Welcome back to Shelf Bound, our monthly look at the world of comic binding: a great way to get your comics out of those longboxes and on to the bookshelves! As you can probably guess from the title, today’s column will probably be more self-indulgent than usual, but if you make it to the end (or click on the link to skip right to it, no judging) there’s an announcement for a special project we’re starting next Monday that has everyone here at Multiversity super-excited – please make sure to check that out!
And as always, you can get up to speed on the nuts-and-bolts of making a book like the one we discuss today by checking out our binding primer and walkthrough column from back in September.
“What’s your favorite bind?”*
I don’t know about you, but when someone asks me what my favorite comic book is, or movie or TV show or whathaveyou, my mind immediately goes blank. Complete tabula rasa. In a way surely linked to how we don’t crave a particular food until we’re told we can’t have it, having to settle on a favorite thing makes me forget absolutely every fact about said subject. It’s not even like trying to pick your favorite child; I’m sure that question, impossible as it may be, doesn’t make you forget your kids’ names.
But my favorite comic? Crickets.
And my favorite bind? That’s just asking to trouble.
And yet . . . a book did come to mind.
I can honestly say it doesn’t have my favorite comic (whatever that may be) in it, because although I like these comics a lot, there are others I hold more fondly. And it’s not the most technically difficult book I’ve put together, nor the most elaborate.
But the more I tried to think of a better-suited replacement, this book just would not budge.
TARNISHED, BUT UNAFRAID: A GREG RUCKA/STEVE LIEBER ANTHOLOGY
Written by: Greg Rucka, Jeff Parker
Drawn by: Steve Lieber, Matthew Southworth, Matthew Clark
Inked by: Steve Lieber, Matthew Southworth, Ray Snyder
Colored by: Lee Loughridge, Ron Chan, Rico Renzi, Matt Nelson
Lettered by: Steve Lieber, Matthew Southworth, Robin Spehar & Dennis Heisler
Originally Published by: Oni Press and Image Comics
Whiteout: Melt #1-3
Stumptown vol. 1 #1-4
Stumptown vol. 2 #1-5
Why I Write “Strong Female Characters”, i09, May 2012
The AICN Q&A: Steve Lieber, Ain’t It Cool News, September 2009
The whole thing started with Felon.
For the 99.8% of readers unfamiliar with that particular 8-issue miniseries in the Greg Rucka bibliography, it had a lot of the same tropes as his other entries: crime genre, tough female protagonist, zero punches pulled. But instead of being centered around another law enforcement official (a la Carrie Stetko, Renee Montoya, Tara Chace, et al.), Felon gave us a female lead Cassiday calling shots from the playbook of Richard Stark’s Parker. Relentless and laser-focused, Cassiday was out of prison and looking to settle some scores.
(And when I say Felon failed, I don’t mean it simply didn’t do well enough to warrant a trade collection. I mean, it failed not only to the tune of the 8-issue storyline just stopping after 4 issues, but Top Cow printed #4 in black & white just to slow the financial hemorraging. Ouch.)
But the average Top Cow reader of 2001 wasn’t looking for Parker-esque hardasses in their female protagonists, and the average crime fan or Greg Rucka fan wasn’t used to looking to Top Cow for their fix.
I picked these issues up a few years after that, enjoying them for what they were and keeping them the back of a long box for years, waiting for the story to somehow be finished. Sure, Rucka described the whole experience as ‘really really unpleasant’ and ended up swearing off Image as a publishing possibility for nearly a decade before launching Lazarus at Image Central, but I held out hope. It springs eternal, right?Continued below
It may, but by 2012 I’d waited long enough, especially since I’d discovered this whole ‘comics binding’ thing at that point. Felon was exactly the type of comic I wanted to liberate from the longbox.
The problem was there were only 4 issues. Now, you CAN make a bind out of 4 issues, but to me that felt like too much effort for not enough return. So I started thinking, “what ELSE can I bind with it?”
By now I’d bound comics like the Comico issues of Grendel, Mark Waid’s Flash, the Nocenti/Romita Jr. Daredevil, some Love & Rockets . . . all self-contained series or ones with obvious crossover items. With Felon, I was starting from scratch for the first time. The possibilities may not have been endless, but they were multitude.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Rucka as writer was my draw to Felon (although I did enjoy Matthew Clark’s art, in color and black&white), so his comics were up first. And the non-cape nature of the book kept me from looking to his DC or Marvel work. And before you mention Gotham Central and the Renee Montoya connection, I was already planning a separate bind for that series, although swapping out Whiteout: Melt or the second volume of Stumptown for the “Half a Life” arc wouldn’t have been the worst idea in the world.
At any rate, flipping through the longboxes again left me with three choices:
Queen & Country was getting a bind series of its own, so that was out.
Whiteout was threatening to have another series but nothing was visible on the horizon, and Stumptown also found itself in-between publishing gigs. So the chances of some new product begging inclusion being released JUST after I sent the book off to the bindery were slim to nil.
Seven issues of the former and nine issues of the latter meant my Felon book jumped from an anemic four comics to a hefty twenty.
Problem solved, right? Well, yes and no.
I knew somewhere down the line I’d be presenting Rucka and Lieber with this book to sign. So even though this was for my personal collection, I wanted the end product to be something they would also appreciate. And if I’m being completely honest, I was probably trying to make some kind of statement with it, something that said “I know and appreciate what you do better than the CGC slab-toting rabble”. Probably not the best thing to admit, but that’s the truth.
I’d followed comics long enough by this point to know a collaboration like the one they had on Whiteout was a real give&take. I’d also had enough conversations with Lieber at shows to know how smart he was (and still is) about his craft. I didn’t want to hand him a book labeled as an anthology of his work and only show the work he did with Rucka. Not if there was something else that should so obviously be included (to me, anyway).
I thought back to a conversation we’d had at San Diego some years earlier. He’d mentioned researching caves for a fictional story about a spelunker, even going so far as to draw her in my sketchbook (the same drawing you see up on the book title page). And in the years since, that story finally DID see print as the 5-issue miniseries Underground, done with studio-mate Jeff Parker and (thankfully for this anthology) featuring another non-caped strong female protagonist.
26 issues, plus the two text pieces printed out & formatted. Oversewn binding, simple gray arrestox with white lettering, and spring for some black endpapers because why not? Done.
Now to come up with a title . . .
What’s In A Name?
Titles are hard.
I hate coming up with titles. I love horrible puns and awful plays-on-words too much to not live in fear a title I like isn’t just a tragically bad idea. I guess I didn’t HAVE to give this book a title, but it just seemed necessary. And here I was essentially trying to rename somebody’s child before I go up and present them with said-renamed-kid in the hopes they’ll think I’m tremendously clever.Continued below
Enter Matthew Southworth. Specifically the hilarious header image for this column: a promotional t-shirt design done for the launch of Stumptown (the comic; this was years before the show came out). In it, Southworth captures series lead Dex Parios’ willingness to not let both the story-specific BS and the overall misogyny she has to deal with get in her way of doing her job.
And that ends up being true for every story included: from Dex to Cassiday to Carrie to Underground‘s Wesley Fischer. They may get knocked down, but they don’t stay down. Remembering that Rucka is a big fan of Raymond Chandler’s famous essay “The Simple Art of Murder”, I borrow a line he quotes from it for the anthology title: Tarnished, But Unafraid.
(Of course, typical me, I didn’t actually go back and double-check the quote before sending the book off to the binder and just went with my memory. Chandler’s actual line is “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” Which uses ‘tarnished’ in the exact opposite way than I had intended. Maybe Rucka-the-Chandler-fan won’t notice . . .)
(And I’m skipping over the little head-scratchers I ended up doing like tracking down the original single issues for Whiteout and Whiteout: Melt, even though I had both in regular-sized TPBs, because I simply HAD to include the covers that WEREN’T in those collections. In my defense, those covers were by Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Matt Wagner, and Lieber himself, so can you blame me?)
Taking The Act On The Road
This is all fine in theory, but what happened when you showed them the book?
Cut to June 2013 at HeroesCon.
As luck would have it, Rucka AND Lieber AND Southworth were in attendence. I made my way down from Maryland.
I show Rucka the book.
He really digs it.
He notices the title, does NOT give me grief for screwing up the quote but rather, to my vague recollection, sees it as being apropos to the book outside of the original context (yay!).
He signs the book enthusiastically and mentions Lieber is also at the show, some rows behind us.
I nod and head over to say hello, book in hand.
Lieber sees the book and is impressed! Mission accomplished!
Quick note: when I show a creator a bind I’ve made with their work, I’m not really expecting a particular reaction. I know that flies in the face of what I said all those years . . . err . . . paragraphs earlier, but honestly, I don’t. I hope they like it, but (particularly for artists) I’m not looking for them to stop everything and draw a commission-level piece right then and there. Or anything, really. My ‘job’ is to make the book and show it to them; whatever they are inspired to do at that point is extra.
I say this because Lieber immediately takes out a silver pen and starts breaking down an image on the black endpapers below Rucka’s signature. As we’re chatting he’s in full con-artist mode, a type of social multitasking honed from years of drawing, talking, and occasionally looking up, all simultaneously.
Probably quicker than it took me to write this, he’s conjured up a lone figure on an Antarctic slope. He’s pleased. I’m elated, dashing back to show it off to my table cohorts before heading over to Southworth’s table.
I’m a good four or five steps from his table, pulling this tome from my bag, when he sees me, lights up and says something to the effect of “Hey, I know you! You’re the guy with the book!”.
Uh-oh. What the hell did I get myself into?
Turns out he’d seen a post I’d made about this book a few days prior to the show. Why he was googling himself and hit on my binding forum post is a tale for another day, but this means he’d been pre-warned about the book and had been already thinking about what to draw in it.
I hand it over and he flips through it, compliments me on it (I think? I was still getting over the shock of being ‘recognized’), and like Lieber, starts laying down some kind of preliminary sketchwork as we chat.Continued below
By the time I head out to do another lap around the con, he’s stopped sketching and is reaching into his bag for some tools. I think I hear the word ‘wash’. Huh.
When I come back, he doesn’t recognize me at twenty paces because he’s head-down putting the finishing touches on this:
Remember, again, I didn’t make him do this! Just handed the book over and said “whatever seeing this thing makes you want to do? Go ahead and do.” And he did that.
I have no doubt the fact he knew Lieber and the rest were going to see it didn’t hurt, because artists are people like everyone else and like to strut their stuff when given an opportunity. But great googily moogily that’s still one of the best con sketches I’ve ever gotten.
Bringing It All Home
So is that why this book’s my favorite? Or all the other signatures I ended up getting? Or the comics inside? The idea of it? The making of it? The experiences and conversations it helped bring about, in one way or another?
Yes. Yes to all that and more. Because more than what this particular book contained, or what it had scribbled in it, was how it helped me engage with comics on a level I hadn’t thought possible.
Every comic bind is a one-of-a-kind thing, but there’s a difference between making a bind mimicking a pre-existing book and making one with no ‘official’ counterpart. The former is great and I have plenty of them on my shelves, but the latter? The ones you make because they can’t be made through official means (like a Best of Superman bind with a copy of Superman vs Spider-Man thrown in)? Those are the ones that grab people’s attention.
Tarnished, But Unafraid was the first time I’d done one of THOSE binds. And on top of that, I built it from the ground up. I made a thing! Something that did not already exist that I felt needed to be made! Created from decisions based on years of study of some kind of craft! And a thing that when presented to people who knew enough about its intended result to decide whether or not I was successful, they were pleased with!
Is this what you creative-types feel like when you do your creative thing? Because I gotta tell ya, it feels pretty good!
At the risk of sounding super-pretentious and/or egotistical (too late?), Tarnished is as much my book as it is Rucka’s or Lieber’s. I love the fact people see it and dig it. And the desire to put together a book that feels like as much of a achievement as that book was, on its own terms, is with me every time I put a new bind together.
And for being the book that made me realize this, that I could have some kind of creative relationship with comics on my own terms, Tarnished is my favorite bind.
* This wasn’t a rhetorical question. Tim Benson of OmahaBound invited me to answer that question on his company’s YouTube channel last week. You can see Tim, me, and the book in question right here:
THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT
The big announcement is . . . The Shelf Bound Charity Auction!
Since our last column went up on March 17th, life as we knew it decided to re-enact the end of Thelma & Louise and drive itself right off a cliff, leaving us in a world where . . . well, where nothing’s working the way it should, even in comics. COVID-19 has quarantined fans, closed shops, stopped distribution, and thrown livelihoods into jeopardy. The response to these hardships has come from all sides of the industry and has been heartening to see. From the recent Creators4Comics auctions to benefit BINC, to Jim Lee’s insanely profitable 60-sketch auctions, to other programs and initatives, fans and pros alike are doing what they can to help see us all to the other side of this crisis.
I wanted to help make a difference. But I’m not a creator. I don’t have sketches or scripts to donate. Nobody’s gonna pay money for a livechat with me. What the hell was I gonna do?Continued below
And then it hit me.
Behind that blur effect are 36 binds from my collection. Starting on Monday, April 27, we’ll begin auctioning them off for charity donations to either The Hero Initiative or BINC, depending on the auction winner’s preference. Here’s how the process works:
- Starting Monday, a new Shelf Bound article will be posted each weekday featuring the bind up for auction that day. This article will include multiple photos of the bind, its complete contents, what went into putting the bind together, and any other parting thoughts I may have about it.
- Some of these books have sketches in them. Some of them do not. Some of them are signed. Some of them are not. Some of them are signed AND sketched in. Some of them are not. A handful are signed to me personally. The majority of the signed books are not. Every bind article will detail whether or not a bind has a signature, sketch, personalization, all, or none of the above. There will be no surprises on that front.
- Auctions will run for three days. The cutoff time will be listed in the bind article.
- Bids for a bind must be placed as comments in that bind’s article. DO NOT TRY BIDDING FOR THE BOOK BY REPLYING TO THE ANNOUNCEMENT TWEET!!!!! BIDS SENT IN THIS MANNER WILL BE IGNORED!!!!!. For logistical reasons we are NOT running these auctions like the Creators4Comics ones.
- Highest bid at time of auction’s close wins. The winning bidder has 24 hours to contact me via twitter or email (see below) to set up payment. If contact is not made in this timeframe, the winning bid is invalidated and the next highest bid will be the winner.
- Winning bidder will make the donation in the amount of the winning bid to the agreed-upon charity. Upon successful donation and receipt of receipt (hehe) by me, the bind will be mailed out via Media Mail on the following Saturday unless an alternate schedule is agreed upon by all parties.
So what’s on that shelf?
- What ISN’T on there are binds I’ve made as auction-fodder. These are all books I fully intended to keep in my permanent library.
- Also, Tarnished is NOT on there.
- At least one book I’ve mentioned before in this column is on there. Maybe more.
- There’s only one, possibly two, books out of the whole lot that I would say mimics something released officially. Other than that, they all have at least one thing different about them or done to them.
- Lots of Premier publishers represented, but some books contain comics from publishers no longer with us.
- More than just cape comics, though even the cape comics don’t necessarily have capes worn in them, though some do.
- There may or may not be brimping portrayed in one of the books.
- And at least one book as material that absolutely cannot legally be reprinted.
Come back on Monday to see what the first book will be!
That’s All, Folks!
Shoot me an email about any of the above or more at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter at @gregmatiasevich and let’s have some fun! Stay safe!