Rick Veitch is one of the few creators that actually got the “Palmer’s Picks” spotlight more than once. And I got a little bit of shit from Wizard‘s editors for it. But that’s a story for when I get to Veitch’s second appearance in Wizard #57. For now, I’ll focus on Wizard #19 and my first profile of Veitch, while he was in the midst of constructing his King Hell Heroica.
When the comic book speculator boom had its inevitable crash in the late ’90s, one of the unfortunate casualties was the self-publishing movement. This meant that a lot of artists who had launched their own imprints with ambitious multi-part stories now found it hard to make it to the next issue, much less the final page of their magnum opus. When I wrote “Palmer’s Picks” for Wizard #19 in 1993, Rick Veitch was in the middle of The Maximortal, the second part of his King Hell Heroica, a series of interlocking graphic novels examining the superhero phenomenon. And when the bottom fell out of the market a few years later, Veitch had to shelve his plans for future graphic novels in the Heroica and move on to greener pastures.
Thankfully, Veitch has recently made a return to self-publishing, courtesy of Amazon’s print-on-demand services. I know that there’s been a bit of controversy over Amazon’s attempts to squeeze out indie publishers, but the innovation of print-on-demand has given many creators a viable alternative to the antiquated direct market comic shop distribution system. Specifically, Veitch has started Sun Comics, a new imprint to house all of his recent print-on-demand comics, from standalone graphic novels like The Spotted Stone and Otzi, to new issues of his dream journal Rare Bit Fiends, and even new installments of the Heroica, with Boy Maximortal.
Aside from the particularly gruesome choice of art (from the cover of The Maximortal #1), there’s really nothing of note about this particular installment of “Palmer’s Picks.” This is one of the early “Picks” that I don’t really cringe at, probably because Veitch has had such an eventful career that has touched all corners of the industry from the undergrounds, to the mainstream, to self-publishing. I had more than enough material to write about, and didn’t need to pad things out to hit my word count. And now that “Palmer’s Picks” has become a blog, things like minimum word counts are a thing of the past. So let’s move things along and dive into my first take on the career of Rick Veitch:
by Tom Palmer Jr.
While many alternative comic artists consider superheroes to be a creative dead-end, Rick Veitch has committed himself to investigating some of the more disturbing aspects of the genre in his King Hell Heroica. Most believe the notion of costumed superheroes or kid sidekicks to be farcical or senseless, but Veitch sees them as both entertaining and worthy of a credible examination. With the recently completed graphic novel, Bratpack, and the work-in-progress, The Maximortal, Veitch has shown that he can bring life and vitality to what is not usually thought to be a deep subject.
Rick Veitch got his start in the underground comix movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s. His first comic was Two-Fisted Zombies in 1973, written by his brother, Tom. After the comic was published, Veitch enrolled in the Joe Kubert School to improve on his artwork. He, along with others like Steve Bissette and John Totleben, was part of the first class to graduate from the school. After graduation, Veitch created various short stories for several publishers before landing a spot on Marvel’s anthology title, Epic Illustrated. His first strip for the comic was “Abraxas and the Earthman,” a graphic novel that displayed Veitch’s mastery of color airbrush art.
Epic helped Veitch to advance and make a name for himself by publishing Heartburst, a graphic novel, and The One, a limited series, both in full color. Heartburst featured some beautiful full painted art, and The One was a revisionist superhero story, but both went almost unnoticed. However, The One was critically well received, mostly for its revisionist superhero storyline which predates other revisionist tales like Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons‘ Watchmen. Only after these more popular comics appeared did people begin to realize that Veitch had crafted a fresh approach to superheroes set against the backdrop of a world transformed by nuclear Armageddon.
After creating The One, Veitch went on to illustrate several issues of Swamp Thing, eventually taking over the writing of the comic after the departure of Alan Moore. Veitch created an intricate story of the birth of Swamp Thing’s successor as Earth’s plant elemental. Part of the plot involved having Swamp Thing stuck traveling backwards in the timestream. At one point in the story, Swamp Thing would encounter various characters in the DC universe in different periods of history, such as Sgt. Rock during World War II, and Enemy Ace during World War I. However, Veitch ran into problems when he wrote a story that had Swamp Thing traveling back to the Crucifixion in issue #88. Swamp Thing was to observe the events leading up to the actual Crucifixion, which Veitch made sure was true to the Bible. The only noticeable difference was the inclusion of certain DC characters like the Golden Gladiator and the Demon. These insertions were in keeping with other speculative fiction stories about the Bible, like Ben-Hur or The Robe, but DC’s editor-in-chief, Jeanette Kahn, found the comic to be unsuitable for publication. Refusing to alter the story, Veitch left the title in protest. Jamie Delano and Neil Caiman were to replace Veitch after he was scheduled to leave with issue #92, but they also backed down. With its rejection of the comic, DC brought a premature end to Veitch’s carefully woven story, frustrating many of its readers.
Fed-up with the practices of the mainstream companies, Veitch formed his own self-publishing imprint, King Hell Press. His first venture was a black-and-white compilation of The One. He reformatted and added to some of the artwork, and even designed a new cover to compliment the pop art covers of the original series. Veitch’s next project was the creation of a King Hell universe, where he could explore some of the darker facets of superheroes. He envisioned the universe not as a group of comics bogged down in continuity, but as a series of interconnected graphic novels called The King Hell Heroica.
The first of these graphic novels was Bratpack, which was serialized in five black and white comics. Veitch used the story to take another look at costumed sidekicks and show how absurd they really are. He portrayed them as violent, racist, abused junkies with little or no morals. Veitch demonstrated that the sidekicks’ mentors were responsible for these qualities, since all they were concerned with was making money off of merchandising the Bratpack. The freedom of self-publishing kept Veitch from being held back, so he was able to create a truly disturbing and thought-provoking comic book.
Veitch is continuing The King Hell Heroica with his current series, The Maximortal. This time, he has turned his warped eye to one of the oldest superhero myths, that of the superhuman alien child who comes to Earth. Veitch’s True-Man has many similarities to a certain DC character, but his interpretation is more brutal and unsettling, and in some ways more realistic.
In all of his comics, especially his most current works, Veitch displays his flair for innovative panel design and talent as a skilled writer, with a mastery of dark humor and intricate plot threads. Aside from his King Hell comics, Veitch is set to illustrate a 1963 comic for Image with Alan Moore and a feature in Mirage’s Plastron Cafe anthology with Kevin Eastman. These are all comics that are well worth waiting for.
Next month: I’ll look at the comics of Scott McCloud, from his work on Zot! to upcoming projects. I’ve promised to answer all of the well thought-out letters I receive, so keep sending your comments and suggestions. The address is: Palmer’s Picks, c/o Wizard Press,
100 Red Schoolhouse Road, Bldg. Bl, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.
King Hell Heroica – Veitch’s King Hell Press published Bratpack, the first graphic novel in The King Hell Heroica, in 1991 as a five-issue black and white series in association with Tundra. The collection featured new artwork, an introduction by Neil Gaiman, and a new ending. King Hell and Tundra are currently serializing the next novel, The Maximortal, as a full-color comic book. Four issues have appeared so far, and each includes Veitch’s dream-diary, “Rare Bit Fiends,” as a back-up feature. Future volumes in The King Hell Heroica include Hellhead, which Veitch is working on with John Totleben. Contact Tundra Publishing at
320 Riverside Drive, Northampton, MA 01060 for information on ordering Bratpack or The Maximortal.
The One – Originally published by Epic in six color comics between 1984 and 1986. Veitch self-published a black-and-white collection of the series as the first book from King Hell Press in 1989. The new edition included an introduction by Alan Moore, new and expanded artwork and dialogue, color reproductions of the original covers, the complete “Puzz Fundles,” and “Choose or Die,” a roundtable discussion about revisionist superheroes with Steve Bissette, Tom Veitch, and Neil Gaiman.
Swamp Thing – Veitch penciled an assortment of issues during Alan Moore’s tenure as writer, and took over both writing and penciling chores with issue #65. His “Swamp Thing and the Sprout” storyline was abruptly ended with issue #87.
Miscellaneous – Heartburst was published in 1984 by Epic as part of Marvel’s graphic novel line. “Abraxas and the Earthman” was serialized in Epic Illustrated #10-17 and Veitch plans to publish a collection. Bedlam!, a two-issue reprint of some of Veitch’s more obscure stories, was published in color by Eclipse in 1985. Veitch has also created stories for Taboo (“A Touch of Vinyl” in issue #3) and Teenage Mutant Ninia Turtles (“The River” in #25-27, also reprinted as part of the TMNT paperbacks).