Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wowio: Not Quite So Free Any More

Wowio re-opened it's doors at noon Central Time today, after being closed for the better part of a month during which time they were bought out by Platinum. I quickly logged in to see what was different, and didn't see much new initially. As far as I could tell, all (or nearly all) of the books that had been available before were still there and it didn't look like much new content had been added beyond the handful of updates that would've normally gone up over the course of a month. I did see a few minor layout changes under the Account Information section, but those could have occurred earlier -- it's not a section of the site I frequented much.

So, at first blush, the site appeared pretty much exactly as I had left it. One of the books I had in my download queue was even still listed as waiting to be downloaded! So I looked a little more carefully at some of the titles I was interested in before to see if they had added the latest issue. And that's when I noticed what was updated...
The free books that were being subsidized by advertising? Not quite so free any more. You still have the option to read it for free online, but this calls up a Wowio-specific in-browser reader that, while it behaves somewhat like Adobe Acrobat, prevents users from looking at the comics without being logged in. If you want a copy of the comic in question saved to your hard drive -- where you might transfer it from one device to another, or try printing a copy -- it will cost you. Issues that I'd already downloaded for free and have sitting on my computer now cost as much as $3.95 an issue.

Public domain material, like Dick Briefer's Frankenstein and Joe Kubert's Out of This World Adventures, now run $.99 a piece. (These books and many others, I might add, are not only freely available here, but I believe is where Wowio is getting their copies from!) A number of other books I've seen are priced at $1.50, and I've seen a few at $3.95, not all of which are longer graphic novels. Obviously, this leads to some questions about pricing.

Having gone through several of the titles available, it seems to me that pricing is decided by the original publisher. Given that the PD material is presented by Wowio for a standard price, and that everything else is at least equal to that, I would further guess that Wowio has set a base price of $.99 for each book and that anything above and beyond that is up to the original publisher, presumably meaning that any money paid for a downloaded comic above $.99 is funneled more or less directly to the original publisher. So that in the screen shot example above, Free Lunch Comics gets one penny every time somebody downloads one of their comics. Whether or not they get anything else beyond that from Wowio, I don't know, but I'm guessing not. Their entire profit base from a Wowio venture is likely coming from that one penny (or whatever) per download.

And that oft-cited $40,000 grand per year? That would mean you'd need 40,000 downloads. Possible, certainly, but I can't imagine that being commonplace for titles that, by and large, don't feature already established, well-known characters. The biggest ones I can think of that were on the site before were the crew from Star Trek, but it seems that Checker Book Publishing has all of their books removed from the site now. Indeed, now that Wowio has instituted a pricing scheme on the books, I think it's only common sense to figure out that the number of books being downloaded is going to go down.

(As an aside, I notice that Plantinum, not surprisingly, has a good deal more books available through Wowio than before. More interesting, though, is that they are priced exactly the same as the print versions. Let me just hazard a guess that the number of digital downloads of Fred Van Lente's Hot Shot and Mighty Girl at $14.99 a pop is going to be fairly small. Further, if Plantinum is counting on Wowio to be a cash cow for them because of this type of pricing for books that have effectively already been paid for and profited on, I think they're in for a very rude awakening!)

Now, since the books (from what I can tell) are still all available to read for free online, there's still a good chance for a small/indie publisher to get some exposure through Wowio. It's certainly no guarantee, though, of tidy profits just by eliminating that whole messiness with printing and such. Since I never consider myself a good gauge of public opinion, I will be curious to see what users' reactions to this are, and whether or not they change their online reading habits because of this. Do people switch to reading the books online? Do they fork over some change to get digital downloads? Do they just leave entirely in favor of (in some cases) finding the same content available for free elsewhere? (Beyond just the PD material -- The Dreamer is available on Lora Innes' web site and Mr. Scootles is available through Drunk Duck for examples.) I'm not sure where Wowio will be one year from now, but I'll definitely be interested to watch and find out!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How To Kill Your Geek Cred

Not that they're overly worried about their Geek Cred, I'm sure, but Playboy posted a Sexy Girls of Comic-Con photo gallery recently. Of special note is the caption in this screen shot...
You know, I certainly don't expect everyone to know who every cosplayer at Comic-Con is dressed up as, but considering that both Jean Grey and Psylocke are relatively common and considerably more mainstream than, say, Ms. Monster or Danger Girl, it wouldn't take much research to find out who this character is, even if you had no clue. I don't know; it just seems to me that if you're trying to blend in and be part of a crowd (of any sort) you should at least make it less than obvious that you're really just a poser.

But maybe it doesn't matter in this case? Despite the popularity of the refrain, I doubt many guys are on the Playboy web site for the articles.

Monday, July 28, 2008

CCI On NPR

I know you're totally sick of Comic-Con coverage by this point, but I thought I'd point out that NPR aired several reports on the subject over the past few days:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dead Man Holiday

Colin Panetta has a mission with Dead Man Holiday. He notes in his introduction that "most genre-based comics are pretty vapid and pander to their readers, and most personal work is firmly grounded in reality." So, with Dead Man Holiday, Panetta wants to create a comic that strikes a solid balance between the two, looking superficially like a "haunted science-fiction" genre book but is in fact deeply personal.

Thad Planck is a security guard whose job is to patrol a flooded city colloquially known as Little Atlantis, named that because it was flooded (and abandoned) during some undisclosed disaster. During one of his patrols, Thad stumbles across a living skeleton who easily resists Thad's attempts to apprehend or subdue it. His boss believes his story, making Thad wonder which of the two of them is crazier. He then loses himself in thoughts about a young woman he encounters on the way home.

I certainly give credit to Panetta for accomplishing his basic goals. The book is clearly science-fiction with some spooky/haunted overtones; there's some reasonably clear allusions to it being a personal work; and he doesn't pander to the readers. It took me a third read to fully understand how the opening sequence actually ties in with the rest of the story. Although this was in part due to a slightly different illustration style (Panetta notes that he drew that sequence considerably earlier than the others) it was also because it does force the reader to concentrate on the storytelling moreso than most books. I might consider than a weakness in many works, but since A) Panetta has stated that was part of his intent, and B) the rest of the book flows smoothly, I'm willing to chalk that up to having become accustomed to the spoon-feeding of other creators.

The storytelling, as I said, is very smooth for the most part. Panetta does a good job of restraining himself from getting overly verbose, and relies heavily on the art to tell us what's happening. His illustrations are good and fairly consistent. It's not an illustration style I'm overly fond of personally, but Panetta clearly knows his way around a brush. He actually does use it to very good effect in a number of places, forcing the reader's eye to specific portions of the page, based almost wholly on how he applies the tones and blacks.

Speaking of blacks, I might also point out that the book is printed very well. Higher quality paper with crisp blacks and a good blend of greys. Panetta's art would almost certainly look muddy if it were printed in a lower quality, but that's not the case here. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the quality of printing enhances the final product as I'm able to compare a printed version side-by-side to a digital version he has online.

What you may have noticed, though, is that I haven't really said how successful the book is overall. I've expressly avoided that because I think it's impossible to say at this juncture. It'd be like trying to evaluate The Prisoner or Lost based on a single episode. Panetta does seem to know what he's doing, but I think it's a little too early to tell if the payoff will be worth it. That being said, though, it's a very promising start and worth keeping an eye out for.

You can visit DeadManHoliday.com for preview pages or to order a pulped wood copy of the book. DriveThru Comics has a free copy available for download here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Diggin' DC At Three

Just a couple of quick snapshots from my nephew's third birthday. Uncle Sean got him Green Lantern and Lex Luthor action figures (that's Luthor my nephew's opening up) and somebody else got him a Batman Glider. Another few years and he'll be looking to Uncle Sean for advice on the best bagging/boarding techniques!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Did You Ever Sing A Comic Strip?

A recent discovery of mine has led to a much larger one. I was digging around for information on the old Everett True comic strip and stumbled across Barnacle Press where they're housing a huge number of old comic strips. Scanned at pretty decent resolution and cleaned up (a bit) for all the world to see. Obviously, it's all public domain stuff but there's famous works like Barney Google and Katzenjammer Kids to more obscure titles like Diana Dillpickles and Soosie the Shopper (which apparently only lasted a couple months). Lots of great comics to find and enjoy there, plus they seem to update it fairly regularly.

A few minutes ago, in looking through their archives, I came across this...
Now that is exactly the type of comic history you don't find in books about the subject. That's the beauty of the internet and exactly the reason why you should check out Barnacle Press!

Quote Of The Morning

The announcement that led to confused silence was Electric Ant, a new five-issue adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story of the same name by Kabuki's David Mack and Pascal Alixe that launches in November. After a quick explanation of who Philip K. Dick was to a subdued audience, Marvel's Jim McCann added that Paul Pope would be providing covers... to a surprising lack of reaction from the audience. When your audience has to be told to applaud, I'm sure that that's not a good sign.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Live From Not CCI

Stuart and Kathy Immonen are doing some live Notblogging From San Diego 2008! Just in case you're looking for new comic-based content wholly unrelated to CCI.

Shrapnel

I haven't seen this in any of the "mainstream" comic media outlets, so I'll mention it here. Zombie Studios is putting together a comic called Shrapnel to published by Radical Comics and debuting at Comic Con International this week. I'll crib the description from Zombie's web site:
Shrapnel focuses on a future where humanity has reached out and colonized the Solar System and a Solar Alliance governs the planets similarly to the way ancient Rome dominated over their territories. Venus, the last free colony in the system, must do what it can to battle the domineering Marine forces of the Alliance in order to remain sovereign. Unbeknownst to the Marines, or even the Colonists themselves, one of the Alliance’s greatest heroes has exiled herself on the lost planet, hoping to escape the life she once knew as a soldier. Now, pulled back into the fold, she must teach the Colonist how to fight for their freedom and come to terms with her own past.

The story is being written by Nick (son of Carl) Sagan, who's got a fair number of decent Hollywood writing credits to his name, including several episodes of various incarnations of the Star Trek franchise. It's being co-written by M. Zachary Sherman, who's written Marvel Comics Presents, Star Wars: Visionaries and other comics. And some of the concept designs were done by Syd Mead, who created the visual designs for Blade Runner and Tron.

Of course, none of this to say that the book will be a guaranteed hit, nor does it speak directly to it's quality. But it does, I think, give the book a leg up over a lot of other books published these days. And, since it's not about superheroes, I heard about it via Boing Boing -- which tends to cast a wider net over their audience than most comic news outlets. This might also give the book a bit of oomph in the casual reader/bookstore market. I've heard anecdotal evidence, at least, that this is exactly what happened when Marvel put out some Stephen King comics last year.

Interesting, though, that smaller publishers are doing the same thing, despite not having the clout or cash flow of larger companies.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wowio 2.0

With CCI right here, here's a bit of news that will probably get lost in the shuffle. Wowio, according to their web site, is set to relaunch in almost exactly one week's time, roughly ten days after the company was purchased by Platinum Studios. As near as I can figure, they closed the site down due to some contractual agreement with Platinum and I suspect it's still down now while they finalize the new contract agreements with various creators.

What can we expect to see different on Wowio now that Platinum owns it?

Well, I think it's safe to say that the basic operation of the site will remain the same. Speaking as a web developer, it's highly unlikely they made any substantial changes to the core functionality during their relatively short down time. It's possible they had some things in the works previously which might be rolled out with the new version, but I have a gut feeling that isn't the case this time.

And creator Scott Christian Sava has noted that the contracts will effectively stay the same: "Only an addendum is being added to include new features." That implies that the content will largely remain unaffected. What these new features are I don't know, but I doubt they'll show up at new launch. (See previous paragraph.)

I seem to recall seeing a new blurb earlier this morning about how creators will need to track down their own advertisers instead of using Wowio's more company-wide approach they'd previously used. However I can't seem to find that article now, and trying to roll that idea out within a week puts an insane onus on the creators to shore up advertising contracts quickly. While I wouldn't put that past Platinum, I'd think Sava would've mentioned something that significant.

For all the stir this story has created over the past several weeks, I'm getting the impression it will amount to nothing for the purposes of casual users. I think that when Wowio relaunches, it will have by and large the same content they had before with the same delivery mechanism. I know a lot of people -- including myself -- are skeptical of Platinum's intentions, and I still harbor doubts about the long-term prospects of what they're going to do. But I think that in the short term, it won't look any different than we've seen before. So if you've already got an account, my suggestion is to log on as soon as you can and download everything you're interested in as quickly as possible before Platinum really sinks their teeth into things.

But, you know, maybe that's just my cynicism talking.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Solution

The S.O. read my post from yesterday about how the powers that be in media industries dismiss female protagonists as not commercially viable, and said, "That's fine, but what do we do about it? I want a solution!"

The larger issue, of course, is that the media giants, by and large, are run by older, white men. Further, they're removed enough from the public that they don't have any real connectivity to us commonfolk. Sure, they get reports on trends and such, but it's inherently removed from the more visceral experiences of real people. All they have to go by are the numbers -- ticket sales, circulation, whatever -- so it's hardly surprising that they base their decisions on those types of criteria.

We, the average Joes and Janes, can't get our messages to the heads of media corporations. They're filtered by secretaries and personal assistants and other media.

So, what's the solution?

You're looking at it.

Obviously, I'm NOT talking about my blog here; I'm talking about the internet. It's a more-or-less level playing field that allows just about anyone to distribute whatever content they want, using whatever pricing model they want.

I know, I know... you're thinking, "Yeah, I've heard this crap before. And my comics are still being published by Marvel and DC, and my movies are still made by Fox and Warner Brothers. Where is this 'internet revolution' you and your ilk have been yammering on about for the past decade?"

Well, first let me say that I'm not about to suggest the internet is going to REPLACE books and movies and comics. It's another outlet that will be added to the mix. And the internet is NOT going to swoop in and become everyone's primary source for entertainment overnight either. It's going to take a generation to worm its way into our brains as the go-to source for entertainment, as the people who grew up on TV become a minority to people who grew up on the internet.

But let's take a few examples to showcase the point, shall we?

What have been some of the best additions to the Star Wars universe in the past decade or so? Certainly not the studio-produced movies that George Lucas himself did! While fans may argue specific rankings, odds are that titles like Broken Allegiance and The Dark Redemption crop up. Or for those who prefer a more light-hearted approach, maybe Troops or Pink Five. These were creations that grew directly out of what fans wanted to see -- they were made by those very fans, after all. All of which gained their popularity and continue to be distributed via the internet.

Example #2 is even more current: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. This three-episode show was made by Joss Whedon, using professional actors, sound designers, effects men, costumers, etc. But it was bank-rolled by Joss Whedon himself because he wanted to continue writing during the most recent television writers' strike. And released exclusively online. I think it's a tad extreme to say it's going to revolutionize how we consider the internet as an entertainment venue, as some have claimed, but it's certainly note-worthy in that a decent collection of people who have been working in the industry have opted for an alternate channel. Because anyone who's seen it will tell you that there ain't no way that would've ever found it's way onto television!

Example #3 is one I can speak to most directly. Due to budget constraints, I stopped buying comic books a little over a month ago. Even the really good ones that I actively enjoyed reading. Old ones that I've been looking for. New stuff I ran across that sounded really cool. Didn't even buy anything at WWC. But I don't feel at all removed from the industry because I'm still reading quite a few titles -- they just all happen to be ones that are being created and distributed online. Some are long-form adventure stories, some are gag-a-day strips, some are posted weekly, some show up daily, some use old characters whose adventures I grew up on, some feature heroes I've only just met, some have incredibly gorgeous artwork, some are written brilliantly. In effect, I've got all the options I had buying pamphlet comics at my LCS every week.

Admittedly, the tactile sensation of holding a comic book in my hands is absent, and the creators whose work is designed for print publication tends to fall short in its online capacity. But there are still plenty of other options out there, and I'm using the internet to not only find them, but also interact with them in a way I couldn't before. I experiencing the work of people who couldn't have gotten their work out anyone ten years ago. What do you suppose the circulation of anything by Matt Feazell is compared to the number of people who read Randall Munroe's xkcd on a weekly basis? (For what it's worth, I think Feazell's work is far superior.)

In any case, though, the comics I'm reading now, by and large, can't happen in traditional paper format. Maybe they wouldn't pass editorial muster, maybe they wouldn't be cost-effective, maybe they'd simply be illegal. But those entry barriers have been essentially voided online and it's down to "regular" folks putting up content they want to create and me enjoying those pieces that I enjoy. There're no middlemen hampering the experience for me.

And that's the solution to the issue of getting more good stories about women. Do nothing that we aren't already doing. It's taking place now, as more women and minorities -- who are still being shut out of conventional outlets -- get their work online, we'll see more and more of their stories proliferating. Indeed, most of the web comics I've come across recently and really enjoyed are written and drawn by women: Tracy Butler, Charlie Trotman, Dorothy Gambrell, Jane Irwin, and Lora Innes to mention my more recent "discoveries."

Like I said, this isn't going to change overnight. Gail Simone is going to be the only professional female name most fanboys will recognize for a while yet.* But trying to overcome hundreds, if not thousands, of years of suppression, I don't think we can realistically expect to see things change that quickly. Humans are slow to change, after all, and have a deep fear of the unknown. Which is what true equality really is for us.

Those in power (i.e. older, white men) want to hold on to that power, and they have the resources to do so. And that's why it's going to take a while to change the culture as a whole. But if everyone keeps doing what they're doing, things will come around to where they ought to be. And until then, there are still plenty of talented folks creating great work that, while perhaps not mainstream just yet, is nonetheless wholly enjoyable.

* Obviously, I mean no disrespect to any other women working in the comics industry. I'm just trying to make a point.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quick Comparison

Just to put things in a little perspective, The Dark Knight -- as I've expect you've heard -- grossed $158.3 million in it's opening weekend. That's roughly four times the opening weekends of either Batman Begins (2005) or Batman (1989). By comparison, Catwoman (2004) grossed $40.2 million... during it's entire U.S. theatrical run.

The reason for that is simple: Catwoman sucked. The acting was largely wooden, the plot was barely coherent, the cinematography was mediocre at best... by just about anyone's account, it looks like a film exclusively made as an excuse to get Halle Berry in tight leather. Qualitatively, I don't think anyone would really question that any of the aforementioned Batman movies is superior. But, if you look at it from a strictly superficial levels -- as movie executives are wont to do -- the only significant different quantitatively is the protagonist's gender.

I'm not saying I agree with it (which I don't) or that it's even justifiable (which it isn't) but that's why we don't see more female leads in adventurous/action roles. Not just in movies, but in comics, TV... whatever. On the occasions that women are written into leads, they're often written badly (ignorant men trying to write how they think women should act based on vastly outdated or overly broad stereotypes) and so we wind up with a slew of action heroes, but only an occasional heroine.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jobnik: The Graphic Novel

A couple weeks ago, I reviewed six issues of Miriam Libicki's Jobnik. She contacted me shortly afterwards and noted that she's got a graphic novel version of the story coming out, with a fair amount of overhauling done to it. She was kind enough to send me a "Preview Edition" and I have to say that all of the criticisms I had of the original books have been addressed, making this for a very handsome final package. The book still has the same, powerful story, but it's more elegantly told.

She didn't update things because they were my criticisms, of course! I think Libicki saw the same things I did and, when she choose to collect the work in a graphic novel form, opted for artistic integrity and completely redrew the first three issues in their entirety, matching the illustrative style she began settling into with issue #4. She also changed the pacing of the second issue to make for a smoother read. Although the Preview Edition I have still uses computer lettering for the last half, Libicki's noted that she's gone back and hand-lettered it which, judging by her re-work on the first half, will flow much better with the art.

I have to give Libicki a lot of credit. Many artists, when their older work gets re-released, are content to let it stand on it's own. George Lucas was able to overhaul Star Wars because he's got an insane amount of money and could pay hundreds, if not thousands, of people re-do effects and such. Libicki doesn't have that financial luxury -- if she wants to go back and improve upon her original work, the only thing she's got to work with is her own integrity and artistic merit. Offhand, the only other comic artist I can think of that's done something like that is when Neal Adams, working for free, went back to recolor his Batman stories for those hardcover collections from a couple years ago. That shows a lot of dedication and commitment to your work to be willing to do that, and I think it's that much more powerful because of it. She's definitely someone I'm going to be keeping my eye on, as I expect she's going to gain more notoriety and critical acclaim with her work.

I understand that she will be at Comic Con International -- booth M5 in the Small Press Pavilion. She'll have copies of her Jobnik graphic novel available, although she made a post on her site yesterday that it sounds like the timing will be a bit tight getting them back from the printer before she leaves for San Diego. (Has anyone ever made it to CCI without having this problem? It almost sounds like some sort of printer conspiracy!) If you're able to attend the show, I highly recommend swinging by Libicki's booth and picking up a copy of her work. Do me a favor, too, and chat with her for a bit -- I didn't have the pleasure of much more than a brief "hello" when I saw her in Chicago, and I have to admit to some regret because of that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Crogan's Vengeance

I had the pleasure of reading a preview copy of Chris Schweizer's upcoming Crogan's Vengeance from Oni Press. The story revolves around "Catfoot" Crogan, an unintentional pirate in the early 1700s. As the story opens, he's receiving a lashing from his captain aboard an English (presumably navy) vessel. In short order, though, the ship is captured by pirates and Crogan is pressed into service where he runs afoul of D'Or, an ox of a pirate if ever there was one. Crogan spends much of the rest of the story trying to survive being a pirate, all while trying to hold on to his honor from his previous life.

The story itself is compelling. We're quickly shown that Crogan is a talented individual and he earns his Catfoot nickname readily. And while it's certainly appropriate given his agility, we also learn over the ensuing pages that he's equally agile with his thinking. It's this rapier wit that rubs other characters (noteably, those less mentally able) the wrong way but it also helps Crogan out of some tight spots, winning the respect of others who aren't quite so muscle-headed.

Interestingly, Schweizer's illustrative style is fairly agile as well. The linework is easy, but detailed. While there's a definite cartoony feel to the character designs, there's enough there to see the characters as more than mere cartoons. The characters have weight and move freely about the page. I'm not familiar with Schweizer's drawing methodology, but I get the impression it flows out of him not unlike how it did with Jack Kirby. I can envision Schweizer simply starting in the upper left corner of the page and working his way across and down and, before you know it, the page is done.

Odds are, though, Schweizer does actually do some page layout work first and does sketches and whatnot, as many artists do. In either case, it's impressive. If he's coming up with all this on the fly, it speaks to his inherent storytelling abilities, if it is laid out and planned in advance, it speaks to his talent for making it look effortless. Between his easy linework and the solid story, I would consider this a great read for anyone.

Ah, but here's the really cool bit: it's historically accurate.

As many of you may known, I'm a bit of a fan of pirates. I've done more than a little reading on the subject, and it's abundantly clear to me that Schweizer has, as well. While most of the characters themselves are fictitious, the general themes, attitudes, problems, events, and everything else are based on how life at sea really was back then. From the almost sadistically evil navy captain to the piratical subterfuge and strategies employed throughout the book, this will give readers a fairly accurate depiction of what a pirate might go through. There's no buried treasure, there's no walking the plank, there's no parrots on every other shoulder.

There IS drinking, fighting, and general carousing, though. More than enough, in fact, to keep anyone looking for a great adventure entertained. Crogan's Vengeance is due out in September, so be sure to put your orders in with your LCS now!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stirring Up Trouble

OK, so you've heard the ruckus between DJ Coffman and Scott Kurtz, right? Well, in a move that's both tasteless and rude, Jason Yungbluth opts to keep stirring the pot with a new comic today...

Even more amusing is that it inadvertently ties in with Kurtz's own strip from today...

So the two questions I have are A) how long will it take before Kurtz goes after Yungbluth, and B) how much worse am I making the situation by posting about it here?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Online Comics Readers

So let me throw this question out to everyone: what do you currently use to read online comics? I've gotten to the point now where I'm reading enough different ones that I really need to have things organized, so I don't spend an entire day clicking around through different locations and feed readers and whatnot. This morning, I did figure out a way to organize everything that might suit my personal preferences, but I'd like to solicit other thoughts on the subject.

What I'm doing as of this morning is actually a combination of things that I've managed to aggregate together. It doesn't strike me as an ideal solution, and involves a little technical know-how that precludes it from being workable for everyone, but it looks like it will work for me. (Again, though, I just got this put together this morning, so I haven't done full testing for it yet.)

First off, I use Google's portal interface: iGoogle. Rather than use a true RSS reader for everything I try to keep track of, I create "gadgets" for most of the feeds and house them on various tabs of iGoogle. This allows me to also include other related but not necessarily RSS feed-driven gadgets (like Google Maps, Babelfish, Flickr Viewers, etc.) in one location. (The image at the left is, obviously, several screen shots stitched together. For anyone interested, I've implemented the "Steampunk" theme on this page, my Comics tab.)

Two of the gadgets post the actual comic strips to my portal page. Both only have a finite number of strips to choose from, so while most of my comics get fed through one, Red and Rover needs to be pulled in separately. The instance of The Devil's Panties is actually a gadget of my own creation; it's a miniature web browser that pulls in some Javascript code that is able to pick out the latest installment of that strip. It only works because Breeden's strip a) is daily and b) utilizes the day's date as the strip's file name. I probably could do something similar with (for example) Girl Genius but that it's not updated daily would make the coding on my end considerably more complex.

(Although, as I sit here thinking about it, there're some tricks I might be able to pull out to make it not nearly as complicated as I was originally thinking. Hmmm. I might have to investigate that some more...)

For every other strip, I'm using Google Reader to pull down the RSS feed. There's a gadget within iGoogle that displays the feeds as shown and, when a link within the reader is clicked, it pops up a comic-style word balloon with the feed's contents -- in most cases, the actual comic strip itself....
Effectively, what I've done then is created an old school newspaper comics section with all of the comics I keep track of in a single, handy location.

Except for the comics on Zuda. Technically, I can build a gadget to pull in any given Zuda-based comic, but because they're Flash-based they would always open to the first page and noting updates would be decidedly more cumbersome. I could, I suppose, subscribe to the Zuda feed but that pulls in the notes (but not the comics) for EVERYTHING published through Zuda. Nothing against anyone there, though, but I'm not that interested in most of the stories. I might opt to pull in the Flash comics and see just how annoying it is for me to keep up with the updates manually.

So that's where I'm with how I read comics online. I want to know how you read them? What works for you and what doesn't? Are you able to aggregate all your favorite comics into one location? Do you even want to? Do you prefer just running through a list of bookmarks and hitting the home page of every site? Or is this something which no one's really adequately addressed yet?

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Xerics

The latest Xeric winners have been announced and, not surprisingly, there's some wonderful looking stuff in there. A few of the winners stand out for me, largely because I was able to find examples of the stories online.

(I'm actually surprised I'm not seeing more. Xerics are awarded to help with actual production costs only, and they require that your book is either complete or nearly complete creatively to even enter the competition. It seems to me that if the only thing you have left to do is print a story, you would want to put a fair amount of it online in an effort to promote it, or at the very least gauge a level of support. But what do I know? I've only got an MBA in Marketing!)

Anyway, I thought I'd share some of said examples.

Justin Murphy's Cleburne strikes me for a few reasons. First, he's already got his MySpace page updated to note the Xeric win. The man's on the ball with his marketing. Second, he's pulled in some "mainstream" help by way of inker Al Milgrom and colorist J. Brown. Unusual for an indie book. The most significant part, though, comes from his solicitation copy...
The controversial and true story of Irish immigrant and Confederate General Patrick Cleburne and his plan to enlist slaves to fight for the South during the American Civil War. According to Cleburne’s proposal all African Americans who served the Confederacy as soldiers would receive their freedom upon enlistment. This was a revolutionary concept for its day and sent Cleburne’s life spiraling down a perilous road. Set during the critical year of 1864, and culminating in the bloody Battle of Franklin, CLEBURNE is a tale of unbeatable courage in the face of racism, conspiracy and war.
I'm not sure which impresses me more: that Murphy's tackling what many consider a delicate issue, or that it's a true story. Either way, it sounds very powerful and poignant.

Second, we have stef lank's TeaTime which she's already selling from her web site. The samples she includes on the site are without narration or dialogue, and the only words appear as part of the art. It's a difficult task for any artist to work in that way, and to see results so well-executed is a delight. Although there aren't quite enough pages online to really get into the story, I have the feeling it leads to a fulfilling payoff at the end.


Last, but by no means least, is my personal favorite: Eroyn Franklin's Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory. This looks to border on being an illustrated storybook instead of a real comic per se, but the delicate cut-paper work and the stark white shapes on the black background are quite astounding on the merits of Franklin's technical ability alone...More of Franklin's sample pages can be found here.

I'll finish by citing my standing rule regarding buying good comics: you can't wrong with a Xeric winner.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Captain Marvel: Equal Opportunity Ass-Kicker

Fifty years ago, a lot of comics featured characters in often less-than-flattering ways. Often, artists resorted to physical caricatures as writers made the characters villains. And, while a cursory examination might suggest that was also the case with the folks working on Captain Marvel stories, a more in-depth study clearly shows that he just went around kicking everybody's ass...
Crooks...

Aliens...

Native Americans...

Giants...

The Japanese...

Vikings...

Crocodile Men...

Aboriginal Headhunters...

The Living Embodiment of the Seven Deadly Sins...

Tanks...

Ghost Armor...

Time-Displaced Not-So-Innocent Bystanders...

Witches' Cauldrons...

Dinosaurs...

Bears...

Superheroes...

Construction Workers...

Guys Wearing Pith Helmets...

You get the idea. My point, though, is that while, yes, there were indeed some negative stereotypical images used in Captain Marvel's history, he wasn't kicking their asses because they were of who they were. He kicked their (and everybody else's) asses regardless of who they were.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Spidey Loses Another Fan

Michael Sangiacomo finally gave up on Spider-Man too. He wrote about why in his column in last week's Plain Dealer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

NPR On Hellboy 2

NPR really liked Hellboy II. Perhaps more accurately, NPR really likes Guillermo del Toro.

Who happened to write and direct Hellboy II.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

In His Likeness

Just a quick note today to highlight that James Hatton's on the verge of his 500th episode of In His Likeness. (Episode #500 is due out tomorrow.) Although he's expressed some surprise/celebration/pride in reaching this milestone, I'm more impressed with how much he's done with so little. His main character, after all, is a black dot. Most of the supporting characters aren't much more elaborate. And yet, he does a fair job of animating them and providing a surprising amount of action and emotion. All of the characters have very distinct personalities and are immediately recognizable by their simple visuals. Whereas some comic book artists might have difficulty distinguishing their iterations of Ka-Zar and Kamandi, Hatton uses considerably less detail and still manages to make all the characters distinctly unique. While some might dismiss the comic for a lack of artistic merit, he's taken some of the notions laid down by Gary Larson -- that a funny comic doesn't need to be drawn especially well -- and amplified them to an almost Modrianic degree.

Congrats to Hatton for his work on the strip, and here's to another 500 episodes!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

High Moon

So now that High Moon has wrapped up, how did Zuda's first contest winner fare?

In a nutshell: extremely well.

Now before I get into an actual review, let me pull out a full disclosure statement: High Moon's writer, David Gallaher, is a bud of mine. We go back a several years (I'm still waiting to see Brand Name, BTW, Dave!) and I have to admit to rooting for him back when Zuda was running their first contest. That said, though, I like to think I read his stories objectively and I'll tell him if he's spewing so much garbage.

For those who haven't read any of High Moon, it's essentially a Western with werewolves and vampires. That kind of description, though, belies the nuances of the story. Yes, we've got some all-out werewolf/vampire fight scenes. Yes, we've got the mandatory silver bullet "solution." We've also got the classic rough, Clint Eastwood style, loner hero character. All the tropes you'd expect in a mythical horror/Western. But they're blended together in a manner that, I think, combines to form something new and different. I have to admit, though, that I'm finding it difficult to explain some of those change-ups without revealing portions of the plot that would otherwise prove interesting story elements to those reading it for the first time.

Suffice it to say, Gallaher's dialogue is crisp and to the point. It's clear that he's telling a story and not trying to show off his thesaurus. He lets Steve's art flow and doesn't encumber it with any more than is necessary. In fact, I was quite impressed with the two pages in which MacGregor compares the story of how a mine was shut down with what actually happened. That portion is entirely wordless, and it's still plainly evident what's going on. (Kudos here, of course, to Ellis!) I dare say that Gallaher almost restraints himself too much -- some of my initial cursory scans of the pages had me zip past crucial dialogue. It's definitely NOT a story you want to race through, though; nearly every piece of art and every written word is essential to understanding the overall story and skipping through even a single panel too quickly can allow you to get lost very quickly.

For what it's worth, I happen to know that this was largely intentional. In my discussing the project with Gallaher, he noted that he had pared many of his original ideas down considerably to ensure that there was nothing wasted. He had a decidedly finite amount of space to tell a story that he had originally envisioned being longer, so scenes that may have been devised simply to establish character were altered or cut entirely to make sure the plot continued unabated. To Gallaher's credit, all the essential materials remain in the story but, as I said, there's no room for error on the part of the reader.

One of the things that I particularly like about High Moon is that it takes full advantage of the web format. Regardless of your thoughts about the Zuda interface, Dave and artist Steve Ellis use the format to the best advantage. The most obvious example of this, of course, is the horizontal format. But there are some other elements that work in their favor as well.

Seemingly insignificant, perhaps, but the size of the type is worth mentioning. Within the Zuda format smaller, condensed, or sketchy fonts are nearly impossible to read at the smaller size, forcing even casual readers to change to the full screen mode. High Moon, however, is generally large enough that it does not HAVE to be read at the larger size. It's certainly easier to read that way, but I think this is important to attract and maintain more casual viewers. Especially in lieu of the usability problems of the Zuda format others have already complained about. Having Scott Brown do the lettering was definitely a good move on Gallaher's and Ellis' part.

Another bonus that will probably be lost on most readers now that the entire story is available is that each sequence that was released in the serial format ended with a dramatic moment. A mini cliff-hanger, you might say. Throughout the run, Gallaher was able to maintain interest and suspense by ending each sequence in a way that would entice readers to find out what happened next. This is a staple of TV shows -- you'll note that there's a dramatic moment of some kind preceding nearly every commercial break -- but it's not a practice that occurs often in comics. In fact, Paul Jenkins is the only other writer I've known or heard about to actively take advantage of a comic in that way, leaving dramatic moments just prior to a full page ad. (Phil and Kaja Foglio do something similar with Girl Genius but since they have to essentially do that on every page, the impact is lessened considerably.) With as many installments as High Moon has had, I'm impressed Gallaher was able to sustain that throughout the story.

I've spent most of this post discussing Gallaher's story, primarily because I know some of what's gone into it on a more personal level. But I would be sorely remiss if I didn't take a moment to congratulate Ellis on a job well done, as well. His art style suits the story and his coloring work only enhances the moody tones taken throughout the piece. His illustrative style here isn't one I typically enjoy as much -- personally, I tend to prefer more graphic treatments with large, spotted blacks and the like -- but it does lend itself well to the grittiness of the story and its setting. In many ways, I don't think the overall story would've been as successful if it had been illustrated by someone like, say, Herge. (Imagine Deadwood if it were filmed like Bonanza -- that's the kind of not-as-successful I'm talking about here.)

High Moon turned on extremely well on all fronts. I think Gallaher and Ellis should be proud, and I think the Zuda folks will take this as a win. I hope to see more comics from these two, not just because I want my buddy Dave to keep getting paid, but because I also want to see what else the two of them can come up with! (**coughbrandnamecough**)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

PMOG

This morning, I discovered PMOG, the Passively Multiplayer Online Game. It's an interesting take on Web 2.0 combining user-driven elements with a vaguely game-based overture. The whole thing is then given a steampunk veneer.

The basic idea is that your character (that's mine on the left) can take on "missions" laid down by other players. Missions generally consist of following a series of links from one site to another with some short annotations provided by the person who developed the mission. The sites are generally tied together thematically, and the idea is that it can expose you to some web sites or knowledge that you might not have known about. Topics vary widely, and I undertook missions earlier today to learn about different bacon/chocolate confections, how to build your own lightsaber, and the background of artist Enki Bilal.

But beyond that, any player can leave items behind for other players to find. Some may be crates of goodies, some might be mines that literally knock your browser for a loop. There are also different "vocation paths" a player can follow, depending on if they prefer laying traps for others, providing assistance to others, or a handful of other "professions." (This is the game portion of the site.)

The reason I bring it up here is that I've already found a great number of missions that are designed to showcase different web comics. They usually amount to "Here's a handful of online comics I like" but the added annotations, combined with the gaming aspect make it a much more interesting and enjoyable experience than scrolling through a long bulleted list somewhere. Missions generally don't last longer than eight screens (at least the ones I've seen so far) so it doesn't take long to run through somebody's list -- which is then recorded on the PMOG server so you won't have to try to remember which missions you've already gone on.

It's a fun an interesting way to discover new comics. Today alone, I've become a new regular reader of No Pink Ponies, Cat and Girl, and Lackadaisy thanks to PMOG. Not surprisingly, a number of the comics people cite tend to veer towards the gamer-themed comics but there's still quite a wide range of styles and types of humor represented. I saw everything from FreakAngels to Garfield Minus Garfield.

If you're feeling the pinch of an ever-tightening economy and looking for more comics to read for less money (like me) it might well be worth your while to check out some of the missions available on PMOG. And you never know, you might even have some fun now with me and all the gang, learnin' from each other while we do our thing! Na, na, na, gonna have a good time!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Really, NPR? Really?

NPR recently posted this review of several recent non-graphic novels about superheroes. The individual reviews are short, but largely well-written and (with the exception of the first one) respectful of the books' authors. But good grief -- those subtitles!

The overall article is entitled, "Holy Bookworms! Superheroes Take To The Page" which is sure to elicit groans from every comic book fan who's read a dozen similar headlines every year since "Adam West" became synonymous with "Batman." But the subtitles, while somewhat more original, still smack of the same mentality...

"The Man Behind The 'Mwah-hah-hah!'"

"Truth, Justice And The American Gay"

"Does The Justice League Have Good Dental?"

"In Praise Of Junk"

*sigh*

I should be used to that by now. I mean, we've been getting the "Comics aren't just for kids anymore" stories for as long as I've been alive. But what bothers me here is the source. NPR is generally very respectful of lifestyles and hobbies, regardless of how childish or bizarre an image they might have in America's collective subconscious. Indeed, they've had any number of reports in recent years concerning the comic book industry and have treated it with respect. I wouldn't be surprised if this type of thing came from Fox News or some equally jejune outlet, but I thought better of NPR.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Ray Wall Band

My bud, Ray Wall, has been writing original songs tied to various superhero movies the past few years. I know his "Fantastic Four Song" actually got more downloads on iTunes than any of the songs from the movie's album, and I suspect his other original songs have achieved similar levels of popularity.

Anyway, I just wanted to give him a quick shout-out here on my blog (which I don't believe I've done in the past) and let you all know that he tells me he's got a Dark Knight song that will be coming out soon. Keep your ears peeled!

In the meantime, you can check out Ray's previous creations here.

On a side note, why aren't there more people writing comic book themed music?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Mandatory Independence Day Post

As required by the Blogosphere BylawsTM, any post I make today needs to focus on the subject of Independence Day, America, or patriotism in some capacity. I could talk about Captain America, The Shield, the Star-Spangled Kid, or any of a host of other flag-draped do-gooders. I could be doubly-topical and talk about that Alex Ross Superman/Obama mash-up. I could be somewhat snarky and write a "Declaration of Independents" touting the virtues of the small press.

But you know me -- I like being unconventional. So may I present to you Howard Chaykin's afterward from American Flagg! #1...
"So, if you want a symbolic gesture, don't burn the flag, wash it."
-- Norman Thomas


...And, on the basis of that simple precept, the upheaval of the sixties lost my spiritual commitment. My body stayed behind, to meet girls (historically speaking, liberal women always have been easier than Republicans).

What no one seemed to realize was, that by trashing 200 years of symbolism the movement virtually handed over the concept of patriotism to the "corporate fascist elite."

It's long past time we took patriotism back. I'm a liberal (some might say radical) kind of guy who still gets a bit squinky at the Star Spangled banner. My identification with the mythic aspects of America is intense, to say the least.

And that's the why behind American Flagg! I'll be throwing you some (hopefully) pretty oddball concepts in the this book; stick with me, I think it'll be worth your time.

Meanwhile, to fill the time between issues, some suggested additional reading material, starting with two classics.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.
1984, by George Orwell.

These two set the tone for all modern, post-holocaust negative utopias...

Followed by two more classics, in an entirely different vein:

The Demolished Man, and The Stars My Destination, both by Alfred Bester.

Two brilliant novels by an author with an astonishing grasp of the business of advertising, media and business.

Finally, Revolt in 2100, by Robert Heinlein. One of the Future Histories by this prolific author, detailing a theocratic takeover of the U.S.A.

There are lots more, but that's enough for now. Again, stay with us, and remember...

"Things are more like they are now than they have ever been before."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower


Howard Chaykin
April 15, 1983

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Off Topic

I try not to stray too far from the subject of comics here, but this is too great not to share. (Thanks to Gerry Conway for linking to this on his blog.)


Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Clockwork Game

For as much as I enjoy science fiction and fantasy stories, for as much as my life has been shaped by the Fantastic Four and the Rebel Alliance, for as much I like to escape from the problems of day-to-day living into the worlds of the impossible, there's just no beating stories told from real life. Drama happens every single day, all over the planet. There are millions of interesting characters wandering around the planet, and only require a good storyteller to make their tales known. Some of the best comics I've read in the past few years, in fact, were based largely on actual events. Now I can add a web comic to that list in Jane Irwin's Clockwork Game.

The story follows the "life" of Wolfgang von Kempelein's chess-playing automaton. The Turk -- as the real one was known colloquially -- entertained and mystified audiences from its creation in 1770 until it was destroyed by a fire in 1854. The machine, after a thorough inspection from the audience, would then proceed to play any opponent in a game of chess, often winning regardless of the opponent's ability. It was able to decipher and respond to any move, including illegal ones, and it unnerved adversaries who took too long by tapping it's hand and rolling its eyes. It was truly a remarkable piece, and was thought by many to be possessed by evil spirits.

The story thus far (it only debuted in March) has mainly focused on introducing a few of the principle players and showcasing just how awe-inspiring such a contraption would have been in the 18th century. There is a bit of tedium in the initial chess game with each move being noted individually, but Irwin assures readers in her comments that A) it will be the only extended sequence like that in the story and B) "You can pretty safely skip all the technical moves and just pay attention to the characters' reactions -- you won't lose much if you do."

Generally, the danger in creating a story like this is that the author can get wrapped up in the minutia of actual events and barter good storytelling for historical accuracy. I don't think that will be a problem here, though, as Irwin has noted on a few occasions already that she's taken some artistic license for the sake of readability. Coupled with a fascinating prologue detailing a much later point in The Turk's life, I think it's pretty safe to assume that Irwin knows what it takes to spin a good yarn. And while she's CLEARLY done plenty of research to tell the story accurately, that doesn't seem to be over-riding her artistic sensibilities.

I've really enjoyed Clockwork Game so far, and I'm really looking forward to see how the story plays out. Even knowing something of the history and the ultimate ending of the contraption, I think Irwin's got a great handle on the tale and I'm anticipating watching it unfold in her hands.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Jobnik!

One of the things I like about following an artist's career is watching his/her style as an artist develop. Sometimes, that's a simple improvement in craft; sometimes, that's a more stylistic change. In the case of Miriam Libicki, I see some of both.

Although she now resides in Vancouver, Libicki spent a fair amount of time in the Israeli Army and her Jobnik stories retell some of her experiences there. According to her Jobnik Manifesto, "I don't see my comic... as an answer to Joe Sacco's Palestine. I see it as an answer to everybody. Everybody who thinks of Israelis as killing machines or innocent victims or the older brothers of Christ or the puppets of American policy. Everyone who asks me, 'You lived in Israel? What was that like?'" Reading that, I think it's plainly evident she's got a very powerful story to tell.

The story begins after Libicki's joined the Israeli Army and been classified as "overly emotional and possessing poor Hebrew skills." She's been assigned to an infirmary at a training base in a rather menial role as a file clerk. Issue #1 picks up as she's being introduced to the camp. Each issue tells its own story, but they follow in chronological order. The trap that many authors, when crafting their auto-biographies, fall into is that they tend to indulge in their own self-importance. I felt Marjane Satrapi did that with Persepolis 2. But so far, Libicki -- while the central character of the story -- presents herself more as a conduit for the reader as if to say, "This is what life is generally like over there, and I'm just pulling out my personal experiences as specific examples." There's more than a fair degree of humility on her part, and a great deal of sincerity.

In the few years Libicki's been working on Jobnik!, her stories have improved dramatically. Her earlier pieces, I felt, were rough and scratchy. Somewhat unsure of themselves. I think she felt obliged to ink her work, and her style of drawing isn't really conducive to it. (Not unlike Gene Colan's work.) She tries some computerized shading in #3 with mixed results. But 4 and 5 use a sort of wash effect that seems to work well. (I call it a "wash" but I'm fairly certain it's not an actual ink wash. I have to admit that I really don't know exactly how she achieved the look she did. Whatever it is, I hope she continues using it.)

Additionally, her figure work improves with each issue, as does her page and panel layouts. Her earlier work is a bit difficult to follow in places, but it gets easier to read with each issue. By #4, she even starts throwing in some clever page layouts to make more effective use of the space for the storytelling.

Libicki has previews of her issues on her web site, from which you can also order pulped wood copies of each issue. I don't think her work is going to really grab your attention and make you notice it right out of the gate, but there's definitely talent there and I think following it as it develops will lead to a satisfying payoff ultimately. Libicki's got a powerful story, as I said, and I think she's the best suited to telling it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Comic Conventioneering Bag

Maybe it's just me, but I have yet to find a bag/holder of any kind that seems to work well for my convention-going needs. I always find the bags I use lacking in several capacities, and I spend far more time than I'd like sorting through things during the convention itself. Here's what I'd like to see in a conventioneering bag...
  • Protective. Let's face it: this is for carrying around paper goods. You don't want something that's going to allow said paper to be easily damaged. I'm not saying the thing can't be soft-sided, but it needs to protect whatever I'm toting from getting dog-eared.
  • Good size. Ideally the main bag area should be able to house a variety of comic sizes easily. I'm thinking the height and width should be able to accommodate a CGC-graded Golden Age comic, and it should be deep enough to handle at least two Essentials books. Maybe have it expandable, so that it would normally hold one Essentials but could accordion out deep enough to hold up to three?
  • Easy-access top opening. If I run into someone in an aisle or something, I want to be able to get to whatever I need quickly. No fold-over flaps, no complicated latches. I'm thinking Velcro would make the most sense; quick release, but noisy so no one can sneak into your bag when you're hunched over a row of long boxes.
  • Exterior pouch for bottled beverage. Definitely want this on the outside so your comics are safe if said bottle happens to develop a leak.
  • Camera pouch. Should allow for relatively quick access (when you turn a corner and run into a great costume or something) and won't force you to wrap on of those wrist-straps around your arm all day.
  • Multiple interior dividers. When I'm carrying books around at a con, I try to separate them into "Stuff I Want To Have Signed" and "Stuff I've Already Gotten Signed." That way, I can get to books a little more quickly when I walk up and talk to a creator, by skipping over my "Already Signed" section. I expect others would want to categorize their books more, so it should have multiple dividable sections to creator as many categories as the individual deems appropriate.
  • Exterior envelope pouch. Something to drop business cards in quickly. Maybe a second envelope to carry your own cards as well.
  • Extra/optional open bag. Basically, I'm thinking that you'd want something decent sized to hang below/behind the main bag. Nothing complicated, just a larger open area to drop in bulkier purchases like action figures or statues. But separate from the comics you want to keep flat.
  • Slim, hardcase, art attachment. Another optional/extra attachment that might hang below/behind the main bag for original art and over-sized prints. This could be slimmer, of course, but would need a solid exterior to protect the art.
I certainly haven't perfected this idea, nor completely thought everything out, but something like this quick sketch I whipped up...It does look something like a regular laptop bag, and that's what I've used in the past. But the specifics and dimensions of all the laptop bags I've used preclude it from being really working well for a comic book convention.

Question 1: What do YOU all use to carry around loot during a convention?

Question 1A: What's worked best/worst for you in the past?

Question 2: Anyone know of someone who might be interested/able in putting something like this together?