Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Coming Soon: Iron Man, Spiderman, Sgt. Fury, Joe Sinnott!

I'd just like to take a moment to share this interesting piece of history I stumbled across recently: The Comic Reader #13, dated November 8, 1962. Here's a portion of the front cover...
If you don't want to/can't enlarge it enough to actually read it, it says...
Dear Comic Reader: Stan Lee is introducing a new character in TALES OF SUSPENSE -- Iron Man! This goes on sale Dec. 10th. Watch for it.

Also on sale Dec. 10th -- an entire mag devoted to THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN! You won't want to miss this one.

Stan also has a new war mag in the making -- SERGEANT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOES. This one won't be out until March 5th, but don't you forget it!

Starting with issue #91 of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, Joe Sinnott (who inked FANTASTIC FOUR #5) will be drawing The Mighty Thor. I think you are going to like his work.

Judy Walsh, Correspondent
FANTASTIC FOUR, etc.

(Thanks, Judy, for keeping us supplied with the latest news from Stan's Stable. Fans appreciate your kind response.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Really Missed It: Sara Mayhew, TED Fellow

I just stumbled across this (at this point decidedly old) news but can't seem to find any reference to it among the broader comic community, so I thought I'd share here... Canadian mangaka Sara Mayhew was named as one of the TED Fellows early this year and spoke at this year's conference.

Of Numbers & Meaning

(Trust me; this IS comics related.)

I like to stay in shape. (Well, more accurately, I don't like not being in shape.) By no means am I in peak physical condition, but I think I'm reasonably fit for a guy who's always preferred mental over physical activity, drinks WAAAY too much soda, and is now pushing 40. I freely acknowledge that I could be doing a lot better, but I don't beat myself up over it because, frankly, there's a LOT of other things I'd rather spend my time on than working out more for exponentially diminishing returns.

My overall health and fitness is obviously of some concern, but I don't worry about it much. I've got a scale in the bathroom that I step on... pretty much only when I know that I'm about to be asked how much I weigh. Like, just before I go to get my driver's license renewed. A lot of people judge how well their exercise program or diet or whatever is working by that scale, but I don't. It's a worthless number.

See, your weight is just the measure of gravity pulling against your mass. If your goal is to simply to make the number on your bathroom scale smaller, there are several options you could pursue. You could move to another planet where the intensity of gravity is different. You could decrease your overall mass by, say, cutting off one of your limbs. You could mount huge magnets in the ceiling above your scale and wear iron bracelets.

All of those options are absurd, of course, but that's my point. The goal itself is absurd. The measurement of your weight doesn't speak at all to the density of of your mass. Maybe you do actually have thick bones. It doesn't speak to any difference between fat and muscle. It doesn't speak to how your fat is distributed throughout your body; sumo wrestlers, while heavy, have a distinctly different body makeup than equally heavy couch potatoes. It's not really an accurate gauge of what you're REALLY trying to achieve -- which is (generally) improved health.

Let's look at body mass index (BMI) for a second. It's basically just a simple calculation of your weight to your height. That's a little more reasonable than weight by itself since it takes into consideration a second factor that would have an impact on your mass. According to BMI "standards" a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. At the height of his body building career, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a BMI of 31.2 during competitions and 33.8 during the off-season; I hardly think anyone would call him obese though. Schwarzenegger's weight was primarily muscle.

So why, if those numbers don't really mean anything, do people rely on them?

Because, frankly, we don't have a better measurement methodology available. There's no real standardized test for "fitness" so people use things like weight and BMI as indicators of fitness. It's really only useful as a general trending number for yourself. If you feel uncomfortable with the amount of fat your body has, exercise and a healthy diet (not "diet" as a verb, mind you) will help you lose weight. But whether you lose 5, 10 or 20 pounds that's really only a general guide for the direction you're taking your body. Did you actually just lose 10 pounds, or did you lose 15 pounds of fat and gain 5 pounds of muscle? Which is better for you, if there is a difference?

Apply the same thought now to sales numbers. Ever month that they come out, the people who calculate them always say, "These are ESTIMATES." And most everybody treats them as gospel anyway. I've heard more than a couple editors flatly say the estimates are rarely even in the ballpark. The only thing they do is suggest general trending; is Action Comics selling better or worse than Uncanny X-Men? It's a rough guide at best.

Sadly, I think my weight analogy hits too close to the mark. People have been using weight for generations as THE way to measure physical health and that doesn't look to change any time soon. Unless we start getting genuine, actual sales measurements from the publishers themselves, I'm pretty sure people are going to continue looking at the current numbers as if they were more definitive than they are.

(And since I'm sure no one is really going to bother listening to me on this subject, I guess that qualifies this as more of a babbling rant than anything of substance. Now you kids get off of my lawn!)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fan Spending

So I'm reading Theorizing Fandom on my lunch hour. One of the essays focused on the results of some surveys sent out among comic book fans. Much of it was fairly standard of what you (or, at least, I) might expect about gender, age, genre preferences, etc. But one thing that stood out was that the researchers had asked about spending on "curatorial supplies" -- the stuff that people use to actually store their comics. Annual spending was, on average, just over $70 per person and broke down thus:
Item purchasedPercentage of respondents
who purchased this item
comic bags84%
long & short boxes60%
backing boards36%
mylar sleeves21%
title dividers13%
labels10%
otherless than 10%
It doesn't cite exactly when this survey was conducted. The book came out in 1998, but the authors note that this particular essay was an extension of a paper presented in 1992, suggesting the bulk of the research was done in the 1990/1991 timeframe. (Making the $70 figure closer to $115 in today's terms.)

I found the breakdown fascinating from a couple perspectives. I would have figured long box purchasers to be closer to being on par with bag and sleeve ones. I'm also surprised to see title dividers and labels as high as they were as well. I'm sure the ever-increasing prevalence of home computers since 1990 has decreased labels sales at least somewhat, but bear in mind that these are purchasing habits from at least a few years prior to the speculator bust.

Another point brought up in the essay was that 100% of their respondents were male. Which led to an unintentionally amusing side-discussion about how come there aren't more female readers. It was astonishing because, after all, Marvel has Storm as the leader of the X-Men and they also publish a Barbie comic! (For the record, it was then-president Terry Stewart who was dumb-founded; the researchers pointed to the "dominance of male heroes and action-oriented themes...")

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Promo image for the upcoming Jonah Hex movie, based on the comic of the same name...

Thanks to some creative license and a bit of Photoshoppery, not only is Jonah's face horribly scarred, but his arm was apparently cut off just above the elbow and sewn into his shoulder socket. And, not to be outdone, Leila had a good chunk of her midsection ripped out by a rabid panda, granting her a waistline smaller than size 0.

(h/t PhotoshopDisasters)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Slow Down Just A Minute There!

Tom Williams has already finished his flyer design for S.P.A.C.E. 2010, which is still seven months away. Considering that my longest term plans at the moment don't go out past mid-November, and nearly all my other plans don't make it through the end of this week, I'm feeling a tad behind. I'm still wondering if I can make it through October, much less have it together enough to make a local convention like S.P.A.C.E. by April!

Torrents Status?

Jim Shelley takes a look to see how torrent activity has changed during this recession. Short answer: there's more of it, but it's harder to tell.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Looking Glass Wars/Hatter M

In about two and a half weeks, you'll be able to pick up ArchEnemy and Hatter M: Mad with Wonder, both part of Frank Beddor's "Looking Glass Wars" story that will be released on October 15. ArchEnemy is the third prose novel of the series, while Mad with Wonder is the second graphic novel.

The overarching (pun intended) story is that the famous Alice (more correctly spelled "Alyss") of Alice in Wonderland was a princess of Wondertropolis, until her parents were murdered by her Aunt Redd, in an effort to seize power. Alyss was banished across dimensions to London, where she was eventually adopted by the Liddell family. Although she told many people of her plight, no one believed her. Her tutor, Lewis Carroll, even felt the story imaginative enough to pen it as a work of fiction, changing some of the details for the sake of storytelling. Royal bodyguard Hatter Madigan went to Earth to look for her and she eventually made it back to Wondertropolis. At the end of the second novel, Seeing Redd, Alyss had defeated Redd but the world's main source of power seemed depleted and an upstart Borderlander by the name of Arch was eying the throne.

ArchEnemy begins there and chronicles how Alyss attempts to fight off both Arch and her still-very-upset Aunt Redd, and get the world's power back online. All without her vast powers of imagination. It's generally a good read, as the previous books, and Beddor provides for some interesting twists and turns that keep things interesting. There's certainly enough exposition and characterization that I don't think newcomers to the series will feel at all lost, but Beddor wisely spreads those portions out, so a returning reader isn't inundated with what would be recaps for them. I did feel, though, that the ending came on rather abruptly in almost a deus ex machina manner, as if he suddenly realized that he had to wrap everything up in the next fifteen pages. It makes sense and doesn't come entirely out of left field or anything like that, but the previous books had better dénouements.

Mad with Wonder actually shoots back to when Alyss was still trapped on Earth with Madigan looking for her. The previous graphic novel was set in 1859, while this one begins in 1864. (Without checking, I believe Seeing Redd notes that Madigan ultimately spent seven years in his quest.) Like the first graphic novel, no foreknowledge of the prose works are necessary, and there is a several page graphic recap of the first volume to bring any new readers up to speed within the context of the comics. The main novels focus primarily on Alyss herself and her struggle with Redd; the comics focus almost exclusively on Madigan's search for Alyss on Earth and the adventures he encounters in that process.

Though still written by Beddor and Liz Cavalier, this volume is illustrated by Sami Makkonen who you might know from his work on Blue or Deadworld Slaughterhouse. Although distinctly different, Makkonen's work does have the tonal qualities as Ben Templesmith and Tyson Schroeder have used in the past, making for a comfortable visual continuity. The story itself is interesting in that we learn how Madigan is able to afford trekking around the world for as long as he did, and we also see how others react to Madigan's bizarre story about Alyss and Wondertropolis; he's paired up alternatively with a circus sideshow and the inhabitants of an insane asylum. (Which, if you're not familiar with your history, was an obscenely ghastly type of place in the late 1800s.) The story makes for some interesting character interactions and provides some insights to Madigan himself. Although a trained warrior, he does have a gentler side and shows some burgeoning, but still effectively latent, fatherly characteristics which then become note-worthy in ArchEnemy. The character of Elijah, too, is a particularly interesting one in light of his passing resemblance to DC's Joker.

I have to say that I've been impressed overall with Beddor's actualizing "Looking Glass Wars" via a transmedia approach. All of the components (prose work, graphic novels, webcomics, MMO and soundtrack) work very well independently but also tie numerous threads together to form a larger tapestry. The approach is more obvious in properties that have a larger marketing budget behind them (like, say, Star Wars) but this is the first attempt I've seen where the approach has been so deliberate and calculated. That might sound cynical, but it's not intended to be. Beddor has put some serious thought into the types of venues he's utilizing and tries to work with those outlets in a way that best serves a particular portion of the overall story. He could tell Madigan's story through prose alone, but the type of story it is suggests that comics are a better vehicle for it. Each component is designed with the specifics of the medium in mind, and they're developed in such a way as to be compelling on their own merits. That it's a good story overall and all of the individual elements are well done make it that much better in my mind.

I might point out a curious aside on the graphic novel. The back of Mad with Wonder contains a "Process Gallery" showing how a couple of pages of script become an illustrated page. While I was eager to look at that to get a better sense of how the breakdown of storytelling duties is delineated, I was actually left more confused than before. There's a clear progression of script to page layout sketch to page layout rough to final page, but it's unclear who is working on which portions and who the notes to Makkonen come from. Further complicating matters is an early page layout sketch from a "Miss Emily McGuiness" who is credited as "Civil War Raconteur." I did find a woman by that name who works as a storyboard artist but, whether or not it's the same person, that makes it that much less clear how credit for the book should be dispensed. A minor point, certainly, for most people but I do have a personal interest the development process.

The book also provides a five page preview of a third graphic novel, which appears to also be drawn by Makkonen.

ArchEnemy and Hatter M: Mad with Wonder will be available on October 15.

Friday, September 25, 2009

10 Movies You Didn't Know Were Comics

Total Film came up with a list of 10 Movies You Didn't Know Were Comics. Of course, if any one of you reading this actually admits to being surprised that ANY ONE OF THESE movies came from a comic, I will personally come over to your place and smack you. If anything, you should be surprised that such a list even exists.

(h/t S.O.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The More Things Change...

You know that complaint some fans make about comic artist swiping their work from magazines? Yeah, it's not exactly a recent concern...

Taken from Weird Science #12 circa 1952.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jim Lee: Samurai Santa

I just stumbled across Samurai Santa #1...

I had seen it before and the title concept was fairly amusing. But I was surprised on the inside front cover with this description of the issue's inker...

I'm thinking he won't amount to anything.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Who Reads Webcomics?

Brad Guigar, creator of Evil Inc., just posted these results of a survey he did of his reading audience. It's a sampling of just his comic, of course, but it there are some interesting and unexpected (to me) tidbits. The one that most caught my eye was this...
All of his other data points to a viewership that seems pretty typical of comic fandom as it currently looks in America: mostly college-educated males between ages 25-44. Marvel and DC figure prominently into their reading/buying habits, and they're more interested in t-shirts than posters or calendars. But the so-called "Wednesday Crowd" isn't nearly large as I would've thought. Even if you wrap up the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday folks into the mix, it barely accounts for a quarter of his readership. Almost half don't buy comics AT ALL.

The survey does not get into whether they're downloading them illegally, but the follow-up question ("Which publisher do you tend to buy more from?") points to only around 20% of the respondents saying they don't read comics at all. (I'm presuming they're only talking about printed comics; I have a hard time seeing that 20% of respondents to a survey run by a webcomic didn't actually read the webcomic itself!) These two figures suggest that about 25% of his traffic read ONLY webcomics.

Evil Inc. isn't really typical fare when it comes to webcomics. It caters more to a Marvel/DC fanbase than probably a majority of webcomics, who tend not to try to directly "compete" with those two publishing giants. But it provides a fascinating study of the crossover area between "traditional" comic purchasers and their digital counterparts.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Enjoying My Research

One of the things I enjoy about doing research is, obviously, the knowledge I get out of it. But on a strictly superficial level, I kind of dig the clutter I end up making in the process -- all of these piles of books and papers and whatnot, all with some relation to the topic at hand. My desk as it looks at the moment...

... and I know it'll get messier as it continues to bleed out of the office into the rest of the house. I've already got a decent pile started on the coffee table, and I still feel like I'm just getting started.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Long John Silver & The Pirates

Ahoy, mateys! It be Talk Like A Pirate Day and 'tis time to be showin' ye a piratical comic! We be lookin' at Long John Silver an' the Pirates number 31 from December nineteen hundred and fifty six. 'Twas published by a group went by the name of Charlton, and ran but three issues. The drawrin's were done by the likes o' Maurice Whitman, Rocco Mastroserio and one Robert Webb.

This here comical book was actually based on The Adventures of Long John Silver television programme from the same year wherein Robert Newton returned to the role he made infamous in Disney's Treasure Island a few years a'fore. Most int'restin' is that it was Netwon who single-handedly (or single-leggedly! Har har!) made pirate speech wot it is t'day! Fer-real pirates didn't actually speak that way, nor did actors portrayin' pirates until Newton!

I tip me hat to Golden Age Comics from where I gots me copy o' the issue. But fer me readers, I buried all the vile advertisments, so's you can jus' read the adventures...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Doonesbury, The Squirrel

Yes, it's time once again for a custom Kleefeld mash-up, where I don't have any real substantive commentary to impart to you so I just switch the text around from two of the day's comic strips and pretend I'm being clever. Today's contestants are Doonesbury and Bob the Squirrel...

FastPencil

ChipChick notes the arrival of FastPencil who describe themselves thus: "FastPencil is unique. Unlike self-publishing approaches that focus only on printing, FastPencil is about helping you get your book written and published. Our guided collaboration approach turns what used to be a painful, disjointed exercise into a fun expression of your creativity."

Curiously, the ChipChick article that caught my attention noted FastPencil's ability to produce comic books, but I can't seem to find any indication on FastPencil's own website towards that end. It does indeed allow you to use images in your books, but they don't have any binding options that resemble a traditional pamphlet comic or manga.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Call For A Cover Artist!

Say, you know what my book on comic book fandom will need? A slick cover!

I've actually got (I think) a decent idea in mind for the basic premise, but I don't feel I personally have the talent to pull off a cool enough illustration to really make it work. Are there any artists out there interested in doing a piece of commission work for me? Drop me a line and we can discuss styles and rates and whatnot.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hitting Closer To Home

Several years ago, some nice folks set up The Hero Initiative (originally called ACTOR). The point of the group, according to their site, is to create "a financial safety net for comic creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work." It's not exactly health insurance, but it does provide assistance, generally, for comic creators who've never had it (i.e freelancers).

This morning, I caught this post from Scott Wegener (super-cool artist for Atomic Robo). He apologizes for his lack of humor while he discusses the fact that he's now totally without health insurance himself. "Currently only two of the four people who work on Atomic Robo have health insurance, despite the fact that we all work long and hard as our jobs, pay our bills, and try to give a little back to the world in the form of what we create. In a few weeks it will be just one member of the team. And if our Canuck leaves Canada to be closer to a person they care about, it will very likely be zero."

Then I saw this Tweet from comic writer and my old pal Steve Horton. Steve's been freelancing for a number of years, but now looking for a more regular gig evidently. I happen to know that his wife gave birth to their first daughter back in March, so I asked if this change of direction was based on some health care issues, wanting to provide for the growing family and whatnot. While it's not the only reason, they confirmed that it's a big one as they can't afford the $1,000 per month it would cost.

I've certainly been interested in the current health care debate, as much of the U.S. is right now. I've never had any major problems myself, but I've also never been without health care. (All of this comic related stuff I do is done in my spare time; I keep a regular 8-5 job because of the relative security it provides.) It's an issue that's hitting closer and closer to home, almost with each passing day. If you look around -- especially if you have any dealings with the comic book industry -- you will almost certainly know people who are actively being impacted by this issue right now.

I've known the U.S. health care system has been botched for years, but it really has reached the breaking point. How about you call your Congressman and see if they can actually do something for a change?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

High Moon In Print

If I had to make a complaint against High Moon, it would be that it doesn't come out faster. I've been following the comic online since Day One, and I've sometimes run into problems where too much time elapses between my readings and I forget significant story points. That's certainly not a problem if you're just starting the series now, and need to catch up on 100-some odd pages, but the comic does require some concentration if you're in it for the story. I haven't done a formal review of the comic myself since last year, but I will say that Gallaher and Ellis don't drop the ball for a second throughout their entire run so far. Everything I said originally is just as valid now as it was then.

High Moon is the second Zuda comic to be translated into print. I looked at Bayou when it came out, and noted a few oddities in the translation process. Nothing particularly detrimental, but interesting in the minor adjustments that were made going from one outlet to another. The biggest thing I noticed was that Bayou's color became muted in print. My understanding is that the printers didn't calibrate the dot gain properly for the type of paper that was being used. The color in High Moon looks great, by contrast, and really pops off the page well. So either the adjusted the dot gain properly or they switched papers. (I don't see any Sustainable Forestry Initiative certification here as I saw on Bayou. That doesn't necessarily mean that a different paper was used, however; indeed, it seems to be the same as far as I can tell.)

Look: you can go read High Moon online for free if you want to see if you like the story. I think it's great, but Zuda is providing a no-cost way to try it out for yourself, so there's no reason not to take them up on it. If it turns out that you do like the story, they've got a copy in print that you can pick up now for $14.99. (Well, technically, you won't be able to pick it up until September 30 when it officially hits stores.) If you're concerned that a webcomic won't translate well into print, don't be; this book is one of the smoothest web-to-print transitions I've seen (along with Tozo) and it's well worth a look.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reviews From The Archives!

I stumbled across a number of old files last night, including two Fred Hembeck style reviews I made and sent in as letters to Marvel. (Neither were published.) I think they're still kind of interesting, so I thought I'd share...

 
 

Friday, September 11, 2009

Waiting For Godot

My vote for the coolest costume at DragonCon...

Trust me, if you know the character, you'd know this guy totally nailed it!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Revolution of Fan Culture

I just discovered that Laurie Cowan, as part of her 4th year dissertation, created a half-hour documentary on the participation aspect of comic book fan culture. It features interviews with a number of webcomic creators such as Scott Kurtz, Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik, Ryan Sohmer, and Lar deSouza, as well as some other comic related folks like Bob Greenberger and Joss Whedon. Even though the footage seems to be taken pretty exclusively from the last New York Comic Con, it's still a solid piece of work and provides some interesting thoughts on an increasingly participatory culture...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

LogiComix Review

An old friend of mine (thanks, Jeff!) passed along notice that the email newsletter eSkeptic just sent out a review of Apostolos Doxiadis' and Christos H. Papadimitriou's LogiComix: An Epic Search for Truth. It's a solid review -- aside from the unusual comparison to both Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Maus in a single sentence -- and definitely sounds like the type of thing I'd love to read. The review is also posted on their website here.