“Sorry,” she said, “your tag didn’t print right. It’s just an och.”
As I so often do, I took this as a sign that I ought to dismiss myself from the burdens of personality. I have never meant to be rude, but willing myself vanished below the human tide of a comics show floor has always given me pleasure. It’s paradoxical, of course; the most vivid and cherished memories I have of MoCCA, of BCGF, of damned cursed NYCC, and SPX, most of all, are those of meeting and greeting people I otherwise only ‘see’ or ‘talk’ to online. I do not want to give the impression that I dislike meeting people. Still, I am acutely fond of visual anonymity — especially in scenes given to impregnating recognition with the subtext of commerce — and fate had conspired to flatter such predilections.
The suggestion had been made some time prior to SPX that I would succeed Rob Clough as guest curator for the Library of Congress, in accordance with a partnership facilitated between the entities in 2011, “where representatives from that institution would comb the floor and [select] minicomics, self-published comics, original art, flyers, Ignatz Award nominees and other publications that otherwise would skip the LOC and be lost forever after their initial print run.” I greatly admired this impulse, the idea of preservation – for a long time, that was a stated goal of scanlators, of pirates, of varied unscrupulous types on the internet who’d ‘curate’ selections of lost, gone comics, without permission, for the edification of all. Now, of course, everyone excerpts images on Tumblr and reblogs them all over, the process having gained legitimacy by honing itself down to details tiny enough to curl within some community understanding of fair use.
In contrast, I can scarcely imagine anything more legitimate than the Library of Congress. So legitimate, in fact, that the first time I entered the LoC’s hotel suite, I (not literally) (mercifully) ran into an interview in progress with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Congress itself was right there!
This changed my entire approach to the show. You’ve probably heard that SPX invited an especially large number of exhibitors this year; in a world where I could simply cruise from one side of the room to the next, I might have developed a better comparative understanding of the volume of works available. However, “curating” a collection of actual, movable items is different than uploading a bunch of dumb scans to the internet, and because my request for a curatorial throne in the center of the show floor from which I could point my sceptre at worthy minicomics was denied by the concierge and several ascending levels of hotel management, I instead developed the pretense of a tactical approach whereby I’d track down individual tables to request their stuff, having taken the Clough-approved preliminary step of having emailed a few of them my patriotic intentions beforehand.
I soon realized that I had difficulty remembering where anything was, which is admittedly more a problem with *me* than the expanded show; it took me an hour to find the keyboard today to type out this post, and longer to find the right keys. And anyway, there was a map included with the show program – a big, fold-out map which made me look like a comedy tourist on holiday to Horrocks’ Hicksville. Soon, I began employing the Ms. Pac-Man technique of exiting the floor from a door on one side and re-entering from another as a self-preservation instinct, lest I trample a small child and find my VIP badge seized. That would be a tragedy; I needed that badge to look sufficiently officious, to truly become a living avatar of the entity I was tasked with representing. If only I’d had the balls to cosplay as Alex Ross’ Uncle Sam!
(Incidentally, there were scattered instances of cosplay on the floor; I didn’t recognize any of the characters, and soon came to suspect that people were simply using the occasion to dress as flamboyantly as they wished, which is as good a motivation as any.)
The entire first day was happily eaten up with these activities, which occupied me so thoroughly that I barely had enough time to throw money at books I liked or engage people in impromptu Steve Ditko discussions (which nonetheless happened four or five times, to my great delight). Before long my friends and I were off to dine at a local joint so gritty we weren’t entirely sure it wasn’t abandoned until we pushed past the stack of boxes to flag down a guy toward the back of the kitchen. After the Ignatz awards I decided ‘sure, I’ll switch to red wine tonight,’ and then I was upstairs at the bar at a quarter of two. “In that way, Ditko is like Tolstoy,” I was told, and I nodded in utter sincerity. It’s a damn good point.
By the floor’s opening on day two, I had begun to realize a conflict of ideology which threatened to gridlock my Congressional mission in a manner that would surely raise criticism for indelicate metaphor. To “curate,” is to suggest some application of taste. However, to “preserve,” is to seize the occasional opportunity to whisk an only potentially superior work away to safety. Generally, I picked works: (1) with which I was familiar; (2) which I knew I liked; (3) which the Library did not already possess; and (4) which none of the other librarians had selected in their combings. And so, I would select Julia Gfrörer’s Too Dark to See, but not her new minicomic, because I hadn’t read the latter. I would select Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, because it was a British book released early enough to slip through the cracks. I would select Ryan Cecil Smith’s SF Supplementary File 2 because it bore a conceptual character unique to comics. I would select Warren Craghead’s How to Be Everywhere because it had a formal character unlike anything else. I would select Laurel Lynn Leake’s L3 #2 because I’d managed to read it at the show and I liked it a lot. I selected all the comics because I liked them a lot.
But sometimes, I would select a big, thick, free newspaper compilation of local comics from New Orleans, because I didn’t know a damn thing about it and it looked like it ought to be preserved, to complete the little model ship of SPX I had built in the bottle of my submissions box. I am not so pure as to *become* a Ditko hero.
I had agreed to host a panel at 4:00, however, which contributed to all manner of Ditkovian paranoia. At the height of my fever I rushed over to the Fantagraphics table to ask if they happened to have a copy of issue #302 of the Journal on hand so I could locate a statement Seth had made concerning Archie. Improbably, the caper succeeded, and I handed the tome back to Gary Groth, who may have been preparing to dropkick me as a shoplifter.
The panel itself was titled “Paying Tribute: Traditions of Style,” and featured Ed Piskor, Jim Rugg, Tom Scioli, Seth and R. Sikoryak. A video recording will allegedly appear online at some point, so as to preserve my electrifying stage presence for future generations, but I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to mention that I totally lucked out with my group, which was more than happy to toss questions back and forth between one another; the more invisible the moderator seems, the better, and again my taste for disappearance was satisfied.
I saw no other programming. I was quite busy on the floor, with no time to stop and engage cartoonists in ninety-minute conversations about anime (we tapped out at half an hour). I was availing myself instead of the excellent coordination of the Library’s people, who didn’t betray a single inch of understandable frustration over all the forms they still had to collect after I’d left; forms handed out by someone identifying themselves as “With the Library of Congress.” I hope I lived up to that name.
And so I left, disbelieving that I’d been awake for ten hours already, and convinced I was right on the border of mastering the floor space. I don’t know the book of the show. Maybe Delebile’s Mother, an Italian anthology with a minicomic of English translations. It seemed a little quieter than the prior year, but there was more room for dispersal too. Maybe next year I’ll become a reporter, and retreat again, from anonymity, to simple observation.
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.
Reggie-12: In which Brian Ralph’s humorous boy android from the pages of Giant Robot and elsewhere gets an 8.125″ x 11″, 96-page collection of what I believe are all of his adventures, welding the surface devices of early postwar manga to appealing gag rhythms. It would be easy to say from the SPX floor that the ‘Fort Thunder’ style has faded a bit in influence, but works like this remind you that actual, affiliated artists of the scene like Ralph sometimes worked in styles readily applicable to glossy presentation. Official site; $21.95.
Justice League #23.3 (Dial E): This is part of DC’s Villains Month promotion, which means Brian Bolland’s cover art may or may not be leaping out from the rack in tightly-rationed 3-D, and the contents will be evil indeed. Note, however, that this particular issue also serves as a coda of sorts for writer China Miéville’s recently-concluded Dial H, which was possibly the best superhero monthly going for a while; the occasion will be commemorated by the debut of 20 villains in 20 pages, with each page drawn by a different artist, ranging from series contributors Mateus Santolouco, Alberto Ponticelli and David Lapham, to ‘offbeat’ superhero vets Brendan McCarthy, Frazer Irving, Emma Rios and Jeff Lemire, to new-to-DC folks like Marley Zarcone, Emi Lenox, Sloane Leong, Michelle Farran and Zak Smith. Fuck the congratulatory blurbs from upstairs corporate, this is my kind of farewell. Samples; $3.99 ($2.99 vanilla paper cover, Loser).
Also, while it’s not on Diamond’s list for the week, please be aware that some shops will probably be getting in copies of Tropic of the Sea, a Vertical-published standalone manga by the late Satoshi Kon, who is best known as a director of various well-regarded anime projects (the television series Paranoia Agent, the film Paprika), but had also worked professionally in comics since the mid-’80s. He was among Katsuhiro Otomo’s art assistants on Akira, and shares more than a little of Otomo’s visual style; plenty of you will be interested, I’m sure.
Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps by Art Spiegelman: This is a 9.5″ x 13/4″ Drawn and Quarterly hardcover which functions as a catalog for a traveling exhibition of the same title. I am advised it will offer few surprises for readers who’ve already tracked Spiegelman’s work in comics through assorted earlier presentations, though — in fairness — the publisher’s solicitation suggests more of a cross-platform study, presenting the artist’s work in “book and magazine design, bubble gum cards, lithography, modern dance, and most recently stained glass” as interrelated aspects of restless creativity. Of course, to the unfamiliar browser, curiosity piqued by a recognizable name, it will all be new. With essays by J. Hoberman and Robert Storr. Preview; $39.95.
The Big Wet Balloon: Granted, I was *also* advised that this was a work of scalding eroticism, although, as my editors informed me shortly after the post went live, it is actually a new release from Toon Books, marking what I believe is the North American bookshelf comics debut of Argentine artist Liniers, who enjoyed “special guest” status at SPX, IN CASE YOU MISSED IT. Tracking the rainy day lessons of two kids, the book (32 pages, color, 9″ x 6″, landscape format) will be released simultaneously in English and Spanish editions. Preview; $12.95.
The Magic Whistle #13: New from Alternative Comics comes a 32-page comic book from Sam Henderson, who has actually released twenty-four issues of this showcase anthology in various formats. I almost said ‘one-man anthology,’ but know that guest contributors are expected for the future, staring with Lizz Hickey in this one; $3.99.
Zero #1: Hopefully this new Image ongoing will satisfy Matt Seneca’s craving for politically-aware comic books, as writer Ales Kot has suggested a sort of super-assassin international troubleshooter plot, in which the titular killer is a culminating product of societal impulses that favor violence as a desirable means of resolving conflict. Each issue will be self-contained, and while the colorist will remain Jordie Bellaire, the drawings will come from different hands each time. Michael Walsh is up first. Preview; $2.99.
Smoke/Ashes: I remember quite enjoying the 2005 IDW series Smoke, an Alex de Campi political/assassination dirty work scenario which went a long way toward rehabilitating artist Igor Kordey’s reputation after a prolonged internet drubbing of various X-Men comics he drew for Marvel. A 2011 Kickstarter campaign then funded a sequel, Ashes, but creative differences with a new artist, Jimmy Broxton, greatly delayed the project as chapters were split between various ‘guest’ artists, including a returning Kordey, as well as Carla Speed McNeil, Bill Sienkiewicz and Colleen Doran, among others. But now the whole thing is done, and Dark Horse is collecting both series into a 424-page color softcover. Preview; $29.99.
Century West: In which writer/artist Howard Chaykin transforms a television pilot proposal into your Eurocomics pick of the week, via a birth-of-the-20th-century Old West scenario originally published by Disney Italia(!) in 2006, and now brought to North American shores by Image. It’s 64 pages, and presumably sized like a comic book. Preview; $7.99.
Madwoman of the Sacred Heart & The Technopriests: Supreme Collection: The rest of the Eurocomics picks are all Humanoids reprints this week, though I’m sure there’s a few of you who’ve missed Madwoman, a 1992-98 series illustrated by Moebius in sprightly cartoon style which ultimately becomes super-compressed into densely paneled pages while writer Alejandro Jodorowsky tours numerous variations on sex, philosophy, revolution and enlightenment – easily his most Buñuelian comic, once again an all-in-one hardcover, with a much-improved cover. The Technopriests is also Moebius-derived Jodrowsky (i.e. it’s a spinoff of The Incal) though what you’re really in for is 408 pages of Zoran Janjetov’s & Fred Beltran’s photo-slick grotesquerie, grafting the writer’s evolutionary obsessions onto a repetitive, video gaming-inspired schema; $29.95 (Madwoman), $49.95 (Technopriests).
Sailor Moon Short Stories Vol. 1 (of 2): And your manga pick — see above, though!! — appears to be this Kodansha collection of short bonus stories clipped from the run of Naoko Takeuchi’s original schoolgirl juggernaut (although I think they appeared in the Tokyopop run of the stuff), based on a mid-’00s Japanese edition. What *I’d* like to see a compilation of Return-to-Society Punch!!, Takeuchi’s later autobiographical series, purportedly detailing her dissatisfaction with Kodansha, among other facets of her post-hit life. However, it is with Shueisha, one of the part-owners of Viz; $10.99.
Tripwire 21st Anniversary Special: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week, a 176-page edition of the long-lived, now-irregular comics ‘n nerdy stuff magazine, functioning as both a best-of compilation and a new issue fixing its gaze backward via original articles on notable points in (recent) funnybook history. Lots of illustrations are promised as well, from Mike Mignola and others. Samples; $24.99.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Be it the vagaries of Direct Market shipping or damned excellent timing, PictureBox is your ‘sorry we missed you’ headquarters for SPX 2013! On one side of the virtual table is Pompeii, a 144-page graphic novel by Tumblr notable Frank Santoro, concerning art and lust and the machinations of the denizens of a doomed city; $19.95. Then, on another side, is School Spirits, the bookshelf comics debut of Anya Davidson, “the story of Oola, a high school student with an unusual connection to the supernatural,” and a work of heavier blacks & furious narrative; $19.95. And then, a little ways toward the back, because it is older, is a probable re-release of DNA Failure, a 2012 production of artists Leon Sadler, Stefan Sadler & Jonathan Chandler (from the UK’s Famicon collective), resembling nothing so much as a single issue plucked from the midst of an overstuffed regional b&w fantasy anthology produced by directionless teens circa 1985; $14.00. AND THEN ALSO you can go over to the Fantagraphics table and peruse a 152-page expanded hardcover edition of Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations, in which Peter Bagge presents Libertarian-themed journalism and biography in his characteristic style; $24.99. It’s like your local comics store is a hotel in Bethesda, Maryland! I bet they’ll even let you sleep there, in exchange for money.