It’s funny, but the deeper I get into the Great Funnybook Purge, the easier it’s becoming to let go. I may have mentioned last time that I was pricing out my Alan Moore Swamp Thing run. And, sure… I’ve got all those in book form (hardcovers, even). There’s no way in hell I’d be letting them go if that wasn’t an option. But, still…
I’m selling my Alan Moore Swamp Things.
The enormity of that is staggering. I was in eighth or ninth grade when those books came out, and they blew my freaking mind. They were exactly the sort of thing I needed at that point in my reading life: a more adult variation on the stuff I’d already been reading, with just enough punk attitude toward what had come before to appeal to my burgeoning adolescent belief that I freaking knew everything. But more importantly, they’re really good comics. Nasty-edged horror fiction with just the right kind of lovely-ugly artwork from the team of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben.
I like them as much today as I did back in 1982. Maybe moreso, because I understand certain aspects of them better as an adult. They’re great, any way you slice it, and if I’m selling those…
Well, hell. I can sell anything.
That revelation caused me, this past week, to go back through the boxes of stuff I’d decided to keep, and jettison even more. Like Hellboy! I most certainly enjoyed reading that book, and consider it an all-time funnybook classic. But it’s available, every page of it, in book form if I ever decide I want to read it again. And the chances of that are, honestly… Not great.
This is not to knock the series, of course. Mike Mignola is the Jack Kirby of obscure myth, and–
No, wait! That’s Jack Kirby being the Jack Kirby of obscure myth! Hold on a sec…
Yeah! That’s more like it! Mignola draws on numerous Celtic, Sumerian, and Eastern European traditions to weave monster-fighting stories of great weird energy. They’re crazy fun. Or at least, the first few storylines are. Eventually (around the time of the movie), Mignola started introducing some pretty stereotypical angst into the book, something I’d always found it refreshingly free of. Suddenly the charming conceit of this uncomplicated demon hero was interfered with by some kind of bullshit Monster Racism, and I kind of lost interest. That doesn’t make the early stories worse, of course, but it does make me remember them less fondly. And, now that I’ve made this mental break, it makes them easy to let go of, too.
And that’s what this is really about, of course: letting go. As I’ve said to friends more than once since I started this weeding process… STUFF BAD. STORIES GOOD. More and more, I’m coming to appreciate the… compactness… of comics in book form, and appreciating my boxes of floppies less and less. Books are more attractive, easier to take care of, and make actually accessing the stories I’m still so enamored of far easier.
Take Matt Wagner’s Grendel, for example. I bought and read the original Comico series avidly back in the 1980s and 90s. Loved it. Loved its exploration of aggression, both on the intensely personal level and, as the series continued, on a larger cultural scale. I also loved the artwork, a riotous clash of styles from Wagner’s own smoothly cool art deco noir…
…to the 80s-chic angularity of the Pander Brothers…
…and everything in-between.
I consider it, along with Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Baron & Rude’s Nexus and Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, one of the pillars of 1980s indie comics. I’ve thought back to it often over the years, and evangelized about it to numerous friends.
But I probably haven’t pulled the actual comics out of the box and looked at them in close to 20 years. I’d kind of forgotten how pretty they are, in fact, until I got my copies of the omnibus editions and flipped through them. Seeing it in that form, page after page after page of gorgeous funnybook art right there in my face, rekindled my love of the series, and made me realize that, if I’d had it on my shelf in easy reach, I might not have ever forgotten how very good it really was.
I’ve been talking like this a lot lately, which lead one friend to suggest that I’m going to “go digital” if I’m not careful. That is to say, buy my monthly comics digitally, and only get physical copies of the stuff that I think is extra special good. And he’s not wrong. That’s the pattern I follow for novels these days, and it makes even more sense for funnybooks. If I keep up my current buying habits, after all, I’m only going to be doing this same damn thing all over again in a few years. And, holy crap, I do NOT want to go through this shit again. So, yeah. It looks like digital-to-trade really is the way to go for me.
I love me some funnybooks. The actual, physical object still means something to me. Not in every case, of course. The vast majority of mainstream comics are ugly, generic things that I can (and will) happily give up in physical form. But then I pull out something like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale, with its beautiful white-bordered covers. Or Jonathan Hickman’s East of West and Manhattan Projects, with their sleek, eye-catching design. Or anything by JH Williams, whose incredible two-page spreads get lost in the gutters of square-bound books.
Then there’s Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, also known for some beautiful cover design experimentation:
Another weird thing about that book: it’s printed on the very kind of cheap-ass newsprint that made me start selling my collection off to begin with. I sometimes feel a little sinusy even just flipping through the brand new issues when they come out, so god knows how bad the allergic reaction to them will be once they start to decay.
But Mind MGMT‘s rough-at-the-edges “field report” design sense (every page is bordered by instructions to Mind Management agents on how to properly affix their reports to the page) makes it work. It gives the whole thing a “found document” feel, so it’s only right that such a thing should be on the cheapest paper imaginable. It takes something that would normally be a huge detriment to my enjoyment of the comic, and instead makes every issue into a minor work of art. Will I be able to comfortably read these works of art in ten years’ time? No. But I’d still hate not to experience it in that form.
I’m just stupid like that, I guess.