One of the great unintended tragedies of the current comic book movie craze is that the comics themselves are becoming increasingly vanilla. With so much at stake for these concepts as “intellectual property,” and with sales of comics stagnating, most publishers are reluctant to launch any book that doesn’t have the obvious potential (“hook”) to be a movie or television program. Something that can be boiled down to one sentence. Eccentric concepts and idiosyncratic, personal works have a difficult time finding a publisher. They are becoming more rare and valuable even than a copy of Action Comics #1 with a CGC grade above 5.
One of the most eccentric and idiosyncratic creators in comics today is Chris Wisnia.
If Jack Kirby and Andy Kaufman had gotten together and done comics, they might look something like what Chris Wisnia is doing. “Hilarious,” “strange,” and “disturbing” are three of the words I might use to describe his work, if in fact Wisnia’s work was describable. But it’s a kind of “you’ve gotta see it to believe it” kind of thing. In a good way. It’s totally appropriate that Wisnia was asked to contribute to the great comedian Neil Hamburger’s comic book earlier this year. That’s the sensibility.
Wisnia’s latest work, Monstrosis, is getting the deluxe hardcover treatment from Slave Labor, and is available for pre-order from amazon.com. You can pick up the first issue for free here. It’s kind of mind-bending. Superficially, Wisnia is creating a loving homage to and deconstruction of “giant monster” comics of the 1950s. But in fact what he’s doing is much more interesting and subversive than that. These comics are full of political satire, historical references, puns, word games, allusions, and initialisms. He makes hash of the comics fan’s obsession with continuity by publishing the stories out of sequence, and with references to stories that either haven’t been published yet or don’t exist at all. The obnoxious editor and narrator (“Rob Oder”) is like a bullying, stuck-up, slightly more pedantic and self-aggrandizing version of Stan Lee in his heyday.
His devotion to his concept is surpassed only by the skill with which he executes his vision. And there’s something really exciting about reading the work of an artist who does what he wants, without regard to any considerations other than telling a unique story, and telling it well.
Full disclosure: I know Chris personally, he saw me get drunk once, and I wrote the introduction to one of his previous giant monster collections. You should check out that one, too.