Monday, June 27, 2011

My history with fantasy books and comics

This rather long entry is inspired by an article posted by Niall over at Speculative Scotsman last week. Niall talks of his love for comics and how despite drifting away from the medium, he is now subsequently finding his way back. It is an excellent read and can be found here:
As always, if you comment on one of Niall’s posts, he gets back to you quickly – a sign of an excellent blogger and an action I am very remiss about. Niall responded to one of my comments and stated he would like to know the full story about why comics got me into reading fantasy. The more I thought about it the more I thought it was something that others might find interesting.
So let me take you all the way back to the summer of 2000. I had just started a new job and soon established a friendship with a colleague that would swiftly become one of the closest friendships I have to this day.
Said friend was interested in everything I was interested in. Football – check, massive star wars fans – check, films – check. We shared the same sense of humour and soon became the darlings of the office with our cheeky chappy attitude and the ability for management to both hate us and love us at the same time. Our attitude was that as long as the work got done, then we were not harming anyone and giving management no cause to complain. This led us to start up a weekly newsletter where we would humorously mock events that occurred in the office that week. It was affectionately known as the Back-Office news and was a major hit. I think I still have a few copies lying around somewhere.
Anyway, the only thing I was not interested in that my new friend (let’s call him Utah Khan –his nickname) was, was his devotion to comics. Every Thursday, I would accompany him to Forbidden Planet or A Place in Space and wait for him to buy his weekly trades.
It was not that I didn’t like the medium, I was aware of it, but had no interest in getting bogged down in collecting a comic that would take me 15 minutes to read a month.
Time passed and Utah persuaded me to try some comics. He leant me the first three trades of Bendis’ run on Daredevil. Needless to say I was hooked. I promptly purchased, X-men, Wolverine, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman (both the amazing and ultimate). I never liked the DC universe, I don’t know why it just didn’t grab me. I liked Batman but Superman was a no, no.
As the months went buy, I increased the titles in my collection until I was collecting well over 20 issues a month. I began to go online and see what other comics were available. It was then I discovered the amazing company that was Crossgen comics (or not so amazing if you look at their infrastructure). Crossgen was filled with titles that had ongoing stories, and I mean proper ongoing stories not just arcs where a superhero would fight a new supervillain and then move on to another.
The idea behind the company was that although the stories were all isolated, the main characters were all linked by a “sigil” and you knew that one day all the titles were going to cross over.
I was enthralled by the concept as with the many titles. I was soon devouring the likes of: Brath, Scion, Meridian and Route 666. Later El Cazador – a pirate comic (how many of them do you see these days?) and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang entertained me. However the best of the bunch was “Sojourn.” Man I loved that comic, pure fantasy entertainment. The illustrations were beautiful and the story compelling, with  great characters.
I soon found the Marvel titles formulaic. I purchased them every week out of habit. I would read them and forget all about them seconds later, The Crossgen titles were different. I actually looked forward to the Crossgen titles every week. Fantasy became cool again and more than just about Lord of the Rings or the Dark Crystal to me.
But then, disaster struck. Crossgen announced it was to fold. The authors were instructed to wind up their stories as quickly as they could. The much anticipated Negation War” cross over was rushed and although it began well, like all the titles was not completed or not completed in a satisfactory manner.
The day that Crossgen went under, was the day my wallet was better off but my reading habits wasn’t. I still collected comics for a couple of years, but my interest had waned severely. The only titles I really enjoyed were: Fables, Y: the last man and the Walking Dead. These three were not enough to keep my interest sustained. The Walking Dead often failed to meet its intended publication date and I found myself not going to the comic book shop on a Thursday for weeks at a time and then having to fork out £40 when I did to purchase all the titles that had been reserved for me.
It was whilst trying to fill this void left by Crossgen that I started to pay attention to fantasy books. Before then I read mainly thrillers or crime books. Fantasy books always held a stigma of the geek in his room with his computer. I don’t know why it took me so long to realise the hypocrisy of that narrow minded view, as reading comics often had the same stigma. I guess it was because I used to visit the shops on a Thursday and never once saw these stereotypes and therefore did not associate the comic market with them. Instead I saw normal every day guys (they were predominantly guys) enjoying a medium that was frowned upon.
I had tried Robert Jordan when I was around 16 and thoroughly enjoyed him but, socialising and girls interested me far more than reading and so I only got up to book 4. I had no interest in re-reading Jordan again (I have only just changed my views on re-reading books) so other than Tolkein I had not read any fantasy. My first real fantasy book as an avid reader was Raymond E Feist’s “Shadow of a Dark Queen” book one of the Serpentine War Saga. I don’t know why I opted for this book but it was on the shelf in a comic book shop one day and I bought it on impulse.
After reading the prologue I thought I had made a massive mistake. It made no sense to me, talking about portals etc. However, after that initial prologue that seemed to have no relevance on the rest of the book I might had, I was swept away in an engaging story experiencing enjoyment levels not dissimilar to when I read Crossgen. I read the saga over the coming months and thoroughly enjoyed them
I enjoyed the saga so much that I immediately rang up my friends at A Place in Space and cancelled my folder they kept for me, reserving all of the marvel titles. Why spend £2.95 on a comic that takes 15 mins to read, when I could spend £6 on a book that would take 10 days to read – I was a slower reader back then.
I began to research the best fantasy books out there, which led me to George R R Martin, to Hobb, to Abercrombie, to Lynch etc etc. The rest as they say is history. I now read lots of fantasy to the extant it is the predominant genre I go for. I look back and laugh at the man I was then for shunning such as a great wealth of literature. It is a genre that is completely underrated and I feel sorry for those that ridicule it. I don’t blame people for their narrow minded opinions, only recently I found myself ignoring historical fiction for ignorant and juvenile reasons but that is a story for another time.
Fantasy has opened up a whole new world of happiness for me. I love perusing the various blogs on the subject, visiting the forum and gauging others opinions and theories on the latest offerings from the highly skilled authors. It has even inspired me to write my own book and hence set up this blog.
Niall recounted his love affair with comics and whilst there were many similarities with my history, he couldn’t pin point why he gave up reading comics. I can, it was when Crossgen comics folded and I no longer got my fantasy fix. I loved that comic company but if it had never have folded I doubt I would have discovered fantasy books in such a big way.
Mind you, Marvel have apparently bought the rights to Crossgen it will be interesting to see what they do with titles. I don’t think they will persuade me to go back to reading comics but I will keep my eye on the situation.
Oh and in case you were wondering about Utah, he works in another office far away. He still collects his titles and we make the effort to meet up once a week, never on a Thursday though, you know… just in case the lure is too much.