Wednesday, September 14, 2011

State of comics: today

"If your hobby becomes your profession, find a new hobby." - Mark Gruenwald

I always feared there was some truth to the above quote. For most of the last decade I've been toiling on projects about Marvel Comics and it gradually transforms my hobby into a chore. It becomes increasingly difficult to approach a Marvel comic - or any other super hero comic - with a genuine fascination in the narrative of the fictional universe. I can't bring myself to care about where any particular stories are going...but I can still appreciate the craft displayed in a good story which is well told.

Since I have this problem with super hero universes, it's really up to the non-super hero books to keep me going as a hobbyist; today I brought home five new comics, all them from non-super hero publishers (five different publishers too). It's been a very long time since I've shared my thoughts on what I'm buying, so why not join me? Thank you.

Sergio Aragones Funnies#3 contains various features by Aragones, some of them the type of gag cartoons he publishes in Mad, but there's also an interesting story about a feature Aragones spent some time sketching up, only to learn it had all been done before. My favourite part of this series, however, are Sergio's autobiographical features; he's lived an interesting life and this issue's tale relates how he met a famous cellist. Sergio's biographical stories are always modest and genuinely human; I hope Funnies carries on for years to come.

Of all the stories which have been told about Lewis Carroll's fiction, Snarked#0 is definitely one of them. It's written/drawn by Roger Langridge, whom I only discovered as of his Muppet Show comics, but he's quickly becoming a favourite writer of mine. Because this is a $1 preview issue, Snarked doesn't do much more than establish the setting and cast of characters for the series, which stars the Walrus and the Carpenter of Through the Looking Glass fame; the Walrus is a grifter and the Carpenter is his dim-witted accomplice. Looks good!

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero#170 continues Larry Hama's return to the franchise he made world famous. This issue carries on various running stories about the return of Sneak Peek (and what he's been up to), Roadblock, Lady Jaye & Flint preparing for a mission (allowing Hama an opportunity to discuss handgun maintenance), Cobra Commander walking through his wax museum (a wonderfully absurd moment typical of Hama), Jane defeating Crystal Ball & Firefly (Crystal Ball being reduced to a joke) and Storm Shadow learning how his family's ninja clan wound up with a Russian branch. So far this series has been heavy on plot and I don't think it's broken out the sort of excellence I know Hama is capable of...but the plot, characters, quips and insights into the armed forces are enough to entertain me until then. Interestingly, Hama's G.I. Joe was the only book in this stack with a writer-artist collaborating team.

I picked up Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo#140 despite having missed #139 while in Angola; #139 was the first of a two-part tale, so I've spoiled myself on the resolution. This story bring back Inspector Ishida, a brilliant detective who's one of the series' best recurring characters. Part of why I enjoy seeing Ishida appear in a Usagi tale is that he's uncommonly good at catching criminals. After years and years of reading super hero comics where criminals are almost never punished, it's cathartic to read the opposite now and then.

Digging back a little ways, I bought Dave Sim's Cerebus Archive#5 as I've been gradually working my way through the series. I've never read Cerebus or much else of Sim's work, but reading Sim's account of how he attempted to break into the comic book industry in the 1970s is utterly fascinating. Of particular note in this issue is a 5-page story Sim had to fluff up to 8 pages and it did suffer from the transition. There's a lot to learn in Cerebus Archive, even if only as a series of cautionary tales.

Over all, this was a good day for me as a comic book hobbyist - humour, action, adventure, biography and a history lesson; while books such as these are being published, I shouldn't want for lack of entertainment!

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