I seem to recall that John Peel always imagined himself broadcasting to a single, sympathetic listener. Anything less 2018 is hard to imagine, and for that alone, it’s an approach worth emulating. After all, blogging and more traditional forms of broadcasting are in some essential ways rather similar. Both project the one side of a conversation out into the void in the hope of establishing a connection of some sort. But what kind of imagined conversation to have? The very act of discussing other people’s work in a public forum is a dangerously presumptuous business. Even if the blogger isn’t expecting to be read, there’s still the fear of striking the wrong notes. From arrogance to complacency, ignorance to cruelty, there’s more than enough wrong notes to be hit. So, if you’ll forgive me, my imagined and sympathetic reader, I’m going to strive to adopt as much as I can of Peel’s on-air approach for this exceedingly-out-the-way blog. If I err on the side of a sincere civility, it’s a mistake I believe I can live with. As such, thank you for popping over. You are, believe me, very welcome. I hope you’ll find something at Them Darned Superpeople that helps while away a moment or two.
Having once blogged for what now feels like a great many years, I find I still miss the process. Little encourages concentration and involvement so much as a commitment to reason through a response. In a world where entertainments are ridiculously plentiful, it’s all too easy to slide towards absent-minded consumption. Yet so many of the comics that have made the greatest impression upon me, for good and ill, are the ones that I’ve taken the time to write about. Finding the right format for a new blog delayed me for a while, but a false start last year helped crystallise what I wanted to do. Failure does often work that way. Hence, this new blog; Them Darned Superpeople.
To begin with; a declaration of interest. Below is what I’m currently enjoying when it comes to comics, and comics-related, material. It isn’t a definitive summary of my taste, but, when I pop back here in two days time to chat about one of America’s most recent wallet-emptying anniversary issues, this will at least might hint at my current preferences and prejudices. All that’s missing from this list are a handful of recent titles that I’m looking forward to writing about soon.
I fully intend to be posting here at least once a week, so, gentle reader, perhaps you might consider returning at some point in the future. Your presence would be most welcome.
I have reluctantly sworn off Kickstarters. To my regret, my pockets just aren’t deep enough to invest in even a small fraction of the projects I’d like to. Yet to opt for one campaign and not its many competitors felt invidious, and that’s especially true when I’ve had the privilege of swapping a word or two with many of the creators who are taking the Kickstarter route. But as my last pledge, or at least my last prior to my surely-coming lottery win, I’m glad I joined the ranks of those supporting artist/writer Alfie Gallagher‘s Debris. A charming collection of short stories, some more fantastical than others, with tales by the artist himself as well as Lee Robson, Ryan K Lindsay, Martin Hayes and Fraser Campbell, it recently arrived along with a welcome set of Debris badges. (Kickstarter projects can be fiendishly enticing.) Should you be curious about Alfie’s work, I’d also heartily recommend the gallery of art that he generously posted at my old TooBusyThinking blog a few years ago.
I’d be astonished to come across a review that convincingly argued that The Phoenix isn’t one of today’s very finest comics. After more than 6 years in print, its consistency as well as its quality remains awe-inspiring. Few if any comics anthologies, all-age or not, can be matched against it for the week-in and week-out excellence of its contents. Strips and features come and go, but The Phoenix remains pre-eminent. Finding a new copy on the supermarket newsstand is always a joy. (Looking back, something I’m glad to have done when I was Q’s comics critic was celebrate The Phoenix’s ascendency with a 5 star, column-heading review. Not because my words were of any significance in themselves, but because the comic simply deserved, as it still deserves, to be more widely known and lauded. I’m suspect it would have seemed like a dubious business to many an editor of a magazine aimed at adults, but I recall then-Q ed Andrew Harrison being completely behind the idea from the off. Great comics are great comics, no matter what the age advisory states. It was a privilege to be able to say so.)
As comics become more and more of a luxury item, the pleasures of encountering a bargain in a secondhand shop increase. To find The Essential Superman Encyclopedia for a mere 100 pennies was a joy. Even so, I might not have bought a volume that I was unlikely to use for anything but dipping, had the authors not been Robert Greenberger, who I recall as one of DC’s finest editors in the 80s and 90s, and Martin Pasko, who himself wrote so many fine Man Of Steel stories. It is, I will readily admit, an exercise in nostalgia. And what of it?
For far too many years now, I’ve been working on what appears to have become a two-volume account of Mark Millar‘s career in comics. As such, Millar’s titles are some of the few that I’m absolutely guaranteed to buy on the moment of release. As of this moment, I couldn’t honestly tell what I think about this origin tale of the second Kick-Ass. Millar and Romita Jnr’s work is always worth paying attention to in terms of craftmanship, but the way in which Millar’s tales are now structured places a huge premium on the manner in which they’re concluded. After the fashion of a blockbuster action movie, a great deal of Kick-Ass’ worth will be determined by its final act, which is still a few months down the line. Until then, what I would say is that the first few outings of this new incarnation of Kick-Ass are – shall we say? – brutally efficient.
Dan Simmons’ Drood clearly isn’t a comic. But I add it here because it does something that used to largely only be found in what were then the largely despised margins of pop culture, in sci-fi and popular music and comics. By this I mean the fusing of high culture and low in a popular form, in which the pleasures of genre are imaginatively hybridised with more supposedly serious traditions. In Drood, we’re given a literary horror tale in which Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins grapple, or at least appear to grapple, with a monstrous and apparently supernaturally powerful criminal mastermind. It’s a novel that’s at home with the fine details of its Victorian setting as it is with the Forteana of legendary death cults, mid-1800s mesmerism and formidable drug abuse. It is, we might agree, a very meta novel indeed. Back in the 60s and 70s, such tales were relatively thin on the ground in any medium. They certainly existed, but it was a push to find any great number of them. Thankfully, comics, desperate for new ideas and long in the habit of mashing up all and sundry, were especially good at collapsing together conventionally distinct forms and influences, creating as they did so new and enthralling worlds for their readers to explore. Now the periphery has absorbed the mainstream and we can find such tales pretty much everywhere. It is a wonderful thing, to be able to enjoy the work of the likes of del Toro, King and Whedon – to name but a few – in the mainstream of film and TV. But for the action/adventure comic, it poses a challenge that I’m not entirely sure is being squarely faced up to. The threat to traditional forms of comics by, say, computer games has long been a given. But the threat is also there from the vast, complex, immersive fictions of the 21st century, from Rowling to, yes, Simmons. Why read a relatively expensive 20 page monthly comic when, for a few coppers more, you can become lost in 770 pages of Drood?
I recently acquired a copy of Eagle from 2 May 1959, in which the final episode of Dan Dare to be helmed by the great Frank Hampson appeared. As you can see from the scan above, Hampson’s work was at its absolute, glorious height. Heaven knows what he might have achieved had he not been sacked from his own creation. To have the original printing of the very last page of Safari In Space is such a pleasure. No matter how carefully the editors of recent reprint volumes have approached their responsibilities, they’ve struggled to match the clarity and, yes, beauty of the originals. Even on the slightly faded pages of an issue from almost 60 years ago, the colours remain beguilingly subtle and compelling. When I first came across this story, it was in a mid-70s annual in which Hampson’s pages had been crudely reproduced in a smaller format. Worse yet, Hampson’s wonderfully designed pages had been frequently cut up and recombined in order to suggest the tale had originally been a single narrative. Even so, the work captivated me. Thankful to see the strips in their original form, I remain every bit as captivated today.
I count myself incredibly fortunate to live in a county where the worst of library cuts haven’t as yet landed. I fear the worst is coming, but as yet, the butcher’s axe is still to actually fall. For those of us without an excess of disposable income, our local branches are a vital resource. Just a small but vital part of that is the privilege of enjoying access to a far wider range of graphic novels than would otherwise be possible. Take Maier and Simon’s Einstein for example, which is every bit as captivating as its cover would suggest. I doubt I’d ever have opted to buy the graphic novel. The competition is too great and the pennies too limited. But I enjoyed the heck out of its gentle, insightful tour around Einstein’s life and works. My reading would be considerably poorer if it weren’t for the libraries that our lords and masters appear determined to run right into the ground.
Another temporary acquisition from the library is 2015’s Killing and Dying, a collection of six stories by Adrian Tomine. I do so admire & enjoy Tomine’s remarkable ability to isolate the most still & quietly poignant moment in just about any situation. Full page shots of planes and trains are brilliantly bled of dynamism & rendered every bit as touchingly Hopperesque as comfortably soulless flats in Orange County & angst-saturated suburban dining rooms. Ecah and every panel is entirely compelling.
Them Darned Superpeople will return in two days time, with a look at one of the most disturbing conspiracies to ever be depicted in a superhero tale…