Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay was a wonderful cartoonist in the earlier days of the art form. His "Little Nemo in Slumberland" comic strip is often considered a masterpiece and, having read all them, I can't say I disagree. McCay literally pioneered the form and produced a wonderful strip that continually pushed the boundaries of what one can do with a comic. I find it fascinating that so many of the elements he originated are, when used today, still considered "cutting-edge."

To call him a brilliant cartoonist is an understatement, and I heartily suggest that you all look up his work.

What I'm going to present today, though, is a piece of his pioneer work in animation. McCay created what is generally attributed to be the first animated feature cartoon: Gertie the Dinosaur. It's an eight-minute piece from 1914 in which McCay brings a dinosaur to life. Originally, he produced it as a performance piece in which McCay himself stood in front of the animation and issued verbal commands to Gertie. In wider distribution, his portion of the performance was shot on film and presented as part of the Gertie cartoon itself -- although in 1914 it was no less astonishing.

I've actually known of the Gertie cartoon for some time and had seen five and ten second snippets from time to time. I'd even searched the Internet periodically for the past several years without seeing anything more than still shots. But today, I was thrilled to finally find that someone has posted a full version of the cartoon, which I'd like to share with you all now...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Comic Diversity

This past Sunday's edition of the New York Times featured an article about the diversity of characters in Marvel and DC's comics. I don't have much to add to it, but I thought I'd pass along a link to it...

"Straight (and Not) Out of the Comics by George Gene Gustines

Monday, May 29, 2006

Kleefeld IN Comics

You know, one of the things I've long thought would be cool would be to be portraye as a character in a comic book. Not necessarily a major player like Spider-Man or even someone more minor like one of the Metal Men, but just a name-dropped kind of thing. Just an acknowledgement kind of thing.

Now I might have the opportunity through Moonstone's Buckaroo Banzai contest. The first place in the contest includes being drawn into the story as one of the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

So the question I have at the moment is, should I win, would that satiate my interest in being in a comic story? I somehow doubt it. I think I might feel that I "cheated" my way in, and I would otherwise not have been considered "worthy" enough as a character.

Yeah, I'm thinking very egotistically here but, hey, this is MY blog and that's kind of the point, isn't it?

Alex Toth

Well, as I'm sure you've heard if you're coming to read this blog, Alex Toth died on May 27. It's somewhat mandatory that I say a few words about him here, I think.

In all honesty, I'm not nearly as familiar with Toth's work as I probably should be. Oh, sure, I've seen any number of episodes of Space Ghost, Johnny Quest and Superfriends but Toth's work on those projects was largely over after the conceptual stage. He didn't write the stories that were aired, and he didn't do any of the animation. I've seen a handful of the earlier X-Men comics Toth did, but that's about the extent of his comic work that I've seen. In fact, I've seen more of his "columns" in Alter Ego than I have of his actual comic work.

And that's something that I need to correct.

From where I sit, I want to know how all of comics inter-relate. If Dan Slott says that Fabian Nicieza was an influence on him, I figure I should see what Nicieza did. If Walt Simonson says Jack Kirby was a big influence, I'm going to go back to see what The King did. (In these two cases, I was already pretty well aware of the Nicieza and Kirby before I knew of Slott of Simonson, though!) I've been trying to get my hands on a cheap copy of Steve Canyon and Pogo reprints because I've heard so many people reference those stories. And I can't tell you the number of times I've heard comic creators say that Toth was an influence on them.

But, for some reason, I've never really been able to track his work down. I suppose it was low enough on the priority list that it was never really feasible financially. There are SO many things out there I want to read and study, I can't afford to get them all. And even if I could, I've got a pretty good stack of things that I've bought but haven't read yet as it is! I think my Essential Dracula volume 2 has been sitting on the shelf since it was originally released and my Green Lantern Archives volume 3 is still shrink-wrapped! Not to mention several dozen Golden Age Marvel books that I've had on microfiche for the past two years and haven't even seen the light of day yet. So I have to say that I can't feel terribly guilty for not having studied Toth yet.

That said, he IS on my list of creators to become more familiar with. It's just that... well, I guess it should (unfortunately) become easier as companies start trying to capitalize on his death by releasing reprints of his materials.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Nextwave

Okay, I've officially been won over by Nextwave. I'm not a huge Warren Ellis fan and, while I definitely enjoy Stuart Immonen's art, it's not enough to win me over to a book by itself. But I'd heard good things about Nextwave and gave it a shot for a few issues to see how I'd like it. There was always JUST enough to bring me back for the next issue, but not quite enough for me to really commit to it long-term. But there was enough in #5 to really sell the book to me. To wit...

"I swear to God, nowhere on Earth do they talk like you, Tabby."

"My generic set of special super hero abilities includes a broader scale of vision."

"Moo hoo ha ha."

"Ha. Fear my robot head."

"Aaron, help them. "

"Schrodinger's death!"

Plus, we get flashbacks to some slightly twisted versions of the Avengers and X-Force, the death of "Special Bear" and a Celestial doing the "L for Loser" sign on his forehead. Great stuff all around.

Go get yourself a copy today!

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Phantom

I happened to notice that The Phantom movie starring Billy Zane in the title role is going to be on the next day or two. (I set up things to record it -- I forget when exactly it's on.) I've seen the last half hour or so before, and I remember the trailers when it was originally released. And yes, I'm fully aware that it's not a great movie.

But you know, The Phantom is a great concept. You've got this adventurer-type character with a built-in longevity factor. Built-in mystery and intrigue. If you need to update it for different mediums and even genres. It's just a great concept that, I think, has languished WAY too much in the past several decades. Sure, there've been a few attempts to revive the character and he's actually got a decent comic book out now. There was the cartoon about a decade ago or so that I thought was pretty decent, but it got shafted by the network from the get-go.

To my understanding, the Phantom has actually had a fair amount of continued success OUTSIDE the United States. Why am I not surprised? Yet another great quality fiction created outside the U.S. with no real support within the United States.

* sigh *

I'm not sure which is more depressing -- that many of the great concepts I like and appreciate are generated outside the U.S. or that my so-called countrymen dismiss the concept because it's foreign.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Classic Comics

Okay, this past week I picked up some old Avengers comics from the mid-1970s. Steve Englehart and John Buscema. Talk about your classic material! And as I was sitting there reading through them, it really struck home why this stuff was so "classic" compared to what I'm reading today.

Sure, there's a nostalgia factor involved. ("They don't make 'em like they used to!") But there were certain elements that were a given in each story. For example, I was starting in the middle of some story arc, but there was sufficient synopsis and character identification that I was quickly able to pick up and run with it. There was no need for a full-page text explanation of what happened the past two or three dozen issues; everything I needed was in the story itself. Similarly, the end of the story provided some sense of closure. Yes, there was a cliff-hanger ending to entice the reader to pick up the next issue, but the main questions and plot points addressed at the start of the issue were resolved by the end of it. And, ultimately, those things made for a very satisfying read.

(Of course, gorgerous John Buscema art never hurt anyone either!)

Now your typical response to these types of notices is that the market today doesn't support serial story-telling the way it used to. Readers are more likely to "wait for the trade" and get one longer story without these definitive 22 page chapters all the way through it.

There's certainly a degree of truth there. Trade paperbacks have become much more popular in recent years, and the more traditional periodical format less so. But here's where we run into problems. The serial comic requires a certain format. You've got 22 pages to tell a whole, or part of, a story every month. That should include whatever information is necessary for a new reader to pick up and start running with it. To some degree, "writing for the trade" follows a similar format, but the main story is more self-contained and character introduction and definition are drawn out over the entire story. Which is fine if you're reading it in a trade paperback format, but it doesn't work in the monthly, serialized format because you've got arbitrary story breaks in what's otherwise treated as a continuous narrative.

I don't have a problem if writers want to "write for the trade" but it seems to me that if they're going to do so, then the results should be published as a trade and not as a serial. Ever try reading Edgar Rice Burroughs? Tarzan and John Carter? They don't work as single novels because they were written as serials. Which means that the protagonists are up against an impossible challenge at the end of every chapter. Likewise, taking a longer format -- say, a two hour movie -- and serializing it -- say, into a series of twenty minute TV episodes aired once a week -- doesn't work.

There are strengths and weaknesses to any format of fiction. I just think that writers and artists should work towards the strengths of the format they're primarily working in, and editors should not force one format into another.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Reviewing Comics

I just finished writing a review for Thing #6 over at my FFPlaza web site. As I've mentioned here before, I've become a quick fan of Dan Slott's and this issue is no exception.

But what in reviewing the book, I was reminded that I actually spent a fair amount of time reviewing comics back in the late 1990s. I believe I've covered that story here. What I didn't mention, though, was that I was actually somewhat relieved to stop doing comic reviews. What I found was happening was that I was focusing rather intently on critical analysis, and I wasn't just sitting back and enjoying the stories. And that's the reason why I want to keep reading comics: to enjoy the stories.

Interestingly, Tales of Wonder recently announced that they were looking for reviewers, and I promptly sent off some samples. (I haven't heard back from them yet, BTW.) So what's the difference between then and now?

Well, money, to be frank. Back when I was doing those other reviews, I was effectively reviewing EVERY book I was reading. I wasn't able to sit back and enjoy anything. These days, I spend quite a bit more on comics and I'm certain that if I do get a freelance reviewer gig at Tales of Wonder, I won't be reviewing each and every book I read. I can still kick back and just read some books for the sheer enjoyment of it.

THAT'S why I'm not writing more reviews for FFPlaza, and why I think I'll be able to handle working on them for Tales of Wonder.

Of course, that's kind of egotistically assuming I'll get a reviewer gig with them.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Short Attention Span Theater

For some reason, the past couple of weeks, I've been mentally bouncing around from project to project. I've got a dozen or so ideas running through my head of just cool stuff to work on.

I know myself well enough to know that I will return to focus on comics relatively soon. But it's a weird feeling NOT focusing as much as usual on comics on a daily basis.

I'm left wondering if I was focusing TOO much of comics for TOO long and I needed a break from it. Or is my brain just itching to touch on more creative things, since I haven't had much to do creative in my professional life.

Proof once again that some psychologist needs to sit down and figure out how the mind of a comic fan works.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Girls' Love Stories

You know, I'm almost of the opinion that if you can't find something online, then it doesn't exist. Of course, one of my latest searches puts that to the test.

I was given, some time back, a coverless copy of Girls' Love Stories. I know it's Girls' Love Stories because the title is printed on the top of each and every page throughout the book. The issue seems pretty unremarkable in most respects -- the stories are your typical 1950s comic book romances, the art is serviceable but largely not noteworthy, there's some interesting coloring in places but that's offset by the lousy printing job that was done.

But like many books of the time, the indicia was printed on the inside cover, which -- as I said -- is missing. That leaves me with a book that I can't effectively catalog in my collection database.

I've done some research on the title and did note that at least one of the stories' titles showed up on the cover of each issue. So, theoretically, all I should need to do is find an image of a cover with one of the stories' titles on it, and I'll know what issue I have. I've gone through every cover image I can find online -- at the Grand Comic Book Database, Mile High Comics, Lone Star Comics, eBay... -- and none of the covers I've found match any of the titles of the stories in my book!

So let me put this out there: does anyone know what issue of Girls' Love Stories features "Girl in the Shadows", "Never Say Good-Bye", "Legacy of Love", "Two Loves Have I" (which seems to have been reprinted multiple times) and/or "Take a Letter Sweetheart" on the cover? Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Thing Cancelled

Damn it!

Evidently Dan Slott's "Pull My Thing" campaign was not a success and the book has been cancelled due to poor sales. I certainly can't fault Marvel too much for this, as they have to continue to make a profit to stay in business, but damn if I'm not disappointed. I really wanted this book to continue. As I've said before, it really has been one of the best books on the market and it's a shame that it didn't generate a stronger following.

I'm sorry, Dan. I tried.

Hmph! Lousy mood to try to go to bed with. :(

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Stories from Fandom

One of the things I've mentioned before that I've been trying to study/understand is the notion of comic book fandom. I've also noted that there hasn't been much written about it, so I've been looking at Sci-Fi fandom in my research as well. Well, a curious thing happened recently...

I've been watching the new* episodes of Doctor Who -- The Wife and I both actually enjoy them quite a bit. But one of the things that has mentioned repeatedly in the story is this so-called Time War which evidently happened between the last TV movie and this new series. They've never said too much about it, and they seem to be leaving it open as this mysterious part of the Doctor's past. It leaves a lot up to the imagination of viewers and, more than likely, probably rightly so. It's supposed to be such a huge event in the Doctor's life that it would almost impossible to portray that on screen.

Now, what that does, naturally, is get my mind wandering about what this Time War could possibly be. And somewhere it gets into my head that -- while I couldn't film an entire TV show or movie about it, I could probably put something together to make a 2-3 minute trailer for it. Still leaves a lot to the imagination, but it would satisfy my need to see the Time War story. So I've started working on that in some of my free time.

What does this have to do with comic fandom?

Well, nothing directly. But it's fascinating to me how I've gotten this impulse to spend a lot of energy on a project that will do nothing but satisfy my own, selfish, creationist desires. It seems to me that something like that must translate to comics as well, giving rising to comic book fan fiction and art and such. It's all just a matter of being able to remove oneself from... oneself to be able to analyze what the heck is going on in one's own fevered brain!

* Well, I say "new" but they're only new to us here in the United States. Over in Great Britain, they've moved on to an even newer Doctor already.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Torrent of Comics

I've known about torrents for a little while now -- maybe a year or two -- but I've only recently had the time to see how exactly they work. I had tried previously on a Mac and had about zero success getting the software to work properly (which is really strange given that A. it's a Mac, and B. I'm generally extremely savvy with Macs) but I wasn't overly concerned about it, and didn't have THAT strong of a desire at the time. So I left it alone.

I recently began -- for a variety of reasons -- working more regularly on a PC. Coupled with some additional free time, I've been playing around with BitTorrent and seeing what I could do. For those who don't know, it's basically a process by which you can download and upload files with other people online. I won't get into the specifics of it, but you're effectively downloading parts of the same file from different individuals' computers. So if one person turns his PC off, then you can pick up the next part of the file from someone else. It's an interesting system, to be sure.

My first downloads were some "mandatory" comic readings that weren't already on my bookshelf: Crisis on Infinite Earths, V for Vendetta and Blankets. One was just in PDF form while the other two required me to download and install some additional software to view them properly. The downloads went very smoothly, running in the background while I did other things. Once they were complete, it was a simple matter to burn the files to a CD and port them around to wherever I wanted. And in the meantime, since my computer still has those files on it, I'm effectively sharing those very same documents with anyone else who tries downloading them.

Which beg the questions: is this legal and is this ethical?

Well, it will probably be considered illegal in much the same way that Napster was. Torrenting hasn't, to my knowledge, come up in our justice system at all yet. Prosecution will be, I think, more difficult as well, since there's really no one big player. Heck, you can't even say one guy is doing a majority of the file sharing since the nature of the set-up itself means that everybody's sharing with everybody else. In the meantime, though, I'm sure it'll be considered a grey area until someone decides to file suit over the whole deal. (Of course, I don't know who they'll sue...)

Ethically speaking, I'm not entirely sure where this falls. I'm not paying for any services... the files are free and the software is free. The issue is more one of whether the trademark and copyright holders have a right to be paid someone sharing their files with me. Back in the day, people did in fact share their comics. One kid would buy Superman and another would buy Batman and they'd both get to read each book. Four reading experiences for the price of two. This is similar in that one person bought and read the book, and then is sharing it with someone else. Who shares it with someone else. Who shares it with someone else. The obvious problem with this scenario is that, if enough people share the books instead of buying them, the company doesn't make enough money to pay for producing them in the first place. It's similar to the tragedy of the commons -- if everyone doesn't play by the same rules, everyone ultimately gets shafted.

So, can I justify downloading files that I haven't paid for?

I think I can safely say "yes" for a few reasons. First, I have given thousands of dollars over the years to Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Archie, Oni, Slave Labor, Alias, Quality, and just about every other reasonably sized publisher out there, past and present. I will continue to spend money every week on new comics. Plus, the books I'll download will be ones I wasn't likely to spend money on anyway. There are simply too many other comics I'd be more willing to pay to read before I get to those. In that sense, no one is losing any money by my actions.

Finally, I'm a complete cynic. I've gotten screwed by "the man" (metaphorically speaking, of course; I'm not talking about Stan Lee himself) enough times and ways that I try to take advantage of every faceless corporation I can. I'm not going to commit grand theft or anything, but if I borrow a laptop from work and they never happen to ask about it every again, there's a good chance that it won't make it back to the office. Call it what you like, but I'm tired of being the nice guy who always finishes last. This world has made me way the hell too cynical to not try to take advantage of it from time to time.

So, do I have any problems with downloading whole graphic novels over the Internet without paying for them? Take a guess.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ambilvence Towards Marvel

You know, for many years, I've been a fan of Marvel comics. They've got some really great characters, and have done some really great stories over the years. A lot of stuff that I could really get excited about. Even today, they're putting out some really good material and some of the Marvel books are the ones I most look forward to each month.

But, for as much as I enjoy their books and think they're generally doing some good work, there's enough there that I think is really lousy. I'm not talking about just a bad story here or there, or even a bad series. But sometimes, there are some policies that just make me really irritated at them.

I don't have anything in particular that's bugging me with them at the moment. In point of fact, I was talking with reprint editor Cory Sedlmeier recently and he's got some really groovy plans for the upcoming tenth Fantastic Four Masterworks. But, I've been around long enough to see that not all their plans really seem that well intentioned.

Hmmm, guess blogging when I'm in an "off" mood isn't always the best idea. I don't have any real complaints and I'm trying to complain anyway. Maybe I'll just go to bed.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Nostalgia

I'm generally not very partial to bouts of nostalgia, but I'll asmit to one set of stories from my youth that I get nostalgic for from time to time... Battle of the Planets.

It was a Japanese cartoon called Gatchaman that had been ported over to the U.S. and repackaged for American audiences. As a youth, I had no idea of the show's origins, nor did I fully understand that 7-Sark-7 sequences were newly developed by the American packager specifically to try to capture upon the recent popularity of R2-D2. I did recognize, at least, that the sequences did seem to have a somewhat differnt style of animation that didn't quite fit with the rest of the show, but I gave it little thought beyond that.

Now a few years ago, the series re-gained some of its American popularity in no small part thanks to Alex Ross, who helped launch it as a comic book series. DVDs of the original shows came out as well, and I bought many of the comics and one set of DVDs. I've looked up some of the history behind the show as well, and how the violence was toned down for American children.

What does this have to do with comics specifically? Well, I was going through my collection today, cataloging various issues and came across some of the BotP comics. And for no reason other than nostalgia, I pulled out the DVDs again and am sitting here watching them and remembering how much fun I had watching this stuff on Saturday mornings as a kid.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Back to Blogging

Happy Free Comic Book Day! Geez, how did a whole week pass since my last entry? Sorry about that.

Okay, I'm sitting here watching Marvel's Man-Thing made-for-TV movie. I recorded it off the Sci-Fi channel a week or two ago. Now, as I said earlier, I'm not that keen in general on movies based on comic book properties.

However, I've been trying catch up on them the past month or two. It occurred to me that these movies are how most people these days have contact with the comic book industry and, regardless of what stories occur in the comics, most people will know the characters via their movie incarnations. It seems to me that most conversations about comics I'm going to have with non-comic fans are going to start off with something like...

"So, you like comic books? Bet you loved the X-Men movies, eh?"

...or...

"Hey, you're into comics? Yeah, I watch Smallville all the time."

Hurm. Well, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch Smallville more than once, but I can handle an hour and a half movie, no matter how bad it is. Well, nearly. I had to fast-forward through the last 20 minutes or so of Barb Wire.

My point is that, in order to bring folks into to the comic fold, I should be willing to "indulge" in the aspects of comicdom that I don't wholly care for. Just call me a 'bridge.' :)