This is a response of sorts to Carlo Vergara’s post on his blog titled “Floundering: A Comics Conundrum” where he notes his floundering interest in reading comics.
I too have experienced the same thing, but the strange thing is, it’s happened to a lot of people I know who were big fans of comics who eventually became comics professionals. There was a time I was so crazy about it, spending my entire allowance, and later my paycheck, making the trip to stores on a weekly basis and picking up anywhere between 3-6 comic books. I was so excited to follow my favorite titles that the wait between months was almost intolerable.
When was the last time I felt this way? I can remember it was the early 90′s when Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio were just making it big over at Marvel Comics. The disenchantment came very soon after. The reasons, as I’ve thought about it, are several:
The splitting of the Uncanny X-men titles into two titles was a major reason. By that time I had been faithfully following the story of the X-men on a monthly basis since 1984. After collecting an enormous amount of back issues, I’ve followed the entire story of the “All New All Different” X-men right from the beginning, with the Giant Sized X-men #1 from 1975. I never missed a month, even though there were revolutions, coup de etats, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and bankruptcy, I never missed an issue. The X-men was a lifeline of sorts, the single remaining constant that I could count on to be there for me without fail. I’ve come to know the X-men very well. They became almost as real to me as real people can be.
When Jim Lee left the title with issue #277 to helm the brand new X-Men title simply titled X-Men, and Whilce took over Uncanny, something changed. I gave each title a good chance. I bought the titles for more than a full year, but reading through them felt very painful. They were no longer the X-men I knew. They’ve become strangers. Imagine if one day you came home to your family and all of a sudden they looked different, they clothed different, and they talked different.
Change is all well and good and the X-men under Chris Claremont went through tremendous change. But even in real life, things can only change so much before they become unrecognizable. I mourned for the X-men then, and even though I’ve picked up the odd issue here and there, even when Chris Claremont returned years later, I’ve never really looked back.
Finally getting the chance to work on Wolverine, and the X-men myself, even with Chris Claremont, didn’t seem to change things. In fact, it probably made it worse.
But I hope people don’t misunderstand. It was an honor to work on the title. An honor to work with Chris and later, Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis. It was a great honor to work on characters I had grown up with. But knowing that it was MY lines that defined them, my lines that brought their images to life, was somehow even more alienating. Knowing it was me that was responsible for the inks on these comics, knowing that I helped define their look, brought me too close to the scaffoldings, to the back stage, to the inner workings of how comics are made. It produced a credibility barrier that I could not cross. I could not lose myself in the stories being told.
To this day, I’ve hardly read any of the comic books I have inked. Superman: Birthright, Batman/Danger Girl, Silent Dragon, High Roads, Wolverine, Stone and so many more.
And by extension, I’ve also lost interest in reading other comic books. I’d still read anything written by Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller or Alan Moore, but with them producing less and less comics nowadays, it’s like I’m hardly reading anything at all.
The 90′s also brought with it an incredible leap in the visual evolution of comics. With the advent of computer use in graphic arts, the computer has suddenly become the invaluable tool in the creation of comics. Finished comic art all of a sudden had a million shades of colors, with impeccable lettering and balloons. They hyper realism that the colors were suddenly capable of seemed incongruent with the black lines that the inkers were putting down. Inevitably, inks just had to give way and let the colors take center stage.
You know the look of that kind of comic book. Shiny and sleek, colored with seemingly every color and shade imaginable with blur, lens flare, texture and distort effects of Photoshop seemingly gone wild. I find it garish and overblown, overextending itself trying to achieve a reality that makes it even more unreal as a result.
The stories themselves have become too dark, too serious and all too adult. Comics for older readers are all well and good of course. Things like Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell, Maus and Miracleman are certified masterpieces of comic book literature, and they certainly have their place. But why insist on bringing such sensibilities to the X-men? To the Avengers? To Captain America? Isn’t that what the Punisher is for? What would the 10 year old me make of these adult X-men if this was the first thing I read at that age? I’d probably have run away screaming and scarred for life.
I’d go to Comicquest or Comic Odyssey or Druid’s Keep, or even the graphic novel section of Powerbooks or Fully Booked, and I simply can’t get excited anymore.
Except when I’m seeing compilations of comics I used to love reading. And after all this time, it has come to that. I’m currently collecting comics that I grew up with. I’m collecting compilations of the old X-men stories, compilations of New Mutants, collecting individual issues. And those are what I’m reading right now. That, and Lost Girls, which is such a brilliant piece of work.