Comic Book Heaven


by

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Comic Book Heaven. Been catching up on some different comic book series in the last month since X-mas. Here’s a little rant on comic books – the old fashioned kind. Here’s the list:

Crickets #3
Uptight #4
The Bulletproof Coffin #6
King City #12
Neonomicon #3
Deadpool MAX #3

I finally read The Bulletproof Coffin #6. The finale. I gotta say that I liked it. But I’m such a fan of this series that I don’t expect you to believe me. Is this propaganda? Did Kane and Hine pay me to write a five-star review? Something to be Google searched and referenced in some futurepast?

I’m incapable of writing anything critical about The Bulletproof Coffin. And I mean about its context in 2010/2011. I wish I had a grad student’s tenacity to explain how I think this comic is “just right” for this Comic Book Golden Age that we are living in these days.

I think the book’s power is drawn from using the language of comics itself – a self referenced set of symbols. And they are Pop symbols—Jungle Girl, Noir Men in Hats, Zombies, Costumed Heroes, Comics—which all sort of write themselves & propel themselves forward. So the “comics-within comics” bends the straightforward whodunit/time-machine storyline like a House of Mirrors. So at the end the entire bejeweled reflection of BC’s comic book universe spins away into the pure white of the last issue’s glossy back cover in a Mylar bag. Finished. The End. The end of the series and the end of Comics. That’s the “just right” feeling for me. It comes from believing that comics as we know them are changing faster than we care to admit. We’re in denial that comic books are not going the way of the dodo. Pamphlets and Wednesday afternoons at the shop, I mean. The end of The Bulletproof Coffin seems to say it better than I can. It’s Over! The times they are a’ changin’. So track down those back issues, True Believers, don’t wait for the trade.

Beyond “The End of Comics,” the end of The Bulletproof Coffin makes me think about how a couple of my favorite series of last year have ended. King City ended. Batman and Robin basically ended now that Morrison left the book. (Big Questions ended but somehow that doesn’t count in this round-up.) Alan Moore’s new series is almost over and he was thrown under the bus for real for the first time in memory. Something is happening. The end of The Bulletproof Coffin also makes me think about this Golden Age and how we the fans are in on most of the gags – are so informed about what is going on. It’s weird.

But is this a resurgence of the comic book serial or a death rattle? I was trying to imagine what a King City collection is going to look like. It’s gonna be huge and prolly expensive. I can’t even imagine what a Big Questions collection is gonna cost. So even though there are all these pamphlet series I love – the reality is that most of my friends haven’t read them because they are hard to track down. Shit, King City was hard to keep up with and I worked in a comics shop for most of last year. Just making sure the shop would “put one in my bag behind the counter” wasn’t guaranteed.

So, when the collections of King City and The Bulletproof Coffin come out is everyone gonna go bananas? Is anyone going to be able to afford Big Questions? It reminds me of when Dash’s Bodyworld was fist released. Everyone was blogging about waiting for the book to come out to read it – that they didn’t wanna read it online – and then when it did it was like everybody just griped about the format and/or the price. It was easier when everything just existed as comic books and only blockbuster hits got “collected” in a trade. The game was to collect the comics. That’s what the stores and knowledgeable schmoes like me were for. Now stores are mostly just middlemen for Amazon. I ask Bill at Copacetic to order me things just to throw him the business even if I can do it easier myself. Sux.

I know, I know, I’m going on a buncha different tangents. It’s just that I was thinking, “Wow, look at all these comic books. I like reading serials.” And then I was realizing that most of my stack was “over.” One more issue of Neonomicon. And it’ll be years before another Crickets or Uptight comes out. So really my big stack of serials was stalled and I just didn’t know it. What? You think Kyle Baker will stay on Deadpool indefinitely? I doubt it. What else is there to read? I mean, I read mainstream stuff a lot just to have something to read. I haven’t gotten hooked on any webcomics yet. I’m okay with going down with the Wednesday afternoon ship. (I made a bet with Jordan Crane that DC will stop publishing serial comic books within two years.)

This is when I think putting out – or trying to put out – a 48-page “album” or “annual” every year is best. Something like Prison Pit or Powr Mastrs. CF has almost managed to put out one a year since 2007. Johnny Ryan is on schedule – one a year. Going to Angouleme last year made me realize that the annual “album” is best. And that self-contained works sell better than a serialized works. I also noticed that most popular North American cartoonists who trucked in short stories were not very popular in France. But cartoonists who do long-form self-contained works were popular. Maybe they know better.

At least Lose #3 will be out at TCAF.

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56 Responses to “Comic Book Heaven”
  1. Shawn says:

    About the King City collection – Brandon has said it’s not likely we’ll see one – the size would make it cost-prohibitive, and I think some of the issue regarding the rights (TokyoPop owns it, or some of it) make things problematic.

  2. Blake Sims says:

    I’m just waiting for the news that Baker has left the Deadpool series. Altogether it’s been so-so, but is art has been great. It’s a nice mix of the Wednesday Comics and Plastic Man styles.

  3. horus kemwer says:

    At least Howard Chaykin still does one-shots . . .

    • Yah, I got that last one pulled for me – haven’t read it yet. I swear Chaykin is sampling himself. That Two Gun Kid series looked like he did a model sheet for the each of the characters and just sampled various views.

  4. inkstuds says:

    WHAT ABOUT ORC STAIN!!!!!!

  5. Brian Nicholson says:

    I was imagining a King City collection would be manga-sized and priced at $10. And would just be volume 2. Which, as I write it now, does seem absurd.

    The Big Questions hardcover is priced at $70, the softcover at $45. That is a book that I stopped reading in the singles because I assumed the collection would be cheaper- I was imagining it topping out at $30, like the Black Hole collection, just so people could imaginably read it- and I’m pretty sure that the cumulative cost of the issues I didn’t buy is still cheaper than it would’ve been to buy the remaining serialization, at least when you do the Amazon discounting bit.

    (Insert Cold Heat joke here)

    I also enjoyed the Bulletproof Coffin conclusion.

    I have myself assumed that DC and Marvel will stop putting out serialized comic books in a few years (2012). It is funny to imagine how much of a nail in the coffin of the direct market that would be, while simultaneously tragic- How that market is also the major source of old comics for cheap, meaning it’s the keeper of history, while totally kept alive by an influx of new product that seems doomed to cease.

  6. zak sally says:

    what the….no King City collection?!?!

    why that is straight up NONSENSE. someone get on this, STAT.

  7. Lastworthy says:

    DC has at least five more years of floppies in them. We’ll get an 18 month heads up from a median format change (Something like an all-you-can-eat digital subscription, or a Shonen Jump/Archie digest -type deal) and that will either do well enough that everything switches over or poor enough that everything below a certain line gets cut.
    I think both teams see the comics as loss leaders for the merchandising at this point. To varying degrees.

  8. Rob Clough says:

    Frank,

    Jordan’s getting out an issue of Uptight about every year. Not super fast, but not “years” between issues. I’m hoping Sammy can get up to that pace for Crickets.

    The best serial to me is clearly 1-800-MICE. Not only is this one of my favorite comics ever, but it has all the classic hallmarks of a series: a wacky letters page, extra one-page strips, lovingly-crafted covers, etc. Plus Thurber gets an issue out once a year like clockwork.

    I’m still reading Berlin as a serial, by the way. The format is really perfect for it.

    Speaking of annuals, getting Palookaville as an annual is something that should have happened a long time ago–perfect format for Seth to do short stories, show off sketchbook stuff, etc. He’s such a design hound that I can’t believe it didn’t occur to him a long time ago.

    The only superhero serial I’m reading is Paul Grist’s Jack Staff comic, which has always been a pitch-perfect bit of lovely weirdness. Jeff Smith’s RASL is also worth reading.

    • Pfft, Berlin? Draw some swastikas on the Nazi’s uniforms and flags and I might actually check it out. Seriously, how can you draw a comic about Nazis and not draw swastikas? I know, I know, it’s so he can have it published in Europe. Still… Talk about power in symbols – not using swastikas takes a lot of the power away from the images.

      • Not drawing swastikas also gives that symbol more power.

        • bobsy says:

          Are you sort of suggesting that efforts should be made to strip the swastika of its transgressive power then? If so I’m not so sure – some things are better best unforgotten.

          Anyway, got to say, I really hadn’t noticed the absence in ‘Berlin’. It’s probably only fair to point out there are few (uniformed) Nazis in the book; and it’s set some time before they came to power, so it’s not like their iconography’s lack of ubiquity is necessarily unrealistic or dishonest.

          I think I respect the decision, and not just for practical reasons, although one of the book’s most remarkable features is its part-referenced, part-invented reimagining of the lost city as a ‘physical’ entity. It would be perverse if the book wasn’t available for sale (the swastika ban is Germany & Austria only, not Europe-wide) in the very town whose past it so dramatically dreams back into being!

          On the general point of a verboten symbol accruing extra ‘power’ through its censorship – while it may be an enlightening semiotic discussion to have, in this instance such a contention is far from true, because symbols also gain significance and influence simply by being able to transmit their meaning (contingent though that meaning may be).

          To imagine an example: a gang of skinheads marching down Scheidemannstrasse is an ugly thing, but somewhat unfocused and impotent; a gang of skinheads marching down Scheidemanstrasse with swastikas, proudly and explicitly declaring their support for a policy of industrialised genocide, would be something far viler, far more powerful.

          To argue against myself for a moment, I think that in the case of Lutes’ work the missing swastikas probably don’t dull the impact of the images themselves. Their ‘disappeared’ state could therefore serve to amplify their implication through the surrounding negative space. If anything the strange absence is more likely to prompt the reader to consider why it should be that the symbols have been omitted. (If they’re reading carefully enough to even notice it…)

  9. Joe Williams says:

    I really miss going into a comic shop and being able to pick up an issue of a comic and feeling like you got a self-contained experience that wasn’t a “gateway drug” designed to keep you coming back every Wednesday (or even every 12th or 36th Wednesday in the case of some indy comics).

    Now I go in and can hardly find any indy comics (outside of the ones mentioned above) and even those seem like mostly serialized bits of a future collection with little in the ways of extras or letters pages to goose the sales of the floppies. What’s worse is the habits of comic shop owners who like to order at most one extra copy of a #1 so chances are I can find every issue of a mini-series except #1 (that’s been my experience with Bulletproof Coffin). My trips to the shop get fewer and fewer because I can’t find anything I want to buy (at least in the $5-$10 range).

    I like Frank’s idea of annual albums- as long as they’re more than 32 pages!

    I never get why DC can’t just package all their Bat books (except maybe a flagship individual title) into a fat anthology that could be sold on newstands. Marvel tries this with the Spider-Man “kids” line but it’s more like a magazine and feels over-priced for what you get.

    Comics have be at a competitive price-point with other media and be self-contained enough so an average person can grasp what’s happening and enjoy their small burst of media entertainment. I also think the paper in the average comic is way too nice and adds more to the cost than it should. If you want to collect it on nice paper fine but a serialized comic should not be printed onto thick stock that doubles the price. I think some comics are trying too hard to find their way onto bookselves and should be happy being comic books!

  10. I like serialized comics too, but you’re right that they’re hard to keep up with. I almost never see stuff like Uptight and Crickets. Even something like Thor: The Mighty Adventure was tough to track down after a while. Although, to be fair, my local shop kinda sucks.

    My favorite serialized comic by far is Savage Dragon, and I recommend it to you.

  11. Chris D. says:

    Joe Williams: “I also think the paper in the average comic is way too nice and adds more to the cost than it should. If you want to collect it on nice paper fine but a serialized comic should not be printed onto thick stock that doubles the price.”

    Exactly! It’s insane. They should use stock like the earlier Image comics or something. Not super cheap, but you don’t feel like you’re leafing through a collection of glossy magazine covers, either. It seems like the issues get smaller, the paper is too expensive, and too many mainstream comics now just look like Photoshop nightmares. 10 years ago I bought issues like crazy and went to the shop at least once a week. Now I mostly buy archival trades…all the old Marvel, DC, manga, or whatever I couldn’t find (cheap) when I was a kid. It’s the companies’ faults for multiple reasons, though. They drive away readers.

  12. Graham says:

    Have you checked out “Chew” Frank? It’s been pretty enjoyable so far. There’s three trades and they’re only about an issue behind.

  13. BVS says:

    I don’t know if i read the end of bullet proof coffin as so grim. the way I see bullet proof coffin ‘s ending had to do with the idea that we’ve been in the zombie age of comics for a long time now. fininacially comics books died a long time ago, most independant record stores closed down when they were still making more money than still open comics shops of today are. but comics and their weekly fans just will not stay in their graves they keep shambling forward, not even a direct head shot stops them. love, not logic just is the dominating force of this industry. maybe that has to do with the title or something.

  14. Dude, you don’t read BPRD?

    • Yah, I’ve been reading the collections though. So I “wait for the trade”. I read most of the Hellboy mini-series and one shots though as they come out. Especially if Richard Corben is involved.

  15. “I think your point on the serialized being cheap and easy and everyone can read it, But the collection being big and expensive and NOBODY reads it is huge. A very good point. At this point, comics go from being easy to buy to being an investment. And if I’m disappointed by one issue, but liked one or two things about it, I can just buy another issue and try it out again. and again. and again. I mean, I probably bought 10 issues of Stray Bullets or The Walking Dead that I didn’t like, but the next issue would come out and I’d think “ah, let’s give it a shot.” Cover art, potential, the possibilities combined with the short price make it easy to try. But a large book? If I paid $30 for Bodyworld, and wasn’t thrown out of my chair by it, I’m not going to pick up his next book. Nofuckingway.”
    Sent to me privately by a comics artist who does serial works – who shall remain anonymous.

  16. Joe Williams says:

    Well, at least you could sample Bodyworld or even read it in its entirety online.

    chris d.: I really like Image’s paper as it’s nice enough to look good but not so nice that it seems wasted on a monthly comic book which most people will put in a bag and forget about. I really liked the “Slimline” model Warren Ellis tried with “Fell” but gave up.

  17. kevinczap says:

    It’s a prospect that I feel a lot of folks are not super excited about, but digital distribution seems like it could be some kind of future for independent folks. I feel like it’s still early enough that different methods could be tried out, see what sticks. There’s no right way to do it now, at least theoretically.

    Maybe there could be subscription models, comics shops could sell gift cards for downloadable books at the shops (think iTunes cards). If this was paired with a yearly album/collection kind of deal… (kind of seems like the mainstream model of pamphlet to trade, but it seems we’re at a point most creators are doing that anyway)

    Yeah yeah, no one wants to give up print comics, digital can never be a replacement. It just seems like something that’s really on the horizon. I’m not sure where to find the balance between expensive enough to be worth the cost of production and cheap enough to be easy to pick up and read, but in terms of the latter, digital distribution seems to fit the bill.

    Of course, this pretty much follows in line with Frank’s projection that the age of floppies is more or less over with. I’ve been lucky that shops by me have been getting Orc Stain and RASL… It feels like it’s just a hassle of being in Cleveland, but from reading all these other reactions, maybe this is just how it is most places.

    • I like reading Gabrielle Bell’s strips every other week or so – really enjoy them, really dig the immediacy and I think I would buy a print collection of them if/when they are collected. My dream would be to be able to custom order my own collection – and the price point would vary based on the number of strips.
      I remember Bill Boichel ( who else?) talking about “soon you’ll just be able to do print on demand on your home printer and bam you got the book.”
      So who knows.
      I remember sitting around with all the guys in LA and feeling like we’re the old dogs who still prefer print but soon no one is gonna care. I feel like it’ll be all digital soon and people who make comics – print comics- will be throwback artists. Its not all doom and gloom though.

  18. One personal thing I worry about with the death of comic books and the comic shop is that they’re where I sell the vast majority of copies of King-Cat. When I started it was almost all mail order, direct to suscribers and orderers, maybe 10% went to stores. Now it’s reversed. When those stores go out of business I’d like to think that the customers who picked up KCat in them will pick up a subscription or otherwise get in touch to continue getting the series, but I know from experience that doesn’t really happen. That’s a big potential problem for me financially.

    Sure, the ratio switched over once, and maybe sometime in the future it will go back to higher subscription numbers etc, but that’s not going to happen overnight. And meanwhile the bills will keep comin’.

  19. Damn – is that true about King City? I’ve been waiting for the trade (yeah, yeah, I know, whatever). How the hell am I gonna read it now?

    • zack soto says:

      If you can read french, it’s already been collected in two volumes (bigger than manga size thank god)

      • What? I know Robin McConnell is reading this and won’t comment – can someone get the real word on all this? This is what I wanna read about on news site comics sites, jeeezz, lets go fellers, gimme the dope!

  20. Jeremy says:

    I’ve been trying to track down issue 7 and 8 for months! I even called Copacetic, and they blamed some guy named Frank for pushing the book so hard they don’t have any stock left.

  21. Gabe fowler says:

    Not sure digital distro is good for artists either, due to the same bootlegging problem afforded by the mp3. For every digital copy sold, 50 people or more will read the damn thing. That’s progress? As a comic store owner, I felt like I had to buy an ipad to check it out. Within 3 hours I found a torrent with scans of every single goddamn EC comic ever made. For free. I don’t need to tell you that these are the best comics ever created by some of the best artists ever to work in the field.

    The next day working at the Desert Island, I couldn’t help but stare grimly at the $50 reprint of Crime Suspenstories for what it is: a fucking CD. A disposable source for digitizing. The original artifact of the comic book is the vinyl LP, and the “ebook” or whatever is the mp3. If the parallel holds, comic pamphlets will have a resurgence like vinyl, hardcover reprints will end up in the dollar bin, and everybody will pretend that they didn’t just go download that EC torrent.

    Know what I’m saying?

    • inkstuds says:

      I like the old gemstone “annual” reprints of the ec stuff. I have tons of those.

    • Joe Williams says:

      Interesting you mentioned the vinyl LP as I have a friend who just started a record label for stoner doom style bands and many people are amazed there are still records being made. There’s a big collector market and while most people prefer digital, some people illegally and some legally, and old fogies over 30 (like me) still buy an occasional CD there are the die hard fans that will still buy collectible vinyl. Jack White puts out a lot for his fan club on vinyl, for instance. These things can go for huge dollars on eBay. Heck, I’m starting to see more and more record players in electronics stores.

      I just mention this because I think there’s a real parallel between vinyl and printed comics (here’s one- most people think they’re both dead already). I think the trends toward the printed object as limited-run fetish item point to a similar market where most people won’t pay more than a couple bucks but the dedicated fans will show their support by paying a bit more. I think other recent events point the same way like the rise of Kickstarter and other “patron” models such as Picturebox’s lure of added art and other things to get enough orders to guarantee a profitable print run for Powr Mastrs and, I think, If ‘n’ Oof.

      I just think the problem is that in many cases indy/lit comics are ONLY available in the high end fetish product because so many of the artists are so dedicated to print (this seems to be changing as a younger generation who “grew up” on web comics comes in). Comics have always seemed to work better when they were given away free to as many as possible and then the fans would seek out the printed books to enjoy over and over.

  22. Gaffney! says:

    I also can’t put into words why I enjoyed Bulletproof Coffin so much. It was was just amazing.

    Everyone should read BPRD or at least try the first few plague of frogs collections; the high praise is warranted. It’s consistently the best comic published. If I had to give up everything but one book I would stay with BPRD.

    IMHO serialized comics are really a young person’s game. As I get older and my brain diminishes due to life, kids etc. I find them harder to keep straight from month to month. As far as I can tell though, the youngsters aren’t too jazzed about monthly comics.

    At the same time I can’t bring myself to abandon my individual issues but can’t come up with a reason to keep them. I think I need counselling.

    • Blake SIms says:

      The new BPRD collection is awesome. It’s my first exposure to the stories, so it was a nice way to get caught up. Guy Davis is a machine, he has one of the most distinct and efficient styles in mainstream comics.

  23. Gaffney! says:

    Sweet Tooth is a solid monthly book as well. I’m enjoying Lemire’s run on Superboy so far too and I haven’t followed a superman book for decades.

  24. Gabe fowler says:

    “Comics have always seemed to work better when they were given away free to as many as possible and then the fans would seek out the printed books to enjoy over and over.”

    When was this?

    • Joe Williams says:

      Comics were at their zenith when millions were exposed to them on a daily basis in their newspaper- Garfield (estimated to have earned over $1 billion in one year) and Peanuts (the rights alone were recently sold for $175 million) are still the best selling comics of all time and are probably where the vast majority of the public (at least anyone over 30) has been exposed to comics.

      I could have even added nearly free to include cheap manga mags and comic books in the 50s-80s when the cover price was still affordable to an average kid. And by “work better” I guess I should have written “managed to be a mass medium instead of a niche product sold only in specialty stores.”

      • Gabe fowler says:

        I see what you’re saying, but newspaper comics were not free. But I guess they were free to me, since my parents paid for the newspaper.

        • Joe Williams says:

          lol you’re right- they weren’t free for mom and dad. By that measure “free” TV was never free for the person who had to buy the TV and the rabbit ears/roof antenna!

          I just want more single-issue, affordable comics I can buy when I make my monthly trip to one of the 3 not-completely-horrible comic shops within an hour of my house. It’s actually been a good year with King City, Orc Stain and Bulletproof Coffin. I’m greedy though- I want more!

  25. Briany Najar says:

    I’ve downloaded scans of all the EC comics, but it doesn’t stop me buying the Russ Cochran reprints wherever I find them.
    The reason for that is obvious, 75dpi backlit eye-burners just don’t hold a candle(?) to those little beauties.
    It’s the same with music: MP3s for quantity, vinyl for quality.

    TV licensing (in the UK) is getting harder to justify for anything but live-broadcast special events, just about everything else is on-demand online.
    Back to the high end (or otherwise) fetish product.
    The records I buy tend to be pressed in runs of 500 or 1000, and they could be said to have a certain fetishised underground cache about them.
    For other markets, packaging and supplementary material plays a part.

    Limited runs of beautiful, 3-dimensional objects can more than trump the inadequacies of (current) digital presentation.
    They can be lush and extravagant, or simply specialist.
    Either way, combining the approaches of physical distribution and digital proliferation, in strategic accord, makes a certain amount of ecological sense which actually suggests that leaving the 20th century behind might not be something to get too upset about.

    • Briany Najar says:

      Oh, the shops! What keeps them running??
      err…
      Nothing!
      It’ll all be out of the boot of someone’s car.
      You get a text, you go to the place.
      Dope beats, dope rhymes, dope cuts.

      • Briany Najar says:

        …Or,
        book-signings every week and/or comix “jams” like the way bands have to play live for their dough,
        plus, loads of locally sourced goods.
        Anything which takes advantage of a shop being an actual physical location, rather than just an abstracted vending service.

        Right, that’s that then, another problem solved, another good night’s sleep coming up.

  26. bobsy says:

    @frank santoro – No probs, sorry if it seemed like I was jumping on you.

    There is this aura of worthiness around ‘Berlin’ (apparently it’s infectious) that can be offputting; and something in the narrative aspires to the ‘novel’ side of the ‘graphic novel’ equation in a way that can make it seem like it’s trying to shake off it’s comicsy roots. But I think it’s an incredibly finely balanced and beautifully constructed book which is attempts to do something quite unique.

    • Brotherman, I remember when the first Berlin floppy came out from Black Eye Productions. I’ve been following this serial since I was a wee lad. I know all about it. But I’m still waiting for the trade, the complete slipcased edition nyuk,nyuk,nyuk