Reader Rob Acosta asks, “What inspires you to write a column about any particular comic? Do you just randomly find stories or do you plan ahead?”
What a great question to kick off this week’s column, Rob! It’s almost like I was begging for questions on Twitter or something!
Here’s me pulling back the curtain and revealing the McNugget extruder that makes this weekly column a reality: I often have no idea what I’m going to write about until Sunday night. Ideally, I would have something planned in advance, and take some notes on the topic, and prepare some research materials, and outline the most salient points I’d like to address. That’s how I wrote my Morrison book. That’s how I write my comic book history pieces for “Back Issue” magazine. And I’ve written a couple of columns for CBR that way, but after writing over 150 weekly “When Words Collide” columns in the past three years, it’s safe to say that 98% of the columns are either written off the top of my head in the hours before the deadline, or they are conversations between me and someone else that have taken place over email in the week before the column goes live.
I think about the column every waking minute, though. That’s the annoying part. As soon as I submit one column, I immediately begin thinking about the next one, and during the week, no matter what I’m doing — as long as it’s even vaguely comic book related — I think of it in terms of something that could be fodder for an upcoming column. But if I read a great graphic novel on a Monday, unless I write the column early (which rarely happens), my mind has moved on to something else (dozens of something elses) by the time I sit down to produce the newest entry for “When Words Collide.” So I’ve learned just to go with it, and not worry so much about thinking too hard about the perfect topic for the column. Usually, whatever I’m most obsessed with during a given week — the thing my brain returns to most often — is what ends up getting the bullseye when column-time rolls around.
But I do have a running list of column topics that I’d like to get to eventually, even if I almost never choose anything from that list. It’s a list I started when I first got the gig here at CBR, because I wanted to make sure I never ran out of topics to write about. So it has things like “Rick Veitch’s Heroica,” and “Metalzoic,” and “Wally Wood,” and “The World’s Worst Alan Moore Comics,” written on it. Half the things on the list have since been written about by Jog or the Mindless Ones or others who put serious thought into their writing about comics. I don’t even know why I bother updating the list anymore, now that it includes 60 or 70 topics I still haven’t written about. Because even when I could use it — like this week, when my original plan for the column (see what happens when I do plan?!) was to talk to my ten-year-old son about his experiences as a new reader with some webcomics like “Ninjasaur,” some of the manga he’s really started to immerse himself in, and some of the new DCU titles he’s sampled — even when that fell through because of a couple of baseball games and homework responsibilities and bed time, I still didn’t just go to the list for ideas.
I hit Twitter, and started fishing for questions. And I got a bunch of good ones!
(But if anyone does want me to do something more substantial — has a topic they definitely want me to write about — shoot me an email. If I have time, which may happen someday, I could do a seriously researched and well-thought-out column. That would be nice. Meanwhile, I will make a more concentrated effort in getting my son to talk with me about comics from a new reader’s point of view for next week. Look for it!)
Reader Brandon Thomas asks, “What is your favorite issue of ‘Casanova’?”
I completely enjoyed the first issue of the new “Casanova” series, “Avaritia,” by the way. It’s not my favorite issue, but I liked it a lot. It was easily one of the best single issues of the year with its contrast between heavy-hearted consequences and the narrative acceleration. It’s also the first issue of “Casanova” written and drawn knowing it will appear in full color, and that gives it an aesthetic unity that the recolored Icon reprints couldn’t quite pull off.
“Casanova” is one of my all-time favorite comic books, in case you don’t know. Along with Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” books, the first two story arcs of the Matt Fraction/Gabriel Ba/Fabio Moon “Casanova” plants its sharpened flagpost into the heart of the first decade of the 21st century. It is a defining work, not just for all three creators, but for a generation of readers raised on Howard Chaykin and Grant Morrison comics.
My favorite issue: “Casanova” #14, the concluding issue of the “Gula” arc, in which everything is not what it had seemed. That final issue, which I reviewed for CBR in one of only three five-star reviews I ever wrote in all of my entries for this site, featured its own built-in mix tape, with the song titles as chapter breaks. I listened to those songs all summer in 2008. That music, and that comic, still have a special resonance for me.
Reader Alec Berry asks, “What do you think of Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker? Awesome or Very Awesome?”
Very Awesome. It’s one of my favorite comics of the year. It will certainly be in contention for the end-of-the-year Top 10 when December comes to a close. Mike Huddleston is one of the few artists working in superhero comics today who seems to want to push the boundaries of the medium, visually. He’s on a tear with his “Butcher Baker” pages.
Joe Casey is channeling the entirety of pop culture into the series — a comic ostensibly about an old-time superhero coming out of retirement — and it’s both a commentary on the superhero genre, a reaction to the comics of the day, and a story about the artifice of machismo.
It’s the flip side of the “Casanova” 7-inch, written by Fraction’s former Basement Tape mentor.
Reader Jim Tout asks, “What other Kubrick film would you like to have seen Kirby adapt?
Jim’s referring to the Marvel Treasury edition of “2001: A Space Odyssey” from 1976, an adaptation of the Stanley Kubrick movie written and drawn by none other than Jack Kirby. I’m sure Jog or the Mindless Ones have written about it at length, and rightfully so. It’s a weird piece of comic book history, with the greatest action artist who ever lived drawing an adaptation of one of the least action-packed sci-movies of the 20th century.
If Kirby had adapted another Kubrick project, I would have liked to have seen his take on “A Clockwork Orange.” It’s the obvious choice, sure, but the Anthony Burgess novel created such a distinctive take on the future — thanks to its strong narrative voice, more than any specific details about the setting itself — that I would love to see the world filtered through Kirby’s pencils. He would no doubt draw from Kubrick’s version, but I can imagine that his visual portrayal of Alex and the droogs would give us a visual that could compete with Kubrick’s own. It’s utterly impossible to think about Burgess’s novel without picturing the portrayals and costumes from the Kubrick film. A Kirby version would give us an alternative take that would surely be more muscular, but would also be gorgeously epic.
And just imagine what 1970’s-era Kirby would do with the Ludovico Technique, especially if we got him the Treasury edition page size to work with!
Reader William Bradley asks, “What are your desert island top three comics?”
In the rest of his message to me, Bradley explained that I didn’t have to stick to single issues. I could pick entire runs or storylines.
But let me answer both ways.
If I were forced, as the flood waters raged in, and I could only save three floppy comics before rowing out to the desert island, I would take these three: “Ambush Bug” #3, “All-Star Superman” #6, and the Baxter reprint version of “New Gods” #1. Those are the correct three comics to take.
If we’re talking a giant stack of collected editions, lengthy runs that I could study like sacred texts during the long days on the island, I would take these three: all the volumes of “The Invisibles,” the entire Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run of “Fantastic Four,” and the complete “Love and Rockets.”
And while those are clearly the best picks, it’s just as likely that I would just grab whatever Milo Manara comics were lying around.
Reader Matthew asks, “Who do you want taking over ‘Hellblazer’ once Milligan wraps his run, and who do you see getting it?”
I’d be curious to see what Jonathan Hickman would do on the series. He would bring a unique perspective to John Constantine, and I’d love to see how his complex plotting would play out in the supernatural world of the Vertigo DCU. Of course, he’s a Marvel Architect, so we won’t see him write “Hellblazer” anytime soon, and if he leaves Marvel in a few years, I’m not sure that this series will still be around.
I’d also like to see China Mieville on “Hellblazer.” He did a short story as part of one of the anniversary issues, and though it didn’t show much of his talent, he is a spectacular novelist who creates these grimy mythic worlds that would fit right into the Constantine sensibility. But novelists tend not to make great comic book writers, so as much as I’d like to see him write the comic, I would also expect disappointment. Seems like a paradox, eh?
I have no idea what will happen to “Hellblazer” once Peter Milligan leaves. I suspect that the series has just as much chance of ending its Vertigo life as it does continuing with another writer. It may have cachet as the longest-running Vertigo series, but if “Justice League Dark” has any level of success, I can’t imagine that the company will milk a series like “Hellblazer” that sells 10,000 issues a month when they can do a Scott Snyder or Josh Fialkov-written “Constantine, Supernatural Investigator” series that will sell a minimum of 50,000 copies a month.
Finally, reader Shawn asks, “What is your most anticipated book yet to be released?”
It’s impossible for me not to say “Multiversity.” Grant Morrison riffing on alternate DC Universe concepts, paired with some of the best artists in the world? That’s the kind of comic book that could knock everything else off my desert island list.
But if it weren’t impossible for me to say that, then I’d say, “Whatever Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera have planned next.” With “Scalped” coming to a close next year, those two creators will be free to collaborate on something new. I’m sure they will. I know Guera wouldn’t have it any other way.
I can’t wait to see what it is. But, until then, at least we’ll have another three-quarters-of-a-year of amazing “Scalped” issues to look forward to.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of “Grant Morrison: The Early Years” and editor of “Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes” anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.