Friday, 5 February 2010

My Favourite Comic Book Story

When I was a kid, I knew my favourite everything: my favourite movie; my favourite TV programme; my favourite comic book character; you get the idea. As I have gotten older I can still identify some favourites, but such decisions are often a movable feast (although my favourite movie has remained constant since the mid-90's, so not always the case). My favourite comic book story has remained firm for quite some time now.

"The Nearness of You" appeared first in Astro City #1/2, a special edition of the Astro City comic book, of which at least two variants exist I believe. The 1/2 edition was originally published in conjunction with Wizard magazine (see cover below), not something unique to that title alone, and later reprinted (see above).

Astro City is written by Kurt Busiek (which in fact started as Kurt Busiek's Astro City), aided and abetted by interior artist Brent Anderson and cover artist Alex Ross, and various others over the years. It is published fairly erratically, since Busiek clearly only wants to do his very best work for the title. That isn't to suggest that he slackens on other titles, but rather that Astro City is something very special for him. And in my view it shows.

Busiek wrote The Nearness of You for the 1/2 edition as noted. It is an unusual tale even by Astro City standards. The title as a whole takes different view of superheroics to most comic books, frequently offering a citizen's eye view of the fantastical events that accompany the gaudily-clad superheroes and supervillains flying across the skyline. The Nearness of You is no different in that regard, it's narrative following a normal man whose dreams are increasingly occupied by thoughts of a woman he does not know. More than that I won't spoil, as it is a brilliantly written piece in my view, and so I would not wish to spoil it further for any potential reader.

The true difference is that it achieves so much in a relatively small number of pages - just 16, which is about 6 pages less than most monthly comic books.

What I love about the story is that it takes a trope I have come to detest (a 'Big Event' - a kind of cosmic 'crisis'), and uses that as an important story beat without the Big Event being the point of the story. The story is about yearning and more. It is a story about human feelings. The Big Event (my name for it, not how it is referred to in-story) only warrants three pages of action, the focus is on the protagonist Mike and what is troubling him.

It is a beautifully crafted story. Something that can probably only work in comic books. Alan Moore has commented on the strength of the medium to achieve what no other story-telling medium can, and in 16 pages The Nearness of You does just that. It is like a high concept movie in just 16 pages - Hollywood would probably need 2 hours to deliver the nuance and set-up, something Busiek managed quickly and deftly with limited pages to play with. I'd love to see Astro City as a HBO series or something like that one day, but how that could work I don't really know, and any translation of a story as magnificent as this would surely only pale in comparison to the source material.

The story can be found in the following trade paperback - Astro City: Confession (ISBN 1-56389-550-1, collects Astro City Vol. 2 #1/2, 4-9). If you haven't read this story and you are a fan of comic books, and if you haven't visited Astro City, you could do worse than check it out.


  1. Astro City is one of those things I picked up in issues that I totally need to replace in graphic novels, because it's That Good. I'm always disappointed we didn't get more, but what we do have, wow, yes. While it's clearly an homage to other characters and even stories, it's the most lovingly crafted homage. Can't get enough.

  2. Glad I am not alone in my appreciation of Astro City. I'll probbaly do a more in-depth discussion of AC as a whole one day.

    What are your thoughts on the story I have posted about?


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