The Middle Ground #114 | Short and sweet
I’ve been reading a lot of 2000AD again recently; I think I can blame that on a confluence of things including nostalgia, Douglas Wolk and actually having some recent 2000AD to read, for once, and as a result, find myself almost unable to read any other comic without feeling dissatisfied somehow.
It’s not that 2000AD is that good that everything else pales in comparison — although, at its best, it’s pretty damn great, and the variety on offer in each issue (and reliance on new, with even long-term strips like Dredd pushing forward in terms of characterization and changing the status quo, to their credit) is something that puts a lot of the mainstream American comics industry to shame — but that there’s such a particular story structure and storytelling dynamic on show in each strip that almost everything else feels … slow, and somewhat bloated, in comparison.
(It also feels worryingly serious, in a lot of respects; 2000AD stories — the best ones, or the best for me, at least — have a particular sense of humor throughout, even in the most serious and dire of circumstances that keeps things moving and afloat in a way that feels unlike almost every other comic I can think of, unless its come from a 2000AD alum. The attempts at humor in most American comics are broader, and less … knowing, perhaps. Less nuanced, at least.)
It’s the length of the episodes that impresses the constant need to just churn out the content, over and over again, with either action or revelation every, what, five or six pages in order to justify a reader spending time reading that week’s episode. It changes the rhythm of telling stories, creates expectations that other books struggle to reach. The only two other things I’ve read in the last week that didn’t disappoint while I was in this headspace were The Crackle of The Frost, a new book from Lorenzo Mattotti and Jorge Zentner that’s coming out from Fantagraphics in September, and Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke, which I was re-reading in lieu of having remembered to buy the Parker book that came out the other week.
Tellingly, Crackle — which is, in terms of subject matter and execution is miles away from the shameless drama of 2000AD — was originally serialized, giving it a similar weight and depth as the British sci-fi comic even as it tells a slow, beautiful story about a man trying to find a former lover years after they split (It’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long time, and easily one of the most beautiful comics I’ve seen in years; Mattotti’s art is breathtaking. I’m sure I’ll write about it at length closer to its release), while The Score not only has the speed of a good pulp novel, but also the spectacular sequence of heists in which Cooke changes up styles and turns his OGN into a series of shorts for a section of the book.
The phrase I keep coming back to is “value for money,” in my head. But maybe “compressed” works, too; the idea that not one panel of the comic is wasted or doesn’t add something to the reading experience, and that there’s as much story and content packed onto every page as possible. 2000AD changes the way you read comics, and makes you want everything else to consider its real estate just as much as that title does. There’s something to be said for comics that make everyone else look lazy.