Wednesday, October 21, 2009

9 Days of Reviewin’ #3: Prestige

The prestige format

Designed by somebody who knew what they were doing

Comics come in all shapes and sizes these days. They can be as big as hell, or tiny digests that still pack in hundreds of pages. They come in every colour under the sun, in every length.

And some of them are gorgeous packages: sweet hardbacks with crisp and giant reproduction. Covers that sing and tantalize, overall objects with an incredible design sense. Some of them are so good, they’re pure sex on paper.

And the sexiest of them all - the biggest tart that often fails to deliver, but looks good doing it – is the prestige format.

It’s been eclipsed by all sorts of superior formats over the past two decades, but the prestige comics are still the prettiest girl at the dance. She might be awkward and slightly unsatisfying when you actually try to talk to her, but she is always up for a dance.

That format, with a spine that’s just big enough for the title and fuck all else. Slick pages, cardboard covers and the sense of a complete package that doesn’t come with stapled comics. Usually only 48 to 64 pages, just enough to offer something decent.

The format was toyed with for a long, long time, but the Dark Knight Returns shot it into popularity, with DC advertisements from the late eighties breathlessly touting the next masterpiece in “in the Dark Knight format”.

Since then, there have been fucking millions of prestige comics: Three or four issue superhero stories, often nice and complete, mostly outside constraints of continuity. Entire series that ran for dozens of issues. Cheeky one-offs and mental crossovers.

The first one I ever got was the Excalibur special edition, a comic so pretty it sparked a deadest obsession with me when I was 13-years-old. I still have that issue, and it’s falling apart, but I have to stop typing for a second and flick through it now.

Man, Rachel really pulled off that mullet…..

The second prestige comic I ever bought was The Killing Joke, and that was the one that really turned me on to the format: That neon green on the cover, and the deep and gorgeously garish colours inside. The use of the endpapers and pages and pages and pages of Bolland art. I liked this format so much I wanted to do bad things to it.

She’s proven a tart since then, and dalliances with comics like Deathmate almost killed off the appeal, but I’ve still got dozens and dozens of prestige comics that are some of my favourite comics ever.

There is Grendel, Preacher and Jeff Smith’s Captain Marvel. Judge Dredd and Batman beating the crap out of each other and the golden age Sandman meeting Morpheus in a bottle. Reprints of Harvey Kurtzman war comics and almost all of those Lone Wolf and Cub comics reprinted by First in the late ‘80s.

All the original From Hell issues are in there and some of them are bending quite alarmingly, but Kingdom Come is still holding up well, and I read the fuck out of that thing in 1997. And then there are the incredible A1 comics from Atonmeka, Dean Motter’s version of The Prisoner, or Morrison and Fegredo’s version of Kid Eternity (with the magnificent sunglasses on the cover.)

Or the wonderfully demented DK2 issues, coming out in the same format and receiving an unfortunately different reception from its predecessor.

The virulent fanboy reaction against DK2 also seemed to have the unfortunate side effect of putting many publishers off the format, but it’s still there, in black and white comics published by smaller companies. Avatar have done some fairly interesting things with the format, and even produced one of Warren Ellis’ very best works with Crecy, while Dave Sim’s Judenhass is a harrowing and rewarding read, and it only helps that these comics come with that lovely, lovely spine.

And they might be a bit long, but the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books pick up all the best aspects of the pure prestige format, and are all the better for it.

Because it’s a shameless hussy of a format, that flirts with the design-sensitive part of the brain and comes up with rewards that make it all worthwhile.

The prestige format: It was designed by somebody who knew what they were doing.

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