END OF YEAR TOP TEN BLOWOUT BECAUSE NOW IS CHRISTMAS NOT COLUMN WRITINGMAS!* GUEST STARRING IVY DOOMKITTY FOR REASONS THAT ARE WEAK TO SAY THE LEAST!
*(Unless Marvel’s Axis finishes before Christmas, because man, do I have stuff to say about that comic. I’ll postpone wrapping presents to do that column.)
‘Every time I lace up my boots, I learn something new.’ -Bret Hart
HOLD ONTO YOUR HATS, AS I RUN THROUGH THE TOP TEN TOTAL BESTEST COMICS OF 2014, BE SURE TO TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS SECTION IF I’M WRONG AND-
No, Bollocks. I can’t do it.
Look, I understand the whole Top Ten thing is very popular at this time of year. It’s an easy gig: Slap together a couple of sentences explaining why chosen thing is good, throw in a couple of adjectives and add a dash of suggestion that you’re not quite keeping up with the Joneses and you probably shouldn’t say anything else until you’ve bought THIS slice of entertainment. It’s quick, easy web traffic and all that. The success of sites like Cracked, Upworthy, Bored Panda and such would suggest that lists are popular with humans. But here’s my issue (The LULZ! ISSUES, THO!) with the whole process
Taste is entirely personal. I might have gone off on this before, but really, I don’t take my tastes as something to get too worried about, and it doesn’t really bother me too much if someone doesn’t share them anymore than I get insecure if I like banana & bacon sandwiches and you don’t.
I mean, what am I going to do? Shout ‘HOW DARE YOU NOT LIKE BACON & BANANA SANDWICHES?’ at you until you eat one? You didn’t enjoy eating it, and now I’ve wasted a sandwich on someone who didn’t want one in the first place. Achievement, and sandwich…wasted.
Also, while these kind of pieces do generate a degree of feedback, it’s usually the most banal conversation in the world. Either: ‘I’m glad your reviewer, clearly a humanoid of fine taste enjoyed ‘All New Strumpet Lass. I also enjoyed it. Now there are two of us who enjoy each issue of ‘All New Strumpet Lass.’ (To which I can’t really think of a response beyond ‘Good?’) or worse, the kind of response that always runs something along these lines.
I have just read your review of ‘Construction Tales’, and can only conclude that you clearly weren’t reading the same comic as I. While you are certainly entitled to your, ahem, subjective opinion, I enjoyed every single panel hugely. I delighted at the nuances, drank in the splendor of the artwork and a great many of my friends, whose opinion I greatly respect, also had lots of good things to say about the work. I am stunned that you would only rate ‘Constructive Tales’ 8 out of the ten best comics of the year when it should be 2, or perhaps even, dare I suggest, Number 1.
Mr Tony Bloggs, Falkirk.’
This sort of shit was so frequent in music magazines, that when I worked in a record shop around the turn of the century, we’d scour Mojo, Uncut, etc to see who had filled their letter with all those elements first. The last person to get all of those components from the month’s feedback would have to go out and buy coffee for everyone else.
First off, what’s the point of this? Are any of these people actually expecting some kind of retraction to happen?
‘Dear Readers. Last Christmas, we published a top ten list of comics released in 2014. After receiving a letter from Tony Bloggs, Falkirk, we’ve seen the error of our ways and have repositioned ‘Sexy Violent’ at the number 1 spot, rather than the number 4 place it had been in previously. We apologise for our error and would like to thank Tony for pointing out our mistake. We shall be consulting Tony with all our opinions from now on and also have set him with a night out at Hooters with Ivy Doomkitty, on us.
Thank you, The editors and our mothers. Who are very ashamed of us.’
Also, you know, it comes back to the same argument I’ve been making since the last time I did acid. All stimuli is experienced subjectively. Your personal history denotes your personality and what you like and don’t. Since all human lives are utterly unique, there is no possible way any two people can see the same thing since your filters are retaining the information in a totally different fashion. I can not make you like bacon & banana sandwiches if you don’t already have a taste for that kind of thing. You’re either attracted to a thing or not, and when you think of comics in these terms, all the arguments for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art become fairly…ludicrous.
‘YOU DO NOT LIKE VANILLA ICE CREAM. THIS IS BAD. MANY OF US DO LIKE VANILLA ICE CREAM, THEREFORE WE HAVE AGREED NOT LIKING VANILLA ICE CREAM IS A BAD OPINION.’
So, I’m afraid I’ve got no real desire to rate comics on a 1 to 10 scale of quality, since there’s nothing really tangible to suggest that score. At least with football, the team at the top of the league has scored an amount of points at this point in the season that is more than all the other teams. If it were a sales chart, I could show you the pre-orders for Death Of Wolverine 1 that were greater than any other comic published in 2014. How do I allocate quality points to a medium that publishes thousands of new books every year on a huge number of subjects across several genres? I can’t even work out how to compare ‘All New Doop’ to All New X-Men’ without empirical evidence that would suggest one is greater than the other. My argument would come down to ‘Doop is much funnier and less of a twat than Cyclops. Therefore I like All New Doop more.’
But here’s that list of my favourite comics published in this calendar year, in no order, just so I don’t mislead anyone with the title:
(A special mention must go to Spider-Woman 1. While it isn’t even my favourite comic spinning out of the surprisingly entertaining Marvel cross-over ‘Spider-Verse’, it has confirmed my theory that quite a lot of Fandom would happily resurrect The Comics Code Authority, as long as they could redraw offending artwork themselves. Cheers, Milo. Still one of the greatest people to ever draw comics, and his ‘Take the money and run’ attitude to Marvel only solidifies my opinion of him. Check out his work here.)
Okay, so, formality out of the way, but let me get into what I think is a more interesting angle than ‘One more pop culture obsessive tries to tell you how you should spend your money.’
If there’s a question I get that totally confounds me, it’s ‘But how do you know all this stuff?’ Which, I dunno, I don’t want to be sarcastic about it, but there are two reasons I ‘know all this stuff.’
One: I’m a lot older than I look, and I’ve been reading books, fanzines and professional magazines about comics since I walked into Avalon Comics in 1992 and the latest issue of Comics International screamed ‘McFarlane, Lee, Liefeld Leave Marvel To Form Image Comics’. I didn’t know you were allowed to leave Marvel back then, or why you’d want to. A read through the issue woke me up to the fact that if I wanted to spend any amount of time in the comics business, I better wake up really fast and stop drinking the Kool-Aid that Marvel Age and Direct Currents were trying to sell me on a monthly basis, because all that would leave me with is a house full of bad crossovers, an empty wallet.
So, I guess the answer is I know all this stuff is because I sat down and studied it. Given the option of new comics or new magazines about comics, I’d probably go for the magazine. You can’t know where you are unless you know how you got here, and while every opinion is valid, you can’t really tell me you know much about Image Comics unless you know the joke about the Pizza Delivery Man and The Kirby Awards.
Two: I’m lucky enough to balance a voracious appetite for information with a humility and understanding of how much I don’t know about the history of comics. I’m constantly hunting down things like Inside Comics, Amazing Heroes, The Will Eisner Quarterly as if I were doing a life-long degree on the medium. Attitude will only get you so far, but if you can’t back it up, eventually you’re just sneering at everything.
So instead of ‘Here is why you’re STUPID unless you bought Image Comic X.’, I thought ‘Here are ten magazines/publications about the history of comics that are good starting points for anyone wanting to look behind the press releases. I’m having to miss out far too much, as I’ve tried to keep this to things you’d be able to get hold of directly from here and why they’re worth reading, and there are far too many things that will just never be translated to digital form because they’re just not relevant to anything anymore.
This is one of this columns where I’d actually like feedback of the ‘Oh, I have Number 3 (or whatever), have you read this magazine?’ kind. Because I LOVE learning new things, and I thought that was the point of the Internet. To share information on interests with like-minded peers, not to try to set ourselves up as Opinion/Information Gods. We’re alright for Wannabe Messiahs in Comics, really. Thanks.
(Note, I would have added later issues of my beloved Hero Illustrated here, as it really found its groove once it dumped the price guide and wannabe Wizard aspects of the magazine, but as far as I’m aware, nobody has legally translated the content into digital format. Shame, but certainly worth picking up any issues you find in cheap boxes. The writers were a bit saltier and happy to let creators vent about problems than Wizard’s ‘EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! BUY OUR NEW COMICS!’ interview approach. Also the 1st issue of Sub-Media magazine, which featured the full, unlettered art for Big Numbers issue 3 and early work by Ashley Wood. Good luck finding a copy, though.)
Just to totally contradict the whole point of this column, I will argue to my dying day that the comic medium peaked with William Gaines’s Entertaining Comics line. There has never been anything better than them in the industry. Not Lee & Kirby’s Marvel work, Not Eisner’s Spirit strips, not even Jodowrowksy’s er, anything (There are no bad, or even mediocre Alejandro comics, and I don’t think you can say that about any other professional comics creator’s output ever.) Sandman? Watchmen? Fables? Scott PIlgrim? Do one, will yer? Pick your choice of the best five comics from any publisher’s history and stack them up against Vault Of Horror, Mad!, Tales From The Crypt, M.D and Shock Suspenstories and see your beloveds stagger home with a bruised eye and in need of tissue for a snotty nose, battered nose.
Here, Gaines talks us through the history of EC, including the Wertham trial, the fall out with Kurtzman, how he ended up running Entertaining Comics in the first place and how it sadly ended with Time-Warner acquiring Mad! Fascinating stuff.
The Comics Journal collects all of their interviews with ‘The King into one handy if somewhat bloody awkward sized volume. Worth it for Jack’s thoughts on Stan Lee alone, but also as good an introduction into the man’s full body of work as I’ve read. Honourable mention must also go to The Jack Kirby Collector, a magazine dedicated to trying to reprint every single thing Jack worked on and keep thousands of anecdotes alive and in print.
Evan Dorkin explodes at EVERYTHING!
The industry needs more creators with the insight and rage of Evan. I once quit a project in comics because the other members of the project got upset at one of his Eltingville Club strips. Seriously.
Man, THIS magazine started with a bang. Written before the recent settlement between the Kirby Family and Marvel, the issue went at great length to illustrate Jack Kirby’s contributions to Marvel’s movie output and just how little the Kirbys had seen in response to the huge amounts taken at the cinema. Always good to read from when wishing to make Marvel hacks feel awkward, and the next step for Jon B. Cooke after the late, lamented Top Shelf version of ‘Comic Book Artist’. Also a cracking panel between Neal Adams & Denny O’Neil.
BOY, was this issue appreciated by me, if possibly not the majority of the Image Seven, Marvel Editorial and certainly not Scott Rosenberg and anyone working at Malibu at the time.
Unconvinced (Unlike 99% of the comics press circa 1992 and no end of mail order comics retailers at the time.) that Image was the final blow in the war against Marvel and DC regarding Creator Rights, Gary Groth writes a both funny and vicious overview with his editorial ‘Tarnished Image’, covering the events that led to the formation of Image, explaining the massive hypocrisy or potential ignorance of setting up with Malibu. Followed up a couple of years later by Groth’s stunned interview with Todd McFarlane which is still one of the funniest things I’ve read, if only for Todd’s ever inventive use of the word ‘Fuck!’
Not the deepest magazine in the world (Features tend to run along the lines of ‘Which costumes did Supergirl wear in The Bronze Age?’ or ‘The Legion Of Super-Heroes: Their Greatest Battles!’) but the Pro2Pro section is usually informative and their ‘Rough Stuff’ section collects an interesting sample of lost sketches on a given theme. I selected this issue as it’s a run through the slightly odder end of the mainstream comics industry, with a full history of my beloved Spider-Ham. Also an interview with John Byrne regarding his run on She-Hulk, Reid Fleming and an awesome Pro2Pro interview concerning Ambush Bug, containing the funniest Fan Letter story I’ve read since ‘Man Of Action’ from Punisher 19….
An incredibly comprehensive interview with of National Lampoon fame, taking in the movies, his contribution to the film Ghostbusters, how the most ripped off cover of the 20th century came about, how he got work out of the likes of and even the bitter end of the magazine, when it had become a terrible Maxim knock-off and his thoughts on that. Also chats with cartoonists Gahan Wilson, Neal Adams and a conversation on the great Vaughn Bode. And exactly what the fuck was going on with those John Lennon/Yoko Ono pictures.
Sadly, BWS doesn’t seem to say much to the comics press anymore. Damn shame, as Bazza’s always both a funny and frank interview when the shackles are let off. Here, while he’s meant to promoting the sadly never completed ‘Storyteller’ project for Dark Horse, he lets loose on his love for Kirby, the, er, awkwardness of Stan Lee’s storytelling in the early Marvel days, explains what happened between him, the Conan ‘Wank’ scandal and why Marvel censored Red Sonja’s arse, Jim Shooter and Valiant, how his Weapon X project for Marvel came together, what the hell ‘Rune’ was meant to be and accidentally takes the total piss out of both Joe Kubert’s ‘Fax From Sarajevo’ and the early Image comics while sheepishly trying to justify why he ended up taking on ‘Wildstorm Rising’. Good work from Gary Groth for being as funny as Bazza the whole.
Published by Dark Horse not long after Eisner’s death a few years back, Frank and Will talk their way through their respective careers, their feelings on where the industry could go. Totally informative, even for those of us with no desire to draw any comics ever. Features some rare con sketches and just an entertaining and often both funny and equally heartbreaking run through the history of comics, how Cartooning Studios were set up, and even a few glimpses into their working processes.
Features the final interview with Dave Stevens. Nothing much to be added to that, really.
And unless anything else happens, that’s it for 2014, I think. I have things involving Tinsel, Lego Batman 3, Longboxes full of bad Marvel comics from the turn of the century and Ladies to do. The older and more informed of you will have noticed a glaring omission from my rundown through ‘Comics Magazines What Were Good, Like.’ and there’s a reason for that which I can’t talk about here, yet. Thanks to all of you who’ve shared, commented, argued the toss either online or in person or have been there for me to hit up at all hours for research purposes.
Special shout outs go to Owen Michael Johnson who apparently reads these words and thought it was worth offering me a blurb gig on the back of it and also getting me a chance to interview one of my heroes, Alan Martin for being one of the humblest, funniest people I’ve ever met despite my babbling all kinds of ‘BUT YOU WROTE TANK GIRL!’ at him, Dave Taylor for just being sound as fuck, Sarah Taylor-Harman for being a grounding influence and getting where I actually come from,David Hine for the free stuff and the story about the artwork in a skip, Colin Bell, John Lees and Iain Laurie for their Twitter rants at each other that make me laugh shit through my nose, Dave Elliott for being a good mate through everything, Jon Browne for the common sense and ability to quote Pete N’ Dud at any given moment, Guy Lawley for actually getting half of my stupid comics jokes and being very good at pub and medical advice.
Alex DeCampi for agreeing to do an interview for Grindhouse despite being knackered, Amy Brander for believing in me far more than I do, Sarah Gordon whose constant genius keeps me humble, Bellan Dye for carrying on listening and being one of the good fans, the London Love Comics boys for encouraging my stupid Spider-Ham jokes and abusing a pub dog into becoming Lockjaw, Alasdair Cooke for general support and being a sound bloke. Amie Barron for keeping me in video games and scandalous stories of her sex life that I can’t begin to go into here, George Khoury for being an inspiration, gossip and mentor, Carly Zombiie just for being one of my oldest friends who’s always up for daft comics gossip at 4am, Eini because…she’s Eini and that’ll have to do for this life, sadly, Simone Borgia & Ana Stevenson for reading through to tell me if I’m making sense before the rest of you see this and any number of ladies who’ve both encouraged me and left me to it enough to get on with writing this, Will Morgan for being who he is and keeping me steadily employed and Jessica Kemp who made it clear that she thought giving me a chance was better than listening to gossip. And that little group of little people who give me dirty looks and scuttle off whenever I show up. Pissing you guys off gives me the strength to go on.
If I’ve missed you in here, it s because I’m a twat.
I leave you with a picture of my favourite comics movie moment of 2014, The banned poster featuring Eva Green for Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For. MERRY CHRISTMAS, YER BASTARDS, YER!!!!