Well, the book I’ve been holding my breath for since I heard about it in the planning stages is finally here. All the best small press people, all in one book! All Bizarro stories, all the time! Little seen talents finally getting a chance to shine on the big stage! And the end result is… mixed.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are moments in here that make it worthwhile, enough so that I can recommend getting it. You could probably wait for the softcover to come out and save $10 or so, because there’s nothing in here that couldn’t wait a few months. If you don’t know the concept, DC apparently decided to give all these “no name” people a chance. If anybody knows the complete story behind this book, let me know. I’m curious as hell to see how this got organized. And whose decision was it to put pairings on all of the stories instead of just letting one person shine? Granted, some of the pairings boggle the mind: Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel, James Kochalka (writing and not drawing!) and Dylan Horrocks, Jef Czekaj and Brian Ralph, Eddie Campbell and Hunt Emerson, Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin, Evan Dorkin and Steven Weissman… it’s a hell of a list, don’t get me wrong. But most of these guys spend their time doing their own thing and I think it would have flowed a lot better if they had been allowed to do that here. Granted, you would have to bring in a color guy for most of these people that have never used it, but they do everything else themselves.
The story (such as it is) is this: a creature called A comes to Mxyzptlk’s world to try and take over. He challenges M to a best-of-seven of games, but M is disqualified and has to choose a champion. Remembering his past problems, he chooses Superman but can’t find an appropriate alternate universe substitute after the original one doesn’t believe him, and accidentally chooses Bizarro. Make sense? It doesn’t matter. Bizarro decides to win the contest by drawing a bunch of stories, and these stories are all the ones by the small press folks.Â When it goes back to the “story”, these comics are promptly forgotten about and the challenges begin, but not before they get an insult or two off about the quality of the comics. Which, I’m sure, is just an insult in the story directed at Bizarro and not the creators, but it’s pretty easy to take it the wrong way. The main story takes up about 60 pages of a 236 page book, which wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t mostly suck. It has a few moments, but the thought that this story was expanded upon at the expense of some of these extremely talented guys doesn’t make sense at all to me.
Flipping through this again to write this, I see that I enjoyed almost all of the shorts in this. I didn’t really like Wonder Girl vs. Wonder Tot, Help! Superman!!, Batman, and The Most Bizarre Bizarro of All! Compare that to the 23 other stories that I liked a lot, and it looks like they have a winner here. The Bat-man (by Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire and strangely, the only black and white story in the book) is brilliant. Old school classic Batman here, and he’s ugly as hell. Hawkman (James K. and Dylan Horrocks), while not drawn by James, has the same feel that I’ve come to know and love from all his work. Kamandi (Nick Bertozzi and Tom Hart) takes the cake for me as the best story in the book, but I’m hopelessly biased because Tom Hart drew it. That’s Really Super, Superman (Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin) is a close second, and First Contact (Mark Crilley and Andi Watson), about the Atom, is up there too.
I was expecting a hell of a lot from this book, and I’m not sure that I got it. What I did get, however, is a thoroughly entertaining look at a lot of DC universe told through the eyes of some of the most talented people working in comics today. If I cared at all about the characters this probably would have been a great book, or maybe if they had allowed them to work by themselves, or maybe if DC had given them a little more room (and a lot more people. The names excluded here are too numerous to mention, although I am surprised and gratified by some of the selections) to the creators. All in all, if you like even half the people in this book, get it. If you like Evan Dorkin, Sam Henderson or Dylan Horrocks, they’re all in here a few times writing and drawing but not, as I’ve made pretty clear by now, doing both things at once. The Matt Groening cover makes the book, too. And yes, I did see the Dan Clowes cover in The Comics Journal and I thought it was great, but I think this is a better cover for the tone of the book.
Back when Pickle was being put out on a regular basis, it was my favorite comic. I had a lot of “favorites”, I guess, but none of them would get me running to the comic store like if I knew there was another issue of Pickle there waiting for me. Hicksville collects his major running storyline from that comic and gives it something that it didn’t have before: a sense of coherency. It was always great, don’t get me wrong, but it came out too infrequently for me to really get everything that was happening. And to think that I almost didn’t get this collected edition on the reasoning that I already had all the comics… This is the story of the fictional town of Hicksville. A town where everybody knows comic history, where the old legends of the field are respected and revered, where all the things that weren’t allowed to be published because of politics or finances are lovingly preserved. Good luck finding anybody who has read this book and who loves comics who wouldn’t like to live in that town. Listen, in my mind, there are three books that everybody who likes comics has to read, no questions asked: Maus, Stuck Rubber Baby, and Hicksville. David Boring might make it, same with Jimmy Corrigan. Give me another couple of years of having them around before I say for sure. The Alan Moore and Frank Miller stuff is essential too, if you have any loyalty and/or love left for the superhero genre. But for the average Joe who still reads anything at all, the three books I mentioned are essential. By the way, he also apparently still has a bundle of mini comics left from back in the day. Go buy them.
You know, I’m actually old enough to remember when “Drawn and Quarterly” referred to the publishing schedule. Is there a single thing in their catalog that comes out four times a year? I’m mostly only annoyed because they have a tendency to publish books like this, which are (in the comical grand scheme of things) tiny slices of wonderfulness, yet they come out so infrequently that I often have to find the old issues and re-read them to remember what happened when the last issues came out a year or so ago. Anyway, Atlas #3. The first half of the book is cartoon Dylan’s continuing quest for Emil Kopen, in which we get a very brief glimpse into the oppression of his part of the world. The second half answers questions that I’ve had for years, namely what happened to Pickle and why Dylan’s output seems to have ebbed so much. Or at least it might do that if this is autobiographical. It uses Dylan’s name and refers to Pickle and the years since, but there’s no way to know how much is artistic license and how much is exaggerated for the comic. Either way it’s fascinating, funny and brilliant, much like damn near everything this man touches. Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, after years of reading Pickle and the at least mildly transformative experience of reading Hicksville, my objectivity with this man has long since gone out the window… $3.95 Oh, and here’s his page on the D & Q website.
You know, I didn’t realize how much I missed Dylan coming out with comics on a regular basis until I read this one. Remember how I mentioned that Pickle was my favorite comic when it was coming out? I think Atlas might be my new favorite. It’s the story of Emil Kopen, a cartoonist in Corucopia and his life. Kind of like it’s A Good Life if You Don’t Weaken by Seth, or at least I think it might end up being like that. It’s hard to tell from one issue. There’s also a silent story that I think might be a tale from Emil’s past and a story about Hicksville by James Kochalka. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for this book to be serialized. It’s projected now to be a series of 12 80 page comics with backup stories each issue from different cartoonists about Hicksville. No idea who’s slated to be doing stories and that’s fine, I like surprises. You can’t really go wrong with 100 pages of comic for $3.95. I already can’t wait for the next book to come out to get this story started. I buy all the individual comics anyway, but this looks like the type of thing that everybody should just go ahead and get all the issues. The stories in the back alone look like they’re going to be worth the price of admission….