Trouble with Comics

Depressing Note on Comics 2011

Sean T. Collins: “[The comics industry in 2011 revolves] around the equivalent of a really killer Entertainment Weekly panel at San Diego, basically: Bendis, Johns, Morrison, Kirkman, O’Malley, and to an extent Millar.”

What’s depressing is that I would be very, very happy if three of the six people on that list never, ever wrote another comic book again. If half of Comics 2011 is unreadable shit and half is readable-to-genius, I know in my head that’s a good ratio, but in my heart it makes me want to not look at another comic book for the rest of the year.

Alan David Doane

The Last Comic Book

It is such a worn-out and much-mocked cliché of autobiographical comics for the cartoonist to declare his own self-loathing, that when Seth does so at the end of a heartbreaking and presumably true strip at the end of Palookaville #20, one has to assume he is both unaware of the frequent citing of such moments as trite and self-obsessed by critics of the genre, and more importantly, that he is absolutely serious. How could he not hate himself, when everything he has spent the last 30 years doing has been a complete and utter waste of time? He’s thrown his life away, and for what? Comic books.

In many ways, despite being a $20.00 hardcover art object, the new Palookaville feels very much like the last comic book. In a long and introspective introduction (presented in Chris Ware-like teeny-tiny type that is a slap in the face to my aging and diabetic eyes), Seth explains why he went along with publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s suggestion that Palookaville transition (Like Acme Novelty Library, like Love and Rockets, like J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman, ha ha ha just fuckin’ with ya) from floppy, saddle-stitched comic book to hardcover “periodical.” (Yearly hardly seems periodical to me, and I am so old now that entire years go by in three weeks.)

Bemoaning (accurately, at that) the death of the comic book stings particularly for me, a guy whose best-fulfilled dream in life culminated in the creation and decade-long maintenance of a website two words of the three-name URL of which were “Comic Book.” How ironic that Seth (accurately, at that) declare the comic book dead and buried in the same era in which I more or less gave up “Comic Book _______” and declared, instead, my Trouble With Comics. Although in these unemployed and increasingly desperate times, it more often seems to be “Trouble, with comics.” Selah.

Being the last comic book, I find a further layer of irony in that the same day I expend twenty dollars (that I could have spent on rent or feeding my family) on a single “issue” of Palookaville, I eye-witnessed a superhero fan buying — and I’m not making this up, I heard him say it out loud and saw the pile — 140 superhero comic books at Earthworld in Albany, New York (where I could not find the new Palookaville; I had to go to the local indy bookstore The Bookhouse — not a comic book store — to accomplish that feat of latter-day and unwise comic book investing). And to be utterly frank, the fact that there are superhero junkies willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a pile of 140 frankly shitty superhero comic books (Marvel and DC together have not produced 140 good comic books in the past ten years, effendi) is not a sign of a healthy Direct Market, but rather the futile but comforting-to-the-surviving-family-members defibrillation of a patient whose heart stopped at least five years ago and whose organs aren’t deemed worthy of donation and transplant, but rather will be quietly interred in the dumpster out back of the hospital at the 11-dollar-an-hour (plus shift deferential) orderly’s earliest convenience.

And finally one has to gaze in wide wonder at the fact that the best content in the last comic book, Palookaville #20, is not the many dozens of pages of comics it contains (all of which are good and entertaining and thought-provoking and unutterably pretty and nostalgic in that Seth manner), but rather a photo-essay and written history of Seth’s Dominion project, a huge and mind-blowing collection of hand-drawn, obsessively-crafted cardboard buildings made out of old FedEx boxes. There’s no question at all that Seth’s creative spirit and longing for the past is finding its truest expression in this ongoing and amazing and strange art installation, and it’s coming to Montreal (a city I have actually driven to from my house and not freaked out about the expense or the distance) sometime this year.

If it’s not too late — that is to say, if I have found paying work or my unemployment benefits haven’t dried up or been shot and killed by the tea-bagging thugs that took over Congress this week — if it’s not too late, I’d really and truly like to go and see those crazy, motherfuckingly AWESOME cardboard buildings Seth has been creating. I’d like to shake the man’s hand and tell him how sad it makes me that I had to see off my entire first-print hardcover collection of Seth books a few months ago to make the rent (goodbye, Vernacular Drawings; so long, George Sprott; sayonara, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken; take care, Wimbledon Green; seeya again sometime, Clyde Fans). I’d like to thank Seth for listing all his books in the front of the last comic book, because I had them all, and I sold them to make the rent, in case I didn’t mention that.

But I bought Palookaville #20, mainly because I wanted to see the pictures of Seth’s cardboard city (which he says he fantasizes about as he drifts off to sleep each night), not because of the comics.

And because, as I have just explained, it is the last comic book.

Alan David Doane

TWC News with ADD [010511]

* asks “What do women want from comics?" I think they just want them not to suck, which the vast majority of Direct Market superhero comic book fans actually seem to prefer.

* DC is finally collecting Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo, and in a deluxe hardcover, at that. Wonder what that will do to the market for back issues of this long-out-of-print and well-regarded mini-series. At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna looks at the long and storied history leading up to this week’s announcement. (I first heard the news from Kevin Pasquino, who has some thoughts on the subject at his blog.)

* Marvel has announced new titles for bigwigs Axel Alonso and Joe Quesada.

* Stan Lee has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Presumably Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko will get theirs next month.

— Alan David Doane

TWC News with ADD [010411]: Unslap My Face

* At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson has the news that DC is reinstating letters pages in their funnybooks. GOOD. Dropping this seemingly minor tradition in comics is one of the reasons for my own personal disconnect with much of what the industry has to offer, I think. I can’t provide a rational, scientific explanation for this, but I can tell you that reading just about any new #1, corporate superhero comic, artcomic, any kind of comic at all, and finding no text piece at all, no little introductory essay, always seems like a little slap in the face to me as a reader. If DC does it right and uses letters pages as a way to communicate with readers (and not as a vapid promotional tool), I wouldn’t be surprised to see the erosion of readers begin to slow down a little. I’m not saying it will actually increase sales, because I don’t think it will, but I do think it could help build loyalty among whatever readership remains.

* At The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon interviews writer Kelly Sue DeConnick.

* At the Ferret Press blog, Dara Naraghi has restarted his “Guess the Artist" feature, always a fun way to test your comics chops.

* Longtime comics critic Randy Lander posts his top comics and graphic novel lists of 2010.

* Glycon knows I love me some Alan Moore, and I haunted the shelves at FantaCo for something like a year waiting for the 1963 Annual that never was. Big Numbers is another great, incomplete Moore epic, and it seems artist Bill Sienkiewicz is game to wrap it up.

* In design news, CBR has news that Archie is taking their covers in a more retro direction. I’m a little baffled that anyone would think the example given is really retro looking, but maybe they’ll get the hang of it eventually. Not having the UPC code on the front cover is definitely a step in the right direction, if that’s really what I am seeing, there.

* Apparently Kevin Huizenga has more Ganges on the way. Yay.

* Bob Temuka says Grant Morrison’s Batman was the #4 best comic he read in 2010.

* Tony Isabella gets killed with kindness as his history of life in the comics industry continues.

* Uncomics: The best non-comics news of the new year to date. World-class film critic Roger Ebert is coming back to TV, and bringing a whole lotta talented friends with him.

Alan David Doane

Fantagraphics To Launch Complete Barks Ducks Hardcover Series

In what is surely the first big comics news story of the year, and what might be the best one, too, Fantagraphics has announced that it is reprinting the complete Carl Barks Donald Duck comics in a twice-yearly hardcover format. Robot 6 has the news and an interview with Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth (I spotted the news first at Sean T.’s joint).

I’m not kidding when I say that, after The Complete Peanuts (also published by Fantagraphics), this is the reprint project I’ve been waiting most of my life for. Barks was an absolute master of comic book storytelling, but there has never been a definitive, all-encompassing project you could point to and say “Yeah, get that and you’re all set.” As of today, that has changed. Fantagraphics (an advertiser on this site, I should note) has long prided itself on being the publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists, and it’s astonishing and gratifying to see them add one of the probably half-dozen best of all time to their stable. The Complete Peanuts, Krazy and Ignatz, Prince Valiant and other Fanta reprint projects have proven that they know how to handle material like this with class and respect, and Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, Eric Reynolds and the rest of the gang at Fantagraphics are to be congratulated and thanked for adding this monumental feather to their cap. Way to go, guys. You just made 2011 a very good year for a lot of comics-loving folks like myself.

Alan David Doane

TWC News with ADD [010211]: Lose The Fear of Slipping

* Tom Spurgeon talks to writer-about-comics (and other things) David Brothers. And in “the best comics-related news I’ve heard all year” department, Spurge is also apparently planning to interview Dirk Deppey.

* Continuing his personal history of his life in comics, Tony Isabella talks about being wooed simultaneously by Marvel and DC during the 1970s.

* Steve Bissette and Dave Sim continue their now epic-length public discussion of creator rights and their personal experiences in the comics industry (part one) (part two) (part three) (part four) (part five) (part six).

Alan David Doane

TWC News with ADD [010111]: How Binary You Look Today

* Tom Spurgeon is continuing to add entries to his regional comics scene list, and if you’re in one of the communities listed (or in one that isn’t but know of multiple comics folk in your area), you should get in touch with Spurge and make sure you’re on the list. One of the things I really dig about being on this, the comics internet is the thrill of seeing my name on this annual list. It’s like, I’m still here, you know?

* At Comics Alliance, Straczynski’s Superman gets the royal ass-kicking it deserves. Yet another overblown and undercooked example of the Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics. What I wouldn’t give to wake up one morning and find out that Bendis, Straczynski, Meltzer, Johns and their ilk were never actually allowed to fuck up superhero comics they way they have, that it was all just a bad dream.

* Roger Green looks back on 2010. Wish I could say I am not more disillusioned with politics than I was a year ago, but 2010 was politically one of the most cynical and harmful years I’ve ever lived through.

* It’s the first day of 2011, a year which appears to my eyes to really look futuristic. Like if I look out the window I should see a flying car in the driveway, not my wife’s beat-up Chevy. As David Byrne noted a couple of years ago, “Nothing has changed but nothing’s the same, and every tomorrow will be yesterday.” Well, after a year that really tested my ability to deal with uncertainty and change, I’m ready for something different. And I hope I get it. And I hope you and yours enjoy a peaceful and prosperous new year.

Alan David Doane