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
















December 24, 2008


CR Holiday Interview #3: Tucker Stone On The Year In Mainstream Comics

image

*****

imageTucker Stone came to my attention and that of many other comics fans through his weekly comics reviews at his site The Factual Opinion, particularly his regular Comics Of The Weak feature. A lit cigarette ground into the fatty neck folds holding up the swelled head of American comic books, Stone's primary goal with Comics Of The Weak seems to be to get people to laugh. A more thoughtful side to the writer begins to emerge once you read enough of his work to become inured to the nastier rattle of some of his jokes, or take in his column at the comiXology site. What I like best about Stone's work is that it seems to follow his having intensely read and confronted the work in question; he doesn't seem to be returning to set pieces in terms of the humor or the analysis. I thought it might be good to hear about the year in American mainstream comics from his point of view. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: I know I say this in a lot of interviews, but Tucker, I know very little about you. Can you give me the over-a-friendly-lunch version of your life with a an odd-in-every-other-context emphasis on how you've interacted with comics over the years? Did you read them as a kid?

image
TUCKER STONE: I lived in a lot of different places, the most interesting one being West Berlin, before my family settled in a suburb of Atlanta. That was where we moved after my dad finished his time in the military. Nobody in my family ever expressed any interest in comics beyond what was in the newspaper, and it was actually pointed out to me by my mother -- when I interviewed her for the blog -- that I didn't read comics at all when I was a little kid. I don't remember liking or watching the Batman television show, I know I hated Star Trek. I did play with Star Wars toys when I was a kid, though. My parents are heavy book nerds -- my father especially, they just inhale stuff, and they didn't ever care what I read. They just pushed me to read, and that's what we did.

Actually, that's kind of funny -- my parents wouldn't let me see the first Robocop -- they'd seen it opening weekend, decided it was too violent, but my dad bought me the "novelization" of the movie, which was just as violent and hardcore. Cocaine use, strippers and prostitutes, torture. I was nine or ten? That's pretty much the only thing I read, anyway. I'd read the crap they make you read in school, then I'd sit around reading Stephen King, anything that was really violent, that kind of stuff. I think I still think about sex in terms of the sequence in The Stand where the girl with the white streak in her hair seduces the nerdy guy. "Coffee, tea...or me?"

imageAnyway, my mom would always go to this one used bookstore, this really awful place run by this belligerent little idiot woman, and for some reason they had a bunch of comic books up front. In retrospect, I think they may have carried new titles, but I can't imagine why. My memory of that place isn't so good though, because in my head the store is the size of a Wal-Mart. There's no way it was that big, it was a family run place. For no reason whatsoever, I bought -- well, my mother bought -- an issue of Detective Comics drawn by Norm Breyfogle as well as two issues of the Detroit Justice League. I've tried to figure out when that could have been -- the Detroit League started in 1984, but that Detective issue was in 1988, and both of the comics were already back issues by then. My best guess is that I was 13? It was before high school, but not too long before high school. Why I tried them out, I don't know -- I think I'd read all the Stephen King available at that point, and I'd tried some other pop horror writers and hated them -- maybe I was just bored. I got bored a lot. It wasn't until a few years ago that a friend of mine told me that if you're always getting bored, that's because you're a boring person, and it's your own fault. That was pretty much my sole motivation for almost every decision I made until I was a lot older, so that's probably why. But I don't know.

From there, I pretty much just bought random issues of those comics for a while, and then -- for the hell of it, and because I was a piece of shit, I stole comics. I would wander over to this gas station store and steal stacks of comics off the spinner rack -- Marvel Comics Presents, a whole bunch of crap. I barely remember what they were, but you can tell if it's one of those if you look at the collection now -- they all have these marks in the middle from where I had sweat all over them from having them shoved down my pants.

I really liked reading them, but I'm at a loss to tell you why. I just liked Batman, and I liked the people in the Justice League. I don't know why. I know I already thought Superman was a prick, but I don't know why. I just thought he was a boring jerk. I liked when Wolverine would kill people, but I always wanted him to go farther.

imageAnyway, I got more out there with them -- read stuff like Doom Patrol, Animal Man -- I remember really getting into stupid crap though, like buying all the Impact Comics, or multiple issues of Lobo # 1. The thing was -- I never knew anybody else that read comics. I'd meet these people at comic stores, but I seemed to have a knack for going to comic stores that only stayed open for six months or so before going out of business. I didn't like the people who went there, I didn't like the people that worked there -- it was just these angry role-playing game people, or these misfits who were always talking about Star Wars. I had a pretty good going at the time with acting -- I'd made a lot of friends, we'd listen to Dr. Dre and the Subhumans, try to get laid...but that social aspect of comics, that was never there. I wasn't embarrassed by them -- it was just that no one ever mentioned them. Not even when the Batman movie came out. Nothing. It's like they didn't exist. All my conversations with my friends revolved around music and girls. I don't remember us caring about anything else, except for getting wasted.

Eventually, comics and all that went with it just became a distraction from driving around and being a screw up. At a certain point -- my senior year in high school, it was comics/girls/music or drugs, and I picked drugs. Then I went off to college to be a lawyer, got arrested twice, kicked out of college, and then I got arrested again. That time my parents didn't bail me out. After that, I was pretty much done -- I had to live in a halfway house in the northeast GA mountains for two years or I was going to have to go back to jail. I went to college again, but this time I just took random classes, and I ended up triple majoring in three useless fields -- religion, philosophy and theater. At some point, I had a disposable income again, and then I read in the newspaper that Dark Knight Strikes Again was coming out. I'd always liked the first one, so I went to a comic store, which was two hours away, and picked it up. Then I figured I'd catch up on Batman, then I bought some Acme Novelty Library, and boom -- I was back on board.

When I graduated in 2002, I moved to New York, and comics pretty much opened themselves up to me -- there were only two or three great comic stores in Atlanta, and I had to drive two hours to go to them unless I was visiting my parents -- whereas even the most run-down NYC store has stuff like Epileptic. I built up a pretty good relationship with this one hole-in-the-wall place because I'd show up once or twice a month and buy the old expensive comics, and I guess it was in 2003 or so that I started going each week again, got a pull list. I'd like to lie and say I had wider taste before New York, but it's not really true -- the only places I went to for comics when I was younger were straight Marvel/DC stores, so it wasn't until NYC that I got the chance to read stuff like Lynda Barry, [Osamu] Tezuka -- hell, I think I was 25 the first time I saw a Carl Barks story, and now I've got those black and white Another Rainbow hardcovers of Donald Duck.

Now I pretty much buy everything, and I experiment a lot more. I spent a lot of time and money buying all kinds of stuff off that Comics Journal "best of" list they came out with years ago. I still don't have any non-online friends that care that much about comics, but that's just the circle I roll in, I guess.

SPURGEON: How and why did you start reviewing comics? If it's not exactly the same thing, how did you end up on-line?

STONE: It's not the same thing -- the desire to write this stuff down came from constant arguments about movies and music with a cantankerous roommate with whom I shared very little of the same tastes. The writing started out in that environment, because both he and I had gotten on Myspace pretty soon after it started and I would just write up whatever comic I had liked most that week. I had been putting a comic up every week in the kitchen in this little plastic frame just to irritate him, and I started writing these little "review/reaction" pieces to supplement that. Each week I'd put a new comic in the frame and write down why I thought it was better then the other ones. People who I didn't know started reading the Myspace stuff, and I hated the way I couldn't save the document and work on it later -- it had to be written all in one go, that's the way the interface worked -- so I started using Typepad and bought the domain name because I hated that the web address said "Typepad" at the end of it.

SPURGEON: Do I remember right in that you and your wife approach writing about comics as a kind of bizarre and very specific hobby as opposed to a professional entry point into comics or a way to satisfy some obsessive compulsion? How do you think this has an effect on how you approach the works, how you write about them?

STONE: It's a bizarre and specific hobby, yes. I wasn't aware until recently that blogging about comics was something people did because they wanted to work in comics in some fashion. I find that... well, some people I like do that, so I'm not going to say something nasty about it, but it's an odd way to want to get a job, isn't it? I don't understand how it's helpful. I can understand blogging about comics so that you can get paid to write about comics, but...how it translates to working on comics, I'm a bit confused by. It seems like wanting to work on cars but choosing to stand outside a cafeteria frequented by mechanics and holding up a sign instead of... I don't know, applying or going to school for it. Or just doing it.

I have no interest in working in comics in any capacity, I never have. I'd be more likely to join the Marines or get a sex change. It started as a hobby, and then -- after my relationship with Nina got more serious -- it took the place as creative output for me that acting had always been. I'd had a good bit of success with acting before I moved to New York -- I'd done crap work that paid really well, and I'd done great work for free. Then I moved to New York, and spent all my time doing terrible plays for either nothing or almost nothing -- at one point, I was the go-to "white guy" for this Hispanic theater company, and all my parts consisted of playing guys who walked on stage and said really patronizing racist nonsense in this ridiculous fashion. After I quit working with them, I did a couple of really stupid things, like promos for the first Saw movie and this "art" play where I wandered around pretending to be a drug-addicted French dinosaur while some girl stood in the spotlight and talked about being raped. I'd already gotten tired of the scene, and I wanted to be more available to spend time with Nina. So I stopped auditioning totally -- I still took on a few more parts here and there, one was an independent film that really took off -- and then I found myself wanting to work harder at the writing stuff. It took the place of that part of my life. Getting paid for it, or -- ha -- getting interviewed, none of that stuff was ever something I expected to happen.

I don't know how that affects my writing about them. That thing that people like Tim Hodler talked about earlier this year -- worrying about people caring what you say? I don't do that. I don't have any ambition to make friends, get free comics, get a job, "fix comics" -- I don't care to do anything with it other then get better at what I'm doing, which is trying to come up with new ways to make Nina laugh. I just want to be able to look back on what I did six months ago and think it's better then it was. I think I'd like it if I was able to do nothing but this kind of stuff all day, but it couldn't be about comics only. It would have to be about film or books. But I don't try to get any jobs, so I can't see that happening. I sometimes wonder if I'm screwing up future opportunities with the language, the fact that I'm so bad about misinterpreting stuff, my stupidity when it comes to explaining why I like or don't like the art, but honestly -- what would those opportunities be? If someone was going to magically pluck superhero comic bloggers out of thin air and pay them to write full-time, it would be either Abhay and Jog. Who doesn't know that? Jesus, Douglas Wolk won a Harvey Award and he probably knows that.

SPURGEON: Do you have a background in critical writing at all? Do you have influences or anything that you try to emulate in those pieces? Am I right in thinking that you've written about other industries, or that maybe Nina has a background in writing about theatre?

STONE: No, the only writing I've done in other industries has been since I started the blog, and that's been stuff that few people have probably seen -- introductions and copy for some photography books, monographs, as well as advertising copy at work. I've worked on various aspects of a lot of campaigns, but it's not the sort of thing anyone would know unless I handed it to them, or if they had some interest in reading the tiny credit sections of photography books.

imageI did find out about six months ago that I had been writing what people call "scorched earth" criticism since I was little -- my sister sent me some "book report journal" that I had to keep in sixth grade, and I'm writing how the book version of The Dark Crystal "completely sucks" and picking at the behavior of specific characters in The Stand. My sister wrote a little note that said "something is wrong with a sixth grader doing this."

Nina has a masters degree in educational theater, and she had to write theater reviews for class, but that's it. Neither of us have any education or training in the field. We're the worst kind of bloggers -- arrogant and uneducated.

Influences -- well, that pretty much changes all the time. I'd say my biggest current influence is that guy Yahtzee Croshaw or Anthony Lane's reviews of the first and third Star Wars prequels, as well as just about every single comic blogger. Some influence me in that I never want to write like them, ever, and if I do, I hope I kill myself that night, and some I wish I could take over the life and intelligence of. When I first got started, it was all the guys and gals that write the short reviews for that avant-garde music magazine Wire as well as all the people who showed up in The Comics Journal -- Jog, Mautner, Noah, O'Neil -- you -- Dirk. I don't write like them at all, but they were what gave me the desire to work harder at it.

I know some people don't like the guy, but Gary Groth did an interview with Donald Phelps a few years ago, and that interview meant a lot to me. I wish I could explain why in a way that would lead more people to read it -- I talked to Gary about it at Mocca, and he said I was the first person to mention it to him -- but I can't. It just struck such a strong chord with me when I read it -- it wasn't the subject matter that Phelps was talking about, he and I share pretty much nothing when it comes to what we like -- but the way he described the act of writing made me really want to try figuring out why I was doing what I was doing, why I felt like it should be in a public forum, whether it had any value to it being a completely personal form of entertainment for Nina and I. I'm pretty content with what I do -- my limitations and lack of experience are obvious to anyone, but I hope it's clear that I do care about what I put out there. Sincerity and motive are terrible things to build a foundation on -- talent and intelligence would be far more valuable -- but I make do with the cards I've been dealt. At the core though, it's just another blog. There's some stuff on it that is pretty good, and there's stuff that isn't.

image

SPURGEON: Since we're going to be talk about mainstream comics, I wondered if you could, for the ease of comparison, talk briefly about four or five books or series that you think constitute good work within that genre. If together they provide a snapshot of your critical outlook on such books, even better. The more recent the better, too. For that matter, what's the last great work you read that could be said to come from the American mainstream?

STONE: I'm a big believer in All Star Superman. I didn't love this year's issues as much as I did the first one and the Lex Luthor Goes To Jail one, but I still thought it was just flat out great, and I'm really glad that DC was smart enough not to keep the title running with a different creative team. Those are comics I enjoy re-reading, and they're comics I'd "give to people" if I was the type of person who did that. It's a comic that best encompasses both the stand-alone super-hero book -- in that I think it could appeal to a wide, non-comic fan audience who might try it out, and yet it's full of all these little embellishments that can appeal to the hardcore wikipedia-brained fans who like to analyze what they read. It's artistically consistent, in that Frank sticks to the same design and drawing style from beginning to end -- which is something that bothers me a lot more then it seems to bother others, and Grant's authorial voice stays at the same tempo throughout. Although the two-part stories are best read together, I think each issue can work on it's own as well as in the collected format. I try, because I know it helps, not to look at a comic book as a stand-alone piece of entertainment when it isn't designed that way, but I can't help it. I never used to be able to get things in order -- I was, and still am, a terrible back issue hunter -- so I got used to reading Batman #346 over and over and not reading Batman #345 until two years later. That satisfied me, but those issues seemed....you know, they were fuller stories. I don't mind deconstruction in theory, I think the Bendis take on Daredevil really worked, but most of the time I just get incredibly disappointed when a comic can't stand on it's own as a piece of reading material. When it's just one-note, constructed to be combined with others.

Getting back to All-Star -- I'd never cared for the Superman character, he just seemed to empty to me, a trite stand-in for the type of Judeo-Christian/Benetton mentality that super-hero comics hold as their loftiest ideals -- but Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely succeeded in making me really care about him. A lot of the criticism I see about the comic -- that it's a remix of Silver Age tropes, that it's overwrought -- seem to miss what I thought was it's basic premise. It wasn't about a mystery, it wasn't about who Lex was, or even the idea of Superman as God. It was a love letter to a character who has transcended just about every single possible barrier put in his place to stand in as what the entire world thinks of when you say the words "super-hero." They took Superman and made it really simple and they did it in a way that was, for me, fresh and exciting. I was glad to get the opportunity to read those comics when they came out.

imageOn the flip-side, there's Ultimate Spider-Man. It's an appealing, fun comic that doesn't require or demand outside reading, that's consistent in scheduling and tone. It's rarely some magic feat of art, but most super-hero comics aren't anyway, and I don't think they're really supposed to be. In a lot of ways, Ultimate Spider-Man reads like a long-running afterschool television show, in that it deals with adult themes, speaks in a consistently youthful language, gauges it's emotions and action in big, soap opera delivery -- it just happens to tell simple, comprehensible Spider-Man stories. Other than that, it's not that far removed from that old Nickelodeon show Fifteen. I think some of it's stories have been fantastic, and while it sort of tread water a bit this year, it continues to be one of the simplest form of pleasure that Marvel publishes.

It's also a regular dose of solid super-hero art -- Bagley could be a little generic at times, but I think he gets ignored because his work is so inherently similar to those comics they try to sell to small children. He's a good cartoonist, and just because he can meet a deadline, that doesn't make him somehow less of a cartoonist. Stuart Immonen -- who I think is pretty great -- has really taken to the job well.

Ultimate Spidey also strikes me, more then a lot of super-hero titles, even ones I think have better technical stuff going on, as a pretty seamless throwback to old school comic books while still maintaining a sort of current connection to the forms of entertainment that currently make up most of what people crave about television. It's a "fun" book that isn't done with a bunch of irony and satire -- two things I actually really like -- and it's a book that seems to be saying that sticking to a formula, having consistent dialog and art -- that these things can still work. I think it's fine that more people -- adults, critics, etc -- don't seem to care about the book, or don't like it -- but I like it fine, and I appreciate it for being such a simple thing. I'd never pick it as "a best of year." But part of what I try to do with other forms of art -- like music and film -- is try to pay attention to what is going on right now, what's currently being produced. For the most part, if you just want to read "great super-hero comics," then you can automatically write off about 80% of what's being published and just stick to all the available reprints and hardcovers. Same thing if you're a jazz fan, which I am. It's a struggle to listen to the jazz that came out this year when something like Ascensions is so easily available. When I can just settle in with my Albert Ayler box set, which I still haven't gotten the chance to listen to as much as I'd like. I know that the majority of people don't do that -- Nina for one isn't at all obsessive about finding out what's new -- but I am. I like to keep moving, and when I have the time, I like to go back to stuff.

With Ultimate Spider-Man, I appreciate it for being one of the few books that tries to do something that's 2008 in the delivery of content that's almost purely 1960. I think that if you really care about comics -- super-hero ones especially -- then you've sort of got a responsibility to keep an eye on what is coming out on Wednesday, and then holding it up to the same standard that let's you hold the older works in such high regard. That means that a lot of the stuff is going to be disappointing, but it also means that when you find something that's been running for over 100 issues and has been consistent in tone, type of story, delivery, theme, art -- that you recognize that for the rare accomplishment that it is. Ultimate Spider-Man is a comic that hits all those marks in terms of delivery, and it can be an enjoyable book on top of that when it does it well. It's rarely late -- I actually don't know that it ever has been late -- and even when it's not very good, it's not very good on the terms of still hitting all the technical marks it always hits. People who don't care for it would do well to try and find any current Marvel & DC title that can say that for the last 100 issues of a series. I don't believe there is one.

image

I do have to go back a little bit -- when I finally got the chance as a kid to read all of the Giffen/Dematteis Justice League, I thought that was the best handled version of a team-up book in the world. Although my comparison at the time was one or two issues of X-Men, the crap that Impact was publishing and the super-bland HardC.O.R.P.S. from Valiant, I still have some of those feelings. I sort of think that books like New Avengers have tried to do a steroid-driven version of that same book -- standard super-heroics crossed with quirky banter, but it doesn't click with me that well. That's not all on Bendis, though -- he tries, but there's a lot more freedom when you're writing Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner and Fire then there is when you're using all the big heroes. I don't think those ground-level "realistic conversation" comics really work out when you're dealing with these huge characters. To make it work, you kind of need the characters to be sequestered somewhere, where you aren't seeing them every week in other books -- like if Blue Beetle and Booster Gold were showing up and trying to catch a child-murdering Toyman during the weeks in between that Justice League story where they built a resort on a live volcano.

I think Arnold Drake's Doom Patrol -- especially the long-running stuff, where Negative Man and Robotman were clearly jealous and protective of Elasti-Girl when Mento starts trying to marry her -- I think those are probably the strongest, and most well-done, versions of the "let's give super-heroes real emotions" kind of stuff. I imagine the reason nobody else ever says that about Drake is because I'm wrong, but I can't get behind most of the stuff people push as doing that sort of "look, they talk like you and me" content. Giffen and Dematteis took that same sort of thing -- the angst and failure of being a dorky C-grade hero -- and used humor to make characters with zero personality and zero interest into something that's really fun to experience. I wish Kevin Maguire was still working too -- few cartoonists could do emotional expression the way he could. It's too bad that he's not around, or that when he is, he's drawing a pointless nude fight scene with Barbara Gordon. It's interesting to me that when they did that retread of the Giffen League a few years ago, that it was such a miserable failure. The point of that comic wasn't that these guys were just tragic losers, it was that together a bunch of tragic losers could still save the world when they got down to business.

image

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the Punisher: Max series as well. I thought that comic -- which was, along with Godland, the first comic that I read only in the trade format -- was a tremendously exciting piece of work. The ongoing ideas, the barely concealed rage of it's author, the unflinching portrayal of the sex trade in Slavers -- that was a damn good comic. When people talk about making movies out of comics, it's like -- god, just film Mother Russia. That's a brilliant piece of action, it puts every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (except for Predator) to shame. Jesus, that was a great comic series. I've read that one all the way through a couple of times now, and I'm still not sick of it. Goran Parlov, Braithwaite -- all these artists who just tear shit apart, really make you feel the violence and raw, seething hate...at the same time, it's such a depressing portrayal of emptiness, of this guy whose just thrown his entire life away. I spent a good portion of reading that series wanting Frank to just take his own life -- there's just no reason for him to go on.

Garth Ennis is a guy I spent a huge amount of time with this year, and I've been on and off working on a longer piece of actual "criticism" about his Punisher work for the last few months, and I'll probably still be dealing with it next year -- I was just knocked out by what he was able to do with that series. I'd never paid attention to the character before -- I didn't hate him, I just had no opinion about him -- and reading Garth's work on the book was a revelation for me. I really didn't think there was anything you could do with a super-hero comic that could go to such incredibly dark places, to deal with such awful stuff in a way that really shook me up. I think Slavers is one of the most frightening and upsetting comics I've ever read, even more so because it has the potential to lead you onto the Internet, hoping that Garth was exaggerating what those people -- eastern European pimps and gangsters -- do to women. And if you end up doing that -- if you spend any time at all reading about the worst parts of the sex trade -- you realize that Garth was just playing nice. He could've taken that stuff a lot farther.

imageI know you want to stick to current stuff, but I gotta throw out something classic, and that'll have to be Kirby's Fourth World saga -- this year has been like heaven for a guy like me, with all these reprints of his DC stuff, Marvel showing up and getting The Eternals out there, Devil Dinosaur still available -- I think that if you're looking for something epic, then you can't do better then Fourth World. They're just great sturm und drang comics. I think it's funny, in a sarcastic way, that people seem to have totally missed what Kirby was all about, which was that Kirby was all about creating new characters, new worlds, trying to tell new kinds of stories. A lot of his work can end up only being a "god this art is awesome" kind of thing -- but man, he just never stopped trying to do something fresh and different with comics. Nowadays, all kinds of comics creators talk about how inspired they were by him, and what they mean (and I gauge "what you mean" by "what you do") is that they want to tell another 4th World story. They want to do another Eternals. If that's what you think Kirby would've wanted, and you work in comics, then you're a complete and utter fool. And I know that because I'm just some guy who hasn't even tried to find out what Kirby would've wanted and I've still read a zillion interviews with him where that's exactly what he said he didn't want: he wanted people to go and create, to make something fresh, to try something different, not to just tell another Fantastic Four story, or another version of the Eternals. He wanted people to have courage, and doing another Blue Beetle revamp -- man, that shit ain't courageous. It's lazy, and it's cheap.

SPURGEON: I want to ask about your process in putting together your reviews. Do you just buy a whole lot of comics? Give me a snapshot of the kind of reader you are right now and how much that's dictated by the needs of your writing. One thing that stood out for me is that you seem to buy Kevin Huizenga's comics despite having little to no use for Kevin Huizenga's work.

STONE: Wow, that's totally not true. Damn, and I know why you think that. In fact, the only time I've ever seen somebody use something from "Comics of the Weak" for a "blurb" is the one I wrote about Ganges #2 being a definite contender for best of year. Fantagraphics put that up on their website at one point, it was up there for a while. I understand where you're coming from -- the Fight or Run review, right? There's also the Or Else review, but I thought that one was sort of obvious -- I just copied exactly what David Heatley said about his own work in his response to Comics Comics and put it up there as a way to point out how incredibly pointless his description was, because it can pretty much fit absolutely any comic book, regardless of quality, genre, intent. I think Kevin Huizenga is great, I seek out everything he's done, even those "Sermons" journals, which are sort of boring. Fight Or Run was just a trifle for me, though, I tried to keep up with Wolk and Jog on that one, but really, what is there to say? It was the beginning of Ganges #2, stretched out and less interesting. (It should be noted again that I am the dumb guy in the equation of Jog/Wolk/me.)

I just go to this hole-in-the-wall place and buy whatever comics I keep up with, at least one first issue of something -- anything, whatever looks interesting, even if it's "how interesting that something so stupid exists" -- and usually I buy one or two of the "big important super-hero" comic, like Secret Invasion, or whatever. There's no rhyme or reason to it. I make more specific trips on weeks when there's manga I'm interested in, or new work from companies like Picturebox, Fantagraphics, D&Q, Top Shelf, so on. The hole-in-the-wall's clientele is superhero driven, but it's convenient to my work -- I don't have a lot of free time during the day -- and I like the kids that work there. They used to have this one guy who hated comics who worked there, and I fell in love with him -- god, I don't know why he worked there. He was this crazy guy from Queens or something, hated comics and hated most of the fans. He got to like me, I guess, and he'd tell me all kinds of nasty shit about the people that shopped there. Dude was a freak, but in that awesome way you'll always remember. I wish I'd had a cameraphone back when he worked there, because the faces of hate and loathing he'd make when he was ringing me up were the stuff of legend.

imageNow it's just these kids and the owner, and I have a lot of affection for them. None of us like the same stuff, but they're really great people, and they argue the way I do, where you say "Hey, I really dig Ultimate Spidey" and they just look at me like I admitted to cannibalism. "That shit is for babies, you need to read some Uncanny. Greg Land is a genius." And then we're off barking at each other. I'll probably hate myself when I move away from New York and realize I should've been going to Rocketship or Desert Island all along, but those guys have been really good to me, and the time that Nina went and picked up the books -- man, I'd take a bullet for those kids just for that day. She was so nervous, and I kept telling her "look it doesn't matter, you can't screw this up" but she was really anxious that she'd disappoint me or something ridiculous like that. I'm sure a lot of comics shop people would have done the same, treated her really nice, not be condescending, but these were the guys who did. They'll have my business as long as I'm around.

Sometimes I get these scans of comics e-mailed to me by strangers, illegal as hell, but I usually figure if I'm going to talk shit I should go ahead and buy it. Every once in a while, somebody e-mails me and tells me I have to review something for the Weak, I've just got too, it's "so bad." I pretty much always do those, unless it's something that's totally wonky and hard-to-find. I think it's kind of cool that people do that, so if I can, I always throw it in there.

The only character I pretty much "follow" is Batman, otherwise, it's just specific creators or titles that I stick with. I always try whatever is new from Vertigo and Marvel's Icon imprint, but Image became so hit or miss for me that they got cut out of the "give 'em a shot" club. I'll probably always buy the new Grant Morrison, and the only Brubaker stuff I don't read is the X-Men. Chris Ware, Huizenga, Campbell, Peter Bagge, Garth Ennis. If they have something, I'll buy it. I have become a regular B.P.R.D. guy, although I don't care much about Hellboy except for the art. I imagine I'm like most comics buyers? Except for what you, Jog and Matthew Brady talk about it those "coming out today" columns, I never have any idea what's coming out. I just go there and try to surprise myself.

I don't think the needs of the column dictate the comics, although I did try for a while to keep up with all of the Secret Invasion tie-ins just for the sake of the Weak, but it was just making me miserable to read that awful shit, so I gave up pretty quick. I've randomly bought crap that I though would be fun to make fun of, but it never is. There are times when I know I'm going to hate something and buy it anyway though, like Batman & The Outsiders. If it's something that's fun to hate, and that comic certainly is, then I'll buy it. For awhile I felt like Tony Bedard was writing comics just to irritate me, like the scripts were designed solely to make me want to throw myself off a bridge, and I was buying everything he wrote just to get irritated. Then he made the shift from "hilariously terrible" to "boring and trite" and I bailed out. Ninety percent of the time though, if I'm writing about it, I did have some hope that I'd like it.

SPURGEON: How did you settle into the format used for Comics of the Weak? It's very confrontational, very cross-referential, very blunt and amusing... are there antecedents anywhere, anyone doing similar work that you admire or appreciate in comics or out?

STONE: Well, somebody said I was copying some other blogger once, so I looked at his stuff -- but I didn't really see it. For one, that guy was one of those paste up people, the ones who post old panels that are funny? I don't do that. I don't have a scanner at home, and I don't really like doing that sort of stuff at work -- the scanners at my job work really hard at a boring, terrible job, and I feel like such a prick when I go and ask them if I can "borrow" the machine so that my blog can be funnier or more interesting.

There must be somebody who does this same thing though, and I just haven't seen it. I didn't really have a plan for it at first -- I just got sick of picking a comic every week, writing about it on the blog, and struggling to find the words to praise something when i didn't really care for it that much. But I'd locked myself into this schedule (a schedule only I cared about, since the blog got something like 50 hits a day) of picking a comic out of the ones I read and writing it up. On top of that, I wasn't any good at it. I read some of that stuff now and just cringe -- there's all this obvious shit I didn't catch, praise that's so over the top, no mention of things I didn't like -- ugh. It's crap, and I wasn't getting any better at it, and I wasn't having any fun.

imageI'd started thinking "hey, I should just write a week about how much I don't like something, Nina and my brother will think that's funny." I was reading this Bedard issue of Legion of Super-Heroes where they featured Matter-Eater Lad, and he's wandering around wearing Oakley sunglasses and saying "Tenzil Kim, for the defense" because he's a lawyer, and the whole time I just kept thinking -- "Well, it's Matter-Eater Lad, so even though this comic sucks, and the art is terrible, and I wish I hadn't paid for it, eventually he will eat some matter, because that's what he does." But he didn't eat anything! The idea that you can use that character -- that specific, stupid character -- and not have him eat matter? Who in the hell do you think you are? You think you're a good enough writer to make Matter-Eater Lad interesting without having him do the sole reason he's interesting? That's when I wrote "this comic can suck cock in hell." I'd done a sort of trial run the week before that, where I figured I'd review all the comics, but it was after I wrote that sentence when I figured out what I wanted to do with the weekly comics column.

When I read it to Nina, she laughed at it a lot, and man...when Nina laughs at something you did, it's just about the best thing in the world. I don't mean that to sound cheesy, and I know it does, but for me, there's nothing in my life that tops making that girl laugh. I started pushing them to later in the week, and eventually they ended up going on Sunday nights -- in part because some people I didn't know were on some message board and they linked to it and said "Yeah, I don't know the guy, but this shit is funny. I always read it at work on Monday morning, I think he puts it up on Sunday night." Dirk started linking to it all the time, and then you, the people from Blog@Newsarama -- so I figured I better do it every week on time, and I've pretty much stuck to that. There's been a lot of times when I'd felt like it wasn't very funny, but I figured that was the way it goes for people who write all the time -- that you just have to do it on deadline and walk away.

As time went on, it developed it's own personality -- I mean, I do have a foul mouth, but I don't talk that way all the time. It's become more reactionary at times, but I try to keep it as a general humor piece in response to the comics. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The main thing that it's supposed to be really extreme and blunt, but not a straight up lie. If I didn't like something, then I do sometimes go overboard into saying that I hated it, when the truth is that the only thing I really hate is Robert Mugabe, but never to just pretend that something I enjoyed was actually terrible. It's got to be honest, or there's no fun in doing it.

I don't know. It's just a thing that I do, and I work on it. I just write a bunch down after I read the comics and then play with it a bit, and then I cut most of it out, and then I read them to Nina. If she's good with them, then I publish them. I've been made to understand -- since my email is on the site -- that some people really hate it, really think it's terrible that somebody does something like what I'm doing. But if you're going to dish out bile, it's not cool to get upset about that. Still, I wish some of those people would just shut the fuck up and write two weekly columns about mainstream super-hero comics. Let's see how long they last before they stop being all high and mighty super positive freaks.

Well, I should probably be a little upfront about something else, just to be clear: I don't like the fact that people act like being positive about pop cultural ephemera is somehow a trait in relation to their own joy or moral fiber. That mentality -- that "if you can't be nice..." attitude makes abundant sense to me when it's in correlation to actual human life, but towards a corporate product? Towards any piece of art? I can't take it seriously. I find that sort of talk ridiculous. There's nothing inherently "good" or "bad" about being positive or negative towards super-hero comics. I do the Weak from the standpoint that comics have to prove themselves to me, the reader. They don't get a headstart because I like to read about Batman, or because I like Grant Morrison, or because they're a tiny niche industry that no one cares about. Besides, if you like everything...I mean, if you're one of those people who have a super-hero pull-list of 30 or 40 titles, and you're a grown-up, and you're excited all the time -- god. Do I even need to say it? Of course you're not going to agree with me, and of course you're going to find it obnoxious. We have nothing in common. I don't care, and you're a moron.

SPURGEON: How do you make distinctions between what you'll be writing about through Factual Opinion and what will make a good column for comiXology?

STONE: Well, comiXology allows me to be a bit more honest, a bit more of a real person, so if something is going to involve a lot of "me" and "I" type language, and it has something to do with superhero comics, then it goes to them. Besides that, I try to do stuff that I think would be interesting about super-hero comics, something that I think I would find interesting. Part of the deal with the Factual is that I think it should be interesting to people who don't have any interest in the things that I'm writing about -- like, you should be able to read a TFO piece and not have any idea what the material is and still find it....entertaining? Interesting? Comprehensible. comiXology is a focused, specific site, and it's geared towards a certain group of people who have already said "I read comics," and so the stuff there can be a little more specific. That's pretty much it, really. I try to keep it close to what's going on right now, I avoid blog-fights. I've asked the editors there whether they want anything specific, and sometimes they ask me to go to stuff, like the Baltimore convention, but they pretty much stay out of it. Peter Jaffe, who edits the column, he's very helpful in helping me get to the point, which is my biggest problem with what I do for them. Real bright guy, and he's responsible for all the art that goes up. I bet everybody else does their own art. I'm useless for that.

image

SPURGEON: Let's talk 2008's comics. I wanted to ask you your general impressions on several bigger projects at various mainstream or mainstream-oriented companies. First, what is it about the Batman: RIP storyline that led you to call it a miserable failure?

STONE: Look, I'm not capable of reading Batman RIP the way some people who like it seem to be. I'm not a toy buyer, and I don't wear super-hero t-shirts, but my collection of Batman goes back almost all the way through the '50s. I've read more Batman comics then I've read of anything else, and i don't say that as a point of pride, I say it because I was a shitty little asshole who blew his liberal whiteboy money on Batman comics when I should have been saving to buy a house. When I read a Batman comic, it's with that kind of brain, where I sit there and go "What's the difference between this and Knightfall?" Well, the art wasn't as good as Knightfall, and it's patently bullshit and rose-colored glasses to pretend otherwise.

Tony Daniel draws a sort of interesting Joker -- I mean, he can only draw that Joker from one or two camera angles, but sure, it's "interesting." But he can't handle the most basic, simple stuff like "Batman punches thug in face." He draws a fight sequence -- really simple ones, like Batman running across a room and punching two guys while he does it and it looks like something that a 14-year-old would put on an envelope to send to Wizard. Beyond the art -- which for me, killed it right there. Killed it. That art could've ruined anything. The idea that it can't -- that you can somehow read magic into art that generic -- is just insane. What if Tony Daniel drew Ghost World? Or Big Questions? The comic wouldn't work at all, and it would be terrible. Art has to work in tandem with language for comics, it has to, it's a requirement. When it doesn't -- and it can still be ugly or unrealistic, there's a ton of good comics with ugly, unrealistic art -- the comic is just an automatic failure for me. I didn't have any trouble making sense of the plot of Batman RIP. But I couldn't make sense of why Tony Daniel was hired to draw it, except for his ability to meet a deadline.

Beyond that though, I just wasn't that impressed with the story -- I mean, seriously -- a group of people show up with a plan to make Batman crazy and then break him. That's it? That's what all those great Grant Morrison issues, like the Black Casebook or Bethlehem -- was leading up to? Dude, that's fucking Knightfall. That's Bane and his little friend the Birdman of Alcatraz letting everybody out of Arkham Asylum while Bruce Wayne grows facial hair and acts so weird that all his friends start telling him to take a nap.

The thing about Grant for me is that I don't buy into the idea that Grant works from the weird down. I think that "weird" is the end goal. In other words, all these little homages and references and what not, that's all layered onto the work, not into the work, and it reads exactly like that -- it reads like a standard Batman versus a bunch of bad guys, and then it's got a bunch of transparencies laid on top of it -- transparencies that say "1950's story arc" and "funny Batman paraphernalia." I'm certain that I'm probably wrong, but the idea that Grant is some kind of alchemical comic magician, the idea that Grant Morrison is anything like a Grant Morrison fan -- I just don't buy it. I think he's a talented, smart writer who has some pretty out-there tastes, and that he likes to play with the idea of what a super-hero comic is supposed to be. He played this time, and it didn't work.

The other thing -- and this is where I kind of think people read too much Roger Ebert without understanding Roger Ebert -- is that Grant Morrison can do better super-hero comic books then he did in Batman RIP. He's done better then this far more often then he's missed the mark. And yes, when it's Grant Morrison on a heavily-marketed Batman event comic, on the most successful superhero character of the year, it has to be better then this. For it not to be -- for it to be a niche comic that appeals to a specific type of Grant Morrison fan -- that's what I'd call a miserable failure. When it comes to Grant Morrison, I go in with expectations, because he's written some of my favorite comics of recent memory. And when I find the work disappointing, which I did, then I don't see any reason to temper that disappointment any more then I would when I read something like Superman and Batman Fight Aliens And Predators Plus A Vampire. Does that put me in the same group of people who just don't like the guys work across the board? No, no it doesn't. It just means that he didn't do it for me this time. I'm not going to lie and work at coming up with ways to praise something just because the writer is a personal favorite.

Also -- and I realize that people don't like this point of view, but the sooner they accept it, the sooner they'll get to be a grown-up -- is that when you're working on the biggest super-hero character of the year, and your job is to do that characters big bestseller of the year, then that isn't the time for you to put out something that any Batman fan, even the dumbest one, calls "confusing." While I didn't come away with that response -- hell, I just thought it was a bad story -- a lot of people did, and that makes the book a failure. It's Batman. It's not Kramers Ergot, it's not Jim Woodring, it's not The Invisibles. It's a comic that an entire company and a whole lot of people depend upon for their job security. Making something that appeals to the kind of people that like to debate terms like "fictionsuit" and annotate their comics isn't, and it shouldn't, be what DC Comics is publishing the same year Christopher Nolan is showing a bunch of people a Batman they really like. Not because "it's wrong." But because it's a stupid, obvious mistake. It couldn't work, and it didn't.

image

SPURGEON: I had a much harder figuring out what you thought about All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. What do you think of that comic?

STONE: Hell, I have a much harder time figuring out what I think of it. If it's for real serious, then Frank Miller has lost his mind and he's far more immature and dumb then I've been led to believe. If it's a satirical, funny comic designed to say "go to hell nerds" that Frank is doing because he's irritated that nobody wants him to do anything but publish more wank-y Sin City material alongside Dark Knight Returns outtakes for the rest of his life, then it's genius.

The thing is... man, I like Frank Miller just fine. He's done some good comics. But I never really thought they were clever, you know? He just never grabbed me as someone who liked to play with subtlety. Almost everything he's done since Daredevil -- and even to some extent, Daredevil -- reads to me like a blunt object. "This is the operating table." "Sometimes being a friend means killing a whole lot of people." I can't see that guy being a guy who is doing All Star Batman and not doing it as a serious thing. I want it to be a joke, a big screw-you to the kind of people whose favorite author is Chuck Palahniuk. But I have a hard time convincing myself that's the case. He had that statement he made once about Batman when Dark Knight Strikes Again came out, where he said "Batman is like a terrorist" -- I don't really know that you can hang a lot of intelligent work on that kind of premise.

All that aside, that comic gave the world an Alfred with rippling abdominal muscles and a Joker that has a Yakuza back tattoo. It deserves credit for that, because that's pretty fantastic.

SPURGEON: Anything more to say on All-Star Superman?

STONE: I kind of already said anything that I could say about this one, so I'll just say that I thought the ending was exactly what it had to be, exactly what the comic was leading to, and I both loved and hated it for that reason. The thing that always wowed me about that comic is that I never knew what I was going to be reading when I first got an issue -- I knew I was probably going to enjoy it, and that's it. We all knew that Superman was going to go down and leave us all behind at the close of that comic, and that's exactly what happened. It was still gorgeous though. I can see myself reading those comics for the rest of my life. I really liked them.

image

SPURGEON: Secret Invasion?

STONE: Secret Invasion was probably the best comic to happen to the internet this year, because it gave us Abhay [Khosla]'s reviews of Secret Invasion. I'm still waiting to read what he has to say about the final issue, and I know I'm not the only person who is more excited about that then I have been about any issue of the comic.

Besides Abhay, Secret Invasion led me to one of the most interesting ideas in super-hero comics criticism that I've seen, which is this guy Todd Murray who showed up on Dick Hyacinth's blog and talked about something called "gaming criticism" in correlation to the construction of these stories. I don't know if that guy actually ended up writing that stuff up in more detail, but he explained how everything that's interesting about Secret Invasion wasn't published, because everything that's interesting about Secret Invasion came about when Brian Michael Bendis sat around with all the other Marvel writers to come up with the various ways in which the series would affect the Marvel universe of characters. That the attraction of something like Secret Invasion was that the comics themselves would deliver pieces of information, and then comics fans -- the ones who can immediately look at the possible return of Hawkeye's wife, or the revelation that Spider-Woman is the Queen of the Skrulls and then recognize the importance of that development, what it means for that characters past appearances -- created the interesting stuff themselves. That the comic itself doesn't do anything but serve as a delivery of said "information" for the reader to then uses to create conversation -- whether an interactive one or not -- that would interesting in and of itself. The comparison he made was that Secret Invasion was more like a role-playing module, one of those pre-made things that D&D people buy, where they participate in the story as an actor, but the various rules and non-player characters already exist. After reading that, I spent a little while reading more of what people had to say about Secret Invasion -- not reviews, because those were uniformly negative, excepting that lunatic they have who reviewed it for Comic Book Resources.

And you could see that happening -- these people on message boards, the ones who are really committed to the Marvel Universe in total, there was obvious attraction to the series that only dwindled as more and more doors to possible stories were closed. I mean, Secret Invasion opened with this massive environment -- what if all of these Marvel characters have been Skrull sleeper agents since the 1970s? What if all of their adventures were just what a bunch of Skrulls did before somebody woke them up? The potential for crazy there was so extreme that there was absolutely no way that Marvel could back it up with anything. So you read the series, and that door is closed almost immediately. If you read the last issue, the one where they finally bring back all the characters the Skrulls had actually taken the place of, what do you see? Besides the ones who were taken over in the first issues, you see absolutely no A or even B-level characters. There's nobody in the ship that "matters" to the Marvel universe. It's people like Jarvis, Dum Dum Dugan, Spider-Woman and Hank Pym. That's it.

It's interesting to me that you compare that to something like Civil War, where you had, for better or worse, an actual major shift in the Marvel status quo. You knew it wouldn't last -- but it did something you hadn't seen on the Event Comics level since Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was the sight of a big comics company doing something drastic and different with A-list characters. Secret Invasion ended almost immediately after it started, when it decided that there would be no change whatsoever, and that it was just going to be a "superhero fight off aliens" comic. On top of that, the damn thing was so miserably boring to read, it cost too much, and it didn't seem like something that Bendis enjoyed writing -- I mean, you can tell the guy is having fun when you read New Avengers, when you read Powers, you can tell he actually cares about Peter Parker and Matt Murdock. Then you read Secret Invasion, and it's got zero charm, it's not funny, it's just this thing that has fighting and emoting, and -- after the second issue -- has no hook to it whatsoever.

image

SPURGEON: Final Crisis thus far?

STONE: Final Crisis works for me. It's an intelligent, nuanced way to do a traditional event comic. It's almost courageous that they'd publish something like this -- something that actually hits the necessary beats, like the over-the-top emotion, the shocking reveal, the degradation of the hero -- while focusing on all those individual obsessions of Grant Morrison about what a super-hero "means," what it does to the world of the people they inhabit, his taste for the off-brand stuff, like Kamandi, the Fourth World characters. The problem is that all my appreciation stems from having to take it as a totally individual entity, while at the same time only really being able to fully enjoy it by having the sort of mind that knows who the characters are and what it's referencing. If you don't have some recall for these characters names, what they can do, that sort of basic thing -- it's a miserable slog, and completely repellent. I don't think of it that way, but my wife did, and there was something there.

At the same time, I think almost all event comics -- with the exception of Civil War, which I think could "make sense" to just about anyone -- are like that. I don't buy that people with no comics background and love would care for something like Secret Wars, or Crisis on Infinite Earths, etc. They're just too insular. Here's the thing about that though: that's totally fine. Enough people do fall in love with comics because they want to know more, they want to seek out why there are multiple Flashes that it's obvious that's my personal complaint. I don't think event comics are, or should, be filed alongside Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, or Maus, or whatever is the current "give this to someone who doesn't care in hopes of making them care" type comics.

These comics are for fans -- but the thing is that Final Crisis isn't working the way it's supposed to. While Secret Invasion was pretty dumb, and hella boring, and it's tie-ins were for the most part god-awful, it did exactly what the most basic event comic was supposed to do. It told a main story, it involved everybody's favorite toys, and the tie-ins played out like the deleted scenes and webisodes that come with a DVD. Final Crisis -- they weren't even sure when the story took place at first, none of the tie-ins have any major connection, and some of the major players are people like Black Lightning and the Tattooed Man. You can't do a DC Event Comic and take Batman and Superman off the table and expect it to skyrocket up the charts. That's such basic math that I don't know why people don't mention it more often. I thought Jog made a great point when he said this was one of the first times he'd felt like somebody was making an event comic that catered to his specific taste -- I felt the same way, but in the back of my head, I can't escape the fact that I think this thing is going to end up being something that doesn't click with the people who DC Comics is counting on it clicking with. It's the same "I don't find this to be an intelligent business decision" thing that I feel with Batman RIP... the difference is that I like reading this one, and I don't think the art sucks. I thought your review of it was pretty funny.

SPURGEON: Thanks. Why do you think Secret Invasion seemed to connect with its intended audience while Final Crisis fell so short of what people perceived as the number it should be hitting that most fans briefly assumed Dan DiDio would be fired?

STONE: Okay, I know you want to focus on the comics, but real quick -- I really think that "people thought Didio would be fired" thing was insane. I seriously doubt that any decent number of the people in the group calling for Didio's head have any understanding of what his or any of the editorial jobs at DC Comics entails. People on the internet act like "get rid of Didio" is the equivalent of a football fan saying "fire the coach" -- but the difference is that a football fan knows what a coach does. Comics fans, by and large, don't know a fucking thing about making comics beyond the most basic "draw and write them" type information. That's not all on them -- DC and Marvel keep a pretty closed house -- but that nonsense was played out about 15 minutes after the first comment was posted. I don't blame the people who initially stoked the fire, I know you were sort of involved, Heidi MacDonald, and I thought it was pretty clear why and how you two got hosed into some bullshit.

[Editor's Note: To be fair to Heidi MacDonald, my memory is that her entire role in that matter was to jump on it pretty quickly to call it bullshit. Tucker is correct that I ran a piece about the rumor.]

imageIt reminds me of when that Minx shit came out, and everybody all of a sudden became a marketing expert -- man, I work in advertising. I'll listen to what a comic shop owner has to say, I'll listen to some serious reporters, but by and large, I'm not going to listen to some fucking baggage handler tell me how a comic company should handle their marketing. They don't know what the hell they're talking about. People want to yap about the quality of a comic, that's one thing -- that's opinion, that's something everybody can have. But if you've never worked on a global ad campaign, if you've never taken a book from brainstorm all the way through to a consumer, if you've never been involved in how you convince book chains to carry the stuff -- then seriously, shut the fuck up. You have nothing to add. That applies to most of the creative types, too. At my office, we keep the creative and the business types physically away from each other. Their jobs intersect at the client, and nowhere else.

I'm buddies with a lot of the creative types, I love them to pieces, but I wouldn't trust them with anything regarding product placement, marketing and advertising strategy, brand management, the potential audience, desired consumer base -- that isn't their job, and it isn't their job because they aren't good at it. And if the guy who came up with an ad that some corporation was willing to pay thousands to create, and millions to display around the world -- if that creative guy doesn't have anything to add, then nobody needs to hear from somebody who has nothing but a Newsarama username, a copy of The Tipping Point, and a paycheck from Blockbuster Video. They might be a brilliant comics critic, but it doesn't make them a fount of business information.

Anyway, the actual question: Here's two things about the comics from a non-quality related standpoint. First up, Final Crisis may not have beat Secret Invasion in sales figures, but the idea that it would seems kind of ignorant to me -- after all, DC Comics never beat Marvel in sales figures for anything other than a fluke. That's a standard thing, it applies pretty much across the board. They randomly show them up with something really special, but every time I read those online sales figures -- which, again, is the only place people like me get the information -- Marvel is kicking the shit out of DC. Why would a big Marvel book be any different? Because it's Grant Morrison? So what? Marvel had Bendis, he's a big deal too. It wasn't a surprise to me when that happened, not in the least. Actually, the only thing that surprised be was that -- and I wrote about it some for comiXology -- was the idea that cracking 200,000 copies of a comic book was somehow worth building a statue over. I felt like that just meant that somebody had taken an official poll, and 200,000 was the amount of people who bought comic books. 200,000 sales? That's pathetic. It costs four dollars. It costs more to get that Southern Chicken sandwich meal at McDonald's, and yet only 200,000 people could be bothered to care.

The second thing, and this is really simple, is that Secret Invasion kept coming out, and it came out pretty much on time. While I think you can get away with being late as hell when you're doing something like All Star Batman, because it's going to sell anyway and it doesn't make any difference to any other comics, then no big deal. Hell, if they put out another issue of WildC.A.T.S. with Jim Lee and Grant Morrison next week, it would do pretty well. People complain, but I don't think they care that much -- after all, they still buy them. But with something like this, something like an Event Comic? That's pretty much the main reason for having a shared universe of super-heroes. That's how you introduce the guys like me who chase the idiotic compulsion to keep up with Batman to other characters. It's a big deal to people who read a lot of company-specific titles, because the Event Comic is going to take that stunt team-up and bring it into every single title, and it's going to lift the sales of all kinds of miserable garbage that nobody pays attention to. But if you don't get it out there, if you don't push the product on a regular basis, then you give people the time to get some sense and realize -- "hey, it's just another Event Comic, and it's taking too long, and you know what? I don't really like these tie-ins that much, and I skipped Final Night and House of M, and I don't think I care that much, because nothing is really going to change anyway."

There's a side thing too, which is that the main lead-up to Final Crisis was Countdown, and if there's some huge Countdown fan out there, I've never met or heard of them. I don't know anybody who liked that comic. I couldn't stick it out, and I read the Nuklon Justice League. Meanwhile, Marvel is leading up to Secret Invasion with stuff that people actually liked, comics like New Avengers and Civil War that do well on their own. There's no contest there -- here's a comic with Wolverine & Spider-man teaming up to kill ninjas, it's leading up to something big, and DC is teaming up Jason Todd with Donna Troy, and they're going to alternate universes? That's like a television station trying to compete with the World Series by running re-runs of Sliders.

Before I gave up on Countdown, I could see where it was going. It was a crappy comic book about the C-list trying to play against one of Marvel's most successful writers using Marvel's most successful characters. That's insane. On top of that -- and this goes back to what I was saying about timing -- they were able to keep Countdown on schedule for 52 weeks. That's impressive, and it only makes the horrible delays and deadline problems on Final Crisis that much more absurd. The idea that you'd follow up two years of weekly titles with an event book that had skip months already planned -- I mean, it's like DC spun a wheel where the only options were stupid ones.

image

SPURGEON: How do you regard Ed Brubaker's Captain America, particularly now that it seems to have wrapped up that lengthy, initial storyline? How do you view Brubaker's collaborations with Matt Fraction on the X-Men and Iron Fist characters?

STONE: Ed Brubaker's Captain America is my only experience with the character, except for Kyle Baker's The Truth mini-series. I bought the first issue on a whim, and then the second, and then the third, and the next thing I knew, I was looking forward to every issue. I'd never, not once, been interested to know anything about the character. I didn't know anything about him -- who his supporting cast was, who his major enemies were besides the Red Skull -- nothing.

I went in to that book because I thought Ed Brubaker's Catwoman and Gotham Central were two of the best comics DC had going for a while. When Catwoman went all tits and ass, and he bailed out, I couldn't believe it. They'd taken this character, this character that had never had a good series, given her one, given her people like Mike Allred, Darwyn Cooke & Cameron Stewart -- and then they chucked it into the toilet and called up Adam Hughes to make it as trashy as possible. Gotham Central was one of those books that I really enjoyed while knowing full well that it didn't have a prayer of lasting very long -- it wasn't a book that the comics buying audience was going to enjoy, and the art snobs weren't going to give a chance, no matter who told them too. I was sad to see the guy leave DC, but that sadness has given way to sheer contempt for DC, because here he is, doing exactly what he was doing for them over at Marvel, and Marvel is willing to sit back and let him do it.

I don't see people talk about Captain America that much anymore -- it was a pretty popular title at first, but that seems to have quieted down now -- but honestly, that's one of the few comics I can think of that deserves that insane hardcover presentation. If you start reading that series at issue one, and then you plow on through, you'll make it all the way to issue #42 and still be reading the same story. It's brilliant long-range plotting, and it's just about incomparable in super-hero comics to play it out that long. I don't know if you read it, but what it most reminded me of was something like Dickens, where you've got this inventive cast of characters, this serial format that delivers heavy meaty chunks of stuff with every issue while still having enough balls in the air that you can't really gauge where it is it plans to go.

At the same time -- and this was prior to the factual, so nobody ever read it -- one of the first times I tried doing a longer piece about a comic was about one of the earlier issues, where the whole story was pretty much that Steve [Rogers] really was a guy who had nothing happening for him -- that he lived in this empty gymnasium in NY, that he worked out and stared at his past. That was one of the loneliest depictions of a superhero I've ever read. It was being used to lay more of the groundwork for Bucky's eventual return, but god, it was still really something all on it's own. Brubaker throws that stuff in there so cleanly, it's like nothing. But for the most part, what Brubaker is doing is something similar to what I find entertaining about Ultimate Spider-Man, is that he's taking the standard superhero fights his mortal enemy story and he's doing it in a way that's really well constructed. He hits the right beats, he maintains tension, he writes each issue in a way that builds the story on what came before while circling around to close specific chapters -- and he's got an art team that seems to have all gotten together and said "we're going to make this book look the same all the way through."

One thing that fascinates me about Captain America is that the artists aren't the same all the time, yet the art has no noticeable bumps along the way. You look at something like Final Crisis, the various Avengers books, and when that art changes on you -- whoa, it just stops you in your tracks. It's like no thought was given to who they put on the book. Then you look at Captain America, and the damn thing is just so clearly well thought-out, it's so clearly "planned ahead." On top of that, it's actually fun to read!

I was a big fan of the Iron Fist books -- it's the only super-hero comic that I've actually pushed a non-comics reader to read this entire year if you ignore those interview things I put up. I remember somebody telling me on the blog what an idiot I was for liking the book, and how I'd clearly never watched great kung-fu movies or I'd know what a rip-off it was -- and that just cracked me up, because that was the whole point, wasn't it? Iron Fist and that Kung-Fu Fighter guy are the only characters Marvel has who could do an Enter the Dragon style story, and Fraction and Brubaker convinced Marvel to let them try, and then they made them turn it into an ongoing series because the damn thing was exactly what a whole bunch of people were craving.

imageIt's like -- what the hell else are you going to do with Iron Fist? Is he going to run a successful company and fight crime in New York? No, of course not, that's what all those other more popular characters are going to do. So why not do the one thing none of those characters can, which is chuck him into a big bad ass kung-fu tournament, let Matt Fraction come up with all kinds of absurd characters like "Fat Cobra" and "Dog Brother Number 1" and mix in a bit of the old "this guy is the latest in a long line, here's some flashbacks" stuff. Marvel seems to kind of grasp a little better then DC does that if you're going to try a revamp, you should provide something along with that revamp that people can't get anywhere else already, and that's exactly what Brubaker and Fraction did. There wasn't a Marvel or DC book like Iron Fist, so they put one out. It worked for the same reason that Blue Beetle didn't -- because you could already get Blue Beetle in a mainstream super-hero comic, it was either called Ultimate Spider-Man or Invincible. Iron Fist also had some really iconic cover design -- I spent a few months earlier in the year trying to push a client to hire David Aja for some advertisements, I thought his work was really strong.

I can't do the X-Men books. I make myself read a couple now and then, but except for the solo Wolverine book, I can't handle that team. I read the Morrison issues, hung out for a couple more months and then bailed out. I tried an issue or two of the "Hunt Down That Baby" crossover arc and wanted to pay Chris Bachalo myself just to turn the work down, so he would stop degrading himself drawing that shit. I read and was bored by just about every single issue of that Joss Whedon book. I just can't deal with them. I've looked at the Brubaker trades in the store so many times, and I've come close once or twice, but I always just stop myself, read the back cover description and try not to start crying. They aren't for me. The Milligan X-Statix is great, but everything else -- I just don't care for them. They moved to San Francisco, I've been told. Maybe they'll all drown in the bay.

image

SPURGEON: How do you view the big 2008 award-winner Umbrella Academy? If I remember right, you're a fan of Doom Patrol, of which UA is extremely reminiscent. What do you think is the nature of its high regard?

STONE: I don't know. When it came out, I think I was as surprised as the next guy that the dude from that band was making a comic and people were digging it. I've tried it, because some people I like enjoyed it a lot, but it just seemed like a sanitized version of Doom Patrol mixed with The Royal Tenenbaums. And you know, Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol isn't that far removed from Drake's Doom Patrol -- this past couple of years, I've finally hunkered down with that comic, and it's really fantastic stuff. And Royal Tenenbaums is just the unpublished Glass novel that Salinger has sitting in a filing cabinet in whatever bunker he lives in. If I came at Umbrella without all that in the background, I'd probably find it to be a quirky version of a super-power comic book. They aren't really heroes, they aren't much of a team, but they still fight to save the world.

The thing is that remakes and derivative work aren't always bad. It's always going to be somebodies first time with something, and all the people that dig on Umbrella and haven't read the other stuff, that's not a dereliction of duty on their part, it doesn't make them dumb. It's not much of a statement on Gerard Way that his work is so clearly derivative, nor is it much of a statement on Grant Morrison that he wrote such a hand-job of an introduction for the trade. But it's not a statement on the fans.

Art wise, it's a pretty comic book. I don't think that art does a very good job of handling anything complex from an emotional standpoint -- like, I don't know how well you remember Doom Patrol, but Richard Case could tear your heart out with the way he'd depict Cliff Steele. When I was a kid and I read that first conversation he has, where he talks about "seeing a woman" -- man, that got to me. It still kind of does. "Let's get out of the rain." Richard Case took that script and went miles with it. I don't know that Gabriel Ba has that in him. Of course, it's not like the script for Umbrella provided him the opportunity to try.

With the awards -- well, that's just star-fucking for you. I don't know if that's a problem with comics retailers, but the insanity of comics professionals to freak out over each and every part of pop culture that makes more money then they do -- it's pathetic. That book wasn't bad, it was just a decently constructed derivation. Comics professionals know that. They freaked out over it anyway. I don't really lay that on Dark Horse though -- I mean, Dark Horse has published some really great comics, and I think they have a nose for quality, Comics Greatest World notwithstanding. Any company would've jumped at the chance to put that out there. Marvel would've created a made-up place for it, DC would've slapped a Vertigo label on it. It's their chance to put themselves in league with somebody who more then 200,000 people have heard of.

image

SPURGEON: What did you think of Mark Millar's year? He has this movie stuff going on, but in comics his 1985 project seemed to die on the vine while his Wolverine work did not seem to capture the same level of interest that people had in his earlier run.

STONE: Well, the "future of the superhero" thing pretty much ate its own tail, didn't it? Besides stuff like Spider-Man: Reign, you've got all those "The End" stories that Marvel put out, DC can't get their dick out of the Kingdom Come pie -- hell, Rick Remender is doing that End League comic that actually starts in a post-apocalyptic "The Villains Won" world. You can repeat some ideas a million times in comics, but the whole "here's a dystopian future where your super-heroes have gray hair and alcohol problems" apparently isn't one of them. None of those comics are wildly successful on the level that The Dark Knight Returns or Days of Future Past were. Millar is clearly banking on that -- he's banking that Old Man Logan will be some kind of long-term trade sale alongside Civil War, and I guess that's possible...but nobody seems to really like it. If it had sales that were really crazy good, that would be one thing, but it doesn't have that, and nobody seems to mention it. I could go buy any issue of it right now. It's not moving.

Millar clearly has an agenda though, and it's one that comics have been slower to appreciate then every other form of culture, which is that making yourself into a celebrity, becoming your own brand, that can be a quicker route to financial success then actually making art. I'm not a big Tori Amos fan, but I do think she's more talented then Britney Spears -- but Britney Spears just gets out there. She has a publicist who lets people know what Starbucks she'll be at, she makes sure the major moments of her life occur on camera, and she makes more money then Tori. Tori just makes albums and does charity work. That won't get you on the cover of grocery store magazines, and a whole hell of a lot of people buy grocery store magazines. Millar is just following the Britney Spears pattern -- he does interviews, says all kinds of nonsensical quotable bullshit, he hangs around as many Hollywood types as can stand his presence, he does a comic like Wanted where all the characters have immediately identifiable celebrity appearances for no reason having to do with the story, and now he's more well known for that then he is for his comics. I don't have any opinion about him doing that -- I don't care what he does, it's not like his starfucking behavior will result in someone removing my copy of Cages from my house. Is it good for comics? I don't know if it has an impact. Not enough people in comics are trying to do that right now to tell. Him and Frank Miller, that's pretty much it. They're just canaries in the coal mine.

I think it impacts his comics in the sense that Millar has never had that much success when he's not involved in something that wasn't going to be a big deal without him anyway. Warren Ellis handed him a golden nugget with The Authority, it was his job not to screw it up. Ultimates, Civil War, Wolverine: Enemy of the State -- those comics were going to do well with or without Millar on board. The guy can do some good action heavy comics, his dialog has a simple "I'm a bad-ass" quality to it that appeals to a large audience, again -- all he had to do was not screw up what was already going to be a success. The problem with that for me is Wanted, which was damn successful and had none of those things going for it. With that, I don't know. I thought Wanted was pretty dumb, but a whole lot of people disagreed with that.

I will say that his current year in comics is pretty horrible. 1985 was such a blatant "look at all of these things that you remember, don't you remember these things" comic that it blew my mind that it sold at all, I can't tolerate the ridiculous homophobia in Kick-Ass, no matter how well John Romita Jr. draws violence, and War Heroes was just unreadable trash. He's trying to create stuff that he can own, that belongs to him, and good on him for doing that. But he clearly doesn't have a lot of original ideas -- I can't think of one thing he's done that's been remotely "innovative" -- and he spent a year doing comics about new characters. Of course he's going to fail. New characters rarely work for anybody, it doesn't matter how much cursing you throw in there.

I will say that it makes me want to puke that Kick-Ass outsells Criminal. That's depressing.

image

SPURGEON: Do you have a favorite artist or number of artists you think make consistently evocative work within the US mainstream? Are you ever able to enjoy the art as an element in and of itself?

STONE: Darwyn Cooke, Marcelo Frusin, Guy Davis -- I don't think they've ever done something I've disliked. It helps that they've worked on relatively strong books, but even when they haven't been backed up by great writing, I still think there work is great. I love Guy's work on both Sandman Mystery Theatre and the B.P.R.D. comics series. He's a really talented guy, and he's one of those artists were you could imagine all the dialog going awol and still enjoying a comic he's involved with. (Well, probably not Mystery Theatre.) Darwyn -- well, what do you want? He can do just about anything. Frusin -- he's from that hard line school, the spawn of those South American cartoonists mixed with that Frank Miller/Bolland ink line -- I wish there was more from him available. If you haven't seen that dog versus warthog sequence in Hellblazer: Good Intentions, you should check it out. There's a two page spread in there that's brilliant. His work on Loveless was nice too, but I found myself having a hard time keeping up with that story. A big part of Frusin is how well his stuff works when it has no dialog or sound effects at all -- his work on Hellblazer had more of that then most people recognize, and I think that's a big part of how you know you're dealing with a great artist, when they tell something that doesn't rely on words. Matt Wagner is another guy who does really strong work, but I find his recent work to be far too repetitive for my tastes.

I like that you're limiting me to super-hero guys. That's funny.

image

SPURGEON: It's the year in mainstream comics interview, Tucker! Are there any others?

STONE: For the most part, I'll pretty much keep up with Chris Bachalo, John Romita Jr. and Joe Kubert, no matter what they're working on. Which is usually shit.

I have a hard time talking about art -- part of it is my job, in that I look at so much all the time, and I have to move really quickly through it, and if you've ever seen been on the receiving end of submissions, then you know that you have to be very, very fast in dealing with it, otherwise you'll get nothing done. Also, if you've ever been on that receiving end, the part of you that's willing to delve into stuff you don't like will get completely exterminated. Anybody who says "hey, there's so much great art out there" has clearly never had to look through the stuff photographers and freelance graphic designers send out. At least 90% of what I see is horrible, horrible shit, and my boss probably puts that number closer to 99 percent. That kind of thing makes it very hard to interpret anything that doesn't appeal to my personal taste, because I spend so much time relying on my personal taste to help me get home on time. It also hurts me that I don't have anyone I talk to about art with -- I talk about story with people, so it's easier for me to do that when I write about comics. But discussing art and vocalizing my feelings about it -- that's just not something I have a lot of experience with. Getting to know Frank Santoro has helped, but I try to limit the amount of other people's time I'm willing to waste when I'm basically saying "I'm dumb, can you teach me how to talk."

SPURGEON: You recently compared the caretaker responsibility that many feel falls to comic book editors to the more active showrunner role that creators and producers may have on a television show. Why do you think that editors and comic book companies don't have that level of firm hand on their properties? Is it incompetence? Inexperience? Is it a simple acquiescence to a value of creators being the ultimate arbiter? Competing influences? Why is it the way it is rather than the way you'd have it be?

STONE: Well, that's a tough one, but I'd bet it's because the only people who work in comics are people who like comics, and you can't build a national business that deals with millions of consumers the way television and film does just on a staff of people who like comics. That's never worked, for any industry. You need smart, bloodthirsty business people to pull off wide-ranging sales to a large audience, and you need those people to be telling the artists what to do, and you need enough talented artists that you can tell the big-name people "no" when they come up with something that isn't going to work. You need people who work in comics and view them as a product that has to be sold to people despite them not needing it, the same way they don't "need" pretty much anything but house, transpo or food. I think a lot of people don't understand that -- I didn't until the last few years -- but that's the main way consumer-based business works.

In the past year, I've worked on some campaigns for companies that are selling clothing at a price far beyond what most people are capable of paying without using credit. Clothing made for the same prices, in the same factories, that make Wal-mart clothes. People joke about that stuff: "oh, you're paying for a label, or you're paying for status" and that's absolutely true, it's a shell game, the same way a Toyoto Camry costs more when you call it a Lexus. You can't have people in the room selling that stuff who care about the consumer, who care about "fans", who care about creators. That's the depressing truth of selling something to a large consumer base. I think DC and Marvel don't have those type of people working for them -- people who can sell -- and I think they don't because there's no money in working for DC or Marvel in those positions. Time Warner sure as hell has people doing that kind of stuff. But they don't do it at DC. And the only reason why would have to be the money that's available, because when there's money to be made, people choose to work in that industry. It's the same reason why people are willing to use their intelligence and life to sell something like cigarettes, even when they know what they're doing is killing people everyday. Because of money. Comics wants the end result, but they don't want to sacrifice themselves to being a real business.

In the last ten years in Britain, you could watch how the smartest people in the math field went straight into banking, because there wasn't a field that was going to pay them as well for the skills they had developed -- skills that are in short supply. Now that the banking field is experiencing a toxic level of hiring, the best math people are doing more constructive based work in education. I'd love it if I could view that in a positive light -- that that group was pursuing education out of an overall positive ulterior motive, but the evidence seems pretty simple to me: schools just got to the point where they could compete as a possible job because the banking industry wasn't hiring them.

Most of the time -- and this might be one of the major places where I differ with you -- I think a lot of the problems in any industry come down from a lack of finance to hire the best people involved, because a lot of the best people are mercenaries who don't care where they work, they just care about making money. But that's because I view the term "best" in this sort of conversation without acknowledging the major ethical concerns, the major artistic concerns -- not because I don't think they matter, or because I don't care, but because I don't really buy the concept of million-selling super-hero comics as something that can happen without some kind of major shift towards behaving more like other commercial consumer based businesses. I don't see superhero comics -- specifically, DC and Marvel comics -- as something that will reach that level of sales until they're run in a colder, more profit based fashion. Japanese manga doesn't seem to have those problems, but I think that's something that too often gets supplanted as an argument that ignores that the Japanese -- actually, the entire Asian region -- respond with a quite different cultural stance towards their comics. The widespread self-loathing that comics fans have, the ridiculous and immature attitude of constant "defense" that comics creators embrace like it's some kind of moral stance -- manga is just viewed as another form of entertainment, it's that simple.

Comic books -- and this can be somewhat true for all of them, not just DC & Marvel -- have chosen to go the niche route in America, and they get viewed in a niche light because of that. There's some integrity in that attitude, though -- it shouldn't be interpreted that I think when people like Paul Levitz were working to get DC employees better access to royalties, that he and DC were somehow beginning a spiral that would eventually kill their business. But I think it's clear to anyone that when you don't have your product prepared and planned out for a length that goes beyond "what you're doing next summer", when you can't determine with any honesty how long a certain writer or artist is going to work on a specific successful title, when you can't get popular comic books to the consumer and the sellers who want them, then there's clearly something that's massively wrong with the way you're doing business.

Earlier this year, Comics Foundry ran this quote from Mark Waid where he said something to the effect that "If somebody tells me comics should be in spinner racks again, they should be shot in the head. It doesn't work." Brian Wood responded to that Minx thing by saying something like "Anything that people recommend we should have done to make Minx a success is something that we already tried." I'm sorry -- I've liked some of what those guys have created, and I agree with some of what they've said, but that attitude is a popular one in comics, and it's completely and utterly wrong.

If you're out there working in any consumer-dependent field and you're saying "We did everything we could, and this still didn't work," then you clearly need to be replaced. Whomever it is people like Waid and Wood were defending -- whomever it is who sits there at the corporate level and says "Minx isn't going to work, we did the best we could" or "comics can only be sold in the trade format at book chains and the issue format at comic stores" -- they aren't the person who should have that job, because they aren't capable of doing the job they were hired to do, which is take the product and sell it to people. The revolving door that sends so many artists and writers out the door has to hit just as hard on the people in those fields that are failing to do what they are supposed to do, which is market and sell the product they create. If they fail -- and any interpretation of the sales charts, of the uncapitalized upon exposure that super-hero comics received for free from those successful movies -- they shouldn't be working in the capacity they're in. As soon as somebody says something like "we tried everything, everything didn't work, clearly the stars were aligned against us," it's time to find somebody who has more, better ideas.

That's a really great question that I wish I had a more positive answer for. I really think the easy answer is money. You want things to be run more like a successful business, you need successful business people to run it. People who go and play on charity softball teams aren't going to cut it. At the same time -- I don't think that I personally would be very happy if things went in that direction. The showrunner idea could work though, they don't need money to do that. If Grant Morrison had done for Batman what he did for 52? Worked out an overall story that was big, one that could've been picked up on by all of the various titles, one where the art team was people who can meet deadlines like Dustin Nguyen, Doug Mahnke, etc? Then hire people like Peter Milligan and Greg Rucka to trick out the dialog and the various bridging sequences? You get those guys to come up with a full year of interconnected Batman titles -- I mean, come on. If DC can do a book about the Elongated Man, Booster Gold and a cancer-stricken Question and have it do well and make sense, then why the hell wouldn't they do the exact same thing with a book that's about one of their most successful characters?

image

Instead, they're doing Trinity -- which I understand isn't as bad as I may have originally thought -- but it's an independent book that stands all by itself. If you've got somebody like Kurt Buisek and Mark Bagley working on Batman, Superman & Wonder Woman, why not have that book stand as one of those baby event comics, like the crazy successful Sinestro Corps was, and have it be the spine for those titles? Hell, Grant Morrison is barely using them in Final Crisis. Do something. If you aren't going to do something from a marketing and business standpoint to help these comics, then you have to do something from a quality maintenance standpoint.

SPURGEON: Can you compare and contrast your experience going to the Harveys with your more recent attendance at a European Comics symposium? When we spoke earlier this year, you seemed fairly fascinated by the experience without finding the experience fascinating, if that makes any sense. As an outsider stepping into that world, what do you think comics doesn't know about itself that's fairly obvious to a visitor? How much of an influence on the final product is the culture that surrounds comics?

STONE: Well, the experience at the Harveys was probably most shaped by my wife's response to it, as well as the two guests we had at our table who had been given free tickets to the event by comiXology. I sat there knowing who many of the people attending were -- Heidi MacDonald, Scott Kurtz, the Dark Horse crew, Nick Cardy -- whereas Nina knew maybe one person, Kyle Baker, and that was just because she and I had spent a good portion of time talking to him earlier in the day when everybody was having a brain embolism trying to get Jim Lee to sign their nipples.

Her response, and I think this sort of completely covers it, was that it felt like a weird private club that was pretty off-putting. Except for Nick Cardy, that felt pretty accurate. There was passion on the part of some of the presenters and recipients -- Johanna Draper Carlson, Kyle Baker, the main Dark Horse guy and whoever that crazy guy is from Dynamite -- but the entire thing felt like I wasn't supposed to be there. Like I had been invited to some kind of end-of-summer party for a bunch of camp counselors, and they were speaking about a bunch of stuff I didn't care about, because I hadn't been there all summer. It didn't seem to have much to do with comics. It seemed to be a private party that let other people attend. Half our table -- the guests, this guy who had been paid to shmooze for another convention -- just got sick of it and bailed out.

It was just kind of sad and uncomfortable to be at, because it just felt like a school cafeteria, with silliness going on, in-jokes, cliques, all that. It was also abysmally attended -- they had about 20 or 30 seats in the back that nobody sat in, and I don't think -- I didn't write about this when I wrote up the awards because I'm still not sure it's true -- that Brian Michael Bendis actaully stuck around after he gave this foul-mouthed speech about getting lawyers and not "getting fucked." It's like -- man, have you never done any public speaking? Some woman had brought her kid, maybe she shouldn't have, but god, come on. Grow up. They left almost immediately, and when Bendis was done he just cruised out of the main door. Maybe he stuck around, I didn't see him, but seriously -- your "keynote speaker" bails out? How does that happen?

I got the sense that was more in line with what it's supposed to be though -- that it was supposed to be a private club meeting, but that it let non-club members attend. The thing is, if you're going to do that, you should probably make sure that, by the end of the evening, people want to hook up and join your club. I didn't. I just wanted it to end. The comics fans I sat with didn't want to. The shmoozers didn't see this helping them make inroads for their business. And the back of the room was all empty seats. It was sad, because they really awarded some great comics that night. Of course, very few of the people showed up to receive that award, whereas quite a few of the runner-ups sat at quiet tables and never moved. Somebody told me, and I don't know if this is true, that Jeff Kinney had his family there. Most of the people who won the awards that Kinney was nominated for weren't. I hope that's not true, because if it is...well, that's just awful.

image

The Graphic Novels from Europe thing -- well, that was completely different, from the ground-up. All the people, except for David B, had these planned and prepared presentations, almost of all which were far longer because they were doing a road show to various embassies and cultural centers, and the place was packed. It was that kind of packed where you look over and realize that people have fully accepted that they'll have to stand and watch for the full length, that they aren't going anywhere, because this is their chance to see Igort and listen to him talk. You got the sense that everybody was in there because they were hungry, you know? There was a lively sense of "comics" about the whole thing.

The last time I was in that room was when I'd seen Frank Santoro talk about the golden mean, and it really cemented the sense that these Mocca people really care about comics, they really give a shit about the audience, about the creators, about everything. It's a welcoming environment, one that's something else to be in. It's funny too, because Igort and Bendis pretty much made the exact same statement at both events -- that comics are in a new "golden age." I don't think you could have said why after you walked out of the Harveys. But you couldn't run out of reasons when you were done listening to Igort and Max talk. I think, like the Harveys, that you might have needed some kind of initial love for the comics on display to get as much of what I got out of the Europe event -- I think Nina would have probably been bored, I certainly was at first -- but the comparison between the two is completely one-sided. The audience at the Harvey Awards cared about the audience at the Harvey Awards. The people at the Graphic Novels from Europe event cared about comics. I know that sounds like old school Fantagraphics/Top Shelf/D&Q snobbery, but I've yet to attend a major super-hero event that had something going for it besides a "we aren't nerds anymore!" attitude. I mean -- come on. Do you think that Max and Igort don't know they're nerds? That I don't know what I am? Grow up. You want to be cool, get out of comics. Start playing the trumpet, start shooting up heroin, and start being a terrible husband. That's how you get cool, if that's so important to you. Or you know, you could just grow the fuck up.

I think the only problem with the "culture surrounding comics" is that, for now, that culture pretty much encompasses the entire audience. It's like a Bergman flick -- are the only people who watch Bergman flicks obsessive film junkies? No. Are the only people who liked The Dark Knight stereotypical comic nerds? No. But who makes up the majority of the audience for Ultimates 3 and Kramer's Ergot? The majority of your audience can't just be the extremes. Otherwise you're going to get labeled by your extremes. Anybody can go to a comic store -- even a really bad one -- and see that the audience for comics isn't overweight sociopathic Chris Ware characters. But the audience is too small and too cloistered, it gets labeled by those extremes, and then you have the people who don't make up that part of the culture obsessed with proving that the stereotypes aren't accurate. The flipside to that is that I don't think anything helpful comes out of a bunch of people worrying about being associated with the worst parts of your fandom. The super-hero comics fans that aren't socially inept freaks should quit trying to fight to prove they aren't geeks too, and the art comics fans that aren't useless fucking snobs that talk about French literary criticism need to stop trying to prove they aren't assholes. The reason why football freaks don't defend their obsession isn't just because watching football is really popular, it's because most of them don't give a shit what people who don't like football say about them. I read comics, all of them, love doing it. I don't need to defend comics or defend the fans, or defend myself. Because -- and seriously, wake the fuck up, I can't stress this part of my opinion more clearly -- who. cares. what. people. think. If you're upset because somebody called a fat guy "fat" and said he should wash his Flash t-shirt, then you clearly need to spend more time finding things worth getting upset about.

image

SPURGEON: How do you feel the formatting and business-end developments that seem to be coming to a head will play themselves out, and what do you think would be ideal for the medium, the art form, in terms of something that could happen in terms of making for better works?

STONE: I'm a bit confused by this question, mostly because I think you're referring to the point at which a trade paperback becomes far more profitable then the single issue, and I wasn't aware there was a way to gauge that yet with any serious analysis. That's on me, and you should definitely talk more about that on your site if you've got some serious information. As far as I've read -- beyond what the Hernandez brothers did with Love & Rockets, which I thought was a pretty big deal -- is a whole lot of people guessing that trades are profitable, a whole lot of creators arguing that nobody has any idea how profitable they are, and no real information beyond Bookscan figures. I'm probably missing something, but it's hard to grab the facts out of the punditry and PR when it comes to comic news.

I think that when you're able to make your work more available to the public outside of the direct market, there's no way not to view that as a good thing for the overall business. At the same time, the trade section at most book stores is an intimidating beast, because it seems to always break down as super-heros, manga, everything else. How is anybody going to know that they can read The Dark Knight Returns and like it when it's sitting next to Batman: Watch Him Team Up With Superman And Be Confused, a book they're sure to hate? Of course, that's all bookstores -- Proust sits alongside Judy Blume's Summer Sisters -- but with comics it's a bit more aggravated, since nobody knows who any of these writers are. Manga seems to do fine, again, I don't really know why. But still, trades in bookstores, Watchmen doing well on Amazon -- I don't know anybody who thinks that's a bad thing except for a guy who just had to shut down his comic store.

I think that the opportunities that the increased sales of graphic novels offer non-super-hero comics is probably the best end of the deal -- it's great that something like Kramer's Ergot is in Barnes & Noble, that MOME is, Love & Rockets -- I mean, that's a big, great deal. I didn't like American Widow, but I liked that a graphic novel by someone you'd never heard of, drawn by someone nobody knew, was sitting on an endcap of a huge bookstore, getting the same level of push and exposure that something like Twilight gets. That's a good thing, and hopefully it'll be extended to works of better quality (or at least to works I like). It's pretty obvious that Marvel & DC haven't figured out yet how to deal with that part of the business -- they collect everything right now, and then they collect it a couple of more times in different formats, and I can't see why that's a good idea. Look at something like Fantastic Four -- there's black and white reprints, there's short hardcovers, there's short trades that are out of print, there's a hundred dollar hardcover -- they're flooding the market with all these different versions when they clearly don't have anything set up to push one specific version. DC did that Archives series of books, which they now seem to have killed, and that was another one that didn't seem that well thought out -- $50 hardcovers? Why was that what they decided to roll with? Why do they take the time to redress the entire Sandman library every six months? God, who else does that? I don't buy the new trade edition of The Road everytime it comes out with another cover. Then you've got these "Absolute" hardcovers, and those are obviously not created to sell in the big-box stores. Some of that works for me -- I read Walking Dead in trades only, and I like that I can get the cheap paperback on a regular schedule. The other thing about DC & Marvel is that they have such a schizophrenic out-of-print problem -- I mean, why is Hellblazer: Rake at the Gates of Hell still out of print when all the other ones are so readily available? Why did that happen to James Robinson's Starman series? The Marvel Knights version of Punisher -- why did the last few trades drop off the face of the planet? None of that makes any sense to me. If it was a specific title that wasn't selling, why are some available and some not? Again, this comes under my personal beef with DC & Marvel, which is that if they want to be the big boy in town, then they have to act like it, and when Dynamite and Jeff Smith are so easily displaying a perfect record when it comes to available trade publication, then you're doing something wrong. Dynamite is what, like three people?

image

SPURGEON: If I were a blank slate beyond having enough of an affection for superhero comics I'd be as happy to read as anything else, where would you guide me to spend $100 on non arts-comics? Make it at least three different titles.

STONE: Well, if it's new ones only, you're screwed. Do you have Watchmen? Oh, you should definitely get that. You don't need to read it, but it's the Nirvana's Nevermind of superhero comics -- you'll be asked what you thought about it eventually. Hey, while you're at it, buy yourself a stack of random Brave & The Bolds from the early '70s -- pick beater copies, ones that you won't be tempted to fetishize into wall-hangings. You'll need to re-read those motherfuckers. Get the first issue of All-Star Superman, just for the taste.

You'll also need some Marvel -- I'd push you to pick up the first Essential Spider-Man collection, for some of that Ditko/Lee goodness, and i think those comics actually work in black and white. I don't know that you'll be able to find some copies of Fantastic Four that are Kirby, readable, and cheap, but you need some Kirby. Don't waste your time with those black and white reprints-they're cheap, but you need Kirby in color. Luckily, DC published enough copies of Mister Miracle. Pick up some random issues, make sure at least one has Shilo Stormin' Norman featured somewhere within. If you can't find an issue of Mister Miracle for almost nothing in a comics store, then you aren't going to enough comics stores. They're out there. You should have some kind of crazy, way too much information superhero comic, something where you've got like 900 characters, and when you're talking 900 characters, you probably should go with Crisis on Infinite Earths. But instead of going the trade route, just do what a young Tucker Stone did, which is get the last issue and the Supergirl dies issue. Wait about ten years, and if you still want to know why a guy with the name "Anti-Monitor" was such a big deal, the trade will still be available.

Damn it, you should probably get some X-Men too. Ehh. Go with Days of Future Past trade -- oh that's right, it's not easily available. Just so you know, I'm adding these up on mycomicshop.com, we just broke fifty bucks, and your life just got more awesome.

imageWe need some ladies up in here, and that's slim pickings, because most of the female driven comics I've read are just dude comics with large breasts. Try Catwoman: Disguises, again, in issue form, so you can look at those Paul Pope covers in all their glory. We're past sixty bucks now.

Oh, yeah, Frank Miller, another one people will assume you have an opinion about. Go with Year One, just to be quirky, and also because any and everything by David Mazzuchelli is a must-own for any comics collection.

Off brand super-heroes, ah, off-brand. Go with Wildcats 3.0, Brand Building, despite it being a comic that only snobs and jerks like. It'll be the thing you argue about the most. Because it's awesome.

Not a lot of classic stuff so far, so maybe there should be some more. Hmmm. Only about $20 to go, and the best possible way to drop twenty bucks is like this when it comes to super-hero comics: turn off the computer, throw your Comics Journals and Wizards in a corner, and go the nearest comic store you can find that has a bunch of yellowing long-boxes and says something like "5 for a dollar" and start grabbing stuff where the cover screams at you. Do it as soon as you can, because you'll only get to be somebody who doesn't know who Magnus: Robot Fighter is once, you'll only not have an idea of a Jeph Loeb comic before you read him, and when it comes to superhero comics, you'll have only one point in your life, a point you'll never be able to recreate, where none of your ideas or opinions of them are shaped by what you've already experienced. In all honesty, the best way somebody spending a magic hundred dollars would be to do exactly that with every dime. To get as many superhero comics as they can out of a beater bin, to save as many as possible for the dumpster out back. You'll end up with a ton of awful shit, a ton of comics where guys don't draw feet and women and minorities are depicted in the most ignorant fashion possible. But if you're open to it, you'll definitely find at least one thing that you'll hold on to forever, one thing that will stay stuck in your brain for the rest of your life. And that will be pretty awesome.

SPURGEON: Is comics a good place in which to pursue the kind of writing you're pursuing? What would make it better?

STONE: Last part first: the only thing that would make my writing better would be if I was smarter and had more time to devote to it. The first won't happen, and I don't think it would be fair to Nina to make too many promises on the second. But I'll try. I should also buy a scanner. And the only thing that would make the comics environment a better one to write in would be if there were better comics, and more people liked reading them. That would help.

On the "good place" thing? -- You know, I've sent e-mails like this to some of the people involved, but I'll say it again so that it's out there in a more public forum. The more I got involved in the comics part of the internet, the more I read of other people doing it, the more impressed I got. I'm excited to keep up with what Dirk Deppey, you, Noah Berlatsky, Jog, Matthew Brady, Chris Mautner, Sean Witzke, Dick Hyacinth, David Brothers, all of the Mindless Ones, Tom Bondurant, Caleb Mozzocco and all the rest have to say about comics. If I had wildest dreams about the blog -- which I didn't, and still don't -- it would have been to have any one of those people tell me that I wrote something that made them laugh.

I would've been fine with an email.

Instead, this group of people -- people who I don't agree with on all kinds of stuff -- have linked to me, or said really nice things about me, or emailed me, or -- in a few cases -- actually met me and hung out for a bit. comiXology liked it enough that they offered me a chance to do some more for them and give me money for it -- so yeah, it's a great place to pursue whatever kind of writing I'm pursuing. I come at this with no ambition or desires, just because I think it's fun. The opportunity to have something I started as a hobby turn into something where people I like and respect want to critique it? Think it's worth sharing with their own readers and friends? That's amazing. I had no idea that would happen. I don't operate under any delusion that it's going to become a full-time career for a guy like me, but goddamn if there aren't some really great, smart people involved in it who will definitely be able to pull that off. I'm proud as hell to get a chance to share some space with them.

*****

* picture of Iron Fist with all the cleverly-named supporting characters Stone talks about
* picture of Stone provided by Nina Stone
* Star Trek
* the Detroit-era Justice League
* Lobo #1
* The Stand
* a panel from All-Star Superman #10
* art from Ultimate Spider-Man
* the Giffen/Dematteis Justice League
* art for one of the Punisher: MAX book covers
* some Jack Kirby Fourth World
* the artist Greg Land draws some Uncanny
* Tenzil Kem in those shades
* from the Batman RIP storyline (I think)
* from All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder
* a cover to an issue of Secret Invasion
* panel from Final Crisis
* one of the Minx books
* art to a Captain America cover, Ed Brubaker era
* page from Umbrella Academy
* some Old Man Wolverine
* some art from Marcelo Frusin
* the artist Chris Bachalo draws Spider-Man
* from Trinity
* from Igort
* cover to Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 1
* cover to an old, beat-up Brave and the Bold
* Paul Pope cover to Catwoman during the "Disguises" run
* another All Star Superman image

*****

image

*****
*****
 
posted 9:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Daily Blog Archives
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
 
Full Archives