Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Milton Caniff

One hundred years ago today was the birth of Milton Caniff. He was born in Hillsboro, Ohio -- about an hour and a half drive from where I live now. Caniff would later go on to draw the wildly popular newspaper strips: Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. Caniff brought a decidedly "legitimate" artistic integrity to the funny pages with intricate details in his work, as well as some IMHO superb brushwork.

I only started reading some of Caniff's work several weeks ago, when Humorous Maximus began publishing Steve Canyon online. He's one of the many artists I know more by reputation than by his actual accomplishments, so I've tried to take it upon myself to see just how good he was. That it's now available for free is a decided bonus.

That's been my (and I suspect many others') biggest hindrance to not knowing more about the history of comics and comic art -- much of what has come before is not in wide circulation, thus making research very cost-prohibitive. The internet has helped considerably and I've benefited enormously in the past year or two with the volume of material that was simply not even available a few years ago.

In honor of Caniff's birthday, I suggest you head on over and start reading Steve Canyon -- even in the short time I've been reading, it's been easy to see why people enjoyed it. But I might also suggest your looking up Wowio and Golden Age Comics Online for other materials. There's so much more to comics than Batman and Captain America (and in light of Civil War, that should come as a huge relief!) that I think it makes sense for everyone to take advantage of the opportunities to experience what else is out there. You might not like Steve Canyon or Gold Digger or Airboy, but you're not going to know that until you try them out, right?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Comic Book Contests

I'm generally not keen on touting my own horn, but I'd like to take a moment to show off my comic "wins" from the past few years. As I've repeatedly stated, I like the whole comics medium and I'm always thrilled to have the opportunity to try new things. What surprises me is that more fans don't seem to enter these contests...

Oh, there are plenty of comic-related contests I haven't won! Dark Horse has run been running one a month for the past few months, CBR had its famous Comic Book Idol, Newsarama recently interviewed the winner of Atomic Comics' Marvel Editor-in-Chief For A Day Contest, MarvelMasterworks.com seems to have something running all the time... I even hosted one based on last year's Who Wants To Be A Superhero? television show.

I complained some time back about there not being more comic contests out there, but the truth appears that the contests are out there, but people just aren't participating in large numbers. (Which, on a purely selfish level, I'm thankful for!) Is that a marketing issue? Do people simply not know about these contests? Or are the prizes really so uninteresting that people don't care to enter? I'd prefer to think the former, but I'm not always the best judge of these things.

Either way, it strikes me as a business failure to some degree. Either the person running the contest hasn't properly marketed the contest (and, therefore, his/her own backing of said contest) or they've failed to read their market sufficiently to provide an appropriate and warranted prize. Maybe we need more MBAs in the comic industry.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to come up with something for my latest entry for Patriot Factor.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jack Kirby: Soothsayer

A little over a week ago, I started playing "Second Life." If you haven't played it, it's essentially an online 'game' with no real restrictions or rules or even an ultimate goal. You log in and interact with other people in any way that you want -- or don't interact with them at all and simply explore their world. You can earn (and spend) money within the world, but you don't need to. You can adopt an avatar and persona that allow you to role-play almost anything, or simply go in as yourself. It struck me as a fascinating way to examine online social networking, which still has me somewhat perplexed.

In the week that I've been playing (under the anagramatic pseudonym 'Feldane Klees' if you want to look me up) I've found a warehouse of free creations for my character (everything from clothing to weapons to vehicles to buildings), a central meeting place for Star Trek fans, and the recreation of an Old West town. The warehouse is literally filled with virtual crates of merchandise which characters can freely copy as often as they wish. Starfleet Command is built after the designs seen in the various Star Trek shows, even appropriating many of the ambient noises for sliding doors and turbo-lifts. Similarly, Dodge City looks like it a stereotypical town from the Old West, but directions are given upon entering that inhabitants are required to play their parts in a true role-playing fashion -- whereas Starfleet Command seemed more like it just held the visual and audio trappings of the Trek universe while still holding to contemporary social conventions.

After puttering around for a week or so, an interesting phenomena about Second Life occurred to me. Since the entire world is founded in bytes, there are a number of "advantages" to it over the real world. First, objects are copyable and transferable at no cost. If I have my own hoverbike, I can duplicate it and pass it along to a friend for free. Second, many physcial laws do not apply. Any character can fly as easily as walk; falling off a skyscraper will result in no damage; you can 'hang' objects in mid-air. Third, since objects are virtual, I can carry an infinite array of them with me at all times. I don't need a dwelling to store and protect my holdings; I can create and recreate them at will ad naseum. Fourth, when you create your online character, you are not limited by reality. You can get yourself into great shape with a few button clicks; you can walk around in a Kool-Aid Man costume without sweating buckets. You can present yourself in any way you like. There are other pluses as well, but these strike me as note-worthy.

(This WILL evenutally circle are back to comic books. Stay with me.)

Now, armed with these "main" benefits, why wouldn't you want to live in this world? Within Second Life, you can be and do whatever you want. There's almost nothing in the way of consequences. There's almost nothing in the way of limitations. You can be a rock star or an exotic dancer or a pirate or an alien or... You can build the house of your dreams and never have to worry about upkeep or maintenance.

It got me to thinking how this type of thing could be considered your "opiate for the masses." If your life is dull and drab for whatever reason(s), you can step into your Second Life persona and do something more exciting or invigorating. You can be more attractive, more wealthy, more powerful... at essentially zero cost. (A Second Life account is free, so your only cost would be a computer to run the base program -- which anyone interested in Second Life probably already has.) I can easily see why that would be insanely enticing. It's virtual reality almost to the point of total immersion.

So that got me thinking about when the concept of "virtual reality" was created. It became popular in science fiction in the mid-1990s with Star Trek and Lawnmower Man. The movie The Matrix took the concept even further. But, in doing a little research, the term "virtual reality" was first coined in 1982 by Dan Brodes in his novel The Judas Mandala.

"That's odd," I thought. "I'm sure the concept must have been around before then."

Doing a little more digging, it was indeed around in various forms before then. Ray Bradbury wrote about the concept in The Illustrated Man back in 1951, and a real world VR prototype environment called "Sensorama" was built in 1962 by Morton Heilig. Science fact obviously follows science fiction, and it wasn't until the late 1970s and early 1980s that virtual realities started creeping their way into popular fiction, and it didn't take a real hold until William Gibson's widely-acclaimed Neuromancer came out in 1984. We're still not to that level, obviously, but Second Life certainly sparks some interesting comparisons.

Now (and here's where I get around to talking about comics!) what struck me was an issue of Jack Kirby's 2001 I read recently. In #5, a character by the name of Harvey Norton is introduced. He lives in New York City circa 2040, and spends what free time he has in a simulatron run by Comicsville, Inc. playing the character of White Zero. Harvey essentially is living his second life as a superhero because his day job is quite dreadful and even his trips to the artificially created beach do not fill him with any joy. He has a small apartment and no real social life to speak of. But in the realm of Comicsville, Inc., he is a hero bar none -- truely a super man capable and worthy of saving the city from disaster on a regular basis.

2001 #5 came out in early 1977, so it's clear that Jack didn't pioneer the notion of a virtual reality; it had been around in various forms for over two decades. But, in what I've found so far, Jack's the first person to take the idea of a virtual reality to a commercial leisure activity. Jack -- again, insofar as I've been able to determine -- is the first one to forsee the culture we would actually start to inhabit and how the technology would be used to enhance our sense of escapism. Did anyone happen to catch Opus this Sunday?
Berkley Breathed's coming from a different perspective, obviously, but he's touching on the same notion. That we're living drab, colorless, lifeless lives and are constantly reaching out to find a second life that's more active and engaging. Breathed's living in that world, though; he's commenting on what's happening now. Jack was commenting on what's happening now, 30 years before it happened.

I think that's where some of Jack's storytelling power came from. He could see where the planet was going and extrapolate, logically, how we might be interacting with it. Sure, he put his own flourishes in place that are perhaps off-the-mark scientifically, but good fiction comes from, I think, showing us how we interact with the world, regardless of what that world is. That's where Jack was going; he just beat us there by a couple of decades.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Oliver Queen Chronicles

The folks at "The CW" have recently posted the first episode of Smallville Legends: The Chronicles of Oliver Queen on their web site. I understand it was originally released for Sprint cell phone users a few weeks earlier, but I haven't heard/seen any comments about it, so I'm not sure how widespread that's been.

The story is essentially the origin of Green Arrow. I believe it's more in line with Green Arrow seen in Smallville, not the one from the actual comic books. But I don't really watch Smallville so I can't say how closely it's tied to that show. The webisode is short -- maybe five minutes -- so it's really the barest of introductions. It's hard to get a sense of what's well-done.

What did strike me as interesting was that they're using 3-D computer sprites for all of the animation. I suspect that animation would be cheaper for what they're trying to show -- among other things: large, stately homes -- and that's got to be a big factor for something like this, that won't really be generating ad revenue per se. They also didn't go for a "realistic" approach and have rotoscoped the figures, so they all have black outlines, like those you would find in a comic book. I'm curious how much of that decision stemmed from the choice to "broadcast" the originals via cell phone (with absurdly small screens in which details would be harder to decipher) and how much from the character's roots in comic books.

I didn't see anything so far that has me charged to come back, but I didn't see anything either to push me away. It was an adequate presentation and, for free, I can't really complain much. I'll swing back for subsequent episodes, but I'm not going to be pounding on CW's virtual door to get them.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Yes, I'm Going To Complain About Civil War #7

The "big" news this week was the finale of Civil War #7 and, like Abhay, Graeme, Jim, Chris and so many others, I found it lacking. Not so much that it was poorly scripted or drawn, but that it was absurdly anti-climatic and disappointing. It's an ending that really isn't an ending; it's an ending that just peters out.

But that's not what I'm going to focus on here today!

Let me take a moment to present you with an image. This is from last summer's Superman Returns movie.

Before I saw the original teaser trailer for Superman Returns, I was uninterested in the movie. Just not a huge fan of the character; I could take him or leave him. But that scene where Superman flies up above the clouds into the sunrise with Brando's voice-over...? That totally sold it for me. Why? Mostly because of the imagery.

The sun is an extremely powerful image. In the first place, everyone knows the sun. No matter where you live on the planet, no matter what your cultural background is, you know what the sun is, what it does for the planet, how it's important for all life on earth. Consequently, the rising sun is an almost universal metaphor for continuing life and, therefore, hope. The rising sun shows every day that there is a tomorrow to look towards. No matter how absurdly bleak things get, there is still something to look forward to. And silhouetting a hero against a rising sun conveys a very powerful message, directly comparing that rising sun's hope to the hero standing in front of it. In this image, Superman is the herald of tomorrow's hope just as the sun is.

Now, let's look at the final panel from Civil War...
We can't tell if the sun is rising or setting here, but it's cutting through an upside-down horizon created by the SHIELD Helicarrier. The arc of the earth is not present at all, and the sun is hung behind a massive, man-made structure hovering thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of feet in the air. We see what is essentially an image 180 degrees opposite of the universal image we have of tomorrow's hope.

You ever wonder why people hold a flashlight under their chin when they tell ghost stories? It's because they're forcing the light to shine on their face in a decidedly unnatural way -- we are used to seeing people's face lit by sunlight, which always comes from above. That a light shines from below makes them appear unnatural and adds an aura of fear and uncertainty to their tale.

The same principle applies here. The sun is universally above the earth. No matter how much of a horizon you find yourself looking at, the sun will be above it. By shifting the horizon (shown here as the underbelly of the Helicarrier) and having the sun hang below, artist Steve McNiven has created a wholly unnatural image.

Was that a deliberate and discussed story-telling point from the whole creative team? Was that something McNiven threw in to suggest his opinion of the story? Was it a conscious choice, or a more visceral and intuitive design decision? Am I reading too much into one piece of art?

Questions I don't have answers for. But I think the end result is extremely metaphoric -- I don't think there's much to look forward to in the Marvel Universe.

Monkey of the Week

I didn't see this on the shelf this week, but Tom Spurgeon pointed out...
Sock Monkey: The Inches Incident #3

I'm going to cheat and use Tom's text description: "A terrible thing about not being near a comic shop is that I miss out on books like this one -- it's not new, it's not a startling new direction, it's not anything except likely to be good."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Two New Comic Day Incidents

Okay, so yesterday, I went to my local comic shop to pick up this week's cache of new books. The owner was behind the counter, getting various things organized, his wife/manager was in the back room on the computer, and there were two customers already in the store. One customer was young-ish (early twenties, maybe) and looking at the new books on the shelves, and the other was older (fiftish) and chatting with the owner.

Incident #1 -- As I walked in, the owner said "hi" and turned around to get my file. The other customer continued talking (something about a promotional image of Power Girl sporting a camel toe in the latest Previews) and the owner handed me a stack of comics. He also took a moment to point out that the American Way TPB -- which I had asked about last week -- was on the shelf behind me if I was still interested.

What caught my attention was that he had recalled my offhand question about American Way very quickly. I didn't ask him to reserve a copy; I had just made an idle inquiry about wanting to take a look at it. He remembered that, and pointed it out when he got it in. Anyone who would've specifically ordered a copy would've had one in their file, and he only had one copy left. It probably would've sold to someone anyway, but the owner got a more solid sale by pointing it out to someone who had already expressed some interest in it.

My local shop has only been around for a little over three years, so I still have some concern in the back of my head about their longevity, but incidents like this one suggest to me that he really has a pretty good head for business, and will probably be around for a while.

Incident #2 -- As I picked up a few extra books off the shelf, I wandered back to the counter where the one customer was still talking. (The other had purchased a couple of books and left.) He had moved on to how some folks at DC were intentionally mis-directing fans about various plot points in 52. He would cite various message board posts from DC editors who had said thus-and-so about a character, and two weeks later an issue would come out contradicting that, and how this whole thing was being rolled out as some big mystery, and here's this one image of Ralph Dibney's nose twitching which means his powers are back, and how this was actually set up earlier, and how some fan had actually noticed it and placed a blown-up scan of the panel in question on another message board, and...

I was in the shop for about a half-hour, and this guy's diatribe was running in the background the whole time. He spent the entire time talking about plot points in various DC books -- he even walked me through the latest issue of Hawkgirl page by page, including a ton of back-story that, even with his extended explanations, made little sense to me. I heard more about the vast tapestry that is the DC Universe in that half-hour than I have in ages.

In short, this man -- this fiftish-year-old man -- was the biggest DC fanboy I think I've ever met.

Now I'm not making a judgement against him. He seemed like a nice enough guy and was fairly well-spoken. He clearly knew his stuff and if I were going to enter into some DC trivia contest, he'd be on my short list of people I'd want on my team. He was quite passionate about the DC mythos and heavily invested in it -- financially (he said at one point that he bought pretty much everthing DC puts out) and emotionally (judging by his enthusiasm).

I only bring it up as an "incident" because I don't run into people like this very often. Oh, I've met plenty of fanboy types before, but they're usually very young and not as versed in the comic stories as they'd like to be. I've met older fans, but they're either very nostalgic about comics from their youth or don't pay much attention to mainstream stuff because they "outgrew" it years ago. This gentleman -- who's name I didn't even catch, to be honest -- seemed to me something of a rarity. If I ever get around to writing my book about fandom, I'd definitely be interested in getting his thoughts and/or profile into it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

One Year Anniversary

I'll be damned! Today is the one year anniversary of this blog.

The reason I started Kleefeld on Comics was mainly as an outlet for the various comic-related thoughts that were rolling around in my head that didn't seem to expressible in other outlets I had. In that regard, this blog is admittedly and whole-heartedly selfish. I'm writing this stuff down here so I have a repository for anything I might want to write in the future. Almost as a sort of ongoing idea file.

The other thought behind starting this was to try to put myself to a regular writing schedule. People who teach writing generally say that the best thing to do to improve your craft is simply to practice. Write, write, write. Get used to the way ideas flow out of your head, through your fingers and onto the screen. Repeat the process of articulating ideas so often that it becomes as natural as breathing. And by doing that every day, you'll find that you'll be doing enough of it to see improvement over time.

Well, as you might have noticed, I haven't exactly hit the mark yet. During the past year, this is only post #304. I seem to have lost two whole months due to various things getting in the way of writing here. That's not an excuse, mind you. But let's see if I can't get at least 365 posts over the course of the next year.

The other element to this blog, of course, is ego. The idea that I have something worth saying that somebody else hasn't already said more eloquently. That I have enough ideas worthy of reading that people would come back here more than once. Let's be honest here; I regularly only get 30-40 visitors on most days. If I tie into someone's else meme or contest, or if someone happens to link here in a popular message board, I'll get a bump of 70 visitors or so for a day or two. And that is a pleasant ego-boost. "Ooo! I got 42 visitors yesterday! I must've said something decent!"

Anyway, today's post is particularly self-indulgent since I'm talking about myself talking about comics. But for those of you who have returned more than once, I relaly do thank you. I'll be continuing my bizarre rants and disjointed conjectures for the foreseeable future, and I hope you'll indulge my ego by joining me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fickle Fandom

In the 1960s, Jack Kirby was what you would today call a "hot" artist. Pretty much anything he touched sold well. Stan Lee frequently put Jack on books whose sales were lagging specifically to get a spike in sales numbers. In the 1970s, his popularity had waned a bit, I suspect, in large part because his Fourth World series was a bit too "out there" for most comic buying fans. In the 1980s, fans seemed to split over their appreciation for Kirby's work, mostly along the lines of whether or not they agreed in principle with Marvel's not returning Jack's original artwork to him.

Today, in 2007, it would seem that Kirby has a relatively small, but devout, following of fans. And those people who don't qualify themselves as fans seem to be genuinely perplexed as to why anyone would like him at all. His art isn't very realistic; the characters have square fingers; what's up with that weird chin squiggle?

Now I could write that off as Jack no longer being a "hot" artist (hard to do from beyond the grave, after all) but Will Eisner seems to have no one complaining about his work. Is it simply the superficial style of the two artists that determines whether or not a large crop of current fans appreciate an artist?

I have to say that it can't be that. After Jack Kirby's contemporaries were folks like Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, and John Romita. (Before there was a John Romita Jr. in the business to confuse matters!)

Hmmm... as I reflect, though, I recall reading some Spider-Man books as a kid. I was young enough that I didn't really recognize the differences between titles -- I was just interested that it said Spider-Man somewhere on the cover. Given the time period, I had seen Spidey drawn by the likes of Jim Mooney and Rich Buckler, and I was used to that. I distinctly recall being shocked and disappointed when I picked up an issue of Marvel Tales that reprinted an early Steve Ditko drawn story, not realizing at the time that it was a reprint. Looking back now, I can clearly see that I was only looking at the surface level of the illustrations. Ditko's style wasn't shiny enough for my naive (yet justifiable, I think, given my age at the time) all-that-glitters mentality.

Maybe there's something to that. Maybe it takes some maturation of a comic fan's sensibilities to move beyond the "hot" artists. But maybe "maturation" is the wrong word; maybe that's what I want to say it is to give more credibility to myself. Maybe it's not a maturation per se, but something else. Maybe it's just an understanding of the context. Maybe it's simply from increased exposure. Maybe it takes somebody pointing out what to look at, if not the obvious linework.

Hmmm...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Manga, Take 2... or... Manwha, Take 1

I was at the bookstore the other night and checked out their manga section to see if anything else appealed to me. My first foray wasn't entirely successful, so I thought I'd take another stab at it with something that might be a little more up my alley. The title of iD_eNTITY stood out on the shelf, and reading the back cover made it sound like something I could get behind.

The basic plot is that of three high schoolers who spend a lot of time in an online game called "Lost Saga." Most of the interaction occurs within the game itself, but there are periodic shifts to reality so that we see the characters in both their real-life and fictional personas. The blurb on the back of the book references that the main character accidentally finds a new login character that leads to some problems, but the first volume that I just read doesn't get that far.

So, first thing, this was in the manga section of the bookstore. It's clearly labeled "Manga" on the book itself. The actual book itself, though, is manwha. The basic difference is that manga are Japanese comics, and manwha are Korean comics. There's certainly going to be some similarities, given the physical proximity of the two areas, but there's also going to be some cultural differences behind the stories. So I have to say that, learning that the book was manwha after purchasing it was somewhat disappointing. (To be fair to publisher Tokyopop, the inside back cover clearly identifies the book properly and provides a brief description.)

That said, the story was actually fairly enjoyable. I liked the premise modern characters acting in a fantasy environment; it provided some intriguing analogies. For example, is that concept really any different than a traditional superhero with their alter ego? It also made for smoother dialogue, as everyone was talking in modern English (well, I'm sure the original was written in Korean, but the references and concepts were contemporary) and not a faux-Shakespearian dialect. Plus, the dialogue had an interesting mix of technological as well as fantasy references. (Characters would talk about login problems and connection speeds, as well as fighting werewolves and casting fireballs.) It also provided some interest in characters' thought-processes, as they were able to leave the game to find real-world solutions to in-game problems.

The book really defies classification, if you asked me. It's not really a fantasy book since all of the fantasy elements are fictional even within the context of the story. It's not really cyberpunk, as the elements within the story are more fantasy-based than technologically-based. It's not really sci-fi, as the technology isn't really that appreciably different from what's out there currently. It's not really a simple drama, since there's quite a lot of action. It's not really a simple action story, as there's some realistically quiet and important character moments.

The story itself is quite good, and the storytelling is strong throughout. Although it's not really the manga that I set out to find, I am pleased to see that the recent popularity of manga in America also includes manwha and manhua. I think I'll be trying to continue reading iD_eNTITY and seeing where the story takes me. Definitely worth a look-see!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Get Your Civil War On

Spencer Carnage is tackling his frustration with "Civil War" in a couple of ways that seem to be working well together. First, he's blogging. Second, he's created an ongoing comic strip called "Get Your Civil War On!" parodying the original story. Rather than simplifying the action and parodying the dialogue, though, Spence has taken the original tact of reducing the entire storyline to a series of high-school style, gossipy phone calls. Here's a couple of examples...

A little coarse at times, but funny stuff overall. Head over to his blog and check it out. He's even got a contest running to snag yourself some copies of Y: The Last Man!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Brian Hibbs

I just read the latest installment of Brian Hibbs "Tilting at Windmills" column. In this edition, he takes a look at the bookstore and direct market sales numbers for 2006, and provides some interesting analysis.

Even if you're not interested in the numbers themselves, though (either because it's a fairly dry subject or because, as Hibbs admit, the numbers are "loose" at best) I suggest you read some of Hibbs' columns. He's been a retailer for close to two decades, and his thought process is worth examining because he's been a successful retailer for close to two decades.

The comic book industry, as you probably know, is fairly insular. Most of the folks writing and drawing comics were fans of the medium when they were kids. Most of the retailers selling comics were fans when they were kids. Many of the fans today who are kids want to grow up to be working in comics. The medium is driven, almost unilaterally, by a love of the medium and I don't think there are many people in the business who don't really like what they're doing.

And that, believe it or not, can be a problem. Running a comic book shop is a business. It requires that you not only know your stock inside and out, but it also requires that you know something about business. Marketing, finances, building codes... the works! And far too many retailers out there operate their shop as if they were looking at The Android's Dungeon as the epitome of a well-run business.

There are, however, a handful of retailers out there who actually seem to know a thing or two about business. Their shops run well, make money, and (generally) have expanded considerably since they first opened their doors. The best examples I can point to of good retailers are Chuck Rozanski (Mile High Comics), Joe Field (Flying Colors Comics) and Brian Hibbs (Comix Experience). Not necessarily because they're the BEST comic book retailers (but they all are very good), but because they're the most vocal about being good comic retailers. They have, over the years, shared their collective experience and wisdom with the comic book community, in large part to help other retailers (and future retailers) be successful themselves. Chuck is probably the most well-known, thanks to his longevity in the industry, but has, I think, lost a lot of what comic fans enjoy in the medium. Brian, by contrast, still seems to enjoy the comic book world despite some of the hoops he's had to jump through as a good businessman. (Brian, you might recall, led a class-action lawsuit against Marvel a few years ago to recover what could have been a significant financial write-off.)

So, even if you find some of the material less than exciting, their overall thought-process and business savvy is worth taking a look at and trying to absorb. Not every comic shop has to be a hole in the wall that looks more like a bachelor's basement than an actual business.

On Notice!


(Thanks to Guy LeCharles Gonzalez for pointing this out!)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Monkey of the Week

You know, I've never read this title, but seeing as I've caught several of its covers with a monkey on it, I'm getting sorely tempted to start picking up...
Y: The Last Man #54
Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Art by Goran Sudzuka; Cover by Massimo Carnevale
"In the last stand-alone special issue before the final arc of the series, the all-female Fish and Bicycle Theatre Troupe returns to explore what Hollywood would be like if it were run by women. What role will these actresses play in Yorick Brown's future?"

I'm especially partial to this cover of Y because Carnevale's art reminds me of many an issue of Mad. Can't you just imagine dropping an Alfred E. Neuman head in there somewhere with his trademark, "What, Me Worry?" Good stuff!

Free Magazine!

Quick! Head on over to TwoMorrows.com and request your free copy of Alter Ego #64! It'll help put Jeff Smith's so-far excellent Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil in perspective.

And did I mention that it's free?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Wowio Promotion

Some time back, I noted my recent discovery of Wowio's legal downloadable comics. Since then, I've actually downloaded quite a few of their books (comic and otherwise) and have found that they've provided a great opportunity for me to read books that I would have otherwised missed or glossed over. I reviewed New Alice in Wonderland here, but I don't know that I've mentioned much else. They also have 10th Muse, Chrono Mechanics, The Blackbeard Legacy, Legend of Isis, Lullaby, Judo Girl, Liberty Girl, Oz: The Manga, Sixgun Samurai, and quite a few other titles that I haven't entirely sorted through yet.

Now the reason that I'm mentioning this is because Wowio is currently running a campaign to get more people to sign up. It's free, and you'll have access to a host of comics that you probably missed and more than likely aren't easy to get anyway. Did I mention it's free?

Okay, now, full disclosure: if ten people sign up with Wowio and say that I referred them there, I get a free iPod Shuffle. Do I need and iPod Shuffle? No; I've already got a PDA that doubles as an MP3 player quite admirably. But I thought it would be cool for The Wife.

But, regardless of the iPod, Wowio really has been a fantastic way for me to read a slew of comics I otherwise would not have read. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you're probably aware that I'm a great proponent of the medium on the whole and experimenting with different styles, genres and subjects. Wowio has been absolutely stellar in that regard, and I would recommend them in any event.

So, all you have to do is go over to Wowio.com and sign up for an account. When you do, just add in that you were referred to them from "kleefeld@ffplaza.com" and you'll be doing both of us a favor. I might get an iPod Shuffle for The Wife, and you will definitely gain access to some quality reading material absolutely free of charge.

Monday, February 12, 2007

2001: A Space Odyssey

This weekend, I read Jack Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey series. I happened to catch the original movie on cable, and thought reading the series soon afterward would probably help to make a little more sense to me than trying to recall the movie after not having seen it for several years.

I actually bought the series a few months back knowing that I was going to be doing some research on Machine Man for an upcoming Jack Kirby Collector article. I realized that I could have bought just the last few issues in which the character appears, but I thought reading the whole series might provide a little more perspective. (Not to mention that it's Kirby, for crying out loud!)

The series, as a whole, is interesting for a few reasons. First, it has some superb storytelling in it. It's generally considered well after Jack's prime, but his talents as a stoyteller are still running at full steam. Second, it's absolutely amazing that it was produced -- it was licensed almost a decade after the movie first came out AND Jack wrote it, in effect, as a single graphic novel.

That's what I find most interesting, actually. Each issue doesn't really stand particularly well on its own. Indeed, several of the complaints that show up in the letters pages speak to that effect. But when read as a whole, it makes much more sense. The gap between issues is neglible, and readers aren't required to make as large leaps from one issue to the next. 2001 is not actually story-driven, and a simple plot summary on a per-issue basis would be impossible. Jack spends each "chapter" exploring different aspects of the same theme, and that makes it poor for a serialized format.

I use the term "chapter" because the story doesn't break down into individual issues very well either, as Jack's constructed it. The first two issues are fairly stand-alone, but 3 and 4 are one story, as are 5, 6 and 7. The final three issues, too, are written in a more traditional serial narrative fashion, but still fall under a single storyline. So, over the course of ten issues, readers have five chapters of increasing length.

The work strikes me as one of the most philosophical of Jack's pieces I've ever read. Jack examines not only the evolution of man, but also man's role in creating his own future, as well as what he thinks that future might be. In many respects, it is a very personal vision of what Jack felt the movie meant and, despite some of the action trappings of his typical comic book work, the extensions of where his mind went when he was crafting stories is less opaque than what it is usually evident in those action trappings.

I don't suspect this will be reprinted or collected any time soon (in part for legal reasons and in part for economic ones) so I'd recommend checking out the series if you're a fan of Kirby and his storytelling ability. I would just caution, though, that this is really a graphic novel and should be read in a small timeframe. Don't start on #1 until you've got the other nine issues in hand.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cultural Capital

I recently read "The Forms of Capital" by Pierre Bourdieu. He first used the term "cultural capital" in 1973, and later used "Forms" to elaborate on the idea in 1986. It was quite eye-opening.

I had heard and known the basic idea of "cultural capital" at least a few years ago. It basically suggests that a group (such as comic book fans) can have an internal method of conferring status to individuals. As opposed to economic capital (i.e. money) they use a form of cultural capital to weigh status. The specific form cultural capital itself takes is going to be different for each group; for comic fans, it could be how much they know about the individual characters and/or their histories, for example.

I liked the idea and thought it ties in very well with at least comic book fandom, but it didn't entirely address the social hierarchy in the medium. Notably, it ignores the additional status of professionals. Interestingly, Boudieu talks about this in "Forms" by noting another type of capital: social capital. Essentially, a form of status that's based largely on who you are, who you know, and what circles you travel in.

Now, tying this in with the basic economic capital, I think it provides an incredible foundation for this book idea I've had rolling around in my head talking about comic book fans themselves. Essentially, comic fans want to improve their status within the comic book fan set and have three methods by which to do that: increase their comic economic capital (i.e. buy more comics than the next guy), increase their cultural capital (i.e. know more about comics and the industry than the next guy), and increase their social capital (i.e. become friends with an industry pro, or become one themselves).

That's a short-hand notation, of course, but I'd been grappling with how to structure a possible book on the subject of fandon and I think this is definitely pointing me in the right direction! Hey, I'm jazzed about this again!

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Patriot Factor

Chrysler has teamed up with Marvel to create a promotional comic book called The Patriot Factor. The story will be published a few pages at a time online, and gaps will be left in place for readers to provide story ideas. Readers whose suggestions are used will be given pieces of original art from the artist, Bing Cansino, as well as an author credit in the finished book.

Personally, I'm intersted in the idea. Speaking as someone who would like to get his name into more comics, and someone who enjoys original comic art, I think it'd be fun to "win." Yes, I know that the distribution will be fairly insular and won't really work as a "legitimate" writing credit, but it'd still be a nice emotional high for at least a little bit. And bragging rights to a small group of people.

As far as the marketing angle of the book is concerned, I doubt it will convince many people to go out and buy a Jeep Patriot. The buzz the contest/stunt/gimmick is generating now will probably create more brand awareness than the contest itself. Although I do suspect it will increase a small number of people's knowledge of features of the Patriot -- I figure any decent aspiring writers will do a least a little research on the vehicle and try to incorporate some of its features into their story submissions in the hopes that that will help make them more likely to be chosen. (At least, that's what I'm doing.)

Ultimately, it's another elaborate ad campaign from two not-insignificant corporations. And while I remain skeptical about the ROI from Chrysler's perspective, I think it will be higher than simply buying 30 seconds of air time for another trite commercial during the evening news. In any event, it should be interesting to follow this campaign, even if I don't "win" anything, just to see how successful it is.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Yarr! Pirates an' Ninjas!

This week saw the release of Pirates vs. Ninjas #2 from Antarctic Press. I took a look at the first issue a while back, and I'm liking the book so much, I think I'm going to have to post reviews of each issue to see if I can't goad more people into buying it.

Like the first issue, the actual story is housed on really just a couple of pages with the rest of the pages being a plain ol' good time. Most of this issue focuses on the pirates' attempt to infiltrate the ninjas' lair. Well, "infilitrate" probably isn't the right word -- these guys aren't exactly subtle. Unlike before, though, this issue spends most of its focus on the pirates themselves. (Not to worry, ninja fans, issue three looks to be focused on the more stealthy of the two groups.)

The pirates we have here are just plain fun. They examine some of the poisoned darts that Squickie soon finds lodged in his rear, only to find they're tipped with snake venom and blowfish toxin. Their response? "Har har! That's th' cap'n's ale chaser recipe!" When the pirate captain is captured by an ogre (evidently unaffiliated with the ninja clan) the captain issues some commands as he's being carried off: "Somebody jes' shoot me! Shoot me now! Better 'n' dynin' o' embarrassment!" And then there's this conversation about how to save their captain...

"Well, we could still fall back to 'Plan D.' My fave!"

"Somehow, I don't think gettin' blind, stinkin' 'D'runk is gonna save the Cap'n this time, Sneed."

"Why not? Worked b'fore!"

"Aye, that be true."

And oh, yeah, did I mention that we've got pygmies now, too? A natural counter to the ogre I noted earlier, right? And there's swashbuckling! Plenty of swashbuckling! And drinking! General carousing and mayhem! Not to mention a couple of good fart jokes thrown in for good measure!

This is one of the most fun and all-around enjoyable books I've read in some time. If you liked Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, then you'll almost certainly enjoy this as well. Probably even moreso since there's ninjas as well!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Monkey of the Week

Our "Monkey of the Week" is...
Mighty Skull Army TPB

Technically, I didn't see this one on the shelf of my local shop this week, but the sales copy looks interesting: "Brazen robots! Hostile corporate takeovers! Ill-fated interns! Criminally insane turnips! Distinctly unhelpful helper monkeys! And hats, dear God, hats aplenty! All this and more await any brave soul ready and willing to enlist in the ranks of the Mighty Skullboy Army! How do you sign up, you ask? Just purchase this book, absorb its nefarious bounty (we recommend using the eyes-to-brain method), and say hello to your new lord and master, Skullboy! If he's not home from elementary school yet, be sure to pick up a handy pager. You will be called upon when needed. Oh, and be sure to beef up on that health insurance. Get ready to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world with Dark Horse's New Recruits winner Jacob Chabot's hilarious creation, The Mighty Skullboy Army!"

How can you go wrong "distinctly unhelpful helper monkeys"?

Well, from a story perspective. Obviously, if you were actually relying on "distinctly unhelpful helper monkeys" to accomplish something, they would, by definition, work against what you were trying to do. In any event, I'll have to keep my eye out for it next time I'm at the bookstore.

Fandom, the YouTube Movie

I found on YouTube a documentary called, simply, "Fandom" by Edgar Monetjano. (Uploaded just last week.) First off, I am thrilled that there's more attention being paid to the notion of fandom itself. I think there's a lot of interesting ground to cover that hasn't even been touched yet, so I'm always happy to see people exploring the notion of comic book fandom.

The film-maker talks one-on-one with several fans of comics books and one comic shop manager about what a comic book fan is made of. They even follow one of the fans into a comic book convention and talk with Andrew Crosby. I've got a few criticisms, but take a look a Part 1 (of 5) first...

Let me state that this is, according to the author, for a school project. I think that's important because it shows that A) this is largely a one-man job done on small budget and B) being done by a student, he's still in the process of learning and we shouldn't expect something that's ready for The History Channel.

That said, though, I'll make a few critical comments. Not about the film or sound quality or anything like that -- I don't know the circumstances around or requirements of the project -- but about the content. Monetjano starts with, I think, something of a faulty/out-dated premise. The idea is that he's trying to dispell the myth that comic book fans are all geeks who live in their mother's basement with no social life to speak of. The problem, as I see it, is that that myth doesn't really exist any more. At least, not outside of comicdom.

Take a good look at pop culture references to comic books. Sure, you can point to Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons as a negative stereotype of a comic book fan... but isn't Bart a big comic book fan, too? Gus and Jess from Psych were both shown to be normal comic book fans. Stephen Colbert, the media persona, is a comic book fan.

And what about real-world celebrities? Kevin Smith is an unabashed comic book fan, and Quentin Tarantino isn't that far from the scene either. How many fans followed Joss Whedon or J. Michael Stracyznski over from their TV work to comics? And you have to figure Guillermo del Toro and Robert Rodriguez are fans to a degree. For that matter, SOMEBODY has to be green-lighting the slew of comic book based movies!

Oh, there are still "geeks" out there that hold that negative stereotype -- The 40 Year Old Virgin seems like a prime example. But even the incredibly campy Who Wants to be a Superhero? showed a much greater breadth and depth of character in all of the characters -- even the arguably geeky Feedback showed there was more to him reading comic books all day.

It would seem that American society has accepted that being a comic book fan does NOT equal being a geek. Being a part of comic book fandom can almost be cool in and of itself. Further, it would seem that American society has defined two types of geeks: the dorky "classical" geek who's social awkward and quotes Star Wars ad nauseam, and the hipper intellectual geek who's comfortable with their self-image and knows when it's appropriate to make Star Trek jokes.

From THAT standpoint, I think Monetjano has a faulty premise. One, perhaps, that isn't fully recognized yet inside the comic book fan base. Whether that stems from a long collective memory of fans, or the insular nature of the industry, I don't know. Either way, I'm still thrilled that Monetjano made his film -- it shows there's more interest in the subject matter and can elicit conversations (assuming someone responds to this) like this one.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Jack and Me

Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the death of Jack Kirby. I'm generally not one to dwell on or celebrate anniversaries like this -- I'd prefer to celebrate the individual's life. But I do have some regrets with regard to The King, and this seems like an apporpriate day to share them.

I was born in 1972. By that time, Kirby was already well-known and established as The King of comic book storytelling. Indeed, he had alreayd caused a huge stir by leaving the Marvel Universe that he co-founded to create a new universe with his Fourth World series at DC, which also was beginning to wind down. By the time I was old enough to read and, more significantly choose what I wanted to read, Jack was largely retired from doing month-to-month publications.

As I noted some time ago, I didn't really become a fan of the comic book medium until 1983. Marvel and DC had both left Jack behind for young hot-shots like John Byrne and Frank Miller. So for an eleven-year-old like myself -- for whom history is largely unknown and even wholly irrelevant beyond one's own memory -- I had no real grasp on who Jack was or what he had done.

My favorite comic at the time was John Byrne's Fantastic Four. Over the course of a few years after beginning the series, I learned something of the comic's history. In the days before the Internet, information was relatively scarce and costly for the limited resources of an early teenager. I have to admit to being somewhat grateful a year or two later for the arguements Jack had with Marvel about their returning his original artwork -- it gave rise to a number of articles about Jack's history in comics, as well as articles about his early creations at Marvel. This proved to be an invaluable source of information for my sponge-like brain at the time. I didn't fully understand all of the issues involved, but I understood the basic history at least.

As the years progressed, I continued learning more about the Fantastic Four. In my search for back issues, I began reading the original Lee/Kirby stories. My resources were expanding (I had gotten a job at McDonald's) but it was still slow-going. The demands of my college major were especially absorbing (including spending whole weeks at a time living out the campus studios) and I did little more than read the new issues as they came out. It wasn't until I finished college in 1995 that my parents got me a copy of Fantastic Four #1 as a graduation gift, and essentially finalized my collecting old stories about the FF.

Now in the working world, I began taking a larger interest in the men behind the Fantastic Four. I had learned a few things about Stan and Jack over the years, but that was usually tangental to the Fantastic Four themselves. And it was only then that I learned that Jack Kirby had died. And it was only AFTER that that I really began to appreciate what Jack had done. Not just for the Fantastic Four, but for the comic industry as a whole. I had heard he had been influential, but it wasn't until I started, really started, to read about Jack that his impact began to sink in. I began to understand just how much impact he had indirectly had upon me.

When I can, I like to express my appreciation to people who made an impact on my life. Not just in comics, but in life in general. Several years back, I made a point of writing letters of appreciation to some of the surviving teachers I had back in high school. When I read a particularly moving story or see an especially well-done show, I'll try to say something to those involved. It's not a matter of trying to gain their favor, or bask in the light of their talent(s) hoping something might magically transfer to me through osmosis... I simply and sincerely want to show my appreication. When I talk to comic book creators, I give them my honest opinion and make a point to elaborate on exactly why they (or their work) had an effect on me.

But I never did that with Jack. I only paid attention to his shadows while he was alive, and I never took the opportunity to see if I couldn't tell him what he meant to me. Jack wasn't exactly a spring chicken by the time I could even read his name, but I feel like I should have made a stronger effort. Maybe I couldn't have flown out to see him at Comic-Con, and maybe he didn't have e-mail, but I could still have written a letter. I could have c/o'd it through Marvel or DC or someone. Maybe it wouldn't have been as articulate as I could make it now, but it would have been something.

I don't have many regrets in my life; I'm fairly happy with how things have gone overall. But if I could go back in time to tell myself anything, I'd see if I could look up myself at age 16 or so. I'd say, "First of all, this high school crap is just crap; things get much better for you in college. Secondly, tell Jack Kirby what a great storyteller he is." That's it. (Well, I might add something about investing in Marvel Comics when they drop below 50 cents a share!)

I never really knew Jack to say that I miss him. I'm envious of anyone who ever had the pleasure of even meeting him. I'm sorry I never told him what he did for me.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Why We Buy The Comics We Buy

There's an interesting post over at the Comics Should Be Good blog about what factors go into choosing which comic books we buy (or don't). I find the post itself to be interesting, but the responses moreso.

On a fairly superficial level, there's some basic data collection on the criteria that some people use to make purchasing decisions when it comes to comics. Some people buy for the the character(s), some buy for the creator(s), etc. Naturally, personal finances are a factor, but it's particularly interesting to note that the issue seems to go without saying initially. The apparently understood assumption is that everyone would buy everything they wanted if they had the resources to do so. But everyone does have some resource limits -- even with the absurdly comical supply of money that a Bill Gates or a Donald Trump might have, I doubt there would simply be enough time in the day to read each and every comic book published. Some people might only have three bucks a month to spend on comics; do they buy the same title every month, or do they follow a particular creator?

What's fascinating, too, is that there's some acknowledgement of multiple criteria affecting one's buying choices and rarely does one of those criteria ALWAYS win out over others. But there's little discussion about how the various criteria mix to form an ultimate decision. How much weight does any given author carry over a given character? Can a generally-low-ranking criteria (like, say, publisher) ever outweigh a high-ranking one?

I was trying to think of looking at this mathematically. Obviously, a different equation/program would be need be created for every comic buying individual, but could you theoretically write something that could tell you what you should be buying? It's possible, I suppose, but it would need to be fairly extensive. You'd need to assign values and weights to every possible variable; not just "author = 50% of buying decision" but something like "Warren Ellis = 90% of positive buying decision, Chuck Austen = 95% of negative buying decision, Kurt Busiek = 75% of positive buying decision..." and so on. And it would need to be constantly ammended/updated as new variables (new creators or new characters or what-have-you) came onto the field.

But it's interesting to think about it in those terms because it goes to show just how complex a process deciding which comic books to buy really is. Maybe that's why so few people really think about it very consciously -- the equation they've subconsciously created is simply too vast and complex for them to study.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Black Panther by Kirby

Being Black History Month, I thought I might take another post here to look at what could be considered the premier black comic book superhero: the Black Panther. A little while back, I picked up the two volumes of The Black Panther by Jack Kirby and the absurdly over-rated Superbowl Weekend has allowed me some extra time to start reading them.

These were stories written after what might be considered Kirby's prime. Two things struck me in general. First, Kirby's dialogue is fairly stilted. It reads decidedly like someone who's out of touch with what's "hip" is trying to write "hip." In that sense it's like many TV shows from the 1980s. Looking at Kirby's work with a few decades of hindsight, the dialogue seems a little more quaint than I expect it came across at the time, fortunately.

The other striking thing was how much raw power is in Kirby's work. The illustrations themselves are not his best, but every panel just exudes power and energy unlike anything I've seen from any other comic book artist. There's such a deep intensity in the layouts and the linework that even a shot of a couple people sitting and chatting has more power than a great many other artists.

These books really prove to me (again) that Kirby was an extremely powerful storyteller, and it makes me proud (yet again) to be able to write for The Jack Kirby Collector.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Superheroes & Trauma Update

It looks like that the future Superheroes & Trauma book I had been developing an essay for is in some serious doubt. Evidently, there have been some issues with some of the writers, something about not making their revisions in line with what the editors requested. I don't know the details about that but one of the editors last week began to suggest that their not making the appropriate revisions was calling some doubts into the project. Then one of the two editors removed himself from the project, citing increased workload from other projects.

This, and my previous attempt at being included in a published book, begins to suggest to me that getting published in even an academic environment is very difficult. It further leads me to wonder about the diffiuclty in getting published in general, and even further leads me to wonder how many hundreds of thousands of people out there are working on stories or essays or what-have-you that will never see the light of day.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Monkey of the Week

I'm starting a new experiment. Because everyone, as we all know, loves monkeys, I'm going to see if I can't pick out one newly-released comic every week that features a monkey on the cover. I chose to this BEFORE actually looking to even see if there were any monkeys featured on a new cover this week, but was pleasantly surprised to fairly quickly find...
Cartoon Network Block Party #29

Our monkey today is a Brazilian spider-monkey named Lazlo. The comic is, not surprisingly, based off the Cartoon Network show Camp Lazlo. This issue was written by Bobby London, Abby Denson and Jim Alexander with interior art by Mike Kazaleh, Phil Moy and Mike DeCarlo. Most importantly, though, the cover is by Robert Pope and DeCarlo.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Black History Month

Well, here in the U.S. (and Canada) we're celebrating Black History Month throughout February. It'll be easy to find scads of documentaries on various historical figures like Fredrick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. I expect it won't be hard to trip across "hipper" things, too, like Halle Berry and Will Smith movie nights, Snoop Doggy Dog concerts, or a Chappelle Show marathon.

Now, let me state from the outset here that I'm not black. I make absolutely no claims that I have any real knowledge of the "black experience" in America. My father DID spend most of his teaching career in inner-city Cleveland public schools, so I was aware at least of some of the issues blacks faced in the 1970s and 80s, but I grew up in a white, middle-class suburbia and was largely removed from any problems or issues many black people faced.

I've talked before about the old Golden Legacy comics my father brought home. Since my favorite comic was Fantastic Four, I saw a decent number of appearances by the Black Panther (where some of the stories even made quite deliberate commentaries on what was going on in South Africa and other problematic areas). Ezra Jack Keats was also a favorite author of mine as a child (it wasn't until I met him in 1981 that I realized that he wasn't African-American like so many of his characters) and I hold many of his books in the same esteem as those of Dr. Seuss.

When I was in seventh grade, a new family moved into town. They were black and had a son, named Guy, about my age. He and his younger sister were the only two black kids in our school system, and there was... tension right from the start from too many people. I thank my parents, through exposing me to some of the issues of blacks in America in various forms of literature, for ensuring that I was enlightened enough to not consider this new classmate a threat or an object of ridicule. There was incident the first month he was in school where a fellow classmate deliberately mispronounced Niger while reading a passage in our social studies textbook in class. I hadn't really met Guy yet, but I creditted him with an inordinate amount of class for NOT slugging the idiot.

I was somewhat disappointed when I did start to get to know Guy, though. He was a nice enough chap, but he wasn't too bright and probably didn't study as much as he needed to. He was more interested in sports and music than reading and video games, so we didn't share much in common. I was always on friendly terms with him, but we didn't become great friends or anything.

Now, where is this going in relation to comic books?

Well, I think there's a significant disconnect bewteen comics and minority audiences. Rattle off the comic book titles you're familiar with and you'll likely fine none that feature a significantly minority character of any sort. And even when you do come across a Storm or Black Panther, they're somewhat removed from the urban "black experience" from America. (That's not to say there are NO black characters that aren't steeped in it -- Luke Cage is a prime example -- but they're the decided exception and not the norm.) Christopher Priest, I think, did an excellent job in his Black Panther and I understand that the folks at Milestone Comics did admirable work as well. But shouldn't there be more?

One could argue that the comic book industry isn't particularly conducive to letting minorities in. There's certainly some validity to that, I think, but not particularly moreso than any other entertainment industry. But I feel that folks already within the industry could do more to make in-roads. Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams (both caucasians) did a fair job introducing John (Green Lantern) Stewart into the DC universe; as I noted earlier, I didn't even realize that Ezra Jack Keats wasn't black. Why don't we see more white folks incorporating the reality of minorities into comics?

I suspect that it has more to do with a lack of thought than anything. We write/draw/create characters that we can relate to -- "write what you know" and all that -- and that tends to mean "similar to ourselves." Unless someone's specifically trying to do a story about racial tensions or something like that, they simply don't think to include minorities. I give a lot of credit to Mark Waid and Karl Kesel (both decidedly white guys) for creating (and repeatedly using!) a black character to head up the legal/political arm of Fantastic Four, Inc. It was never brought up as a racial issue, just "here's a new character who works for the FF" -- that she was black was irrelevant. But that still required a bit of extra thought; Waid could've said "Oh, I need this type of character for this story" and assumed that it'd be a white male. But it was that extra bit of "why couldn't it be a black female" thought that rounded the book our more pleasantly. (Pity that J. Michael Stracynzski hasn't picked up the character for his run on the book. Maybe new writer Dwayne McDuffie will bring her back.)

If more creators put that extra bit of cultural thought into their stories, maybe Guy would've been interested in reading comics. Maybe he and I would've had more in common. Maybe we could've been better friends. Maybe that could've extended to more people who read comics. Maybe the world would be a little nicer place.

So take a few moments this month to appreciate black culture. Flip on the Biography Channel and catch a documentary on Sojourner Truth. Track down an issue of Golden Legacy and read up on someone who ought to be more famous than they are. Take a few extra moments to write to Marvel and ask them to see more of the Prowler, or ask DC to show more with Black Lightning.