Friday, September 30, 2011

End Of A Long Week Mashups

It's been one of those insanely-crazy weeks and I am just dog-tired tonight. So here's the text from today's Garfield on top of art from today's...

Bob the Squirrel

Least I Could Do

I'm fairly amused that I was able to legitimately use a redacting technique on Bob, rather than trying to erase dialogue balloons. And, strangely, Garfield's dialogue fits perfectly in LICD yet again; I half wonder if Ryan Sohmer is stealing plots from Jim Davis and just not telling Lar DeSouza about it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Could Use Some Info Assistance Please

OK, I've tapped the closer sources that I can for this, but with no real success, so I'm going to see if I have any better luck just casting out to the web...

If You Have Access To A Good Library/Library System
I used to work a state university, and I had regular access to the whole library system. Not so much any more. But what I'm looking for are the 1946 and/or 1947 editions of N.W. Ayer & Son's Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals. I'm working on a post explaining what they are in more detail, but I just need a few lines of data from either/each of those years. I'm working on a new book and would like to include some of the info I could get from those directories. If you happen to work or attend a school that has access to these, and would be willing to look them up, I'd be very appreciative. I might even be willing to send you a copy of my book once it's published! (It's about some 1940s comics that haven't gotten much attention in case you're interested.)

If You Happen To Live In Or Frequent Key West
Towards the end of October, I'll be heading down to Key West, Florida to attend a wedding. The S.O. and I will be extending our trip a bit to make it an actual vacation, and I'm wondering if there are any comic related sites I should hit. I threw this question out to the blog once before, and Jonathan Baylis chimed in saying he didn't know of much. (Thanks, Jon!) I'm pretty skeptical of finding anything at this point, but I'm still optimistic enough to ask again.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday Links, Economic Edition

  • I don't think I saw this linked from anywhere (though, admittedly, I've been even-more-insanely-busy-than-usual the past week, so I may have just missed it) but ComicsPRO is looking to hire an office assistant. I figure that's a positive sign speaking to the organization's success.
  • TechCrunch posts a theoretical timeline for the future of books, ebooks and some of the high-level economics involved. They seem take a fairly negative view of this -- kind of a "change is bad" approach. Stowe Boyd counters that A) the timeline is WAY too conservative, and B) it's just a change and not necessarily a good or bad thing. As with every technological advancements, there will certainly be people who are hurt by the change, but there are others who will be helped.
  • "Big Gay Horror Fan" interviews Nicholas Idell of Alley Cat Comics, a new LCS which opened earlier this year. Apparently, the shop really is tucked back in an alley but is still doing relatively well. (Hat tip to the S.O.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Holy Terror Review

I got a chance to read a preview copy of Holy Terror, due in comic shops tomorrow.

Here's the short version of my review: Batman and Catwoman versus Al-Qaeda, by Frank Miller.

Longer version: Strictly speaking, it's not Batman and Catwoman, of course. But even if Miller hadn't made it pretty public that this used to be a Batman story when he first conceived it, it very much feels like an extension of Miller's Dark Knight books. The characters are analogically obvious. If he hadn't used coloring techniques more akin those he used in Sin City, there'd be almost not distinguishing this book from the others.

The story is basically that The Fixer and cat burglar Natalie Stack get caught in a couple of pipe bomb explosions, which leads them on a hunt for the terrorists who set them off. They've got some big biological weapon they're going to kill everyone in Empire City with, and those first few bombs, as well as the missiles that take out the Blind Justice statue in the harbor, are just warm-ups. Fight, fight, fight. Torture, torture. Fight, fight, fight some more. Turn the big bomb back on the bad guys. End.

The book is gorgeous. Every page is a work of art, and they're all well-designed, well-laid-out and well-executed. Lots of excellent use of light and shadow. The story-telling, too, is really smooth. Miller does a very good job working through the story and making sure it flows well for the reader.

The issue is, though, there's not much story there. The story really is simply: what if Batman and Catwoman fought a cell of Al-Qaeda. There's no explanation, much less examination, of the terrorists' thinking. Terror for terror's sake. Batman's rogue's gallery in the 1960s had more rationale than these guys. Even The Fixer's motivations aren't given; when Stack asks about origins alluding to Batman and Superman, he just says that he's been training for this for a while. Stack is even less plausible since she's a villain herself; she gives a "not on my turf" one-liner and that's it.

The only story element that I thought really worked was that, as the night progresses and more things blow up, we see the "talking heads providing their reactions" bit. A lot of politicians and television celebrities are shown, but none of them are given any dialogue. Which I take to mean that they would all say exactly what you'd expect them to say and none of it of any real substance.

And, oddly, that's what Holy Terror comes across as on the whole. It's exactly what you'd expect Miller to create if he were to do a Batman vs. Al-Qaeda story. Plenty of the things that fans like to see Miller do, and him doing them well, but none of it of any real substance.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Popeye Cookbook Review

You know, the publisher of The Popeye Cookbook sent me an electronic review copy of the book, and it's far enough removed from my normal interests, while still remaining comic-centered, that I thought I'd take a look. But let me put my cards on the table upfront: A) I am absolute rubbish in the kitchen. I can make an awesome pizza, but that is pretty much it. As such, I'm probably not the best person to be reviewing cookbooks. B) Like many folks, I'm more familiar with Popeye through the cartoons than through the comics. I'm certainly aware of and appreciative of E.C. Segar's work, but I grew up on the Fleischer cartoons and I'm more familiar with them than the comics. That said...

I suppose if you were going to try to tie any comic property to a cookbook, Popeye would make the most sense. He is uniquely identified with food (well, spinach) while many of the surrounding cast are either named for foods (Sweet Pea, Ham Gravy, etc.) or are voracious eaters themselves (Wimpy). But the execution here is something of a strange bird.

Author Josephine Bacon doesn't particularly come across as a big Popeye fan herself. She makes several references to Segar and his characters in her introduction, but nothing that a little common knowledge and a short crib sheet couldn't explain. Many of the recipes throughout the book do indeed feature spinach, but it's definitely not a "1001 Spinach Recipes" type of book. There's a broad range of dishes covered, from salads to meats to soups to deserts. The recipes are presented in a fairly straightforward manner with minimal to no embellishment beyond the ingredients and instructions. So, after the introduction, the only real textual references to Popeye's world are the names of the meals themselves, like Bluto's Baked Lamb Shanks and The Witch's Clam Chowder.

The book is peppered with spot comics and illustrations of the Popeye cast. The illustrations look like relatively recent "clip art" from King Features: isolated character shots on clean backgrounds. Not bad art, certainly, but they feel a little stiff, even with the fluidity of the characters. Picture the illustrations that show up on the cover, but by themselves without context and all about the same size. There are also several particularly food-themed "Thimble Theatre" comics reprinted throughout the book. Curiously, though, they are all from when Bud Sagendorf was working on the strip between 1959 and 1986; despite the early references to Segar in the introduction, none of Segar's work appears and Sagendorf's signature is plainly visible in each comic.

Also curiously, there are some instances where a single panel is presented. It's fairly clear to me that was for design/space issues -- they needed something to fill a blank portion of the page and there wasn't enough room for a good spot illustration, much less a whole strip. But the curious part is that they always use a panel from one of the comics they already reprinted in the book. I can see why they were trying to focus on food comics, but for the single panels, I wouldn't think it would take that much more work to find a different image of Wimpy eating a hamburger or Popeye opening a can of spinach.

The last criticism I might level is one that is more likely to come from the S.O. than me directly. She really enjoys cookbooks and reads a lot of them. But she hates it when cookbooks don't provide photos of what the finished meals should look like. I get that food can be really difficult to photograph well, but she has repeatedly said that she's not going to bother with a cookbook that doesn't have pictures. No photos, and it will go back on the shelf after barely a cursory scan. I don't know how common her opinion is on this, but I will note that the The Popeye Cookbook contains zero photographs.

I really haven't said much positive about the book, and that's probably a disservice to Bacon. I'm sure the recipes are delicious. Or they would be if I could cook. But the book doesn't seem to have a solid focus on who it's for. Bacon notes that the recipes, by and large, aren't that difficult or unusual, so it's not likely to appeal to those just interested in cooking. And the Popeye connection turns out to be pretty weak; some window dressing for a cookbook they probably wouldn't bother looking at otherwise. The only people I can honestly seeing buying this are die-hard Popeye fans who need everything they come across with Popeye on it, and friends and relatives who know someone who likes Popeye and this might make a good present for them.

Then again, it's being published by UK publisher SelfMadeHero, so maybe there's a larger Popeye fanbase in Britain than here in the States. But it still seems like a weak connection to market a book on.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

You've heard the phrase "guilty pleasures", haven't you? It's generally meant to refer to something that you enjoy, but feel some sense of embarrassment or shame enjoying it. A pleasure that you feel guilty for enjoying.

Generally, the idea is somewhat socially conditioned. That is, the mores of society dictate what you should and shouldn't freely enjoy, and one's guilt stems from going against those conventions. Maybe it's something your society on the whole has disparaged (i.e. comic books in the 1950s) or maybe it's just something your parents specifically disapproved of (i.e. "that noise you call music") or maybe something in between. Regardless of what group it comes from, whatever you feel as guilt is basically an internalization of your culture's norms. That's why, for example, comic books weren't seen being read in public here in the U.S. for many years, while it remained easy to spot manga readers on a crowded train in Japan; it was a difference in the social acceptance of the medium between the two countries.

Now maybe it's because I had plenty of "character-building" moments in school or maybe it's because my brain is wired differently or maybe it's because I'm a godless heathen, but I don't accept what somebody else says I should or shouldn't enjoy. As long as I'm not negatively impacting anybody else, it shouldn't matter what I take pleasure in. And as long as you're not negatively impacting me, I shouldn't care what you take pleasure in. I couldn't care less what you read or watch or listen to, and I couldn't care less what you think of what I read or watch or listen to.

If you're actually on my blog page while you're reading this, check out that list of comics I read along the right side of the page. Yeah, I list "cool" stuff like Girl Genius and Templar, AZ, but I also list some frequently maligned or dismissed comics like Heathcliff and Frank & Ernest. I read those online. It's not like I happen to read them as I'm flipping through a newspaper; I made a specific decision to pull those comics into my digital feed reader. And I have no qualms telling you that, at least at some level, I enjoy reading those strips. I don't enjoy them as much as a lot of others on that list, but I enjoy them enough to spend some of my decreasingly available time reading them every day.

But do I consider them guilty pleasures? Absolutely not!

I enjoy them on their own merits and your judgement of me for that is irrelevant. I'm confident enough in my own tastes that I don't need anyone's permission or approval or validation.

I think there is a place for guilt in society. If you screw something up and you KNOW you screw it up, guilt is there to make sure you remember not to screw it up again later. But feeling guilty for doing something you enjoy and aren't screwing up? No, thanks. If I enjoy something, I'm not going to deliberately hamper that enjoyment by feeling guilty about enjoying it.

They're your own feelings; they're your own personal tastes. Own them.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gods' Man Review

Gods' Man by Lynd Ward is one of what might be considered the first graphic novels as I noted yesterday. It's a wordless story, told entirely in pictures, not unlike William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress and A Harlot's Progress a couple of centuries earlier. Unlike Hogarth, though, who created a short series of works meant to be examined on a wall, Ward produced a book-length story that was designed to be printed and read as a book.

The story is about a young artist, who's goal is to make a name for himself in the city. On his way into town, though, a stranger offers to buy all the works he's carrying in order that he can pay for his meal. The stranger also gives him a brush that he claims has been used for centuries; he just asks the artist sign a paper of some sort. The artist then becomes quite famous in the city, almost overnight, being "discovered" by an agent while painting a street corner. The artist lives life well, until he finds out the woman he's been seeing is a prostitute hired by the agent. Despite attempts to forget her, he sees her face everywhere and eventually cracks, attacking a police officer he thinks she's with. He's thrown in prison, but manages to escape to the country where he meets a beautiful woman. They have a child, and he teaches it how to paint. The stranger he initially met returns to remind the artist of his contract. He happily agrees to paint the stranger's portrait on a mountaintop. Once the artist has set up his easel, he looks up to see the stranger before recoiling in shock and falling off the edge of a cliff. The stranger watches him fall, then picks up the antique brush, revealing himself to be Death.

First off, woodcuts... damn! Ward had some talent. I've tried my hand at more than a few sets of art materials and the two I thought were the most difficult to not suck at were water colors and woodcuts. My copy of the book was $8.95 and it was totally worth just to see the individual panels of art here. Really impressive stuff.

Next, the sequencing is, to me, surprisingly excellent. Keep in mind that this was about five years before comic books existed and it was Ward's first attempt at sequential narratives. Not only had he figured out a number of impressive storytelling techniques, he did it with little to no reference to see how things might or might not work. That he went on to churn out another five books over the next 7-8 years -- all done in time-consuming woodcuts -- is really astounding to me. There was exactly one panel I had any difficulty in deciphering, and it's entirely possible that was from a printing flaw in this particular edition/copy.

The story is perhaps not the most original. The shadowy figure with some obscure contract early on? I don't know how common that story was in the 1920s, but I know I've seen the contract with Death motif a hundred times in various forms. Ward isn't terribly subtle on that although, to be fair, he's telling the story without words so conveying that would be difficult under any circumstances. And given how expert he is at telling the story, I'm not going to hold this against him.

For many years, Ward's work was largely held to the province of high-priced collector's editions. Dover's version is a simple and easily accessible paperback and, as I noted above, well worth the price. Especially if you have any interest whatsoever in the history of the medium. I know I'll definitely be tracking down Ward's other works to see how he improved as he progressed in the then-new medium.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The First Graphic Novel, Take 42...

When I first really started studying the history of comic books in my late teens and early twenties, I recall there was some debate about what was the first graphic novel. The two candidates were Will Eisner's A Contract With God and Jim Steranko's Chandler: Red Tide. Eisner tended to be favored because it had the words "graphic novel" squarely on the cover and, well, it was Will Frickin' Eisner. Steranko's book, however, did get published two years earlier, though the term was "hidden" in the introduction. And there was also some question as to whether Chandler really was a graphic novel or just a novel with illustrations.

But that turned out to be a matter of semantics. Because the first REAL graphic novel came out in 1950 and was seductively titled It Rhymes with Lust. It wasn't called a "graphic novel" specifically, but the "picture novel" was otherwise everything you'd think a graphic novel would be. Writer Arnold Drake later recalled that he and co-writer Leslie Waller thought of the idea of "a more developed comic book — a deliberate bridge between comic books and book books" a year earlier in 1949.

Then, a few months ago, I discovered Milt Gross. He authored a book in 1930 called He Done Her Wrong. It was subtitled "The Great American Novel, and Not a Word in it. No Music, too." Gross was a cartoonist and drew the wordless novel as something akin to a silent movie of the time. Clocking in at just shy of 300 pages, it really was a graphic novel.

Except that Gross was basing his work on that of Lynd Ward, who had done a graphic novel entirely out of woodcut engravings a year earlier. Gods' Man was clearly a story told in a sequential art format, and has been republished many times.

Except that Ward noted Flemish painter Frans Masereel as an influence. Masereel published several wordless novels told in woodcuts throughout the 1920s. Many of those are still being published today.

In many respects, this ongoing debate isn't new. Obviously, people have been able to trace this line of influences and predecessors within comicdom. And we're talking about published novels that were commercially available, not obscure pieces of original art hanging in various private collections. So this "news" really isn't.

But I find it fascinating that some of these names haven't permeated the broader comics culture just yet. It seems limited to a few more academic circles. Does it matter than Masereel's work doesn't LOOK like what we might currently think of as a graphic novel? It was done as woodcuts, not illustrations, and doesn't have word balloons. But wasn't Shaun Tan's The Arrival embraced by the comic community? They're not woodcuts but they're still fairly monochromatic and have a distinctly different look than most comics. Not that different than Masreel's or Ward's books, really.

I'm not about to put my foot down and say Masreel's first book, De Stad, is the first definitive graphic novel, but it seems to me that comics folks at large should know a little more history of graphic novels than just stopping when they get to 1950.

Looking For Logos?

The website Brands of the World hosts a large collection of logos of various brands from, as you may have guess, around the world. Not just any type of logos, though, but vector files of them. Which means that they can be scaled up or down with no loss of resolution. These are the types of files designers generally prefer to use because they tend to be much more flexible that flat rasterized images. (Like those you see on just about every web page.) A quick search on the site, too, yields several pages of "comic" related logos including some character drawings along with the logos.

Careful notice will show that not every piece of art is really useable. Here's one of two logos uploaded for Comic Con International...
You might notice that it looks a little odd. That's because it's using the wrong font. It should look more like...
See, the problem is that these logos aren't generally uploaded by the people who should be uploading them. In fact, they're often complete recreations by people who don't have any affiliation with the logo in question. Since the artwork is free, though, I'm not sure if it's strictly speaking illegal to have them sitting there. One could probably argue it is, since there's advertising on the site. But, in any event, doing anything with those logos -- say, using the art to create business cards or letterhead to misrepresent yourself, or putting it on your own ads to plug your store -- is almost certainly illegal.

So I have to wonder how no one has tried cracking down on the site before. It's useful, certainly, but I would think somebody would've gotten their knickers in a twist over it.

But in any event, it's a neat resource that I have actually used from time to time. (Generally, when clients are being stubborn/uncooperative even though they're paying me to do their work.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday-ish Links

  • Neil Cohn provides a summary of a new article in the journal Language that makes note of its sequential art references in a way that the official abstract does not. The short version is that our brains uses several portions to process language, including the part that deciphers visual narratives. Cohn also notes that he provided some of the illustrations that accompany the article.
  • Nicky Brown continues talking about her representations of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson over the summer, this time focusing primarily on Pulpfest.
  • Pierre Villeneuve looks at why Jim Lee's new designs don't work when they're drawn by anybody other than Jim Lee.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sales ≠ Success

Dwight MacPherson had some thoughts today on the goals of a comic book creator. He said...
I've met many aspiring comic writers who say their ultimate goal is to work for Marvel. When I ask what book, they generally pause and say, "Whatever they'll let me write." Seems like backward thinking to me. Concentrate on creating your own characters and world seems like an aimless goal. Like saying, "My goal is to be someone important." Yeah, well, lots of people are important in different ways... Work-for-hire gigs are fabulous experiences (most of the time). But no writer should set such a fleeting thing as their ultimate goal.

I don't know that I've talked to many comic creators (or future creators) about their goals, but I'll take MacPherson at his word it's a common refrain. It certainly wouldn't surprise me.

He's right, of course, that having your goal to be working as a creator for Marvel shouldn't be an ultimate goal. But you can hardly blame someone for thinking that it's totally valid. After all, we live in a society which is constantly telling us how success is defined in financial terms. Successful comics are the ones the ones that sell the most. The sales numbers on the new Justice League caused people to celebrate. The celebrations were not so much for the content being good or not, but just that it sold a lot. I haven't read the issue -- it may well be fantastic, but that's not what people were cheering about.

Look at webcomics for a smaller scale version of the same argument. Webcomics' success is measured by financial measures. Can the creator earn enough money from their webcomic to make a living? It's a lower financial bar in that regard than what mainstream publishers are looking at, but it's a financial measure just the same. Even the visitor count or page impressions or whatever other technical stats you can find about a webcomic are seemingly irrelevant compared to the "bottom line."

But that's the United States in the 21st century. We are told since birth an infinite set of variations on "he who dies with the most toys wins." Life, according to what nearly everybody tells us, is a competition and the yard stick you're being measured against is your bank account. The "success stories" we hear about on the news are those people who fought a variety of hardships, but still went on to make a good amount of money. Granted, they're generally not considered in the same class as Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, but the root of the story is always, "They worked hard and are making good money now." Occasionally, "They worked hard and stuck to their ethics... And are making money despite their ethics!"

Reflecting on that, it's little wonder many comic creators aspire to simply work for Marvel. Look at the sales charts during any given month, and the top-selling books are dominated by Marvel. Even with the huge sales spikes with Justice League #1 and Flashpoint #5 in August, Marvel still snagged six of the top ten sales slots. And, overall, Marvel had a 37% share of the market in August. Let me re-state that. Thirty-seven percent of all comic books sold in the U.S. in August were published by Marvel. We're so used to numbers like that it probably isn't as staggering as it should be, but that is a HUGE domination of the market. Marvel sells the most comic books. Period.

So if you want buy into the accepted philosophy of the country -- that you can only be a success in your field by making a lot of money for someone doing whatever it is you do -- then an aspiring comic book writer will have a greater likelihood of "success" by working for the company that has the most success itself. That is, Marvel comic books sell better than any others, so writing for Marvel means you'd be writing one of the most successful comics on the market. Even the best selling non-Marvel/non-DC title last month sold worse than 47 others. Of the top 100 titles, only two were not published by Marvel or DC. So even the worst-performing Marvel titles continue to outsell the vast majority of non-Marvel/non-DC work. Yeah, that's great that you sold 100 books at that convention last weekend, but even if you did that every weekend for a year, you'd still be selling less than anything Marvel does in a month. So it makes complete sense that, using the "success = sales" mindset, working for Marvel is the ultimate goal in comics.

If that's how you define "success", I'm not going to stand in your way. But, me? I think there are MUCH better measures of success in life. I don't think that they're as quantifiable as sales numbers, and I know I'm not measuring them against however the next guy is doing. I'm just saying that you should just take the time to really evaluate what "success" really means to you, and how you might try to measure it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Comic Strip Reverse Sequel?

Today's Garfield...

And here's what ran as today's Peanuts...

The Peanuts strip is actually a few decades old at least (I can't seem to find a date of when it originally ran offhand) and is a one-off joke. The strips leading up to this one were completely unrelated. It's possible that the folks at Paws Inc planned the timing of today's Garfield, as you could look up the old Peanuts stuff to predict what strip is going to run on what day, but that seems pretty unlikely for an oblique (at best) reference.

Though it does bring up an interesting idea. Since you can in fact predict what Peanuts strip is going to run on what day, you could theoretically write a new strip that always played directly off the "current" Peanuts one. Maybe provide the same story from a different character's perspective, or an immediate sequel/continuation of the original gag, or the exact same joke with entirely different characters. Maybe the "real life" events in Charles Schulz's life that inspired the comic strip in question. As I think about it, I'm kind of surprised no one has tried something like that yet.

OK, I'm throwing the idea out there; someone run with it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Dream Of A Guy Who Ate A Lot Of Cheese

You know, I'd heard for years that Winsor McCay had a comic strip before Little Nemo called Dream of a Rarebit Fiend. It was only today that I read more than a couple of strips. It turns out that, much like Little Nemo, McCay ended each installment of Rarebit in pretty much the same way -- the protagonist would wake up and claim that they had something to eat that disagreed with them and caused some strange dreams. Frequently, the culprit was rarebit. The "fiend" of strip's title refers to the ever-changing protagonists and their penchant for eating rarebit.

Which is all well and good, but what the hell is rarebit?

Rarebit, it seems, is a meal originally called Welsh rabbit. The "rabbit" part of the title got bastardized in the late 1700s to "rarebit." And since "rarebit" was never used in connection with anything but this Welsh rabbit meal, the "Welsh" portion was eventually dropped. Which is just as well, since it was originally meant in something of a derogatory manner anyway.

But here's the thing: Welsh rabbit does not actually include any meat, much less rabbit. In the early 1700s -- when the meal first started appearing -- rabbit was considered a poor Englishman's meat. You would eat rabbit because you couldn't afford to go to the butcher. But the Welsh! They were considered even poorer! So poor, in fact, that they couldn't get meat at all and could only get cheese. So this cheese dish that was created was named Welsh rabbit, as a slur against the Welsh. "Ha ha! The Welsh are so poor that even their meats don't have meat in them! Ha ha!"
There are, of course, many recipes for rarebit. But, in general, it's melted cheddar cheese seasoned with some salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and beer. This is then poured over toast. That's pretty much it. Frankly, it doesn't sound terribly appetizing to me but I can see the appeal if you're on a tight budget.

Still, I might have to try it sometime just so I have an idea of where McCay was coming from with his strip.

Anyway, that's your culinary-enlightenment-via-comic-strips for the day!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cinci Comic Expo Review

I went to the second annual Cincinnati Comic Expo earlier today. I recall hearing about it last year, but I'm pretty sure I had something else going on that I couldn't attend the debut. But for being only the second year of a show without the backing from the likes of Wizard or ReedPop, I have to say I was pretty impressed.

I got there about a half hour after it opened, and it was already pretty busy. Not wall-to-wall crazy busy, but plenty of people to be sure. I did a quick walk-through of the place to get a sense of the layout. All of the aisles were pretty comfortably wide and allowed for a good amount of traffic. It wasn't huge (there were 114 booths/tables set up among retailers, creators and others) but what they had seemed like a good mix. Some solid retailers and a fair balance of creators from small press folks to name Marvel/DC creators.

I attended the 11:00 panel called "Dawn of the Digital Era" moderated by Michael Uslan. I don't want to get into much of here (I'm going to make it the subject of my next Kleefeld on Webcomics column for MTV Geek) but I was pleasantly surprised at the mix of panelists they had.

Afterwards I headed over to get some books signed by Jim Steranko. It looked liked he had a steady line of 15-20 people the whole time he was available, so it wasn't too bad of a wait. It was the first time I'd met him, and I was struck by a few things. One, he still looks great, especially for 72 years old. Hell, I know 50 year olds who don't look that good. You don't see many current pictures of him, so it's good to see that he's not shying away from the camera because he looks bad or unhealthy or anything. Two, he was really personable. I'd never really heard anything one way or another about his demeanor with fans, so I was pleasantly surprised that he was warm and cordial with everybody I saw. I mean, this is a guy who's proven himself as supremely talented in several fields, so it would be easy to assume that he's got a huge ego or something. But he was answering questions, and shaking hands, and making sure he spelled everyone's name right. He did seem mildly impressed that I had first edition copies of his History of Comics books to sign, and I think I caught him off-guard a bit with my question about his days as an illusionist. Most everyone else in line seemed to focus on his Captain America and Nick Fury stories, and had recent reprints for him to sign. Like I said, though, he was warm with everybody; the two people in front of me only had con programs and seemed to have only a vague understanding of who he was and what he's done over the years, but he was still smiling and happy to sign their stuff.

I then went around to look at the lesser known comic creators. Ultimately, I didn't find anything that was totally new for me, but I did pick up several books from Sterling Clark, Alex Heberling and Jeremy Bastian. (I was hoping to get Cursed Pirate Girl #3 finally, but he only had the collected edition available. Apparently, there were LOADS of problems with Diamond between #2 and #3, so even Bastian doesn't have any copies these days.)

I scanned through the retailers at that point. Which was kind of a mistake because I stumbled across a nearly complete, continuous run of Tom Strong for cheap. The money wasn't so much an issue as that all the issues were individually bagged and boarded, so my bag got a bit unwieldy at that point. But shortly after, I ran into the manager of one of my old comic shops and we chatted for a little while. He was quite concerned about what was going to happen in January/February when all the folks who bought the 52 #1s from DC drop everything. He said he's already had several people who originally requested all of the issues of all the titles be added to their pull list, only to eliminate every one of those books within the past week or two, once they started reading these revamps. He also pointed out the folly of having all the titles not only start off with large story arcs, but also that the arcs will likely flow on the same schedule. Meaning the slower parts in the middle, which typically sell a bit worse than the beginnings and endings, are all going to hit at the same time. Meaning all of the titles will make a deep sales nose dive on their third issues. In January/February. Yeah, he wasn't looking forward to that.

I spent my last hour there attending the Captain American Retrospective panel, again moderated by Uslan. Though he made sure that Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser weren't left out, Uslan not surprisingly had a lot of questions for Allen Bellman. Bellman has only recently been re-discovered by comic fans, and he's still humbled and thrilled that so many people regard his work as noteworthy. He had some good stories, both new and old, and he got a standing ovation from the room at the end of the panel.

I considered heading back into the main portion of the con one last time to pick up a copy of Uslan's new book, The Book Who Loved Batman, but I checked my wallet first and realized that I wouldn't have enough to get out of the parking garage if I spent more than a couple of bucks.

This was, I believe, the first time I've been in downtown Cincinnati since I used to work there (just a block away, in fact, from the convention center) a decade ago. One thing I did like about that specific part of town was that it was RIGHT off the freeway, so you don't have to fight a lot of congested traffic. In fact, even with the city's annual Oktoberfest happening just up the street and with roads closed to accommodate that, I had zero difficulty getting in and only a tad more difficulty getting out.

And that Oktoberfest was happening this same weekend, and the show still seemed pretty well attended speaks to something they're doing right. I think it's a good mix of mainstream and indie folks, and with its focus on comics almost exclusively, it's a show I'm going to keep on my radar to try to attend in the future.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Creators: Stars & Newbies

I've made an almost last-minute decision to go to the Cincinnati Comic Expo tomorrow. I had originally not figured on going because I thought I'd be travelling this weekend, so I kind of put it out of my mind until the past few days when it occurred to me that I won't be travelling this weekend and, you know, I suppose that means I could go to the show.

One of the big draws for the show will be the appearance of Jim Steranko. And I have to admit that he's up there on the list of reasons why I'm going; as I've never had the pleasure to meet him before. I've got my copies of his The History of Comics packed and ready to be signed.

But in prepping for things tonight, it occurred to me that I don't really have any other works I'd like to take to get signed. Oh, I've got plenty of comics from many of the creators who will be in attendance, from Allen Bellman to Stan Goldberg to Jackson Guice to Tony Moore. And I think they've done great work and I have a lot of respect for them as comic creators. And I would not at all mind meeting them to say, "Hi" and "You do great work" or whatever. But I don't know that I need to seek out an autograph as well.

In fact, in scanning through the list of attendees, I have a greater interest in going for some of the creators that just look like they're doing something interesting. Folks I either haven't heard of at all, or only briefly caught some of their work in passing. With this show, at least, it seems my interest is piqued more by the up-and-comers than by the stars and legends.

I'm not sure really sure what that says about me. Like I said, it's not that I don't like what guys like Mitch Breitweiser are doing and, when I went to Wizard World Chicago back in August there was a lot of that which I appreciated, but for this particular show, I'm looking at a different focus. I haven't had the chance yet, but it makes me really curious to see how I might like a strictly small-press/indie type comic con.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Power Of One

The most memorable comics to me remain the ones I read a few decades ago as a kid. The images etched into my brain and the dialogue still ringing in my head. Some of those books were indeed note-worthy. The O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow for example. Others I kind of wish I could forget. There was a particularly bad 1976 issue of Archie that still haunts me -- especially that splash page of Archie racing down the stairs crying about his broken platform clog. But both of those types of comics, as well as all the not-great-but-not-bad ones in between, stick out more strongly in my memory than some more recent works that are particularly well-done. Why should I have better recollection of a mediocre comic I read decades ago than a stellar one I read last month?

I suppose nostalgia plays into that at some level, but a lot of the bits I remember don't hold any emotional weight with me. I can remember the stories and the art, but not that they really spoke to me in any significant way. There are some books I certainly do feel nostalgia for, but not most of them.
When I was in my early 20s, I was at a comic convention and came across a copy of Fantastic Four #76, which had been on my "want list" along with a host of other old issues from that title. I don't recall what I paid for it, but I'm assuming it must have been reasonably priced. When I got the issue home, though, I discovered that I had already bought a copy sometime previously. TWICE! I bought one, read it, forgot it, bought another copy, kicked myself for buying a second copy, forgot that, and bought a third copy! That was when I realized that I was no longer able to keep track of what I did or didn't have with an easy mental checklist. My want list had grown too large and too varied to remember.

When I was I kid, before I was really a deep fan of comics, I would only read a new comic once every few months on average. I couldn't really afford any on my own, so I basically had to rely on gifts at that point. When I first started getting into them, I got exactly one new comic a month. A year or two later, that got upped to three comics a month. It was six by the time I graduated high school.

But that one new comic a month bit? Twenty-two pages of story. I re-read books, of course, but new material (for me) was coming at a rate of less than a page a day. These days, I regularly read a minimum of 40-50 pages of new material every day (via webcomics) not to mention various manga and graphic novels when I can. In fact, I've only been able to read one 168-page graphic novel and half of a 142-page one this week on top of those regular 40-50 pages because it's been an especially busy week. I'm not saying that to try to brag -- I have no clue how that compares to others' reading habits -- but to just to point out that it's a phenomenally huge increase compared to what I was reading as a kid. In the past five days alone I've read 20 times the volume of new material that I used to read in a whole month!

So it should come as no surprise that I don't recall stuff from last week as well as from last century. I had more time to commit individual comics to memory because they weren't competing with each other. Any given issue of Superman or Action Comics that I might've gotten needed to tide me over for a couple of months, not a couple of minutes. So I'm certain I spent much more time with each book back then. The relative isolation in which each comic was read back then made them stand out more. I read through so many now that they wind up blurring together a bit more, and it's harder to remember them.

Just like it was easier to remember which Fantastic Four issues I was looking for when I was ONLY looking for Fantastic Four back issues. And how I started re-buying issues because I was also trying to look for their appearances in other titles, back issues of Avengers and the first appearances of Moon Knight and Punisher.

I do enjoy the comics I read today. I'm a little disappointed that I can't retain the memories of them more vividly, relative to those books I read as a kid, but only inasmuch as it's a failing on the part of my memory. I don't care to dwell on what's already happened, and I'd rather spend my time looking forward to new cool things. I'll enjoy the new books as they come out and move forward.

Say, how soon until the next volume of Bakuman comes out anyway?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Links For Wednesdays

  • Matt Kuhns takes a somewhat nostalgic look back at Marvel trading cards from the 1990s and cites that as the noticeable distinction between then and the current seeming '90s revival that's underway in comics now.
  • The Jack Kirby Museum is looking to set up a temporary/“pop-up” physical museum during this November, December and January. They're asking for a little help, and have some more details about what they're hoping to accomplish.
  • The Northeast Modern Language Association has issued a call for papers on the subject of "Masculinity in superhero comic books and films." I point this out not as a need to counter recent women's issues and concerns in the comic book industry, but as a corollary to it. That is, if there's a better understanding of what problems/issues/concerns women are facing vis-à-vis why male comics are often so misogynistic, that can lead to more robust/active solutions. Of course, if the papers in question wind up just being a glorified rah-rah-yay-men-testosterone-love-fest, then we could probably do without it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Almost A Superhero

I think it's time I kicked off one of my little side projects: Almost a Superhero.

You've read any number of What Ifs and Elseworlds books, right? You know that all of the great superheroes were just moments away from changing their destinies.You ever think that maybe YOU had a similar experience? Maybe you could have been a superhero, too, if your circumstances were just a tad different. Now you can tell everyone how you almost had an origin sequence of your own! Take a gander at these examples...

Harkening back to some of the classic comic book origins, you can show your friends what might have. That one time when you were Almost a Superhero.

Please check out my shop and pass the word along. I'll be adding more designs as I have the time to put them together.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Digging For Continuity

Early on in my days of comic fandom, I became very interested in continuity. In my pre-fandom comics reading days (when I was a wee lad in the single digits) none of the comics I read really had any meaning beyond that title, often not even outside that issue. What happened in Flash had no impact on Justice League. Which had no impact on Superman. Which had no impact on World's Finest. And so on. There wasn't even any sense than the Detective Comics people even bothered to look at what was being done on Batman. That was DC in the 1970s.

When I started reading Marvel, sure, the characters were interesting and all, but they also interacted with one another that gave the reader the sense that all of those stories were happening in the same world. One of my earliest Fantastic Fours not only had cameos by the Avengers, but it also had a footnote alerting me that an offshoot of that same story I was reading was going on over in their own title. There was continuity not only within a title, but among all the titles! I wound up spending much of the next quarter century trying to figure out how all of those pieces fit together.

I started looking into comics history with much the same interest. It's something of a puzzle to figure out who was working on what and when. Trying to parse out what was going on behind the scenes was proving to be as fascinating as what was going on in the comics themselves. This was during Jack Kirby's big artwork fight with Marvel in the mid-1980s, so there was plenty of news coverage -- well, plenty in those pre-internet days -- going into what Neal Adams said or what Jim Shooter said and who signed what agreement, and Steve Ditko's on the sidelines saying, "You're fighting about the wrong things, you idiots!" While there was certainly an element of spectacle to what was going on at the time, I was more interested in taking the nuggets of half-remembered history that were being thrown around, and trying to reconstruct what really happened. So much as I was able, given my extremely limited resources at the time.

I'm working on a new project right now that's proving, once again, that the more interesting stories are the ones NOT created for the comics, but the ones about it. I had planned on just reprinting some old public domain comics that have yet to be reprinted. I've got good scans of everything, and I figured I'd just write a short introduction about them. Piece of cake. But then I started doing some reading to make sure I got my facts straight. Well, it turns out that there was A LOT more going on around the comics than I figured! And the more I'm digging through materials, the more fascinating stuff I'm coming up with. Beyond the contents of the comic itself, I'll be easily trying it back to Li'l Abner, The Shadow, Mr. Peanut and Harry Houdini. Maybe Penzoil and Gordon's Gin, depending on how much I want to get into advertising. The "short introduction" I had planned now looks to take up at least a few chapters.

But that's continuity. Actual, real-world continuity. All of those pieces, because the DO actually occur in the same world tie together. Some more tenuously than others, of course, but the common thread is there. And it doesn't have to be ret-conned or anything. It's just a series of puzzle pieces waiting to be put together to form a complete picture. And, in this case, I think, one that no one's bothered to put together before. At least, not in its entirety.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Syncopated Rhythms

I was doing laps in the pool at the gym this morning; nothing fancy, just one end to the other for some low-impact aerobic exercise. Somewhere in there, I brought my head up for air, as I do with every other stroke, and took in a mouthful of water instead. The guy in the lane next to me had just done something that caused a small wave to crest right in front of my face just as I was coming up for air. Unintentional on his part, I'm sure, but now I have a mouthful of something I can't breathe. Rather than stop, though, I kept swimming and had my face back under the water with the next stroke. Instead of exhaling as I normally would, though, I spit the water out of my mouth, and came back up for air with the next stroke. From the poolside, I'm sure it wasn't at all evident that I had just took in water instead of air; I was just swimming along and didn't miss a beat.

I have a background as a drummer, so I see a lot of things in terms of rhythm. Swimming, for example, can be broken down into the beats of your arms coordinating with your legs, coordinating with your head. Stroke, breathe, stroke, exhale, stroke, breathe, stroke, exhale with kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick running as a double-time backbeat. If you keep everything in sync, then you cruise along pretty smoothly. Running is the same way. You get yourself into a good rhythm, and it smooths out your entire run. The stuff that then winds up causing problems is what breaks your rhythm: the pothole in the sidewalk, or the wave that fills your mouth with water as you're coming up to breathe.

You know how you start tapping your foot to a really good song? The regular rhythm of your tapping with the music is (generally) the beat. That's the predictable cadence of a song. In many cases, it can be counted in a simple four-beat pattern. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. This is often verbalized during military marching drills. If you stay in step with that counting, you will be marching to the beat.

Except, in music, there's this notion of syncopation. It's where you emphasize something off the regular beat. It makes the song less predictable and, by extension, more interesting. One, two, threeandafour, one, two, threeandafour. But to work, the musician can't lose the regular beat in the process of playing something syncopated. It stops being music and becomes chaos if no one can hear the regular beat behind everything. That's why I kept swimming.

The water that washed into my mouth was something off the usual beat of stroke, breathe, stroke, exhale rhythm. But if that's just a moment of syncopation, an interesting accent off the normal beat, then I don't need to lose my ongoing groove. Stroke, drink, stroke, spit, stroke, breath, stroke, exhale.

What does this have to do with comics?

As I said, I see a lot of things in terms of rhythm. Going to your local comic shop every Wednesday on your lunch hour is a rhythm. Reading your favorite webcomics first thing every morning is a rhythm. Sending a complimentary note to your favorite creator right after you read their latest work is a rhythm. Going to the local comic book convention every year is a rhythm. I talked about this some time back in terms of the importance of having those types of rhythms or rituals. What I didn't mention, though, was that keeping precisely on those rituals ALL THE TIME isn't necessary, so long as I keep the rhythm going. The drum beat of New Comic Day is ongoing, but on those weeks when a holiday throws the schedule off a bit, or when I have to work through lunch and can't get to the shop until after work, is not at all a big deal; next week will have a New Comic Day and it's easy to get back in the regular rhythm.

Not that I've heard of anyone actually having any real issues with off-schedule New Comic Days, but the swimming incident prompted the thought that some people might be more thrown off with syncopated comic buying. But if you keep the beat going, it's just what keeps the music interesting.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"I'm Speaking"

While I was waiting for my tires to get changed earlier today, I sat in the waiting area reading an essay examining the word balloon. It touched a bit on its history, but mostly focused on its specific functionality. It got into some interesting nuances of placement, shape, color, fonts, etc. play into one's reading of a comic, but author Catherine Khordoc summed up the word balloon's purpose this way: "I'm speaking." That is, the word balloon itself is telling the reader that a character is saying something, sometimes even when the character is not visible! The word balloon's tail points to who the "I" is, but the point of the word balloon, more generally, is to indicate that someone is talking. "I am speaking."

Here's what struck me. There was a discussion online a couple years back asking what the "message" of Twitter was. It was asked in the McLuhanian (is that a word?) sense of "the medium is the message." Doc Jenkins came up with perhaps the best/most concise answer: the message of Twitter is "Here I am."

Now, let's say you have a comic book. Doesn't matter about the creators, genre, style, length, any of that. But in your comic book, by and large, you expect the characters to speak. At least to some degree, even if it's through some more graphical format like Owly or something. But what if there was some character in the book that didn't speak? Not in a "Well, he must be a mute" kind of way, but just a single character, who is decidedly not integral to the plot, and just happens to be drawn into the background an awful lot. Almost in a Where's Waldo? kind of way. With a more focused plot and other recurring (and speaking!) characters going on, though, this character would easily sink into the background. Odds are that you wouldn't even notice that he or she appeared repeatedly throughout the story. Why? Because the character wasn't drawing attention to him/herself. She/he didn't say anything and, thus, didn't have any word balloons to indicate "I'm speaking." There would be no word balloons for the reader to point to him/her in a "Here I am" manner.

The word balloon in comics functions in the same manner as Twitter does in the real world. It's an alert to let other people know that you are out there saying something. With that in mind, I would like to propose a new, modified logo for Twitter...

Friday, September 09, 2011

Comics In Key West?

This October, I'll be heading down to Key West for a wedding and dragging it out into just a chillaxing vacation. With Fantasy Fest going on and a rent-a-jet-pack place right there -- not to mention the folks that I'll be down there with -- I don't have any concerns about filling out that week. (Although I must say that I was disappointed to learn that their pirate museum has just far up the coast to St. Augustine.) BUT, I'm a comic book type of guy and I'd be interested in hitting any comic-related items of interest as well. The problem is: I can't find any.

As far as I can tell, there are no comic shops there. Period. I found a couple of folks who have done local-ish comics in the past, but don't seem to still do anything with it. I've read that Dean Mullaney and Susie MacNelly live down there, but those both seem to be more temporary or vacation homes or something.

So I'd like to throw the question out to whoever might be reading this: do you know of any comic book/strip personalities, shindigs or venues that I should make a point of checking out while I'm down there?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Set To Sea Review

Set to Sea is Drew Weing's recent graphic novel debut from Fantagraphics. It opens with a destitute poet, who's captured and forced to work on a ship sailing for Hong Kong. He's quite resistant to living aboard ship, frequently complaining that he's a poet and not cut out for that type of life. That is, until a pirate ship attacks them and he's shot in the eye. His retaliation is unnerving and he earns the respect and admiration of the rest of the crew. He resigns himself to living his life on the seas, but tries to resume his poetry. Years go by, and he eventually retires from sailing. His poems are collected and printed in a handsome volume, which quickly wins praise from all sectors of society for its sincerity and honesty in relaying life at sea. The protagonist gains a modicum of fame and the book closes with him being treated royally at a tavern that kicked him out in the early pages of the book.

The story is pretty simple and straightforward, with no sub-plots and very few characters.Accordingly, Weing lays out the story in a fairly simple and straightforward fashion as well. No fancy tricks or clever change-ups. Each page is it's own splash (though none are imposing, since the book measures only just over six by five inches) and there's not even very much dialogue. In fact, the book is quite elegant and warrants multiple readings just so you can appreciate how Weing handles everything. I'll also point out that he includes more than a few artistic nods to other artists from Rockwell Kent to Howard Pyle to E.C. Segar.

The moral of the story is obvious enough, but smartly not overly emphasized. In order to create works with any artistic merit -- not that "maudlin tripe those Americans are usually fond of" -- one needs to really experience life. You can't write (or draw or whatever) with much integrity if you can't infuse your work with the passion that comes from living life and having first-hand experiences. Think of the creative works you made in high school, and compare them with what you created as you got older -- that high school stuff (hopefully) looks like hollow crap by comparison. Some of that is practice, of course, but a lot is also the rest of your life's experiences.

Excellent advice. Told in an excellent manner.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Link-Me-Wednesday

  • Doc Jenkins has posted his syllabus for CTSC 482, Transmedia Entertainment. His syllabi are always worth a read, as they both summarize what's current in transmedia as well as also providing citations for relevant reading material. I'll also point out that this term will also include several note-worthy speakers, including Mark Warshaw (who wrote several of the Heroes graphic novels) and Dan Didio (co-publisher of DC Comics).
  • Stay In Bed & Grow Your Hair dares you to try to pose like Mary Jane. (Helpful Hint: You can't, but it's fun to watch contortionists try.)
  • Although the auction ended yesterday, you can still look at these pictures of an original AND TOTALLY COMPLETE (including the mailing envelope!) Captain America Sentinel of Liberty membership kit from the 1940s.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Who Drew Charles Atlas?

Here's one of the near-ubiquitous Charles Atlas ads that ran through untold numbers of comic books back in the day...
Charles Atlas (born Angelo Siciliano) became the fitness guru and was selling his fitness program booklets by 1930. He used print ads to sell his booklets (as it was essentially the only game in town back then) and began incorporating comic-style artwork as headers for the ads as early as 1937. The ad shown above was the first to primarily feature a comic strip and ran throughout much of the 1940s. They were written by Atlas' partner and ad expert, Charles Roman. He expertly made the distinction of selling "manliness" instead of health or fitness. The classic comic strip ads played that angle up even more than the decade of previous ads.

So here's my question: who drew this? It's probably one of the most widely reprinted comics in North America, and I'll darned if I can find even a scrap of information about who put this first comic together!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Why Jack Kirby Is Awesome

Here's another teaser image of one of my still-secret comic projects. I'd like to take credit for making it look cool, but I was just aping Kirby. And that aped Kirby still looks this good? Yeah, that's why the man kicked tuchus!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

New Kleenex Packaging

No comment. Just struck me as interesting.

Hope The Hero Initiative Review

I recently got a copy of Hope; The Hero Initiative. It's an anthology that collects dozens of stories with all profits going directly to the Hero Initiative. I'm told that it's the first comic done to sport the Hero Initiative logo, which I would take to mean it's got some approval/support from the organization, rather than just a bunch of guys who say they want to help Hero.

Like many anthologies, the stories in Hope range in style and length and genre. Thematically, though, they all pretty directly speak to the notion of using hope to carry one through some of the darker times. What's a little more striking, though, comes from the context of the book benefiting the Hero Initiative. Several of the stories are pretty direct analogies to the types of comic creators that the organization supports. The book opens with the old superhero from the 1940s who became derided for being out of his time. There's another story about an old comic creator who's fallen out of popular favor, but is surprised to find one young fan who still loves his work and looks to him as a mentor. Another is a lawyer who works to fight injustice in the courtrooms during the day, and dons a costume to fight crime at night, yet still feels he's not doing enough. There's the story of a cancer patient who blogs from his hospital bed and doesn't realize that his writing has touched the lives of many people that he's never even heard of.

Not all of the stories speak so directly (at least within this book's context) to the experiences of professional comic creators which have sometimes laid in obscurity. But those that do seem to be the most poignant. Not that they're overpowering or particularly blatant. It's just that viewing them in a book with a Hero Initiative logo on the front casts them in a slightly different light. Were that logo absent, I don't think people would "get" most of the analogies and I think that speaks to the level of quality of these stories. I would think the more poorly written ones would be much more obvious.

It's a good book. A good read. And for a good cause. Worth picking up if you have the opportunity. It should be available through most comic shops.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Land! Boat! I'm Saved!

Andre Nantel posted the following cartoon in Google+ yesterday...

And here's today's Non-Sequitir by Wiley Miller...

Given the timing, I'm sure it's just a matter of two people coming up with similar ideas about the same time, but it's interesting to see how different artists interpret and execute on an idea.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Reason For Publishers?

GigaOM recently published this article detailing a new program from Amazon regarding some of their Kindle books. The upshot is that readers can post questions directly to the authors' Twitter accounts from within the book itself, which could be answered by the author and/or other people who've read the book. (I'll point out that Brad Meltzer is specifically cited as one of the participating authors.) It also allows readers to follow other readers of the same book.

One of the key points in the article is that publishers are being pushed aside in this process even more since they're no longer a gatekeeper between authors and their audience. While Amazon is making that barrier more easily circumvented, they're not really doing anything that isn't already possible as a function of existing technologies. After all, the participating authors are those with existing Twitter accounts, so readers could already shoot questions to them without the publisher getting in the way. What Amazon is doing here isn't really all that radical.

Except, of course, that it's making publishers confront and acknowledge the realities of book publishing in the 21st century. Namely, that publishers themselves are less relevant. They've historically held authors in something akin to an ivory tower, only letting them out with agents/handlers on book junkets with large chain stores. But authors, by and large, don't want that. They want that interaction with their readers. They want that feedback. My MTV column that will go live tomorrow (#28: The Feedback Loop) in fact is all about creators soliciting feedback from their fans.

Now, the article doesn't cite any publishers who are calling foul or anything. For all I know, they're completely ignorant of the new feature. Regardless, it's another handy indicator of how traditional book publishers are slow to adapt to a changing environment. I think there's still a place for publishers in the 21st century book market, but it's a very place than where they've been. And, frankly, I'm not seeing any of the major players making any appreciable changes.

Comic book publishers -- at least Marvel and DC -- do have the advantage of owning their characters, so they'll be around at least as long as the copyrights hold. And with both of those companies now being held by Disney and Time Warner respectively, I don't doubt that they'll throw more than a few lobbyists around Washington to extend the copyrights indefinitely.

But any publisher that doesn't own their material should be asking themselves, "Why are we here?" I don't mean that facetiously. I mean that they seriously need to sit down and figure out what the role of publishers are going forward, because I think those who try to keep doing what they've been doing are going to start dying out.