Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Links

  • Lidia Jean Kott heard about this female Thor news and, despite never having read a single comic book ever, decided to brave the confines of a comic book shop to find out more. Turns out that she was a very happy customer.
  • Dan Horn responds to Chuck Rozanski's complaints about losing money at Comic-Con this year. Horn has a deep appreciation for Rozanski's place in comics retailing, but he doesn't mince his words.
  • Here's a San Diego con recap you might not have seen from The Learned Fangirl's Nicole Keating: Day One, Day Two

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On History: The Original FF Variant Cover

The cover image here is the first variant cover from The Fantastic Four and I think it might be the first variant cover from Marvel. Although it wasn't an intentional one!

The story, from 1971, is fairly unremarkable relative to other issues for a good stretch both before and after it. Stan Lee had been writing the series for a full decade at that point, and John Buscema had several issues under his belt after Jack Kirby left* and would continue on for a few years afterwards. There are no new charaters introduced, nor are any storylines started or wrapped up. It's not a bad story, by any means, but it's largely unremarkable relative to any other given post-Kirby FF.

Except for the cover.

Fantastic Four #110 was produced in exactly the same way every other issue was produced. Lee provided a general outline to Buscema. Buscema created the story and drew the art. Lee came back and added dialogue. It went to Joe Sinnott to ink, and one of the "house" letterers to letter. (In this case, Mike Stevens.) Then the whole ball of wax got shipped off to the printers to do a print run of 250,000 or so.

Quick lesson in printing. You know how your ink jet printer has four cartridges of ink, right? Black, yellow, blue (cyan) and pink (magenta). Those four colors are used because when they're mixed in the right quantities, you can produce an incredibly wide range of colors. Professional printers who print comics use the same colors. The difference is that back in 1971, instead of being controlled by a computer, the colors were controlled by hand. There would be a person who had to take a copy of the artwork, and physically cut out all the bits that required each color. They would end up with four pieces of art: one containing just the black parts, one containing just the yellow parts, one containing just the cyan parts, and one containing just the magenta parts.

Then, a printer would create a metal plate based on each piece of art. These plates are kind of like rubber stamps, but just made out of (usually) aluminum. The image is reversed, then coated with ink and pressed onto a piece of paper. So when you coat the four images with four different inks, and press them onto the same piece of paper, you get a colored image!

Now, what happened to FF #110 is that the cyan and magenta plates got mixed up for the cover. So everything that was supposed be blue was printed using magenta ink, and everything pink was printed with cyan ink. Consequently, we see the FF in pink uniforms, and the orange of the Thing (remember your old color wheel? yellow + red = orange) now looks green (the "red" of that equation was replaced with "blue").

The issues were shipped out before the problem was noticed. Which means there were over 200,000 of these floating around at one point. Marvel issued a recall, and had corrected issues shipped out (I'm sure at the printer's cost, since it was their fault) but not before a good number of the error version had sold. And while we weren't really into the direct market system quite yet, there were no doubt people who had begun speculating on the market, and deliberately held onto their copies without sending them back to get pulped. So these days, they're not exactly common, but not terribly hard to find either.

So the next time someone talks about some exclusive variant cover they picked up at a convention, you can pull this bad boy out and tell them you've got the original variant cover!
* Yes, I know John Romita did a few issues between Kirby and Buscema, despite the implication my phrasing above implies. There just wasn't a smooth way to add in Romita's contribution there, and it wasn't really relevant to my point anyway.

Monday, July 28, 2014

On Business: Checking the Landscape

With the typical hype-machine that is Comic-Con, I'd like to point your attention to this probably-under-seen piece that Rob Salkowitz wrote just as the convention was about to get underway. It revolves around some findings Eventbrite uncovered in surveys they conducted with people who were buying convention tickets through them. If you've been paying attention the last few years, there shouldn't be anything terribly surprising. But, as I've gleaned from some creators, there are those in the industry who simply can't see what's going on in front of their own eyes!

The short version is: fandom is about community, which conventions facilitate. (Of note is that convention populations are getting closer and closer to reaching gender parity, and have done so among those attendees under 30.) But they also provide a good opportunity for commerce. People go to shows to meet up with people in person, and to spend money on stuff (presumably items they have limited access to elsewhere).

Also noteworthy is this statistic that was being presented at Diamond's booth in San Diego. (The photo is care of @CharlieChu, but I can't vouch for the data's origins and/or authenticity.)
Now, obviously, every convention has a slightly different set of demographics, so these wouldn't necessarily apply precisely to any given show, but it's worth keeping track of as someone attending conventions themselves. Perhaps as a publisher, as a creator, as a dealer, and even as a fan. Why is it that people are attending this show and, more importantly, what can you do to help facilitate that?

I was at the small Mania Comic Convention a couple weeks back, and one thing I noticed was that the longest line for pretty much the entire time I was there was for the lady doing face-painting. Next was probably for getting pictures with the cosplayers. Now, granted, a good chunk of the audience there were children and their parents, so the demographic is definitely skewed from something like a Comic-Con Internationa, but the same principle is in effect. The kids were getting the most of out of the show when they had a personal interaction: getting a photo with a superhero, or getting made up to look like one.

Now if you're a dealer or tabling at an Artists Alley, what can you do to encourage that personal interaction? Some of the larger publishers have the "easier" time of it by spending a lot of money on large displays. This makes for easy-to-spot meet-up locations where "under the hanging Marvel logo" is easier to note and visually identify from the floor than "booth #3471". But can you do something eye-catching at a smaller scale for Artists Alley?

The classic "interaction" item at shows, of course, is creator signatures. But what about devoting a portion of your booth to a photo op? How many people stop by to get their picture taken with their head sticking out of the custom-built TARDIS? Or in front of the really cool display that makes you look like you're in a starship? Has anyone tried using a simple green cloth background to let people do their own Photoshopping over your greenscreen?

It's pretty obvious that you need to be aware of what people are responding to specifically with you and your wares at a convention. But by also paying attention to the larger information sets from con-goers at large, you might also be able to draw more people to your booth and help make the show more successful for you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

On Strips: Captain Marvel

Brendan Spillane pointed out to me that Captain Marvel appeared in yesterday's Mutts comic strip and his previous comic strip appearance was at Nancy's 80th birthday celebration last November...
It's a little curious since Captain Marvel never had his own newspaper strip, unlike Superman and other well-known superheroes, but it turns out that he almost did.

Back in 1943, at pretty much the height of the character's popularity, Captain Marvel creator C.C. Beck teamed up with writer Rod Reed to pitch a newspaper strip of the character. They put together a week's worth of samples, but none of the syndicates picked them up. Although they were never expressly told why, Reed assumed that it had to do with the lawsuit DC had filed against Fawcett. Here are the first three sample strips they worked up (originally printed in The Fawcett Companion)...
Years later, after the lawsuit was settled, Beck tried syndication again, this time with Otto Binder. Instead of Captain Marvel, however, they tried selling a Mr. Tawny strip. This also went nowhere, with syndicates claiming that it was too cartoony and they were interested in more true-to-life stories. That may be partially true, but I suspect that legal issues may have been involved here too.

Mr. Tawny was created in 1947 and first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #79. He would have been under a Fawcett copyright, and would have remained so even after they ceased publication of superhero comics in 1953 as part of their settlement with DC. This is reinforced by the fact that DC had to license (and later purchase outright) the character to use in their comics in the 1970s. So Beck and Binder, while creators of the character, would not have had the rights to use him in a comic strip. The syndicates would almost certainly have been aware of the prior lawsuit -- it was a pretty big deal, and lasted for about a decade with the various appeals -- and even if they didn't fully investigate who owned which characters, they could well have shied away from even attempting to get near a character with a legally grey history.

All of which means that the handful of appearances Captain Marvel has made in comic strips were NOT by his original creator, despite his style being perfectly suited to that medium. Nor were any of his appearances in his own comic!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On -isms: What To Read While You're Not in San Diego

Comic-Con International has come and, once again, you're like me and not there. So you try to live vicariously through others online, but that means you miss out on all the parties and get-togethers, formal and informal. And while your feeds light up throughout the day, they go deathly silent outside of the show hours. Particularly as you get into Saturday and Sunday.

So, to fill that extra time, I'd like to recommend a few webcomics to keep you entertained. And, oh, by the way, they happen to focus on characters that aren't straight, cisgendered white men! (This is, by far, not meant to be a comprehensive list of said webcomics, I might add, just some of the still-running ones that I enjoy!)

The Adventures of Gyno-Star by Rebecca Cohen
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
Ava's Demon by Michelle Czajkowski
balderdash! by Victoria Grace Elliott
Bounce! by Chuck Collins
Empathize This by Tak, Caitlin Jung & Jacelyn McLenaghan
Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto
The Hues by Alex Heberling
O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti
On the Grind by George Gant
Mists of Avalon by Kel McDonald
Relativity by Beck Kramer
Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag
Sufficiently Remarkable by Maki Naro
SuperCakes by Kat Leyh
Unsounded by Ashley Cope
Validation by Christian Beranek & Kelci Crawford
The Young Protectors by Alex Woolfson, Adam DeKraker & Veronica Gandini

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Links

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On History: Launching Pads

I attended the Comic Mania Convention in Elgin, IL this past weekend. It's not a large convention, by any means. It's one-day event with around two dozen people tabling, and organizer Bob Cassinelli said that they had less than 1,000 attendees. It was a really nice, intimate show in a great venue (The Gail Borden Public Library).

One of the cool things about a smaller show like that is that there's a little more flexibility when it comes to talking with creators. Not only is there less background noise to contend with, but there are fewer people poking around at the tables while you talk with them. Which, in some ways, is a bit of detriment to the folks tabling (they make less money that way, after all) but it definitely works in the attendees favor. Which leads me to getting a good chance to chat with Chris Ecker (who co-founded Big Bang Comics and created the Knight Watchman) and Matt Hansel (who inks the Knight Watchmen webcomic).

I'd been reading the Knight Watchmen webcomic since it launched about six months back. It's a fun spin on Golden Age Batman-type stories, and does a good job re-creating the feel of those old books and strips, particularly the Shelly Moldoff stuff. What I didn't realize -- and I kicked myself over this repeatedly while standing there -- was that Ecker has been doing these for about 20 years! His first Big Bang Comics came out in 1994, and Image started publishing them in 1996! How I completely missed these for this long, I have no idea! But I quickly dropped a small chunk of change to pick up several of the trade paperbacks, and some original art.

As it happened, I also received this weekend the copy of The Shadow Hero which I pre-ordered months ago. It's a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew recounting a new origin story for an incredibly obscure superhero named the Green Turtle. Evidently, the character was created by Chu F. Hing as the first Asian superhero in an American comic, but his publisher refused to accept that a non-Caucasian could take a lead role like that and Chu spent the entire time hiding the character's intended race from his boss, blocking even the reader from getting a good look at him. In Shadow Hero, Yang and Liew expand on the character's mythos and try to figure out some in-story rationale for some seemingly odd design decisions. (They do a fantastic job of it, I might add!)

Finally, I also found in the quarter bins at Comic Mania, about half of the run on Kirby Genesis, a relatively recent comic series imagining all of Jack Kirby's creator-owned characters inhabiting the same universe. While the style is marketedly different (Kirby's concepts here are primarily from decades after the previous items) and the content is licensed from the Kirby estate, they're still using older work as a platform to launch new works.

At some level, you could say that any continuing comic (Superman, Archie, X-Men, etc.) is basing the new work on what's been previously published, but in those ongoing series, the build-up is slow, taking place over decades one issue at a time. There really very little connection between Action Comics #1 and the latest issue of Superman. The characters have evolved significantly over the past century. Current creators aren't evoking older stories, so much as evoking just the previous issue.

It's kind of curious that I happened to wind up with a number of different works deliberately skipping over the immediate history and diving at least a few decades into the past. And these newer works aren't slaving over the existing material, as is done with contemporary stories, but just using the basic ideas and concepts and exploring them further with some degree of hindsight. I don't know that it's really popular enough to be a thing per se, and it's certainly not something that's never done elsewhere, but seeing these varied pieces come in at the same time makes one appreciate the effort new creators take in examining the old concepts and seeing how/why they might still be relevant today.