

I’d been hearing Tex’s name in various circles long before he and I ever clinked glasses. He’d interned under Rich Buckler?and did backgrounds on Superman vs Shazam?from 1977-79 at the Manhattan’s High School of Art and Design, alma mater to folks like Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. As a kid, Tex paid a visit to DC where Vinnie Colletta and Joe Orlando taught him about going back to basics. In due time, he found work on House of Mystery and other DC books, and eventually they give him the Warlord series following Mike Grell’s superb run. “Those books were terrible! ” Tex laments. “But you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Then came that first Marvel stint, with projects like Psi Force and the movie adaptation of Buckaroo Bonzai. “I was able to meet John Lithgow?the tallest white guy I’ve ever seen in my life,” Tex recalls. “The producers flew me out to the Chateau Marmont where John Belushi killed himself. For a 19-year-old kid to have his own room with a balcony overlooking L.A. was too cool.”
But the cool wore off. The books Marvel gave Tex weren’t satisfying. “I wasn’t happy,” he says. “I was ready to quit comics altogether, but then I ended up at Continuity in 1988. I spent a year with Neal [Adams] who taught me how to take my game to a higher level.” His game up, it was back to Marvel in ’89, first as inker on Punisher War Journal and then on Ghost Rider. I comment on how much his work changed since those days?the atmospherics created by that scratchy style he once used has given way to a much cleaner line. “My fans and friends keep telling me they’re glad I got away from that,” he replies. “I just wish they’d told me then!

I won’t run down all of Tex’s work. Most of it has been excellent. Lots of it has been late. His best work, he thinks, was the Legacy of Evil graphic novel written by Kurt Busiek?50 pages of water colors that came out when everyone was getting canned at Marvel in the late ’90s, so publicity was thin to nonexistent. Me? I’d hold his new Conan work just as high. It’s 36 pages and only a month late. “I care too much!” Tex yells, slapping the table and spilling his beer. “The industry needs it at a certain speed, but I’ve always cared about it like a director cares about his film. But I’m going faster, man! I promise! Really!”

Tex loves this project. You can see that love on page. He’s worked with Palmioti before but in the past didn’t care as much about the work as he does this one. “I grew up loving Conan,” he says. “Frazetta, Buscema?man, that license is a pinnacle in anybody’s career?if you succeed, you own a piece of history. And with this new launch at Dark Horse? well, I deeply regret turning down the two-year contract.”

To hell with contracts, I say. This man will always be working. He’s a current master and if you’re not reading his books, you’ve missing out. But let’s give the Bronx boy the last cheer. Pay careful attention, gang. This is important:

“I’d like to apologize to the entire industry for my behavior at the Padres game,” says Tex. “No arrests were made but clearly I drank too much Jack Daniels. So that’s it. No more Jack Daniels. Jack is out. Jack is a monster.”

© 2004, Clifford Meth

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