The Negative Zone: Release More Relevant Old Stuff!

Pepe Moreno's Rebel is the kind of junky, murky, skateboard punk future Euro-comic that once occupied it's own hard-to-place subgenre. Neither big, dumb comic book trash nor super-sophisticated art-comic, it floats around somewhere in the middle.

The kind of thing that might be jammed between more recent trades at an older comics store, or stuck in a box with some other oversized comics, water damaged. It'll feel like a relic because the past two decades of prevailing comics trends, be it the 90s adolescent-leaning hero books or the mannered, cutesy, oh-so-serious alt-comix and all that falls between, don't have much to do with something like Rebel.

And it's not like Rebel's all that good even, but the handmade feeling to the art, in contrast to its Escape from New York action comic exterior--you've been taught, by an industry of businessmen and capital-a Artists that there are no grey areas, that something is sophisticated or isn't--will just kinda confuse you in a really awesome way.

The dusty trade you uncovered will either be priced for a non-existent "collector's price" or it'll be falling apart, cracks when you open it, and at cover-price and either way, you'll leave the store without it. But it might be something you think about as it rubs up against most of your notions of comics or "comix" or Comics or "graphic novels" or whatever.

Then, you wander into Barnes & Noble--which has either replaced your local comics store or has a better selection because your local comics store is run by a bitter fuck who ran his business into the ground and curses Diamond and "the internet" for doing it--and you see, IDW's recent re-issue of Pepe Moreno's Rebel.

Or maybe you still live in a town with a good, functioning comics store, one that isn't trying to just coast along, and they ordered from Eurotica, the recent reissue of Guido Crepax's The Story of O--confusing too because it fits into no categories...it isn't the latest issue of Hot Moms and it's not by Alan Moore and priced at $120 either.

Though both of these reissues are exceptions, they're invigorating because they do sorta kinda answer something I've yelled about in my head or to other comics fans, as I see say, the useless work of Fletcher Hanks reissued or the work of Japanese innovators recontextualized as birthing North American alt-comix: Where's all that weird 70s and 80s shit? Why do I have to run to eBay for a Moebius story? Can someone reissue this stuff?!

These two reissues and this over-arching trend of non-mainstream comics shying away from the alt-comix trend of insularity have me excited for how comic books for "smart people" evolve, but it's gotta keep going. These should be as frequent as designed-by-Seth reissues of 60s kiddie comics and a mess of oddities from some never-remembered Golden-Age weirdo. The act of reissuing is obviously complex and weird and often done for fun, not profit, but well, I just hope it can extend to stuff that's even a harder sell than the comics that do get reissued.

But it seems that the reasons for not reissuing something like Rebel are a little more nefarious. Clearly, it's rooted in what sells and doesn't sell and what's available to reissue (rights and all that good stuff) but it's a kind of self-fulfilling thing, wherein trippy, Heavy Metal-era comics aren't what people want and therefore aren't worth re-releasing because they haven't been released.

And worse, they've been sorta kinda pushed out of comic book history. This quasi-erasure relates to three things, all of them industry-oriented:

1. It does not really benefit Marvel or DC to take note of these things because they were either not publishing it all or were publishing it in the past and now, can't work it inside their mythology. That's to say, it isn't Batman or Spiderman, what's it gotta do with making money in 2009?

2. It does not really benefit the smaller companies, especially the tastemakers like Fantagraphics or Top Shelf to try to republish this stuff because their bread and butter is still very much the overtly sophisticted, gets-write-ups-in-the-New York Times type comics, be it personal, arty stuff made now or lost pieces of early comics history.

3. For many of the comics historians and comics thinkers, stuff like Heavy Metal, etc. doesn't fit into the narrative they're constructing in classrooms, at SPX panels, and on NPR or wherever. It takes too much explanation. Even say, Howard the Duck can be turned into a narrative about iconoclastic creators left to do whatever because a growing comics behemoth was totally not growing during the heavy 70s.

Of course, these comics also occupy a weird place in terms of relevance, rights, availability and all that, but those seem secondary to the way that something as not even that great as Rebel fucks with expectations. A company like IDW and maybe even BOOM! or Image if they were to get into the field of reissuing, are ideal because they don't have a dog in the fight like "the big two"--or the tastemaking two or three--and really, it would only benefit them to start dishing out some nice-looking, affordable weird 70s Euro stuff. They'd not only be filling an important gap in comics history, but quietly usurping many of the accepted notions, convenient notions of where certain comics fit. And that's a really good thing.

1 comment:

Simon said...

I hope you've sent this post to Erik Larsen, man.