Andrew Cattanach has a brand new bag…
It all started when listening to The Grantland Podcast.
Grantland is a US sports/culture website usually frequented by lots of people like me. Young(ish) hipster(ish) sporty(ish) culturally aware(ish) folks who enjoy quality long-form journalism. They also do podcasts (Fun Fact: we do as well) which, along with audiobooks, keep me company on my long drive into work.
This particular evening I found myself listening to an interview with one of Grantland’s great writers Andy Greenwald and Axel Alonso, the current Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics. You can also watch it at the bottom of this article.
Of course I was aware of them (if you’ve seen a blockbuster film in the last year, chances are you’ve seen a comic book adaptation), and I’d read and loved some of the biggies like Watchmen and Sandman but I never really felt into them. If anything, only having read the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of Graphic Novels made me feel like even more of a tourist, as though I’d flown over the Eiffel Tower and told everyone I’d been to Paris.
I never really had time for them, preferring to eat into my gigantic TBR pile.
So, back to Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief of Marvel. Turns out, despite doing a job once occupied by comic book god Stan Lee, Alonso has never really been a hard-core ‘comic book guy’, if such a thing even exists anymore. He was a journalist and author, who found himself unhappy with his job and saw an ad in The New York Times for DC Comics editors. Confident that he would never be hired, he trudged along to the interview out of boredom and was hired by a comic book publisher who knew his work.
Not a comic book guy? And now he’s arguably the most powerful creative force in comic books?
Throughout the interview Alonso speaks passionately but about the creative freedom the form provides writers and artists, and the entrenched progressiveness and diversity on the page. These days The Hulk is a Korean-American Teenager, Thor is a woman, and only last week the brilliant African-American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was hired to write a new installment of The Black Panther, a series that began in 1966 and featured the first black superhero.
All this comes in the wake of some wonderful pieces on this very blog written by comics aficionado Jeremy Vine on Aquaman, video game adaptations, queer characters and great article on simply where to start with comic books. So I thought it was time.
I picked up a copy of Marvel’s The Avengers: Civil War and DC’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by my reckoning the most celebrated comic storylines of the last 20 years. Civil War pits Captain America against Iron Man and their respective followers in an ideological war against government intervention that threatens to destroy the world, while The Dark Knight Returns is the dark saga of a 55 year-old Bruce Wayne, who returns from retirement to fight crime and faces opposition from the Gotham City police force and the US government.
I’m still getting through them. And you know what? I think I’m converted.
At the same time I’ve been reading A Little Life, the acclaimed novel by Hanya Yanagihara that has been widely tipped to take out the Man Booker this year. It’s an amazing novel, but that’s for another day.
The point I’m making is that nearly every day I have been reading these comic books alongside a truly great novel and I haven’t skipped a beat. Sure, there’s less grizzled kung-fu in A Little Life compared to The Dark Knight Returns, and slightly more middle-class angst in A Little Life than The Avengers: Civil War, but with regards to raw, uncompromising and often confronting storytelling, they’re on a par.
I’m still reading them, and still enjoying them, and I’m confident to say there will be more to come. Who knows where this story ends, but for now…
Andrew Cattanach. Comic Book Reader. Signing off.
Andrew Cattanach is the Contributing Editor of The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Australian Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat