Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and Husband and I are ravenously stuffing food down our throats at Atlantic Beer Garden. Today, the restaurant hosts a different crowd than usual. Looking up from my sandwich, I see that we are seated across from a family of Flashes. A perfect 90’s Jean Grey stands in wait for a table, alongside a gaggle of other X-Men. Deadpool is eating a hamburger on the other side of the room, mask still half on, and behind us sits Captain America. After sufficiently filling myself with fries, I head toward the staircase leading to the bathrooms and am stalled by a young girl in a Wonder Woman tutu. She has halted mid-stair, and is asking her father about her outfit.
“I love your dress, Wonder Woman,” I tell her. She is smiling at me, and I am mush. She is not the only little girl I have seen in a superhero princess dress today, but she might just be the cutest.
Boston Comic Con is always a great time, and this year’s show was no exception. The convention continues to get bigger and better, and I’d be writing a novel if I were to mention every facet of the event, so I’m attempting to limit myself in this recap to what I felt were the personal highlights I experienced. Covering conventions and other shows or signings is always a challenge—the argument being that good reporting is objective reporting—but the more I attend events like these, the less I want to give you a cold-facts account. To me, what makes shows like Boston Comic Con so delightful are the individual stories and experiences people have there. What follows below is just one of them.
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There’s been so much chatter and criticism thrown in the way of A-Force prior to its release that I was curious about what I’d find when picking up the first issue. The detractors didn’t bother me (I’m not going to delve into the Jill Lepore thing, because even before I read the comic, it was clear her article is woefully misinformed), and all of the internet noise didn’t shake the very likely probability I would enjoy the book. If I had any concerns at all, it was over the weird-sounding title, so if that was my worst fear, then I had no real fears at all and every expectation I’d fall in love by the end of issue #1.
So, what’s the problem?
It hit me fairly immediately that it’s just not enough story for one issue. I dislike feeling as though I’ve absolutely flown through a comic, especially one I’d been looking forward to for so long and is well-executed. Let me assure you, I am not a fast reader when it comes to comics—I am deliberate in taking my time, making sure I absorb the artwork and enjoy the experience of words plus illustration. Yet I read this book in under a minute.
It’s a four dollar title.
I hate using the word “decompressed,” and really that’s not even fair because this has only been one issue and I have no idea how meaty the remaining parts of the narrative will be, yet … that.
Because again: four dollar book.
I’m going to compare this to another $3.99 book I read immediately following A-Force, which was Silk. I went into Silk with minor expectations—in fact, I wasn’t planning on buying the title at all. What got me to pick it up was my realization that Black Cat is in the first story arc, and I love my Black Cat (even despite her current inexplicable mischaracterization and depressing, far-fetched, unbelievable, utterly contrived turn to villainy). So I bought the first three issues, and wow, we need to talk about this. We need to talk about how funny, adorable, and entertaining this title is, because I’m getting something completely outside of what I signed up for. I came on board for Black Cat, but I’m LOVING Cindy Moon. That’s a little difficult for me to admit, because reading her in her first few issues of Amazing Spider-Man was a turn-off—she didn’t grab me, and I’m just immediately skeptical about introducing yet another love interest for Spider-Man. I was so prepared to hate her, but damn. Under the hands of Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee—neither of whom I was familiar with prior to this (apparently I’ve been living under a rock, but they’ve swiftly won my heart)—Cindy is smart, witty, likeable, and FUN. What’s more, there’s a good chunk of story in each of her three issues. Her book is fulfilling. It satiated me when I read it, and I was acutely aware of the contrast in how I felt after reading this comic compared to A-Force. And when I noticed they were both priced the same, I felt a little cheated.
Is it reasonable or fair to expect the same quality of content from every book? I could safely argue both yes and no. But all of this had me wondering: are there any books still priced at $2.99? It struck me that I actually haven’t been paying attention, so I did a quick bit of research. Saga, Hawkeye, Lazarus, Ms. Marvel—these are a small sample of some quality, story-packed books you can still buy for three dollars. And when you look at a case as dense as Lazarus—that’s significant substance you’re getting for a short price.
Obviously, I am only scratching the surface of what is a much larger issue here. There are many factors that go into the price point of a book, of which we could dissect the ins and outs for a while. But I thought it worth noting just how different two books of the same cost can hit you as a reader as it relates to the larger issue of a comic books’ worth—the kind of worth that can’t be measured. The kind that rests in our hearts as readers.
A-Force. I still dislike that name, but with more issues on the way, hopefully I won’t dislike the title.
I’ve come to a painful decision.
It’s time for me to give up my comics.
Oddly enough, this isn’t something I’ve been mulling over for a while—it only just hit me earlier today as I stood towel-drying my hair in front of the bathroom mirror. Epiphanies make themselves known at strange times, I guess.
I’ve been waging this war against my backlog for—it hurts to even say it—a few years now. Years. And try as I might, making any headway in the stack has just been impossible. I finally realize that this weight has done nothing but sour me on the sheer joy that was once my comics reading. I have to admit it when I’m beat.
And I am so very beat.
Unshakeable persistence, coupled with my fangirl desire to be up-to-date on what I once perceived to be “continuity,” has flown out the window. Here I stand, waving the white flag. Continuity doesn’t matter anymore, nor will it even really exist soon enough. And I think that’s why this is the perfect time to let go of the backlog and start anew. With both DC and Marvel making huge changes to their lineups, who cares about continuity anymore? The publishers, for the most part, don’t. It doesn’t make sense to worry about whether or not I read every issue of Uncanny X-Men anymore, because story arcs from three years ago have little to no bearing on anything happening now. There are still issues of Fear Itself tie-ins lying in my To-Be-Read pile, for goodness’ sake! It’s embarrassing, but there it is.
I understand now that the majority of issues that make up the exorbitant pile of comics taunting me every week have become irrelevant to me. All they’ve ever really done is cause me stress, turning comics into a mundane task I have to “finish,” and delay me in getting to the books I actually do enjoy. I didn’t want to admit that for so long, because these are things I did, at one point, want to read—things I spent money on. Lots of it. I wanted to feel like I was getting that money’s worth in reading a good story. (Granted, one could argue that I’d never have gotten my money’s worth out of Fear Itself, read or not read, but that’s beside the point….)
Yet I no longer recall the feeling of looking forward to picking up my sub. It’s gotten so unruly, so out of control no matter how many times I pick through it or how many titles I cull, that going to the shop—an event I used to look forward to every week—is now a giant chore. It’s a burden. It’s suffocating.
I’m done with that. I’m starting over.
I won’t get rid of everything. The few things I still actively love and feel excitement toward—titles like Thor and Saga—I’ll keep collecting. The difference is that now they won’t just be collected—they’ll also be frequently read! But those 20-odd issues of New 52 Batwoman that have been sitting in a pile on my bookshelf since the title began? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say I’ll be ridding myself of those. As much as I wanted to get into that book and love it, I just never did, and I was too stubborn to quit while I was ahead. That’s not happening from here on out. Ebay listings, here we come.
When Sunday rolls around, Husband and I will do our usual thing: we’ll get up, grab food, watch the first Formula 1 race of the season with friends (Sunday morning F1 is the best), and then we’ll head to the comic book store.
I will purchase the books I enjoy.
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!
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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