Sunday, August 31, 2008

Meltzer On Superman

Brad Meltzer reveals why he loves Superman in a USA Weekend article entitled (obviously enough) "Why I Love Superman."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Comics & Kids

Just two quick links for the moment... An article from The Huffington Post about a comic book aimed at teaching kids safe online practices and a commentary from Comic Book Bin that suggests comics have grown up too much.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson

Even though he's been dead for four decades, one of the earliest and most significant names in comic book history -- Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson -- has a web site up, on the heels of his induction into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. The site, run by his family, hopes "to see a larger discussion about those murky beginnings of the comics, about those who benefitted [sic] and those who did not." The site's been up only a little over a month, so there's not much there yet, but hopefully it will continue to grow and shed some light on the Major to folks who may not know much about him.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Non-Comics 24HCD Sponsor

To my knowledge, BAWLS Guarana is the first official sponsor of 24 Hour Comic Day that is not directly related to comic books. Not surprisingly, they make a highly caffeinated energy drink. Marie Navarro, BAWLS Marketing Manager: "Our refreshing taste and caffeinated kick is just what these comic fiends need to keep working through the wee hours."

The press release can be found here.

My Favorite Kirby Covers

In honor of Jack Kirby's birthday today...

What kills me is that it's not like there were bad Kirby covers, just some that were more stellar than your a run-of-the-mill, just-plain-amazing Kirby cover. Not to mention that Kirby was a storyteller -- the covers for his books were, by and large, afterthoughts!

This is why Kirby is still the King!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wowio/Plantinum

Interesting, but sadly not surprising, notes turning up about Platinum/Wowio... While Les Daniels McClaine justifies taking whatever money he can from them for advertising on his site, ComicList is reporting that Wowio is decidedly late in issuing royalty payments from last quarter, with no one from that company seemingly responding to inquiries.

UPDATE: Corrected Les' surname. Sorry, Les -- I don't know what was going through my head last night.

Online Comics Reader, Part 2

A little while back, I was discussing trying to get a unified solution for reading all of my favorite online comics. I've been continuing doing research along those lines, and figured I'd share my thoughts on the various solutions I've looked at. Let me start by explaining some of the thought process I was going into this with.

First, online connectivity is becoming more and more ubiquitous and will only to continue to do so. Bandwidth availability and speed has increased to the point where computers can (and often do) run programs that aren't in fact locally loaded. This makes the PC itself more of a thin client that what most of us are used to -- meaning that our interface (the keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc.) is distinctly separated from storage capabilities (as seen in instances like Flickr, YouTube, and Picasa) and, to some degree, processing power (in the case of many online games). I already tend to work with this mindset in place, so I can sit down at almost any internet-connected computer and access most of the files and communications I need. With regard to a web comics reader specifically, that means that I want to be able to collect and aggregate the comics I'm reading in an online location I can get to from anywhere. I don't want a piece of software installed on a single machine that forces me to read my comics from that single workstation. That's not where things are going.

Second, the types of comics I read are pretty varied in presentation and format. Some are daily, some are weekly, some don't even have a regular updating schedule. More significantly, some are posted in a logical, program-based manner with predictable file names; some are put online manually, coded by hand with story-specific file names; and some are embedded into a unique Flash presenter. Not to mention that the height to width ratios are all over the map -- sometimes within the same comic! I'm looking for something flexible to handle all these situations.

It's that later point that ultimately tends to make/break an option for me. Because, despite the fact that Zuda's attempts to drag my butt over to their site irritate the heck out of me, there are some good comics there that I want to read. I've got enough other stuff going on that I don't want to memorize update schedules, and remember to truck over to their site. We have computers for that -- I should be able to fire up my computer and just have it bring me all the comics I regularly read that have been updated since the last time I read them. (This, to my mind, is Zuda's biggest failing: that they're operating almost exclusively with a push instead of a pull mindset.)

Buzzcomix and ClickWheel fail pretty quickly for me because of limited content. The way they're both set up, a comic creator has to provide their content specifically to those sites to be viewed within their framework. While that's not difficult, certainly, that's a requirement of the creator. Sure, I might be able to pester Jane Irwin or Lora Innes to the point where they sign up, but I'm thinking Jim Borgman's probably not going to be nearly as inclined. And even in the case of Irwin or Innes, they're already providing the means on their respective web sites to have their comics pulled down automatically, so why should they be required to go through additional steps to make sure it's seen in another channel that refuses to cater to that.

A poster here suggested Piperka as another alternative. From what I can tell, they don't require the creator to sign up their own comic but they suffer from more of a basic usability problem. (A similar one is also seen in Buzzcomix, actually.) Namely, that the user is required to keep up to speed on the latest installment. They operate under the principle that a user is going to start reading, say, PvP from the beginning and won't be able to get through all of it in one sitting. That's logical enough, but what that also requires is that the user then has to manually tag which comic strip they stop on every time they want to take a break. Obviously, this could be incredibly cumbersome if the user has to leave the computer suddenly and doesn't have the time or remember to tag the strip in question. It also makes ongoing maintenance for the user more difficult than it should be, since they'd have to mark each of the new strips as those are read as well. Now for me, who's reading around 50 web comics regularly and finding new titles to follow all the time, that's a real pain in the rump. I think there might be some use there for catching up on a long-running strip, but for regular reading, it's almost as much work as just daily clicking through a series of sites I've bookmarked in my browser.

The upshot, as I've seen things so far, is that a comic-specific reader is too limited for what I'm looking for. Which leads me to try something more broad: web portals.

Web portals are essentially sites that allow users to collect news and information from around the web and present in one location for easy access. The user, theoretically, has a good degree of control of what content they do/don't see, making it not unlike newspaper but without any of the articles that they don't care about. I had the opportunity to do a lot of development work on the content side of things when my previous employer was putting together their own portal, so I think I've got a pretty good handle on how they can/should work.

The three main portals that most Americans might have access to are iGoogle, MyYahoo and MyMSN -- not coincidentally from the three largest online search engines. Conceptually, they all work pretty much the same and, given that they all allow users to input whatever RSS or XML feeds they want, they can all provide access to many of the comic strips that are online. Additionally, they all provide access to some comic strips that's already built-in to the system. So, instead of hunting down the RSS feed, you can simply check the box next to the word "Doonesbury" and get that comic displayed in full form every day. MyMSN has the most limited selection of these types of comics; MyYahoo has many more, but iGoogle has the most by a far margin. But since these are largely available through RSS feeds (as previously noted) this is a minor point.

RSS feeds, for those who don't know, are content streams hosted by the originating site that provide content updates. The content, while not formatted by the originator, is still tagged with a hidden markup language, which is then interpreted by a feed reader. Each reader is able to this display the same content in any manner of methods, depending on the needs or desires of the person programming the reader. It allows an average user to collect this fed information from several sources into a single location. It turns out that how this information is displayed by any particular reader, in fact, makes a huge difference as I'll explain shortly.

I explained some of how iGoogle handles RSS feeds earlier. MyYahoo, by contrast, looks like this...Each strip is present as a cropped square that, when hovered over, opens up the full image. It's similar to how Google's reader functions, with the notable exception being that the cropped thumbnails appear all over the page and keep popping up every time you mouse over an image. In the example shown, it would be impossible to look at any of the last three pages of Clockwork Game if I was already looking at Bizarro. iGoogle doesn't have that overlap problem because it presents all of the content off to the side. MyYahoo also seems to have a problem with larger graphics, so instances of FreakAngels or Templar, AZ often get displayed with some of the graphics running off the screen.

MyMSN, in a striking contrast, doesn't present the comics in a graphic format at all. They're merely listed by the title and date which, when clicked, open up an entirely new window (or tab, depending on your browser) with the page in question. This means that a user is constantly opening and closing new windows while they're going through comics, and it further means that the entire page's content (including site navigation, banner graphics, and ads) must be downloaded and viewed with each and every click. MyYahoo and iGoogle just focus on the actual content and assume (more logically, if you asked me) that the user knows what they've clicked on and why, so there's no need to call up the entire page.

Another failing of both MyMSN and MyYahoo is that they're more limited for the handful of unusual case scenarios that crop up. Zuda comics, as I noted earlier, don't have an easy way to display off the site. What can be done, however, is present them in a iFrame format. Essentially what this is is a small window displaying a page of information within the context of another page. An iFrame on iGoogle, for example, can pull in the page which features High Moon and, since that page does have some internal tags, jumps immediately to the comic. It gives the illusion that High Moon is being presented by itself within the context of iGoogle. In practice, it looks like this...


It's not an ideal solution, but it works. It can also be applied to non-syndicated strips like The Devil's Panties.

However, this option seems to be wholly unavailable within MyYahoo or MyMSN. Nor is there a miniature web browser that can be set to a specific home page (again, a feature within iGoogle). This means that any comic that isn't syndicated (for example, any of the Zuda offerings) simply is not available within two out of the three portals I looked at.

And I haven't even brought up the speed issues that seem to have been plaguing MyYahoo. I've tried using it through several different network connections, and it always seems to drag my entire internet experience to a crawl. MyMSN moves fastest of the three but I suspect that's largely because they're presenting the comics without any graphics at all.

The upshot of all my research so far is that there isn't a really great, universal web comics reader out there, and what does the best job only works as well as it does because I work in web development for a living and was able to come up with some creative work-around solutions. I doubt there are many comic fans out there who would be willing and/or able to go to that much trouble to read the handful of comics in their browser's bookmark list.

In a way, it's not unlike trying to be a comics fan in the days before the direct market. You can find everything you want, but it's a constant matter of hunting for it on an ongoing basis. For as popular as it is to bash the direct market system (and there are plenty of valid reasons to do so!) it does act as easy and (mostly) reliable gateway for pamphlet comics. How many of you know exactly where to find the latest issue of Northlanders even though you've never bought an issue, or possibly didn't even know the title existed? I think web comics could use something similar: a single location you could go to and read any web comic with the latest installments served up as they're generated. It's the 21st century after all; reading online comics shouldn't be that tedious!

Monday, August 25, 2008

So, You're A Woman, Then

Elizabeth Malloy discusses comic book retailing with Mimi Cruz (Night Flight Comics, Salt Lake City) and Nancy McCann (Comics Unlimited, Westminster)...


The interview itself is interesting and insightful, but what sticks out to me in an incredibly positive way was that, despite the interviewer and the interviewees all being women, the issue of gender does not come up in any way at any point in the conversation. Not that I don't want to hear about women's issues in comicdom, but I took it as a positive sign on all the parties' parts that it was NOT an assumed discussion point. "Well, we're women, so we have to talk about 'women's issues.'"

Yes, there absolutely should be discussions about women and minorities in the medium. More power to the Friends of Lulu and Girl-Wonder.org. But the fact that it doesn't always need to be a discussion suggests that things have improved. There was a time, not that long ago, that your first question to Marie Severin or Wendy Pini was invariably something along the lines of "What's it like working in a boys' club?" While there's still progress to be made -- certainly in light of recent molestation incidents at comic cons -- we can now have conversations and get input from women about subjects OTHER than being women.

Innes On Wowio

The Dreamer's Lora Innes comments on removing her comic as an offering via Wowio...
I just wanted to let everyone know that I decided to pull The Dreamer from WOWIO. They were recently bought out by Platinum Studios, and when that happened, their policies changed. I was excited at first because they took WOWIO global. But they also changed the free download policy, and Dakuwaka had to start charging for downloads. Needless to say the number of downloads dropped dramatically when that happened. There are other changes which made me uncomfortable.

If more creators begin pulling their material for, one assumes, similar reasons, the longevity of Wowio comes under a serious cloud of doubt.

Morning Amusement

Screen capture from Marvel's web site this morning...
I'm not exactly sure what to make of DC paying to advertise on Marvel's web site (it's still way too early on a Monday morning) but the notion amuses me.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Silver-Dollar Misfits

Erik Weisz was born in Hungary in 1874. His parents immigrated to the United States in 1878 and his name was changed to Ehrich, although his friends called him "Ehrie" or "Harry." His family moved again from Appleton, Wisconsin to New York City in 1887.

Ehrich was fairly athletic and made his public début as a trapeze artist in 1884. But an interest in magic led him to learning some card tricks. He began performing as a magician, taking a stage name reminiscent of French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. But once he began to study escapology and hooked up with manager Martin Beck, he became the world-renown handcuff king Harry Houdini.

Kid Houdini and the Silver-Dollar Misfits tells the fictional story of an adventure Harry untook in 1886 after running away from home. He steals into a boxcar, only to find it inhabited by a troupe of children, circus "freaks" held captive by the circus proprietor. Harry is captured as well and spends the next six months as a carny. On the side, though, he and his new-found friends take on supernatural investigative cases of the down-trodden for the cost of one silver dollar.

The rest of the story focuses on one case in particular, which involves abducted parents, a rotten sheriff, an old gold mine, and the Dutchman's ghost. It's not unlike an old Scooby-Doo mystery in some respects. So given the title of the book, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Kid Houdini saves the day at the end -- but I'll leave you in some suspense by not telling you how!

Also, not surprisingly, the story does take a few historic liberties, mainly that Houdini is a not-unskilled practitioner of sorcery. Within the story, he's shown in fact to be less able as an escape artist (trapping his head inside a crystal ball) and more adept at donning the spectral disguise of Wild Bill Hickock or commanding a flying carpet. It actually makes the story somewhat more amusing by having him focus more on tricks he could never pull off in real life, while making the more mundane task of escaping a straight-jacket much more difficult.

The story is fun. It's not terribly deep, but the plot flows along smoothly and the main characters do have depth to them than what could be simple stereotypes. The characters, in fact, are quite charming, which elevates the story well above the collective stories of Mystery, Inc. The only complaint I might lodge is that Lydia (the young, goth-style snake charmer) is not really well identified as a snake-charmer until well after the others' roles have been defined and the adventure is underway. I'd consider it a minor point except that Lydia's snake does play a note-worthy role towards the end.

There are some nice touches throughout the book for anyone with a passing interest in Houdini and/or circus performers in general. The client's name is Bea and, although Lydia provides much more of a love interest for Harry, the real Houdini's wife was in fact named Bea as well. The name Lydia itself gains some of it's fame from another fictional side-show performer: Lydia the Tattooed Lady. There's also a scene near the end shortly after Harry and his friends are captured which reminds me of one of Houdini's promotional photos, although I can't seem to find a copy of it online to confirm.

Kid Houdini is a good, solid read and I quite enjoyed it, which is hardly surprising given Viper Comics' track record. I'm also encouraged to track down writer Dwight MacPherson's previous Houdini book -- Abra Cadaver: The Afterlife Adventures of Harry Houdini -- even though I'm certain it bears few stylistic similarities to Kid Houdini. I can also see why MacPherson's Image book The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo was well-received, and I might have to track that one down as well.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Worth Gowell's artwork. This is his only comic work that I've seen, but it was well-executed throughout. The story flow was clear and the characters remained impressively consistent and uniquely identifiable, despite some deceptively simple designs. He's also got an excellent command of facial expressions, and there's never a question of how a character is feeling thanks to that. And, although often overlooked as part of the art, Gowell's inking is smooth and elegant as well.

All in all, I'm impressed and would easily recommend picking this up.

Fan History Online

Holy crap! Somebody's actually started a wiki for comic fandom! As late as... well... yesterday, I would never have thought that there'd be enough interest to even attempt to try to start something like this. Can you say, wicked cool!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man: The Comic You MUST Read!

My buddy, J.A. Fludd, sent the following review around via email. Despite my not caring for what Marvel's been publishing lately, I thought his review was worth sharing. Even if you're not persuaded to pick up the book yourself, his enthusiasm is still refreshing...
As a matter of history--that is, my history as a reader of comics--the second most important comic book to me has always been The Amazing Spider-Man. (Right behind The Fantastic Four, natch.) Oh, I know there have been challengers for the number-two spot over the years. There was that Dave Cockrum/John Byrne/Paul Smith period when The X-Men was the most creatively exciting thing being done. There was Marv Wolfman and George Perez's magnificent New Teen Titans. There was George Perez's Wonder Woman, for the brief, shining moment that it lasted. But really, in my heart of hearts, it has always been the FF first, Spidey second, then everyone else.

Spider-Man: An everyman hero, long on power, courage, and ingenuity; short on luck. A hero with money problems, girl problems, sick aunt problems, a guilt complex over his uncle, and the most insufferable boss who ever lived. A hero who was apt to have to go into battle with a cold or a sprained arm or even an ulcer. (Whatever happened to the ulcer anyway?) He had one of the coolest ensembles of villains around, and he would taunt them as he battled them. Though it was always a life-or-death situation (his or someone else's), the taunts were funny enough to relieve the tension without detracting from the seriousness of what was going on. The stories were intelligent, fun to read, and, when drawn by John Romita or his even more gifted son, gorgeous to look at.

I haven't seen that Spider-Man in years. In fact, since the late 1990s, I've mostly bought Spider-Man only when John Jr. was drawing him. And even though the stories looked stunning, they never had the same feel as the Spidey stories that I loved before. But this month, they finally gave me back "my" Spider-Man. I can't even tell you how happy I am with The Amazing Spider-Man #568.

This is everything that I ever loved about Spider-Man. First, that art: John Romita Jr. is back and in top form. His tour of the rest of the Marvel Universe (including the one-off Last Fantastic Four Story with Stan Lee himself) seems to have re-energized him to draw the Webhead again. And in the opening sequence, we actually get to see Spider-Man battle a proper, traditional, Spidey-style costumed super-criminal! No demons or life-force-sucking chimeras or monsters from other dimensions or any of the other weirdness that has been foisted on him over the years, but an actual costumed criminal in the Spider-man style! I don't have any background on this "Menace" character, who was introduced while I was away, but I love how Spider-Man taunts him as a Green Goblin wanna-be. "...that's getting kinda old. I mean, I've already fought four Green Goblins. Two Hobgoblins, three fembot Goblins, Gray Goblin, Demogoblin, Future Goblin, Fried Goblin, Shrimp Goblin, Goblin on Toast... From now on, you can be Mock-Goblin!" I love it!

Also while I was away, they got rid of the angle about Peter Parker being a high-school teacher and returned him to being a photojournalist selling his Spider-Man action pictures while butting heads with small-minded, skinflint editors and publishers. (Not that I have anything against teachers. My mother was a Junior High English teacher, my best friend teaches high-school science, my sister is an elementary-school librarian...) Actually, I've always wondered why they didn't extend that storyline from some years ago in which Peter publishes a best-selling book of his Spidey pictures, and make him a successful art photographer. They're always talking about how they're interested in character growth; it would have made perfect sense. Anyway, I recall from flipping through a recent issue that Peter finally confronted old John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt...I mean, J. Jonah Jameson...about all the money that The Daily Bugle made from Peter's work, and how little Peter saw of any of it, and when Peter at last gave JJJ the verbal bashing upside the head he's had coming to him all these years, JJJ had a heart attack. Which brings us to today, when The Bugle has been bought out and turned into a muckraking tabloid headed by an even worse jackass, Dexter Bennett, and Peter has quit and gone over with good old Joe Robertson to Ben Urich's paper, The Front Line. Well, it may not be growth, but at least it's progression.

And the Osbornes are back. No, not those Osbournes; no chicken-head-biting here. I mean Harry and Norman. Harry is now running the good old Coffee Bean Cafe (I'm waiting for David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry to drop in), while Norman, just as rich and evil as ever, is now the director of the Thunderbolts and is coming after Peter/Spider-Man with a posse made up of Songbird, Venom (and I swear, they'd better use him in moderation from now on, because being sick and tired of him and that loathsome Carnage was one of the reasons I left Spidey in the first place), and Radioactive Man. And if you don't know that after Spider-Man defeats the Thunderbolts, he's going to have to contend with Norman putting on the Green Goblin costume again, you haven't been reading the promos for this fall's issues.

Yep, it's "my" Spider-Man, more or less, restored to true form. Even the spinnerettes in his wrists are gone; the good old mechanical web-shooters are back. It's just so good to see. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing work of John Romita Jr.'s favorite inker, "Santa" Klaus Janson. If you've followed Klaus's work over the years, you can recognize it on sight as a very hard-edged, film-noirish style. When I was admiring the pages of this issue, I actually had to check the credits to see who the inker was. Klaus has noticeably altered his style for his current Spidey work. It's gotten softer, crisper, sharper, more refined. I was really amazed with the change in his image texture; it looks great! Not that he was bad before, but if you have the appropriate issues, look at his work with John Jr. on Thor, The Black Panther, Wolverine, or Batman/Punisher, and compare it to what he's doing with John here. It's a remarkable change, and in my opinion a change for the better.

Seriously, you need to start reading The Amazing Spider-Man right now if you're not already. It is the best Spider-Man we've had since Roger Stern left (or was dismissed) back in 1984! Really, it's actually been that long! You've got to see this; it's a genuine joy at a time when comics that make you feel joyous are very few and far between. (Especially since I'm not feeling the love for The Fantastic Four right now and I'm going to suspend it at the end of the current storyline.) Get this book!

J.A. Fludd

Friday, August 22, 2008

To Quote Buddy Lembeck: "Doncha Geddit?!?"

In case you couldn't figure it out, I tend to be a bit progressive when it comes to technology. My school reports were typed and printed with digitally drawn covers back in 1985; I was logging in to BBSes by 1987; a friend and I started a virtual design studio in 1993; I was fully invested in and using my PDA for daily tasks by 1997; I got a robot to vacuum my floors in 2004... I'm not bleeding-edge, by any means, but when I see a technology that works and improves my life in some fashion, I try to take advantage of it. I see the potential it was designed to achieve and maximize it as much as I can.

That's one of the reasons I'm loving the exploration of web comics -- how the medium is being taken advantage of during a digital revolution. My biggest surprise so far is just that it's taken me so long to get on board. And now, seeing how great the possibilities are, am almost as surprised that more isn't being done in this arena. Recent articles like these two tells us what we already knew -- that the big guns in comicdom are being extremely cautious about this whole online comics notion. Now, granted, I'm coming to the online comics venture with full eagerness relatively late, but I know Marvel and DC at least both have people specifically hired to put their content online. Their job is, in part, to give their respective companies the best presence possible online. I know I would have been arguing for developing more comic content online for several years now if that was expressly my business.

Now, to be fair to those tech guys, they're only allowed to do what their superiors let them. If Levitz and Quesada say, "Don't put our comics online" there's not a whole lot they can do. But if I were in that position, I'd have gone back again and again with different methods to get something out there and new business models and get the bean counters to run numbers and whatever I could to drag those companies into the 21st century.

Now, this is Marvel and DC we're talking about and, like the Titanic, they don't exactly turn on a dime! But I know Marvel at least made some initial experiments over a decade ago, and they haven't made even a year's worth of progress since. In a lot of respects, they've back-tracked considerably. At least those experiments were with original content!

And DC, to be fair, has their Zuda arm. But from a handful of reports I've seen online, coupled with a few out-of-school anecdotes, it's abundantly clear to me that Levitz completely does not get it. (Quick question: after the initial hoopla of High Moon winning the first Zuda competition, how much advertising have you seen for them in DC's pamphlet books? Oh, there's plenty of full page ads for Batman and Superman -- the guys you don't really need to advertise for -- but nothing for Night Owls or Bombshells or anything!) The Zuda folks are the red-headed, bastard step-child with only one arm, a club foot and Asperger's as far as DC is concerned.

Now I don't expect Quesada and Levitz to be lead champions of online development. They're not tech kind of guys. Which is fine; they're not supposed to be. But you're supposed to hire talented tech kind of guys to tell you how to improve your company in the tech area and, more importantly, listen to them! They have expertise for a reason!

Yesterday, I started reading The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. His basic premise is that technology has gotten advanced enough that it levels the playing field for everybody. The fact that you've been around longer or have more cash to spend on marketing matters less and less with each day. The old ways of doing business are being superseded. The global village is virtually upon us (pun intended). I was talking about this exact same subject last month (albeit from a different starting point).

Despite name-dropping them, I can't fault Levitz and Quesada too much. Part of whatever vitriol you sensing from right now stems from the fact that I've spent a good portion of this week watching usability tests that bore out the notion that I (and my peers) know what the hell we're doing, and second-guessing our suggestions about online development shows that we weren't trusted as subject matter experts in the first place. And if that's the case, why the hell was I hired?

OK, a message to all you publishers out there: if you've got an IT team telling you how/why to sink more money in online development, listen to them. If you're a smaller publisher that doesn't have those resources on staff, pull aside a friend who is pretty web savvy and pick their brain. These guys and gals know what they're doing, just like the creative folks who churn out your comics and the bean counters who keep you in the black. They have knowledge and it's absurd not to take advantage of it!

Jack Kirby was once asked in the 1980s what he thought the next big thing in comics was going to be. He said that he didn't know, but it was almost assuredly going to come from some guy sitting at home by himself, and not from some corporate office. Jack was mainly talking about style and genre, but I think it applies just as well to business models. You want to know what the next big thing is in online comic development, Marvel and DC are the last places you want to look!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Return Of Mac & Cap'n Bill

Huzzah! This past week has seen the return of both High Moon and Johnny Crossbones. If we see an update to Gone with the Blastwave, too, we'll have a wonderful trifecta of talent surging back online! Welcome back, David, Steven, Scott, and Les! You've been missed!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Galaxy Girl

I just saw Image's solicitation for a new title coming out this November called I Hate Galaxy Girl. Here's the solicit and cover...

Based on skill alone, Renee TempÍte should be the new Galaxy Girl. Instead, a buxom blonde with no actual powers holds the title. As events unfold, RenÈe struggles not only against monsters, criminals and giant robots, but also a society that desperately wants to keep her in her place.

Now, it's probably because I grew up in the '70s but I still think the only TRUE "galaxy girl" out there is Interplanet Janet!

Interplanet Janet, she's a galaxy girl!
A solar system miss from a future world!
She travels like a rocket with her comet team,
And there's never been a planet Janet hasn't seen!

TwoMorrows Sale

Quick note via TwoMorrows: they're having the largest sale in their 15-year history: $2 magazines and 50% off books, as part of a "Back-To-School Blowout" sale, now through September 30, 2008. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: all of their titles are excellent, to be sure, but I might particularly suggest picking up (if you don't have them already) the last four years' worth of Jack Kirby Collector as those issues happen to feature the work of a writer/researcher of extraordinary talent. Namely, yours truly.

In all seriousness, the TwoMorrows crew has put together some absolutely incredible books across the board. I highly recommend any and all of their titles. I might even pick up some books by that Evanier chap I've heard about.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Bands Are Better Than Comic Creators

My band members and I were sitting around after rehearsal the other night, talking about various issues, and one of the things that came up is that we've got a pretty good mix of talent to become a successful area band. Oh, sure, there's musical talent in the group, but that's not what makes a band successful. It's only rock-n-roll, after all, and a huge chunk of songs are simple chord progressions that any moderately talented 14-year-old good pull off. No, our potential for success comes from talents other than being able to play an instrument.

Our guitarist, for example, has a good sense of what music is/was popular BUT still doesn't get played much -- which means that we're playing songs that are well-received, but aren't over-played. Our bassist has good discipline and business sense, so he's able to handle the business side of getting gigs, and talking to bar owners, and such. He's also got some good marketing ideas. Me? I'm a web designer with an MBA, so our online presence looks a heck of a lot more professional than most of our competition. Our lead singer and guitarist both have a lot of personal connections, as well, that will allow us to bring decent crowds to even our shows.

This, as I see it, is where an independent band has a distinct advantage over somebody trying to put together their own comic book. Whether the band is a duo, a trio, a quartet, whatever, there are going to be multiple individuals in the band who have a variety of skills to bring to the table. Many independent comic creators -- especially, it seems, web comic creators -- do ALL of the work themselves. They do the writing and the art, certainly, but they also do all the marketing. Which is a skill unto itself, and one that many people don't study because they just want to be able to create and not have to sell.

Even in the small example of my band, three of the four members have no artistic ability whatsoever to be able to develop a decent logo or any graphics. But the greater number of participants means that there's a greater chance that other abilities besides playing music can be brought into the mix. A comic creator, working by him/herself, is limited to only his/her own talents. And while a good artist likely has a number of abilities that overlap with a marketer or a graphic designer, there's still a distinct difference in the thought processes and mindset of marketing.

Despite the title of this post, though, I don't believe bands are inherently better than comic creators. They just have a better likelihood of being able to practice their trade and get paid for it. Indeed, look at any decent-sized American city -- how many bands are earning a living in, say, Cleveland? Now compare that with the number of comic creators earning a living in the same city? (I'll give you a hint. The number of comic creators earning a living from making comic books is: Brian Bendis.#)

Of course, too, the extra number of creative people in a band generally means there's more tension in the group. One person, working alone in his/her studio, can change direction at any time with no justification necessary. A band, trying to change direction, needs buy-in from at least half of the members to even be considered a viable option. Which means discussions, possibly arguments, consensus building... that takes more time and uses more emotional energy.

But here's my point: several people trying to make a go of it as a band are more likely to succeed than one person, no matter how talented, trying to make a go of it as a comic book creator. In short, I whole-heartedly agree with Warren Ellis.

* Yes, I know Tony Isabella and Harvey Pekar also live and work in Cleveland, but they also both held "real" jobs to pay for their being able to write.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Comic Book Papercrafts

You're looking at the image at the right and thinking, "That's not exactly one of the Iron Man models I've seen. It's kind of blocky and the coloring is a little flat." Would it impress you any more if I told you it was made entirely out of paper? Or how about that you can download the pattern for free to make your own?

I've long had an on-again, off-again interest in papercrafts. When I was a kid, I had a couple of really cool pop-up books that I played with like they were "regular" toys and shortly after Star Wars came out, my folks got me an activity book that had several Star Wars-related models that could be punched out and folded together. I built my very own lightsaber when I was seven years old!

My father's slight interest in origami led to several books on the subject floating around the house, which I dutifully "borrowed" to make my own penguins and elephants.

Then, in college, we had a few classes that dealt in three-dimensional design and our models were often built out of paper. Plus, my internship at Kenner lead me to work with the guys who developed the cardboard inserts that kept the larger toys from rattling around inside their boxes.

And so, when I stumbled across a innocuous figure from one of Cory Doctorow's books, I had a half-hour's amusement as I printed, cut out and assembled it for my desk. But that lead me to look at what else is out on the 'net and, much to my surprise, there's a wealth of papercraft models based on comic books and superheroes! Some are more detailed standees, like the Iron Man above, some are more stylized and cartoony. Some are straight figure representations, some are recreations of artifacts from within the mythos. All available online for free.

Oddly, I spent a fair amount of time looking at some of what's currently before I remembered that I created one of my own HERBIE the robot almost a decade ago! But little did I know how active other papercrafters have been in promoting their favorite comics! Here's a quick sampling...
I just find it fascinating that so many people have taken the time to develop sometimes incredibly complex, but still buildable, models using paper alone and are willing/able to share them with the world. What's more: in this particularly harsh, backsliding economy, being able to create toys and models for the price of a few sheets of paper and a little time is simply incredible (many vehicles are available, as well, which could easily be re-scaled for whatever action figure line/s you might also collect!) and, if you can no longer afford the high-quality busts and statuettes that are available at your LCS, a little handiness with an Xacto blade can go a long way! I know I'm going to spend some time over the coming weeks putting together some additional models for my action figure cities (yes, I know... "cities" plural -- call it my geek cred) and as handsome, but cheap, desk accessories.

Loot

Running behind on blog posts here (I've actually got a few half-written ones in the hopper that I need to finish) so to throw something out quickly, here's some comic loot I got from my folks for my upcoming birthday...
Dad actually saw an ad for this in the New Yorker and tracked it down for me. He was surprised that it was as easy to find as it was.
I've always thought Wood's work was gorgeous, and it's high time I learned more about him.
I'm not a big fan of the Essential and Showcase books because they're black and white, but Marvel's horror/monster stories from the 1970s seem to translate better from color than contemporary superhero books.
You can never go wrong with Kirby!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Manga-fied

This been going around, so I suppose I need to manga-fy myself...

UPDATE: The S.O. suggests this is a better representation of yours truly...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Creative Commons Comic

Have you seen anybody recently who's cited their work as falling under a Creative Commons license? Did it make you wonder what exactly that is, and what it means? Did you know that there are actually several CC licenses? Neeru Paharia and Ryan Junell have put together this comic strip to explain what that exactly those Creative Commons folks are talking about!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Knee Caps For Sale

I recently read two stories whose themes revolve around body manipulation and the commoditization of humanity: Vendor and Fluorescent Black. They took strikingly different approaches and I thought it might be interesting to compare/contrast them.

Vendor came out last month from Viper Comics. It revolves around John J. Vendor, who illegally harvests body parts from the recently deceased to graft onto high paying customers. His job keeps him pretty busy since the outbreak of a flesh-eating virus called Moss. No cure has been found for it, and the only way to prevent it from killing you in a matter of hours is to cut off the infected part. Which obviously leads to the source of Vendor's income. The technology was developed to make body grafts quick and relatively painless, which has also led to a subculture of grafters who use unusual body parts for social effect -- grafting horse legs to their torso or snakes in place of their arms.

The actual story concerns one client in particular who claims that his wife discovered a cure for Moss, just before contracting it herself. Vendor takes the job to track down suitable body parts for her while she's in stasis, despite her husband working for the company that helped inadvertently develop Moss in the first place. He also learns, though, that taking the case has put him squarely against a group who have immunity to the virus, claiming religious righteousness is smiting those who are unworthy, and actively try to kill him, thus preventing a cure from being released.

I also read the first chapter of "Fluorescent Black" that appeared in the latest issue of Heavy Metal. The setting here is also a future in which biogenetics are a primary concern, but it's the result of a large company developing a genetic encoder that allowed people to alter their own gene sequences. Not surprisingly, it fell into less-than-talented hands, and there's a substantial group now whose genes are unhealthily scrambled. The government has stepped in, though, and exiled those "dangerous" individuals to an isolated peninsula outside of Singapore.

The story follows Max and his street gang, who learn the hard way to make money by selling the bodies of the recently deceased to "butchers". Things are desperate enough that gang wars erupt specifically to increase the body count, and sell the resulting corpses. So when a corporation offers them a large sum to break into a rival's headquarters and "release" a clone experiment, they jump at the opportunity. However, they soon realize they were set up and were meant to die in the process. Securing this clone, though, they're also smart enough to realize that the two companies are willing to pay quite handsomely for her release.

It should come as little surprise that "Fluorescent Black" (appearing in Heavy Metal) features much more graphic illustrations than Vendor. In Vendor the detail is simplified considerably, taking the focus away from the actual amputations, and placing it on the social ramifications and implications of a culture whose members can change their whole body structure on a whim. "Fluorescent Black" by contrast is trying to emphasize just how ugly society can become when discrimination by any means is prominent, and the gorey detail underscores just how far apart the haves and the have-nots are from one another. So, even though the précis of the two books are similar, they come at the issues from wholly different perspectives, and have very different messages.

The undercurrent of both books are notably different as well. John Vendor, who worked with some of the folks who brought Moss to the rest of the planet, spends much of the book seeking redemption. While it's made clear that he himself did what he could at the outset to prevent Moss from spreading, his guilt continues to haunt him, to the point where it blocks his common sense. Max however is working towards mere survival in a society that is doing everything it can to literally kill him. His greatest achievements, like those of most of those who are exiled in the story, are largely making it through a whole day in one piece. Max stands out, though, in that he's able to survive and see a bigger picture than the next day. I was about to go so far as to say that he's able to make very modest gains in his conditions on occasion, but those few gains he does make are at a great cost. Everything and everybody has a price in his world. Max lives in a true dystopia with no real hope to speak of, while John lives in a world that, while miserable, isn't that far removed from our own.

Also differentiating the two books is the completeness of them. Vendor can and does stand on its own very well. There's a very clear beginning-middle-end to the story, and readers are provided with all the information they might need within the context of the story. As part of a larger serial, "Fluorescent Black" does not give readers that luxury... within the context of Chapter One. Most of the cultural background I cited above comes from their web site. Not knowing that doesn't really detract from the story flow, although readers who are unused to the serial format may be left with some questions that may or may not be answered in future issues. In that respect, I don't know that it's really fair to compare the two at all on this front since we're looking at a complete story versus another's introduction. To really see if that additional background information is necessary to the overall plot, we'd need to wait until the whole storyline was complete. (I don't know exactly how long the story will run, but I think it will easily go through the January 2009 issue.)

Both stories are solid reads, and any complaints I could file against either would be relatively slight. I think whether or not you enjoy either and/or both would depend largely on what you're looking for in a story and what types of genres you typically enjoy. Blade Runner fans would likely lean more towards "Fluorescent Black" while Judge Dredd fans might prefer Vendor. Both are well done, but just have some significant stylistic and thematic differences that might make a reader prefer one over the other.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Art Museums

The S.O. and I stopped by the Cincinnati Art Museum this past weekend, and enjoyed a good browse of two of their current exhibits: one featuring artwork that's been in storage for at least a decade, and the other spotlighting the work of David Macaulay, author of Cathedral: The Story of its Construction, The Way Things Work, and Castle.

The Macaulay exhibit, not surprisingly, had something of a focus on sequential art, as his commercial work tends to fall somewhere between comic books and children's books. The exhibit itself was laid out logically, showing several sequences of work in order with the full text of the book alongside the original art. (Side note: Macaulay appears to very little redrawing and/or touching up in his work and, if you've looked at the amount of detail he puts in, that really is incredible. The handful of changes he seems to make were, from what I saw, large design-type changes, like pasting in the entire top portion of a cathedral spire.)

But what was more intriguing was an ancillary hands-on portion of the exhibit when patrons were asked to illustrate a set of simple instructions, like how to make a paper airplane or how to locate another exhibit in the museum. In effect, they were being asked to create sequential art -- comic books. Dozens of works had already been left, and when I stopped by to look, there were a group of graphic design students collectively working on yet another piece.

Over in the other exhibit, they also had several examples of sequential art. The earliest was actually a set of tapestries illustrating four stages of a woman's life. Each piece was about 12 feet by 6 feet and took up an entire wall. More impressive, though, was that they dated to the early 1700s, roughly around the time William Hogarth was working on The Rake's Progress. One has to wonder what connection between the two artists had been.

Another that seemed to catch many people's eye was a series of (I think) lucite panels that ended with a man set to shoot a woman hostage. (See left.) I have to admit that I didn't get whatever the artist was trying to say, despite studying the work for some time, but it did, as I said, attract attention to what was clearly designed and laid out as a single narrative over several individual images.

Now I don't really expect most of you will be willing/able to stop by the Cincinnati Art Museum to view these, but I bring it up to highlight that YOUR local art museum could easily have works of comic book art on display and might be worth investigating. Even if it's not drawn on Bristol board. You might be surprised to find artists you've never heard of working in the same medium as folks named Kubert, Romita or Buscema.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Neozoic #6

One of the problems, it seems to me, with doing high-quality work across the board, is that some of it inevitably won't get the attention it deserves, stuck in the shadows of other great works. That has largely been the case with Red 5's line, I think, as books like Atomic Robo (which really is great) steal a lot of thunder from other great books like Neozoic.

The basic story in Neozoic is that humans and dinosaurs inhabit the planet together. The humans have built themselves a walled city to keep the dinosaurs at bay, and it's been working for a while now, with the added protection of a group of highly skilled warriors called the Predator Defense League, life for the citizenry has been fairly calm. Until Lilli brought home a small Talpid child saved from the jungle, and the dinosaurs tore into the city with a Talpid army not far behind. The city's been plunged into chaos, with many of the PDL captured and others running for their lives.

This is where things pick up in #6. The protagonists have been split up to follow several different, but simultaneous, paths and each is acting in a way to save the city independent of the others and unique to their own situation. This issue itself is probably not a great jumping-on point because it is, frankly, square in the middle of the story. However, writer Paul Ens does do a good job of ensuring that the characters and their relationships are explained within the context of the book. Further, he does this in a surprisingly natural manner that allows the story to flow relatively smoothly. Which is even more impressive considering that several storylines are occurring at this point in the series.

Likewise J. Korim's artwork keeps things moving along well. I think his page layouts are serve the format of the story quite well, and he makes efficient use of the page. His splash pages, in particular, are noteworthy because they convey the expansiveness and/or drama that needs to be shown, but still manage to have several additional panels to keep the story from slowing down. Case in point...
The above page introduces a new character, Roma, with the semi-requisite full body shot splash, but you'll note that there are, in fact, six individual panels on the page. We learn about her role/stature with her immediate group, and start to glean her history and background with Ross. The page isn't there to show off Korim's character design skills or his adeptness at human anatomy, but it serves the story. It's perhaps a little more understated, but it's also more nuanced because of it and showcases Korim's sensibilities.

The story continues apace with the other characters all making some clearly-delineated forward progress towards their respective goals. However, since the issue splits among several storylines, not much time is given to any one character. While I think that serves the overall story well, and will almost certainly read smoothly in TPB form, I think it makes the issue a tad less enticing for the first-time reader.

This issue is scheduled to arrive in stores on August 27. The overall story, as I've said repeatedly, is well done and the couple of weeks until #6's street date should give you enough time to pick up the first five issues to make sure you're up to speed. The book might not have the buzz of, say, Atomic Robo but like all the other Red 5 books I've read, it's worth putting on your pull list.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

All That Pizzazz

Marvel tried to jump on the youth culture magazine fad of the late 1970s with Pizzazz. Each issue, like most of its competitors, featured a combination of pap interviews with celebrities, trite articles about popular movies and music, and a few comics. The series lasted for about a year and a half and is largely only remembered these days for a serialized Star Wars comic strip started by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin.

Personally, I just find it kind of amusing that Shaun Cassidy is shown or referenced on six of the 16 covers. The next most frequent cover guests are the Hulk (five covers), Spider-Man (four) and Peter Frampton (three)...

Also worth noting is the Linda Ronstadt cover. Oh, sure, it's a good likeness of her and the fact that Captain America and Dr. Strange are playing guitars behind her is chuckle-worthy. But I think it's more entertaining to see C-3PO playing drums behind them!

Finally, does anyone actually have a copy of #12? I want to read up on those "Albino Roach Jokes!"