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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Comics Journal's End and New Beginning -- In a way I am heartbroken over the end of the monthly-or-so edition of The Comics Journal, as detailed by Dirk Deppey on his blog.

I've been an avid follower of TCJ for decades, starting around 1979, not long after it launched. I guess younger comics readers don't know or don't care, but there was nothing like the Journal in its heyday; it stirred up shit, got down to brass tacks, and featured interviews with the most creative and forward-thinking minds in comics that sometimes took days to read, and longer than that to absorb. Think of it as Fanboy Rampage, Journalista and The Comics Reporter all at their peak, all wrapped up in one glorious package.

Getting my first piece into the Journal was a dream come true, the very pinnacle of my efforts in writing about comics. It's all but forgotten by anyone but me, now, of course, but that's the way it is with people and their dreams, whether they come true or not.

I am intrigued and excited about the changes coming to the new online Comics Journal, and I have no doubt at all that the print editions will be a thing of beauty. Comic Art proved over the past few years that magazines about comics can be weighty and attractive art objects, and the TCJ gang certainly has it in them to create something to compete with any magazine or book about comics that can be conceived.

After thirty years, though, it's just very weird and a little sad to think the world has changed so much that something I used to look forward to finding on the stands every month has taken on such a new and different form. I wish them every success in the world and can't wait to see what comes of it. I just wish it didn't make me feel so damned old, me, pining away for the lost print magazines of my youth.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Beyond the Galaxy 101909 -- What's going on? Not much, it seems...

* Tom Spurgeon talks about how and why he uses Abe Books to buy comics and related books. I'm always fascinated by how others seek out and acquire their comics; at the moment, I probably buy 60 percent of mine in area comic shops and 40 percent online on eBay, mycomicshop.com and Amazon.com, among other sites. I am intrigued by Tom's endorsement of Abe Books, though, and will definitely be giving that a look in the next few days.

* Mark Evanier -- a guy who truly knows his comics history -- remembers artist George Tuska and uses his recent death as a springboard to a very thoughtful reflection on the difference between today's comics industry and the comics industry in which Tuska and countless others plied their trade. There's some genuinely important perspective to be found in both these pieces, but the latter is a show-stopper that every comics reader should take the time to read and ponder.

* And actually not beyond, but rather within the galaxy, the Trouble with Comics gang have been keeping busy: David Wynne reports on a recent UK comics convention, Alex Ness talks to some comics retailers about where the industry is going, and the most recent Flashmob Fridays features a number of views on the final issue of Planetary.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Lovecraft Tales -- In many ways, the writing of H.P. Lovecraft is autobiography.

I don't mean that he believed in Cthulhu, or Nyarlathotep, or the Great Race that steals your body and casts your mind back to a vast, ancient, Cyclopean prison that serves as a library of all the knowledge of the cosmos, past, present and future. There are people who believe Lovecraft really believe in what he wrote about, or at least say they do, but that's not what I'm talking about. The writing of H.P. Lovecraft is autobiographical in exactly the same way it is resonant for me as genuinely reflective of the universe as I've experienced it. Lovecraft, born in the late 19th century but fascinated and in some ways trapped far earlier, felt the universe was far vaster than we knew, and far colder than we want to believe. Virtually every story of his, the most effective ones, especially, are grounded in the idea that we are all insignificant motes of dust in a momentary ray of light shining through a monstrous reality filled with old and illimitable powers playing out baroque scenarios our minds cannot comprehend without descending into gibbering madness.

Lovecraft's way of crafting words is very nearly viral, which is why he had such a profound effect on writers ranging from his own contemporaries, through to Alan Moore and others not yet born. Hell, I never use the words "illimitable," or "gibbering," but I bet both are to be found many times in Lovecraft Tales, a massive and entirely essential hardcover collection from The Library of America.

I bought the book somewhat on a whim, and under circumstances Lovecraft would have found familiar. He was an antiquarian, fascinated with the past and also in love with "weird fiction," which (and about which) he wrote quite eloquently and passionately. I was browsing a mammoth bookstore in New England (really, I was) when I spotted the dark, foreboding cover with the slightly eerie author photo. It seemed to raise genuine, half-remembered thrills and the promise of wonder. As I saw Lovecraft's name on it, I remembered reading some of his fiction in my very early teens. I remember gray paperback book covers with hints of distorted, mind-warping biology and rotting, dilapidated houses. "Lovecraft," I thought to myself. "I've read him before, but it was a long time ago." The volume promised to be a near-definitive collection (it's not complete, but it's completely fantastic and brilliantly edited by horror writer Peter Straub), and as I browsed the untold piles and shelves of books in this New England bookstore (all right, it was in Vermont, not Boston, or Arkham, but still, it was New England), I was (I really was!) gripped by the desire to, after all these decades, re-immerse myself in whatever dark wonders Lovecraft had led me into as little more than a child.

Digression: There is a small, dreary village half-hidden in a strange corner of Saratoga County. A hundred and thirty years ago, it was a bustling factory town. Then the factory left and the community was devastated, but the people never left. One consequence of my early immersion in Lovecraft is that every time I have heard his name in the past thirty years, I have thought of this small, lifeless village and its boarded-up windows and joyless residents and the sense that as I drive through (only to experience this feeling, for no other reason), eyes are watching me from hidden corners and behind bolted doors I dare not approach. I know now, after reading Lovecraft Tales, that this weird, recurrent experience stemmed from half-remembering the story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," with it's genetically questionable village full of the descendants of people who made a nightmarish deal with beings better left undealt with.

Reading the stories in this volume, every one a dark delight, made me realize just how deeply Lovecraft's shadowy vision is woven into the fabric of our modern fiction. He was inspired by Poe and other pre-20th century writers of strange tales, but, beginning to write his own fiction before he was even 10 years old, Lovecraft's ancient fascinations and sense of alienation combined with a sharp mind to allow him to generate, over the course of his writing career, a vast tapestry of madness and the unknown that self-refers again and again. The earliest tales here seem like avatars of ancient days, but as science and knowledge expanded rapidly in the early 20th century, Lovecraft's mind expanded with them. Quantum physics in general and relativity in particular lent his work more, not less, verisimilitude, even as greater life experience and exposure to the ideas of others seem to tamp down his earliest, most immature and frequently racist touches. The oldest stories in the book seem like stories that could have been told to (or by) precocious children by the fire in the late 18th century; more expansive (in length and ideas) stories near the end, particularly the masterworks The Shadow Out of Time and At The Mountains of Madness would not have been conceivable without Lovecraft's exploration of the then-burgeoning body of knowledge about Earth's true place in the great scheme of the cosmos. How strange, in fact, to experience this book as a whole and note the introduction, over its course, of the automobile becoming commonplace, or of Einstein being named and his theories hinted at as possible explanations for the existence of other dimensions and perverse, forbidden journeys made possible by the very different physics and thought-processes of the elder gods.

Lovecraft's work is prose. Essential, addictive prose that gripped my soul as a child and has excited and recharged my imagination as an adult. More than any other writer I've read, I think he inspired Alan Moore, though it should be noted that Moore was inspired by Lovecraft in the way Moore wishes he had inspired others: fired by Lovecraft's ideas, not slavishly devoted to imitating them; in love with Lovecraft's use of language, but not reproducing it whole and claiming it as his own. You couldn't imitate Lovecraft, after all. Not really. In the same way that Charles Schulz's depictions of his characters are nearly impossible to reproduce, Lovecraft's characters, settings and scenarios are all the unique product of his life experience. Others have played in his sandbox, but no one could ever hope to match the singular and unique voice he cultivated in his years as a writer. Lovecraft Tales is a true treasure of dark delights, and a book literally full from beginning to end with stories worth re-reading, pondering over, and hoping never, ever come true.


Buy Lovecraft Tales at Amazon.com.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Comics Worth Re-Reading -- Tom Spurgeon's posted another one of his joyous Sunday features, On The Subject of Return Reading. He lays out the reasons one does (or doesn't) return to a given comic or graphic novel over time, and then provides four mini-essays on titles he frequently returns to.

This one really strikes a chord with me; when I get a comic or graphic novel, I generally don't keep it unless I have a degree of certainty that I will want to re-read it in the future. Certainly some titles get re-read more than others, but my collection of graphic novels alone (not even counting floppy comics) is closing in on 1,000 titles now. I doubt I'll even live long enough to re-read all of them one more time, honestly.

Off the top of my head, I think the titles I most often pull off the shelf to read again are Watchmen, From Hell, Ghost World and Warren Ellis's Stormwatch/Authority run from beginning to end. All of them provides the same sense of thrill and discovery on being re-read that they did the first time, and every time I re-immerse myself in them, I am amazed at the new layers and forgotten treasures within their pages.

Which is not to say they are "my favourite comics," or even necessarily the ones I would grab on the way out the door as the house burns down. But they do all engage my mind and spark my emotions in ways other titles don't. For example, last night I re-read Avengers Forever by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco, the first time I'd read it since it came out in single issues. I remember loving it as it was coming out, and finding it nigh-incomprehensible last night, to the point I was soon flipping through the pages admiring the artwork more than I was getting lost in the (over-) complexity of the story. I really enjoyed it years ago, so it must in some ways be better than last night's re-read suggests, but to my 43-year-old self it feels more than anything like a giant book full of footnotes that someone accidentally drew pictures to accompany. Pretty pictures, yes, but it just did not provide the immersion and entertainment my memories of the title had me convinced would follow cracking open the cover.

Just about any Love and Rockets collection, on the other hand, sucks me into it every time. I traded off my original issues long ago (Goddamn it), but I have the trades, the hardcovers, and the close-to-manga-size reissues all on one sagging shelf in my room, and probably have some stories four or five times over when all is said and done, but there are no better storytellers in comics than Los Bros Hernandez, and their comics are among the most re-readable ever created.

Conversations with ADD: Savagely Critiqued -- My downloadable, free eBook Conversations with ADD is given a critical look by Graeme McMillan at The Savage Critic(s).

Which is a fine reminder to me to remind you it exists, and to thank Graeme for all the things he had to say about it, too. I previously posted links to some other reviews as well, if you're interested.

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Five Questions for Tom Spurgeon -- My latest 5Q is up now at Trouble with Comics, Five Questions for Tom Spurgeon.


Friday, October 02, 2009

I'm in Trouble with Comics -- The puns never end. I've got a piece in the new Flashmob Fridays segment, and also my latest 5Q is up now, Five Questions for Eric Reynolds. Click on over!

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