The Bricktosser

A place for me to rant, ramble and rave about all things comics related.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Big Pile o' Comics

Over the holidays I did something I really love-- I read a whole mess of comics.

Not just any random comics, but a whole series-- Quasar-- in a couple of days.

Now, most regular comic readers read their comics an issue at a time. Not all, but I would wager most do. However, that's not usually the way I expose people to comics, and it's not normally how I discover a comic. I either buy a book, or... I borrow a big pile of comics from somebody.

There's something to be said for reading comics monthly, hanging on the cliffhangers, watching things unfold slowly. Back in the Eighties, I read Watchmen an issue at a time, furiously rereading them in the intervening months looking for clues or nuances to the story. But there's also a great delight in diving into a huge stack, or a collection, and just consuming a huge mass of story all at once. It takes me anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to read a comic, depending on density, length, and my level of distraction. That's not very long, and I usually read many in a sitting. But when those many are part of one big series-- that's cool. That's special.

It's a little like time-lapse photography. Reading something it took somebody years to write and draw over the course of hours. Watching subplots sprout, bloom, and die. Seeing artists evolve their styles. Watching writers define characters.

Some comics are really meant to be read this way. I read From Hell over the course of the years that it was serialized, but it wasn't until it concluded (and I was hit with the full force of it in a rereading) that it became one of my favorite comics. I read Cerebus in fits and starts, as I could find chunks of it reprinted or get ahold of my friend Arnie's stacks-- but I gave it to my wife in a mass of the later-published Phone-Book sized volumes, and she devoured it. I think that's the way to read Cerebus.

When I sat down, I was going to write a series review of Quasar. Quasar wasn't meant to be read this way. It has some big arcs of subplot, but it's clearly an Ongoing Saga and not One Big Story. It evolves in purpose, from being an homage to the superheroes of sixites (particularly Green Lantern and Flash) to an exploration of Marvel's Cosmology, to well, a mess.

Quasar kind of lost its point after a while, the potential downfall of any open-ended story format. I think the series jumped the shark when Quasar dies for the second time and is miraculously restored by yet another cosmic force. It was cool the first time, but the series eventually started repeating itself. In the final half-dozen issues, the writer seems to realize this, as he retires Quasar's Flash-analogue sidekick off to the cosmos, exiles the love interest to a forbidden planet, and starts working on a new direction. But the magic had gone. And it was too late, the series was cancelled.

The cool thing about reading these stories all at once is that I got the thrills and fun, but missed the wading through the mediocre parts hoping it would get better, month after month looking to see if the old magic was back. I've been down that road before.

My final thought-- I think the trend is more toward this type of reading. More and more comics are published in trade paperbacks, and more people probably read comics this way than ever before. Perhaps someday, the blog postings will be about nostalgia for the days when people did read comics serially. But for now, for me, the Big Pile o' Comics is still the exception. And what a treat it is.

PS: Quasar teaches you about science!


Blogger CalvinPitt said...

There's definitely something to be said for reading a huge chunk of comics at once. Or even going back and reading comics from a few months ago. I find that sometimes when I do that I find all kinds of neat stuff that it turns out I liked that I had forgotten about, or that makes a bit more sense the second time around.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Leigh Walton said...

I've written some on this issue here. Take a look and feel free to comment, if you've got time.

11:00 PM  

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