Thursday, 29 December 2011

Rob's Top 10 Comic-Related Bargains of 2011

This time last year, I put together a list of my top ten graphic novels of 2010 and my top ten comic-related bargains of 2010.  I’m not going to bother putting together a list of my top ten graphic novels of 2011, mainly because I don’t think I have read ten new graphic novels this year, so I’ll just say that Love and Rockets New Stories #4 was probably my favourite of the few new GNs I read in 2011, that I also enjoyed reading Locke & Key, Scalped, Jonah Hex and the current reprints of E.C. Segar’s Popeye strips, as well as small press comics by Andrew Cheverton (‘Pictures Made of Light’, ‘West’), Martin Eden (‘Spandex’), Rol Hirst (‘Too Much Sex & Violence’), and Paul Rainey (‘Thunder Brother: Soap Division’) and leave it there.  Instead, here are my top 10 comic-related bargains of 2011:

10. E.C. Segar’s Popeye HCs 

I didn’t get an especially great deal on these – although I have been bought at least two of the five volumes I have so far as presents – I just happen to think that these brilliant books are great value for money anyway.  Each volume has a recommended retail price of £21.99 / $29.99, you can usually get them online for around £15.00 (sometimes less), and yet they are huge books, packed full of comics, which take longer to read than most Marvel Omnibus books (which is something I say every time I review one, but it’s true).  

9. Christian Comics from a Woman in Hastings 

In the summer, following a tip-off from my sister, who met a woman selling comics at a car boot sale and got her number for me, I went to a big house in Hastings and spent an hour or so rummaging through piles of comics priced at £1.00 each.  Most of them were just ‘80s / ‘90s crap and overpriced at £1.00 each, but I did manage to find ten comics I wanted to buy, including two hilarious Christian comics from the 1970s – ‘Hansi the Girl Who Loved the Swastika’ and ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ – which would have made rummaging through all those comics more than worthwhile even if they had been the only two comics I bought.  

8. Books from The Works 

A branch of discount book chain The Works finally opened near me this year, and while they don’t often have graphic novels in there, I have managed to grab a couple of comic-related bargains since they opened.  First, I got a copy of Chip Kidd’s ‘Bat-Manga’ book – which reprints some long-forgotten Japanese Batman comics from the ‘60s – for £4.99 (RRP £19.99) and then I got a copy of ‘The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga’ – a rather large hardcover book that comes with a Tezuka documentary on DVD – for £6.99 (RRP £25.00).  Neither of those were books I was desperate to own, but they are both very nice books, and were impossible to resist at those prices.  

7. Books Subsidised by the Radio Times

A year or so ago, I was asked to take part in online surveys by the Radio Times – a magazine I subscribe to – in return for points which can be converted to Amazon vouchers.  These surveys only come through occasionally and don’t take very long to complete, and so far I have managed to convert my survey points into two £5.00 Amazon vouchers.  The first one I put towards a Jonah Hex book and the second one I put towards the first volume of The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library, ‘Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes’, which I am reading right now.  This has a recommended retail price of £17.99, had an Amazon price of £13.65 when I ordered it, and it only cost me £8.65.  It’s a great looking book!

6. Essentials Books from Ebay

Back in May, a tip-off from Rol led me to eBay, where some bloke had listed a lot of Marvel Essentials books for sale – buy-it-now – for just £4.00 (plus £1.00 for postage) each.  I bought six or seven volumes of the Essential Hulk, Essential Power Man and Iron Fist Volumes 1 & 2, Essential Marvel Two-In-One Volume 1, and probably some other stuff, too.  I haven’t read any of these books yet, but I will enjoy catching up with them eventually.

5. Thor Omnibus Subsidised by LoveFilm

Earlier in the year, I signed up for a free trial with online DVD rental company LoveFilm, who at the time were offering a free £20.00 Amazon voucher along with their trials.  This was only open to first time customers, but I gave it a go anyway, even though I have enjoyed several free LoveFilm trials in the past, and eventually I was emailed a £20 Amazon voucher which I put towards a copy of the Thor Omnibus HC (the one by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) which has a recommended retail price of £75.00, had an Amazon price of £56.13 at the time, and thanks to my voucher, only cost me £36.13.  I wish I’d enjoyed reading it more.  

4. Books Bought with Nectar Points

Have you got a Nectar card?  Well, even if you don’t shop in Sainsbury’s, you should probably get one, because you can also collect points from hundreds of online retailers, including Amazon and eBay, if you visit these sites through links on the Nectar website, and the best thing is that you can later exchange your points for Amazon vouchers.  A few months ago, I exchanged some of my points for a £20.00 Amazon voucher, which I spent on several Jonah hex TPBs, and I currently have enough points to get another £35.00 of Amazon vouchers, which I will (of course) be spending on even more graphic novels soon.

3. Library Books

I didn’t get that many graphic novels out of the library this year but libraries are great and still deserve a place near the top of this list.  This year, I borrowed the first few volumes of Scalped – which I liked so much I have since bought them all – and the final volume of Ex Machina, as well as a few unusual GNs that I was keen to read but not enough to actually buy them, like DC’s ‘Saga of the Super-Sons’ TPB.  Most of the libraries near me have at least a few graphic novels in stock and, better still, if I go to the Kent Libraries website, I can search all the libraries in Kent and get books sent to my local library, and all I have to pay is a 35p reservation fee.  In the past, I have even asked my local library to order books in just for me, which they have, and again, all I had to pay was a small reservation fee, and I recently found out that I can order in books from public libraries all over the UK – not just within my county – which costs more, but it’s still only a couple of quid.  All of the services I have just mentioned should be available in libraries throughout the UK.

2. Digital Comics 

I know that digital comics aren’t for everyone but I love ‘em.  I do find it difficult to read some comics online and I still prefer my graphic novels made of ink and paper, but I much prefer digital comics to monthly periodical comics these days and they also provide an affordable way to sample new series.  I don’t think the price of most digital comics is low enough, considering they have no resale value – $1.99 is usually the most I will pay for a digital comic, and even that seems like a bit too much – but Comixology regularly offer certain comics at just $0.99c for a limited period.  This year, I downloaded issues 1 to 11 of Jeff Smith’s Rasl for $0.99c each (although the first issue was free) and Morning Glories issues 1 to 12 for $0.99c each (I think the first issue of that was free, too), which was quite a saving on the price of buying the paper comics.

1. 110 Marvel GNs

Back in the spring, I noticed that a seller who lives quite near to me had listed a collection of 110 Marvel graphic novels for sale on eBay for about £500 and hadn’t received any offers.  I emailed him and offered him £400 in cash for a private sale, which he accepted, and I went and collected them the same day.  I kept back more than twenty of these books for myself – including all the Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne books, Hulk Visionaries: Peter David volumes 1 to 7, Champions Classic volumes 1 & 2, and What If Classic volumes 1 to 5 – and sold the rest on Amazon for a little over £400.  It was a bit of a pain in the arse selling all the books I didn’t want, and I still have a few that haven’t sold yet, but it was more than worth the effort.  The books I kept would have cost me about £200 to buy new but this way they didn’t cost me a penny, meaning that this deal was always going to be hard to beat as my bargain of the year.

Happy new year!  May 2012 bring bargains to you all!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Swamp Thing issues 2 and 3 (2011)

Swamp Thing is the only one of the handful of DC’s ‘New 52’ titles I sampled that I have decided to stick with beyond the first issue, as I am quite fond of the character and the first issue was reasonably strong, despite it being ‘bogged’ down in continuity and a bit too talky.

In issue one, Alec Holland had returned from the dead and was working as a labourer, some weird horror stuff happened, and Swamp Thing himself – the creature that, for many years, thought it was Alec Holland – only appeared on the final page.  Except it turns out in #2 that this wasn’t the Swamp Thing we all know and love at all, but another swamp creature who looks a lot like him and has come to talk to Alec on behalf of ‘The Green’.  This swamp creature spends most of #2 telling Alec that, even though he never was the original Swamp Thing, he was supposed to be, and that the Swamp Thing that we all know and love was just something ‘The Green’ cobbled together at the last minute when Alec Holland went and buggered up its plans by dying.  ‘The Green’ has brought Alec back from the dead because it wants him to become a new Swamp Thing, a Swamp Thing with a human core, which will be necessary to defend ‘The Green’ against ‘The Rot’ – which is the opposite of ‘The Green’ – and its representative, Sethe, who is on his way to unleash his own brand of horror upon the Earth.  Alec turns down this invitation to become another Swamp Thing, and at the end of #2, while fleeing from some monsters, he is rescued by a short-haired Abigail Arcane, who already knows all about Sethe and ‘The Rot’ and spends half of #3 talking to him about it.

Just as there are some humans, like Alec, who are born with a connection to ‘The Green’, there are others, like Abigail and her family, who are born with a connection to ‘The Rot’, and when the original Swamp Thing disappeared from her life, Abigail began to feel ‘The Rot’ calling to her again.  More importantly, the rot has also been calling to her half brother, William Arcane, who lives in a plastic bubble in a children’s home because he is acutely allergic to chlorophyll, and she needs Alec’s help to save him.  (Note: Even though he does not yet look like an overgrown turnip, Alec has the ability to manipulate trees and plants and other green stuff.)

I was under the impression that all of DC’s ‘New 52’ titles were supposed to be fresh and accessible to new readers, but this series was already ‘mired’ in continuity just a few pages into the first issue, and it’s hard to see how anyone who hadn’t already read Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run wouldn’t be seriously confused by now.  Writer Scott Snyder is clearly paying tribute to Moore’s run here, while at the same time pissing all over it, telling us that Moore’s Swamp Thing was a just a failed second choice, a dry run for a new, improved creature.  This decision to write off Moore’s Swamp Thing doesn’t particularly bother me, even though Moore’s Swamp Thing run is one of my favourite runs of comics ever – probably my favourite thing Alan Moore has done.  I still have those comics and nothing anyone else does will stop me enjoying them.  In fact, I want creators to make bold moves, to try something different, and wish this series could have been less tied to its past (which probably would have made it a lot less talky).  Snyder is a good writer, clearly faced with a difficult task – i.e. following Alan Moore – but I did think that some of the dialogue seemed a bit contrived, the many references to ‘The Green’ seemed quite heavy-handed, and the first time someone mentioned ‘The Rot’, I struggled not to laugh.

The good news is that the horror aspects of this comic – which again seem reminiscent of the horror in Alan Moore’s run – work well and are really quite disturbing, thanks largely to Yanick Paquette’s stunning art.  I have enjoyed his work in the past but he really seems to have upped his game here (although at least half of the pages in #3 were drawn by someone called Victor Ibáñez, who did such a good job that I didn’t realise that it was the work of a different artist until I got to the credits on the final page).  I am definitely going to give this series a chance and will stick with it until the end of the first story arc, as it has the potential to be a really good – and great looking – horror comic, and hopefully, once all the set up is out of the way, it will become just that.  Whether or not I continue beyond the first story arc really depends on whether everyone stops talking so much.

Cost: These have a cover price of $2.99 each.  I downloaded mine from Comixology and paid $1.99 each, which is the price they drop to once they have been on sale at $2.99 for a month.           

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Sergio Aragones Funnies issues 1 to 5

Sergio Aragonés is in his mid-seventies now but is still going strong, as this new monthly series from Matt Groening’s Bongo Comics demonstrates.  Each issue is a mix of the single-page, silent humour strips Aragonés is most famous for, a few longer strips – some based on historical events, some fictional and funny, some fictional and touching, some autobiographical – and puzzle pages (spot the difference, etc.).  It’s a slightly odd mix, as I can’t imagine most kids being that interested in the autobiographical stories, the humour strips are mostly aimed at a youngish audience, and the puzzle pages are aimed at a very young audience, but it’s still the perfect outlet for Aragonés’ talents and the sort of outlet he should have been given years ago.

For me, the best thing about these comics is the autobiographical strips.  Born in Spain, a refugee in France during the Spanish Civil War, educated in Mexico, and a seasoned traveller, Aragonés has lived quite an eventful life and the stories he has told so far seem to be just the tip of the iceberg.  There is at least one autobiographical story per issue, and so far he has told of his time working as a movie extra (while still a student) in the 1950s, the first time he ever earned money drawing, his love of scuba diving, his love of puppets, and most interesting / unexpected of all, his time working as a camera assistant / sound man on wildlife documentaries, which took him all over the world.  I could honestly read these stories all day long and I hope this series – and Sergio – just keeps on going forever.

These have a cover price of $3.50 (about £2.50) each.  I bought a couple of issues on eBid and the rest on eBay, from various sellers, and paid about £2.00 each, including postage.