Category Archives: The Journey, Man

The Journey, Man 13: Look! Up in the Sky!

Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

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All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

So far in this here column, I’ve touched on superheroes and appreciating comics’ history – so, it seemed only inevitable that I got down to focusing on the Man of Steel himself.

Inevitable, yeah, but the truth is, I’ve been putting this particular edition off. See, I’d never really read Superman till fairly recently, which isn’t really a problem, but … hoo boy. Look, this is kind of embarrassing to admit, so I’ll just come out and say it. I was one of those guys.

That’s right: I used to think Superman was boring.

Goody two-shoes
But let’s be honest here: Chances are, plenty of you have been one of those guys too. “Superman’s too much of a boy scout. He’s not relevant in today’s world. He’s just sooooo dull!” I’ve heard ‘em all before because, at one point, I used to spew them all myself.

It was an easy thing to do when you were a kid in the 90s, a time when it was soooo cool to be angsty and we demanded that our characters had to be more “grim and gritty” (whatever the hell that means). And it didn’t help that everyone else I knew felt that way too. As filmmaker Max Landis put it in his short film The Death and Return of Superman, “Nobody gave a [redacted] about Superman.” I mean, yeah, we all looked back fondly on the Richard Donner films, but that was it.

But that all changed for me in 2009. I started to give a [redacted] – and indirectly, it was because of the Fantastic Four.

Writer of steel
Mark Waid is an incredible author of comics like Kingdom Come, as well as the scribed of widely popular runs on The Flash, Daredevil and Fantastic Four.

That last book, in particular, was why I attended his 2009 writers’ festival talk in Singapore. I was a huge fan of his take on Marvel’s first family (with the late, great artist Mike Wieringo) and I just wanted to meet the guy, shake his hand and thank him.

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Mark Waid

So, I sat in for his talk and that’s when I discovered he was a big Superman guy. No, wait. Scratch that. Mark Waid was the biggest Superman fan I’d ever met. Ever. I’d say a good 75% of his talk that day was about why Superman was the greatest superhero ever. And while I wasn’t a convert that day, my interest was certainly piqued.

The first Superman comic that I actually purchased was All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. It was a colorful, sometimes hokey, but always fun book that first introduced me to what I’ve come to realize is one of the defining traits of the character. But I’ll get to that later.

Anyway, I still didn’t give big blue much thought again after All-Star Superman, not till last December

The reading list
I was making my annual list of resolutions that I was inevitably probably going to break and for some reason, I thought, what the heck. Let’s give Superman the proper shake he deserves. I mean, I wasn’t an angsty little kid any more and his message of hope kind of stuck with me. Ah, but where to start?

So, I turned to a couple of friends who’re pretty big Superman fans. (They’re no Mark Waids, but they’d do just fine.) They eagerly handed me a reading list of what they felt were good Superman comics for a novice like me and I was off.

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Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid & Leinil Francis Yu

“An ideal to strive towards.”
When I finally found some of those comics, I sat down and read them. And I reread them. And I went out and looked for more. And I read those too.

And truth be told, I’m mostly done with that reading list, but I’m already looking for even more. Because that defining trait I mentioned earlier? In the very best Superman stories out there, that trait shines like a beacon.

Books like Waid and Leinil Yu’s Superman: Birthright or Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s Secret Identity – the one thing that they have in common is that they show you why Superman, the oldest superhero around, was the first of many.

Because when you’re an angsty kid, you don’t consider it. That there had to be a reason he endured all this time. And, finally, I figured it out. His greatest defining trait? It’s something that many of my favorite heroes have reflected in some form or another since the last son of Krypton crash landed on earth.

That trait is hope.

And, if you ask me now, there’s nothing boring about that.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection. He blogs about his upcoming book, storytelling and other things at http://waynereewrites.com.

The Journey, Man 12 – Adaptability

Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

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Batman directed by Tim Burton, starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton

I love going to the movies. Always have. I’m not a scholar of fine cinema or revolutionary filmmaking. I know a thing or two, sure, but at the end of the day, I just like catching a flick with friends and having a good time.

Iron Man 3’s opening in just a few weeks, so it seemed only right to talk a little about that love for moviegoing. After all, my journey, man, wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about comic films – specifically superhero films, for two reasons.

Comic films in general means a pretty broad list to cover. We’re talking everything from Ghost World to Dredd here. But superhero films? That’s a more specific subset. And, more importantly, there’s an emotional connection I have with superhero films that goes deeper than other comic films.

“Where does he get those wonderful toys?”
That connection started when I was a kid, naturally. Anyone from my generation will tell you that the ’80s were a golden age for genre films. If you were a fantasy fan, you had Princess Bride. If you loved sci-fi, you had Blade Runner. And if you loved superheroes, you had Tim Burton’s Batman.

Yeah, I’d seen Richard Donner’s Superman, but Batman? Hoo boy. That was a different ball game altogether. And for the next half of a decade, the Batman films were the standard by which superhero flicks were measured. Hell, I can still unapologetically dig Batman Forever. Of course, to be fair, there were all that many superhero films out there anyway. Which is why, when Batman & Robin came out, I was devastated.

It was disappointing, simply because it seemed like this marriage of two of my favourite things was coming to an end. You got to understand: This was a film so bad that George Clooney eventually apologised for it and Joel Schumacher (the man who helmed easily one of my favourite vampire flicks of all time) practically faded from the spotlight.

As far as I was concerned, that was it for superhero movies. And then Wesley Snipes came along.

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Blade directed by Stephen Norrington, starring Wesley Snipes and Stephen Dorff

“I was born ready, mother—”
I’ve pointed out before that I’ve always been a Marvel guy. So, when Blade hit the big screen, you’d think I was ecstatic. But I wasn’t. Well, not initially. At first, I just couldn’t believe that the character that Wesley Snipes so perfectly brought to the screen was the same dude with the goofy 70s shades from the comics.

But it was, and after I got over that disbelief, I was all in, baby. I mean, come on. It was a Marvel character, no matter how obscure, that was translated into a genuinely kick-ass film.

The best thing about Blade, however, wasn’t just that it was an awesome film; it was a precursor to even more superhero films. Which made me happy as can be… for a little while anyway. That marriage of my loves was back, sure, but it was a marriage that was riddled with problems.

Quantity and quality
A glut of superhero films was released in the decade or so after Blade. But for every X-Men 2, there was an Elektra. Sure, I was glad to have these larger-than-life characters back on screen, but was the excitement of seeing Spidey swing through New York worth the awkward scripts that came along with Raimi’s web-slinging trilogy?

Pretty soon, I’d kind of had it. It actually felt worse than the this-is-over sensation that came with Batman & Robin. If we’re going to use the matrimonial analogy again, it became a loveless marriage. It just wasn’t exciting anymore.

What it needed was a second honeymoon. (I’ve totally lost control of this analogy, haven’t I?)

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Batman Begins directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale

The Dark Knight Returns
And lo and behold, just like in the ’80s, Batman heralded a new era of superhero films with the aptly named Batman Begins. But they were different this time. It seemed like the one good thing that came out of that glut was that studios were learning that they couldn’t get away with releasing substandard films for our favourite colourful characters.

Christopher Nolan, Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, and eventually Joss Whedon were names that were starting to get attached to these movies. Directors that carried weight, not just with your average moviegoer, but with us nerds and geeks too. Sure, we had Green Lantern, but crappy superhero films were comparatively fewer and farther between.

The new golden age
Last year, when I sat and watched Avengers for the first time, I swear to you, I was nearly moved to tears. Hell, I still get a little misty-eyed every time I hear Alan Silverstri’s theme from the show. Can you blame me though? For the first time since Burton’s Batman, I’m looking forward to watching superhero films regularly again.

Y’know… just catching a flick with friends and having a good time

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection. He blogs about his upcoming book, storytelling and other things at http://waynereewrites.com.

The Journey, Man 11 – Form(at) Factor

Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

Over the last weekend, Marvel Comics initiated a pretty brilliant idea on the digital comics distribution site comiXology, by giving away 700 of their first issues for free.

ComiXology-banner

A sampling of comics offered at comiXology

Not long after, comiXology crashed. And, at the time of writing this, they’re still trying to get everything up and running again. Which, really, demonstrated just how popular that initiative actually was, despite being a little inconvenient for users of the service — myself included.

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Not Wayne’s comics, but not much different

Back in the days of yore…
But let’s go back a bit. When I first started reading comics on a regular basis, single issues were still the way to go. In Singapore, at least, you’d find the odd trade paperback here and there, but it wasn’t like it is now. You couldn’t just walk into a bookstore and pick up a collected edition on the cheap.

By necessity, I started with singles, but I stuck with them over the years, because they were familiar. Even when trades started to become more prominent, I kept visiting my comic shops week in and week out to pick up a stack of single issues.

That’s what comics were to me. They were the quick bursts of happy that I need in the middle of the week to keep me going.

Two’s company, several hundred’s a crowd.
I moved into a smaller flat nearly ten years ago and… well, tough decisions had to be made. I say “tough,” but really, it seemed like a pretty sensible thing to do for me.

I’d amassed this mountain of singles that were strewn pretty much everywhere—so, I gave almost all of them away. Mostly to my nephews and niece, when it was superhero fare, but also to a couple of friends usually when it was indie stuff or Vertigo books.

And then, slowly, I re-bought a lot of those in trades. Which, financially, yes, doesn’t make a lick of sense, considering that barely two paragraphs ago, I was talking about doing sensible things. But I liked a lot of those comics that I gave away; I just didn’t have the space to keep them.

Trade paperbacks, however, were much easier to store and, despite containing the same amount of story as their singles, didn’t fill up every empty spot in my room.

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Not Wayne’s graphic novels, but close enough

A fair trade.
I didn’t make the full switch though, and still bought a couple of single issues every week. Which, again, seems somewhat counter-productive, but I’ve never claimed to be someone who readily applied things like “logic” to his habits.

I just couldn’t. Like I said before, single issues felt familiar. It wasn’t till late last year when I really committed. I’d find issues missing from my reserve list at my regular comic shop, which would be mildly annoying if it happened every once in a while. But after a while, singles were noticeably absent more often. I’m sure it wasn’t the shop’s fault, but it was still vexing nonetheless.

So, I dropped most of them and made an almost complete switch to trades. Now, I say “almost”…

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How do you like your Brubaker? Print or digital?

The way of the (comic) world.
… because the thing about the American comics industry is that titles live or die in single issues. And a lot of the books I dig aren’t exactly getting the spotlight or sales they deserve.

And I did just buy a second-hand iPad…

So, comiXology became the way to go for me for those single issues. Do I still visit my comic shop? Yeah. Books like Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips’ horror-noir Fatale, for instance, have fantastic additional material that’s exclusively available in their physical single issues.

But, barring any more insanely popular promotions from Marvel, I think I’ve finally found my balance, when it comes to formats. No, really…

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection. He blogs about his upcoming book, storytelling and other things at http://waynereewrites.tumblr.com.

The Journey, Man 10 – Bad men

Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

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Sin City by Frank Miller

There’s a declaration, almost a mantra, that I recite seemingly every couple of months. For some reason, I never seem to fulfill it.

I need to read more crime fiction.

Whether in comics or prose, it doesn’t matter. I never feel like I’m getting enough crime fiction in my life. But this site’s called The Comics Observer for a reason; so in logic’s name, let’s just stick to graphic literature for now.

The Hard Hello
The first crime comic I read was Frank Miller’s Sin City (later retitled Sin City: The Hard Goodbye) – but I guess you could say the same for a lot of people my age. I was probably about 16 or 17, and was naturally floored. But then again, when you’re that age, a bad guy murdering a bunch of worse guys because they killed the woman he loves was almost definitely going to be on my list of favourites.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not taking anything away from Sin City. Visually, it’s Miller at the top of his game, if you ask me. There’s a brutal poetry to his use of light and shadow that few can match. And the story was gorgeous in its simplicity. But it was that same simplicity that got me craving for something more.

Caper_1

Caper by Judd Winick and Farel Dalrymple

Judd Winick: Boy Criminal
In the late ’90s (I swear, I use that phrase way too much in this column, don’t I?), Judd Winick was the guy who created the incredibly funny and heartwarming Frumpy the Clown strips, as well as the rude and equally hilarious Barry Ween: Boy Genius comics.

So when he became the guy behind Caper from DC in the early 2000s, I was obviously curious. The book basically followed three generations of a… well, not a crime family, but a family with ties to crime. The series, especially the initial story-arc (illustrated by Farel Dalrymple), was phenomenal and my first exposure to crime comics that were a little more character-driven.

The two protagonists (if you could call them that) from the first arc, Jacob and Izzy, aren’t hard-asses. They’re just normal guys—brothers—who happen to be criminals. They had their own personalities and were fully formed individuals. Which, I know, seems like a no-brainer and the kind of thing you expect from a good comic, but it felt like a revelation to me at the time.

Till this day, I think it’s a shame that DC hasn’t collected all 12 issues as trade paperbacks because it’s a book that definitely deserves a wider audience.

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Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Partners in crime
After Caper, I was craving more full-bodied crime comics—so, find out that there was one titled Criminal seemed like the most obvious next step.

It’s been ten years since I picked up the first issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ series and, till this day, it’s still one of, if not my favorite crime comic. It’s brutal, but not in the way Sin City was. It’s more subtle; even more poetic, but in a different, grittier way than Miller’s subdued flashiness (I swear, this is a thing).

I’ve pretty much devoured almost anything with Brubaker and Phillips’ names attached to it since then. Incognito, their pulp/crime comic was interesting, but their current run on Fatale—a book that mixes Lovecraftian horror and noir—has been a treat.

Just when I thought I was out…
There have been other books, certainly. Comics like Gotham Central, Powers, Blacksad, Alias, Scene of the Crime, and Brian Michael Bendis’ indie stuff. In fact, there are probably too many to talk about in just one edition. And that’s still only just barely scratching the surface of it. Why?

Because I need to read more crime fiction.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection. He blogs about his upcoming book, storytelling and other things at http://waynereewrites.tumblr.com.

The Journey, Man 09 – On the shoulders…

Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

AmazingSpider-Man33

Amazing Spider-Man #33 (cover by Steve Ditko)

Depending on your point of view, comics can either be seen as a 20th century art form—or a storytelling medium that’s been around since possibly the dawn of man.

However you slice it, the point is that comics have—to put it lightly—a very rich history. But a sense of history, I find, is something you grow into. You can’t really force it onto someone (as my teachers in school can tell you).

By the mid-00s, I’d reached that point where I couldn’t wait for my favorite creative teams to put out another book or I was starting to suffer from blockbuster superhero event fatigue. So, instead of looking forward, I started looking to what had come before.

Sure, I’d read and reread Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns like they were the bible, but everything before the 80s? Not really.

Finding Steve Ditko
Then came Jonathan Ross, a television personality in the UK and a massive comics fan. He was particularly obsessed with the works of Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and a couple of other superhero names that probably aren’t familiar to a lot of people, even some regular comic readers.

In 2007, he put together a documentary for BBC Four called In Search of Steve Ditko. The show focused on not just the man’s works, but also on his personality and beliefs. It talked about how he was a famous recluse and how he was a loyal follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy Objectivism.

It was a thoroughly fascinating story; the kind you’d find being told in indie comics. I was hooked.

I started picking up more of the Essential Spider-Man and Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man collections, not just to familiarize myself with the early adventures of my buddy Peter Parker, but to enjoy Ditko’s distinctively claustrophobic and paranoid style. I picked up his Doctor Strange stuff and even ordered those Steve Ditko Archives from Fantagraphics. And, man, did I devour them.

I still recommend In Search of Steve Ditko enthusiastically, not just to comic fans, but anyone who appreciates a good story. But if we’re talking about the history of comics and good stories, well, then there’s another name that’s bound to come up—Jack Kirby.

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Fantastic Four #49 (cover by Jack Kirby)

Hail to The King
I mentioned earlier that Ditko co-created Spider-Man. Unless you’re living under some kind of pop culture-repellent rock, you’ll know that the other man responsible for Spidey is Stan Lee.

Up till their final issue together, Lee and Ditko produced some undeniably (pardon the pun) amazing comics together. Their partnership seemed like a perfect pairing in a medium that paired up words and pictures.

Then I read Lee’s Fantastic Four run with Jack “King” Kirby—widely regarded as the man who defined the visual dynamism of superhero comics for generations to come—and something just felt… different.

Yes, tonally, the FF was about cosmic adventures, while Spider-Man was about personal problems mixed up with superheroics, but there was more to it than that. When it came to the life of a down-on-his-luck teenage superhero, Lee’s dialogue really complimented Ditko’s quirky art. But when it came to larger-than-life adventures, would any words—even those of the deliciously hyperbolic Lee—really ever truly match up to the accordingly epic visuals?

The answer, for me at least, was no. Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four plots were incredible, of that there’s no doubt. But once the story started rolling, his dialogue just couldn’t keep up with Kirby’s seemingly unlimited imagination.

As writer Ivan Brandon put it in an op-ed piece from last year, “[Kirby] had a story to tell and that story was bigger than everything around him.”

… Of giants.
And this is all just the tip of the iceberg, really. I have so much more Kirby to digest and at least a bit more Ditko. I’m also not as well versed in Will Eisner’s body of work as I’d like to be.

Or how about Moebius.

Or Robert Crumb.

Or Dick Giordano.

Or Neil Adams.

Or… well, you get my point. Hell, I could probably create a whole separate column about trying to digest as much of comic’s history as possible, but I’m already late with one column as it is.

There’ll be more editions like this though. ‘Cause like I said earlier, comics have such a rich history—so why on earth would I not try my darndest to digest as much of it as possible?

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection.

The Journey, Man 08 – Cheers, mate

Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

Hellblazer: Original Sins by Jamie Delano and John Ridgway

For as long as I’ve been reading comics, there’s been Hellblazer.

A spin-off of the horror series Swamp Thing, this mainstay of DC Comics’ Vertigo mature readers line starred the morally ambiguous, but thoroughly charismatic and quintessentially British magician John Constantine.

I use the past tense in that last bit because DC recently announced that they’re cancelling the long-running title, and relaunching it as a comic where Constantine would operate in the same world as the likes of Batman and Superman. Not a superhero book, mind you – but a book set in a superhero universe. And this makes me feel… weird.

The sneering, swearing, smoking visage of John Constantine is as familiar to me as the likes of Spider-Man and Daredevil. He was the face of mainstream comics’ darker underbelly. Not a character you’d find on kids’ PJs, sure, but he certainly wasn’t an underground figure either.

More than just the familiarity of the book’s protagonist, however, Hellblazer was an institution – a series that some of the biggest and best creators worked on. It introduced me to artists and writers like Brian Azzarello, Giuseppe Camuncoli and the legendary Richard Corben. From its inception in the late 80s, it was the first name in mature mainstream horror comics.

Hellblazer: Setting Sun by Warren Ellis, Tim Bradstreet, et al.

And now it’s gone.

I never followed it regularly, but whenever I did go back to it, it was always like sitting down with an old friend for a pint and catching up on lost time. Hellblazer, more than almost any other mainstream book, mastered the art of welcoming new and lapsed readers. Did it help to know more about John Constantine’s history? Yeah. But it never felt like it was essential.

Now, this new, probably PG-13 book that they’re replacing it with could easily be pretty damn good in its own right. But that’s not the point. To me, it’s not about having a book with John Constantine out there, no matter what sort of world he operates in. It’s a matter of having Hellblazer specifically. Or at least something like it. Constantine, with all his charm and unnerving depth, was just the icing on the cake.

For as long as I’ve been reading comics, there’s always been a mainstream book for truly weird, disturbing and cool horror. That title used to be Hellblazer. But the universe abhors a void and the comic market doubly so. There will be another Hellblazer-type title eventually, I’m sure of it. It’s just that it’ll be a shame to see my old friend go for good.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection.

The Journey, Man 07 – My tribe

Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

I was born and raised in Singapore. The thing about living in an Asian country, I’ve found, is that I never got picked on for my geekiness. It just never occurred to me that that was how it was “supposed” to work.

That’s not to say that I still don’t get the “You like comics? Oh, my god! How old are you?” rubbish from my more close-minded acquaintances. I do, but I have enough friends who could out-geek me any day of the week, so it doesn’t bug me as much. In fact, it’s because of those friends that I almost feel sorry for people who so arrogantly dismiss comic readers.

I’ve been talking about my journey through comics for a good six editions now, but I’m surprised that I’ve barely even scratched the surface of one of the most important parts of that journey: My fellow comic fans.

Mr. Kiasu by Johnny Lau

Get by with a little help from my… well, y’know…
I said earlier that I never got picked on for my geekiness, and that’s because geek culture’s always had its place in Singapore. We grew up on the kampong comic strips of Malaysia’s Lat. We had our own local comic series called Mr. Kiasu. Geek culture wasn’t geek culture for us. It was just… well, culture.

So, when I was six or seven and I met a couple of friends who dug Wolverine and The Punisher, I wasn’t the least bit surprised that there were more people like me out there. I was surprised that there was a whole world outside of Spidey and the Ninja Turtles, sure, but that was about it.

Singapore’s a small country – we’re quite literally an island nation – so, over the years, it’s not been terribly difficult to stay in touch with those nerdy friends. Or to make new ones. By the time I was 14, I had myself an entire group who each dug different nerdy things. Gaming, fantasy novels, role-playing games, sci-fi movies and, yes, even comics.

A group like that, if you were picked on for your passions, could’ve been a sort of emotional support and safe haven. For me, they were just the best kind of enablers.

Lion City geekery
The Internet, of course, helped introduce me to more of my fellow nerds (including the esteemed head honcho of The Comics Observer – young master Corey Blake). A couple of said fellow nerds were actually based in Singapore too.

But up until a few years ago, that geekery was still reasonably confined for me to specific communities – certain groups of friends and certain message boards. The scope of it didn’t really hit me till I was actually surrounded by hundreds of my fellow fans.

The Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention was my first comic con. It grew every year since its inception to the point where, at one particular con, we had around 10 to 15 creators from Marvel and DC. Now, compared to even the smaller cons in America, yeah, that doesn’t seem like much. But we’re a tiny island off the southern tip of Malaysia. I’d say that, all things considered, the organizers of STGCC did pretty well.

But that’s not the point. The point was that, for the first time ever, I understood the scope of this larger comic book fandom tapestry. I know it doesn’t make sense since I was already aware of how massive the comic fan community was beyond our shores, but it didn’t really hit home till then, you know?

Nerd Mecca
And that, of course, was nothing compared to my first time at the San Diego Comic Con. But that’s an entire edition of this column all on its own, so we’ll save that for a later date.

I only bring up SDCC, really, because of something that Joss Whedon said about this, the biggest of comic cons. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went along the lines of, “Coming to Comic Con is like finally meeting and joining your tribe.” Choice words from Mr. Whedon – if slightly inaccurate, for my story at least.

I’ve always had my tribe, you see. I just keep getting shocked at how much bigger it gets every year.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection.

The Journey, Man 06 – Four-colored David Bowies

Columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

Last month, I talked about the strange relationship between comics and music. I suppose you could consider this month’s edition a sort-of continuation of that. Sort of.

(Call me Wayne Rée: Master of Segueing.)

Anyway, like music, the comic book medium has its fair share of “rock stars.” And I don’t just mean Gerard Way (but, man, that guy writes some seriously awesome comics). Our rock stars are those creators that are so big that they transcend the medium and have entered the consciousness of non-comic fans. They’re not just writers or artists – they’re personalities.

Neil Gaiman

Mr. Sandman. Bring me a dream.
I’ll start with the obvious choice. Chances are, even if you don’t drop by your local comic shop every Wednesday or get into fights about whether Iron Man could be beat Batman (he can’t), you know who Neil Gaiman is.

He was the first true comic book rock star I’d ever encountered. I was 16 and (as already established multiple times) was trying out comics that were outside of the superhero realm. But the one genre I wouldn’t touch? Fantasy. In my infinite adolescent wisdom (which, as we all know, isn’t very infinite at all), I’d felt that it wasn’t something that I could get into. I’d been a sci-fi fan since I picked up my first Ray Bradbury book and I just didn’t see how I could relate to elves and ogres the way I did to rocket ships and dystopian futures.

“It’s not exactly fantasy,” my friend said as he handed me his copy of Death: The High Cost of Living. I was hesitant. I knew a little bit about Gaiman’s The Sandman, but I just didn’t see myself digging it. But my aforementioned friend was right. Gaiman’s stuff isn’t fantasy; it’s a little bit of everything.

Gaiman’s greatest gift as a writer is that he wears his influences on his sleeve. If you crack open a volume of The Sandman, you can see elements of fantasy, sure. But also of mythology, horror, slice of life, romance, and, yes, even rock n’ roll.

There was something in Gaiman’s work that could appeal to you, no matter what you loved. And he hooked me. He hooked me in a big way. How big? After I was done with The Sandman, I went out and scooped up all his prose books (Good Omens, by the way, remains one of my favorite novels ever). I started listening to Tori Amos, purely because I heard that she was friends with him. And well… I suppose you could say that I wouldn’t be here right now, if it wasn’t for him.

You see, Neil Gaiman was the writer that made me want to become a writer too.

Warren Ellis

Internet Jesus
The Sandman was published by Vertigo, an imprint from DC Comics. Like Oni Press, I started to see that brand as a mark of quality. That’s how I started reading Transmetropolitan – a series co-created by my second comic book rock star, the infamous Red Bull-guzzling scribe Warren Ellis.

No, he’s not the fella who works with Nick Cave, but his name might ring a couple of bells, I’m sure. For non-comic fans, he might be that columnist from the first few issues of the UK edition of Wired. Or the co-creator of Red, which was adapted into a film starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and God (otherwise known as Morgan Freeman). You might even know him from his larger-than-digital-life online personality, from his blog or on Twitter.

For me, while Gaiman made me want to become a writer, Ellis was the man that cemented that decision. Gaiman showed me how cool writers were, but Ellis, with Transmetropolitan – a series about a cranky, but brilliant journalist from a crazy, but familiar sci-fi future – showed me the power that the written word wielded. It crystalized in my young brain the idea that an article or a story could truly change the way people thought and could, in some almost shamanistic way, alter the world.

Grant Morrison

The Invisibles Man
And finally, there’s Grant Morrison. Because of that Vertigo connection, I tried to get into his The Invisibles way back when. But I just couldn’t. My late-teens-brain wasn’t able to wrap itself around that series in the same way that it could The Sandman or Transmetropolitan and I just dismissed him as that freak job that took lots of drugs and was a transvestite at some point.

It wasn’t until this year, really, that I decided to give The Invisibles another go. I enjoyed some of his stuff over the years – especially his wonderful We3 with visionary artist Frank Quitely and his surprisingly heartfelt take on Animal Man – but after reading his non-fiction, somewhat autobiographical book Supergods, I finally figured out how I could connect to The Invisibles.

Grant Morrison wanted to be a superhero. That’s why he created The Invisibles. Its main character, King Mob, was his kind-of avatar. His way to transcend the boundaries of reality and fiction and become a supercool superspy who did awesome things like fight aliens.

It was pure late-90s punk rock in comic form. It was wishful thinking taken to a whole new level. And it was something I could relate to. After all, almost every superhero fan wants to become a superhero himself.

So, yeah, Grant Morrison is still that freak job that took lots of drugs and was a transvestite at some point. But he’s so much more than that. He’s the guy that understands why I consider Peter Parker more of a friend than a fictional character.

Rock gods of the future
From the days of Stan Lee, comics have always had and always will have its rock stars. Gaiman, Ellis and Morrison are just the bigger names I could think of from my own youth.

You ask me, pretty soon, if they haven’t already, newer readers will be speaking the same way about guys like Matt Fraction (do yourself a favor and watch his hilarious and beautiful presentation The Batman Dreams of Hieronymus Machines) and Brian Wood (if The Invisibles was late-90s punk, then Wood and Riccardo Bruchielli’s DMZ is the politically-charged 21st century equivalent).

And Gerard Way too, but hell, that guy’s already a rock star.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection.

The Journey, Man 05 – Sweet Soul Music

Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá

Comics, in my opinion, are music’s slightly odd, but still pretty cool out-of-town cousin. From The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” to My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way co-creating The Umbrella Academy, the relationship between the two mediums has, at its best, resulted in some really cool stuff.

Last month, I mentioned that Chynna Clugston’s Blue Monday introduced me to The Jam, but that music/comics connection manifested a little earlier for me.

Gabba gabba hey
The first Ramones song I ever heard was, ironically enough, one of their last. Their cover of the Spider-Man theme from the 60s cartoon was featured both on their final album ¡Adiós Amigos! and the deliciously ’90s alt-rock compilation Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. Anyone familiar with this column knows what a Spidey geek I am, so for the longest time, this rendition was the definitive Spidey song for me.

It wasn’t, in fact, till this year that nerd-rock band Kirby Krackle usurped that throne with the incredibly kick-ass and heartfelt “Web-Slinger/Hope-Bringer”.

Red Rocket 7 by Mike Allred

Fab. Gear.
But that music/comics connection continued on after the Ramones. In the late ’90s, around the same time I was discovering indie books through Oni Press, I also stumbled across Red Rocket 7 by Mike and Laura Allred, a comic about the history of rock n’ roll as seen through the eyes of the clone of an alien. (Side note: I do so love how comics can not only get away with these utterly bizarre ideas, but pull them off so damn well.)

Now, remember: I was in my late teens at this time and trapped in a world without iTunes or Wikipedia. Like anyone at that age, I was desperate for music beyond what I’d heard on the radio—so, naturally, RR7 had me hooked, if not because of the insanely cool story and art, then for the educational value of it.

The fact that Mike Allred’s band The Gear released an accompanying album to go along with the comic was just the icing on the proverbial guitar-shaped cake.

Tank Girl by Jamie Hewlett

Sunshine in a bag
Then, there was that time in 2001, when I found myself staring slack-jawed at one of the screens in the local HMV, watching a video of an animated band fighting zombie gorillas, thinking to myself, “Man, that’s cool. And… wait, isn’t that Jamie Hewlett’s art?”

The Gorillaz were probably, at the time, the best way for me to validate the coolness of comics to my friends. “Look! This guy did the Gorillaz — and he also did this!” I’d say, waving my copy of Tank Girl around.

Of course, I didn’t factor in the stink of the Tank Girl film from the early ’90s, but nevertheless, I’m still a huge fan of what Damon Albarn and Hewlett have been doing with the band.

Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Ohh, make me magnificent
But a couple of years later, I did find a new way to preach the good word of graphic literature. And it’d come in the form of a little book called Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Not only was it, at its core, about how music was literally magic, but it also had all these really cool references that I knew my music nerd friends would get.

A particular story in the second volume of Phonogram called “Konichiwa, Bitches” (any of you out there who immediately shouted “Robyn!” get 50 cool points) stands as one of my favourite demonstrations of the storytelling power of comics — and the perfect love letter to music itself.

And the band played on…
There’s a whole lot more that I could espouse on this particular topic — Jim Mahfood working with Ziggy Marley, Watchmen’s Dave Gibbons doing cover art for Kula Shaker’s K, MF Doom’s stage name being a reference to Doctor Doom, Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones’ noir comic You Have Killed Me taking its title from the Morrissey song of the same name — but Corey’s giving me the editorial stink-eye, as it is (no mean feat, considering that I’m writing this from Singapore and he’s in LA).

But, before I do sign off, I’d just like to rewind back to Chynna Clugston again. Last month, I met her while I was in San Diego and thanked her for her comics and for introducing me to The Jam. She was incredibly funny, cool, and nice — and she signed my copy of Blue Monday with the phrase “Vive Le Rock!” A fitting reference, since that issue was about the main characters trying to get to an Adam Ant concert, yeah — but also a pretty fine thought to end off this edition, I do think.

Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston

So, yeah, vive le rock, folks. And vive le comics too.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, travels way too much, and is currently putting together his very first short story collection.

The Journey, Man 04 – Oni You*

Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

Oni Press will be at Comic-Con booth #1833 (aka, Wayne’s temporary home this week)

I’m writing this on the eve of my flight to California, where I’ll be attending my very first San Diego Comic-Con. For those of you who don’t know, SDCC is arguably the biggest comic convention in the world, an event that attracts not just all the big comic publishers, but also television and movie companies – all vying for the almighty nerd dollar.

But, with all the craziness that’s bound to ensue, my main goal for this trip is oddly simple: I just want to meet Jim Mahfood, and Chynna Clugston-Flores. Everyone and everything else, honestly, would just be gravy. Why these two artist/writers? Because they’re the ones who got me into Oni Press.

The real mainstream
That phrase – according to Wikipedia, originally “coined by Stephen Holland of the UK comic shop Page 45” – has been used to describe the kind of comics that this 15-year-old company produces. They’re, from what I understand, comics that are for people who can’t drop obscure facts about Marvel and DC’s superheroes.

I prefer to describe them as the kind of comics that I never knew I needed.

Grrl Scouts by Jim Mahfood

Food One for thought
Though he now publishes most of his creator-owned stuff through Image, Mahfood (otherwise known as Food One) was the first creator to bring my attention to that distinctive Japanese-styled demon-headed logo. I’ve mentioned before that I was quite the Kevin Smith fan way back when, so the Clerks comic that he did with Mahfood was my initial foray into Oni. From there, I picked up Food One’s Grrl Scouts series and pretty much anything else with his name on it.

People always talk about how they discovered the punk rock ethos while listening to The Ramones or The Sex Pistols or The Clash. I discovered it while reading Mahfood’s books. His stories are straightforward. His art is gorgeously dynamic, yet also wonderfully simple. But, most importantly, his comics had balls and they were fun.

Chynna democracy
In the late ’90s, the publisher had an anthology series called Oni Double Feature, a comic that I owe a great deal to. Aside from giving me more Mahfood (in the form of a two-part Zombie Kid story), it also introduced me to other gems from Oni – like Chynna Clugston-Flores’ Blue Monday.

Blue Monday Vol. 1: The Kids Are Alright by Chynna Clugston-Flores

Usually described as Archie with more sex and swearing, Blue Monday tapped into my love for good teen movies (a love that lasts till today, mind you). It was what would have happened if John Hughes became a comics creator instead of a filmmaker and I loved every panel. But more than anything else, it was the first of many comics that’d introduce me to some really awesome bands.

Chynna’s love for The Jam was what got me into the band in the first place. Her love for mod revival culture continued in her Scooter Girl mini-series, which till this day, remains one of my favorite comics ever (and not just because one of its main characters was supposedly based on Parker Posey).

And then there’s everything else
Oni’s output of quality books certainly extends beyond the works of these two creators. Off the top of my head, I can easily and happily recommend books like Jen Van Meter’s excellent Hopeless Savages (about an incredibly loveable and genuinely sweet punk rock family), Judd Winick’s Barry Ween: Boy Genius (think a potty mouthed Dexter’s Laboratory), Brian Wood and Steve Rolston’s punk rock romance-gone-bad dark comedy Pounded, Greg Rucka’s espionage epic Queen and Country, and – of course – Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series.

But Chynna and Jim were my firsts. Not only did their work lead me to all those other great books, but pushed me headfirst into the whole world of indie comics (beyond The Crow and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that is).

Next time round
I mentioned a bit about how Blue Monday introduced me to The Jam. I’ll probably talk about more about the relationship between music and comics in the next edition. But for now, I’ve got some last minute packing to get done.

* I know, I know. That pun’s so cringe-worthy that it hurts. Look, it’s 3AM here and I’m too wired up about my flight to care.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much.