Tuesday, June 30, 2009

About This Dark Horse Position

I'm surprised I haven't seen this more widely circulated, but comic publisher Dark Horse has an opening for a "Comic Retail Manager." Although it's not expressly stated anywhere that I can find, it sounds to me like an entirely new position ("motivated, creative and organized self-starter").

Mike Richardson founded Dark Horse in 1986. His Sales & Marketing Vice-President, who I believe this new position will report to, has been with the company since 1997. That means that there's a lot of personal investment in the company. I don't doubt for one second that they've both put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making Dark Horse what it is today, and I don't doubt that they're both incredibly proud of exactly that. I mean, they have licenses for Star Wars, Aliens, Predator, Indiana Jones, Conan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer... You don't get to play with all of those properties unless you're pretty damn good at what you do!

The other thing that longevity says is that it's a good company to work for. The people who I know have worked there, largely, have worked there for several years. That suggests it's a good atmosphere and people actually enjoy working there. (The first job I had out of college, people were quitting pretty regularly. I only stayed eight months, and by then I was already the senior-most of eight graphics people on staff because so many others had left!)

However, the possible danger with all that personal investment is that it's a personal investment. These folks have gotten to where they are because of their own work, and that pride I mentioned earlier could come under fire if/when some new guy shows up and wants to try new ideas to "shake things up." There's a natural resistance to change, and there's almost certainly going to be some uphill challenges.

That said, Richardson hasn't made Dark Horse what it is all by himself. He seems to have known when things were getting beyond his reach and when to bring in outside experts. That's one of the hallmarks of a good businessman. And the very fact that they've recognized the need for a new position suggests that they're open to some new inputs and fresh ideas.

Actually, what strikes me as the biggest difficulty for potential candidates are the job requirements themselves. They're looking for a marketing person with knowledge of the comics direct market and distribution. That strikes me as a pretty small group of folks right there, as many comic fans know little about the distribution arm of comics. Add on top of that the ability to manage a small staff and having experience with licensed products and branding... I think we're talking about maybe a dozen or two people who are at all qualified. And of those, I think many of them are busy running their already successful comic shops and publishing companies. I'm talking about folks like James Sime, Brian Hibbs, Joe Nozemack and Jessie Garza. They've got plenty of their own blood, sweat and tears in their respective companies; they're not going to drop that very quickly, I'm sure.

Which leaves who? A handful of people, like myself, who've actually studied marketing and have been interested in comics as a medium long enough that they've studied how the whole operation works.

Of course, I'm sure a lot of people will apply just because it's an opportunity to work at Dark Horse, regardless of what qualifications they might have. Having been on the receiving end of resumes myself, I don't envy whoever's going to have make the first pass on all of those CVs. There's bound to be a lot of junk to wade through.

But the candidates who do have a chance, and the one who's able to rise above the others and ultimately secure the position, I think, will have great opportunity in front them. It's the chance to get in with a great company which clearly has a lot to offer, but still have some professional challenges that will give the person the opportunity to better him/herself.

I don't know about you, but I know I'm going to be dusting off my resume!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Zuda Competition

Well, the end of the month is nigh and the competitors over at Zuda are getting anxious. This month, the contest has gotten particularly close evidently between the top two contenders. I was hoping it wouldn't come down to this (because it shouldn't need any help) but I feel the need to put in another plug for Dwight MacPherson's Sidewise...

If you haven't already, head on over there to cast your vote. Marking it as a "Favorite" and giving it a high star rating helps too.

I don't know Dwight personally, but we've crossed paths online a few times and his writing's gotten quite good. (Not that it was bad in the first place.) Not only that, but he has a better handle than most comic writers on marketing his work and, more significantly, he's one of the more hard-working writers on the web. Give the man a brief respite from his Sisyphian marketing efforts.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mark Sable Detained For Writing Comics

SFScope is reporting that writer Mark Sable was detained by the TSA for carrying a script for the next issue of Unthinkable, his comic about "a government think tank that was tasked with coming up with 9/11-type "unthinkable" terrorist scenarios that now are coming true."

Although Sable seemed positive about the experience (tons of writing material there, I'm sure) I'd be... well, I'll just say that "upset" would be an understatement.

Incognegro

Mat Johnson's Incognegro just came out in paperback, after s number of generally positive reviews from the hardcover.

The story is about Zane Pinchback, a reporter from an African-American newspaper in 1930s New York who's investigating a series of hangings in the South. His skin is light enough that most Southerners presume he's white and he's thus able to pose as a Klansman in order to secure information about those responsible. His articles, under the pen name "Incognegro", are extremely powerful and are one of the few reasons there's any formal investigations at all.

However, he's not able to callous himself against seeing innocent men strung up time after time, and he's ready to call it quits when he's told that his brother has just been arrested for killing a white woman in Mississippi. Pinchback heads down to clear his brother and get him freed before an angry mob hangs him.

You can find any number of reviews of the hardcover version, and the general consensus is that it's a very well-crafted, powerful book. I'm not about to disagree. It's quite well-done and there are a number of particularly clever twists. But there's one passage I'd like to point out...
That's one thing that most of us know that most white folks don't. That race doesn't really exist. Culture? Ethnicity? Sure. Class too. But race is just a bunch of rules meant to keep us on the bottom.

Race is a strategy. The rest is people acting. Playing roles.

That's what white folks never get. They don't think they have accents. They don't think they eat ethnic foods. Their music is classical. They think they're just normal. That they are the universal, and that everyone else is an odd deviation from form.
I bought my copy of Incognegro in New York a couple weeks ago. Interestingly, the group of folks I ended up hanging out with most of my time up there consisted of my girlfriend (who's black), her good friend (also black) and her group of close friends (one Caucasian woman, one Latina, and four homosexual men). We all laughed and joked and generally had a great time, but given the mix of the group, the subjects of bigotry and prejudice not surprisingly did come up.

What probably struck me the most was how, despite being in a generally very liberal, progressive town, they almost all noted fairly recent and local instances where they were the subject of others' venom for no reason other than being themselves. None of them seemed to harbor any particular bitterness over the specific events; that was just something they unfortunately had to deal with, and any bitterness they might hold was more general -- "It's the 21st century; shouldn't we be past this shit?"

We should be past it. But we're not. And that surprised me because I'm a white, heterosexual male and I never saw any of that. I grew up watching Sesame Street and there all sorts of different types of folks there, but race was never an issue. My father worked in downtown Cleveland, where almost everyone he interacted with black but it was never a point of discussion. My mother worked in a hospital in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, but that was never an issue. So here I am, hearing the occasional news story about the KKK or Holocaust-deniers and assume those are exceptionally rare, freakish people.

But they're not.

I'm not about to pretend that I can even begin to imagine the discrimination that so many people endure. I've only glimpsed the slightest sliver of a fraction at most. And that's primarily because I'm dating a woman who happens to have dark skin.

But because that's not a viable option for many people, I think it's important to bring the discussion up. I didn't think it was still an issue because I didn't see it. I didn't see it because I didn't know what to look for. I hadn't really had that conversation to learn about someone else's experiences. And that, I think, is why you should go read Incognegro. Yes, it's about the 1930s and lynchings aren't very common any more, but Johnson uses the story to relay how and why people see things a certain way. He shows how absurd it is to treat people differently because of a label.

Put this on your shelf next to American Born Chinese. Where ABC spoke to reconciling your own heritage and culture with your own identity and sense of self, Incognegro addresses heritage and culture (or, more accurately, the labels of heritage and culture) as it relates to others. Powerful stuff.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Comic Shop Quandary

I relayed yesterday my visit to Comics for Collectors. It was the first time I'd been in a comic shop for over a year with the express intention of buying comic books. My last experience in a shop did result in a small purchase, but this was the first time in a while that I was actively looking for comics to buy.

Most of what I had been purchasing regularly when I was last frequenting shops were moderately independent books (by which I mean that they were from publishers you'd probably heard of -- Viper, Oni, Avatar, etc. -- but no one who sold in the top 100), many of which have ended. As I'd already had reasonable runs on them, I didn't want to buy collected editions (I'd already paid for most of the issues once) but it had been long enough ago that the store had either sold out of or stored the back issues.

All of which means that I essentially "needed" to look for entirely new material, as if I were just buying comics for the first time.

That proved to be an interesting experience for me. I had been buying comics for so long that every month was just another part of the never-ending saga. For all intents and purposes, there was no "before" and every conceivable "after" was the same as "right now". I'd always been reading comics and fully intended to always continue.

But since I did stop buying comics, and there was now an "before" and "after" that looked markedly different, how do I step back into that world without committing myself to again in perpetuity? I certainly can't pick up any random issue of anything Marvel or DC publishes, as those are clearly the thrust of that continuum I was trying to avoid. Much of Dark Horse and Image are out for the same reason.

Nor do I want to pick up any random issue of one of those moderately independent titles because, even though they're more likely to be more finite, I have no real means of obtaining back issues or following along future ones.

The answer, of course, lies in the trade paperbacks and graphic novels. This is precisely why they're selling relatively well; people can pick up a complete story without searching for back issues or trying to follow some byzantine continuity. As noted earlier, though, I do want to be careful not to purchase something which I've already purchased to some degree in pamphlet form.

I actually deliberated on the subject for some time. I certainly did want to buy something, but I really wanted to make that purchase count. I eyeballed a few things by Warren Ellis, the recent Simon & Kirby collection, some Ditko-drawn Archives, a Neal Adams Teen Titans hardcover... I spent a while rummaging through the quarter bins, thinking that I'd be more than happy to accept a lesser perceived quality at that price point.

Ultimately, I opted for paperback editions of Joe Sacco's Palestine and Mat Johnson's Incognegro. I was well aware of the content of both, but had not actually read either. I knew both works were entirely self-contained, and were ones I'd had on my "I'd really like to get around to reading them" list since I'd first heard of them.

The decision on which books to purchase was likely a lot more difficult for me than it might be for most people, given how much I've devoted myself to the medium over the years. Although by no means do I want to slight the addictive power of alcohol, I did find myself making comparisons to recovered alcoholics. Once you've quit, it's obscenely easy to start back up again and I wanted to make damn sure that I wouldn't find myself tempted to say, "Well, what's one more issue?"

I still love the medium as a whole, and I almost always enjoy the experience of actually reading through a comic. Even the bad ones give me an excuse to exercise my brain, trying to figure why exactly it's so bad. And I'm still reading any number of strips online (see the list at the right) but those pamphlets are dangerous things. Certainly more dangerous than I'd realized before last week -- as evidenced by the fact that I also bought RASL #2-4.

Damn it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Comics For Collectors

Ithaca, like many college towns, has its own comic shop. Comics for Collectors was started in 1981 by Bill Turner and Tim Gray, who had already founded the Comic Book Club of Ithaca a few years earlier. It was about half a block from where I was staying, so it was almost mandatory than I stop by during the two hours the S.O. and her friend went out for pedicures. It was, conveniently, a Wednesday afternoon so I was eager to see not only the shop itself but the clientèle that frequented it.

I stopped in right around 5:00, expecting to see a good number of fans hitting the store on their way home from work. I was surprised, though, to find the shop empty except for one employee who greeted me pleasantly as she was pulling together a customer's file. All of the latest comics were displayed prominently along one wall, separated into three categories: Marvel, DC, and everything else. (To be fair, there may have been an Image section between the DC and everything else categories -- I vaguely recall seeing some Image books around there, but didn't think to look closely enough to see if it was a section by itself or just part of the everything else.) Within those sections, titles were racked alphabetically, and it looked like they carried a pretty good range of independent books as well as the superheroes staples. (There's an unintended pun there, but I'm not going to make the effort to refine it.)

The rest of the walls of the store were lined with bookshelves featuring a large number of graphic novels, trade paperbacks, and other similar collections. The top shelf was about seven feet high, and above that, the walls were decorated with framed original comic art -- most of which was for sale. There was a small area in the center of the floor with another bookshelf of manga, and maybe a dozen long boxes of fairly recent (within the last 3-4 months) back issues. Another couple boxes were marked as Quarter Bins.

There was a checkout counter by the front door, and the area behind it housed customers' files and a few dozen older comics, several dating back to the 1930s. There was a window display featuring various comics and TPB collections (see photo), and there were a few action figures scattered throughout the store. I think I saw maybe five or six small statuettes/busts. Trading cards and CCGs were nowhere to be seen, nor did I see any other of the typically peripheral comics ephemera one usually finds in LCSes.

I was in the store for about 45 minutes, and saw a total of four other customers during that time. They all chatted briefly and cordially with the employee, but they were mainly general pleasantries with little in the way of "traditional" fanboy talk. The owner (Tim bought Bill out back in 2000) came out from the back room a few times, working on some sort of stocking issues. He greeted customers (including me) pleasantly and noted that they had some more stock not on display if there was anything I was looking for and didn't see. He also brought out his dog, Snowy, who took to lounging casually near the entrance.

When someone asked me a couple hours later what I thought of Comics for Collectors, I found myself somewhat dumb-struck for a good answer. It was unlike any comics shop I'd ever been in. It had a good selection of comics, but there was clearly a deliberate decision to only showcase the most recent ones, in favor of a large selection of collected editions. It took a little while for me to fully process what they were doing and how they operated.

I don't know how long the shop has been set-up in this manner, but it's the first I've seen that's adjusted themselves to fit the changing market. Historically, comic shops have had rows and rows of back issues because that was the primary way readers could read older stories. But many shop owners have noted that with the predominance of eBay (where retailers as well as individual collectors now compete head-to-head in selling back issues) coupled with publishers putting an ever-increasing amount of material into TPB form, in-store back issue sales have dropped considerably. Comics for Collectors has wisely removed the vast majority of back issues from their facilities, making room for the more popular collections. Furthermore, the back issues they do keep out are the ones that are more likely to sell -- namely, those which still have some degree of timeliness. People who just picked up Captain America #600 and enjoyed it, for example, can quickly grab #597-599 to catch up on whatever story lead-ins were there. Anything much older than that is then available in TPB form.

What also strikes me as a smart move is how they've organized their bookshelves. It's generally alphabetical by title, but they have a few callouts as well. For example, near the W section, where Watchmen is prominently on display, they have additional shelf space for a small Alan Moore section. There were also areas dedicated to Jeff Smith, Ed Brubaker, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Neal Adams and a few others that I'm not remembering offhand. It's a great and simple cross-sell strategy: if you liked Transmetropolitan you might also like Anna Mercury. I must admit that I was sorely tempted to pick up the first issues of Ignition City because of that. (I convinced myself to do a wait-for-the-trade approach here.)

Ultimately, it was very striking to see a comic shop sell comics as it makes the most business sense given today's market. They clearly saw where things were heading and adopted a different approach accordingly. That says to me that there's some business savvy at work here that goes far beyond the typical "I sell comics just because I love to be around comics" attitude that's wildly predominant throughout the retail side of the industry.

What I'm unsure about is the exact reasoning behind the lack of CCGs and the like. I'm sure this was a conscious business decision, but I don't know if that has more to do with catering to the specific preferences of that geographic area or an inability to compete with a hobby shop around the corner. (In short, I don't know if the hobby shop started selling cards and then the comic shop stopped, or the comic shop never sold them in the first place and the hobby shop decided it was an opportunity for them.) Either way, I like the fact that the comic shop caters particularly to people who like comics; it's not a shop that sells superhero materials and happens to have a few non-superhero comics available as well.

Interestingly, this tactic anecdotally works well for the non- "Wednesday crowd" types. A friend who lives in Ithaca noted that she actually does enjoy some comics, but she's decidedly NOT a fan of superheroes. At some time in the past, she mentioned, the shop wasn't very friendly to folks like her but the current set-up and operations are much more inviting and conducive to walking in off the street. (Which, by the way, is exceptionally easy to do given their location. Indeed, while I was there, one person stopped in just to pet Snowy.) It's a store which caters to people who want to read comics.

And that might sound like an obvious statement, but it really isn't. Some time back I discussed how "comics shops" are really "licensed properties shops" and how that a real comic shop model wasn't viable. Evidently, I was wrong on that last point as Comics for Collectors really IS a comic shop, and doing rather well. I'm very pleased to be proven wrong on that point, and it's absolutely the type of shop I would love to frequent.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Comic Book Club of Ithaca

The S.O. and I just got back from a week-long vacation in Ithaca, NY -- hanging out with a bunch of new friends and generally having a great time. (Fairly cheaply, too, considering we were gone for a whole week and had some excellent accommodations.) But, relevant to you -- the comics aficionado -- I also partook of some comic-related events that I thought I'd share here.

Before going, one of our friends pointed out to me that Ithaca has had a comic book club for many years, and one of their meetings happened to fall on the day we were rolling into town. The Comic Book Club of Ithaca was founded back in the 1970s and has continued through to this day. They've even gotten substantial enough to host Ithacon on a regular basis. They meet twice a month at the local library in one of the meeting rooms, and chat about comics. There's generally a theme to each meeting, and the discussion is in a round-table format. People are encouraged to bring examples relevant to the discussion, and the atmosphere is decidedly casual and friendly.

The meeting I attended was focused on "media comics" -- comics which are based on licenses and properties initially developed for another medium, everything from Tarzan to Mickey Mouse to Jerry Lewis to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was cordially met by one of organizers upon entering the library and he provided a robust accounting of the organization while we waited for the other members to arrive. Once everyone who was expected to be there was present, we began by looking at some TPB collections one of the members brought in showing off some stories about Animaniacs, Star Wars, Donald Duck and others. Lots of interesting tidbits were brought up, like citing how many "mainstream" comic creators that are well-known today got their start working on comparatively "obscure" books like Dr. Who and noting the single instance of Carl "The Good 'Duck' Artist" Barks drawing a Porky Pig story!

The overall discussion also tackled specific questions relating to media comics such as "What was the earliest media comic?" and "What media comics grew to be more popular than their source material?" These particulars were left somewhat open-ended as we were discussing things in more general terms, rather than doing actual research. We didn't have a lot of hard information in front of us and obviously didn't have much time to do anything comprehensive. But the range of backgrounds and experiences everyone provided made for a very well-rounded discussion.

Most of the time these days, I have my comic conversations like this. Online, over the course of days and weeks. The organic nature of an in-person panel discussion -- one that's a little more directed than random conversations started in your Local Comic Shop on any given Wednesday -- can be really invigorating with a good group of people. If I were better at organizing things like that, I'd seriously look into starting such a group in my area.

It was really a great start to my time in Ithaca. The discussion was smart and engaging, the guys (none of the female members made it to that particular meeting) were all friendly and inviting, and the whole atmosphere was very comfortable -- even for an introverted outsider like myself. It really struck me as a great group, and I'd definitely enjoy dropping in on future meetings the next time I'm in the Ithaca area. Thanks to Alec, Bill, Jeff and Will for helping to kick off a really enjoyable vacation!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Apologies & A Quick Link

Sorry for the lack of posts the past few days; I've been out of town with limited Internet access. (My last several posts were actually written a week ago!) I do have at least a couple post ideas from the trip, but I'll get into that when I have more time and am more caught up on sleep!

In the meantime, if this hasn't made the rounds already (as I said, I've been out of town) my pals David Gallaher and Valerie D'Orazio made it into this Penthouse article! Fortunately for me, they don't have pictures of the two of them -- that would definitely fall in the TMI category!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Second Life As Comic Creator

Second Life, as I've noted before, is an open-ended online tool that people can use in to achieve a variety of objectives. People can use it to achieve a wide variety of ends, from adventurous role-playing games to conventions to storytelling.I've also seen Second Life used specifically to create artwork for comics, precluding the need for a creator to be illustratively inclined. However, doing comics with a larger cast becomes increasingly more difficult as you add more characters -- you in fact need a different person logging in and posing for each character, much like you need separate actors for a film or TV show. To that end, Saffia Widdershins and Annechen Lowey are holding a casting call for Second Life residents for their new comic series The Quest for the Golden Prim. Details can be found here. I'm not sure if I personally have the time to devote to such an endeavor, but I'll certainly be curious to see it develop, both the process and the end result. The deadline for applications is Sunday, June 21.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Just How Bad Is It For Newspapers?

As I mentioned last week, Cool Jerk creator Paul Horn got himself married. Here's a pic snapped just before the ceremony got started...
That's Paul on the left. On the right is journalist Mark Nero, who's written for The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Los Angeles Daily News, The Boston Globe and The Pasadena Star-News among other papers. Apparently, he has to moonlight as a wedding officiator to make ends meet! Not only that, the book he's carrying is just some random Reader's Digest hardcover with his notes taped to the inside!

I don't know about you, but that seems to me like pretty slim pickins for journalists trying to earn a living!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Windsor McCay Day

It's Windsor McCay Day in Spring Lake, MI and, since I can't be there in person, I thought I'd celebrate by showcasing McCay animating his most famous characters...

Brilliant work. Simply brilliant.

By all means, track down at least some of McCay's work. It really is absolutely breath-taking.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's 1993, Again

You're likely to hear/see something today about the return of Captain America. I'd just like to reprint a few excerpts from an article Chuck Rozanski wrote in 2004...
While there were certainly a plethora of other reasons why the American comics market began falling apart in 1993 (including higher cover prices, overproduction, and deteriorating art/story quality), in my opinion the "Death of Superman" promotion inadvertently exposed to the general public (many of whom ignorantly bought into the prevailing delusion that all comics were collectibles that infinitely rose in value) the "Ponzi Scheme" reality of the market for recent back issue comics.

What made the "Death of Superman" promotion so much different than all the rest of the specious comics marketing schemes cooked up during the early 1990's was that it was aimed at the general public...

There was only one problem with this entire program. It was based entirely on a lie. DC never had any intention of actually killing off Superman. His entire "death" was an event solely contrived to sell lots and lots of comic books...

Where things went wrong, however, is that this particular promotion seemed like a sure bet to those members of the general public who had come to believe all the hype during the early 1990's about the investment value of comics...

By the end of 1993, it became painfully clear to anyone who studied the market numbers that the comics world was starting to shrink. Little did we know, however, that the decline would last for more than a decade, and would eventually reduce the overall unit sales volume of comics by a disastrous 80% from the 1992 peak. That huge decline in overall unit sales inevitably led to a severe consolidation in not only the comics retailing community, but also in the number of publishers and distributors...

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." You can read Chuck's article, in its entirety, here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Power Girl's Autograph!

The S.O. surprised me Friday night with a gift. With some help from her bud Pat, she procured a couple copies of JSA vs. Kobras #1 signed by Gene Ha and the models he used for Mr. Terrific and Power Girl!

Rose (a.k.a. Power Girl) even provided a fair amount of personalization just for yours truly...


It's a little hard to see in the photo, but that smudge just above Rubani's signature are the lip prints of Rose herself. You read that right, fellas, Power Girl kissed my comic book! HA! (No pun intended.)

Hat Tip Department: Thanks to Challengers Comics for hosting the signing. Thanks to Pat for thinking to bring it to the S.O.'s attention and doing all the leg work. Thanks to Gene, Rubani, and Rose for doing the signing. Last but not least, thanks to the S.O. for everything.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Writing For Zuda

Dwight MacPherson has helpful suggestions for those interested in writing their eight page pitch for Zuda. Interestingly, he's written it more as a defense of his own current entry, Sidewise, than as suggestions for future Zuda contestants. Zuda editor Kwanza Johnson also Twitters submission suggestions from time to time as well.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Congrats, Mr. and Mrs. Jerk!

A hearty congratulations go out to Paul Horn, as he's getting married today! Horn's the creative force behind the webcomic Cool Jerk and I will be sorely disappointed if I don't see pictures of their wedding cake with a Doc Splatter cake topper!

Congrats, Paul! You have indeed got a special woman there!

For those of you who aren't Paul, why not check out his comic since I know you're all too cheap to get him a wedding present!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Can't Blog. Writing.

I need to put in some work on my next "Incidental Iconography" column for Jack Kirby Collector #53, so I don't have much time to blog today. I will tell you, though, that for this issue, I'm examining how Jack drew himself over the years! And let me tell you, I've got some pretty interesting theories working in this one!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

From The Archives

Recently uncovered from a homemade wooden box marked "SEAN"...
I had a good sized collection of Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark cards as a kid, but what you see above marks the entirety of my Superman cards.

I vaguely remember being really disappointed with the first movie cards because two of them just had Ma and Pa Kent, who were on screen for all of five minutes and the too flashy, but non-descript "Incredible Laboratory of Jor-El." (Although "Preparing to Leap Skyward" wasn't bad, if a bit dark.)

It looks as if I had a tad more luck with Superman II although I suspect my second set consisted largely of Ursa and Non, and who really gave a rat's ass about them? Zod was clearly the only real challenge to Superman. Ursa and Non were to Zod what Otis was to Lex Luthor. And we all remember how unnecessary HE was!

And while I'm on the subject of Superman movies, I never liked Margot Kidder as Lois Lane -- no offense to her as an actress, but even when I was six years old, I thought she was a lousy choice for the part. Loved Christopher Reeve as Superman and Clark Kent; I could've taken or left Gene Hackman as Luthor; but Kidder as Lois just didn't work. Especially since I'd already seen Noel Neill do such an incredible job at the part on the reruns I'd seen on Saturday mornings. Kidder's wardrobe was terrible; she sounded like she'd spent her entire life smoking; she constantly vacillated between strong, contemporary woman and mindless screamer; and I'm sorry, but I just never thought she was the least bit attractive.

Anyway, I don't have a point here, other than to say, "Hey, cool! I found some of my old trading cards!"

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Six Degrees Of Power Girl

The cover at the right is of JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith #3 due out in August. Artwork by Gene Ha.

The focus of the cover, of course, is Rose.

"Who?"

Rose. Rose is a friend Gene Ha who he's modeled his version of Power Girl after. As I understand it, she's actually a comic fan herself and "wise beyond her years." I am also to understand that, yes, she really does look like that but that's about where the similarities end.

How do I know this? Well, apparently, Rose is also friends with a guy named Pat. Pat and his partner live in Chicago with their three cats and two turtles and an apartment full of Dr. Who and Godzilla and other pop culture icons. Pat works in IT.

How do I know Pat? Pat is friends with my S.O. I've met him a couple times, and he's a good guy.

Me > S.O. > Pat > Rose > Gene Ha > Power Girl

I wonder if she could get me Green Arrow's autograph?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Order of the Exalted Moustache!

On a personal note, I've just been awarded the Order of the Exalted Moustache by Her Majesty. You have no idea how proud I am right now; receiving it really made my day. Thanks to all who made it possible!

Resurrection #1

There are any number of ways to open a story. I have to admit to being a sucker for ones that start right in with action: sword fights, gun battles, high-speed chases... BAM! Just hit the ground running! I'll figure what's going on as I go. How better to grab the audience's attention than with explosions, right?

Of course, at some point, the explosions have to stop. You can't have ALL ACTION ALL THE TIME, after all, otherwise people realize that you don't really have a story to tell and you're just blowing stuff up. So eventually, you have ratchet things back down. And that's where Marc Guggenheim's Resurrection starts: after all the action.

The set-up is that, in 1998 aliens land on Earth and start blasting us to kingdom come. In 2007, they just vanish, and what's left of the human race start climbing out of their hiding places. This is where Guggenheim picks up the story. The first volume of the series started in Belspring, VA and followed Sara Lisco to Washington, DC where she and a few others she ran into look towards rebuilding America. The second volume (whose first issue should be out on Wednesday) starts in the exact same spot but, instead, follows the people Sara left in Virginia.

It's a very compelling story, really. What happens afterwards? We've all seen the hero ride off into the sunset, but what happens then? There is no "happily ever-after" in real life; people's lives continue on and they encounter new conflicts -- some similar, some altogether different. And that's what makes Resurrection interesting. Guggenheim drops enough clues intelligently to let readers know how we got to this point, but leaves plenty of room to expand in any direction he wants.

Which is sort of where volume 2 comes in. As I said, he starts in the same spot (going so far as to showing the same opening scenes -- redrawn -- as volume 1) but is still able to head off an entirely new direction.

I should note here some of the other distinctions between the first volume and this new one. Most noticeable, of course, is the addition of color. (More on that in a bit.) Guggenheim has also dropped the song lyrics he used to open chapters of the first volume -- a wise choice, I think, since music played almost no part of the story otherwise, making the lyrics seem decidedly out of place. The story is different structurally, too, since Sara gained allies on her trek while the group that starts here is continually losing members. It will be interesting to see if Guggenheim continues that theme throughout the series to reinforce a message. (Although rather early to say for sure, I'd say that thematically, the stories tell us that aiming for mere survival isn't enough, and that you really have to make an attempt at progress in order to survive.)

It's easy to say that the new volume is new-reader-friendly and that you don't need to have read the first to appreciate the second -- indeed, that's precisely what I was told -- but since the second volume doesn't even follow the same characters AND starts at the same point as the first, it really does apply particularly well here. If they opt to continue with other volumes in a similar manner, I might go so far as to suggest not numbering them at all and letting readers who happen across the series in a bookstore start on any volume at random. Resurrection: Sara's Story, Resurrection: Frank's Story, Resurrection: Latisha's Story... something like that.

Which is all to say that I really liked the concept and thought it was well written. I was pulled into the story, and really liked Guggenheim did with it.

The art chores in the latest volume are handled by Justin Greenwood, replacing David Dumeer and Douglas Dabbs from the first volume. As I had a few issues with storytelling in the original story (notably, some of the action scenes weren't particularly clear) I think Greenwood's a welcome addition. Though I've seen his work on this one issue (I missed the FCBD edition) he seemed to handle himself well, despite a larger number of dramatic scene changes. I'm curious now, too, to see his interpretation of the aliens. Fairly solid work throughout, and I hope to see that level throughout the remainder of the series.

Volume one worked well in black and white, and I suspect volume two would have as well. But the addition of color adds a surprising amount, I think, conveying a lot about each scene's mood and tenor, further emphasizing the points Guggenheim and Greenwood are already making. I don't see a colorist credit on the preview copy I have, but whoever it was that did the work did a nice job, following Greenwood's more high-contrast and somewhat blocky art style, as opposed to filling in a lot of gradients and blends that are common (not necessarily in a bad way) in other comics. The color here enhances the story and never seeks to overwhelm the reader. (Though I must admit that I was particularly impressed with the coloring on the sunset and campfire scenes -- not something most people would notice, I expect, but I liked it.)

I remember being intrigued by the previews I saw of the first volume when it was first coming out but I somehow managed to miss it as it came out in pamphlet form. (Probably because I was making some dramatic changes in purchasing habits around that time.) But I'm looking forward to seeing the new issues as they come out, and I expect I won't be the only one.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sidewise

For those of you not playing along at home, Zuda Comics is still going strong, with a new set of comics every month to be tested and voted on by the masses. Aside from the handful of previous winners' comics I follow, I try to check out the new ones to see what strikes my fancy. I see one every two or three months that I like at all, and about half of those are received well enough to continue as an ongoing work. There's one this month that I quite enjoy and, so far, looks like it's being well-received, so I thought I'd mention it here.

Dwight MacPherson came up with the idea for Sidewise when his son asked him what "steampunk" was. He developed the character Adam Graham, who's accidentally sent back in time to Victorian England. However, he quickly realizes that it's a different England than he'd read about in history books, as it's populated with tanks and robots and chemical lasers. Although it does give me some vague recollections of the TV show Voyagers!, it's mainly limited to the use of the timepiece as a teleportation device and the kid-out-of-his-own-time notion.

MacPherson's story so far (each Zuda competitor only gets eight pages to work with initially) is solid, and provides a clear set-up, establishing the main characters, their relationships, and the overall setting. I've read enough of his work now to come to expect a certain level of quality, and he doesn't disappoint here.

The art duties are handled by Igor Noronha, whose work I am wholly unfamiliar with. The storytelling is clear, and handled well. There's some nice touches with the art (Ms. Hopping running along the wall, for example) and the basic designs work well enough (I do like the vague resemblance Mr. Wells has to Frankenstein's monster). I might suggest, though, that Noronha hasn't completely absorbed the steampunk aesthetic yet.

I think there are two things working against Noronha here. First, his backgrounds do little to establish location. Aside from a single gaslamp, there's little to suggest the scene takes place in 1902; the buildings and backgrounds are very non-descript and lack much detail. The coloring does help somewhat, with a hazy sepia feel overall, but the buildings, when they're shown, could be almost anywhere/when. The other aspect that doesn't seem to be helping is... well, let me provide an example...
The panel on the left works, I think, because we see a reasonable amount of detail in Ms. Hopper's gauntlet and sidearm. There were lots of unnecessary fiddly bits with Victorian era designs, and that shows up here. But in the second panel, the decreased size of the figures doesn't allow for such detail and the same character looks like she could've have stepped right out of Halo. Granted, the tinier figures don't allow for as much detail, but it seems to me that there's only just enough in the larger designs to convey the point and the smaller ones, combined with the aforementioned backgrounds, make many of the scenes a bit too bland to qualify as steampunk.

Now, I was about to qualify that by stating that the story seems to work well otherwise, so it might be fine to just simply not define it as steampunk in the "classic" sense of the word. But, as I thought about it more, I realized that it really DOES need to be a steampunk story and the art really DOES need to convey that. The reason being that the protagonist comes from a technologically advanced society already (they have time travel) and the story needs to show a greater contrast between him and the place he's landed. He doesn't come across as out of place enough visually, precisely because the Victorian/steampunk aesthetic is too muted.

That said, I still think it's a good start to a story and one in which I'd like to see continue. Further, it far outshines the other Zuda competitors this month. But don't take my word for it, check out Sidewise for yourself!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

It's All Perspective

I have felt like shit all day.

I woke up the first time this morning, after only four or five hours of sleep, thanks to my dog's insistence on going outside. I managed to fall back asleep, but I woke a few hours later with a nasty headache that's stayed with me all day. It's certainly not one of those debilitating migraines or anything, but it's certainly hampered my being productive at all.

Lunch was edible, but just kind of sat in my stomach. Dinner was bland and disappointing. I've probably had one too many sodas today, trying to use caffeine to compensate for a lack of drive.

I tried banging out some rhythms on my drums, feeling the headache was brought on by tension, but the volume level wasn't helping. I tried working out, trying for the same effect with less noise, but I dropped in immediate pain -- apparently some somewhat overworked muscles from yesterday weren't ready for a repeat performance. I did manage to take the dog on a walk, despite some sore calves.

Most (well, three or four hours) of my day was spent zoning out on videos found online. I did not work on fixing my parents' laptop; I did not do the laundry; I did not mow the lawn; I did not work on my next JKC column; I did not read through any material I'm supposed to review. The only productive thing I did today was alphabetize my meager manga collection, which took all of maybe 15 minutes.

Now, all that said, let me be clear that I am NOT complaining.

When I got back from walking the dog, I sat on the deck in my bare feet. The sun was slowly setting on the other side of the house, still allowing plenty of indirect sunlight. The air had cooled to the mid-70s with an occasional mild breeze. I sat there, reading From the Desk of Warren Ellis, which I recently found on my bookshelf, having sat there for several years unread. I read, not worrying about whether the words really sank in or not because it didn't really matter; they're mostly his mad ramblings and I never had any intention of formally reviewing it anyway. I sat there, drinking a cheap knock-off of Dr. Pepper because money's tighter than it used to be with this suck-ass economy and the knock-off version is half the price of the original. I sat there, petting my dog when he wasn't protecting the yard from those inherently evil bunny rabbits who insist that property rights have no meaning in the animal kingdom. Nearby birds are placing bets on whether the dog or the rabbits will win this round; it sounds like chirping. Somebody's mowing their lawn the next street over.

Ellis' words drift by and I realize that they were written a decade ago. Much of what he says in the book is irrelevant to me -- as much as I enjoy his work and respect him as a writer, I don't drink or smoke, and his thoughts on the comic industry strike me as out of date. The comics industry of the mid-to-late 1990s is a very different one than we have today. Digital lettering and coloring were in their infancy; most artists didn't have the ability to scan their pencil work and upload it to a company server; Marvel was in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings; Batman & Robin pretty well killed the market for comic book movies. I would never have paid the $29.95 cover price for this book, and I'm glad I didn't even have to shell out $6.95 for the paperback version.

I'm on the deck with my book and my soda and my dog. The sun is fading fast, but the sky is still bright, the breeze is cool and, although she's not with me at this exact moment (one which I wish I could share with her), I know I've got a girl who loves me.

I've still got a headache. The laundry will still be there tomorrow. As will the bills I didn't take care of today. As will the dishes I didn't clean up. And everything else I would've liked to accomplish today, but didn't.

As a rule, I like to live every day as some kind of advancement over the previous one. I want to be better tomorrow than I am today. Every day. But it's unrealistic to think that's possible each and every day, so I can deal with the occasional day when I feel like shit and don't get anything accomplished. So despite having lousy meals, and cheap soda, and sore muscles, and a nasty headache, and disappointing reading material, and everything else that I didn't like about today, it's all good. It puts the better days in perspective. And that's how I get through a crappy day like today -- by just keeping it in perspective.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Really, Truly True And For Real Ewing Fact!

Urged on by Sarah McIntyre's contest, I feel the need to point out that Garen Ewing's fascination with mustaches is the direct result of his inability to grow one for himself. He's sadly forced to wear false ones when the need for one arises...

Happy Birthday, Dave!

Everybody's favorite High Moon author has a birthday today!

Have a beer for me, bud!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Happy Birthday, Garen!

Today is the 40th birthday of Garen Ewing, of The Rainbow Orchid fame. Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Say, wouldn't it be great if he was able to collect R.O. into a print collection from a mainstream publisher that had wide-ranging appeal, and could be easily purchased through online retailers like Amazon?"

As luck would have it, that's exactly what he's doing...

So, pre-order your copy today and wish Ewing a happy birthday!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ithaca, Anyone?

I'll find myself in the Ithaca, NY area in a couple weeks. Is there anyone out there who might be able to tell me if it'd be worth my time to swing by Comics for Collectors? Good shop? No? What about Heroes Your Mom Threw Out? I don't know if I'll be able to get that far out, but how's that shop? Could anyone provide a review of either?

Thanks!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Shadow Hare Theme Song

Sorry, but I cannot pass this up...

Remember Shadow Hare? The Playhouse has created a theme song for him...

I Told You So!

Excerpt from this post I made last December...
Let's say a Marvel comic costs $2.99 and it sells 30,000 issues a month. That's $89,700 in revenue. If Marvel jacks up the price to $3.99, they will inevitably lose readers. How about we assume 25% for the sake of simplicity? If a dollar price increase drops monthly sales by 25%, Marvel will actually bring in more money. 22,500 x 3.99 = 89,775. Yes, that's only a $75 increase in this example, but that's also just using off-the-top-of-my-head figures. I suspect Marvel has done some number crunching and figured that they won't lose nearly that many readers for most of their books.

What Marvel realizes here -- and I've heard Marvel editors speak to this point directly -- is that Marvel comics are what economists call price inelastic. That means that the price you pay can fluctuate quite a bit without a change in your buying habits. Gasoline is a more classic example of having price inelasticity. But, as we've seen recently with gas, there IS a point at which people will start changing their buying habits based on price. But, in the case of gas, that didn't really start until after we'd staying north of $3.50 a gallon for several months and we started seeing that reflected in the price of moving goods around the country. Marvel is betting (accurately, I'd wager) that a $3.99 cover price won't send away too many of their customers.

Consumers don't have an infinite bank account, though, so that price change is going impact them. But, I'd bet (as I'm sure Marvel is) that most of their customers are going to drop books from other publishers before theirs. Sure, the folks who buy mostly DC books and only one or two Marvel books are more likely to drop the Marvel books over their DC ones. But the bulk of Marvel's readership, I'd guess, is comprised of people who buy mostly Marvel comics. Most superhero fans seem to have a preference to which universe they visit, and the Marvel fans which comprise the majority of their overall readership are more likely to drop non-Marvel books. Especially in this era of perpetual company-wide crossovers. Does it make more sense to drop Final Crisis (which doesn't really make sense unless you're also reading a half dozen other DC titles) or Secret Invasion (which ties in with another dozen or two books that you were already reading anyway)?

The issue I'm sure many of you have thought of is, of course, that this will likely have a detrimental impact on smaller publishers, as people drop their one Slave Labor title to afford their Marvels. This will, overall, almost certainly hurt the industry and I expect we'll see Marvel actually increase their market share with regard to dollar value. It doesn't strike me as a positive move for the industry overall, but I'm pretty sure the bean counters at Marvel aren't focused on that.

It was an absolutely cynical outlook on how Marvel's running their operations on my part, but I think the recent investor conference and subsequent internet chatter show that I was entirely justified in that thinking. Marvel (and DC) know they've got their customers by the cajones, and can pretty much put out whatever they want, charge whatever they want, and most of their current customer base will continue to buy it.

Let me ask this... how many people will stop buying Justice League because Dwayne McDuffie got fired? Oh, I'm sure there are some people who were reading ONLY because McDuffie was on the book in the first place, and they're gone to be sure, but will that impact the sales numbers? Not appreciably. I rambled on about this whole notion over a year ago...
From a practical point of view, each of us a finite amount of resources with which to procure comics. As a company, marvel (and DC and Dark Horse and everybody else) wants to garner as much of that as possible. So if you've devoted yourself to marvel comics, then you're going to drop whatever you comic allowance is on their products. Even if you switch from Captain America to Thor, they still get the same chunk of your change. Their business model is largely predicated on the fact that you're going to continue giving the same amount of money every month, and it's largely irrelevant on which titles you actually buy.

A lot of jokes have been made over the years about the toxic relationship many comic book fans have with their Local Comic Shops, but the relationships they have with their publisher(s) of choice are just as bad anymore. And that's one (but certainly not the primary!) reason why I stopped buying Marvel and DC books on a regular basis.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Emiliano Molina Interview

Jim Shelly interviews Emiliano Molina, the creator of ComicZeal and ComicZeal Sync!

How Well Do You Know Your Lightning?

Pop quiz! Can you tell which iconic characters each of these lightning bolt style logos/emblems come from?