In their latest spotlight on examples of comic creators making commentary on other creators within the pages of comics, CSBG looks at the classic case of the inker who talked some trash in the background of a Spidey comic.
I tend to enjoy a good “secret” message in my comics. Usually it’s a dig at a rival. I remember the 90s, that low water mark of the comic industry, when Peter David had the Incredible Hulk’s wife Betty put a fake fin on his head as a disguise. “It won’t work,” the Hulk told her. “Any idiot will take one look and say, ‘Oh, it’s the Hulk with a fin on his head!’” This was an obvious dig at Erik Larson’s character and comic, the Savage Dragon, which features essentially the Hulk with a fin on his head. The joke made me laugh then, and it still makes me laugh now, recalling it to memory.
Creators have to tread carefully, though, as these in-jokes can get them into trouble. Al Milgrom got canned (sort of) for sneaking in a dig at his former boss at Marvel comics, Bob Harras. (Interestingly enough, his fellow artist, the legendary John Romita, Sr. did NOT get in any trouble, so either Milgrom alone was responsible for the dig or else Romita is just so darn legendary he can get away with stuff like that.) Artist Simon Bisley has the bad habit of hiding not secret messages but drawings of uncircumcised penises in his work. (Admittedly it can be fun, trying to find them.) For me, as long as the story as a whole doesn’t suffer, I don’t mind the hidden messages (or penises) at all.