Tuesday, September 02, 2014

On History: Carol Day

One of the things that continues to amaze me (though it really, really shouldn't) is coming across noteable comic works that are rarely, if ever, mentioned in comic histories I read/watch because they didn't originate in the United States. There was certainly a lot of great comics produced in the US, but the vast majority of studies on the subject focus primarily on the US, with only occassional mentions of Japan and/or Eastern Europe (mostly Great Britain). So in that sense, it should not surprise me to come across a British comic strip and artist I had never heard of, but I also feel that I should have come across the names before now, given the volume of material I read. In any event...

David Wright was an illustrator that was known for drawing glamorous women in the 1940s. He started doing work for fashion magazines, and soon became a popular pin-up artist, working pretty continuously in that capacity from the early 1940s through the mid-1950s. Wright first attempted a comic strip in 1953 called "Judy" that appeared in the weekly magazine Tit-Bits. While his art was top-notch, the plots and characters were a bit weak, and he ended that strip after just a few years. But in 1956, he created the comic strip "Carol Day" for The Daily Mail and worked on that until his death in 1967.

The strip centered on the title character, a fashion model, and the soap opera style events surrounding her life. Roger Clark says of the strip: "With its combination of sophisticated themes and stories, multi-dimensional characters and always magnificent art, Carol Day transcends even the best American strips of the time, but it has been woefully neglected. Though it was syndicated in around 70 papers around the world, this high-spot of the newspaper comic strip has never been collected, and it never appeared in the US. According to Patrick Wright, David's son, 'even though the Hearst Newspaper did attempt to head-hunt my father in the early 1950s, it was felt Carol Day was too sophisticated for the American market!'"
Wright was clearly a talented artist. He did very little preliminary pencil work, only putting just enough to give an outline of character placements, and then moved on to inking with a #2 sable brush. If you examine the original art I've included here, you'll note, too, that the only instances of whiting out his inkwork are not on the artwork proper, but with his balloons and lettering! That takes an inordinate amount of talent even if you've got tight pencils to start with!

Wright's work has never been reprinted that I can find; however, it looks as if the majority of them are available digitally through Amazon. I've only seen a handful of samples myself, so I can't speak to how well the story holds up today, or even how predictable it might be, but the art is certainly gorgeous and worth digging around just to look at/study that.

Friday, August 29, 2014

On Strips: Kirby's Comic Strips

It seemed a little odd to try to talk about Jack Kirby in relating to "-isms" yesterday during his actual birthday, but dreadfully easy to bring the man up today in relation to comic strips. And I'm a guy who's been writing columns about Kirby for over a decade now, so I don't need his birthday as an excuse to write about him again!

What I wanted to do today was highlight a little-remembered side of Kirby. He's of course widely known as a comic book artist, and rightly so. But he also dipped into the comic strip market more than a few times as well. So what I thought I'd do today is showcase some samples of comic strips done by Jack Kirby. He never saw much success with these -- indeed, many were never even published -- but it is, as I say, an aspect of Kirby's career that is frequently overlooked.

So here are examples of thirteen different strips he worked on, plus one editorial cartoon. Enjoy!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

On -isms: Blades of Hope

One trap that I'm trying not to fall into with my "On -isms" pieces here is dwelling too heavily on the negative. There are plenty of examples out there where there are failures of diversity, intentional and unintentional. So let me take a moment to highlight when someone does things right.

I recently stumbled across an upcoming story called Blades of Hope from Jabal Entertainment. The idea was sold to me as an international group of heroines trained in specific martial arts trying to help the world after the apocalypse. The protagonists come from a variety of locales, including Malaysia, Algeria, Burma, and Kashmir. The martial arts they use are real, and the creative team has worked with experts to help ensure the accuracy in the depictions of the likes of Taekwando, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Muay Thai.

Here's a snippet from the book's description...
Blades of Hope is a celebration of the inner strength of women expressed through martial arts. Through our characters' stories, we hope readers are reminded. Reminded that noble character defines one's actions. Reminded that vicotry can come through defeat. Reminded that the best characters inspire because of who that are... and what they become.
The concept comes from Maryam Awan and Sohaib Awan. And while they both put their thoughts into the story, they went ahead and hired a full creative team to execute the project. While I'm a big fan of the lone creator doing everything him/herself, I have a lot of respect for these people who had the self-restraint and self-awareness to recognize that they might not be the best talents to make their dreams come to fruition without help. Far too often I've seen people who can draw try to write, or who write and try to letter, or whatever, and the results are frequently less than great. But here, they've stepped back to allow a group of professionals put together the finished product to make it as good as it can be.

Here's how impressed I was with what I saw. The book they have out now (pictured here) is a zero issue. There's no story here, just character portraits and descriptions, and some preview layout sketches. The actual graphic novel won't be out until late this year. But I was so impressed with what I heard and saw, I purchased this issue anyway. That's just something I don't do. I'll buy a preview issue if there's a story there, but sketchbooks and writer's notes? No offense but I'd prefer to spend my money on other things.

But I like what I saw so much in Blades of Hope that I bought it just as a means to show my support for this type of thing. I've seen promising-looking sketchbooks before, and never saw a story develop from there. Here, I feel there's something different. I think this will get made, and will be something people will be talking about in 2015.

So I encourage you to check out the Blades of Hope Facebook page and keep an eye out for this book. I think there's something really special here, and I can't wait to see the finished product!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Links

  • Jack Kirby's birthday would've been tomorrow. If you happen to donate to the Hero Initiative through Carol & John's Comic Book Shop in Cleveland, they'll have stickers like the one shown at the right for you. I don't see any details on their site; I'm just going by this Facebook post care of the Kirby4Heroes campaign.
  • Bryan Alexander from USA TODAY talks with current UFC bantamweight champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Ronda Rousey about how she's sick of women in comics and comic-based movies being the weakest link.
  • Jim Shelly wonders why Superman's Rogues Gallery isn't better.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On History: No Reprint Love for Outcault?

I've heard it said more than once in recent years that we're in a Golden Age of comic reprints. There are several publishers these days doing higher-end books reprinting many classic comics, both books and strips. There gorgeous hard cover collections of Little Nemo, Krazy Kat, Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, Steve Canyon... IDW has been doing some great work with their Artist's Edition series reprinting the original art from classic comic runs by Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Walt Simonson, Frank Miller...

But it just occurred to me that we really don't have anything focusing on Richard Outcault. He created both The Yellow Kid as well as Buster Brown, and while neither had quite the longevity of some other comics, and argueably don't have the historical pedigree that is sometimes touted, their popularity at the time of publication make them both note-worthy. Superman wasn't Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's first character, after all, nor was it their first published comics work. But the character's broad and rapid popularity make it a subject of great study. So, too, are the Yellow Kid and Buster Brown. But, strangely, there's relatively little about them.

The Yellow Kid has been written about extensively, certainly, and most of those pieces seem to include a number of reprints, but I don't see where anyone's really try to put togther a single Yellow Kid reprint collection. And while Buster Brown seems to have gotten the reprint treatment more than a few times over the decades, they seem decidedly finite in nature. This collection from 2009, for example, is only 60 pages long and this one from 2012 is only 76. Hardly a good representation of the nearly two decades of strips.

Does it have something to do with a rights issue? I can't imagine it would since copyrights for anything prior to 1923 have expired. (Buster Brown ceased publication in 1921.) Access to materials? I'm sure the original art is no longer around, but that hardly stopped any of the other publications.

So what's the deal, publishers? No one willing to take on Outcault's work? Seems to me there's a decent audience for this out there. What's holding you back?

Monday, August 25, 2014

On Business: Wizard World Chicago

I was only able to attend one day of Wizard World Chicago this past weekend, but I made a number of observations that, when compiled together, make for a very interesting study of what the show has become and where it's headed. Let me start off with an assorted collection of observations...
  • The internal layout/traffic issues I noted last year were, by and large, fairly well-addressed. It still doesn't seem ideally suited for the size of the show, but that struck me more as a limitation of the venue itself.
  • Similarly, street traffic outside was (as always) a mess. The Rosemont Convention Center is really just not a good venue for this show because of its location and problems with incoming traffic.
  • I spoke to one artist who was given a table gratis from the Wizard World folks. She was contacted independently and told that they'd offer her table space at any one of their conventions this year. I think she'd tabled at the show in prior years but had skipped at least last year.
  • One comics veteran I know has something of a side gig with Wizard now, where he's asked to come up with and host panels at many of their shows. As I understand it, he's being paid for this and they seem to give him carte blanche to do what he wants to with the panels. I presume he's getting free travel and lodging, and I know he's getting free table space.
  • Though they still drew in some big name comics guests like Stan Lee and Neal Adams, the largest comic publisher I saw at the show was Zenescope.
  • I didn't do an actual count, but it seemed to me like there were more comics retailers with tables and tables of long boxes than at C2E2 earlier this year. Further, there seemed to be a higher percentage of comics retailers to other retailers at Wizard World than at C2E2, though it's possible it only seemed that way by virtue of how the floor space was organized. (I'll be making numerous comparisons to C2E2 since both shows are comparably sized, hit pretty similar demographics, and are in the Chicago area.)
  • The number of creators in Artists Alley who were actually producing comics seemed lower than in years past, and also lower than what I saw C2E2 this year. Plenty of artists there, but there seemed to be a predominance of art prints and craft items over actual comics.
  • There was only one panel on the whole weekend schedule talking about sexism and gender issues in comics/pop culture. Compare that against the five inclusion-focused panels at C2E2. On the plus side, it was "promoted" to a more prominent room this year instead of being tucked far away from the rest of the con like last year.
  • Also worth noting, the equality panel at Wizard World was reasonably well-attended, but ALL of the ones at C2E2 wound up being standing-room only, and not because they were in small rooms.
  • I don't have attendance numbers but there seemed to be a generally pretty good sized crowd. I spoke to some of the folks in Artists Alley, and there seemed to be a general disappointment at the traffic they were seeing, but they also generally acknowledged that it was still early enough in the day (at least when I spoke with them) that many attendees simply hadn't worked their way back that far yet. I did talk to one person tabling who sold out of everything she had by the end of the day Saturday, though.
Now, what to make of these observations.

One gent I talked to, who had set up booths at Wizard World shows in the past but choose not to this year, noted that the show felt very much like a flea market. That the old guys selling books from long boxes and the folks with their crafts weren't really the point of the show, and were merely part of a large "holding pen" where people were kept occupied while they were waiting between autograph lines for the B-list celebrities. Without the large publishers and upscale retailers, it looked like a tent city on the outskirts of Mos Eisley.

Then you look at Artists Alley, with their more craft-focused/less indie comic creator approach. It's been noted by myself and others that the Wizard World shows, in general, don't draw on a large comic fan base so much as a pop culture fan base. There's overlap, sure, but there's more interest in single image Doctor Who/Star Wars mashups done as prints than fully-fledged comic stories. And with Wizard World expanding so much in recent years -- with a U.S. show somewhere almost every other weekend -- they have to do more to draw in tablers. Hence, giving a free table to someone who's tabled in the past. They're not worth it for an indie comics creator to pay money to table, but it might be viable if you didn't have to travel and/or pay tabling fees. Just a weekend's worth of time and effort, you could sell enough to maybe make it worth your while. Wizard World gets to keep some comics credibility, and fills out their holding pens, so they look less like holding pens.

As I noted, the sexism panel wasn't particularly crowded and the two panels I attended from the comic veteran I noted were a bit on the sparse side as well. Not surprisingly, the panels that did seem packed were the ones with popular actors. This seems to piggy-back on the "holding pen" notion. They can't have these actor panels running the whole show, so they try to fill the time/space up with other panels to make things look more full and interesting. But that those other panels are so sparsely attended (relatively speaking) suggests that the crowd has little interest in any of them that don't feature their favorite actors.

This all points to a show that is squarely focused on the autographs/actors aspect of things in view of attendees; however, Wizard itself seems to be working hard (though not entirely successfully) against that perception. They've managed to attract a good number of comics retailers, and are giving up income for both tabling and panels. But I think they've stretched themselves too thin. A creator might be able to make a small profit at one Wizard World show, but not multiple all-kind-of-local ones. By that I mean that tabling at Wizard World Chicago might be fine if you're local, but you can't sell the same indie comic to the same folks who might also attend Wizard World Indianpolis, only a couple hours drive away. In fact, of the creators selling comics I saw at Artists Alley, I passed on nearly half of them because I'd picked up their books at C2E2 and/or prior Wizard Worlds.

So, ultimately, their shows can't have much of a comics focus, despite their attempts to throw money at the "problem." They're grown too large for anything but this seemingly endless list of celebrities selling autographs. The only way to make their shows financially feasible is to have something new and different at each show. Retailers at least have a stream of new comics and trades coming from publishers to work with, and creators just making prints can spend a few days on a single design and run off a bunch of copies at Kinkos, but comics creators generally can't put that much time into new material for each show. Certainly not of any real quality. Which dooms Wizard World to continuing their reputation as not very comics friendly, and really more of a pop culture festival of actors.

When they were still publishing Wizard Magazine, it seemed that to me that they filled their pages with a lot of fluff and little of substance. They were slow to adapt to the rise of the internet, and wound up folding that part of the business because they tried to make the magazine larger than it was. (With special preview books, and a seemingly more-than-monthly schedule.) Quantity over quality. I'm left wondering now if they're doing something similar with their shows. Trying to make it too big, filling it with more fluff than substance, and coming out too frequently. I'm not privvy to their financials, but I don't see that as viable in the long-term.

Don't get me wrong on all this, I found some interesting items as the show this weekend, and the panels I went to were interesting, but I think the one not-quite-a-full-day I attended was plenty.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On Strips: Outcault vs McCay

Richard Outcault is frequently given credit for "inventing" the modern comic strip. That's not really an accurate claim, but he did do some innovative work in the field and deserves some credit for that. I've always been more partial to Winsor McCay, who worked not only in the same field in the same time frame, but also for the same employers. In fact, both Outcault and McCay ran in to legal issues with publisher William Randolph Hearst with regards to who owned the comics they drew, and both artists went on to other publishers taking the essence of their strips, if not the original title, with them.

It was pointed out to me today, though, that McCay in fact drew one of Outcault's strips for a time. From 1906-1908, McCay worked on "Buster Brown" after Outcault left the New York Herald, where he first developed the strip in 1902. There's several things to be fasincated by in this, but the thing that immediately struck me was how we can directly compare the two arists' work as they were working on the same material. Here's a panel of "Buster Brown" from each of them...
While Outcault takes a more illustrative approach with his linework, his figures are stiffer. McCay's are more fluid and cartoony. McCay also utilizes a greater variety of line widths, while Outcault's lines are more uniform. Additionally, McCay's composition feels more pleasing, directing a reader's eye across the panel in a swooping motion. By contrast, Outcault's is more rigidly horizonttal and doesn't make any use at all of the top quarter of the panel. McCay's figure seem to run into and out of the panel, while Outcault's are trapped within its borders.

This isn't to say Outcault was necessarily an inferior cartoonist than McCay, but I would easily posit that McCay was a better artist. I would've said so before, but having the direct and immediate comparison of having had both of them work on the exact same strip, the comparisons are even more inevitable than before.

Now I'm going to have to track down reprints of McCay's "Buster Brown" comics! (h/t Peter Sattler)