Time for another blast from the past! From May 28, 2003...
The Gaiman Factor
And now, the ‘Everything But Imaginary Players’ will present a typical scene, as may be viewed on any Friday afternoon at a little comic book store in Metairie, Louisiana.
SCOTT THE MANAGER: Good afternoon, Blake. Here are your comics for the week.
BLAKE THE CUSTOMER: Thanks, Scott. Boy, I sure read a lot of these things.
SCOTT: Hey, how did you like the Origin trade paperback you picked up last week?
BLAKE: Eh. I’m afraid I didn’t really like it.
SCOTT: You didn’t?
BLAKE: Well, the artwork was beautiful, but I expected more out of Paul Jenkins. He made Peter Parker, Spider-Man readable again, after all. But Origin felt pretty lackluster. So we know why Wolverine is called Logan and why he has a thing for redheads. That’s pretty much it, isn’t it? Doesn’t feel as earth-shattering as I was led to believe.
SCOTT: Well, are you planning to get any of the other miniseries Marvel’s doing? A new issue of The Truth came out this week.
BLAKE: Not interested. Captain America has never felt like a character in need of any origin tweaking to me.
SCOTT: How about Born?
BLAKE: You know I’m not a Punisher fan. The greatest Punisher story ever told won’t excite me as much as just a good issue of Route 666.
SCOTT: What about the creative team, though?
BLAKE: I like Darick Robertson’s artwork, but Garth Ennis has always been hit and miss with me. I loved Preacher, but Just a Pilgrim bored me stiff.
SCOTT: Yeah, I know what you mean. What about this 1602 thing? It’s coming out in August, and they aren’t really saying anything except that it will “change the Marvel Universe forever.”
BLAKE: Ugh. How many times have they said that? I swear, if I hear that one more time—
SCOTT: And Neil Gaiman is writing it.
BLAKE: I’ll take ten copies.
End Scene, Curtain.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit. In reality, I’ll probably stop at five. But the fact remains, Gaiman’s name is enough to get me to purchase nearly any book – graphic or otherwise. Sandman? A masterpiece. American Gods? Exemplary. Good Omens? Funniest Apocalypse you’ll ever read. (Co-credit for that, of course, must go to the manically brilliant Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame.)
There’s something about Gaiman, though, that gives our little subculture an air of sophistication. Of respectability. How many comic book creators can say they’ve won a World Fantasy Award for a comic book? And how many can say the World Fantasy Award people changed the rules to make comics ineligible because a bunch of snotty fantasists were incensed that a lowly comic book beat the pants off of them? Only one that I know of.
Gaiman is the sort of writer that is known and loved both in graphic novels and the kind without any pictures, and he’s created a lot of crossover appeal. His fantasy novels, and his immortal Sandman series, have opened doors to readers that never would have picked up a comic book otherwise – older readers, female readers. Heck, if a woman saw me reading a Terry Dodson Spider-Man/Black Cat comic, I’d be kind of embarrassed. On the other hand, I’ve actually purchased some of Gaiman’s books on occasion as an excuse to strike up a conversation with a cute checkout girl.
(Note to others who may want to try this technique: Thus far, it hasn’t worked, but that’s probably my fault, not Gaiman’s. Feel free to try it yourself and, if it proves successful, for the love of God, let me know.)
The Dodson miniseries brings up another point – Gaiman has become almost an ambassador for graphic novels to the world of fantasy fans, much as Kevin Smith has done worlds to win us street cred with movie geeks and J. Michael Straczynski has appealed to the sci-fi crowd. While I am bothered by the feeling that, in order to break into comics these days, you first have to become a bestseller or cult favorite in another medium first (crossing my fingers for Epic Comics to change this), I am glad that there are crossover writers. Gaiman. Greg Rucka. Man, could you imagine the sales if they could get Stephen King to write a miniseries for Vertigo? Swamp Thing would suddenly be the best-selling comic in America!
And then there’s the simplest reason I’ll read pretty much anything Gaiman brings to the table – it’s pretty much all good. The man just doesn’t disappoint. Be it comics or prose or poetry (he’s one of the few poets I can get through), I devour everything he does.
I, like the rest of you, haven’t got clue one what 1602 is about. Last week we got a few preview images that tell us nothing. We’ve got a blonde kid, almost seventeen according to the accompanying text, chained up somewhere and lamenting the fact that he’s going to die tomorrow without ever getting to fly again. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest this may be a teenage version of Franklin Richards, but for all I know it could be a young version of Archangel (the pictures suspiciously never show us a full-frame shot of the kid).
We’ve got a close-up of the face of a girl with blue eyes, silver hair and, thanks to the color scheme, indeterminate skin. It may be Storm, but if it is, it’s a younger version.
We’ve got a man pointing to a spider on a table. Peter Parker, anyone?
We’ve got a man crouched down in the fog – looks kind of like Nightcrawler to me – facing two other figures I can’t place.
We’ve got a close-up on the angry eyes and dark hair of a character who could be anyone from Wolverine to Mandarin.
We’ve got the logo of the book, which someone suggested you turn upside-down, which kinda looks like it reads 2091 instead, which doesn’t tell us a bloody thing except that it’s 130 years since the birth of the Fantastic Four and, with them, Marvel Comics in its current form, if you want to accept that the numbers are even a date, which I’m not entirely sold on.
We’ve got the art team of Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove, who were the guys that made Origin bearable for me with some of the most beautiful comic book art in memory.
And we’ve got Neil Gaiman.
I just keep telling myself that bit. We’ve got Neil Gaiman.
Some times, a single name is all I need.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People's Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the novel-in-progress ”Summer Love” at Evertime Realms. He’s also the co-host, with the inimitable Chase Bouzigard, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms.