It’s that time, folks. Let’s get to the March 2023 Mailbag Q&A, as I asked for questions, and you fine folks came through once again.
How do you decide when to get into a long-running title from the Big Two? Subscription services have given us access to hundreds of back issues, so how do you choose the perfect jumping-on point? Do you start from the beginning (which would be pretty ambitious for some titles), the latest #1, the most recent creator change, or something else? Your recent articles made me very interested in the X-Men titles, so would you recommend starting with HoX / PoX, or waiting for the inevitable relaunch? – Tjas Debeljak
When it comes to current comics, I’ll almost always go back and start with #1. That is both what modern comics have conditioned us to do as readers and what publishers do for new stories, so it just makes sense to do that.
“Long-running title” is almost a myth of a phrase at this point, of course, because almost nothing is really that long-running. And when it is something that’s run for a while – like, say, Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto’s current Daredevil run – getting in on the right place is made trickier by that previous paragraph, because the right place to jump on isn’t the more recent number one or the one before that, but the #1 one Daredevil volume and two crucial stories ago. So, needless to say, it’s complicated.
Typically, though, if a current comic is more than two volumes deep, there’s a zero percent chance that I will catch up in single issues. Once upon a time I absolutely would have. But these days, I’ll either trade wait at that point or I’ll wait for it to finish and binge read it on one of the streaming services. So because of the way the Big Two handle business these days, they have effectively created a limited up front window to hook me before I essentially stop paying attention to a comic entirely. It would take towering word of mouth to overpower that, and that’s pretty rare for comics I’m not already reading. This is honestly an enlightening realization, because that’s much different than how things used to be, as I’d regularly jump in on titles 48, 75, or 294 issues deep in the past.
For older comics available on streaming services or in trade, I’ll typically start with a story that appeals to me. Say, Giant Size X-Men #1 or Green Lantern’s Emerald Twilight or The Flash’s Terminal Velocity or something like that, and if I like it enough, I’ll just keep rolling from there. I haven’t really dove into any titles that I missed in a bit, though. The last one I did that with was All-New Wolverine, which I enjoyed but never finished. You can also jump in with a certain creative team if you’ve heard good things. Daredevil is always a good bet for that, if only because there have been so many distinct and fantastic creative teams on that title. But the short answer is, it depends – and it always does – on the title and what’s driving my interest. There’s no one size fits all answer.
As for the X-Men, I would absolutely start with House of X/Powers of X, both because it’s a great starting point and because it’s just a remarkable achievement in comic booking on its own. I’d recommend reading as many of the titles as you want from the rest of the line from there, but just lean into what you like the most. That’s the beauty of this era of the X-Men. It all ties together to some degree, but you don’t need to read everything for it to work for you.
I know there are comic topics that you’re drawn to (food comics, sports comics, Stilt Man) where you’re more likely to read and enjoy the comic. But is there a comic where the genre or subject doesn’t particularly interest you at all, but you ended up reading and really enjoying the comic? I feel that way any time I read and enjoy a Fantasy comic (a genre that I typically don’t enjoy at all). – James Kaplan
I don’t really have any genres or subjects I’m completely out on, and that’s the case for really all storytelling mediums. I’m pretty open to everything, taking a real “Anyone Can Cook” mentality to story. Subject and genre is less important to me than how something is told. If you tell an effective story, it can be about anything. A good example of that is the fact that one of my favorite articles I’ve ever read was about a chess tournament, a subject I have zero feelings about whatsoever, but it was told in riveting fashion so I adored it.
I guess the closest I could get is basically the work of Daniel Warren Johnson. I don’t care about metal or wrestling. It’s fine. It’s a big blah to me, besides some exceptions on the metal front. I don’t actively dislike either. I just kind of nothing them. I bought Murder Falcon and Do a Powerbomb because I’m a DWJ fan, not because I had an affinity for metal (I do like kaiju, though) or wrestling. I loved both, of course, but that’s because DWJ is good at what he does. He could write and draw a comic about the life and times of a single Pottery Barn location or the slow demise of a barbershop quartet’s relationship and I’d be like, “Alright sure, weird picks Daniel…but I’m here for it.”
So, while I’d say I have natural leans of affinity, I don’t really have anything I’m absolutely out on.
It’s the year 2065, Off Panel is still going and the president is a huge fan! Mount Rushmore was destroyed in the second war with the moon. In order for our nation to heal, Rushmore must be rebuilt! You’ve been tasked with picking four comic book characters for Mount Rushmore 2.0. Rushmore’s presidents were picked to represent the nation’s birth, growth, development and preservation. You can follow that theme if you’d like, but it’s not required. Who are your choices? As a bonus, you’ve also been asked to name the comic book shop that doubles as a tourist center and gift shop. What would you call it? – Jonathan Bell
First off, people…this is how you do it. This is fundamentally a simple question wrapped in an outrageous hypothetical. This is David Harper catnip right here. I love it.
Second off, this is also extraordinarily difficult. Let’s address the comic shop name to start. I’m tempted to give it the most simple name possible, because I feel like being generic is actually meaningful in how it’s meant to be representative of history. My pick if I went that route would be The Comic Shoppe, and yes, it would be spelled that way because I am 81 at the moment I am making this decision and saying “Shoppe” instead of “Shop” would make me laugh.
But I’m not going that route. I’m going to call it Stan and Jack’s, just because there’s something that feels right about a representative shop being called that.
As for Mount Rushmore itself, which we will rename Mount Wundagore because the president has given me too much power and I’ve been driven mad by it, I will use the original theme because otherwise it’ll just be a chaotic process of deciding characters. It still is, but whatever. Because of that, I’m going to pick different characters from different eras to represent the growth of the medium and industry throughout time. The first pick is Superman, obviously. This means there will be no Batman on Mount Wundagore, because I am electing to not double up by publisher, and it makes sense. Superman is more quintessentially American, and his chiseled jawline would look fantastic up there.
The second pick represents the birth of Marvel. The obvious pick is Spider-Man, because Spider-Man is Marvel’s most popular character. But he isn’t my pick. Instead, I choose The Thing, both because I feel like Ben Grimm is in a lot of ways the definitive Marvel character, and because making The Thing out of rocks just makes sense.
My next pick is designed to represent the evolution of the medium, and how it grew to become much more than just superheroes. There are a lot of great options here, but because I want it to represent the independent spirit, let’s pick the defining independent comic of the past 40 years: Love and Rockets, with a Maggie in the style of Los Bros Hernandez.
The final pick is the toughest. I want it to represent a changing of the guard, something that reflects the era from, say, 2006 to now, during which a different type of reader and comic became the dominant force, even as superheroes owned movie theaters. I’m tempted to say Fone Bone, because Bone was Scholastic Graphix’s first giant hit. But Jeff Smith’s series was rooted in a similar place and time as Love and Rockets in a lot of ways, so that bleeds too much into another era. Dog Man’s a good pick, and probably the right one. Instead, my actual pick will be selected for four main reasons. One, it really underlines just how much things have changed. Two, it emphasizes the international influence that’s hit the American comic market. Three, it’s an iconic look. And four, it would be hilarious, and again, I’m 81 and I’m very YOLO at this point in my life.
Pochita from Chainsaw Man, and at his most adorable.
Maybe that ages poorly, but maybe that means something too. There’s a timelessness to comics that work, but Mount Wundagore doesn’t just represent history. It represents change. Those are my picks! Visit Stan and Jack’s, and don’t forget to rate and review Off Panel on Apple Podcasts, but five stars only!