28 December 2009

Daily Breakdowns 049 - Blessed of '09

I write this on a Christmas night, a bit groggy from an inadvertent not-that-long winter's nap on the couch while watching football. It's been a really busy December at work for me, with long hours that leave you exhausted and short-tempered and physically unable to write much. It's been a tough year financially and emotionally, but I know others have it worse so I'm not here to complain. In fact, it's not difficult to come up with some really positive things about this year. At my day job, I got a bit of a raise and also have found my current management is receptive to my thoughts and ideas. That's really important to me, because obviously I'm someone who has some kind of need to have people know my opinions, but also because I really do want the place at which I work to improve.

I want to talk about some other good things to happen this year in a bit, but first let's talk about the notion of Best Of lists. I like reading those of others, but I never really do them. I find it too difficult, and generally have only gotten involved at the behest of others. My sitemate, Marc Sobel, had a proposed Best of the Decade comics roundtable thing, and while he'd obviously put a lot of thought into it, I just couldn't wrap my head around that amount of work in the limited time I've had this month. I did manage to respond to an interview request with Tom Spurgeon about one of my favorite comics of the decade, because you just can't turn down Spurge, you know? That was fun because it was just focused on one book, Brian Michael Bendis' and Michael Avon Oeming's Powers, which wasn't just a good book but for me was a real catalyst and the starting point for a whole scene at the beginning of the decade. What it means now is something I'm looking forward to finding out as it tries to adapt to a new decade. Go read the interview here, and I thank Tom very much for asking me. There are a lot of other great interviews on a wide range of other great books of the '00s as well.

But as far as my own Best Of list, my mind is generally just too scattered to remember all the important works of the past year, plus there are always many that others have liked that I haven't gotten around to reading yet. Getting back to trying to find a positive aspect, I recently picked up or received as gifts Stitches: A Memoir, Low Moon, The Squirrel Machine, The Complete Essex County, Blazing Combat and The Complete Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics. I've also begun the first 20th Century Boys and Rip Kirby, so 2010 should hopefully find me getting out reviews of those works, and maybe before it's "too late," The Best American Comics of 2009, probably my favorite volume of the series thus far. Alec: The Years Have Pants will have to wait until I get over the blows from my Xmas shopping.

2009, for me, was a transitional year in that I struggled with the expense of buying just about everything in which I had a mild interest. I like Silver Age comics just fine, but I don't know when I would have the time to read 500+ pages of Phantom Strangers stories, or any of the other Showcase volumes I have. A long-overdue project to put bookshelves up in my bedroom led to my opening up dozens of boxes of graphic novels and collections to stock the shelves, with the discovery of a lot of good books I'd forgotten about, a lot of crap I'd held onto from when I first started reviewing and it was cool just to get any kind of free stuff, and a shocking number of duplicate copies of books. That project was ultimately a positive one, in that reassessing the books and getting them out and on the shelves sort of woke me up a bit to comics and my history with them. The negative side effect was that it made me want to fill out parts of the shelves with new books, and I spent too much on that end, but that's something to work on in 2010.

As a de facto Best Of, I did want to briefly mention some books I enjoyed or that meant something to me this year. I was happy to catch up with Los Bros Hernandez in their latest Love and Rockets efforts, as well as the big collections, Locas II and Luba. I'm trying to think of any other brother acts whose merits are so hotly debated and yet at such a similar level of skill as far as I'm concerned.

I always like Seth's work, and George Sprott was no exception. I guess I didn't get around to reviewing that yet. One thing I can say about it is that although a lot of perfectly fine work goes right out of my memory after the first read, I can still picture some scenes from this one.

When it was first announced, I was one of those who were put off by the cost of Kramers Ergot 7, because it obviously would put new work from some of the best cartoonists working today out of financial reach of many. But while that is true, well, what of it? I mean, it's unfortunate, but at the same time, there are plenty of things I would like to have that I can't afford. Some time this year, I was able to afford this book, and at the moment I wouldn't be able to, but even as good as it is, it's not such a big deal if you missed it. It's a success, don't get me wrong, and there's something pretty cool about editor Sammy Harkham and publisher Alvin Buenaventura, and the creators involved, going so big on this. I don't think it will probably end up being a particularly important event when we look back, but I commend them for doing it.

David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp is probably the book of the year, just a tremendously impressive piece of work. Tatsumi's A Drifting Life did have some flaws but still seemed somewhat underrated given all the good stuff it did have. Darwyn Cooke's Parker: The Hunter was skillful and fun. I had a great time with Criminal and Incognito, The Muppet Show, and have also been pleased to reenter Marvel Universe waters with Fantastic Four, Agents of Atlas, Incredible Hercules and the revolving creative teams of the weekly Amazing Spider-Man.

It's also really nice that as the Jack Kirby collections keep rolling out, we're also finally starting a similar run of books celebrating the wonderful Steve Ditko, with IDW's The Art of Ditko and Fantagraphics' Strange Suspense both collecting horror, suspense and science fiction stories from the '50s and '60s. Maybe we can have some affordable, lush and not-CD-ROM-based collections of Alex Toth before too long.

I really loved that first collection of restored Hal Foster Prince Valiant. I wasn't surprised, but I did like it better than I expected. I was quite surprised how good the first Family Circus collection was. I was also very pleased to finally read some Jacques Tardi with West Coast Blues. I understand that was an adaptation, but I still found a voice and style I really want to follow.

As far as discoveries this year, I'm glad I read Inio Asano's What a Wonderful World Vols. 1 & 2. That's a major talent developing right there.

OK, I'm writing the rest of this the day after Christmas, after a very realistic dream in which some sort of spirit lifted me off my bed and having awakened with a terrible pain in my jaw. I'm going to try to keep positive, though. This year, I also finally got into the comedic talents of John Stanley, with the Nancy and Melvin the Monster. One thing that I find difficult in digging into old work is that creators didn't move around as much and the longevity of runs on a title can be really intimidating and expensive. I mean, I know there are dozens of Stanley's Little Lulu in print, but even in relatively cheap paperbacks it's a lot to dig into, and sometimes it takes the imprimatur of a Seth, and his design panache, to help sell you on an old cartoonist. Me, anyway.

My biggest discovery this year, and clearly by this point you can tell I make no claims to be on the cutting edge of anything, is Frank Santoro's and Ben Jones' Cold Heat. I know my pal ADD recommended it to me a while back but I had no idea what he was talking about. But one day I just went on PictureBox and ordered the #5/6 bumper issue, knowing nothing about the series. I know a lot of people would tell you this is one where you really need to start at the beginning, and it does help--but to me it felt just like I was a kid again, reading a stray old Marvel comic and being as intrigued by what I didn't know as the cool stuff in front of me on the page. I did go back and get the other proper issues, a couple of the specials, and the latest, #7/8, and this really is one of my favorite comics going. I find the pink and purple coloring restriction so distinctive and attractive, and the story and art both...well, it just seems so difficult to execute that perfect blend of naive and yet obviously very knowing, that blend of the intellectual with the passionate dood, Really excellent work.

That's sort of my Best Of, but honestly, the best comics-related event for me this year is this very blog. It came about as Alan David Doane and I were reminiscing about Comic Book Galaxy and thinking of maybe doing some sort of collection of the best stuff from the days when it had a lot of contributors vs. its incarnation as ADD's personal blog the past few years. Reading some of my old stuff frankly kicked me in the ass to do more than the once-a-month review or whatever I was doing on my own blog, so as a spur-of-the-moment thing I revived my old Breakdowns column as a daily occurrence, or at least several days a week, and then that quickly led to the idea of doing a new site with other talented writers.

TWC, as we tend to call it, came about rapidly, with ADD doing the majority of the work of recruiting people, designing the look of the thing...I think I maybe came up with the name, or something close to it. I was actually really upset when we first launched, because I really wanted us to have a nice backlog of material so we could update frequently and get some early momentum, but my worries were for nothing. I have to say, I really couldn't ask for a nicer group of writers, but more importantly for our purposes, they all really "brought it," and required very little guidance or editing. One thing I've really enjoyed is how personal some of the pieces have been, and admittedly that's because I'm similarly pretty open to putting those kinds of things into my own reviews. I also have found that I really enjoy the pressure, even if it's self-imposed and not really existent, of having to read and write about comics quickly and frequently. Essentially I don't want to let anyone down here.

I really am so grateful to ADD for getting me involved, and for the rest of the Trouble with Comics gang, for making this such a pleasurable addition to my life. It's also, I hope, made me push myself a little more and get a little better. I should also thank Tom Spurgeon again, this time for all the support he's shown me and the other TWCers with links to our pieces, as well as Sean T. Collins, for granting me that interview a few weeks back, which wasn't just interesting and fun but truly made me think a little differently about how I do things. So, if I'm somewhat less of a dick in '10, it's Sean's fault.

Have a good New Year's. More comics hijinks to come.



Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Just to clarify an unbelievably trivial point, the name "Trouble with Comics" evolved out of the fake article I posted to the test site so I could see what the damned thing would look like. The article was titled "The Trouble with Comics," but I think we decided it was better with the "The," left off.

Thanks for a great year-ending column full of style AND substance!

December 28, 2009 8:56 AM  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Ah, that's right. I liked the sound of it. Here's to more trouble.

December 28, 2009 10:36 AM  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

here it is for anyone interested enough to click the link.

December 28, 2009 10:37 AM  

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