Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Could'a Been A Light Week...

Okay, it's time for a "What Did Sean Buy At The Comic Shop This Week" post. I know, they're never terribly exciting, but hey -- none of my posts are, really.

Daredevil #93
This has actually been a decent book lately from Marvel. (Note that Civil War has been largely absent from its pages.) I was never a big fan of Daredevil as a character -- still not -- but the strength of the storytelling has kept me coming back.
Pirate Club #7
This series has been over and done with for a little while now, but I had trouble picking up individual issues past #5 or so. Since it's not from Marvel or DC, it's sometimes hard to track down where any given shop will hold back issues and I recently found this in my shop's back issue bins. This finally completes my collection of this title, and I can finally read the whole frickin' thing.
The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo
This was book I noticed on my shop's shelves a couple of week's ago. It's by Joe Sacco, who created Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde. I was in college during the Bosnian War, and I recall it being on the news frequently. But I actually learned about it from Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde and Joe Kubert's Fax from Sarajevo. Sacco is essentially a journalist who tells his stories in a comic book format. And he does a much better job than just about any other news source I've seen/heard. In the few pieces of his that I've read, his work is powerful in a Maus sort of way. An excellent storyteller, and he's telling important stories. I'm absolutely looking forward to reading The Fixer and I'm glad it was an otherwise light week, so I could afford to pick this up finally.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Native Americans in Comics

Comic Book Resources has an interesting article on the depiction of Native Americans in comic books. Minorities in American comics is a sorely neglected subject on the whole, and I'm thrilled that more attention is being given to the subject. Michael Sheyahshe's book has not been published yet, but I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it. I encourage you to write to either Sheyahshe himself or the publisher about your interest in it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Good Reading Day

I had a doctor's appointment in the middle of the day today, and needed to take the day off from work. The appointment itself didn't take long, but it was awkardly scheduled so that I wouldn't have been able to accomplish much if I had gone in. So, having most of the day free, I picked up the copy of Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 2 that I got for Christmas and read through it.

The book reprints a number of Batman stories, obviously, illustrated by Neal Adams. Several of them were issues that I actually had as a kid, and helped to solidify my love of comic books. In fact, there were very few comics I had as a kid that featured a Batman drawn by someone other than Neal Adams. Adams and Batman were as synonymous to me as Curt Swan and Superman.

What's interesting to me, though, is that I never made a conscious distinction at the time of how good Adams' work was in comparison to others'. A couple issues I had reprinted Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson stories, and Batman certainly cropped up in other issues drawn by other artists from time to time. But it was the Adams stories that stuck in my mind. Nothing I could lay my finger on back then, but those issues were just better somehow.

Looking back with almost three decades of hindsight, it's fairly clear why I loved those stories more than others. Neal Adams' work was summarily elegant and his frequent partnering with Denny O'Neil produced always solid, if not excellent, stories. Batman had yet to become the dark, brooding, morose character that Frank Miller helped make him, but the O'Neil/Adams Batman stood out as the ultimate policeman. He was Sherlock Holmes and Bruce Lee rolled into one. He solved crimes using his uncanny ability to notice details, and sort out all the connections in his head (no silly "Bat-Computer" for this guy!). And then he was able to beat the snot out of the hoods who were foolish enough to pull a gun on him... without using a weapon himself!

It really was incredible stuff back in the day, and it's no wonder I grew to love comics. Even if you didn't grow up on those same books I did, I highly recommend getting at least one of the Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams books. DC really producing some strong material at the time, and these stories showcase some of the best of them.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

ComicSpace Usefulness

I noted a while back that I wasn't entirely convinced of ComicSpace's usefulness. However, recently, I ran across a gent who had some similar interests in comic book fandom. We began an e-mail conversation about fandom, and I think we've both learned a number of things already. I think we've both enjoyed the conversation so far and we're both hoping to get more out of it.

So I have to say that if nothing else comes of ComicSpace, I've gotten something out of it. So, for that, Josh, thanks.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pirate Comics

You know what the problem with the comic buying public is? They don't buy enough comic books about pirates! I've gone through and dug out covers for every pirate-related comic book title I can find, and I've only come with a handful. To make matters worse, only a few of these titles lasted beyond four or six issues and none of them lasted more than twelve! Even today, when Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom are making pirates popular, we've got about zip!

Unlike some of my other "covers" posts, these are ALL the covers I could find. Most of the time, I try just to get a good sampling, but this is it! And let me say, too, that I think I'm stretching things a bit when I'm including The Pirates of Dark Water and Peter Pan in my pirate themed books here!

So consider this a call to action! Go buy some pirate-related comics! Then publishers will get the hint and make more of them! It's a win-win situation!

Unless, I suppose, you don't like pirates.

For the record, I'm not sure what "female sex pirates" are or what a comic entitled Female Sex Pirates would be about. I just stumbled across the cover image in my search.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Blogaround Challenge 2007

Okay, I'm tackling another meme here with Comic Book Commentary's Blogaround Challenge 2007. The idea is to review three blogs that are NOT in your own blogroll. Seeing as I don't actually maintain a blogroll, I figured this would be a great meme to tackle! :)

But, hey, this is "Kleefeld on Comics" so you know I'm still going to keep this comic-centered and, hopefully, point you to some cool stuff.

1. News From ME - By Mark Evanier, writer of Groo, DNAgents, Garfield and Friends and a bunch of other stuff.
Mark's been running his blog for centuries now, long before "blogging" was even a term. (I think his earliest posts were actually cuneiform carved into clay tablets.) His blog reflects pretty much whatever the heck he feels like yammering on about -- from politics to cartoons to Broadway shows to the cuteness of baby pandas -- so you never really know what to expect when you stop by. Although I tend to gloss over his posts about the internal politics of the Writers' Guild, he often posts many times throughout the day and there will almost always be something interesting and/or insightful there. He has a phenomenal number of personal anecdotes about people in the entertainment industry, and a deep appreciation for what they do. I've been reading his blog long enough that I generally trust his judgement, and I often make it a point to check out his comic book/cartoon/TV/movie recommendations. I've learned a great deal about the inner workings and personalities in the history of all those media, thanks to Mark. Even though he hates me.

2. Confessions of an Aca/Fan - By Henry Jenkins, director of MIT's media studies program.
Henry has written a few books on how people interact with media, often focusing on popular culture like television, movies and comic books. He has a deep understanding of what drives things like comic book fandom, and his blog is an extension of that. What's interesting, to me, about his writing is that he's a fan of these media as much as he is an academic about it. (Hence, "Aca/Fan".) He'll talk about the sociological and psychological aspects of fandom, but openly admit that he also simply enjoys Star Trek. In my recent studies of comic book fandom, Henry's work has been very useful and poignant. If his books didn't prove it to me, his blog certainly would show that he's up there as one of the, if not THE authority on the fandom of all sorts. Henry uses his blog as an extension of the published work he's already done, and it's something of a cross between a "normal" blog and notes and sidebars to his books.

3. Double Articulation - By Jim Roeg.
Jim is a fan of a great many comics, and what I find engaging is that he's quite adept at articulating both his love of the medium, and an analysis of WHY he loves what he does. He writes very intelligently on why he feels the way he does about comics, and brings in all sorts of literary and psychological theory. Check out this quote from a recent post: "For me, the new Baxter series of The New Teen Titans represented the acme of juvenile fantasy, not simply because it was so fanboyishly satisfying (which it was), but because it provided a very unique sort of consolation for the misery and uncertainty of junior high: it was an object that validated my precocious snobbery—my belief in the sophistication and maturity of my tastes and my conviction that, even though I felt like I had little in common with most of my classmates, there was some parallel universe in which a twelve-year-old's capacity to appreciate the beauty, darkness, and, yes, profundity of the world was actually recognized." While that doesn't sum up everything he writes about, I think it's very typical of the types of thoughts and throught processes with which he puts into his blog. Wonderful stuff! My only complaint about Double Articulation is that Jim doesn't update it often enough.

I'll also give some honorable mentions to Blah Blah Blog, The Comics Reporter, and A Trout In The Milk who examines Marvel Comics, indie comics, and... ????* respectively.

* I'm not sure I could really quantify plok's blog very succicntly. He's often all over the comics map with subject matter -- something like this blog, I suppose -- but he always seems to have something interesting and intelligent to say. I'm kind of reminded of an intelligent, well-read, well-versed, but somewhat schizophrenic and occassionally drunk friend I had in college. (That's meant as a compliment, BTW, plok.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Differing Wonderland Perspectives

It was announced a little while back that Raven Gregory was working on a book called Return to Wonderland. Newsarama recently followed up with Gregory in this interview. One comment stood out for me as a significant cultural difference between Americans (of which Gregory is one) and Brits (of which Lewis Carroll was)...

"One of the first initial ideas that came about was how terrifying it would be to see a giant caterpillar in front of you. In the novel and animated version, Alice handles all this stuff quite well until the end... while in this story, her daughter deals with the events much more like a regular person would. She's f***ing scared out of her brain."

She may well have been scared, but it wouldn't have been very British of her if she had started trembling on the spot, or run away screaming. No, as a proper English girl, she would have stood in the face of the freak show with a stiff upper lip. In fact, that she cries at all early on is rather out of character for her.

I saw an episode of As Time Goes By... (a 1990s British sitcom that starred Judi Dench before any Americans knew who Judi Dench was) and two of the characters were making fun of another as he was leaving. Dench pops her head in as she's leaving to scold the two with, "I hope you both have a thoroughly unpleasant day." Naturally, an American would have had a considerably shorter response, probably along the lines of "F*** off!"

Call it an attribute or a detriment, but Americans tend to be fairly blunt and straight-forward. An American Alice may well have screamed in horror at a giant caterpillar (and probably popped it one on the nose shortly afterwards), but an English Alice wouldn't have.

My point here is that I think it's important to know something of the context of a story to understand it. How has the perception of war comics changed over the years? Even if you simply reprinted the same ones from the 1940s, how would they be perceived during the late 1960s? Or today? What would a soldier fighting on the front lines of WWII think of a contemporary Captain America?

I'm not saying, by the way, that Gregory's re-interpretation isn't valid! He's bringing the story forward and putting it into a new context. I'm just saying that it seems like his thought process for doing that has skipped a few steps. Does he think he's correcting a flaw in the original, or is he consciously re-contextualizing the characters as well as the story? That's the context I'll be bringing to the table when I pick up the book myself.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Keep An Eye Out For...

Just saw the April solicitations for Oni Press and they had the following included...
By James Vining.
2006 Xeric Winner! In the early 60s, the space race was moving towards its climax. Prior to manned spaceflight, both Americans and Soviets were launching animals up in rockets in order to test the biological viability of manned spaceflight. Extensively researched, First in Space is based on the true story of Ham, a chimpanzee Americans trained for the first sub-orbital spaceflight. This rousing adventure provides a snapshot in time of America's conquest of space.
96 pages, black and white, $9.95.
Now, I haven't read any of Vining's work previously, but I know that Xeric winners are generally very talented people. I'm going to be keeping an eye out for this precisely because of that Xeric Award.

Well, that, plus it's a story about a monkey. And who doesn't love monkeys?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Alice 19th

So I got a chance to read the first volume of Alice 19th on my lunch hour. This was my first real attempt to read something in a manga format -- I chose Alice 19th almost exclusively for the vague allusions to Alice in Wonderland, even though I knew in advance that, structurally and functionally, there was little resemblence to that story.

The first few pages were a little difficult to follow. I think that was largely due to my getting used to the manga format. Logically, I knew I had to read the pages "backwards" but it took me about 20 pages to get into the "rhythm" of reading that way.

The other thing that took a bit of getting accustomed to was the use of emotionally-driven depictions of characters. In the vast majority of comics I've read, characters look exactly the same from issue to issue, panel to panel. Even changing artists generally didn't have THAT significant of an impact on how characters were depicted. However, here -- and in many mang comics generally speaking -- the characters are often portrayed in a different style from time to time to visually emphasize their emotional state. Extreme emotions often result in a more simplified and cartoony version of the character. Further, inner monologues are sometimes accompanied by a cartoon version of the character, in something of a visual representation of their id. Again, these were traits I was consciously aware of in advance, but had not really experienced them in an extended story before.

The story of Alice 19th concerns a young girl, Alice, who lives in the shadow of her older, more attractive sister. She saves a small bunny from the ravages of city traffic, and soon learns that the rabbit is in fact a teacher in the art of Lotis Words and believes Alice has an innate sense of courage, the 19th of the sacred words of Lotis. The rabbit senses great power within Alice and wants to teach her how to use that power. Alice then seemingly and somewhat accidentally makes her sister disappear, and she begins a search for her which leads her to cross into another world.

The story is about 180 pages long, but it read fairly quickly. For a ten dollar purchase, I felt I was getting more than my money's worth. The storytelling itself was solid, but didn't particularly stand out from other manga I've glanced at. The story is focused on Alice's inner journey, which is moved along with the aid of a few dramatic action scenes. I saw nothing "wrong" or bad about the story -- as I said, the author does a solid job of storytelling -- but nothing really "clicked" for me. I just could not get "into" the character enough to warrant my purchasing another volume of Alice 19th. I suspect that, being an American male, I'm simply just a little too far removed from the author's point of view to really connect well. I don't find any fault with the author or the format; this particular story is just not my cup of tea.

I might next try a shōnen piece; perhaps I've got too much stereotypical testosterone for shōjo. But I'm willing to give it a shot and see what works for me and what doesn't.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Turning Dreams Into Reality

I had a dream this morning. That statement is probably more significant than one might expect because I normally don't dream at all. Technically, I'm sure I do, but I never remember them. You know when you wake up and remember that you had a dream, but you can't quite recall any details? I don't even get that. I go to sleep and wake up the next morning. As far as I'm concerned, the actual time I spent sleeping may well have not existed -- I have no sense of time passing at all. In fact, I firmly believed I didn't actually sleep at all until I was ten or so.

In my entire life so far, I can recall having only about eight dreams, only five of which I still have any recollection of today. So that I had a dream this morning, to me, is striking.

But I'd like to note it hear on my blog because I think it's an interesting story idea that could well be translated into a comic book. So, in the same vein as my Propoganda of the Deed idea, I'd like to put the idea down in the hopes that someone with more artistic talent than myself might like to help create this into an actual comic book. (I could still use an artist on that Propaganda of the Deed story, if anyone's interested.)

In my dream, I'm hired as a courier, delivering packages from one side of town to another. I return to the office after a very quick delivery, and I get into an arguement with the clerk about some penalty they're trying to apply against the job I just ran. A young gentleman in his early 20s comes out from a back room and promises to help clear up the matter. We head down to his car in the garage, and I continue arguing that the penalty wasn't fair and I earned this money (wadded up and tightly clenched within my fist) fairly. He remains largely silent, offering only an occassional "Uh-huh" or "Mmm." He asks me to get into his car, and he'll drive me out so we can take of the matter.

The trip to his home is fairly short, and he parks in the driveway of what appears to be a hidden home. The face of it is low and is reminiscent of a colonial-style cottage. The back and sides, however, are completely hidden as the house is built into the side of a hill. He turns off the house alarm and we step inside. The room opens down into a grand, two-story entryway that looks like a cross between a life-size maze and a toy store. Shelves of toys run almost to the ceiling, creating a puzzle that most children would be happy to be trapped in. They're dolls and games and teddy bears and airplanes and tricycles and everything a child might want. It's wonderous in much the same way going to Children's Palace or Toys R Us was when I was six or seven. Further along, there's a section with comic books and traditional children's literature, ranging from Dr. Suess to Judy Bloom.

We walk through and he explains that he's becoming the world's leader in producing whatever it is that kids want: toys, games, comics, whatever. He loves children and wants to make them happy, but he can't enjoy them himself if he's trying to run a business in a more classical sense. To that end, he'd like to hire me to prove to the world that he doesn't exist. If he didn't exist, he wouldn't have to fight corporate takeovers and deal with competitors and the like; he could simply focus on making things that kids wanted.

How can you prove that someone doesn't exist? By showing them that they do. By putting this man's life up as a story for the world to see, and showing how utterly fantastic it is, everyone would have to assume it was fiction because it's simply beyond the realm of believability.

He even offers to bring The Wife in, so the two of us could live comfortably near him and help document his non-existence. And obviously, he would pay very handsomely. The Wife and I are both very happy.

That's as far as I got when I woke up.

It's only part of a story so far, but I think there's a lot of a germ of an intriguing idea there. Something of a cross between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Toys, and my interests in storytelling and marketing.

I'm reminded of a pair of anecdotes. 1) What was the Devil's greatest feat? Proving to the world that he doesn't exist. 2) In the first episode of Psych, Sean notes that the best way to lie to someone is to tell them that you're lying to them.

In any event, I don't know what might have prompted that particular dream this morning, nor do I know why I would remember it upon waking. But it strikes me as another interesting story idea that could work well as a comic book. Any artists out there up to the challenge?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Introducing Manga...

I just picked up Alice 19th volume 1, what will effectively be my first real foray into manga. I'd read Lone Wolf and Cub but it was a decidedly Americanized version of the story. Alice 19th has been translated into English, certainly, but like the original, it reads right to left and "back" to "front." I don't know if this is necessarily the best story to start with -- I don't know if it's necessarily the worst one either; I haven't read it yet -- but I'm interested to see how well I like it.

I'll try to remember to post how much I like it. Or don't.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Action Heroes

I just saw this interview with Roger Stern about his work on the old Captain Atom stories for Charlton. The only question I have is: how the heck did I miss that they even made a volume 1?!?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

September 1947

Today, we're looking at the spinner rack of September 1947. The date is significant because it marks the debut of Joe Simon's and Jack Kirby's Young Romance -- the first comic book in the romance genre.

It strikes me that, generally speaking, the comic selection of the time looks rather similar to the offerings we have today. There's a domination of superhero titles with a few "name" heroes -- namely Superman and Captain Marvel -- being cross-sold through multiple titles. There are a variety of other genres available, but not in particularly large quantities. Some of the books, like Green Hornet Fights Crime and Shadow Comics, are based on licensed properties that originated in other media. There are even some books that cross multiple genres such as Terry-Toons which features Mighty Mouse, a funny animal with super powers.

Westerns, by and large, are not around. They really wouldn't become popular until 1948, and then the market was flooded with Western titles. Naturally, romance flourished at that time as well, with the success of the aforementioned Young Romance.

I might remind readers as well that, in 1947, some characters that are now associated with DC and Marvel were owned by companies other than those two. Captain Marvel was from Fawcett, Plastic Man from Quality, and Daredevil (admittedly, a wholly different DD than the one we know today) from Gleason. Further, the creators typically associated with some of the big name characters have already stopped working on them.

Trivia: Action Comics #112 is the first cover featuring Superman with a chess-based theme. All-Star #36 (whose cover you might recognize) features the first time Superman and Batman are actually shown to fight alongside the JSA. The "Dick Tracy" and "Bugs Bunny" comics are actually two issues of a Dell series entitled Four Color which had a rotating line-up, which also included the Lone Ranger, Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Woody Woodpecker, Tarzan, Charlie McCarthy, and Roy Rogers. Archie Andrews is billed as "America's Top Teen-Ager" on the cover of Laugh, but it's Buzzy Brown who's billed as "America's Favorite Teen-Ager" on the cover of Buzzy.