Friday, January 16, 2004

Conflicts

Comics

The more I think about it, the more this whole issue of comics expanding into bookstores through graphic novel sections bothers me. I’m not opposed to the idea at all; in fact, it’s something I’ve advocated for a long time. But now that it’s actually happening, I’m finding that it’s creating conflicts between several personal convictions.

On the one hand, living and traveling in a largely rural state that has seen the life of its small towns drained by Wal-Marts has pushed me to use local businesses when and wherever possible. My comic shop is a locally owned business. The staff is friendly. They know me by name, and they know my preferences. I have never received less than 100% courtesy and professionalism from them, whether I’m doing a special order or just browsing.

At the same time, it’s obvious to anyone with a brain that the comic market, as personified in the current direct market is in the kind of slow, steady decline that will ultimately lead to its demise. I’m not saying that’s a good thing and I’m not saying that’s what I want to see happen. But there’s only so long that this landlocked retail system, dominated and dependent on the sales of one moribund genre which survives in the face of an ever-dwindling and aging fan-base by manufacturing “events” to artificially spike sales and is treated by its own publishers as nothing more than licensing fodder, can survive. Even in my own fairly progressive and open-minded shop, the only way I can guarantee that I’ll get a copy of something as commonplace as Love Fights or Hopeless Savages is to pre-order. (It shouldn’t have to be that hard to get titles from an established, mid-size publisher with a proven track record by creators with established fan-bases, but that’s another ramble.)

I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow, next week, or even in the next five years, but it’s going to happen. If it happened this year, I know it would take most of the mid-sized publishers who comprise the bulk of my reading with it. Most of them still need the chunk of income that comes from the direct market, while they establish firm footholds in other markets. Given that these companies are what keeps me reading comics, I want to support their expansion into other arenas. But, in this day of steady market decline, I also want to support my shop to the fullest extent possible. And this is where the values collide. What it boils down to is this: Where do I get the next Drawn and Quarterly? Do I buy it in my comic shop, supporting them in their efforts to stay open? Or do I buy it in a bookstore, and support the publisher in their growing presence in other markets? It’s basically trying to be loyal to two opposing forces, both with honorable goals and objectives.

Complicating things quite a bit is the nature of the bookstore market, which is more and more dominated by the big box retailers. Can I support comics’ presence here, if it means going with a major corporation over the local guys, be they my locally-owned comic shop or a locally–owned bookseller?

Beyond that the big box book guys are trading in the super-hero myopia of the direct market for a shortsightedness that’s all their own: all manga, all the time, all over the place. I like manga and it’s great to have a place to get it, since the comic market is determined to remain manga-unfriendly. But I don’t like it at the expense of other stuff. I hardly blame the stores for going with what sells, but less than a month after Borders bought out the best of our locally-owned bookstores, all of the alternative/art material they had in the graphic novel section had shrunk to a half-shelf, while the manga had taken over a bookcase and a half. It’s the comic market all over again! I don’t know that this is a model that I want to support.

Locally-owned, independent booksellers remain an alternative, but the big box guys are putting them under fast. We’re left with one in Louisville, and while it has an expanding graphic novel section that’s rich in stuff from Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly, it also pits two local businesses who need my dollars into competition against each other for them. Comic shop versus local bookseller: it’s not a choice I really want to have to make.

Maybe I’m over-thinking things a bit (which I’m always prone to do), but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want to be as ethical a consumer as possible, particularly when it comes to the local economy. For the moment, I’m trying to split the difference by pre-ordering a few things from my comic shop and picking up other things from the local bookseller as they turn up there. I’m not sure if it’s enough to really support either side of the equation and keep it viable, and I may actually be canceling myself out by giving to both sides. But for the moment, it’s the best I can do.

Comments?

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Tidying Up

Blog Updates

I'm spending today going back through recent entries and cleaning them up. Yesterday's post had some errors in it, due to lack of sleep. (I know it's Bringing Up Father and not Father Knows Best!) Plus, I've been needing to add some links and such and just haven't had time. I'll put something new up tonight or tomorrow.

Comments?

Monday, January 12, 2004

I've Had Three Hours of Sleep, Please Don't Ask Me For a Cute Title!

Personal, Comics, and Other Stuff

Keith and I went to the Flea Market last Saturday. It was the first time we'd gone in a while. There's a promo company based here in Louisville that puts on a large flea market at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center every few weeks-usually around holidays. This was a larger show than usual: two wings of the fairground and four days in length.

In the East Wing, we just kind of cruised through without bothering to look at every booth or go down every aisle. I picked up a used Nanci Griffith CD, a couple of books, and some alt-country compilations. Since the East Wing building is the one that's always used for flea markets, there's a pretty standard group of folks who exhibit and sell there, and they're usually in the same spots every time. Even though we don't go every time, I've still got a pretty good idea about who is where. So we just kind of hit a few of the folks we always like to check out and then moved on.

One thing I did notice was the lack of comics in the East Wing. Usually there are two or three folks who have them and I can count on getting some battered, cheap Silver Age stuff. This time, though, the only one of the usual comics dealers was this guy that I really don't like because he's over-priced and obnoxious. A couple of the other dealers were there, and they had other stuff from their shops (models, anime, cards, action figures), but no comics. I wonder if comics have just become too much trouble to mess with? Is the back issue market in trouble too? Or in this day of ebay, is it more cost-effective to sell them online and schlep other stuff to the flea markets. I would think that if that were the case, one would just stay home and unload the cards and stuff on ebay too.

We took more time in the West Wing. Since it's not always used for flea markets, the dealers who set up there aren't as familiar. They also tend to be antique dealers, and I like looking at old shit. I keep deluding myself that one day I'll stumble across a Bringing Up Father book from the pre-Golden Age days of comics. Yeah right.

In this wing there were lots of comics-really old and much more recent. I picked up a Preacher trade, some Vertigo back issues, and a couple of Silver Age DC's. Another dealer had another Nanci Griffith CD, but wanted too much for it. I also got some cool religious statues for way too cheap from a guy who delighted in telling us about his trip to Prague. It was weird, but fun. Kind of like the whole day. The next two-wing flea market is scheduled for September. I think we're planning to go again.

A couple of thoughts about the day:

  • It's unbelievable to me the number of people who travel around to these things to set up their booth full of Avon products in a large room with LOTS of other people who have booths full of Avon products.

  • The "upscale end" of the flea market is sort of freaky: leather sofas, $100 lamps, and hot tubs??

  • It's surprising how many people still have tons of Beanie Babies for sale this long after that fad went bust. Of course, they're all going for something like 27 for a dollar.

  • I keep wondering what the next craze that's going to have both kids and adults going like the Beanies did, but I can't figure it out. Maybe that's for the better.

  • I got some fairly recent Vertigo issues for 50 cents or a buck each and there was a lot of recent DC and Marvel stuff available in that price range. I wonder if I'd be better off dropping what little mainstream stuff that's left on my pull list and getting it later and flea markets and cons for much better prices. I know I'd be a lot less disappointed in all the Vertigo titles I just dropped if I had been paying 50 cents for them instead of 3 bucks.

  • And of course, there was the inevitable five dollar copy of Marvel's Battlestar Galactica in totally shitty shape. I've always found this kind of thing to be sort of endemic among antique dealers. Sigh.

  • Ebay has really spoiled me. I looked at several things and could not help thinking about the nearly identical item I had gotten off ebay for much less, including postage.

  • Coolest item: An antique wall crucifixion scene with statues of Christ on the cross, Mary, etc on a wooden plaque. Attached to the bottom was a paper scroll on two little spools that wound with a small crank. As the crank turned, the scroll displayed pictures representing the various Stations of the Cross! (Note to self: Bring camera next time.)

  • Creepiest item: One dealer who sold those ugly-ass dolls that are supposed to be "realistic" (but actually look as if they're going to come alive in the middle of the night all demon-possessed and eat you and your family) had a granny doll that was about three feet tall and wore a stereotypical little old lady outfit, right down to the wire-rimmed glasses and sensible shoes. It was being displayed in a box that was exactly its size. It looked for all the world like a midget in a casket! Brrr…..

  • Strangest sight: There is apparently a new movement in the flea market world, at least among the antique dealers. I'm calling it "dumping." There were several dealers that rented two or three booths together and literally dumped a bunch of junk out on some tables and sold it for a dollar an item. And people were pawing through it like mad, in search of some unseen valuable item, I guess. Some of it was nice, but most of it was cracked or damaged. I bought a small plastic nativity set that was missing all the sheep.

    It seems to be the next big thing in flea market retailing. One dude didn't even bother to get any tables. He just poured all his shit out on the floor. Another went one better and didn't even bother to take the stuff out of boxes! But it didn't matter, because people were just pawing all over it. One guy had a short box of comics in the middle of his stuff. It was full of Image and Valiant glut crap. I had to resist the urge to ask if it was the comics that were a buck a piece or if the whole box was a one buck item!

  • There was a time when we wouldn't have missed a single flea market. My how times have changed….




Comments?

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Were there any good comics in 2003?

Comics

Since this is the New Year and all, I guess I really ought to play the ego game and pretend my opinions about things matter to anyone else and put up some best of 2003 lists.

I don't know that any of this should be taken as anything other than the rambling of a middle-aged gay man who likes to hear himself babble. It's not like civilization is going to rise or fall based on my opinion. (If that were true we'd have ditched Bush, Britney, and the X-Men ages ago.) At the same time, though, I enjoy reading other lists like this, if only for the sake of saying "I can't believe they liked THAT." Hopefully someone will get that same pleasure out of this set of lists.

Actually, I think the real reason people do these things is for the personal benefit of reliving the year one more time. Taking the time to say "wasn't that great?" or "man that sucked." one more time seems like a good way to lay the old year to rest. So with that in mind, here are some thoughts from me. I'll start with comics and do some other stuff later.

So what were the best comics in 2003? Damned if I know. I just can't recall that many stand-outs off the top of my head. Some of the more acclaimed works of the year (Blankets for example) are still sitting in my reading pile. I've thumbed through them enough to see that the buzz is more than just hype, but without reading them fully, I'm not going to be including them on any lists. Other than that small handful, nothing else leaps out at me. I'm guessing it just wasn't a banner year for comics.

The disappointments of the year stand out more strongly for me, and there were several of those. 2003 is the year I divested myself of almost all the Vertigo titles I was following. Lucifer and Hellblazer seem to be the same issue after issue. If there was ever an overarching plot, I've long since lost touch with it. Y the Last Man continually blows its promise and potential by failing to rise above the typical "last man on earth" clich├ęs. Fables hangs on for the moment, but I'm wavering. I don't think that any of the Vertigo mini-series this year were worth the time and money I put into them. They all sounded much more interesting than they actually ended up being. Human Target is the only Vertigo title I am enjoying right now without reservation, but that hardly seems like a criteria for inclusion on a "best of" list.

The biggest let down of the year by far was 1602. The whole book is nothing more than a wet dream for anyone who does annotations on the web to tell people things about the book that anyone who had a decent world civ class in high school should know. Gaiman's laughing all the way to the bank on this one. So is Marvel.

Most of the stuff I enjoyed reading was the same old, same old: Bone, Finder, Age of Bronze. I guess it's nice that there are some reliable comics out there, but that doesn't say a whole lot about the newer stuff I tried, does it? (Sounds like I'm hitting that comics malaise thing about two months after everyone else…)

After typing all this up and giving the matter some more thought, I have been able to put together a small list of the better books of 2003. It's not much, but it's something.

  • Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics: Courtney still rocks! This series took a darker turn than the first one, as Courtney has to learn that hard lesson that people are people even if they do have magic powers.

  • How Loathsome: Ted Naifeh and Tristan Crane bring transgender life to comics with this introspective and provocative mini. Surprisingly, GLAAD chose to recognize it with a nomination this year. I keep waiting for the apocalypse.

  • Age of Bronze: The tension in the Sacrifice story keeps winding tighter and tighter as it moves to its horrifying climax: the sacrifice of Iphegenia by her father. We know it's coming and badly want it to be over with, but Eric Shanower is taking us there step by deliberate step, taking great pains never to rush. Each step closer ratchets up the drama and the tension and the reader is as involved in the story as the characters. Beautifully done.

  • Maria's Wedding: It could be subtitled The Comic Most Likely to be Overlooked by GLAAD and Most Gay Comics Readers, but this one-shot OGN about the events and family interactions at a wedding was really good. It managed to deal with the issue of gay unions without being about the issue of gay unions, by making the issue just one of a revolving series of sub-plots swirling throughout the book. While it does have one bad TV movie of the week moment, overall it avoids the overly sentimental and maudlin approach.

  • Same Difference and Other Stories: Derek Kirk Kim just blew me out of the water with this one. The lead story deals with the choices we make, their consequences, and how we address the regrets caused by past actions. It's a touching, engrossing coming of age story that was one of the best things I read last year. The art is a fascinating mix of European, manga, and American alternative comic stylings, which Kim manages to pull together using the storytelling strengths of each tradition, without letting any one dominate.

  • Unstable Molecules: Best Fantastic Four story in decades because it wasn't about the FF! The central conceit of the story, that the FF were actually based on real people, is something that not many writers could pull off. James Sturm not only manages it, but in the process turns in a glimpse into American culture of the 50's. This is a prime example of the Jemas regime at Marvel at its best, and a prime example of the kind of thing we're not likely to see any more from Marvel.

  • Forlorn Funnies: If there was a better comic published in America in 2003, I don't know what it was. Surreal storytelling devices and shifting art styles give this character study of a young boy watching his father slide into depression and despair after the death of his mother real emotional power and impact. If I had to point to one book that came out last year as the reason I still read comics, this would be the one.

Okay, that's the best I could do. I guess it wasn't that bad a year for comics, but it sure could have been better. Here's to 2004.

Comments?
Goals for 2004

Personal

I don’t do resolutions. Most resolutions tend to be too vague and, therefore, too easy to break or ignore. I set goals, trying to make them as specific as possible in terms of outcomes. I’ve been doing it for several years now. Around mid-year, I look over the list and cross off any that have been met. At year-end, I do the same. For things that did not get met, I try to look at how close I got and why I didn’t make it. Unmet goals usually go on the next year’s list, if they’re still applicable. If a goal seems like it’s not being met after a couple of years, I revise it or re-examine it. Is it really that important? Why am I not working on this?

My goals are organized by several categories: physical health, house, financial, emotional, family, spiritual, work. A goal may be relatively simple, like the several jobs that need to be done around the house or the new stove we desperately need to get. Having a few of those kinds of goals seems like cheating, but crossing them off the list gives me a boost towards working on things that will take more work and time, like getting my weight down under 200 pounds. (Again, specificity is important. I can’t for the life of me keep a resolution to “lose weight,” but I can work towards hitting a target number.)

This is an important year in terms of goals, because I’m hitting 40. (Fucking 40, as John Eddie would say.) There are some things I would really like to accomplish before that birthday. Will I make it? We’ll see, I guess.

Anyway, here is a glimpse at some of my goals for the year:

  • Get weight under 200.
  • Walk 2-3 days a week.
  • Open a savings account.
  • Save $500 by end of year.
  • Get new stove and refrigerator.
  • Have gutter, foundation and attic work done on the house.
  • Take a photography class.

There are some more, but you get the idea. Some of them I’m not up to sharing just yet.

Comments?
2003 Year End Reflection

Personal

It wasn’t the worst year I’ve had, but it wasn’t exactly the best either. I consider myself lucky for things like my job and our house in these uncertain economic times, but at the same time wages were frozen, which meant no raise this year. Keith and I had some personal setbacks. (I can’t talk about them in detail, since they concern the two of us.) It was nothing that we cannot make it through, but we will be dealing with them for a while. All I have to say is that I would hate to go through it alone. I think being here for each other has made us closer. I am grateful for things like the cats, comics, movies and music for keeping me sane. My job feels less than certain these days, moreso since one of my co-workers has proven to be the psycho-bitch from hell. I’ve never had to deal with someone that could create so many vicious lies about someone else. The only way I can deal with it is not to have any contact with this person at all. In a unit of five people, that’s not easy. My mother and I had a falling out in the summer. It was something that’s been a long time coming and is far from resolved, although for the moment we’ve settled into the routine of not talking about it. That’s not going to work for long, but I haven’t had the energy to broach the topic with her and I’ll have to be the one to do it. I won’t hear about it from her again, until she’ feels it’s advantageous for her to bring it up. 2003 was the year that I really started dealing with my depression. It’s scary to me to be taking anti-depressants. It’s scarier to think about having to take them for a long time. I went off them in the summer and plummeted hard, so they’ll be with me for a while. I’m more and more afraid all the time that I’m actually clinically depressed, and will need to take something for the rest of my life. I need to get some counseling to go with the meds, but haven’t been able to come to terms with that yet.

But there was much more good to 2003 than bad. We took some nice little trips together and saw some great shows. I bought some cool CD’s, saw good movies and read good books. I started blogging, which has led me to start doing some writing. Nothing heavy yet, just some notes, but I hope to actually crank out a story soon. With creating CD’s, I’ve actually started looking for creative outlets again after far too long. Slowly but surely, the house is coming around to the way we want it to be. Keith’s mom brought some great furniture in the spring. I coordinated two major events for work that went incredibly well. The newsletter I do has gotten some positive attention. (Now if I could just get that deadline issue under control.)

It wasn’t the worst year, but neither was it the best. If 2004 could be even slightly better, I’ll take it. If not, we’ll just keep plugging along. One thing I have learned, as corny as it may sound, is that there is no way to over state the importance of my family to me. Without Keith and the cats, I honestly don’t think I could make it.

Comments?
Hope You Had a Nice Gift-Giving Holiday

Personal

Whichever one it is that you celebrated, that is. Keith and I used to go on a two week trip every year, starting the weekend before Christmas. We’d set up camp in a cheap hotel in San Francisco, NYC, or Chicago and shop and sightsee to our hearts content. It’s been a while since we’ve done that. We just haven’t had the money in recent years, plus we’ve kind of enjoyed spending Christmas in the house. We moved in Christmas Eve two years ago, and it’s our first house, so this is kind of a special anniversary time for both of us. I bake cookies and make fudge. We decorate a tree. It’s the kind of domesticity I never thought I would go in for, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

We’ve started going to midnight Mass at a local church that has a great choir. Neither of us is that overtly spiritual any more, but the ceremony is beautiful, the music is great, and it’s a nice part of the routine. We get home a little after one, light the tree, make tea, eat desert, and open gifts. My family opened on Xmas Eve, while his did it Xmas Day. Doing it after Mass is a great compromise. It’s still dark, so I can think of it as Eve, while it is technically the 25th. Cheesy I know, but it really does all seem to fit together into what has become “our” holiday ritual. And, in the end, that’s all that matters.

This year, I went “old fashioned” and made many of my gifts. I’ve always loved holiday baking and usually do make gift boxes of goodies for some people, but this year, I stepped it way up. Family members got several tins of stuff (many new recipes), while others got a nice mixed plate. Plus, I spent several weeks ripping music and burning CD compilations for folks. (Old-fashioned with a techno-twist) I made an instrumental set that I gave to most everyone at work. My boss (who has music tastes similar to mine) got a roots music set and my clerical support person got a modern rock set. My mom, brother, and several friends all got CD’s. Keith’s mother did too. And I made Keith a 3-CD set, complete with the obligatory pontificating liner notes booklet! I had a lot of fun with it, rediscovering my own music collection, and thinking of which songs people would like. I tried to put things on everyone’s CD that might be new to them. Hopefully everyone found a new artist to check out.

I actually bought a few gifts for some folks, but really felt cool about doing so much baking and burning. Might be something I’ll continue in the future.

Of course, Keith was one of the folks I bought things for, but I didn’t do so well. One item I mail ordered ended up being out of stock (I’m holding on to the idea to use at Valentine’s Day), one arrived several days late (despite being ordered around Thanksgiving) and one he already had. Sigh! I haven’t had that much bad luck with gifts in a long time.

He, on the other hand, hit the jackpot. He gave me the Emmylou Harris Spyboy DVD, which I had been wanting for a long time. (It’s excellent!) Todd Snider’s Hotel Rooms and Naked Truths CD (Also excellent!) Townes Van Zandt’s Texas Rain CD (Beyond excellent!) and Nanci Griffith’s book Other Voices: A Personal History of Folk Music. Part memoir, part personal musical journey, part recap of the recording of her two Other Voices CD’s, it’s a great book. And I opened the cover to discover that it’s autographed! Wow!

All of that would have been more than enough, but he went one better and completely floored me in the process. He collected a bunch of photos of us, the cats, the house, the concerts we’ve seen and more and had a web publisher put them in to a hardbound book titled Making A House A Home. I cannot think about it without tearing up again. It’s the sweetest, most wonderful gift I ever could have gotten. He’s a treasure, that man.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Back to the Blog in 2004!
(Or where the hell have you been?)

Personal

Well, I’m back if anyone is actually looking. I’ve been away from this blog so long that most folks probably thought I had joined the thousands of aborted blogs littering cyberspace. Ah well!

Just like my life too. I actually got a mention in Journalista and listed on a couple of blogrolls, and then totally went to pot. But, I do have a good excuse. No I wasn’t being lazy or procrastinative, or unproductive at all. Nosiree.

I was recovering.

Yes, recovering. It was right around my birthday last time I posted, which was also Election Day. As I mentioned in that last blog, any time Election Day falls on my birthday, the Republicans win. I don’t know why. I think it’s one of the ways the cosmic forces which guide the universe get their kicks. When I was 16, the people of this fine country gave me Ronald Reagan as a birthday present. For my 39th, my fellow citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky gave me Ernie Fletcher.

And since then, what have we seen happen in our fine state?

Well, the Louisville paper, the largest in the state was required for a while to submit any questions they wanted the governor to answer to him in writing in advance. The C-J being known as a bastion of the “liberal press” in Kentucky (in other words, they think and ask the hard questions), it was felt they weren’t being fair to the new gov. The C-J had such a fun time with the whole idea, that Fletcher had to drop the whole thing. They’d put their questions in writing by running them in the editorial section. It seems he didn’t like the idea that the voters could read the questions he was trying to dodge.

The man who campaigned on “restoring ethics to government” and “getting rid of the special interests” appointed lobbyists and corporation heads to his transition team, to “oversee the changeover to the new system” for the cabinets and departments who regulate the businesses these dudes own and lobby for!

Finally, the man who promised to restore fiscal credibility to state government has given all his new cabinet secretaries raises! This may actually be a violation of state law, since the Republican-controlled legislature (whose gridlock delaying tactics are more responsible for the budget mess than anything else) rammed through a law forbidding the governor from giving raises to his top staff. The fear was the outgoing gov would give pay hikes to his top people during his lame duck days. Their story now is that they think what the new gov has done is perfectly legal. Some laws were only meant to apply to Democrats.

But other state workers had raises they had received months earlier yanked. A budget-saving measure, see? Except that the handful of people who got tapped for the salary rollback is going to have almost no effect at all on the budget. Can taking a raise away from six or seven people in an entire CABINET make that much of a difference?

It’s taken a while to get used to the whole deal, let me tell you. So. Of course, blogging just hasn’t been in the stars for me.

Okay, so I was really just being lazy. I fell out of the habit and took my sweet time getting back into it again. Happy? I think the other story sounds better.

More later as our labor, environmental, and civil rights laws are weakened.