A Slice of Fried Gold

Come In Alone

Sunday, August 2, 2009

#10 - Come In Alone by Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis is quite the hyphenate. Depending on when you catch him he is a social media proponent, a futurist, a novelist, a blogger, and a writer of often inspired and always imaginative comic books, which is what I know him for primarily. While each role alone is typically invaded by other sides of Ellis, rarely are all aspects of his persona clearly evident in his work. Within the pages of Come In Alone, his collection of columns/essays he wrote for Comic Book Resources in 1999 to 2000, Ellis wears all of his hats simultaneously. The fusion of his roles allows Ellis to effectively take the world of comics to pieces and build it again from the ground up over that years worth of columns, and it results in a collection that should be required reading for everyone affiliated with the world of comics, no matter how tertiary you perceive your role to be.

One of the most amazing things Ellis does is create a thematic arc within his fifty two weeks of columns. You could even say he set it up in the classic three act method. In the first act, he presents the comic industry as it was in the year 2000 - comics of low quality ran rampant, incredible amounts of continuity made most mainstream books impossible for new readers to pick up, and comic stores made it impossible for small books to survive. However, he also showed us that there is hope in unknown (at the time) creators such as Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction and Carla Speed McNeil (all Eisner award winners now).

In the second act, he started to get deep into the doom and gloom as Marvel started falling apart with Bob Harras getting fired, Joe Quesada getting hired, and the company as a whole getting into dire financial straits. This proved to be one of the most intriguing sections as this was one of the only times in history that it seemed like the medium as a whole could go under. Ellis analysis of all of this was extremely compelling, as you never really think of all of the hell that these people go through, and learning more about how truly terrible the comic book industry was in the late 90's is terrifying and almost makes me feel bad for reading comics then.

The third act really starts to focus on how what Ellis saw the industry as a whole then and what stores, readers, and creators can do to fix what is broken. Because they were broken. Ultimately, as he says, there are two things that need to be done to fix comics: emphasize quality and to expand your horizons. To quote him and then expand, "read Ultimate Spider-Man but tell me you'll never bother cracking the covers on Jinx or Torso," as it makes no sense that you would enjoy one version of a Bendis book, but not the others. Comic readers only reading Marvel or DC because of some unearned and ridiculous level of loyalty, readers robotically purchasing superhero books because they have been for years, stores only promoting the new Jeph Loeb book because people seem to like him. It all needed to go because when you get down to it that is completely absurd. Comic readers only have one way to vote and that is by using their money to buy quality not quantity.

The good news for Ellis year 2000 is that everything that he said needed to happen, happened. Mainstream comics are hitting a level of quality that we arguably have never seen before. Creators such as Brian Michael Bendis and Grant Morrison, two creators who have made careers out of fearless decisions and love of the medium, have managed to not only transcend past being niche writers to dictating the flow of entire universes for the big two. Titles like Blankets and Fun Home are critical successes and commercial smashes as well. Not only that, but sales are stronger than they have been in a decade because of renewed interest developed by film adaptations and comics being good again. In many ways, all has gone according to Uncle Warren's plan he set out for the industry. Perhaps they were listening?

Besides the "fix the industry" stuff, we also receive a lot of really, really entertaining stories and anecdotes. Whether it is his night with Mark Millar (who evidently is completely insane), an awesome interview with Grant Morrison, or stunning revelations like when Mark Waid shares that in 1999/2000 Morrison and himself pitched DC on letting them take over the Superman books, and DC responded with "you will never write Superman. Ever." Of course, they got the last laugh as both wrote acclaimed runs on Superman titles. Naturally.

Whether you read this to get insight into the comic book industry, or to figure out how to properly run a comic retail store, or for the hilarious anecdotes, or even if you read this to get into the bizarre mind of one of the most enigmatic and outspoken writers in the industry, it is a damn good book. I'll go ahead and admit that it is not one you can sit down and go through in one fell swoop. The jarring transition from subject to subject really makes this almost a one or two column at a time book, but its a very worthy read for those interested in comics.

Come In Alone: B+


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