Saturday, July 29, 2023

In Review: The X-Men's Krakoa Era

Psst. I'm still over on Substack, but I did say this would be my receptacle for whatever dragged-out, uncritical pop culture writeups I might feel irresistibly compelled to throw together. I'm afraid the time has come to use it in that capacity.

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American superhero comics have it really bad these days.

Dating back to the 1930s, the original business model of the comic book publisher was simple: grind out a slew of cheaply printed monthly (or twice-monthly) serials and/or anthologies, and sell them at newsstands and chain stores across the county. They were a popular sensation, but their long-term decline began with the dawn of the Television Age. As the world turned away from print matter, the scheme gradually stopped working. With newsstands on the decline and comic book shops decimated by the aftereffects of the Great Comic Crash of 1996, publishers compensated for declining sales by raising production value and jacking up cover prices beyond what a kid with a weekly allowance (or even an adult with a wage job) can afford to splurge on several times a month. As the once-mighty superhero comic became more of a niche product (and as the internet killed magazines in general), drugstores, supermarkets, and gas stations stopped stocking them. For the last decade and a half, their collected editions have been getting their asses kicked by manga, and now their digital editions have the webtoons juggernaut to compete with. At this point they're pretty much R&D divisions for Disney and Warner Bros' film and television studios, and comfort food for thirty-to-fifty year old males who collected them as kids and never fell out of the habit.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Locking the door but leaving the lights on

So I've got a Substack now.

I've already gone over the reasons for wanting to move on. Blogger is a zombie platform. Substack hosts a livelier scene, and its architecture is much more interlinked than Blogger's. Maybe—maybe—I can get involved in the "community" and make the acquaintance of people I vibe with. I'm probably kidding myself (writers are an off-putting breed, let's be honest), but one can hope.

And also: you can subscribe and get updates right in your inbox without having to check back every couple of weeks! HOW EXCITING! I understand Blogger used to be able to do this, but no longer. (Like I said: zombie platform.)

This blog is looking like a hoarder's house to me at this point, and I thought it might be fun to try something a little different—and with a more defined purpose. When I started this thing, the idea was to just treat it as a repository for whatever thoughts I cared to elaborate on, and lately I'm feeling like I might do better by limiting myself to a narrower set of themes. Restrictions promote creativity, after all.

Maybe I'll periodically return here to post fluffy stuff about video games, comics, etc. when I feel compelled to write it. (I really had a lot of fun scribbling about Shade, The Maxx, etc. over the last few months.) Heck, maybe I'll get tired of Substack and wander back by the end of the summer. Who knows?

So, again: Beyond Easy probably won't be updated for a while. Go here instead.

Hmm. The space could use a bit of gussying up. I'll get to it sometime.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Kontemplating Komix: I Feel Sick (1999–2000)

I will not be unconvinced that the title is an
End of Evangelion reference.

When we were talking about The Good Old Days some years back, my hometown friend Dave said: "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac was our Catcher in the Rye." The observation was too on-point not to get permanently stuck in my memory. Dave certainly has his moments.

Jhonen Vasquez's seminal indie comic (which ran for seven issues between 1995 and 1997) and its spin-off, Squee! (four issues, 1997–98) were a fucking revelation for kids like Dave and me—socially askew goth bois with a morbid sense of humor, and who maybe thought a little too highly of ourselves. Johnny not only made us laugh ourselves hoarse and inspired us to imitate Vasquez's idiosyncratic art style in our classroom doodles, but reaffirmed us in our belief (one not uncommon in teenagers who wore fishnet sleeves and painted their fingernails black) that virtually everyone in the world was stupid and horrible, and if we were fucked up, it was because we were surrounded by mean-spirited and obtuse assholes from wall-to-wall.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had every Johnny and Squee! poster on my bedroom wall. My wardrobe contained no fewer than four different T-shirts with Vasquez's characters on them, and I quickly wore them out and kept wearing them anyway. I ordered the Bad Art Collection from the Slave Labor Graphics catalogue and actually read it—multiple times. I sent Vasquez a long email and saved his reply on my hard drive. (I remember it involved Final Fantasy VII.) Yes, I was obsessed. Vasquez has that effect on people; he's like David Foster Wallace for young moth goths. I meant for that to read "mall goths," but I'm going to let the typo stand.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Kontemplating Komix: Empowered (2007– )

Oh jeez. We're doing Empowered? Okay. Let's talk about Empowered.

Empowered is...

No, damn it. No. Let's not start like this.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Mall & The Sprawl & The Automobile

Victor Gruen, from The Heart of Our Cities: The Urban
Crisis, Diagnosis and Cure

Forgot to mention that the good people at Sublation Magazine posted an essay of mine.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Kontemplating Komix: The Maxx (1993–98)

I'm really and truly at a loss as to where to start with this one. Sam Kieth's cult comic is a rabbit hole if ever there was one.

Sam Kieth? Who's Sam Kieth? Well, he co-created Sandman with Neil Gaiman. True story. Look at the illustration credits for the book's first five issues. He voluntarily left the book because he didn't think his work was a good fit—and, frankly, he was right. But the fact stands that Kieth was responsible for Morpheus' visual design. He also did some work for Marvel, turning in some absolutely baller art for the Wolverine stories in Marvel Comics Presents, and did some Detective Comics covers for DC. So when he launched The Maxx in 1993, Kieth wasn't exactly an unknown in the industry.

We also need to acknowledge the contribution of William Messner-Loebs, whose previous credits included popular authorial runs on Wonder Woman and The Flash. Loebs acted more or less as The Maxx's co-writer and Kieth's editor for more than half the book's run.

Let's begin with the cover.

We're at our local comic shop in 1993. We pick The Maxx #1 off the wall. We're conscious of the man behind the counter and feel his gimlet eye on us. As soon as we look at the interior pages, he's going to tell us that his store isn't a library and tell us to buy it or put it back. 

Let's say that we also notice issues #3 and #4 shelved next to it. Maybe they'll gives us a clearer idea as to what The Maxx is about.

Let's say we decide to start at the beginning and pick up issue #1. What sort of comic book do we suppose we're taking home?

Monday, March 13, 2023

The mummery of "You Cannot Walk Here"

The music I want to hear changes with the season, and during the fall and winter months I crave industrial. Since the clocks were set an hour back in November, I've been listening to a lot of Wumpscut in my little alcove in the office. I've enjoyed listening to KMFDM's Nihil all the way through at least once a week. Give me Skinny Puppy, give me SPK and Frontline Assembly and Leæther Strip.

Sometime in early February I started on a Birmingham 6 binge. Maybe we could say they spent their all-too-short career playing second fiddle to KMFDM, but I love them all the same. I kept their 1995 album Assassinate (a mixed-up stateside version of 1994's Mindhallucination) in heavy rotation throughout high school, but it wasn't until the days of file sharing that I came upon their epic sophomore effort Error of Judgement (featuring Front 242's Jean-Luc De Meyer).

A week or two I caught myself singing along to to Error of Judgement's fifth track, "You Cannot Walk Here." And why not? It's a jam. But listening the lyrics coming out of one's own mouth can be jarring, perhaps to the extent that some neurotic mutant might wish to issue an apologia for the track and his enjoyment of it.