Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Links

  • Mari Naomi talks about writing people of color into your comics, and gets the perspectives of several other PoC creators.
  • Back in August, David Stinson stumbled upon a Hudson Valley Renegades minor league game which was hosting a "Comic Con Night" where they had Joe Sinnott, Walt Simonson, Louise Simonson, Mark McKenna, Bob Wiacek, Fred Hembeck, and Victor L. Castro, Jr. collectively throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
  • The International School of Comics in Chicago is hosting a contest, the winner of which will receive free tuition at the school for one year.
  • The International Comic Arts Forum will be hosted by The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum on November 13-15, 2014. Lots of great-sounding panels, and I will definitely be trying to make sure my calendar is free enough to attend the whole weekend!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On History: Versus Nostalgia

Like, I expect, many of you, many of the people I'm friends with on Facebook aren't particularly close. We know each other professionally or by reputation or whatever, but we've never met and only chatted occasionally online. There are two such folks I've been keen to observe recently. Or, more accurately, keen to observe what they post. We've been Facebook friends for a few years, and what they post now isn't all that different or unusual from what they've been posting, but for some reason, I've only recently put the two in direct comparison with one another.

One gent is a big comic book fan. He's got the requisite 'man-cave' that's covered wall-to-wall with superhero merchandise from the past several decades. It includes a large collection of still-in-the-package Mego action figures, as well as several custom ones that he created. He frequently wears t-shirts featuring 1960s or 1970s superhero art, and has been known to cosplay as the Adam West style Batman, and WWII-era Captain America. He's also a huge Monkees fan, and has tons of material relating to them as well -- including many of the teeney-bopper magazines that featured them in their heyday. He's an artist by trade, and works out enough to cut a good figure, even in spandex.

The lady is also a big comic book fan. I don't know if she has a similarly-filled cave, but she also frequently sports t-shirts featuring superhero art. Her Facebook posts tend to focus on Wonder Woman (especially Lynda Carter) and the Bionic Woman, usually linking to old photos or magazine covers. She also posts a bit about other 1970s TV shows, like Three's Company, The Waltons, and Charlie's Angels. She's not as in-shape as the gent, but she has lost a significant amount of weight in the past couple years and looks much healthier. She's a writer by trade.

Superficially, there's a lot of similarities between them. There's the obvious interest in superhero comics (including current ones, I should note) but they also like a lot of material from decades-gone-by. They both show an interest in their physical health, and pursue creative endeavors to try to make a living. Their posts almost always have an upbeat tenor, and the pictures they post of themselves frequently show large and genuine smiles.

But I often get a twinge of sadness looking at her updates that I don't at all get from his. The reason is nostalgia.

When he posts old comic covers, it's in relation to a new t-shirt he just bought or made. His cosplay is stuff he's doing currently; how can he build a Cap costume using modern materials that still looks like it came from the 1940s. While he does post old Monkees material, half of what he posts relates to their current status. He clearly has an appreciation of a lot of older material, but he's exploring what can be done with and how it might (or might not) relate to contemporary culture.

On the other hand, her posts about that older material are rooted in the past. She shows little interest in what Lindsay Wagner or Jaclyn Smith are doing today. There's no writing (of her own, or others that she just links to) that tries to re-examine those old stories using modern themes. There's seemingly no interest in re-interpretting their premises, or even looking at when someone else goes ahead to reinterpret it for us. She brings up the past only in terms of remembering how great it was back then.

Like I said, they both seem to be genuinely happy, so I can't criticize from that perspective, I suppose. But if your happiness is rooted so firmly in what you enjoyed as a child that you continue to enjoy things only from that one perspective, even decades later, that seems to be living in a bit of a false reality. Nostalgia. And that strikes me as a hinderance to progress.

Watchmen is argueably one the great game-changers in advancing the medium of comics. And while it's rooted in the older Charlton characters from a couple decades earlier, writer Alan Moore is very much NOT nostalgic for them and had no qualms pushing them far beyond what had been done with them before.

Compare that against something like The World's Greatest Comic Magazine which was very deliberately an exercise in nostalgia, trying to re-create what Jack Kirby and Stan Lee originally did with the Fantastic Four. While it wasn't a bad series, it's not especially well-remembered and certainly didn't advance the medium. It was a love letter to Jack and Stan, but ultimately one that didn't amount to anything. You're not going to find any progress (for the characters or the medium) if you're focusing on looking back at what once was.

Now those two Facebook people? Like I said, I don't really know them all that well. I'm sure there's plenty that goes on in their lives that I'm not privvy to. I fully admit that I'm just basing some judgements on the very small window of their lives they allow me to look through on Facebook. That no doubt skews my view. But I can't help but think he's currently faring and will continue to fare better than her, because he's not so stuck on looking in the rear view mirror that he can't see where he's going.

Monday, September 29, 2014

On Business: Kickin' It Old School

I stumbled across a comic shop this weekend that I hadn't heard of before. There are plenty of good shops in the Chicago area, and with really fantastic shops like Challengers and entirely esoteric ones like Quimby's, it's little wonder that some smaller shops like this one fly under the radar.

It was physically a fairly small shop, but what I immediately noticed upon walking in was that A) it wasn't cluttered and B) it was JUST comics. No toys, t-shirts, statutes, or the other ephemera that usually gets associated with comic shops any more. The side walls were lined with new issues (looked like three months' worth) and down the middle were two back-to-back rows of short boxes. Everything was organized alphabetically so it was easy to scan through and find titles you're looking for.

Their stock primarily focused on Marvel and DC, with the "usual suspects" from Image, Dark Horse, IDW, etc. They had decent collections of Masterworks, Archives, and Essentials but not much stock for hardcover and TPBs beyond that. Some of the highlighted issues singled out and placed higher on the wall were (sadly sun-bleached) late Golden Age and early Silver Age classics.

There were three guys behind the counter chatting. One seemed to be the owner, another was an employee, and I think the third was just a friend. While I was there, three parents came in to make purchases, each with a child in tow. And all of the kids were the ones directing the purchases; the adults were just there for transportation and forking over some cash.

If it weren't for the dates on the new issues, the whole experience felt like I stepped into a time machine and wound up in a great comic shop circa 1980. It seemed like they were doing good business, so I can't fault them for catering to their local/typical audience, but I found it really surprising that they didn't seem to have made any improvements in 30 years.

Their stock, as I noted, was very focused on the floppy market both with new and back issues. That's been on a downhill slide since eBay launched two decades ago. Their back issue pricing reflected an older market where reprints of just about everything weren't available. They only accept cash or checks, and their "cash register" was just a lock box with a calculator sitting on top of it. I asked about a TPB that I think is either just out or out soon, and the owner was cordial but freely admitted he doesn't follow schedules of non-floppies very closely. It would have been a great shop when I was 12 but it was almost uncomfortably anachronistic in 2014.

I'm left to wonder about their business model. It appears to be working -- they're still in business after all -- but I wonder how sustainable it can remain, and if it's uniquely positioned in that particular neighborhood that it couldn't replicate that anywhere else.

I can't knock them if things are working but it's worth showcasing because it points to a danger in simply using one other shop to study "best practices." Just because something works for one store doesn't mean it will work everywhere else. Only by examining a number of different stores, each with their own processes, and understanding why they're doing what they're doing can you gain any real insights that might be applicable to another store.

Friday, September 26, 2014

On Strips: Foxy Grandpa

Debuting in early 1900, Carl "Bunny" Schultze's Foxy Grandpa took the New York comics scene by storm. The strip generally centered around Foxy Grandpa's two grandchildren, Chub and Bunt, trying to play tricks on him. But Foxy Grandpa was always a step or two ahead of the kids and was able to prank them first, often with a very similar gag. I suspect the notion of "these kids today" always getting what's coming to them was a large part of the appeal.

The strip, as I said, was immediately popular. Licensed games started appearing within a year. The strips were collected in bound editions beginning in 1901; there were 30 volumes of them ultimately. The stuffed toy pattern shown below was produced around 1910. The strip was adapted into Broadway shows and some early silent films, portions of which still survive.

The strip ended in 1918. (Given that it was essentially a one-note gag, I'm surprised it lasted that long!) But it's cropped up every now and then since. It ran briefly in The Funnies in 1929, and there's some quick allusions to it in the movies Crashing Hollywood (1938) and Murder My Sweet (1944). Most recently, it was referenced on a trucker cap in SpongeBob SquarePants.

Although Schultze lived very handsomely while the strip was still running, he evidently spent most of his income so that he was hit especially hard by the Great Depression. He did little drawing work during the 1920s, and while he was able to illustrate a few books in the 1930s, he spent much of that decade relying on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration for income. He died of a heart attack in 1939, at the age of 73, nearly penniless and with only one living relative still near his hometown back in Kentucky.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On -isms: Headliners?

Has anyone done a comprehensive comparison of titles Marvel (or DC) publishes now against what Timely (or National) published in the 1940s? Specifically, what percentage of titles were headlined by females? Not just comics that have female leads, but comics whose very titles are centered around the main female character.

Like, right now, Marvel is publishing Storm, Elektra, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Black Widow. Six titles. In 1947, they published Georgie, Miss America, Patsy Walker, Jeanie, Millie the Model, Margie, Nellie the Nurse, and Tessie the Typist. Eight titles. But that's comparing one month of Marvel to a while year of Timely. And those are just raw numbers, not a percentage of their overall output.

What I'm basically wondering is, how much more or less are the big publishers catering to women now compared to a half century ago. I'm not talking about the quality level here, or how sexist the stories might be, just how many were aimed at one half of the population.

Better yet, if someone has the time, I'd be curious to see how those numbers tracked month-to-month over the past 60 years.

What good would any of that do? Well, maybe none. But then again, it might show when changes were made, and that might suggest more directly where things went right/wrong.

There's a saying in business: what gets measured, gets improved.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Links

  • Rui Kaneya writes a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review about Illustrated Press and the rise of comics journalism.
  • The Center for Cartoon Studies has a manifesto for Applied Cartooning, naturally in comic form.
  • I don't know how old this is, but Jaakko Seppälä did an interesting chart showing ten different classic comic characters drawn in the styles that are iconic to those ten characters. I think I'm most partial to the Albert Uderzo style Batman; although the Hugo Pratt style Moomin is pretty cool, too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On History: Comic Book Protection Cover System

Trolling around in the patent database, I came across the patent for a "comic book protection cover system" from 1993. It's basically a zip-loc bag, sized for modern comics, with a pocket on the front to put in a small sheet with whatever details you think are relevant. Supposedly, this "has all the advantages of the prior art bags and none of the disadvantages."

I'm a bit dubious, frankly. Although in large part because of the lousy wording in the document. He has four one-sentence paragraphs in a row that begin...
Still yet another object of the present invention...

Still another object of the present invention...

Yet another object of the present invention...

Even still another object of the present invention...
But who am I to judge? John and Cindy Merkley have a patent, and I don't.

Here are the full specs of Patent #5,415,290...