Friday, March 25, 2005

The Middle Ground


I'm going to take the opportunity to get a little anecdotal here. Bear with me; I have a point.

Way back in '98, I picked up Iron Man vol 2 # 3. The Heroes Reborn stuff was getting going, and Whilce Portacio, crazy-scratchy-line-man that he is, was drawing up a storm, along with the Wildstorm Colouring guys, on this book. I hadn't read a comic for years, at least not a superhero book, and the difference between this frankly extraordinary-looking book and the standard Marvel and DC books of the late 80s and early 90s was unbelievable. I'd been reading stuff like Thor and Batman and New Warriors and Guardians of the Galaxy, bought with pocket-money from the local newsagents, and could not believe the difference in quality between that and this.

Skip to the end; I went and tried to hunt down more of the same. Oxford's Comic Showcase was less than helpful. Banbury's Comic Connections was helpful and friendly and only too-glad to take significant chunks of my cash in exchange for Rob Liefeld's Captain America. (thanks guys)

(I'm going somewhere with this - bear with me)

However, living an hour away from my regular comic shop, I tended to grab other stuff to keep things ticking over. Waterstones, Borders and Oxford's Comic Showcase got some spare cash from me when I wanted something amusing to read, and because I couldn't buy what I wanted to read (coz that was being held for me in Banbury), I ended up grabbing a lot of random stuff, to try out different things. Sid's already mentioned my Oni Press reccomendations below - almost all born out of the ads at the back of Barry Ween Vol. 2 # 1 (the Star-Wars issue). In searching around for something different to read, I came across all sorts of interesting things and people. Scott Morse, Jim Mahfood, Andi Watson, Chynna Clugston-Major, all the stalwarts of Oni's output. Also picked up a little book called Whiteout written by Greg Rucka, who quickly because recognised (through, I'd say, No Man's Land and Detective Comics after that) as one of the significant writers of this decade. He even wrote Elektra better than BMB (says Sid).

(Honest, I've got a point here...)

So Sid was reading all the Marvel and DC books that came across his desk, and I was readings less and less mainstream stuff as I became excited by more and more non-name creators. And a funny thing has happened since then. Because both of us are kind of evangelical about what we enjoy reading, there's been this cross-pollenation of interest. I've been turned on to a bunch of marginal-but-mainstream books, and he's now reading the solid core of the indie press. (And, apparently, pushing them on his customers.)

And there, bang in the middle; that's the useful space for comics.

There needs to be a migration of ideas between company-owned comics and self-published books. Many of the great and exciting writers of today (I include Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis) came to comics through self-publishing. And their enthusiasm and passion for the medium is borne through from those early days. These guys wrote and drew comics not for big paychecks or fame and fortune. They did it because they were slightly stupid in the head for them. You read something like I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League (which, I know, not everyone wants to do), and one this is startlingly clear; the guys doing this series LOVE DOING THIS SERIES! They're damaged in the head for it. Nobody's getting rich, nobody's furthering the art form, they're doing it because they love it!

And THAT'S THE COMMON GROUND! The great mainstream books are made readable not just by the reader's passion, but by the creator's passion. Brian K. Vaughn makes Ex Machina available free to those who vote in the Presidential Election. Brubaker says that, if people don't like Sleeper, he'll give them their money back. STUPID, STUPID PEOPLE! That's not the way to earn a living! That's the way to get shafted by irritating fanboys! But, as it turns out, that stupid passion for their book spills over into the writing (and, in Tony Harris and Sean Phillips' case, the art as well).

And the books I'm less crazy about? X-Men and the Age of Apocalypse revamp? A new stab at New Warriors? Batman spiralling into alienated and inhuman rage? Fucking Spawn?!?

Where's the love there man?

(this post has been brought to you by sugar, unemployment and inarticulate rage)

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