September 4th, 2010


Read Any Good Comic Books Lately?

I've been reading a lot of comics lately, but I have to admit they've pretty much been formulaic throwaway junk for the most part. I seem to be on a kick -- more than a kick, actually, it might have become a semi-obsession some time ago -- with serial and/or throwaway entertainment. Spider pulps, old time horror and mystery radio shows, Atlas-era horror and monster comics, EC comics, kid's comics, vintage comic strip collections, crime fiction, young adult fantasy novels, vintage horror short fiction, et al. if I had time to watch TV I'm sure I'd be watching a lot of Ultraman and Iron King, wrestling, Dr. Who, old poverty-row horror flicks and adventure serials and the like. Maybe The Wire, I've been interested in seeing The Wire, but I bet it would depress me. Anyway, I don't have time to watch sixty hours of anything, for good or bad.

I'd argue that the horror stories I've been reading are top-notch "classic" stuff, the comic strips are terrific, some of the radio shows are above average time-spenders, ditto the EC comics which in general I still love and find fascinating and worthwhile, and the kiddie comics have largely been John Stanley stuff, which I'll defend to the death as honest, intelligent, quality work. Some of the YA books have been excellent, at least in my opinion, I really enjoy Philip Reeve's writing, especially his Mortal Engines-related work, and I'm a fan of the Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. But most of the stuff I'm lending the ears and eyeballs to has been pretty vacant and shoddy crap (especially the Atlas-era comics, yeesh). And I won't lie, I enjoy a lot of this crap, to be honest. I'm not going to spend time examining the reason why, at least not at the moment, but while I've seriously lowered my intake of junk food over the past ten or fifteen years, I haven't ever lost the taste for junk culture.

A lot of my reading has been work-related, gathering research or inspiration or just soaking up atmosphere for Beasts of Burden, for the Treehouse of Horror gig, and a few other projects. But  much of it has been carefully and at times carelessly chosen as pure comfort entertainment, genre, genre, genre, nothing too challenging, nothing too depressing, nothing that will keep me up at night thinking about it. Things have been super-stressful for quite some time and it's been hard to find time to read, and harder still to latch onto anything beyond surface entertainment.

Comics-wise, I've been sitting on a number of "quality" books I really want to read, Asterios Polyp, A Drifting Life, the complete Alec collection, Footnotes In Gaza...I just never grab them off the shelf because I want to really sit down with them and take them in and pore over them, and I generally don't have the time for much more than a short story or two, a couple of dumb comics or a chapter of a YA or a Cornel Woolrich or Jules Verne novel before I start nodding off to sleep. And I don't want to read them on the can, which is a swell place to knock off a few short Kirby or Ditko monster comics or an issue of Thirteen Going on Eighteen or a few weeks-worth of Moomin or Cul de Sac strips (I'm also still avoiding Asterios Polyp because I accidentally saw a two-page spread in the back of the book that was, unfortunately, a major spoiler, so...I've been bummed out that I know part of the ending of the book). I still don't have Wilson, or George Sprott, or Weathercraft, I've fallen behind on Love and Rockets and Acme, that's just from too many comics being out there, and forgetting to track stuff down, and reading what people send you for free ahead of what you can actually shop for. So many comics, so little money, so little time.

Anyway, I'm rambling, as usual. What I was going to simply ask was what have you folks been reading as of late, comics-wise, and if you wish to share, book-wise. I'll start off, okay?

I've recently enjoyed The Afrodisiak by Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg, which Jim was nice enough to send us. I enjoy the Bongo comps we get, they really make fun comics. I mentioned Cul de Sac, which I love, and Emily loves, as well. I've been picking up, whenever store credit allows, the Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy reprints from IDW, Prince Valiant and Captain Easy from FBI, the John Stanley library and Moomin collections from D&Q. Despite my general dislike for Craig Yoe's editing, writing, "scholarship" and packaging I picked up a copy of the Felix the Cat comics collection he tossed together for IDW, as I'm fond of the character and Emily really likes those comics ( I picked up the Milt Gross collection he did and donated it to the Center for Cartoon Studies because I didn't like it and assume someone else is going to tackle Gross one of these days, and I avoided his Ditko book because rather than an "art book" it's a collection of strips and I thought it was weak-looking stuff in a weak-looking package. It's great to have these comics available, but the bar's been raised on archival reprint projects, and Yoe continually struts beneath it, imo. Look at the difference between his recently-released kid's comics collection and the superlative job Spiegelman and Mouly did with their Abrams kid's collection. 'Nuff said.)

I've been reading a lot of monster comics from Lee, Lieber, Kirby, Ditko, Ayers, et al. Not as much fun as I remembered, unfortunately, and these terribly repetitive comics were never meant to be read in great bunches, but the monsters themselves are swell and the overall mood is infectious. Also, as mentioned before, I'm going through a lot of the Atlas-era horror stuff. The pre-code material isn't all that good, but it's interesting to see the range of artists working on the material, guys like Russ Heath, Carmine Infantino, Jerry Robinson, Bill Everett, Dick Briefer, Werner Roth, and a host of cartoonists I've never heard of before. Also interesting to see early work by John Romita and Gene Colan. These comics work better as a history lesson than as actual entertainment (it doesn't help that the Marvel Masterworks line features glossy paper and garish reproduction, which mars even the best comic art they reproduce), and as proof that the EC line really did kick the crap out of the competition back in the day. At least Atlas. Comparing the art is pointless, only a small handful of these stories were drawn with enough care and skill to come close to the average EC art job, with Russ Heath coming out as the top man regularly working at Atlas. Writing-wise, as bad as some EC stories could get, they rarely were as flimsy, illogical or just plain dumb as these scripts, which are simply bereft of style, character, characters, or wit. A six-year old kid could predict the majority of the "twist" endings, and a seven-year old could point out the logic gaps in the goings-on. Yet I keep reading them and blowing store credit on them. Oy.

I'm keeping up with Tezuka's Blackjack. Stopped working through Lone Wolf and Cub but not because I wasn't enjoying it, just taking a break, there's a lot of material there.  Borrowed Yotsuba! vol 7 from the library -- forgot to special order it -- and loved it, will need to get that for the house as I want to read the series with Emily. Really enjoyed Mysterius The Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler, a book I admit I wasn't aware of until Mr. Parker handed me a copy at Heroes Con (which was very nice of him). It reminded me a great deal of Steve Gerber's work, and I mean that as a compliment -- fun genre stuff with pulp overtones, social satire, well-delineated oddball characters, solid plotting, and -- holy shit --  an actual story. I've always meant to check out Parker's Marvel stuff -- Agents of Atlas, right --? and this was definitely another nudge forward. I should see if the NYPL has it. The library's a great place to check out comics, but I keep forgetting I can reserve stuff beyond what they have at our local branch, which is spotty save for the more popular manga series (and Yotsuba!, they just got the entire run from Yen Press, which was nice to see).

I can't remember anything else I've read at the moment and I've typed enough and work calls. So, howzabout you folks out there? Talk up some good comics, bury some bad comics, recommend something to read, why don't you?