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Bad Weekend (A Criminal h/c)


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Bad Weekend (A Criminal h/c) back

Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Jacob Phillips

Price: 
14.99

Page 45 Review by Stephen

"So what were those pages you were looking for?"
"Some stuff I drew back when I was working for Archie Lewis... Don't worry about it... It's just a mistake I made. One of many, right?
"But I wanted to keep this one to myself..."

There is a crime committed here. Well, several if you include the odd counterfeit, entry by deception and a felony assault.

But unlike most of CRIMINAL, this self-contained mystery from the creators of KILL OR BE KILLED, THE FADE OUT, FATALE and published in the same format as MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES focuses far more on criminal behaviour, as in shoddy, as in unethical, as in treacherous.

Over the years, the American comics industry has witnessed more than its fair share of corporate malfeasance and personal betrayals - sometimes in the same swoop. Now you'll be privy to some of those too.

July 1997, and the American comicbook industry is purported to be dying.

"Publishers going bankrupt, distributors imploding, shops closing all over the country."

But at least the conventions still focussed on comics, and due deference was paid to its veterans.

One such legend is Hal Crane, who cut his professional teeth inking backgrounds on Archie Lewis's STAR KING newspaper strips before carving out his own career with deadlines so tight he too needed junior assistants. Oh, and then there was his gig as lead design and storyboard artist for Danny Dagger And The Fantasticals, an animated cartoon which became a cultural sensation for a whole generation back in the '70s with a lot of licensed merchandise which Hal saw not a penny from. But Crane had become a chain-smoking, hard-drinking bitter man long before feeling ripped off by that, and his explosive temper was as legendary as his undeniable talent.

"The kind of guy who could ink with a toothbrush or a broken stick and the page would still come out perfect."

Jacob knows, because straight after high school Jacob became one of Hal's art assistants, learning from the best while witnessing the worst. He lasted longer than most but it didn't end well. "Hal ended most of his relationships badly." They haven't spoken since.

So Jacob's more than a little startled when Mindy from the imminent annual Comicfest phones late at night with an urgent request.

"Apparently, Hal Crane was flying in to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award and they needed someone to... uh... basically be his minder for a few days. Make sure he got to the ceremony and his other appearances."

That's minder rather than P.A., Steering Hal clear of the bars is going to be no easy task, but Hal Crane has asked specifically for Jacob. What Jacob isn't aware of yet is that keeping Crane at the exhibition hall itself is going to be as arduous as smoothing over his bad behaviour, because Hal's on a mission to recover missing pages of original art that very few others even know exist.

Unusually, I haven't given you all the information you need to comprehend the exact nature of the mystery yet - I honestly haven't - because they're deliberately dropped in the narrative as casually as conversation and the final three pages will be doozies. Which is not a word I've ever typed before.

Brubaker builds the relationship between Jacob and Hal in recollections scattered throughout at relevant junctures so that you understand why the former would accept the request of a difficult man who didn't treat him too well, and why Hal would have the temerity to ask: he's pretty much oblivious to his past. Well, that part of it, anyway. He certainly doesn't own it.

"You threw in the towel... really?"
"You're the one who said I wouldn't make it."
"I never said that... And why the hell would you listen to me, anyway?"
"Uh... because I was your assistant?"
"No. You can't let anyone tell you what you can be or not. I was probably trying to toughen you up... If I said that."

Brubaker also demarcates the generational gap between Hal and almost everyone he encounters with aplomb. He doesn't understand the world he's re-entering after a long retirement at all. I think you're going to enjoy the convention itself, and the eight extra pages which there were no room for in the issues of the CRIMINAL which this reprints flesh out the contrasting expectations of a faded and jaded star and the far cruder reality.

The art's another star turn by Phillips and Phillips (solicitors at large), particularly Hal Crane's slightly hunched, old-man posture and initially twinkling eyes which are soon clouded then shrouded over as he enters affrays of his own making. Still, there's nothing like a speedy, cop-avoiding car dash about town to get the adrenaline pumping, and Hal's eyes perk up again, rather proud of his own naughtiness.

"He's not calling the cops... I'm his "mentor", remember?
"Trust me, he'll be dining out on this story for years."

There's a terrific upwards angle through the windscreen there, conveying the urgency and speed, while the colours are slashed across the panels in delicious tangerine and lemon mousse rippled through with blackcurrant. There'll be much more cramped interior car shots later on, back-lit by sheets of a very specific red and blue as alternating lights flash outside before we approach those final three pages once the very bad weekend is almost over and Jacob returns home alone.

"Someone once referred to Hal Crane as "a master without a masterpiece" but that wasn't actually true. There was a masterpiece, it's just that only a handful of people had ever seen it...
"And only on Hal's most drunken nights. That's when he got confessional...
"When he told you his secrets.
"Like the real story of Archie Lewis's death."

As for my opening quotation, it came with one hell of a haunted eye.

Post Script:

"Publishers going bankrupt, distributors imploding, shops closing all over the country."

I didn't want to bog you down unnecessarily too early on, but in advertising this graphic novel much was made of what looked like comics' "death spiral" at the time, and I thought you might be curious.

As far as it goes, the above quotation stands true. In the mid-1990s short-sighted retailers had over-ordered insane quantities of superhero comics based on the corporations' hype in collusion with Wizard Magazine's self-serving forecasts in the hope of selling them later on at prices much higher than those on their covers. Rather than stack their shelves to sell through as soon as possible, they'd filled their basements with comics which they laid down like wine if not to mature then to appreciate in value.

It's called speculation. Collectors did it too. They still do. They treat comics not like an entertainment medium, but like the Stock Exchange.

Amateurs all, what these retailers had failed to understand is that cashflow is key, critical to any business's day-to-day survival. So when the buyers' bubble inevitably burst (not least because corporations like Image and Valiant then failed to deliver the over-ordered comics in time before their status as "hot" had evaporated), retailers found themselves with nothing but dead stock and debts. They went bankrupt in droves.

At the same time the two major comics corporations instigated the Distribution Wars, either effectively self-distributing in Marvel's case or naming Diamond as their exclusive conduit in DC's. Can you spell "Monopoly"? Without the surviving (and already strapped) retailers' cash coming in for these dominant publishers' products, every other distributor in the US imploded, taking with them the orders from independent publishers which they had proactively supported, so guess what happened to those poor publishers? Entirely deliberate on the publishers' part: wipe out the competition.

It's a longer story but that's the skinny which I witnessed first-hand, having joined the industry circa 1990, working for a chain of comic shops called Fantastic Store. Racked, stacked and packed with comics, those basements were bursting; their owner's bank account, not so much.

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