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Comics Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

From pulp to pixels (and sometimes back again)

I love comics. But how I read them has changed over the years, from all single issues as a kid to all TPBs in college to all-digital…and then back to single print issues. And now back to digital-only again, but this time for good (I think).

Reflecting on the notion of pulling or subscribing to single issues in this, the fourteenth year of the pandemic, it feels a bit like starting to buy CDs again. Would I start buying CDs again? Nope. There’d be no point.

Everything except the smell and feel of a printed comic, and the implementation of double-width splash pages, works better for me in digital format.

Looking back

From the early 1980s until 2000, I read all of my American comics in print as single issues. In 2000, when Preacher ended, I switched almost entirely to reading TPBs. It wasn’t until 2019 that I started up a pull list again.

That lasted about a year, until the pandemic hit and I fully committed to digital comics in March of 2021. I was subscribed to 12-15 X-Men books every month, and that eventually burned me out; after a break, I came back with a leaner subscription list that stayed steady for a few months. I transitioned back to print in February 2022, when comiXology went from awesome to pretty crappy overnight.

And then in May of this year I realized I just wasn’t going to read single issues in print again. Never say never, of course, but I canceled my pulls and went back to digital-only. Most of my big-two reading these days is older runs on DC Universe Infinite or Marvel Unlimited, and it’s incredibly rare for me buy TPBs anymore.

Manga

On the manga front, I was almost exclusively a tankōbon reader from childhood through the end of 2020. Subscribing to Shonen Jump online in 2020 was a seismic shift for me, and I’ve done about 90% of my manga reading digitally ever since. (Series I’m attached to in print for one reason or another make up the other 10%.)

Inevitability

Like music, and then novels, and then movies, as much as I love holding a comic in my hands the convenience of digital options outweighs that love 95% of the time. My eyes aren’t getting any younger, and it’s hard to argue with backlit pages I can read anywhere, zoomed-in as needed, without having to manage, store, and haul around hundreds of pounds of stuff every time we move.

I don’t think my love of print will ever vanish entirely; that connection runs too deep. But nowadays I mostly buy print comics as slabbed books, or intending to send them to CGC, so I can hang them up and enjoy them that way.

Look upon this trend, my creaking RPG shelves, and weep

This reckoning is coming — slowly, but inevitably — for my RPG collection and reading habits as well. I passed the tipping point where my PDF collection outnumbered my print collection years ago, and the amount of time I actually use my print RPG books in play has diminished steadily for the past 5-7 years.

For now, I still buy print RPG books that are special in some way, because they’re gorgeous, out of nostalgia, or because they offer usability advantages in some specific cases (mainly modules, sometimes, or handing books to other people). But I’ve thinned my print RPG collection by 40% over the past couple years, and I don’t miss a single book from the culling.

The intersection of convenience and usability is the ultimate reaper.

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Comics

After 16 years, I was surprised to find myself reading the final pages of The Walking Dead

I’ve been reading The Walking Dead since the first TPB came out in 2004. As soon as the first 12-issue hardcover omnibus was released, I switched to that format and have collected the hardcovers ever since.

This morning, while reading volume 16 in the bath, I realized a major event that had been spoiled for me on Twitter was about to happen — and shortly after that, realized that holy shit this feels like it’s about to end.

And then…it ended.

After 16 years, it ended — and damn did it end perfectly.

One of the best rides in comic book history

Because I picked up a new hardcover every time I remembered to check on them, I was completely unaware the series had ended in single-issue format. From Kirkman’s afterword, it sounds like they solicited fake issues past the end date to pull it off as a surprise — and had been planning it for years.

Rating the final book ★★★★★ on Goodreads, I checked to confirm that my memory of this series being unerringly amazing was correct and was pleased to see that I’d rated every volume ★★★★★.

I can’t think of too many comic book series I’ve read that 1) were this good, for this long, consistently, without missing a single beat; 2) ended when they should have, rather than dragging on; and 3) stuck the motherfucking landing this well.

I don’t know how to feel right now. Mostly good, of course! This was a fantastic run, one of the all-time greats, and there were so many ways it could have gone awry. But it’s also been a part of my life for 16 years. I was reading TWD before I met my wife; I’ve been reading it longer than my daughter has been alive.

If you like horror comics in general, and zombie horror in particular (although this series is about so much more than that), I can’t recommend The Walking Dead highly enough.

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Comics

The comic book that started it all for me

I grew up in NYC, and when I was a little kid most of my comics came from bargain bins, the school fair, or the hole-in-the-wall newspaper shop/convenience store nearest our apartment. What I read was a grab bag largely determined by circumstance — and, in the case of the little shop, actual grab bags: They would bag three comics, with the outer two covers visible and the inner one a surprise, and charge less than the cost of all three for the bundle.

So while it’s possible — maybe even likely — that I read a superhero comic before this one, the first one I actually remember reading as a little kid was Marvel Tales #139, published in 1982. That’d put me around age five or six, which tracks.

When I started getting into collecting CGC-slabbed books a few years back, I thought it’d be fun to slab this one — but I also wondered if it would hold up as an adult, or if I just remembered it fondly because I loved it as a kid.

So I dug it out and reread it.

The One, dog-eared, read and reread, and much-loved

I opened it up and saw that 1) it was a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #2 (I didn’t know at the time that Marvel Tales was a reprint line), and 2) it was a Steve Ditko/Stan Lee joint. No fucking wonder I remembered loving it!

So yeah, absolutely still a great comic as an adult. And just look at that Ditko cover! Iconic.

One of its stories, which features the Vulture dropping Spidey — who has run out of web fluid — into a New York water tower is the reason I can’t look at a water tower and not immediately think of Spider-Man. (And, more broadly, see or be in NYC and not think of Spidey.) We had one on the roof of our apartment building, which my best friend and I regularly snuck up and climbed — and it sort of terrified me.

It was locked, or our dumb asses might have considered going inside.

Anyhoo, I didn’t want to frame The Actual Issue because that felt sort of sad. Why lock it away? It’s fun to read, to hold an actual connection to my childhood that has so many connections to my adult life. So I set about finding a copy in good condition — which, given that it’s essentially worthless, was a challenge!

But I eventually found one and sent it off to CGC. It came back at a 9.6, and damn is it gorgeous.

Marvel Tales #139

Slabbed books are a real challenge to photograph well, but someday I should try and get a few good shots of the ones I have up. I love them all, but so few people get to see them!

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Comics Life

Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

Back when we lived in Utah, we went to Salt Lake Comic Con every year. Our 2014 trip included two of my favorite moments with my daughter, Lark. These were originally posted on different days on Google+, but I’m pulling them into one post here (since G+ is going the way of the dodo).

April 18, 2014

I expect my Parent of the Year award any day now.

April 19, 2014

Comic Con day two (for us; day three of the con). One of the things I love about cons is the surprises — I didn’t expect we’d get to wear a snake.

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Comics Tabletop RPGs

Unearthing some of my creative output from ages 10-15

While packing for our move to Seattle in 2015, I came across some comics and RPG stuff I created in the 1980s and early 1990s. I posted about them on G+ back in 2015, but with the impending shutdown I thought I’d rescue them to share on Yore.

Comics

At age 10, I was photocopying my handmade comics and selling subscriptions to my friends.

I don’t recall Blackbelt Assault Aardvarks: The Atomic Aristocrats making it to issue two. Nor Sam the Turtle Avenger, come to think of it.

High Adventure

In retrospect, 100% of what teenage me wrote in this introduction to a never-published fantasy heartbreaker I designed with a friend (we were fixing AD&D 2e, man!) was not true.

Bushido

Bushido, the coolest superhero in the universe, from a FASERIP Marvel campaign in the early ’90s.

I’m 96% sure the silhouette on the left was traced from a Captain Britain datafile in Dragon Magazine. I used it for my whole (sausage fest of a) superteam.

Sage Lore Productions

Playtesting for long-defunct Sage Lore Productions, age 13. This was actually a pretty cool DM’s kit.

Blood for the Blood God

Sixth grade. I have a vivid memory of drawing this during a free period at school.

I really need to scan some of this stuff and turn it into PDFs at some point.

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Comics

Steve Rogers, PR disaster

Steve Rogers, PR disaster is amazing.

Context from the intro:

“Wait,” says Sam, “you had a publicist?”

“For my first five months at S.H.I.E.L.D,” says Steve. “Then she quit. Uh, decisively.”

The rubber meets the road:

The problem was his mouth.

First there was that brief period of time before the rabble-rousing got off the ground, where his main hobby seemed to be pissing off important people. Eva learned to dread the approach of elderly senators and statesmen, the way they shook Steve’s hand and leaned into his space to mutter, conspiratorially, “The country’s not like it used to be, is it?” It was like the ticking of a bomb that only Eva could hear.

“You’re right,” said Steve, the third time it happened, “nobody dies of the flu and I can’t get arrested for marrying a black person.”

I love Captain America, and this is right on the money. (I can even picture Chris Evans speaking these lines!)

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Comics

My starting point for the Flash: Mark Waid’s Born to Run storyline

I tried to get into Flash a few years ago, with its New 52 incarnation, and it didn’t grab me — but the itch remained. This week I sampled a Geoff Johns issue, then a Rebirth (paid link) issue, then a couple issues of Flashpoint[1] (paid link) — and with every one, I became both more intrigued and more confused.

But I homed in one one villain, Reverse-Flash, who sounded like something I hadn’t seen in a superhero comic before: a time-travelling mirror of the Flash, who uses his speedster power to destroy Flash’s life from the future.[2] So cool! I love time travel, superheroes, and creative exploration of the possibilities of superpowers; combine all three, and you have my interest.

Where to start?

I went down that rabbit hole, eventually reaching this excellent Comics Alliance guide to the character, eras, and best runs of the Flash, and came out with a consensus on where to start: Mark Waid‘s 100-plus issue run on the title (followed by the Geoff Johns run (paid link), and then on to Morrison and Millar (paid link), Rebirth (paid link), and New 52 (paid link)).

I deeply enjoy falling in love with a new-to-me superhero/superteam, and in recent years I’ve had a fantastic experience doing just that with hundreds of issues of Fantastic Four, (paid link) Green Lantern (paid link) — the topic of one of the most popular posts on Yore, Green Lantern trade reading order: Geoff Johns’ run and all concurrent Lantern TPBs) — Deadpool (paid link) and Swamp Thing (paid link); all signs point to the Flash being just as rewarding.

Context

I also love context, and find that having some helps me appreciate new-to-me comics and characters on their own terms. Comics Alliance had my back here, too:

The Flash, perhaps more than any other character in DC Comics’ stable, represents the strength of the legacy hero: the passing of the mantle from mentor to protege, with each successive version having their own strengths and weaknesses.

And:

Let me be clear: if you buy only from one section of this Flash comics list, make this that section. Waid’s Flash is the best Flash, period.

That bit was what really sealed the deal.

Born to Run

Last night I got a few issues into Waid’s run, and it’s amazing. It opens with an overview of the three Flashes, and then a history of the then-current flash, Wally West — and that sounds like a lot of exposition, but it’s deftly and beautifully done (and perfect for a newcomer).

Like Green Lantern: Secret Origin (paid link) or the start of John Byrne‘s run on Fantastic Four (paid link), Waid’s Book One TPB tantalizes while guiding me through enough Flash background to get my feet under me; there are references I don’t yet get, but which I’m sure a longtime fan would know well — but they’re revealed and paced perfectly. It feels like a perfect on-ramp.

Waid’s run entire run isn’t collected into TPBs yet, but the first three books (paid link) are. Book One (paid link) is where I started, and now that I’m strapped in I can’t wait to see what the rest of the ride is like!

[1] Yes, Rebirth and Flashpoint are also Geoff Johns runs; I was bouncing around looking for recent comics as possible starting points, and he’s done a lot of them!

[2] I’m confident I’ve grossly oversimplified Reverse-Flash here, but I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers before getting to see him in the comic.

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Comics

Squadron Supreme blew my mind as a kid, and it’s still amazing

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, my art teacher gave me a copy of Squadron Supreme #12. Back then I devoured every comic I could get my hands on, so this being the final issue of a limited series I knew nothing about didn’t phase me — I dove right in. What I read was completely unexpected, and totally unlike any of the other superhero comics I’d read.

The final issue (SPOILERS) is a knock-down, drag-out battle royale between former superhero teammates — all deeply flawed human beings, all relatable in their very human failings. And in that battle, some of the titular heroes get killed by people who used to be their friends, or at least their allies. And not “comic book killed,” just plain ol’ killed.

My 8- or 9-year-old mind was blown. I’d never read a superhero comic where heroes fought each other for real before, and certainly never one where the marquee characters got killed (and didn’t come back). It stuck with me, and looking back on it I can see many threads connecting things I love as an adult with that issue of Squadron Supreme and its inversion of superhero tropes.

A few years back I remember that issue, and wondered why I’d never finished the series. So I bought a TPB collecting the whole series (paid link) — and it was amazing. And then I bought a second copy, one from the first printing that — per his last wishes — incorporated Squadron Supreme creator Mark Gruenwald‘s ashes into the ink, because how could I not?

I also picked this up, a CGC-slabbed copy of issue #1[1], and added it to my wall of original art and other comics and RPG geekery. I love it, and every time I look up at it I wind up thinking about comics, and what I’m reading, and what I want to read next, and . . .

If you’ve never checked out Squadron Supreme (paid link) I highly recommend it.

[1] There are a dearth of CGC slab frames with UV protection (which I consider a must-have for wall hanging anywhere near windows), but I love the ECC Frames basic model (paid link) shown here. They’re not cheap, but I don’t frame many comics; it’s worth it.

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Books Comics

The Marvel Encyclopedia is awesome

As a kid, I used to spend hours poring over any sort of “superheroes A-Z” content I could find. I had some that came in issues of comics, and the long-running Marvel-phile column in Dragon, and probably other sources I’ve forgotten about.

When I started playing TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, I traced hero silhouettes from those articles (Captain Britain was a favorite) and used them as the basis for drawing all of my characters.

Fast forward from the late ’80s/early ’90s to now, and I’m kicking myself because it wasn’t until a few days ago that it occurred to me that of course this is still a thing, and it’s probably gotten even easier to acquire big volumes of it.

It has! Enter the Marvel Encyclopedia (paid link) which — although it’s a bit squirrely about its author credits — is at least partly written by Matt Forbeck, and which is utterly fabulous.

This book is titanic. It’s a coffee table book, hardcover, and over 400 pages. Full color, of course. (It had a dust jacket, too, which I find less than useless on books this size.) And it’s $22 shipped with Prime.

It covers more than 1,200 characters, both heroes and villains, with origins, pictures, background info, and other fun tidbits. It also covers crossover events, famous hero/villain groups, and more. It’s exactly the kind of big, splashy, high-production-values book I’d expect from DK and Marvel.

This is the kind of non-gaming RPG sourcebook that I love. Need on-the-spot inspiration for an NPC? Flip through this beast. Stuck for hero ideas for your next character? Lose yourself in over 1,200 of them. Can’t remember who Obscure Hero X is? They’re probably in here.

This book is so cool.

Categories
Comics

Laika is meditative and heartbreaking

Nick Abadzis‘ and Hilary Sycamore‘s Laika (paid link) is meditative, thorough, and heartbreaking.

Everything I knew about Laika — the first orbital space traveler, a stray dog trained and conditioned for her one-way mission — before reading this book came from her Wikipedia entry and small exhibits about her at aerospace museums. I now know a lot more about her, and how extraordinary she was.

Laika is as good as two of my other favorite biographical comics, Box Brown‘s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (paid link) and Derf Backderf‘s My Friend Dahmer (paid link). Both are sad reads (and the latter is challenging in other ways, too), and both enriched my knowledge of their subjects.

Where Laika takes liberties — fully disclosed at the outset — they ring true to me. Dogs have an inner life; they think and feel, love and fear; they’re sentient beings. Considering what Laika’s inner life was like, which is beautifully expressed in the comic, is one of the things about the book that resonates most with me — and has continued to resonate months after I finished it.

Reaing Laika made me glad my first dog, Charlie, died in my arms, surrounded by people who loved him, and it makes me want to go home and pet Wicket.