Over our spring break this year, Rachael and I flew back to Georgia to visit with my family for a couple days. Because the travel involved a lot of flights that are best endured by popping in some earbuds and tuning out the world, I loaded my laptop up with a decent catalog of comics that I’ve been meaning to read for the past few months. What better place is there to slam down a lot of sequential art than while cruising at thirty thousand feet in a cramped metal tube? So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts about things that have slid over my eyeballs recently.
Death: The Deluxe Edition
One hole in my The Sandman reading for a long time has been the two Death miniseries that Neil Gaiman wrote as side projects to the main series back in the early ’90s. I grabbed this collection on sale a few months ago and was just waiting for the mood to strike me before jumping in. It’s been a long time since I read any of Gaiman’s comics work, and one thing that I always notice whenever I go back to it is just how long it takes just to read. Gaiman’s a very wordy writer, and I always get the impression from his comics that he doesn’t really care to let the artist convey action without explanation from dialogue or narration. It’s hard to tell how much of this is a personal tic and how much is an artifact of the era in which The Sandman was written; comics from before the 2000s always strike me as being more wordy than more contemporary books.
Anyway, this collection includes the two miniseries, Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life, in addition to a few other stories that have appeared in The Sandman. There are also a couple of small stories whose origins I don’t know and a gallery of artwork of Death by various artists (the collection ends with a PSA comic where Death explains HIV and methods of safer sex to the reader drawn by Dave McKean which is pretty delightful). It’s essentially a collection of all the major stories that feature Death as the central character, so if she’s your jam then this is a pretty cool thing.
The miniseries themselves are a mixed bag. The first, High Cost of Living, is best described as an entry in the oeuvre of Manic Pixie Dream Girl tales; the protagonist is a teenage boy named Sexton who is bored with life and wants to kill himself until Death, who is spending her one day a century as a mortal, saves him from a fallen refrigerator and drags him along on a madcap journey to enjoy the zest of life. It’s a very familiar story if you pay attention to the genre, and there are no real surprises to be found here. Time of Your Life is a slightly more interesting tale; Gaiman returns to the characters of Foxglove and Hazel, the lesbian couple who are Barbie’s neighbors in A Game of You. This story is essentially about their relationship and how they’ve grown and changed in the intervening years; it runs dangerously close to falling into the trap of queer tragedy but takes a hard left at the last moment to deliver a relatively happy ending (although also like in A Game of You, Gaiman has no compunctions about literally throwing the bodies of characters of color in the way to protect his white protagonists). Both are worth reading if you enjoy Gaiman’s strange world and love his side characters, but honestly they don’t strike me as truly essential.
Archie and Jughead
There’s something really refreshing in the low stakes, slice-of-life stories that you get in an Archie comic. The rebooted series about Archie and Jughead from the last couple years (written respectively by Mark Waid and Chip Zdarsky) have been a nice diversion from the high drama of cape books and other fantastical fare. Their reimagining as more contemporary stories that hold on to the core innocence of Riverdale holds a pretty strong appeal; also, these are stories that are built around jokes, and stories built around jokes always have the potential to do really surprising things with character and plot that don’t always happen in more serious narratives. Archie’s girl troubles are compelling in their own way, but the Jughead series is totally delightful. The series’s second volume contains two stories: one where Jughead and Archie get lost in the woods and work out some underlying feelings of resentment about their differing interests getting in the way of their friendship, and one (written by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl fame) where Jughead, who in the new continuity is openly and canonically asexual, accidentally finds himself on a date and struggling to explain that this is all a big misunderstanding that his friends are only making worse. Also, there’s magic. All said, it’s way more fun than it has a right to be.
After spending entirely too much time thinking about one issue of The Wicked + The Divine, I decided that I actually really liked the artist Leila del Duca’s work, so I looked up her creator owned series with writer Joe Keatinge, Shutter. I went into this series completely blind, and it ended up surprising me repeatedly because of it. The best way I can think to describe it is that it’s a very similar world to China Mieville’s New Crobuzon universe (that is, it’s a kitchen sink universe where everything exists just because the creators thought it’d be cool to include), but less grimdark and more pulp action adventure with a healthy dose of family drama. I am absolutely going to read more of this.
Hip Hop Family Tree
I’ve been sitting on Hip Hop Family Tree for a while; it was another one of those books that I had heard about and wanted to check out, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet; spending time on a plane is a good excuse to catch up on reading backlogs, y’know. This one is still in progress for me, but so far I’m really enjoying it. My only familiarity with Ed Piskor prior to this was reading the first issue of his X-Men: Grand Design miniseries which clearly takes a lot in the way of style and structure from Hip Hop Family Tree. The book isn’t so much a graphic novel as a graphic chronicle of the history of the hip hop subculture in the late ’70s and early ’80s in New York’s Bronx neighborhood. It interweaves various moments and stories of early hip hop figures to create a really interesting narrative; I’d actually recommend reading it in conjunction with watching The Get Down, because Piskor’s history offers a lot of context for background events that happen in that fictional narrative.