Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.
Last month, I talked about the strange relationship between comics and music. I suppose you could consider this month’s edition a sort-of continuation of that. Sort of.
(Call me Wayne Rée: Master of Segueing.)
Anyway, like music, the comic book medium has its fair share of “rock stars.” And I don’t just mean Gerard Way (but, man, that guy writes some seriously awesome comics). Our rock stars are those creators that are so big that they transcend the medium and have entered the consciousness of non-comic fans. They’re not just writers or artists – they’re personalities.
Mr. Sandman. Bring me a dream.
I’ll start with the obvious choice. Chances are, even if you don’t drop by your local comic shop every Wednesday or get into fights about whether Iron Man could be beat Batman (he can’t), you know who Neil Gaiman is.
He was the first true comic book rock star I’d ever encountered. I was 16 and (as already established multiple times) was trying out comics that were outside of the superhero realm. But the one genre I wouldn’t touch? Fantasy. In my infinite adolescent wisdom (which, as we all know, isn’t very infinite at all), I’d felt that it wasn’t something that I could get into. I’d been a sci-fi fan since I picked up my first Ray Bradbury book and I just didn’t see how I could relate to elves and ogres the way I did to rocket ships and dystopian futures.
“It’s not exactly fantasy,” my friend said as he handed me his copy of Death: The High Cost of Living. I was hesitant. I knew a little bit about Gaiman’s The Sandman, but I just didn’t see myself digging it. But my aforementioned friend was right. Gaiman’s stuff isn’t fantasy; it’s a little bit of everything.
Gaiman’s greatest gift as a writer is that he wears his influences on his sleeve. If you crack open a volume of The Sandman, you can see elements of fantasy, sure. But also of mythology, horror, slice of life, romance, and, yes, even rock n’ roll.
There was something in Gaiman’s work that could appeal to you, no matter what you loved. And he hooked me. He hooked me in a big way. How big? After I was done with The Sandman, I went out and scooped up all his prose books (Good Omens, by the way, remains one of my favorite novels ever). I started listening to Tori Amos, purely because I heard that she was friends with him. And well… I suppose you could say that I wouldn’t be here right now, if it wasn’t for him.
You see, Neil Gaiman was the writer that made me want to become a writer too.
The Sandman was published by Vertigo, an imprint from DC Comics. Like Oni Press, I started to see that brand as a mark of quality. That’s how I started reading Transmetropolitan – a series co-created by my second comic book rock star, the infamous Red Bull-guzzling scribe Warren Ellis.
No, he’s not the fella who works with Nick Cave, but his name might ring a couple of bells, I’m sure. For non-comic fans, he might be that columnist from the first few issues of the UK edition of Wired. Or the co-creator of Red, which was adapted into a film starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and God (otherwise known as Morgan Freeman). You might even know him from his larger-than-digital-life online personality, from his blog or on Twitter.
For me, while Gaiman made me want to become a writer, Ellis was the man that cemented that decision. Gaiman showed me how cool writers were, but Ellis, with Transmetropolitan – a series about a cranky, but brilliant journalist from a crazy, but familiar sci-fi future – showed me the power that the written word wielded. It crystalized in my young brain the idea that an article or a story could truly change the way people thought and could, in some almost shamanistic way, alter the world.
The Invisibles Man
And finally, there’s Grant Morrison. Because of that Vertigo connection, I tried to get into his The Invisibles way back when. But I just couldn’t. My late-teens-brain wasn’t able to wrap itself around that series in the same way that it could The Sandman or Transmetropolitan and I just dismissed him as that freak job that took lots of drugs and was a transvestite at some point.
It wasn’t until this year, really, that I decided to give The Invisibles another go. I enjoyed some of his stuff over the years – especially his wonderful We3 with visionary artist Frank Quitely and his surprisingly heartfelt take on Animal Man – but after reading his non-fiction, somewhat autobiographical book Supergods, I finally figured out how I could connect to The Invisibles.
Grant Morrison wanted to be a superhero. That’s why he created The Invisibles. Its main character, King Mob, was his kind-of avatar. His way to transcend the boundaries of reality and fiction and become a supercool superspy who did awesome things like fight aliens.
It was pure late-90s punk rock in comic form. It was wishful thinking taken to a whole new level. And it was something I could relate to. After all, almost every superhero fan wants to become a superhero himself.
So, yeah, Grant Morrison is still that freak job that took lots of drugs and was a transvestite at some point. But he’s so much more than that. He’s the guy that understands why I consider Peter Parker more of a friend than a fictional character.
Rock gods of the future
From the days of Stan Lee, comics have always had and always will have its rock stars. Gaiman, Ellis and Morrison are just the bigger names I could think of from my own youth.
You ask me, pretty soon, if they haven’t already, newer readers will be speaking the same way about guys like Matt Fraction (do yourself a favor and watch his hilarious and beautiful presentation The Batman Dreams of Hieronymus Machines) and Brian Wood (if The Invisibles was late-90s punk, then Wood and Riccardo Bruchielli’s DMZ is the politically-charged 21st century equivalent).
And Gerard Way too, but hell, that guy’s already a rock star.
Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection.
Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?
Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this week that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.
Disclaimer: While it may seem like it, I do not live in the future. For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.
Beyond the civilized lands of Erondàr, the Stone Towers are crumbling. The great monoliths are falling one after another under the wild thrusts of an evil force. The Ancient Prohibition that binds the Abominables inside their dark world is soon to be broken.
Alben the Wizard knows what must be done. He will send for Myrva, a young follower of the powerful Technocrats; he will choose Ecuba, the fighting nun, to protect him; and he will call back Ian Aranill, a former Empire officer — followed by Gmor the Orc, his loyal friend — to use his scouting experience.
Together they will face the Painers, the evil beings who still live in the barren Dragonlands. Can Ian prevail against the last, horrible threat they will be facing?
* Dragonero is a brand-new stand-alone graphic novel in the spirit of Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Some straight-up fantasy with a lush illustrative art style. Should be a good fix for anyone feverishly waiting for the release of the Lord of the Rings prequel The Hobbit to hit the big screen in 2012. Preview three pages here.
Warren Ellis’s fast-paced tale of intrigue and revenge is back in a new edition collecting the 3-issue miniseries under a new cover by Cully Hamner that also includes the script to issue #1 and never-before-seen developmental art by Hamner!
As a C.I.A. operative, Paul Moses’s unique talent for killing took him around the world, from one hotspot to another, carrying out the deadly orders of his superiors. And when he retired, he wanted to put his bloody past behind him. But when a new administration takes over the White House, the powers that be decide that Moses knows too much, forcing him back into the game against the agency that trained him.
Here’s some straight-up spy-thriller action. This was originally released in 2003 and was recently optioned as a big Hollywood movie, with Bruce Willis rumored as the lead. Here’s a 7-page preview in PDF.
Douglas Fredericks is a kid on a mission. His parents’ 15th wedding anniversary is just around the corner and he wants to create an extra-special present for them. However, his wild attempts at unique gifts are all shut down by his friends and neighbors, concerned that Douglas’ wild ideas go against what THEY say. But who are THEY? Why do THEY make the rules? And why does everyone listen to THEY?
And a straight-up children’s book. Here’s a 6-page preview. Looks delightfully odd and charming.
That’s it for this week. Not a lot of new and accessible stuff this time around but that’s comics for you. Let me know if I missed anything.