Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last Wednesday Links For November

  • The Learned Fangirl talks about a (sadly not online) article in the December issue of Decibel which tackles the female un-friendly attitude over at DC. While the debate is hardly new for comics folks, it's surprising to see it turn up over in "America's only extreme music magazine."
  • Erika D. Peterman interviews Cheryl Lynn Eaton about the Ormes Society for CNN. "We don't look the same, we don't create the same work, we don't read the same comics, but we'd all like to be respected, please."
  • Doc Jenkins presents a Comics and Graphic Storytelling syllabus "which is designed to expose students to a range of different methods for studying the medium and to as broad a sample of (primarily) American comics and graphic storytelling as I could cram into one subject." A lot of the usual suspects show up in the reading list -- Eisner, McCloud, Spigelman, etc. -- but there's also other less well-known folks like Howard Cruise and Ho Che Anderson. Jenkins' stuff is always worth a read, but with my (and presumably your) interest in comics, this is particularly relevant.
  • Blake Bell points to this image showing the Fantagraphics catalog entry for The Secret History Of Marvel Comics: Jack Kirby and the Moonlighting Artists at Martin Goodman’s Empire.
  • The Globe and Mail takes a look at how tablet sales are a boon for digital comics.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Too Many Comics!

It was only about four or five years ago that my comic reading was primarily limited by my bank account. I had a finite amount of income and I had to pay my bills before I could buy anything like comics. When my financial situation changed pretty radically, I had to cut my comic buying to zero. I just simply did not have the extra cash to afford comics on top of the mortgage, electric bill, water bill, food, etc.

I'd been reading a handful of webcomics before that -- I think I started reading them regularly around 2004 -- but I now found myself with more time to read more webcomics. Since I was no longer purchasing print ones. I set up a decent reading system, including for those that don't have handy RSS feeds, and I would add new comics as I came across ones that looked/sounded interesting.

I did some traveling for Thanksgiving this past weekend, and couldn't really keep up with all my regular comics. I caught a few of them, but mostly just the ones that tended to be more time-sensitive. I knew I could catch up on the others later.

Tonight I sat down to 300-some pages of webcomics that I hadn't read yet. I got through maybe half of them. And many of them will get updated overnight, so I'm sure I'll be back over 200 by morning. With my other obligations, I don't expect I'll get caught up until the weekend. And that's only from missing a couple of days!

So, for the first time ever, I'm considering paring back my reading because I simply don't have the time to keep up with everything. It's an interesting change from earlier where money was my limiting factor. Now, I can get a hold of everything I want, but it's more than I can actually keep up with. It's an interesting challenge to face, and I'll need to set aside some time to think about what comics really appeal to me in a very different way than I have before.

Not only are there the quality and genre components to consider (which I'm accustomed to) but also a frequency issue. A webcomic that comes out daily will eat up more time than one that's weekly or simply irregular. How does that factor in? Does a really great daily comic equal a mediocre weekly one? What about something pretty good that comes out three times week?

Also, I keep finding new comics. How do those fit in? What sort of "grace period" should I give them before making a choice between that one and another one I had been reading previously? (Since I obviously don't want to just wind up with the volume of comics I'm at now again in a few months.)

Just something new and interesting for me to consider.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday Comic Deals

Here's some special Cyber Monday comic-related deals I've found. Most are good for today only.
  • Comic Buyers' Guide is offering $5 off $30 purchases, $10 off $50 purchases and $15 off $75 purchases. Also if you spend $30 or more, you'll receive free shipping. Use the promo code KPCYBER at checkout.
  • Sideshow Collectibles has a number of items marked up to 50% off.
  • TwoMorrows has their book catalog marked down by 50%! (I believe it applies to all the books except their new releases.)
  • Marvel has 30% annual subscriptions to their digital comics if you use the promo code CYBER11.
  • Thwipster has Thunderbolts by Warren Ellis Ultimate Collection, A Drifting Life and American Vampire hardcover volumes 1 & 2 for 34-46% off. Also, if you use the code LUDDITEMONDAY, you can get an extra $10 off any order over $100.
  • Use the discount code CYBERMONDAY305 to save 30% off any/all Lulu orders. (Including, of course, Comic Book Fanthropology!)
  • Cafe Press has an automatic 30% discount taken off t-shirts like these as you checkout. (No extra codes required!)
  • The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is offering a number of personalized gifts from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Paul Levitz, Scott McCloud, Adrian Tomine and others. Plus, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation will increase their donation to the CBLDF as more of you/us contribute! Details are here.
Those are just the ones I know about. I'm sure other deals are out there if you're interested in getting some comic-related bargains.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

XMas Gifts Via Frank Page

This commission was an early Christmas gift I got for the S.O. It's a portrait of us (and our animals) by Frank Page. Very cheap but very good work. Head over to http://bobthesquirrel.com for more info and to get one of your own. (By the way, Frank, she absolutely loves it!)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Buster Brown

If you're at all like me, you're probably more familiar with Buster Brown via the shoes than anything else. Though certainly not as popular as they once were, I distinctly recall a time when "Buster Browns" were the 7-year-old's equivalent of Air Jordans or Crocs. However, Buster Brown was actually a comic strip character BEFORE become a shoe mascot.

Buster Brown debuted as a comic strip in the New York Herald in 1902. It was created by Richard Outcault, who is perhaps better known as the creator of the Yellow Kid from almost a decade earlier. The character was then bought by the Brown Shoe Company in 1904 and debuted as the company mascot at the World's Fair in St. Louis. Outcault continued drawing the character in the comics until 1921.

But the character continued on. Beginning in 1925, a series of live-action comedy shorts were produced featuring Arthur Trimble in the titular role. Tige the dog was played by Pal the Wonder Dog, who would later go on to become the iconic Petey in Our Gang shorts. Here's "Knockout Buster"...

There were, I believe, 49 Buster Brown shorts in all. "Knockout Buster" was #43 and was first released on March 6, 1929. Buster Brown didn't receive any notable media exposure again until a radio show in 1943, and then a television program in 1951. The Buster Brown comic book ran from 1945 until 1956, with a handful of additional one-off issues throughout the 1950s.

After that, the only new Buster Brown material I'm aware of are commercials. There were a few reprint books in the 1970s, but nothing new that I can find. Which would probably explain why many folks my age or younger aren't aware of Buster Brown's history as a bona fide comic character!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Books On Sale

Well, I'd be remiss if I didn't try to cater to the consumerism mindset going on this weekend. As you may or may not know, I have some items I created up for sale. Things your friends and loved ones might appreciate receiving this holiday season.

My book is called Comic Book Fanthropology and looks at who and what comic book fans are. It's available here in paperback, hardcover and electronic formats. If you you use the coupon code BUYMYBOOK305 between now and December 14, you'll get 25% off your entire order.

I also have "Comic Book Fanthropologist" shirts, bags, mugs and even Christmahanakwanzika cards available here. (Sorry, but I can't discount those.)

I've also got my "Almost a Superhero" line of shirts, too. There's some fun ideas there, I think, ones that you won't find anywhere else. (Though, admittedly, I'm biased.)

Happy shopping everyone!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm Thanksgiving-ing today, so here's the Superman balloon from the Macy's parade circa the 1960s.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Day Eve Links

  • Corey Blake does some solid follow-up work on the recent Bill Mantlo piece, adding some clarifications, updates and additions. If the previous Mantlo piece touched you, please go read Blake's piece as well.
  • The State Health Department of India is producing comic books to "make adolescent girls aware of the right age of marriage, the spacing required in birth of children and ill-effects of early marriage." I think the implication is that they don't want girls having children at such a young age that there are health problems and/or they drop out of school, but I'm not keen on how it's presented, at least in the article, as the "right age of marriage."
  • Here's Part Two of Doc Jenkins' chat about critical approaches to comics. As always, Jenkins brings up great points.
  • Alec Berry examines the corporate side of making comic books. There's nothing particularly earth-shattering in his piece, but it's a decidedly worthwhile read in that I think a lot of comic fans tend to NOT talk about it. I think they recognize that it's a business, but often don't fully connect that with the stories that wind up on the printed page.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Step One

Dad and the S.O. each sent me a link to a new comic they had heard about, and I hadn't. One was Smoke and Mirrors from IDW about a stage magician who's transported to a dimension where real magic is the norm. One of the "hooks" of the book, though, is that there will be actual tricks in the book itself. Teachable magic with instructions in comic book form. (I think I may have heard the title before and assumed it was a continuation of Speakeasy's Smoke & Mirror from 2005.)

The other comic is The Dirt Candy Comic Book Cookbook. Dirt Candy is a vegetarian restaurant in New York City, and chef/owner Amanda Cohen is doing a cookbook in graphic novel form with artist Ryan Dunlavey. She says the "novel" part is a bit misleading since it's not really a novel, but there will be recipes explained with sequential art.

The notion of using comics as a instructional tool is nothing new. The 1940s comics I'm researching for my next book include pages like this...
And, of course, those airline safety brochures are really just comics as well. (Though often badly done.)

I'm quite pleased to see there are more such books coming out in the near future, but I'm curious what might have sparked the seemingly recent interest. The whole "comics are popular now" thing has been around for a few years, so I doubt it's that. Unless, of course, there are a lot more instructional comics that have come out that I never heard about. After all, both of these new examples only just came to my attention today, but news of them has been out there for at least a month or two. Maybe there's this whole genre of instructional comics that "the industry" isn't talking about. Books that show up in the cooking or DIY sections.

Something to keep my eyes out for...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Unintentional Irony

Like many of you, I've been hearing news about the Occupy movement for a little while now. However, since I am holding down a full-time job -- one which I would like to keep -- it doesn't make much sense for me to head over to the nearest Occupy camp and get fined and/or arrested, despite my supporting them conceptually. (That sounds a bit hollow, I suppose, but as I mentioned a couple weeks back, I don't feel I can financially afford to live and still hold my ideals.)

When the police ransacked the People's Library in New York last week, I was stunned to see that A) the Occupy Wall Street group had a library (thanks for the substantive reporting, news media) and B) they were essentially playing out the back-story of Fahrenheit 451. Kudos to the Occupy people for retrieving what books they could and starting the People's Library again. The least I could do was to send over some books from my collection, now that I knew they were taking donations like that.

I don't have a lot (any?) books that would be truly be relevant and/or poignant to the movement as a whole, but what I do have are comics. So I packed up a collection of graphic novels and TPBs to send over. It was a bit of a mixed bag of books -- some Marvel, some DC, some independent. Just some things to maybe let them escape for a bit. Packed them up neatly, took them to the post office and sent them off. (With a confirmation of receipt since the post office attendant was eyeballing me a little strangely after he saw the address.)

After sending the box off, I realized I should probably remove the books from my personal collection database before I forget what I've done with them. It was only then that I realized that about a third of the books I sent off were by Frank Miller.

Yes, the same Frank Miller who caused a stink last week by ranting about how they were "a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists... fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness." I sent over The Dark Knight, Daredevil, some of his really good stuff.

I don't know Miller personally and have nothing against him. I still think he's turned out some fantastic comics over the years. But it still amused me to think that he is, if he hasn't already, inadvertently supporting the very group he decried. Had I realized that before I sent the books off, I might have seen JUST books by Miller.

Anyway, if you're interested in supporting the Occupy Wall Street People's Library, donations can be sent to:
The UPS Store
Re: Occupy Wall Street

Attn: The People's Library
118A Fulton St. #205

New York, NY 10038

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Slightly Different Approach

If you've been... well, anywhere outside your home lately, you may have noticed the Christmas decorations are going up and carols being piped through the loudspeakers. And it gets you thinking that maybe you should start shopping for Christmas presents.

The past few years, I've tried being a little less conspicuous with what I give people. My favorite attempt recently was two years ago when I bought a pair of cheap, used laptops and converted them into digital picture frames. A little more personal (since I had to do the conversion myself) and not all that expensive (since they were ten years old). This year, though, I'm aiming for something a little different.

I've been becoming more interested lately in supporting more independent creators. Within comics, at least, I think there are some folks telling some really great stories that maybe aren't everyone's cup of tea, but ones that I can appreciate. What's more, they're by-passing traditional publishing methods in favor of doing their own thing. Which means that when a person buys their wares, a larger chunk of the money goes directly to them. So I've helped with a few Kickstarter projects, and have been buying more self-published works. I think my appreciation of this has increased since I self-published my own book.

In any event, with the recent Occupy movement bringing more attention to just how wide the income gap in the U.S. has become, it seems to me that I should be all the more interested in sending my money to individuals and smaller companies instead of the giant corporations who already make millions of dollars. Those companies aren't going to miss my business, I'm sure, but I suspect that the folks who are selling one book here and there will be very appreciative of what I can send them. So this year, I'm going to try to get the majority of my Christmas presents from smaller, indie folks who are just out doing good stuff.

It's early in my shopping for this year, so I don't know how well I'll do overall, but I've gotten two gifts so far that required personal emails from the creators to make sure they were putting together exactly what I wanted. And I have to say that, in both cases, it was pretty cool to get that kind of personal attention on some unique gifts. (I'd tell you what they are, but the recipients might be reading this.) The more I think about the idea, the more I like it. I'll try to do a follow-up post at the end of December to let you all know how well it goes over.

And *ahem* besides my book, I have some cool comic-related shirts for sale too. In case, you know, you might be interested in attempting something similar this holiday season.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brenda Starr Volume One Review

I got a chance to look at an advance preview of Brenda Starr, Reporter: The Collected Daily and Sunday Strips: Volume One from Hermes Press, due out in January. It reprints the first years of Dale Messick's famous newspaper strip, covering 1940 through 1946. Which sounds like am almost unwieldy amount for one book, but the strip only ran on Sundays until late 1945, before it finally went daily.

I was interested to read these because my only familiarity with Brenda Starr comes from the strips after Messick retired in 1982. I was curious what Messick herself had done, especially in lieu of her position as one of the pioneering female cartoonists in what is still a male-dominated industry.

There are several note-worthy things about this collection. First, because it covers a substantial period, readers are easily able to see Messick's art evolve. The earliest strips aren't bad, but they definitely improve as things move forward. Not only do Messick's illustration skills get smoother, but she also gets noticeably better with her storytelling and pacing.

Second, Hermes has included several extras that shed some more light on Messick herself. There are pieces by Messick's daughter and grand-daugher, one by cartoonist Richard Pietrzyk and another by comic creator and historian Trina Robbins. Robbins' is, not surprisingly, the most fact-filled and provides the broadest look at Messick's entire career. The familial pieces, more focused on impressions and a few anecdotes, speak more to Messick's character. Combined, they all paint a rounded picture of her, despite being a very minor part of the overall book.

Third, Hermes includes some annotated process pages, showing not only Messick's creation process -- with layout sketches, scans of original art and color guides -- but also some references to the digital clean-up work they did for producing the book. This latter portion is a decidedly small part of the book but quite useful, I think, in reminding some readers that more work goes into these reprint productions than simply scanning the pages in. None of these process pages gets overly technical, but enough to educate the completely uninformed as well as provide a guide that those already knowledgeable about the process generally can figure out what Messick was doing more specifically.

If you have any interest in Messick, Brenda Starr or newspaper strips, I think this looks to be a handsome and useful volume to add to your collection. I haven't seen many other reprints of these strips before, but Hermes has done a far superior job to ensuring these strips look/read well than any of Brenda Starr reprints I've seen previously.Brenda Starr, Reporter: The Collected Daily and Sunday Strips: Volume One is due out in January 2012.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shujaaz.FM

You're thinking, "Sean, did a cat jump on your keyboard or something? What's up with the post title?"

No, that was deliberate. Shujaaz.FM is actually the title of a Kenyan comic book that was started in February 2010. It's about a Kenyan boy called Boyie who finds himself unemployed and unable to continue his formal education. So he hacks together a pirate radio station and uses it to broadcast a message to his peers, trying to help them improve their lives, both individually and collectively. Here's the video summary that introduced me to the concept...

The comic is available on the official website for free. As of this writing, fifteen chapters. As far as I can tell, though, the comics and the site are entirely written in sheng (a contemporary Kenyan slang that's kind of a mish-mash of Swahili and English) and, since it's very consciously directed towards Kenyan youth, I doubt it will get a formal translation any time soon. Understandable, but a bit disappointing since I would like to read it myself.

In any event, it sounds like a fantastic project from pretty much every angle. Lots of Kenyans are being employed to put the book together, it has a strong positive message for its readers, who are able to read the books for free, plus it's using any number of entry points (Facebook, radio, comics, etc.) to catch people's attention. From the sound of it, catching people's attention pretty effectively at that!

I'm thrilled to see this kind of thing in action, and I wish that I could hear more about cool international comic stories like this. Well, you can consider yourself mildly informed about this one at least!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Can It Be? Yes, It's Wednesday Links!

  • Doc Jenkins begins talks (Part 1 of ??) with the authors of Critical Approaches to Comics "on some core issues surrounding the current state and future directions of the academic study of comics."
  • Botgirl Questi has a new post about why she quit Klout. Also included (and why I'm linking to it here) is one of her sporadic comics.
  • Care2 has a piece about Triangle Rose, allegedly the first comic book about the gay experience of the Holocaust. As far as I can tell, the book is only available in French right now (creators Michel Dufranne, Milorad Vicanovic-Maza and Christian Lerolle are French, after all) but it sounds like it would be a powerful read. Even if it doesn't get translated into English for an American audience, I expect it will open the doors a bit for more of this type of story to be told. (Hat tip to the S.O. for the link.)
  • Neil Cohen has another one of his online surveys up examining how easy/difficult it is to read comic strip sequences. Plus you get the opportunity to win a $50 gift card just by participating!
  • Mike Towry writes about starting a "new 'old school' comic convention in San Diego" in 2012.
  • Finally, offered without comment: Lindsay Lohan lands role in comic strip.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thwipster Review

Earlier this year, Thwipster launched as a new online retail site for with "daily deals for your inner geek." They're got graphic novels and statues and toys and the same type of material you'd find in a local comic shop. But only a VERY limited stock. You can't browse through finding the latest releases, or pre-order the Next Big ThingTM, or even find that really great, super-popular book that EVERYBODY is talking about. As I'm writing this, they have exactly 18 items available for sale.

So why shop there?

Because they have great prices. They don't carry a wide range of goods but what they do have is priced really, really well. A lot is priced from 30-40% off the regular retail price, and I've seen some items discounted by as much as 80%! Not surprisingly, that kind of pricing helps to sell things out pretty quickly.

Which is the basic business model. By offering great deals, but only for a VERY limited time, they increase the sense that what you're getting is really special, so you're a little quicker to hit the "Buy Now" button. That might sound a little cynical, but Thwipster isn't doing anything that hasn't already been shown as perfectly viable and accepted model by eBay and Groupon and dozens of other sites you've probably already heard of. Plus, Thwipster seems a little more honest and up-front about that aspect of it.

I actually went ahead and put in an order with them last week. The two Kamandi Archives hardcovers were on sale for $20 each! They retail at $50 and I'd been eyeballing them off and on for a while now, so I opted to give these Thwipster guys a shot. I placed the order last week Sunday, and they shipped my books out at the end of the week; they arrived today.

The packing struck me as interesting. Just a normal cardboard mailing box, but inside the two books were packaged very similarly to how Amazon packages books: they were bound together in plastic with a cardboard backer to keep them from shifting around. The only real difference was that Thwipster used cling film instead of shrink wrap. Despite Amazon doing that for years, I think this is the first instance I've seen anyone else emulate it. The two books were both brand new, still in their original cellophane wrappers, so everything looks to be in great shape for me to sit down and read through Jack Kirby's apocalypse.

The site, like many others, encourages you to sign up for their Twitter and Facebook accounts, and subscribe to their email newsletter. In their case, though, it makes more sense than many other sites, since they use those outlets to let you know what deals they might have that day. (A key factor in their model, remember, since those books might not be there tomorrow!) Had I not been following them on Twitter, for example, I would likely have missed the deal on those Kamandi books.

With so few items to worry about, the site itself is pretty simple and easy to navigate. There's not really any searching-for-that-one-Superman-title-among-dozens-of-others problems; they either have it or they don't. And you can figure that out with a five-second scan of their home page. The deals are at least good, frequently great. Your biggest concern with them is making sure you don't buy too many things, since they're all so cheap. If they're able to keep these deals coming, and continue on with good customer service, I suspect they'll soon be a good-sized player in the comics retail industry.

(I do wonder how they're able to sell some of these items so cheaply without losing money, though. They must have some Mephistophelean deal with Diamond. Or maybe Thwipster just loots Diamond's warehouse periodically. Either way, I'm not asking questions, lest I find some mountain of a man named Guido at my front door!)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Bird's Eye Kids Go Shopping

You know, I get that some companies think it's a neat idea to make comics to promote themselves. And I get that creators hired to do those comics have a lot of constraints placed on them, not the least of which is trying to make a reasonably coherent and vaguely entertaining story out of absolute drek. But this is right down there with the worst.
Not that you're interested, but that big white box on the bottom of the cover was where a small box of crayons was glued. (You can see some of the residue stained the inside of the cover as well.) The yellow box above/behind the dog on the cover could be used for an individual grocer to put their own name/logo.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Creativity VS Consumption

So what do you do with your free time? Read comics probably. Maybe just reading in general. Video games. Television. Movies. Stuff like that right, right? There's a lot of great (and a lot more not-so-great!) material out there to enjoy. Regardless of your preferences. It's great to unwind with your favorite book or show, and escape into their world for a bit.

But is that all you do with your free time?

I spent a good chunk of this weekend beta-testing a new Star Wars game (due out in December, I think). When I first heard about it, I thought it sounded really cool and something that I might be interested in, so I signed up for their email newsletter and to be put in the queue for beta-testers if they needed them. In playing this weekend, it looked like a fantastic game, but it also convinced me not to get it when it comes out. In the first place, my system could barely handle it, so if I really wanted to play, I'd need to shell out a decent amount of money not just for the game itself, but also some system upgrades. New video card, additional RAM, latest OS... Doable, but not exactly cheap.

More significantly, though, it was a very immersive world and I don't have the time to play more than occasionally. Some of my time, of course, goes to work and those types of adult responsibilities, but I also ensure that most of what remains of my free time goes into creating things. Writing, designing, drumming... Some of it is indeed freelance work on top of my day job, but some of it I do just for the sake of creation.

I was talking with a co-worker last week, and she was expressing a lot of dismay over how many people she knew did NOT create anything. They did their jobs by rote, and went home to repetitive and uninspired tasks, some necessary (like laundry) but others not (like watching TV). And some that could be executed with creativity (like cooking) but were often subject to drudgery (warming up frozen dinners). Her theory was that those people who live like that at home don't do a very good job at work either; there's little interest in trying new things or pushing the boundaries at all, and so their work is mundane and trivial. She noted that the people who seem to be doing the best and bringing the most to the company are the ones who create outside of work.

I'm hardly suggesting that everyone should stop consuming material and ONLY create it. I don't know that's even possible in the first place, and in the second place, you'd never get to see anyone else's ideas and you'd be stuck recycling your own material all the time. But what I am suggesting that you make a point to carve out some time in your schedule dedicated to creation. Doesn't matter what you create, or even what venue you choose. It doesn't matter if anyone is ever even aware of it. If you can't write, draw. If you can't draw, cook. If you can't cook, sing. If you can't sing, dance.

The point is NOT to create something that others can appreciate. The point is NOT to create something that only you think is great. The point is to create something for the sake of creating something. A phenomenally horrid school system here in the States has forced a lot of people's creative muscles to atrophy, but just like physical exercise, practicing being creative results in getting better at it. Without that creativity, you're really not much more than a zombie trudging through the motions of life.

You want to live a better life? Become more active to get your body moving, and then become more creative to get your brain moving.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Silhouetted Heroines

I'm working on an art project, and I thought I might use some silhouetted figures as part of the design. So I go trolling around the interwebs looking for royalty-free silhouettes to use, preferably in vector format. And I quickly find the website All-Silhouettes.com which not only has many vector drawings of silhouetted people and objects, but also has them conveniently sorted. One of the files I stumble across has about 40 superheroines. Well, they're silhouettes, so 40 women-wearing-tight-clothing-with-a-few-flowy-bits-trailing-behind-them-in-dramatic-poses. Here's a sample...
And I'm scanning through them, and I'm thinking, "Yeah, that kind of looks like Ms. Marvel. That kind of looks like Hellcat. That kind of looks like Supergirl..." I figure they flipped through some comics for inspiration. Hardly surprising, really. But then I saw these two...
Now, if you don't know your 1980s Marvel comics very well, let me suggest where I think the inspiration for those two figures came from...
Nebula and Dagger. I don't know where these specific images were first used, but I know I saw them repeatedly in the various Handbooks and RPG materials that came out in the mid-1980s. I remembered them specifically because they had pretty unusual poses and, frankly, cast memorable silhouettes. Which leads me to wonder several things. First, are all of the superheroine silhouettes traced from specific artwork? Second, what about the other files from that same host; have they all been traced from existing work? Third, if they have been traced, what's the legal culpability of using them? I don't have answers to any of those questions, but it's something to think about.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"My Name Is Bill Mantlo. I Want To Go Home."

The title of this post is one of the last journal entries writer Bill Mantlo made back in 1995, three years AFTER a hit-and-run driver barrled through him, severing his brain stem.

Back in 2007, I read and reviewed Mantlo: A Life in Comics, a biography of the man with detailed and appreciative notes about his work in comics. As I noted at the time, I was surprised by just how very much of Mantlo's work had impacted me, many of his stories making an indelible impression before I thought to look at who worked on them. And those aren't even the stories Mantlo was best known for, or the ones that got him the most praise.

I'm reminded of this today because LifeHealthPro just ran this impressive story about Mantlo. There's a good summary of his career as a writer, of course, and how he was just getting into the lawyering business, but what's most relevant here is the focus on what happened to him after the accident. That's a part of his story that's rarely told; it almost always ends with "Then he was hit by a car while roller blading, and has never really recovered."

Mantlo's own story is a tragic one. Beyond just the life-altering brain injury on the verge of his new career successes, but also the divorce (before the accident) and dealing with two kids trying to handle it. And then, after the accident, trying to deal with getting even adequate health care and the deep rifts that have torn apart the closest relatives and advocates he has apart. Tragic doesn't even really begin to describe it.

Knowing Mantlo's post-accident story is worthwhile for a couple of reasons. First, I think comic fans should recognize and acknowledge not only what Mantlo did for comics while he was in the industry, but also recognize and acknowledge that he's not dead. That his life didn't end back in 1992. Maybe his work didn't speak to you in quite the same way that Jack Kirby's or Chris Claremont's or Neil Gaiman's might have, but it was still pretty powerful stuff.

Second, I think everyone should recognize and be aware of just how messed up our health care system is. I've seen people out there -- average Americans -- who claim our health care system is the best in the world. It's not. Not by a long shot. Never mind that the World Health Organization rates America at #37, lower than Costa Rica and Chile, that Mantlo has had these kind of issues navigating the health care system should be more than enough to say there's something seriously wrong with what we have now.

Admittedly, it sounds like (at least from this article) some of the issues with Mantlo's recovery are his own anger and bitterness getting in the way of therapy. When it takes an insane strength of will to even get up in the morning, trying to recover lost motor skills must seem impossible, so I don't think we can judge Mantlo too harshly for that. Frankly, I'm impressed that he made as much recovery as he did.

But that speaks to a third lesson I think we should take away from this. In 1995, Mantlo typed out "I want to go home." After three years, he was obviously and understandably sick of hospitals and rehab, and wanted to return to life as he knew it before the accident. Who wouldn't? But he can't do that. None of us can do that. Time only flows in one direction; we can only take what we have right here and right now, and move forward with that. If some random event takes away some part of our life -- whether that's a job or one's health or a loved one or anything -- we can't get that back. And I think that's, sadly, part of what kept Mantlo in the state he's been in. You can't hold on to anger over what happened years ago; you can't cycle through past events in your mind forever. You can only move forward from where you are today.

Mantlo's problems are much larger than what he's been able to deal with. It has absolutely been crushing on him mentally, emotionally and physically. Far more than any person should have to deal with. But even though he's not writing comics any more, I think he still has valuable stories to pass on. Please go read the LifeHealthPro article, and then go buy a copy of Mantlo: A Life in Comics.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stan Lee Was Gay?

Over a decade before Stan Lee introduced Pinky Pinkerton to the world, he apparently went around proudly proclaiming to be gay himself...
From Gay Comics #29 circa 1947.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

It's Wednesday! It's Links!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Waxing Political

I try to keep my blog pretty squarely on the topic of comics, but I'm going to veer off a bit tonight if you'll indulge me.

When I was a teenager, I came to the conclusion that all politicians were just lousy bastards and there wasn't a single one worth voting for. Plus it didn't matter anyway, since I never saw any that even remotely reflected my views on anything. Not surprisingly, I didn't even bother registering to vote once I was eligible.Why waste my time?

After I got out of college, I started paying attention to the world around me a little more. I started listening to the news, and understood things that were happening to people well outside my sphere of influence. Politics inevitably came up, and I started seeing politicians a little differently. They were still lousy bastards that weren't worth voting for, and I still didn't see any that even remotely reflected my views, but I did start seeing that some were not only not acting in my best interests, but actively working against everybody's interests except their own. Sometimes they were coy about it, but increasingly, they were pretty openly hostile in their views towards anyone who wasn't them.

So I began voting. Cynically. As much as I would like to vote for a candidate, I sadly myself voting against them at least as often as not. The lesser of two evils, as it were.

I don't expect government to work for me. I don't expect them to act in my best interests. I expect that the only person that's going to stick up for me is me. I think that a lot of people think similarly about businesses, but I apply that same notion to essentially any institution.

I live in a pretty solidly middle-class neighborhood. Kids ride their bikes in the street, people jog on the sidewalks, there always seems to be one guy mowing his lawn. Except for the lack of white picket fences, it wouldn't be terribly out of place in a 1950's sitcom. In the past three years, within a one mile radius of my house, there have been four foreclosures that I'm aware of. I can't speak to the individual issues each household had, but I bring it up because two of those four houses have been vacant for the past 1 1/2 to 2 years. Why? Nothing wrong with them, as far as I know, but the banks have never bothered to put them on the market. They haven't bothered because almost none of the houses that have gone up for sale willingly have sold in the past 2-3 years. I know there's one just four doors down from me that's been on the market for nearly two years.

I could get into the housing crisis and bank mess and all that, but you know the recent history there. Instead, let me embed this 1/2 hour video that goes back a bit further to explain things at a more macro level. (Stick with it. It can get a bit confusing in places, but it makes sense if you sit through the whole thing.) (Also, the last five minutes or so pay a bit of tribute to Frank Miller's 300 if you need a comic connection here.)

I'm fairly certain killing Henry Paulson isn't going to solve everything as the video sarcastically suggests at the end, but overall it does make fairly evident why we're all screwed these days.

And with the global economy on the verge of disaster (make no mistake, the crisis in Europe is by no means limited to Europe) I'm pretty well scared shitless. Like, building a bomb shelter with enough supplies for several years, type of scared. I'm okay with some things being beyond my control. I've (mostly) come to grips with the notion that I can't afford to hold to my ideals and survive. I understand that I'm not good at playing the corporate game, but I know it well enough that I can get by reasonably well most of the time.

But these days, I have no clue what comes next. Not just who gets elected and what type of policies they pass, but whether or not currency holds any value. I realize it's a somewhat irrational fear in the same way that I was scared that the Soviet Union might drop a nuclear bomb on us in the 1980s. Which is slightly comforting in that we obviously survived that decade without a nuclear attack but, at the same time, look what happened to the Soviet Union. I've actually tried (unsuccessfully) to look up how average Russian citizens coped on a day to day level with their country -- and economy! -- collapsing. Clearly, the precise nature of how/why the U.S.S.R. fell apart isn't really at all applicable to the U.S., but the impact of a country's economic and political system falling into complete disarray might be worth studying regardless of the root cause(s).

I've noted before how I think we all need to act at least partially like freelancers in order to keep income flowing regardless of our current job situation. I read another post recently that suggested that's how you get through retirement as well. (Again, not expecting the government to come through with anything like Social Security by the time I retire.) She opted for renting part of her house instead of writing a book, but the core concept was similar. (I won't link to that piece because I think the author was off-base on some other significant points.)

I'm still working towards that end because the only model I have to work with is what we've got right now. And since I don't know what things will look like in a year, much less a decade, I figure it's better to work with at least what's current than with not doing anything at all. Current might translate into whatever is next; not doing anything most definitely won't.

I've got the local election results scrolling by in the next window as I'm writing this. The results generally reflect which campaign spent more money on advertising, seemingly regardless of whether or not the bill is in the best interests of the 99%. I am by no means complaining about where I'm at; I don't have anywhere close to the hardships that a lot of people are facing these days. But I still see a lot of what I do as survival because, clearly, the people who are already wealthy are the ones running the show for their benefit. Not mine. And yet people still seem to be voting against their best interests. (I fully acknowledge my bias here, and that my best interests don't necessarily overlap everyone else's, but some of these issues don't serve anyone's interests except the 1%.)

I don't have a good way to wrap this post up. I'm scared, in part, because I'm trapped; I can't afford to switch jobs or attempt to move in this economy. I'm scared, in part, because I disagree with most people in my region at some really fundamental levels -- I can almost always predict how my district will vote on any given issue or candidate by choosing the opposite of how I vote. I'm scared, in part, because I don't have any answers. I don't even know the questions. I'm scared because I can't expect my government (local, state or federal) or any business I have to deal with to do anything but screw me over in every way they can. I do what I can, and that's largely just working to keep my head above water and, maybe, find a piece of driftwood to cling onto.

And, you know, that really kind of sucks that someone like me, doing even moderately well, has to think like that.

Monday, November 07, 2011

And Now, For My Next Book...

I've teased off and on over the past couple of months that I'm researching another book. I've actually got work decently underway now, so I figure I'll go ahead and put the word out. The book is tentatively titled Harry Blackstone, The Comic Book Magician Detective. (A little cumbersome, I know.) It's a look at the Blackstone comics of the 1940s, which have been largely neglected because A) the title character was pretty famous for his other work as a stage magician and illusionist and B) writer Walter Gibson was pretty famous for his other work as creator and primary writer of The Shadow. Even the original artist, E.C. Stoner, was known more for his advertising work, including the original Mr. Peanut!

Anyway, I'm writing about how all of that came about to create some entertaining Golden Age comics, and I'm also going through and cleaning up some scans of about half a dozen issues to reprint for the first time ever, I believe. At the left is my initial shot at a cover design. Needs a little work yet, but it's something I can use as a promo piece for now. I probably won't have it ready until January or February, but I'll keep you posted on progress.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Newspaper Funnies Circa 1949

You know, for as many great reprint collections are available these days, there's something to be said for seeing old comic strips in their original context. You ever look at an actual newspaper comics page from 50 years ago? Here's The Calgary Herald from March 22, 1949...
You might notice that it doesn't look all that different from today's newspaper. Cramped page, crossword, horoscope... Heck, even Mary Worth and Dagwood are still around! The printing quality has improved a bit, but the jokes haven't.

I really try to sympathize with companies that aren't able to keep up with the times. After all, there are people who put these newspapers together, not to mention the various comic artists whose work you see every day. But if you haven't appreciably changed anything about your product in half a century, it's really hard for me to justify why you're still even around.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Updated Media Landscape

In case you're wondering what I'm reading/viewing these, besides comics, I figured I'd do one of my periodic posts on what media I'm consuming...
Alice's Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture
Author Will Brooker is probably better known as the first person to get a doctorate in "Batman." While not strictly accurate, that did help get him some media attention and, I suspect, helped sell a few copies of his earlier book, Batman Unmasked. In Alice's Adventures, Brooker examines how other authors have examined Lewis Carroll and his Alice books, and compares their assertions with popular conceptions and historical facts. I'm a long-time fan of Carroll's and this is one of the best books I've read about him. I'm immensely enjoying this.
One Piece
I only started with One Piece this past summer when I discovered it on Hulu, and I've been immensely enjoying it. Right now, I'm at the beginning of the Enies Lobby arc. This series continues to impress me. (Except that one season where they did the pirate games thing. That got old really quickly, and didn't fit tonally well with the rest of the series.)
Dale's Comic Fanzine Price Guide 2011
A price guide for comic book fanzines? Who knew? I just found Dale's Price Guide and, while it is just a price guide with little in the way of a narrative, it does seem to be pretty exhaustively researched from what I've seen thus far. If nothing else, it's an excellent resource for figuring out simply what's out there!
Brave New World
I just started the audio book version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Whereas most people are familiar with George Orwell's distopian Big Brother scenario, Huxley wrote of a world where the population was fed so much mass media entertainment that they were like complacent sheep. I picked this up because that idea sounds eerily familiar.
Hurm... seems like I'm forgetting something, but everything else I can think of right now are actual comics that I've been trying to catch up on. I'll return to edit this if I remember something else.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Appreciate The Original

The S.O. and I had a dinner last week in which we found ourselves in the company of a pair of British tourists, Dave and Paula. A nice couple in their late 40s/early 50s. Both had messy divorces a few years back, but afterwards found each other. They've been together about five years now. We chatted for the two hours or so that we were there about all sorts of things. Some trivial, some not. Some personal, some not.

At one point -- and I don't recall how this came up -- Paula noted that she'd seen the trailer for the upcoming Tintin movie and thought it looked horrible. That there were ways you could make a movie about a book and do it well, but this didn't look like it. She thought J.R.R. Tolkien would've approved of how the Lord of the Rings movies turned out, but C.S. Lewis would be turning over in his grave over the Narnia pictures. But she clearly did NOT like what she'd seen so far for Tintin.

I agreed that it didn't look promising to me, but that I didn't think that was relevant anyway. Because at the end of the day, regardless of how good or bad the movie ultimately is, we can always go back to Hergé's books, which are what everybody loved in the first place! Even if those go out of print (however unlikely that may be) there's still the existing copies in libraries and personal collections. A ligne claire Tintin and Snowy will always be around for us, whenever we like, regardless of how plasticine they look on film.

The subject of Doctor Who came up as well (initially in the context of how Paula's house kind of seemed like a TARDIS at times). Interestingly, Dave pointed out there seems to be a bit of a disconnect with the current series and older British fans. The new version seemed a little too Americanized, and it didn't feel quite like Doctor Who. I said that I still preferred the Tom Baker era stories for largely the same reason, and Dave went even further back citing his preference for William Hartnell. Here again, though, those old episodes are still available and the newer ones really do nothing to detract from them.

When I was a kid, a lot of media we consumed was transitory. If you missed that week's episode of Doctor Who, you probably were going to be stuck with a half-hour hole in the story, possibly for years. Heaven forbid you missed a story conclusion! And if you missed that month's comic, it was going to be a heck of a hunt finding it so you could catch up. And if you wanted a character's full back-story, your only option was to become a comic book collector (as opposed to simply a fan or a hobbyist) because reprints were relatively rare. You had to hunt down those decades-old issues if you wanted to read that story.

So if something got changed, that impacted you as a reader a lot more directly. When Barry Allen became the Flash in 1956, fans were glad to see some version of the character return to publication, but there's was zero indication at that time that Jay Garrick fans would ever see that specific character again. If you missed Detective Comics #327 when it first came out in 1964, you might've been confused as to why Batman suddenly looked different in #328; you wouldn't have had much recourse but to accept the changes and roll with them, or reject them and move on to something else entirely. In that type of environment, "Tintin looks wrong" might be justified.

But as I said, Hergé's work is still with us, despite him dying almost three decades ago. As are stories about Bat-Mite and Ace by Sheldon Moldoff. Virtually everything is available these days, often in multiple formats. So if you don't care for some of the recent revamps of Superman or Captain America or Spider-Man or Starfire, there's still plenty of great material featuring those characters that you can still easily go back to and enjoy.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Porch

I mentioned Derik Badman's "30 Days of Comics" in yesterday's post. Here's his piece from today...
Now, Badman's comics don't always follow a linear narrative, so this might not be some people's cup of tea. But I want to focus a bit on the art. Specifically, panels 3 and 4. Is there anyone reading this that doesn't recognize that porch? Anyone who didn't immediately recognize that porch?

Think about that for a second. It's an excessively simple backdrop. Almost too simple to recognize for what it is, since it's always depicted with absolutely zero perspective. And it's still instantly recognizable, not only as a porch (or stoop or whatever you want to call it) but as a specific porch. It's the porch.

You know how Ernie Bushmiller used to always draw his three rocks? One was just a single rock. Two was a pair of rocks. But three was "some rocks." Any more than three was unnecessary because you'd already conveyed the idea of "some rocks." Well, this porch beats that hands-down! As Badman suggests, it's drawn a little differently each time, but the design elements are so simple and elegant that you almost can't NOT make it look like the same every-porch, without making drastic changes to it. But you don't need to draw any of the characters in, or match the specific line variations, or provide any additional context. That porch comes from exactly one place and successfully represents every porch in America.

Charles Schulz was a genius.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Back With Wednesday Links

  • Indigo Kelleigh opted to forgo candy this Halloween and passed out custom mini-comics! He's posted a copy online in case you weren't able to stop by his house on Beggar's Night.
  • Paul Fricke presents some of Alex Toth's character designs from the hard-to-find Alex Toth-- by design.
  • Derik Badman kicked off "30 Days of Comics" yesterday with this entry. Today's is here. It sounds like a fun idea and one of these years, when I don't have a zillion other things going on, I might give it a shot myself.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Under The Weather Mashup

I'm feeling a bit icky today, so I'm just going to do a simple mash-up. The text, as always, is from today's Garfield and the artwork is from...

Sinfest

Bad Machinery
The original Garfield strip didn't really make sense either, so don't feel alarmed if you can't figure out what's going on. I was mildly amused to play with a couple of different visual treatments of "Winter approaches" in Bad Machinery.