Master Of The Obvious: Issue #37

Wed, April 12th, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

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As mentioned last week, it's Pollyanna Wednesday. Maybe I'll make every Wednesday before tax day Pollyanna Wednesday from now on. The first official MOTO holiday.

I'm out of town this week. As a result, since I get a number of letters every week saying I don't saying anything good about comics (wound me to the quick, why don't you?), I decided to open the column to the best mini-essay I received about what's good in comics. (Hence the term "Pollyanna." If you want the derivation, go check last week's column in the archives.) Most were pretty well written, many made excellent points, but for sheer enthusiasm above and beyond that, no one beat Kristian Horn:

What's good about the comic industry?

To answer that question I'd like to go back a few years to an interview that Quentin Tarantino did. In the interview he was asked what exactly excited him about his industry or profession. He responded by saying that he thought it was a very exciting time to be moviegoer or a person who loves to go to the movies. When probed about this he answered by pointing out that more movies than ever were being made or in the process of being made, therefore exposing your average Joe to films that were different than your typical Hollywood cookie cutter popcorn movies. He wrapped up his statement by saying that it was a great time to be a movie fan.

I think it's a great time to be a comic book fan.

See, I personally believe that the movie industry's development in the past several years has just about mirrored the comic book industry. After all, what is the comic book business but a small segment of the overall entertainment biz? In the past decade we have seen great growth in the type of films that are being made. Not just in the substance of the stories being told but also of their style. We've seen the small, independent film make good and we've seen the multi-million dollar action flick take us to places with flashy special effects that no one ever thought possible.

The exact same thing can be said for the comic book industry.

In the past ten years we have seen what we call comic books transform into something completely magnificent. And it all comes down to one word: variety. While the larger part of the business is still dominated by superhero tales the comic book universe has expanded way beyond what it was ten years ago. It now offers us choice. We are no longer confined to the boundaries of one way of thinking.

[Stray Bullets]We don't have to read just superheroes! Now crime books such as STRAY BULLETS can absorb us into their world. We have children's books (that aren't just kid's books) like the delightful BONE. We have human drama like STRANGERS IN PARADISE. We have laugh out loud comedy like MILK AND CHEESE. And we have swashbuckling, mystical adventure in both BATTLECHASERS and TELLOS. What we have now is a full blown independent market full of new and exciting ideas. Just like the film industry!

And it's not just the independents to be thankful for. Who would've imagined that DC would have rebounded from being a joke of a publishing company to being almost on par with Marvel Comics? Not Me. And they did it, not by publishing more spandex heroes, but by doing the exact opposite! By starting up their Vertigo imprint they've done the comic book consumer a great service. They've expanded upon the types of stories that a major publisher is willing to tell and finance. With Vertigo new worlds were opened up for rediscovery. Worlds of mysticism and horror. If you want espionage and intrigue they've got TRANSMETROPOLITAN and THE INVISIBLES. If you want atmosphere, intelligence, and texture they've got SANDMAN. And if you want just plain ol' glorious weirdness mixed with heart and a little bit of the ultraviolence they have PREACHER.

And Vertigo isn't the only feather in their cap. By acquiring Wildstorm and America's Best Comics not only do they have their own big gun superheroes to play with but a whole other universe of gritty alternate heroes to develop.

So if you still love super people (like many of us do) you now have the choice of sticking with the classics such as SUPERMAN and Marvel's FANTASTIC FOUR or going with the gritty AUTHORITY or whacked out TOP TEN. Not to mention ASTRO CITY.

What we have now is access to a wonderful choice of worlds to pick from! If we want to read something different we can. We don't have to stick with just one genre! Our horizons in the past several years have moved beyond what they once were. We as comic book fans and can now find different stories to read and comic professionals can discover alternate ways of ways of telling them to us. And with this new wave has come an even better change.

Comics have begun to attract top-notch talent. Be it the artists, writers, colorists, or letterers it seems that all these professionals have been continually raising the bar of comic quality. Artists and writers are now able to take chances with their individual styles to make changes in both new and established books. Colorists now have computer technology to make the people on the page leap and bound with even more vibrancy. Even the publishing methods have become more advanced so that actual materials used to make the books have gotten better. Remember how hard it was to keep your comics in good condition when they were on newsprint? While they're not exactly indestructible now they certainly are more resistant to decomposition so that we can read them again and again.

With this talent and innovation comes a better product. A better product attracts attention and curiosity. Not just from fans but also from other industries. Right now comic properties are being tapped for by movie and internet companies left and right. If these projects are able to come together correctly then that means publicity and a certain amount of esteem. Comics are no longer being seen as the bastard stepchild of pop culture. In some ways they, the people that make them, and the fans that buy them are actually getting some respect. Remember the days where all comic book fans were looked at as freaks? Well, to a certain extent those days are gone. With insightful writing and gorgeous artwork American comic books may be making their way to getting the acclaim that Europe and Japan have for their picture books. Comics in this country are slowly being accepted as actual art and not just scribbles on a page.

So what we've reached is an era of comics that may, in some ways, foreshadow the Golden Age. Think about it. Sure, in the forties and fifties the newsstands were packed with tons of different horror, western, romance, humor, and superhero periodicals.

[Maus]But did any of those tales have the amount of maturity, depth, and contunuity that many of today's comic books have? I tend not to think so. Yes they were great stories with exciting artwork but did any of them have the sensibilities of today's books? While WEIRD TALES and TRUE CRIME STORIES might have been a rip roarin' read did we actually get to know the people in those stories like we've come to know some of the characters from any of the aforementioned series? My answer would be no. The comics made back then consisted of mostly one-shot tales told toward a juvenile mindset. Now it may just be my ignorance but would a comic book such as MAUS have been produced in the Golden Age? Again, my answer would be no. We are in an era where stories are actually being told with an adult slant dealing with mature issues and with characters that can actually speak to all of us. And once again it's not only the independents to give praise to. I don't know about you, but when Karen Page met her maker in the pages of DAREDEVIL my heart sank probably as low as Matt Murdock's would have had he been a real live person.

In the end of the twentieth century what we have is an exciting beginning to the twenty-first. While many doomsayers are predicting an end to the comic industry (much like the film industry) I would like to instead see it as an era of transformation. we all know that the status quo can never just stay the status quo. For the past twenty years the comic book business has been going through some interesting growth spurts. Heck, when I was a little kid reading my CAPTAIN CARROT comic books I could never have imagined a time where there would be gigantic comic book stores tailored to giving me one thing: a whole plethora of different comic book viewpoints to choose from. Not only that but also comic related merchandise that makes me green with envy every time I see a little kid with an incredibly cool Batman Animated action figure. Where was that stuff when I was a kid?

And that's the point: it wasn't there. Not in the slightest. But it's here now. A world where if I want to I can actually purchase a shiny new Green Lantern ring or buy my daughter (if I had one) a Power Puff Girls Plush Doll, So now, along with the huge number of different stories I can read, there are a whole bunch of new gadgets that comic fans young and old can treasure. Stuff that makes the tools in Batman's utility belt look lame. Things that were absolutely not available fifteen, or even ten, years ago.

So here we are. at what I think is a great place for a comic fan to be. What's left? Well, to look to the future. Who knows where it's going to go? With the internet beginning to offer us animated short films like the stuff on Stan Lee Media and huge studios like 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers giving us blockbuster films and televised cartoons based on comic book properties the industry's influence is spreading further and further. No one know where the future lies but I can pretty much be certain that it will continue to offer us a wealth of advancement that will make the things we have today look like child's play.

So while I sit here in my fuzzy Superman slippers I hope that, while we comic fans are in a very good place, things can only get better. And with the help of the fans and creators alike I'm sure they actually will. Because, like I stated before, this isn't the end. It's only the beginning...

Congratulations, Kristian. I want to thank everyone who sent in essays. They were all runners-up. I wish I could mention everyone by name, but there were dozens, most brimming with enthusiasm for the medium and the future. That's what we like to see. See you next week.

It's too early to tell what kind of effect our hit campaign is having, but for those who came in late, the idea is this: Warren Ellis and I both get paid by the hit for our columns here. It's not much per hit but if there were enough hits it would add up. Warren and I also would very much like to break away from the constraints of comics companies and publish comics we specifically want to do. With me so far? So, if we were to get enough hits - say, oh, the laughably high number of 500,000 per week - we'd both have plenty of money to publish our own comics. So if you convince everyone you know, and convince them to convince everyone they know, etc. etc., to click on MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS on Wednesdays and COME IN ALONE on Fridays, just click on them without even reading the columns if they don't want to, and those numbers soar, we can do it. For those who think there are ethical problems with this, keep in mind that the advertisers don't care whether anyone reads our columns or not just as long as they see the banner ads, and anyone who clicks on will see the banners. Of course, site filtering software prevents multiple clicks from the same person from counting, so don't bother trying that. But this is your big chance to personally have an effect on the future of comics (hey, we're nothing if not ludicrously grandiose) so spread the word. Let's do it!

Another big week: should be X-MAN #64 from Marvel, and LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE #29 from DC, with art by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson. Meanwhile, chapter 2 of my novel TEQUILA is up at @VENTURE, along with more of Mike Baron's THE HODAG. It's fiction for fiction's sake at the pulp magazine of the 21st Century.

Whatever questions you might have about me can probably be answered with a quick trip to Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions. You can also express your own views at the Master Of The Obvious Message Board, or send me mail. Bear in mind that while I read all my mail, time constrains me from replying in most cases. Thanks.

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