Comic Fodder

The Comic Renaissance, Grandpa Joe's and David and Shawn

Today we're lucky as comics’ readers. We are living in a time of almost unprecedented quality in comics a, renaissance of sorts. Writers such as Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar and Brian K Vaughan stretch what we know about superheroes and present them in exciting, innovating ways. Writers like Robert Kirkman and Geoff Johns redefine the classic superhero yarn, while legends like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman continue to experiment and produce work on a decent basis. BKV, Brian Azzarello, Millar and Garth Ennis continue to explore new genres, and create exciting, mature titles. Creators from other media are giving us fresh tales and A list quality 22 pages a month, like Joss Whedon Alan Heinberg, and Damon Lindelof (well whenever the next parts of Young Avengers and Ultimate Hulk/Wolverine come out again). Countless small press publishers like Top Shelf, Avatar, and Oni are giving us new voices and ideas. Multi-million dollar superhero epics hit the multiplexes on a regular basis translating the biggest icons and the more obscure tales alike into many great movies (and some crappy ones too). Despite the amount whining we may find on message boards, I think most of us will agree that it's a good time to be reading the funny books.

Even if sales volume aren't yet close to what executives would want, it seems like the dark, post-speculator boom days are long behind us. It wasn't always like this however back in the late 90's comics were almost unreadable. Sure a lot of them looked nice, but after the Image heyday there really was no excitement in the comics industry. Misconceived stunts like Heroes Reborn had alienated long time readers, the X-Men comics languished under iron fisted editorial interference, and less than major talent was working on the major icons. Writing and storytelling had taken a back seat to flashy art that no longer looked as flashy as it once had. Many of the Image founders weren't even producing comics on a regular basis, and we were left with inferior imitators and derivative wannabes. A sense of stagnation set in as many reader's pursued different hobbies and interests.

Then, in 1999, things started to change...

The comics industry wasn't the only thing going through transition at this time. For me High School was ending and many of my friends were moving away and going off to college. Shawn, my almost life long friend (and founder of Comics Fodder), was moving away to Philadelphia for college (he's back in South Florida now). I was staying in South Florida but getting ready to go away to New York for the summer (I now live there). Before Shawn left for school though, before Ultimate comics, before Civil Wars and Infinite Crisiseseses, before the Avengers were New, and before the X-Men were Astonishing Shawn and I would take a Sunday trip (it was too far to go every Wednesday after school) to Grandpa Joe's.

Grandpa Joe’s was a comic store about 45 minutes away from our parent's homes. On the way there we'd listen to Reel Big Fish's second full album "Why Do They Rock So Hard?" and discuss ideas for the fledgling comic idea we were starting to work on. I forgot what the store was really called, but the owner was an old, mostly friendly guy named Joe (hence: Grandpa Joe). The store was a typical LCS (local comics shop) cramped, small, and with varying amounts of customer service (Grandpa Joe quote: “I can get you any back issue you want. Any." Me: "Ok, can you get me [fill in random back issue]?" Grandpa Joe: “What? No! I can't get that issue!"). The store itself looked like a block of cheese, bright yellow and square, with horrible paintings of Spider-man and Pokemon’s on the side. There were closer, better stores (like comics mecca Tate's Comics, in Lauderhill) but for some reason, we would take the trip to Grandpa Joe's. It was during this time, that I think comics were getting better, this was the beginning of the renaissance. There seemed to be new comics coming out, new writers working on them and, if the writers weren't actually newer, they sure as hell were Britisher.

And this lead to some exciting stuff… some of the comics were good, and some of them were John Byrne's Spider-Man. Two of the books I picked up back then was the first issues of The Authority and Planetary. Simply put, I had never read comics like that before. I must have read and re-read them countless times. Other books we bought at the time were Kevin Smith's Daredevil and the other initial Marvel Knights offerings. Say what you will about Kevin Smith's comic output, Guardian Devil was one of the first books that got me back into the comics store on a regular basis. I think it got a lot of people back into the LCS.

So what else were we buying back then?

Earth X

The first ABC Comics (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Top 10, didn't follow Tom Strong then)

The Kurt Busiek/George Perez Avengers

Busiek and Carlos Pacheco's Avengers Forever maxi-series

Joe Mad's Battle Chasers (again...when it came out)

Joe Casey and Jose Ladronn's, ahead of its time, Cable run (can we get that in trade!? It was like G0dland in freakin’ Cable!)

The misfired Wildcats re-launch (Charest's art would still make it worth it)

The Invisibles (counting down its third mind blowing limited series)

Preacher (getting ready for it's home stretch)

100 Bullets (started firing)

Transmetropolitan (started hitting its stride)

I'm not saying the renaissance started right away (I think that truly began when Quesada became EIC). DC was still pretty directionless (Superman robots were flying around everywhere or something) Marvel outside of MK was pretty weak too (I'm still not over that New Warriors re-launch, ugh.)

Have I mentioned John Byrne's Spider-man?

I think the transition from superstar artist to the days we have now of superstar writer were just beginning back then, in good old 1999 and with that the art started to change too. Creative tandems were formed based on appropriateness to the material (versus the old practice of having the hot artist of the month drawing 22 splash pages). Joe Quesada drew the best Daredevil since Frank Millar, Bryan Hitch graduated from Alan Davis knock off to the virtuoso he is today. David and Shawn drove to Grandpa Joe’s Comic Shop every Sunday to see what new surprises were waiting in our subscription box.

These days good writing in comics is expected, I’m surprised when I book is released that completely unreadable. These days the selling point is the story, the drama. These days I walk through Times Square to get to Midtown Comics every Wednesday after work, but part of me will always be driving 45 minutes to Grandpa Joe's with my buddy Shawn.

--Dave

we need to change 'extraordinaire' in the description.

-- Posted by: drunkin dave at July 19, 2006 9:36 AM