Thursday, May 31, 2007

Damn You, Bendis!

Okay, before you read any further, I am going to spoil the heck out of this week's New Avengers: Illuminati #3.
So, I've been getting New Avengers: Illuminati pretty much exclusively for the puzzle aspect of the book. Can I, based solely on the structural story clues in the book, place these issues in their proper chronological order within the larger pantheon of Marvel comics? I wasn't keen on the whole secret society thing, and especially not keen on Mr. Fantastic, Professor X and Black Bolt being a part of it. It doesn't strike me as in their characters. But #3 was the final straw.

Why? Because they retroactively made the Beyonder an Inhuman. (I warned you about the spoilers.) Yup, an Inhuman. Same kind of guy as Karnak or Triton or Gorgon. No, he's no longer some godlike being that is wholly unknowable. No, he's not an elemental force of nature. He's just a really powerful Inhuman.

Now, setting aside the fact that runs contrary to existing continuity -- which ties his very existence to the creation of the Molecule Man -- it totally undermines who the character was, what sort of threat he meant to the Marvel Universe, and how the heroes reacted to him. He's no longer some omntipotent, omniscient, all-powerful entity naively trying to learn what it means to be human -- he's just some kid who bows down before King Black Bolt. What the HELL is that about?!?

Now, I'll grant you that Secret Wars II (when Illuminati #3 takes place) was not the best comic book story ever written. It wasn't the best crossover ever devised. In fact, I wouldn't argue if somebody told me they thought it was poorly done. But this throws all sorts of monkey wrenches into the works. Why, for example, didn't one of the Illuminati, who now know the Beyonder's origins, just call Black Bolt down to help during the series? Why did Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man spend so much time just trying to figure him out? Why would Beyonder suddenly not understand how to go to the bathroom and require Spider-Man to teach him?

But it goes beyond that story by tainting the whole original Secret Wars as well. And that series, by pretty much all accounts both then and now, WAS well done. A being who was on par, if not above, the likes of Galactus is now reduced to the level of the Infant Terrible.

You know, I used to like your work, Bendis, and I'd be able to tolerate some of your gaffs regarding continuity (including your own!) but this is just a load of drek. I'm dropping this series, even though there's only two issues left. Think about how powerful a statement that really is, coming from someone who spent most of his adult life trying to learn as much as he could about the Marvel Universe.

And, for those of you just reading the blog here, I will no longer be capitalizing "marvel" or "marvel comics" or any of that. The capitalization is, in part, a form of respect, and it's just bottomed out for me.

Online Fandom Discussion

Henry Jenkins has helped kick off something of an extended summer-long discussion of fan studies, in particular how it relates back to gender. As I've noted here repeatedly, I do have more than a passing interest in comic book fandom and I will following the dialogue closely, even though I'm less interested in the gender differentiations as a particular subset of the study of fandom.

In this first piece, two things stood out for me. First is simply being alerted to the recent publication of Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. More books on the subject is definitely a good thing.

Second is this quote: "For me, fandom centers around three main aspects: fan creativity (paratexts, fanfics, vidding, etc.), fan community (in-person and/or online), and fan self-identification (prominent self-branding through fashion, online profiles, behaviors, etc.)." I find that an interesting breakdown of fandom, and a perspective that I had not considered. In my view, I tend to see fandom as a community itself with individuals pursuing their personal interests through those outlets noted above. So "fan creativity" is not so much an aspect of fandom itself, so much as it one avenue that a fan attempts to raise his/her status within the larger fandom community. Fandom itself IS a community and members of that community can choose the level at which they participate. The kid who reads comics under his covers with a flashlight after Mom's told him to go to bed might be a small, and compartively insiginificant member of that community, but any community will have members who similarly tuck themselves away and pursue their own interests with more solitude than others. Not every member of a community would be considered a "contributing" member, but they remain a member nonetheless. So while the distinctions among creativity, "community" and self-identification are note-worthy, they are means to an end rather than aspects of that community.

That being said, whenever I get off my butt to start writing my book on comic book fandom, I think incorporating those elements into the notion of building cultural capital could prove quite useful. Self-identification, for example, doesn't carry as much weight as "creativity" such that one can define a fan's individual status/rank within the community by how they participate in it. The person who simply wears a Green Lantern t-shirt doesn't rate as highly as someone who regularly participates in online discussions about Hal Jordan who doesn't rate as highly as the person who's written extended fan fiction on various members of the Green Lantern Corps. Stratification defined by participation. It'd be curious to see if I couldn't develop actual ranking criteria, placing more definitive value on different forms of fannish expression...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Going International

When I was a kid, and my dad was driving me around to comic shops and conventions, he would spend his time looking at some of the more unusual comic books that we sometimes got here in America. So I consider myself quite fortunate to have been exposed to the likes of Blueberry, Akira, Lone Wolf, Asterix, Iznogoud, Judge Dredd, and Rogue Trooper at a fairly early age.

But after leaving home for college, my father fell out of comic books by and large and I couldn't afford to keep up with those characters as well as the Marvel pantheon that I had a more immediate interest in. As I'm weening myself off the staid superhero, and I'm heading over to Great Britain in August, I thought it best to try to get something of a refresher in international comics.

I've noted some of my recent forays into manga here before. I just got word of a recently published book on the history of Candain comics which sounds quite interesting. So now I need to get back to British comics and find out what's out there and what is or isn't worth taking a look at. I presume 2000 AD is still something of a "mandatory" British comic and Beano seems to fall in that camp, too. What else out there is worth picking up? I'm especially interested in stuff that really has no chance in getting across the pond, so would anyone care to offer some suggestions on things I should be reading up on before taking off for London?

Of Simulations And Memes

Our friend pillock (nee plok) over at A Trout In The Milk has launched a new meme that asks "what would your big-ass Crossover Event be?" He actually let me off the hook on this one, but I figured I'd play anyway since it ties in to some thoughts about the Marvel Editorial Simulation that I just finished up.

The simulation placed me as editor-in-chief of Marvel and the other three players as editors of several Marvel titles. Our goal was to increase the overall sales by 20%. That's a tough mandate in any mature industry and I figure the only way to achieve that in comicdom is by A) making sure that you're existing sales don't slip appreciably and B) introduce new material into the market. Many of the people who are buying Wolverine (for example) month after month buy the book to find out what the character is doing. They might buy Uncanny X-Men if he appears there as well, but they're not as likely to buy, say, She-Hulk unless he makes a guest appearance there.

Ah, but by introducing a large crossover event like "Civil War" immediately throws the character into a much larger storyline that runs through multiple titles. So even if Wolverine does NOT appear in each issue of Civil War: Frontline there are going to be some of those Wolverine fans buying it because it's part of the larger story Wolverine's involved in. It's a cynical approach to selling comics but, frankly, it works. And as long as fans continue to purchase books on that type of criteria, Marvel (and DC) are going to continue producing those types of stories. The sales numbers continue to bear that out every month.

So that's part of my background thinking into why, within the context of the simulation, I felt we had to put out some kind of crossover event book.

Now, as I've mentioned repeatedly on this blog, I haven't been all that keen on the overall direction the Marvel Universe has taken. Lots of anger, lots of war, lots of hatred, lots of polarization among the supposed heroes... So my thought was to remove with a vehicle that could allow everyone to get behind: natural disasters. What if the Earth were rocked by a sudden seismic shift in all the tectonic plates? Earthquakes, tidal waves, tornados, mud slides... the works. All at the same time. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. To wit:
  1. Literally hundreds of story springboards. Not only do you have the disasters themselves, but there's also possibilities for ancillary events (i.e. a prison break made possible by an earthquake destroying prison walls) and follow-up (i.e. trying to help clean up after a flood)
  2. Real-world analogies that can provide contemporary relevance. Katrina, anyone?
  3. Villain opportunities. Even the bad guys can get behind trying to save their own family's lives, making them more sympathetic.
  4. Incredible visuals. Imagine the city of New York with only two skyscrapers remaining: the Baxter Building and Stark Tower. What about Hercules trying to hold up the Parthenon?
  5. There's a rising tide of ecological awareness, and this could certainly play into that trend.
  6. Minimal scheduling problems. Each title within the crossover could handle the story in its own manner, so a delay in shipping the main title would not hold up any other books, as we saw with Civil War.

One of "my" editors, Phil, also brought some intriguing story ideas to the table with this, as well, so that it even flowed more organically from the current status. What if the data was available to predict these catastrophes and genius-at-large Reed Richards missed it? Further, what if Dr. Doom foresaw the problem and presented it to the world (after all, what good is ruling the world if it's been decimated) but Reed dismissed it as an error? It ends up being a mirror of Dr. Doom's origin where Reed noticed a misplaced decimal point in Doom's calculations. Since Marvel has turned Reed into a villain, let's close the circle and put Doom as the hero.

Phil also built in this idea where several of the world leaders -- notably Doom, Black Panther, Namor, and Magneto -- banded together to help protect the world from disaster under the identity of the Defenders. A new spin on the original concept and one that, personally, I think holds more weight that the last attempt or two.

That's the type of thing I would put together as my big crossover event. Within the context of the simulation, Phil got J. Michael Straczynski and David Finch to work on it and the first issue sold 170,000. A fair piece shy of Civil War #1, to be sure, but still around double what I would have put it at.

So, there you go, pillock. My crossover (and reasoning behind it) as I saw things for the Marvel Editorial Simulation 2007.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Today's Puzzle

Okay, comic fans, why do these two images have to do with one another?

The image on the left is the cover from EC's Shock SuspenStories #13 from early 1954. The image on the right is from a Segway tour of the Minneapolis Riverfront circa 2005. What relationship could these possibly have?

Give up?

The EC cover artwork was drawn by Mr. Jack Kamen, who's celebrating his 87th birthday today. Jack drew all sorts of wonderfully macabre material for EC, and you can find his work in many of the EC reprint material.

The Segway was designed by Mr. Dean Kamen, Jack's son. Dean was a well-accomplished inventor before showcasing the Segway, and frequently uses his imagination to create things that ought to exist, even if they might not be the most marketable.

So, when you're personally frustrated that there's too much raw talent in the Romita or Kubert families, be sure to add Kamen to your list and spread your jealousy around a little further. :)

In all sincerity, though, happy birthday, Jack! Absolutely gorgeous material, even if that Kefauver fellow didn't like it.

Move Over, Quesada

So, today was the final day of Tom Brevoort's Marvel Editorial Simulation II and we kicked some serious tail! The final sales on our "core" titles were up 10% from when we started and we blew past our target goal by an additional 25% with the release of a limited series that we threw into the mix.

I will say that I think Tom was rooting for us. Not that the past two weeks have been easy (you'll note that my daily blogging has suffered a bit) but I think there were a lot of decisions Tom could have made that would've absolutely killed us. But he seemed to give us the benefit of the doubt more often than not, and we were ultimately able to hit all the marks we were trying to.

As I reflect on the simulation some more, I'll post more thoughts and enlightenments that it's shown me.

I will point out, though, that one of my earliest posts here about the simulation started with the proclimation that I would destroy the Marvel Universe. I mean that, of course, in terms of watching the sales numbers bottom out across the board. Curious, though, that our limited series that helped us hit our final target was based on the premise that the Earth suffers from several near-simulataneous disasters, leaving much of the planet destroyed.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Musings

The last Monday in May is Memorial Day for those of us here in the U.S. It's a federal holdiay meant to show honor and respect for those who've died in military service. When I was kid, and didn't know any better, it was just a day off from school. Today, as an adult who does know better, it's... really just a day off from work.

Don't get me wrong here, I have nothing but the utmost respect for someone who's willing to fight and die to uphold their beliefs. And I'm quite saddened by the loss of so many soliders fighting in Iraq and Afghanastan the past several years. But it ends up being just a day off from work for me because I personally have never really known anyone who's died in service to their country. The last family member, in fact, to have served in the military at all was my grandfather on my mother's side and he was stationed a fair ways away from the fighting during World War II. (Largely due to his being an insubordinate S.O.B.) He died in a nursing home decades later.

Why bring this up on a comic book blog, you may ask?

Well, since I never really knew anyone ensconced in military life, most of my knowledge of the military comes from the comic book industry. Sure, there's the old Nick Fury and Sgt. Rock stories, but there's also some less fictional accounts such as Will Eisner's Last Day in Vietnam. I've also gotten a bit from histories of comic book creators who have served in the armed forces. Jack Kirby, Mike Ploog, Wally Wood, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Larry Hama and many other names throughout comics history have served in some capacity. (And look these guys up if you don't know who they are!)

So if you don't have someone you personally lost in their service to the military, take a moment to remember some of the people who's lives DID affect you through their writing and drawing and whose work was influenced at least somewhat by their stints in the armed forces.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Babylon 5

So I've been watching Babylon 5 for the past week or two; a co-worker lent me the first two seasons on DVD. I'd only seen bits and pieces of it over the years, so it's by and large new for me.

I'd never really bothered watching it before because of some of the superficial aspects that I didn't like. The sets looked cheap, and the Centari hairstyles were laughably silly for starters. The designed aspects of the show -- notably the architecture and the technology -- looked like they were created in the 1950s. ("Yeah, let's use random neon lights here. That'll look future-y.") Indeed, much of it looked like only a slightly updated version of an old Buck Roger serial.

It wasn't until several years later, well after the show ended, that I learned that it had developed something of a following. It was something of a mystery to me -- never having really watched the show at length -- why people would invest so much in it. Clearly, there was something there that fans were latching on to, and it must have been in the writing as J. Michael Stracynski's name was hailed with as much reverence as the name of the show.

Eventually, Stracynski came around to writing Amazing Spider-Man. I remember at the time curious to see what he might bring to the character and whether his Babylon 5 fans would follow him to a different medium and genre. And, while Stracynski irritated some long-time Spidey fans with ideas like the spider-totem and such, I found that he did have some good ideas to bring to the Spider-Man mythology.

I've just started season two of B5 and, in all honesty, it's not really gripping me. It took me about 8 or 10 episodes of season one to "get it" and another 3 or 4 beyond that to realize that it's not really a science fiction show at all. Sure, it's got some trappings of sci-fi -- aliens, lasers, starships, etc. -- but the thrust of the shows is wholly unrelated to the technology. Science fiction, as I see it, does one of two things: 1) it showcases possibilities for advanced technology (Larry Niven's work is excellent for this type of thing) or 2) it showcases the relationship between mankind and technology (Orson Scott Card tends to lean in this direction). It can do both, certainly, (Isaac Asimov) and it can get by without focusing expressly on either (George Lucas) provided that there is at least something of an undercurrent present. By in the Babylon 5 universe, the technology is wholly irrelevant to the story. Indeed, much of the technology seen in the show was actively available while it was in production.

I don't say this to be dismissive of the show, mind you. It's well-written and the characters are fleshed out and generally engaging. But it's not really science fiction, as I see it. And that, it seems to me, is a dangerous road to travel. Because people like me, who expected to see a science fiction show when it first aired, and seeing instead what appeared to be a show in which the technology wasn't even addressed in a rudimentarily logically level, skipped over it. I'm not saying that anyone actively mis-represented the show to me -- I don't really recall any of the promotional material in fact -- but I'm forced to wonder how talented the marketing department working on it was, considering that I gave the show zero notice until it was literally handed to me.

I'm wondering this in relation to comics because there are almost assuredly comics in a similar vein out there. Stuff that's written well, perhaps drawn well too, that simply aren't sold as what they truely are. Stuff that is being sold as, say science fiction, when it's really just human drama. Granted, comic book marketers are generally more in tune with what they're working on than those in TV, but it makes me wonder how many other great comics I'm missing because I think they're something else...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Heroes for Hire

Now, given the title of my post, you might be expecting a rant about the cover image that was sent out earlier this week about the upcoming Heroes for Hire #13. Since I'm never really one to follow a trend, though, I'm going to pass over that debate entirely. (Honestly, I never made the tentacle/rape connection mentally until it was pointed out a couple of times. I was more taken aback by the fact that Misty's nipple should almost certainly be showing given the way that outfit flows over her left breast.) But, no, today I'm looking at the current Heroes for Hire series on the whole.

When it debuted not quite a year ago, I thought I would pick it up. It's got a very differnt concept from just about any other mainstream superhero book and it was bound to be a low-seller. Which would give the creators more latitude to experiment. Indeed, the first issues were different, and there was an interesting (I thought) plot of black market trade in Skrull organs to grant shapeshifting powers to the recipient. Kind of a clever concept, but not executed terribly well. I certainly couldn't really identify with any of the characters, and the actual Skrull-organ idea seemed to get tossed by the wayside in favor of a big slugfest with an old arch-nemesis. It somehow kind of tied in with the whole "Civil War" thing Marvel was doing, so I wrote it off as a relatively last-minute attempt to tie into the crossover and boost sales.

The next story was about some kid who stumbled across an old Doom-bot and reprogrammed him to be his friend. Another reasonably clever idea (although not quite as clever as the first). Further, the kid is just trying to get his robot back from the Headmen, who've stolen and reprogrammed him for... well, I don't recall actually. Did they even have a reason? In any event, the story about the kid fell to the wayside in favor of a big slugfest, this time with the Headmen and this re-reprogrammed Doom-bot. And I still couldn't really get into the characters.

The current storyline involves trying to capture Moon-boy because his ancient DNA will help to develop the cure for everything. (Moon-boy was the long-time partner of the more famous Devil Dinosaur, for those who didn't know.) I'm not really sure where the plot's going at this point and the book seems more about whatever the crisis du jour is. And while I don't mind the crisis du jour concept per se, it seems to run counter to trying to establish an overarching plot. I don't feel like the book has delivered so far on the longer story arcs, and this latest one (two issues into this particular story) seems to be on the verge of derailing as well.

The book seems schitzophrenic, not entirely sure if it wants to tell larger or smaller stories, or if it should focus on character development or plot. To be sure, it's not necessarily a bad thing to do both! You can have a larger arc told from a small story perspective. You can have a driving plot that's built from solid characterization. But it's not really blended here. We seem to be getting either/or writing and a constantly shifting focus instead of smoother, blended approach. I'm not sure where to lay fault here because there've been several writers on the book already, some working collaboratively, some working independently.

The last two issues have been drawn by Clay Mann, whose work I was only faintly familiar with before now. He seems capable enough, but I personally am not overly fond of his illustration style. Not so much that I'd drop the book because of it, certainly, but it's not doing anything to entice me to stay on the book.

Not surprisingly, this is getting dropped from my pull list. I'm not surprised, honestly. (In fact, I'm more surprised that the book hasn't been cancelled yet!) I'm a little disappointed in myself, though, for continuing to get the book as long as I have. The characters weren't a draw, the plots were disjointed, and the clever ideas that were presented never really got delivered in a satisfactory way.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

EIC Lessons

As I've noted already, I've been playing editor-in-chief of Marvel in an editorial simulation that's been running since last week. One of the things I noted to Tom when I first was signing up was that I was cognizent of more publishers than just Marvel and I would be able to tap learnings I've gleaned from them.

What I've found, though, is that it's hard to escape the shadow of Joe Quesada. Oh, no one's been saying, "Well, Quesada would've done it this way" or "Joe wouldn't have done that" or anything, but I've found myself playing EIC in some of the same ways he does. And, more significantly, I have not been drawing on the works of Tom DeFalco, Jim Shooter, Ralph Macchio, Stan Lee, or any of Marvel's previous EICs, much less folks from other companies like Max Gaines, Julie Schwartz, Dan Didio, Dan Vado, or Mike Richardson.

I don't feel like I'm aping Quesada, mind you! He's got an enthusiasm and outgoing attitude that just are not in my personality. At the same time, I don't want to be more transparent to the readers as someone like Didio. Something that Lee started back in the 1960s -- and I think was inadvertantly an incredible marketing tool -- was becoming something of a cheerleader/spokesman for Marvel. He was able to get readers to to fall in step behind him. Not Marvel necessarily, but Lee himself. And it just so happened that Lee was running the show at Marvel. Quesada does this, to a somewhat lesser degree, today and I think it engages readers (generally) in a positive way.

Logically, I know that's the type of thing Marvel (and indeed many companies) need, but I simply can't provide that. I have never really been able to generate mass throngs of people falling in behind me. Hell, I'm lucky if I can get one person to walk alongside me! I'm more the type of guy who will go off marching in my own direction, and people might watch as I pass by before going back to whatever business they had been engaged in before seeing me.

There's no doubt in my mind that a Marvel run by me would NOT be the same one that's being run by Quesada. It would look and feel like a very different organization and, while that may be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective, there would inevitably be comparisons made. And they wouldn't really be justified because a role like editor-in-chief is so wholly defined by the personality of the individual that it's not really fair to judge my EIC-ishness against anyone else's. Likewise, it's not fair to compare Joe Quesada to Mike Richardson to Dan Didio. They're all being thrown into a job that's almost as much about personality as anything else, so who's to say that any of them are wrong?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What The...?

Well, everybody online who's interested in Marvel comic is looking at the advance solicitations for August. Me? I'm going to look back at sales numbers from this past April that were just published over at ICv2.

The first thing I notice is that Fallen Son: Death of Captain America is the top seller with 157,291. That's a refreshing; it wasn't all that long ago that sales of any comic wouldn't even hit six digits. Indeed the top 8 best selling comics are each doing over 120,000. That is great news, generally speaking.

What starts to concern me, though, is that in slot 8 is Mighty Avengers #2 with 121,365 and in slot 9 is Wolverine #53 with 98,441. That's a difference of over 20,000 between the eighth and ninth selling tiers. There's a difference over over 50,000 between #1 and #10. Without scale, that might not mean much think about this: there is effectively a 33% drop-off between the top-selling title and the tenth best-selling title out of at least 300.

Here's another interesting bit: DC's Brave and the Bold #1 sold 1,756 copies in April, DESPITE the fact that it was originally released back in February. And that's still 200 more copies than the first run printing of Oni's Maintenance #3. Now I'll be the first to admit that Brave and the Bold #1 was really well done, but so was Maintenance #3!

OK, fair enough -- they're not really that comparable. How about Silent War #4 outselling Spider-Man/Fantastic Four #1 by 4,000 copies? Having read them, I think Spider-Man/FF is by far the better product, but even if I hadn't, shouldn't a #1 issue featuring several of Marvel's most popular characters outsell a #4 issue featuring, at best, some of Marvel's c-list characters? Plus, aren't Mike Wieringo and Dan Slott fairly popular compared to David Hine and Roy Allan Martinez? I'm not knocking them, by any means, but I simply do NOT understand this difference in sales at all.

Fantastic Four is currently (well, back in April) selling 74,700. I don't recall that the title's numbers got a bump when the first FF movie came through, but it'll be interesting to see if there's a difference now that it's an "established" property.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the only non-Marvel/non-DC title to break the top 50 with an impressive 96,409. Next on the list is Painkiller Jane #0 at 46,249. The highest selling non-Marvel/non-DC/not-associated-with-another-property title is Walking Dead with only 21,737 -- it comes in at 94th.

What strikes me overall is how much the top-selling comics list is overwhelmingly dominated by what are now considered media properties. Even going past the top 100, the list is littered with more books about Spider-Man, Teen Titans, Transformers, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Simpsons, Texas Chainsaw Masacre, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Walt Disney... There's very little there that's JUST a comic any more.

Not a commentary, by the way, just an observation.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Political Cartoon

I generally kind of like Non-Sequitir for the lack of continuity almost Far Side qualities about it. Today's strip seemed unusually politically driven, though, and heads down a path that one doesn't usually see in daily strips of this nature...
I find it interesting largely because it points to the reason, I think, so many comic strips that appear in the newspaper today aren't funny. (Let's face it; they really aren't.) The problem is one of irrelevance. If you read Blondie, for example, it largely recycles the same jokes over and over again. Dagwood's late for work; Blondie tries to get Dagwood off the couch to do some work; Dithers yells at his employees. How many of those types of statements would you need to make to encompass the whole range of Blondie strips? Not too many, I'd wager.

There was (and I suppose still is, to a degree) something of a debate on whether or not B.C. should continue after Johnny Hart's death. In my mind, it's a moot point because B.C. hasn't been funny in years. No disrespect to Hart, mind you, it certainly had a great run and there were some really good strips, but that hasn't been the case for at least a decade now. It had past its prime (as everything does eventually) and should've been re-tooled to get it out of its rut.

Most good art is reflective of the culture that helped to spawn it. That's what made Peantus so popular when it first came out; Shutltz was talking to ideas and mores that were fairly current. Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury attempts the same, but he's often a little too specific in his jokes which then require more foreknowledge of socio-political happenings than most people can keep up with. But if you take grand, sweeping ideas -- whether they fall under the heading of politics or society or parenthood or whatever -- and apply comedy to their current (let me stress, current) status, you get humorous strips like the one above. If you ignore that current state, you land on cultural irrelevance and people look at your work as dated or, worse, redundant.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A-ha! I Was Right!

I was talking a little while back about how I wasn't keen on going away from the pamphlet format because of the problems it could cause my local comic shop. Today, I just read Brian Hibbs' latest "Tilting at Windmills." Among other things, Hibbs notes...
Here’s the thing: while Big Super-Huge Sales on books are always nice, generally speaking consistency is more important for the comic book store. Or, to put it another way: I made more money in 2006 from the sold-very-poorly Firestorm, with 12 issues released, than I did from the It’s-in-the-Top-Twenty All-Star Batman because only one single issue was released in all of 2006.

Read that one more time: I made more money in 2006 from Firestorm than a Batman comic by Jim Lee and Frank Miller.
This is what I'm sayin'!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Quick hit

Because the Marvel Editorial Sim is killing my time lately, here's a quick hit to a convention that would've been cool to try to attend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Quesada Sympathy

Holy sheep dip! I've been officiating/EIC-ing in this Marvel Editorial Simulation for less than 24 hours, and I'm already starting to see some of what real Marvel EIC Joe Quesada has to face. It's weird how much "free time" just flew out the window!

If this even hints at what he has to handle, then he deserves every penny he's paid! Check Tom's blog and The Marvel Editorial Simulation blog to see what I've been up to since yesterday afternoon!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Marvel Editorial Simulation Blog

For those of you interested in watching me crash and burn in Tom Brevoort's Marvel Editorial Simulation (that's a new link with Tom's ground rules, BTW), fellow sucker-for-humiliation Philip Schaeffer has set up a blog specifically for us editors. I'll likely post information/thoughts/discussion in both places, if you're interested, but any final decisions I make will be show up on Tom's blog if you just want to get the general overview.

The good news is that, so far, all of the editors have been pretty friendly towards each other and are all looking forward to working together. The oh-this-is-bound-to-cause-friction news is that one of us (yet to be named) will not be a regular editor, but the editor-in-chief.

If nothing else, this is going be interesting!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Watch As I Destroy The Marvel Universe!

This post could alternatively be titled, "Watch Sean Make A Complete Ass Of Himself." Hindsight will eventually prove which is more accurate.

Sometime last summer, Tom Brevoort ran a "Marvel Editorial Simulation" in which two contestants were given some comic titles to edit. (No, not for real. That's why it was called a simulation.) They'd make whatever decesions they wanted and Tom would come back with how those decisions had an impact, positive or negative. It was kind of like a classic game of Dungeons & Dragons, with Tom as the Dungeon Master. I found it a fascinating look at some of the things editors have to deal with, and both Tom and the two players handled things quite expertly all around. Especially for being a first attempt at anything like that.

Now whether Tom's just a glutton for punishment or what, he's running the game again. This time, though, he's got four players to deal with, which I can't imagine is going to make things any easier on him. More pertinent to this blog, though, and the reason for the ominous title, is that I was selected as one of the particpants.

I think this will be an interesting experiment. I've laid claim here before that I know the comic industry pretty well, so this will show whether or not I really do. I don't think I've ever said the job of an editor was easy, but I have wondered if I couldn't do a better job than some of the pros. (Not Tom, though. I'm reasonably confident he could edit circles around me any day of the week.) This will be really great to get a taste of what editorship is and whether or not some of the ideas rolling around in my head might work. It is just a simulation and, ultimately, all the results of my decisions are fictional, but Tom knows the industry really well and, last time at least, he directed the results that were pretty believeable.

As of this writing, I don't know what book(s) I'll be editting. Maybe the whole X-Men line, maybe just Ant-Man -- your guess is as good as mine at the moment. I have some thoughts and ideas, though, rumbling around in my noggin and it'll be interesting to see what works and what doesn't.

So, starting Monday, keep an eye on Tom's blog to see how well/poorly I do. I expect that I'll have some notes to include here throughout the game, but I have no idea what format those may or may not take. If nothing else, you'll get to watch me go down in flames, zeppelin style.

Friday, May 11, 2007

FCBD: The Aftermath

Okay, so Free Comic Book Day has come and gone. Most people have had a better part of the week to read whatever they picked up. What next?

Well, if the FCBD model holds, you should go through everything you've read, and start to pick up the books you sampled that you liked. Whether you're a new comic reader or an old hand who's just stumbled across something you didn't know of before, the whole point is to get you to come back for more. Whatever it was that you liked.

Me? I'm taking it a step further this year. In conjunction with the issues I had with this week's New Avengers, I should really take this opportunity to really evaluate my pull list.

Thanks to the FCBD issues I picked up this year, I'll be adding Walk In and Umbrella Academy to my pull list. Walk In has been out a little while now, and I haven't actually seen it anywhere, so I'll probably have to pick up the upcoming trade to get the opening arc, before reading the monthly issues. Umbrella Academy isn't scheduled until September. (It seems to me that they're doing their advance work WAY to far in advance, but that's another posting.)

There have also been recent announcements about two upcoming books by Warren Ellis: Doktor Sleepless and Black Summer. I'll be adding those almost wholly on the strength of Ellis' writing. I'm also going to look at Peter the Pirate Squid, also recently announced, but for the concept this time.

Green Arrow has one month left, and I'm dropping New Avengers as I've already noted. Given that Aquaman has dropped it's sales numbers by about half in the past year, and it's big 50th issue still didn't clear 20,000, I can't imagine it's going to be around much longer. I can't imagine Heroes for Hire being able to sustain itself for long, either, as they're pulling in right around 20,000 themselves, down less than a year ago from a 74,000 debut! I may as well ride these low-selling books out to the end, but I can't imagine it'll be more than the handful of issues already solicited.

I'm also going to be actively looking for a few more things in the TPB area. One already-in-print book (Dungeon Parade) courtesy of a Tom Spurgeon review, and three released-sometime-this-summer-maybe books: Walk In (as mentioned above) from Virgin Comics, and Levitation and Wire Mothers from GTLabs. That's on top of the five books I've already ordered through my LCS that haven't come in yet, including Rex Libris and Jack Kirby's Silver Star.

Daredevil and Amazing Spider-Man are also under consideration for the axe. I think most of what I get these days is really high quality material (or at least, very highly enjoyable) so I'm sure if these no longer meet my (admitedly nebulous) standards or they simply don't happen to look as good next to everything else.

Oh, I don't doubt that my pull list is going to look very different by the end of 2007.

Education Through Comics

I like to think that I learn something new every day. Some days, it's more obvious than others. But one thing I really enjoy is learning things either from or directly because of comics. Educational comics certainly fall into this camp. (I'm a big fan of Jim Ottaviani because of that.) But run-of-the-mill comics can provide learning opportunities as well. Take today's episode of The Devil's Panties...
So I read that and I'm thinking, "Yuri books? What the heck is that? Is Yuri a creator I should know about, or the name of a comic strip, or a whole genre, or...?"

I'm reading the comic online, so a five-second Google search on "yuri comic" (well, ten-seconds actually, since I mistyped it as "yrui comic" initially) came up with series of gay and lesbian web sites, and a subsequent five-second search on Wikipedia resulted in learning that the term stands "for lesbian content, possibly sexually explicit, in anime, manga, and related fan fiction." I continued reading the full article and got further insights into how yuri -- and lesbianism in general -- is perceived in Japan.

So now I have a better (however slight) understanding of Japanese comics and culture. I have no idea how/if/when I'll ever need to use that information, but I can file it away and pull it out whenever I need to.

What's interesting about the original strip is that the joke still works even if I don't know the term. Jennie Breeden's written the punchline such that it clarifies the term sufficiently for readers to understand at least what DJ expects in "yuri books." For a subject as tricky as that, presented to an audience who you have no way of knowing their cultural background, the strip works quite well. Kudos to Jennie for pulling that off. (Not that it's the first time she's done so, BTW!)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Avast, Ye Scurvy Dogs!

Okay, take five pirates. Drop them into 2003 and teach them the basics of life in the 21st century, but not so much that they really "get" it. Then let them loose. Hilarity ensues.

I just picked up Andre Boyd and Ryan Yount's Scurvy Dogs collection and I have to say that I'm very sorry I missed this when it first came out. It really is just about pirates who don't quite "get" living in the 21st century. They know about television and corporate America and hummels and copyright laws, but they still just want to be pirates.

The book collects all five issues of the original series, which was a mixture of short vinettes and multiple-issue story arcs. There's not really a plot pattern that the stories fall into, and all the stories are character driven. What if a pirate tried to work in an office? What if pirates got into a war with monkeys? What if pirates showed up on a talk show? There's a basic premise dropped into place and then the characters seem to be off and running on their own, like the best in improv comedy. Each situation leads to something more and more absurd, each character trying to add to the mix without taking something away from the previous character. "Open on action, end on cake" as Boyd puts it in some of his notes.

Let me throw out a few lines from the book so you can get the idea of where this is coming from...

"Why, it was just three months ago: we were set upon by Vikings from the future."

"Monkeys. Pah! Filthy animals. The 'pigeons of the sea.' Oh, how I hate them..."

"If by 'treasure,' you mean that bag of Funnyuns, and by 'buried,' you mean you left them in planter out front, then I'm afraid some stoner kids made away with your 'booty.'"

"You know, I think Anson Williams is really under-appreciated as an actor."

"Uh, look over there! Mercantilism!"

There actually aren't too many one-liners like that to work in. Much of the comedy comes from the general reaction of pirates to their situation and not in the dialogue itself. Pappy's various accounts of how he lost his hand, for example. Or the sudden appearance of Rod Stewart carrying around Dr. Theopolis from the 1970's Buck Rogers TV show. Or Blackbeard learning about his own history from a fourth-grade girl's crayon-illustrated school report.

There's lots to laugh at in this book and, as I said, I wish I could've seen it earlier and lent some more support to it. Still, my LCS ordered it for me directly from Diamond, so it shouldn't be too hard to come by if you just ask your local retailer.

So what are you waiting for, already? Call up your local comic shop and ask them to order you a copy of Scurvy Dogs from AIT/PlanetLar!

Another One Bites The Dust

Time to make myself even that much less popular... I'm done with Bendis.

You know, Brian Michael Bendis? Big, hot-shot writer for Marvel? He and Mark Bagley just broke Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's record for longest continuous stint on a Marvel comic? Yeah, that Bendis.

Let me back up a bit...

My first reading of Bendis' work was Ultimate Spider-Man #1. I knew I liked Bagley, and thought the then-new idea of an "ultimate" Spider-Man was interesting. It was good and I started reading the book regularly. I was already getting Daredevil and was impressed again when Bendis started working on that book. I started picking up Alias and enjoyed that. I thought Bendis was doing some good work, and I was genuinely pleased with what I was seeing from him. I continued to think he was turning in decent quality work even through things like the "Avengers Disassembled" storyline. I felt it was an intriguing idea, and seemed to be handled reasonably well, given the huge number of characters involved.

But, it's been downhill since then.

Setting aside the general direction he seems to be taking much of his work, the quality has seemed to have been on the decline. I liked his ear for dialogue when I first started reading his work, but it's become more stilted of late. Like when you read those old issues of Luke Cage, Power Man and knew even back then that his "jive" sounded a little too stereotypical? And his plots have become more convoluted and explaining them seems to require more extended effort on his part. It's like he's trying to play in a sandbox that's so large, he's purposefully trying to create masterpieces that fill the entire thing, only to find that you simply can't see the finished structure as a whole and the individual parts aren't all that great by themselves.

Anyway, I read his New Avengers #30 last night and I have to say, "What the heck was that?" It just didn't make much sense. I'd been hoping to keep reading New Avengers because it looked to be turning into a kind of modern-day Defenders kind of thing, which sounded promising, but the past several issues haven't been very good, and this latest one was just bad. So I'm scratching the title from my pull list -- I'm not going to willingly buy bad comics.

I will be continuing to buy Ultimate Spider-Man for at least a little while longer however, based almost exclusively on the strength of Stuart Immonen's artwork. I've always liked Immonen's work, but it took me a while to get to the point where I'll buy a book simply because he's drawing it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

First In Space Review

Well, I haven't seen much in the way of reviews of First in Space, so I'm here to help alleviate that.

The basic story is that of Ham, a very real chimp who was in NASA's space program back in the early 1960s. The thrust of the story follows Ham going through the training program in preparation for his now-historic space flight and, more significantly, the emotional impact he has on the various trainers, engineers and program directors.

The story is a fairly simple one, and author James Vining's artwork underscores that notion. The book is in black and white, using almost cartoonish drawings to illustrate the story. Despite that simplicity, though, he takes great care to render each monkey individually. They are all distinct in their visuals as well as their personalities, even without any lines of dialogue. I'm not sure if Vining chose to do that simply to differentiate them visually, but it has the end effect of humanizing the monkeys in a way that helps to emphasize how and why they were able to emotionally connect with the various human characters.

I think that people often view animals (of any variety) with a very broad view -- an elephant is an elephant is an elephant. Anyone, though, who's had multiple pets should be able to tell you that every dog, cat, ferret, iguana, or whatever animal they have has a personality as unique as you or I. But, for whatever reason, that doesn't seem to always translate across species and visitors wandering through a zoo see only a collection of lions or tigers or bears, and don't recognize that each one is going to behave differently based on who they are as an individual.

So what Vining does is bridge that gap exceptionally well. We see Ham as a unique character, distinct and separte from the others. He's a chimpanzee, certainly, and I don't think we forget that, but he's a chimp that we can understand and empathize with. I think that's what I found most pleasantly surprising about First in Space. The book does indeed give us the basic run-down of the space program of that time, including some of the politics with appearances by pre-space-flight-but-still-heroic John Glenn and then-Vice-President Lyndon Johnson. But it's the character study of Ham that is what the more attractive pull to the book.

The epilogue takes place towards the end of Ham's life in the early 1980s. It's a little disconnected from the rest of the book, but I think it shows why Vining chose to write this story, and why it's one we should pay more attention to. (The general story of Ham's life, not necessarily Vining's version of it.)

Overall, I was pleased to read this. It read fairly quickly, and the only weakness in the storytelling that I came across was how Vining showed a dream sequence. (Not that it didn't work, just that it took an extra moment to recognize it as such. A very minor quibble to be sure, but it's one of those that stands out against the superb quality of everything else.) Vining obviously took a lot of care in this book and it shows. It's a steal at only ten bucks, well worth the price of admission. You really can't go wrong with Xeric award winners in the first place, and this is just another example of why.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Comics Time Capsule

I started reading Comics & Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics on my lunch hour today. It's a collection of essays on various aspects of comics that were written in the late 1990s -- early 1998, by my guess.

What's been of particular interest so far has been Roger Sabin's article on the Internet's impact on comics. Sabin, of course, was writing and researching this subject a decade ago, and it's interesting to read his thoughts on the matter with that ten years of hindsight. He has some interesting tennets in his pieces, largely in reaction to Scott McCloud's unbridled enthusiasm for the subject.

1. Sabin takes issue with McCloud's definition of "comics." While I don't know that I fully agree with McCloud, I think he's more on the mark than Sabin who seems to overly restrict comics to items that are specifically aimed at a mass media audience. Further, McCloud expressly stated in Understanding Comics was that he was proposing the defintion in lieu of anyone else having done so, and that it was a subject that can (and should!) be further debated.

2. Sabin claims there is a false assumption that "because comics work on the printed page, they will automatically work on the net." Sabin notes that comics cannot be simply scanned and placed online and "work" in any real sense, and offers up some then-contemporary work as evidence. It seems to me natural that changing mediums like that (printed comics to computer screen) one will inevitably run into incompatibilities like those Sabin describes. But he somehow seems to ignore the possibility that comics could be created specifically for online consumption. His idea seems to be that the limitations inherent in printed comics are also limitations in online comics, which have further limitations imposed on them by the new medium.

He reiterates some of his intial arguements here, as well, suggesting that online comics cannot be comics because, at the time, they weren't readily accessible by a mass market. That comics needed to be easily portable and an additional level of literacy (that of the computer) was needed in order to view them. While he was indeed correct about some of the technological limitations at that time (and I can't fault him for being skeptical of then-hypothetical future advances), it still seems to me that limiting comics, by definition, to a mass-produced, mass-media environment is too inherently limiting.

3. He finally counters "False Assumption Number 3: That net comics are the next historical step for the comics medium." His rationale is largely based on the premise that the rise of one medium will not eliminate another. While that is true, certainly, he seems to be assuming a couple of absolutes that don't make sense to me. In the first place, he's countering the arguement that net comics are the next step... which will occur in the next ten years. He doesn't expressly put a timeline to his thesis, but there seems to be an assumption of one, as he precludes the notion that the "next step" might occur beyond his lifetime.

In the second place, I don't know of anyone who's claimed that print comics will be completely obliterated by the rise of online comics. Now that might be just the circles I travel in, but I don't believe even the biggest proponents of online comics ever claimed that print comics would entirely vanish.

I don't know if Sabin holds the same ideas today in 2007 that he held in 1998. Obviously, the landscape for both the comics and computer industries has changed immensely in that time, and I think it's unreasonable to have expected Sabin to accurately predict all of those changes. But I think it's fascinating to look back on a set of opinions like these to contrast those of, say, McCloud and contrast them both against the reality of what's actually happened. Neither "side" of the debate was ultimately any more right than the other, and their predictions noticeably missed their respective marks.

Which all goes to show just how unpredictable the future really is, and that anyone (myself included) throwing out any predictions beyond the next several months is mostly blowing smoke.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Religion Of Comics

There are any number of things one can do online, as I'm sure you're aware. (Like, as the cover to the right suggests, saving Supergirl!) Many of those things are, in fact, the same but catered towards a different audience. Shopping, for example. You can buy just about anything you want online. But there are some web sites that focus on books, some that focus on music, some that focus on office supplies... Similarly, there are untold hundreds of message boards in cyberspace, each with its own spin on a topic. Some boards are polticial, some are academic, some are related to movies, some are centered a single individual.

Personally, though, I spent the vast majority of my time online in the service of comics. It's the subject that interests me more than any other, so it should be no surprise that my focus online carries that passion as well. Further, I've found small niches online where I can engage in discussions about comics with people who, while they might not always agree, will at least bring civility to the table. When I first came online, I found a great number of outlets to discuss comics, but many of them were filled with people so passionate about their beliefs that they refused to even accept the idea that someone might have reason to disagree with them. Whether they had a favorite artist or character or storyline or whatever, they felt that their ideas were "correct" and that anyone who disagreed with them was an unreasonable, condesceneding jackass. Needless to say, it wouldn't take much to send these folks flying off the hanle about the topic du jour.

It makes a kind of sense that religion and politics tend to stir up the greatest arguements. After all, those subjects are based almost exclusively around an individual's belief system and accepting something as simple as someone else holding to a different belief system suggests to many people that their own is not valid. (Which is not necessarily true, of course.)

What strikes me as more interesting, though, is that people can get just as passionately fired up about comic books. It's sadly not difficult to find a simple discussion on favorite characters devolve into nastiness. I stumbled across just such a incident recently, and was surprised how many people weighed in on the subject without saying anything constructive. (I don't run across these very often, fortunately; I suppose it's fair to say that I've largely insulated myself from this type of crowd. I say that by way of explaining my surprise to folks who surely must see this daily.) There were folks who were quite adamant that their opinions were right, and anyone holding an opposing view was clueless. Name-calling and profanity were used early on, and some people quickly resorted to the equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I" arguements.

It strikes me as interesting because people are placing their belief in the mythology of comics as vehemently as if it were any insubstanitable belief system. We all know Superman and Spider-Man don't exist, so why get upset over various aspects of that non-existence? (By a similar token, we can't prove the existance of any deity or the absolute correctedness of any given political policy, so the passionate arguements still don't really make sense to me there either.) And even if you did, it's not going to do anyone any good to shout obscenities at the other party. People aren't going to listen to you if you blatantly insult them. (And I just went through that rant here.)

What was somewhat refreshing, I will say, though, was how many people did NOT jump up and down screaming that their opinion was more right in that incident I alluded to earlier. I was privvy to some of the web traffic numbers and it was clear that, at least from what I could see, only about 5% of the people seeing the incident posted something blatantly antagonistic. That means 95% of the people, whether they agreed with one side or the other, understood that their comments would likely just fan some flames that had no need to be fanned. That was pleasantly surprising to me, and almost restores whatever little faith I once had in humanity.

But back to my point, I find it intriguing that people -- any people -- have adopted an obviously manufacured mythology as their religion. I'd seen people claim they followed the path of the Jedi or describe their personal pon far, but I had thought that such claims were at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek. As I see events where people get so incensed over the opinions of others, that calls my original belief into question. Rest assured, though, I don't intend to restart The Crusades over it!

FCBD Roundup

Yours truely did absolutely nothing of consequence on Free Comic Book Day -- it's not as much for me as for other folks. Beyond just attracting new people to comic books, it's also about getting existing comic book folks to try new publishers, creators and genres. Since I tend to do that anyway, whether or not I hit a store on Free Comic Book Day itself isn't very relevant.

But what did OTHER folks do all day? Well, let's take a look...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

FCBD News Reports

I was pleased to see, this morning, a decent-sized article about Free Comic Book Day in today's Cincinati Enquirer. It took up fully one half of the front page of the business section and included the photo at the left, as well as six covers of FCBD books. If you follow that link, you'll also see several of the side-bars that accompanied the article as well, including a list of comic book shops in the area! And, to top it all off, I don't believe any of the information they gave is inaccurate!

Side note of kudos to Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott who reference the Silver Surfer in today's comic strip, Baby Blues.

Friday, May 04, 2007

It All Goes Back To Community

Let me walk through the process by which I "discover" creative talent...

1) For some reason, I come across a creator's work. Maybe it's on the recommendation of somebody else, maybe it's because they teamed up with another creator I'm already familiar with, maybe it's blind luck. In any event, I get my hands on some of the creator's work.

2) If I like said creator, I'll start seeking out what else they've done. This often involves a bit of research, usually online. I usually start by just trying to track down a record of what they've worked on, and start hunting the back issue bins. In the case of web comics, I spend an inordinate of time going through their archives.

3) If I like the additional material, and start to get a sense of the creator's artistic skills and sensibilities, I'll start trying to track down more information about the creator him/herself. Generally, this is just straight bio-type stuff. But my thinking is that the more I understand them, the more appreciative I am of their work. (This is something I hold to on the whole, in fact. I started listening to classical music to better appreciate it's use -- and, often, bastardization -- in Warner Brothers' cartoons.) Contrarily, if I didn't like/appreciate a piece in the first place, it's unlikely (which I know from previous experience) that I'll gain a better appreciation of it if I spend the additional time trying to understand the creator(s) behind it.

4) As I learn more about the creator, I start making connections with them. "Oh, I had the exact same experience -- that's why such-n-such comic resonnated with me so well!" I start to feel a kinship of sorts. It's stronger, obviously, with those whose backgrounds and histories I more closely identify with, but there's often at least some connection that I can latch on to.

5) Now, here's things get interesting/frustrating for me. Because of this connection, I start feeling like the creator is someone I could be friends with. Maybe they remind me of someone I knew/know, maybe they just sound like a great person to hang out with, whatever. In some cases, that's clearly just not feasible. If the creator lives a far distance away and doesn't spend much time online, for example. Not a big deal. But some creators are online quite a bit. (I haven't found many that live even remotely close to me, so that's generally not even an option.) The thing is, though, that they already have established relationships with a number of people online, and have a group of some sort that they already hang out with. If it's not readily apparent on message boards, it's often quite obvious with photos they might post online. If the pictures don't tell the story clearly enough, it's evident at actual conventions themselves.

So here I am, feeling connected at some level with the original creator. But they have an existing circle of friends that I am not a member of. That circle of friends will have their own dynamic, often with the creator at the center, but still a personality unique to the group and distinct from the creator him/herself.

My problem (well, one of them...) is that I have trouble fitting into community settings like that. Especially in larger, well-established ones. I'm much more of the "really small, tight-knit, inner-circle group" type of guy. I don't seem to work in extended networks well at all.

I don't know that I really have a point where I'm leading to with all this. I find it interesting, and I've been thinking about it lately because of my nearly simultaneous "discovery" of Jennie Breeden (pictured above, second from the right) and The Dresden Dolls (not pictured at all and, in fact, have no relation to the comic industry). Talented folks who I could've become friends with, if I'd've known them before they had throngs of people clamoring to be their friends.

Chalk this up as a "Sean's thinking about fandom even more esoterically than usual" type of post.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Free Comic Book Day

I'm a little behind the curve this year on plugging Free Comic Book Day. When my local comic shop started using official FCBD bags, I saved them and pinned them up around the office at work as mini-posters. And when The Wife and I donated to our local NPR station last fall, I asked that they make mention of it the day before. (The station actually has a "Day Sponsorship" available so that I can get a one or two line plug to be read by them six times a day on the day of my choice. You'll hear it on May 4th if you happen to listen to WMUB.) But that's about it, unfortunately.

I suppose it's a lot more than many people are doing, but I feel like I should do more. A few years ago, I even went to the lengths of buying a few hundred comics that were going to be only spottily available and distributed them on a local college campus.

This year, though, I don't know... it somehow just kind of snuck up on me. No real planning of any sort on my part. I feel bad because, frankly, I don't have an excuse this year. I'm sure I had ample opportunities but, for whatever reason(s), I didn't even see them to take them!

Oh, I'm sure I'll be able to do a few more last minute things. E-mails to the staff at work, probably a mention on, that sort of thing... But I'm missing something... and I don't know what.

One quick final note. A couple of links to FCBD-related info: Free Comic Book Day Isn't Free and What Are You Doing For FCBD '07?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Separating Creators From Content

Question: how much are your views about comics colored by the creators themselves? Not by their talent, but by their personality?

Quick example: John Byrne. Byrne's taken flak for a lot of years for his thoughts on this, that or the other. He's gotten into arguements with other creators and editors and fans, and that's dragged out into the public from time to time. It's frequently presented in a light that makes him look bad. So does your opinion of John Byrne, the person, affect your reading of Spider-Man: Chapter One?

Byrne's an easy example because he was one of the first "casualties" of what you might call the Silver Age of Comics Fandom. He became professional (and a popular one, at that) right around the same time that comic fans were really getting together and publishing professional-grade fanzines and organizing conventions and such. Prior to that period, fans' knowledge about comic creators was extremely limited, and they were judged almost solely on the quality of their work. But now fans had the opportunity to share information and rumors, and news of a comic professional's gaffs/quirks/opinions could be shared with nearly the entirety of the fan community. (Can you imagine if someone like Steve Ditko tried starting a career even as late as the 1970s?!)

Of course, reporting of information didn't have a 100% guarantee of accuracy. The old game of telephone was often in full operation, and a stray comment could be mis-construed and mis-interpreted and reach the ears of fans in the form of a full-blown, knock-down-drag-out between a writer and an editor.

Here we are, a few decades later, and the Internet has broadened the scope of the issue considerably. Not only do more people have access to the information, but it's also transmitted much more quickly. So a creator who might casually say at a convention that they don't like rice can find that they've got a flood of e-mails by the time the get back to their hotel room demanding to know why s/he is leading a boycott against the rice industry.

And, for good or ill, that seems to color how a creator's work is perceived by a large number of people.

Now, there's certainly something to be said for context. Without context, you won't understand jokes, social commentary, or subtexts. But if a creator writes a string of stories, none of which involve guns or shooting, his/her thoughts on gun control are pretty much irrelevant. His/her approach to dealing with editors is almost never relevant unless s/he is specifically writing about that. There's only so much context you really need and, for most comic books, you shouldn't need any to follow the basic story.

Personally, I try to separate the two as much as possible. In some cases, it's easy -- I've never actually met John Byrne, for example, so I can't really speak to his personality. In other cases, I have to admit, it's more difficult. On that end, I had a series of very nice, extended conversations with Salvador Larroca and it's harder for me to look at his work objectively. But even so, I have criticized his work on occassion, when I felt there was room for criticism.

So here's a suggestion to try. Select a creator who you don't like on a personal level. Doesn't matter why you don't like them. Then have someone loan you some of their work you haven't previously seen, and make an active effort to judge it on its own merits. I might also suggest mixing that loaner in with other material you haven't seen before, and try to skip over the credits in all the books, so you don't know which book is by the creator you don't like. (Although, artistic styles are sometimes distinctive enough that that might not prevent you from spotting whose work is whose anyway.)

Give it a shot -- you might find some work you might actually like.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Free Kirby

Publisher John Morrows has made a relatively last-minute decision to post a PDF copy of Jack Kirby Collector #48 #47 on the TwoMorrows web site for free this weekend as part of the Free Comic Book Day celebration. It's only this weekend, though, so be sure to get 'em while they're hot!

UPDATE: My bad; it's #47, not #48. Still good stuff, though!