Shatter in action. Artist: Michael Saenz.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: First Comics
First Appeared: 1985
Creators: Peter B. Gillis (writer) and Michael Saenz (artist)
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Comics have been responding strongly to widespread new technology as long as there have been comics. Back when the new technology was the automobile, comics responded with Professor Otto & His Auto, and, later, Joe's Car. Film brought us Minute Movies as well as a host of comic book adaptations from that medium. When TV came in, comics had …

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Della Vision and "Roy Raymond, TV Detective." And who could forget Dick Tracy's mid-1940s high-tech gadget, the two-way wrist radio?

But those responses concerned the content of comics, what the comics were about. Cars, movies etc. didn't have a direct effect on the production methods by which comics were manunfactured, or on the creative techniques used to make the comics in the first place. As computers pervaded society, they promised to have a greater effect than merely inspiring such comics as Adam@Home and Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet.

For months before its 1985 release, advance publicity for Shatter, published by First Comics (Grimjack, Nexus) touted it as the world's first computer-produced comic book. Nowadays, with art pages being squirted back and forth between editorial and creative personnel through modems, and certain jobs like lettering and coloring being virtually unthinkable without computerized assistance, that would be no big deal. But by the mid-1980s, technology had only recently advanced to a point where such a thing was even marginally possible.

A major problem with Shatter was that "marginally" was exactly how possible it was to produce a comic book entirely with that day's computer equipment. With printer resolution now measured in hundreds of dots per inch, art output by the printers of 1985 looks distinctly shoddy. Shatter had the advantages of being able to clone panels, apply shading with the click of a mouse, and all the other conveniences today's cartoonists take for granted — but it still looked like it came out of a 24-pin dot matrix printer.

Shatter's content wasn't as innovative as its production. A gritty crime story set in a dystopian future can be well or badly done, but a premise that sounds like Judge Dredd but without the panache, like Star Hawkins only not as funny, like Blade Runner except lacking the immersive experience that can come only from a multi-million-dollar movie, isn't likely to startle the world with its originality. "Shatter" was a nickname applied to Sadr al-din Morales (who also used the name "Jack Scratch"), who worked as an urban cop, on a freelance basis.

The comic was written by Peter B. Gillis, whose prior credits are mostly at Marvel Comics, on characters like Captain America and The Thing. It was drawn by Mike Saenz, who made a specialty of digitally-produced comics. After Shatter, he did Iron Man: Crash, Marvel's first computer-generated graphic novel.

Shatter first appeared in the 12th issue (March, 1985) of the British computer magazine Big K. In June, it started as a regular back-pages feature in First's Jon Sable, Freelance #25. At the same time, First published it as a oneshot special. It lasted only six issues in Sable, but starting with a December, 1985 cover date. it had its own title at First. Saenz left after only two issues, and for a time, it was produced the regular way, then digitized. But with #8, it was taken over by Charlie Athanas (who has few if any other credits in comics), who returned to fully digital production.

For a little while, Shatter sold extremely well for an independently-published comic book, with sales through computer outlets at least as strong as those in comics stores. But as the novelty wore off, the storyline, especially accompanied by production values that were a long way from being able to match what was possible with ordinary paper and ink, was unable to hold readers' interest. The final issue was #14 (April, 1988).


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © First Comics.