January 2004

Karin L. Kross


The Comicbookslut Year In Review

It's that time again: time to kick the corpse of 2003 a few more times before we bury it. I'm not going to do a best of/worst of list, though, for the simple reason that such lists presuppose that one has actually read enough of all the material released in the last year to assess their overall superiority or inferiority. Even I don't have that kind of time. But I do know what cheered me up and what depressed me in the comics world this year, and here it is.

Five Things that Cheered Me Up

Better mainstream comics coverage.
The now slightly infamous open letter notwithstanding, this has actually been a good year for comics coverage in the mainstream media. In particular, the fact that Time Magazine had a Top 10 Best Comics List -- populated largely by non-Big-Two offerings, no less -- warmed my bitter little heart. This is good news for everyone. Those of us in love with the medium have the satisfaction of, well, knowing that we've been right all along; and everyone else gets a chance to learn about some pieces of narrative art that they might have otherwise passed by, or never heard of.

Finding Persepolis in the Middle Eastern Studies section at Borders.
This was a great moment, in fact. Borders has been very good about carrying a wide range of comics, but everything tends to be munged together under the rubric of GRAPHIC NOVELS, leaving Good-Bye, Chunky Rice to rub shoulders with Green Arrow collections. The fact that Persepolis was shelved according to its content rather than its form is most gratifying.

The film American Splendor.
Possibly not the first comic-book film adaptation that would be mentioned if you prodded the average person on the street to think of one, but by far the best. It captures what made the comic book so unique and fascinating and does right by Harvey Pekar. And it's a fine piece of filmmaking in its own right.

Saving Fantagraphics.
One might argue that it shouldn't have been needed in the first place (were people not buying enough of their books? And if not, why not? Material for another column, perhaps), but that's neither here nor there. As with Top Shelf Comics previously, the comics readership pulled together to keep this very important publisher afloat. If nothing else, it was a strong reminder that we can't afford to lose any channel for creativity in this business, and it's worth doing what it takes to save it.

Various comics.
Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. Dame Darcy's Meatcake Compilation. Alan Moore's Smax. Craig Thompson's Blankets. Lea Hernandez's Texas Steampunk books. Neil Gaiman's Endless Nights (which admittedly felt like a B-sides collection rather than a full album, but even Gaiman's B-sides are generally terrific, and Barron Storey's work was worth the price alone). Derek Kirk Kim's Same Difference and Other Stories. Warren Ellis's Orbiter.

Things That Didn't Cheer Me Up

This could be a really long list, actually, but I'm going to keep it short. Very short. Or we'll be here all day.

The persistence of stupid comics reviews in the mainstream press (see the Open Letter for the full spleen). The persistence of stupid ads in the ostensibly "mature" titles produced by mainstream publishers. LXG (not to be confused with the comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen -- not even slightly), which I believe managed to be just about everything American Splendor was not: dishonest, overblown, stupid, badly written, thoroughly false to the original, and part of what gives comics a bad name. The Matrix Comics, a reprint of material previously on the film web site -- there are some good bits, to be sure, but I was appalled at how bad some of the pieces were. And then there was the continuing fact that, apart from the odd mini-series, I seem to find fewer and fewer ongoing monthly series that I actually want to follow.

Still, it could have been worse. (According to some, it is.) Anyway, let's close the lid on the old year, shall we? And here's to comics in 2004.