Wednesday, March 30, 2016

IN PRAISE OF PLOOG

There's a brand-new book out called The Art of Ploog, celebrating the life and work of one of my all-time favorite collaborators, the brilliant Mike Ploog.  Mike asked me to write the introduction to the book, an offer I happily, and eagerly, accepted.  You can order The Art of Ploog right here and you can read the intro, in its entirety, below.  Enjoy!  And Long Live Ploog!


Long before I ever met Mike Ploog in person, I knew him though his work.  As a hardcore comic book fan, coming of age in the 1970’s, I was floored by Mike’s work at Marvel Comics—most notably on Ghost Rider, Kull the Destroyer, Weirdworld and one of my all-time favorite series, the groundbreaking Man-Thing, where he was paired with the innovative and iconoclastic Steve Gerber.  Mike was right at home in Man-Thing’s mystical swamp, because the Ploog Universe literally dripped with mood, mystery and wellsprings of emotion.  His monsters were touched with humanity and his humans were often a hairsbreadth away from becoming monsters themselves.  More important, Mike was, and remains, a master storyteller, who can deliver the big gut-punching moments, but also understands the importance of letting the eye flow, subtly and easily, from panel to panel:  leading the reader on with a gesture here, a facial expression there, each panel an integral part of a larger tapestry. 


Looking back, it’s amazing that Mike was even working at Marvel, because he didn’t fit any company molds:  Ploog is unique.  A one-off.  A very singular beast.  Yes, you can see the influence of the brilliant Will Eisner (Mike apprenticed with Eisner, after all), but Mike absorbed that influence and created his own unmistakable visual stamp.  He moved on from Marvel, into the movies—bringing his incredible design and story sense to the world of film—but the Ploog Imprint remains, not just on Marvel but on the entire comics industry, all these years later.  

Mike, of course, fit perfectly in the larger than life world of Hollywood, because he, himself, is larger than life.  In fact, when I first encountered him in person—after collaborating for several years, via phone and internet, on the children’s fantasy, Abadazad—I fully expected a giant to come striding through the New York City streets:  Paul Bunyan with a pencil instead of an axe.  I was, I must admit, disappointed to discover that he wasn’t as tall as the Empire State Building; but the truth is Mike Ploog is a giant.  With a white beard and booming laugh that would make Santa Claus jealous (one of the things Mike and I bonded over in those early days was the fact that both of us—two grown men—still believed in Santa.  Draw your own conclusions from that piece of information) and the ability to tell stories that both mesmerize and delight.  I don’t know very many people who can match Mike as a raconteur—on or off the page.  I remember sitting in a bar in Helsinki—we were in Finland promoting ‘Zad—with Mike and my son, Cody, for hours as the amazing Mr. Ploog spun unforgettable tales of his life and art.  Whether it was a story of his days in the Marine Rodeo Corps (yes, there is such a thing), a mad encounter with a famous film director or just something unusual that happened to him that morning, Mike kept us hanging on every word.  


Working with Mike on Abadazad and, later, The Stardust Kid, remains one of the highlights of my professional life.  Our collaboration was magic from the start:  we understood each other, shared a creative vision of what those stories should be, almost instantly.  I’d been carrying Abadazad around in my head for at least a decade before Mike came on board, but, once he did, it was impossible to imagine that universe without him.  As soon as the first pencil line hit the page, the story stopped being mine and became ours.  To have the opportunity to collaborate with an artist I so admired when I was just a wide-eyed fan was truly a gift from the comic book gods.  That Mike turned out to be such a splendid, and infinitely entertaining, human being was the icing on the cake.  

I conclude with a statement that seems hyperbolic, but I present it to you as incontrovertible fact:  There may be a handful of fantasy artists on the planet as good as Mike Ploog, but there’s nobody better.  Let me repeat that:  there’s nobody better.   If you’re not convinced, just turn the page.  This book contains all the proof you’ll need. 


©copyright 2016 J.M. DeMatteis

12 comments:

  1. Mike Mauser. One of the best comics ever.

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    1. Wasn't that Joe Staton and Nicola Cuti?

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  2. Urf! You may be right. Color me embarrassed. Weirdworld, anyone?

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    1. No worries, Douglas. And yes...WIERDWORLD. What great work Mike did on that!

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  3. Wow, that's super interesting to me that you guys worked for years together before you met face to face. How did you end up collaborating with him in the first place?

    Man, his pencils are super textured.

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    1. The folks at CrossGen—specifically head honcho Mark Alessi—put us together after I sold ABADAZAD to CG. And it was a stroke of genius on Mark's part. I'm so grateful that I've had the opportunity to work with Mike.

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  4. I loved CrossGen I was sad when it was over. I have every issue of Sojurn.

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    1. They were an interesting company and it's a shame it didn't last.

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  5. Hi, Mr D. Wow, that book just looks incredible. A must have if ever there was one, and this book is long overdue and much welcome.

    Ploog is a true comics legend, whose output is relatively small compared to the influence and impact it has had – much like the other 3 “Big Mikes”: Zeck, Kaluta and Golden!

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    1. It IS an incredible book, Karlos—and put together with love and care.

      Great point you make about all the "Big Mikes": I'd never thought of that!

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  6. You've made me nostalgic for his and Gerber's Man-Thing (although the Santa reference reminded me of the cover of your Man-Thing #3). And +1 for CrossGen love. I am glad for the amazing things that only a big comic book company can pull off (no DC/Marvel hate here), but I also love the things that only a small company could try. Fortunately our world and hearts and imaginations are big enough for both.

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    1. Gerber's MAN-THING is one of my favorite comic books of all time...and artists like Mike P and Val Mayerik did such a great job bringing those unique stories to life.

      I love (and totally agree with) your last sentence!

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