Market Advantage

Today on the site, Joe McCulloch takes us on a walk through the present of comics. 


Ben Katchor: The agony and the ecstasy.

Michael Chabon talks nostalgia, and mentions Superman, too.  

I don't care about either of the links above, but, y'know, gotta fill the space! I actually find Chabon especially irritating in almost everything he writes. Remember when he had his own comic book version of the fictional comic book from his novel? Ooof. Anyhow, a side note: I read the much-hyped Crime Destroyer #1, the first release from All Time Comics, a Fantagraphics imprint funded by writer/artist Josh Bayer's brother, Sam. It is basically a sub-par Marvel or DC comic from the early 1980s... imagine a random issue of Indiana Jones or Legion of Superheroes written and drawn by a couple of young hacks as a try-out for the "big time." It's not bad-good, or kitsch, or anything on which you could hang a reason for liking it. And of course it's vaguely misogynist and racist, but so is the amped-up pop culture world it comes from. All the publicity that money can buy positions All Time Comics as daring and both somehow new and somehow classic. It's none of these things. Bayer's writing is overly verbose and mostly incoherent. The drawing by old-time hack Herb Trimpe (now, along with fellow hacks Al Milgrom and Rich Buckler, somehow regarded as an important artist -- so depressing) is badly composed, static, and without a trace of distinction. Even the lettering is terrible -- crooked, inconsistent and crowded. Some recent superhero riffs, like, say Copra or Street Angel, have actual narrative momentum, personality, and individual points of view. This is just soulless and boring. I suppose some of this comes down to being unable to differentiate between good work and the work you liked as a kid. Or, rather, work with interesting qualities and the work you remember fondly. 

Worse (since my own problem is that I somehow care), one of the big selling points for this line, both in interviews and in Bayer's editorial in Crime Destroyer #1, seems to be that it's wacky and transgressive that supposedly "snooty" Fantagraphics is releasing superhero comics -- a genre which somehow becomes Trumpian code for populism. How is that true? Fantagraphics, by its own lengthy, page-after-page confession/admission in the recent 40th anniversary brick, has been releasing garbage, including superhero comics, for decades: Amazing Heroes, John Byrne comics, impossibly long novels by Charles Schulz's son, and imprints including Eros, Monster and others I'm forgetting. That's not a knock. I'm actually proud to work for a publisher that will do anything it takes to continue publishing great material and doesn't spin a line of bullshit about community or connection. I would hope and guess that Sam Bayer's money is very green and very plentiful, so my Seattle brethren held their noses, closed their eyes, and took it like champs. Plus, some of my freelance friends are earning solid (and easy) paychecks working on these comics, and money is hard to come by in this biz. So, for my friends' sake, I guess I hope this line will last until the money or attention span runs out. As Bob once said, you gotta serve somebody, and, on a spiritual level, this is not that much worse than the very few other outlets that pay money for art. So, finally, in it's favor, the money-beats-all viciousness of All Time Comics is perfectly 2017.

14 Responses to Market Advantage

  1. Frank Santoro says:

    All Time Best Nadel

  2. I read a really negative review of, “All Time,” on another website too that I can’t recall the name of. I picked it up at my shop and thought it looked fun from just flipping-through it. I’m normally such a spiteful person I wonder if my brain is just being contrarian?

  3. Nick Wyche says:

    I’m just giggling a little bit at the mandala-like/wheel-turning nature of “All Time” being published by Fanta. This movement of embracing junk comics from the 70’s and 80’s has been building for a few years now as an aesthetic. Bayer, Fiffe, Forsman, et al have been doing interesting work and hits old guys’ heart strings.
    If it ain’t for you, it ain’t for you. But, for those of us who dig it, it’s cheap, greasy popcorn at a sleazy cinema that shows crap sci-fi and action movies from the 80’s. Not something you want to eat/watch/read every day, but DAMN! if sometimes you just have to have it!

  4. Dan Nadel says:

    Nick, I guess I wasn’t clear — I don’t think these comics are tugging at Fanta’s heart strings. I think it’s pay to play. Moreover, this kind of related material has been happening for almost a decade — Prison Pit, Brandon Graham’s work, etc. Moreover, I was instrumental in embracing those junk comics — to my now-regret Frank Santoro and I started excavating, writing about, and selling that material in 2006. A lifetime ago in internet time. So, I’m all for cheap and greasy, but I like it when it’s well executed or incredibly weird. There’s actually a world of difference between Copra and All Time Comics.

  5. Ian Harker says:

    Picturing Dan, alone, with a bottle of whiskey and the Comics Comics web archives, filled with regret.

  6. Dan Nadel says:

    Weep for me!

  7. Robin says:

    Dangerous Dan Nadel

  8. Angus says:

    You came loaded for Bayer.

  9. Victor Cayro says:

    This was personal, unnecessarily nasty.

  10. Rick Parker says:

    Well, I don’t pretend to be an expert on what is good in comics and what is bad, or pass judgment on other’s efforts, but as the guy who did the “terrible” lettering on these comics and about a thousand other comics over the last 40 years, I’d like to say that I loved it. It was really fun and different from the usual commercial comics, I have been involved with. No mention was made of the coloring as being good or bad, but my thought was that the coloring by Matt Rota was the most exciting and fun I have seen in a comic book in a long time. I think that ALL TIME COMICS will be well-received by comics fans. Also it’s not nice to call artists, “hacks”, Dan. I think they deserve a liitle more respect than that. Keep in mind that not everybody is a certified creative genius all the time. Some of us are just doing the best we can to help pay the rent and feed our families and maybe have a little fun doing something we love.

  11. Victor Cayro says:

    That’s how you mop the floor

  12. Just posting to say that I think mentioning Bayer’s recent body of work with comics like THETH might have been important here. A strong critique, good or bad, seems compromised by not acknowledging that the artist in question makes a lot of work in a different style that is held in high regard by many.If the critic also hates that work, it’d be interesting to hear that as well. But not mentioning it at all, even in passing, seems like a missed opportunity in the discussion. I understand that ATC is getting a lot of press, but when put next to Bayer’s solo output of the last 5 years, it feels like a side project (or an extension of ideas that, to me, Bayer has more clearly defined in Theth).

  13. I agree with Dan about the annoying Chabon, and I would add exploitative appropriationist to the list of charges; but I don’t agree with him about Rick Parker, who is perhaps the last real letterer in comics—he does it by hand, unlike the legions of typesetters currently getting paid.
    And if, after initially agreeing to do it and allowing me to get approval from the editors, write the questions and intro, Josh Bayer hadn’t chosen to cancel my interview with him for this site about All Time Comics, I would certainly have discussed his other work, adding some necessary contrast to the bizarre regression of regurgitating the superhero idea that has so long held back American comics in the context of alt/lit standard-bearers Fantagraphics. ATC also has the oddity of being the only sub-imprint of that company that pays page rates—leaving the rest of us who slave on thick books for virtually nothing scratching our heads.

  14. ADD says:

    I just read All Time’s Bullwhip #1. It sure made me miss Cold Heat and Street Angel.

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