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Comics Buyer's Guide #1595
Edited by Maggie Thompson
Published by Krause Publications

The humble ad-zine once known as The Buyer's Guide for Comics Fandom (TBG) later transformed itself into a semi-reputable weekly newspaper renamed The Comics Buyer's Guide (CBG). For decades, in these evolving iterations, readers were kept somewhat up to date on happenings in the comics industry while consuming the paper's true stock-in-trade, nostalgia-based adverts for old comics.

The genuine columns that came out of TBG/CBG over the years almost seemed to happen by accident; Peter David, Mark Evanier and Tony Isabella were a triumverate of readable, occasionally inspirational columnists during CBG's best era. Other columnists came and went, most of them varying shades of enthusiastic fanboy, some more entertaining to read than others. The paper eventually lost Evanier (due to contract disagreements, if I recall correctly), and the "news" content eventually grew irrelevant in the Internet era. Perhaps that has spurred the current attempt at evolutionary growth: With this issue, CBG becomes a thick, monthly magazine. I've seen it described as "slick," but really it's a combination of glossy and newsprint pages.

Unfortunately, nearly everything that was flawed about the newspaper version of CBG is to be found in this issue. Misty-eyed nostalgia is clearly the key selling point, whether it's densely-packed ad page after ad page offering up grimy old back issues, or worse yet the continued, specious overemphasis on the alleged impact of sealing comics up in plastic slabs to instantly ratchet up their value by astronomic rates. On page 147, retailer Michael Tierney recommends comics buyers "Buy what [they] like. If it goes up in value, it's icing on the cake." Of course, the dichotomy between "buying what you like" and the cool, get-rick-quick implications of the CGC culture endorsed throughout is never really addressed. The two audiences -- or markets, more correctly -- that CBG attempts to cater to are utterly at odds, but you might not notice that thanks to the "Hey, Kids, Comics!" tone of the magazine. The fact is, though, you'll be most comfortable leafing through the emporer's new clothes if you're consumed by longing for "the good old days" or are a wanna-be greed-head with dreams of plastic-encased avarice.

It should be noted thatCBG's reviews section has been beefed up, "hosted" (I'm not sure what that means, and no one else seems to be, either) by longtime CBG stalwart Tony Isabella. He leads off a team of multiple reviewers, most of whom seem to be continuing from the tabloid days. Unfortunately, the preponderance of reviews orbits the Marvel-DC-Image-Dark Horse axis, with only one title from Drawn and Quarterly reviewed, and nothing from Fantagraphics. One is struck by the lack of reviews of recent works from the two publishers generally recognized as publishing the highest quality comics and graphic novels in North America. But it's indicative of the magazine's overall skew toward sooperheroes and nostalgia, and a warning shot across the bow of anyone foolish enough to think that this latest version of CBG would pay any more attention to the best and most vital corner of the artform than its previous, retro-regressive incarnations. Page 178's "grapphic novel" misspelling is telling, as is the four stars granted by reviewer Isabella to both the deserving Optic Nerve #9 and the always-lousy Liberty Meadows. Misspellings like "John Cassady" are also not uncommon.

Bizarre is the only word I can use for a section of the page 200's 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow #1 review by Steve Horton. To wit: "Artist Ben Templesmith...has a style similar to David Mazzucchelli's work on Batman: Year One." No, Steve, he doesn't. It's a startling (and startlingly inaccurate) comparison. Horton also informs us in this review that "Comics are meant to be a visual medium, and short prose stories really don't belong." So that's that with that, one supposes. Damn you, IDW, for daring to include a text piece in your comic. We demand more house ads instead!

In CBG's tabloid newspaper incarnation, Chuck Rozanski's "Tales from the Database" was an amusing, regularly-published memoir of America's Weirdest Comics Retailer. Rozanski is the retail genius behind Mile High Comics, and his months-long series of columns about how he came to own the famed Mile High collections through means at least a little seedy (and therefore Went On To Save Comics -- For The Kids, Y'Know) were amusing and instructive. Here, he kind of reintroduces his column for a presumed influx of new readers, so there's not a lot going on, other than his opinion that price guides are, well, guides, and not Received Law. I will say that were I planning to read this magazine regularly, Rozanski would probably be the biggest draw, as he is an iconoclastic and freakish presence in an otherwise sedate and pseudo-breezy set of writers (Isabella and David) and wanna-bes (John Jackson Miller, and, of course, Dock Ock's Mishler).

Perhaps most embarassing of all is the crapload (literally) of feature articles dedicated to Spider-Man that lead off the issue and are designed to draw in readers fired up by the release of Spider-Man 2. In addition to taking up way too much space, multiple articles by James Mishler feature bad writing ("Ultimate Spider-Man re-invented the legend of Spider-Man for the 21st Century...Bendis reworked the characters and setting from the ground up, giving everything a modern, youth-oriented perspective for a new, modern, young audience." Yeah, but is it new, modern and young, Jimmy?) frequent misspellings ("Dock Ock" is seen more than once, and I don't think Mishler ever actually uses the character's full supervillain name) and the overall impression that the editorial standards of this new version of CBG are so low as to be non-existent.

The layout of the magazine is professional if unimaginative, although the price guide's clutter invites readers to avert their gaze; honestly, Mishler's mish-mash of bad writing and the overstuffed price guide section speak of a design sense inspired by the worst early Wizard had to offer. Retailers are given some space in the price guide pages to hold forth with their observations on the comics marketplace, and I'm always interested in what retailers have to say, but their comments are nearly lost in the clutter of the pages they appear on.

Cartoonist Chuck Fiala seems to be the new house caricaturist, delivering spot illustrations and a bizarre bit of propaganda on page 137 that appears designed to convince the gullible that CGC is anything but a sucker's game: "Encasing comic books in plastic? Sounds crazy!" Well, uh, yes. And stupid. And greedy. And have I mentioned gullible?

At six bucks, this is a magazine for the hardcore, backward-looking, old-time fanboy only; wiser heads will realize that newer and better information can be found for free online, and anyone truly interested in where the comics artform is going (as opposed to retreading where it's been) will find very little here of interest. As overhauls go, it's a nice try by a persistent group of longtime fans and ersatz professionals. As a vital magazine serving discerning comics readers in search of what's new and what's next, you're better off with The Comics Journal, or, hell, even Wizard. Both still have something to offer their respective audiences, but that's more than I can say for this latest attempt at life-support for the Comics Buyer's Guide, an ad-zine whose time has come and long since gone. Grade: 2/5

-- Alan David Doane



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