By Clint Hammill
It was April 1991 – Marvel Comics had just released The New Mutants #100, with Cable’s first appearance as the leader of the group ahead of X-Force #1 a few months later.
On that same newsagent shelf, a young Editor/Publisher/Designer by the name of Sam Young bared his soul (as all good creators do) onto the Australian comic market with issue #1 of Issue One. I can only tell you kids, that these were the days pre GST, so for the princely sum of a fist full of shekels ($1.95 to be precise ) I could confidently make this my ideal selection and overlook, that this one time I wouldn’t be following Green Lantern Guy Gardner on another bold obnoxious adventure.
So after a quick flick through Issue One #1, what immediately sold me was its striking Cyberpunk, Blade Runner ‘esque tone that pre-dated the look of The Matrix, eight years almost to the day. Was Sam Young so incredibly plugged into source, to capture the story tones and texture pre-set by literature greats as Aldous Huxley and George Orwell? Or was this the Universe working its magic via Sam’s tip to the greats, in continuing to run with their predictions with his own foresight and flavour ?
Either way, enter the Zero Assassin.
Thirteen pages of neck-breaking pace about an elusive cyber hitman in a digital world – deleting seemingly untouchable corporate fat cats, dead-eye deadly and as elusive as lassoing smoke. Written and illustrated by Sam Young himself, with concepts such as Zone Control, Cyber Addiction and Operatives that look like Agents for The Matrix. A futuristic world set in Sydney 2035 AD, it was created largely with irony, as this frenetic blend of classic crime noir set against its “download or die” culture predates the use of the home computer. Before the age of digital art, this was hand drawn and hand lettered with aggressive action and stylised line work – with its use of Benday Dots as texture. All perfectly framed with black all around, in-between the gutters, and a peppering of Psalms thrown in.
What made the core character of Zero unique was the way Sam gave him his voice. Minimalist dialogue was lettered as if done via a broken typewriter. This in turn complemented the same cover design as the Issue One logo, which also had its own unique broken type writer layout. When Zero spoke, the juxtaposition of his typed dialogue against Tim Duguid’s lettering would reach out to you beyond that fourth wall and force you to become who Zero was. A Cyber Spectre. I devoured the entire experience until I had also fallen under its digitalscape addiction.
To complement this expanding bleakness of what this future was predicting, came … well … allow me to quote the last panel of this next four page story. “My name is George Porser, the Cyberswine. I’m a cop.” Yes a genetically modified, cybernetic police pig.
Fast forward to the year 2045, or as the monologue states, “It’s twenty five years after the software wars of 2020 A.D”, written and inked by Sam Young, and pencilled by John Horvath, Cyberswine has the same fun flavour as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic of the same time, keeping it as a light tale. I also remember maybe in one of my alternative, Mandela effected universes’, that the Cyberswine was developed into a choose your own adventure game for the Playstation One? Or it was at least on my Earth, but that’s another story.
Seductively next came a two pager by the great man Don Ticchio titled, “The Critters are Coming!” Think of anamorphic relatives of both Flash Domingo and Killeroo, teaming up with a headband toting wombat, a crow and a koala with a shotgun. Versus a truck. Same outcome as Bambi meets Godzilla. Dark in tone, it provides enough shade at the right time when reading this booking in its entirety.
Shifting creative gears again, Sam Young next delivers a four page manga style story, “Island” set late in the 21st Century, boasts flying battle stations. The Island is the latest, largest and deadliest of these huge machines of mass destruction. Benday dots a’hoy, along with clear, clean, intricate lines. These outlined the prestige that accompanied the pilots of the craft set in this world. To this day I still don’t know what was wrong with the left wing thruster dynamics? But it all added to the robotic Jetsons future I was once promised.
Sprinkle amongst these tales a dash of adverts introducing various magnetic products, Hairbutt the Hippo #3 and that golden gem advert for Southern Aurora Comics – The Southern Squadron #2, coming your way in May.” I found myself getting a taste of what was to come on this emerging scene. Creating a book like this at the time was a collaborative effort by Howard Chau, John Horvath, Don Ticchio, Tim Duguid and Ben Lee.
In the words of Sam Young, printed inside the first page of Issue One #1:
“We started young and wanted to learn,
But no-one would teach us.
We worked hard on our writing and Illustration,
But we could not find print.
We searched for people to back us in our work,
But no-one was interested.
We sought ways of putting out our creative interests without losing all our money.
But there was no market.
This is the situation we have come to in Australia with local Australian Comics.”
– Sam Young, April 1991.
In today’s crypto, digital market I do not believe this to be true. In 1991, Issue One was way before its time, spawning future titles out of it such as Zero Assassin and Cyberswine stand-alone books. Thanks to pioneers like Sam Young for pouring his creative heart out onto paper. Designers, illustrators, creators and writers such as myself have these inspiring works of hand-made art to look back upon and appreciate the mantle they carried for anyone and everyone moving forward. I know that the universe put me in front of this book way back when, to start me on my own writing journey.
Issue One provided a positive light for creators to embrace. As far as a future potential return for Zero Assassin? I’m calling first writing dibs.