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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Fantastic Comics
Keith Knight
Batman: Noel
The Rinse
Defiance
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Recent Books of Interest
Batman Noel by Lee Bermejo (DC)
Batman Noel Since this is being written -- and will initially appear -- during the Twelve Days of Christmas, I assume a review is still fair game. In this story, set during one hard-knock, bitter Gotham winter, an unseen "teller" recounts a Christmas involving a skinflint boss, brutal economic conditions, and ghosts of Christmases past, present and future. If I mentioned those ghosts were, respectively, Catwoman, Superman and Joker, would the context start to make sense? Not to give too much away, but this retelling of A Christmas Carol, in Bat-terms, by Joker graphic novel artist Bermejo, is an intriguing addition to the Batman canon. And by "canon," I mean "I have no idea what official continuity is in the 'Batman' universe anymore." But this holiday yarn does a good job in getting us to reexamine the harder side of the Bat, and what those costs might be to those around him. You won't be able to have brandy-warmed readings of this each Yuletide -- at least, not without the artwork available to your fire-warmed audience. But a revisit might be illuminating. After all, Superman makes a surprisingly good ghost of Christmas present.

Defiance by Carla Jablonski (words) and Leland Purvis (art) (First Second)
Defiance First Second publishes graphic novels mostly for "middle grade" readers (that demographic terrain right before the "YA" years kick in) so it's no surprise this second installment of the Resistance series (I want to say "trilogy," but I'm not sure how many books are planned) follows mostly junior high school age protagonists. Except there are no "junior highs" anywhere around since this is Occupied France in the middle of World War Two. We forget, sometimes, that real risks were taken -- even (especially, given who bears history's brunt the hardest?) -- by kids, and others, to bring us to our present moment. This has been out for awhile, but it was in my 2011 stack, and I wanted to get to it before too much 2012 rolled by. I think it would've been an "honorable mention" for the year. Oddly, the author's note has more to do with Gen. Charles de Gaulle -- who isn't really referenced (or even "heard," via broadcast, in this installment) -- more than the research basis for the actual story. As for that story, since it's also a middle chapter, though, you're plunked in fairly quickly, following a sturdily told tale -- one that will be mostly familiar to watchers of war movies -- of resistance, undergrounds, a couple near-misses, etc. And then it ends somewhat suddenly, pointing rather strongly to the next installment. Good stuff, for high schoolers not already off watching counter-histories like Inglourious Basterds on their tablets and smartphones.

The Rinse, #1-4, by Gary Phillips (words) and Marc Laming (art) (Boom! Studios)
The Rinse, #1-4 We're general fans of Phillips' work here at NG, so when the 4th issue of his new crime series came out at year's end, I went back and read everything up to that point, to get a whole story arc under my belt as we head into 2012. You expect Phillips' storytelling to be engaging, and this tale of money launderer-with-a-conscience Jeff Sinclair is no exception. There's a heist, old betrayals, hot dames with guns, and even baseball! Bay Area baseball, at that, since the story is set in the Bay Area (though the made-up team is "The Hammerheads," and not "The Giants."). The sense of place is mostly authentic (though the letterer got a vowel wrong in spelling Marin County's "Tiburon," but 'tis a small thing), though the bad guys in these first episodes are brought in from Vegas. The series' strengths could lay in developing an even firmer sense of place in former Maltese Falcon territory, but it's off to an intriguing start. Perhaps a wine country arc would be in order?

Our Big Mayan Year Begins

Astonishingly, this column begins our fifth year. No, I don't know where all the time went either. Though I'm at that juncture in life where each "year" feels, subjectively, like about 7-8 months' worth of actual "time."

In those five years -- or 45 months, depending -- this is the first New Year column I've written, as the estimable Mr. Klaw and I swapped deadline dates this past year, with me taking the top o' the month, and Mr. K. taking the "Ides."

So to kick off our collective Big Mayan Year -- replete with an election "choice" (for those of you reading this in the U.S.) between a slate of wholly deranged candidates vs. one already compromised by the corporate oligarchy. Sigh.

Maybe we need to think of "Occupy Comics," this year?

In any case, there will be panels, digits, cons (at least one more than usual this year, it appears -- stay tuned), reboots and retcons to report on. And to get it all started, a trio of field observations and one sort of resolution-like musing -- as we head into this brave new world along with ya.

Fantastic Comics During a holiday-time trip to my native stomping grounds in the Bay Area, I was pleased to discover Berkeley's "Fantastic Comics." This store occupies the same space that the great "Comic Relief" once did and that store recently shuttered its doors after teetering along for a couple years after the death of owner/founder Rory Root (remembered in an earlier NG column). The stock isn't quite as copious as CR's was (I'm given to understand that the stock was sold to a different store, separately from the deal made to take over the lease in the existing space), but the former CR employees who founded "Fantastic" are cheerful, and Eldest Son went in a couple times during our trip to stock up on vacation-time reading. Meaning I have his Green Arrow: Year One and latest Chew anthologies to borrow, if there's ever not enough "new" reading to occupy me here...!

What's interesting about all this, though, is how comic shops can also become pillars of their local retailing communities, the way book and record stores are -- or were. But the mix of customers they attract are important for ancillary and neighboring businesses, and vice versa. As we move to increasingly digital means of delivery however, what happens to such public mercantile spaces?

On which note, just because something can be delivered digitally, it doesn't mean there's an automatic audience aggregated for it. There's still the necessary "word of mouth," even if those mouths are digital. I'm, ahem, finding out with my own Danger Boy eBook reissue(s). For example, on the same Bay Area trip, I stumbled across a report on local PBS K Chronicles outlet KQED, about Bay Area cartoonist Keith Knight, whose K Chronicles and (th)ink strips currently run mostly online (after the former started life in a former incarnation of the SF Examiner).

The KQED piece showed some of Knight's rejection letters from comics syndicators, mostly wondering how he could possibly be serious thinking that such a left-leaning strip has any wide-spread potential in what's left of America's newspaper industry. So that leaves Knight trying to bring audiences to his work with other methods, some of which resemble the tried and true tropes of the media age: For example, a TV piece building word-of-mouth (like the mention here!)

But you've got to like a guy who opines about the funny pages, "Well, you know... cats have better representation in the comics than Black people."

Last year was a tough-ass year, for many reasons. I hope this year isn't quite so rocky, but man, the older I get, the more I realize how much of all that is out of my hands. I will hopefully have some quieter "comic reading times" in 2012 though, but this brings up for me an interesting aspect of my writerly resolutions: Yes, I have to finish my current prose book (and the one I've started co-writing with a partner). Yes, I've started sending some stage plays of mine around again. Do I want to get back into writing comics?

Well, yes, but now -- between raising sons and being broke and trying to write -- we're talking "mad scramble" time again. I'd like to do a Danger Boy comic in monthly online installments, but that would be a free venture at first, all of which ties in to the previous two items really: How do you structure your life as a creator, when you're expected to mostly give those creations away for free? (As the old models continue to tumble?)

It's not quite that black-and-white, of course. And there are more niche audiences for more (niche?) work than ever before. Which -- if the overall economy actually functioned, which it doesn't -- could be a good thing, in terms of divergence, variety, etc.

But supporting oneself doing that niche work -- especially in collapse-y times like these -- becomes an interesting challenge.

We'll keep reporting in this space on how various tellers of tales -- in the comics medium, at least -- respond to those challenges, whether their perch is with a big imprint (the biggest two of which are, of course, now owned by media conglomerates), or somewhere in the online wilds.

Have a bountiful year, compadres. With as much deep joy as you can find, and muster.

Copyright © 2012 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series. Info on what he, or the books, are up to can be found at marklondonwilliams.com. Did we mention the first one is back out on eBook, and is currently free at Amazon and Smashwords? Meanwhile, he gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.


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