Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Still looking for the perfect comic

I'll probably never get to read the greatest comic book ever created, but there's no reason to cry about it. I'll still never stop looking for it.

Chances are, it's out there somewhere. Some heart-rending tale of absolute genius that will speak to me like no other comic ever has. The perfect comic, with perfect art and perfect story, and everything I've always wanted in the artform. I've had the fortune of reading some absolutely brilliant comics over the past few decades, but there is always something better.

But there is also the high probability that I'll never find it, because there is just so much out there, and more and more every day, and it takes so long to get to it all.

 Since the time I was around five, there hasn't been a day that goes by without me reading some kind of comic, and I'm on comic gossip sites every day, and I'm sitting next to a stack of trades I got out from the library, and I just spent a happy Saturday afternoon trying to work out which issues of Jonah Hex and Cerebus the Aardvark that I still need to complete desperate collections. There are hundreds and hundreds of the fucking things, hiding under the bed, and in the cupboard.

And I haven't even scratched the surface of the medium. I've been doing this for more than three and a half decades, and every now and then I see how big the world of comics really is, and I feel like a child.

Going around the world opens up doors to a vast and tantalizing array of comics. Like most English speakers, I'm tragically mono-lingual, but I'll give anything a go, and always welcome translations of the best foreign comics.

And I'm barely getting my feet wet. I've only tasted the European flavour of comics in the lightest of manners, and sampled about 0.0000001% of Japan's magnificent Manga output (and that's largely  just the usual big classics like Lone Wolf, Akira and Barefoot Gen).

I have no idea of what kind of comics they make in Russia, or any South American efforts, or have any clue about the sizable Chinese and Indian comic markets.

Sometimes I stumble across something in another language in some weird place, or I try to buy up local comics on trips to Mongolia or Egypt or Tokyo, but these are always mad stabs in the dark, and little more than a reminder of how much I'm really missing.

And even the world of comics in my mother tongue is far larger than I could ever keep full track of. Each issue of the Previews catalogue comes with dozens and dozens of new titles every month, in bewildering amounts.

And what about all the things that are never slick or popular enough to make that catalogue? I love mini comics, but they're often a mystery to me. They can often be intensely localised – most of the mini comics I still own were done by real world mates - and there is so much shouting on the internet, it can be hard to find anything worthwhile.

When I read the kind of reviews that people like Rob Kirby write, I feel like a bumbling idiot, still too enamored with the usual suspects to really stretch out. Jesus, where do you even start?

Starting is hard enough, but there is a never-ending deluge of new comic, with a continuing onslaught of great new talent. A few weeks ago, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick put out a call-out to female comic creators to make their voice heard, and some random sampling of the women who replied - you can find them here -  is intensely rewarding. There are tonnes and tonnes of great artists on that list. The wonderful pictures accompanying this text are just the shallowest effort at getting into it.

There are whole new worlds out there. There are so many talented new creators of all shapes and sizes coming through every year in both digital and print formats, offering unexpected delights and the electric fire of the future.

I'm doing my best to keep on top of it all, like any good nerd, but there is only so much time in the day, and keeping track of old favourites is hard enough. There are even vast holes in my knowledge of some fairly popular comics – I've never read an issue of Elfquest, or Wild Dog. (Although, to be honest, I probably never will.)

I know I'm personally far too enamored of intense, stylish and witty action spectacles to keep trying the new stuff, and love reading and rereading old favourites, over and over again.

But I'm trying, Lord. I'm trying. I got out a gorgeous and huge Wimmen's Comix book out of the library the other day, and that's full of great artists I'd never even heard of. Ignorance can be an excuse, but you don't have to give in to it.

And shit, this is just the relatively small medium of comics – there is way more music and movies and television that I'll just never get to, despite the best of intentions.

Forget the goddamned comics, what about the greatest garage band ever, the one I will never hear because they get lost in the vast amounts of  noise that is modern pop culture? What about that TV show that everybody loves, but I never quite get around to?

What about the hundreds and hundreds of movies I've still got to get to. I only just saw the Treasure of Sierra Madre, even though I knew it was an undisputed classic that would greatly enrich my life. This shit takes time.

Hell, I only just read my first actual Parker novel by Richard Stark, which is some shameful shit to admit, and makes me feel like a heel and a coward, especially when I've seen and read more than a dozen film and comic adaptions of his work. When it's taking me so long to get to something as obviously brilliant as the Parker books, what chance does anything else have?

But you've got to keep trying, and there are plenty of good gatekeepers out there. I can use Joe MuCulloch's regular shipping previews for TCJ, or listen to what friends in the real world tell me about, because nothing beats word of mouth.

After all, the search for the Next Great Comic is an absolute pleasure. It's not really an effort, when the journey is so fucking good.

That perfect comic is out there, and while I might never find it, it's a shitload of fun trying.

NEXT POST: Something about Watchmen, because I'm a happy hypocrite.

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