NOTE: There was another post that was supposed to be written, but it's going to take more time and more thought than I was willing to give it today. So instead you get comics.
I never considered my self much of a comic geek when I was younger. There were a few superhero titles around the house, usually Batman or Wolverine, but for the most part I was more of a book reader. I did, however, based on my love of Mad Magazine, have the first dozen or so issues of Groo: The Wanderer. I miss those - it was one of those pieces of childhood I recall sharing during sleepovers, along with records like Huey Lewis and the News, J. Giles Band, and looking through the Yearbook and deciding who you were in love with.
The first comic to really grab a hold of me was Neil Gaiman's Sandman, which wasn't so much an eye-opener as a gigantic kick to head. Was this what comics had become since I had last paid any attention to them? If so I had to bone up on my education and fast. DC/Vertigo opened up an entire world to me of strange and inviting characters. Besides the exploits of Dream and his twisted family of Endless, there were other unique personages to become acquainted with, like John Constantine the Hellblazer, Swamp-Thing, and Animal Man. But perhaps more than the continuing series (of which The Sandman was my favorite), it was the brief limited run stories that I really sank my teeth into. The first to really blow me away in terms of art and story was Kid Eternity, the 3 issues series by Grant Morrison and Duncan Fegredo, which to this day has the scariest depiction of Hell I've come across in print (Dante excepted, of course).
The problem quickly escalated - not only did I grow to love the characters, but soon learned to love the artists and, more importantly, the writers as well. And this book, Kid Eternity, brought me full circle back to the world I thought I've never read again. I liked Grant Morrison? Dave McKean (who did all the covers for Sandman)? Did I know they collaborated on a Batman graphic novel called Arkham Asylum? I did not, but soon did.
And from there it was on to Frank Miller and the mother of all superhero comics - his apocalyptic vision of the Caped Crusader in The Dark Knight Returns. My head did a 360 after reading one. I became obsessed with both Miller (devouring the Sin City books) and Batman, reading everything I could from them both. Which lead me to a little book called Batman: The Killing Joke written by some guy I never heard of called Alan Moore.
Has anyone transformed the world of comics or graphic novels as much as Moore? From his incredible run on Swamp-Thing to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and on to other groundbreaking volumes like From Hell, and V for Vendetta, Moore continues to push the boundaries of what the form can do. The Watchmen series collected as a trade is not only one of the best comics ever published, but one of the best books written, period. And his most recent offering for the public, Lost Girls, manages to turn the worlds of erotica and fantastic literature on their ears, melding the stories of the Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland into a miasma of sex and art.
I'm slow to get back into comics now. Too many things to do, too much to complete already without having to invest myself into yet another ongoing series. But comics refuse to be pushed back into the adolescent bin they resided in for so many years. And for the reader who can't take the time to hit the local comic shop once a month for their fixes, the rise of graphic novels and collected trades found in most of the larger book chains speak to the continuing rise in quality in this format. Recently I've been hooked on Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead series, which seems to release a new collection every time I'm ready to dive back into that zombie-infested world. Another series I never read during its run but am now giving its due is the more-than-amazing slice of Americana that is Preacher from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, who were responsible for many of the great Hellblazer issues. There's Black Hole by Charles Burns, The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. And even people who scoff at all those "comics" are usually blown over once they read what many consider to be the pinnacle of the form, Art Speigelman's Maus.
I've certainly grown up. Thank God the comics have, too.