Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Miracle Pictographs
    Graphic Novel Reviews by Spencer Ellsworth
October 2011

Congratulations, one millionth viewer! You have been selected to receive a free killer robot!

A Life In Badly Colored Pictures of Gravity-Defying Boobs

Sound the anniversary bells! This, dear reader, is my fiftieth column for IGMS. Ever since those heady days of 2007, I have brought you self-indulgent sticky rambling.

It leads me to reflect, and by reflect I mean have another cookie. Comics. They have a rather strange history, don't they? What other art form, unique unto itself, has been considered juvenile and tasteless on the whole, potential only realized with the turning of the new millennium?

We might have spoken lightly of the three-volume novel once, and the Pre-Raphaelites and the Impressionists may have come to blows, but no living adult remembers a time when fiction or painting were "less" than other art forms. TV was a bastard child of respectable Saturday serials once, but it didn't stop everyone from watching.

Yet ten, twenty years ago, the average American adults would live and die reading no comic more substantial than Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes.

One or two ninth-grade teachers among the millions knew that Maus belonged in the curriculum next to Night.

Bone was considered an "adult comic," just a retro Disney pastiche-type-thing that was, like every other comic, a semi-monthly mag printed on cheap paper, a labor of love for money-losing Cartoon Books.

My mother, and your mother, and everyone's mother, saw it as her duty to toss out the exaggerated cleavage of X-Men, rather than realizing that such things could improve early literacy as well as induce early puberty.

And the term "graphic novel" was used by a select few who hoped to see comics outside of said semi-monthly cheap paper-and-staples format.

It goes on. The last few years have finally seen an explosion in the kinds of comics Eisner hoped for. Comics like Mat Johnson's Incognegro and Dark Rain, Bone and RASL, Marjane Sartrapi's Persepolis and Chicken With Plums, Girl Genius and its many cousins, and Habibi and Blankets by Craig Thompson. They fill Barnes & Noble shelves, even electronic ones, and fill school curriculum, and I imagine there are actually kids out there who don't even want to read comics because they have to.

It's amazing. Although, much like a pothead resettled in Amsterdam, I occasionally miss the contraband, sneak-it-past-the-parents-and-teacher element.

As I've gotten older, I've lost wide-eyed interest in the things I once ate up. Big Marvel and DC events are just the same round of money-draining recycled epic stories where famous characters die, only to be resurrected next year as part of the big crossover of the week.

Editors repeatedly try to fix what ain't broke. (Rhymes with Shmun Shmore Shmay.) (Now we can count Clark and Lois's undone marriage as another casualty of "married superheroes don't work euhhhhhh.")

But every once in a while, they win me over. I just read a mainstream, heavily-promoted comic that blew my mind. I'm skeptical of such things. Wonder Woman sells a lot of Underoos and action figures, and she can't ever be as cool as I'd like her to be -- or so I thought. The story was fast-paced, dark and full of amazing twists. The art was crisp and minimalist with a dynamic sense of place.

Hermes, a tall and alien figure with a hawk's feet, tried to protect a young woman chosen by the Gods for dark purposes. Beheaded horses sprouted gargoyle-faced, shrieking centaur bodies. Diana Prince was a ninja of cool who could snatch arrows out of the sky. Wonder Woman #1, by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, made the Amazon Princess new and I'm thrilled to be addicted to it.

After a few years of lackluster comics, IDW Publishing recently put out two issues of Transformers that, uh, well, transformed the previously shallow concept of warring alien robots into a stunning study in class warfare, heroism, and flux. Check out "The Road to Chaos" in issues #22 and #23 of the current ongoing TF comic, by James Roberts and Alex Milne.

They blew my mind the same way Transformers #67 did when I was eight with its dark, Decepticon-led future. I had never seen an alt-future dystopia before, and the most incredible thing in the world was Rodimus Prime's decrepit corpse hanging between two blown-out Twin Towers.

(Aside: infamously, someone tried to sell that Transformers comic on ebay a few years ago by claiming it was a prediction of 9/11. If those comics were telling the truth, then we'd better watch out, because Unicron is going to eat us any day now.)

It's nice to know that wide-eyed kid is only a few brightly colored pages away. My imagination was shaped by comics, by crazy sound effects and bigger-than-life muscles.

I still have my first comic: an Ewoks cartoon spin-off, which featured a descent by annoying cartoon bears into the horrific "Black Cavern."

Insert Freudian joke here.

I remember reading it very clearly, possibly because I had odd feelings for the downy-furred, pink-clad Princess Kneesaa. In case you were wondering, she didn't go into the Black Cavern. The plucky adventurous Wicket did. Apparently I fell into some kind of Black Cavern too, because from that point on I got a bundle of new comics at least once a month.

I waited outside my house in the Mojave summertime for the mailman to deliver Transformers each month. In the early 90s, I bought gobs of polywrapped, foil-embossed badass heroes clenching their jaws and hitting things hard and fast. I owned at least forty of Rob Liefeld's Fifty Worst Drawings.

In 1991, I was heartbroken because Transformers had just been canceled, and the toyline was winding down, and it looked like my favorite incredible changing robots were dead. (Boy, did I misread that one.)

When I was fourteen, I decided it was time to give up comics and get myself some loving of the female variety. All things considered, it didn't work well. They can smell geek, fellas. You just need to learn to sniff out the geeky ones yourself. Things went much better in college, when I went on my first date with my girlfriend, now my wife, to a comic store. I picked up my old favorite the Transformers and Spider-Man on that trip again.

Even then, I didn't suspect that my beloved medium was entering its long-awaited adulthood. If Jack Kirby was Chaucer and Alan Moore was Marlowe, then the Shakespeare of comics is doing his or her very best work at this moment.

I sometimes get notes from people who read the column and say "I don't read comics, but you almost make me want to." Skeptics and dabblers, for all that is wrong with the world, all is right with comics. There is a comic for you. Your imagination is hungry for it.

Go find it.

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