Tuesday, July 03, 2007

VOODOO - ZEALOT: SKIN TRADE Image Comics, 1995

This is a terrible, terrible comic book.

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.


Bill D. said...

I don't know that Zealot herself was actually naked in the picture at any point, but it's a safe bet the model she was lightboxed over was.

Tim Easy said...

As I sit here in New York, nine minutes past midnight, the sounds of July 4th fireworks has begun, off in the distance. And I ponder the New York state law which prohibits the sale of fireworks, and I feel sad. And then I see Dave's post about the Skin Trade comicbook, and it all comes back to me. Gimme some knockers to look at, and everything's allright with the world. Cheers, Dave!

Anonymous said...

Dave, often when you review crappy comics from a bygone age, I get a little nostalgic for the crappy old comics of my youth. This is not one of those times. Thank you for reading this comic so I never have to.

Anonymous said...

"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."

People often say that, but I have to say that for a company that primarily focused on art, Image had some really awful art in those early books - bad storytelling, distorted anatomy and perspective, little detail, the whole rotten works.

SQT said...

Any post that has the word "mrowr" in it is always high on my 'must read' list. Just thought I'd mention that.

Kevin T. Johns, writing coach said...

Wow... how did I go this long in life without having "boob war" as part of my vocabularly.

Lewis Lovhaug said...

I don't know, I look at the artwork of Youngblood #1 and I have a hard time believing Image produced "good-looking comics" during the Dark Age.

M said...

The cover alone is pure gold. I can honestly say I had never seen a cover with a young woman unzipping her trousers, like she's going to pee standing up right in front of you.

Jason said...

I don't think Image was built on "good" art so much as "hot" art (meaning that's what the kids at the time were clamoring for). The art they produced was what was selling at the time, even though it's dreadful. I say this from experience since 15 year-old me thought these books were cool. I've grown to hate that kid.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I bought this myself. You assesment was pretty close to mine.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Dave, you missed the biggest joke/mockery that could be (rightfully) made about this.

It ends with a Bertolt Brecht quote. Nuff said.

We could have seen this detail, had the last image been larger.

Bully said...

It ends with a Bertolt Brecht quote.

"War is like love...it always finds a way."--Bertolt Brecht

"We are young, heartache to heartache we stand
No promises, no demands
Love is a battlefield"--Pat Benatar

Which do you think would have been a better fit for a epitaph of this story?

Tony said...

Holy hannah, I have this one at home. If I recall, the girls switch costumes in the middle of the story. Also, one of them rips the turret off a tank. Neither of them had super strength, to my recollection.

Anonymous said...

You know, I think that last page is actually taken from a Playboy pictorial of Canadian sisters Tracy and Shannon (Mrs. Gene Simmons) Tweed.

I know that because it's CanCon, and not because I procurred that issue while underage.

Although, I am less embarrased about the Playboy purchase than I would be had I purchased this comic.

-Eric Grant

Anonymous said...

"Image produced a bunch of good looking books with no soul."

Let's not forget that those same books were almost always MONTHS overdue. So we were forced to wait long periods of time for crappy but popular comics.

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Very effective material, lots of thanks for this article.

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