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Archive for the ‘Brendan K. Is Dead In Continuity’ Category

The 2010 Eisner Award nominations have been released, and if you’re like me, you probably had a mixed reaction, something along the lines of: “Hooray, comics I like! Boo, comics I didn’t read!”

…which is why you and I shouldn’t be chosen to hand out the industry’s most prestigious and coveted award: we’re amateurs! We’ve got way too many things going on in our lives that prevent us from reading all the comics we wish we could. I mean, right now I’m finishing a masters thesis, sculpting the minds of impressionable college students, and preparing a move across a state that’s bigger than most European countries, and you’re… making some sort of contribution to society that doesn’t require an orange jumpsuit on the side of a road, I’m sure. The point is that comics readers like you and me possess neither the breadth of familiarity with the vast quantity of books that are printed every year, nor the time to read them. Any picks we’d make for the “best” comics of the year would be a woefully incomplete selection from the pool of whatever titles we’ve both read and liked in the last twelve months.

Luckily there’s a group of dedicated professionals behind the most important honors in the industry, right? Well, yes and no. The truth is that while the Eisners are a fine and meaningful flagship institution dedicated to a criminally under-publicized art form, they’re far from perfect. It’s no crime. Every awards system has to revamp every once in a while, and when they do and Sandra Bullock can still end up winning an Oscar for the fucking Blind Side, perhaps they can revamp again. It’s just the way of things. So here now is my three point plan to help make the Eisner Awards the prize they deserve to be.

Point #1: Enlarge the Nominations Committee

The Eisner nominees are currently selected by some of the finest experts available from all types of comics people, be they from the industry, academia, retail or general readership. Their pedigrees are unimpeachable, and they should be, since these are the folks who have to read every submission for potential nomination and then whittle the entries down to just five nominees. Unfortunately, there are only five judges selected every year to comprise the pool of judges.

This is just comically small, and can’t possibly represent the full spectrum of styles and sensibilities spoken to by the massively diverse number of potential nominees every year. I understand that these folks are the crème de la crème, but can’t we keep an acceptably excellent standard in a pool of, say, 25 judges? Not every judge can have 25 years of experience running a store, but there are plenty of folks who have ten years and the time to read the submissions. Widening the pool would also increase diversity, meaning that maybe we could see more than one woman, or hell, anybody that isn’t white.

Finally, this diversity would also translate to a broader spectrum of experience in readership, thus hopefully limited the effects of conventional wisdom that sometimes plagues the Eisner nominations. Too often the judging committee keeps the old guard of previously-nominated books in play for slightly too long, taking away valuable spots from other deserving potential selections. A bigger pool of judges would keep long-running, previously honored books honest, and give every opportunity to elevate younger titles a fighting chance.

Point #2: Reduce the Voters Pool

Here we have a problem that’s the opposite of the nominations process. Simply put, too damned many people get to vote for the Eisners. Of the literally thousands of people will cast their votes for the dozens of nominees, how many do you think were made having read each of the other nominees in a given category?

The current system is susceptible to the same problems as the Academy Awards: with so many voters, it’s inevitable that most folks make selections that are woefully under-informed. Worse still, the system is hopelessly biased toward the major publishers. The companies that have the money to advertise titles and move the most books are more likely to have been read by the voters, crowding out smaller comics in the pages of the trades and capturing the attention of comics people at large. It’s impossible for the little guy to compete. Cutting the pool down to, say, a few hundred voters would likely yield results that better reflect the quality of the nominees than simply what’s been popular lately. The system would benefit from being slightly more selective in whom it allows to vote for the Eisner’s winners.

Point #3: Split the Categories More Fairly

The big versus small dynamic also presents another major problem: No matter if you limit the pool to some respectable degree, the major publishers have an unfair advantage in sheer number of books sold. If more of those books have been read than any other, it stands to reason that inevitably that will translate to those books being voted for more than the others. It’s just unavoidable. So what can we do?

Easy: Split the categories by sales. Books that cross the threshold of X copies shipped/sold (a number that I’m sure can be fairly chosen based on some metrics of sales figures from both the major and independent publishers) qualify for one of two designations: “Major” (X or more sold) and “Select” (X or fewer sold.) A title/writer/artist/publisher should not be punished for the fact that not enough people bought an issue, and this adjustment allows for the books that fall through the cracks to earn the same honor as the best of the big boys.

If this idea proves favorable, you can create as many tiers as are fitting. The true “blockbusters” can duke it out amongst themselves in one category, while self-published books vie for the win in their own. Parity in awards can be restored for quality instead of quantity, and winning an Eisner can truly be called the birthright of the best of the best.

If you’re not reading Graphic Content, Vertigo’s official blog, you probably should. That’s because along with news and previews from the favorite publisher of, like, all of my favorite books ever, Pamela Mullin and company thrown In some pretty sweet prizes every once in a while. Recently, GC had a contest to give away 20 copies of the Fables Deluxe Vol. 1 autographed by none other than series creator and writer Bill Willingham. The contest was X-Mas themed and everybody who entered went into a drawing for this fancy-schmancy hardcover, perfectly suited for prominent bookshelf displaying to make all of your nerd friends go super-crazy jealous on you. Awesome.

Now, Fables was the first book I picked up in mid 2009 after years of not reading comics, and it pretty much sucked me back into the world of all the great stuff that had been going on during my hiatus. It’s also the first title that I ever used to get my girlfriend into comics, so Fables even has a place in my heart now for bringing me closer to the woman I love, on top of just being generally awesome and already a personal favorite. (Oh, and it’s also featured fairly prominently on HF!C’s forthcoming “20 (Or So) Best Comics of the Decade” list. Stay tuned!)

Well, last month the drawing came and went, and…

Fables Hardcover

What would ya know?

Dreams really do come true, kids.

Brendan’s a speech/comm grad student somewhere in Texas and an old buddy of ours. He can drink two of us, hell – maybe all of us – under the table. He can make with the smart so we gave him a column. Look out for him to pipe up every now and then. You know, when we can convince him to stop working on his thesis or whatever.

War PowersEarlier this month, Vertigo released the seventh trade paperback of Brian Wood’s creator-owned title, the phenomenal DMZ. The seventh in the series’ run (which began late 2005), “War Powers” collects three story arcs spanning issues #35-41.

For those unfamiliar with my favorite ongoing title, DMZ follows Matty Roth, a young twenty-something photojournalist residing in and reporting on happenings from the island of Manhattan- now a demilitarized zone between the United States army and an uprising of separatist militias collectively known as the “Free States.” As both sides vie for strategic advantage over the now largely-evacuated city of New York, those who stayed behind live in a setting that Wood has described as resembling Escape from New York and Katrina-aftermath New Orleans, as violence and disrepair plague the front now known as “The DMZ.

As you might imagine, the series finds plenty of action in a world in which warring locals trade sniper fire, Central Park is patrolled by special forces deserters–turned-conservationists, and rocket attacks periodically rain down flaming rubble upon the lower east side. But the book is especially fulfilling when read as an extended parable, examining the effects of real life American military adventurism on civilian life. DMZ has become a standout comic in recent years for the ways in which it mines human drama from its premise. As Matty is pulled in every direction by forces political and personal, he grows up before our eyes right in the middle of all that chaos.

And such chaos is of a kind that many of us will find our generation defined by. I just turned 27 years old, which means I’ve spent essentially my entire adult life in the George W. Bush age. The twin towers, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, the entire War on Terror- they’ve all loomed large over my life. Yet as the decade has dragged on toward its close, even the most geopolitically aware among us have had a hard time making sense of it all. Our input’s been so thoroughly overloaded in recent years that we’ve developed an estranged relationship to the global brand of tragedy plastered over the daily news. As Americans, we know that we are somehow connected to it, and intimately so, but we still can’t really fathom it fully.

With the constant, deadening flow of information, it sometimes feels as though we’re expected to place everything into context in real time. But the truth is that only now, years after events’ first acts, do we truly have the perspective to produce a unique creative lexicon in which to discuss them.

It’s good that new works of art are being produced through which to share a cultural experience, rather than just slapping a Buffalo Springfield song over images of bombed-out buildings and dead bodies in the desert. When considering what art will help define our uniquely terrifying times, a few authentic-feeling documents do come to mind: The Hurt Locker and Generation Kill”, sure; and The Wire in a more roundabout way. But right there with (and arguably foremost among) them, DMZ takes its rightful place.

The three stories in “War Powers” make that case as well as anything else from DMZ to date. The first arc follows Matty during his recent sojourn away from Manhattan across the narrows, and examines the bonds of camaraderie shared by opposing soldiers serving on the remotest fringes of the actual fighting. That premise offers up several scenes that ring with an almost absurdist quality- one that’s rendered all the more surreal for its totally natural plausibility. The men’s party-filled run of seemingly endless downtime gives way to a tense, frightening string of hours when something goes wrong, forcing new friends to act like instruments of war again.

As he does frequently throughout DMZ, Wood’s deft writing (this time glimpsing into how the psychologies of enlisted men are by turns blurred and twisted by wartime) is almost subliminally tied into a bit of NYC-centric social geography. “The Island” arc is set on the routinely ignored Staten Island, an outer borough of the city that’s largely left on its own and a place that the typical New Yorker likely never thinks twice about.

This arc reminds us that while not every second of war is horror, when a bunch of jacked-up war machines are left unchecked and to their own devices, it’s only a matter of time until something really bad is going to happen. Here, in just two issues, little is wasted in either words or panel space, and “The Island” manages to cram one of the best arcs of book’s run so far into a mere 44 pages.

Most of the remaining pages of “War Powers” are then devoted to the titular story arc. Upon Matty’s return to the DMZ, we find that his relationship with Zee has been strained past breaking, and that she’s nowhere to be found. Their mutual disaffection is the silent culmination of some subtextual elements from the series’ last major arc, “Blood in the Game.”

While “love” has always appeared to be something of an opportunistic venture in the DMZ, it’s clear that Zee and Matty are special to one another and that their relationship is more than grasping onto whatever human connection they could when it became available. But the dedication they share toward their respective works, coupled with their ferocious needs to remain self-reliant seem to have overpowered the urge to actually be with one another (at least for now.)

Of course, Zee was also pushed out of the picture during Matty’s love affair with political idealism and the rise of Parco Delgado, a former gang member and self-styled voice of the people of the DMZ. The transformative power of Matty’s newfound true believer-ism really has made him something very different than the documentarian skeptic he’d become since arriving in Manhattan as a wide-eyed, ignorant kid. Now Matty Roth carries a rifle instead of a camera, and is running errands for Delgado’s nascent regime while they consolidate power in a fortified base of operations called Parco City.

It’s only a matter of time before Parco City begins to feel more like the West Bank than the Green Zone, and as the “Delgado Nation” asserts itself more forcefully, a creeping suspicion sets in that the independent nation of Manhattan might not be the solution after all. Rather, we may be witnessing the rise of the first inevitable failed state that fucks up the region more than anything that was there before its existence. Matty questions his loyalty to Parco and his place within the administration as the boundaries of what Delgado seems willing to do with all that power broaden more and more, and begins to resemble the entities that New Yorkers thought they were rejecting on election day.

For the bulk of the “War Powers” collection, Wood’s words are complimented by the art of series regular Riccardo Burchielli, whose renderings of Manhattan manage to evoke specific aspects of the story’s setting. At times it’s a battlefield, a disaster area, and a reclamation zone, yet it remains the beloved hometown of its inhabitants in spite of it all. And while many reviews will drink in such renderings of the city and take the easy route of dull platitudes (“The best character in DMZ is New York itself!”) that’s really quite lazy, and is wrongly dismissive of Wood and Burchielli’s greater strengths.

The portrayal of New York in DMZ is intimate, sure, and proudly displays a native’s love of his city, but it does so first and foremost through the eyes of people who live in the story. With characters as nuanced and well developed as Matty Roth, Parco Delgado, Zee Hernandez, and a host of recurring players from all over the island, we learn about the place through the characters’ lives. NYC is undoubtedly a uniquely rich backdrop, and it is best used as exactly that- a place unlike any other that quietly informs the motives of DMZ’s characters, adding greater richness to the narrative’s depth.

A fine example of this comes in the one-shot issue that concludes the trade, which follows Zee as she makes her way out of the retaining walls of Delgado’s new seat of power and back into the dangerous, unfamiliar parts of Manhattan. When the violent reality of life in the DMZ reasserts itself, we see the extent of Zee’s commitment to her practice as she begrudgingly helps the scared and wounded agents of an occupying force: a stranded cell of the Halliburton/Blackwater-evoking private military contraction firm Trustwell Inc.

As a coda to this edition’s main plot, “Zee, DMZ” demonstrates the singleton-issue as interstitial storytelling device, and is crucial to both the pacing of DMZ as a series as well as adding to our knowledge of this New York. Some forty-plus issues in, we’re still discovering new parts of the city- and new people to worry about the future for.

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