Truly awful comics like Skin Trade are rare, because they require a perfect combination of uninspired story, incomprehensible art, and lax production values. They are something more than the sum of its crappy parts; they are somehow transcendent in their shittiness, so hideously awful that they are almost beautiful.
Every comic geek knows the story: in the Dark Nineties, all the hot artists defected from the Big Two and founded Image Comics, a company that focused its energy on producing pretty books on slick paper. Artwork was the main focus of those Image books. To say that good writing was of secondary importance would be an understatement. Image produced a bunch of good looking books with no soul. Sales were good. The Big Two tried to emulate the success of those Image books, and as a result the entire comic book industry slowly spiraled into the toilet like big, nutty logs of poo.
Yes. Like poo.
Eventually the guys at Image wised up and started hiring decent writers, and the company today has a much more diverse and adventurous portfolio of titles. The white-hot volcano of the go-go Nineties has gone dormant, and Image has become a more mature and well-balanced company today.
But things were pretty grim there for a while. During the mid-Nineties, Image could no longer maintain a consistent level of quality and fans got the worst of both worlds: crappy art and crappy stories. As long as it was on nice paper and was computer colored, they’d print the damn things. Editorial standards were low and quality control seemed non-existent.
Too harsh? I offer Voodoo/Zealot: Skin Trade, a one-shot Boob War book starring two bimbo characters from the WildCATS series. I do not use the word “bimbo” lightly – these two characters are not exactly paragons of female dignity.
Don’t take my word for it, behold:
The story, by writer Steven T. Seagle, involves Voodoo and Zealot vacationing in a war-torn country and looking for Zealot's long-lost kid while posing in bikinis. I'm sure I could explain the plot in greater detail, but the book is practically incomprehensible because of the art.
All the conventions of sequential art that we take for granted are tossed out the proverbial window, and Seagle's story is completely undermined by pages that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. I don't know what happened to this book; I'm sure there's a nightmare story behind its creation. I've seen Michael Lopez's art in other circumstances and I like his stuff, but here... Wow. It looks like they brought in seven different inkers, got them drunk, and gave them two hours to finish the book before they rushed it off to the printer. It starts off OK, but quickly degenerates into pages of "narrative pin-ups" and baffling layouts. By the end of the book it looks like they were just grabbing people off the street and giving them pages to draw. It's ugly, amateurish stuff.
This is an entire page:
That looks like some kid's Dirty Pair fan art. The vast white spaces on the page really add to the sense of drama, don't you think?
I can't really blame writer Steven T. Seagle for this mess, partly because I loved Above the Law and the dude could break my shoulder with that aikido of his. (Boy, I bet he never gets tired of jokes like that.) Clearly Seagle wrote a legible story, but somewhere between his script and the printer something went horribly wrong.
There are entire sequences that make no sense. For instance, we're told that soldiers appear to menace our heroines in one scene, but we just have to believe the expository dialogue because the art doesn't make that clear at all. There are other sections of the book where Voodoo and Zealot just pose in their swimsuits while they slap some word balloons up on the page. There's nothing sequential about this art.
Skin Trade is definitely a Boob War comic, but it looks like Image got cold feet and started drawing swimsuits on all the half-naked ladies. Editorial swimwear: it's not just for DC and Marvel. Check out the last page, below:
Has Zealot suddenly become modest? Or perhaps she was originally drawn sans bikini, oui? And are those chicks going to make out or what? Mrowr!
Why didn't Image just have Lopez draw a bunch of Zealot and Voodoo pin-ups instead of trying to tell a story? The book is one big muddled mess, an awkward fusion of words and pictures that they slapped together and had the balls to charge $5.99 for.
And I bought it. I'm reminded of an Obi-Wan Kenobi quote about following fools.
I'm not sure if I'm giving The Pain Award to Skin Trade... or to me.