Without a doubt, my favorite graphic novel of the past ten years is Bizarro Comics, published by DC Comics in 2001.
Bizarro Comics is a 236-page compendium of wonderful, independent comic artists and writers creating their own takes on the already surreal and bizarre world of superheroes, all collected into one purple, spectacular volume. The success of this book was followed up by Bizarro World in 2005, but this first volume is forever dear to my heart. It combines the exciting world of superheroism with the subtle beauty and humor of indie comics, like an octopus who can also mix a perfect gin and tonic. Complete. You can’t ask for anything more except for maybe another gin and tonic, and keep ‘em coming until that manatee at the end of the bar looks hot.
Bizarro is a DC Comics character who is, in himself, ridiculous. He’s a pale, rocky Superman clone whose vain attempts to emulate the heroism of the original Superman are forever met with confusion and destruction. All of this is complicated further by Bizarro perpetually saying the opposite of what he really means, misunderstanding basic Earth logic and eventually returning home to his planet, Htrae. Yes, that’s ‘Earth’ spelled backwards. And for this, Bizarro is so horribly absurd that he’s gone to the far side of the spectrum or ridiculousness and returned again to the awesome end. So while Bizarro himself is a small part of the book, the premise is that Bizarro himself is drawing these comics, justifying their departure from DCU canon.
My love for this book is truly immense, and because of this, I’ve carried it around with me to every comic convention that I can get to, hunting down the artists and writers who have contributed and asking them to sign it for me. I brought it to the New York Comic Con this past weekend to meet Dean Haspiel and acquire his signature, but he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps he saw the crowd of 20,000 people and smartly fled. My attendance was not a loss, though, as I randomly encountered Kyle Baker, which also incredibly cool.
Cartoonist Kyle Baker is the reason that Bizarro Comics exists. Him and his wife, Liz Glass, collaborated on a short comic called ‘Letitia Lerner, Superman’s Babysitter,’ in which a young lady babysits the baby Clark Kent for Ma and Pa Kent. Since said superbaby has superpowers, antics ensue, including an escapade with the baby finding his way into a microwave. DC Comics, it is said, found this scene to be a bit too graphic (however comedic and having no harmful effects on the exceptionally durable child), and would not publish it in a regular Superman book. It was too good to let go, so they formulated the premise of Bizarro Comics and nestled it gently between other bizarre fare. Kyle Baker ended up winning an Eisner Award for this story, one of the most highly prized awards in comics. THIS is why it was thrilling to have him sign this book along with his wife.
This totals five signatures that I’ve collected inside this book, the others being Stephen DeStephano (who illustrated the entire introduction to the book), Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer. In carting this through the city this weekend, I began to ask myself why getting these signatures was so important and exciting for me. I mean, there were a ton of other more popular artists at the convention whom I could have brought stuff to for signatures, but I was only interested in Bizarro. Getting their signatures would have increased the value of anything they were on, surely! Financial gain could be mine! But my motives were slightly more abstract than that.
One aspect of collecting these signatures is that they take up so little space, and for an avid collector such as myself, space is at a premium. Two dimensions worth of ink on a page is a breath of fresh air compared to the three dimensions of the latest Green Arrow action figure. Beyond that still is the excitement of meeting someone who inspires you.
You open up this book to the title frontispiece, you exude admiration, and mutually, you and the artist acknowledge that in some small way, your life was changed by what they’ve created. I don’t think that any other collectible really has been as emotionally satisfying as this kind of interaction. I’m not interested in collecting signatures of actors, or signatures via post. For as painfully shy as I am, I draw upon the kinship of being a fellow artist and find the confidence to interact with these folks that I admire. And I try be articulate, though that was not the case when I met Bill Sienkiewicz, during which I said something like, “buhYOU’REAMAZINGBYE!’ and stumbled away. I think I’ve settled down a bit since then.
Collecting that requires a physical experience is always more interesting than shoegazing, eBay-based collecting, as rare as it might be. I have five signatures in this book. I only have about 50 to go, and I’m almost disappointed that it’s such a small number.