Friday, March 30, 2007

Back To Indy

I just learned about this weekend's opening of the Super Heroes Museum in Indianapolis. I was just in the area a couple of weeks back for a Native American Portrayals in Comics conference, and I'll be heading out there to see this new museum.

Between the lateness of my finding out about it and the fact that my folks are in town this weekend, I won't be able to get out there for the grand opening. But these types of things historically don't last very long, so I'll have to make it out there sometime in the next year.

If anyone DOES go this weekend, please feel free to chime in here to tell us (well, me) about it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Emily Edison

I took Emily Edison to read during lunch today, as that looked to be one of the more interesting books I've gotten this week. (Yes, that's in lieu of just catching up with the brand new stuff that came out.) Between the intriguing art style and the classic robots and aliens all seen on the cover, this had my interest piqued.

Let me start by saying that I generally read a book's Foreward last. A Foreward is often written by someone who's already read the story you're about to read, and frequently does NOT assume that you haven't actually read it yourself. They also have a tendency to posit their impression of what they think the book/characters/creators should be compared to. I prefer making those judgements myself and not prejudicing my reading of the material immediately prior to reading it. (This will actually be relevant towards the end of my review. Tuck this info away for the moment.)

The story itself is set up in the first two pages. Inventor John Edison accidentally discovered another dimension, fell in love with one its inhabitants, got married, had a child, and got divorced. The child, Emily, is now in her teens and living with Dad, while visiting Mom in her home dimension on the weekends. Oh and, by the way, Emily has all the ill-defined super powers common to those living in her mother's home dimension.

The basic story from there is that Emily's maternal grandfather wants her to live in their dimension, but Emily simply prefers Earth. So over the years, Grandad has tried many a scheme to try to persuade/convince/trick/steal/drag Emily back to his dimension. All have been unsuccessful due to Emily's resourcefulness and intellect. (That, plus most of them were REALLY lame plans in the first place!) The book runs through several more of Grandad's schemes culminating, in theory, in a resolution that should put the issue to rest for good.

The writing was good. Solid characterization throughout, smooth and natural dialogue. Most importantly, I think, writer David Hopkins let Brock Rizy's art stand on it's own when it came to telling the story. He didn't bother with an overly expository narrative when the art conveyed what was happening. He also didn't fall into the standard superhero trap where the hero spouts witicisms and one-liners while battling whatever foe he's up against. Emily largely kept quiet during the fight scenes, and only spoke up once she had a chance to breath.

There are actually two slightly different illustration styles in this book. Everything that happens on Earth is drawn in a cartoony, but more-or-less traditional style. Black outlines around everything, large black shadows, etc. Everything that happens in the other dimension is drawn without edge lines and defines objects more with shapes (as seen on the cover, at right). Further, natives of this other dimension are rendered the same way, even when they travel to Earth. So visually, there's a neat hook to help readers follow along where things are happening. Unfortunately, it does take a little while to catch on to the trick, so the first chapter can be a little confusing while the reader figures that out.

I think the biggest fault I can find in the book is that the storytelling isn't always particularly smooth. This especially evident early on with two significant flashbacks in the first dozen pages. It's difficult to tell at first that we are actually reading flashbacks and equally difficult to tell that we're flashing forward at the end of them. There's not many flashback scenes in the book, so this isn't hugely detrimental, but that we have them so early in the book also hinders the initial readability.

There are also a few scenes where it's not particularly easy to read what's going on. It felt, in places, like I was reading a storyboard and not a comic book. While they're quite similar to be sure, they are different animals, and I think that's evident in the art.

Interestingly, though, that same storyboard technique seems to lend itself to some what-I-think-are-creative approaches to classic comic book conventions. For example, most of the sound effects are not onomatopoetic at all, but rather simple descriptions. "Punch!" "Catch!" "Head stomp!" "Vortex!" Also, some of the action is simplified to one panel, but explained with arrows not unlike Bil Keane's famous roaming adventures of young Billy in "Family Circle." Keane used it as shorthand because of the limitation of only having one panel to work with, but it's infrequently used in comic books, where the artist has the flexibility to work in multiple pages/panels.

Overall, the book was solid and read something like a particularly good episode of Kim Possible. It felt like a cartoon written into a comic. Not the simplistic plot-driven ones I saw as a kid, but the more complex character-driven ones I've seen more recently.

As I said earlier, I read the Foreward last. And writer Dave Crosland also notes a Emily Edison's similarity to a cartoon. But he puts it into context of waking up Saturday mornings and sitting in front of the TV until lunchtime. Definitely NOT the idea I would want to have going into the book, and I'm glad I held off until after reading the story.

So, to sum up, a solid story with good illustrations and decent storytelling. At $12.95, it's worth taking a look at. Especially if you like comedy/action/adventure stories like Kim Possible.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

New Comic Day once again, so naturally I'm down at my LCS picking up new books. I've been given everything in my file, I've snagged a couple other interesting things off the wall, and I'm debating with myself whether or not I should pick up the Luther Arkwright series that the owner has conveniently bagged together with a single price tag and I recently discovered. In walks another customer -- maybe in his mid-to-late 40s, greying, noticeably (but not grossly) over-weight -- looking a bit down, which was not at all surprising given the drizzle that's been coming down since late the night before.

The owner, having just sat down for a break from the regular hustle of New Comic Day, greets the customer with a sincere, "Mark! How's it goin'? You're in early today." The manager/owner's wife also gives a familiar, "Hey, Mark!" Mark then begins to relay a story about having been fired not more than a few hours earlier and he'll need to trim down his pull list accordingly.

Now I certainly wasn't trying to pry into this man's life -- I don't know him from Adam -- but it's not a large store and the idea of sticking fingers in my ears and singing "I can't hear you" over and over seemed a bit crude. Evidently he was in sales in some capacity on a contractual basis, and had at least a few more weeks on his contract. His story (and I'm not doubting its authenticity, mind you, simply making a point of saying that I by no means have all the details and have no intention of passing judgement on him or his employers; I'm just relaying what he said in the store) was that they recently changed some of their formal sales processes, and he had been told that everyone would have some amount of time to adjust accordingly. He had actually switched over to this new process fully soon after it was shown to him, but some management person suddenly decided last night that he should be let go.

And, on top of that, he found out yesterday that he's diabetic and he had to make some significant lifestyle changes, and things would be extremely difficult without be able to use his former company's insurance. As he put it, he got a "one-two punch in the span of just over 24 hours."

Clearly, the man is NOT having a good week.

The owner seemed sypathetic, and was asking questions about the situation based on whatever information he had gotten previously. (He seemed to know something about this contract, for example.) The manager gave him a hug and listened in a very motherly fashion, while printing the customer's file information. (These folks, BTW, have their pull list system in an electronic database. Kudos to them for utilizing the tools at their disposal to run the business more efficiently. Sounds obvious to me, but how many shops still use handwritten notes as their long-term filing system?)

Now, all this is to say that this LCS was acting as this guy's home away from home. They were an extended family of sorts, listening to his problems and concerns and providing some means to escape from those problems for even a short period. It felt strangely like an episode of Cheers. Just instead of Norm drowning his sorrows in beer, Mark was burying his sorrows in comics.

That leads me to reflect on a notion I talked about some time ago, namely creating a comic shop with a comfortable, lounge-type atmosphere. Folks like Mark come in to relax and shoot the breeze and unload their stress and... It's as much a social occassion for them as it is a consumer one. It still baffles me that we haven't seen more experiments with that social aspect of a comics shop being exploited in some fashion.

I'm sure it'd be exceedingly difficult to get the legal authority to be able to serve alcohol or prepare food, but I for one want to see a comic shop where the entire place lights up and shouts "Norm!" when Norman enters and sits down to read his favorite comic book.

THIS Is Why I Enter Comic Book Contests

Some time back, I entered (and won second place) in Guy LeCharles Gonzales' 2007 Blogaround Challenge. (Guy's been busy with a new job and a new home for his blog.) I was largely unfamiliar with the titles he was sending, and only got a chance to really look at what I'd won last night. Here's a quick visual sampling...

This is stuff that's, for the most part, flown below my radar. Even Dead@17 I only have the vaguest notion of the actual story. But getting these books -- and, almost more significantly, getting complete runs on these books -- will open my eyes to a bevy of new (to me) creators and the general position of a new (again, to me) publisher. Even in the brief opportunity I had to skim the books last night, I already see another title that's sparked my interest... and I haven't actually read word one of any of these books yet!

And that is why I like to take advantage of comic book contests. Not just to "win stuff" but to win the opportunity to expand my exposure to different aspects of the medium, and discover things I might not otherwise have known about. Many thanks to Guy and Spencer for both setting me up with something new things to experiment with!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Animal Man

I recently received the first two TPBs of Animal Man in the mail, courtesy of Spencer Carnage. (Thanks again, bud!) I was pretty excited to get these for perhaps one of the strangest reasons I can think of. Namely: I can't stand Grant Morrison's writing.

Every piece of work I've read by Morrison has been, by my estimation, drek that wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. He's one of three authors on my avoid-at-all-costs lists. Everything I've read by him has been poorly structured, filled with clumsy dialogue, and featured characters that can't even stay in character with how Morrison defines them in his own writing, much less compared to how they've been written by everyone else. The absolute best piece of his that I've ever read was Skull Kill Krew and that didn't really make all that much sense on several levels. (I mean, why would a shape-shifter be at all concerned about what his "basic" form looked like? Couldn't he just, I don't know, say, shape-shift into what he wanted to look like? And that early scene with Captain America playing peek-a-boo from behind his shield -- oh, that was disturbing!)

And yet, to my amazement, Morrison not only keeps getting work but he's got a rather devout following!

So here's the thing: every time I've voiced displeasure with Morrison's work, someone always comes back with, "Well, you need to read Animal Man." No real explanation, just that Animal Man is excellent and the extended implication that reading Animal Man evidently gives you this cypher that allows you to suddenly understand and appreciate everything else he's ever written. Maybe there's some kind of drug embedded in the ink, I don't know. But I gave up mentioning him because, frankly, it's generally not worth my effort. There are tons of comics out there and I'm certainly not going to like every one. But somebody probably is going to like the stuff that I don't, and as long as they don't try to force them down my throat, not a big deal. To each his own.

Now, despite everyone raving about Animal Man, I've been burned by Morrison too often to actually pay to investigate it. But since Spencer was kind enough to give me those TPBs, I have every intention of trying to approach these books with an open mind. Since I didn't have to pay for them myself, I'm not out anything if I don't like them. No harm, no foul.

Whether or not I ultimately like Animal Man is something of a moot point, really. I'm curious to see why people fawn over it (and, consequently, Morrison himself) and my interest is in using these two books to guage what type of fan is drawn to Morrison's work. And, for that, I am quite grateful to Spencer -- it's not an avenue of fandom that I'd like pursue without some cajoling and, as always, I appreciate the opportunity to experiment!

I'll post my thoughts on the books after I've gotten a chance to read them.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sudden Deadlines

Sorry for the lack of posting this weekend, but the deadline monster looms again!

This time, a buddy of mine is working on the upcoming Marvel Spotlight: Fantastic Four and was supposed to have all of his work in last week. He missed that deadline, and asked if I'd be able to help out at the last minute since I'm a bit more knowledgeable about the FF than he is. Theoretically, I'd be able to spend more time writing than doing research.

Anyway, the upshot is that I'm quite busy this weekend and haven't had much time for blogging. On the more positive side of things, though, it looks like I'll get another credit under my belt with this!

Friday, March 23, 2007

iD_eNTITY Update

As I've noted on a couple previous occassions, I've been reading through the manhwa series iD_eNTITY. I finished volume 5 on my lunch hour today, and thought I'd provide an update.

As I also noted here, I've been spending some of my time in Second Life, so iD_eNTITY takes on a more personal connection for me early on. As the lead character Roto and his friends continue on their adventures in a virtual world, I'm seeing myself interacting with friends more online. Last night, in fact, I swang by the virtual home of a friend who lives over 600 miles away. We talked and joked for 20-30 minutes before she left to do some work. But before she did, I dropped off a Coca-Cola vending machine with an unlimited supply of soda. I couldn't do that in reality.

But that's only a small portion of why I've been enjoying the series. In volume 3, the adventurers signed up for a tournament to win a huge in-game prize. The first elimination round was glossed over almost surprisingly well to get right to the final bouts. Volumes 4 and 5 cover the first rounds of those bouts, and we're nowhere near a final victor. While this could have been a relatively straightforward slugfest, each round has proven incredibly well-developed. During the battle, other players watch and comment on the action to both humorous and narrative effect. The players fighting each other spend a fair portion of their time in the battle arena strategizing, so readers can see the characters winning by guile and cunning more than anything else. And because each player is using strategy, they pull out quite interesting and surprising methods of attack. A warrior who pounds seemingly relentlessly on an opponent turns out to be attacking the warrior's weapon to the point of uselessness. Wizards use bizarre combinations of spells that surprise everyone because they're used in a manner clearly not originally intended.

And that's one the elements that really tells me Hee-Joon Son and Youn-Kyung Kim are excellent in crafting the story. The game the characters are playing is entirely fictional. So with the few exceptions seen in earlier the story, any spell's effect should come as a surprise. But they masterfully elicit a reaction from me, as a reader, that can approximate what the other characters in the game are feeling. "What? He bounced a fireball spell off his own force field, so that it'd fly 'under the radar' of his opponent's force field? How the...?" And while once or twice would be impressive, they do that repeatedly throughout these battles.

Further, there's plenty loads of character development. To the extent that even characters that weren't introduced until the final battle rounds still come across as fully developed characters. And there's enough characters to go around so that I really have no idea whatsoever who will win. Given the underlying plot of Yureka's origins, it's hard to tell if the main protagonist Roto will win the ultimate prize.

And that's what good storytelling is really all about. As a reader, I want to be surprised where a story takes me. I don't want to know by the middle of act two where things will end up at the end of act three, as is all-too-common in writing. These guys are doing that ably, WITHOUT resorting to out-of-the-blue left turnsand dues ex machina plot contrivances. Everything fits neatly within the parameters established in the series itself, and the outcomes -- while unexpected -- make sense.

You know what reading iD_eNTITY feels like? It feels like when I first discovered Fantastic Four back when John Byrne was on the book. I was learning about these characters for the first time, and as I was getting to know them, they were off doing wildly unexpected things that flowed naturally from what had gone on before. THIS is how I became a fan of comics in the first place, and it's incredibly invigorating to know that I can experience this again.

Monkey of the Week

Just a quick hit to get my recurring simian online. This week seemed kind of light, so I'm going to fall back on...
Y: The Last Man #55

The solicitation copy reads: "Co-creator Pia Guerra returns for Part 1 of the 5-part 'Whys and Wherefores,' the last arc leading up to the final issue of the series. Boarding the Trans-Siberian railroad for France, Agent 355 escorts Yorick Brown on the last leg of his quest to find his one true love."

Hmmm... leading up to the final issue? That would imply that it's not selling as well as they'd like. Does this mean putting a monkey on the cover doesn't help sell more books?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sometimes, I Amaze Myself

I was up late last night finishing my "Incidental Iconography" column for Jack Kirby Collector #48. I was having trouble making it interesting because Jack did very little to change Machine Man's visuals over the course of his work on the character. It was too late to switch gears and research a new character, so I had to try to make this work.

So my writing meandered until I struck on this "windows to the soul" metaphor with the character. (In case you don't, there are three distinct "looks" that Machine Man has, but they all use the same buggy eyes.) And, somehow, going down that track gave me the inspiration I needed to wrap things up rather nicely: I realized that Machine Man is a visual representation of...

Well, if I told you that now, though, you wouldn't need to go buy the book when it comes out next month!

But it was a revelation that I was summarily impressed with, and took the article to a level that it was definitely not at before!

Of course, my column still sucks when you compare it against just about anything else in any given issue, but I'm still proud to be a small part of the TwoMorrows engine of fandom.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Crazy Bargains!

I was putzing around in my LCS today, and feeling a bit off. In the entirety of new books this week, across all publishers and genres, I could only find three that I wanted. Now, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you'll know that that's about 1/3 of what I usually pick up in any given week.

I looked through the back issues for the upteenth time without any luck. Still nothing new in the action figure department. I flipped through the "bargain collections" (where the owner's packaged multiple issues together for a complete story at a somewhat-lower-than-if-you-bought-them-on-your-own-price) and didn't see much. But then I got to the third long box of those collections and had to move a few TPBs sitting on top. And I happened to notice the top one had a blue Post-It with "$6 for each TPB - 2 for $10" hand-written with a highlighter attached to it.

There were actually four small piles of books there, and I scanned the first one. Mostly older, slightly damaged Marvel stuff that I already had. The next pile was also mostly Marvel stuff that I already had, but they were newer books in decent condition. The third pile was fairly recent Superman stuff -- I didn't have those, but I've never been a big fan of the character. The last pile, however, was still mostly newer DC stuff... but hardcovers still in the shrinkwrap. The shrinkwrap was a bit damaged, but it didn't see to affect even the dust jackets, much less the actual books.

"The six dollar thing doesn't include the hardcovers, does it?" I asked.

"Sure does! Any one for 6, any two for 10!" was the response.

"Even the hardcovers?" I was in disbelief.

"Even the hardcovers."

So, I'm now the proud owner of Green Lantern: No Fear and Catwoman: When In Rome, both in hardcover, both at less than a quarter of MSRP.

When I was paying for everything, I asked him why he has them tagged so cheaply.

"Because I can. I just got a really good deal on those."


My initial thought was that, even if he did get a great deal on those books, he could easily get away with charging, say, half of the cover price. He'd make twice as much money off those books, and they'd almost certainly sell fairly quickly. It struck me as a really odd approach.

But then I recalled that Post-It. He wasn't really advertising the books at all. I think they may have actually sat there for a few weeks before I actively looked at them. The regulars are going to come in every week, pick up the new books off the wall, pay for them and leave. Unless something drastic changes in the store's layout, they're not likely to notice a small stack of books off to the side. Ah, but a new customer will be looking around more closely! They'll be trying to sort out where everything is, and poke their heads into deeper corners of the store. They're going to be more attentive, and they're going to be more likely to find these bargains. And that is going to please them to no end, making it more likely for them to come back!

I might be reading much more into that than was intended but, even so, it would still wind up an excellent marketing angle and something a savvy store owner should consider.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Couldn't Resist

I saw the preview art for the upcoming Iron Man #19, and I just had to make a slight alteration...

Tell me there aren't more people who feel like doing that!

Sorry -- I guess I'm still bitter about the, in my opinion, ugly direction the Marvel Universe has been going lately. I mean, you can argue that Marvel has always been about change and pushing the status quo. That guys like Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart and Marv Wolfman were shaking things up before I was even born. And you can argue that Marvel is just reflecting the sensibilities of the United States circa 2007.

You want to blow up Avengers Mansion? Fine. You want to depower most of the mutant population? Sure. You want to have all of your masked heroes reveal their secret identities to the world. I can live with that. You want to kill off Vision and Hawkeye? Okay. I've been fairly accepting of most of the changes that have occurred in the Marvel Universe the past few years, I think. I could point out problems with the execution of some stories here and there, but those are minor technical issues, really. But, conceptually, I didn't disagree with the overall direction per se.

I was even with them up through the early stages of the Civil War storyline. But since that story started, they've all but killed my interest in the Marvel Universe. I was looking at the titles coming out this week, making notes on what I wanted to be sure to pick up, and there was exactly one Marvel title in the list. And that, if I'm honest with myself, I've been buying more out of habit than enjoyment.

On my lunch hour today, I stopped by a local Books & Co. to see what they had. They had an excellent manga section, so I picked up iD_eNTITY volume 5. And I looked around thinking, "With my stripping nearly all the Marvel titles from my pull list, I should pick up something new. I wonder what other manga I'd enjoy?" Now, I could go off now about Tokyopop's poor cross-selling -- which I think I'll save for a later rant -- but the point is that I find myself actively trying to distance myself from the what-was-once-bright superhero world that I've spent the last quarter century enjoying.

Damn you, Q+M+B!

February Sales Numbers

ICv2 just published their sales number estimates for February, and I thought I'd take a moment to see what information I can glean from them.

#1 -- Civil War 7 -- 265,935
There are now nearly 266,000 disgruntled fans of Marvel comics.

#13 -- Brave and the Bold 1 -- 92,091
Somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of those disgruntled Marvel fans decided to start buying something decent.

#14 -- Civil War: Front Line 11 -- 89,163
An equal portion of those disgruntled Marvel fans are also masochists.

#20 -- Ultimate Spider-Man 105 -- 74,376
Ultimate Spider-Man 18 sold 77,492 copies. That's a drop of less than 1% over the course of four years with the same creative team, with no gimmicks or over-hyped crossovers. I think there just MIGHT be something to be said for simply putting out a quality product.

#51 -- Superman & Batman vs. Aliens & Predator -- 36,119
You can only swindle about 36,000 fans with crossover "events."

#52 -- Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil 1 -- 35,970
#55 -- Trials of Shazam 5 -- 34,614
There are 1,356 fans of Jeff Smith who aren't already fans of Captain Marvel.

#72 -- She-Hulk 16 -- 27,961
Dan Slott is severely under-rated.

#88 -- Thunderbolts Presents: Zemo -- Born Better 1 -- 22,680
Fabian Nicieza is also severely under-rated.

#100 -- Nextwave: Agents of HATE 12 -- 21,574
Ranking and/or popularity is no indication of quality.

#118 -- Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #49 -- 17,939
This is going to get canceled soon, isn't it?

#202 -- Local 8 -- 6,005
Brian Wood has just about six thousand fans...

#231 -- PvP 31 -- 4,308
...which is still 2300 more than Scott Kurtz!

#253 -- Pirates of Coney Island 4 -- 2,728
#256 -- Pirates vs. Ninjas 2 -- 2,570
Pirates are only popular if they look like Johnny Depp...

#294 -- Ninja High School 147 --1,497
... but they still outclass ninjas!

Okay, obviously, I'm being more than a little facetious here, but I don't know that I'm that far off the mark on some of these comments. I would not at all be surprised if the bean-counters at Marvel and DC look at the same numbers and come up with similar thoughts... "Hey, if we include a story in the next issue that's written by Brian Wood and drawn by Scott Kurtz, we should get an additional 10,000 in sales!" Laugh if you want, but I bet the exact same type of analysis goes on under the eyes of Quesada and DiDido.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Go Read This

A quick note to link up a powerful three part essay by Henry Jenkins that explores why and how superhero comics have always been more than "Just Men in Tights." I highly recommend taking the time to read through all three parts.

Truth: Red, White AND Black

The Toronto Star recently recruited Brad McKay to write an article about the plight of black heroes in comics. Evidently, what The Star published was not what McKay wrote and McKay expressed some frustration at the edits since they skew the points he was trying to make. Now, I could get into a discussion about editorial interference or journalistic sensationalism or whatever, but I'm going to set that aside to focus on some of the problems in McKay's original article.

In the first place, as Stuart Immonen pointed out, the numbers cited don't really jibe. Black Panther #24 came in at #28 on ICv2's charts, and Blade #5 is at #40. While I haven't studied the sales numbers in a while, most books like that are relatively stable and, if anything, have declined in sales. More than likely, those are LOW points for those two titles, sales-wise. What about the previous month's New Avengers, a book that features Luke Cage regularly? That came in at... well, lookie here: #3 with over 122,000 copies sold.

Next, there's no mention of other current black characters like, say, STORM. You know, that popular black woman played by Oscar-Award-Winning Actress Halle Berry in three rather popular X-Men movies? Oh, and didn't she just finish her own self-titled limited series? And where's Photon? Until recently, the lead character in Nextwave. Samuel-Jackson-lookalike Nick Fury in nearly every issue of Ultimate Spider-Man? Misty Knight leading the troup in Heroes for Hire? That's just the stuff I happen to know about offhand.

The next point I'd like to raise is one of quality. McKay notes that Black Panther's sales aren't stellar. There's some subjectiveness there, but it's not a hard arguement to buy into. But what he doesn't note is that the previous volume, written by Christopher Priest, was MUCH more well-received. So could one not reasonably assume that a black character is only as well-received as s/he is well-written? That a black character's book could sell much better if it were simply well-done? I think that's a fairly reasonable arguement to make. Priest's Black Panther was cancelled to make way for an (in my mind) ill-conceived limited series called The Crew.

Another example of quality I'd like to note is Truth: Red, White and Black, the limited series that proposed that Steve Rogers was NOT the first candidate for the super-soldier serum. That it was tested on African-Americans -- with sometimes horrendous results -- before being perfected and presented to a white guy. I think it's a brilliant concept that speaks volumes to what kind of racial divide the U.S. faced in the 1940s and how something like that would be kept quiet by the government for decades afterwards. There's a lot of potential for saying something really significant. The problem was, of course, that the execution was poor. Can you imagine that concept in the hands of a really great creative team? Put a Christopher Priest or Dwayne McDuffie on the writing with a Darwyn Cooke or Georges Jeanty on art duties? Man, that'd been great!

I'd also like to point out that racial issues ARE being discussed in comics. The last half of The American Way was largely about race. It's been brought up in Thunderbolts as recently as last week. (Despite my note about the African-American character being a stereotypical "angry black man" he still points out that the one notable casualty of "Civil War" was Black Goliath.) And I daresay that it wouldn't be surprising at all to see it crop up in Fantastic Four now that Black Panther and Storm have joined the group.

Finally, even if the point was wholly valid and well-intentioned, wouldn't it have made much more sense for the article to come out in February? You know, Black History Month? In the U.S. and Canada? According to Wikipedia, "Part of the aim of Black History Month is to expose the harms of racial prejudice and to cultivate black self-esteem following centuries of socio-economic oppression. It is also an opportunity to recognize significant contributions to society made by people with African heritage." So even if you wanted to exclusively highlight the problems, the time when people were actively listening to those types of arguements was last month!

Don't get me wrong here; I'm not suggesting that there are no longer racial tensions in comic books, or that it's an issue that doesn't need to be discussed any more. I'm just saying that I think The Star came to the table with a decidedly overblown, bias sense of the issue, and modified McKay's already overblown sense of the issue to pound their point into the ground. I don't know that comics are really any worse off than any other media form right now. And if they are, I'd like to see it come from someone whose arguements aren't so readily refuted, preferably from someone inside the industry.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Deadlines Loom

Not a lot of time to post this weekend, unfortunately. Jack Kirby Collector #48 is going to bed soon, and I need to finish my "Incidental Iconography" for it. (I'll give you a hint -- I used the cover as part of my research for the subject!) That's due out in the end of April.

I also just had to put some finishing touches on an old interview I conducted with the late Jerry Bails for publication in Roy Thomas' upcoming Alter Ego #68. That's due out in the beginning of May.

So, while I might not be doing much yakking about comics HERE at the moment, don't think I'm doing any slacking! There'll be plenty of Kleefeld on comics goodness to read in other locations!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Steam Detectives

I finally picked up a copy of Steam Detectives Vol. 1 yesterday. I'd been looking for it some manga in the steampunk genre, and this falls pretty squarely under that heading.

It follows some fairly standard detective story motifs, with the major difference being the backdrop of a steam-driven technological society. The first volume has four stories to it, each one fairly succinct and self-contained. With the exception of the first story, which sets up the characters and their relationships, continuity seems fairly absent. (Which I say without judgement. Too often today, comic book fans use a cry of poor continuity to rally against various Marvel and DC stories. Lack of continuity is not necessarily a bad thing.)

The stories were solid, but I didn't find them particularly striking. Surprisingly typical detective stories in my opinion. The storytelling was a little more interesting, but I have to wonder if part of that is my relative unfamiliarity with manga. For all I know, some of the storytelling techniques seen here are perfectly typical of most manga.

I did find the character designs rather striking. The characters each had a "look" that I found appealling in some way; the villains particularly were visually interesting. The technology, too, was well developed -- although the stories focused less directly on them than the characters.

I understand that these stories were built off the ideas presented in the original Steam Detectives animated series, and that may have something to do with my assessments in the previous two paragraphs. Animation is a medium that tends to focus on the visuals over the story, so it should not be surprising that the comics reflect that preference. I'm not certain yet if I'm interested enough to continue reading the comic, but I am curious to see how this might have been executed in anime form.

I'll also make a note here about the publisher, Viz Communications. I'm not sure how the book was physically put together, but I had more trouble opening the book wide enough to read anything towards the center spine. Two page spreads lost quite a bit in the pages' natural gutter and were hard to read as a single image. I didn't seem to have that issue with Alice 19th (also published by Viz) nor any of the iD_eNTITY (published by Tokyopop) I've read so far. I don't know if that is due in part to Steam Detectives being one of the earlier manga that Viz published or if it has to do with how the original pages were actually drawn, but it was somewhat problematic from time to time.

Overall, I thought Steam Detectives was okay. I don't think I'd mind reading more, but I'm definitely more interested in continuing to read the story in iD_eNTITY. Given the relative difficulty I had in tracking down the first volume of Steam Detectives (which, to be honest, wasn't all that difficult -- although it might be for a newer comic reader) I'm not sure I'll be picking up the second book too quickly.

This Is Wrong On So Many Levels

I don't even know where to begin.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thunderbolts #112

This week saw the release of Thunderbolts #112, which included an extended appearance of Jason Strongbow a.k.a. American Eagle. It stood out for me since I just happened to attend the Native American Portrayals in Comics panel last weekend. What further stood out is that, in his brief sequence, he throws out nearly all of the kitsch stereotypes normally associated with Indians. He ditches the huge feathered headress; he drinks beer without getting drunk off his tuckus; he doesn't sell himself out to 'the man' -- he's treated as an individual without relying on hokey gimmicks. What further stands out is that the story was written by Warren Ellis -- a Brit who still lives "across the pond" in Southend-on-Sea, England.

So, my question is: why does it take someone almost, if not entirely removed from an issues concerning the treatment of Native Americans in various media to give the character some respect? Have Americans just seen too many John Wayne movies?

In that Andy Warhol exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, there was a series of images he created to make a point about Americans' perception of "cowboys and injuns" -- the 2-foot-square pieces each depicted either a "cowboy" or an Indian. But while each of the Indians were portraits of real American Indians with whatever emotional baggage they brought into their portraits, the cowboys were all fictional or semi-fictional heroes built up through media exposure -- John Wayne, Anne Oakley, William Custer... -- characters who are known more by legend than by reality.

Warhol's point was to get people to think about Native Americans as real people and not simply the convenient Hollywood bad guy for whatever the latest Western was.

Kudos to Ellis for doing something worthwhile with American Eagle. Minus a few points, of course, for making the one African-American a stereotypical angry black man.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Monkey of the Week

Our Monkey of the Week for THIS week is...
Franklin Richards: March Madness #1

Our simian in question is actually a devolved Mr. Fantastic who was on the wrong end of a "De-Re-Evolver" while explaining evolution to his bored-out-of-his-skull son, Franklin. I'm especially partial to the greying temples carrying through.

The simian Mr. Fantastic -- who Franklin is calling "Monkey Lord" so he won't get into trouble -- zaps the Invisible Woman into an amoeba, the Thing into a small rock, the Human Torch in a book of matches, and HERBIE the robot into a toaster before Franklin uses the time-honored move of trading the De-Re-Evolver for a banana. Gotta love the classics!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How To Make A Digital Comic

At the left is page 6 from issue 2 of Cheshire Crossing, the excellent online comic book by Andy Weir. He's got a special "Making Of" on his site regarding this page, and I found it particularly enlightening, as we seem to have similar backgrounds with regards to artistic training. I'm actually quite impressed by his process and gave it a shot myself with Propaganda of the Deed; however, I soon realized that it is quite a bit more difficult than I'd imagined.

If I get around to scanning them in, I might post my own initial few pages of layout sketches. (Sad though they are.)

Monkey of the Week From Two Weeks Ago

Okay, I missed my "Monkey of the Week" post a couple of weeks ago because I simply couldn't find any comics with monkeys on them. But Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott actually came through for me, and published this comic strip on Feburary 27...
Baby Blues

... which was just today posted on their web site.

I just have to say that I agree with the sentiment of this strip: pink vampire scorpion ninja monkeys ARE more manly than simple pink monkeys.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Native American Portrayals in Comics, Part 2

(Check out Saturday's late post for the first part of this summary.)

After lunch, they held their first panel discussion. Editor Richard Van Kamp provided an impassioned introduction and Rob Schmidt gave a brief history of how Native Americans have been portrayed in comics over the years, before they all went through the different thoughts of the panelists on the best and worst of the bunch. There was almost no anger or embarrassment over the stereotypical "feathers and fringe" versions of Native Americans (often called "First Nation" or "Aboriginals" by the Canadians) and only mild dismay at depictions of them which used imagry and references from multiple tribes. Artist Steven Sanderson went so far as to note that his tribe, the Cree, traditionally are known for their humor, so he found a lot of the kitsch to be quite humorous.

An interesting undercurrent throughout the panel was that many of the panelists (and, I expect, the audience) were hearing creators and titles for the first time. There was a lot of scribbling down of things to check out. In part, this stemmed from a cultural wall that seems to separate the U.S. and Canada, and in part, this stemmed from the lack of communication between different tribes.

The panel ran about an hour and a half and given that it was only scheduled for an hour suggests how much the topic interested everyone involved. Towards the end, it was getting into the area of how so many Native Americans simply don't even consider the idea of doing anything but wasting their lives away. That they've been programmed to think they're destined for a life of insignificance and poverty simply because of their heritage. There are exceptions, certainly, but they are decided exceptions.

Afterwards, I talked briefly with writer Michael Sheyahshe and Steve Sanderson. They began playing Raven Tales (a computer animated series from Canada that retells some old Indian myths) and I watched for a bit before exploring some of the rest of the museum. (I was especially partial to the bronze castings from Frederic Remington and a painting by N.C. Wyeth.)

This was, I believe, the first event of its kind and everyone seemed fairly pleased at the turnout. It's certainly something that SHOULD be bigger and more widely known, and the topic is one that also is sorely neglected. Here's hoping that they're able to do it again next year, and that even more people attend. I certainly didn't do nearly enough credit to the insightful and enjoyable experience I had here, so if you consider attending again, double whatever my impression of this year's event you think I have.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Native American Portrayals in Comics, Part 1

Well, I did indeed attend the Native American Portrayals in Comics, like I said I was hoping to. Overall, I rather enjoyed it.

Going in, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was billed as a "panel" but it was to last from 10 am until 4 pm, which struck me as a bit long for a panel. I got there shortly after 10 and it was set up for a panel, but the people who had been promoted as panelists were sitting at smaller tables off to the sides. It was only about an hour later that I chanced upon a schedule of the day's events, and learned that the first panel was actually going to be a 1:00 and a second panel at 4:00. (My only complaint about the whole day was that this schedule wasn't made more readily available.)

There was one vendor at the back, who also had out a collection of older comics featured Native Americans on the covers. And several Indian artists (fine artists, for the most part, not comic artists) out front working in whatever mediums were their preference. The rest of the museum was in full operation with various other Native American exhibits, including the a special Lichtenstein/Warhol set. I went to look through that first, thinking that perhaps things would get rolling in the comic book area later.

I spoke with some of the folks there about the absurdities of 60-foot-tall purple gorillas wearing Indian headresses and firing giant arrows at Daniel Boone, and talked with Rob Schmidt for a bit about his work in particular. I picked up some of the books he had available and went off to find lunch.

(It's getting late, and I've had a long day, so I'll relay my thoughts about the rest of the gig tomorrow.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Up, Up and Oy Vey!

I just saw this on Amazon. Sounds interesting since it's written by an actual Rabbi, but it's his first book and I'm always a scooch leary of first-time authors.

So anyone else read this yet? Is it worth picking up? It's just that I have SO many books to catch up on already. (I'm nearly a year behind in my Alter Egos, not to mention the stacks of books collecting dust in the basement.)

Excuses, Excuses...

I was caught off-guard Wednesday by seeing Black Panther and Storm show up in the latest issue of Fantastic Four -- I thought they weren't going to show up until the following issue a month from now. So I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday scrambling to update with as much new info as I could get together.

It definitely showcased for me how great it was to run much of the site through a MySQL database, though. I just needed to drop in one line that said "Link every instance of 'Black Panther' to his bio page" and the computer took care of a lot of work for me. I also had some systems in place to get a lot of cover images ready a lot quicker than I would've anticipated. I've still got loads to do on the site, but I was at least able to get some of the pieces in place without too much hassel.

But while I was uploading and reconfiguring and such, I finally did put some thought into the "new members of the FF" thing for what was effectively the first time. One of the issues that often plagues the addition of new members into the Fantastic Four is that the group is really a family of explorers. Adding people who aren't tightly knit into the FF family is dangerous, not because it upsets the existing dynamic, but because it alters the very core of what the FF are about. John Byrne deftly worked in She-Hulk by throwing her first seconds as a member directly in contrast to the family theme. Minutes after she joined, the team was presented with some serious complications to Susan's pregnancy and She-Hulk's first "adventure" with them was sitting in a hospital waiting room.

T'Challa is an interesting choice as a replacement member because, despite debuting in Fantastic Four and being on generally genial terms with them, he's not a frequent guest of their book. But there is at least a connection there of some sort, and he could easily take Mr. Fantastic's place in the book on several levels. Storm's presence would be questionable -- she's only met with the FF on a handful of occassions -- were it not for her recent marriage to the Black Panther. So, while we are starting to get into the extended extended family of the FF, it's still "in their circle" as it were.

I like that what has traditionally been a very homogenized book (in terms of racial diversity) now has a couple of racial issues to deal with. While Johnny and Ben have never shown to issues with black individuals, Johnny has had something of a short temper with mutants on occassion. Further, the Fantastic Four have never really dealt with the public on either of those racial tensions.

The "Civil War" event has put me off a lot of what Marvel's doing these days, so I'm not nearly as jazzed about the idea as I would've been, say, three or five years ago, but that, coupled with Dwayne McDuffie writing the book, shows at least a little promise.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Monkey of the Week

No, I didn't forget a "Monkey of the Week" last week; I just couldn't find any! Talk about disappointing!

This week somewhat makes up for it, though, because our "Monkey of the Week" cover also features a bikini-clad knockout! Behold...
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle 99¢ Preview

(Yes, it looks like preview art, but it's only missing the trade dress. The cover really is a non-colored pencil drawing.)

Sheena first appeared in a 1937 British magazine called Wags. She soon found herself showing up in the American Jumbo Comics and saw her own self-titled comic in early 1942, predating Wonder Woman by several months. She was created by none other than Will Eisner and, while her popularity has waned over the decades, the fact that she still appears in comics speaks volumes to her validity as a character.

A number of early (now copyright-free) Sheena comics are available for download here and a number of Jumbo Comics in which she appears can be found here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Digital Comics

Over at Newsarama, they have an article discussing the digital delivery of comics with current retailers, which I've touched on before. I think this is great because the comic retailers are generally under-served in my opinion, and I feel that their voice needs to be heard. Retailers have a unique perspective on the industry, and I'm frequently disappointed that they're not consulted more often and their input taken on board more readily.

In any event, the upshot of the article is that the reatilers involved weren't terribly worried. They seemed to think that, by and large, having digital comics would allow readers to sample more material, but would still fall back to the printed page for the stories they're most interested in.

What's not really discussed is WHY readers prefer actual comics to digital ones. Brian Hibbs, who I've discussed here before, touches on the point obliquely when he notes that "the disadvantages of the experience, portability, and presentation don't prove much of a 'threat' to the physically printed object." He's absolutely right, of course, but the article doesn't go into any further details on that point.

The biggest problem with digital comics currently is the delivery vehicle. There are plenty of delivery methods, but the vehicle itself is the hold-up. That vehicle, of course, is your computer. Computer monitors have a fairly low resolution -- generally between 72 and 96 dots per inch. That means that an image that appears on the screen is going to look to be at low-resolution, no matter what the image's resolution actually is. And that monitor resolution is low enough that your eye has to work much harder to "read" the individual dots that make up the whole screen.

Most professional printers (and, indeed, many personal printers) run their jobs at around 600 dots per inch. Most humans can't discern, under casual observation, any differences above around 300 dots per inch. That means that printed comic books are at least four times the resolution of what a digital image of one appears to be on a screen. That's why it's so much harder, and less comfortable, to read comics digitally than it is to read their printed counterparts.

The next issue, of course, is portability. If you download a comic book, it's tied to whatever computer you downloaded it to. If, while taking advantage of a high-speed internet connection, you download a high-quality scan of a comic (legal or not) to your computer at work, you have to find a way to transport that to another computer if you want to view it at home. You have several options, of course (burn it to CD or DVD, copy it to a thumb drive, etc.) but those are generally cumbersome and tedious processes. Downloading it to a cell phone or PDA proves somewhat more portable, but you're limited now to not only lower resolution screens, but smaller ones as well.

Permanence is a third factor. Since many people are unfamiliar with what goes on inside a computer, they're largely unwilling to commit their collection something as ephemeral as a hard drive. Computers are subject to errors which many people find strange and almost mystical, so it translates roughly to buying a real comic book, sight unseen, and letting someone else hold it for you indefinitely. You could go over and visit, but ultimately you don't feel true ownership.

So those factors, I think, are key to why comic book shops are in no real danger from the proliferation of digital comics... for now. We're already seeing higher resolution screens (how long do you suppose it will take computer manufacturers to pick up on HDTV technology) and more "natural" or "intuitive" computers that act in a way more in line with how people want to use things (the iPhone coming out in a few months is a great example of this). The biggest hindrance, it seems to me, will be penetrating the mindset of comics' physicality -- and no amount of technology is going to change that. That is a factor that's going to have to work it's way through the collective social consciousness naturally, and I'm guessing that will take at least another generation to really climb on board that notion.

Then again, I would've thought iTunes wouldn't have gone over nearly as well as it has, too. Maybe it would only take Apple to create a hi-res tablet PC type of device specifically designed for reading books and comics. Include wireless and blue-tooth technology to download books on the fly. A good size hard drive to hold an entire collection. CD/DVD writer to switch out and copy files onto a "hard" collection. Built-in software to read various electronic book/comic book formats. Make it look really cool. It might work.

But ultimately, I think it's a question that still needs to be addressed. Comic retailers have plenty of things to concern themselves with already, but I think it's an issue that will rear its head a lot sooner than they'd like. Brian Hibbs may not have to deal with it himself, but his younger peers might.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Oni's Maintenance #1

As I've noted oh-so-many times before, I'm always on the hunt for books that are somewhat outside of the mainstream these days. I've picked some books up simply on the strength of the creators, and I've picked up some books because of the "high concept". The downside of picking up books on the premise of an unknown concept is that the execution can be tricky, regardless of how great a concept it is. Pirates vs. Ninjas for example is a fabulous concept, but could easily have gone down the tubes quickly. (It hasn't, BTW.)

In that regard, I've been pretty lucky. Most of the "cool" concept books I've bought lately have been very good and that's why I try to review them here. It's stuff out of the mainstream superhero set, but good quality material that a lot of "normal" comic fans might enjoy if they knew about them. Today's review is no exception; I'm talking about Maintenance from Oni Press.

The basic premise is that Doug and Manny are the two janitors for TerroMax, Inc. -- the world's largest organization dedicated to helping mad scientists and evil geniuses conduct their research. We follow the day-to-day lives of Doug and Manny as they clean up exploded marauding gigamorphs and pry carnivorous zombie kittens from vending machines.

For anyone who doesn't get it: yes, it's a comedy.

Actually, what makes the book work so well -- and it does work quite well -- is that we really don't see Doug and Manny doing the grunt labor. That's left "in the gutters" as it were; Jim Massey (the writer) and Robbi Rodruiguez (the artist) leave those concept jokes in the set up, by and large. We "get it" as soon as Doug and Manny's boss tells them to get a couple of mops to clean up the gigamorph, so we cut to them back in the break room covered in goo and don't bore readers with the actual clean-up work. In some respects, it's like Red Dwarf in that we follow the lives of people who aren't defined by their jobs -- it's their lives outside of their jobs that interest us.

There's also plenty of gag material to work with. Doug and Manny's boss is a former scientist who's been demoted to the sanitation manager -- a fact that she makes no qualms about being angry about -- so there's some options for extended antagonistic relationships. But, likewise, the actual cast of scientists is a perpetually rotating one, so Doug and Manny can have run-ins with evil geneticists, evil physicists, evil biochemists... This allows a lot of room to keep things interesting and fresh.

Issue #1 came out back in December and #2 came out a couple weeks ago. I haven't heard/seen a lot of press on this, so any shop that carries Oni books probably has a good chance of still having these on hand.

Personally, I'm getting tired of tired of the dread seriousness which has been pervading most of Marvel's and many of DC's books lately. I'm all for making comics that are dark social commentaries, but I think it's a bit much to push that throughout the majority of your line. I want some comics that are fun, and Maintenance fits that bill very well. I mean, where else are you going to find a man-shark named Cobra McPunchy having an existential dilemma while discussing the finer points of Porky's 2?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

New Media Literacy Video

I've just found the New Media Examplar Library's interviews with Nick Bertozzi. From what I've seen thus far, the information isn't startling new, in terms of the basic information that's conveyed -- I've seen/read/heard much of this type of thing before with other artists. The nuances of Bertozzi's creations are, obviously, unique and that's certainly interesting to compare/contrast his methods with others' but that's not why I'm linking there today.

I'm more interested in the supplemental material: vocabulary terms, curriculum and resource materials, text transcripts... in effect, everything a school teacher would need to produce some excellent lesson plans. Indeed, director Henry Jenkins noted on his blog recently that these "are designed to get students to reflect more deeply about their own potential roles as media makers and to think about the place of media in their own lives." Gene Yang likewise has some comic related material for classrooms on his web site.

Were more students exposed to comics this way (since they don't see as many in drug stores these days) I can't help but think it would benefit the industry on the whole. Of course, the problem we have here in the U.S. is that universal primary education is systematically being leveled with the apparent goal being privatization. Part of those repeated cut-backs are an increasing focus on readin', writin', and 'rthimatic and a decreasing focus on anything resembling arts or culture.

But if the comic industry as a whole can figure out a way to promote comics as a form of literacy, using the images to compliment the reading of the story and understanding of the words, I think that the industry will be better off in the long run and we'll have more people who aren't afraid to read.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Green Arrow Cancelled?

Wha..? DC just announced that Green Arrow will be cancelled with #75. This doesn't bode well. GA has been one of DC's mid-range titles, selling in the 30,000s for a while now. Not a great seller, but certainly better than a number of their other books.

That, coupled with the announcement that he'll be marrying Black Canary in a mini-series this summer, suggests that they'll be doing some substantial overhauling of the character. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but I like the angry ex-hippie Oliver Queen.

I have a bad feeling about this...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Vote Quimby!

Earlier today, fellow blogger pillock (nee plok) suggested "Quimby" as the name of those running the show at Marvel. His rationale was that things are currently run largely off the direction of Joe Quesada, Mark Millar, and Brian Bendis. Q+M+B, phonetically pronounced Quimby.

What he didn't realize at the time was that Quimby is also the name of the mayor on The Simpsons. Serendipity, I suppose, but it makes for some interesting analogies...

Mayor Joe Quimby is, unlike many of the foils running around Springfield, no fool. He's actually rather quick-witted and has remained the democratically elected mayor for nearly 20 years. He stands as a decidedly warped parody of President John F. Kennedy and, at least superficially, is shown as JFK's moral opposite. Quimby is decidedly contemptuous of his constinuency and is more interested in his own power-base than the good of Springfield.

For those who've watched The Simpsons, you'll know that Quimby is generally quite blatant of his opinions of the electorate. He's been known to speak of them thus: "I'm sick of you people; you're just a bunch of fickle mush-heads" and "You are a bunch of low-income nobodies!" and "Welcome futurists, cyberphiles, and the rest of you dateless wonders." A bit harsh, perhaps, but does that not seem like the attitudes that are the undercurrent of many a Joe Fridays? It's nothing you can really pin down most of the time, but there's a seeming attitude that they seem to share -- "We're just making funny books because you guys are silly enough to pay money for them."

Now Quesada's expressed a love of the medium in the past, and I have to believe that he wouldn't be editor-in-chief of Marvel if that weren't true at least once upon a time. But have you seen his home? It's at a level of opulence I daresay most comic book readers will never even aspire to, much less achieve. From the circumstantial evidence (including a circle of friends that now includes many a name-droppable celebrity) it would appear that Quesada has moved beyond interests in storytelling and into the arena of the beyond. That nebulous state of mind far removed from those of us toiling away to make ends meet. At its extreme, that place inhabited by the likes of Michael Jackson and Bill Gates. Millar and Bendis seem to be there, too, disparaging those who piddle away their lives on video games.

It's like watching The Colbert Report, except that instead of the self-aggrandizing act that Stephen Colbert puts on, it doesn't seem like the attitude is an act. The act here seems to be that there's still a level of humility that keeps them in touch with the comic book community. There's some superficial self-effacing jokes and a general cordiality that gives them the air of being "one of us." But, as time wears on, it strikes me as less and less genuine and specifically done for a particular effect.

I've never met Quesada or Millar. I ran into Bendis once at a convention about six or seven years ago, and had little more than a two sentence conversation with him. I don't know these guys other than tangentally through their online remarks. But for as much as Mayor Quimby of Springfield is a warped version of JFK, Q+M+B seem like a warped version of Stan Lee. The analogy is amazingly apt, I think.

"Give us hell, Q+M+B!"

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Stuff I Shouldn't Have An Excuse To Miss

One of the problems of living in southern Ohio is that all the cool stuff (at least as relating to comics and the comic book industry) happens just a little too far away to be readily accessible. The three big "centers" here in the United States seem to be in California, New York, and Florida. Chicago tends to be the "hub" for Midwesterners, but that's not exactly an easy (or cheap) trip either.

With this past weekend's convention in New York, I talked with and saw several blogs of people who noted how great it was to meet up with friends, old and new. The atmosphere, from what I've read, was very congential overall and no one seemed to have less than a decent time.

Here in Ohio, we have the Mid-Ohio-Con -- which is a good show, certainly, but I've never really been able to "connect" with anybody there. I've talked with creators and once met up with an online buddy of mine, but the last few years have felt strangely hollow for me. Probably in large part because I was flying solo and didn't have much more to ask/say to the creators I'd already seen year after year.

We also have, as I understand it, an excellent collection available up at Ohio State University's Cartoon Research Library. They periodically do host comic-related events but, in the past, they've either been decidedly scholarly in nature (as in, "educators presenting research papers") or ones that have conflicted with other things I've had going on. For example, Scott McCloud will be there on April 4 at 4:00 pm -- which would mean I'd have to take a vacation day off work in the middle of the week to attend.

All that said, there are two things in the area I think I should be able to go to.

The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art is hosting a "Native American Portrayals in Comics" panel on March 10. While I'm not an Native American, the idea of learning about under-represented cultures in the medium appeals to me. They're also running an exhibit of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, two artists whose work was heavily steeped in popular culture. Lichtenstein especially dipped into the world of comic books on any number of occassions to develop his work.

Slightly closer, and running through June 20, Miami University's Art Museum is presenting and exhibit called, simply, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." My initial thought was that they would perhaps have a few comic strips clipped from old newspapers, but it would largely be props used by either Buster Crabbe or Gil Gerard. A local NPR report, however, noted that it indeed was largely comprised of original comic strip artwork, much of it by Dick Calkins -- who worked on the strip from 1929 until 1947. Supposedly, the exhibit contains original artwork of whole stories, not just an occassional daily, and tries to to place new relevance on them by relating them to both the original historical context in which they were written as well as how that context is similar in many ways to a contemporary one. I don't know how successful the exhibit is at doing this, but the NPR report painted an excellent picture of the show.

So, if you don't see me report on these two things at some point this year, call me on it and I'll post a series of public excuses only mildly more original than "my dog ate my homework."