11.10.2009

Examining The Pull: “I’m Losing You And It’s Effortless”

Inspired in part by Matt over at Paradox, I thought I’d take a look at my own pull list since it’s been years since I’ve attempted something like that. I don’t even think in terms of a weekly pull list anymore since my mind is so geared toward trades, original graphic novels, and the small press. That being said, here’s a complete list of the ongoing series (and mini-series) that I’m currently making it a point to pick up regularly and support. They’re in no particular order, with many notes to follow.

Wasteland (Oni Press)
The Lone Ranger (Dynamite Entertainment)
Scalped (DC/Vertigo)
DMZ (DC/Vertigo)
Northlanders (DC/Vertigo)
Astonishing X-Men (Marvel)
Uncanny X-Men (Marvel)
Invincible Iron Man (Marvel)
Echo (Abstract Studio)
Batman & Robin (DC)
Detective Comics (DC)
JLA: Cry for Justice (DC)
Stumptown (Oni Press)
I Am Legion (DDP/Humanoids)


In addition to those titles, Great Ten (DC) was almost added, but I’m not sure if that’s going to make the cut. It’s really in the “try it out” phase for a couple of issues. Conversely, Stumptown is a brand new book I’m fairly certain will stay on the list for some time, if not the duration of the run. I was also tempted to put the regular Justice League of America (DC) series on the list, but I’m really doubting James Robinson is going to get some place I want the book to go in the next issue or two, considering Mon-El, Donna Troy, and Dick Grayson weren’t even in the damn first issue of the run (aside from the cover), as was touted. I was also going to include Rick Remender’s Last Days of American Crime (Radical Comics), but technically it hasn’t started yet, despite the existence of my advance preview copy, which shows a lot of promise. I also anticipate adding DV8 (DC/Wildstorm), S.W.O.R.D. (Marvel), Supergod (Avatar Press), and maybe DC’s “First Wave” stuff, but that’s all speculation at the moment. Right now, based on what I know, this is the snapshot in time as it exists today.

I did not include Fell (Image Comics) or Desolation Jones (DC/Wildstorm), though they are technically ongoing series, but seem to be stalled indefinitely for no discernible reason other than Warren Ellis hasn’t written them yet and is not being very clear or specific with regard to his intentions or their status. Of Fell, he says “things are progressing slowly,” and of Desolation Jones, it’s more “no forward motion to speak of, it’s all very complicated.” Ok, thanks for clearing that up. Along those lines, I didn’t include Jonathan Hickman’s Red Mass for Mars (Image Comics) because who frickin’ knows when/if we’ll ever see the last severely late issue of that mini-series.

Of note, I recently pulled X-Force (Marvel), Punisher (Marvel), and Ex Machina (DC/Wildstorm) from the list. X-Force was a title that I liked, but I didn’t consider it essential, especially after the inconclusive debacle that was the Messiah War crossover that ran tandem with Cable. Similarly, the Punisher book from Rick Remender and company was ok for a momentary diversion, but something was lost when the artist changed and it was also relegated to non-essential status. Ex Machina remains my favorite Brian K. Vaughan book and a great title, but it’s so close to the end, I made a command decision to just stop purchasing single issues and upgrade to the Hardcover Deluxe Editions, though production has been frustratingly slow on the second volume.

Again, I just have to say that this whole notion of explaining a weekly pull list seems oddly foreign to me for some reason. At this point, looking at my purchasing habits for the last couple of years, I’m far more likely to pick up the latest project by Matt Kindt, a Drawn & Quarterly translation of Yoshihiro Tatsumi work, the next installment of Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya, a First Second edition of a Gipi work, or some small press gem from a go-to creator like Elijah Brubaker, Tom Neely, Ryan Claytor, or Trevor Alixopulos, than a single issue floppy. You’ll notice that none of those come out on any sort of regular “pull” schedule, nor are they intended to. I guess what I’m obviously saying is that a weekly “pull” of floppies doesn’t necessarily reflect my buying habits, nor the direction and diversity of the industry as a whole for that matter, the way it might have 10 or 20 years ago.

But let’s charge forward with this analysis. So looking at that list we see 6 titles from DC (or its imprints) capturing 43% of the load, 5 small press titles comprising 35% of the take, and 3 Marvel titles rounding out the bunch with about 22%. That breakdown makes intuitive sense to me. As I’ve said all along, I grew up a DC kid so the lean in that direction makes sense, especially with the Bat-Family titles. Throw in affinity for a creator like Brian Wood (2 titles alone, that one!) and there you go. I also tend to follow a handful of creators around loyally, so it’s no surprise that a swath is created there from Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Terry Moore, John Cassaday, and Greg Rucka. It also helps explain some of the Marvel load, with Matt Fraction delivering 2 of the 3 titles in that bracket.

That total of 14 is likely to change very soon. I Am Legion is a mini-series that has just one issue to go before it would be removed from the list. Astonishing X-Men and Uncanny X-Men are both on a bubble that could pop at any second. Both titles need to get better in a hurry to survive, and have lasted this long because I really just want an anchor into that property. I like the X-Men conceptually, always have, I have a fondness for so many of those characters, but I have problems with all of the books. Much like I really want a JLA book to anchor me into the convoluted DCU, but it hasn’t been great for so long. I remain slightly hopeful for Robinson’s run, but the JLA: Cry for Justice mini and recent issue of the regular series are not inspiring much confidence. This starts to bring up the idea of how something does stay in the rotation.

I’m often asked/told “Wow, you must have tons of comics in your collection?” Not really. It’s probably not as many as you’d think. I purchase a lot. I’m given a lot. But I don’t keep very many. In terms of single issues, I have maybe enough to fill two long boxes, and that’s probably being very generous, it’s probably more like one and change. That group is mostly single issues of titles I’m currently picking up (like say, Echo) and titles that are not available in a collected format, like say Automatic Kafka (DC/Wildstorm), Flex Mentallo (DC/Vertigo), or Shaolin Cowboy (Burlyman Entertainment). There are also some random singles that I wouldn’t part with, like the Paul Pope issue of Solo (DC). I then have probably a couple dozen CGC’d books. I don’t consider myself a collector per se, these are mostly Silver Age books that I have favorite issues of, like say Uncanny X-Men #121, #129, or Strange Tales #120. There are also some nostalgic issues (such as the first comic I had as a kid, DC Comics Presents #58) or novelty items like issues of The Killer or Wasteland that have my pull quotes on them. I also have a pretty healthy stack of stuff I’m giving away. There are runs of Scalped in that pile that I’ve since upgraded to trades on, or mini-comics I’ve picked up for free at cons, random single issues of titles I tried and didn’t like, etc. By far, the largest category is trades and graphic novels, this comprises the bulk of what I own, and I own enough just to fill a medium sized 4 shelf bookcase. That’s it. Though if I had these that would probably change. ;-)

When I think about determining what to keep, there are quite a few macro factors. There’s the dwindling storage space in a 3 bedroom 2,000 square foot house with two kids. There’s the money. If I don’t absolutely love something, I’d just as soon sell it. I’d rather have the money to reinvest in more material, hopefully something else I might fall in love with. Admittedly, this is partly my parents’ fault. Growing up with them in the antique business, I became accustomed to the idea that everything in the house was “in the inventory” and for sale at the right price. That Renaissance Revival couch you’re sitting on? Yup, for sale. That Civil War officer’s sword made by Tiffany hanging on the wall? Yup, that also. That piece of Weller art pottery on the mantel? Oh yes. That Eastlake marble top table in the corner? Yeah, that too could be yours for the low, low price of just $895. I love reading comics and love poring over them, I wish I could have and read them all at one point or another. But for me, it’s not about getting what you want, it’s about wanting what you’ve got. It’s a subtle distinction. I have no problem owning something, enjoying it for a time, but then letting it go if I find I’m still not completely enamored of it. I don’t mind paying for something I love, but how do you explain love with seemingly stable and discernible criteria? At the micro level, this is what I’ve been able to deduce considering the things I’ve given up and the things that I wouldn’t dare part with;

Love: Meaning I really have to love it, I can’t just like it. That’s not good enough anymore. I have to feel it in my gut. It sounds morbid, but imagine your house burning down. What’s replaceable, what could you live without, what would you be sad to lose, and what’s just there? For a title to survive in my collection it has to speak to me in some way on a deep personal level, maybe I’ve had some meaningful interaction with the creators, maybe it’s a particularly cool format, maybe the character(s) I love have been captured or depicted in some quintessential fashion. There usually isn’t just one special thing about these books, it’s usually multiple factors. Wasteland is an example of something I would never willingly give up. It’s a book that speaks to me on some primal, visceral, intuitive level, I feel a personal connection with the creators, and it’s a great format. I have no blind allegiance to the company or characters; it’s really about the creators involved and is a title I feel deserves support and evangelizing. Contrast that to something like X-Force, not to pick on that title or Marvel or anything, it’s just an example. I’ve enjoyed aspects of the book, but I’m not emotionally invested in any part of it. If it was gone, I wouldn’t miss it. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t seek it out in a quarter or dollar bin if the opportunity arose, but it doesn’t click with me strong enough to continue to support on a regular, full priced basis. It’s not critical to my general comic book experience. It’s not going to survive or fail based on my support. Something like Echo or the aforementioned Wasteland surely could. I know I’ve turned people onto those books and made a small positive nudge in their long term success trajectory.

Transcend: Meaning it really has to be more than the sum of its constituent parts. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman is a prime example of this. It’s not just good, it’s not just great, it might just be the best of its type. It transcends comic book status. Sure, Grant Morrison is a lauded creator, but here he functions a little differently. I would dare say that this is his most direct and concise example of storytelling. This is not the obtuse drunk Scotsman who shouts random obscure profane things at panels. On the art side, I’ve loved Frank Quitely since Flex Mentallo, but he too has reached a pinnacle here. Look at his designs for Bizarro World or simple things like the wisps of hair on Lois’ head. I’ve never really warmed to Superman as a character, never understood any gravitas associated with him. This book shifted my way of thinking. This book was more than the sum of the parts, more than great writing, more than great penciling. It all came together to transcend its trappings as a Superman story and became one of, if not the, greatest Superman story ever told, with issue #10 being one of, if not the, greatest single issue of Superman in existence. All Star Superman has a one page origin sequence using just 8 words and 4 panels, being the most stripped down, unplugged, and emotionally resonant introduction you’ll likely find. The creative team has distilled the very essence of what makes the character unique, condensed it down into just twelve issues, and offered something that lives on as a meaningful piece of art and evidence of what the medium is capable of.

Return: Meaning that not only does it have to be a book I love, not only does it have to be a book that transcends, it has to be a book I can return to for repeated readings again and again. To endure my fickle collecting habits, a work really needs to be inclusive of all three of these elusive properties. Not only must I possess some primordial response to it, not only must it operate beyond its origin or genre or individual components, but it has to offer that same level of enjoyment repeatedly. It’s tough, I know. I think Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary is probably the best example I can think of which captures the spirit of this category. Planetary is so complex and nuanced that it rewards repeated viewing, whereas, oh, let’s pick on Bendis, something like Alias does not. I enjoyed Alias, picked up the single issues and eventually plunked down the ducats for the Omnibus Edition. I still maintain that it’s the best thing Bendis has ever written. I can say that I loved Alias. I can say that it attempted to transcend his body of work and the ostensible superhero noir trappings it worked with, but… I found that, for me, I couldn’t return to it. I’d read it twice (once in singles, once in the Omnibus), absorbed it, and had it in my brain. Done. I never needed to go back to it. There wasn’t anything more for me to learn or examine. Planetary is a different kind of animal. Every reading illuminates something new. There are subtle nods to Elijah treating Jakita as a surrogate daughter evident throughout early issues, when you get to the Opak-Re issue it’s obvious why, you can go back and study that, only then does it hold enhanced meaning. There’s the time travel paradox, the early issues functioning as isolated trope vignettes giving way to the larger conspiracy plot. There’s the evolution of Cassaday’s pencils. The list goes on, and that’s the point. I can say that I loved it from the first issue. I can say that it definitely transcends to tell a self-reflexive fictional story about the very craft of fiction writing, but it’s also in a select category of very few books that reward the reader for engaging it over and over, untying the many layers of meaning to be dissected and the very methods of information delivery used to convey them.

2 Comments:

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Matt C said...

Nice one, Justin. You certainly went deeper into your reasonings than I ever could and, admirably, you're a lot more ruthless than me.

I have that collector mentality where I look at something and think, well, I might read that again someday. The likelihood of that happening with the vast amount of comics I own is, in all honesty, pretty remote. I was so obsessional at one point with these things that I've now amassed a huge pile of unread back issues. Yeah, someday...

In the last couple of years I've begun going through my collection and weeding out stuff I know I won't read again, and I imagine it's due another culling very soon. Where I differ from you is that I've never really gone for the upgrade - something like New Frontier I own in the Absolute Edition, but I'm still keeping hold of the original issues. Oh, and I'm rather partial to Silver Age issue of two.

Why do I make all the decisions (or non-decisions!) regarding my collection? It's all very complicated and completely irrational in a lot of cases - trying to explain to my wife why I must keep all these books can be a chore - but nobody ever said being a comic book collector was going to be easy! You've gotta spend your money on something...

 
At 3:37 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Hey Matt! Yeah, we're all obsessive in our own ways, I suppose. I went through a phase where I felt I needed to have like a good example of certain books. Oh, this is like the *best* Fantastic Four book, so I have to have it. Well... I never read it, I never show it to anyone, so what the heck is it doing here taking up space?

New Frontier... that's funny. See I have the Absolute Edition too, but it would bother me to still have the singles. Like it would keep me up at night. I would *NEED* to give those away to someone or I would feel like I was doing something wrong. Haha! It's so irrational. We all have our own byzantine process and criteria.

And you're right about spending your money on something. I mean, it's a hobby to a large extent, and I don't mind spending money on that. It's a lot cheaper than racing BMW's, which used to be my other (EXPENSIVE!) hobby. ;-)

 

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