Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dilemma of Single Issues and Collected Editions

I just finished the recent Greg Rucka/Michael Lark collaboration Lazarus #1 and really enjoyed it. During the past six months, I’ve also read and enjoyed some of Rucka’s earlier work, including Stumptown and Queen & Country. Rucka is quickly turning into a “must buy sight unseen” comic book writer, so when he offers anything extra in his work beyond the comic itself, I pay attention. 

Rucka does this at the end of Lazarus #1 with “Forever Yours,” a space that will eventually be devoted to fan letters. Since this is the first issue, Rucka gives us not one or two, but six full pages of his ideas, thoughts and research on the creative process behind Lazarus and much more. I’d probably have paid the $2.99 cover price just for these pages; they’re that good.

Now let me stop for a moment to say that I don’t buy a lot of single floppy comic books. When I hear about a new comic that interests me, I’ll usually buy one or two issues to see if I like it. If I do, I’ll stop buying the single issues and just wait for the trade collected edition to come out. (Reasons: Collected editions are easier to store on bookshelves and I don’t have the storage space for long or short boxes of single issues.) Every now and then I’ll buy a single issue in digital format, but I feel bad that my money isn’t going to support my local comic shop, so when I buy, I usually buy the hardcopy locally. 

I realize that such a practice is probably not good for those individual titles I’ve stopped buying. If a title isn’t selling in floppies (especially the non-Marvel and DC titles), it runs the risk of not being published as a collected edition at all. 


But if Rucka keeps these extras going, I’m going to be very tempted to keep buying the floppies, since I’m fairly certain the supplemental material won’t be collected in the trades. (This is the reason I bought the single issues of the Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips collaboration The Last of the Innocent and the first several issues of Matt Kindt’s Mind Mgmt.)

I’m interested in hearing what other comic book buyers do. Do you double-dip and buy both floppies and the collected editions? Do you determine which issues include supplemental material that probably won’t be collected and ignore the collected editions? If you buy a few issues to see if you’re going to like a series and end up buying the collected editions, what do you do with the floppies? 

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Thanks in advance.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Spirit Archives Volume 1 (1940/2000) - Will Eisner

Will Eisner’s The Spirit Archives Volume 1: June 2 to December 29, 1940
(2000) - Will Eisner
DC Comics
Hardcover, 237 pages
ISBN 1563896737

Show me a person who knows absolutely nothing about comic books who wants to know something about comic books. In no time at all, they’ll hear the name “Eisner.” That reference might be to the Eisner Awards or to the man himself, but make no mistake, you’ll hear the name early and often.

There’s a reason for this: Will Eisner’s contribution to the world of comics is monumental. I could give you a rundown of Eisner’s legacy, but you can find that evidence just about anywhere, including concise treatments included in this edition. But save those for after you’ve read this first volume of archives, a collection of 7-page tales originally published weekly as Sunday newspaper inserts.  

This volume’s opening gives a far better introduction to The Spirit than I ever could:

Denny Colt, a young criminologist, believed to have lost his life in a fight against crime, was buried in a state of suspended animation. He awoke one day in Wildwood Cemetery to carry on his struggle...his true identity known only to Police Commissioner Dolan. He is feared by criminals of all stripes as the SPIRIT!

The Spirit immediately separates itself from other Golden Age comics of the era in several ways. The writing is tight and focused. It had to be, with only seven pages to work with. Nearly all of these tales are self-contained, “one and done” stories, yet recurring themes and characters keep readers’ interest strong. 

As good as these stories are, it’s Eisner’s art that’s astounding. Again, we have to think about what else is going on in the Golden Age at this time. Superman had been around for a couple of years, Batman was literally at the end of year one, and Captain Marvel had just arrived. (Captain America, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Plastic Man and Black Hawk were all waiting around the corner, debuting in 1941.) I’ll admit to not having read a lot of Golden Age comics, but the ones I have from this era don’t exactly have the most sophisticated storytelling or art. Remember, the medium (at least for superheroes) was still pretty new. Artists were, to a large degree, still trying to figure out the best way to illustrate stories, make them flow, and give the reader the greatest visual impact.

Up steps Eisner, who seems to have landed from another planet where people had already been drawing comics for centuries. (Eisner had, in fact, been drawing professionally for about four years.) You don’t have to look far to see that Eisner was way ahead of just about everybody else at the time. Just look at the first page of the first comic dated June 2, 1940: Even in the very first panel, we see Denny Colt (pre-Spirit) leaning into Commissioner Dolan’s office, separated by the office door. Dolan’s shadow appears literally on top of the door, setting the stage for something of a love/hate darkness/light relationship that will continue throughout the series (although both men are working on the side of good). In Panel #2, Dolan says, “Denny Colt! Haven’t I enough trouble?” as Colt sits on a corner of Dolan’s desk, clearly looking down on him. He says there for the next two panels. (Notice also the brightness of the Commissioner’s office contrasted with the darkness of the city through the office window.) They’re working for the same goals, but Colt and Dolan are different and Eisner makes each panel show this in subtle, yet unmistakeable ways. 

And that’s just the first page. 

Eisner had complete control over The Spirit and was able to take risks, experiment with form, art, and storytelling. You don’t have to look very far to see that Eisner has been an enormous influence over many artists, but I have to believe Steve Ditko must’ve spent many hours pouring over Eisner’s work. You see elements of Ditko’s strange architecture (from Doctor Strange), mad scientist laboratories (from The Amazing Spider-Man), shady underworld figures (from many comics) right here in this first volume alone.

Yet all is not paradise. Eisner’s portrayal of The Spirit’s sidekick Ebony is sorely racist and insensitive. No doubt this is a product of Eisner’s times, but Ebony’s character (as likable as he is) makes for many uncomfortable moments. But again, those were the times...

The original adventures of The Spirit ran from 1940 to 1952 and have been collected in 26 hardcover volumes. Most of these, sadly, are out of print, but hopefully DC Comics will reissue them soon. (The new Rocketeer/Spirit comic mini-series will be released this week, so hopefully that might create some demand for the original archive volumes.) I was able to acquire this volume through interlibrary loan, so check your local library first. I plan on reading all 26 volumes. I hope you’ll join me.  


Monday, July 22, 2013

Copra Compendium #1 (2013) Michel Fiffe

Copra Compenduim (Collects Copra #1-3) - Michel Fiffe 

“We’ve always been lousy at taking orders, even though we always carry them out.” 

Thus speaks Man-Head, the leader of a superhero/mercenary group assembled to “corral the dangerous and the hostile and make them useful.” This group, sort of a Dirty Dozen or Suicide Squad, is called Copra, a team of six oddballs and misfits with various powers. On this mission (an unauthorized one, we’re told), the members of Copra are traveling in the back of a truck, guarding what looks like a human head with a piece of lightning-shaped shrapnel penetrating it. Is the head alive, powering the truck or maybe powering something else? Or anything at all? (I certainly will not tell you.)

Man-Head narrates this opening issue long enough to introduce us to the team, but doesn’t have time for much else, since all hell breaks loose on page 5. 

From this point on, Copra is one strange, wild ride. What starts as a fairly straight-forward superhero story evolves into something incredibly weird, cosmic, and wonderfully compelling. What makes Copra work is a combination of wild energy and unconventional panel use. Let me explain:

In the middle of page 7, we see Lite (bottom left in the picture above), a new recruit to Copra, standing behind the truck awaiting the approach of a woman with a sword running towards him. In the next panel, she’s closer and Lite’s face shows he’s preparing for the clash. In the third panel, she’s gone and the expression on Lite’s face is anger, disappointment, hatred, possibly at being duped. The next panel, larger than all three of the previous ones combined, shows surprise, an action performed too late, and an element of movement that tells us that we’re not done yet, not by a long shot. These first three panels could be still photographs. Their effectiveness comes from the fact that they speak for themselves; they need no sound effects, thought bubbles, or any other typical comic book techniques. 

This segment is also one of many that allows Fiffe to show the sudden, devastating effects of the book’s violence, which is often presented not so much with a sense of disgust, but rather of wonder. If that sounds contradictory, it’s not. You’ll just have to see the comic for yourself. The battle scenes have so much going on you’ll want to linger over the panels for awhile. Second (or third) glances will reveal many things you might’ve missed the first time.      

Fiffe’s art style, color choices and panel configurations all combine into something unique and exploding with energy. Fiffe’s backgrounds are often drab, tan-colored landscapes, yet he frequently fills his panels with vibrant colors, especially when we’re dealing with characters and objects that may be not of this world. You could almost say that the characters are drawn in a rough, sketchy style, but the deeper you look, the more detail you see. 

I bought Copra at on a whim at Third Eye Comics and am so glad I did. It’s the strangest, most exciting graphic novel I’ve run across this year. If you’re into weird, cosmic stories with great battle scenes, Copra is for you. I know I can’t wait for the next compendium. Highly recommended.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Where are All the (Good) Comic Book Podcasts?

It's really hard to find good comic book news and reviews podcasts. Most of the ones I run across usually consist of two or more guys who spend the first 15 minutes (or more; sometimes much more) of each podcast discussing how drunk they got over the weekend, what party/club they went to, or some such shenanigans.

I'm not interested in that. I want to hear people discussing comics thoughtfully and intelligently, preferably right from the get-go. It can be any comics or graphic novels; I don't care. The two best podcasts I currently listen to on a regular basis are Chris Marshall's Collected Comics Library podcast and the Comics Alternative podcast.

If there are other good comic book/graphic novel podcasts out there that are both informative and intelligent, please let me know about them.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sweet Tooth Vol. 6: Wild Game (2013) - Jeff Lemire

Sweet Tooth Vol. 6: Wild Game (2013) - Jeff Lemire
Collecting Sweet Tooth #33-40
Trade paperback, 200 pages
ISBN 9781401240295
Retail price: $16.99
Amazon price: $12.17

Out of the Woods, the first volume of Sweet Tooth, introduced us to Gus, a boy with antlers who has been raised by his human father in the backwoods of post-apocalyptic Nebraska. Gus has a weakness for candy bars (thus the title), which are rare and tend to get him in some early trouble. Gus is a hybrid - part human, part animal, and in Out of the Woods, he’s scared to death, but ready to find out where he came from, despite the warnings of his concerned father. 

That was in 2009. Now in 2013, with the release of Vol. 6, Wild Game, Lemire brings the Sweet Tooth saga to a close. It is a mostly satisfying closure filled with answers to questions, hope for the future and oddly enough, grace. I say mostly because Lemire could tell us more in some future incarnation of the book, but I really hope he doesn’t. The entire series is filled with great adventure, weird science, and wonderful relationships. It's also often quite harsh and painful, but isn't the real world also? I’ll just leave it at that and hope that I’ve given you enough incentive to seek out this series.   

A word about the art: Lemire’s style takes some getting used to if you’ve never experienced it before. It’s a rough, loosely-sketched style that often looks unfinished, yet is perfectly matched to the tone of the story. In contrast, the backgrounds and watercolors by Jose Villarrubia are often breathtakingly beautiful. The art brilliantly encapsulates the combination of gritty realism of the story, surrounded by an overarching theme of redemption and good. 

If you enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, you’ll probably like Sweet Tooth and will want to start from the beginning. With the series now complete, you can read the entire story in six trade paperbacks. This is from DC’s Vertigo line, so expect lots of profanity and some graphic violence, but this is also Lemire, so expect an outstanding, well-crafted story that delivers. 


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Graphic Novels Read in June 2013

Depending on whether or not you count the two volumes of Maus separately, I only read three or four graphic novels in June, but those few were stellar. 

Maus, Vol. 1: My Father Bleeds History (1991) - Art Spiegelman

Maus, Vol. 2: And Here My Troubles Began (1993) - Art Spiegelman