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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Five by Five -- Once upon a time, Tom Spurgeon used to ask a new question at the end of every workweek and ask for a list of five answers. The feature was succinctly called "Five for Friday," and I enjoyed responding to it in its day. Since he's not doing it anymore, and since answering the questions was always a thought-provoking exercise, I thought I'd post some of my favourites here.

* Five Desert Island Comics

5. THE COMPLETE CRUMB COMICS. The older (and wiser) I get, the more I appreciate Crumb's skill as an artist, and more importantly, his fearless reportage about his own life and the world around him. Few artists have so completely, evocatively and fearlessly chronicled the era in which they lived, and how they lived in it, and I would want to have the Fantagraphics series with me on my desert island because it's literally every comic Crumb has ever done. You'll note that few creators in the history of comics could easily compile such a project, but Crumb's visionary retaining of all rights to his work have, no doubt, made the legal end of such a massive undertaking as easy as pie.

4. THE COMPLETE PEANUTS. If I'm limited to five series, you can bet that the previous entry and this one are my way of making sure that I have a ton of reading material to wile away the long days and nights with. THE COMPLETE PEANUTS will, by the time it's over (around my 50th birthday, egad!), collect a half-century of some of the very best comics ever created, by one of the artform's sublime masters. The Seth-designed hardcovers will look great on the shelves in my hut, too, in-between my coconut-shell bookends.

3. STREET ANGEL. Yeah, it's only five issues and a trade paperback, but STREET ANGEL is among the most inventive entertaining comics I've read in the past couple of decades; I literally despair at the thought of never being able to read them again, so, I'm bringing them along to the island. Yar!

2. ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY. One thing I will need as the years "ware" on is a challenge; Chris Ware's unique, literary series will provide me with a number of them. The work itself is challenging, requiring close attention in order to fully immerse oneself Inside the worlds he creates. But even more challenging will be my years-long effort to build all the paper toys that are a part of almost every issue of ACME. Hopefully there'll be some Elmer's Glue on the island, or at least an old horse I can render down in order to make my delicate, ephemeral playthings.

1. EIGHTBALL. Issue #22 of this series, featuring the story "Ice Haven," is widely regarded (in my house anyway) as the finest single issue of any comic book ever produced. Epic in scope, filled with flawed, endearing and human characters, and encompassing a mystery that re-engages me fully every time I read it, the issue (or the Pantheon hardcover version titled "Ice Haven") is absolutely indispensable to anyone who wants to experience the greatest joys comics can contain. But the rest of the series holds wonders, as well, from the Ghost World stories to the snarky short pieces about Christians, the secret gayness of sports and Jim Belushi (!), to such landmark serials as "David Boring" and "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron." One of the very best comic book series ever created, I absolutely would be lost without a complete set of EIGHTBALLS to keep me company, there on the island.

* Five Artists I didn't like as a kid but appreciate now:

1. Mike Sekowsky
2. Don Heck
3. R. Crumb
4. Nestor Redondo
5. John Buscema

Plus, five I didn't appreciate then and my opinion hasn't substantially changed:

1. Alex Saviuk
2. Alan Kupperberg
3. Vince Colletta
4. Rich Buckler
5. George Tuska

And yes, it is a mystery to me as well why I have come to appreciate Don Heck's artistry while still not caring for Tuska's work, despite what seem to be a lot of similarities in their work to my eyes...

* Five Cartoonists I Just Don't "Get."

Here are five cartoonists I can't read even if I try real hard.

1. Jennifer Daydreamer -- Harmless, but every story I've read leaves me wondering why anyone but her needs to read them.

2. Andy Runton -- I get the appeal for anyone under 10, but am mystified by the adoration adults lay at his doorstep. I can't even ready all the way through one of his stories, and I've tried numerous time. My kids love his stuff, though.

3. Marc Bell -- A nice ink line, but too far removed from the boundaries of my
perception to be readable to me.

4. Danny Hellman -- A dead ink line, a bitter spirit I interpret as a self-recognition of an utter lack of talent, and a toxic effect on the greater community of readers and creators. More than anyone else, Hellman is a cancer that should be excised from comics.

5. Doug TenNapel -- Contemptible co-opting of the style of Will Eisner and others in a transparent attempt to bring Jesus to the heathen comics masses.

* Five Things That Crucially Changed How I Saw Comics

1. The Comics Journal, circa 1979
2. The Passiac Book Center's 100 Comics for $10.00 deal in the 1970s
3. The Bud Plant Catalog, circa 1980
4. A circa-1978 visit to Heroes World in New Jersey
5. Fantaco in Albany, NY (first visit, 1981)

* Five Things I'd Like to See Happen to Comics in the Future

1. All comics retailers adopt standards of excellence for the appearance and upkeep of their shops, to make the stores as welcoming to children, women and brand new readers of every stripe as most currently are to developmentally stunted Geoff Johns fans.

2. Stores that (admirably) carry a full(er) line of manga and alternative/indy/art comics actually mention that fact in their advertising and on the outside of their stores.

3. Retailers insist that their staff actually follow news in the artform and industry of comics, so that uninformed clerks can not look ridiculous to their customers who read newspapers and the internet and can actually, you know, take more of the customer's money when they are begging to give it to the store.

4. Retailers get out to Borders, Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores once in a while and see what their real competition is doing to serve their customers in the area of comics and graphic novels.

5. Retailers stop wasting so much display space on superhero comics: The fucking things are nerd heroin. The nerds will find them. Better use the space to display, face-out, the graphic novels that are making news so that when the bored wives and girlfriends are looking around the shop, they actually recognize something they might
actually want to read -- and buy.

* Five Comics That Comics Right Now (May, 2005)

1. Or Else -- The status quo of artcomix is represented in this experimental, lovely ongoing title from Drawn and Quarterly; one of the best things they've brought to the marketplace in years. Kevin Huizenga joins the pantheon of creators I'll follow for life, in the footsteps of Crumb, Clowes, Moore, Hornschemeier and Ware.

2. Sea of Red -- Would this even exist if not for The Walking Dead, and the entire Steve Niles/IDW axis of horror comics? There's a large, untapped market for nicely-illustrated horror comics, and Sea of Red typifies what that market is looking for.

3. The R. Crumb Handbook -- We are in an era of beautiful, landmark collections and retrospectives concerning some of the greatest talents in comics history. From B. Krigstein Vol. 1 to the Chris Ware monograph to Comic Art magazine and Levin's Rebels and Outlaws book, now is the time to read in-depth examinations of the greatest works in the artform and the creators that made them happen.

4. Sleeper -- This one is representative of corporate comics' inability to nurture and grow quality titles by some of their most gifted creators. That Sleeper, or Human Target, to name a similar case, are unable to find an audience is an indictment of the approach and priorities of the powers that be at the highest levels of corporate comics. The failure of these great books is a dark stain on the records of incompetent executives and marketing personnel, and heads should be fucking rolling, not to put too fine a point on it.

5. Comics Festival -- This Free Comic Book Day offering, which I recently reviewed, is a joyous "So what?" to my point about Sleeper: Here's Darwyn Cooke, who should be all rights be a superstar in corporate comics, delivering in just a few panels the definitive statement on current trends at DC and Marvel. Here's many of the best comics creators working today giving their all in a free comic that shows the world how great an artform we have.

* Five Recommended Editorial Cartoon Collections

1. Anything by Tom Tomorrow
2. The Bush Junta
3. Freedom Fries
4. Attitude edited by Ted Rall
5. Attitude Vol. 2 edited by Ted Rall

* Five Recommended Anthologies

1. Kramer's Ergot 5
2. Zero Zero
3. The Top Shelf anthologies
4. Comics Festival!
5. Origins of Marvel Comics

* Five Recommended Porn Comics

1. Dirty Stories Vol. 1-3
2. Small Favors
3. R. Crumb's "Joe Blow"
4. Birdland
5. Fucklesuckle Funnies

* Five Titles I Looked Forward to in 2006

1. Bluesman - NBM
2. The Ticking - Top Shelf
3. More Ganges and Or Else from Kevin Huizenga
4. My Day in the Life of Jay by Jason Marcy
5. The Paradoxman and The Thing GN by Barry Windsor-Smith

* Five Things I Miss About Comics

1. Superhero art one-one-hundredth as dynamic and engaging as that in Byrne and Austin's Uncanny X-Men or Miller and Janson's Daredevil.

2. Amazing Heroes.

3. FantaCo, the Albany shop and publisher I got my books at in the 1980s.

4. Spinner racks. The ones in comics shops don't count, they make it worse.

5. Raoul Vezina, Wallace Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby and Gil Kane, among too many others.

* Five Recommended Superhero Comics, 1938-1964

1. Wallace Wood's Daredevil
2. The Spirit in Outer Space by Jules Feiffer and Wallace Wood
3. Steve Ditko's Blue Beetle
4. Steve Ditko's Captain Atom
5. Carmine Infantino and John Broome's The Flash

* Five Important Figures in Comics Not Primarily Creators

1. James Sime
2. Jim Crocker
3. Christopher Butcher
4. Jeff Mason
5. Eric Reynolds

* Five Recommended Runs, Four Issues or More, of Superhero Comics, 1980-2005

1. Street Angel #1-5
2. Promethea #1-32
3. X-Man #63-75
4. The Authority #1-12
5. Wildcats - Vol. 2 from where Joe Casey takes over (#5? #6?) until Vol. 3 ("Wildcats 3.0") when "Coup D'Etat" rips the shit out of what was a great book for a long, uninterrupted run. Also Alan Moore's Vol. 1 run of Wildcats.

* Five Living Cartoonists I Wish Published More Frequently

1. Robert Crumb -- I know he has a literal boatload of work in print, but the recent magazine pieces he has done have given extremely promising hints of what his current style is like. I would kill to see him do a complete, original graphic novel right now.

2. David Mazzucchelli -- Probably one of the greatest cartoonists alive, and yet we hardly ever see anything at all from him. The three issues of Rubber Blanket and the occasional anthology contribution leave me wishing for more, a lot more.

3. Adrian Tomine -- If he could put Optic Nerve out on a bimonthly basis, I could call my wife a regular comics reader and not be lying. The industry needs a New Mainstream that looks more like Tomine's blend of naturalistic humanism.

4. Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo -- The Castaways was nominated for an Eisner, and BLUESMAN showed that not only was Castaways not a fluke, but that the creative team was capable of quick and measurable growth.

5. Gary Spencer Millidge -- I know Strangehaven's meticulous approach is demanding and time-consuming, but this is another yearly-or-so effort that I wish came out much more often.

* Five Comics with Great Cover and/or Production Design

1. The Maakies books from Fantagraphics -- the perfect format for these strips.
2. American Elf HC
3. Blankets HC
4. Project Superior HC
5. Mother Come Home

* Five Titles I Loaned or Lost and Never Got Back

1. ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS -- Loaned to the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend who shared an interest in comics. He moved away and took the book with him. The book was a Christmas gift from my parents in the late 1970s that I read in utter wonderment by the light of the Christmas tree as everyone else slept that morning. There's not much I wouldn't give to have that copy back, although I do have a later printing that I acquired a year or two back. It's not quite the same, though.

2. CEREBUS, near-complete collection -- File this under "lost," when I sold it cheap to my friend Marshall in one of my periodic exoduses (exodii?) from comics. He later lost it, too, and probably regrets it as much as me.

3. FACTOR C -- A hand-drawn and hand-stapled comic book that I created in high school and college, thinly veiled autobio that integrated a fictional local crime ring (headed up by the aforementioned Marshall as "H the Unspeakable") and owed a heavy debt to Frank Miller's Daredevil. I have no idea whatever happened to those.

4. THE COMICS JOURNAL, near-complete collection. When my wife and I moved house in the mid-'90s, some 150 or so TCJs were left in the trunk of my car. I meant to bring them in eventually, but had no idea the trunk wasn't waterproof. One rainstorm later, here's a trunk full of multi-coloured cornflakes.

5. Autograph Book -- In the 1970s, my parents mailed a blank autograph book to the offices of Marvel Comics. It was signed and sketched by Stan Lee, Dave Cockrum, Jim Shooter, and at least a dozen other Marvel stalwarts -- some doing full, pencil-ink-colour finished drawings in it. Later I had Dave Sim draw Cerebus in it (I think at a FantaCon in the '80s in Albany). Again, no idea whatever happened to this book. It was blue and about 4X6 inches, so, if you have it, that's where it came from, whoever you are.

* Five Comics Industry Events You Would Have Liked to Have Witnessed

1. Gary Groth interviewing Todd McFarlane for The Comics Journal
2. Paul Levitz finding out LOEG was going to Top Shelf
3. Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb conceiving American Splendor
4. Alan Moore writing the final chapter of Voice of the Fire
5. Deni saying to Dave whatever it is that made him the way he is

* Five Places I've Purchased Comics

1. Earthworld Comics, Central Avenue, Albany, NY
2. Electric City Comics, Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady, NY
3. The Comic Depot, Route 9N, Greenfield Center, NY
4. The Beguiling, Toronto, Ontario
5. Modern Myths, Northampton, Mass.

* Five Recommended Stories 16 Pages or Less

1. "Street Angel" by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca from the 2004 Slave Labor Free Comic Book Day comic

2. "Standing Behind Old Jewish Ladies in Supermarket Lines" by Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb

3. "Fistophobia" by Renee French

4. "The Thirteen Fingers" by Richard Sala

5. "It's Just So Cute" by Paul Hornschemeier

* Five Things I Enjoy in Comics, Not Writing or Art

1. The smell of the paper and ink (most often with Drawn and Quarterly)

2. Letters pages (genuinely a lost art these days, even in comics that think they get it right)

3. Quality reproduction of great artwork. Thank God for Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, Alternative, Top Shelf and AdHouse.

4. Reliable schedules, be it monthly or yearly, it's nice to know the next one will be there when you expect it.

5. Appendices -- especially Chester Brown's and Alan Moore's.

* Five Completely Random Comics Related Things

1. Learning the meaning of "Erstwhile," which many comics writers still, apparently, haven't.

2. The Passaic Book Center "100 Comics for Cheap" deals from the ads in 1970s comics,
which included comics far more entertaining and well-done than any such deal today would likely provide buyers. I discovered work like Kirby's The Demon this way.

3. Mustard dripping off my hot dog onto the comic one day when I was reading a George Perez-era 1970s Fantastic Four comic while eating lunch.

4. Marvel Value Stamps. I never cut out even one of them.

5. The Mad Maple, AKA "T.M. Maple," one of the most famous letterhacks of all time.

* Five Things I Remember About My First Comic Shop

My first regular comics shop, other than the few I visited once or twice in my pre-teens, was FantaCo in Albany. Here's what I remember most:

1. Being amazed that (the now sadly departed) cartoonist Raoul Vezina had to work in the shop; wasn't he living it up off the huge profits from SMILIN' ED COMICS?

2. The copy of World War III Illustrated (#1 or 2, I would guess) that I had in my pile when I checked out on my first visit in 1981, only to find somehow I left it behind in the store. It would be nearly two decades before I crossed paths again with the work of Peter Kuper.

3. Buying the counterfeit Cerebus #1 there, knowing it was fake, but thrilled to finally be able to read that story, then only available in the high-priced back-issue market.

4. Seeing Wendy and Richard Pini at a signing there and being surprised at how normal they were. It was as if the people who made comics were just, you know, people.

5. The copy of Metroland I would always grab from the left side of the door on my way out every week; FantaCo is gone, but Albany's free alternative newsweekly is still chugging along.



Blogger Tom said...

Incidentally, I dropped that feature because 1) no one read it, 2) the same eight dudes participated, and 3) a few people were starting to complain about perceived slights as if they were my star columnists and I had nothing better to do than to update their submissions four, five times.

I'd love to do something similar if I could figure out how to get more people involved as well as execute it in a way that didn't make me want to stab myself in the face.

-- Tom Spurgeon

17 July, 2007 11:12  
Blogger ADD said...

Hm, I always wondered what happened.

I wonder, if you posted it earlier in the week with reminders throughout the week, maybe you'd get a wider variety of respondents and responses?

Not that that might not put a disproportionate amount of perceived importance on it...

17 July, 2007 11:20  
Blogger Phillip said...

"Loaned or Lost or Never Got Back"

I loaned the 3 (or 4?) issyes I had of the Atomeka Press anthology A1. Never got'em back. They were my first exposure to Alan Moore, Jaime Hewlett, Eddie Campbell, and other U.K. comics luminaries I may have forgotten. There are other comics I used to have and don't anymore, but those ones really stay in my memory.

I liked this feature, but I must admit I don't read The Comics Reporter regularly; I'd see it when Fred Hembeck linked it or not at all... I think I'll make an effort to read it again.

19 July, 2007 08:11  
Blogger ADD said...

That's gotta be a first, me sending someone to The Comics Reporter instead of the other way 'round!

Thanks for sharing your memories, Phillip.

19 July, 2007 08:23  

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