Yesterday it was announced that the comic book and pop culture website Comics Alliance had been terminated in its current form by corporate parent AOL Inc., for reasons presently unknown, and with all the grace of a plug being yanked from a socket. That’s too bad; I’d been enjoying some of its recent content, like David Brothers’ new column, and Sarah Horrocks’ posts on visually unique works. Last year I’d even gotten myself snuck in the back door by Sean Witzke & Matt Seneca as part of their fine review series on the DC anthology Solo – I was pleased to take a little second-hand heat from the site’s readership, which I’d known to be feisty. I mean, you can’t expect pleasure from everything you see on a website; personally, I’d skip over most of the (many) posts on toys and superhero movie hype and such, and I’d cringe when they’d cover up the nudity in their sample images. Such is the price you pay for the platform, though – I’d written for a comics site that provided content to AOL for a while, and they didn’t let me use cuss words either.
But then, sometimes, you’d see a profile post on Leon Sadler, right on the front page, and you’d know that few other major American geek culture websites would be so likely to bother.
None of this, however, speaks to the legacy of Comics Alliance. And truly it is unique for a site of such relative youth to even *have* a legacy, in so clogged a scene, among so many options.
When I think of what CA has done, I initially think of two things that are not CA. The first is Comic Foundry, a comics-related culture & lifestyle magazine (there was a longer-lived web presence too, but I’m thinking only of the magazine) which published five print editions between 2007 and 2009. The blurbs and blips on fashion and stuff passed me by, but right from the beginning there was a unique focus on issues of representation in superhero comics: portrayals of women, in particular, presented in a direct and continuous manner unlike that of any other comics magazine.
It was not unlike any other comics resource, though. Gail Simone’s Women in Refrigerators was a key early source, but the second thing I think of when I think of CA is scans_daily, which by the late ’00s had become a popular LiveJournal-based forum for discussion of freely posted comics images, with a large and lively user base of women. There was always more than capes available on the site, but by that time it had become well-known as a voice for the historically ill-served female readership of Marvel and DC superhero comics. It also had a critical flaw: it could not shake the impression of being a site where people went to catch up on comics for free, and the corporate custodians of superhero properties have always been primarily interested in the exchange of money. In setting up a counterculture of sorts, it could be marginalized.
Comics Alliance, then — or, the version of CA launched in 2009 by Laura Hudson, a senior editor at the just-departed Comics Foundry (who now works at Wired) — took this stuff to the heartland. *Of course* they ran previews of new superhero comics, and posts on superhero movies: that is the expectation of a big-ticket comic book website, the platform which allowed the site’s writers to launch sustained volleys against the gendered (and, increasingly, racial) subtexts of the popular serial comics it had made its bread and butter. It’s become a a cliché, since: websites relentlessly criticizing the corporations they’re reliant on for hit-driving exclusives, but unlike the others you got the feeling that CA really could get by if Warner and Disney blackballed them entirely – you can lack interviews and previews and juicy publishing scoops, but they can never take away your liberty to read and comment, and the heart of Comics Alliance was always the opinion pieces, a proclivity that increasingly led it toward longer analytic reviews as the years passed.
It’s reductive to speak of legacy, I know. If you add up all the site’s posts, less than a quarter, I expect, relate to these issues. Moreover, the conversation was never primarily housed at CA; it was an interaction of multiple voices from multiple forums, ‘represented’ in its most mainstream-visible form by the site’s own renditions of the topics. But such representation is valuable as a display of force, enough so that it is now very difficult to read Marvel or DC comics, or comics struck from their mold, and not notice the way characters are designed and positioned in stories for the purposes of oft-unwitting sociological metaphor. I often think this is the great paradigm shift that superhero comics have undergone in the 21st century, ostensibly their days of assimilation into action movie formulae on the big screen. To front such demands on reading was good work. I can’t say that about everyone on the scene.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
The Grey Museum: Being the newest release from Canada’s Conundrum Press, a very interesting publisher of international works, although this one comes from Lorenz Peter, a Montreal-born Doug Wright award-winner for Best Emerging Talent in 2006. I don’t know a lot about this 216-page b&w book, but I’m assured it’s “a galactic romp,” seeing human stragglers dealing with various gods and aliens in a satiric manner. I like the heavy inks on the art. Preview; $20.00.
Pietrolino: On the other hand, there’s always unfamiliar work by a familiar name, and I suspect we’re all familiar with Alejandro Jodorowsky – filmmaker, comics writer and trained mime, who in 2007 and 2008 released this two-album series of WWII-era intrigue, based on a stage play he’d written for an old collaborator, Marcel Marceau. The art is by Olivier Boiscommun, whom I don’t believe has had a longform comics work released in North America since one of the very first Humanoids releases waaaay back in 2000: the Denis Pierre Filippi-written The Book of Jack. This too is a Humanoids production, an 8.5″ x 11″ hardcover of 96 pages. Samples; $29.95.
I’m noticing an awful lot of comics that *might* be showing up this week, although Diamond isn’t listing them for release. In particular, keep an eye out for Sandcastle, the new Frederick Peeters-drawn book from SelfMadeHero, which Abrams is supposed to be importing any week now. Until then…
Jack Davis’ EC Stories: Artist’s Edition: So, this month’s Fantagraphics release of ‘Taint the Meat wasn’t enough for ya, eh? What’s that? You have unlimited money? Then drag your ass over to the XL section of the new releases shelf and scope out this 15″ x 22″ IDW production, shooting 144 pages’ worth of Davis’ stories and covers from Entertaining Comics right off the original art, in color, at their native size, as usual; $125.00.
The Incal Vol. 3 (of 6): What Lies Beneath: Yes, there’s several items in the XL section. This, for instance, is Humanoids’ newest 12″ x 16″ album of vintage Moebius/Jodorowsky, walking through the original series step by step, in its original publication colors. What? You told me unlimited money. Samples; $79.95.
The Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 2: The Kirby Omnibus line has been popular at DC, in covering his various series for the publisher, and now we’re into an area we’ve previously seen with the less-prolific (at DC) Steve Ditko – big, fat hardcovers compiling random stories and short runs. There’s 624 pages of the stuff in here, including Kirby’s works on the ’70s like of Black Magic, The Sandman and others; $39.99.
Korak, Son of Tarzan Archives Vol. 1 (of 2): Damn, Dark Horse has released enough Tarzan that we’re into spinoffs now, such as this 1964-born Gold Key series for the son of the Earl of Greystoke and Jane. I suspect Dark Horse’s interest is in the art of Russ Manning, since they’re apparently cutting the series off once he leaves (it actually continued into 1972). Written by Gaylord DuBois, of many Jesse Marsh jungle outings. A 192-page hardcover. Samples; $49.99.
Ten Grand #1: Gosh, this is two weeks in a row I’m mentioning a J. Michael Straczynski comic – necessary here in my continued quest to track the high-profile developments at Image, bustling creator-owned forum and now the home of Straczynski’s new “Joe’s Comics” line of original series, kicking off with a Ben Templesmith-drawn ongoing about a dead criminal reborn to sacrifice himself for others on Earth, over and over as a leasing plan for his stay in Paradise. The colors look toasty as ever. Preview; $2.99.
Heavy Metal #262: I’m presuming Heavy Metal is either out of the French translation game entirely at this point, or at least taking a long break, because this is another issue heavy with the participation of A1 co-founder Dave Elliott, specifically as co-writer of an issue-length story (Dravn) with Jesse Negron, a movie producer/editor working with visual designs from Keith Thompson, a concept artist on the upcoming Guillermo del Toro film Pacific Rim. The concept has mythological characters living as extra-normal humanoids while running a bunch of shit, and there’s going to be multiple artists from around the world, including Camilla de’Errico and Sami Basri, the latter of whom drew a bunch of Brett Lewis’ most recent series, Fall Out Toy Works. So… maybe we’re not gonna see the rest of Bilal’s Animal’z in English any time soon; $7.95.
MW Kaluta Sketchbook Series Vol. 4: Ah, I’ll just wrap it up now, noting that there’s still two days left if you want to go contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for Starstruck, the sprawling Elaine Lee/Michael Wm. Kaluta SF series of years ago, which is now seeking to continue its never-quite-finished story. Actually, it *is* continuing, since they met their goal a while back, but now the creators are raising added money to do it in color. Synchronicity, meanwhile, has ensured the arrival of this fourth IDW collection of Kaluta sketchwork, 8.5″ x 11″ and 48 pages, if it’s anything like the other three; $9.99.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Not the biggest list overall this week, but plenty of stuff from Fantagraphics, headed up by 3 New Stories, an honest-to-god 32-page alternative comic book compiling fresh (and terrifically-colored) material from Dash Shaw, concerning “dystopian societies” in a manner not unlike the stories collected in The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century, I’d guess; $3.99. Then, a longtime veteran brings Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff, a 144-page collection of odds ‘n ends culled from the pages of Hate, including collaborations with Robert Crumb, Dan Clowes, Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, Adrian Tomine, Johnny Ryan, Alan Moore and Alice Cooper; $19.99. After that, Linda Medley has Castle Waiting Vol. 2: Definitive Edition, a 472-page compilation of materials expanded from a 300+ page edition back in 2010; $29.99. And why not go all-in with The Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 5: Happy Hippy Comix, a new edition of 144 pages from Snatch and other cultural landmarks; $19.99. Hey, a new Donald Duck hardcover might show up too! Watch the skies, Corporal.