Wednesday. Know what that means? New comic book day. Or at least that’s what it has meant for me for the past year and a half. In fact, other freshmen may remember me as that girl at the Student Life Panel who asked if there was a comic shop near Swat. It turns out that there is — sort of. The nearest shop is Comic Universe on MacDade Boulevard in Folsom, two and a half miles away. However, the five-mile round trip, walked over the span of an hour and a half in muggy 85-degree heat was well worth it. I was surrounded by posters and action figures and racks upon racks of glossy new comics. Few things beat the smell of new comics.
Most people, however, only know comics through their film adaptations. Obvious examples include superhero films: Batman, Superman, X-Men, Thor, Captain America, and so on. However, comics that were previously only well-known within the industry have also been earning screen time, including the works of comic masters Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell) and Frank Miller (Sin City and 300), as well as newer, creator-owned books like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Hellboy and Kick-Ass. AMC’s The Walking Dead, based on Robert Kirkman’s book of the same name, shows that studios are now willing to attempt a comic book franchise for adult audiences (not that the Batman cartoons of the nineties weren’t wonderful). Further challenging the confinement of comic book films to genre have been brilliant movies that few people even know are based on comics, like the coming-of-age film Ghost World, based on a graphic novel of the same title by indie comic giant Daniel Clowes, and the psychological thriller A History of Violence.
This variety is just the tip of the comic book iceberg. Though comics did begin as a medium primarily targeted at children, they have matured over the years.
Comics grew with America as the U.S. moved from the black-and-white morality of World War Two into the complex shades-of-gray politics that came with the Cold War, and the characters in comics became increasingly complex. With the 1986 publications of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, an exploration of the psyche of a semi-retired older Batman, and Watchmen, a deconstruction of the entire Superhero genre, comics began to be targeted almost solely at adults. This adult audience has allowed both comics published in issues and their longer graphic novel counterparts to discuss complex modern issues in creative and thought-provoking ways. However, despite the fact that this shift in demographic occurred a full quarter-century ago, the common misconception that comics are “for children” has persisted. It prevents many people, who would otherwise love the art and writing of many comics, from reading them.
I only brought three books with me from home, two of which are graphic literature: David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel Asterios Polyp and the most recent trade (a bound collection of comics that were originally released in issues) of David Mack’s Kabuki.
Mazzucchelli is best known for his work with Frank Miller on Batman: Year One back in the 1980s, but I think Asterios Polyp is his best work. Asterios Polyp tells the story of a divorced architect undergoing a mid-life crisis, who travels to a small town to put his life back in order. Mazzucchelli explores the basis for identity through periodic commentary from the title character’s stillborn twin brother, as well as through flashbacks to Asterios’s art-infused university days and his conversations with his sculptor wife. Many pages, especially those which discuss abstract concepts, break from the comic book tradition of clearly defined panel borders, but Mazzucchelli’s strong grasp of layout and lettering produce a gorgeously minimalist yet clear narrative flow. McCabe has a copy and I would strongly recommend this book to anyone.
David Mack takes the opposite design aesthetic from Mazzucchelli, creating complex surrealist mixed-medium collages. His art is intricate and his writing is wordy, though not detrimentally. This particular volume of Kabuki, titled “The Alchemy,” very loosely tells the story of a former secret agent whose escape from her agency is described in a book so that the public can know about that agency’s wrongdoings. However, the book is more an exploration of the nature of creativity, of the power of art and of the responsibility of the artist to use that power to do good. This comic was originally displayed in its entirety in a gallery, and the art is absolutely beautiful.
Asterios Polyp is a standalone graphic, and David Mack is currently taking an indefinite break from Kabuki, but luckily plenty of brilliant comics are still being made. DC, which has been in a bit of a creative slump lately, is releasing 52 new “number ones” this month in a complete reboot of the entire company. Many readers are upset at the loss of continuity, but this is not the first time either company has rebooted their universe. I think that as long as the new creative teams stay true to the original essence of the characters, great stories can be told, and the books will be more accessible to new readers, un-bogged down by decades of convoluted continuity. I plan on at least trying out one issue of Animal Man, based on indie creator Jeff Lemire’s revival of a classic character, Stormwatch, and written by sometime Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell, as well as All-Star Western, which features the creative team Jonah Hex (a brilliant comic despite the utterly dismal film).
I don’t read much Marvel, but my favorite current ongoing series is Casanova, written by Matt Fraction (who is the writer for Marvel’s Fear Itself) and illustrated by Gabriel Ba, winner of this year’s Eisner for his limited series Daytripper (a collaboration with his twin brother Fabio Moon). Picture James Bond meets the multiverse meets Buddhism meets giant robots meets pop music meets Thomas Pynchon jokes.
Casanova is available online in digital format, through Comixology, and DC releases its books on the same day digitally and in stores, so if you don’t want to you travel all the way to the comic shop, you have a huge library at your fingertips. McCabe also has a lot of trades and older comics, which are worth checking out if you’re interested. As for me, I’ll be in my comic shop, inhaling the scent of fresh pages on a Wednesday.