Emitown and the life weighed down – my 2 weeks in comics 11/21–12/4

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This week: Emitown comes to print, but I have a PDF. Which is probably good, because damn, I have way too many comics and they have taken over my apartment. Also, I read two weeks’ of them. Maybe I should get rid of them afterward. Hmm.


EMITOWN COMES TO YOUR TOWN

I DON’T KNOW what to make of Emi Lenox. In person, she’s quick-witted, funny and a bit loud, the kind of person who makes me a little nervous for fear of making a fool of myself, which I have reliably done about half the times we’ve chatted. Her autobiographical comics are very different: often quiet and contemplative, revealing exactly the insecurities and lapses of self-confidence that I am familiar with. The contrast is a bit daunting, but eye-opening, a study in the different faces people show the world and a glimpse into the worlds people contain within them. And, as the creator of fanciful alter egos and a complex system of symbols and icons, Lenox has genuinely built a world for herself, or at least a town. Of course, the thing that Lenox’s comics have in common with her public face is that they are also very funny.

I first met Lenox while visiting the Top Shelf booth at the 2009 Emerald City Comicon. She was behind the booth, working my old job as a Top Shelf intern. Top Shelf publisher Brett Warnock had by then told her she should post her diary comics online, but she hadn’t yet started making minicomics of them or promoting them in earnest. We got to talking and she directed me to her comics online.

At first Lenox’s work reminded me of Jim Mahfood, though she wasn’t familiar with him, but over time it has become more and more her own thing. Rather than breaking up the comic by story, in true diary fashion she breaks it up by day, with each day getting a page, and she never skips a day, even if it can take a long time to get a day drawn. Which is not to say story threads don’t reveal themselves over time, but they do the way they do in life: a detail here, another there, until it adds up to something, but without obvious beginnings, middles, and ends. Lenox’s emphasis is less on revealing herself to the world, and more on creating a forum to work on her comics skills, the funny things that occur to and around her as the raw material from which she shapes excitingly designed pages and carefully encoded longing.

I bring all of this up, of course, because the first book collection of Emitown, Lenox’s daily comics journal, is being published December 22nd by Image Comics. Lenox sent me a PDF of the book, which spans from the end of April 2009 to the end of April 2010. It’s an attractive package, hand-lettered and designed in the same simple style as the comics themselves, with the same single, blue spot color. Over the course of the book, Lenox’s art grows frighteningly fast, and it changes considerably as she adopts a brush pen as her primary tool partway through. If Lenox’s formidable drawing and page design skills aren’t enough, she blew me away when we first discussed her work by telling me that she doesn’t spend a lot of time sketching out the layout or penciling, going straight to ink before scanning and toning.

Emitown is also a great read, chronicling what I suspect will turn out to have been a key year in Lenox’s life, as she makes friends in the comics world and becomes more confident about her work. It’s an entertaining read for the humor, the characters, and the great sensibility that frames it all, but it should also appeal to anyone interested in breaking into comics, or what the comics scene is like, or fans of breakfast burritos. You can read the comic on Lenox’s website, and I encourage everyone to do so, but I think the book will be worth picking up to be able to see the growth of a young artist finding herself as you turn the pages.

THE FEAR OF BEING CRUSHED TO DEATH BY COMICS

A small portion of the problem

TRIED THIS WEEKEND to clean my apartment, but precious little scrubbing of surfaces got done, as the entire project was highjacked by hours of soul-deadening work converting comics from stacks strewn on every surface into packs to go to work, friends, and the high school I used to teach at, boxes, or, failing that, at least slightly more orderly stacks.

The problem, of course, is that I have too many comics, and outside of things I get tired of, acquire doubles of, or never intended to keep, I’m not very good at getting rid of them. I’m not the tidiest person in the world to begin with, but I’ve hit the point where comics are in stacks not because I can’t be bothered to put them away, but because I am out of shelf space for them. I’m doing what I can: reading more from the library, making an effort to read through the huge backlog instead of buying as many, and regularly putting together bags to go to work or school. But even so, the problem is worse week by week as I bring home the things on my pull list, Dark Horse comps (all the books I work on, plus all the stapled comics DH publishes), some of the DC comics that circulate through the office, and books from other publishers where I have friends.

I don’t generally buy a lot of things, having conquered my DVD habit a few years back, and thanks to my love of the library, regular books aren’t the problem they once were, but since I am also a collector of comics, I’m more inclined to hold onto them, even if I’m not likely to reread them frequently. The library is helping, and I tend to return a lot of the things I find at work when I’m done with them (like The Red Hood below), though that’s kind of a wash, since those are mainly things I wouldn’t have brought home in the first place if they weren’t free. So it’s still a habit that’s dying harder than the book one. It’s adding up at a staggering pace, and this weekend showed that the bulk of comics taking up space in the apartment is actually making my life more complicated.

The comics market still depends on collectors. Book collectors are a small niche within book readers, but I’d wager that the majority of non-casual comics readers are also comics collectors. What I wonder is at what point collecting turns into hoarding? Am I there yet? Are some of the people I work with? I shudder to think of how much work moving all of these comics will be, and that is probably part of what’s kept me in this apartment for five years, even though I could live more cheaply closer to work.

I enjoy Robot 6’s recurring Shelf Porn feature, and I admire the people who contribute, because even if they haven’t beaten the accumulation habit, they have managed to take a certain control of it, at least in terms of theme and organization. By contrast, the comics in my apartment are a model of the axiom that the things you own come to own you. I would never submit the shelves pictured above to Shelf Porn, as they are an example of how much I do not have control over the comics that I own, to the point that I spent hours this weekend serving these shelves and the boxes on them, without much to show for it.

To be fair, those shelves are the worst I’ve got, with most of the books on them in no real order. The bookcases and other storage schemes throughout the apartment are organized alphabetically or by format. These are the problem shelves that I’m slowly chipping away at. The top shelf and one of the boxes are filled with books I worked on, while the file box on top is tax papers and other non-comics-related stuff, but the rest are all just disorganized books, many yet to be read. There’s also a precarious stack on the nightstand, a to-read box snuck in by my recliner, and several boxes across town in a pantry in my parents’ house (as Mort Milfington would say, “Shameful! Ignominious!”).

No matter how much you love something, when it’s attached to physical products, having too much of it is oppressive. Possessions really do weigh you down, and I’ve begun fantasizing about simply getting rid of all the comics, without regard to whether they are rare or signed or beloved or whatever. But what happens when I want to refer to an issue of Swamp Thing or reread a favorite Black Jack? The next day after the cleaning fiasco, I brought a big stack of comics with me to work and left them in the breakroom. Later, I spotted a fresh stack of DC comps nearby and dug out about six comics, then realized what I was doing. I didn’t bring them home, leaving them in my office instead while I decide if I really want to try to find a place for some of them and hoping that maybe I’ll read some of them there on my lunch break or something, then put them back. I need help.

READ THIS WEEK 11/14–11/20:

  • Casanova: Luxuria #4 by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Bá
  • Doom Patrol #16 by Keith Giffen, Brian Keene & Al Milgrom
    Hooray for Keith Giffen on art! The man knows how to keep things dynamic and exciting, and no one draws Ambush Bug as well as his creator. I’m liking the new post-Chief status quo as well, with Cliff buckling under his new leadership pressures.
  • Liberty Annual 2010 by various
    It seems almost unfair to pass judgment on something like this, with money going to charity and the artists involved donating their time and talent. Suffice to say some of the stories hit, some miss, but it’s a good cause, so get it anyway.
  • JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol. 4 by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, Frank Quitely, Ed McGuinness, et al.
    I’ve been mostly really happy with this presentation of one of my favorite superhero comics of the ’90s. They’re nicely enough designed if not flashy, have corrected some strange edits from the paperbacks, the larger size definitely flatters the art of Quitely, McGuinness, and even Porter, and they are comprehensive with one notable exclusion. I was disappointed that DC One Million wasn’t included in the previous volume, considering that it was written by Morrison and was essentially an extra JLA arc with a larger-than-usual supporting cast, and the inclusion of the JLA tie-in issue made its absence even more glaring. However, this volume is just about perfect, including Morrison and Porter’s finale, “World War Three,” which establishes Earth as the cradle of the Fifth World (and therefore anticipates elements of Morrison’s Batman and Final Crisis), Earth 2, which is a clever story elevated by Quitely’s art, and Morrison’s more recent three issues of JLA Classified, a sort of prologue to Seven Soldiers. I remembered all three fondly, and each almost lived up to my recollection.
  • Papercutter #5 by Kazimir Strzepek, Liz Prince & Bwana Spoons
  • Red Hood: The Lost Days #3–#5 by Judd Winick & Jeremy Haun
    Weird. I don’t know what I was expecting from this series, but “Jason Todd, scourge of international arms dealers” wasn’t it.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver
    Somewhere along the way this got boring.
  • Spider-Man Family #3 by Paul Tobin, Pierre Alary, Jean Paul Fernandez, Fred Van Lente, Leonard Kirk, Terry Pallot & Yamanaka Akira
    Another breakroom find. What a bargain, $5 for two main stories, a complete reprinting of What If? #1, and my first exposure to the very weird, very adorable Spider-Man J (manga Spider-Man), who actually calls himself Spider-Man J and whose costume features the spider symbol, but with a “J” on it, implying that he exists in a continuity that also has the regular Spider-Man, of which he is a counterpart. But that’s not the case—he is Peter Parker, he has an Aunt May (who is young and cute, natch). I’m impressed how freely Yamanaka Akira was able to adapt Spider-Man J, which bears no resemblance to the regular Spider-Man in terms of supporting cast, tone, or enemies. As for the main story, I loved Pierre Alary’s simplified Fantastic Four designs and enjoyed Paul Tobin’s slight but entertaining take on their conflict with Spider-Man.
  • Strange Science Fantasy #4 by Scott Morse
    Scott Morse, never change.
  • Vertigo Resurrected: Shoot by Warren Ellis, Phil Jiminez, Andy Lanning and various
    I’d read most of the material here, but there were a few surprises, and overall this is a good selection of Vertigo shorts. The main attraction impresses me a lot less than when I first tracked it down years ago, more a tract with a very strange conclusion than a story. Nice art, worth seeing for the curiosity factor, but among the weaker contents.

READ THIS WEEK 11/21–12/4:

  • Action Comics #895 by Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, Nick Spencer & R.B. Silva
    Action Comics Annual #13 by Paul Cornell, Marco Rudy & Ed Benes
    Batman and Robin #17 by Paul Cornell, Scott McDaniel & Rob Hunter

    Triple dose of Paul Cornell. The regular Action Comics series is chugging along, with a revelation to move things forward just as the “tour of DCU villainy” element was starting to get tired, so well-timed there. The annual’s lead story was a lot of fun, with some insight into how Luthor got started in Metropolis, a fun take on his first meeting with Darkseid, and a page layout design cribbed from The Hunger Dogs, which all added up to a nice, breezy story. The backup somehow had the opposite effect, a bit of a pain to get through. The story is carried entirely by captions rather than action, and Ed Benes completely fails to create any visual interest between Ra’s Al Ghul and Luthor, depicting the two looking past each other with thousand-yard stares.

     The post-Morrison regular creative team on Batman and Robin doesn’t interest me, but I stuck around for this fill-in arc because I’ve been enjoying Action Comics and because I’m a longtime Scott McDaniel fan. The story is interesting so far, but feels like some details have been left out, a few skips stepped in explaining the mystery. McDaniel’s art looks a little different than I’m used to, a bit less cartoony, but it still has a strong acrobatic element, appropriate as Dick Grayson, whose adventures as Nightwing McDaniel drew for many years, is now Batman.

  • Batwoman #0 by J.H. Willimans III, W. Haden Blackman & Amy Reeder
    Pretty much a perfect zero issue, using Batman’s investigation to confirm that Kate Kane is Batwoman as an elegant method of both implying forward momentum for fans of Batwoman’s Detective Comics run and reintroducing all of the key details about her for new readers. Williams illustrates the top half of most pages, the majority of which are spreads, while Amy Reeder brings a softer, more European look to the bottom half following Kate in her civilian identity. This being Batwoman, the top half/bottom half thing isn’t strict, with several spreads divided diagonally by jagged, batwing lines, and the halves flipping at one point. Reeder’s art is quite different from Williams’s (though Williams himself used several different styles in the Detective run, echoed here whenever Batman notes how many styles Batwoman is combining in her fights), but very well integrated, even including a page where the top and bottom halves interact flawlessly. Enough time had passed since the Rucka/Williams run that I’d more or less forgotten about Batwoman, but this #0 has me looking forward to the new series.
  • Detective Comics #871 by Scott Snyder, Jock & Francesco Francavilla
    Pretty solid start.
  • Fantastic Four #585 by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting & Paul Mounts
    Hickman’s run impressed me so much early on, but so much of it feels mechanical now, predetermined, like the four one-off issues introducing the four cultures that would clash, all coincidentally emerging at once and all with neon signs announcing that they would be important later. This approach finds its apotheosis in “Three,” as the covers of the entire arc have featured a countdown to the death of one of the Four. Talk about overdetermined. On the plus side, Steve Epting’s realism has proven a great fit for the title.
  • King City #12 by Brandon Graham
    I felt a bit let down by this finale at first, but thinking afterward I realized that it couldn’t have ended with a bang; that would have flown in the face of the series’ low-key energy and refusal to play by anyone else’s rules. As it is, King City was the perfect forum for Graham’s brand of lethargic sexiness, and the sweet, character-driven conclusion was just right.
  • Legion of Superheroes #7 by Paul Levitz, Francis Portela, Yildiray Cinar & Wayne Faucher
  • Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #12 by Jeff Parker, Juan Santacruz & Raul Fernandez (MDCU)
    My first try with Marvel’s browser-based reader. It’s really slow. The comic itself features a story called, “Doom, Where’s My Car?” and it’s exactly what you want it to be.
  • RASL #9 by Jeff Smith
    I don’t remember where we were. Time for a reread.
  • Scarlet #3 by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
    This is still really working for me. This issue begins phase two of Scarlet’s plan and has me drawn in even more. It’s also the first indication that she may really be going off the deep end. There’s no way she could know all those cops are dirty.
  • Strange Tales by various
    So thrilled the hardcover includes Peter Bagge’s Megalomaniacal Spider-Man. I haven’t read that in forever, and it completely holds up. Interestingly enough, the plot involves Peter Parker going public about his relationship to Spider-Man, but not that he is Spider-Man, and starting a business venture called Spider-Man Inc. Beat Morrison to it by almost ten years.
  • Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali Deluxe Edition by Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano & Terry Austin
    I really enjoyed this. They got Ali’s persona down cold, and Adams draws him perfectly. The story’s silly, but fun, and I’m enough of a softy to appreciate the Earth being saved by Fair Play. I was a bit let down by the presentation, which leaves the remembrances to just Adams and former DC President Jeanette Kahn, when voices from outside of DC may have better contextualized the comic and the period, although the key to the people on the cover was a nice touch. I also don’t recall the solicitation saying that it would be recolored. Oh well, I picked the deluxe rather than facsimile edition partially in the hopes that the dual release might make the original easier to find affordably.
  • Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds (library)
    Not a lot of graphic novels feel like novels. This one does. The art is beautifully gestural, the characters are complicated, and the emotions feel real, though one of the deaths seemed a little cheap. Overall, Simmonds has created a great piece of fiction that doesn’t need extraneous genre elements or nerdy child-men. The new movie adaptation looks pretty good, too.

Images of Emitown © Emi Lenox. Images of JLA © DC Comics, Inc. Images of King City © Brandon Graham

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