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Film, Comic Books
Just for fun this week. A book survey, one of those blogger-meme things people send around, came to me and I thought it’d be entertaining to apply it to comics and see if it still worked. Feel free to play along at home, or below in the comments, if you’ve a mind to.
Favorite childhood book?
Tough one. Of course regular readers will know that my childhood was all about the DC 80-page giants, back in the late 60s, early 70s. But ‘favorite’ implies the idea of rereading, and the one that I literally read to tatters was this one, I think. Marvel Tales #32, from 1972.
In addition to the Rhino story up front– which was something that the neighbor kids and I would actually act out in a sort of improvised way, Spider-man vs. the Rhino, but depending on how many kids were around, sometimes Batman or Timber Wolf or Space Ghost would lend a hand (continuity was not really our issue)– there was also an Iron Man story, “Victory!” reprinting Tales of Suspense #83…
And– this story was already on my mind, as it happens, since we went and saw The Amazing Spider-Man movie last week– the final reprint was my first encounter with the tragic Dr. Curt Connors, Amazing Spider-Man #44, “Where Crawls The LIZARD!” This was the first part of a two-parter that I RANSACKED stores to find the second part of. I did eventually get it but Marvel Tales was a bi-monthly back then and that was a long two months.
Incidentally, this particular Lizard story pretty much forms the spine of the movie’s plot, with some added Spidey and Lizard origin stuff up front and some Captain Stacy bits at the end.
That Lizard two-parter is one of my favorite Spider-Man stories of all time, so I kind of was hard-wired to love the movie no matter what. But we did think it was pretty good.
What are you reading right now?
Agents of Atlas.
Picked up the two hardcovers remaindered for DIRT CHEAP. It’s good stuff, but I guess everyone already knew that. Well, except for those folks Marvel hoped would buy the hardcover. The way Marvel continues to remainder those books down to pennies just a couple of months after they first appear makes me wonder if their hardcover program is working for them at all. Still, great news for guys like me who are willing to wait.
In prose, I just finished this one….
Ann Pryor at McGraw-Hill sent this over and I have been sort of simultaneously appalled and fascinated.
By the subject matter, that is, not the book– the book is great. COMIC-CON AND THE BUSINESS OF POP CULTURE: What the World’s Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us about the Future of Entertainment (McGraw-Hill Professional; HC, $27.00; June, 2012), by Rob Salkowitz is exactly what it sounds like– an examination of how and why the San Diego show has gotten to be so HUUUUGE over the last decade and a half. Now, there have been about a zillion bloggers and comics pundits who’ve written about this– the pros and the cons, what it means for comics, and so on and so on. But the interesting part about this one is that this is a business book, written from a business perspective. Mr. Salkowitz isn’t another old-time comics guy bemoaning how Twilight fans or Hollywood is ruining Comic-Con for everyone, nor is he a gung-ho retailer or publisher telling all the old-timers to get over it. He’s a smart business guy whose business is media (he’s got a pretty impressive list of credentials, including co-founding his own media firm and teaching digital media at the University of Washington right here in Seattle) and his book is a sensible look at the phenomenon San Diego has become and the lessons business professionals can learn from it. The fact that Salkowitz is also a comics guy who’s been attending the San Diego Con for years means he can speak knowledgeably about the show itself, which is a treat considering how often ‘outside’ journalists coming from other fields spend their whole time obsessing over people in costume, or just plain don’t check facts and get things spectacularly wrong. That’s not a problem here.
I should add that the book is well-researched and uses good numbers, but the narrative is built around Mr. Salkowitz’s own convention experiences and is often anecdotal and funny, it’s not a textbook. Should be out by now, and if you have an interest in comics as a business or even just in “the future of comics” (and Lord knows we talk about that enough around here) — it’s interesting reading. Recommended.
What books do you have on request at the library?
I live in a comics library, by design. It was my dream since I was a kid to have whatever comic I wanted, RIGHT HERE.
And now I mostly do. I was fortunate to marry a woman that indulges me on this.
Still kind of working on it– we need more shelves– but it’s mostly set up how I want it to be.
Anyway. I think the question is trying to get at the idea of “What book are you going to read next?” For comics that is probably going to be one of these.
Either the Crime Does Not Pay collection or the first Ditko omnibus. And I have a bunch of newly-acquired Essentials and Showcases to get through. Leaning towards the Ditko. There’s a bunch of review stuff too; I am starting to feel guilty about that, I might just have a designated Reading Day this weekend and power through the lot of it.
Bad book habit?
Apart from buying in bulk and letting them pile up? For comics it would be the reluctance to drop a book I KNOW is bad, meaning one that I won’t enjoy.
I have chided fans for doing this, I know it sends completely the wrong message to publishers… but I still fall into that collector OCD trap sometimes. I knew Savage Hawkman was a dog pretty much right out of the gate, but I hung in there with it for several achingly bad issues and that’s before Rob Liefeld showed up. I don’t know why DC keeps picking at the Hawkman concept. They had a perfectly workable setup coming off Brightest Day.
What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Another library question. Again, building our own here, really. Though I was pleased to see one of my students come in with comics from the Madison school library a month or two ago. Forget what it was. One of the Marvel hardcovers. Probably Spider-Man.
Do you have an e-reader?
I do. A Nook Simple Touch. I don’t use it for comics, but oh my God it’s amazing how many terrific pulp things I can get on it for free or dirt cheap.
Will Murray’s new Doc Savage books are really too spendy for me in paperback, but for my Nook they’re pocket change. Not to mention all the stuff that’s fallen into public domain posted on various sites by thoughtful fans, and small-press outfits like Airship27 offering new pulp hero adventures as e-books for very reasonable prices. E-readers have brought a pulp renaissance.
Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
Usually it’s one at a time, but I’ve discovered I enjoy my Essentials and Showcases more if I rotate through them in smaller chunks, two or three at a time.
Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Well, I read more review things now, and sometimes my colleagues here will recommend something I probably wouldn’t have bothered with on my own.
Least favorite book you read this year (so far)?
Hmp. Usually I try to avoid books I think will be bad, but I do guess wrong now and then. Already mentioned Hawkman… actually I’ve already mentioned quite a few disappointments with DC and the new 52 in the last year’s worth of columns, so let’s not rehash it all again.
Most of my comics are coming in here as reprint collections, these days. Of those, I was really expecting to like Englehart and Milgrom’s West Coast Avengers stuff, which I’d missed the first time around, and I just didn’t.
Those were a struggle to even finish. Didn’t like the art, didn’t like the story… they’re perfectly okay superhero comics, I couldn’t point to anything specifically wrong with them (well, okay, Mockingbird calling Hawkeye “Hawky-poo” was enormously annoying) but they just did not work for me at all.
Favorite book you’ve read this year?
That’s another tough one. Um… probably the new comic I enjoyed the most would be either Showcase Presents the Spectre or Showcase Presents The Losers. I’d never seen a lot of those stories– well, except for the Aparo Spectre stuff, but even that felt kind of new, because I think it worked better in black-and-white. Anyway, they were new to me but they were from ‘my’ era, so it was a double score.
And all the Dynamite licensed books continue to be a treat… the bionic books, The Spider, The Shadow, Lone Ranger, and so on.
How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Not often. When I do it’s because someone’s given something to me, either as a gift or to review.
What is your reading comfort zone?
I’m not terribly picky about genre.
It’s just got to have some swash in its buckle. And above all, it’s got to be able to bring that vital FUCK YEAH! moment.
Can you read on the bus? What bus?
Good Lord, yes. I read on the bus for years and years, it’s where I did most of my reading.
It’s only since I started having to use the car more that I fell behind… for the longest time I couldn’t figure out how I had such a big pile of unread books all of a sudden. I finally realized it’s because I wasn’t getting my two-hour bus commute reading time every weekday.
Favorite place to read?
These days? In bed. Used to be, though, on New Comics Day I’d pick up my books at Time Travelers on Second Avenue downtown and then go across the street to Lucky’s Olympic for lunch, and read through the pile while I ate the best burger you could get in downtown Seattle. Both of those places are gone now, sadly.
What is your policy on book lending?
That it is gift-giving. So I rarely do it any more unless it’s a book that’s easily and cheaply replaced, or that I don’t care about that much. Because for some reason the people I know are REALLY BAD about giving them back.
Sometimes I’ll take trade collections of things to Cartooning Class for kids to read who finish early or something, especially if it’s something we’ve been talking about. But the books don’t leave the classroom. I don’t let anyone read single issues except Julie; I don’t think that counts, though, they’re hers as much as mine.
Do you ever dog-ear books?
HELL no. For someone who makes a hobby of antiquarian bookscouting that’s like committing a sin.
Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
Not even with text books?
No. Julie does it with her college books and it skeeves me out just to watch her.
What is your favorite language to read in?
Well, English, by default. It’s been so long since high school French I doubt I could even manage to read newspaper headlines in that language any more.
What makes you love a book?
Now that’s a good question. There are lots of comics I admire; there are many, many more that I just like. But love, meaning the ones I can go back to over and over… that is a really short list.
I never get tired of Archie Goodwin’s Detective.
Or the Gerber/Buscema Defenders.
There are a few others. But the question of why those are the ones that I keep coming back to… I dunno. It’s hard to codify. I guess part of the common factor is that those books hit me at just the right time. I was just barely ready for Manhunter when I found it, for example, it felt like the next step up.
Same with the way Steve Gerber wrote superheroes. So I think the ‘love’ part is partly fueled by nostalgia– it would be something I enjoyed so much finding it the first time that I can still feel the echo of that joyous discovery on the reread. And then the rest of it is the pure craft level, I see other things and can find new appreciation for the work today.
What will inspire you to recommend a book?
Oh, probably the confluence of the right reader with the right book. For example, I see my students in Young Authors and I just know that Phung would really like Lloyd Alexander, or that Troy would like Norvell Page and Mickey Spillane, and because I know about those authors and they generally don’t, I bring them to their attention.
As for recommending comics, I do that in this space every week, pretty much. What prompts me to move something to the recommend-in-the-column list… well, there are several reasons. The first one is professional– it’s usually because I don’t see anyone else writing about it much and I try to keep things at least moderately interesting and varied here. I mean, really, you don’t need me to do a lengthy piece on Mark Waid’s Daredevil or DC’s Justice League Dark or anything like that, lots of people talk about those books. Even oddball books like Atomic Robo get plenty of press. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only regular writer at CBR who can talk knowledgeably about, say, the sword-and-sorcery boom in paperback series fiction, and the failed effort to ignite a similar one in newsstand comics, during the early 1970s.
The other one is personal; I like writing about books I enjoy, it’s fun. The historical-overview, reminiscence columns generally get the fewest comments of any I’ve done in the last seven years, but they are far and away my favorites to write.
Well, adventure fiction, like I said above. But in comics I’d refine that to the non-powered and low-powered folks, mostly.
Batman, the Question, Tarzan, The Phantom, Daredevil, that crowd. Street-level guys.
Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?
I don’t know if you’d call it a genre. But for someone who writes as much about comics and comics history as I do, there is just a sad, sad lack of familiarity with the great newspaper strips. Everything from Prince Valiant to the Phantom to Johnny Hazard. I can tell you a lot ABOUT those strips but I’ve rarely been able to actually read any of them myself. Just a couple of Buck Rogers and Dick Tracy collections, that’s it. And now so much of the stuff is available again in beautiful archival hardcovers, too.
In comics form? Tom Beland’s True Story Swear To God. I miss that book.
Julie loves it too. I gather Mr. Beland’s health problems have kept him from doing it the last few years, which is a damn shame. We wish him well.
Have you ever read a self-help book?
No… interesting to think what a comics version would look like.
ARE there comics cookbooks? It sounds dumb at first until you realize how many other instructional manual-type things use comics. I’d think there would be.
And yes, it turns out that there are. Quite a few, in fact. But I’ve never read any.
Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
In comics? Probably Womanthology, just for the passion and the craft everyone brought to it.
It’s kind of a shame that it’s necessary to still make the point but on the other hand it was a treat to see so much new talent.
Favorite reading snack?
It’s a cliche, but it’s true– soft drink and chips.
Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
There haven’t been any where the actual experience was ruined. There have been quite a few where I almost didn’t have the experience because hype irritated me to the point where I didn’t want to pick up a book at all. For both Brubaker’s Captain America and the Fraction/Brubaker Iron Fist, for example, I was very late to the party because people talked about those books like they were going to save superhero comics. And they just weren’t that good. They were well-crafted, well-thought-out superhero adventure stories with maybe a little something to say and some great art.
Once upon a time, that was the NORM at Marvel. That was the BASELINE. “Well-crafted” was supposed to be the launch pad. Comics fans are so used to the same old crap that any time someone comes in trying a little harder we praise it to the skies. Superhero fans might be the least demanding audience ever in that we will often continue to support bad work we shouldn’t, out of habit or some misguided character loyalty. (I don’t except myself– I know better but sometimes I catch myself doing it.) So good stuff getting overpraised is part of that. The idea is everyone should be doing good work in the first place and then GREAT work gets hyped.
How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Well, the odds are fifty-fifty, really. Depends which critic. Some I agree with, some I disagree with but still enjoy reading, and some are frankly morons with an internet connection and an attitude. (No, I’m not going to name names.)
How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I hate doing it. So much so that I avoid it whenever possible.
Look, this is work. Writing takes a lot out of me– it takes a lot out of anyone, no matter how easily the words might come on a given day. And that’s nothing compared to what it takes to actually publish something. Having worked in publishing myself, I know what it takes to get pages written, drawn, lettered, inked, colored, put on a press, bound, and distributed. It’s Herculean and it involves a bunch of different people even for the tiniest indie outfit. So I respect that with others even if I think the finished product may be awful.
What’s more, I don’t like writing bad reviews. It’s not entertaining or fun, there’s no schadenfreude involved. No matter how much the internet loves it, it just makes me sad. I could have triple-digit comment threads every time out, if my starting point was “what stupid comics thing I saw this week.”
So my compromise is usually just to not review bad stuff at all, especially for tiny small-press folks. That feels to me like kicking a cripple. There are those that say, “Well, it’s your job to warn people about bad stuff,” but I disagree. I think my job is to tell you about good stuff and why I think you might enjoy it. Trust me, there are about a million angry comics fans on the net slavering to tell you about the Bad Stuff. It’s not like you’re going to miss hearing about it.
There is the occasional exception, though, and we’ll get to that a few questions down.
If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
Japanese. I am certain we in the States are missing a lot of good manga stuff that doesn’t make it over here.
Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? To completion?
Can’t think of one. Even when I was a kid I always felt like comics were ‘mine,’ there was simply no way I wouldn’t feel comfortable with one.
Favorite fictional villain?
I think it would have to be Harvey Dent. Two-Face.
Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Well, we vacation by going out on the road to acquire books. So that’s never a problem. I do bring the one I’m in the middle of but that gets dispensed with the first night.
The longest I’ve gone without reading.
A day. Maybe fourteen hours. (That is to say, reading FOR FUN. My job involves a lot of reading. And proofreading.)
Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Again cliche, but nothing hit my inner comics nerd with as much sheer joy as The Avengers. Runners-up would be Batman Begins and The Amazing Spider-Man. Honorable mentions to Stardust, Red and The Losers.
Most disappointing film adaptation?
I grew up in the 1970s, so there’s a rich collection of losers to choose from.
Hard for one to get every single thing about a character more wrong than the two Reb Brown Captain America movies did, though.
Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
The Walking Dead. Part of it’s that the hype puts me off, and part of it is that zombies bore me to tears. We don’t even watch the TV show.
Name a book that made you angry.
I don’t see any need to go through the list, but I will say that those are the times I will put a bad review in print. The comic books that make me angry are the ones that show contempt for the reader.
In comics it usually plays out like this. I feel very strongly that there is a certain kind of cynical exploitation comic that has appeared in recent years, almost always a superhero book from Marvel or DC, that exists for no other reason than to part readers from their money, a comic that panders to all known fannish OCD tendencies just for the sake of a cash grab.
Well, duh, the defense goes. Of course all comics are commercial and reaching for a wide audience. And yes, that’s a given. Even the most underground, indie creators out there want their books to make money and to be read. I get it.
But some comics exist solely just to ride some kind of wave that someone in the accounting department has noticed is making money. Sometimes I feel compelled to explain why I think a particular case is extra-contemptible, and it’s always out of anger.
Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
All of it! Are you kidding? Consciously or unconsciously, my whole life has been aimed at getting to a place where I could read whatever I liked. I even managed to get a job where I get paid to wallow in the stuff. My days are filled with books and comics. I am living the reader’s dream.
No guilt here. Maybe a little smugness, and a wish that I could somehow share the home library with younger me. Because thirteen-year-old Greg would have thought it was paradise.
And there you go. See you next week.
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