Sunday, February 15, 2015

We take on a tough, sensible question from a longtime reader

Horus writes in with a sensible question/ point of order:

Here's what I don't understand about you, League. I completely agree with the basic attitude of the post: any character can be good, just write them well! But then, why stick to Big 2 characters?

As you yourself say:

"And, here's the problem in a shared universe driven by editorial management: is that thing you liked replicable, or does it require the handling of specific creators with a specific vision?"

Why stick with the shared universe, which perhaps necessarily is going to end up being driven by editorial management? Or if you demand shared universe, why not go with something looser and third party (hey, Cerebus and Spawn once had a comic together, you know!).

Just saying, if you want weird, creative characters with great stories and writing, they're out there, just not provided by the folk who view characters entirely in terms of branding and name recognition . . .

Wow. Well, don't pull any punches, man.  Sheesh

But that's fair. If we can't ponder this sort of question, we aren't doing anyone any good.

here's a random picture so we have a picture

There are a lot of factors, and I'd start with the first - that I'm a human who contradicts himself and we get most angry with the faults we see in ourselves.  So, check that off your list.

I'd also say - Like a lot of you, I've been reading comics since I was a kid. I haven't just stuck with the Big 2, but the Big 2 are what have stuck around during the time I've been reading comics. Image appeared when I was a senior in high school (and, frankly, not reading comics). I go back to Boris the Bear with Dark Horse. I just purged more than 20 boxes of comics from my house, and I still have comics (not including graphic novels) from more than 25 other publishers listed in my database at Granted, the number of comics from those publishers is now hugely diminished, but that was the stuff I held onto in getting rid of about 2/3rds or more of my collection as I worked to curate something I thought I'd care about in ten years.

I'd also say - I started (but in no way completed) parting ways with universe-based comics about 2007. That's about when Marvel just broke me. My reasons were a mix of financial and the aforementioned editorial dissatisfaction that cropped up in the wake of Civil War and immediate immersion into Secret Invasion. The New 52 more or less broke me the same way for DC.  As of this month, I'm picking up a very small number of DC titles in any format, in comparison to my "I'm fully invested in the DCU" days of yesteryear. I'm basically reading two Superman titles, three (THREE!) Wonder Woman titles with the online Wonder Woman '77, and Multiversity.

So, while it took a long, long time, my devotion to the shared universes in comic-book-buying-and-reading terms is seriously diminished.

Personality wise, I am aware that I have a tendency to pick one thing and run it into the ground or keep digging and digging. I'm currently in what has to be my sixth Theodore Roosevelt biography (this one a contrast/ comparison with William Howard Taft and by Doris Kearns Goodwin), and who knows how many docs and shows I've watched on the same topic?

Some people like to know about Civil War battlefields or trainspotting or identifying aircraft. At some point I got into a few of the slivers of the DC publishing imprint - especially into the wide world of Superman as icon and media fixture, and that became "my thing". I'm just glad it's this and not storing human heads in a series of freezers.

But the question was - why not other things?

Well, like I said - the other things have come and gone. I've read Jodorwosky comics free of any context, enjoyed Martha Washington, read some Tintin, Alex Raymond Flash Gordon comics, have a complete run of true murder comics from Rick Geary, read anything Chris Roberson puts out from any publisher, picked up attempts at new universes from Malibu comics to trying to make myself like Wildstorm, tried to find Warren Ellis' work post 2006 readable and failed, picked up recommended Manga and sort of blinked my way through material I found nothing to connect to, read some Tardi and Bernet. Pekar. I have a couple of Dan Dare books. I pick up war comics when they're not too badly done. I've read some Bagge, Clowes, Eisner.  Chris Ware, Spiegelman. I've read some Valiant, some Lady Death, E-Man, etc...  Crime books, kids books, erotica, westerns, war, horror...

I've tried to diversify as far as my budget will allow. This isn't to namecheck (well, of course it is), but to share that I have certainly given it the old college try, and continue to do so in a less experimental way these days.  Companies and creators have come and gone, I've kept showing up at the comic shop and deliberately looked to try new things.  I'm often still there long after the imprint or title dies away - and I don't really blame me when that happens if I quit picking up the work due to a lack of interest in my part.

I will say this of my current reading - and I'm not trying to sound like a jerk, but there's no other way for it to come off - I'm older and a more experienced reader than I was in my 20's.  There is very little new that the young men and women can show me in a comic that doesn't feel derivative - either from a comic or from a movie or TV show.  I'm past the point of not getting the reference and feeling like "zombie apocalypse heroes" is new.  Or "dragon fighting warriors" hasn't been done exactly this way before.  So I look for quality of execution over "I like superheroes".

There's a real problem for me as a consumer, at $3.99 for a 5 minute read - if I'm looking at comic after comic that is by raw, energetic talent who, unfortunately, are putting together a terrible looking comic that isn't, in the end, actually that good.  Not that DC and Marvel don't do this, but they do tend to pay talent enough to have at least a few books that they have talent on both writing and art chores.

Not that Boom!, IDW and others don't do this sometimes, too, but Mark Waid only wrote Incorruptible for so long, and Morrison isn't putting out that much content outside of DC at any given time.

But, if you can do the homework, I can agree that there is a lot of stuff out there. I walk the aisles of my LCS, and it's about 6 walls of just the new stuff, and DC and Marvel only take up two of those walls. And I do look. I also wander the graphic novel sections, the art book sections, etc... I'll be honest - and this is true of any media - I just don't care about 96% of it enough to check it out, and all for varying reasons.  I look at the Previews and the weekly offerings my LCS sends me in an email each Monday night.  I do keep an eye out.

Certainly, I can't sample it all.  I try things, and sometimes I like them and sometimes I don't.  I try to trust my experience with creators I know.  Sunday I drove to Austin Books to buy a copy of The Sculptor by Scott McCloud from his very hands.

I still have thousands of DC comics, even after the purge (I kept all the Superman and Wonder Woman stuff), and it's certainly where my brain can dip in an out for blogging and writing, because, it seems, it takes up more mental real estate. So I'm probably more likely to write about the stuff when I'm feeling critical or when I'm excited about what I've seen. And, you know, the blog has a few themes, and I've been writing along those lines as all of our patience allows for, sheesh, a long time. It's habit as much as anything else now.

And, when DC or Marvel are good, it can be a hell of a lot of fun or a great read.  These days, I think their live-action division is rocking socks to the extent that I really don't care all that much about their actual comics and just feel tired reading hype about the upcoming Secret Wars event that I'll be likely skipping.  It's an editorial event being managed as organically as possible, but if the outcome is a "reboot" of the Marvel U, I expect a soft ending and that's not much of a story.

So if I talk about DC or Marvel more, there are lots of reasons why.  Not the least of which, it's also a much more common language than me randomly endorsing or criticizing comics the folks who show up here maybe haven't read.  When I do read something particularly good, I'll let y'all know.  But there's a common base I think that I've unintentionally put in place.

So, there's  sort of your answer.  I have no idea if that makes any sense.


Sound Affects said...

There's also the fact that all those new comics should just get off your lawn.

The League said...

There is most certainly that, too.

horus kemwer said...

This is really interesting stuff. I guess it does show a major difference in our attitudes, though . . .

For myself, I've liked some big 2 characters / runs on and off at various points, but one of the values you really stress — longevity — doesn't mean too much to me. I'm fine with a story being short lived.

You're right though, there's a cost to be willing to accept short term characters and runs, and that's finding out what's good in time to get on it. And randomly picking floppies up is just way too risky (financially at least).

I guess my solution has been to rely heavily on reviews and graphic novels / collections. I've been especially attracted by the trend toward European-style stand-alone graphic albums, e.g. Burns' X'ed Out or Talbot's Grandville, but a downside is waits of sometimes multiple years between parts of a story. (And of course, the danger of stories that peter out or remain unfinished. . . . )

If what you want is a monthly kick, then you're not going to get it from those routes. And something like an indie floppy publisher really is the only big 2 alternative. And all the worries you express about them are legit. (Sad truth: most of it's overpriced crap.)

I have to admit, when the first 52 was coming out (which was actually pretty decent, both in concept and execution), I did really get into the idea of the regular, serialized story kick. There's something fabulous about serialization, and having reveals go step by step, building anticipation for the next installment.

I've pretty much given up on that being realized by contemporary comics though — I'm basically too worried it will be complete crap to give anything hyped a try.

The League said...

The definite downside of the weekly or monthly fix is that even when I pick up a graphic novel I know can or should read, it often gets shelved for the immediacy of being able to blow through short comics and to try not to fall behind. I think it's really hurt how much I've been able or willing to delve into the better stuff lately. I just don't make time to read at home the way I used to.

For example, i have the second volume of the Burns stuff, but still haven't looked at it. Or The Incal. Or Blacksad. So that's all stuff I actually own that I need to just gird my loins and read in 2015.