As we’ve spoken about earlier, the 1980s saw the rise of the Direct Sales Marketplace of Comic Book Specialty Shops as a key force in the continued survival of comic books–as well as a new venue in which enterprising creators could release their own home-grown efforts and meet with some success. The early years of the 1980s were rife with small companies trying to establish a foothold in the industry–and while some of them were interested in producing material that was wider reaching than the mainstream, others saw it, not incorrectly, as a place to develop and publish their own super hero characters. One outfit that met with some lasting success in this era was Comico, the Comic Company
Comico was founded by a quartet of friends who had all met in art school in the Philadelphia area who pooled their resources to publish their own comics and those of others. Their initial release, COMICO PRIMER #1, was relatively rough, having the aesthetics more of a fanzine than a professional production. But they would figure things out in time, aided immeasurably once they hired Bob Schreck and Diana Schutz to oversee their editorial content. But that was still a ways in the future at the time that COMICO PRIMER #1 came out in 1981.
COMICO PRIMER #1 featured four stories, the best and most polished of which was Vince Argonzezzi’s Mister Justice. Argondezzi would later go on to work for the majors, including a run on INFINITY INC. with writer Roy Thomas. But here, he indulges his love of the 1970s output of Jack Kirby at DC with a strip that evokes aspects of a present day OMAC. Argondezzi manages a successful Kirby homage, though he swipes figures and panel compositions in a number of places for greater authenticity. And he doesn’t have Kirby’s facility for drawing technology.
At this stage in his development, though, Argondezzi’s ink line was, how shall we say it, not terribly well accomplished, and so his panels begin to devolve into a series of ink marks rather than clear representations of objects and people. The underlying penciling is nice, and Argondezzi clearly knew what he was trying to mimic–but the rough ink work brings the entire production down a notch. He would improve in this regard.
This story represented the first and only appearance of Mister Justice. As opposed to the other strips in this first issue of COMICO PRIMER, it never graduated into a title of its own. And even those other three series, SLAUGHTERMAN, AZ and SKROG (the cover-featured VICTOR didn’t turn up until issue #2) only lasted an issue or two before they were similarly consigned to the dustbin. Really, Comico’s one early breakthrough find showed up in COMICO PRIMER #2, when fellow Philadelphia area art student Matt Wagner debuted his character Grendel, who is still being published today.
Argondezzi doesn’t hide his influences at all, bringing in a character modeled on Kirby named Jack Pizzano to mentor his new hero.
Like his inking, Argondezzi’s lettering really wasn’t up to snuff on this story–none of the lettering in this first issue is all that hot. It seems like a small thing, but professional-looking lettering almost always means the difference between the appearance of a quality product and an amateur effort. And in those days when it wasn’t yet possible to buy a pre-existing font and do your lettering digitally, weak lettering was a common problem in the burgeoning independent comic book market.
Vince Argondezzi sadly passed away in 2018.