I attended the Emerald City Comic Convention in Seattle a few weeks ago, and found myself back in a world I had abandoned for several years: the world of comic fandom. Comics have gotten a bad rap in America for a long time, and unfortunately over the last few years it was deserved. However when I attended the convention in Seattle, I saw a lot that made me very hopeful for the future.
When I started reading comics in the ’80s it was the heyday of the form. There were so many monthly titles that you had to pick what you were going to read carefully. There was no way you could follow everything – it was impossible. Most of the big heroes like Spidey had three or four of their own books. It was a hell of a lot of fun to wade through the Superman or Batman books to find the one you wanted to track. Even the stuff that was undeniably bad, like Blue Devil, was still fun as hell. Many a lunch hour in junior high was spent sitting in front of the comics spinner reading the books I couldn’t afford.
The whole point to this walk down memory lane is that when I was young I would walk through fire to get my books. It was that important to me.
The weekly shipment of comics was a gold mine. The stories were great, and the art, if not always spectacular, had its stars: Neal Adams, John Byrne and Mike Zeck, to name a few. Back then even a bad comic was better than nothing. Later, I got a girlfriend, and a car, and the escapist world of comics wasn’t really as exiting as the world I was living in, so naturally I drifted away from comics. The quality of the things had deteriorated to the point where reading them made me feel a little dirty. They just weren’t fun anymore.
In 2000, I went to work for Excalibur comics on Hawthorne, and learned to really hate comics. Not just the paper things either – the entire sub-culture that surrounds them. It wasn’t a great time for the spandex heroes anyway; a new crop of writers who had no grasp of the heroes they were writing had filtered into the industry. Guys like Judd Winnik (from MTV’s "The Real World") were writing comics with the sole agenda of making characters gay. Novelist Greg Rucka found his way into comics and started one of the worst runs on Batman that had ever been done. His current run on Wonder Woman includes some of the worst, most amateur comics published in the last decade. These guys who had been brought into the industry on a good old boys system were destroying the characters that I had loved. I quit working at the store, realizing I couldn’t handle working for people who only cared about screwing people out of a buck, and left the hobby behind for good.
A friend of mine convinced me to haul on up to the Seattle convention though, and I’m glad I did. I got to see some of the great things that are happening in this industry that I love. The bad stuff was still represented, but some of the other "up and comers" were amazing. A husband-and-wife artist team, Pete and Rebecca Woods, absolutely floored me with the art they’re putting out. Rebecca is creating soft, fluid images working in watercolors, and Pete is putting out some of the cleanest line art for the spandex crowd that I have seen in a long time. Pete’s starting on Catwoman soon. Forget the awful movie and pick up the comic. It’s going to be amazing. A young artist named Cary Nord has teamed up with Portland native Kurt Busiek to relaunch Conan, published by Milwaukie’s own Dark Horse Comics. The book perfectly matches the colossal character.
I was reinvigorated by what I saw at the show – artists who really cared about what they were doing. Sure, there are still hacks. There always will be in any type of art. But those bright shining stars like the Woods were in heavy attendance. The show gave me hope for the comic book, both as a medium and as an art form.
Don’t dismiss comics too fast. If the only thing you know about comics is Adam West and Burt Ward beating the crap out of Caesar Romero, then please give them a chance. Go to your friendly neighborhood comic store and tell them that you need to read Planetary, Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Conan, Usagi Yojimbo, and Pete Wood’s Catwoman. Try them – you won’t be disappointed.
Jason Germany can be reached at [email protected]