Sunday, February 28, 2010

Metropolis Wasn't Built In A Day

So this weekend has been kind of weak in the update department around here. The reason is that I've spent much of that time in the basement cleaning/repairing/reorganizing my action figure metropolis.

First, all of my action figures come out of their packaging. They were meant to be played with, after all! Second, they are action figures. I pose them in all sorts of scenarios: battling, running, flying, etc. And it seems to work better if they have an environment to do that in, so I bring out the various playsets. I alluded to how I put this all together a little while back.

The 'problem' that I've run into is that, once I figure out how I'm able to get my various playsets to 'connect' I'd wind up with another one and would have to work that in. And for a while there, I was averaging a complete overhaul about every 18-24 months. I essentially had to re-organize how they all worked from ground zero. I was actually about due for such a reorganization a couple years ago, but various life events kind of threw that out of whack, and my action figure city has been in some level of disrepair since then.

But, as I noted at the top of the post, I've spent the weekend giving the city a complete makeover. The Sunnyvale Library was giving me some problems for quite a while, as was the general notion of being able to still get to the circuit breaker in the very back. So I ended up having to scrap my hopes for a waterfront and trim back the park. I was at least able to expand on the sewers a bit and the Hall of Justice is under much better control, if a bit smaller than I'd like.

In any event, I still need to populate my metropolis and add all the small nuances that make it cool: a debris pile near one of the blast sites, the Sentinel parts scattered among some wreckage, furniture in the buildings, etc.

Anyway, here's what it looks like at the moment. I'll post more/better pictures once I get things up to full speed again.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vote Early, Vote Often!

As you might know, I like me some contests where I actually have a shot at winning. The odds of winning a state lottery are something like 80 million to 1 against, but in a contest where there's only 100 participants... well, that's a bit more reasonable, isn't it? Kevin Church has been running a weekly drawing over at his blog this year and, while the prizes aren't quite to the level of a state lottery, he's been getting only somewhere around 50 entries per contest. That makes for a pretty fair chance at winning, especially given the cost of entry is only a few moments of your time.

Of course, some contests are more than just a game of random chance; they require a modicum of skill. Tokyopop, for example, has a contest running this week to win a copy of Alice into the Country of Hearts volume 2. But their entry requirement is to "find your inner Alice" and post a picture of same on Flickr. These often have fewer entrants and I like to think I come to the table with a little more than average chances.

So keep your eyes and ears open. I think I've seen at least two comic-related contests every week for all of 2010 so far! And although I haven't won any of those yet, I have noted before how a respectable chunk of my comic collection has come from contests. But this time, I'd like to earn a few extra bucks from this contest. I mentioned it at the beginning of the month, and I hate pestering you all with this type of thing, but do me a favor and put in one last vote (or three) for me before the contest ends tomorrow. Thanks!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fandom History Then & Now

Laura Hale, founder of FanHistory.com, writes this interesting piece on how fandom looks now compared to the late 1990s/early 2000s. While she's not speaking specifically to comic book fandom, it remains perfectly applicable.

She does point out the difficulty in sorting through everything these days. Although she doesn't use the example, back in the day, there were science fiction fans. Then, they splintered into 'hardcore' science fiction fans who were looking for stories based on scientific theories and sci-fi fans who were more interested in Buck Rogers and John Carter. Today, not only do you have groups dedicated exclusively to Star Wars or Firefly, but you've got different factions within the body of Star Trek fandom. (TOS vs. TNG vs. whatever-they're-calling-last-year's-revamp for example.)

Plus, as I've mentioned on this blog repeatedly, things are speeding up, too. Which Hale notes compounds the difficulty of recording everything that's going on.

Not surprisingly, she's expressing a little frustration.

But there's a couple of things I might note to help alleviate some concerns.

First, with the digital technology we're using, much of fandom's actions are being recorded automatically on the fly. These days, if you hit a convention, you can snap pictures with your camera-phone and have them uploaded to Flickr or Facebook or wherever within seconds. Virtually real-time reporting. Plus, it's automatically backed up and archived for retrieval at any later time. When I was writing the portion of Comic Book Fanthropology on the conflicts between comic fans and Twilight fans at Comic-Con International, it was insanely easy to not only dig up one- and two-year-old quotes made at the time, but I was able to find dozens of pictures documenting some of the protesters. The documentation was done at the time, and retrieving it was simply a different process than it would've been a decade or two earlier. (Google-Fu vs. tracking down and sorting through old fanzines.)

Second, the wealth of documentation that's happening means that there's more available to work with. Trying to document fandom's happenings from the 1930s and 40s is NOT an easy task; I speak from first-hand experience here! There simply wasn't much recorded at the time and so we're left having to make assumptions and broad generalizations based on extremely limited examples. The older fans I profiled in my book were chosen, in part, because something had already been written about them! When some of the current fans I wanted to profile decided they were unable to participate, it wasn't difficult at all for me to grab someone else who had plenty of information about themselves readily available online.

I'm not saying that documenting fandom is easy. Trust me, I know it's anything but! But I think the larger issue is that we're living in a new society that's still primarily governed using the thoughts, ideas and mores of the past. One of the reasons I try reading the works of Henry Jenkins, Seth Godin and Clay Shirky is because they're farther along in understanding this new culture we're in. They're still trying to figure out the new rules, too, but they've got a better handle on them than most everyone else, I think. As much as I don't like Iron Man, I do respect the futurist mentality he tries to embrace because, frankly, that's where we have to be if we're going to keep up with where the planet's going!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top 5 Books I Lie About Reading

Sadie Mattox recently posted the top five books she's claimed to have read in the past, but really hasn't. I'd actually been thinking about posting a sort of confessional along those lines myself, so I'm going to treat it as a meme.

Except, of course, I don't think I've ever actually claimed to have read something I haven't. So here's the top five comics that I really should have read by now.
  1. Tintin -- I've thumbed through a few of Herge's books, but I've never actually sat down and read any of them. In fact, I've spent more time reading ABOUT Herge than I have reading his actual work. Doubly atrocious is that I have digital versions of ALL these books for a couple years now and I've never read any of them. I don't have a good explanation for this.
  2. Hernandez Bros. -- Not strictly true; I have read the handful of Mister X issues they did under Dean Motter's direction, but that was only in the past year or so. But that has been it. I've never even picked up, let alone browsed through, Love & Rockets or any of the reprints; I've just always seemed to find other things that struck me as more intriguing.
  3. Dave Sim -- Never read anything by him at all, comics or otherwise. I do have a copy of Spawn #10 that he worked on, but I've never cracked it open. That's the primary reason I've never weighed in on any debates about Sim's socio-political views; I have absolutely no first-hand knowledge or experience to base my opinions on. I think I've largely been dissuaded from reading any of it precisely because of all the vitriol that's been thrown against Sim himself.
  4. Scott Pilgrim -- I've seen some of Bryan Lee O'Malley's work on web sites and whatnot, but it never sparked that much interest for me. I honestly don't even know what the hell Scott Pilgrim is about. For some reason, this has absolutely not captured my attention in any capacity.
  5. Popular manga -- I have read some manga, but primarily somewhat "off the beaten path" series that have only lasted a handful of books. I've never looked at Naruto or DeathNote or Bleach or anything along those lines. I flipped through One Piece once, but not enough to get a good sense of anything. Too daunting to try taking on such long works, perhaps? I haven't exactly jumped on to any long-running superhero books either, and I suspect that if I really understood how much I'd missed before I started reading Fantastic Four I might well have decided to give it a pass. To be fair, I have read the 28 volumes of Dark Horse's Lone Wolf & Cub reprints, but those are really in a class by themselves; it'd be like comparing Watchmen to... well, anything else DC published.

So there's what I haven't read. Anyone else?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Random Tidbits

ITEM: Valerie D'Orazio turns 36 today. Happy birthday, Val! Also worth noting is that she recently posted Memoirs of an Occasional Superheroine -- with a much cooler and more appropriate cover -- online for free. You can read it here.

ITEM: Henry Jenkins points to this episode of Kukla, Fran and Ollie noting that Kukla spends most of the episode trying to discern some of the notions of American sub-cultures. Jenkins humorously jokes that Kukla might in fact be the "'father' of Fan Studies" although direct allusions to what we might now call pop culture are generally pretty oblique. For those unfamiliar with the topic of that episode's discussion, they're all referencing the April 11, 1949 issue of Life which includes a simplistic/naive article entitled "High-Brow, Low-Brow, Middle-Brow" (begins on page 99) and a related chart which is also more readily reproduced on Kieran Healy's blog. (The chart expressly shows Captain Marvel as "Low-Brow" reading material.)

ITEM: Yours truly got the chance to develop a new site design for the Comic Book Bin website. Hervé St-Louis announced it a little over a week ago, but we've both been too busy to catch up with each other until this morning! It's one of the better/more efficient site designs I've been able to work on in a few years, so I had fun working on it. They're still working on getting someone in to work on development full-time, so the new design probably won't go in place, I'm guessing, until late spring/early summer.

Altounian On Wowio Going Public

I contacted Wowio owner Brian Altounian last night about his taking Wowio public to get some details about what's going on. He provided a long response, with some background details that would only be interesting to a handful of folks like myself, so I'll try to hit the highlights here.

Altounian started, "First of all, when I talk of going public, I am not talking in the traditional sense of an IPO like the average public understands." Rather, he's got a small group of individual investors providing backing. This will actually be a second round of financing since he bought the company in July of last year. The first round -- which he didn't elaborate on, but sounded to me more like some type of loan process -- raised $1,000,000 with which "every publisher was paid entirely and I even added an interest payment on top of it as a good-faith gesture to apologize for the delays in payment." He also used some of those funds to bring back much of the original technology team out of Houston. To my understanding, Wowio is now debt-free.

This second round of financing will be coming from "an interested and mobilized investor base that loves this kind of opportunity." These investors will be contributing to Wowio's moving to become more self-sustaining. "All funds raised now will go to building operations and growing revenue-generating activities - no debt as that has all been taken care of." Altounian expects this second round of financing to be complete within the next 45 days. Although, undoubtedly, getting the company to where he's projecting will take longer; the money being raised here will be used as operating capital.

Altounian will retain a majority interest in Wowio. "Between Alliance and my personal holdings, I control over 60% of the company and will look to maintain that control until we get to some exit strategy that could include an acquisition offer somewhere down the road." He remains open to new ideas and opportunities going forward and also noted, "Then again, if opportunities exist for us to use our stock as currency, we may look to do acquisitions of our own if it helps our business model."

He concluded by saying, "Being a public company affords an early-stage company many "luxuries" of a larger organization, including having stock as a currency to pay for services, acquisitions and other needs. It also lets my employees participate in a real stock option plan that has true value - they get to be part owners as well and have an incentive to yield extraordinary results for the organization. Answering to the SEC and FINRA requires the company to comply with some of the strictest business standards and practices in the land, which gives additional comfort to investors who get to see the transparency in their portfolio investment companies. I consider it a win-win-win proposition, especially if executed properly. I've done it a number of times with great success and I anticipate doing the same with WOWIO."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wowio Going Public?

Offered without commentary:

Brian Altounian, owner of Wowio, has relayed the following via his Twitter account over the past week or so...
When things go from the ridiculous to the sublime, where do they go after that? I have a situation that has arrived at that location.
Feb. 16

Launching MoneyTV campaign for WOWIO today. Part of larger marketing campaign that will put WOWIO on the map just in time to go public.
Feb. 18

Back-to-back-to-back meetings all day today. I get so energized around smart business folks who just want to get good work done!!
Feb. 19

At early dinner to plan out one phase of new investment strategy
Feb. 21

Obviously, I don't know that these are necessarily all connected. Altounian has also tweeted recently about Platinum Studios, iballz.com, volleyball and his house. But the Feb. 18 post seems pretty succinct and complete, saying that he'll be taking the company public soon.

As far as I can discern, that Tweet has been the only the public mention of Wowio going public. Altounian's blog and Wowio's site make no mention of it, and Alliance Acquisitions -- Altounian's holding company that is the technical owner of Wowio -- unsurprisingly does not have a news feed. I'm currently trying to confirm the news with Altounian himself.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Minor Link-Blogging

There's a few things I wanted to bring folks' attention to, but not a whole lot I can add as commentary...

In answering reader questions, Tom Brevoort calls upon Marvel Sales VP, David Gabriel, to answer what exactly Marvel provides to retailers. Not being a retailer myself, I was actually quite surprised to see just how long the list is! Worth a read-through to see how Marvel helps promote its books to retailers. (Although some of the last few items are a bit on the overly gratuitous side.)

On his own blog, Colin Panetta talks about the development process for the cover to Comic Book Fanthropology. He also says some nice things about me.

Nominations for the 2009 Comics Buyer's Guide's annual Fan Awards are now open. My buddy Dave says, "This year David Gallaher (writer), Steve Ellis (penciller, inker, colorist, cover artist), Scott O. Brown (letterer), Kwanza Johnson (editor) and our comics High Moon, Box 13, and Hulk: Winter Guard are eligible for the prestigious CBG awards." Oddly, he didn't include any suggestions for WHAT he was hoping people would nominate!

It's Kleefeld On Comics' 4th Blogiversary!

Huzzah to me! I've been babbling about comics at this very location since February 21, 2006. Since that time, I've probably said something interesting. To someone. Maybe.

I don't have anything significant or noteworthy to add, but it seems like I should make note of the date here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

DIY Lawmaster Suggestions

Question out to anyone who's into this sort of thing...

In my action figure collection, I have the Legendary Heroes Judge Dredd figure. (See pic.) He's out of the packaging and played with and whatnot, but since I don't have a full compliment of accompanying 2000 A.D. figures that can go with him, I thought it might be cool if he at least had a Lawmaster bike.

My question, then, is: has anyone build a 1/12 scale Lawmaster and how did they go about it?

No rush needed. I just started working on a papercraft Batmobile that I'm sure will take a while to put together. (FYI, I scaled up this version so it should hold the DCUC figures reasonably well.)

Comics & Identity

In case you weren't aware, February is Black History Month. I've actually spent a fair amount of time over the past several weeks trying to work on at least one blog post that acknowledges it with something more than a passing mention, and I had a lot of trouble landing on anything meaningful. For some reason, I kept going back to George Herriman and how, despite his African-American heritage, was light-skinned enough to pass as a white man. Which he did throughout his entire adult life. And art scholars more credible than myself have analyzed Krazy Kat to death, trying to pull out clues of Herriman's thoughts on race, since he never spoke of it publicly.

But I'm not nearly educated enough about Herriman to really say anything of significance. Indeed, after reading this article from last year, I'm certain that I'm really not qualified to make any judgments on Herriman's racial background.

But the S.O. pointed me the other day to a fairly new webcomic called The Princess. It's by Christine Smith and is a spin-off of Eve's Apple (which I'll admit I've never read). The Princess is about a young boy named Seth, who prefers to think of himself as a girl. He likes to wear dresses and prefers to be called Princess Sarah. It's still early enough on in the strip that I don't know if I like it or not, but I'm certainly intrigued by the thematic notion of defining one's identity.



The reason this intrigues me is because I've never really identified myself with respect to any particular group. I don't think of myself as an American, or as a graphic designer, or as a Gen X-er, or as an atheist, or as anything other than Sean Kleefeld. I am me. Period. While I am a member of all those groups, and many more, I don't use them to define who I am. I am an individual, with individual thoughts and preferences which may or may not coincide with other's. I'm able to choose who I am, and how others see me.

In my last band, our bass player claimed that he was very good at reading people. That he was able to get a good sense of who they were fairly quickly, and direct his words and actions to steer them in the direction he wanted. I had him flummoxed, though. He was never able to figure me out, and I unintentionally kept him on his toes. Which pointed me to the realization that he didn't read people, so much as he understood broad categories of people. "Oh, you listen to NPR, so you must think X, Y and Z." "Oh, you've got a dog, so that must mean A, B and C." But because I didn't really fit into those neat categories -- I never took up those mantles of identification and adopt other ideas of the group as a whole -- he had no model to predict my behavior.

Admittedly, I have the privilege of being able to do that. I recognized even as a teenager that I was a white male in a society that allows white males to define themselves. I relayed the story a few years ago about how a black family moved into my hometown when I was a kid. The son who joined my class was immediately seen as "the black kid" and was treated according to the broad racial stereotypes of the time. It was matter-of-factly assumed he knew how to breakdance, for example, and was asked to do so for some school function. (While he did know a bit, there were some white kids in our school who were FAR better at. I distinctly recall my mother commenting on exactly that at the time.) He had less ability to define his own identity because others were placing one on him. To this day, I don't know if he began living down to that identity ("down" because it really wasn't very flattering for anyone) or if it was deserved because of whatever other issues he may have had going on; I suspect some of both as I reflect back on it.

But the point brought up in The Princess, whether it continues to be entertaining or not, is the discrepancy between how we identify ourselves versus how others identify us. The example strip I showed above speaks directly to that point. The mother recognizes the difficulty in dealing with a society that is quick to put labels on people, and doesn't wish her son to go through any more hardships because of that. The father, by contrast, seems to have the understanding that you can't deny who you fundamentally are and trying to do so will simply bring about more internal conflicts. Which, as we all know, are infinitely more difficult to deal with than external ones.

Back to Black History Month.

Keith Pollard was a favorite artist of mine back in the day, primarily because of his work on Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man. That he was black was irrelevant. More to the point, that he had a race at all was irrelevant. It was years before I gave any real consideration to what he might look like, and when I did, it was only because I happened across a picture of him by accident. I've only met him once, but he seemed like a genuinely nice guy and still does a bang-up job on his comics projects. Consequently, I identified Pollard as a "talent comic artist."

Now, whether he identifies himself as such is another matter. He might well ascribe other attributes to himself more readily. "Husband" and "father" spring to mind as distinct possibilities. But that's up to him. That's how he chooses to identify himself, and how he's going to present himself to others. Indeed, the brief time I met him, I wound up talking more with his wife while their son was running off to get sodas for the three of them.

And that's the interesting twist here. Even though I've spent decades thinking of Pollard as a "talented comic artist", he was able to change the identity I had ascribed to him in a matter of minutes. By having his family with him at that particular convention, by their being able and willing to engage with his fans, his identity of "husband" and "father" becomes more prominent. Regardless of how deliberate that decision was on his part to affect my perception of his identity, he actively changed how I identify him.

The "talent comic artist" label was appropriate insomuch as that was all the information I had with which to identify him. Once I saw his photo, I could potentially have changed that to "talented black comic artist." But that was only because I only had those four pieces of information about him. In meeting him, he was able to present himself as HE self-identified; he was able to show others what labels he felt were more important to him. He was true to who he was, and discarded any identities that weren't relevant.

That's not to say that simply presenting yourself as you self-identify is the ultimate answer and will immediately bring everyone around to that same thinking. The Princess highlights that's definitely not the case, at least some of the time. But if you don't embrace who you feel you are -- if you let others ascribe identities to you -- you're going to have problems.

The great people who are celebrated during Black History month are/were undoubtedly worth celebrating. Some of them, like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, are strongly identified with the black experience. Others, like George Washington Carver and Paul Laurence Dunbar, are more readily identified for their achievements alone. We celebrate Black History Month not for the sake of honoring those who've worked FOR African-Americans, but for the sake of honoring good works who've been historically sidelined by 'maintsream' outlets. These aren't people who necessarily identified themselves AS black -- Herriman being a prime example of someone who actively rejected that identity -- but people who just did a damn fine job and ought to be given the respect they might not otherwise get because others have forced identities onto them.

So here's to George Herriman, Keith Pollard, Jackie Ormes, Bertram A. Fitzgerald, Joan Bacchus Maynard, Ron Wilson, Dwayne McDuffie, Christopher Priest, Aaron McGruder, Keith Knight, Charlie Trotman and the hundreds of other African-American comic creators whose work I've enjoyed over the years. My thanks most likely aren't shown nearly enough.

Friday, February 19, 2010

THE Party Of Nova Venezia

A year ago, I noted that David O'Connell was going to be drawing some of his fans into a party scene of Tozo, the Public Servant. (The comic, I might add, is excellent. I highly recommend it.) The "catch" was that the scene was going to be in the print version of the comic, and not part of the story presented online. A clever idea, I thought, and one that sounded like a lot of fun. I signed up as quickly as I could.

Well, I got word from O'Connell this morning that he's got all his ducks in a row and will have the printed comic available for purchase towards the end of March. Not only is a great story, with an incredible amount of world-building thought put into it, but I'm smack dab in the middle of it...

I'm not exactly sure why I'm getting the evil stare-down from the elephant dude, but since he's the elephant in the room, we won't talk about that!

But while you're waiting for the physical book to get in your hands, go read Tozo online!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why I Hate Toy Fair

When I was a kid, my action figures of choice were those 8" cloth-covered classics from Mego. I had Superman, Batmn & Robin, Spider-Man, Hulk, Tarzan, Conan and around a dozen others. I also had the Batmobile and that weird-looking car for Spider-Man. I didn't have any of the playsets, though, so I took whatever empty boxes and building blocks I could get my hands on to build a small city for my heroes to run around in. One of my early lessons was learning to put away my toys because the city would sprawl out over half the basement, and you literally could not get past the base of the stairs without tripping over part of my city when it was out.

As Mego waned as a company, eventually filing for bankruptcy in 1982, my focus shifted to the 3-3/4" lines that became popular in the wake of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker freely mingled with Snake Eyes, Buck Rogers, Bo & Luke Duke, Indiana Jones and the A-Team, and they all frequently used equipment from the incredibly under-appreciated "Adventure People" line. G.I.Joe eventually became the most prominent -- partially due to it's commercial success and longevity -- but I still found an X-Wing parked in my Joe headquarters.

One of the things that I was doing, of course, was essentially creating my own fan fiction. I had no real concept of licensing rights and wanted to intermix various ideas and themes in ways that weren't possible through official channels. What if Cobra operated out of the Death Star? What if B.A. stole the General Lee to outrace Tiger Man and Killer Kane? What if Indiana Jones met Han Solo? I was exploring these (and a thousand other similar) ideas in my bedroom and on the basement floor. I'm sure that most of these crossovers weren't executed terribly well or with much fore-thought. But I definitely enjoyed exploring the possibilities that were legally impossible through licensing restrictions. I was able to act out and explore all of these disparate ideas floating around in my head in a very visual way. My "canon" was every piece of pop culture I absorbed, all rolled into one jumble. And I always remained disappointed that there wasn't a good line of 3-3/4" superheroes that I could roll out with everyone else. (To compensate, I frequently enlisted my Joes as the costumeless secret identity counterparts of the heroes.)

Flash forward a decade or two. Companies are able to make more elaborate action figures -- both in terms of sculpting accuracy but also with regard to articulation -- and there's enough of a market that even less popular characters have gotten rendered as toys. (I mean, back in the 1980s I would never have guessed a Moon Knight figure would ever get made! And there've been how many different versions now? That's crazy!) And, although the 3-3/4" size is making a comeback, there have been (and continue to be) any number of great characters coming out in the highly articulated 6" area.

What that means is that I can continue to explore mixing those ideas (and newer ones that weren't even around back then!) visually. Once again, I have a cityscape established in my basement populated with Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk and Conan. And Hellboy. And Thundarr. And the Goon. And Super Grover. And Lara Croft. And a hundred other action figures of all the other characters rolling around in my head. And the cityscape is built out of various playsets -- far more elaborate ones than were even available from Mego -- instead of just cardboard boxes with "Jail" and "Bank" scrawled on them with crayon. While it's far, far more impressive by any measure now than what it was when I was a kid, I still enjoy exploring the options that are still unattainable through any official channels. Fan fiction for my head, as it were.

But between action figures and comic books, I can't keep up. I just don't have the resources to get all the toys I would like, as well as all the comics I'd like. Heck, I can't even get all the comics I like if I ignored the toys altogether! I was never able to pick up those NECA versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I'm easily a year behind on the Marvel Legends and DC Classics figures. I haven't even tried looking for the recent Ghostbusters or He-Man figures. I'm certain now that I'll miss all of Shocker Toys' excellent looking Indie Comics line of figures. And then Toy Fair comes around, and it's almost impossible to avoid news about it.

A Golden Age Daredevil? The Heap? The Phantom? More Ghostbusters? Kamandi?!? All in the same scale/reference as what I've already got? That is just absolutely incredible! And I'm going to miss all of it.

The most maddening thing about Toy Fair in recent years is that the economy has meant I've had to cut back on everything. My purchasing power all but flatlined in 2008, and I've had to make some hard decisions about what I can and can't afford. Comics, for me, are more significant and meaningful than toys and my toy budget has been slashed to zero. (And my comics budget ain't that much higher, for that matter!) Ten years ago, I saw what was being shown at Toy Fair and there was some hope that I could acquire some of those awesome looking trinkets. Maybe just one or two figures -- certainly not everything I'd like -- but there was something there. Some level of hope. Something I could look forward to. These days, the reality is that I won't get any of it. Period. No matter how awesome or cool or unique or clever or brilliant I think one of those toys are, it simply will not find it's way into my home. I simply can't afford any of it.

It's small and petty. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in my fridge. I've got a job to go to every day that pays me on a regular basis. There are people in far more dire situations than mine. I'm living comfortably enough and am able to get by without a highly articulated Zorro action figure.

But that anticipation, that hope, that I could get one isn't there any longer. And every February, Toy Fair reminds me of that. THAT is why I hate Toy Fair.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Crogan's March Review

Last year saw the launch of Chris Schweizer's Crogan "series." I use quotes there because the individual books don't really relate directly to one another, other than that the main characters are distant relatives of one another. (Something akin to the various Black Adder seasons.) I was quite impressed with Crogan's Vengeance so I was more than interested to check out Schweizer's second installment: Crogan's March.

Crogan's March is about Peter Crogan's last days with the French Foreign Legion. His troop battles sandstorms and raiders and uniforms that are far too uncomfortable without underwear. Crogan eventually finds himself alone, and facing exceptionally daunting odds. But as the chips begin to fall, he steps into the role of a true hero and embodies the stuff of legends.

Well, family legends at least. The story is told primarily as a flashback over lunch. A father trying to teach a lesson to his two sons, using his own ancestral legends as the vehicle. He even notes: "This skirmish was a footnote to a footnote, part of a conflict on that hazy border between East and West that seems like it might go on forever."

Of course, therein lies the true magic of storytelling. The audience doesn't need end-of-the-world scenarios, or all-life-hangs-in-the-balance events. The audience just needs to become attached to and believe in the characters. The events they go through -- regardless of their lasting importance on the world -- are dramatic ONLY if we give a damn about these characters in the first place.

Fortunately, Schweizer does that here. Certainly, we feel for the protagonist, but we get a very real sense of nearly all of the named characters. I was actually quite taken aback when one of the prominent characters, who struck me as a sort of sidekick, was killed. And not in a sacrificing-himself-for-the-hero sort of way either that you might expect in a more pat TV show or movie. It wasn't a hero's death; it was a soldier's death. It's emotional truth helped make the story that much more poignant, I thought.

When I read Crogan's Vengeance, I was impressed with the historically accurate details Schweizer wove in to the story. It made the story richer for people like me who are more familiar with that era, but it also helps to imbue the overall story with that emotional truth. I know almost nothing about the Foreign Legion -- indeed all that I do comes from the Laurel & Hardy comedy "Beau Hunks" -- but Crogan's March strikes me as having that same emotional truth to it. The details feel right throughout the whole book, and I have to believe Schweizer did as much research for March as he did for Vengeance.

It's hard not to be impressed with his artwork, too. Everything I said about it earlier still holds, and I'll repeat it here because it's equally valid for March.

Interestingly, Schweizer's illustrative style is fairly agile as well. The linework is easy, but detailed. While there's a definite cartoony feel to the character designs, there's enough there to see the characters as more than mere cartoons. The characters have weight and move freely about the page. I'm not familiar with Schweizer's drawing methodology, but I get the impression it flows out of him not unlike how it did with Jack Kirby. I can envision Schweizer simply starting in the upper left corner of the page and working his way across and down and, before you know it, the page is done.

I've been unduly impressed with both of the Crogan books thus far; I can't make a single complaint against either of them. Well worth picking up. After the high caliber of these two books, I'm in eager anticipation of Crogan's Loyalty, due out in 2011. Seriously, I can't recommend these enough.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Mardi Gras Proxy

I've never been to New Orleans, much less attended Mardi Gras down there. But my earliest -- and strongest -- notion of what it must be like was Batman #224 circa 1970. I've had the issue as far back as I can remember, and it remains the oldest actual Batman comic I own.

I haven't actually read the story in around 25 years, and I couldn't tell you much about the plot. Something about a jazz trumpeter dying and his horn being inscribed with a treasure map that some local mob guys wanted. The main villain was the freaky looking dude on the cover. He normally went around in a trenchcoat and hat to hide his deformities, but they get ripped off at some point and he's mistaken for one of the Mardi Gras costumers. Other than that, all I recall is lots of chase scenes throughout New Orleans and a couple of fight scenes where Batman gets shown a thing or two by mutant-boy there.

The impression of Mardi Gras that I got from the comic was that it was what amounted to a sanitized, generally benign, 1960s sitcom version of the event. Think: Adam West doing the Batusi.

I've since gotten, I suspect, a somewhat more realistic idea of Mardi Gras and I'm not sure it's the type of event I'd even want to experience. (Nothing against those who enjoy that type of thing, though!) I've still never been to New Orleans, but I'm pretty confident that I won't find it in the pages of a 40-year-old comic book!

That said, though, I wouldn't mind seeing what it was really like back in 1970!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Comic Books and Creating the Idea of Black Masculinity

Still doing a bit of link-blogging, but this event sound really interesting if you're in the Chapell Hill, NC vicinity next week: "It’s Clobbering Time! Comic Books and Creating the Idea of Black Masculinity." If any of my readers is able to go, I'd love to hear a report out from it.

New Torchwood Comic

Still getting back my bearings after some travelling, so I'm going to keep this one short. Oli Smith and Brian Williamson have teamed up to bring back the gang from Torchwood in this new online comic. It features Captain Jack, Ianto and Gwen so it presumably occurs between "Exit Wounds" and "Children of Earth."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Buck Rogers Question...

I've got an odd question I'd throw out to the interwebs since I don't have the time to really do any research on it now. I've found a book entitled, simply, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It's by James Lawrence and Gray Morrow, published in 1981. Foreword by Buster Crabbe.

It appears to be reprints from some of the newspaper strips, reconfigured to fit a 'graphic novel' format. Panels have clearly been cut, cropped and resized throughout the book. Several sequences suggest a daily newspaper strip format. Indeed the copyright is attributed to The New York Times Syndicate.

What I'm curious about -- and I don't see anywhere in the book itself -- is A) confirmation that these are strip reprints and B) when they originally ran. Interesting, too, I think would be the relation these strips had back to the TV show of that time period. The character and uniform designs seem to be largely original, but Twiki and some of the starships are clearly the same designs as what appear in the Gil Gerard show.

Any info and/or insights would be appreciated.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Responding To Hibbs' BookScan Analysis

I'm sure a lot of people will be pointing to Brian Hibbs' analysis of BookScan results. I am, as always, very appreciative of the work he puts into these and I recommend you read through his essay if you haven't already. There's a lot of data to sort through, but Hibbs does a good job of summarizing what's going on with the numbers.

However, I don't always agree with all of his analysis.

Mind you, Hibbs does raise a number of good points and ideas in his analyzing. But I think his position as a comic shop retailer is skewing his perspective a bit. The most notable issue, I think, stems from a significant difference between comic shop patrons and book store patrons who buy comics.

Although people sometimes joke about comic shop patrons being "the Wednesday crowd" or something to that effect, it does speak to a certain mindset. Being a comic book fan is only partially about getting the comics themselves; it's also about interacting with other comic book fans. That's kind of the whole point of my book. People continue to hit comic stores on Wednesday afternoon not only because that's when the new comics are available, but also because that's when they're most likely to run into the other comic fans that they regularly interact with.

Furthermore, it's also been joked that buying comics is an addiction like buying drugs. This isn't entirely off-base as I've known people to continue their purchasing habits despite whatever economic hardships that might cause. It's not unique to my circle either, as I've heard the same thing from other sources. "I have $25 allocated towards comics as a weekly budget expense. I can cut my food expenses by not going out to eat as much if things get tight." I'll admit I don't have hard data to back this up, but there's strong anecdotal evidence.

By contrast, book store patrons -- at least those purchasing comics in a book store -- are buying comics to read them. The socialization aspect is severely diminished (not eliminated entirely, mind you, but certainly a great deal less notable than for comic shop patrons) as are the regular ongoing purchases. What this means is that book store customers are more likely to purchase comics on impulse. "Hey, I've got an extra $20; I wonder if there's anything good in the graphic novel section."

That difference is key. It's people differentiating between wants and needs. The book store customer wants comics; the comic shop customer needs comics. (Obviously, I'm putting this in perspective of the consumer. No one truly needs comics. Certainly not when compared to food, shelter, etc. But as far as individual priorities go, comics are MUCH higher on the list for regular LCS patrons.)

So what?

Well, what happens when people don't have as much money to spend? They start making cuts, right? And what gets cut first? The wants. It should, therefore, not be surprising AT ALL that a consumer group who views comics with less necessity cuts back their purchasing of them during the worst recession since The Great Depression. Hibbs does make passing reference to this, but I think he VASTLY underplays its significance. Keep in mind that all the numbers he's looking at here do not include comic shop purchases. It's primarily a group of casual comic book customers. Undoubtedly, some of those customers include people who are big comic book fans and hit their LCS every Wednesday as well, but most of this group buy comics if/when they can afford them, not regardless of it.

I think a great deal of the declines in BookScan numbers seen over the past two years can be attributed directly to the economy. Sure, there's other factors and Hibbs notes some of them. But I think he's sorely underestimating the recession's impact here.

A few other minor things I'd like to note...

Hibbs says, "the notion that the bookstore market for comics might offer limitless growth seems to be on the rocks." That sounds suspiciously like what people were saying about the housing market just before it tanked.

I don't think Hibbs' point here...
It’s funny, because a lot of hot air is expanded in our industry between “mainstream" vs. “indy" or “corporate" vs “artcomix" or whatever tool we use to try and imperfectly get our point across, but in a way, I think that the real conversation is between “new" vs “old." As a fan, as a retailer, as a patron, I get more excited by new things I’ve never seen before than I do of iterations (even great, well done ones) of the already familiar.
... really expresses his meaning very well, especially in light of how much he praises Jeff Smith's Bone reprints elsewhere in the article. I think what he means to delineate is "new to me" vs. "variation on what I've seen before". Bone is, of course, a great series -- I highly recommend it to everyone -- but Smith finished it in 2004. Though many of his stories have been in circulation in various forms, Smith hasn't published any new Bone material since then. So I think trying to delineate "new" vs. "old" is decidedly misleading and not really what Hibbs was trying to get to.

He also touches on the power of creator's name/celebrity status, highlighting Alan Moore in particular. It's a valid point, I think, emphasized by some other areas Hibbs didn't focus on as much, notably Dark Horse. The Buffy and Serenity franchises are strongly associated with Joss Whedon, for example, while Star Wars and Indiana Jones are inexorably linked with George Lucas. Despite neither creator being as directly involved in comic production as, say, Gerard Way is with Umbrella Academy, I think their name cache is still relevant.

Along those lines, though, I'll point out that while comic fans generally love Neil Gaiman, he doesn't have quite as much name recognition outside our circle as we like to think. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago at the Golden Globes that he was referred to as "and guest" in a well-circulated picture with Amanda Palmer?

One final thing I'd like to emphasize, since it was a point I was trying to make just a few days ago...
The 21st best-selling book is Jennifer Holm’s Babymouse v9, another comics series aimed at kids – it comes in at 15k. Ten volumes of Babymouse make the chart, in fact. It isn’t big as Bone (what is?), but it shows there is a thriving market for “comics for kids." In point of fact, there are sixty-three books in the “Everything Else" section that are primarily aimed at children. You might not have heard about Babymouse, or the Lunch Lady series, or Dragonbreath, or Stone Rabbit BC Mambo or Black is For Beginnings or Club Penguin, but kids clearly have, and they’re selling well.

And what I love, too, is that Hibbs hits on exactly the reason WHY "traditional" comic fans haven't heard of these: "It might also be worth noting that most of the titles that I just mentioned haven’t been carried by Diamond, whatsoever."

For the handful of issues I do take with Hibbs' analysis, I'm thrilled that he's able to report on all of this and provide his thoughts/commentary. I don't always agree with him on everything, but the discussion that it brings up is important and useful. Here's to the great debate!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

15% Off Comic Book Fanthropology: Presidents' Day Weekend Only

Hey, it's been a while since I plugged my book, and even longer since I was able to give you fine folks a discount! From now through February 15, you can take 15% off your order of Comic Book Fanthropology if you use the coupon code WASHINGTON when you check out.

The Most Expensive Ten Cent Comic Ever!?!

What you are looking at is a copy of Detective Comics #27 -- featuring the first appearance of Batman -- with a CGC grade of 8. It's currently being auctioned over Heritage Auction Galleries with bidding running for about another two weeks.

As of this writing, the high bid is $350,000 -- over $30,000 higher than last year's record-setting sale of Action Comics #1. And this auction has two weeks left!

You might also see Heritage touting a $418,250 number. That's the high bid price plus a "buyer's premium" they charge on high-end auctions like this. That means that, even if no one else at all bids, the winner will have to pay over $400,000 for a single comic. During a recession.

So my first question is: who they hell has that kind of money and is willing to part with it for a single comic book? Second question: what kind of balls do you have to have to do that during a recession with overall unemployment floating around 10% and closer to 20% for those at lower socio-economic levels? I can appreciate the 'take care of you and your own first' mindset where someone might spend what seems like excessive amounts of money on luxuries like, say, going out to fancy restaurants, but even as a huge, life-long comic book fan, I can't see how someone could justify to themselves that kind of spending. Even if you really did not give a rat's ass about what happened in Haiti or anyone who's lost their job in the past year or whomever, I'd think you'd have at least a PR person tell you that, you know, maybe this might not look to good for your public image. Maybe it might be okay to pass on this one comic just at the moment. Because even if the buyer is using someone as a proxy -- which I would have to believe is the case here, because people with that kind of money tend not to bother themselves with trifles like actually bidding at an auction themselves -- this is the 21st century! This won't not get found out!

You know, when I first read that this auction is already at a record high, I was mostly just surprised. "Wow. $350,00. That's a lot of money." Then, it dawned on me just how much money that is. Especially in light of the current economy situation.

To whoever lands the winning bid on this auction: Since you clearly don't mind the extra dough on the "buyer's premium" can you send me an extra $68,000 as well? And to whoever gets the second-highest bid, can you send me whatever that amount is? You were just going to throw it away anyway.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Changing Your Comic News Filters

Clay Shirky is an Internet smart guy. (That's the technical term.) As far as I know, he doesn't really know how to write code or design websites or build computer infrastructures. But he knows how people use the Internet and what the social implications and ramifications are. I've heard several of his lectures, and in one of his latest, he argues that one of the problems people face today is NOT one of information overload but, rather, it's a filter failure. If you don't watch the video (though I recommend you do watch it) Shirky essentially is saying that we've been bombarded with too much information for years but it's been largely filtered by mainstream media. The Internet, though, has effectively removed those filters and people are left with essentially having to make their own. (Shirky does a much better job of getting that point across.)

I first saw the video a couple weeks ago, and the notion has been rumbling around in my head as I've been deliberately altering some of my online behaviors and filtering. How do I want to use Facebook? How do I want to use Twitter? What filters do I want/need to use to help ensure that I don't get overwhelmed with information? As I'm embracing additional venues, I need to also embrace new filters as the old ones get overwhelmed.

I don't have answers for everything yet. But do I need to friend someone in Facebook if all they're doing there is regurgitating their Tweets? What is the best format for following someone's updates: an RSS feed through a feed reader, an RSS feed through my portal, their email newsletter or their Tweets?

Not to mention that some of the sites I used to follow don't seem to carry anything really relevant to me any more! I've been pulling in Newsarama and The Pulse feeds for years, but I can't remember the last time I saw an article on either one that jumped out at me as sounding interesting. And the handful that I have read at all were linked to from other sources who provided better summaries. All of what I would consider the "old guard" comics news sites don't really work for me any more, so I'm essentially enlisting folks like Dirk Deppey and Tom Spurgeon to call out the significant pieces for me. That's honestly not to say anything disparaging against those sites I'm no longer directly following, just that their direction and mine have been lining up less and less often to the point where their content generally doesn't interest me. When it might, I've got other filters (human ones) whose link-blogging is more in line with my ideals.

They key, of course, is not to OVER-filter your interests.

If I relied exclusively on link-bloggers, I'd almost certainly miss some interesting stuff. So I continue to keep up with certain things that particularly interest me: certain creators and other bloggers whose perspectives I find intelligent and insightful and companies who tend to publish things I enjoy.

Of course, my level of filtering might well be higher or lower than yours. Obviously, it's dependent on what I find relevant personally. I'm sure there's quite a few people who would find a lot of what interests me absurd or boring or whatever. And vice versa. The point is that each individual has to find their own filters and can't rely on "traditional media" to do it for them. Maybe you get all the comic news you need from the clerk at your local comic shop and that suits you perfectly fine. You're relying on him as your filter. But you'd almost have to spend no time online for him to be the only source of comic information. You're more than likely going to get emails and hit websites than provide more information than your clerk friend, so you have to set up additional filters. Maybe that's entirely blocking sites like Newsarama, I don't know, but I want to emphasize that you will likely need to have more filters in place than you realize.

Not that it will pose a big problem in most cases. Once you set it/them up, it/they will continue to work until you begin opting in to other communication venues. The "Hide" feature you may have used so well in Facebook isn't available in all other social networking sites. Some webcomic creators start including their personal updates in the same feed as their comics; maybe you want that, maybe you don't. But you have to make a choice in the matter. What is relevant and important to you? What do you want to get through your filters? What to do you want the filters to always catch?

This and other similar posts I've made previously might not seem to have anything to do with comics. Other than perhaps some superficial mentioning of them. But since you're online (how else would you be reading this?) it is an issue you have to deal with. In regards to comics, comic news and information in general. I have a crudload of information flowing to me from a huge number of sources. Certainly enough that it would be impossible for one person to manage manually. I have to admit that it's difficult for me to keep on top of it, even with the elaborate filtering mechanisms I've established. So I can't imagine that it wouldn't be difficult for those who aren't as web-savvy; I do this type of thing for a living, so I'm immersed in it every day.

Ultimately, my point here is to simply make you aware of the filtering process that's going on. Knowing that, you're more likely to take a more active role in establishing your filters, and less likely to get frustrated when you feel like you're getting overloaded with information. So, just tuck that one in your back pocket until you need it. Hopefully, it'll help alleviate at least a few headaches for you sometime.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

HOLY BAT-SNEAKERS!!

Yeah, it's comics' cheesiest way to intro an article, but I think it's justified here...

I got these sneakers back in 1989 when Tim Burton's Batman first came out. They somehow wound up completely forgotten in the bottom of a footlocker and I don't think I've seen them in ten years. Probably stored in there when I last moved and never got unpacked. I re-discovered them tonight by accident and I'll be darned if they don't still fit! Wohoo!

These were officially licensed by DC and produced by Converse as a special version of their classic All-Star line. They're not in the best of shape -- I actually wore them a fair amount in college -- but I doubt many people will notice the specifics of their condition as they're picking their jaws up off the floor in awe of all those bat-symbols!

(Oh. And yes, my legs really are that hairy.)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Today's Train Of Thought On Kids' & YA Comics

Bear with me. This post is mostly me thinking out loud...

Shortly after Nick Magazine announced it was closing shop, comics section editor Dave Roman generously offered to send out some file copies of their magazines to whoever asked free of charge. A week or two later, I received a box with about half a dozen issues. They got set aside with holiday craziness, but I just got a chance to sit down and read through them. And you know, there's some really good stuff in there. Granted, I have zero interest in learning what Dwayne Johnson thinks of his burping ability, but the comics portions were quite good. Had I known just how good, I would have been an earlier/stronger support of the magazine. (Although I understand it's cancellation had little to do with sales.) But that's where this post stems from.

The past year or so, I've seen several really good comic stories that have gotten very little press coverage in "traditional" comic book circles. Babymouse, Malice, Nick Magazine... Even the "big hits" like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Invention of Hugo Cabret seem to get quickly overwhelmed by "Blackest Night" or "Siege" or whatever the crossover du jour is.

On the one hand, it makes sense. After all, what we would generally call "traditional" comic circles consist primarily of folks primarily interested in the superheroics of Marvel and DC characters. And the largest group of fans behind that would be those looking for "adult" stories like those published by Fantagraphics. These comics aimed at a younger audience -- those who don't steer the direction of comics discussion -- and it should come as no surprise that they fall under the collective radar of many comic book fans.

On the other hand, there are, as I said, some quality books regardless of who they're aimed at. Furthermore, there's some name folks working on them. Dave Roman, as I said, was an editor at Nick Magazine and has turned in some fine comics of a more slightly more traditional vein. (I'm still trying to hunt down the last three issues of Jax Epoch!) In the handful of copies of Nick that he sent, I've seen the work of everyone from Gustave Verbeck to Scott McCloud to Karl Kerschl. I found myself recognizing the drawing styles on almost every other strip, and jumping to the back of each issue where they listed all of the contributors. Even if you were to dismiss the content out of hand for assuming it was "too juvenile" (or whatever) I would've thought the name power alone would draw over more folks. Johnny Ryan and James Kochalka for cryin' out loud!

Plus, don't many comic book fans have kids? Or know some at least? Did you know that six of the top ten kids' graphic novels to be checked out of libraries in 2009 were from the Babymouse series? (The other four slots were Bone and Pokemon books.) I'd think more of this would filter back through the blogosphere and whatnot.

But the only people that seem to be discussing any of these types of books are librarians. They've become a significant force for espousing the benefits of sequential art to/for children and young adults. More power to them for that! And kudos to Scholastic for focusing more on that type of work in recent years too! Not to mention the work they put into their sites to promote comics. Have you seen the website for Raina Telgemeier's Smile? It includes a nice, Flash-based comics creator. Nothing spectacular about it per se, other than they took the time to put it together. (The results of my playing around with it at the left.)

But the only place I've found of that regularly covers this type of material is Graphic Novel Reporter. Kudos to them; it's a great site, and they've pointed me to some wonderful books I would've otherwise missed. I've seen some decent things crop up on library sites as well, but those tend to be focused on the oeuvre of children's literature. Which is great, of course, but not really a go-to resource for comics information.

This kind of thing, I suppose, points to why comic fans still bring up the "why aren't there comics for kids" argument. It's a silly discussion precisely because there ARE a lot of comics aimed at younger folks being produced. But the comics community on the whole seems to be willfully ignoring them. No, they don't show up in the same format as they did back in the 1950s, nor are they published by the same publishers. But they are out there and available in ample supply if people would just look beyond Marvel and DC. Kids' comics is NOT the same as a kind of cutely drawn Batman.

I don't know that there NEEDS to be a place exclusively for the discussion of kids' and YA comics. It'd be nice, sure, but necessary? Maybe not. But I think it would be nice if the places that allegedly talked about comics AS A MEDIUM included more than occasional lip service to something other than Marvel and DC. There's nothing wrong with a site that wants to focus on just that, of course; I'm just saying that they probably shouldn't purport to be a destination for information about comics in general.

Not sure if all that made sense but, as I said, it was mostly just me thinking out loud.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Spider-Man Dances? Who Knew?

I read a slew of Dr. Who comics followed by watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which put me in this really weird headspace to begin with, but I found this video laugh-out-loud hilarious in the best way possible...


(h/t Dan Slott)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Fozzie, The Avenger

After seeing this, it's too hard to not join in the fun...

Problems With Marvel's Latest Teaser

Here's the latest teaser image Marvel released to promote their upcoming "Heroic Age" stuff, if you haven't seen it yet...

Now, I don't want to be hating on Marvel, and I usually like Bryan Hitch's and Karl Kesel's work, but I'm seeing some significant problems with this image. Maybe it's just me, but here's what I think when I look at it.

First, conceptually, it just doesn't work. If Marvel's trying to tout this return to a heroic age, "a throwback to the early days of the Marvel Universe" according to EIC Joe Quesada, this image does not do that. Thematically, it bears no real distinction against Marvel's work over the past several years that have been plagued with inter-hero conflicts. Does the above image feel any different than these...?


It certainly doesn't to me! All that teaser image tells me is "more of the same." Random heroes looking tough and menacing.

Second, the placement of the figures makes for a poor layout. Really, I do usually enjoy Hitch's work, but this seems like there was little thought given to it. Here's a version in which I've highlighted the overall focus of the page...

And there are these uncomfortable triangle shapes on all sides. Visually, it's not weighted very well at all and, speaking as a graphic designer, it's a poor use of the space. That upper left corner is completely dead space, and most of the right side isn't working very well either. The text/banner area at the top is worsening matters.

To be fair, the image probably wasn't created for this purpose. If it were to be used, say, as an actual comic book cover, the various elements that would need to be added (bar code, Marvel logo, masthead, cover copy, etc.) could alleviate the layout issue being shown here. But all it would take here is a slightly tighter cropping to get a much more pleasing result...

That's not perfect, I'll admit, but I spent all of five minutes on it without even having access to the original source files. Still much better, IMO.

Then, there are some surprising (to me) illustration gaffs too. Check out how Black Widow is holding her gun...
The green lines I've drawn in represent the angle her hand is point: parallel with the ground. The yellow lines follow the gun itself, angling down about three degrees. Which makes it look like it's about ready to fall forward out of Widow's hands. If she fired that shot, she'd almost certainly miss her mark, and the gun's recoil would knock it out of her hands.

Lastly is Hawkeye firing an arrow...
Can someone tell me how that arrow is NOT falling to the ground? It's apparently being held in place entirely by his right hand at the very end of the shaft. Typically, the arrow shaft rests on the other side of the bow precisely because it allows an archer to use the fingers of his/her left hand to keep the arrow from falling or sliding out of place. It's certainly not unheard of for modern bows to have some sort of guides that allow the arrow to rest on the inside of it, but there's still something there that would keep the shaft in place. In this illustration, there's nothing and, by all rights, it should fall down to Hawkeye's feet.

Really, I'm not hating on Marvel here. I'm just a bit confused. Hitch and Kesel are talented artists, and Marvel has some very capable graphic designers on staff. So what happened while they were working on this?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Jezebel Calls Bullshit On Marvel

This is short so I'm going to re-post it here in it's entirety. The S.O. points to this Jezebel article by Latoya Peterson...

Everything I Hate About Representations Of Women In Comics In One Easy Image

David Pepose wanted to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the character She-Hulk, but notes that her possible death in the new issue isn't an auspicious sign.

Pepose is concerned about the future of the character, but looking at the image, all I can see are two distinct visual roles for women in comics: one is a sexy red girl, the other is a sexy dead girl. That's why the Hulk looks huge, muscular and mean, while She-Hulk looks like a centerfold. And I still can't figure out why most other superheroes get to have a death scenes that showcase their dignity and the somberness of their death but the most prominent feature in the panel above are the women's chests.

Makes me want to holler and throw up both my hands.

Or go bury myself in manga.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Brain Hurts... Time For A Mashup

As you well know by now, when I can't think of anything clever to write about, I throw two of the day's comic strips in a blender and see what comes out. Today's contestants are Andy Capp and Pearls Before Swine.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Critique Free Webcomics As A Cultural Statement

Fizz, The Cranky Old Gnome, recently posted some thoughts on critiquing free webcomics. It's a good read and, for the record, I agree with him on the subject. But it got me thinking.

There have always been people that think they fart sunshine and crap gold, who think that they're above criticism, who think that they're entitled to anything they want and anyone else's considerations are immaterial. That's called ego. History is rife with tales of folks like that, and those are only the successful ones we know about. I don't doubt there've been folks lower on their respective socio-economic ladders who felt just as entitled, but wound up living very bitter lives because they weren't handed all the successes of others. That these people exist is not new.

However, there has been a noted increase in that mentality, at least here in the U.S., with the so-called Millennial Generation (or Generation Y or Generation Next or whatever the en vogue phrase is). Though there aren't firm dates associated with it, we're generally talking about folks born between the mid-1970s and the early 2000s. These are really the first group of people who grew up with computers and digital technology. When I was working at a public University, we were actively encouraged to study these kids because they were becoming more and more prevalent on college campuses. (For the record, I'm just old enough to precede this group. I was eight when my family got an Atari video game system and 11 when I first sat in front of a personal computer, the classic TRS-80. We got a VIC-20 later that year and my father bought one of the original Macintoshes shortly after they came out. Had I been much younger, I would absolutely not have a recollection of not having computers around.)

From Wikipedia...
The Millennials are sometimes called the "Trophy Generation", or "Trophy Kids," a term that reflects the trend in competitive sports, as well as many other aspects of life, where "no one loses" and everyone gets a "Thanks for Participating" trophy and symbolizing a perceived sense of entitlement. It has been reported that this is an issue in corporate environments. Some employers are concerned that Millennials have too great expectations from the workplace and desire to shape their jobs to fit their lives rather than adapt their lives to the workplace.

So what does this have to do with critiquing webcomics?

Well, who's making webcomics? Cartoonists, obviously, but more specifically, cartoonists who grew up with and are comfortable in an online environment. Cartoonists who quickly embrace digital over print. Interestingly, look at the ages of comic strip creators working in traditional newspapers versus those online. There's a split right around age 40 (i.e. being born in 1970); there aren't many newspaper cartoonists under 40 and not many webcomic creators over 40. Those floating right around that age seem to wind up taking more hybrid approaches. That means that most webcomic creators are part of that Millennial Generation. More to the point, webcomic creators are more predisposed to that "Trophy Generation" mindset. That they're out there doing a webcomic is more significant than any level of quality it may or may not have.

Of course, that's NOT to say all webcomic creators have this feeling of entitlement. There are webcomic creators like Phil Foglio (born 1956) working well outside the Gen Y birth dates, and there are webcomic creators like Charlie Trotman (born 1978) who have a less entitled outlook, despite being pretty well within in the Gen Y birth dates. Like any other assessment of an entire generation, it's a broad generality to say they all identify with a "Trophy Kids" label. But I think it does help to explain why there's more defensiveness when it comes to critiquing webcomic creators.

I don't agree with that outlook, personally. I don't think you or I or anyone else is entitled to everything we want, free of criticism. I think it's totally fair to call someone out (myself included) when they're screwing up or doing a half-assed job. And maybe it's just my becoming more curmudgeonly as I get older, but you don't get any sacred cows as far as I'm concerned. I can be polite and I'm not going to out-and-out tell you that you suck, but you have no right to expect my approval just because you're you.

There are a number of collective traits Millennials have that are quite positive. They tend to be more culturally tolerant, more politically active, more socially conscious... More power to them for that! But that doesn't give them a pass for enlarged egos. If they've got a great comic, awesome! If they've got a lousy one, they ought to be doing something else.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Race & Comics

There are comics out there in which the creators address race issues head-on. Frequently (though certainly not always) that stems from the creators' own experiences. Lalo Alcaraz's La Cucaracha and Tak Toyoshima's Secret Asian Man are prime examples of current comics that are largely defined by race relation issues. Nothing wrong with them, certainly, but they do indicate -- or at least strongly suggest -- that we're not in a 'post-racial' society yet. It's still a topic that's worthy of discussion.

Which is why I'm going to bring up Ethan Young's Tails.

According to the website, "Tails follows the semi-autobiographical misadventures of Ethan: a young, quirky Asian vegan struggling to become a cartoonist while taking care of a horde of cats." However, that Ethan is Asian is a minor point and doesn't really have much impact on the story itself. Back in August, though, Ethan (the creator, not the character) posted this on his blog...
I recently received a comment concerning Ethan’s ethnicity, which read, “I didn’t realize Ethan was supposed to be Asian.” Just in case you all didn’t realize (or didn’t read the description in the ‘About’ section), yes, Ethan is intended to be Asian. However, it was never emphasized in either the story or the illustrations, so don’t feel bad. I always thought that giving Ethan thick black hair and slightly smaller eyes was evidence enough, but I’ve been drawing this character for so long, I’m not the best judge. And I’ll admit, there are certain pages where Ethan looks very Anglo...

How many of you have read ‘American Born Chinese’ by Gene Yang, where the main character wishes he was a white kid? Or ‘Shortcomings’ by Adrian Tomine? These stories really hit home, and capture the self-doubt, self-loathing, self-deprecating self-image that a lot of Asian-Americans have. I went through that stage myself. Over it now...

Young went on to ask what readers thought about Cartoon Ethan's ethnicity. What race did they think he was, what kind of thoughts they had regarding the character or the comic, etc. I followed up with Young a while later and he relayed that the results were about what he expected: about 1/3 of readers thought Cartoon Ethan was Caucasian, 1/3 saw a distinctly Asian influence of some kind and 1/3 never thought about it one way or another. (I fell into this last camp since, as I noted at the time, Cartoon Ethan's ethnicity was about as important to the story as what kind of cat Garfield is.)

I pressed Young for a little more information about his racial background informed his creative process. He noted that he never really was on the receiving end of too much racism, though he definitely did get the occasional "chink" and "go back to your own country" comments. Enough at least that he didn't feel 100% accepted as an American. That, it should come as no surprise, informs his work. Cartoon Ethan is deliberately intended to be "cool, hip and relatable" in the manner that Young aspired to growing up and, whether Cartoon Ethan was Asian, Black, Caucasian, or whatever, that mindset is still informed by Young himself.

Interestingly, Young added that readers felt Cartoon Ethan's parents were much more confusing because they appeared distinctly Caucasian in relation to Cartoon Ethan. But his work on the comic was months in advance of when things were getting posted, so he didn't have any immediate plans for changing anything.

Last Friday, though, Young posted this...
Because of all the constant confusion to whether or not Ethan’s parents are actually his birth parents (people keep mistaking the grey hair for blond), I’ve colored in his parents’ hair so that the resemblance is more visible (go back and re-read some of the pages if your interest is piqued). The parents look more Asian now, so stop asking me if Ethan is adopted =P

Although the old pages are no longer available online, I used some of my wickd Google-Fu skilz to get you the chance to glimpse a before and after...

Which especially interesting in light of the natural progression Young's art has taken. He noted that, "If you'll look through some of the 'Tails' archives, like Prologue pg 1, Ethan has a single line with a pupil to represent his eyes. That, to me, comes across as more Asian. Over time, I found myself using that technique more and more, simple because I found that I liked it better." He's experimented a bit since then but when I was talking with him, he was working on Chapter 8 and felt that was the look Cartoon Ethan was ultimately settling in to. However, since Chapter 6 has only just started posting, readers won't see that for a little while yet. Which likely helps to explain the retroactive change to Cartoon Ethan's parents.

Another bit from Young...
People always used to ask me, "Where are you really from?" That question always irked me -- because I know people don't necessarily intend on being offensive, they're just interested in my heritage (either that or they're investigating my background). So, I bascially wanted to make Ethan Asian, yet not call attention to it because he was American. As President Obama said, "There is no White American, or Black American, or Hispanic American or Asian American, you are an American." (Or he said something like that, it's hard to remember...) In short, i didn't want to call attention to race, yet I didn't want to ignore it.

I don't really have a simple, happy conclusion to this post. Even saying something like, "Race is a complex issue and has no easy answers," is a rather trite point to make. I really enjoyed reading Tails before any of this came up. And after it did, it didn't really impact how I read the story. But it does provide an interesting backdrop, and makes for some interesting discussion and observation points with regard to comics and race in general.

Just something for folks to mull over.