Saturday, February 11, 2017

Alvin Buenaventura

When I’m reading a comic — especially some weak 1970s’ DC or Marvel book — I’ll often imagine Alvin watching over my shoulder, not at all happy with what he’s seeing. In a soft monotone voice he condemns me for wasting time on crap when there’s genuinely engaging, idiosyncratic work out there, waiting.

He never actually judged me this way. If I mentioned a comic that I liked and he didn’t, he’d reply with a barely audible “Hmm” or a disbelieving “Really?” and move on. But I was always aware that Alvin, unlike me, had ‘preternatural aesthetic discernment.’ Put less pretentiously, he was busy finding, supporting, and publishing great artists (often the first to discern their merits) and had no time for garbage. His dedication to great work was inspirational.

Sometimes I’ll read a comic and imagine how much Alvin would’ve dug it, such as Simon Hanselmann’s brutally funny mini-comic Landscape, which dismantles the little worlds of art comics and art-comics criticism. Alvin would’ve found its mean-spirited insight uplifting and its cartooning immaculate. (It’s 2016’s best work of comics criticism.)

Then there are times I’ll read a comic and be unsure about Alvin’s reaction — this realization makes me uncomfortable, uncertain about the validity of my own response. He’s become my ‘comic-book assessment super-ego’ . . .

Without Alvin around (he left us one year ago today), I feel a little lost. He was my lifeline to important new work, an advance scout taking a sharp machete to the garbage of Comicdom and telling me, and the rest of us, what was vital. He had an unerring sixth sense for Good Comics, as the books he published proves.

Yet I miss him most as a friend and collaborator. Our collaborations weren’t always easy: one time he tested my patience beyond its breaking point (and I his), but we eventually got past it. (I still feel guilty for failing that test and wish I’d handled things better.) But so many collaborations were a real joy. The two largest projects I did with him — The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist and The Daniel Clowes Reader — remain the work I’m most proud of. 

A few months after Alvin died, I was looking through the “back-issue bins” at a local comic-book shop and came across several issues of the 1959 Dell series Alvin. Normally I’d buy one issue to check out a title, but this time felt that, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to, I had to get them all. The feeling was odd, like an embarrassing compulsion driven by the weakness of superstition: it would be wrong to leave them there. (Alvin wouldn’t have bothered with such comics and certainly would've said “Really?” if I told him I’d bought them.) But they were Comics, and their covers said "Alvin." So I left with them all.