Friday, December 29, 2006

Things To Look Forward To In 2007

Yesterday, I did a quick (and largely incosequential) run-through of 2006, so I thought I'd try to look into 2007 and see what types of things I'm looking forward to.

I'm looking forward to Dwayne McDuffie writing the Fantastic Four. I've always thought he did a pretty good job with whatever he was working on, and I know he's fairly excited to get a shot at the FF. I'm definitely more interested to see his take on the book over JMS's.

I'm always interested in comic book history and processes, so I'll be doing, I expect, a fair amount of reading and research into more arcane corners of the industry. By the same token, I expect I'll be reading a broader variety of books and trying to pick up more off-beat and unusual titles. Hopefully some Europeam and possibly Japanese stuff as well. I'd also like to score a piece or two more of original comic book art -- I've got a decent enough handful now that I suppose I could call myself a collector of them, but I have nowhere near the collections of other people I know.

Technologically, I've seen some cool things come up in '06 and I'd like to see expansions on those ideas in '07. (I don't know what/how exactly, but I'm all for more/cooler/better technology in general.) Maybe I can provide a few more ideas to and help some more there, if nothing else.

With Rise of the Silver Surfer coming out in June and Spider-Man 3 in May, I'm sure they'll be some documentaries and such in the ensuing media onslaught. Since the releases will roughly coincide with Comic Con International, I'm hoping to see some cross-over media exposure from that as well. Indeed, I'll be curious to see if the con garners more media attention than in past years.

In all honesty, I'm also hoping to get some more exposure myself. My "Incidental Iconography" column will continue, naturally, and I'm going to make some headway on that Superheroes and Trauma essay I've mentioned before. I may show up in a special edition version of the first FF movie that I hope is still going to DVD in combination with the movie's sequel. If I can clear enough off my plate, I'd love to be able to start work on a book of my own about comic book fandom. We'll see if I can't a few more credits under my belt, as well!

And of course, that's all just what I know about! I'm sure there's plenty on the books that I haven't heard even whispers about yet, so let's see if I can't stay at least somewhat hopeful and optimistic.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My 2006 Year In Review

Well, it's only a few days from 2007 and it seems mandatory that I look back on the previous 360-odd days and reflect on what's happened. Honestly, I'm usually not to keen to look back on a whole year like this but, as I said, it seems mandatory. Most of the links here send you to one of my blog entries about the topic.

Let me get some of the negative stuff out of the way first. The comic industry has lost several talents this year, among them Seth Fisher, Alex Toth, Ernie Schroder, Marty Nodell, Dave Cockrum, Jerry Bails and my pal Gregg Allinson. Claypool announced that they will be ceasing publication of their entire comics line. Dan Slott's excellent The Thing series was cancelled prematurely.

Marvel began their company-wide "Civil War" and DC launched it's weekly 52 series. DC also initiated a mini-reboot with their "One Year Later" idea. The industry had a successful Free Comic Book Day, the fourth in as many years.

In non-comics media, we saw Who Wants to Be a Superhero?, a new Fantastic Four cartoon, Superman Returns, Heroes, Hollywoodland, a Legion of Super Heroes cartoon, and Krrish. We saw extended reporting of the San Diego con live on national television for the first time. We saw Marvel EIC Joe Quesada being asked to appear on one of the most popular shows currently on cable (The Colbert Report). I've also heard several comic creators on NPR, including Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, Paul Jenkins, James Boyle, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.

Online, we have the creation of Wowio and Pullbox Online to legally download comic books. launched, with wild success thus far, to try to help unite comic book fans across the globe. Although created in the latter part of 2005, has grown enormously in 2006 and seems to me to be the best way of cataloging your collection of comics. Oh, and I began this very blog back in February!

Getting more personal, I was exposed to and read many more non-maintsream books than ever before. There's certainly serial titles like Oz-Wonderland Chronicles and Local but also original graphic novels like American Born Chinese, Five Fists of Science and Blankets. Somewhat related, I've also dropped a number of Marvel titles in the realization that I just don't enjoy them. I've bought more comics that I genuinely enjoy this year than I think I ever have in the past. I've also become more published with several JKC articles as well as some work for the 10th FF Masterworks. Plus an incosequential cameo within the Marvel Universe. ;)

Despite some personal set-backs, 2006 was a good year in comics for me. I wouldn't say great (largely because of those personal set-backs) but I think I've ended the year on an up-note. I'm not one to set long-term goals for myself; I tend to just try to keep moving forward and wind up at the end of the year further along than I was at the beginnning. By that measure, I'm relatively pleased.

I'm glad I've gone through the exercise of reviewing 2006. Looking at the long-term has put some perspective on some of the more recent garbage I've seen/dealt with in comics, and it's refreshing to see that, despite said garbage, I'm still making some sort of vague, intangible headway in the larger scheme of things.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Story of Marvel Comics

Stan Lee has, during my lifetime, always been THE figurehead of Marvel Comics. He was one of the few comic book personalities that was seen beyond the confines of a comics' credits page, so I tended to hear more about Stan than other comic creators. And my interest in Marvel Comics in general and the Fantastic Four in particular, I kept my eyes and ears open for how the comic (and the company) came to be.

What's been interesting has been that I've heard Stan Lee retell the origins of how he helped create the Fantastic Four scores of times. And over the past 20 years or so, I've heard the tale morph considerably. Originally -- well, the first time I heard it at any rate -- he would state that he had been getting tired of doing comics and wanted to go off to write the "great American novel" when his publisher asked him to create a new superhero group. He hemmed and hawed over the course of a week or so, not really excited about the prospect of returning to silly spandex-clad do-gooders, and his wife finally suggested that he write something that he wanted to write. If he did well, then he'd have somethng he could enjoy working on and if not, well, he was thinking about quitting anyway.

Over the years, the story got compressed quite a bit, and Joan (his wife) gave him her sage advice the very day that he had been assigned the new comic. And his possible resignation started getting earlier and earlier, and eventually he was going in to the office to quit when his boss threw the new book idea at him before he could get his "I quit" out.

I caught Stan on NPR this morning, and he had revised the origin yet again! Now, it seems, that he had already made the decision to quit when he was asked to come up with the new team, after deliberating on it for a year or so, and the FF was going to be his last hurrah in comics as a favor for his boss of the last 20 years.

I don't blame Stan, though. His memory isn't that good in the first place, and I'm sure it's absurdly boring telling the same story over and over and over again. I'm sure he's not deliberatly fabricating things, but more than likely he's just trying to make it an interesting story... as best as he can remember it.

So, today's helpful hint: if you're doing any research into Stan Lee and/or early Marvel Comics, go to sources as old as possible. I know for a fact that Stan's story has changed, Jack Kirby never had that great of a memory either, and Steve Ditko has gotten quieter and quieter over the years.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New Alice in Wonderland

I downloaded a legal, electronic version of Rod Espinosa's four-issue New Alice in Wonderland through Wowio and just got through reading it. Unlike some of the Alice stories I've seen lately, this one is essentially just a re-telling of the original. For the record, it was published by Antartic Press in the early part of 2006.

It's definitely got some good things going for it. Rod does a fair job as sequential storytelling for a story that's really all over the map. In places, he's even streamlined things a bit from Lewis Carroll's original. I like some of the ancillary designs tucked away throughout the series. The walking cards with the spot-shaped heads is nice, and I especially liked the lanterns based on the four card suits.

I wasn't terribly keen on the character designs, though. Nothing blatantly wrong, per se, I'm just not a big fan of typical manga-style character designs.

The biggest problem I had, really, was that this wasn't the original. It's a problem inherent in almost any re-envisioning of a good story -- the new creator is interpretting the original story before presenting to the audience. There's nothing you can do about that, to be fair. Each reader is going to step away from the original with a slightly different take on it; they're going to naturally focus on some aspects more than others, and this will inevitably be different than what other people focus on. The new creator, as a new creator, is then forced into the position of trying to stay true to each and every readers' interpretation of the original, which is nearly impossible.

Which isn't to say that making the effort is not worth pursuing! Just that they've got a higher bar than someone who's creating a wholly original work.

If you've never read the original Alice in Wonderland, you can't go wrong with downloading a free copy of Rod's comic book version. He's put a slightly different spin on the story and included some visual designs that I will likely remember in my next re-reading of the original. In any retelling, I think that's really about the most a creator can ask for.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Definitive Proof That Rob Liefeld Shouldn't Be Drawing Comics

I stumbled across Rob Liefeld's web site recently and saw that he had several pages of preview art for his work on the upcoming Onslaught Reborn #2. There were others on Comics Continuum's and Marvel's web sites as well. Since I wasn't able to use scanned artwork in my previous rant about Liefeld, I thought I'd copy the preview artwork here and point out the same types of flaws I saw in his first issue in the manner that I would've liked to have done originally.

To be fair, some of these scans are of incomplete artwork; however, as we'll see shortly, that won't really be an issue with my comments as Liefeld repatedly shows here that he tends to go with his first instincts anyway.

The Cover.
There's a few problems here. First, look at Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. The post that holds the head of the hammer to the handle is the handle itself. It's essentially a long stick from one end to the other. Yet in Liefeld's version, the diameter of one end of the post is dramatically larger than the diameter at the other end of the head -- the head should snap right off the handle.

Next, Hulk's feet are two different sizes. The two red lines are the length of his right foot. As you can see, Hulk's left foot is larger by the length of his big toe.

Speaking of feet, I'll just point out that half of the characters aren't shown with any, one of them is only showing part of one, Hulk's (as noted above) are drawn incorrectly, and Captain America's... well, I'm not really sure what's going on there in the first place.

Here's another thought: why not leave room for the UPC symbol and the logo? That way, your artwork wouldn't need to either block the logo itself or be blocked by the UPC code.

Page 1.
First panel, Franklin's hair is parted differently than every other page in the book I've seen so far.

Why is the border of the first panel thicker than the others?

What exactly is Onslaught looking at it in panel 3? It sure ain't Bucky and Franklin!
Pages 2-3.
Let me say first that some of the anatomy is questionable here. I'm not really sure what's going on with Bucky's and Franklin's legs, and Franklin's right arm has got to be twisted in an unusual manner. Onslaught's groin area has got to be stretched to it's limit, too, but we're not shown enough information to see if it's actually wrong from a technical perspective.

What is wrong, technically, are Bucky's hands. The fingers on her right hand are considerably smaller than those on her left. While perspective can play tricks on the eye, and I can allow some mismatching because of that, this is drawn in drawn in a backwards perspective. Given the placement of Bucky's hands on Franklin, Bucky's left hand should be at most the same size as her right, if not smaller.

It's difficult to tell for certain, but it looks to me like Franklin's been drawn with a right foot on his left leg.

Also, I've included an inset drawing of Liefeld's Onslaught from issue one. You might note that several of the glowing disc things on his gloves have vanished, as have one of the sets on his shoulders.
Page 4.
Where does Bucky's rope come from in panel 2? What's keeping it from falling into the chasm? (Which is where, by the way? We still haven't gotten an establishing shot that tells where the characters are.)

And why in anything that is holy would you design a panel where the results of an action are shown before the action itself!?! Franklin should not be seen haning onto the rope before the image of Bucky catching him. Good grief! If that doesn't showcase poor design thinking, I don't know what would!
Page 5.
I will give Liefeld credit for having tight pencils. He's obviously put some work into ensuring that his art can be reproduced cleanly without having to be inked. I can only find one real fault with this page, aside from Cap's oddly drawn feet...

The straps on his shield. I've traced in how they would be completed based on how Liefeld drew the parts that we can see. You can see that they must be very loosely attached to the shield in the first place. And in the second place, their placement ranges all over the back of the shield throughout the rest of the artwork of the issue. (As we'll see shortly.)

Interesting to note as well that a Quinjet was added to the final piece. I'm not sure if it was added by Liefeld or the colorist, but it's good to know that Cap didn't just pop out of thin air!

Page 6.
This looks like a color guide, but Liefeld notes on his site: "I do these color roughs to help me see the page and determine wether the foreground and background have enough depth... they aren't meant as guides for the colorist in any way, they help me see the page better." At this point, he considers the page done from a layout perspective, and he's got a good chunk of the detail work done as well.

In panels 1 and 2, we see some serious issues with Cap's shield straps again. I'm not sure how the shield is just floating there in panel 1, and panel 2 shows straps that are so loose that the shield should've slid right up Cap's arm upon striking Onslaught.

The lack of gutters also makes this page particularly problematic as several of the lines from panel 1 merge with lines from panel 2. This makes differentiating one panel from another unnecessarily problematic. And the color rough should serve to emphasize this point, as Liefeld's colored things in exactly the same color in that panel overlap area. There's almost no differentiation between the panels! (In the final version, the letterer very smartly places some text exactly over this area. Kudos to the colorist as well for making a very decided effort to place a convenient fog throughout the first panel to help delineate things even more.)

Page 7.
Another page that's not terrible! The size relationship between Cap and Onslaught seems to vary quite a bit from panel to panel, but one could argue that Onslaught has the ability to change size.

The bigger issue here is that the panels aren't straight. I've marked in red horizontals across the page. (The scan itself is a little crooked, but you can see the actual horizontals pre-printed on the page at the top and bottom edges.) You can clearly see that Liefeld's missed the horizontals on several of his panel borders. While that's certainly permissable in page layouts, any artist or designer worth his salt would tell you that if you're going to do that, do it decisively. Either make them really off the horizontal or don't bother. I think Liefeld's clearly fall in the "don't bother" category.

(To be fair, this looks like it may be cleaned up/straightened out -- presumably by the colorist -- by the time the book is actually published.)

Page 10.
Another instance of linework that runs from panel to panel, making panel distinctions difficult.

Oh, and Captain America has grown considerably since the earlier pages of this fight sequence.

Page 11.
I think the biggest problem here is just poor panel layout. Onslaught's head is crammed into the corner of the panel, making him look insignificant to the action of that panel. I might suggest that this was the result of poor planning, but we also happen to have Liefeld's original pencil rough as well. As you can see, it's almost exactly the same, and the problem could easily have been corrected at this stage. The red lines I've drawn over the finished pencils show how Onslaught might have been positioned within the panel to allow for better readability.

The page layout also seems to weigh very heavily to the left side, making the page feel unbalanced on the whole.

Page 14.
This is painful.

The circle over Cap's shield is the size it was drawn, relative to Cap's arm, on page 17. Again, I can forgive a little variation due to artistic license, but there's a 15% difference there!

Next, the part of Cap's boots that fold over. His right boot has a V-cut in the front of it, but there's no evidence of such a cut on his left. Granted, his left leg is turned to one side, but we should still see at least some of the V-cut.

The final panel is most painful, though. I've traced over the Cap and Iron Man figures, and repositioned them next to Bucky and Franklin. Admittedly, the two of them should be smaller than the older heroes, but not by that much!

Also in the final panel, the Fantasticar is not drawn in perspective to itself. A quick game of connect-the-dots and you can easily see that the corners of the craft don't line up with the edges as Liefeld's drawn them.
Page 15.
Let me start with the part that's just a little odd. The bottom left corner shows Franklin jumping up to/in front of/near the Invisible Woman. I've traced the outline as Liefeld drew it, and tried to extrapolate the rest. Nothing wrong here, per se, but it's a really odd position to be in after you've coming running up to someone who you think is your mother.

While we're in that panel, the lights in the background don't line up.

In the upper right corner of the page, we have pipes that lead nowhere. One might chalk up part of the problem to the colorist, but that vertical I've drawn is the right edge of the very last panel. You'll note that Liefeld's drawn a horizontal panel next to Thor's bicep instead of the curved piping he drew above.

Also, what are Thor and the Invisible Woman standing on in that panel? Liefeld's drawn verticals all the way down the page. Shouldn't there be at least one horizontal line to represent a floor, if not some perspective lines to show the panels on it?
Page 17.
That first panel is supposed to show how devasted the place got during the battle, right? Wouldn't it be a decent idea to make the panel big enough to show some details?

... especially in lieu of a panel of three people just standing there!

I've traced Cap's visable arm in the second panel and extrapolated some possible placements for the arm that's concealed by his shield. While it's certainly possible for Cap to stand in that position, it sure doesn't look comfortable, or natural.

And c'mon! Franklin's "4" isn't even straight!
Page 18.
I have to admit that I don't see any real problems here. The Echantress isn't actually looking at the well, but that could be intentional, depending on what exactly is supposed to be going on in the story here.
Page 22.
I find this just baffling. Liefeld drew a sketch for the page, looked at it in color, and decided he might try another version: "I tend to always go for the tight shot, closing in on the action as much as possible, but I think this shot [the second one at the right] might work better than the previous shot, given that it's pulled back
further and at a tilted angle allowing for more impact... maybe a third version is the answer."

I don't know if he attempted a third version or not. But evidently, even with that internal deliberation, he went with his first one. I have to admit that I don't see any technical flaws in this, but I have to say that I personally think his second draft is the stronger of the two images. And what I find baffling is that he did, too, and he STILL went with the first one!

All of this says to me that the man is not qualified to be called an artist. His anatomy (especially the lower body and feet) is weak, his page layouts don't convey a story very well, his panel layouts are poor, his depictions of characters are inconsistent, he has yet to master the basics of perspective... we're even looking at parts of his thought process here and the conscious artistic decisions he makes are, at best, arbitrary.

In all seriousness, I really don't understand why this man has a job in the industry. If I were that bad of a web designer, I would've gotten kicked down to the ranks of burger flippers long ago. Why does he still get work?

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Circle of Life

After writing yesterday about Gregg, I've been struggling with how to continue working on my blog here without sounding dismissive or flippant. Gregg was my friend and I'd like to honor and remember him, but you might not have known him at all. I don't know that I'm that great a writer to expect that I'll be able to pull you into his story well enough that you'll continue reading.

A strange series of things happened this week, though. I learned of Gregg's passing, as I've mentioned, but I also learned that two of my other online comic book friends became engaged recently. (Not to each other! Two different guys, and each found their own respectvie soul-mate. Congrats, again, Russ and Kevin!) It got me thinking about comic fandom in general.

For a long time, I've considered myself something of an outsider. Not that I think I'm particularly strange or unusual, I just never felt like I connected with people -- any people -- very well. That's why I've spent time studying comic book fandom: to see what it is about comic book fans that brings them together. To see how they think and feel. To find out how a group of people can "unite" around a set of ficitional stories.

But this week I became privvy to, and was emotionally affected by, someone else's "life events." People I'd met through some association with comic books. But, more significantly, people I'd come to know outside the realm of comic books. Our early conversations were all comic-themed -- when did Spider-Man say this relative to this other story, how does this Human Torch backstory jibe with the old Strange Tales, etc. -- but we've progressed beyond that. Maybe a little note here about work, a quick reference there to a family member... before you know it, I've accumulated a body of knowledge about a person that paints a more complete picture of them as a whole individual. I've become interested about the person as a person and their opinions about other things begin to matter more than their opinions of the latest issue of Aquaman. And wouldn't you know it... those people, somewhere along the line, became friends!

What it boils down to is finding connections with people. When a comic book creator works on a story, they're really just trying to find a way to connect with the outside world. "Here's a story that tells a message I think is important." But more often than not, even the readers that connect with the story very strongly are somewhat removed from the creators. Of the 120,000 (or so) people who bought Astonishing X-Men last month, how many of them do you think writer Joss Whedon has actively connected with? How many have contacted him and said, "You know, this book really said something to me and I feel that we're on the same wavelength." By contrast, though, how many people read that issue and talked about it on a message board? Or at the local shop where they bought it? Or while lounging on the sofa in the basement with some friends? The connections comic creators are facilitating are not their own, but those of other people. I would never have met Gregg were it not for the Fantastic Four; I would never have met Russ were it not for Marvel's extended continuity; and I would have never met Kevin if not for Russ.

There was a new episode of Dr. Who a couple of weeks ago in which a group of people who all had run-ins with the current Doctor got together to share their experiences. Sort of a group therapy session. It's relayed quite clearly in the story that, over time, they grew to know each other as unique individuals and continued their friendship, not because of their alien encounter, but because they'd become friends. It seemed somewhat strange and a little forced to me at the time, but looking at it just a few weeks later, I see exactly what the writers were shooting for. And, yes, it was maybe still a bit strained because of the television format that forced some storytelling shortcuts, but it wasn't that far off.

I've been trying to wrap my head around comic book fandom for several years now. I think, maybe... just maybe, I'm starting to get it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gregg Allinson in Memoriam

Last night, I learned that my friend Gregg Allinson passed away. He evidently died on Saturday, but some e-mail problems prevented me from reading the message his brother was kind enough to send to me until late last night. And the reason why his brother e-mailed instead of called was because that's really the only way I knew Gregg.

Several years ago, I put out a request on my FFPlaza site to try to recruit someone to write issue reviews. Gregg turned in a stellar review, and he started "working" for me soon after. By reading his reviews, it seemed that he and I shared a lot of similar thoughts about comics in general, and we started conversing about the book more informally through e-mail. That eventually moved beyond comics, and we started talking about various other interests and things that were going on in our lives. In short, we were becoming friends.

As a matter of fact, we haven't really discussed the Fantastic Four much the past year or two. He would still review issues for me, but our discussions rarely touched the subject, I suspect, largely because we knew each other well enough that it didn't need to be discussed any more. I would know what Gregg would think of an issue or a story before he'd even read it. So we talked about other things... work, family, friends...

But we never met in person.

Strangely -- probably because our relationship was a virtual one -- I find the sense of loss greatest when I'm sitting at the computer. That weird glow of the monitor is how I communicated with Gregg and, after several years of friendship, there's one less reason for me to go online.

From time to time, I'd read notes on message boards or letters in fanzines or whatnot that mourned the loss of a comic fan. It always struck me as a terrible burden to the person writing the message, because s/he was most likely the closest friend of the deceased within their comic circle and they had to craft a message that would alert other friends of the news, but didn't prove offensive to others who never knew him/her.

Now I find myself in exactly that position, and it curiously doesn't feel as burdensome as I'd imagined it would. There are any number of things I could say about Gregg, but I'm certain he wouldn't want them all divulged in a public forum like this. He enjoyed the Fantastic Four and Dr. Who and Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica; he liked working as a librarian; he was in the midst of developing a class for the library; he never did find the girl of dreams, though he did have a couple of prospects. He was fairly private person, and I'm honored and privledged that he shared as much with me as he did. I can only hope that I was worthy of being privvy to some of his private thoughts, and that he would've considered me as good of a friend as I considered him.

I'm sorry you're not with us any longer, Gregg. You will be missed, even by those of us who never met you.

Visitation will be on Friday, December 22, 2006 from 5 to 9 pm with services starting at 7:30...
Hollowell and James Funeral Home
1025 West 55th Street
Countryside, IL 60525

In lieu of flowers, it's been asked that donations be sent to Mustaches for Kids and the La Grange Park Public Library instead.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Crossgen Revived

Newsarama is reporting that Checker Book Publishing will be collecting several Crossgen titles that have previously NOT been collected. I, for one, am surprised and happy at the announcement. Surprised because, well, Crossgen went the way of the dodo a couple of years ago and, apart from Disney's interest in Abadazad, nothing much has been heard about them. And, given that Crossgen was only around for a couple of years in the first place, I expected to hear about as much from them as you hear about First or Valiant or Eclipse or...

I'm happy because I didn't get many of the Crossgen titles when they were originally produced. Just El Cazador and Abadazad. I picked up Ruse in TPB form shortly after Crossgen went under, and the first Sojourn shortly after that. High quality stuff, but I couldn't afford to go back and pick up back issues across the board... which were hard to find anyway. So, now I'll have the opportunity to fill out my collection with some well-done pieces that I didn't think would survive the light of day.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Comics, Part 2

Well, yesterday's post of my holiday comics didn't seem to help my mood much, and the rest of the world seemed to be conspiring to make it worse. So, let's try this again with comics I don't have...

Interesting side note: I couldn't find any comic books that featured a Hanukkah or Kwanzaa tale on the cover.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Comics

I'm trying to get into the holiday spirit here (which, I might add, is very difficult to do, being an atheist, a skeptic, and a cynic) so I thought I'd try a covers post featuring comics in my collection that have some sort of Christmas/holiday theme.