Sunday Substack Comics Rack: FishFlies, PUBLIC DOMAIN, BLUE BOOK, and More!

for Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Sunday Substack Comics Rack (SSCR) here at the Comics Syllabus continues to evolve, as does this tiny experiment in criticism from within this terrifying capitalistic venture in Substack comics.

In contrast to last week, I’m going to have the comics reviews first, then the “newsy” updates. We’re still getting the comics in small doses, unsurprisingly from the prolific paced creators like Jeff Lemire, Chip Zdarsky, and Michael Avon Oeming (on James Tynion IV’s). But they’re coming.

And for now, only in images embedded in newsletters. The Panels app recently updated with a promise of Substack compatibility, but I don’t see any actual functionality on the app or the Substack sites for it yet. So for now, it’s still either searching my inbox or scrolling the Substack site (subscriber) pages to get the three to five pages of comics, one snippet at a time, open in a million tabs on my browser.

Meanwhile, I do want to say that the content on the other subscriptions aren’t necessarily unsatisfying to me, even if others may be wanting something more. So keep reading down to the “news” portion for some of what’s going on in the pages more geared towards traditional newsletter stuff rather than comics, as well as the ones still revving up for new complete comics.

Reviewing Substack Comics:

Okay, most of the links below are for subscribers only, since this is the actual comics content that these Substack creators have been promising. The notable exceptions are the free first chapter of “BLUE BOOK” on Tynion’s and the first bit of “The One You Feed” on Cates and Stegman’s KLC, which are meant to tease you into subscribers (which I’m still not in the latter case).

Here are some quick takes.

PUBLIC DOMAIN Part 2 (Chip Zdarsky): So far, this is my favorite, and I’m intrigued where this story is going. The pacing of Zdarsky’s writing combined with the storytelling clarity and emotional valences of his art style have made this an instantly immersive story. The short version of the six issues we’ve gotten so far is, a working man catches a subway home through a city littered with posters for the upcoming superhero movie, and when he gets home, his father turns out to be superhero’s comic book creator. Something intriguing’s going on with the POV character’s brother, who is in a “kickboxing tournament” (but not really). I’m really loving Zdarsky’s deftness of writing combined with how much his art can convey tonal strokes of yearning while his characters shrug and bicker. And Zdarsky coloring art again, he says, means he now has time to listen to podcasts again. Somebody tell him about Comics Syllabus!

FishFlies 1-2 (Jeff Lemire): Jeff Lemire has shown, in the past decade, that he can’t be put in a box. “Essex County” has such a distinct voice and sense of place, the kind that’s hard to fake without an authentic, soul-deep connection to a community. But in the interim, Lemire’s gone to so many places across genres, fictional worlds, publishers, and thematic concerns, it starts to feel like Essex County may have been a certain time and a memory. But FishFlies, in two installments of about three pages each, immediately captures some of that spirit, in these three adolescents making their way to a mini-mart and encountering this Ontario phenomenon of a bed of fish flies landing on the ground. The way the kids talk, the anxiety of Lemire’s linework, the selective but evocative details of the settings Lemire draws. Even though I wish these short snippets came faster or in longer chunks, since I like Lemire’s art to luxuriate in its pace, I’m glad to be back here in Lemire’s hands, in these vibes of “Essex County.”

BLUE BOOK: Betty & Barney Hill Chapter 1 (James Tynion IV with Michael Avon Oeming): What happens when the Tynion paranoia, present in “Batman” and even in a fantasy adventure like “Wynd,” but full tilt in “Department of Truth,” winds up in the hands of Michael Avon Oeming, an artist who I’ve always thought of as “cartoonist art deco noir,” a kind of spiritual successor to Chester Gould with a dash of contemporary Darwyn Cooke… what happens to Tynion’s mood in Oeming’s hands. We get the answer in this first chapter, where Betty and Barney Hill, two good citizens, active leaders in NAACP chapters, on a drive home from vacation back to 1961 New Hampshire, spot something flying in the air. Aditya Bidikar’s letters provide perfect accompaniment, with typewriter captions and dialogue typeface and balloons shapes that complement Oeming’s return to form. And this is the Oeming I love the most. When he’s wacky and out there, like in “Cave Carson,” his art is still outstanding and fun to look at. But the era, genre, and mood of this make the most of Oeming’s powers, in my opinion. I can’t wait for the next chapter.

“The Rock at Vallar” (3W/3M): Not really comics yet. Though if you read Hickman comics, the universe-building diegetic info pages are doing a lot of the comics work, so you might differ. I have to admit that these info dumps, without the context of narratives or characters I have any reason to care about, basically go in one ear and out the other for me. I had a hard time appreciating or even understanding “House of X/Powers of X” for those reasons. But I chalk that up to my shortcomings as a reader more than creators’ failures. Sure, it’s fair to say that it’s the creators’ job to make us care, and so far we haven’t gotten much. But this is a whole new way of reading and experiencing worlds, and no project has been more upfront about that than 3W/3M. So I just figure that one day down the line, I’ll go back and study what the Academy is, what Vallar’s significance is, and whatever the heck a Sorcento is, at some later date.

“The One You Feed” Chapter 1 (KLC): The subsequent chapters are also on KLC, which is Cates and Stegman’s joint. I haven’t read this in depth, just glimpsed at the pages. But they’re making me mad. Because this is the most comics we’re getting from any Substack creators. And it’s the only one I didn’t subscribe to.

Except now I did. Ugh, someone help me. More about “The One You Feed” next week. Because I guess now I’m a kid who loves chains.

Newsletter on the Newsletters

  • I’m digging “The Trial of Magneto” over at Marvel and its writer Leah Williams sends out Substack “Digital Dispatches” with short updates and blasts of intriguing playlists, teasers, and fun randomness. The Spotify writing playlist linked there plays in my background now, sending out vibes for where that mini-series is going. I’ll never stop being intrigued by the endlessly regenerating range and awesome weirdness of X-comics.

  • Sophie Campbell shares some thumbnails from “Shadoweyes” of the past… which interests me for a couple reasons: (1) Campbell talks about now foregoing that step for the tight deadlines of Ninja Turtles, and I wonder how many creators find thumbnails still essential to their processes and how many move their thinking/planning directly to digital pages etc. I think about this as a teacher all the time, writing out lesson plans versus going right to the slides or organizing the spaces or writing up the prompts or protocols for learners’ engagement. (2) These “Shadoweyes” thumbnails remind me just how luxurious those pages are in using spaces and beats, and with a different economy of digital space-taking (as opposed to pressure about print, paper, etc), it’s just another entry in the huge data set of how visual storytelling shifts in the digitalsphere.

  • Cartoonist Kayfabe’s Substack includes a conversation with Geoff Darrow, in conversation with Ed Piskor, Jim Mahfood, and Tom Scioli. Darrow talks about how “GRRLScouts” was optioned but dropped by Disney for adult animation, which obviously disappointed Darrow, but resulted in an investment and infusion of creative energy (Mike Huddleston! Margot Robbie?) into the storyworld. It made me think how us comics purists often bemoan “selling out” for movie and TV rights, but the reality for many creators may be, comics-as-prospective-properties-for-more-lucrative-media is the best shot at financial viability and creative scale. (Not like some random internet venture capital is suddenly going to get injected into the industry…) 😏

  • Kelly Sue DeConnick has been public that she and Matt Fraction got the Substack offer, but I believe they said they were deliberating and hadn’t decided one way or the other, at least last I checked. Nevertheless, she does maintain a free newsletter, with book recommendations like Doug Wolk’s All of the Marvels, Hawkeye trailers, ordering signed copies of her upcoming "Wonder Woman: Historia” #1 from a local retailer… y’know, good newsletter stuff!

Okay, that’s it from me for this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed your weekend. Keep watching this space as we keep watching this space.