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I've heard a number of actors over the years speak to roles that they became so associated with that it completely overshadowed not only their other work, but their very identity. Leonard "Mr. Spock" Nimoy spoke to this, as has Barry "Greg Brady" Williams, I believe. In many cases, to my understanding, actors initially try to disassociate themselves with the role as much as they can, but not infrequently later come to accept that actors rarely are able to touch audience in such a deep and profound way, and they re-embrace the role. Nimoy's 1975 autobiography, for example, was titled I Am Not Spock while his 1995 autobiography was called I Am Spock. Actors in these positions often acknowledge that being able to step into a role like that is indeed a rare gift and that there are hundreds and thousands of talented actors who never are afforde that opportunity.

Even more rare, though, is when an actor is able to do that multiple times. Harrison Ford is Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Patrick Stewart is Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier.

There is one actress that isn't recognized that way any more, but mostly by virtue of her famous roles being largely done over a half century ago. I'm talking about Penny Singleton. While not her first acting role, Singleton gained notoriety in 1938 by playing the title character in Blondie, a film based of Chic Young's comic strip of the same name. She had excellent chemistry with Arthur Lake, who portrayed her husband Dagwood. The two became so beloved in those roles, they made 28 Blondie movies together over the next twelve years as well as a weekly Blondie radio show during much of the same period. And even though both stopped production in 1950, the movies were kept in circulation for most of the next decade. For many, Penny Singleton actively was Blondie Bumstead for twenty years.

Singleton herself worked mostly behind the scenes during much of the 1950s, working on behalf of labor rights. She was even elected president of the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1958. And if she never did any acting work beyond that, she still would have had an impressive and memorable career.

But do you know what she did in 1962? She took a voice acting role at the age of 54 for a low-budget cartoon that was, for all intents and purposes, a knock-off of another cartoon. Penny Singleton became Jane Jetson.

The Jetsons. "Jane, his wife."

And while the original show only lasted a single season, Hanna-Barbera brought Singleton back every time they needed Jane's voice. The show was revived with new episodes in 1985. There were Jetsons made-for-TV movies in 1988, 1989, and 1990 plus a theatrically released film also in 1990. There was a Hanna-Barebera themed ride at Universal Studios where Singleton came in to do voice work at age 82! She got brought in for TV commercials that licensed The Jetsons. She essentially did not get replaced until her death in 2003. If you watched virtually anything with the Jetsons speaking, you've almost certainly heard Singleton's voice.

If you're a fan of voice acting work, you probably knew this already. But this is a blog about comics so, while there's certainly some overlap, it is a different audience and I just wanted to take a moment to highlight that one of the earliest super-popular live-action adaptations of a comic character was done by a woman spent the last half of her life being iconic as a completely different character. Something to think about the next time you read a Blondie comic strip.
Let me get this out of the way right off: I am rubbish in the kitchen. I can't cook. I can't bake. Even following directions, I just have a knack of putting things together in a way that isn't good. It's edible, but it's not good. I don't know if I'm no good because I don't enjoy cooking, or if I don't enjoy cooking because I'm no good at it. So why did I even pick up a book called Let's Make Bread?

On its face, the book is a cookbook focused on bread. Straight-forward enough, right? Plenty of bread-themed cookbooks over the decades. A major difference here, though, is the comic book aspect of it. Most cookbooks will list out ingredients and have written directions, maybe a photo of the final product. What that doesn't do is show you what things should looking like during the process of making it though. There are some books that include in-process photos as well. These, I think, are helpful for showing a person how they're doing with their progress. How lumpy is "lumpy"? How sticky is "sticky"? Pictures help to literally illustrate that.

However!

The problem with photos is that they can easily become too complex. All of the various colors and textures and nuances of lighting, particularly after shrinking a photo down to fit several on a page, even a well-composed photo can still be hard to showcase exactly what something should look like. Switching to line drawings can simplify those elements and make distinctions that might be too difficult to parse from a photograph. And when you're relaying instructions, you want/need to break down those images into a series of steps. "Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information" in the words of Scott McCloud. Comics as instruction manuals is a blindingly obvious connection -- particularly when the artist(s) helping to develop them are training in sequential art -- that I'm genuinely surprised we don't see it more often.

That is why I'm looking at cookbook. I'm familiar with artist Sarah Becan's work (I first reviewed The Complete Ouija Interviews waaaay back in 2010) and I've seen her do comics on individual recipes, but I was interested to see what she does with A) an entire book of them and B) ones that were actually written by someone else.

Writer/baker Ken Forkish approaches the reader with a casual tone, which melds very well with Becan's style. Not just Julia Child's "anyone can do this" attitude that she first popularized back in the 1960s, but Forkish and Becan come across more as friends who stopped by to do something cool and fun with you, and not your slightly eccentric aunt who wants to help you prepare a full meal. The directions all seem clear (as I said at the top, I am rubbish in the kitchen so I didn't try any of these recipes first-hand, but they make sense outside of direct experimentation at least) and Becan's illustrations do a good job of showing what you should be doing and where to focus the reader's attention.

The book is also more conversational in approach than many cookbooks. Forkish and Becan are characters in the book, talking directly to the reader as well as each other. This offers a nice mix of illustration opportunities as it's not just an endless series of pictures of people's hands working with dough or just two talking heads. And again, by using drawings instead of photos, they can do things like not having backgrounds so the reader can exclusively focus on the critical elements without getting distracted with unnecessary information; a much under-appreciated aspect of instructional comics.

All in all, I thought this was a great approach to a cookbook. I'm not personally going to attempt any of the recipes in here, but it was done well and I've long been happy to support Becan's work. (Although I notice that she's also got Let's Make Dumplings! and Let's Make Ramen! books that I did not know about; I'll have to pick those up now too.) Let's Make Bread! came out last month from Ten Speed Press and retails for $22 US. A great example of how cookbooks should be made, and if you even just want to try baking your own bread, it will undoubtedly be a great resource.
Do you recall back in 2007, there was a bit of news in that Penguin Books began re-releasing some of their Penguin Classics Graphic Deluxe Editions with variant covers by comic book artists? They got folks like Chester Brown, Roz Chast, Jason, and Chris Ware to do new covers for books like Lady Chatterly's Lover, The Portable Dorothy Parker, and Moby-Dick: or, The Whale. Each artist was asked to bring their unique -- usually highly identifable -- style to the work and some of them even did the cover art as not just a single illustration but as an actual comic.

I was reminded of the inititive recently and looked to see if those versions had been kept in print. It turns out that not only are those books still in print, but the program is still ongoing! A new edition of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse came out just last year with a cover by Alison Bechdel. Caroonist R. Kikuo Johnson did a cover for Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises in 2022. They also got Gene Luen Yang to do the foreword to Wu Cheng'en's Monkey King: Journey to the West that year as well.

I don't have a lot to add to this other than pointing out that I'm generally impressed that Penguin has continued working with graphic novelists for the past almost-two decades. I expect that means the program has done reasonably well. I recall many comics people thought it was cool when they first heard about it, but I think the general assumption was that it was a brief marketin gimmick. But instead it turns out to have been a successul strategy; although it is still a marketing gimmick, it appears to be a good one.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Destiny Review
https://ift.tt/O6fwWHT

Kleefeld on Comics: Old Online Resources
https://ift.tt/HqQL2Fz

Kleefeld on Comics: Monkey of the Week
https://ift.tt/ydjFgNW

Kleefeld on Comics: Updating Your Business Model
https://ift.tt/92XoQLB


Just about all mainstream comics publishers, writers, artists, etc. are working under some misconceptions. The idea that we, as consumers, are paying whatever the cover price of a comic is for the content within it. The latest episodic adventure of Batman, the slice-of-life emotional drama in Heartstopper, the slapstick comedy of Groo... whatever type of story you want to read. However, that is NOT what you're paying for. The content you're looking for is, for all intents and purposes, free. What you're paying for is your preferred delivery method -- in the case of comics, frequently, a 32 page pamphlet.

The internet has opened up the ability for just about anyone in the world, regardless of skill or creativity, to publish whatever they like with effectively no start-up costs. That might be a blog, a podcast, a comic, a book, a movie... just about any type of content one might want to put out for the world to see/hear.* They can put their ideas, their creations, out for public consumption. There's no charge to publish, so there's no charge to consume. However if you, as a consumer, want to experience something more than just the ideas being presented -- if you want some tangible aspect of those ideas -- that is going to cost you.

Take a look at the Foglio's Girl Genius. You can go to their web site and read the entire series from page 1. You can read ancillary stories that have never been published in paper form. You can download audio plays. All by the creative minds who came up with the idea. All for free. All legally available for free.

And yet, the Foglios are making a living drawing comics. How? By selling the tangible goods related to their story. You can buy the original pages of art. You can buy collected graphic novel versions of the story. You can buy t-shirts and mouse pads and coffee mugs. All of that costs you, the consumer, money. But what are you paying for? You're not paying for the image of Agatha Heterodyne, you're paying for the raw materials that image is on. Whether it's bound sheets of paper or molded plastic, you're paying for stuff. Actual, tangible stuff.

George Carlin used to have a routine about all the stuff people have. But he was, in effect, making fun of consumerism. The act of amassing larger and larger piles of stuff which is only representative of our thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Or, more accurately, representative of other people's thoughts, ideas and experiences which we would like to share.

Because what is reading a comic book, but an experience? There are any number of ways we can participate in that experience and share it with others. But we frequently choose to have that experience represented as a series of 32 page pamphlets, shoved in a ever-growing number of long boxes. We're paying money NOT for the experience itself, but for a tangible representation of that experience.

Here's another example: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. You can download a copy of the original text of the book here. You can download a copy of someone reading the text here. You can download a comparatively recent comic book adaptation of the original story here. All of these are completely free and completely legal, and will sit unobtrusively on your hard drive.

Alternatively, you can head over to Amazon to buy a copy of the book here. Or the same story with annotations. Or the Cliff's Notes version. Or a pop-up version. Or a DVD of Disney's version. Most of which will cost you less than twenty bucks, but you'll have a tangible version to place on your bookshelf.

Alternatively, you could shell out substantially more money to obtain a rare 1899 copy of the book. Or a 1918 copy. Or an original animation cel from one of the various movies. You still get a tangible version, plus you get the ability to place it under glass and have your friends "Oooo" and "Aaaah" over it.

In any of those scenarios, you get essentially the same story. The same thoughts and ideas Lewis Carroll put down 150-some years ago. But some will cost you a good deal more than others, and for what? For a different delivery method. For a different object. For a different piece of stuff.

I could go to the Folgio's web site every other day and read their latest story developments one page at a time. Or I download an audio version of Alice and listen to it while I walk the dog. But I actively choose to buy Girl Genius as it gets published in a trade paperback format. I actively choose to buy a new/different edition of Carroll's masterpiece. I am willing to pay for a specific delivery method for content which is freely available.

Four bucks is too much for a 32-page gamble on what may or may not be a decent story but that's NOT how people sample comics. They read previews and pirated copies online and, then, if they like it, they drop a few bucks for a printed copy of it. Sure, some people will always have an impulse purchase in their LCS from time to time when they see something that strikes their fancy. But that's not the primary business model going deeper into the 21st century. It can't be because it's too cost-prohibitive from a consumer standpoint.

The corollary to this, of course, is that the current system at Diamond doesn't work. It's built and structured around an untenable model in which not only are samples unavailable, but the purchases must be made months in advance, often before the product is even itself complete. That it's sustained itself this long honestly surprises me to no end. Many people have complained about issues with Diamond over the years, but as creators and publishers recognize better ways to generate income (i.e. the "Airship Entertainment Publishing Model") Diamond will become less and less relevant to publishers' revenue streams. The start of COVID only amplified many of the issues that were already there.

Which actually presents something of an opportunity. Comic fans will want to be able to sample more and more comics, but they won't want to have to go to each publishers' web site to download samples. I think someone will be able to clean house in another decade or so if they were able to A) establish themselves as a one-stop repository for all publishers' sample/downloadable comics, and B) also set themselves up as a retailer so that you could not only sample, but order whatever comics/graphic novels you like. Sure, you'd get some folks who read the digital versions and never ordered anything, but it would go a long way to creative diversity in the field and helping to support the smaller, independent folks who otherwise wouldn't get the shelf space that's normally devoted to Marvel and DC.

* Admittedly, the 'net is still lacking dimensions for taste, touch, and smell but I'm largely talking about comic books here. The content of comics only has the dimension of sight. The smell and touch of an old comic, while certainly notable to the experience, is generally not intended or designed by the creators. The only portion of the comic reading experience they even attempt to influence is sight -- which is wholly replicable online.
When I first started blogging and was still trying to find my place in the blogosphere, I tried a recurring feature called 'Monkey of the Week' where I spotlighted one cover from that week's releases that featured a monkey or ape on it. It was a spin on the old notion that simply adding a monkey/ape to the cover of a comic would help boost sales. The idea is attributed to DC editor Julie Schwartz, but it's not quite what he had said. His idea was that it needed to be a gorilla (not just any primate) AND that they were doing something "un-gorilla like." Schartz attributed the idea very specifically to the sales of Strange Adventures #8, but that title doesn't feature another gorilla appearance for another two years after that issue, so I'm thinking Schwartz made that part up just to have a good story to tell fans. In any event, it was a real thing of sorts and pubishers still do it, although mostly in a tongue in cheek manner.

I tried running a 'Monkey of the Week' feature for a while but it got a bit dull since Y: The Last Man was still ongoing at the time, Tony Millionaire was still producing new Sock Monkey stories, a Planet of the Apes comic was just winding down and Marvel had just launched a Marvel Apes title. So it was pretty easy to pull out the same titles week after week. But on a whim, literlly this morning, I decided I'd take a look to see if there were any monkey covers for this week. It didn't take much to come across this...
Blip the space monkey, right there under the title character, getting about as much promimence as the two sidekicks.

Kind of amusing to know the idea is alive and well, almost 75 years after Schwartz first hit upon it and a decade and a half since I checked to see if it's still a thing.
I was recently reminded of the MarvelMasterworks.com website. It was started in 2001 by John Rhett Thomas and initially just kept track of Marvel's Masterworks books, which volumes were out and reprinted which issues. He later began including info on any of Marvel's reprint volumes, and an increasingly regular news section noting what new works were coming out and when. And that news section broadened to include DC's volumes as well as some from Image and Dark Horse. At the time, I was making an active effort to familiarize myself with the early histories of Marvel's characters from the 1960s that I was less familiar with, probably most motably Daredevil and Dr. Strange. So I was trying to track down reprints of the stories from that era, as the originals were far too expensive for my interests.

Today, in 2024, that sounds a little odd that I would need a specific resource for figuring out which issues were reprinted and where. But keep in mind the state of publishing at that time. Marvel's reprint program was still pretty nacent. "Waiting for the trade" simply was not a thing because there was there was no regular trade paperback program. Sure, there were some perennial books that were in regular circulation but the pamphlet-issue-to-TPB pipeline didn't exist. If you missed any given issue, it was probably UNlikely to see it later collected. And everything from maybe 1965-1995 was a complete non-starter; you had to either get the originals or find the back issue of a specific reprint title like Marvel Tales or Marvel Triple Action. And that was only if you were looking for "name" titles like the Avengers or X-Men.

And what options did you have for looking that data up anywhere? Amazon had only been around about five years, so they did have plenty of book listings but descriptions were spotty at best if they were even present. Marvel's website had zero historical information. Comixology -- indeed digital comics in general -- wouldn't come along for several years. Wikipedia was only launched in 2001 itself, so it didn't have much information yet. There were a couple of commercial comics sites online (like Mile High Comics) but they rarely listed anything beyond the title. The Grand Comics Database was definitely a good resource in general, but it had minimal, if any, reprint information. If you wanted to find if a specific issue had been reprinted and, if so, where, you really didn't have much in the way of options. Your best bet was maybe asking a message board or Usenet and hoping someone with the answer saw your question, but given that your message might be seen by a couple dozen people at best, that was hit or miss at best.

Recall that the first web browser that didn't look like command line inputs wasn't until 1993. By 2000, while the internet had grown considerably, less than half of Americans had access to it at all and barely 5% of the population worldwide. (By way of comparison, about 97% of Americans have access today and 66% worldwide.)

The mindset of people using the internet then was different. A higher percentage of them were geeks of some sort or another, and that came with an attitude of, "Well, if this information isn't out there now, I guess I'll have to be the one to post it." And, to be fair, some of that was an early form of trying to be an influencer within a small niche. There was some measure of ego involved in trying to be THE "worldwide" (though, realisically, just North American) expert on some geek topic like, in my own case, the Fantastic Four.

But as more and more people came online, those resources became spread out. And, more significantly, more companies started realizing they could draw in users with that data and commericalize it. Much of it was/is straightforward and obvious -- "The Hulk Masterworks volume 10 includes a reprint Hulk #180, which features the debut of Wolverine. You should buy it from us!" Some of it is a little more convoluted -- "The Werewolf by Night character first showed up in Marvel Spotlight before getting his own title. Those early issues are presented in Werewolf by Night Masterworks volume 1. And if you'd like to cosplay as the character, you can check out the costumes from our sponsor..." The data that those early netizens made public freely has become shared and re-shared enough to become nearly ubiquitous, and it's mostly about companies fighting for getting the best keyword placement on related search terms to earn money from it.

Believe me, I'm not sitting here trying to wax nostalgic over what the internet used to be like. I spent YEARS scouring the internet through the early 2000s trying to prove to myself that the TV show Hot Fudge really existed and wasn't just some weird fever dream I had. I could find literally no mention of it at all anywhere and was genuinely beginning to believe I had imagined the whole thing! (If you don't know Hot Fudge, imagine if Sid and Marty Krofft tried to remake Seasame Street in 1976 but made the focus on teaching about feelings instead of letters and numbers. It was trippy AF!) The internet was indeed a kind of Wild West back then, and frequently not in an idyllic way. Vast empty spaces where you think there should be something, but there simply was a void. But my point here is that, for those of you who weren't online 25 years ago, it's worth tooling around on "outdated" sites like MarvelMasterworks.com when you come across them. Rather than looking them as a dated relic of days-gone-by, try to imagine what the internet would've been like that such a site needed to be created in the first place. There is indeed a lot of negative things about the internet today in 2024, but there was a different set of negative things about it a quarter century ago too, not the least of which is that some information was largely dependent on a single person making sites like that just because literally no one else bothered with it.