Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mantlo: A Life In Comics

I was never particularly aware of Bill Mantlo as a young comic fan. Mainly because he never worked on the couple of titles I bought with any regularity. I became aware of his name at some point, obviously, but it wasn't until after he had largely stopped writing comics in the late 1980s. So one of the reasons I picked up Mantlo: A Life in Comics was just to learn who he was.

The book charts Bill's comic book career in detail. It delineates what he worked on pretty meticulously and offers any number of insights from Mantlo himself (taken from an array of old interviews in various comics magazines), as well as retrospections from collaborators. The book breaks down fairly neatly into chunks, focusing on only one title at a time, with the whole thing bookended with a brief overview of his childhood and his short-lived career in law leading up to his debilitating accident.

Mantlo: A Life in Comics initially looked a bit light to me. That's probably due to it being printed more like a magazine than a "traditional" biography. But after I began reading, I soon realized that it is densely packed with information. It flows fairly smoothly, but there's simply a lot there to absorb. Clearly, author David Yurkovich did a lot of research in putting this together and it really is a impressive volume in that respect.

What I found interesting was how much of Mantlo's work I had actually read once upon a time. The vivid story descriptions repeatedly reminded me of many "one-off" comics I had as a child, long before I thought to actually bother reading the credits. So while I didn't know Mantlo's name, much of what he had written was still floating around in the back of my head and I kept having panels and sequences that he worked on popping to the forefront of my memory as I read. Images that he put there, without me consciously realizing it.

I did find one drawback with this book, though, and that was in the design itself. There were a number of places where it was, in my opinion, overly difficult to read because of how the page was laid out. Many of the background images seemed a little too dark/heavy to be running under the text. Some graphics accompanying the main text were treated similarly to the sidebars, which caused me some confusion. That sort of thing. Nothing that makes the book unreadable, certainly, but just enough to distract from the otherwise smooth-flowing text.

To be fair, it's a minor quibble and one that I noticed in particular because I've got a background in design. The text itself more than makes up for it, even if you're not lured by the prospect of all the book's proceeds going to benefit Bill Mantlo himself. The book shows a great deal of love and respect for Mantlo and his work, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest interest in Bill or grew up reading marvel's comics in the 1970s or 80s.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Purpose Of Art

Art, if done well, filters out much of the banality of actual living to be able to provide a relatively concise message about Life. Some messages are more powerful than others, naturally, and some are more complex than others. But art, whether in the form of comics or TV or opera or whatever, should leave the audience with a message to consider.

In late 2005, I wrote a piece about Firefly and Serenity in which I took a step back from the works themselves to see what underlying messages I might get out of it. That piece was recently recorded (not by me) for the Firefly Talk podcast. I had actually forgotten that I had written it, but seeing it again today, in light of recent events, makes me sad. I was originally quite impressed with myself at the time for recognizing the messages I took from Serenity and being able to articulate exactly why I needed to act on them. I'm saddened though, because a year and a half later, I still haven't really acted on them... which is surely part of why I'm having difficulty in my personal life.

So for those of you who do hear a powerful message from whatever piece of art inspires you, I suggest you act on it; otherwise the message, however powerful it might be, is meaningless.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Upcoming Goodies

Because I can't think of anything in particular to blog about today, I thought I'd just drop in some covers of upcoming comics/graphic novels that I'm looking forward to...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Teshkeel's The 99 Origins Preview

The proprietor of my Local Comic Shop this week handed me, along with my usual stack of books, a free preview special of The 99 -- a comic whose team of superheroes are based in the Middle East. (Well, I say "team" but it's not yet a team in this preview issue...) I've heard/seen tidbits on this over the past year, but not enough to really entice me to look for or ask about it. But now, having read this origin special, I can tell you that I'll be adding this to my pull list.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the size. It seemed thicker than usual, and a later count verified that it weighs in with 48 pages instead of the typical (for the U.S.) 32. A quick flip through also didn't have me run across any advertisements -- and indeed the book's interior only has two pages that aren't devoted to the story: a pin-up page of one of the characters and a internal promo noting that the first issue will be out in October. So you get a 46-page story for free. The paper itself is pretty high-quality, even by today's comic book standards, so altogether this was clearly a great bargain before even getting to the story.

The next thing I noticed were the names. Fabian Nicieza co-wrote the thing. I don't know Naif Al-Mutawa's writing at all, but if Nicieza's helping out, it's going to at least be a decent story. I notice also John McCrea on pencilling duties -- he's not a particular favorite of mine, but I'm familiar enough with his work to know that he's got pretty solid story-telling abilities.

To the story itself. The first half of the book is some serious back-story, going back to 1258 AD. The city of Baghdad was going to be attacked and the Caliph, knowing he was seriously out-matched, wanted to at least save the knowledge and wisdom from their libraries. He had his librarians alchemically imbue a set of gemstones with as much as they could save from the libraries themselves. These Noor Stones eventually vanished and Dr. Ramzi Razem is, in 2007, looking for them in an effort to bring peace on earth.

The rest of the book follows the discovery of Nawaf Al-Bilali in Saudi Arabia, who was caught in a land mine explosion that embedded shards of one of the Noor Stones in his skin, giving him great physical power. Ramzi is able to help him gain control of this new power and begins to explain how he hopes to change the world.

The book started off, I felt, a bit slowly. Even with the attack on Baghdad right at the outset, it felt a bit weighted, like a history lesson devoid of any emotional relevance. It was written well enough, but the narrator seemed a bit too removed from the action for me to connect the events he was discussing. It wasn't until we got to see Ramzi doing the talking (he was, in fact, the narrator telling the tale to a group of potential investors) that I started to get into the book.

With Nicieza and McCrea on board, as I noted earlier, it came as no real surprise that I enjoyed the book overall. It's often difficult to tell who's done what with multiple writers on a book, especially when they're not all known quantities. It'd be easy for me to think, for example, that Nicieza worked more on the latter half where I was able to get more into the story but since I don't know Al-Mutawa, it could well have been his work on the book that was more enticing to me. In any event, the collaboration did seem to work overall, and it didn't feel like two writers with competing voices. They were in-sync at least enough that the story didn't feel disjointed.

I've actually been frustrated for years on how Americans view themselves. It's a very egotistical country, and collectively we don't really pay attention or give consideration to cultures other than our own. I was happy to see some of the books Virgin Comics was doing since they (some of them at least) were starting from an Indian/Pakistani perspective, but then somewhat disappointed in the final execution. But here, with The 99, we've got a decidedly Middle Eastern perspective with good execution. I'm looking forward to seeing more from this book to help counter my own America-centered bias.

Further, one of the reasons I'm blogging about this today is to help ensure that others get a chance to see this. I'm looking for comics that are new and different to me -- that's where the clever ideas and new perspectives come from. And, as much as I think there are a lot of great and creative people in the American comic book industry, they still have the same cultural background. By reading comics from Japan, Korea, France, India, Russia, or wherever, I can have an entirely different starting point with a new set of cultural backgrounds to consider. Wonderful stuff!

One last thing. The back cover of the book highlights that "the story continues" in an upcoming book called The 99: First Light to become available on August 22. The aforementioned interior ad notes the ongoing series will begin on October 17. However, I've seen notes on a number of different web sites that suggest -- or outright state -- that the comic has actually been in circulation since the the middle of 2006. What I have not yet found is whether or not those comics are exclusively ones printed in Teshkeel's home country of Kuwait; I can't find any indication of this issue NOT being the first one printed in the U.S. but in the global marketplace, it's difficult to tell. So to my American audience, it looks like you've got a little waiting to do until you can get your hands on the regular book, but folks in other countries might find that this story has been in publication for some time and you may have to search back issue bins to get it!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Way To Go, Kate!

Because I'm not sure how widely it might be reported, I want to share this tidbit I ran across in looking for more CCI info: Katherine Keller, who I blogged about here, evidently did convince at least 40 people to donate $25 or more to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! As promised, she's written this check...

... for $1050. (I suppose the extra $50 is for two additional people who also donated?) Kudos to Katherine for motivating jokers like me to get our butts in gear and support an excellent cause, and I'm sure Gordon Lee and everyone at the CBLDF would like to thank those 40-some people who donated.

True Chic Or Faux Geek?

So I'm watching some of G4's live coverage of CCI earlier this evening, and they bring up the question of whether or not Hollywood has ruined the con. At that point, I had only seen about 10-15 minutes of their coverage (having only recorded the previous night's coverage) so I was at first impressed with the fact that a media outlet like that, with a history of bias towards Hollywood, would even pose the question.

I didn't get to hear the full discussion on the topic, but the upshot that I could tell was that they had one proponent of either side of the debate. One person said that the Hollywood/media aspect of the show should be spun out into another convention altogether, and the other said that the media-ness of CCI was fine since there are other big conventions strictly devoted to comics. I've never even been to San Diego, much less attended the Con, so I'm not one to say who's right here.

But what I then found interesting is that much of what I did later see in G4's coverage -- which, admittedly, is not yet everything -- was based around extra-media properties. Iron Man (the movie). Whiteout (the movie). Blade Runner. Poultrygiest. Futurama. Superbad. Get Smart. Now, I will say that it wasn't EXCLUSIVELY media-centric. I caught an interview with Erik Larsen which was all comics, for example. But there was a definite skew towards the media end of things.

Of course, they have every right to cover the show however they want, and I'm sure they're airing what they think their audience will be most responsive to. Newsarama has a lot on the marvel/DC end of things. Valerie D'Orazio's pieces that I've seen thus far are focused on the portrayal and treatment of women in the industry. Just like I'm not really blogging about information spewing out of CCI here, because I know you aren't coming here looking for news. I mean, geez, the show is huge and it'd be silly to think anyone -- even any one group -- could actually report on it all. So that's all cool, but I guess I just figured that the media coverage would be a little more balanced than it was last year.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Crazy Bastard Ellis... or... Doktor Sleepless #1

I picked up Warren Ellis' Doktor Sleepless #1 today and read through it at lunch. The book starts with former-boy-genius/philosopher/traveller/orphan/rich-man John Reinhardt renouncing his identity for that of Doktor Sleepless. Why? Because "People like listening to characters. Characters are safe, because they're not real." (This is still page one and he's already getting meta-textual on us.)

Much of the issue then gives readers a tour of the world Ellis has built, complete with computer/net-access via contact lenses, universal identity tags, shared bio-frequency nerve implants, and embryos-as-jewelry. It's a society where graffiti artists demand to know where their jet packs and flying cars are, and actual book stores are rare. The inhabitants, at least the majority of them, are oblivious. "Blatant apathy. I mean, almost aggressive apathy. 'F*** you, I don't want to care,' you know?"

Enter Doktor Sleepless.

It's a set-up issue, by and large. As I said, much of it is an introduction to the world Ellis is creating. But while it is just set-up, one clearly gets a feeling of where this is headed, even if we can't see around the next bend.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that Ellis said this was going to be an updated spin on the ideas/concepts he used in Transmetropolitan. There's certainly some element of that in Doktor Sleepless, but it does not feel like Ellis is mining old territory or just trying to contemporize Spider Jerusalem. It's similar only insomuch as that it's Ellis commenting on society as he sees it. What do we, as a society, think of the future? What do we expect from science?
You want your jetpack, but don't even think about your IM lenses and your phones. Were you born with them? No. You're science fictional creatures. Each and every one of you... While you wait for the real future you think you're owed, you f*** around with your bodies like they were virtual avatars. You add things to them. You make them better. You treat them like characters to be improved and you grind them. There's no future coming. No-one thinks they out you s***. You're waiting for a day that'll never f***ing dawn.
He does and has done this type of thing in his other works, to be sure, but Sleepless is there as his commentary and not just a vehicle for it that also happens to be a vehicle for guys in spandex beating each other up.

Now, here's where the "crazy bastard" part comes in...

My head is NOT in a good place right now. I'd been getting disgusted with the comics I've loved for years and my marriage is falling apart. The current U.S. government administration continues to prove itself the most unworthy of their offices in history on a daily basis. The cynic in me has kicked into overdrive. I've been devouring Transmetropolitan already, and was really jazzed reading the Black Summer preview. The type of messages that look like they'll be coming out of Doktor Sleepless are ones that, in a normal frame of mind, I would consider and reflect on rationally. In my current state, I'm more likely to take them to heart as is. The inevitable metaphors will become closer to reality in my head, and I can see myself growing much darker than I already am.

Did Ellis know that he could do that? To hold that kind of sway over someone like me? I don't know. I'm sure he's not shouting from the rooftops strictly for my benefit. But I'll be damned if I know how that crazy bastard could've been more serendipitous.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quote of the Day

I wanted to write a comic-related follow-up to yesterday's post, but I keep getting nauseous thinking about it. So, I'll pass along this quote I just stumbled across...
Your job [as a writer] was to come on to a book, and create it out of whole cloth. Marvel history meant nothing, but not because of Marvel history -- just that you were so intent on being better than the past writer, or showing how stupid the past writer was, that you went to great lengths to negate everything he said. Your job was to come in and tell everybody, 'It was totally false, it was totally meaningless, and the history of this book starts right here -- with me taking over...'
If I didn't know better, I'd say that came from someone talking about the past five or so years. The quote is actually from Bill Mantlo, speaking about his work from the 1970s.

George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kleefeld NOT on Comics

When I started this blog, I made an active choice for it to NOT be about me. It would have my thoughts on the subject of comics, but I'm not enough of a personality that anyone would really care a whit about what I ate for dinner or how many squirrels the dog chased. It should be focused on one topic that you all might care about -- and I don't personally fit that bill.

But, today, I'm going to talk about something deeply personal and not-at-all comics related because, well, I need to talk about this somewhere.

When I came home from work Thursday, my wife sat me down and said that she was leaving. Not a weekend away, but "I don't think I want to be married any more." Her bags were already packed and loaded in the car. She was on the road to her father's an hour later.

We got married on August 9, 1997. Our tenth anniversary is in a few weeks. We'd planned a trip to Great Britain to celebrate. My 35th birthday is a week after we would've gotten back. I'm in too much shock to feel pain.

I knew our marriage wasn't everything she'd ever hoped it would be, but I had no idea our relationship was that bad. Our marriage wasn't everything I'd hoped for either, to be honest, but it was pretty much what I'd expected. I didn't realize how much of disconnect there was between her expectations and reality. I mean, I know that I'm often obtuse when it comes to nuanced and subtle human interactions, but I just did not see this coming.

In retrospect, I can see the signs. She bought insurance for our trip because she knew she'd be leaving before then, not because she though her grandfather would die just before we left. She was asking about dry-cleaning, not out of her usual inquisitiveness but because she wanted to know what was available to pack. She'd offered to go to the Harry Potter movie without me not because she knew I wouldn't like it, but because she knew she even wouldn't be with me.

I'm sure a lot of it has to do with what we get out of the relationship. She gets me to become a better person than I am. She makes me want to go farther than I would otherwise go, and strive to really be the best person I can possibly be. I am so much more than I really am because of her. I got my MBA because of her, I'm in arguably the best physical shape I've ever been in because of her... hell, I'd probably still be working at that shit job I first got when I graduated college if it weren't for her. But I just don't seem to be able to do the same for her; I'm just some guy she's been living with.

She's mentioned before that she didn't feel our relationship was everything that it should be. She made some suggestions, and I tried my best to follow up on them, but they weren't really substantive and only helped in the short-term. I'd suggested a year ago that we might try marital counseling since I clearly wasn't able to do any better on my own, but she was pretty set against it. I think it was a combination of not wanting to discuss personal matters with a third party and just being generally biased against psychologists. In any event, I convinced her yesterday that getting some couples therapy is worth a shot and I'm trying to set up an initial appointment with someone now.

But this has been devastating for me. I've had girls say, "No, thanks; I'd rather stay at home alone than go out with you." And that's painful, to be sure. But to have someone who you've spent almost half your life with say, "No, thanks; I'd rather be single than married to you any longer." She can't even articulate why -- and in case you think I'm still being obtuse, she's flat out said that she can't really articulate why. I'm left wondering about all the things I could've done differently. Or things I could've said. I'm more than I should be, but not by enough. I should've tried harder, and gone farther out of my way to make a decided effort.

And do you know why I'm rambling about all this on my blog that I don't want to be about me? Because I don't have anyone else. You guys who're reading this? More to the point, the small handful of you that've posted a comment or two here in the past? You guys are my best friends. Seriously. I have exactly one person in my social circle who is not A) related, or B) someone I only associate with because of work. And I only talk to him once every couple of months. All of "our" friends are her friends. "My" friends are the few people, like yourself, who I've never met and only know by some obscure internet handle. I haven't talked to anybody I went to high school with since my class reunion seven years ago. I haven't talked to anybody I went to college with (my wife aside) since I ran into an old roommate by complete coincidence at the local Ren Fest about five years ago.

So, tonight, I'll go home and... probably zone out on some bad television, lying in a pseudo-fetal position on the couch, because it'll be less painful than contemplating just how much I must've screwed up to have my marriage in as bad of a mess as it's now in. I know you don't care, because this is a comic book blog. Even if you've bothered to read this far down, you're not really concerned because Comic-Con International starts this week and there's going to be a flood of new information coming out that will completely absorb your interest in, at most, a few hours. But on the outside chance that you visit this blog semi-regularly and are surprised not to see anything for a day, or two, or five, the reason is because I've receded into my own nightmare and can't motivate myself enough to give a damn about comics.

I've never really believed in a happily-ever-after. I've never really believed in Fate. Everything that I have and everything that I am is because I had to do something to achieve it. Similarly, everything that I am not and everything that I have lost is my own fault. So all the negative emotions that are ripping me to shreds right now doing so because I made them do so. I blame no one but myself, and I think that's the hardest part to deal with.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Me At A Convention

Steven Thompson posted the below Sergio Aragon├ęs artwork recently (link courtesy of Mark Evanier). It shows a more-or-less typical comic convention. See if you can pick out which of these guys would be me (click on the image for the answer)...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Elektra

I've been seriously distratced the past few days, so I haven't been able to do much beyond zombie-ing out on TV. Somewhere in the wasteland of television, I caught the Elekrta movie from a few years ago.

I was impressed at the overall storyline. Elekrta was a deadly assassin but made into a somewhat sympathetic character, unlike what I saw in her last comic book series. The heavy use of flashbacks seemed to generally work and I didn't have problems following the plot. Also, a nice twist with the young girl (Amy?) that was foreshadowed but I still missed -- part of being distracted I guess.

However, I think there were a couple of crucial elements to the film that didn't work and dragged the whole movie down.

First, the action scenes were poorly directed. It was difficult to tell what was going on and where characters were at any given time. I'll cut the director a little slack, though, because I saw the first Tomb Raider immediately afterward and felt it suffered from the same problem. So maybe my head's just not focused enough to follow along that closely at the moment.

The other problem I had was Jennifer Garner. Personally, I don't think she's very attractive and I don't think she's that great an actress. She was good enough that I wouldn't say she sucked eggs or anything, but I think the movie needed someone who could really draw out a viewer's sympathy for the character. Garner didn't really do that, and the movie felt pretty flat because of it. She carried off the action scenes well (curious, considering the problems I had with their direction) but I couldn't feel for the character at all.

Still, better than that Daredevil piece of drek from a year or two earlier.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Next Issue Project

Jonah Weiland spoke with Erik Larsen over at CBR about Larsen's upcoming "Next Issue Project." It's the only site I've seen so far to mention or discuss it at all, but the idea is to have "top talent from the world of comics reimagining Golden Age characters that have fallen into the public domain."

Personally, I think this is very cool, and I'm eager to see these come out. It's got a number of creators on-board that I really like and I think there's plenty of good ideas to draw upon. I'm definitely going to be getting these books. That said, though, I'm skeptical of it's sale-ability from a business perspective.

First, they're anthologies. Anthologies typically don't sell very well. Second, while there's some great creators on-board, I don't think any of them are particularly popular at the moment. Third, the books will be printed in the older Golden Age size; while that's plus for someone like me, I think it'll cause come retailers problems in shelving them, and I suspect will also prevent some people from buying them precisely because they won't fit in the long boxes they have for current comics.

Don't get me wrong. I want them to do well precisely so that they'll continue publishing these and I will be able to continue buying them. One of the reasons I'm blogging about the project today is to bring awareness of it to the handful of people who might swing by here. But, we'll have to wait and see just how well it does, I suppose.

Still, it couldn't hurt to ask your local comic shop about it, and see if they can't order an extra copy or two!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Comics Are A Hobby

Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby. Comics are a hobby.

Sorry. Just trying to remind myself.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

ComicsPro On Vairant Covers

ComicsPro, "the only trade organization dedicated to the progress of direct market comic book retailers", released a paper earlier today summarizing their thoughts about how publishers should approach variant covers.

First, I don't like that there has to be such an organization. I'm not terribly keen on unions and, while technically ComicsPro isn't one, it shares some commonalities with them. Don't get me wrong -- I've got no problems with ComicsPro. But they should not need to exist. Unions arose because of large corporations acting as monopolies controlling whole industries and being able to dictate terms and conditions to everyone from employees to vendors to customers. ComicsPro arose out of the same type of concerns in that Diamond is acting as a monopoly and dictates to retailers much of how they deal with their products. I don't specifically fault Diamond for this per se, as every organization is going to strive to improve its power and influence, but I do find large fault with the U.S. government who looked in Diamond as a potential monopoly and, after a multi-year study, decided that it was not one. Primarily, as I understand it, because it was put in the same category as book and magazine distributors. That ComicsPro is able to pull so many diverse retailers is impressive and, sadly, necessary, but it shouldn't have to exist at all. If the market were allowed to act in an unhampered, capitalist fashion, we'd have a number of comic distributors out there and retailers would be free to choose which one(s) they did business with.

Getting to the paper itself, I think ComicsPro has some very valid points regarding variant covers. If I were a comic publisher, I would certainly pay a great deal of heed to this document. (Which I presume is also being sent directly to many of the larger publishers.) The document expresses sound business sense, favoring long-term expansion over short-term monetary gains, and strikes me as equitable to all parties involved (unlike the current system which primarily benefits publishers and distributors to the detriment of retailers).

The other important thing I think the document does is provide a useful promotional tool to other retailer who have NOT yet joined. It shows that these people can work together and in a professional manner. That so many participants officially signed on to the paper is encouraging, and should prove to rally more retailers to the organization.

The one curious aspect I see in this is that this document has not, as of this writing, been uploaded to ComicsPro's web site. Now IF it has indeed been sent existing members (which, presumably, it has given the consensus ratio) and publishers (who the document is primarily aimed towards) there wouldn't be a huge benefit to posting it on the web site as well. However, circulating this document as widely as possible seems something of a given to promote their cause, and it strikes me that posting it to their own site is one of those low-hanging fruit that requires little effort for an easy gain. Especially in circulating the document to news organizations like Newsarama and The Pulse, sending people back to the web site should serve to strengthen a person's sense of ComicsPro's professionalism. And how professional can one seem to be if third party web sites are more up to date than yours about your own organization?

ComicsPro has, so far, done better -- it seems to me -- than its predecessors and I wish them the most success. But I'd be curious to see what else they could be doing and how much that would help their cause.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Deadline Approacheth

Got to finish my next column for The Jack Kirby Collector so I'm pressed for time, but here's a quick hint at what I'm working on...

Jack Kirby based his designs for Big Barda on Lainie Kazan -- but I'd bet you don't know the half of it! My column in JKC #49 will give you the full scoop. With some really cool artwork from Paul Horn! Look for it at the end of August!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Farewell, Arthur

AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS #57
Written by Tad Williams, art by Shawn McManus, cover by Kevin Maguire.
Final issue. Young Arthur must accept the role that destiny has cast him in... and accept his place as the new Aquaman!
32 pages, $2.99, in stores on Oct. 17.


Not that I was hoping to see this book to end per se, but considering that sales have been plummeting for some time now, I'm really surprised that the book lasted as long as it has.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Civil War Goes Off The Rails

Over at his blog, Tom Brevoort just posted Mark Millar's original pitch for Civil War. Since it was essentially that event/crossover that prompted me to drop just about all marvel titles from my pull list, I read through it with great interest, trying to discover where things went flying off the rails.

Certainly, one thing that is not touched on at all in Millar's piece is the treatment of Mr. Fantastic. One of the big problems I had with the series was the he underwent a serious character assassination to force fit an ideology into his actions. At least at the outset, it appears that he was given very little consideration one way or another.

Second, Millar's notes run through the first few issues in great detail, the next few in less detail, and the final ones almost glossed over. I think this is reflected all too readily in the series itself, as the final issues of the series seemed considerably less focused than earlier ones. Whatever emotional draw was there as the New Warriors were (largely) killed was almost totally evaporated by the time we got to issues five and six. Further, Millar's notes tend to play down emotional attachment and play up fanboy enthusiasm as the series progresses going so far as to say, "This should be shameless; every trick in the book. It should be a fan-boy orgasm and we should love every minute of it..." Which might be fine for desert, but certainly not as the main course. And certainly not for multiple issues.

Next, the counter-points that Millar notes in the finale -- a depowered Cap walking off into the sunset, the death of Speedball -- simply do not happen in Civil War. There's no circle of life ending, nor is there happy one. As I noted earlier, it's actually quite the opposite. The series ends with something that isn't quite an ending.

What I thought was an interesting side story -- the senator taking advantage of the situation for his own ends -- is completely omitted. Granted, Tom has a point that it should be a person more powerful than a single senator, but I believe that in the current political climate, we've got far too many candidates to choose from!

There were several other bits that fell to the wayside as well. Certainly, Millar's proposal seems far too grand for one series, but many of the character beats that would have given the story emotional resonance were dropped or glossed over in favor of the fanboy moments. And, while Tom omits Joe Quesada's notes concerning World War Hulk, I think it's telling that the EIC's biggest note otherwise is how the Punisher should look carrying the fallen hero in one scene. While the devil is indeed in the details, the underlying structure needs to be solid first, and there seems to be a lot of that missing by this point in the series.

I also find it interesting that Tom's final note about needing to kill someone more significant than Speedball strangely prophetic. Who ended up dying in Civil War? Some bottom-feeders that no one but Mark Gruenwald ever heard of and Black Goliath, who was, at his very best, a C-list character. The collateral damage that needed to be there for the story to carry any weight simply was not there! While marvel and their creators have clearly not opted to "pack it in" per Tom's suggestion, it certainly was enough for me to do just that.

Comic-Con Live

For those of you, like me, who can't get out to San Diego this year for Comic-Con International, the G4 network will be broadcasting two two-hour-long specials live from the convention. I haven't seen much in the way of promotion for this yet, but they've got 7-9 pm EST blocked on their schedules for July 26 and 27.

Their coverage last year was decent for a network that's based more off the gaming industry, but there was certainly more interesting, insightful and comprehensive reporting on the web via "traditional" comic news outlets like Newsarama, The Pulse and all the people who blogged about it. Still, I figure it'll be worth tuning in again this year to get a more live "on the show floor" feel, plus they've doubled the amount of time they're devoting to coverage, so we might see a better depth and/or breadth of topics covered.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What If...?

Remember Gleek from The Superfriends? Blue monkey, hung out with Zan and Jayna a lot? So, what if he weren't really just an innocent pet, but really a master criminal hiding out and controlling Zan and Jayna to do his bidding? What if the superhero gig was merely a cover to get into the Hall of Justice? What if Zan and Jayna were Gleek's slaves, and secretly gathering information for Gleek's plans of world domination?

Just one of those ideas that pops into my head while I'm folding laundry.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Silver Star

Yesterday, I picked up the new Silver Star hardcover. It's a collection of Jack Kirby's last professional comic series, originally published by Pacific Comics in 1983.

Kirby, I understand, is something of an aquired taste. Me? I've pretty much always loved his stuff, probably due in large part to discovering the Fantastic Four through John Byrne and tracing back through what's often considered Jack's best work: what he did on that book in the mid-to-late 1960s. So when I saw his New Gods or Captain Victory or what-have-you, I already "knew" it in a sense. I didn't have to adjust my eyes from the style of a Neal Adams or a Jim Lee.

Silver Star, artistically, falls into much the same category as Kirby's other work from the 1970s and 80s; the actual illustrations seem almost like a superficial mockery of "classic" Kirby work. To some degree, there's a validity in that; Jack was in his 60s when he did this and his physical health was beginning to deteriorate. He also had no editorial oversight at all when working on this, so there are some places where things could be tightened up a bit or streamlined. And, as always, Jack had something of a tin ear when it came to dialogue, so the characters come off sounding a tad stitled.

So why should you buy this book?

Honestly, I would not recommend it to folks who aren't familiar with Kirby already. This is not a jumping-on point for anyone trying to see why guys like me enjoy his work. But for those of you who are familiar with Jack and want to see what he did besides the Fantastic Four and Thor and Kamandi and Mr. Miracle and all the other characters for those two big publishers, this is the package you want to get.

The story, from what I've read so far, is powerful. Kirby unleashed, if you will. It really does read like you're watching a big budget movie -- although one with considerably more originality and artistic merit than anything that actually makes it to the theaters these days! As for the message, I'll simply quote the last panel: "A 'super-normal' can levitate until sundown, but he's still a man for all that! He can survive the 'bomb,; but, like all men... can he survive himself??"

The book collects the six issues that were published, so one might ask why they should buy this collection instead of trying to track down the relatively cheap back issues. This book, though, has quite a few extras, though, that make for an impressively handsome package. First, for as good as Pacific's paper was back in the day, this is much better. The artwork is presented in a very clean, unfiltered way that allows the reader to really appreciate it. Second, there's an introduction from the book's original editor talking about how the original series came about. Third, there's a number of sketches and additional artwork that allow the reader to see Star's evolution in Jack's mind. Fourth -- and this is a biggie -- it includes Jack's original 1977 screenplay for the story! Finally, presented for the first time, are Jack's "elevator pieces" providing high level synopses for the story and characters.

Is this book for everyone? No. The folks at Image know that, and they've put together a package that, yes, is a little more expensive but is aimed at the folks who appreciate the extra efforts that went into it. It's not just a reprinting of Silver Star, but just about as complete a Silver Star book as one can actually make. Impressively well-done and my kudos to Erik Larsen for putting this all together.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Harry Who?

So, you may have heard something about this Harry Potter character that's had a few books and movies about him. Kind of a wizard in training thing. Goes up against a big, bad villain that killed his parents and is out to conquer the world or something. I think there's a new movie coming out this week, and a new book a week or two afterwards.

Personally, I don't care for it. I read the first book and was summarily unimpressed. Seemed like pretty flat characters and a standard plot. The wording was simple in a banal sort of way, and the "inventiveness" of the wizard school just didn't strike me as that particularly clever. I didn't bother reading any of the other books. The Wife has dragged me to all the movies -- usually on opening nights -- and each movie has gotten progressively worse from a storytelling perspective. The last one was simply unfollowable unless you had already read the book.

That said, though, I recognize that the Harry Potter franchise is not aimed at me in the first place. I don't understand the allure it has, but I generally chalk it up into the no-harm-no-foul category. And, hey, if it gets people to read, so much the better.

What I personally appreciate about the Harry Potter stories, though, is how they've helped the comic book industry.

"What the heck are you smoking, Sean? They've never made a Harry Potter comic book!"

True. But look at the overall Harry Potter story. A young kid is raised in a humble environment, only to suddenly realize that he has great power. Given his background, he realizes/understands that his powers should be used for the forces of good. Or, if you will, he understands that "With great power comes great responsibility."

The Harry Potter stories follow a largely typical set of plots that are not at all unusual to superhero comic books. If a child started reading the books when they were first published -- as many did -- they would have been in high school when they were introduced to the about-the-same-age-as-them Peter Parker in the Spider-Man movie. I'm sure it's not by accident that Tobey Maguire, who was chosen to play Spider-Man, could pass for the older brother of Daniel Radcliffe, who had by then already played Harry Potter.

I will credit marvel with taking advantage of Harry's popularity (whether by accident or design I'll leave up to you to judge) and the timing of Ultimate Spider-Man could not have been much better. It provided an excellent bridge from Potter to Spider-Man to comics in general. Now, whether or not, people actually followed that path, I don't know. But sales numbers seem to bear that out, as more people began looking for more Spider-Man material and more comic material in general.

Now, it could entirely be that the similar increases in popularity were entirely coincidental, and not necessarily related. A prime argument for that thinking is simply that there are no Harry Potter comics to make that bridge, and the novel to movie to movie to comic bridge is a long and tenuous one at best. Another argument could be that no one else, to my knowledge, has ever made that connection, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the smartest guy when it comes to comic book marketing trends.

In any event, I'm going to be dragged into the movie theater soon with hundreds of annoying children in yellow and red scares, and probably dragged to the bookstore in the middle of the night a week or two later whenever it is that they release the next Harry Potter tome. I'd love to see kids get that excited about a comic franchise, but I suppose we'll have to make do for now with whatever spillover we can get.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blech!

Could I be any less interested in this project?

Well, I suppose Liefeld could be doing it all himself...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Where's The Beef?

One of the objectives in most stories is to get your audience to identify with at least one of the characters. Generally, that'd be the protagonist, but sometimes it's a secondary character or perhaps even the antagonist. But as a rule, if your audience can't connect somehow with one of the characters, they're not going to be interested in your story. Obviously, there are hundreds of ways to go about achieving this, such as touching on common feelings and emotions: love, hate, grief, etc. But I'd like to talk about one method in particular of establishing that rapport between an audience and a character: food.

Food can be a very powerful character element. We all need to eat to survive, so it's an easy way to connect. Also, there are hundreds of thousands of types of food so a character's particular choice can reveal aspects of their character. Ethnic dishes tend to skew towards individuals of that ethnicity, and the quality of food and how it's presented can say a lot about social standing and class stratifications. If I tell you a man walks into a diner and orders himself a bacon-double-cheeseburger, a side of fries, a Coke and a chocolate milkshake, you're going to get a very different impression than you would of a man who sits down in a restaurant and orders a chicken curry, a side of naan, and a glass of water. Food can be a very powerful indicator of character.

I've actually taken that to heart in some cases. When I happen across characters that I strongly identify with for whatever reasons, and their food preferences are made known, I try to go out of my way to at least try the dish(es) they prefer. My thinking is that A) it exposes me to a wider variety of culture and, more significantly B) if a character is identified in part by the food they eat and I identify with that character, there's a distinct possibility that I will also like that same food. I tried prune juice because of Worf's strong positive reaction to being introduced to the drink from Guinan. I picked up some Wensleydale the other night because I enjoy cheese not quite as much as Wallace. I even convinced The Wife to make me a triple fried egg sandwich with chili sauce and chutney because Dave Lister said it was a "state of the art sarnie." (For the record, I didn't like prune juice, the Wensleydale was tastier than I anticipated, and you really do need to eat the egg sandwich quickly before the bread dissolves.)

"But, Sean, those are all from TV shows. I thought this was supposed to be Kleefeld on Comics!"

Well, that's my point. For whatever reason, comic characters don't seem to have favorite foods in the same way that characters do in other mediums. Oh, sure, we've seen them eat popcorn in theaters and carve a fowl of some sort at Christmas, but those are foods associated with the event, not the character. You don't see anyone snacking on popcorn in the middle of the day or having a turkey sandwich in July.

What does Batman eat? Or Spider-Man? Or Adam Archer?

Now before somebody jumps down my throat screaming, "What about Animal Man? He's a vegetarian!" I'll admit that the lack of food preferences I'm talking about is obviously a generality. Lone Wolf was partial to a simple bowl of rice and Captain Strong had an affinity towards a special brand of seaweed. And there's a certain brain-deficient barbarian with an obsession with cheese dip. But these guys are the aberrations.

Jellybabies? The Doctor.

Botts' Beans? Harry Potter.

Crunchy Frogs? Monty Python.

Cookies? Cookie Monster.

Wonka Bar? Charlie Bucket.

Fruity Oaty Bars? Jayne Cobb.

Royal Deer? Robin Hood.

Peanut Butter and 'Naner Sandwich? Elvis.

Gruel? Oliver Twist.

The Goose in the Window as Big as Me? Ebenezer Scrooge.

Pick a medium and start pulling out your favorite characters. I'd be willing to bet that a good chunk of them have significant notes about food. Unless you're looking at comics.

Now, I'm not saying that I want to see pages upon pages of exposition of how the Thing just loves a good chili dog, and the best ones are the ones you get at Yankee Stadium, and if anyone tells you different, you just send tell 'em that I'll knock their block off. But I'm at a total loss as to why more comic book writers wouldn't pick up on this? You'd think there would be more than a few writers who throw in food as a character element from time to time.

Hey, if there are any comic writers out there with an answer, let me/us know what gives. I'd really be interested to see what the deal is here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I Mean It This Time... Maybe

I have been toying with the idea of writing a book about comic book fans for WAAAAY too long. I've been interested in comic fandom for several years now and have been devouring as much material on the subject as I can. Which, let me tell you, isn't easy! There just isn't that much to devour. In fact, it's more of slow grazing at best.

My first attempt at creating something about fandom was an essay I wrote in 2003 that was to be used in a book about collectors and collecting. It was a largely personal account called "From Fanboy to Scholar" detailing how I was then breaking down fandom into sections. In retrospect, it's absurdly simplistic and I'll even admit some mild embarrassment over parts of it. (How I wrote it, that is, not the personal history it describes. I actually like the overall "hook" of the piece and I think my approach works well for this format. But, however well it hold together as a narrative, it doesn't hold up nearly as well from a more academic viewpoint.) The book, ultimately, was never published because of issues with some of the other contributors and this has largely sat languishing on my hard drive since. Even as little as a year later, though, I could see there was still quite a lot I needed to learn.

I tried doing an ongoing column in 2004, but for various reasons that never made it past the first installment. My idea was that I could use the shorter column format to A) allow me to study smaller aspects of fandom rather than tackling the whole ball of wax at once, and B) bring the notion of fandom studies to a broader population. I was really thrilled to be able to interview Jerry Bails and my follow-up was to be John Morrow, who I did actually interview, but the piece was never finalized or published. Since the column fell through, I spent the next couple of years reading what I could and thinking about different ideas.

Last December, my friend Gregg died. Not surprisingly, it got me thinking about our friendship and specifically how that friendship was forged through comic fandom. It only then really started to sink in. What is fandom? Why is fandom? I started to finally "get" this whole notion of how fandom is built and by whom. The long-held concern I had about not being able to write about fandom -- well, to really understand fandom enough to write about it well -- suddenly started disapating.

I started jotting some notes down. Hand-written and mental. I've got most of an outline formed in my head right now. But my perennial problem is getting the motivation to start. I know myself well enough to know that I'll only be able prepare for writing this book so much. I need to really just dive in, sink my teeth into and start working.

When I threw the idea past my editor/publisher at Jack Kirby Collector, he responded with the notion that, to make it saleable at all, it would have to be THE book about comic book fandom. The fandom equivalent of Understanding Comics. A tall order, especially to someone as comparatively inexperienced as I am as a professional writer. But I think I'm finally getting psyched up enough to start it. I just need to get all my materials together in one place and start writing. Let it flow, and then figure out what's working and what isn't. I need to write it for myself first, for Gregg second, and for anyone else third. Editorial revisions can come later, I just need to write this damn thing!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The World Below

My "regular" stack at the Local Comic Shop was decidedly light this week, so I did some active browsing in their graphic novels section. The cover of The World Below caught my eye, and Paul Chadwick's name further encouraged me to pick it up. The solicitation copy on the back and a quick flip-through sold the book for me. The manager noted that someone had come in requesting a copy so he had ordered two, though, oddly the original requester has yet to stop back to pick his copy up.

Anyway, the basic premise is that a businessman stumbles upon a cavern of some kind and his initial robotic scouts suggest that there's a vast wealth of organic technology down there that he could capitalize on. So he sends a "Team of Six" down below to recover whatever they can. The story is then mostly about the weird adventures and incredible encounters this Team of Six have.

At a very superficial level, it has kind of Lost in Space or Star Trek TOS feel to it. A lot of, "Look at how weird everything is." With a casual glance, it could be mistaken for a 1950s sci-fi television show. Or maybe an old EC comic. To Chadwick's credit, on that front, the designs are actually pretty original (to my knowledge) and aren't just "Well, it looks like a chimp with a fuzzy hat strapped to his head." There's a lot of visual creativity that I daresay rivals Jack Kirby. (Well, Jack Kirby on an off day.)

What makes the book interesting and more contemporary, though, is the characters that make up this Team of Six. They're not just bland stereotypes or cardboard cutouts, but well-realized, three-dimensional people. Each one has a distinct and nuanced personality which has a decidedly different relationship with every other member of the team. We're given insights into significant portions of their back-stories and why they are the way they are.

With the exception of the first issue or two, the storytelling is pretty solid. And Chadwick freely admits in his introduction that he wasn't entirely happy with the first couple of issues. But it's soon smoothly sailing and the majority of the book easily transports the reader down this rabbit hole to become a seventh member of the team.

The original comic, as I understand it, did well enough to warrant a sequel, but not quite enough to extend that sequel beyond four issues. And to his credit, Chadwick does provide a concise and satisfying -- if uncomfortable -- ending. I give a lot of respect to any writer who's willing to avoid a "happily ever after" ending, even if it's not particularly an ending I want to see. (I earned a huge amount of respect for Joss Whedon after seeing Serenity for example.)

The book itself came out in January, but the original stories were serialized from 1999 to 2000. It's no surprise that I missed them at the time -- I was too engrossed with marvel at the time -- but it highlights why I like to support unusual books like this in their original, serialized formats. The more people who buy the book, the more support a book gets, the more likely it will continue. So when I review a book like this or Pirates vs. Ninjas II or Hodabeast, I will freely admit that it's largely for selfish reasons -- I want you to find and buy those books, too, so that the creator and publisher makes enough money to keep making more of them. If they keep making more, then I get more enjoyment out of it. That's the way capitalism works, folks, and as idealistic as I want to be, the system ain't gonna change any time soon.

Getting back to The World Below, Chadwick likens it to Lost. (Even though his comic predates the show by several years.) I've only seen bits and pieces of Lost so I can only agree up to a point, but I do see the parallels he's talking about. I would add, though, that The World Below seems to have more adventure and more of a creative well-spring behind it, therefore making it a better story in my view.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Elite Covers Post

Just a quick covers post, since I haven't done one in a while. Comics that have reached their 777th issue...

The only other ones I could think of are The Dandy and Beano, but I can't find cover scans of those issues. And for whatever other title(s) I might be ignorant of, this is certainly a select group. Archie hasn't made it to #600 quite yet, Superman and Batman haven't made it to #700, and not much else even comes close.

So for those of you who collect Action, Detective, 2000 AD, The Dandy or Beano, good luck! You've got a heck of a ways to finish your collection!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dudes VS. Chicks

I just figured out how to fix the comic book industry. Let's take a look at a sampling of creators, retailers and fans from the not-too-distant past...

I trust you're all seeing the same over-weight, scruffy, white guy pattern, yes? Now, let's take a look at some of the (mostly) newer generation of retailers, creators and fans...


Notice anything different? Okay, obviously, there's a noted gender disparity but, more significantly, the women are healthier-looking than the men. That's not to say they necessarily are, mind you since we're not privvy to what health issues might not visably apparent, and I'm sure some of the women wouldn't mind shedding a few pounds. BUT, on balance, they look healthier, more vibrant, and more vital.

I mean, look at them. The men look like they're tired and worn out and didn't really get enough sleep last night in the first place. The women look like they've got energy and verve, even in the shots where it looks like they've actually been running around all day.

Now I'm not about to suggest that everyone in the industry get a sex change and a liposuction and work out until they could pass for Wonder Woman, but how about just working out a bit? Now I'm sure Wendy Pini there has no desire to even think about getting back into her old Red Sonja metal bikini, and Alexa and Katie look like they're too young to even be allowed to use most of the equipment at the gym. But who do you think looks better from Team Foglio: Phil or Kaja?

Now we could argue about who's more attractive than whom until the end of time and maybe I happened to pick photos that exasperate the point a bit more than necessary. But think about this, guys: if enough fans lost weight and got generally healthier, you'd be able to A) actually slide through the aisles in comic shops and conventions more easily, B) could walk the length of a convention without getting winded, and C) carry more comics around while you're at a convention. Benefits all around!

Oh, and D) you'll be more attractive to the opposite sex!

The women comic folks seem to have this figured out, why not the guys?