Sunday, September 24, 2006

Best buys

In an attempt to focus a little bit, I thought I'd go over my recent purchases. I'm still figuring out what I want to spend my resources on; I think that the collections and paperbacks are winning... Anyway, I had a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble, and this is what it got me:

Making Comics: Scott's McLoud's latest does not disappoint. More how-to than the seminal Understanding Comics, it is nonetheless an engaging read for anyone interested in a formalist approach to comics. I'm already figuring out ways to incorporate it into a class. I teach rhetoric, and I'm all about the analysis of texts, both as an end in itself and and as a means to improving a creator's own texts. (I say texts instead of writing because although most of my teaching concerns traditional writing, many of the same methods can be used on visual and well as verbal artifacts.) This books provides a framework for developing an analytic framework and a useful vocabulary for understanding and explaining why some comics work, some don't, and some seem more successful than others. I am sure that this book will get as dog-eared and worn as any of my reference books.

The 9/11 Report- A Graphic Adaptation
: This would be a perfect artifact to study in the manner that I just addressed. This is an ambitious work: the translation of a formal government document, the official record of one of the most significant events in American history, into comics. I'll be looking forward to the studies of who reads it and how they respond and what difference the presentation makes in that response; I'm interested in taking the book apart to see how the authors did it: what choices Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon made in layout and transition, how they balanced the words and the pictures, and how (and if) they managed to maintain an appropriate tone.

So far, I have only given it a cursory read, and it seems pretty effective to me. Of course, this is an idiom with which I am familiar; it will be interesting to see how my non-comics-fan friends and colleagues respond. I haven't even begun to do a close reading and analysis yet, much less a side-by-side comparison of the prose version.

Daisy Cutter- The Last Train: I had a few bucks left on the card after those two purchases, so I picked this up:

The cover caught my attention, so I flipped through it for a minute just to make sure the interior art didn't hurt my eyes and then bought it without knowing anything about it at all. It turned out to be a steampunk western concerning the last job of the eponymous heroine, a semi-retired outlaw, and her ex-partner, now a lawman. Daisy takes an assignment to rob a train guarded by state-of-the-art security robots, and gets drawn into double-crosses and shoot-outs. The story is decent, with a few plot holes here and there; the main characters aren't quite as likable as they might have been, but overall that's a minor quibble; the world they move through is intriguing and well-crafted, and made me want to see more. Overall, it was a mighty satisfyin' ride, and I'll be looking for work from Kazu Kinuishi.

That last purchase taught me two things: The buy-without-knowledge game can really work sometimes, opening me up to books I might not have picked up if i thought about them. The second lesson is a confirmation: my decision to focus on TPBs and collections rather than singles might actually work for me. The $10.95 price on this "graphic novel" seemed about right; the chapters flowed and the piece felt like a unified whole. I'm not sure I would have been quite as satisfied with four $4 singles spaced out.

As far as singles go, I think I'm down to Agents of Atlas (#2 wasn't as much fun as #1, but I'll stick with it) and The Escapists (as long as Vaughn et al stay as experimentally clever with the art/story techniques as they have so far, and as long as "Omnigrip International" comes off less hokey and cliched than its name). Oh yeah, there's Wonder Woman, too, but that's coming out only every nine-and-a-half weeks or so, so it hardly counts as a regular purchase, eh?

So, on the shopping list for graphic books:

Alison Bechtel's Fun Home
Jessica Abel's La Perdita
Jaime Hernandez's Locas
Something called Byrd of Paradise
Something called The Venus Interface

And just so we haven't forsake all super-heroes, here the back-issue singles list:

All appearances of Orca
All appearances of Cir-El
All appearances of Squirrel Girl
Freedom Fighters 8 & 9 and Invaders 14 & 15 (see the last entry in this post for why)

More on this obscuriana to come.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Aarrrr, me hearties!

I wanted to post something for Talk-like-a-Pirate Day, especially since I didn't make my usual posting over the weekend (too busy teaching). It was hard digging out, but here's a picture of my favorite pirate, the Carib buccaneer from Adventure Comics in the seventies, Captain Fear:

Does anybody else remember him, fondly or otherwise? I imagine if I read the stuff again, it wouldn't be very good, but in 1972 or whatever I welcomed the change from the usual men-in-spandex (Adventure was trying out different kinds of series then, if I recall), and I just loves me some Walt Simonson art, so there it is.

This Simonson original art is on offer on e-Bay here. (I bid on it, but got outbid immediately.)

Bonus factoid: While looking around for stuff for this post, I found some evidence that Captain Fear might be the source of the pirates vs. ninjas trope! Check this out (scroll down a bit to Unknown Soldier #254). The year - 1981 - is certainly pre-internet, anyway. I may have to launch an investigation.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Purchasing power

Okay, so I'm giving up on 52. I guess I'm just not interested enough in the latest reboot of the DCU to continue slogging through this uneven production. I'm sure there will be a few bits that I would have liked to have seen, but overall it's not really worth it to me. (There was a time when my completist tendencies would have overridden by boredom, but no more.)

So, what am I buying? Agents of Atlas, for the nostalgia factor. Wonder Woman, because I am resonating so much with it, because I think it is well-written in any case, and because it's absolutely gorgeous. The Escapists, for at least one more issue. That's about it.

Of course, I have a little notebook with TPBs and collections and new hardcovers that I want to pick up, and I think that's where I will be focusing my attention and resources more and more.

Which brings me to a question: Absolute New Frontier is coming out soon, and I am seriously debating with myself about buying it from Amazon at a good discount, or buying it from my local shop because they are so supportive and service-oriented, even if it costs more. Does anyone else find this a quandary, or is it just me?

Tangentially related

Good pal Ms. Macha just returned from living in Japan for a while and brought over some menko that she picked up at a flea market over there. I had never heard of these before; they are like baseball cards or pogs, but were apparently designed expressly for the purpose of playing the flip-and-keep type games that kids play with this stuff. These particular cards are supposedly pretty old and rare:

I don't know if there was much cross-pollination between menko and manga; looking at Wikipedia and a few other sites, it doesn't appear so. There is interesting art on some of the cards, but just as many display photographs, and it seems that all sorts of genres are represented.

These got me to thinking about collectible cards and comics. Other than the cards that came out during the Batman TV show in the sixties, I've never had any of those superhero cards (or any other comics-realted cards), and I wondered what kids did with them. Were there flip games with superhero cards, or were the cards so integral to the collector/speculator mentality that they were only put in little plastic cases and kept locked away forever? Was the interest in the cards really limited to acquisition only? (There's something called a chaser card, isn't there - and you have to buy lots of packs to get one?) I'm sure that no one ever attached these cards to the fork of their bike with a clothespin to get the br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-k noise as it flapped against the spokes, but did anyone ever do anything with them?