Sunday, September 30, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Gift Of Wizard

My aunt and uncle, who live about an hour away, invited me up today for a general dinner/get-together thing. My one one cousin was going to be there with his wife and son, and my other cousin was going to stop by later on. It's been a little over a year since I'd seen any of them, so it was good to get up there and catch up.

While I was up there, in general chit-chat, it was brought up that my aunt and uncle are trying to clear out their basement. I don't think I've actually been down there since they bought the house over 15 years ago, but I understand it's been almost exclusively treated as a warehouse of storage boxes. Up to and including stuff that got packed away when they last moved and has yet to be unpacked! Not all of these boxes, mind you, are strictly my aunt and uncle's. Both of their sons have been using it for storage as well and now that they're both out living on their own relatively close-by, my aunt's starting to get their butts in gear to remove/unload/do-something-else-with all of their stuff.

Knowing that I'm a devout comic fan, my aunt noted that she thought that my one cousin had a box of Wizard magazines and asked if I might be interested in them. My cousin went down to fetch the box, and my aunt said, "That's not the one I was talking about."

"What? This is my box of old Wizards."

So she goes down with him and finds another box that he had evidently forgotten about. (She never even having known about the first one!) I start scanning through them and they were generally in okay shape. Clearly well-read and some were dog-eared, but still useable, if not in really a collectible condition. I haven't gone through the whole stack too carefully yet, but it looks like just about every issue from the late 1990s until around mid-2005, plus a handful of assorted mid-90s issues. I said thanks and loaded them into my car.

Now, you may be asking yourself why I would take a decade's worth of old Wizard magazines. In the first place, I was never a big fan of the book. In the second place, I'm really no longer a fan of the mainstream stuff they generally cover. In the third place, it's a news/gossip magazine and older issues are clearly going to be providing out-of-date information. In the fourth place, they're not in good enough shape to really sell or do anything with.

Valid points, all.

The reason why I took them was academic in nature. The magazine, while not my cup of tea, has just about always been fairly well in-tune with your average superhero fanboy. They have provided the "hot" industry news for quite some time now, and have pushed out competitors like Amazing Heroes and Comics Spotlight by catering to the broad base of superhero fans. I've seen more than a few people talk as if "Wizard readers" and "fanboys" were the exact same group. Regardless of what you think of the mag, they have kept their finger on the pulse of the largest comic book purchasing group for essentially their entire history.

What that means to me is that a nearly-ten-year run of the magazine will provide a means by which I can examine the trends of the comic buying public over an extended period. I'm not so much interested in the hot creators or popular characters, but more the overall tone and attitudes of the fans. The letters pages, the editorials, the overall tone of the content.

I don't know when I'll really get a chance to actually read all of these books, but that's what I'm planning to look at whenever I finally get around to it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jack Kirby Collector #50

Well, it's being plugged in this week's Alter Ego #72 and the electronic copies of JKC #49 that just went out, so I suppose it's alright for me to start hyping up the big Jack Kirby Collector anniversary issue I'm working on...
NEXT ISSUE: Instead of a normal issue, KIRBY FIVE-OH! is a special look at the best of everything from Jack Kirby’s 50-year career in comics! Our regular columnists form a distinguished panel of experts to choose and examine: The best Kirby story published each year from 1938-1987! The best covers from each decade! Jack’s 50 best unused pieces of art! His 50 best character designs! And profiles of, and commentary by, the 50 people most influenced by Kirby’s work! Plus there’s a 50-page gallery of Kirby’s powerful raw pencil art, and a deluxe color section of photos and finished art from throughout his entire half-century oeuvre. This 168-page tabloid-sized trade paperback features a previously unseen Kirby Superman cover inked by “DC: The New Frontier” artist DARWYN COOKE, and an introduction by MARK EVANIER, helping make this the ultimate retrospective on the career of the “King” of comics! (A percentage of profits will be donated to the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center.) We’re not soliciting contributions, but send us material for future issues, and look for KIRBY FIVE-OH! in February 2008!
Those 50 greatest character designs? That's my piece. I'm still writing it, but I can pretty well guarantee that I'm going to cheese somebody off with the list I've got going!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quick Encounter

I stopped by my LCS on my lunch hour today. Not much in the way of new stuff that I wanted to pick so, coupled with the fact that my wife is no longer living with me (which is still upsetting me to no end, but that's another issue...), I went ahead and picked up Lost Girls.

Then I hit a nearby Subway for lunch, and was getting my drink behind this ancient woman. I didn't ask how old she was, but she was one of those that people who had so many wrinkles, you couldn't really distinguish any of her actual features. Anyway, we're getting our drinks at about the same time, and she sees the Comic Shop News I brought in to scan through while I was eating; it had a big picture of Little Lulu showing and she asked what it was.

"It's a newsletter about comic books."

"Oh, I'd forgotten about those."

Now maybe she really was so old that she had stopped reading comics by the time Little Lulu had been created in 1935. Maybe it had really been that long since her children stopped reading comics before that whole business with Wertham and Kefauver in the 1950s that comics, for this woman, were insignificant, even non-existent, for most of her life. That would suggest she'd never seen a comic colored on a computer. Or one with advertisements for cars inside them. Or one printed on even half-way decent paper. She'd probably never thought that comics should be kept longer than it took to read them. She almost certainly had no idea there was a comic book shop just around the corner.

And that's when I was quite thankful to have left Lost Girls in the car!

Blair Butler

Let me get this out of the way off the bat: I don't like G4's resident comic guru Blair Butler.

(As a disclaimer, I've never met her, and only know her from her appearances on G4 and their associated web presence. So she might be a completely different person than what she presents herself as on TV. But this blog is going to largely run on the premise that she's really not all that different than what we generally see, and she's not actively cultivating a specific persona for G4.)

As I sat down to start writing this, I tried culling my thoughts together more cohesively. What exactly don't I like about her? I don't like just railing against anything (much less anyone!) for the sake of railing against it/them. If I'm going to rant about her here for all the world to see, I better be able to back up my opinion with something more concrete than "I just don't like her." There's too much of that on the Internet as it is.

So I started recalling what I've seen/read/heard from her. I pulled up her web site, and her MySpace page and watched some clips. She's generally well-spoken and articulate, she knows the industry pretty well, and she seems to have a genuine interest in comics as a medium and not just flashy superhero stuff. And that really struck me because, as she's arguably the face of comic fandom on television, those are all great qualities to have. I can't really fault her along any of those counts. Indeed, in that regard, she's doing a fine job presenting a decidedly positive, non-stereotypical image of a comic book fan to people who might still hold to the "classic" fanboy image.

In her presentation of material, both online and on television, I find that things do tend to get glossed over very quickly and lack much depth. But here, I can't fault Butler -- at least not entirely -- since she's not the one making decisions about how much time/attention is devoted to comics. I don't know for certain, but I get the impression she rushes through so many different things precisely because her alternative would be to go into a little more depth on considerably fewer comics. It's a depth versus breadth argument, and there's justification on both sides. Ultimately, though, the breadth that she tries to cover is useless to me because I'm already regularly tapping into enough other (generally, more robust) sources that provide me with more information along the lines that I'm looking for.

I am very cognizant of her attempts at humor. I absolutely get what she's trying to get across with her jokes, but I find that they fall flat more often than not. I think, in part, it's because of some degree of predictability and, in part, because I don't think her delivery is well-timed. Further, she's often taken aback by humor coming from those she interviews, and she's not able to respond quickly. It seems that her humor is almost wholly scripted as a one-sided conversation intended to sideswipe her interviewees (or, alternatively, a two-sided conversation in which the unscripted responses are completely predictable), and deviations from that script, when she comes across someone with some ability to banter or ad-lib, catch her entirely off-guard.

One could argue that it's difficult to work in soundly funny material on a nightly basis, and there's certainly a lot of merit to that counter-argument. But one of the reasons why someone like a Jon Stewart of a Stephen Colbert is able to pull that off is because they were trained in improv. They understand how to think on their feet and feed off whatever material is present. It seems to me that if that isn't a particularly strong suite for you, it should be an avenue to avoid. (Although, again, to be fair, Butler does an infinitely better job at bantering and improv-like material than the co-hosts of Attack of the Show! But I'm trying to address the comic book angle specifically, and I'm not really concerned with other attempts at general geekery.)

But I think the thing that really bugs me about Butler is the type of humor she usually resorts to -- that is, making fun of comic book fans. Certainly, she has more of a "right" to do so than most people, being a comic book fan herself. But she has this bizarre ability -- and I can't say if it's a conscious decision on her part or not -- to step out of her role as a fangirl and essentially laugh at the fans instead of with them. She joins the other side, as it were, and becomes one of "them" -- one of the legion of reporters that are at CCI only because their boss told them to go, and they really don't get what the big deal is, and oh-hey-isn't-that-Gweneth-Paltrow? Even dressed as a Stormtrooper or a slasher victim or what-have-you, she seems to be barely tolerating her environment and not really willing/able to become a part of it.

Again, in some deference of fairness, I'm not the type of person either who can really get down with dressing up as Batman. (Nothing against those who do, mind you, it's just not my cup of tea.) In knowing that, though, I'm not going to make of jokes at the expense of someone who does. (Unless, of course, they're too big to fit into a Batman costume in the first place, but that kind of snark is aimed at individual's judgments and not an overall mentality.)

So I guess my dislike of Butler boils down to a fundamental disagreement with her judgments as a comic book fan. I prefer depth over breadth, and it seems to me that she -- as a potentially positive bridge between comic fandom and the laity -- should be focusing more on the positive aspects of fandom over the negative stereotypes and snarkiness that pervades much of her commentary on the fans themselves. Those fundamental value judgments, for me, are significant enough that they make me question her judgment when reviewing individual comics. So when she does say she likes Crecy or Abyss, that carries almost no weight with me. They might indeed be very good works -- and in these cases, I think they are -- but I'm not going to use someone whose other (related) values are appreciably different than my own as a gauge for my own possible enjoyment of a work.

So, Blair, if by some chance you run across this missive, nothing personal. I don't know you as an individual -- you might be a great person to hang and/or talk comics with. You seem to have a genuine interest in and understanding of comics, and that deserves some respect. But I happen to hold different values on some significant points; given that I'm pretty sure I'm not your target audience, that's hardly surprising. That being said, though, on the rare occasion that I might make a snarky comment about you, it's generally only meant to highlight the differences between us.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Red 5's Logos

I, for one, am interested in the various titles coming out from new comic publisher Red 5 Comics. (Even though it took me WAY too long to get where their name came from!) The concepts of the books strike me as interesting, and the previews I've seen thus far have all been very promising. But I wanted to take a moment to highlight probably one of the more obscure aspects of their books so far that I'm sure will be generally under-appreciated: the logos.

The Red 5 logo itself is interesting. It was designed by Steve Anderson, who had already spent many years doing Star Wars art. But instead of trying to play up that angle here, he's gone an entirely different route. I'm sure some of that has to do with the fact that, legally, they couldn't really appropriate any Star Wars imagry, but the end solution is a creative one. It draws heavily on Charles Demuth's famous 1928 painting, I Saw The Figure 5 In Gold. Anderson has reversed the coloring, played down the angular elements, and altered the font but it's origins, to me, are unmistakable. The logo also holds together very well, despite having the background of the original painting removed. Despite the name itself deriving from the Star Wars mythos, and most of the players having a history of working in George Lucas' playground, this logo invents connections to other great works and lifts the company image beyond the notion that these guys are just Timothy Zahn wannabes.

Another logo that stands out for me is the one for Abyss, also designed by Anderson. It's interesting in that also has it's origins in early 1900s art, but in this case, it draws upon Action Comics for inspiration. As you might note, the Abyss font is essentially the same one used for Action Comics and the only real distinction here is that the capital "A" is turned upside down. I find this fascinating first because that alteration proves to be almost no hindrance to its legibility. There's no question that the comic is called "Abyss" and not "Vybss" or "Ubyss." I'm mildly curious (but not quite enough to actually experiment with this myself) to see if that legibility would remain using an unfamiliar font, or if the Action Comics reference is what actually compells the viewer to read it properly. Similarly, would it read as easily to someone wholly unfamiliar with the source logo?

The upside-down "A" is also metaphoric in that an abyss, viewed in a cross-section, is essentially a "V" -- an upside-down "A" without the crossbar. The enlargement of the letter empahsizes the enormous depth usually associated with an abyss, and so the logo becomes a visual representation of the word itself. Further, the previews thus far have shown the protagonist in a less-than-heroic light -- quite the polar opposite of the overgrown Boy Scout who's headlined in Action Comics for a better part of the last century. By reversing the "A" in the logo, it gives a clear indication that the titular character is not going to be mistaken for the man of steel, however many superficial qualities they might share. (For the sake of completeness, I'll also point out that the cover art is modeled after Dan Jurgen's cover to Superman #75, but since I'm talking specifically about the logo, that's not really relevant here.)

I'm not certain if Anderson designed the logos for Red 5's other comics, but they certainly seem up to his level of expertise. And while the logos by themselves aren't really enough, in my mind, to warrant buying any given comic, that attention to detail suggests promise of the same when it comes to the writing and interior art. Despite the fact that Blair Butler (who needs to be the subject of a future blog entry here) expressed unmitigated delight with the company and their books, I think they're still most definitely worth looking at.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Independents: A Guide To The Creative Spirit

OK, I know that if you're reading this, you've likely already read Tom Spurgeon's review of this DVD. I mean, let's face it -- he's got a much larger readership than I do. But on the off chance that you haven't seen his review, I'm going to put this out there as well.

The documentary looks at the basic premise of creating comics. Not the typical stuff you see from marvel or DC, but how can you -- as someone not already in the business -- create comics. But rather than take a clinical approach that you may have already seen -- how to draw, how to write, how to publish, etc. -- producer/director Chris Brandt looks at the more esoteric issues in creating a comic. What personality traits do you need? What type of stories should you produce? Why sell your comic to others? Why create a comic in the first place?

Brandt does an excellent job of providing a strong narrative throughout the entire documentary in his editing. There is no narration at all, and only a few scripted comments from Dr. James Kaufman of California State. Most of the video is presented simply as the interviewees responses to Brandt's questions about them and their work. And they're melded together in such a way as to provide a great overall structure, so that viewers are never at a loss for where he's going with it. This means that the story of the DVD is told almost exclusively by the comic creators themselves. And while I do recognize that Brandt, as the editor, clearly could splice things together to say whatever he wanted, one gets the distinct sense that it's still the creators' unfiltered voices that are being heard.

Another great aspect to the DVD is the list of talent Brandt has pulled together. It's distinctly not the typical list of comic creators that are pulled out as experts by NPR or The Colbert Report (with the exception of Scott McCloud) but a lot of big name people nonetheless. Furthermore, it covers a pretty wide range of creators. There's everyone from Robert Williams to Erik Larsen to Shannon Wheeler to Craig Thompson to Dan Vado to Keith Knight to Carla Speed McNeil to Eric Powell to... And they all are speaking very candidly about what they do and what they love. Did I mention Wendy Pini and Kevin Eastman and Batton Lash and Scott Allie and Gary Groth and Tony Millionaire and Jessica Abel and Linda Medley and...?

The documentary, I don't think, ultimately provides viewers with a "How To" on creating comics. But that's not what it set out to do either. It's more of an examination of the creative process among comic book creators. The how and why of one person sitting down for hours at a time, often after working a full day at some drudge job, to draw a story and then spending almost as much, if not more, time trying to get that story into the hands of other people. That, it seems to me, has been an avenue not actually brought up before and it's a fascinating look at what you REALLY need to create your own comics.

And, if you get nothing else out of Independents: A Guide To The Creative Spirit, you will learn: "Carrots are not creative!"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Supergirl

Some of you probably have seen Supergirl crop up comic circles lately. Partially because of a recent overhaul in the character seen in the comics, and partially because of Laura Vandervoort's upcoming portrayal of the character on Smallville. It got me thinking just how much Supergirl has changed over the years -- like DC's never really been sure what to do with her. Here's a sampling of covers and you can tell just from her costume changes how all over the map she's been...
I think it's particularly amusing how, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the art department couldn't keep up with her frequent costume changes, such that the little corner icon of her frequently didn't match the main image of the cover!

In any event, I, being the non-conformist and generally contrarian guy that I am, have my own opinion on the "best" incarnation of Supergirl...
I think she wore this particular ensemble for exactly one issue before adding some dreadful gloves. As a runner-up, the puffy sleeve thing with the sandals and choker is kind of a good look, too.

What do you say, DiDio? How about bringing back the go-go boots? Maybe combine that with the puffy sleeves number? You still get some cleavage action, a good way to highlight her legs, and you don't have any feminazis looking to kill you for tarting up the character. I don't see a down side here.

Of course, I have been accused of being myopic on occasion.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Reprint Dilemma

So I swang by Half Price Books earlier this afternoon. I had several bags of books to sell off and they have comics I could browse through.

Among the comics I found a decent smattering of the first 30 issues or so of ROM. Including #1 for a mere 48 cents! So I picked up some of those, plus copies of Agnes Quill and the first Y: The Last Man TPB for considerably less than the books that I dropped off fetched for me.

And I got to thinking about how, if someone wanted to read the ROM stories, they're stuck hunting for back issues. The series has never been collected or reprinted in any form, in large part, I suspect, because the trademark for the character is owned by Parker Brothers, which is in turn owned by Hasbro. Which means that getting the rights to reprint ROM would be a mess of legal paperwork. Reprinting, say, any given issue of Amazing Spider-Man is non-issue by comparison since marvel owns all the rights themselves.

These days, I think just about everything first printed by marvel and/or DC has been reprinted in some fashion. And, as a rule, it's generally easier and cheaper to get the reprints than the originals. But there are a handful of books out there where reprints have never been done and are considerably less likely to be issued because of exactly the same legal wrangling.

2001 springs to mind. When I was researching those stories for Jack Kirby Collector, I knew that it had never been reprinted and was unlikely to be seen any time soon. Even though I only needed a handful of issues, and the stories were generally self-contained, the rights to at least portions of the book belong to someone else.

In some cases, the comics were trademarked by their creator and the rights were wholly held onto by them. In such cases, reprint rights would be much easier since the new publisher would only have to acquire permission from the creator or his estate/heirs. Image, for example, recently reprinted Jack Kirby's Silver Star and has plans for Captain Victory -- both originally publishing by Pacific. More interestingly, TwoMorrows has already reprinted the original Captain Victory series and the title character recently appeared in a few issues published by marvel. But in every one of those cases, usage of the character was granted expressly by the Kirby Estate, and no other legal wrangling was needed.

That's not to say things are impossible, mind you. I was actually quite surprised to hear a while back that Dark Horse was going to reprint the old Conan stories originally published by marvel. And Dell's Star Trek saw life again from Checker Book Publishing. It seems to me that both of those would've been a nightmare to work through the legal messes there, but they came through nonetheless.

That being said, though, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for reprints of Tarzan or Godzilla comics.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Five For Friday #92

Meme courtesy of Tom Spurgeon. Name five superheroes you like created after 1950 not published by marvel, DC or Image...

1. Hellboy
2. The Tick
3. Emily Edison
4. Haywire
5. Super-Grover

I'm not sure if Hellboy actually counts as a superhero, nor am I sure Super-Grover really falls in the spirit of the meme, so I'll add two more...

6. The Interman
7. Monkeyman & O'Brien

And, for extra-good measure...

8. Stupendous Man
9. Herobear

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Umbrella Academy

Something about the Umbrella Academy story in Dark Horse's 2007 Free Comic Day issue intrigued me. I can't quite pinpoint what it was, but I suspect it was the combination of an interesting concept with stylistic artwork. In any event, I was eager to see the first issue of the "real" comic and picked it up yesterday.

The first thing that caught my attention was actually the inside front-cover. It has small, but clear, illustrations of what seems to be the "main" cast with short descriptions of each of the children. But what caught my attention was the small line that said from the personal notes of Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a.k.a. The Monocle. The name sounded familiar. "No -- that can't be right! I must be mis-remembering. Let me Google it really quickly..."

But, it turns out that I was wrong. But only by one letter. Reginald Hargreaves was in fact the husband of none other than Alice Liddell -- the Alice from Alice in Wonderland. He died in 1926 and, although the specific timeframe of this story is not set, it would seem that it occurs after that point. But since Reginald Hargreeves is identified as an alien... well, all bets of any real connection are off. It could be coincidence, or it could be an obscure reference of some kind. We do see a portrait of Hargreeves with a woman at one point, but it's stylized enough to make it impossible to tell if that is indeed intended to be Alice Liddell.

But it was exactly that type of thing that I found enticing and captivating about the story. What did The Monocle know that the world needed saving from? What was "The Jennifer Incident"? Who was The Horror? Who is that statue of outside The Umbrella Academy? Why is said Academy littered with broken/crushed umbrellas? Was Dr. Pogo the same primate on Spaceboy's nearly fatal flight and, if so, what happened to him? Or, was he simply the product of Hargreeves' research? Quite simply, the world created here by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba is incredibly enticing.

Speaking of Way, I gather there was some initial concern when he brought the project to Dark Horse. The whole celebrity-trying-to-write-comics issue. Editor Scott Allie admits to exactly these reservations on the letters page, but was pleasantly surprised when he finally did get around to reading Way's treatment. Me? I had no preconceptions. Largely because Way is entirely an unknown for me. I mean, really unknown. Never heard of him before this. It wasn't until reading Scott's piece that I understood that he was supposed to be somebody. "Supposed to" because I've never heard of My Chemical Romance either. I bought this book exclusively on the strength of what I saw on the FCBD issue, and I was happy to see the full issue live up to and exceed my expectations from that.

Indeed, the story is quite solid. Despite several jumps in time and around a dozen characters to keep straight, the story holds together extremely well. This is especially worth noting when the children protagonists are, for all intents and purposes, dressed identically. Yet, there's no question at any point who is doing or saying anything. Many kudos to Way and Ba for pulling this off so well.

As a first issue, it should come as no surprise that we're largely dealing with general set-up. Who these characters are and what their relationships are to one another. That being the case, though, we're still treated to a good, old-fashioned super battle when the Umbrella Academy thwarts the plans of Zombie-Robot Gustave Eiffel. Yes, the same Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Except now he's grafted his head onto a robot body. As one does. And, naturally, after saving Paris, that means "The key to the city!" "And ice cream for everyone!" "Yay!"

The comic isn't exactly whimsical, but it certainly doesn't take itself too seriously either. It borrows heavily on the themes and tropes of early 20th century science fiction, but most definitely contemporizes the references and the overall presentation. All in all, a great concept with solid execution. There is, I think, a little something for everyone, and I'd be remiss in not recommending picking up at least the first issue.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

This Be Makin' No Sense!

Avast, me harties! It be September 19th, an' that be meanin' it be Talk Like A Pirate Day! But me brain's havin' trouble wrappin' itself 'round the fact that there be no piratical comics comin' out today.

Aye! I've commentated a'fore 'bout the dearth of comics featurin' pirates! To be compensatin' ya lily-livered bilgepots, I be takin' 'pon meself to be providin' ya -- all legal-like, so no need to be squawkin' -- with Hillman's Pirates Comics #1 from nineteen hundred and fifty. Yarr!