Saturday, November 21, 2009

Exfanding Review: The Complete Copybook Tales

In an effort to fall back in love with comics, Alex has decided to go back and read all of the old books that made him fall in love with the medium in the first place. Today, Alex reviews The Complete Copybook Tales, from Oni Press, written by J. Torres, and with art by Tim Levins.

Ah, yes, how I do so love the italicized intro at the beginning of a post. Like the recap page from a Marvel comic of old, that little blurb tells you everything you'll need to know about today's issue. Uh, I mean, post. Today's post.

Speaking of posts, let's get started.

A few years back, I read a book called Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers, by Matthew J. Pustz. The book itself is pretty fascinating, and it gives an in-depth look at fan culture in comics over the past several decades.

Pustz takes the reader from fanzines to the Mighty Marvel Marching Society days of Stan and Jack, and everywhere in between. He talks about the origins of fandom, and conventions, and all kinds of things that I think readers of this blog would be very interested in.

And, with the, here, might want to consider checking out a preview on Amazon, and asking a comics clueless family member to get you a copy.

But that's not the important part of today's story.

On the cover of Culture was an image of a teenager in a comic shop, a wide-eyed look on his face. The image was a perfect snapshot of a moment that all fans have experienced at one point or another--that moment of realization when we find out that there are other people out there who love the things we love.

There are stores and conventions filled with comics, and graphic novels, and all kinds of geeky, interesting people.

The look on the kid's face is spot-on, and the dialogue mimics a phrase we've all uttered at one point or another while in a comics shop or convention.

Copybook Tales sample pageAnd when I saw that image on the cover, I knew I'd need to find the comic where the drawing originated. Luckily, Culture was a thorough examination of all things comics, and I was able to locate the source material quite easily.

That book happened to be The Copybook Tales, and it's been a fixture on my shelf ever since. Tales is the autobiographical story of Jamie Cruz, a twenty-something inspiring comic book writer drifting through his post-college years.

Tales splits its time between the present day story of a struggling-with-early-adulthood James and a series of flashbacks that show young Jamie with his best friends in high school and earlier. Throughout his childhood and onto his teenage years, Jamie kept a journal--his copybook--of every day and the events that occurred.

The flashbacks to those days, which are woven seamlesly into the overall narrative, deftly display the carefree nature of childhood. Those times are juxtaposed with the present day in sequences that capture the often confusing and uncertain years that we all experience just after college.

We see young Jamie and his buddy Mike, pouring over comics and talking about grand plans for the future. The two collect everything, but their greatest love comes in the form of John Byrne's X-Men and Alpha Flight series. Jamie and Mike spend their allowance money on comics every week, and they save up to buy the more expensive, collectible back issues their local store has to offer.

We see how they cherish these books, and one day while in the comics shop, Jamie ponders aloud about what kind of a moron would sell his comics to a store. Jamie's love of comics carries into his adult years, and even though life is doing its best to discourage his dreams, his enthusiasm for the medium is simply undying.

Even when James has to sell off his entire collection of back issues in order to pay down some bills, he remains at heart, a big ole' fanboy.

Along with his buddy Thatcher, the two twenty-somethings create test pages for a satirical super hero comic book series, but despite some minor, early interest in the title, they do not manage to get the book picked up by a publisher.

While waiting to hear back about that title, Jamie finds his old copybooks, all stacked up in a drawer in his room. He spends an entire sleepless night reading back through each journal, and he comes up with an idea.

He's going to adapt his copybook tales into an ongoing comic series. Thatcher loves the idea, and even though they both know it "probably won't sell," they have their minds made up.

Besides the whole comics-oriented storyline, we also see some heavy emotional beats, as young Jamie deals with a friend's confusing personal situation, and older James deals with being an adult and facing the horrifying premise that life might be passing him by.

Certainly, for me, it's easy to see the similarities in this book to my own situation. Further, the past two times that I read the book, I was motivated to get off my butt and do some writing and to take a chance. The book left me with hope, and the feeling that I could do whatever I wanted to do, especially in comics. Those past two read throughs resulted in my creating and writing full comics scripts for two different projected series, drawn by professional artists.

Both were well-recieved, and even on the verge of publication.

Both are now floating in the ether.

This time, reading through Copybook Tales was a very different experience for me. It was still uplifting and motivational, sure, because the characters are so inherently relatable. But there was also a ping of sadness as I read, hoping that my better days aren't in the rear-view.

Still, I'm glad I dusted the book off and gave it a read through, because each time I do, it results in a personal, encouraging experience. And, all in all, this was a great way for me to take that step towards getting back on the comics bandwagon. I'm not there yet, but we'll see what happens.

Next up, I think I'll be reading some Greg Rucka Wolverine...or some Frank Miller Daredevil...oh, maybe some Bendis Daredevil.


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