Guest 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.
I’m writing this on the eve of my flight to California, where I’ll be attending my very first San Diego Comic-Con. For those of you who don’t know, SDCC is arguably the biggest comic convention in the world, an event that attracts not just all the big comic publishers, but also television and movie companies – all vying for the almighty nerd dollar.
But, with all the craziness that’s bound to ensue, my main goal for this trip is oddly simple: I just want to meet Jim Mahfood, and Chynna Clugston-Flores. Everyone and everything else, honestly, would just be gravy. Why these two artist/writers? Because they’re the ones who got me into Oni Press.
The real mainstream
That phrase – according to Wikipedia, originally “coined by Stephen Holland of the UK comic shop Page 45” – has been used to describe the kind of comics that this 15-year-old company produces. They’re, from what I understand, comics that are for people who can’t drop obscure facts about Marvel and DC’s superheroes.
I prefer to describe them as the kind of comics that I never knew I needed.
Food One for thought
Though he now publishes most of his creator-owned stuff through Image, Mahfood (otherwise known as Food One) was the first creator to bring my attention to that distinctive Japanese-styled demon-headed logo. I’ve mentioned before that I was quite the Kevin Smith fan way back when, so the Clerks comic that he did with Mahfood was my initial foray into Oni. From there, I picked up Food One’s Grrl Scouts series and pretty much anything else with his name on it.
People always talk about how they discovered the punk rock ethos while listening to The Ramones or The Sex Pistols or The Clash. I discovered it while reading Mahfood’s books. His stories are straightforward. His art is gorgeously dynamic, yet also wonderfully simple. But, most importantly, his comics had balls and they were fun.
In the late ’90s, the publisher had an anthology series called Oni Double Feature, a comic that I owe a great deal to. Aside from giving me more Mahfood (in the form of a two-part Zombie Kid story), it also introduced me to other gems from Oni – like Chynna Clugston-Flores’ Blue Monday.
Usually described as Archie with more sex and swearing, Blue Monday tapped into my love for good teen movies (a love that lasts till today, mind you). It was what would have happened if John Hughes became a comics creator instead of a filmmaker and I loved every panel. But more than anything else, it was the first of many comics that’d introduce me to some really awesome bands.
Chynna’s love for The Jam was what got me into the band in the first place. Her love for mod revival culture continued in her Scooter Girl mini-series, which till this day, remains one of my favorite comics ever (and not just because one of its main characters was supposedly based on Parker Posey).
And then there’s everything else
Oni’s output of quality books certainly extends beyond the works of these two creators. Off the top of my head, I can easily and happily recommend books like Jen Van Meter’s excellent Hopeless Savages (about an incredibly loveable and genuinely sweet punk rock family), Judd Winick’s Barry Ween: Boy Genius (think a potty mouthed Dexter’s Laboratory), Brian Wood and Steve Rolston’s punk rock romance-gone-bad dark comedy Pounded, Greg Rucka’s espionage epic Queen and Country, and – of course – Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series.
But Chynna and Jim were my firsts. Not only did their work lead me to all those other great books, but pushed me headfirst into the whole world of indie comics (beyond The Crow and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that is).
Next time round
I mentioned a bit about how Blue Monday introduced me to The Jam. I’ll probably talk about more about the relationship between music and comics in the next edition. But for now, I’ve got some last minute packing to get done.
* I know, I know. That pun’s so cringe-worthy that it hurts. Look, it’s 3AM here and I’m too wired up about my flight to care.
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, and travels way too much.
The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are a set of awards for excellence in literature held annually since 1980. They are given to books published in the United States within the previous calendar year by a living author(s). Winners receive a citation and $500 for each category. The finalists for each category were announced recently, and the Graphic Novel category, the newest to be added to the prestigious prizes, has an impressive line-up. The Comics Observer looks at each Graphic Novel finalist in the build-up to tonight’s award ceremony.
Garden by Yuichi Yokoyama, as described by publisher PictureBox: “A group of friends is attempting to enter a garden just beyond a wall. When they succeed, the garden they finally enter is no Eden, but rather a massive landscape of machines, geometric forms and all manner of nonorganic objects. To his signature vivid visual style, Yokoyama has added more dialogue than in past works, fleshing out the characters and allowing them equal billing with his spectacular architectural creations.” Garden is the only manga on the list of Graphic Novel Finalists for this year (no manga last year). The story is essentially an excuse for Yuichi Yokoyama to draw whatever crazy thing he wants, as the reader is taken on a tour of a hyper-kinetic landscape with man-made objects intruding on nature.
For better insight on what makes Garden so special, check out Sean T. Collins’ interview with Yuichi Yokayama about the book and some of his past work, along with previewing six pages of Garden. There’s also a solid review by Douglas Wolk on TIME’s Techland blog which explains Yokoyama’s unconventional approach to storytelling, adamantly refusing to provide answers to his mysteries or much, if any, character development.
Three years in and the LA Times Book Prize has yet to award the Graphic Novel category to manga. As mentioned, there was no manga Finalists last year. In 2009, the first year for the Graphic Novel category, Taiyo Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster, published by VIZ Media, was named as a Finalist. Also a Finalist in 2009 was Bryan Lee O’Malley’s heavily manga-influenced Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe (published by Oni Press). Neither won that year. Tonight we’ll find out if Garden will be the first manga to win the Graphic Novel LA Times Book Prize.
Yesterday morning, the Hooded Utilitarian posted my list along with 21 others who contributed to a giant survey of comic book creators, retailers, publishers, educators, commentators (like me) and other industry folk from all over the world to determine the 10 Best Comics. In total, 211 people responded.
I sent my list on June 15, in response to the question, “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” I started my email response to the Hooded Utilitarian with the following: “I want you to know, this is IMPOSSIBLE.”
And it is. But despite that…
- Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
- Bone by Jeff Smith
- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
- Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
- Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
- Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
- The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Start clicking and see if something interests you.
There are plenty of comics that are just as good as the above that deserve to be listed, and even some that are better. But I had a few guidelines to help focus my list down to a manageable size.
First, I had to have actually read the material. Of the above, only Peanuts has material that I have never read. But I’ve read enough of it that what I haven’t read would have to be an absolute bomb for it to tarnish the goodwill. That means there was some material that I am fully expecting to love and that I love for its mere existence and concept that I had to leave out. I really wanted to include Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know on my list. It sits by my desk in my to-read pile from last year‘s Comic-Con.
Second, I leaned much heavier on the “most significant” portion of the question. As some have pointed out, the question asked by The Hooded Utilitarian is really three different questions which could result in three very different lists. Because what interests me is comics’ efforts to find new audiences, I interpreted “most significant” as the comics that have been most successful in winning over new readers. That was probably my biggest barometer. Each of the above have helped establish a genre or publishing strategy or level of skill that has expanded what comics can be and are today. In retrospect, I might’ve leaned a little too heavy on modern material but I think some of the most innovative and inclusive material is being made now (if you know where to find it).
OK, so let’s hear it. What did I miss?
(More random thoughts after the jump.)