So it’s Thanksgiving week in the US, which is always kind of a funky time. It sort of rides the beginning of the holiday season, where everyone is supposed to be happy and cheery but rarely seem to be, especially in the places that work the hardest to remind us, like stores and malls. It also, if you are anything like me, injects a little panic–how can it be the end of the year already? I didn’t do half of the crap I wanted to do! And, of course, there is Thanksgiving itself, which, like, you know, wasn’t the happy, friendly event I was taught about in history books.
The one thing I do like about the holiday is that it forces people to think about, at least for a second, about what they have to be thankful for, which, lets face it, can be kind of difficult these days. We have the extraordinary luxury of being able to read comics on a regular basis, which is pretty damn lucky, and I figured would take some time discuss what was thankful about in the world of comics this year, and invite you to do the same.
First and foremost, I need to thank the creators of the books we talk about, week after week. Over the years, I am beginning to realize that just because you are able to sell a book that you wrote, or a series that you drew—it sure as hell doesn’t mean you are striking it rich. The more I meet creators and the more I find out about what’s going on in the industry, I realize that, for a lot of creators, this is really a labor of love. They make comics because they love comics. Many of them work on this stuff part time and for not a lot of money–and face stiff competition. I think about all the writers and artists out there and the many pressures they face (not to mention the “off-shoring” of many an art duty), and I can’t believe there are as many comics–good comics––as there are.
I gotta thank DC for The New 52. I have to–they pulled off something that could truly be called an industry game changer, and they’ve done it really well. There’s an enthusiasm about the new titles that, for the most part, really hasn’t abated all that much since these books started coming out. Yes, there are some issues–Superissues–but still, to draw a line in the sand then use a sub-orbital laser to really drive it home, it’s really just kind of great. I hope it’s inspiring everyone in the industry to take a hard look at the various sacred cows, at the various things you’re not supposed to do, and try something new and different.
Related to that, I am thankful the increasing variety of comics that seem to be popping up. Books like Severed and I,Vampire have made me really appreciate the horror genre, a genre I would have never considered a year ago. And who knew that I missed fantasy comics so much? With Conan: Road of Kings and Demon Knights, I am really returning to the kind of stories that I loved so much in different genres, namely prose books and RPGs. Part of the reason I was am so comfortable letting go of most superhero books is because there are just simply so many comics and trades out there that I have time for. From Who’s Jake Ellis? trade to Skullkickers, there are just a ton of new kinds of books that I am really forward to reading.
Every time I read the new Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, I find myself torn—I really miss Peter Parker. But I have to admit, Miles…he’s a great kid, and I have to be thankful that Marvel made that controversial and painful decision to start the Ultimate version of Spider-Man from a fresh new direction. I thought the whole process of killing Peter was overly long, drawn out and melodramatic to a fault, but the next steps have been unexpectedly touching. In the latest issue, when Gwen Stacy telling Miles why Peter became Spider-Man…that’s a good moment, that’s an unexpected thing to experience, and did a great job of saying, “hey, yeah, we all miss Peter, but we have to move forward, and this kid Miles, you’re gonna want to go on this journey with him.” So, I’m thankful that the book is as good as it is…as it had to be.
I know I thanked the creators earlier, but I really need to give a shout out to the artists that really, in my eyes, been doing some fantastic work, including Jerome Opeña, Sara Pichelli, Sean Murphy, Francis Manapul and so many others (we’ll talk more in-depth at the end of the year about the most compelling artists of 2011). When I look at the pages of Uncanny X-Force, I am seeing art, I am seeing next generation graphic art, and I honestly feel like my life is better because I am exposed to so much legitimately fantastic art, month after month. I just…to have that much skill…I just honestly don’t think that comic book artists get the recognition they deserve from the art community. It drives me absolutely bonkers! But you know what? I have never heard a comic book artist complain about not getting enough respect. I am sure there have to be some but it’s just not about that for these men and women. They are doing it as a job, sure, but they are in this profession because of their love for the craft. As an actor, I am reminded of this time and time again, because the trappings of success are so tempting from a financial point of view. But comic book artists…for the most part, even when they are working on hit books, they are not necessarily getting rich—and think about how much time it takes to create these pages. I have to think they are tempted to just simplify their pages, but you open up to a typical Manapul or Opeña or Williams page and they are in there, they are not taking any short cuts (by the way, if you haven’t already, you should check out this video of Sara drawing Spider-Man – amazing!).
I know this can’t be unexpected, but I am thankful for digital comics. Yes, I realize I am more than lucky I have an iPad and that I can really take advantage of them, and I am grateful. But the digital comics revolution, which was well underway when DC introduced the New 52 (and, I would argue, energized said revolution) is not just about portability. It’s about access, access in both directions. Readers and creators can find each other much more easily now. As much as I love comic book shops, unless you were pre-ordering your books, they very much served as the taste makers for their customer base. With sites like Graphicly and Comixology, readers have the ability to explore up and coming creators that, unless you were a regular convention attendee, they might never have come in contact with. Not for the first time, comparisons to digital music abound–it’s just easier to discover, and that’s a good thing. While there will no doubt be growing pains, it is clear that the band-aid has been ripped off—the future is now, digital comics are now. The publisher who are resistant need to take a deep breath and commit. Adapt or die, folks.
That being said, digital comics makes even more grateful for trades, especially the beautiful books coming out of Top Shelf, Oni Press and IDW. Books like Petrograd, Three Story and Parker - The Martini Edition are experiences that books-on-screens can never reproduce. There’s a relationship between the form factor and the story–it just wouldn’t feel right to read Petrograd on a digital device once you’ve seen the hardcover book. As digital comics become more mainstream, I hope we see the specialty graphic novels take off as well —and I have a feeling we will.
I want to give a final shout out to a few of the books that are just about to end, specifically DMZ and Northlanders by Brian Wood. DMZ has one issue left, and when it does, it really will make a chapter for me, personally, in terms of comics. There are not that many series I have read fully, issue to issue. And while I know we have a bit of time before Northlanders ends, I am still sad to know it’s going away. I am really curious to see what Brian Wood will be working on next, but I daresay he’s set a very high bar for himself going forward. We’ll see what happens, but having read every issue of Local, DMZ and Northlanders, I can say it’s been quite a ride so far. So, thanks for all these great stories, Brian!
I had a really great time on Saturday during the second iFanboy West meetup, welcoming Conor to the streets of LA; it was great seeing all of you who came by the Cat N’ Fiddle. Not for the first time was I thankful just to be a part of the iFanboy community and get a chance to discuss what you all think about comics and the many amazing facets to our hobby. Watching the guys hit 300 episodes of the audio show (and 239 episodes of the video show?!) was kind of surreal–that’s a lot of shows. That’s a lot of conversation, that’s a lot of comics. We’re really lucky, you know? There are a lot of places to go on the Internet, but not a lot worth returning to, day after day. You guys all make iFanboy a great place to hang out — thanks for making this one of the most vibrant hang outs on our web.
So, those are just a few comic book-related things that I am grateful for. I know that this is a turbulent time in the industry; budgets are getting slashed, retailers are having a difficult time, many folks are getting priced out of comics altogether (go to the library!!), but the medium itself remains one of the most vibrant and dynamic story telling platforms available today. We’re seeing a lot of change, yes, but we’re also seeing stories just getting better and better. Thanks, comics, for being awesome. Thank you, reader, for reading, and happy Thanksgiving to all of you, no matter where you are.
How about you? What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about comics and Thanksgiving?