Review: You might come to 'Comic Book Babylon' for the scandal, but you'll stay for the people.A book review article by: Jack Abramowitz
Prior to Comic Book Babylon, with the exception of the occasional random column, I had really only read Clifford Meth's fiction. I'm a big fan of such works as Wearing the Horns and god's 15 Minutes (both available from Aardwolf Publishing). His non-fiction did not disappoint.
Meth is not a touchy-feely writer whose didactic purpose is to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This is true of his fiction and of his non-fiction as well. He's opinionated and he's not going to beat around the bush about it. But his bluntness should not be taken as an attention-getting gimmick, nor is it because he lacks nuance as a writer. Neither of those assumptions would be accurate. Meth is a fine writer and he is not blunt for the sake of being blunt. He is blunt because he's speaking truth to power. He's telling it like it is and if others don't like that, it's on them. Happily, Meth is on the side of the angels so, unless one sides with the Forces of Darkness, the bluntness is actually quite refreshing. In that sense, Comic Book Babylon does in fact provide the reader with a "feel-good" experience after all.
Comic Book Babylon collects Meth's columns from SilverBulletComicBooks.com and elsewhere, along with other writings. A good chunk at the front of the book is taken up by Meth's fight with Marvel to get an equitable royalties settlement for the terminally-ill Dave Cockrum. Cockrum had co-created the all-new, all-different X-Men. While Marvel rode that elevator to the top, Cockrum had gotten the shaft. (Lest one argue that it was work for hire, Cockrum had created Nightcrawler while still at DC.)
Meth has a healthy respect for those men - and those all-too-few women - who built the comics industry we enjoy today. He is angered by the lack of appreciation shown to our pioneers and trailblazers. Should the Big Boys wrong one of his friends, like Cockrum or Gene Colan, Meth will move Heaven and Earth to ensure that justice is served. It's fascinating to revisit the details of the Cockrum case blow-by-blow, in all its gory details.
The respect that Meth shows the previous generation of comics professionals is based on gratitude for and appreciation of their work, but one must not be mistaken into thinking that Meth wears rose-colored goggles to view the creators whose work he grew up enjoying. He is well aware that they possess the same human weaknesses that we all do. His description of the late Adrienne Colan, for example, should be widely distributed as the textbook on how to write about a person's flaws with affection. But he has no tolerance for self-righteousness or an overestimation of one's own importance. If some pretentious poseur has an inflated ego, Meth is all too happy to provide the pin.
Comic Book Babylon provides profiles of creators, plus interviews with such luminaries as Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson and Stan the Man himself. In the final chapter, the tables are turned and Meth is the subject of a tag-team interview conducted by a panel - or "tribunal," as the book has it - including Don McGregor, Jimmy Palmiotti, Bob Layton and others. Also present on this panel, and throughout the work, is Meth's friend and mentor, Harlan Ellison. Talk about peas in a pod! Reading Meth's description of Ellison as a person of "impeccable integrity" who will not be cowed - neither into doing things in which he does not believe nor into keeping silent - made me think I had wandered into the "about the author" section!
In between the profiles and interviews are numerous entertaining anecdotes. Find out how Meth gets paid by unscrupulous Hollywood moguls and, in one truly mind-blowing vignette, see what really goes on in Chinese restaurants!
Comic Book Babylon purports to reveal the seedy underbelly of the comics industry but that's only part of the story. There are definitely villains in this book, but also heroes. There's love and laughter, life and loss. (Sadly, there's considerably more loss than we'd like as so many comics icons have passed on.) One might come to Comic Book Babylon for the scandal, but you'll stay for the people.
Comic Book Babylon is beautifully illustrated by Michael Netzer, with equally-striking front and back covers provided by Mike Pascale.