Saturday, May 07, 2005

Free Comic Book Day

Well it’s May 7th and there are lots of things happening today. I already mentioned that today is the MIT Time Traveler Convention and my Mother’s birthday.

Today is also the fourth annual Free Comic Book Day so let’s talk about comic books. When most people think of comic books they think spandex’ed super-heroes bouncing around the city while spouting spiffy one-liners. But there are a lot of comic book titles that have nothing to do with super-heroes that have some amazing stories.

I know what you’re thinking though; you just aren’t into the comic book thing. But now days you can skip the comic and go right for the graphic novels or trade paperbacks as they are more commonly called now. These collect whole story arcs of a title into one nice and neat book. You can find them in most major bookstore chains and I’ll give you a brief run down of some of the ones I like.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is the most famous of these. It tells the story of Dream of the Endless. There are 7 endless, Death, Dream, Destiny, Desire, Despair, Delirium (who was Delight) and the 7th who turned away from his duties and isn’t revealed till later. Many of the stories aren’t really about Dream himself, he is really just the linchpin that ties the rest of the stories and characters together. The series ran 75 issues and you can find the entire run collected in 10 trade paperbacks. The series has won numerous awards and really put this genre into the mainstream. You can download the first issue as a PDF file. Mr. Gaiman also wrote the best selling novel, American Gods and his next novel Anansi Boys is due out in September 20, 2005.

Lucifer written by Mike Care is my current favorite. It is a spin off from Sandman, telling the story of Lucifer after he abdicates Hell as told in Sandman’s Season of Mists storyline. Lucifer isn’t evil as such but is the perfect anti-hero. It isn’t a devil worshiping, blood and sacrifice type story. I am really at a loss to describe the series without giving anything away. But thanks to Vertigo Comics you can download first issue as a PDF file though the scan isn’t the best. It’s actually the first issue of the 3 issue mini-series that kicked off the title before it got its own monthly series. The story is currently up to issue 62 and like Sandman it will also end at number 75. There are 7 trade paperbacks out collecting up to issue 49 (including the 3 issue mini-series, minus issue 45) with the 8th TP due out this month reprinting 45, 50-53). As a writing exercise I am actually novelizing the first trade paperback. It gives me something to write where I don’t have to worry about the story, the characters, the dialog, scenes or anything but the actual task of writing.

I recently discovered Fables by Bill Willingham. I had actually bought the first graphic novel, Legends in Exile, back before moving to Australia and never read it. I picked it up simply because it collected the first issues of the title and at the time I was taking a look at anything in DC comics Vertigo line. But like I said I never read it. I saw the latest graphic novel at the store last weekend and noticed it had won 3 Eisner awards so I figured I’d give it another shot. I liked it so much that I ran out today and bought all the individual issues (I'm still missing 1-5 and 8.) I think the title’s lack of popularity is due to the fact that its premise sounds somewhat dumb or silly. Trust me though, it’s a great read. Basically someone called the Adversary has taken over the various lands of all the fairy tales and the survivors, the ‘fables’, have fled to our world where they live in two communities. The main one is New York where the Fables who can pass for human live and the other, the farm, is further up north where the non-human fables live. The first story is a murder mystery which introduces many of main characters but doesn’t really show off the legs the title will eventually grow. The series is up to issue 36 with five trade paperbacks collecting up to issue 33. Again you can download the first issue as a PDF file but I can’t stress enough how it doesn’t do the series justice. If you want to give this title a shot, read at least up to the 3rd graphic novel, Storybook Love, which is when it really gets going.

Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra tells the story of a plague of unknown origin that has killed every male on the planet with the exception of Yorik and his male pet monkey. The story starts of kina slow and unsteadily but once the main characters set out cross country it settles down to good story. The series is up to issue 33 with 4 trade paperbacks that collect up to issue 23. Here is the link where you can download the first issue as a PDF file.

Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon is a story of a small town preacher who suddenly obtains god-like powers. He sets off on a quest to find God and hold him accountable for everything he’s done. This title was coming out at the height of Sandman’s popularity and was also able to capture a bit of the main stream non-comic book audience’s attention. The title ran 66 issues and is collected in 9 trade paperbacks. Here is the link where you can download the first issue as a PDF file. I have heard Preacher is being made into a movie but the things I’ve heard havn't been good.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is super hero story… kind of. Only one of the characters actually has super powers. It starts off as a mystery when a retired hero called the Comedian is killed and the murder is investigated by the only hero who didn’t retire when the Keen Act outlawed masked vigilantes. The story has such incredible depth and scope with such real characters and a brilliant twist ending. You’ll have to read it at least twice before you start to notice some of the subtle things that are going on in the background that all come together in the story’s conclusion. The original 12 issue came out in 1986 and is now being made into a motion picture. This is the best comic book story I have ever read. I would kill to be able to write like this. Sorry DC/Vertigo doesn’t have the first issue of this one online.

Those are the basics that should get you addicted. There are many more some I like better than those listed but might not be good for somebody just starting out. If you want more you know where to find me.

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