Reading Comics From the Library – My (2) Week(s) in Comics August 8–21

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This week: Evangelizing for libraries, evangelizing for me, and two weeks of What I Read.


I LOVE LIBRARIES


The Multnomah County Library system’s table at the 2007 Stumptown Comics Fest, by Joshin Yamada. Image just completely stolen from that year’s Stumptown Flickr pool.

I’M NOT THAT OLD. I started reading comics when I was 11, and that was 15 years ago, but it really is amazing how much the experience of being a comics reader has changed in that time. And one of the best changes has been the availability of comics in libraries.

For the bulk of my comics-reading years, if I wanted to read something I needed to buy it or borrow it from a friend, and since most of my friends then and now aren’t comics people, that really meant I had to buy. The Clackamas and later Multnomah County library systems were sometimes an option, but for the most part comics I wanted to read were unavailable in libraries.

Now I still can’t get everything I want from the library, but especially since I now have both broader taste and a budget, I’m constantly surprised by just how much is available. The majority of superhero collections I read now come from the library, as do manga series I want to try out and an increasing number of the independent comics I read. Just as an example of the diversity to be found at libraries, I pulled together a list of the comics I have checked out right now. Some I’ve had for a while, some I may not actually read, but all of them grabbed my interest enough for me to check them out and now I can try them if I want. Currently I’ve got:

  • Crogan’s March
  • Freakangels vols. 3 & 4
  • The Adventures of Tintin vol. 1
  • Cat Eyed Boy vol. 1
  • The Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign
  • and waiting for me to pick it up is Punisher Max: Kingpin

Additionally, Captain America: Reborn in the “What I Read” section below came from the library.

That’s a lot of reading that I simply couldn’t have afforded otherwise. But who knows, some of it I may be so taken with I have to buy it later anyway, as was the case with Monster, the first volume of which I got from the library, but many more volumes of which I’ve since purchased.

Libraries seem excited about comics, too. The Multnomah County library system has a booth at the annual Stumptown Comics Fest, and comics events increasingly take place at the libraries themselves, including panels with both locals and visiting artists (one of the first times I saw Scott McCloud speak was at the Central Library in portland). Comics get kids reading, and librarians love to see that. Don’t think kids like comics? Just ask librarians. Maybe they’re checking them out instead of buying them, but if libraries have begun feeding the habit in the last few years, once those kids grow up and have money, they may well become buyers.

Borrowing comics is also a pleasure I’ve enjoyed more often in recent years, as before working at Dark Horse, not many of my friends were more than casual comics readers. Of course, one of my favorite comics, Usagi Yojimbo (which, full disclose, I worked on for a year), was introduced to me this way back in high school.

I worry a little about the future of libraries and of lending. Many of the digital technologies that people now read comics or watch video on are locked-down devices. Buy a comic on an iPad and you can’t lend it out. I made a joke about this in the column a few weeks ago regarding an issue of Comic Book Comics that it took me a long time to return, but it seems like a serious issue to me. The new technology is actively hostile to the notion of sharing (let alone flirting) in the pre-digital, legal sense: no lending, no trading, no evangelizing by placing a book in a friend’s hands. (Nor can you sell them when you’re tired of them; I periodically upgrade my collection by trading in old comics to Powell’s or to comics shops.)

That’s on the personal lending level. As for libraries, there’s no danger today that you can’t get what you want, since paper books aren’t going away soon, but you can’t check out iPad- or Kindle-format books, nor is there, I think, any way to do so with the current closed software. If digital is the future, I wonder what room there is for libraries there. Information may not necessarily want to be free, but it certainly doesn’t want to be locked up. My feelings about this so far are a little incoherent (the evidence is in the last few paragraphs), but I’ve no doubt media companies would like to condition lending and sharing out of consumers—all the better to sell more stuff—and libraries, one of the central institutions of democracy, are among the best defenses against them.

It’s also just great to try stuff out for free, legally, with a copy that was paid for, of which more copies will be bought if it proves popular, and of which even more will be bought it is popular enough that new copies need to replace old, worn-out ones. I urge everyone to give their library system’s catalog a spin, especially if they have a digital one (like Multnomah County’s no-frills but very functional one). Try out something you’ve been meaning to read, or something you’re curious about, something you’d like to keep up with but likely won’t reread. It’s a great way to expand your reading and stretch your budget, and unless like me you have a bad habit of racking up late fees, it’s free. Go for it; it’s on me.

PLUG!

DON’T FORGET to read my recent interview with Matthew Southworth, artist of Stumptown. We discuss his work with Greg Rucka on that series, how he integrates the research and location photo reference he assembles for the series, the influence of his theater and film background on his comics art, and lots more. It’s good.


And that’s all I got this week (and last), so how about a super-sized “What I Read”? You don’t care which of these I read last week and which I read this week, but I’m also using this to keep track for myself, so they’re split up anyway. The digression from the Deadpool one’s kinda like a mini-essay, so I got that going for me.

READ THIS WEEK 8/8–8/14:

  • Captain America: Reborn by Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch & Butch Guise
    I think I’m done. There is nothing wrong with Brubaker’s Captain America per se, but it has just never grabbed me. I have read all of it through this point from the library, convinced that I’d get it eventually, but my lack of familiarity with the character’s past and the many old(?) characters that keep showing up, plus the series’ frequent involvement in crossovers, has consistently held me at arm’s length. It’s interesting to me that Brubaker’s popularity has blown up since his move to Marvel, and I’m glad it has, since that’s probably what makes Criminal and Incognito viable, but his Marvel work just hasn’t connected with me the way his DC and creator-owned work has. Probably time to try more of his Daredevil run, though.

  • first few chapters of The Complete normalman by Jim Valentino
  • Daredevil Black and White by Peter Milligan, Jason Latour, Rick Spears, Mick Bertilorenzi, Ann Nocenti & David Aja
    I bought this because several people, in talking about this before it was released, praised the Ann Nocenti/David Aja story in Daredevil #500. So I was disappointed when their contribution to this issue turned out to be a prose story (I’ve written before about my disinterest in prose stories in comic books). I tried, since the title and art implied that it was about chess, which I used to play competitively, but the prose style simply didn’t grab me and I didn’t get very far. The rest of the issue was fine in nothing special, but my disappointment over the Nocenti/Aja overwhelmed everything else.
  • last few chapters of Essential Defenders vol. 2 by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema et al.
  • Hickee vol. 1 #1 & vol. 3 #4 by Graham Annable, Nathan Stapley, Vamburto Maduro, Joe White, Scott Campbell & Razmig Mavlian
  • Jan’s Atomic Heart by Simon Roy
  • Justice League: Generation Lost #7 by Judd Winick, Joe Bennet & Jack Jadson
    White Lantern? What? So far I was having no trouble reading this without reading Brightest Day, in which I have no interest, but I don’t really know or care what this is. This series hasn’t had much forward momentum either, so it’s on thin ice.
  • Life Ain’t No Pony Farm by Sarah Burrini
  • Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Archives vol. 1 by Robert P. Thompson, Gaylord DuBois & Jesse Marsh
  • X-Women by Chris Claremont & Milo Manara
    I like that this totally looks like porn, but not in the way that something by, say, Greg Land or Greg Horn (what is it with Gregs?) looks like porn. The story is paper-thin, but it sure is pretty.

READ THIS WEEK 8/15–8/21:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey #1–4 by Jack Kirby
    I remember reading the Treasury Edition 2001 also by Kirby and being amazed that he managed to really credibly pull off the movie’s jump cut from the protohuman throwing the bone in the air to the ship floating in space. In these comics, Kirby does a variation on that jump cut in most issues, establishing an ancient human touched by the Monolith, then smashing forward to 2001, where a direct descendant of that protohuman encounters the Monolith in space and becomes a Star Child. It’s a little repetitive so far, but it appears to be promising that it’s building to something, and the artistic feats and crazed Kirby dialogue are keeping me curious to see what that will be.

  • The Authority: The Lost Year #9 by (Grant Morrison), Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, JJ Kirby & Michael Lopez
    Shows you what a sales draw Morrison is considered to be that his name still appears on this, while Giffen is no longer credited with even the plot on Justice League: Generation Lost, even though I’d wager that more of his plot contribution made it into the current issue of that series than Morrison’s did here.
  • Books With Pictures by Sina Grace
  • Dark Reign: Zodiac #1–3 by Joe Casey, Nathan Fox & Jose Villarrubia
    This has some fun stuff in it, but was much more like a first chapter than I expected. Not all that satisfying as a whole.
  • Deadpool #1000 by a lot of people
    This and Deadpool #900 are my only exposure to the character, though I think a very different version may have shown up in Ultimate Spider-Man. I don’t really remember. Anyway, I picked up #900 to see what the fuss was all about, and because $5 for something that was 104 pages of mostly new material was an incredible deal. (It also made me realize how much slapping a spine on something must cost. While there’s no doubt economy of scale at work—Deadpool #900 probably sold many times as many copies as an average Marvel paperback—it’s pretty amazing that this can cost $5, while a thinner paperback consisting entirely of reprinted material may cost $15 or more. Spines are expensive.)

    #900 didn’t do much for me, but I picked up #1000 on the strength of a list of talent including Howard Chaykin, Peter Bagge, Dean Haspiel, David Lapham, Michael Kuppermann and Philip Bond. Chaykin and Kupperman are the standouts, while Lapham and Haspiel’s were fun. Bagge seems to have phoned it in, which was a bummer, though surely whoever hired him didn’t really expect he had an affinity for the character. Most of the rest of the book is pretty tired humor (obese people are funny! Blackest Night and Twilight are silly!), and the cover gallery in the back was actually one of the more fun elements, since the need to make a gag work within a single image produced some of the most tightly constructed jokes.

    Overall, the problem with the thing is similar to the issue I remember with the first Scary Movie (which is not to say that franchise solved the problem, just that I was fortunate enough not get dragged to any of the sequels): if you’re going to parody something that’s already funny, you have to be funnier. Scream is a knowing, witty film; Scary Movie had nothing to add but scatological humor. Similarly, so many superhero comics are currently irredeemably silly that a parody can hardly hope to top them. The Deadpool Corps story in Deadpool #1000 isn’t actually much more ridiculous than the concept of DC’s rainbow lantern corps, the vampire and Twilight parodies look almost tasteful when published at the same moment Marvel is attempting to cash in on the vampire trend in X-Men, and nothing in the comic marries the sublime with the ridiculous like Roy Harper beating a bunch of gangbangers with a dead cat while hopped up on heroin in the oh-so-serious pages of Rise of Arsenal. Once superhero parodies may have been shooting fish in a barrel; now they simply can’t keep up with the subject they’re mocking.

    Hopefully at least a few people who read this will be moved to pick up an issue of Kupperman’s Tales Designed to Thrizzle rather than another Deadpool comic. Now that is some great humor comics.

  • Gantz vols. 1–4 by Hiroya Oku
  • Monster vols. 10–11 by Naoki Urasawa
    I love Pluto and 20th Century Boys, Urasawa’s two more recent series, but Monster has an addictive quality all its own.
  • Tiny Titans #29 by Art Baltazar and Franco
  • Usagi Yojimbo #130 by Stan Sakai

Cover from Hickee vol. 3 #4 © Nathan Stapley. Images of Deadpool © Marvel Characters, Inc.

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3 Responses to “Reading Comics From the Library – My (2) Week(s) in Comics August 8–21”

  1. Zeo Says:

    Multcolib totally has ebooks! Check the services page. Don’t know if they’ll work on Kindle, but they’d work on an ipad. They’re run through a program (Overdrive) that disables them after your lending period is complete (or at least is supposed to), and the library has rights to n copies of a particular work so it isn’t unlimited downloading.

    • Brendan Wright Says:

      Hey Zeo,

      Hopefully I’m not hair-splitting too much, but I was careful to specify iPad- or Kindle-format books. I’m not sure which of the formats the library offers is the one that reads on the iPad, but per MultCoLib’s FAQ the books are not nor are they likely in the future to be compatible with the iPad’s iBooks software or with the Kindle, as both are closed, proprietary systems. I’m really happy that libraries offer e-books (and audiobooks) for digital checkout, but disappointed that in the marketplace the Apple/Amazon model quickly seems to be becoming the standard. Open formats like the one the library uses are likely to become marginalized, particularly if most people end up buying iPads or Kindles over open-format readers.

      Thanks for bringing up the existing e-book options, though. I should have done that in my original piece, and you make me think that better publicizing the options offered by the library, like you’ve done here, is the best thing to do at the moment. That said, Portland folks with e-book readers, check out MultCoLib’s e-book services, and people elsewhere, ask your libraries what they offer.

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