Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I Gave Up Comics When I "Grew Up." Really Dumb Decision.

Like most, I first dipped my toes into and swam in the sea of comic-book-dom in my childhood. We're talking the sixties/seventies. (Spring gone. I'm a mid-autumn chicken.)

If you're middle aged, you may have read the same stuff I did back then:
~ARCHIE: I loved Veronica's total self-confidence, her black shiny hair, and her moolah; but I coveted Betty's perky goodness. I sure didn't want Archie, though.
~CREEPSHOW and TALES FROM THE CRYPT: I still like scares and enjoy a good horror novel now and then.
~ROMANCE comic books: They surely predestined me to a later addiction to romance novels
~SUPERHERO comics, mostly MARVEL: Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Thor, Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Avengers, which featured my especially beloved Vision. I heard they killed him off later. Bummer. Glad I missed that. And, of course, X-MEN, the comic book that fed many a fantasy of being a kick-butt flying gal and that taught me that hairy, wisecracking, cranky guys with cowlicks could be ever-so-alluring, and prepped me to love alpha romance heroes.

Thankfully, hubby is not cranky or hairy, but he does wisecrack and sport this clump of hair near his crown that...never mind.

I stopped reading comic books (and attending conventions--how geeky is that?) at the age of 23 or so. I'd had a lousy, brief romance in the summer of '80 with a comic art dealer, which nearly killed the genre for me. But after darkness, the sun: My hubby and I met through the unwitting assistance of the owner of a local comics book store, and that redeemed the genre for me for a while. Hubby had a large collection. After reading through some of his old-time goodies--vintage Dr. Strange, Spiderman, She-Hulk, X-Men, etc-- that was the end of that. Fork, thermometer. I was done.

I chose to dwell in the realm of stories unadorned with seriously tacky outfits. I had art books for pictures. Novels for prose. I was a grown-up.

Big, big mistake.

How was I to know that not too long after I quit the medium that huge things would happen in Comic Book World?

Obviously, prophecy ain't my gift.

So, what did I miss in the 80's and 90's?

Well, WATCHMEN, for one, the comic book series--er GRAPHIC NOVEL--that has found a place on several "best of" reading lists, including TIME's best 100 novels. WATCHMEN is getting new buzz. Entertainment Weekly's recent article on its influence on super-popular writers such as Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon and rumors of a film are stoking new fevers.

It's worth catching this bug.

This is a dark, complex,beautiful meshing of great story, intriguing characters and artwork. Look at the panels closely. Watch for recurring motifs. Look at how the writer, Alan Moore, adds layers and uses a comic within a comic to add depth, to enhance. Plus, you get one of the most mental, yet root-for-able anti-superheroes ever: Rorschach. I was waving pom-poms for the sugar-crunching psycho with the ever-changing ink-blot mask. The issue where you get inside the nearly omnipotent Dr. Manhattan's now-is-past-is-future-is-now-is-always perspective is astonishingly good. WATCHMEN is the only graphic novel, I believe, to have won the HUGO award. It deserved it. And if Gaiman and Whedon both judge it as a major influence to their own work, we're talking about something that really is not just good storytelling, but landmark.

Speaking of Whedon, that's the guy who brought me BACK to comic books. Er, I mean graphic novels? Oh, forget it. They're comics to me, and that's that.

How did he do this, you may ask?

Well, I'm a BUFFY The VS and ANGEL fanatic and an admirer of FIREFLY/SERENITY. Joss wrote those shows. (You knew that, right?) So, when I happened upon the first volume of his comic book series THE ASTONISHING X-MEN, I had to have it. And when I read it, I hyperventilated with excitement. The artwork is so much better than anything I had growing up. And the storytelling is top-notch. The man knows how to make you keep reading and go, "ooooh." The next bound collection is due out this week. You know I'll be getting mine! If you're smart, you'll get both, volumes one and two. Trust me.

Now, Joss brought me back with X-Men. Which immediately lead me to order his FRAY, a futuristic vampire-slayer story, from my local comics book supplier, Glen Lightfoot, owner of a shop named VILLAINS. FRAY got me looking for other recent comics that I might enjoy. My searching led me to...

...J.M. Straczynski, creator/writer of Babylon 5, a fabulous, five-year, science-fiction television epic. One of my fave television series ever. Naturally, I bought Joe's comic SUPREME POWER. Wow. Thought-provoking work with characters that are alter-egos (darker, revisionist ones) of well-known comic characters of the past, such as Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash and others. I recommend the bound volumes. Three are out already. The last one ended on a helluva lesson from the alter-ego Superman to all those who manipulated him. I did say "Wow," right?

And all this leads me to the current series I'm reading, one I missed out on the first time round--cause, yeah, you know, I stopped reading comics yadda yadda. SANDMAN.


Neil Gaiman is a brilliant fella. He's taken historical/Biblical figures(Shakespeare, G.K Chesterton, Cain, Abel, Eve, Lucifer, etc) and mythic-literary figures (Orpheus, Calliope, Thor, Odin, Titania, Oberon, Puck, etc), added a delicious Goth element, and many fine quotes from and allusions to classic literature. He then added the earth and air of his own vast imaginings to produce a complex and fascinating cosmos full of angels and devils, and books that were never written, and gods who wear black leather and punk hairdos, and flawed humanity in various pained forms. In the middle of this he drops beings who have existed nearly forever--the Endless ones. The leading character is an endless one, and his name is DREAM. And Oneiros. And Morpheus, the Lord of the Dreaming, which is his kingdom. And his name is also... Sandman.

I read the first bound edition of the series, Preludes & Nocturnes, bought handily at Glen's shop... and was hooked. I subsequently bought every other volume of the 10-part bound series in one swoop over at amazon.com. (AMEN for gift certificates.)

I have one more thing to say about SANDMAN, the series: READ IT NOW.

On a more current note: I've started buying a new comic book series by Warren Ellis called FELL. The artwork--by artist Ben Templesmith--is different and pleases my senses. He has a great use of white. No, I kid you not. It's "artsy" and moody and minimalist, and sometimes clever, and sometimes gruesome, and not-at-all what I grew up staring at back in my youthful days of comic feastings. The afterwords by the writer are a big part of the pleasure, I find. And each issue is less than two bucks. The writer planned it that way. How nice to find someone thinking of readers' budgets.

If you enjoy comics/graphic novels now, keep reading them. I'm a cautionary tale-teller. Whenever you think a medium is dead, it might just be ready to resurrect.

If you are a writer-apprentice, study WATCHMEN and SANDMAN and ASTONISHING X-MEN and SUPREME POWER and learn. Yes, very good storytelling can come with cool graphics, too.

Comics book. Not just for kids anymore.

Not for a long time, apparently. Duh me.


Camy Tang said...

I was totally hooked on X-Men comics for the LONGEST time. It was my version of my mom's soap operas. :) I'm with you on the fantasies of becoming a kickbutt mutant heroine. LOL.

I didn't know about Joss Whedon's XMen comic! Thanks!


Mirtika said...

Oh, man, Camy. You HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO get ASTONISHING X-Men. It'll cure what's ailing ya? ; )

Feel better,

April said...

Missed you on the boards and thought I'd hunt you down. Glad to see you didn't get blown away by Wilma!

I LOVED comics. I also had a desperate affliction for Buffy the VS. Had no idea Wheadon had a comic book/graphic thing... whatever out. I'm definately going to have to check that out!

Loved the previous posts too. You could make an entire book out of "What Writing Is..."!

Chris Well said...

Speaking of FELL, Publishers Weekly: Comics Week just posted an interview with Mr. Ellis about the new format: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6290733.html