basement tapes 64 o joe casey & matt fraction
Sometimes, this is what happens when two writers e-mail each other:
An ongoing conversation behind closed doors, equal parts experience, opinion, critique, and outright rambling, THE BASEMENT TAPES are an attempt to present somewhat serious discussion about the somewhat serious business of comicbooks between two writers waist-deep in the perplexing and ever-evolving morass of their own careers.
It’s the mossst wonderrrfullll tiiiiiime of the yeaaaaarrrr…
That’s right, kids– It’s that most wonderful time of the year, when Stuff Is Ending and people get all into making lists. Bests of, worsts of, whatevers of– this is that time when we Look Back at stuff that happened and turn that stuff into content. Content on the internet. The internet… that people read. People like you.
Anyway. Here’s some of our favorite actually-have-staples comic books from the past calendar year. Some of it you’ve certainly heard of, some of it maybe not. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll convince you to check out a book you’d otherwise ignore. So here it is– a love letter to 2005.
CASEY: Okay, since it’s the last Basement Tapes of 2005 (hello, holidays!), I figured we’d do what most folks are doing and give our own “End of the Year” lists. And I don’t know how much of a twist this will be, but how about we stick to each of us naming what we think were the three best single issues that came out over the past twelve months. Which comicbooks gave us the best bang for the buck? What books did we appreciate as fellow writers in this industry? Excluding our own, of course… and excluding Clowes’ “Death Ray” issue of EIGHTBALL (which is way too obvious to claim as the Best of the Year)…
So, let’s get this pawty stawted…
FRACTION: I loved what Williams was doing with his style in each chapter and genre. And I thought it was fantastic to see the guy coming off of PROMETHEA, still radiating waves of heat from his head and his hand, and hooking up with Morrison. They seem made for one another, don’t they? Williams is almost like an architect, the way he builds his pages; for him to hook up with a writer like Morrison who so loves doing that 2D as 3D/3D as 4D thing with his pages is a match made in heaven, as far as I’m concerned. Look at the way the panels turn into puzzles and mazes on the fourth page, the patterns and icons the panel arrays adapt before the Miracle Mesa showdown, the pure chaos of the last double-page spread. I know Morrison and Quitely are the Lennon/McCartney of the superhero mainstream at the moment but, goddamn, I’d love to see these two work together again.
As big of a year as it was for Darwyn Cooke with NEW FRONTIER, the news of his upcoming SPIRIT thingy, his issue of SOLO, etc.– or Alex Ross, with the MYTHOLOGY book, JUSTICE, the Actual Mainstream Coverage– this is what I want my superhero comics to look like and to read like. This is the visual fuel I want to burn into my eyes.
I think the reaction to ALL STAR SUPERMAN #1 was wildly fucking over the top– as extreme in its overreaction as this book was in its neglect. Fuck HOUSE OF M! Fuck INFINITE CRISIS! Why aren’t more people reading SEVEN SOLDIERS?
I’d tuned out of PROMETHEA somewhere in its teens, dropping the book and promising myself I’d pick it up in collections. So I can’t speak to the larger storyline whatsoever; I don’t know if #32 is a satisfying resolution to four years of story or anything else. But I found it a wholly unique reading experience in almost as many ways as it could be read.
CASEY: Ahhh… PROMETHEA. A thing of beauty that makes my fucking head hurt…
And what can I say about the art…? Ladronn has moved so far beyond the work he was doing when we were both cutting our teeth on mainstream comicbooks on Marvel’s CABLE series. The scope and the scale of the world that Ladronn creates with his art… and it should be noted that it took a publisher’s commitment outside of the DC and Marvel camps to allow him free reign to fulfill his potential. Anyone who sees things like his OMAC covers and now his HULK covers aren’t even seeing one one-hundredth of Ladronn’s ability to render a complete environment that, despite the animal characters that populate it, is more believable than just about anything you’ll find in modern comicbooks.
Richard’s staked his claim this year as a bona fide publisher, between Steve Seagle’s SOLSTICE graphic novel and Duncan Rouleau’s upcoming NIGHTMARIST… but it’s MYSTERY CITY that truly defines Richard’s aesthetic. Probably because he created that world, those characters, that mystery… and Ladronn actualizes it perfectly. We’re seeing a sci-fi classic being built, one-shot by one-shot. it may seem slow in coming now… but when it’s all said and done, this thing’s gonna’ last forever. It’ll be on everyone’s bookcase, I guarantee it.
And, because I’m that kinda’ guy… the Diamond order code for MYSTERY CITY is #MAY052371. So go bug your local retailer to order a copy if you don’t have it already, folks.
FRACTION: I’ve not read MYSTERY CITY but I thought both NATURAL SELECTION and ELEPHANTMEN were great fun.
And, yeah, man, Ladronn is just from another planet. Like a bit of Juan Gimenez from METABARONS is about the closest analogue I can find but that’s unfair to both of them, maybe. The guy just puts stuff down on the page unlike anyone else, anywhere else.
The SOLO book has been on an awesome roll (Chaykin! Bernet! Cooke! Allred!). Three cheers for Mark Chiarello for pulling it off like he does.
CASEY: Oh, shit yeah. Paul Pope’s SOLO. Fucking great one. Bring on BATMAN: YEAR 1,000…!
Okay, here’s one from the trenches. Because, y’know, when a good single issue of a monthly pops out, it deserves our respect…
The emotion that Steve Epting conveys in that simple moment (“Who the hell is Bucky?” Hell, yeah!!!) involves a subtlety that so many artists just don’t seem to grasp. Epting is an absolute natural at those subtleties, but he also brings the bombast like no one else working in monthly comicbooks. Epting is an underrated master at what I’ve dubbed “heroic realism”.
Slowly but surely — and apparently under a lot of retailers’ rader (or the book would be selling much better than it is) — these guys are building a story issue-by-issue that will undoubtedly be looked at in retrospect as one of Captain America’s great sagas. And we’re not getting very many bona fide “sagas” in the mainstream these days. It’s all about Events, I guess… but I’ll take a saga over an Event any day of the week.
Alright, man… roll out your final pick.
FRACTION: It was hotly contested over here at Fraction HQ. We’ve polled and re-polled and re-re-polled the judges and navigated some tricky political waters– so here’re the results and the whys and wherefores:
FELL #1, by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith. As predisposed the work of the creative team as I am, everything about FELL clicked hard from the get-go. As a new title launch, a new concept, and a new format, everything about FELL made me jump up and down. Ellis is throwing down some of the formal fireworks and skills his superhero mainstream work rarely allows for, and Templesmith is more than game to keep up and is obviously bringing his A-game. That the market’s rewarded FELL by plowing through two printings and now starting on a third feels like vindication on several levels. It couldn’t be happening to a better book.
We decided that since both Ellis and Templesmith are friends– and hell, Ben and I have worked together before– that we’d recuse ourselves from considering it.
Next came GØDLAND #2, by yourself and Mr. Tom Scioli. Now, I liked the first issue an awful lot but it was #2 that pushed me into the realm of GØDLAND S8perfan. I think it was the crater that shattered the Great Wall of China that did it– if there’s a declaration of intent for that book, to me, it was that image. Page 7, panel 1, GØDLAND won my heart. That Basil Cronus would later get high by soaking his skull in that giant spacedog’s blood or whatever was icing on the weird cake. I think I told you that, the next time I picked up GØDLAND was at the same time I picked up ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN #2 and, when I got home, it was GØDLAND I read first. Which, I mean– come one. Dude, I read your book before the Frank Miller BATMAN book!
Again, we disqualified the book due to our personal relationship.
What was left? ROCKETO made a strong stand– how great was it to come out of San Diego and realize you’d missed the big buzz book? And how gorgeous is it? DESOLATION JONES was there, but we threw it out of competition because, the Ellis thing and well, JH Williams is pretty well represented thusfar. Still: the next PREACHER is here, folks. Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s LOCAL made a strong go at it, but since I’ve only got the first issue to date it seemed premature, somehow? Hey, nobody said the rules have to make sense, folks. INFINITE CRISIS, just for the buzz it was able to generate? No. What about Christopher Mills and Rick Burchett’s GRAVEDIGGER: THE SCAVENGERS? Even though I only got it in January, I think it actually came out last year.
CASEY: Oh yeah, the collected BLACK HOLE hardcover is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for ’06, don’t you think? Burns is an indy master who, unlike guys like Los Bros Hernandez, Harvey Pekar and Peter Bagge, you don’t hear a lot of talk about in the comicbook mainstream arena. That’s our loss…
So, six single issues that pretty much cover the range of what comicbooks do best, wouldn’t you say? Crosovers and Events notwithstanding, I’d hold those six picks up to any year’s “Best Of…” with pride and enthusiasm.
There’s life in the old girl yet. Comicbooks, that is…
FRACTION: Your mouth to God’s ears. Onwards and upwards…
CASEY: 2006. Fucking hell…!