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Hibbs goes to the 4/14 well again

Brian Hibbs

A quick comic:

THE UNWRITTEN #12: This has been a great series all along, but this self-contained single-ass was a serious line-drive home-run. Thunderingly gorgeous, incredibly smart, I thought it was EXCELLENT.

…and a couple of books…:

MARKET DAY HC: I really think the world of James Sturm as a creator — GOLEM’S MIGHTY SWING was one of the best books of the year that it came out — and I think this was a solid read as well. It’s a really beautiful meditation on art versus commerce, and faith (and maybe those are even the same thing, in some ways), all through the lens of a turn-of-the-(last)-century European Jew. It is strong, powerful, moving, and drop dead gorgeous, relying more on mood and tone than, necessarily, incident. It is also really elegantly designed, and (thankfully) eschews the D&Q “belly band” (I hate those easily-ripped paper things hanging off book’s front covers!) in favor of a thicker print for the middle design element of the cover. (Touch it, you’ll see)

I have lots of terrific praise for this, and plenty of glowing adjectives, as a work of creation, but when we get to the “letter grade”, I can only barely muster a GOOD. Why? The price. $21.95. For what I counted to be 88 story pages.

(Digression: WHY THE FUCK can no one put page numbers on fucking GNs? I can’t say I’ve EVER seen a prose book that wasn’t paginated, and it makes a huge difference in citing and discussing a work — I can’t say “check out the technique on page x” or whatever. Man, does that ever piss me off… /digression)

Some of those story pages have 2-3 panels on them, and there’s a number of double-page spreads that, while they add immeasurably to the mood of the work (without being manga, there’s examples of manga-esque “a tree sheds a leaf” environmental timing here), it makes this not-a-work-of-density. Well, it has tons of EMOTIONAL density, but what I mean is it really is a quick read; if I spent 15 minutes with it that’s probably a lot.

Now, to be certain, I’d rather spend 15 minutes with this than 95% of the output of Marvel comics — and there’s no doubt in my mind that this will stick with me far longer than virtually anything else I’ve read this month, but “value” is an important concept in retail sales, and unless you’re a trust-fund comics patron, this was a pretty mediocre value based on cover price.

Great, nay, superlative content; terrible price. If D&Q actually had any kind of a real HC/SC program I’d say “wait for the SC”, but that’s not usually how D&Q operates, so it’s pretty much this or nothing. this is, to be certain, the kind of work that should be nominated for an Eisner, and it also handsome and has decent “hand”, but, man, on a cost-per-minute basis this fails almost any test I could come up. So, yeah, the overall grade is GOOD, solely based on price, even though the content is EXCELLENT.

OTHER LIVES HC: This is, I think, the longest single piece of work that Peter Bagge has ever turned out — 130 solid pages of cartooning (see, page numbers, not so hard!), and it has all of the exaggerated wonderfulness you expect from Bagge’s cartooning. Bagge is clearly a master of his craft, but the work suffers from some of the flaws much (all?) of his post-HATE work has — he’s clearly older than his material, and while the thematic underpinnings of the work (what is “identity” in the internet age?) are very strong, you don’t get any real sense that Bagge has any real personal connection/experience/connection to the internet-settings like his thin “Second Life”-esque world.

I’m a MMORPGer (I was even a “Seer” in the venerable Ultima Online, leading a team of a half-dozen in creating/supporting player-made fiction for nearly two years), and I’ve had more than one period in my life where the fantasy worlds seemed perhaps more solid than the “real” one. I think the world is well ready for compelling fiction set between the digital and “meat” worlds, showing how and why humanity changes their behavior when it isn’t tied to physical reality and conventions — but this really isn’t it.

Oh don’t get me wrong, this IS solid work from a vet creator, but the actual realities of virtual worlds don’t seem to have a lot of bearing here — to a certain extent this same tale could have been set 40 years in the past and been about, dunno, pen pals, and worked just as well.

The characters are well-drawn (and well illustrated for that matter!) and reasonably compelling, but the notional issues of the internet and the changes it can wreak are oddly tangential to the “normal Bagge-ish lovable losers” in general.  It is solid work, but it is a base hit by a comfortable creator, rather than a home run by a burning passion, and I sorta think that Bagge might be better in a writer’s room at a sitcom than trying to do comics about characters 10-20 years younger than himself.  The work, itself, is probably a low “GOOD”; something to read if you come across it, but not something you need to chase and track down.

But, very much like MARKET DAY, this seems pretty drastically overpriced to this reader. $24.95 is pretty egregious for a B&W book, especially one that isn’t a major homerun. Had it been in color I might not be moaning as much, but, brother, I think this is is at least $5 more than the general market is interested in supp0rting, and that’s going to knock down my “Final grade” to no more than an OK. That puts it into “Wait for the SC” territory (and even that will, likely, be $19.95, again, $5 too much)

The thing I kind of want to underline here is that if this had been serialized first, the creatives could have been paid for in that format, and maybe we’d even be looking at an eventual $12.95 SC. You say you don’t want to buy periodicals any more? ‘sfine, you’re the customer, but the hard cold fiscal reality of that stance is that you should expect to spend these kind of egregious prices for your comics, then. Especially stuff that is “literary” (I almost typed “high-brow” which would describe Sturm’s work nicely, but seems oddly wrong when talking about Bagge)

At $12.95, I’d be giving this a Thumb’s Up; at $25, I have a hard time recommending this to anyone who is not a Bagge completest — I liked this, I didn’t love it, and for $25, I kind of have to love a work…

CROSSED TP: It is really weird reading the press releases trying to sell the film version of this comic as a “comedy”, because there’s nothing even slightly funny in here, on any page. On the other hand, the tone of the work as a collected edition is entirely different than it was as a periodical. As a periodical, I thought mostly of the gore, and there’s a lot of it — but as a collection, I was struck, once again, about how Garth Ennis is, without a single doubt, the single-most moral creator working in comics today. Morality infuses every single page of this (and nearly everything that Ennis writes) with humanity, and morality. Even when, or, really, especially when, those damn humans are making the wrong decision.

If comics could only support one single writer, then Garth would be my vote, especially if you’re capable of getting past the surface shocks. There’s a ton more going on below that surface, and that’s where his real talent lay. I thought the collected edition of CROSSED was VERY GOOD.

As always, what did YOU think?


15 Responses to “ Hibbs goes to the 4/14 well again ”

  1. Another amazing thing about Ennis that always makes me smile is that his most moral, most serious work (so far) was probably Punisher Max.

  2. Crossed was always ‘top of the pile’ when it came out (roughly quarterly). In a weird way, I found that the delays aesthetically helped the work, in that it contributed to the feeling of the lengthy period of travel undertaken by the characters. It felt like you were ‘looking in’ on them every few months.

    Ennis is perpetually under-rated, and he is constantly grouped with Mark Millar’s ‘shock’ tactics, which does him a great dis-service.

    Ennis has a well-known dislike of many superhero tropes. Millar thinks such tropes are ‘cool’, particularly when ramped ‘TO THE MAX!!!!! LOL!! RAD!!!’.

  3. I thought Bagge’s ‘Other Lives’ was pretty good although the non online bits and particularly the stuff about Vlad’s family history were much more interesting than the on-line stuff, but then I hate computer gaming anyway…

    Bagge seems to be the only person in comics who creates characters that have any resemblance to people I know in real life. Not nearly as funny as the latest Hate annual, but then when I’m getting two chunks of Bagge in two weeks I can’t really complain.

    Neither was as good as ‘Apocalypse Nerd’ though, which pissed over stuff like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as far as I was concerned and was probably the most entertainingly bleak thing I’ve ever read…

  4. Brian – I believe DC generally do put page numbers on their TPBs, but generally, with comics as opposed to prose, the reason not to do so is fairly clear; full-bleed pages are partially obscured by folio numbers (DC generally doesn’t print numbers on full-bleed pages, from memory).

  5. “You say you don’t want to buy periodicals any more? ’sfine, you’re the customer, but the hard cold fiscal reality of that stance is that you should expect to spend these kind of egregious prices for your comics, then. ”

    OK. I think it’s a fair trade.

  6. Ennis has been my favorite comics writer for years. And he manages to thrive in the industry without obnoxious hucksterism or toppling company-owned properties for shock value. Preacher, Hitman and Punisher Max are all in my top 10 ongoings of all time. Like you said, Brian, there is so much more going on underneath the rampant violence.

  7. I’ve been hesitating over Market Day for the exact reason you mention Brian – it looks great, but I’ll be done with that bugger so quickly, it’s hard to equate it to the price.

    I didn’t mind the length of Other Lives in theory – I had no problem paying the price for that many pages – until I read it and got into it, and then suddenly an ending came out of nowhere, which didn’t really suit, and felt forced – almost as though Bagge ran out of pages, so we jumped ahead a bit.
    Also, I don’t think the epilogue was as ironic as intended.
    Would have loved to see it all coloured like the cover is – popping off the page.

    Crossed was pretty sweet.
    My only let down was the hype over how twisted it was – both in online reviews, and the girls at the shop telling me it was way too gross… reading it, the actual acts/grotesqueness was completely over shadowed by the characters feeling of doom and desperation.
    I got no shock from the parts everyone said would shock me, as they all fit so well in giving the feeling of dread/acceptance of the worlds defeat that ran through it.
    So, I’d kinda hoped to get that gross feeling I’d gotten the first time a lizard came out of an arsehole in Strange Kiss, but instead I got brilliant story, that made it’s point a lot better than a more literary story could have.
    Ennis is the sort of master who hides it really well – you’re always surprised how good a new work of his is, and then you remember how many of his books you’ve read have been near perfect.

  8. “You say you don’t want to buy periodicals any more? ’sfine, you’re the customer, but the hard cold fiscal reality of that stance is that you should expect to spend these kind of egregious prices for your comics, then.”

    I would spend 20 or so bucks on a volume of something like Freak Angels where I could read it online for free, know I liked it, and feel like I’m supporting continued work on it. Something random that I have never heard of? I’m not going to spend that much money for it. And I don’t buy anything in hardcover.

  9. I should probably flesh out my comment a bit. I’ll pay $20 plus for new graphic novels because…well, because I can, I guess? I mean, if I was still working at Best Buy or whatever in college – no, I couldn’t afford them. But now? I’m an engineer and I make an ok living, not great, but not bad, and I *love* the medium of comics, so I don’t mind paying in the $20 range for a new book. It could be good, it could be bad, but that’s life. Maybe it’s not in everyone’s price range – and sometimes they’re not in mine – but it’s a better alternative for me (and maybe only me?) than buying floppies. I don’t like reading floppies and I hate trying to figure out what to do with them afterward. A book I can put on a bookshelf solves that problem. (A digital copy I can store on my hard drive is a better solution, but we’re not there yet.)

  10. I found Crossed to be nothing but a shallow, overwhelmingly cynical exercise in misery-tourism. All it did was repeat on every page “look how awful things are, so hopeless, so bleak, look, look, LOOK dammit”. That kind of concept would hardly support even a one-shot, let alone a nine issue series.

  11. The Punisher Max stuff is one of my favorite series ever too. To begin with it was a bit too derivative of Stephen Hunter’s thrillers, (though still very entertaining) but it had some unforgettable moments as it went along. The bit when Frank recalls his memories about O’Brien enjoying the sunrise in Afghanistan is one of the most poignant things I’ve ever read in a comic.

  12. I bought Unwritten #12 for all the hype it had been getting, never having read the series before, and while the issue was pretty great, the ending did nothing for me. I mean, the girl pretty much says what’s going to happen, and then a couple pages later it happens.

  13. What’s your point Michael Aronson?

  14. That I didn’t find it to be as good as people have been saying.

  15. […] Brian Hibbs reviews Market Day, the new hardcover by James Sturm from Drawn & Quarterly. While he loved the material, he […]

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