Dig Comics: The Best Comic I Have Ever Read
Columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, looks at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.
That needed to be said first. It was essential. I could not dally or dick around – the heart of the matter is clear and could not be waited upon.
Like so many other comics fans, I can boast that I have read tens of thousands of comic books, graphic novels, comic strips, cartoons and comic compilations. Live long enough, you will be able to say that too. I never had anything to prove. It was and continues to be a great joy for me, amongst the greatest of joys I have known. And so I am happy to report that Tezuka’s Buddha is the single most joyful comic book experience I have ever known.
I want to tell you that no matter if you are a superhero “fanboy,” an “alternative” hipster, a “Franco Belgian” connoisseur, a strictly “funny pages” fella, a far-out manga head, or even just a Saturday morning Looney Tunes laffer – Buddha is for you.
I was going to write why that is. But all the words were stupid. I deleted most of them after an hour. I got scared, thought about writing another column. How the hell do you have the balls to go public claiming you’ve read the best comic ever, then turn in some “essay” on the subject. You can’t jump up and down in an essay. You can’t beg on bended knee for someone to open a copy and look. At least, not if you just use words.
So here is my essay, with some assistance from Osamu Tezuka, and some very tangible inspiration from my gal Tiina, a recent comic convert who loves Buddha as much as I do.
First step: Put all the Buddha books on the bed:
I will now grab one at random and open to any old page:
1. IT’S EPIC! Damn, a double splash page to start, pain in the ass to take a decent pic. But this is what Tezuka’s ghost wanted, I guess. OK, first of all, Buddha is a classic epic tale. Obviously, the source material – the life story of one of the greatest spiritual figures ever – lends itself to this quality. But in comics terms, check out that castle fort. A dramatic sparsely clouded sky hanging overhead. Charging army. This could be Lord of the Rings or a tale from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. And by now, you can see, the dude can draw.
Next random, poorly taken shot:
2. DRAMA!: You don’t even know what the hell is going on but you can tell – the dude’s got a knife to the old man’s head, he’s running around like a badass, and busts in on the broad. There are miles of this stuff in here! And check out how ornate all the curtains and doors are. Shiny floor mirages, opening doors in to dark rooms – talk about dramatic moods! Reminds me of some Ditko horror panels.
Next random, poorly taken shot:
3. ABSURDIST HUMOR! Peppered throughout Buddha, Tezuka plays with anachronisms for comic effect, mostly at random. Look at panel 3. We’re in 6th century BC India, and here we’ve got a bunch of 20th century guys from a moving company dragging in contemporary furniture. And for no good reason at all! Yes, it’s a serious story, but Tezuka just loves to play in so many ways, and shaking the whole image up with bizarre randomness happens often. To fanboys who would balk at this, I say “Why so serious?” A moment like this harkens back to Carl Barks and Mad Magazine, encompassing a core element of comics. Buddha even has sweat beads a-flyin’! And a quick word on the writing – check out how deep their conversation is. Yeah, it’s as deep as it is fun.
Next random, poorly taken shot:
4. TRAGEDY! Oh boy, there’s a lot of tragedy in this book, too. Of course, many of the characters in the book are from the old stories of the Buddha. Those epic tales are full of people living, loving, suffering and dying, just like you read in the Bible. But part of Tezuka’s genius is that he seamlessly weaves those figures with characters of his own, made up for this series. Only those VERY well versed in Buddha lore would know who’s “real” and who’s not (I had to look a lot of these folks up). And you would think that would fail miserably, but here we see the master storyteller at the height of his powers. Buddha was completed in his final years, and as was the case with Will Eisner, the man’s work grew old as a fine wine does. I also love the few words on display. The images speak for themselves. There’s a lot of this in here, too. I’d also say there’s a Love & Rockets quality to be found on this page as well, which I also see plenty of throughout. Full disclosure: I don’t know how much longer this can go on, and the pictures are starting to come less randomly as finding choice pages becomes more important.
5. LOONEY TUNES! What did I tell ya? Pure 100% LOONEY TUNES! Look at the horse’s face in panel 2. This is a TOTAL Yosemite Sam moment, burnt facial hair and all! Again, in the middle of a serious scene – a bounty hunter facing blowback from his target – Tezuka opts to resolve the conflict like a Warner Bros. cartoon. You can almost hear the horse yell “Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!” as he runs away. The master is not only having fun, he’s writing a love letter to cartoon funnies and speaking the fan’s language. What a treat.
Next totally purposefully sought out image:
6. MONSTERS! SUPER VILLAINS! SUPER POWERS! Got it fanboy? It’s all here! If you love super-powered conflicts, then brothers and sisters, this book has got it! In spades! And it’s not just the Buddha and his god-like powers. There are characters with super-strength, psychic powers, invulnerability, heightened senses – it’s like the X-Men! Only with dead characters staying dead (mostly). Don’t be afraid! Check it out!
9. ACTION PACKED!
11. AND JUST PLAIN BEAUTIFUL…
How many more words could I use to make this meaningful? What other comics qualities do you need me to sell you? The story flows easily, a real page turner beginning to end, intricate subplots woven in perfectly, victories and defeats, deep human drama, impeccable draftsmanship, hits every note, every goddamn note there is.
Except color. I want to thank Tezuka for not doing this in color. My head would probably have exploded. I am begging you, read this book, the best comic I have ever read – PLEASE!!!
Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read more of Miguel’s comic book recommendations.