Saturday, November 24, 2007

Things change (or how Love and Rockets made me go off comics)

Last weekend I did something that has been a long time coming, but nevertheless still surprised me - I cancelled my comics standing order.

Well, I say 'cancelled'; there's still a few last men standing, but basically they'll be so few and far between that my weekly jaunt to the comics shop won't be so weekly anymore. And why did I do this? Simple reason - it's all Love and Rockets' fault.

I've been buying comics now for, ooo, the best part of a decade. In that time I've bought well over 2000 individual issues, and hundreds of graphic novels. The vast majority of them have been DC titles - Superman , Batman, Green Lantern, with a few Marvel books, and a handful of independent titles here and there. And to be honest, I toddled along just fine for many years. But I can tell you exactly when the beginning of the end took place - it was late 2004, when I popped into my local comics shop and was shown a copy of Jaime Hernandez's Locas: The Complete Maggie and Hopey Stories. I remember the comic shop head honcho saying to me "it's books like this that are the reason I opened this shop." I smiled, looked at the admittedly gorgeous artwork as he flicked though the gigantic tome, and didn't buy it.

But a recommendation like that has an effect, and a few weeks later I did buy it, and over Christmas 2004 I sat and I read it from cover-to-cover. And when I was finished, I shook my head and rubbed my eyes like a character from an old Warner Bro. cartoon, because that book had an effect on me unlike anything I'd read in years. 

Now, I read a lot of books, and there's pretty much just a handful of titles that I want to re-read as the years go by. I wanted to read Locas again the moment I finished it. The artwork was incredible, the stories and characters utterly unforgettable. I remember an immediate sense of loss as I contemplated the prospect of not having any more Maggie and Hopey stories to read - of not knowing what these two incredible characters would be getting up to next. Fortunately, I then discovered there were other books to collect featuring Jaime's cast of characters.

I came to Gilbert Hernandez's stories shockingly late - mainly, I'm sad to say, because a friend who read comics and loved Jaime's Locas stories told me that she didn't like Palomar, and I wouldn't either (which subsequently reinforces in my mind why you should always form your own opinions rather than rely on those of others). My first exposure to Palomar, then, came at the beginning of 2006. I was in town for a meeting, and had some time to kill, so I went to Foyles bookshop on the Charing Cross Road. They had a copy of Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories, and I bought it because by that time I'd completely exhausted Jaime's books and I figured his brother's work would be the next best thing.

Palomar, however, is not the next best thing: it is completely different to Locas, but every bit as compelling. And I subsequently bought up everything that Gilbert had produced.

Which brings us back to the here and now. In hindsight, I've been feeling a little disillusioned with comics for a while now. I think one of the other comic shop guys summed it up best when he mentioned in conversation one day that the Superman and Batman books were the comics equivalent of a soap opera - it's reasonably entering, but utterly unmemorable. I probably said something along the lines of "Hmmm…", bought my books, and went home to read them - but I can't remember what they were like. They probably followed the formulaic path of hero uncovers problem, hero gets involved in huge ruck, hero saves the day - hurrah!

Anyway, the final nail in the coffin of my standing order is two-pronged: firstly, it's basically the fault of the Hernandez brothers. I've been reading the new compact editions of Love and Rockets, both Jaime's and Gilbert's, and they're even more rewarding on subsequent reads; don't believe me? Go read Human Diastrophism then come back and we'll talk about it. When comic stories are this compelling, I simply don't feel the need to buy shedloads of other books each week.

The second part of the prong is purely and simply down to the fact that I'm just bored with the current direction being taken by the superhero genre. I love Batman and Superman as characters - hell, Dark Knight Returns, The Long Halloween, and Superman for all Seasons are some of my favourite stories ever - but when the stories don't grab me, I ain't gonna read 'em. What's really done it, though, is DC's current fascination with universe-destroying crises; I've never been a fan of blockbuster events in comics, and the recent revival of the Multiverse - and the imminent beginning of yet another crisis - is just losing me. I've been reading a lot of comics, but I don't want to have to read every title in order to understand what the hell is going on in the DCU. And don't get me started on the weekly Countdown book; I've read 28 issues of it, and that's enough. I've given up. I don't know what's going on, and I don't care.

Perhaps it's most telling that I can describe to you in incredible detail the very last panel in Maggie the Mechanic, can tell you word-for-word what the dialogue says, but I couldn't for the life of me give you the vaguest idea of what happened in the last issue of Action Comics that I read.

And so, I've dropped all the DCU titles I was reading from my standing order; from 20-odd titles per month, I'm now down to the following books:

• Love and Rockets (including anything by the Hernandez brothers)
DMZ (because it's a fascinatingly grim story with moments of hope)
Groo (Sergio Aragones' Groo was one of the first American comics I ever read, and I retain a fondness for it to this day)
• IDW's Star Trek titles (how could I not - and they are actually quite entertaining)
The Spirit (because I love Darwyn Cooke's art, and Sergio Aragones is taking over writing duties in 2008)
Astonishing X-Men (which I buy for Yaz)
The Complete Peanuts (because Charles Schultz was a genius, and these are beautiful books)

Bearing in mind that only four of those titles are regular monthly books, I think you'll agree I've trimmed quite a lot away. And truth be told, if push came to shove I could pretty much cut it down to just two or three. 

Probably the biggest compliment I can give Love and Rockets, though, is if I compare it to my obsessive love of Star Trek. I've got a bookcase in which I keep all my Star Trek DVDs - all the boxsets, all the movies. On that bookcase, however, I've made room for one other collection: every single Love and Rockets book I own. There is no higher compliment I can give.


Cyfa said...

And just think of the money you'll be saving, too. You'll have that MINI Clubman sooner than you think.

Cyfa said...

P.S. Don't mind me, I'm just time-travelling through. Thought I'd annoy IDV by being FIRST!

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Bugger. Thwarted again. And by one of my own SubC's, too!

Tim said...

Cyfa - That thought didn't escape me!!

Inexplicable Device - you're just too slow these days!

T-Bird said...

Jasquedo! Well written!

I am going to now order the rest of the Hernandez stuff. I am with you on the memorable storylines. Really very well done stuff.

Oh, and I recently finished another one of your recommendations, A Confederacy of Dunces.

My valve hurt when it was over.

Dinah said...

I love the picture of your shelves. I like seeing how people arrange things. Yes, I am weird, but at least I'm in library school, which is a great outlet for my weirdness.

I really liked A Confederacy of Dunces.

Also, partly through your semi-encouragement, I have recorded the first Dinah podcast!

Tim said...

T-Bird - Wahey! I'm glad you like the Los Bros stuff - I'm making it my goal in life to make everyone read Love and Rockets!!

And A Confederacy of Dunces? God, I've been meaning to reread that for years. I think I'm going to get through the remaining books in my 'to read' stack and read it!

I love that it made your valve hurt!!

Dinah - I love a nicely arranged shelf, to. You should see my main bookcase - it's massive; sometimes I just like to look at the book spines and remind myself what I've read. Books are awesome.

I'm soooooo looking forward to listening to your podcast - I might even put it on my iPod!

iPandah said...

Can you get them here? I've never ordered anything from another country before and don't know how it works! Want to read them though! As much as I love my Lenore comics, I'd like to read some other stuff, it's a whole world I know nothing about, and don't know anyone else who knows about it. I feel like I'm teetering on the edge of something great....

Tim said...

Yeah, you can get 'em here!! They're just over a fiver for the new compact editions from Amazon! Jaime's are my personal favourite - start with Maggie the Mechanic, then Girl from Hoppers (the third volume is out in late December); Gilbert's stuff, which is also awesome to the max, starts with Heartbreak Soup, then Human Diastrophism, with the third volume again out in December.

Jaime's stuff kind of comes across more as a linked series of short stories with larger stories scattered throughout, while Gilbert's work is rather epic in scope. Just buy them all from Amazon!!