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December 7, 2009
 

Ink Stains 7: Rick McCollum

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Written by: kenmeyerjr
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There were few minds as feverish or pens as prolific as Rick McCollum.  You will see why this artist and writer can arguably be given the mantle of the Kirby of the fanzine world!

New Wave Heroes 1-3, Superhero Terror 1-7, Omniman 9 and more

Creator and co-publisher: Rick McCollum


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If a case can be made for any creator frequenting the fanzines of a few decades ago to be as imaginative and prolific as the aforementioned King Kirby, that creator is Rick McCollum. I cannot remember if any of the zines featured here were the first time I saw his work, but they certainly point to someone who had no shortage of ideas, energy…or ink! His most often used inker, Bill Anderson, said McCollum’s work was “light years away from what everyone else was doing,” and that his pencils were “the best of both worlds, very tight but open to interpretation.” Frequent collaborator and publisher of Rick’s work, Matt Bucher, called the writing  “complex and wildly creative (some might even say hallucinogenic)” and the artwork  “visceral and compelling.” Artist Rafael Kayanan says of Rick’s work, “I always enjoyed his work even before I knew who was drawing it. I wish there was a collection of everything in a large volume somewhere. It was always unique, and I could look at his work all day – you can see the love of the material seeping through.” No one could produce that much work without loving what they were creating! Possibly like the artist himself, Rick’s male characters were rough, tough, often profane, and usually pretty darn hairy. He never squandered a chance to draw a virile, hairy chest! His women were buxom (but not Corben level buxom), mysterious, sultry, and sensual. He wasn’t afraid to throw a few F-bombs in the mix or show his hero on the porcelain throne. His stories felt drug fueled, sometimes Cthulu-esque, and yet he was also very good at keeping the story moving by successfully managing action sequences and fight scenes. And did I mention he was prolific? The pdfs available for you this time number a total of 120 pages of work that Rick created, wrote, penciled, lettered, and very often inked and published. This was in one year, 1981, and this is only a fraction of the work Rick McCollum produced in that year!

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Even the names of Rick’s characters (sometimes in collaboration with Matt Bucher) were visceral. Rage. Horde. Styx. Slaughter. Slyph. Karnevil (seen above). His prose could be ornate and literate in one panel, then grimy and guttural in the next. From page one and two of Superhero Terror 7:

“To reach the world called Vatican 800, you must pass by an armada of huge dreadnoughts and orbital defense satellites. On the surface, every inch, are populated palaces and shiny towers, populated by diplomats, bishops, admirals, prostitutes, philosophers and warriors. In its bowels are brothels, catacombs, and dark dungeons, filled with protestants, heretics, aliens, the discontent and the damned.”

McCollum was not afraid to take on organized religion, race relations, politics, psychedelic scenery, and any other number of subjects not usually seen in professional comics, much less its often simple and sophomoric bastard step child – fanzines. Through it all, he advanced his story lines and kept the action fast and frenetic. As Bucher observed, most of  McCollum’s publications ads featured the standard tag-line,  “You must be 18, or willing to lie about it.” His comics were definitely not aimed toward the Disney crowd or the Marvel zombies (though several of his characters could be considered Marvel-esque).

In the selections I have scanned and assembled for this column, you will read adventures featuring all the characters mentioned above.  You will be able to read two exclusive but connected series, as well as an issue of Matt Bucher’s Omniman (issue 9) where Rick did all tasks save inking a few select pages. While being wrapped up in the stories, you may notice a somewhat Kirby-esque, simple but dynamic visual command of the human figure, and inventive (but never distracting) layouts. You may also notice a few severed heads, an exposed breast now and then, and some crazy mystical shenanigans. One thing you won’t be feeling is bored. You will see some beautifully clean inking by Bill Anderson, and some on the job training by yours truly. You won’t, however, be slowed down by over rendering, because Rick was not interested in that. Though some of his backgrounds could be geometrically intricate, he was mainly interested in propelling the story forward.

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I sincerely wish I could have found Rick to get the juicy truth right from the creator’s mouth, but though I tried, I just could not track him down. I did locate two self-penned short bios from him, seen below. First, from a 1982 interview:

“I’m 27 years old. Married, two kids. The oldest is named Ragnar. I got a B.A. degree in the College of Design, Architecture, and Art, from the University of Cincinnati. I’m now working towards a Master’s in Art History. Every six months or so I go on a painting binge. So far, I’ve been in several art shows. I’m constantly reading. I’m very interested in theology and metaphysics. Karnevil is my attempt to bring God and Christ into real blood-and-guts tales as major characters.”

And from 1991:

“Born in 1954 with a Fine Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati, Rick McCollum has been many things: janitor, bartender, bouncer, rent-a-cop, freelance designer, Montessori teacher. Now a graphic artist for the City of Cincinnati, Rick has continued his perverse affair with comics. He is married to science fiction author Paula Robinson.”

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You will definitely see Rick’s work again in this column. At some point, I am going to profile Matt Bucher’s galactic superhero saga, Starslayers. Of Rick’s involvement in that series, Bucher says, “The brilliant Rick McCollum provided artwork and an uncredited story assist, injecting surrealism and near-poetry into my more conventional story.”  Artist Ben Adams compares Rick to a few well known professional writers below:

“There were a lot of ‘fanboy made good’ types like Roy Thomas and Paul Levitz writing for Marvel and DC in those days — people who frequently had many letters of comment published in Marvel and DC titles and had near encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel and DC continuity. Many of these writers just didn’t seem to me to be capable of writing anything that seemed as fresh and new as, say, the Fantastic Four did in 1961. Many superhero comics seemed stagnant because they were becoming too inbred — i.e., they were written by people who didn’t know anything other than superhero comics.

After reading Rick’s work and interviews with him, I got the impression that a discussion with him in which superheroes were entirely off-limits would be an interesting one. According to an interview he did for Omniman Spectacular,  I got the impression that he had suffered through some hard knocks, experienced real pain in his life, and that he was using his comics work to wrestle with his personal demons. The impression made him far more compelling to me than many [professional] comics creators. I know that he had studied art history, painting, and religion and that he was very interested in classical literature and metaphysics — a superhero comics creator with this kind of background who proudly showed it off in his work seemed very unusual and intriguing to me.

When I discovered Rick’s work, I had access to many superhero comics, but I didn’t know of many deeply personal, highly literate, and highly idiosyncratic ones like his. This is why I still remember his work but have forgotten many other superhero comics from this period. His work stands out in the same way that the best superhero comics work of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Steve Gerber stands out.

Ultrazine Special #7 ended up being my introduction to Rick’s comics work, but the Rage origin story in Ultrazine Special #8 was the story that really caused me to fall in love with his work — it was a complete and total home run.”

McCollum  appears in many other fanzines, including previous Ink Stains subject No Sex. He contributed to over a hundred fanzines in a 15 year period, and was poised to garner more mainstream exposure during his series Screaming Masks for Tundra, but the company fell apart at just the wrong time. During the black and white comic books of the late 80s, Rick worked for small companies such as Comico, Fantaco, Pyramid, Wormhole, White Wolf, and Crystal. He did manage to do a few issues of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as three issues of Turtle Soup, but not long after that, he seemed to disappear from the mainstream comic scene, contributing only to lesser known areas, such as Fantagraphics Eros line titles like Darker Side of Sex and Come Again.

Thanks to Bill Anderson for a few  McCollum pieces from the pre-release Screaming Masks portfolio from Tundra, one of which you see below, and the others you can see here.

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You can see a large, but by no means exhaustive list of Rick McCollum’s work here. And keep in mind, most of these appearances were not single illustrations, but full stories (and also usually with Rick doing his usual one man band act). Rick’s amazing and prolific presence will be missed by myself and, I suspect, many other comic enthusiasts. For now, please download the pdfs here.

Thanks this time out go to Matt Bucher, Rafael Kayanan, Richard Krauss, Rick Bradford, Ben Adams, and Bill Anderson. Rick, if you are out there…come back, Rick, come back!

Ben Adams’s site can be seen here.

In two weeks, please return for a great double feature! Two issues of Wally Wood’s Witzend, featuring such greats as Frazetta, Crandall, Wrightson, Spegielman, Kurtzman, Bode, Morrow, Ditko and more!

Ken Meyer Jr.
ken@comicattack.net

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