Monday, March 26, 2012

Lost in the library again

The local library remains my primary source for reading new comics – issues of cost, distribution and sheer quality mean that I only buy about 20 per cent of all the new comics I read. The rest are from the library.

It’s a great way to keep track of things like Jason Aaron’s Wolverine comics, which manage to be both surprisingly good or massively mediocre, or read the latest Unwritten or American Vampire or iZombie or Hellblazer, without having to make a huge commitment to a long-running series.

I have bought plenty of comics after greatly enjoying them as library comics, but I’ve also used the library system to keep track of plenty more that I like, but never really love.

It’s also a fantastic way to try out new creators, or find odd one-off graphic novels that you might never have heard of before, or catch up on old favourites, or just see what’s happening in the X-Men these days.

I go to my local library at least twice a week, and I always find something interesting in the comic section I’m still incredibly impressed by the amount of comics that get into libraries these days – I remember when you were lucky to find a few Tintins in a decent sized library, now you can get complete runs of 100 Bullets or the latest Avengers collection in many, many libraries. And if you can get them there, why bother with buying them?

This has been a particularly rich week for library comics for me. As well as catching up on an idiosyncratic superhero comic that manages to avoid scratching a mental itch I’ve had since 1992, I also got to read a kitchen-sink epic that I’ve been meaning to get to for about as long.

(There have been a lot more than the ones I look at here in the past few weeks, but after slowly managing to scale a pile of massive Marvel collections, I have very, very little to say about any of them, and can only come up with a vaguely disinterested shrug. The Superman comics I also managed to plough through, which covered most of that endless New Krypton bollocks, were even worse.)


Happenings in Vegas/Scar Tissue 
By David, Fiumara, Luoacchino and De Landro 

Peter David’s current version of X-Factor is an easy comic to keep track off. Never successful enough to get deluged in spin-offs and crossovers, telling it’s own idiosyncratic – but still slightly bland – adventures of working class mutants within the Marvel Universe.

David has found his feet with X-Factor, and it’s still effortlessly enthralling. Sometimes it gets a bit too clever-clever, and some of the pop culture references go down like a drunk hippopotamus, but it’s a Peter David comic, that’s part of the deal.

These two volumes, which collectively reprint X-Faxtor #s 207-219, are as enjoyable as the rest of the series, with fairly self-contained stories in each book, while also moving forward on the overall storyline.

They also feature a couple of slightly surprising guest appearances, and I’m really not sure why I was so happy to see Pip The Troll here in X-Factor, when the sudden appearance of Jake Fury in the final book of Secret Warriors was really annoying. Probably because one of them set itself up to be a New Kind Of Superhero Comic, and then ended up relying on a 40-year old sliver of continuity, while the other one is a comic with both Longshot and Shatterstar in it.

David’s X-Factor has done well by picking up the discarded characters of the Marvel mutant universe, and giving them a bit of depth and real character, with Wolfsbane, Rictor and Siryn all benefiting greatly. I’ve also been a Longshot fan since the Nocenti/Adams series, so I am really pleased to see him in there as well. And I’ve been genuinely interested in the relationship between Longshot and Shatterstar since 1992, and I like the way David handles it in X-Factor, acknowledging it without giving any real answers. I actually hope it stays that way.


BPRD: Hell On Earth - New World 
By Mignola, Arcudi and Davis 

It’s immensely rewarding to read BPRD in library copies, because I was so late to the BPRD universe that there were already more than 10 books out there (and counting) by the time I got to it, and it was just too intimidating to get into the whole series.

The few bits and pieces I had read had been enjoyable, but I thought I would need to spend a few hundred bucks to get into the whole series. So I have been eagerly reading them when I see them in the library, to see what I was missing out on. I never got to read them in any kind of order, but I could still roughly follow the bigger story, while grooving on the details.

One of the pleasant things about this latest BPRD book is that there is a clear demarcation point, because as someone who has read more than a dozen BPRD completely out of order, and somebody who is keen to make sense of it all, it does help to have a clear line in the sand The story – from this point on – will always be post-Plague of Frogs, and with so much material already available, it’s nice to have a rough idea of where things fit in. (I found it similarly helpful when I was first trying to keep track of Judge Dredd as a kid – it helped that there was a clear pre- and post-Apocalypse War stories.)

Other than that pleasant place-marking, and the always-welcome work of Guy Davis, the latest BPRD is just as bloody good as all the earlier volumes, and it’s still spookier, funnier and more horrific than almost any other ongoing comic series. And the creators’ continued willingness to experiment with story structure - within the vast overall framework of this ultimate battle against ultimate evil – is still invigorating, as they skip over big monster battles in favour of tiny character moments.

Saying BPRD is as good as it ever was might sound like faint praise, but it’s really as high as it gets.


Huntington, West Virginia “On the fly” 
By Harvey Pekar and Summer McClinton 

A posthumous slice of American Splendouer, published last year, this book proves that Harvey Parker was still interested in telling everybody’s stories, right up until the end.

This collection is full of small portraits of everyday folk that Harvey met while on the road, and glimpses inside his own life as a respected author who gets to do speaking engagements a couple of times a year, and is obsessed on the little details, but doesn’t want to feel like an ass when he asks where his per diem is.

I really liked Anthony Bourdain’s introduction to the book, which points out that Harvey passed away at the same time LeBron James left Cleveland, but while the basketball player had an hour-long television interview justifying his actions, watching by millions, it’s Harvey that will still be remembered in a century’s time, while James will be a statistic in a book.

 Harvey was still interested in telling other peoples stories - real, complicated lives turned into slightly rambling and utterly poignant little tales. Harvey wasn’t just telling his own story, he was telling all of our stories, and they last forever.

Who cares about Lebron James when you could hear the story of Hollywood Bob?


The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Omnibus 
By Shelton 

I have a couple of thick Freak Bros books, covering some of their stoned misadventures, but reading all 500+ pages of their comics in one go while waiting for my car window to be fixed was an entirely satisfactory way to spend an afternoon.

Overall, I think I like the short gag strips a lot more than the hazy epics. Fat Freddy’s Cat is timelessly funny.


By Dave McKean 

Despite endless waves of imitators, Dave McKean remains a singular talent, and while there is almost always something worthwhile in his movies, covers and children’s books, his comics are where he really gets to show off.

It’s pleasing to note in the author bio at the end of the most recent collection of Cages that McKean is working on another proper comic, and it will undoubtedly be worth the wait if it’s as chunky and absorbing as Cages.

Cages is almost exactly what you expect from a Dave McKean graphic novel. It’s s story that manages to be about a single apartment building (and the quietly ordinary and slightly off-kilter lives within), while also being about the fundamental structure of the universe, and manages to meld the two together with remarkable little pretentious bollocks (and quite a lot of cat action).

There is still some pretentious bollocks, but even the most portentous narration is presented on a page of gorgeous Dave McKean artwork, and it’s hard to hate something that tries to reach so high, even if it doesn’t quite make it. McKean has a go at all sorts of art styles in Cages, so there are crazy collages that still manage to keep the narrative going, abstract streaks of beauty, and raw, sparse depictions of real life. There is also a lovely willingness in the art to fly away into the ether, looking for (and sometimes finding) a moment of transcendence.

I bought the first nine issues of Cages for a buck fifty a couple of years ago, but never read the series because I couldn’t find that last issue anywhere. Reading the whole thing, thanks to the library, is more than enough inspiration to seek it out.

1 comment:

Islington Comic Forum said...

Woo! I realise that I have a vested interest but: Go libraries!!!

Also: I agree totally with your comments about B.P.R.D. (see: )
and (much more especially) Cages (see: ).

Nice one. Think I'm going to post this on our facebook wall...