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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Mojo Press
Wizard World Texas
Shannon Wheeler
Too Much Coffee Man
TMCM Converse commercial
TMCM Opera
Terry Moore
Phil Hester
Richard Dominguez
Angus Oblong
Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
Y the Last Man
Recent Books of Interest

Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan by Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear, and Paul Ferris (Pantheon) Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan
Unbeknownst to most fans and historians, an original series of Batman tales appeared in the pages of the popular sixties weekly manga Shohen King. Inspired by the Adam West Batman show and employing a unique blend of Western and Japanese styles, Jiro Kuwata's unique vision of the Caped Crusader (and Robin) debuted in 1966. Kidd reprints a large selection of the strips along with full color covers and images of various 60s Japanese Batman paraphernalia. Kuwata's tales compare favorably with any of the era's Batman stories. Designer Kidd's wise decision to reprint the strips in the traditional manga format, right to left, and in an over-sized thick volume reminiscent of the original Shohen King adds an additional layer of quality to this sensational collection.

Y The Last Man: The Deluxe Edition Book One by Brian K. Vaughn (writer) and Pia Guerra & José Marzan, Jr. (art) (Vertigo) Y The Last Man: The Deluxe Edition Book One
Perhaps the finest science fiction comic book of the young century, creators Vaughn and Guerra (whose fine pencil work also appeared in my Eisner-nominated anthology Weird Business) relate the extraordinary story of twenty-something slacker escape artist Yorick Brown and his pet male monkey Ampersand, the sole surviving males after a mysterious world-wide plague killed everything with a Y chromosome. Vaughn deftly crafts his humanist sf tale in a low key, non-sensationalist manner. This volume, the first hardcover edition, collects the first two story arcs, "Unmanned" and "Cycles," plus a sketchbook of Guerra's original character concepts.

Ragmop by Rob Walton (Planet Lucy) Ragmop
Actually published in 2006 but only recently acquired by me, Walton's political satire uncovers the secret history behind the secret history of the Universe. Complete with buffoon gods, three squabbling time traveling dinosaurs (named Einstein, Darwin, and Huxley), crazed Vatican assassins, covert government agencies, and a lovely ex-super villain, Ragmop pummels with over-the-top Looney Tunes/Three Stooges humor as Walton hammers his ideas home. Theoretically centered around the aforementioned former baddie, Alice Hawkins' hunt for the O-Ring, a cosmic device that controls the laws of nature, Ragmop exists merely as an excuse for the talented Walton to express his political views in wildly entertaining manner.

The Scene of the Crime

On November 8, 2008, I attended my first comic book convention in almost a decade. Throughout the 90s, when I served as the managing editor for Blackbird Comics and Mojo Press, I frequented as many as seven cons per year, primarily in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and San Diego. When Mojo Press began to dissolve in the fall of 1997, I whittled my convention schedule down to the local literary gathering, Armadillocon, and few random World Fantasy Cons.

Since then, I've re-invented my professional persona from an editor and comic book writer to a columnist, reviewer, and pop culture critic. Outside of a handful of Joe R. Lansdale adaptations,1 the closest I got to the funny books business was as a fan.

In the past six months -- coincidently soon after Mark and I started this column -- more opportunities to write and edit comics have come my way than the previous ten years combined. Nothing confirmed as of yet, but that's what brought me to Dallas and Wizard World Texas.

Back in 1991, Dallas was where I attended my first convention as a professional. I went to the Dallas Fantasy Fair with Shannon Wheeler to promote his first collection and my first editing gig, Children with Glue. To promote the book, Wheeler created and sold the first Too Much Coffee Man minicomic.2 He theorized, correctly, that if a person pays, however little, for something, they will treasure it more. The mini, which sold for 75 cents, far outsold Children With Glue and helped to elevate Shannon Wheeler to star status. The initial Too Much Coffee Man (TMCM) story spawned a pop culture phenomenon with a newspaper syndicated strip, a regularly produced comic book, a pop culture magazine, four collections, an animated Converse commercial, merchandising paraphernalia galore (mugs, coffee, t-shirts, and even toilet paper!) and most recently, an opera. Before the con, Wheeler initially produced fifty copies of the comic, which sold out long before the end of the first day. That night, we went to a Kinkos and made literally hundreds more. Wheeler ran out before the show ended on Sunday. Eventually, the original Too Much Coffee Man minicomic sales reached into the tens of thousands.3

Little has changed in the years between my con appearances. Lots of eager young artists displaying their wares. Sadly, the content and quality offered remained much the same. Back in the 90s, most new creators developed third rate super-heroes and generic horror comics. Replace the testosterone-fueled tales with manga-inspired cutesy stories and everything else appeared much the same. The dealers peddled similar merchandise in the same manner as my previous time in the comic con trenches. Row after row of tables containing countless overpriced collectible comics mingled with extremely cheap overstock of comic books, graphic novels, and toys.

I found the whole experience depressing. When Mojo Press started, I proselytized the coming graphic novel boom and how reaching a mainstream (i.e. non-geek) audience would save the shrinking medium. This idea was the entire raison d'être of Mojo Press. Although the company closed before the vision became a reality, graphic novels now dominate many aspects of popular culture -- novels ape their structure and content, comic-influenced or derived films routinely top the box office charts, and TV shows rely on sequential storytelling methods. Perhaps most telling, bookstores and respected reviewers such as The New York Times devote prominent space to graphic novels while "legitimate" publishers routinely produce and promote comics on a variety of subjects in many different genres.

Apparently no one at the Wizard World Convention had heard or even cared about the current graphic novel publishing realities. None of the new talent promoted graphic novels or comics that would remotely interest a fan above the age of fifteen. They seemed content staying in the leaky kiddie pool, waiting for the water to run dry.

To be fair, some veteran attendees -- most notably Strangers in Paradise and Echo creator Terry Moore, writer/artist Philip Hester, El Gato Negro artist Richard Dominguez, and humorist Angus Oblong -- promoted books directed at broader audiences. In particular Moore's famous positive portrayals of female protagonists seemed really out of place among the fanboys and girls.4

Visiting friends, old and new, salvaged my con experience, and the next day, Brandy and I enjoyed a different sort of artistic experience when we toured the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. Seeing the golden majesty of Egypt made whatever else I endured worth the trip.

1 "God of the Razor" and "My Dead Dog Bobby" By Bizarre Hands #6 (Avatar Press, December 2004)

2 A small, self-published comic book usually stapled and photocopied.

3 Mini-comic sales rarely reach 100.

4 Contrary to popular belief, girls, usually tweens and teens, do attend these shows. They often don inappropriate, ill-fitting costumes of their favorite female characters in a misguided understanding of what makes a women sexy. The vast majority of the appropriately dressed adult women, are creators or their partners.

Copyright © 2008 Rick Klaw

Rick Klaw produced four years of the popular monthly SF Site column "Geeks With Books", and supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The San Antonio Current, The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.

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