Old Building

*I did something slightly different for Free Comic Book Day this year - I went up north to visit my parents, away from all the usual shops.

I doubt I missed much back in town. They held Ethnicity Fest a week earlier this year, at a new location on a local university's campus; no viking ships blocking traffic this time. Predictably, it wasn't quite as good; I guess I need to see a boat on the street to truly appreciate the melting pot of local society. Plus, they'd already put all the chicken skewers away by the time I arrived.

So I returned home. The old city was the location of the very first Free Comic Book Day, back in 2002. It was also the date of my return to reading comics on a regular basis. No, seriously - Free Comic Book Day worked for me, as the crucial nudge that sent me falling off the cliff.

I recall it was a sunny day in 2002; it was overcast today. Both of the primary shops in town had moved their locations since six years prior, but I knew where they were - I'd kept up. There was a third shop around, long ago - it looked like a guy's fantastically sloppy living room, packed with longboxes and loose issues of every color and stripe, with no order imposed whatsoever. That place closed down soon after my visit, but I kind of feel like I missed something not asking the owner to help me find a book - I wonder if he had it all memorized.

I walked the old path to one of the shops, passing by its old location. The wall there used to be brightly painted, but it wasn't there anymore. The shop itself was gaming focused; it had been back in 2002, actually, when I sent a big pile of Peter Bagge comics accidentally tumbling onto an important tabletop game over by the Indy section. I bought Phoebe Gloeckner's A Child's Life there, and my first copy of Milligan/McCarthy/Swain's Skin. They didn't participate in Free Comic Book Day this year; maybe they figured it wasn't their scene anymore. The comics section didn't look well-traveled.

Across town, I visited the other comics shop, my primary shop from Ground Zero 2002 until I moved away. They had balloons hung up outside, and a big inflatable Spider-Man crawling up the outside wall - give them credit for enthusiasm. They pulled out all the stops inside, with big tables of free stuff -- including a free local minicomic!! -- and an all-day signing by a local artist. There was an accordant back-issue sale, and I picked up some nice old Howard Chaykin material, including Marvel Premiere #32 (featuring the very famous and well-remembered character find of 1976, Monark Starstalker) and The Hulk! magazine #21 (sporting a color Dominic Fortune back-up, written by Denny O'Neil).

The place was pretty much packed, even though I'd arrived after 2:00 in the afternoon; lots of kids were roaming around, and the owner was patrolling the aisles, calling out helpful instructions. Four free comics per person. Signing and sketches up front. Did anyone forget their umbrella? Wait, shit - that was me. I get a little absent-minded fishing through old Hulk magazines.

During my search, I overhead someone mention to a just-arrived regular that the Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly samplers were over by the check-out counter - I suspect the Gordon Lee case, though the charges were finally dropped, put some concern into retailers across the nation, hence the private section for exactly two books, both of which I wanted. No big deal - I asked for the good shit by name.

Thrills therein:

I.G.N.A.T.Z.: That's "International Graphic Novels At Their Zenith," as the cover of Fantagraphics' entry relates; I wonder how long it took for someone to cook that up? Anyway, it's a pretty useful little pamphlet, in that it cleanly sets out which of Fanta's and Coconino Press' Ignatz series have reached completion, and which ones to expect next. Yes, Babel #3 is on its way, although the coloring apparently wasn't done in time to make press. I suspect most of the previews, running two to five pages, won't do a ton to attract new readers - I like Sammy the Mouse a lot, but seeing the title character getting pressed down by the finger of God and nothing further doesn't do a lot to whet the appetite. At least it alerted me to the content of David B.'s story in MOME Vol. 12: a sequel to his naked zealots opus The Armed Garden! No more Beto in this format either, but further Gipi is supposedly on its way.

Gekiga!: God bless Drawn & Quarterly for stuffing their 32-page giveaway with '60s and '70s manga; us mature readers don't like to pay for things either! The selection from Yoshihiro Tatsumi's upcoming Good-Bye (also the title of the semi-infamous Catalan Communications Tatsumi collection from back in the day, now deemed by the artist to have been a pirate translation) is about as expected; it's the first 11 pages of a story titled Hell, dealing directly with the legacy of Hiroshima in a more character-detailed manner than many of Tatsumi's previously translated tales. But the star of the show is surely the extract from Seiichi Hayashi's Red Colored Elegy, which looks far more in tune with the beautiful/nightmarish visual drive of Yoshiharu Tsuge than anything else seen of gekiga in English. I can't wait.

EC Sampler: Aw, who can release a quartet of free '50s frolics on a superhero movie tie-in marketing holiday? Not me. Others have already pointed out the curious nature of Gemstone's selections - none are particularly representative of EC's sci-fi, war and horror comics, though at least they managed to hit all the major genres. But I'm still happy to see the book's one genuine half-classic, Under Cover, one of the Shock SuspenStories. A relentlessly downbeat, palpably angry chronicle of a Klan-like secret society's ugly deeds, it's damn near an American gekiga story in its blunt, bristling view of a grimly 'respectable' modern community. Granted, Wally Wood's lavish but very panel-contained visuals are a frank (and lovely!) reminder of what side of the ocean we're on, but putting this and the D&Q book together makes you wonder about where the best of this stuff could have gone in a more amenable timeline...

Walt Disney's Gyro Gearloose: Also from Gemstone came the typical Disney character compilation. I like Gyro, in that I'll like pretty much any comic book character that devotes his life to peddling amazing feats of genius in a wagon down a city road, and this book makes sure to roll out all the big guns, like Carl Barks, Don Rosa (finishing an incomplete Barks concept) and William Van Horn. The Barks story was pretty great, in that it adheres almost exclusively to cartoon science textbook dream logic, and Uncle Scrooge takes disturbing delight in hearing of previous physical harm done to the Beagle Boys. No, seriously - the story ends with a plain loaded with Beagle Boys crashing, and Uncle Scrooge grinning over their howls of pain as the mountain cave he's standing in fills with a tsunami of valuable savings bonds. That's comics.

It was a nice time. I could remember my initial, 2002 visit to that store - Free Comic Book Day wasn't so structured, and publishers sent in heaps of random back issues to give away, and they were all stacked up. No limits. I carried large bags full of stuff home that day - no repeats, but one of just about everything, which is nearly impossible in these more rigid, experienced days.

Walking back to the parking lot, I noticed that wedding photos and videos were taking up the whole of the sidewalk. I tried to duck behind a limousine as I passed, but I think someone's finest memory (for a while, at least) is currently featuring me and a handy Free Comic Book Day advertising bag at the far side of the television replay. I hope my journey makes you think, newlyweds! We can return to the same place, but external and internal maps have ways of getting updated...