Full Bleed

Well, this is certainly a surprise. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. But it does come as sort of a shock. One week I’m just the fill-in guy. Three days later, the Powers that Be have decided that giving me a column would be a good idea. A few weeks ago, I thought it was. Now, I’m not so sure. We’ll see how it turns out.
So, here we are. Let’s get the preliminaries aside, shall we. I’m Matt Maxwell, pleased to meet all of you, glad to be here. Have a cigar. Aw, don’t worry. They’re bubblegum. Wouldn’t want to be handing out carcinogenic party favors, would we? That’s against the rules these days.
Comfortable? Good. So, comics. Yeah. Good stuff, huh? Damn straight.

Especially Catwoman. Great dialogue, great characters and some of the best graphic storytelling out there (“mainstream” or not). What? You think the art is too cartoony, you say? You don’t think that Ed Brubaker paces his scripts expertly and that guys like Cameron Stewart and Javier Pulido do a superlative job of laying out the action on the page? I do. Not ashamed to admit it, either. This is sequential art at work, folks. Splash pages to a minimum, but no shortage of action, whether it’s psychological, emotional or raw and physical.
I know what you non-readers are saying. We all remember the first volume of Catwoman, pneumatic Selina Kyle and latex costumes. I never could get past the covers, really. When folks recommended Catwoman to me awhile ago, I had serious reservations. “So what, she’s a thief and a hottie and that’s that. Not much to the book.” Well, that might have been true of the first series, but the current incarnation of the character is 180 degrees from that (though she’s alluring as all get-out, but not built like a porn starlet). Not only is Selina Kyle (mostly) reformed, but she’s ten times as deep and complex as just about any character that you’d pull out of an average comic today. That and Mr. Brubaker has created a supporting cast that does a great job of showing Selina’s depth, as well as showing some real depth of their own.
Folks, read this book. This is quality work.
And to show some love to the folks that make up the other half of the Big Two, let me throw out some praise for a book that I never thought I’d read again.
Let me tell you a little story. At the dawn of the 80s, I was a gawky, introverted teenager (in Southern California, home of Baywatch and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but that’s for another time). Slowly, I got into comics, though not too many of them. One of the titles that I began to pick up (thanks to Bill Mantlo and Rom: Spaceknight) was Uncanny X-Men. Somehwere around issue #143 or so was where I started out. Byrne and Austin were out, but Claremont was still on fire. I LOVED this book. I loved it so much that I bought back issues (#137 cost me the princely sum of $5.00 as a back issue; which adjusted for today would be probably the equivalent of 50 bucks). I was a die-hard X-Men fan. I stuck through X-Factor, stuck through the crossovers. I even bought a few issues of the New X-Men.
And then one day I realized that it was really not very good anymore. Sometime around the early 200s, I think. I kept buying anyways. I knew it was just in a slump and was going to get better. I was wrong. I gave up on it around 300 or so; hard to remember exactly, and all my shortboxes are in the garage, so I can’t check right now. Whatever. So, Uncanny had become Baywatch with mutants and art that I didn’t find attractive and characters that I couldn’t get into any longer (and I’d found stuff that was much better in terms of readability, but that’s another column.) So I did the unthinkable. I dropped it.
The X-Men were over, so far as I was concerned. It all ended sometime after they stopped doing the fun space opera stuff and the world got saved for the hundredth them.
So, some years later, a friend of mine told me that Grant Morrison had started up writing New X-Men. That was when I was pretty much no longer reading comics regularly. Fast forward about a year later. I picked up the trade collection of the “Imperial” story arc from New X-Men. I read.
And I read and I read some more. I couldn’t stop reading it. The characters were lively and fresh, the dialogue sparkling and the insane ideas flowed nonstop. Even Wolverine, who’d been a cartoon for far longer than I care to remember was given new life. The worlds they explored were both loopy and totally sane, a reflection of pop culture through Morrison’s prism. It was amazing stuff. And when I got to the conclusion where Jean Grey, well, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Let’s just say, the way that the X-Men got pulled out of the fire was both surprising and so brutally, emotionally honest that I was shocked at my own reaction to it.
I’d become an X-Men reader again. At least New X-Men. So, if you haven’t guessed, I’m a fan. I think that this is the best book that Marvel is putting out today. The rotating artists lineup doesn’t bother me, as it does some folks (and I think that Igor Kordey got a bad rap from a lot of fans, but the printing and coloring didn’t help in that respect.)
That’s where I stand in terms of favorite monthlies. There are others, certainly, that I hunt down, but most of those are either painfully irregular (I’m looking at you Mr. Mignola) or strictly limited series (which is both a good and a bad thing.) Lemme throw out a couple titles here. When new Hellboy or Goon comics show up in my pull box, well that makes my day. So does Teenagers from Mars, but I could write a whole column on that. The Filth, too, though I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t for everyone (hell, it’s probably only for about 1% of the comics market, really, and that’s a small percent of a small percentage of comics readers on the planet.)
If you haven’t guessed, I’m one of the few comics readers (or so it seems) who actually thinks that story takes precedence over art (though the art always has to be able to deliver it). If it came down to choosing superior draftsmanship skills or the ability to convey the action on the page, I’d take the storytelling ability every single time. If I want draftsmanship, I know where to find it, but to find artists who can consistently deliver the story. That’s pure gold to someone like me. Comics are, above all, a storytelling medium. Splashes are nice and all, but certainly make for…choppy storytelling (I know, tell that to Walt Simonson).
Yeah. Writing over art. Story. It all starts from story. The art should serve the story. Comics without story, even the merest bones of a story, aren’t even sequential art. They’re simply art, and don’t get me wrong, art is wonderful and can illuminate a lot dark corners of the psyche. But storytelling, that’s what it’s all about. It’s why we’re reading comics and not merely looking at picture books.
I know, I know. Try telling other folks that sometime.

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