CATCHING UP AND LOOKING BACK
Doing some housecleaning around here this week. Time to put down some fresh carpet, repaint the walls, and maybe dust out whatever the hell is behind this computer. In any case, when you're reading this, my computer will be unplugged, my comic book collection in disarray, and my time limited. So the promised STAR TREK column will have to wait until next week or so.
This gives me the perfect chance, though, to comment on the past few columns, and print some responses they got.
In my column of March 30th, I failed to mention one other strange and bizarre comic book. It's PITT #18, with a story titled "Ugly Americans." What makes it strange? (Dare I say "Oddball"?!?) Only a Canadian like Dale Keown could have gotten away with this one. Inside this comic, he kills then-President Clinton not once, but twice.
But, wait! I've got one even weirder than that! The latest issue of THE SAVAGE DRAGON (#83) contains two pages' worth of the "Savage Dragonbert" comic strip by Karl H. in the back. In this installment, Dragonbert attends a comicon, with cameos from Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, and – me. Yes, I'm there speaking in Thor-ian English, complete with ten dollar words. The sad thing is that this caricature of me is closer to the mark than Chris Eliopoulos' buffer version of me.
Lots of you have fond memories of SUICIDE SQUAD, judging by the reaction that column got. And we only have a relatively short period of time before the new Squad is assembled and Keith Giffen and Paco Medina (whose drawing just about every other book DC is publishing this month) give us the new on-going series.
In the meantime, the editor of the original series, Bob Greenberger, wrote in with his two cents on a couple of matters regarding the creation of the series:
"…Karl Kesel was more than the inker. Initially, Karl was so full of enthusiasm for the book that he would handwrite these long notes to me and John: Kesel Epistles he called them. They were filled with character and story possibilities. It was Karl who had us use the Female Furies in #3, which set up the sub-plot for Lashina and Apokolips. We all had our favorites and by indulging one another, it kept the book lively.
"Because John, Karl and I had lots of ideas, it allowed us to map things out long-term, moreso than any other series I worked on. As a result, we could lay the groundwork a year in advance and slowly build up to the climax. Our best may have been the Captain Boomerang masquerading as Mirror Master so he could still commit crimes. And John and I had a great deal of fun with issue #23, the next in your reading stack, which unleashed Oracle on the DCU."
And I did read the next few issues. Oracle makes her first appearance in the DC Universe, and this is years before BIRDS OF PREY made a star out of her. The climactic finale between Colonel Flag and Deadshot at the Lincoln Memorial is one of the tensest comics I've ever read. You'll never look at our national monuments the same way after reading that issue. Having just been in Washington D.C. last September, though, I could point out a couple of errors artist Luke McDonnell committed in drawing the architecture and layout of the area. But it's not a big deal, and still a great issue.
In a way, it seems like such a futile waste. The SUICIDE SQUAD was a good comic. It has a cult following. People have been trying to bring it back for years now. It originally had a limited run of just over five years.
There is no way to read the series, however, except in hunting down the back issues, either through conventions or one of the on-line auction sites. The work John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Luke McDonnell, Karl Kesel, etc, etc, did on the title seems almost fleeting. If you wanted to recommend the book to a friend, you can't have him go to his local shop and pick up a few copies. It would be difficult to find, or expensive at a local comics outlet.
Wouldn't it be great to see this series available in three thick volumes?
This is the least of it, too. What about the book I discussed the week before that, JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL? Aside from one paltry collection, you can't find the books anywhere except the back issue bins. Let's face it – those pages aren't getting any stronger. They're turning yellow and falling apart as we speak. It's too damned disposable.
You can probably think of three or four other series off the top of your head just like this. These are books that could stand the test of time, or be quaint reminders of a time, or just be darned good stories that could hold up to multiple readings. Peter David's current run on SUPERGIRL is past 50 issues, but only the first few have been reprinted in an easy to find volume. David's INCREDIBLE HULK run is equally spotty. His STAR TREK run? Forget it.
The only thing he's written that seems to get regular reprints is SOULSEARCHERS AND COMPANY, and how many of you have even heard of that book, published by Claypool?
I've got thousands of these comic books. They're not setting the world on fire. They're not considered timeless epics, or the pinnacle of comics achievement. But they're all damned good reads, and entertaining in their own right. They're just impossible to find and won't stand up – physically and chemically -- to the test of time.
This is why trade paperbacks are so important. They preserve our past and let our fondly-remembered stories live on. Not everything deserves to be reprinted, but there's a lot of truly great stuff out there that deserves to be treated as something more than a disposable commodity. Right now, the way to see that these stories have a longer shelf life is through the trade paperback. And the best model for a long shelf life is the one Will Eisner pioneered, Kyle Baker is following, and Humberto Ramos recently professed his admiration for. Creator owned works. Independent titles. Graphic novels and easily compiled mini-series and stand along works. So long as the creator maintains a vested interest in it as creator, owner, and publisher, the works will survive so long as there's interest in it.
Look at the book I spotlight on March 2nd: THE COPYBOOK TALES. It's finding new fans and new enthusiasm is being generated for this book because of an impending collection. This could lead to new stories being told. Maybe, maybe not. But there's a whole new audience waiting to read the stories because of this reprint. This collection will end up on shelves longer than those individual issues, too.
I love SPARKS. Five issues are out so far. But with its sporadic publishing schedule and short print runs, it's tough to find for a new reader. The first four issues form a neat little slice of the overall story. I think a trade collecting those would stand up well and introduce new readers to the book. Word of mouth for it is growing, but without the books available for new readers, it's just going to languish. Comic readers are a funny lot. We often won't start reading something new unless we can start at the beginning. A trade paperback will allow that to happen.
Marvel is beginning to reprint BLACK PANTHER now. The first trade is due out this month. Let's hope the trades develop into a series to collect the whole thing.
What, you think AKIRA or LONE WOLF AND CUB or BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL would stand a chance of finding new readers if those potential readers had to dig through back issue bins for the monthly comics that came out ten years ago or more? (Or, in the case of BLADE, just four years ago.)
It's time for the major companies to start exploiting their rich histories a little more, and it's time for today's creators to take matters into their own hands to protect the timelessness of their work.
Next week: I haven't a clue. Come back and find out. And don't forget about Tuesday's column, first. There will be plenty of reviews of the week's books there.
More than 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML. Those columns are even migrating over here in drips and drabs. Eventually, they'll all be on CBR. I can't believe Pipeline is entering its fifth year in nine short weeks…
This year, I'll be at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego), and the Pittsburgh Comicon, which requires no second name. Hope to meet some of you there.
Finally, I write DVD movie reviews (occasionally) for the gang over at DVD Channel News. There should be a new one or two up there from me relatively soon.