Friday, April 03, 2015

Happy Easter--Mishmash

Hey something about comics.  Back in the 90's comics were undergoing stagnation somewhat.  All through the 80's there was sort of a resurgence in comics.  Mainstream books like X-Men, Swamp Thing, Batman, and Fantastic Four to name a few were all pretty strong.  The market had gone to direct publishing, and although you could still buy comics at the convenience stores and newsstands, there were also specialty shops that exclusively to handled comic books and back issues.  It was around this time I got back into comics.  Prior to that they were pretty oblivious to me.  At that time I remember attending a small local comic con at one of the Holiday Inns in West Texas.  I saw an ad for it somewhere, and had just begun to get interested again in the medium.  At that time, Frank Miller was doing Daredevil over at Marvel, and a British writer, Alan Moore was writing Swamp Thing for DC.  Some of the independent comics were also getting published, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of the hot titles too.  At the small comic convention I was really surprised by the dealer's there as  comics and fandom in general had become popular.  I picked up a couple of Epic Illustrated magazines as the artwork pretty much blew me away.  Epic Illustrated was sort of Marvel's answer to Heavy Metal magazine, or mimicked them, creating an anthology-type magazine with an assortment of stories, but mostly SF and fantasy. I also picked up some Badger comics, which was written by Mike Baron about an ex-Vietnam vet, who had gone crazy.  It was over-the-top crazy and turned the superhero genre on its ear.

At any rate, that was the mid-80's, and a magazine shop even opened in our area that started handling a lot of these titles.  It was a great time to be a collector and reader.  The comic market sort of bloomed and boomed and then sort of busted.  Now comics, from what I understand, have always gone through such cycles.  But around the 90's there was a glut of bad books being produced.  A lot of the mainstream writers had moved over to other publishers like Dark Horse.  Marvel went overboard producing their X-Men titles and characters and the same is true for Batman as the Michael Keaton/Tim Burton film had come out and generated a lot of hype. They had too many Batman and X-Men titles--I can't even recall them all, but X-Men, New Mutants, New X-Men, Classic X-Men, etc.  Plus they started catering to the "collector mentality" rather than producing "good" stories, and started making all these different covers to collect (which they tried to infer, would go up in price), and they'd make these holographic-type covers and put them sealed up in bags, and so forth.
Then there was also a bunch of new creators that came onto the scene.  I still don't understand what the publishers (or fans really) saw in them quite frankly.  They were young guys like Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd MacFarlane, Erik Larsen, and some others.  Some were pretty good, while others, like Liefeld, I didn't care anything for, in fact, I thought they were hacks.  A lot of their art was more or less sort of static, didn't convey much action, and more or less look like pin-up art set inside a story.  Some of the body proportions were either very stylized or close to a freak sideshow gone terribly wrong.   I didn't buy into it after all the wonderful art that had come before.  There were a lot of specialty publications as well that were catered to the comic enthusiast too, like Comic Values Month, Wizard, Mile High's comic catalog, among others that graded comics, were a price guide with tips, and what the hot books were, and what prices were going up and down, and zigzagging sideways--although I've yet to understand who you were going to sell your books to so you could make all this profit, and retire in the Bahamas.  All this is not to say, that some good books weren't still around or that I didn't enjoy some books being published during this era.  I'm just saying that there was a lot of hype, a glut of too many titles, etc.

Two of the better books to come out of the 90's era was Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, and Marvels by Kurt Busiek and art by Alex Ross.  Alex Ross was a newcomer at the time, but boy his art drew me right in, plus the stories were good too and provided a lot of nostalgia.  I won't go into the stories here, as the web has a bunch of that, plus if you haven't read them and want to do that, why spoil it for you?  But if you have read Kingdom Come and want to hear a podcast about it, I ran across one of those today.  At any rate, if interested in the podcast, go here, and scroll down to get to it. 
Staying with comics for a bit.  I also ran across this interview with the seminal gekiga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.  Gekiga just means dramatic pictures.  I think the artist wanted to separate himself from the typical, manga influence, which a large part of it has dealt with giant robots, SF, and that sort of thing.  Whereas Tatsumi's storytelling is more slice of life or realistic, expanding the storytelling to portray the lives of everyday people.  A large portion of his work has remained unavailable outside Japan, but I have found some of his work in bookstores.  Drawn & Quarterly has been produced many volumes of it, along with his epic, A Drifting Life.  which is his autobiographical work. It's around 800 pages and is a complex story that encompasses family dynamics, Japanese culture and history, first loves, the intricacies of the manga industry, and what it means to be an artist.  Here's the interview with him, if interested.

Over on the El Rey network which I still watch ever so often they have been showing some spaghetti westerns.  Many of them are pretty good or entertaining escapism.  I like westerns for the most part anyway, but there's an odd, raw nature to them.  At any rate, I ran across this list of Quentin Tarantino's favorite spaghetti western.  I'm not a huge Tarantino fan, I enjoy some of his work, some more than others, and he's a pretty interesting guy that has gained his status as a famous director.  But damn sometimes that guy comes off like an immature, teenage lout sometimes.  Perhaps a part of that stems from his fame, who knows, but I'll give him his due.  At any rate, below are those 20 spaghetti western titles:

  1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
  2. For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965)
  3. Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
  4. The Mercenary (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
  5. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
  6. A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964)
  7. Day of Anger (Tonino Valerii, 1967)
  8. Death Rides a Horse (Giulio Petroni, 1967)
  9. Navajo Joe (Sergio Corbucci,1966)
  10. The Return of Ringo (Duccio Tessar, 1965)
  11. The Big Gundown (Sergio Sollima, 1966)
  12. A Pistol for Ringo (Duccio Tessari, 1965)
  13. The Dirty Outlaws (Franco Rossetti, 1967)
  14. The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1968)
  15. The Grand Duel (Giancarlo Santi, 1972)
  16. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead (Giuseppe Vari, 1971)
  17. Tepepa (Giulio Petroni, 1968)
  18. The Ugly Ones (Eugenio Martin, 1966)
  19. Viva Django! (Ferdinando Baldi, 1967)
  20. Machine Gun Killers (Paolo Bianchini, 1968)

Speaking of westerns, I saw a good one last night starring Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones.  It was an unconventional western and had an odd story, but I liked it for that reason.  It didn't have the typical cliches in it about shoot outs in the street or barroom brawls, although had a few action scenes here and there.  The main focus of the story was about a woman played by Swank who was chosen to drive three other women across Nebraska to Iowa to a facility that would then take care of them (the story didn't delve to much into what would happen to them once they delivered them to Iowa).  As you might imagine many things happen to them on the trip.  There was a scene, which I won't go into as not to spoil things, that happens at the very end of the film that had me puzzled wondering what the director was trying to say or convey.  I think perhaps he might be saying that life doesn't always work out the way you expect it will or that life is always fraught with problems--or something to that effect.  I'm going to have to do a little Google searching to see what I turn up.  But at any rate, I enjoy the film overall.
Another great little film I watched lately was St. Vincent starring Bill Murray.  He plays a rather hard guy to like that lives in Brooklyn.  He has been shaped by his life, and has a rather cynical, surly nature about him--thus setting up the humor.  Both his character and the character played by Tommy Lee Jones in the western film above had some similarities.  Both men were rather brusque and self-indulgent.  St. Vincent, however, is a comedy. I'm not a huge fan of comedy these days, but this one was great.  A young boy moves in next door to Vincent and it changes his life somewhat.  If you enjoy comedies it was great, but if you have kids bear in mind it's not meant for them as it's more adult in nature.


At 8:22 AM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

I know what you mean about Tarantino. I’m impressed by his work, and I like much of it. Yet on talk shows he is inclined to brag about his confrontations and his fist fights in a way that makes one feel embarrassed for him. If his intent is to be Hemingway-esque, it is well to remember that this is precisely the aspect of Hemingway’s behavior that so many people regarded as jerky. That said, his take on movies is always interesting, well-considered, and unconventional. For example, in 2013 he said the best film of the year was “Afternoon Delight,” a quasi-comedy which is about as far from a Tarantino movie as you can get. (My user-review of “Afternoon Delight” is still the featured one on Amazon, I see.)

Maybe the best thing that happened to comics in the long run (though it hurt them at the time) was the savage attack on them in the ‘50s by Dr Frederic Wertham. It gave them their attractive bad-boy rep which, on these shores at least, they didn’t begin to earn until 30 years later.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Drew said...

Ah, 80s and 90s comics, now you're in my wheelhouse! From about 1985 until 2008 or so I was a voracious comics fan, mostly Marvel with a healthy dose of several DC titles. I think that was the best era, apart from Marvel in the 60s and early-to-mid 70s. I got disillusioned in the late 2000s with all of the endless relaunches, declining quality, and increasing prices. I miss the way comics USED to be but when I check in to see what's going on in the titles I used to read, I'm always disappointed if not disgusted with what they've done to some of those characters.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Richard, yeah, I don't know maybe Tarantino just likes to be confrontational, but he acts like a vulgar and unrefined goofball at times. I think some of that may come from being raised by one parent (his mother) and not having a strong father figure around. I've noticed the same in some of my friends too when growing up--sort of undisciplined, etc. I guess it is what it is. Though I do like his enthusiasm for films in general.

You may be right about the Wertham thing, but at the same time that led into the Silver Age and superheroes and all that, which was a big boon for both Marvel & DC.

Drew, I know what you mean about how comics have changed & how they continue to do so. I understand about printing & paper cost have escalated, etc. But dang, paying $4. for one comic that is just one part of an ongoing story is beyond my allowance. :) I often wondered if they went back to pulp paper and dropped the price down to $2. if they wouldn't do more business. But that doesn't seem to be in the future. If anything, it seems digital is going to be the wave of the future, which dumps on all the actually comic shops, but that doesn't seem to sway publishers, no more that paying work-for-hire did during Kirby/Siegel-Shuster era.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Drew said...

Good point about the paper and printing, although I'm sure you've noticed how the page count has gone down, the ads increased, and the prices still go up. I remember paying $0.50 and $0.75/issue as a kid. The Annuals and special issues would be $1.50 which was a big deal, but there was nothing better than going to the comic shop with my hard-earned $25 and leaving with a stack of new comics. I miss those days!

How long did you collect? Which titles?

At 11:14 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Well, I started out collecting as a kid (sort of). Mostly we had a box we'd throw our comics into, and reread them. I didn't get back into comics until the mid-80's around '86 or '87. It seemed like there was a big craze then, and I enjoyed it. I think comics were selling around $1.25 as I remember. I think that's what I was paying for Daredevil and X-Men. I started out buying Frank Miller's Daredevil, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, some X-Men with Claremont, Conan, and then some indie titles like Flaming Carrot, Xenozoic Tales, some stuff off First publishing like Grim Jack, Nexus. Also Dark Horse Presents (an anthology title), and some titles off that imprint, like Concrete and others.

As you said, you could spend around $15. per week and get some interesting comics. I still enjoy a lot of the creators of those titles, but just can't muster the cost (or storage) to buy comics now. Reading prose from books is just as fun, so much cheaper, and just as rewarding. I can always break out a comic and reread it--or I'll pick up a graphic novel from time to time. Sometimes I can find something cool at the library too. I read the first two collected books of Saga that way.

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Drew said...

For me what really killed comics was the constant need to reboot and revamp the origin stories and basically wipe away the decades of history before. It just sucked all the fun out of it for me.


Post a Comment

<< Home