Friday, August 31, 2007

Mice Templar #1

I picked up Mice Templar #1 this week. I suspect it won't garner quite as much attention as it deserves, as it's inevitably going to be seen as somewhat in the shadow of Mouse Guard. For the record, I haven't read Mouse Guard so I can't make any direct comparisons to it personally, but what that DOES mean is that you get a review of Mice Templar that provides a view of the book based solely on its own merits.

The story takes place in a town of anthropomorphic mice called Cricket's Glen. Karic, the younger brother of the blacksmith's apprentice Leito, has spent much of his free time studying the legends of the (Mice) Templar and how they mysteriously vanished some time ago. As the younger mice play, they're attacked by a giant spider, and it is Deishun the Blacksmith who eventually destroys the beast, but inadvertently reveals some of his Templar background to Karic in the process. After peace settles into the town again, the quiet is disrupted by an invasion of anthropomorphic rats, who slaughter many of the villagers and burn their dwellings. Deishun again puts up a valiant fight, allowing some of the townspeople to flee, but in the end, he too is killed. Karic returns from an unintentional hiding place to find Cricket's Glen in ruins with only one survivor: an originally unwelcome visitor named Pilot who returned to aid in Deishun's fight. Karic nurses the stranger's wounds, and Pilot vows to help Karic become a hero who can save his people.

Well, I'm impressed. We're only at the end of one issue, and we've gotten at least a dozen character introductions, three significant battles, unbridled carnage, and setting our protagonist on the hero's path. The book is packed; even at 56 pages, there's a LOT going on. It was almost surprising that, with as much as there is going on, it wasn't harder to follow. Several of the characters, at least at this stage, are pretty insignificant, but are still fairly well-defined and individual in both appearance and personality.

The legend of the Templar provides a powerful starting point, I think, and immediately harkens back to legends of the real Knights of Templar, as well as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The attacks of the spider and the rats reinforce the notion that the mice are in relatively constant danger with the disappearance of the Knights, and there's plenty of character interaction to suggest how unwelcome even the presence of one former Knight is. For whatever the reason, the constant danger is more welcome that the Knights themselves, but the children are too young to know why and the adults aren't talking. It's certainly an interesting story perspective, and one that I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing more on that aspect of the story.

I was pleasantly surprised with the overall story. The deaths of a number of characters that had been at least the partial focus of the issue was a departure from the obvious. The characters are used to more fully explain the situation and history of the Templars while still advancing the plot, as opposed to having page after page of straight exposition. It's more powerful and engaging as a storytelling technique, and keeps the reader on their toes.

There was one minor failing, I felt, early in the book when Leito was relaying what he knew of the Templar. The sequence is a little confusing for a few reasons. It introduces Leito and Deishun, but keeps both figures largely in the shadows, making it difficult to tell which is which. Further, several of the panels don't depict very well how the half dozen characters are standing in relation to one another and, with the largely abstract backgrounds, further makes things overly difficult to help explain/introduce the characters. Had the sequence been laid out like that later in the book, after the characters' introductions, it probably wouldn't not have been an issue, but as a means of presenting the characters for the first time, I felt the sequence wasn't very successful.

That two-page sequence aside, the storytelling flowed well and I didn't have any trouble following along. Artistically, it's has an interesting visual overall. There's a good balance of linework to silhouettes/shadows, which suggests to me that this was designed originally as a black and white piece, making the color something of an added bonus. The scenes of the town burning were particularly striking.

I feel compelled to make a comparison to Jeff Smith's Bone. The story is different, the artistic style is different, the tone is different... There's curiously little in common between the two, at least superficially. But Mice Templar left me with the same type of feeling I had when I was reading Bone -- that of talented storytellers telling an unusual fantasy tale that's much, much larger than what we see in any single issue.

The book does have a $3.99 cover price -- 130% higher than most new comics these days. But you get almost twice as many pages and (and here was another pleasant surprise) NO ads. None. Not even a house ad for Image. I would gladly pay an extra dollar for a comic this good, with this much extra content. It'd be hard, certainly, to do a book this big on a monthly basis, but considering the delays we often see on supposedly monthly books these days, I don't think many people would have a problem with that!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Juvenile Humor With Comic Covers...

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This public service message brought to you by...
(Yes, they're all real comic book covers. Even Bun Time.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Covers As Allegory

Guess what I purchased last night? Check out these comic book covers for clues...

It shouldn't be that big of a leap to figure out that I bought some drums. (Roland TD-3SW to be precise. Not many comic book covers that feature those, though!) I used to play really well back in the day, but got out of it when I went to college to learn a "real" profession. I'm hoping I can get back into things so that A) I'll have a hobby/interest entirely outside of comic books and B) I might get decent enough again to meet people by playing in a band.

But that's neither here nor there, because YOU -- as a reader -- came by to see what I have to say about comic books.

What's relevant here, and why I started with the covers above, is that there have been enough comic books produced over the years to find a cover to illustrate just about any topic. One could, theoretically, put together a newsletter or blog or something with nothing BUT covers and have readers make associations based on current events.

Many years ago, I was given a calendar that had a different comic book cover on every day. Each one somehow related to an event or celebration on that day. At the time, they limited themselves to comics in the public domain, so there was a considerable "bias" away from comics you've most likely heard of. But sure enough, there was a different cover on every day of the year.

Anyway, I've seen people do short spurts along those lines, but it'd be interesting to see if someone were to tackle something like that on a daily basis. (And, no, don't suggest I it -- I'm going to be behind a drum set in my free time!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kirby Miscellany

I had a couple more Kirby thoughts, but they didn't really fit into the narrative of my previous post, so I'm pulling them out separately.
  1. Today, on Jack's 90th birthday, there is a full moon. I was going to try to be clever in a subtle way by peppering my posts with some of Jack's drawings of werewolves. Strangely, though, I can't find any. And as I sit and reflect on it, I don't think I've ever seen a Kirby-drawn werewolf!

  2. Point, the second is that the release of Jack Kirby Collector #49 seems to have been pushed back a month. I believe it was originally scheduled for last week, but TwoMorrows' site now lists a September 26 date. I know John, the publisher, was absolutely swamped during CCI, which was about when that issue was supposed to go to press so it's no great surprise (to me, at least) that this has gotten pushed back a bit.

    But, let me tell you, it will have one seriously cool "Incidental Iconography" column! Well worth waiting for!

The Kirby Birthday Post

Today is Jack Kirby's 90th birthday! (As I'm sure you've seen elsewhere on the web before you came stumbling across this page.)

To celebrate, we're going to take a look at...
I know, you're thinking that I'm being absurdly morbid for a day that's supposed to celebrate Jack's life, but I have a reason for looking at his grave. Bear with me.

Jack was an incredibly powerful person for the comic book medium. He was easily decades ahead of his time for most of his life. His creative resources were seemingly limitless, and he could take almost anything and make it a powerful, dramatic story without any effort. Guys from Will Eisner to Frank Miller are no slouches either, to be sure, but I think they had to think about what they were doing. At least to some degree. For Jack, it just flowed out of him. All the time. This boundless energy that is Life unfettered by the tedium of reality that gets in the way for the rest of us. I think I heard Whoopi Goldberg once note that drama is just life without the boring bits, and that's exactly how Jack thought all the time.

Drawing and telling stories were as natural to Jack as breathing is to you or I. It's sounds trite, and to a degree the metaphor itself is, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone over-state Jack's abilities. Some people might dismiss his illustration style, or quirky, faux-hip dialogue, but his work still radiates power like no other artist I've seen. And that he did it without any evident struggle -- that he could create whole pages of storylines and throw them aside without a second thought because he didn't like the direction the story was headed... Well, the man had talent to say the least.

And Jack worked incessantly. He was drawing comics in the late 1930s, he invented an entirely new comic book genre in the 1940s, he reinvented comic storytelling on the whole in the 1960s, he was at the center of comic creators' rights issues in the 1980s... Oh, yeah, and he created hundreds, if not thousands, of enduring characters and memorable stories. A lot of his legacy stems from the fact that he was just incredibly prolific.

Here's the thing, though.

There's none of that on his gravestone:
Jack Kirby
Beloved Husband, Father, and Grandfather
An Inspiration To All

He was a family man first. Jack's identity -- how he thought of himself -- was as the head of the Kirby clan. That he drew comic books nearly every day was simply a way to provide for his family. Jack Kirby was a husband, father and grandfather and I can guarantee you that Roz, Susan, Neal, Barbara and Lisa all thought of him not as a comic book genius, but as a loving member of their family.

That line about being an inspiration? That has nothing to do with the X-Men or the New Gods or Sky Masters or Kamandi or the Newsboy Legion or anything like that. It's about being a stand-up guy for your family and working to be the best husband/father/grandfather you can be.

And it's excellent advice worth heading. Me? I think I've spent too much time focusing on the four-color stories Jack helped make interesting and/or the people who put those stories together. I need to take this message to heart and really try to be the best husband I can be.

Thanks, Jack.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Books I'm Getting This Week

Because I've had a headache all day and can't think of anything else to post, here's the new stuff I'll be picking up this week.

Plus, a couple of older things I ordered a while back and are already waiting in my file...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Saul Steinberg

I went to the Cincinnati Art Museum this afternoon to look at an exhibit they currently have on Saul Steinberg. He was perhaps best known as one of the lauded cartoonists for The New Yorker and he also created 85 of their covers.

Before going, I wasn't terribly familiar with Steinberg's work. But the collection was intelligently organized in a chronological fashion. I didn't think to count the number of individual pieces, but it was seemed quite representative of his entire career ranging from sketches to political cartoons to personal gifts, and even included one of his murals that used to hang in the Terrence Plaza Hotel.

What struck me about his work overall was that he did some incredible linework. His figures are largely abstract, at least to some degree, but he had a great economy of line so that one stroke might represent a woman's arm, part of her gown, the next gentleman's tuxedo tails, and his partner's sleeve. Alternatively, a whole human figure might be indicated by a face (not a whole head, mind you, just the face) and a quick stroke to suggest a torso.

He also did a fair amount of work with rubber stamps, largely as a means of socio-political statements. I found those works to be less interesting visually, although they generally had a more powerful and/or profound message.

As with any piece of art, one of the things I very much enjoyed was being able to look at the work up close and inspect how it was created. For example, in The New Yorker cover pictured here, the "DO" was actually created on a separate piece of illustration board and pasted onto the original. (Presumably to conceal an error or some kind.) In many of Steinberg's piece -- as well as much comic book art -- the application of ink intrigues me in particular. What is often printed as large swaths of black in reality are varying shades of dark gray generated from changes in how much ink may have been applied to any given spot and/or with what instrument. It's also possible, often, to see the original pencil marks underneath to see how the artist envisioned the work initially before applying ink.

I spent around an hour and a half at the Steinberg exhibit by itself. The Cincinnati Art Museum has many great works in their permanent collection and, as it's always free admission, one can hardly argue that it's not worth seeing. But the Steinberg collection in particular was fascinating and at the same low price of admission, it would be nearly impossible to NOT recommend seeing this if you're anywhere in the Cincinnati area.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

FF Anagrams

For some reason, it popped into my head to come up with some anagrams of "Fantastic Four." I've tried iterations of my own name before with nothing of note, but some of these FF anagrams seemed much more interesting...
Raincoat stuff
A tariff counts
Fanatic of rust
Fruit of sancta
Nut cost affair
Strict of fauna
Snot cuff tiara
Air nut castoff
Fat runt fiasco
If tuna factors
An outfit scarf
Our faint facts
Fact fan suitor
Fun fact ratios
Fast fur action
If toucans fart
Unfit oaf carts
Fair act futons
Why did I come up with these? I don't know. But if you happen to be doing a spoof or parody of the Fantastic Four, there are some interesting title options there. A steampunk version called "Fanatic of Rust" for example. Maybe one that focuses on long-time enemy/associate the Sub-Mariner called "If Tuna Factors..." Political intrigue in "A Tariff Counts." How about a homage to FF #1 called "Fat Runt Fiasco"?

Next Month: Susan Richards goes to the mall in search of... "An Outfit Scarf!"

IFC's Comic Con Chronicles

Back in 2005, the Independent Film Channel gave cameras to a few folks heading to Comic-Con International to document their convention-going experiences. (Those folks included, by the way, Tim Leong and Amber Mitchell, who were trying to promote their new web site ComicFoundry.com -- you may have caught that name in industry news this past week.) Last night, I saw their 2007 edition of Comic Con Chronicles and just found the 2006 edition online.

The 2005 version I thought was clever. They pretty flatly said that they were only going to be looking at three aspects of the convention from three sets of people. It wasn't trying to cover the full scope of the convention, but just a small portion as seen by a few people. I found that quite interesting.

The 2006 version was more of a general overview. They did give one camera out to a cosplayer, and used a few minutes of her footage (which included some fascinating backstage-during-the-show shots) but it was mostly one host, Matt Singer, trying to show the full breadth of CCI in a half-hour. There were snippets with Nicholas Cage and Samuel L. Jackson and James Kochalka and Melinda Gebbie and Henry Rollins... All things considered, it was a pretty reasonable shot at documenting CCI 2006 overall.

The 2007 edition struck me more of a mixed bag. There were no cameras given out this year (or, at least, none that were used) so the whole show was from the perspective of the host (again, Matt Singer) as he this time hit on some very specific aspects of the con. The more interesting aspect of the show, this year, was that they enlisted the help of artist Robin Enrico to help create an eight-page mini-comic written by Singer to be given away during the show. It was interesting from the aspect of seeing a mini-comic created start to finish, but the faux-ego-schtick from Singer wore a bit thin, I thought. The rest of the show struck me as an attempt at covering the news of the show, rather than snippetting the news in an attempt to show everything that goes on.

I'm always pleased to see positive representations of the comic book industry in more maintsream outlets (although one could argue about how mainstream IFC is) but I can get the here's-all-the-news-from-CCI from any number of places, many in video format, many in a more immediate environment. But the smaller, man-on-the-street type stories that were presented in the 2005 show aren't as common. At least, not in a well-edited, documentary story fashion. I'd much rather see CCI from that perspective again in the future, rather than the same thing that's being done by every other network that tries to cover the convention.

Ah, but what do I know? I'm not exactly a mainstream audience demographic anyway.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Behind Wowio's Curtain

I've talked before about Wowio, an online service that allows users to download comics and various other books for free. I find this fascinating because A) I can download and read comics for free, and B) it's an interesting look at how businesses are trying to figure out the online web comics marketplace.

I've stumbled upon an interesting nugget on Wowio's business plan. Gina Biggs had her Erstwhile #1 uploaded to Wowio a couple of weeks ago. As near as I can tell, it's the only outlet she's using for distribution currently. What's particularly interesting is that Gina makes note on her web site that she is paid fifty cents for every copy of the book that's downloaded. (Although I have to presume that it is in fact limited to fifty cents per account that downloads it. Otherwise, I could make a mint downloading the same issue over and over again.)

Doing a little back-of-the-envelope math, let's assume that, if it were printed traditionally, it would have a sell-through of around 3,000 copies. As a Wowio download, I think it's reasonable to presume that a quarter of that number might be downloaded. (While the "free" aspect would certainly entice more viewers, I think that'd be considerably offset by the limitation of needing to have a Wowio account.) That gives us a very rough estimate of 750 issues and, at fifty cents each, a profit of $375 to Gina. Not a huge sum, to be sure, but not insignificant when you start weighing in some of the added benefits...
  1. Zero production costs. Gina can distribute this without having to put any cash upfront for printing, shipping, etc.
  2. Minimal work needed for promotion. If she were trying to sell a traditional comic, half the battle would be simply shuffling from one convention to another, buying a table, sitting there for days on end, and maybe selling a half-dozen issues. Here, Gina can sit on the couch watching reruns of M*A*S*H and Wowio is going to plug her book as one of the recent uploads, as well as suggest it to folks with their "If you like this, you might also like..." lists.
  3. Less competition. In the still-burgeoning digital comics arena, she has a leg up on many, many other creators. A fair portion of Wowio's content are simply digital version of existing print comics. Very few are digital only.
  4. Potentially larger audience. A traditional comic is going to be seen by people who go into comic book shops, and that's about it. Wowio can (but I don't know if they actually do) generate additional interest with cross-over traffic from the folks who are just looking for "regular" books.
Now whether Gina comes out ahead on the deal in the long-run, I don't know. But it seems to me that she can put this type of thing out there, make some money on it, get a bigger name for herself, and can spend more of her the rest of her time focusing on paying the rent, rather than just hawking her comic.

I still think Wowio is a great idea, certainly at a conceptual level, and I hope that their business model works for them. I think Gina has taken a solid approach to getting her work out in the industry with a fairly low level of financial risk. It should come as no surprise that I'll be keeping my eye on her and Wowio to see how things continue to develop.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cool Cover Of The Week

I was going to get the book anyway, but I would had to have picked this up regardless based on the cover alone...

I mean, that is just seriously a cool image! How could that NOT make you want to pick it up?

Hmmm... maybe it has something to do with the monkey on the cover...?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dropping The Pamphlets!?!

Dark Star Books' Steve Bennett has been running a column over at ICv2 for a while now (since Bookery Fantasy's Steven Bates took a job with Diamond, in fact) and it's always an interesting read for me personally because I know the store. (Actually, I knew both stores, so it's always been an interesting read.) His latest column talks about how two former Dark Star employees will be opening a new shop -- unconnected with Dark Star -- and because of that, Dark Star will no longer be carrying comics in the weekly pamphlet format, and only carrying graphic novels.

It sounds like a drastic move, potentially indicative of something huge on the comic industry's horizon. And, while it is noteworthy, it's not as big as one might assume. See, Dark Star has been primarily a used book store for as long as I've been aware of it. Oh sure, they got new comics, which were racked towards the front of the store. And they had a back issue selection of 20 or 30 long boxes. But most of the store was lined with bookshelves of used books. Mostly paperback, mostly sci-fi/fantasy stuff. I actually didn't frequent the store more often, in part, precisely because of that -- I was much more interested in comics, and cleared their back issue selection of issues I was looking for in one trip. So, from a business perspective, this works well for Dark Star because it allows them to focus on their primary business.

Dark Star (and the new Super-Fly Comics and Games) is located in the town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. It's a relatively small town, populated primarily by college professors and students. Why? Because the town exists almost exclusively because of Antioch University -- a small, liberal arts college. (And I use "liberal" in every sense of the word.) The school was founded in 1852 and has been a staple institution for students in south-eastern Ohio who wanted a well-rounded education without having to go to a huge, impersonal school. It's an absolutely gorgeous campus and the town itself is incredibly rich with life and diversity as well.

Now, here's where things get interesting, though!

Antioch announced a few weeks ago that they will be closing their doors at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, while the Board of Trustees try to reconfigure things to make the school profitable. They're planning on taking four years to do this, during which time... well, I have no idea what will happen. Certainly, the students won't be around to shop at a comic book store. I suspect many of the professors will have to find jobs elsewhere as well. And, while the school plans to re-open in 2012, many people are skeptical because, frankly, schools that close don't generally open again.

Here's another wrinkle. The city's zoning is geared primarily towards residents. Comparatively little land is designated for retail or industrial use. And the people who live there don't leave, meaning that land prices (housing prices in particular) tend to be considerably higher than surrounding communities. Will the city then consider re-zoning to try to bring more revenue/jobs to the area while Antioch is closed? If so, will that happen soon enough to keep the city alive? Will former Antioch employees move to facilitate new jobs and, if so, will the incoming residents have the same attitudes and ideas to keep the town character relatively in tact? Will land prices drop sufficiently and allow a flood of new residents into the town, whose taxes might keep the city afloat?

In any event, this is, by my reckoning, about the worst time to open a new small business in the community, especially one that often caters to a college-age crowd. Opening a small business is risky under the best of circumstances, and comic book shops tend to be almost as risky as restaurants. I wish these guys all the best luck in the world, but I'd wager that I'll be swinging by their going-out-of-business sale in late 2008/early 2009.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

End Of An Era

I got a letter yesterday from MicroComics. They're a division of MicroColour International that specializes in putting old Golden Age comic books on microfiche.

I got a microfiche reader from them about five or six years ago, and a pretty decent collection of GA comics from Timely. It's essentially the first 30 issues or so of Human Torch Comics, Captain America Comics and Sub-Mariner Comics. Lots of gorgeous material there from classic creators like Jack Kirby, Bill Everett, Alex Schomburg, Carl Burgos, as well as some text pieces by youngsters Stan Lee and Mickey Spillaine. Kind of expensive overall, having to get the reader as well as the microfiche, but ultimately cheaper than buying the Masterworks reprints of them (which weren't even around back then) and infinitely cheaper than the originals!

Anyway, the letter I got from them said: "As imaging is gradually shifting to digital, more and more film related products are becoming unavailable. An option for additional film supply is no longer possible." They go on to note that once their existing supply is gone, they will no longer be restocking the materials necessary to make the microfiche comics. They're selling off their remaining stock now.

It was inevitable, certainly, and I'm honestly surprised they've remained as a viable business for as long as they have. Heck, I was surprised when I first heard about them almost ten years ago! But it's a timely (no pun intended) message as I've been recently been working to organize the collection of digitally scanned comics on my hard drive, which numbers now over 1,200 issues.

I must admit that there's a curious sense in reading a microfiched comic. You have the electric glow of colored light showing you images of costumed heroes, much like you do with a digital comic, but the presentation is generally more coarse. There's a greater sense of reading an old comic, something more visceral, than reading a digital version on your computer monitor. Of course, I'm not at all saying that microfiched comics are better than digital ones, just that it's a curiously different reading experience, one that I suspect most comic fans have never enjoyed.

And now, it seems, they'll be that much less likely to enjoy.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Good Eco-Comics Summary

Just a quick note to point you to an excellent summary of the state of the environment as it pertains to comic book publishing. Courtesy of the Comic Foundry...

Crisis on Environmental Earth

Crappy Birthday To Me

My dad was passing through town this weekend and stopped by yesterday to stay overnight. He took me out to dinner and presented me with a bag full of birthday gifts. (Today being my birthday and all.) Most of it was comic book related stuff I was looking for, and the off-the-list gifts were even ones that largely had a comic related theme to them and I had eyed briefly when they originally came out. (Notably the Batman Hush action figures. Mom had evidently found them dirt cheap at Marc's, a northern Ohio department store that sells mostly close-out type items. They'd removed the price tags when they gave them to me, of course, but knowing the store and my mom, I'd wager that they weren't more than two or three bucks each!)

The big gift I got, though, was this piece of original artwork...

It's the last page of the final issue of The Thing: Freakshow written by Geoff Johns and drawn Scott Kolins. The Thing walking off down the road on a very long hike in the rain after successfully defeating two alien invasions by himself. When I saw the piece originally in the comic, it struck me as particularly emblematic of the character and even if you don't know anything about him, you know darn well that he's got a lousy day ahead of him.

I've come to appreciate Kolins' work more since this story first came out. His linework is somewhat deceptive, and what he sometimes seems to lack in depth of line, he more than makes up for in attention to nuanced detail. Body language, facial expressions, that sort of thing. Kolins really seems to have a knack for portraying characters inner thoughts and feelings visually.

The piece is especially powerful for me now, because of other events in my life. For the past month, I've felt exactly like what Kolins has put Ben through on this page. (Almost ironic, considering that in the past month, we've had a total of 1/3" of rain and an average high temperature of 94°F with several days breaking 100.)

I'm really pleased with the birthday presents from my folks. And I got a very pleasantly surprising phone call from my brother-in-law last night. But you know, there are just some things that no amount of incredibly cool (if geeky) gifts can compensate for, and it just seemed strangely apropos that my biggest gift reflect my mood so well.

Girl Genius Vol. 6

I just finished going through the sixth TPB volume of Girl Genius stories from the talented folks over at Studio Foglio.

The Girl Genius story has earned some notoriety, in part, because of the method the Foglios have taken with its publication. Although a traditional pamphlet comic originally, they took to posting one page at a time on the web, making it available for free. Then they periodically collect those stories into bound trade paperbacks for publication. Most of their income, as I understand it, is actually from the sale of ancillary product materials on their site and not from the comic itself.

Now, for me, personally, I don't particularly care for reading Girl Genius online. They format the pages as if they were being readied for publication, and the format doesn't translate very well to the computer monitor in my opinion. With this story, I'm content with "waiting for the trade" since there is no pamphlet format with which my money might otherwise go towards.

The story in this volume continues Agatha's adventures as she's being sought after by all sorts of seemingly evil folks for all manner of reasons, not the least of which is Lucrezia Mongfish who, in the last volume, took control of Agatha's body. Agatha's friends, to no surprise, are on a rescue mission to save her and Baron Klaus Wulfenbach is trying stop Agatha/Lucrezia. By the end of this volume, Lucrezia's been waylaid, Agatha and her friends have escaped, and Klaus is left trying to rein in some control over the chaos unleashed on the castle.

This is another reason why I prefer the TPB version over the online version. There is just a whole lot going on to try to keep track of on only an every-other-day basis. There are easily a couple dozen characters to keep track of, further made difficult by Lucrezia occupying Agatha's body periodically, further made difficult by Lucrezia pretending to be Agatha on occasion. I shudder to think how readers were able to keep that straight over the course of weeks and months that the story evolved online. Not that Phil and Kaja do a bad job of keeping that straight for the purposes of the story, but the elongated timeframe the online version takes prevents one from really keeping the story top of mind for the story's full run. (At least, that's my opinion. Maybe I've just got too many other things running through my head and others have no problems with it.)

Not surprisingly, Phil and Kaja deliver the type of story one comes to expect from them: good storytelling, sharp dialogue, and an excellent blend of action, adventure and comedy. I was especially impressed with how in tune they must be with one another to deliver verbal gags and jokes with an impeccable sense of visual timing. This is showcased even further as one realizes that, the pages having been drawn originally for their online format, almost every page works fairly well standing on its own, often ending with a joke in the last panel. I think Phil and Kaja have ramped up their game considerably in going to their online format, and it is highlighted very well here in the TPB.

I also very much like the package itself. Volume five, I thought, felt a bit... well, cheap. The cover was kind of flimsy and protected with an ungraceful laminatation. The spine glue, too, seemed ready to fall apart and I was concerned I wouldn't be able to read the whole book without it coming to pieces in my hands. Those issues were entirely addressed with volume six, which comes across as a much sturdier and more handsome package.

I'm inclined to recommend buying Girl Genius in the trade paperback form. It's definitely a great read, and you'll be sending some cash to some very talented folks. If you can't afford the extra $21.95, you should still swing by their web site to read the regular updates. Because it's still a darn fine story and well worth your time!

Bingo!

Having reading had a chance to read at least some of the books I've picked up over the past week, I went ahead and filled out my Comic Book Bingo card...

(And for those who've been reading this blog regularly, I'm still boycotting marvel, but my LCS was putting extra copies of World War Hulk #3 in everyone's bag for some reason. No idea why he had extra copies to give away, but there you go...)

So, Scott, what do I win?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tokyopop Is On The Ball

I was in the bookstore last night and, as I was waiting to check out, I noticed a Tokyopop point-of-purchase display. I stepped over and found that it contained three different titles that were all curiously larger than most of what Tokyopop produces. Whereas most of the books measure about 5" x 7.5", these were about 6" x 9". A closer look revealed, too, that each bore a tag line across the top reading: "A Kaplan SAT/ACT vocabulary-building manga."

A-HA!

I'd heard about these back when they were announced at the end of May. The idea is that a student can read these manga stories and have call-outs highlighting potentially difficult vocabulary words. (For those unfamiliar with the U.S. education system, Kaplan is a company built largely on educational materials, study guides, etc. The SAT and ACT tests are standardized entrance/placement exams used by colleges and universities here in the states.)

Naturally, I picked one up and began to flip through it. The stories appeared pretty much as they do in Tokyopop's initial releases of the stories, even using the same 5" x 7.5" size art work. Extra gutter space at the bottom and on the non-spine edges were used for the annotations. Rather than just have text listed to the side, though, like one might see a footnote, each callout was designed with a border graphic around it and the word pulled out in a different font style. The background, too, was not merely blank white space, but had a light design. All in all, it was a fairly nice package. A good blend of education and style that strikes me as something that would engage a young student more than a simple text document.

Now, whether or not they're actually useful, that's another question. I skimmed through and only caught a handful of the vocabulary words. They were ones I obviously knew, but hey -- I'm over 30; I darn well better know them by now! I had trouble going back mentally to see when I would've learned those originally. I'm almost certain I knew those words (again, at least the ones I saw in my quick scan) by the time I took the ACT and SAT, but I don't know what age group they were ideally aimed for. I understand kids are taking the exams earlier now than they used to, and doing pre-exams and such, so it's hard for me to gauge exactly who these books are aimed for.

That being said, though, I'm certain there IS an age bracket that would be ideally suited for these books. And for them, it seems to me, these would be an ideal way to pick up on new vocabulary. Kudos to Tokyopop for taking this step forward, and I hope that the books are commercially successful enough to continue.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Interview With James Vining

The folks over at Comic Book Bin just posted this video interview with First in Space creator, James Vining, conducted during Comic-Con International. He talks a bit about his own history and what he was trying to do with FiS (which I reviewed here) but the most interesting bits are towards the end with some of his thoughts on historical comics in general and a couple of projects he has in the works. (Personally, I'm most interested in seeing his take on Wernher von Braun.)

Take it away, James...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Context, My Boy! Context!

I don't know why this took a couple weeks longer to arrive at my LCS than Levitation, but in any event, I picked up Jim Ottaviani's other new book: Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love.

Raise your hand if you've taken a psychology class? High school, college, whatever. Any level. Almost every class that provides a general overview of psychology will make mention of Harlow's famous experiment. I'm sure this will ring some bells, even if the specifics escape you at the moment. (Notice that I'm refraining from making any bad jokes about Pavlov's bells here!)

The experiment Harlow conducted was essentially that he provided a monkey with one of two possible surrogate mothers: a wire-frame one that dispensed food, and a cloth-covered one that had no food. (The monkeys who had cloth mothers did get fed, just not from the surrogate.) When he would place the monkey in a frightening situation, the monkey would inevitably run to the cloth mother for comfort regardless of which surrogate mother raised them. And monkeys who were raised in total isolation exhibited signs often seen in autistic human children.

This sounding familiar?

The experiments were to prove that animals (including humans) needed parents/guardians for more than just food and shelter. We need parents for warmth, love and affection. Harlow's experiments proved that pretty conclusively.

At the time I first heard of it, the experiments sounded INCREDIBLY cruel. And, indeed, no one has really even tried to repeat these experiments precisely for that reason. I'm not a big animal rights activist or anything, but that always cast Harlow as an evil, evil man to me.

Now, flash forward to me reading Wire Mothers. The story follows Harlow, on the eve of his presenting his findings to CBS for a television special in the 1960s, showcasing/practicing for a new janitor he happened to run into. Harlow tells most of his life story, and how he began and streamlined his research. And here's where the revelation comes in...

The book shows the context in which Harlow began his experiments. Namely, it shows that the scientific community at large had recently learned of this new, scary thing called "germs." More significantly, these "germs" led to a general consensus that one shouldn't get that close too children, physically or emotionally. All they needed, according to some scientists, was an occasional pat on the head. Some were even reared in relative isolation, their only real human contact through a pane of glass.

Harlow was directly reacting to this mindset, and was actively trying to show that nurturing your children -- as mankind had been doing for the previous several thousand years -- was not the wrong way to raise offspring. There was evidently quite the vocal and steadfast group he rallied against who argued that "love" was not a valid concept for science to even address, preferring instead to only refer to "proximity." So, yeah, Harlow's experiments were unbelievably cruel, but less so than what was being perpetrated on mankind itself. (At least, here with the dumb-as-a-bag-of-rocks-citizens of the U.S.)

If you've read this blog before, you'll probably know already that I'm a fan of Jim Ottaviani's work. It should be needless to say that he's written yet another well-researched, well-crafted story providing depth and perspective to a small corner of history. My recommendations of all of his works are pretty much unconditional any more. Artist Dylan Meconis does a good job throughout the book. While his illustration style doesn't particularly stand out for me, it works well and his storytelling ability is commendable. Especially in lieu of the numerous flashbacks that Ottaviani incorporates into the story. As with Levitation, I was never at a loss for knowing when I was in the overall tale.

So chalk another success up for Ottaviani. If you haven't bought his other books, I'd suggest starting to pick them up now because he's only going to keep doing more and it's going to take that much larger a hit on your wallet if you try to buy them all at once later!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Get Fit, Fanboys!

Alright, so I've railed against the fanboy community twice now, calling them out as scruffy, overweight slobs compared to the considerably healthier-looking fangirl community. And it's all well and good to call attention to the problem, but it really doesn't do any good if I don't at least offer a solution.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that people (in general, not just the comic community) are addressing the wrong thing. You always hear people talking about losing weight. That's the wrong approach. If you want to just lose weight, you could drop 20 pounds overnight by amputating an arm. If that's not enough, join the space program and get put into orbit and you'd drop down to a sixth of what you're at now!

Garfield used to say that he wasn't overweight, just undertall. But that's not right either. Some people are fond of using a Body Mass Index, thinking that's more accurate because it calculates your height into the equation. The problem there, of course, is that it still includes your weight in the calculation. Arnold Schwarzenegger, when he was still competing in weight-lifting competitions, weighed in at around 235 pounds. At 6'2", that gives him a BMI of 30.2 which is considered obese -- but what that doesn't take into consideration is that most of his weight is muscle, not fat. I don't think anyone would argue that he wasn't "in shape" during his heyday as a body-builder.

So the issue, you see, is not so much that fanboys are overweight, so much as they're just not fit. There's more flab than muscle. You guys need a fitness and strength program, not a weight loss program.

Fortunately, I have the answer that will not only solve the problem, but do so in a way that fanboys can appreciate...
Back in 1976, Fireside published the above book under an agreement with Marvel and featured 128 pages of exercises and workouts. The program was designed by Ann Picardo and showed various Marvel characters demonstrating the techniques through the illustrative talents of Joe Geilla. (Stan Lee also added some character dialogue, which is why his name's on the book too.)

It's a slightly older book, kind of hard to find, but I see there's one on eBay right now for around $25. I'm sure they turn up in used book stores and comic shops from time to time as well. A modest investment of time and money -- certainly less than you'd spend on most gym memberships -- and you can help alleviate the problems caused by too many meals at Taco Bell.

"That's a good idea, Sean. But how do I know that I'll even be able to do the workouts? The most exercise I get any more is lifting the remote control!"

A fair question! I'll respond by actually posting a sampling of the many routines highlighted in this book. You can judge for yourself just how useful this might be...

Okay, okay! Maybe I'm being a little facetious with the examples, but I think my broader point's still valid. A lot of you fanboys -- and you know who you are! -- really could stand to work out. And I'm not suggesting you get some exclusive gym memberships or anything -- you can do quite a bit from your home or even your office. There's a lot of info out there on the Internet, available for free, and a lot of the workouts that you can do are classics that you already know like sit-ups, push-ups and jumping jacks.

Fitness is really the key to all of this, not weight. "Health" is more than just exercise, but also includes your diet. ("Diet" is, by the way, NOT a verb.) You know, I've joked about fat guys looking really bad in comparison to the women who show up at conventions dressed as Princess Leia or Lara Croft, but it's more than just looking bad. It really is just indicative of a larger health issue. And yeah, it could be just part of a broader problem with the world in general. But that's no excuse, as far as I'm concerned!

You -- yes, you -- need to take responsibility for your own body. We don't all need to look like scantily-clad extras from 300, but you're the cause of many of the health problems you face. The hight cholesterol and high blood pressure. The profuse sweating and body odor. The poor pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. Heck, even snoring can be corrected often just by getting rid of some of the flab around your neck.

Yes, I know, some health issues are genetic and some are inflicting on your from external sources beyond your control. But I think a vast majority of problems can be fixed by just trying to be healthier. Especially in looking at comics who showcase near-perfect specimens of the human body on a regular basis -- if dorky scientist Hank Pym can have six-pack abs, why can't I? You know?

C'mon, people! Look to your heroes to actually be your heroes. You might be able to write off Superman's physique on his alien heritage, but not Batman's. Or Green Arrow's. Or the Punisher's. Yeah, it's hard work, but just a different sort of hard work than playing Worlds of Warcraft for hours on end. Get off your duff and get fit, fanboy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dude, Where's My Blogroll?

So I got an e-mail from my bud David the G asking why I'd never put up a Blogroll. I said that I didn't put one up originally because I was new to the blogosphere and just had no idea what was really out there, and over the past year and a half that I've been doing this, I figured no one would really be interested. David says that ain't the case, so if you look down the right side of your screen, you should see the brand-spankin-new Kleefeld on Comics Blogroll.

I actually read a few more blogs than what I've got listed there, but I wanted to limit the ones to which I linked to only ones that are updated pretty regularly. I don't know about you, but I personally find it frustrating to link from someone else's blogroll to a blog that hasn't been updated in several weeks or months. So, even though I'm still keeping up with several other blogs, I'm not listing them here because of their sporadic update schedule. (Nothing personal, guys.)

David also suggested that people might be interested in movies and music and such that I'm interested in, so I'll throw a quick bit about that here while I'm at it.

Music: I was always more of a rhythm guy (I was quite a good drummer back in the day, in fact) and so I don't listen to much of anything that doesn't have a kick-butt rhythm section. I grew up mostly on Rush and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, but I haven't spent much time/effort keeping up with new material. The only two new bands I've really listened to at all in the past decade or so have been The Blue Man Group (which is as much about their live performances as the music itself) and The Dresden Dolls.

TV and movies I covered way back here.

Frank Miller Circa 1982

The following photo was recently posted online by Alan Light...

It's, of course, a young Frank Miller from the 1982 San Diego Comic Convention. At the time, he was a man of 25 and had been drawing Daredevil for over two years, and had been drawing and writing the series for about half that time. He was certainly on the list of "hot" creators and was making a pretty big name for himself in comicdom. The Dark Knight Returns was still about four years off, and Sin City was almost a decade away.

You up to speed with perspective now? Good -- here's the part I want to point out:

As indicated on the sign behind him, Frank's selling his original art for as little as $20! And even the high price stuff isn't going for more than $125!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

This Week's Loot

Because I can't think of much else to blog about today, and I'm really trying to avoid doing any actual work at the moment, I figured I'd post the covers of the books supposedly coming out this week that I'm looking forward to. (Curious, too, because one of my LCS owners noted earlier that this looked to be a particularly light week overall.)

Not a lot of titles there but with two TPBs, it'll still be around a $40-week for me.

Monday, August 13, 2007

'Ringo

I'm sure that, by the time you read this, it won't really be news, but I feel obligated/compelled to voice some thoughts about Mike Wieringo's unexpected death.

Personally, I had little direct interaction with him. I met him briefly in Columbus in 2000 when he, and several other creators, announced their new company, Gorilla Comics. My discussion with him then was nearly non-existent and consisted of little more than getting his autograph. I interviewed him briefly via email in late 2001 shortly after it was announced that he was going to be working on Fantastic Four. In both cases, he was polite and courteous and seemed genuinely honored to speak with anyone who liked his work.

It's hard to say how someone's death will affect people. Ringo seemed well-liked by everyone he met, and the only complaints I can ever recall hearing against him were that some people didn't like his particular style of illustration. Even if you didn't like that style, it seemed, though, people could still understand and appreciate that he was talented and that many people did like his work. At worst, his work was "too cartoony" but never (that I heard) bad. He was indeed quite talented as an illustrator and a storyteller and, if you spent any time at all reading his blog, he was continually striving to improve his craft.

I think that's why many people are upset. He was supremely talented and did some great work, but never reached his full potential. To put that statement in perspective, let me throw this out at you...

Ringo was born in 1963, two years after Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started work on the Fantastic Four. At the time, Jack was 44 -- the same age Mike was when he died. Nearly everything that you remember Jack Kirby for was done after this time in his life.

I'm not saying that Ringo could've been the next Kirby and he had the potential to completely overhaul how comic books are told. If anything, I'm pretty sure Mike would've laughed at the very thought. But for as young as the comic book industry often seems to be, the players who really do well and stand out as powerful forces in the industry are the ones who are a bit older and have fought (and won) the hard battles.

Look at Frank Miller. He first achieved fame back when he was innovating Daredevil but he's quite the popular name these days. He's fifty. Six years ago, how many people -- especially those outside comicdom -- had heard of Sin City or 300?

The tragedy here is only, in part, that the comic industry lost a talented individual. The other part of the tragedy is that the comic industry lost the future potential of an even more talented individual.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Fame And Fortune... Sort Of

The following conversation took place in a New England comic book shop recently and was relayed to me by my brother this weekend...

"Excuse me? I was wondering if you help me out?"

"I'll certainly try. What do you need?"

"Well, I've got this list of things I'm looking for, and I was wondering if you had any of them."

"Let's see your list... Hmmm, that's funny. Where'd you get this list from?"

"I printed it from online. Why?"

"Well, it kind of looks like the same design as this one Fantastic Four web site, FFPlaza."

"Yeah -- it's the same guy."

"Er... why are you looking to buy something for him?"

"He's my brother."

"Holy crap! Really?"

Heh heh. I'm not sure which I enjoy more: that my work can actually be recognized like that, that I'm recognized in any capacity relating to comic books, or that I was recognized as a comic book celebrity (however minor) to my brother.

Ultimately, the shop did not have any of the items on my list (no real surprise, since some of the stuff is pretty obscure) but my brother did get an extended conversation on the difference between a Marvel Selects Uatu action figure and the Bowen Designs Uatu bust. Not that my brother cared that much, but you know how fanboys can get!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Roxanna & The Quest For The Time-Bird

I'm visiting the 'rents this weekend and made a casual browse through one of my dad's old bookcases that contains the graphic novels he picked up while waiting for at various comic book shops and shows in my youth. One series that stands out, in retrospect, is Roxanna and the Quest for the Time-Bird. It was a series of four graphic novels by Le Tendre and Loisel. I believe it was originally French and has an original copyright of 1983, though the American version was printed in 1987.

The story was, not surprisingly, a quest this Roxanna character was on to find... well, a time-bird. It had a lot of classic sword-n-sorcery things going for it with the added bonus of the titular character being rather well-endowed. What strikes me as interesting, flipping back through these books, is that despite her "assets" and the fact that many of the male characters went absolutely beserk trying to get a better look at them, her sexuality was never really an issue for an issue for her. She was a person first and foremost and was earnestly on this quest. She took offense when male characters tried to take advantage of her feminity in any capacity or, for that matter, even addressed her as anything other than an individual. (As opposed to a sex object, weakling female, or what-have-you.) That being said, she was conscious of the effect her body had on men, and she did, on occasion, make use of that -- providing timely distractions for her companions with her naked body, for example.

So while she was often seen by others as all the nasty stereotypes that are heaped on women, she very clearly did NOT fall into those stereotypes. She was a powerful character and curse those who see her as something less than one.

In retrospect, it was an extremely progressive approach to depicting females in the medium. We still see today, 25 years later, many female characters being portrayed as sex objects or "women in refirdgerators" when it was shown handily how to depict a sexually attractive woman without making it demeaning. Roxanna took the views many comic creators and fans had of how to use women in a story, pointed out the flaws in that thinking, and then went on to show how it could be done properly.

The art is extremely smooth and well-done. The illustration is clearly European in style, and very elegant in its execution. I've never seen the French original, but the English translations, at least, are very natural and move the story along very well. The credits only cite "Script: Letendre Art: Loisel" so I'm unclear as to who actually wrote the overall story, and I also haven't found any significant information about either creator, or what else they may have worked on.

The American printings were by a company called Nantier-Beall-Minoustchine (NBM for short) although their web site suggests that the books' are all out of print currently. A quick search turned up a few on eBay, and I'm sure a number of comic shops have them as well.

Well worth tracking these down to see how a female lead can be done right, even if she does have large breasts.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cynical Comic Book Bingo

Scott, over at Polite Dissent, posted this variation on a Bingo game the other day...
My first thought was, "Hey, that's pretty funny."

And then I started thinking about that. Why is it funny?

It's funny because it's playing to many of the stereotypes that show up in the comic industry on a semi-regular basis as a means to entice more people to buy a comic. The comic book publishers use the things Scott's highlighted to seem better than it is. More "hip" or "edgy" or what have you. Do zombies inherently make a comic cooler? Of course not. Neither does an instance of a first issue or characters with facial tattoos. And yet fans still rush towards those things and buy them because of their superficial coolness.

Think a moment about just how cynical this Bingo game is. It acknowledges that we, as fans, can recognize blatant attempts at a publisher trying to gain more of our collective dollar. It acknowledges that we, as fans, not only recognize those attempts, but have -- at least at some level -- made a mental list of those items and have established a hierarchy for and/or categorized them. And here's the really cynical bit: we, as fans, collectively still buy into it.

How many of us can go through that list and get a winning scorecard every week? Yeah, some of the books that have some of those items are actually quite good. But a lot of them aren't. A lot of them are bought every week, regardless of quality, because one or more of the items listed on this card were present. The publishers know it, and we know it.

And that's why it's incredibly cynical. And quite funny.

(Congrats to Scott, by the way, whose son was born after I started writing this.)