Friday, November 6, 2015

Blackmark: The Mind Demons

Blackmark: The Mind Demons
by Gil Kane
Marvel Preview No. 17, Winter 1979

An argument can be made that in 1971, Gil Kane published the very first 'graphic novel' with Blackmark, a Bantam Books paperback. The book combined text, pictures, and speech balloons into a hybrid creation, one that was novel, but also one that retailers found difficult to categorize. For this and other reasons, Kane's sequel, 'The Mind Demons', although ready for print after Blackmark was released, remained unpublished until 1979, when Marvel published it in Marvel Preview.

[A trade paperback containing both Blackmark, The Mind Demons, and assorted bonus material was released by Fantagraphics in 2002]

It's helpful, but not absolutely necessary, to have read Blackmark before taking on The Mind Demons. As the latter opens, our hero, the eponymous young Master of New Earth, is using his martial skills to persuade petty warlords and princelings to join his forces residing at the Silvertower castle.

But Blackmark's efforts to forge a united New Earth Army are given added urgency by an ominous report from the castle of Lord Shannux: a horde of flying demons has routed the defenders and massacred most of the castle's inhabitants.

The source of the demons ? Psi-Keep, the remote redoubt of the Mutant Lords....a cabal of evil wizards determined to stamp out mankind from the face of New Earth. 

Can ancient science be resurrected in time to aid Blackmark in his quest against the demons and their masters ? Will he survive the treacherous passage through the frozen wastes of the northlands and confront the mutant lords in Psi-Keep ? Or will Blackmark fail...and with that failure bring down the last age of Man......... !?

'The Mind Demons' probably will seem rather tame to modern readers, but its storyline is reasonably engaging and devoid of the inflated sense of self-importance that characterizes a lot of graphic novels / comic books nowadays.

Its artwork is worth a look, mainly because Gil Kane - who labored off and on with Blackmark, in between taking the freelance assignments for Marvel that paid his bills - had to confront, and overcome, limitations in printing technology and book layout. Blackmark was a 6 x 9 inch mass-market paperback book, after all, and not the 8 1/2 x 11 inch format of the Marvel Graphic Novels of the 1980s. And Kane was printing his book in black and white, Zip-A-Tone, and graytone, not color. 

With Blackmark and The Mind Demons he was creating something entirely new, and there was no template to follow. Yet despite those limitations, he was able to impart some visual style and dynamism to the pages of his 'graphic novel', which comes out quite well in the 10 x 8 inch magazine dimensions of Marvel Preview.

Summing up, anyone with an interest in the graphic novel, comic book art, and illustration art will want to pick up the 2002 compilation volume of Blackmark and The Mind Demons from Fantagraphics. Although out of print, used copies in good condition can be had for reasonable prices.

No comments: