This weekend, like many people out there, I went to see The Hunger Games with a few friends. I can’t say I was as excited to see the movie–curious, sure, but I was just happy to get into the theater again. What struck me most was just how mixed the crowed was—yes, there were the requisite teens and tweens, but it is clear that the book has hit the kind of broad appeal that I certainly have not seen in a movie theater since perhaps Harry Potter (which, to be fair, involved far more kids than Games). I must say, it was really intoxicating to be around so many people that were just so into it. And then I realized, “Hey man–that’s how you used to be with comics!”
So, after more than a few weeks of just “dipping into” my comic book haul, I made a concerted effort to actually do what I used to do, months ago: just stop everything and read as many comics as I had time for on Sunday morning.
It was really interesting “coming back” because it really underscored just how much my taste has changed over the past year. Like, I wrote about it before, but I just struggled to pay attention to the superhero books, while other titles just made me feel stoked on comics, which came as a tremendous relief—I was really worried that I had just lost it, you know? Let’s talk about a few of the titles:
1 – Saga. Yes, everyone is tripping all over themselves hyping this book, I get it. But for me, I found myself struck by just how much I had missed Brian K. Vaughan. The guys talked a bit about this in during the recent Pick of the Week Podcast, and I found myself nodding and chiming in as I drove to work. This is not a case of “oh, finally, BKV is back and comics are good again,” it is more a case of, “Oh wow, this comic is good and good comics make my life great.” Sure, it was a first issue and first issues need to be special, need to bring you in, but this issue almost felt like a reward to those comic book readers who, over the past year, have felt frustrated and irritated by comics. It was just nice to see a pro at work, doing something completely new, doing something very unexpected, in a world that looks to be nothing but fun to explore.
Quick interruption: One of the aspects of The Hunger Games that I enjoyed the most, both in the book and in the film, is the world the characters inhabit, where elements of the familiar collide with the unfamiliar, making the protagonists of the story both hero and guide through the new physical and emotional landscapes. Obviously, the more fully-formed the universe of the story is, the more committed the audience will be to the characters, giving the story more freedom and space. I found myself just relaxing into Saga, because I could feel that this place was stable in Vaughn’s mind, that I could just enjoy the story. Anyway…back to the article.
2 – The Manhattan Projects – I just liked this. I just like the stakes, the “Cain and Abel” – like storyline, I liked, again, the universe, and the narrative construction of the story. At the end of the story, with the “big reveal,” I felt this undercurrent of dread that was just the perfect way to frame up the rest of the series.
3 – The Strange Talent of Luthor Strode #6 – Oddly, even while I was “taking a break,” I still made time for this crazy-ass book. I don’t know if you are reading it, but this book makes Kick-Ass look like..well, like Kick-Ass, but still–this book sort of takes that kind of hyper stylized violence to a new extreme (which, as far as a I can tell, means if you see some guy’s face thrown across the room–the actual face — then you’re basically there) but, oddly, I really wasn’t distracted by it. I felt slightly ill, but it felt right, somehow. This book takes the “high school student turned reluctant hero” fable to a new extreme, and I found this last issue pretty satisfying. The art style reminds me of some Chinese comics from my youth, with hyper-stylized character rendering and really frenetic action sequences. This book, even more than Saga and The Manhattan Projects, reminded me that there are some stories that can only be told in comics—it would just look stupid and fake if you tried to film it, and reading it in prose would just not be as visceral.
So, I was doing good, right? I was humming along, reading comics again! I started two new series, ended one that I was enjoying, I was back baby!
Then I started going back to my “normal” books.
Thankfully, I started with Animal Man, which has become one of my favorite books, because it’s less about Buddy and more about Buddy and his family. I think this is a more successful “family” book than Fantastic Four has ever been—maybe that’s not a fair comparison, but the way the family talks and relates with each other just feels more satisfying to me. Currently, Buddy and his family are on a road trip running from the Rot, and even though there are action sequences in the most recent issue, it’s the smaller character moments that really ground the action in an emotional place.
I then went to my old standby comics, and, slowly, I felt that gnawing feeling, that nagging voice in my brain, going, “this again?” when I read Batwoman, which suffered from a different artist trying, at times, desperately to mimic JH Williams’ intricate layouts. I had to go back to previous issues to remember what was going on, and then remembered, “Oh yeah, this plot is confusing even when I know what is going on.” I started in on Justice League and was confronted, again, with a different artist, which was not so bad…but it just wasn’t…well, it was not fun. Same thing happened with Catwoman and the different art there.
All of these books, welcoming me back with sub-par art.
Not a good feeling.
But then, I look back at that sentence…”all of these books.”
This is how I got into this mess before—I was trying to read too many books all at once. When I just hang out with a few, I really get a chance to enjoy the stories on their own; I don’t have this stack of other comics waiting for me at the wings, impatient for me to start back in on their intricate plots and escapades. So, I took a bit of break and, a day later, picked up the latest issue of The Shade. And it was great! Javier Pulido was a great followup to Darwyn Cooke, who, in turn, was a great pivot from Cully Hamner. I ate a burrito and read The Shade, and that feeling of enjoying comics came back to me, fully formed.
When I went to see The Hunger Games, I was accompanying my wife Whitney and her all-girls sci-fi book club (this was a “partners-welcome” event), and I got a chance to meet a couple of new friends. When we talked about what we do, what we’ve been up to, I always mention that I write a weekly column for iFanboy, a column about comics and the culture of comics. One person I explained this to thought I was talking about stand-up comics; the other admitted that he hadn’t read comics in a long time. This happens a lot, and usually we talk about how how there are just so many comics out there and how expensive they are, and, you know, I usually end up recommending trades and that kind of thing, just to keep the conversation going.
But that’s not what most comic book fans do, right? The stalwart comic fan with a healthy habit tends to collect 10+ books a week, depending on the week, at least that’s what I was doing. Over the years, you’ve seen me pare down my books pretty significantly. For me, it was a losing proposition, in more than one way. Not only was I frustrated I had to read so many books, I was literally just spending money after bad, trying to keep the fire of fandom alive. It is fun to be on top of comics, and I do hope that I will get more involved later, but I gotta tell you, just reading 4-5 books? It was great.
I had thought that I was getting bored of comics. This was not true in the least. I was getting bored of fighting to stay current. I was fighting to maintain reading 10-15 issues a week—and I was losing. I was frustrated and that frustration was poisoning my love of the medium.
Will I go back to my old ways? Maybe. I doubt it. Do I worry that there are going to be a lot of people like me who feel the same way, meaning even worse prospects for the industry? Yes, I do. But when I think about the majority of people who read comics? They are people like me. They aren’t kids, we know that. So, the industry will have to adapt—and that will be okay.
In the meantime, I must say, it’s nice to be back. It is nice that comics welcomed me back, in the best way possible–telling stories that only comics can tell, a few issues at a time.