It’s a commonplace that artists are not always the best judges of their own work. And it would be entirely understandable if an artist psychologically needed to downgrade their past efforts and convince themselves that their more recent work was better. In fact, it is hard to see how an artist would be able to find the motivation to create new work if they thought their old stuff was truly unsurpassable.
But the thing I’d like to point out here is that I’ve been hearing "You’re old stuff was better!" since Megaton Man #3 in April, 1985! Yes, it would seem that I have actually been progressively disappointing my faithful fans for two solid decades. Does Dave Sim have these problems?
Sure enough, whatever expectations the first two issues of Megaton Man created, they probably did not include Border Worlds, Wendy Whitebread, Undercover Slut, Wasteland, King Kong and the slew of various and sundry freelance assignments I’ve churned out over the years. And to be fair, my "old stuff" now encompasses, for some fans at least, most everything I did before working for Image Comics in the early 90s, so people are gradually catching up.
But I’ve never yet heard the magic words that I keep telling myself: "Man, you just keep getting better and better! I can hardly wait to see what you do next!!"
A large portion of the problem is that comic books are still a character-driven industry. Fans are trained to follow characters, not artists. Conventional wisdom has always been that I had a semi-hit on my hands with Megaton Man, and should have kept churning him out, come hell or high water, despite diminishing returns even during the initial ten-issue run. My conception of comics, however, has always been of an exploration, an improvisation, and I never felt that that could all be accomplished under the Megaton Man logo. Even when I returned to the character, feeling that I had somehow "New and Improved" him, the response from fans were tepid at best. "Your old stuff was better." Free Porn sigh.
I wrote back to my industry connection, admittedly with some disgust, suggesting that perhaps I should just put the character up for sale, since it seemed to be utterly beyond me to do anything more meaningful with him. They wrote back, horrified: "You’re not serious!!! [Gasp!]" Megaton Man done by anybody else is apparently unthinkable (according to the Auteur theory that governs creator-owned comics), even though, paradoxically, I seem to have lost my touch with the Man of Molecules sometime during the Reagan administration.
I suppose what goes around comes around. I loved Jaime Hernandez’s "Bangmatch" saga from Love and Rockets #2, and looked forward to a career of quirky, off-beat stories about rocket ships, cute chicks with tool belts, and dinosaurs stuck in the mud. Instead, we got Locas Tambien featuring a fat Maggie sitting in an apartment with Hopey, and the occasional girl wrestler story. I continue to admire Jaime’s artistry immensely — he’s the only artist of my approximate generation I’ve ever envied. Nonetheless, as far as Love and Rockets was concerned, I immediately lost interest, despite ongoing critical acclaim. Ditto Chester Brown’s post-Ed the Happy Clown Yummy Furwork.
So you see, despite my personal subscription to the Auteur Theory, I still expect a certain "fix" from other particular cartoonists, and when I don’t get it, to hell with them. I guess I have no right to expect anything less from the public either.
Megaton Man as irreverent Silver Age parody grabbed more than a few imaginations back in the day, back when I really had no clue as to what I was doing. As I’ve gotten some measure of control over the character, and my cartooning, I have found themes and undercurrents to Megaton Man worth exploring, leaving longtime fans only hankering that much more for the old stuff. I can see the blurb for some future revamper, no doubt John Byrne: "At Last! Megaton Man Done Right!"
My hope was that the ibooks collection would spark at least a few subsequent reprint volumes so that today’s comics readers could make a fair evaluation of the situation. As it stands, it seems that folks are going to have to dig through the back-issue bins a little while longer in order to judge for themselves. The old Megaton Man or the newer Megaton Man? The young Elvis or the old Elvis? Discuss amongst yourselves.