Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wowio Deathwatch

Chris Crosby recently tweeted that Plantinum/Wowio still owes him money from the second quarter of 2008. Plantinum President and COO Brian Altounian responded by saying that they're still "working on it... It's got to come from investors since revenue dollars are still low. Investors don't like old debt."

So what he's saying is that he can't pay off Chris and however many other creators he owes because he's screwed up enough that potential investors think he's a bad risk, and potential advertisers think his products aren't worth advertising in, and his potential customers aren't buying his stuff.

I'll add to the equation that reporting from Alexa, Technorati, and Google all point to a general decreased interest in Wowio...


(Note that Google's chart, by the way, has to change scale in mid-2008 because numbers had dropped so significantly.)

I don't know how much money is owed to all the creators by Plantinum/Wowio but at this point I'm pretty sure they're not going to get paid. Keep in mind that Plantinum's staff has been working on minimum wage since last October as it is. Frankly, I can't understand how they're able to remain in business if they can't pay their employees beyond minimum wage and they can't pay off their debts and they don't have any money coming in.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Darrells

When companies put together comics to help sell their products, I almost always find them enjoyable. Almost always for reasons they didn't intend. WaveBuilder created "A Tale of Two Darrells" to showcase the benefits of using their products to put waves in your hair.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Deciphering Kirby

Several years back, I read something from Mark Evanier stating that Jack Kirby had told him that he had used an extended Watcher sequence he had originally done for Fantastic Four over in Thor. That led me to start doing some research, looking for those "missing" FF pages and I uncovered a larger mystery in the process. That led me to write "The Legend of the Origin of Galactus" for Jack Kirby Collector #44, trying to piece together some of what Jack had originally done for Thor #168-169. For those of you who don't know, there have been 8 pages of completed artwork that have surfaced that were clearly intended for Thor #169 but were not used in the 20 page story. I think I've uncovered two more pages that were intended for the issue, but not used as well. Which means that Jack had to literally draw at least half the issue twice, using two radically different plots. It was some of my earliest Kirby research (I had actually written the article a few years before it was eventually published) and, looking back on it, I have to admit that I missed the mark on some (but by no means all!) of my ideas there.

I've been revisiting the issue the past few days at the request of my editor, who's trying to actually put together Thor #169 as Jack originally drew it. He's enlisted the aid of myself and Shane Foley (who wrote in a thoughtful response to my article) as well as tried to tap the memories of then-art-director John Romita and Stan-Lee's-then-right-hand-man Roy Thomas.

My editor, Shane and I have been kicking around different ideas the past few days via email. "Is this a rushed Kirby edit or just a poorly executed Bullpen edit?" "What is that squiggle seen on panel one in the pencil art?" "Does the change in inkers suggest anything significant?"

When I first became interested in comics, I was really interested in learning all about the characters. And that largely involved reading as many comics as I could which featured those characters. At some point, certainly by my late 20s, I had read maybe 95% of the comic stories featuring the characters I liked and I found that I was learning less and less. In economic terms, I was getting diminishing returns (less substantive information) on my investment (the time and energy and cash to buy and read comics).

It occurred to me that there was, ultimately, a finite amount I could learn about them anyway. What, for example, did the Human Torch have for breakfast last week? No one knows because that story hasn't been written. The Human Torch didn't even exist to have breakfast last week; he only existed long enough to fight the Trapster (or whoever the villain du jour was). So there was only so much I could learn about him. Or Spider-Man. Or Green Arrow. Or any other fictional character.

And that's when I really started looking into what the creators were doing. What was actually going on between Stan and Jack in the 1960s? I can't just read everything they did like it was a comic book story; I have to do research and study their work and talk to their co-workers. I have to make inferences and speculations based on what I know about them.

And digging through old files and trying to guesstimate what was going on in their heads while they were working and trying to figure out why they did this or that... I find that just as exciting as when I was trying to first learn about the Marvel Universe, but I've got the added bonus of essentially an infinite number of answers that can be pursued. I will probably never know what Jack Kirby had for breakfast on June 21, 1975, but the point is that there IS an answer to that question. And every other question you have about them.

For those interested in what we ultimately found out about Thor #169, keep your eyes out for Jack Kirby Collector #52. It's due out February 25.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Home Page Housekeeping

I've got no idea how many of you read my blog via the actual address versus just keeping up with my feed but, for those of you who actually hit this page, I've made some updates to the site. New banner art across the top... ooooo, aaaaah. I've also updated the "Comics I'm Reading" list that runs down the side there. Mostly new additions.

Actual content updates to resume shortly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rabbit Hole Day

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll, author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was born on this day in 1832. In 2005, Dan Curtis Johnson started the notion of Rabbit Hole Day. From his original post...
Alice fell down a rabbit hole into a place where everything had changed and none of the rules could be counted on to apply anymore. I say, let's do the same: January 27th, 2005 should be the First Annual LiveJournal Rabbit Hole Day. When you post on that Thursday, instead of the normal daily life and work and news and politics, write about the strange new world you have found yourself in for the day, with its strange new life and work and news and politics. Are your pets talking back at you now? Has your child suddenly grown to full adulthood? Does everyone at work think you're someone else now? Did Bush step down from the White House to become a pro-circuit tap-dancer? Did Zoroastrian missionaries show up on your doorstep with literature in 3-D? Have you been placed under house arrest by bizarre insectoid women wielding clubs made of lunchmeat?

Let's have a day where nobody's life makes sense anymore, where any random LJ you click on will bring you some strange new tale. Let's all fall down the Rabbit Hole for 24 hours and see what's there. It will be beautiful.
The notion has expanded a bit beyond just LiveJournal to bloggers everywhere, but the basic concept remains.

I've actually been trying, off and on, to come up with something clever and Carroll-ian for the past two weeks, and I have to admit that I'm at a loss. Not for lack of ideas, mind you, but because the most freaky, out-there, wackyland ideas I can think of are, in fact, reality any more! To wit...
  • Two days after a fairly widely-run AP article tauting the absolutely spotless record the US aviation industry has had over the past two years, pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger was forced to crash land in the Hudson River.
  • After years of complaints about the comic book distribution system from nearly all corners of the industry, the company that holds an effective monopoly on the market (despite government inquiries to the contrary) unexpectedly changed their policies in such a way that will almost surely put a number of publishers out of business.
  • Literally hours after posting that "publishing business firings are coming to an end" Publishers Weekly Editor-In-Chief Sara Nelson was laid off.
  • The 800-pound gorilla of computing, Microsoft, just announced that, for the first time ever, they will be laying off a number of employees: 5,000 over the next 18 months.
  • On January 1 of this year, my band had zero shows lined up. As of last night, we have gigs every month through June. During a recession!
  • Weather forecasters predicted several inches of snow for my region last night, and there were in fact several inches of snow on the ground this morning, surprising everyone.
  • A black man has been inaugurated as President of the United States, and everyone seems happy with him. More significantly, the politician almost immediately started acting on his campaign promises!
You can't make this stuff up, people!

Oh, I briefly considered writing a piece today on how utterly normal and banal everything was. Kind of more subtle version of this piece, but I don't think I could've pulled it off. I mean, I think many (if not most) people are trying to carry on with their lives as if everything was normal. Much like Alice does in Wonderland. But it's not normal! It's every EC story ever published happening at once!

I've mentioned Alvin Toffler's Future Shock a few times before, where he tauts the idea that society is advancing so quickly that some people can't keep up and experience a sort of culture shock when they suddenly wake up one morning and see that the world has changed around them. I think he was spot-on with the concept, and I think we're going to see more and more people wig out in 2009 because they just realized they've fallen down the rabbit hole.

That's why so many people have gone into a panic about Diamond changing their policies. Their world has been changing around them, but they only now were forced to see that, thanks to Diamond. "Heeeey... this isn't how the comic book industry was run back when I started in it."

Welcome to the 21st century, where the slithy toves gyre and gimbler, and mome raths outgrabe! If you're smart, you've already snicker-snacked your vorpal sword, so you can go galumphing back home from the tulgey wood and have a frabjous day.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year!

Join me as we celebrate the Year of the Ox! Spider-man and Daredevil, beware!

(Well, somebody has to make these lame jokes!)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dimaond Changes Policies: Everyone Panic!

Alright, so unless you comic fans have been hiding under a rock this past week, Diamond announced some significant changes to their policies regarding which books they'll agree to distribute. This is significant, of course, because A) Diamond has effectively had a monopoly on comics' distribution for over a decade, and B) their policy changes will impact just about every publisher in some capacity, almost certainly forcing many of them out of business.

Not surprisingly, there's been a bit of an ruckus in the comic community as people are asking, "How can they do this?!?" A smaller handful of people who've been able to remain rational usually respond with, "Diamond is a business, and they have to make decisions based on their financial situation." From there, most of what we're hearing is publishers and creators trying to figure out how they can keep doing what they've been doing without a distributor and still make money.

The problem is, though, that they can't. At least, not using anything resembling the business model that they'd been using. Many, if not most, of the books they were producing were labors of love in the first place and have been barely profitable so far. Unless someone swoops in with gobs of money and, overnight, becomes another major comics distributor with a cheap, dumbfoundingly-easy-to-use ordering system that retailers won't mind ordering books from two different sources, the old way of doing business is dead. I don't think any of the publishers who are really being forced to examine this issue will be able to sustain themselves just by reducing staff or finding a cheaper printer or whatever.

But things aren't all bad, by any means.

Dwight MacPherson has been blogging most of this week about online options. He's garnered a little flack for... well, I'm not sure what exactly. His posts, to my reading, have been a pretty straight-forward assessment of the situation as it stands now, and what avenues smaller folks have before them. I suppose some people are upset because they're devoted to the printed page, and are unwilling/unable to see validity in online storytelling?

He goes into an excellent amount of detail, but I might summarize his approach this way: use as many options as you can that make sense for your material. And isn't that... well... common sense? Doesn't "don't put all your eggs in one basket" sound familiar? About ten years ago, I worked for a company who drew most (something north of 90%) of its revenue from Procter & Gamble. When P&G pulled out, the company went under almost immediately and I lost my job. I've made it a point since then to study a company's revenue stream before accepting a job offer, and I've turned down some otherwise decent jobs precisely because I was uncomfortable with the limited scope of their income.

The comic community has known about this issue for ages. Everything was going through Diamond, and no one (well, very few) bothered to look for alternate avenues of distribution. Maybe it's a little crass or cynical of me to say but, if you haven't looked at options beyond Diamond, I'm not going to cry over your loss. I mean, did anyone not think the findings of the antitrust investigation in 2000 were a load of hogwash?

"Well, of course, you and Dwight are hyping the internet as a solution! You're web guys! You don't understand print!"

Leaving aside the faulty premise of that statement, how about hearing the same thing from someone who's probably more well known for his pamphlet comics? Like, say, Atomic Robo's Brian Clevinger...
Let me put it plainly. The basic model of getting new independent comics into shops is dead.

Oh, it'll do fine for Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, and maybe one or two others. But everyone else? Everyone out there working on a new project for publication right now? The old model no longer applies.

While he doesn't get into the specifics that MacPherson does, he asserts the same basic points: use the web and utilize multiple avenues. This coming from a pamphlet guy.

I was blogging just last week that external changes are what often force us to rethink how we've been doing things, and how 2009 is going to be a year of changes. I was speaking then mostly at a personal level, but it certainly applies to businesses as well. MacPherson said, "While some would have you believe that we must simply 'weather the storm,' I submit that the waves we now see are merely a foretaste of the approaching cyclone that will wipe us out unless we choose to be proactive and act now. This is not the time to batten down the hatches, this is the time to turn about and navigate out of the path of the approaching maelstrom," and I couldn't agree with him more.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cursed Girl Coming Soon

Jeremy Bastian notes that his Cursed Pirate Girl will show up for ordering in February's Previews under Olympian Publishing. Trust me, this will be WELL worth waiting for!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Clever Marketing Idea

There are an almost infinite number of ways that you can promote your webcomic. I'm sure many of you have seen many of those methods in action before. Here's one I hadn't seen before that A) I thought was clever, and B) worked on me if no one else. It's called "Wanna Be In My Webcomic?"

G.L. Nelson started a webcomic last April called "The Sergeant and Professor Skeary Winslow." Before this week, I'd never heard of it. But he seemed to be generally doing the right things: regular updates, process blog, quality work in general... But, for whatever reason(s), it just flew below my radar.

But this week, he posted a quick note on Comixtalk, whose feed I subscribe to. It said that he's got some crowd scenes coming up in future installments and thought it would be fun to draw in real people. But, instead of holding a contest, all you have to do is respond to a note on his blog.

Now, the first thing I did was say, "Sounds cool. But only if the guy's a decent artist, and only if I dig the storyline he's doing." And how might I go about finding out answers to such questions? By reading his webcomic, of course!

Sure enough, I found myself going back to the beginning of his comic and reading page after page after page until I suddenly found myself caught up to the latest installment. "I guess I really enjoyed that! Where's his RSS feed?"

And, thus, a new reader was born. And, indeed, an advocate as well, as this post should attest to.

It's all well and good to make a great comic, but if no one sees it... what's the point? Webcomic creators can't rely on word of mouth alone to get people to notice their comic; they have to do some marketing. And Nelson here has found a new way to do just that. I'm sure those crowd scenes where he's duplicating people's likeness is going to slow his page production rate way down for those scenes, but it's still WAAAY cheaper and easier than hoofing it to some comic convention, where you're brushed aside by most patrons because you don't work for Marvel or DC, and have to spend a lot of money on chotchkeys just to get people to even look at your table, much less stop and talk to you, much less go to your web site a week later.

Nelson's one of the few folks I've seen who can make an intriguing story AND put his creative energies towards marketing it well to boot! Go check out his comic, and then see if you can get yourself in it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mark Your Calendars

The Met@Morph online comic convention (which I reported on earlier) is coming back on March 18 with a half-day Minimorph, and a more robust all-day event in October. Both in Second Life. They're also talking about a Neomorph event in July, but details on that are hush-hush so far. Contact Beth Davies-Stofka for more info.

Lost Cartoonists

How about a quick check on the state of cartooning in the U.S.? A list (in no particular order) of staff cartoonists that have been fired/laid off/bought out in the past twelve months...

Richard Crowson, Wichita Eagle
Peter Dunlap-Shohl, Anchorage Daily News
Chip Bok, Akron Beacon-Journal
Brian Duffy, Des Moines Register
Stuart Carlson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Jim Borgman, Cincinnati Enquirer
Rob Tornoe, Politicker.com
Lee Judge, Kansas City Star
Jim Lange, Oklahoman
Don Wright, Palm Beach Post
Stuart Carlson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Dwane Powell, The News Observer
Dick Adair, The Honolulu Advertiser
David Catrow, Springfield News-Sun
Jake Fuller, Gainesville Sun
Dave Granlund, MetroWest Daily News
Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Star
Eric Devericks, Seattle Times

It's also worth noting that Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer don't look to be around much longer, which would put Ed Stein, Drew Litton, and David Horsey in the unemployment line.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tackling Racism In Comics

Today, here in the U.S., we're celebrating Martin Lurther King, Jr. Day. And with the inauguration of America's first black President, there will undoubtedly be any number of pieces written about racism and prejudice. Indeed, there has been a notable increase in racial discussions since Barack Obama's election day victory.

The question I find myself asking, though, is: is it really a dialogue at all? A dialogue requires two or more people trading thoughts and ideas. Most of what I've seen/heard has been simply one person spouting off their opinions. I'm not complaining about that, mind you, just that I have to wonder how much it's helping.

See, the thing is that people generally know that racism is wrong at a conscious level. If you sit down and read most comics discussing racism, the issues that are brought up tend to be at the Archie Bunker end of the scale, where the character is blatantly racist. Even the graphic biographies of Dr. King and Malcolm X spotlight the more intense moments of racial tensions in their lives. What you see very little of is this type of thing...
That's the face of racism that still hasn't really been addressed: the fact that most of the heroes are white males, with a disproportionally small number of minorities. Aside from American Born Chinese, I can't think of another comic from the past few decades that's really addressed racism in a more reflective manner like that. It's all Nazis and the KKK and fistfights and lasers.

Granted, it wouldn't make sense for EVERY book to be about the subtler aspects of racism. But it would make sense for characters living in large, heavily populated areas like New York and Metropolis to encounter more minorities than they do. And it would make sense to see more of them in positions of power, and not just innocent bystanders in the street saying, "Look! Up in the sky!" Sure, comic fans have Robbie Robertson, but not a whole lot else. How about a city mayor, or a corporate CEO who tries to take over Lexcorp, or an independent genius inventor who's hired by Tony Stark, or...?

I think a lot of the issue isn't racism as it's classically known and discussed, but just one of lazy thinking. Why can't the next semi-recurring character to be introduced be a minority? Jack Kirby had this radical idea years ago that started off with a thought not unlike, "Why can't the next superhero to be introduced be black?" And, while Black Panther still isn't quite the household name that Superman is, he's had a long life in comics and is set to be the star of his own show on BET this year. It just takes a slight shift in the head-space of the creator to not just spit back what they've been doing. Who is the next MacGregor in High Moon? Who are Cloak and Dagger's friends and supporting characters? Who are members of Atomic Robo's team? Don't strictly emulate the bubble around your little world, but flip on the news from time to time and get a sense of the bigger picture. Then put THAT into your stories. I think that's what Dr. King was ultimately hoping for...
Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Branding

I've heard a fair amount of chatter this past week about Marvel and DC's branding, and how their respective "big event" comics this week helped or hurt them. Instead of wading into that discussion, though, I'm going to step back and cover something a little more basic: what is a brand?

Let's clear up this misconception right off the bat. This...... is not DC's brand image. It's their logo. Whether or not and how they might choose to kill off their most popular characters affects their brand image, but not their logo. If DC wanted to tarnish their logo, they'd have to do something like this...But that change doesn't have much of an impact on their brand.

See, a brand isn't easily quantifiable. That's because brands are wholly intangible and ephemeral. A brand is NOT just the sum total of all a company's marketing and PR work. A brand is what you think and feel about a company. Let me break that statement down.

A brand identity (or image) is what you think and feel about a company.

First off, "think and feel" is important. If you think of Marvel, there's a certain impression that comes to mind. You have a general idea of the types of things Marvel produces, and you have a set of expectations surrounding that. You don't think of just Spider-Man and the Hulk when you think of Marvel, but you also think of Joe Quesada and Brian Bendis, and Rise of the Silver Surfer, and the type of paper Marvel prints their comics on, and how late Fantastic Four is, and that Greg Horn poster of She-Hulk you have on your bedroom wall, and the new Kang action figure you're still looking for so you can get the final piece and complete your Ares build-a-figure, and everything else associated with the company. All of that rolls up into a collective impression that you have of Marvel.

Which brings me to the other important element: you. All of those different things that make up Marvel? Those all means something to you. They mean something else to me. They mean something else to Joe Quesada. They mean something else to the guy who empties Quesada's office trash can. Marvel is viewed differently by every person who knows anything about them.

"So Marvel has no control over their own brand image?"

Not as much as they'd like, I'm sure. Because a brand image resides in the heads of individuals, a company can only guide and suggest how they should be viewed. They can control their own actions, but it's really the implications and consequences of those actions that shape their brand image.

Let me ask a rhetorical question: what do you think of when you think "Marvel Comics"?

Whatever runs through your head when you answer that question is Marvel's brand image. The same holds for every other comic company, whether they've got a marketing department or not. The same holds for the Friends of Lulu and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Hero Initiative and even your local comic shop. And for every comic book creator!

It's fairly easy to see that Stan Lee has a brand image. He's spent years cultivating it. But, everyone has one. When you think of "Dave Sim" or "Wendy Pini" or "Paul Ryan" or any other comic creator, you think of their body of work, but you ALSO think of the photos you've seen of them, the stories and anecdotes you've heard about them, the interviews they've given... everything! That's what a brand identity is! What you think of a person or organization based on the sum total of your experiences with them.

So if/when DC decides to off one of their oldest, most popular characters, does that really affect their brand? I say no. Were people really that shocked and taken aback by the event? Maybe I'm just traveling in the wrong circles, but I gather there's more cynicism there and general irritation at the execution of the issue (if you'll pardon the pun) than outrage over the event itself. And that suggests that DC's brand hasn't been impacted much, because it's not out of line with what they've been doing in the recent past as a company. The bit about Diana snapping some guy's neck. The slutting up of Mary Marvel. The death of the New Gods. This is pretty much just par for the course.

Couple this with the fact that the Spider-Man/Obama issue was the one that made news headlines, and you also throw into the mix that your average non-comics person remains absolutely clueless about the issue. Which means that they can go buy their DC action figures gleeful ignorant of anything detrimental about DC outside the accidental death of Heath Ledger. And since they are in the majority, DC's brand -- collectively speaking -- is even less affected by what happens in the comics.

So, are Marvel's and DC's respective brands impacted by recent issues? To some degree, I'm sure, but one single issue is hardly going to have a devastating effect on them. And, in each of their cases, I haven't seen any evidence that anyone was especially surprised by what was in those issues. A brand is an implicit promise made by the company to their audience, and Marvel and DC -- from what I can tell -- are continuing to deliver exactly what people expect them to.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Integrated Universe

Here's something I've understood for years but, for some reason, it just really struck me this evening.

I'm catching up on a sorely-needed Dr. Who fix. Up until around May of last year, it was at least a twice-weekly event for me to turn on the television, and watch some Dr. Who related show. Sometimes it was the Tom Baker episodes being aired on my local PBS station, sometimes it was the BBC America broadcast of Torchwood... just some recognition that the universe inhabited by the Doctor was still out there.

Ah, but economic issues hit and I couldn't justify subscribing to cable any more. Those shows were the ONLY ones I was watching, and one of them I could pick up with a pair of rabbit ears sticking out of the back of my TV. But, of course, shortly afterwards, my PBS station switched to broadcasting the newer Dr. Who episodes which I'd already seen ad nauseum at that point.

So, starting last weekend, I began catching up with my old friends. Tonight, I finished season one of The Sarah Jane Adventures and, while I'm not overly partial to the series (being as it's clearly written for a younger demographic, and Sarah Jane was one of my least favorite companions*) I generally enjoyed it. And here's the bit that really struck me...

It was NOT about the Doctor. I'd spent years watching the adventures of the Doctor. He'd fly around the universe, picking up this companion or that, saving this planet or that, defeating this alien or that, but it always centered around him. I -- and everyone else watching -- was another of his companions, going along for the ride. It was the Doctor who the show was about and he was clearly the hero. Everybody else, including the audience, pretty much just sat on the sidelines.

But, sitting there watching The Sarah Jane Adventures, it really hit me that this is what goes on when the Doctor's not around. Same with Torchwood. This is the planet Earth when the Doctor isn't there to defend it. This is what goes on when he's not watching. This is the same story -- the story of life -- from another perspective.

And that's the exact same thing that Marvel and DC tap into each and every week. That's why we have "Secret Invasion" and "Final Crisis" and whatever mega-crossover they've got planned next. We use entertainment like comic books and TV to help us sort out life. They present ideas to us from a perspective outside of our own, and suggest ways to understand what it means to be human. And, while that's useful in and of itself, it's that much more useful if we can get the same ideas from multiple perspectives. How does Spider-Man view New York City differently than Gorilla-Man? How does Superman feel about abuses of Presidential power compared to Elongated Man?

Entertainment examines the human condition. You could better understand the dynamics of a football game if you were to watch it in its entirety from every angle at which it's filmed. Likewise, a shared universe like those seen in Marvel and DC (and Star Wars and Dr. Who and Buffy and...) franchises helps you to better understand that portion of the human condition.

Just something to think about the next time you're reading up on the adventures of the Avengers or the JLA.

* Nothing against actress Elizabeth Sladen, but the first story I saw her in was "The Hand of Fear." She wore that phenomenally awfully candy-striped pair of overalls, and her "Eldrad must live" chant bugged me to no end. It was about the worst first impression you could give someone. Not to mention that she buggered off at the end of the story anyway! That said, that scene between Rose and Sarah Jane in School Reunion is priceless! But, seriously... of the three words in "Eldrad must live" the absolutely least important is "must" -- why would you want to emphasize that?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Biography Of A Spiritualist

Tom Spurgeon notes that a new set of Xeric winners have just been announced. No surprise that the books all look quite good from what I can see online. I'm particularly intrigued by Annie Murphy's I Still Live -- a biography of spiritualist Achsa W. Sprague. Murphy started her own blog this past October and has some artwork from the book posted there.

I have to admit that I'm more intrigued by the subject matter than the art -- which is a tad unusual for me. I've really been getting into non-fiction comics recently (not that there are that many of them) and I know a bit about spiritualists from my father's interest in stage magic. (Harry Houdini spent many of his later years debunking spiritualist hoaxes.) So Murphy's book just sounds darned interesting on the subject matter alone. Not to mention that I don't recall ever seeing a comic biography of any spiritualist before. Stage magicians, sure, but not anyone claiming to be a medium. So I'm really looking forward to seeing this.

That said, due to financial constraints, I still haven't snagged a copy of Justin Murphy's Cleburne which won a Xeric last July. (Justin is no relation to Annie, as far as I know.) So my odds of being able to pick up I Still Live seem a bit remote, unfortunately. Somebody do me a favor and do an extensive review on it when it comes out. For that matter, has anyone done an extensive review of Cleburne yet?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rethinking Yourself

So I'm sitting here thinking, "Why don't more people embrace webcomics? They're every bit as good -- and in some cases better -- than what gets published. And why don't more print publishers take advantage of the format? It'd certainly be cheaper."

A few years ago, I might have suggested that it was a fear of change. "I don't know what the new thing is, so I'll stick with what I already know." There's certainly some of that involved, but these days, I think it has more to do with habits. "I'm doing it this way because this is the way it's always been done."

This has really stood out for me over the past year or so. Between my divorce and the subsequent (but, unrelated) economic disaster, I've caught myself doing things many times that I was only doing out of habit.

Prime example: My ex-wife and I kept hand towels in the kitchen. At one point, she sat down and figured out the most aesthetically pleasing way (to her) to have them folded, since they were sitting out on the pie rack. Personally, I don't care all that much, but I continue folding them in the same way because that's just the way I've been doing it.

But relating to comics, much of my hesitation to really get into webcomics was simply that regular trips to my LCS was the way I'd always obtained my comic fix, and there was no real impetus for me to change. I enjoyed going to the shop and picking up whatever was in my pull file, and browsing the new comics on the wall. No need to change that.

But then came financial difficulties and, if I wanted to not lose my house, I had to stop buying comics. That didn't satiate my interest in comics, naturally, and I had to sit down and figure out ways to continue reading comics, despite not being able to afford buying them. It was only when I was really forced to re-think my comics habits that I really embraced webcomics for the first time.

I think 2009 is going to be a significant year because it's going to force people to change in any number of ways. There was a lot of political rhetoric about "change" for this year's new U.S. President, but there was some (unintentional) prophetic truth to the claim. I think a lot of issues are coming to a head more-or-less simultaneously and it's going to force a large number of people to rethink themselves.

"Do I really need to spend $30 every week on comics?"

"Do I really need to 400 channels on television?"

"Do I really need a cell phone and a land line?"

"Do I really need to buy something from Starbucks every day?"

And, sure, a lot of those questions that get asked and answered are going to be about superficial stuff, like how the towels get folded. But some of it is going to be more significant. And, while your rethinking which comic pamphlets you buy every month isn't terribly significant, it might be worth thinking about the aggregate repercussions. If 100 people rethink buying Detective Comics, that probably won't have a noticeable impact on anyone beyond those 100 people. But what if 100 people rethink buying something from a small-press indie publisher? That might be reflective of 20% of their readership! That might mean the difference between "getting by" and "going out of business."

Now I'm not saying that you should continue spending money on comics you can no longer afford, but I do think that, if you're in a position where you need to pare down you pull list, take a moment to reflect on your actual enjoyment of each book. Are you really continuing with a book because it's good, or are you just trying to make sure your 200+ run of issues doesn't have a hole in it? And, while that might sound like a loaded question, it isn't. If your goal is to have a complete run of Action Comics when you die, and you really don't care much about the story anyway, I don't see a problem with that. But, if you just like reading about the Fantastic Four, and you keep buying the book despite the fact that you don't recognize the FF that Mark Millar is writing, that's a signal that you're overdue for a rethink.

If often takes something big for us to really think through our repetitive actions. Change isn't easy, and that's why it often takes some outside force to get the ball rolling. Whether you're looking at the political landscape, or the newspaper business, or the economy, or the job market, or anything else, 2009 looks to be shaping up to be a year of change. And that change should help goad you into looking at your personal situation -- really looking at your personal situation -- and seeing if it makes sense to continue on with business as usual.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

McGruder At Earlham

Aaron McGruder is speaking next Monday at Earlham College in Indiana. Tickets are five dollars. Although a prominent name in comic circles, McGruder is actually scheduled to be discussing racial issues, specifically "Negrology: The State of the Black America."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Answers

The photo below should answer a number of questions people might have about me, such as:
  • Why I enjoy action figures of comic book (and some TV) characters
  • What sort of characters I enjoy
  • What sort of stuff rolls around in my head (especially when I'm at a loss to come up with a good subject to blog about)
  • How good I am at balancing figures (Aquaman is not actually being supported by anything; that's just me balancing him on his feet! Ha!)
  • How much cheaper it is to enact this scene on my kitchen table rather than pay a decent artist to illustrate it
  • Why I don't take more photos for this blog
  • And, of course, why I try to have my blog post for the day written before 11:00 at night

Sunday, January 11, 2009

On "Leave Me Alone"

Oberlin students discuss Harvey Perkar's upcoming jazz opera Leave Me Alone! with the Chronicle-Telegram in anticipation of it's premier at the end of the month. More info on the opera can be found here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Catching Up

When I was first really getting into comic books -- in my early teens -- I was amazed at my dad. He was an avid reader and always kept a book in his car, another in his briefcase, a third on the bedside table, and a stack of at least a dozen or two next to his chair in the family room. That way, he'd always have something readily available to read wherever he happened to be and had some time available. What amazed me, though, was that despite this practice of always having something on hand, he was perpetually behind in his reading.

My responsibilities back then were minimal (largely homework and a few household chores) so I had loads of free time, and it was insanely easy to keep current with the few comics I could afford at the time. So after I read and re-read and re-re-read the latest issue of Fantastic Four a dozen times, I'd start combing through my dad's comics to see if anything was worth reading. Most of what he got was over my head at the time, but I'd pick out a few titles whose basic plot was engrossing enough for me. Even if I lost any social commentary that might have been present, Judge Dredd still kicked some serious butt!

But, from time to time, I'd run across something in one of those issues that I didn't understand. Maybe I could tell there was some sub-text or a political message or something, but just couldn't discern exactly what it meant. So, as they were my father's comics, I naturally went to him to ask about it. Not infrequently, though, the response was...

"I don't know; I haven't read that issue yet."

What? How could he have NOT read it? It's not like it was the latest issue he just bought; it was months, maybe years, old now. If the question I had was about issue #32, and the latest one may have been #35, his response might be...

"Yeah, I'm a bit behind on that series. I think I've only read up through issue 20 or so."

This weekend, I'm trying to play catch up myself. I spent a good chunk of the day on some really good long-form online comics that I was at least months behind on. I'm still almost a year behind on Buck Godot though and, after that, I need to catch up on Purgatory! I finally saw the Status Anxiety documentary I'd been meaning to see since before Thanksgiving (and I've got the same author's Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness series queued up). I'm also working my way through Dr. Who season four, and have got Torchwood season two on standby. I've got Suze Orman's latest book on my PDA, and my MP3 player is loaded with some readings of Jules Verne. Not to mention the Golden Age All Winners Masterworks and Masters of American Comics books that I got for Christmas.

Except tomorrow I'll probably spend most of the day taking down the Christmas tree, then I go back to work, and we've ramped up our band practices in preparation for a gig at the end of the month.

Hmmmm... Dad being behind on his reading doesn't look nearly as unbelievable as it did 20 years ago. When, exactly, did that happen?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Still A Nerd

Today's Reality Check...
... and my first thought was, "But... but... but Johnny was a kid when he became the Human Torch!"

Second thought: "And his only caregiver at the time was his older sister, who was with him when he got his powers!"

Old habits die hard, I suppose.