Hi, Alex Ness here. The question I have asked here, was the Alan Moore/SRBissette Swamp Thing run the best run of length ever. I asked it to numerous people, including comic book writers and artists, and two of the respondents are former Vertigo stars… so I am excited to present the answers. But before everyone else answers and I wrap up, I want to answer first, because if I answer last it seems, to some people, as if I am having the final and authoritative word. I am by no means suggesting that, so here it is.
I think there were good and even great runs of comics prior to the Swamp Thing run. But I don’t think there was one run that was so earth changing. I would point to Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams on Batman, or Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen on Daredevil for runs of superb quality. There have been long runs by talented people, Dave Sim and Erik Larson for instance, constantly produce/produced quality work and have done so for almost ever.
But, this, to me, wasn’t about length of run, or the fact that it was great, but, that it was to me a comic run that changed how we think about what comic books could do. I think Swamp Thing did that for me. I have many comics that I like more than it, but had I not picked it up in the 7-11 on the way home from college, and my buddy and I read it two dozen times, awestruck, I might not have moved on to more great work. For me, Swamp Thing by Moore, Bissette, Totleben and Veitch changed comics.
I asked the question, and I think this Swamp Thing run qualifies for the title.
It was being close to Alan Moore while he was writing these stories that first persuaded me that comics could be a medium through which I might also find an opportunity for uncompromised self-expression. As I write this, I am looking at a framed original Bissette/Totelben page from the ‘menstrual werewolf’ story, whose published title escapes me- a generous gift from the artists in acknowledgement of some small hospitality offered when they visited Northampton more than twenty-five years ago. It has been on my study wall since, overseeing my own haphazard efforts to live up to the example it represents. I wrote an introduction to a volume of the collected editions of these stories in which I, no doubt clumsily, attempt express my thanks for the inspiration they gave me, and the resultant change in the course of my life.
Things change. Moore and I are no longer close. But my gratitude, and admiration for this seminal work remain undiminished.
I think this was a defining run in its time. It was very bold and innovative storytelling, more ambitious than most ongoing titles of the time and - in terms of its style - more self-consciously literary.
"The best ever", though, is always going to be a tendentious claim when applied to anything. There are too many contenders. Is this better than Morrison's run on Doom Patrol or Animal Man. Gaiman's on Sandman? Vaughan's on Saga? You could make a case, especially if you exclude self-contained series with a single writer, but I'm not sure it's an argument that needs to be had. There isn't a single unarguable best in any category. It would be pretty sad if there were. What's the best Shakespeare play? The best sonnet? The best horror movie?
This Saga of the Swamp Thing run is definitely one of the best long runs of a series. They did some amazingly creative works with highlights in both writing and art.
Other contenders that come right to mind - The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists; The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez; The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Then there is what may be the ultimate long run - Cerebus by Dave Sim and Gerhard.
I don't like to tie myself down to "best" or other hard rankings, but it's definitely in the pantheon of among the very best. I love that whole series inordinately!
Hm. I'll have to think about that. There's a distinction between the best long run in history and the best long run I've read. And by 'long run' do you mean run of a title, or run of a specific creative team on that title? Well, limiting it to runs that I have read and enjoyed, because I can't really judge some titles that I know only from individual issues...
The first title that comes to mind is the Giffen/DeMatties era JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL; which was a fun comic in an era where things were starting to get overly serious. Which isn't to say that JLI couldn't be serious too; but both the drama and the goofiness was rooted in characterization.
COMICO's version of JONNY QUEST, written by William Messner-Loebs was also very good. Old School adventure with good characterization.
I enjoyed Epic's ALIEN LEGION when it first came out, and Lute has collected most of it in trade paperbacks, but somehow I've never gone back to it. I'm not sure why.
DC's rebooting of CAPTAIN ATOM in the '80s is maybe not a great run, but I have the complete run and it did some interesting things in the early issues. I never cared a whole lot for the art, though.
MAZE AGENCY by Mike W. Barr, again from COMICO, was a good "little comic" in a genre comics haven't done much in our lifetimes: a mystery series with some nice romantic chemistry between the two lead characters. This was where I first discovered the art of Adam Hughes
You only wanted one, didn't you.
Then there's BLUE DEVIL. That was one I started reading near the end of its run and actually went back to buy the back issues. Once again, a fun, mostly light-hearted series that came out just as the skies were about to turn red and the last vestiges of the Silver Age turn to grit.
Alex back here...
Thank you first to Jamie Delano and Mike Carey, for their time and insights into the question, particularly due to their proximity in many different ways to the subject.
Visit Jamie at LEPUS Books.
Visit Mike at MikeandPeter.
Thank you to Kurt, Peter, and Neil as well. I had a number of people who were invited to join us, but sadly, a large number of people under 40 years old reported not having read Swamp Thing, nor even heard of the stellar run in question.
For my part, I will do better next time to define my question. With so many long runs on comics, a 3 year run doesn't seem so a limiting factor. Calling it a long run causes distractions from the main question, which is, was Swamp Thing's Alan Moore run* being more than a mini series, the best run of a regularly appearing comic. *And, I should say, Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben made the run very special as well.