27 September 2009

Through a Glass Darkly

ver·ti·go (vûr'tĭ-gō')
n. pl. ver·ti·goes or ver·ti·gos
    1. The sensation of dizziness.

    2. An instance of such a sensation.

  1. A confused, disoriented state of mind.

[Middle English, from Latin vertīgō, from vertere, to turn; see wer-2 in Indo-European roots.]

1a. Introduction

I'm probably an atypical comics reader.

I didn't come to comics through animated shows or friends playing with action figures on the playground. Aside from Batman, in my youth, I was never really into superheroes. I liked horror, fantasy, science fiction and mystery. Although superheroes are a sub-genre of science fiction, in general, most of them never really clicked for me.

Anyway, in the next section is part of the initial column that I wrote for my now defunct "Scary Monsters & Super Creeps". I hope you'll forgive reusing an old column, but it lends credence to what will come. If you've already read it, feel free to skip down to 1993.

1b. Moore Repurposed

Do you remember the first comic that you ever bought?

Do you remember the circumstances surrounding it? Whether you were a kid with your friends, riding your bike up to the local 7-11, and you had an extra sixty cents to spare, so you bought that issue of Amazing Spider-Man that was sitting there with a Lizard cover that looked cool? How you sat down and pored over the pages before lending it to Jimmy, who returned it without a cover and chocolate prints all over the pages.

Well, I have an eidetic memory, basically, I remember everything. I can tell you what the first movie I saw in theatres was: ET: The Extra Terrestrial. I can tell you what the first adult novel I read was: a hardcover edition of HG Wells' stories including War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man, given to me by my grandfather when I was four and I devoured every page. The spring of that year was also the first time I kissed a girl, Margaret, as she was five and going to Kindergarten the next year, starting off a long string of affairs with older women (I've never dated anyone younger than me).

Could this have been one of my first comics? I thought it would be interesting to start off the "first" column discussing "first" things like my first comic. Yet, through all of this, I haven't got a clue what my first comic book was. This suggests to me that it was something bought for me before my second birthday -- which would mean before 1983. It's somewhat strange, because usually you can hand me anything in my vast collection of stuff and I can tell you when I got it and the circumstances surrounding it, but I can't remember that.

I know that I would have got it at the Jerseyville General Store, which had a rack of comics that changed regularly, usually carrying DC and odd small publishers, never any Marvel there. Marvel books I had to get in Ancaster at the Zehrs there. Both the Gene Colan and Ed Hannigan Batman stick in my mind, I remember having Batmans around #350, but I couldn't tell you which ones. This is my problem actually, my earliest comic books I don't have anymore. Either they were thrown out, given away, or destroyed in some, way, shape or form. It really wasn't until '84 or '85 when I got my first long box that I really paid any attention to what I had and where I kept it and even then things I "didn't like", didn't get put it the box, it was mainly reserved at first for Swamp Thing, horror books, Batman and Detective Comics from then on.

Up until Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, I wasn't exactly what you'd call a comics "collector", I was just a reader. I honestly didn't care if I got the next issue of Batman or not, it was just another form of entertainment, and often I could get better out of old sci-fi and horror novels. Swamp Thing was what changed my mind. Moore's stories, with richly textured art from the likes of Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Stan Woch, Ron Randall, and Rick Veitch, just drew me in. They were exactly what a young horror fan needed in addition to the black and white magazines, Stephen King novels, and the bad horror b-movies I used to watch on Sunday afternoons, like It Came from Outer Space and Horrors of the Black Museum.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you, "I was there from the very beginning." I wasn't. I read several of Marty Pasko's Swamp Thing issues before Moore and really didn't care for them, it made me pretty much ignore the book on the stands, even when the writer changed. The first issue of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing I bought was #38. It was illustrated by Stan Woch and John Totleben, and quite simply I bought it because it had underwater vampires. That may sound silly now, but to my four year old brain, I heard "underwater vampires" and I automatically thought "cool", or whatever it was that kid's then said when they thought something was neat.

Still Waters For those of you who haven't read it, let me tell you a little bit about it. The story takes place during the American Gothic storyline, the one where Swamp Thing is state-hopping at the bidding of John Constantine. Basically, it's your "town overrun by vampires" story, but with a twist. As the years progressed, a group of vampires discovered a perfect way to exist without being bothered by pesky things like sunlight by moving underwater in the dark, living in the sunken town of Rosewood, Illinois. There's your high concept there that hooks the kids, like me. Basically, from there, it's up to Swamp Thing to stop the underwater vampires, who've started to breed, from coming back up out of the water and killing whatever they feel like. Simple, isn't it?

It continued into the next issue with "Fish Story", and that may be one of the reasons why I continued reading the book, but dressed up in an intelligently told tale, were all of the things that I loved from the horror b-movies I watched. Now that I can look back upon this with more "worldly" eyes, I can see that Moore was playing with the classics, turning them on their ear, and creating something that was true to the heritage of the "monsters" and yet completely fresh and different. He did it in these two issues with vampires, then werewolves, zombies, serial killers, and the haunted house. As a horror fan, I just ate this stuff up like candy.

Honestly, though, it does show you a method to Moore's madness that you can see is even true today. He's very good at taking something old and making it new, giving it a fresh spin. Swamp Thing has its roots in all the old horror stories, Watchmen grew out of Charlton, Tom Strong and Supreme both come from Superman and Captain Marvel, and so on and so forth.

It's amazing how he does it.

2. 1993

Let's put a few things into perspective. In 1993, I was twelve. If you didn't clue in already, I was a strange kid. A little better than a year before, I had been hooked by X-Men #1, which was more or less my gateway into Marvel Comics. Even though I liked the adventures of Marvel's merry mutants, my heart still lay with DC. They just seemed to have more interesting stories, more willing to do things that were outside of the box. In 1993, my preteen brain was blown when DC started a new imprint "suggested for mature readers".

Although many of the books had carried that moniker beforehand, by labelling them under "Vertigo", it somehow felt a little more illicit. At first, I though maybe the comic shop I went to was no longer going to sell me titles I had previously purchased. I was already reading Hellblazer, Swamp Thing and Sandman, but maybe I had just sneaked by in picking those up. Maybe there was content in there that my twelve-year old brain shouldn't be reading. Maybe by branding them separately, DC was signalling that these comics were "off-limits" to me.

Thankfully, this wasn't the case. I squared things with my parents - showing them what I was reading - and they squared things with the comic shop - basically, I was allowed to buy anything I wanted. ...and so, branding the comics with "Vertigo", I was opened up to other titles. I loved Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, and Sandman, but what were these other pretty things that had somehow flown by my notice? Seeing things like Shade, The Changing Man and Doom Patrol bear the same logo, opened my eyes. I had sampled some of these comics before, but never really followed them too closely. By putting them all under one sign, I decided that I was going to have to read them all.

In January of 1993, with a March cover date; Vertigo launched with Swamp Thing #129, Hellblazer #63, Doom Patrol #64, Animal Man #57, Sandman #47, Shade, The Changing Man #33, and the first issues of two limited series, Death - The High Cost of Living and Enigma. Stories written by Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Jamie Delano, Nancy Collins, Rachel Pollack. Art by Jill Thompson, Steve Dillon, Steve Pugh, Chris Bachalo, Duncan Fegredo. It was like crack. I've since gone back and filled in the earlier runs of Doom Patrol, Animal Man, and Shade; I wanted to see what they were like from the beginning.

3. A Road Less Travelled

For something that grew out of the strange and dark corners of the DCU, though, Vertigo has become something more. It became a place for creators to do their own work unfettered by the tamperings of corporate comics and the pressures of licensing and keeping characters "pure". It has seen such heights as Preacher, The Invisibles, Fables, Y - The Last Man, 100 Bullets and Transmetropolitan. It spawned a brief-lived sister-imprint in Helix and countless limited series and graphic novels. It has been publishing comics on its own terms for over sixteen years.

As such, I though it would be an excellent source to mine for material; the only problem is, where to begin?

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12 September 2009

See the Stars they're shining bright...

There are a couple old adages out there that seem to come to mind to me right now, "Everything old is new again" and "You can't go home again." I could wax philosophical about both of those for some time, but that's neither here nor there at this juncture. Instead, I wanted to capitalize on the general sentiment of both, as well as one key word in both; again. There's a couple more, "History never repeats itself, it just rhymes" or "you can't stand in the same river twice".

Take those things into consideration, roll them over in your brain, and follow me.

A few months ago, I walked into a comic shop on my lunch hour. [Golden Age Collectibles to be precise] I wasn't sure why I was there, other than the fact that I was probably going to get a crêpe for lunch, it was on the way, and the sidewalk -- or lack thereof -- on Granville Street happened to be getting dust all over my suit and I wanted to get out of the way for awhile while the construction workers butchered the landscape in preparation for the arrival of international hegemony and competition. You swallow?

Anyway, for the most part, I buy my comics in book form through a book store. Have for a few years, perish the thought of walking into a comics store and buying comics. Yet, while I was there, I grabbed the first two issues of Batman & Robin, the first issue of Greg Rucka and JH Williams III's Detective Comics and the first issue of Wednesday Comics. I don't know what possessed me to do it, but gosh darn it, it felt good. It felt even better unfolding that issue of Wednesday Comics and reading it, trying not to spill any spinach, feta or egg, when I got back to my office. It was a tactile experience that I could only describe as revelatory.

Unfortunately, I must say aside from pretty art in the Wonder Woman strip and the sense that Neil Gaiman was having more fun writing his piece than I was reading it, most of that issue escapes me at the moment. That might say something about its transitory nature, but again, not the point.

That experience of walking into the comic store and actually buying comics reawakened some dark, distant part of me and it set me on a path that I had forgotten. A sense of wonder, if you like. Another one came picking up the latest issue of DMZ today after committing to actually contributing to this new group blog idea of Alan's. Its first lines are "Hey dude... You tired of sitting alone in this fucking thing all the time? You ready to get back into the game?"

Apparently, the answer is "Yes". I can't promise any miracles. I can't promise anything that's going to encourage your hearts or enlighten your minds. I can't even promise that you're going to like half of anything that I write -- although you'll undoubtedly like the posts by the other members of this motley crew that Alan's put together. I can't promise any type of content that I'm going to be writing about, I don't know yet what it's going to be and I don't want anyone to be disappointed by grandiose statements and empty promises.

What I can promise is a unique perspective on the landscape. A landscape that is slightly the same, but slightly different, from when the Galaxy first pulled me into its orbit. The Spider has been eaten by the Mouse and the Frog is dancing on the Bullet's head. The "ultimate" reinvention of Marvel's superheroes has itself ultimately been reinvented, perhaps watered down to a certain extent with Ultimate Avengers. I haven't driven this landscape for a while, so I may need a map, but most of all, it's good to be back at it again and I hope to have some of you along for the ride.

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Data Sheet: Johnny Bacardi

NAME: David Allen Jones, actually, if you must know

BIRTHPLACE: Glasgow, Kentucky, United States of America.

AMBITIONS: To drink cup after cup of this here grog. To string sentences together in an intelligent fashion. To draw something I don't hate when I'm done. To retire and drink, play golf and paint all day. Perhaps even at the same time.

TURN-ONS: Comics, music, movies, sports, TV, books, good booze, good cigars, a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.

TURNOFFS: Narrow-mindedness. Excessively religious people, you know the kind, the ones that ooze it and get it all over you if you're not careful. Stress. Poison gas. I really hate that.

GREAT COMICS: The Spirit by Will Eisner and Various Assistants, specifically the period from the mid to late 1940's and early 50's. Lee & Ditko's Spider-Man, Lee & Kirby's Fantastic Four, Love & Rockets, WE3, Starstruck, Andy Helfer & Kyle Baker's Shadow, The Archie Goodwin-edited Warren magazines. Name your favorite EC comic here. Calvin & Hobbes, Times Squared, Flex Mentallo...and the list goes on and on and on. Perhaps I'll even write about some of them someday.

FAMILY LIFE: Wonderful wife, two grown kids (boy and girl), two grandchildren (yep), two dogs, one cat. Lots of birds that mooch off me in my back yard via four (!) feeders.

FAVORITE FOOD: Chinese, Mexican, Italian. Hard to be more specific- I like to eat.

WHAT I LIKE IN COMICS: Things which challenge and inspire the mind and the eye, and a sense that the creator is at least half as engaged with his or her creation as he or she would like for me to be.

WHAT I DISLIKE IN COMICS: Cynicism, especially that of the unearned variety; Uninspired, cookie-cutter artists trained only to draw like someone who is perceived as "successful"; silverfish. I really hate seeing silverfish in my comics.

FAVORITE CREATORS: Mike Kaluta, Mike Mignola, Howard Chaykin, Jaime Hernandez, Alex Toth, Richard Sala, Don McGregor, Archie Goodwin (god rest his soul), Sean Phillips, Doug Mahnke, P. Craig Russell, Jill Thompson, Bill Everett, Jerry Grandenetti, et cetera, et cetera...

FAVORITE MUSICIANS: Beatles together and solo, Nilsson, T.Rex, the Beach Boys, Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter, Bowie, Nick Drake, Zappa, Monkees, Mike Nesmith, ELO, The Move, Roy Wood, the Stones, Kinks, Lloyd Cole, Bob Dylan, Kate Bush, Neil Young, Jellyfish, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Eels, Cibo Matto, R.E.M., the Replacements, Paul Westerberg, Masters of Reality, Prince, Flaming Lips, Parliament/Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, XTC, Tim Buckley, Todd Rundgren, Faces, pre 1976 Rod Stewart, pre 1977 Elton John, Mick Ronson, King Crimson, Strawbs, Roger McGuinn, John Prine, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, Sandy Denny, Maria Muldaur, Wendy Waldman, 10cc, Godley+Creme, Sparklehorse, Steve Earle, Wilco, the Jayhawks, Ron Sexsmith, et cetera, et cetera...well, you asked!

IDEAL EVENING: Two hot babes, a bottle of rum, fine cigars, and a hot tub. In reality, I'm fine with a cold drink, something good on the TV, my laptop next to me to Twitter if it tickles my fancy, and a stack of comics to perhaps peruse if the mood strikes. And two hot babes to read them to me.

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Data Sheet: Alex Ness

NAME: Alex Ness
BIRTHPLACE: Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, Methodist Hospital

AMBITIONS: To be a great poet, great writer, and a great father


TURNOFFS: Ugliness

GREAT COMICS: Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison, Animal Man by Jamie Delano, Scout by Timothy Truman,

FAMILY LIFE: Beautiful wife, incredible son, two cats.

FAVORITE FOOD: Sushi, Irish Whiskey

WHAT I LIKE IN COMICS: Beautiful art, brilliant writing

WHAT I DISLIKE IN COMICS: Collectors who do not read, pin up minded art, writing for the lowest common denominator, Publishers who value regurgitation over new

FAVORITE CREATORS: Jack Kirby, Moebius, Timothy Truman, Grant Morrison, Mike Grell

FAVORITE MUSICIANS: Billy Corgan, Marvin Gaye, Joe Strummer

IDEAL EVENING: Sushi dinner, adult time with wife, and cuddles with kid and cats

FAVORITE MOVIES: Seven Samurai, Amadeus, Excalibur, Last Man Standing

FAVORITE WRITERS: Ernest Hemingway, Lord Dunsany, William Carlos Williams, Robert E. Howard, Yukio Mishima


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Data Sheet: d.

NAME: d. emerson eddy
BIRTHPLACE: Hamilton, Ontario
AMBITIONS: makes you look pretty ugly.  So does aggression.  You bring out the base nature of your animal and wind up looking like some puffed up monkey.  I much prefer perseverence, dedication and devotion.  ...and in response to those; to do great work.
GREAT COMICS:  Sandman, Promethea, Y - The Last Man, All Star Superman, off the top of my head.  Maus, From Hell, Stray Toasters, Cages.
FAMILY LIFE: um...yeah.
FAVORITE FOOD:  Depends on the day.  Right now, it's a peppercorn steak marinated in a red wine sauce with sauteed mushrooms and onions, with a side of asparagus and a creamy pepperjack mash.  Topped off with a glass of Cecchi's chianti.  Yesterday, it was a bag of Smartfood and Hot Rods.  The day before, it was avacadoes, homous and pita.
WHAT I LIKE IN COMICS:  Honesty.  Good old-fashioned storytelling.  Pretty pictures that adhere to some sort of layout that show that the artist was actually thinking and not just throwing images at the page.
WHAT I DISLIKE IN COMICS:  Cookie-cutter comics with nothing to say.  Hyperbole.
FAVORITE CREATORS:  Neil Gaiman.  Alan Moore.  Mike Mignola.  Bill Sienkiewicz.  Walt Simonson.  Dave McKean.  Cameron Stewart.  Eddie Campbell.  Seth.  Grant Morrison.  P. Craig Russell.  Jill Thompson.  JH Williams III.  Garth Ennis.  Steve Dillon.  Dave Gibbons.  Mike Carey.  Eduardo Risso.  Gabriel Ba.  Fabio Moon.  I could probably keep going, so I'll just leave it at that.
FAVORITE MUSICIANS: David Bowie.  NIN.  Peter Gabriel.  The Cure.  Tool.  Radiohead.  Tori Amos.  Muse.  The Host.  REM.  Isis.  Amorphis.  Opeth.  Ulver.  Nick Cave.  Anything Mike Patton touches.  My Chemical Romance.  Arcturus.  Synaesthesia.  Ryan Adams.  Alexisonfire.
FAVORITE MOVIES: The Last Temptation of Christ.  The Fountain.  Sunshine.  Mirrormask.  Radioland Murders.  The Third Man.  M. 
FAVORITE WRITERS: Neil Gaiman.  Salman Rushdie.  HP Lovecraft.  William S. Burroughs.  Aleister Crowley.  Philip K. Dick.  Thomas Pynchon.  Patrick McGrath.  Stephen King.
IDEAL EVENING: Curled up next to the fireplace, reading.

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Data Sheet: Mick Martin

NAME: Mick Martin
AMBITIONS: To write for a living, to write for fun, to write more, to write better.
GREAT COMICS: Lone Wolf and Cub, Watchmen, Sleeper, Astro City, Moore's Swamp Thing, too many to name or remember in a reasonable amount of time.
FAMILY LIFE: A wonderful girlfriend and three cats who never fail to make life more interesting.
FAVORITE FOOD: Homemade Mac & Cheese.
WHAT I LIKE IN COMICS: Great writing, great art, and the Hulk.
WHAT I DISLIKE IN COMICS: Bad writing, bad art, and Gambit.
FAVORITE CREATORS: Alan Moore, Matt Wagner, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, Steve Gerber, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Kurt Busiek
IDEAL EVENING: An evening filled with a satisfying amount of laziness, but preceded by enough hard work that I don't feel guilty about it.

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Data Sheet: David Wynne

NAME: David Wynne.
BIRTHPLACE: South East London (King's College Hospital, specifically).
AMBITIONS: To get paid to sit around at home drawing science fiction comics. As opposed to now where I get paid to sit around at work drawing science fiction comics. Well, technically that's not what they pay me for...
TURN-ONS: Comics, politics, whisky and guitars.
TURNOFFS: Glenn Beck.
GREAT COMICS: I love things like Tom Strong, The Spirit, Nemesis The Warlock and Black Summer- work that doesn't claim to be anything more than escapist entertainment, but the ability and passion of the creators is such that their ideas and personality are carried in the work anyway, and they end up saying something important without even really trying. Such works are often brash and unsubtle, and if the creators are particularly politicised (see the latter two of my examples), the may even be accused of "preachy"-ness. But you know, I'm a Rage Against The Machine fan. I like that sort of thing.
FAMILY LIFE: I live with the most intelligent, courageous and beautiful woman ever to walk this earth. You're damn right to be jealous.
FAVORITE FOOD: I want to say something impressively obscure or adventurous- but the real answer is probably "caaaaake".
WHAT I LIKE IN COMICS: Absolutely bloody everything about the form itself. The mechanics of it make my brain bubble in glorious ways. You draw a picture, and then another one, and then another one, and if you need to explain something that you can't put in the picture, well then you just write it in there... and pretty soon you have a thing, a work of art, that communicates directly with people in a more involving way than any other method I know. I love comics.
WHAT I DISLIKE IN COMICS: On a day to day basis, I find the way that a large section of the people who are apparently devoted to the medium simply cannot recognise and respect that the people who make these things are real live human beings, and not their personal comics making servants.
But on a broader level, what really gets my goat is the way the anglophone comics industry seems almost hard-wired to try and destroy itself. Ever since we moved out of newspapers it's been one long march toward a shrinking, isolated market and pop culture obscurity.
Which is why I make webcomics.
FAVORITE CREATORS: Will Eisner, Alan Moore, Mike Mignola, Warren Ellis, Barry Windsor Smith, Moebius, Paul Grist, Alan Grant, Greg Rucka, Jason Aaron, Sean Phillips, Henry Flint, Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, John Wagner, Pat Mills, Frank Miller, Robert Crumb... I could do this all day.
IDEAL EVENING: Good company, good food, a little whisky and no work the next day.

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10 September 2009

Data Sheet: ADD

NAME: Alan David Doane
AMBITIONS: Stayin' Alive
TURN-ONS: Honesty, comics, "what's new and what's next."
TURNOFFS: Secret agendas, venality, toxic cretinism, the writing of Geoff Johns.
GREAT COMICS: Spider-Man by Lee and Ditko, Eightball by Clowes, Acme by Ware
FAMILY LIFE: Wife, two kids, two cats.
FAVORITE FOOD: Probably pizza, also love good Asian food.
WHAT I LIKE IN COMICS: Truth, passion, learning new things.
WHAT I DISLIKE IN COMICS: Treading water, playing with action figures instead of telling good stories, having nothing to say in a medium that will let you say anything.
FAVORITE CREATORS: Dan Clowes, Steve Ditko, Barry Windsor-Smith, James Kochalka
FAVORITE MUSICIANS: The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, Lindsey Buckingham, David Gilmour, James Kochalka, Moby
IDEAL EVENING: Quiet, cool, and no work the next day.
FAVORITE MOVIES: Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, Donnie Darko, Ghost World.
FAVORITE WRITERS: Roger Ebert, James Howard Kunstler, Alan Moore, Christopher Allen, Christopher Butcher.
FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVELS: From Hell, Ghost World, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Ticking, Batman: Year One.

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Trouble with Comics: The MANIFESTO!

We're here, and we talk about comics. END MANIFESTO.

Hi, I'm Alan David Doane, and I'm the guy that thought up Comic Book Galaxy while laying in bed one summer day in the year 2000. And here we are over nine years later, and the Galaxy has expanded and contracted numerous (though not always humourous) times. And today, we're expanding again.
Not this kind of Trouble.
Welcome to Trouble with Comics, Comic Book Galaxy's new group blog that grew out of conversations with my good friend and partner in thoughtcrime Chris Allen, as I was assembling my recent eBook, Conversations with ADD. I had to dig into the Galaxy's deepest, hidden recesses to find some of the material for the eBook, and Chris helped me pound it all into shape. As we worked together on all that, I think we both realized just how much we missed feeling the rush we got from the most exciting times we had together (and sometimes separately) on Comic Book Galaxy.

With that in mind, we started talking to good writers we knew, some who wrote for Comic Book Galaxy in the past, some who are new faces around the Galaxy Clubhouse but who nonetheless agree with our stated goal of "pushing comix forward."

We have some ambitious plans for this thing, but we're going to start somewhat slow and let it build. I hope you'll give our efforts a chance, maybe bookmark us or subscribe to our RSS feed, and tell your friends if you see something you like. Best of all, send us an email or leave a comment and tell us what you think of our efforts. Argue with us, agree with us, but most importantly, be a part of the dialog about comics that we intend to start here.

Right now.

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