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John Byrne and his GIGANTIC OBNOXIOUS LOOK AT ME SIGNATURE: 1999 – Space: 1999 #4

January 4, 2012

When your garish, overly elaborate signature is the most attention-grabbing aspect of your work of art, then your priorities might need some rearranging. THAT THING IS HUGE. It competes with both the Commander Koenig inset and the UPC box for space. It’s out of alignment with the cover’s diagonal arrangement. It has its own box, as if to say that the signature all by its lonesome is worthy of your rapt, undivided attention. DID I MENTION THAT IT’S HUGE?

Was Byrne, like John Hancock, hoping to draw the gaze of a near-sighted monarch? Overcompensation? He is a man who once inserted himself into a comic book so that he could lecture a comic book character on comic book character costumes. EVEN THE BARRIER BETWEEN FACT AND FICTION MEANS NOTHING TO HIM. So there’s that.

I’m willing to chalk the signature up to youthful exuberance. Though it could represent nascent egotism. You decide.

This comic represents some of the earliest published work of Byrne, the versatile writer/artist that we’ve come to know and love and tolerate and sometimes downright loathe. Let’s put the prickly personality traits aside for the moment, because it’s rather breathtaking to see art from someone clearly destined — granted, with the benefit of hindsight — for big things.

I didn’t scan much from this Nicola Cuti scripted issue because, to be perfectly frank, I could not possibly care less about the outer space adventures of Koenig, Maya & co. I read this comic and cannot relate to you any of the plot developments that unfolded within. But Byrne… Here are a couple of contiguous pages. I’m not overly enamored of tilted panels (I feel like I’m watching a Kenneth Branagh film), but the deep blacks, expressive poses and scale coupled with detailed backgrounds are things to fall for:

Perhaps no slice of this comic better captures what we were dealing with here — an artist literally breaking bounds of what came before — then this battle shot:

You have that detail and scope, but the three dimensionality is what truly puts you in the action. Koenig is holding the raygunslinging broad. There’s a ship crashing in the background. The blasts fired by the enemy ship are both in front of and behind the blonde, and that makes them almost seem to be coming at us. There’s motion. There’s depth. You’re in it. You feel the wind in your hair — or bare scalp, as the case is with me.

Again, I couldn’t care less about what went on here, but that has more to do with my disdain for a series that was, like other sci-fi kinsmen, incredibly wrong about the course of the near future. Not a big fan, but if you want a comparison with another graphic Space: 1999 tale, one was covered here a while back. Handy. I think you’ll find its characters, though perhaps more closely resembling Martin Landau and the rest of the troupe, were stiffly posed, and that it had none of the verve seen in the above panels. It’s as if Byrne was building with a whole different set of tools.

Maybe that signature was appropriate after all.

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