Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009: The Year in Review

Hillary Brown: Now that I look back on our posts from the past year, we missed a heck of a lot of stuff, and we really should have posted more often than we did. But we both have demanding jobs! What do you want from us, anyway? It's not like there are that many of you out there. You'll take what we have to give and like it. Preemptive hostility dispensed with. I was trying to make a list of my favorite comics of the year, and it turns out that it's really, really short, which suggests to me either that I'm missing some stuff (likely) or that I read fewer comics this year (equally so). That said, there are five I consider tops, and I wouldn't mind doing a quick rundown, in reverse order. My #5 is House of Mystery: Room and Boredoom, although I'm not positive it came out in 2009. Let's pretend it did. I'm a bit behind on the series, but it's been compelling enough to make me keep checking in, especially the art. It's all dark and sexy and weird and violent without getting too Dragoncon or, uh, too Neil Gaiman, from my minor knowledge of his work. And my #4 is Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, which I really should pick up again to refresh my memory on but I know I enjoyed tremendously and got all geekily hyped about the movie and so on and so forth. It was a darn good entry in the series. Chuck out a couple yourself, yo.

Garrett Martin: Damn, lemme think. Five? That shouldn't feel like as many as it does. Also I still haven't read Asterios Polyp, which might invalidate this list before I even start. My comic reading took a serious hit this year, y'see. I think you liked the new Scott Pilgrim more than I did, but it still sticks out in my head enough a year later to deserve some kinda slot, so #5 it is. It got kind of dark by the end, right? He and his friends all fractious and what-not? #4 might as well go to Greg Rucka and JH Williams III's Batwoman run on Detective Comics, which is as amazingly designed as you'd expect from Williams, and features one of Rucka's better superhero stories. Without Williams though this wouldn't make the cut. Okay, what's next?

HB: Okay. Note to self: check out Batwoman. It sounds interesting. I haven't read Asterios Polyp either, and it seems to be this year's Bottomless Bellybutton on lists around the interwebs, so that's a point in favor of "we suck." My next two are George Sprott (#3) and Tales Designed to Thrizzle (#2), which could easily swap places with one another, despite their completely different tone. It's like the year's saddest, most depressing comic and the year's funniest, lightest one, but they're both great and they're both extremely well designed. I bitched some about Seth when we talked about Sprott, but I think it holds up, and it's stayed with me pretty strongly, to the extent that I have a vivid memory of the actual reading experience (hanging out in the waiting room of a Tires Plus store, getting new tires for the car). Michael Kupperman's probably going to make this list any year he has a book come out.

GM: I wasn't even considering Thrizzle. Dammit. You're off the list, Pilgrim! Bump Batwoman down to #5 and, well, shit, just to make it easy put Thrizzle at #4, all you obsessed stat-collecting spreadsheet-keeping Shazhmmmm fans. Speaking of funny and light, here's Incredible Hercules at #3, which okay objectively is not better than Kupperman, but when has free online comic criticim ever been objective? Herc is better than all other superhero comics that came out in 2009, and frankly is about the only thing that gets me into the shop these days. It's not just hilarious, but a smart integration of myth, archetypal heroic storytelling, and awesomely retarded superhero bullshit. All the epic godly grandeur, improbable science, and fantastic sound effects are grounded by one of the more believable relationships in comics, the friendship of Hercules and Amadeus Cho. The book's heavy when it needs to be without ever being heavy-handed. It's everything great about superhero comics without any of the pandering "mature" crap that makes superhero comics more embarrassing than ever. It's already a classic, and would be even moreso if the art was more consistent, like Darwyn Cooke's work in Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter (my #2, if you couldn't guess). It's hard to find fault with The Hunter; one of the best illustrators and storytellers in the biz working from a true classic of crime fiction. The monochrome coloring give Cooke's inherently mid-century style a noir-ish edge that works perfectly with the subject matter. Cooke makes a couple of potentially questionable changes to the story, but nothing that greatly damages the overall picture. It's an almost flawlessly executed piece of work, but it doesn't top my list because its appeal doesn't go beyond the craft on display. It doesn't have the emotional heft or impact of the last book on my list. Speaking of which - what's your number one? Red Hulk? Badass Avengers: Secret Crisis: The Dark Siege: Cry for Justice?

HB: Well, my guess is that yours is George Sprott. You should be able to guess mine!

GM: You are wise. Are you counting BodyWorld? Isn't that like some weird 2007/2010 release?

HB: Shut it! It still counts. Yeah. That's my number one with ease, and I wouldn't be surprised if anything else Dash Shaw puts out snags that spot year after year. I've only watched the first episode of his IFC web series "The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century," but he also has a great webcomic that goes along with it and an interesting five-pager on Vice's website. There's no question his work has flaws, but it also breathes with life and fire the way little else does. It's always fun as hell to read, and while a lot of its logic breaks down if you start trying to take it apart, you should really just go with it because it's interested in surprising, challenging, and entertaining you. Enthusiasm! I bet our readers could have guessed these picks too.

GM: Okay, these rules are busted. Nah, Sprott's from 2007 too, when it ran in the Times, or wherever, and it is indeed my favorite. Although at least the collection did come out in 2009. We covered it thoroughly elsewhere, and all that embarrassing weepy nonsense I oozed out still holds true. We are predictable and inflexible to the ravages of time, I guess.

HB: Eh, time is flexible. It's not like this list is going to stand forever on the Internet as a testament to our ignorance in 2009. Oh wait... damn it.

See y'all next year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Like a Dog

Like a Dog
by Zak Sally
Fantagraphics 2009

Garrett Martin: I hope this isn't a good place to start with Zak Sally. I've heard great things about his comics for years, but Like a Dog is the first I've read. It collects various stories and pieces that first appeared elsewhere over the last decade, starting with Sally's self-published late '90's series Recidivist. He's a fine artist, but the stories he tells are rarely all that interesting. The Recidivist material is probably the worst in the book, overly wordy and self-conscious short stories that alternate between aimlessness and unsuccessful stabs at moral or psychological insight. There's a story where a character dreams about a greatly powerful movie about sin, hell, and the devil; it's drawn really well, with great hell-ish imagery and fluid transitions between both panels and perspectives, but even within the framework of a dream the importance of the movie feels completely unbelievable and overwrought. And then it ends on a facile, predictable point. Like a Dog isn't commonly that annoying, but it's also not much better. What do you think?

Hillary Brown: I think the eight pages or so of commentary in the back by Sally serve as an excellent judo move to deflect any criticism one might level at the book. Unfortunately. He knows this stuff is self-indulgent and that his artistic troubles aren't necessarily interesting to anyone else and so on and so forth, and he tells you so at length. Reading all that really made me sympathize with him and like him, and in some ways it's better to have it at the end of the book, so you're left with a warm feeling rather than a wad of annoyance in your stomach, but not everyone's going to make it to the end or through all the text that resides there. And besides, if I wanted to be harsh, I'd point out that just because you know the work's flaws and acknowledge them and acknowledge that you know acknowledging them doesn't solve them or make up for them, well... it's true. The stories are still frequently boring and overly zine-y (new word!), relying too much on art and not enough on narrative while also, often, having far too much text. And we still wonder a little bit why any of it was worth publishing, not to mention having an inkling that it has more to do with his musical career than with his skills as a comics dude. Ouch. Um, that said, the art is mostly nice, and if I didn't sort of look back on my early-to-mid-90s zine reading and artistic interests at the time (dark stuff!) as embarrassing and better forgotten, the book would fill me with a better sort of nostalgia. I totally respect Sally's willingness to put himself out there, and I think anyone who's ever had artistic ambitions can certainly identify with his story at the end, but how much did I like this book? Not a whole lot.

GM: I'm pissed I didn't think of that zine comparison. That's exactly what the worst work in here feels like. It apologizes for itself while assuming its mere existence merits attention. If Sally isn't 100% behind the material, why would anyone else be? That sounds harsh, especially considering all the half-formed crap the France has pumped out on our site, but then that's not wrapped up in a twenty-dollar hardcover. And it's not like there's nothing worth reading in here. There's a "I can't believe how naive I was" vibe to "The Man Who Killed Wally Wood" that anyone can relate to, bolstered by a few clever stylistic nods Wood's work with EC. The Dostoevsky short is a fine little biographical sketch with a message that obviously reflects Sally's punk-influenced outlook on life. And yeah, everything's well-drawn. But even Sally's better comics don't connect with me. It's like the more personal they get the less I'm able to relate. That doesn't happen with other creators, but it does here. Why is that?

HB: Maybe neither of us has all that much in common with Sally. Or maybe we've just decided not to romanticize our own days in depressing poverty. You're right to point out "The Man Who Killed Wally Wood" as probably the highlight of the book. It has a strong narrative, it's well drawn without being too showy, and it keeps things nice and brief. I also like the Dostoevsky thing, but man... it's kind of long. Some people might say Feodor himself is the same way, but it ain't so. And speaking of Dostoevsky, here's another thing I want to bring up, that Sally doesn't really get into very much even in all the revelation at the end: does this book feel, like, weirdly Christian to you? Not only is there the Dostoevsky story, which is nothing if not an intervention of God and the kind of thing that converts people as an individual experience, but the Hell film thing you mentioned earlier, and I think there are more, too. I'm sure there are good comics that are also Christian, but this feels like a subliminal message or something that at least should have been talked about, no?

GM: There's nothing weird or off-putting about the occasional moral undertone or two. I don't see either strip putting forth much of a religious message, either openly or subliminally. I don't have a problem with religious works, though, as long as the message isn't out of a Chick tract. I'm sure Sally grew up in an environment shaped somewhat by Judeo-Christian morality, as it's pretty damn hard to grow up in America without that background, so it's no surprise that that could appear in his work. But nothing about Like a Dog feels even remotely like a sermon. This really bothers you?

HB: Eh, it kept nagging at the back of my mind, especially during the hell thing, which is admittedly influenced by Chick's stuff. I mean, I could totally be being oversensitive here, but I really kept wondering where that story in particular was going. Was it going to tell me I was going to hell? It could have been. It turns that, no, it mostly wasn't, but there's just an undertone of religiosity here that skeeved me out a little, the more so as it's unacknowledged. We haven't really talked about Chester Brown on here, but it's a similar thing going on in a lot of his work--I just find him more interesting. I'll be especially curious to see if any of our readers pick up on this tone in Sally's stuff though, or if my brain is totally off. That said, will/should most of them buy it? Eh...

GM: If you're a Sally completist, yeah, pick it up. Otherwise tread lightly.

My problem with that story was less the possible religious connotations (although if I recall it ends with a bit of "we're already in Hell" claptrap, right?) than the notion that a dream or a movie or especially a dream about a movie could somehow feel so important and vivid and meaningful. Movies can be powerful, sure, but that movie? With a literal goat-footed, Euro-psychiatrist bearded cartoon devil smiling like Evil Otto? I can disbelieve strongly enough for that to make any sense. The grade-school Sartre ending is just the carpet that ties that room of head-shaking together.

I'm a little proud that we somehow avoided mentioning Low. Oh shit...

HB: Because we want his comics work to stand on its own! Which, um, it doesn't really. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

a solitary Shazhmm: Garrett reviews Batman / Doc Savage Special and Incognito TPB

This was written for the Boston Herald, but got lost in the holiday shuffle and swapped out for reviews of more recent comics. It's been slightly edited but it's still more formal than we usually get around here. Meanwhile HB and I will be back later this week with another review.

Batman / Doc Savage Special
by Brian Azzarello and Phil Noto
DC Comics

by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Marvel Comics

Just as comic books grew out of pulp fiction, superheroes wouldn’t exist without pulp heroes. Doc Savage was saving the world from fascists and mad scientists before Superman ever illegally crossed America’s broken borders. And unlike Batman, Savage didn’t dress like a fool to fight crime.

Doc Savage presaged both those iconic figures. Like Bruce Wayne he was impossibly talented despite not having any superpowers. Like Superman he was a paragon of virtue. Savage was successful in film, radio, and print before either of those cape-wearing guys were created. He was basically a superhero before that word existed.

Doc Savage’s popularity waned greatly after the 1940’s. DC hopes to change that with their upcoming miniseries First Wave. First Wave presents a universe in which pulp heroes like Doc Savage and the Avenger coexist alongside early comic crimefighters like Batman and the Spirit. It launches in March, but the recent Batman / Doc Savage Special introduces the concept. It doesn’t instill much hope.

For five dollars the Batman / Doc Savage Special gives you 56 pages but very little story. It starts with a murder, a misunderstanding, and Doc Savage’s arrival in Gotham to investigate the newly debuted Batman. By the end the mystery is solved off-page by the police while the heroes are busy talking out their disagreements. It’s a surprisingly muddled and inert work coming from Brian Azzarello, who showed an affinity for crime and pulp stories with 100 Bullets and his Batman serial for Wednesday Comics.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, creators of the comic noir Criminal, also know how to craft an excellent crime story. Their recent series Incognito isn’t as tense or powerful as Criminal, but it’s a better synthesis of the pulp and superhero traditions than the Batman / Doc Savage Special. Focusing on a former supervillain hiding out from a worldwide criminal organization in a witness protection plan, Incognito combines the superpowered action of comic books with the more realistic, hard-boiled edge of the pulps. Brubaker’s dialogue remains as taut as his plotting, and Phillips is still one of the best visual storytellers in the medium. The trade paperback lacks Jess Nevins’ excellent essays on pulp heroes that appeared in the individual issues, and the new introduction from Saturday Night Live castmember Bill Hader doesn't quite make up for that loss. That doesn't make the actual story any less worthwhile, though.

Monday, November 23, 2009

You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation

You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation
by Fletcher Hanks (edited by Paul Karasik)
Fantagraphics, 2009

Hillary Brown:
Oookay. So, having read and reviewed the first volume of Fletcher Hanks's reproduced work (I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets), why would we want to do another one? I'm not sure, but it wasn't just a need to finish that kept me reading. This volume feels like more of a slog than the first, and it certainly presents very little that's new (mostly more Stardust, "Big Red" McLane, and Fantomah, with a good bit of "Space" Smith this time and a few others). It's the same weird-ass vision that the first book contained, which testifies to the comics formula just as much as to the auteur theory. I guess there are more aliens this go-round and fewer mobsters, but other than that it's the same mayhem and mass destruction, with a lot of rays and gases. Do you see any differences you'd like to point out? Paul Karasik continues to argue, in his introduction, that Hanks isn't an outsider artist, and I still think he is, but we pretty much covered that ground last time too. In short, what's to talk about?

Garrett Martin: We can talk about how this second volume makes what once seemed crazy feel mundane. Hanks is so lazy, with basically one plot for each character repeated over and over, that it really is hard to find something to talk about. We should translate our first post into Korean via Babelfish, translate that back into English, and post that in response to volume 2. We could talk about the difficulty of following up a book whose greatest selling point was that most folks would find it comically awful. Those people suck, but they made the first one a hit. Can they still find the time to mock Hanks? Or are they too busy ironically appreciating romance comics, or Akee Wise and Essence, or whatever else?

HB: Good point. It's easy to get jaded in a hurry about Hanks's casual violence, facile equation of ugliness with evil, and simplistic plotting. He is lazy, but that laziness is also kind of fascinating. For a while, at least... I haven't seen a ton of press on volume 2, and the positive reviews I have seen read like they're by people who didn't get around to volume 1. Karasik is clearly still enthusiastic about the material (will there be more, or did this clean out the Hanks archives? Ending with his death certificate certainly gives it an air of finality), and I see why Fantagraphics wants to publish it (it's important in an archival sense, as the documentation of a unique vision), but does it have mass appeal? Not so much. Will this be our shortest review ever?

GM: I believe the Hanks train has pulled into the station. Or more like it's plummeted into a lake after the Fifth Column destroyed every bridge in America with their anti-bridge rays. Every comic the man created is in these two volumes, at least everything that's been found. I'm glad to say I have the complete Hanks bibliography sitting on a shelf in my dining room, but I am a stupid completionist collector dude since elementary days. I think you've hit on something: if you come to this volume first, you will love it, at least until you pick up the first one. If you're just rounding off your Hanks collection, then you won't mind that this books is less powerful. It makes sense that the first book would be loaded with the best stuff, of course, even if they were planning from day one to release two volumes. The biggest problem here is that the most frequent strips simply aren't as entertaining as Stardust or Fantomah. The standard Space Smith strip isn't nearly as shocking or perverse as Hanks' more infamous characters, and that makes up like half the book.

Will this be our shortest review? That's entirely in your hands now. What say you?

HB: I say that you could make a great condensed Fletcher Hanks out of the best strips from both books and leave the complete version for the completists. It would be half the size of either volume 1 or volume 2 and pack a maximum of loony, id-driven entertainment between its covers before blissfully departing and leaving you wanting more, which you'd then be free to pursue or happily forget about and use your time for better things. How 'bout it, Fantagraphics?

Friday, November 6, 2009

comic reviews elsewhere

Yesterday's Boston Herald contained my reviews of Hans Rickheit's The Squirrel Machine, Gilbert Hernandez's The Troublemakers, and Hellblazer: Scab from Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Cammuncoli, and others. I think this'll be a regular thing for at least a little while. Alright.


by Gilbert Hernandez
Vertigo, 2006

Hey hey. It's another guest post thing. You may remember Casey Westerman from our review of Box Brown's Love Is a Peculiar Type of Thing.

Casey Westerman: So - it's hard to start writing about Gilbert Hernandez's Sloth, I find. And hard to explain why it's hard to start writing about. Shall I contextualize my confusion? I've read most of the Palomar stuff -- at least, the three big digests and the three shorter New Tales of Palomar books -- plus Birdland and the two latest big Love and Rockets issues. I trust him, and I like him, and I want to follow him where he's going, but sometimes his stuff loses me, you know?

Sloth, I guess, is from 2006, and it's something Beto did for Vertigo instead of for Fantagraphics; it's stand-alone, with no connection to the Palomar cast. So it should be a good entry point for readers new to his stuff, but... it's beautiful, it's frustrating, and I don't feel like it really sticks the landing. It's more than pleasant reading but it doesn't seem whole; when the narrative shift happens, it's like Hernandez just wanted to start the book over, re-casting the roles, and it doesn't seem tremendously different or illuminating. (Not to mention that he did something similar in Birdland, fifteen years ago, now...)

What do you think? Did you follow it? Do you understand the ending? Did it remind you of certain films by David Lynch?

Hillary Brown: Yeah, do you mean is it basically the plot of Lost Highway or, I suppose, Mulholland Drive, in that we get the same story told twice, with the same basic group of characters but with each of them taking on a different role in the second version? That's the very first thing that came to my mind. I hadn't really thought about Lynch and Beto as being similar before, but now that it's on my brain, I almost can't think of anything but. I wouldn't say either is among my very favorite artists in his field, but they're also both fascinating. The other thing it made me think of--and this may be a much closer analogy--is Hal Hartley's Flirt, which, for our readers who may not be familiar, plays out the same script (basically) three times in a row, with different characters each time. It's not entirely successful either and for very similar reasons (i.e., it doesn't add up to much), but neither is without interest. There's something to be said for atmosphere, and that's perhaps what I take away from Gilbert's work most of all, even the Palomar stuff, which is far more narrative- and character-driven. What sticks with you and gets all up in your head is the feeling that you're left with, a grasp of late adolescent restlessness and pliability that takes place mostly in the dark. So, did I follow it? I'm not sure I did or that I understand anything about it, let alone the ending, but I did like reading it. It's an abstract experience, and while that tends not to be top of my list when I think about what I want in art, there's something good about being confused from time to time.

CW: Right. That brain-switching/world-switching/oh-no, now-everything's-the-same-except-different thing. It's creepy when Lynch does it; here it's actually a little comforting, since the second version of the story is a little less crazy than the first one. But it's not the kind of thing that can blow your mind more than once. And I like your comparison to Flirt, which was more interesting as an experiment than satisfying as a work of entertainment -- even when compared to other Hartley films, which were always pretty cerebral.

What makes the Palomar stuff more character-driven than this? I think the self-contained nature of Sloth works against it -- for whatever reason, I don't expect these characters to have a life outside of the covers of this book. And the lives they have inside the book are subject to revision, so why get attached to one version?

There are some creators who are able to flourish in long-form works -- Los Bros are two, to which I'd add Alex Robinson, Dash Shaw, Dave Sim... these guys all tap into what a mainstream superhero creator takes for granted: a history and future, a larger context that these stories can fit into and resonate with. Romeo X probably will never meet Luba; he's going to be in that coma forever.

Have you had a look at the latest L&R? Beto's gone heavily into abstraction this time around; it's like if you took Sloth and subtracted everything but the lemons.

HB: I think it's maybe just that the long-form stuff resembles a TV series and the short-form stuff is more like a movie or a novel. There's a lot more room for character growth in the more spread-out medium because there's a lot more room for everything. Sometimes this just ends up being repetition, but with the gifted (those you name, although I'm not really familiar with Sim and I've only read short things by Robinson) it allows for growth and change and variety, as well as perhaps greater realism. Not that realism is a great concern of mine, but I do like unpredictableness, and bigger spaces let it flourish. I have not, sadly, opened the newest L&R yet, despite your being so kind as to lend it to me (too much time spent on laundry, television, and the New Yorker lately), but I'll be interested to see how it goes. I've still only read these dudes in anthologies of their work. I don't know how it is just to read a small work that's part of a larger picture. All of the above sounds a bit like I'd always rather read their longer stuff, and I don't know if that's true. There are times when I would prefer a short, strange book like this. Or maybe it's just the end of October, and it has a vaguely horror movie feel.

CW: So maybe: long-form comics (300 pages or more) are like novels are like seasons of TV shows, stand-alone graphic novels are like short stories are like films, single issues are like poems are like YouTube video clips?

Sloth is elliptical, it doesn't take too long to read, it's a pleasant experience with an obscure-by-design conclusion; the abstraction in the book seems to paper over the gaps in the plot(s). I would have liked it better if it hadn't ended!

HB: And yet I don't know where there is for it go, either. It's compact to some extent necessity. I find myself wondering what Gilbert would do with the other six deadly sins, though.

CW: Maybe he's been working his way through them. Birdland is certainly a meditation on lust; Speak of the Devil might be about wrath. And I think he's dealt with gluttony and envy in some of the L&R material that hasn't been as frequently reprinted as the Palomar stories.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #15

Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horrors #15
by many slumming artistes
Bongo Comics 2009

Hillary Brown: Horror indeed. We meant to get this up before Halloween, but in the tradition of "Treehouse of Horror" (the TV version), we're running a bit behind, although not due to the World Series. So here's my big question, prompted by the fact that this is the first Simpsons comic I've ever read: Are they all this crappy? I was kind of looking forward to this thing. I don't buy single issues very often, but the presence of some biggish names (Sammy Harkham, Jeffrey Brown, Ben Jones) piqued my interest, and it seemed seasonal and like it might be entertaining. But it really sucks. Really really really. Anyone who has complaints about the TV show should pick up the comic and see how good the writing for the former still is (and not just by comparison). Some narratives fail slightly less than others, but they all fail. Most of it isn't even vaguely coherent, and the art doesn't make up for much. I want my five dollars back. Am I being a whiny little bitch about this?

Garrett Martin: Not at all. It's about as bad as you say it is. I vaguely remember reading a Simpsons comic years ago, and even more vaguely remember not completely hating it. Even if the comics are normally bad you'd think the Kramers Ergot crowd at least would be able to make something interesting. But yeah, nothing here is all that funny, and most of the art looks kinda half-assed. I have no idea if Kevin Huizenga, for instance, is intentionally going for an uglier, scratchier version of his normally clean Segar-like style, but even if he is it still looks tossed off. That strip, which is written by Matthew Thurber, has a solid premise, with the Simpsons kids as radical teenagers in a post-American dystopia, but somehow it winds up being neither funny or all that memorable. The only story that isn't an almost total miss is Jones' "Boo-tleg". It captures the spirit of the show, and although the art could stand to be a bit more unique, at least it's not rushed or ugly.

HB: Well, yeah. That's where I was going next. I mean, Jared's point, which I think is valid, is that the rest of the book is so half-assed and (possibly) unintentionally surreal that it mutes the impact of Jones's story. And not that that story is so great, but I don't know if you're familiar with Paper Rad's aesthetic at all. It's very much about the deliberately sloppy and ugly, whatever will hurt both your eyes and your brain the most simultaneously. I started out really hating that story too, but by the end (and it is long), it kind of won me over with its extreme horribleness and nonsense. I mean, part of the point of the Treehouse episodes is that they can break completely with what's normally the case on the show--things can change and go off the rails--but a lot of these stories maybe take that too far. What's the point of Milhouse accidentally killing a bunch of people and living in the walls of his home, which then becomes the Simpsons' home? And where does this take place in continuity? It's clearly after his mom and dad split up, but the house appears identical to the Simpsons' Evergreen Terrace dwelling. Is this my fanboy moment? I'm off to look up other reviews of this thing to see how it was received.

GM: People seem to really like this comic. I don't know if that makes us dumb or if people just slap a minimum four stars on anything Ergot-related.

I had the same "wait, what?" continuity moment when Ralph Wiggum mistook the Moleman CHUD for his departed mom. Is Mrs. Wiggum dead on the show?

What's most surprising is how this line-up of idiosyncratic art comic dudes mostly failed to create anything that resembles The Simpsons or their own styles. Proof enough right there that they took less pride and care in creating this comic than the comics blogosphere did in praising it.

HB: Uh, no she's not dead! There are numerous examples of this kind of ridiculous sloppiness in the comic, and I guess people have Harkham stars in their eyes. I have to say: this makes me way, way less likely to buy a copy of Kramer's Ergot without reading the whole thing in advance. Which presumably is not what they were going for (dissuading me from buying the nice, expensive thing that has a great reputation). People are being a bunch of dumbasses. In some ways, I want to encourage our five readers to go out and buy this book, so they can see how right we are, but really what they should do is try to steal it on the Internet, so they only have to waste time and not money or muscle energy. This is among the very worst things we have ever written about.

GM: Man, you really hate this comic! I don't like it, but I assume it's not particularly indicative of any of these artists' normal work. I hope Kevin Huizenga's strip doesn't keep you from reading Curses or Ganges, which are both fantastic. And I probably like Jeffrey Brown's thing here more than I did Little Things, although that's like picking between migraines. We should do an Ergot next, actually, just to see how different the quality level is. It has to be sizable.

HB: Well, the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. Maybe I'll borrow a copy of Ergot instead of buying it. That'll show 'em!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign

Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign
by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rodney Buchemi, Ryan Stegman, and Dietrich Smith
Marvel 2009

Hillary takes a break this time as Paul DeBenedetto and I live down to almost every fanboy stereotype. You can check out the first of our guest appearances here.

Garrett Martin: My interest in monthly superhero comics has flagged tremendously the last few months. Homeownership hates hobbies. My pull list is down to ten comics, and I’m at least one issue behind on all of them, except Incredible Hercules. It doesn’t get me into the shop on a Wednesday anymore, but it is the first thing I read whenever I do empty out that folder with my name on it. This is Marvel’s best monthly book, and that’s been true almost since it began. It’ll probably only get truer now that Agents of Atlas is being added as a back-up. Hercules is pretty much everything I look for in a superhero comic: it’s funny but epic, acknowledges the past while creating something new, and weaves mandatory references to characters and stories from other comics into its own story without disrupting or unsettling anything. Most important though is the relationship between Hercules and Amadeus Cho. I called it “oddly poignant” in my best of 2008 post, adding that it’s “one of the most believable depictions of male camaraderie” from a mainstream superhero comic. 2009’s made my brilliant observations even more spot-on. Herc and Amadeus have a classic Marvel friendship in the vein of generic kung fu guy and charmingly racist stereotype, or obvious gender-reversed copyright squatter and random X-Man shoehorned onto another team in order to keep his profile high enough for that guy from Frasier to one day play him in a shitty movie. In twenty years unhygienic old fans with big beards and bad breath will bore younger readers with stories of how great this friendship was. Or at least they would if anybody younger than 50 were still reading superhero comics in 2029.

Anyway, Incredible Hercules is awesome, and I’m glad you’ve started to read it. The particular issues in question today tie in to a story I have no interest in, the big Dark Reign crossover, wherein a character that died before I was born has somehow returned as a three-for-one rip-off of Nick Fury, Tony Stark, and Jafar. But like I astutely noted above, instead of being thrown off-balance by the interruption, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente seamlessly connect Osborn and his dull Avengers to the overriding story they’ve been building for months. It helps to have Ares on Osborn’s team, of course, and to have a millennia-old heavy in Hera to go nose-to-widow’s-peak with Osborn. It just works.

This is your first time reading Hercules, right? What did you think? And what took you so long?

Paul DeBenedetto: To answer your last question: ignorance? Stupidity? I have no idea. I remember hating World War Hulk, and Incredible Herc seemed like such a dumb, temporary move that I dismissed it altogether. Then one Wednesday, during a slow week, I randomly decided to pick it up because I needed new material to review. After finishing it I was floored; I mean, you're right, how could I have slept on this series for so long?

On another note, I share your feelings on Dark Reign. It's thus far been a poor idea executed poorly, and the company-wide banner makes it so that even Matt Fraction can't write a book I give a shit about these days. But Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak apparently can, and as much as I loathe the fact that they were forced to play into this "OH NO THE BAD GUYS WON NOW WHAT" nonsense, they've done it with such grace, humor, and emotional subtlety that it's almost unfair to put it on the shelf next to other, "lesser" creative teams.

To start let me just say I love Amadeus Cho. I honestly think he's the best new character to come out of either of the Big Two since DC added VIBE to the Justice League (just kidding kids, but look that one up.) The two writers have such a grasp on what makes him tick, what makes him work for the general public, that I'm sure someone else will take over and ruin him eventually but for now I could read stories about him and him alone. Come on-- the little guy who overcomes corrupt authority by using nothing but his own ingenuity? That story's worked since before the beginning of time, and Pak knew it when he invented the character. Of course it doesn't hurt that they pair him brilliantly with Hercules in a buddy comedy. They're complete opposites, as all the best "buddies" are in the movies and on TV, and there's the right amount of sentimentality there that makes you pull for them every step of the way. I mean, this is definitely a book with a lot of heart.

It takes two issues before actually getting into "Dark Reign": the first issue is a tale of Herc's past and the other, Cho's quest for his missing pet. The former establishes the Greek hero's personality as an impulsive, somewhat foolish, though ultimately brave warrior; the latter paints a picture of Cho as a genius and loyal friend, though ultimately alone. Some might consider these filler but for someone relatively unfamiliar with the characters and the story it helps as an introduction. I'm curious though: as a somewhat regular reader did it feel like throwaway material?

GM: Not at all, especially the Cho backup. The fate of Kirby, his coyote pup, had been teased for months, since it was revealed he'd been replaced by a Skrull. That story is vital and remains one of the book's emotional high-points, at least for dog-loving suckers like me. It's not exactly subtle or original to have the loss of a pet mark a character's maturation, but like you say about David and Goliath stories, it's worked forever. That backup also foreshadows an important development at the end of this storyline, when Amadeus seems to make peace with the fate of his family. Of course that gets chucked out the window by a surprising development we won't spoil her, but that leads directly into the current storyline, which you hopefully are reading. Also I'm always glad to see Tak Miyazawa's art. They should just reboot Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane now that McKeever's no longer DC-exclusive. Or maybe it's time for Spidey and the Black Cat: Just Fuckin' Around?

There was also nothing throwaway about the Hercules story in that issue. That combination of mythology and superheroics is one of the many things this book does well. This particular story doesn't just reveal a bit of Herc's backstory or establish some of his more obvious traits, it also emphasizes his liminality between Godhood and humanity while reinforcing the family dynamic that plays a large part in the following Dark Reign storyline. He also punches a lotta dudes really damn hard.

What was your impression of Hercules before reading his book? Had you ever cared about the character before? Ever read The Avengers back when he was a regular? Also, have any other Marvel creators written Osborn half as entertainingly as Pak and Van Lente?

PB: I had absolutely no impression of Hercules. He was a character I didn't care to learn more about, and never had any desire to read about. I didn't even care much for any of the main Avengers: Cap, Iron Man, Thor; they were all terribly boring to me when I was younger. Why would I want to read about the third string? I think that was another thing that bothered me about the move from Hulk to Herc; why do it? The Hulk book itself appeared to be doing well, and then seemingly out of nowhere they replace it with Hercules and a book written by Jeph Loeb? Bah! Of course, I later learned that Hulk was going to be cancelled anyway, and that Pak and Van Lente actually pitched this unorthodox idea with that in mind, but at the time it was a head scratcher, and I don't make enough money to go buying every book on the shelf. But I'll be honest, after reading Incredible Hercules I've become much, much more open-minded in my comics choices. It really speaks volumes for Marvel's current crop of writers that now each of those books featuring the characters I mentioned above has become as compelling as any other on the rack, and none more so than Herc.

As for one of this story's main antagonists: the only person who has come close to making Norman Osborn this enjoyable was Joe Casey in Dark Reign: Zodiac, and even that was only because he was made to look like a dick, who loses at the end. Brilliant! Seriously, there are a lot of reasons why it's a horrible decision to make Norman Osborn the big bad, not the least of which was brought up by Tom Spurgeon over at the Comics Reporter, but when you work in a shared universe sometimes you have to toe the line. Nonetheless, Pak and Van Lente do a great job, and I think it has everything to do with their complete disregard of Osborn's position. He may be in charge of the largest military espionage force on the planet but that's small potatoes to a god-- as Hera says, he stands atop "the tallest dung heap." Admittedly, even when he is being written with some bravado they find a way to make it work. That line as he busts into the fight between Herc and Hera (he refers to it as "Greek organized crime) is priceless. Regardless the gods seem, at most, merely annoyed by the Avengers' involvement in the matter: Pluto's comment when Daken stabs him-- "You really don't know who I am, do you?"-- was a laugh out loud moment for me, and a hilarious sound effect let us know that Hercules simply tosses the Sentry "n-tu-DA SUNNN!"

Ah, yes! Those sound effects! Such a clever way to revitalize a silly concept: rather than always using random nonsense words the creators have decided to use the "sounds" as part of the narrative. I think "nu-KRAK" as Herc gives the Sentry a shot in the marbles is my favorite, but I watched a lot of America's Funniest Home Videos growing up. I wonder, is that a technique that's been done before? It seems fresh but it must have come from somewhere.

I don't want to jump ahead since I know we've only discussed the Avengers stuff, but how do you think Dietrich Smith's art matches up with Ryan Stegman in the next part of the story? I think it's the one complaint I might have about issues 127 through 129; sometimes it looks a little awkward to me. Do you agree? Am I just looking for something negative in an otherwise great read?

GM: There’s been some great art on Hercules (I’m digging both ends of the currently alternating team of Reilly Brown and Rodney Buchemi), but it is the easiest area to criticize. Smith and Stegman are both capable of the occasional glaring panel, with jarring transitions or action that’s hard to parse. Smith’s pretty good at facial expressions, though, and that’s vital to a book like Hercules.

And yes, the sound effects are fantastic. I’m sure this gag has been done before, probably in a hundred different comics, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Pak and Van Lente are officially the best creators of sound effects since Walt Simonson. I know there was a recent book where the sound effects spelled out editors’ names, but that might’ve been written by Pak, too. Maybe Jeff Parker? Anyway, they’re great, I love ‘em, and it’s a much better revival of a beloved and deeply missed comic convention than Bendis’s half-assed thought-bubbles.

I can understand not having interest in Hercules. I’ve always loved him, but if you didn’t read the Avengers back in the day you probably wouldn’t realize how enjoyable the character is. But man, are you really saying that Cap, Iron Man, and Thor seemed third string to you when you were a kid? I read X-Men for a time, and loved Spider-Man, but the Avengers titles were always my favorite. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, the family of Avengers titles, and more peripheral stuff like Dr. Strange and Daredevil composed the true, central Marvel Universe to me, that entire NYC-centric territory in which heroes and villains regularly popped up in different series, not necessarily crossing over in an official manner but still acknowledging each other’s existence. The X-titles always felt a little distant, removed, like their own perplexing and overly grim little pocket universe. I read Uncanny for a few years, but it never hooked me like Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America or Roger Stern’s West Coast Avengers. But then I was also a big fan of history and learning, read the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe semi-religiously, and had an innate respect for old-ass shit. I guess I developed a bias towards classic ‘60’s Lee/Kirby/Ditko characters almost as soon as I got into comics. That’s probably why I liked the original X-Factor more than Uncanny X-Men when I was ten.

PB: I wasn't being clear enough: what I meant was, I was never even interested in Cap, Iron Man, and Thor, so why would I care about Hercules, who to me seemed like third string Avenger.

GM: Okay, makes more sense! I'd be more charitable and say he's second-string, about the same level as other Avengers lifers like Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, etc.

I'm pretty sure I've turned this into the most fanboyish Shazhmm post yet.

So are you reading Hercules regularly now?

PB: We don't have Hilary's grounding influence! Our conversation is eventually going to devolve into "who would win in a fight?" arguments.

I am definitely reading Hercules regularly, and now that I bought this collection I'm even trying to catch up on some of the stuff I missed. Like you touched on earlier, there's a lot of stuff toward the end about Amadeus Cho's family that I wish resonated more with me. In fact that might be my only complaint besides some of the art: even for a Marvel comic some of this is way too referential. I thought the idea of a casino "limbo" was a funny idea but without knowing who some of those characters were would that scene work? I know that was just a small scene, maybe a little wink to longtime readers-- but what about the climax of the story? Hercules' battle in Hades didn't really mean much to me beyond a smartly written fight scene, and frankly that's all I need, but for a lot of other readers this might prove alienating: why do I care? I don't know that Pak and Van Lente sufficiently answered that question.

That turned out more damning than I intended. Let me just reiterate that I love this book, and I think the kind of people who need everything to be pointed out to them about characters that are over sixty years old are so-- I mean come on, guy, you're never going to catch up! Read a fucking Wikipedia entry! It's 2009! But, you know, that's part of your audience, and they need the Geoff Johns approach. They need every story to start with a caption that says "MY NAME IS HERCULES" and then have him explain his backstory every issue. And if you are going to get obscure you better damn sure fool me into believing it's the most important thing to ever happen to comics, ever.

That's why it's surprising that Amadeus Cho, and this book in general, sells. All the creative team is doing is putting out fun, well written comics, and history has shown that this formula is counter-intuitive to what works: hero porn like Flash: Rebirth and overcomplicated event comics like Blackest Night seem to rule the charts. But here's Herc, chuggin right along for like thirty issues with no signs of stopping. It's somewhat inspiring.

GM: I agree that superhero comics can be too damn self-referential (and reverential) these days, but that's not really happening with Hercules. All you need to know in the limbo scene is that those characters are almost totally dead. It's not like the plot itself hinges upon recognition or intimate knowledge of any of these characters, which is often a problem with Johns' work. It's not even important to realize that it's also a clever explanation of the laughably impermanent condition of death in superhero comics. Your enjoyment might be enhanced by picking up on these points, but your comprehension's unaffected either way. Also it's nice to see pointlessly discarded characters like Puck and the Wasp again. Not to go off on another fanboy tangent, but what the hell do the guys in charge there have against the Wasp?

Also, I have a problem with the common argument that superhero comics are too confusing for new readers. I do think that's true a lot of the time, but less because writers reference old storylines too often than because the industry has largely jettisoned the tools traditionally used to educate newer readers. Footnotes, recap pages, and letter columns helped new readers catch up for decades. I'm sure the first superhero comic you ever read confused you as much as it did me, but that only increased the excitement of discovering this weird new world full of fantastical bullshit. Hercules uses footnoes, though, and has one of the best recap pages in the business. It's not a confounding chunk of continuity porn. But then I'm a long-time comic fan who spent most of elementary and middle school memorizing the Marvel Handbook, so maybe my outlook is skewed.

Anyway! Yeah, Incredible Hercules, you're pretty damn great. Thanks! And thank you, too, Paul, for making time for our silly site.

PB: And thanks to you and Hilary for allowing me to sully up an otherwise legitimately enjoyable blog!

Paul DeBenedetto writes about comics at Wednesday's Child and about music at AVERSE.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Love Is a Peculiar Type of Thing

Love Is a Peculiar Type of Thing
by Box Brown
self-published, 2008

This is the first installation in a series of guest spots to liven things up around here. Garrett and I (Hillary) are also planning on doing some interviews and suchlike.

Hillary Brown: I probably tend to restrict my comics reading to stuff I can buy on Amazon even more so than the average fan. I tend to get easily frustrated with comics shops, and I'm often unwilling to pay for shipping, plus I can rarely stand the awkwardness of the convention, in which I'm expected to (gulp) interact with the artists and writers who make this stuff. All of which means the fact that I went out of my way to find Box Brown's Love Is a Peculiar Type of Thing kind of a statement. I mean, I didn't work that hard. I got lucky in that someone had ordered it at our local comics shop and decided he didn't want it after all, and I happened to see it lying on the counter. I still had to wait for an answer, though, and return to the store to purchase it later. And I think we can call that commitment. Also, I meant to order it on the Internet. I just forgot. So I read Brown's webcomic, "Bellen," on his livejournal, and I guess it's just slowly grown on me to where it's one of my very favorite things. The jokes are pretty simple, and there's nothing high-concept here--just a couple of nice, lazy people going through life in a nice, lazy way and dealing with occasional frustrations but, luckily, having one another. That makes it sound absolutely vomitous, but it's not. The book a) sets up the strip in that it's a bit more obviously autobiographical and b) shows a good bit of growth from beginning to end, despite being short enough to read on a bus ride. So I like it too, quite a lot, although not as much as the webcomic. But this is just gushing. Give it to me straight. What's to hate?

Casey Westerman: This book gives me the idea that maybe there's a phylogeny of autobiographical comics that's being recapitulated in Box Brown's ontogeny. The problem is that, reading this, I can't help but compare him unfavorably to a bunch of guys that I'm not too crazy about. He used to be Joe Matt (thanks for the history of your masturbation, dude), now he's in a James Kochalka phase, and maybe if he works this alter-ego thing for a while he might evolve into Seth.

We're mostly talking about the book, right? I've checked in on Bellen once or twice in the last couple of years, but I'm not a regular reader. Maybe Love Is a Peculiar Type of Thing is his juvenilia, but it came out this year (thanks to the Xeric Foundation, I see), so the author's clearly willing to stand behind it.

The book is kind of maddening in its lack of ambition and imagination. The narratives of the book fall into a few categories:

1. Cute conversations between Ben and Ellen.
2. Ben remembers his awkward youth with chagrin.
3. Ben addresses the reader directly to express anxieties.
4. Ben's happy fantasy of himself as an old man.

I think #4 is significant there; in this fantasy, apparently nothing has happened in Ben's life since he met Ellen and got happy. He's acting as though he won the game of life and can now retire.

The autobiographical confusion here is probably the most interesting thing about the book--for me, at least. Brown goes out of his way to explain that he created Ben, but also that Ben's just like Box Brown. So what's the point, and the effect, of underlining the difference between author and "I"? Most of what happens is too mundane to invent, even when it's funny. Should we read this as fiction?

Maybe everything here is really written for an audience of one. Ellen here is relentlessly kind, sweet, cute; the whole book reads like Brown's love letter to a girlfriend. I get it, she's lovely, he adores her, but what do we know about her? She feeds him a lot of straight lines and she listens when he talks. I picture Brown finishing a page, handing it to "Ellen," and smiling shyly as she pats him on the head and says "ooh, this one's good, too!"

Brown's got a lot in common with Kochalka, but Kochalka's less mopey and more dangerous as a main character; Jeffrey Brown's got more bite; Chester Brown (lots of Browns!), when he digs into his own past, really draws blood. Box Brown (the author, not his character) is so shy and mild in his narcissism that it's like reading Charlie Brown's journal comics. He'd like to be loved for his sincerity and his earnestness, but if you want to pity him, that's OK too.

So what point am I missing, here? I don't hate this book, but Brown seems like an embryonic form of something that I really wouldn't seek out. Is the online comic a different experience? Do I need to like this guy before reading about his life story, his deepest fears, and his secret wishes?

And we haven't talked about the art yet, either.

HB: And also, you know, you kind of hate autobiographical comics, so I'm not sure I should have pushed this on you. Okay, but here's why I gave it to you. The reason Box Brown created Ben, as I think he explains (in the foreword?) is because he was miserable, so he made himself a little avatar and gave him a girlfriend and made him happy and then, somehow, his real-life self found a girlfriend and got happy. Now that, to me, is a bit like the theme of Infinite jest (which we had a slow re-read of earlier this year and last). If you follow the rules that are laid out, they work. Is that magical thinking? Yeah, kind of, and I'm sure its track record is nowhere close to 100%, but, again, the themes of Love Is a Peculiar Type of Thing as it interacts with its author's life somewhat mirror that philosophy, which I think is interesting.

I'm also a big fan of the quiet worldview. Imagining being a happy old person, despite your current anxieties, is really nice to me. So I might just be appreciating this book because of its movement from misery to coziness, a story arc I kind of like, and one that the art (check) plays into. Brown renders Ben and Ellen in a soft, fluffy style, all big round heads and fat arms, with watercolor washes that, yes, bring to mind Seth, only the story isn't about the continuation of loneliness and depression (unlike Seth or Joe Matt) but about victory over it. The online comic is, if anything, even less big-arc-driven, especially as Brown has taken to doing three-panel strips of late, as opposed to the longer ones he used to, but I suppose there's a different experience in reading three panels once a day, in a moment you grab, than in sitting down with a book of the stuff.

CW: I don't hate autobiography! Just looking over at my shelf, I see stuff by Alison Bechdel, Julie Doucet, Eddie Campbell, Chester Brown, David B. In every case except the last one, I prefer those artists' nonfiction stuff to their fiction (haven't read enough of B.'s fiction to say whether it's better than Epileptic. But can we draw a distinction between memoir comics and journal comics? Memoir gets to draw on the artist's whole life; journal comics are usually "here's what happened to me today." Drew Weing and Kate Beaton both do good journal stuff, but they do better work in fiction. I don't want to reduce this discussion to a matter of taste, but this kind of low-dose, low-stakes comic only works for me when it's lagniappe, a diversion from a creator's more ambitious project.

Box Brown gives us "Ben's" life in ten pages, 114 panels. It's all prologue, and he's rushing through it to get to the good stuff, which for him is the cute thing his girlfriend said after he grabbed her boob. If he spent ten years as a functioning alcoholic and druggie, and in that time also held down a corporate job or two, he's probably got some entertainingly sordid stories to tell, but that's not what interests him.

I don't have too much to say about the art--the stuff on his website now is a little bit slicker than what's here--but the only time it really varies here is in his ten-page autobio, in which all the characters are even more basically drawn, with stick-figure arms. John Campbell, Matt Feazell, and Don Hertzfeldt all do great stuff with stick figures. Why's Brown doing it here? Is he trying to save time, or is he acknowledging that he doesn't care about the past in more than a superficial way?

It's in this book's second story that he sort of explains the "Ben" character: "Ben was in love and sober and slightly happier. A fantasy. And slowly I became him." OK, but we don't see that happen. The first story: Ben's in love and has just moved to Philadelphia. Brown, according to the author's note, is "in love and living in Philadelphia, PA." Either the comics in this book post-date Brown's happy recovery, or else his specific fantasy came very specifically true. But there's nothing outside of those three sentences to suggest that there's any distance between the author and the character. I don't think that qualifies as a "theme" of the book. And I don't get the comparison to Infinite Jest you're making. Don Gately recovered through slavish adherence to a set of rules that he didn't understand or enjoy. Box Brown recovered by imagining himself happier, not that we get to see this process in any detail. What rules did he follow?

This book reminds me of Liz Prince's Will You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed and Delayed Replays (another two books that I borrowed from you!). In 2005 she put out a book of cute incidents between her and her boyfriend, and in 2007 another one--from which the boyfriend's ominously absent. What happens if Ellen's real-world counterpart breaks up with Brian "Box" Brown--do things continue for Ellen and Ben just like before, or does she vanish without explanation, or does Ben fall off the wagon? Would we have a "Garfield Without Garfield" situation? Would Ben angrily correct the official record and tell us all the things about Ellen that he actually couldn't stand?

It's easier to see this book as wishful thinking than as the result of victory over depression. I think he's come to a truce with his depression--he'd rather be dull and unemployed than drunk and miserable. He fantasizes about survival and sufficiency. If Brown was writing fan-fiction about himself, why didn't he take it farther? Instead of just writing himself sober and coupled, why didn't also he write himself as a glamorous spy or a secret vampire or, I dunno, a forensic icthyologist?

HB: Fair enough. Memoir is more shaped than journal. I like both. Much as I appreciate a well-constructed story (and I do), I'm kind of into the meandering mundanity of everyday existence. All your points are good ones. This book has flaws, but I forgive them. And here's the IJ connection: fake it till you make it. Behavior becomes (or can become) reality. The use of something is what it is used for. The surface will eventually osmose into the core. Is that a bit too The Secret? Ugh. I suppose it is. But it also kind of works, as long as your goal isn't being a glamorous spy or whatnot; that is, as long as it's realistic. I mean, what's so bad about coming to a truce with your depression? It's better than being depressed.

CW: OK, but again... the surface-osmosis thing takes place on one page of the book, in a few lines, and I really don't think that's the subject of the comic. Most of what happens here is that Ben acts cute for Ellen, and she validates him.

Making a truce with your depression is obviously a better life-plan than succumbing to it, but who'd expect that plan to lead to interesting art?

We've both read Lewis Trondheim's Little Nothings. Do you like this in the same way you like that? Trondheim's got a wicked sense of humor, interesting friends, a busy professional life, and a family with better things to do than prop him up. If Bellen is Brown's wish-fulfillment comic, why hasn't he even written a version of himself with a job or some non-girlfriend friends?

Should we wrap this conversation up? I'm an academic kind of critic, you know; I can write to any length. And I really don't hate this book, but I could go on for days about not loving it. Thanks for letting me borrow it!

HB: Heh. Yes, it seems like we're getting to the point of wrapping up, and I do appreciate your thoughtful points, even if, as these kinds of things frequently do, it's ended in a draw. You're completely right that Trondheim's better, but Trondheim's better than most people. If I only stuck to the most awesomest art, I'd be missing out on a lot of stuff.

Casey Westerman read Marvel comics from 1987 to 1991, Vertigo comics from 1994 until the end of Sandman, and Love & Rockets since 2007. He lives in Athens, Georgia.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tales Designed to Thrizzle: Volume 1

Tales Designed to Thrizzle: Volume 1
by Michael Kupperman
Fantagraphics 2009

Hillary Brown: It's going to be difficult to talk about this book because whenever you start analyzing humor, someone always pops up to say, "Why can't you just leave it alone and let be funny? Explaining it ruins the joke!" At least it would count as a comment, though, so I'm going to proceed to try to unpack Michael Kupperman's awesomeness. This larger version of Tales Designed to Thrizzle doesn't have a huge variety of jokes, despite its size. In other words, if you don't think he's funny, I'm not sure this book is going to convince you, unless your convictions are worn down by repetition. I know that I happen to find minor variations on the same joke almost endlessly hilarious if I like the joke at all to begin with, but that premise is important. So what do we have here? 1. Unexpected vulgarity, which I love. It's hard to do well, but Kupperman's "nut bra" strip in particular milks the device extremely well. 2. Surrealism. Some strips don't really go anywhere. Some (many) result from throwing together two or more unexpected things, almost at random. 3. Obsessions. We all think some things are inherently funny. Kupperman likes the word "grandpa," historical characters, shout-outs to the silliness of the past in general (there's going to be another whole category about this in just a second), and so on. 4. Both nostalgia and the mocking of nostalgia. There is a great affection for the past in these pages, as well as a grasp of its weirdness and also, to some extent, a grasp of how weird it is to be nostalgic about this stuff. 5. Verbal humor. These strips are beautifully drawn, all full of patterns and a commercial art look, but Kupperman's humor would come across almost as well without visuals at all (as witnessed by his Twitter feed, which you convinced me to subscribe to and which features at least three or four good jokes a day). I'm sure there are more categories. Let me turn this over to you and let you ramble on for a bit.

Garrett Martin: You just ruined every single joke Kupperman's ever told. Or written down and illustrated. Or whatever. Maybe not. You're actually right, as usual, and probably too damn right. Kinda like Monty Python, Kupperman's comics are smart and absurd and fascinated with the past, but have yet to be destroyed by decades of recitation by unsavory high schoolers. It is hard to do nonsense well, to make it genuinely funny and not just some desperate ploy to seem weird or quirky, but Kupperman is nonsensical in the best possible way. You can often suss out some form of logic if you need to, but even at their most abstract Kupperman's ideas and language somehow tend to be inherently hilarious. Not every gag succeeds, but the failure rate's surprisingly low. He's maybe a little too obsessed with a few things; I feel bad saying anything even remotely negative about the mostly brilliant Twain and Einstein strips, but Kupperman maybe relies on them a bit too much. And even though it's his most famous bit, Snake 'n' Bacon's far from the best thing here. Speaking of which, did you see the Adult Swim pilot?

HB: I did, and I kind of understand why it didn't get picked up. I mean, it was late, and I was drunk, but it wasn't really clicking in the same way as the strip, and I don't know exactly why. Maybe it's that the specific absurdity of Snake 'n' Bacon works much better when they don't have real voices. There's something about the static nature of their conversations, which consist of repeating the same thing over and over again, no matter what they've been asked, a la the popular definition of insanity (but also, of course, a realistic interpretation of crazy detective pairs; logically, a snake and a piece of bacon can't be detectives or travel through time or have thoughts, so you can see this recurring strip as a bit of the real world interacting with Kupperman's silly concepts), that translates much better in the flat medium of the comic strip than to TV. On TV, it all seems very Robert Smigel, whereas in comics it seems very much his own thing.

GM: Not that being like Robert Smigel is a bad thing. And obviously there's a kinship there; Kupperman did shorts for TV Funhouse back in the day. Which I really regret not watching when it was on.

Now that I think about it the word "obsession" doesn't quite fit. Okay, yeah, it's easy to assume that's the case, but I'm thinking it's maybe more procedural, like he's running through all the different variations he can think of on a legitimately funny concept. Whereas other creators edit more and keep some ideas on the drawing board or sketch book while searching for the best possible expression, Kupperman's unafraid of overdoing it, or appearing obsessive. Of course most people struggle to make up one good joke, much less dozens about the same subject, like Kupperman.

I'm struggling to think of anything to say other than "hey, it's funny!". Okay, it's smart, too. What else?

HB: What I want to know is if there's anyone out there who doesn't think this stuff is funny. I've done a quick Google, and I can't find anyone who's expressed articulate objections, so maybe it's only the cranky and stupid who don't like it. Everyone else seems to react with glee whenever he has something new. Um, we could talk about black and white versus color too, maybe?

GM: People who wouldn't find it funny would never pick it up in the first place. I'd like to think the audiences for Kupperman and, say, Batman & the Outsiders are mutually exclusive.

I wouldn't say the black & white is absolutely vital, but it does strengthen the nostalgia factor. It wouldn't feel as much like old commercial art if it was in color.

Oh wait, he colorized the stuff for the book? I've got the single issues. Well, shit, tell me, was the color a good choice?

HB: Ha! Yes. It's in color. I don't think it adds a ton (except that it maybe makes some of the background patterns more noticeable), but it certainly doesn't detract. The thing is, there's very little to talk about there either. Michael Kupperman: squelching debate.

GM: Oh wait, we can talk about his structural gimmicks, like the issue where you're supposed to read one page every hour. Uh, I didn't do that. Did you?

HB: Pssh. No. I like them, but I also completely ignore their instructions. Isn't that what you're supposed to do? i.e., be amused at the device and proceed in your own fashion?

GM: No, I think it's absolutely pivotal that everybody follow his directions with complete fidelity. Maybe we should go back and reread that issue one page an hour just to see what difference it makes.

HB: It would make the book last longer. Which wouldn't be bad. The only real problem with Kupperman is that I read this book in no time at all.

GM: Thankfully it's all highly rereadable.

Is there a funny comic renaissance going on right now? Kupperman, Onstad, and Gurewitch are all funnier than anything I remember reading in the '90's.

HB: It's like it's okay to chill out again. I just got R. Sikoryak's Masterpiece Comics in the mail yesterday (due to the awesome Drawn + Quarterly sale that's been going on), and I assume that's another example--it looks like it's going to be awesome. I do feel like more and more different kinds of comics are getting published, as sales continue to do pretty well, and that leads to funny books as well as to whatever else.

GM: Okay, Bagge was pretty funny, and some of Dorkin's stuff, but on a totally different level than the three dudes I mentioned. Maybe it's not that there's more comedy happening, but smarter and artier comedy? And yeah, maybe the medium's hit a point where sales and respect are big enough to let some humor through.

HB: Or that more comedy includes smarter and artier comedy. Maybe you can now make enough money off being a comics dude or dudette (although still, you know, basically nothing) not to have to be angry all the time?

GM: You still get angry when you're rich, just about different stuff. Some day Kupperman will make some totally hilarious strips bitching about taxes, welfare, and illegal aliens.

HB: I have no doubt that someday, when I'm a cranky old person listening to talk radio and hating on some Mexicans, I'd love those strips as much as I love these.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strange Tales #1

Strange Tales #1
by a kabillion writers and artists
Marvel 2009

Garrett Martin
: Comparing Strange Tales to DC's Wednesday Comics is as tempting as KFC's new Double Down sandwich. That's to say it's incredibly tempting. Both comics see a gaggle of acclaimed artists semi-unexpectedly working on some of the hoariest corporate properties around. Both are liberally doused with tasty portions of Paul Pope. Each one features great work alongside some pretty drastic misfires. Neither of them will sell anywhere close to whatever new piece of mentally deficient psuedo-political horseshit and/or zombified torture-porn tops the direct market sales charts this month. When you get down to it though they are two pretty different propositions. There's an almost straight-up inverse nostalgia-to-mockery ratio between the two. Neither are 100% to either extreme, but Wednesday Comics skews closer to loving tribute while Strange Tales mostly takes the piss (as Captain Britain would say). That makes Strange Tales a quicker, more enjoyable read, but also makes it feel less substantial, both physically and artistically. Is it wrong to immediately compare the two like this?

Hillary Brown: No, it's kind of what you have to do. That said, I found Strange Tales much more complete and, therefore, more satisfying. The fact
that only Peter Bagge's Hulk story ends on any kind of a cliffhanger makes this book more of a thing unto itself. Yes, it's uneven, and some pieces are too short, but Michael Kupperman doing Namor? Jason doing Spider-man? James Kochalka doing the Hulk? And, be still my beating heart, Dash Shaw? This book pushes my nerd buttons (which, as our readers may have gathered, are not unfriendly to superhero whatnot but light up far more readily for the indie stuff, despite your best efforts) way harder. This has nostalgia, but it is, as you point out, a very different kind. There's plenty of love here, but, yes, it's much more smirky, which I like. One of my formative comics experiences was reading a Peter Porker: The Amazing Spider-Ham comic (maybe in the back of one of the Spidey-MJ wedding specials, about which I remember far less), and this is totally on that level... mostly. There are indeed weaknesses, including Nick Bertozzi's MODOK piece. How you gonna make MODOK unfunny?

GM: Whoa, I loved the MODOK piece. It is funny, up until the end, which is surprisingly sad and touching. I don't think it's my favorite piece, but it's stuck with me longer than anything else. Before rereading it over the weekend the only stories I could remember were Pope's, Shaw's, and Bertozzi's. But yeah, Strange Tales is more immediately enjoyable, and Wednesday Comics (which I'm behind on but have been buying every week) provokes far more groaning and consternation, but overall the latter is more memorable. I love Kupperman and Nicholas Gurewitch, their strips in Strange Tales are better than almost everything in Wednesday Comics, but in my mind their Strange Tales stuff has already been subsumed by their overall body of work. It's just another hilariously absurd Kupperman strip, but with Namor, a dog, and a barrel instead of Twain and Einstein. Jason's Spider-Man is really funny, but less than a footnote to the guy's career, you know? Some Wednesday features are too reverent or serious (that Superman nonsense is the worst stuff I've read this year), but when you look at the two you can definitely tell which one's had more attention and care put into it. That wouldn't matter without quality work, but thankfully there's enough of that in both to make 'em each worth our whiles. But damn, you've got to admit those Victorian She-Hulk and anime Spider-Man strips stink Strange Tales up a bit.

HB: I so do not have to admit that. I think anime Spider-man is cute and Victorian She-Hulk is... well, it's kind of uneven. I guess I'm not crazy about that one. You're right that this is not a fabulous addition to anyone involved's career, but does it have to be? Isn't Strange Tales just a chance for a goof, for an artist/writer to play around with a brief and humorous idea? Whereas Wednesday Comics feels a little cramped by its space. It's as though those contributors wanted to do even bigger, more expansive ideas, and being limited to a page means the focus is way more on art than on story. Of course, I gave up after two issues, so what do I know? Attention and care are all very well and good, but there's something to be said for slapdash and funny, at least to me. As far as MODOK goes, I just think the layout is a damn mess, and I've read better MODOK stuff.

GM: The Wednesday comics that feel cramped are the bad ones, y'know? And the size is vital to the good ones. Compare Pope's Strange Adventure strip to his Inhumans piece in Strange Tales; both look amazing, but it's a lot easier to notice and admire all the tiny details when they're blown up to ungodly proportions. The newsprint even helps his muted color palette, too.

Anyway, yeah, enough with the faulty and unjustified comparisons. I'm sounding more negative about Strange Tales than I am. It's pretty damn great, but let's talk about those two strips I dissed. Yeah, the Spider-Man one looks adorable, especially the kindly old spider-man who offers Spider-Man a tasty treat at the end, but the bland "be yourself, don't try too hard to fit in" message makes it feel like a bad afternoon special, or something. And the premise isn't clever or funny, but just silly. I appreciate what Molly Crabapple was trying to do with the Victorian parody in her She-Hulk strip, but, again, the execution is less clever than the idea, and the art just left me cold.

Thankfully everything else here is far better. I'm glad to read some Johnny Ryan comics that don't make me feel like an asshole for laughing. His Punisher thing made me laugh harder than Gurewitch or Kupperman, which is a bit of a shock.

HB: Oh, I know what you mean with the Wednesday stuff. It's more that they're still only getting a page at a time, and there's only so much you can cover in a page. The tiny details are lovely, but do they advance the plot?

I think your points on anime Spidey and Victorian She-Hulk are both totally justified. The former has cute art, and the latter has a good premise, but neither capitalizes fully on the potential that's there. You're also right about Johnny Ryan. I think the Punisher strip takes a tiny bit long to get going (if I had to complain about anything), but it's funny and well-realized, and it ends well, which is the most important thing. I'll take a great ending over a great beginning that peters out pretty much any day. Are you looking forward to the next one of these? I certainly am.

GM: Definitely getting the next two. I wish more Dash Shaw Dr. Strange was coming, but then I kinda wish every good artist did more Dr. Strange. Who would you like to see in this book?

HB: Lucy Knisley, Laura Park (I'd like to see more Laura Park period!), Josh Cotter, Chris Ware (I'd like to see him get to be more humorous), Patrick Dean (wouldn't he do an awesome job?), the Hernandez Brothers.... who wouldn't I like to see in it?

GM: Yeah, Patrick Dean would be excellent. That guy should be far better known than he is. Brian Chippendale would be great, too. I'd love to see some daily newspaper strip guys like Richard Thompson of Cul de Sac, Mark Tutulli of Lio, and Pearls Before Swine's Stephen Pastis. Or even some of the classic MAD guys, like Jaffee and Aragones. They might be wholly owned subsidiaries of Time Warner, though.

Oh, this is probably mandatory: how does this compare to Bizarro Comics? Still haven't read that.

HB: Well... it's been a while since I have, and I suppose I should go pull it off the shelf. I think this maybe has a higher percentage of stuff that really clicks, but that's prettier. What mostly sticks with me from that is Evan Dorkin, of whom I'm not a huge fan. And I think (again, don't hold me to this) that the pieces are longer, and they should be short. So, I like this better because I just read it.

Stay tuned for guest appearances, perhaps some kind of an interview, and more. We're trying to rev this puppy up again. Also, if you're checking us out in Google Reader, click on over and take a peek at the new Colleen Coover-drawn logo up above.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


by Dash Shaw

Hillary Brown: So, even though I bought Bottomless Bellybutton fairly recently, my first experience with Dash Shaw was actually chapter 1 of Bodyworld, his webcomic that's due to be published as a book in the nearish future and was posted in serialized fashion. Let me say that it kind of blew my head off, which is not an experience I'm that used to having. Not since the Matrix pizza twirling performance in Pizza! The Movie has my brain been so thoroughly confused and delighted at the same time (which is not to denigrate Shaw's work by comparing it to a bunch of douchebags twirling pizza dough but rather to provide a comparable for the experience of addlement and amazement). So then I went and read Bottomless Bellybutton (which we should cover soon), and then I went back to Bodyworld, and I was still totally impressed. I'm not sure Shaw maintains that mind-reeling pace throughout the whole twelve chapters--this is a sizable thing--but he certainly does for quite a bit of it, which is notable enough. It's kind of like the Internet got put into a comic and then directly injected into your brain, and I guess what I mean by that is that he's got this way of jumping extremely quickly between different things (scenes, thoughts, characters) that is disorienting and, perhaps more accurate, reorienting. It's like clicking on link after link to see where they go and discovering the connections between this and that all over the place. (This is hard to describe.) Anyway, I find it exhilarating, and I think it really captures something webcomic-y, as opposed to book comic-y, especially in the last chapter, which has a massive scrolldown panel. It's also important for the themes of the book, which I guess you could summarize as loneliness versus sublimation of identity. So, am I hyping it too much?

Garrett Martin: No, not really. It is like a controlled Wikipedia trawl, popping off on what feels like tangents without losing sight of its goals. And yeah, when people talk about the internet's infinite canvas, BodyWorld should be exhibit A (or maybe B, after this amazing Drew Weing strip.) Thing is, I don't know "reoriented" BodyWorld leaves me. I remain thoroughly disoriented after three (partial) readings. That's the point, though, right, that it's impossible to really know other people, and even if something made it possible to completely share their thoughts and experiences, it'd still be impossible to make any sense of it?

HB: Yeah, that might be the point, and yet, it's also so easy for us to overlap. We have so much in common, with our fears and desires, our self-hatred and desire of obliteration, our need to rub our parts together and take whatever will get us out of our own skulls for a little while. I think you're right when you bring up Wikipedia, as well as that Weing strip (which I'd never seen before, despite being a big fan of his stuff), and there's something that's extremely pleasurable about that disorientation. I guess, although I've never been brave enough to take anything hallucinogenic, that it's probably analogous to what that experience can be like at the best of times--or extreme religious experience, for that matter. Both involve this sense of scale, of not being quite able to grasp the full hugeness and connectedness of everything while at the same time being able to put your finger on just enough of it to get a sense of it. It's not like thinking about infinity, for the most part. That's too big. It's more like being up on top of a really tall building. But it's also funny. Did you think it was funny?

GM: Yes. I chuckled. The humor's never forced or obvious, though. It's like David Lynch's humor, less overt than a natural part of the unusual atmosphere.

And both psychedelics and "extreme religious experience" involve not just that increased awareness, but the willful sacrifice of your own God-damned mind. I felt like I had to do that a bit to even begin to understand the drug trips in BodyWorld. I don't know if there's any better way to visualize what happens in those scenes, though. They required great attention to follow, but the more I focused on them the less visual sense they made. Is that intentional, or simply a result of attempting something that can't be done in static two-dimensional illustration?

HB: I think it's intentional. This "book" (and, obviously, to call it a book is kind of a stretch, although it's going to be one in April) is very into empathy not only in terms of the obvious content, but also in terms of the way it works on the reader, which is an unusual experience. The only thing I can think of, off-hand, to compare it to is Paradise Lost, at least the way Stanley Fish looks at it, in which it creates the same narrative in the reader's relationship with Satan that it does on the page with Adam and Eve's. Clever shit, yo.

GM: Too clever for me to write about. It's intimidating. Where's the punching? Where are the steroid guys complaining about how the punching isn't as simple as it used to be back in the good old days of punching? I'm way outside my comfort zone. Speaking of which, are you ready to go on Tyrese Gibson's Mayhem?

HB: Okay, there's not very much punching. But there is a little. And there's kind of a lot of sex. Shouldn't that keep the layman interested? I think it's the most original thing I've read in years, and it might be kind of important as far as, like, the future of comics..

GM: It's definitely important, no doubt. Could it be so idiosyncratic that any attempt to follow in its footsteps will feel too much like a rip-off? Maybe it could inspire major artists to do more web work, but then I think that's already happening and Shaw wasn't exactly the most famous of men when he started this. But yeah, there should be more comics like Body World, comics that hurt your mind through thinking.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

hello there!

This space would've been occupied by a post on Dash Shaw's BodyWorld, if I wasn't an idiot who didn't realize some chapters took up more than one webpage. We should have a conversation about that up in the next week. In the meantime you can go take a look at my review of Darwyn Cooke's The Hunter in today's Boston Herald.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wednesday Comics #1

Wednesday Comics #1
by too many people
DC Comics 2009

Garrett Martin: Great, more opinions about this thing. These opinions are the best, though, because they're ours.

Maybe I need to get more serious about discrimination. The format and concept of Wednesday Comics are so appealing that the stories would have to be the most unfortunate things ever (like yogurt commercial bad) to turn me off. I actively enjoy the feel of newsprint, I love the massive size of the Ignatz line and classic comic reprints, and the line-up of features contains some of my favorite characters and concepts. So, again, it'd have to be Tony La Russa awful to let me down.

Wednesday Comics #1 is far from the best thing ever, but it's still pretty damn good. There's at least one bummer (sorry to join the dogpile, Teen Titans), but every other strip is at least acceptable. Even the Wonder Woman comic, which is just horrible from a storytelling perspective, is salvaged by nice art that fully exploits the massive amount of space. The natural limitations of serializing a story like this make it impossible to authoritatively say if something is awesome or not, but most of the fifteen features start off nicely in this first issue. Maybe it gets a bit repetitive to read set-up after set-up, but that shouldn't be a problem as the series progresses.

But before we get into specific strips, what were your immediate impressions?

Hillary Brown: Well, I like reading it in public, which is what I ended up doing, as I picked it up downtown then ran some errands on the bus. It made me think about how it's a smart piece with multiple positives for DC. The format is nostalgic, of course, which is why nerds will buy it, but it also serves as a PR piece for the company. People will go, "Hey, what's that dude reading that's so big and colorful and looks like the funny pages?" and then they too might go out and buy it. So I appreciate it as well as kind of like it. I'm not that big on newsprint, though. I'm a philistine who would prefer to read the paper online, but I do like print books over electronic versions. I just don't like the way newsprint rubs off and makes my fingertips feel dry.

But enough about that weirdness. I think I really like about half the strips/am curious where they're going, which is probably good enough, and there's a lot of good art, especially Joe Quinones's work on Green Lantern, which is just lovely. I'm more into the strips that I'm already more familiar with, which isn't shocking. I'm not sure anything completely wowed me, but I want to know where Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman (although I think the layout of that one is a mess; credit for innovation, but minuses for just, like, too much stuff on the page), and Teen Titans (yes, the art is terrible, but it's one of the few doing something different with its narrative, even if it is a bit contemporary for the format) are going. I appreciate some of the others, although they're more of a goof than a continuous story of any kind, and I've read a little bit of the stuff they're imitating, but they're not why I'm coming back, you know? Also: hand-lettering on some of them! Yay. So, what are people saying? I haven't read a thing about it yet.

GM: See, I'm sitting here trying to pick out the one I'm most interested in after the first week, and I realize that there are about eleven I'm equally excited about. I loved the blatant Prince Valiantness of the Kamandi strip, even though there's almost nothing to that story just yet. I agree on Quinones' art, and Busiek is one of the very few writers I trust to capture the spirit and style of Cooke's New Frontier without ruining everything. Paul Pope's art looks intrinsically alien when compared to standard superhero stuff, and makes perfect sense in a Flash Gordon-style Adam Strange strip. Mike Allred's mid-century style is probably as good a replacement for Ramona Fradon as you can find, and hopefully Gaiman can do a fine Bob Haney on Metamorpho. I could go on like this, but I don't want to put our readers to sleep, even though it would boost the average visit length on our sitemeter stats. Let me say real fast, though, that splitting The Flash page into two strips was a fantastic idea, and I hope they make the Iris West romance-style comic a weekly feature.

One strip that didn't grab me: Superman. Lee Bermejo's art is impressively realistic, especially at this size, but I don't think it's a good match for Superman. If any feature here called out for traditional superhero art, it's this one. Wayne Boring and Curt Swan are both gone, of course, and I imagine age makes it hard for many old-timers to work (although damn Joe Kubert's Sgt. Rock still looks fantastic), but I'm sure they could've found an artist that better united comic's most venerable character with this intentionally antiquated format. It doesn't feel like a comic strip as much as a single page of a comic book blown up really large.

Anyway, the response has been largely positive among those who've actually read it. I know the price is a big issue for many, but I don't regret shelling out four bucks for something this fun. That price is the biggest, most common complaint. Overlall I think response is splitting down standard lines; those who like comics for fun or appreciation of the artform are receptive, those who buy them 'cuz they've been following Wish Fulfillment Man for thirty years and care about what happens next over quality don't care. And then you've got fanboy toads who will automatically hate anything DC or Dan Didio does.

HB: Yeah, I guess that's a fair complaint about the Superman strip. It does feel more contemporary in its artwork, probably because of the amount of shading and depth and all that, which makes it feel more computery and photo-referenced. I can see that. But it's also got a nice cliffhanger set up right away, which is a good way to keep some people (me) reading, and (and this is weird) I like the facial expressions. Maybe I just have a boner for Superman.

I totally concur on splitting up the Flash strip, and it's one I'll remember for that reason, whereas the Sgt. Rock piece is really just notable for its pretty punching art. I guess, overall, it really feels like the old Sunday papers, where there was plenty of stuff I'd skim or skip to get to the things I actually wanted to read. Is $4 a little much for that? I guess, but it doesn't feel crazy. I wonder what Eddie Argos thinks. Have you heard the newish Art Brut song "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes"?

GM: Never heard it. It's good? I've read a few of his comic reviews. Seems like he has solid taste.

A lot of folks think DC missed a good opportunity here by not getting this series into book stores and newsstands. Do you think a complete comic novice would be able to get into Wednesday Comics? I think it'd be great at getting lapsed fans back into the habit, like the guy who bought 100 or so comics from me at our yard sale this past weekend. I should've given that guy my copy of this, now that I think about it.

Also, did you like #1 enough to pick up the second issue tomorrow?

HB: He does have good taste, and it's a very entertaining song (he's in favor of both things).

I'd like to think Wednesday Comics serves as a good way in for novices, but my guess is that it's not. Even to me, a great deal of the enjoyment comes from the nostalgic aspects and what we already know about the characters, but, yes, I think it could hook the lapsed. Ideally, they would have given away the first issue and started charging $4 after that, but that might not have been economically feasible. I do think I'll go get issue #2, but a) it may have to wait until Thursday, as my local shop doesn't really start unboxing until Wednesday afternoon, and b) I have another errand to run over there anyway. I'm not sure what I'll do after that.

GM: They did run the Superman strip in USA Today last week, and will be putting the rest of that series up on the USA Today website. Character aside, I don't think that's the series most likely to pull people in, though. Not traditional enough. It seems like two-thirds of this issue was already on-line as official previews well before its release, but, y'know, on comic fansites, where the only people who'd see it have known about the series for months now.

Anyway! Hopefully the quality remains high, with sales to match. I'd like to see this done every year with different creators. Maybe one day Chris Thorn could write that Blue Beetle / Booster Gold epic he's been sitting on for years.