Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Phantom: The Gold Key Years Review

I've noted before that I've never really been able to "get" The Phantom. It always struck me as a brilliant concept, but I just couldn't find the right stories that really clicked with me. So I was really happy to get a review copy of The Phantom: The Gold Key Years from Hermes Press. Not that I necessarily knew it had especially great stories in it or anything, but it would be the largest chunk of Phantom stories that I've been able to read in essentially one sitting.

The book contains, to no surprise, reprints of the first eight issues of the Phantom comic book from Gold Key. The original comics went generally uncredited but, for the record, they're largely written by Bill Harris and drawn by Bill Lignante with painted covers by George Wilson. If I'm to understand things correctly, the stories represented in this volume were based on storylines from the comic strip, but re-worked to fit the comic book format. So, while everything was entirely redrawn, the pacing seems a little odd in places. But this also means that readers aren't bogged down with tedious and unnecessary fight scenes. I definitely have a better appreciation of the Phantom now that I've been able to read a good chunk of stories in one go, including adventures of both the 20th and 21st Phantoms.

But that's all in the original comics themselves. What about this collected edition?

The book itself is gorgeous. The Wilson covers look pretty spectacular throughout the book, and the Hermes Press art folks did an impressive job on recoloring everything. The recoloring is actually striking for what I think they did. They clearly had at least some of the original art, as evidenced by the reproduction of a couple of pieces. But the colors look to be taken from the original production, like they had all the color printing plates as well. BUT! It also looks like they went back and recolored all the figures and large blocks of background color so that they're more internally consistent. The resulting effect you get really clean, sharp colors where you tend to focus, but there's still some graininess here in just enough places to suggest that these are a half century old comics. There's no mis-registrations, but some occasionally lazy plate making from back in the day. It's a very interesting approach to recoloring old comics that I don't think I've seen before, and one that works surprisingly well, I think.

There's also a three page introduction by Ed Rhoades, who's a huge Phantom fan and president of the US Phantom fan club. (I think. The club doesn't seem to be active any more, as far as I can tell.) It's obviously there to put the comics in context, and it does indeed supply some interesting background information, but it's a bit of a harsh read. It's a bit disjointed, and there's some awkward phrasing that left me unclear about several points. I can see why Rhoades was asked to write an introduction and it does have some information there, but I think it detracts a bit from the quality of the production.

Aside from that, though, it is, as I said, a handsome book and certainly helped me to get a better handle on The Phantom. Of course, now I'll have to try to get my hands on all the other Phantom books Hermes is putting out!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Proto-Watchmen

Watchmen has become one the seminal comic book stories of the past several decades. It's probably been read and discussed and poured over more than just about any other single work that's come out, certainly since 1970. So it's also fairly common knowledge that Alan Moore's original idea pitch was largely based around the Charlton characters that DC had then-recently acquired, but wasn't doing anything with. DC editor Dick Giordano liked the general story, but didn't want to use the Charlton heroes. Allegedly because it killed them many of them off, preventing their future use. But since everybody knew, even back in the 1980s, that death wasn't permanent in comic books, I suspect Giordano's decision also had something to do with the fact that he helped create many of those very same characters when he was an editor at Charlton.
"Helped create" is probably a bit strong. I gather that he said something more like, "We need some superheroes like Marvel, but only with less powers to make them more mortal." And Steve Ditko came back with a de-powered Captain Atom, a new Blue Beetle and the Question. But since Giordano was heralding this new "Action Heroes" line, it's hard to imagine that he didn't hold some emotional ties to the characters.

In any event, I've been reading the copy of Action Heroes Archives volume 2 that I received for Christmas. It reprints a lot of those old Charlton stories. And you know what? It's all there.

Everything that Moore did in Watchmen? All the elements for it were there in those Charlton books. I mean, obviously, there's no rape scene with Peacemaker and Nightshade, and the Question isn't shown watching his mother whore herself out on a nightly basis, but drawing those types of elements out of what Charlton did publish is not that much of a stretch. There's a seemingly congenial relationship between Captain Atom and Nightshade, but he's still a very cold character. They're also the only government-sanctioned heroes of the bunch. Blue Beetle shows a fair amount of insecurity and isn't actually all that effective as a hero. There's even an insult hurled towards the Question about how he doesn't "smell so pure."

I say that intending absolutely no disservice to Moore; what he wrote with Watchmen is exceptionally well-done on all counts. He doesn't steal or swipe from Charlton; it's just a larger springboard than I assumed. I had always figured that Moore was largely working with character archetypes and could have just as easily been referring to Superman, Batman, etc. No, he was clearly and definitively starting from the Charlton pool.

I'd always heard of the Charlton basis for Watchmen, but never really understood just how deep that connection was, and just how much of Ditko's work consequently shows up in Moore's. I wanted to see the Action Heroes Archives just to see what Ditko did, but it's making for a surprisingly much deeper understanding of what Moore did as well.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Book Report

I'm a pretty avid reader. I wouldn't say voracious, but I'm sure I read more than most people. Most of what I read anymore, though, is digital. Whether it's comics or articles or novels, I read more off a screen than I do off a dead tree. And what I do read off paper is almost always procured through an online source: Amazon, Lulu, Indy Planet, etc. All of which is to say that I don't actually make it inside bookstores very often any more. I think the last time I set foot in one was maybe early August, when Dad was in town and looking for something. The last time I actually bought something from a brick and mortar bookstore, I think, was October 2010.

Yesterday, I stopped in a local Books-A-Million, mostly to see what's changed. I've never thought of it as a good store, but it's still open and Borders isn't, so they're doing something right, I suppose.

The shelves were the usual disorganized mess that I expect from BAM. Nothing new there. But I did note that they had a lot fewer comics than they used to. Their manga section had decreased by two bookshelf sections, and a LOT of books were front-facing -- meaning they take up more shelf space. I've seen some bookstores still make their front-facing books at least two or three volumes deep, but that was not the case in what I saw here. Everything -- or very nearly everything -- was only only one book deep. So the fewer shelves devoted to manga were also less full.

The superhero section didn't seem obviously or overtly impacted, but I seem to recall the "adult" graphic novel section over by the harlequin romances seemed almost non-existent, with only a dozen or so titles. The YA section still had one copy of each Bone volume, and I came across an Amelia Rules! on the discount pile for a dollar. The art section still had several different books on how to draw manga/comics/superheroes.

Given that I'm looking just days after Christmas, it's entirely possible that the decreased number of books overall was due entirely to post-holiday shoppers. But that whole sections seemed to be given less space than before suggests there's more going on than just that. The question is: is this just a natural downward correction from over-estimation of the manga market (as the largest declines I saw were in the manga section) or is it a significant indicator of declining interest? Or, potentially, is this simply a bad decision BAM's part, forgetting that Japan suffered a massive earthquake earlier this year and would naturally have less product coming out? Given how quickly manga exploded in the bookstore market a few years ago, I'm inclined to think it's mostly a natural correction. But that's just a gut-level guess on my part. It'll be interesting to check back in 5-6 months to see what, if anything, has changed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Last Link Day Of 2011

  • Here's a Flickr set of comics produced by GE in 1953, trying to get more kids interested and involved with science and math. Titles included Adventures In Jet Power, Adventures Inside the Atom and Land of Plenty, A Story of Freedom and Power.
  • Basil Wolverton's most famous illustration animated in clay...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chic Stone Self-Portrait

I recently discovered this Chic Stone self-portrait squirreled away on an old CD-ROM...
Stone is probably best known for inking a number of Marvel comics in the 1960s, but he was an old hat by that point, having first worked in the Eisner-Iger Studios beginning in 1939. He wound up doing work for Fawcett, Lev Gleason, Timely and DC, sometimes ghosting for Bob Kane on Batman. He also went on to work for Dell and Skywald before a long stint with Archie Comics.

The piece above was obviously in deference to his inking work on over Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four, though this particular piece features his pencils. You can see that it's dated 1994, when Stone would have been 71. He died in July 2000.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Goodies

I'm not in it for the presents, of course, but it's always cool when relatives get you gifts that speak to your interests. Here's a photo of the comics-related gifts I received this year....
The Classics Illustrated and Mad weren't Christmas gifts per se, but my great aunt apparently found them buried in the attic somewhere and passed them along. They're in pretty poor condition, but appear to still be complete, so they'll make some good reading copies.

Comics Between the Panels appears to be autographed. I can't quite make out the signature, though. It looks kind of like "BW Ward" but Bill Ward had been dead for six years based on the date with the inscription, and it doesn't look much like his signature anyway. I'll need to do some more investigating on that.

The monster art in the background is the original splash page artwork from Ravage 2099 #28. It's framed with a copy of the issue and a small plaque. The matte has a little water damage, so I'll have to replace that; hopefully, it hasn't gotten to the art itself.

The series of keychains depict a dozen Tintin covers, with one more based off the new movie. There's also a few collected editions, and a number of Marvel Minimates.

It was good to see the family over the past couple of days, and I got a chance to meet up with an old friend of mine for lunch today. That was really the best part of my holiday, but the gifts are pretty cool, too.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Larry The Duck: Future Comic Book Star?

A friend of my dad's does magic shows in South Carolina. Mostly kids shows, I believe. One of his ideas was to bring a duck puppet (named Larry) to each of his shows, and use the character as memorable hook. Kids remember the silly duck moreso than the magician himself. What he's also done is made a website specifically for Larry, so kids can go an have a larger experience with him. And, not coincidentally, the moms and dads who see the site can slide over the magician's site and maybe hire him for a birthday party or school program or whatever.

But he's taken it a step further by having Larry the Duck write a couple of books. So the kids can take further interest in Larry's adventures. And, oh, hey, cool, the magician gets a few extra bucks on the side.

His latest book project is a comic book. It's still in the works, so I don't know that I can say much about it, but it sounds like he has a clever idea that utilizes the comic format pretty well. I think it's really cool that someone who has no direct relation to comics is using it a very real promotional item. What's more, that despite not overtly being a big comic fan himself (at least so far as I can tell) he's still taking advantage of the format, and doing things you can't really do in a storybook or prose format.

I don't know when the comic might be available, but it's something you might want keep an eye/ear out for.

This Is For Real?

Even if I were deliberately looking for something like this (which I wasn't) I should never EVER have to stumble across anything like this...
I mean, what graphic designer in this day and age thinks it's appropriate to use Comic Sans for anything? Come on, people! It doesn't matter how rooted in comic book tropes your project is, there are always, always, ALWAYS better fonts to use than Comic Sans, and many of them are just as free!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Teetotaler Hulk

I don't know that I've ever mentioned this on my blog, but I don't drink. Never have. The amount of alcohol I've imbibed in my entire lifetime couldn't fill a shot glass. To the best of my knowledge, there were no teetotalers in my family to follow in the footsteps of, nor were there any drunkards that I was making sure I didn't become. It's just something that I came to of my own volition many years ago. And surprisingly (to me, at least) it's never been an issue. Even through college, when I was offered a drink, I just said, "No, thanks. I don't drink," and that was the end of it. I never felt any real pressure, from friends or strangers, to drink; everyone just seemed to respect my decision. (Though I suspect that it caught many people off-guard enough to not know how to respond.)

Every now and then, I get asked why I don't drink. Not accusingly, just out of curiosity. I've never had a good answer. There are two things that seem to stand out as originating factors. First is the notion that alcohol kills brain cells. I believe this has largely been debunked, but when I was in school and the only real asset I had working for me was my brain, and the alcohol-killing-brain-cells idea was still accepted wisdom, that was influential.

The second concern I had was one of self-control. I have a strong sense of personal responsibility and free will, and the idea that I might do something when I wasn't in complete control of my own faculties scares the hell out of me. I like to think of myself as an intelligent, rational person who puts careful consideration into his decisions. But I also feel like that there are always wild and potentially destructive imaginings burbling just below the surface, ones that could be let loose if I didn't have some significant mental safeguards in place.

Between that and this memorable comic book ad from the 1990s visualizing that basic idea, it probably sounds overly dramatic. (Memorable, by the way, because of the poorly drawn illustration, not the concept. I mean, how does the bottom half of that pant leg not fall down around Hulk's ankle?) I never quite felt like I was staving off a Hulk-like transformation, but rather something more like a Human Torch accidentally cutting loose situation.

Still overly dramatic, given that I can't shoot fireballs from my hands, but the basic concern was there. If I didn't keep things in check at all times, something really ugly could happen and I might hurt someone. Hence, no alcohol. The handful of times that I have let my emotions get the better of me, even in a restrained fashion, it didn't end well. Nothing disastrous but, as I said, I was still able to mostly restrain myself. Had I not, well... I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be working at the level I'm at today.

It's curious to think that was something I picked up from comic books. Many of the same stories that featured the Human Torch also featured the Thing, who had no problems smoking and drinking. (At least, back in the day.) And yet, despite there never really being an overt message of teetotaling, it's something I picked up on and embraced as part of my personality. Even knowing those origins, it's hard for me to see why that was something I took from the stories versus the hundreds of other subtle, social messages. The combination of that message with my belief in free will? Maybe with my parents' teaching me about responsibility? Maybe a strong desire to be something of a non-conformist? What about completely independent, external factors I can't even recall -- movie characters getting drunk-people-drunk? I know that I still have no desire to drink, and it's still largely based on a heightened sense of personal responsibility, but it still seems like a strange message to pull out of Hulk and Fantastic Four comic books.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Twas The Links Before Christmas

That should probably be 'Twere, but it doesn't recall Clement Clarke Moore's very directly then. Also, if you're keeping score, I do celebrate Christmas despite being an atheist; it's a secular holiday with traditions based on a variety of pagan winter festivals. You mean to tell me that you seriously think those consumerist assholes yelling at you because you took "their" parking spot in front of Target are celebrating the birth of Jesus? People don't get depressed in the winter because of the darkness, people get depressed because everyone else starts act like total dickheads and it's evident that the "goodwill towards men" stuff is a bunch of bullshit. But I digress...
  • Will Brooker points me to Anita Sarkeesian's YouTube channel in which she discusses various facets of feminism in popular culture. She does a good job of pointing out issues of gender inequality in a simple and straight-forward manner. Some of those issues are obvious, some not so much. Though she covers all forms of media, she includes comics fairly regularly as well.
  • Matt Kuhns wonders why Jim Davis evidently wants to keep Garfield firmly rooted in 1986. I noticed the curious anachronism myself, but I chalked it up to the autopilot Matt dismisses.
  • Over at The Japan Times, they note the publication of Aftershock and Spirit of Hope both of whose proceeds going towards relief efforts for the disasters in Tohoku and Christchurch earlier this year.
  • Stuart Immonen alerts us to this video interview with Stan Lee from around 1970. (His wife Joan is the one hanging around in the background.) It's in Italian so I can't understand a word of it, but it sure looks and sounds like a hoot!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Yellow Kid: The Latest & The Greatest

So you're familiar with Richard Outcault's Yellow Kid as one of the original newspaper comic strip characters, right? He debuted in a Hogan's Alley strip in 1895, published in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. Outcault was hired away by William Randolph Hearst a year later, but Pulitzer retained the rights to Hogan's Alley. Outcault continued drawing the Yellow Kid, though, in comics of various names for Heart's New York Journal American.

The Yellow Kid became immensely popular very quickly, and many people tried to capitalize on that with their own marketing efforts. Mary Wood cites the character appearing on "pins, cigar boxes, sheet music, dolls, cap bombs, postcards, and a number of spin-off variety skits and theater productions." Some of these were officially licensed, some not.

One of those pieces I stumbled upon recently was a scan of sheet music. A piece called "The Yellow Kid: The Latest and the Greatest." It's adorned with Outcault drawings of the Yellow Kid, evidently done expressly for sheet music, if not this sheet music specifically. The Kid is dancing and singing around the margins, very visibly holding sheet music himself.

It strikes me as kind of an odd concept, since the Yellow Kid famously never actually spoke. Anything the character "said" was displayed on his dressing gown. So to provide music to a deliberately mute comic strip comes across as a curious pairing. But I supposed that people have always liked music, and since recordings were unavailable in the 1890s, sheet music was the way to go. Paper was relatively cheap, too, so if you already had a printing press, throwing together something like this would have been an easy way to make a buck, I suppose.

The music was written (and published) by Homer Tourjee with words by William Friday, Jr. There's a 1895 copyright on the page, but the lyrical reference to The Journal suggests it was actually 1896. Interestingly, I found another piece of sheet music dated 1896 called "The Dugan Kid Who Lives in Hogan's Alley." It's the exact same music, with slightly altered lyrics.

But what does it sound like?

So what I've done is taken the sheet music and transcribed it, note for note, into Garage Band. As I was going through, there were several things that struck me about the piece. It's written pretty simply; almost the entire song is in quarter notes and it's got what I would consider a slow pace. With that, though, there's a time change for the chorus, going from 4/4 to 3/4 and the transition between the two might be described, at best, as awkward. There were also several instances where the notation doesn't make sense -- notes that don't really make chords, rhythms that don't really fit in place, lyrics that don't line up with the music. If you take the piece as it's written, it's not all that good. I eventually found a version of this online where someone had actually arranged it so it sounds half-decent, but that's not what was written. The link below is what I put together, picking up a strictly literal interpretation of what was on the sheet music.

Play The Yellow Kid: The Latest & The Greatest

Let me reiterate: this is NOT somebody playing the music badly; this is how it was written! The chorus is meant to be played twice through each time, but it was honestly getting hard for me to keep listening to it, so I opted for just once each. The full lyrics are at the end of the post if you want to try follow along. (Like I said, though, they don't always line up with the music, so it can be a bit difficult in places.)

I would chalk the poor quality of this song up to the commercialism that allegedly drove Outcault from continuing with the character a couple years later. Recall that this was licensed, composed, written and published within a year of Yellow Kid's debut. It was most likely scribbled down hastily by Tourjee, typeset by someone else who probably had no real musical knowledge and edited quickly, if at all. Any "quirks" you might hear from someone playing would probably be attributed to the pianist and dismissed.

The song sounds very much in the style of the late 1800s, but it's almost refreshing to know that the crass commercialism we see in America today isn't entirely new.

LYRICS
Who doesn't know the "Dugan Kid"
He is the very latest
You'll find his pictures in the Journal every Sunday morn
He wears a mellow yellow dress
Of kids he is the greatest
Because he is the "slickest kid" that ever yet was born

Although but three or four years old
He's quite well known to fame
E'en though he has a homely face
Likewise a homely name
But he takes in all the picnics
Doesn't miss a baseball game
The "Dugan Kid" the latest up-to-datest

CHORUS
He's a plain little chap
From the heart of New York
Is the gay little Dugan boy
With smiles so sunny and ears so funny
He's New York's joy
When the band starts to play, is he in it?
"Well Say," Dugan's out of sight
For he's a corker a born New Yorker
And he's all right.

Some of his slang expressions
Have completely caught the city
You can hear them if you listen on the street most ev'ry day
Now though young Dugan's but a kid
His talk is often witty
And no matter where this urchin goes he's sure to have his say
When ever he gets rattled
He will holler "Hully Gee
Dere isn't any duck in town can get away wid me
For I'm a holy terror
When my fur is ruffled, see"
Says the "Dugan Kid" the latest up-to-datest

CHORUS
He's a plain little chap
From the heart of New York
Is the gay little Dugan boy
With smiles so sunny and easy so funny
He's New York's joy
When the band starts to play, is he in it?
"Well Say," Dugan's out of sight
For he's a corker a born New Yorker
And he's all right.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fa-La-La-Lah-Mashup

OK, the really cool/different post I wanted to do today is taking longer than I anticipated, so it'll have to go up tomorrow. In lieu of something else equally cool/different (which I don't have time for at this point) I'm going to throw up an inane/repetitive mashup. I did try something a little different with one of them, though -- I ran the dialogue backwards. Text from today's Garfield, art from today's...
Blue Milk Special

Bob the Squirrel
I'm kind of amused with the absurdity of the backwards strip. But despite being backwards, it still kind of makes sense. I'm not sure what that says about either Jim Davis or Frank Page, though.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

When World-Building Fails

One of the current trends in media is the paired notions of world-building and transmedia. You don't just tell a story; you tell a story in the scope of a broader world that can then be expanded upon in multiple outlets. Star Wars is a classic example. There's a Star Wars universe that was initially developed over the course of three movies. But George Lucas had other notions going on in his head that didn't make it to the screen. As did other people who worked on those movies. As did people who just saw them. Those ideas got expanded upon in other outlets like comic books, novels and bad made-for-TV holiday specials. Though most of the infamous 1978 Star Wars holiday special comes across as a cheap attempt to rake in some extra bucks on what may have been just a fad, it is notable for debuting Boba Fett two years prior to his "introduction" in Empire Strikes Back. Which suggests that Lucas was thinking about expanding the Star Wars concept beyond the movies pretty early on.

In any event, world-building and transmedia are considered the "now" approach to story-telling. If you're making a movie, you need to make sure the accompanying video game ties in with it as seamlessly as possible. If you're making a TV show, you need to make an accompanying comic book. An so on. Like anything else, it can be executed well or poorly. There's nothing wrong with the concept per se and, although it can be viewed cynically, whether or not it works largely depends on how good you are at actually telling all these stories in these different formats.

I recently came across a comic book series from mid-2010. It's a science fiction story, a little vague on the central concept but well-drawn with good dialogue. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's well written, though. See, it has this problem of providing too much world-building. The story starts in 1947 Roswell, and goes on at length (fully 1/3 of the first two -- and, to date, only -- issues) explaining how aliens came down and, wanting to the help the human race, did some time travel business to change the course of human history. Which is nice and all, but the main story occurs in this new, alternate timeline where there's spaceships and lasers and all sorts of fun, science fiction-y stuff. That has nothing to do with the backstory. They could easily have dropped the backstory parts and there would have been absolutely zero loss in comprehending the main story.

Go watch Star Wars: A New Hope. If you didn't see it when it first came out, try to forget everything you know about that universe. The movie starts with Darth Vader pursuing Princess Leia, and you pick up in the first few minutes the basic stolen-plans-for-the-Death-Star plot. Does it go into a long, in-depth discussion about how the Emperor tracked down and killed all the Jedi? How that was preceded by the Clone Wars and what that was all about? No. We get a couple of off-hand lines of dialogue about a quarter of the way into the movie. Twenty seconds out of a two hour movie.

And that's part of what people liked about the original movie back in the day. "Clone Wars? What the hell are those?" It wasn't germane to the story but it let the audience know there was a world out there beyond what we were seeing on the screen. Lucas' world-building was somewhat unintentional (he had simply written a story far too long to capture in a two-hour movie) but that still informed his story-telling in A New Hope. The audience picked up on and responded to that.

But if you spend your time trying to tell all your backstory along side your lead, you're going to lose your audience from a lack of focus. "Why am I learning about this guy, who's dead and buried by the time the protagonist is born?" The story is about Han and Luke, not Qui-Gon and Padme. It's about Frodo and Samwise, not Beren and Lúthien. It's about Superman and Batman, not Jor-El and Thomas Wayne.

As a creator, it does help to put some serious thought and consideration into how your worlds work. But it doesn't necessarily all need to be spelled out for your audience. Certainly not at the same time you're trying to tell your central story.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Red Queen's Race

We're at the tail end of 2011 and I am utterly astounded at how fast that went. I was just scanning through my timeline on Facebook, and I kept seeing notes about things that happened AGES ago! They seemed like ages, at any rate.

It used to be, even as late as a couple years ago, I would get to Friday and think, "Hey, cool. I can start the weekend now." It was certainly good break from the daily grind, but it didn't seem like that huge of a deal. These days, I feel like I'm running full speed all week and when I get home at the end of Thursday is when I collapse. But then I still have to drag myself through Friday, and I don't have all that much time to relax on the weekends.
"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else -- if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
That's from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. I suspect a number of people feel kind of like that these days.

But one thing we do here at Castle Kleefeld is keep our eyes forward! "Face front" as Stan Lee used to say! So I'm looking ahead to 2012 as much as possible. I've got some things I'm trying to get in motion to keep me pretty busy throughout the year. Several months back, I talked about how we should try to follow a webcomic-type model of generating long-tail incomes. I'll be trying to more of that as time moves on.

Not to mention just working more, in general. Jack Kirby was often credited with being a fast artist, but a lot of it was that he would regularly sit down at the drawing board for insanely long stretches at a time. He was quick, sure, but he would also put in 10, 12 and 14 hour days with a pencil in his hand. I'll be using a keyboard and mouse instead of a pencil, but there's a similar gist there.

So, as you start planning for 2012, might I suggest a new pair of really good, high quality running shoes? Because if you want to make it anywhere, you're going to have to run twice as fast as you have been!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thanks, Carl & Mike!

I just received a couple of neat additions to my collection that I wanted to share. Two autographed pictures of Carl Ciarfalio as the Thing from the never-released Fantastic Four movie from 1994, and a DVD he's made called "The Making of the Thing" which features recently uncovered behind-the-scenes footage from the movie.

If you're a regular reader, you'll know I was big-time Fantastic Four fan for decades. Though the FF movie was never released, I got a decent copy on VHS years ago. Despite some obvious production flaws and several plot holes in the script, I always liked the movie and thought it did a better job capturing the spirit of the FF than either the 2005 or 2007 movies. So getting Ciarfalio's autograph signed to me is kind of special.

I wanted to take a moment to publicly thank Michael D. Hamersky for setting up a contest in which I could win these (check out his blog for thoughts and discussion about the comic industry) and Ciarfalio himself for helping out with the contest and sending over these personalized gifts (check out his site for upcoming appearances at both conventions and on TV). Thanks, guys!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Simon & Barreto

The big news today, of course, has been the deaths of Joe Simon and Eduardo Barreto. I didn't really want to post anything about them since others are certainly going to do a much better job, but with both of them passing today, I didn't feel justified in ignoring both of them in favor of something suggesting that everything's hunky dory without them.

The loss of Simon is certainly unfortunate, but he was 98 years old and had already made a great many contributions to the field of comics. Everyone tends to focus on his creating Captain America -- which was/is certainly a huge deal -- but I think his bigger contribution was simply working and steering Jack Kirby in the early days of their respective careers. Kirby has noted before, I believe, that Simon was a fairly astute businessman, certainly moreso than Kirby himself, and that much of the success of "Simon & Kirby" came from Simon's selling the team to various publishers. Remember that Simon and Kirby didn't publish anything themselves; they essentially freelanced for Timely, National, Fawcett and others. Simon would often go to publishers with stories they had done and sell the publisher a "comic book package." If the publisher handled the printing and distribution, Simon & Kirby would handle the ideation and production and everything else, and everybody split the profits. That cemented Simon's and Kirby's names in people's minds, so when they parted ways in 1955, everyone wanted to get Kirby on their books. Had Simon not been such a good business partner, Kirby might not have wound up with the opportunity to create the Marvel Universe and the Fourth World and everything else he did from the late 1950s onward. I haven't read his more recent book, but his The Comic Book Makers from 2003 was very insightful in highlighting all the different parts of comics he touched beyond just Captain America.

Barreto is, in my mind, the more tragic of the two deaths. He was only 57 and still making noticeable contributions to comics. Personally, I first saw (and was impressed by) his work in Lex Luthor, the Unauthorized Biography. In particular, his scene-to-scene transitions struck me as well thought-out and executed. It's an element that not many artist seem to consider. Certainly not at the level Barreto did there. The most recent work of his that I've read is The Long Haul from 2005. I didn't realize until today that he's been largely working on comic strips since then, and I find it disappointing that so few people were seeing his work. I'm certainly glad he had regular work, but how many people actually read Judge Parker? Baretto certainly had plenty of talent, and he showed a lot of ability to work in different styles and genres with seeming ease. It's a shame that he couldn't have spent more time doing quality work, and that much of what he was doing was being vastly under-appreciated. Perhaps he didn't do as much for comics as Simon did even though he was older than when Simon had accomplished most of what he's known for. But that doesn't change that he was still contributing and looked to have many more years that he could continue doing so.

Though I haven't seen any new work from either for a few years now, both Simon and Barreto will be missed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's Monkey Day Links!

  • December 14 is Monkey Day! Please celebrate responsibly.
  • Here's a cool-looking Gundam that's seven feet tall. Now, be amazed when I tell you that Taras Lesko designed and constructed it himself out of 720 sheets of paper! PAPER!!!
  • Columbia Journalism Review just republished this piece from 1965 which looked had how "consistently propagandistic" comics of the Cold War and how they may have actually influenced popular opinion. I love pieces like this, as they provide a closer-to-first-hand view of what are now historical comics.
  • Did I mention that Gundam is made out of paper?!?
  • Salon has some coverage of Hero, Villain, Yeti, the Rubin Museum's exhibit on Tibet's portrayal in comics over the years. It's supposedly a pretty extensive collection on display, though I saw no mention of the Inhuman's "Hidden Land."
  • Chip Kidd presented earlier this year at the AIGA Design Conference. Here's video of his talk on getting tapped to write an original Batman graphic novel.
  • I know this has circulated a bit already, but Doc V's look at Timely's Best Western is really impressive and worth a read.
  • Lastly, I'm not quite sure how I would categorize this or whether it's really worth mentioning on a comics blog, but Joe Bonomo recently interviewed Jim Linderman. Linderman collects... stuff. He's not a hoarder and regularly dumps his collection of whatever-it-was-that-he-was-collecting. He has some interesting thoughts on why he collects what he does, and what he gets out of collecting. It's not really comics related per se (though he does mention Robert Crumb once) but it's a curious aside to fandoms more generally.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Castle Kleefeld

When I was growing up, I live with my parents, not surprisingly. For most of my childhood, I had my own room where I could close the door and totally lose myself in a comic book world. Resting on the floor of my closet, under my good shirts and pants that were hanging up, was my meager comic book collection. I would pull it out to read and re-read on my bed. The rest of the house was sort of like public property for the family so, while I could go into the living room or the kitchen or the basement to read, my room was were I could close the door.

Throughout college, I moved through a series of dwellings, thanks in no small part to the internship program which had all the students in my program on an alternating school/work schedule. We'd take classes for three months, and then work for three months, and then take classes for three months, and then work for three months. (And so on.) Because I ended up moving relatively frequently, I tried to keep things pretty light (at one point, I literally had everything I was going to live with for the next three months, including furniture, packed into a Ford Escort) so I left most of my comics at my folks' house.

Once I graduated and got a permanent job, I moved into an apartment that was intended to be more permanent. I made a point of removing ALL of my stuff out of my parents' place as quickly as I could, I think, largely to prove some semblance of independence to myself. My first apartment was decidedly my place (my girlfriend at the time was still finishing school and lived a few hours away) and I was able to designate a section towards my comic books. More significantly, the entire apartment was mine, so I could sit at the kitchen table, or in front of the TV, or on my bed and read my comics without fear of being distracted or interrupted.

Not quite 20 years later, I have a house of my own. I have an entire "room" for my comic book collection. My home office is a little larger than the bedroom I had as a kid, and there's currently a stack of 30-40 comics sitting here that I need to catalog before I file them away. I've got a couple graphic novels sitting on the nightstand next to my bed in the other room, one recently finished, one partially so. In the living room downstairs, I've got a stack of Tom Strong I'm working my way through sitting on the coffee table. On another end table is Habibi, still daring me to start it. The kitchen table has a small stack of books that I'm using as research.

I've been thinking about homes lately for some reason. I catch myself, on occasion, lying in bed listening to the rain pounding on the roof, or the wind howling past the windows; I think about what a fantastic thing a home is. There's the basic notion of shelter, obviously, but my home means I can keep stuff that's mine. I can set down a comic book, and it will still be there tomorrow in exactly the same state that I left it. No one is going to find it and run off with it, and there won't be any natural elements trying to inflict their entropy on it. My home not only protects me, but also my stuff. Which means, in turn, I can accumulate wealth. I can obtain items of value and ensure that they remain in my possession; my copy of Fantastic Four #1 is going to remain my copy until I decide that I want to be rid of it.

George Carlin used to do a great routine about stuff, largely playing American consumerism for laughs. I heartily agree that we shouldn't collectively buy as much stuff as we do, and far too much of what we do buy gets discarded carelessly. But I'm not about to suggest we get all back-to-nature/live-in-a-commune-and-only-eat-what-you-grow. But for the stuff we do get, whether its a necessity like food or a luxury like comics, I think being able to keep it intact and usable just by way of leaving it in your home is remarkable.

I could try to put in some message about helping the homeless this holiday season and, while that's a laudable cause, that's honestly not where my head was. I don't really have any particular suggestions for that, if it's something you'd like to pursue. I guess I'm just thinking about how lucky I am to have my own home, where I can shelter myself from the elements and store food and bathe and not have to worry about personally holding every item in possession, lest someone take it from me. I'm thinking out loud here about just how much I appreciate the walls that encircle my stuff and protect it while I'm at work or out of town. I'm thinking how much I really understand and appreciate the old "a man's home is his castle" adage right now.

Maybe my comics room isn't the super-comfortable, but still stylish library/sanctuary I'd like it to be. Maybe I don't have an ideal space for reading or researching comics. Maybe my workspace isn't particularly well-suited having a lot of research material at the ready while I'm writing. But, you know, it's still my home, and that's pretty darned awesome all by itself.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Experience Experiment

Abigail Halpin has been doing a webcomic experiment called A Thousand Cups of Coffee throughout 2011; she's trying to post one new webcomic a week for the entire year. Which might not sound like a big deal when weighed against the folks who do it daily, but she's an illustrator by trade and I don't know what else she's got going on in her life. It was her challenge to herself, so I'll take her word that it is indeed something of a challenge for her.

In any event, here's what she posted today...

As you might guess, hers is a diary comic. Just little slices out of her life that she's captured in comic form. They're generally pleasant, fairly quiet pieces. Well done, but not really innovative. (That's not meant as a complaint, just an observation!)

But look again at today's strip. The yarn she's knitting winds its way out of the panel and down to the ball in the next. But then Halpin also morphs the yarn into the song lyrics she's listening to. It's not necessary to the structure of the comic, but provides a nice extra beat to it.

It's a nice, clever piece of sequential art that I don't think she would've thought of 11 months ago. I think it's the type of solution that comes from practicing the same thing over a long period of time. I think it's the main reason why, when asked how start a webcomic, many creators will just tell you to just do it.

There's a lot to be said for education and training and mentors and all of the formalized processes that can help people learn, but there's also a lot to be said for learning by doing. Experience is, after all, one of the best teachers.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Avast Review

I picked up Avast! while purchasing some other comic-related goodies to give relatives for Christmas. There wasn't much of a description on the site, but it wasn't expensive, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

The story follows Cate O'Malley, a pirate under Captain Freeman. They ransack a ship and obtain the legendary Sea Hag's Pearl, which allegedly brings immortality to anyone who holds it. O'Malley takes over as captain once Freeman is killed (having dropped the Pearl) and soon finds herself under attack from the Armada. She also drops the Pearl as her ship is bombarded, but sees it roll overboard. She dives into the deep after it, and she's last seen under the water swimming ever deeper to catch the sink Pearl.

The book was a group effort from Amelia Onorato, Donna Almendrala, Bill Bedard, Andy Warner, Nate Wootters and Sean Knickerbocker. They're all credited as writers and colorists, and they all contributed to either the penciling or inking. For as collaborative an effort as it was, it holds together quite well. The art changes between sections isn't invisible, but it's not terribly noticeable either; some of the characters just look slightly off-model from the previous section.

The story holds together fairly well. I didn't find the characters terribly engaging, but they weren't exactly wooden either. I was struck, though, by a lot of the details about pirate life that were included. The type of stuff most folks aren't aware of -- like that a cannonball isn't so dangerous in and of itself, but it's the wood splinters that spray everywhere after it hits the ship that are more likely to kill you. There's also some nice continuity touches, like O'Malley eventually wearing a coat much like Freeman's or that she loses her eye shortly before going overboard.

The book is treated presented like a Golden Age comic from EC. It's got a message from the "Admiral Inky Solomon", fake ads, Ben-Day coloring effects, and even a February 1941 cover date. It feels a little off, though, but not having the quality level of illustration that was found at EC. You won't be mistaking any of this for Johnny Craig. It's not bad here, but it's a different style altogether. I think that probably hampers the book's impact more than anything; it just doesn't have the visual style of a Reed Crandall or a Wally Wood.

All in all, it's not a bad book. I suspect that it was a very educational experience for the creators (who, I think, worked on it as part of a Center for Cartoon Studies class) and it's interesting to see how that turned out. Especially as a collaborative effort. The book is available for $5.00 from Storenvy.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stan Lee Universe Review

I first started paying attention to what Stan Lee was saying outside the comic books in the early-to-mid 1980s. I was starting to read up on and study the history of comics, particularly the Fantastic Four and Marvel. Lee had long been THE go-to comic book celebrity, so it wasn't all that difficult to find interviews and articles about him. With my initial focus on and interest in the FF, though, I paid a little more attention to Lee even as I began broadening my scope. Jack Kirby, too, of course, but Lee tended to be more out-spoken.

One thing I've found fascinating is watching Lee over the past quarter century. He's frequently asked the same questions over and over again, and he has a pile of stock come-backs and anecdotes. But what's struck me as how they've morphed over the years. I recall when he first started trotting the notion that he'd told these anecdotes too many times; he said something to the effect of, "I've been telling these stories for so many years now, but I don't know if they're really true. I figure there must be some aspect of them that is, though, otherwise they wouldn't be good stories for me to tell." That's gotten truncated over the years and these days he spits out something more like, "I've told these stories so many times, they're true." You can see how he got from one to the other, but if you only heard the recent version, you'd wind up with a substantially different interpretation.

So here come Danny Fingeroth and Roy Thomas with The Stan Lee Universe. Although it's very much about Lee, it's not a biography like Tom Spurgeon's book. It's a collection of articles, interviews, remembrances and ephemera that are collectively used to build a portrait of Lee. Much of it comes from Lee's personal archives, so it's in his own words, but unlike his autobiography, there isn't several decades of poor memory and self-aggrandizing hyperbole getting in the way. This is Lee telling his story as it happened.

I have to admit that I had some concern when I first came to the book. I'm pretty familiar with Lee's life and career, having read quite a bit about him over the years, and I thought that another book on the man might just wind up being a somewhat repetitive fanfare for him. I think he's contributed quite a lot to the comic industry, to be sure, but I also tend to think the credit he's given, while not wholly unjustified, does something of a disservice to many of the other great comic creators who did so much for the industry. While there is some unabashed gushing about Lee in the book -- primarily in the new interviews with Lee's old colleagues -- there's much more focus on presenting things in fairly straight-forward manner.

The book is organized in a more-or-less chronological fashion, starting with a 1957 interview and running through to Who Wants to be a Superhero? and The Traveler. Many of the archive pieces are rare, some of which I had never been aware of, much less seen. All of which paints a picture of not only who Stan Lee is, but how he got to be who he is over the past 50 years. You can follow some of the subtle changes in his demeanor and attitude from one interview to the next, where he attributes credit and when. If you're one of those folks trying to piece together just what the hell was going on at Marvel in the early 1960s, this goes a long way to detailing that.

Honestly, this is a book I wish I had twenty-five years ago. There's a lot about Lee in here, naturally, and by extension there's a lot about the early days of Marvel Comics. I'm sure that most comic fans will find something decidedly new and interesting in it; I've been reading about Lee for decades and got some new insights out of it. It's really well put-together and organized, with lots of rarities that I would've assumed were long since lost to time. Definitely worth picking up if you have any interest in Marvel or comics history in general!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Warrior/Peacemaker

The S.O. passed along this link to an article about a work-in-progress graphic novel by Julian Voloj about Benjamin Melendez, who was instrumental in the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting which brought about a much-needed truce among the rival gangs of the South Bronx in the 1970s.

There's an excerpt of the work at the link. It looks as if Voloj, while a talented artist, isn't well-versed in comics. There look to be some minor issues with story flow, balloon placement and the like. But that said, I think it's a great sounded project and one worth keeping an eye on because it tells a story that no one else is telling. And I don't mean that in the cliched, "do you even know what unique means" kind of way. Voloj's story is picking up an obscure piece of history that I can guarantee will never be in any history book and, at most, maybe get only a passing mention in books about gang culture or hip-hop. He does note there's a condensed version of Melendez's importance in another article, but I don't think that has nearly the impact compared to what I'm seeing in the graphic version. I think that change of media will make the story significantly more accessible, more potent and, ultimately, more useful. In any event, it will certainly be something I think worth keeping an eye out for in the future.

An exhibit at the Bronx River Arts Center will begin this weekend, showcasing some of Voloj's work so far. And on Sunday, from 3:00 until 6:00, Melendez himself will be there as part of a panel discussion on "Activists and Artists Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting." If you're in the area, it sounds like it's worth checking out.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Character Affinity

What makes readers connect with a comic? Well, it's obviously different for every individual and there are a number of factors involved, but one of the biggies is character affinity. How much the reader personally identifies with the main character(s).

When I was a kid, Batman was my favorite character. He was confident and powerful (in a human capacity -- none of this lifting-cars-over-your-head garbage), he was smart and he didn't have any pesky girls bothering him. (This was obviously at a time when I still thought girls were "icky.") I wasn't any of those things myself, but they were all traits I aspired to at some level. I wasn't reading much, if anything, in terms of characterization so even the flat presentation of him in those Filmation cartoons was acceptable. While I like other superheroes, Batman (and, to a lesser extent, Green Arrow) stood out because he was a regular guy. No power ring, no super speed, no talking to fish... just a dude and whatever he had tucked in his belt. I related to that self-reliance and ingenuity and not-feeling-inferior-next-to-the-most-powerful-heroes-on-the-planet thing. That's what I wanted to be.

When I started getting old enough to look for more three-dimensional characters, I found the Fantastic Four. They were a little more rounded than Batman -- at least the Batman I was exposed to at the time. Plus, they weren't fighting crime (which I had no real interest in) so much as exploring the universe. Or, sometimes, other universes! I saw bits of myself particularly in Mr. Fantastic and the Human Torch -- I aspired to be like Reed, but I was probably closer to Johnny in terms of temperament and intelligence. Also, the camaraderie the team displayed was something I wanted for myself. I kept seeing people making allusions in the comic press to the Fantastic Four as a family, but I was thought that seemed a bit of a stretch. (Ben and Johnny as children to Reed and Sue as parents? Really?) No, they were four people who CHOSE to be with one another because they liked each other. Four people who were CLOSER than family because they WANTED to be with one another; there was no "well, you're related so you have to make nice to him during Christmas dinner, even if you think he's an ass" or anything along those lines. To have a group of friends as close as the Fantastic Four clearly were, that was something special.

But the aspirational angle is only a part of it. Direct identification is a pretty heavy influencer as well. Think about why Spider-Man was became so popular so quickly... Peter Parker was a dorky teenager who was riddled with self-doubt, and wasn't sure where he'd get enough money to buy Aunt May's medicine. A lot of people saw themselves in very much that role. Awkward and broke. They (inwardly) lacked confidence like Peter and struck out with girls like Peter and weren't sure if they had enough money to buy a slice of pizza like Peter. "Yeah! That's exactly what I'm going through! I'm not the only one! Somebody else gets it!" Plus, with Spider-Man, they still get the aspirational side of being a powerful hero that no one really knows about.

But there's also the more realistic affinity as well. The slice of life comics wherein a creator throws him/herself on the page and the reader not only says, "Yeah! That's exactly what I'm going through!" but also "And this isn't fiction! This creator REALLY is experiencing the same things I am!"

When I got divorced, it was (not surprisingly) very difficult emotionally for me. It was made more difficult because, despite the 50% divorce rate, I personally knew almost no one who had gotten a divorce. At least no one who ever admitted it to me. So when I discovered that cartoonist Frank Page was going through the same situation at the same time I was, AND putting it all in his comic strip Bob the Squirrel... well, it's hard to imagine me not feeling a sense of kinship with the man. Or at least his cartoon avatar. The strip is funny, and I'd still be reading today based on that alone, but feeling like I fought the same battles alongside Frank, each strip resounds with me a little more deeply.

Where I'm going with this is: if you really want to reach your audience in any sort of meaningful way, your characters need some degree of authenticity. You're not going to replicate each and every experience they've had, and you're not going to hit each and every member of your audience. But the more you give your readers an opportunity to feel an affinity to your characters -- because I'm not just talking about your lead protagonist here, but ALL of your characters -- the more likely they'll respond emotionally. And the more likely they are to respond emotionally, the more likely they'll stick around and, in a best case scenario, even advocate your strip. Like I just did for Bob.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wednesday-ish Links

  • Though he posted this a few months ago, I just came across this check (at right) that Tom Orzechowski was issued from Marvel back in 1990. Note the amount the check is made out for. He relays the story behind this odd check over on Facebook.
  • Neil Cohn points to several studies that track eye movements as people read comics. The various findings seem fairly obvious upon reflection, but it's great to see science backing this up.
  • Bobby Timony presents his pitch for a proposed Wonder Twins project. I believe he has the permissions set to "Public" but it might still require you to log in to Google.
  • I'm not sure if this circulated around before when it was first uploaded, but here's Wally Wood's "22 Frames That Always Work" as a live action video...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Last Minute Tuesday Mash-Up!

Mainly just so I can have a post for today, here's the text from today's Garfield with art from today's...

Superhero Girl

PhD

Monday, December 05, 2011

More Me Than You Wanted

Let's do another "What's Sean Working On" post.
  • The Webcomic Beacon Newscast
    Most recently, I was a guest on the Webcomic Newscast of the Webcomic Beacon podcast. I joined Thom Revor, Eric Kimball and Alex Heberling to talk about some of the news in the world of webcomics. I had a good time, and I don't think I sounded like too much of an idiot, despite it being my first podcast. (Obviously, though, I'm biased. Also, I haven't listened to the final version.) Anyway, go take a listen. Some good discussion.
  • The Drawn Word
    Christopher Irving is starting up a new magazine about comics. According to the press release, "My biggest goal with Drawn Word is to elevate writing about comics, packaging it as a magazine that reaches out to everyone from new to old readers, and features a variety of editorial and creative voices." I'll be one of the contributors, looking at (primarily) European comic creators you may have heard of but don't know much about. Also on board are Matt Murray (The World of Smurfs), Jared Gniewek (Scary-Oke) and Kurt Christenson (Power Play). The first issue is due out in early 2012.
  • The Jack Kirby Collector
    I've still got my "Incidental Iconography" column going, but the next issue is a special Fantastic Four themed one written entirely by Mark Alexander. ("Why isn't the world' biggest FF fan contributing to a special FF issue?" I don't know either.) But I will be back for TJCK #59 in early 2012.
  • MTV Geek
    My "Kleefeld on Webcomics" column is still going strong. I'm particularly happy with my column from last week in which I interviewed Rina Piccolo. (Yes, she does webcomics, too!)
  • Harry Blackstone, The Comic Book Magician Detective
    I'm still working on my next book, but I have to admit it's been a little slow going lately. I was initially hoping to have it January or February, but some of the art is requiring more touch-ups than I anticipated, so it might be a bit later than that.
  • Kleefeld on Comics
    Oh, you hadn't noticed that I'm still blogging away?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Hero Code Review

The Hero Code is a book that was successfully funded through Kickstarter, though I have to admit that completely escaped my notice until author Jamie Gambell graciously sent me a copy of the first issue.

The main story starts with some crooks trying to escape the police. The superhero Optiman intercedes and apprehends the criminals after getting blasted several times with a laser cannon. A pair of adults siblings discuss the sudden appearance of so many super-powered humans while watching a newscast of Optiman's heroism. They decide he isn't related but might well prove to be a useful ally. Meanwhile, crime boss Disalvo Lafontaine gets upset that the goons shown on TV had gotten a hold of one of his cannons, and suggests a "visit" to its inventor, who is busy seemingly grander experiments. At the policeman's ball, the Commission tries to avoid discussing this Black Wraith vigilante with other guests, just as the Wraith goes about mopping up a robbery across town. A mysterious figure watches the three heroes on monitors and imagines that finding out if those three will be "enough" will be fun.

The three heroes in question are fairly obvious stand-ins for Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. Or at least the archetypes those DC heroes generally embody. There's not a lot of time for elaborate characterization, so it's hard to say at this point how original these new characters are, or how deep they are as characters, but I was pleased how they were introduced -- each given his/her own different entrance without a cumbersome origin story off the bat. I particularly liked how Black Wraith (and his secret identity) are introduced -- very smartly handled. Though I did think the Wonder Woman stand-in could have used a bit more attention. It was a nice set-up and did a good job of providing an overview of the world we're looking at, but it didn't say anything really about her; we don't even learn her name.

Gambell has some lofty ambitions here. According to the issue's afterword, "The Hero Code is simply a comic book in which the good guys prevail." I think that sells the intentions a bit short, though. By making some immediate comparisons to DC's trinity, it does allow readers to follow the story premise quickly without a lot of exposition, but it also suggests the launch of a new superhero universe. There's nothing to say that can't be done, but that's not an easy task either, as evidenced by the string of unsuccessful publishers over the decades who have tried exactly that. Now, that may not be the case here -- we're only looking at one issue, after all -- but they brought up the DC comparison in the first place and additional comparisons are inevitable.

With that said, though, Gambell's actual story is solid. Good dialogue and natural-sounding exposition. He also knows when to hold back and let the artwork speak for itself. Artist Jonathan Rector turns in some nice work, which I'm sure makes that easier. Excellent linework throughout, and good storytelling chops. No wasted space with gratuitous splash pages or anything.

The book looks to be off to a good start. I think the second and third issues will really be telling with regards to how good the story is, overall. If Gambell and Rector keep are able to keep on with what they're doing, this would make a handsome TPB or hardcover down the road. The first issue can be purchased in print from Monkey Pipe Studios or online from Graphicly.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens Circa 1952

Apparently, Steven Busti is claiming that "Cowboys & Aliens" was his idea back in 1994, published the following year in Bizarre Fantasy, and that Scott Rosenberg swiped it for Platinum's 2006 series Cowboys & Aliens. I haven't read either series or seen the recent movie to be able to compare them directly but, frankly, they both suspiciously sound a lot like Charlton's old Space Western Comics from 1952...
So, not exactly an entirely original concept we're dealing with here.

Friday, December 02, 2011

New Almost A Superhero Shirts Available!

As promised some time back, I've got a couple more designs available at my Almost a Superhero shop. I have to say I'm particularly amused with the meta-textual reference in the one...
There's still plenty of time to order before Christmas! And you might as well get one for yourself while you're getting gifts for the rest of the family!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Specificity VS Generalization

The first comic that really got me hooked on the medium was Fantastic Four. I just loved the sense of adventure and exploration among a group of really close friends. I got really interested in the overall story and the characters, and I spent a lot of time working to become a Fantastic Four expert. But not long after I started reading that, I began seeing other characters appear in the book. And the Fantastic Four would make cameos in other books. Which got me interested in the broader Marvel Universe. What was this Avengers Mansion place they were hanging out at like? Who's this new Captain Marvel chick? I spent a lot of time working to become a Marvel expert. It didn't take long either to notice that creators whose work I really enjoyed would move on to other books. Some of them not even published by Marvel! So I found myself reading Green Arrow and JLA and the like. I spent a lot of time working to become a comic book expert. And then one of those creators had the audacity to stop publishing and move online! I was following Girl Genius from the first published issue, having recalled Phil Foglio's excellent "What's New?" from Dragon Magazine. But it helped to point me in the direction of webcomics, and I've since spent a lot of time working to become a webcomics expert. Interestingly, it was webcomics that led me back to newspaper strips. The spats and flame wars between the two camps led me to look up what was actually going on in the funny pages these days. How were these legacy strips still around after their creators passed away? I've spent a lot of time working to become a newspaper strip expert. Oh, yeah, and throw manga and European comics in there, too, somewhere. I'm not claiming to have actually become an expert; I think I have TONS to learn on all manner of comic subjects. But it just struck me tonight as an interesting journey of an increasingly broader scope to what I'm trying to become an expert at. My column at MTV is about webcomics generally, but my column for The Jack Kirby Collector is on the specific character illustrations from one creator who died before he knew what the web was. My first book was broadly covered comic book fandom, and my next one is on a specific comic book series from the 1940s. I don't know that the more generalized approach I've been working towards is necessarily any better/worse than the specificity I used to focus on, but it's proven to be a fascinating journey. I'm looking forward to see what else within comics I can sink my teeth into!