The premise is simple: read one comic every day for the entire year. It seems like a simple task but there is no way that I read 365 comics last year, even if you count the individual issues in collections. So, this year, I am committing myself to this reading challenge, in the hope that I can broaden my reading habits and fully engage with my favorite hobby again.
I’ve realized that this project is turning into something of a comics diary, revealing more about me as a person than I expected. And that’s the beauty of comics. It’s not just about picking up the latest copy of Spider-Man on a Wednesday, reading it, and then slipping it into a sleeve for it to be filed away. The comics we read are a reflection of our mood at the time we read them. They represent our mindsets, our opinions, and our personal philosophies. When I first started writing about comics, places like Facebook and Twitter were instrumental for sharing those thoughts, getting recognized, and starting conversations. These days, not so much. I barely use my Twitter account, and Facebook is for personal use. I hide as much as possible behind privacy walls. I am running out of places where I can talk about comics, especially about the kinds of things that interest me about the medium. Most of what I read on social media frustrates me and often raises my hackles. The conversations are puerile and often founded on discrimination and hate. I know this is only a small representation of ‘comic fans’ (and more often than not, they’re not really comic fans), but they are usually the loudest and dominate conversations. I have also seen a number of the websites that I loved become nothing more than listicles and promotional tools for the publishers. They are devoid of discussion.
Every now and then I go through a stage where I contemplate giving up on comics. I have a cup of tea and think about leaving the house of ideas behind me. At the end of last year, I cancelled my standing order at my local comic shop, one that I had for over a decade, because I was no longer able to afford it. At least, that was my excuse. In reality, I wasn’t reading the comics that I was buying — even the ones that I liked such as Saga, a title I haven’t read since the hiatus, but have still bought every issue of. I guess, as I’ve gotten older, my tastes have changed. I am more interested in the concept of comics than I am in actually reading comics. My enjoyment has moved away from the pure entertainment of the medium towards an appreciation for the art.
I was in a Facebook group dedicated to comic appreciation which turned out to be more predominately people showing off their comic collections and new buys. There was very little discussion about the comics or the medium in general. One post that has stuck with me was from a man who was complaining that the workers in his local shop (young ‘uns, obviously) weren’t aware that Miracleman was an old character made popular in the 1980s by Alan Moore and published in magazines long since extinct. This poster was mortified that he had to explain to the staff that the character dated back to the early days of comics and had been reinvented and re-released on a number of occasions. He finished his post with a quip about a hypothetical 5 year old trying to convince him that a Funko Pop toy was a comic. Oh, how these young un’s lack any knowledge. Except, to that theoretical 5 year old, the Funko Pop figure would probably factor into his love of comics. The toy would be a large part of how the child would engaged with and enjoy comics. In the same way that large audiences go and see the Marvel movies, and in turn consider themselves connoisseurs of comics. My love of comics was born through the Transformers comics of the mid 1980’s. I loved the cartoon show and bought piles of toys (unfortunately, lost to car boot sales over time). The comic was bought for me because of the other media I consumed and I soon became addicted to it. For me, the interest in comics started with television shows and toys. Therefore, who are we to deny the love of paraphernalia surrounding the medium?
This project was supposed to help me find my love of comics again and, 8 weeks in, I think it has but not quite in the way that I thought. I don’t want to spend each week reading 7 comics and then writing a short review about how much I liked them. My intention was never just to write a list of my favorite comics and why I read them. Therefore, in the future, I’m going to incorporate other aspects of comics, as I have already done, into my daily ‘reads’.
Anyway, this week I have been mainly reading comics from the digital anthology Aces Weekly. I subscribe to the site and pay some money every now and then to get access to the volumes as they are released. The fact I don’t know how much or when I pay says something about my commitment to the business model that David Lloyd is promoting. I log into the site possibly once a year and read a whole bunch of comic strips in one go, instead of reading it week on week, which I think you are supposed to do. The following comics are the 7 that I enjoyed, for one reason or another, from my sporadic reading this week.
Comic Number 57: Living the Dream by Fer Calvi
I started to read this strip from the latest volume (number 61) but it’s only three weeks in. The comic, however, like so many others in Aces Weekly, has been going on for a number of issues, so I went back to read the earlier chapters. I picked this one out because of the art style. I love the cubist renditions of the world the characters inhabit and how the color changes from the ‘real’ world into the digital world affects the way you read and digest the story. The visual change is significant and striking but, fundamentally, the art style is the same.
I’m not really a fan of the story, or the characters, as I found the dialogue flat and forced but flicking from page to page to look at the wonderful art was enough to justify reading several chapters.
Comic Number 58: The Pack by Jok
The Pack is a perfect short story and a wonderful comic. The black and white artwork sets the atmosphere of this gritty crime story with brutal characters in a brutal narrative. It reminded me of the older crime comics I was reading last week and uses the medium brilliantly to tell the story. Jok manipulates the space on the page to invoke emotions and involve the reader directly with the narrative.
Jok is an Argentinian artist who has found a market in European comics. He adds a sense of humor to his work but, as demonstrated in The Pack, it is his draftsmanship that is his greatest talent. The story slides across the page like the ink from his pen.
Comic Number 59: Combat Colin by Lew Stringer
Going all the way back to volume one for this comic strip action. For those who know, Combat Colin was published in the weekly marvel comics Action Force and Transformers. So, I’ve been reading this strip for many, many years. Lew Stringer is a lover of British comics and enjoys the whimsical nature of the gag strip. With Combat Colin he mixes aspects of different strips to produce some uniquely entertaining. The jokes are dreadful (on purpose) and the characters are over the top (again, that’s the point) but somehow the strip is endearing.
In this first volume, Colin and his sidekick, Steve, fight Giant Zombie Yeds, created by mad scientists who were just experimenting on corpses (as they do). Seemingly dismissable, Combat Colin is actually steeped in history and draws on aspects of the comic strip that have been around longer than the comic book. There’s more to Lew Stringer than cheap tricks and bad puns. His work is worthy of discovery.
Comic Number 60: Panzer tripod by Reza Benhadj
“Let’s admire the countryside.”
Z21 — the central alien character in this story by Benhadj — sums up the visuals perfectly. This is a visual treat where a combination of shadow and negative space make up the images within the panels. The comics within Aces Weekly have a page design to fit a monitor screen, a different shape to the standard American comic book, and Benhadj uses it perfectly with a combination of full page long shots and collections of small, tight panels. The framing in this story is spot on and is reminiscent of the original Alien movie.
Visual scope. That’s the best way to describe this comic.
Comic Number 61: Bog Trotter by Katie Cunningham and Hailey Renee Brown
This macabre vampire-esq story about female empowerment is told in mostly grey scale artwork. The darkness that underlines the narrative is reflected in the disturbing creature that stalks the tale on almost every page. Cunningham and Brown weave a cunning short story about the sexism embedded in the educational establishments around the turn of the 19th century but do it with a gothic horror twist.
The comic reads in the same way a Hammer Horror movie plays out: lots of elaborate costumes and clever word play barely distracts from the creature in the room. The rendering of the vampire creature is suitably grotesque as it enchants the leading lady. It is succinct and smartly plotted.
Comic Number 62: Head Case by Ale Mangiarotti
Buried in volume 56, Head Case is another short story with a twist. The first half is a silent comic about an artist and his hat. But somewhere in the middle it takes a turn.
Existential dread and writer’s block are the backbones for Mangiarotti’s tale — one that needs to be read to be believed.
Comic Number 63: Nothing Maybe Something by Chris Geary
It’s a love story, of sorts. A tale of friendship told in the simplest of ways. Often abstract and occasionally touching, this comic exemplifies the genius of an anthology like Aces Weekly. It is so different from everything else in this week’s list and a breath of fresh air in general.
Read it in issue 50. Also read “Swell” in issue 44. It’s about a man in a boat on a rough sea. The artwork is sublime.
Aces Weekly is an online comics anthology that showcases a mix of talent from all over the world. You can buy specific volumes or subscribe and get the weekly editions as they are released, even if you only log in once a year. Along with the mixed talent there is also an array of genres and styles on offer; it really does have something for everyone, whether you are into gag strips, sci-fi action stories, or avant-garde tales. Check it out here.