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.
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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?
Think back some two years ago to The Unwritten: On to Genesis, because that’s where this issue of Unwritten Apocalypse picks up in Wilson Taylor’s timeline. Wilson had just done some dirty work for the Unwritten Cabal in New York and more or less invented the comics industry’s business model. He’d just barely ducked out from being tracked by the Cabal’s vicious hitman, Pullman (vicious, ostensible hitman, because in a few short chapters Pullman will be revealed as the secret director of Cabal’s activities).
Now, Wilson resurfaces in wartime England, and as a friend and confidant of the Inklings, the famous literary group that included JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. But it would be The Unwritten if the story ended there.
There’s a line somewhere in Brian Azzarello and Eduaro Risso’s magnum opus, 100 Bullets, that seems to clarify an essential paradox in making a living by marketing your unique skills. The line goes “service, not servitude.” It’s a line that reframes the question, if you serve something greater than yourself, how much of your essential freedom are you compromising? The answer, at least for Azzarello and Risso is more complex than arguably Dumas’ Three Musketeers whose pledge of service is to a morally ambiguous idea of monarchy or even X-Men’s complex morality of protecting those who fear and hate them. What Azzarello and Risso seem to offer is, for those who choose to serve, the very act of service can be a liberator experience.
But in the pages of the upcoming Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger #22, released this coming Wednesday, series regular writer J.M. DeMatteis thinks even bigger.