Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Unfortunate Relevance of Superheroes: Intro

I'm a recent convert to comics and comics art, I didn't read Superman, or Wonder Woman, I didn't learn about anger through the Hulk or justice through Batman. I read pretty standard literature as a kid and a teenager (though I read a lot of it). My first introduction to comics was Alan Moore's 'Watchman' when I was an undergraduate at university, and it was the structure and innovation of the form that struck me more than the incredible (and not so incredible) feats of its characters. My interest in comics has pretty much remained at that level, and so I've remained immersed within what you might call 'alternative comics'. The Hernandez brothers, Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine and the rest. As alt comics are such a relatively new art form, there's fairly firm consensus on where all of these artists got their inspiration, on where the genre began: Zap comix and Robert Crumb.

However, like it or not, there can be very few people making comic books today who only ever read Crumb comics (comix?). Superhero tales, the Marvel's and the D.C's of the world, are the mainstream of comics art, the constant, and slightly embarrassing, presence looming over anything done in alt comics. Understandably really, many comic book artists get their first break at one of the big studios and its where the money is. With such an overbearing presence then, it seems difficult and wrong to separate alternative comics too far away from the mainstream industry. The crossovers between the two strands have been frequent, there's Eisner's shift from 'The Spirit' to the realism of 'Droopsie Avenue', or Craig Thompson's work for Marvel and DC while writing 'Blankets'. Then there is, of course, the ultimate cross over artist, Alan Moore. Some of Moore's work, such as Supreme or Miracleman, sits comfortably within the superhero genre (while still being uniformly excellent artistically), while something like From Hell is clearly alternative comics. However most of Moore's writings (and it is writing, he never draws his own comics) blurs the lines of genre.

My point then? My point is that the two strands are inextricable, and have clear lines of intersection and influence. My point is that if I, or indeed anyone, wants a fuller understanding of the alternative comics world, you have to also be prepared to engage with the less respectable, often cringe inducing world of the superhero comic. With that in mind, I intend to write a series of articles on less-alternative comics, starting with a look at Frank Miller, particularly his series of Batman graphic novels. My education begins...

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