SPX Spotlight 2013: Tom Scioli and American Barbarian

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

There are many creators out there who show a distinct Jack Kirby influence when you look at there work. I can think of only one creator, however, who can  make me shake my head for a moment and wonder, "Is that Kirby..?" and it's Pittsburgh native Tom Scioli.

I've been reading Scioli's work going all the way back to his Xeric grant-winning Myth of 8-Opus days. Anyone who loves King Kirby's wild and crazy epic adventures (like OMAC, my favorite Kirby book) will instantly find a favorite in Tom Scioli, if you haven't encountered his work already.

What I like about Tom's creations, whether it's 8-Opus or Godland (working with Joe Casey) or American Barbarian (more on that book shortly) is that while he completely understand the style of Jack Kirby, his work doesn't feel like a clone. The style is unmistakable, but the creatures themselves don't feel like he's merely copied the designs from his artistic hero. Instead, they're just as insane and exaggerated, but are definitely Scioli's.

For example, the main villain in American Barbarian is Two-Tank Omen, who is a giant creature with tanks for feet that terrorizes a world filled with robot dinosaurs, women dressed like the Scarlet Witch borrowed Archangel's wings, and various creatures and characters who look like they stepped out of a nightmare, with odd shapes, jagged teeth, and skin tones all over the rainbow.

Originally a webcomic, which appears to be where Scioli is beginning all his works these days, American Barbarian is the story of a man whose entire life is taken away from him, and he has to fight in a destroyed world to take it back, piece by piece. The scale is epic, if not cosmic, as Scioli quickly shows us just how desperate this destroyed world is. Our hero must work not to let the hopelessness of the situation get to him, as he finds love and betrayal across the pages of the book.

Scioli's dialogue is a bit weak at some points, and I admit that finding modern slang mixed in (such as the use of fuck) felt a bit out of place to me, but I absolutely love how the story builds and grows leading up to a climax that recognizes sometimes the end of the hero's journey is not a happy one--even if the final page might be a bit of a cheat. When I read this comic, I found myself exclaiming out loud "that's so ridiculous" and meaning it in a good way.

American Barbarian is a wild ride through a Kirby-inspired fever dream, featuring characters and ideas that you'll recognize from classic geek culture, including nods to Star Wars and Greek myth. It's a mixture that would fail in many hands, but Scioli makes it work.

For SPX, Tom usually had trades of his 8-Opus work and Godland, and will almost certainly have copies of American Barbarian (if not, AdHouse will). He's also got a new series I need to check out, Satan's Soldiers. This one, based on the bit of it I read as the webcomic, has a much looser feel from Scioli. It's still got the Kirby influence, but the work feels less polished and softer than I'm used to seeing from Scioli. My mind is going towrds Erik Larsen as a comparison, but that's not quite it, either. Definitely check it out (I believe he'll have the first three print issues at SPX) and see what you think. If you love yourself some original art, Tom usually has those around for sale as well.

Hailing Satan and can't make SPX? You can find Tom Scioli on the web here, with links to buy his work.