Saturday, November 21, 2009

Masterpiece Comics

We don't see that many comics at the Used Books buying desk. There are two excellent, long established comic-book-stores in the neighborhood, and there are certainly many, many "fanboys" and comics readers through our doors at the bookstore regularly. Most of these seem to cross over into straight SF/Fantasy literature regularly, which might seem an obvious thing, as the superheroes and that sort of thing are kept upstairs with the science fiction and fantasy novels, but with the rise of graphic novels, "arty" comics and the like, comics no longer have just this exclusive audience. One would think then that, at least in a book-bound format, we would be seeing more of this sort of thing used than we do. We would welcome the best of these books, as we do the best books in general, but then, that may be the problem.

What constitutes a good book of "comix?" Hardly an area of expertise for me, or for my fellow buyers, though we've made an effort to learn, and we do have an excellent selection of front-list graphic novels and the like in our inventory against which we can measure what comes in used. This has proved the best way to judge most of the little we see, specially any titles that are not quite new: if our art-books buyer or our science fiction guru stock a particular series of Manga, or keep multiple copies of some Marvel anthology, or a graphic novel that is more than five years old, there is every chance that a clean used copy will sell.

And there have been titles, not so much rare in themselves, as they are rare in appealing to me. When such a book has made its way into inventory by my hand, with nothing to support it selection but my unexpected fancy for the style of the book, the quality of the drawing, or the unusual nature of the story, at least in graphic form, I've been as surprised as anybody. I've bought a graphic-history of the Acadians' diaspora, for instance, that finally sold a year or two after I bought it used, someone else finally finding it as interesting and well done as I did. Generally though, I've found my taste in the form, admittedly narrow, and even snobbish, is far from being the best guide to what will sell, and so I've kept largely to the criteria mentioned above.

It is a mistake of mine that I'm thinking about tonight. Not all that long ago, a large format, hardcover comic book came across the desk, in a whole box of similar stuff, and I passed on it without looking at the thing properly. It was a new release. We hadn't ordered it at the time, though new copies were subsequently ordered in and that is how I finally came to really look at the book, and regret my missed chance at a good, clean, used copy.

Masterpiece Comics, by R. Sikoryak, is a delightful collection of five comic books by this brilliant fellow. Let me see if I can, briefly describe the book. Actually, this is a bound collection of five separate comics, each a comic parody of a classic work of literature, each using a classic comic book to retell the story. For example, Crime and Punishment is here told over in the style of the original, boxy Bob Kane Batman. Or, to just to mention another favorite, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, in Sikoryak's version, features Little Lulu as Hester's love-child, Pearl!

Sikoryak's spoofs are letter perfect summaries then, of everything from Wuthering Heights (retold as one of the horror comics I loved as a boy,) to Waiting for Godot, as performed by Beavis & Butthead. And each comic book also parodies the visual style of the original comics artists with amazing fidelity. In fact, so perfect are Sikoryak's versions of even the old ads that appeared in the comic books of my youth, I nearly missed a couple of the best of these until I looked through the book a second time -- see the hilarious one suggesting that, "If You're 12 Years Old or Older, You Can Be a Thoughtful, Discerning LIT Salesman," done in exact imitation of the ad that nearly convinced me, when I was nearly that age, I could have a career selling comics one day. Delightful, as is every page of this brilliantly funny book. I grinned like an ape throughout.

And yet, I nearly missed seeing the book at all.

So to answer my earlier question, at least in part now, it seems that what constitutes a good, or even, as in this case, a great comic book, would be anything so good that even if I've missed it the first time, it can make me look a second and even a third time. Not that far from my definition of a favorite work of literature, really.

I may need to rethink, at least a little, my snobbishness about comix -- if not my seemingly inevitable disdain for those adults who read nothing else. What would the fanboys make of Sikoryak's "Little Dori in Pictureland?"

No comments:

Post a Comment