Tom Spurgeon

The above clip is from an essay by writer, journalist and editor Tom Spurgeon, who died on Monday. He was 51. (So am I.) Tom and I have been in comics for pretty much the same amount of time.

I remember back in April that he wrote the following words, which caused me to wonder:

I want sloppy, beautiful, devastating art. I want experiences through art that are troubling and terrifying and joyful. I want to be desperate to catch up.

The object of my affection may not be the same as yours, and in fact I hope it isn’t. I want to die with my head on its shoulder.

And then, I think, he did. I hope he did. I hope he left with calm and with love, because he deserved it.

RAIN, Mary & Bryan Talbot

Just arrived – it’s Bryan’s new book!

(As it does with all British comics people of a certain age, it summons memories of bumping into Bryan somewhere and hearing “Have you seen me new book?”)

It looks gorgeous, the wide shape allowing Bryan and Mary to try something akin to the newspaper-strip format. Any new work by the Talbot makes it a good day, out here in my (also rainy) coastal cave. Thanks, both of you.

RUSTY BROWN

I bought RUSTY BROWN by Chris Ware because I am a peasant farmer in the field he owns. It is, of course, completely illegible without a magnifying glass.

X-MEN: Design Hocus Pocus

A brief note to congratulate Jonathan Hickman and Tom Muller for their many excellent charts in issues of Marvel Comics serials HOUSE OF X and POWERS OF X. Very pleasing.

Further notes: POWERS OF X should be pronounced POWERS OF TEN, and while the book’s abbreviations are HOX and POX, these should be pronounced HOCUS and POCUS.

BTTM FDRS, Ezra Clayton Daniels & Ben Passmore

Once a thriving working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the “Bottomyards” is now the definition of urban blight. When an aspiring fashion designer and her image-obsessed BFF descend upon the hood in search of cheap rent, they discover something far more seductive… and deadly.

This new graphic novel from Fantagraphics was a lot of fun. Gentrification-cycle near-cosmic horror, absolutely ruthless and clear-eyed about threat and victims both:

Brilliantly constructed, beautifully cartooned and lit – just look how Passmore 1) remembers to get the glow of the phone on her in the violet hour 2) how he matches the colour of the glow to the colour of the speech balloon – this book was a rich, weird journey. and deserves to be nominated for everything next year.

The Wicked And The Divine

Before I shut up shop for the day, a brief note to congratulate Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (along with their various collaborators and guests) on joining the thousand-page-graphic-novel club with the conclusion to their best-selling and ground-breaking series THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE. It has been a sheer pleasure to see them reaching higher and higher and gaining new territory each time. Well done, lads.

On The Official Retirement Of Alan Moore From The Parish Of Comics

We note here the official retirement of Mr Alan Moore from the field, after the conclusion of his LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN in collaboration with Kev O’Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Todd Klein. He changed everything.  Anglophone comics went through a profound transformation due to his work in the field. We wish him a peaceful retirement from the comics form and an immortal lifespan in which to enjoy it.

We also note the conclusion of LOEG itself, a work whose final sequence is entirely without human characters, because none of the players are human: simply names and costumes moved around a burning stage before an audience numbed by their terrible aspect, and therein lies the lesson.

(lifted from a recent edition of my newsletter, Orbital Operations)

Comics Train: 6

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series comics train

The graphic novella is a thing I’d wanted to talk about a bit.

I characterise the graphic novella as 48 to 64 pages, ish. 40 on the “yeah, okay, if I squint at it, I can kinda let you have that” end, 72 at the top end?

This is yet another format that I’ve been banging on about for probably decades. Yeah, there’s a pattern, haha. I’ve been delighted to see Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have so much success with it, most recently with BAD WEEKEND.

In an ideal world, as I enter the late period of my career, I’d have a partnership with an artist where I could write three or four graphic novellas a year. I like the novella form. NORMAL, my last prose book, was a 30,000 novella.

At 64 pages, a graphic novella can be sold in bookstores as well as comics shops. At 48, it becomes more of a comics-shop-only thing, and that’s okay too. With the same team producing them, 48-page books can be collected into a “box set” trade paperback after a year — being very old, I have this memory that The Smiths produced a single every three months and one album a year, and the notion is kind of in that zone.

(Obviously, that citation comes from the simpler days when we’d say “okay, that comment by Morrissey was kinda strange and creepy and a bit racist, he can’t possibly have meant that,” not from today, when… well, you know)

Anyway. There’s nothing wrong with a format optimised for comics shop sales. But comics retail goes through periods of deep financial conservatism, and there’s a fair chance a few thousand stores will not want your graphic novella about something that isn’t Batman, you know? The decision that Ed and Sean and Image took with BAD WEEKEND and MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES, to do chunkier, pricier 64-page hardback editions that can appeal to both comics and books markets, is probably an economically sound one. Doing new original material in comics is always a re-invention of the wheel in a market entirely happy with horsepower and good solid saddlebags. Most people don’t want to bet their own money on the future. I’m not pointing any fingers. Life in retail has become uniquely hard in this period, and comics retail has always been more reading-entrails and rolling-bones than economic science.

I’ve told this story before, but, an aeon ago, I was at a retailer meeting, where a guy said, “I don’t want all this new shit. I just want the old stuff, but done better.” And I said to him, by that reasoning, if WATCHMEN came out today, you wouldn’t order it for your store. And he looked me in the eye and said “So?”

So when I spin out these notions and daydreams about comics formats and engines in this blogchain, I am always entirely aware that, even though I think their consideration and exploitation would enhance the medium – nobody wants these things. I’m just muttering to myself and hoping I’m providing food for thought for somebody down the line.

But, yeah, I daydream about my little line of graphic novellas with an artist who was prepared to strike out for the edges of the territory with me. In my head, they’d even have a shared trade dress, like the Second Run DVD catalogue…

The Sunsetting Of DC Vertigo

From this press release:

DC announced today that beginning in 2020, all of its publishing content will be organized and marketed under the DC brand, creating three age-specific labels – DC Kids, DC and DC Black Label – that would absorb all of its existing imprints and focus DC’s publishing content around characters and stories that evolve and mature along with the awareness and sensibilities of DC’s readers. As a result of this new labeling strategy, DC will sunset the Vertigo publishing imprint at the end of the year.

This is a saddening thing. I was never really a “Vertigo writer” – TRANSMETROPOLITAN was brought into Vertigo after the sunsetting of the DC Helix line it was actually created for and published by, and I only did a handful of issues of HELLBLAZER before I had to leave, I never really “fit” there the way Garth and Grant and everyone else did, never for a moment felt like I was in that club – but I’ve always believed that DC Vertigo was central to the health of the American medium. Its creation made the medium a better place, and its sunset will make the medium poorer. Companies like Vault Comics have stepped into the breach, to be sure — their line is very much an early-Vertigo ideal. But: a giant media company putting relatively serious resources into serious work that the company would not own but simply believed should be published? That was a major statement about original creator-owned cross-genre/non-genre narrative art and its importance. Something of importance sailed away at sunset tonight, and I suspect we may not see it again. Good night, you crooked old house of mystery and secrets. I’ll miss you.

WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE CASTLE, Emily Carroll

I’ve followed Emily Carroll’s work since her webcomics days, and I was delighted to learn of this book, published by the magnificent Koyama Press.

She does things with the page that are partway between webcomic, manga and children’s picture book (it’s not for children).  Anyone working in comics should be looking at this.  

When you learned to do comics on the scroll, you look at the solid page in very different ways, I guess. There’s something completely brave and fresh about how she cracks out of standard ideas about panelling and progression, and being unafraid to look at picture-book narrative constructs to serve a story that is not for children without ever once being twee or cute. There’s an immense energy and a sense that she gives no fucks for your rules.

I mean, I must have scribbled down ten pages of notes after my first read. It distills enough ideas about comics to coalesce about five different ways forward.

WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE CASTLE (UK) (US)