August 31st, 2011 at 4:38 pm

August in (More or Less) 15 Minutes

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Oh, August, you almost pushed me off the Net.

It was a hectic month, with deadlines baying at the door, some scary health issues and a self-destructing computer – but it was the comics blogosphere itself that nearly did this blog in. I’ll touch on that a little more below, plus a few other items that I would’ve commented on if not otherwise engaged, and I’ll try to get it all down in 15 minutes.

No comics news in August moved me more than the report of the death of Francisco Solano Lopez. Like many, I was terribly impressed by his expressionistic work on the Sinner material, but it was the sweaty authenticity of his Evaristo pages that truly knocked me dead. I devoured the first American printing of Deep City while I was working on Kings in Disguise in 1986, and the impression made by that beautifully grimy realism hovered at the back of my mind throughout the writing of my first comics story.

Ten years later, editor Phil Amara asked me to write the final issue of the Dark Horse Jonny Quest title. This was their “Real Adventures” take on the property, an over-thought and undercooked approach to the classic kids’ cartoon that had never really taken off despite impressive effort by Kate (Worley) on scripts and a number of talented artists. For the swan song, I ignored most of that stuff and came up with a simple little stand-alone entertainment that harked back to the original cartoon’s globetrotting pulp approach. To keep myself interested, I also threw in a mild ecological cautionary backstory, which apparently struck a chord with the wonderful Paul Chadwick, who said nice things about the script and contributed a first-class cover.

But the big thrill came when I learned that Lopez would be drawing the story. He rendered it in his lighter, more commercial, style, several degrees less gritty than the dirt-under-the-nails approach of Evaristo, but it was gorgeous nonetheless. I was particularly taken with his burly, bullnecked Dr. Quest and the meticulously executed Easter Island backgrounds. It was one of the last comics stories I worked on before my ten-year vacation from the business, and if I’d never worked on another project, I would have been happy with the memory of the time that Francisco Solano Lopez once added gravitas to my simple little pulp story.

Thanks, Solano, for the brush with greatness, and for all the good work you contributed over your long career.

Supergods, Grant Morrison’s love song to folks in capes (and the bald guys who write about them), was published in July, and reviewers were quick to point out the passage in which Morrison seemed to shrug off any injustice which Siegel and Shuster may have suffered in 1938. It was an uncomfortable moment for some of his fans, who found additional reason to squirm in August when he made rambling disparaging comments about “privileged” and “nihilistic” American creators like Chris Ware who don’t work the superhero beat. Granted, remarks made during a phone interview (in this case, speaking to Rolling Stone to plug Supergods) shouldn’t be given the same weight as the considered written word, but he didn’t do himself any favors by coming off like H.P. Lovecraft dissing Scott Fitzgerald for not being scary enough.

Perhaps more interesting was the subtext of those Stone comments, in which he attempted to justify his feelings by referring to his working class Glaswegian background. The pathetically mundane image of poor wee Grantie growing up bitter over the fact that he wasn’t a snotty rich college kid in California – and carrying a chip on his shoulder into middle age – must have taken some of his worshipers aback. Coming from a guy whose public image includes designer suits and hanging with rock stars, phrases like “try living here, try living on an Indian reservation” sounded uncomfortably disingenuous to a number of his fans.

Tom Spurgeon put his indispensable Comics Reporter site on hiatus for much of July, and it wasn’t until his remarkable August 14 piece “All of These Things That Have Made Us” appeared that most people knew it was a life-threatening medical condition that had put him out of commission. A fine reflective piece of writing that still manages to remain on-topic for a comics site, it’s an essay that I can’t recommend more highly. It’s good to have Spurgeon back online and, even more important, back on his feet – not just because of the incisive, commonsense nature of his work, but because he’s clearly a smart and decent human being…and we need all of those that we can get.

Back in the old Kitchen Sink days, I was the nominal editor of James Robinson and Phil Elliott’s lovely little graphic novel Illegal Alien (nominal, because there wasn’t anything for me to do except write a cover blurb) – and Robinson approached me out of the blue at an event last year to reminisce about it. During the conversation, he described an idea he was pitching to DC for a Justice Society story, and it struck me as a clever approach to that ancient franchise, something with more appeal than the standard punch-and-zap-fest. In August DC announced that Robinson would be writing a new Justice Society book, and I hope the company’s new publishing plan has room for Robinson to take that step outside of the box.

At the end of July, the Jack Kirby estate’s suit against Marvel was slapped in the teeth with a summary judgment that saddened many, but surprised few. Blogs and comment threads in early August were filled with opinions, from the naïve call for boycotts of Marvel product, to forlorn reasonable appeals for Marvel to simply do the right thing by Kirby’s heirs.

Of course, the crank factor wasted no time kicking in. There was the usual comment from apparent teenagers about abolishing copyright laws or what they’d do if they owned multinational conglomerates, and the predictable attempt at turning the whole thing into a juvenile Stan vs. Jack slugfest. One commenter spent most of the month desperately insisting in post after post that Kirby was a far better writer than Lee, even when Kirby was plotting stories instead of wordsmithing the final product. (As dopey as some of the stuff Lee wrote for 12-year-olds a half-century ago can be, his self-consciously jaunty dialogue is still a hell of a lot more readable than the clunky words Kirby put into characters’ mouths when he had the final say. Kirby could run rings around Lee when it came to dreaming up concepts for children’s adventure comics, but having ideas is only half the job; to be considered a writer, you have to actually write the words which the reader reads. I’d say the two of them combined made a pretty good superhero writer, and it’s shameful that only one of them derived any longterm benefit from their collaborations.)

From a moral standpoint, I agree that Marvel should make some kind of a good-faith financial gesture to Kirby’s heirs. So the predictable invasion of the “Screw the Kirby family, they didn’t do shit” assholes got me down. And instead of shrugging it off as I usually do when the trolls crawl out of their holes, I let it depress me. With few exceptions, I couldn’t check into a comics-related site for several weeks without muttering “Who gives a shit?” and clicking away. Soon, that evolved into “Why am I bothering to hang around these dipshits?” and I wasn’t bothering to check in on most of the sites at all. Finding time in a crazy month to post anything of my own seemed increasingly pointless. Even as relatively simple an act as knocking together this little recap of the month feels like climbing back onto the horse that scraped me off on a fence…

But even the nicest restaurants have to battle rats and cockroaches, and as annoying as the assholes can be, it’s wrong to let them drive you away. So I won’t be turning off the lights here just yet. I hope I’ll be able to take part in the general conversation a little more in the month to come.

(Okay, it was closer to 20 minutes. I’ll try to be a little more succinct in the future.)

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