It's kind of hard to imagine now, but Wizard was incredibly influential in the comic book industry back in the day. With their witty banter, creator interviews, top 10 lists, future hottest creators lists, breaking news, contests, fan awards, Wizard was the MTV of comics in magazine form. You know, when MTV was about the music (yes, it's an easy target, so what?).
This intro sounds like it's more for Wizard magazine, I know, and one day I just make a blog about Wizard magazine, but for now, I want to concentrate on one of my all time favorite issues of Wizard. It was published February 1998, issue number 78.
Joe Madureira of Uncanny X-men fame. J Scott Campbell of Gen 13 fame. Humberto Ramos of Impulse fame. They were gathered together to discuss the formation of a studio within Jim Lee's Wildstrom studio, Cliffhanger! Comics.
It was like the second coming of Image. Three of the hottest young superstars banded together to form their own line of comics. It was announced Joe Mad would do a fantasy book named Battle Chasers. J Scott Campbell would do a spy, campy comic named Danger Girl. While Ramos would do a vampire book named Crimson.
There was always some debate between my friends though. "Humberto Ramos? He's cool, I guess, but why not Michael Turner?" Though little did we know at the time he was extended an invitation to join, but didn't because of his commitments to Marc Silvestri's Top Cow studios.
I always found that a bit unfair that Ramos was looked at as the odd man in. Especially since I had chills go down my spine when I saw the pencils to some of the pages of issue 1 of Crimson in this sketchbook. Oddly enough, even though I was raised pretty much on horror movies when I was a kid, and loved vampire movies before they were, you know, sparkly, I was never really into horror or vampire comics. But by this time I was a huge Ramos fan because of his work on DC Comics' Impulse, so I was just as eager to read Crimson. Only problem was, that was at a time the supermarkets and pharmacies stopped selling comics, and the closest comic book shop to me was three cities away. So, when Cliffhanger launched, I missed out on it.
The story centers around Alex Elder, who gets turned into a vampire on a night he and his friends go out for a ride. His friends turn into vampire chow while Alex survives thanks in part being saved by an ancient creature named Ekimus. Alex wants no part in being a vampire and wants his normal life back. But things turn for the worse when somebody close to him gets murdered and he discovers he is the key part in an upcoming battle where the fate of the world hangs in the balance. So, yeah, not your traditional vampire story, and I loved every bit of it. We get introduced to various supporting characters like Joe the Indian, Scarlett, various angels, God, Satan, the mother of all vampires. No, literally, the mother of all vampires. Sometimes I have to admit, Ramos' art is so expressive and so bright, it somehow felt a little at odds with the dark, sometimes gruesome story. But to me, that's just a minor nitpick.
The series only lasted 24 issues not including 2 specials (a Scarlett X one-shot and a sourcebook of the Crimson universe), and was not only the only Cliffhanger title to come out regularly, it was the longest running Cliffhanger title (the second longest belonging to Ramos's own Out There, which lasted 18 issues). The series was collected into 4 beautiful trade paper backs, which I still own and flip through. Nearly two years ago, I had the incredible pleasure of getting them signed by the man himself, Humberto Ramos. He is such a great and humble guy, he actually blushed when I told him it was the first vampire series I ever collected and thanked him for it. He also signed that beaten up copy of the Wizard magazine insert of Cliffhanger #0, he was the only signature missing, so now all three original Cliffhanger artists has signed it, and it's one of my most precious treasures.
Crimson to me was not just an extraordinary comic book story, it was an extraordinary story of a comic book artist that never quit. An artist that took a chance and went on to be arguably one of the most influential artists of the past decades, and will go down in history as one of the best Spider-Man artists ever. As always, I tried to avoid as many spoilers as possible in case you have not read this series, and I encourage you to find these issues (you can find the trades if you want to, but as it turns out they're pretty rare now and could be a bit costly, so finding single issues are actually easier on your wallet in the long run). As for me, I'm going to sit back, turn a lamp on, keep my pencil and sketchbook close just again, cuddle up to volume 1 of the trade, and feel like I'm back in college again, wen the world was an empty canvas, everything and anything was possible, and the "odd man in", the artist that never quit, started blazing his trail as a legend. Thank you for reading, take care and see you next time!