Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Free Comic Book Day and Spider-Man

So after hyping Free Comic Book Day for weeks here at The League, I figured I'd better put my money where my mouth is, and on Saturday I headed down to the local (decent) comic shop. Now, the local shop is not the shop I go to regularly. Normally I go to a shop near my office, run by a decent enough guy who offers a signifcant discount to subscribing customers. On a light-traffic Saturday, my office is about 30 minutes away, so I didn't want to haul myself all the way down there. But out near my house, there's an Atomic Comics , and it's a great store. It's one of the two fairly professional jobs I've ever seen of running a comic shop. Unfortunately, it's just more expensive than other shops.

But when you're talking about free comics, how can you lose?

I'll tell you how. Probably due to high traffic, Atomic Comics decided to only allow each customer to take one free comic from a selection of about 18 or so comics. This decision totally negates the point of Free Comic Book Day for steady comic book readers. The point of FCBD (for me as a regular reader) wasn't just to get me in the store, which they did, but to allow me to sample different ongoing comics to decide what I, as a reader, might like to pick up this year. (Editor's note: it's bad comic shop etiquette to just stand in the aisle and read a comic. You can flip through the pages, or whatever, but you're really supposed to buy the comic if you read it cover to cover).

I have to give a load of credit to Atomic Comics. There was a LOT of traffic in the store, as this shop is at the mall in a prime spot near the movie theater. So all those kids leaving the 12:00 show of Spider-Man came straight over to Atomic Comics and picked up a free comic. Which is EXACTLY what the day is supposed to inspire. Of the 18 or so comics, the "comics for kids" ratios were very, very high to the "mature" comics. At least at this store.

Katrina, the manager, doesn't really know me, but she knows who I am. And she's sold me some funky stuff before, like "My Monkey's Name is Jennifer" (which is absolutely hysterical), and a few other things. So she put a comic in my hand when I walked up to the "one free comic" table. And it was a Slave Labor Graphics anthology.

I'm going to blow everybody's minds here, because I'm going to admit something: I have a low tolerance for indie comics.

A lot of indie comics are kind of like three chord punk. Indie comics are usually high energy and kind of goofy and sort of fun. And like 3-chord punk, they're cheaply done, almost inaccessible and kind of all come off the same. The indies try to be edgy, but it's that sort of post-suburbanite edgy, where they substitute narrative with weird for weird's sake and a lot of high-school literature references to look smart. This doesn't even begin to tap into how ideas seem to get recycled a million times over by the indie comics (probably a by-product of folks trying to recreate whatever it is they liked in a favorite indie comic of their own).

Some of the indie comics I like, but most of them are totally forgettable. And most of them never really see any print after one or two issues, leaving you hanging or wondering when the "artist" is going to lay off the pipe and get drawing again.

This makes maybe 1 in 15 indie comics something I'd want to peruse on a regular basis. I realize in admitting this that I have (1) upset the punk rock ethos, and (2)made myself appear to be a stick in the mud. But I'm going to call a spade a spade. If indie comics want to know why they don't move massive numbers and can't compete with, say, Legends of Batman's Neighbors, instead of being irritated and pretending that "nobody understands them", they might want to try things like a story and decipherable art. And, failing that, they should try to be funny. And not one joke funny (even as I say this, I am reminded The Lockhorns has been in syndication for 20+ years, defying all of my rules here).

I do not believe black and white indies are inherently bad. I do think the "artists" who put the bad comics together are the same kind of people who think everyone wants to hear their poetry, and refuse to write multiple drafts of their prose, afraid the editing process will sully the wild ferocity of their thoughts as each jewel drips from their ingenious mind.

Now some indie comics are very good. And when the format works, it's an amazing thing to behold. These guys are free from corporate bosses and other worldly constraints, and occasionally you get a Sex Pistols for the other 2 bajillion lousy bands. And you'll get something like "Blankets", "Ghost World", "Jimmy Corrigan", "Stuck Rubber Baby", "Maus", "Love and Rockets" or even "From Hell".

But as I say this, of the entire 48 page comic I got, I think about 6 or 7 pages were actually interesting. And 2 of those pages were Milk and Cheese, which has never been my favorite, but is better than the rest of the stuff, and a pioneer in violent, dairy-related comics.

As much as bad black and white comic bug me, get me started on "bad girl" comics someday. I beg of you.

Some of these indie comics end up doing very well, and that's thrilling. What happens most of the time is that the good indie creators get hired by the mainstream companies (Marvel, DC, Image, even Dark Horse) and either sink or swim with the big boys and thier millions of corporate-type rules. It's the equivalent of getting signed to a major label and then having to answer to the suits, to stretch the punk-rock analogy as far as it will go.

Some of the artists do okay. Some burn brightly before fizzling out under the high-pressure of the industry. Most do a fill-in back up in Spider-Man Unlimited, and then disappear from comics to go do something more lucrative, like selling shoes.

Anyway, suffice it to say, the Teen Titans, Go! comic Jamie picked up I found endlessly more rewarding, even if it took me an 1/8th as long to finish it. You see, the story had a beginning, middle and an end. It was well drawn, and had a point (admittedly, a child-friendly "teamwork" related point, but a point).

So we went to check out (as I also bought a few other comics, none of which were notable enough to mention [actually, I need to do a brief note on Marvel's new direction soon]), and the guy says "so, are you going to hang out? Because I need to staple your bag shut if you are."
I looked around the shop, saw no impending action or promise of adventure. "Why? What's going to happen?"
"Oh, I dunno." the guy shrugged. "Spider-Man is going to be here from 6:00 until 9:00."
"It's 2:00," I said.
"This Spider-Man is supposed to rule. He's from Universal studios and he actually studied up to be Spider-Man."
"Sweet. But, no... I'm leaving."

And then it started to brew in my head. I went to the gym and tried to work it off. But there it was... Spider-Man was coming. Spider-Man! I love Spider-Man!

And I remembered four years before at Universal Studios where I met Captain America and how I had almost flubbed that meeting. One does not stand before The Sentinel of Liberty and not feel a little humbled.

So at 6:30, I was getting out of the shower (post-gym) and I said, "So, can we go see Spider-Man?"
"Sure!" Jamie said. "What time is it showing?"
"Uh..." I said. Clearly, we had different ideas on how this was going down. "Let me check."
So I used my out! There was a theater right next to the comic shop, and the theater was showing Spider-Man every half-hour!
"Where are we going?" Jamie asked as I went on instead of turning right. "You're going to the Mall? Oh my God! You're going to see the guy in the Spider-Man outfit!"
"Do you really want to see him?"
And she let me! She agreed to my insane plan! Sometimes you achieve a moment of absolute clarity as to why you married someone.

We drove down to the theater and parked, and we walked up to the comic shop, and... there was a line literally 500 or more feet long to get into the store and meet Spider-Man. It wrapped around the "dancing waters" and over to the California Pizza Kitchen.

I was clearly not going to meet Spider-Man and see my movie in one evening.

Distressed, I looked down the line, and there were hundreds of kids. Stupid, stupid kids... all blocking my path and destroying my plans. Stupid kids. All in Spider-Man shirts. Some in Costumes! Heck, some poor, confused kid was dressed up as Superman (to which I tipped my hat). And all of them had comics in their hands! They were all waiting diligently to have Spider-Man sign their comics! This, I realized, was the absolute realization of Free Comic Book Day! Kids and comics. Kids and Spider-Man!

"We don't need to meet Spider-Man," I told Jamie.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'd love to, but I don't think I'm going to get as much out of it as these kids."
"Okay. Let's just go see the movie."
And then, through the store window, we watched Spidey do the splits.

coming soon: Part II, a brief review of Spider-Man II.

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