Lost in the Suburbs and the Genre Oasis – My October in Comics part 2: 10/10-10/16

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This week: Less than I intended. One of this week’s items had to be pushed out into a future column, so we’re running mercifully short this time. Still, there is a section of gushing about Portland landmark Powell’s Books and its Beaverton location’s comics-shelving method, plus the usual What I Read, with hidden reporting on the Wordstock Literary Festival. So there’s that.


POWELL’S GETS COMICS LIKE FEW BOOKSTORES DO

AS I MENTIONED in the previous column, the latest Love and Rockets has inspired me to catch up on Jaime Hernandez’s half of the series. I’m up-to-date on Gilbert’s, but there’s a gap between the latest Jaime material and where I left off with his “Locas.” I have copies of all of the recent books except for Ghost of Hoppers, which a visit to powells.com told me was at Powell’s Books’s (Portland’s massive independent bookstore, which I think is still the largest in the country) Beaverton location.

Normally I would just order the book and it would arrive at the downtown Powell’s, which is a short walk from my apartment, but it’s been a while since I visited the Beaverton store, with its completely different stock of comics. So, misreading the directions on Powell’s website, I jumped on the light rail, and was reminded how narrow the world that I generally inhabit is, as a carless person living in an urban area. Honestly, you forget suburbs even exist, and it is a rude awakening to walk block after block of identical housing developments and strip malls. Anyway, much later, I made it to Powell’s, where the point of this story actually occurs.

I don’t usually ask for help in bookstores, since I like to browse and I end up visiting sections I wouldn’t otherwise if I knew where I was going. I found the manga section first, as it is fairly large, and interestingly, it’s not directly connected to the rest of the comics, though it isn’t far, only an aisle or two away.

When I did find the comics, I quickly noticed something I’ve never seen in a bookstore before: the comics were broken into several genres rather than lumped together as one thing. True, the downtown Powell’s divides comics into Manga, Superheroes and General Graphic Novels (and occasionally shelves them outside of the comics section altogether, like placing copies of The Alcoholic with writer Jonathan Ames’s prose novels), which isn’t bad, but the Beaverton store does even better, with the non-manga comics section broken down into Horror/Fantasy, Superhero, Alternative Comics and Thriller/Mystery. There was also a freestanding display near the manga with a few additional titles, such as a large edition of Crumb’s Fritz the Cat. Powell’s is a very progressive store in terms of what it carries and how knowledgable its staff is, so it’s not representative, but the way the comics were sorted was heartening, as it means some bookstores are starting to get the basic tenet of the graphic novel surge: comics are a medium, not a genre.

Though my browsing was cut short by the amount of time it took me to get to the store, seeing this made my day, and I was still happy about it when I finally got home with my used copies of Ghost of Hoppers and Evan Dorkin’s Hectic Planet vol. 1 (easy impulse buy at $5.50 in the Alternative Comics section). More on the Jaime binge in the next column.

READ THIS WEEK:

  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 by Grant Morrison, Ryan Sook, Pere Pérez & Mick Gray
    Coming together. I should by now be used to details that seem like throwaway lines becoming fully fleshed-out plot points many issues down the line, but Morrison is still good at surprising with them. I’m currently e-mailing back and forth with my uncle, who is reading The Invisibles for the first time, and explaining exactly this point to him, how much of the pleasure of Morrison’s serialized work is in accumulation, as references and story beats pile up and build over time. Nice work on Sook’s part almost plausibly combining Gotham of the ’80s (’90s?) with a ’30s aesthetic, and on Pérez’s part imitating Sook. I likely wouldn’t have noticed the artist change if it weren’t called out in the credits.
  • I Thought You Would Be Funnier by Shannon Wheeler
    Picked this up at Wordstock, Portland’s literary festival, where I worked the Dark Horse booth this year. Usually there is a bigger comics area, but this year the show conflicted with NYCC, and that gutted the section, which consisted of just DH, Cosmic Monkey Comics (a local retailer), the Stumptown Foundation, Stumptown Underground (an area zine), and Shannon Wheeler, whose booth was next to us. Wordstock itself took up considerably less space than in previous years, though I’m told attendance was about level. Shannon and I thought it was very funny to announce that he would sign at the DH booth between 3 & 3:30 on Sunday, but most people who saw the sign just seemed confused, as he was at the booth right next to DH all weekend, and the other guys working the booth with me just looked at me like I was an idiot.

    Anyway, the book is a selection of Wheeler’s rejected New Yorker cartoons. Seven have been published in the magazine, but to get that many in, hundreds have to be drawn, so many of the best are in this book. I’m not sure what you say about a book of gag cartoons except that they made me laugh, which they did. I’m not a close enough reader of New Yorker cartoons to have ever gotten a sense of who the individual cartoonists are from the magazine, so I’ve always enjoyed single-cartoonist collections as an opportunity to get to know them and the themes they return to better. Wheeler’s worldview as expressed here is familiar from his comic strips Too Much Coffee Man, Postage Stamp Funnies and How to Be Happy: ironic, somewhat cynical, but ultimately wide-eyed and almost innocent. Oh, and funny.

  • Knight and Squire #1 by Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton
    Funny stuff, and an impressive feat of world-building, but I don’t think I’ll have a real sense of this until I’ve read another.
  • New Avengers #5 by Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & Laura Martin
  • Nightwing: Year One by Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens (library)
    I had forgotten how well Dixon handles these characters. For what could so easily be an exercise in connect-the-dot continuity work, this is a real story about Dick Grayson moving out from under his longtime mentor’s influence and establishing his own identity, which makes an interesting read in this era of Grayson-as-Batman. I have also always enjoyed Dixon’s take on Dick and Barbara Gordon’s flirtatious quasi-relationship. And there aren’t many more perfect matches between artist and character in recent superhero comics than Scott McDaniel and Nightwing. This story draws even more attention than usual to Dick’s circus background, so it’s a pleasure to see McDaniel, who specializes in great aerial angles and acrobatic anatomy, return to the character.
  • Papercutter #14 by Dave Roche, Nate Beatty, Brian Maruca, Jim Rugg & Farel Dalrymple
  • Rambo 3.5 by Jim Rugg
    Intense. Insane. Hilarious.
  • Tiny Titans/Little Archie #1 by Art Baltazar & Franco Aureliani
    This was exactly what I wanted it to be. Adorable as can be, and made me laugh in several places. Read this.
  • Whoa Nellie! by Jaime Hernandez
    The beginning of my Jaime binge. It feels like its mainly an art exercise, but it has a very nice story of friendship bumping up against ambition, and is loads of fun.

Images of Hectic Planet © Evan Dorkin. Images of Tiny Titans/Little Archie © DC Comics & Archie Comics

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