by KC Carlson
I quite enjoyed Roger’s column last week about various things that he missed from older comic books, as well as things he liked about current comics — mostly covering things that have changed in comics over the years. It was such a cool concept that he invited me to play — actually, I just barged in like a drunken uncle, and now refuse to leave — so here are some thoughts of my own.
Let’s start with something that might help you recall the concept: Roger mentioned that he really liked modern coloring techniques. I wholeheartedly agree. But, on the other hand, there’s something about old pulp paper in comics that I really miss. (But not that awful “tissue paper” that the publishers were using in the 1970s and early 1980s to cut costs.) I’m talking about that thick, heavy, not exactly white (and now rapidly deteriorating) paper used for Golden Age comics and into the early Silver Age. It made comic books (even at 32 pages) feel substantial, unlike the glossy, floppy “pamphlets” that pass for comics today. Of course, being the tortured human that I am, I am conflicted by this discrepancy in likes — modern coloring cannot exist with old pulpy paper, as the old paper would soak up the ink (and also small pets, if left unattended. Sorry, Sparky. sniff) like a sponge, rendering all the subtleties of modern coloring useless.
I think what I really miss about pulp paper is its unique smell. I associate it with my childhood bedroom, and all the time I spent there reading and dreaming, often under the covers with a flashlight. Plus, I used to freak my mom out when, as a young kid, I would walk into a brand new drug store or grocery store and walk directly to the comic book rack. She had no idea that I could smell the comics as soon as I walked into the store, and she didn’t believe me when I told her that.
Here’s another conflict: As a reader, I like comics that are published more than once a month. There’s something about modern decompressed storytelling that almost demands these comics be read in sequence as soon as possible (and I’m not a trade-waiter), so twice (or thrice — hi, last year’s Amazing Spidey) a month is kinda okay with me. Except it generally conflicts with another major like (both historical and contemporary): regular creative teams. Most writers seemingly can keep up with frequent frequencyTM, but most artists just can’t draw that fast without sacrificing quality. This conundrum usually necessitates artistic fill-ins, sometimes not of the same quality as the regular artist. However, I’m more and more noticing the trend of frequently published titles having two regular artists, who rotate on different story arcs. This takes tremendous pre-planning (and requires the writer to be way ahead on scripts), but the end result is worth it.
Things I miss: Wacky ads in comic books. There’s a grand old tradition of crazy products being sold in comics. X-Ray Spex. Sea-Monkeys. Hypno Glasses. Grit. And don’t forget Charles Atlas (The Insult that made a Man out of “Mac”). I reviewed a whole book of this stuff a while back over at Comics Worth Reading, and there’s a link there that will take you to a website with even more.
And don’t get me started on Hostess Ads. Better than drugs. With Twinkies on the auction block these days, maybe Time Warner or Disney could end up owning them! Here’s a site with lots of old Hostess ads: Have fun! (All the classic ads illustrating the article come from this site. – Ed.)
When times and economics were better, the Big Two booted out all the junk ads (or maybe they just all moved to Shantytown). And then comics were filled with ads for movies, video games, upscale sneakers, body wash (they were pretty funny, considering much of the core fan base has trouble combing their hair — KIDDING!), and frequently ads that I had no idea what they were selling, if anything. Lately, actual paid advertising has largely fled many comic books, so we’re faced with mostly generic house ads for other comic books, utilizing no new artwork, nor much imagination. I really miss those crazy old DC house ads from the Silver Age (Johnny DC!), and Stan Lee’s (and his ghosts) fantastic hype pages (so good that you didn’t even think they were advertising, did ‘ja?).
Things I miss: Anthology comics. Sure, they’re still around, such as Dark Horse Presents and various genre anthologies (mostly horror or mystery-based). I guess what I really miss is the Anthology series, like Showcase, or Marvel Premiere, or the recently canceled DC Comics Presents. (Nice try, gents!) I’d even put old books like Marvel Team-Up and The Brave and the Bold on that list, where the character team-ups were usually a surprise, and the guest stars would frequently change. Avenging Spider-Man still does this well.
One of my current favorite books is A + X, where random Avengers team-up or fight with random X-Men. There, everybody gets their way eventually — I get my silly, odd, character-based team-ups that shouldn’t work but do, and fanboys get their BAM! SMASH! POW! fights to prove who’s stronger — or Smash-ier! I guess I think that there should be a DC book like that (other than Justice League. Bazinga!), but I keep forgetting, humor seems mostly taboo at DC these days, and I think you need a light touch to keep books like this fresh and entertaining.
Things I like. I’m very happy that comic books still exist. Sometimes it feels like it all could go the other way really easily.
KC CARLSON uses his Hypno Glasses to make people on TV do his bidding. He serves Sea-Monkeys as party favors. And he uses his X-Ray Spex to look into other dimensions. Occasionally, he puts on both the X-Ray Spex and the Hypno Glasses at the same time (while eating Sea-Monkeys) and looks in a mirror to see his own brain. None of this ever works.
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.