1988: Dirty Pair

Dirty Pair (1988) #1-4, Dirty Pair II (1989) #1-5, The Dirty Pair Book 3: A Plague of Angels (1990) #1-5 by Toren Smith, Adam Warren et al.

Toren Smith is the owner of Studio Proteus (who were packaging translations of Japanese comics for Eclipse at the time), but this is the first comic he wrote for Eclipse. It’s something as original as the first comic book series based on a Japanese book series. The book series had been adapted previously for animation, but Smith didn’t have the rights to the designs for the animation, so he and Warren did new character designs based on the novels, and approved by the original author.

So I was expecting this book to look like a Japanese comic book… but the only thing that vaguely resembles a Japanese comic book is the way the titular protagonists are drawn. The layouts and the rest of the characters are solidly in the American realist tradition. Warren had attended the Kubert School. As opposed to many others comic through that school, his artwork doesn’t really look overtly Kubertian.

But perhaps that’s just because Warren is such a bad artist. These drawing are uncomfortable to look at. Somehow his bad proportions and weird faces make me almost nauseous.

Smith’s writing doesn’t make my stomach churn, but it’s not very good, either. This is supposed to be an action comedy kind of comic, and there’s a lot of (confusingly rendered) action, but the comedy is rather hokey, and the characters have a tendency to just state what their deal is instead of showing us.

Is a bandanna on a robot a fun idea? Hm… No?

Oh, yeah, I mentioned the confusing action sequences. I mean, I understand what’s going on on that page, but it’s not a model of clarity. Somehow the eye is drawn to the bottom left panel before going to the top right panel, which is the wrong direction. Warren tries to steer us from the third panel to the bottom left on (with that flying card), but by then I’m more annoyed than interested.

Huh. One of the issues are signed by Warren and… somebody who did a squiggle. In 1994, apparently. I bought these from somebody on Ebay for virtually nothing, so I guess they’re not… er… You know.

Smith explains how this book came to be. Both he and Warren had been interested in doing Dirty Pair, without knowing about each other. James Hudnall made the match; they wrote to the creator of Dirty Pair, and he gave them the thumbs up.

It’s not all cheesecake in this comic. It’s more like 97%.

Smith provides background to the Dirty Pair characters through these mock intelligence reports. They’re kinda amusing, but this made me wonder whether the Japanese novels and animated series really existed or whether it was all made up by Smith. It wouldn’t be the first Eclipse book to play these games. But, no, it’s a thing.

Smith does his best to be funny via innuendo.

The editor says that the series was a commercial success, and it had to have been, because a few months later we get Dirty Pair II:

And Warren’s artwork has improved considerably in his months off. His linework is no longer vomit inducing, and his characters start looking more consistently Japanese-ish.

His profiles have become works of sheer horror, though. Instead of looking like cute manga girls, they look like genetic mix-ups. Perhaps somebody had an accident involving cat DNA while doing some splicing. I don’t know, but it’s horrific.

A person writes in to express his disdain for the comic; especially the “hard-edged ‘tough’ slutty American-style art”. He may be having some kind of personal problems he’s working through. I mean, what sane person would be denigrating comic book artwork in so strong terms?!?

Issue three is confusingly labeled as “1 of 5” on the cover…

And the fourth issue is labelled “4 of 4”. I think at this point editor Fred Burke didn’t really give a shit, and he left soon afterwards.

We also start getting recap pages, which is nice… Especially since these comics were printed on a pretty lethargic schedule. Reading the indicia (which may not be accurate either), it took nine months to get the five issues out.

A reader writes in to express concern about the direction Eclipse is taking: Mostly reprints and not much new, original material.

This is an amusing artefact. General Products (how’s that for a name) were apparently a huge Japanese shop that opened up a branch in San Francisco around this time, and took out an ad in Dirty Pair. A few of the letters had been mentioning General Products (before they opened that shop), so that seems like a good idea.

Oh, what was the second Dirty Pair arc like to read? Tedious. It’s not funny and it not exciting, and it’s not fun to look at.

So I had no hopes for the third series.

But… but… Whaaa? It cannot be!

Between the two series, Warren has completely overhauled his art style. It now looks stylish, slick and very Japanese-inspired. It’s not just the sexy girls, but pretty much everything.

And the writing! It’s funny! What happened!

Just look at the crazy design for those battle robot suits! With the huge windows to show off the Pair’s big boobs! It’s funny! It looks weird! It’s great!

And Warren has totally mastered how to do exciting action scenes. This is from the middle of the sequence, so it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense out of context, but the Kei-jumping-and-falling-and-doing-acrobatics sequence was genuinely thrilling to read.

And did I mention that it’s actually funny now?

So somehow both Smith and Warren levelled up something furiously between the second and third arcs. I can hardly believe it’s the same creators, because the third arc is a hoot. And it even has an interesting plot, and introduces a new viewpoint character that we can relate to more easily than the Pair (who are pretty kah-razy, but in a good way).

I guess cosplay was beginning to become a thing around 1990?

Another reader writes in concerned about the future of Eclipse. He writes that there’s a rumour that Eclipse were in financial difficulties, and the editor says “pshaw”. And this was about three years before Eclipse went bankrupt, but some creators connected to Eclipse had begun publicly to complain about late payments and the like. (Alan Moore, for instance, would go on to state that he hadn’t gotten any royalties for Miracleman after the very first issue.)

“Worst of all… they’re morning people.” That is, indeed, the worst.

Look at this artwork! Just look at it!

So that was a pleasant surprise. The first two series are a drag, and the third is a hoot.

After leaving Eclipse (and suing them into bankruptcy), Smith and Warren took Dirty Pair to Dark Horse, where they published a number of mini-series during the 90s. There doesn’t seem to have been any new Dirty Pair material since… 2003?

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