Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Pre-History Of The Fantastic Four

I'm going to try to pull out some of my old geek cred here. Back in the day, I used to run a Fantastic Four website called FFPlaza.com (now defunct). One of the pieces I put up was a history of the original team before the events that were shown on page one of the first issue. The idea was based something on the Marvel Saga comics, but I wanted mine to be more comprehensive. So I pulled together EVERY relevant comic book panel I could find to try to tell one comprehensive narrative. It was essentially going to be a "complete" origin story.

It didn't work very well as the shifting art styles and panel configurations made the result look pretty clunky. Also, I wasn't really able to show all the instances of a particular scene. I wanted readers who had maybe one or two of the retellings to be able to see precisely how those issues fit in with the broader story.

So I eventually adopted a written narrative approach with annotations. That way, it would come across better as a single storyline and I could cite every comic that was referenced. I last updated this back around 2006/2007, so it's certainly possible that it's missing some stories or retcons published since then, but I figured I'd pull this out to show what used to occupy a lot of my free time...

Annotation Key

ASM2
BTFF:BG&L
BTFF:RR
BTFF:TS
CSLR
FF
FF3
FF@
FFFF
FFWS
FFXM
HT2
IC
MFAN
MK4
M:TLG
MTIO
NW
SGTF
T:FS
TG
WI
W2
Amazing Spider-Man, vol. 2
Before the FF: Ben Grimm & Logan
Before the FF: Reed Richards
Before the FF: The Storms
Captain Savage & his Leatherneck Raiders
Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four vol. 3
Fantastic Four Annual
Fantastic Four: First Family
Fantastic Four: The Wedding Special
Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men
Human Torch vol. 2
Infinity Crusade
Marvel Fanfare
Marvel Knights 4
Marvel: The Lost Generation
Marvel Two-in-One
New Warriors
Sgt. Fury & his Howling Commandos
Thing: Freakshow
The Thing
What If...
Wolverine vol. 2

Ben Grimm grew up at 7135 Yancy Street in New York City, living on his mother's corned beef and cabbage. Although his older brother, Daniel, paid him little heed, favoring to hold meetings with his street gang instead of babysit, Ben still grew quite fond of him. (FF 355.8.4 - 355.8.5) That fondness worked in Ben's favor, as Daniel ended up keeping him out of trouble. (FF3 56.3.2 - 56.3.6, 56.4.2 - 56.4.6) Consequently he grew angry and bitter as he watched Daniel get killed in a "rumble" (TG 1.10.1 - 1.15.2, FF3 56.5.2 - 56.5.6) and his Aunt Sophie die of cancer within the same year. (IC 2.16.2 - 2.16.5) Ben grew into adolesence and soon joined (FF3 56.6.2 - 56.6.6) and eventually became leader of the Yancy Street Gang. (TG 1.15.3) His parents were soon killed (TG 1.15.4 - 1.16.2) and he left to live with his Uncle Jake, who was able to teach Ben discipline and introduce him to football. (TG 1.16.3 - 1.17.8) The other members of the Yancy Street Gang ousted Ben (FF3 56.10.2 - 56.10.5) and he was left to his own mischieveous devices. (T:FS 1.1.1 - 1.4.9)

Meanwhile Reed Richards grew up in a much less turbulent home with his father as a mentor and guide (FF 273.15.1, MK4 17.1.1 - 17.3.5) and his Uncle Ted for the occassional distraction. (ASM2 535.14.3) While Ben became a high school star athlete, Reed earned four college degrees under the auspices of geniuses like Harmon Furmintz (NW 4.10.3) by the time he was 18. Although both were aware of each other's newsworthy accomplishments, neither had heard that Dr. Franklin Storm's wife Mary had been killed in an auto accident. Franklin lapsed into alcoholism and gambling and was eventually forced to relinquish custody of his two children, Susan and Johnny, to their Aunt Mary. (FF 32.8.2 - 32.8.7)

Reed enrolled at Empire State University (FF 416/2.2.3 - 416/2.2.5) and quickly met Victor Von Doom. (FF@ 2.8.4 ~ FF 416/2.2.2) Reed noticed Doom's notes on parallel dimensions (FF 416/2.2.3 - 416/2.2.5) and Doom, after berating his believed advesary (FF@ 2.8.5 ~ FF 200.19.6 ~ FF 416/2.3.1), elaborated on some of his theories. (FF 416/2.2. - 416/2.5.1) Reed tried to lighten the mood with a joke (FF@ 2.8.6 ~ FF 416/2.5.2), but Doom got quite irate and stormed out (FF@ 2.8.7 ~ FF 416/2.5.3) bumping into Ben Grimm in the process. (FF 416/2.5.4 - 416/2.7.2) Ben asked Doom about Reed's identity (FF@ 2.9.1 ~ TG 1.18.1 ~ FFXM 4.7.7) and proceeded into Reed's room (TG 1.18.2) to introduce himself. (FF 11/2.6.2 ~ FF@ 2.9.2 ~ TG 1.18.3 ~ FF 416/2.7.3) Reed mentioned that he had already attended four colleges (TG 1.18.4 line 1) to which Ben snapped back at him. (FF 11/2.6.3) After calming his new roommate, Reed then explained his dream of creating a new starship and Ben jokingly offered to fly it. (TG 1.18.4 line 2 - 1.18.5)

Over the next year, Reed and Doom met in several of the same classrooms and argued about various theories and scientific pursuits. (FFXM 4.8.1 - 4.8.4) Reed later stopped by Doom's open dorm room (FF@ 2.9.4) to discover Doom's notes. Doom soon returned, found him (FF@ 2.9.5 ~ FFXM 4.8.6) and demanded Reed's absence (FF 278.7.3) as Reed tried to point out an error in Victor's calculations. (FF@ 2.9.6 ~ FF 200.19.8 ~ FF 278.7.4) Doom ushered Reed out of the room (FF 278.7.5) and the two wouldn't see each other again until many years later.

Ben soon became one of ESU's star football players. (FF 11/2.6.4) Although Reed was a good friend, Ben often found himself dragging him out of the lab to football games. (TG 2.10.1 - 2.11.6) Ben's girlfriend Alynn Chambers also attended all of his games until she suddenly broke up with him, dropped out of school to pursue an acting career; which threw oFF his game. (TG 2.12.1 - 2.15.6) Ben eventually found her and proposed, to which she declined. (TG 2.16.1 - 2.17.5) They, too, wouldn't meet again until many years later.

Near the end of their lives at ESU, Ben had a chance encounter with an amnesiac Skrull. (M:TLG 11.17.1 - 11.17.3) Not being able to see through the Skrull's disguise, Ben directed the alien to Reed (M:TLG 11.17.4 - 11.17.5) who quickly deduced the ruse and captured him. (M:TLG 11.18.1 - 11.18.5; 11.20.4 - 11.21.2) Reed turned the spy over to the First Line (M:TLG 11.21.3 - 11.22.2) who were able to use his information to help thwart a Skrull invasion.

Meanwhile, Johnny and Susan lived a relatively uneventful childhood with their aunt until a local archeologist by the name of Professor Henry Brandeis discovered the Amulet of Zarathos. (BTFF:TS 1.1.1 - 1.1.5) The Amulet soon fell into the hands of Johnny (BTFF:TS 1.2.1 - 1.12.4) who -- with the aid of his sister, Brandeis' daughter Cam, and friend of the family Max Parrish -- was able to prevent it from falling into the hands of the lengendary vampire Dracula. (BTFF:TS 1.13.1 - 3.12.6) Max, utilizing the Amulet's power, became the Ghost Rider and helped destroy Dracula's henchmen (BTFF:TS 3.13.1 - 3.19.6) but it was Johnny who saved Max from becoming permanently bonded to the spirit of Zarathos. (BTFF:TS 3.20.1 - 3.23.4)

Eventually Ben and Reed went on to Columbia University where Reed began dating Sue Storm, who was also a student there. (WI 42.8.3 - 42.9.1) The trio graduated and Ben and Reed joined the armed forces. (FF 11/2.6.6 - 11/2.7.1) Early on in his stellar military career, Ben fought alongside Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos to secure an enemy base, at the request of Fury himself. (MTIO 77.15.4 - 77.19.7; MTIO 77.22.5 - 77.26.7) Ben was so talented a pilot, in fact, that he was soon specifically targeted by the wartime enemy. (CSLR 7.1.1 - 7.5.6) Fortunately, Captain Simon Savage and his crack squad of Marines, the Leatherneck Raiders, were able to rescue him and fly him back to the States. (CSLR 7.6.1 - 7.20.6) Ben eventually retired from the forces and became a test pilot. (TG 1.19.1)

After Reed's stint with the Office of Strategic Services -- working with Italian partisans to obtain and circumvent Nazi intelligence -- and a brief encounter with the Howling Commandos (SGTF 3.10.6 - 3.12.5) Reed stayed behind in Germany and spent several months with his long-time friend, Alyssa Moy, (FF3 5.11.3 - 5.11.5) who somehow tricked him into travelling to the Himalayas to save Prince Bayan. (FF3 18.6.2 ~ BTFF:RR 1.4.1 - 1.8.7) While distracted briefly by a giant rat in Sumatra, Reed and Alyssa parted company so that he could take up a job with Demarco Laboratories in France. (BTFF:RR 1.9.1 - 1.11.7) His respite was short-lived, however, as he soon found himself engrossed in a search for the Claw of Bast with Professor Francesca Fisher. (BTFF:RR 1.12.1 - 1.21.6) Reed was able to recover the Claw with the help of Francesca and Alyssa, but not without some difficulties from Victor Von Doom. (BTFF:RR 2.1.1 - 3.21.6)

As a test pilot, Ben first flew fairly routine transport missions (W2 -1.3.5 - -1.4.4) before trying more daring manuevers. (TG 1.19.2 - 1.19.4) He became fast friends with Desmond Pitt who saved him more than once. (FF 193.14.3 - 193.14.7) Ben survived other crashes (MFAN 46/2.1.1 - 46/2.2.1) and fell in love with Dr. Linda McGill. (MFAN 46/2.2.2 - 46/2.2.6)

As Ben grew more and more skilled, he attracted the attention of Pentagon officials, who enlisted him for a covert mission to Russia. (BTFF:BG&L 1.1.1 - 1.12.3) Working alongside Logan and Carol Danvers, the team flew into Russia supposedly to evaluate a series of ultra-low frequency radio wave transmitters. (BTFF:BG&L 1.13.1 - 1.22.3) While their aircraft was shot down, the three managed to fight their way through Russian soldiers and Logan was able to complete his secret mission to capture the Russian Project: Red Storm. (BTFF:BG&L 2.1.1 - 3.22.9)

Having received government funding for his project (CONSPIRACY 1.17.1) Reed seriously asked Ben to fly his new starship. (TG 1.19.5) However, the alien Gormuu soon attacked Earth and was soundly defeated. (FF 271.7.3 - 271.11.7; FF 271.15.2; FF 271.12.1 - 271.13.4; FF 271.13.5 ~ CONSPIRACY 1.13.3; FF 271.14.1 - 271.15.1; FF 271.15.3 - 271.15.4) Unfortunately, this convinced the government to cut oFF Reed's funding in favor of more directed defenses against potential alien attacks. (CONSPIRACY 2.12.4)

Johnny, still in high school (FF 233.8.3 - 233.8.4, HT2 1.1.1 - 1.7.6), visited Reed and Sue in Central City (FF 11/2.7.4) helping out with some of his experiments. Since Reed decided to take the rocket up anyway, Ben tried to get some rest. (MFAN 46/2.3.1 - 46/2.3.3) Having time to think about it, Ben decided not to go through with the flight (FF 11/2.7.5) and Reed tried to explain the dangers of not exploring space. (FF 400/2.3.3) Although Ben continued his refusal (FF 1.9.1 ~ FF 126.12.6 ~ FF 190.2.4 ~ TG 1.20.1 ~ FF@ 24.2.1 ~ FF 400/2.3.4) Sue used his own machismo (FF 1.9.2 ~ FF 11/2.7.6 ~ FF 126.14.1 ~ TG 1.20.2 ~ FF@ 24.2.2 ~ FF 400/2.4.2 line 2) to convince him to go. (FF 1.9.3 ~ FF 126.14.2 ~ FF 400/2.4.2 line 3)

The quartet drove to the spaceport (FF 1.9.4 ~ FF 126.14.3 ~ TG 1.20.3) and donned their flight suits. (FFWS 1.1.1 - 1.3.6, FF3 11.1.1) They snuck past the guard (FF 1.9.5 ~ FF 126.14.4 ~ TG 1.20.4 ~ FF@ 24.2.3 ~ FF 400/2.4.4 ~ CONSPIRACY 1.17.4) and began the launch sequence. (FF3 11.4.1 - 11.4.5) The ship lifted off (FF 220.15.3), flying safely through Earth's atmosphere. (FF 1.9.6 ~ FF 11/2.7.7 ~ FF 126.14.5 ~ FF 190.2.5 ~ TG 1.20.5 ~ FF@ 24.2.4 ~ FF 400/2.4.5 ~ FF 416/2.8.4) The crew waited patiently (FF 1.9.7 ~ FF 126.14.6 ~ FF 190.2.6 ~ TG 1.20.6 ~ FF 220.15.3 ~ FF 296.4.3) for the fuel tank separation. (TG 1.20.7 ~ FF 296.4.4 ~ FF 358.15.1 ~ FF3 11.8.1) As the ship approached the cosmic ray storm (FF 1.10.1 ~ FF 11/2.7.8 ~ FF 126.15.1 ~ FF 296.4.3 ~ FF@ 24.2.5 ~ FF3 11.8.2) Ben became increasingly anxious. (FF 1.10.2 ~ FF 190.2.7 line 1 ~ FF 126.15.2 ~ FF 296.4.4 ~ FF3 11.8.3) The cosmic rays began blanketing the ship (FF 1.10.3 ~ FF 11/2.8.1 ~ FF 126.15.3 ~ FF 190.2.7 lines 2-4 ~ FF 220.16.1~ FF 296.4.5 ~ FF3 50.20.1 - 50.21.1) and penetrated the shielding. (FF 1.10.4 ~ FF 11/2.8.2 ~ FF 126.15.4 ~ TG 1.21.1 ~ FF 220.16.2 ~ FF 296.5.1 ~ FF@ 24.2.6 ~ FF 400/2.4.6 ~ CONSPIRACY 1.17.5 ~ FF 358.15.2 ~ FF3 50.21.2) The rays began to affect the crew (FF3 11.8.4 - 11.8.5) but it was Johnny who first complained about it. (FF 1.10.6 ~ FF 126.15.5 ~ FF 296.5.2 ~ FF3 11.8.5) Ben tried for the autopilot (FF3 11.8.7) but collapsed before he could reach it. (FF 1.10.6 ~ FF 126.15.6 ~ FF 296.5.3) The ship spiraled down (FF 296.5.4 ~ FF3 50.21.3) and crashed in New York (FF 1.11.1 ~ FF 126.17.1 ~ TG 1.21.2 ~ FF 220.16.3 ~ FF 296.5.5 ~ FF@24.2.7 ~ FF 400/2.5.1 ~ FF 358.15.3 ~ FF3 50.22.1)

The ship sat smoldering quietly where it landed (FF3 11.10.1 - FF3 11.10.2) until the four emerged. (FF 1.11.2 ~ FF 11/2.8.3 ~ FF 126.17.2 ~ FF 220.16.4 ~ FF@ 24.3.1 ~ FF 400/2.5.2 ~ FF3 50.22.2) As they walked to safer ground (FF 296.6.4), Sue began to feel odd. (FF 1.11.3 ~ FF 126.17.3 ~ FF 296.6.3 - 296.6.4 ~ FF 358.15.4) Without warning Sue gradually became invisible. (FF 1.11.4 ~ FF 11/2.9.1 ~ FF 126.17.4 ~ FF 296.6.7 ~ FF 358.15.5 lines 2-3 ~ FF3 50.22.3) The others looked on in disbelief (FF 1.11.5 ~ FF 126.17.5 ~ FF@ 24.3.2 ~ FF 400/2.5.3 ~ FF 358.15.5 line 4) until she completely disappeared. (FF 296.6.6 ~ FF3 11.10.3 - 11.10.4) Sue quenstioned the duration of the effect (FF 1.11.6 ~ FF 126.17.6 ~ FF 296.7.1) and, as Reed began to answer (FF 1.11.7 ~ FF 126.17.7) and Sue became even more worried (FF 11/2.9.2), she reappeared. (FF 1.11.8 ~ FF 126.17.8 ~ FF 296.7.2)

Ben began yelling at Reed (FF 1.12.1 ~ FF 126.18.1 ~ FF 296.7.2) and Reed got fed up with Ben's mouthing off. (FF 1.12.2 ~ FF 126.18.2 ~ FF 296.7.5) Ben became even more agitated (FF 11/2.8.4 - 11/2.8.5) and started changing into the Thing. (FF 1.12.3 ~ FF 126.18.3 ~ FF 296.7.5 ~ FF@ 24.3.3 ~ FF3 50.22.4) The others continued to shout at him (FF 11/2.8.6) as Ben completed his metamorphasis. (FF 1.12.5 ~ FF 126.18.4 ~ FF 296.7.6) Ben uprooted a dead tree (FF 1.12.5 ~ FF 126.18.5 ~ FF 296.7.7 ~ FF 400/2.5.4 ~ FF 358.15.6 ~ FF3 50.22.5) and took a swing at Reed. (FF 1.12.6 ~ FF 126.18.6 ~ FF 296.8.1) In response, Reed began to entangle his friend with his now-elastic arms. (FF 1.12.7 ~ FF 126.18.7 ~ FF 296.8.2 ~ FF@ 24.3.4) Reed, shocked at his own trasnformation (FF 1.12.8 ~ FF 126.18.8 ~ FF 296.8.3 - 296.8.4 line 1, FF 400/2.5.5 ~ FF 358.15.7 ~ FF3 50.23.1), was knocked wild by the Thing. Sue rushed to Reed and questioned if Ben was still in control of his mind. (FF3 11.10.5 - 11.10.6)

Johnny, fearful of what the others had become (FF 1.13.1 ~ FF 126.19.1 ~ FF 296.8.4 lines 3-4), felt his heart rate skyrocket. (FF3 11.10.7 - 11.10.8) He ran oFF as he realized why he'd been feeling unusally warm. (FF 1.13.2 ~ FF 11/2.8.7 ~ FF 126.19.2 ~ FF3 12.7.4 ~ FF 296.8.5 line 1 ~ FF3 11.10.9 ~ FF 358.16.1 line 2) He exploded in a nova blast (FF3 11.10.9 ~ FF3 12.7.5), sending the others hurling backwards (FF3 12.7.6 - 12.7.7), and flew into the air. (FF 1.13.3 ~ FF 11/2.8.8 ~ FF 126.19.3 ~ TG 1.21.3 ~ TG 10.12.2 ~ FF 296.8.5 line 2 ~ FF@ 24.3.5 ~ FF 400/2.5.6 ~ CONSPIRACY 1.18.1 ~ FF 358.16.6 line 3 ~ FF3 50.23.2) Johnny landed (FF 126.19.4 ~ FF 296.8.6 ~ FF3 50.23.3) and the four watched as the fire he had accidentally started died down. (FF 1.13.4)

They began to voice their thoughts (TG 10.12.3 line 1) and Reed even suggested that this had been pre-ordained. (FF 296.8.7) He began to speak on how they must use their powers for the benefit of mankind (FF 1.13.5 ~ FF 126.19.5 lines 1-2 ~ TG 10.12.3 line 2 - 10.12.4 ~ FF 296.9.1 ~ FF@ 24.3.6) but Ben interupted and quickly said that they all understood. (FF 1.13.6 ~ FF 126.19.5 line 3 - 126.19.6 ~ FF 296.9.2 - 296.9.3 ~ FF@ 24.3.7) They resolved to stand united (FF 1.13.7 ~ FF 126.19.7 ~ TG 10.12.6 ~ FF 296.9.4) with Ben hesitantly calling himself the Thing. (FF 1.13.8 ~ FF 126.19.8 ~ TG 10.12.7 ~ FF 296.9.5 ~ FF@ 24.3.8 ~ FF 358.16.2 ~ FF 400/2.6.1 ~ FF3 50.23.4) Reed signaled a passing jet (FF 11/2.9.3) who sent an Air Force helicopter to pick them up. (TG 10.13.1 - 10.16.4, FFFF 1.1.1)

The Air Force took them to a nearby facility where they were each placed under quarantine for observation with some other subjects. (FFFF 1.2.1 - 1.17.4) They began to allow high-level friends, like Linda McGill, in to try to comfort them. (FFFF 1.18.1 - 1.20.5) The quiet was soon interrupted, however, when another "resident" broke free and went on a rampage that the new team was forced to handle. (FFFF 1.21.1 - 2.8.7) Reed convinced the base commander that they could be let go, presumably with the understanding that they would work with the commander. (FFFF 2.9.1 - 2.11.5)

The quartet took some time adjusting to their new powers. Johnny tried going back to school, but he accidentally started a fire in the bathroom playing with his new powers. (FF3 50.14.5 - 50.15.4) Although he was able to save some smoking deliquints who took the blame for the conflagration, Johnny discovered that he would need to be very careful with his powers in the future, lest they get out of control and kill someone. (FF3 50.16.5 - 50.17.6) Susan tried to lose herself in a modelling shoot. (FF3 50.13.4 - 50.14.4) The photographer, however, had some raunchy ideas of his own and she subconsciously defended herself with her force field against his advances. (FF3 50.15.5 - 50.16.4)

Ben wandered the streets of New York for a time and encountered a fearful group of rock-throwing Yancy Street Gang members. Despondant and unsure of himself, he jumped into the sewers for safety. (FF3 50.12.1 - 50.13.3) There he discovered a group of sewer-dwellers living on the refuse of the surface world. Disgusted at how they were living, Ben made a distinct effort to live with himself, despite his appearance. (FF3 50.17.1 - 50.18.6) He returned to his apartment (MFAN 46/2.3.3 - 46/2.4.5) and was visited by his girlfriend, Linda. (MFAN 46/2.4.6 - 46/2.5.1) Having scared her oFF by his new appearance (MFAN 46/2.5.2 - 46/2.5.6) Ben trashed his apartment and went for a walk. (MFAN 46/2.6.1 - 46/2.7.5) Linda returned to comfort him but he scared her away for her own good. (MFAN 46/2.7.6 - 46/2.8.5)

Some time later, reports started leaking out about nuclear military bases being swallowed up by the earth. (FFFF 2.12.1 - 2.13.2) Hearing them, (FFFF 2.13.3 - 2.13.4) Reed fired his new signal flare to summon the three other adventurers for their first official mission. (FF 1.1.1 ~ FFFF 2.13.5 - 2.13.6)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

These Kids Today With Their Comics & Their Interwebs...

One of the things about the broad comic discussions that circulate around these days is that it's fairly self-referential. If you go through and read all the comic news sites and blogs and message boards and such, you tend to get a lot of the same dialogues. There are obviously some people who come up with comic news and others who have a different/unique spin on a topic but, as Tom Spurgeon once put it, "most comics blogging reads like it was done in the same room from people talking back and forth amongst themselves..."

So here's something different. A take on Comic-Con International you haven't seen before. What does a kid think of it? Not some six-year-old who's thrilled that he met the "real" Spider-Man but someone old enough consciously and deliberately think about what he experienced. But still young enough that he hasn't completely gotten in to the 'usual' comic fan mindset. I'm talking about Michael Hamersky's youngest son, Vinnie, who hasn't quite gotten to 13 yet.

Vinnie's written a thoughtful piece on Comic-Con from his own perspective. He's still clearly gotten a youthful optimism and idealism that many of us lose as we grow into adults (and have Life just keep trying its darnest to beat you into submission so that you can't not become more cynical as you get older!) but he's also got a good head on his shoulders and brings up some good, practical points about parking, the fulfillment program, crowd control and the like. He had things he liked -- like the Quickdraw panel and Batman: Under the Red Hood -- and things he didn't -- what he calls "Old Fart Programs."

My point is that the piece is well thought-out and well-written, and provides a perspective/voice that we don't hear enough of in comicdom. Go give it a read.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Magic Johnson, The Immonens & High Moon

I'm not a big sports fan, generally speaking, but I'm familiar enough with most professional games that I have a good understanding of the rules. And I do have a deep appreciation of those athletes who have honed their physical skills to levels that many people can barely comprehend. But about the only time I really watch sports is when there's some kind of social event I feel the need to attend for reasons other than watching The Big GameTM. For example, my boss throws a Super Bowl party every year and I go not to watch the game, but to get in some extra face-time with co-workers who are not-infrequently higher on the corporate ladder than I am.

It's in that basic context that I found myself watching the NBA playoffs in early 1991. It was the Lakers versus the Bulls. Magic Johnson versus Michael Jordan. Game one of the playoffs. The game had a lot of energy -- even for a basketball game -- and the two teams were pretty evenly matched. The score remained close throughout much of the game. Towards the very end of the fourth quarter, the Bulls had control of the ball. They were on their half of the court. Someone (I don't recall who) took a shot and the ball bounced off the backboard. The rebounded ball found its way into the hands of Magic Johnson. He took a quick look at the clock and saw there was less than 15 seconds left in the game with his team ahead by a single point. And Johnson did something that amazes me to this day.

He bowled the basketball down the length of the court.

Everyone chased after it, of course, but no one could reach the ball before it rolled out of bounds on the far side of the court. Johnson prevented even the possibility of a rival player from knocking the ball out of his hands. He ran down the clock to almost nothing preventing the Bulls from all but the slimmest possibility of scoring. (His timing was a tad off and the ball went out of bounds with two seconds remaining in the game.) He secured his team's win with one of the most unorthodox moves seen in professional basketball.

What amazes me about that event is that it shows a phenomenal understanding of the game. For Johnson, it wasn't about being a superior ball-handler or jumping higher/farther than anyone else, it was about knowing the game of basketball so completely that he developed -- on the spur of the moment -- an unheard of move that did exactly what was needed to win the game. It wasn't particularly graceful or visually impressive; it didn't display his physical skills in any way; but it DID showcase his almost intuitive knowledge of the game as a whole.

That impresses me more than being able to do a flying slam dunk from half-court or never missing a free throw ever. To know your subject matter that well and use your brain to service the end result in the most effective manner possible... well, it impresses the hell out of me, that's for sure!

You see that in comics, too. I called out Stuart and Kathy Immonen and the High Moon team of David Gallaher, Steve Ellis and Scott O. Brown because their work, collectively, displays that same type of understanding of comics. Their work may not have the flash/glitz/whatever of an Alex Ross or an Adam Hughes or whomever, but they regularly display a deep understanding of the medium of comics. Of how someone's eye flows from panel to panel and page to page. Of how different visual effects (color, line styles, level of detail, etc.) can impact the emotional tone of a work. Of how the words and pictures work in concert to compliment each other, and emphasize thematic elements of the story. Of how even the very format can be changed to take the best advantage of the distribution method.

I just wanted to give a shout-out to these guys because, although they're certainly well respected in comicdom, I think it's not consummate to their level of expertise. I think their works -- even the ones that receive high praise -- are vastly under-rated, and I'm always somewhat disappointed that they're not more popular than they are.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What Works & What Doesn't

One of the things that I pride myself on is coming up with creative solutions within the confines of existing parameters. This morning, for example, someone was looking for an application that would cycle through a showcase of different websites. To which I promptly responded to just create an iFrame page with a Javascript that refreshes an embedded URL. Perhaps not the most elegant solution, but certainly an expedient and effective one that seemed to catch the questioner off-guard.

In any event, I also enjoy seeing other people use the same type of resourcefulness when cramped up against whatever limitations they might have. That's one of the reasons I enjoy the old school Dr. Who episodes -- they're always on a tight budget and timeline, and you can see where they're able to cleverly work around their limitations. No, you're not going to get Hollywood level effects, but you tend to get something that's more original.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Champion City Comics was using Scribd as their comic delivery mechanism. It's not really how Scribd was designed to be used, but that's what I found clever about it. Take a look at Naira: Encounter in A-1166...
Naira

Now I still see some issues with what they've done. Two of their comics use Comic Sans for lettering and the others are not-entirely-elegantly hand-lettered. All of them are formatted for print publication instead of online viewing. Although I haven't explored it much yet, bookmarking your place partway through a series looks to be problematic, if it's even possible. Regardless of the quality of the comics, it doesn't present them, I think, in the best light possible. At least on the web via a desktop. Probably not great on a phone either. They might come across better on iPad, but no one has yet given me a free one that I might be able to explore that notion more fully.

That said, however, I'm still pleasantly surprised at the Scribd solution they came to for delivery. Not ideal, perhaps, but I do think it's a clever route to go. After all, it did get me to embed one of their comics on my blog!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sorting Through Why The Avengers Movie Bugs Me

One of the big fandom squee moments at Comic-Con International this weekend was getting all of the main actors on stage with their director for the announced Avengers movie. Samuel Jackson introduced about half of the members and Robert Downey Jr. introduced the other half. And with each name came increasingly more uproarious applause and cheers to the point where you could barely hear Downey bring out director Joss Whedon.

I'm reading the news and watching the video clips and something about this whole thing just really bugs me. More than the usual well-the-comics-are-always-better-than-the-movie-adaptation thing. More than the typical when-did-comic-con-stop-being-about-comics thing. It's kind of hard to pinpoint, though, so I thought I'd try working it out here.

I have not seen the Iron Man movies. I have not seen the Hulk movie with Ed Norton. I think the last Marvel Studios film I saw was Rise of the Silver Surfer. Before that, the first Fantastic Four film. My point being that I'm not invested in the franchise. I am familiar with some of the works of most of the players, and have a general respect for their abilities. I also have enough respect for Whedon's ability to write/direct a large/diverse group, so I suspect the final movie will be fairly well done and well received.

My problem lies somewhere in the marketing and manufacturedness of the whole thing. Thor won't be released for almost a year. Captain America began shooting just a couple weeks ago. But hyping up The Avengers already presumes those two movies will do as well as Iron Man. Which they may, of course, but it's WAY too early to tell.

I can understand and appreciate that, given the lack of creativity in movies these days, how an actor might be asked to sign a three-movie contract for any given film. If it turns out that a movie is really successful, studios want to be able to bring back the talent that helped make it successful. I get that. But there's something about engineering three movie properties independently with the deliberate attempt at later combining them into a fourth property that agitates every cynical bone in my body.

I'm reminded of any number of comic book publishers who set out to create a world for their properties to inhabit. Where they don't launch one or two comics, but several, all of which tie together and mix in a way that seems contrived. They've largely gone down in flames, and the one that I can think of that started that way and is still around (Image) largely dropped the idea after a few months. The problem with that approach is that A) the initial stages of any creative endeavor have a lot of trial and error before the creators find out how the series best works, meaning that you can't adequately cross-pollinate stories like that before you've got a good handle on how they work internally, B) there tends to be more emphasis on creating a big sandbox where they all play over really good storytelling, and C) that sandbox notion comes across as driven primarily from a financial (let's see how much money we can bilk out of readers) perspective than a creative one.

Granted, the major characters here have all been around for decades and there are plenty of stories showing how they interact. But I think we all know that the movie characters don't perfectly represent what's in the comics. There's interpretations that seep in from all corners, not limited to the producers, writers, directors, actors, costume designers, effects folks... the list goes on and on. (And is primarily why I'm not a big fan of movies in the first place!)

But isn't this what Hollywood does? Aren't I cynical enough to expect exactly this type of thing?

It's possible there's a nostalgia factor here, but I'm skeptical of that. In the first place, I never really cared much for the Avengers. I never really understood Captain America and I just don't like Iron Man. In the second place, I gave up expecting to be entertained by Marvel's superheroes after their "Civil War" crossover. What they're producing just isn't my cup of tea any more. Third, as I noted above, I haven't seen the recent Marvel films that haven't launched this mega franchise.

I keep going back to the manufacteredness of this whole thing. Every piece of it seems to ooze "We'll tell you what we want you to get excited about." Moreso than any single movie or franchise, really. Because with something like, say, Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean, the producers are telling you to like one concept and a couple iterations of its execution. Here, it seems like they're saying, "Here's the Iron Man concept you should like. Now over here is this Thor concept you should like. And over here is this Captain America concept you should like. And over here is this Hulk concept you should like. Now we're going to tie these all together with this SHIELD concept you should like."

As I'm thinking about it, too, it shouldn't work. The approach they took to Iron Man (contemporary statement about war and business) is vastly different to what they're doing for Thor (legendary story of sibling rivalry) which are both vastly different to what they're going to do in Captain America (a basic good versus evil period piece). I think they worked in the 1960s comics because A) you essentially had only a couple guys creating everything and B) they were all presented originally as simple superhero stories. Despite Stan Lee throwing in some occasional dialogue to distinguish one character from another, they all basically just fought evil because that's what heroes do.

Now, to be fair, if anyone could make it work, I think Whedon could pull it off. And the cast includes plenty of folks that audiences love, regardless of what they're in. (I mean, seriously, they gave Jackson a pass for Snakes on a Plane, for Pete's sake!) But I get the feeling that very few people seem to see just how calculated and marketing-driven this Avengers property is. It seems like the fanboygasms are blinding everyone to how they're being manipulated, despite how blatant that manipulation is.

I suppose that's what really gets to me. That people don't seem to be thinking for themselves on whether an Avengers movie may or may not work, they're just cheering because they're expected to. A few years from now, we might be seeing a really incredible Avengers movie -- which I'm sure a lot of people would love to see -- but, how about make some judgments of your own instead of relying on what a movie studio tells you?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another Reason Going To SDCC Is Unnecessary

So I'm still sitting here in my Ohio home. I spent much of the afternoon and early evening online, checking Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, etc. for news and such coming out of the show. I've got my Google-Fu on point, cross referencing notes from one feed against others. Someone might make a passing reference to something that sounds deeply interesting to me, and a few minutes later I've got pictures and transcripts and whatnot. Somebody else has a live feed going online, which I've got playing in the background as they're talking with Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth and Ryan Reynolds about their respective upcoming movies.

And I'm taking all this in and I'm thinking, "How could you adequately do this convention if you didn't have access to an online feed the whole time?" If you tried to attend in a **ahem** conventional manner, you'd miss out on tons of opportunities. I could well be getting more and better info from the convention here at my computer in Ohio than someone without internet access who's actually on the convention floor right now.

Then a pair of Tweets fly by from two different folks.
The hall h panels are delayed due to a medical emergency. No one is allowed out until its resolved. Showing trailers again. Weird.

Some guy in Hall H at Comic-Con was stabbed in the face with a pen because he wouldn't change seats. Crazy! I'm not joking!

Within the hour, actual news reports start showing up on sites like Bleeding Cool and Entertainment Weekly. And not long after that, we've got video of the guy being taken away by police and a new report from Comic Book Resources talking with the police about the incident.

But if you happened to be, say, on the other side of the hall where the incident occurred and didn't have internet access, you'd be stuck wondering what the hell happened and would have to rely on word of mouth why the Marvel panel hadn't started yet.

Indeed, Maggie Thompson later Tweeted...
2.5 hours aftera reported stabbing in Comic-Con's Hall H, I'm still not hearing any attendee buzz about it.
And all this made think. What's the real reason for going? Really, it's to meet up with other like-minded people. The comics or the movies or whatever are just a starting point, an introduction to other people who also like that stuff. And since I generally hate everybody anyway (nothing personal against you of course!) then the only real incentive isn't even an option for me. I can sit back and relax, eat some homemade pizza, play with my dog, and still walk away with all the key pieces I'd want out of a convention. I can order online any new books I hear about from the creators and/or publishers, get all the great news, and NOT have to fight the crowds? Sign me up for that!

The Elevator Pitch

The elevator pitch is an idea that's been circulating in business for a number of years now. I usually hear it referenced with regards to self-promotion (trying to get a job, schmoozing with the company president, etc.) but it's also applicable to business ideas and projects. The basic notion is that you should have a short speech prepared about yourself (or your project as the case may be) that can be delivered on cue if you happen to run into a person of significance that might be able to assist you. The "elevator" portion stems from the idea that your speech should be short enough to deliver on an elevator ride -- somewhere between 30 and 90 seconds.

It's generally suggested that you sit down and write this pitch out beforehand. Figure out all the high points that are absolutely critical, and get them down in a linear, easy-to-understand narrative. Make your selling point(s) and differentiator(s) as clear and concise as possible. Then practice reading that aloud over and over again until you have it down cold. Commit it to memory and give yourself periodic refreshers. You should be able to launch into your elevator pitch at any time. Because you never know when you might bump into someone who could help you. Possibly even in an elevator.

The reason why I bring this up is because I'm sitting here watching Rich Johnston's videos as he's going up and down the Artists' Alley at Comic-Con International. He walks up to each booth and asks people to tell him what they're selling or what their comic is about. And a HUGE majority of these creators are totally floundering.

"Yeah, I do this comic. And it's a webcomic. But I'm also printing them up, and selling those here. And it's about these guys who do stuff. Mostly in space, but sometimes on alien planets. And there's lots of laser fights and spaceships. Oh, and it's called..."

Some people seemed to get that enough and say something like, "I do a webcomic called X. It's a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Wars. You can find it at MyWebSite.com."

Now I know a lot of people don't like the "it's a cross between" analogies because they think it shortchanges their work, and makes it seem derivative. But if I'm going through an Artists' Alley and you aren't able to capture my attention fairly quickly, I'm going to move on to the next guy. I can probably tell from your promo art some basic information about the genre, so give me something else to clue in on.

An elevator pitch doesn't HAVE to include "it's a cross between" analogy, but it does need to get the point across very quickly. It needs to convey the high points. It needs to grab someone's attention. It needs to be something that is concise enough to stick in someone's brain. And, IF it manages to include a catchy name and/or URL, so much the better!

Regardless of how great and riveting your comic may be, you still need to get me to pick it up first. I've said it before, but the world's best comic ain't worth bunk if no one knows it!

Friday, July 23, 2010

True Fact: I Named My Dog After A Comic Strip Iguana

I got my dog not quite a decade ago from the local vets office, who took in strays and whatnot. My then-wife and I spent a while trying to come up with a suitable name for him and, not surprisingly, I went back to comics for my inspiration. Kirby and Ditko were high on my initial list, but both got vetoed pretty quickly. I did compile a list of cartoon/comic dog names (Snoopy, Krypto, Huckleberry, etc.) but nothing really struck me. I started branching out the list to include character names of non-dogs (Garfield, Fritz, Gleek, etc.) and wasn't coming up with much either.

But we happened to have just started buying the Foxtrot collections of comic strips. And there on page eight of Eight Yards, Down and Out was that collection's first appearance of the character who we realized the dog must be named after...
Since reading this very strip, my dog has gone by the name Quincy. I think it was the combination of the iguana's totally non-sequitir appearance and his look of idle indifference that really were the selling points.

Most people assume he's named after the Jack Klugman character, but no. He's named after a fictional iguana from a newspaper comic strip.

Quincy says "boo."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Ambivalence Towards CCI

This time of year is always a bit awkward for me. Because every year, around this time, the biggest gathering of comic book fans and professionals descends on San Diego while I'm sitting at home here in Ohio. It's a choice on my part. I've never felt I could justify the expense of going out there for a week. Technically, I probably could afford it right now, but that's just an awful lot of money which I think would be better put to use getting me out of debt.

So this year, as so many before, I'm staying home.

I'd been hearing about the show since at least the 1980s, but it wasn't until about fifteen years ago that I got my first "real" glimpse of it. Some exhibitor -- and I can't remember who; Wizard maybe? -- put a webcam on their booth table and streamed a live feed throughout the con. Of course, this was the mid-1990s, so there was no audio and it only snapped a picture once every ten seconds or so. But that was the first time I got a sense of the excitement of being there, as opposed to seeing a handful of still shots in magazines a month or two later.

Then, I think it was four years ago, the G4 network started doing programming from the show. The first one was a half hour program following three groups who were attending the show. They were just given cameras and told to film what they could and provide some commentary from time to time. It, obviously, aired after the event. As the groups were all exhibitors in some capacity, they had extra long hours and there was a lot of "this is exhausting" scenes in the final edit.

It was the year afterwards when G4 sent an actual reporter to the show, and I think they devoted an hour to the program. This, too, was edited after the show and aired as a summary. It was a little more even-handed in nature as I recall, but you definitely got a sense of the excitement level. There was definitely a lot of energy there. But, by then, CCI was as much about things OTHER than comics as it was about comics themselves.

The year after that was when G4 sent their Attack of the Show crew down for a live broadcast. It was very media-focused at that point and comics were almost an afterthought.

I think I caught Mark Evanier saying a few years back that it's still a good comic book convention, but it's just that there also happens to be a movie and pop culture convention going on at the same time. That if you just care about comics, then you can have a perfectly awesome time focusing on comics and completely ignore all the other stuff, and you STILL won't have enough time to see what you want to see.

So here's where my ambivalence comes from. I could really do without most everything except the comics portion of the show. If I stumbled into the Star Wars panel, hey, that's cool, but my prime interests are going to focus on the comics. So there's a lot at the show that I could handily avoid, thereby increasing the odds that I could see most everything I'd like to. And, from everything I've seen and heard, there's always lots of cool stuff to take in.

On the other hand...
That's a LOT of frickin' people! I'm not so sure I want to be dropped into that!

Plus, did I mention how expensive it is?

Don't get me wrong. I think it looks like the vast majority of people have an incredible time, and I'm sure I would too. I just don't think I'd get enough out of it to warrant the expense.

But these past few years, when I see the videos and Twitter is ablaze with notes about everyone having a great time and the photos are flying past faster than that first streaming feed I saw all those years ago... I'll admit that I feel pretty jealous of all the people who ARE in San Diego having fun. I would love to be attending panels and hearing comic news unfiltered through anyone else. I would love to pick up one of those exclusive Galactus figures. I would've loved to have seen Michael Cera surprise everyone when he walked out in a Captain America uniform. I would love to have seen Stan Lee take his place on Odin's throne...
I don't doubt that I get a lot of out attending CCI. But while comics are extremely important to me, I'd rather spend my money on the comics themselves. I mean, sure, the guy who's selling con exclusives on eBay right now is gouging people by charging at least double what he paid for the items, but it's still cheaper than a plane ticket out there. What would I rather put my money towards? A hotel and overpriced food for a week, or the same amount of money spent on graphic novels at Amazon? I'm not getting the "con experience" but I'm getting more of what I'm most interested in: comics.

That said, it's still hard to not want to be out there right now.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Flashback: The Quest For Identity Minicomic

I recently pulled out my old Sega Genesis and fired up Flashback: The Quest for Identity. I remembered it being a great game, and I was pleased to see how well it holds up. It had a really good storyline, some excellent design work, and the graphics still look pretty decent considering it came out almost 20 years ago.

But what surprised me was that the manual included an original 14-page comic that acted as a prelude to the game itself. It was evidently contracted by Delphine Software to Marvel Comics. It was written by James Moore, drawn by Mike Harris and Frank Percy, and lettered by Rick Parker. I can't find any credits for the cover art, but it doesn't look like the work of Harris and/or Percy to me.

I noticed several bits about the comic that strike me as interesting. First, the game itself centers around the hero, Conrad, who wakes up on a jungle planet with no memory of who he is or how he got there. As the gamer, your first job is to figure out who Conrad is and why so many people are trying to kill him. The comic, chronologically set before the game, largely answers that question. I don't think that takes away from the game play per se -- the comic can only relay so much in 14 pages after all -- but it's curious that it would be explained right off the bat.

Second, the comic provides Conrad with Sonya, a love interest who mysteriously vanishes (presumably captured) near the end of the comic. There's also mention of a friend Ian who left suddenly just before the comic takes place. In the game, Ian makes an appearance and helps Conrad out. There is, however, no mention of Sonya in the game; in fact, there's hardly any mention of women in the game at all, and the couple that do appear are older, overweight and appear in the briefest of cameos. I can somewhat understand where that might've come from within the game, but why then introduce a totally new character for this comic? The only answer I could hazard a guess at might be that the cover art was done with a rather generic blond thrown in, and Moore wanted or was asked to explain her appearance on the cover art through the comic. (Since the image itself would otherwise be quite at odds with the dearth of females in the actual game.)

As a minor point of curiosity, a few speech balloons unnecessarily break out of the confines of the panel borders on pages six, seven and nine. All of them could easily have fit within the panel borders, and would've then been more consistent with the rest of the comic. Similarly, the gutters begin to disappear on the last two pages and we're provided with one action panel -- the only one in the comic -- in which the art breaks the boundaries of the panel border. None of these are a huge deal, but it does seem a little incongruousness with the rest of the comic. The only possible explanation I can think of is a looming deadline that caused the last pages to be whipped out more quickly than the others.

Anyway, here's the comic if you're actually interested...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

QR Codes @ CCI

Earlier today, Ron Perazza noted that there will be QR codes on display at the DC booth and it might not be a bad idea to bring a scanner. To which, I expect, a lot of people will say, "Whahuh?" Whereas I say, "About damn time!"

QR ("Quick Response") codes are pretty similar to the more familiar (in the U.S.) bar code. They look something like this...
qrcode

The square format allows for more information than a simple bar code, and thus people are able to encode something more complex than a string of numbers. The above code, for example, is the URL for ComicBookFanthropology.com. Now, here's the clever bit: with the proper software on your cell phone, you can take a photo of a QR code from most any angle and it will be able to read/translate the code back into something readable. Furthermore, if the code in question is a URL, it will automatically link you to that web site! If it's a phone number, it will automatically dial it for you!

Think about that. You're walking along the street and see one of these codes on a billboard or the side of a bus or on a t-shirt or something. You snap a picture with your phone, and you're linked over to a coupon for 10% off your next meal at a nearby restaurant. Or a special offer from the movie theater. Or a unique comic only available to CCI attendees. It's a web link that works in a real world environment.

Now I said, "About damn time!" earlier and that's because this has been big in Japan for years! I've been itching to see it gain more acceptance/use here in the U.S. for at least the past 2 or 3 years, and even got into an argument with one of my former band mates two years ago when I wanted to include a QR code as a prop on stage. (He never quite got the idea, and dismissed it out-of-hand.) Why this hasn't caught on yet in the States, I have no clue.

I have yet to actually find a QR reader for my phone so I haven't been able to activate any codes to see how seamlessly they work. (I use an LG Dare if anyone happens to know of an existing QR reader for it, or wants to program one.) But I'm eager to hear how well this is used and to what extent at CCI and I'd appreciate anyone able to attend the show commenting on the experience. Many QR readers for different phones can be found here.

Hopefully, some folks will find the QR codes at CCI interesting and useful, and can help to propagate their more widespread use.

Show Your Scott Pilgrim Love

So you're attending one of those super-cool midnight Scott Pilgrim release parties tonight. (And I'm jealous!) You're all up in the excitement around the movie. How do you show your love of Bryan Lee O'Malley's great work to everyone around you? You don your favorite Scott Pilgrim t-shirt, of course! Conveniently, Mighty Fine has some slick-looking Scott Pilgrim t-shirts available! Here's a quick sampling...They also have some Hello Kitty wear and the absolutely coolest frickin' MODOK t-shirt ever!
So show Mighty Fine some love, and then show Scott Pilgrim some love!

Now, if we can only get them to make t-shirts based on that avatar creator!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Of Geeks & The Future Pop Culture

I haven't quite been able to figure out the relative popularity of Olivia Munn among the "geek" set. It's not that I dislike her, but I just don't see why she warrants more than a passing glance of attention. I don't think she's particularly attractive, she doesn't strike me as smart or funny or witty; and she doesn't seem to have a genuine interest in "geek" stuff other than how she might be able to tap into it to further her career. None of which I hold against her, but I'm just surprised that she evidently doesn't come across the same way to more people. I sat through this clip of her from a recent appearance on The Daily Show to see if it would help shed some light on things...
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - The Misadventures of Olivia Munn
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

But here again, she comes across (to me) as dull, insincere, unfunny and disingenuous. Her "geek cred" according to the piece is trying to update a computer (which, here in the 21st century, is fairly common), changing outfits repeatedly at Comic-Con (which I know she did because she was being paid to for her day job over at G4), and buying a moderately pricey comic book (which I suspect was also a direct result of her being co-host of Attach of the Show). She comes across to me as the high school cheerleader who's prime motivation is to be liked by everyone and is now trying desperately to fit in with a culture of "geekdom" that she got thrust into when she took her job with G4. She was, after all, pursuing a career in acting when she landed the gig and was not following an interest in technology, video games, comics, or anything else along those lines.

Munn, however, is NOT the point of this post!

No, I only bring her up because she strikes me, in some respects, as endemic of a culture shift. (I'm obviously looking at this from a U.S.-centric point of view, but I can see bits of this elsewhere in the democracies of the world as well.) There seems to be growing recognition that traditionally "geek" interests and ideologies are becoming more and more mainstream. An obvious example would be the growing reliance on comic books as the creative wellspring for Hollywood movies. But there's also a much wider variety of "niche" magazines that would once have been considered too esoteric for anything resembling mainstream promotion taking up plenty of shelf space in grocery stores and libraries. There's also any number of TV shows paying tribute to "geekery" from Big Bang Theory to The Tester.

Fifty or a hundred years ago, a person's most likely job prospects revolved around physical labor of some sort -- farming, factory work, etc. We're in a period of flux right now, as we're still moving towards more of an information economy, but those jobs requiring physical labor are increasingly uncommon in favor of jobs centered around more mental tasks. Even the act of designing a poster has been largely removed of the physical labor of cutting and painting and gluing, all of which have been replaced with point-and-click. Now people can bemoan the "loss of spontaneity" or what have you, but the digitization of these processes have made the creation and production processes much less labor intensive, and far more cerebral.

I think that part of why we largely grew up in a culture that looked down on geekery is that it was a culture that prized physical over mental prowess. The current school system was designed with that in mind and more attention is given to rote memorization and responding to bells in a Pavlovian manner (both skills prized among factory workers) and less to active learning or creativity. It was a system designed for turning your brain off and letting your body do the work.

But as we're moving into a society which relies less and less on that type of mentality, those who did still manage to retain their ability to think despite their anachronistic schooling began wielding more power. They were able to start taking their interests out to the public and finding support. Emotional and financial. You have people who grew up watching Transformers as kids now running Hollywood, and can exercise their interest in a series of big-budget movies about them. You have Comic-Con International attracting huge numbers of people from ever-widening circles.

It's okay to be a geek now because everyone's lives are less reliant on physical labor than they used to be. The physical prowess it took to play football or cheerlead a team are not nearly the necessity that they once were and, as a consequence, those who can't/don't participate (well or at all) have less reason to be ridiculed.

(I'm speaking here, by the way, of the real world. Given the increasingly out-dated principles schools still use, I suspect this hasn't fully permeated into high schools and smart kids are still routinely crammed into their lockers by jocks. But I don't actually know anyone in high school right now, so that's something of a guess on my part.)

But this leaves us in a culture of flux. We're still teaching this antiquated thought process, but nearly everything else around kids tells them that society is not really like that beyond the school yard. Which means that you have people experiencing a form of culture shock once they leave high school, and are left trying to adapt their previously successful coping strategies to a different type of environment. People who try to play off the more cerebral "geek factor" by paying lip service to it, despite not actually having cultivated an interest in anything geeky themselves.

To be fair, some people, when encountering for the first time real world geeks with power and influence, learn to appreciate them. I think many of the original Star Trek actors have expressed notions along these lines over the years, and that's one of the messages behind Galaxy Quest. The geek kids are the ones who are relied on to save the day, and the ego-centric, old guard "oh, look, he's torn his shirt off... again" captain recognizes their importance and power.
The problem here is that I don't think many people have a solid grasp that this transition is happening (or, in some smaller circles, has happened). I think there's some recognition there, in that iPhones and Iron Man and Lord of the Rings are now more objects of popular culture as opposed to the outsider culture they might've been a decade or two ago, but I don't think most people have much in the way of understanding that shift. I think there are a number of people out there who get that, to be a part of pop culture, they need to cater to "geeks" but I don't think they appreciate why.

At least, not yet. That's part of the problem with being flux: it's hard to see what is even changing, much less why.

But, in the impending shadow of Comic-Con, I think it's worth noting that "geek prom" is more mainstream than many of its attendees realize. I think Comic-Con has taken on the trade show equivalent of going to Disney World; it's just a cool vacation opportunity where there maybe aren't as many cool rides but plenty of people in costumes, lots of fun, and a number of meals that are more expensive than they should be.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Marble Comics Group's Slimeboy

I'm watching every episode of Thundarr the Barbarian for my next "Incidental Iconography" column. The series as a whole, for those who don't know, was set in a post-natural-disaster Earth and there were frequently references to late 20th century culture, as the protagonists walked amid the rubble. In the episode I just watched, entitled "Last Train to Doomsday", the character Ookla stumbles across the remains of a comic book shop...
... where he picks up a comic and falls to the ground laughing hysterically...

The comic in question is one from Marble Comics Group called Slimeboy...
... an obvious parody of the "Marvel Comics Group" banner that ran across those titles at the time.

Another issue, later in the show, provides the idea for how the characters might escape the villain's trap...
Interesting to note the fifty cent price tag on that one, as comics were (generally) only priced there for a little over a year around 1981. Also curious about that second issue is that the title appears incomplete. It's presented as "Slimeboy in" presumably not unlike "Superman in Action Comics" but there's no room for an actual title here. Also curious is that both covers sport giant, walking robots that appear to be inspired by War of the Worlds and seem to have little obvious correlation with a character called "Slimeboy."

Anyway, just an interesting little aside that's wholly unrelated to the focus of my article so I thought I'd post it here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Baltimore/DC During Labor Day

I'll be in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area over Labor Day weekend to attend a wedding. Which is, naturally, the week after Baltimore Comic-Con. So in lieu of totally missing that opportunity, I thought I'd throw out the question of whether or not there's any comic-related goings-on during Labor Day weekend in that area? Or, for that matter, any really awesome comic shops that I should make a point of visiting? Any suggestions welcome!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

PSA: Free Marvel Episodes On iTunes

Just wanted to drop a quick note to alert people that the first motion comic episodes of Astonishing X-Men: Gift and Spider-Woman: Agent of SWORD are currently available on iTunes as free downloads. Personally, I've downloaded but not watched either so I can't comment on their quality, but, hey, you can't argue with free!