So this is a thing I am excited about: the guttergeek browsing library in the Reading Room at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
The Billy Ireland—that most magical place for comics research—had pretty everything going for it, including an unmatched research collection, three galleries with remarkable exhibits rotating throughout the year, and of course the best staff on the planet. They even have beautiful classrooms named after Will Eisner and Charles & Jeannie Schulz. But what they did not have were books folks could just come in and browse—largely because as a special collections library, browsing wasn't really their mandate.
Well, that's where yours truly got to make himself useful for once, instead of just hanging around making a nuisance of himself. For the last several months, I have been hauling books from my shelves over to the Reading Room at the BICLM to create a browsing library, currently at around 350 books and growing regularly.
The goal of the browsing collection is pretty simple: I wanted to create a place where people from the Ohio State and Columbus communities can go when they want to visit the reading room but don't necessarily have a research agenda. Special collection libraries can be intimidating places, with all their forms and white gloves. For the browsing library, all you have to do is sign in at the desk and let them know you will be browsing the guttergeek shelves. They will point you in the right direction (hint: it's along the wall directly across from the desk where you just signed in), and you can browse till the cows come home (or 5PM, whichever comes first).
My plan is for the browsing shelves to have a bit of everything: something from every decade and genre, including (in English editions) Japanese manga and Franco-Belgian BD. If you're new to comics, this is a great place to sample lots of stuff and see where your interests lie. Then, when you realize you want more of a particular artist or genre than the browsing shelves can supply, you are already in the right place. Just head on back to the desk and let them know you'd like to see more and they will hook you up. And there, like magic: you are a comics researcher.
For the old-timers and vets, I'll keep the shelves stocked for you, too, with new titles added regularly so you can keep up your comics habit without breaking the bank, and hopefully discover some new stuff along the way.
The guttergeek browsing shelves are my way of saying thanks to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, of course, but also to the many publishers who have sent me books over the years, many of which are now making their way to these shelves. I especially want to thank the publishers and cartoonists who have always been extremely generous in sharing their books with me, from when I first started out as a reviewer a decade ago to the present day. Comics is not exactly a high-margin business. Heck, it's often not even a profitable one. So thank you, all, for sharing with me—and most especially, these fine folks:
Arthur de Pins, Zimbillenium 3: Control Freaks (NBM, 2015). $14.99, hardcover.
If you have not yet paid a visit to the greatest amusement park since Jurassic Park, the publication of the third volume of Arthur De Pins Zombillenium this month is a great excuse to get in the gates before things get really messy.. Zombillenium is a theme park that employs the otherwise unemployable: zombies and ghouls, witches and werewolves, vampires and demons. If you are dead and looking for honest work with decent benefits outside the subterranean slavepits of the Behemoth himself, then you could do no better than to work at Zombillenium. At least that was the case until Beautford Jaggar Carniegie III, the Behemoth's hatchet-man, arrives to shake things up—and not exactly how the various employee unions and middle-management were expecting. It is clear by volume's end we are heading for some rough times ahead, both for the park and for the vast world of the dead, which remains largely invisible to us mere mortals—except as brought to life by De Pins' remarkable vector art.
De Pins began his career in animation, and he brings to his comics work the skill set from that world but with an attention to the unique affordances of the comics page that many transplants from the world of animation seem to lack:
Above we see Aurelian Zahner, our reluctant demon, dragged out of his post-mortem ennui by his boss and park CEO, Frank von Bloodt, who in the first vertical panel knocks him from his lofty perch, unleashing the transformations of the second panel. While the first two vertical panels pull the movement downwards, the third tier of four panels marvelously allows for movement in both directions at once, as we see both Aurelian's ongoing weariness with his new career and the dramatic ascension of his demon form over the gawking and appreciative crowd of mortals below. This is serious command of the comics page, which, accompanied by De Pins' mastery of Adobe Illustrator (is anyone else doing comics of this caliber entirely using vector graphics?) makes for a rare treat. And it might even convince some of the traditionalists that digital tools are not anathema to comics.
There is also to be found here the rare reward for those of us on this side of the Atlantic in following a French comic in traditional album format serialized in something like "real-time," following the original French-language publications by only a few short months. The translations are excellent, maintaining the humor and topicality of the original without feeling forced. And given that this is essentially a workplace horror-comedy, this is no small achievement. For American readers the idea of shelling out 15 bucks for a 48-page installment of a serial can be a tough sell, but in for a cool $45 at this point I have no reason to complain, having had reason to return to the books numerous times for both their narrative and visual pleasures. With the end of Dungeon--NBM's previous long-running venture into Francophone genre-comedy—Zombillenium fills in quite nicely a hole I would never have guessed needed filling.
After a long hiatus dealing with health issues—both for the author and the website, which had to be rebuilt after a nasty crash—guttergeek returns! This version of guttergeek will be something new and different—hopefully sustainable into the future.
In 2006 when we started this site, there was a paucity of intelligent review sites for comics.A couple of the sites I most admired had just called it quits after several years, and there seemed a need that guttergeek could fill. For several years, with wonderful collaborators, guttergeek served as a lively if inevitably discontinuous site for graphic narrative review.
Almost a decade later, there are many excellent sites where intelligent reviews and debate about comics takes place on a regular and decidedly continuous basis. And for me, the fire and acid that flows through the good reviewer's veins have increasingly been replaced with whatever that goo is that made Stretch Armstrong do his special thing back in the 70s:
For those of you too young to remember Stretch Armstrong, it was a toy that... stretched. Kenner spent tons of advertising dollars convincing us that this was a space-age innovation we had all been waiting for, but try as they might they could never make playing with Stretch look anything other than profoundly lame. So of course we all wanted one because we were sure the kids on the commercials were doing it all wrong. And because it was the 70s and there was nothing else to buy, we all got one. None of them lasted more than a week. Most of them did not survive the first day. Once the complete range of advertised fun had been exhausted—stretch, return, stretch—it was time to tear him open and see what was inside. And it being the 70s, of course we ate it without a second thought.
Sweet, stretchy goo. That is what flows through my veins today. Not the stuff of the hardboiled comics reviewer or investigative journalist.
Of course, it is comics that made me so damned gooey. Over the past couple of decades, I have had the opportunity to get to know comics as I never did, even in my comics-crazy youth (of course, I was completely loaded on Stretch Armstrong's gooey insides at that time, so I cut my younger self some slack). I have gotten to know comics in all its myriad forms in the 21st century and have been lucky enough to get to study and teach its long history to unsuspecting students and anyone else who would listen. And I have come to know comics people—those who make, publish, edit, sell, distribute, collect, read and debate comics—intimately and in the process I discovered my people.
So it is, suffused with goo and love for all things comics, I surrender my role as fierce and savage critic to younger folks with sharper pens. And I assume my new role here at guttergeek, as a reader sharing his reading (and screening) diary.
Of course, I still have opinions, and some of them are going to be harsh and piss people off—even people I like very much. But as my own ongoing adventures with the health and illness continue, I increasingly have little time or patience for books, comics, movies, or tv I don't enjoy. So most of what I will be sharing here are my thoughts on things I find interesting, worth thinking about and working through. The site will continue to be primarily devoted to comics, of course, because comics dominate my reading life, but there will also be discussion of fiction, film, TV and all things pop culture.
The old site remains, or most of it. We spent some time over at The Comics Journal's website and briefly merged with some awesome people to create a supergroup called the Panelists at TCJ—and some (much?) of what we posted during that time got lost in various reshuffling. But I have recovered what I could and put it all in the archives. As I mentioned earlier, this site got severely scrambled so I am sure there are some broken pages and links out there. Do let me know if you find anything that needs repair—or if you have any ideas for the future of guttergeek.
Alright, then. Let me just get all these ashes off me, and we'll get this party started...