THE FIFTH TASTE
After the four tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, and salt, there is a fifth taste.
Hypothesized, postulated, tested, and then finally verified in 1905, this fifth taste is called "umami."
Umami is why a frosty Corona tastes better with a wedge of lemon stuck in the bottle. Umami is why a shot of whisky hits the spot even when you're bandaging your skinned knee and bemoaning the loss of your favorite pants in somebody else's bathroom. Umami is that sprig of mint, that dash of cinnamon, that icing on the cake.
It is that quality of deliciousness that makes things just... well... better.
I've been going to comic book conventions since I first made my poor parents drive me from our home in rural Vermont to Albany, New York, for FantaCon '79.
I've gone to at least two shows a year since then (many more per year when I was in college), and you have to admit that that's a lot of comic book conventions to go to in those 22 years.
The last six years or so, I've been attending cons with a professional eye. This puts a bit of a different spin on things. I never attend panels anymore, unless I'm on one, as I'm usually manning the AiT/Planet Lar booth. If I get to walk the floor at all, it's usually because I'm taking the long way back from the bathroom.
I'm not complaining, exactly; it's just that some of the fanboy fun I used to have, trying to find that copy of Marvel's Star Wars #53 I had a letter in, or finally finishing my Miller Daredevil run, or watching Moebius draw Arzach on a backing board in less than ten seconds...
...well, I don't get to do those sorts of things much anymore.
In talking over the matter with AiT/Planet Lar co-publisher Mimi Rosenheim, we decided that what our con experience needed was a dash of umami...
...so we decided to forgo a booth at WonderCon and walk the floor as fans of the artform we love. Just a little sorbet to clear the palate.
Our publishing house still had a presence thanks to my good pal Rory Root, proprietor of one of the best comic book stores in the country, Comic Relief. Rory stocked all of our trades, and made a place for Sky Ape writer Phila Amara, Double Image's "The Bod" artist John Heebink, and me, to sign autographs. Rory, and his able lieutenants Tyler and Eul, really helped me enjoy the show by giving us a base of operations without the added stress of manning a booth of our own.
If anyone else is getting a little jaded with comics, I suggest talking to Rory if you want to get your groove back. He's been at it longer than most and he hasn't lost his enthusiasm.
Another guy who hasn't been at it for as long as Rory, but who has enthusiasm to spare, is comic book dynamo Mike Brennan. Mike is the writer-artist-designer-publisher of Electric Girl, and lately he's been everywhere.
Mike's marketing has been such that you are probably aware that there is a comic called Electric Girl, but that's probably about it. Unless you live near a particularly good shop, chances are you don't know that there're six issues and a fat trade paperback featuring her adventures available.
Mike saw the lay of the comics landscape and instead of taking his ball and going home, he decided to do something about it.
If you check out comic book news sites on the Internet, you've probably seen one of Mike's banner ads. If you're a retailer, you've probably received one of Mike's genius flyers which tease Electric Girl #7 as well as provide the STAR code for ordering his trade paperback. You may have seen his display ads in Comic Book Retailer or Comics Buyers' Guide for the book.
You may have heard that Mike's been nominated for an Eisner in the "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition" category, and he's got my vote, I can tell you that.
But you may have never seen a copy of Electric Girl.
If you're getting a little jaded with comics, and you're tired of hearing about the latest non-starter from one of the "big" companies, or you're thinking about giving up the superheroes because "there's nothing good to read anymore"; if you're just looking for a piece of entertainment that's innocent and fun without being sappy and cloying, or if you're just looking to add a little umami to your comics habit, make another mark on your pre-order form because you've been using the excellent www.orderingcomics.com, right, and pick up the adventures of a teen with electric powers, the gremlin who causes her trouble, and her dog Blammo.
And when Brennan gets his Eisner, and signs that lucrative animation deal, and Blammo blimps hover over major sporting events, you can tell your friends about the fifth taste.
And how somebody somewhere is still making comic books that just make the whole thing worthwhile.
Mail about this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, but I hope it's nothing of an emergency nature, because I probably won't get to it until I get back from Pittsburgh.
In the meantime, make sure to tell us all, over at the Loose Cannon Message Board which one of your favorite books needs to be read by more folks, or what sort of thing you miss doing from your childhood.
If you're reading this on Friday, or any time this weekend, chances are I'm getting into more trouble at the Pittsburgh Comic-Con in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. I'll be hanging out at the New Dimension Comics enclave, so come by and say hey.
More info on the convention is available here.