When it comes to comics, I feel like I don’t know what the hell I like to read anymore. I know it’s corporate superhero comics that have abandoned me, and not the other way around, but it really makes me feel like a bit of an idiot when someone asks me (as they frequently do), “What are you reading these days?” Because they usually mean, “What superhero books do you recommend?” And the answer to that, really, is, not a one. The only thing published by either Marvel or DC that is active on my pull list at the comic shop is Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and that’s put out by Marvel’s Icon imprint with, as far as I know, little input or advice from Marvel. Just based on my own observations, Ed and Sean seem to be doing it all themselves, which is fine, because set free of editorial interference, they’re creating one hell of a body of work, there in the only monthly comic book I care much about at all.
But man, I have tried hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past five or six years to re-immerse myself in the superhero universes that introduced me to comics as a storytelling medium. I tried Fraction’s Iron Man for a while, and that was okay as long as it was read in chunks of 6 or 8 issues at a time, but I need more than “okay” to keep my interest. I tried Hickman’s FF for the same reasons John Jakala laid out recently, and bailed out after four or five issues for the same reasons he did. Blah, indeed. Since Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is one of my favourite comics of all time, I gave the first issue of the new Stormwatch a try, and my God but it is fucking dire. If that’s what “The New 52” can do for me, I’ll pass, thanks very much all the same. Hawksmoor and company really never were the same after Ellis and Hitch left the title (and frankly, neither were Ellis or Hitch), and one day I’ll learn to let go of the hope that anyone at all will ever be capable of making good comic books about those characters again.
(Digression: I recently re-read Brubaker and Nguyen’s Authority: Revolutions and realized how harshly I had initially judged it; it’s nowhere near as good as the sacred First 12, but it does actually feel like those characters and it nicely sets up the team for a new era that sadly never was realized. My biggest criticism, really, is I wish Henry Bendix looked more like Henry Bendix as drawn by Raney or Hitch. But other than that, it’s good. If you’re a fan of The Authority but gave it a pass, try it now.)
So, yes, to get back to the point: I’ve loved reading comics since 1972, but I feel like I am a dying man in a desert free of quality comics entertainment. It’s not that there aren’t great comics being published, but that the transition to graphic novels and away from serialized periodical storytelling makes it far less likely in any given week that I am going to be banging down the door of the comic book store on Wednesday, desperate to get at this week’s gem. I’d give anything, really, to return to the days when Eightball, Love and Rockets, Nexus, and Acme Novelty Library, to name a few, were being issued in floppy form, and far more often than we see any iteration of any of them now. Never mind some era (1980-1987, maybe) when DC and Marvel had enough of a critical mass of talented creators working for them that guaranteed at least three or four good titles from each of them every month. As it is now, the “big two” (chuckle, snort) might as well be dedicated solely to publishing pamphlets about, say, country music; or farm equipment; or liver and headcheese recipes. Any of those topics would generate as much interest from me as the current Marvel/DC output in the hands of the current (mis)management and current fan-fiction brigade of creators.
So, yeah — what a delight to read a comic I enjoyed from cover to cover!
Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance is just the usual dose of Lewis Trondheim wonder and whimsy — a little slapstick as he tries to figure out how a sink with three knobs instead of the usual two works. A little rumination on mortality as he wrestles with nasal polyps, in a sequence that really clenched my sphincter for me (you’re welcome). A little hanging out with other comics creators, a little travel, and lots — every page, dear reader — lots of gorgeously-rendered pen-and-watercolour illustrations of the environs in which Trondheim carries out all these adventures.
Lewis Trondheim is one of the greatest living cartoonists. It’s not even an argument. His work is immediately accessible, profoundly universal, and deeply hilarious. When he makes you laugh (and he will), it’s not just a sight-gag or well-observed human foible. It’s that you are so invested in his character and his world that it’s as if you are laughing at yourself, because in a way, you are. I can’t think of anyone in comics other than Charles Schulz who so brilliantly and intuitively understood human nature and conveyed it and depicted it as well as Trondheim does.
And I always forget how skilled Trondheim is at the callback. He almost always lets you forget something then hits you with a surprising and delightful reference to it later. There’s one of his best here in this volume, and I don’t want to tell you where it is, but believe me, you’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll love it, and it will make you realize how lucky we are to have comics by Lewis Trondheim in this day and age.
— Alan David Doane