THE MASKMedium: Comic books
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
First Appeared: 1987
Creator: Mike Richardson
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Dark Horse Comics, a 1980s start-up publisher, has been involved in more than its share of cross-media hits — Hellboy, Sin City, Duckman even Barb Wire managed to get out of comics and into a movie. The first the company introduced, that was to
go on to fame outside of comic books, was The Mask, a series with an odd concept, and capable of encompassing a wide variety of stories, which debuted in Dark Horse Presents #10 (September, 1987).
At that time, the concept already had a history in fanzines, the creation of publisher Mike Richardson. When he got into professional publishing with Dark Horse, he commissioned cartoonist Mark Badger (Batman, American Flagg) to craft the opening story for Dark Horse Presents. Badger's version had a slightly altered title ("The Masque"), but it was restored not too much later. Also, like all 1980s Dark Horse features (such as Trekker, The American, Concrete and Boris the Bear), it was printed in black and white — another situation that was fixed early on.
The Mask itself wasn't a person, but an artifact, the back-story of which hasn't been written (beyond the fact that it apparently came from Africa). Comic book readers first saw it in an antique store, where a meek, ineffectual guy named Stanley Ipkiss, who occupied the bottom of the pecking order wherever he went, bought it as a gift for his girlfriend. Before giving it to her, he tried it on, and was instantly transformed from a relatively realistic toon to the kind Tex Avery might have made — manic, uninhibited, relatively invulnerable (he could be damaged but always snapped back), and possessed of a toon's ability to produce whatever object he wanted from behind his back. Richardson later cited Screwy Squirrel as an inspiration. His conscience disabled, Stanley went on a rampage of killing and maiming the many people who had wronged him in the past.
Not surprisingly, Stanley wound up dead. But others have worn the mask, including Kathy (the girlfriend it was originally bought for), Lt. Kellaway (a policeman she gave it to for safekeeping), several criminals, at least one dog, and even characters from other comic books — DC Comics' Lobo (for whom the release of inhibitations against murderous rampages seems superfluous) and The Joker (ditto) have both worn it. The Mask has also had a crossover with a more-than-ordinarily violent superhero, Marshal Law.
The Mask's first full-color appearance (and the one where the spelling assumed its correct form) was in Dark Horse's Mayhem, a four-issue mini-series published in 1989. This one was written by John Arcudi and drawn by Doug Mahnke (who also collaborated on DC's Major Bummer in 1998), leading to that pair having been incorrectly cited as series creators. Since then, The Mask has been the focus of a dozen or more mini-series, by a wide variety of different writers and artists. Most have been collected into graphic novel form, and are kept in print.
The movie version, with Jim Carrey (The Grinch) as Stanley, was released by New Line Cinema on July 29, 1994. Dark Horse published a two-issue adaptation in July and August of that year. Unlike the regular comics series, Stanley was alive at the end, which made it possible to do his further adventures as a Saturday morning cartoon on CBS the following year. Rob Paulsen (Yakko Warner) did Stanley's voice. It ran three seasons, 52 episodes in all. Also, it led to an ongoing comic book series, Adventures of The Mask, aimed at younger readers, which lasted 12 issues. In non-comics media, the artifact came from Sweden, and is possessed by Loki, god of chaos and mischief.
Tho it isn't being published on a regular basis at the moment, The Mask is still a valuable property. In fact, Son of The Mask, which features a subsequent Mask wearer, came out as recently as February, 2005.