Thursday, March 31, 2011

Don't Ouroboros Yourself

When I was working on my MBA, I had to take a class on business ethics. This was not long after the Enron scandal and there was a pervading concern that business students simply weren't being taught about ethical behavior. Hence, all business students now had to take this class.

One of the things the professor brought to the class was a model for measuring how ethical a company was. You were supposed to rate companies along four major categories, and that got mapped out against a circle divided into quadrants. My first questions were, "Well, how are we actually supposed to rate these categories? What sort of value scale should we be using?" His answer was that zero represented the absolute worst possible set of ethics a company could have in that category, and a four was the absolute best possible... and everything else sort of fell in between somewhere. Based on the individual's value judgement. Irrespective of whatever knowledge they actually had of the company.

I was astounded; this was absolute garbage. He was placing fairly arbitrary and ill-defined limits on the scale in the first place, there was no real value criteria for rankings between those limits, and none of that really mattered anyway since people were just making a relatively uninformed value judgement anyway. "I rate this company a 3 because... well, they're better than some places I've heard about."

I kept questioning the professor, in various ways, on how this made any sense and what use might it actually be. He had broad answers that never really addressed my specific questions, and passed out to the class photocopies of some professional journal article that explained the system in elaborate detail. I noticed immediately that the article was written by the professor himself.

As I read through the piece, other articles were cited, as one would expect in a journal of that nature. But when I scanned through the bibliography, all of the cited articles that actually referred in any way to this ethics model were ALSO written or co-written by the professor. So I started doing some more research on my own, going through journal databases through the school library system. I could not find any references in any other articles anywhere to this model, nor could I find any articles that cited any of the professor's articles in any capacity at all.

I eventually took some of this to my brother-in-law. He was actually an undergraduate business professor at another university. He had never heard of the model or the professor, and shared my belief that this model wasn't worth anything.

The issue wasn't that the professor had a bad idea. We all have bad ideas. The issue wasn't that he was sharing his bad idea with other people, not really realizing it was a bad idea. That happens to everyone at some point. The problem this professor had was that he had so insulated himself from outside thoughts and was so enamored with his idea that he was unable to hear anything else. His field of vision was almost entirely self-referential.

I bring this up because a lot of would-be comic creators look towards comics for inspiration. If they want to draw or write Spider-Man comics, they look at Spider-Man comics and nothing else. Outside influences might be the FF or Avengers books when Spider-Man shows up there. Or maybe the Spider-Man movies or cartoons.

Now, I really hope you've heard this before and you're bored out of your skull from hearing it yet again. But try to draw in as many different ideas as possible from as wide a set of sources as possible. Don't just look at comics. Don't just look at pop culture/mass media. Looks at Egyptian heiroglyphs and Greek statues and listen to some Native American folk tales and watch a bunraku performance and try to sort through a Mummenschanz show...

Got all that? It sounds kind of trite, but try to make a point to take in ideas you wouldn't normally. Force yourself through a book that you don't think is written well. Watch a movie in a genre you don't normally like. I'm not saying to give up the ones you enjoy, certainly, but just don't limit yourself. Take in everything you can, and use ALL of that to inform your work.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Link-Blogging Wednesday

Three weeks in a row! It's definitely a feature now!
  • The original art for one of the best-known images from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is going up for auction with an expected selling price somewhere in the $100,000 neighborhood. I point it out not for the price tag, but because Heritage Auctions has a really good scan of the piece and you can examine the linework very closely. What I find particularly interesting is how clean the overall image is, but how much rework was done on Batman's cowl.
  • Gem City Comic Con is this Sunday at Wright State University. I won't be attending, but it still sounds kind of cool.
  • Next Tuesday, Neil Cohn will be speaking in San Francisco at a panel entitled "The Impact of Structure and Meaning on Sequential Image Comprehension." Sounds interesting to me, at any rate.
  • Al Bigley recently reminded his friends on Facebook that he posted a "rare" 1966 Captain America song from Tifton Records a couple years back. An interesting listen, as it's very different stylistically from both the Grantray-Lawrence cartoon theme song and the Icarus song I noted a few weeks ago. An interesting listen.
  • Keeping on the audio side of things, did you know that in 1978 a chap by the name of Domenico "Meco" Monardo recorded a disco version of the John Williams music from Superman? I'm betting you did not.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Truth Is Out There

I had a bit of a plumbing problem until recently. The outgoing line from my sump pump was busted and, every time it rained, my front yard flooded sending a river down the sidewalk and into my neighbor's driveway. I'll admit that I let go fixing it for too long (knowing it would be an expensive repair) but I finally called a plumber last week. (I couldn't find any local guys who had been reviewed on Yelp or anything, but I tried to find someone who had a reasonably professional-looking website.)

The guy I talked to listened to my explanation, asked where I was located and said he should be able to take care of it. I provided all my info and had him repeat it (it was noisy in the background) to make sure he got it correct. He said he'd be on the next morning and would give me a call when he was on his way. I stayed home from work and... never heard back from him. No phone call telling me he was on his way, or he had to take care of some emergency, or he got lost... nothing. I stayed in the house all day. Never heard from him and he never showed up.

Well, I'm not about to deal with someone like that, so I called another plumber the next day. They said they'd be out on Monday morning (it was Friday) and would give me a call when they were on their way. I wasn't holding my breath since that was almost the same line the last guy gave me, but sure enough, I got two phone calls that morning -- one from the actual plumber and one from the receptionist. The plumber looked things over, figured out what needed to be done and gave me a quote. I said that was good, and how soon can we move on this?

I've had yard work done before so I knew that it would have to be marked for buried electrical and phone wires and such, and that's done by a third party. But they were able to get out there within an hour, and two other guys showed up about an hour after that with a small excavator. The dug up all of the bad pipe, including having to cut away part of the sidewalk that ran over it, replaced all the piping and patched up both the yard and sidewalk by 4:30. Less than one day, from when the first guy came out to when I did the final sign-off.

Nice guys, too. They called me out periodically to make sure I knew precisely where the problems were and what concerns and issues they faced while they worked.

While these guys are out working, I went back to Yelp and wrote a negative review about the dude who never showed up. Not a hate-filled rant, but just a straight-forward, "I called this guy; he said he'd come out; he never did."

That was yesterday. This afternoon, I get a call from the first plumber and I let the call go straight to voice mail. (Since I now have no need to talk to him.) He left a voice mail saying he was trying to follow-up on our conversation from yesterday and I should call him back. I'm thinking that if he's going to try to lie to me about what I myself did -- especially when it's so easy to scan through my own phone records to see that it was almost a week ago that I actually talked to him -- I'm really glad I didn't hire him, and I hope that my review on Yelp serves as a good notice to others.

The reason I'm relaying this story is because it's about a guy who is trying to pull some bullshit with someone who has access to the internet. I'm not a vengeful kind of person, and I'm not out to destroy anyone's livelihood, but I also don't want anyone else to get shafted because somebody else was trying to sell them a bill of goods. That's one of the great democratizing effects of the internet -- you can't hide your bullshit indefinitely.

And that's what really surprises me most about the Rob Granito plagiarism story, that Granito would even attempt it. Surely, he knew that he'd get caught, right? Not only was the guy going to big conventions with thousands and thousands of people in attendance, but this is the frickin' 21st century! And we're talking about comic book folks who can nit-pick the hell out of continuity details! He didn't think that his story would get back to the other people allegedly involved?

I mean, I get that bit in the linked-to article about his not being able to tell the difference in quality between his work and professionals' but going so far as to say that he actually worked on Iron Man and Spider-Man comics? Books that could easily be checked and then verified with the original creators?

Has he not paid attention to... well, anything in the past decade? All of your bullshit gets discovered. Regardless of who you are. Oh, you might be able to pay off enough people in high enough places that you don't actually do jail time for any of it, but unless you're a politician or paying a politician, your bullshit is going to come back to bite you in the ass. Even those at the top of the oligarchy here can't hide their bullshit -- they can just pay people to ignore it.

For as much as I rant about the stupidity of the American people at large, you cannot outsmart them. Not for long, certainly. The world is too small any more to hide your bullshit. It will get documented. It will get posted online. The people you try to rip off will tell everyone they can. And unless your net worth has at least eight digits in it, you're going to catch hell for it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Stockton Crusade

More than a few years ago, Joe Field launched a campaign to get Stockton, CA named as the definitive birthplace of the Fantastic Four. Here's a local news clip from the time that explains...

The campaign lasted about three months. After Field had collected the petition signatures mentioned in the video, he took that to the Stockton city council. They backed his idea and the LA Times soon picked up the story. Here's another clip shortly after the Council vote was taken...

The Times in turn contacted Stan Lee, who loved the idea...

... not realizing that FF writer/artist John Byrne and editor Mike Carlin were working on #293, which literally removed Central City off the map and sent it several thousand years into the future.

They eventually hit on the idea that the FF's rocket could have crash-landed in a different city from where it was launched. So it was decided that it could crash in Stockton, thus securing that city as "birthplace of the Fantastic Four" without actually contradicting existing continuity where Central City had been named.

Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter called Field to tell him of the decision and asked him to send some reference photos of Stockton for the anniversary issue (#296) they were working on. The photos ultimately were never used, but the story was put together by Lee and Shooter with art from Barry Windsor-Smith, Kerry Gammill, Ron Frenz, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Marc Silvestri and Jerry Ordway. Here are the first four pages (by Windsor-Smith) which showcase the landing spot as Stockton...

There was a fair amount of media hype at the time. Field told me recently, "I was told that Mike Carlin was not a happy camper about having to try to shoe-horn my campaign into continuity. It wasn't until several years later when I met him in person in San Diego after he had moved to DC, that I went up to him, introduced myself and apologized for getting in the way of his job. Mike is a great guy and waved off the whole thing saying we had given that title more publicity than they could have generated on their own."

Lee in fact visited Stockton in February 1986 as part of a formal celebration in front of City Hall. He was given a key to the city and there was the semi-obligatory signing. Not long after, Lee hired Field on as his and his wife Joan's public relations man, so impressed he'd been with the work Field had done on the Stockton campaign.

The last part of the campaign involved printing up and selling 1,000 limited edition commemorative prints honoring the event. The money raised went to flood relief in Northern California. I still have mine (#278) hanging framed near my comics collection.

Field says he's got other new clips from that whole period that he'll be posting on YouTube as he's able, but that is what the whole thing was about. Keep your eyes out for more footage!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Foster Broussard/Bonnie Lass Double Review

I'm going to try a double review today, just for something different. Foster Broussard: Demons of the Gold Rush #1 and Bonnie Lass #3, both recent releases from Red 5 Comics. We'll start with some basic plot summaries...

Foster Broussard is a British criminal in 1850 who manages to convince Queen Victoria to stay his execution so he can head over to California and bring back loads of gold for England. (Legends of the Gold Rush were quite prolific back then.) Broussard is escorted by a Commander Vanderbuilt Frederick, but when they arrive in San Francisco, the crew is attacked and Broussard is taken captive. It turns out, though, that the attackers are old friends of Broussard and the entire escapade has been a year and half in planning. Broussard soon runs afoul of Damien Victor, owner of the largest claim in the territory, and Raya, a Native American who has been working for several months to get close to Victor. Plans go awry, drinks are thrown in people's faces, and the issue ends with Broussard having a gun pointed at his head.

Bonnie Lass picks up where the last issue left off with Monet and his followers holding Lass and her crew captive aboard their own ship. The crew spend much of the issue trying to escape, only to be repeatedly have their butts handed to them by Monet himself. Bonnie engages with Monet long enough for her companions to get the upper hand against the other captors, but then they foolishly knock out the one element keeping the large kraken-like creature at bay. Bonnie's able to use the ill-advised diversion to capture Monet, but is now facing down a bona fide sea monster.

I've noted in some of my earlier reviews that Red 5 was turning out lots of great comics, and I was constantly impressed with their work. Bonnie Lass has been doing extremely well as a series, and #3 is no exception. But I have to say that I was rather disappointed with Broussard. Despite it being a book that I really wanted to like, it really struck me as incredibly pedestrian.

The first thing I noticed was the art seemed rather flat. Same line weight. No sense of motion. No sense of choreography. Just flat images. Whereas in Bonnie Lass, artist Michael Mayne provides a lot depth by altering line weights, utilizing some motion effects and depth of field perception. Compare two of the fight scenes for yourself and tell me which is more interesting...

Futhermore, the story in Broussard seems a bit more cliched and predictable. It reads like the storyboard for a movie in which the trailers tell the story better than the actual movie itself. Even with the plot twists, it just seemed... not exactly trite, but definitely not very engaging. A lot of staged contrivances and some strange character actions that either weren't explained well or weren't well thought-out.

Interestingly, less actually happens in Bonnie Lass #3. The characters spend the entire issue in one spot. They talk and fight a bit. Fair amount of exposition. But it's a much more vibrant story. You don't see most of it coming (though the sea monster causing problems was pretty well foreshadowed throughout the issue), you get an idea of what next issue will be like and it's by far much more forward-moving than Broussard. That's actually what's striking me about Bonnie Lass as a series, now that I'm thinking about: Mayne is able to do quite a lot of storytelling in a fairly compressed space. In fact, I looked up a little over half-way through the issue, only to discover than I wasn't about to hit the last page!

I don't know if it's really fair to compare Broussard and Bonnie Lass like this. They're very different books in many, many respects. So let me point out the one thing in Broussard that rubbed me the wrong way without anything to compare it against...
"Translated from the Native American"?!? Wow. There's not even an ATTEMPT there, is there? I was okay leaving Raya's specific ancestry unmentioned, but they're not even going to try to fake it by throwing in a random tribe name here? They could've said something like "Shawnee" and it probably would've at least slipped by most people that the Shawnee didn't live that far West. But "the Native American"? Really? Here in the 21st century, you're going to write that down and have it published? Wow. Even if I loved every other aspect of the issue, I'd be hard-pressed to look at the second issue based on that alone. Talk about insulting!

Let me end on up beat. Go buy Bonnie Lass. If you haven't gotten the first two issues, you needn't worry -- they're ALL available digitally at comixology and iVerse for $1.99 each. I greatly enjoyed #1 and #2, and the third issue continues to impress. I'm looking forward to seeing how this story wraps up next issue, and when Red 5 will start releasing a Volume 2!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Preceding The Fantastic Four

When I first started doing comic book research many years ago, I focused primarily on the Fantastic Four. It was my favorite comic by far, and I found the more I knew about its creation, the more I appreciated the book itself.

One of the theories I had was that creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were influenced in creating the FF by movies of the time, and I went through watching a number of movies that were made from 1959 through early 1961. I even tracked down actual release dates to see which movies would have been in the theater around the time the FF was being created -- probably around April or May 1961!

I pretty well kicked my theory out the window, as I wasn't finding much in the way of direct inspiration. The closest movies I could really get were The Lost World featuring Michael Rennie and Claude Rains, and The Angry Red Planet starring Gerald Mohr and Les Tremayne. As I'm largely taking today off, I opted to re-watch both of them.

The Lost World is (very) loosely based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel of the same name. Professor Challenger claims he discovered a remote land where dinosaurs still exist, and he takes an expedition down to prove it. Though the group in the movie consists of eight members -- obviously more than either the original novel or the FF that I thought might take cues from -- there are too many characters for the writers here to adequately handle. Professor Summerlee and Costa are entirely superfluous to the journey, and the Holmes siblings do very little to advance the story either. Perhaps most striking about the movie -- as it pertains to a possible influence on Lee and Kirby -- is that love interest Jennifer Holmes follows along mostly to be with John Roxton, and David Holmes comes along because... well, he's Jennifer's kid brother. David is also the smooth-talker of the group, managing to successfully woo a native girl despite a language barrier.

The Angry Red Planet is about a group of four "scientists" that are the first humans to visit Mars, and run into a few scrapes before returning to Earth. They're called "scientists" in the movie, but they're more 1950s-style adventurers; their casual disregard for scientific examination or analysis of anything throughout the whole movie is almost hilarious. They do have more of a physical template for the FF, though: three men, one woman. One of the guys is bruiser type from Brooklyn, another is grey-templed hero. There's not a direct parallel, by any means, but some of the same general themes are prevalent in the early issue of Fantastic Four.

As I said, I dropped my theory as these types of connections are, at best, tenuous. But it is interesting, I think, to help get a feel for where the U.S. was as a society at large. There were all these discoveries and advancements going on, which most people didn't really understand. Science was, for the average Joe, just another big adventure that could wrestled and hog-tied like the Old West. Just charge on in, and you could just figure it out as you went along. Actually, a lot of America's psyche flows from that mindset to this day. We remain a nation playing at "cowboys and injuns". But it's interesting to see that application of science hold true in our fictions, regardless of whether we're sending someone to Mars or tracking through the jungles of the Amazon looking for dinosaurs. I think that was really the big take-away for me.

On a curious side-note, three of the main actors from ARP later went on to take roles in comic-related properties. Gerald Mohr became the voice of Mr. Fantastic (1967 Fantastic Four cartoon) and Green Lantern (1968 Aquaman cartoon). Jack Kruschen played Eivol Ekdol (1966 Batman) and Captain Keene (1994 Lois & Clark). Les Tremayne played Mentor in the 1970's Shazam! show, as well as lending his voice to Ultraman: The Adventure Begins, Challenge of the GoBots and The Pirates of Dark Water among a host of other Saturday morning favorites. Jill St. John, from Lost World, also appeared in Batman and later took the title role in the 1976 Brenda Starr movie. For completeness' sake, I have to point out that Reinne, too, appeared in Batman.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why I Can't Step Into An LCS Anymore

Hello. My name is Sean and I'm a recovering comic collector.

I largely stopped buying comics in mid-2008. Entirely for financial reasons. My divorce from the year before left me with a huge chunk of debt and, although I've been paying that down diligently, I've mostly only been able to pay that down thanks to eliminating non-essential spending. As in, no vacations, no eating out, no movies, no comics. I've largely gotten used to not purchasing anything except food and gas, and I kind of like not being much of a "consumer" any more and that I'm able to keep myself more than busy and entertained for free. (Well, technically, I'm still paying for electricity and internet usage, but I'd be paying for those anyway and I'm not really paying anything appreciably more to surf entertainment sites. Like a couple cents' worth of electricity, maybe?) There are PLENTY of great webcomics available for free online!

But I am human and I've slipped from time to time. I have actually bought a few books, but I have been able to limit that to maybe one book every few months. (The vast majority of reviews I do on this site are books that were gifts, prizes or comp copies.) And the ones I do buy, I tend to focus on indie self-publishers where I buy directly from the creator so I can at least justify it to myself a little more easily. ("I'm helping such-n-such creator! Yay, me!")

Anyway, it got into my head recently that I should swing by a Local Comic Shop to pick up some mainstream-published comics by some friends of mine. Same basic premise of supporting them financially as best as I'm able.

But, long before I stepped foot in a shop, my head ran through, "Well, since I'm in there already, I should also pick up that new FF book that came out this week. It'd only be a couple of extra bucks." In and of itself, that doesn't sound too bad, does it? But you know exactly where that leads, don't you?

"That first issue was pretty good, but it ended with something of a cliff-hanger. I'll just pop in to get #2."

Two issues becomes three. Three becomes four. Four becomes five. It becomes a habit again, hitting the LCS once a month.

"Oh, look. This story crosses over into this other title."

"Oh, look. This writer I really like is working on to this other project too."

"Oh, look. This artist I really like is moving over to this different project."

"Oh, look. A new book by this older creator I always liked."

Before you know it, I'm in the shop spending $20-$30 every week again. It really is something of an addiction. I'm sure many addicts (of all stripes) will tell you that it's much easier to just stay the heck away rather than torment yourself with what well be considered "reasonable" limits.

"It's only one more. How much harm can it do?"

One more, of course, isn't the problem. It's when one more is added on top of the one more you already partook. Which is one more on top of the previous one more.

Once I get this debt paid off (a little less than two years away at this point) then it might not be an issue at all. A quick calculation suggests that I'd only spend about 2% on comics what I'm putting towards paying off debt right now. So once that debt is paid off, it frees up a lot of my cash flow that could be put towards comics.

But I'm not there yet. That money is, for my practical purposes, tied up for the next two years. And, frankly, I don't really trust myself to step into a comic shop for "just one more" comic.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coming Soon: WonderCon '89!

Not long after Joe Field's success in getting Marvel to declare Stockton, CA as the true birthplace of the Fantastic Four (more on that story some other time) he became advertising director for the brand new Wonderful World of Comics Convention (later shortened to WonderCon). Field prepared a promotional video after its second year, touting its success to publishers and retailers in an effort to encourage them to attend. With next week marking WonderCon's 25th anniversary, Field posted his original promo video (with somewhat improved introduction and end credits) for the show on YouTube...

As a couple points of comparison, the video notes the 1987 show's attendance was 3,300 compared to ten times that number for the 2010 event, while Stan Lee in this clip looks exactly the same as he does today. This all took place prior to Field's work with ComicsPRO, Free Comic Book Day and even Flying Colors, which might help to explain why his hair is a bit whiter now than it was then!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Link-Blogging

It's a feature, I'm telling you!
  • Hans Rickheit, creator of the beautiful and somewhat enigmatic Ectopiary, recently lost his day job when the entire shop closed down. He notes that, "If you've ever considered buying any artwork or books, this would really be a very helpful time to do so." Rickheit won a Xeric for Chloe in 2001 and the 2009 release of his Squirrel Machine was widely praised. Please take a moment to check out his work and order something, so that he might have just a tad less to worry about.
  • NPR ran two comics pieces on Monday afternoon. One was a spotlight on James Daily and Ryan Davidson's "Law & The Multiverse" blog while the other was on how anime fans at Zenkaikon were concerned and trying to helping victims of the Japanese earthquake. Strangely, the word "otaku" was never mentioned despite nearly everyone talking about how much they loved not just anime but many aspects of Japanese culture.
  • You have less than a week to submit your nominations for the Harvey Awards.
  • Next month, SmarterComics is publishing a new line of comics based on non-fiction books, ranging from Sun Tzu's Art of War to Chris Anderson's The Long Tail. Many of these will be available for free online. The short previews that are online now look interesting, and I'll be curious to see how well the books hold up over their 80 pages, and whether or not those 80 pages do justice to the originals. In any case, it strikes me as an interesting experiment in comics and one that I'll be trying to keep my eye on. I'm hoping they live up to their "comics that make you smarter" tag line!
  • You ever wonder about that whole Western/Dell/Gold Key split from a few decades ago? Maggie Thompson reprints the story from her old Comic Art fanzine.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Future Events Will Affect You... In The Future!

I try to be a forward-thinking guy. I try to look out down the road to see what's coming, so that I have a better chance to zig and zag as needed. I'm by no means a futurist, though; I'm nowhere near adept enough at predicting sociological behaviors or extrapolating wide-spread trends based on current technologies. I have my moments of insight, but they're not as frequent as I'd like. I was forecasting wide-spread cloud computing years before the term was commonly known and saw "video blogging" coming a few years before YouTube was founded, but I was completely side-swiped by social media about 3-4 years ago.

On the plus side, I think even the most prescient futurists aren't exactly batting 1000 either! :)

But guys like Marshall McLuhan and Alvin Toffler (both of whom I've referenced on this blog before) were able to see some of the broad strokes coming down the pipe. McLuhan didn't know what the internet was but he saw a vast communications network that reduced our entire planet to the equivalent of a single community: a "global village." And that's the type of thing I try (in my decidedly unprofessional and seriously inadequate way) to do. I try to look at the information of today and figure out not only what's going to happen tomorrow, but also in the next several years.

At some level, many people do that. Whether you're planning a wedding or booking gigs for your band or saving up to buy a house, that's all about looking toward the future by extrapolating as much as you can from what you know right now.

How all that relates to comics is, of course, the question of what's going to happen to comics as a whole? Where is the industry headed? What will overall sales look like? What technologies will enhance production and distribution of digital comics? What properties will become "hot" and garner population attention? Those are the questions a lot of folks in comicdom are asking.

The problem, obviously, is that we're all speculating. We don't know the future, so we all have to guess. And we're all making these guesses with incomplete data. Sales numbers are often a big blind spot for us. Retailers know their own numbers, but not for the industry at large or any of their direct competitors. Publishers know their own numbers, but not specific retailers or other publishers. Creators don't provide their financial information (notably, income from making comics) to anyone. Bloggers like myself don't know any of that. So any predictions any of us make are based on less than ideal information.

That's where a lot of arguments come from. A retailer can say, "Listen: I make X amount of money selling just superhero comics and I'm doing fine. I don't see what the deal is about digital comics." While the next retailer might say, "I've seen a decline in sales and I've overheard customers talking about downloading comics illegally that they used to buy in my store." And yet another retailer might say, "New people are coming into the store based on comics they read online." Those three retailers are going to see the future of comics differently, based on the information they have that is biasing their view.

I use "bias" deliberately. I don't mean to suggest that they're actively altering their opinions to fit what they're seeing in their respective stores, but the information at their disposal will push their thoughts and ideas in a certain direction. I'm very cognizant that my constant work in web development focuses my attention toward online behaviors over print, and colors my outlook.

But it's not just a single factor like that impacting my thought process. I pay more attention to independent creators than the larger publishers any more. I got hooked on comics in the early 1980s. I went to college for design. I went to graduate school for an MBA. I have an 8-to-5 job in a beige cubicle. I've done freelance work. I am familiar with printing processes from previous jobs, but my knowledge there is primarily based on technologies from 15 years ago. I don't drink. I got a divorce after ten years of marriage. I've been dating a woman that lives 300 miles away for several years now. I have a dog. My favorite color is green.

All of that, regardless of how irrelevant it seems to comics, has some measure of impact on how I think about the medium. The same holds for everyone else. Their first car. The parent that abandoned them at age 7. The house that burned down across the street a week ago. The childhood friend who that hadn't talked to in 20 years committing suicide after a long struggle with PTSD that originated with their military service. The Spelling Bee their cousin won in fifth grade.

All of those things, many of which you're probably not aware of, have an impact. Which is to say: take EVERYTHING with a grain of salt. I'm certainly going to talk and act in what seems to be my best interests, and that's one of the reasons I'm bullish on webcomics in general, and specific webcomics in particular. If you see/hear someone else speaking with a contrary point of view, there's almost certainly a reason for that.

I think my point here is that you, as a consumer of information, need to keep alert of not only what people are saying about the future of comics, but who is saying it and where they're coming from. As much as I like and respect guys like Brian Hibbs and Joe Field, I always keep in mind that these guys are both retailers and have a retailer perspective. Nothing wrong with that, of course! I'm just saying that it's different than a creator or a fan perspective.

But the future is a big question mark for all of us, and our backgrounds and current situations are going to impact our outlooks. Just something to keep in mind the next time you see someone touting the inevitability of digital comics or the great strengths and stability of the current direct market system.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mash-Ups For Catch-Ups

I'm just trying to catch up from the weekend, so I'm going to throw these two mash-ups online and call it an early night. As usual, the text was taken from today's Garfield and the art was taken from today's...

Evil, Inc.

Everything Dies
No commentary; I'm going to bed!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Good Lord! Choke!

That famous invective of my post title is, of course, an often repeated phrase seen in many EC comics. Like many phrases, it is part of the cultural dictionary that we all have learned over the years. It is not, obviously, limited to what we see in comics, but what we hear in other media and what surrounds us in our developmental years. I picked up more than a few turns of phrase from my father that have been known to catch people off guard when I use them today. In fact, I stopped a discussion at work cold last week when I threw out "wonky" in talking about some technical problems we were having with our servers.,

But some of those phrases have meanings that are not really appropriate for me. "Good Lord!" is one of them. "God bless you" is another. It seems intellectually dishonest to me to use those phrases, regardless of how widespread and seemingly innocuous they might be. I say intellectually dishonest because I am an atheist and do not believe in a supreme being of any sort. Invoking the name of God (or any other deity) for any purpose other than speaking specifically about those concepts is not blasphemous to him/her, but just disingenuous to myself. I do not believe there is any sort of higher power to ask for anything, so calling upon such a being, even in the most inane capacities, is hypocritical.

The trick, then, is to replace those phrases that have become so much a part of our cultural mileu as to have been automatic and reflexive. "Gesundheit" is a rather easy replacement since it's reasonably well accepted already. (It has the more benign "to your health" meaning.) But replacing "Oh, my God!" or "Jesus Christ!" or whatever is decidedly more complicated as there are not really any commonly accepted alternatives. At least, not many that do not include swearing.

I opted to go back to my comic roots for one, though. The classic "good grief" from Charlie Brown usually serves my purposes well when a curse word would be a tad too inappropriate. It's well known enough that people are familiar with it, but so limited in useage -- pretty much just Charlie Brown -- that people are more surprised I use it than teasing because of the anachronism.

As I said, it is mostly just a way to be intellectually honest with myself, but I point it out here with the bought that it might be interesting to examine the words and phrases you yourself use.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Playing The Muse

I thought I'd take a post here to try playing the part of The Muse. Mainly because there's some ideas here that I think somebody ought to take advantage of, and I'm probably not the best person to do so. So here's some notes for you to scan over...

Oct. 31, 1876 - A cyclone off east coast of India killed 200,000.
Nov. 2, 1876 - A giant squid, 6.1 meters long, washed ashore at Thimble Tickle Bay in Newfoundland, Canada.
Nov. 7, 1876 – A grave robbery of Abraham Lincoln's tomb was attempted (and failed).
Nov. 10, 1876 - The Philadelphia World's Fair closed.
Nov. 29, 1876 - Porfirio Diaz became President of Mexico.
Dec. 5, 1876 – The Brooklyn Theater Fire killed at least 278, possibly more than 300.
Dec. 29, 1876 - The Ashtabula River Railroad bridge disaster, then called the worst disaster in American history, took place killing 92 people.
Jan. 1, 1877 - Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India.
Feb. 18, 1877 - The Lincoln County War began.
Feb. 20, 1877 - Pope Leo XIII becamethe 254th pope.
Mar. 18, 1877 - A riot in Bern, Switzerland broke out led in part by anarchist Paul Brousse.
Apr. 24, 1877 - The Russo-Turkish War began.
May 6, 1877 - Crazy Horse surrendered to U.S. troops in Nebraska.
May 21, 1877 – Romania declared itself independent from the Ottoman Empire.
Jun. 26, 1877 - Mt. Cotopaxi erupted in Ecuador killing 1,000.

You could probably pick any random nine month period and come up with an equally compelling list of events. They might or might not be related. But what if some, or all of them were? What if there were a connection between a giant squid washing up on a beach, and the desecration of Lincoln's tomb a week later? What if something in the early days of the Lincoln County War led to Pope Leo XIII being chosen as the pope over another candidate?

Life is full of random incidents, and it's a well-trod axiom that correlation does NOT mean causation. But that's a lot of what creativity is about: making a connection between two (or more) seemingly unrelated items. So, if you're ever hurting for story ideas or launching points, why not just scan through a list of events that are related only by temporal proximity (that is, they all happen around the same time) and see if you can't make some connections of your own. We're provided with hundreds of thousands of springboards all the time, and it's up to you how to frame them into your story.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's All Connected

I had originally planned on attending C2E2 this weekend, but some personal things came up recently that will prevent me from going. My disappointment lies primarily in that I won't be able to meet with other comic friends that I don't normally see in person. That's not really serendipity, though, as it's kind of the point of comic book conventions: to become a central meeting place for fans and professionals. (I only mention it here because I had previously said that I would be in attendance.)

Last night, it occurred to me that an old friend of mine, who owns her own business, actually does a fair amount of work with some Japanese companies. I wrote to ask if any of her colleagues were hurt (or worse) in the recent disasters. Turns out that one of her own employees was in Tokyo during the earthquake! She survived, as did her Japanese counterparts who went above and beyond to help her get back to the United States.

The first thing this does for me, of course, is make the disaster much more personal. I don't know the woman who was over there, but I know her boss. And I don't doubt that she was absolutely wracked with worry when she first started hearing reports out of Japan. And while her Japanese colleagues were also spared, the quake and tsunami created a lot of damage and has almost certainly disrupted their business. Which will almost certainly disrupt my friend's.

Who else do you suppose that disrupts? It's easy to say "pretty much everybody in Japan" but that includes a lot of manga producers. I haven't heard of any specific creators who've died as a result of the problems, but the death toll so far is around 7,000 with another 10,000 still missing. And the number of homeless is upwards of 400,000. Factor in the rolling blackouts and the clean-up that needs to be done. Every industry in Japan has got to be impacted here, including manga production.

What do you suppose that does for companies outside of Japan who rely on that material to get their own work done? Places like Tokyopop or Viz. Those disasters halfway around the world have a fairly direct impact on folks here in U.S. beyond the ones who have family over there.

We live in a world in which news is ongoing and instantaneous. We saw the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in real time, and have watched the struggle at the nuclear power plant live, and heard the voices of people crying as they found their spouse dead. But the interconnectedness that allows for that transmission of words and images also carries with it connections. People who now talk over great distances do business over great distances, make friendships over great distances. That six degrees of separation is much smaller now than it used to be, and a lot faster as well.

I'm sitting in southwest Ohio as I type this, and I'm "listening" to conversations happening at C2E2. I have friends and co-workers there. In less than 30 minutes, I'll be on the highway and, before midnight, I'll be across town from them. I won't see them in person (those personal things I mentioned earlier) but I can still chat with them. 300 miles away or 30, it doesn't matter.

The world's a pretty small place when you think about it, and the pebble that's dropped in a pond 5,000 miles away causes ripples that impact us all.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Yo Gabba Gabba Comic Book Time Review

Prior to this morning, the full extent of my knowledge about Yo Gabba Gabba consisted of:
  1. It's a children's TV show that,
  2. features a dude in an orange version of the hats we wore in high school marching band.
So I seriously debated whether or not I should even bother reading it, much less review it. But, geez, look at some of the talent listed on the cover: Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, Michael Allred, Philip Bond... Not to mention other folks NOT listed on the cover: Matthew Loux, Chris Eliopoulos, Frank Pittarese, Dave McCaig... I mean, when your name-dropping PRECLUDES guys like these, there MUST be something worth looking at there!

As I said, I don't know much about the show this is based on, but I am familiar with the general themes of this type of children's programming. So the weird creatures and sometimes surreal moments I was able to take in stride pretty easily. From what I was able to discern about the concept, there's this dude named DJ Lance Rock and he has this playset type of thing called Gabbaland where all these weird creatures hang out. It almost has a Mr Roger's Neighborhood thing going with the Land of Make Believe, only Lance can interact more directly with the others, and he's not quite so stogy. There's lots of happy dancing and singing in Gabbaland, and they take nearly every opportunity to learn or teach basic life skills like "practicing", "inspiration" and "sharing."

The book is basically an anthology of short Gabba stories. They're all over the map with regards to style and pacing and whatnot but, fortunately for me the reviewer, they're all by talented folks, so I can simply say that they're all good. The biggest difference among them is essentially style.

That said, I think Julia Vickerman's piece is the one that does the best job of visually explaining the relationship between Lance and the Gabbalanders. While I really liked what Allred did, and it really took masterful advantage of the comic book medium -- especially after gaining an understanding of the set-up, leading with that piece left me... I won't say confused exactly, but I certainly didn't have an understanding how that relationship worked. Had Vickerman's piece been the lead, it would've made more sense from a newbie's perspective. I was able to figure things out somewhat retroactively, but it would have been nice to see how that world worked earlier in the book.

The stories, overall, are generally pretty simple like one might expect from a kids' television show. As such, it's probably not for most of readers of this site. That is, unless you have young kids who enjoy Yo Gabba Gabba or that type of show. They will undoubtedly appreciate Comic Book Time and you'll have the pleasure of seeing some particularly talented folks at work entertaining your children.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seems Like A Link-Blogging Kind Of Day

Oi. I really need to get more on point with my Wednesday schedule! Wednesday's have been kicking my tuchus every week for at least a month now, and I'm not even swinging by my LCS! In any event, you get some link-blogging for the day. (Hmm. Maybe I just turn that into a regular "feature"...)
  • The creative team that brought you High Moon is currently working on a cool-looking project called The Only Living Boy in New York. I gather it's still a little ways from store shelves yet, but keep your eyes peeled for more info about it!
  • Matthew Nash writes this nice piece for the Sequim Gazette about how cool comics are. It's a genuine and sincere piece directed towards coercing non-comics readers to test out our favorite medium, but it doesn't come across (to me) as preachy. One of the nicest pieces on the subject I've seen.
  • Hey, did you know The 99 are on Twitter? Given that they only have 44 followers, I'm guessing not.
  • I found this one out the hard way. There's a new DVD release out you might stumble across called Comic Book Independents. This is, in fact, the exact same movie as Independents: A Guide To The Creative Spirit, just in slightly different packaging. Good documentary, but don't spend your money on it twice.
  • TwoMorrows has a PDF preview of their upcoming Jack Kirby Collector #56. The issue ships March 30.
  • There's less than one day to go before The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman Kickstarter campaign closes. They've raised 150% of their goal, but that original goal was just for the first cut of the film. So feel free to add your two cents (Or two dollars. Or whatever.) before they close the campaign down.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hear The Marvel World Of Icarus

I was chatting with Ray Wall (of The Ray Wall Band fame) this weekend about comic book rock in general and what he's working on in particular. (Nothing I can mention just yet, but I'm fairly certain he'll have some nice announcements later this year.)

In any event, he pointed me to a band from the 1970s that went by the name of Icarus. All of the members were big Marvel fans and produced a Marvel-themed album called, straight-forwardly enough, The Marvel World of Icarus. I did a bit of digging and found that it crops up in blogs from time to time as people discover a copy at a yard sale or record shop or what-have-you. Sometimes, they'll include a bit of background about how there was a bit of legal scuffle over the thing and the album was pulled almost immediately after release, which owes to its obscurity. Occasionally, they'll make some vague references to the 1970s prog rock vibe all the songs have.

OK, so nothing terribly new or insightful there. But I have NOT seen mentioned very often at all is that six of the songs are available to listen to on The Marvel World of Icarus MySpace page. Furthermore, I found another three songs posted on YouTube and, since I was having trouble getting those MySpace tunes to play in some browsers, thought I'd embed them here...

The album was re-issued in 2007 with five more songs than the original record contained. The CD is available from Amazon. Personally, I really like the nine songs I've heard thus far and am definitely interesting in adding the full album to my MP3 player.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Steve!

Everyone wish a happy birthday to High Moon and Box 13 creator Steve Ellis who, according to his wife, "has never had a day job in his life because his art is that good." Don't believe her? Check it out for yourself and buy a page or two.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Link Blogging

Still out of town and trying to keep the blog from getting static, so let me just throw out a quick linkblog post on a few items that might fly below the normal comics blogosphere's collective radar...
  • Treehugger reports a gent by the name of Super Titi out of Grenoble. he is a real life ecologically superhero who is actually on the city payroll!
  • Designer Matt Kuhns is annoyed that Chipp Kidd gets so much attention within the comics community when there are so many other talented designers out there, many of whom work in or for the comics industry. I know I am familiar with a number of web comic artists that are graphic designers in their day jobs, and who receive zero recognition for that in comicdom.
  • Finally, 20th Century Danny Boy continues publishing transcripts from The court case between Marvel and the Jack Kirby estate. Only read a couple so far but it has been very interesting reading.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kulpatronic FF

I generally don't like fan fiction. Not that I have anything against fan fiction in and of itself, I've just found that a lot of it is written and/or drawn so poorly that I have difficulty continuing past the first page. In this case, however, I stumbled across the last page of a Dick Kulpa story by itself. I enjoyed that single page enough to track down its creator and find out more.

Dick Kulpa is, among other things, a fan of the Fantastic Four. Like many other fans, he grew weary of waiting for Reed Richards' return after the character's apparent death in Fantastic Four #381. After waiting over a year with no hope in sight, Kulpa did what he had to do: create his own story to bring Reed back. It's a simple resolution. It flows quickly. It's executed well. Although there are some small items for Continuity Police to nitpick over, it answers several of this century's big mysteries in the Marvel tradition of re-evaluating history, which more than makes up for any glitches that a Negative Zone researcher (like myself) would notice.

Oh, and on this trip to the Negative Zone, Johnny doesn't die.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lewis & Clark Review

I am still out of town, but wanted to take a little time to write a quick review of Lewis and Clark by Nick Bertozzi.

The book is a historical look at the full classic expedition from 1803 when Congress first approved funding the trip through 1810 after Lewis' death. It is not so much a strict and literal accounting of the adventure itself but rather a broader impression of things. Not that Bertozzi is dropping in all sorts of bizarre fictions, but the focus is one what Lewis (primarily) and Clark had to deal with. Insubordinate underlings, language barriers, negotiations with multiple Native American tribes, uncertain food sources, illnesses, worn shoe soles, etc. It has a solid overview of the trip, but that is just the backdrop to the challenges of exploring the American West.

One of the aspects that I really liked was their dealings with the Native Americans. In the first place, they are shown as clearly different and distinct tribes with their own cultures and societal mores. They are also shown as intelligent and motivated to work with the explorers. More inclined than to work with other tribes in many cases.

Related to that, the communication issues are handled very cleverly. The dialogue switches between English and the various tribes' languages. But when a Native language is being written (in English, so the reader can understand) other languages were displayed as gibberish. Essentially providing the reader with the impression of how a Sioux or Shoshone might "understand" what the Americans were saying.

A couple of the page layouts were a little confusing, mainly when they switch from a left/right opposition to a single layout. Unlike many comics that delineate the difference with a large splash, there did not seem to me to be a good reason in some cases why a double page spread option was used. It was not distracting to the point of making dislike the story at all, but it did pull me out of the story momentarily.

It was a really good read. Certainly a great way to introduce people to Lewis & Clark in a way that is MUCH more interesting than what you learned in social studies class.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Yet Another Mash-Up Day

I'll be going out of town tomorrow for a funeral, so my attention and online presence is likely not going to be on point this week. So this mash-up will have to suffice for at least a little while. Dialogue from Garfield, art from...
Devil's Panties
Interesting that Breeden's comic actually features the characters looking at the pavement and also interesting that the villains in Dynagirl laugh pretty excessively at extremely bad jokes.

Mii Toons

Here's a nice piece from an NBC affiliate out of Florida highlighting Arion Rashad, a 12-year-old who's producing and selling his own Mii Toons comics. Although the "unprecedented" bit ignores Malachai Nicolle (started on Axe Cop at age 5), Alexa Kitchen (created Drawing Comics is Easy at age 6) and Sophie Crumb (worked on Dirty Laundry Comics at age 11) it's still a nice piece and the snippets of Rashad's artwork shown look interesting.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sean's Media Landscape

It's been a while, so I thought I'd provide a quick snapshot of the non-comics media I'm consuming these days.
I'm a Browncoat from back when the show first aired on Fox. It did take me about two and half episodes before I really got into it but since then, it's been the only show I've watched repeatedly. Malcolm's ongoing struggle is one that I can relate to in many different ways, and the show does act as a sort of inspiration for me. I'm currently re-watching the DVDs again.
America's Greatest Otaku
I'm watching this exclusively for the manga connection, but it's interesting to see the other aspects of otaku culture in America. It's one of those shows that, despite only airing on Hulu, is still mainstream enough that I suspect some people will wind up using it as their original/main point of reference for all things otaku. So I figure I ought to at least be familiar with it. (I watch "comic book movies" for the same reason.)
Founders of Comic Fandom by Bill Schelly
Part of my ongoing research into comic fandom. Schelly's certainly the most prolific author on comic fandom and has done a lot of raw research that's very useful. I have some trouble reading him, though, so I've been slogging through this off and on for a few months now. Fortunately, it's broken down into small 2/3/4 page chunks that are easy to drop off and pick up with long intervals.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
I'm actually listening to an audiobook version on my travels to/from Chicago. It occurred to me that I'm only really familiar with the character by proxy where he's perpetually charging at windmills. The windmill bit is just his first "adventure" and a very, very, very small part of the story. There's a lot more there, and it's an interesting study in self-delusion. Plus, the unabridged version is around 37 hours long, so it'll keep me company through at least a few road trips.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Artobiography by Kevin Eastman
This is basically an art book from 2002 focusing on the first dozen or so issues of the Eastman/Laird TMNT comic. Not a whole lot of accompanying text, but I was long struck by the art breakdown between the two creators so when I recently won a copy of the book, I was eager that it might shed some light on how that work was delineated. Honestly, I've only skimmed through the book briefly so far, but I'll be digging into it shortly.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

1940 Marvel Comics Ad

I found this scan buried on an old CD. It's an ad from 1940 in Marvel Stories, which had been retitled from Marvel Tales for the final two issues. It would've been on the stands at about the same time as Marvel Mystery Comics #13.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Where The Bloody Heck Did Annuals Come From Anyway?

I was chatting with my friend Matt and we got to thinking about the concept of the Annual. Take a second to think about it.

It's a comic book that's based off/tied to a regular ongoing series. But it only comes out once a year. And it's usually not directly tied to whatever is established in that main book -- either from a story or from a publication perspective. They also often do not feature the creative team of the main book. It's a separate entity unto itself, except that it's considered part of the regular comic. It's really kind of a bizarre quirk of the medium, if you think about it in those terms. So where did they come from?

Well, Lew Stringer actually pulled some info together on this a few years ago. The predecessors date back to the 1820s with a children's Christmas book that came out towards the end of the year; it was called, appropriately enough, The Christmas Box. Half a century later, Chatterbox began as a weekly children's paper founded by John Erskine Clarke. Early on, they began also releasing a larger, hardcover version around Christmas and its popularity and longevity helped to solidify the notion as it was tied to a children's periodical.

The first one with comics was The Playbox Annual from 1909 which featured comic strips like Tiger Tim. As comic books came into being and proved popular, comic annuals started to become a staple. The basic idea of an oversized book coming out towards the end of the year was consistent. Essentially, it was a marketing gimmick publishers used to get more money around the holidays, when people were more likely to spend it.

As near as I can tell, this started to change somewhat in the late 1950s. Annuals seems to start coming out at all times throughout the year. While Giant Lois Lane Annual #2 went on sale in June 1963, Giant Superman Annual #8 had an on-sale date of late November that year, GIant Superboy Annual #1 debuted in April 1964 and Giant Batman Annual #7 hit the streets in later in May. My guess -- given that all that all those titles are from the same publisher -- is that they were trying to pick up on the extra sales of an annual, but spread out all of their publications throughout the year. The thinking being that if ALL of their annuals came out at the same time, a child wouldn't have the cash available to afford all of them; whereas if they were spread out throughout the year, they might be able to purchase more.

That's a bit of a guess on my part, though. I'm not sure if publisher were really thinking along those lines back in the 1950s and '60s.

The other possibility that occurs to me is that, since the Christmas timing/theme was originally a British notion, it may well not have translated here in the States. American publishers may have just gotten the "put out one extra issue every year" idea, and not put any though towards what time of the year it should be published.

It's interesting to note, too, that even after starting Annuals, publishers were not always consistent with them. Fantastic Four Annual first came out as a yearly book in 1963, but the were none published in 1972, 1974, 1975, 1982 or 1986. Presumably the lapses in '74 and '75 owed to the Giant-Size FF book that ran as a quarterly magazine for those two years, but I'm at a loss to explain the others. I can maybe see something in the 1980s where regular series creator John Byrne was to busy to do the Annuals himself, and no one felt it was appropriate or was allowed to have another team on the book? But that's a really a guess. And still wouldn't explain 1972.

The notion of multiple Annuals being tied together as a cohesive story dates to the late 1980s, and one could make the argument that was the time when commercialism overtook storytelling; however, it should be reiterated that the very notion of Annuals came about as a blatant form of commercialism that owed more to filling publishers' coffers than providing quality entertainment. We just don't tie it as readily to Christmas any more.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Mash-Up Day!

Crazy busy day, and I'm not going to get a chance to post anything this evening, so I'm banging out some quick mash-ups for today's post. Dialogue from today's Garfield, art from today's...
Devil's Panties

Legend of Bill

I'm actually pretty amused by the odd turn things take by removing the photo album visual reference, and directing the dialogue towards other individuals. It certainly makes Bill look even more unhinged as he's apparently slaughtered his past selves. (Which would create a time paradox, wouldn't it?)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Of Randomizers, Color Keys & Drug Lords

Well, the evening seems to have all but gotten away from me. And since I happen to have a few links worth sharing, I figure it's about time for a bit of link-blogging.
  • Neil Cohn points to an experiment Sunday Comics Scrambler by his assistant, Suzi Grossman. She's taken some panels from various Sunday newspaper strips and put them in a randomizer. But she's gone the extra step of establishing panels into one of three categories (Initial, Peak, and Release) to coax a more linear narrative. Despite drawing from several different titles, it flows surprisingly well. Which I think speaks to the banality of a lot of those strips. Interesting to play around with and think about.
  • Chip Cataldo, over at Action Figure Insider, showcases the master color key for the Martian Manhunter Mini-Comic that accompanied that action figure in Kenner's original Super Powers collection. Interesting to remember that that's how comics were colored prior to computers.
  • Then we have the story of Aaron Castro, who will be going on trial in May for narcotics distribution and weapons charges. Apparently, Castro was using the money he earned selling methamphetamines to buy comic books. The government is alleging this was in part to launder the money and is trying to confiscate the 18,753 comics, valued at over half a million dollars.
  • My weekly column over at MTV seems to be getting fairly well-received. Last week I used Paul Horn's Cool Jerk as an example of how webcomic creators earn money, and this week I highlight David O'Connell's Tozo to show different reasons why a reader might want to buy printed copies of the comics they can read online for free. Truthfully, though, I think the only people who actually told me they liked the pieces were Horn and O'Connell.
  • Lastly, I'll mention that you can buy a copy (or several) of my book for 20% off using the coupon code GIANT305 through the seventh.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Black Phantom: The First Black Superhero

Research can be a frustrating beast. Much of what I read about the history of comics and comic fandom focuses on obscure and largely irrelevant (to me) minutia, not to mention often being deadly dull. But every now and then, I can find a beautiful gem that makes much of the tedium worthwhile.

In reading Bill Schelly's Founders of Comic Fandom, there's a two-page biography of Steve Perrin, a prolific fanzine author and publisher before he got around to creating RuneQuest. The gem here is that Perrin created a character called The Black Phantom that debuted in Mask and Cape #4 circa 1964. That's him prominently displayed on the cover. Schelly describes the Black Phantom (and another hero that Perrin debuted that issue called The Wraith) as " the first black costumed heroes in fandom."

I read that and thought to myself, "In fandom? Doesn't the 1964 debut even pre-date Marvel's Black Panther?"

I double-checked and, indeed, the Black Panther debuted in Fantastic Four #52 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Cover dated July 1966.

Now, Black Panther was certainly not the first black character to appear in comics. Lee Falk introduced Lothar into his Mandrake the Magician stories decades earlier, and Dell already held the distinction of being the first to publish a comic book (Lobo) with the headline character being African-American. But Panther is generally considered the first black superhero.

Except that, apparently, he isn't.

Perrin's story in Mask and Cape is prose, with a few illustrations. The Black Phantom didn't see a true comic book realization until Fantasy Illustrated #6, which didn't come out until late 1966, after Panther's debut. But the idea of a black superhero is at least two years earlier than Black Panther.

Let me reiterate that: The first black superhero was published TWO YEARS before Black Panther.

Lee and Kirby did NOT create the first black superhero. The first superhero to appear in a comic book? Sure. But not the first black superhero. Please update your mental database, Wikipedia, etc. accordingly.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The FF On Russian TV

I found this buried on an old CD. It's a Russian television commercial promoting their equivalent of Fantastic Four vol. 3 #35. I believe they were running 6-8 months behind U.S. publication at the time, so the spot is probably from mid-2001.