Sunday, July 31, 2011

Make Your Own Baxter Building

I just came across Chad Beggs' site in which he showcases some playsets he's designed and built for Heroclix figures. Besides the Baxter Building, he's also built the Daily Bugle, the Batcave and a warehouse. What's more, he's got the designs and art available as downloadable PDFs so you can make your own.

Theoretically, these would also work fairly well with Minimates figures if you just wanted a backdrop for them.

Some really nice work, and I doubt the photos do them justice.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Re-Reading Buz Sawyer In 2011

I happened upon some Buz Sawyer reprints lately and thought it might be interesting to give them a peruse. These particular ones are from Pioneer circa 1988. They took a somewhat uncomfortable approach, in that they re-worked all of the art to fit the traditional pamphlet comic format. So the size of text and line weights vary all over the place, and the level of detail for any given panel stands a good chance of not making sense. Plus, the story beats seem a little weird since it's clearly written AS a newspaper strip, with a pretty regular 3 and 4 panel beat, but the page layouts don't follow that at all, putting the story beats all over the place.

But that was Pioneer's doing. I was more interested in seeing what Roy Crane did originally.

It was definitely a strange experience reading through the stories. In the first place, these early strip were written and are set squarely during World War II. Which means that it comes across largely as propaganda for the stars and stripes, apple pie, baseball and the American dream. Further, the casual attitude towards killing Japanese and German soldiers was somewhat disquieting. I mean, I know that the countries were at war and that there was a pervasive notion that all Japanese were inherently evil, but the sheer excitement some of the characters have at the prospect of shooting at them was unnerving. "More ammo! More ammo! Hot dingies, I never saw so much shooting in my life! Watch 'em fall! Watch 'em fall! Whee!"

The writing, at least in those early stories, is steeped in the American value system of the time. So it's jingoistic and sexist and bigoted, and presents itself as all of those attitudes are not only normal but almost demanded. I mean, I've seen movies and read other comics from the same period, and I get that there was a different mindset that you have to take into consideration when revisiting them decades later, but this seemed mean instead of just ignorant.

I also had a little difficulty with the art. The characters were all drawn rather comically, as one might expect in a comic strip. But the planes and ships... they all had a gorgeous hyper-realism that I would not have expected in a daily newspaper strip. Particularly some of the close-ups of the engines? Wow. Crane had some serious drawing chops! I'm familiar with the notion of drawing the characters and the background at different levels of detail to engage the reader on different emotional levels, but the disconnect here was that ONLY the planes and ships were drawn realistically. Everything else (desks, office equipment, trees, etc.) took on the same cartoonish quality as the characters. It seemed to me more like Crane was using the strip as an excuse to draw cool planes and ships, and the rest of it was just crap he had to throw in there so someone would pay him.

Now I'm sure that the strip was viewed differently when it was initially published. Totally different time, with different expectations and all that. But I've rarely seen a work of any sort that was so successful (Buz Sawyer ran from 1943 until 1989) and hold up so poorly. I mean, I'm sure it changed somewhat with the times, but re-reading those mid-40s strips here in 2011 was really difficult for me. I've read plenty of comics and seen plenty of cartoons from that same period where the creators were clearly waging their own war on the Japanese and Germans, but it was always in the service of making America and democracy safe, never for the sheer joy of killing.

Friday, July 29, 2011

News + Notes

It's time for another edition of "What Sean's Up To"...

Ethan Young Interview
At Comic-Con International, Hermes Press announced that they'll be doing a printed version of Ethan Young's Tails webcomic. I scored an exclusive interview about this with Young, which has just gone up over at MTV Geek. My first CCI exclusive, and I wasn't even on that coast!

Jack Kirby Collector
Debuted at Comic-Con: Jack Kirby Collector #57 with my "Incidental Iconography" column featuring Prester John. Some interesting leads I tracked down for that one! You can download a preview or order a print copy here.

Team Cul de Sac Fanzine
I've mentioned before how I contributed a piece in support of Richard Thompson and Parkinson’s research. (I talk about a classic New Mutants issue by Chris Claremont.) Now it's available for purchase online. Forty pages for $5 with a cool cover by Thompson himself. Head on over to the Team Cul de Sac blog to purchase your copy. It's a really great 'zine and I had a blast reading through all the pieces!

Wizard World Chicago
The S.O. and I have tentative plans to hit WWC on Saturday, August 13. We'll probably mostly just be wandering around, so look for The Hat if you're there. Ping me before-hand if you want to try to get together.

EBSCO Publishing Graphic Novel Encyclopedia
Salem Press actually got folded into its larger EBSCO parent company in the tail end of June. They're still going ahead with their Graphic Novel Encyclopedia, though, and I just wrapped up my contributions this week. I don't know yet if the structural change in the business will have an impact on the book's release date.

mysterious webcomic
I'm sure there's always a new webcomic in the works somewhere. But one of them looks to be one that I'll actually be contributing to. We haven't really gotten into discussing details yet, but there's some talented folks who've at least expressed initial interest. I'll post more as we get things solidified, but it ought to be interesting to say the least!

my next book
I mentioned back in June the idea of working on a book about comic book retailing's history. After talking with Robert Beerbohm, though, it sounded like his book and mine would have had a lot of overlap, so I'm not going to try to compete with him. But I do have another book idea that will be as equally unpopular as Comic Book Fanthropology but shouldn't require quite as much work on my part. I don't want to say too much yet, as I'm just starting my research, but it should have some cross-hobbyist appeal for both comic book fans and magicians.

MTV Geek
I'm still going strong with my regular Kleefeld on Webcomics column. Recent topics have included real retcons, historical fiction set in the 1700s, group webcomics and getting your questions answered from the webcomic creators themselves.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Touring A Printing Facility

How many of you are familiar with how a comic book gets from the original art in the creators' hands to the stapled paper pamphlet in your hands? In my day job, several of us graphics folks filmed a tour of a local printing facility to walk through the entire printing process, specifically to enlighten those co-workers who might not be familiar with it. While the specific pieces we were following did not come together as a comic book, the process is almost exactly the same, so I thought I might share the videos on my blog. There are three clips, each of about five minutes, that should all play straight though here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Early-ish Wednesday Links

  • The Tellers of Weird Tales blog recently ran a four-part series reprinting a letter from James O. Causey dating from sometime in the early 1980s. The letter was in response to a request from Randal Everts concerning Causey's career. Of interest to comic fans is that Causey's letter also talks quite a bit about his long-time friend Bill Blackbeard! Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.
  • If the caption on this image is accurate, the true superheroes of SDCC were these two folks cosplaying as the Flash and Wonder Woman. And it doesn't hurt that they both have excellent costumes. (Say, can we identify these two people? Seriously, they really should get some honest kudos for what they did to help that kid.)
  • Michael Sangiacomo notes that the Siegel and Shuster Society is petitioning to get a set of official Ohio license plates available emblazoned with the classic Superman "S" shield and the tag line: "Ohio -- Birthplace of Superman." I notice however that there's no mention of the possible trademark infringement by using the insignia without DC's permission.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trying-Not-To-Make-It-A-Late-Night Mash-Ups

I spent most of the evening working a paying gig before realizing how late it was. So instead of trying to force myself to write something else clever and witty and charming and insightful, staying up all night to the slave of some as-yet-unarrived muse, I'm just going to grab today's dialogue from Garfield and throw it into...

That Deaf Guy

The Adventures of Superhero Girl

Normally, the absurd juxtaposition of the trite Garfield text with art that was clearly not intended to accompany it improves the humor of the "joke." No such luck today, it seems. Better luck next time, I suppose.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Friday Foster

I'm always appreciative of discovering comics that I hadn't known existed for whatever reason, so I try to share with you all when I can. The S.O. and I recently watched the 1975 film, Friday Foster, starring Pam Grier and Yaphet Kotto. The movie was unintentionally laughable -- everything from a script that seemed to be missing every other page to random explosions for no reason to an insanely over-acted death scene by Carl Weathers to a soundtrack that sounded like it was written by a kid trying to emulate Peter Frampton. We had a laugh-riot mocking the Ruffles-eating police detective for hours after the movie ended.

Anyway, it turns out that the movie was based on a comic strip of the same name!

The strip was originally by Jim Lawrence (of Captain Easy and Joe Palooka fame) and Jorge Longaron (who was making his American comics debut here). The story revolved around Friday Foster, a model-turned-fashion-photographers'-assistant, and was a mixture of romance and adventure with some social commentary thrown in for good measure. The strip debuted on January 18, 1970 and lasted a scant four years, but did spawn a Dell-published comic book in 1972 and the aforementioned movie, which wasn't actually released until a year after the strips' cancellation. (The comic book can be read on the Femmes Fantastique blog here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. The movie can be seen on Hulu here.)

The comic strip is generally cited as the first mainstream (i.e. nationally syndicated) strip featuring a black character in the title role. (Jackie Ormes' earlier Torchy didn't get widely distributed, and Ted Shearer's Quincy didn't debut until later in 1970.) As far as I've been able to determine, though, the original strips have never been collected and/or reprinted, an oversight that I wouldn't mind seeing corrected, especially in lieu of how little information about the strip is online!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The RoadID Comic

I took up running relatively recently. I was never a great runner, so I started slowly. On the treadmill. Over the past several months, I've improved considerably and these days, a six mile run barely registers on my mental/emotional radar.

But that means my longer runs have moved outside. In part because more than an hour on the treadmill is exceptionally tedious regardless of what's on the television in front of you, and in part because the treadmills at my local gym automatically stop after an hour. With these 10+ mile runs outside, Mom was understandably concerned that I might get run over or trip and break my ankle or something. I didn't carry any form of identification since dog tags, wallets and such are decidedly uncomfortable to carry on runs like that. So she pointed me to RoadID. They just sell sport bracelets, ankle wraps, etc. that can be etched with emergency contact information. A fairly simple, straightforward, but still elegant solution.

Their web presence is well-designed. Professional logo, nice shopping cart functionality, the works. I received my sport bracelet the other day, and it likewise showed well-done packaging and customer info and whatnot. But included was this curious history of the product...
It's not terrible, but it's decidedly less professional looking than everything else I've seen from them. A hold-over from the company's earlier start-up days, perhaps?

I'm all for putting comics into instruction booklets and the like, and that's cool that this company's done one for their own origin story, but I wonder if it still makes sense as part of their overall branding. Does it speak to the company's target market? Urban and suburban sports/exercise enthusiasts who have to navigate the vagarities of 21st century life in America.

In any event, I still appreciate finding comics of any sort like this fascinating. Seeing how people outside the industry use the medium helps highlight, I think, the perspective of what anyone in the industry tends to get isolated from.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The HLN Logo

When I'm on the treadmill at the gym, I'm stuck staring at a handful of televisions tuned to one of five stations, with CNN being the least horrible among them. And periodically, they run ads for shows on their sister network HLN. If you're not familiar with HLN, it's basically a gossip channel and they make no bones about being a gossip channel. Not my thing, but if they're able to make money doing that, fine.

What strikes me, though, is their logo...
It's a ligatured version of the letters HLN ensconced in a stylized word balloon. Makes complete sense, given the channel's focus.

What strikes me as odd, though, is that they never seem to actually make use of the word balloon logo in that way. The tail always appears on the left, and they seem to go out of their way to have it not pointing anywhere where it might be construed to be coming from a person on screen. Here's a screen grab from one of their promos to show you what I mean...
More interestingly, they don't ignore the logo's design. In fact, many of their pieces are like the one above in that they use a fairly rigid grid structure based on the square parameters of the logo. But they make a point to not take advantage of the logo's lineage.

I can kind of see where they're coming from. I suspect the original designers think of the logo as being sacrosanct, and feel it shouldn't be trivialized by making it look like part of a comic. Or maybe they don't want to trivialize the hosts by making it look like they're speaking the logo? Either way, I think that type of thinking is pretentious bullshit, personally, but I tend to design from a more practical perspective.

Here's what I can't explain, though: the HLN home page...
Comic book style word balloons coming directly from several of their hosts. You know, if you're going to do that, you have ZERO right to hold that logo in some sort of "higher" esteem. Besides, the curved edges on the rectangular shapes with wide borders completely contradicts the style established in the logo. The style that's used so heavily in all of their broadcasts. You want to break the design standards, do it intelligently and with some rationale beyond just "to be different."

Anyway, a quick look at the HLN logo, clearly based on the iconic word balloon of comic books.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Borders Order Canellation

This morning, I received the following email from Borders concerning an order I had placed with them a month or so back.
The cheapest used version on Amazon right now lists at $82, which is why I tried ordering it from Borders. They were the only folks who seemed to have it priced reasonably. But it's interesting to note that the cancellation notice makes no mention of the bookstore chain closing, instead suggesting that the cancellation is because of a printing or distribution problem. I'm sure it's a standard cancellation notice that they've been using for years, but you'd think they re-word it a bit given the circumstances.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

For Those Playing Along At Home

A couple of minor updates from yesterday's note about watching Comic-Con International from home...

Comic Books Resources' news feed is almost exclusively CCI related material at the moment. They tend to have pretty comprehensive coverage, so I've added that up top.

Marvel is also running some embeddable streaming video from their site. It was turned off when I took this screen capture this morning (hence the empty black square) but I was able to watch the show crowd up last night in the first hour or so that it was open. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to hear the over-the-speaker announcement welcoming everyone to the opening of the con.
I was mistaken about the Sirius CCI channel going live last night; it doesn't start until tonight. I'll see if I can add that later. I'm also trying to see if there's a way to pull in G4's and/or SyFy's coverage.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Link Wednesday

Well, I am decidedly NOT in San Diego right now (keeping my record of never having been there intact!) and, though I'm sure the internets will be filling up shortly with Comic-Con news, I'm going with some of the more off-the-beaten-path stuff from outside the event, as I often do...
  • Matt Bors has a nice write-up and video about a Stumptown panel he was on a few months ago entitled "The Future of Journalism is... Comics!"
  • Maggie Thompson relays the generationally-lost origin of the phrase "It is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan."
  • Finally, ABC's World News Now spoke briefly with Brian Walker about newspaper strips and, in particular, his father's work on Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois...

Tracking SDCC

Like many of you, I am decidedly NOT attending this year's San Diego Comic-Con, but I am interested in what's going on there. Back in the day, you used to have to wait weeks or even months to hear about what happened, but these days, it's essentially real-time. The trick is, though, to figure out how to catch what's getting thrown out there. In years past, I've generally just tried to keep on my regular comics news feed channels. It essentially amounted to monitoring what I was already monitoring, but with a little more frequency. This year, I'm going to try to improve on that.

I've noted before how I use iGoogle to sort through my news. What I've done this year is attempt to set up a temporary page specifically for Comic-Con in addition to my normal news feeds. Here's my first draft as of about an hour ago...
Starting at the top of the first column is a feed pulling in any items that show up in Google's news search with the phrase "Comic-Con" in it. The + marks before each title show a brief summary, and clicking the link takes me over to the whole article.

Beneath that is a Comics Alliance's RSS feed for anything they tag with "Conventions." I don't normally check their site, but they're one of the few comic sites I've found that separates out their feeds by different tags.

Below that is a YouTube widget that's specifically pulling in the latest video from Things From Another World. They had some decent coverage last year, and I subscribe to their YouTube channel, but having it embedded here means there's one less place for me to check manually.

In the middle is an iframe embedded with the MTV Geek page dedicated to SDCC. They don't have a feed especially for the convention, and I'm particularly interested to see what they do this year. I track them through other channels as well, but I want to ensure I don't miss any of their con coverage.

Below that is a widget that plays a slideshow of the most recent photos uploaded to Flickr and tagged with "Comic-Con". It always starts with the most recent, so I don't have to wait to see if anyone's uploaded something new. I can stop the slideshow at any point if there's a particularly enticing image I want to study more closely.

On the far right is a Twitter gadget that I've defaulted to pulling in everything with the #SDCC hashtag. It's already been flying through Tweets faster than I can keep up, but I'm planning to use that more to get a sense of the atmosphere of the show. I've still got a separate Twitter client on my desktop to keep an eye on all the regular folks that I follow anyway.

With the show just getting underway, there are definitely some other things I'm going to see if I can include if possible. The Sirius radio channel, once it starts later tonight, for example. There's supposedly a few other news feeds that will get started in the next day or so as well. Like I said, too, this is all in addition to my existing monitoring of comic news. But I can keep this running through the next week or so, and delete it once the show ends. We'll see how that works.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It Rhymes With Lust Review

I just read the Dark Horse reprint of It Rhymes with Lust, often cited as one of the seminal books in the history of graphic novels. It was originally published in 1950 and tells the story of a power-hungry woman named Rust Masson, and her attempt to gain control of Copper City. The story was by Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller, with art by Matt Baker and Osrin.

Drake's work that I'm most familiar with are his humor books, mainly from the 1960s. I've seen a few of his superhero stories, too, but they had they had the trappings and conceits of the time and publisher. That is, they were a bit corny. I only know Baker really by his reputation as an artist who excelled at drawing beautiful women. I've seen a few of his covers but that was about it.

So, coming to Lust, I was expecting not far removed from the romance comics of the 1950s, perhaps with a little more sexual innuendo. I was instead pleasantly surprised by what I found.

The story isn't terribly complex, but the characters are all definitely a lot more three-dimensional than what you'd typically find in those romance comics. There were some unusual characterization issues -- notably how Hal becomes soppingly obedient to Rust whenever she's in the same room, but is a strong, macho character otherwise -- but they tended to stand out because everything else was pretty solidly done.

What really impressed me, though, was Baker's art. Yes, all the women are beautifully rendered, but his art was top-notch across the board. Everything he drew in there was smooth and stylish, whether it was the plucky kid delivering newspapers or the overweight robber baron or the Cadillac in the background. PLUS, the man had some strong storytelling chops! I was never once at a loss for how the action moved around the page, and it was always immediately obvious what a character was feeling just by their facial expression and body language.

There was this other clever thing going that I don't recall seeing before. At least, not this specific variation on the idea. The book is in black and white, and Baker drew and inked everything normally. But then, there was a white half-tone pattern (presumably Zip-a-tone) added over top of everything except the focus of the panels. It was often used to relegate the background to the background -- not unlike a soft focus in a movie -- but it was also used anywhere where part of the scene wasn't as important, regardless of where it appeared. There were a couple places where it seemed a tad out of place, but it worked surprisingly well, I thought.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it's a stellar read, but it was a very solid book, even compared to later works. And I have an hugely increased amount of respect for Baker. I was waffling about getting that biography of him from TwoMorrows but I am totally sold on it now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nelson Mandela The Authorized Comic Book Review

In honor of Nelson Mandela's 93rd birthday today, I thought I'd take a look at the graphic novel biography of him, put out by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2009.

The book covers his early childhood all the way up through his retirement, with some addendum afterwards. Having not really studied Mandela or apartheid before, it was definitely enlightening to see who he was before being imprisoned and the struggles he endured to get the recognition he now has.

Unfortunately, though, the book falls into several of the traps that can be a bane to comic biographies. In the first place, it's written more as a prose work with spot illustrations. Dialogue is generally limited, as are panel-to-panel actions. The writer here (who is uncredited) is an expert in the subject, but not in the form of storytelling that is sequential art. Similarly, the artist (also uncredited) shows little sense of page flow and/or layout, and relies heavily on photo references in some case providing little more than tracings from a few Photoshop filters applied to a photo. Which makes many of the images both stiff and, over the course of the 200-some pages, repetitive.

Doubly unfortunately, those are not the biggest problems of the book. The bigger problem is that it's just not written very well. Some of the issues are relatively minor, like how people get repeatedly name-checked as if they're prominent or important, but aren't introduced into the story until later and only then have a short dialogue box citing why they're worth bringing up. And there's awkwardness with the chapter introductions that are narrated by a tour guide of some sort, only to have her disappear until the next chapter. But there's a broader problem with the structure of the book itself. Namely, that it tells of Mandela and his upbringing, but provides almost no context. The word "apartheid" doesn't get used at all until almost a quarter of the way through the book and, even then, it's only in passing. There's little in the way of saying what Mandela was struggling against, and even less evidence of it in the story. So, ultimately, when Mandela is imprisoned, it's not terribly clear why. The story makes it obvious enough that the imprisonment was unjust, and Mandela himself makes repeated comments about racial divides, but there's nothing about how exactly there were problems.

Despite not really studying him before, I did have some vague knowledge of who he was and why he was imprisoned for so long. I think that's an assumption that the writer makes here about his/her audience, that you come to the table with a basic understanding of apartheid and Mandela's role in abolishing it. Which I suppose works well enough if you're like me, but I don't think it would work at all for children and probably not very well for most Americans either. I'm glad I read the book, as it did have some new and useful information to me, but I'd be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone; Mandela's Wikipedia entry is more cohesive, insightful and entertaining. Which is a shame because I think there's a lot that COULD be said about Mandela in a graphic novel.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tales From A Comic Shop

I was talking with a cousin of mine recently, and we chatted briefly about the comic shop he frequents. It's actually one of my former haunts, and we used to run into each other there semi-regularly. I stopped going there about ten years ago because of a move, but it's still my cousin's closest shop.

I try to hit different local comic shops when I travel. More for seeing how other shops operate and what types of business models they use than to actually purchase anything. (Though I usually do that as well.) Now, admittedly, I haven't been to THAT many shops in the past, say, five years but what I have noticed is an increasing reliance on stock besides back issues of traditional pamphlets. Some of the places still have some back issue stock, of course, but more and more of their store is being used for trade paperbacks, hardcovers and the like.

Not so at the shop my cousin still goes to. In fact, he's even pointed out to the manager there that few people peruse the back issue bins any more and they're taking up a LOT of real estate. I never counted, but the last time I was there, they had at least 500 long boxes of back issues on the floor. My cousin says that hasn't really changed, and the initial small bookshelf additions that were made before I moved a decade ago have been the extent of their changing with the market.

To be fair, there's been a fairly dramatic shift over the past 10-15 years in the comic industry. But the complaints that eBay was drawing away shops' back issue business have been prevalent almost since eBay's inception. Not to mention the big, early online retail shops like Mile High and Lone Star. You'd have to live in a pretty sheltered bubble to avoid seeing that selling back issues out of a store front is not really a great way to stay in business.

Now, maybe it's just a storage issue. After all, they had all those long boxes BEFORE the internet started changing the industry. Maybe they just don't have anywhere better to put them than in the middle of the store. But they could still free up a lot of the floor space fairly easily by just placing half of the long boxes on the floor. (They're all on tables currently.) Sure, it's not ideal to rifle through a long box sitting under a table, but no one's doing that when they're at a more convenient height now.

It's possible there's a financial issue there. They would have to buy more TPB and HC stock, as well as bookshelves (or something) to put them on. But it's an old business axiom that you have to spend money to make money, and it seems to me worth it to take out a couple thousand dollar loan to update things and make some eventual profit, rather than have those back issues taking up space and (by and large) not generating any money at all.

As I said, I haven't actually been to the shop in years. It's possible my cousin's exaggerating that nothing's been updated. But I've driven by a few times and can still see the extremely faded superhero standee in the front window -- the same standee that's been there since 1996. So I suspect it hasn't changed. And it's possible they're still doing decent business and new issue sales are quite profitable for them, thankyouverymuch.

But it nonetheless seems strange to me to hold to a "well, this is how we've always done it" methodology when the whole industry is changing around you. If something stops working (or works with severely decreased effectiveness), especially when it's because of a changing environment around you, you change what it is you're doing to adapt to the new situation. Doing what used to work in an old environment is almost a sure road to failure in a new environment.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why I'll Miss The Xerics

News is circulating about how the Xeric Foundation will cease providing grants to comic book creators. It's hardly surprising that they're changing focus, as the web has allowed creators to post their work for next-to-nothing, print-on-demand has allowed creators to get their work in print for next-to-nothing, and Kickstarter has allowed creators to raise funds for more traditional printing models. The barriers to entry into the comic industry are exponentially lower than when Peter Laird first created the Xerics.

So, functionally, I don't expect there'll be too huge an impact on the industry as a whole. The people who would have submitted something for a Xeric will simply find other avenues to pursue. As those who submitted entries and didn't win already do. As readers, then, we won't miss out on some cool independent project because it can't get funding. (After all, the Xerics are awarded to people who have completed or nearly completed their comic anyway; the prize money is just for printing.)

But here's why I'll miss the Xerics: they have been an incredibly powerful shorthand for identifying great comics. Oh, there's other comic awards out there, of course, but those always come across as hit or miss for me. Just because a comic won a Harvey or an Eisner or whatever doesn't mean I'll really enjoy or appreciate it. But the Xerics, I've found, are consistently high quality and enjoyable. I have yet to read a Xeric-winning book that I didn't enjoy, a claim I can't make regarding the Eisners.

Clay Shirkey has noted that, culturally, we tend to bemoan the over-abundance of information when, in fact, the problem is more that we simply don't have the proper filters in place to remove what's irrelevant to us as individuals. The Xerics have been, for me at least, one of those filters. If I was looking for good books, I knew that simply choosing something off a list of Xeric-winners was a sure bet.

I've got other filters in place -- Twitter and Google+ and whatever -- and those certainly catch a lot of the garbage that I wouldn't want to read. But there were other books that slipped through and, despite good reviews and/or hype, I didn't enjoy.

So here's to the memory of the Xerics. I haven't read each and every one, so I can still go back to trying to hunt some of those down, but I've long-appreciated what the award represented. I'll just have to see if I can sort out some new filters now to help take the place of this one that I'm losing.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Day Of Avengers Training

I opted to head over to today's extras casting call for the Avengers movie. It was supposed to run from noon until 4:00 at an almost-local Holiday Inn. I was mainly curious about the extras casting process, and this would be one of the few movies I'd have enough of an interest in to bother. So I got myself up early, put on a suit (per their instructions in the casting call announcement) and headed out.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, having never done anything like this before. I figured I'd get there a bit early, hang out with maybe a few hundred other people, have them take my name and contact info, and head home by 1:00 or 1:30.

Not so much.

I did indeed arrive about 45 minutes early. But there was enough traffic that it took me 15 minutes to park after I first pulled into the Holiday Inn parking lot. And the only reason I parked that quickly was because I went to the Red Roof Inn across the street.

There was already a noticeable line, which I stepped in at around 11:30. It looked like this...
It's a little hard to see clearly from here, but if you look closely over the left shoulder of that guy with the orange hair, you can see the line continuing to snake around the back of the building. I'm not a great estimator of crowds, but I'm thinking there were about 1000 people in front of me. By noon (when the casting call officially started) it looked like there were another 1000 behind me...
The line moved forward slowly in fits and starts. More people kept arriving and joining the tail end of the line, which eventually snaked around the entire property almost meeting up with what I thought was the front of the line. I think it'd be safe to estimate at least another 1000 people joined after I snapped that previous picture.

Not surprisingly, small pockets of groups formed in the line as people got to know each other while standing together. There was a fairly quick realization that things were going to take a while, so most people tried breaking down barriers early on. I overheard many (what I hope were) jokes about trying to meet director Joss Whedon or actor Robert Downey Jr. today. Or how it would be super-cool if we got cast as SHIELD agents.

There seemed to me a refreshingly diverse mix of people there. I figured it would be heavily fanboyish and, while they were clearly represented well, there were all sorts of other people too. Obviously, the aspiring actors and actresses with resumes in hand but also a range of folks who just heard about this and thought it might be interesting and/or fun. Plus, one thing that I'm ashamed to admit hadn't occurred to me prior to going, someone mentioned that he was guessing about half of the attendees were simply out of work and needed a job of any sort.

The weather for the first two hours or so was pleasant. A bit warm, but it was overcast so things weren't unbearable. Once the sun came out -- right around the time I got to the parking lot pavement -- most people started sweating pretty heavily. We did that for about an hour before we got close enough to the actual building to stand in the shade.

Now, me? I don't mind the heat all that much, but I am relatively fair-skinned, so I tried to stick to the shade as much as possible. Not figuring on such a huge turnout, and having to wait for hours outside, I didn't bring sunblock. Not surprisingly, I could see by my reflection in some of the glass doors that I still got a bit red.

It wasn't until after 4:00 that I and the folks around me got inside. Casting coordinator Maryellen Aviano did at one point say that everybody who was in line at 4:00 would get seen, but there was clearly another 3-4 hours' worth of people still in line when I left around 4:30. I don't know how long they continued bringing people in after I left; for all I know, they still are as of this writing!

Once I was inside, things went quickly. Aviano essentially told us that 4+ hour wait was not unlike what actual filming would be like. Generally 10-14 hour days in August in downtown Cleveland. The line itself was actually a trial, deliberately set up as a way to winnow the number of candidates down and prepare those who remained for what filming would be like. No one seemed dissuaded, so we all filled out some paperwork and got our pictures taken for reference.

My chances of actually getting a call back, I figure, are about nil. I was given #1688, suggesting that there were at least 1600 people before me in line. And they're just going to go through the photos and pick the first 1000 (or however many) people they need that fit whatever basic visuals they're shooting for. A certain percentage of women versus men, different ratios of races and ages. I'm going to try to second-guess what they're looking for, but I do know that there were enough people there on Day One (with another casting call tomorrow) to more than fill the spaces they need. So are they going to even bother calling the generic white guy who got kind of burnt by the time they took my photo? If they just go down the list to call the first 2000 people and if they assume the redness in my photo is just color-distortion of the camera (oddly, I cooked relatively evenly for some reason and there was no other red hues for comparison in the picture) they might call me. I'm not about to hold my breath, but it was still interesting from the education/experience perspective.

Here's a local news report covering the event (with a short ad embedded before it). If you look quickly, you can kind of see me checking my phone behind the guy in the purple shirt 8-9 seconds into the news clip.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Random Comic Photos In The Library Of Congress

I was just trolling through the Library of Congress website and found a few photos of possible interest to comics folks...

Winsor McCay sketching for the Actors Benefit for Crippled Children, 1908.

From a school for refugee children, 1942. Photo by Marjory Collins.

Wanda Newman and Teresa Phillips at Do Dah Day in Birmingham, AL, 2010. Photo by Carol Highsmith.

Maybe it's just me, but I find this kind of stuff fascinating. How they show the cultural and social impact of comics over the course of American history.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Links-A-Daisy

  • The French website madmoiZelle recently conducted an interview with Jimmy Beaulieu about his new graphic novel, Com├ędie sentimentale pornographique. This Google translation of the page is pretty legible for non-French-speakers.
  • Matt Kuhns thinks the "Fear Itself" teaser image has bad typography. I can't disagree.
  • Ken Quattro examines in detail the FBI's investigations into whether or not comic publisher Lev Gleason was a Communist.
  • Comic Book Art Show will open with a reception on Friday, August 5. It will feature the work of Colin Panetta (who did the cover of my book), Mark Velard and Hans Rickheit (who I interviewed for MTV). Wish I could make it!
  • Gary Brown of the Patriot Ledger still thinks comic books are stupid because he saw an ad for one about Martha Stewart. Granted, Bluewater's biographic comics aren't all that well crafted and would serve as a poor example of what's possible, but he didn't even bother to look at the book itself. Comics are permanently etched in his mind as insipid pap about guys who wear their underwear over their pants. Jackass.
  • Finally, Matt Wayne posts the Dwayne McDuffie tribute that did NOT see print. You may have seen links to it from other places, but it's really worth reading. McDuffie's wife called it "perfect" and it says A LOT about the comics industry.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ISO Webcomic Artists

You know how I was talking about biographical comics just yesterday? I might have an opportunity to do some short biographical webcomics in the semi-near future. I've never thought of myself as particularly adept at fiction, but I think I could do some short non-fiction works like biographies. I've done a few short comics myself but I'd be interested how successful I might be at something slightly longer than the strip format.

Any artists out there interested in doing a few short comics that require some ability to depict real people? Ping me via email, Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tell Everybody

I was having dinner with an old friend this weekend, and I told her a story from school. I had just read the two-issue Golden Legacy biography of Frederick Douglass and -- lo and behold -- there was Douglass' name in our 8th grade American history textbook not a week later! Except the entirety of the textbook's coverage of Douglass was two sentences. I remember thinking at the time, "What the hell?!? I just learned about how important this guy was in the history of equal rights, and he's barely given a mention in the book we're supposed to be learning from?" I think that was the definitive point when I realized that somebody was selling us kids an incomplete/skewed worldview.

She didn't remember the textbook entry (Why should she? It was only two sentences!) but wasn't surprised by the white-washing of history. What she WAS surprised about, though, was that there were comic books that were non-fiction biographies! It's not a popular genre, certainly, but one that has been around for a while. That Douglass biography was first published in 1969, after all, and I know there were others before that.

Comic book biographies are actually something I've been actively looking for the past couple of years. I've found that there are an inordinate number of bad ones, even when talented comic creators are working on them. There seems to be a conflict creators have when telling a real life story between being as accurate and faithful to the truth as possible, and making minor embellishments/alterations for the sake of good storytelling. Some creators even seem to go so far as to stick exclusively with confirmable historical records, and don't even take the liberty of adding in any dialogue!

But even if the execution of a biographic comic book isn't as good as it might be, I still find them useful/interesting for the educational aspect. I can still learn about people and events that I might not have known about otherwise. Just last week, I was talking about how I was able to how I only knew about Roberto Clemente because of the recent graphic novel of his life. I was reading at lunch today a bad, but still informative, biography of Nelson Mandela. I learned about people from Mother Theresa to Che Guevara to Jack Johnson to Bertrand Russell through comics. There's one about Hunter S. Thompson that I'm hoping to pick up soon, and another about Richard Feynman that's due out later this year.

But there's still a lot of people out there who think comics = superheroes and funny animals. Tell people there's other cool stuff out there that might teach them a few things as well. Give out some biographical comics to nieces and nephews as gifts, based on their interests. There are some really awesome books out there, and it's only a matter of telling people they're available.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Griff Review

Aliens have invaded Earth. They've strategically wiped out much of the planet's formalized defenses, often doing so with such speed and efficiency that no one even had a chance to respond. These creatures somewhat resemble the griffins of ancient mythology, and a reporter nicknames them Griffs just before the major communication channels are wiped out. Christopher Moore and Ian Corson's The Griff (with art by Jennyson Rosero) picks up here and follows the story of a few survivors, trying to get the now-crashed mothership.

The broad strokes are ones you're likely somewhat familiar with. Most of the story is one of survival with unlikely allies against the common alien threat. There's some nice twists to the story, though, to keep things interesting. The Airborne Sergeant isn't exactly who he appears to be and some of the main characters do end up getting killed when you don't expect it, for examples. A pretty decent story is in there.

That said, though, there were several sequences that didn't make any sense. Not because the story itself was bad or had plot holes or anything, but it was just exceptionally difficult to parse out what was actually going on with the art. There are sequences which I read through multiple times, and still couldn't understand what was happening. "So, he grabbed... something? And now they're in a different room?" Seriously, I thought that during two completely different sequences.

Now, that could happen for any of several reasons. Maybe the writers provided odd or poorly structured page breakdowns -- this is their first graphic novel, after all. Maybe there were some communication problems from one side or another. Maybe the artist just did a bad job. You can't tell for certain just by looking at the finished page.

There were some other sequences that made sense, but kind of came out of nowhere. Like when Liz miraculously turns up with some SCUBA gear that had never been shown or mentioned previously. Or when Curt takes his shirt off to put some bandages on his arm, only to have them disappear on the next page.

And there were some consistency issues as well. Oscar's head is shaped differently from scene to scene, and he seems to change height a few times as well. The speed boat Steve finds radically changes its design from a long, narrow bow to a medium length one to an extremely short and stunted one over the course of a few pages.

Given these types of issues, I'm inclined to think the biggest issue with the book is the artist. She's not a bad illustrator at all, and many individual pages are quite well drawn in fact. But the storytelling seems fairly weak throughout the book. Maybe it's something a stronger editor could've caught and helped correct, or maybe another round of reviews by the writers could've added some clarifications in the text. It's not so bad that you can't squeeze out a decent story, but I think the reader has to meet the artist more than halfway here.

The Griff retails for $22.99 and has a July 19 street date. I was provided with an advance review copy of the book from the publisher.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Panicked Mashup!

Gah! This whole week has been one of just trying to keep my head above water, so I'm signing out today with a mashup. You know the rules: Text from today's Garfield, art from today's...

Evil, Inc.

No Pink Ponies
NPP particularly amuses me because the characters and setting are all related back to comic books. Which makes this discussion completely plausible, particularly with the turnaround snark at the end.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Cubicles Review

Cubicles is Red 5's latest offering in their "Digital First" line of titles. Unlike their previous/initial release, Bonnie Lass, this book is being presented as a single graphic novel. Given that Walter Ostlie's Cubicles is broken up into distinct chapters, I would presume it's being released as a graphic novel instead of four individual issues to avoid a drop-off effect.

The story is about Wally and Ost, two cubicle-jockeys in a giant mega-firm called, appropriately enough, Cubicles. They're what you might call layabouts, but they stumble on a plot by the CEO's future son-in-law to "take over the company and enslave countless worlds." So the son-in-law sends them off on a mission that's sure to get them captured by pirates or killed or both. After a few pencil fights, a giant space squid attack and some paperwork, they manage to save the day and bask in the glory of another spaceship's exhaust.

The book is definitely one of the more comedic ones I've seen from Red 5. While others might be light-hearted and fun, Cubicles is distinctly shooting more directly for comedy. For the most part, it is pretty amusing. The gags aren't always pitch-perfect in execution, but the never fall flat. And, given that this is, I believe, Ostlie's first published graphic novel, I think that's saying something.

The biggest issue I had with the book were the imaginary/dream sequences. They were rolled right in with the main story, and it wasn't as clear as it might've been that there were just daydreams. I mean, I like that they launched right into them as if it were really happening, but the reader has to rely on the dialogue to understand when the character snaps out of it. I think there might be a better way to clue in on that visually to show the dream sequences abruptly ending. To be fair, though, there was never any question that they were dream sequences; I just think the visuals could've spoken to that a little more.

Red 5 also happened to announce this week that the aforementioned Bonnie Lass will be getting the printed treatment in September, so between these two books, it looks as if their Digital First line might have a solid foundation as a platform for more and different ideas. Cubicles is available on the web, iOS and Android platforms via comiXology. The first chapter is available free and the entire graphic novel is $3.99.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Link-A-Dink-A-Do

  • This has been around for a few weeks but, in case you haven't read it yet, Gary Groth has a rather scathing piece on Jim Shooter's attempts at re-writing comics history. More specifically, his place in it. It's a bit long, but worth the read. It was the Kirby art fight of the mid-1980s that really got me interested in the creators originally, so I remember much of what was talked about at the time and my recollections definitely line up with Groth's. Despite his sometimes off-putting tone, his version is decidedly more accurate than Shooter's. I might add, though, that his final question, "Has anyone falsified a moment in comics history more persistently than Jim Shooter?" might be answered with "Stan Lee" and/or "Bob Kane."
  • This was actually posted before the Independence Day holiday, but Danny uploaded the most unusual image with a patriotic theme that I've ever seen in a Marvel comic.
  • If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll know I've got an interest in comic fandom, so I have to point out this Call For Papers (CFP) for a special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures that will focus on "Appropriating, Interpreting, and Transforming Comic Books." The deadline for submission is April 1, 2012. I'm already noodling what I might want to write up to send them.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Thank Santiago!

With my book recently being listed on Amazon, I put up a small promotional sign outside of my cubicle at work. Not that I think anyone from the office will buy a copy, but it rounds me out as an individual. ("Sean writes too?")

A co-worker walked by and spotted it for the first time this morning. He stopped to ask about it, and he made some comparisons to baseball fans. And it came out that he had a baseball signed by every Latino hall of famer in Cooperstown except Roberto Clemente. I'm not much of a baseball fan -- I really don't care for the sport at all, in fact -- but I did read Wilfred Santiago's 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente so I not only knew who my co-worker was talking about, but his relative significance to baseball. I was able to respond with, "It's really unfortunate that you're not going to get him to sign it either." Because, thanks to that book, I also know he died back in 1972 in a tragic plane crash. Ultimately, I came off sounding like I know what I'm talking about, despite not knowing what I'm talking about.

So, there you have it! Proof positive that comics are good for you!

Monday, July 04, 2011

In Search Of The One Piece

I just started watching One Piece over at Hulu about a week, maybe a week and a half ago. I'm a little over 40 episodes in now because, wow, am I enjoying it! I wish I had started in with this much earlier.

I don't want to do a full-on review -- I haven't even seen a tenth of the episodes yet and haven't read any of the manga. I gave it a pass when I first heard about it for two reasons: 1) the pirate theme which first caught my attention seemed pretty limited at best, and 2) the logo sucks.
Seriously, I read that as "One Peg" for the longest time. The silhouette totally doesn't work as the letter "I" here, especially when it's colored differently. Plus, the "E" looks too much like an anchor and not enough like an "E", especially when compared to the other two that are shown.

But I finally gave the anime a trial run, and I was hooked almost instantly. The notion of establishing a close group of friends like that has always been a theme that appealed to me, and the character of Luffy is particularly refreshing. He's not exactly naive, but just exceptionally forthright about everything in a manner that almost sounds naive.

Where I connect least with the series is that the main characters all have a singular, driving ambition. To be king of the pirates, or the world's greatest swordsman, or whatever. I don't know that I've ever had that kind of driving force in me. I try to do well at what I do, of course, but there was never a burning desire to be the best comic book writer or anything like that. I suppose the closest I have to that is just to be the best me that I can be, which isn't so much a destination like in One Piece but an ongoing journey.

In watching the episodes, one of the themes thus far has been that you can conquer your obstacles through sheer force of will if you're powerful enough. I like to think of myself as pretty strong-willed in the first place, but I wonder if a guiding principle or quest of sorts would improve that.

(And here you thought anime was just a form of entertainment!)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Unwritten Not-Really-A-Review

I picked up the first Unwritten trade a little while back. I had it tagged in my Amazon shopping cart, but I honestly can't remember why I put it there. Did I just hear good things about it? Did I come across a great interview with one of the creators? Did somebody recommend it? I don't know. Regardless, by the time I actually ordered and read it, I couldn't remember anything about what I might've heard about it. Not even a basic plot outline.

But I read it and enjoyed it a fair amount, so I ordered the second trade, which I just read this afternoon. I still think it's done well and I'm mostly enjoying it, but part of it isn't sitting well with me any more.

The basic plot revolves around Tom Taylor, the son of a famous author who disappeared several years ago. The books which made him famous are pretty analogous to the Harry Potter series (both in terms of genre and theme) and the main character is named Tommy Taylor. So Tom Taylor goes around to conventions doing talks and signing autographs, and generally being miserable because his father made such a big name for him that he's not able to make one for himself. Then weird stuff starts happening and things go to hell pretty quickly.

One of the main ideas of the series, from what I've read thus far, is that books have power. The best books, and the most widely read ones, start to take a literal form and help to shape the world around us. One of the questions in the book is whether Tom Taylor is, in fact, his father's biological son or merely a literary construct given real form.

The idea isn't wholly original, of course. Variations on the theme have been used in comics before; Tales to Astonish #20 had a more literal approach where things written out on a typewriter actually happened and John Byrne's She-Hulk was very conscious of the fact that she was appearing in a comic book being written and drawn by Byrne.

But, despite that, there's a lot to be said for the particulars of the execution here. The story unfolds well and Mike Carey and Peter Gross do an excellent job emulating the styles of various other books. But something about it is bugging me.

Maybe the continued references/allusions to Harry Potter? The books aren't called out by name, but the similarities are too close and persistent for coincidence. I mean, I get why Carey is using the analogy -- he's trying to clearly show just how big a global phenomenon these books are. Imagine if J.K. Rowling had nephew named Harold Potter? That guy would never hear the end of it, right? So I get what Carey is trying to do. And continuing that beyond the initial chapters? Sure, makes good sense within the context of the story.

But I really get tired of it.

Not because it's repetitive or distracting or anything, but because I really don't like the Harry Potter books/movies. I'm sorry, but I just think they're exceedingly average, pedestrian novels and the movies were just plain bad -- visual highlight reels from the books with no coherent story. And you know, that's fine that there are mediocre books out there and bad movies, but I'm well past annoyed by the decade-plus of constant media hype about it. I am glad the books have gotten so many kids to read -- I was just talking with a friend online yesterday about how reading trash is preferable to reading nothing at all. (For clarity's sake, at the time, I was talking about the worst of harlequin romance novels. I don't think Rowling's work is trash; it's just relatively banal.) But why so many people have gotten so excited about these stories for so long, I just don't understand. I can at least understand where, say, Twilight's or Avatar's popularity comes from, even though I don't care for either personally; for the life of me, I can't see why so many people have gravitated towards Harry Potter though.

Which is unfortunate. I like the ideas and execution of The Unexpected but my annoyance with the Potter analogies, I guess, just runs deep enough for me to be bothered by the book despite it's good qualities.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Whither Wizard World

I last attended a Wizard World convention in 2008. That was, I think, the last year before they really got into competition with the ReedPop conventions. I was, at the time, surprised just how much of the convention was still focused on comics, but with the ReedPop shows getting really high marks from a comics perspective, and several publishers pulling out of the Wizard World shows, I started largely dismissing them out of hand.

But the S.O. got a postcard last night for August's Wizard World Chicago and was interested in going because one of the slated guests is a long-time hero of hers: Pam Grier. She also rattled off a list of celebrities that I might know or recognize: Patrick Stewart, LeVar Burton, Bruce Campbell, Ray Park, Louis Gossett Jr., etc.

So, I flip over to the website to see a complete list of attendees. Sure enough, there are plenty of actors and actresses beloved by the geek set. But mixed in among the special guests, I caught names like Mike Grell, Bill Sienkiewicz and Brian Azzarello. I keep scrolling down and there's actually a pretty substantial list of comic names in attendance. From old school pros to up and comers, from mainstream print publishers to indie web folks.

Hmmm. May be worth hanging around the convention for more than Grier's autograph. And here I thought I was going to go through 2011 without hitting the con circuit at all!