First Impressions Blog
Welcome to "First Impressions". My name's Regie Rigby, and so far as Destination Venus is concerned, I'm Customer #1. This is not because I'm special, but because I was the first person through the door on the day it opened. (And that was because I got the opening time wrong. But don't tell them that...) For twelve years I wrote an occasionally popular, occasionally weekly column for a well known comics website entitled "FoolBritannia".
Now the powers that be at the finest Comics Shop in the North of England have graciously allowed me this little corner of their domain. I'm here to tell you about the comics you're not reading, but should, the comics you are reading, but probably should, and to agree with you about the comics that everybody's reading that are actually, genuinely fabulous. I'd tell you more, but I'm actually kinda boring, and if this gets to be a regular thing, I'm sure we'll get to know each other in time...
I've been reading comics for a long time now. So long that I appear to have not only grown up (at least chronologically) but grown old. I picked up my first comic as a teenager, and so I've been reading comics my entire adult life. Many people seem to think that this is strange.
I used to be at a loss to understand why.
I mean, nobody thinks it's strange if you watch TV as an adult, or read books, or visit the cinema, or listen to popular music. I can't think of a single other medium that is regarded as off limits by the majority of the adult population. Comics do occasionally threaten to "go mainstream" and are even occasionally considered "cool" by the chattering classes but somehow we never really seem to break through. Somehow, in the minds of non comics readers comics seem to be stuck in a box marked "childish".
I understand it now though.
I'm afraid that the problem is Superheroes.
Now, don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with Superheroes. As a life long Batman devotee I'm as partial to a good superhero story as anybody else - not that Batman is a superhero in the true sense of the term, but that's a subject for another time - but when you think about it, they are inherently silly looking.
Now, again, before you misunderstand me I should emphasise that when well written Superheroes are far from silly. At their best Superheroes represent all that is good about humanity. They embody values like loyalty, honesty and decency. They represent the strong standing up for the weak, the desire to do good and triumph of honour over spite. Some of the best comics ever written have been Superhero stories - Watchmen, Batman: Year One, Spider-Man: Kraven's last Hunt, Marvelman - I could go on a long long time.
The trouble is that most non comics readers have never heard of these great stories - well, they've heard of Watchmen but they think it's a movie - and even if they had they wouldn't have read them. So what the non comics reading public see is a bunch of big, overly muscled men in garish skin tight costumes and a bunch of strangely proportioned women whose costumes are not so much brightly coloured and skin tight as scarcely there at all, for the most part.*
Try to put yourself into the non-comics reader's mind. If you saw a group of people who - so far as you were aware - spent their time looking at brightly coloured picture books filled with scantily clad young women and big men with killer abs, what sort of assumptions would you make about them? Because that's what the non-readers think of us.
There are two courses of action we can take here, of course. We could leave the general public to their misconceptions and carry on as normal. After all, why should we care? On the other hand, this is a misconception that doesn't just hurt us, it also damages society at large.
We're damaged because there's a huge readership out there who aren't buying comics because they don't understand the variety of material that's available. As a result the sales figures of all sorts of comics are lower than they would otherwise be, which in turn means retailers make less money,
which means they have less cash to spend promoting themselves and expanding their business - meaning that comics are less accessible than they could be. This further restricts the size of the audience and around we go again. The issue is further compounded by the fact that the creators and publishers of comics, not just the retailers, also need to make their living from the sales of the comics they produce. With the misconceptions of a large part of the audience putting so many potential readers off and so artificially restricting sales publishers will limit the amount of titles available which means it's harder for new writers and artist to get their first big break.
In short, this fixation on Super Heroes condemns comics to a kind of stunted cultural bonsi status - kept artificially small by restricted growing conditions. The medium we love could be so much bigger and shine so much more brightly if only it were allowed to... As I said though, society as a whole suffers from this too. We should pity the general public really - we know what they're missing out on! The cultural experience of the majority of the population is diminished and enfeebled because they're lacking a whole form of expression. Something must be done!
Well, the solution is simple.
We need to show the general public** that Super Heroics isn't the only game in town. There's a whole stack of awesomeness available with never a cape in sight - just look at it!
I mean, let's start with SAGA, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' epic space opera. Snappy dialogue, tense, action packed drama, robot princes with TVs for heads, an arboreal rocket ship, a dead baby sitter and an intergalactic war. With magic. And sex. What more could you wish for? It's probably one of the best five comics currently available, and yet there are people who haven't read it. I find this incomprehensible, but if you're one of those unfortunates you need to rectify the situation immediately! Early issues are out in affordable trade paperback packages, which is good because original issues are scarce and on the expensive side.
If you're more into gritty realism and you reckon science fiction isn't you're thing, why not have a look at Garth Ennis' Red Team, his latest opus from Dynamite Comics. Imagine you're a New York Cop. You care about the people of your city - the people you swore to "protect and serve". You work your ass off and risk your life to take the scum off the streets, only to watch the guys who run the drugs and prostitution rackets lawyer up and walk away from court time after time after time.
It would start to wear you down, wouldn't it?
The red team is a squad of four cops who have seen the system fail too often. They decide to take more permanent action. This is no testosterone fuelled Death Wish style tale of vigilante violence, however. There is violence, yes. But the narrative concentrates more on the relationships between the officers, and the effect their actions have on each of them as they discover that killing has a cost and however much they feel the ends justify the means, that price always has to be paid in the end.
A little too realistic? Prefer something a little more supernatural? Give Terry Moore's Rachel Rising a try. You see, Rachel died. Well, somebody killed her and buried her in a shallow grave. Then she got better. And then other dead people started getting better too.
And then things got weird.
This is no zombie tale - there's not a whiff of the walking dead here***. No, the force that resurrected Rachel is far stranger and more sinister than any zombie virus. Quite what Rachel can do about the ancient curse that seems to lie behind her predicament is anybody's guess, but there's an ancient evil hanging around and if somebody doesn't do something things are going to go very badly for the town.
Terry Moore is a master story teller and graces his pages with exceptionally clean and expressive black and white art. While you're checking him out, maybe you should also have a look at his earlier masterpiece Strangers in Paradise, which blessed the world with one of the greatest tragi-comic love stories of all time - not a small claim, and not one I make lightly.
And you know what? I haven't even scratched the surface.
If it's the supernatural you're after, you could try Vertigo Comics American Vampire, rather a cut above your average blood sucking tale. If that sounds too violent, you could try Vertigo's fairytale inspired Fables and it's spin off Fairest. Imagine TV's Once Upon a Time, but good.
There's so much great stuff out there! Comics have so much to share with the world. With free comic book day coming up, now's a perfect chance to spread the word a little.
- Regie Rigby
*An honourable exception should be made here for the women of the Batbooks. While I grant you that the costumes worn by the likes of Batgirl, Bat Woman and Catwoman are most certainly skin tight, they at least look as though you could actually fight crime in them during the winter without freezing to death...
**And some of our own number too. I've never understood why somebody would only read super Hero comics and ignore the vast array of other goodies that are available, but such comics readers exist and we should encourage them to broaden their horizons a little...
***Although if you're a fan of the show and haven't read the comic that inspired it, that's another option you might want to explore.