Friday, January 30, 2009

Your Friday Afternoon Comics Ramble...

* Paul Gravett has a great article up with 10 tips on how to keep enjoying comics during the economic recession. It's a great list, but the one that most resonates with me is "re-read your favorites." I've got thousands of old comics - in boxes, on shelves, in drawers - and for what? I mean, why am I saving all this stuff, if not to someday re-read them. Well, for me, that time is now. I'm trying to keep my comics spending to around $50 per month, so now is the time to finally do some serious long-box surfing.

* Weening myself off new comics consumption is far from easy, though. I stopped by the comic shop yesterday and dropped forty bucks on the fourth Criminal TP, Daredevil #115, the new Comics Journal and a couple back issues of Jon Lewis's True Swamp.

* I did take one of Gravett's other suggestions seriously, though. I checked out Superman: Secret Identity from my local library this week. Now, I've never been much of a Superman fan, although I did enjoy All Star Superman, but this has to be one of the best Superman stories I've ever read (maybe second only to It's a Bird, which is one of those books I plan to re-read someday). What's remarkable about this story is how atypical it is. There's no fighting (other than as sort of a one or two panel allusion, rather than a central conflict), no villains, and, in fact, the real Superman, the one who exists within the DC Universe's continuity, is not really featured in this story except as a fictional character. Busiek's spin on the real world Superman is nothing new (he's written stories with very similar perspectives in both Astro City and Marvels), and yet, this feels like his most successful work. Part of this, no doubt, is due to the unbelievably beautiful artwork from Stuart Immonen. I'm in now way qualified to speculate on whether this is the artist's best work to date, but it is certainly the best I've seen. Immonen draws in a photo-realistic style and makes great use of single and double-page spreads to create a breathtaking hero's perspective on the real world (Busiek describes it in the Introduction as "glorying in the wonder of superpowers more than the violence"). I also prefer Immonen's style ("tight, illustrative pencil renderings on each page...scanned...and digitally colored, using a palette inspired by 1950s advertising art" ) to anything I've seen from Alex Ross. But the real heart of the story is Busiek's warm, confessional narrator, who walks us through the ups and downs of his life, from the discovery of his powers to the frailties of old age. Despite this alternative Clark Kent's incredible powers, in Busiek's hands he retains a wonderfully grounded sense of humanity, and it is that subtle difference which makes Secret Identity stand apart from the hundreds of other Superman stories.

* I also continue to work my way through many of the comics which Los Bros have cited as inspirations, both seeking to understand their artistic decisions better and to round out my own knowledge base of comics history. Most recently I finished reading the first EC Archives volume of Harvey Kurtzman's Two Fisted Tales (which, incidentally, I scored off Ebay for $15) and although I don't exactly have the energy right now to put into words exactly what I loved about this book, the thing that sticks with me the most is Kurtzman's unwavering commitment to portray the harsh realities of war, rather than to romanticize or politicize it. There are letters from real GIs and military personnel in each of the later issues testifying to how realistic Kurtzman's perspectives on war were. Artistically, there are some definite similarities with Gilbert's work, particularly in Kurtzman's character designs and storytelling approaches (apparently he did the initial layouts for all of his artists), but I'll have to do a little more homework on this to really understand where the specific influences are in Love & Rockets.

* Speaking of Love & Rockets, Jaime Hernandez has a great new illustration in this week's New Yorker, accompanying George Saunders' story, "Al Roosten." I didn't love the story, it was ok, but Jaime's picture is typically awesome. The same issue also features a great cover by Adrian Tomine.

* I'll be at the NY Comicon next Saturday, and will be spending some time at the Sequart booth, so if you're there, please stop by and say hello.

* Finally, this has nothing to do with comics, but I'm very excited for Steven Millhauser's new collection of short stories, Dangerous Laughter, which comes out in paperback in about two weeks (on Feb. 10). I've read a couple of these stories in Harper's, and they're as awesome as anything the author has written, though perhaps a shade or two darker in tone. Anyway, if you're looking to try something different, I highly recommend this book (or any of his other short story collections).

No comments: