Friday, December 31, 2010

Frank Giacoia Circa 1970

Alan Kupperberg recently posted this photo on Facebook...
That's Frank Giacoia in the Marvel bullpen, inking Fantastic Four #97. This probably would've been late 1969/early 1970.

I just thought it was cool photo, and wanted to share it beyond Facebook!

The Power Of Potential

Here, at the end of the year, it's typical for people to look back and reflect on the previous 365 days. I don't do that. Those pages have already been written and, without a time machine, there's not even the remotest chance I can change them. Which I wouldn't do anyway since I like who I am -- the culmination of all my experiences.

I try to always keep my mind on the future. When I wake up, I ask myself, "What can I do today?" When I'm more coherent (usually much later in the day) I look towards tomorrow and the day after. The future is where we're heading, and I'm going to steer my own path there. The possibilities inherent within tomorrow are limitless. I can build off what I already know how to do. I can change directions. I can make 2011 be better than any year before it.

I can ride my bike with no handlebars.
I can show you how to do-si-do.
I can take apart the remote control and I can almost put it back together.
I can tie a knot in a cherry stem.
I can tell you about Leif Ericson.

Me and my friend saw a platypus.
Me and my friend made a comic book and guess how long it took.
I can do anything that I want, 'cuz look:
I can keep rhythm with no metronome.
I can see your face on the telephone.

Look at me!
Look at me!
Just called to say that it's good to be alive in such a small world, all curled up with a book to read.

I can make money open up a thrift store.
I can make a living off a magazine.
I know how to run a business and I can make you wanna buy a product.
Movers, shakers and producers: Me and my friends understand the future.
I see the strings that control the systems.
I can do anything with no assistance.

Look at me!
Look at me!
Driving and I won't stop!
And it feels so good to be alive and on top!
My reach is global!
My tower secure!
My cause is noble!
My power is pure!

I can ride my bike with no handlebars.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Irons In The Fire?

Still not quite out of 2010 and 2011 is looking promising at this point. I haven't dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's yet on anything, so I can't reveal much of anything yet, BUT hopefully I'll have some neat-o announcements to make in the next month or so. Perhaps encyclopedic, perhaps geeky, perhaps integration-y... most of them comic book-y!

And, bonus: I might even get paid for some of them!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Marvel Heading Towards Day & Date

ICv2 reported yesterday that Marvel all of their Ultimate Universe The Death of Spider-Man crossover issues will be released via iTunes simultaneously with the printed copies. I haven't seen anyone else pick this up yet, but I expect that's largely because of holiday issues. So you're left with analysis from me.

This what comic retailers have been dreading, isn't it? That the big companies whose products account for the majority of their regular income start releasing comics in venues OTHER than comic shops? They've been largely holding to the business model that they held a brief monopoly on the latest issues and didn't have to worry about competition.

"Monopoly? What are you talking about, Sean?"

Well, most people have only one (at most) comic shop that they can reasonably get to. So comic shops have had something of a regional monopoly on comics since you couldn't get them anywhere else. When some of the big box stores started carrying graphic novels, that was still okay, because they generally don't carry pamphlet books and the graphic novels were at least six months behind current continuity. So if you wanted to read the latest Spider-Man story, you still had to go to your nearest comic shop.

And I think retailers were generally okay with that. Part of the comic book experience is sharing that with your friends, so within a day or two of the newest issue coming out, everyone would be online talking about what happened and the implications and such. All the readers not only had the shared experience of reading the same story, but they read it roughly at the same time. So comic shops could (and have) generally tout themselves as the only means with which you could stay in the loop and participate in that collective experience.

And, from what I've heard, that's been the biggest complaint retailers have had against releasing comics digitally. It removes their ability to be the sole venue for getting the latest comics by making them globally accessible. It's not a problem for them if the digital release is six weeks later because then the issue is no longer the most current. But the simultaneous release? Well, that gives them competition now. Especially considering the lower price point of digital books. (After all, there's no printing and shipping fees to cover!)

Of course, Marvel and DC still need comic shops as that's their primary source of income for pamphlet comics. (Though, it should be noted, a decreasing source of their overall income.) So they don't want to switch over to Day & Date digital releases immediately and piss off their existing distribution channel. I think this is something they've internally wrestled with for a while. And I think I can see where they're going with this.

First off, Marvel's just starting with a single event. It's not their whole library or anything. Second, it's an event within their Ultimate line, which is kind of a side-step from their main publishing concern. It's not the "real" Spider-Man. So it's impact against retailers is about as minimal as they can reasonably make an experiment like this. Anything smaller and the resulting data wouldn't be that significant.

Plus, they announced this the week between Christmas and New Year's, meaning that a lot of news sites and bloggers are off the grid. Meaning that the announcement won't get nearly as much top level attention compared to announcing this in another week or two. That snowstorms just closed down much of the U.S. East Coast and the U.K. and Dirk Deppey just left his post were bonuses.

Furthermore, the issues in question don't start getting released until February. Which means that no one will have any concrete numbers to assail Marvel with at the ComicsPRO meeting from February 10-12. Even retailers will only have, at most, a week's worth of their own sales from the start of the story to discuss by that point.

Now, we obviously won't learn the results of Marvel's experiment quickly. In all likelihood, Marvel will not disclose any sort of solid sales numbers after this at all. But my guess is that Marvel will see that digital sales did not undercut pamphlet sales that significantly. And by significant, I mean that the lost pamphlet sales will in fact be easily made up (and then some) with the additional digital sales. Marvel will see this and be able to easily justify expanding the program, either to the whole Ultimate line or to any event titles.

I've talked before about how comic shops should NOT be in the business of selling comics, and I think that's becoming more and more valid as time goes on. I'm sure we'll see more comic shop closures in 2011, which may or may not be hastened by Marvel going Day & Date. But with Marvel heading in that direction, I can't imagine DC being far behind. And at that point, a comic book shop is going to need to have a better business model than "Well, we have the latest issue of Spider-Man."

Monday, December 27, 2010

XMas From Homer

Homer, New York that is! My brother and his family live up there, and I just received a package of Christmas gifts from them. (It was sent via Priority over a week ago, so I don't know why it took so long to get here. USPSfail.) But I have to say that it was a really fun package to open. It looked something like this...

I expect most comic fans will recognize the bulk of it (hardcovers of Identity Crisis and 1001 Nights of Snowfall and an original Origins of Marvel Comics) but I have to say that I was seriously amused upon seeing the Flash and Green Lantern treats from Hostess. I was tempted more than once to buy a package myself before.

What you might not recognize are the drumsticks and photo signed by Marcos Reyes, the percussionist for War. The band's not as popular as they once were, but they're probably best known for the seriously groovy "Low Rider."


I can't wait to hear the story behind how he got those!

Electroman!

Offered without comment: this ad from DC's 1st Issue Special #2...

25% Off Comic Book Fanthropology

From now until January, 5 2011, use the coupon code WINTER305 to receive 25% off the cover price of anything you order from Lulu including, of course, Comic Book Fanthropology!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day!


Yeah, I know that Boxing Day isn't supposed to be about this kind of boxing but I was interested to learn that, in the out-takes of the Comic Books Unbound documentary I reviewed yesterday, Neal Adams cited Superman vs. Muhammad Ali as the single work he is (at least, as of 2008) most proud of. Mostly because of what the book said about race relations.

That image above links to a good-sized scan of the cover, so you can actually try your hand at naming all the celebrities Adams drew onto the cover. As many of them have long since fallen out of the public eye, it should prove to be significantly harder now than it was a few decades ago when the book first came out. Answer key below...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Comic Books Unbound Review

I recently stumbled across Comic Books Unbound, a 2008 hour-long documentary about movies that were made based on comic books. (First I'd heard of it, though.)

The first thing to mention here is that the documentary is pretty exclusively talking about feature films that were made around comic book properties. There's a minute or two that cover all of the serials, brief mentions of the live-action Superman and Hulk TV shows, and a couple of the early made-for-TV movies get a passing nod. For the most part, the documentary is looking at longer form, live action pieces shown in movie theaters. The only mention of cartoons is one line referencing the Grantray-Lawrence Marvel Super Heroes and Spider-Man shows as the Marvel's initial forays into something other than comics.

Historians might note that last statement is untrue, as Captain America was featured in a 1944 serial and Sub-Mariner was optioned as a TV show in the 1950s. Although you could technically argue that the company wasn't called Marvel at the time. That's a lot of where I had problems with the documentary.

The film itself wasn't bad. (Aside from using Comic Sans for all the on-screen captions.) But they played pretty fast and loose with historic narrative. Nothing blatantly wrong per se but they definitely presented things in a way which distorted the overall tapestry a bit.

It's notable that they decided to almost exclusively focus on successful films. A single still image was shown from Howard the Duck and another from Tank Girl but neither are actually mentioned. No references at all to Barb Wire or Catwoman or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

I should state, too, that by "successful" I mean "financially successful." Batman Forever, while indeed a financial success, is generally considered pretty bad; yet it still received praise in Comic Books Unbound. On the other end, the critically acclaimed Ghost World was never mentioned and a quick shot of the movie poster is the only reference to it. Mystery Men doesn't even get that much. And, for some reason, Men in Black is completely absent DESPITE being a financial and critical success.

That's I think what makes Comic Books Unbound such a strange beast. They clearly went out of their way to get interviews with some interesting and knowledgeable people with a range of perspectives (Guillermo del Toro, Stan Lee, Zak Pen, Neal Adams, Roger Corman, Avi Arad, Mike Mignola, Paul Pope, Richard Donner, Jim Steranko, etc.) but they didn't seem to do much beyond the barest research. It strikes me less as a documentary and more as a promotional video that's meant to be shown to studio executives selling them how they should make comic book inspired movies. I think this is highlighted in the opening clips of the movie in which Ron Perlman says, "I think comic books are a natural jumping off point for really theatrical material" which is shortly followed up by Selma Blair adding, "The comic book genre makes them a ton of money."

So why exactly is this commercially available if the intended audience are movie executives? I'm not entirely sure, but I suspect it has something to do with that "ton of money" comment.

The Sha-Man Of The North Pole

I recently found this image over at Simon Gurr's blog. It was painted for a charity auction a few years back. If you think it happens to bear any similarity to every comic fan's favorite semi-hermit warlock writer, I'll just note that Gurr gave the image tag the description: "Father Alan Christmas."
Enjoy your day, whatever celebrations you might have planned this season.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Star Wars, XMas Eve & Blogging

When I was a kid, we had a family get-together on Christmas Eve every year. We would go over to my mother's cousin's house sometime after dinner, and they'd have cheese & crackers, and drink wassail. I think there was typically ten or twelve people there, but my brother and I were the only kids. The grown-up talk got boring pretty quickly, so we'd wind up in the basement so we could watch videos.

My mom's cousin and her husband were pretty hip and savvy people, so they had a Betamax player long before most people even heard of video recorders. The down-side, though, was that they were adults and didn't have much in the way of videos that a couple of kids would like. But there was one movie they had.

Star Wars.

It soon became part of the holiday tradition that when we went over to their house on Christmas Eve, my brother and I were almost in the basement before we had our coats off. Mom would have to haul us into the living room to be polite and say hello to everyone first. But we wanted to get the movie started; we rarely stayed a full two hours and never got to see the end of the movie. We got called to put on our coats and boots just as the Rebellion was about to launch their attack on the Death Star!

As you may well know, I'm an atheist. So the holidays (any of them around this time) hold no religious significance for me. I try to celebrate good friends and family, but whether that occurs on December 1 or 21 or 23 or 25 or 26 or whenever is irrelevant. I had my family over for festivities last weekend.

The most exciting plans I have for this weekend are watching the first Star Wars trilogy (original theatrical release versions) and doing some blogging. So when you're hiding from Aunt Hilda in the computer room or trying to ignore screaming youngsters by pulling out your smart phone, you'll at least have THIS blog to resort to, even if the rest of the comicdom seems to have gone offline.

I figured I'd just give you all a heads up that I'll still be here for you when you get sick and tired of your own relatives. Cheers!

Now, if you'll excuse me for the moment, I think I can hear a John Williams fanfare beckoning...

Wonderful Wizard Of Oz Review

Marvel's latest version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published as trade paperback a few months ago, collecting the eight issues of the 2008 series. It also includes several pages of design sketches.

I won't reiterate the plot because you're likely already familiar with it. As writer Eric Shanower notes in his introduction, "few people don't recognize some version of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the story's other prominent characters." It's a story that's been told and re-told countless times to the point where it can be quite difficult to recall which bits were in L. Frank Baum's original novel. Personally, I'm not enough of an Oz expert to say how precisely Baum's work is captured here in comic form -- I've read/seen/heard enough versions to have trouble sorting out which bits I pulled from which incarnation -- but the book certainly captures the spirit I think Baum intended.

Artist Scottie Young does an excellent job capturing the wonderment of Oz, especially with his character designs. Dorothy is (intentionally) fairly nondescript, but everyone from the principal cast to the inhabitants of the China Country. I was especially impressed by the winged monkeys; although, winged monkeys are inherently pretty cool to begin with!

The story flows well, thanks of course to both Shanower and Young, but I want to take a moment to highlight colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu as well. His work here really helps establish the mood in various scenes. It's easy to point to the Emerald City scenes as stand-outs, but he also is able to use his coloring to set the tone for other locations; Kansas looks different than Muchinkinland which looks different than the depths of the forest which looks different than the Wicked Witch's castle. And unlike the obvious black & white versus color approach that's commonly known through the Judy Garland movie, Beaulieu's work is more subtle. You don't get the sense that you're being yanked into another story, so much as you realize that the tenor has changed slightly. This, despite generally just limiting himself to local colors. So, major kudos to Beaulieu's contributions here as well.

I do enjoy the Oz stories (not as much as Wonderland, but that's personal preference thing, I suppose) and I think this graphic interpretation would be a fine addition for Oz enthusiasts, and an even better one to introduce youngsters to the land that Baum created over a century ago.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trickster Review

Trickster is an anthology of Native American stories told in a comic format. It contains 21 stories, as told by Native American storytellers and interpreted by comic artists. The tales hail from a variety of different tribes; some are explanatory (how the stars came into the sky) while some are cautionary (behave or you'll become the victim of the Yehasuri) and some are simply anecdotes (how Puapualenalena tricked the 'uhane) but all involve some sort of trickery and deceit. (Hence the book's title.)

The execution of the stories were of varying quality, but generally were all good. Personally, I found the more cartoony drawings didn't seem to fit as well with the types of stories that were being told, but my understanding is that he storytellers themselves were able to choose the artists who depicted their tales. So I have to assume that they felt that there weren't any stylistic problems on that front.

The biggest disconnect I had was more of a cultural one. Many tribes have rich histories in storytelling, but it's distinctly different type of storytelling than most Americans and Europeans are accustomed to. So there are story leaps that don't necessarily make sense as far as we might be concerned. Many of the explanatory tales, for example, start with the assumption than things used to be radically different, with no real further explanation. According to legend, alligators used to be yellow. But he got caught in a fire and that's why his skin is brown and dry-looking now. Of course there's no explanation on why his skin was yellow in the first place, or how he even came into existence; you just have to assume that alligators did exist and were colored yellow sometime before now.

Another noteworthy assumption is that the animals in the stories were, for the most part, not any individual animal but the collective spirit of that whole species. When you're reading a story about Wolf trying to fly, that's essentially EVERY wolf. There is no wolf (lower case "w"); Wolf (upper case "W") is all the wolves of all time rolling into one being.

Oh, and animals have human likenesses which they can switch back and forth between at will. Useful bit of knowledge there, especially for the first story.

One final cultural distinction I'll make is that Native American stories don't necessarily follow what we might consider a "typical" story progression. Things happen, and they unfold an easy-to-follow narrative fashion, but they don't necessarily lead up to anything. The story climax can wind up being decidedly anti-climactic.

I mention these differences NOT as detriments to either Native American storytelling or Trickster specifically, but mainly to highlight that it's not unlike picking up manga for the first time. If all you've read are what might pass for "mainstream" U.S. comics, you're going to need to experience a bit of a mental shift before really getting into Trickster. You remember the first time you read manga and started turning the pages "backwards"? Eventually you got accustomed to it, and you were fine. Native American tales are little like that at some level. Not as overtly and visibly different as that, but it takes a bit to get used to.

The reason for that, of course, is that there are so few outlets that bring Native American storytelling to us. I went to a small convention back in 2007 that highlighted Native Americans in comics. While there were several creators of Native American heritage there, and there was plenty of talk about how Native Americans were portrayed in comics (primarily of the laughably bad 1950s Western variety), there was little to show by way of actual Native American style storytelling. Even contemporary, smart, well-researched stories followed fairly standard Western storytelling conventions.

This general ignorance is, of course, largely deliberate on the part of Americans. After the obscene treatment natives were given over a period of centuries, the only way we could collectively justify it was to pretend it never happened. Or downplay the events and put as much spin on it as possible. So we have happy pilgrims and "indians" at Thanksgiving. Or games of cowboys & indians in which the cowboys were ALWAYS the clear heroes.

Which is a shame because there are A LOT of Native American stories that would look absolutely brilliant in comic book form. One of my favorite books as a kid was Arrow to the Sun, which was based on an old Pueblo tale. (I don't know what happened to my original copy, but I bought a new one in college.)

You know, it is great that you can out and read something like Scout and there's at least one book out there looking at how Native Americans are portrayed in comics. But I think more collections like Trickster would do a world of good, even if the individual stories aren't always what most Americans expect.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wait... Why Am I Tearing Up?

Yesterday and the day before, I had really good workouts at the gym. Today? Not so much. Nothing really hurt; I barely got myself out of breath; I just couldn't get motivated to really push myself. Even to my usual tolerances.

I knew there was no food at the house -- at least, none that wouldn't take me another hour to prepare -- so I tried the Chipotle across the street from the gym. The line was practically out the door, so I switched over to the Jimmy John's next door. (Which was probably the healthier option anyway, but not really what I wanted.)

I finally made it home, nearly twelve hours after I had left this morning and found a copy of Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics in my mailbox. You know what? I decided I was going to plop myself on the couch, eat my dinner and watch the documentary. Sorry, dog, you're not getting a walk tonight.

I figured that since it's a 90 minute film covering 75 years of DC's history, it's probably not going to be that earth-shattering for me. I've been reading and absorbing this stuff -- the history of comics, specifically -- for decades already, and this is a mass-market DVD. I fired it up and was in the next room sorting the rest of the mail when I heard Paul Levitz's voice at the start of the movie. (I was pleasantly surprised with myself for being able to recognize it.) I sit down a couple minutes into and start watching. There was the occasional photo or piece of footage I hadn't seen before, but the story was nothing new, as I suspected. I was largely interested in seeing their specific presentment of the material here.

So, the movie's rolling along. I've finished my dinner by now, and they're about up to the 1970s. The powerful Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics. And Geoff Johns comes on and says something about how Green Arrow didn't have much of a personality before, so it was fairly easy to give him this angry hippie persona and it just sort of fit. And I notice there's a tear rolling down my cheek.

Denny O'Neil comes on and talks about how he royally screwed up Wonder Woman, and how sorry he was about that. Another single tear.

Len Wein comes on and relays how Alan Moore hung up on him when he tried to get him to write Swamp Thing. Another single tear.

Batman with his Kryptonite-gloved liberalism beating down Superman's staid Reaganist conservatism. Another single tear.

This went on for the rest of the documentary. Not quite crying, really, but a slow trickle of single tears as significant moments in DC's history came up.

I can understand the first one. Those Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories were some of the first comics I ever read. That classic blue skins/orange skins/purple skins/black skins speech left a HUGE impact on me. So that first tear was almost certainly nostalgia-induced.

But to this day, I've never read those Wonder Woman issues. Or Moore's Swamp Thing. Or "The Death of Superman." Or half of the other moments they singled out in the documentary that caused me to tear up. I could see why Louise Simonson got emotional over the death of Superman; she helped work on the darn thing! But my attachment to much of what they were discussing diminished rapidly after the 1970s. I watched Super Friends up through 1983 or '84. I read The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as they came out.

But my comic interests at that time were largely centered on the Fantastic Four and, by extension, the Marvel Universe. Even then, in another year or two, and I was reading as much about comics history and the mechanics of the medium on the whole as I was new comic book stories.

So why would I continue tearing up as they were talking about Milestone? Or Kingdom Come? Or Batman Begins? Pieces I'm familiar with, but only because I returned to them long after the fact, specifically because of the cultural importance that I was able to retrospectively see they had. Is it that the nostalgic state I entered into earlier continued? Just misappropriating feelings from my earliest comic experiences onto more contemporary counterparts? Was it that the initial wave of nostalgia was being countered by some sense of machismo that prevented me from letting it all out at once? (Despite the fact that I've been at home by myself all evening.) Was it more of a nostalgia cycle that took a decided change of subject (the insanely long, every-language-on-the-planet series of copyright warnings after the movie) to snap me out of it?

I don't really have an answer offhand. Just kind of wondering out loud. Any psychologists out there have some thoughts?

Bonnie Lass Review

Michael Mayne's Bonnie Lass: The Legend is the newest title from Red 5 Comics. It debuts today, in fact. But more on the specifics of that in a bit.

The story opens with the titular heroine delivering a small totem to her client in bar. It devolves into a brawl pretty quickly, but Lass cleans the house even before her two partners show up. However a prior incident (alternatively referred to as a "fracas", "misdemeanor assault" and "full-blown ass-kickery") has alerted the authorities, and the trio resort to holding the sheriff hostage until they can board their ship. Another brawl ensues (in which the same folks from the bar get the snot beaten out them... again) and our protagonists soon find themselves being chased by ship. Lass' escape plan involves riding the rapids down a narrow canyon and launching her entire ship off the edge of a waterfall. As they escape off into the sunset, the reader's view turns back to the sheriff, who informs the devious-looking Monet that he's essentially tricked Lass into leading them to the famed Eye of the Leviathan.

I'm not exactly sure what criteria the folks at Red 5 use for soliciting work and/or determining what they think is worth publishing, but they've once again shown that they know how to pick winners! This issue was a LOT of fun. The opening was a little predictable (lone cloaked figure who drops the cloak to reveal they are the hero, then proceeds to kick everyone's tail) but once we got the inevitable character introduction out of the way, things started kicking on all cylinders. There was almost non-stop action once the first fight began, but I have to say that it was handled very well and still provided a great deal of characterization and a decent amount of plot development.

Thinking back, it reminded me of some of those great Marvel comics from the late '60s/early '70s that seem to jammed with action and story and page-turning excitement. Where any expository dialogue was deftly slipped in during action sequences, and didn't slow the pace of the story. Where any single issue had a beginning, middle and end, but still held the promise of more to come next month.

Plus, I loved Mayne's drawing style. The cover evokes a definite Art Nouveau feel and, while it's similar inside, there's a curious blending of other inspirations apparent. I can see influences ranging from Walt Disney to Katsuhiro Otomo to E.C. Segar to Alphonse Mucha. Mayne blends them all well, though, and presents an accessible style that's smooth and perfectly suitable for the story's mix of drama and humor.

All in all, quite an enjoyable read and I highly recommend it. Like pretty much everything Red 5 publishes!

This is the company's first foray into "digital-first publishing" so Bonnie Lass is currently only available on comixology and iVerse. At this point, I've heard no word on if/when a print version might become available. But at $1.99 for 34 jam-packed pages, the digital version seems like quite the bargain to me!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Only Constant Is Change

Dirk Deppey tweeted last night that he's being let go by Fantagraphics and his last ¡Journalista! will be tomorrow. I should note, too, that he's not upset about it, following the announcement up with several more tweets stating...
For the record (before I get too drunk): Fantagraphics is the only company that I've stayed with for more than two years... and not coincidentally, the first people for whom I've worked that I've respected from beginning to end. I'm not surprised at being laid off -- if anything, I'm grateful that Gary Groth held out as long as he did before letting me go. Gary and Kim Thompson are two of the coolest people I've ever met, and it's been my privilege to have drawn a paycheck from them. No regrets: The last ten years have kicked ass. I've done great things and meet interesting people, and was paid it. How great is that? Working for Fantagraphics, editing The Comics Journal and running its website have added meaning to my life that I'll cherish forever. Kim, Gary, Kristy, Michael, Adam and everyone else: Thank you. I'll go to my grave thankful to have met and worked with you. (Please forgive the spelling mistakes, etc. Next up: more beer!)

Deppey's ¡Journalista! has been essentially just a link blog, but he A) always managed to find cool and obscure news items that fly under the radar of most folks and B) showcased a love for comics as a medium and not just a handful of creators or characters. Yes, he was definitely opinionated and some of his observations and arguments would rub people the wrong way, but he would always acknowledge others' opinions, even if he didn't agree with them.

¡Journalista! has been at the top of my comic news reading list every morning for several years now, and I know I'll be sorry to see it go. For what it's worth, thanks, Dirk, and best of luck.

Interestingly, last night I was also contacted by long-time reader Ian Adams of TradeReadingOrder.com, a site I was previously unaware of. Though it has no designs on replacing ¡Journalista! there's still a kind of weird symmetry that I learn of it just as Deppey is stepping down. Adams was actually asking for some advice, but also pointed out that they're running a cool contest right now to win a set of Batman: No Man’s Land volumes 1-5. Since entry is little more than registering with the site, it's definitely worth a look!

What strikes me here is the change that's been something of an undercurrent with comic news reporters lately. Back in February, Heidi MacDonald moved The Beat to it's own independent venue, and long-time Pulse stalwart Jen Contino was let go. Publishers seem to be less concerned with what's on their websites -- as it pertains to news, at least -- and sending notes out via Twitter. In fact, some publishers do little beyond re-tweeting what their own creators are saying.

The common thread, as I see it, is something of a return to the 1960s and early 1970s, where fans were sending out newsletters and fanzines, focusing on smaller and more personal aspects of the medium as a whole. Before Wizard and CBG and Amazing Heroes and Comics Feature, there were mimeographed, typewritten pages and occasionally a photocopied page or two stapled into the bulk of an APA. It wasn't about nailing the interview with the popular creators or regurgitating publisher press releases; it was about whatever the heck an individual wanted to write about.

I'ved noted before how I think journalism is moving further away from the traditional paid-journalists-for-larger-media-outlets model and more towards interested folks with passion. These minor shake-ups, while certainly sped up by the recession, only serve to confirm the direction I think news is heading. It's less about serving the masses -- the approach still generally used by Newsarama and CBR -- and more about catering to a more select group. Don't get me wrong; I've got nothing against those sites or others like them. I just don't think that's where comics journalism is going.

What makes a site like, say, Comics Reporter, interesting isn't that it tries to cover everything comics. It's that it has a a definite voice and opinion as it relates to comics. I visit CR regularly because I like a lot of what Tom Spurgeon points to and comments on. Not everything, certainly, but a good chunk of it. It's Spurgeon's voice I want to hear in this broad discussion of comicdom, and that's why I visit his site.

The "danger" here is that, just as a guy like Deppey can lose his job, a guy like Spurgeon can grow tired or disinterested. If his returns -- financial or emotional or creative -- drop too low, he can easily stop and walk away. And despite whatever sense of entitlement readers have, there's really no recourse but to search around to find others' voices that are interesting or insightful.

It's difficult. We're moving towards a knowledge economy and the transition is not going to be easy. Scarcity of resources is going to be less of an issue than a scarcity of original and clever ideas. We're not there yet, by any means; I don't think we're going to be bartering using Whuffie any time soon. But cultural capital is the currency of the future. Welcome, once again, to the 21st century.

Monday, December 20, 2010

In The Mailbox

I love comics. That much should be obvious. But what's also great about comics are the people in it. I mean, I don't like people as a general rule, but the folks who work in/with/around comics are really awesome. To wit, I received two packages in the mail today containing the following...
The two posters were from a quick Twitter contest the C2E2 folks had last week. The one on the left is signed by Alex Ross. The show is March 18-22, 2011 and tickets are already on sale here. I was disappointed that I had to miss the inaugural 2010 show, but I'm hoping I can make it this next one.

The other piece on the table is a special Artist's Edition copy of High Moon chapter four. It was an extremely limited run and, I believe, only made available at this year's New York Comic Con. (Coincidentally run by the same folks who run C2E2!) Writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis were nice enough to ask me to write a foreword for the book, which they went ahead and used anyway even though they were just being polite to ask me in the first place. And they're so cool that, not only did they send me a copy of the book, but they added this to the interior...
A print edition of the first three chapters of High Moon can be purchased here while the whole thing can be purchased and read online via comiXology. Good stuff, and it works almost surprisingly well in both print and online!

Big shout-outs today to Kristen over at Reed Pop, and Dave & Steve of the High Moon crew. Some great folks doing some stellar work, and I owe them a huge thank you for brightening up an otherwise long and dreary Monday!

Willie Lumpkin, At The Beginning

Willie Lumpkin is the semi-famous mailman for the Fantastic Four, and was even portrayed in the first FF movie by Stan Lee himself. The character debuted in Fantastic Four #11 circa 1963, written by Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby, where he submitted himself for any ear-wiggling services the FF might need.

Not true.

Willie Lumpkin actually debuted three years earlier as the title character of his very own comic strip created by Lee and future Archie artist Dan DeCarlo. He was portrayed several years younger, but still a mailman. Here's one of the Sunday strips that features a benign, but still topical, subject...
It's a little hard to read here, but the stamp cancellation in the strip's masthead notes Willie Lumpkin's location as Glenville. The name actually was used repeatedly throughout the strip as well. What's interesting about that is that Glenville was the town later named by Lee as the hometown of Susan and Johnny Storm, half of the Fantastic Four team that Lumpkin would later serve. Though the age progression of Lumpkin himself would suggest that the strip occurs well before the two superheroes were born, it's possible that one could find likenesses in the strip that bear more than a passing resemblance to their parents, Franklin and Mary.

The strip lasted barely a year, most likely because it didn't stand out from other newspaper strips of the time. It's largely only notable now because the two creators went on to make big names for themselves in comic books and one of them reused some of the material in his more famous works.

I'll throw one more benign-yet-still-topical Willie Lumpkin strip out there for you to digest...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Comic Christmas

My Christmas was actually this weekend, thanks largely due to a confluence of weird schedules. My folks were down to visit this weekend, and I hosted (yes, I hosted -- I'm as amazed as you are!) a family get-together with Dad's side of the family. It went off surprisingly well (to me, at least) and I got a few comic related gifts that I thought I'd share...
My aunt also asked to see my "famed" comic book collection, but I had to decline her since the basement, while now dry, is still quite a mess from the flood a couple weeks ago.

Also, an amusing story about the Oz book. When my folks bought it, the clerk started talking it up. "Yeah, this is a great book! It's got this girl who goes to the magic land, where she has to fight this witch. But she gets help from a lion and a scarecrow, and..." Nothing about this particular interpretation of the book, just the basic plot. Now, granted, it's a good story and that's why it's still being read 100 years after it was written. But, seriously, how many American adults don't know the basic plot line? If only from the old MGM movie?

All in all, a good holiday gathering and some great gifts from my parents. Thanks very much, and happy holidays!

Happy Birthday, John!

I am under no contractual obligation to wish my editor/publisher John Morrow of TwoMorrows Publishing a happy birthday, nor am I required to tell you that each and every one of their publications are worth buying. I am also not required to say that he has a wonderful wife and daughters, regardless of whether or not I've met them. My mentioning any of those things is entirely divorced from the fact that I write for him.

Really.

No correlation.

At all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Story Behind The Dingbats Of Danger Street

The decision has been made! Research is underway! My next "Incidental Iconography" column for Jack Kirby Collector #56 will take on The Dingbats of Danger Street!

They debuted in 1st Issue Special #6 back in 1975, and have only been seen twice since. And only minor cameos at that. From the preliminary research I've done so far, it appears the Kirby had actually drawn these guys more times in unpublished stories than everything that everybody -- Kirby himself included! -- has collectively done with them in print!

The more I look at these guys, the more fascinating my research becomes. That's what I love about these "Incidental Iconography" columns I do: I can usually just dive into a subject almost at random, and uncover a wealth of things to intrigue me. Compare, for example, Kirby's notes about Non-Fat in the image above with the cover of the first issue...
You're going to tell me there's NOT a story there?

Jack Kirby Collector #56 should be out in late February.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Back Issue #46 Preview

Back Issue #46, from TwoMorrows, isn't due out until January 19, but you can download a free preview here. The issue focuses on some of the “Greatest Stories Never Told” -- comic book stories that were started and developed but never saw publication for whatever reason(s). Of particular interest to you might be Jarrod Buttery's article on Dan Fingeroth's and Al Milgrom's aborted Fantastic Four: Fathers & Sons. I haven't seen the final article yet, but I provided some background information to Buttery, including how I attempted to get Marvel to finally print the darn thing! (It was, in fact, written, penciled, inked and lettered before the project was scuttled.) I don't know how much detail Buttery ultimately went into, but I do appear to be given a "Special Thanks" credit at the beginning of the issue so I'm guessing I at least get a passing mention. But I'm know I'm looking forward to seeing what other info Buttery may have dug up on that story, so it'll be worth taking a look at for that alone!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It Started With Clerks

I recall being in school years ago, maybe third or fourth grade. Our class had been walked down to the lunch room, and I was sitting at one of those long tables among a collection of other 8/9/10 year olds. I was eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and one of the other kids began excitedly talking about this new game called Pac-Man. Another kid had heard of or seen it, but hadn't been able to play it yet but he was pretty enthusiastic about it too. I was lost. I knew and had played video games, but this "Pack Man" was entirely unheard of to me. Given the explanatory abilities of a child, the descriptions I got were unsurprisingly vague so I formed an image of a man (or a close 8-bit approximation of one) wearing a backpack, picking up these baseball sized globes and putting them in his backpack. I don't recall when I finally saw some Pac-Man screen shots or eventually played the game itself, but I do remember being very surprised how different it was from the mental picture I had conjured.

Kevin Smith's movie Clerks first came out in late 1994, and was shown in only a small number of theaters. But when it made it to home video in mid-1995, it began picking up steam as it got wider distribution. I first heard about Clerks from a co-worker in the late summer of 1995. He raved about it and Smith's maxing-out-his-credit-cards story. I found and rented the movie from a local Blockbuster, and was suitably impressed with what Smith was able to achieve on a limited budget. I recall some months later, probably early-to-mid-1996, talking with some other friends who had just heard about Clerks and I was able to come across as more hip and with it because I had already seen the film and it was old news for me.

Bear in mind that this was the mid-1990s. Video rental stores like Blockbuster were not only relevant, but doing some serious business. The Internet was available, but in an extremely limited form compared to what we know it as today. It was still largely a visually more attractive version of the old BBSes, and largely limited to early adopter geeks.

The View Askew website wouldn't be created for another year. Marvel wouldn't even register their own domain name for another two years. There was a DC website, but it looked like this...
What I'm saying is that, as a society, we were JUST on the cusp of the Internet being a significant and important tool for our culture. But we weren't quite there yet.

But my experience with Clerks was that I became a person of privilege by having something of an advance word before my peers. I could walk into a conversation about a new/current topic that was still relatively obscure and be able to speak intelligently to it. I wouldn't be so out of touch as I was with the Pac-Man discussion years before.

And I saw the Internet for the possibilities in that regard. I was becoming very adept at locating information sources so that I wouldn't be caught off-guard again. I was able to use having more up-to-date/better information to my advantage by getting quick answers to trivia contest questions. I was able to secure a splash page of original comic art by reserving the page in question as soon as a preview image of it became available online; the art rep was surprised because he never got specific page requests like that so far in advance of the comic being available.

Two of the more fascinating (to me) aspects of the Internet is A) the vast sum of information that's available and B) the speed with which it's available. I've been re-reading Fax from Sarajevo for a project I'm working on (more on that later) and it was a fascinating study in information gathering. Ervin Rustemagić uses faxes to keep in contact with the world outside Bosnia -- newspapers and televisions had all but shut down entirely -- but sporadic electricity and phone service puts him in a haze of uncertainty and confusion. He's not able to keep up with changing regulations that would allow him and his family to emigrate because he's stuck in essentially an information vacuum. He doesn't have access to the world's information in the first place, and what information he is able to obtain comes slowly and in fits and spurts. While this was certainly normal in, say, the 1400s, Rustemagić's plight took place at the very end of the 20th century. Only a year or two before Clerks came out.

I don't have a specific conclusion I'm trying to reach here. (It's kind of a scattershot week, so I'm running a bit on the scatterbrained side.) But it occurs to me that my entire lifestyle -- my day job, my blogging, my long-distance relationship, my shopping habits, my reading habits, my discussions with friends and relatives, my access to information, pretty much everything -- was not really possible fifteen years ago.

Where do you suppose we'll be in another fifteen years?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Link-Blogging

How the heck did it get to be 11:00 already? Didn't I just wake up? Meh. Such is December. Let's do some link-blogging today to try to catch up...

SANE Journal
The first issue of SANE Journal (Sequential Art Narrative in Education) is now available online for free. Check it out here. I haven't read any of it yet, but I do note that several of the contributors have doctorates, so I figure it must be at least well-thought out.

Rather-Be-Hunting Guys Comics
I can't help but think this falls at the other end of the spectrum. A gent by the name of Dale Dunnerway started up a "Rather Be Hunting" line of products a while back. First I've heard of him or them, but it turns out that, among his products, are several comic books based around his Rather-Be-Hunting Guy character. I'm pointing him out today because this press release says that he'll be donating 1,000 of his comics to soldiers and veterans. Those interested can purchase both of his books from his site.

Monkey Day
Today is Monkey Day. Nuff said.

Free Comic Book Day
Darwyn Cooke provided some DC hero artwork for a 2011 Free Comic Book Day t-shirt. View it here. Not surprisingly, Cooke turned in a really nice piece. They'll be available in stores in early April before the May 7 event.

Top Female Comic Creators
The S.O. pointed out to me that Jezebel has a good list of their top 10 female comic book creators from 2010. It's actually republished from Comic Book Resources, but there's something very positive and note-worthy about it appearing on Jezebel, a site devoted to "celebrity, sex, fashion for women." Especially since less prominent, though potentially more accessible, creators like Katie Cook are named. (Cook's Gronk really captured my attention earlier this year, despite completely NOT being the type of fare I would normally enjoy.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Statisizing My Webcomic Reading

I've been using Google Reader as one portion of my online comics reading venue. (Although I've changed some of the specifics, this older post walks through how I aggregate, sort and keep up with all of the webcomics I follow. Yes, all.) I actually use Google's broader portal feature for following anything news-related -- from broader world-news to comics-specific news to individual creator blogs. My Google Reader is then exclusively dedicated to webcomics that feature RSS feeds.

What I just saw/found/stumbled over today was their "Trends" link within the Reader. I think I'd seen it before, but never bothered to click on it because I don't really care what other people's interests are. But it turns out that it, in fact, takes a look back at my personal trends. My own Google Reader stats. Here's what I saw when I clicked on it...
The "119 Subscriptions" is how many webcomics I read through there. (There are another 42 that I read in other ways.) Some are daily, some are weekly, some are in between, some don't have any regular schedule at all. But apparently, in the past 30 days, there were 1,147 new comics that I read through Reader. (I do, in fact, read every one.) That averages out to 38 new comics per day, if you're curious.

The "clicked" items are comics that say they have an update through the feed, but I still have to click over to the site to view the actual comic. I don't put much weight in that number because several of the comics I read do actually come through in the feed, but at a reduced size. So, depending on the specifics of that particular comic, I may or may not be able to read the condensed version.

The 22,637 number is a little off as well, I'm sure. While I started using Google Reader in 2006, I didn't really start pushing all my comics to it until 2008.

There's some other stats to browse through in the Trends area, but that 1,147 caught me off-guard the most. I don't know what kind of number I would've expected to see there, but that's certainly a lot higher than I would've guessed.

And here I was, thinking I wasn't reading very much!

But for those of you who are using Google Reader, I point this feature out because I figure it might be interesting to check out your own stats to see what you've been reading!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Tree

Alright, I spent a good chunk of the weekend fighting to achieve the traditional dead tree in your front window thing. (Actually, it's a fake tree. Current estimates suggest that a fake tree is only better for the environment if you keep/use it for at least 20 years. I'm only half-way there at the moment, but it's still in good shape so I'm pretty confident it'll last another decade at least.) So what was the result?
My ex-wife used to do the tree decorating and had this blue/silver themed thing she did. To be honest, it looked pretty classy, like something you'd see in a upscale department store or something. That was in large part because my ornaments never got hung. She took all the blue/silver stuff when she split, and ornament-wise just left me with whatever she didn't want. Which is fine, because the tree now reflects more of my tastes...

The Bugs Bunny tree topper is animated, swinging that candle back and forth while his head turns from side to side. Besides Superman and the Flash, Batman and Robin are also represented in figure form, as are many of the classic Warner Brothers cartoon characters. Including Gossamer! The diamond-shaped piece was printed in "The Norm" comic strip a few years back as a DIY generic holiday ornament.

The tree is severely weighted towards the WB/DC end of the comic spectrum. I should probably rectify that sometime and get some Marvel, Image and Dark Horse representation. Some more comic strips, too. I think I've only got one Peanuts ornament. Anyone have suggestions along those lines?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Happy Christmahanakwanzika!

Well, it's gotten late enough in the year that things are getting pretty hectic. Despite being an atheist, I still bend to some of the holiday traditions -- sending out cards, getting presents for others, etc. I don't attach any religious significance to any of it, but it does provide a good opportunity to catch up with friends and relatives. And since it looks like several relatives will be visiting stately Kleefeld Manor this year, I figure it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to tidy up and maybe put up some decorations.

Interesting thing about one's home, or mine at any rate. When my parents bought their first (and, to date, only) house back in the 1970s, it was with the decided intention that they were going to live their whole lives there. I think that was a pretty common mindset at the time. I don't know if that's nearly as prevalent today in the 21st century. Society, on the whole, is more mobile and it's not uncommon to move many times in one's life, often to entirely different states or countries. I noticed this especially when I was going through my address list and noted that many of the people I went to college with in Ohio now live scattered everywhere from Portland, Oregon to Gijón, Spain.

But as I was sitting here today putting lights on the tree (still the worst part about holiday decorations, even if the likelihood of an entire string going out at once is pretty minimal) I could hear the just-above-freezing rain pattering down outside. And, despite my basement still being something of a wreck at the moment, my stuff is still safe. My comics are all dry and still organized in fact. My action figures suffer only from being picked up and moved around when I was cleaning. My holiday decorations -- many of which are Warner Brothers/DC themed -- came up from the basement completely fine and are now waiting in the dining room to be put up.

This year, I'd just like you to take a moment, regardless of what religious beliefs you hold, to appreciate what you have. Maybe your biggest frustration is stringing lights on a Christmas tree. Maybe you're already sick of the incessant holiday music piped into every retail outlet around the world. Maybe you won't get to spend Kwanzaa with your spouse. Maybe you have to visit with that loud-mouthed aunt who no one in your family really likes, but she IS family.

Me? I'm in pretty good shape. I'm certainly not in need of anything I don't have. Even the things I want make for a pretty short list. There are portions about the next few weeks that I'm sure I won't enjoy. (Did I mention that I don't like stringing lights?) And some things won't be optimal -- I won't be able to see my niece's and nephews' faces when they open their gifts from Uncle Sean. But you know, I can't complain. I've got a roof over my head, food in belly, and a number of friends and family out there who care for me. Many of which I'll even have the pleasure of celebrating with over the next few weeks.

Happy Christmahanakwanzika, everybody!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Francis Sharp Review

Wow.

I just got and read a copy of Brittney Sabo's & Anna Bratton's Xeric-winning Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny! Let me say off the bat that it's easily one of the most fun, entertaining books I've read all year!

The story starts with young Francis, whose family is struggling to keep their farm going. Francis doesn't want any part of it, though, and would rather flit off into his imagination in front of the radio or with comics. As he's playing "The Occultist" with a friend in the field, he spies an unusual creature that looks kind of like the shadow of a fox. He chases the creature for a while, eventually losing it, his friend and his way. A passing stranger does give him a lift into town on his cart, but it's a town VERY strange and unfamiliar to Francis. All the inhabitants have long, pointed ears and angular faces. After a night hiding under some stairs, he's befriended by some cousins who try their best to help him back home. But the trail Francis took into this strange land doesn't seem to take him back home again...

It's a little hard for me to pin down exactly what drew me into the story. Francis isn't the type of character I'm usually drawn to -- he's irresponsible, self-centered, impractical and not entirely ethical. Despite those flaws, he's still an affable character and one does get the sense that he's going to learn a thing or two by the time he eventually does get home. (This book is only chapter one, after all!) We don't see much of Francis' parents or his friend (although, the dynamic between he and Francis is quite well done) and the two goblins who help Francis later seem nice, but they're introduced late enough in the story that we don't get to see a whole lot of characterization with them yet.

Sabo's art is well-suited for this tale. Her figures are smooth and pleasant-looking (some really nice line work with them overall) and she's also got a very good eye for using spot blacks to create/enhance the mood. Especially potent on the key story beats, like when Francis overhears his parents discuss their financial problems or when he first realizes that he's in a strange town full of goblins.

(On a slight side-note, I might also note that she illustrated a gorgeous piece of Francis encountering that shadow fox creature as a frontspiece in my copy. When you buy the book from her site, there's an option for a "free sketch" in the book, but this was the most detailed and elaborate "sketch" I've ever had the pleasure to receive in a book. Fully inked to boot, and I spent a fair amount of time just studying her brushwork on that one image.)

At some level, the book has a Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland notion running through it. Young kid who doesn't care for his/her home life falls into a magical realm, and learns to appreciate how great home really is. What strikes me as somewhat different here, though, is that, while Francis is surprised and apprehensive about this new world, it bears a number of similarities to his old world. An interesting angle that appears to be developing is that both Francis and his goblin friend have an mutual interest in cryptozoology but, while Francis reads about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, his counterpart studies fantastic creatures like... squirrels.

The book, as I said, is a lot of fun. I read (and review here) a lot of comics that are good -- even great -- and a lot of the creators' skills show through. And while Francis Sharp certainly does have some talent behind it (good storytelling and art, smooth dialogue, etc.) I just plain enjoyed reading it. I can just imagine the Xeric judges looking at this and saying, "Let's not bothering voting this time around; just put the award in the mail for this now."

Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny! Chapter 1 is available here for $10. An eleven page preview is also available at the site if you're not convinced yet.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Defining "Superhero"

This comes from an actual email discussion I had at work. A co-worker asked, "What's up with superheroes always standing on top of buildings... a lot of crime up there?" I made a joke about the view being really cool, in part because you didn't have to look through some ugly railing they put up to prevent twits from jumping off the side to their deaths. That prompted his observation that super-folk are always leaping over the edge whether or not they can actually fly.

Which brings me to how I've actually been defining what it means to be a superhero. Namely, that a superhero is someone who can confidently leap off the side of a tall building confident that they won't get hurt. Flight is the obvious (well, obvious in the context of comic books) solution.

"Ah, but what about Batman? Or Daredevil? They can't fly."

No, but those types of characters are both A) athletic and B) resourceful enough that they have other options to prevent them from hitting the ground with a splat. Often involving ropes and cables.

Although, it sometimes just involves being really, really acrobatic.
Another possibility, too, is that the character is just so tough that smashing on the ground is just going to put a dent in the pavement, without actually doing them any harm.
The point is that a superhero can casually leap off a building with no real concerns about becoming a puddle on the street. That's how you can lump Superman (an alien) in with the likes of Thor (a god) and Iron Man (a regular guy with lots of technology) and the Vision (an android) and Zatara (a magician) and the Phantom (just a really athletic guy) and Deadman (a ghost) and Plastic Man (an altered human).

Of course, the down side to my definition is that it also includes characters most people wouldn't normally think of as super-powered. Like Wile E. Coyote.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Remember Pearl Harbor: The Comic

On this day, pretty much every year, somebody trots out the cover to Street & Smith's 1942 comic Remember Pearl Harbor to help commemorate the day in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Sometimes, it's accompanied by some basic information, like that it was drawn by Jack Binder and was released in early 1942 as the first comic book to acknowledge the bombing in any capacity. By all accounts I've read (not having been able to read the actual comic myself) the story not surprisingly portrays the Japanese in a relatively poor light, and pretty blatantly plays into American nationalism.

Here's the one piece of interior art I've been able to find online, and the American iconography is obvious to the point of being over-the-top...

Even the most subtle imagery -- the huge mortar cannon coming out of Uncle Sam's crotch -- is barely less than glaring. It's difficult to argue that the book is NOT jingoistic.

If you've read any comics from the early 1940s, you've almsot undoubtably stumbled across similar expressions of nationalism. Whether it was obvious caricatures of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin; or yellow-faced, buck-toothed Japanese villains; or Superman filming the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. It was beyond just American pride, it was almost a reveling in utterly defeating the bad guys. It wasn't sufficient to overpower their military, but there was a sense that they needed to be humiliated and ground into the dirt.

It's unclear to me if that's how U.S. citizens, by and large, actually felt. I know, in my readings about the infamous Keafauver Hearings and associated boycotts of the comic industry, that, while there were indeed people acting on the far side of irrationality and organizing comic book bonfires and the like, that wasn't exactly the norm either and a number of people in fact maintained a fair degree of rational behavior despite their concerns as parents. That leads me to wonder just how much the media outlets of the 1940s were distorting American's view -- both with regards to portraying an outrage that might be misdirected or exaggerated, as well as how that portrayal then impacting others' thinking.

There're obvious parallels to today. Characters like Glenn Beck are showing an upset and anger that isn't actually representative of the American public. But by claiming that he is completely typical in that regard has suggested to others that it's perfectly acceptable to amp up their own negative emotions and direct them inappropriately.

Now, admittedly, Hitler exterminating tens of thousands of people in concentration camps is outrageous even compared to 9/11 so more outrage there is understandable. But was it really so deeply visceral and unfocused? Where everything that was remotely unAmerican was considered better off destroyed? Or is that just how it got translated in comic books and movies of the time? I'm asking that sincerely; I don't know.

It's almost every day that I see some news item that makes me shake my head in disgust about how people never learn, and we're almost destined to annihilate our planet in hubris-filled myopia. But every now and then, I come across some anti-intellectual pop culture pap made decades ago that actually makes today's issue seem not quite so bad.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Of Core Beliefs & Zombies

A lot of the news (or, should I say, "news") shows the past few years have highlighted people's differing political ideologies, and how the level of discourse tends to devolve into something that might be heard during a ten-year-old's recess.

"Tax cuts for everyone!"
"Tax cuts for just the middle class!"

"Health care should be affordable for everyone!"
"Don't socialize medicine!"

Obviously, this really does nothing to advance real discourse or dialogue; it's just people shouting over each other. But it makes for an eye-catching public spectacle and the opiate-laced public often gravitates to whoever shouts loudest. The problem with this -- aside from showcasing what a big country of idiots the U.S. is -- is that it doesn't get to the root of the issue. It doesn't get to the core beliefs that really drive people to hold certain opinions. I'm talking about more fundamental beliefs that religion here. I'm talking about "are people basically good or basically evil" types of questions. (For the record, I tend to fall in the "people are basically selfish bastards" camp.)

It turns out that not addressing those root beliefs is why I've never liked (or even understood) the appeal of zombies. On Friday, though, Chuck Klosterman had this piece in the The New York Times explaining the concept in a way that finally gets to, I think, the core belief (or at least a core belief) required to appreciate zombie stories. Klosterman likens the process of destroying zombies (blast one in the head, reload, repeat) to the process of life itself...
Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principle downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principle downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do.

Now, granted, many emails that land in my inboxes are drivel that get deleted and some of the work I do can get repetitive, but to hold a basic philosophy of "life = drudgery" like that? That sounds absolutely miserable! I put somewhere between a quarter and a third of my life towards work (with another quarter/third towards sleeping); I refuse to spend that portion of my life being miserable. If I'm going to spend that much of my life on something, I damn well better enjoy it! I noted back in May that I try to make every day better than the one before, and part of that philosophy entails ensuring that I'm generally doing something that I look forward to. Even on those terrible Monday mornings where I'm not really awake, and need several Mt. Dews before my brain starts to process that yes, I have indeed gotten out of bed and gone into the office.

I understand where Klosterman is coming from here. That's kind of the point of the opening sequence from Shaun of the Dead, isn't it? Isn't that why so many people go through their day at the office, only to come home and vegetate in front of the television until it's time to go to bed? You know, I've seen similar analogies comparing couch potatoes to zombies, but it wasn't until I read Klosterman's piece that I began to really understand how deeply ingrained that mindset is.
Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed. Yet this war is manageable, if not necessarily winnable. As long we keep deleting whatever’s directly in front of us, we survive. We live to eliminate the zombies of tomorrow. We are able to remain human, at least for the time being. Our enemy is relentless and colossal, but also uncreative and stupid.

This is why I don't get the zombie concept. That "endless" stream of media that Klosterman likens to zombies? Where people consider it a "relentless and colossal" enemy? That constant deletedeletedelete that that starts to sound like machine gun fire? I don't look at it like that. I don't see the zombie horde and pull out a shotgun to start annihilating them; I kick back in a lawn chair and offer them a soda. I thrive on that constant bombardment of information. I love getting new information that can change my worldview or make me consider aspects that I hadn't before.

Change isn't something to be feared. Neither physical change, nor the mental change that sometimes needs to occur when presented with new information. That's not to say change is necessarily good, either! Change is simply change, and should be considered on its own merits (or lack thereof).

How did Shaun of the Dead end? Not with the heroes blowing up every zombie in sight, but taking an entirely different approach that embraced who zombies are and how they're different from the living. If you have the inherent belief that work sucks and then you die, you will spend you day blasting zombie after zombie; and, eventually, you'll lose. But if you take matters into your own hands and embrace whatever it is that you can do/are doing, you might well get the girl of your dreams and still be able to play video games in your shed with one of those zombies.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Cover Surprise

Here are the two covers that were solicited/promoted with this year's Marvel Holiday Magazine...

Here's what I saw in the magazine section of the grocery store today...
As near as I can discern, it's the exact same contents, it's just labeled as a "NEWSSTAND" version.

Personally, I prefer the (uncredited) John Buscema cover, but I'm obviously more of an old-school superhero fan anyway. The art is just repurposed from the old Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag but what I find interesting is that cover has the characters smiling, whereas this year, they're grimacing. Spider-Man's left arm is also at a different angle.
I'm wondering if that was a change made back in 1974 and the artwork paste-ups fell off in the intervening decades, or if that was a contemporary change to reflect the lousy economy? I suspect the former, since there's some obvious clean-up work that could/should have been done on the new version but was not. (There are several residual marks on the page, notably around Thor. Shadows from white paint, perhaps, or part of some paste-up work that was originally done on the Thor figure?)

In any event, I know I certainly would not have given the magazine a second glance with either of those Ryan Stegman covers. (No offense to Stegman, of course, but he's no Buscema!) I'm glad I picked it up because it has some good old-school holiday comic stories, which I'm sure my nephew will appreciate when he gets this from Uncle Sean.