Comics are as great as you want them to be

princeofcats Comics are as great as you want them to be
A few recent things that scampered across my reading stirred similar feelings. One was MTV Geek’sThe 10 Best Comics Of September 2012 which was a reasonable sampling of pamphlet form comics from Marvel, DC Image, Dark Horse and Boom. It was by no means an embarrassingly bad list (credited author Alex Zalben reads a lot of comics) and it certainly fits what seems to be MTV Geek’s mandate of being broad. But it also showed what could charitably be termed a narrow focus (especially with the pamphlet constraint.)

The other thing that I noted (via an error message in my RSS feed) was the demise of Comic Book Galaxy, Alan David Doane’s revamped link blog. He’s made the blog private now and I won’t quote it, but the final post on September 16th was a long one where he diagnosed despair over the success of Before Watchmen, along with blowback from a particularly badly thought out post, and the demoralizing effect of trollish message board postings elsewhere as killing his interest in link-blogging…and just about killing his interest in comics. Yes, it was another “Farewell to Comics” type entry.

So September 2012…a pretty typical month in comics book terms. I began to wonder what else had been published in this month and looked back at the Publishers Weekly comics review section to see what else had come out.

Well, it turned out…quite a few things.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #5 by Los Bros Hernandez
Prophet by Brandon Graham and his merry dervishes.
Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly, which hasn’t gotten much attention but is a fantastic work of imagination.
The Crackle of the Frost by Lorenzo Mattotti

I did a little more checking and found a few more books.
Aya: Life in Yop City Comics are as great as you want them to be
The collected Hugo Tate finally, by Nick Abadzis
Message to Adolf by Osamu Tezuka
Drama by
201210030246 Comics are as great as you want them to be
Raina Telgemeier
The Odyssey by Seymour Chwast

…and that’s just a sample.

I haven’t even mentioned comic strip reprints, Artist’s Editions, Omnibii, and the dizzying churn of collections of vintage material rom Marvel. Or Manga, really. Just look at this list of books coming out this year. It’s dazzling in its variety and stunning in the number of truly great creators represented.

This is simply the best time for comics in my 30 years in the business. In terms of good old stuff in print and strong new material coming out every single week.

I’m sorry that ADD was so sickened by Before Watchmen that he threw down his glove and walked away in disgust. BeWa was a pretty shitty thing to do. But no one should let it sour him or herself on all the GOOD things that are happening. And yeah, Jack Kirby is dead and the Siegels are still fighting for Superman, and Gary Friedrich lost his case, and Ryan Kelly has no health insurance, and people at every level struggle on and off or all the time. Such issues must be addressed and redressed. All the good comics in the world doesn’t make these things right.

But a lot of good comics is a good thing.

There’s a sense of optimism in the comics industry once you get outside the increasingly joyless chart race at the Big Two. More opportunities, more respect, more readers. Maybe it’s a good time to catch the fever.

Comments

  1. I’ve felt for a long time that there is something unhealthy about focusing on one aspect of the market to the exclusion of all else to the point of fetishization – and that applies as much to something as cliquey as art comix as it does to the Big Two. Every time I take a step back and try to get a bigger picture of comics, I realize that there are aspects that I have no visibility into whatsoever – including (but not limited to) Manga and BD.

    Anyone who feels that there is nothing interesting left in comics has clearly never been to SPX or Angouleme. I’m still waiting for the Hector Osterheld retrospective.

  2. Kevin says:

    Prince of Cats looks amazing, never heard about it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Blacaucasian says:

    Prince of Cats is amazing and one of the best interpretations of Romeo and Juliet I think I’ve ever read.

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    I’m on the subway, so I can’t recall the exact title of a Dark House import from Turkey. Great design, original art!

    We are in a Renaissance. New styles from foreign lands. New distribution methods. Discovery of classics. All inspiring new creativity!

    NYCC has a big section of “bookstore” publishers this year, led by Abrams and First Second. It would be interesting to survey artists alley and see how many have worked on mainstream projects.

  5. Johnny Memeonic says:

    After reading the Google cache of the last Comic Book Galaxy post, I’ve once again got to question why the comics community is so wrapped around the axle about Before Watchmen.

    Sequels and prequels that the original creators never wanted have been produced in books and film and everywhere for probably as long as stories have existed. You don’t live in a socialist hell where the state produces art and entertainment and if you don’t like it, tough. If you don’t want Before Watchmen, don’t buy it. Simple as that.

    Obsessing about it to the degree I’ve seen is indicative of a problem and that problem ain’t Before Watchmen.

  6. Torsten Adair says:

    Insomniac Cafe, by M. K. Perker
    Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges (January 2013)
    Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel
    Best American Comics 2012
    Is That All There Is? by Joost Swarte
    The Graphic Canon (3 volumes)
    On the Ropes (Vance and Burr, March 2013))

  7. Synsidar says:

    . . . I’ve once again got to question why the comics community is so wrapped around the axle about Before Watchmen.

    WATCHMEN is regarded as highly as it is because it was a standalone literary work. BEFORE WATCHMEN is nothing of the sort. The focus on the WATCHMEN characters in BEFORE WATCHMEN relates directly to why the market for superhero comics is so limited, why devoted fans are so intense, and why the turnover in the readership has historically been high.

    A character isn’t a story.

    Much was made of the size of Marvel’s character library when Disney’s acquisition was announced, but most of those 5,000-7,000 (?!) characters are effectively worthless. If they’re not title characters and they can’t sell T-shirts or toys, what good are they to anyone, compared to new characters?

    The belief that the hero is the single most important element in the superhero story warps the nature of the story that’s told. Ask someone at Marvel what makes Spider-Man a better character than the heroine in a randomly-selected Harlequin romance. He couldn’t begin to tell you. If the heroine is better used in the romance novel than Spider-Man is in the superhero story, then she’s a better character, and no amount of bloviation about how wonderful Spider-Man is will change that.

    The attachments fans have to heroes and the recognition factor a hero has are useful only in marketing, but niche markets are limited. WATCHMEN is as well-regarded as it is, and as valuable as it is, because its reach goes beyond the niche market. Superheroes aren’t only for fetishists.

    SRS

  8. Johnny Memeonic says:

    Posting a wall of text isn’t helping you disprove my point.

    Ask someone at Marvel what makes Spider-Man a better character than the heroine in a randomly-selected Harlequin romance. He couldn’t begin to tell you.

    This is also completely untrue. Forget a Marvel person, a kid could tell you what makes Spider-man a better character.

  9. Synsidar says:

    Forget a Marvel person, a kid could tell you what makes Spider-man a better character.

    He looks neat and he has powers. That’s what a kid sees.

    Adults get bored with power fantasies.

    SRS

  10. Calvin Reid says:

    Ha! Look, there’s nothing wrong with the MTV listing but really, that list has no relationship to the actual level of quality work released in the last year. Prince of Cats is one great book, but I could go on and on and never mention a single super hero comics. Not that there’s anything wrong with a rousing super hero comic. But check out Hope Larson’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in time, Sailor Twain, Drawn Together by the Crumbs, Graphic Canon, WizzyWig by Ed Piskor, the Nao of Brown, the Hypo–we’re living in a new golden age of graphic novels.

  11. Zalben’s list does have some great entries – MIND MGMT, Near Death and Dancer are all pretty brilliant and deserve the spotlight. But that he missed John Arcudi’s The Creep is a tremendous oversight. That book has me anticipating the next issue in a way that’s pretty rare. Also, you’re right that neglecting Osamu Tezuka and the Hernandez Bros on a list of great comics is like forgetting Mickey Mantle on a list of great baseball players. Still can’t figure out how his DC and Marvel choices wound up on this list instead.

    The premise of this article is great and it’s one that’s easily forgotten: The great stuff out there is worth sticking around for, even if you have dig underneath a pile of shameful, disgusting crap to find it. Rather than quitting, anyone who is turned off by internet negativity should just turn off the internet and if you’re grossed out by DC and Marvel’s lack of ethics or corporate culture, don’t buy their shit.

  12. Johnny Memeonic says:

    He looks neat and he has powers. That’s what a kid sees.

    Only a small child is like this and you know it. Once they can follow a story they like Spider-man’s characterization and the motivation from his tragic backstory. Moving goalposts won’t make your untrue statement true.

    Adults get bored with power fantasies.

    The age demographics of people that read super-hero comics today would disagree with you.

  13. I’m sure everyone at Marvel could give you an off-the-cuff 1,000 words on why Spider-Man is a better character than a romance novel heroine (and if not, they need to work on their recruiting skills!).

    Some characters (like Spider-Man — great example, actually) can transcend the way their stories are told. (Other iconic characters could be King Arthur, Robin Hood, Achilles, etc.) I think what you’re picking up on in Watchmen is that the characters weren’t invented to be iconic; they were invented to serve the purposes of that story that Moore and Gibbons wanted to tell. If anything, it was a response to the “enduring legacy character” foundation so much of the superhero genre is built on.

  14. Synsidar says:

    Some characters (like Spider-Man — great example, actually) can transcend the way their stories are told.

    Until Spider-Man is written to completion in some satisfying way, he hasn’t transcended anything. He’s a continual work in progress. When people see him and have warm thoughts, they’re reacting to the concept, not the character as written.

    TV, movies and other visual media can convince people, to an extent, that what they’re seeing is real, even when it shouldn’t be. Prose writers use their writing skills and details to get a reader involved with the story. But if he bungles the details, and readers notice, there can be problems.

    Superhero comics have enough visual power to get readers interested, but the details are often ignored or bungled. In AVX Vs. #6, released today, for example, the writer tells the reader that the Scarlet Witch’s power was responsible for M-Day. But he’s wrong. He confused her power with Heinberg’s Life Force in AVENGERS: CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. So much for the story, and if Gillen was confused about what the Scarlet Witch’s power is, how many other people at Marvel are similarly confused?

    Spider-Man is never going to be any better than the story he’s in. And writing a good story requires attention to details, and not telling the same story over and over and over again.

    SRS

  15. Jackie Estrada says:

    And don’t forget all the great stuff that came out with the help of Kickstarter.

  16. Torsten Adair says:

    My theory of “good television”:
    If you, as a fan, can name five memorable episodes, and then have a conversation with non-fans of the series, then it’s a good series.

    Then there are the one-trick-ponies of television, like “Three’s Company”. It’s funny, used the situations well, but I can’t remember a specific plot after having watched most of the episodes.

    Superhero comics are soap operas. Nothing can really change. Even with the big events (the “Sweeps Month” of comics), how many stories had memorable change or influence on a character? Does the hero ever recall those events years later?

    Are they enjoyable? Sure. Memorable? Worth a second look? Probably not. Unless they do something stupid, like not having Attilan serve as a refuge for superheroes escaping the Superhero Registration Act, or not exploring the relocation/concentration camp theme in the same miniseries.

    The problem with comparing Spider-Man with a romance heroine is that Spider-Man can’t change at the end of the story. Usually, he’s the MacGuffin.

  17. Jesse Post says:

    Well isn’t “reacting to the concept” the whole point? I know Superman fans who haven’t read one of the comics in years, but they just latched on to the concept through whichever entry point made a first impression, and they never let go. I don’t think Superman as an idea falls apart when a bad writer handles him, any more than a boring unoriginal novel heroine can be made memorable across generations by a great writer.

    Watchmen characters: not meant to be high concept and sell lunchboxes (so I agree with you completely on that one). Watchmen lives and dies by its story; no kid is tying a towel around his neck and pretending to be Nite Owl.

    The point about finite stories vs. never-ending serialization is a whole other topic and I think it’s just a point everyone goes through in their maturation process as readers. First, you realize finite stories are more satisfy inane serialized ones are kind of juvenile and soap-like. Then you realize there are some finite chapters within the serials that you can appreciate on their own terms. Last, you discover that it’s all just good fun, and you can dip in and out of the serials as you like or don’t like as the years go by. The format of a story doesn’t prejudice it against having literary merit.

  18. Jesse Post says:

    Oh, and Johnny, to your original point, I agree that it’s really weird to give up an entire genre (and weirder to give up on an entire medium!) because of one publisher’s one mistake. But I think the reason the Watchmen thing feels so momentous to folks is because it has an aura of “the one thing we had” … The one that not only proved the lasting value of the superhero genre but showed what a book-format comic could do and what a collaborative, more equitable deal with your best creators could do. There’s nothing substantively different between co-opting this one and co-opting all the others, but it’s symbolically different.

  19. Synsidar says:

    I know Superman fans who haven’t read one of the comics in years, but they just latched on to the concept through whichever entry point made a first impression, and they never let go.

    You’re not considering the importance of the theme(s) in a story. When people think warm thoughts about a character, they’re probably thinking mostly about the themes he represents. Superman, for example, is the world’s premier superhero, and its strongest, and historically represents truth, justice, and the American way. Those qualities might seem wonderful in the abstract, but they don’t make for good stories about Superman, especially not a series of stories. He’s on a pedestal and maintaining his status requires staying on that pedestal forever. If he falls off because of serious flaws that are revealed, he’s ruined. Writing stories that do nothing more than keep him on the pedestal are pointless. There’s no real change (although writers constantly make temporary, superficial changes).

    Wonder Woman is a feminist symbol, and people think well of her because of that, but her Amazonian background hinders a writer who wants to write her as a superheroine. The other Amazons just get in the way. Azzarello isn’t the only writer who’s gotten rid of them.

    If someone wants to write a story about Spock, he might focus on Spock’s primary theme, the conflict between logic and emotion. The resulting story might be good, but it could be mind-numbingly dull and predictable. As with other themes, the logic/emotion conflict can’t support an endless series of stories about Spock. Like other series characters, he can burn out unless he ages and changes.

    Implementing the “illusion of change” policy invariably results in a bunch of themeless stories, if only because repetition robs themes of their power. Nobility, heroism, self-sacrifice, with great power. . .–they’re too basic to the definition of a hero to support multiple stories, much less an endless series.

    The ending to a story is at least as important as its other elements. If someone can’t think of a way to write Spider-Man to completion, or doesn’t want to do it, he’s not thinking of Spider-Man as a character in a story. He’s thinking of him as a tool for making a marketable product. He’s not producing art.

    SRS

  20. Synsidar: “Adults get bored with power fantasies.”

    Johnny Memeonic: “The age demographics of people that read super-hero comics today would disagree with you.”

    But the actual count of adult readers who NO LONGER read super-hero comics today would agree with the former.

  21. SRS, I think we’ve officially veered off into a different discussion! Your original point was, “If the heroine is better used in the romance novel than Spider-Man is in the superhero story, then she’s a better character, and no amount of bloviation about how wonderful Spider-Man is will change that.” And it’s just not accurate to say that a character’s themes/essences/ingrained personality/reasons for being have nothing to do with the merit or reading pleasure in a story — in fact, those are precisely the things that every professional writer would agree are essential to a good story (in addition to good writing, expert plotting, truthful dialogue, etc.). And just to repeat my agreement with you, Watchmen is a story motivated by characters who intentionally defy a reader’s impulse to “like” them, or to emulate them, or even in many cases to understand them.

    No one was arguing that bad writing is actually good because it may happen to have a good character in it. “A character isn’t a story” is obviously true (and would have been worth considering at DC Editorial before they moved forward with the Watchmen prequels), but it’s not true that a character never has intrinsic merits on her own that exist separately from whomever is writing the stories around her.

  22. Synsidar says:

    . . . but it’s not true that a character never has intrinsic merits on her own that exist separately from whomever is writing the stories around her.

    But you see that thinking repeatedly from comics fans who argue that ____ should star in a movie, or want to see ______ in his own title. Fans don’t separate the character concept from the character, or accept that a theme can be exhausted of its story possibilities, or accept that a story can be a complete failure because of problems with the premise or the plot, even if his favorite writer is handling his favorite character.

    Extolling the virtues of characters separately from the stories they’re in doesn’t serve any useful purpose except to convince people that, like soap opera characters, Spider-Man can fight Doctor Octopus 50 times or have his origin retold 10 times, and the resulting stories will be wonderful because they have Spider-Man, who’s such an iconic hero.

    SRS

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