Comic Books and Other Necessities of Life
by Mark Evanier
Mark Evanier’s Comic Books and Other Necessities of Life is a collection of essays written for Comics Buyer’s Guide, where Evanier’s “POV” (Point of View) column appeared weekly from 1994 to early 2002. Devoted to comics and show business in all their myriad forms, the columns were also a direct descendent of “text pages” Evanier used to publish in the back of comic books he wrote in the ’80’s, particularly Crossfire, in lieu of a letters page (occasional queries about whether the readers wanted their letters reinstated were generally replied to: Don’t you dare).
Evanier has been in the comic-book business since 1969, television since 1974, and has worked for and/or with legends and bottom-feeders alike in both forms. In comics, he apprenticed with the late Jack Kirby and has collaborated with Sergio Aragonés (who illustrated this volume) on various projects for decades. In television he wrote for Garfield, a cat who spoke English, and Pink Lady, two Japanese women who didn’t. From this uncommon pool of life experience, Evanier tells tales. Sometimes for the sake of a punchline, such as his recounting of the day Jack Kirby’s wife accidentally drove through the wall of their home and into his studio: “No one was hurt and Jack, in a strange way, enjoyed the shock of it all. He said to me, ‘I’m sitting there drawing and I hear a noise…and suddenly, here’s Roz coming through the wall.’ Then he paused and added, ‘You know, we’ve been married half a century and she’s still finding ways to surprise me.'”
But the essays I prize most are those that give a “point of view” — and, I believe, tell some valuable truths as well. Even when you don’t agree, you may find yourself reassessing your position and reminding yourself of just why it is your position. From time to time many of us cling to our opinions like Linus to a blanket, and occasional reality checks like that are a good idea. Guess where I got it?
Evanier is a clever man and most of the ideas he puts forward are good ones. Take for example his address sing the problem of “comic book companies trying to make their super-hero comics more exciting by mutilating the characters, removing any grandeur or admirable qualities.” Sad to say this has not been limited to comics — I’ve seen it in modern treatments of heroes ranging from Doctor Who to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Evanier’s conclusion? “These may be great, short-term sales gimmicks… but if we want to snare some long-term readership we may have to rethink the whole concept of super-heroes… we can start by making them super. And heroic might be nice, too.” Another favorite comes in the middle of a funny story about “The Cruelest Thing I Ever Did,” wherein Evanier drops this memorable gem: “We all do childish and insensitive things when we’re 17. There are no exceptions to this rule and if you think you’re one, you probably did more than your share.”
My quibbles with the book are minor annoyances, at best. Though the many anecdotes about Evanier’s comic club as a teenager are all worthwhile, the book might have been better served by spacing them out a little more. However, this complaint is less likely to matter when readers dip into the collection here and there to read a particular column, as most essay collections are read, instead of reading straight through. And an index would make for easier browsing.
I cannot finish this review without something like full disclosure. Though I don’t know if I can go so far as to say I’m a friend of Mark Evanier’s, I am a longtime fan of his work, an occasional e-mail correspondent, and if this review reads anything like a fan letter, that’s why. I could also probably have reviewed this collection sight unseen, as I read almost all of the material when it was originally published in CBG.
I make no bones about it: I want this book to sell thousands of copies, but don’t think it’s because I want to line Evanier’s wallet (I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like the guy and all, but…). No, it’s like this. There are hundreds of columns left out of the book (Evanier has indicated he’s looking for a separate publisher to collect those with less of a connection to comics), and I want a series of sequel volumes to be published containing them. If you won’t think of Evanier, think of me, with my closets full of baskets full of Comic Buyer’s Guides… paperbacks are so much easier to store…
Mark Evanier: http://www.povonline.com/