Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hatter M Updates

Some interesting news from the world of Frank Beddor. The Hatter M series, published originally be Desperado, will be collected in paperback form and out on October 16. More interesting is that the paperback version will be published by the new imprint, Automatic Pictures Publishing. (If I'm reading the release properly. It's worded in such a way that it could also be interpreted to mean that this new imprint will only be publishing a collected version of all the Hatter M stories once the trilogy is complete.)

Also of note is that Hatter M volume 2 will be illustrated by Tyson Schroeder. I believe this will be his first professional comics work. While his work is distinctly different than Ben Templesmith's, it does share some thematic similarities and I can see why he was chosen. Samples of his work can be seen on his web site.

The release is also a little vague on whether the webisodes that will begin on October 16 (the same day the volume 1 paperback is being released) are going to be collected in a print format in Fall 2009, or that the webisodes are ancillary material to the actual volume 2 that sees print next year.

Not directly to comics, but relevant to the story, the final prose book of Beddor's trilogy is also slated for a Fall 2009 release. And, in the meantime, they'd like to present fans with Pissed Off Monkey...

Monday, September 29, 2008

1 State, 2 State, Red State, Blue State

It should come as little surprise that I'm still in search of comics I can read online. Not only am I finding new comics to enjoy (I spent my limited free time this weekend going through The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allen Poo for the first time -- good stuff) but I'm also finding new sources that I can use to find more new comics. It was through one of those avenues (and I honestly can't remember which) that I came across a series of politically-oriented comics.

Now, political humor is nothing new. As I recall, the very first instances of what we might recognize as word balloons were created for a political cartoon. And, of course, editorial cartoons frequently point out some of the absurdities of politics, to the point where several cartoonists have had very real death threats on their lives because their caricatures were published in the "wrong" country. About once every four years any more, there's usually a handful of semi-obligatory discussions with then-prominent cartoonists about capturing and exaggerating the likenesses of the day's politicians.

But what's interesting about political comics is that there's an inherent ideology behind many, if not most, of them. Take a non-political strip like Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield or Peanuts. Yes, those strips absolutely reflect the views and interests of the creators, and their humorousness is (like all humorousness) subjective. But they're also not reinforcing the beliefs of a specific group. (Sure, there's been some argument that Charles Schulz was promoting a decidedly Christian world-view, and I can see that in some strips, but his humor was largely not religiously allegorical.)

On the other hand, you can take a Doonsebury or a Slowpoke and the creators take a pretty decisive political stand on any number of issues. Recently, Gary Trudeau had one of his protagonists recently suggest that calling G.W. Bush the "Worst. President. Ever." was too understated, and today Jen Sorenson suggested some extreme measures for curtailing Republican presidential candidate John McCain's maverickness. And in both cases, I chuckled to myself because they both are promoting an ideology similar to my own by poking fun at those with opposing ideologies. When you really boil it down, even the forward-thinking, generally more high-brow approach Trudeau takes is essentially just a means of validation for my own beliefs.

"Ha ha! He's so stupid because he has different opinion and that makes me a better person!"

Not all political comics are quite so blatant about it, of course, but that's the basic message a lot of them carry. There's no idealogical validation in Frazz or Bob the Squirrel because the characters are fictional, and the only ideology they represent (largely) is the one imposed on them by the reader. By taking the leap into politics through political caricature, the creator is obliged to bring with him/her the ideology -- or at least an approximation of the ideology -- of the person(s) they're caricaturing. A drawing of Joe Biden or Sarah Palin will inherently be imbued with some aspects of the character because they're already public figures with much of their character known and disseminated via news outlets. That includes their ideology.

But here's the thing: even knowing that, I was still struck by some decidedly right-wing comics I came across this morning, notably Carl Moore's State of the Union. "That's not funny! He's citing specific criteria that doesn't begin to represent Barack Obama accurately!" Well, of course not! Because Moore was trying to do the exact same thing from an opposing ideology. He's validating the beliefs of people other than myself. It still took me a minute to calm down after my initial reaction. It's not a comic for me because I'm not the audience he's aiming for; he's attacking many of my ideological beliefs for the benefit of people who disagree with me. He's validating their beliefs just as Gary Trudeau validates mine.

I bring this up because we're just over a month away from the presidential election here in the U.S. and the campaigns are both going to kick into even higher gear than they've been in. People of all stripes are going to try to knock down their opponents, whether or not the candidates themselves agree with them. That's going to come out on talk shows, blogs, op. ed. pieces, and comics. And, if you live in the U.S., you will be inundated with this material. (Heck, I feel inundated already and I don't even watch TV!) But I'd like to remind folks to keep a level head and civil tongue throughout all this. People are inherently entitled to their beliefs, no matter how wrong-headed or pig-ignorant you might think they are. Comic creators are people, too, and have ever right to voice their opinions and ideologies in their work. If you don't agree, just leave 'em be and find another cartoonist who validates your own beliefs.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The 50 Things That Every Comics Collection Truly Needs Meme

Tom Spurgeon posted a good list of "The 50 Things That Every Comics Collection Truly Needs" and, as a follow-up from Stephen Frug, how to play along at home. So, here's an abridged version of Tom's list with the following indicators applied...

Leave Plain = Things I don't have
Make Bold = Things I do have
Italics = I have some but probably not enough

Underline = I don't agree I need this

1. Something From The ACME Novelty Library
2. A Complete Run Of Arcade
3. Any Number Of Mini-Comics
4. At Least One Pogo Book From The 1950s
5. A Barnaby Collection
6. Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary
7. As Many Issues of RAW as You Can Place Your Hands On
8. A Little Stack of Archie Comics
9. A Suite of Modern Literary Graphic Novels
10. Several Tintin Albums
11. A Smattering Of Treasury Editions Or Similarly Oversized Books
12. Several Significant Runs of Alternative Comic Book Series
13. A Few Early Comic Strip Collections To Your Taste
14. Several "Indy Comics" From Their Heyday
15. At Least One Comic Book From When You First Started Reading Comic Books
16. At Least One Comic That Failed to Finish The Way It Planned To
17. Some Osamu Tezuka
18. The Entire Run Of At Least One Manga Series
19. One Or Two 1970s Doonesbury Collections
20. At Least One Saul Steinberg Hardcover
21. One Run of A Comic Strip That You Yourself Have Clipped
22. A Selection of Comics That Interest You That You Can't Explain To Anyone Else
23. At Least One Woodcut Novel
24. As Much Peanuts As You Can Stand
25. Maus
26. A Significant Sample of R. Crumb's Sketchbooks
27. The original edition of Sick, Sick, Sick.
28. The Smithsonian Collection Of Newspaper Comics
29. Several copies of MAD
30. A stack of Jack Kirby 1970s Comic Books
31. More than a few Stan Lee/Jack Kirby 1960s Marvel Comic Books
32. A You're-Too-High-To-Tell Amount of Underground Comix
33. Some Calvin and Hobbes

34. Some Love and Rockets
35. The Marvel Benefit Issue Of Coober Skeber
36. A Few Comics Not In Your Native Tongue

37. A Nice Stack of Jack Chick Comics
38. A Stack of Comics You Can Hand To Anybody's Kid
39. At Least A Few Alan Moore Comics
40. A Comic You Made Yourself
41. A Few Comics About Comics
42. A Run Of Yummy Fur
43. Some Frank Miller Comics
44. Several Lee/Ditko/Romita Amazing Spider-Man Comic Books
45. A Few Great Comics Short Stories
46. A Tijuana Bible
47. Some Weirdo
48. An Array Of Comics In Various Non-Superhero Genres

49. An Editorial Cartoonist's Collection or Two
50. A Few Collections From New Yorker Cartoonists

Mack In The Enquirer

The Cincinnati Enquirer this morning has a piece on area illustrators; David Mack is one of the five people profiled.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mash-Ups Examined

I've been a little disappointed at how little response my mash-ups have gotten. Not that they're outstanding and desire heaps of praise -- far from it -- but I think there's something very interesting that goes on in the inherent discord that occurs when merging two unrelated comics. Let me post a few more here, and I'll go into further detail below...
What I've done is replaced the dialogue of several comics with the text from today's The Devil's Panties. In the original comic, Jen receives an email that links to a web site which she finds wholly disgusting. She's seen visually reeling away from the computer before drowning it with bleach to disinfect it. She then receives a follow-up email asking what she thought...
The text makes perfect sense in the context of the art. However, as you can see in the mash-up strips I've done, the text takes on new connotations depending on the art. In We the Robots the screams of disgust become screams of physical agony as the two robots get pummeled by the super robot. In Garfield the spider evidently becomes aroused and begins copulating with the mouse, screaming in pleasure.

Obviously, it doesn't always work. Moving Pictures now makes no real sense at all and Dilbert comes across a little strangely. In the case of Pearls Before Swine, we can figure out that Croc sees something on TV which he apparently tries to replicate, but we're unsure of what exactly he's seen or how it's ultimately implemented.

Scene changes can pose problems -- as shown in the last panel of Garfield -- but can also work in an unintended way -- as seen in Dilbert. Zooming out to show the entire office building, readers are left to imagine what's going on to an even greater degree than in Jennie Breeden's original strip. Who's screaming? Why? Does that creature come from somewhere as a result of the screaming, or is it the cause?

Now, in the case of some comics, the dialogue is written so independently of the art that it can stand on its own, or make sense with a different artistic context. Get Fuzzy and Andy Capp both have a tendency to work that way, for examples. Because of that, one can drop the dialogue into a wider variety of comics and the joke still makes sense. (Not that additional or different connotations aren't generated by the juxtaposition of the text with different art, mind you!) In some comics, by contrast, the joke hinges entirely on the art. Offhand, I can't think of any contemporary strips that use that with great regularity, but Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson frequently used their artwork to convey their message more so than the text.

In the case I'm showcasing above, the art and the text work in concert to present an overall message. Changing one or the other changes the message, in some cases to the point of illegibility. But the merger of the two pieces creates a new hybrid in which elements of both originals fuse in new, and sometimes unexpected ways. The Biography of Jack Parsons here maintains the somber mood from the original, but is lightened somewhat from the new dialogue. The original presents a much bleaker period of Parsons' life.

Not every comic mash-up is going to be successful, certainly. Many will likely make considerably less sense than either of the originals. But, by carefully selecting which strips to work with, one can create a wholly new comic that, despite superficial similarities, bears strikingly little resemblance to either original.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Darker Mash-Ups

I personally enjoy mashing strips that provide wholly new meaning to the dialogue. So I was especially pleased with the results of adding The System text to The Devil's Panties art. It takes quite a dark turn indeed. Also below are the overly dramatic Necessary Dilbert Monsters and the enigmatic My Life in a Cat and Girl.

Morning Mash-Ups

Sorry, I'm still enjoying these. Secret Peanuts Man, Neurotica Meadows, Speed Brew and Pardon My Bizarro...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Publishing News

And here I was thinking it was going to be a light week in publishing news...

DC Cancels Minx
Liquid Comics Buys Virgin

I'm sure you've already heard this by the time you've gotten to my humble blog, but I think it's worth pointing out that the early part of the week had little of any significance with regards to publishing. Just goes to show that you're not allowed taking naps in this 24/7 world any more!

Weapon Peanuts

I'd been meaning to do a mash-up like this for a while: an old Charles Schulz Peanuts strip combined with a new Peanuts-inspired Weapon Brown by Jason Yungbluth. This time, I tried something a little different by lifting Yungbluth's actual dialogue balloons instead of just re-typing the text.

Genius Moon

Yeah, I know this is entertaining no one but myself, but I wanted to try a longer, more dramatic comic mash-up. High Moon art with Girl Genius dialogue...
I'm partial to the dramatic paper crunching and the now absurdly stoic "Here's you boot" line.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Comic Mash-Ups

In lieu of original content, I thought I'd whip out a few more comic strip mash-ups: Garfield & Jamaal, Get Tozo and Moose Mountain PhD.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Iconoclast!

Back when "Pinky and the Brain" was just one of the many funny segments on Animaniacs, there was an episode in which Brain tries to take over the world through marketing of a children's TV show, parodying the original Beany and Cecil. He originally announces himself as "The Iconoclast, an unconventional eccentric who marches to the beat of a different drummer" before being recast as Noodle Noggin by Pinky.

When I first saw the episode, I was vaguely aware of iconoclasm from the handful of art history lectures in college that I didn't sleep through, but this was the first instance I'd heard the term used as a proper noun. "What a great handle," I thought. "That really is a great name for some over-zealous, trumped-up comic book villain." Research was needed.

The word derives from eikonoklasts which is ancient Greek for "breaker of images." It was originally used in a religious context, referring to people who had theological differences of opinion and consequently damaged the sculptures and paintings of other offending faiths. The meaning began to be used more metaphorically and, by the 19th century, broadened to more secular definition: a person who attacks established or traditional ideas or principles.

To my mind, it would be considered something of a compliment to be considered an iconoclast. Progress, it seems to me, largely stems from challenging the status quo and trying to improve on it. Why shouldn't women have the right to vote? Why shouldn't interracial couples be encouraged? Why should we continue to use a school system model designed for a long-outdated agrarian society? Why should online publishing models attempt to mimic traditional ones?

The down side, though, is that calling yourself an iconoclast is somewhat pretentious. It presumes that you've already done an infinite amount of social research to determine that your thoughts and ideas have not been thought of elsewhere, and that your advocacy of those thoughts is significant. But of course, that infinite research is essentially impossible and the significance of anyone's ideas can almost unilaterally be seen only in hindsight. That's why it's amusing to see Brain take on the name of his own volition, only to be bonked on the head down to the less auspicious Noodle Noggin.

No, the iconoclast nomenclature can really own be bestowed on you by others and only with some degree of retrospect.

The question that then arises here is: do we have an iconoclasts in comicdom? Comic creators who challenged the way comics were/are being created, and came up with a new approach.

Will Eisner is the first name that springs to mind. He was the guy who first set up the task delineation for comics that has since become the standard: writer, artist, inker, letterer, colorist. He standardized a lot of the early production processes, including the size/ratio of art boards. He was the first big proponent of owning the intellectual property of his comic creations. Not to mention his exploration of the medium itself.

Jack Kirby is another name that springs to mind but, despite a huge amount of respect I have for him, I don't know that I'd call him an iconoclast. Sure, he pretty much single-handedly invented whole genres for comic books, but he wasn't really an advocate for that; he just did his own thing, and it often just happened to be original. He wasn't challenging the status quo so much as ignoring it.

(It just occurred to me that I approach this blog the same way. I just write about what I want to write about, and sometimes it happens to come from out of nowhere compared to whatever else might be going on in comic news or blogging. That Kirby influences my daily blogging at a fundamental level like that amazes me to no end.)

Robert Crumb or Art Spiegelman? Or, for that matter, any underground comix creator? Well, they certainly had the whole breaking-traditional-ideas thing down! But so did a lot of hippies in the late 1960s, and it doesn't seem to fit calling the whole lot of them iconoclasts. But, if we really look at them, here again, the vast majority of them weren't challenging existing principles so much as creating alternatives to them. Sure, it was "square" to wear a suit and tie, and go to a desk job all day but, by and large, that was a choice that an individual had to make, and they were simply choosing something else. As long as they were free to do what they wanted, others were free to do as they chose as well.

Any other contenders? Steve Gerber for his I.P. rights fighting? Jackie Ormes for breaking both racial and gender barriers in comics? Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson for coming up with the idea of original content for comic books? Who am I missing? Is Eisner the only man we might dub The Iconoclast?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Identity Circus

This afternoon, I attended the opening of Botgirl Questi's "Identity Circus" in Second Life. She's a digital artist and her exhibit was an exploration of what "identity" means in a virtual world. The notion of identity, of course, has been explored in various artistic ways over the years, and Botgirl acknowledged that by playing David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" in the background. But her work here examined the notion strictly as it pertains to a virtual reality. Where does our identity end and our avatar's begin? Do we imbue our avatars with different personalities, based on their "physical" characteristics? Is cybersex with another person's avatar any different than cybersex with robot?

Botgirl had on display several short comics written that explore that topic, and each page was on display in sequence towering over most of the avatars. She also had, near the entrance, an avatar randomizer that would alter the appearance of anyone who stepped inside. She also proved a robotic cybersex partner that patrons could engage with, that appeared no different than any other avatar within Second Life. The cumulative effect was an impressive statement on our virtual identities. While each of the individual pieces was well done, they each only addressed part of her theme, and it really is their combined message that is most powerful.

That said, I think most people will need to take some time to reflect on it. The cybersex doll was, not surprisingly, popular and several attendees braved the Avatar Transformer to some rousing laughs. (Especially after two attendees came out virtually identical.) People seemed to generally be enjoying themselves and the attractions, and weren't as focused on the narrative pieces that tied the overall message together. But I think that's not uncommon in these types of exhibits and it was actually a smart and decidedly unpretentious move on Botgirl's part. She got people in the tent to have fun, and slid her message in while they were smiling and laughing. Furthermore, the interactive portions will draw people back for repeat visits and they can then spend more time on their own exploring the message laid out in the comics.

The comics themselves were well-written. Much of the art were screen shots from within Second Life, though earlier works were also created using Frameforge. While some might dismiss her use of screen shots as unartistic, using them well does require talent, and should not be dismissed. The comics aren't illustrative in the same way any given issue of Action Comics is, but they're at least as valid as fumetti. (There's a curious notion there -- is there a name for comics like this? It's somewhere between fumetti and machinima, but not really either.)

All in all, a it was a good event and definitely worth a trip the next time you log in to Second Life. http://slurl.com/secondlife/New%20Caerleon/31/217/22

And, like any decent event report, I'll leave you with some pictures from the opening...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

Don't think I mentioned this earlier, but I figured I ought to throw an advance plug out there for Jack Kirby Collector #51, since my editor tells me it's going to press this coming week. My "Incidental Iconography" column for the issue takes a look at Jack's 1974 revamp of the Sandman. The rest of the issue (like you really want to bother reading anything else in besides my column!) is described thus...
It’s a bombastic “Everything Goes” issue in JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #51 (84-page tabloid magazine, $9.95), as we spotlight a wealth of great submissions that couldn’t be pigeonholed into a regular “theme” issue! The issue leads off with a rare interview with JACK KIRBY himself, followed by new interviews with two of the hottest artists in comics, JIM LEE and ADAM HUGHES, discussing how Kirby influenced them! And in addition to numerous articles on all things Jack, there’s Mark Evanier’s regular column about his former boss, two huge Kirby pencil art galleries, a complete Golden Age Kirby story, two COLOR UNPUBLISHED KIRBY COVERS, and more! Edited by John Morrow.
I can't seem to find a street date handy, but I seem to recall it being the first or second week of September.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Attention 1970s Clevelanders

I grew up in the suburbs on the west side of Cleveland. A pleasant, little town with a population of around 7,000. Lots of trees to climb and fields to run through. But Cleveland was where the action was! There were the Indians and the Browns, of course, plus any number of artistic performances. The Cleveland Zoo was always well done and the museums were top-notch.

Ah, but the most important building in all of Cleveland -- for yours truly in the 1970s -- was on the corner of 18th and Euclid. It's across the street from the Hanna Theatre and, back then, had a book store on the ground floor.

You're probably expecting I'm about to tell you about some incredible treasure I found in that book store, and that's why the building was so important. Not gonna happen. In fact, I don't recall ever even entering the building, much less the book store!

No, the reason why it was so important was that it had a 100-foot tall painting of Batman and Robin on one side. That classic Carmine Infantino image that visually defined the Dynamic Duo in the late 1960s. It was incredible! Batman and Robin, the world's greatest heroes (to a seven-year-old) towering over and protecting Cleveland. Not Gotham -- Cleveland! To heck with the Browns and the Indians! We had Batman!

Every time Dad would drive us into the city -- for whatever reason -- I would always strain trying to look for the caped crusader, but you couldn't quite see them from I-90, so it was only occasionally I'd catch a glimpse of them. It didn't matter, though. I knew they were there. I had no fear of the city because I knew we were being protected.

(No, I didn't think the painting was literally protecting us. But I had it in my head that the only reason you would paint a 100-foot tall Batman on the side of the building was because he lived nearby. Kind of like a giant "Kilroy was here" sign. Cleveland was Batman's hometown, as far as I was concerned.)

It was eventually painted over -- I seem to recall Dad saying the building was bought by someone else. A little internet searching shows there's a Subway now where the book store used to be.

I remembered this grand mural today, and wanted to share an obscure piece of Bat-trivia with you all today. I figure it's something even the most devoted Batman fans weren't aware of. But, for the life of me, I can't find a picture of the actual painting itself. It was on the side of the building for at least a decade, and I can't seem to find any record of it at all! So I'd like to request of anyone who remembers this great piece of art to share what they know/remember about it. Who painted it and why? Was it officially licensed from DC? Does anyone have a photo of it they could share?

Yes, it's insanely trivial by all accounts, but geez, that was just frickin' cool! Tthe economy sucked ass back then, too, but we had Batman, Superhost and the WMMS Buzzard -- what was there to be upset about?

Congrats, Jeremy!

Congratulations to Jeremy and Emily on their engagement!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Alberto Della Valle & Art Nouveau

A few decades back, Jim Steranko published his own history of comics (appropriately titled The Steranko History of Comics) and one of the more noteworthy aspects of the project was citing pulp novels as a direct precursor to comic books. Although he made a compelling case, the idea hasn't really taken hold in the comics community for whatever reason(s).

Obviously, the origins of the comic book owe much to MANY different sources, and it's all but impossible to value the degree to which one source affected comics' development over another. But one source that I've long felt was overlooked was the Art Nouveau movement that was popular from around 1890-1905. It was at a time when printing became cost-effective enough to use it as a cheap promotional tool, so artists trying to make living began adapting Art Nouveau techniques to produce more work faster. And one of the methods of doing that was by eliminating excessive cross-hatching and shading that typified printed illustrations and simplifying figures and forms to their outlines.

I first made the connection while reading ElfQuest back in the mid-1980s. Wendy Pini's Glider tribe, and Winnowill in particular, reminded me of Aubrey Beardsley's style from almost a century earlier...

Because of the reduced linework in Art Nouveau -- despite all the extra flowery bits often put into the background -- it was easier to crank out work quickly and many commercial artists adopted the style to earn more money. Indeed, the "classic" artists that are trotted out during Art Nouveau discussions -- Alphons Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, etc. -- were commercial artists producing works for advertising works for companies. Many of their pieces shown in the art history books are ads!

I recently stumbled across the work of one Alberto Della Valle. I can find very little information about him online, but he was apparently a commercial illustrator in the late 1800s and early 1900s working out of Italy. Most of the works of his I've found are book cover illustrations and, while not particularly historically significant in light of Art Nouveau pioneers, still seem well executed in and of themselves. That these covers were largely for pulp novels ties back in with Steranko's ideas on the origins of comics. Stories about pirates and heroes and adventurers, coupled with simplified line illustrations seems to make for an obvious bridge between pulps and comics.

Della Valle seems to have been a fairly small-time artist, who's main notoriety comes from having illustrated the covers to several Emilio Salgari novels. If anyone has any more information on Della Valle, I'd certainly be interested to hear it.

And with that said, I'll leave you with a small collection of Della Valle covers. Take a look at them and see if you can't easily imagine these pictures leading to whole comic book stories.