Tag Archives: comics international

Nine wishes for 2009 #5: Comics I care about

Yoink! These nine wishes for 2009 were meant to be done and dusted by 31 December. Nevertheless, I shall plough on…

I’m a geek, to paraphrase Nick Clegg, by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing (the latter is all too true – my dad made me watch Alien when I was 8 FFS! He would also blare out War of the Worlds at 11pm. My earliest memories were reading science fiction and horror mags on my parents’ bed and the excitement surrounding Star Wars and Close Encounters – really was there any hope for me?).

So it comes as no surprise that, despite being in my mid-thirties, I have an unusually large comic collection (the only geek I know who doesn’t read comics is Will Howells. Bad Will! No biscuit!). But I have this problem: they aren’t exciting me like they used to.

My first comics were the Beano (but not the Dandy – rubbish!) and the eighties Eagle. From there it was but a short step to 2000AD during its bog paper, black and white glory days and with the eighties UK comics brain drain in full swing, moving onto US comics was all but inevitable. Highlights have included: too many Judge Dredd stories to mention, but in particular Block Mania, Chopper’s escape to Oz and the revelation of the identity of The Dead Man; Nemesis the Warlock; Halo Jones (I could mention loads of Alan Moore stuff, but this is the one that inspired me the most, oddly); Grant Morrison’s greatest hits (Zenith, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Invisibles); The Sandman; Preacher; The Adventures of Luthor Arkwright. More recently, Nikolai Dante has had its moments. Morrison’s run on X-Men was good and Joss Whedon’s follow up was great too. I whizzed through Mike Carey’s Lucifer last year after, wrongly, assuming for years that it was just another worthless Sandman spin-off (Vertigo have only themselves to blame for that assumption, but that’s another story).

But the sort of buzz I felt during the late eighties and nineties isn’t there any more. Don’t misunderstand me, I recognise that to an extent I am merely a little jaded and that is unavoidable. And there is still good stuff out there. Buffy Season Eight, while patchy, is generally strong. 2000AD has been consistent (but not amazing) for a good decade now going through a very bad period before. You can’t switch brilliance on like a tap but I don’t think 2000AD can be accused of doing anything to piss on their chips.

I think my dilemma is threefold. Firstly, the demise of Comics International. To be clear (last year I bemoaned the state of the magazine and got ticked off by Burt for my trouble), it does appear to be a going concern and at least one of the problems for its erratic publishing schedule over the past couple of years has been the editor’s ill health, but it is a far cry from the rigorous monthly schedule that Dez Skinn managed to work to for 15 years. I hope that if they do get it back up and running, they go back to basics. When it was launched, CI was a free newsheet printed on newsprint which offered news, reviews, and pretty much nothing else. I don’t miss anything else; I do miss that basic service. It is a bit of an embarrassing thing to admit as somone who likes to think of himself as generally web-savvy, but I can’t get my head around using the web as a news source for my comics. Something does not compute. Nothing feels as natural as a few pages of news I can pore over on the tube home from the shops (I depend on Empire for similar reasons).

Secondly, I find it really hard to get into the indie-scene these days. Even though I’ve never actually lived in the East Midlands, I occasionally used to go to Page 45 for some of their special events. In particular, they ran a great open day in 1996. Ostensibly a day to promote Dave Sim‘s latest UK tour (I continued to collect Cerebus up until it ended even though I basically gave up reading it during the last few years as he seemed to get increasingly bonkers – needless to say I don’t share his views), they invited lots of other independent comic creators as well. Since the queue to get stuff signed by Sim and Gerhard was so long, you ended up going around and talking to all the creators. I ended up buying stuff from pretty much everyone, discovering a passion for, among others, Kane, Sleaze Castle and Dix (the cartoonist on the brilliant Roll Up! Roll Up! which ran in the Guardian a few years ago before they criminally cancelled it. Thanks to the magic of teh internets you can now own a collected edition – buy it now!). But as you’ll have seen by following those links, those particular wells of creative talent have either mutated (Jack Staff is good, but nothing like as good as Kane) or dried up entirely.

Are Page 45 still organising such open days? If they are, I never read about them even when CI was coming out regularly. Back in London these days, the closest to Page 45 is Gosh! – they often do signings, but don’t seem to use them as an opportunity to do something more ambitious. Maybe in 2009, this might change.

My third problem though seems much more intractable. I’ve always tended to read DC more than Marvel. This is simply because DC used 2000AD as a recruitment brochure in the eighties and took a lot of the fanbase with them. Slowly I got sucked in, loving Keith Giffen’s take on the Justice League and the post-John Byrne Superman (an era which effectively ended with the death and rebirth storyline). Having stayed away for a few years, I ended up picking up 52 and some of the other Infinite Crisis spinoffs and tie-ins.

Now, 52 was a well executed and enjoyable series – a year in the life told in real time. The problem is, it was such a success that they immediately issued a sequel – Countdown – which in turn was a prequel of Final Crisis – which in turn was a sequel to Infinite Crisis (and sort of a sequel to Seven Soldiers of Victory) – which in turn was a sequal to the Crisis on Infinite Earths (and that’s just the simplified version). The idea that the Infinite Crisis had created 52 alternate universes (after the Crisis of Infinite Earths destroyed the “infinite” alternates and merged them into one, the revamped eighties DC universe), is essentially lame, lazy and, as you will have seen by reading this paragraph, incredibly confusing. Add to this the “is he? isn’t he?” death of Batman at the end of last year, and an alternate timeline in the latest weekly series Trinity, and you have a terribly stodgy mess. The problem with all these tie-ins, cross-overs and spin-offs is that it utterly alienates the casual reader. DC seems to have decided that their future lies in giving the hardcore dizzyingly complex onanistic wank. I’ve put up with it for a year longer than I should have done and expect to more or less drop all my DC titles later this year.

Marvel also seem to be going out of their way to alienate readers by producing company-wide meta-narrative after company-wide meta-narrative even if by all acounts they are doing it much better. But again, how do you get on board? Browsing through trade paperbacks in Borders and the specialist shops, I haven’t the foggiest where to start with, say, Civil War.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is rooted in the fact that both of these companies have discovered that they have such large back catalogues now that the casual reader has plenty to churn through before running out and wanting to look at the latest stuff. Want to get into Batman? Most “top ten” lists include Killing Joke, Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Long Halloween and Arkham Asylum. Most of the Marvel films are mining stories from the sixties which you can read in their Masterworks series of books. So even if they did make the new stuff more accessible, I suspect they would get very little out of it in terms of improved sales.

As someone who is more than a casual reader but much less than the hardcore, this is a problem. Are there really so few of us out there though? I just think it is a real shame that as comics finally enter the mainstream, they seem to be having such a creative lull. And while there is undoubtedly good stuff out there to be found, finding it seems to be becoming harder and harder. Anyone got any suggestions?

Comics’ Final Crisis?

Just back from my occasional jaunt down to central London to pick up my comics from Gosh!. I have to admit I’m making these trips with ever decreasing levels of enthusiasm these days, for several reasons.

Firstly, there is the fact that I generally feel out of touch with the market these days. This problem started about 18 months ago when the UK’s comics trade paper Comics International vanished, only to reappear a few months later under the guise of a new publisher. The transition has not been a happy one, with the magazine struggling to come out on a monthly basis and when it does appear it is out of date, riddled with too many typos and has an amateurish style that I find a little hard to take. I fear that the editor Mike Conroy isn’t really up to the job. Certainly I thought twice about buying the latest issue and having bought it don’t really feel it was worth my while.

For a semi-detached comics fan such as myself this is disastrous from the point of view of the industry. I don’t have any desire to go back to the days when I used to get Previews on a monthly basis and apart from ignoring the UK scene, the US magazines are similarly hype-driven. So how do I find out what’s going on? I’m finding it increasingly difficult and that is reflective in the stuff I buy.

Secondly, there are the comics themselves. I’ve always been more of a DC reader than a Marvel one. This is for the simple fact that it was DC that largely lead the UK-brain drain that lead to people such as Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Grant Morrison working stateside and so it was via them that I got my first real taste of US comics. But for the last four years or more, DC has been vanishing up its own fundament. While Marvel has opted to make itself more accessible, spurred on by its successful film franchises, DC has become increasingly inward-looking.

It began with a 1986 12-part maxi-series called Crisis on Infinite Earths (actually, it began before that with various previous “Crises” but this was the focal point), in which the DC “multiverse” of infinite interlocking parallel universes became just one. It is always a bad idea to set a rule in a sci-fantasy setting like “no parallel universes” – look at how Doctor Who and Torchwood has toyed with the subject – and as a result DC spent the next 20 years bending and even breaking it, coming up with complex ideas like Hypertime to explain it all.

This all eventually lead to the Infinite Crisis – part 20th anniversary celebration of the Crisis of Infinite Earths, part second attempt to sort the whole bloody mess out. This directly lead to 52, a weekly series that ran for a year between May 2006 and May 2007 in which it was revealed that the second crisis had lead to a return of the multiverse – or rather a multiverse of 52 parallel universes. Conveniently this allowed DC to incorporate a number of their other superhero universes into “official” canon. And so, the Wildstorm universe is now part of it (glossing over the fact they have been running crossovers between Wildstorm and DC for over a decade now), the various Elseworlds series each have their own world and even old properties such as the Charlton and Fawcett now have their own worlds back. Even the animated series now gets its own “official” universe.

The problem is, no sooner have they revealed this, but they’ve started on a mission to blow this multi-verse up too. Immediately following 52 was another weekly series called Countdown. Already at least one world has been destroyed, and no doubt more are to follow in the now scheduled Final Crisis which writer Grant Morrison apparently describes as “The Lord of the Rings of the DCU”.

We shall see, and with Morrison at the helm I shall certainly be getting it. But the last four years has required a lot of forbearance. I didn’t bother with Infinite Crisis and by all accounts I was wise not to. 52 was good, Countdown has been distinctly average and the seemingly endless Countdown spin-offs have been worse than that. The whole thing has apparently been a hit but I’m left wondering who with?

There are two types of comics I read: things that I actually like, which tends to include 2000AD and pretty much anything penned by Joss Whedon, and stuff I buy out of habit. I’ve been buying far too much of the latter of late. And while DC have been pretty bad here, Marvel are just as bad offenders with their Civil War and Zombie-everything. I’ve already been sucked in but in what way is this accessible to new readers? They appear to have got caught in the same rut that Doctor Who got caught in in the 80s – fans writing for fans, keeping the community blissfully happy but not catering for anybody new.

So much for the superheroes, my other quandary lies in the fact that I find it increasingly difficult to find my way around what is sometimes rather snootily described as the comics “mainstream” – i.e. the stuff out there which isn’t all about lycra-clad musclebound buffoons who periodically blow up planets. A big Sandman fan, I got rather tired of the ever poorer cash-ins that Vertigo devised to milk that particular cash cow. Alienated by all that, I now get the impression that I missed out of some really good stuff. But how do I tell the good from the bad? I got quite into the indie-scene in the mid-nineties and was impressed by the range of good material out there. But the chaotic schedules left me a little lost. I gave up on Strangehaven having completely lost track of when the next issue was due out.

Overall, I’m feeling a little lost. I’m sure there are websites out there which can supply me with news, but it’s tough figuring out even where to start. It seems that the comics industry has found its little niche and is quite content plugging away at it, leaving it to the film industry to occasionally give it a boost. I’m not sure how sustainable all this is in the long term: if a relatively hardcore fan like myself can get alienated, isn’t there a danger this will all collapse on itself in ten or so years time?