(Spoiler Alert: Being a comic book artist is still tough, but better now)
As an educated fan of comic books, I still forget sometimes about the economic forces that have dictated much of the creation of works I enjoy from the medium. In Stephen Bissette’s, the series regular artist at this point in the comic, intro to this third volume of Alan Moore’s run on Saga of the Swamp Thing, he writes about his inability to “crank out 23 pages in as many days” led to the necessity of some issues being illustrated by others. Inevitably this issue (pun not intended) along with an inability to have the level of creative input on the comic’s stories, as a result of Moore’s longview planning, led to the end of his tenure on the comic with “Strange Fruit.”
Comparing issues #38 drawn by Stan Woch and #39 by Bissette, it’s apparent that there is something lost by Bissette’s absence in the first of two issues where Swamp Thing takes on a group of undersea vampires. While Stan Woch’s pencils are energetic in their own right (particularly chilling in its depiction of a young boy’s death by vampires) in addition to maintaining Bissette’s style, His work lacks a sense of weight that I didn’t realize was absent until Bissette takes over and the underwater scenes suddenly have a new level of believability to them. In the panels where Swamp Thing is underwater, we get a great sense of how the water’s force impedes his movement by how he’s posed in relation to the aquatic vamps (Moore, Bissette, et al 114).
What this does for the comic is remind us of Moore’s thematic interest in places of power with the normally powerful Swamp Thing being less capable outside of his plant realm. Bissette’s work allows Moore to focus Swamp Thing’s internal monologue on other aspects of the scene perhaps not as easily achieved visually such as Swamp Thing’s reaction to some of the landmarks of a town he had previously drowned in an attempt to kill the very vampires he’s now fighting. Bissette’s work then makes it apparent why Swamp Thing is so easily defeated by the super baby vamp (a crustacean-looking being that grows within minutes by eating its siblings). Once eviscerated, Bissette goes into overtime with a wonderful page that shows Swamp Thing expanding outside of his humanoid body to control the Green of the surrounding area, Swamp Thing reaching out into the ether. It’s only in the past decade that it seems that comic artists have come to be seen by publishers as vital partners in the overall comic with the norm now seeming to be to delay a comic so that the regular artist can complete the issue or else have a ‘filler’ issue interspersed between.
Elsewhere in this book, Moore and company use Swamp Thing to tackle issues relating to African slavery, nuclear waste, Native America culture, and gender dynamics. As heady or didactic as that all sounds, Moore ably explores these issues while telling compelling horror stories, introducing John Constantine and an impending apocalypse before those were vogue, and expanding Swamp Thing’s powerset. Although the previous volumes told interesting stories, it feels like with this third book Moore recognized the potential to tell stories unlike any others and his willingness to experiment more than earns my trust for wherever this story goes next.