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I think it's probably safe to say that Patrick McDonnell is most widely known as the cartoonist behind the Mutts comic strip. It's been in syndication since 1994 and has earned McDonnell a number of accolades including eight Harvey Awards! Mutts isn't the only thing McDonnell has done, of course, but it's what he's most known for, including by me. So when I heard he was doing an officially licensed book about old Marvel comics, I was very much intrigued.

McDonnell has never been shy about his love for old comics. He's probably mentioned it in every (or nearly every) interview I've read/heard from him, and Mutts not infrequently makes reference to or homages comics of his youth. But his style never struck me as one that might translate to the over-the-top heroics seen in 1960s comics. I'd caught at some point his mentioning that The Super Hero's Journey was a love letter to those old books, so I assumed that meant this would be almost more of a memoir of his reading comics as a kid, and how that encouraged to do better in school or stand up to the neighborhood bully or something like that. And the book seems to start off that way with Patrick's dad taking him and his siblings to church and the drug store where they get some sodas and comics.

But then the story switches to one within the Marvel Universe. Though it starts following The Watcher, it soon re-centers on Earth and incorporates many of Marvel's heroes from the early 1960s, including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the Avengers. The plot then revolves around Dr. Doom getting all the heroes to fight one another and Mr. Fantastic trying to discover a way to counter that. The resolution is very much one that you would NOT have seen in a Marvel title back in the day, although it does make explicit the messages found in some of the books, particularly those from the mid-to-late '60s.

Despite the book having the scale of, say, the original Galactus Trilogy in some respects -- indeed, Galactus does make an appearance as well -- the story is a more human, echoing the feeling of "This Man, This Monster" after a fashion. (To be clear, McDonnell's story itself bears no resemblance to that one; it just has that type of empathetic vibe to it.) But what McDonnell does that is particularly interesting is that much of the book here lifts art directly from those 1960s comics. It's not just McDonnell copy/pasting characters, but he lifts sometimes pages at a time complete with the original dialogue. HOWEVER, because he's set up a different story and draws in his own framing and bridging sequences, the repurposed art takes on very different narrative meanings. Whay may have originally been a petty squabble becomes existential ennui. What was an offhand remark becomes a significant plot point.

And that's what really struck me about the work. I've read those old Marvel stories hundreds of times. I immediately recognized every piece of re-purposed art and what the original context was. But presented here in McDonnell's story, with his context, those old comics land very differently. McDonnell really did a fantastic job integrating wholy unrelated scenes -- sometimes crafted years apart for radically different purposes -- into a single cohesive narrative... that fits in perfectly well with his own decades-old ouvre. It might seem like something of a cheat to just re-use Jack Kirby's and Steve Ditko's art to tell a new story, but McDonnell clearly took an inordinate amount of time studying and selecting very specific sequences from material across over a dozen titles ranging from 1950 through 1968. And each piece feels naturally and perfectly integrated. I don't doubt it was a LOT more work than it appears.

Taking an almost polar oppostie approach from Abrams' last Marvel outing with Alex Ross' Fantastic Four: Full Circle, McDonnell almost went out of his way to ensure readers know this isn't supposed to be canon. They're very much Marvel characters and they feel very much like how they were portrayed in the 1960s but the overal tone and theme and message is much more in line with what McDonnell is known for. Despite lifting art directly from Fantastic Four, this book feels like it has more in common with Mutts.

If you're expecting a typical Marvel graphic novel, this isn't that. The Super Hero's Journey is argueably one of the most thematically experimental pieces I've seen come from under a Marvel banner in many years (even if it is more of an Abrams product). I don't know that I'd want a regular diet of this type of revisiting '60s Marvel, but I am very glad I picked this up and I've got a great deal more respect for McDonnell's narrative abilities. The book was released yesterday from Abrams and retails for $29.99 US.
When I first read Skrull Kill Krew back in 1995, I thought, "This doesn't make sense." Setting aside the continuity issues about how the Skrulls-turned-to-cows thing from Fantstic Four #2 was resolved TWICE already by then (first during the Kree-Skrull War storyline in Avengers #89–97 and next in Fantastic Four Annual #17) and setting aside the general poor quality of the actual script, the very concept doesn't make sense.

The basic idea is that the Skrulls from FF #2 were turned into cows, which were later killed and processed as hamburgers. Humans who ate those hamburgers gained the ability to see Skrulls in their true form, however they happened to be disguised, and they also gained the ability to shape-shift like the Skrulls. The downside was that they would slowly begin to take the form of whatever it was they hated the most. Also, the DNA is killing them, kind of like a cancer.

Let's set aside that dairy cows (which the original Skrulls were turned into) are not used as beef cows, even if they can no longer produce milk. Let's set aside how these Skrull-cows, when they were killed, would revert to their natural Skrull form so that, in order to be processed as meat, they would've gone through several rounds of post-death processing in which dozens if not hundreds of workers would've seen these very-much-not-cows on the line and would've had to have conveniently ignored. Let's set aside that the Skrulls only took the shape of cows and their "meat" would have been very much something that was picked out as a contaminent even if they got through all the initial processing. So let's say the human workers and the FDA and everyone failed at every single level between when the Skrull-cows died and they showed up in a burger bun. Even if you want to include all that as part of your origin-story-free-pass to go along with a "Skrull meat changes human DNA enough to grant super powers" miracle, you're giving the human characters to change their appearance. So how the hell does it make sense that their "punishment" is changing into something they hate? Seriously.

One big 'hook' is that the Nazi-sympathizer is slowly turning into a Black man... but he can change to something other than a Black man any time he wants. He can literally change his appearance to exactly what he looked like before he ate that Skrull-burger. Why is this a story element at all? And even if it is, why does no one even suggest, "Dude, just shape-shift into something that isn't a Black man"? They don't even try to come up with a bullshit rational for his not being able to even attempt it, even just to lampshade the point.

Fine, it was only five issues back in the mid-1990s when Marvel was producing a lot of less-than-stellar material. But I found out recently that Marvel did another five issue series in 2009 as part of their broader "Secret Invasion" storyline. Totally different creative team on it and all five issues were in the dollar bin, so I gave it a shot.

The first problem was that they didn't address the fundamental problems from the original concept. In fact, it seems to add to the issue by giving them the ability to regrow their entire bodies from a severed head, negating the trite-but-at-least-plausible cancer-like stakes of the original. They keep the turning-into-what-you-hate idea and still no one suggests, "Just shape-shift into something else." They throw in a random "your DNA is now totally Skrull" element but don't do anything with it besides make the Ryder character depressed for half an issue, and most of that isn't even shown; he just disappears out of the story for a while. They compound things with not-great storytelling and they do a very lack-luster job on scenes that aren't totally straight-forward. (Of which there are many.) And then, to top it all off, they tack on a meta "it's a comic within the comic" ending saying that the whole thing was just propaganda to lull humans into thinking they're safe from Skrulls.

And, again, this is all on top of the fact that the Skrull-cow point was addressed and resolved before all this anyway, and the series' very existence causes continuity problems.

There were fourteen years between the original series and the second one, and it's been fourteen years since that second series. Not only do I think it is NOT due for another revival, I think it should never even be mentioned ever again. It was awful the first time, even more awful the second. Please let this idea die.
I recently came across the cover to Batman #381 from 1985 by Rick Hoberg, Dick Giordano, and Anthony Tollin. Batman is in the midst of a leap down from Gotham Trust about to land on a Batman imposter...
The most obvious stand-out part of the illustration is, of course, that there are two people dressed as Batman. It's not a unique situation, but rare enough that this stands out a bit because of it. But there's some more deviously clever going on that is unique to comics. Namely, that this is actually two illustrations showing a full sequence of events in a single image.

Now, you might think, "What are you talking about, Sean? It's just supposed to be a single moment in time after Batman jumps but before he lands. How is that two illustrations?" But let's actually take a look at that Batman drawing. Batman's pose suggests that he's not leaping directly down as if he's coming down from the roof of that building. The way his legs stick out the back, the implication is more that he's leaping from a lower position (not necessarily the ground, but lower than the "Gotham Trust" sign), jumping up above his opponent, and is on his way back down in the instant the image takes place. Kind of like this shot from the opening of Batman: The Animated Series...
Here's the thing, though. The specific pose that Batman is in doesn't make sense for that kind of a jump. His back is perfectly straight with his butt in alignment with it. But his legs are still bent forward at the hips. It's almost like a sitting position. I did this rough sketch from the side to show about what Batman would look like from another angle...
It's certainly not an impossible pose, but it doesn't quite mesh with the type of leap that is suggested to the reader. And that's why I'm saying it's actually two illustrations. What we're actually seeing is Batman at two distinct points in his leap. His legs are from when he's still in the upward arc of his trajectory, but his arms and torso are from after he's reached his peak height and is on his way back down. Your brain registers both halves of his body as coming from different times, only a fraction of a second apart, and ends up showing most of the arc of his leap in a single figure. We see the dynamism and fluidity in Batman's jump even though his body positioning is actually quite rigid.

This type of approach does actually show up in fine art -- in Cubism particularly -- and there's a fair argument to be made for including those pieces under the definition of "comics" because of it. But it's not something that I think most viewers of these types of drawings consciously realize, and that they don't conisder how they may be looking at multiple images in a single illustration.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: I Am Stan Review

Kleefeld on Comics: Fortunes in Funnies 1946

Kleefeld on Comics: What's Ecology?

Kleefeld on Comics: Thoughts from Blastoff

Kleefeld on Comics: Ongoing Side Hustles

Way back in 2011, I talked about how we all should be trying to set up ongoing, multiple income streams like webcomikers. "Multiple income streams" basically meaning that you set up several "long tail" projects that might have decreasing revenue over time, but it's income that still continues. For example, writing a book that remains perpetually available (via print-on-demand or electronically or some other means) and you keep getting money from each sale years or even decades into the future. And while you might not get a lot of sales of that book ten years from now, if you do that with enough different projects, you always have a decent collective revenue stream coming in all the time.

(I should take a minute to plug my books: Webcomics, Comic Book Fanthropology and Edward Lear & the Snargetted Flartlethants of Nonsense. Go buy them!)

At the time, I couched most of my argument in terms of employers forcing more and more people to go from full-time employees to freelancers, and thus it made sense to use the long tail to provide some level of stability.
The reality is that we live in an economy that does not want you to become a success. The whole system is catered towards keeping a wall between you and rich folks. I'm not going to try banging my head against that wall trying to knock it down, or wasting my breath shouting at it. I'm okay with not being among the super-rich, so long as I've got enough to be comfortable. What I'm trying to do -- and what I'm recommending to everyone reading this -- is to set things up now so that I can be a little more comfortable in the coming economy.
Now, with that in mind, there have been an increasing number of articles over the past few years pointing to how many people are getting involved in the gig economy. More to the point, how the gig economy is being sold as a positive development by corporations when in reality, it was meant to fill the gap from people who were being left behind. From this piece on The Ringer from a couple years ago...
It’s not a coincidence that it [the phrase 'side hustle'] originated in black newspapers while Jim Crow still existed, as the concept was rooted in the idea of looking for other routes to financial stability because the “main” hustle was unavailable in a literal sense. In this way, the “side hustle” was originally an act of economic defiance. Now, the phrase has been bastardized into an advertisement for the gig economy, a way to make discounted, disposable labor seem hip.
We can see all of this play out in comics in multiple forms. Creators work on their personal passion projects to have work in constant circulation, coupled with startup funds from Kickstarter. Then, if they're able, the book gets picked up by a big publisher and they're able to get wider distribution. (Although much of the promotion still falls on their shoulders.) And then they might get tapped by Marvel or DC, which they'll often happily do for the steady paycheck, but you'll find they don't turn over many of their bigger ideas and properties over to the publisher because they wouldn't get ongoing revenue from the characters' use.

This kind of perpetual hustle is often looked highly upon, but should it be? From the same Ringer article...
Performing whatever paid work is available is sometimes a necessary step to literally surviving, and working on a passion project in one’s free time can help launch a new career. Neither situation is aspirational. Both belie an economic system that is not designed to lift masses out of poverty, but rather one that both creates and maintains poverty.
How many comic creators are still tabling at local conventions, even with a string of Marvel or DC credits to their name? Frankly, I see this situation as getting worse. It's certainly been exasperated since I wrote that previous piece, and I don't know that I see any signs of that changing any time soon. (Try asking any politician about "universal basic income"!)

I'll finish up with the same conclusion I wrote back in 2011...
The reality is that we live in an economy that does not want you to become a success. The whole system is catered towards keeping a wall between you and rich folks. I'm not going to try banging my head against that wall trying to knock it down, or wasting my breath shouting at it. I'm okay with not being among the super-rich, so long as I've got enough to be comfortable. What I'm trying to do -- and what I'm recommending to everyone reading this -- is to set things up now so that I can be a little more comfortable in the coming economy.

I'm no more a soothsayer than the next guy with a blog. But I see zero indication that things are going to get better any time soon. So I suggest you pay attention to what webcomic creators are doing now, because I think their business model is what's going to save your tuchus in the next decade or so.
From a few years ago, A Wise Way interviewed Jud Meyers of Blastoff Comics about running a comic book shop. He has a lot of solid answers and insights that I don't think most comic fans might even consider. Worth sitting through all eight of the videos...

Ron Cobb, Los Angeles Free Press, 1967
This was 56 years ago. Fifty. Six. And we've done jack since then.