But I’m Happy To Report

Yesterday evening, I accidentally found myself stepping into the perfect metaphor for the experience of this past week. It’s rare that life offers up such an encapsulating moment, such a perfect instant of As Above, So Below, but when it happened, I felt curiously grateful in addition to everything else going on in that moment.

It’s been, I should offer as context, a difficult week for me. Not for any one particular reason, and not for any reason that I’ll be sharing in depth here, because they’re really other people’s stories that I’m connected to in many cases, but the fact of the matter is, this has been a week where things just keep happening; a week where there’s barely been a moment to catch my breath without something requiring my attention, or my presence. There’s been a lot happening at work — of course, this was the week that DC announced movie plans, requiring quick news write-ups and subsequent analysis seemingly daily — but there’s also been a lot happening personally, or at least to those around me. No matter what is going on, and not all of it has been bad I hasten to add, there would be something immediately pushing into view right behind it, asking to be heard.

So, cut to yesterday evening, and my realization post-work that I really might have some downtime. Everything had been taken care of, everyone seemed good, and there was an hour or so before dinner. Great, I thought to myself, why don’t I take a shower and just try to relax? So, I do; I give myself that time to just take it easy and get clean, stopping myself from reacting even when I hear the dog running around and making noise outside the door. Someone else can deal with that, I tell myself, as much as my natural tendency has become to take everything on myself.

I finish my shower, taking my time doing so. I’m being selfish, slightly, but not too much; all told, it’s only been half an hour at most. Everything can take care of itself for that time, I tell myself as I open the bathroom door to leave the room, and immediately step into a pile of dog shit left right outside the door. Apparently, the dog wasn’t just running around while I was in there. Apparently, things couldn’t take care of themselves after all.

I Thought They’d Never End

Over the past year or so, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the mainstream North American comic book industry peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That sounds like both hyperbole and curmudgeonly old man thinking, when put so bluntly, but the more I think about it and try to poke holes in it — think of the amazing comics available now or there wasn’t a robust book trade back then or whatever, both of which are valid points — the more I realize such arguments are beside the point. The mainstream North American comic book industry was in better shape 30-odd years ago than it is today.

On the face of it, that’s relatively obvious: both Marvel and DC were in dominant mode, in terms of both market share but also output: beyond their core superhero comics, both publishers had additional imprints or titles dedicated to promoting different material that just don’t exist at either publisher anymore; Marvel, always the more conservative company, had Epic Comics and the Marvel Graphic Novels line, which regularly featured creator owned new concepts from Marvel talent, while DC had the Berger books, Piranha Press, it’s own graphic novels line, and random, wonderful oddities like Wasteland or Angel Love or Outcasts.

There was also a far healthier indie scene than we have today, I’d argue, with publishers like First Comics and Eclipse Comics acting in a similar manner to today’s Image Comics but with less of a focus on potential media adaptation and more willingness to experiment and challenge its creators as well as readers. Companies like Dark Horse and Kitchen Sink Press were around to offer alternatives to superheroes in terms of action/adventure strips, and Fantagraphics, Last Gasp, and others (including, again, Kitchen Sink!) were there with more alternative, artcomix material, too.

And what’s more, what’s the thing I keep coming back to is, there wasn’t the naked, blunt focus on the bottom line — whether corporate parents or potential movie or TV deals — that feels omnipresent in today’s industry. Everyone had to stay profitable, of course, but there was still, almost across the board, a willingness — an eagerness — to play and occasionally make dumb decisions for good reasons that just feels absent in today’s market.

Like I said before; there’s probably some element of nostalgia present in all of this, and certainly there are audiences and demographics better served now than way back then. But creatively, I can’t help but feel that the North American comics mainstream was far better off in the good old days. Does this make me old, or just right…?

The Comics of January 2023

I told you I was keeping a list, didn’t I? Well, here’s the comics I’ve read this month, as of yesterday morning as you read this. (A note on grouping: you’ll see things like “Saga #s 1-6” followed by “Saga #s 7-37” — that’s because I’ve read them in those blocks, with breaks in between. I’m literally keeping track as I finish issues, as I go.)

  1. Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition (Marshal Law, Marshall Law: Crime and Punishment, Marshal Law: Kingdom of the Blind, Marshal Law: The Hateful Dead, Marshal Law: Super Babylon, Marshal Law: Secret Tribunal) 
  2. Avengers: Rage of Ultron GN
  3. Uncanny Avengers (2015-2017) #s 9-12
  4. Amazing Spider-Man (2022) #10
  5. Convergence #1, 8
  6. Defenders: Beyond #3
  7. Ant-Man (2022) #3
  8. Thunderbolts (2022) #2
  9. Hawkeye: Freefall #1-6
  10. Avengers #675-678
  11. Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth Vol 2 
  12. Batman #131
  13. Avengers #679-690
  14. Avengers: No Road Home #1
  15. Uncanny Avengers (2015-2017) #s 26-30
  16. Nightwing #100
  17. Timeless (2022) #1
  18. Gotham City: Year One #4
  19. Green Lantern Corps #203
  20. Secret City Saga #s 0-4
  21. X-Men (2021) #s 13-15
  22. Immortal X-Men #s 5-6
  23. Cadillacs & Dinosaurs (Kitchen Sink collection)
  24. Doctor Who Magazine #s 584-586
  25. Lazarus Planet: Assault on Krypton #1
  26. Batman: One Bad Day – Catwoman #1
  27. Shuk & Doodle
  28. Ant-Man (2022) #4
  29. AXE: X-Men #1
  30. AXE: Starfox #1
  31. Spider-Man (2022) #1
  32. Human Target (2021) #11
  33. The Incredible Hulk #156
  34. X-Men Red (2022) #7
  35. Lazarus Planet: We Once Were Gods #1
  36. Lazarus Planet: Legends Reborn #1
  37. The New Champion of Shazam #4
  38. Action Comics #1051
  39. Justice Society of America (2022) #2
  40. All Star Comics #58-60
  41. Judge Dredd Megazine #451
  42. Best of 2000 AD #109 (Tyranny Rex)
  43. Saga #1-6
  44. The Spirit Casebook (Kitchen Sink collection)
  45. Saga #7-37
  46. Saga #38-60
  47. Justice League of America #96
  48. Amazing Spider-Man (2021) #11
  49. AXE: Eternals #1
  50. Immortal X-Men #7
  51. It’s Jeff #24
  52. Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds #s 1-5
  53. Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds #s 6-7
  54. Public Domain #s 1-5
  55. AXE: Death to the Mutants #3
  56. Namor: Conquered Shores #1
  57. The Seeds #s 1-4
  58. Silver Surfer (1987) #1
  59. Silver Surfer (1987) #s 2-3
  60. Lazarus Planet: Next Evolution #1
  61. Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh
  62. Alec: How to Be an Artist
  63. Superman (2023) #1
  64. Curses (Kevin Huizenga)
  65. Silver Surfer (1987) #s 4-14
  66. Silver Surfer Annual (1987) #1
  67. The Wild Kingdom (HC version)
  68. Or Else #5
  69. The Riverside Companion #1
  70. Iron Man (2020) #24
  71. Defenders Beyond #4
  72. Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1
  73. Lazarus Planet: Omega #1
  74. Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths #s 2, 5-7
  75. Teen Titans Academy #s 1, 15
  76. Silver Surfer (1987) #s 15-20
  77. Silver Surfer (1987) #s 21-31 (End of Englehart run)
  78. Tales of the Human Target #1
  79. Batman: One Bad Day – Bane #1
  80. Batman: One Bad Day – Mr. Freeze #1
  81. Detective Comics #s 1062-1068
  82. Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #12
  83. Danger Street #3
  84. Superman: The Power Within (collected edition of Action Comics Weekly stories)
  85. World’s Finest (1990) #s 1-3
  86. Alec: Three Piece Suit
  87. Nightwing (2015) #85
  88. Daughters of the Dragon: Deadly Hands Special
  89. Howard the Duck Magazine #1
  90. Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #1
  91. Predator #3
  92. Alien (2022) #2
  93. Punisher (2022) #5-6

Swollen But Unseen

I’ve been re-reading Brian Eno’s A Year With Swollen Appendices lately, I’ve become fascinated with the latter element of the book. For those who’re unfamiliar with it, it’s basically a published version of a year of Eno’s diaries, with the addition of a bunch of essays and expanded thoughts at the end; about a third of the finished book is made up of those appendices, which range from everything from lists of books and records Eno has been involved with to unfinished essays about why “interactive” isn’t the right word to use when describing certain kinds of media. It’s a fun, thought provoking, playful read, and one I’ve been enjoying revisiting.

All of this is prelude to me admitting this: it’s made me want to write big, thoughtful pieces of comics theory. It’s left me wanting not just to read, but to write longform thinking and theorizing about the comics medium and the comics format. It’s left me wanting to be playful with something that is my field of expertise in the same way that Eno is with his, even if I don’t necessarily know what that would actually look like in practice. It’s become a really exciting idea, at least in theory.

The thing is, I don’t know where I’d put that; in theory, it could be a Popverse idea, but I don’t feel like it’s complete enough for there, or necessarily even coherent enough — there’s something about Popverse as a platform (and a job!) that I think needs to be almost finished before putting in there, and this isn’t that, at all. Is it something for here? Maybe — this has always been a space I’d promised myself for experimentation and failure, but is it too comic-forward for here…? I don’t know.

There’s no small part of me that wishes that I had the book deal that never quite happened; if this could be anything, it could be a book. One day, perhaps. One day.

In The Bleak

When I was a kid, January was always The Month After Christmas, an entire month I basically resented because it didn’t have the colored lights and the music and the Yuletide Glow. It was enough, then, for it simply to have the misfortune of following December for me to dismiss it almost entirely — almost, but my mum’s birthday was at the start of the month, which granted it the smallest of reprieves. January, I knew on some kind of instinctive, atomic level, just sucked.

I still believe that now, but my reasons to root against the month have grown in the intervening years.

Maybe it’s just my age, or a tendency to slip towards curmudgeonly thoughts across the past few years — is that also an age thing? Probably — but January increasingly feels like the most difficult month to get through every year. It’s the weather, of course: the cold, the rain, and this year especially, the wind, my God, the wind. It’s a month that doesn’t want you to leave the house, and then punishes you for even trying. January, especially January in Portland, is a month that asks you to put on your metaphorical (or maybe literal, who knows?) thermals and not take them off for weeks on end.

(Still, at least there’s been no snow, at least so far as of me writing this; we’ll see if that’s still the case by the time you read it.)

This year, I’ve also ended up becoming horribly aware of how dark the month is. Not just the overcast twilight of stormy days, but the lateness of the sunrise and how early the sun sets, each and every day. I know, in theory, that the days have been getting longer since the middle of December, but it doesn’t feel like that, just the opposite; I wake up and have no sense of internal time. Is it 5am or 7:30? Have I slept in, or not slept enough?

It’s the middle of the month as I write this, with as much of January left to go as is behind me. I find myself hoping it goes faster, easier. Surely there has to be some kind of shortcut to make it to February.

The Path, Taken

For no immediately apparent reason the other night, I started thinking about the final year of my undergraduate art school program. Like I said, I’m really not sure why; I was falling asleep, and it just happened, as if my brain went, hey, this was more than a quarter century ago, why not start thinking about it now? Reader, I did. I was falling asleep and suggestible, what can I tell you?

Specifically, I was thinking about my dissertation that made up some significant portion of my final grade that I can’t remember — a quarter? That can’t be right, but it feels like it might be, nonetheless — and how I basically half-assed it. I got a pretty good final grade for my degree, good enough that I felt accomplished and relieved in equal measure when finally learning what it was, but I remember being told in an offhand manner by one of my teachers that my dissertation had dragged it down, and what’s more, I remember hearing that and thinking in response, yeah, that makes sense.

The irony of the whole situation from today’s point of view is that I screwed up the dissertation purely because I didn’t want to write. I had countless, multiple chances to work on the thing, but I’d spend them doing almost anything else until I had no other option. To this day, almost exactly 26 years later (I basically wrote the whole thing in a blur across the Christmas break), I remember with shocking clarity the feeling of sitting down to just do it with a combination of stress and resignation, as if I’d run out of chances to avoid doing it.

Looking back now, I think about how short the word count was (10-15,000 words) and how difficult it felt to get them out of me at the time. I was, ironically, less than a year away from realizing that maybe I wanted to be a writer, but if you’d asked me at the time, that would have seemed almost impossible.

Checking It Twice

I’m keeping track of what comics I’m reading this year, or at least, I’m trying to — it’s something I’ve tried in the past, only to abandon almost immediately by accident or design, because I’ll realize I forgot something or other and give the whole thing up as inherently flawed. As I’m writing this, it’s January 14 so we’re almost halfway through the month (how, I don’t know), and my progress has been… reasonable…? I think…?

I have, I’m sure, forgotten more than one thing to add, by now; I read for fun but also for work, which means that sometimes I’ll quickly have to skip through an issue or two in the middle of the day and forget about it when thinking about the list later. That’s okay, though — this is an inherently imperfect exercise, and it’s enough to get a close approximation of my reading habits, rather than an exact snapshot. Or, you know, so I tell myself, anyway.

It’s funny to me that I’m finally (almost) succeeding in this project when the original impetus for it is no longer in place, I have to admit. This was, whenever it first occurred to me, something I was doing to match Jeff’s efforts in tracking his reading for the podcast; we’d be talking about what we’d been going through and I’d just guess based on my admittedly faulty recollection, before he’d pull out a spreadsheet with facts. I was always a bit daunted, impressed, and jealous every time. I could do that if I tried, I’d think to myself, and then a new year would roll around and I’d prove myself wrong.

(One thing that’s actually made a difference this year: not trying to do it in a spreadsheet. Honestly, just keeping a lengthy, messy list is working so much better. There’s a lesson there, I’m sure.)

This far in, I can happily report that there’s no rhyme or reason to my reading, no through line to discover. I remain as random as ever, in my old age.

Ooh Ooh Hoo No

Sometimes, I think about what I left behind to move to the US.

I mean that in a literal way, instead of a metaphorical one. I’ve been thinking about the physical possessions I left behind a bunch lately, in part because I’ve been re-buying some of them from eBay across the past year or so. Not in any kind of organized, “I’m rebuilding my comic and book collection and this is my plan,” way; it is, as is my tradition, far more haphazard and unintentional than anything like that. I think we’d all expect no less.

I’m not buying everything over again, thankfully; there were no shortage of books, records, comics, and whatever I once owned that I have little desire to revisit in the slightest, never mind re-purchase. (Just remembering the tower of Empire magazines I had gives me no shortage of anxiety, as much as I long for the days of longform entertainment magazine writing.) But as I grow older and think about the mass of media that I didn’t just live through but were a fan of, I find myself wishing that I hadn’t left basically everything I’d known entirely behind when I moved continents. Couldn’t I have had a plan to keep things in storage and move them eventually…? I had a near-complete run of Deadline, for God’s sake. Do you know how expensive that kind of thing is to buy nowadays?

I left it all behind to start anew, under the impression that I wouldn’t want or need much or all of it. Looking back now, that feels like an early warning sign of how that relationship would turn out — the suggestion (as was the case for many years) that I limit any comic or book collection because it wasn’t important enough to make space for, and there were more important things to focus on.

I guess we ended on the metaphor after all; I left parts of me behind when I left all those stories and magazines and books and pages of other people’s words. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I should have been paying attention to why I was doing it, and what it would mean, years down the line.

Or maybe I’m just bitter at the price of Green Lantern Corps #201, all these years later.

January 32nd Sounds Just Fine

To say that 2023 has failed to start gently would be an understatement; the first week was a series of days that — while none of them were strong enough to deliver a final blow — certainly left me bruised and dazed, staggering across the metaphorical boxing ring as if waiting for the knockout punch. It’s been practical and emotional hardship around these here parts, as if the year started with the intent of proving a particular point that no-one had really wanted in the first place.

And then… then I realized that the second week of the year ended with a Friday the 13th. It’s like we’re being told something, but the something is especially shitty.

I always say that I’m not superstitious, and the truth of the matter is that if I stop for any matter of time and think about things, I’m not; I understand on an intellectual basis that there are either scientific rationales at play, or else that people are imagining things and/or reading into events in a manner that isn’t actually supported by the facts, and yet… I can’t deny it. I’m actually ridiculously, irrationally superstitious.

I mean, I know, I know, that there’s nothing special one way or the other about Friday the 13ths. They happen all the time, and they’re not any more lucky or unlucky than any other day on the calendar. I know this to be factually correct, I promise. It’s just that the very fact of there being a Friday the 13th this early in what’s already been a rougher-than-I’d-like year feels as if it’s asking for trouble on a cosmic level and I am simply not prepared for the inevitable outcome.

It’s not even as if I have a particular feeling about what this outcome would be, per se; I don’t have a particular, targeted worry about what today could bring, nor a specific concern that I’m dreading as a result of reaching this point on the calendar. I just… feel as if we should have somehow skipped today altogether, like buildings pretending they don’t have 13th floors. That could work, right? If we all agreed that no month had to have a 13th in it, and added a new day on at the end. Just to be safe.