Thursday, September 29, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #29

I've only read a couple of the new 52 DC comics, but I'm sure they're full of superheroes who are smarter, braver and more compassionate than me. Why wouldn't they be?

Batman is better than me 
Originally posted November 18, 2010 

I’m sick of reading about stupid people in superhero comics. I want superheroes to be smarter than me.

Russell T Davies once said the hardest thing about writing Doctor Who was that the main character was much, much smarter than the writer, so coming up with a clever and ingenious solution to plot elements was insanely difficult. This might explain why stories that end with the Doctor building some piece of scientific bollocks to save the day are rarely satisfying, and an ending that relies on a ridiculously clever plot shuffle is always brilliant.

I like reading about characters that are better than me. A lot of Batman writers have been unable to distinguish between ‘ultra-competent’ and ‘ultra-arsehole’ – the character can be the best at what he does without alienating everybody else on the planet.

I always enjoy a Batman who is smarter than everybody else. I can handle a Mr Fantastic who comes up with ingenious solutions to world problems without being a dick. Intelligence is nothing to be scared of.

And that’s why I always like it when superpeople take a stand on killing, because it’s the easy way out that solves nothing. A strict moral code not only gives superfolk an absolute honour that makes them intensely likable characters, and it also means they need to come up with their own ingenious solutions to take down bad guys who shrug off death like an unfashionable coat.

Killing people is the kind of idea that a 12-year-old dipshit who just discovered black is his favourite colour comes up with, and thinks its realistic and smarter if Superman just burned his heat vision through the bad guy’s brains instead of imprisoning them.

It’s an adolescent attitude that often gets mistaken for a mature one. A Spider-man who strings Doc Ock up by his tentacles isn’t dark and edgy. He’s just somebody who has run out of ideas.

Killing is so easy. Superheroes should be good at this game. One of the things that has always been enjoyable about somebody like the Flash is that he is such a smart motherfucker, often coming up with ingenious methods to take down bad guys that can seem incredibly clever in the speed of the moment. Probably because he’s got time to think about it all in the space between seconds, over and over again.

Killing the bad guys is a real world attitude that has no place in a superhero universe. And it solves nothing.

You send the Joker to the afterlife that has been established within the fictional DC universe, and he will come back and fuck you up with his demon powers. This is a place where the afterlife is a verifiable entity - there have been enough trips over to heaven and hell to prove that oblivion is not an option - so killing people just makes things worse.

As Superman once pointed out, it’s a simplistic solution to a complex problem when you’re dealing with the revolving door afterlife of the DC Universe. If Batman went a bit funny in the head one day and took an axe to the Joker, chopping him into little bits and then feeding him to pigs all over the world, the grinning one would just keep coming back.

This has even happened in a comic book. When Alan Davis did his gloriously mental JLA: Another Nail comic, Joker just did some demonic deals and came back worse than ever. The Joker survives on his ridiculously powerful mega-personality, and that’s way more powerful than any death.

It’s irritating enough to see this kind of thing in the real world. Modern political discourse has devolved into a series of simple solutions for complex problems, with sound-bite ideology driving people into ridiculous frenzies of entitlement. We see this every day in the real world, and it’s maddening and impossible to shut down. I don’t want this in my comic books as well. I want them to be smarter than that. Is that too much to ask?

I don’t mind a bit of stupidity in my comics. Dumb can be fun. Dumb can be funny. Art comics about dumb people are invariably rewarding and joke comics about dickheads who always screw things up are always good for a laugh.

And The Marvel Universe just doesn’t work unless the general population is as dumb as a bag of hammers. They’ve put up with a lot. Strange people have been bringing buildings down around them for decades, but they go off their fuckin’ nuts at the X-Men or the Avengers or somebody every second day. They readily gave Norman bloody Osborne the most powerful job in the world and are regularly dragged out to give mutants a bit of that fear and prejudice they’re after.

But I really do expect more from superheroes. We don't need tpo drag them down to our level, they can pull us up to theirs. Batman is better than me, and I’m okay with that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

31 Days of Recylcing #28

Words can not express how much I am looking forwrad to the next Love and Rockets, due in the next few weeks. So, no change there, then....

23 reasons why they’re all right about the new Love & Rockets  
Originally posted November 1, 2010

Now that Love and Rockets only comes out once a year, all the critical acclaim gets sandwiched together at once. That, combined with the fact that Los Bros Hernandez have produced consistently brilliant comics for thirty years, means it’s easy to take their work for granted.

But it really does deserve all that praise, because the most recent instalment in the annual series features a couple of moments that are as technically brilliant and as profoundly moving as anything the series has seen in the past. It’s not easy to get to that level of emotion without collapsing under the weight of your own portentousness, but the Hernandez brothers have managed it.

Jaime’s work in Love and Rockets New Stories #3 is particularly brilliant. There are barely enough superlatives to talk about how good The Love Bunglers and Browntown are, but I’m going to take a crack at it, all the same.

No slight to Beto – he’s off doing his own stuff and comparing the brothers’ work is a mug’s game. All I know is that Browntown made me sob into my cheeseburger, and Scarlet by Starlight didn’t, and I really want to talk about the emotional kick.

(Spoilers ahead, and if you haven’t read the new Love and Rockets, stop now. Diamond screwed over my local comic shop and it took weeks and weeks for the book to arrive. In that time, I couldn’t resist dipping into a couple of fantastic reviews and spoiled some fairly key information for myself, which was stupid. Don’t be stupid.)

* * *

1) Seeing 13-year-old Maggie crushed by horrible, invisible guilt as she sits alone at the kitchen table – saying she’s sorry for the fifth time – was just heartbreaking. It’s not just that this poor girl blames herself for destroying her family, it’s that it sets off a cycle of guilt that sees her blaming herself for everything over the next 20 years.

2) There is a direct line from young Maggie sitting in the kitchen alone to the imaginary slaps that she conjures up on herself in the final issue of the first series. Her guilt is almost never justified, but it still weighs her down, and her whole life story can be seen as a reaction against these various shames.

3) Just as well Maggie doesn’t know the truth about her little brother Calvin then, because then the guilt would have been unbearable. His fierce protection of his sister is a terrible secret that could have seen Maggie try to help her little brother, but it’s still a relief when he lets her live in ignorant bliss.

4) That one panel, where a smiling teenage Maggie tells young Calvin to go away, is a universal brother/sister moment. Fortunately, most of us don’t have to go to Calvin’s lengths to look after our stupid siblings.

5) One of the most horrible things about all this is that it’s the only time the Chascarillo family are an actual and proper family unit, and that time will always be tainted by its awful end.

6) So Maggie goes off and has adventures, and the beauty of this new revelation is that all of her past actions have a new resonance – a new depth. If Maggie lives under this awful guilty burden for most of her life, it explains her fears of commitment, her youthful tendency to run away, even her entire career choices. (Does she become a mechanic because of that parade, or does she run away from that God-given skill to avoid becoming that person?)

7) And yet – 30 years after her family fell apart and she’s learned to live with her own guilt and isn’t stopping it get on with her life. The 42-year-old Maggie is moving forward, sorting out a new bit of business, taking charge of her own destiny with more will than ever before.

8) She’s not fighting against life anymore, she’s accepted some of her shortcomings and taken hold of her own demons. She’s walked with ghost dogs and knows there is no tree.

9) It’s there in her face, in each perfect little new line. The Magpie has grown up.

10) It ain’t all wine and roses – there is a recurring nightmare that haunts Maggie’s future. But she’s getting there.

11) I’ve been waiting for Ray D and Maggie to hook back up for half a goddamn decade, and I’m really glad they didn’t. What’s that about?

12) No, seriously. What’s that about? They were a gorgeous couple, one of the most relaxed pairings in any fiction. Maggie was always one side of Jaime’s brain mouthing off, and Ray’s internal monologues are the other side of his head, and the pair together were so damn charming and complimented each other perfectly. They broke up years and years ago for no good reason, and over the past few years have orbited each other lives, without coming in for a landing. When they finally do, it’s not the right time, or something. And that’s okay.

13) Of course, there is always a chance for Maggie and Ray D. They’re getting older, but they’re still young. There is a whole lot of life to come, and loads more adventures to be told, and it’s incredibly easy to see the pair together in their dotage, living out their last days in each other’s arms. They’re both terrified of being alone and that might be the time of their lives to get back together.

14) And lurking in the background is poor, poor Calvin. Jaime’s drive for no wasted line is even more evident on Calvin’s face than his sister’s, and his impeccable talent for body language reveals more about Calvin than a thousand thought balloons.

15) Speaking of body language, what about that way the man dropping off the rent to Maggie thrusts his head forward and arms out, in that universal sign of angry challenging? That’s some terrific movement going on there.

16) Maggie blames herself for destroying her family, but Calvin’s story is the real tragedy. By the time the Chascarillo parents split, he’s been all hollowed out by his terrible experiences, and gets his nasty payback against his own personal monster. There is no triumph here, no righteous vengeance, just a sad and complicated little life.

17) If there is no triumph in Calvin’s retribution against the boy who ruined him, there is a small piece of pride – a taste of tiny triumph – in the way he looks out for Maggie, all those years later. He doesn’t always get the scene right, but he hopes to see enough to make sure she’s all right.

18) Christ, for a second there, as the climax of the book came, I honestly thought Calvin was going to do something horrible to Ray. I had the same sense of horrible dread watching the last episode of the most recent Mad Men, but like the TV show, moving on is the key, even if it leads to more of the same mistakes.

19) Maggie rejects Ray because of her own complications, and Reno is another little one. His first kiss is revisited, but he is another character with a whole other life, which can b glimpsed when he shows up at the gallery with that lunchlady painting. It really felt dreamlike for a moment, like a ordinary moment in an ordinary day twisted just a little, and it was good to see Maggie shared this discombobulation.

20) “I thought we hated him.”

21) “Talk talk talk. All they do is talk.”

22) Dad making a big deal out of nothing when Maggie tries to climb into his lap.

23) I first started reading Love and Rockets in 1992, and it’s just got better ever since. This level of quality work, this world of love and pain and strength and rebirth and rockets that Jamie has created over the past three decades is extraordinary enough. But to still have enough fire and passion and thoughtfulness to produce a piece of graphic genius like his work in L&R #3, that’s something else altogether. Something wonderful.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #27

These days, I'm a homepage editor for New Zealand's biggest daily newspaper, and when the news is flowing, it feels like the best job in the world.

It isn't so much fun having anonymous people tell me on a daily basis that I'm doing it ALL WRONG and that they would do a much better job, but the funny thing about working in the media is that any arsehole thinks they can do it, and they're all convinced that the standard of journalism is lower than it has ever been.

That's okay. I think they're ALL WRONG too. 

Journalism? Don’t talk to me about journalism. 
Originally posted September 30, 2010 

I decided to become a journalist on my 28th birthday. It was largely due to the fact that I was a 28-year-old loser who was working in a fat factory, and I knew I needed to do something with my life. I also wanted to be a journalist because I really wanted to meet girls, and the local journalism school’s classes were about 80% female.

Since making that decision, I’ve worked on a daily newspaper, been a full-time writer for a b2b magazine publishing company, a reporter for the country’s biggest business publication and I’m currently working as a senior news editor for New Zealand’s third biggest news website.

(I also completely succeeded in my plan to meet girls, and ended up marrying the most beautiful girl in my journalism class.)

So when the online comic culture periodically makes a big deal about the standard of comics journalism, I take a special interest. Not because I’m shocked or offended or angry at all. I take note because the discussion is usually so fucking funny.

* * *

Overseas, they have important documents like the Declaration of Independence or the Magna Carta. Here in New Zealand, we have the Treaty of Waitangi, a good and just document that gives indigenous Maori unbreakable rights to citizenship, along with the guardianship of their own land and several other deals.

Treaty settlements have been ongoing for several decades, and are now starting to wind down, although there will still be plenty of Treaty discussion to come, especially on the foreshore and seabed issue. It has been used as a divisive document, but it is still big and important and righteous. So it’s a shame it’s completely unsuitable as any kind of legally binding object.

The problem is that there are two versions of the Treaty – both equally valid. When it was first drafted, it was translated into Maori and taken around the country for people to sign. Unfortunately, the translation made several key errors on the exact meaning of very important words, so that the English version of the Treaty says one thing, while the Maori version says something completely different.

This doesn’t stop both sides arguing over the details, arguments that have been going on for decades. Even though both sides are right, there can be no agreement if they’re talking about different things.

This ridiculously pointless bickering is what I think of when people start arguing about the state of comics journalism. They’ve all got strong points of views and valid arguments, but they’re talking about completely different things.

* * *

What is journalism, anyway?

According to the dictionary I keep at my desk, the definition of journalism is ‘writing in or editing of newspapers and magazines’. The dictionary is quite old, and obviously missed out on this whole internet thing, but you only have to add a ‘…and websites’ and you’re set.

The most obvious issue with this definition, and one that spreads to almost all online discussion about comics journalism, is that it’s so ridiculously broad that it almost means nothing.

As far as I can figure, online comics journalism means anything written by anybody that is intended to be read by somebody else. That covers a huge landscape, from half-illiterate blog posts like this one to intensive digging around the finances of a major comics company. It’s all journalism.

(Although I certainly don’t consider this blog to be journalism, not compared to my day job. Because I’m a reporter by day, I think of the Tearoom of Despair as just a place to pleasurably vent about comics and movies and other pop culture shit, after a day spent writing about crime and politics and business. But it’s written to be read, and certainly fits the overall definition I’m shooting for.)

The current hand-wringing over the state of comics journalism was sparked by some vague comments from Brian Michael Bendis, but it’s hardly new. There is always somebody ready to stand up and decry the state of journalism.

But this is where the funny part comes in – even though everybody knows what they’re on about, there is never total agreement on the finer details. Bendis may have been talking about Comic Book Resources or Newsarama and their tendency to regurgitate press releases, but anybody with any interest in providing any kind of comic news was tarred with his same broad brush.

Bendis’ comments were greeted with some marvellously passionate rebuttal from all over the place. Many pointed out that there was plenty of in-depth analysis of damn near anything, if you cared to really look, while others were right in their extolling the virtues of Spurgeon or Deppey or Johnston.

To make any kind of proclamation of comic journalism, you have to be very specific about what you mean, because there is so much variety out there. There is even huge discrepancies between sites that rely on breaking news, the Comics Reporter is good for one kind of thing, and Newsarama has its own uses.

If critical review is to be included in the big, bad basket of journalism, then you have to be even more exact. There are sites devoted to the artiest of the artiest comics, and others that dust off something like Web of Spider-man for a bit of re-analysis, and they’re both rewarding in different ways. Does everything really need to go in a big, neat box labelled ‘journalism’?

* * *

There is one other funny thing about this argument – there is actually one clear answer to it, but few acknowledge it. The fact is, comics journalism has never been stronger or more varied, and it’s remarkable that more people can’t step back from their own singular interests and see the whole thing for themselves.

Access to information via text, video and audio has never been easier or faster, and there is so much stuff out there, so many individuals all doing their thing, more for love than money, just to spread the word. Journalism is all about this sharing of information, and now that everybody can do it, there is so much to choose from.

There is still a large amount of complete rubbish, but the sheer volume of writing on any subject, even something as insular as comics, is staggering, and by any law of averages, there has to be some good stuff.

I only need to check out half a dozen sites on a semi-daily basis and all my comic journalism needs are satisfied. Some important information is hidden, but is eventually dug out. People are crap at keeping secrets, and all the great comic industry feuds and fights revert into safe anecdote over time.

I found out Bob Harras was taking on a top job at DC within a day of it officially happening, when that information would have taken months to get through 15 years ago. Within 24 hours, there was all sorts of analysis, weird tribute and spleen-venting to satisfy every side of this story. It will be interesting to see how Harras does, but his appointment has been thoroughly covered.

And there are a dozen stories like that a week, bouncing around, gaining momentum, gaining attention. How could you ask for anything more?

* * *

So I don’t take offence at Bendis’ remarks. They’re just absurd and funny, and not just because he’s complaining about lazy generalizations by making a lazy generalization.

As a professional journalist, I was more upset by a jarring moment from a X-Men First Class comic from a couple of years ago, where Cyclops pretended to be a reporter to get some info out of the local redneck cop, but got busted by the cop because he was using a notebook and the cop hadn’t seen a reporter use a notebook instead of a recorder for 20 years. That was some bullshit, because I’ve never met a reporter, whether they were print of TV or radio or web, who didn’t carry around some kind of notepad for taking important bits of information. Any reporter who relies on recordings is a damn fool who has too much time on his hands for transcribing and that soured me on the whole damn comic.

Man, that shit has been bothering me for a while. I still get weirdly pissed off when a comics writer tries to write a Clark Kent of J Jonah Jameson article and it's something no newspaper would ever publish, but it's the little things that really irritate.

It's all in the details.

Monday, September 26, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #26

Down Vertigo way 
Originally posted September 11, 2010

Me and Vertigo, we got a history.

Vertigo and me, we go all the way back.

* * *

Somewhere around 1993 and I’m sitting in my freezing fucking cold bedroom in an old house on Richard Pearse Drive, the walls decorated with brand new issues of New Warriors and X-Force and that Joe Jusko Mary Jane Watson poster from the swimsuit special, and all I can do is stare at the ads for Enigma and Death: The High Cost Of Living.

They’re in black and white in a price guide magazine that I bought so I could work out when Morrison started on Doom Patrol. I saw the same ads in colour just recently and they looked weird, because they looked fucking awesome in monochrome. I was 18 at the time and absolutely primed for something more than superheroes. I’d only managed to find a couple of issues of Hellblazer and Sandman and Doom Patrol, but that was enough. I was desperate for more of that thrill, more of that fun.

And it was made even sexier by the fact that I couldn’t get those comics everywhere. I was just out of school and had my first minimum wage job, but the nearest comic shop was hundreds of kilometres away. It took me six years to get Enigma, and another ten before I finally found the first issue of that Death miniseries.

They were totally worth the wait.

So what I could get, I coveted like crazy. Anytime any of my mates were going up to the big city, I asked them to pick up a Sandman trade and went to ridiculous lengths to make sure they got the right one. I still ended up with two copies of Season of Mists, but gave one away to a girl who doesn’t talk to me any more.

And when I could get them, I would read them over and over again. I fell hard for the Hellblazer issue with the skeletal Statue of Liberty on the cover, and all three issues of Sebastian O. I’ve still got them, but they’re all frayed around the edges from this obsession.

I even loved the mediocre stuff that came out, convinced that the whole line was the Way of the Future in that obnoxious way that young adults do. I would score the random issue of Black Orchid, or Kid Eternity or Sandman Mystery Theatre and treasure it as much as any other comic in my collection.

* * *

Marvel was going into places I didn’t want to follow, and I woke up one morning and discovered that every Superman comic I was still reading was fucking boring. It also helped that I was a typically pretentious and reasonably obnoxious teenager, going on and on about shit that had opened my eyes. Especially if nobody else had heard of it.

Like anybody else with half a brain born in a small town on the arse end of nowhere, I was off to the city as soon as I could. It was partly because I was a grown up now and could live wherever the hell I wanted, and mainly because it ensured I could get that comic fix I had for the whole imprint – caught the last few arcs of Sandman, stuck with Hellblazer until the end of Ennis and fell for whole new series like Preacher and The Invisibles.

That six or seven years that those two series were coming out represented the peak of Vertigo interest, which is hardly surprising when you had those two comics dropping a dose of brilliance every month. It wasn’t an unconditional love – Despite trying the odd cheap issue, I never really got on board with comics like the Books of Magic or House of Secrets. They were all enjoyable enough, and still a lot better than many of the comics being published at the time, but they weren’t really thrilling.

And then there was the Trenchcoat Brigade, which was just as awful as any other company’s products. The one panel where vast and mysterious wanderers like the Phantom Stranger, Mr E, Doc Occult and John Constantine tried to defeat ultimate evil by firing magical rays out of the tips of their fingers, a little bit of that Vertigo lust died.

And then it was the turn of the century and The Invisibles and Preacher both brilliantly wrapped up, and for the first time ever, I wasn’t buying a Vertigo series every month. I was still dipping in and out of things like Hellblazer and Swamp Thing, but the monthly series that were launched around this time were only okay.

Maybe I was just turning into an old bastard, growing out of Vertigo’s demographic, but series like 100 Bullets, Deadenders and Lucifer all seemed a bit too serious for their own good. While certainly full of inspired touches and occasional doses of brilliance, they were not the sort of thing I was really interested in any more. I couldn’t even get into some series that found a popular audience, like the incredibly successful Y: The Last Man or Transmetropolitan. They had their moments, but their was something a bit too self satisfied and targeted.

* * *

Periods of poverty and relative disinterest saw me drift away from buying a regular comic from the Vertigo imprint altogether sometime around 2001. Unfortunately, this meant I missed out some stuff that turned out to be pretty bloody decent, like Human Target, The Losers and Fables, but that just leaves something new to search for in the back issue bins, when I’m on the eternal search for cheap issues of Shade The Changing Man. New holes are good holes.

After all, I got the last issues of the Ennis Hellblazer that I wanted the other week, after spending years and years looking for that story where Prince Charles gets possessed by Jack T Ripper. I’ve got all the Swamp Things I ever wanted, and it’s nice to have something to look for when you walk into a new comic shop. And there are still old holes unfilled, I’ve been one issue away from getting all of the Lansdale/Truman Jonah Hex comics for ages and I’m sure I’m still down one issue of the Rifle Brigade.

* * *

Over the years, Vertigo has produced these little bits and pieces of brilliance. Some comics adhere to an unfortunate template – The Unwritten ticking all the typical Vertigo boxes by being a bit literate, mixing up the real world with a fantasy one and indulging in a spot of metafiction – but there has also been a ridiculous amount of experimentation.

Every now and then, something sticks, and the company ends up with an unqualified success like Fables, but the number of Vertigo ongoing comics that never reached #30 is staggering. Some of them are really good, many of them were just rubbish, but at least they’re trying to do something different.

Still, there are always trusted creators like Ennis, Morrison and Milligan, putting out these comics that still thrill. Stuff like the Filth and War Stories and Kill Your Boyfriend and the Minx and Unknown Soldier and the criminally underrated Vinarama. Milligan and Fergado’s Girl is somehow still one of my personal favourite comics of all time – a sweet little three issue slice of kitchen sink fantasy.

I was also particularly fond of the series that were nothing by short stories – comics like Flinch, Weird War Tales, Gangland and Heartthrobs were occasionally clumsy, but always worthwhile.

I still realised I didn’t need to read every series, and never even bothered with stuff like Crossing Midnight and Codename: Knockout. I still tried the odd thing that just didn’t work for me, like DMZ, The Exterminators and Testament. They were taking too long to get to the point, or just weren’t quite as interesting as they should have been or maybe I’m just an old fart.

* * *

These days I live in a house where I don’t have to look at my breath every night, and tastes have radically changed in 15 years, but I still dig some Vertigo.

I still get four Vertigo comics every month – although two are about to end - and the same two are by that old crew of Milligan and Morrison. There are still new series that I haven’t tried yet, although I’m looking forward to jumping in. Despite the disappointment of DMZ, Northlanders is something I’ve been giving the glad eye in the local store, and I’m three trades behind Scalped, but eager for more.

Vertigo isn’t as unique as it once was. Other companies like Wildstorn and Dynamite have picked up on this, the latter doing something right in nabbing Ennis’ current Battlefield stories from the company that produced the similar War Stories, while The Boys follows the template of a finite - but long-form - monthly story that the imprint established.

Vertigo grew out of the comedown from the Comics Ain’t For Kids No More high of the mid-eighties and it’s big brother’s backing saw it tough out the almost-complete collapse of the industry, and it’s still there

There will be more to say about the four comics I still get – Sweet Tooth, Jack of Fables, Greek Street and Joe the Barbarian – over the next few days, but there have been dozens of great comics published under the Vertigo imprint. Those early comic crushes can quickly curdle and go embarrassing, but there is no shame here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #25

I find it all kinds of ironic that Big Rob Liefeld is back drawing a Hawk and Dove series, but that isn't enough to actually buy the bloody thing....

Rob Liefeld and his silent murderings
Originally posted September 7, 2010

 Nobody can hold a grudge quite like comic people, but it’s interesting to note that there really still is some genuine hatred of Rob Liefeld out there in the greater comic community. Any time he pops up in an interview or profile or message board post, he still manages to rile up people, even with the most innocuous of appearances.

A lot of it is nothing more than a real distaste for his dodgy anatomy and poor staging of characters, and it’s hard to argue with that, while his business practices and habit of announcing books that never showed up also didn’t win him any fans. Rob had the smugness of youth, a style that spawned endless imitators and was the most visible person in an extraordinarily successful comic company – how could anybody like him?

But for a while there, Liefeld really was one of the most popular artists in the industry. Twenty years on, it’s easy to forget the explosive impact of his run on New Mutants – which included the introduction of Cable and Deadpool – he single-handedly turned Marvel’s most mediocre mutant book into something genuinely fresh and exciting that kids started reading again.

Me, I had been driven off all of the X-books, mainly because I just didn’t have the money to buy them, shortly after the Inferno storyline, but soon came running back because I was 14 and the prime demographic for Rob’s style. I even stuck with X-Force for a year or so. The first issue of that lamentable series remains one of the best selling comics ever, despite its almost total lack of any artistic merit, and it’s still a weirdly modern comic, so eagerly did it piss on the legacy of John Romita’s Marvel.

Liefeld couldn’t match costumes or body shapes in every panel he drew, but he was still a breath of fresh air. I first saw him on the New Mutants annual that tied into the Atlantis Attacks series, and I remember genuinely enjoying his kinetic and crazy art, hoping for more.

Back when Marvel used to actually put a bit of effort into these things, New Mutants annuals of the mid-to-late eighties were awesome, with terrific Art Adams and Alan Davis art, but the regular New Mutants series drifted after Inferno and was hampered by fill-in artists and a bored Bret Blevins. Which was a real shame, because Blevins’ enthusiastic style had settled the comic for a while.

Then came Liefeld and the comic was new and shiny and interesting again, and using the power generated by Marvel’s top talents thinking for themselves, he used his position and following to produce Youngblood #1, which was bloody rubbish.

And it didn’t get any better – those issues of Brigade and Bloodstrike and those other terrible titles he put out quickly soured his name in comic circles. Wizard magazine stopped kissing his arse and started making fun of him, and by the late 90s, Liefeld sneering had become a frequent sight in comic shops all over the world. New internet communities beat his work with iron bars and left it crying in a ditch on the edge of town.

And they had a point – the comics Rob made at Image and Awesome and Extreme were largely execrable. There was the shining bit of brilliance, like Alan Moore’s sharply effective Supreme stories, but most of those comics now sit in quarter bins all over the place, hiding the good stuff in an avalanche of mediocrity.

Liefeld’s name still has some heat, especially with the recent bizarre explosion of interest in his Deadpool creation, but he has lost the vast majority of the popularity he once had. His recent Armageddon comics have alienated more of the obnoxiously agnostic section of comic reading, and people have long memories of broken promises and lacklustre results.

But if there is one reason to really criticise Rob Liefeld and his comics, it’s because they murdered the dream of artistic freedom in creative ownership.

What Image and Liefeld destroyed, more than anything else, was that artistic ideal of creative freedom – that if creators were given the opportunity to do their own work, it would result in better comics than ever before.

Up until Image made its debut, the likes of Dave Sim had been arguing this for years, and even tentatively approved of the new venture, only to see that ideal shrivel up and die.
There had been so much earnest discussion on the connection between intellectual freedom and storytelling quality, and when artists actually had the unprecedented power they had been denied for so long, they went on to create the same old shit.

In fact, it wasn’t just the same old shit, it was also the worst of the same old shit, regurgitating ideas, recycling concepts and falling victim to plain old laziness. All those long ‘80s nights in convention hotel rooms, creators blitzed on the minibar and discussing the concepts of creative freedom and what it really means, man. It often led to nothing more than a horrible hangover and a genuine dissatisfaction with the entire medium, but there was passion there in these long ago arguments.

Read comic magazines from the late eighties and it’s there in every article and interview – a genuine optimism that things are going to get better and that creator rights would lead to a new golden age of comics. Still high on the 1986 buzz and creator recognition in the real world, a bill of rights was produced and everybody that was interesting had something wonderful lined up.

Everybody knew that even with creative freedom to produce any damn thing the creator felt like, there was always still going to be genre trappings, but 1980s comics like Grendel and Zot and Nexus and a dozen others had shown that superheroes could still be done with love and care and create stories with genuine emotional resonance.

Image killed all those discussions stone dead. All that effort and all we got was Brigade #1. It would have been sad if it hadn’t been so absurd. The drive towards creator control had produced some of the finest comics the medium had ever seen, but also resulted in comics that were worse than worthless, doing incalculable damage to the industry as a whole as the speculator bubble built and burst.

The fact that many of the Image founders went on to produce their own studio sweatshops also didn’t help matters, but it was the comics themselves that put the dream of a new comic utopia, of creators unshackled by any burdens producing lovely work for a mainstream audience, down like a dying dog.

Comic magazines that have a mainstream focus have stopped talking about this kind of thing. In interviews with current creators, the only time the issue of creator rights comes up is when somebody like Mark Millar talk about getting more money from the studios for an original creation than anything he could produce for Marvel.

Of course, there are still some incredibly good creator-owned comics being produced every week, but the idea that the biggest comic company in the world – and Image got pretty damn close to that title early on its life – could support creator rights and produce good, thoughtful comics, is no longer an issue.

And that’s a bit of a shame. It’s too easy to hate Rob Leifeld because he can’t draw feet, or because his influence resulted in the ugliest comics known to man. I still have a fondness for Rob, but there is a part of me that genuinely blames him for the death of a noble idea, his actions and artwork pulling back the entire medium.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #24

I only finally got around  to actually reading all of the first dozen issues of Valentino's Guardians of the Galaxy a couple of weeks ago. They were terrific.

Galactic Guardians and the death of a minor obsession 
Originally posted July 2, 2010


The first place I ever saw Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, it wasn't in a comic book. It was on a towel.

As a kid, I had this beach towel, which got some heavy use over the years, mainly down the local rivers, and it ended up falling apart at about the time I turned into a sorry-arse teenager. It had a picture of the Guardians of the Galaxy on it, and even though I didn't have any idea who they were, I thought Starhawk looked bloody cool.

A few years later and I'm deep in a Marvel mood of mind. I'd seen the Guardians show up in a few comic books, with one legendary appearance in The Avengers during the Korvac saga. The last issue of this storyline left the Guardians and most of the Avengers in a state of mental limbo, as they are casually slaughtered during the climax. They all came back to life in the same issue, but there was just something about that resurrection that left my nine-year-old brain a little confused, and I never saw the following issue that would have set it all right. Were they really back? Or were they really dead? And who were these Guardians of the Galaxy anyway?

It didn't take long to figure that one out, and they showed up, here and there, over the years, fighting against the Badoon and zipping around in time. I had a little trouble figuring out how the Vance Astro in the New Warriors was connected to the Vance Astro of the year 3000, but a bit of confusion is good for the soul.

And then I heard about the new series, launched by Marvel its early nineties blitz of titles that never made it to issue numbers with three digits. Writer/artist Jim Valentino had a pleasingly loose style, and all the right friends. It sounded like something worth reading.

Naturally, the first one I got to read was issue #8.

* * *


It didn't make any sense. I had to know more and figure out what it all meant.

So what’s new? This is a fairly regular occurrence for any reader of mainstream American comics. Picking up a random issue of a title you might have heard about somewhere maybe, and being so totally lost as lots of people run about yelling at each other and dropping buildings on their heads. The first dip into a new continuity can be bracingly shocking, or just mildly confusing.

Sometimes this leads to obsession, ranging from a mild dose to full-on rage. Most of the time it's just mere interest, and in the case of Valentino’s GotG, this was as far as it ever really went, but that was enough.

The eighth issue of the series was one of the placeholders that mainstream comics are so very good at doing, moving off from a Big and Important climax and heading towards the next, with the usual amount of juggling sub-plots. When I saw it in a Timaru bookstore, I knew I had to have it, even though the first seven issues had never shown up in the town. That Saturday afternoon is still burned in my mind, even though it really was nothing special, sitting beside Caroline Bay and flicking through it, along with some recent Avengers and X-Factor action, the series clicked. A thousand years on, the Marvel Universe was a very different place, but Valentino laid out all sorts of mysteries about the fates of the world’s greatest heroes and villains, and I’ve just turned 16 years old and in love with superhero comics like never before, so I’m hooked.

The next few issues feed the mutant fever young teenagers can always identify with, as our Galactic heroes found a lost x-colony, with all the pain, misery and Phoenix rebirths that this would predictably bring. The Guardians made their way back to Earth and a tonne of new mysteries were piled on, just as the old ones were sorted out.

The book remained surprisingly downbeat – there was all sorts of carnage, somehow made worse by Valentino’s splendidly cartoonish approach to art, and there was no guarantee of a happy ending, especially when billions of people had been horribly killed before the series even started. There aren’t that many shits and giggles in the apocalypse, so Valentino did a good job of showing the character’s humanity, buried amongst the vulgar sci-fi. None of them were technically fully human, but they all had soul.

As a 16-year-old misery guts, the early nineties Guardian of the Galaxy really was one of my favourite comics. For a while.

* * *


I never bought the five early issues I needed to complete the collection and bailed on the comic completely soon after Valentino bailed for Image. He stayed on as writer/plotter/vague presence in the background for a little while, but the drop in quality when his art disappeared was a good reason to quit. It was an irrational hatred of Kevin West’s art that saw me finally give up for good – West also finally got me to drop Justice League International, after sticking with it through that surprisingly good Dan Jurgens run – and I never bought a single issue past #33, or even read any of them.

Guardians of the Galaxy stumbled on for a few more years, and even made it as far as #50, but like almost every comic Marvel debuted in 1990, it didn’t make it to triple figures. Nobody really noticed when it finally died, nobody really cared.

I certainly didn’t. By that time, I was lost in Vertigo and Los Bros Hernandez and Dark Horse and Dan Clowes. I didn’t even notice when the last few Guardians comics came out, and it took me a while before I even noticed its absence.

That interest in the 30th century Marvel universe never really came back, and successive issues of the comic were sold off over the years, during periodic purges. It was easy enough to get rid of those Kevin West issues, and then the latter Valentino run went, with no second thoughts.

Eventually, I ditched the rest, getting rid of comics that I’d gone to a lot of effort to get back in the early nineties. I could still look at them and remember exactly where I’d bought it, but I need that bit of my brain to do aother stuff now, so that scrap of memory can go. That was a lot harder to do, but I haven’t missed carting all those issues around, when I just didn’t care enough.

Or so I thought – the other week, I was sorting out the box of Marvel comics I’ve still held onto after all these years and I found issues 8 and 16 wedged between issues of Groo and late eighties X-Men annuals.

And the weird thing is, I was really, really glad to still have them. I’d obviously held onto the earlier issue for reasons of unashamed nostalgia, but I really thought I got rid of the second issue years ago and I was glad to have another look.

Reading them with a 2010 eye, they’re clumsy and a bit crude and they really don’t stand up as individual issues, but they’re going back into that box of Marvel. Maybe I just feel sorry for it.

Because it was just another nothing series, published during a massive glut of product. The stories haven’t been reprinted in recent years and are unlikely to be. There is a new Guardians of the galaxy series, but it has little to do with the earlier (later) team, apart from appearances by Star Hawk and Vance Astro.

But I still care. I can’t help it. The slight obsession that lasted for a year is long dead, but there is still some fondness for this unloved comic, and I can’t dispute that.

I also once had a thing for the Wonder Man comic that came out at the same time, but that’s another sad story altogether.

Friday, September 23, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #23

Ghost of Hoppers is one of my all-time favourite Love and Rockets stories, but it took me a long, long time to find the words to explain why. (This piece was originally started in 2006 for another blog entirely.)

But that's what good art does - it touches a part of you that can't be easily explained - and the fact that I still get so tongue-tied aound Love and Rockets is a great thing.

All the Love, all the Rockets: Ghost Of Hoppers
Originally posted June 24, 2010

The 25th anniversary of Love and Rockets came and went a couple of years ago, and it was a pity it was seen as a relatively quiet achievement. In particular, it was a real shame more wasn't made of the fact that it is a comic which has maintained an extraordinarily high level of quality for that quarter-century, pushing the limits of the medium while still maintaining a humanity to their work that gives their stories real emotional weight.

Unfortunately, the common perception amongst the comic reading community is that this consistency means there is nothing new left to say about the series. Most reviews of the new issues that appeared every few months before the latest shift to an annual format were, at best, a brief look at what happened, typically followed by a few words of praise for Los Bros Hernandez.

Even the first two issues of the current annual series fell victim to this. There were certainly more people taking note of it for the change in format, with many finding special praise for Jaime's mental superheroics, but real analysis of the issue remained rare.

Any further comments greeting the new work are likely to be along the lines that Jaime's work remains the most accessible, while older brother Beto's comics might be a bit weirder and more preoccupied with the sexual hijinks of his characters, but remains worthy stuff. Beto’s work hasn’t had the universal acclaim that a lot of his earlier work has, with his adaptions of films that never really existed leaving some readers puzzled, and others disappointed. Speak of the Devil was greeted with several vicious reviews, including a disappointed take in The Comics Journal.

The odd interview is unlikely to bring up much that is new. Considering the interview subjects have been known to hide away massively crucial plot points as sketch book jokes, it takes a lot to make an interview with these men a chore to read, but some still manage by sticking to the same questions.

And that's always been about it until the next issue rolls along in another three (or 12) months. But in a medium where the latest issue of Blackest Night can be deconstructed and overanalysed to the point of incoherence, this is, frankly, fucking pathetic. Just because the Hernandez brothers' current output is just as good as it ever was does not mean there is nothing more to say about it.

The last regular series of Love and Rockets launched in 2001 after the brothers spent several years working on their own individual comics. Since then they have produced some stunning work. Some of it didn't always strike exactly the right chord, but for every misstep, the brothers came up with something extraordinary.

Jaime's comics were particularly meaty in the reinvigorated series, his Locas saga building on what has come before to stretch out into something magnificent. In the past, Jaime's work has sometimes been overshadowed by the complex narrative of Beto's Palomar and Luba storylines, with some critics appearing to assume his clean, easy art style somehow means it is more simple. But his work over the past decade has been as good as anything he or his brothers have ever produced.

Part of the relative lack of recognition could be put down to the painstaking pace at which his stories unfold. The first nine issues of the last series had barely a dozen pages of new material from Jaime every few months. While he manages to pack more drama and emotion into those pages than almost anything else on the stands, rereading the current storyline all over again whenever a new issue comes out becomes a necessity.

Mind you, one of the best things about Love and Rockets has always been this necessity. Pick up almost any new issue and there will be a little gem of information or characterisation that provokes a dive back into the comic’s history, each tiny little piece of the story reaching out into other parts of it, bringing it all back together. It's not just nostalgia for old times, it's the constant reiteration that we are all shaped by our pasts, and our current lives are still being shaped by previous experiences.

There are other factors that might play a part in the lack of any critical comment any time a new issue is released. Not only can it can take a long time for a storyline to sink in, but the crucial nature of events and the part they play in the overall narrative might not even be noticed. For reasons that are impossible to explain without boring the shit out of everyone in the whole world, the entire comics medium has been based on the concept of dripfeeding stories out, a little bit at a time, and while it is a pure joy to receive shots of Los Bros Hernandez’s comics every few months, it is only when a story that forms part of the overall saga is complete that a proper perspective is possible.

After a couple of years, Jaime’s Maggie storyline, which ran in L&Rv2 #s 1-10 and was reprinted in the Ghost of Hoppers book, still stands as a truly extraordinary piece of work – a story about ghosts and loss, and new friends and old towns. There are demons in the darkness, both literally and figuratively, and odd little talismans that bind us all to that weirdness.

It’s a story about growing up and sticking by your friends and all the confusion that brings. It’s about adapting to the fact you’re normal and still having to avoid demonic dogs. But most of all, like almost all of Jaime’s stories, it’s about Love.

* * *

Anybody who has gone back to their old home town will have felt it. The sense of familiarity fighting against the shock of the new. The little differences that throw you off, the missing pieces that are gone forever.

If the past really is a different country, what about the actual locations where all that personal history took place? Out in the physical world they might have vanished, but they’ll always be there in your head, the details fading while the core memories just get stronger and stronger.

In Ghost of Hoppers, this sensation is taken to extraordinary lengths. It's a story where the main character keeps returning to her old town and is almost trapped in her own past, something demons, personal or otherwise, are only too willing to take advantage of.

Hernandez has come up with dozens of memorable characters in the quarter century he has been creating Locas comics, but through it all, Margarita Luisa Perlita Chascarrillo has remained his finest character. Starting out as a cute young punk with a beer bottle in one hand and a spanner in the other, she has grown up with the comic, becoming more rounded as time went on, both physically and emotionally.

Maggie has been put through emotional roller coaster and taken rides on her own private ghost trains over the years. In this respect, Ghost of Hoppers is no different, but Maggie finds herself facing something just as horrific as the loss of dear friends: the desperate mediocrity of a rapidly approaching middle age.

One of Hernandez’s greatest strengths is in the sheer universality if his characters. Just ask any decent comic shop owner how many times they’ve been told Hopey is based on them. Maggie has a mixed race heritage and has grown up in an environment of punk rock, mad wrestling and space mechanics in California, but her fears and thoughts are easily recognisable for anybody who does not share her environment and upbringing. Through Maggie, Hernandez articulates the same things we’re all thinking, the same loves and worries and joys.

This does not, in any way, make her mundane. Maggie has had a tough life and while she often curses her own weaknesses, she has shown a remarkable strength in just getting through it all. In this respect, the brief slice of her life that forms the backbone of Ghost of Hoppers shows Maggie, and Hernandez himself, in the brightest of lights, despite the darkness creeping in at the edges.

Sometimes he pulls away from Maggie, and leaves her alone with her thoughts – a silent panel with an unreadable expression that still says so much.

For somebody who can spend literally years telling a simple tale that might be set over a few days, Jaime doesn’t fuck about when it comes to letting the reader know where he is going. Even before the story gets going in Ghost Of Hoppers, two wordless images almost totally sum up the themes and feelings that will be explored in greater depth in the story. The first is the cover to the first issue of the renewed Love and Rockets comics itself, a police line-up. It’s already been used before with different characters - on the cover of the very first L&R comic ever as well as the first collected edition.

But while the first two times the line up was used featured several different characters, this latest incarnation is all Maggie, six different examples of her development over the year. You’ve got Maggie The Mechanic, Maggie the party girl, Maggie the young Chica. And hiding there at the back is the current version, naked and scared.

This deceptively simple image not only reminds the reader of the different periods Maggie and the Locas comics themselves have gone through over the years, it also shows Maggie hiding behind her own past, worried to face the future.

The second image, taking up two-thirds of the first page of the story, casts Maggie in a better light. Leaning back against a fence with a calm expression of peace and contentment in the sun, the wind in her hair and her posture infinitely sexier than a thousand anorexic super-heroines with big hair and impossible spines.

But there, in the background, is the darkness. From the house behind her evil eyes peer. In this image they can’t touch Maggie, but it’s obvious they won’t hesitate to bring her inside their world, given half the chance.

The first part of the story itself sees that darkness beginning to creep around the edges of Maggie’s life, as her life-long friend Izzy comes to stay as part of a book promotion. Izzy is familiar with the evil, having encountered it in an intimate manner at times over the years, most notably in the short Flies on the Ceiling story.

The darkness usually happy enough tormenting Izzy, who has enough ghosts in her own past for the devil to feast on. But Maggie has always been around the edges of despair and total loss. She even shares some of Izzy’s ghosts and has come close to the thing that lives in Mrs Galindo’s house several times, right from when she was a child.

Early on in the first Love and Rockets series, Hernandez started making a point of not showing some of the biggest, most important events in his character’s lives. They would happen in the background. Characters would experience something shattering, only to literally disappear from the comic book for several years, showing up as someone new, someone who has put their pain behind them to get on with life, as best they can.

Over the next 20 incredible years, Hernandez has filled in those gaps, only to add crucial new developments with ease. Shortly before the new series started, Maggie ended up married to a complete stranger, only for Hernandez to show he wasn’t such a stranger after all. Filling in the back story shows the richness of the characters that have now been built up for decades, gives long-time readers a thrill as they realise a question they didn’t even know they had is answered before them.

This is seen happening several times in Ghost of Hoppers, flashbacks to parts of her old life, when she was young and cool. Filling in the blanks. At other times a big event can also be so obvious it could even be easily missed. The phone call at the first chapter‘s climax ends with something that has apparently never been said before. Luckily, Hernandez actually raises the significance of those words later on, just in case it wasn’t clear enough the first time.

People who are too scared of the significant backstory behind these characters to give the series a go are deluding themselves. This is a complicated narrative with multiple characters across several decades, but it manages to keep things clear with easy, accessible storytelling. It might look like a lot of hard work, but as a storyteller, Hernandez is there to help you find the way.

* * *

“Go ahead, you boring people, have your laugh. You’re looking at an equally useless person. How embarrassing is that? I-I’m normal.”

All the devil dogs and black magic in the world isn’t half as depressing for Maggie as the realisation that hits her in the second chapter of Ghost of Hoppers. Now in her late thirties, but far from settled down, Maggie realises she’s just like everybody else.

Much of the arrogance of youth stems from the certain knowledge that we are destined for great things, that the world is ours for the taking. Granted, for some this actually comes close to becoming reality, while others manage to maintain the horrible delusion until their dying day.

But for most of us, the realisation that we’re not actually that different, that we’re not anything special, is something we come to understand and live with, as best we can. Maggie’s own little epiphany at this point in the story is another example of Hernanedz’s ability to use his characters to speak to something in all of us, to touch a part of our souls that can sometimes feel so lonely.

And all this is just the first few pages, with a short appearance from Maggie’s ex-husband. The rest of this chapter not only sees a Dan Clowes character appear, (another Love and Rockets tradition that has seen the brothers insert their characters into each other’s stories and include characters from altogether different creators), but also has Maggie hook up with the volatile Vivian. Seen in the background of previous stories, she latches onto Maggie, joining her for a drink without bothering with anything as mundane as the exchange of names.

Maggie also has a fairly typical conversation with her best friend and occasional lover Hopey. While Maggie is still reeling from her own normality, Hopey shows remarkable awareness of her own coolness, but is left confused when Maggie leaves, disappointed that the words she heard over the phone can not apparently be said to her face.

Luckily for Maggie, if not for Vivian, normal life still involves a threat with a knife, one of the most accurate portrayals of two women fighting each other ever shown in comics and eventual arrest.

Maggie might still have trouble coming to terms with the mundane, but her idea of what is normal is still fascinating. She deals with it, as best she can, even if bail might be a bit more than seven dollars and thirty cents.

* * *

The story piles on the unease from there. Maggie ends with Viv and another old friend up in a dangerous stranger’s house, sneaking out the back when he unexpectedly shows up, and kind words from Izzy –notably more for their rarity than their truth - hold off the shadow dogs. For a little while.

By the fourth chapter, Izzy has got too much to handle and is bundled off home. When Maggie follows her for an exchange of talismans, the ghosts start following her with renewed attention and she is lost in her home town for the first time.

Maggie’s past keeps creeping up on her – drinking with Doyle, she finds that a group of old Hoppers punk rejects she used to hang around with have still been bopping around together – living their own lives well out of Maggie’s orbit. Further flashbacks show that Maggie has always been living on the edge of something mysterious and other, with the striking image of a dog walking on its hind legs towards a younger, drunker Maggie and in the present the inner voices get louder as a fire begins to burn.

* * *

In the final chapter of Ghost of Hoppers, Maggie is dosed by the next generation – who are always annoying – and the mixture of drugs, demons and the weight of her own story drag her out of time and space, pinballing along the history of a haunted house and her own connection to it.

On her journey, there are touching revelations and painfully quiet dignity. The sad story of the Galindos and why it led to Maggie’s naming. The ghost of the haunted house was Maggie all along, and that’s why a glass left out overnight was always half empty by dawn – she could never turn down a drink.

She is the ghost, walking in her own past – revisiting all those brilliant old parties, a brief sighting of her long-lost cousin and very best friend, and the tragic impact of Speedy’s death. This last piece is just three panels, but is a horribly powerful moment. Maggie and Izzy’s immediate reaction to Speedy’s suicide was never seen when it happened, more than two decades ago. But in three panels, Maggie is pulled back to that terrible moment, and she sees herself lost in pity while Izzy counts the flies on the ceiling.

The years speed up, the horrors pile on, but Izzy makes it out, scarred and clear. In the climax of the story – for just a moment – it looks like Maggie isn’t going to be as fortunate. It looks like she could have died in the fire and really is a ghost.

But while she walks with the ghosts for a little while, they leave her alone. Al that’s left is a sweet two page epilogue, showing that weird shit comes and goes, but life goes on. The game of life and love is just as confusing as ever. Maggie just does the best she can, just like the rest of us.

* * *

Ghost of Hoppers is an extraordinary comic book, and after a few thousand words, I haven’t even scratched its surface. There are a million other things that make the story brilliant, warm and thoughtful. There are pieces of dialogue that say so much, and Jaime’s magnificent use of black ink – shadows that creep up on the unwary, the blank space between the nose and the lips of characters in profile.

I live my life to a Love & Rockets beat and Ghost of Hopper is another brilliant step in the story. It’s endlessly rewarding and I could talk about it forever. But I’ll still never be able to encapsulate its brilliance, no matter how many words I write. Because it really does affect me in a way I can not describe – just like all art should.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #22

I've bought heaps more Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four in the past year, including a thoroughly decent #43 for five bucks. I'm still stuck on a Kirby kick, and I'm not sure it's ever going to go away.

Not that I'd ever want it to....

Slumming it in the silver age
Originally posted June 7, 2010

Last month I bought my first ever Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four.

Like all good comic people, I’d read loads of their stories over the years, but they had always been reprinted in the dull monochrome of the Essential series and the brightly slick versions. Even the cheapest Fantastic Four comics from that legendary 100+ issue run were always outside my price range, so the reprints were just fine.

And then I saw #62 in the $1 bin at the local comic store and I fell in love with it. It’s all beat up to hell, but there are no missing pages and that cover still pops. There’s Blastaar shooting the shit out of the Fantastic Four with his hands and one of Kirby’s brilliant double-page spreads of the Negative Zone, all fucked-up photo montage and little old Reed, floating in the middle of it.

Sometimes I fall completely in love with a single issue of an ongoing superhero comic. It’s hard to predict what will strike my fancy, but every now and then I fall hard for a particular book and it can be a little embarrassing. Once it was New Warriors #1. Another time it was the first Daredevil comic by Kesel and Nord. Whatever it is, every now and again, there will be something about an individual issue that hits all the right buttons and I’ll find myself reading it over and over again, just to look at it. It’s something in the design, something in the story, something in the whole damn thing

I love this Fantastic Four comic book. It’s delicate, and needs to be properly cared for, but it’s also scarred for life. There are creases in pages that have been there longer than I’ve been alive, the paper is scarred on a molecular level and it looks like a cat has had a go at the cover. The paper is yellowed, curling and chafing around the edges.

But it’s still hanging in there and I’m going to take care of the poor little fella because he’s the prettiest damn comic I’ve seen this year.

* * *

Growing up in a post-Neal Adams comic world, Kirby was always one of those things that it took me a long, long time to appreciate. I didn’t fall hopelessly in love with his Fourth World saga until I read the latest brightly coloured collected editions, and I realised I’d been a fool for a long, long time.

It also didn’t help that I genuinely didn’t see a lot of these early Marvel comics around. There was no comic shop or hundreds of kilometres when I was growing up, and any decent back issues older than 1987 quickly vanished into collector’s vaults, trash cans and the occasional second hand bookstore. There were odd collections and reprints, but the only wasy you could erally find out what happened in the past were in the pages of things like Marvel Saga and The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Editions, making these reference comics invaluable.

It’s fun to sneer at that Marvel Saga series these days, and it took a bit of a critical battering from the likes of Amazing Heroes at the time, but I devoured any issues I could get, because it filled in a lot of gaps in my head.

At one point, I owned more than ten thousand comic books, and not a single one had been published before 1971. It wasn’t for want of trying, but the few issues of silver age X-Men or Avengers that were around on the local market were far beyond my means. It was hard to justify paying $45 for Amazing Spider-Man #89 when that would buy a couple of new trade paperbacks.

But since finding that Fantastic Four with the seductively dark red colour and sexy Stan’s Soapbox, I’ve managed to score a few more of these old comics that have been loved to bits. I found that same Spider-Man #89 for a dollar, because somebody had cut out the value stamp inside, and found a couple of Iron Man and Daredevil comics from the very end of the Silver Age. In fact, it’s right down to the very month, with one of the soapboxes sadly reporting that Jack Kirby had left the company and that’s the end of an era right there.

I also got the first Fantastic Four annual for a couple of bucks in recent weeks, mainly because somebody scrawled a big bloody 12 into the cover with a felt pen, and then somebody made it worse by trying to fix it. But it’s still got its colour and its vitality and can show these modern comics a thing or two about pacing and energy.

I’m mainly on the Marvel kid, but it’s filtering out into the DC comics of that time as well. I can’t read the Showcase collections of DC superheroes from the sixties because it’s just too much, but the odd issue of World’s Finest or Brave and the Bold from 1962 are also going down well. When modern superhero comics are hurtling towards a $10 price point in local currency, paying $5 for a single issue of sixties sci-fi superhero wonkiness is pretty fucking easy.

Marvel’s still got the edge on raw energy. The stories are clumsy to modern eyes, but there is still a loud charm in their desire to please and Stan Lee can build up histrionics like nobody else in the business. Each issue is filled with incident and melodrama and there is a beauty in the bluntness.

There is also a weird beauty in the advertisements of times gone by – comic commercials for products that haven’t existed in years and text-heavy pieces on the squarest of subjects. There is still a lot of charm in Norman Rockwell telling you he’s looking for people who like to draw, there are pleas to move to New Mexico because it’s sunny, and full page ads about hairloss must be due for a comeback, considering the againg man-child that is Marvel’s current core demographic.

But it’s the art that still sings on this cheap newsprint, still has an energy that can not be destroyed. It’s astounding to think of the prolific output of Marvels sixties artists, and the way they still managed to sneak real mood and atmosphere in there, complete with that vitality of the eternally young.

Kirby was king, but there is still brilliant stuff from the likes of Wally Wood and John Romita and Werner Roth and Dick Ayers and Gene Colan. Even poor old Don Heck, who drew the best eyebrows in comics but also took a lot of justifiable criticism for his stilted figures and lacklustre movement, is still unavoidably re-readable

* * *

Jack Kirby died a few years ago, and the world of comics is all the poorer for it, but his art can still kick your arse, decades after he scratched out his living.

He lived long enough to see his craziest ideas used as the basic foundation of the business but his legacy is getting tougher by the years, and his comics will still look colourful and new for the next few centuries.

The issue of Fantastic Four #62 I got for a dollar won’t last that long, but it’ll last a few more years with proper care and attention. Flipping through it on a daily basis is certain to shortern that life, but I can’t help myself.

And I want more. I might have to pay more than $1 for it, but they’ve got me now. I’m hooked on 43-year-old comics. Took me long enough.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #21

I keep seeing issues of Captain Sunshine for sale on the internet, but I haven't bought one yet. Even though I really want to read it again, it still freaks me out somehow...

All my love to long ago

Originally posted May 2, 2010

Back during the Easter break, I found myself standing in a cold and bare basement, staring at a piece of comic art I hadn't seen in more than a quarter of a century, and my mouth was filled with the taste of the worst orange cordial I'd ever had in my entire life.

* * *

Memory can unexpectedly spark across the decades. You might think you've forgotten something, but it can be sitting there in a dark corner of the mind for years, and all it needs is a decent trigger.

It's been well established that the sense of smell is one of the best triggers for unintended memory ­ - I could have sworn I caught a scent of 1998 the other day that made me ache to play Resident Evil 2 - ­ but anything can do it. Listening to a song after not hearing it in years can often be unintentionally moving. Even songs that were once hated can have real emotional heft years later, with their reminders of days gone by.

The biggest unexpected rush of nostalgia I had before that Easter experience came when I put some reggae on the stereo and then heard it from another room. Something about that particular skank, that unmistakable beat, vibrating through the walls hit me in a way I hadn't been hit in years, and it felt like I was seven years old again, shuttled off to bed while all the cool older kids stayed up and sneakily smoked cigarettes and listened to some Wailers. There was a sudden rush of memory and feeling that was almost overpowering and I had to sit down for a bit.

That's what happened in that basement when I saw Captain Sunshine.

* * *

Not that Captain Sunshine. This one. Drawn by Colin Wilson before he went off to do Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper and Blueberry and Star Wars, there was only one issue of Captain Sunshine ever published and it was put out as a promotional push for a wrist-watch that was based on the principal of a sundial.

I'm still not sure how that worked.

* * *

Nostalgia is not always a good thing ­ - wallowing in the past has ruined a lot of modern mainstream comics, keeping them in a state of unfortunate arrested development, and it's depressing how rare it is to see a major Hollywood blockbuster that isn't based on something movie executives liked when they were kids.

Change is one of the great constants of the universe, and it is good. Nothing stays the same forever and it really shouldn't. Mental, physical and spiritual evolution is an ongoing project throughout existence and within our entertainments. We change and everything changes with us.

But that doesn't mean we can't still enjoy all the things that once meant so much to us. There is still worth in the past, there is still warmth to be found in specific memories. As long as we don't live in the past and recognise the importance of the now, there is nothing wrong with wallowing in memories.

* * *

I almost missed the comic exhibition that featured the Captain Sunshine art altogether. Down in Wellington for a party on a boat, it was a glorious coincidence that the Armageddon pop culture expo was on. I managed to get a bunch of old comics, including the first ever Fantastic Four annual and some Legends of the Dark Knight and one of Paradox's Big Books that I astonished to realise I didn't have, and was wandering back to the hotel wondering if I could live without Lance Parkin's updated Doctor Who timeline when I saw the sign for the exhibition on a doorway I was passing.

I knew it was on, having read about it on Adrian Kinnaird's excellent kiwi-comics blog From Earth's End, and was genuinely chuffed to stumble across it like that. My knowledge of New Zealand comics is spectacularly woeful, but I'm trying to make up for lost time.

And it was a real eye opener. The rooms the comic art was being displayed in looked like something out of a Saw movie, but there were examples of locally produced art going back decades, a fascinating hint of the medium hanging on in there at the arse end of the world. Comics endure.

(You can see some shots of it and a good wrap up on Adrian's blog here. He was shooting some of them while I was wandering about, but I'm not in them.)

Most of it was all new to me. Some of it, like Barry Linton's grubby laughs, was oddly familiar. But then I saw the first page of Captain Sunshine and I couldn't believe I had forgotten about it.

* * *

This is what I suddenly remembered when I saw that art ­ - sitting on the floor at my Aunty Val and Uncle Soul's place, reading that comic and drinking terrible, terrible orange cordial.

I know I was only about four years old, because that's when that comic came out, and that's when they lived in that house. By that standard, it's the earliest clear memory I have of reading comic books. I can remember reading a bunch of them when I was a little bit older ­ there were definitely issues of Richie Rich, X-Men and Ms Marvel by the time I was in school, but nothing as early as that Captain Sunshine stuff.

The weird part is ­ I had completely forgotten it had existed at all until I saw it again and the memory was so overpowering I swear I could taste that cordial in the back of my mouth. It was always there in my head, but it never popped up again in all these years, until now.

And no wonder, I haven't seen a copy of Captain Sunshine in a quarter of a century. Now I can remember seeing it everywhere when I was younger, in supermarkets and dairies and bookshops all over the country. There were 100,000 copies of that first issue produced and they ended up everywhere.

* * *

It was a warm and fuzzy feeling, seeing that art and feeling those memories surge to the surface. All that time ago, and it felt like it could have been yesterday.

And the really funny thing is that I think it only lodged in a deep part of my memory only because when I was a kid I hated the fucking thing.

I hated the cheapness of it, I hated the washed out and sickly colours, I hated the complicated sci fi of it, I hated the fact that it was everywhere and I couldn't read any other comics because that was the only thing that shop on the Kaikoura cost was selling. (At least they had the novelisation of Meglos.)

Whenever he talks about Marvelman, Alan Moore points out that he had a very low opinion of the comic as a youngster. If you couldn't get any Fantastic Four, or an Eagle or anything else, he would settle for a Marvelman, because it was still comics. It was still better than anything.

But his low opinion of Marvelman didn't stop him from having some genuine affection for the character, and that affection did shine through in his own crack at the concept. Just because we hate something as kids doesn't mean we can't have some feeling for it.

Because I would love to get my hands on an issue of Captain Sunshine now, but like all ephemera, it got lost in history. Even though issues of the comic used to clog second hand bookstores, they gradually faded away and I haven't seen one in years. Seeing the cover and first page was enough to bring it all flooding back and I can't help wondering how much more of a head trip it would be to read the rest.

* * *

It certainly helps that my appreciation of Colin Wilson has matured significantly over the years. He has only broken into the US industry relatively recently with Sleeper prequel Point Blank, a few issues of The Losers and a current commitment to the Star Wars universe, but he has decades of fine work behind him now.

His wonderfully grimy art, which also combines a real sense of kinetic energy with a detailed environment, is full of distinct characters. Any chance to read his his youthful and enthusiastic work is surely to be treasured, even with those awful colours.

* * *

But mostly I want to read it because it's a pivotal part of my personal comics past. It's certainly one of the first things I ever read, and definitely the first one I actually hated.

To retreat into that comfortable nostalgia, if only for a while, is not such a bad thing. Even with that cordial taste.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #20

That damn show
Originally posted March 10, 2010

“Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure this is a lighter incarnation but it’s certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots than the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy.”
- Bat-Mite
The Brave and the Bold cartoon

* * *

Admit it, if you like superheroes, you fucking loved the Batman TV show as a kid. And then you hated it as a teenager. And then, if you grew up enough, you started to like it again.

* * *

The good bastards at the comic shop near my work put out a whole bunch of comic magazines on sale for $1 each. Issues of magazines I’d never seen before, many from the TwoMorrows publishing outfit – stuff like Alter Ego, Comic Book Artist and Back-Issue.

I had only seen a small handful of these magazines before, and was surprised how much I enjoyed their unashamed wallowing in nostalgia. The sheer amount of reproduced raw art is responsible for most of that enjoyment and a general tone of unabashed enthusiasm is highly contagious. After reading a long, rambling and highly enjoyable conversation between Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell, any reader will be convinced of the genuine worth of that mid-period Legion of Super-Heroes and that funk-tastic design sense.

But the writers often leave their inner fanboy showing a bit, most notably through their enthusiastic gushing over subjects few others care about. There is also the unfortunate tendency to dismiss the Adam West Batman as an unfortunate diversion from the true Batman which has tarnished the public’s perception of the character and pushed back any serious interpretastions of the concept.

The inherent fanboy can be heard in the sneering. It’s obviously an embarresment to all true Batman fans, a campy glitch in the history of the Dark Knight, the annoying uncle you have to acknowledge.

* * *

But it’s not. It’s brilliant. Turns out this annoying uncle actually has a good sense of humour and all sorts of stories to tell. The Batman TV show from the ‘60s is bright and colourful and cheerful and surprisingly ironic. It’s a bit stupid, but smart in ways that really matter. All those old showbiz hamming, chewing down on the gaudy scenery. Those catchphrases, those actors and that music, imprinted on generations. It’s brilliant.

* * *

When I was a little kid, the first television programmes I ever remember watching were Doctor Who and Batman.

That was my tastes rooted for life.

But I was genuinely excited about the Batman show when my brain was forming, and it was 20 years old then. There is something about that absolute deadpan that made it timeless.

Kids love it because it is loud and fun. It’s got a theme tune that is insanely catchy and these bright characters running around and having adventures. Its most obvious humour level is pitched somewhere around the eight year old’s level, so it always gets them laughing with the dumb joke.

I’ve seen kids in the 21st century fall over themselves in excitement when the Batman TV show was on television. They were eating that stuff up and asking for seconds. Their parents didn’t understand.

* * *

And then you get older and a girl catches you reading something meaty like The Killing Joke and laughs at you because she thinks it’s full of Fatman and Slobin and you’re like fuck that shit

* * *

I once had a lovely conversation with a girl who sometimes has to go out and do weather reports for breakfast television. They make her do the stupidest things, any old excuse to drag the waking eyes over to a TV screen.

She said she knows it’s all horribly embarrassing and tacky and cheesy, but if you show an inch of that knowledge, it just doesn’t work. The only way to avoid being embarrassed is to be as embarrassing as possible. Otherwise you just look stilted and awkward, and that’s much, much worse.

That’s how the television Batman works. There was just enough winking to show they were all in the joke, but not enough to be mean about it.

* * *

I watched it again in my early twenties and it was just stupid, so I filed it away as something best forgotten. Comics are serious business for serious young men. There will be no camp here.

And then I watched an episode with those kids I was talking about earlier, and it was bloody fantastic. The whole programme was dripping with deadpan irony and still played well – four decades after it was made.

It looked crisp and clear in a way that 70s television shows never do. It remains timeless and I can handle a Batman that digs the day.

* * *

That’s not everybody’s Batman. Many remain convinced that the tortured avenger of the night is the only valid interpretation of a cultural icon that is deserving of the respect its history deserves. Other people just like a Batman who grimaces and throws bad guys into meat grinders.

Others like a Batman who can be a bit competitive, while always fair. Who isn’t afraid to show others how it’s done and can do it with a laugh.

There have been a lot of thoughtful and genuinely mature stories about Batman that have been absolutely fantastic. There have also been a lot of goofy and funny stories that have been so enjoyable.

They’re all valid interpretations.

* * *

Nananananananana! Nananananananana! Batman! Batman! BATMAN! Nananananananana!

* * *

I still know loads of people who love reading comics, but wouldn’t be caught dead with them in public. While there are more people reading Sandman on the train than ever before, it’s still perceived as a child’s medium in western eyes. If you like it, you must be immature.

Well, so what? What’s wrong with liking a kid’s product if it’s smart and funny enough? It doesn’t do any harm. If people laugh at you because you get a bit over-excited about Batman and Robin, that’s their problem. It shouldn’t taint my enjoyment of it.

It took me fuckin’ years to figure this out.

Monday, September 19, 2011

31 Days of Recycling #19

Over the past couple of months, I've watched the first 13 seasons of South Park (although not always in order), and the most recent season was as shocking and thoughtful as ever. It can still make me laugh like no other cartoon on television, and sometimes manages to make a half dozen good points in a single episode. While the most recently released episode suggested that things are moving on, more South Park is always welcome...

Gonna have myself a time
Originally posted February 25, 2010

The Simpsons may have lost its sheen a long time ago, but it’s surprising how sharp South Park can still be.

That’s a little unfair on Homer’s crew. While general consensus has the Simpsons going downhill ever since the name Armin Tamzarian was first heard, I still do my best to never miss a new episode. It’s still occasionally biting and still funny enough for a few laughs, and has never been anything less than completely entertaining.

The Simpsons might not be living up to the incredibly high standards it set for itself, but a new Simpsons – or even a repeat episode that hasn’t been done to death – is still stronger than the vast number of comedies out there.

When South Park came along in the late nineties, it was written off as Simpsons’ louder, stupider and crasser cousin. There had been no end of cartoon comedies trying to cash in on the enormous success generated by the Simpsons in that decade, and most of the first wave had already fallen away. (Who even remembers Duckman and The Critic?)

So when South Park came out and featured a massive radar antenna spontaneously generating itself out of an eight-year-old’s butt, it was definitely funny, but there were few signs the joke would last.

More than a decade later, and for this viewer, there is still no funnier cartoon showing on television. While its arguable that for sheer popularity, South Park is nowhere near the levels it saw in its first few years of existence, it’s still a remarkably relevant piece of entertainment that manages to still be predictably shocking as often as it is surprisingly thoughtful.

On the shocking front, one of the delights of watching a new episode of South Park is the idea that no matter how extreme it has been in the past, it can still be genuinely shocking. It could get away with things like seeing Ben Affleck get a handjob from a young boy, although suffered some blowback when it managed to annoy the entire Catholic Church with the notorious bleeding Virgin Mary episode.

Each viewer will have their own limits of acceptability, but that first Christmas Critters episode where they launched into a blood orgy ten minutes into the show might have been the worst thing I’d ever seen on television up to that point. But since then, the South Park crew have pushed the boundaries of good taste even further, with the sight of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg literally raping Indiana Jones in a variety of disturbing movie pastiches something I still can’t clear out of my head.

This means South Park is consistently raising the ire of the easily offended, but questioning matters of taste and offence is something the show does better than anybody else.

But it’s not just the ability to whip out some genuine shock value that keeps the show fresh – it’s also marvellously topical and amazingly clever. The short lead time before each episode sees events in the real world parodied within days and watching any new episode month after it first aired can already make it seem out of date.

Its skewering of idiotic values and creeds is where the programme does its best, and the one thing that keeps me coming back every time is how cleverly this hatred of stupidity is presented. The clever aspect can often be the way it presents the piss-take and you might think you’re watching a show that’s making fun of one particular brand of stupidity, only to suddenly realise it’s really making fun of James Cameron’s Dances With Smurfs.

Take a recent episode that started out as a parody of the events seen in the genuinely horrible documentary The Cove, as hordes of angry Japanese descend on water parks and slaughter every whale and dolphin in sight

For an episode that got much of its laughs out of this mindless slaughter, that particular show worked on several levels at once. It wasn’t just the cultural differences between East and West (best exemplified in a killer last line), it also made fun of perennially stupid reality shows, green activists more interested in their public profile than any actual accomplishments and the idiocy of generational blame for atrocities.

For a show to be that clever and insightful after so many episodes – after so many years - is a remarkable feat helped by the fact that Trey Parker, Matt Stone and the rest of the South Park crew are genuinely funny people. They have crafted so many killer lines and situations, while always pushing on for more.

Still, the damn show is going to get me killed one day. I’m sure of it. Thanks to that recent episode making fun of bikers, I can’t help muttering “brumbrumbrum” under my breath every time a noisy motorcyclist goes past. This won’t end well.

But it will be totally worth it.

31 Days of Recycling #18

I'm getting older and more sensible and all that, and haven't taken anything harder than a puff on a joint in two years, but I still adore reading Batman comics when I'm drunk and/or stoned. They're just better.

Boozy enthusiasm, high fidelity and the acid burn
Originally posted January 23, 2010

“Some comics go really well with drinking. The Lone Wolf and Cub series is one of the dopest comics of all time. And when you're a little bit three-sheets? Yeah, it gets even doper. Have you ever said, "Fuck, yeah, Daigoro!" on a subway? If not, you're doing it wrong.”
-Joe Rice

* * *

Comics are great when you’re straight, but fucking awesome when you’re wasted.

* * *

I love reading comics when I’m a little bit drunk. Slurring over the action a bit, drooling over the speech balloons. A beer and a comic on a sunny day are all that is good in life.

When the brain is swimming in its own juices, reading a big block of text can be nearly impossible. But when you add a page full of pictures, things become a whole lot easier.

With a comic, you can pause in the middle of a page and let the mind wander where it wants to and when it comes back, you can pick up the flow again with the greatest of ease. You can focus on an idea or phrase, or simply stare at a particularly eye-catching picture. You might be on Cloud Nine, but the comic page isn’t going anywhere.

The funny thing is, the more mindbending the comic gets, the less enjoyable it can actually be with boozed-up skull. The more simple the tale and art, the easier it can be processed. Something like Bone or a Donald Duck comic are not only easier to follow, they can hold prove much better at the opening the emotional floodgates.

Sometimes I drink lots of wine and read comic books and cry like a little girl.

* * *

I love reading comics when I’m a little bit stoned. Looking for that emotional resonance, floating through the pages with ease, spending an eternity on one panel and drifting past the big blocks of text.

The anti-drug ads are sometimes the funniest thing in modern super-hero comics. Partly because there is so many of them, but mainly because comics books are probably one of the worst places to put ads like that. When it comes to reading material when you’re wasted, nuthin’ beats comics.

Of course, taking drugs or drinking booze and curling up with a comic book is not recommended for everybody. A lot of comic readers are quite capable of reading their books without any chemical enhancement and get just as much out of them. This is to be commended.

But as somebody who has been moved beyond words while reading Love and Rockets through dope-hazed eyes on beautiful and lost summer afternoons, I can honestly say it’s always worked out all right for me.

* * *

But I won’t read them when I’m tripping, because that ruins them.

The last time I took acid, I ended up needing an extended sit-down in the Christchurch Public Library on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It all got a bit difficult walking around the centre of the city and I retreated to the library with a big stack of trade paperbacks and hardbacks from the shelves to fill in the two hours until I had to catch a bus.

I ruined these comics with this ridiculous behaviour. Every time I look at those comics or even think about them now, I feel physically ill. I feel a little bit weird and it’s not a good weird. They trigger that vast, existential void that I fear more than anything, that incoherence of this reality, the mess of the world.

Frankly, I try to avoid that feeling as much as possible.

The contents of those comics are almost totally unimportant. One was the first volume of Alex Ross and crew’s Justice maxi-series, with lots of pained superheroes in pained tights doing things that pained them.

I tried to pick up the second book in this series recently, but it sparked a mild flashback that still managed to be more than a little uncomfortable. Something is encoded in the art and plot, something that triggers the mind into heading into uncomfortable directions.

Then I get that weird chemical taste in the back of my throat, and I’m done for.

I also read The Originals by Dave Gibbons in the library, trying to calm the head down and it just made me feel a bit weird. It’s a great little graphic novel, with interestingly eternal themes that could just as easily be set in the 1960s as the futuristic world it actually takes place in, but it wouldn’t click with my head and I had to abandon the whole thing.

Later on that day, I had the same trouble with the John Woo/Garth Ennis Seven Brothers comic. I read that on the bus ride after escaping the library and while things had calmed down a little by then, I was still thoroughly munted and haven’t been able to read the series again since. I can’t even look at the covers without feeling a bit dodgy. I think I liked it, but I can’t be sure.

It’s not just comic books that are ruined. Movies and television shows have always been tainted and the Imaginationland episode of South Park had me convinced that sci-fi Egyptian Gods from the 64th century were trying to download information into my head, and I had to escape them by regressing past the point of my own birth to a previous life, where I died alone in the stairwell of a Victorian mansion.

Now I can’t watch that episode again, and it’s all because bloody Anubis shows up for three seconds on screen.

But it’s the comics that carry that taint the worst, because I always love reading comics when I’m fucked up, and sometimes that colours the whole perception. The paper stinks of that physical weirdness, that chemical horror.

Just say no to mixing acid and comics, kids. Save it for the dancefloor.