Stuck in the Comic Doldrums
Okay, not entirely. But I’m in a bit of a slump.
I begin every week with good intentions. “I’m going to write about comics this week. Something is going to stand out to me. Something out there merits some attention, and I will find it!” Then, by week’s end, I’ve written about anything BUT comics. Why is that? Because I’m in a funk—I’m stuck in the comic doldrums.
I’m a lifelong fan of the funny papers. I used to ride my bike home from elementary school, by way of a lengthy detour, and stop practically every afternoon to laydown my buck twenty-five for a new book. I’d devour each one, and then carefully box it with the others to await a reread or a weekend binge session. At that point in my life, my purchasing habits were scattershot. A shiny cover easily wowed me, and if I got one of those “talkie” issues, I’d wait a few before going back to the same title (burn me once, etc.), regardless of things like “plot” and “continuity.”
As I grew older (and got a job selling comics, among other things), I became somewhat more discerning in my comic consumption. I started subscribing to titles, following plot developments and story arcs to completion (gasp!). I played the field a bit and broke out of the superhero rut to explore other genres in the comic medium. I started getting (pseudo-) intellectual about my comics, reading things by Art Spiegelman and Harvey Pekar. At the same time, I started reading the great graphic novels by Alan Moore, who, when taken with the others, really showed me how far comics could go as a storytelling medium with real emotional weight.
By the time I went to college my love of comics was in no way diminished, but the realities of a student budget put it on hiatus for a while. Still, I’d make why way to Berkeley’s amazing Comic Relief and pick up the occasional graphic novel (which always felt like good value to me) to sate my cravings.
Now, some years later, I find myself in a position to buy any comics I want, and yet unable to find anything I want to read (on a long term basis). So what’s happened to me?
Okay, to be fair, there are some that are still cranking along that I quite enjoy. The Walking Dead, Fables, Hellboy—these are books that I can seriously get behind, and I often pickup omnibus editions as they become available. What gets me is that, at the height of interest in comic book heroes, when some of the highest grossing movies of all time feature classic four color heroes, I am pretty much totally disinterested in going back to those books. They’re just damned boring.
Marvel was always my drug of choice, and the heyday of my single issue purchasing overlapped with some of the great moments in Marvel history, but decades of following the same old characters has worn them thin. When the Ultimate line came along, I harbored great hopes for a real reinvention. New villains. New plots. A somewhat less tangled mess of relationships and retcons, and for a while my wish was granted. But entropy seems to set in extremely quickly in comics-land. Likewise, I had hoped that the New 52 would bring me a personal DC renaissance (I dunno why, but the DCU was always a little ‘meh’ to me—except for the Bat. He has always rocked), but I’d wager that is even more of an editorial nightmare than the Ultimates (if such a thing were quantifiable). I miss the edgy imprints of the 90’s that have all subsequently been acquired or gone under…
I’ve also noticed that I prefer closed stories to the interminable Days of Our Lives soap operas that the big serials inevitably become. Even with recurring characters, concise, encapsulated stories are more palatable to me than seemingly endless arcs and crossovers. I think that is in part due to a lack of patience on my part, and a lack of innovation on the part of the big publishers. How many more times can Magneto or Darkseid imperil the world before it becomes truly tired? Ten more? A hundred?
Apologies for my curmudgeonly ways—I’m not usually so cynical. But I think my cynicism about the comic medium may have blinded me to some worthwhile developments in the field. I’m asking you, readers: recommend me some good books to help pull me out of this slump (especially new ones). I’d appreciate the input and I’ll review them here, with credit to you for the suggestion!