Monday, 19 July 2010

Whatever happened to all the fun in the world?

An interesting essay in the Guardian today (or yesterday, rather) about the somewhat subdued non-genre comics scene.

Every few months since the dawn of time – or, at least, since Superman first fled Planet Krypton – articles have appeared in newspapers announcing: "Comics grow up!" God knows, I've written a few. You go from a jocular paragraph or two about "underpants worn outside the trousers", via the obligatory reference to Alan Moore's Watchmen and a cap-doffing to Art Spiegelman's Holocaust epic Maus, before rounding off with an overenthusiastic payoff.
 I too have grown heartily sick of such articles, although at the same time my own comics consumption has narrowed to more-or-less exclusively supers. In the olden days, when I was young and  full of spunk, I read a lot of "alternative" comics. I tended to like the funny ones, so I was a bit iffy on stuff like Love & Rockets and Cerebus, but I really loved the early Eightball (and I think Icehaven is possibly the best comic ever made), Chris Ware's hilarious Quimby Mouse and Potato Man, Reid Fleming the World's Toughest Milkman, Flaming Carrot and, of course, Robert Crumb and the Freak Brothers.

 Maybe it's still in a box somewhere...

I'm a sci fi guy in general, so I'm not that keen on things I probably wouldn't read if they were a book - the works of Seth, eg, or Persepolis or Tamara Drew by Posey Symonds thing (although I did read that when it was serialised int he Guardian, it wasn't really my cup of tea, as much as I appreciated the craft). What I really miss, though, are the wild satirical and funny books - some of the early stuff by Joe Sacco (although I like his reportage work a great deal), Charles Burns or some of the sillier things in RAW.

Ut! Remember this guy?

I like this article, because it sums up my problem with independent comics right now:

It's as if half the movie industry is Hollywood and the other half is Todd (Happiness) Solondz.
I am - as Monty Python memorably put it - an intellectual midget who likes giggling. I enjoy my "Hollywood" comics well enough, but I'd really like to see the comics equivalents of The Office or Mitchell & Webb, clever, funny, perhaps a dash of satire and black humour and fewer gloomy tales of dispossessed loners.


  1. I don't know how to differentiate between genre and non-genre comics, and would welcome any useful "Navigating the Wacky World of the Graphic Novel!" tips that you might care to offer.

    My first reaction on reading the Guardian article was, "But I don't READ comics." This, of course, is untrue. Maybe I don't read a lot of standalone, separately-published *books* in comic form. But at one time or another I've enjoyed daily comic strips, editorial cartoons, Calvin and Hobbes collections, The Simpsons books, Harold Hedd, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, 70s-era National Lampoon, Mad Magazine, Claire Br├ętecher, Sylvia, Life in Hell, and manga about Gautama Buddha - along with the Archies and the Supermans.

    I suspect that much of the action has shifted online. I'm thinking here about things like Axe Cop, Questionable Content, Cyanide and Happiness, 8-bit Theatre, Looking for Group, and xkcd, to name some names. I include Cyanide and Happiness because of the once-in-ten-or-twenty gems that pop up there now and then.

    I was a little surprised that the stock-standard "comics grow up!" article doesn't mention Japanese manga. My 17-year-old son and his contemporaries are steeped up to the eyeballs in Full Metal Alchemist and Death Note and others of that ilk. They like shopping at Kinokuniya. I like Kinokuniya too, but MY idea of the perfect day of book-shopping would also include Galaxy Bookshop in Sydney (died 'n' gone to heaven territory!) and at least one cavernous, musty old secondhand place with a lot of science-fiction paperbacks in it.

  2. Taking these in reverse order...

    I was in Sydney a few years back and found several fabulous second hand bookshops of the sort you don't get in London anymore. I had to comb through the yellow pages to find them, and they were in the surrounding areas rather than the centre. I was there on a family holiday arranged by my wife's parents for thier 50th anniversary, so it was nice to have an escape... I found several precious panther Vance volumes, and (IIRC) the Demon Download trilogy by Jack Yeovil (aka Kim Newman). (By coincidence, this was the same trip during which I read Ophiuchi Hotline!)

    Here in London, and even in Greenwich, those types of dusty musty old shops have disappeared, partly due to land rents sky rocketing, and partly due to the second hand market migrating to amazon sellers and ebay. It's great that one can quickly find a OOP volume one's looking for, but I very much miss rooting around in dusty old second hand shops. They still exist in the provinces here, thank heavens!

    Manga was just getting going when I was in my twenties, and i think I just missed out on it. For my age group I think the equivalent was the Euro comics found in Heavy Metal and Epic. Similar to manga, these didin't diverge too much from the genre staples (swords & sorcery, space opera-sih sci fi) but they had a visual style and approach that was very unique. By the time the manga band wagon started rolling in the West, these Euro modes had been absorbed by the Western (mostly US, let's face it) mainstream, at least partially via 2000AD.

    The point of all that being that I cannot get my crusty old head around manga at all!

    You're absolutely correct about that alternative press type of stuff migrating online. I'm not too hot on that stuff either as I'm still struggling to see the internet as a sit down and kind of medium rather than a find-it, print-it, read it off line medium. When my own kids are old enough they will hopefully help me out here!

    In terms of tips, I don't have much I'm sorry to say. I'm enjoying a second adolescence at the moment, revelling in supers and old 2000AD. If this adolescence follows a similar patttern to the first one, I should be in a position to offer help sometime in 2015.

    I am pondering a post on the Fab Furry Freak Bros. I have all the original issues signed by Gilbert Shelton - he did a signing at Forbidden Planet a decade or so ago (might even have een the 90s) and there was hardly anyone there. He spent and amiable 25 minutes scribbling on every issue and chatting - a really nice bloke!

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  4. Glad to see that both your comments survived. I totally feel you when it comes to arranging sanity-saving escapes from family gatherings, having done it myself more than once.

    Retail booksellers charge like wounded bulls here in the Antipodes (as you surely know), yet I hesitate to shop online. I don't care how many layers of encryption they're using, I still get nervous. So I browse the newsagents for interesting-looking remaindered paperbacks. The Salvation Army op-shop sometimes yields up treasure. But nothing beats the annual Lifeline used-book sale. The challenge is (a) to remember which month they hold it, and even more importantly (b) to arrive before everything good has been sold off and there's nothing left but three tables full of The Da Vinci Code.

    The first time I encountered an online short story I wanted to read - it was Cory Doctorow's The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away - I printed off a copy for later bedtime reading. It was wintertime, and my desktop is in the coldest part of the house. It would cost a fortune in printer paper to keep up *that* practice, so now I rug up, zoom in to make the print bigger, and cop it sweet.

  5. Hm, on reflection my initial post did make it through... mysterious are the ways of the net! Please disregard second reply.. actually, I'll delete it, how about that?

    I used to do a regular short fiction feature here, but keeping up with it was very time consuming. To read them, I printed them out at work. I've also done this for longer pieces - eg, Little Brother and Accelerando and a few other things available online ... I think I read Postsingular by Rudy Rucker as a pdf and that's a cracking book!

    I'm tempted by the idea of an iPad for reading this kind of stuff, but I think the online environment mitigates against the kind of sustained engagement that longer works need. Also tempted by a kindle, but the expense puts me off...

  6. Will keep an eye out for Rudy Rucker titles, and thanks for the suggestion.

    The Salvos continue to provide inexpensive fun: Tanith Lee and Jane Yolen, to be precise. How to resist a story about a dream weaver "whose custom-made dreams are so seldom what the dreamers thought they'd ordered - but to the last nuance, what they deserved"? That sounds too agreeably snarky to pass up.


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