Wednesday, August 31, 2011

If It Be Wednesday, This Must Be... LINKS!

  • Over at the Byrne Robotics forum, John Byrne posted a recently completed commission representing his "Silver Age" -- that is the characters he read about when he first started getting hooked on comics. It's a very cool piece with many nice, little touches throughout.
  • The Delaware County News Network dug up this 1955 local interest story about how the PTA was launching a campaign against "objectionable" comics sold in the area. The specific titles/issues aren't named but one has to presume they were mostly the EC books that were popularly derided at the time.
  • The Center for Asian American Media held a special "Race and Immigrant Experience in Comic Books" panel at their 29th International Asian American Film Festival back in March. Panelists included Hellen Jo, Greg Pak and Gene Yang. More recently, they posted video of the event. (Hat tip to the S.O. for pointing this one out!)
  • As of this afternoon, CNN now has an official attempt at covering "nerdy topics and the nerd community, focusing on why these things matter in today's world" called Geek Out! I'm skeptical that they'll do any better than any of the other pop culture sites that are already tackling that area, but they might be able to throw some money at it. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Isaac The Pirate Review

I like to think of myself as a comics generalist, in that I know a bit about all aspects of comics. I like to be able to have discussions and talk intelligently on anything from artistic styles of WWII comics to running a comic shop to the history of manga to periodical distribution in Europe to whether Spider-Man is cooler than Deadpool. I don't claim to be an expert in any of those specific niches, but I can at least keep up with the conversation. It also means that there's a nearly infinite amount of material out there for me yet to consume. Lately, I've been trying to catch up to speed with French comics, which is a bit tricky since I don't speak the language. Fortunately, a number of the better works have been translated and are filtering over here in the US.

Which leads me to picking up Christophe Blain's Isaac the Pirate from NBM.

The story is about a young, struggling painter in the 18th century. While trying to make his own way, having had a falling out with his father, he's "coerced" into joining a pirate crew. The pirates aren't nearly as blood-thirsty as those of movies and legends, and Isaac is generally treated well, removed from much of their more villainous behavior. All but Isaac and one other member of the crew are killed, and the two fight and steal their way back to Isaac's hometown. He finds his fiancée has left with another man and all of his old friends have also moved on. The two manage to squeeze out a reasonable living through theft, and Isaac's experiences now seem to deny him the ability to return to his former social class.

I think one of the best things about this story is its depictions of naval life, and its impact on those family members who are left behind. The life is dangerous, but generally not in the swashbuckling way many people think of. I also quite like that both Isaac's actions and inactions have consequences, and his decisions follow him to varying degrees.

The art is, despite some cartoonish appearances at first, almost surprisingly rough. Especially as the story continues and Isaac's life becomes less refined. Blain's inking seems to reflect the tone of the story as it moves from "cultured society" to its dregs. The color palette also tends to be reflective of the tone, with brighter colors being used for "brighter" social interactions.

I rather enjoyed the two books out so far. My understanding is that Blain has completed the story, but it has yet to be translated and printed here in the states. I don't know if NBM has that on their schedule or not, but it does leave the chapter I read feeling a little bit at a loose end. But the story and the flow worked well, and seemed quite natural despite some somewhat unnatural character designs.

Also, I don't usually mention the actual production, but the binding on my first book here didn't hold up through a first reading. The groups of stitched pages are okay, but the glue holding all of them to the spine was falling apart as I turned the pages. I don't know if that was a one-off, or something endemic of that entire run. My copy of the second book was fine. So maybe just something to keep your eye out for.

If you like or are familiar with Blain's contemporaries like Émile Bravo, Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar, this falls in a similar vein and would be worth picking up.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Tech Side of This comiXology Hoohah

You've likely seen the various commentaries about the retailer program from comiXology by now. Brian Hibbs' piece is probably one of the more widely circulated. People are arguing pro and con about whether or not digital is going to destroy print or whatever, but I'd like to take a moment to look at this thing from a more technical perspective.

Let me first say that I have no skin in this game. I'm not a retailer and I don't work for comiXology. I'd like to think that allows me to be a little more objective. But it also means that I don't have direct access to any of the documentation surrounding any of this. Not the contracts or the setup instructions or anything. I'm going based on the couple of shops I've seen implement the program.

When I first read about this affiliate program back in Feburary, I raised some questions about limiting it to comic retailers. After all, anyone can sign up to be an affiliate with Amazon or Mile High Comics or any of a number of other shops regardless of whether or not you do any actual selling yourself. All you really need is a web presence. A place to throw a small banner ad or something. Not infrequently, these are just banner ads that link a user back to the home page, and the computer just keeps track of where they came from.

In some cases, like Amazon or Cafe Press, they make widgets available to put on your site that allow you to call special attention to certain items. If you're actually reading this on my blog site, that rotating set of images on the right is one of Amazon's widgets. These tend to be more useful because it allows me to select items that may be of particular interest to my readers. I can put up there books by Jack Kirby, or documentaries about comics, or toys that I've bought my nephews, or whatever I feel is appropriate. With the huge selection available from someone like Amazon, this makes a lot of sense, as it narrows down what a user might be interested in before they even come to Amazon's site.

But comiXology has not done that so far as I can tell. From the shops I've looked at, it looks like all they're doing is providing a few banner ads to choose from. It doesn't look like there's even any size variation among them; you get 220 x 85 (kind of an odd size, I think) and that's it. Once a user clicks the link, they briefly see the retailer's logo, but they're otherwise just dropped into the comiXology website. (The DC specific link does head to a DC-only page, though.) No real mention the retailer again, unless the user is savvy enough to parse out the name from the resulting URLs.

That's what actually seems most odd to me. As far as I can tell, comiXology is determining which retailer referred a user over by passing the retailer name as a variable in the URL. Which is perhaps not the best way of doing things, but it's definitely serviceable. But what that also means is that you can send a user to any specific issue comiXology has online and retain the retailer referring code. Meaning that I can send you to, for example, a page with only comics by Rick Geary and it will still show where you came from. In that case, it's tied to Flying Colors' account. In < AHRef="https://comics.comixology.com/ret/244/Third_Coast_Comics_Digital_Store/#/creator/1868/Rick-Geary">this case, it's tied to Third Coast Comics.

All of which means that a comic retailer could, theoretically, provide a list of all the new releases and link each one specifically to its corresponding page on comiXology. A user could jump DIRECTLY to the latest issue of Superman rather than following a generic link to the home page and having to sort through to find it on their own.

This would, of course, be annoying and time-consuming for a retailer to set-up and maintain weekly on his site. They'd have to navigate to each page individually, copy the URL and then paste that into the code on their own site. And that would have to be done for each issue. Every week. Manually. Hardly worth the effort, I'm sure.

But it would be precisely the type of thing that a cool widget like those used by Amazon could help with. Granted, retailers had very little time to really prepare for any of this, but if comiXology had made available anything beyond the three graphics, I would think someone would have used it. True, I haven't visited all 100 shops that are participating (since comiXology hasn't actually mentioned any of their new affiliates by name anywhere) but if it such a widget were done, it wouldn't be that much more difficult for a retailer to implement than the banners I'm seeing now.

All of which is to say that comiXology's affiliate program doesn't seem to be anything more than banner advertising at this point. It seems to have the potential to be more elaborate, but right now it's nothing more than a graphic with a link. And if that's all you're going to do, why not just sign up with Project Wonderful and save yourself some development costs?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sean's Media Landscape

It's been a while since I've done one of these, so I'll throw out a snapshot of what not-exactly-comics media I'm consuming right now...
One Piece
I think I've mentioned before my hesitation in starting this, but now that I have, I'm really enjoying it. It has many of the same thematic elements that first drew me to the Fantastic Four, plus the addition of pirate window dressing! Lots of fun and excitement. That it's available for free via Hulu has been making it irresistible.
Blackstone: A Magician's Life
This is a biography of Harry Blackstone, Sr. You might be more familiar with his son, who was a popular magician in his own right in the 1970s and 1980s, but his father was even more well-renown back in his day. This is actually research for one of my upcoming projects.
Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
I'm listening to the audio book version of this. It's a fascinating examination of why it's important to take risks and how many organizations subject themselves to long-term failure by trying to eliminate short-term failures. I'm hoping to learn a few things that I can apply to my own life.
The Post-American World
I just finished the audio book version of this. I really like Fareed Zakaria's writing; I think he's got some very good insights on the world at large. I think he's also overly optimistic about a lot of things, but he's able to assess whatever the current situation is with aplomb. The book is slightly dated now, most of it being written in 2008-2009, but it's still an interesting read.
The Language of Comics: Word and Image
A series of essays on... well, the language of comics. Not so much a dictionary, but how they use words and images both to convey a story. Much of the subject material being used is historical, with a lot of references to comics from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It's been worth reading for just those references alone.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Terry-Con 2011

I'm chilling tonight at Terry-Con tonight. Basically just a party at a comic shop but a great PR bit as well.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Swamped! Mash-up!

Super busy today... quick mash-up. Garfield text, Evil Inc art. Go!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wednesday Links... On Thursday!

I am totally behind on comic news, thanks to a really wonky schedule this week, so I apologize if you've already seen these links a dozen times already.
  • Nicky Brown, granddaughter of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, has written up a pair of blog posts on what she's been up to: mainly doing some more digging into her grandfather's past. Part 1, Part 2.
  • TwoMorrows has a free preview available of their upcoming book, Marvel Comics in the 1970s.
  • Botgirl Questi has apparently been busy modifying more comic book art for "nymwars" since I checked in last week. You can see all of the pieces here.
  • Scott Wegener breaks down his drawing process for Atomic Robo.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Avengers Filming Part 3

EDIT: Apparently, I misunderstood how much I was able to say about my experiences on set. Although I realize it's too little, too late, I'm removing the original content of this post as a gesture of goodwill towards Marvel.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Avenger Filming, Part 2

EDIT: Apparently, I misunderstood how much I was able to say about my experiences on set. Although I realize it's too little, too late, I'm removing the original content of this post as a gesture of goodwill towards Marvel.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tonight's Avengers Filming

EDIT: Apparently, I misunderstood how much I was able to say about my experiences on set. Although I realize it's too little, too late, I'm removing the original content of this post as a gesture of goodwill towards Marvel.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Frazz Pictonomatopoeia

Today's Frazz...
I really like how Mallett signifies the character passing gas in the second panel. Typically, it's something that's depicted through a verbal cues (some for of onomatopoeia -- "phrrrt") and/or some lines indicating the "wind" being sent out from the butt region. Instead, Mallett depicts a small tuba, using a visual metaphor to imply the type of sound being made. He uses color to separate it somewhat from the rest of the image, putting the linework in a lighter color than the black used everywhere else, as well as providing a glowing effect. The two elements, in combination, provide a somewhat etherial quality to the image of the tuba to reinforce that it isn't literally there but just a projection of what people are hearing. Coupled with the facial expressions of passers-by, it ends up being more obvious what's going on there than the child picking his nose in panel one, despite that being more direct and literal.

The tuba is, I think, a clever solution that I don't recall seeing used in quite this manner before. It's certainly not common in U.S. comics. It's an intriguing approach, and one I felt was worthy of pointing out.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Teaser Image

I seem to have developed several comic book related projects for myself recently, all of which I like, but all of which will take a little time. They're still in the early enough stages that I don't think I can share too much just yet, but I was doing some playing with one of the more graphically-oriented projects tonight and liked my initial draft. Since that seems to be off to a good start, I'd thought I'd share...
Yes, it's a somewhat stylized rendition of the creation of the Hulk. It still needs a bit of work, and I'm debating on whether or not I should try applying color to it, but I like the overall look and direction this is going.

A Brief Act Of Photoshopping Hubris

Because pedestrian #JX140 is just that important!
(Click to enlarge.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reading With Pictures Review

Reading With Pictures is a nonprofit organization that advocates the use of comics in the classroom to promote literacy and improve educational outcomes for all students. We work with academics to cultivate groundbreaking research into the proper role of comics in education. We collaborate with cartoonists to produce exceptional graphic novel content for scholastic use. Most importantly, we partner with educators to develop a system of best practices for integrating comics into their curriculum. At Reading With Pictures, we get comics into schools and get schools into comics.
That's on the home page of ReadingWithPictures.org. The organization, headed by Josh Elder, put out an anthology book through a Kickstarter project and I picked up a copy last weekend. It's a substantial book, clocking in at 180-some pages with contributions from more than 60 creators. Because of that, it's a little hard to write a concise review. Obviously, the quality of each story is going to vary from creator to creator, but everything in the book has a professional look to it. Regardless of style or genre or length, I didn't read anything that wasn't at least decent.
I will say that all of the stories are appropriate for younger audiences. Not only are they written and drawn in a way that children could easily understand, but many of the subjects are ones that would be relevant to kids. In fact, many revolve around school-age kids and occur in classrooms. One of the projects goals is to get comics into schools, and this would be a good book for that.

Personally, though, what I liked best about it was seeing the work of creators I was unfamiliar with. The stories by Raina Telgemeier and Chris Giarrusso were great, for example, but you kind of expect that from them. But I had never read a Kevin Pyle story before, or seen Jeong Mo Yang's artwork. There's some good stuff there, and some folks that I'll have to try to keep an eye out for in the future. Worth checking on the anthology for finding those types of works.

I'd like to say the project overall is going well, but the website provides little in the way of current details. The last news blurb is from March 2010 and the last event listed is April 2010. A tweet from a few days ago does state that they're looking for a web designer (a job I might consider if I weren't so busy for the next several months) so they're at least still kicking as an organization.

The book claims on its cover to be "Volume One." They seemed to be doing fairly brisk sales when I bought my copy and, coupled with a Harvey nomination and some of the high-profile talent on board, I don't see why a "Volume Two" wouldn't be in the works sooner or later. Worth picking up; worth even more if you pick it up to give to a school or library!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday Linkage

  • This one's buried in Facebook but worth a look if you've got a login: a single page showing all the different ways Hergé signed his name. I didn't actually count them, but it looks like about 50 total.
  • Botgirl Questi has been taking a look lately at Google's privacy policy, specifically their requirement on Google+ that users must use their real names. She's posted a number of different pieces in a variety of formats commenting on things. I point it out here because several of her pieces are re-worked from comic books...
  • That explosion I mentioned the other day? The local ABC affiliate has much better photos and some videos of it.
  • Doc Jenkins just posted his syllabus for his upcoming Science Fiction AS Media Theory graduate class. There's probably more than a few titles among the required reading that you're familiar with (I'm always thrilled to see Alvin Toffler getting more attention) but I point them out here because one of the pieces is Jenkins' own article "'The Tomorrow That Never Was': Retrofuturism in the Comics of Dean Motter" from Comics and the City: Urban Space in Print, Picture and Sequence.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How Do YOU Do A Con?

As I noted the other day, the S.O. and I hit Wizard World Chicago this weekend. I don't think I'll elaborate on the details of the show as I think there are better summaries out there already. As I said, though, I had a good time and picked up some good books.

BUT!

I left the con feeling like I could have done it better. It's actually a feeling I have after pretty much every comic convention I've been to: I always feel like I could have done it better and gotten more out of it. Doesn't matter if I've been there for the whole show or just a couple hours; if I found great bargains in the quarter bins or some rare treasure that blew my budget or nothing at all; if I attended a bunch of panels or none at all; if I liked the creators in attendance or not; if I met friends at the show or was just by myself... It seems that regardless of what I do at a convention, even if I enjoy myself a great deal, I leave with the nagging feeling that I could've done it better. Taken more advantage of being around thousands of other comic book fans. Like I should walk away from every show thinking, "WOW! THAT WAS THE BEST TIME EVER!" instead of, "Yeah, I had a good time."

Granted, not every show is going to be a winner and some are just legitimately bad. But I get the feeling that I'm doing something wrong. Or rather, not doing something right that I should be doing.

So, let me put this question out to everyone: what do you do at a convention to make it as awesome as possible? What makes a con really, really excellent for you? How do you do a con?

Monday, August 15, 2011

And Then There Was An Explosion...

OK, so I'm apparently an official extra in the Avengers movie now. Pedestrian #JX140. I went in and got fitted for my "costume" today and filed all the paperwork and whatnot, so they just need to film me now. (Which will actually be next week.)

I actually got to the wardrobe place a bit early. I was glad I left plenty of time because the parking garage I was supposed to use was blocked off, and I had to walk an extra block or two. But they had asked that I bring two outfits that they might start from: a suit and something classy and European.

They were fitting, I think, about 8-10 people at a time. They had called out a few extras specifically as firemen and police officers, and one guy was handling those one on one. The rest were split between men and women, and there was one designer for two or three people, with the head guy doing final approvals.

They had a HUGE storeroom of clothing to work from. Jackets and slacks and dresses and skirts of all manner of styles and colors. For some reason, they were having trouble finding something they liked for me. The 20-something guy who came in around the same time got a hip/trendy set-up in a half hour, and the 40-something guy who came in after I'd been in there a while also got kind of a hip/trendy thing, albeit skewed for a somewhat older man, also in about a half hour. They kept me in a suit. I tried 3 or 4 different suits and a half dozen different shirts before they found something they liked. It's a nice suit, but probably not a style I would've chosen for myself. (Of course, I never was much a fashion guru either.)

Which meant that I was there for a while, and was able to watch them work with different people. There were some things that struck me.

First, there seemed to be some minor, but ongoing, communications problems. Like the film crew not telling the casting folks that the parking garage would be closed off. Evidently, half of the extras got the wrong message, too, and didn't bring any of their own clothes. And I got the impression that the designers were expecting to clothe people for a different set of scenes today, so they were prepared for something else. I suppose to some degree that's to be expected, since every movie is going to have different requirements and many things are dependent on a host of others. The folks I all spoke with were professional about everything and very polite with all the extras, but you could tell they were a bit stressed.

I'm not 100% certain of what I'll be doing yet. The original message I got was that I was to be in the crowd for some art gallery/exhibit/showing, but being tagged as a "pedestrian" today (as opposed to "exhibit guest" or something) suggests I'll just be wandering around outside. I overheard the lead designer remind another that we would all be on our knees, and to remember that as a consideration. Coupled with the outfitting of rescue folks, that would suggest we'll be part of an action scene of some sort. They also said we should be prepared for night filming.

I'll point out something else I noticed, with all of the discussion last week about the racial castings of Spider-Man and Perry White. Everybody I saw getting fitted today was white. Granted, that was only 15, maybe 20 people total, but there was a homogeneity to everyone. Actually, not just in color, but in size/shape. Everyone, both men and women, stood about the same height and had pretty similar body proportions. No one was visibly overweight, except for the one firefighter I saw and you couldn't tell with him when he had the full firefighter costume on. Again, I saw at most maybe 5% of the extras for one scene, but it did catch my eye.

Oh, yeah, and then as I was leaving, I got called off the street, which had apparently been cordoned off differently than when I went in. A security guard said they'd be detonating some explosives in a minute, and I had to stay back. Sure enough, about a minute later, she's yelling for everyone to plug their ears while doing so herself. Some folks pulled out their cameras to take pictures, but I figured that if the guard is plugging her own ears, I'd better do so as well. So I don't have a picture of the actual fireball that flipped over a car onto a taxi or the couple that came running out from around the corner, but here's what it looked like a couple seconds later...
As I said, they'll be filming my scene next week. I'll try to post at least a few tidbits about the experience.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wizard World Saturday

The S.O. and I hit Wizard World Chicago earlier today. Absolutely packed! I picked some interesting looking books at the healthy Artists Alley in the back. (More on those later.) I finally got to meet writer Steve Horton in person after knowing him online only for 15 years. He was having a great show. I didn't ask anyone else but between that and the crowds, things were looking pretty healthy. The S.O. also got a chance to meet her childhood idol Pam Grier, and she seemed very personable and down to earth. So it was a good experience all around.

More details when I have a bit more time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gonzo Review

Hunter S. Thompson created something of legend of himself. A lot of people, myself included, know him primarily from his most popular books and/or the movies that some of them got turned into. The original gonzo journalist was seen as a drug-addled, ranting maniac whose ramblings were just coherent enough to make sense if you shared his socio-political leanings.

Of course, that's not the whole truth since it tends to focus on only about a decade of his life. Which helps his iconic status. It's a finite enough period of his life that Thompson is never seen as a person who grows and changes with age. He's perpetually stuck in his mid-30s. Young enough to still be wild and rebellious, and old enough to have some life experience.

It's also not the whole truth because those books that he's known for are fiction. Based on real events, sure, but re-plotted, re-organized and re-written by Thompson after the fact. He was, by those who knew, actually quite meticulous about word and phrasing choices. He edited himself quite a bit, despite the end product looking like the off-the-cuff ramblings of a madman.

So, who was Hunter S. Thompson?

That's where Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson comes in. As should be evident by it's title, the book by Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith is a biography of the writer told in a graphic novel format.

Bingley seems to have done his homework. The foreword is by one of Thompson's former editors/collaborators, Alan Rinzler, and he endorses the history this book presents. He wasn't around for all of it, of course, but those parts that he didn't witness seem to ring true.

The book cover Thompson's entire life, from birth to grave. Not unlike Thompson's own writings, the book starts with something of a barrage of mixed images before it coalesces into a cohesive narrative. This seems deliberate and works to good effect. Once the book gets the main story underway, it flows in a very Thompson-esque manner, picking up on the particular cadence of his language, but only appropriating it directly on occasion.

I was a little concerned at first that the book would be told almost expressly through narration boxes. This almost always comes across to me as someone writing a prose book and just setting pictures to it without any real consideration for the graphic novel format. But that fades away quickly once you get past the prologue/introduction/whatever-you-want-to-call-the-first-30-or-so-pages-of-the-story. From there, the books reads as a piece of sequential art should, with the art and text both enhancing and reinforcing one another.

The art surprised me a bit in that, despite having a seemingly loose style, Hope-Smith portrays Thompson very consistently. Even accounting for his aging a full lifetime over the course of the book. The reader is never at a loss for recognizing him, regardless of how much hair he has (or doesn't) or how many wrinkles he's gathered. Other characters tend to flit in and out of his life, so there's no real issue with determining who they are, and many of those are clearly, but not obtrusively, identified in the text.

I definitely have a greater appreciation for what Thompson did, even though I don't agree with all of it. Bingley and Hope-Smith did a great job of portraying Thompson's chaotic life and character. I would only hesitate with a high recommendation because of the subject matter itself; Thompson does tend to be a polarizing figure and I suspect those who simply don't like him or what he stands for -- or, more accurately, what the icon/legend that represents Thompson stands for -- would not be able to get past that to find out what makes him tick. I mean, if you're going to do a biography of Hunter S. Thompson, you're going to inevitably paint an ugly picture of Richard Nixon, after all! But I enjoyed the book, and got a lot out of it. Probably more, in fact, than I got out of Thompson's most famous books.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Creator Classes

I remember thinking back in the day how cool and interesting it was that many of the creators who were gaining prominence about the same time kind of knew each other and were friends to varying degrees. Marv Wolfman and Len Wein is a prime example. Kurt Busiek and Scott McCloud is another. These guys who were interested in comics, and grew into the industry roughly in tandem.

It makes a bit of sense if you think about it. Their interest in comics meant that they would travel in similar if not the same circles, and they would be exposed to many of the same experiences around the same time. So, if they were going down a path of a comic book creator, they would run into each other repeatedly and would be able to develop a friendship.

It struck me tonight as I was getting ready to head up to Chicago that I'm aware of that in a more contemporary setting. Several of the people that I hung out with on various message boards and such a decade or so ago are now working in the industry in some capacity. They have different skill levels, of course, and they're at somewhat different stages of their respective careers, but I know guys who've written Marvel and DC comics, penned their own novels and started reasonably successful entrepreneurial style businesses. Some of the folks I'll be seeing this weekend will be on the other side of the table, as it were.

As I said, I thought it was fascinating to see groups of creators "come of age" together in comics when I was growing up. But it's even more fascinating to see different people I know have the same types of experiences. It's even cooler, of course, because I know them, but I also get to see some of the less spotlit careers that I wouldn't have even been aware of when I was a teenager.

So keep an eye on those younger folks you know through your various social networks, not just the ones that are already pros! Pretty soon, you'll have your own "I knew them when..." stories!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday! Links!

  • Ben Towle digs up James Sturm and Art Baxter's response to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. It originally ran The Comics Journal #211 and both Sturm and Baxter provide some additional context.
  • Plenty of Fantastic Four remembrances/commemorations earlier this week, but I'm going to point to Matt Kuhns' piece for two reasons. First, he tends to blog a little outside the mainstream comics blogosphere, so you may not see it otherwise. Second, he points out that we're just about as far away now from the FF's 25th anniversary as the 25th anniversary was from the debut. It's a great way to make many of us who were active comic fans back then feel really old. Thanks a lot, Matt! Oh, also, he makes some interesting comparisons on the technical progress of printing comics from 1961 to 1986 to 2011.
  • Jim Ottaviani links to an interview with his Feynman collaborator Leland Myrick.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Windsor McCay

About five or ten years ago, I got a book publishing all of Windsor McCay's Little Nemo strips. I'd seen examples of McCay's work here and there, but I though it high time that I really took a look at larger, consecutive chunk of his work. The book runs 432 pages, and it took me quite a while to read through the whole thing cover to cover. I don't think they were the best reproductions, but they were more than readable and it was wonderful to see so much of his work like that.

Of course, I was aware that McCay did more than Little Nemo. His Gertie the Dinosaur animations are relatively well-known, after all, and I've seen snippets of his Sammy Sneeze comics. I was aware that some of these works had been republished relatively recently, but there's just so much comics stuff out there that I want to read and absorb, I never took the time to really track any of it down.

Until last night, when Dad gave me some copies of Windsor McCay: Early Works. These are his various political cartoons and illustrations and what-not that generally didn't fall under a single title. Dad gave me three books (volumes 2, 5 and 6) and apologized that he couldn't find 1, 3 and 4. I flipped through them and was amazed at not only the gorgeous artwork, but the sheer volume. Page after page after page of cartoons and illustrations, all of which ON TOP OF the Little Nemo stuff I knew he'd also been working on.

After I thanked Dad and vocalized how impressed I was with McCay, he then gave me volumes 7, 8 and 9. I didn't even know there were another three volumes! All of them just as filled with just as gorgeous work.

Plus...

PLUS!

McCay did a ton of early animation work. Over a decade before Steamboat Willie, McCay was not only doing his "Gertie" shorts, but also cartoons of Little Nemo and Rarebit Fiend and just about anything else that struck his fancy. And he did all the animations himself! As in, every cell of animation was drawn by McCay!

PLUS!!!

He took his animations on tour and performed them as a sort of Vaudville act, interacting with the animations that were projected onto a drawing board.

I'm increasingly astounded at not only his mastery of the craft, but the sheer volume of material he produced. As near as I can tell, he must have worked 30 hours a day, 10 days a week from 1903 through 1927! To say that he was an impressive artist, I think, is vast understatement.

Let me leave you with How A Mosquito Operates from 1912. (Don't forget, too, that McCay drew every frame of the animation himself and he maintained at least three comic strips simultaneously during this time!)

Monday, August 08, 2011

On The FF's Anniversary

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Fantastic Four. Allegedly, it was August 8, 1961 when the book first went on sale. I say "allegedly" because I've never seen any first-hand data to confirm that; the earliest mention I ever saw of that date was in Greg Theakston's Pure Images #2 circa 1991. I have no reason to doubt Theakston, but he also didn't cite where he got that date.

In any event, I figure I ought to take a few moments to say something about the FF. I've talked before on how I first came to "meet" the team. But I don't think I've talked about what they meant to me growing up.

I spent a lot of time by myself in my bedroom as a teenager. I didn't go out much or have much of anything like a social life. Coupled with your standard teenage insecurities. So I staged huge battles between G.I.Joe and Cobra on my floor; I made up Dungeons & Dragons characters that never got used; and I read and re-read comic books on my bed. I wound up knowing a lot about the Marvel Universe because I'd studied it extensively, seeing how different elements tied together, sometimes decades apart. (I was amazed when I saw the West Coast Avengers story where they time-travel back to when the Fantastic Four first encountered Rama-Tut. Not only did I think it a brilliantly clever idea, but I was astounded to see that IT HAD ALREADY BEEN DONE in a Dr. Strange story a decade earlier and this WCA story tied all of them together seamlessly! It remains my favorite Steve Englehart story.)

But the Fantastic Four stood out for me. A lot of individual heroes were cool and all, but I liked the team aspect of the FF. Unlike the Avengers or the Justice League, who seemed much more like employers of superheroes, the FF were friends. They were together because they just plain liked each other, not because they were getting paid or had some other obligation to be superheroes. The FF kept getting called a family, but they were family defined more by their camaraderie than by blood. And for a kid who was sitting alone in his room for the upteenth day in a row -- not because he was grounded or unable to go anywhere, but simply because he didn't have anywhere to go or anyone to go with -- that notion of a close-knit group of friends was really appealing.
If you think about it, that's something of a rarity in comics. Sure, all of your solo protagonist books have friends and sidekicks and a supporting cast, but those tend to cycle through frequently depending on the writer. Or it's just a two-person team, and doesn't have the character dynamics that you get with a larger group. And, like I said, most of the team books treat all the heroes more like co-workers than friends. The FF were set up from the start as a group, and that's one of the reasons why the book tends not to fare as well when "outsiders" are brought in as replacement members. You can't just bring in Power Man and expect the new dynamic to work -- it might be momentarily interesting, but unless the character is brought in and treated as a friend, you're undermining one of the book's central premises.

Oh, sure, the exploration and expanding human understanding angles are definite positives for me as well. But what defined the book for me, and why I absorbed so much of it throughout my life, was the ongoing notion of being a group who wanted to be together regardless of whether or not they had superpowers. That was the genius that Stan and Jack brought to the table a half century ago, and it's a magic that has rarely been captured since. Happy anniversary, Fantastic Four!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Worst Advice I've Heard In A While

Adrian Zackheim recently posted a piece called The Myth of Self-Publishing in which he says that self-publishing is a bad idea and his advice is "to pursue the traditional path of agents and publishers to the best of your ability." His reasons are numerous, citing that most self-publishers don't make a lot of money, they usually don't know anything about marketing or book design, and they'll never attract any attention in a sea of other self-publishers without the support of a good publisher. He does acknowledge there are some notable success stories in self-publishing, but "Why take that risk and sell yourself short if you don’t have to?"

Let's set aside the fact that Zackheim is President and Publisher at a division of Penguin Books for a moment, and that most of his arguments come across like he's desperately trying to justify his own job. Let's also set aside the fact that most authors wind up having to do most of their own marketing because, unless they're already a big name, they tend to get fairly minimal marketing support from traditional publishers.

One of the big problems with Zackheim's piece is that it starts with a faulty premise. He seems to assume that every author is trying to become the next J.K. Rowling and have some massively huge hit that makes them boatloads of cash. I don't think I've ever met an author like that. Every one I've met seems to write because they like expressing themselves through the written word and, if they're lucky and write A LOT, they might make enough money to earn a living at it. Not necessarily hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, just enough to pay the bills and go to the movies from time to time. And they all seem to recognize, too, that that NEVER happens overnight, and that even after their first full book is published, they have to keep working on magazine articles and sales copy and technical manuals and whatever other writing gigs they can muster in order to pay the current bills.

He also claims that, while self-publishers can get themselves into online stores readily enough, traditional book publishers have an overwhelming advantage in physical stores. Which is almost certainly true... except that has to be said in light of Borders -- one of the largest bookstore chains in the nation -- going bankrupt and closing up shop. It's all well and good to have the secret password to the bookstore chains, but if those chains close then it doesn't much matter, does it?

Another faulty premise he has is that "it's more valuable than ever to have experts curate the works that are really worthy of a reader’s attention." Again, that is true but given the crap that so many publishers put out, I don't know that readers at large trust big publishers any more than independent ones. With few exceptions (and many of those in the comic biz) I don't know that publishers really even rise enough to readers' attention. Does anyone really stop to check who's publishing Neil Gaiman's latest book? Does anyone stop to check who's publishing a book that Gaiman endorsed with a quote that's on the back cover? Does anyone check who's publishing a book that Gaiman, on his blog, casually notes that he's been reading? I'm pretty sure the answer is a resounding "no." Readers definitely do want/need someone to curate the works that are worthy of their attention, but publishers aren't those curators.

He seems to suggest that getting an agent and publisher is an easier road than self-publishing. He goes out of his way to list all of the hardships a self-publisher has to deal with. I certainly wouldn't say self-publishing is easy, by any means, but to suggest that it's easier than getting a traditional publisher is questionable at best. There are loads of hurdles in the traditional publishing route -- which is why so few people are actually able to get published that way. And they're very different types of obstacles than with self-publishing. From a "hard work" perspective, you're comparing apples and oranges.

Zackheim makes it abundantly clear in his piece that he is not going to publish your book. He essentially says his job is to keep people who come to him from becoming published authors; that his job is as gatekeeper to readership. He is the one who is going to say what is worth publishing and what isn't. With the President/Publisher taking that kind of attitude towards potential writers, why the hell would you want to get your book traditionally published by him even if the rest of his arguments made sense?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Original Art

I don't really spend a lot of time looking for/buying original comic art, but I've still somehow amassed enough individual pieces that I suppose you could call it a collection. Some of my interest comes from the production process itself and seeing how a page is built, and some is a way I can support creators I like. Another fascinating angle, sort of related, is comparing different artists' work side-by-side and seeing how they handle things differently. Take a look at the two pieces I just picked up...


The first piece is by Jason Yungbluth and comes from his Weapon Brown comic. The second is by Steve Ellis from his and Dave Gallaher's High Moon. Both artists have very different styles on display -- Ellis is a lot more loose and seems much more raw than Yungbluth's more smooth lines. Yungbluth's work appears a lot more clean, as well. The Ellis page has many of his original pencil lines still quite visible. Although you can't see them in this scan, Yungbluth's original linework is still somewhat visible as well, but he's erased much, if not all of it, leaving only the barest hint of ghostly shadows of his thought process.

It's interesting to see that Yungbluth went ahead and largely drew full figures, despite parts of them never intending to be seen. CALv1N's right arm in panel three and his face in panel five were drawn well into the margins of the page, for examples. There's also some substantial re-positioning of the figures in panel four, and Chuck's head was dramatically altered in panel three.

Ellis, by contrast, doesn't change much, except perhaps to refine the quick scratchings of the explosion around the edges of the page. What you can't see here, though, is that the back side of the board features a print-out of a very rough layout sketch that Ellis had done before-hand, scanned in and printed in reverse. He would then be able to light-box the layout he liked from his initial sketches right onto the art board, allowing him to focus on the illustrations somewhat independently from the layouts.

It's also fascinating to study the different inking techniques. While I'm no inking expert by any means, Yungbluth's work shows a mixture of tools: brushes, ink pens, both black and white inks. Interestingly, it looks to use much of the same styles and techniques that guys like Joe Sinnott were using a half century ago. Ellis, by contrast, looks like he uses a brush almost exclusively, and rarely seems to bring out white ink.

That's not to say, of course, that one style is better than another. They're just different. Different types of artists trying to tell different types of stories. But I just think all of those differences make for fascinating comparisons. And that they happen to be really cool individual pieces of art makes it that much more awesome!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Eisner Hall Of Famers

Tom Spurgeon's topic for this weekend's "Five for Friday" is to name five people who you think won't get into the Eisner Hall of Fame that you'd like to see in there. Frankly, it's not an award that I pay too much attention to, but I figured it was safe to assume most of your standard comic legends were already inducted. Kirby, Ditko, Barks, McCay, Steranko, etc. So I started my list off with someone who's work isn't widely known because it was mostly done before comic books as we know them even existed: Lynd Ward.

"But wait," I thought. "I probably ought to call up a list of winners just to make sure."

And would you believe Ward was actually just inducted this year! Who knew?

So I scanned through the list to familiarize myself a bit. Mostly the types of folks I figured. Mostly American names, though. Fair enough. Not entirely surprising. I'll focus on non-American creators. I'll start with the artist from Lone Wolf and Cub: Goseki Kojima.

Nope, there he is. He won in 2004 alongside Kazuo Koike.

Hey, look! Matt Baker won in 2009. Osamu Tezuka in 2002. Richard Outcault, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Dale Messick...

In short, a lot of folks who I would not have figured would have even been considered because, frankly, they're weren't white American men who were working in the business after 1950. Granted, it's still very heavily weighted toward those types of guys, but that any of these other folks made it in surprises the heck out of me. In a good way.

So here's a hearty kudos to the Eisner judges for keeping an open mind about inductees! That list could still stand to use quite a few women, minorities, and non-Americans but it's a MUCH healthier list than I would've guessed.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Heroes & Inspiration

I read the latest volume of Bakuman this afternoon (fantastic series, still really enjoying it!) and, in it, Moritaka falls ill from over-working himself. He's hospitalized but is insistent that he continue drawing from his hospital bed, his rationale being that his and Akito's story is just starting to gain traction and tack off with the fans and he doesn't want to jeopardize that by putting it on hiatus for any length of time. His editor-in-chief refuses to run any of the story until Moritaka gets better, thinking that will convince the artist to recuperate. Moritaka, against nearly everybody's wishes, continues drawing anyway and churns out several chapters from his bed. He is so determined to become a great mangaka that he refuses to let anything stop him.

It reminded me of Monkey D. Luffy, the protagonist from One Piece. He's essentially a pirate with super-powers, but part of the character's charm comes from his almost single-minded (and, in some ways, simple-minded) determination to achieve his goals. In fact, most of his crew are all working towards incredibly lofty dreams, and none of them refuse to quit for anything.

The Thing is much the same way. Fandom has always wanted to put him in the "muscle guy" category, but his really strength comes from his willpower and courage. It's not that he's strong, it's that he will continue to fight and struggle regardless of what his chances of winning are. There's that Lee/Kirby issue (FF #40) where Dr. Doom hits him with some gravity beam, and Ben struggles to stand up against some huge magnification of his own weight. Doom is incredulous. And not only does Ben get up, but he manages to trudge across the room and crush Doom's hands.

A lot of great heroes are like that in some way. Green Arrow is another favorite of mine because he can be just to stubborn a bastard to quit. He's not even super-powered and knows his out-classed by even Batman, but he holds his own in the Justice League because of his willpower and spirit.

I do what I can to exercise and, not surprisingly, it becomes tiring after a while. After 20 minutes of non-stop laps in the pool, and I start swallowing water when I try to breath, I figure it's time for a break. Or when I've already run around the neighborhood enough times to rack up 5-6 miles, and I start to consider whether I should continue for the other 6-7 I had planned on. I'm not facing life-and-death situations against super-powered villains, but it's still a struggle. And that's when I pull my heroes out.

"C'mon, Sean! You're not even half-way done! You think being tired would stop Luffy?!"

"You know what Ollie would say, don't you, Sean? He'd say, 'If Arthur can do this, I sure as hell better be able to!'"

Oh, sure, I'm totally aware that these guys are all fictional, and their writers can have them miraculously summon any amount of willpower they need whenever they need it most, irrespective of how plausible it might be in reality. And that's why I don't always succeed. That's why my 13 mile run on Saturday became a 12 mile run that I had to walk for the last mile and a half.

But a lot of the time, being able to call on those heroes for inspiration helps. It gives me something to strive for, even if the end goal is ultimately unrealistic. And that's why my 13 mile run on Saturday didn't end at mile seven, when I was drenched in sweat and my soaking-wet, now-considerably-heavier-than-normal shirt had chaffed enough that I had started bleeding. Luffy and the Thing and Green Arrow were there telling me to keep going, despite the pain, despite the exhaustion.

I was really disappointed with my performance on Saturday. I didn't complete what I set out to do. But, on the other hand, I did a lot more than I felt I was capable of doing at the time. Maybe it's a bit cheesy. Or juvenile. Or simplistic. I don't know. But those heroes that I read about in comic books really do urge me to continually move forward and do better than I might otherwise do without their "encouragement." It might sound trite to say that heroes inspire people, but I think it only sounds trite because a lot of people who are called heroes don't really deserve that title. But the good heroes? The really good ones who do deserve that title, even if they're only just well-written? Well, they inspire me at least.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Links For Wednesday

  • Friend Troy points to this article that a carjacker tried to steal an unmarked police vehicle by claiming that they were filming a scene for The Dark Knight Rises and taking the car was in the script.
  • J.P. Cote has created a three-dimensional version of Exciting Comics #45 out of paper, and provides the templates needed to make your own!
  • The Hooded Utilitarian is counting down the results of their poll to find out what the best comics ever are. I honestly don't recall which ones I voted for, but they're noting who voted for the ones in the winning spots. (Which is a good thing for me; I barely even recall that I was asked to vote!) Numbers 10 down through 4 are online now, 3 and 2 will go up tomorrow, and the #1 comic of all time will be revealed on Friday.
  • Matt Kuhns weighs in on the recent Kirby/Marvel ruling and the notion of work-for-hire. While you may well be sick of reading about opinion pieces about all this by now, Matt comes from the perspective of a graphic designer who does almost nothing BUT work-for-hire as a matter of course. As such, he weighs in on why a comic artist is in a different position than, say, just about any other type of commercial artist.
  • Charles Hatfield has a new book coming out early next year called Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby. More details can be found here.
  • I'm always up for more Kirby!
  • More immediately, Greg Theakston is coming out with a new set of books re-printing the old Kirby comic strip Sky Masters of the Space Force. Unlike the previous version, which was one volume, Theakston will be publishing this as two volumes. I have the one-volume version and that was WELL worth it! Go pick this up!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Captain Easy VS Buz Sawyer

As it happens, my recent Buz Swayer find coincided with that of Wash Tubbs. Both by Roy Crane, not quite ten years apart. (At least, the specific strips I read were less than ten years apart.) The Wash Tubbs reprints I came across were in Dragon Lady Press #7, pictured at right.

The difference between the two strips, to me, was astounding. Just about everything I didn't like in Buz Swayer was completely absent in Wash Tubbs. The art was consistently styled throughout the strip, regardless of what was being drawn. The characters still displayed attitudes consistent with the time period, but not not spitefully so.

The plot is generally just a straight-on adventure series without a lot of deep characterization. Captain Easy is a hero/adventurer just because he is. He gets into fights and chases. There's a loose plot to follow, but motivation is pretty lax, as you would probably expect from any piece of pop culture fiction from that time period. It's a little like watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom -- lots of action and face-paced adventure, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you sit down to think about.

I don't mean that in a disparaging way. It's not the type of thing I'd want to read long-term, but it's something of a palette-cleanser after reading a bunch of small, indie books that are trying to be or actually are deep, reflective and self-important.

What I read did a little to redeem Roy Crane for me. That Buz Sawyer stuff was really just... wrong, but Wash Tubbs holds up a lot better and I can see why that strip lasted as long as it did.

Monday, August 01, 2011

We All Need To Follow The Webcomic Example

Let me start with something akin to the "ideal" webcomic creator situation. You do some work you enjoy pretty much every day. You throw that online for free. People visit and enjoy your work to varying degrees. The people who REALLY enjoy it then buy whatever material you've got related to that -- printed books, posters, t-shirts, keychains, whatever. Because they're primarily made via a print-on-demand service, you can effectively keep everything in stock indefinitely. As your output continues, then, you still get a decent income even when you don't have a new book out because you've got enough of a backlog of material that you've always got people buying your old stuff.

That's an extremely short (and specific) version of what's called "the long tail." SmarterComics recently published a graphic novel version of Chris Anderson's book explaining the idea in more detail. Worth the quick read if you're not familiar with the concept.

So why should we be following that example?

Well, let's take a look at the economy over the past few years. A lot of big corporations have "downsized", collectively laying off millions of people since 2008 and yet, seemingly miraculously, have managed to remain profitable. Indeed, many companies have seen record profits in this recession. And what this tells CEOs is that the way they can continue to make money is by cutting costs. While they may have already stripped personnel to the lowest they can, there's a growing movement towards reducing the price paid for those workers by changing them from full-time employees to outsourced freelancers. This is cheaper because the employer no longer has to pay for benefits, just the straight paycheck. Which, now on a work-for-hire basis, means that they don't have to pay a FULL salary, just for however much work is done.

Business, it seems, is moving towards having everyone as freelancers. Your job may not be outsourced overseas, but it will be outsourced, even if it's being outsourced to you.

Except, of course, the "important" people like CEOs and high-level executives that are already in that top 1% of earners. They'll keep their full-time jobs and be fine.

I don't want this to be a rant about the growing disparity in income (and therefore all other forms of) equality. I try not to get angry about the rules of the game; I just do the best I can with the way the system is set up. But especially in light of the recent debt ceiling "debate" and pending agreement, I can't help but see things getting more difficult for anyone not already in that uppermost income bracket. Politicians are not even trying to be coy any more about skewing the game to favor the wealthy. So here's my thinking...

As freelancers, we're essentially going to always be on the hunt for the next job opportunity. Some folks will be lucky enough to score gigs that maintain a fairly stable/reliable amount of work, but I think that, for most of us, we'll be working on individual projects as they come up. Which means that there will be busy periods (with decent incomes) and slow periods (with little to no income). In order to smooth that out, it seems to me, we need to have a source of ongoing income that is unrelated to our immediate output. That is, we need to start using a business model like webcomic creators who continue to sell their books, posters, t-shirts and keychains even if/when they get sick and don't post their comic on whatever schedule they're on. You need to create a body of work which can take advantage of the long tail to continue to sell regardless of what your current job situation is.

(Have I mentioned lately that you can buy my book, Comic Book Fanthropology, on Amazon?)

Now the odds of creating a work, or even a body of works, so popular that you'll be set for life are pretty slim. But that's not the objective. The objective is to put out as much as you can so that there's SOMEthing coming in all the time. Maybe your first book only sells one copy a month. And maybe your second and third books only sell one copy a month. And maybe every book you write only sells one copy a month. But if you write 30 books, then that's effectively a sale every day. Which still may not be enough to keep you in the lap of luxury, but that could easily make the difference during some of the slower periods you'll experience in the freelance market.

The reality is that we live in an economy that does not want you to become a success. The whole system is catered towards keeping a wall between you and rich folks. I'm not going to try banging my head against that wall trying to knock it down, or wasting my breath shouting at it. I'm okay with not being among the super-rich, so long as I've got enough to be comfortable. What I'm trying to do -- and what I'm recommending to everyone reading this -- is to set things up now so that I can be a little more comfortable in the coming economy.

I'm no more a soothsayer than the next guy with a blog. But I see zero indication that things are going to get better any time soon. So I suggest you pay attention to what webcomic creators are doing now, because I think their business model is what's going to save your tuchus in the next decade or so.