Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Interview: Too Dangerous for a Girl!

The Scottish Play 
  Martin Gray is Too Dangerous for a Girl!; more on that score in a moment. As the saying goes, 'blogs are like bums, everyone's got one' or something like that. Gray is one cheeky blogger to say the least, not to mention prolific -- the man can knock out half-a-dozen reviews on a Wednesday before most of us have had our cup of morning coffee; it helps that he lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, but that's beside the point. A lifelong journalist, Gray worked for a time editing UK DC reprint titles and all-ages comics. I found Too Dangerous for a Girl! while looking for a kindred soul to share my 'insights' about the latest adventures of Wonder Woman in the New 52. Lucky for me, Gray was eager to have a chat. My opinions about the hyperbole of comic book podcasts (see the interview with Panel Culture) cross over, if you will, with comic book bloggers. Now, I'm in no way immune to a bit of purple prose myself (sometimes the medium is the message), however, it's always refreshing to read a review that has a light touch amongst  the heavy-hand opinion of the comic book blogosphere. Gray stands as a bit of a 'comic book colossus' straddling the line between fervor and fun; his writing is always as self-deprecating as it is authentic. Martin Gray loves comic books and it shows, but he’s not so zealous as to be willing to overlook something like calling out DC for overpromising and under-delivering (so far) when it comes to certain aspects of the New 52. When I read Too Dangerous for a Girl!, I always come away thinking about how much passion Gray has for his subject and often I'm not reading the book that Gray reviews; when a writer (especially a critic) makes a reader care, that, dear reader, is a rare and a very dangerous gift … good for a boy or a girl.          
Sophisticated Fun: What’s the story behind the name of your blog, Too Dangerous for a Girl?

Too Dangerous: I'm a massive Legion of Super-Heroes fan, from being a little boy -- I was lucky enough to 'inherit' thousands of Silver Age DC comics from a neighbour, including Adventure Comics from the start of the team's residency there. One of the moments that struck me was this scene from 'The Legion's Suicide Squad', Adventure Comics #319, 1964. I was mightily impressed by the way in which Saturn Girl wasn't having any of Brainiac 5's nonsense. And the phrase stuck with me. You have to call a blog something!

SF: How did you start blogging and what made you decide to write about comic books?

TD: I'm a lifelong comics fan, and was always an occasional letter writer. The general demise of letter columns a few years ago meant there were fewer places to mouth off, so I thought I'd try this newfangled blogging lark. The vague idea was that I'd learn to structure my views better as I went along, but as it turns out, I'm usually happier with 'off the top of my head' pieces than super-structured ones ... I reckon you can tell when I'm trying too hard.

SF: What did you do as an editor of UK DC reprint titles and children’s comics?

TD: I had a wonderful time at London Editions Magazines/Egmont/Fleetway for a few years in the Nineties, selecting material for such titles as Batman and Superman. But that doesn't fill a working week, so there was also my favourite part of the job - putting together letter columns. I loved it when a dialogue got going with readers, and that's one of the things I like about blogging; the swapping of opinions. I also wrote feature pages, some humorous, some not. And away from the reprint titles, I was in charge of originating material for such licensed books as My Little Pony, Polly Pocket and Sooty. I occasionally wrote a strip, and even got to colour the ponies one time. As you can imagine, life since then has seemed a disappointment by comparison. Incidentally, I got my interview for that job because the line editor, the wonderful Brian M. Clarke, remembered my name from letter columns.

SF: For a provincial like myself, what’s it like collecting comics in the UK?

TD: Collecting comics in Edinburgh isn't as social a hobby as it seems to be in the U.S. Listening to podcasts such as iFanboy, it seems that U.S. comic shops are full of people hanging out. In the UK - with a few exceptions - it's more a case of 'how soon can I get out?' There's one chap I see regularly at the shop, and we chat, and a pal at work follows some titles, but other than that, I'm just so alone ... It's another reason to blog, hang out at message boards and Tweet.
  One great thing is that the books are on sale at 10AM [5AM(!) EST] on Wednesdays at Forbidden Planet Edinburgh (nice staff, but no discounts), hours before most of the US wakes up. This means I can usually get a blog post up on my lunch hour, ahead of the States. It sounds trivial, but [being first] with a review of a high-interest book such as Wonder Woman, Avengers: The Children's Crusade or Superman during the 'Grounded' debacle can notch up an awful lot of views in an afternoon ... and they can't all be spambots!
  The only writers of American comics who have made an impression on the public are Alan Moore and Mark Millar, the latter being almost a celebrity in Scotland. Grant Morrison is also known to some people, but that's about it. And U.S. titles pale in the public consciousness next to the Scotland-based titles we all grew up with, such as the Beano and Dandy. And UK comic fans are so far from the mainstream, it's untrue - everyone laughs at us!

SF: Do you buy your comics digitally and do you foresee a time when digital comics will replace the local comic book shop?

TD: I buy some digitally, and would like to buy more. I've just got to shake that Wednesday habit so I can take advantage of the cheaper prices. Then again, my blog's mainly current reviews, so I can't be waiting a month to write about books.
  I can see the better shops remaining open, the ones that offer something extra -- a great atmosphere, events and discounts. But once digital prices come down, the rest could be in big trouble. 

SF: You’ve been blogging about comics since 2007. What changes have you seen in the critical conversation regarding comic books and comic book culture?

TD: The explosion of blogs has helped many people find their voice. It's never boring. Whether it's new comics. Bronze Age titles, Forties ephemera or whatever, someone's blogging about it, and generally the sites are getting better as people learn what works for them. One day I might fancy reading a mainly funny site such as 'Siskoid'sBlog of Geekery,' the next it'll be Colin Smith's incredibly well-thought-out essays at 'Too Busy Thinking About My Comics,' a character-specific blog such as 'Supergirl Comic Box Commentary,' Jacque Nodell's romance site 'SequentialCrush' or another general review site such as 'Comic Per Day Reviews.' A community has arisen as bloggers latch on to their fellows, swapping experiences and recommendations. I'm delighted to be in such gracious company 

SF: Why do you devote the majority of your writing to reviewing DC titles?

TD:  I admit, it's mainly DC titles these days. The split between DC and Marvel titles used to be more even, but since Marvel became - with rare exceptions - one long 'event' I've lost interest in many titles. Individual creative team visions are constantly sacrificed to the latest 400-part crossover that will change everything, forever, until next month. But I'm reading Daredevil, Avengers Academy, Amazing Spider-Man, Journey Into Mystery and several X-titles. I'd love to be reading more, but at $3.99 for 20 pages [and] a five-minute read in many cases, I'm not wasting my cash. With DC it's easier to latch onto individual titles, and not wind up saying the same thing in every case. As for non-DC and Marvel books, I prefer to read them in trade collections months after their single issue appearances, putting them outside my self-imposed remit.

SF: How do you approach reviewing comics? Do you write for an audience or for yourself?

TD:  Having been a journalist all my working life, I always assume there's an audience, it's second nature. If I didn't believe someone would be reading I'd never make it to the keyboard. I write for myself, though, in the sense that I find blogging a fun exercise. I love playing with words. And If I get the initial communication pretty much 'right', I'm going to get responses, and that's highly rewarding.

SF: How do you approach writing about the art of a comic book?

TD:  There's no tried and tested technique. I simply write down the responses I feel, concentrate on how the comic affects me. My degree is in Film and English Studies and that was basically three years of overthinking to the extent that you can no longer see the entertainment - killing the frog by dissection. I'm no artist, and I'm not a brilliant writer, but I've been devouring comics for decades, I've read books on critical theory, thousands of fanzine articles ... I figure my opinion is as worthwhile as anybody's; and if, by blogging, I can elicit opinions from other readers, so much the better. It's not all gut reaction, though - as well as opinion there's a need for context and some recapping.

SF: Being a DC man, what were your thoughts when the New 52 debuted last September?

TD: Cautious optimism - having lived through Crisis on Infinite Earths, I've seen that a good\ 'kick-up' of the universe can bring brilliant results.

SF: Seven months in, how are you feeling about the New 52?

TD: Less happy - this is a decidedly darker, more violent universe, one that seems aimed at teenage lads who want a bit of sex and violence. The integration of the Wildstorm Universe backstory hasn't thrilled me. And DC's early promises that stories wouldn't be unnaturally extended have proven pish (there's a Scottish word for you!) – [seven issues in] we're still in the opening arcs of many books, There are plenty of titles I think are great, but I can't think of any of those that couldn't have been done pre-Flashpoint. On the other hand, I can think of an awful lot of wonderful stories, concepts and characters that have been lost.

SF: Is there a (favorite?) character that you would like to see get their own DC or Marvel title?

TD: I'd love to see Zatanna return to a monthly solo title, that was a spiffy comic. May I have Kurt Busiek and Tom Grummett's Power Company too? And a proper Defenders title, featuring Valkyrie, Hellcat and Nighthawk?

SF: Do you think the impact that the New 52 had on the comic book industry will still resonate a year from now?  How about in five years?

TD: A year or two, probably. Five years? We'll be doing it all over again.

SF: What’s the state of superhero comics? Do ‘superhero’ stories have more/less relevance today? Is there anything left for superhero comics to say?

TD: Superhero comic sales seem a little healthier than they were a year or two back. As for the actual genre, original ideas are thin on the ground but there are some interesting tunes being played on old instruments. As for 'relevance', I'm happy for that idea to take a backseat; working in newspapers, I get the real world all day long. After hours I want escapism via fascinating stories featuring colourful characters with the odd punch thrown in.
For more Martin Gray, visit Too Dangerous for a Girl! or follow him on Twitter @MartGray.  This interview was conducted over email.
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1 comment:

  1. Very nice post. Since words are your thing, you might be interested in a series of posts I have been doing on the word play involved in cryptic crosswords. The first one is:
    It has now evolved into a daily series. I find it great fun - much better than ordinary crosswords.