Perhaps it was his unique costume, his ghostly appearance and seemingly omnipotent powers, or nothing more than my ridiculous attraction to the color green, but for some reason the Spectre has always been one of my favorite comic book characters. This DC Comics superhero who appeared at random throughout my father’s comic book collection, caught a piece of my childhood mind that it has since never released.
I am certain it was never the story that grabbed me. Until rereading a few issues in my thirties, I don’t believe I could genuinely recall a full story of what the Spectre did on his regular hero rounds. Instead, I just remembered a very powerful ghost lingering in the background, ready, at any mystically prescribed and plot-driven moment to sweep into a story as the deus ex machina inflicting vengeance and magically exacting revenge.
I am not a fan of ghost-stories, or violent tales of aggression and revenge, I don’t care for the violence of most comics, and I certainly don’t care for the need to resolve all problems and their associated emotions with outbursts of enraged brutality – all things the character seems to represent.
Many talk of comic book heroes as a call back to needed mythologies of bygone ages. As though these characters represent archetypal components of being human. The Spectre though, like most traditional American comic book heroes, pro-wrestlers, and football players, isn’t an emblem of heroics, but rather the shifting stresses of male emotion. The character is an outlet for repressed desires of violent omnipotence of those who feel themselves wronged and sifted into unremarkable irrelevance. And yet, he is dressed like a football fan, or a fraternity pledge, or perhaps a cereal box.
It’s this mix of silliness with recognizably intense emotions that appeals to me as an artist. The blend of laughable theatrics, and the unfulfillable desire for seriousness about emotions and ideals that do not match the realities at hand.
On top of this, the visual image of The Spectre has always remained stuck in my mind. In the composite inks of print green and white, he is a fearful but safe color combination that evokes glowing in the dark, supernatural wisdom, childhood boogeymen, and the silliness of pro-wrestling. A glowing green ghost, seemingly benevolent, but full of a deep-seeded need for vengeance and barely contained rage. Or more directly, a pale naked man in midnight green panties draped with a similarly colored sheet around his head.
Greens and whites are, obviously, part of a color palette that fascinates me. I love that together they can simultaneously recall ideas of nature, cleanliness, virtue, as well as the supernatural, horror, and disease. In the simple but strict black comic lines I find a connection to the linear elements of my own work. I don’t see it as coincidence. I am pulling from these comics to add a component of their narrative and iconic imagery. But the stories I am interested in aren’t as straightforward as the comics, and they aren’t as easily resolved, or even as certain of their central problems and needs. I sometimes imagine them as proto-comics attempting to birth a new narrative.
In paint, I work for something more serious, more silly, more constructed and architectural. Ghosts and lines, colors and emotions.
The silliness of the Spectre seems important to me. If you are reading a comic, you choose to just sort of roll with it. But if you step back for a moment, you realize that it is ridiculous. In that way, it isn’t really that unusual. There are in fact so many things like that in this world. It is just often too difficult to call all the ghosts in our life goofy old men in their underwear.