After recovering from a serious bout of flu (or possibly just a bit of a cold), John Fellows is reassessing his life and examining just why he's read so many bad comics. Is it because people keep telling him they're good?
21 March 2005


After my recent brush with death (I was riddled with Man Flu, a highly dangerous Morgan-Freeman-in-a-sealed-suit style contagion), I have come to re-evaluate what is precious in this life; the first sip of an ice cold pint, the waft of cancerous nicotine across the tongue, the love of a beautiful woman, and the limited edition re-release of THE FUTUREHEADS' first album.

And maybe this second chance to build a better future for me and my surely-destined-to-fail kin can afford to have a comics-shaped hole in it. Maybe I've read my last IDENTITY CRISIS TEEN TITANS crossover. Maybe those precious few minutes it takes to read NEW AVENGERS could be used to rescue gay whales or stop the seal clubbing that's ruining our nation's nightspots.

Or maybe I'm just sick of reading bad comics. Way back in the mists of time (more of a smog of time, really) I wrote an essay for this very site about the joys of bad comics. I still hold that unfashionable opinion, but I've re-evaluated my position of late. The critics - and I am of the opinion that I know whereof I speak at this point - have become a bigger problem than the actual comics themselves. The idea of 'bad' and 'good' has become so meaningless, not because of the works themselves, but because of those trying to define them.


It's been suggested in some circles that a lot of comics critics like to big up comics that quite blatantly just aren't any good. I'd go further and say there's a more general lack of critical faculties in comics; people will condemn books that are far better than they want to pretend they are, just as quickly and easily as they'll praise works that just aren't that good. There are a lot of "critics' favourite' comics that I wouldn't touch with a barge pole.

After my brush with death (I also contracted an ER-worrying case of gingivitis, but was lucky to avoid the saline drips and shitting my bed whilst worried relatives figured out who'd be fitted up for my burial costs), I counted up all the comics I really wanted to read every month, and it was a worryingly small list. Even some of my favourite creators were getting short thrift.

At this point, the only person whose work I'll read sight unseen is Grant Morrison. Even faves like Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis have let me down too many times to be forgiven. And some of the books I hear are great are ones I can't bring myself to look at simply based on creators' track records. EX MACHINA, for example. After Brian Vaughn disappointed me with Y: THE LAST MAN, I've been unwilling to get burnt again.

'Some critics like to big up comics that quite blatantly just aren't any good.' I could go on; the list of comics I decided I didn't need to read grew longer. And I realised that maybe it was less the desperate attempts of a mortally felled critic to save precious seconds, and more that most of them were really just a bit shit. Take a recent DC non-title, BLOODHOUND. It's just piss-poor cable reality 'sitcom' DOG - THE BOUNTY HUNTER, but with costumed villains. Or take SHE-HULK. Yes, superheroes are funny. You ever seen a grown-man dressed like Wonder Woman? That's funny. But I don't need to fork out $2.99 a month to be reminded of this.

Yet it's borderline blasphemous to say anything bad about these books, when the truth is that they're just not that praiseworthy - they're titles that have done something mildly different, and that don't completely suck.


There's such a rush to build a buzz around titles, that creators/fans/publishers/secret lovers will believe any old pish is CRIME & PUNISHMENT - but better - in order to strike a critical pose.

One of the upcoming books that's already building buzz is Joe Casey's new Image series, GØDLAND, which is cosmic, apparently - cosmic being the new black.

It's blatantly destined to failure. And I'm not being cynical (though if anybody from the University of Pessimism is reading, please don't take away my doctorate). It's a fact that, in a rocky industry, titles like this will fail.

'They're titles that are mildly different and don't completely suck.' When your audience has an utterly childlike reluctance to try anything new, an ordering system almost as complicated as ironing shirts or giving women head, and an industry-wide need to overcome some imagined inferiority complex... new titles are screwed. But as much as we'd like to believe a book fails because "the squares just didn't get it", the real root problem is that most of new titles just don't cut the mustard. There aren't a lot of good creators working in comics.

And this isn't an entertainment-wide industry problem, because I can think of a dozen crime novel writers alone that are 'good' - and that's just in one subset of one industry. This is more due to an industry so small it can't support or is unwilling to support good creators.

And before I get penned as another Euro-centric, filthy black and white indie boy... I'm not solely looking at superhero work here. There are a lot of shit indie comics, as many as there are super-heroes. Some of the indie darlings are utter tosh, and the reason they don't have a bigger readership is because they are tosh. It's easier for the loving critics of indie comics to get away with their praise because the books they love could never hope to gain the readership of Marvel's worst output. As long as their favourite creators keep pumping out the issues, the critics are vilified.

In comics, the Emperor is not just naked; he's removed his dermal layer and is parading around in some fine-looking muscle tissue.

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