Signs announcing today’s Free Comic Book Day at the Hollywood District Things From Another World. Also, there is a good chance that any event you attend in Portland will include pirates. There’s like a law or something.
Last year, Free Comic Book Day turned into a minature odyssey, with eight posts in one day, three store visits, and 18 capsule reviews. This year I decided not to go quite that crazy, so it’ll be one post with two brief store visits and reviews of the books I find especially interesting for one reason or another.
My neighborhood store, Floating World Comics, opened at 11. I left my house at 11, so I missed the pre-event crowd, though store owner Jason Leivian said there had been a long line outside before opening. Looking over at the table of free comics, still plenty there, but some noticeable holes, it was easy to believe. Floating World doesn’t impose a limit on the number of different comics customers can pick up, and Leivian wondered aloud if next year it might be time to decide on one.
Now having read Brad Trip, the store’s own FCBD entry, I took another look at the wall displaying its artwork. I still don’t know what to make of non-narrative comics, but Brad Trip is growing on me, and I feel like just a few more examples of surreal and abstract comics might be all it takes for me to warm to the genre.
Original art from Brad Trip, the surrealist comics anthology produced by Floating World and a few local publishers.
As I browsed the shop, I noticed the line at the register, which was fairly long. Continuing to look around and selecting a few Benjamin Marra comics (readers of A Life Lived in Comics will recognize that name as one of my current comics obsessions), including the broadsheet edition of Marra’s illustrations inspired by the film version of American Psycho, I waited until the line shortened a bit. By the register there were free chocolate chip cookies, baked by a customer, and a box of additional comics labeled Free With Purchase. Some good stuff in there, like the Madman Giant-Size Super Ginchy Special and Batman #700, but I’d previously read the things that caught my eye. I always love it when FCBD is a little more curated like that, though, with stores giving away things that they personally think new readers will enjoy, not just what the publishers make available that year.
Later in the day, around 3, I briefly visited Things From Another World’s Sandy Blvd. location, just because I like to see how a more mainstream-oriented store does things. Cosmic Monkey, further up Sandy, straddles the line, but TFAW provides the stronger contrast with Floating World. In its last days before it moves to a new location on NE Broadway, this TFAW branch had opened at 9 to a big crowd. Store manager Sean Wynn told me that they had ordered heavily on several titles, but by 3 all that remained were the two DC books (the New 52 book was especially available, as TFAW had ordered enough to get a specially printed version with the store’s information on the cover) and Donald Duck. Wynn mentioned that 150 free Mouse Guard hardcovers had flown off the shelves.
Sequential Art Gallery curator and PDX Yar! member Kaebel Hashitani stands in line to buy The Stuff of Legend and some PEZ, in costume as The Ronin. He is clearly not a pirate, but his PDX Yar! bio says he joined up with the pirates after a three-day bender; the group’s backstory is nothing if not intricately thought out.
There had been store signings from noon to 2, and a clearance sale for the month of May was beginning, so the store remained busy despite the free comics running out. The two stores I visited were not alone. I bumped into Sequential Art Gallery’s Kaebel Hashitani, there as part of the pirate invasion of the store (because Portland), and he spoke of having just heard from Bridge City Comics, where things had only begun to slow down a half hour before. On my way out I was pleased to see a table by the front of the store showcasing a wide variety of all-ages comics, most if not all marked down 50% as part of the clearance sale.
Free Comic Book Day isn’t really aimed at me. I’m not only already a convert—a hardcore fan, actually—but a professional working in the industry (I actually worked on one of this year’s FCBD comics, the Guild portion of one of Dark Horse’s two 2012 entries). Still, it’s instructive every year to look at how various publishers handle the event: who aims it at new readers, who at hyping the next big event, who creates original stories, and who offers previews.
The FCBD comics on display at Floating World Comics. By 11:15 (the store opened at 11) there are already noticeable gaps due to the popularity of the event.
The New 52
As I mentioned in the post for Friday, I read DC’s New 52 comic early, since it arrived at the office in a box of comps. I didn’t read the Flashpoint series that led into DC’s relaunch, and I haven’t followed the Justice League series, but I did hear about the Pandora character, and so I knew the deal with this story. Still, it obviously falls into the hype-for-existing-fans category. It makes a move toward new reader friendliness by reintroducing Pandora as though for the first time, and is successful at that, but provides no reason why a new reader should care about her. Anyone picking up this comic because it shows the Justice League on the cover will be disappointed, as they’d appear only briefly in the final pages.
In the course of the story, a new origin is hinted at for the Phantom Stranger and the Question, who like the Stranger now somehow has a link to cosmic events, a move surely calculated to raise eyebrows among those familiar with the character and successful in raising mine. However, this is again meaningless to anyone not already familiar with the characters, who will not know and should not care that this constitutes a change from what came before. Like the direction that Marvel’s Ultimate universe eventually took, the New 52 has been preoccupied with changing characters in ways that seemed aimed at raising questions for existing fans rather than piquing the interest of new ones.
It reminds me of the complaints that Marvel executives and writers came to have about the Ultimate books. Prior to the Ultimatum crossover event, they began lamenting things happening in them that weren’t sufficiently impossible in the main Marvel universe, a concern irrelevant to whether they were entertaining to readers unfamiliar with other Marvel comics. Furthermore, it revealed either a misunderstanding of the line’s purpose or an admission that its goal of gaining new readers had failed, making it valuable only in selling an additional version of Spider-Man or the X-Men to people who already read those characters in other comics and who insisted that the versions be different enough to keep them interested in both.
I’ll be avoiding the “Trinity War” event that this comic teases, because it looks to be only about DC comics rather than anything real and, judging by this teaser, doesn’t even deliver silly concepts and punching, just portent and continuity patches.
One of my most anticipated FCBD comics each year is Tugboat Press’s entry, as it’s essentially an extra issue of the excellent Papercutter anthology. This year’s is called Runner Runner and features a wonderful variety of art styles with mostly one-page stories ranging from gags to autobio to social satire to poignant vignettes. With contributions from the likes of Kalah Allen, Jesse Reklaw, Rich Tommaso, Joey Alison Sayers, Elijah Brubaker, Lilli Carré and a lot more, it’s a pleasure on every page and makes a great case for the curious how many ways comics stories can be told. It makes me wonder how common local additions to FCBD like this are. I take it for granted in Portland that the preponderance of local publishers means there will be several books that probably aren’t widely available, but what about other cities? Is this the case elsewhere too? What awesome FCBD comics from other places am I missing out on?
Marvel’s releases didn’t hold much interest this year. I didn’t see the advertised Avengers reprint, though there was an FCBD-branded reprint of the most recent Avengers #1, which I remember being fine, though the series lost me around issue #3. I did get the Ultimate Spider-Man TV tie-in, but put it down when I saw that it was illustrated with screen caps from the show rather than original art. A pretty weak showing.
Dinosaurs vs. Aliens
After Runner Runner, the one I was most curious about was Dinosaurs vs. Aliens, for a mixture of the lameness of the concept and the involvement of Grant Morrison. I haven’t read any new comics written by Morrison since Batman, Inc. ended, since I think all that’s come out in that time is his run on Action Comics, and I haven’t felt like buying any Superman comics while Time Warner/DC fights so ugly to prevent the lawful and just reclamation of copyright for the earliest issues of Action Comics (short version: no one disputes that Superman was not created work for hire, and copyright law says the creators’ families may apply for reversion of copyright). It’s . . . weird, a short preview of the upcoming graphic novel and film consisting of several nicely drawn and detailed panels of dinosaurs by Mukesh Singh, with narration from an alien admitting that the invasion may have been a mistake, followed by some script pages and sketches.
There’s nothing wrong with it, but I’m left with no more of a sense of what the thing is than I had before. I like the colorful depiction of the dinosaurs, though the coloring is otherwise pretty muddy, and if there’s more to the story than the title there’s no evidence in the few pages shown here. This is why I dislike publishing previews rather than new stories for FCBD; just showing the first few pages of a project and then stopping before it gets interesting isn’t much of a sales pitch. The inside front cover directs readers to an app, but neither a search of Apple’s app store or the app section of Liquid’s website turns it up.
The 2000AD sampler works better as a preview, leading off with a new four-page Judge Dredd story that does a great job of explaining who he is and what he’s about though the device of an interview for, I guess, morning radio. It’s written by Dredd cocreator John Wagner, and I get the impression he can write this stuff in his sleep, so it’s a breezy intro. The rest of the issue consists of an old “Ro-Busters” short by Alan Moore and Steve Dillon that shows some wit but not much point, an intriguing opening to a Western titled “The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Israel,” a cute superhero takeoff by Chris Weston, and most appealingly, the opening to a Zombo arc entitled “The Day the Zombo Died,” written by Al Ewing and drawn by Henry Flint. I’ve heard of Zombo before, and now I’m eager to read more about President Donald Trump trying to solve the crime problem by siccing a man/zombie hybrid on it. 2000AD lends itself to the preview format because chapters are five pages to begin with, and its writers are practiced at working at that length. Each of the stories I’ve mentioned is either complete in itself or a complete chapter. I’ve recently started reading Judge Dredd, and this reminds me I need to jump back in, and I’ll need to track down a Zombo collection.
The Censored Howard Cruse
The Underground comix of Howard Cruse are another subject that work well in preview form, with stories between one and five pages. Covering comics-making, politics, and drugs, the issue gives a good sense of the tone and variety of Cruse’s work, which I previously only know from Stuck Rubber Baby (the Undergrounds as a whole are one of the bigger gaps in my comics reading), and has me interested in the book collection coming from BOOM! later this year. The black bars obscuring lots of words and details in the art also effectively make the point of cosponsor the CBLDF that Cruse’s brand of expression was not always welcome in comics and still comes under fire.
The Top Shelf Kids Club sampler, with new Owly, Korgi, Okie Dokie Donuts, Pirate Penguin Vs Ninja Chicken, Upside Down, and Johnny Boo is as reliable as ever. So is Papercutz’s latest, with a classic Smurfs lead story and the charmingly drawn Dance Class, Ernest & Rebecca, and Disney Fairies. Disney also can’t go wrong with the latest Carl Barks Donald Duck reprint, which these days is put out by Fantagraphics.
And that’s going to have to do it for now. I also picked up and haven’t yet read Moomin Valley Turns Jungle, Barnaby and Mr O’Malley, Bongo Comic Free-for-All, Yo Gabba Gabba!, and Mega Man, but haven’t read them yet. I did read The Hypernaturals, but didn’t have much to say about it. Same goes for Superman Family Adventures, which was the same Superman preview as in Tiny Titans #50 and a Green Lantern preview that didn’t really hold my interest, as it imports the Geoff Johns multicolored lantern corps, which so obviously exist solely to be toys. I’d like to see more of Art Baltazar and Franco’s take on Superman, but that won’t happen until DC does right by his creators’ families. I never saw the Mouseguard hardcover or Oni’s Bad Medicine.
I admit that this year there weren’t really any comics that had me excited to get to the store for FCBD, and while I enjoyed several of the ones I read, surprises were in short supply. The 2012 FCBD offering I’d been most looking forward to was an anthology of comics from the Middle East, which was canceled for reasons that I don’t know. Still, the actual experience of visiting stores and seeing them busier than usual, especially where kids are concerned, is always a pleasure. I saw some parents who were clearly comics fans and some others who admitted not to know much about comics but thought their kids would be interested, and the children accompanying both types seemed engaged and happy to be there.
One little girl at Floating World wore a homemade superhero costume, and not a corporate character either, just a cute white dress with purple gloves and pinks pants and cape. Superheroes are often spoken of as adolescent power fantasies, invoking images of pubescent boys taking comfort in exaggerated images of masculinity during what is a confusing time, chemically and emotionally, and I guess that’s actually when I started reading, but many of them were originally conceived of as children’s characters. I’ve come to feel that teenage angst is unbecoming of a man in a brightly colored one-piece, but at that age when we still equate authority with rightness, and when we feel wonder at things we’ll soon find commonplace, a flying man who’s essentially our dad and just wants to save the world is as potent as it’s ever going to be. The genre may not be all that comics can do, but it’s a great gateway drug to comics and therefore reading. I don’t know if we’ll ever get away from the popular association between comics and superheroes, but on Free Comic Book Day, seeing a happy kid in a pink cape, I can think of worse things.
Tomorrow: I’m thinking probably a Secret Origin post. We last left off at only the very beginning of the job.