Tag Archives: Peter David

More Digressions, Peter David

Mad Norwegian Press, 2009, 408 pages, $24.95 tp, ISBN 978-193523400-5

I don’t know much about the mainstream superhero-oriented comic book industry, but I do know that Peter David is one of the most entertaining “Writer of Stuff” (his own tagline) out there.  Some writers’ bibliography read like a short list of novels published at yearly intervals.  Peter’s own bibliography reads like a multimedia tour through the last twenty years of American pop culture: Aside from his own original work, his tie-in work ranges from Star Trek novels, ten superhero movie novelizations, a Babylon5 TV scripts, scripting runs on superhero comics such as Spider-Man, The Hulk and Supergirl… and much, much more.

Tying much of this work together are the regular “But I Digress” columns published in the Comics Buyer’s Guide.  Given full blessings to write about whatever he wants, Peter uses his column to discuss his life, his work, the state of the comics industry and the world at large.  I had exceptionally fond memories of the first But I Digress collection published in 1994, so it wasn’t much of a sell to make me pick up this follow-up once I was made aware that it existed.

Collecting material published between 2001 and 2008 (leaving an uncollected gap between 1994 and 2001), More Digressions is exactly what it says on the cover: “a new collection of ‘But I Digress’ columns”.  Roughly arranged in thematic sections with titles such as “Life. Don’t Talk to Me about Life”, “The Business of Comics”, “BFFs” and “Fandomonium”, the essays cover much of David’s life and work during the past decade.  David being outspoken even on the calmest of days, it’s no surprise if the book also ends up being a collection of arguments, controversies, daring proposals and public score-settling.

The first thing I realized reading More Digressions was that I had little business reading the book.  Let’s face it: the American superhero comics industry is so insular that keeping track of its mythology is a full-time hobby.  The columns collected here were published in a trade publication, aimed at readers who were fully aware of the slightest twitches and grunts of the various publishers and series.  For a very casual fan like me, parts of More Digression read like intense but meaningless squabbles about subjects that must be really important to the people involved in the discussions, but close to meaningless for anyone who’s not a comic-book store regular.  The learning curve here was steep, and I have to admit that Wikipedia helped a lot.  (Even more casual readers who feel that a book should not require Wikipedia as a reading companion may have a point, but then again every book has a specific target audience.)

Still, knowledge is one thing, and attitude is another.  From afar, reading David talk about the comic book industry and its fandom can be cause for bafflement and concern.  The comics industry is currently in crisis: it’s suffering from the rise of the paperback collection as a preferred buying format, it’s under siege from those who want to “widen” the material to appeal to the audiences hooked by Hollywood superhero movies, and it’s reaping the results of decades’ worth of catering to an obsessive 18-to-34 geeky male audience.  For creators such as David, this situation has translated into two recurring motifs: the sometimes counterproductive marketing strategies of the industry, and the rabid self-entitlement of the fans.  Reading about the dysfunctional nature of the industry and stories of fannish abuse, I felt more compelled than ever to stay as far away from the craziness of superhero comics fandom.

Of course, this is the comics universe as seen from Peter David, and that he’s perfectly entitled to be critical in his own column.  Plus, More Digression isn’t all about the business and fandom of comics: His essays about his own life and creative process are a good read, and in talking about his best friends, we get a look at such notables as Harlan Ellison (who contributes a typically self-absorbed introduction to the book), George Takei or Neil Gaiman –further proof of David’s interesting life.

More Digressions is a collection of opinions and recollections, and it’s normal that not everything works at the same level, or reaches the same interest.  I found some columns weaker than others, including a naïve take on racism that had me wincing at the lessons from the painful RaceFail debate that shook the online SF community in early 2009.  But it is Peter David’s soapbox, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff here for whoever can follow along, forgive some self-justifying entries and ignore minor trade squabbles since then forgotten.  It’s a portrait of a unique columnist, and an unvarnished look at a sometimes-demented subculture.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s exactly what it tries to be.

But I Digress, Peter David

Krause, 1993, 256 pages, US$14.95 tpb, ISBN 0-87341-286-9

Peter David describes himself as a “writer of stuff”.

For instance, you might know him as the writer of some of the best Star Trek novels ever written—from the hilarious Q-in-Law to the maudlin Imzadi. Or you might know him as the writer of a few Babylon-5 episodes (“Soul Mates”, “There the Honor Lies”). You might remember his name on a few novelisations (The Rocketeer, Babylon-5: In the Beginning), or a few movies whose scripts he wrote (TRANCERS IV, OBLIVION). You might know him as the writer of several comics, from X-Men to Spider-man. Or, you might even remember him as the writer of one infuriating column in Comic Buyer’s Guide, “But I Digress”.

But I Digress collect almost three year’s worth of columns from the eponymous series. Covering a wide range of subjects -from the obvious comics, to Star Trek, to movies, conventions and more serious social issues, But I Digress is also a self-revealing portrait by one of the most versatile “writer of stuff” today.

Peter David has the gift of writing in a way that will not leave you indifferent. Most of the time, he will make you laugh. That’s David’s trademark and he doesn’t disappoint here. Don’t miss “An Animated Discussion”, a panel reuniting Disney’s favorite heroines: it’s a hoot, much like David’s recommendations to budding comic writers. (“Don’t bother coming up with a mutant team called ‘X-Crement’. Better men than you have already tried it.”) and anecdotes from the convention circuit. The book is full of zippy one-liners that will make you laugh aloud… Hey, better that than a sharp stick in the eye!

But David is also able to bring the reader to serious reflection of serious issues, bringing the same verve to social commentary than to comic discussions. He is someone who cares about stuff in addition of writing about it. His first L.A. travelogue is especially poignant.

Since these are columns published in a comic magazine for comic readers, it’s a fair bet to state that this will appeal more to faithful comic buyers that the general public. Readers unfamiliar with the wonderful world of comic publishing will feel lost in the first pages. Which isn’t to say that it’s completely inaccessible: This reviewer was eventually able to piece up a coherent picture of the comics industry with minimal outside sources.

It’s a testament to David’s writing skills that this book can be read in a flash. More like an assortment of tasty treats than a full-blown meal (to fall back on culinary metaphors again), But I Digress is great entertainment with an unusually high re-readability factor. A fairly complete index will help casual readers find their bearings.

[Byline: Reviewer Christian Sauvé is a Reader of Stuff.]