Melissa K., Author at Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources
It always happens this way. I go weeks, sometimes a month without reading a single comic book. And then something snaps me out of it (usually it’s an unexpected day off from work) and I grab up a copy of—well, this time it was She-Hulk. And I read five issues in a row, and then I move onto Hawkeye where I read four issues, and then I’m like good God, what have I been wasting my time on instead of reading these beautiful, beautiful things?
In a (long ago) previous post, I confessed that one thing to know about me is that I’m tragically behind on my comics reading. But now I must reveal another important tidbit, which is that I’m one of those pathetic, deplorable creatures known as commuters. The great thing about having to endure two very long commutes via train every day is that you get a lot of reading done … right? I bet you would think that. Ha ha.
In the past month of train rides to and from the day job—that’s twice a day, five days a week—I have read exactly … three comics. A number that I think is actually up from the previous month.
Why so few? Myriad reasons, but let me just give you the top few.
First, you can completely discount the morning ride in each day—it may as well not exist, because it’s really not “reading time” so much as it is “pass out and drool onto your own shoulder” time. We’re talking six thirty a.m. here. (“There’s a 6:30 in the morning now?”)
So that’s half of my commute gone. The second opportunity—my way home each night—is a rush hour train.
A rush hour train out of Boston.
A rush hour train out of Boston that is FRIGGING JAM PACKED. Also, frequently quite smelly.
Now imagine having to board this FJP train at a stop where it is already insanely full—usually beyond any level that could conceivably be deemed safe—by the time it reaches you. Imagine being stuck without a seat. Or, better, imagine getting a seat that is inevitably wedged between two other people, who are very large. I say very large because, in comparison to my small stature and unless we’re talking about toddler passengers, everyone is always going to be bigger than me (I’m a short one, as everyone likes to remind me, constantly and forever, incase I’m somehow unaware). Thus my fellow commuters are always taking up more space, leaving me just the smallest sliver of seat cushion and area in which I might be able to actually … I don’t know … expand my diaphragm enough to breathe. (Although, in the summer when it’s 90 degrees and the air condition isn’t working—which is more often than not—and everyone is sweating profusely, it’s sometimes better to try NOT to breathe.)
That’s the scenario. Imagine trying to pull out and read a floppy comic like that.
Okay. Let’s say I make it to this part of my day, and things are looking better than normal. Maybe it’s a Friday before a holiday weekend, and most people have left early, so my train isn’t as horrifying as it usually is. Maybe I even have a seat all to myself! There’s SPACE around me! I can move and swing out my elbows comfortably and actually hold a book! I’m a commuting champion!
Except that, to even get to this stage, I’ve first had to find a method to package my wares in such a way as to make them safe for the rigors of daily travel. That acid-free bag with backing board and the manilla folder I had my comic all filed and tucked away in? Yeah, not gonna cut it. I learned things the hard way after returning home one night with my Fables trade paperback all turned up in the corners, spine partially wrinkled, and I went to sleep that night crying tears of shame and regret. It’s a trade! I’d thought. It’ll be fine!
Thankfully, after scouring my LCS for a solution, I found one of these bad boys in a copy of Previews and ordered one online. Are you aware that these exist? I wasn’t. It was perfect.
Or so I thought. I believe the binder lasted about two weeks in my bag before it cracked and unhinged. I chalked it up to a fluke, and ordered a second … which has thus far lasted through a year of use along with a trip to Boston Comic Con.
Okay. So, our storage/transportation problem is mostly resolved, but what of the actual physical act of reading on a train? Aside from the aforementioned discomfort of the packed ride, there’s another unfortunate matter to contend with: lighting.
Those glossy pages? Not so easy to read in the harsh fluorescent lighting of the commuter rail. You’re basically stuck with this:
Hence I have all but given up in my attempts to read in this situation.
Now, I can guess what you’re thinking. Comixology is my friend, right? Why am I not downloading comics and reading them digitally? Who doesn’t own a tablet these days?
That’d be … me. I do not own a tablet, nor do I desire to own one, because:
1.) There is nothing a tablet can do for me that my iPhone doesn’t already do.
2.) I don’t want to buy a tablet JUST for the sake of reading comics, and
3.) I don’t enjoy reading comics digitally. Husband says I am a luddite.
Digital comics are really a whole other topic for a whole other blog post, but that’s the quick explanation of my aversion.
Ultimately I have come up with a couple of work-arounds.
One is that I have only been carrying collected editions or OGNs—most recently, Becky Cloonan’s By Chance or Providence. This was especially great because the pages aren’t glossy, so I didn’t have to contend with glare at all, and the book is fairly light and easy to carry. I kept my bag mostly empty that day so as not to damage its lovely exterior.
Since I still do the majority of my collecting in floppy single-issue format, when I want to dive into my giant stack of backlog, the best solution I’ve found is to bring them with me in the aforementioned binder and, rather than read them on the train, I’ve been using my lunch breaks at work as reading time. I used to avoid doing this—since I work on a computer all day, I typically like using my break to get out of the office and give my eyes a rest—but I’m finding lately that on especially stressful days, it’s a huge help to just escape into a comic. And if I read, say, five comics every day during my one-hour break, that’s twenty a week … times four weeks is a hundred a month.
So I should be caught up in no time, right?
My fellow commuters, do you read comics on your daily journeys? Anyone else experience their own awkward challenges during travel, and have you found solutions that work for you? Sound off in the comments!
by Liz Plourde & Randy Michaels
It’s easy for me to get into a rut with superhero comics. Superheroes are, after all, what turned me onto comic books—growing up watching Saturday morning X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons, Marvel’s extraordinary world mesmerized me and left me wanting more of its wonderful, addictive escapism. I identified with and clung to characters like Rogue, whose strength I admired, and whose power and dramatic angst hooked me. And for the longest time, these were the only comics that I read.
Decades later, this same sense of the fantastic can sometimes be what drives me away from superhero books. For me, the ultimate purpose of reading a story is to connect with something—a character, a situation, a feeling. If I can’t make any emotional connection to the Justice League fighting Darkseid for the hundredth time—entertaining though it can be—I’m left wanting something deeper … something else.
That search always seems to lead me to independents, and it was the yearning for a pertinent story that led me to discover the likes of Craig Thompson, Terry Moore, Marjane Satrapi, and countless others. Sometimes, I don’t want to escape. Sometimes, I want the stuff that shows me what it’s like to be a person dealing with real life, in all of its joyful, frightening, wondrous, and confusing aspects.
That evocation of the relatable, then, is what makes Liz Plourde and Randy Michael’s Xeric Award-winning How i Made the World such a pleasing read.
The first issue of this book is broken up into two stories, both following the character of Liz, a college student who confides in us through journal entry that she isn’t “a real writer,” but rather a “sophomore struggling not to max out my meal plan before the end of the week.” In the first story, “The Monster,” Liz finds herself struggling to complete an art midterm wherein she is tasked to imagine and create a sculpture of a “seed pod.” The seed pod can take more or less any shape she desires, and eventually her appetite and devotion to a nearby clam hut leads her to settle on crafting an oyster-like sculpture—her own “SEAd pod,” nyuk nyuk.
Michelangelo stated that he could see the statue inside every block of marble—he only had to carve away the material to reveal what was hidden underneath, and this is exactly how Liz thinks her piece will come to her. “That’s how artists create masterpieces, right?” she muses—but as anyone who has spent any time in an art class knows, it’s never that easy. Liz works on her assignment through the nights, forgoing sleep—and when she does sleep, she’s haunted by nightmares of the monster that is her task. The comic then alternates between scenes of Liz commiserating with her friends and fighting to complete her work. What makes those scenes stand out in particular are the supporting characters—aside from buoying Liz at the right moments, they also flesh out the story in such a subtle yet meaningful way. I read them thinking “I know these people,” and I have to tip my hat to Plourde and Michaels for making these characters so lively in so few panels. I immediately fell for Liz’s art instructor—I’m pretty sure she was my own high school art teacher.
I would be remiss not to mention Randy Michaels’ artwork. This book is so clean, and I absolutely love that. It fits the tone of the story so well—anything “dirty” or “scratchy” would have taken me right out. Instead, Michaels draws me in, whether it’s through the detailed background of a building or the more simply-depicted but hysterical scene of Liz’s roommate coming out of the shower. Something about it harkens to Alison Bechdel, and that’s never a bad thing.
In a panel where Liz wonders what the point of her assignment is, her best friend Parker offers that “the point is the experience.” It’s when Liz takes that advice and lets go of her anxiety that she finds the clarity and strength to complete the seed pod. On the surface, while the story is about a commonplace struggle—completing an art project—ultimately, and as any good narrative will address, it’s really about the larger need of finding and accepting who you are. Reading this book brought me inside myself into something relevant—and lately, I want more of that from my comics.
If that isn’t enough for one issue, the second story in the comic—“Catman”—gives us the best of both fantasy and reality. A young Liz is told that her uncle has seen Liz’s cat Wally shapeshift from cat to human and back again. Liz is convinced that Wally must be half-cat, half-man, and spends the rest of the story trying to catch him in the act of shapeshifting. “Catman” is a little bit of whimsy grounded in a down-to-earth, nostalgic story—and that’s the perfect note on which this issue ends.
How i Made the World #1 will be listed in the April Previews (out March 26), for release in June.
I’m starting to feel like a stalker. We’ve been waiting in line for about an hour, hovering beside Phil Jimenez’s table, and I’ve been cradling this stack of trades in my hand for so long that my arm is beginning to stiffen and ache. But as the herd gathered by the surrounding tables begins to thin and I see the first of many incredible sketches Phil is doing for his fans, my resolve solidifies and I know the wait will be worth it.
Someone walks by and asks what he’s charging. “Free,” I say. They don’t believe me. I can’t really believe it either. A sketch from Phil is the only thing I really, desperately want from this year’s con. After missing opportunities for commissions last year with Phil Noto and Cliff Chiang, I’m determined to not let myself miss getting something from Phil, whose Wonder Woman I love. I had tweeted at him earlier in the week, asking if he was doing commissions. He replied that he usually doesn’t, but that he “might be convinced in Boston.” Hope! My husband—who is quite the trooper throughout the day as I rant endlessly about the artists I want to meet—drives us into the city early to make sure I’m one of the first few in line for Phil.
Well, we thought it was early.
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I am trying to get my sub list under control. In fact, I have been outright ordered to get my sub list under control, and it is a long, silent ride to the comic shop, because this shit is serious.
Greeting me at the counter upon my Sunday excursion are Dario and Mark. You’ve already heard a little bit about Dario. Mark—and this is every time I enter the store—never ceases to lovingly ridicule and feign shock at my appearance.
“WELL, WELL, WELL, WHO DO WE HAVE HERE?!” he shouts, always loud enough to gather the entire store’s attention. Mark is your quintessential comic book guy. “Lord Vertigo,” we call him, because I’m fairly certain that to this day he owns every issue of every Vertigo title so far published. He’s also like a big teddy bear that you just want to jump over the counter and hug—a boisterous, sarcastic teddy bear. And after making fun of you, Mark will always offer you a brownie/cookie/whatever treat of the day happens to be on the counter. Sundays at our store have a “morning crowd”—a group that comes in as soon as the store opens. A part of this crowd is one of the kindest gentlemen I know, named Ron. Ron likes to make us treats. Usually it’s some type of cookie or muffin, but once in a great while you’ll get a heaping bowl of homemade chili that you just can’t. Stop. Eating. Suffice it to say, everyone looks forward to Sundays. Today, our treat is a plate piled high with sugar cookies, and Mark eagerly motions for us to have our share.
The Fiancé has driven me here and led me face-to-face with my sub box. I am shocked if not impressed by the fact that the cubby hole marked with my name has not yet broken under its own weight. He pulls everything out for me and hands me the startlingly heavy stack, and I take them to a back table to wade through about 2-3 months’ worth of stuff. As I’m doing this, my subscription list gets printed for me before I can even make the request.
God help me, I have to actually cut things.
I go through the list, Fiancé peering over my shoulder like some watchful gargoyle. “Do it.”
I start with the easy stuff. Since Fiancé is already buying them and I can just read his copies, Batgirl, Justice League Dark, Ultimate Spider-Man, and The Walking Dead all get cut. Nonplayer, which hasn’t come out since the first issue debuted in 2011, is still on my sub for some reason. I have zero faith that I will ever see another issue of this mini, so that is emphatically cut.
“That’s it?” Fiancé asks.
“Well I’m going to drop Batwoman as soon as this arc with Wonder Woman in it is over,” I tell him. I’m finding that I want to like Batwoman a lot more than I actually do like Batwoman, and sacrifices must be made. Ed Brubaker is done with Winter Soldier, so I drop that too.
“Okay,” he says. “What about the rest of this?” My sub is two pages long.
After some deliberation, I wind up cutting:
Batman, Inc. I struggle to get through this title, and again, as much as I want to enjoy it, I have to admit that I really don’t.
Captain America I was buying this for Bucky, Natasha, Ed Brubaker, and Butch Guice. With the current incarnation and John Romita, Jr. on art, it’s kind of a huge buzzkill. I know this might be blasphemy, but my distaste for JR, Jr.’s artwork is unlike any other. It just does not work for me on any level, at all, ever.
Gambit The existence of this on my list is shocking in itself. I’ve always been kind of a Gambit hater, but lately have been a lot softer on the character. I read the first couple of issues of this title and didn’t mind them—I LOVE Clay Mann’s artwork and that alone had pretty much sold me. But then, there isn’t really any room on my list for things I just “don’t mind.” That said, I’ll definitely come back and pick up the issues that feature Rogue, because Rogue is my home girl and my love for her knows no bounds.
Sword of Sorcery I guess this just got cancelled anyway, so no big loss here.
Wonder Woman This one … oh, this one. This was … this was agonizing, guys. I could get into all the reasons why, but I would just wind up writing you a novel, so why don’t I take the lazy way out and let the incredible Kelly Thompson do all my talking for me. It really can’t be said any better than that.
X-Men Legacy Not a Legion fan. This title pretty much ruled my life back when Mike Carey was on it; these days, I’m apathetic.
I feel a sense of accomplishment. Fiancé looks at me expectantly.
“What?” I say, baffled. “MORE? No. No—I can’t.”
I explain that I’ve already cut more than I’d predicted and that I need baby steps. He relents, and we go up to the counter.
“Mark, can you delete the stuff I’ve crossed off, please?” He skims through my list and smirks, all too happy to get rid of what he sees as the garbage that’s permeating my pull list. “And, um … can you please add Young Avengers, Ame-Comi Girls, and FF?”
“What?!” Fiancé is upset.
I anticipated this.
I cut Supergirl in a meager attempt to make up for the additions (which, honestly, I’m thinking I might wind up re-adding later).
Mark starts grilling me on why I am purchasing FF. He, for some reason I cannot comprehend, hates it. The humor and the fantastic artwork, I thought, would make it right up his alley, but I am stupefyingly wrong. We get into a friendly argument. Dario comes to my defense. It’s a fun book, it features a team that’s 3/4 women (with SHE-HULK!), and it has beautiful, colorful, wonderful Mike Allred art. This is a fucking BUY, we say.
Mark concedes begrudgingly. I appreciate his attempt to be the guardian of my sub list. When he hands me the heavy brown bag packed-to-bursting with comics, I begin to understand his and Fiancé’s tyrannical approach to get me to cut things. Somehow, after all I’ve dropped, I’m still walking away with a ton of comics.
As we walk out, Fiancé informs me that this is far from over. “Read up. Catch up on what you have and decide what you do and don’t like. We’re doing this again in a couple of weeks.”
Titles Dropped: 14
Titles Added: 3
Exasperated Looks Thrown My Way: Too many to count
Comics Read Since Last Post: 54! GO ME!
Comics Accumulated Since Last Post: 76…ish? FAIL.
*Edit: I just realized that Thunderbolts and Captain Marvel are not on my sub. Also, Fearless Defenders came out this week. Also, Brian Wood’s X-Men and Bendis’ Uncanny X-Men are starting up soon. Feeeecccckkkkkkkkkk.
Here is a new column from a neat writer I enjoy, Melissa. Enjoy! – Brian
My friend Dario and I used to work together at our local comic shop. We were the Saturday crew, armed with hardcore geekery and sarcasm, with whom our customers could discuss Marvel’s latest event (you know, the one that just started before the last one ended), or debate the
demerits of the New 52. While I no longer man that counter as often anymore, Dario and I still like to text each other with random comics-related stuff every now and then, whether it’s his thoughts on the latest solicit, or a photo manip of Christopher Reeve in Wonder Woman’s costume.
My last text from Dario, though, was a photo of my overflowing sub box.
“Your comics miss you.”
The one thing you really need to know about me right now is this: I am WOEFULLY behind on my comics. In fact, if you dare click this link, you will see just how staggeringly and unjustifiably behind I am, and it’s likely to make you die a little inside. I’m truly sorry—it’s killing me, too, I assure you. The reasons for how and why I’ve fallen so far off track are numerous and, frankly, boring. But I’ve made my bed, and for too long I have been lying under its many, many covers.
It’s time to dig out.
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