For most of the first four decades of my life comics and graphic novels gave me a great deal of pleasure. From the ages of 6 to around 14 or 15, nothing occupied my time more happily than running off somewhere quiet (usually my bedroom) with a stack of new comics, in the pages of which I would lose myself in the imaginations of writers and artists far more creative than I was, or likely ever would be.
Since the ascension of celebrity fan-fiction writers like Geoff Johns, Mark Millar and others, superhero comics have become an imagination-free zone of ever-escalating violence with no thought, theme or theory in evidence anywhere. The apotheosis of this dire state of affairs was the publication of Before Watchmen. Wretched in intent and criminal in execution, its existence, and worse, acceptance in the marketplace, definitively ended my interest in superhero comics as an ongoing enterprise. The disgrace of it prompted some badly-timed comments about one of its creators at a time when all of fandom was in grief over his passing, and I regret the incident, but do not deny the truth behind my foolish utterance. The people who worked on Before Watchmen, from the writers and artists to the editors, publishers, even the “journalists” who “covered” it — all are complicit in a betrayal of whatever ideals superhero comics might once have laid claim to. The existence and acceptance of the books — now sickeningly available in hardcover, like bronzing a momentous bowel movement for posterity — is a scorched-earth moment in comics history from which there is no going back. And it killed my interest in superhero comics as if that had been its very intent. Perhaps, in broad strokes, it was. After all, the industry has little use for independent thinkers who question authority and call bullshit when appropriate. I was just one little comics blogger, but I’m sure I’m not the only one driven away by the horror implicit in the publication of Before Watchmen.
The thousands of dollars a year I once spent on comics will now be spent on other things. Rent. Groceries. Maybe the occasional movie. I still crave works that fire my imagination. I am as fascinated by the process of creating art as I am the art itself. Moreso, really. The mysteries of imagination seem like a puzzle too complex for human minds to ever fully decode. I can’t just watch a movie or TV show and lose myself in it, I am constantly pondering the process of its creation. There aren’t any superhero comics anymore that beg that question the way Kirby’s did, or Ditko’s, or whatever genius you think of when you think of the gods of comics creation. I do know that few walk the earth anymore. Fewer still seem to aspire to the heights those gods once reached.
— Alan David Doane
SPX Presents HEIDI MACDONALD at the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!
OK, as you may or may not know, Heidi, the Goddess of The Beat and other realms of the comic world, graciously donated her entire mini-comics collection to the SPX Collection at the Library of Congress.
As part of of this act of deified munificence, she is going to give a lecture there this Friday September 13 at Noon.
Here is all the info you need.
I will be there, hope to see you!!
Congrats to Heidi on this. Very cool.
I may be crazy, but it seems to me that there are more absolute BARGAINS this year than in any of the previous Top Shelf $3 Sales. Click over to Top Shelf’s site and order as much as you want — this is the one time of year your budget won’t mind.
Seriously, here are a few sale prices that strike me as absolutely bonkers; as in, you would have to be nuts not to buy these great comics and graphic novels at these prices:
* ALL of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, each volume is five bucks, so the whole awesome story for 15 dollars.
* Alan Moore’s Unearthing softcover — normally $29.95, just $3.00. That’s 90% off for Moore’s latest work!
* The Surrogates Owners Manual is $10.00. This was originally published at $75.00 if I recall correctly, and provides hours of intense science-fiction entertainment (and also inspired a movie).
* Eddie Campbell’s excellent The Playwright is just a buck!
There are many, many more prices, so low it’s nuts. Buy some for friends, get some great reading for yourself. Top Shelf is an advertiser on this site (and I’m grateful for that!), but I’m telling you about this sale because it’s your one chance to sample some of the greatest graphic novels of the past 15 years or so without having to worry about how you’ll make the rent or pay for groceries. Click on over, get yourself some awesome graphic novels, and sleep well knowing you’re helping one of the best publishers in the industry keep doing what they do so well. And sure, if you like, tell ‘em Trouble With Comics sent you.
— Alan David Doane
So last week, there were two different DC Comics-related news items that received instant scorn and outrage. First, Batwoman writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman quit the series as of issue #26, citing DC’s decision not to allow the long-planned wedding of Batwoman Kathy Kane and her girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer. It was seen by many as an anti-gay marriage stance. Since then, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio has explained, at a comics convention, that DC is very committed to the character of Batwoman (and challenged the audience to name a publisher who has shown more commitment to a character, before he quickly answered his own challenge that there was none), but that superheroes should not have happy personal lives, so it’s more of a general policy against marriage for superheroes in the New 52. As with most things DC, there are inconsistencies, as Aquaman is currently married, but if this is now their stated policy I suppose it’s fair to accept this as true for the moment and see if they live up to it. Personally, I think their superheroes would be a lot more interesting if they were more diverse, and I don’t just mean having more ethnicities represented. How about a married superhero, a superhero with an adopted kid with M.S., a superhero with a deaf boyfriend, a superhero in couples counseling? Of course, superheroes can’t have endlessly joyous lives and still be fun to read (although on second thought, DC sold its most comics back when that was the case, but I know there were other factors), but aren’t the traditional personal life problems of the single superhero (girlfriend in distress, girlfriend suspects you’re a superhero, no time for romance because crime fighting) pretty well played out by now?
The other item was a kind of tryout to be in an upcoming Harley Quinn comic, where prospective artists would illustrate four seemingly unrelated panels, most consisting of Harley in suicidal situations, the fourth panel also describing her as nude. So people complained that it was exploitation, sexist, and hey, since when has Harley been suicidal? Psychopathic and murderous, yes. Suicidal, not so much.
Co-publisher Jim Lee had damage control duty on this one, tweeting examples of how panels taken out of context can appear very different than their intent, and that this wasn’t exploitive and the writers were actually poking fun at themselves, or something. Fair enough. But both of these stories illustrate how poor DC’s PR department is doing at anticipating negative reaction and getting in front of a story. Obviously a big name like Williams III quitting a book over an editorial decision is going to get out—why wasn’t DC letting people know about their anti-marriage thing, and pointing to their, um, one other gay superhero character as proof of their LGBT friendliness? Why announce a contest that makes drawing a female super villain naked a requirement? That seems like a case where they mentioned the nudity precisely to get a reaction, but it wasn’t the reaction they wanted. After all, they certainly aren’t really going to show Harley Quinn naked in one of their comics; it might be suggestive, but undoubtedly most of her naughty bits will be submerged in bathwater. So even if the original intent was tongue-in-cheek, the announcement ends up being skeevy. And note that in neither case does anyone at DC apologize. No, it’s the fans who misunderstood what they’re doing. For his part, at least Lee acknowledges his writers, though when he talked about the Batwoman debacle, he basically said the talent has to follow the editorial direction laid out for them, no matter how late in the game, tough shit, creators. He said it in his affable Jim Lee way, though.
It’s a bad situation for fans of DC’s characters these days. There’s still some talent there and despite everything, some good stories will make it through relatively unscathed. But look, I’m currently reading nothing from DC, and I tried over 90% of the initial New 52 titles, and several that debuted after that first wave. With Before Watchmen and their treatment of many other creators, and retrograde decisions like this anti-marriage thing, how can anyone feel good about buying these books? I feel bad for someone like Marc Andreyko, a decent writer (I really liked his Manhunter in the pre-New 52 days not long ago) who is stepping in as the new writer on Batwoman. It should be noted that Williams III, a co-creator of the character, started writing her when original writer and co-creator Greg Rucka abandoned DC and their interference. Andreyko is inheriting maybe the only interesting, well-designed character in DC’s stable in the past decade, and yet she’s been sullied and abused, an important part of her cored out. I was joking (bitterly) to a friend the other day that it was “about time she (Batwoman) got back to her roots as a superhero not in a loving, committed relationship.” Sounds fun, huh?
FRANK SANTORO: Before Watchmen blacklist -
Here’s a handy list of all the comics makers who participated in Before Watchmen. I refuse to buy or read anything by these folks: Neal Adams, Rafael Albuquerque, Michael Allred, Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Jordi Bernet, Tim Bradstreet, Massimo Carnevale, Cliff Chiang, Michael Cho, Amanda…
Neither comics nor art, Abrams ComicArts has nonetheless done a spectacular job compiling Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series into a delightful, compact hardcover. I can remember seeing these trading card packages in my childhood. I was ten the year they were originally issued, in 1976. That was ten years after the original series debuted, seven years after it was canceled and three years before its second life began in earnest with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But I don’t remember for certain if I ever owned any of them; I suspect I did, because some of the individual cards seem familiar to me, but certainly I never had a complete set. So the nostalgic and historic value of this book to me, as someone with an enormous interest in Star Trek (especially the original series) is huge.
Abrams has some fun with the presentation; the dustjacket of this little hardcover (by Paula Block and Terry Erdmann) is made of wax paper, the same kind the cards were wrapped in. So there’s a tactile thrill from the first time you pick up the book. They also include four new cards in a packet inserted into the book, in the style of the original cards, both as added-value and to remedy the strange fact that George Takei’s Mister Sulu is not featured on any of the original cards, only the back of his head in one shot of the Bridge’s viewscreen from the Captain’s perspective. The back of Billy Blackburn’s head makes it into that shot too, Trek Trivia lovers. If you don’t know who Billy Blackburn is, you’re probably not a Trek Trivia lover, but that’s okay. You might still find it amusing that Blackburn is found on two of the cards, unless of course you’re George Takei.
The book presents the front and back of all 88 of the original Topps Star Trek cards, featuring a little over half of the 79 episodes of the original series; an interesting introductory essay explains a lot of the history behind the set, including the fact that a second set would likely have covered the remaining episodes, but no second set was ever issued. An explanatory paragraph discusses some aspect of each card, providing background, insight or trivia.
The cards are featured warts and all, so typos like a misspelling of Walter Koenig’s last name or including Lt. Uhura on a list of “The Men of the Enterprise” remain charmingly in evidence. If you love the original Star Trek, whether you have any interest in trading cards or not (put me in the “not” category), Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series is a fascinating piece of history, educational and fun, brilliantly packaged in such a way as to authentically evoke the era and the artifacts. The only thing missing is the gum. (Actually, they thought of that too, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.)
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
By Jim Rugg, with Brian Maruca
Publisher: AdHouse Books. $9.99 USD.
If you don’t know, Jim Rugg is a fantastic artist who happened to make one of the best graphic novels of the past decade, Street Angel. The thing is, that was in 2005, and quite frankly, he hasn’t done a lot since as far as comics. I doubt it was for lack of effort. He did a book called The Plain Janes targeted at a tween audience that had no way of hearing about it, shortly before the economy collapsed and DC canceled the imprint. Afrodisiac was a lot of fun, but a blaxploitation parody seemed to be treading water a little creatively.
Now, there’s Supermag. Like his Notebook Drawings, it’s a showcase for Rugg’s immense illustrative talent, along with a number of short comics strips and stories. Rugg shows how much he’s learned from adventure comics of the ’30s and ’40s, the EC horror and crime comics of the ’50s, funny animal strips and cartoons of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as the influence of cartoonists like Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez. Rugg has a dazzling command of his craft and is skilled at all manner of styles.
He’s a good writer, too. There’s a voice here, only partially obscured by the spoofs and genre mimicry, and it’s one of dread and fear and helplessness about the dark forces that churn the world. It’s a noir voice, a horror voice, but here we only get brief glimpses of either genre.
On rare occasions, critics can be a buoy to a creator, give them that lift when they need it to keep going. A lot of times, though, we can be perceived as terrible people for our demands. I mean, I recognize that the market is not the same as what it was when Rugg started. The days when a Dan Clowes or Chester Brown could work through things in a serial comic book are largely over. One is expected to come out with fully-formed graphic novels nowadays. Adrian Tomine continuing with Optic Nerve is a cute gesture, and we look at it with varying degrees of admiration and condescension, like a band issuing a single only in vinyl. This is an astonishingly impressive calling card for Jim Rugg, Jack of All Genres, but it’s also a stopgap measure. An unreflective survey. His superhero ape strips are fun, but you wouldn’t want a whole book of it. His short horror and suspense pieces are great, but it’s not terribly difficult to create nameless dread in one page. They’re exercises, a dipping of toes into genre waters, but there’s a lack of commitment here. As a critic, one has to set aside the likely realities that this is a not-very-well-known illustrator presenting a collection of bits of some of his best material from the past few years and ask whether it’s a great collection of comics. As great an artist as he is, the answer is no, it’s not. It’s impressive, but it’s more tantalizing than satisfying, small plates and spoonfuls of what could turn out to be a number of good to great meals. I recommend it on that score, as a sampling of a very talented guy giving indications of doing a lot of things really well, but one is still left wanting at least one really good story.
I’m told there’s a Kickstarter for Sabre, an ancient, creaking sci-fi bloatfest that was also a trailblazer in the era in which independent comics were first gaining a toehold in the market.
I’m sure it makes me a terrible, terrible person, but I see Kickstarter as a real negative for comics, as counter-intuitive as that is. It encourages projects that the marketplace should really decide the value of based on the actual work, not on PR, past work by the same creators, or fanboy delusions of patronage.
Kickstarter is a nice idea in the abstract, empowering creators and readers and adding further irrelevancy to the most venal, malingering publishers. In reality (I’ve see no evidence otherwise, years now down Kickstarter Road) it devalues the idea of patronage by making quality and worthiness secondary ideals to noise and hubbub. Instead we find a mediocrity-empowering dynamic of 10,000 entitled fanboys with five bucks each burning a hole in their Paypal accounts’ pockets, and the biggest unknown not being whether the work will be any damn good at all, but whether it ever even gets created in the first place.
— Alan David Doane