So here we are, at the end of yet another decade. We figure that all of the other entertainment sources out there are going to have all of the “Best Of’s” for the past decade, but really, won’t they all have about the same answers anyway? Instead, Randomville is choosing to focus on what happened and how it happened this past decade. So this month we’ll be sporadically releasing stories reflecting on the past decade in music, film, comics, games and many other subjects in the entertainment industry.
This decade accomplished something that no one saw coming: The near complete integration of comic book media into the mainstream. Of course during the 90s many titles received cartoon adapted television shows (X-men, Spider-man, and Silver Surfer being some of the most memorable) but it almost goes without saying that nobody would expect for comics to be the backbone of multi-million dollar companies.
Today we have more shows, games, films, websites, and even toothpastes dedicated to comic book characters! But one thing this decade has bought us isn’t only the writers of comics but those who also write ABOUT them. Such a writer is our featured guest, Chris Sims, an advent comic fan who has been blogging about them since 2005 at his Invincible Super Blog who we sat down with to talk about how comics have changed throughout the decade.
Randomville: Could you tell us what was your first encounter with comic books was like?
Chris Sims: Sure. My parents were both comics readers when they were growing up, and when I was a kid, I can remember walking across the street from my grandparent’s house to buy comics from a convenience store. Because I liked to read and I really liked super-hero cartoons the first thing I got was an issue of DC Comics Presents that had Superman, Batman and the Outsiders and from there, I got a couple of issues of Batman that I really loved, and I’ve pretty much been reading them ever since.
Randomville: That’s really cool. Would you say you’re more on the DC side of the fence? Or like to expand you’re interest with different companies?
Chris Sims: I’m sort of in the mindset that if you’re only into DC comics or only into Marvel comics or whatever, you’re missing the bigger picture. I mean, I obviously like Batman (who doesn’t?) but when you look past the characters to the people that were involved in creating those stories then you notice there’s so much talent everywhere that getting involved with picking sides is kind of silly. On the whole, I like Marvel books more than DC right now, but there’s great stuff everywhere, and my absolute favorite comic right now is an independent book.
Randomville: How would you compare where comics were in 2000 and where they are now in the end of 2009?
Chris Sims: The major difference in the past ten years is probably the movies. In 2000, the only ones that had really hit were X-Men and Spider-Man, and since then there have been a ton, including the big hits like Iron Man and the two Batman movies, Watchmen, and independent comics like Hellboy and Whiteout getting into theaters as well. It’s sort of redefined how major companies look at things like wanting to have enough products to tie in. There’s like two Black Widow solo series going on simultaneously, one done as an original story and the other directed at younger readers, and it’s like, Black Widow? That never would’ve happened without Iron Man 2 coming out; it creates opportunities in the major companies that just weren’t there before.
As for the comics themselves, there’s sort of a crunch coming in thanks to the economy. Diamond is really cutting back on the number of independent titles they carry (sometimes arbitrarily), so it’s a lot harder to get something in print in front of the people. But at the same time, the web has become the place where anyone can put their stuff out there. It’s easier to get a big audience just doing what you do while getting paid for it is a little harder.
Randomville: Do you feel comics wouldn’t have been able to survive the decade without this interest of getting them into films?
Chris Sims: Oh, sure. It helps, but the truth of the matter is that movies don’t bring a whole lot of people into the stores. So many Watchmen trades sold between the trailer and the movie that one of the most popular/best-selling graphic novels of all time had to go into a new print to meet demand, and that’s great, but the people who read it didn’t come in the next week to buy Spider-Man. There are bumps, but the movies don’t drive consistent sales.
Randomville: Than how do you feel comics stood throughout this economic crisis we’re in? Do you feel this has hindered them in any way shape or form?
Chris Sims: It’s made it harder for independent guys to get out there. Marvel and DC are always going to be fine, because there’s never going to be a time when people don’t want to read Batman or the X-Men. I think it’s important to remember that comics (super-hero comics especially) are a product of the Great Depression, so it’s not like weathering the storm is anything new for the art form. The difference is that they were originally conceived as cheap alternatives to other entertainment, and are now cheap alternatives to other entertainment that people like to hang collector value on.
Randomville: Do you feel that writing about comics has helped you understand them better?
Chris Sims: Oh, definitely.
For one thing, being in charge of putting comics together has given me a much better appreciation of colorists and letterers. Normally when you get a comic and read it, you just notice the story and the art, but the color and lettering adds so much to a story, but when it’s done well, it compliments the other stuff rather than drawing attention to itself, so it’s easy to lose it in the shuffle. But once you start, you’ll be able to see how good it really can be.
Randomville: What artists and writers (colorist and letterers included) would you say really stood out to you throughout this decade?
Chris Sims: Oh man, so many. On the writer side, guys like Jeff Parker, Matt Fraction, even Gerard Way, the front-man for My Chemical Romance. I think we were all ready to roll our eyes at that guy when he did Umbrella Academy, but it turned out to be an incredibly fun comic. There have been some great artists to come up to the forefront in the 2000s, too, like Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. For the web, guys like Chris Onstad of Achewood and Chris Hastings of Dr. McNinja have done some amazing things.
Randomville: You seem to have a strong support for indie comics. What is a series you’re currently reading now?
Chris Sims: My favorite comic is a book called Jack Staff, by Paul Grist. It actually started out as a pitch for a Marvel character named Union Jack, but when it was rejected, Grist reworked it into his own thing, and it’s so well done. Excellent use of page layouts, different storylines going on, it’s just great. But there are other indie books I love, like Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, and John Layman and Rob Guillory’s Chew, a great new book about a detective who gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats.
Randomville: Scott Pilgrim is actually my favorite comic aside from X-men!
Chris Sims: It’s a great one.
Randomville: What to you is one of the most powerful/surprising comic series of the decade?
Chris Sims: Incredible Hercules has been a recent favorite, Fraction’s Casanova is great, Everything Grant Morrison’s done on the Batman books, especially The Black Glove and Batman RIP.
Randomville: It is really apparent that writers play a massive role in the way readers perceive comics. I’m sure our readers would like to know which writers do you feel helped make or break comics throughout the decade?
Chris Sims: In a lot of ways, the guys who made and broke comics in the decade are the same folks. You’d be hard pressed to argue that Brian Bendis isn’t the writer who defined comics in this decade, but he sort of built his fame on this “naturalistic” style of dialogue that just flat-out stopped working when he got bigger and started doing team books, to the point where everyone sort of sounds the same, and they’re all saying things that don’t make sense. He also influenced a lot of other writers that have come up since, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mark Millar’s a guy who’s done some of the most popular comics of the past ten years too, but they’re all built around “widescreen action” to the exception of having anything that actually makes sense. And on the DC side, there’s Geoff Johns, who obviously has a deep love of super-hero comics and has these brilliant flashes, but surrounds them in this pandering nostalgia that wants to take things back to the way they were rather than advancing them on to the next thing. And in terms of breaking comic: Jeph Loeb is just terrible.
Randomville: Who would you say you’re favorite writer is? And if you could say anything to them what would it be?
Chris Sims: Well, thanks to the blog I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of my favorite writers, like Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman and Ed Brubaker, and those guys are crazy fun to talk to, and some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I wouldn’t mind talking to Morrison, though, just to get his thoughts on how great Jimmy Olsen is.
Randomville: That must be such a mind warp meeting such writers. And yes Olsen is definitely an underrated character. Would you say he is one of your favorites? And if so why?
Chris Sims: Oh man, I love Jimmy Olsen! Just the idea that in comics there is a normal guy who hung out with Superman and had his own series of adventures is simply incredible! The guy had a fan club of his own, made up of kids who once built him a Viking robot girlfriend! They’re absolutely crazy stories, and I’d give just about anything to get the chance to write him.
Randomville: Do you feel the rapid advancement in technology has affected the way comics are formed/distributed in any way?
Chris Sims: It’s certainly made it easier for people to pirate comics, which has meant that there’s a whole bunch of “fans” out there that don’t even buy the books but still feel entitled to complain that the creators aren’t doing enough to please them. But at the same time, the rise of web distribution and digital media storage has meant that it’s easy for independent creators to get their stuff out there. Not just with webcomics, but with taking donations via paypal, print-on-demand services for hard copies, and even DVD archives of long runs. I’ve got a DVD with five hundred issues of Spider-Man on it that retailed (legally) for like forty bucks, and that’s a hell of a good deal! The same company did Iron Man, Ghost Rider, all sorts of stuff, and even complete runs of the 70s Archie books that you can get for ten bucks on Amazon! Ten years worth of comics, covers, ads and all for ten bucks! It’s amazing that that’s something that can actually happen.
Randomville: So before we end this Chris, is there anything happening in 2010 that your excited about?
Chris Sims: Yeah, I’ve got a backup story in a book called Resurrection coming out that I did with Chad Bowers and Rusty Shackles, and I’m hoping it’s the first of many.
Randomville: That is awesome. Will this be available in the indie section of most comic stores?
Chris Sims: Yes it most definitely should be in most shops soon!
Randomville: That is great. I’m sure our readers will be on the look out! I know I certainly will be.