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Tuesday, February 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Comics Watch

He takes the words right out of their mouths — then puts in good ones

Seattle Times staff reporter

Artist appearance

John Lustig will sign copies of his work from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at The Comics Dungeon, 250 N.E. 45th St. 206-545-8373.

Pucker up. "Marvel Romance Redux" is out in time for Valentine's Day.

Even though Daredevil's red tights are ideal for the occasion, everyone knows that romance comics are gross. But making fun of romance comics is different.

In this case, the world's biggest comic publisher is making fun of its own mushy — and musty — material. Seattle's John Lustig is among the writers hired to deface old romance reprints with funny new dialogue in issue No. 1, subtitled "But He Said He Loved Me."

One of the few living writers already able to claim that occupation on his résumé, Lustig, 52, has enjoyed a snowballing fan cult for his clever "Last Kiss" comics, published in black-and-white by Shanda Fantasy Arts. Since "Last Kiss" debuted as a panel in the Comic Buyer's Guide in 2000, Lustig has cranked out a quartet of 48-page issues and begun turning his idea into a cottage industry. His offbeat line of "Last Kiss" greeting cards infiltrated stores in January.

On one card, a blonde bathed in the glow of a huge birthday cake tells the man she embraces, "What a wonderful surprise! How did you keep it a secret?" "Easy! I just lied to you ... like usual!" On another, a pretty brunette in close-up says earnestly, "Don't wait up for me! The fleet's in! I may not be back for days!"

It's the vintage, kitschy art that completes the jokes, and Lustig is unashamed of how he acquired his cartoon love-children. He found a scandalously good deal. When low-rent Charleton Comics shuttered its Derby, Conn., offices in 1985, DC bought most of its costumed heroes. But there were strays that needed homes. Looking to buy the most issues for the least dough in 1987, Lustig paid $400 for the rights to a 40-issue sap series called "First Kiss."

Hence "Last Kiss." When Lustig is finished manipulating panels and replacing words, the result is like "Mystery Science Theater 3000" by way of Roy "pop art" Lichtenstein.

Marvel's "Redux" won't be quite as suggestive, but with years of experience writing Disney comics, Lustig doesn't feel muzzled. His "Beach Blanket Barbarian" — in which a beach bunny longs for a lifeguard to make good on his threat of a spanking — is in the first of the five-issue series, which hit stands on Feb. 1. When you've shaken the sand out of your trunks, visit www.lastkisscomics.com for free weekly strips and more.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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