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‘X-Amount of Comics: 1963 (WhenElse?!) Annual’ (review)

Written, Illustrated and Lettered
by Don Simpson
Published by Fantagraphics

 

I first discovered a certain comic book writer in the pages of 2000AD back in the early 1980s and for years I thought he could do no wrong!

Slowly, I came to realize that he wasn’t so much creating anything new as he was taking pre-existing characters, archetypes, and tropes and looking at them in new and sometimes very different ways.

Even with that revelation, to me he was the single best writer comic books had ever had.

I didn’t like his prose, though. At all. And his once insightful articles and interviews started to become somewhat odder.

Then I started hearing stories. Gossip at first, but then strange realities like when he insisted on having his name removed from his most popular works.

Huh? Who does that?

He published a humongous novel that I thought was the most pretentious piece of claptrap (does anyone still use the word “claptrap?”) I had ever read. While I can’t help but remain enamored of many of his earlier works, I gave up on his recent work.

Then I started hearing how he screwed over his artistic collaborators—nearly all of them, one after another. I told myself there are two sides to every story but in interviews and a few private conversations with me, all I heard from these seemingly level-headed creators was negative. So maybe…it was all true?

What does any or all of this have to do with the book I’m reviewing today? Well, one thing’s for sure, the writer I’m referring to definitely had nothing to do with this book!

“Dandy Don” Simpson’s X-Amount of Comics seems to see the artist formerly known (also) as Anton Drek working through some stuff by way of his artwork and characters.

Simpson’s Megaton Man was a popular comic book parody character during the ‘80s boom in comics, and he appears here, along with various other Simpson characters including my personal favorite, Yarn Man. But they aren’t the main characters. No, the main characters in X-Amount of Comics come from 1993…or should I say, from 1963?

Let’s get one thing straight. This is not the fabled unpublished 1963 annual that was supposed to come out two decades ago. We’re told that in no uncertain terms. That said, it kinda-sorta is a parody of the strained relationships that led to that book’s non-appearance in the first place.

Most of the outlandish characters here are the 1963 characters, only more like alternate multiversal versions of them in order to avoid copyright issues. Partially due to its lack of a conclusion, the wonderful 1963 series, published by Image, written by Alan Moore, and with work by Simpson as well as Rick Veitch, Stephen Bissette, Dave Gibbons, John Totleben, Anthony Tollin, John Workman, and Chester Brown has often been relegated to dollar boxes. Due to the fact that “Affable Al” wasn’t really particularly affable, the series has never even been collected.

What was 1963?

It was a 100% dead-on take on Silver Age Marvel comics, complete with all the nuances and camaraderie that made the readers feel like they were part of an exclusive club just by reading it.

Don Simpson knows comics. He knows superhero comics up and down, backwards and forwards, and he understands the medium itself better than most. That’s what salvages this book so it doesn’t seem just like a man very publicly letting out his angry feelings.

The closest thing to a plot is all of the characters attempting to figure out their place in an apparently-new universe and find an actual end to their story. In doing so, though, there are scores of clever “inside baseball” references to other Alan Moore comics, Image Comics, comics creators, and comic books in general.

To be honest, it’s confusing as all get out and I think I GOT most of the references and in-jokes. I can’t imagine a modern reader without an appropriate background getting much of this at all. A handy-dandy character ID section at the back helps.

Also at the back is my favorite part of the package, a dozen or so pages—illustrated with photos and artwork—of Simpson detailing the history of his own comics career, his personal association with Alan Moore, with Image, with 1963, and how the book we just read came to exist in the first place. Entitled “Anachrony Lesson: 1993, 1963, 2023,” I feel like this section—as well as the always enjoyable artwork by Simpson—justifies the existence of X-Amount of Comics.

X-Amount of Comics is not, in and of itself, great comics, but it’s also far too clever and amusing to be what could have been just a train wreck of bitter self-indulgence. It won’t be everyone’s cup of comic book tea but for some of us, …

Booksteve recommends.

 

 

 

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