Evan-JOE-Lical Comics Club Part I: THE BEGINNING

I was sitting in a shithole of a Manhattan dive bar once frequented mostly by collegiate assholes and now simply by assholes. It was the sort of place not even I drank from the taps, so the Abita was from the bottle. To make matters worse, they had thrown some blow-out of a party the night before, depleting the bar of all bourbon while adding to the overall stench. Tequila it was to be on that cold winter's night, notebook serving as a holder of both notes and drinks.

I was writing again. Point of fact, I was writing for Comics Should Be Good again. It had been some time, but some ideas say "fuck you" when you try to push them away, so best let them run their course. See, I really liked Kelly Thompson's Girls Comics Project and Comics Project. I haven't blogged much about comics in quite some time because I feel I've mostly said what I have to say about them. Aside from the occasional "Oh, man, that was awesome," not much strikes me as very post-worthy. If I want to discuss comics, I've got gentlemen like Misters Cronin and Cox readily at my disposal.

But the thoughts of this sort of green crew of fresh-faced folks ready and willing to give comics a shot ...now these were interesting to me. And I knew I had plenty of friends who had expressed interest in comics, so after talking with Kelly for a bit I decided to branch out and try a sort of "in person" version of her project. I sent out an email to a few friends here in the city to see if anyone would be interested in getting some drinks, going to a comic shop, getting more drinks (perhaps with solid food involved), and later having a conversation about the comics they picked.

The response was great, but the logistics as the holidays approached were daunting. So we started small: three dudes and three ladies. Most of us met at the aforementioned shithole, while others met up at Forbidden Planet near Union Square in Manhattan. No joke here, the Planet is a hell of a store with a great selection, a great variety,and a knowledgeable staff.

I immediately saw a mistake ...I had, wanting to avoid the Wednesday rush, taken my group on a Tuesday. Well, the first few racks normally full of the latest weeks' worth of comics were empty for the coming re-stocking. Nonetheless the overall impression was "overwhelmed," and not in a bad way. These folks all had varying degrees of familiarity with comics from casual fan to former reader to complete virgin. Few were ready for the sort of graphic overload your first trip to a comic shop can be. Soon, though, we settled in and started shopping around. I was amazed by what everyone picked; almost universally they picked Really Great Comics. You'll find out about the rest in later installments, but let's get started with their thoughts. First up we have Alex and Andrew, two buddies of mine from the fake i.d. times (or, rather, the "knowing who doesn't card" times).

Alex D, take it away.

Name: Alex D

Age: 33

Occupation: Digital Marketing Exec

Place of Origin: The Illadelph

Website/Project/twitter/whatever you'd like to plug: @AlexDubin (Joe's note: worth reading if only for his backlog of observations from his Italian honeymoon)

What sort of history do you have with comics? Did you ever read? Do you sometimes read? I've always liked the idea of comics, but I don't really love reading them.  I love the X-Men, but I don't read X-Men comics, etc.  The comics I do read, I tend to wait until the trade comes out, so I can put it on my bookshelf, and I tend to gravitate towards the more literary stuff e.g. From Hell, Fables, Maus, etc.  I also think that reading Watchmen went a long way towards ruining other comics for me, because I keep waiting for them to be as good, and they never are.

What would you say you nerd out for in life? (Football, cooking, porcelain miniature houses) Any particularly nerdy lengths you've gone to/stories to tell? Certain video games, certain fanboy movies (Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, etc.).  I like role-playing video games.  I like the Philadelphia Phillies.  Also, cheeseburgers.

What comic did you choose? Sgt. Rock #1 (The recent re-release of the Azzarello/Kubert stuff)

Why did you choose it? I chose it because it was #1, so I figured I wouldn't be lost, and because I was interested in the idea of a really old comic that lives firmly in another era being "rebooted" for today's generation.

Now here is the meat of the piece, which I hope might involve some back-and-forth questioning. What did you like and what didn't you like about:

the story - The story was pretty standard war stuff.  There was a bit of a mystery whodunnit, but it wasn't resolved in the issue I read, and I didn't care enough about it to want to read more.

the art - The art was sort of minimalist which was an issue when everyone's wearing the same outfits.  It was very hard to tell people apart.

the dialogue - Typical war stuff.  Nothing memorable.

the characters - Tough to tell apart, which was a problem.  There were however two older, "origin stories" that were packaged in the pack of the comic, which were about how two of the characters got their names.  The stories were uncomplicated and felt like they were written for kids (which I'm sure they were), but they also had a clean throughline and a simplicity that I appreciated.  They were fun to read, which I can't say for the main comic.

the concept - The issue was that if you're going to reboot a WWII-set military comic, you need to do something interesting with it, and while I admittedly don't know the history of such comics, I felt like this comic didn't have anything interesting going on.

Would you want to read more from this writer? This artist? Of this book/story? Does this make you think of something else you'd want to try?

No, no, no, and no.

Poor Alex was the one person whose choice didn't thrill me, and of this batch, at least, had the most experience with comics. We tried talking about the comic more, but it's just not one that has a lot to be said about. He did find it surprising and interesting that the same man drew both the "new" story and the older bits in the book, and said that this made him appreciate the art more, at least. However, he still expressed interest in participating in the next meeting anyway, saying he'd like to try a superhero comic next time, "because at least that will be fun." We'll see ...

Meet the favorite palooka you never knew you needed, folks! Give it up for Andrew!

Name: Andrew H

Age: 34

Occupation: Senior Account Director for an advertising agency

Place of Origin: The exotic land of New Jersey (editor - the dancers certainly are exotic)

Website/Project/twitter/whatever you'd like to plug: Mind your own business.

What sort of history do you have with comics? Did you ever read? Do you sometimes read?: Grew up primarily reading Batman comics. These days I read graphic novels a few times a year, but nothing on a regular basis.

What would you say you nerd out for in life? (Football, cooking, porcelain miniature houses) Any particularly nerdy lengths you've gone to/stories to tell?  Movies and TV, some nerdy highlights include Doctor Who, Harry Potter and Star Wars. And anything time-travel related.

If you could travel through time, when would you go? Would you try to change things?  I think the responsible thing to say is that I would go back in time and try to stop a horrible event. But I know in reality I would just go to the future, buy a sports almanac and then come back and make lots of bets. Biff Tannen knew what he was doing. (editor - Little known fact, Andrew went back in time and invented spaghetti)

Tell me about He Man. He-Man is the Master of the Universe. I had the toys, I had the bedsheets, I had a birthday cake featuring him. (editor - Andrew seems to be hiding something. Must investigate.)

If you drank with us, what did you drink? I was sober. This time.

What comic did you choose? The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola

Why did you choose it?: I knew there was an animated show based on the story, but never saw it. Wanted to read the comic first.

Now here is the meat of the piece, which I hope might involve some back-and-forth questioning. What did you like and what didn't you like about:

the story - Thought it was hilarious. Brilliant idea.

the art - I like the style, it has a look that makes it feel older and of the time-period the story is set (mid-1800s). Also, this was published in 2002 and seems to have been foreshadowing the current trend of Steampunk - lots of quirky machines and inventions appear in the story.

the format - Format is good, but I wish it were longer. It seems like this could be the first of a lot of stories.

the dialogue - I laughed out loud several times, which I believe is a good sign.

the characters - With character names like Emperor Zombie and Mr. Groin, what's not to love. And Abraham Lincoln shows up as well.

the concept - Overall I loved it.

Would you want to read more from this writer? - Yes, very funny stuff.

This artist? Of this book/story? Yes, but sadly I think this is the only book.

Explain more what about the story and art you liked so much. The story is just bizarre and funny, which I enjoy. The entire set-up is so out there, I was surprised by every element. The characters, the way they looked, the dialogue. Because so many weird things are set-up, it's impossible to make any guesses as to how the story is going to play out.

Did this fit or contradict your idea of comics? Well, from reading other graphic novels I don't really have any specific guidelines for comics in my mind. But I will say out of graphic novels I read, I think this story is perfect for the format, meaning if this were just a short story or book it would not be as humorous without the images to accompany the story.

Who would you recommend this for? Someone who enjoys bizarre, funny, off-the-wall stories about robots with screw-on heads. So basically everyone.

Any scene that sticks out? Well, I don't want to spoil anything for those who have not read it, but there are a few times a character has a great single reaction close-up, with no dialogue. I think those moments were my favorite because they were so simple, so funny and I could tell what the characters were thinking without any words.

Does this make you think of something else you'd want to try? Nothing particular, but I would be up for any recommendations of other absurd tales.

OK, CSBG folks, anything to ask of these fine gentlemen? Anything to recommend? This is just the first installment from the first trip ...the girls and Bill, my personal favorite softball homerun king, will be giving their thoughts on their books soon. And I bought each participant a first issue of one particular mainstream superhero comic I really enjoyed, so I'm looking forward to a roundtable discussion to see if what I think is great about that genre translates to civilians. Hope you enjoyed!

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