CONFESSIONS OF A COMIC BOOK JUNKIE
I have too many comic books.
There was a time I could’ve never imagined saying that. But there it is.
Turns out, when you collect comics religiously for almost 30 years and hardly ever get rid of any of them, they kinda start to pile up.
Once upon a time, I lived with them in my parents’ basement (that’s right, I’m that cliched). Later, I had an apartment where they were piled high like some sort of unfinished Egyptian monument on one side of my bedroom. Now they’re all spread out in my own basement, some in bags that are yellowing and sticking together, all in longboxes that are beat up and dirtied from countless different moves.
Most all of them are still here. There’s the first comic I ever bought. “World’s Finest” #258, the cover now completely fallen off. There are books I got signed that still mean a lot, like the first issues of “100 Bullets” and “Preacher.” There’s a bunch of “Batman” and lots of “Fantastic Four.” Full-runs of all the various Teen Titans series. Lots of beat-up old “Doom Patrol.” “Atari Force.” “Blue Devil.” “US-1.”
In recent years, I have started to finally part with some things. Sorry, full-run of “Firestorm.” Fly and be free. Sorry, Valiant comics that were once so highly sought after but are now painfully worthless. Sorry, everything Image produced in the 90s. I sold all my “Ultimate Spider-Man” issues so I could afford to take my future wife out on our first date. I sold all my McFarlane “Spider-Man” and took the money straight to the comic store to buy more stuff.
For years, I didn’t own a decent couch or a matching set of silverware, but I’ve always had a full-run of “Hellblazer.”
There are some books I can never get rid of, that I’ll take to my grave. “The Invisibles.” “Starman.” “Strikeforce: Morituri.” “The Hands of Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu.” “Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja.” There are lots of other books I hang onto, thinking I may need them for work someday.
With the coming of my career in comics, a magical change happened to my collection. I went from being a guy with way too many comics and way too little else to his name to a working writer with an honest-to-god research library. Or at least that’s what I tell my wife.
The ironic part is that after finally finding a career in comics, it’s harder to find time to actually read them for pleasure anymore. I still love collecting comics. I love going to the store on Wednesdays. I love reading them whenever I can. There are just too many comics and not enough time. And sometimes when you’ve spent your whole day writing them, sitting down to read a comic is the last thing you wanna do. It’s like your friend who works at the pizza place who never wants to go out for pizza. You can, apparently, have too much of a good thing from time to time.
There are also boxes of my own stuff in my basement. Marvel, as a policy, will send you three or four copies of each book you do for them. DC sends you 25 — one of the areas where DC definitely has the upper hand on Marvel. I keep a box with one copy of every book I’ve ever done. Seems like just yesterday it was a short box. Now I’ve got a longbox that’s almost full. The other copies of my stuff just kind of pile up down here. So if you’re missing an issue of something I did, let me know, I probably got it.
If I ever turn out to be one of those guys who only bitches and complains about comics, who only talks about them to tear them down and seems to never take any joy from the medium they claim to love, I hope somebody comes up and slaps some sense into me. I am, and hope to always remain, a comic fan first and foremost. I’m a fan who just happens to write them for a living, not the other way around. If I ever lose the fan part of the equation, then I need to just move along and find something else to do.
I don’t think that’ll happen though.
As a writer, I missed out on the boomtime of the 90s, when guys were buying houses with the money made from one issue’s royalty check. But as a fan, I wouldn’t trade this era of comics for any other. Obviously things aren’t perfect these days. Comics have been hit hard by the economy, just like every other business, so it’s harder than ever for a lot of good books to find their audience. But still, if you can’t find something you like in today’s industry, whether inside the mainstream or out, then I’m convinced you’re just not looking hard enough.
In that spirit, as promised last week, I give you some of my favorite creator-owned comics of the last few years:
“The Sixth Gun” from Oni. My favorite new series. A surreal western about gunslingers and cursed pistols and undead Confederates and other things equally awesome. Features the best art of Brian Hurtt’s already impressive career and superior word-slinging from Cullen Bunn, who if you’re not already a huge slobbering fan of, you soon will be.
“Sweet Tooth” from Vertigo. Still one of my favorite reads each month. The most haunting and heartbreaking post-apocalyptic story this side of The Road. Jeff Lemire is the most exciting voice to hit comics in many moons.
“Union Station” from Oni. An expertly researched graphic novel about the events surrounding the real-life “Union Station Massacre,” a bloody shoot-out in 1930s Kansas City between the FBI and a gang of mobbed-up hoods. Written by Ande Parks, who also authored the amazing “Capote in Kansas,” and drawn by industry great Eduardo Barreto. One of those sorta stories that goes best with a vintage fedora, a fat cigar and a nice little snort of brandy.
“Proof” from Image. You had me at “Bigfoot wears a suit and kicks ass for the government.” Also, flesh-eating fairies. Alex Grecian is another writer to watch out for, as I expect even more big things from him. And Riley Rossmo’s pencils are wonderfully whacked-out and wild.
“Flourescent Black” from Heavy Metal. A staggeringly beautiful graphic novel set among the street gangs and high-tech biolabs of a futuristic Singapore. A big brutal masterpiece of a book. Think “Akira,” but with the savagery and sexiness turned up to 11. Nathan Fox’s art rips your eyeballs out and makes sweet love to them and then jams them back in their sockets all cockamamie. And you will thank him for it.
“Prison Pit” from Fantagraphics. Johnny Ryan’s work isn’t for everyone. But it most definitely is for me. This is a book so batshit awesome it ought to be illegal (and maybe actually is). Ryan is as original as they come. Thank God for that, ’cause I don’t think the world could survive two of them.
Everything from Traditional Comics. The works of Benjamn Marra, like “Night Business” and “Gansta Rap Posse,” are about as outrageous and profane and pure fucking fun as it gets. And he’s definitely at the top of the list of creators I would love to work with.
So those are my picks. Let me hear yours. Just what sort of precious little treasure do you have trapped in your basement, just like I do in mine?
No wait, let me rephrase that…
Jason Aaron is an Eisner and Harvey Award nominated comic book writer whose current work includes the critically-acclaimed crime series “Scalped” for DC/Vertigo and “Wolverine,” “Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine” and “PunisherMAX” for Marvel. He was born in Alabama but currently resides in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter (@jasonaaron) or his blog. His beard is bigger than yours.