Like some mad alchemist, frenetically creating mystery elixirs and potions in search of forming something out of nothing, Chris Claremont singlehandedly forged the modern day X-Men universe from almost nothing at all during his initial 16 year run as writer on Uncanny X-Men. He took a comic book that had been cancelled for five years, made it a monthly series, and then turned it into the highest selling comic book on the market. During this run, which lasted from 1975-1991, Claremont took what was originally considered a second-rate Fantastic Four knock-off and turned it into the gold standard to which all other series were measured against.
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The floor of Emerald City Comic-Con was filled with wanna be comic writers and artists. Many proudly displayed their first works, preciously printed, and for sale. The writers and artists sat near displays of their books, looking down at pads and sketching, or talking among themselves. They rarely looked up, and unless initiated by an attendee, didn’t engage in conversation beyond whispers to a friend at the table.
Except, at least in my experience, Hannah McGill. So I’m writing about her book, Rawr!
Maybe the best part of Watchmen, and reading it for the first time there were too many good parts to keep a hold of in a single thought, was how the quotes at the end of most of the chapters shaped your experience and understanding of reading those chapters. Could Bob Dylan have written “All Along the Watchtower” specifically for that near-to-last Ozymandias chapter? “Outside in the distance a wild cat did growl, two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl” reads the Dylan quote at the end of “Two Riders were Approaching…”. And exactly that happens within the story. Bubastis the GM lynx growls at the sight of Rorschach and Nite Owl drawing closer to Ozymandias’s Antarctic fortress on their tiny hovercraft Segways.
To begin with, a very personal vignette. One that doesn’t sync very easily with comics as the pulp tradition. But one that does tie in with the other side of comics—how the medium time and again allows for personal recesses and meditation. Comics is the dawn of the post-paparazzi age, the opposite of Sartre’s “Hell is other people”, a way to be in private, even when we live in public. And this vignette is about that emotional connection we as readers of comics all make with the stories told in this medium.
If you read comics during the ‘90s, you’d recently have gotten the sense of “coming through” reading comics back then. The signs are everywhere in the industry and hard to miss even after the most cursory of glances. Digital distribution has allowed us to understand what was broken about the way the ‘90s tackled the problem of popularization—by removing comics from the cultural mainstream. Look at your iPad (or if you must, look at your Android)—those days are gone. Comics have become mobile again, tucked into a coat pocket as the winter closes in, moving with us wherever we head. Reading comics in 2014 feels very much like we’ve all come through reading comics in the ‘90s, regardless of whether or not we were around at the time. The cultural differences between reading comics now and reading them then stand in that stark a contrast.
But what about the cultural artifacts from Back Then? Can the things that had their genesis back then merit our attention now? Or are they best relegated to nostalgia and local comicbook stores?