Neil Gaiman, Buffy, & my Life in Comics

I think it is fair to say that I can be a bit obsessive. When I land on something that captures my interest and imagination, I watch, listen, read, research, think, and talk it to death. I have always been this way. I think it comes out of my insatiable appetite for stories. As a bookish kid, I frequently found myself unable to let go of the books I loved. Finishing a novel or a series left me feeling as if I had just lost a friend. It still does sometimes. I notice that with particularly resonant books, as I get toward the end I slow down. I don’t want it to be over, don’t want to have to leave that world behind. And while rereading it brings back the memories, nothing compares to the connection you make on your first read through. It’s like the difference between the actual experience and looking at photographs later on.

Growing up I never really got into comic books. I had my books and they were my world. Having always been praised for my excellent vocabulary and above average reading abilities, I abandoned picture books early on. I didn’t need somebody else’s images to tell me the story when what was in my head was more vivid and real than anything that could be put on paper.

He Changed My LifeThen, when I was a teenager, a dear friend (now husband) introduced me to Mr. Neil Gaiman and the Sandman series of comic books. They changed my world. As I grew up I had developed a much more complex relationship with visuals–shaped by the movies and art I was exposed to. And the Sandman comics were, simply put, works of art, filled with dark, rich, complex stories and characters. They were a complete mythology unto themselves. And they had me. I was gone. Transported to another world in a way I hadn’t been in a long, long time. Naturally, I became obsessed.

But Sandman was only the beginning, a sort of gateway drug to the entire universe of comic books. I was soon devouring whatever I could get my hands on. Weekly stops at the local news stand or comic book shop were mandatory. This lasted for quite awhile. Then the Sandman series ended, and I began to lose touch with what was going on in the world of comics. Somewhere along the way I decided to try being a grown-up for a while. Bo-ring. And gave up my comic book reading ways. I went back to my exclusive relationship with books. I toyed with stepping back in to comics at various points, but obsessions are powerful and expensive. So I maintained my distance.

Not that geeky obsessions went away. I might as well mention here that experiments with being a grown-up were largely unsuccessful, grown-ups being the height of dull and stagnant. I’m not opposed to being an adult or being responsible, but the moment I decide that I’m done growing, that I’m all grown up, someone please just shoot me.

BuffyEnter Joss Whedon and the Buffy-verse. I think it is safe to say that I have seen every single episode of Buffy at least 13 times. More for the earlier episodes. I have every season on DVD, pre-ordered and picked up on the day of release. I am, at any given moment, at some stage in the rewatching of the entire series from start to finish (currently in the middle of season 4 for the umpteenth time). In fact, almost everything I have ever knit, every skein of yarn I have spun, every creative project I have undertaken, was done in some part with Buffy in the background. Needless to say, when Buffy ended after 7 seasons, I was a little lost.

So, when Joss announced that he was going to be doing Buffy season 8 as a comic book, you can imagine my response. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it wasn’t long before regular visits to the comic book shop became a standard part of the Countess’ routine (although the responsible adult at least makes sure she has money for groceries before spending all her cash on the latest comics). So far, season 8 has been fantastic. In some ways, it is even better than the show, because there are even fewer limitations and my imagination gets to fill in more of the blanks. I feel like I’m seeing even more of what Joss had in mind when he envisioned this powerful heroine.

Along the way, I have explored a number of other series, and a few of them are absolutely fantastic and worth recommending. In fact, I’ve taken to sending Kai comic care packages of the ones that are really worth reading. I’m sure she’ll have something to say about a few of these titles as well.

The Walking Dead
Zombies are another one of my obsessions. (Just to give you an idea of how obsessed I am, I actually created a whole new winter holiday with my sweetie and our friends called Zombie Yule to serve as an alternative to the “other” winter holidays.) So you can imagine that an ongoing comic series dealing with a band of people living in a post-zombie apocalypse world would be right up my alley–lucky for me, this is the basic premise of The Walking Dead. The thing I like most about the series is the author’s vision. He said he felt that most zombie movies end just when things are getting interesting. I couldn’t agree more. And this series never fails to deliver the interesting. I have now made my way through all the available trade paperbacks (There are seven of them and I think that puts me through issue #42), and I’m contemplating whether or not I want to being collecting the individual comics. I think it is important to support the series and ensure its continuation, but my OCD self likes the uniformity of maintaining the same format for my collection. Unfortunately, it is not a comic with regular release dates, so there is no telling when the next one will be available. I have to decide if I can stand to wait six months or a year to find out what happens next or if the instant gratification is more important… You can read the first issue for free at Image Comics.

Da Man
My first exposure to Hellboy was the brilliant Guillermo del Toro movie, which I loved. Ron Perlman was fantastic and the story and mythos behind his character was really fascinating. When it came time to pick the next series to explore, it wasn’t hard to settle on a book that draws from various folkloric and mythical sources to create a compelling narrative. I’ve made it through the first two trade paperbacks and am completely hooked. Also, I’m very much looking forward to the second movie, which comes out this summer.

Y The Last Man
I actually read through the first three or four trade paperbacks of this a couple of years ago. A friend lent them to me and I found them thoroughly engrossing. But we moved away from my friend and I wasn’t frequenting the comic shop, so I just let it go. The series recently came to an end, and I am now slowly making my way through the trade paperbacks. I can see why it was such a popular series, and I really am curious to find out what is going on. I am also a sucker for a series populated with interesting women.

X-Men Joss Style
Astonishing X-Men
Like I said, I didn’t grow up reading comic books, but I LOVED the X-Men cartoon and when the movie came out, I was in the theater on the opening night. I adored Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and enjoyed the movie, despite them totally screwing up Rogue, and don’t even get me started on Halle Berry’s totally wimpy and pathetic Storm. Anyway, Astonishing X-Men is written by Joss Whedon and I can be counted on to give pretty much anything he does my full attention. After reading through the first trade paperback, I don’t think it is anything ground breaking, but it is definitely enjoyable and I will probably go on to collect all three of the trade paperbacks in the series, just to see where he takes it.

The Umbrella Academy
Dark Horse introduced this series on free comic book day last year (2007). I was really intrigued by the cover art for the series, which was done by James Jean (who is so bloody brilliant that Prada commissioned him to create a series of designs for the textiles they used in their spring collection–something I was able to see in person in New York City. Not being much of a fashionista, I was surprised by how amazing it was and I could actually almost understand why someone might want to spend a few thousand dollars on an outfit. Almost.) The story was written by the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, and was really quite surprisingly good. We picked up the first issue on a whim and then devoured the rest of the six part series. I am really, really, really hoping that they bring it back. I loved the characters, their relationships, and the execution of the story and its attendant details. I feel this world has a lot of potential that hasn’t even come close to being explored yet. Only time will tell, I guess.

Story Manifest
This is a series by the master, Alan Moore, that explores what happens when a story is so powerful it manifests in the world as a real person. I am only halfway into the first trade paperback, but so far, it’s amazing. I am certain I will be collecting the entire run.

In addition to the titles listed above, there are some other series that I am interested in exploring. Also, living with someone who has collected more than his fair share of comic books has its own advantages. I have a stack of older titles next to my bed that is probably a foot and a half high waiting for me to remove them from their plastic sheaths and drink them in, including the original V for Vendetta series, and The Books of Magic, along with some assorted Joker comics. We also need to complete our Bone collection. And I want to re-read the entire Sandman series, which we have in hardback. More than enough to keep me busy without even needing to spend a cent this summer. Though I doubt I’ll be able to resist spending at least a little to continue some of the titles I mentioned above.

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4 Responses to Neil Gaiman, Buffy, & my Life in Comics

  1. Ramona says:

    Until I got to the third paragraph, I thought I was reading a Kai posting – thinking how very much alike she and I are when it comes to reading. When I realized it was the Countess’ words, I thought, “No wonder those two are soul sisters!” R

  2. CountessZ says:

    Yeah, I can’t tell you how often Kai and I are on the phone or I am reading an email from her and I’m just sitting there nodding and nodding and nodding, until finally I just have to burst out, “Me too! Yes! I know what you mean. That’s how I feel!” Crazy wonderful.

  3. kaizerin says:

    I turned the comments back on for this post–I hope that’s OK! I had to tell you how much your comment made me laugh, Ramona, because when I read the opening paragraph, I thought, “Wow, I could have totally written this!”

    I love Buffy Season 8, too. They’re able to do so much more than they could get away with on TV (like, giving Faith a convincing English accent…?) The Walking Dead books are interesting, but very unnerving; I quickly learned I’d better not read them at bedtime, if I want to sleep well. I haven’t read Promethea, but want to and will; I’m interested in anything Alan Moore publishes.

    I’m really looking forward to the day your comic collection and mine can cross-pollinate–admittedly, we’ll have a lot of overlap, but I’m sure there’s some interesting stuff on the fringes to be explored.

  4. CountessZ says:

    I can’t read walking dead before going to sleep either on account of the bizarre and terrifying dreams that always follow. Or the inability to sleep.

    I’m about halfway through the first trade paperback of Promethea, which I will send on to you as soon as I finish. Picking up Buffy this weekend (hooefully), so will send the next couple of those your way as well 🙂

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