The San Diego Comic Con kicks off today, and in honor of this all-powerful nerd convention, I want to write a love letter about something truly original coming out from DC Comics right now: Wednesday Comics.
Original things are rare in comics; as I understand the industry, the business model is quite fixed, with thin margins, rising production costs, increasingly costly creative, and time-sensitive inventory, the management of which is a volatile and byzantine riddle for retailers. So to see anything different or risky kicked out of the comics machine is cause to shout. And boy does, Wednesday Comics make me want to do the Isley Brothers thing. Shout! Woo!
Wednesday Comics (named for the day new comics hit shelves each week) is a purely original way to get your comics on. It’s a weekly newsprint tabloid, a whopping 28″ x 20″, featuring 15 full-page, full-color comics created by some of the biggest names in comics. Just unpeeling the thing to get a good look is a tactile wonder. See, see!
Here’s are some reasons to cheer about this:
1. It’s a visual banquet. The array of colors and textures that spill out at once is big like a Michael Bay summer flick, but, you know, smarter and quieter. Check that photo, that’s the same as having eight pages of comics in front of you at once. It’s beautiful!
2. It hearkens back to the original comics experience. Back in the 1930s, the well-read gentleman sat back at his Sunday breakfast table and had a chuckle with a full page of Little Orphan Annie’s antics. Little Nemo, The Phantom, Terry and the Pirates — these are the characters who are swinging out of the Wednesday Comics pages as much as Superman and Batman. This isn’t just a novel way to experience comics, it’s an homage to another era.
3. The storytelling style comes from another era, too. In a weekly, one-page format, the creators have a real task re-discovering how to tell stories that don’t involve 32-page monthlies and six-issue arcs. This is the comics equivalent of “small ball” — there’s not even enough room to swing for the fences.
At the moment, DC Comics is also pumping out its major “summer event” series called “Blackest Night.” This is a big, loud, multi-title, intergalactic slugfest involving Green Lantern, the superhero space cop. It’s a story that has been building for years (through a couple of other major summer-event series), and it’s got a complex, continuity-heavy storyline. (“Continuity” in comics means the collective buildup of decades of stories being recognized in every new storyline; if someone develops an allergic reaction to nuts in issue #255, he better have his EpiPen ready when he fights the Mad Cashew in #600. Continuity-heavy stories can be off-putting to people who haven’t been following quite so closely.) I’ve heard good things about “Blackest Night,” but what a world away that is from these short bursts of contained story tumbling into my hand every week.
4. Oh, that creative lineup. It’s an All-Star Game in there:
* Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso on Batman. The two guys responsible for the badass “100 Bullets” series go together like AK and 47.
* Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred on Metamorpho. This offbeat B-list character gets an offbeat treatment from these A-list creators. This example from the first week starts out rather conventionally, but weeks two and three have moved to giant, single-paneled landscapes. An unusual move, but hey, it’s Gaiman. I’m in.
* Paul Pope, writing and illustrating “Strange Adventures,” the 1950s serial tracking sci-fi swashbuckler Adam Strange. Pope has a unique squiggled hand, with a rock-star-cool sensibility, like Mick Jagger is dancing on his desk as he draws. When he draws a page full of gnarly space baboons invading Adam’s personal space, I sort of tear up with glee.
* Kyle Baker on Hawkman. I know: Hawkman, Who cares, right? Well, I do, now that Baker’s convinced me. His narrator is a bird summoned by Hawkman to go on a suicide mission to stop a planeload of terrorists. The terrorists turn out to be invading aliens. Hawkman hurts them. Yeah, Hawks is one bad dude in Baker’s hands.
*Kurt Busiek on Green Lantern, with crisp, nostalgic art by Joe Quiñones.
* Father-son team Joe and Adam Kubert on Sgt. Rock, a good ol’ WWII comics stalwart about busting up Nazis.
* Oh! Oh! The fantastic art of Amanda Conner and her husband and writing partner Jimmy Palmiotti on the supercute Supergirl, guest-starring the campy super pets from the Silver Age of Comics.
There are more, more, more great stories crammed in there. I can’t believe DC is pulling this off in the face of all those challenges I mentioned. There’s even another financial hurdle between this project and economic viability: how will these supersized comics get reprinted in the obligatory paperback collection essential to publishers recouping their costs on expensive titles? If Wednesday Comics does get the “trade paperback” treatment, it’ll be shrunk like a banana in a Ronco dehydrator. If we, the comics loving public, can make this experiment worth their while (i.e., buy this!) we may be rewarded with more innovation like Wednesday Comics in the future.
Like next summer, for example. DC, I’m clearing my calendar for you.
Have a great convention, San Diego!