Come In Alone: Issue #10

Fri, February 4th, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Warren Ellis, Columnist

I'm having an attack of the Old Mans, here... listening to Van Morrison, Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber doing "I Wanna Go Home," which my dad knows as "Sloop John B." It's one of those bits of music I associate with him suddenly, through my mother's unexpected absence, pulling from nowhere (presumably a lead-lined hiding place of some kind) and playing loudly. In particular, a version recorded in Nashville, with a big swelling Phil Spectoresque production that smacks you in the teeth halfway through like "River Deep Mountain High." You know "River Deep Mountain High"? Ike and Tina Turner. Described as the sound of "God hitting the world and the world hitting God back."

Anyway. "I Wanna Go Home." When it's done properly, then you never heard anything like it in your life. Sits a little weirdly in my CD player right now, next to Raissa, Death In Vegas and Moby, but what the hell. It's the end of C20 (I will not call it "TwenCen", all you cultural-theory poseur scum), and we can chuck our culture around any way we like.

That's provided we've preserved enough of it to chuck around.

I have recently heard that Marvel are doing a big reprint volume of Steranko's NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. This is stuff I first saw in the Seventies, when my parents, attempting to deal with my appalling appetite for comics (or perhaps just an appetite for appalling comics), bought me CAPTAIN BRITAIN. This was a weekly comic, and the first Marvel comic specifically created for Britain by American creators. Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe and Fred Kida, if I recall correctly. (As my friends know, I have a near-eidetic memory for useless pop culture crap. Wave some frightening piece of toss in front of my red eyes tomorrow, I'll be able to tell you all about it ten years from now. It's a curse.) Naturally, they couldn't fill all of this comic with stories of the somewhat naff Captain, and so they turned at least half of the thing over to reprints. Now, CAPTAIN BRITAIN was unique at the time in Britain in that it was in full colour. And, My God, they ran Steranko's S.H.I.E.L.D. as a back-up. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby action comics as imagined by Warhol's Factory. And ever since the beautiful and demented Polly Watson was made designated driver of Marvel's trade paperback line, I've been on at her about getting this stuff reprinted in a single permanent edition.

This is good for a great many reasons, not the least of which is this: the Western medium has reclaimed a crucial piece of history. Steranko's S.H.I.E.L.D. was a pivotal point in the development of American comics. Try and find it right now, before the collection comes out. Try and find some of the influential Seventies stuff, like HOWARD THE DUCK or the Don McGregor books. Try to find the single best adaptation of film into comics ever, ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson. It's a stunning piece of work, hugely progressive and innovative. Hell, try to find the second best film-to-comics adaptation ever, the frankly possessed version of 1941 by Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch. Look for AMERICAN FLAGG!, from the 80's, the groundbreaking first twelve issues. Look for the books that reinvented the superhero genre the time before Miller and Moore, like Claremont's X-MEN run, Wolfman & Perez' TEEN TITANS, all that stuff. Look for what is still the best crime novel in comics, BADLANDS by Steven Grant and Vince Giarrano.

Tell you what. I'll cut the hunt short. You'll have no fucking luck whatsover.

American comics are hugely eager to put the future behind them.

Last week's books are done and dusted, no matter what. Got to clear the shelves, got to clear space for this week's books, next week's books, all the little pamphlets, the constant unstoppable juggernaut of more new stuff to discard.

"American comics are hugely eager to put the future behind them."

Can you imagine book publishers and bookstores acting like that? "Here's the new Shephen King. Let's throw out the old ones." CARRIE and THE STAND and DIFFERENT SEASONS, gone, never to be seen again, doomed to a half-life of being discussed on the Internet by students of the medium.

If it'd gone like that, Stephen King would never have been hit by a truck. He would have been living in the back of it.

And because the industry is allowed to behave like this, whole chunks of its history just vanish. Unless you are very clever and very much in command of your own boat, like Will Eisner, you are guaranteed to lose great swathes of your career to time and ignorance. There's important work by Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison -- served relatively well by the trade paperback -- missing from graphic novel shelves. There's crucial works from every decade entirely absent from the backlist.

"... because the industry is allowed to behave like this, whole chunks of its history just vanish. Unless you are very clever and very much in command of your own boat, like Will Eisner, you are guaranteed to lose great swathes of your career to time and ignorance."

It is a telling part of the general inferiority of comics as a modern medium that nine-tenths of it fell down some Orwellian memory hole. It's waving that new comic, all glittery with printer's lustre, to try and distract you from the hole in its gut.

I can be contacted by email about this column at warren@comicbookresources.com. My website, currently undergoing an update, is http://www.warrenellis.com. There is a COME IN ALONE discussion area here on CBR.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read AMERICAN TABLOID by James Ellroy (1995), listen to FANTASMA by Cornelius (Matador, 1999), and hit Marie Javins' Web Empire at http://www.mariejavins.com. Today's recommended graphic novel is NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF WIND, Hayao Miyazaki (several volumes, Viz 1995). Now begone.

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