Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
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.
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…
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.
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