So, I am back from a few weeks in Europe…away. Away from comics, away from the Internet, away from computers, away from TV, away from… well, just about everything. It was fun. I walked around a lot, met interesting people, desperately tried to remember useful phrases in different languages only to use the wrong language in the wrong country, and eating lots and lots of prosciutto and mozzarella panini sandwiches (like, way too many, it was kind of a problem, if I see you in San Diego I’ll tell you if you really want to know). I had actually planned on submitting articles for the site while I was gone, but the whole wireless thing? With the web and everything? Not really around as much I thought it would be. Even in the mountains of Northern Tuscany, where one would think a wireless signal could really stretch out, with no buildings and telephone poles to deal with, all I got was silence. And at $20 per megabyte, there was no way I was using my phone for anything other than playing Peggle.
But I was thinking about you all a lot, perhaps more than I should have, to be honest, and made some notes, some observations, some reflections, that I will now share with ya.
Comics in Europe
Okay, so, I admit it; I pretty much assumed that I wouldn’t see a single comic book store in Europe. And if one were just talking about mainland Europe, one would be correct. When I was in London, I stayed in area near Seven Dials, and I randomly found not not one but two comic book shoppes. When I made the mistake of going to Camden Town on a bright sunny Sunday, I bumped into another shoppe as well. “Oh,” I said to myself, “I bet these shoppes will be interesting–so very different than our shops across the pond.” I was wrong. No difference, really, other than the fact that they get their issues on Thursdays, no Wednesdays. “Well, surely their books are out of date, right? Since they have to be shipped on ships? I bet they are just now starting All Star Superman!” I snorted to myself. Again, totally wrong. There were the books that I had left in my nightstand! Pretty awesome, I had to say. They even had a nice conversion chart so you could see how much many pounds it would take to buy an issue. Given the strength of the dollar, I bet that it might be a bit more cost effective to live in London and wait that extra day…no that’s wrong. London’s ridiculously expensive. If you are watching your wallet activity that closely, you should not be buying comics.
I did chat with a lad who worked at the Comicana shop, and asked him where all the British comics were. He explained that aside from 2000AD, there really weren’t that many full on British comic books, something to do with whole scene being a “dying scene,” which I thought was kind of a depressing sentiment coming from a person who worked in a comic book store. His shop was much more about Golden Age books–that was how they made most of their money, apparently, was by buying and selling older books. Ah, well. The other shops I checked out seemed to be humming along rather well, but, just as we’ve noticed in the US, the stores were mostly filled with adult men with no kids to be seen anywhere. Hmmpf.
I did check for comic book shops in Paris and Rome, but I didn’t find any (I didn’t look that hard, I admit, but still). I am currently in New York right now, and I’ve already visited the Midtown Comics near Grand Central–which was typically well laid out and fully stocked), and Rocketship on Smith street, near where I used to live in Brooklyn. Rocketship really reminded me Secret Headquarters in LA, with a vast collection of actual graphic novels and trades. Really nice store, though I thought how they displayed the current weekly issues was kind of confusing (they seemed to be just laid flat on top of cabinets, nicely stacked, to be sure, but the back issues were under a shelf and it was all kind of awkward. Still, really nice, comfortable shop; I really wished it was around when I lived in Brooklyn!!
Summer Reading List
While I was traveling, I did as I always do–really overestimated how much I would read while I was on the road, and made sure to bring only the heaviest of books. I had been slogging through Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison off and on for the past few months and decided that a nice 10 hour flight would the perfect opportunity to finish it up. I didn’t finish until well into my trip, but I must say, it’s a pretty compelling book. Like, during my whole read, I found myself thinking about it in different ways. Sometimes I was bored, sometimes I was excited, certain parts I found irritating, other segments made me put the book and down and just think a bit. In a word, it was a lot like being in a relationship, which is ostensibly what the book is all about, the lives and relationships of the many characters that Robinson introduces us to. The ending of the book really caught me off guard and it really struck me, so much so that instead of giving the book away or leaving it in a hotel room for someone else to enjoy, I decided to keep the tome with me for future reads–which is a pretty significant decision when you are talking about carrying a 602 page book on your back for two more weeks. I just knew I was going to want to read this book again, heft be damned. I am sure many of you are familiar with the book–everyone I know seems to have read it–and at first I really didn’t ” get it”; I mean, I am not sure I get it now, to be honest. The story goes all over the place and I didn’t find the ending all that fulfilling (I found it kind of depressing, truth be told), but I dug it all the same. A book that long needs characters to keep the reader coming back to—it’s gotta be quite the sweeping, epic story to keep a reader captivated for 600 pages–and the book is all about these characters, many of whom will remind you of people you’ve met, of relationships you’ve had, of friendships you’ve seen fade away. From a technical standpoint, Robinson really goes for it–the art and his storytelling techniques are quite good. I’ve raved about his other work “Too Kool for School” but I had not read his other stuff; if you haven’t read Box Office Poison yet, do yourself a favor and find a copy. It’s worth having on your shelf.
I also finally finished Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan (time to update Goodreads!), which was pretty good as well. It’s not a comic book, but Morgan’s stories are perfect candidates for graphic novel conversions. I am a huge fan of his first novel, Altered Carbon, and if you like gritty sci-fi/detective stuff, you’ve probably already enjoyed it. This book is not quite as good, but his writing is so good, his pacing so smooth, his moments so gorgeously rendered, that I can recommend with zero hesitation. The premise is typically Morgan–a “Thirteen” is a genetically modified human — so much so that he is not really human at all — that was bred for covert military operations (a bit like Bladerunner). One of the main characters, Carl __ is a thirteen called in to hunt another thirteen responsible for some particularly heinous crimes. If you are looking for a good vacation book that has some gritty action, compelling concepts and memorable characters, go out and get it.
Of course, I did bring some comics with me, but only a few (Captain America #600, Spider-Man Ultimate Requiem #1)–they are a big pain to travel with if you are trying to keep your comics “nice”. I have a huge stack waiting for me when I get back next week, which is both exciting and the cause of some dread. Being away from comics has given me an opportunity to reflect on why I am into comics in the first place. I found myself thinking less about “Oh, I wonder what’s going on in Spider-Man right now?” and more about the feeling of reading comics–the appreciation of the art, the surprises in the plot, the discovery of new titles. It was less about following the books and more about just enjoying comics as a whole. It’s been absolute torture wandering around the shops (I have a week more of traveling and my comic book store in LA is saving my comics for me)–I have picked up and put down Batman and Robin more than a few times! I get back next Monday and the first thing I will do is run over to my shop, grab my books, and settle down with all the picks of the week I have been missing. I can’t wait to get all caught up…just in time for the madness that is San Diego.
So, I’m back, folks, I am sorry I wasn’t able to post any articles while I am gone but look forward to getting back in the swing of things with y’all.
How about you? Are you taking a vacation this summer? What kinds of books do you bring?
Mike Romo has to be up in 5 hours. He’ll be back in LA on Monday and he can’t wait, to be honest. e: t: f: