So, although this blog isn’t filled with homoerotic Wolverine and Cyclops fan fiction, I do actually love reading comics.
Anyone reading this thinking my style/styles/stylings/musings/mutterings/rantings/ravings utterly high brow may be surprised to hear this [sic.]
HOWEVER! I worked, and still occasionally work, in a comic book shop.
“I loves dem THWACCCCKKKK! PHUMP! KRRACKKKOW! Sound effects over my funnies.”
This entry is in appreciation of DC’s [or Detective Comics’ if you’re from 1928] recent, and ongoing, interesting experiment: ‘Wednesday Comics’.
They ship into the UK on Thursdays but hot damn are they worth the wait of not torrenting a scan.
Not only are they one of the more interesting experiments in form – each strip of the 15 we get each week is on a practically broadsheet A3 page – but they’re also innovative in that they give artists and writers, who may not normally do a full series of a title, the opportunity to show their take on it while we get a new installment of 15 comics every week – that’s EVERY WEEK.
And it works.
So let’s unpack the form a little: each strip takes up an A3 page giving the artists and writers more freedom than your normal comic page but imposing certain obvious restrictions – one massive page, 12 installments and obviously no double page spreads; this leads to artistic choices which reinforce the narrative style they’ve decided to apply to the tale.
For example, the Deadman installments by Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck. Bullock and Heuck approach their story, ‘The Dearly Departed Detective’, as a piece of pseudo-pulp, detective noir and so use many of the massive pages to give us incredible flagpost images that take up the entirety of the height of the page while narrative and the occasional, typical, noir detective quip continues around them. This flagposting can lead to a horrific sense of dread and foreboding akin to the denouement of good detctive fiction…it probably also helps that there have always been femme fatales in Deadmans life or lack there of. However, it is also the use of stark lines, a peculiar 1920s aesthetic to figures and hair styles alongside heavy shadows – yes, even in the fiery pits of a demon’s personal corner of hell there are shadows – that really make each installment gel. After all, it’s detective fiction. This stuff used to be read out weekly on the radio by Orson Welles wishing he was The Shadow.
I’ll also quickly note the other major uses of form: Azzarello & Risso’s Batman fits a huge amount in to each installment; Arcudi & Bermejo’s Superman gives us a sense of gravitas to each and every image of Superman with its practically-full-oil-painting of Supes everytime we see more than his face; Busiek & Quinones’ Green Lantern takes Hal Jordan back to the 50s – in both chronological time and artistic aesthetic – when weekly comic strips, nowhere near as grand as this but weekly nonetheless, would have been produced; even Neil Gaiman, bless his gothy socks, is trying to play with form by having interjections from young readers who “…love Metamorpho!” Thus enabling us, the reader outside of the reader, to know that it is a knowing comic book drawn especially by the knowing comix artist Allred who is famous for his brilliant work on X-Statix. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop the comic being…erm…stilted but it is still a fair attempt at playing on the new weekly form and making the Metamorpho installments non-serious and self-referential. The old war comic, definitive 9-panel, selective-colour palette of Kubert & Kubert’s Sgt. Rock is also beautifully executed. There are more but these, for me, are those that stand-out from the good-to-excellent crowd.
Two more stand out for me, personally: Kyle Baker’s Hawkman and Paul Pope’s Adam Strange.
If I’m entirely honest, I think Kyle Baker’s previous work is just Godawful. No, wait. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Kyle Baker. I didn’t like his work on Critical Mass – yes, I read them, I worked in a comic book shop so had to know my Shadowline Saga in order to know that it’s mostly terrible – as it seemed plain and a little underwhelming; and I thought his own semi-autobiographical, cutesy stuff was just not on par. I’m a fan of fun, light hearted illustration and, for some reason, I just cant get on with the man’s usual work. And yet! His Hawkman is…is epic. Every shadow seems almost turned in on itself like the light in Hawkman’s headgear. His use of colour ranges from minimal to stark – unless there’s a worthy explosion, of course, but even then he’s restrained.
I understand that one of the points of Wednesday Comics is to bring back the FUN into funnies but DC are balancing a fine tightrope act of some fun, some dark and some simply mad-genius. Paul Pope seems to have encompassed all three.
Paul Pope has done a major comic book character before – one of the biggest, in fact – Batman. Batman: Year 100 was intersting and held some fine art alongside some good new ideas alongside the classic struggle of Bruce Wayne to maintain his sanity alongside his city however I did feel that reading it was somewhat like reading what an art director or a cinematographer to a film might create – all the colour range was shot down, the shadows [yeah, I know, who would have thought I’d complain about shadow in Batman] felt too comfortable [hah – got you, you thought I was gonna say the something else entirely] so comfortable that I didn’t appreciate them enough and I, honestly, felt like it was an interesting attempt but one that came unstuck. This lead me to reread Heavy Liquid in a similar light and become a little dismayed with Mr. Pope.
I am a fool for ever doubting Paul Pope’s talent.
He has proved that his talent is incredible with Adam Strange.
The use of bold but definitely sci-fi orientated colours; exotic animals pulled straight from Dune or Flash Gordon or even Star Trek convey to us, not just his excellence in sci-fi aesthetic but, the research he has put into developing Rann as a new world; updating some Joe 90, Captain Scarlet and any other late 70s puppet show wavy special effects for the zeta beam is an amazing touch; and finally, did I mention the colours? 😉 I cannot express enough how important his use of colour is. Had this been a black & white strip, I think I would not have been as impressed.
If you buy only one comic each week, make it the Wednesday comic for this alone. It is this step, mentioned earlier, of letting writers and artists who may not normally have the opportunity to approach certain characters that makes the Wednesday Comics so interesting.
Twelve issues is a fine starting point and I hope that my, admittedly somewhat zealous review, sums up the quality of interest in the 7 issues already released.
But imagine an annual testing ground for new writers and artists – sure, DC would never go for someone entirely unknown – with 12 issues where the most left-field but promising artists square up with some well-established and not-at-all-established writers to see what they’ve got to say. Innovative for the reader because we see fresh, weird and wonderful takes on our well established character interpretations and innovative for DC because they get to see who works and who doesn’t.
That may sound a little like a gladiatorial, darwinite stance to you, reader, but I’m trying to put myself in the place of a DC editor, “What’s worked in this run of Wednesday Comics thus far?” “What have been its biggest selling points?” “How do we get the readers to stay interested?”
They keep changing and aiding left-field writers and artists by introducing their work into, what Pierre Bourdieu would call, the dominant-dominated Field of Cultural Production and you’ll see a major difference – not just in their careers, but – in their work.
In short, DC’s Wednesday Comics can only be a good thing for the industry as well as for those creating the work.
Here you’ll find links to the IGN reviews, the Mania round-up review, and the Crave Online early review. It’s interesting to see what oushes whose buttons – I think that Kamandi is fun but not one of the best of the bunch and yet a lot of good folks think that Kamandi is one of the best, if not the best. The same goes for Supergirl. Perhaps more proof that the Wednesday Comics format works.