Archived entries for comics
Last week Laurel and I got into a pretty intense discussion about comic book stores and the effect a growing digital market place will have on them.
It is going to obviously be bad for most, but I also think good for some. It will force the bad stores out of business and force the good stores to redouble their efforts, making them even better.
So, why is it going to be bad? Same reason the good stores are good: customer service. I’ve been a comic fan since my age hit double digits, L’s been a fan since she realized Jean Grey existed, but both of us cringe every time we have to go into a comic shop. I’ve found a few exceptions, but she’s never found one that didn’t make her feel uncomfortable for being a girl or that would actually help her find new books to read.
If we can bypass those cringing, awkward moments by buying our books digitally – also free of fear of them selling out – why in God’s name would I want to suffer those moments?
What we’re talking about is a customer service problem that is more of the rule for the industry than the exception.
Which Laurel tweeted about the day after our discussion:
@imatangelo: I have not been to one comic shop where I felt welcome.
A few of us retweeted that, including to #ComicsMarket, a hashtag used by comic store owners. And who should respond?
With this bit of brilliance:
Keep in mind, this is the known racist and homophobe that became Internet infamous after making offensive jokes about the new black Spider-Man.
Needless to say, things got silly from there, and the customer service problem hole got dug a little deeper.
Until anyone from a neophyte fan to an octogenarian collector, male or female, can walk into nearly every store and be greeted with enthusiastic and honest help, the industry will continue to hemorrhage their lifeblood into the digital void.
And I don’t want that. Laurel doesn’t want that. Fans in general don’t want that.
We want stores that make us feel like kids in candy shops and staffers that can help us guide the nearly hundred year history of this wonderful medium.
All it takes is a little customer service.
That’s the first official art from Hope Larson’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, A Wrinkle In Time.
Hope’s sort of a wunderkind of indie-comics. She was first tapped for greatness by Scott McCloud while still in school. Then she married Bryan Lee O’Malley, the creator of the Scott Pilgrim series. Along the way she wracked up more awards and accolades than I care to list. She’s pretty much the perfect person to do A Wrinkle In Time as a graphic novel, which is what’s it’s going be, mind you. One big, lovely, important thing you can stick on your shelf.
NBC is doing a new Wonder Woman tv show for the hipster generation. Something along the lines of Smallville meets Gossip Girl, I imagine.
They’ve picked Adrianne Palicki previous from Friday Night Lights and a few spots on Smallville.
She’s been blonde in FNL, but here’s her with Wonder Woman’s traditional brunette coloring.
Best guesses is she’ll be playing the recently rebooted Wonder Woman. Who grew up in our world and is a lot younger than previous iterations of the character. Here’s what the new character design looks like:
Which I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about. But, I figured this was as good a time as any to remind you about that crazy little idea I had for doing a Wonder Woman book.
My Blood-Thirsty, One-Titted Queen of the Amazons. Here’s a snippet.
My Wonder Woman would be a real Amazon. Muscular, scarred, dirty. Her hair would be caked with mud and matted into dreadlocks. Her right breast would be entirely gone. In its place, a huge, ugly cauterized scar. The left breast would still be there, but it would be strapped down with leather bands and bronze armor. Her remaining breast would be a utility organ, for the feeding of a child, not an object of fantasy or pleasure.
The scar would be a sign of pride for her. For her people, becoming a warrior is something they choose to do after puberty has had its way with their body. They would stand in front of a fire, pull out their sword and lop off their right breast. The breast would go into the fire along with the sword. When hot enough, the sword would be removed and the wound would be cauterized with the red-hot metal. From that point on, the scar would never be covered. It was a sign to the rest of the world that this woman had mutilated her own body in order to be able to kill you easier. This is not something that would be done lightly, and certainly not without intent. If one of her people went through this, then they would become a killer.
She would carry a short gladius sword, a bronze-headed spear and a wooden recurve bow. No silly golden lasso of truth. If she wants the truth out of you, she’ll just torture you. No bullet blocking wrist guards. Her skin is magically as hard as diamond, why would she worry about bullets? No patent leather boots, a huntress always moves silently in her bare feet.
Starting to see where I’m going here?
Basically the complete fucking opposite of what DC has going on with this new Wonder Woman.
One of my better ideas, if I have to be honest.
Here’s what I said about it almost two years ago when I first started poking at it:
It’s the story of a college kid who inherits this building. But it’s wrong, you see. The building is wrong. The inside is way too big to fit in that squat gray building. There’s a ballroom, a whole library and the dozens of bedrooms. It probably doesn’t help that the building was willed to the kid by crazy uncle Franz, who no one had seen in years, and no one could ever remember having the financial where with all to own any sort of property, let alone a freestanding building in a fashionable college part of town.
It turns out that mad old Uncle Franz wasn’t so crazy after all. He was an Esoteric. A member of the Community of Esoteric Scientists. Or in layman’s terms – he was a mage. A practitioner of the arts and sciences that the rest of the world chose to forget about. And the Curio was his responsibility to the Community. One that he chose to shirk. And with his death, the Curio has passed on to his chosen heir, our college kid. To the Esoterics, the Curio is place of sanctuary. Here they can gather safely, research their experiments, restock their supplies and rest their heads after a long journey.
So now the main character has had all sorts of bizarre responsibility thrust upon him, in addition to his student work and other relationships. He finds himself straddling two worlds, and the only people who know what’s going on are his girlfriend and football player best friend. Both of whom came with him that first night he visited the Curio.
I’d even lined up the amazingly talented Christian Schmitt to draw the thing (I think you can still see a few of his preliminary sketches for The Curio there) . But then we thought about it, and decided that maybe an open-ended comic was a bit much to take on. So, we shifted over to The Pineapple Primary. Then he moved off to the frozen North and vanished into an all-consuming work schedule. And my harddrive went boom shortly after, taking the finished script for the piece with it.
Time passed, I’d run into Christian every now and then when he was back in town, we’d laugh about the whole thing, have a few drinks and that would be that.
This Saturday was another one of those times, but something was different. He’s moved back to somewhere in one of those “I” states where he’s helping with his father’s carpentry business. So, I asked him if he thought he might have the time to work on anything. And he said he did. I asked him if he wanted to revisit The Curio idea. And he said he did.
Just like that, here we are again. Me dusting off old files full of half-thought through notes, him disappearing back to another frozen North.
Except this time we’ve done things a bit differently. Instead of me giving out all the content, we’re going to build it up together. We’re going to talk about the place, the people, the world for a very long time before we start into the writing proper.
I’ve never done anything this way before, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
I shouldn’t have to point out that the crazy bastard that created Wonder Woman was also a huge S&M fetishist that lived in an open marriage with two women, should I?
Or that the character was originally male, so he’s probably writing a female version of himself?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
And we like our women strapped the back of giant, feral cats.
Awake and strapped to the back of giant, feral cats, even.
Now that the Pineapple Primary is back from the dead, we’re working on figuring out the proper art style to go with.
Initial discussions have lead us to a potential mix of clean, linear figures (borrowing heavily from Charles Gibson) on top of photo-sourced, then graphically rendered (think big, black lines) backgrounds.
We’re even planning on a trip to Chicago to grab source images at some point in the future.
But, before we do any of that, we’ve got to do a few test pages to see if this’ll be worthwhile or a complete disaster. I wrote two single page panel breakdowns to use as tests.
And here they are. ONE and TWO. Single acts of crime, completely devoid of context.
Man runs toward the camera down a darkened street. His trench coat flows out from him like a cape. He is clutching a duffle bag in his hand. Cash flies out of the bag, but he doesn’t notice – or care.
He rounds a corner into an alleyway, checking over his shoulder to see if he’s been followed. His eyes are narrowed, and suspicious, the rest of his face hidden by the up-turned collar of his coat.
Waiting in the alley for him is a beautiful woman, wearing an expensive dress, a fur coat and impractically high heels.
Close in on them as they embrace in a kiss.
Move in tighter as his eyes open wide in pain. She doesn’t react.
He falls backwards as we see the small pistol in her hand. Her rigidness in star contrast to his crumpling body.
His dead eyes stare up at us from the ground as she bends down to pick up the bag of money. Try to work her high heels into this shot.
Shot from behind as she hoists the bag over her shoulder and walks away. His extended hand can still be seen at the bottom of the frame.
Establishing shot of a town square. There are two groups of people. The one into foreground, hiding behind a car, is a group of three criminals. One of them is badly hurt. Hiding behind the elements in the background are the other group – the police.
Tighten in on the criminals behind the car. The one left is peering over the hood of the car, trying to get an idea of what they are up against. The one in the middle is splayed out, arms and legs limp, head hanging loosely to one side. There is a massive, wet stain of blood on his chest. The blood is streaked on the car behind him. The criminal on the right is looking at the bleeding man with concern, his hand on the man’s shoulder.
One of the criminals peaks his head out over the top of the hood of the car he’s crouched behind.
We see the array of guns pointed at him from across the town square. This doesn’t look good.
Pull back a bit as he slumps back down, gun to his forehead, like he’s praying.
The man on the left looks to the other two men. The man on the right is closing the eyes of the man in the middle with a bloody hand.
Downward shot of a the man on the left as he puts his gun to his temple and looks up into the trees.
Zoom out, show the tree and the sky A flock of birds fly out of the tree, startled by a gun shot.
So. You want me to recommend ten comic books. My favorite ten comic books.
I’m going to make an off the cuff remark here, and I apologize for it.
You’re out of your fucking gourd.
I’m more than a little biased towards certain types of comics, and I can absolutely not abide some classic works (See me and apathy toward SANDMAN). But, you asked for it, so I’ll give you what you’re asking for. My ten favorite graphic novels/series. No limiting to 1 per creator or anything like that.
…Except for the two big caveats I’m going to hit before we kick this off – WATCHMEN and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS are NOT on this list. Both are excellent – no, amazing – books that did incredible things for the industry. But neither of them are my favorite. WATCHMEN gets bogged down by the Dark Freighter story-within-a-story, and honestly, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS doesn’t age that well. It just seems paranoid and masturbatory to me now.
So, my top 10? In no particular order beyond the first one, are as follows:
Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
It started off in 1999 as a superhero archeology expedition into the fiction of the 20th century. It changed the way I thought about comic books, about fiction, about stories. It mixes every single type of pulp fiction into a brew that is heady and affecting. I could go on for pages about this book. But I won’t, since there are othera to hit.
But, in all damn seriousness, read this book over anything else. Since you don’t have to deal with the horrifically missed shipping schedule that plagued the production run, this book is absolutely perfect.
Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch
Rising out of the ashes of Ellis’s run on STORMWATCH, AUTHORITY was an answer to the question of “what would happen if super heroes really tried to change the world?” The answer was big, bold and shocking. Hitch and Ellis introduced the world to “wide screen comics”; their books that presented spectacle bigger than anything Hollywood could promise. And they did it all while holding together a tight story with interesting characters. While the team of characters that compromised AUTHORITY will never go down in history with the likes of the X-Men or the Justice League, they will always represent what those books could do, if they ever decided to let go.
BATMAN: YEAR ONE
Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
I suspect that the only DC character that has had his origin retold more times than the Joker is the Batman. And this is two greats telling the story of Batman’s first, horribly flawed, yet potential filled, first year. More of a story of the elements that make up modern Gotham coming together than a singular Batman story, there is a reason Christopher Nolan based his BATMAN RETURNS off of the events in this book.
And just to add to what I said above, this book holds up with age where THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS completely collapses.
BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Should I mention that I really like Batman? And I really like Batman when he is done really well?
In this book Loeb and Sale are given a calendar year to tell the story of an investigation into a series of mob murders. Over the twelve months, they mix in the big Batman notes – Joker, Two Face, the mob, the Riddler, everyone. And what you’re left with at the end of it, is this feeling of empathy for everyone involved in the story – both good and bad. This is a pure Batman story, and excellent because of it.
Mark Waid and Alex Ross
There was a thing in the 90s. A thing that was comprised in one part of tearing superheroes down, and in the other part of building them up as something legendary.
KINGDOM COME was DC’s answer to this, revolving around the next generation of superheroes and a world that has had enough of them. Superman and the classic heroes return, aged and bitter, to wage a war to end all wars against the younger generation. Things go badly, as you might could imagine.
The book requires a little bit of prior DC knowledge, but the characters are iconic and you pick up what you need to know fast and are off to the races.
Brian K Vaughn and Adrian Alphona (originally)
Originally an attempt by Marvel to engage their wavering tween audience, RUNAWAYS ended up being a book that connected more with alienated 20-somethings than the intended audience. The story deals with a group of children who find out that their parents are super villains, and that they all now have powers. The ensuing conflict deals with the classic idea of what you want to be versus what you are expected to be.
Just make sure you stop after the first three hardcover collections. Vaughn leaves the book, and it doesn’t develop well from there.
Mark Millar and Byran Hitch
Following up his run on AUTHORITY, Hitch moved his “wide screen comics” to Marvel’s Ultimate line. They were attempting to relaunch all of their classic books – Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, etc – under a new imprint for the movie-going audience. The books were given to up and coming creative teams who proceeded to knock them out of the park. And THE ULTIMATES, the Avengers book, was my favorite of the bunch.
SAGA OF SWAMP THING
Alan Moore and Stephen Bissette / John Totleben (originally)
Redoing for American audiences what he had done with MARVELMAN in the UK, Alan Moore takes a legacy comic book character and completely sweeps away their history, replacing it with a more modern backstory. In this case, Swamp Thing is no longer a chemically mutated human, but rather a plant elemental that has bonded with the memories of a dead human. The surreality of Moore’s first breakthrough book takes over from there.
Forget WATCHMEN, SAGA OF SWAMP THING is where Moore lays out his modernist take on comics.
Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
The X-Men are hard to nail down. They are without a doubt, some of the most popular comic book characters in the whole of the medium, but they are also prone to have horribly uneven runs and several-year long spouts of mediocrity.
Fortunately, ASTONISHING, was for the most part continuity-free, entanglement-light, and perfectly done. Like with KINGDOM COME, there is some prior knowledge required, but you’ll clear the hurdles with no problem.
There are parts of this book that still give me chills.
Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker (originally)
What if Superman had a kid, and that kid was Spider-Man? That’s the nut of INVINCIBLE. The book takes cues from the big action books like THE ULTIMATES and AUTHORITY, but doesn’t skimp on the character bits that make the book interesting, and ultimately noteworthy.
And that’s my top ten.
Close but not quites to this list would be Ed Brubaker’s CAPTAIN AMERICA, Warren Ellis’s IRON MAN: EXTREMIS, Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY, Mark Millar’s SUPERMAN: RED SON, Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN run and probably dozens more that I’m going to savaged for forgetting.
If you’re curious, I’ve written a list of non-superhero recommendations as well. It avoids the “body condoms and fetish-set” and keeps to people who have the common decency to have real names and breast that aren’t impossibly large.
You have men like Richards, Stark and Pym, but you haven’t cured AIDS and no one is living on Mars. That is more villainous than anything I can think of.
Working on a comic idea that centers around a reformed child genius super villain trying to make the world a better place by actively applying the talents of super villains in a way that will get them to personally invest in the betterment of mankind. Think THUNDERBOLTS, but instead of them using their powers for combat, they use their power for civic improvement. The Living Laser powers the entire eastern seaboard. Graviton closes the mouth of an oil spill. Doctor Goodwrench saves the American auto industry. Things like this, the useful application of super human power. All of it juxtaposed against a military-industrial complex that fears him, super heroes that don’t trust him, and personal skeletons that refuse to keep themselves in the closet.
Sort of an Ex Machina for the 616 Marvel Universe.
A few years ago I started writing something called THE PINEAPPLE PRIMARY. It was going to be a one and done graphic novella about the most violent election in United States history. There was an artist lined up, my research was done, and I was making great progress. I sent the first 18 pages off to the artist and wrapped up the rest of the book in a week.
It was about this time the artist disappeared into some kind of alternate dimension I’m going to call “New York Theatre”. I think I’ve mentioned my trouble keeping artists. They mainly get eaten by wild boars and I have to shelve whatever project I was working on. *cough* *cough*
But, I guess the stars weren’t right because a dying hard drive took the first complete draft along with it. The sad part is I didn’t even realize it for close to 6 months because I didn’t think about the project. Then, for whatever reason, I went looking for it and realized that it was literally the only thing I didn’t have backed up. Luckily, I had the first 18 pages I’d sent out, plus my script notes for the whole thing, which were essentially all of the words, but without the paneling. I shrugged, left it there and figured that if I ever needed it, I could come back and rewrite it.
Well, that moment of need came around about two weeks ago. I was talking to an artist friend of mine, asked him if he wanted to draw something, he said sure, and I said I’ll send you a script on Tuesday. The girlfriend went with some friends down to NOLA, and I went to work (re)finishing THE PINEAPPLE PRIMARY.
At this point, the script is in what I’m referring to as a “production draft” state. I haven’t gone through with a fine toothed comb and picked out all the typos and confused grammatical bits. I haven’t even gone through and checked my pages to see which is a facing page and which isn’t. The bottom line is that I’ve got something that is good enough for the artist to start working from, but not the finished product.
Here’s where you come in, Internet. A common intermediary step in writing is the workshop. I give something to you, you tell me what you thought of it. The more feedback I get, the better I can edit.
And there’s absolutely no one I trust more than the fervid, raving mass that is the Internet superconsciousness. Which really says a lot about me, doesn’t it?
Read it, and let me know what you think. You can post your thoughts in the comments, or you can email me at brainreleasevalve [at] gmail [dot] com.
Thanks in advance to anyone who reads it.
Don’t get hung up on the name. I came up with it in two seconds. But, do get hung up on the idea behind it.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the interesting bits in the Midsouth are buried under the same kind of mud that you’d find in a lake. Things fall to the bottom, and the moving water brings in silt. Stop moving, even for just a little bit, and you’ll get covered up, buried in muck. But, all you have to do to find something interesting is drag your fingers through the mud. I think there are dozens of creative people out there that just need a hand to come along and pull them out of the mud to produce something great.
Which is where the idea for a juried anthology comes in. Originally, juried shows were designed to give no-bodies the chance to compete along artistic greats. Was your stuff better? Then you were going to win, regardless of what your name or prestige was. Now imagine this for comics. A free to enter, categorically organized contest. Winner takes all (well, all the bragging rights), and you print the best of the show as a POD book, maybe even fund it with a Jumpstarter project.
To top the whole thing off, if your recoup costs, donate any profits to something like the Comic Book Legal Defense fund, or the charity that helps people in the comic industry get health insurance (the name escapes me at the moment, and Google is being stingy).
Dropping this idea here as a reminder to myself to bring it up to some friend of mine who might be able to make this happen.
Hope Larson has been asking young women about the comic consumption habits, and what appeals to them in the medium. Here are the results:
What can authors, publishers, retailers do to better serve teen/tween girls?
1) More and better female characters, especially protagonists. Girls want to see strong, in-control, kick-ass women calling the shots.
2) A welcoming atmosphere in local comic stores is key. Many respondents reported feeling uncomfortable in comic stores. They were stared at, talked down to, and generally treated without respect.
3) Pink, sparkly cutesy comics about boyfriends, ponies, cupcakes and shopping are widely reviled. Condescend to female readers at your peril, writers and comic publishers.
4) The hypersexualization/objectification of female superheroines makes female readers uncomfortable, and sexual violence as a plot point has got to stop.
5) Girls need good stories in a variety of genres.
6) Most girls don’t even know comics exist, or that they would enjoy them. Publishers need to advertise in mainstream media and comic shops need to reach out to girls.
7) Make comics for boys and girls. Comics with dual male and female protagonists. Comics with large casts that offer something for everyone.
8) Use licensed properties to lure new readers into comics.
9) Availability is a problem. Get more comics into schools. Get more comics into libraries—especially school libraries. Get more comics into bookstores, especially large chains.
10) There need to be more women creating comics and working in the industry as editors and publishers.
She’s got more details on her LiveJournal, and the list has pretty much become a must read for anyone who is making comics.
I agree with all of her conclusions. No hemming or hawing, no qualifying of my statements. She’s right.
If comics makers want to appeal to a female audience, moving away from musty shops run by fat slobs and into places that sell Starbucks is the way to go. We need more books like Runaways and fewer Avengers books.
We need less things like this:
And more things like this:
….actually that’s a terrible fucking example. All comic book t-shirts are horrible. We just need less shit like that stuff above.
An odd aside – she interviewed 198 women, which is the same number of mutants left in the Marvel Universe, and X-Men was the most common comic named in her survey. Weird how things line up sometimes.
New or established. Young or old. I don’t care. The only specification is that your little short stories have to be good and you need to pair up with a collaborator and post your FINISHED SUBMISSION below as a sample. Note: I don’t want to see general art samples. This is where you submit a two or three page story for our consideration in the magazine. The cream of the cream will get printed in the magazine and you’ll get a decent page-rate. I want to find new talent here and, like the old 2000AD training programme, all new guys will have a year on short stories before graduating to anything bigger. You need to learn your way around a short before you get your hands on a feature.
So go for it. My all-time favourite TV show is The Twilight Zone so that kind of thing with a clever twist or a great high-concept is mainly what I’m looking for here. I’m also looking for something that normal, very mainstream readers would understand and enjoy. The rest is up to you, my friends.
(You know, besides a bad comic book joke.)
(Ok that needs some explanation. Think about the placement of the L and the I. Now think about how most comics are lettered in thin block capitals. So, imagine if a letterer got sloppy or a printer didn’t align a press plate properly. Suddenly that L and I get squashed together into a U. You can fill in the rest, I hope.)
I’m trying to figure out how to make a person forgettable.
Really, and truly forgettable. I know that may seem like the opposite of something that you’d want to do for a character you’re creating, but it is the crux of this one.
You see, we’ve got a guy who the entirety of creation has forgotten. Even Death has forgotten him, making him ageless and immortal.
I hear him in my head describing it to some one:
It is like trying to leave tracks in a blizzard. Every indention made in the snow, proof that you’d been there, is filled up and covered over. The universe is actively working to unmake any record of you.
But the horrible irony of that conversation is that they’ll just forget it the second he’s out of sight.
It is easy to just wave your hand and say something like “Everything has forgotten him”, but something completely different to give hard rules to something like that.
The situations and iterations are maddening
What if he writes something down and hands it to some one? Can they then remember what he’s written? If so, then that’s them remembering him, and therefor against the core of this idea.
So, solve that by saying that the writing fades once it is away from him, and then the memory fades from the person who read the writing. That works, but it then raises the question of if we’re not just talking memory here, but a physical record, a physical record that can be erased, what else could that affect?
If he beats a man to death, do that man’s injuries stitch themselves back together after the character wanders off?
I guess you could go that route, but any tension that could be built would be gossamer thin. You’ve got a guy who can’t die and who can’t actually make an impact on the world.
But what if he was helped in his actions? Like, say he saved a drowning child with the help of some one else. Sure, they’d both forget him, but what would happen if there hadn’t been anyone else to help him? Would that child spontaneously drown the second he walked away?
It gets awkward and convoluted very fast, you see.
The idea is very simple and I think has legs for days, but the minutia, the continuity shit, that’s where this falls apart.
Of course, the entire idea behind this character is the ret-conning in comic books. Some crazy force ret-cons an entire comic universe, but since they can’t remember our character, they rec-con everything but them. The character is the only person who remembers the previous world, but all record of them has been erased in this new one.
Wiping out a physical record that way and allowing a new one to be rebuilt is the easiest solution, but it just feels cheap in a way that I can’t put my finger on. Like I might be asking too much of what I need this character to do.
You’ve been reading the COMMONPLACE – where I talk shit that no one understands and’ll never see the light of day.
I posed the question on Twitter today if any of my followers had never read a comic book or graphic novel, and I got enough responses for me to justify what is sure to become a rambling and multi-tangent post.
So, I figure by this point and with the prevalence of spandex superheroes in the cultural consciousness, if you haven’t read a comic book yet it is because that stuff just doesn’t appeal to you. That stuff being impossibly proportioned people flitting about the sky in spandex blasting each other with laser beams. Which is perfectly understandable. One of my favorite (comic) writers, Warren Ellis, describes the current dominance of that one sub-genre as walking into a book store and finding nothing but romance novels…about nurses. And some people just don’t want to read about nurses in torrid love affairs. (While the rest of us are probably perverts who do.)
However, I could be completely wrong in this assumption. If I am, then stop reading after this short list of really, really good starter superhero fiction:
- Batman: Year One (DC)
- Batman: The Long Halloween (DC)
- The Ultimates, vol 1 (Marvel)
- Invincible (Image)
- All-Star Superman (DC)
- Runaways (Marvel)
- Astonishing X-Men (Marvel)
- Watchmen (DC)
- The Authority, vol 1 (DC/Wildstorm)
Yes, I’m avoiding the more complex/self-referential bits like Sandman, Kingdom Come, Swamp Thing, Dark Knight Returns, Superman: Red Son, Sleeper, Planetary and amazing on-going books like Thor, New/Dark Avengers, Captain America, Powers, et al. Again, we’re looking at starter books here.
Still with me? Yes? Good.
Then on to the non-spandex wankery.
A few ground rules first, I figure. The books that I’m going to post below all have two things in common.
First: a lack of any kind of traditional super hero. You aren’t going to find people with capes and cowls and logos on their chests. But, that’s not to say there won’t be stories about people with extraordinary abilities. Sure, Jesse Custer from Preacher may be able to make you do his will by invoking the Voice, but he’s not a super hero.
Second: They are all self-contained books. You don’t need to have read anything else to get what’s going on in them. They are what they are, and you can pick up and go from page one.
The Crime Books
The idea is simple. A man appears with a brief case. Inside is a gun, 100 bullets of untraceable ammunition, and proof that some one in your past has wronged you. Now, the question is, do you act on this information knowing that you will never be prosecuted, or do you close the case and push it away, accepting your fate. The idea is simple, but what spawns out of it is the greatest crime epic in the history of comics.
A series that deals with a single criminal in each volume. The book explores questions of guilt and innocence, the things that drive people to commit crimes, and where all of this intersects with very real characters.
I’m grouping these two together because of their writer, Brian Michael Bendis. He’s basically the creative rudder at Marvel Comics right now. And he got his start with these wonderfully dense, but minimal crime stories. The dialogue is the focus here. Wonderfully written conversations between characters spill out onto the pages in a completely natural way.
A tightly gridded process comic about a recently transferred detective who finds himself in a town that is quite possibly the maddest place in the world, and most assuredly out to kill him. Think Monk, but on recreational ketamine.
The Big Epics
I’m not sure why it took a drunken Irishman to write the quintessential ode to the American cowboy mythos, but it sure enough happened. Preacher deals with a Texas preacher, on the cusp of losing his faith that becomes possessed by a creature called Genesis, who sends him on a man hunt to find God. Along the way the titular preacher comes across the love of his life, a hundred year old vampire, the Saint of Killers, and a society that guards the secrets of Christianity.
Hunter S Thompson a thousand years in the future. That’s the easiest way to describe this scifi assault on the reader’s mind. Full of screeds and rants and drugs and the possibilities of the future, the thing that will shock you most about Transmet is how completely the simple, sad moments will tear through you.
Y the Last Man
An unknown plague has swept across the world, killing all the male mammals save for Yorick and his pet monkey. That’s the set up for what is one of the most lauded comics in recent memory. A book so good, in fact, that the creator and writer now writes for Lost.
The Walking Dead
The only on-going book on this list, which means I can’t tell you that it isn’t going to drop off in quality. But I can tell you that the story so far has been amazing. The story revolves around a sheriff in a coma who awakes to find the dead have risen and his family is missing. Violent, gritty, depressing and moving, this is the best zombie story out there.
There are 1,001 people on the Global Frequency, and each of them does something better than anyone else on the planet. Each issue of this short-live series tells the story of how those people use their abilities to save the world. Every chapter is completely different from the last, save it the quality and originality of the story telling.
The story of three government test animals on the run from their creators. A rabbit, a cat and a dog, all blended with cutting edge weapon tech. One of the most moving books I’ve ever read from two of the best in the business. If you read this and don’t get misty when you think “Gud dog” you’re not fucking human.
I don’t really go for books like Blankets and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. I see why they are good examples of comics as a medium, they just don’t appeal to my love of serialization. They feel bloated. You may like them, but I can’t recommend things that I don’t enjoy myself.
Thanks for sticking around, let me know if you’ve got any questions/comments/suggestions.
That’s Larry North. An pink butterball of a man from East Texas who planted dozens of pipe bombs in mailboxes. Because “he was disenchanted with the federal government” and “he was disenchanted with an individual who he perceived that had wronged him”
That’s David Stone, leader of the Hutaree Militia.
These are his people:
This is a panel from Garth Ennis’s comic Preacher.
In which the preacher Jesse Custer, whom the book is named for, confronts a group of Klu Klux Klan members.
An Irishman’s graphic novel ode to the American cowboy mythos says this better than I ever could.
As if outselling DC 2:1 wasn’t enough for them, they are going to add insult to injury.
In an effort to provide assistance to comic retailers in 2010, Marvel is offering retailers an opportunity to turn unsold comics into an extremely rare Siege #3 Deadpool Variant!
Retailers – for every 50 stripped covers of the following comics sent to Marvel, you will qualify to receive one FREE Siege #3 Deadpool Variant. The 50 stripped covers can be any combination of the comics listed below and all submissions need to be received at the Marvel office at the address below by Tuesday 2/16/2010. Also included with the stripped covers must be your store contact information including Diamond Account # and email address.
Stripped Covers To Be Sent:
Adventure Comics #4
Booster Gold #26
Doom Patrol #4
Justice League Of America #39
Those are books that retailers had to order large amounts of to qualify for the Blackest Night rings promotion. They had to order X number of books to get a pouch of colored plastic lantern rings that the fanboys went apeshit over.
Can’t wait to see how DC will respond.
I posted an open question to Twitter earlier today:
I was looking for the notes that make a comic the perfect introductory book for some one who’s never read a single comic, doesn’t know any of the characters, doesn’t understand a single trope. The answers were pretty surprising.
On the whole, people prefer books that are self-contained, ie not part of on-going continuity or dependent upon knowledge that you couldn’t gleen from the book. So, collections from the Big Two are out. No X-Men, no Spider-Man, no Avengers, no Green Lantern, no Superman, no Flash. There are a few Batman examples that break this rule, but mainly because people can get away with rewriting his past so often.
But that’s not to say they don’t want super-hero books. Comics work best as modern day mythology, and a myth isn’t a myth without something extraordinary in it. Alan Moore once pointed out that comics are the perfect medium for big ideas because there isn’t a budget. Anything you can think of, you can draw. You don’t have to worry about paying for the visual effects to show the whole of Los Angeles getting fired by an errant solar flare, you just have to put a pencil to paper and go. The “super” stuff is like a spice, and it should be used to give the dish a kick, but not over power it. You want to still rely on the base elements of a good story, such as interesting characters with a dynamic arch, interesting setting, and good pacing for most of your flavor. But that spice, that “super” spice, is what can push it from being good to being unforgettable. And if something is unforgettable, then you’re going to want more of it, which means it was the perfect introductory book.
When you think about this, all of it makes sense. And you’d think that when the comic industry is experiencing a massive year over year growth in revenue for the better part of this last decade you’d see tons of sales of books like those I’ve touched on above. (Looking at print only, not movies.)
But, you’d be dead wrong.
I checked the sales numbers for all of 2008/2009. Stand alone series trade paperbacks rarely spike into the monthly top 100. Sandman and Preacher, two of the greatest comic series ever, languish around the 170-190 mark. The highest selling books are compilations of the big events from the Big Two.
Here’s my reading into all of this: More people are reading comics. But, most of those new people are reading comics in trade format. It is far easier than going to the store every week. The Big Two are putting out more books than before, and fans are suckers, so they are buying them. I counted once, and there were like 6 X-Men books you had to read to stay current. Hell, Spider-Man was in 5 different books until they parred him down to one book that comes out three times a month. People are certainly reading the big stand-alones, but it doesn’t look like they are finishing what they are starting. Probably, people are giving them as gifts, and then the person isn’t finishing out the series.
From a creator’s stand point, stand-alone creator owned books are pretty much the only way you are ever going to retire. All of the huge selling books will make tons of money for the publisher, but not for you. You work on page rate, with a pretty minor residual from the sales. Robert Kirkman is the example to look at here. You build a lot of fan loyalty with Big Two books, then step out and only work on creator owned stuff after that.