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Peter Sanderson
A young Peter Sanderson
The first comic jobs I became aware, to no surprise, were those of the creators themselves: writers, artists, inkers, etc. Their names were creditted in pretty much every book, so naturally those jobs were essentially presented to me in every issue. After that, I think I realized--through commentary in the letters and editorial pages--that the larger companies also employed people who didn't work on the comics, but kept the business moving. Secretaries, traffic managers, HR people, lawyers, etc. (Obviously, this didn't apply as readily to smaller companies, but I was mostly looking at Marvel and DC at that time.)

I don't recall when it dawned on me that there were people writing for comics magazines like Heroes Illustrated or Comics Scene but I somehow understood that they were mostly freelancers, getting paid for one-off articles as they submitted them. And that they probably contributed to any number of magazines and newspapers. I suppose I must have understood something about journalism already, so the notion that they would be freelancers made a kind of obvious sense.

The first job time I recall hearing about a full-time comics gig that wasn't directly making comics or keeping the business running was Peter Sanderson's position as Marvel's archivist. I didn't understand what that meant in terms of day-to-day duties, but I generally understood it to be a sort of librarian-slash-researcher focused exclusively on Marvel. Despite my previous understanding of freelancing, I think I must have gotten it into my head that the comics industry had gotten to a point where you could be a full-time do-er of comics stuff without actually making comics.

This weekend, I talked with any number of people in various aspects of the comic industry. People who made comics and tabled at shows, people who wrote or vlogged about comics, people who were strong advocates for diversity and equality in comics... and the vast majority of them expressly noted that comics were not their day job. That they held a regular gig of some kind that they used to pay the bills, and any comics stuff that they did was distinctly on the side.

It's only been the past few years where I've seen open acknowledgement more-or-less across the board that, in order to do that thing you love, it has to be supplemented by something that provides a steady paycheck. That's not to say you have to have a regular 9-to-5 gig in order to make comics, but just that comics alone don't seem to provide many people with enough income to live on. So even if you're working on a high-profile book like Superman you might also have to write some freelance ad copy for United Airlines' in-flight magazines.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's striking to me in the relatively recent openness of that conversation. I met a number of new people at C2E2 this past weekend, and many of those conversations included these two questions: what comics/pop culture group were you affiliated with, and what was your day job.

"I do videos for Geek & Sundry, but that's when I'm not working for RedEye."

"I've written several books and give talks like this one, but only when I'm doing marketing work at an ad agency."

"I'm the organizer and promoter for Geek Fest, when I'm not writing code for IBM."

I heard this type of refrain over and over again this weekend from people at all levels of comicdom. From people just getting into it to veterans of several decades. It's clearly not impossible to make a living exclusively from comics, but I don't think the percentage of people who do compared to the percentage that "moonlight" in some other job(s) is that large. I don't know that ten, maybe even as little as five, years ago that this was discussed much, if at all. But given some of the frustration I know I used to feel in not seeing/finding more opportunities to make it exclsuively as a comics professional, it's a topic that I hope others are able to interalize and make it easier to move forward.
Joe Staton at Heroes Con 2012
I'm about to head off to C2E2, my first notable convention of the year. (My hat and I will be meandering around the show all three days; say "hi" if you see me.) And as I'm doing some last minute checks of which panels to attend and which creators I want to make a point to see, it dawned on me just how few newspaper cartoonists appear at these. It's not unheard of, of course -- I saw Dick Tracy's Joe Staton last year and I know The Buckets' Greg Cravens has done some conventioning (although more to promote his webcomic, Hubris) -- but it's by far not very typical. Which is kind of strange, given that comic strip artists used to be treated like rock stars. Guys like Milt Caniff and Al Capp used to make the cover of Time not infrequently! What happened?

My initial thought is that this was due to bad timing. The first big comic conventions were starting up just around the time that newspapers started seeing a decline. Most of the nationally popular cartoonists were retiring or dying, and while there were a few newer stand-outs (notably Charles Schulz) the shrinking space given to newspaper strips and the greater attention to television news wasn't conducive to comic strip cartoonists holding a place in the collective consciousness of the American people.

But that doesn't quite explain it, I don't think. Because even with the diminishing significance of comic strips, they still overshadowed the popularity and respectability of comic books. And the presence of webcomics at conventions also contradicts the notion of popularity being a reason behind things.

But the webcomic angle does make me think of why/how they work differently than newspaper strips. Newspaper strips, almost by definition, need to appeal to a very wide base. As such, it's very difficult (though not impossible) make a deep emotional connection with readers because you have to work in fairly broad (i.e. bland) terms. Webcomics, by contrast, tend to focus on smaller niche audiences. The work can be more personal and, while it won't connect with as many people, the ones it will connect with, it does at a much deeper level. You don't need five thousand passive readers to give fifty cents, you need 25 energized readers to give you $100.

That distinction is perhaps the main reason why you don't see many newspaper strip artists at comic conventions. The comic con experience is about celebrating and highlighting your passions. And come on, who can be passionate about strips like this...
Today's Hi & Lois strip
This week, DC and Mattel annoucned a joint project called DC Super Hero Girls, "an exciting new universe of Super Heroic storytelling that helps build character and confidence, and empowers girls to discover their true potential." Full announcement here. As you can see, the press release is liberally peppered with phrases like "just for girls" and "exclusively for girls." Reactions, from what I've seen, have been mixed. While people seem pleased that they're trying to do some outreach beyond the almost-exclusively-boys-club they've had for several decades, a lot of people don't know that this is quite the right approach.

It isn't, and I'll tell you why: "separate but equal."

What's being done here is that, yes, they are adding more material that will (in theory) be less overtly sexist and misogynistic but by calling it out as a distinct grouping unto itself, separate from their primary IPs, they're effectively saying that girls are still very much unwelcome in what they've been doing. It's paying lip service to equality but going out of its way to highlight the inherent inequality in their business.

Does the phrase "separate but equal" sound familiar? It might; it's been used in US history before. Here, let me do a Google image search and help jog your memory. The first image that comes up when I search for "separate but equal" is...
Is what DC doing as bad as that? No, but it's the same mentality. It a mentality that says that some groups just aren't worth as much as others. It's a mentality that says you'll cater to anyone, but only because you're being coerced or even forced into it. It's a mentality that says you can be equal, but only within a limited set of parameters.

Yes, I suppose it's better to do something instead of nothing at all, and even this bit of tokenism is (sadly) an improvement. But it showcases an ongoing sense of misogyny coming from DC, and reinforces the idea that everyone there is missing the point.
Roger Slifer
The Adventures of Moxie Girl
Fantastic Four #296
Comcs Feature #44
I'm running a little tight on deadlines this week, so I'm going to re-present an interesting (to me, at least) piece that ran in Comics Feature #44 (May 1986), published just as John Byrne announced that he was leaving the Fantasic Four. While other articles in the same issue mention John's departure, it's clear that this was written before that decision had been made. This helps to put some context around Fantastic Four #296, the final issues of The Thing, Johnny's wedding, and the introduction of 4 Freedoms Plaza.
The 25th anniversary issue of the Fantastic Four will be issue 296 which at 64 pages is not just a double-issue, such as they did with FF 236, the 20th anniverary story, but a triple-issue! Writer/artist John Byrne describes FF 236 as being comparable to doing Fantastic Four: The Movie while 296, the triple-issue, will be the ultimate comic book version of the FF. It will tie into so many things which relate to the earlier years of the title.

Of his appraoch to these stories, Byrne says, "The whole thrust of FF 236, the 20th anniversary story, was to do a story that was more or less completely divorced from the regular book so that it could sort of stand on its own as a 'movie.'" By this he means that anyone who'd just stepped off the moon and had never heard of the FF could read issue 236 and understand everything that was going on.

"In the 25th anniversary issue I'm going to be doing essentially the same thing in that you'll be able to pick up on these guys even if you've never seen them before. But I also want to fill it up with all kinds of little, almost subliminal, fanish type styff that people will recognize as being references to earlier stories."

The title of FF 296 is "Return to Monster Island," a reference which will mean something if you're at all familiar with Fantastic Four number one.

"The basic premise," Byrne reveals, "is that Reed, Sue, Johnny and She-Hulk are out in California and they go out to the old rocket base in Central City. It's all grown over with weeds and looking pretty scraggy, the way Cape Canaveral is these days. The first part of the issue, as it now stands, will be a retelling of Fanastic Four number one, as they tell their origin to She-Hulk -- their first battle with the Mole Man and all that." But things start happening as the world is assaulted by wide-ranging earthquakes, which Reed Richards pinpoints as having their source at Monster Island. But Monster Island blew up at the end of FF 1 -- or did it?

"So they go tripping off to Monster Island," Byrne continues, "or where it used to be, and discover that what is now there is basically a very large hole -- into which sea water has been pouring for years. It's been gushing down into the tunnels that the Mole Man appropriated from the Deviants and has managed, in many cases, to work its wat quite a ways down into the vicinities of the center of the Earth. As a result, it's coming back as super-heated steam which is causing vast pressures to build up underneath the crust of the Earth -- which is what's causing all of these giant earthquakes, globally.

"They are about to do what they can to undeo this damage when... the Mole Man turns up. He's still there, still lurking around, and he's got all kinds of things happening involving that group of outcasts he put together." One important facet of this story involves a sequence from Fantastic Four number one in which the Mole Man revealed his mammoth Valley of Diamonds, a concept which has not been dealt with since. But Byrne has managed to work it into the story in a surprising way.

"The Mole Man has discovered that the Valley of the Diamonds is not in fact a natural phenomenon. The diamonds are mystical, and he's discovered that if he melts down the diamonds he gets this glib which, if you immersed yourself in it, you are transformed into whatever you are in your heart of hearts."

What follows is a story in which the FF try to avert final disaster for the world while the Mole Man is convinced that they're just there to make trouble for him again. But if that's not enough (remember this is a triple-issue filled with triple-threats and triple-promises), an important former member of the FF turns up there -- the Thing. Certain changes planned for the Thing, which have not yet been revealed but will have come to pass by late summer, will have driven him to Monster Island, convinced that it is the only place for a monster such as himself. There, the Thing comes face to face with what he is in his heart of hearts.

The Thing is reunited with the FF in this adventure, and at the end, "We get back to New York for an anniversary party!" Byrne explains. "It's kind of a separate story at the end of the issue which unveils the FF's new headquarters and has virtually the entire Marvel Universe guest-starring, including folks from Marvel."

Beyond FF 296 will be the aftermath of the return of the Thing. For instance, what will happen to the She-Hulk, a character John Byrne happens to have a certain fondness for? "We will have to address the very serious questions of whether they will be the Fantastic Four or the Fantastic Five," Byrne reveals.

Other stories in the FF's future include a possible wedding in issue 300 and the finale to "The Last Galactus Story" continued from the pages of the now-defunct Epic Illustrated. It looks as though 1986 will be a landmark year for the Fantastic Four in numerous ways.
The Monocle
I recently picked up the March issue of The Monocle, a magazine aimed at businesses "hungry for opportunities and experiences beyond their national borders." This particular issue focused primarily on Japan and it caught my eye thanks to the huge image of Doraemon on the cover. While the issue touched on a number of topics related to Japanese business, there were several articles throughout that discussed the pop culture aspects of Japan that comic fans may be familiar with. Doraemon got it's own article, but Shueisha (publisher of Shonen Jump and One Piece) gets discussed, and there's an extensive piece on the market of companies that produce kawaii mascot costumes for marketing purposes. (Yes, there's an entire market for these guys!) The magazine also has pieces on fashion, J-pop, and electronics.

I haven't read the entire magazine, but from what I have read, they seemed to do pretty in-depth analysis. Mostly at the market level, not at the individual company or product level, but the magazine is geared towards providing potential investors broad directions on what markets might be worth investigating at a global level, not necessarily which companies to invest in.

I'm torn in how I think about the issue. On the one hand, the coverage basically hits a lot of the topic areas that I would expect a broad population might think about when they might think about Japanese culture. So one could argue that the magazine editors were indeed choosing content based on what are indeed solid markets. But at the same time, these are markets that anyone involved in pop culture examinations in general would see as well worn areas. Manga popularity in the US isn't exactly new any longer after all. So are the magazine editors instead just using a sort of perceived common knowledge to make their judgements without any real investigation into other possibilities? Further along that line, are their ideas in fact already out-dated because they're on the trailing end of what's already achieved a high degree of popularity and broad acceptance, thus making their suggestions poor ones; by the time an investor does their due diligence and then invests in a specific company, wouldn't the market likely be on the decline?

I've never read The Monocle before, so I honestly don't know they're broader approach very well. Basically just what I read in the past few days. But it's interesting to see how ultra-rich investors see the same ideas and companies that we, as media consumers, interact with on an often more personal level.
Al Williamson Star Wars cover
With the new Star Wars trailer dropping yesterday, I figure we should take a look at the original Star Wars comic strip today. It was launched on March 12, 1979 and the first storyline ran until early September. It was called "Gambler's World" and was written and drawn by Russ Manning. I haven't read the whole thing, but from what I have seen, it struck me as generic sci-fi and it didn't seem like Manning had a real sense of the Star Wars universe. (To be fair, a lot of people didn't quite get the Star Wars aesthetic in those early years.)

But there were actually a dozen Star Wars comic strips done before Manning started on the ones that were ultimately published. George Lucas himself had previously asked for (and got!) classic sci-fi comic strip artist Al Williamson to adapt the first movie as a comic strip! Williams put together twelve gorgeous strips that cover the first 15-20 minutes of the movie. It moves along briskly, but clearly uses the movie for both visual and dialogue references. (Although it does depart from that for the sake of moving the story along.) Williamson ultimately wasn't able to work on the strip, which is when Manning was brought in.

So here are the original tweleve strips Williamson did, re-telling Star Wars: A New Hope...
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #1
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #2
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #3
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #4
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #5
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #6
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #7
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #8
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #9
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #10
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #11
Al Williamson Star Wars comic #12