There is a lot that goes on in comics that I'm not happy about. The overwhelmingly sexist and negative portrayal of female characters that seems to persist in the "mainstream", for instance. The continued over-use of pointless and badly written cross-overs to milk yet more revenue from tired old cash cows in the arrogant pursuit of money grubbing mediocrity. The lack of good science fiction that isn't a TV tie-in. The fact that Alan Moore still hasn't written any more Halo Jones. I could* dwell on all this negativity at some length, but as I write the weather here in the UK is being relentlessly miserable** and I feel the need to accentuate the positive, because there's a lot of it around.
So. What am I so happy about?
Well, Free Comic Book Day has just happened (yesterday, if you're reading on the day of posting) and you know how much I like free stuff. In the past I confess that I might have been a little bit sniffy about Free Comic Book Day – and I'd maintain that while it's a brilliant idea, the execution often leaves a lot to be desired. Not all retailers get behind the concept, and some of the comics the major publishers sort of phone their contributions in, but free stuff is always awesome.
I was even more excited about it this year mind you, because somebody I'm going to describe as an "Industry Insider" sneaked me an advance copy of the Free Comic Book Day offering from Archaia.
Wow. Did you see it? Please tell me you got one!
This is no flimsy collection of half arsed partial reprints. Oh no. Archaia may not be as big as Marvel or DC, but they have always punched waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay above their weight in production values terms – indeed they seem incapable of publishing a badly designed book – and this is no exception.
For a start, it was a hard cover. That's right. They actually gave away a hard cover. I checked with my favourite retailer (hello Darren!) and he confirmed that he didn't pay any more for this little gem than he did for any of the other FCBD material he ordered. I'm not sure how much this thing cost to produce, but it must surely represent a pretty big investment for what is, after all, one of the smaller publishing concerns.
This is the sort of the thing that FCBD really should be about – really impressive things put into the hands of people who would not otherwise come across comics. It really is important – because as a rule people who don't read comics simply don't believe that comics are capable of being impressive. So when FCBD comes along and they step for the first time into what would be their local comics store, and they are given a friendly welcome and a small sheaf of mediocre pamphlets they go away feeling not let down, but vindicated in their belief that comics aren't really worth the effort.
That, my foolish friends, is nothing short of a fucking tragedy.
So join me in singing the praises of Archaia, who have had the vision and the confidence to invest not only in their own personal future, but in the future of the industry of which they are a part. It's only Sunday, so I don't yet know this for sure, but I'm prepared to bet reasonable sums of money that there aren't many people who got a copy of the Archaia FCBD book and thought "well, this is a worthless bit of crap, I'm not very impressed with this."
Being impressed doesn't automatically mean you'll come back and buy more of course, but again I'm prepared to bet that the proportion of impressed people who come back and buy comics in the future is greater than the proportion of people who were unimpressed. On that basis Archaia deserve a huge amount of recognition for having the vision – and frankly the belief in their product – to put that kind of investment into Free Comic Book Day. If there is any shred of justice in the world they will be rewarded by vast, uncountable numbers of new readers. Experience suggests to me that this probably won't happen, because Archaia don't make comics about the kind of characters that most people think of as "comics characters", but that only makes me want them to succeed even more.
I'm not normally in the business of endorsing comics publishers, but I guess what I'm basically saying is that you – yes, you, you, right there, looking at your computer screen right now, you could help them with that. Next time you're at your local comics store, take a look at the books Archaia have to offer. If my experience of the books of theirs I've read, and the ones they promote in that extraordinary hardcover they gave me are anything to go by, well, you're quite likely to find something you like. If you do, BUY IT!
If you find that your local comics store doesn't have any Archaia books in stock, ask them why. And then ask them to add Mouseguard to your pull list. Trust me – if you have even an ounce of adventure in your soul*** you'll love it, you really will.
And after so many years when the only good SciFi on offer in comics was tied in to a TV show there is also some pretty epic**** science fiction just kicking off that you still have time to get in on the ground floor of, if you haven't already. You probably have, of course, given that readers of this column are known to have disproportionately good taste and judgement, but just in case, have you read SAGA from ******* yet? Those of you who have, please feel free to feel comfortably smug. The rest of you, well, pay attention, because we're a couple of issues into something truly great.
Imagine if you will, two civilisations at war. One lives on a planet in a galaxy far, far away*****. The other lives on the moon that orbits that planet. Their conflict however has spread far beyond their home worlds, though countless star systems, ripping apart countless lives. Imagine now two people, one a beautiful woman whose wings mark her out as a native of that planet, one a tall man whose horns mark him out as a "mooner". Imagine they met. Imagine they fell in love. Imagine that powerful people on both sides of the conflict were appalled and disgusted by this relationship. Imagine they wanted them dead.
Now. Imagine how they'd feel about the child. No ordinary child this. Oh, the powers that be are going to be really unhappy about the child.
We're only on issue two of course, so I obviously have no idea where all this is going, but so far if I was going to pitch the story to Hollywood I'd say you have Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars******, directed by Quentin Tarrantino with (after the cliff-hanger at the end of issue #2) a dash of Michael Marshall Smith's cult SciFi novel Spares thrown in. Elsewhere it's been described as "Star Wars meets a Game of Thrones", but I've neither seen nor read Game of Thrones and therefore cannot comment…
Besides, such comparisons really don't do Brian K Vaughan's plotting justice – there is nothing derivative here. This is a highly original universe that just keeps on revealing little bits of detail to the reader, pulling you ever deeper into the reality of the narrative. Dialogue is slick, snappy and believable – especially the banter and bickering between the lovers at the centre of the plot. They are the most touchingly convincing couple in comics since Jesse and Tulip – they hit you with an emotional punch in the first four pages of issue #1 and then just build from there.
The art, from the deliciously uneven pen of Fiona Staples is hugely expressive in its economy of line, beautifully coloured in a muted colour-washed palette that seduces the eye into the action, rather than garishly leaping out from the page in the way so much brightly coloured SciFi fayre has over the years.
e said before that the biggest mistake I've made in my comics reading life is not picking up a copy of Sandman #1 when I had the chance. I'm here to tell you that SAGA has the potential to be that much of a game changer in its genre. The metaphorical roller-coaster is still climbing the narrative hill, but from what we've seen so far this story is going to be one hell of a ride. If you're not on board already, you seriously need to get yourself caught up!
What with all this, and Joss Whedon's Avengers on at the movies, times is good in comics right now. Hell, I might even be cheerful in the next column too!
*And indeed have. And probably will again.
**More so than usual.
***And come on – if you didn't you wouldn't be reading comics at all, now would you?
****In every sense of that word…
*****No, not that one. A different one. Take a look at the Hubble Deep Field pictures, lots of galaxies are far, far away. To be honest, some of them are even further away that that!
******Specifically Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Really – we're talking the good stuff here.
Wow – you read all the way to the end! Just a quick apology for the sketchy schedule here at FoolCentral lately. I think I have everything back under control now, but I've said that before so I guess we'll have to see – I'm doing my best, honest. Thanks for sticking around – and don't forget, you can follow my Twitter feed @regierigby to keep yourself up to date with what's happening in the world of all things Foolish.