Nowadays, comic books and their title characters are getting revamps, remakes, make overs, and reboots out the wazoo. Back in 1986, it was a pretty big deal. DC Comics rocked comic bookdom to its core with a mini-series debuting a brand new set of duds for its king of the sea, Aquaman. It was quite a departure from his original, more well known orange and green wet suit. (At least they kept him platinum for blonde’s sake!) I should also note that mini-series weren’t as common back then either, because of the newsstand set up situation. Since the sea-faring superhero hadn’t had a series in a while and lost some of his luster thanks to his portrayal in the legendary Saturday morning Superfriends cartoon, I assume DC wanted to make some noise while bringing back the nautical hunk.
The costume was designed by late, great DC editor Neal Pozner. Neal would also write the mini that introduced us to one of the best costume changes in history. The art chores would fall to relative newcomer Craig Hamilton. That was the first time I had seen Craig’s beautiful art and have been a fan ever since. I’ve always loved this version of Aquaman’s costume and lamented its hasty demise. Craig was nice enough to answer a few questions regarding “Aquaman’s Blue Period” in the following interview.
Michael Troy: You famously drew the 1986 Aquaman mini-series that infamously traded his signature orange and green costume for a sleek, blue “sea camouflage” outfit. How did you become involved?
Craig Hamilton: I became involved with the ’86 Aquaman mini-series when I met Neal Pozner through mutual friend Klaus Janson. I had been going to conventions, showing my portfolio, meeting editors and artists, and trying to break into the business. I was in Manhattan for an extended stay after a con where I had landed a job doing some entries for the Marvel Universe encyclopedia series. Neal introduced me to Dick Giordano, who would be editor on the series, and I got hired! It was really a dream come true for a 19-year-old comic book fan! If I had to pick my favorite DC character, it would have been Aquaman anyway! Neal had designed the new camouflage costume, and he and Dick agreed that I would be able to draw it convincingly, as well as the fantasy aspects of the script.
MT: It’s now commonplace to switch up costumes, races, even gender. Why do you think it was such a big deal back then?
CH: It was an exciting time in comics during the ’80s anyway. I think it was a bigger deal back then, because changes to characters were a new thing. Aquaman had not had a solo title in almost a decade, and to revive him with a dramatic change brought a lot of attention to the project. (I grew up on the Jim Aparo Aquaman!) Prior to the ’80s, in order to work in comics, one needed to be in or close to Manhattan. With the advent of fax machines and FedEx, more diverse talent from around the country (and world) could be brought in to contribute, and I think that showed in the diversification of characters in the ’80s.
MT: You have such a beautiful, romantic style. Was it fun to draw?
CH: Thank You! . . . and Heck YEAH!! It was SUCH fun to draw!!! All the cool Atlantean stuff, as well as other new underwater cities . . . even an ice cathedral. I had a lot of fun gradually morphing Ocean Master throughout the series from a stereotypical comic book villain into a really scary sorcerous baddie. The astral battle which dominates the 4th issue had more “color hold” process than any book previously done, and I went wild with the trippy, hallucinogenic atmosphere of it.
MT: The costume, while still folklore, vanished almost as soon as it appeared. Any thoughts as to why? Are you surprised when people (like me) still ask you about it almost 25 years later?
CH: I’m not sure why the chamo did not continue after the mini-series, but it IS a difficult costume to draw. George Perez complained to me about it once! I really enjoyed seeing it used on The Brave and the Bold animated series as Arthur Junior’s outfit though! It is strange to me that despite whatever backlash there was against it, that all these years later, I still hear from folks who love it, Geoff Johns included.
MT: What current projects are you working on? Any plans to do mainstream comics again some day?
CH: I don’t foresee mainstream comics in my future. The business has changed so much over the past 3 decades and is certainly less creator friendly than it used to be. I’m grateful for the time that I had working for DC when it was an exciting, vital time for artists and writers. Currently, I am going back into marketing illustration, teaching, and painting.
Awwww . . . c’mon, Craig! Don’t quit comics all together. DC should be smart enough to at least have you do a variant Aquaman cover in the costume you helped make (in)famous!
Orange is the new blue as Aquaman has returned to a closer version of his original duds in the pages of his monthly comic book.