Recalling Tomorrow With Dean Motter

« Mister X has always puzzled me. I’ve never been exactly certain where he came from. It seems like he has always been present — maybe not skulking through the perplexing shadows of the city so much as through some kind of collective unconsciousness. » — Dean Motter (1986)

On this day, back in 1953, the celebrated art director, graphic designer, writer-illustrator and cartoonist Dean Motter was born in Berea, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.

Over the course of his illustrious career, Motter has flitted in and out of comics, often in tandem with a rather remarkable array of collaborators, among them Jaime Hernandez, Paul Rivoche, Seth, Ty Templeton and Michael Lark… but just as frequently on his own.

As you’ll see, though he is quite adept in a vast range of media and techniques, nearly all of his mature work is lovingly filtered through his abiding interest in Will Eisner’s The Spirit, film noir, Art Deco, German Expressionism, with, I’d say, a soupçon of Soviet Propaganda art… resulting in a surprisingly cogent and coherent retro-futurist vision. The future as seen from the past, in short. And that’s just the visuals.

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Ah, youthful indiscretions! Motter’s cover for the inaugural issue of the tabloid version of Andromeda (1974, Media Five; Bill Paul, editor). Herein, Motter wears some rather less highfalutin’ influences on his sleeve, notably those of Mssrs. Brunner, Kane and Steranko. « Focus Fire ~ white Eclipse The Aurora Anti-Cosmos Splitting Heavens Apocalypse. »… concluded Young Master Motter’s epic poem, Celestial Circuit Cirkus.
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An early appearance from (a yet-unnamed?) Mister X, snuck its way onto a Canadian reissue of Patrick Cowley‘s Megatron Man (1982, Attic Records). And here is a later, rather dodgy recycling of his artwork that must give Dean some choice nightmares.
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A nice change of pace to showcase his range, this is Motter’s cover for Mister X no. 6 (Dec. 1985, Vortex). This splendid logo, débuting here, would thankfully return from time to time.
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This is Mister X no. 8 (Oct. 1986, Vortex); In its subtlety, this cover stretched the limits of what was technically possible in comics printing at the time, in terms of saturation and contrast.
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In the late 1980s, Motter jumped at the chance to write and illustrate Shattered Visage (oh dear me, a Shelley quote!) a sequel to 60s British television classic The Prisoner (4 issues, prestige format). This is the (much improved) cover to a 2019 reprint (Titan Books) of the original 1990 DC Comics collected edition.
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This is Electropolis no. 2 (Sept. 2001, Image), a spin-off of his Terminal City limited series (1996-97, DC Comics).
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Page two of Epilogue Prologue from A1 no. 1 (Atomeka Press, 1989), story and art by Motter.
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Cover from Mister X: Eviction no. 2 (June 2013, Dark Horse).
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The cover of Dean Motter’s Mister X: Eviction & Other Stories (Nov. 2013. Dark Horse).
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Front and back cover spread of Mister X: Razed no. 4 (May 2015, Dark Horse). Unusually done in gouache, if I’m not mistaken.
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One of the current comics field’s crasser, most mercenary outfits, Dynamite Entertainment specializes in the frivolous mangling and mingling of established franchise properties, with the wankbait titillation ramped way the hell up and variant covers out the wazoo. Sample titles: Red Sonja & Vampirella Meet Betty & Veronica (twelve issues so far, as it’s so very high-concept), Barbarella / Dejah Thoris, or Army of Darkness / Xena… I mean, check out this train wreck of a lineup. Such is the power of their brain-dead crappitude that they even managed to produce an abysmal mini-series from a Roger Langridge script, a career first for the great man. Their not-so-secret weapon: in the hallowed publisher’s tradition of the old bait-and-switch, they don’t scrimp on the slick-as-spit cover artwork. This is The Shadow no. 25 (May 2014); a variant cover, need you even ask?

Aside from his comics work, Motter spent a considerable part of the 1980s working for the Canadian arm of what was then the biggest (and possibly stingiest) record label in the world, CBS/Sony, shepherding or designing beautiful and clever covers for albums that were often neither… but that’s an art director’s job, cynical as it may seem. Anyway, you know you’ve made it when your work rates a pastiche decades on; to wit:

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This reminds me of how a single-minded, contrarian generation of Chuck Klostermans has taken over music criticism in order to wipe away the work of the Obama Administration Robert Christgaus and Dave Marshes of this world, aiming to vindicate and impose their beloved childhood bands, which once were the reigning critics’ whipping boys. Nowadays, you’ll find 4 and 5 star ratings (out of five, there’s no room here for moderation!) of Van Halen, Kiss, Loverboy and Journey albums, which was unthinkable at the time of their release. Plus ça change…

What is there left to do but to warmly wish Mr. Motter the finest of birthdays… at a safe distance? Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

– RG