Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 15, 2008

A Few Quick Notes On Serial Alt-Comics

There's a fine comments thread over at Comics Comics on the issue of serial comics and the alternative comics fan that's worth your time if you, like me, have some affinity for the topic. A few notes:

* one thing I haven't seen anyone talk about it yet is how difficult it is to process whether or not those new comics that happen to be out there are desirable. In other words, the sheer number of comics means that making a decision on a graphic novel or trade format collection for occasional purchase is easier than tracking them in a way you can make weekly decisions. I tend to like comic books more than I like comics with a spine, but when I buy new comics they tend to be six to 12 months old because I can't get a grasp on whether or not I want it until it's like five or six issues in. Sometimes this is great, because you can get an entire series for $1 a comic; sometimes this is a pain, like when my brother decided he really liked the Brian Bendis Daredevil and wanted it in comic book form when Bendis was about three issues away from leaving the title. I think the last alternative comic book series with significant back issue retention -- older comic book offered as new -- in stores was Hate, although maybe I'm wrong. Do comic shops carry back issues of Optic Nerve along with newer issues? That's by far the most popular of the really good alt-comics right now, I think.

image* in my own personal version of events, I think the big turning point with alt-comics series was The Nimrod. That was a rewarding, pleasurable and entertaining read from a fine talent, work that didn't serve some eventual collection and was well worth the cover price. Still, no one bought the thing. That was the one that at the very least opened my eyes to the growing difficulties of getting work over in that format.

* sometimes I wonder if what's alarming isn't the overall lack of titles available in serial form but the amount of work out there that could be published in serial form and simply isn't. Because I seem to remember buying a lot of books like Sandman Mystery Theatre on weeks at the comic book shop in the early '90s, too, to have something to take home. I liked SMT, don't get me wrong, but at that point in my life I was going to the shop looking for new Chester Brown.

* similarly, I'm not sure I buy the argument that a lot of those works are on-line. Are there really a bunch of ongoing comics on-line that would fit on the stands next to Or Else, Crickets, Uptight, and Injury? I'm sure there are a few, but it seems to me there's still more material in comic book form of that type than books not in that form.

* I still don't think that enough people have stopped to consider what a massive vote of non-confidence in traditional comic books, serial comics, took place when the Hernandez Brothers moved Love and Rockets to a book with a spine. It doesn't really matter in terms of the art, because Los Bros would demand tracking down if they were publishing in the back of Parade Magazine or if they were mimeographing their comics and leaving them at truck stops. But I do think it says something about the state of the format. Another one you have to rope in is the new Gilbert Shelton apparently isn't going to have a comic book serialization, either. Maybe I'm wrong, but it looks like it will appear in English in the anthology MOME and then go to an album/GN. That's a pretty remarkable one-two punch from the best-known serial comics makers of two generations.

In the end, I'm not sure any of this matters, but it's sure fun to noodle around talking about it.
posted 4:00 pm PST | Permalink

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