Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 7: Hey, Kids! Reviews!

A Year Called Comics, part 7: Hey, Kids! Reviews!
(The seventh in an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day challenge!)

A few years ago, I read a critique of the current comics climate, specifically regarding fledgling independent creators that choose to write more about comics than to write original comics. My A Comic A Day challenge officially casts me into that first category. Oh, I’ve written and self-published several comics and zines with friend and incredible artist Brent Otey under the moniker K.O. Comix, some of which have been distributed through Diamond, displayed on local comics shop new release stands, and even critiqued by well known review sites. However, despite these minor though significant successes, our interaction with potential readers at conventions in San Diego and San Francisco often plunges us into a perpetual analysis of the comics industry, of what readers want, and how the medium can adapt to retain relevance in an increasingly visual, digital age. (Yeah, we’re pretty deep.)

So, am I going somewhere with all of this pompous self-promotion?

Indeed, to offer an explanation for the growing read-and-review versus pen-and-publish community: blogging about comics creates an awareness and inspires an introspection about what they, as an art form, offer the audience, and while time consuming, the “instantly available to the public” nature of the blogosphere has become ironically more satisfying than the lengthy process of self-publishing or portfolio-submitting. Heck, I can confidently say that by indulging a daily writing habit through A Comic A Day, its end and subsequent vacancy in my life finally thrust me to draw something for public consumption, evidenced by my participation in Young American Comics’ 52 Comic Challenges and my growing ComicSpace page.

Apparently the real lesson to be learned by reviewing comics is how to shamelessly plug. Go figure.

Yet, that’s the point. Even in an age where comic books are the inspiration for film and song (yes, song, unless you think Jay-Z’s “Kingdom Come” was named after a Bible verse), the medium struggles with its validity, attempting to honor its campy roots while desperately trying to shed that gooey, cheesy skin. Now, the viability of these characters may not be apparent to many, thanks to Spider-fication of nearly everything since the success of his movie franchise. (Seriously, what can’t you buy with Spidey’s mug on it? Er, don’t answer that.) Yet, for lifelong fans of these characters’ native comic books, we’re quite accustomed to the decade-long cycle of “redirection;” for awhile, Spider-man will be the down-on-his-luck but head-above-water hero Stan Lee intended, then, suddenly, his identity will be exposed, Aunt May will get shot, and Parker will spiral into a bipolar depression . . . only to return to his roots a few years later. (Sprinkle in some clones or a Civil War for good measure.) If creators felt stable with their, well, stable, why would they shake things up so often, and so dramatically?

Storytelling isn’t a good explanation. Many of these characters survived for over fifty years without a freshly murdered loved one motivating their heroism. Creating a gimmick to increase sales is a more logical explanation. Yes, I’m likening Infinite Crisis to Burger King’s latest Hit Moms commercial campaign. It sparks interest in something you’ve always known was there, plain and simple.

This observation doesn’t have to be a criticism. I like seeing Joe Quesada tour Civil War on talk shows like The Colbert Report. I enjoy joining hundreds of fans in line for a midnight premiere of 30 Days of Night, though I’m confident many of them haven’t read a single of its comic stories. Attention and commercial viability is what will keep this medium I love alive in such a visually clustered, pop culture driven society!

Which, to answer my original inquiry, is why comics warrant review! Amidst story-driven gimmicks, alternate covers, and multi-media crossovers, the comic book is still an art form, uniting words and pictures in sequential, emotion-evoking storytelling. From spandex-wearing brawlers to coffee-sipping bawlers, every comic has that in common, and A Comic A Day taught me to appreciate “the issue” as a singular entity, sans the context of its original publication . . . or even the issues that came right before or right after it. One of the harshest e-mails regarding a review was my take on Bone #20; I believe I dubbed the issue transitory, bridging a gap between plot points, and thus difficult for a Bone first-timer like me to appreciate. The commenter chastised me for not realizing how great Bone is, which is true – and even transition issues are purposeful – but as one judging the book as if it were my first (first comic, especially), I couldn’t evoke a personal sense of commitment. (Incidentally, I deleted the comment because of its crude language. This is a family blog, people!)

Consider a single segment of the Sistine Chapel: where God’s and man’s fingers touch. If you just saw those two hands, you wouldn’t know they tell the whole story of creation without context! Yet, the partial image still captures craftily rendered hands, with a potential message in itself. The comic book has this potential, and like those hands, can make a connection between creator and creation.

Anyway, while the first year of A Comic A Day began as an idle brainstorm to better understand the nature of comics and subversively determine how to create some of my own to establish a similar link with my potential audience, it became a virtual exploration through an endless museum of graphic literature, and in 2008, the journey will continue. Yes, a second year of A Comic A Day looms on the horizon, utilizing these lessons to establish a more focused analysis of comic books, and to . . . well, constantly plug them. The specifics of this focus will appear next month, in A Year Called Comics, part 8: "Another Year Called Comics: Prologue." (Yes, I love these titles, and all these plugs!) After all, a review really is just a plug, either positive or negative, and, in so many words, I figure the longer I stick my finger in it, the more likely a spark of originality will hit me eventually! Even comics’ greatest minds had to read one before they changed the medium forever, right?