Comics and Prosciutto – My Trip to Europe


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  “Well, surely their books are out of date, right?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:

Comments

  1. I am currently vacationing at a very rainy and boring Florida beachhouse with SIXTEEN members of my wife’s family.  This beachhouse has become my prision.  Luckily, I brought 3 novels and 12ish trades/graphic novels.  I am more than 2/3 through my vacation stack and only halfway through my vacation.  I fear the inevitable conversations I will have to have about Transformers 2 and why Scrabble isn’t "fair".
    I brought 3 Astro City trades (thanks iFanboy for the suggestion), a Scalped trade (meh), Joker (meh), Infinite Crisis (it was time for a reread), a few Superman trades, American Born Chinese (better than I expected), and a few other scraps.
    I’m also reading a couple of Brian Keene novels (double meh).
    The last novel I have left if Enemies & Allies from Kevin J. Anderson (who often sucks, but occasionally doesn’t).

    Pity me.

  2. I actually found a really good store in Paris earlier this year that was well-stocked with both English (as in North American) and European books.  It was called Media if I remember correctly and it was like two stores kiddy corner to one another and one was all comics and the other was other books and music and such.  It was southwest of the Ile de la Cite.  Picked up the first volume of Battle Pope (which I hadnt had much luck finding here in Ontario), the third volume of Scalped and another trade (Ive forgotten which one right now).  Nice store. 

    I also found a couple of shops in Madrid; one was larger, but it was closed (it was Sunday morning) and the other was just this dingy little store that was pretty much all non-English language books and single issues.  The guy there saw me he showed me his tiny selection of English single issues so I felt compelled to buy the first issue of Born by Garth Ennis (which was pretty good; dont know if I’ll find the other issues now though…).

     I typically bring paperback novels when I’m travelling, but I actually found that the trades worked pretty well because I could just lie them flat in my luggage (backpack or otherwise).

    And yes, proscuitto and mozzarella sandwiches are unavoidable, particularly in Spain and Italy.  It’s kind of scary, really.

  3. It should be said that Paris does have some rather splendid comic shops.  Dare I say, the kind that put most of their British rivals to shame?!  I’ll be there next month and will at least take in ALBUM, if only because they have the convenience of one store with European stuff and a second store with American stuff – right across from each other.  Can’t wait!

    And also, I too suffer that dilemma of whether to take comics with me when I travel in case I do something to corrupt their "niceness".  I’m trying to think of some Euro/travel appropriate titles to go with the holiday mood. I may take Craig Thompson’s Carnet De Voyage, since I’ve never got round to reading it…any suggestions gratefully accepted (although I’m hoping to bring a few titles back with me, so space may be limited)

  4. @odare77: Album! That’s the one I meant to say! Cool store.

  5. I took Box Office Poison with me on a weekend trip from Seattle to Vegas, knowing it would probably last me both flights plus the time sitting in the airport beforehand, and I was right–finished it just before touching down again at home.  And it was so fantastic, compelling and touching and deeply affecting.  The threads that wove throughout to show you certain stories without telling them were so deftly accomplished.  I wound up thinking about this book for days after I set it down, and of the many graphic novels I have read from the library, it’s one of the only two I really want for my own collection after reading (the other is Local).  Both BOP and Local I read based on recommendations from this site, natch, so thanks for that, iFanboys!

  6. Mike, I can guarantee you that there are comic book stores in Rome (I’m originally from Italy).  However, there aren’t  many of them since a big part of the distribution of comics is still through newstands.

    But the question is, can you read in Italian?  In that case I could give you a lot of good suggestions… otherwise you have to restrict your choice to the few Italian comics that have been translated in English (for ex. Dylan Dog, Martin Mystere, Corto Maltese, and most of Milo Manara production).

    Or were you only interested to find english-language american comics books over there?  Please, tell me it wasn’t the case… it would be like eating at McDonalds every day while in Rome…

  7. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Welcome back, Mike! 

    Gotta add Alter Carbon to my list. I keep hearing great things.   

  8. I floated the Guadalupe and Comal rivers In south Texas this summer over a 4 day weekend. I didn’t bring any books or comics because I thought they would cut into my drinking time.

  9. Welcome back, Mike, glad to hear you had a pretty good trip.

    Well, this summer cash is a little tight so I won’t be doing any big vacationing, minus a few camping trips here and there that will keep me within my own borders. When I do go on long trips of any kind though, I find that since every hotel seems to have WiFi now (mostly…) I bring my laptop, and that pretty much serves as my entertainment needs. However, I always bring some reading material for flights and those times when I need to get away from the computer. I usually like to bring a hefty novel for these trips though, rather than a stack of trades or issues to save space, but usually I’ll break down and bring one or two trades I’ve been meaning to get around to. Usually I try to get thicker, self-contained trades rather than say a Walking Dead trade that I’d read in one sitting, then leave in my bag for the rest of my trip.

  10. I’d love to be able to read other languages, simply because any time I’ve visited Belgium/France/Italy I’ve realised that there are huge comics scenes that are impenetrable to me.

    That being said, if they were translated to English I’d probably have to expend less effort, so… 

  11. Nothing like a vacation to substantially knock down that read pile.  I got through all of Outlaw Nation, The Compleat Moonshadow, Queen & Country vols 2 & 3, A Contract With God, The Other Side and the new printing of Sleeper vol. 1, while in Acapulco.

  12. So happy you’re back Mike, I really missed your articles and was deeply envious of your travels. Sounds like you hit a few of my old comic book shop haunts in London, so that’s nice to hear. It really isn’t that different from American these days, so it’s good that you got to move around a little on the continent and soak up some actual culture (and prosciutto… mmmmmm.)

  13. hi guys!

     

    thanks for the nice comments–it’s great to be back and I can’t wait to get back into my books to see what’s been going on. By way of clarification, I really wasn’t looking HARD in Paris and Rome, I just was hoping to bump into one to see how they may be different (or similiar) to their American and English counterparts. When I used to have a life and go to clubs and all that, I used to go to record shops to find out what was going on…now I am going to comic book stores!  (Of course, it is very hard to find record shops now, so it’s for the best, plus I like to sleep before 5am.)

     I agree–I really want to learn some more languages to read foriegn books. Sounds like a fun tour idea–learn a language with a group, then go to the country to find cool comics! You all had some GREAT suggestions for summer reading–sounds like an upcoming article, to me!  

     thanks for your kind comments and encouragement, as always. I am up in the Bay Area now (but can’t make it into San Francisco, much to my frustration), then off to go rafting up north, then, finally back in LA on Tuesday.

     

  14. lucky!! sounds like fun!!

  15. I think there’s supposed to be a street filled with comic shops in Paris near the Notre Dame, but I can’t find info on it.

  16. The British Comics industry effectively died in 1994, when Marvel comics closed down Marvel UK. Marvel UK had been producing British written in-continuity comics since the late 70s, and it not only allowed people working for Marvel UK to have themselves seen by the US Office, but between them and 2000 AD, and Judge Dredd Megazine it was possible for British writers and artists to get enough work for hire to make a career out of it. When that came to an end, with only the 2000 AD side left the bigger British creators went off to work in America. There was work enough to survive over there. Not so much here.

    It’s sad really. A hell of a lot of good comics product came out of the UK in the 80s in particular. But there just aren’t the avenues of output there once were, here in post 2000 Britain.

  17. I know London, Madrid and Rome well. In Madrid there are lots of US comic books at the newsstands and in Rome the newstands are more likely to carry Italian titles.  Madrid (next to Plaza Mayor) and Rome (Giancolo) have a few comic book stores too but this is not way most people buy comics . As for London there are some pretty comprehensive comic book stores (try Gosh near British Museum), most of which have the mainstream plus some odd indie titles floating around. In some small London newsagents plus the larger WH Smith chain you can find some basic DC, Marvel titles amongst the 2000AD/Judge Dredd comics.