Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Comics Wrap-Up 2004 (Sorta...)


I’m so late getting into the “year-in-review” for comics that there’s no point in even trying. Heidi McDonald said it best, and, after that, what’s to say? I started a reaction to her piece but scrapped that too, since others are doing a much better job of it. I also started a “best of” list for 2004 comics, then ditched it too. Looking back over the year, there just wasn’t enough that stuck out in my mind to make it worth putting a list together.

In an effort to make this post meet “year-end post” guidelines, here are some of the comics I did enjoy reading in 2004:

Tezuka’s Buddha
Wedding Peach
Boy Trouble #5
Don’t Be a Crotte
Street Angel

I guess I’ll just let that stand in lieu of a “best of” list. It’s the best I can do.

In terms of specific comics, the one thing that strikes me about 2004 is the number of series I liked that ended.

Bone ended its story, and Roberta Gregory finally let Fantagraphics pull the plug on Naughty Bits. Of the three books that got me into non-mainstream comics all those years ago, only Stray Bullets is left. It feels almost like the end of an era or something equally pretentious.

At least Bone got to end on its own terms. Now I need to complete my set of the hardcover collections before they fall out of print. I still need about half of them. I’m enough of a compulsive completist to want my whole set to match (all hb, all b&w); enough of a snob to want the black and white editions over the color; and enough of a couch potato to not want to deal with lugging the monstrous all-in-one edition around.

Naughty Bits, on the other hand, slid into such a long, slow decline that ending the series seems more like a mercy killing. A couple of years ago, Gregory printed a letter from Fantagraphics publisher Kim Thompson with some suggestions for improving the book’s sales. I think that was the beginning of the end, since it resulted in less and less Bitchy Bitch in each issue and page after page of poorly done autobio comics from Gregory. Some of the stories, about losing her cat and her father’s illness, were touching, but their emotional impact was blunted by the style Gregory used. The tiny panels of cramped artwork which exactly mirrored the heavy blocks of text above them made these stories hard to read and a chore to slog through.

Better were her stories about unconventional women from history, but these still sucked page space away from the characters I bought the book to read. It was frustrating to get snippets of Midge and her life instead of stories.

The hardest part about the last few issues of Naughty Bits was reading the inevitable apology from Gregory about the book’s lateness and the way she had to throw it together and rush it out to get it printed. I wanted to appreciate her honesty about the low-paying nature of her work and the other jobs that took precedence because they paid more, but after a while it began to seem like doing the book was an afterthought or an inconvenience to her. I don’t think that’s the message she intended to send, but it’s certainly the feeling I was getting.

Nevertheless, Gregory should be commended for keeping the book going as long as she did. Forty issues is nothing to sneeze at for an alternative comic. I hope she won’t be absent from comic books for too long. Most of the better part of the NB run has been collected by Fantagraphics, which means that my favorite stories are still in print.

Other comic losses for me in 2004:

X-Statix—the last Marvel book worth reading

Promethea—technically it hasn’t ended yet, but the last issue has already been solicited.

By the time all the dust settles, I’m down to two regular monthly titles, and a bunch of stuff that rarely comes out. If it weren’t for graphic novels, I wouldn’t be a comics reader at all.

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