Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween

Today is, of course, October 31 -- when most of the United States celebrates Halloween in some form. Children dress up in costumes and go knocking on neighbor's doors looking for handouts. Adults dress up in costumes and go to parties where they drink too much and act obnoxious. The opiate of the masses that is television is filled with old movies starring Boris Karloff and re-runs of Peanuts specials we've seen every year since 1966.

I've never been terribly keen on Halloween, as you might've guessed. As a kid, the free candy (and, more importantly, the parental waiver to eat it in excess) was enjoyable, but that's long since fallen by the wayside. A fair portion of my childhood was spent pretending I was a cowboy or Batman or a ninja or whatever already, so the Halloween tradition of dressing up and playing make-believe didn't hold that much additional allure.

Not to mention that my costumes always were left wanting. They were almost always kit-bashed with things we had around the house, and required more than a fair amount of imagination to complete. Something which became plainly evident as soon as I started knocking on doors and received a "Now who are you supposed to be" greeting.

Then, as I got older, the candy lost it's allure since I became in charge of my own life and could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. And dressing up in costume has taken a new air -- it's more accepted, but only if you spend more money to put together an almost Hollywood-style get-up. I can't bring myself to justify dropping $75 to get a costume for one night.

Also, my "responsibility" for Halloween has changed from being the child asking for treats to the adult handing them out. On the whole, I have a lot of difficulty relating to or understanding children. Consequently, I don't really like them. I'd just as soon never deal with them -- I'll wait until they're at least in their late teens so I can hold a somewhat reasonable conversation with them.

That's my preface to Halloween. It's not a holiday I tend to get excited about at all -- despite it reportedly being the second-most popular U.S holiday next Christmas. And herein lies my dilemma: it is a PRIME opportunity for attracting kids to comic books.

It makes an absurd amount of sense to me to hand out comic books to trick-or-treaters, rather than candy. There's absolutely no danger of poisoning (intentional or otherwise), it's healthier on the whole, and you can keep the comic indefinitely. It sounds brilliant to me! I make a point to get a good mix of comics that I can give out every year on Halloween, and we're known in the neighborhood almost exclusively by that. (We don't get out and talk to the neighbors much.)

So, starting at 6:00 tonight, I'm going to have to sit near the door, watching some dreadful television program because I can't stand the repeated doorbell interruptions while I'm reading, and hand out comics to kids with an artificial smile on my face. The Wife refuses to hand out comics because she... well, I'm not wholly sure why she refuses to hand them out. She claims that she doesn't know which comics would be appropriate to give to which children, but I think that's a cop-out answer. I suspect she's embarassed or feels awkward handing out something that no one else in the neighborhood does. So if I want to make sure comics get handed out in my neck of the woods tonight, it's got to be me minding the door.

And with that said, um... Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2006

FF #1 Tributes

Okay, today I'm going with a "covers" post. This time, it's Covers That Pay Homage To Fantastic Four #1. (And I'm including that cover, too, for reference.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Thoughts on Comic News

One thing that strikes me as interesting is that I've been running my Fantastic Four fan site for a decade now, making a point of updating it weekly for at least the last eight or nine years, and I cannot recall a single week where I did NOT have some news to post. It's a web site geared exclusively around one comic book property, and there has been something news-worthy (at least within the realm of comic books) every single week for the better part of a decade.

I mention that today because I've noticed that several of my posts this past week have been focusing on this [insert sarcasm] brilliant [finish sarcasm] Wold Newton idea I've been toying with, which only relates to comics insomuch as that would be the venue I would like to utilize the property in. And I've been focusing on this idea because, in part, I haven't seen much in the way of news that really struck me or got my brain moving this past week. There was a notice last week about Nextwave being cancelled with #12, which prompted my quick review of this week's issue, but that's been about it.

That's not to say there hasn't been any news, certainly, but nothing that really sparked my attention and/or imagination for some reason. Lullaby is moving from Alias to Abacus, but it's already switched publishers once before. There's a new Marvel video game out, but I don't play video games much anymore. Stuart Immonen will be taking over Ultimate Spider-Man after Mark Bagley, but I'd already noted his excellent work in my look at Nextwave. Moon Knight be getting a TV treatment, but it's way to early to say that it will ultimately happen, much less how it might turn out.

Maybe it's because I was already put my mental energies towards my comic idea, but I haven't seen my interest piqued by any other comic-related news this week.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sean's Wold Newton, Part 3

Okay, first off... I really need to think of a new name for this. "Wold Newton" is Farmer's bit in the first place, and in the second place, he calls it that because he ties everything together from an event that occurred in Wold Newton, Yorkshire, England.

In any event, I think I've assembled an interesting team here. I've added to the mix a gentleman by the name of Joaquin Murrieta. (Portrayed here by some guy in a relatively cheesey Halloween costume. I would rather have a shot of Victor Rivers' portrayal of the character from The Mask of Zorro but I couldn't find any decent shots of him.) Murrieta was a sort of Robin Hood type character from Mexico who, like some Mexicans today, saw better opportunities in the United States. Also like some Mexicans today, he couldn't find legal work in the U.S. and he resorted to robbery. The governor of California set up the California Rangers almost expressly to hunt Murietta down, and he was supposedly killed in 1853. However, there was at the time (and to this day) a lot of doubt about whether it was actually Murietta that was killed.

So, why this group? What do they bring to the table that make them interesting as a group?

John Watson -- This is before he met Sherlock Holmes, indeed, before he finished medical school. He's got intelligence, youthful enthusiasm and an interest in adventure. (He would later go on to join the British military.)

Alice Liddell -- Alice was, by most accounts, not a very cheerful person. She took the death of her sister in 1876 very hard, and the deaths of two of her sons during World War I was no less difficult. She brings a practical intelligence (to contrast Watson's book smarts) and a skeptism that should help them more than once. The down side is that she's more of a loner than a team player, so keeping her associated with this group will prove perpetually difficult.

John Henry -- John was a former slave, and thus has a decidedly different outlook on things than the others. He has some level of physical strength and endurance, certainly, but it will be his determination, persistence, and loyalty that are his strongest qualities. (BTW, I've updated his representation here with a picture of boxer Earl Maynard.)

Joaquin Murrieta -- Joaquin is about twenty years older than the others and has some life experience that they don't. He does understand suffering and being trodden on, but not quite to the extent that John Henry does. He's a man of action, certainly, but also one of great heart and character. If he feels the status quo is unfair, he'll fight to change it. Given that John Watson hasn't yet been trained in firearms, Joaquin also serves as the team's gunman. He's also got a cache of money saved up from his earlier adventures in California.

Sun Wukong -- Sun once was a mischevious imp of a character, trying to play tricks on Budda himself! He's learned his lesson and has been humbled considerably in the past few centuries, although that doesn't mean he's no longer above a few light-hearted deceptions amongst his friends! He's left China because of all the internal fighting going on during this time. For the most part, he intends to keep his true identity secret and play the part of a simple -- perhaps somewhat above average intelligence -- monkey. Although the rest of the group don't know it, he's their ace in the hole when their backs are against the wall! He can change shape and size at will, ride the clouds anywhere in the world, and wield a powerful staff that he normally has shrunk and tucked behind his ear. Not to mention that he's immortal! (Long-time readers might recognize, too, that I've been wanting to do something with this character since August.)

I really like that I've got a relatively diverse mix of characters here. Two British, one African-American, one Mexican, and one Chinese. Plus two are wholly fictional characters, one is quite real, and two more are somewhere in between. It should be easy to draw in contemporary parallels with a Mexican looking for work in the U.S. as well as with possible racial tensions and stereotypes all over the place. And, where I was running into problems at first, none of these characters have any copyright issues that I'd have to contend with -- they're all public domain.

I'm getting more excited about this idea. Seriously, if any artists out there want to take a shot at working on something like this, please do not hesitate to let me know!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sean's Wold Newton, Part 2 (Technical Data)

I just wanted to drop a couple more quick comments about this image. Skip to the previous entry to read what I'm using them to represent.

I started with an image of a couple in Victorian costumes. The man was actually supposed to be dressed as Phileas Fogg, so he was right in line with what I was hoping to use. (My original photo used an actor who played Dr. Watson, but my Watson should only be in his early 20s. I would've liked to have used an established actor who's played Watson, but the only one I could find who looked anything less than 40 was the somewhat dorky version they used in Young Sherlock Holmes.) I did have to trim this gent's goatee, though, to keep the classic Watson 'tache, and I added the derby, again for the classic Watson touch.

The woman was, I believe, his wife. However, I've replaced her face with that of the real Alice Liddell. Yes, that's really Alice, age 20. I did give her a bit of a haircut, though to make the Photoshopping job go quicker.

Next, I added a golden snub-nose monkey. They're native to, among other places, China and the images I've seen of Sun Wukong tend to look something like this fellow. I think the scale is a little off here, but I didn't want him to get lost.

Then I noticed the time, and I had to bang out my John Henry quickly. I wanted to use a bald, muscular black man without his shirt so he would drop in fairly easily. For some reason, I had trouble finding a decent image. I wound up using a promo shot of early 20th century boxer, Jack Johnson. Ken Burns did a documentary on his recently, and there were a decent number of photos of Jack online. They were all in black and white, though, so I had to bang out a quick coloring job here. He definitely looks dropped in here, and looks VERY out of place. That's mainly due to the drastic difference in lighting from the other figures. I'll try to look for a better image later.

Unless of course, you're an (aspiring) comic book artist interested in the concept and want to whip up some slick concept art!

Sean's Wold Newton, Part 2

Now, who have we here...?
I mentioned the other day how I was kicking around some ideas for a comic pulling together some characters from existing fiction. Well, I've been giving it a lot of thought the past couple of days, and had some intriguing notions on the concept.

First, all of the similar existing ideas I've seen thus far (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the "Wold Newton" universe, etc.) have a tendency to focus on Western literature. Sure, bringing Captain Nemo in gives adds Indian to the group so it's not totally homogeneous, but the fictions themselves were all based on Western literature. Stevenson was English, Verne was French, Twain was American... I think it would be more interesting if you pulled in a more global flavor. How about a character from Japanese or Chinese mythology? Where does South America get represented? Hey, what about getting an African in there? True, you don't want to alienate your largely English-speaking audience with characters and concepts they're wholly unfamiliar with, but that's why you still include some Western literature.

Next, what's wrong with mixing significant fictional and historical figures? I've seen all fictional, and all historical, but how about merging the two to allow for a little more realism/believability?

So, who do we have here anyway?

From left to right, my current "team" (and I'll explore why I use the term in quotes later) consists of John Henry, John Watson, Alice Liddell, and Sun Wukong. Henry was an early African-American who's a part of American folklore, Watson of course is the famous sidekick of Sherlock Holmes, Liddell is the famed character from the Alice in Wonderland stories and Wukong is from Chinese legend. I know I still need a few other international folks to round out the group, but this who I've come up with so far.

I have to cut this short at the moment because of time restraints, but I'll let you mull that over for a while.

And, hey! Any artists out there who might be interested in helping to develop this concept? The more I kick this idea around, the more interested I am in actively pursuing this.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Best Book of the Week... So Far


New comic day again, and I picked up a variety of things. What I'm sure will top the list once I get to it is Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Mr. Punch. (Gaiman stated a year or two back that it's the work he's most proud of.)

But in lieu of finishing that, I'd have to nominate Nextwave #9 as the best book I've read this week. In order of the story's unfolding, we had such great moments as...

Elsa and Tabitha's banter about how the French-Canadians hate the U.S.
Tabitha's subsequent running around like a Warner Brothers cartoon.
The floating, upside-down castle.
The floating, right-side up faux city beneath the floating, upside-down castle.
Forbush-Man!
A monkey in a fez and surgical mask.
Creating an entire team of super-villains from the pages of Not Brand Echh.
The supremely cool art of Elsa taking a shot at Charlie America.
"You have been getting insulted by nextwave."

One of the things that definitely appeals to me about this comic is the decidedly not as U.S.-centric as everything else in this mass of unoriginal, incestuous drivel we call American culture. Ellis (a Brit) and Immonen (a Canuck) are putting together a great, entertaining comic book that's as much a commentary on American culture as it is an improvement over it. And I hardly find it surprising that it's not selling as well as it should.

At any rate, I've enjoyed Ellis' work in the past. I've enjoyed Immonen's work in the past. But if I see they're working on something together again, I will be the first one lining up to get a copy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sean's Wold Newton

I've seen a number of works lately that try to bring together several children's stories under one umbrella. Often Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, but sometimes Peter Pan and The Chronicles of Narnia as well. I certainly enjoy the stories, but they have to start with a conceit that the characters lived as children at the same time. Alice was nearly 100 years before the Narnia children and 40-50 years before Dorothy and Peter Pan. So I thought, "Why don't I actually look up what was going on in literature and history around that time to see if I might create my own ersatz Leagure of Extraordinary Gentlemen?"

So I started a spreadsheet of dates looking at famous works of fiction and when they supposedly took place. I started with the above and soon started pulling in the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, A.A. Milne, Richard Outcault and just about everyone else I could think of in a hundred-or-so year timeframe. Then I added some real people (William Bonney, Harry Blackstone, the Wright brothers, Abraham Lincoln...) and events (the American Civil War, World War I, the Great Chicago Fire, the Model T...), until I've got this huge timeline of real and fictional events.

(In the process, I learned that Philip Jose Farmer essentially already did this with his Wold Newton family premise, hence the title of this post.)

Anyway, I saw some interesting connections. Alice Liddell, the real life girl that partially inspired Alice in Wonderland, was born in 1852. Supposedly, Dr. John Watson (from the "Sherlock Holmes" stories) was also born then. Real-life gunslingers Pat Garrett and Doc Holliday were born in the preceeding two years.

Now, any story I might write about Alice would have to have her as something of an adult, so I would need to jump to around 1870 at least to start looking for historical references of things to use as springboard. Hmmm... what have we here?

The 19th Phantom became active in the 1870s. John Reid, who would later become the Lone Ranger, finished law school around 1872. The Great Chicago Fire: 1871. Tonto's family is killed: 1873. Around the World in 80 Days published: 1872. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: 1876. The Battle of Little Big Horn: 1876.

So my first thoughts are something like...

Come to think of it, maybe that's where Reid got the idea for a mask!

Any artists out there who'd like to take a crack at a new comic book?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Online Comics

I've talked before about pulling comics down from the Internet. At the time, though, I was speaking about relatively new comics that were well within the copyright of the original owner being shared through a Torrent-type service.

Recently, though, I was looking for some information about Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and -- quite by accident -- stumbled on a couple of comics that were simply posted to a web sit as a series of image files. One of the issues was Santa Claus Funnies #2 and it features a story in which Alice takes Santa Claus to Wonderland. It's a relatively banal story, especially given the source material, but I thought it was curious that it could be posted online. The publisher has long gone out of business and no one has tried securing the copyrights to the original art. Since the characters themselves are in the public domain, there's nothing to stop anyone from posting this material online.

That got me thinking. There must be hundreds of comics that fall into that same legal area. Wouldn't it be cool if people who happened to have copies of those issues were able to scan them and put them online for everyone to see? Think of how many more comics you could read yourself. Think of how much more comic history fans would know about just by being able to read some of those old books.

Now, if only I could up with a viable business model behind that!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Adams on Cougar

"Neal Adams changed the face of comic books forever. With a strong cinematic sense, Adams worked light and shadow to create worlds that were both believable and fantastic. His groundbreaking illustrations resurrected Batman when the campy '60s TV show threatened the comic's credibility. And his iconic work on the X-Men and others continues to influence comic art and film to this day. Like the work of Adams, Cougar stands as an icon in its field. For 34 years, its brilliant whiteness, consistent runnability, and superior opacity have set the standard for many to imitate. Or at least try."

That is the copy from an ad for Cougar Paper that was in Creavitity magazine recently. There's some accompanying artwork of a man climbing down into a cave, only to find some cougar artwork on the cave walls, shortly before turning into a cougar himself.

I just point it out because of how cool it is that they're using comic books to advertise something else. Doubly cool that they got Adams to do artwork for it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Five Fists of Science!

I was able to pick up The Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders a week ago and just got a chance to read it. The basic plot is that Nikola Tesla comes up with a giant robot, which his friend Mark Twain decides is an ideal way to end war. In the process, though, they run afoul of some masters of the dark arts: J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegi and Thomas Edison. It has something of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen feel about it, except that characters here are based (loosely) on real people instead of fictional ones.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Although there are some obvious analogies to League, they're fairly superficial, I think. For one, League is designed more as an action-adventure series and the characters were chosen, in part, because they are no longer known entities in American popular culture. (This is most evident in Allan Quatermain's name being consistently mis-pronounced in the movie. I think it's also why producers insisted Tom Sawyer was to be included in the film.) With Fists there are more known quantities: Twain and Edison, certainly, and to a lesser degree Tesla, Morgan, Carnegi and Guglielmo Marconi. (Indeed, Tesla has received something of a resurgance in notarity in recent years thanks to films like The Prestige and TV shows like MythBusters.)

On another level, since League deals with fictional characters, their personalities are more mutable. There's a decidedly finite amount of work written about, for example, Mina Harker so writer Alan Moore had some freedom to reinterpret how she might act. Fraction, though, is dealing with people who's lives were under the spotlight for most of their adult lives and we know quite a lot more about. While there are some liberties taken -- I believe he used the phrase "gross character assination" with regards to Carnegi -- the protagonists at least have some reasonable basis in historical fact. While that might seem limiting, I should think it would provide greater freedom to develop character moments.

I've seen allusions to the story being in the steampunk genre, which I suppose it technically is. But that's really not the focus. The interest isn't so much in the fact that Tesla created this giant robot, it's in how Twain and others react to it. The character interactions are much more interesting, I think, and take up a larger portion of the book. What kind of man would go Yeti hunting? How would Twain talk with government officials when he was trying to sell an entirely new concept? Could Twain really manipulate crowd reactions that easily, and that blatantly? How would a man like Tesla try to apologize for a social faux pas? Those are the bits that stand out more prominently for me.

There's a style of pitching comic books that starts off: WHAT THE STORY'S ABOUT. The author then proceeds to outline the basic plot structure. That's where this steampunk element comes from. The next part of the pitch is then: WHAT THE STORY'S REALLY ABOUT. That describes the emotional connection that readers will get out of it. That's where I enjoyed this book -- the character interactions and their reactions to circumstances around them.

(For the record, the next section of the pitch is WHAT THE STORY'S REALLY, REALLY ABOUT, which gets into the fundamental themes that are addressed.)

All in all, I found it an enjoyable read and it's got my interest piqued in other vaguely historical fiction. I recently learned of a 2000 AD storyline called "Necronauts" that sounds interesting, as well...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Loadin' Up For Halloween

Well, here we are in the middle of October, and I finally realized that Halloween is just a couple of weeks away. I never got much out of dressing up for just the one day, so once I was looked at as too old to go around begging for candy, I lost just about all interest in the holiday. Still, I have no desire to have my house egged (or worse) so The Wife and I generally oblige the neighborhood kids by having candy available.

About five years ago, I heard an idea which I thought was absolutely brilliant. Instead of giving away candy for Halloween, why not give away comic books? They're just about as cheap, last longer, and are more interesting than candy. After the first year or two, I had kids who only knew us as "the people who give out comic books" -- often said with some degree of enthusiasm.

Obviously, I try to stockpile cheap issues over the course of a year and I have a short box set aside with comics that I'm going to part with. I fill the box with the occasional duplicate, some Free Comic Book Day leftovers, and whatever 9, 10 or 12 cent issue that's come out in the past year. This year, though, I missed Free Comic Book Day and there were no cheap new issues. Since I was staring a pretty low number of on-hand issues, I needed a relatively quick way to increase my stash.

Fortunately, one of the local comic shops was trying to unload some back issues they had cluttering up their long boxes and made a couple of discount boxes. Any issue in the box for only a dime! Some halfway reasonable stuff, too: X-Men, X-Force, Warlock... I counted off 110 issues and carried the box up to the cash register. The manager was happy to get rid of the books so he gave me everything in the box and the box itself for only ten bucks!

Of course, then I went through the box more carefully at home...

"Oooh, I don't have these. Or this one. Or this. Or..."

I ended up pulling out about ten issues for myself, and felt that was just a little too close to call for the number of trick-or-treaters we usually get. So today, I went through my regular shop's FCBD leftovers and pulled out a dozen or so Transformers and Archie to round things out.

So, come Beggers' Night, the Kleefeld Household will be ready to hand out comic books to everyone who stops by. What better way to celebrate the medium and get more people interest in comic books?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cover Tribute Sources

Well, it wasn't really a game, per se, but I thought it might be cool to post all the originals that yesterday's covers were swiped from. I might point out, too, that a handful of these are NOT from other comics!