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An Upbeat List for a Crabby Saturday

There’s something that happens with me, every so often. Judging from what I see around the blogosphere and on various social media sites, this happens to lots of other comics people too… fans and pros alike.

Burnout.

Getting to that place where the bad news (like a whole bunch of people you admire dying in a five-day period) and bad decisions (like realizing a book you used to love has soured on you and you’ve wasted months waiting for it to somehow get better) and bad fan behavior (like hearing about jerk guys bugging costumed girls at a convention. Harassing female cosplayers? Seriously? Like comic book guys don’t have a bad ENOUGH reputation among women already?)…anyway, I’m talking about those times when all that stupid stuff backs up on you to where you just want to wash your hands of the entire damn hobby and go hang out in an arts community that’s not, y’know, in some kind of insane death spiral.

When it happens to me, usually it comes of spending too much time on the internet, and often it’s aggravated by spending too much time thinking about various dumb things Marvel and DC are doing. There’s always a free-floating cloud of Comics Nerd Rage out there to tap into, and it can be difficult sometimes to remember why I got into this stuff in the first place.

A great many comics fans, I’ve noticed, seem to really enjoy being angry. I used to see a lot of it when I was a message board admin here at CBR, and even here on the blog– which is generally much more civilized than most message-board communities– but even here, every once in a while, the comment section catches fire. If I ever want to take the comments here into triple digits, I can write about how incredibly stupid Marvel or DC is being about something and watch the place get swarmed with fans who’ve apparently just been waiting for someone to open the complaint department. (Or alternatively, to yell at me because I clearly just hate comics.)

But, you know, I really don’t hate comics. I just forget sometimes why I love them.

And because the last couple of weeks have been kind of depressing, here’s a list of things that never fail to cheer me up and remind me why I still do, in fact, love comics… and probably always will.

*

The Small-Press Renaissance. It used to be almost impossible to get your weird little indie comic in front of an audience. It got pretty scary for the non-superhero comics people there in the eighties, during the slow death of the head shops, which was where you usually went to get underground comics and indie books and ‘zines. The emerging comics specialty-shop community didn’t seem to have any interest in anything that wasn’t spandex.

But today we have a wonderful, sprawling, small-press community with ‘zines and webcomics and publishers that do all their business over the internet, or at shows. I have a houseful of cool comics that I bought directly from the creator, either online or at some indie con like Short Run or APE.

Hell, I have stuff here from former cartooning students of mine that publish their work that way. They’re doing ‘zines, they’re on DeviantArt, they have webcomics…. the lack of traditional publishing options isn’t even a speed bump for them. Just because superhero comics are getting more and more self-referential and insular doesn’t mean that comics as a whole are in trouble. They’re doing great.

*

Collected editions. When I was a kid, if I wanted to get caught up on the history of a character, pickings were pretty slim. DC had digests. Marvel had paperbacks. There were a couple of hardcovers at the library. And that was it.

When I got to high school Stan Lee had started writing his Origins books, and those were better. But we only got one a year.

Eventually, Marvel did a few trade paperback “greatest-hits” collections from Fireside Books, following up Stan’s Origins series.

Those were a little better– it was nice to have the stuff in a real paperback book, but it was very hit-and-miss as to what would be included. There were a couple of times where there’d be just part of a story, with no concluding chapter. The idea of putting a whole RUN of stories, a complete arc, between two covers wasn’t really happening anywhere.

I have VIVID memories of the first time I saw a complete storyline collected in a big trade paperback. It starred the Claremont and Byrne X-Men, a trade paperback reprinting the “Phoenix Saga.” With a great cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.

I remember seeing this book at the old Looking Glass Books in Portland, down on Taylor Avenue by the Greyhound station, and instantly canceling the rest of my afternoon to buy it and read it. That was in 1984. A year or so later, we got The Power of Iron Man, again with an amazing Sienkiewicz cover. (You probably know it as the “Demon in a Bottle” collection.)

To those of you that came to comics in the specialty-shop era, you really have no idea how amazing and awesome it was to have the whole story right there between two covers. In the newsstand days, it was work to get a whole multipart story. Getting it all at once, in a convenient paperback like this– it was totally worth a staggering sum like $6.95.

That was the real beginning, but it was a slow start. It would be another decade before trade paperback collections, let along hardcovers, would be routine.

But today…. well, anytime I start to feel grumpy about the state of superhero comics, all I have to do is spin around in my office chair and see this.

That’s part of one wall of books. There are three more walls like that in this room, not to mention the freestanding island of bookshelves. All full of books reprinting stories from any era of comics I ever cared about. The Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, modern, whatever. Not just Marvel and DC, either. Gold Key Tarzan. Charlton Phantom. Not to mention all the great stuff I missed the first time around like Warren’s Blazing Combat.

If I’m not crazy about the current state of superhero comics, what the hell does it even matter? I have pretty much every comic I ever wanted collected in a nice convenient book here in my office library.

Hell, just looking at it right now is making me smile. My only regret is that I’m not able to travel back in time and tell eleven-year-old me that when he’s grown up, he’ll be living in his dream comics library, where even the weird stuff like the Super-Sons and Iron Fist and the Conan newspaper strip are in books, complete, waiting on a shelf any time he feels like reading them.

*

Online back issues. In those rare cases where something isn’t slated for a book collection, I’m a couple of mouse clicks away from finding and purchasing the original comics.

I don’t do this much any more, because after a certain point it got too expensive. But I did manage to score a great many of the black-and-white Marvel magazines I used to love so much, including the entire Sons of the Tiger-White Tiger epic I only caught tantalizing glimpses of in my youth… a chapter here, a chapter there. It’s absurdly satisfying to have it all here.

*

The movies are better. When I was a kid, the Captain America and Spider-Man movies looked like this.

Now they look like this.

Even the BAD ones are good, comparatively speaking. People who bitch about the Ben Affleck Daredevil clearly never saw the Rex Smith one.

It’s a utopia compared to what it used to be. Believe me. The Rex Smith DD alone should settle it. Case closed.

*

The cartoons are better. When I was a kid, superhero cartoons looked like this.

Today, they look like this.

And you don’t have to wait for that four hour block of time on Saturday morning to watch cartoons, either. You can watch any of them, any time, and pretty much anywhere, at this point.

In a world where I can reach up to the DVD shelf and watch an entire season’s worth of the new animated Avengers any-damn-time I feel like it, and remembering what a wasteland the adventure cartoon landscape used to be, well, I never can stay depressed for long.

*

Sometimes even the big publishers surprise you. As jaded and crabby as an old man like me is capable of getting, every so often I’m still stumbling across something cool from Marvel or DC that puts that same kid’s fanboy grin on my face. Maybe it’s something like the news of Batman ’66

Or maybe the arrival of a terrific little new trade collection of Avengers Academy, when I thought there weren’t any more coming.

And though it was part of a big crossover, I didn’t even need to read A vs. X to understand it, it was completely self-contained. Little things like that can still make me feel like New Comics Day is something worth getting excited about, even after all these years.

The fact that Marvel and DC are still willing to do oddball things like that give me hope that their editorial policy isn’t as coldly cynical and manipulative as I sometimes think it is.

*

The comics community. This is often a difficult one for me to remember as a positive, especially when fans are doing something really stupid. Or when pros are, for that matter.

But comics have also brought some truly extraordinary people into my life, both fans and pros, including folks Julie and I have come to consider family. It’s reached the point where the Emerald City show here isn’t even a comics event any more for us… it’s our Christmas, it’s when our tribe gathers. The comics part is incidental.

Moreover, I’ve gotten to meet or correspond with an amazing number of my childhood heroes… writers and artists whose work inspired me, that literally changed my life for the better. I was trying to explain this to my wife the other night; I was talking about Carmine Infantino, telling her the story I wrote up last week. That segued into just reminiscing about my San Diego experiences in general, back when I was just one of the CBR stringers and there was only one laptop between the four of us. “I remember this like it was yesterday,” I told Julie. “It was the 2001 Eisners, CBR had a table, and I’m there with Jonah and Jim MacQuarrie and Augie and Beau and Arune, and I looked at Jim and I said, ‘I’m sitting here at the goddamn Eisners, thirty feet from Ramona Fradon and Gene Colan and Stan Lee. This is crazy.’ And Jim looks back at me with this manic grin and says ‘I KNOW RIGHT?!!?’ And we’re both just grinning like idiots. Like we’re both ten years old again.”

I’ve had a lot of moments like that, over the last ten years. If I’m honest with myself, no matter how grumpy I might be feeling about The State Of The Comics Industry! on any given day, when you get right down to it… this community is my home. It’s family. Sure, it may be a damaged, dysfunctional family with a history of mental problems, and Lord knows we all try to ignore the weirder cousins, but it’s still my family and I’m still glad to be a part of it.

*

And when all else fails…

Kamandi.

Two giant volumes. In hardcover. Always awesome. Always makes me smile.

*

So there you go. That’s my list. Your mileage may vary, but those are the reasons I hang around. Frankly, just writing all that out cheered me up… and I needed it after the last couple of weeks we’ve had.

See you next week.

24 Comments

Thanks for a great column!!
Always nice to here some sincere positivity.
Cheers

Honestly, if it wasn’t for the present day animated universes, I would have checked out completely a long time ago (and it’s an utter crime that both Avengers and Young Justice got canceled; even if you watched and didn’t care for some elements of either, they both featured some of the best storytelling and characterization we’ve seen yet in the animated universes). Also, that the animated universes get the idea of “meaningful death” in relationship to character development/motivation (see Dan Turpin’s death leading to a multiple show Superman/Darkseid feud as the main exhibit there) and the actual books seem to swing and miss so often in that regard still is puzzling.

Though while I get that the cartoons of the past are dated in ways that make them ridiculously unwatchable at times, they’ve still had an impact. Would anyone have guessed that a 13 episode Superfriends run would lead to the Legion of Doom or some of the other characters being fondly remembered so many years later? It wasn’t Shakespeare, but the influence is still felt (including this season in YJ with the homage/update to Samurai, El Dorado, and Apache Chief; Justice League did one as well towards the end of its run).

The Original Jimmy

April 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm

This post pretty much sums up my exact thinking about my own role and place in the comics industry after 38 years. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve decided that enough is enough when it comes to the current comics industry, and that it’s time to leave it for others to enjoy. It’s time for me to fully appreciate my own back catalog that looks like it rivals your own. I still enjoy reading a lot of tradepaperbacks from the library ( who would have thought I’d enjoy reading Red Hulk – but it’s got the REAL Machine Man appearing! ) but my financial investment in the current era is coming to an end. Except for Captain America. I can’t give up on that character after 38 years.
I still think that this era, with Avengers, Dark Knight, and Man of Steel movies, and Avengers and Batman cartoons, makes it the most enjoyable era ever, but it also creates a fan that comes to expect and DEMAND everything, but not appreciate just how fucking amazing that we have ANY Spider-Man up on the screen in a multi-million dollar film. And Thor. I still remember how jazzed I felt seeing Thor in The Incredible Hulk Returns TV movie. Now he has a sequel! How amazing is that?!?
Appreciate the genre more, complain about it less, and use it as a tool for bringing each of us together in a positive manner.

Nice column–you’re like the opposite of Jay Sherman (and he’s a cartoon film critic!).

I don’t really buy any current comics mostly ’cause I can’t afford them. I also don’t really feel the urge to keep up, either, though. I’ll still reach for some collections, however. It’s hard to stay away completely.

The fact that I can flip on Netflix and see any of several superhero cartoons or movies is just plain great. Seriously, they just added Justice League and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I can’t stop watching.

I was going to say that I think there’s another Avengers Academy trade coming, but I’m not sure. Did you get the Final Exams one?

Anyway, this is a great column about how good we have it with comics, and it’s a good reminder that not everything sucks. Yay!

Your first two points really resonate with me; I may see news of some new, pretty silly thing Marvel or DC are doing and say “sheesh,” but that’s about as far as it goes (I never spend much time stressing about it, much less vent on message boards or blog comment threads). There’s just so many readily available alternatives to what the big 2 are putting out, and since I’m currently living in Europe (where fans of American spandex are just a subset), I can see that comics in general are doing quite well.
As for collected editions – heaven for me. And thanks to secondary markets, it’s often quite easy to find perfectly good used copies, or even remaindered new books, sometimes for pennies on the dollar.

Oz the Malefic

April 14, 2013 at 1:33 am

Excellent column :)

Nice column. We do have it pretty good today. I’m from the newstand era where it was tough to get everything without figuring out the patterns of the local stores where comics were sold. Then I had to bike to those stores on tuesday to see what was out. Today I have a multitude of options to get material and don’t have to leave the house. One thing I started doing to ease the dissatisfaction I sometimes feel about the industry is I limit my time and reading at sites. (No longer look at previews or look at the upcoming releases for single issues. I look at the trades to see what is being reprinted but skim over the specifics of the story. ) Occassionally I get sucked in to a current news story or controversy but since a lot of stuff happens to books or creators I don’t follow, I ignore it. Works for me and I better appreciate the industry and still get surprised. Remember when the only only idea of upcoming books we had were the house ads, Marvel Checklist and Direct Currents? (or the occassional coming attraction on a letter page.) Wow! I’m officially old.

The newstand era was TOUGH. My local pharmacy had the comics vending machine. If I had all the ones in front, I’d try to guess what was behind the front comic and then ask the people at the store to open the machine so I could buy one. Or you’d buy the one in front to see what was behind! Then, when the pharmacy got rid of the machine and wasn’t going to carry comics, I had to go there the day the comics arrived from the newstand distributor – and they let me go through the bound groups and pick our the ones I wanted – because the rest were getting returned. If I missed a week – I missed it. I missed the final issue of the first R’as Al Ghul Batman story with the fight in the desert, even though I had the previous issues – I didn’t see it for several years! It was one reason I didn’t read as many Marvel comic books – because Marvel was full of continued stories and I was never sure I would get the rest of the story. I HATED continued stories! The first comic book store I ever walked into – Pacific Comics in San Diego circa 1975 – was an eye opener and a real game changer.

Your columns are always great. Any plans on doing a column on books that haven’t been collected? Or have you done that? Im making the switch to trades and it would be easier if I had a list of stuff that’s not out in trade.

Anyway I always look forward to your columns.

Any plans on doing a column on books that haven’t been collected? Or have you done that?

Here’s one from 2006. A lot of those collections eventually DID get done. DC is even doing the art-appreciation books with Jim Aparo’s Batman, Gil Kane’s Superman, etc.

And here is one of more recent vintage. To my delight, DC is FINALLY collecting the Gerber-Colan Phantom Zone, that one will be out in a couple of months. I assume it’s because of the Man of Steel movie, since it’s really the only modern story with General Zod that’s a nice self-contained trade-collection size. But whatever, I’m just glad we’re getting it.

Whoa, the Phantom Zone, really? That news makes me so happy…

Stephen Conway

April 14, 2013 at 8:50 am

Great column.

I actually just put in an order for some Avengers Academy trades because of this piece.

Modern Spider looks tons better, yes, but Cap’s look is a lateral move, at best.

Thank You Greg… Anytime I start getting down on the industry from now on.. I am calling up this article to remind me not to be a brat…

By the end of the Summer I hope to have a bookcase or two looking like that for my 1000+ graphic novels

I carry my laptop everywhere with me and you would be surprised how many people on the train or bus stop what they are doing and peek over my shoulder at the latest animated shows I am watching.. then ask straight out “are there any new episodes?”. Boo DC, Marvel, Disney XD, Cartoon Network… but thank you creators for the quality episodes of Avengers, Young Justice and Green Lantern they did give me….

How did I miss Jeff Parker and Greg Pak’s Fall of the Hulks Saga? My dislike of Jeph Loeb and the Red Hulk kept me far away but I picked up the first big bookshelf and WOW… Now I have to get the 2nd….

By the way Greg since you mentioned Avengers Academy, how do you feel about Avengers Arena…? So far I have treated it like Red Hulk i.e. not going anywhere close to it….

nice colum for it proves that even when things look dark and depressing you can find some ray of sun or it your case your library of all the cool comics and cool to learn at long last dc is putting their phantom zone story into print even if its just as another movie tie in.

Every time you give us a glimpse of your shelves I consider it, but after this post I went into the library today and reorganized my trades to group all the DC Archives, Showcase Presents and Essential volumes together. I’m big on alphabetization, but they just look so much better that way.

Cap’s look is a lateral move, at best.

I disagree, but mileage varies. It’s not about the costume, it’s about the movie. This was what was passing for Cap in 1979. Going from that to this is such a quantum leap that… well, you just had to be there, that’s all. The Reb Brown Cap makes even the 1990 version look like Shakespeare.

Lazarus Pit Foreman

April 14, 2013 at 9:28 pm

As someone who’s been a comic fan for about 35 years now, I feel lucky that my favorite comic book characters have come to life on the big screen finally… and done right. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, Singer’s X-Men film, or Batman Begins. Really special moments. Sure now there’s like half a dozen superhero flicks that come out a year and we may take them all for granted. But we now live in a time anything created on a comic page can be translated to film — and that’s a good thing (if the filmmaker follows that formula of course).

As for comics today I admit there’s a few things that I’m not crazy about… decompressed stories, ever-changing creative teams, non-sensical price points. Still there’s so many good comics to read, yeah some bad, but this is just like it was 20 or 30 years ago. Things have evolved, I’ve adapted and still love comics.

G’s comment about comic book vending machines — holy cow, I never knew such a thing existed! I thought I was well read on comics history! I looked for a pic online, and wow, that’s neato!

They should have them on college campuses now. Of course, now, the kids all like their tablet reader thingies and all, but dang, how cool would it be to pop in a 20 dollar bill and get a tpb?

There was just a Superman vs Zod trade out in the last couple weeks, and one of the issues is the DCCP issue that’s included in the Phantom Zone mini. I may wait out for that Phantom Zone trade, as I have issues 2-4 of the PZ mini, and I have a feeling one of the local libraries might get either the PZ trade or the vs Zod trade. Maybe I’ll just try to find PZ 1 and the DCCP issue at a local shop or the mini con I plan on going to.

Cap’s look is a lateral move, at best.

I disagree, but mileage varies. It’s not about the costume, it’s about the movie. This was what was passing for Cap in 1979. Going from that to this is such a quantum leap that… well, you just had to be there, that’s all. The Reb Brown Cap makes even the 1990 version look like Shakespeare.

Yeah, but just to play Devil’s Advocate here, the costume is a BIG part of the movie, at least for me. I tend to think very visually, so if I don’t care for the costume or art direction of a movie, it’s that much tougher for me to get into a story. I’d have given the 2011 Captain America movie an A if it hadn’t been for that over-detailed, ugly thing he was wearing, but I hated it enough to give the overall movie a B.

Just a personal thing, of course. Like Greg said, mileage varies.

Man, I could pull a Burgess Meredith last man on earth in your library there. With just that one wall.

I still like the Rex Smith DD, though– and I have Trial of the Incredible Hulk on DVD to prove it. I’ve also got a soft spot for Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man, Challenge of the Super Friends, Batman Meets Scooby Doo, all that stuff.

I still have that version of the X-Men Phoenix Saga trade and the POWER OF IRON MAN trade also (unfortunately that one’s falling apart, though – glue on the spine cracked or something). They were essentially my first collection pieces back in 1985. Got them for Christmas from my parents, along with MIGHTY MARVEL TEAM UP THRILLERS. Essentially it was the Phoenix Saga and Demon In a Bottle storylines that hooked me into comics. I often wonder if I’d have stayed with the hobby had I not started collecting with those two particular items, as it wasn’t for another three years until THE KILLING JOKE came out, which was the next “breakthrough” item, for me, along with X-MEN: GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS (which I got a later printing of at the same time, for my birthday in 1988, along with the Art Adams X-Men Medley poster all of which I still have to this day). I didn’t read RONIN, WATCHMEN or DKR until college in the early 90s.

Dammit, Greg, quit making me wish it was 1985 again. I do that often enough as it is. LOL

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