Rolling With The Punches - 1

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“If you wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and smack your head on the floor, before you scream out in pain and anger, be thankful that you’re still alive to feel the pain.”

Alright you punks, this is it. The first in a lo-o-o-ong run of rants and raves by yours truly. So who am I? Oh nobody really, but I’m a nobody who’s got a weekly forum to stuff your craniums with my nobody thoughts and my nobody opinions.

So, the other day I’m sitting in my room in the basement (this is my Office / I’m-A-Freak-And-My-Walls-Are-Covered-With-Comics-Room) looking at all the latest issues of the hundreds of comics I collect and I’ve just got to ask myself - why? Why do I collect comics? Why do I read and love them so much that I want to write reviews about ‘em and columns about ‘em and news about ‘em and eventually write ‘em myself? I love women but I don’t spend this much time and money in strip clubs and porn shops (maybe I should). I love animals but I don’t work at the zoo or try to sneak in at night and sleep with the bears… so what is it? There must be something.

So I thought about it and racked my brain and eventually I figured it out. Of course, my fiancée thought I’d just lost my mind so she gently closed the door and aside from slipping some slices of crusty bread beneath the door from time to time, left me to my contemplations. I asked myself what it was about comics that I so enjoyed and came up with a lot of different reasons.

A comic is such a rare and unique creation, there’s really nothing quite like it. A perfect union of words and images put together to convey a story limited only by imagination. Whether you’re an indie elitist or an X-drone, at the core you’re all the same: lovers of the medium of comics. And I love different ones for different reasons. I love the iconic characters (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc.) for their immortality and longevity. How neat is it to know that I’m reading the monthly continuation of a story that started in the 30s. I’m holding a storyline that in one way or another reaches across the expanse of time and space to touch another era, and thanks to the magic of reprints I can even take a look at the story (the SAME story you know) as it began lo so long ago. And it’s comforting to know (and this I do know) that when I’m an old man, the story will still be being told, and it will go on beyond me. Essentially, like the world around me, I’m going to follow the eternal story of, say, Batman just for awhile. He was around before me and he will outlast me. There’s something comforting in that old faithful friend that you can always count on. I’ll never have to go through that feeling you get when a favorite TV series ends, or when someone like Charles Schulz passes away and takes his fifty-year contribution to the American, nay the world, stage with him. It’s like that old crusty blanket Linus holds now in Heaven, pure comfort and security.

But then you’ve got the WATCHMENs and PREACHERs and TRANSMETROPOLITANs and STARMANs of the world with stories to tell that begin, climax and end. Like a good book we get the added pleasure of (in some cases) spending years with our favorite characters, and knowing that the story will end we get the satisfaction of seeing it through to that grand and triumphant finale.

Brevity. Believe it or not, and the trade snobs will hate me for this (and let ‘em), I love the size of the modern American monthly comic. I like that when I’m waiting ten minutes for a phone call or a bus or am otherwise “indisposed” I can read a complete story (or at least a complete chapter that was designed to end that way-albeit temporarily). Sometimes, if I’ve only got a few minutes, I really don’t want to read ten pages of WAR AND PEACE. That book demands more of my time and attention, and yet I don’t want to sit there staring at the walls, or examining the movie posters at the bus depot, or (gasp) reading the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. It is a true challenge to properly construct a story to be told in 22-64 pages or so, and if it is to continue to the next issue, to set that ending up so that it feels natural and it properly lures that reader back into the shop for the next installment.

Of course, I absolutely love the imagery. Sometimes, I pull out old favorites just to skim through them and look at the beautiful pictures. A great example of this is BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE. Brian Bolland turns in some absolutely stunning visual work on this seminal chapter in the career of the original Batgirl and I could stare at the way he constructed that book (with the writer’s help I assume, of course). The way it starts and ends with the rain drops splattering on the ground. It’s a complete beautiful solid story. Fantastic. This is what this medium is about.

Now don’t get me wrong. Comics has its MOBY DICK and GREAT EXPECTATIONS as well. Those works that demand that time and attention. Works like AKIRA and MAUS and THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT don’t invite you to give them ten minutes and drop them to the side for a month (even those that were presented in the serialized format). They’ve got too much density to offer, too much depth of plot and character. In fact, these works demand that even if you’ve read them in monthly installments a la RAT, when it’s all over gather them up and read them back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Ah, do you see now. THAT’S what it was all about. It was good month through month but now it’s truly something spectacular.

And that brings me to another point: diversity. There’s more diversity in comics than there is on television or in virtually any other medium. You’ve got to look a little further to find it but it’s there. How I wish that the big guns like DC and Marvel would present more diversity so that those pricks that only see that there are two or three publishers of comics can get a true idea of the diversity of this industry. Nevertheless they’re out there. Flip past all those colorful pages in PREVIEWS and behold the tiny little section at the end filled with the likes of CEREBUS, STRANGEHAVEN, CAVEWOMAN, BONE, AKIKO, FINDER and KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE. Now there’s some diversity for you… and that’s just a smattering of what’s out there. As much as I enjoy reading the big titles by the big publishers, sometimes that feeling you get (you know the feeling I’m talking about—the one that comes when you find something that really moves you) seems to come for me almost exclusively with those little books sitting in the back of the bus. They’re shunned by so much of our community, but by golly they’re every bit as amazing and wonderful as Captain Spandex and his trusty sidekick Butt-Munch will ever be.

Well the first contribution is in and it’s official. Kill me if you must but I love THE END, Marvel’s bold new experiment in telling the elusive final chapter in those immortal legends I was telling you about. First up we get THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Now we all know that Banner will never actually die and they’ll still be reading the new adventures of the HULK comics downloaded directly into their brains way after THE MATRIX has been relegated from legend to myth, so it’s pretty special when we can get a glimpse of how that end might come. And to get it from the seminal team on that series in the modern era (Peter David & Dale Keown). Kinda makes me wish we could’ve gotten THE END entries from Stan Lee/Jack Kirby back in the day. Well, there aren’t any more of these on the schedule just yet but if THE END does well sales-wise, I’ll look for that Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-MEN: THE END in the next six months or so. That’ll give Claremont time to invent some more words, as he’s used up all the ones the English language provided. And why doesn’t DC buck up and admit that Marvel has good ideas from time to time. I mean, come on. The ESSENTIAL program is fantastic (and DC’s only got those US$50 ARCHIVES) and this concept is great as well. Give me BATMAN: THE END, DC. Go ahead and steal a good idea from The House (it’s not like they haven’t done it to you countless times!).

In other entirely unrelated news, CrossGeneration Comics has officially exploded into a mega-publishing entity with their news of CGE and CODE 6 COMICS. CGE is to be the master publishing entity that will publish the CrossGen Universe of titles, as well as serve as an “umbrella” for smaller publishing houses (think Image, folks). Code 6 is a different kind of venture where CG will share rights with publishers. There are a lot of details yet to sift through here, but with THE RED STAR already jumping on board the CGE family, I look for CrossGen to become something quite fascinating to watch as they have presented quite a tasty offer for the independent comics publisher. Now if CrossGen could just convince Diamond to let them leave the back of the bus and come sit up front with the big boys, well then they’d really have something to entice those indies. I look for this development to have some major ramifications on the comics front!

Coming in on the home stretch here kiddies. This may be my column but I want to hear from you. Comics is a community and I want to get your feedback and thoughts. Why do you like comics… not why do you like GREEN LANTERN and why do you like 2000 AD but why do you like COMICS? What interests you? What are you passionate about? What do you want to talk about? If you’ve got a better idea than me (and, believe me, each and every one of you probably does), then I’ll gladly give it a go here in “Rolling With The Punches” and give you all the credit for it. Sound like a deal? I want to hear from you. I’ve spent enough years in comics retailing that I know you’re a loud and opinionated bunch. So SHOUT and be heard right here on RWTP.



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