I’m on a personal quest to discover which comics are still relevant to me today. I’ve loved the form my entire life–particularly the super-hero genre. Over the years, I’ve fallen away from the super-heroes; barbarian phase, independent phase, Vertigo phase, adult phase, and back around to super-heroes again. DC’s New 52 pulled me strongly back into the colorful tights, but every month, I tend to drop a couple more–replacing them with something a bit different.

So, gentle readers, today I’m going to chat with you about a little bit of this and a little bit of that. A little bit of this was The New Deadwardians, a book I really hoped to like–Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have provided me with some fine entertainment with Marvel’s cosmic books, and this one was written by the former. As an alternate universe period piece (along the lines of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies), this is a successful read. However, it’s not for me. As much as I enjoy a good undead yarn, this one reads a little dry for my tastes. For a book that borrows from multiple sources, it’s an original take–I just prefer my monsters a little less cultured.

Now for a little bit of that. I’ve always had a fondness for the Teen Titans–some of the earliest comics I ever read were Nick Cardy reprints in Brave And The Bold. The Marv Wolfman/George Perez ’80s update was one of my favorite books for years (mullets and disco Nightwing notwithstanding). I’ve even enjoyed some of the darker takes on the sidekick genre. For example, Rick Veitch’s Bratpack was an incredible bit of deconstructionist writing. Well, Image comics just published a great new take on the sidekick super-team called Danger Club. It feels kind of like a dark DC universe, where all the adult supers are gone, and Robin and Superboy are duking it out in the mother of all slugfests. You thought Batman laid the royal beat-down on Superman in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns? Man, this Kid Vigilante (Robin) tops him in sheer brutality… Big fun, but I wouldn’t hand this teen sidekick book to your kids!

Pamela Mullin, editor at Vertigo, posted Paul Cornell’s pitch for SAUCER COUNTRY on the Vertigo blog the other day.  As a writer and a writing teacher, I have to admit that I love stuff like this.  It gives us insight into the mind of the creator, and also reveals a pitch that was actually accepted by a major publisher.  As anyone that has ever submitted one of these will tell you, writing a successful pitch isn’t easy.  Here is an excerpt from Cornell’s pitch:

ARCADIA ALVARADO is the Latina, female, Republican Governor of New Mexico. She’s on the Libertarian wing of her party, a secret athiest who attends church to appease the religious right, but still a basically honest and dedicated politician who knows that people want to believe in something.

But when, one night, she and MICHAEL (who has a well-rumored drinking problem) are taken from their car by what she believes to be ALIENS…her life changes forever. She was told by the little Grey beings that they’d nearly completed their centuries-long plan for Earth, and will be back, not just for her, but for the whole human race… in one year’s time.

Based on what I see so far, this has the makings of an interesting series.  As the pitch continues, Cornell reveals the theme of his new book:

UFO mythology is wonderful, strange, and varied. It stretches back centuries, from Biblical descriptions of flying machines to medieval crop-circle-making demons to the ‘foo fighters’ of WW2 to the flying saucers of the 1950s and flying triangles of the 1980s. Only recently has it started to become a concrete narrative about ‘Greys’ and ‘abductions’. Our aim with this title will be to journey through this powerful modern mythology, weird and resonant, full of wonder, a map of what America (because these are American dreams) is right now. To know a country, know its mythology. And this is the only modern American mythology.

I stumbled across Warren Ellis’ pitch for PLANETARY a few years back, and I’ve gone back to it numerous times over the years as a shining example of how to write these damn things.  This is his opening:

The Wildstorm Universe is just the obvious shiny surface of an Earth with superheroes. Go a little deeper, and you find strangeness and wonder on a planetary scale. There are people weirder and more marvellous than the WildC.A.T.S. or StormWatch, who simply prefer to operate outside the glare of world publicity. There are mad and beautiful things beneath the skin of the world we know, that you only see when you look at things on a planetary scale…

…and I’m not talking about X-Files stuff. Fun as it is, it’s done to death. I’m talking about a world in the superhero genre whose only known heroes, for the most part, are sourced in conspiracy theory and hallucinated alien histories. What if, underneath all that, there was an entire classic old superhero world? What if there were huge Jack Kirby temples underground built by old gods or new, and ghostly cowboys riding the highways of the West for justice, and superspies in natty suits and 360-degree-vision shades fighting cold wars in the dark, and strange laughing killers kept in old Lovecraftian asylums… what if you had a hundred years of superhero history just slowly leaking out into this young and modern superhero world of the Wildstorm Universe? What if you could take everything old and make it new again?

Here we see Ellis revealing the theme of his story right up front.  Considering the execution of Planetary, one of the best series of all time in my opinion, this was an excellent choice.  Every issue was filled with a sense of wonder, and you can see that wonder right there in the pitch.

I talk about query letters a bit in my writing class, and we cover some of this material then.  A query letter is something like a pitch, one where you have to convey the most intriguing part of your short story or novel in one or two paragraphs!  Many of my students have told me that they find writing queries more difficult than actually writing their novel.

Most would concur, however, that it is easier than writing author bios.  I’ve never met a writer on any level who enjoy writing those cursed things.

Shy of two months ago I had never read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Series. I had only heard good things about the series, but was unable to read it because vol 1 seemed to elude me for so long. Two months ago by some miracle I was able to sit down and over the course of three days I read all ten volumes. Needless to say I fell in love with the series.

Sandman follows Morpheus the king of Dreams and his siblings, the Endless which consist of Despair, Destiny, Desire, Death,  Delirium, and the missing Destruction, and their interactions throughout time with humans and other gods. While I loved the ongoing storyline I always seemed to look forward to the side stories; finding out more about the Endless siblings and their interactions with each other. Sandman is filled with moments that make you think, laugh, and shake your head in horror. If you’re looking for a book filled with mythology, magic, and a great story look no further than Sandman.

If you wish to catch up on Sandman these collected volumes are available to start:


The Annotated Sandman Vol 1 HC

Sandman Vol 1 TP

Absolute Sandman Vol 1

And for the kiddies:

the Little Endless Storybook Vol 1 & 2

There is an interesting article over at Newsarama that asks fans why new characters and concepts struggle.  Obviously, this is a problem not only for comics, but pretty much every corner of the entertainment world.  I am absolutely sick of remakes at the movies and on TV.  Reading the article got me to thinking about my own buying habits, and I’ve decided to compile a list of reasons that will make me try or reject a new book.  Here goes:

  1. I’ll grab any book off the racks with an intriguing cover.  I may not go past the first few pages, but a startling cover is an absolute necessity.
  2. I’ll buy the first issue of almost any Vertigo title.  That said, I never come back for seconds on at least 50% of these.
  3. I’ll pick up almost any book that is a western or an urban fantasy.  I’ll avoid almost any book from the crime or sci-fi genres.
  4. I have no interest whatsoever in political comics.  The biographies of Barack Obama, Michelle Bachman or anyone running for any office anywhere are completely out of my radar.
  5. I’ll pick up the first issue of anything by Mike Carey, Geoff Johns, Bill Willingham, Brian K. Vaughn or Scott Snyder unless the book is negated by some other category.
  6. New superheroes are harder.  I tend to stay away from Marvel superheroes, but have occasionally given one a try.  However, right now the only Marvel book on my pull list is The Dark Tower.  I tried a lot of the New 52 from DC, but many of those books never made it past the first issue.  Since everyone is always talking about the Blue Beetle, I’ll say that I tried his first series after Infinite Crisis, didn’t really care for it, and didn’t even consider it when his new series was launched in September.  It would take a compelling cover and an even more compelling character/story for me to pick up a non-DC superhero.  But it has happened.
  7. Above all else, for me to buy a second issue, the writing has to be superb.  Books that are edgy for the sake of being edgy do not make it onto my pull list.  If I can’t identify with at least one character, the book is done.  The best titles hooked me on the first issue for an entire series.  Severed is the perfect example of this.  I read the first issue and added it to my list.  I’ve been reading Superman since 2004 and I can’t say if I’m going to keep up with the New 52 title after the first story arc, but I’m sticking with Severed for the long haul.  Why?  Excellent artwork, brilliant storytelling and compelling characters.  It’s the same story with The Unwritten, Fables and many other titles.  Of course, what anyone considers to be excellent is subjective, and it’s the job of the publisher and creators to figure that out.  I will not suffer through a book because I’m “supposed” to like it.  I’m sure Brian Azzarello is brilliant, but his work is just not for me.  I picked up Loveless, for example, because it was a western with cool art, but I quickly detached from the story because, well, I hated all of the characters.
That’s my list.  There are probably other factors as well, but these are the main ones.  I’m sorry to say that my pull list is the smallest right now that it’s been in years, but there are titles that I’m very excited about, and I’m hopeful that the comic industry will be able to hook me on many more new books in the coming year.  If not, I might have to start watching TV again, and wouldn’t that be a sad day?

 

I love Vertigo.  Superheroes are fine, but after events and weeklies and relaunches, I sometimes grow weary of men in tights beating the living snot out of one another, and I long for something deeper.  That’s when I turn to Vertigo.  The Unwritten is my favorite title, and I’ve loved many of the classic Vertigo titles such as Fables, Y: The Last Man, The Sandman and Sweet Tooth.  Just as enjoyable are some of the mini-series and on-shots that have come out in recent years.  Joe the Barbarian was beautiful, and I also enjoyed Daytripper and the recent one-shot Strange Adventures.

Last week, Vertigo released an anthology book called The Unexpected.  For $7.99 I was expecting a lot from The Unexpected, and the writers and artists delivered.  My favorite story was Americana, written by Brian Wood and drawn by Emily Carroll.  Beginning in 2012, the story follows a 6-year old girl throughout the course of her entire life as she and her mother, and later her own daughter, attempt to forge a new life in post-apocolpyptic America.  Beautifully drawn, this story was a touching reminder of the power of family, and that a woman can be strong in a way that is completely atypically of many comic book stories.

I hope Vertigo continues to release these anthologies.  I, for one, will definitely be back for more.