Monday, June 28, 2004

Comics

As you might have guessed from my previous post about comic conventions, I'm something of a comic book fan. I can't claim to be a comic book geek, as I don't know nearly enough about them and am not nearly single-minded enough to merit that title. As a matter of fact, I'm somewhat cursed with a generalist's sensibility, so that while I might know more than 99% of the rest of America about the last twenty years in comics, or about mathematics, or about 80's new wave, or about computers, or about Carolina basketball, that means there's probably almost 3 million other people that know as much or more about those things. Hardly geek territory. And you can pretty well bet that the guy that happens to sit down in any bar in America at the empty stool next to me and strikes up a conversation is going to know more than me, much more than me, about something. Anything. And that's all he's going to want to talk about. It'll either be something that I have no knowledge of (and therefore likely no interest in) or it'll be one of those things that I know a lot about, but nowhere NEAR as much as this guy. He might know doodley-squat about anything else, but he can tell you who did the fucking lettering for every goddamn issue of Animal Man that Grant Morrison wrote or the assist-to-turnover ratio of every freaking Carolina letterman in the 1950's and he'll want to IMPRESS you with how much more than you he knows. That's why I tend to stay out of chat rooms and message boards, by the way - since they tend to be single subject boards, they tend to draw the geeks and anyone else just may as well find something else to do.

My granny worked at W T Grants Department Store in Nashville when I was growing up and she used to bring us torn covers, mostly Gold Key Comics (Scrooge McDuck and the Beagle Boys, the Warner Bros. cartoon characters) and Harvey (Casper and Wendy, Hot Stuff, Richie Rich). I never really bought them myself until I was out of college and taking an IBM class in Crystal City, Virginia and wandered into Geppi's Comics. I wandered out with a copy of Uncanny X-Men 193 and Flaming Carrot 6 and my life was never the same.

Recently two independent comic titles that I've read for years came to an end, to mixed reactions from me. Cerebus finally ended its promised 300 issue run and I have no problem saying good riddance. For all the cleverness and uniqueness of the title, as the letters page began to take up more of the book (mostly filled with long diatribes against women) and then with Dave Sims' own anti-woman, anti-liberal screeds, the book lost any interest for me. Despite that there were times, even in the end, when the writing in the comic was brilliant. But I breathed a sigh of relief when it was over. Not so when Jeff Smith's Bone ended this month after 55 issues. Similarly self-published and black-and-white, it was always a joy from beginning to end and I'll miss it terribly.

I noticed my subscription bag was much lighter last week - it appears that Crossgen Comics has gone down for the count. It was started in the late '90's by Mark Alessi (dot-com zillionaire) as a new concept in comics - wholly produced by an in-house studio to try to cut down on the sporadic, ship-date missing sloppiness that has plagued the comic industry for a long time. I guess it did that - ship on time I mean - but that didn't translate into sales. Some of its titles were quite good - I thought the writing was hit-or-miss but some of the artwork was breathtaking. Meridian, Sojourn and Route 666 were actually stellar for much of their runs. There were strong signs of financial trouble last year, and many of the original series were actually brought to an end but it appears now that with the company having filed Chapter 11 last week, the rest will just die. Quite a shame.

So what's good now? Promethea from Alan Moore's America's Best Comics has been tremendous - most of the ABC stuff has been far above average (bring back Top 10!!!) Joss Whedon is now writing a new X-Men title (Astonishing X-Men) - the first two are out and are pretty good. Neil Gaiman's 1602 run either is or will soon be available as a collected work - it was quite wonderful, but if you aren't pretty well-versed in Marvel Comic characters, you might not get a lot of it. There's a spiffy little Sam Kieth mini-series called Scratch over at DC - if you remember the Maxx (and who doesn't?) you'll know why I love both his art and his writing. X-Statix has taken the "superhero as pop star" thing and had some fun with it (pretty bloody gruesome fun at times - comic code be damned). And I highly recommend anything from Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith - their 30 Days of Night a couple of years ago became a huge seller with a million dollar movie rights deal - all for a 3 issue mini from a publisher no one had ever heard of about a group of vampires finally realizing that "hey - there's a month-long night in the Arctic Circle! Let's eat!" They've done a number of titles since then, some related and some not - all of them good. Finally, Grant Morrison has a new title - Seaguy - I've read the first two and as is so often the case with Morrison, I haven't the foggiest idea what to make of them.

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