Thursday Comics Hangover: Bringing the fire

“It’s a Christmas un-miracle,” Nick at Phoenix Comics announced yesterday as I stared down the empty wall of new releases. Turns out, the Grinch stole New Comics Day this week: the heavy snowfall at Snoqualmie Pass meant that the Diamond Distribution truck carrying all the new comics intended to arrive in Seattle today was stuck on the east side of the mountains. No comics store in the entire Seattle area received any new comics yesterday. (Shipments are expected to arrive today.) It’s enough to make you consider the fact that building an entire industry around one distributor is a bad idea or something.

Since I was out of town last week, I still had some new-to-me comics to pick up. Of those, the one that surprised me the most was Prometheus Eternal, a collaborative publishing project between Locust Moon Press and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Prometheus Eternal is a comics anthology centered around a theme: the myth of Prometheus in general, and the Peter Paul Rubens/Frans Snyders painting Prometheus Bound in specific. Get a load of the talent that contributed to this volume: Grant Morrison, Farel Dalrymple, Dave McKean, David Mack, Paul Pope, and Bill Sienkiewicz, among others. If the idea of all these names contributing to an anthology about inspiration doesn’t pique your interest, we have very different tastes.

There’s not a clunker in this book. The fiercest complaint you could muster for Prometheus Eternal is that some of the contributions are scanty; the Morrison/Dalrymple collaboration that reimagines Prometheus as a modern superhero is only three pages long, for instance. But those three pages are a doozy: in the first panel a writer stares at an empty screen, her fingers hovering over a keyboard. “I have NO IDEA how to say what I am trying to say,” she says. A man stands in front of a blank canvas, wondering, “What if I never paint again?” The response? “Have no fear! Prometheus is here!” You can probably picture the rest, except Farel Dalrymple is a better artist than whoever draws comics in your imagination.

The stories vary wildly in mood and tone and content. David Mack writes a short open letter to Prometheus. Andrea Tsurumi writes an excellent biographical comic about the creation of Prometheus Bound. Yuko Shimizu contributes a story of a family only loosely tied to the theme. James Comey offers up a very funny gag strip about Prometheus’s eternal torment. Prometheus Eternal is a short book, but it’s short in the always-leave-‘em-wanting-more sense, which should really be the golden rule for all comics anthologies.

This is such a satisfying collection that it will hopefully inspire more of this kind of thing — it would be wonderful to see museums commissioning and publishing comics in response to works in their collections, especially if they could snag contributors of this high caliber. Comics, come to think of it, should really be the preferred medium for art criticism. Prometheus Eternal feels so fresh and so inspired that it should be delivered from a mountaintop in the palm of a demigod. Let’s hope other people do the right thing and crib shamelessly from this example.