X-Amount of Comics: 1963 (WhenElse?!) Annual!

X-Amount of Comics: 1963 (WhenElse?!) Annual!

Don Simpson



96 pages

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Revenge being best served at the temperature of the sun, Don Simpson's X-Amount of Comics arcs inwards like a flammable contraption lashed together with barbed wire and catapulted from some war zone far afield, in this case one all the way back in the year 1993. Petroleum vapor in its wake, rivets rattling from the ires bound up inside, the book continues a previous story that cannot legally be continued by not continuing it, and stuffing all the personality clashes that brought it into existence inside a new creation instead. It's a roast and a travesty and shovels trash talk onto its primary target to the point where the trash talk stops being the message and becomes the medium. Simpson points to the flaming wreckage behind him and deadpans, "Look what you made me do."

The identity of the "you" here is known to everyone, although the words "Fuck 'Al'!" on the story's title page are the closest Simpson gets to naming the unnamable within the strip itself. A lengthy Afterword is more explicit, describing from Simpson's perspective the communication breakdowns involved in the non-appearance of the 1963 Annual in its intended publication year of 1993, a vacuum that the new book doesn't fill but instead circles around. Conceived as the conclusion of the Image Comics series 1963—this being writer Alan Moore's six-issue pastiche of early Marvel comics in collaboration with Simpson, Rick Veitch and Stephen R. Bissette, among others—the Annual would have set Moore's horde of Marvel-ish characters against the then-novel Image roster. But it never appeared. In the backmatter text Simpson is relatively copacetic about Moore's part in 1963's hard stop, certainly when compared to the text supplement in Fantagraphics' 2021 reprinting of In Pictopia, the other cursed Moore/Simpson collaboration, to which Moore now refuses to have his name attached. Simpson's essay there read as if he was twitching at the thought of his nemesis like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther films, but here blame for the 1963 Annual's un-happening is mostly laid on its intended artist, Jim Lee, who "spontaneously horned himself into the project" without ever having any intention of actually delivering. By that point Veitch had fired Simpson from his lettering duties on 1963 anyway over some eminently preventable misunderstanding; but neither Veitch nor Lee are given the full firing squad treatment in the new comic like Moore.

On his website in 2022, Simpson explained: "I feel a proprietary sense of connection [to 1963].... I’ve been autographing copies of the extant issues for thirty years and hearing the laments of fans and retailers who supported the series financially and who feel ripped off particularly by the author who took a huge payday and never followed through, and who subsequently refused to cooperate on even a collection of the extant issues. Along with all the collaborators on the series, I feel denied having my name on a proper bookshelf edition, along with the recognition that would accompany it, which the work deserves." So in the name of art, its ripped-off consumers, its unrecognized creators, on behalf of a just universe, Simpson puts the boot in.

Plot is not the label to apply, but events depicted include a notional kick-off where 1963 #6 sort-of ended, with Moore's "Simulacra Comics Group" characters plonked down in a different corner of the Multiverse - except Simpson can't use those characters, so they materialize as a new group of displaced super-powered individuals, mutatis mutandis. By page nine the reader is looking at a palimpsest on top of a pastiche on top of an original, at least three layers of meta-meaning for each individual, with more to come. The characters question their existence, as well they might. They meet the Image heroes they were due to encounter the first time round, except those individuals are also mulched into required revamps, now characters who "Split from the Lineage" but are "ready to scrimmage," which is a benchmark for the dialogue throughout. The fight scene 30 years in the making breaks out and lasts two pages entirely in silhouette, although this actually is funny - a joke on the ephemerality of comics events and the pointlessness of investing in them, the resolution rendered literally opaque. The Image founders turn up, in the forms Simpson used for a previous and more consensual roast/travesty, Splitting Image! (also 1993). "The Effable One... we sure effed him!" chorus versions of Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld. Onwards the comic barrels. Characters from In Pictopia arrive, still bemoaning their previous heaven turning to hell; dumb fanboys of the Effable One shamble around as decaying zombies; public domain characters drift onstage, describing themselves as "the wretched of this Earth"; Simpson's own Megaton Man and associated creations join in. The black & white cartooning as this Hellzapoppin' cabaret unfolds is crisp and formidably choreographed. Every individual caricature is precisely calibrated and rendered, the point-of-view dancing to Simpson's tune, although the unrelenting pace of these looney tunes all expressing cluelessness or annoyance starts to produce sensory underload, with water running out of the bucket as fast as Simpson fills it up. A reader lacking the Kremlinology might feel they inadvertently enrolled for an exam.

When the Effable One appears he's first seen crucified in the manner of Jesus Christ, before promptly leaving the story for a long stretch in order to go and "take a crap that stinketh not!" At this point, several levels down in a very particular Inception, Simpson opts not to devise a new caricature of Moore, but instead reactivates Paul Nabisco, a character prominent in his 1994-96 series Bizarre Heroes who also turned up later in the Megaton Man backup feature in The Savage Dragon, so that Nabisco can get effed instead. Nabisco has been a protean figure of long standing in the Don Simpson Strolling Players, presenting the reader with recognizable aspects of Steve Gerber and Dave Sim amongst others, and often sounding pretentious in a very mockable manner. But the consistent face-obscuring mane of Moore-ish hair was a clue to his core persona that no detective would miss. Nabisco has also been a messianic figure, once driving money-grabbing dealers out of a comic convention and lashing out "at the industry that has tormented me so." Having been on the road to Calvary for a long time, here he finally makes it to the top of the hill.

But if the hitman shoots the wrong guy, isn't the job botched? Another 2022 Simpson web posting refers to an unidentified writer (no need to guess) as: "distant, absent, negligent, petulant, petty, scornful, self-serving, entitled, and about fifteen other pejorative adjectives," which are the kind of curses you hurl at someone no longer listening to you, but which also lands a cleaner punch than this book's boisterous fandango. Moore is simultaneously present and absent in X-Amount of Comics, a psychological condition which the comic itself recognizes. "But Paul, you're not really the Effable One...!" says Nabisco's most famous character, Gower Goose, as if trying to get his creator to lie down on the couch before he hurts himself. Judging by a later panel where Nabisco exits "to resume my feud with J.K. Rowling," he is also standing in for Simpson, whose feelings about Rowling have been made plain. To do travesty properly you have to go all-in, stir the unstable brew at reckless velocity and then throw yourself into the pot too; or so Simpson reckons. Or perhaps even at this late date, close proximity to Moore just makes people lose their equilibrium. In this latest example of the Alan Moore Effect, the Effable One has once again already escaped from the trap before it was set, sworn never again to even venture onto the same page of the map as the trap, and poked his head back around the corner for another goodbye, summoned back up by the people wishing he would go away. At this point Don Simpson is in the Alan Moore business even more than Alan Moore.