I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
I had sadly monochromatic taste as a comic book reader when I was a kid. That was of course understandable when I was ten-years-old and a nutso issue of Fantastic Four was enough to blow my little mind, but I never really evolved into the edgier, more mature fare theoretically better suited for my feebly adopted disaffected teenager mien. I knew a little bit about stuff like Cerebus or Love & Rockets, but, generally speaking, the only titles I bought that could be classified as part of the independent scene were still recognizable as superhero stories (or were at least crawling with ninja turtles). Some of this was due to a lack of ready access and some of this was due to the added cost of the indie books, but mostly I simply wasn’t daring enough.
That changed somewhat when I made it to college and could suddenly find clearly adult material in the variety of venues I went to in order to continue feeding my comic-buying habit. Even then, a dispiriting amount of my meager money went towards collosally dumb superhero comics from either of the big two companies. It often took a friend to make me realize there was something better I could be doing with my time.
My friend Jon and I bonded over a lot of odd stuff: ridiculous old sitcoms, the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs and the way beer started to taste even better at around three in the morning. We also gabbed tiresomely about comics, in part because we were both plowing through Cerebus at the time (it was one of the first indie titles I started diligently collecting in those college years) and we fancied ourselves quite the erudite scholars when it came to parsing the different allusions and philosophies that writer-artist Dave Sim was bringing to the page. We also sometimes thought the stories needed more fightin’.
Regardless, Jon was…well…cooler than me, and he had largely abandoned costumed titans slugging each other for panel after panel in favor of the wilder fare that was kept well away from the output of Marvel and DC in the comic book store. Jon insisted I was making a mistake because I wasn’t reading a comic called Eightball. Created by Daniel Clowes, the series comprised, at least at the time, several darkly comic vignettes packed into each issue, with maybe an experiment in longer-form storytelling such as Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron or Ghost World recurring in relatively short but consistently striking increments across several months. The sensibility in both the writing and the art was extremely distinctive, and the individual bits were often wildly funny, albeit with a pretty sick sense of humor. I’m can’t remember the first issue he showed me or name the point when I realized that I was hooked for good, but there was definitely a day when he and I were working together at the movie theater that was foolhardy enough to employ us both, and we were reduced to hysterics while reading a savage parody of old Harvey Comics characters like Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost. It was the unique reimagining of thoroughly harmless shape-obsessive Little Dot that decisively pushed us over the edge into breathless fits of laughter.
Clowes was shrewd and risky in constructing his fascinating longer pieces, a tendency that continues over to today. As much as admire that work, it’s the shorter, loopier pieces that inspire my greatest affection. They were often only a page or even a half-page, deconstructions of gag comics as much as anything. There were also warped autobiographical works that ran only three or four pages, and a few recurring characters, most notably a thick lump of a comic book creator named Dan Pussey, whose story became the conduit for all of the misgivings, resentments and stored-up outrage Clowes had for the comic book industry, especially its notorious history for treated those who put the stories on the page poorly. That was one of the aspects of Eightball that I always appreciated most, actually: the habit of taking shots at both the curdled dopiness of the comic book field and the tragic fanboys (like myself) who perpetuated it. Clearly, it was a type of self-loathing I could relate to.
Clowes kept Eightball going longer than I expected, especially given his relative success with having his work adapted into a terrific feature film (and then a far less successful film). By the time of the last issue of Eightball in 2004, Clowes had clearly lost interest in working in that form. The former grab bag feel of the title was gone. He was publishing fully-formed graphic novels in the comic book format out of habit, something which he essentially admitted around that time. He’s adjusted to life away from stapled periodicals and the work he’s created since is some of the best of his career. Even if I sometimes miss the bizarre oddities he used to pepper through his individual comic books, I’ll gladly trade it away for the ingenious sequential storytelling he creates now.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson