News is at least somewhat inherently surprising, otherwise it wouldn’t really be news. It’d just be information. But there’s degrees to the surprise news delivers to us, and this week’s Comics Disassembled column is kicked off by some…well, let’s just say it’s on the high end of the surprise spectrum. Let’s look at ten things of note from the past week of comics, with it all kicked off by a conclusion that no one predicted.
1. The Walking Dead, Living No More
Quick note: if you’re trying to avoid all potential The Walking Dead spoilers – meaning why everyone was talking about this week’s issue or what happened in the last one – consider yourself warned. They’re coming, although nothing specific outside of the two headliner items.
Early this week, rumors started brewing about something big happening in this week’s edition of The Walking Dead. That’s not altogether surprising. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s long-running series kind of hangs its hat on surprise. And with the previous issue featuring the death of its main protagonist, Rick Grimes, it made sense that something big would follow it up. Of course, as a person who reads the comic, I endeavored to avoid that information as much as I possibly could. So far, so good as of Tuesday morning, until I found out what happened in the issue from the most unlikely of places: a DM thread I’m in on Twitter where we talk about basketball all the time.
And you know what? It wasn’t the usual of a major death, unless you consider the comic itself a major death. That’s right: The Walking Dead – completely out of nowhere! – ended with this week’s 193rd issue.
I’m actually going to write about that issue and the larger series either later today or for Saturday, but I wanted to talk about its method of conclusion. I know some comic shops were very upset about getting no warning about the series ending, as they likely would have ordered more if they did. The owner of my local shop actually solicited my opinion as to why they did what they did, and my answer was long, but it amounted to this: “Because they can.”
While I understand the distaste for the methods, as shops definitely could have sold more if given the chance – probably to collectors/speculators, if I’m being honest – I have to say: I absolutely love everything about this. Robert Kirkman is probably the only person in comics who could pull something like this off, and as a reader, it made me genuinely excited to go into the shop and get this comic just because of how they handled this sneak attack release. Everything about it – from its stealth nature to the decision to end it at #193 instead of #200 – is something I respect the hell out of, and I’m stoked that someone in comics was able to do this. It’s exciting, and the yang to the yin of Kirkman’s Die!Die!Die! launch. Plus, knowing this would be a big deal, Skybound/Image had a plan in place to get second prints out to shops by 7/31, which is a rather fast turnaround time.
And honestly, I get why shops weren’t given a heads up. The reason we found out the series was ending before Wednesday – near as I can tell – was because a shop told Bleeding Cool, with them even giving out excerpts from Kirkman’s goodbye letter in the back of the book. This would have stayed a secret finale for approximately 12 seconds. The best answer to this problem would have been what Pittsburgh Comics’ Colin McMahon suggested to me on Twitter, and that’s doing something like a 50% overprint/overship to shops with any excess inventory being returnable. It’s as close as you can get to having your cake and eating it too.
But seriously, I love this move, and its ending fits perfectly with how the comic lived: completely unexpectedly, but in a way that thrilled me as a reader. I’d much prefer Kirkman approach the success of the series in this way – with respect to it needing to end when it needed to end, and in a surprising fashion – than milking it forever. It was a bold choice, but one that makes it far more memorable than a simple planned conclusion.
2. Sina Grace, Speaking Out
Writer/cartoonist Sina Grace is one of the best people I’ve ever met in comics, as he’s even kinder than he is talented, which is really saying something. I’ll be honest: any story Grace is involved with I’ll naturally be biased in his favor because of that, as he’s a gem of a human. But even if I wasn’t, it’s hard to imagine that I could read his write-up about his experience when he wrote Iceman for Marvel Comics and come out anywhere but on his side.
It’s well worth a read, as is his follow-up tweet where he talks about how the issues he had were less individual based and more institutional. But it’s a unique insight into how tightly a major publisher like Marvel can approach projects that could be perceived as “too gay” (quotes from Grace, not me) like Iceman, and how controlling they can be even if it’s to their own detriment. Grace shares a story about how press he garnered for his run with notable rag The New York Times was received as an almost detrimental thing, which is a truly wild, wild thing to see typed out. Grace approaches this piece in a very fair, very realistic perspective, and someone who has been around comics for a long time – fun fact: he was a long-time editor on The Walking Dead! – so he knows how everything works. When he says something was handled poorly, we know he’s being real about it.
It’s an excellent read from Grace, and seriously, major props to him for taking a bold stance and standing up against something he perceived to be harmful to the success of the series and his own efforts with it. It was a brave thing to do, but also something I’m not surprised to see because Grace is a grade A badass even if he is a one hell of a nice person as well.
3. Gene Luen Yang, Hooping
Alert! Alert! We have a sports comic, my friends! Cartoonist Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chines, Boxers & Saints) is going to release Dragon Hoops through First Second on March 17th, 2020, and I am hyped. It’s a non-fiction comic about the basketball team of the high school Yang taught at as they attempt to win the California State Championship, and it finds Yang exploring himself and his often negative relationship with sports as he goes along with the journey of these young athletes.
I love…all of that. Yang is a phenomenal cartoonist. I obviously am always dying for more sports comics, particularly basketball related. And tying it all to a personal narrative is the cherry on top of the whole thing, and likely the straw that will stir the whole book’s drink. I’m all onboard with this comic. Expect me to do everything I can to feature this book on SKTCHD and Off Panel as we approach its release/
4. Mad Magazine, Closing Up
Here’s a terrible admission: I have never read an issue of Mad Magazine. It’s never been a part of my life, despite knowing Alfred E. Neuman’s face about as well as any real or fictional human in the world. But because of that and its influence on people whose work I have appreciated, it’s something that I can’t help but feel a connection to, even if it is a bit of a telephone game version of one. Just last month, I was at a digital conference in Portland and The Onion’s founding editor Scott Dikkers gave a keynote in which he heavily praised Mad Magazine’s influence on him personally. It’s obviously a major deal to a whole lot of very funny people.
And now it’s concluding after a 67 year run, with the magazine shuttering after a few more editions with only intermittent collections coming out in the foreseeable future. It’s a massive loss, as Mad Magazine was always one of those things that felt immortal in a way that almost nothing ever is. Even as a non-reader, I always felt a little twinge of happiness whenever I’d see an issue of it, as it was just this thing that had always been around. I literally don’t know what life is like without it, despite never reading it personally. And that’s wild.
But hey, the good news is it’s a cultural touchstone, and it’s something that we’ll be feeling the influence of for a long time past its official ending. That’s a heck of a legacy, and a well-deserved one at that.
5. Patrick Gleason, Being Marvelous
I knew that artist Patrick Gleason was moving over to Amazing Spider-Man after signing an exclusive with Marvel. I had no idea when it was going to happen. I was hopeful it’d be good, as Gleason is a real talent and it felt like a good fit. Yet, I didn’t know. Now I do: he’s going to be perfect, as the above piece shows. Gleason posted it on Twitter for the 4th of July, and it is a remarkable piece, with its New York City being so remarkably lived in and its denizens so alive that it’s everything we could really want from a Spider-Man artist. Oh, his Spider-Man is also quite good, but man, that world! It’s so alive! I love it to pieces.
Bonus points: it feels like Gleason at his closest possible distance to his rotational art partner Ryan Ottley, giving Ottley someone that stylistically matches him. As much as I enjoy Humberto Ramos, he and Ottley always had a tension between their styles. This is a much more snug fit, and I’d wager it’s going to improve the quality of the book in the process.
6. Marvel Zombies, Returning
I can’t tell if Marvel timed this well or poorly, but either way, it’s timely. They’re bringing Marvel Zombies back in some capacity this October, with the story being told being god knows what and it being told by god knows who. But the news coming out the same week that The Walking Dead surprisingly ended and an issue of DC’s DCeased series – or, DC’s Marvel Zombies – dropped was just perfection.
Am I excited for it? I have no idea! I once really liked the first Marvel Zombies series, mostly because I really like Robert Kirkman’s writing and Sean Phillips’ art, and at the time, it felt super fresh. When Marvel Zombies last came back, it was part of the Secret Wars weirdo Battleworld tie-ins, and it was a lot of fun mostly because it was very against its standard recipe (and starred Elsa Bloodstone). So it depends on what it is and who it’s by. Inherently, this immediately feels more on the “uhh…we really need to publish something, what can we do?” side of the spectrum than an inspired choice. But who knows? I’d wager we’ll find out at San Diego, and I’ll reserve my judgment for then.
7. Snyder + Soule, Teaming Up
I already posted about the fact that writers Charles Soule and Scott Snyder are collaborating on something, as they’ve hardly been keeping it a secret. Now we have a teaser as to what it is, and it appears to be a science fiction take on The Wall concept we’re endlessly subjected to by our rather stupid president, making it part Escape from New York and part Trump’s vision for America. I’m going to say that I’m 40% into the idea, although that number could go up – or down! – depending on the final reveal.
Conversely, I am 100% into the art team that’s working with Soule and Snyder, as Giuseppe Camuncoli is a super underrated line artist, Matt Wilson’s the best in the coloring biz, and CRANK! is a very good letterer. 1 Throw in Will Dennis editing the thing and you have quite the team. Average that out and I’ll say I’m 70% into the book, which feels about fair. But this book will get a lot of attention given its co-writers, and it seems like a much needed potential hit on the horizon for Image.
8. Spike Trotman, Dropping Knowledge
Spike Trotman is someone I’ve been a fan of for a while from afar, as the Iron Circus Comics founder always seems ahead of the curve, no matter which curve she’s taking. So when she makes a thread of tweets, I find them worth paying attention to. This week, she had two of them, and I wanted to bring them both to your attention. One is a look at numbers from a recent anime/manga conference, as previously highlighted by Deb Aoki, looking at where the lift in the American comic industry is coming from. It won’t surprise you to find out that it’s young readers, but it might surprise you to see how much, and this whole thing builds on what Brian Hibbs originally wrote about in his Bookscan report for the year.
The other is a bit of a reality check, as Trotman walks followers through the good and bad that can come in a hurry from running a business when conferences come up. It provides a lot of insight into the realities that come with all of that, as the cost can be significant and the gains in the very long-term. But the benefits? They can be incredible. It’s a fantastic insight into the way things work today, and it’s well worth a read for those interested in the most inside of inside baseball tweet threads.
9. Giant Days, Getting Its Finale
An end I’m not quite ready to handle is coming soon, and that’s Giant Days. John Allison, Max Sarin, Whitney Cogar and Jim Campbell’s brilliantly funny and heartfelt series about three women who met and became the best of friends in college is the most enjoyable comic on the stands, and it will be concluding not with its 55th issue, like I expected, but a one-shot called “Giant Days: As Time Goes By,” which revisits its core trio of Esther, Daisy and Susan 14 months after they graduated. It’s giving us one final check-in on the cast as they move on from college to full-fledged adulthood.
It’s the perfect way to close the series, if I’m being honest. We’ve been given three full years with the cast, so giving us a smidge more than a year gap before we see them again is the right timeframe to see how the next phase of their lives is changing them. It feels right, and it’s a very Parks and Recreation conclusion for the book. I can’t wait to read it, even if it will be one million years until I do because I trade wait the series like a damn dirty monster. Alas. My processes and procedures wait for all books, even the ones I adore completely.
10. The Nib, Needing Help
You probably know The Nib. It’s an online comics site founded by Matt Bors that largely publishes political cartoons, and it’s famous for having featured some of the absolute best in the business as they create scathing works during our trying political times. They do a heck of a thing, and have for a good while under the umbrella of First Look Media, a media organization built to foster better journalism particularly related to the world of politics.
Until now, that is, as First Look Media is divesting themselves of The Nib at the end of July – they’re leaning into video, as if anyone in the world really wants that to happen – so the comics site is now a free agent. And instead of attempting to go with another larger organization, they’re going independent using a subscription model of sorts that they’re calling The Inkwell Membership. It’s really all quite reasonable, with an array of levels being provided to give fans a better chance to support them. So if you’re a fan of The Nib and good comics journalism – and by that I mean journalism in comic form – then I’d consider supporting them. They’re very good at what they do, and it sounds like they’ll need support, which I’m certain they’ll get. Best of luck to Bors and the rest of the team in this endeavor. I hope they succeed at what they do.
I’m not familiar with inker Daniele Orlandini’s work, unfortunately.↩