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Why I Quit Reading Mainstream Comics

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

When I originally started to do work on the predecessor to this current blog, I started with comics. Reviewing them and talking about them. The medium is one I love for what it can do. While I got more and more involved with comics themselves, I realized I was developing a strained relationship with a major component of the medium. Specifically, I have multiple issues with the major two companies (as well as, to a lesser extent, smaller companies), Marvel and DC. In the world of comics readers, there is a visible tension of preference between the two, and while certain points of the arguments are valid, most are moot as the companies are virtually the same. I’ve touched on this before, so if you want to see what I’ve to say about that, you can check it out here.

Since then, my apathy and general lack of care for these companies has grown. So much so, that I didn’t just quit reading titles from these companies, but I just didn’t think about them. Recently, I’ve tried to be reflexive on why I made this decision, and so I decided to share it. These are the reasons I ‘quit’ reading mainstream comics:

1) The Staleness of the IPs:

Out of all the reasons for me to stop reading comics, this one comes most from being a fan of the medium. In recent years, both Marvel and DC have tried to ‘reinvent’ themselves in new images. The biggest reason is that they needed to create new audiences. The recent successes of comic book film adaptations have also put pressure on the print publications of the titles. In this pseudo-progression of the images, both companies have attempted to try new things. However, what mostly comes out is a regurgitation of existing narratives and tropes. The existing IPs are running out of stories to tell and they need to totally overhauled in a way the industry may not be ready for.

2) Drowning in Cross-Over Events

I’ll be honest, I hate cross-over events. They’re pointless and only attempt to give a temporary change to the status quo, to only revert back to it in a later event. Marvel is especially guilty of this. The point being, regardless of the company, these events deter from the main narratives of existing characters and primarily exist to sell more comics. I believe, comic titles used to be stronger when they were at an individual level and other characters would have cameo appearances. While I appreciate the world-building components of the film franchises, where I think this type of story type has been working, in print it’s just awful, and at best, boring.

Another cross-over event? Don’t expect to see any quality writing for another year.

3) Creator’s Rights

Seriously, authors should own what they make. I’m not sure how to expand on this one really, because I think it’s clear. Characters and stories belong to individuals, not companies.

4) Depictions of Marginalized Groups

If I had to give one reason for giving up mainstream comics, this would be it. I’m completely aware that this is my own opinion, but, I feel like the mainstream comics of today are just as racist, sexist, homophobic, and discriminatory as they’ve been in the past. I’ve written before on the trend of capitalizing on LBGT movements in comics. That post contained a specific case study on my reasoning, but the general tone of it can be applied to most marginalized groups depicted in comics. For every Women in Refrigerators critique being made, there’s a case of it being done. Printed oppression in mainstream comics is cyclical. At the very best, we see progression, not because the publishers are seeking to be agents of change, but because they can capitalize upon social change movements being visible in the larger society.

 

Those are my core reasons for quitting mainstream comics. I understand there are deviations from these companies based on what I listed. For example, I think the death of Ultimate universe Peter Parker was for the better, as we can see a well-written biracial character in Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. While I say I gave up on these publishers, I do still think there’s a place for their older works (as long as there’s acknowledgement of their own issues). There’s also some interesting work in the imprints (such as Vertigo), where creator rights have some presence.

But really, all of these issues are less present (but not absent) in the ‘more independent’ publishers. The characters and stories there are just as good, if not better, than what’s going on with Marvel and DC. I’m glad I moved on.

‘The Last Musketeer’: a comic review

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I was at a point where I was trying to find new things to read that were interesting in comics. I looked specifically by publisher and stumbled upon Jason (the link has nothing to do with the creator and is only meant for fun). Jason’s The Last Musketeer stood out quickly with its quirky cover. It details said musketeer’s journey into space as he encounters robots and aliens.

As you can probably tell just by that short description, The Last Musketeer is full of weird things. It’s less about the meaning and depth of the adventure, but about how exciting and fun that adventure is. And Jason certainly captures that feeling. This book is just fun to read.

Jason’s art is definitely the big draw for the work (this seems to be a trend I have in what I read). The figures and backgrounds are simplistic. Everything is given a nice sense of lightness to it that helps create the fun read. The addition of colors by Hubert is excellent. They’re vibrant and really add to that feeling of lightness and fun.

If I had to find one fault with the work it’d be its length. One could finish this book in about one bus commute. I do recommend this though if you’re into quirky adventure comics that are just about being fun. The art is really fun to look at too. Because of its length I suggest checking it out from your local library, especially since it runs over $10. Regardless of how you read it, it’s a fun story with fun art to match.

The Last Musketeer is owned by Jason, who serves as writer and artist. Hubert is the colorist. It’s published by Fantagraphics.

‘Kingdom Come’: a comic review

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment


Kingdom Come is an anomaly of sorts. It’s the one ‘Elseworlds’ DC title that gains significant attention. Most of this comes from the art from Alex Ross, but also from the writing of Mark Waid, who was at a turning point of sorts in his comic writing career. Kingdom Come essentially tells the story of a brewing superhero war between veteran heroes, such as Superman, and the younger vigilante heroes, and others, like Batman, trying to contain the whole conflict. After several repeated suggestions to read it, I got around to reading it and now (finally) reviewing it.

The writing comes from a collaboration between Waid and Ross. As someone who doesn’t read the titles associated with most of the heroes depicted, I found myself enjoying their stories. Most of this comes from that fact that Kingdom Come is an ‘Elseworlds’ title and doesn’t fit in the main DC canon. While some understanding of the characters is useful, it’s not necessary. It’s easy to jump into for the casual reader. It’s an engrossing story and one of the best of the ‘crossover’ variety. Kingdom Come is one of the best reads I’ve had with a DC book.

The main hook for Kingdom Come is Alex Ross’ painting. Ross uses strong details for all the characters. It definitely gives the feel that Ross is creating a realistic vision of superheroes. I personally can only take so much Ross-painting (as I don’t necessarily pursue ‘realism’ in comics), but it works really well in Kingdom Come. It works better than his earlier artwork in Marvels. Ross’ colors are at their necessary levels throughout the book. Everything is conveyed with a sense of real-ness to it. Ross poured a ton of energy into the book and it really shows.

Kingdom Come is a book I’d recommend to every fan of, or someone interested in, superhero comics (regardless if they’re a DC fan). It’s definitely something that deserves to be to read for the demographic. The narrative is compelling and interesting. The art is strong, with a heavy emphasis on realism. Without a doubt, Kingdom Come is the best of what ‘Elseworlds’ has to offer.

Kingdom Come is owned by DC Comics. Both Mark Waid and Alex Ross contributed to writing, Ross serves as artist.

Emitown Vol. 1: A Review

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Emi Lenox’s Emitown is a hard work to review. Like Natalie Nourigat’s Between Gears, Emitown is a sketch diary. As such it’s difficult to evaluate it as a narrative piece because its focused on ‘real events’ that aren’t necessarily strung together. It’s just life as it is.

On that note, Emitown is a personal work. At times its vague and doesn’t explicitly state what is going on. It’s a measure of privacy deliberately used by the creator. Again, it’s hard to be critical of the narration of Emitown. While there is nothing specific in terms of narration, it is an enjoyable read and interesting to learn about somebody in a new form. Emitown, and other sketch diaries, are some of the most intimate memoirs out there.

The art in Emitown on the other hand is much easier to explain. Figures are varied and detailed to a necessary degree within their specific contexts. Everything is fun to look at. A lot of this comes from the strong ink work throughout the book. Like figure detail, it helps create a tone for the day, or part of the day, that it’s used in. The art is solid throughout.

As stated at the beginning, Emitown is a tough piece to review. The narrative follows the diary format and it is personal, but not explicit, and doesn’t really have an overarching feel beyond day-to-day life. The art is definitely a large appeal to the work. Though this has been a difficult review, I can say I enjoyed reading Emitown and if you like the idea of a sketch diary with good art, then I recommend it for you.

Emitown is drawn and written by Emi Lenox. It’s published by Image Comics.

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Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths – A Review

September 9, 2012 1 comment

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths holds a unique place in localized manga in North America. Mizuki Shigeru’s semi-autobiography details the settlement of an ill-prepared Japanese camp in World War 2, a suicide charge against U.S. soldiers, and the story of those who didn’t partake in the death charge. It’s a story often excluded from the Japanese narrative seen in localized manga. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is also significant for being a human drama by Mizuki Shigeru, an artist most associated with yokai art.

The narrative of Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths focuses on the experiences of the Japanese company of soldiers. Their challenges as assigned to them by the Japanese military brass, the struggles with the environment, and the general fatality and deprivation of war. Each individual met in the work, which there are many, are all distinct and human in their own way. To its simplest point, it’s about humanity, or lack thereof, during war. Specifically, there is a unique Japanese flavor to this. The death charge is something insane-sounding to an American aesthetic, but incredibly reasonable towards a Japanese wartime aesthetic.

My largest issue with Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths has little to do with the concept or the art of the work, but rather the localization given to it. Sound effects are converted from their original katakana (one of the written forms of Japanese, commonly used for onomatopoeia in manga) into English. Obviously, this is made for the simplification of the Western reader, but why change it? Many manga publishers in the West have adapted to maintaining the original language for sound effects and offering a translation section in the back, or use footnotes. In the same regard, many lines of dialogue are changed to be more familiar with a contemporaneous Western reader. While Drawn & Quarterly (who publishes only a select few manga titles) has made a commendable translation, I feel like the work should have retained a greater sense of its original Japanese.

On a stronger note, the art is incredible. Humans are given cartoon-ish features which contrast with a lushly detailed background. It boosts the sense of harshness of place given in the detailed illustrations. The human depictions allow for a more relaxed reading of the drama being told, often ironically contrasting with the trauma of war. The art style doesn’t directly depict the seriousness of the situations of the work, but it’s always there. And hey, Drawn & Quarterly maintained the original right-to-left printing, so kudos there.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is an excellent manga. Both the narrative and art style are unique in the medium. While I have some issues with the cultural conveyance in translation, I’m sure there are many who will never notice it. And at the least this served as an introduction for Western readers of Mizuki Shigeru’s works. It’s something I highly recommend to both manga and comic fans.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is written and drawn by Mizuki Shigeru. It is localized in North America by Drawn & Quarterly.

Safe Area Goražde – a review

August 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Along with Palestine, Safe Area Goražde (pronounced go-raj-DUH) is considered the epitome of Joe Sacco’s comic journalism work. It chronicles Sacco’s time spent in Goražde (in eastern Bosnia) during the Bosnian War. There is a mixture of Sacco’s time there and the stories and experiences of those that Sacco met. Sacco uses Goražde as a case study for the whole Bosnian conflict, with a unique flavor of the region’s inhabitants and society. It’s an ambitious project and is incredibly successful.

I’ll get straight to the point; Safe Area Goražde is an amazing piece of not only graphic and journalistic work, but great-period. It’s a complex collection of narratives that shows the complexity and emotionally heaviness that make up the history and social structure of Bosnia. Sacco guides the reader from the lighter moments of everyday life, the political and military details of the conflict, very personal stories of those living through the war, and the grim specifics on the process of ethnic cleansing. The tone shifts very naturally between its different types of material. I never questioned the order and placement of the segments. The whole piece is incredibly informative and intimate in its emotions. There are moments that are hard to read. I personally almost started crying in the middle of reading this. Saying that Safe Area Goražde is intense would be a understatement.

As a piece of journalism, the piece is more subjective than it is objective. There is a far greater attention to the citizens of Goražde, primarily Bozniaks and Croats, than there is on Serbs. As such, one may be disappointed in that they won’t see a complete dissection of the Bosnian conflict. However, the fact that there is greater attention to a specific group allows Sacco to collect and show a focused collection of stories and experiences. The subjectivity of the piece works for the greater advantage.

Safe Area Goražde‘s art is strong throughout. Landscapes and the city of Goražde are all very detailed. Sacco himself is the only ‘cartoony’ bit of the art. (Sacco said in an interview that this was deliberate and something that carried over from his earlier, ‘more cartoony,’ Palestine.) The art coupled with the emotional stories of those Sacco make for a powerful combination. It is often difficult to work through a particular section of the book due either to graphic content or the strong emotions carried by the narrative (not mutually exclusive). Safe Area Goražde is incredibly successful in the ways it employs its art.

This whole review has essentially been an understatement itself. Safe Area Goražde is easily one of my favorite graphic works, as well as one of my favorite books I own. I found it more powerful than Sacco’s earlier Palestine (though Palestine is also really good). The narrative is intense, informative, and emotional all at once. The art fits the narrative and largely enhances the narrative. I find it impossible not to recommend Safe Area Goražde to anyone interested in what comics can do. Safe Area Goražde is an amazing piece and something I won’t forget.

 

 

Safe Area Goražde is written and drawn by Joe Sacco. It is published by Fantagraphic Books.

Note: Safe Area Goražde has both graphic violence and emotionally intense moments and may not be suitable for younger audiences.

There is also a special edition of Safe Area Goraždethat includes notes, photos, and interviews regarding the production of Safe Area Goražde that offer a lot of insight. I highly recommend shelling a little extra just for this.

The Sixth Gun vol. 3 – A Review

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m not gonna lie. The Sixth Gun is one of the best comics out there nowadays. The first two volumes impressed me with their dark and fun action and characters, on top of an interesting premise (I reviewed both of these, you can find the first review here). For newcomers, The Sixth Gun is a pulpy horror comic in which there are six weapons (guns at the time of the story) that have different powers and once all collected have the potential to end the world. While the third collection has been out for a while, and I picked it up when it was released, I’ve only now gotten a chance to read it (college does that to you). But what did I think of it?

Well, this particular collection of issues took more chances than its predecessors. For one, the action is far less intense than it has been. Here action is subdued in preference of story and character development. While it was odd at first I really got into it. This is assisted by having Drake, the heroic male figure, leave the main narrative. It gave us a chance to finally focus on our protagonist, as well the recently introduced side-character Gorm. These characters receive excellent development in this collection, especially Gorm. For a series that should be dedicated to pulp action I’m taking a strong liking to these character’s personalities and backgrounds. And I’m loving it.

The art for the volume is standard for the series. It’s still in the somewhat cartoon-y vein, but that’s to be expected from an Oni Press publication. There is one particularly good section where a different artist works on select panels detailing psychic visions. The whole work has a great aesthetic appeal that works for narrative and often enhances it when it needs to. It is what it needs to be.
The Sixth Gun continues to stand out in contemporary comics. In fact, it keeps getting better. This particular volume that there really wasn’t a ‘weak’ character in the cast and that they all have a potential likeability to them. The art is good and does what it needs to be. Basically, I can’t wait for more.

The Sixth Gun is owned by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. It is published by Oni Press.