The Long Shadow
Wondercon – Sunday, and other musings
I spend entirely too much time keepin up on the comics business, both the creative and retail ends, I’ve decided. Mostly I figured this out ‘cause I go to panels with retailers and I pretty much know what’s going to be said. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a smart bunch, by and large, but I’m not going to learn anything at a con panel regarding retailing that I haven’t already figured out.
You’d think that I know this by now. Obviously I’m a maroon. ‘Cause I went to the Sunday morning Future of Retailing panel. Well, what else am I gonna do, go to the DC panel that I’ve seen once before in the hope that someone’s gonna ask questions that’ll flip the lids of the panelists? I could, but I instead tried to keep my finger on the pulse of the larger industry instead of just the dominant mode by the dominant player in the game.
I know that Ian’s going to be writing up something on the Retailer panel, so I won’t steal his thunder. What it boils down to, however, is that the comics business is a lot more than the DM comics that we get in the Previews catalog. However, the sad fact of things is that there’s so much product out there that keeping up on just Previews is more than most one man shops can muster, and usually takes a dedicated employee’s entire time. Not to mention anything carried by book distributors or Cold Cut or Last Gasp or whomever. Too many titles. Too many SKUs. However, some folks manage to keep abreast of it, and manage to stock further than just Previews (even the scary back section.) It all falls on the retailer and the kind of store that they want to run. Sure, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit to gather up, and that pleases one audience. But if you want to have a wider audience, if you want to capture the person on the street, you have to offer more. Thankfully guys like Rory Root know that. He’s also a charming speaker who should probably get a panel of his own. But he’d probably rather be selling books on the floor.
Sunday was significantly quieter on the show floor than Saturday was. That’s the usual case, of course. But I didn’t get the sense of any last moment crazy sales or haggling or anything like that. Perhaps folks were just too wiped out to do much of it. I looked around without too much enthusiasm, rifling through boxes sort of half-heartedly. Until I managed to come across something that you don’t see everyday. No, it wasn’t like finding a GIANT SIZED X-MEN #2 for cover price, but it was something that I’d been looking for.
Right there in the “misc K” section was KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND. It was one of those Vertigo Voices specials they did in the mid-90s, just about after the time they figured out that they didn’t want to simply be the voice of mature DC, but wanted to do their own thing (with varying degrees of success). Anyways, KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND is kinda hard to find, and laying my grubby mitts on it was a nice surprise (it’s also one of the few Morrison things that I hadn’t been able to pick up. ZENITH and NEW ADVENTURES OF HITLER remain on my list.) Haven’t read it yet, but I’m sure there’ll be a review once I do. Not like there aren’t a thousand books in line ahead of it…
Headed back upstairs, basking in the glow of my victory, to take in the Frank Miller spotlight panel. Secretly I was hoping that someone would ask him what his reasoning was behind ruining Batman (not that I necessarily agree with said statement, mind you.) The event was held in THE BIG ROOM, with the dual screens and something like a thousand seats or more. Huge, crazy. You’d think it was a religious revival or something. Apparently it was going to be held in the larger small room until someone started doing math and figured out that if the room was half full for Grant Morrison that there was no way in hell that it’d hold a Miller-driven crowd. Too bad, as I’d liked to have seen a riot break out to break up the Sunday lull.
I hadn’t seen Frank Miller at a show for something like ten years, and back then he was an unannounced guest at a panel or something that I’d attended at SDCC. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. Oh yeah, I could have guessed from his work, but that’s sometimes a dicey proposition. Particularly when your biggest work is satirical in nature. However, in this case, it wasn’t all that far off.
Miller stalked up to the microphone, gaunt though not haggard. Though his voice sounded like a talking pile of hot asphalt. His answers to Charles Brownstein’s interview questions were gruff and succinct, rarely embellishing points. Not unlike the dialogue he writes nowadays (as opposed to some of the DAREDEVIL dialogue on his run, which seems pretty overwritten by today’s standards, probably by editorial dictate). I found some of his answers interesting, like SIN CITY being the most romantic thing he’s ever written (particularly THAT YELLOW BASTARD). Can’t disagree with that notion. It’s highly romanticized stuff, even if it’s blackly so.
Oh, and he wants to write propaganda. Well, actually, he’s already writing it. It’ll be very interesting to see how it’s received. HOLY TERROR, BATMAN! >is< a brilliant title. I don’t care what anyone else says. It perfectly bridges the campy past and some kind of horrific future that we’re on the doorstep of but haven’t yet walked into. In a perfect world, he’d release it as a black and white original, but I don’t see that happening. I’m trying to imagine the book in my head, and what I’m getting is one of those WWII-era Superman books with him taking out the Axis, only featuring Batman punching out terrorists. I really have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but my gut tells me it’s gonna be misapprehended by the marketplace. As much as I like mature handling of superheroes (when done well), when you put together the wish-fulfillment power of spandex gods being thrown at contemporary events, the result is often lacking. It might be emotionally satisfying to have our folk heroes punch villains of the day, but it’s gonna be like crack. You get that hit and when you come down, what are you left with besides the same shit you were running away from? Then again, I could be wrong and he could be playing us all for suckers, expecting the right and then unleashing a devastating left. It could happen. I know I’m probably gonna get it either way.
Oh yes, Frank Miller is the Hemingway of contemporary comics. I was talking with Ken about this briefly last night and figured that you can come at it from a couple of different angles. You can look at it from the angle of a body of work that casts a long shadow over a particular field (and few cast a longer shadow than Frank Miller, even if much of that is the work of crass imitators working with only the grossest of surface details –- much like Alan Moore’s shadow in that regard.) And that’s one that jumps to mind, but that wasn’t the first comparison I thought of. When asked about where ideas for his work came from (a question every writer I’ve talked to doesn’t like to answer, because it’s usually “How do you turn them OFF?”), invariably Miller answered “I’ve lived a life.” (and that’s a paraphrase.) As an elder statesman (“You dick.”) of the craft, hopefully those sorts of words would be given more weight. Hopefully more people would come into writing with some degree of experience under their belts, in order to augment their imaginations and to give their work real bite.
This, by the way, is one of the reasons why Grant Morrison’s work of the last couple years is still engaging, though for different reasons than his crazed and frenetic earlier work (of which DOOM PATROL and ANIMAL MAN stand head and shoulders above books like ARKHAM ASYLUM, MYSTERY PLAY and KID ETERNITY.) Morrison is taking impending middle age and applying that to his characters. And if you don’t think that’s informing all of SEVEN SOLDIERS and ALL STAR SUPERMAN, you’re missing something.
Back to Miller, however. Miller is a towering figure in comics, and yes, some of his work may be overrated, but that doesn’t diminish his stature. He still galvanizes an audience. And people will listen to him because he’s Frank Miller, even if they can’t bring themselves to agree with him (or disagree with him.) There were many moments with him at the microphone that reminded me of Jim Gordon’s retirement in (issue #2 I think) of DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, where Gordon speaks and makes the audience squirm and twist in their chairs and he gets strained applause in reply, as if to say “Please, just move on now.”
You want unfettered applause? Have him talk about Batman being a dick. You got it. A godlike Superman being an agent of the bad guys? A little less so.
It’ll be very interesting to see where his readership goes with #4 of ALL STAR BATMAN, etc and HOLY TERROR. I can tell you for sure that nobody but Frank Miller would be able to get these projects through DC. Nuh-uh.
There’s a lot I’m skipping here, I know. Can’t cover it all. Just not enough time. Though I’m sure there’s a transcript floating around somewhere. I have to say that his speaking made me feel even worse that I wasn’t going to be able to stay to see him comment on SIN CITY (which I still haven’t seen) or chat with him at the reception being held that night at Comic Relief. Can’t say that I agree with him, but he’s always a provocative speaker (and not just a baiter, which is really a brainless occupation better left to AM radio.)
Went to make a last run through the show floor. Was lucky enough to catch Eric Powell at the Dark Horse booth and get a quick sketch from him. I even asked (probably to his irritation) to “save a little time for THE GOON” since he’s getting so much work elsewhere that probably pays a lot better. Of course, it’s not my place to tell him what to do, and he probably should have socked me in the stomach for saying so. But, damn, I like THE GOON and hope it sticks around for some time, as long as he’s having fun doing it.
Snapped up a bunch more cheap comics, mostly some 70s SHADOW books and a copy of WEIRD WAR TALES #100 for two bucks apiece. Mostly I did this on Steve’s say so, as he raved about the Kaluta SHADOWs, particularly the issue that Wrightson inked. Okay, okay, I can fit a few more comics in the bag, I guess…
Finally signed up for my CBLDF membership, which is something that I should have (as a comics creator) done a long time ago. Yeah, chances are I’ll never need their services, but if I get myself into that sort of position, better to know them and not need them then need them and not, if you get my drift. Thought about getting my copy of KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND signed, but Mr. Morrison was signing a stack of ALL STAR SUPERMAN #1s for CBLDF and I figured that there were limits to even his graciousness.
Oh, you’re all probably wondering about the whole “Dancing with the Universe” title of this gigantic mess. Me, too.
Heh, just kidding.
Funny, but it ties in with Miller’s exhortation to have a life before you start writing it down. I sometimes get people asking me (since I’m such an unabashed fan of Morrison’s writing) if I buy all his mystical mumbo jumbo about fifth dimensions and magic and all that. The short answer is “sorta.” But not on the surface level. The whole point of magic(k) is to engage life and experience. “You dance with the universe and the universe dances back,” Morrison said, summing up a lot of his beliefs. Does that mean you have to get naked and take a lot of drugs and run around a bonfire praying to pagan gods to bring you wealth and riches?
Uhm, no. It might be a lot of fun for someone less inhibited than myself, though.
The whole point of things is to go out and do. Not to think about it or imagine it or talk about it, but to do. For awhile, I’d been withdrawn, stung by the way things had gone with STRANGEWAYS, burned out on comics, choosing to see only a reflection of my own shortcomings. Other publishers who I thought would be happy to give it a look had passed. And frankly, there’s a lot of fear in the air right now. Easy to get depressed about things and see only a macrocosm of trepidation.
Well, you project that sort of thing long enough and it’s all you see. Sometimes you need to be reminded you reap what you sow, right? Yeah, easy to forget when you work in a vacuum all the time and you relate to other strings of text and not human beings most of the time. Hey, I’ve got two kids, of course I don’t get out all that often. But this is why I like going to comics shows. I get to talk to people face to face (even about stuff beyond comics, like “What’s the best single of all time?” Graeme says “Accelerator” by Primal Scream, which is tough to argue, but I counter with “Green Onions” by Booker T, et al.) Comics are largely a solitary avocation, unless you’re lucky enough to have a store around which you can form a scene. Cons help break that a bit, foster engagement. And it’s all about engagement. Go ahead and dance, even if the universe steps on your toes. Just learn to move your feet a bit more and keep going.