Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Comic shop comics: March 14 (I do get to the reviews eventually, and if that's all you wanna read, prepare to scroll down 15 paragraphs)

(Pictured above: My actual comic book shop, in Hell)

Can I start this post with something petty, and of interest to perhaps no one other than myself? Ha ha, of course I can! It’s my blog! (And “petty’ and “of interest to perhaps no one other than myself” are pretty much the defining characteristics of my blog!)

I was really excited to get comic books today, more excited than I’ve been in a good long while, because there were more comics that I was interested in getting being released today than there have been in pretty much forever. In fact, there were so many comics coming out today I wanted to get, that I made a llittle list on a corner of an envelope to stick in my pocket.

It looked like this:

—Orc Stain
—Green Lantern
—Saucer Country
—Smurf Olympics
—Black Bat

The first one refers to Orc Stain #7, which was actually released two or three weeks ago. The shop I usually go to forgot to order me a copy, even though it was one of the only seven or so books on my pull-file list. It didn’t seem a big deal at the time, since creator James Stokoe and publisher Image Comics had gone months and months since they shipped #6; in fact, I think they’ve only shipped one issue of Orc Stain in the months that I’ve had a pull-file at this particular shop. The shopkeep apologized at the time, and said he’d reorder me a copy.

Saga and Saucer Country are two new sieres, from Image and Veritgo/DC respectively, which I was hoping to buy off the rack, preferring to look at brand-new comics series before I buy them. Smurf Olypmics? Papercutz’s eleventh volume of translated reprints of the venerable Eruopean comics property/worldwide merchandising juggernaut. And Black Bat was a bit of a gamble (in that I wasn’t sure I’d like it, and I wasn’t sure the shop would have it), a $9 Moonstone graphic novel featuring the pulp hero that inspired both Batman and Marvel’s Daredevil.

So guess how many of those books were in the shop this Wednesday?

If you guessed “just Green Lantern,” you were correct.

I was pretty irritated that Orc Stain still hadn't shown up, particularly when the shopkeep looked it up on the computer to check and said that it looks like they forgot to order it...after having already forgotten to order it the first time and my reminding them to reorder it.

And I was pretty surprised that they didn't order any copies of either Saga or Saucer Country. They weren't sold out, mind you, they didn't order any copies of either series. At all. No one with a subscription list that shops at the store special-ordered either series, and they didn't order a single copy of either for the rack.

When I expressed this surprise, I was told that they can't order everything, and that "something special like that," something "from an independent publisher," I should always special order through my pull-file, as they probably won't have rack copies. I thought to myself, "Well, you can't sell it if you don't stock it," and said I was planning to flip through them before buying them, so I didn't want to special order them (Like, what if Saga #1 was nothing but 22-pages of breast-feeding? Or if Saucer Country was Bendis-style talking heads? )

It's still bugging me a few hours later. Mostly that DC's mature reader imprint is considered an independent publisher—this series is even written by one of their "New 52" superhero guys!—and that Image Comics, the third or fourth largest publisher in the industry, is considered independent. Basically, "independent" is here being defined as "Not Marvel or DC's superhero universes."

And I don't think Saga is a particularly obscure offering from Image, either. It's written by Brian K. Vaughan, who may not be doing cartwheels for the comics media and any mainstream media outlet willing to pay attention the way some popular modern comics writers are happy to do, but I would think the first new series in a long time from the guy who wrote Ex Machina, Y The Last Man, Runaways and who even worked on that Lost show a lot of people used to like would earn at least a single rack copy. (And comics readers loved Lost, didn't they? Most of what I know of that show is what I've overheard people in The Laughing Ogre in Columbus talking about it on Wednesday aftrenoons).

Now this comic book shop is in a mall in the city I work in, a city of about 50,000 people, a half hour from Cleveland, Ohio. I've never been crazy about it, but I work about five minutes away, so it was always the most convenient place to shop for me and, hey, it's a comic shop. I lived almost two years in a city where the nearest shop was a 45 minute drive away, so comic book shopping became a special occasion sort of thing rather than a weekly habit, and that sucked. I walked in ready to spend $28 on comics from 5 different publishers, but walked out having spent only $3 on a DC super-comic, because that was all they were prepared to sell me.

I complain about comics all the damn time here, and I think a lot of publishers and even a lot of creators seem hell-bent on pushing away their most loyal readers—I think comic book-style comic books are on the decline, in danger of eventual, maybe inevitable extinction, and a lot of their purveyors seem to be only making moves that hasten that extinction, rather than delay it (Exhibit A: The $3.99/20-page, decompressed Marvel Comic book that isn't very well-written or drawn, and is colored so as to make one nauseous).

A lot of us online blowhard types rarely if ever single out shop owners and employees, save for the most vile examples, and focus our venom instead on the big corporate publishes. It makes sense, really—the shop owners are small business men, most of whom got into their small business because of their great love for the same thing we love so much. But it should be said that some of them just aren't very good at selling comic books to people, and they can be a force pushing people away from comics, if not Comics comics, than certainly comic book comics.

If this was my only option for a shop, for example, I would have had to read Saucer Country and Saga via trade collections that their publishers would release six months to a year from now. I would either get these for free from a library, or I would buy them online from Amazon. I was reading Orc Stain in singles, because I love Orc Stain and I love singles, but now I've missed an issue. If I can't find #7 before #8 comes out, what do I do? Quit reading the series in singles and wait for the next six issues to be collected in trade?


Anyway, there's another comic shop in my area. It's a little more out of the way—maybe 15-20 minutes round trip—but when I went there today, I found all of the above (Save The Black Bat, and the now weeks-old "new" issue of Orc Stain). They had a dozen issues of Saga on the rack (Yes, I counted) at 4 p.m., after the Wednesday lunch hour rush, but before the after-work rush. They had a half-dozen issues of Saucer Country on the rack.

It's going to be my new shop. I'm glad I now live in a city where I have options for which comic shop I can patronize, and feel a little worried for all those potential comics readers in cities where there are no comic shops, or comic shops where all they can read are Marvel and DC super-comics, and whatever they want to special order/whatever of their special orders their shopkeeps remember to order.


Green Lantern #7 (DC Comics) Geoff Johns is still wasting precious story-space—they took two whole pages outta each issue!—on double-page splashes of incredibly insignificant story moments. In this issue, it's a giant, two-page panel of Hal Jordan punching Sinestro. Hal Jordan? Punching someone?! How shocking and dramatic! That's only been his defining characteristic for the seven years that Johns has been writing him now!

I suppose the actual reason Johns provides such splashes is that it makes life a little easier on pencil artist Doug Mahnke, who has trouble keeping to a monthly schedule, even with two fewer pages to draw a month (trouble evidenced by the ever-shifting number of inkers required per issue; this time it's only three). Here's a time-saving idea! Perhaps Jim Lee didn't need to draw those extra lines on Hal Jordan's Green Lantern costume? Those seem to be the only noticeable change in his costume post-"New 52", and many lines make much work. (I think that's how the saying goes.)

So, in this issue, Sinestro attempts to recruit Hal Jordan to aid him in a space quest (just as he did at the beginning of the previous arc) and after a seven-page fight (two of which are devoted to that one punch), The Indigo Tribe (the "Purple Lanterns," to those who don't follow GL closely) arrives to abduct Sinestro and subject him to the same weird brainwashing program they previously used on Black Hand. They also capture Hal Jordan and strip him down to his boxers, for Sally, and Carol Ferris puts on her Star Sapphire ("Pink Lantern") ring in order to rescue her boyfriend.

While the "New 52" brought a less revealing Star Sapphire costume for the one flying around in Green Lantern: New Guardians, Carol's still rocking the one with the cut-out center:Carol's been doing a lot of crunches, and she wants to show off her abs. Go for it, girl!

I heart Mahnke's work. I think he's one of the best that DC's got drawing these things these days, and I love his designs and depictions of the various alien races that appear in the series. This issue we see the return of my favorite Purple Lantern, the One Who Is Basically Just a Giant Bat (I'm sure he has a name, but I don't know/remember it), and Green Lantern Voz, who is basically an angry bear with no snout: Green Lantern is still Green Lantern; it's not all that great, but compared to some of Johns' other recent superhero work (Justice League), it's goddamned Shakespeare. Only with better art. Shakespeare couldn't draw a snoutless space anger bear for shit.

Saga #1 (Image Comics) My main complaint with this comic—my only one, thus far—is the generic title, which makes me think of Weird Al's Star Wars song*, which has been stuck in my head off and on for about a month now, since George Lucas brought Phantom Menace back into theaters, with an added third dimension.

The format is of the Fuck You, Big Two variety—44 full-color, ad-free pages for $2.99, so you can suck it Marvel Entertainment—and there's more than just the title that makes me think of Star Wars. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples engage quite a bit of Lucas-like world-building, with basic, familiar-but-freshened-up backstory and set-up, and various races and imaginative alien creatures inhabiting a galaxy not unlike our own.

These races include horn-headed humanoids from a moon, winged people from the planet that moon orbits, monitor-headed robot people, a giant talking lie detector cat, an even more giant fire-breathing thingee and an even more giant than that war tortoise.

The story is this: The folks on the cover are from two different warring races, who have Romeo and Juliet-ed, and produced a baby in the process. Everyone therefore wants them dead, and some specialists are hired to do the killing. Can they follow the dubious treasure map they have to the Rocketship Forest before the robot, horn and wing people catch them?

The dialogue is sharp and funny, the designs are inspired, evocative of European comics and the vigorous mashing of elements from the covers of paperbacks from both the sci-fi and fantasy sections of your local bookstore (okay, library, since you may not have a local bookstore anymore). "It reminds me of Star Wars" is probably regarded as more of an insult than praise at this point in the lifespan of Lucas' epic filmmaking story-universe, so let me try to super-qualify it: It reminds me a bit of a Star Wars with a more modest, limited budget, from an alternate universe where George Lucas had actually heard how real people talked and was able to replicate it, in the mid-eighties, before CGI."

Also, it has this:That is Baron Robot. The XXIII.

That is the best thing ever.

I endorse this product, and I hope your shop had the good sense to order a copy or twelve for their racks.

Saucer Country #1 (DC Comics) I'm maybe not the best person to tell you if this is a good comic book or not, as three areas of interest to me include 1) comic books, 2) UFOlogy as folklore and 3) politics, and it is a comic book about UFOlogy and politics. Not many other media products are so specifically designed to the very-narrow Caleb Mozzocco demographic: This might as well be a manga series about dinosaurs, or an hour-long TV drama about beautiful British girls fighting dinosaurs, or, I don't know, a foreign film featuring wire-heavy kung fu and based on the legend of the Beast of Gevaudan.

I'll be talking about this elsewhere, but it's from writer Paul Cornell, freed of the expectations and restrictions that come with writing corporate superheroes, and the very good artist Ryan Kelly.

It's about a Democratic, female, divorced, Hispanic governor of New Mexico deciding to run for president of the United States. She has a skeleton in her closet in that her ex-husband was an alcoholic who abused her, but just as she's about to announce her candidacy, she realizes the memories of what she assumes was the most recent abuse were actually false memories created to cover up an alien abduction.

Is she crazy? Will she and her campaign staff be able to run a successful campaign while hiding this fact from everyone, whether it's true or not? I have to assume it is true, as this is a Vertigo book, and also because there's another character also suspected of being crazy who sees aliens, although he sees a different type all together.

I noticed on Robot 6 today that Cornell is at least jokingly trying to drum up interest for the new series by noting the nudity, sex and profanity in it, and hoping the seven One Million Moms who "boycotted" Archie Comics, which they didn't read anyway, might also boycott his book, and thus help sell it for him. (For what it's worth, he oversells the nudity, sex and profanity, and this is a mature readers title instead of an all-ages one like Archie's comics...and the half-dozen One Million Moms didn't object to anything about that Archie comic other than the fact that it acknowledged the existence of gay people. I didn't notice any gay people in this issue). The closest it comes to a strong political statement likely to irritate OMM is when the Republican strategist character notes that "the party of which I am a member is courting nutjobs who poll 15% with middle America."

To be fair, Mitt Romney isn't an actual nutjob; he's just pretending to be one in order to win Republican votes in the primary.

Actually, there's a bit more political content in this issue, but it's more suggestive, and I think I'll save blabbing about that for an essay elsewhere.

In the mean time, let me just say that I recommend this one, too. It's supposedly The West Wing meets The X-FIles; I've only seen about a half-dozen episodes of The X-Files, and I've never seen so much as a commercial for The West Wing, so I don't know if that's accurate or not. It's engaging though, and very well-drawn. I plan on reading #2 next month.

The Smurf Olympics (Papercutz) Did you know there is a smurf named Weakling Smurf? His defining characteristic, the one he is named for, is that he's a weakling? That...that sucks for him, doesn't it? And what does that say about Smurf society in general, that they gave him that name?

Anyway, the main story in this volume is dedicated to the tale of the Smurf games that Hefty Smurf organizes. He's the only smurf in smurf village who cares for sports, which makes him sad, so he decides to get the rest of his lazy, shiftless, weakling village into sports by cajoling them into a huge track-and-field event. They divide into three teams—the red team, the yellow team, an Weakling Smurf—and train. Weakling trains super-hard, but as the competition nears, he fears he will live up to his name, and goes to Papa Smurf for some sort of magical steroid. That is the actual story.

It's followed by sports-themed gag strips, most of which involve archery.

In the lead story, Brainy Smurf is both struck in the head with a hammer and thrown a great distance, for being annoying. The fact that both happened in this story made me realize that while I remember Brainy often being thrown out of the village for being annoying, in the comics he's almost always hit on the head with a hammer. I wonder if the animators decided to soften up the violence by replacing hammer-hitting with the more cartoony smurf-tossing, lest kids get the idea that it's okay to hit their friends, neighbors and sibling in the head, so long as the victim is a know-it-all, tattletale or just talks too much...?

*Okay, I actually don't mind all that much. I really like that song, and am mildly astonished by how Yankovic is able to so perfectly summarize the events of the entire film, with very little editorializing—"We all fought in that epic war/and it wasn't long at all before/Little hotshot flew his plane and saved the day"—and to do it all to the tune of The Day The Music Died . I like the Sith Lord rocking out on the piano, and the costuming and alien designs in the cantina are pretty incredible in the way they evoke Star Wars-like aliens without actually being representatives to any of those crazy alien races in "the Saga."

I love this guy on the right, with the paper mache/squash-looking faceAnd the handmaiden on the left of Bjork here, who has such a nice smile I want to marry her.They should make action figures of all these guys.


Diabolu Frank said...

In the eight years I ran my shops, I regularly failed to order some obscure book for somebody because I missed that line, neglected to add/remove a title from a subscription, forgot to place a reorder, and so forth. Honestly, some accounts that weren't good about getting cleared out had issues "missed" through intentional withholding/sale to other parties. Rent's got to get paid, y'know? That said, we didn't survive the '90s for lack strong customer service and selection. We would never have gone without shelf copies of Saga, not just because we looked beyond the big two, but simply because the damned thing is a guaranteed sell-out with probable inflated price opportunities. Not only is that good for the creators and the industry, but it's plain good business sense. That's also why I'd rather wait a month for a box of comics via mail order rather than drive down the street to a den of trolls that can't even cover Marvel/DC product adequately while dropping f-bombs around schoolkids. It's offensive of so many different sensibilities, y'know?

LurkerWithout said...

Man, how do you have an interest in politics and yet have never watched "The West Wing"? I mean, at least the first couple seasons when Sorkin was the show runner on it...

Unknown said...

Not only is the title "Saga" kind of generic and unassuming, it's cover is kind of like that too. Simple white background, plain typeface, but it tells the reader that the focus is going to be on characters first, and not necessarily the spectacle of space.

So yeah, Saga was pretty awesome. It was funny and poignant and exciting and just really well done from top to bottom.

I also read Saucer Country, which had enough interesting elements to convince me to buy future issues. I was really happy to see Giulia Brusco doing colors on the book too. She's been amazing on Scalped and she did a great job here too.

Thomas said...


Sign me up!

MattMinus said...

You know why shops don't consider Image to be a major publisher?

Image doesn't sell a lot of comics.

In feb, their best selling book was beaten by such luminaries as the Defenders and JLI, selling about 30k copies. Vertigo's superstar, Fables, sells about 15k.

James Figueiredo said...

I can't wait to read your review on the 10th volume of Yotsubba&!.

I recently read the first volume, and ended up buying all the books available in English and reading the whole series in like a week. One of the most delightful comics I've ever read!

Also, I was thinking of waiting for the Saga trade, but may have to reconsider after learning it's a 44-page book with no ads.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

Green Lantern does look pretty. Did you read Men Of War? It's art-style was good too and the writing was kind of surreal almost like a vertigo book with super-powers sprinkled in more heavily. Too bad the writer quit after six issues and it ends with the eighth. I would be interested to hear your take, however.

SallyP said...

Well shoot. Saga does look good, but my store was all sold out. My fabulous Store owner Matt did agree to get me another copy.

And yes, Green Lanters was divine. It was as if it was drawn Just For Me! Butt shots were plentiful...and gorgeous.

Caleb said...

You know why shops don't consider Image to be a major publisher?


Vertigo's superstar, Fables, sells about 15k.

Eh, that doesn't sound like a very convincing argument. If the best-selling comic right now is, like, Justice League, and Fables sells something like one-eighth of that, isn't that just a reason to for a shop to order one issue of Fables for every eight of JL, or one issue of Saga for every 15 issues of JL or something?

NOTHING in the direct market really sells all THAT well, really, so the difference between the fifth-place publisher in the DM and the third-place, or the third-place and the second-place doesn't seem like a very convincing reason to give up on whole publishers.

But I'm not a shop owner, and don't really know what I'm talking about...I don't think one (1) issue of the new BKV series from Image Comics is a huge gamble for a shop owner.

can't wait to read your review on the 10th volume of Yotsubba&!.

Oh, I wasn't actually gonna review it here, because Yotsuba& sorta reviews itself for me at this point. I actually thought it was the worst volume of the series, even though it was awesome.

Did you read Men Of War?

I sure didn't. Maybe I'll look into a library trade in the future though, if you think it's really worth a look.

Aki Alaraatikka said...

Wow. I`m from the country from where "Brotherhood of the wolf" is from.

Cool comics. I`ll probably read them in trade.

Guido-Visión said...

Man, I feel your pain regarding your LCS. I live in Guadalajara which, despite being the second or third largest city in Mexico, only has one real comics shop. In the last few years, I've noticed how the varietyt of titles they order for the racks has decreased. It's become mostly Marvel, DC and a bunch assorted "indies". I don't know if it's their fault or the main office's (they are actually a branch of a Comics Shop Chain based in Mexico City), but they've failed to bring me requested copies of Prophet, Glory and the latest Bulletproof Coffin. Some of those have arrived, some I´m still harrassing them about. My point is, I've been trying to support titles I'm interested in by buying the singles intead of waiting for the trade, especially after seeing titles that I was waiting for the trade get cancelled (Thor The Mighty Avenger). However, my shop seems to be trying to get in the way of such support!

Unknown said...

I'm glad that terrible service at one LCS has the happy ending of smarter ordering at the other LCS, Caleb. Shame that whatever faith you placed in that first shop wound up misplaced.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

I honestly thought Men of War was going to be terrible, and instead got a very strange comic that is at its best of being surreal around issue #3 where our hero ascends into space with some goddess. In a war comic. It's pretty neat. The back-ups are usually easy to skip. Not always, but usual.

Tom said...

If I remember right, given the numbers in the 80's, most of the current titles would be dropped due to sales. It's a silly point to be making. I'd like a shop to ideally be aware and focus on work that people would like to read or didn't even know they wanted to read. I don't mean buy every title under the sun. But have a well (curated) stocked selection of the good stuff.
I bounce between two comic shops now, only because I moved. One shop that's crazy close to me doesn't order enough store copies or fails to order a larger variety due to bad space management. Admittedly it's a weird space to set up a comic shop. They have a basement that's almost 3 times the size of their first floor. Stocked with collectible toys no one's been buying for at least a year. Ditch the collector toys, and have the top floor be a new wall. Rack last week's issues in the basement space. Which makes sense in a way given that is where the crazy back issue space is.
The other shop's improved a bit since they rebooted. Still not keen on alphabetical order for all the titles but oh well. I always have a feeling I'm missing something because I can't exactly remember the title I'm looking for. (still made more sense to rack them by publisher) The staff is helpful and they did set me up with a pull count.