Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #13 by Drew Barth
Hitch a Ride to Cemetery Beach
Let’s talk about action comics. Not Action Comics. Rather comics that are quick, dynamic, and bursting at the brim with explosions. Action comics in this vein are typically shorter series that take a single idea and develop it as far as it can go. There is also no better master at action comics like Warren Ellis—simply look at Desolation Jones, RED, or his short run on Moon Knight. His penchant for stand-alone short series is typified even more with his and Jason Howard’s most recent undertaking: Cemetery Beach.
Imagine a bunch of industrialists in the 1920s found a way to travel to a different planet. Now imagine those same people went off-world, established a colony, and didn’t have a plan to go back if the whole thing failed. And imagine further that same group of colonists from a hundred years prior are all being kept alive by alien mushrooms. All of that is what our hero, Michael Blackburn, has to contend with after being captured and interrogated. In terms of the set-up, Cemetery Beach is a rather straight-forward comic: hero deals with madness in an unfamiliar place with the help of a local to get him to his escape vessel without being killed horribly. Then again, people escaping from a situation that will kill them horribly has become a Warren Ellis staple.
Where Cemetery Beach really separates itself from every other action series coming out is how Ellis and Howard handle pacing and paneling for the series. Ellis has been writing comics longer than I’ve been alive and nearly every series he’s produced over the past decade has been a masterclass in how to script moment-to-moment action. Coupled with Jason Howard’s line and shading work that can turn a mostly empty room into a den of menace, Cemetery Beach creates this constant line of tension throughout that keeps readers invested and intrigued. As a creative team, Ellis and Howard are surgical in their inclusion of frantic movement and calm conversations. Michael and his companion, Grace Moody, run screaming through different zones of the colony, but every issue follows a steady beat of action and character revealing moments.
And what Cemetery Beach is above everything else is this perfect little blast of action comics told in just seven issues. It isn’t a series that’s trying to go longer than it needs to or become an ongoing behemoth of a series. Cemetery Beach doesn’t need separate volumes, an omnibus, collected editions, nothing like that. A reader only needs that single volume that collects all seven issues, and that’s it for the whole story. This form of condensed storytelling that can be collected into a single volume is something that Ellis has mused about multiple times in his newsletter and has lamented how these shorter forms of comic storytelling aren’t all that profitable. People seem to like longer running series. Even when we look at the numbers in terms of what’s selling well, the majority of spots on the list are different volumes of longer running series—with the exception of a few one-offs and the base material for the last Avengers film. But monthly comics need series like Cemetery Beach.
We love a long running series—evidenced by how well Saga and The Walking Dead are still selling, not to mention most manga series we see on shelves—but giving creators these small spaces to work in can be liberating. Creators should have a space for small-scale ideas that don’t need to be a part of a forty-plus issue story. And they did have that years ago when Johnathan Hickman was putting out The Nightly News and Pax Romana, and even still while Paul Pope was creating Heavy Liquid and 100%. They were able to put out quick four-to-six issue stories that were made to be shorts and not apart of something more massive. And although we do have graphic novels that are completely self-contained stories, monthly comics are a different medium in terms of how creators tell stories.
We as readers need to take more chances on these short stories. A five issue investment isn’t the same as committing to a forty issue series. Small stories like Cemetery Beach are what comics need to keep thriving as a creative industry—they can help to bring more readers into stores as well as more creators to the comics table who don’t have a sweeping epic planned before they’re twenty-five. Short series are spaces for creators and publishers to take risks with new forms, stories, and talent and without them the entire industry stagnates.
Get excited. More stories are coming.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.