Thursday, August 31, 2006

Feedback

Well, the final episode of Who Wants to be a Superhero? aired earlier tonight, and it would seem that Feeback is the winner.

I certainly have to give him a fair amount of credit. The character idea is one of the more original ones I've seen/heard of in quite some time, and he seemed to "get" what Stan Lee was trying to coach out of each of the contestants more than anyone else. And, in that sense, it would seem that he was the ideal choice for a winner.

Of course, The Wife here pointed out here that, from a story-telling perspective, he didn't work quite as well as some of the others. I certainly epathized with him, as a fellow comic book fan, but she noted that he seemed a bit unstable. Fat Mamma also had concerns for his mental well-being throughout the show. Whether that potential for instability was played up by the editors/producers or he really is skating on the razor's edge of sanity, I don't know, but in either case, it makes him somewhat less engaging as a character. It's harder for people to identify with that -- and The Wife noted that she really had no interest in the show at all once Major Victory was eliminated.

Regardless, I do have to take some modicum of pride that the final victory was given to one of "us" -- one of the guys who goes into the comic shop regularly and takes his social cues from four-color heroes because no one else is willing to listen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New Comic Day At The New Shop

Today was my first time at my new local comic shop on a Wednesday. I'd avoiding intentionally before since I was trying to set up my pull list and get a feel for the layout of the store and such; I obviously didn't want to be tripping over all the other customers while I was doing that.

But I swang by today a little after noon today to pick up my new books, and I was surprised when I pulled in that the parking lot was relatively open. This shop is in sort of a ultra-mini strip mall -- I think there are four, maybe five other stores there -- so the parking lot is essentially just one row of spaces across the fronts of the stores. You could probably get 15 or 20 cars there before you'd have to start parking on the side streets or something.

When I had visited the shop prior to today, I had been there at what I'd consider "off" times. Three-thirty on a Thursday or something. There were around half of the parking spaces filled then, so I figured that at noonish on a Wednesday, the comic shop alone would eat up most of the "extra" spaces. I didn't figure the lot would be totally full, but I was betting I wouldn't have more than one or two spots to choose for myself. I was obviously quite surprised to see that half the spots were still open today!

And when I went inside, there wasn't all that much activity. Well, they had just gotten some cases of HeroClix and they were in the process of opening/sorting them, so there was activity, but not the kind I would've expected. There was one guy that walked in a little while after me -- evidently a regular who was into the gaming side of things -- and another guy who came in shortly before I left. He must've been fairly new to the store, too, as the owner didn't seem to recognize him.

I was looking at the calendar of events on their web site, and there's a lot of stuff focused on gaming. Maybe they've found that that's more lucrative for them, and their clientele is somewhat different than what I would consider "normal" for a comic shop. Just an unusual experience, not having to trip over half a dozen people to see the wall of new books.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Comic Book Creator

Late last year, Planetwide Games released their Comic Book Creator software. It basically allowed you to take artwork and drop it onto a comic book page layout. Word balloons and sound effects were treated sort of like clip art, and you could essentially collage a comic book page out of whatever you felt like. My understanding is that many, if not most, people dropped in photos of themselves and friends and created their fumetti style comics. It's my guess that this wasn't a huge seller, but software standards, but...

I just learned that the same company is coming out (sometime in September) with licensed versions of the same product. I gather it's just about the same software, but it would include a gallery of, for example, Spider-Man clip art.

Now, I'm sure this is a great deal for Marvel. They can license their characters out to Planetwide Games and just rake in whatever cash PG agrees to. PG, though, won't be doing as well, I suspect. I expect that their original software has paid for itself by now, so there wouldn't be much in the way of additional development. However, I'm sure they had to fork over a decent pile of cash to Marvel, Sony, Speed Racer Enterprises, and whomever else they're getting characters from. And that, I doubt, will be covered by the sale of these newer products.

My bet is that people liked the original because they could put their own characters into it very easily. Whether that was their own character drawings or photos of themselves or whatever; it was very clearly THEIR comic book they were creating. But if you're going to create a Spider-Man comic, and you're limited to a handful of clip art drawings of him, you won't be able to create a story that's very original. It will look like a rip-off of whatever Marvel has put out that month, and it will almost inherently be inferior because of the limitations of the art. Why put in a lot of work to see the same couple dozen Spidey poses over and over, when you can drop three bucks on the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man and get many more poses with what's likely a better story.

But what do I know? Maybe the licensing rights are cheaper than I'm thinking they'd be, and PG will make money hand over fist for almost no additional work.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Breaking In A New Shop

I start my new job with GE on Monday, which is about 15/20 minutes south of where I'd been working at Wright State Univeristy. Now, I had been fortunate in that I had a comic shop only about ten minutes from WSU, which made it very convenient to swing over on Wednesday during my lunch hour to pick up my new comics every week. With this new position, though, I could maybe just about run up to the shop and back during my lunch hour with no extra time to look around or browse or anything.

Fortunately, I discovered that there's another shop only a mile and a half away from GE, so I can pick up my new comics on Wednesday's lunch break with even more time to look around. Of course, the issue is now I have to "break in" this new shop. They don't know me there, or know my likes or dislikes, or what I might want to chat about while I'm in the shop.

What I did, though, was make a couple of trips to the shop prior to my begining my new job. I met the owners and got my pull list set up. But now I have to get used to going to this new shop and how they're set up and all that. Plus, I learned that they've only been around for just three years -- that's great that they've made it past the first couple of years, but it's still early in their life as a comic shop and that could mean that they might not make it very much longer.

Well, we'll see how it goes. I've been lucky in frequenting gerenally well-run shops over the years, and I hope I can continue that trend.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tri-Con... Psych!

This week's episode of Psych featured Shawn and Gus tracking down a kidnap victim who had planned on attention the fictional Tri-Con in Santa Barabara where George Takai was a guest. Shawn, a fake psychic, felt out of his element but still managed to blend in well and Gus, resident geek, not only fit in, but knew several of the convention-goers. ("The guy in the codpiece? Yeah, I know him. His name's Dave. And he's a nice guy.")

I enjoyed the episode because, while it still played to some stereotypes of geeky comic book fans who can't get dates, it also noted that two of the main characters -- Gus and Juliet -- are comic book fans and still reasonably well adjusted. Not all comic fans are slobbering geeks, not all fans dress up in colorful cosutmes, and not every fan breaks down into tears when his personal Holy Grail is ripped in half.

So, kudos to the writers of the show for that!

Now, what I'm concerned about it is that the show, on the whole, can easily go down the same route as Monk. Great concept, cleverly designed characters, but no consistency. Any single episode of Monk is pretty good in and of itself, but taken as a whole, the character of Adrian Monk is all over the map. He's deathly of afraid of whatever makes things convenient for the writers for that particular episode and that's it. My concern with Pysch is that Gus seems to be the resident geek with an unusual knowledge of "geeky" trivia regardless of what aspect of geekdom is present. He's already shown a high interest/knowledge in locks/security, comic books, and spelling bees. That's not infeasible, but will we see him expert in computers, video games, and ham radio next season? Keep in mind, too, that we're not even talking about his day job as a pharmaceutical salesman!

Anyway, it was an enjoyable way to end the first season. Let's see how well they do come January.

Friday, August 25, 2006

What It Takes To Be An Editor

Tom Brevoort's been high on my list of Grade A-1 editors for many years now. Probably almost as long as he's been an editor. I'm having trouble verbalizing at the moment the influence Tom has had on my perception of comics, but that's not what I wanted to write about now anyway.

What I wanted to note was that, over on Tom's Marvel blog, he's been hosting a 'game' where two fans get to play editor for a couple of weeks. They post their ideas on what they would each do with a number of titles, and Tom responds with how their actions impact the books' sales and the creators' schedules. It's all fiction, of course, and using a drastically accelerated schedule, but it's doing a phenomenal job of showing some of what goes in to editting a monthly comic book. I mean, it's all well and good to say, "Well, I'd just put such-n-such creator on the book and watch sales skyrocket," but it's another thing altogether if that very creator has absolutely no desire to work on the book. Or what about office politics? It's easy to say, "We'll throw in Venom for a guest appearance," but what if the Spider-Man office has the character tied up for the next year?

As I said, it's all fiction and much of it is being written by Tom. Would Al Williamson really turn down a one-issue fill-in job? Woudl Travis Charest agree to do covers for Daredevil? I can't say with any degree of certainty, and I dare say Tom can't say with 100% certainty, but he's knowledgable enough about the industry -- from the inside, out -- that he's coming across as a very fair and impartial judge. (No surprise there.) And in the process, the audience is being told a thing or two about what kinds of things go on inside the Marvel offices and what types of things one has to deal with as an editor.

Kudos on a great idea, Tom!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blankets Review

I just finished reading Craig Thompson's Blankets. Clocking in at just shy of 600 pages, it looks a little daunting at first, but it was in fact a pretty smooth read. I probably could have finished it much sooner than I did, but I tried to make a point of spending some time studying some of his page layouts and individual illustrations.

The story is autobiographical. It relays the story of Thompson's first love and his coming to grips with his own religious beliefs. But that hardly says much about the book, does it?

Let me say first that the artwork is wonderful. There's a deep richness in Thompson's illustrative style, and his brush work gives everything a very lush depth. He also uses it to great advantage when trying to communicate the mood of any given scene. The illustrations themselves, too, take some cues from Japanese comics. Not that the book appears manga-ish in any way, but Thompson's backgrounds are detailed and realistic, while the characters themselves are simplified and iconics -- allowing for the reader to more easily become in touch with them. (Something I -- and I suspect Thompson -- picked up from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.) Further, there's some excellent visual symbolism throughout the book, and Thompson clearly has a solid mastery of comic book storytelling.

Although it's not split in two quite so decisively, half of the book concerns Thompson's first love and half concerns the evolution of his religious beliefs. Speaking as someone who pretty conclusively decided to become an aetheist in his early teens, I found it difficult to relate to the religious parts of the book. Not counting weddings, I can count on one hand the number of times I've been in a church of any denomination. I'm just not a religious guy, so I had a lot of difficult in relating to those portions of the book.

That said, though, I identified quite heavily with the love story and felt that worked extremely well. While I can't say that I've had quite the same physical or spiritual experiences in my love life, I can easily see myself in the emotional experiences. Thompson seems to do a very effective job of drawing the reader into the story, and it's largely my profound lack of faith in a supreme being that prevented me from becoming even more engrossed in the story.

With all that said, I really enjoyed most of the book.

Most.

I was really disappointed with the ending. Oh, I could handle the fact that it doesn't exactly have a "happily ever after" ending -- some of my favorite stories in fact are center on dystopian futures where the protagonist dies -- but I felt that the ending suggested that, because Thompson drew this story out, the actual events of the story were irrelevant to his life. I suspect I'm reading something into his book that wasn't intended. I suspect that he's shooting more for a kind of "it's better to have loved and lost..." but I don't know that that comes across as strongly as it should. For as strong as the rest of the story is, and how clear as the rest of it is, the ending just seemed to fall a little flat.

But, hey, that's just my take on it. Overall, it was still worth reading and I'm glad I had the chance to read it for myself.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The 9/11 Report

So, I'm listening to NPR yesterday and caught part of an interview with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. They were talking about their "graphic adaptation" of The 9/11 Report. What struck me was that this was the first I'd heard about it. This was an international news outlet talking about what is, in effect, a comic book and I hadn't heard anything about it in my usual comic book specific news sources. So, I went back and checked: nothing at Comics Continuum, The Pulse, Silver Bullet, ICv2, Comic Book Resources... Newsarama had one small link to a USA Today article about it, but that was posted yesterday afternoon. Mark Evanier also posted a brief notice about it on his blog shortly after the NPR report aired.

My first question is: why has the comics community largely ignored this? Any comics project that receives national attention -- especially about a subject as well-known as 9/11 -- should be common knowledge for every comic retailer, certainly, if not every comic reader. "Civil War" has made some national news and retailers have plenty of anecdotal reports about people walking in off the street to see what it's about. The same will likely happen with The 9/11 Report. Folks who try to share their hobby with others need to pick this up so they can talk reasonably intelligently with others who might not otherwise read comics.

A few years back, my sister-in-law asked me abut Maus. She's Jewish and had heard from a friend how powerful a story it was about the Holocaust. She knew that I read comic books and asked what I thought and whether she could borrow it. She didn't know I had it, or even if I had read it, but Maus was her only real gateway to comics. Knowing what a powerful story that was, I had purchased it several years earlier so that, in the event something like this came up, I would be able to respond to it. Now, she's never really pursued comics outside of Maus since that time, BUT I think she has more respect for the medium on the whole and me in particular. I'm not just some 34-year-old kid reading funny books in the basement; I'm someone whose entertainment preference of choice can be every bit as powerful as anything else, and someone who's tastes have matured quite a bit in the past twenty years.

Now, go out and track down some information on The 9/11 Report. It's being partially serialized over at Slate so you don't even have to buy the whole thing to get an idea of what it's about.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Comic Loot

Well, my latest birthday has come and gone, and I'm thrilled with the amount of comic-related loot that was given to me. In lieu of a substantial post, I thought I'd list some of it here...







Black Superheroes, Milestone Comics, and Their Fans
This is "an examination of contemporary comic book fandom as it relates specifically to the texts published by Milestone Media." I'm certainly interested in it from the standpoint of a non-caucasian viewpoint of comics, but I'm also keenly interested in the fandom aspect as well. Is there a significant different from "average" comic book fans and Milestone's (predominantly) African-American fan base? Is comic fandom universal in its interpretation, or does it vary from sub-culture to sub-culture?
Blankets
This garnered such critical acclaim a few years back that I wanted to make sure I got a chance to read it.
Fade From Blue #9
Brilliant series that ended some time back. I missed #9, though, and I've been trying to avoid reading the final issue until I could get this one.
Hulk Visionaries: Peter David, vol. 1 and 2
I have a long-standing interest in the Marvel Universe as a whole, but the Hulk was never one of my favorite characters. That said, though, it's hard not be impressed with the fact that Peter David was on the book for so long. I've enjoyed other PAD stories and I figure it's about time to catch up on what he did over in Hulk.

New Warriors #45
I basically asked for this to fill a hole in my collection. Great series on the whole, though, and this is where I learned to appreciate Fabian Nicieza.
Quicken Forbidden #11-13
I picked up the two TPBs covering the first dozen issues after reading a Newsarama article about it. I was summarily impressed and was looking to read the rest of the issues. Back issue bins proved wholly unhelpful, though, so I'm thrilled that The Wife was able to track these down.


Rocekto TPB
I picked up the first issue when it came out, but in the process of Espinosa changing publishers, that made it almost impossible for me to pick up the subsquent several issues. When the TPB was announced, I opted to skip those issues and concentrate on the ones that occur afterwards. Consequently, I've been sitting on the past several issues, since I haven't had a chance to read the original story arc yet.
Tales to Astonish Masterworks
Come on! High quality reprints of the original TTA stories? How could you NOT want that?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Licensing Free

Yesterday was indeed my birthday (and, I might add, I didn't receive any presents from you!) and I received some Goon action figures from The Wife and a Super Grover figure from my parents. And some things occurred to me while I was opening them...

My interest goes back to my days as a child. When I was a kid, I had a number of the Mego action figures: Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Tarzan... In short, I had a range of characters from several different licenses that all matched each other. I could take my Captain America and Falcon figures down the street and have them meet up with Bobby Stuckert's Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Because the figures were all produced by one company, they all worked together collectively.

Since Mego folded, however, all of the licenses went to all sorts of different companies. The different companies naturally didn't consult one another about their products, and the different figures products no longer matched. The figures' scales were all over the map, production values ranged from appalling to impressive... There was no longer any sort of consistency.

The past few years, though, have seen several companies follow the lead of Toy Biz in figure production. The quality is generally impressive across the board, there aren't too many scales to worry about, and a variety of producers seem in relative tune with one another. So a Toy Biz Black Panther matches in scale and style with Mattel's Superman with Palisade's Kermit the Frog with Mezco's The Goon with Toynami's Thundarr.

Which means I can return to a time and place where licensing issues are no longer noticeable or significant. The Thing, Hellboy and Ookla the Mok can all share the stafe together comfortably. Lara Croft can help Nick Fury and Green Arrow try to take down Magneto. Blue Falcon, Buffy the vampire slayer, and Deathlok can join forces to prevent Electro and Zoltar from reviving a very Boris Karloff-ish Frankenstein's monster.

So, while I may never see these adventures in the pages of my favorite (or even not so favorite) comic books, I can still use my action figures to help visualize how I think an X-Men/Battle of the Planets/Justice League team-up might look like, regardless of what artistic talents I may or may not have.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Birthday Comes Early

Even though my birthday isn't for two days, The Wife got excited enough to pass along two comics that she had bought for me. One of them was a signed first issue of Prophet of Dreams.

It was an indie title from Broken Tree Comics that came out a few years back by Julian Lawler and Rudy Vasquez. More significantly, it's a comic that I have several pages of original art from. Including the cover! It's artwork I had won a couple of years ago, and have had trouble locating the actual issues. But now, I have the opportunity to compare the original art to the final production of it.

I believe I've mentioned before that I enjoy comparing original art to the actual comics, but this was interesting because most of it was still in pencil form. Unlike Stuart Immonen's pencils -- which I do have a page of -- Vasquez's pencils were very tight. That's not to say Immonen's pencils are loose, but Vasquez's were much tighter.

Fascinating stuff.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I Give Up

Okay, I've been reading Ultimate Fantastic Four for nearly three years now, and I haven't enjoyed it yet. Normally, I don't give that much of a chance to a comic, but I felt obligated to continue reading because I run a Fantastic Four web site. That's not a good reason to read a comic, obviously, but I do really like the source characters and I want to see the Ultimate version do well. After all, if it does well, then more people will want to look up information about the characters -- which they can get from my site.

But, I'm sorry, the zombie crap story just dragged on for FAR too long with far too many problems. It simply wasn't a good story concept in the first place, and it got further weighed down by internal problems.

I haven't yet connected with the Ultimate Fantastic Four on any level and it's no longer on my pull list.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More Clever Than I Gave Them Credit For

There was an oblique reference I caught in The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles about how one might find a dimensioal gateway in a wardrobe: on obvious allusion to C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And it occurred to me that we've seen Alice and Dorothy together relatively frequently, but never with Peter Pan or Christopher Robin or any other characters from classic children's literature. So I did some digging, and discovered that Oz/Wonderland's character Dee is actually Wendy Darling from Peter Pan who's date, Barry, is named after the original author, James M. Barrie, and there seems to be a point of contention in their relative difference in ages. Further, the characters Polly and Suellen seem to be Polly Plummer and Susan Pevensie from C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels.

Oh, and kudos, by the way, to Casey Heying for giving Dorothy silver slippers like the original books instead of ruby ones.

I'll be seriously impressed if one of the "lions, and tiger, and bears" turns out to be Winnipeg the Bear, who was the partial basis for A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-pooh.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Visiting Oz and Wonderland

Still catching up on my comic reading; I just went through The Oz-Wonderland Chronicles #1, Dorothy #6 and Lullaby #4. Since they're all based on children's stories, they invite a bit of comparison.

Oz-Wonderland has one of the better concepts, for me. Dorothy Gale and Alice Liddell have grown up and are in college, largely forgetting their adventures as children. The first issue also sports a gorgeous cover by Joe Jusko. The story itself is fairly well-done, but I felt the interior art was a little lacking. The storytelling was a little clunky in places, and the individual characters seemed a little "off" at times. I read another review that suggested that was from the computer coloring, and I can see that pretty easily.

Dorothy is a dark, modern take on The Wizard of Oz done in a fumetti style. As a fantasy tale, fumetti doesn't always entirely work since one has to blend real photos with models and CG designs. The folks at Illusive Arts do a darn good job, though, and it's only occassionally that you can notice problems. Last issue, for example, one of the minor characters was a modified action figure and didn't seem to fit well standing next to a photo of a human. But each issue has been more successful than the last, and #6 works really well in introducing the Tin Man or, as Dot calls him "Super-Soldier Samuari Bitch!"

Finally, we have Lullaby #4. The overal story has Alice as the "Hand of the Red Queen" teaming up with Red Riding Hood, the Pied Piper, Pinnochio, and Jim Hawkins. The story is co-written by Ben Avery, who's also partly responsible for Oz-Wonderland Chronicles but the artwork has a more distinctive manga style to it, making for a more fantasy-rich story. However, the story is decidedly more slow-moving and it's more difficult to follow the storytelling. I do like the story, but I think I'm working harder at than I probably should.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

New Kirby Artwork

Interestingly -- and unintentionally -- I read Godland #12 last night just before I went to bed and Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters #1 first thing this morning. It's almost impossible to NOT compare the two as they both are very directly building off the foundations of Jack Kirby's career.

In Godland, artist Tom Scioli draws in a classically Kirby-esque style. Squared-off fingers, weird squiggles, extreme foreshortening... To an untrained eye, it could probably be mistaken for Kirby himself. And I don't doubt that some criticisms that have been thrown at Scioli include his aping of Kirby's style. Where Scioli redeems himself is that his page and panel layouts have much of the same power that Kirby's did. Indeed, I was struck in #12 with the power of Scioli's two-page splash where Adam Archer smashes into that floating pyramid. It was a dramatic moment in the story, and Scioli did an excellent job of capturing that.

Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters is a concept that Kirby himself began to develop before he died. It's being fleshed out now by his daughter Lisa and some of Jack's good friends. Most of the book's pencil artwork is from Mike Thibodeaux, although some Jack Kirby sketches were apparently lightboxed into some pages. There's certainly some interesting concepts there and -- while it's impossible for me to tell exactly where Jack Kirby's influence falls to the wayside -- I'm intrigued by the story's structure so far.

What I find distracting, though, is artwork like the piece shown here. The individual illustrations work well enough, but the overall page layout is somewhat clunky. Oh, I like how Tyr bursts out of the top panel, and how his falling carries you down the page, but look at that awkward space between the two panels. That seems to go against Jack's visual senses. In fact, it looks to me as if an old sketch of Jack's was dropped into place and it didn't quite fit the page layout they were trying to work around. There are only a handful of panels like that and, given that Thibodeaux had to train himself to draw with his left hand after suffering nerve damage to his right, I can't say it's worth dismissing the book. I suppose it's largely just frustrating because the rest of the book is clean, polished, and generally well done.

The question is: which is the better legacy of Jack Kirby?

Friday, August 11, 2006

HUZZAH!

Lots of good news on the Kleefeld front this week! Well, not so much "lots" but maybe "big".

I was offered a job by the good folks at GE... working on their web sites in their GE Capital division. (Them's the folks what handles money.) And, as you may know if you've been reading the blog here, that means that I can actually relax a little bit, now that I know there'll be a steady income come September. To celebrate, naturally, I went back to the comic shop and picked up about five or six weeks' worth of books that I'd been missing to help ensure that The Wife and I wouldn't go straight to the poor house.

As I've noted on the site before, I have a $20 weekly allowance for comics. So, theoretically, that means I should've needed to have spent about $120 or so to get caught up. Curiously, though, my total rang up to only $80. Some of that I had explanations for. There just happened to be a 10% off sale at the shop, so I got a bit of a discount there. There were a couple of books, not on my pull list, that had sold out. Just before my comic shop hiatus, there were a couple titles I was getting that had recently ended. But that still doesn't seem to account for all of it.

In any event, last night I had the pleasure of sitting down with a decent-sized stack of comic books and just reading them again. It felt... right. It felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I actually missed holding a comic book in my hands and flipping through the pages, watching a story unfold. The stories I've read so far were, for the most part, enjoyable but I wasn't as concerned about the latest exploits of Spider-Man or Green Arrow as I was that I had a comic book in my hands again.

I suspect that says something about me, but I'm not entirely sure what.

For those curious, here's a list of what I picked up yesterday...

Agents of Atlas #1, Alter Ego #60, Amazing Spider-Man #534, Aquaman #43, Buckaroo Banzai #2, Civil War #3, Daredevil #86-87, Dorothy #6, Fantastic Four #539, Fantastic Four: First Family #6, Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters #1, Godland #12, Green Arrow #64-65, Lullaby #4, New Avengers #22, The Oz-Wonderland Chronicles #1, Rocketo #10, She-Hulk #9-10, Ultimate Fantastic Four #31, and Ultimate Spider-Man #96-98.

I haven't read too many of them yet, but I was surprised by the level of quality of the ones I did read. In particular, New Avengers #22 amd the two Daredevil issues. But I can get more into that later. For now, I'm just thrilled to have a stack of new comics again.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Monkey King

An idea I've been kicking around for the past several days is that of a new comic. ('Cuz I don't have nearly enough to do as it is!) The idea is based loosely on the Chinese legend of the Monkey King. The legend is open to a pretty wide array of interpretations; the character is old enough to be in the public domain; he's not terribly well-known in the U.S. making it look more original; avoiding drawing humans would allow for some greater freedom as an illustrator; plus, who doesn't love monkeys?

I've really got two problems in this area. First is one of format. It seems unlikely that I'll be able to sell this as a comic book straight away, but it should be able to slip into the online comic strip format fairly easily. The issue, though, is that web comics can be relatively open-ended as far as format is concerned. I could make it a "traditional" horizontal strip like you find in the newspaper, but on the web, I'm not limited to that. I can make it considerably longer, or vertical, or something more physically amorphous. It can be three panels or a dozen or a hundred just as easily.

It seems to me that, given the limitless options I have, I should choose a format that best suits the types of stories I'm trying to tell.

Which brings me to my second problem: what types of stories do I want to tell. There are times when I'd like to do just a stupid, one-note gag and there are others when I'd have a political or social statement to make and there are still others when I might want to do an extended adventure story. I was discussing the idea with a friend of mine over lunch, and he did make an intriguing suggestion that would allow me to incorporate all those ideas relatively seamlessly under one umbrella. But I still have to come up with a format that would allow for that flexibility. I have some ideas swirling around in my head, but I think I'll have to do some more decisive sketching to see how it might (or might not) work realistically.

I'll post more as I continue to develop the idea (or don't).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Comic Books vs. Comic Strips

You know what strikes me about comic fans is how little overlap there seems to be between comic book fans and comic strip fans. The visual language of two is the same, but there's not much translation from one format to another. Take a look at Spider-Man. The Spidey comic strip is still syndicated nationwide in newspapers, but how many people who read the strip regularly turn around and buy any of the comics? Conversely, how many of the comic book fans actively hunt down the comic strip? I certainly don't have actual numbers, but I would bet the overlap is minimal.

Most of the comic strips that got published as comic books were compilations of already published material, repackaged in some way. Indeed, the first comic books as we know them were entirely just reprint material from the Sunday funnies. PvP is a good, modern example of this -- most of Scott Kurtz's material that shows up in his comic was already used for his web site strip.

I suspect that the format has something to do with this. The daily newspaper strip doesn't lend itself to extended story-telling. Most of the strips around are 3 and 4 panel gags. Some of them have "themes" that run for a week or so at a time, and a very few (like the aforementioned Spider-Man) have storylines that are extended over several weeks and months. But generally, the small strip format doesn't allow for much story progression, lending to the decline of long, ongoing strips like "Mary Worth" and "Rex Morgan, M.D." This further lends itself to comedy and the set-up/punchline format.

Comic books, by contrast, have more time to get a story moving along. At twenty-two pages, even a paltry two-strips-per-day format would give you more room to tell a story than a month's worth of compiled comic strips. Plus, the larger format allows for greater flexibility in what the artist can/can't do. (Bill Watterson did a lot to push the boundaries of the comic strip format and his book, Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversay, speaks a great deal towards the restrictions comic strip artists have to work around. But the format is still restrictive thanks to the syndicates.) Now comic books are still somewhat more genre-resticted these days but it's still much more flexible.

Availability is another question. Comic books aren't as readily available as they once were. In recent years, they have become easier to get a hold of, thanks to some of the larger chain bookstores, but comic strips have been much more pervasive in our culture. The decline of newspaper sales has hurt somewhat, but the syndicates have been able to work out alternative methods of distribution (largely, through the Internet) that still allow everyday readers to get their daily comic fix for free.

Do I have a point here today? No, not really. I was just thinking about some of the differences in format and how they impact readership.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I've Missed the Point

One of the most interesting things I find about fandom is the notion of community. People reaching out and communicating with one another through a common interest.

I just got finsished watching Done the Impossible, a documentary about fans of Firefly and Serenity. One thing that's readily apparent throughout the documentary is how much emotion the Browncoats have attached not just to the show, but to each other. Now, I've certainly been a fan of the show and done some work on behalf of it myself. But I somehow have been unable to connect with that community on any sort of emotional level.

I bring this up in the context of a comic book blog because, as I've repeatedly noted here, the fandom of comics has been documented substantially less than that of science fiction, but the similarities between the two, I feel, allow for some cross-references in their study. It's curious that I essentially have the same problem in comic fandom that I have seen in Firefly fandom; over the past two to three decades of being a fan of comic books, I really have very few friends in fandom. Certainly none of the friends I do have are physically close to me -- I know them from e-mail and message board communications.

So the question in my head at the moment is this: am I qualified to study this on any sort of professioal level? Does my emotional removal give me an advantage to study comic fandom from the inside without losing perspective? Or does it mean that I won't be able to fully comprehend and understand it? It certainly helps explain my interest in wanting to study fandom, but does it make me a good or bad candidate for trying to explain that to others?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Who Wants To Be A Superhero, Episode 2

So I watched the second episode of Who Wants To Be A Superhero? last night. I mentioned herer earlier that I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about the show and felt that the producers were laughing at the contestants. But I'm running a contest about the show over at FFPlaza.com and figured I'd probably keep an eye on the show's progress.

I have to say that I was more impressed with the second episode than the first for two reasons: Monkey Woman and Dark Enforcer. (This will start getting into spoiler territory really quickly. If you want to watch the show unravel naturally and haven't seen the second episode yet, you might want to leave now.)

The episode's major contest was essentially to walk across a "helpless" woman's yard and get to her back door. See, she's locked herself out of the front door and two professional attack dogs are in the backyard. Each hero donned a protective suit and had to fend off the dogs until they reached the door, or they yelled "uncle". The contest seemed a little overly in favor of the male contestants, given their greater muscle-mass and we watched the women get dragged down one by one until they gave up... generally within the first minute or so. However, Monkey Woman crawled the 100 feet or whatever it was with both dogs pulling trying to pull her in opposite directions. It took her nearly ten minutes, but she simply would not give up and inched her way across the lawn in what must have been an excruciatingly difficult and terrifying guantlet. Especially in light of the other women's runs, I was impressed.

What I at first thought was curious, though, was that Iron Enforcer -- the show's physically strongest contestant, who all but admitted to using steroids earlier in the episode -- actually gave up after a couple of minutes, only inches from the goal. This, I realized later, was intentional and provided the impetus for a "plot twist" I wasn't expecting. After Iron Enforcer was eliminated from the show, they had the typical wrap-up interview in which he ranted about how unfair it was and how angry the decision made him. As he dramatically leaves and is walking out the back alley, Stan Lee stops him and offers to make him a super-villain to torment the rest of the cast. One quick make-over later, he steps back in front of the camera as the Dark Enforcer.

Clearly, Iron Enforcer knew in advance that it was a set-up to make him a super-villain and that he intentionally failed the dog fight test accordingly. I suspect he knew before the series' filming had even begun and spent the whole time acting instead of competing. It further suggests that each contestant is actually coached on their roles off-camera -- they may still be competing and the winning/losing of each contest may be genuine (or, as genuine as can be expected by Stan's seemingly arbitrary elimination decisions) but they seem to be catering to viewer's expectations. I can imagine the director talking to each of them...

"Cell Phone Girl, you're playing the part of a spoiled princess. Lemuria, I want you to be a nuturing mother figure; think 'soccer mom.' Major Victory, pretend you're the Adam West version of Batman..."

This strikes me as a more honest approach to "reality" television, and I have more respect for the show now that they're being a little more obvious about it being written.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bound by Law

Bound By LawI just learned of a graphic novel published back in March called Bound by Law? Tales from the Public Domain. It was written by law professors at Duke University and covers the law surrounding documentary filmmaking. It's not just a primer, either, coming in a whopping 76 pages. When questioned as to why it was presented in a comic book format, one of the authors said, "We care about the subject and, for some strange reason, none of our intended audiences seemed eager to read scholarly law review articles. What's more, there is something perverse about explaining a visual and frequently surreal reality in gray, lawyerly prose." Kudos to them for "getting" the benefits of comics!

You can buy a copy from Amazon here, or just download a free digital version from their web site. I've only had a chance to scan through it so far, but it looks to be an excellent read with some clever graphic narrative devices and very informative to boot. I'll definitely try to make time to read through this in more detail.

Evidently, they're already working on another book covering music and copyrights.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Comic Book Culture: A Documentary

I just discovered on YouTube a short (roughly 20 minutes) documentary on why comic books are an integral part of our culture. (I say "our" but the filmmaker is clearly focusing on the British comic scene by and large.) It's not terribly insightful, but I give Robin Harman (who blogs here) a lot of credit for taking a shot at something like this.

In any event, here's the first part of the documentary. The rest can be found on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Death of Claypool

There was an announcement late yesterday that Claypool Comics will be ceasing their print operations. I haven't seen too much reporting on this yet -- mostly just reprints of their press release -- but this I think definitively shows that Diamond Distributors is indeed a monopoly.

In 1997, the Department of Justice began an antitrust investigation of the comic book industry, but the suit was dropped in 2000. The ultimate finding was that Diamond was simply a magazine distributor and they're just silly comic books anyway. (Although, to be fair, I don't think the actual DOJ wording was quite so blatantly dismissive.)

But it seems to me that any distributor that can dictate the terms of a producer's business so decisively has more power than they ought to. Yes, Diamond should have the ability to refuse to distribute Claypool's titles, but that that decision would effectively eliminate the possibility of Claypool continuing business operations at all with no viable alternative constitutes a near-monopoly. Where can Claypool go for comic distribution, if not Diamond? Sure, there's Cold Cut and and a couple of other small places, but how many comic shops use them? Even if a publisher doesn't have an exclusive contract with Diamond, and another distributor offers a better deal than Diamond, most retailers are still going to order expressly from Diamond. Why? Because Diamond carries Marvel and DC, which constitutes the bulk of their ordering. So why go through the hassle of a second distributor to save ten or fifteen cents on a comic that probably won't sell more than a few copies anyway? It's infinitely easier to simply tick a couple more boxes in Diamond's checklist as you're ordering Amazing Spider-Man and Batman than it would be to fill out a completely new set of forms for someone else. Unless, as a retailer, you've got a phenomonally huge client base (which I suspect only applies to less than a handful of retailers) or you deal almost exclusively with titles OTHER than what Marvel and DC are printing (in which case, you're probably not a comics retailer primarily), it doesn't make financial sense to use anyone but Diamond.

Yes, I realize Diamond is not running Claypool out of business entirely. I also recognize that Diamond generally works for their clients' best interests, and they are -- comparitively speaking -- an altrusitic company. We're not talking the evils of Wal-Mart here. But I do think that competition fosters benefits for everyone across the board, and everyone in the industry -- from publishers to fans to retailers to distributors -- isn't getting as good a deal as they could get if some competition were around to heat things up.