Friday, 28 March 2014

Elephantmen: Earthly Desires

Elephantmen Vol 6: Earthly Desires (Image, 2013)
by Richard Starkings, Dave Sim & Others
(from the introduction to Elephantmen Vol 6, orginially posted on The Blog & Mail, 23 July 2007)
I have to say that HIP FLASK has to count as one of the most amazing "bait and switches" ever perpetrated on the comics-buying/comics-reading public. The bait, of course, was this GIANT BAD HEAVY METAL MEETS JACK KIRBY RIFF war between humans and these mutated anthropomorphic creatures (called "Unhumans" and "Elephantmen"). KAMANDI told sideways, in a way. "The Island of Dr. Moreau" for the Pepsi Generation. What you THINK you're getting is a really, really tired cliché about the mad scientist who mutates all these creatures and plans to use them to take over the world. Yawn. The switch was that it wasn't going to be about the war. The war was just the set-up, the actual story, the actual series of anecdotal stories, was going to be about What do you (you, as a society, that is) do with these creatures now that the war is OVER? Where and how do they fit in since they pretty obviously don't, you know, fit in anywhere?

Giant humanized hippos and giraffes and zebras, all trained to be mindless psychotic killing machines and now having to be acclimatized to and grafted onto human society. It works beautifully. As a reader, you've already (grudgingly) suspended your disbelief that it is even possible (in a Marvel and DC over-the-top kind of way) to take over the world with mutated giant humanized hippos and giraffes and zebras and rhinos and then, with the switch, you find that you don't have to. Here's Richard and Ladronn and Joe Casey looking back at you from behind the printed page and saying, "C'mon – take over the world with a bunch of mutated killing machine anthropomorphics? How likely is that?"

I mean, you "GET" all that in the last nine pages and then you get a series of pin-ups of HIP FLASK who obviously gets acclimatized as a detective. And they're gorgeous pieces, moody, evocative and (yes) definitely looking for all the world like a Big Screen Summer Blockbuster Motion Picture. I mean, no doubt there is a lot of blood sweat and tears that went into this. These things don't just land on the page, but in terms of the way that it connects with the reader, the nearest analogies I can come up with are Alan and Steve and John's SWAMP THING, Neil's SANDMAN and Bill's FABLES. Once you "get" the context, you just want to see what the creators do with it next. Having nailed the context, all the creators have to do is to NOT SCREW IT UP. If it doesn't actually write itself, it's the nearest thing to it. The proof is that, at least for the foreseeable future, anytime I'm in a comic-book store, I'll be checking under "E" and not just waiting for the collections to come out…Yeah, you would THINK that I would be looking under "H" for HIP FLASK, but you'd be wrong. I'll be checking under "E"… er - for ELEPHANTMEN. It's a good example of how creative people can do really UN-rocket science like things with their intellectual properties that would give any marketing director the heebie-jeebies even to contemplate.

"Let me get this straight. You've built this brand, step-by-step over a period of years and now you want to…"

"Completely change the name. Or actually add a different name and use both of them."

(rifle shot sound of marketing director's pencil snapping in two)

Obviously the property per se evolved way beyond its point of origin which, I suspect, was "Okay, I've got this Raymond Chandler Hippo called HIP FLASK that I've been using as a mascot for my lettering fonts company. Now, how do I make that concept plausible when I turn it into an actual comic book?" And all three guys brought so much of their best game to the table that the original idea, the Raymond Chandler Hippo isn't really in the same league. Believe me I can relate – try turning the Funny Animal Conan into a political and religious satire. So, what to do? Well, you have to rethink it and call it something that's a little closer to the Big Screen Summer Blockbuster it's evolved into. What would you call it if it was an ACTUAL Big Screen Summer Blockbuster? ELEPHANTMEN. Yeah. I can see that on the trailer now. ELEPHANTMEN. Coming to a theatre near you. Summer 2009.

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