Monday, January 31, 2011

Pop Culture

There are any number of different definitions of the word "culture" out there. It tends to vary a bit depending on context, but when used in conjunction with or in reference to comics, I think most people take it to mean something like, "shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a group." So what we might call "comics culture" would be those traits generally shared among people who like comics. This was the primary focus of my book.

But I've got this notion of pop culture rolling around in my head today. Just so we're clear, the "pop" in pop culture refers to "popular." It's a phrase that I find a little misleading actually. I couldn't tell you anything about either Snooki or Kim Kardashian. Why they're famous, what they can/can't do or, for that matter, what they even look like. And I dare say that, while I'm probably in the extreme on this, a lot of people couldn't tell you much about them either. But they're ever-present enough in our culture that they have a popularity that has at least brought their names to my attention. I don't know how much people actually LIKE either of them, but they've permeated our culture sufficiently that they're widely known. That is, they're popular in terms of a wide, mainstream consciousness, not necessarily their personal popularity and/or favorability.

I think that's a distinction that's not readily thought about. Not consciously at any rate. Popular is a loaded word and naturally predisposes people to think in terms of that widespread favorability. Andy Warhol, in that sense, didn't help by creating "pop art" -- a term referring to his subjects which were often both widely known and widely liked.

It's an interesting discussion point, I think, because that point often gets glossed over. For as much as fans bandy about the idea that their favorite comic/TV show/movie/book/video game/whatever is a part of pop culture, many of them aren't aren't actually popular in the common sense of the word. Superman has a great fan base. He's often cited as one of the most widely-recognized characters in the world. He S-shield is so iconic that it can flipped around, squished, mis-colored and just plain poorly drawn but it STILL remains recognizable. But how many people actually LIKE Superman? How many people read his comics on a regular basis? Or see his cartoons? Or play his video games? How many people pay attention to him when he's NOT the subject of a summer blockbuster? I don't hold it against anyone who might be called a "fair weather Superman fan" but is he really popular?

I met with The Comic Book Club of Ithaca when I last visited there in 2009. One of the open-ended discussion points of that particular meeting was, "What characters became more popular in comics than their original media format?" We bandied about different characters than generated cross-over appeal at various points -- Doc Savage, Bob Hope, Buffy, etc. -- but a thought occurred to me after I left. Namely, that a character's popularity waxes and waned over the years and it would be really impossible to nail down a character who was ALWAYS more popular in one format over another. Tarzan, for example, was a prominent movie figure when Johnny Weissmuller portrayed the character but in the 1970s, Joe Kubert's comic book version was more well-known. Years later, Disney revived the character as an animated movie with all the mass-media hype that entails, largely overshadowing Weissmuller and Kubert proponents.

Which is to say that you can cite specific, fairly short-term examples of when Superman (or any other intellectual property or personality) was being read/heard/viewed by a large percentage of the overall population, but their relative popularity is only notable to a comparatively small subsection of that group. Even that horde of teenage girls screaming for The Beatles? How many of them had two parents who both thought those mop-haired whipper snappers were just making a lot of noise?

Popular, by way of wide attention, versus Popular, by way of gaining wide-spread love and acceptance.

Just something to keep in mind when you're not within that group who shares your thinking about a subject. Not everyone knows who Wedge Antilles is. Not everyone knows about pon farr. Not everyone can sing the songs of Tom Bombadil. Not everyone can recite the Lantern's oath. My point is that however important, or even life-changing, something is for you and regardless of how recognizable that person or character might be, the part of their existence that helps designate them as within the oeuvre of pop culture does not mean that anyone else actually likes them. I don't mean to dismiss the importance of heroes and/or stories to an individual; I'm just saying that sometimes you just need to keep in mind that there are usually other opinions out there besides yours.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quick Link-Blogging

Been busy today and didn't get much think-time for blogging in. So I'll just shoot out a couple of links that caught my eye...
  1. With the death of the Comics Code Authority, Matt Kuhns looks back at the actual seal itself, and presents something of a visual history of the CCA. He has, I think, a really valid point about it having been nothing more than that for the past few decades. This is shown visually by how much it shrinks over the years.
  2. Before his death Kiss drummer Eric Carr had a concept called "Rockheads." Though it was never produced before, it seems as if it will show up in comic book form in Rocksville Nation #2, coming out in April. There is this background information about Rockheads on Carr's site, although I wouldn't suggest going to the link. It appears as if the site design hasn't been updated since Carr's death in 1991.
  3. I seem to recall seeing this make the rounds earlier but Gene Kannenberg, Jr. is still updating his Flickr account with parodies of the old Charles Atlas ad.
  4. Finally, Robert Beerbohm is selling some extra goodies on eBay "to insure placing a stress free cocoon around my daughter Katy for the second time in a year." Robert himself is up and around, but still recovering from hip surgery last year and he's doing his best to help his daughter. That new health insurance law hasn't really kicked in yet, though, so a lot of their medical bills are being paid out of pocket. I've just done a quick scan so far but some of the eye-catching items include a 1923 Barney Google boardgame, original Mutt & Jeff art, a mint-in-box 1972 Spider-Man costume from Ben Cooper, a 1941 Superman pin and a 1911 postcard set of "Master Gabriel cosplaying as Little Nemo! Cosplaying in 1911?!? Worth clicking that link just to see some of the pictures!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Random Thoughts On Zenescope

I'm not a fan of cheesecake pictures. Especially when they're illustrated by men. Not is it generally degrading, but I tend not to like the body types of the women as they're usually depicted.

I'm also not a fan of slasher horror. I just don't see much point to it myself; it seems like it kind of misses the point of how to scare people, and just focuses on grossing people out.

So based on those two qualifications, I shouldn't really care for what Zenescope publishes. They are known almost exclusively for turning fairy tales into slasher stories with the heroines tarted up with all those "sexy" Halloween costumes that are so prominent in costumes shops anymore. Except, of course, they happen to produce a series based on Alice in Wonderland, my favorite book.

I'm by no means an Alice purist. I can appreciate taking the basic ideas and themes from Lewis Carroll's original and twisting them around in different ways. I've seen most of the movie versions, and read quite a few comic adaptations and derivations. Some work better than others, not surprisingly. I quite like Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars books, but I felt Tim Burton's movie version fell a bit flat.

I skeptically bought Zenescope's Return to Wonderland comics when they first came out. I've gotten all the one-shots and secondary Wonderland titles since then (though it's entirely possible I've missed a few) because, frankly, it's actually a good story and has some really clever things going on.

But it's also perpetually annoying because of A) the cheesecake and B) the slasher portions. Neither of which strike me as particularly necessary. The gratuitous boob and ass shots certainly aren't needed and, while I get the need to have characters getting killed to highlight the threat, I don't know that I need to actually see someone's skin peeled off from the inside out to get the point.

What it boils down to is that it's a good story and it is in fact illustrated well. I just don't like WHAT is being illustrated. They're books that I can't take to work and read on my lunch hour because someone will inevitably look over my shoulder and see something either raunchy or gory. Which is all the more frustrating because IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT! If this were being published by a company that didn't have a penchant for that type of fare, it would be a great read.

Now maybe Zenescope has the idea that their books wouldn't sell if it weren't for the T&A or the blood-n-guts. And they might be right. A quick scan through the numbers suggests that all of their comics rarely sell more than 10,000 copies per issue. I haven't read any other Zenescope titles so I can't comment about the other books' stories but since all of their titles seem to sell pretty comparably, I would hazard a guess that most people are NOT buying them for the writing.

It makes me wonder how they (or at least the Wonderland books) would sell if they didn't have all the extra testosterone-induced garbage. Marvel's Wizard of Oz did pretty well, after all. As have Automatic Pictures' Hatter M books. How many people are NOT buying Zenescope's Wonderland books because of the art?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hall Of Heroes Museum

Several weeks back, I stumbled across a reference to the Hall of Heroes Museum in Elkhart, Indiana. It started basically as the personal collection of Allen Stewart, but it's grown large enough that he moved it into its own building -- renovated to mimic the facade of the Hall of Justice -- and offers up guided tours of it as a museum for a small admission.

It strikes me as interesting in that Stewart makes no bones about it NOT being devoted to comic book heroes, but rather the superhero genre regardless of medium. While he does have a good collection of comics and comic book art, he also has animation cells from cartoons, movie memorabilia and even one of the original costumes worn by William Katt on The Greatest American Hero.

As I'm more interested in comics as a medium and not a specific genre, it doesn't really sound like my cup of tea. At least not enough to warrant the dedicated side trip I'd need to visit. But fortunately, Jman And Johnny Love have made repeat visits in 2009 and filmed their experiences. The combined footage runs about an hour and half and, though I haven't sat through all of it yet, seems to do a good job of covering much of the collection...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Up Up & Away Comics!

As I'm sure you heard, Fantastic Four #587 came out this week and, depending on what comic shop you could get to, it was available on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Which day depended on whether or not the shop was a member of ComicsPRO; members could sell the book a day earlier than usual. So, being as I was called on to write a few pieces about the issue, I made it a point to get my copy as early as possible. The nearest retailer who was also a ComicsPRO member for me was Up Up and Away Comics, a shop I had heard of but was just out of the way enough that I'd never been there before.

I couldn't get there until after work, so it was only an hour or so before closing when I walked it. A woman towards the back of the store racking new comics looked up and offered a warm greeting; the only other person visible was a rather scruffy looking (intentionally so) 20-something flipping through what I would later discover were the dollar bins. I was rather taken aback by how bright and clean and cheerful the store looked, in part in comparison to some of the cold, dark, snowy days we've had around here lately. But the store layout immediately seemed pretty open and inviting, probably the most inviting comic shop I've personally been in.

The back wall has new comics. You could make a B line straight back pretty quickly if you just wanted to grab new books on your lunch hour or something. On the immediate left as you walk in is the main counter and cash register. The rest of the store was divided into smaller sections. No real displays higher than three or four feet (aside from the exterior walls) so you always had a clear view of the entire store. This helped add to that sense of openness.

Starting at the back of the store, in front and to the right of the new books, were long boxes of older comics. Maybe 40 or 50 boxes at browsing level, and another 40 or 50 below. They were all of the classic bleached cardboard variety, but they were all newer and in good condition. Plastic divider cards poked up highlighting where titles began. (Just a straight alphabetical ordering.) I only looked through a couple boxes briefly, but they seemed like mostly Bronze and late Silver Age.

In front of those were several stand-alone bookcases. Mix of hardcovers and paperbacks. DC separated from Marvel separated from everything else. The selection was surprisingly broad, though not especially deep. They had a lot of different characters and books represented, even in the indie stuff, but not a lot of any one character. That had a few TPBs of Transmetropolitan but not all of them. Same with Hellboy and Captain America. A couple of the bookcase did have character spotlights (just Batman books, or just Spider-Man, or whomever) and those ran a little deeper. I suspect the intent was to provide some interest to as many types of stories as possible, and then putting orders in for other books once an individual expressed interest in something.

One interesting (and, I thought, positive) thing was that ALL of their books were shrink-wrapped. Though that does prevent you from flipping through a book's contents, it ALSO prevents everyone else from doing the same -- meaning that you can walk out of the store with a book that's in excellent condition and hasn't been thumbed through a dozen times over. I discovered later that the paperbacks also had a piece of paperboard wrapped in them for sturdiness, and all the books included a Up Up and Away bookmark.

The front portion of the store carries manga, action figures and gaming materials. Not a lot of figures, but plenty of gaming and a decent collection of manga. (Which followed the same pattern as the books -- broad but not deep.) And even better, I scored a copy of Planetes #4 (Book 1) which I have been trying to track down for ages! Well, I've been trying to track down a copy for less than $40 for ages! The were a handful more long boxes over here with a dollar bin selection as well.

At some point, probably FAR later than I should have, I saw that they have a large, flat screen TV mounted on one wall. But rather than running some bad action flick or a superhero-themed movie or something, they had a slideshow highlighting all the new releases, one at a time. Title, cover image, solicitation blurb and creators. Not an elaborate presentation, but smooth and nicely done.

Owner/manager Kendall Swafford came out from the back while I was browsing. He was doing some touch-ups to the actual store in the back corner. We didn't chat much, but he seemed like an affable guy, cheerfully asking if I was looking for anything in particular, jokingly suggesting I give the ladder on a good shake if I needed help.

Browsing their website afterwards, I notice they currently have a frequent shopper card. If I'm reading it correctly, for spending $250 at the store during a six month period (and getting your card punched accordingly) you receive a $50 gift certificate for the store. I know that when I was hitting my LCS every Wednesday, I would hit that $250 in less than three months, so that definitely sounds like a great deal to me!

The store bills itself (at least on their bookmarks) as the "World's Greatest Comic Book Store!" Some of the pages on their site announce "Welcome to your new favorite store!" Possibly a bit of marketing hyperbole involved, but it's not entirely unwarranted. I was summarily impressed with my visit, and wish the store were close enough to warrant more frequent trips.

I like visiting different comic shops, in part, because they all have different stock and I might find new/different/rare books. But more and more lately, I've liked visiting to see how they run their business. And, more to the point, how they run their business differently than other comic shops. Up Up and Away is a great example of a comic shop doing a lot of things right. (I only don't say "everything" because I haven't seen everything they're doing. I certainly see them doing anything wrong.) The shop felt very friendly and inviting, it was very clean (even with the work in the corner and racking new books!) and they had a good selection of stock. There were only a couple things I might suggest to make it my ideal shop, but I suspect that those might not work for what I would guess is most of their clientele. All in all, it was an excellent store and I highly recommend a visit if you're in the Cincinnati area.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gratuitous Self-Promotion & Linkage

Things have been a bit busy here at stately Kleefeld Manor lately. Especially the past week with the recent hubbub about the Fantastic Four death issue. Prior to this blog, I ran a FF-themed website for over a decade and became reasonably well-known as THE expert on the comic. Despite the site being down for a while now, I guess I'm still considered pretty on top of the subject, so I've been fielding more than a few inquiries about this whole death thing.

I'll point first to a couple of pieces I wrote for MTV Geek. "It Started with Death: Twice" covers my initial introductions to the FF and how they both utilized a character's death. (That went live last week; I don't think I mentioned it here.) Today's piece is "My Hero Just Died" and focuses specifically on the Human Torch. There should be a third FF piece going up later this week (after I write it) and I'm talking with the editor there about doing more, not necessarily FF related, articles over the long term. Look for more of my work over at MTV Geek in the future!

My next piece is a guest commentary I did for Comic Book Resources today. It's essentially an overview of deaths in Fantastic Four going back to the 1960s and the impact they had on both the readers and the characters. I don't cover each and every death that occurred in the book over the past 50 years, but I hit most of the significant ones, I think. I was actually pleasantly surprised how the piece turns out; it's not just a straight listing of issue summaries in chronological order, but has it's own nice little narrative structure.

The last thing I'm going to plug won't be out for a while yet, but I figured I'd throw it in now since I'm on this self-promotion shtick already. Did you see this call for scholars back in October? Salem Press is going to be publishing a three-volume encyclopedia of comic information to be used primarily by libraries. I contributed the articles for Alice in Sunderland and Fax from Sarajevo to the project. They technically haven't approved what I submitted yet, but I'm pretty confident there won't be any major problems with them. Obviously, I'll let folks know as soon as I find out when these books actually ship.

One last thing: Buy My Book!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dreams & Passions

Like, I expect, a lot of you, I had dreams of becoming a superstar comic book artist when I was a kid. Those dreams started to fade around the time I was 12 or 13, as I began to realize that I wasn't nearly good enough an artist. I was okay, better than most of the other kids in my classes at school, but not NEARLY where I thought I needed to be if I wanted to seriously pursue a career drawing comics. I didn't bother signing up for any art classes when I started high school.

The final nail in the coffin, though, was a couple years later. I have no idea how it came up or why, but I can distinctly recall having a conversation with my father in the kitchen. Nothing formal; we probably both just happened to be getting something to drink at the same time. Somewhere in the discussion he noted that he never really considered drawing comic books himself because he always thought the idea of drawing Spider-Man six times a day every day of the month sounded awfully tedious. I thought he had a good point and, even though I had largely put the idea aside already anyway, I was completely convinced that I wouldn't be a comic book artist then. It was kind of nice dream, but I really didn't have the drive for it.

I noted recently that I had watch the Jeff Smith documentary. At some point -- I think, actually, a couple of times -- he mentions that he was ALWAYS drawing as a kid. While he was watching TV, doing homework, during class... just all the time. It was something he, even at a young age, was very passionate about. Obviously, all that practice made him very, very good and would eventually help him become a successful cartoonist.

There was a job opening in my company that came up back in November, I think it was. It was in my department (which I'm already comfortable with), reporting to my boss (who I like), and sounded kind of interesting, so I applied for it. It surprised a few people as it was a bit of a departure from my current position, but I did well in the interview process. (I was interviewed by nine different people.) I did so well, in fact, that I was one of the two final candidates. But I ultimately did NOT get the job, largely because I didn't display enough passion for the role. They were really looking for somebody who could jump in with gusto, and would just live and breathe that job. Which really wasn't me. It did sound interesting, but I admitted repeatedly throughout the interview process that the position sounded really fascinating and something I might want to try. But that explanation clearly didn't convey any sense of excitement or eager anticipation. Which it shouldn't have. It did sound like a fascinating job, but it honestly wasn't something I was particularly excited about.

You've gone through job interviews, right? What's the question they almost always ask? "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Sometimes ten. I hate that question. That notion is so mind-boggling to me that I can't even make up an a reasonable answer. Especially since I work in online development; things are changing so rapidly that I can scarcely keep up with what's current, much less project what's going to happen in five years.

See, my "problem" is that I have a very atypical philosophy compared to most Americans. Namely, I don't set goals. I don't have a passion that drives me to a fixed point on the horizon. I don't have some end state I'm trying to navigate to. And that's not from laziness or a lack of ambition; rather, it's that I'm more interested in simply moving forward. I can't see that far down the road -- I don't think anyone can. Too much randomness happens in the universe. I can take where I am right here, right now and move forward. I do that today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and I wind up farther ahead than I used to be. I've been doing that as far back as I can remember.

I didn't have some grand plan for being a web designer. The web didn't even exist back when I was making career choices. I didn't even really have a plan to be a graphic designer. When I was looking through college brochures back in high school, I simply eliminated all the majors that I didn't want to pursue as a career (or thought were completely unrealistic as a career). Graphic design was essentially the only thing I didn't cross off the list. So I applied to the best public school for design in the state, and off I went.

But it wasn't really a dream or passion of mine. I enjoy it. I think I'm reasonably good at it. I've figured out how to earn a living at it. But it's not a passion. Not really. And it never has been.

I enjoy playing the drums. I think I'm reasonably good at it. But it's not a passion.

I enjoy writing. I think I'm reasonably good at it. I enjoy research. I think I'm reasonably good at it. I enjoy reading. I enjoy studying web metrics. I enjoy learning. I enjoy reviewing. I enjoy thinking. I enjoy drawing. I enjoy fixing things. I enjoy making things.

Where do I want to go? How do I guide myself if I don't have dreams or passions to guide me?

The way our society is established, I'm never going to be known or respected in the same way Jeff Smith or Gil Kane are. They had that deep passion to drive them to excel in a specific area. You hear that a lot with talented comic folks actually. So what do you do when your interests are more broad and less deep?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Question: How Many CCA People Are Now Out Of Work?

Something I've haven't seen discussed yet since Archie announced they will be discontinuing submitting their comics for a Comics Code Authority seal...

I don't think I've seen it discussed much outside it's 1950s origins, but there are... or rather, were... people behind the CCA. For every comic book that was submitted, there was somebody working for the CCA to receive it, read through it, and provide suggestions/edits before providing an official stamp of approval. Every issue that was to carry the CCA logo went through this inspection process. And while comic book editors were obviously familiar with the rules and generally kept the writers and artists in line with them anyway, the CCA employed people independent of the publishers.

If I recall correctly, the CCA used to be largely comprised of housewives that were working part-time. As the number of publications grew, the CCA must have grown just to accomodate the greater volume of work. And I expect that by the 1990s, the organization had become decidedly more formalized and resembled any other company with managers and HR and all that.

So, my question is: what happens to the organization itself now? If none of the comic book publishers are submitting work, they have A) nothing to do and B) no income with which to do anything anyway. I presume this means the operation has to close up shop, sell off their assets (if nothing else, some chairs and desks and general office equipment) and -- and this is the significant bit -- put all of their employees out of work. But I have NO idea about the size of the organization these days. Are we talking three people? A dozen? A hundred?

And how do some of those skills transfer? An administrative assistant or a payroll manager or an accountant could probably take most of his/her skills to other companies, but what about the people who were doing the actual comic book reviews? It kind of counts as editing, I suppose, but not really. There can't be THAT many openings for people to slide over into the movie or video game ratings agencies. So what do these now-former comic book ratings experts do?

Since Marvel dropped their use of the Seal several years ago, I expect that many of the layoffs occurred back then. But what about whoever's left? I don't begrudge any of the publishers for not using the code any longer (it's really been wholly irrelevant for at least a couple decades now, and the publishers are certainly under no obligation to support any other single company) but I am concerned about the individuals who have just lost their jobs. Seriously, how many people are now out of work because of this?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Cartoonist Review

I finally got a chance to watch The Cartoonist, the 2009 documentary on Jeff Smith. I kept my eyes out for it when it was being shown on PBS, but I was surprised that I never saw it show up locally. Despite Smith being an Ohio native. Anyway, I got the DVD and had an enjoyable afternoon watching.

The documentary itself is good. Multiple interviews from Smith, of course, as well as Scott McCloud, Colleen Doran, Paul Pope and a number of other folks. They traced Bone's origins back to Smith's doodles as a five-year-old through his college strip, his animation studio and ultimately Bone's journey from a small, self-published comic to something that was ultimately translated into 20 languages and picked up by Scholastic. It's a good narrative, and provides a number of examples of Smith's unpublished work.

Also included on the DVD is the hour-ish long talk Smith and McCloud had at Ohio State University in 2008. This "In Conversation" piece covers a lot of the same territory that documentary itself does. In fact, several snippets of the talk were used in the film. So it was a little redundant in places, but I actually found "In Conversation" more than the documentary itself.

Don't get me wrong; the documentary IS good and being able to see some of Smith's pre-comics work was interesting, as was getting some perspective from his wife Vijaya, but it seemed a little absent of Smith's engaging and entertaining personality. If you've ever seen Smith at a comic convention, you'll know what I'm talking about. He's very cheerful and personable, and comes across as just a really great, but unassuming, guy. Part of the reason his signing lines are so long is that he seems to enjoy just talking with whoever's in line. (The last time I saw him, he was conducting an ongoing conversation about the Star Wars movies with the next two or three people in line. He'd sign a book or two, and the person at the front of the line would thank him and move on, but he'd just start to include the next person in line in the conversation without missing a beat.) Because "In Conversation" is largely unedited, it's this more casual, friendly Smith that you see, going off on odd tangents, and trying to recall how he got around to talking about giving cigarettes to homeless men in San Diego while he had $2,000 in cash wadded up in his front pocket.

The documentary, while not sanitized really, does come across as somewhat more formal. It certainly does a better job with the narrative of Smith's life and career -- Smith gets McCloud far, far off his notes during the very first question in "In Conversation" -- but it doesn't capture Smith's spirit as well, I think.

But that's me and my personal preference. I knew a good chunk of Smith's history and career before watching either, so I'm not surprised I would gravitate towards the more obscure, anecdotal pieces because those are new for me. Plus I get to see Jeff Smith being Jeff Smith.

The Cartoonist is a good documentary. Much of the same material is covered in "In Conversation." And since you get both pieces on the DVD, I might suggest you get a copy of it, and watch whichever one suits your preference. Both are worth it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Paper Men

Today I watched the movie Paper Man, starring Jeff Daniels and Emma Stone as a pair of somewhat unusual friends in a small community. Ryan Reynolds is also featured as the imaginary Captain Excellent.

Daniels' character, Richard Dunn, is something of a failed writer, whose insecurities manifest themselves to him as a superhero. His wife is a successful surgeon, and is away frequently, further straining the relationship. In an awkward and rather inept attempt at reaching out, Richard meets 17-year-old Abby and the two establish a close, if unconventional, friendship. The story is of their summer together, and how each is ultimately able to help the other without exactly knowing how or why.

Personally, I've never been very good at or comfortable with social interactions. Not exactly in the stereotypical shy, wallflower manner and not exactly in the also-stereotypical socially clueless manner either. But in way not altogether removed from what's seen in the film, thus making it easy to put myself in Richard's shoes. I never went as far as creating an imaginary friend for myself, but I did sometimes wonder about my sanity.

That's partly where my interest in comics comes from. By absorbing myself into a world full of superheroes and dragons and aliens and cowboys, I could escape those awkward social moments. I could step into a world where Green Lantern saves the day. And the serial format meant it would always be there, growing and evolving. Next month, I could open the next issue and there'd be a new window to look in on this amazing world. And it was world that didn't care if I was actually comfortable dealing with other people because I didn't have to deal with them anyway. I was a constant spectator, sitting just off the edges of the panel borders.

As I got older, comics continued to act as a coping mechanism. I was still socially awkward (though somewhat less so than earlier) but I could use what I'd learned in comics as a bridge. I could talk about continuity and discuss why a hero's powers didn't work under certain conditions and understand why a creator left a title, and all of that encouraged self-validation. I was an okay guy; I had relevance because of comics. It only worked within comic book circles, of course, but better to have relevance in one small circle than no relevance in any.

Comics carried me through life up until a couple years into college. I don't recall that sense of self-worth really sneaking up on me, but I do remember one incident when it dawned on me that I had been okay for a little while. I was walking through a nearby park and, on a whim, tried climbing a tree. I used to do that a fair amount as a child, but hadn't had much time or opportunity in high school and college. I got seven or eight feet up a good sized tree, when the branch I was supporting myself on snapped. I fell and landed square on my back. I didn't get any physical injuries and, more significantly, I got up without being upset. No feelings of inadequacy for grabbing the wrong branch or misjudging its load-bearing capacity. No feelings of embarrassment or discontent or disappointment. I was fine. I was fine with what had happened because I was fine with myself.

This post is for everyone out there who might not feel altogether comfortable with themselves. Whether you have a Captain Excellent by your side or just find solace in a four-color world of superheroes every Wednesday. I'm not here to tell you it gets better. It did for me. It did for Richard. But you have to want to like yourself first. You have to be happy with who you are before you can move forward.
Richard regarded his solitude as something sacred. As a well-earned badge of honor. A cloak to be worn to ward off life. As his safety. Solitude is who he was. This caused those in his life to view him with a barely veiled contempt. Richard was certain that he was not liked. Which is hard on a man. Maybe it was because he gave nothing that he received nothing in return. In any case, his situation had become intolerable. The closest things he had to friends were either imaginary or extinct. And Richard had reached a point of life where this was no longer enough.
Go forward into the world. It's a frightening place and there's a lot of assholes out there you have to deal with, but retreating into your own head without really experiencing it? No. You don't want to go through life like Richard, decade after decade barely able to function in society. You have to tell Captain Excellent that he needs to go. Even if he doesn't like it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Progress, Of Sorts

I was on the treadmill about an hour ago, watching CNN. They had a report about Travis Corcoran, the "1 down and 534 to go" guy that owns Heavy Ink. I can't find the video online yet, but they do have this report in text form.

There were two things I found interesting. One, that it's being considered a significant enough threat that CNN is reporting on it (albeit a bit slowly compared to the comic news circuit). Two, that Corcoran has any connection to the comic book industry is largely glossed over in both the text and video reports. There is absolutely no hint of, "Well, he's interested in violent comic books and that suggests a pattern of..." In fact, the video report didn't even seem entirely sure what kind of connection he had, saying something to the effect of, "evidently he has some sort of online comic shop."

Now maybe I'm just showing my age here, but it doesn't seem to me like it was all that long ago when the media would pounce all over a tenuous connection like that. Maybe not always in the Frederick Wertham sense, but wasn't there a trial in Italy just a year or two back where they tried to establish that Amanda Knox liked vampire manga so she was pre-disposed to killing Meredith Kercher? It's not that out-of-date a concept, sadly.

So it was kind of cool that CNN did not play up the comic book angle, and just depicted Corcoran as a lone, potentially dangerous individual and, oh, by the way, we think he sells comics sometimes.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

De-constructing Laugh-Out-Loud Cats

Today's Laugh-Out-Loud Cats strip from Adam Koford...
It's a bit of a departure from his usual one-panel format, but it's not uncommon for Koford to play with the strip in a meta-textual manner, having the characters interact with the confines of the panels themselves. But I find this strip particularly clever.

If you read the strip in a traditional left-to-right format, it makes sense. Pip digs a hole in the floor, and drops down. Before Kitteh can join him, a second Pip drops through a newly made hole in the ceiling. The two then drop into the open countryside beneath the comic.

But that's NOT the way Pip experiences the story. To read the story as he experiences it, the reader has to mentally ignore the existing panel borders and generate new ones. Like so...
Pip's story is that he digs a hole, and is surprised to see a second Kitteh as he peeks through. He drops through to be caught be the second Kitteh and the two of them drop into the open countryside.

So, depending on which character's point-of-view you follow, there are either two Pips or two Kittehs. But did you catch this especially clever bit? In none of the regular panels do more than one Pip and one Kitteh appear. That's, in part, because the regular panels don't actually act as the panel borders.

Look carefully at the flow. Kitteh's experience, while easily followed using the panel borders as a guide, actually runs more like this...
I find it to be an extremely fascinating example of not only playing with the comic in a meta-textual context, but playing with the readers' perceptions by taking advantage of their ability to read complex, multi-faceted comics. This shows a great understanding of craft on Koford's part and, while I've enjoyed his comics for a while now, I have a new respect for his abilities.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wynonna Earp The Yeti Wars Review

I don't recall when or where I first heard of it, but when I did hear there was a book out called Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars, I quickly put it on my "should get" list. I mean, Yeti Wars! C'mon! That has awesome written all over it! But that turned out to be the biggest problem with the book: the title just set my expectations far too high.

The story features U.S. Marshal Wynonna Earp and a small band of elite specialists who focus their energies on stopping the more paranormal problems in the country. In Yeti Wars the Immortalis Consortium have hired a brilliant, but psychotic, geneticist to help set the stage for a race war with the Vampire Nation. Humans, of course, are inconsequential to the feud, but would inevitably be caught in the crossfire. So Earp is charged with stopping this geneticist, who's creating his own ersatz island of Dr. Moreau full of synthesized monsters for the vampires.

Or something like that. Honestly, despite a couple of pages of plot exposition early on, it was actually a bit unclear who this geneticist was working for and what exactly he was doing for them. He very clearly did make a bunch of monsters, but we're not told why. And, after his first lab is blown up, he doesn't do anything else along the same lines. He's in a lab and looks at samples of stuff, and speaks in a kind of unorthodox manner (to show he's almost, but not quite, unhinged) but what he's actually doing... I'm not sure. It doesn't help, too, that he's apparently trying to double-cross the vampires, so his actions are always suspect.

As for Earp and her team, there's not much to say. They're pretty flat characters for the most part. There's some banter among them, and a grudgingly respectful rivalry between two of the lesser characters that's covered in sarcastic comments. But not really anything by way of character. I didn't see any evidence of motivation beyond the "it's my job" variety, and their lives outside of work were non-existent aside from a few snarky jokes about sexual activities.

You notice I haven't said anything about the Yetis yet? That's because they're actually pretty incidental to the story. They're guards for one of the labs. And then Earp brings in a freelancer who has a few Bigfoot at his disposal. It's not so much a series of Yeti Wars then as it is a single Yeti/Bigfoot skirmish.

The story isn't bad, really. It flows well enough and progresses along fairly smoothly. The plot doesn't have any serious flaws, I don't think; there was just so little characterization that it all fell a bit flat. I didn't connect with the characters at all and, thus, didn't really feel engaged at any point. It just sat kind of sat there. Especially in lieu of the expectations that the title set up for me. And that's one I blame on myself; I definitely should have realized before getting it that there was almost no way it could live up to what I had in my head.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Superman Peanut Butter: The Magnet

I found a small package in the mail today from Adam Brown. It was a padded envelope that contained these two refrigerator magnets...
The package was postmarked on Friday, so he must've thrown these in the mail just after I posted this peanut butter commercial. He didn't include any details about when/where/how he came by these, but I want to give a public shout out to him for sending them my way!

Thanks very much, Adam! That was a great surprise!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King As A Character

To try to honor Martin Luther King Day here, I'm posting here the covers of all the comics I could find where he makes an appearance (but is not the subject)...

Yeah, just those eight. Granted, Dr. King was something of a controversial figure in his day, and I understand why he would NOT show up in the comics of the early 1960s, but with all the time-travel and flashbacks and parallel worlds and whatnot that appear in comics, I'd have figured that should warrant at least a few more appearances since then. As a points of comparison, Oprah Winfrey has the same number of appearances and Nikola Tesla has at least double.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

In Which Sean Unearths Loot

I'm helping the S.O. clear out her mom's house this weekend. We were working on stuff that could go to Half Price Books, and I was in charge of the videos and music from the basement. It was mostly kids stuff... Disney, Veggie Tales, etc. There were a handful of other movies that didn't quite fit in with the group, but were easily explained by adults just using that area from time to time. Stuff like one of Tyler Perry's Madea movies, Total Recall and a John Lennon documentary.

Most of the films were store-bought, but some of them were evidently recorded off cable onto VHS years ago. Same type of fare... Dora, Barney, etc. But then I found this...

I was a bit surprised, and fired up the VCR to see if that was the movie I thought it was. Sure enough, it's Ralph Bakshi's cartoon loosely based off the work of Robert Crumb. I'm pretty confident it was never shown alongside any of the other cartoons but it's still not the type of thing you'd typically find next to DVDs of Happy Feet and a Red Skelton collection.

Since it's not a commercially salable tape, it can't go off to Half Price Books in the first place. And since I've never actually seen the whole thing before, the S.O. offered it to me. Should make for some entertaining viewing sometime in the next few weeks.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

T'ain't The Silver Age

I have not been much of a DC fan for a few decades now. I did like both the Mike Grell and Kevin Smith takes on Green Arrow but, aside from those two series, I haven't really read much from DC since I was a kid.

My original comic book collection sprang from a friend of the family who gave me some comics he had lying around from 5-10 years before. I believe he would sometimes read them on his lunch break at work, and just didn't bother to throw them out. So I had a stack of 50 or so comics. Mostly a combination of Action Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superman and World's Finest. I think there may have been a couple Justice League issues in there too. But it was heavily weighted towards DC, and even then primarily focusing on two specific characters.

My other source to learn about superheroes back then was the Super Friends cartoon. Especially the really early ones with Marvin and Wendy. But I also loved seeing the appearances of Green Lantern, Flash and Hawkman. It was basically like reading Justice League without much nuance or subtlety.

So my impression of the DC Universe is firmly rooted in the early-to-mid 1970s. The tail end of the Silver Age.

I'm not completely oblivious to comic news, though, so I'd see news reports about Aquaman losing his hand or Batman getting his back broken or whatever. The one book I did pick up was Avengers/JLA and that still had a sense of Silver Agedness to it, in no small part thanks to writer Kurt Busiek (who loved that Silver Age stuff too) and artist George Perez (who had been working in comics since the Silver Age). I had a vague sense of things going on in the DC Universe, but since I didn't bother reading the vast majority of those stories, my impression largely remained.

So that's me coming to Identity Crisis which I received from my brother for Christmas.

I thought the book was generally well-written. I'm sure it helped that it focused on the larger players that I was somewhat familiar with, but everybody seemed well-defined for the reader. The biggest question marks I had mostly revolved around who a lot of those villains were, but they were largely inconsequential; I just needed to know that they were villains. I think it did help, though, that the story is mostly told through Green Arrow's perspective and, as suggested above, I do rather like that character. And, unlike my last experience with Marvel, the book was surprisingly inviting to new readers given the large cast involved.

Of course, this wasn't the DC Universe I grew up with. And that was a bit difficult to swallow.

I guess I'd heard that DC was a bit of a darker place than I remember it, but seeing it was something more visceral. Yeah, I'd seen some rape and murder stories in Green Arrow, but I suppose I'd managed to emotionally isolate that character from the rest of DC. I'm certainly not looking for sunshine and rainbows all over the place (what is any story without conflict, after all?) but the level of darkness that I saw in Identity Crisis was, for me, comparable to what I saw in Marvel's Civil War. And that was the book that almost single-handedly kicked me off my 25+ year habit of Marvel Comics.

I'm not about to suggest, much less demand, that DC return to the types of comics that I read as a kid. Not only is that selfish on my part, but I'm pretty sure that my 38-year-old self doesn't appreciate comics in the same way that my 8-year-old self did. But it IS a good indicator for myself that I'm not missing anything over in DC-land. Not to say that what they're doing isn't good, just that it's not really for me. I can appreciate the good storytelling, and Rags Morales' artwork is almost guaranteed to be superb, but DC just isn't delivering the types of stories I want any more.

I mention all this because I think it's too easy to just dismiss something out of hand. Just because I stopped buying superhero comics a few years ago doesn't mean that they're either A) unilaterally something I don't want or B) not subject to change. So I think it's good to test the waters from time to time, and see where things stand. Just as it's bad to keep buying comics out of habit, it's bad to keep NOT buying them out of habit!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Superman Peanut Butter: The Commercial


"You're wearing a Superman cape! Why would anyone even think that you're just running off camera?"

I'm pretty sure that, even as a kid, I could tell this was a lousy attempt to show Superman flying. I mean, come on! Not even a trampoline to jump off? Did you spend ALL your budget on the Superman license?

I know I did manage to convince my mom to buy Superman peanut butter more than once, though I suspect that had more to do with it being on sale than anything else. I do recall getting the jar down from the cupboard more than a few times, and I think I saved the empty jar the first time. (It had the S-shield on the lid, after all!) But I honestly could not tell you what it tasted like compared to other peanut butters. I know it was off the store shelves well before I got to high school, and I think we alternated between Peter Pan and Jif, and I know I know I never noticed a difference between those.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mashups

I've had a zillion things going on the past few days -- well, maybe not a zillion, but it seems like a lot -- so I'm going to take a quick mental break by banging out some mashups today. As always, the dialogue is taken from today's Garfield...

Monster Isle...

La Cucaracha...


Comic Critics...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Earn Extra Credit With Comics

I was a pretty academically-minded kid in school. I know that, by the time I got into high school, there was an inherent assumption that I would get the best grades I could, so I could get into a good college and earn a degree and make something of myself. I don't ever recall that even needing to be discussed.

So, no big surprise, I got mostly A's and B's. Primarily through whatever exams and book reports and other various assignments the teachers gave us. But some of them allowed for extra credit, and I tried to take advantage of that as often as I could to make up for that one test I didn't really study for or the homework assignment I turned in late or whatever.

(I had one English teacher who was a little too generous with extra credit. Most of my friends and I regularly finished the term with well over 100%. Often up in the 130% range! But she still graded on a 90/80/70/60 scale! As an experiment, I took one quarter and deliberately failed several quizzes and turned in blank homework assignments for several weeks. Then I tried to make up what I could with extra credit. The teacher was rather disappointed in me, as I recall, because I had only managed to get 113% that term. But I digress...)

My chemistry and physics teacher, Ms. Grener, had an interesting extra credit policy that I, being a devout comic fan even back then, really appreciated. She would give you one extra credit point for every comic strip you brought in that dealt with science. She only awarded the point for a comic to the first student who brought it to her, and I think there was a maximum number of points you could get in a quarter. But she had acquired enough comics over the years that, by the time I had her, her entire back wall was covered in comics. (Not surprisingly, The Far Side took a somewhat disproportionately high percentage of wall space.) I recall that, when I was taking her classes, I made a point to scan through the comics section of the newspapers (my folks got two) each morning at breakfast, ready to clip out anything resembling a science-related topic.

As I recall, she was pretty liberal with her policy on what constituted a "science-based" comic, and these two recent ones probably would've been acceptable...

... but I don't think there were many people who took her up on the extra credit offers while I was there either, so there was little danger of it getting out of hand.

This could easily be transferable to other areas, of course. A comic that references history or math or literature. It strikes me as an interesting way to keep kids eyes out for a subject matter.

The potential hazard now, of course, is that the Internet makes access to comics MUCH larger. Not only can we see the full range of comics offered up by the major syndicates, but all those hundreds of webcomics as well. I think you'd almost have to put a moratorium on certain titles that focus on only one subject. Like, you could never bring The Dreamer in for your American history class. But Ms. Grener had her caveats and limits on her version, so I don't think one or two additional ones would be all that difficult to include.

I just thought I'd throw the idea out there as a fun way any teachers out there might encourage some more engagement with the students outside of class. I know I had a lot of fun with that little extra credit scavenger hunt, and there's probably more than a few other geeks out there who would appreciate it too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Royals Comic Profiled On E! News Now

I'm not sure what to think about this. On the one hand, this is a significant plug for an actual comic book that you can pretty much only get in comic shops (when it comes out) and this is getting seen by a demographic that would most likely not have comics anywhere on their radar. But it's also a celebrity gossip piece of drivel plugging a company that doesn't exactly have the best track record for either quality books or professional business ethics.

Also, is it just me or does the artwork look more like they just ran some promotional pictures through a couple of Photoshop filters?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Language & Thinking

I was driving through Indiana last night and caught the last portion of Radiolab. Apparently, an episode from last summer wherein they were talking about language and how it impacts thinking. They were looking at some people who had grown up under different/unusual language circumstances... deaf people who created their own sign language, for example. The basic conclusion -- if you can really call it "basic" -- was that the language we learn and use has a direct and notable impact on how our brains process information.

One of the examples they brought out was this group who created their own sign language when they were kids a few decades ago. It was taught and passed down for the next generation or two, and there are people in their 40s with this language, as well as kids in their pre-teens. Not surprisingly, the actual language grew and evolved, but more significantly, the younger kids had different thought processes than the adults. The adults had only come up with one sign for "think" while the kids had a variety to work from: "think", "understand", "believe", "dream", etc. Going hand in hand with that, psychologists found that the kids did a much better job of comprehending what other people might be thinking and feeling than those older people who had fewer words to work with. The kids were "thinking about thinking" while the adults simply did not.

They also spoke about another deaf man who did not have a sign language at all for many years. He grew up to adulthood having essentially no language capabilities at all. (I didn't catch many more details than that. I tuned in to the program part-way through.) But, interestingly, once he did learn language, he began to think differently. He would never elaborate much on it, but he seemed to suggest that, prior to language, his thought process was more primal in nature. Eating, sleeping, shelter, etc. Having language allowed him to process the world differently and think in larger, more abstract terms.

(And before anybody brings it up, that whole "Eskimos have 1,000 different words for 'snow'" bit is a myth. The differing tribes that are generally lumped into the eskimo culture don't have appreciably more or less words for 'snow' than any other language.)

Now let's slide this conversation over to comics.

Comics have a language component, obviously. But beyond the typical word balloons and narrative boxes and sound effects you might be thinking of, the comics are something of a language unto themselves. The way you read comics is different than how you read English. (Or Japanese. Or French. Or whatever your native language is.) Think of the now-classic anecdote in Understanding Comics where Scott McCloud's mother saw two separate pictures instead of a single sequence. She couldn't "read" the language of comics. Despite being able to see the images and read the English words in a comic book, she couldn't read comics.

If your understanding of language(s) shapes how you think, how your brain processes information, wouldn't having the ability to read comics imply that comic readers think differently than non-comic readers? I don't know what that difference might be -- maybe comics folks can more readily break tasks down into component parts, maybe they have a better understanding of spatial relationships, maybe they can better differentiate discrete chunks of information, etc. -- but it seems to me that such a distinctly different type of language (comparing comics to English, as opposed to comparing Spanish to French) that almost has to come with some kind of different way of brain processing, if my understanding of that reporting was accurate.

Neil Cohn is probably the best known person in comicdom that's doing actual research along these lines, but to the best of my knowledge, he has not (and, Neil, please correct me if I'm wrong) specifically written on the psychological angle of being able to view the world differently because of a different language base.

But that would make for an absolutely fascinating study, I think: seeing how comic readers think differently than non-comics readers. (Let me be clear, too, I'm talking about people who CAN'T read comics, not people who DON'T read comics.) My obvious bias would be to assume that it would provide an advantage to be able to think as a comics reader, but I would certainly like to see what/how that might manifest itself.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Harold Lloyd: Krazy Kat Fan

I've been watching some old Harold Lloyd features lately, and came across an interesting comic reference in I Do from 1921. The movie is mostly about Lloyd and his wife taking care of their two nephews for a day or two. Most of the comedy revolves around the older child being mischievous and Lloyd getting caught up in the wake of strewn toys, skates on the stairwell and slippers nailed to the floor and such.

That night, Lloyd's woken up by some noise and gets up to investigate. As he approaches the first door, we see this...
For those of you not up to speed on comic strips of the early 20th century, that doll sitting atop the door frame is Krazy Kat from the comic strip of the same name by George Herriman. Krazy actually plays a central role in the next gag as Lloyd, stumbling around in the dark, accidentally pulls on the cord attached to the doll instead of the lamp. The Krazy Kat doll naturally falls and clocks him on the head. We then get a nice close-up of the doll...
The strip would have been at the height of its popularity at the time and there was a fair amount of Krazy Kat merchandise available. I believe this particular doll was the one manufactured by Averill through much of the 1920s. The body itself was felt, and the stuffing was simply straw. One sold at auction in 2006 for $850.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Get To Know Me!

Alright, it's kind of a cop-out post today (cut me some slack - I'm in Chicago) but I wanted to take a moment to point out that I've got a Facto account. In keeping with the more Kleefeld angle of this site, I thought some of you might be interested in some of the more obscure/esoteric parts of who I am. Check it out here... http://Facto.me/skleefeld

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Campaign Of Inclusiveness

I just learned of this guy's quest to become a comic book extra. It strikes me as an interesting premise in light of the fact that the largest publishers have not been putting fan letters in their books -- historically, the comic fans best chance of achieving a modicum of fame within a comic. I've made into a few comics myself but not nearly to Jeff's level. He's even got dialogue in a few issues. By my reckoning, he's already made more comic book appearances than Jack Kirby! It's kind of a clever way to be immortalized for a comic fan.

Though, obviously, it's not a tactic most people can employ. Jeff's success, I expect, is largely predicated on the fact that he's basically the only guy doing this and it's something of a novelty. I'm sure that if a wave of people starting flooding artists with requests, they'd largely be ignored.

From a bit of a geek perspective, within the context of the stories, it suggests one hell of an interesting cross-over since he's been killed once in Walking Dead, apparently revived, digitized in Tron: Betrayal and brought back out to the real world. A regular Rick Jones this guy is!

Personally, I'd rather show up in a few books that I'm already interested in than any that happen to have an artist that thinks it's a neat idea, but more power to Jeff for doing something a little different.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Go To The Source!

I started buying classical music in college. Not just randomly, or for a class, or anything. But I went out with some very specific pieces in mind. Giuseppe Verdi's The Troubador. Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Festival Overture The Year 1812.* Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville. The reason I was hunting down those particular pieces (and others) was because they were not infrequently used in Warner Brothers' cartoons. I had a good appreciation of the cartoons, and thought it might behoove me to listen to where some of the music they used came from.

See, the premise is simple. You can appreciate a work of art out of context, as it stands on its own merits. But if you appreciate a work on its own merits, it stands to reason that you would appreciate it more knowing more about it.

This is one of the big hindrances to an appreciation of modern art, I think. People look at the works of Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollack or Keith Herring and don't understand where they're coming from. Do you know what cubism was about? Cubism was about trying to present, in two dimensions, three and sometimes four dimensions of an object. Not just drawing something in perspective, but trying to show the front, the back, the top, the bottom and the sides simultaneously. That's why you wind up with those weird eye placements that are infamously shown; the artist was trying to show a head-on view and a profile with one single image. Knowing that, one is able to see what the artist was attempting, and his/her work can be judged on those values instead of the ones that might be traditionally brought to a piece of art -- does it look like the subject?

That's something I do with comics, as well.

I really liked comics, so I made a point to learn more about them so that I might have a deeper appreciation for the medium on the whole. I've spent time looking into their history, the business practices that are in place, the creative process, the production process, the legal implications... everything I can. Hence, the somewhat eclectic series of posts that wind up on this blog. My interest in is comics, and the more I learn and process -- regardless of the specific sub-set of comics knowledge it's a part of -- the better I'm able to understand and appreciate what's being done now. So I ramble on about what strikes me as interesting within comics, whether that's a story that was published, or a business decision that was made, or a new technology that impacts production, or a reaction within the fan community. It all falls under the purview of this blog because I take an interest in all those varied aspects of comics.

Which means that, when a news items comes along that can cause a visceral reaction -- say, the death of a long-running character or changing the cover price -- I'm able to sit back and discern WHY that decision was made. I may or may not like or agree with it, but I can at least understand it enough that I'm not left figuratively howling in the wilderness. Being able to differentiate between what fans want from what creators want from what publishers want, and understanding how/why those differences exist, is important to understanding and appreciating the industry on the whole.

And that's why, in 2011 alone, I've posted here
  • A historical Yellow Kid comic
  • Financial analysis of a webcomic creator's earnings
  • Commentary on a reaction to a publication change
  • A brief biography of an old comics fan
  • Some mildly snarky comments about some questionable licensing practices

Long-time readers are, I'm sure, familiar with my all-over-the-map approach but I thought it might not be a bad idea to call out exactly why I'm all over the map. I hope you stick around for the ride.

* On a side note, it's since amused me to no end to imagine the following discussion having taken place between Tchaikovsky and the percussionists the first time they rehearsed the aforementioned song...

Tchaikovsky: You've all had a chance to look over the score now; does anyone have any questions before we begin? Yes?
Percussionist: Yeah, um, it says here towards the back that we're supposed to be ringing church bells. Did you mean chimes?
Tchaikovsky: No, church bells is correct.
Percussionist: Like those hand bells they ring at Christmas?
Tchaikovsky: No, church bells. As in, the bells hanging in a church.
Percussionist: ...
Tchaikovsky: Any other questions? Yes?
Percussionist: I'm sorry, does this say cannons?!?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bounce With Spider-Man

You have NO idea how difficult it was to NOT title this post "Have Fun Between Spider-Man's Legs." The image here is of a kids' inflatable bouncer that's commercially available to rent from (among other places, I'm sure) Arizona's A Child's Joy. I suspect this hasn't been formally licensed from Marvel, and it appears that some places are trying to skirt the issue somewhat by simply calling it a "superhero bouncer" without ever actually referencing Spider-Man. (It has a better chance of flying under search engines' radar that way.)

But, regardless of the legal aspect of this, why would you want to bounce between Spider-Man's weirdly out of shape legs? Wouldn't it make more sense to make the thing look like buildings and skyscrapers with a couple of life-size Spider-Man images plastered on it, so that kids could pretend they're web-swinging with/like Spidey?

But what do I know from marketing to kids?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Watching The Crowd's Reactions

Examiner.com has this short article up noting the return of DC's letter pages. The reaction there, like so many others, is positive.

But what I find uniquely interesting about the Examiner's take is the callout of former letterhack T.M. Maple in the title. Maple was indeed a well known name among comic fans throughout the 1980s, but as that was a pseudonym, I doubt very many people outside comicdom are familiar with him at all, so it doesn't make sense to name-check him to a broad audience. Furthermore, he passed away in 1994, which is clearly stated in the article, so why would you premise an article by suggesting that he return, when he obviously can't? It just seems like a very strange approach to the article.

I don't have a real opinion on DC's actual letters pages; I don't read DC books with any regularity. But I am curious about the decisions some people make with regard to presenting comic fandom to the rest of the world.

For what it's worth, I did a brief profile of Maple in my book, Comic Book Fanthropology; I've reproduced the page below...

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Financial Adventures Of Cat & Girl

I've noted twice before how Dorothy Gambrell has been very generous by providing her webcomic income information online to everyone. And while she hasn't updated her income graph yet t include December 2010, she did post this as an explanation of why she'll be cutting her updates down to twice a week...
As you can see, her 2010 income was just above $20,000 (as I predicted back in September) but, more interestingly, she's also providing her yearly Cat & Girl income for the past several years, pointing out that her median floats around $25,000. One adept commenter quickly pointed out, too, that her first real decline in income coincided with the overal economy getting flushed down the toilet in 2007 and likely does more to explain the decline there than anything.

But, from a business perspective, it appears clear to Gambrell that the frequency of her update schedule (twice a week versus three times a week) has little impact on her income. Which means that, for the past several years, she's been working harder without any appreciable increase in income. She can therefore spend the time she has been working on a third comic every week to work on other things that are more likely to help her bottom line. Maybe freelance work, or more hours at a part-time job, or more time promoting her comic instead of creating it, or whatever. The upshot here is that whether she updates two or three times a week has no bearing on her income, and her opportunity costs on anything else are going to be equal to or greater than working on Cat & Girl.

So the real lesson for other webcomic creators out there is to pay close attention to your finances relative to your efforts. You may well be doing a lot of extra work without making any more money. That's not to necessarily say that all webcomics should drop to a twice a week schedule, just that maybe you can continue on a lighter update schedule than you are now while still making the same amount of money.

A sincere thanks to Gambrell for her openness and honesty about her finances with regard to webcomiking.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Say Dat Ain't As Funny As It Looks See

Hopefully, your first day of the New Year feels better than it does for the Yellow Kid!
Interestingly, this cartoon actually ran on December 26, 1897. Art courtesy of San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State Univeristy Cartoon Research Library.

Here's to hoping your 2011 looks better than your 2010!