Modern Art Is Modern Crap

Sometimes, life can surprise you. You learn things that you strongly believed from childhood can be wrong. Other times, these ideas are reinforced more strongly than you would have thought possible. The latter was my situation when I visited the National Gallery of Art last week. When I was younger, I had previously visited art museums and studied the pictures within. I was left with the impression that the 20th century artists were pushing a load of crap.

Once again, my beliefs were reinforced. From the reproductions of Warhol to the blatant rip-offs of Roy Lichtenstein (boy, that’s original. Take two or three panels from a comic book, copy it word for word, line for line onto a canvas, and call it art. Some call it art, I call it at least plagiarism, if not outright thievery). They all sucked. Most looked like finger-painting from my kindergarten class.

There were, of course, one or two exceptions. I was particularly impressed with Gerhard Ricter’s Abstract 780-1. Having admired many computer-generated works of art (it’s amazing at what can be done with over 16 million colors to play with), this guy has blended colors on a canvas that I find absolutely impossible to describe with words. I was also taken with Frank Stella’s Zeltweg. A strange, multi-colored, multi-piece work, it almost seemed like the pieces were jigsaw puzzle pieces. Both of these works can be found on the bottom floor of the East Building.

I left the 20th century artists and went to the West Building (if you want to go between buildings, be sure and take the underground passage; the waterfall is simply astounding), home of the 17th, 18th and 19th century artists. In particular, the galleries with the landscape artists were fantastic. Having tried my hand at some type of art, I was simply at a loss for words (although the anal-retentive guards weren’t. They made everyone stay at least 12 inches away from the paintings, and you were not allowed to bring your fingers anywhere near them). The detail in the paintings was incredible, but the most exquisite thing about them was the use of color. The remarkable depictions of sunrise and sunset on river valleys were breathtaking.

I understand that modern artist think this avenue is played out (although I don’t ever think I’ve seen successful depictions of automobiles or high-rises). However, that doesn’t give any excuse for the crap they claim to be art. I’ve heard their claims that their way is easier to convey emotions, but that’s bullshit. They’re just screaming with their hands, and if I want to be screamed at, I’ll pick a professional, like Kurt Cobain or my mom.

So where is good art being done these days? Well, I’ll tell you: comic books. Yeah, you heard me. Now with comics, as with everything else in life, Sturgeon’s Law applies: 90% of everything is crap. That includes most of your average super-heroes, your Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the like. The 10% that’s good, though, must be seen (and read) to be believed.

So who are the modern masters? Well, my current favorite is Jim Lee, head of Image’s Wildstorm Studios. His book is WildC.A.T.S., a story about an independently operating covert group (unaffiliated to any government) that helps to save the world. His detail and line work is incredible, and it’s his influence that is responsible for the increasing use of cross-hatching in today’s comics.

Another great artist is Barry Windsor-Smith. Barry first came to attention in 1972 with the first graphic adaption of Conan. Barry is a classically trained painter and left comics for a decade to focus on his own studio, issuing portfolios every couple of years to make money. He returned with a vengeance in the 80’s, and his exquisite organic work has been long sought after. He is currently working for Malibu’s Ultraverse on Rune, about an alien vampire who preys on super-heroes. It could be campy, but in his hands it’s an eerie horror story.

Also great is Frank Miller. He came to notice during his run on Daredevil in the early eighties, then achieved his greatest acclaim with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in 1986. His dark and gritty portrait of an over the hill hero coming out of retirement set the tone for years of hero makeovers. He took a vacation from comics to write screenplays for RoboCop 2 and 3, but came back recently with a new style. The black and white technique Miller uses in Sin City manages to evoke the classic forties mystery story with a nineties flair.

But I digress. The art in comics moves me so much, I have to go back a century to find that same depth in art. It seems like the modern artists aren’t even trying, that they’re turning in McAssignments. If they’re that apathetic, why don’t they just get a different career?

It’s not like I don’t love the cutting edge. I like it in music, film, comics, TV and cars. But at the same time I get the sense that the people who create these, care about what they do. Modern artists give me the impression that they care about how much money they can make if they’re the next Van Gogh. Most forms of expression in this world give me a great feeling; modern art leaves me feeling like I have to hurl.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Buy Comics Cheap: Back Issue Purchasing

Previously, in this column, I’ve discussed some of the best comics around. Now I’ll explain the best method of getting some (comics, that is), some that may be even cheap enough for college students.

There are two kinds of comics that you can buy, new comics and back issues. Back issues are any comics that were published more than a month ago. For new comics there are two ways you can go: subscriptions and buying them directly from comic book stores.

Subscriptions are normally done directly with the comic book companies that produce them. (Marvel, DC, etc.) They are exactly like magazine subscriptions in that you pay a set price for a year’s subscription. This has the advantage of giving you up to 30% off the cover price, but the drawback of trusting the US Postal Service to deliver your issues in undamaged condition, if at all. It also requires an advance commitment to a title you may not like.

The other way to get new comics is to buy them in a comics store. There are a couple of ways that you can do this. You can either buy them directly off the rack, or you can join a pull service. For the latter, you must sign up in advance, at the comics shop, for the individual titles you’ll buy each month. They’ll pull them for you each month and you can buy them without the hassle of finding them on the rack. This has the additional benefit of a discount, usually around 10% off the cover price. There are places that will do this through the mail, usually for a deeper discount, but you must know what you want, and pay for it months before it comes out.

Due to continual price hikes of new comics (most comics now start at $1.50, but some can cost in excess of $5.00) it can actually be cheaper to buy back issues, especially if you are a frugal college student. Often back issues are sold for cover price or less. The easiest place to find back issues is your local comic book store. Many local stores carry a selection of back issues and are willing to look for any they don’t have. The best thing to do is find out when the store is going to have a sale during which they frequently discount the comics from 10% to 20%. There are a lot of good local stores, including Big Planet Comics in Reston, and Burke Used Books in Burke.

Another good way to get back issues is through the mail. There are many companies that will do this, but it is best to stick to the well-known, established ones. The best one I’ve found is Mile High Comics at 2151 West 56th Ave., Denver, Co 80221. They carry nearly every comic published in the last fifty years, and offer some really great specials in their catalog, with several thousand comics for under a dollar each. I will say this: they’re not that fast, although they are accurate and dependable.

The other place to get back issues (and some new issues, for that matter) is at a comics show. These are events held in the main room of a hotel, usually on a weekend. With anywhere between 15 and 40 dealers selling comics and cards, you can usually get a good deal. To make their money back, they are usually willing to lower prices, especially if you have cash. The best bargains are usually found here, as many dealers bring boxes of comics for under a dollar. If you are interested in attending any shows in our area, there will be two on March 6: one in Springfield at the Hilton and one in Tyson’s Corner at the Ramada.

If you have comics to trade or sell, that puts you in another situation. Your best bet is to trade for more, as people are generally inclined to make better deals for trade if they do give out cash at all. The comics shops are not a great place to go; they’ll offer the worst prices. Some good trades can be worked at comics shows, but the best deals I’ve found have been through the mail. You can either place your own ads or respond to ads placed by others.

The best way to learn about mail order houses and comics in general is to pick up a copy of the Comic Buyer’s Guide, the only weekly periodical about comics. CBG contains reviews and letters by and about the comics industry, as well as plenty of ads to buy and sell comics.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Sheryl Crow Takes to Georgetown

Small and cramped are good descriptions of some clubs I’ve been to, but prove truly inadequate to describe the crowd at Sheryl Crow’s in store performance at Kemp Mill Music in Georgetown last Sunday.

Sheryl was scheduled to appear at 3pm but 3:30 came and went as the line grew out of the store and down the block. She finally showed and apologized for being both sick and hung over. “That’s okay” someone from the crowd responded, “we are too.” She took a minute to tune up then went into “Can’t Cry Anymore” and “Strong Enough”, off her album Tuesday Night Music Club. Her voice was harsh and cracked but it grew smoother as she warmed up. Sheryl used to be a backup singer, most notably for Michael Jackson and Don Henley, but she’s definitely ready for the big leagues.

Sheryl ended with an extended rendition of her single “Leaving Las Vegas”, which sounds ten times better unencumbered of those goofy drums on the album. Near the end she snuck in parts from the Beatles “Blackbird” and Steve Miller’s “The Joker” and the crowd loved it. She signed autographs afterwards, and was extremely nice. One piece of advice: if you ever go to an in-store appearance, be sure to get there early, or you’re not going to see a thing.

Crow opened that night for the New Zealand band, Crowded House, a partnership that plans to return to the Washington DC area at Johns Hopkins University later this year. The Lisner Auditorium concert was sold out two weeks before the concert.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Nuts and Bolts, Nuts and Bolts – We Got Screwed

I’ve been listening to a lot of Nirvana this week. Trying to understand why someone would do such a thing is never easy, and this is no exception. What I can’t accept though, is the attempt to make Kurt Cobain into another John Lennon. He’s not the “voice of our generation”.

Kurt didn’t want to talk about it, but he obviously had an unhappy youth. He grew up in a small logging town east of Seattle, filled with macho guys quick to make fun of anyone who didn’t fit the mold, such as Kurt. I can’t blame him for carrying a grudge, but it’s nothing different than what happened to me, or people I knew in school. Refusing to conform to the norm is never accepted, but Kurt was apparently really stigmatized. He thought if he could make music, all the pain would go away.

It didn’t, of course. His vision of Nirvana was success on the level of Sonic Youth, a major label contract, but not selling enough to be a household name. Instead, Nirvana achieved worldwide acceptance, and Kurt was adored by the people he despised He hated every second of the fame. Sure he had money, but now people wouldn’t leave him alone. He was constantly badgered to help out here, donate money there, and give ’til it hurt.

That coma he went into last month as a result of drugs and alcohol was apparently another suicide attempt, with note. This understandably freaked people out, and he was urged by his wife and band mates to seek treatment. He agreed, but left after a couple of days. I don’t know if we’ll ever know why he took this way out. He had been talking about quitting the band, but that solution just wasn’t good enough. Now it’s revealed that he was having horrible stomach pains, which is why he turned to heroin in the first place.

I personally don’t see it. Suicide is just an easy way out, forcing everyone else to deal with your problems because you just can’t handle it. But I digress.

Make no mistake, I do like Nirvana. I think they’ve made some great music. Soon after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” started getting big I bought Nevermind. I was impressed. After seeing Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Garth Brooks top the charts, it was refreshing to see some angst filled screaming overpower them all. I loved the album, and bought their first album Bleach, a couple of weeks later. A no frills album that sounds like a bunch of demos, it shows a promise that was delivered.

I was never deluded though. As good as Nevermind sounds, the lyrics are no more developed than Bleach. They just sound like a drunk guy spouting off, attempting to be wise, like “it’s okay to eat fish/’cause they haven’t any feelings” from “Something in the Way” or “when I was an alien, cultures weren’t opinions” from “Territorial Pissings.” They didn’t get much more intelligent on their last album In Utero. Witness “Like most babies smell like butter/his smell smelled like no other” from “Scentless Apprentice”.

I’m not saying that guy was a bad singer or songwriter. He had some legitimate angst to get rid of, and he managed to communicate that through his songs. How can you listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and not think that this guy is really pissed off? About what though? At the end of the song he sings “a denial.” A denial? Of what? I got the anger, but I didn’t see the message.

I don’t see Kurt Cobain as the voice of my generation. He wrote some good songs, but he wasn’t effective at communicating what he felt, and I think he gave up instead of trying harder. So who is the voice of my generation? I think it’s Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam.

Pearl Jam has only had two albums, but they’re both incredible. Eddie is capable of taking a subject such as abortion, incest, or gun control, and letting us know exactly what he thinks about it, in “Porch”, “Daughter” and “Glorified G.” When he gets personal is when he’s at his best. “Black” just captures the emotions I feel at the end of a relationship perfectly. And when he sings it live, you can see him reliving that feeling. And he can use a song to communicate on different levels, as in “Even Flow” where he tells a story about a homeless man, while showing his rage about the system that causes homelessness.

Eddie manages to channel the angst many of us feel and tell us exactly why he’s angry. I never felt that Kurt was anywhere close to mastering communicating anything more than a general rage. I can’t support the idea that a guy that just screamed is the voice of my generation. I don’t think my generation would just give up like that either. I don’t like a lot of things that are going on in the world, but I can tell you what they are and why I don’t like them – like Eddie can, and like Kurt never could.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Pearl Jams Patriot Center

There was a strange vibe Friday at the Patriot Center. The news of Kurt Cobain’s death was ultimately overwhelmed by the energized show put on by Pearl Jam.

The show had been sold out for months. They announced at 3 p.m. on Friday that tickets would go on sale at 4 p.m., and I missed out, as many people did. I was relentless in my pursuit of tickets, badgering friends and offering people ridiculous amounts of money. I even sat on the Quad holding a cardboard sign that said “Will Sell Body For Pearl Jam Tickets.” Unable to get tickets by Friday, I had quickly gone over to the Patriot Center upon rumors that several hundred tickets would be released for sale. I was prepared to sacrifice my hard-earned cash to a scalper if I couldn’t get tickets any other way. However, they did release seats and I got mine.

The mood outside the Patriot Center was very odd. Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide had been confirmed several hours earlier, and some people were extremely depressed. Many expressed their frustration and grief over why a man with his millions, plus a wife and kid, could possibly do this. It felt like he had betrayed them, abandoned them to their fate. Others made light of the situation, trying to dispel the tension with macabre jokes. Overriding it all, though, was the excitement over seeing Pearl Jam live, and it served to dissipate the strain.

Mudhoney began the evening with a set of mostly originals. Their songs were a raucous wash of guitar and drums with a healthy dose of feedback. Not having heard them before, I was hard-pressed to differentiate between any of their songs, with the notable exception of a Jimmie Dale Gilmore cover, which was played so slowly I could actually understand the lyrics.

After Mudhoney left the stage, the crowd’s noise started increasing. Every time a new roadie walked on stage, the crowd got louder. Finally, following a noticeable delay, Pearl Jam took the stage. The lights went out, and all that was visible was several dozen candles burning on speakers next to the drums. Barely visible forms moved around on stage as the crowd’s noise became deafening. Then the tunes of a guitar became audible as Pearl Jam eased into “Release”. The lights remained off during the rest of the song, until lead singer Eddie Vedder addressed the crowd: “I think you know what’s on our minds, let’s do this thing”. The lights then burst on as the band exploded into the first two songs from their new album, “Go” and “Animal”.
The people on the floor seats seemed like they would like to throw their chairs away and create a mosh pit, but security was fairly strict about their remaining in their seats.

The band continued with “Dissident” from Vs, then went back to Ten for “Why Go”, “Deep” and “Jeremy.” Bassist Jeff Ament pulled out a stool and a standing bass guitar for “Daughter,” which was very well received. Eddie embellished the song by breaking into Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” and Don McLean’s “American Pie” at the end, a strange place considering the subject matter of the song, but appropriate with the day’s news.

Pearl Jam next rocked through “Even Flow” and followed with their two contributions to the Singles soundtrack, “Breath” and “State Of Love And Trust.” Next was a rarely performed song, “Footsteps,” the third song in a trilogy about a serial killer, along with “Alive” and “Once.” “Footsteps” was also performed (with different lyrics) on Temple of the Dog as “Times of Trouble” with lead vocals by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden.

The set concluded with an emotional “Black”, a charged “Alive”, and a psycho “Porch”. Earlier, Eddie had complained about the man-made barrier between the seats and the stage, as well as the height of the stage, although he thought the band had just reached an elevated state and could fall. In the middle of “Porch” he eased down off the stage and up on to the barrier as he continued singing. He offered the microphone to the crowd, the first couple rows of which had surged to the front and attempted some crowd-surfing.

The band soon rejoined us for an encore. They started with “Rearviewmirror” and continued with two new songs, “Corduroy” and “Not For You”. Next was the slow but popular “Elderly Woman In a Small Town”, followed by the frenzied “Blood”, which had Eddie pounding his microphone through the stage.

After the band left the stage again, some idiot brought the house lights up and people started to leave. The majority of the crowd refused to budge, and grew louder until Pearl Jam returned. They went into the laid-back “Indifference,” then Eddie spoke to the crowd one more time. He thanked everyone for coming, and exhorted everyone not to die. Then the band kicked into their closer, Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” and the crowd rocked along.

Afterwards, everyone looked drained and euphoric. The band was fantastic and the show was incredible, and one can hope that the Patriot Center might continue to attract acts of this caliber.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Expulsionpalooza

Expulsion publisher Timothy D. “Cheez Whiz” Jasionowski had actually had a good idea. True, he was high off lighter fluid at the time, but he wanted a concert. Saturday night. At Expulsion HQ. I said “fine”, and Expulsionpalooza ’94 was born.

Immediately, I contacted resident net addict, Alfred L. Bumbletweed. He was able to contact Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour’s brother’s chauffeur’s barber and subsequently managed to convince Dave that we had $60,000 here with his name on it if he could bring Pink Floyd. He agreed and our headliner was set.

I knew I needed a good second act and, having no Pearl Jam tickets, I thought I’d try to sign them on. I contacted Eddie Vedder through his publicist and let him know that this was a charity concert to try and save the spotted Mason squirrel, endangered by the building of SUB III (excuse me, the big Johnson). He quickly agreed, but I knew I needed at least one more act.

Then it hit me. Jimi Hendrix. Still as popular today as 20 years ago. So he’s dead, big deal. I know some dudes at Disney’s America who would be able to fix him right up.

I was able to sell out the available 125 tickets in a little over six hours and immediately began to set up the stage out back. People started showing up around 3 p.m. even though the event wasn’t scheduled to start until 8 p.m., so of course I started selling beer. It’s simply amazing what kind of profit you can make selling beer at $5.00 a bottle, especially to thirsty college students. In fact, by the time Floyd showed up at 7:00, I had their cash in hand.

We thought we’d have Jimi open up. Unfortunately, he resisted any of our attempts to make him play. We were forced to duct tape him to one of Pink Floyd’s inflatable pigs, tie a stick of dynamite to his guitar, and throw a match. Some people claimed they liked that better than Pink Floyd’s light show, but I think that’s just because they blew their retinas out.

Next up was Pearl Jam. Eddie was a little upset when he found out that the squirrels weren’t really endangered, but we held a gun to the head of Expulsion mascot Hobbes the Tiger until he agreed to play. Being pissed, he subjected us to annoying songs like “Achy Breaky Heart”, Barney’s “I Love You, You Love Me”, and “I’m A Little Teapot Short And Stout”. After that depressing performance we shot Hobbes anyway, as well as Eddie.

Finally it was time for Pink Floyd. A truly amazing show, highlighted by songs from Dark Side, The Wall, and the new album, The Division Bell. The show climaxed by sending Expulsion HQ into a black hole. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever see as good a show again, and the other three survivors agree with me.

emmet swimming-ly

If you went away for spring break, you may have had fun, but you missed one heck of a show on Saint Patrick’s Day. As the green beer flowed, emmet swimming had a filled to overflowing Fat Tuesday’s rocking.

If you’ve never seen or heard emmet swimming, they’re hard to describe. The sound of the band on the CD vaguely resembles REM, but the closest equivalent to singer Todd Watts is Tears for Fears.

However, in a live situation, their sound is different, largely due to the introduction of bassist Rob Shaw. Between him and drummer Tamer Eid, they’ve developed a ferocious rhythm section. Try to imagine Rush’s Neil Peart with Les Claypool from Primus and you might have some idea of how they sound together. At various times, Rob was singing, although it wasn’t in time with Todd and didn’t seem to make much sense at all. I have a theory that he was singing “I’m a Little Teapot Short and Stout”, but I can’t be sure.

The couple of covers they did were quite interesting: a Willie Nelson tune, guitarist Erik Wenberg handling the vocals on an REM tune, and a really odd (but good) choice, Belly’s “Feed The Tree”.

The new songs were all well done, though some were especially memorable. These included “Emmet Swimming”, “Lisa Says”, “Expect Me”, and the closer, “Boone’s Farm Wine”, a certain future favorite of GMU students. Todd introduced “I Believe” as their only Irish tune, and it was quite enjoyable as well.

You wouldn’t think Fat Tuesday’s would be big enough for stage diving, but several people in the audience attempted it before the management requested that they stop. The crowd was very into the show, and even though the biggest reaction came from the older songs, the new songs got an enthusiastic reception as well.

Talking with Tamer and their manager between sets revealed some good news. emmet swimming has been touring the east coast (and attracting some label interest), but has taken some time to record new songs. They’ve recorded seventeen new tracks of which about ten will make their next album. The new CD will probably be out in July and will be available at local CD stores that participate in The Local Music Store network.

For more information on emmet swimming, drop a line to: S.G. Entertainment, P.O. Box 1116, Fairfax, VA, 22030.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Satriani rocks Constitution

For those of you who may not have heard of Joe Satriani, he is the world’s greatest living guitar player. He proved it once again at Constitution Hall on Tuesday night. Recently, Joe toured with the Bissonette brothers, David Lee Roth’s old rhythm section, and I assumed they would return on this tour. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see the return of Joe’s original tour mates: Jonathan Mover on drums and Stuart Hamm on bass.

After a mercifully short set of mostly covers by an unknown Canadian band, Joe stormed the stage. He started the show with the first two singles off his last studio album, The Extremist, “Summer Song” and the title track. He then proceeded to perform songs off his breakthrough album, Surfing With the Alien, and its follow-up, “Flying in a Blue Dream”. Early high points included the emotional “Always With Me, Always With You” and a savage reworking of Hendrix’s “Red House”.

The reason for this tour is to promote Joe’s newest album, Time Machine, a two CD career retrospective. The second CD is a full 75 minutes of live Satch, mostly drawn from his recent tour. The first CD contains b-sides and unreleased songs as well as three new songs recorded by the current band which Joe took an obvious pleasure in performing.

One of the unexpected highlights of the night was Stu Hamm’s bass solo, including a magnificent rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that had the crowd on its feet. For an encore, Joe ripped through a take on “Surfing With The Alien” that left the crowd breathless.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Blind Melon at UMBC sans Bee Girl

One of the best times to go see a group is after their album has become popular enough for them to become headliners, but before they start outgrowing the smaller places. Such a situation occurred with Blind Melon at the sold-out UMBC Fieldhouse on February 23.

Often derided by the publisher of this paper as U Made a Bad Choice, the campus is actually nicer than Mason’s. Imagine, if you could, a college campus built in a valley. However, the parking did have something in common with Mason’s, and your humble reviewer was only able to see the last minute-and-a-half of the first band, Alice Donut. Judging by the crowd reaction, though, I wasn’t sorry I missed them.

After a short wait, the Meat Puppets took the stage. Former label mates of Black Flag, their latest album, Too High to Die, is their eighth, although their major label debut. Their set mostly consisted of tracks from their new album and their previous album, Forbidden Places. The peak of their performance came with “Backwater”, a great song picking up some heavy airplay on WHFS. The Puppets are a really tight and versatile band, although their songwriting could use some work. The majority of their songs are easily forgettable.

After about a half an hour and a lot of anticipation, Blind Melon appeared. They kicked off the set with “I Wonder”, then brought a huge response from the crowd with “Tones Of Home”. Their set consisted mostly of songs from their eponymous debut. All were received well by the crowd, but the one that brought the house down (and more crowdsurfers than you would have thought possible) was their extended version of “No Rain”. No Bee-girl arrived, but no one seemed to care.

Blind Melon’s encore was incredible. They started by debuting a new acoustic song, “Walk”. After that, they enthusiastically tackled The Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says”, which segued into Social Distortion’s “Ball And Chain”. The highlight of the evening came when they ripped into a killer version of Led Zeppelin’s “Out On The Tiles”, followed by an impassioned performance of “Soak The Sin”.

Blind Melon’s performance was extremely energetic; each band member is quite talented and the band is not just a showcase for singer Shannon Hoon. I urge anyone who has the chance to see Blind Melon before they move to larger venues.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

A Top Ten Look at 1993’s Best Comics

It’s not quite the end of the year, but it’s time for the year end wrap up of comics. Here, in a more or less order, is my list of the top 10 comics for 1993.

10. Ninjak (Valiant) A brand new book, but a good one. Ninjak is Valiant’s new mysterious ninja, but the best thing about this book is the people behind it. Valiant has been known for delivering good, solid stories, but since the departure of Barry Windsor-Smith, has lacked any superstar artists for the fans to get excited about. Well, now they’ve got one. Joe Quesada (The Ray, Batman:Sword Of Azrael, X-Factor) has accepted penciling duties on this book, and with the solid storytelling skills of Mark Moretti (Eternal Warrior) this book should go far, if the first issue is any indication of where it’s going.

9. Wild C.A.T.S. (Image) While I have a problem with Image creating a work-for-hire situation when they said they’d be nothing like Marvel, I certainly have no problem with the quality of the books that do come out from most of the creators. Wild C.A.T.S. is a team of superheroes gathered together initially to fight an alien invasion. The team book is a tough concept to pull off, since it’s been done practically to death, but Jim Lee pulls it off. The writing is OK, but the main reason to buy this book is the exciting pencils of Lee. Lee manages to keep the book exciting while keeping the characters realistic in their proportions, a tough feat to pull off at Image.

8. Sachs and Violens (Marvel/Epic) Yes, Peter David (Incredible Hulk, X-Factor, Aquaman) strikes again. It seems this man excels at anything he turns his typewriter to. Joining him once again is George Perez (New Teen Titans, Infinity Gauntlet, Break-Thru). These two were first united in last year’s Hulk: Future Imperfect, and their new work looks even better. Sachs and Violens are a model and a photographer, driven to become detectives by the death of one of Sachs’ model friends. The best part of the first issue, aside from the great art, is the text in the back, where David explains his feeling on sex and violence. And what does David think of sex on TV? “Frankly, I think it’s a pain. For one thing, the cable box winds up wedged into your back and gets real uncomfortable…”

7. Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo (DC/Vertigo) An old, lame Western hero. The last story with this guy attempted to send him into a post-nuclear apocalypse. I thought nobody could make him interesting. Boy, was I wrong. Famed horror (and horror western) novelist Joe R. Lansdale brings horror to the Old West, and it will never be the same. Jonah Hex is your average ornery bounty hunter with a price on his own head, who discovers that corpses that don’t stop moving make it hard to collect bounty on them. Lending a great deal of historical background are artists Timothy Truman (Scout, The Spider, Turok) and Sam Glanzman, both well known for their stories based in this time period.

6. Bone (Cartoon Books) Have you ever heard of Pogo? Remember “we have seen the enemy, and he is us”? No? Well forget it then, and go buy this book. Bone is hard to describe. It’s obviously influenced by Walt Kelly’s Pogo, but has a style all it’s own. The star is one Fone Bone, who along with his cousins Phoney and Smiley is trying to find his way back home. That description doesn’t do the book any justice, though. It’s hilarious and must be seen for itself.

5. Superman (DC) In November of last year Superman died. You wouldn’t think that leaves much room for a story, would ya? Especially with four monthly titles to put out. Well, editor Mike Carlin and his team of writers managed to do it. In April, it was established that Superman had survived somehow, and this news was followed by the appearance of four separate Supermen. The surprise was that none of the four was the real one, and one was a villain that took the combined might of the other three, plus the original, to stop. This story has been fresh and original all year, an amazing effort.

4. Cerebus (Aardvark-Vanaheim) This is hard to describe. What do you say about a book that started out as simple Conan the Barbarian parody, but has evolved into the life story of Cerebus. And when I say life story, I mean it. Dave Sim has committed to producing 300 issues over 26 years. And you know the amazing thing? He’s more than halfway there already. This book is fantastic, though. It covers one person’s life, and like life it has humor and sadness, adventure and tragedy.

3. Spawn (Image) You really have to respect someone who can listen to what the critics say, and than proceed to blow them away. The most frequent criticism leveled at Image is that it is a company made up of artists and that it’s writing, to put it mildly, sucks. Todd McFarlane had been writing Spider-Man before he left Marvel, and has been improving since, but he acknowledges he’s no Shakespeare. So in response to the critics, he hired some of the best writers in comics to write issues of Spawn this year. Alan Moore (Watchmen), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Dave Sim (Cerebus), and Frank Miller (Batman:The Dark Knight Returns) all wrote for Spawn, producing some incredible issues along the way. Oh yeah, Spawn is short for hellspawn, he gets his powers from the devil, and every time he uses them, he gets closer to returning to the grave. This is the best book from Image, not to mention the longest running one.

2. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear (Marvel) Genius is an overused word, but it certainly applies to Frank Miller. As he makes his second return to the character he gained his fame on, it’s clear that he was born to write the adventures of this blind superhero. Even though his Daredevil has been branded the definitive one, Miller never had before told the full origin of the character the way he had done with Batman. This series answers questions about Daredevil that have remained unanswered for more than ten years, as well as providing a full origin of Elektra, his lover and enemy.

1. Sandman/Death (DC/Vertigo) There’s always one thing that rises above all others. And this year it’s Neil Gaiman’s unparalleled work on Sandman and it’s spinoff, Death: The High Cost Of Living. Gaiman’s amazing ear for dialect, speech, and mannerisms make all of his characters totally unique. Death 1-3 and Sandman 50, in particular, were incredible. The artists, Chris Bachalo and P. Craig Russell provided dazzling interpretations of Gaiman’s scripts, making for the best comics of the year.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]