1986: Espers

Espers (1986) #1-5 by James D. Hudnall, David Lloyd, John Burns, et al.

I have no idea why, but I thought that this book was really going to suck. Which is weird, because I can’t really remember reading anything about the series.

And does it? No, it’s great! It’s a tightly plotted heist story told in four issues, with convincing action movie dialogue and great art by David Lloyd. However, I was wondering while reading the first issue whether this was a reprint from a black and white magazine or something, because it’s incredibly muddled. Like it usually is when you’re colouring something not meant for colour printing.

But now, it was created for this format.

If you’ve seen the much later Sense8 TV series, you know the plot of here: It’s about a group of plucky telepathic and otherwise gifted people going against a villain who has enormous resources.

Each of the first four issues has a two-page little story about one of the characters in the book. Espers was Hudnall’s first comic book, and you feel that he’s really enthusiastic and giving it all.

The second issue has less muddled printing, I think, so you can see Lloyd’s artwork pretty well.

Hudnall was ahead of the curve in using leery, evil, sadistic Muslims as the villains. Fortunately they all have moustaches they can twiddle while doing their dastardly deeds.

I think that perhaps Hudnall sent out copies of the first issue to all the famous authors he knew, because the letters page has missives from Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny and Ray Bradbury.

Hudnall announces that Lloyd is leaving after four issues due to commitments on Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.

I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the colours on the first issue. Hudnall says that Eclipse is moving to another printer, Web World in Florida, to see whether that helps. The paper is slightly whiter, at least.

Ah, Dave Gibbons gives the game away: Hudnall had been sending out copies of Espers to everybody he likes. Probably.

John Burns, the new artist, did character sheets for each of the Espers, and they’re really nice. Which makes me excited for the next issue, when he takes over.

And it’s certainly something. I mean, it’s beautiful and stuff, but somehow it doesn’t quite flow. It sacrifices readability somewhat. Perhaps it should have been printed in a bigger format? It’s a bit cramped.

The issue feels like it’s treading water plot-wise, too, and is something of a disappointment despite the nice artwork.

We get a presentation of the artist, and then… Nothing.

Very curious. What happened? I think I’ll have to do some research. I mean, Google.

Hm, hm… Heh. In Comics Journal 128, Lloyd says:

I’m constantly dogged by these bad coloring experiences. When the first issue of ESPers went to the printers. the guy running the presses was promoted. At that exact point, the apprentice took over the presses — at the exact Blint at which my book went there! I’ve got issues of ESPers #1 which are so offregister they’re in double vision.

Heidi MacDonald in The Comics Journal 116:

What a Difference an Artist Makes Department: ESPers had a pretty rough start, but writer James Hudnall tries real hard. The first four-part Story was predictable, but there were some nice characterizations. David Lloyd’s art, however, was sort of gray and dismal, and that wretched printing process that I’ve ranted on about every time I talk about Eclipse didn’t help matters any. With the fifth issue, however, the book switches artists and takes a quantum leap forward. John M. Burns has a strange addiction to signing his name on every page (maybe he’s been drawing newspaper strips too long) but his art absolutely top-notch. It’s sort of advertising/paperback cover slick and pretty, but it also reminds me of the kind of illustrations one was always running across in high school lit textbooks, if that analogy makes any sense. One-dimensional, yes, but perfect for a book that’s about international espionage and intrigue. If Hudnall can restrain his impulses towards comic book cliches, this could work out really well.

Er… But I wanted to find out what happened. Let’s see…

Hm. Epic picked up the series and continued publication under the name Interface, but Burns is gone and Paul Johnson does the artwork. They also reprinted the original series; all five issues even if including the fifth issue makes no sense. Also reprinted by Caliber and Halloween Comics.

Wikipedia:

But the remaining issues in that story arc were never published by Eclipse, a decision that Hudnall himself attributed in print (in vol. 2, #1 from 1996) to disappointing sales and to an unspecified dispute between Eclipse and himself.

Aha!

The first six issues of that series, featuring painted art by Paul Johnson, re-introduced the main characters and re-told the story from the original “Espers” 4-issue story arc in flashback form, before picking up the “Liquidators” story line that had begun in issue #5 from Eclipse.

So Johnson redrew the Burns issue, I guess.

Anyway, the first Espers arc was pretty good; I guess I’ll be picking up the 90s version, too.

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