On the middle Wednesday of every month, regular Biff Bam Pop! contributor, JP Fallavollita, shares his musings on comic books, comic book art, comic book collecting and the overall comic book universe. That gives him a lot to talk about but don’t hold it against him if he speaks with a DC Comics slant. That’s just how he rolls (with the capes and the masks).
I’ve got a habit. And, if you can get your mind out of the gutter for just a moment, let me tell you about how this comic book collector administers the various periodicals that he collects, as they are released by publishers on a weekly basis.
It might sound simple enough but I bought a day timer that is also set up as a weekly planner. I use it mainly for work purposes, various day-to-day “to-do” lists and personal engagements as well as anniversaries and birthdays. I list various events, such as my holidays, in it as well. Something so very simple gets slightly more complicated, however.
Everything in the day timer is colour coordinated: yellow highlighter is used for work meetings, blue for personal events while red designates a scheduled Toronto FC footie match. (C’mon you reds!)
Stuck carefully at the bottom of the “Wednesday” section (and possibly more important than any other piece of information found within this tome) is a post-it note that lists each of the four Wednesdays in any given month. Underneath each of these dates is a hand-printed bullet-list of comic book titles. Here in North America, new comics arrive at the local shop every Wednesday – and I make sure, well in advance, that I’m in the know as to both the what and the when of the various releases I plan on purchasing. These days, for an organized chap like me, it’s pretty easy work.
At the beginning of every month, I’ll visit the DC Comics website where they list all of their published titles, week by week, through a drop-down menu. I take a quick scan, clicking on titles that I plan to buy in order to get a caption of that particular issue’s creators as well as a breakdown of the story. (Me? I don’t mind spoilers at all.) I write them on my post-it note and place it in my day timer so that I don’t forget. On Wednesdays, I head to my local comic shop, refer to the list I made earlier in the month and purchase what I want to read. Simple stuff, really.
But it wasn’t always this way. And it wasn’t always this easy.
Flashback to twenty-three years ago: it’s 1987 and Andy Warhol has just died. I’m watching The Simpsons on the Tracy Ullman show for the very first time and I’m listening to True Faith off of New Order’s compilation album, Substance. The internet, at this point, is just some army officer’s workplace cubicle.
Milling about my local, small and dusty, comic book shop, I spot a magazine-sized, black and white, four-page publication from DC Comics sitting forlornly on the counter by the cash register. It’s called Direct Currents and it lists everything that the comic book publisher is releasing that month along with small articles on featured writers, artists and projects. It seems pretty interesting and, best of all, for a kid entering high school with a pittance for an allowance, it’s free. I talk about it with the retailer, highlighting some of the storylines, the characters and the creators found within it. We also talk about what I’m currently reading and what he’s currently enjoying, just as another patron of the store chimes in with his own views on the subject. I bring a copy home with me and read it in even greater depth on the comfortable confines of my couch.
For the next year and a half, Direct Currents became my lifeline to all things DC Comics. It would regularly arrive at the beginning of the month and I would set my comic book buying calendar to it. It’s here that I first come into contact, through various focus-articles, with artists such as Kevin O’Neil, the illustrator of one of the company’s first creator-owned graphic novels, Metalzoic. Not only did a war between animal and dinosaur robots sound cool but the art was like nothing I had seen before. I immediately went out and bought it. Because of Direct Currents, O’Neil became one of my favourite artists and I bought a whole host of his other works including issues of 2000 AD and Epic Illustrated’s ultra violent, Marshall Law. Of course, there were the more mainstream titles too. I also followed the exploits of Wonder Woman, The Question and Batman in the marketing material and broadened my reading horizons with Hellblazer, Swamp Thing and Wasteland. Direct Currents, the then “modern day” revival of the small, weekly shipping lists you’d find in the back pages of 1970’s and early 1980’s comic books, did its job and it did it well. It got me more interested in the world of comics and new forms of the genre then I ever had been, all the while getting me to spend more of my new part-time job money at the local, small and dusty, comic book shop.
And then, in 1988, it went colour!
For the next eight years, I collected the brand new Direct Currents in glorious red, blue, yellow, green, orange and purple. Oh – plus the black and white. Monthly, I was treated to the painted artwork of Dave McKean and George Pratt for the very first time. I was introduced to burgeoning writers such as Grant Morrison side by side legends like Denny O’Neil in the regular “People At Work” column. Direct Current easily became my twentieth century go-to for all DC comic book information.
But life is grand here in the twenty-first century. Not only does DC Comics have its weekly publishing schedule listed on its website, but there is also a forum for messages where fans can dialogue with other fans, where writers and artists can speak to their audience and the audience can do the same with creators. Comic books, whether Marvel or DC, whether Earth, Oa, Skartaris or Themyscira, have become a communal world, a shared universe. There are thousands of comic book related blogs that devote themselves to interviews with writers and artists alongside reviews of various comic-related works. Some, like Biff Bam Pop!, naturally, are more of a favourite than others! The idea behind them, however, is the same today as it was in 1987, as it was in the 1970’s: the marketing of product, the sharing of ideas and viewpoints and, most importantly, the ongoing discourse between fans of the genre.
I could go on forever listing my new and ever-growing “favourite” artists and writers, comics and graphic novels, made by discovering them via the internet. Instead, you can read the articles that I and the other writers on this fine site post regularly. It’s much more fun that way and, despite the newness of the medium, such a time honoured way of going about that very special communal conversation that happens in and around comic books.