The most common refrain being heard from comics reviewers on the internet at the moment is that they’re bored or burned out with comics – something I’ve felt myself for much of the last year. I’ve simply had little to say about most of the comics I read.
It’s not that there aren’t good comics being published all the time, but I think the nature of the internet itself makes it difficult to write about them.
The problem is, most of the stuff that seems to be considered good at the moment is being published in graphic novel format – Asterios Polyp, Parker, whatever. This is a HUGE problem for comic bloggers.
Comics blogs are set up for instantaneous reaction – Adventures Of Spectacular Heroman #675 comes out on Wednesday, and by Saturday at the latest anyone who’s remotely interested knows what Jog and Tucker Stone and the Mindless Ones and Tom Spurgeon and whoever think of it. And that’s perfect for the 22-page floppy comic. Give me a genuinely interesting, good-quality 22-page superhero floppy, and I can knock out a thousand words for you by lunchtime. For that matter, give me a terrible 22-page floppy and I can do *two* thousand words on why it’s so bad by the time I’m on my first coffee of the day.
But give me ten, or fifty, or a hundred times that length, and I’m at a loss. I first read Jaka’s Story nearly six years ago (and last read it two years ago – I lent it to a friend I don’t see very often) and I’m *still* finding new stuff in there. Watchmen came out twenty-five years ago, and we only started to see the beginnings of an intelligent critical response to it last year, with Rilstone’s astonishing Who Sent The Sentinels? (the best piece of comics criticism ever written, for my money).
And not only are graphic novels a much longer-term proposition – I would probably expect any work *really worth reading* to settle in my brain for at least a year before I was ready to talk about the subtleties of it – but even an instant reaction won’t be of interest to many people. If you review the latest issue of Booster Gold, you can be sure that pretty much everyone who is ever going to read that comic bought it on the day it came out. On the other hand, even though I’m certain they’re both masterpieces from everything I’ve read, I’ve only just ordered Asterios Polyp and haven’t yet ordered Parker – these are books that will be available for years or decades, and cost a lot more than the impulse purchase of floppies.
So everything about the comics blog is geared up to be NOW! NOW! NOW! mass-market floppies or nothing.
It’s probably no surprise that the rise of comics blogs was simultaneous with one of the comparatively interesting periods in superhero comics. While Infinite Crisis itself was awful, a lot of the stuff DC was doing around it was interesting – the All-Star titles, Seven Soldiers, and especially 52 gave a general air of excitement to their titles (which the appaling Countdown managed effectively to disperse). 52 and Seven Soldiers in particular meant that for a long time there were huge mega-narratives being released piecemeal – ideal for speculation and discussion, while also being genuinely good (or in the case of Seven Soldiers excellent) comics.
The last couple of years, though, have been bad ones from this point of view. Last year, there were only four series of pamphlet-comics published about which I could find anything intelligent to say – Detective Comics, Batman & Robin, Seaguy and Wednesday Comics. And the majority of what there was to say about those was about the art – and most comic bloggers, myself included, are far happier talking about words than pictures.
I do think that this will change – the periodical comics industry goes through phases, and if nothing else Multiversity and The Return Of Bruce Wayne will give us things to talk about this year – but for right now I think the best comics ‘blogging’ will be taking place in ‘zine format. I’m looking forward to the Mindless Ones’ ‘zine (my own contribution to it isn’t up to much, I’m afraid, but I hope to be asked to do better next time) and PEP! has some great comics writing in it too.
I just hope though that by this time next year the big complaint is that there have been so many exciting superhero pamphlets that no-one’s had time for the big art comics…