|Mantlo: A Life in Comics
By David Yurkovich and Michael Mantlo
Sleeping Giant Comics – saddle-stitched, $7.50
HOW MANY CLASSIC COMICS WRITERS OR ARTISTS can I admit to not knowing much about before I start to lose my limited comics reviewer cred? Before reading Mantlo: A Life in Comics, Bill Mantlo was a name I’d heard, but I couldn’t tell you about much that he’d written beyond the Spider-Man/Daredevil team-up in my copy of The Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man. However, after reading this magazine format tribute from cover to cover, I’m interested enough to start tracking down some of his stuff to read for myself.
A Life in Comics is meant both as a tribute to Bill Mantlo, featuring an in-depth biography, a few previously unpublished stories and analysis of some of his work, and as a benefit for Mantlo himself, who suffered brain damage after being hit by a car in 1992 and has been in assisted living ever since. David Yurkovich self-published the magazine and is donating all of the proceeds to Mantlo. Yurkovich, the author of Less Than Heroes and Death By Chocolate, among others, has consistently cited Mantlo as his biggest influence in comics, so, Yurkovich fan that I am, I wanted to get a taste of what he was talking about.
I’m glad I did. A Life in Comics is clearly a labor of love and, while by no means perfect, is the kind of lengthy career biography and work analysis of an individual creator that I would love to see a lot more of. It’s also a fascinating point of entry into the history of 1970s- and ‘80s-era Marvel, which I admit to not being well versed in. I enjoyed learning about Mantlo’s role in fleshing out the still-popular licensed comics of the day, like ROM and The Micronauts, his creation of characters like Cloak and Dagger (most recently seen in Brian K. Vaughn’s Runaways – Vaughn is one of a handful of writers and artists briefly interviewed in A Life in Comics), and his very comics-specific role as “The Fill-In King.” In reading, I found myself equally involved in the themes of helping the defenseless throughout Mantlo’s work and in the life story of a man who believed in them so firmly that he went on to become a criminal defense attorney for the New York Legal Aid Society.
The included Mantlo stories are a welcome addition, too. Two of them center on men and women talking about relationships, one of them very attractively illustrated by Yurkovich, the other prose. The third story is a ghost story written for Mantlo’s daughter, and is cute and funny. Even with my limited experience of Mantlo’s work prior to reading A Life in Comics, I now feel like I’ve some idea of his tone and dialogue style, making the inclusion of these stories very useful. They’re likely also an especially nice treat for existing Mantlo fans.
The flip side of the project being a labor of love is that it was done for free in between other work and is therefore somewhat rough around the edges, with a few minor editing and design issues (though most of the design is eye-catching and integrates art well – there are just a few places where things like whether a differently colored column is a sidebar or a continuation of a chapter is unclear, as the same approach is sometime used for both). However, these are relatively minor and definitely forgivable given the circumstances of the book’s publication. In fact, with some more editing and perhaps the addition of several more longer interviews with Mantlo’s contemporaries and some more analysis, I could easily see A Life in Comics being expanded into a full-length book.
More information about Mantlo: A Life in Comics, including preview pages and ordering information, is available at Sleeping Giant Comics.
ON A RELATED NOTE, my local comic book shop, Floating World Comics, is doing its own Mantlo benefit as part of December’s First Thursday (a monthly event in Portland where art gallaries and stores hold open houses and host exhibitions – Floating World’s events are always a treat). Big-time ROM fan, Floating World owner and all-around good guy, Jason Leivian, is soliciting donations of ROM Spaceknight illustrations from comics artists and paying for digital prints out of his own pocket. The artwork will first show up in an exhibition on December’s First Thursday, which will be a fundraiser for the eventual benefit magazine that the artwork is being done for. More info from Steve Duin at The Oregonian.