Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rasl: A lightspeed romance (with big heads)


There is a lovely little moment in the last issue of Jeff Smith’s fairly challenging Rasl comic, where the main character nonchalantly explains what the comic’s title actually means.

It’s an answer to a question that had been there ever since Smith first announced the project, but one that hadn’t been asked in some time. The way the moment is handled is pretty clumsy and just a bit tossed off, but it’s also a charming and sentimental part in the middle of a violent and dangerous climax.

Which sums up a lot of the comic’s appeal – the story doesn’t quite work and the deliberate confusion often stops it dead, but it’s still a hell of a ride, with little doses of brilliance.

And it’s definitely not Bone. Smith’s epic fantasy comic is so good, it is going to overshadow everything Smith ever does for the rest of his life, but at least he’s been trying something new over the past couple of years.

Rasl does have a lot of superficial similarities to Bone – a devotion to a single moment in the pacing that gives individual scenes a lot of power, and that goofy ‘n’ gooey black and white art.


But Rasl is a very different comic to Bone. It’s a science action story. It’s a desert noir, a scientific lecture and the story of an incurable romantic. It’s about parallel worlds and parallel lives. There were some bits that were some of the horrific things I’ve seen in a comic in years, and lovely little touches in the panel-to-panel progression.

Bone’s grand plot started heading up its own arse in the last third of the run, but was overall a tight story. In contrast, Rasl is all over the show, bouncing around inside its own narrative over its short 15-issue run. Events skip back and forth and there are flashbacks inside flashbacks (and with the first four pages of the whole series starting at the very end of the story means almost the whole comic is actually a flashback.)

There is a large and slightly flabby section in the middle of the series where the backstory dump – combined with a detailed history of Mr Nikola Tesla – can leave the reader wondering what the hell is going on, or where things are going. Reading the series as each new issue came out could also cause frustration, as the long gap between each issue made it hard to keep up as it was.

(Full disclosure: After getting the first couple of issues, I somehow missed the next three, and I only tracked down the last missing one a week before the final issue came out, so my own initial reading of the non-linear narrative is even more jumbled up than the usual.)


But this kind of deliberate obtuseness is only to be expected, and almost demanded, from a story featuring irresponsible travels between parallel worlds. The main character barely knows what’s going on, and is frequently baffled by subtle things like the complete breakdown of the laws of physics.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of complexity, or the odd unanswered question. You don’t need the Secret Origin of the slack-jawed girl, or know the exact moment when Rasl figured out who Uma actually was. The science itself is impossible enough to be comic-book plausible, and that’s all the information you need. All the fun is in figuring out where the hell you’re going now.

And besides – it’s not that complicated. The story mainly takes place on two different worlds, over a fairly short period of time, with less than a dozen main characters, and it’s actually fairly easy to keep track of which world things are happening on, (just see who is still alive or what Bob Dylan’s name is).

And it’s fun – lots of sex and violence and Tesla. I have a particular fondness for stories about the Philadelphia Experiment, and SCIENCE GONE MAD, and Rasl certainly delivers on that score.

It’s also easy to follow because the story is illustrated by a seasoned and proven comic artist like Jeff Smith, and his slick and distinctive style is – as always – the best and worst thing in his comic.

 
Smith’s animation background still saturates every page he draws, usually to great effect. Everything flows so smoothly and his pages have a strong beat to them that make each sequence an easy joy to read.

Everything is all clear, all laid out in the open, with only the most necessary lines. This clarity becomes particularly effective in Rasl’s action sequences, and there are quite a few of them. They have a heft and movement that so much modern comic art doesn’t have. A punch might get thrown across six panels, but it lands like a motherfucker.

The clean art is also paradoxically perfect for the moments where it all breaks down – when something really strange happens in the story, and there are a few of those too. Time bends and snaps, perceptions of reality go mad mental crazy, up is down, black is white and your place in the universe is not assured.

The clearness of Smith’s line gives these moments of extreme oddness a strange grounding in reality, which just makes them so much stronger. When science breaks down, reality goes with it, but need a control subject, and can find that normality is Smith’s clear line.


And yet, for all its strengths, there are moments where his art really doesn’t work for the story, because it’s just so goshdarned cute.

It’s arguable that Smith’s style only really works for stories full of wide-eyed wonder, and certainly not anything that was really and truly dark Unfortunately, there are moments in Rasl that prove this point: parts where the main character is acting all tough and cool, but it doesn’t work - because he looks like a big baby.

The gigantic heads Smith gives his lead characters is obviously a stylistic choice, because there are loads of periphery characters with normal-sized melons. It’s just the way Smith likes to draw people, and there is a certain charm to it, but not when you’ve got the hero staring down the bad guys with nerves of steel and a big bonce. It just does not work.

(Although there is one notable exception – the main villainous guy, whose face is so elongated – like a lizard – yet never really commented on in the story. His own evil has deformed his features, and he’s like a brutally ugly henchman from an old gangster flick. It’s kinda marvellous.)


So it drags at some points, and the art is sometimes woefully inappropriate, and it tries too hard and ends up being a bit too clever for its own good. It doesn’t matter – it’s still a terrific comic book.

Because despite all these faults, Rasl is still funny, clever, fast-paced and a bit crazy. Like a lot of almost-brilliant comics, it doesn’t reach the heights it’s going for, but at least it’s reaching for them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fury - My War Gone By: 'Sometimes it just gets like that'


When Garth Ennis wrote his first stories featuring perennial Marvel warhorse Nick Fury, there were some complaints that he wasn’t being true to the character, and was being far too vulgar with such a venerable veteran. All that high-tech spying and justifiable mass murder was fine, but the hookers and the drink were unacceptable.

But beneath the typical violent laughs, Ennis’ Fury comics also had his usual storytelling efficiency, humanistic pleas for a little kindness and big things to say about big subjects, and it’s easy to not worry the fact that ol’ Nick isn’t wearing a tight blue spandex uniform, and chases away his nightmares with booze and drugs and whores.

Despite Marvel’s efforts to make the official version of Fury look like Samuel L Jackson, the grizzled grunt is back again in a new series - Fury: My War Gone By by Ennis and Goran Parlov, a brilliantly black story about war, failure and bad people taking the American Dream out the back and putting two in the skull.


I’ve been getting, on average, half a dozen regular monthly American comic books ever since I was 10 years old, but there is always one that is my favourite.

I always know what it is, without thinking about it. A particular comic that is so enjoyable in monthly chunks, it’s the one I look forward to more than any other. It’s the most intense, or funniest, or thoughtful, or beautiful, and there is always one that is my undoubted favourite.

It might be my favourite for only a couple of months, or for several years. At various times, it was The Invisibles, or the New Warriors. It was Alan Davis’ Excalibur twice. It’s been Daredevil three times, the Punisher twice and the Incredible Hulk once.

Right now, it’s undoubtedly the new Fury comic, because it’s efficient and intense storytelling, with gorgeous art and Big Things To Say. Nothing else coming out every month comes close.


Ennis is even more efficient than usual in the new comic - telling complete stories in three issues. There is no padding, and nobody to hold the reader’s hand. Keep the fuck up or fuck the fuck off.

My War Gone By is undoubtedly influenced by James Ellroy’s magnificent American Tabloid books, set in the same time periods with the same kind of broken and powerful men, but there is also a sense of shared efficiency. Ellroy never wasted any time getting to the goddamned point, or dumping huge amounts of vital information in a perfectly worded paragraph for two, and Ennis is down with that.

But the comics are telling a different story around the same events. Fury is on the ground, right in the middle of the shit during the Bay Of Pigs fiasco and the annihilation of a French outpost in Vietnam, not watching from on high as viciously righteous plans go awry.

It has far more in common to the Punisher Max series from the same creators. (Unsurprisingly, it’s called Fury Max in the credits, losing the stark poetry of the subtitle on the cover.) This new Fury stuff is a thematic sequel to his Punisher stories, but where Castle was a man outside the system, Fury is deep in it. The company man, with plans on a global scale. Castle’s war was against vicious crime, Fury’s is for something a lot more nebulous, but a whole lot bigger.

The characters do share certain traits - when Fury appeared in the Punisher series, they stood on equal footing, a mutual respect for each other’s abilities to stay alive and kill people (that was only a little grudging), but they were both the type of men who weren’t about to let a little girl die in the name of the Great Game

But while My War Gone By might have a lot of similarities with older stories, it’s also got its own tale to tell. It’s another American story, and it’s another bloody one.


Nick Fury was created at the very height of the Cold War as a working class action hero. A WWII veteran who stood up to those bullying Nazis, even when everything looked lost, and almost won the war himself with sheer grit and gumption. But he was also the modern spymaster, playing invisible games of espionage and shutting down lunatic terror attacks.

Fury sums up a lot of the true-blue American virtues: he’s hard-working, fair, distrustful of authority (including his own), he’s got guts and hates bullies, and doesn't like to see innocents suffer. But he's also a bad man to have as an enemy, and willing to suffer a little collateral damage to take out a greater threat.

In Fury, Ennis has found another way to look at one of his favourite subjects: Americaand its grand hypocrisies - the love for freedom, and the willingness to do terrible things in the name of that ideology. America's hands were in some of the bloodiest conflicts of the past six decades, and there is plenty of possible stories in these interventions.

What is particularly interesting about the new Fury comics is that it's all about the failure of that cruel side of the American psyche, with the first six issues of the series looking at two of the American intelligence communty’s greatest failures in the second half of the 20th century, Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs.

A rabid anti-communist agenda was used to justify America's involvement in these two debacles, but after causing untold misery - usually to innocent people on the ground - both ended in failure.

And as America stumbles, so Nick Fury fails too. He doesn’t do anything at the final battle of the first story, taken out by the first explosion, left senselessly dazed for the duration of the fighting, and only allowed to live so he can take a message back to the west. In the second story, his mission is to take out Fidel Castro, and this isn't Inglorious Basterds, and history goes to plan.



Nick Fury is America, and this is where the real intensity of My War Gone By lies. It's not just the violent action scenes, it's seeing the full effect of these grand plans, and the inherent intensity of things going terribly wrong.

As much as those first critics thought Ennis was doing it all wrong, Nick Fury is the perfect Marvel character for this kind of business. He's always been about the shady backroom deals and balls out action for decades, and he's had a buillet in his head since 1944. He's allowed a few vices, with the things he's seen and done, with all the horror of his past deeds now being revealed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Love and Rockets New Stories #5: 'Proof that I do love you so'


It’s not just the gorgeous artwork, ultra-tight personal continuity or glimpses inside the human soul that make Love and Rockets one of the best comics ever, although they certainly help.

It’s the little touches and the tiny moments that make every new issue of Love and Rockets so essential and so wonderfully heartbreaking. Behind Luba’s bazonga breasts and Doyle’s sly smile, there are long and painful tragedies that are only seen in the most subtle of ways. It’s the unspoken compliment, or the sideways look, or the blank expression – that’s where the real meat of Love and Rockets comics lie.

And thirty years – thirty years! - after Los Bros Hernandez started telling their stories this way, they’re still doing it better than anybody else in the world.


Love and Rocket New Stories #5 came out this month, and while it’s almost redundant to say that Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez are still producing amazing work after all these years, I still gotta say it. Their comics in recent years are every bit as good as any other period in the long history. Their comics are still smarter and funnier and sexier and scarier and more emotional than anything else being produced these days.

Their comics are so rich, and have built up so much depth in the past three decades, that each little story resonates with meaning and a fierce dedication to storytelling and long-form narrative experimentation.

Each new issue is cause for celebration, especially when it’s an annual thing. Any day I get to read some brand new Love and Rockets is a Good Day, and it’s something I now look forward to every single year. I might never be sure when I’m actually going to get a copy, but there is never any disappointment when I do.

It’s a comic that’s Always Good, and always has been, and probably will be for a while to come.


Last year’s book was a particular triumph for Jaime, as his long, long-running story of Maggie ‘n’ Ray reached a beautiful and heartbreaking conclusion. (I just read it again this afternoon and it was the 20th time I’ve read it, and I still shed another manly tear over it).

Jaime takes a bit of a step back with the narrative in his latest comics, introducing some new characters and picking up some gangster-related threads from a couple of years ago. Ray and Doyle are still there, amazed at how quickly their bodies are falling apart as they get old, (the drip in Doyle’s arm is a painful little sight), and there are nice pieces of history dredged up, like the full history of these old farts’ friendship, or even why Doyle ended up being such good mates with Mike Tran, but most of Jaime’s work is focussed on taking the story forward, at his own pace and his own style.

But it’s Gilbert who makes the most of his own old stories in the new book, because he goes back to Palomar.

Oh Palomar, his Palomar.

And it is good to pay a visit to the strange little town, somewhere south of the border. It’s good to see Martin and Pipo and Boots and Chelo and – especially – Heraclio and Carmen. It’s almost unbearably nostalgic to see a particular hole in the ground, or hear the Ghost Tree talk, or hear Vicente tell a story.

But Beto has always been just as keen as his younger brother to show that he is all about the future, and while he uses the past, he never wallows in it. He has even moved away from any kind of continuious story in the past few years, concentrating instead on complete little tales with only a minimal connection to his wider stories.

The most obvious link between his older work and the things he has been doing in New Stories (and a number of extremely satisfying stand-alone books) has been the movie link - pretending that many of these stories are the actual films that the characters in Beto’s “real” world are starring in. These movie stories, along with the weirdly pointed and crazy sci-fi-tinged work he has also been doing, are often creepy, disturbing and violent, while also feeling sweet, silly and slightly weightless.


In New Stories #5, Beto goes back to Palomar for the first time in years, but also keeps to his more recent style by running one of his movies alongside the visit to his old ghost town. A film (comic) version of an incredibly idiosyncratic town’s recent history intertwining with the latest appearances of the real (fictional) people from actual (fictional) town might sound meta-textually twee, but Beto is still a master of craft and mood, wherever he is and whatever he is doing, and keeps things relatively light.

The only real horror in Palomar any more is in the movie version of the old stories, where little kids are stabbing people in the eye, but there just isn’t any need for that in the proper Palomar anymore.

So Beto is keeping it new while celebrating the past, even bringing Killer, his latest femme fatale, into the town where she has history she doesn’t even know about. In fact, it’s arguable that while it is nice to visit the town and see how its residents are doing, the story itself is pointing out that there isn’t any need to go back again. It’s a town full of ghosts, and not just the obvious ones in the tree. Those old characters and old stories are just as much ghosts as Tonatzin or Toco.

Jaime gave two of his best characters the only kind of real ending they’re ever likely to really get last time, but this year Gilbert puts a whole town to rest. There isn’t any real need to go back there, although it will always be nice to visit.


It’s harder to talk about Jaime’s work in the new book, because each of his comics in the New Stories books has been spread over two years. The Ti-Girls stuff was very obviously a two-parter, while the first part of the Love Bunglers was a beautifully complete story, only to blossom into something else, even more beautiful, when it carried on into issue four. So the sense that there is more to this story, more still to be explained, is inescapable.

Usually, each new issue sends me diving back into the history, just to get it straight on what is happening now, and what it means for those older stories. This time, I was ahead of the game, and in the immortal words of the mighty philosopher Joe Dredd: this time I got my retaliation in first. Thanks to the easy accessibility of the L&R Library, I’d managed to burn through a quick re-read of the chunky Pearla La Loca and Esperanza collections in the weeks before the new issue. This was partly to get in the right kind of mind groove for the new issue, but also because it made catching up on all the tiny plot details that had been forgotten in the long wait between issues.

This time, I was up on the play with the whole Mel Stropp thing, which made understanding Crime Raiders International Mobsters and Executioners in New Stories #5 a whole lot easier. Sometimes it takes me a while – it took me three reads to figure out what was really up with that gun in the lingerie drawer – and there are still things I can’t quite get. I still have no idea what happened to Reno, and I can’t get the idea out of my head that Eric Lopez is the kid Calvin smacked over with the metal bar, all those years ago.

A lot will probably be cleared up in the next issue, but I still have the feeling it will all make sense if I just went back and read House of Raging Women.


In the meantime: Hey kids! It’s new Jaime Hernandez comics! It’s the usual beautiful art (each panel of Uh… Oh Yeah is a masterpiece), it’s still funny as hell (poor old Frank Lopez scratching his head in bemusement cracked me up every time), and I still love these characters (new and old) as much as ever.

One of the most superficial enjoyments of each new Jaime story is seeing how characters have changed their style, or grown older. Doyle is always changing, (there is a lot less hair than there used to be), Maggie is as ravishing as ever in the one, brief panel we see her in, and Vivian is getting more gorgeous the older she gets - I honestly thought that part of #5 was a flashback until some familiar faces showed up at the end, because she actually looks a lot younger.

Vivian can be hard to warm to, especially when compared to other characters in the story. She’s rude and loud, but she’s not an idiot, and there is a look she gets on her face when men start telling her she is stupid that is just shattering, especially because she never argues with them.

But Jaime’s latest comics are also seen from the perspective of people who are outside the usual circle of beautiful people - Tonta is goofy, but still allowed around the edges of this world thanks to her biological connection to Vivian, while Gretchen sees everything, but has no part in anything, because of that unfortunate face.


And there is that subtlety again – Gretchen could be a miserable character, but Jaime gives her body language that is awfully carefree, and the slightly heavier inking on Beto’s ‘movie’ story make it easier to tell apart from what’s actually happening in Palomar.

Things can be played quite broadly, but every time I go in to a new Love and Rockets, there are more and more little touches of storytelling beauty to enjoy.

A phone that won’t die, a hole that never gets filled in and an unexplained mannequin. The wry smile of triumph, the jaw going slightly slack in surprise and the closed eyes of resignation. A metaphor spread so thin it’s almost invisible (while still covering everything) and a blatant heart on the sleeve.

These are the things that help make Los Bros Hernandez so over-praised and under-rated. It’s nothing new to say they’re doing brilliant work, but it can’t be said enough.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Back from the UK: A full catalogue of extreme dorkitude

Being the full, frank and fairly embarrassing accounting of the printed entertainments purchased by Mr Bob Temuka during a three-week trip around the UK, a shopping fever of such extravagance that it pushed the idea of a baggage weight limit on international flights to the very extreme.

They were heavy as hell by the end of it all, but it was, as always, totally fucking worth it.

***


Two (2) short novels by Kim Newman – the expected Hound of the D’Ubervilles, with Colonel Sebastian Moran’s hatred of all humanity proving consistently hilarious, and Time and Relative, the novelette that kicked off the short-lived Telos series of Doctor Who books. It was bought in a store that was only a couple of miles from the exact spot they were filming the new series, but Time and Relative is set right before the beginning, almost five full decades ago. And it turned out to be unexpectedly moving, especially when the Doctor decides that meddling in the affairs of the universe is a good thing.

Four (4) short graphic novels by idiosyncratic (though thoroughly appealing) creators. I got Joe Matt’s The Poor Bastard in Oxford, a signed copy of the Originals by Dave Gibbons at Orbital in London, The Lovely Horrible Stuff by Eddie Campbell at Gosh in London and Kyle Baker’s Special Forces in Coventry. All of them were as cheap as chips, and they’re all lovely and complete slices of a particular artistic vision. Campbell’s book was, unsurprisingly, the funniest, and I chuckled happily away as I read it all in my hotel room before the flight home.

Fourteen (a bloody shitload) ridiculously cheap Silver and Bronze Age comics. Most comic shops don’t really make a huge effort on back issues, and who can blame them? They take up too much valuable real estate for too little reward, and when all the really good stuff has been reprinted over and over, there isn’t much need for mouldy old stacks. But it also means that while back issues older than a couple of years ago can now be harder to find, they can be a lot cheaper when finally found. And it’s impossible to ignore those kind of deals, like when you find a bloody shitload of Silver and Bronze Age comics in a comic shop in Bath. All of the store’s back issues were a pound-fifty each, and I gorged on Bronze Age Teen Titans, Star-Spangled War Stories, Legion of Super-Heroes and World’s Finest, pre-Kirby Jimmy Olsen and issues of Inferior Five and Prez and Shazam and one of the Justice League comics Kev was talking about, all for the equivalent of my three colonial dollars. And there were some real gems – the first Guardians of the Galaxy comic by Drake and Colan, and the first issues of Omega The Unknown and the Secret Society of Super Villains, which were both in their own ways None More Seventies, and Justice League America #45, with some terrific Shaggy Man action. Apart from vital gap fillers, I didn’t really bother with much back issues on this trip, but I did go a little crazy that Tuesday afternoon in Bath.


Three (3) recent Marvel annuals by Alan Davis. I wouldn’t have bothered with the Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Wolverine annuals this year, until I realised they were really a clandestine ClanDestine comic, and I’m always up for some ClanDestine.
Thirteen (another bloody shitload) vital gap fillers. There are holes in any decent comic collection, missed issues and unfortunate gaps. I’m always on the look-out for those last issues I need to complete a run, or bring that goal a little closer. This time I found a Ronin, some Jonah Hex and Lobo comics, four issues of Garth Ennis’ excellent Fury comics, the last Rasl I’ve been after (couldn’t find number four anywhere), the usual Cerebus, and a double dose of Bagge brilliance - the last trade paperback collection of Hate - Buddy Bites the Bullet – that I’ve been after for a decade and a half and the one issue of Reset that I somehow missed. Good times!


 
One (1) issue of Zarjaz. It’s the first issue of the 2000ad fanzine I’d ever read, and it was surprisingly slick. Some inevitable clumsiness, but also some talent that is really going places.

One (1) hardcover edition of Strange Tales II. I already had two-thirds of it, but it was four pounds in a shop in the Lake District.

Four (4!) recent 2000ads I bought the 2000ads with the last Nikolai Dante story and the end of the latest Dredd mega-epic in them within 24 hours of arriving of Britain, and had read them within 24 hours and 15 minutes. Unexpectedly abrupt. Bit conflicted, but overall impressed. More on this soon.

Ten (10) older 2000ad products. Same deal with the gap fillers. Older issues of the mothership mag, and the Megazine, and the second-last Starlord I’m after and a Crisis I didn’t know I needed that had the last part of John Smith and Sean Phillip’s Straitgate, which is awesomely terrible. Gooder times!


One (and only 1) Art of Bryan Talbot book I didn’t even know this 2007 book from NBM publishing existed until I saw it in an Edinburgh comic shop, but I didn’t buy it and it took me two more hours to realise that I was being a bloody mug and I loved Bryan Talbot and I was kinda blaming him for getting lost outside Sunderland the night before, so I went back to the shop but it was closed so it wasn’t meant to be because I’d never seen another copy of that book anywhere, but the very next day I was in another comic shop in Inverness and they also had a copy, so it WAS meant to be.

Two (2) old British comics reprinting even older Marvel stories. There is something gleefully disposable about foreign reprints of well-known superhero follies, and while I used to think reprint comics were inherently worthless when compared to the American originals, I now find them charming relics of days gone by. On this trip I found the second issue of Spider-Man weekly from 1973, full of Ditko Spiderman and Kirby Thor in blazing single colours on the cheapest possible paper, and a Captain Britain weekly comic from 1977, which has a lead story by Gary Friedrich and Herb Trimpe that literally makes no sense, and some groovy Steranko Nick Fury, and they’re both still terrific reads, with timeless stories in the cheapest of formats. They’re still doing that sort of thing today in the UK, packaging dozens of pages of Hulk or Deadpool or Justice League comics into reasonably thick volumes and selling them in the major retailers. But with slicker paper and production values and less inspiring material from just a couple of years ago, I ended up passing on the present stuff.

One (1) cheaparse UK comic fanzine from the mid-nineties. We’ve all got blogs and Facebook and twitter now, so we don’t need to fart about with fanzines anymore, but they remain fascinating historical documents, even if they’re barely more than a decade old. Besides interesting snippets of old and forgotten news and long-lost interviews, I also have a huge affection for the unleashed enthusiasm of a good (or even bad) fanzine and even enjoy it when somebody goes after a scared cow in comics as if nobody has ever done this before.


One (1) issue of The Dark Side: It’s a UK horror magazine that I used to get every issue of when I left school and was getting paid for the first time. This was the first issue I’ve bought since 1994, mainly because it’s full of Hammer goodness.

Two (2) issues of Empire: In contrast, Empire is the only magazine I’ve been buying non-stop since 1994, and I still got a tingly feeling buying it in Brit newsagents. Especially since these were the last issues I might ever buy off the shelf, as I just got a proper subscription to the magazine, the first time I’ve ever had a subscription to anything.

Two (2-3-4!) issues of the NME: I usually only buy one issue of the NME every year, just to get a fair idea of what’s going on, but this year we went to the Reading Festival, so we wanted to have a better idea of all the hip, new stuff. Failed miserably at keeping up with all the New, but still had a marvellous time at the show.

One (of two dozen, most of which are post-2005) Radio Times with a Doctor Who cover. Bought from a Cardiff Newsagents the day after I went through the Doctor Who Experience, where I actually had a little cry when I saw the 1980s TARDIS console. The new series started while I was trapped at Heathrow Airport, which was, as ever, impeccably bad timing.


One (1) copy of Art Spiegleman’s Breakdowns. It’s a huge book that actually warped the shape of my luggage, but it was only two quid, and I’m waaay too cheap to pass up that kind of deal.

One (1) copy of the Beano. For a mate’s kid, obviously.

Also: More than a dozen DVDs, mostly British, but ranging in size from single disc movies to full season box sets; two Judge Dredd tee-shirts, and one nasty ear infection from the beach at Dubai that felt like somebody was sticking a needle into my ear drum every day for a week after coming home.It's the best of times!

***

Thanks to the guest bloggers who filled the spaces here for the past month, normal service resumes this week with yet another goddamn post about Love and Rockets, followed by the usual twice-weekly nonsense.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why I love Lobo (and you probably shouldn't), by Max Zero

Lobo is a one-joke character, and if you think that joke is puerile, immature or obscene, it’s obviously not the comic for you.

I fraggin’ love that joke, and can’t get enough Lobo comics.


It’s hard to believe now, but there were at least two or three months in the early nineties when Lobo was the coolest and most popular in all comics. It didn't last, but still showed that new characters with attitudes that could be reprehensible to older readers could still find a solid audience.

Lobo first showed up in the Omega Men in a godawful pastel skintight costume, created by Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen, and then appeared in his leathers in Justice League International and L.E.G.I.O.N. comics. But his first mini-series made him a proper comic book star, thanks largely to Simon Bisley’s grisley details and rampant brush, and Giffen and Alan Grant’s real wit, hidden deep within the hyper-violence

Lobo was always a blowhard badass, but that hyperactive first mini-series crystallised the character as a terrible force of nature, driven by primal desires. In a comic book universe full of superheroes who always did the right thing, the Lobo philosophy – that with great power, comes no responsibility, just loads of mayhem – might have been nihilistic, but it also felt fresh and exciting.

Lobo is a reprehensible character, make no mistake about it. He does have a code, a soft spot for space dolphins and a real sense of honour, but he is other wise thoroughly unlikeable – a psychopathic maniac who leaves chaos and destruction and beer cans in the wake of his passing.

But I don’t want to be friends with all the characters I read about in comic books, and it’s all right to have an unlikeable main character, and still like the stories he is in. The films of directors like Ben Wheatley and Steve Soderburgh can be full of utterly repellent characters, but still be great films. There isn’t a single likeable or honourable character in Goodfells, but it’s still a great fuckin’ movie.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about Lobo, but it’s his crassness and refusal to apologise for it that makes him such a great character. Lobo will never admit there is anything more to life than partying hard and playing rough, and there is a weirdly enviable purity about that.

Besides, he only really hurts bad people who really deserve it. Most of the time.


That level of chaos and destruction in a comic character has been repeated over and over again in the past two decades, but it actually did feel interesting in 1992, and for a brief moment there, Lobo really was the most popular character in all of comics.

This inevitably led to a glut of Lobo comics, and while the basic joke about Lobo is a strong one, it can still be stretched too thin.

There were tonnes of weird little mini-series and one-shots. Giffen and/or Grant were usually involved with all of them, and they did produce the excellent Unamerican Gladiators with Cam Kennedy and a couple of cool one-off stories with gorgeously grotesque art from the likes of Kev O’Neill and Marty Edmond.

But by the time Lobo actually got his own ongoing series, the joke had been told too many times, and his moment had passed. I still have a huge soft spot for the monthly Lobo series, thanks largely to some terrible, terrible puns and the criminally underrated artwork of Val Semekis, and it did manage to last five years before cancellation, but nobody really cared about Lobo anymore, and he became another punchline in the jokes about early nineties comics.


Then again…

I know people who never read any comics, except Lobo. They think he’s the greatest comic character ever, and have no interest in any other comics. They just like reading Lobo.

Lobo appeals to people who don’t always get into comics, - self-titled losers and wasters who just wanted to get loaded and have a good time. He appeals to people with an anti-authority flavour, who just want to see something crazyass, and get real kicks out of seeing somebody buck the system with such impunity and fun. He appeals to 13-year-old Iron Maiden fans and sixty-year-old tattoo artists.

It’s easy to sniff at Lobo for being lowbrow and tasteless, but sometimes it feels like shameless trash is the only thing that feels real and true. Lobo sticks his finger up at The Man, and then pisses on The Man’s mutilated corpse. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of that?


It’s surprisingly hard to get that right tone of dopey humour and raw mayhem that makes Lobo work, and his infrequent appearances over the past few years have missed the point spectacularly. Even Grant Morrison, who can sum up somebody like Green Arrow in one great line, completely failed to really get the character right in 52 (probably because – as the writer admitted – he just didn’t understand Lobo at all).

I just made the unfortunate mistake of looking up Wikipedia to see what the current status of the character is. Unsurprisingly, with the DC Universe's current rule that all characters must have either a) daddy issues, or b) a lost love, it turns out that Lobo is now a 'proud Czarnian slaver who killed the rest of his race except for his beloved Princess Sheba'.

Pass the barf bag, vicar.

Lobo isn't pining away for some chick - He's a primal force of chaos and stupidity. Anything else is fragging ridiculous.


***

Max Zero - a proud member of the SSoSS - is the Earth-CBR version of Bob Temuka, where it’s 1997 forever!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why I love Dan Dare (and you should too), by Matt Emery

I love reading the Tearoom of Despair. I'm a similar age to Bob and I've found through his blog many shared comic and pop culture experiences to the point that I feel like an alternate North Island version of Bob, right down to having a partner who indulges my taking detours to find comics when we're on holiday together.

While Bob's away, I thought it a good opportunity to write about a character I'm eternally fond of from my initial forays into reading comics. My first experience of Dan Dare was in the third Eagle annual from 1953 which my mother gave me in 1981. Eagle annuals of this era were dense with text stories (of no interest to this six-year old) but with a smattering of comics including the beautifully painted Dan Dare and Riders of the Range strips. 

I think it was the colours that initially drew me in, beautifully painted art with a colour scheme that hinted at a bright and wonderful future. I trawled through garage sales, flea-markets and newspaper classified ads to find more Eagle annuals. Around that time The Best of Eagle was published. This volume compiled by original Eagle editor Marcus Morris featured various stories and pieces from the original run of the comic (1950-1969).

I had to put the book on lay-by and pay it off with paper run money, but eventually it was mine and I became further ingratiated into the world of Dan Dare. Dare appealed for his heroics and faced danger with an English stiff upper lip.



 Unlike many of today's heroes of fiction he wasn't inspired out of any tragedy, his motives were purely altruistic. He was just doing his job. Around this time my father introduced me to 2000AD, handing me a copy of Prog 4 and 9 which - to my surprise - featured a different incarnation of Dare.



A more serious, violent, action packed Dare, completely removed from the original concept other than sharing the same zig-zag eyebrows. This Dan Dare intrigued me, but didn't hold the same interest as the innocent charm of the original. Massimo Belardinelli's exotic drawings were weird and scary and nothing like the traditionally painted Dare I was familiar with.

In the early eighties I picked up the first 100 progs of 2000AD through a classified ad for 10 cents apiece and got to read the further exploits of the Dan Dare of the seventies. I enjoyed the gorgeous art of Dave Gibbons and the sense of danger in these stories. At one point they killed off Dare's entire crew and left him floating in space on a piece of wreckage.

Dare was revived a little while later as some kind of space marshall (under mind control of the Mekon) but the story meandered and was never concluded. I found out later in a Dan Dare annual this incarnation was the same character from the fifties but he had been in a 'Buck Rogers' form of suspended animation after an accident and awoken in the far flung future. The accident required him to have plastic surgery in explanation for the modernisation of his character.



Still in my pre-teens, I also discovered the new incarnation of the Eagle which was relaunched in 1982. The first several issues featured artwork by Gerry Embleton on a new version of Dan Dare, the great grandson of the original character. Embleton's pages were painted and beautifully detailed, recalling the fine work of Dare artist Don Harley in the fifties.

The initial stories were written by 2000ad mainstays John Wagner and Pat Mills and featured the same sense of danger and adventure that infused their work in 2000ad. Within a few issues Dare's nemesis the Mekon had destroyed earth's parliament with a suicide bomber, enslaved the populace of earth, and captured Dare's descendant who faced execution. As a young kid I lapped this stuff up.

Other artists would take over from Embleton within several issues, Oliver Frey, Ian Kennedy and Ron Turner being three that particularly stood out. I stuck with Eagle for a good few years but eventually the stories lost the impact of the initial work, I think when different writers came onboard.


 In the years since, I've read Dare in other incarnations, the dystopic take on Dare by Rian Hughes and Grant Morrison, and the recent Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine mini series. These were interesting but I don't think it's possible to tell Dan Dare stories today like the work on the original by Frank Hampson, Frank Bellamy, Don Harley and Keith Watson.

The original Dare was produced in and informed by a post war England, which was a more optimistic and innocent time than today. English artist Chris Weston is the only candidate I'd consider for doing a traditional take on Dare. Weston seems to be one of the few artists that has a passion for the character as he was intially conceived.



In my adulthood I've been fortunate enough to buy an original art board of Dan Dare from 1958, painted by Desmond Walduck from layouts by Frank Hampson. It was interesting to see these lavishly detailed pages were painted on a 1 to 1 scale with how they were reproduced in the comic.

The seller had bought it in 1978 for 25 pounds, a week's wages at the time, and he had to kept it a secret from his likely to disapprove spouse. Consequently I paid a weeks wages for it in 2009 and I too decided it prudent to bring it into our house with utmost discretion.

***

Matt Emery is the Earth North Island version of Bob Temuka, who picked up a Lion annual from 1963 instead, and fell in love with the dastardly Spider. He's been up to no good ever since...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Blog from Another (Other) Universe: Midnight Comics, by Tom Whiteley


For the want of a nail, the kingdom was ruined, runs the old rhyme. But it was a pin that almost destroyed Midnight Comics, the best-known brand in comic shops and bookshops, before it even began. 

Four pins, to be exact – tie-ins to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s multi-million selling graphic novel Watchmen. Produced to cash in on its unexpected success, publisher DC Comics decided to class them as promotional material, rather than merchandise, which meant the creators would be denied the royalties their contract promised them. When Moore objected, he was - in his words - threatened by an executive who saw Watchmen as one more company-owned property to be exploited like Superman and Batman, and Moore and Gibbons as modern-day Siegel and Schusters to be shooed away.

Moore said: “I was incensed. I really, really don’t respond well to threats, and I informed the company I had no intention of producing any more work for them and that I was walking away from projects that were already in progress. We had signed a contract that gave us ownership of our characters in good faith. The company had trumpeted it at conventions. But because Watchmen was raking in the cash they wanted to go back to the gangster days. I’d had enough of that at Marvel in the UK, and I made that very clear.”

But while Moore flew back to England, mighty wheels were turning at 666 Fifth Avenue. A publisher of periodicals for more than fifty years had inadvertently found itself in the book publishing business. 

Richard Bruning, husband of DC editor and Midnight Comics co-founder Karen Berger, had designed the collected volumes of breakout hits Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and had made friends among New York publishers who were keen to get on board the graphic novel phenomenon. Berger knew the writers who were spearheading the new age of comics and already chafing under the corporate strictures of the industry. Together, accompanied by New Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb - who had taken a personal interest in graphic novels though Art Spiegelman - they stormed the boardroom to propose a new direction for DC.

Gottlieb said: “I discovered Joseph Heller with Catch-22. I knew first-hand the resistance to be overcome when you’re bringing new blood to an industry desperately in need of it. People would rather die the old way than live the new way. I knew publishing, I knew magazines, I knew writers, I knew cartoonists, and I knew that there was an opportunity here to start something big. 


“Screwing over a writer and artist the way they were doing, loudly and publicly, was like shooting a bullet through both feet. The guys have just created the biggest hit you’ve had in years, shifting more units than even a blockbuster movie managed to get Superman to move, and you’re letting them walk out the door? Any editor who’d done that at Schuster would get their cards the next day. In books we treat the talent right because we’ve seen what happens to the people who don’t.”

It wasn’t an easy sell for a business that had made its millions off owning intellectual property. Comics were DC’s daily bread, but they made their real money from licensing their characters for everything from lunchboxes to Pez dispensers. Cutting off future income streams by giving writers and artists ownership of their own characters was a tough sell and the property under discussion being Watchmen didn’t make it any easier. 

Their biggest hit for decades, one that they owned and could make everything from action figures to toasters from, and they were being told to give it up? Where would the lunchboxes of the 21st century come from if they had to get the go-ahead from some longhair writer first? 

But somehow a different vision of the future prevailed, at least in part. Seduced by the success that a creator-owned project had brought them and swayed by the argument there could be more, the foundations of a new imprint were laid. It was nothing new to the industry: Marvel had been running Epic Comics since 1982. But this wasn’t about comics. The comics were a loss-leader. It was about books, about a magazine publisher making the jump from periodicals that churned a monthly profit then disappeared to bound volumes that brought in money year after year after year. 

And DC, having decided to jump into book publishing, wanted to make a big splash. Which is why Karen Berger jetted across the Atlantic to see Alan Moore.



Moore said: “The visit wasn’t a surprise. V for Vendetta was still being published, The Killing Joke hadn’t been out long and was very successful, I had other projects that were being talked up. I expected to hear about all that, and to hear the same regretful platitudes about the issues that really mattered to me. I didn’t expect to pay very much attention. I was working on other projects, including a film script, and had no intention of returning to work for people whose business plan was ‘Rip off the hippies.’

“So when Karen started by talking about renegotiating the Watchmen deal in mine and Dave’s favour, and followed that up by inviting me to take an editorial role in a whole new line of creator-owned comics, I still regarded it as a supervillain’s trap, like Lex Luthor curing cancer in order to kill Superman. Embarrassingly, I wasn’t very receptive. It was only when I saw Dave’s wide-eyed reaction – and he’s always been a better businessman than me – that I realised that we couldn’t say no.”

Midnight Comics, named in honour of Watchmen’s clock motif and for the late-night adult associations of the name, was a secret for a year. Co-founded by Berger, Moore and Gibbons, with the former taking on the traditional roles of a publisher and editor and the latter two dealing with talent and direction, it was a line with a difference. 

Everything would be creator-owned and creator-determined, everything would be a limited series, and everything the line published would be collected in book form within a couple of months of its conclusion. Page rates were low, at the insistence of DC executives taking a spiteful swipe at these uppity creatives, but royalties were high. Ironically, however, the first title of Midnight Comics was a victory for commerce over creativity. 


Moore and Gibbons’s 1990 prequel to their groundbreaking graphic novel, the nine-issue Minutemen, told the story of the 1940s heroes who had featured in the original. Originally put forward when Watchmen was still being published until their creators decided against it, the series was a concession by Moore and Gibbons to commercial realities.

Moore said: “We were trying to make an impact and trying to introduce a whole new way of doing comics to the world, but we still had to do it with superheroes. That seemed a retrograde step to me and there were certainly other projects that I wanted to put my time into. However, the argument for using Watchmen, and the extraordinary audience it had reached, to get people reading this new line was watertight. 

"I’d come up with a clever little story, which I was vain enough to want to see in print, and I wanted to undo some of the harm I’d done to superheroes. After Watchmen every superhero had become grim and gritty. I wanted to engage the readers’ imaginations again.

“Looking back, both Dave and I wish we hadn’t done it. It’s a fun series but I think having two Watchmen products out there – even if one of them doesn’t say Watchmen anywhere on the book – diminishes the original. But without Minutemen we might never have launched Midnight and it’s possible I would have lost the rights to Watchmen and V. It was a victory for creator ownership and creative rights won on the back of an artistic compromise.”


Midnight launched with only two titles; the aforementioned Minutemen and the quarterly anthology comic, After Midnight. Anchored by another Moore project, From Hell with Eddie Campbell, the anthology was an opportunity for creators to show what they could do in short form or in longer serials. 

For its first couple of years, the artistic roster was equally divided between industry veterans trying their hands at something new and underground artists reaching mass audiences for the first time. Now approaching its hundredth issue, After Midnight has featured the work of Chester Brown, Matt Wagner, Peter Bagge, David Mazzuchelli, Jeff Nicholson, Joe Matt and many, many more, including the first adventure in Frank Miller’s Sin City and Jim Woodring’s earliest Frank stories. 

 
Berger said: “Midnight was a balancing act. We wanted to give new artists a chance – Alan’s entire involvement in the line was contingent on it – but I knew from experience that people can burn out. The ambitions of artists can outstrip their ability. We were on a tight budget. I didn’t want to give someone the chance to write the epic they’d been planning since they first picked up a pen and see them stall halfway through.

“After Midnight let us test people out, give them a venue for short stories or longer work without putting them under too much pressure. The anthology format gave us a wealth of material and the annual collections gave the contributors a decent return for their money. It was a great solution.”

The conclusion, and almost immediate collection, of Minutemen, got the fledgling line all the publicity it needed. The public who’d lapped up Watchmen and Dark Knight and then wondered where all the other good comics were got its answer. Moore and Gibbons began their new projects less than two months afterwards, but this time both were working with new collaborators: Moore with Bill Sienkiewicz on the ordinary-life epic Big Numbers and Gibbons with Frank Miller on dystopian fantasy Give Me Liberty. Miller, along with several other high-profile creators, had walked away from DC Comics after they proposed to implement a ratings system. To have the creators of the two titles credited with starting the graphic novel revolution back in the fold and producing high-profile, high-quality work kept everyone’s eyes on Midnight.

Big Numbers ended up being the comic that established Midnight’s reputation for late shipping, a problem caused by the switch of artists from Sienkiewicz to unknown Al Columbia then back to Sienkiewicz again, the final three issues credited to both artists and according to them completely collaborative. 

By the time it was finished Midnight’s regular series included Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli’s Sweeney Todd, a retelling of the gory English legend, Bryan Talbot’s formally experimental The Further Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and Howard Chaykin’s Time² series exploring his own family history in his inimitable adventure-liberal style. 

But Moore’s proposed follow-up Lost Girls, an unashamedly pornographic comic, was rejected as unsuitable for Midnight Comics by Berger, the first crack in Moore’s relationship with DC that would lead to his leaving the line.

Dave Gibbons's role as artistic director of the line was as much about balancing budgets as giving creatives free rein. He explained: “When you're doing a Justice League series you go with whatever format you're given. When you're bringing your dream project to life you tend to have very definite ideas. Watchmen’s 32 pages without adverts were the template for the line, and the refusal to carry ads was the given reason for the low page rates. 

"We accepted that, we wanted to create quality without commercial interference. But in the age of die-cut hologram embossed multiple covers there were creators who didn't understand why they couldn't have it all. My job was to work out what each title needed – actually needed – to succeed, and to fight the battles to make sure it got it.”


Midnight scored its first crossover success with Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn, originally conceived as a wild adventure romp with car chases and rocket launchers but which developed its sensibility  to  become a fast-talking New York comedy. Picked up as a sitcom, starring Courtney Cox as Anne Merkel and Jennifer Aniston as her beautiful but crazy sister Laura, it became one of the defining hits of the decade and brought film and TV interest in Midnight Comics’ publications until almost everything in the line was optioned. 

At the same time, Midnight was publishing unabashedly uncommercial work like Dave McKean’s Cages and his collaborations with Iain Sinclair, Gaiman and Sienkiewicz’s abstract PARADE, Rick Veitch’s Rare Bit Fiends and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, which enjoyed a huge sales boost once the writer became a Letterman regular.

The success of Midnight had, by the mid-1990s, a profound effect on the comics industry. Sky-high bookstore sales and the end of the newsstand market meant comics were selling to fans through thousands of specialist shops. Increased power for creators meant that the industry standard was well on the way to being reversed; fans followed the writer or the artist, not the character. 

Following the lead of Gaiman’s Sandman, acclaimed series began to end when the creative teams that made them popular left – what was the point of trying to keep them going when their audience were reading for a specific vision, not for a costumed character? By the late 90s DC was publishing fewer than 10 unlimited regular superhero series. Alongside stalwarts like Action Comics and Detective Comics were limited series by the score bringing audiences new visions of Superman, Green Lantern, Plastic Man and everyone else, and a new issue one with every series didn’t do any harm in a booming collectors’ market. 

Continuity, demanded by comics fans but of indifference to the readers buying collections who outnumbered them, was abandoned. How could a 1990s Dr Fate be realistically reconciled with his Golden Age counterpart anyway? For many years a hook to keep the faithful buying, line-wide continuity was abandoned the minute it was hurting sales. Series like Alan Moore and Alex Ross’s Twilight of the Heroes sold far more than any comic which merely curated the past. 


Marvel Comics, who experienced their own mini-boom with hot artists Jim Lee, Rob Liefield and Todd McFarlane before they left to form Image, kept their continuity going and became the home for embittered fans who resented the new popularity of their hobby, who remembered the days when you’d hunt down a complete run at conventions and when only the committed would know exactly how the Juggernaut got his powers. But when the collector market collapsed Marvel came very close to bankruptcy and only survived because they were bought by Disney to become an idea generator for movies, scoring some spectacular successes in recent years.

Meanwhile, however, Midnight was changing. The overwhelming popularity of Gaiman’s Sandman breathed new life into the idea of a series without set limits, that collected issues in volumes rather than a single book. Writers who’d followed Alan Moore’s route, doing daringly different work for 2000AD and DC’s superheroes, wanted to create series which rolled on for years at a time. But they found themselves at odds with Moore himself.

Karen Berger said: “Sometimes it seemed as if Alan Moore was determined to bring the entire British small press scene with him, regardless of quality. Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus and Alec work fitted right into After Midnight, as did Martin and Hewlett’s Tank Girl, but some of those other guys just didn’t have a lot to say. It was fanzine stuff in comics aimed at a bookstore audience.
“Alan’s genius is taking inspiration from the underground and the avant-garde and making it work for the masses. But publishing the work of those underground cartoonists wasn’t ever Midnight’s role. Meanwhile we had good writers – Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan – who Alan essentially viewed as superhero hacks. 

"We argued, on and off, for most of a year. I won, and Alan took another step back from the line to become a consultant. That was also when he announced he was a magician and began publishing Lost Girls through Image. He stayed involved with Midnight, though; we were still publishing From Hell in the anthology and running short pieces from him.”


So a new, and very popular, phase in Midnight’s history began. Preacher, The Invisibles, Transmetropolitan, Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, Paradax, Bone, Paul Pope's Circus Mars and David Lapham's Stray Bullets spearheaded a new publication model for the line. Monthly – roughly – comics collected in annual volumes. Most ended after five years or so. Some never did. 

Frank Miller’s Sin City, which began in the After Midnight anthology, published a succession of limited series as did Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and Matt Wagner’s Grendel, which joined the line following the bankruptcy of Comico. Tyrant currently exists as eight volumes and one omnibus and Bissette has promised more. Midnight’s credibility in the publishing industry led to the creation of a new model.

Alan Moore left his editorial position just over ten years after the first issue of Minutemen was published, following an argument about  publication of the autobiographical Al Davison graphic novel The Spiral Cage. 

“It had been brewing for a while,” Moore admits, “and I’m actually amazed I lasted as long as I did. I’m not an editorial person. I’d been getting more and more removed from the work I should have been doing simply because I didn’t agree with what was being published.

“Preacher, for example, I felt was as juvenile as anything from the Mighty Marvel Age. We weren’t discovering new talents anymore; we were giving writers who’d made their names elsewhere a chance to do something lucrative. Which is hypocritical, I know, because that’s how I began doing creator-owned work. But when that became the purpose of the line then it didn’t need me around.

“I’m incredibly proud of some of the work we published. I can’t imagine Stuck Rubber Baby or Understanding Comics or Joe Sacco’s work coming from anyone else. I think there was a real danger of comics fumbling the ball, of losing the momentum built up with Watchmen and throwing confusing superhero legacy comics at an audience that couldn’t care less about them. Instead we published sci-fi, autobiography, art comics, soap opera, crime…"

“The work would have been done anyway, I don’t kid myself about that. From Hell and Big Numbers would have come out with or without DC Comics getting involved. But we seized a moment, we reached enormous audiences, and we finally managed to get rid of that perception that comics are about superheroes and aimed at kids. If we hadn’t, who know where we’d have ended up?”

Berger agrees: “The superhero business went into meltdown in the 1990s because the speculator boom went bust. We lost thousands of comic shops. But now a comic shop in New York looks more like a bande dessine√© shop in Paris; hundreds of bound volumes of comics on every subject imaginable with the superheroes – DC or Marvel – confined to a couple of shelves in the corner. Comics have become the medium they always wanted to be, and Midnight deserves some of the credit. It's incredible to think that it almost never existed because of a bust-up over a few pins.”

***

Tom Whiteley writes about comics from the late 80s and early 90s at suggestedformaturereaders.wordpress.com, and one day plans to write about something he's enjoyed in the last 20 years. But not today!