Friday, April 30, 2010

Kevin Smith On FCBD

Kevin Smith does some cost analysis between some recent comic book sales and what you can pick up tomorrow...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Obama On Freedom & Tolerance In Comics

Video footage from earlier this week in which President Obama praises comic writer/publisher Naif al-Mutawa for his entrepreneurship and message of tolerance. (Skip to about 5:30 if you just want to see the portion specific to al-Mutawa.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Free Comic Book Day... From Home!

So maybe you're a teenage who doesn't have access to a car or maybe you're out traveling on business and are in the middle Russia for the next week or three. But in any event, you'll find yourself unable to attend a comic book shop participating in Free Comic Book Day.

Never fear! We have other free FCBD offers available for you!

First, I'll point to some free PDF downloads of various TwoMorrows magazines. Those are up all the time, I believe, but TwoMorrows often has some extra deals on FCBD as well. (Though I haven't heard anything specific for this year as of yet.)

Next, I'll point to some free PDF downloads from Lone Star Press available through Wowio. They have the first issues of SideChicks, Heroic Tales, Force Seven, Ex Parte and Ace of Diamonds available through the weekend.

Finally (at least as far as I know) you can get a free pulped wood copy of Hogan's Alley by sending an email ON MAY FIRST to hoganmag AT gmail DOT com. They emphasize that it has to be on Free Comic Book Day itself and that "Before and after that date, any requests for freebies will receive only scorn and derision."

UPDATE: I knew I was forgetting something else I'd seen. Jabberwacky will also be available as a free PDF download from Wide Awake Press on May 1.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SPACE Coverage Roundup

Recollections, pictures and even a video from this past weekend's SPACE convention in Columbus, Ohio.

Kara Carson 1 (photos)
Kara Carson 2 (photos)
Kara Carson 3 (photos)
Kara Carson 4 (photos)
Tom Dell'Aringa
Tom Dell'Aringa (photos)
Matt Dembicki
Josh Flowers (video)
Brant Fowler, Day 1
Brant Fowler, Day 2
Lora Innes

Let me know what I may have missed.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Garfield Mash-ups

I've got several mash-ups today. All the dialogue is courtesy of Jim Davis...

Sunshine State


Runners


The Meek


La Cucaracha


Baby Blues


What is it about Garfield that makes it so infinitely mutable? Seriously. You can't do this so readily with, say, Beetle Bailey or Blondie or B.C.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Snoopy's Got A Bead On Chuck

Here's the old Peanuts strip that ran today...
I was going to make some juvenile post about Charlie Brown and Linus being gay. Maybe just posting that second-to-last panel with the title: "Your Out-Of-Context Peanuts Panel Of The Day" or something. But then I noticed something really disturbing.

Look at that last panel. Snoopy with a machine gun. Now, this does somewhat play into his whole WWI flying ace sequences a bit and, by 1963 when this strip first ran, Snoopy had been reasonably well-established as having quite a few human attributes. No, here's the part that find disturbing...

Snoopy is pointing the gun at Charlie Brown's house, not away from it as if to guard against possible intruders.

Charlie Brown is always, always shown entering and exiting from the left side of the panel when he's walking back and forth from his house to Snoopy's. Charlie Brown's house is on the left, Snoopy's doghouse is on the right. That's how it was done in the comics, that's how it was done in the cartoons...
Now I'm not one to question Charles Schulz's motivation for doing something like this, or what might've been going through his subconscious at the time, I'm just saying that Snoopy's house is always shown to the right of Charlie Brown's. Which means that Snoopy's machine gun is pointed right at Charlie Brown's house. Maybe he's got it trained on Linus, as he is something of an intruder. Maybe this is why we've never actually seen any parents in the Brown household. Maybe this is the reason why Sally isn't in the strip. Maybe Snoopy is holding Charlie Brown's baseball gear hostage.

All I'm saying here is that something really sinister is going on in what most people generally dismiss as a kids' comic.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Link Blogging

Caught a few pieces that I thought I'd share, since I don't know how widely circulated they might get over the weekend...

Krishna Sadasivam (PC Weenies) thinks Marvel comics are a really bad at being new reader friendly, don't have much characterization and are not worth the cover price. He's not really hating on Marvel so much as just pointing out how insular its audience is. Here's the link.

Chris Garrett (no relation to my high school friend of the same name) has come up with a list of ten lessons bloggers in general can take from comic books. Pretty good ideas generally, and most of them are ones I try to actively utilize here. Although I'm probably not so good in the 'human drama' department most of the time. Here's the link.

Lastly, some SPACE Con Coverage...
The Official(?) Con Blog
SPACE Anthology Preview
SPACE Swag
SPACE Convention Report, Day 1

Friday, April 23, 2010

Doc Jenkins' TEDxNYED Talk

Doc Jenkins recently spoke at TEDxNYED about participatory culture and how that has an impact on people's social activism. He starts with a story about a kid named Pete, who's able to interact as a peer with others much older than himself because of the web anonymity he assumes outside of his "formal" duties as a student. Much like I was talking about yesterday, this loose-knit group is then able to recognize each other for their individual abilities, regardless of social and cultural backgrounds and formal training and whathaveyou, and collectively effect social change.

Here's the full talk...


Heh. Brilliant analogy there, I thought, especially for the comic fanboy. One of the reasons I follow Doc Jenkins' work.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Comics Blogging & Journalism

One of the best-sounding panels at C2E2, for me, was "Old Media, New Media, Comics Media" featuring a bunch of people I like and respect: Lucas Siegel, Brigid Alverson, Johanna Draper Carlson, Noah Berlatsky, Ron Richards, Caleb Goellner, Rick Marshall and Heidi MacDonald. It was one of the first things I highlighted on the panel lists when I thought I might be able to make it to the show, and the two summaries I've read made it sound just as good as I thought it might. But because I missed it and this is MY blog, I'm going to add my two cents.

First, I have no idea who you are and, as such, I have no idea what you expect from me or this blog. The vast majority of what I post on this blog goes up exclusively because it interests me somehow. I figure that, if it interests me, it might interest someone else. But I am constantly surprised by which of my posts gets picked up/referenced/linked to/whatever and by whom. There are things that I am absolutely certain will interest a wide breadth of people, and they get zero traffic; there are other things I just throw out online with little-to-no thought and they get widely circulated. And of course there are some things people react to in exactly the manner I would've expected. I gave up some time back trying to write for anyone but myself. I know a number of individuals who read my blog at least semi-regularly (Hi, Mom!) but I don't write it FOR them/you. Because I don't know what my audience (however that might be defined) wants.

Which is a position I hold with all my writing. My "Incidental Iconography" column was an idea that I presented to Jack Kirby Collector editor John Morrow, and he's remained very hands-off as an editor. Aside from the occasional typo, he's only edited one column slightly for space reasons (and what he took out was pretty inconsequential anyway) and made one suggestion for a particular column's theme. Other than that, it's all me. Same again with my book. I wrote it because it's something I'm interested in. When my father asked who was my intended audience, I cited a list of traits that people who might be interested in it would have. He responded, "So, basically, people just like you?"

With that in mind, that means that whatever 'journalistic ethics' I follow here track precisely with my own personal ethics. If I betray any sort of journalistic integrity here, I'm really just betraying myself, since I am my own audience. I write articles that I would like to read with the conviction and honesty I would like to see in others. Sure, I'll be happy to accept review copies of books and I have no concerns whatsoever about providing a fair and honest review. I'm going to try to look for positive things to say because I'm generally a nice guy and wouldn't want to hurt somebody's feelings, but I'm good to point out what I see as flaws in a work as well.

Of course, I can say that pretty easily because I don't make any money off my blog. I don't run ads. I don't sell buttons or post cards or anything like that. I get a handful of review copies of books, but that's pretty much it as far as compensation goes. Which is fine. That's why I have a day job. So the reason I can stay genuinely honest is because it really doesn't serve me not to be. Hopefully, that's at least somewhat evident by reading my work here.

So here's how I figure it. There are a bunch of folks out there, like me, who are blogging away. (Or Twittering. Or YouTubing. Or whatever mode of expression they're using.) They're presenting news and previews and reviews and opinions and knee-jerk reactions and whatever else. Some of them have access to more insider information. Some of them make money from their work. Some of them are upfront about their biases. Some of them care more about the attention than their integrity. There's a full gamut of folks out there.

BUT...

Given the general demographic of comic readers, I suspect the vast majority of those of us who are shouting in the wilderness here bear some high degree of resemblance to adults. As in, having grown up at least as early as the 1970s and 1980s. As in, pre-Internet. We grew up in a time when there were a decidedly finite number of news sources, which were primarily large organizations run by older white men. If the handful of them got together (either explicitly or implicitly) and decided they were all going to spin a news story a certain way, then that's the story the public heard. People generally think of newspapers and broadcast media in those terms, but it applies within sub-categories like comic news as well.

The line of dialogue within comicdom was, for good or ill, largely defined by the handful of people who had their own media outlet. The comic publishers, obviously, and the larger fanzine publishers like Gary Groth and Alan Light. What this all meant was that ANY information about what was happening within comicdom was scarce and the number of counter-stories were minimal. The reading audience didn't have much choice but to take the news as it was presented.

That paradigm no longer exists.

People have noted in plenty of places -- including in that very panel that spurred this post -- that the Internet has democratized publication possibilities. You don't need to have loads of start-up capital to throw your thoughts and opinions all over the place. Everyone can have their say online. We all know that, right?

But the corollary to that, which doesn't get discussed nearly as much, is that everyone out there reading and absorbing all of this media has, by necessity, become more discerning in what they take as viable and/or valuable information. In the past decade or two, people have gotten used to being online and have gotten used to establishing an author's credibility as it pertains to them. By sifting through a handful of articles or features or whathaveyou, you can pretty readily discern whether or not someone is being straight with their audience or if they're just acting as a mouthpiece for some large corporation. After a short while, you almost subconsciously understand, if not appreciate, the standards an author holds him/herself to.

Let me ask you this: what do you expect when you come to my blog? What do you think about my style of writing or the overall tone and demeanor I take on things? Do you trust my opinions when I do book reviews? Now, compare that with your thoughts about all of those folks I listed at the top of this post. Now compare that to any other comic-related blogger you know. How about the manager at your local comic shop? Not exactly the same answers, are they? Maybe some overlap in some areas, maybe some substantial disconnects in others. We're different people, and you're obviously going to think of us differently. But you've made judgments on us -- and here's the clever bit -- based on each other!

You're comparing what I say here against what everyone else on the Internet is saying. Am I one more voice saying Atomic Robo is a great book, or am I some loner demanding the head of Brian Clevinger? Does what I'm saying jibe with what everyone else is saying? Not that you're expecting us all to be sheep, of course! We all have our individual preferences, but if I say a story is good because of Reason X and Alverson, Berlatsky and MacDonald all say Reason X doesn't actually appear in the story, that's going to undermine my credibility, isn't it? If I say a story is good because of Reason A and those same people say that Reason A is precisely why they didn't like the story, then we're all acting as each other's fact-checkers. Still differing opinions, but none of us are coming out of left-field somewhere.

And it's not just them. Since so many creators themselves are online, whether it's their own blog or Twitter or Facebook or whatever, they're backing this stuff up too. My journalistic integrity is being judged against everything else you've seen/read each and every time I hit the "Post" button. THAT is the other half of the democratizing effect the Internet has, and it's also an aspect that a lot of folks who grew up in the pre-Internet days tend to overlook.

I think Wowio is a prime example of this. By traditional measures, Wowio does a lousy job of getting word out about itself. They really haven't seemed to go out of their way to attract attention at all -- "big" announcements didn't seem to be sent out to news organizations and even their own news feed is kind of sparse. But Wowio still shows up periodically in the news rounds. Because news about them gets filtered out through Facebook announcements from creators who aren't paid, a blogger interested in digital comics who happens to get a scoop when he interviews the owner, the putz like me who happened to catch a few Tweets that spoke to a larger story. Comics journalism -- and, indeed, journalism in general -- is the product of everyone in comicdom with an internet connection.

Right here, right now, there are any number of comics reporters and commentators that you pay attention to on a regular basis. Some have been doing comics reporting in some form or another for years, and have earned your trust. Others might be newcomers you just stumbled on this past week, and don't know what to make of yet. If any of us make a mistake -- veterans or newbies -- we will undoubtedly be corrected. But there's the beauty of this whole new journalism: it's largely self-correcting. The people who aren't playing by those great rules we learned in kindergarten are going to get thrown by the wayside in some form. The people who act merely as mouthpieces for larger corporate interests are going to be recognized as such.

And!

And
it's an ongoing discussion. I might be considered trust-worthy now, but if I start betraying that sometime down the road -- if I start becoming some kind of corporate shill or otherwise abuse whatever credibility I've built up -- then I. Am. Toast. I will have lost your attention, and will have lost any credence I have as a member of the comics blogosphere. This is meritocracy at work. Is what I'm doing worthy? If that gets answered in the negative too often, doors start closing on you.

Now, all that said (and I apologize for rambling on for so long) I'm not dismissing the benefit of journalistic ideals. I'm not dismissing the benefit of the craft of writing. What I am saying, though, is whether you arrive at that through formal training, guesswork, emulation, or any other manner is irrelevant. It boils down to how well you deliver. Do you -- as someone reading these very words -- think what I have to say is worthwhile? I happen to think what I have to say is worthwhile, but I can recognize that I'm decidedly biased on this point. But I also know that I'm writing largely for myself here. An audience of one. That any of you come along with me for this ride is utterly fantastic and often quite mind-boggling for me. I deeply appreciate the company and hope you think well enough of me to hang around for the long haul.

Thanks!

Earth Day Comics Fail

For the past two years, I've collected on this blog all of the syndicated Earth Day related cartoons I can find. I was planning on continuing that tradition today, figuring it'd be especially poignant as it's the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and all. So without further ado, Earth Day comics...

Um, yeah. Ziggy. Period. That's it. And I don't think it's even intended to be an Earth Day comic, really.

Now, admittedly, I haven't looked at EACH AND EVERY comic being published in any form today, but I've spent a good deal of time hunting. And I've got about bupkis to show for it. Wow. Way to be contemporary, folks. You can't even keep up with annual events?

I'll leave you with this cartoon that I drew for an email our company is sending out today to get people to switch to receiving electronic bills instead of paper ones.


END OF DAY UPDATE: In the Comments, Karen points out that she did find two more Earth Day strips from today that I had missed: Mutts and Grand Avenue. Thanks, Karen!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Harvey?

You know, it hadn't occurred to me until Val mentioned her book, but I suppose that Comic Book Fanthropology is technically eligible for a Harvey Award for the BEST BIOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL OR JOURNALISTIC PRESENTATION category. I'll link to the Harvey site if any comic professionals are so inclined to nominate me at the last minute.

That said, I'm as likely to be seen with a Harvey as Jimmy Stewart was.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Manga Mad

Manga Mad is a 2008 documentary on manga and, to a lesser degree, otaku culture in Japan. It's only an hour long, so it can't go into much depth, but it does a good job with a general overview. (Indeed, there are even a couple of good quotes that I might use if/when I update my book!) The film is now available for free on Hulu and worth a look if you have any interest in manga culture, or you just want to figure out what the heck "moe" or "kawaii" mean!

(I should note, too, that there are several NSFW images shown throughout the piece!)

Young Lions Review

I just received a copy of Blaise Larmee's debut graphic novella, Young Lions. He'd emailed and asked to send a copy, noting that he gotten it published with the help of a Xeric grant. Well, I'm all for Xeric supported books so I was eager to take a look. As usual, though, I tried to shy away from finding out anything about the book before actually opening it.

[As a complete aside, about half of this review has actually been re-written. I had the whole thing written out last night, went to hit "post" and somehow lost the last half of the review. Even the stuff written prior to the last time I saved it. No idea what happened. Anyway, I've tried re-writing it from memory, but my apologies if this comes out sounding a little disjointed because of that.]

The art was, not surprisingly, the first thing to catch my attention. It's scanned directly from Larmee's pencils, and it looks as if he's made no attempt to hide or clean up the work. Eraser marks and smudges are common, technical errors are sometimes left in place, and occasionally you can see reversed images from another penciled page which had sat on top of the page you're looking at. In that sense, it's very deliberately raw.

The story, if that's really the appropriate word, centers around four young adults who consider themselves conceptual artists. (We don't really see much of their art, so it's hard to say whether they are or just like to think they are.) They take a road trip down to Florida, and come back somewhere between depressed and disillusioned.

If that doesn't sound like much of a story, that's because it isn't. By design. Young Lions is intended, I think, to be more emotional, intuitive and instinctual. It's not a work where you follow a protagonist's exploits as he carries on some character progression, and it's not a work in which you follow a series of events culminating in some grand climax. Young Lions is more akin to poetry. It's evocative and ephemeral, and begs to be studied carefully and digested slowly. At only 94 pages and an average words-per-page count that couldn't be higher than 15 or 20, it's tempting to try flying through it -- I'll admit that I made the mistake of whisking through a good chunk of it before realizing that's not how it needs to be read. But if you do that, you'll almost surely miss the point.

Speaking to the art specifically, Young Lions can be deceptive. At first glance, the pages look like they might be just initial layout sketches. As noted above, there are smudges and corrections that make it look unfinished. But there's a nuance to the figures that say otherwise. Though they aren't detailed renderings, the figure forms are very elegant and the superficially simple outlines show an excellent understanding of the human figure. I was in fact quite taken by several pieces which show the chin sloping down into the neck. Coupled with some infrequently used 'camera' angles, they highlight a sublimity to the entire work.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that Young Lions is uniquely experimental, but it's definitely pretty far removed from the norm and I don't know that I can make many direct comparisons to other work you might be familiar with. It'd be like trying to compare Robert Frost with Mickey Spillane or Anne McCaffrey. They're trying to achieve very different things, and the only real point of overlap is the basic language they're using. Don't misunderstand here: this is not a book of illustrated poems and the dialogue itself doesn't come across as verse. It's that Larmee does with pictures what Frost did with words.

I think that's the key to appreciating Young Lions. If you go in expecting even a non-traditional story, you'll be disappointed. Or disillusioned. Or disinterested. But if you open it looking for visual poetry, and open yourself to comics beyond what you'd think about from reading Joseph Campbell, you'll find this quite enjoyable.

Young Lions can be purchased directly from Larmee here for $10 USD.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sean Kleefeld: Predictor Of The Future!

One of the big news items in comicdom last week was that Joe Ruby, Ken Spears, and Sid and Marty Krofft are dusting off some of Jack Kirby's old and discarded work to develop ways "to revive these unseen Kirby characters in as many forms as possible."

I'd just like to lay claim to the idea that I called it a year ago. In this interview with Joe Field, I noted: "...it's too easy for me to see an executive... saying, 'Well, why bother paying for people to come up with new characters? We've got enough ideas out of Jack Kirby alone to make movies and cartoons for decades!'"

In the Times article, Marty Krofft is quoted as saying, "This is a 20-year business for somebody."

So the lesson today: Listen to Sean; he knows what he's talking about.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Time Lords, Self-Identity & Writing

So I've been watching the new Dr. Who episodes starring Matt Smith. I've been a Who fan since the early 1980s when my father introduced me to the Tom Baker episodes then airing on our local PBS station. So I've seen the regeneration thing a number of times, and I can appreciate that each actor is going to bring his own spin to the role. His own way of portraying the character. But three episodes into Smith's Doctor and I'm just not feeling it yet.

Now, I'm still trying to be open-minded about him; I think it took me the entire 19th season to appreciate Peter Davison's version of the character. After all, it's a transition period for Matt Smith as an actor and I'm sure he's still getting a feel for the character. What he wants to portray with him and who he thinks is.

But, at the same time, I'm seeing these new episodes and I can't help but feel like they were written with David Tennant in mind. That whole bit in "Victory of the Daleks" where the Doctor confronts the Power Rangers version of the Daleks felt like a Tennant scene, with Smith doing his best to not make it feel like a Tennant scene. Same with the denouement in "The Elevent Hour." In fact, the whole custard/fish sticks bit in that same episode had the same flavor (if you'll excuse the pun) as when Tennant's Doctor would correct himself several times in a row.

See, one of the things I like about the Doctor, as a character, was that he was always very much an individual and didn't self-identify as anything but himself. Yes, he would sometimes note that he's a Time Lord or the "Destroyer of Worlds" or what-have-you but those were always presented as handy titles. The Doctor is a Time Lord in name only; he hardly practices the mores or has the characteristics of most of his people. The character of the Doctor is unique unto himself.

And part of the charm of the character is the unique flourish that any given actor brings to the role. Mad props to Pat Troughton for becoming a very different Doctor than William Hartnell, thus establishing the pattern other actors would follow.

But that has little to do with comic books, right? Well, except the fundamental problem -- at least with serial comics -- is the same. A writer, coming to an existing character, needs find their own voice. Their own identity within the character, as it were. Just as each actor coming to the role of the Doctor needs to portray him in their own manner, each writer coming to, say, Spider-Man needs to portray him in his/her own manner.

There's legitimate reason to alter a character's voice from writer to writer or from story to story, even if you don't have the benefit of the Doctor's regeneration. That reason, of course, is that an individual will play up different aspects of their personality depending on their role or identity in a given situation. Batman, as a member of the Outsiders, is in a different role than when he's out on patrol by himself. He's different again as a member of the Justice League, and different yet again when he's mentoring Robin. All of which, of course, is different yet again when he's noodling around as Bruce Wayne. But he's the same man in every case, just different aspects of his identity come to the fore. In real life, you act differently around your parents than you do around your significant other. Or around your employer. Or around the salesman trying to convince you that the undercoating on the car you just bought is really a great investment.

See, one of the interesting things about self-identity is that it's mutable. Most people don't define themselves in only one way. Peter Parker is a superhero, but he's also a devoted nephew. Reed Richards is a scientist, and also a husband. That's how a writer is able to change a character's voice without changing his/her character.

Of course, as I think about it, self-identity is only part of that. A person's role -- which is what I've mainly been focusing on -- is probably the main impetus for changing a character's voice. Self-identity is more about how the character thinks of his/herself and, while that can certainly be multi-faceted, there's less variability there generally speaking. But the combination of the two will certainly change how a character can be written. A character who identifies herself as a hero is going to react to a bank robbery differently than a character who identifies herself as a mother.

And that's something that's not frequently addressed in comics. How does Batman think of himself? Is he a mentor primarily? Or a vigilante? Or a detective? Or a team member? Who is Spider-Man as he himself thinks? Does Superman really consider himself as a Kryptonian? It's his birthright, certainly, but I daresay that's not the first thing that comes to mind when he asks himself, "Who am I?"

Now, obviously, each writer is going to interpret how a character would act in any given situation differently, and there's certainly wiggle room. But to really get to who a character is, and how they might react, their own identity needs to be considered. A good writer will at least consider his/her character's role and identity when penning a story.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ten Influential Books

I stumbled upon this piece in which the author lists the ten most influential books in his life, and it includes Avengers #177. So I figured it'd be interesting to note the most influential books in MY life (in no particular order)...
  1. Fantastic Four #254 by John Byrne -- This was the comic that really cemented my life-long love of the medium and set me on the path I've been on for so many years. It had everything I needed to love a comic book exactly when and where I needed it.
  2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams -- It seemed almost 'mandatory' reading for teenage geeks, especially since the books were still relatively new back in the day. But it really did a lot to inform my senses of humor and language in particular, and more generally it provided guidelines for just being able to look at and redefine an object's purpose in an almost existentialist manner.
  3. World Book Encyclopedia (some early 1970s edition) -- My folks bought a set of encyclopedias soon after I was born, and they (the books, not my parents) had become somewhat dated by the time I was able to start reading and appreciating them. But I did actually read through them frequently and would regularly just pick up a volume to look up overviews of subjects that struck my fancy. You know how you might have a question that suddenly strikes you, so you pop over to Wikipedia to look it up? I was doing that by the 1980s with these books.
  4. 1984 by George Orwell -- I think I was a cynic well before I understood what the word meant. But when I first read Orwell's Animal Farm, I think I was a little too young to fully grasp the real meaning behind what he was saying. By the time I read 1984 a few years later, though, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It can read as an extremist's sophomoric attempt to predict the future, but I think some of the sweeping and broadly painted metaphors mask the subtlety of what Orwell was trying to say. Just like Make Room! Make Room! (the novel on which Soylent Green is based) is NOT about cannibalism, 1984 is NOT about Big Brother.
  5. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud -- This was a book that I could not put down. It was a powerful statement about the possibilities of comics as a medium, and really opened my eyes as to how much more was available than the superhero fare I had been primarily reading before then.
  6. Story Number 1 through Story Number 4 by Eugene Ionesco -- I've mentioned these before as influential. They were children's books that were just surreal. My folks were big on making sure their kids were exposed to a wide range of ideas and world-views, and these books certainly qualified! These books were absolutely mind-bending in the best way possible.
  7. Comic Book Fanthropology by Sean Kleefeld -- This is, of course, the book that I wrote. It definitely didn't have the same type of influence that everything else on this list has, but it was very significant in a unique way. The experience of sitting down and writing an honest-to-goodness book, as opposed to a bunch of unconnected blog posts or magazine articles, was quite a powerful way to force me to think about narrative structure and parallel themes and all the other literary tropes that I've never really put into practice myself. I was able to push myself in ways that I never had before.
  8. Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott -- This is a children's book based on an old Pueblo tale. It wasn't the story that stuck with me, though, but the visuals. The book has a very strongly designed look, and I've kept a copy as inspiration in my life as a graphic designer. Some of the projects I've done over the years were very deliberately and directly modeled off McDermott's art style, and they remain some of my favorite pieces. Interesting to note, too, that I only just now noticed some of the similarities between the art in Arrow and the cover to FF #254.
  9. Future Shock by Alvin Toffler -- This is actually a recent entry. I happened to start reading this during my divorce and, despite that it had been written almost four decades earlier, it still came across as very current and still forward-thinking. It had a fascinating way of looking at society, which I found strangely comforting during an emotionally difficult time.
  10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll -- I really liked the story growing up, probably stemming from the same interest in wordplay and logic that led me to the Ionesco and (later) Adams books noted above. But when I really sat down and studied it in college, I was really struck by just how powerful the work is. Carroll did a lot to further the very notions of nonsense verse and children's literature. (As a side note, I titled the report I did at the time "The Fleeb and Zorbleflax of Nonsense Poetry." I'm still rather proud of that title.)
So, there you go. Ten books that helped shape the person that is Sean Kleefeld. After writing this list out, I think it really says a surprising amount about who I am and how I look at things.

So what books had an impact on you?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How Much A Real Webcomic Creator Earns

In a bout of what I consider astounding honesty and transparency, Dorothy Gambrell -- creator of Cat & Girl -- has just posted her income breakdown (reproduced below) for the first quarter of 2010. Not only how much she made, but where that money came from! (It's listed on her site as if she's done this before, but this is the first I've seen of it.)

A few things worth noting. The money she earns from the sale of original art and commissions is a little under 10% of her total earnings for the quarter; extra freelance work also seems to be right around 10%. Donations account for 7% of her overall earnings. The vast majority of her income (somewhere around 70-75%) is from the sale of replenishible items relating to her comic -- shirts, buttons, prints, etc.

I would certainly consider Gambrell one of the more successful webcomic creators out there. She's been doing Cat & Girl for over a decade, and has built up a loyal following. From everything I've seen, she's doing everything right.

Now, I don't know how cyclical her income is, but it's certainly variable from month to month. I also don't know the full extent of her financial situation -- what her debts might be, what other sources of income might be available for her household, how much she has in savings, etc. It certainly seems as if she's making a living primarily through Cat & Girl.

Personally, I wouldn't be comfortable living with that variability. That's why this blog is a part-time gig for me and I go into an office for nine hours a day, five days a week. But that's me. That's based on my priorities and I wouldn't necessarily recommend that to anyone else; it's what works for me.

But, given how little information is out there regarding what a webcomic creator might expect to earn, I think it's quite laudable that Gambrell's willing to share this and well worth passing around. Take a look at what she's doing. That she's making a comic barely even registers on that graph. She's spending time working on t-shirt designs and stickers and all sorts of stuff ON TOP OF making a thrice-weekly webcomic.

Those donations buttons are nice, but they don't pay the bills. For that matter, neither does making a comic. No, what's paying the bills is all the work that goes into your business AFTER you've created your comic. That graph up there? That's your business model. Study it carefully.

The Ongoing Virtual (& Real) Us Vs. Them

I'm going to start with an aside today. Henry Jenkins is too pedestrian a name for someone whose work is so powerful, influential and approachable. And especially whose work relates so much to a pop culture filled within nicknames and handles and cool-sounding titles. So to place him among other heroes like Henry "We named the dog Indiana" Jones, I'm going to start referring to him as Doc Jenkins -- not unlike other heroes like Doc Savage or Doc Brown. So, from here on out, Doc Jenkins is the norm!

So, Doc Jenkins recently posted a series of articles detailing an interesting phenomenon that's occurred in various virtual worlds. The short version is that, seemingly inevitably, some folks will take to playing immature pranks in the games, often on newbies. Another group will often get together to try to 'police' this activity, reporting events to game officials and keeping tabs on frequent offenders, but that policing begins to cast an increasingly wider net, sometimes keeping tabs on people because they once talked to someone who they thought might cause trouble. I'm first pointing this out because the main example that's cited is a group who modeled themselves off the Justice League, including a command center based on the League's own satellite headquarters...
But that's kind of ancillary to the discussion. It wasn't particularly that this group happened to choose a superhero theme to act as an ersatz police force. They could have just as easily set up shop to look like Dr. Who's UNIT, Star Wars' Galactic Empire, Judge Dredd's Justice Department, or any of a hundred other fictional police/military forces. For that matter, they needn't have even followed that much of a theme, and just presented themselves as a loose-knit posse of concerned netizens.

No, what strikes me as most poignant can be summarized in Doc Jenkins' passage...
Both could play their own games, explore their own fantasies, and it became an issue because their actions impinged on each other's experience and impacted a much larger community of players. In other words, at least two different games collided in that moment.

Doc Jenkins is, of course, talking about the online game world here. But isn't that idea perfectly adaptable to the real world? Indeed, isn't it just a reflection of the real world?

In the online world, the clashes occur between those who take their cues from the orderly, superheroic worlds in DC comics, and the more anarchist view of the pranksters. Both groups have their ideal of what their online world should look like and, as Doc Jenkins noted, they sometimes collide. The mores of one group conflict with the mores of another.

Sound familiar? That was essentially the basis of my "Us vs. Them" chapter of my book It's the Twilight haters at Comic Con International, protesting with hand-made placards and t-shirts. It's the "Vampires don't sparkle!" taunts. It's the lack of understanding (which leads to fear which leads to hate) the differences between "Us" and "Them." It's the notion that anyone who falls in an outgroup is inherently bad, simply based on the fact that they're no in an ingroup.

It falls very much under our old lizard brain knee-jerk response mechanisms. Logically, we know that it's a load of hooey to judge somebody like that, but we end up doing it anyway. We fall back on broad stereotypes ("all comic fans hate Twilight fans") because it's a quick and easy way for us to respond to people. I don't have to spend time getting to know and respond to you as an individual if we're only going to meet for a minute or two in the elevator anyway. I can sum up your interests, preferences, ideals, lifestyle, etc. by comparing you to other people LIKE you that I've already had contact with. It's a mental shorthand we, as humans, use to determine whether or not we can/should deal with someone. Marvel/DC. Republican/Democrat. Israeli/Palestinian. Us/Them.

But these conflicts happen most frequently "when worlds collide!" When Twilight fans show up to comic conventions. When a Buffy fan starts heading into a comic shop. When a Shaenon Garrity fan follows some of her work for Marvel and starts talking to old school Marvel fans. Is it simply a matter of avoiding those online dens of insularity? That seems to cater to that particular brand of xenophobia. Is it some kind of attempt to educate people to be more open and accepting of people from outgroups? Well, realistically, we've been trying to do that for centuries with little result.

Or is it part of the ongoing struggle that is what makes us human? Doc Jenkins ends his piece by saying, "Playing well together is something we were supposed to have learned in kindergarten, but as this story shows, doing so is not as easy as it seems." And I'm left to wonder if it's a lesson we ever really learn.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why Indie Comics Rock

I recently ordered and received the latest issue of Tozo: the Public Servant from David O'Connell...
O'Connell has been serializing the story online for free, but then selling printed copies once he has enough pages together for a 'standard' pamphlet issue. A not uncommon practice for webcomic creators. Because he's doing the printing and distribution and whatnot himself -- and I'm sure not at the volumes you'd see from Marvel and DC books -- the cover price is a tad higher than average, but there's absolutely zero ads. Furthermore, O'Connell has been putting several pages of extras in his books that generally speak to the culture and society in which the story takes place. The first issue, for example, had several pages of an in-story newspaper with articles on the latest gossip, sports and weather. O'Connell clearly has done a lot of world-building for this comic, even if a good chunk of it remains in his head. Well worth the extra buck, in my opinion.

But that's not the cool part.

I opened my copy of the latest issue to find...

That's O'Connell's autograph on the inside front cover of the book, and an original inked sketch of one of the story's significant characters. Awesome!

Now, I don't know if O'Connell does a sketch for every order or if he's being extra nice to me because I've been a pretty big supporter of his work. (It is really good, after all!) But that's the type of attention that's hard to put into a comic that has to go through a larger publisher. O'Connell is creating a very personal work, and that extends through the production and distribution process.

"The production process? Sean, surely you can't mean that he's putting the staples in these books himself!"

Well, not the staples but check this out: one of his extras is a look at a 'standard issue' espionage kit for the rebels in the story...
The top two "ten tribuno" notes (the local currency) were printed separately on a special semi-transparent paper and glued in place. The fold-out waterbus map was also glued to the page and then folded shut. That's manual labor. And when I asked O'Connell about it, he said, "I do stick the little paper extras in myself but I deliberately designed them to be easy to print and cut so I can get a little production line going and assemble everything pretty speedily." That means that EVERY copy of the book that goes out was literally put together, in part, by O'Connell himself.

Now, that's not to say other comic creators don't put their blood, sweat and tears into their books as well, but I get a deeper sense of connection with the creator when I see something like this. It's a story that can only be told by that one creator, and it's a story they feel strongly enough about to really put their heart and soul into it.

Several of us designers were talking today at work, and one of them expressed some frustration in dealing with one of our clients. Their visual identity is what anyone trained in any sort of graphic arts might call a train wreck; from a graphic design perspective, they do just about everything wrong you could possibly do. I told him that you do the best you can, given the graphic limitations that are being imposed on you and, in cases like this, you just have to emotionally divorce yourself from the work.

That happens in comics, too. Just because a writer wants to use Batman in his story doesn't mean the editors will let him. Just because an artist doesn't like the current version of Iron Man's armor doesn't give him permission to redesign it. Those stories, ultimately, are a job and a creator has to make some concessions in order to continue getting paid for that job. Heck, even when Frank Miller totally overhauled Batman for The Dark Knight Returns, he still had to cater to DC's prerogative -- Miller didn't want to use the yellow bat-symbol on Batman's chest, but DC effectively said, "Use the bat-symbol or the project is dead."

Ah, but indie comics! That's where the dialogue occurs. That's where guys like O'Connell can say, "Here's my story; here's what I want to say." And when people respond positively to it, there's a communication there. O'Connell can put in clever extras and signed sketches and whatever as thank yous. He can respond more directly to obscure questions like, "Wait, what is that extra land mass on that one tiny little map in the back of issue #1?"

I'm not saying the folks at Marvel and DC don't do that at all. One of the reasons I love comics is precisely because there's more of a direct dialogue with the creators than most other mass media. And there's indie creators who don't care one whit, and think you're all a bunch of pricks anyway so just buy my damn book already! But that intimacy, I think, is more possible and more prevalent with indie creators. and that's why indie comics rock!

By the way, did I mention that O'Connell drew me into this issue? :D

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Drone Review

Red 5's four-issue Drone finishes up this week, so I thought it warranted a series review.

The story takes places in the sooner-than-you-think future. The U.S. Army has developed a series of humanoid robots that are controlled remotely via a satellite feed. Obviously, they're sent in to war zones to act as infantry while the actual soldiers can control them safely from thousands of miles away. While this works well in theory, it proves to also be somewhat insecure as a young hacker is able to tap into the satellite feed and, ultimately, provide over-ride instructions to one of these robots.

This actually comes in handy when a Kazakhstani force, with the aid of a Chinese programmer, manage to block the main feed from the remote U.S. soldiers. They attempt to capture one of the human programmers to obtain an over-ride code, which is when our hacker protagonist and his friends virtually step in to control one of the drones via the backdoor feed to try to help save the programmer. Most of the four issues, then, revolves around the hacker and his friends controlling the drone through Kazakhstan to help save the programmer, while at the same time, avoiding an undercover Chinese agent who's been dispatched to kill them in person.

The concept itself isn't very far-fetched. The basic idea of remote fighting has been bandied about in fiction from Ender's Game to Toys, and it's really not very removed from the attack drones currently in use over Pakistan. But there are couple of points that really stand out in the series. First is the hackers' reactions at finding and watching the drones remotely. They very much sound like they're watching a movie or video game, and I have a lot of doubt that a more real reaction is possible. It wasn't until Americans start getting killed -- the alleged 'good guys' -- that the hackers start to see the threat as a real one and begin to intervene.

Second, the formal conflict is decidedly NOT addressed in terms of right and wrong. Yeah, the Americans are implied to be in the right here, by virtue of the protagonists' nationality, but the actual conflict in Kazakhstan is left somewhat open to the reader's imagination. Now, maybe I'm reading more into a simple omission than anything, but it was quite easy for me to see that the Kazakhstanis that are shown aren't necessarily the aggressors. Maybe there are several Kazak factions warring internally. Maybe there's an outside force invading. Despite the fact that there's clearly a war going on in the story, and it's written in a post-9/11, never-ending-war-on-terror era, it manages to avoid making much of a political statement. The story is about the technology of war, not the politics of it. Which I find impressive to pull off in a time when everyone is almost a little too quick to take sides on who's right and who's wrong.

It shouldn't come as a big shock that the protagonists win. (Note that I'm leaving some suspense by not saying WHICH protagonists win, or how!) The story wraps up pretty nicely with a couple of... not exactly twists, but some angles that are a bit different than what one would typically expect from this type of story. The only thing I would've liked to have seen a little more of was the sense of anti-climax that someone controlling these drones would inevitably feel when the battle ends and the feed cuts out. In video games, players get a denouement after the last big battle, but these guys wouldn't have that luxury. I would expect some sense of ennui to set in for the characters before readers got to those final scenes, but that was skipped over.

Overall, it was good read. The characters felt pretty real, and I think there were some good points brought up regarding how technology can/is used in warfare. It doesn't answer any of those questions it brings up, but that's not the point, I don't think. It's much more of a place to begin one's discussion, without the frivolity of Robin Williams or the extended (though well-crafted) prose of Orson Scott Card.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Manga Farming

This has got to be one the most unusual article on manga I've ever seen. The short version is that old manga can be used as a pot/soil combo for certain types of plants.

I'd hate to see any good comics used in this manner, but it might prove to be a more useful application of Incarnate.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Week (& A Bit) Of Awesome!

First off, apologies for a couple days' lapse in bloginating. My parents loaned me their DVD copies of the Up series and I got so wrapped up in watching it that I managed to skip my 'obligations' here. (It really is an excellent series, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in human nature and/or sociology.) So as I'm getting my head back into comics' thinking, here's a quick summary of awesomeness I've encountered from the past week in roughly chronological order...
  1. The S.O. was in town last weekend. We had a great time, as always, and she made a tasty roast chicken meal which provided some excellent leftovers.
  2. I gained a definite article.
  3. Two of my friends got engaged and, thanks to social media, I was able to witness it unfolding virtually.
  4. Because I was kicking butt on a project at work, one of my co-workers got me a gift card for Target. Yay, co-workers!
  5. I found out that a friend of mine from college, who I lost track of about a decade ago, is running for a State Representative seat in Illinois. We had a chance to catch up, and had a blast doing so. If anyone reading this happen to live in the 56th district, I honestly think she'd do an excellent job and is exactly the type of person I'd want representing me, so I'd encourage you to give her some support.
  6. The Manga Curmudgeon emailed to say that random numbers love me, and I'll be getting my hands on some more free comics soon. Also, it turns out that he used to live right around the corner from me!
  7. New Doctor Who episodes. I'm not completely sold on Matt Smith as the Doctor yet, but it's still kind of like seeing old friends. I am keeping my mind open to him, since it did take me quite a while to appreciate Peter Davison's version. I do dig the new console room and theme song!
  8. Lastly, I'm making pizza for dinner. I make awesome pizza!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Today's Pronouncements

After a nice comics discussion with my buddy Dave today, I wanted to let everyone know a couple things that we've decided.

1) John Byrne is still a pretty frickin' talented artist/storyteller. And we're not just saying that because it was his Fantastic Four and West Coast Avengers that really got us hooked on comics.

2) There is no such thing as a bad Roger Stern story.

There were a few more minor addenda and asides, but those were the two biggies. Please make note of them and plan your future comic purchases accordingly.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Congrats, Dave & Val!

If you haven't been following them on Twitter, everyone's favorite comic couple (well... my favorite, at any rate!) David Gallaher and Valerie D'Orazio announced their engagement earlier today. Congrats to the happy couple! Seriously, that is mega-awesome!

Sinful: A (Graphic) Novel Way To Teach Magic

I was talking to Dad last night, and he was telling me about a new magic trick he got in the mail. You borrow a quarter from someone, and have them mark it up with their initials or something equally identifiable. Then you slam the quarter against the bottom of a still-sealed soda or beer can, and the coin magically passes through into the can. You can open it up, pour the beverage out (or drink it) and the original quarter -- still marked -- will be left inside the can. Great looking trick that requires no unusual props or special set-up. You can use any quarter and any sealed beverage can.

Here's the interesting bit for you non-magicians: the directions for how to perform the trick are presented as a 60-ish page graphic novel.

I haven't seen the book myself yet, and Dad hadn't had a chance to actually read it, but the originator of the trick -- Wayne Houchin -- hired an artist by the name of Josh Funk to draw the whole thing. There are a few thumbnails of the graphic novel on the site -- enough that you can see how the story is somewhat separated graphically from the How-To portions. There are also four videos, the first of which is a trailer for the book, and the second is a brief interview with the artist. (The remaining two show Houchin performing the trick.)

I think it's a cool way to present his trick -- which really has no props he can sell you -- and call attention to using comics to help teach things in a deliberate and sequential manner. It's also worth pointing out to the comic community because I'm fairly certain that Diamond won't be carrying this particular book, and the primary place you'll be able to get a copy is through Houchin's site.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Comic Shop Creativity

Comics are great! I probably don't need to tell you that, but they are. I love comics, and I think there's a wealth of positive attributes that a lot of people beyond just existing comic book fans like. The trick is, of course, to get these great comics in front of people enough to catch their attention.

There's been a great amount of time and energy spent bemoaning the state of the comic industry, and how digital comics -- both legal and pirated -- will be the death knell of comic shops. What are Marvel and DC doing for retailers? What is Diamond doing for the industry as a whole? How can comic book shops, who are trying to earn a living selling comics, compete with free comics you can download at your leisure? Plenty of that kind of questioning going around.

The problem, however, is that those questions fundamentally address the absolutely wrong issues. Namely, that comic book shop owners -- if they have any sort of real business sense -- won't sell comic books.

"Somebody get a straight-jacket! Sean's flipped his lid!"

Hear me out...

Say you want to read the adventures of Wolverine. Let's go so far as to say that you prefer a comic book version of Wolverine over a movie or TV show or video game or whatever. Let's go even further by saying that you specifically like the stories presented in Uncanny X-Men over every other Wolverine-related title. So you go to your local comic shop every month and pick up the latest issue of Uncanny X-Men. You could then argue by saying that you buy your comics at a comic book shop and I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

But here's the thing: you don't have to buy your copy of Uncanny X-Men from that shop. You might say that it's the only comic shop you can reasonably get to on a regular basis, but you don't have to buy it from ANY comic shop. A series like Uncanny can, and often is, stocked in grocery stores and magazine racks. Book stores carry the trade paperback versions a few months after the pamphlet version comes out. There are any number of places that offer mail order subscriptions services. Marvel has legal copies viewable online shortly after they're published. And we still haven't discussed downloading a pirated copy for free!

There was indeed a time when your local comic shops had a lock on your purchases because they were the only places you could get comics, and you had limited range of travel. So you went to your Local Comic Shop because you didn't have any other choice. (Obviously, I'm talking about the situation after the birth of the direct market, when newsstands didn't have carry all of the comics you might want to get. (See Dazzler and Moon Knight.))

But today, here in the 21st century, they're not the only game in town any longer. The economy has changed and other businesses have changed. The old comic shop selling point -- the only place you can get comics in town -- is no longer valid. That issue of Uncanny X-Men you just bought is not unique to your Local Comic Shop any more -- it's effectively a commodity.

At some level, comic shop owners realized that, I think. So they branched out to selling other things that might reach beyond just comics, but might strike something of an overlap market. That's why so many sell role-playing games and collectible card games and action figures and baseball cards. But here, again, they run into the same issue: you can purchase those goods from other places as well.

And at some level, comic shop owners seem to recognize that too. So they started throwing a card table or two in the back room, and renting it out for gaming sessions.

Which was a great idea. They make a little money from the table rental fee, plus they have customers on site for a few hours who are more susceptible to impulse purchases of "just one more card pack" or whatever. A few store owners took the next logical step and started offering snacks and beverages. Some may have even made enough money on these ancillary sales that they've dropped the table rental fee to bring in that many more customers!

Which is all well and good, but these store owners often (but not always!) fail to grasp the bigger picture here.

"OK, smartass, what's this 'bigger picture'?"

The bigger picture here is that this Local Comic Shop is not a place that sells comics. It's not a place that sells cards or miniatures or snacks. What they're selling is friendship and community and belonging. They're selling a location where people of a certain mindset (that vaguely defined class of superhero/fantasy/sci-fi/gaming geeks) hang out.

Probably the most notable/visible example of a comic shop embracing that notion is James Sime's Isotope. You don't go to Isotope to buy comics; you go to Isotope for the couches and the toilet seat cover art and the cool discussions and the dogs and to be able to see if Sime really does wear his hair like that all the time. That you can buy comics there is -- from a marketing perspective -- peripheral to Isotope's purpose. Sime has made the store a unique destination in and of itself. You go for the experience.

Now I certainly don't recommend that you try to duplicate what Sime has done; much of Isotope's appeal seems to stem directly from Sime's personality and would be, at best, difficult to emulate. But what sparked this whole rant was actually something I caught that Third Coast Comics was doing; in addition to a Dungeons & Dragons night and a Sci-Fi Bookclub night, they also have -- are you ready for this? -- a knitting night. Swing by on a Tuesday evening and talk comics while you and other folks knit Tom Baker scarves and Adam Baldwin hats and whatever else they think is cool. I don't know how they landed on a knitting night, but I suspect it was because one of the managers and at least one customer expressed some kind of interest in it and figure that others might have a similar interest. Maybe someone suggested it to them. Maybe they did some research, asking some of their customers if they'd be interested in attending a knitting night. However they came to the idea, it seems to work for them. Tuesday night -- traditionally one of the worst days to sell comics since it's JUST before all the new ones come out -- is now on some people's calendars to go to the comic book shop to knit.

Sure, you could knit at home or on the bus or on your lunch hour at work or wherever. But knitting in a place where you can ALSO talk about comics with people who love comics and knitting makes Third Coast Comics an event location. That's something unique to them. (So far as I know, at any rate!) I suspect, too, that some people show up JUST to knit and have no interest in comics. Initially.

What works for you might not work for the next guy. Maybe you have a classical music appreciation night. Maybe you provide studio space free of charge to a local artist. Maybe all of your employees dress up in gorilla costumes every day. The key, though, is to NOT be the Local Comic Shop. The key is to be someplace cool and different and engaging and unique that people want to visit even if they're not interested in buying comics.

Monday, April 05, 2010

"THE Sean Kleefeld?"

So I got a message from my brother this afternoon. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he was chatting with some guy in a coffee shop and talking about conventions in general. The guy said, "I wish I could to a big convention for my thing. I've never been to a really big one." My brother asked what was his interest, to which the guy responds, "Comic books. I've been really big into comics my whole life." (You saw that coming, right? This IS a comic blog, after all.)

So anyway, my brother then says that he started name-dropping me as his comic book connection and this guy responds, "THE Sean Kleefeld?" Which naturally impressed my brother. (Heck, it impresses me! Seriously, this is yours truly we're talking about here, not Stan Lee. I'm pretty sure I'm not note-worthy enough to even try name-dropping, let alone be recognized as THE anybody.) It turns out that this guy puts together a convention out in New York state and expressed some interest in having me out there to speak or sign books or something. I need to follow up with my brother still, but I'll be sure to pass word along if/when I end up making any appearances.

Maybe I'll be hitting a con or two in 2010 after all!

"THE Sean Kleefeld" though... who knew?

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Twilight Graphic Novel Review

I'd like to think that you all know me as someone who's not going to go around haterating on something or someone for no reason. So, for as much vitriol has been thrown at Twilight from comic book fans, I thought I'd try to read the graphic novel with as unbiased a view as possible. What are the actual merits of Twilight: The Graphic Novel as a piece of sequential art? I haven't read the books or seen the movie, and going into this, the entirety of my knowledge about the Twilight saga is that it's some kind of love story with sparkling vampires. So, is the comic version of this story any good?

I actually found it strangely interesting how many parallels it had compared to a 1940's comic story I just happened to read earlier in the week. The superhero story about The Whizzer from All Winners Comics #2, to be precise...

Please take a moment to read through that Whizzer story above. It is, I think, pretty critical to understanding what I think about Twilight: The Graphic Novel.

Done? Good. Now, did you notice in that Whizzer story how it didn't make a lick of sense? Characters are doing and saying things almost randomly, scenes change abruptly and for no reason... Hell, even the porthole window changes from round in one panel to square in the next! There's kind of a vague sense of story progression, but it kind of feels like somebody tore out every other page.

That's what reading Twilight: The Graphic Novel was like. Even setting aside the already-much-maligned-elsewhere piss-poor lettering, the actual comic just comes across as a bunch of random scenes that seem like they ought to be connected somehow but really aren't. Characters say things that seem like they ought to relate back to something else, but you're not sure what. There are sudden, disconnected scene changes throughout the book. The more action-oriented scenes are completely incomprehensible, and the reader can only infer what happened by reading the dialogue several pages later. Not to mention some bizarre leaps of in-story logic that make 1940s comics look completely sensible by comparison.

To complicate matters, the text suggests the vampires look different than other folks. But the art really makes everyone look pretty much the same. Oh, individual characters are identifiable enough and it's not as if you can't tell one character from another, but they all have that same sparkling beauty that's allegedly reserved for these vampires.

Further complicating matters, there is not one border gutter in the whole book. Panels are divided by a simple black line, slightly heavier than what's used within the panels. Individual panels are cropped strangely, not infrequently cutting off people's heads and projecting the reader's attention in precisely the wrong places. Most of the individual pages are a mess from a layout perspective, and it really isn't then surprising that the lettering had to be placed over character's faces.

I'm not about to say that the whole Twilight saga is crap; I've read one person's adaptation of part of the overall story. I have to assume, in fact, that Stephanie Meyer's original novel was much more cohesive, because I can't imagine any editor approving it otherwise. The general story idea isn't my cup of tea, but a lot of people get something out of it so I'm not about to judge. But Twilight: The Graphic Novel ranks as one of the worst pieces of printed comic literature I've read in a long time. I really do think some of these poorly-drawn, slap-dashed 1940s reprints I've been reading lately are of much higher quality than this.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Batman Cricut

Yesterday, a co-worker stopped by to ask about Batman's color scheme. She wasn't sure if it was black and grey, black and grey and yellow, or blue and grey and yellow. So she figured she'd ask the resident expert. Naturally, I responded -- in typically geeky fashion -- that all three of those color schemes were valid and it kind of depended on a particular artists' interpretation, but I could certainly come up with an image of any of them if she was trying to win a bet or something.

Turns out she's doing some craftsy stuff for her son's upcoming birthday party. She's big into scrapbooking and the like, and evidently has something called a Cricut which is something like a computer printer, except that it has blades and cuts out the images on colored paper. You can buy these cartridges that contain various graphics on them, and this Cricut thingamabob can churn out accurate and reasonably detailed cut-outs based around various themes. (I'm sure I'm doing a disservice to it in my explanation, but that's how I understand it.) Anyway, my co-worker got a Batman cartridge to help create decorations and invitations for her son's birthday, and wanted to ensure she got the colors right. He's only turning four but, you know, you wouldn't want to look like an ass 15 years later because Mom got the colors all wrong.

She also noted that the party, until recently, had kind of been a toss-up between whether it was Batman or Spider-Man themed. Spidey apparently won out for Halloween, but her son was fond of both and she wasn't sure which way he'd want to go for his birthday. (Personally, I went with the Super Friends for my fourth birthday, but I suppose that's a sign of the times more than anything else.)

OK, now, here's what I think is most interesting about that whole conversation I had about Batman's color scheme and birthday themes and whatnot: it was wholly ordinary and unremarkable. A comic-related discussion at work. With someone who is not herself a comic book fan herself. Initiated by her.

It was so normal and matter-of-fact that I put it out of my head almost as soon as the conversation was over. I only remembered it at all as I'm sitting here wracking my brain for blog post topic. Does that say something about me, or about the relative acceptance and perception of comics by the population at large?