Thursday, March 04, 2010

Comic Book Guy

I've been given an opportunity recently to delve into comic books, so after asking around some more knowledgeable people than I, I drove to my nearest comic book shop to get some titles and some recommendations from my local Comic Book Guy.

He was trying to help, he really was, and perhaps I gave him too vague an idea of what I wanted, but I learned a thing or two about asking a Comic Book Guy for help.

They take that shit really really seriously.

I know very little about comics so I told him I'd like something that would give me an idea of the pacing and structure of a graphic novel, something like A History of Violence. I probably mentioned A History of Violence four times during our conversation, and he waved me away and said I shouldn't read it. He pointed at some things I could read, then told me I shouldn't read those either. He wanted me to go home and do some research before I came back.

He was a perfectly nice guy, and once we started talking about movies we had a very pleasant conversation. And I appreciate that he didn't just pluck some random titles off the shelf and hand them to me so he could make a little money, but instead of consulting Wikipedia I was consulting him, the expert, and I didn't need the PERFECT comic. I just wanted one that would give me an idea of how you structure a story. In order to write movies you have to watch them. In order to write comics you have to read them. I need to read them. Lots of them. I was prepared to spend some money. Perhaps I should have just said that: "Hey I don't need the perfect comic. Just give me one that I might like. Here are the things I like." But he is the expert and I wanted to take his advice.

In the end the one title he did allow me to buy after almost sending me away empty handed was "One that's very popular with girls."

See, this is a lot of why I never read comic books to begin with.


  1. As someone who's written a zombie screenplay, you should definitely check "The Walking Dead" out.

    Other comics you might enjoy:

    "Preacher" -- bloody good fun
    "Y the Last Man" -- from former LOST scribe Brian K. Vaughan ("The Shape of Things to Come", "Dead is Dead," The Little Prince")
    "Kick-Ass" -- read the comic before seeing the film, of all these titles this one is the shortest with only 8 issues realeased.

  2. The Walking Dead was optioned by Darabondt I believe to become a TV series. Be interesting to see how he transitions it to TV.

    I think the biggest thing comics do differently than the cinema mediums is they tend to live and die by their visual metaphor.

    Also, regardless of genre, they tend to incorporate the "action" genre in some form. Essentially, what James Cameron does with everything.

    It used to be, comics would be a forum for things you couldn't possibly see on TV. With CGI that line is becoming thinner.

    The words and story also take a backseat to the artwork. As a comicbook writer, you really want to provide a story that capitalizes on the artist's skill, while pushing your story.

    Check out the stuff Nicklaus recommends. Preacher is one of my all time favorites. HBO was developing it as a series, but then decided to drop it under the impression it was too dark. Sam Mendes is now working on a movie version.

    Y the Last Man is darkly satirical. It's about the last man on a earth overpopulated with women.

    Kick-Ass is bloody as hell. The fanboy in me simply wants to describe it as "Awesome!"

    I'd also throw in Kirkman's "Invincible" into the mix. It's sort of a post-modern throwback to golden age superhero stories. Basically, very classic superhero stories with a very modern edge to them.

  3. Thanks guys. Next time I'll just go in with a list and not ask for advice from the guy.

  4. Next time, you should really go to a completely different store.

    That's the kinda of guy that damages the credibility of comics.

    Just the fact that he suggested you go home and do research suggests that he doesn't really get the idea that he has put himself front and center as an ambassador of comics and he can form some people's only impression of comics readers.

    If anybody in the comics store I worked at back in IL did that, they would be...first, mocked by the entire rest of the stuff as a dumb ass and the the owner would assuredly show him the door.

    I can give you the names of some GOOD comic stores if you need them.

  5. god, fuck that. I hate guys who do that.

    what kind of comics are you looking for? Superhero? Underground?

    basically my most favourite graphic novelist of all time is Daniel Clowes (best known for GHOST WORLD). His comics are very dark, weird, absurd and full of outcasts, weirdos, and perverts. There is excellent pacing in his graphic novels.

    I recommend GHOST WORLD, DAVID BORING, and LIKE A VELVET CAST IN IRON, along with ICE HAVEN. They all have nice interwoven scenes.

  6. Popular with girls?
    How could you now just laugh at that point?

    Seriously, find another store... and stop by to let the guy know you found a shop that's not afraid to take money from "girls."

  7. FABLES is worth checking out. The quick version of the premise is that all the characters from fairy tales - like Snow White and Red Riding Hood - are real and have left their homeland and migrated to the "real world."

    If you're curious to check out the more mainstream superhero comics to see how they're structured, then you'll have to be choosy, lest you pick up something that is dependant on a lot of continuity. Having said that, Geoff Johns is one of the best writers when it comes to structuring multi-part storylines and he's usually pretty good about trying to intergrate past continuity in a way that won't stop new readers dead in their tracks. His TEEN TITANS run is a good jumping-on point for new readers.

    Though it's controvercial, DC's IDENTITY CRISIS is another well-structured story. There are some powerful moments in it, despite and ending that's somewhat anti-climactic.

    Also, head out to Burbank and check out HOUSE OF SECRETS at the corner of Olive and Lamer. There are some friendly guys who run the place, as well as at least two girls. One of them, Amy, tends to be working on "new comic" day on Wednesday and she's very knowledgeable about many different comics. You and she would probably speak the same language.

  8. Anything by Alan Moore is going to be pretty stellar. Even if you have seen Watchman I would grab the graphic novel. The ending is different and the book is just a fun read interlaced with another story.

    Pick up Wanted. Again, the movie was good but departed from the graphic novel in a few ways. I enjoyed both.

    Preacher is great. I loved it. Raw in some places but that's graphic novels for you.

    Another series that is just starting is called Locke & Key. It is written by Stephen King's son (Joe Hill). The story is about a family moving into an old ancestral house that has magic keys stashed about the house. Each one opens a door... or other things... First two books are out. Great stuff.

    Just read Kick-Ass. That is some raw, fucked up shit, but I loved it.

    I don't collect individual (monthly) books. I like to wait for them to be collected into novels. If you know the title check wikipedia. They usually list the collected works.



  9. Hey, I'll pile on too.

    The Beverly Hills public library has a great graphic novel/comic book collection. Stuff I haven't seen anywhere else.

    It is, or was, in bookcases along the main corridor, on the right as you pass through.

  10. I say skip WANTED, since it trades on prior knowledge of the DC "Universe".

  11. I ended up with Y: The Last Man, Preacher and Incognito. They didn't have Kick Ass. I'll probably hit the library up for that one. The guy at the Burbank store was great.

  12. Glad to hear the Burbank guys steered you right. Nice bunch of fellas in there and some great discounts even for non-regular customers.

  13. I noticed that. I got a Vagina Having Discount.

  14. Anonymous2:05 PM

    Anything by Biran K. Vaughn, particularly Runaways and Y, is pretty stellar, as well Warren Ellis' Planetary, Mark Millar's Ultimates springs to mind as well. Legacy comics in Glendale is a pretty good place to find stuff.

  15. With all these comments, I'm surprised no one mentioned SANDMAN by Neil Gaiman. Personally I wasn't crazy about it (I think I was just too virginal to appreciate it when I read it), but that and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Mills are supposed to be two of the single most influential works of the last half-century. Plus, Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott have a SANDMAN screenplay adaptation on their website, ( which might be a fun intellectual exercise for you.

  16. The problem with DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is that it feels very dated. Also, while Miller's depiction of Batman was quite novel for the time, so many writers that have followed him have pulled from that interpretation that it probably will lose its bite for readers already familiar with the "grim & gritty" Batman presented in the Burton and Nolan movies.

    Though I would recommend KINGDOM COME which is an excellent graphic novel dealing with all the familiar DC heroes some ten years in the future. Superman has long since gone into retirement, as the rise of a newer, more violent breed of hero left him feeling like there was no place in the world for him. But, when a horrible catastrophe draws him back into action, several of his colleagues follow his lead out of retirement - even as it becomes clear that their return might spell doom for the rest of the world.

    It's epic - with really gorgeous artwork. And I think it feels less dated than DKR

  17. I hope you go to another store, buy a bunch of stuff (I'll recommend Criminal, and anything else by Ed Brubaker) and then go back to the original store, hold up the bags with your purchases, and say "Big mistake. Big. Huge!"

  18. I do love that scene. It would be kind of awesome.

  19. Great recommendations on here - I'll just toss out a few more that are worth reading to really get the breadth and depth of visual storytelling available: "Mr. Punch", "Watchmen" (how this wasn't mentioned before, I don't know), "Cages", "American Born Chinese" and "Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth".

    Of the SANDMAN books I'd recommend looking through "The Wake", "The Kindly Ones" and "World's End" for the variety of the art, "The Doll's House" and "Season of Mists" for the stories.

    And you *must* read _Understanding Comics_, by Scott McCloud. It is *the* book on how comics work, and what they can do that other media can't. Also, it's a comic book itself.



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