Sunday, May 19, 2013

Trade missions: Sandman, Scalped and the Goon

I'm totally addicted to comic books, so every now and then I go into a comic shop, and I'm determined not to leave until I buy something. I don't know what it is when I walk in the door – I just want a new comic. I get a comic itch that must be scratched.

Sometimes, this isn't as easy as it should be. Looking around the store, I'll have everything I really want, and everything that is left is just too expensive or too mediocre.

That's when it's a good time to pick up part of a series that I've had my eye on for a while, even if there are still many other parts to collect. That's when it's a good time to complete another decent chunk of a long, complex story.

That's when I need a trade mission.

My very first trade mission was Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. I only started getting it on a monthly basis with the World's End arc, two-thirds of the way through the series, and I was desperate to read the earlier parts of the story. Fortunately, it was one of the first long-form comic series to be completely collected, and it was relatively easy to get all the other pre-#50 issues in book form.

This was in the early nineties, and I had never really been able to read such large chunks of a single comic before. I still remember the absolute delight I felt when I was 150 pages into The Doll's House, and realised I still had a 100 pages to go, because I was enjoying the story so much. After a long diet of bite-sized 22-page comics, something that went on for hundreds of pages, and used that length in an interesting way, was just wonderful. I loved the trade paperback format for comics, and I still do, with bookcases full of them these days, (including those Sandman volumes, which I still dust off every couple of years).

That first mission took me about a year, because I didn't live anywhere near a comic shop, and I could only get my hands on a new book about once every two month or so. But I eventually got them all, and had the whole story, and after a lifetime of piecemeal comic reading, where there was no guarantee that every monthly chapter would show up, that was the way to go.

The first few years of getting trade collections of significant comics were a little feverish, as I completed runs of things like Sin City or Grendel fairly quickly, but then I started buying series in book form that weren't so immediately exciting, even if they could end up proving just as rewarding.

Ever since those Sandman days, there has always been some other series I've collected in that way. There are always comics that rack up a phenomenal amount of issues before I can ever get to them, which turns into a phenomenal amount of collected editions. And once I decide to get into a series, it could take years to get them all, simply because there were so bloody many of them. Series like Jeff Smith's Bone, or The Walking Dead, or the first Ultimate books, racked up more than a dozen trades, very quickly. (It's certainly arguable that Marvel's Ultimate universe lost a lot of its sheen once there were so many books it became a chore to collect them all.)

But while I'm always grateful when something large is collected in one, easy format – the Bone complete edition is still my absolute favouirite example of this – I also like chipping away at a long run of collections. They can be quite expensive in this part of the world, it's still unusual to find a decent-sized trade paperback that retails for less than forty bucks, and that's the main reason for taking so bloody long, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

If there are more than six books in a series, the pattern is always the same – a few tentative steps, (usually sparked by some kind of cheap deal), followed by a long period of consolidation, picking up books here and there, when I see them on sale, or when the itch needs scratching, followed by a blitzkrieg of the last few volumes.

And that's how it's gone for the past 20 years, ever since Sandman showed the way. When I desperately need a comic fix, there is always another trade to go for. It's never as good as finding something I've been after for ages, or – even better – finding a book I didn't even know existed but have to have RIGHT NOW (the most recent Bagge book was one of these), but it's better than nothing.

That's what happened with Scalped, the most recently completed trade mission. There were seven books out by the time I picked up my first one, and it's taken me nearly three years to complete the series.

Scalped was always a comic that I would enjoy immensely while I was reading it, but it would never stick in my mind afterwards. I'm not sure if that's my fault or the comic's, but it did mean it had to be read in large chunks of three or four books, or I would keep forgetting about it.

So I just kept chipping away at it, and got stalled for a long time because I got mixed up around book six over which ones I had actually got. (the covers, while certainly distinctive, didn't really help.) Until I got the last three books in one weekend, and the mission was done. And it's pleasing to see that Scalped is one of those series that really does read better in one go, even if it's hard to read all ten volumes in one sitting..

Of course, once I was done with Scalped, I needed a new mission. One that I could take my time with. Preferably, one that didn't have a convoluted story that could be impenetrable if I happened to read the books out of order, and something that would always reward when that itch needed scratching.

I came very close to finally going for the BPRD collections, because that's a comic that has got better and better over the years, to the point where I'm seriously considering getting in in monthly format, even this late in the game. But instead, I've gone for The Goon.

I've always admired Eric Powell's spooky crime shenanigans from afar, picking up the odd issue and enjoying the few books the local library got in. It's has consistently strong art and a goofy sense of grotesque humour that I find extremely appealing. While wandering around my local store, looking for something new to get into, I picked up Chinatown and The Mystery Of Mr Wicker, and it was a nice, self-contained way into The Goon's sizable story, and it sparked an appetite for more.

So The Goon is my latest mission, and it might take a couple of years to complete it, but that's what it's all about. There's no need to rush these things. Good missions take time.

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