Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Questions Have Been Terrific!

Now I didn't resolve the questions; I'm a guy who lives with a lot of questions. I say, 'What's out there?' and I try to resolve that. And I never can. I don't think anybody can. Who's got the answers? I sure would like to hear the ultimate one, but I haven't yet. And so I live with a lot of questions, and I find that entertaining. I find that entertaining. And if my life were to end tomorrow, it would be fulfilled in that manner. I would say, 'The questions have been terrific!'

-- Jack Kirby, from the 1987 documentary The Masters of Comic Book Art

Monday, January 30, 2012

So Many Bandwagons, So Little Time

"Movies are a fad. Audiences really want to see live actors on a stage."
-- Charlie Chaplin

It's fairly easy to find quotes and predictions about various inventions or methodologies that were seen as passing fads of no real importance or significance. The ones, of course, that most memorable are those that got it completely wrong. It's all but impossible to predict what catches on and what doesn't so, while it's easy to get a quick smile from Chaplin's comment, it's not really held against him in any way. If anyone were able to know the secret to taking something from a fad to an institution, I daresay there'd be a lot more people with a lot more money. But it winds up being a matter of timing, marketing, particulars of execution, championing and leadership, and a host of externalities that no one really has control of.

Think of it in relation to the comic industry's history. Martin Goodman was (in)famous for jumping on every trend he could. As funny animal comics became popular, he flooded the market with funny animal books. After romance comics started to catch, he threw out a slew of romance comics. Westerns rose in popularity, Goodman was right there feeding into it. And he kept doing that year after year, fad after fad, until the superhero genre happened to stick. And even now, half a century later, there's no way we can concretely pin down WHY superhero comics stuck fast. Had Flash been reintroduced in 1955, maybe things would have been radically different. What if Joe Maneely didn't die in 1958 and had drawn Fantastic Four #1 instead of Jack Kirby? There are a million variables that could have been different, and any one of them might have resulted in superhero comics just being the next fad on the list.

Ah, but as Alvin Toffler has taught us, things are moving considerably faster than in Chaplin's day. New technologies are emerging with such frequency now that we don't have time to sit back and really analyze them before the next one is upon us. So how do we know what's going to take off and what's going to fall flat? How do we know whether to put our efforts to A, B and C or X, Y and Z? Never mind that we haven't even heard of L, M, N, O or P!

The truth is we don't know. No one does. Stuff keeps getting thrown up against the wall; some of it sticks, some of it doesn't. I've learned from decades of experience that I am one of the worst judges of what has any sort of staying power. I have always been, it seems, running perpendicular to whatever the cultural zeitgeist du jour was. I was late to MySpace, late to Facebook, late to Twitter...

Why this is problematic for you, the comic creator (or commentator or whatever) is that a lot of these technologies are where your audience is! That's how you communicate with them. That's how you market to them. That's how you tell them how to buy your stuff. It's all well and good if you're on Twitter, but if none of your audience -- or your potential audience -- is, then it's mostly just wasted effort.

Now, some of this can be automated to make your life easier. You can have your Flickr account populate your blog which then feeds into Facebook and Twitter which gets copied over to LinkedIn... Or whatever. But the point is that if you're playing in that space, you need to keep abreast of trends. Otherwise you're sitting there like a dork wondering why no one is visiting your MySpace page.

As of now, I don't have an easy answer for you. The best I'm able to do is just keep tabs on my friends and see what they're using. Maybe it'll catch on, maybe it won't. Maybe it'll be ideal for my purposes, maybe not. But you can't sit back and assume what you heard works last week will work this week. You need to dive in and get some details as quickly as you reasonably can, get the general feel for how it works, then see if you can use that to your advantage.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Decals & Vinyl Figures

A lot of folks from my office at work are going on a business trip this week. I've done business trips before, but this will be the first time with my current employer. Most all of us will be on the same plane, and most all of us have the same model of laptop, so I figured I ought to ensure that mine doesn't get mixed up with anyone else's. I thought a Spider-Man sticker or something would be kind of amusing because most of what I do is web work. (It amuses me at any rate.) So I swang by the local Target yesterday to see if they had anything. The only one I could find larger than an inch or so was part of one of those wall-decorating kits from RoomMates.
For ten bucks? Sure, I'll splurge. I figure I can use some of the other characters to spruce up my comic room a bit as well.

First off, I have to say that I'm impressed. The art is surprisingly (to me) consistent in quality and the figures are all pretty close to being in scale with each other. The clear edges mean that you don't get an extra white border around the figures, and the printed areas are fairly opaque, so you can still see them clearly over visual textures and relatively dark surfaces. They also have sets for Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as movie versions of Captain America and Thor.

They also have larger single figures available for twenty-ish dollars. (The price varies a bit depending on the figure.) These are presented in several parts that have to be assembled on the wall, but the result is a 4-5 foot tall character. Most of the same characters are available that way.

And for thirty-issue dollars, you can get a 3' x 2' classic comic book cover. Looks like they have just over a dozen currently. Fantastic Four #1, Detective Comics #27, Hulk #181... covers that you've likely seen a few thousand times before.

Now, Fathead seems to do something similar using many of the same images. The figures are larger -- more in the six foot range -- and appear to be single sheet of vinyl. Probably a bit sturdier and they don't need to be assembled. They also have the bonus of some classic style images by the likes of Jack Kirby, John Buscema and John Romita Sr. But, they also cost about $90-$100 each, so it's going to make a bigger dent in your budget.

What I'm curious about, though, is why haven't more comic book shops utilized these in their own stores. I'm aware of one that put up a commercially available Marvel border, but that's it. I should think a five foot Superman would be a bit of a draw if you could position it so it was visible from the front window. You could create a display that looked like this...
... which would be a little shy of two-feet square. It'd cost you around $50 and you'd have enough decals left to easily create another five or six similar displays. Seems to me that it'd be an easy and cheap way to get some nice looking art on the walls. A 6'5" Wonder Woman would be cool, too, if you wanted to spend a little more.

I just think it would look a LOT better than so many of the other options I've seen... thumbtacked posters that are curled and/or ripping, hand-painted murals by the owner who can kind of draw a bit, original art that's badly framed. I get that running a comic shop isn't exactly like printing money and things can get pretty tight sometimes but, in running a business, especially one that's so dependent on people being in a specific physical location, it seems that you need to spend a little extra to make the place look nice.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Spotlight On A Kirby Design Sequence

A little earlier today, Tom Brevoort posted the following Sgt. Fury page over on his Marvel Age of Comics tumblr. (You are following that, aren't you?)
The bottom three panels leapt out at me for the brilliant way they draw the reader's eye across the page. That explosion almost forces your eye into the last panel, doesn't it?
And then, the billowing smoke pulling the through-lines of the plane wing...? Love it!
I want to point out the more subtle things, too, though. Like how that middle panel isn't a duplicate of the previous one. There's a slight change in the angle (very evident where the crosshairs' frame is broken by the gutter) and the image is slightly larger. Not only are you given the perspective of the gunner, but you get the sense that you're following his eyesight specifically as he leans in and his body picks up the vibrations of the firing machine gun.
But then you also have this nice bit where the large black blob creeps up the three panels, starting in the lowest left corner, then enlarging a bit, before finally fully breaking into the panel untethered, mimicking the flow of the explosion to the clouds and simultaneously helping lead the eye to it.
It's just a really gorgeous piece of design work, I think, and I just wanted to take a few moments to highlight it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Three Weeks Since A Mash-up!

It's been nearly three weeks since I've done a mash-up, so I'm allowed one tonight, right? How about if I make one a little extra interesting? Text from today's Garfield, art from today's...

Bad Machinery


Cool Jerk

Your "little extra" can be that I did three instead of my usual two, or that I made a couple of slight alterations to Paul Horn's art so that Paul Stanley makes an appearance. (I told you it was only a little extra.)

Actually, I did the art tweaks mainly because the lack of any real dialogue in Garfield today meant that these make almost no sense. By adding "The Starchild" makeup and the sign of the horns, the dialogue makes at least vaguely a kind of sense. I considered also doing a version with today's Garfield Minus Garfield but that seemed a little too self-referential.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Selling The Comics Lifestyle

I first started going to a gym regularly in my early 30s. It was mostly an effort not to lose weight, but to avoid putting any more on and maybe get a bit of muscle strength as well. And while I was going to that gym, my weight remained pretty steady and I got a little stronger in my upper body. (But not much.) I did about an hour's workout pretty consistently every other day for maybe four years. I stopped going in 2007 largely because of finances.

In mid-2010, I learned that a friend was going to run a marathon. I said to myself, "Well, hell, if Chris can run a marathon, why can't I?" It wasn't exactly a bucket list item for me, but I thought it would be a neat accomplishment. So I tried repairing the decomposing treadmill in the basement and started running for the first time. The treadmill lasted only a few months before it died beyond my capacity to fix it. At which point I joined another gym, my finances having at least stabilized.

Since my goal was to complete a marathon, and having absolutely zero experience in running, I started reading up on it. And health in general. I read a lot, and was able to pick a great deal of information about fitness and nutrition. But to do any good, I had to start acting on it. I started eating breakfast again. I changed my lunches to primarily salads. I recently had the epiphany that I had unintentionally almost entirely eliminated red meat from my diet. And the marathon training itself is a regular schedule of running, of course, but also weights and swimming.

Not surprisingly, the gym has been pretty packed lately with a bunch of people trying to make good on New Year's resolutions. But I look around while I'm working out and I can pick out the folks who are most likely not going to continue showing up all year. In fact, I've already seen more than a few people who showed up every day for the first week or two now coming in more sporadically. You see, what these people don't get -- and what I didn't get until I really found myself embedded in it -- is that fitness is a lifestyle choice. You can show up at the gym and take the zumba class for a couple months and lose 10 pounds or whatever. But if you want to see a "permanent" change, and not just a short-term fix, it requires a mental adjustment as well. You need to incorporate a new exercise regimen and a new diet into your lifestyle. Diet, as they say, is a not a verb.

What does this have to do with comics, you ask? Well, comics is a lifestyle choice, too, isn't it? You're not JUST reading Spider-Man; you're going to the comic shop every week and chatting with the other folks there, you're online reading about upcoming storylines, you're creating fan art, you're hunting down back issues, you're analyzing plot points to see if you can figure out what comes next or whether or not they've screwed up the continuity... That's why "comic" conventions frequently also have actors, wrestlers and models as guests -- the "comic" of their title refers to the lifestyle, not the specific medium.

Gyms periodically offer discounts and use advertising that can go along the lines of, "Lose that belly fat so you look great on the beach this summer!" But the people those attract are mostly short-term customers. The long-term ones, the ones who act as an ongoing revenue stream, are the ones who have made a lifestyle choice, and they have a very different message sold to them. It's not four walls with some weights and treadmills; it's a club where friends hang out and bond.

I think more comic shops could stand to take this approach. Don't sell the customers/readers on the physical comic books themselves, sell them on the lifestyle of hanging out with cool people who lead interesting lives and have imaginative ideas. Comics is very much a lifestyle choice that goes beyond just reading the stories. Why are you here reading this, after all? There are some shops out that are doing this already, and some of those are doing it better than others. But I don't think you can grab new readers on the draw of a single character or book alone. At least, not for very long. I think the lifers that stay with comics are the ones who not only say that this is a cool medium, but the ones who say it's a cool medium with lots of cool people I want to hang out with.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednsday Link-o-rama

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breaking The Filter Bubble

One of the complaints I've heard rendered against some comic fans and professionals over the years is that they can be too insular in their reading. I've heard some really talented pros before specifically cite that part of what makes them talented is that they don't limit the type of material they take in. More to the point, if they write or draw superhero comics all day for a living, they read not just other types of comics, but other types of material altogether. Novels and poems and song lyrics and non-fiction and just about anything else.

If all you ever take in is a certain type of story, that's all you're going to produce yourself. You'll basically wind up rehashing the same old stuff over and over. At best, you'll wind up being a hack. The basic way creativity works is when your brain puts together two (or more) ideas that previously weren't put together by anyone else. That's why mash-up artwork online can be popular -- combining two ideas that wouldn't normally be put together is new and different.

Beyond just characters, though, a broader base of information better informs what you produce. A lot of the sexism that shows up in mainstream comics, I think, stems from the fact that there are so few women in the industry. Male writers are just writing what they know: men. So female characters come off as shallow or two-dimensional; there's no real reference outside of all the other shallow and two-dimensional female comic characters.

I bring this up, to some degree, in response to Google's changes in their search results, which are now incorporating social media aspects to the top results. Basically, if you haven't seen/experienced this already, the upshot is that anything you search on, the first results are, whenever possible, going to be pulled from your and your friends'/acquaintances' sources. Their Picasa albums, their blogs, their Google+ posts, etc. The potential issue there is that your searches are more narrowly focused on what you and your friends already know. Eli Pariser calls this a "filter bubble."

Personally, I try to actively combat that filter bubble. I still read an inordinate amount of material relating to comics, of course, but I do try to counter that with some other things as well. Right now, I'm reading a biography of Cleopatra for example. I also specifically went in to TURN OFF those personalized search results. I found having those only really distracting because I don't want to search on what I already read through a link on someone else's profile; I want something new!

You can walk around in circles if you like, I suppose, and stay within your comfort zone all the time, but I'd rather see/hear a wider variety of voices than just reflections of my own. I might disagree with many of them or find them wholly irrelevant, but at least I saw that my thinking wasn't the only option out there.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Wrong Restroom!

I was traveling a couple weeks ago, and pulled off the road to a truck stop for a bio break. The men's room was full, so I stood inside the door by the sinks and waited my turn. While I was waiting, a 40-ish year old woman walked in and stopped dead as soon as she saw me, a look of complete bewilderment on her face. I said, simply, "Men's room," to which she immediately blurted out an "Oh, God, I'm sorry" and darted back out into the hall wearing a rather embarrassed look.

It reminded me of an incident from college. Most of my classes were in the "design, art, architecture and planning" (DAAP) building, which was set a bit apart from the rest of campus. It had kind of an odd layout, which befit the art students that generally populated its halls. One of the unusual "features" was that the men's and women's restrooms were located at opposite ends of the building on each floor. But instead of all the men's rooms being on the east end and all the women's on the west, they alternated poles depending on which floor you were on. The women's rooms were on the east end on floors 1 and 3, but on the west end on floors 2 and 4 with the reverse being true for the men's. So you had to be very conscious of which classroom you were in when you decided to take a break.

One night, I was in the studios working. It must have been close to the end of the semester, as there were several of us there. I got to a point where I needed some more supplies, and was going to make a run up to the local Walgreens. (Not the best choice for art supplies, certainly, but there aren't generally too many options at 3:00 in the morning.) I went around asking if anybody else needed anything and, not having any takers, made a quick stop to the restroom before I left.

As I'm sure you've guessed, it was the wrong one. I wasn't thinking about which floor I was on, and simply went to the nearest. It took me a couple seconds to register the discrepancy. "Wait, something doesn't look right here. Oh, hey! There's no urinals!" But, I figured, it was 3 AM and the whole building was almost empty so I might as well make use of the facilities. So I'm standing in one of the stalls when I hear the door open. Some footsteps were shortly followed by a pair of sneakers I could see in the stall next to me. Clearly pointing in the "correct" direction. Whoever she was, I'm sure she saw my shoes were going the "wrong" way, but she didn't seem to care enough to say anything. I finished up, washed my hands and left, catching one of my peers on the way out who was only just registering what had happened and trying to stifle a laugh. I shrugged and went off to Walgreens.

The memory sticks out for me because it was one of the first real first-hand experiences I had in a progressive culture. For that minute or two, it was a unisex bathroom. (This was several years prior to Ally McBeal giving that notion any widespread exposure.) That there were two of us, of different genders, sharing the facilities highlighted to me that, hey, we're just all people and any labels you may ascribe to or have applied to you don't really mean anything. I had no idea who she was and (I don't think) she had any idea who I was. We were just two people doing something that ALL people have to do.

I don't think I've ever told that story before. Not because I was embarrassed or anything like that, but simply because it was essentially a non-event. It was memorable to me precisely because of how much of a non-event it was. Maybe the girl in the stall next to me was simply terrified speechless, or was in some altered state of mind where she didn't even notice me. Hell, maybe it was another guy! Like I said, I never saw anything but sneakers. I prefer to take an Occam's razor approach and think she just didn't care that a guy was in the stall next to her, and it was largely unremarkable for her as well. Two people just going about their business.

Shouldn't that be how comic shops operate? Where anyone can walk in and not really care that there are other people milling about? They could be male, female, black, white, heterosexual, homosexual... Comic shops have been around considerably less time than public restrooms, yet they still continue to evoke reactions not dissimilar to the first woman I mentioned above. "Oh, God! This is a comic shop?!? I'm sorry!" Wouldn't the second scenario, where a female's presence in a comic shop is a non-event, be preferable?

I mean, really, if gender parity can be a non-issue in a restroom, why is it so hard in comic shops?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fantasy To Reality

I used to draw a lot more than I do now. Twelve, thirteen, somewhere in there... I had aspirations of becoming a comic book artist. I dutifully carried around an over-sized art pad, and tried copying my favorite heroes into it. Certainly by age fifteen, if not a little sooner, I had realized that I didn't have nearly the talent to draw comics for a living (I had one drawing that was supposed to be the Black Panther, but I screwed up the proportions really badly and I had to change his costume to make him Beast in his original appearance) but I still continued doodling in my notes and homework assignments and such.

One thing I started doing was cartooning myself to provide commentary on homework and tests. Rather than simply write a note in the margins for the teacher, I'd do a cartoon of myself with a speech bubble saying something (hopefully) clever. It wasn't a particularly good likeness, I don't think, and was a bit overly influenced by the likes of Jim Davis and Bill Amend. Over the next few years, I made it a little more representative of me and what I was drawing by seventeen hasn't changed much stylistically through today. (I just pulled out cartoon of myself I did in 1990, and the biggest difference between that and how I draw myself today is my hair.)

I also used my "self-portraits" as a means of expressing what I was thinking about. I'd draw myself in a Buck Rogers style space suit, and imagine exploring other worlds. Or in leather jacket and a fedora, swinging by a bullwhip over a river of crocodiles, on the hunt for lost treasure. Or in a Fantastic Four jumpsuit, flying as backup behind the original team. They were daydreams, mostly, of me being bigger/better/more than who I was.

As I said, I don't draw as much as I used to, but I found myself doodling a week or so ago. It was me, in my usual jeans and a t-shirt, defiantly defending my home from unseen attackers. And I recalled another doodle I had done at the end of 2009: me, in a very tattered version of my usual jeans and t-shirt, bruised and bloodied, looking like I'm about ready to collapse, in front of the broken numbers "2009." They were still not depicting reality, but they were very much less aspirational and very much more metaphoric.

I don't know when I stopped drawing myself as a superhero. The last distinct recollection I have was in college, shortly after I was introduced to Photoshop. (Wherein I promptly inserted myself into a few pages of The Infinity War.) But I'm left to wonder if that's because I stopped looking to comics as engines of wish fulfillment, or did I simply stop looking for those escapist ideas which then led to my not looking for them in comics?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Marvel: The Lost Generation

I was mentally sifting through my superhero comics from the 1990s and early 2000s for Tom Spurgeon's latest "Five for Friday" and I recalled a mini-series from 2000 called Marvel: The Lost Generation by Roger Stern and John Byrne. The basic premise is that it fills in the gaps between the end of World War II and the introduction of the Fantastic Four. When the FF first debuted, that was only a period of about 15 years. But sometime in the 1970s or '80s, it kind of came to be understood that the Fantastic Four had only been around for ten years as they were on a different time-scale than the real world. And then sometime, I think, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, that got changed to that the FF have ALWAYS been around for about ten years and WILL CONTINUE to always have been around about ten years. More of a sliding time-scale. So now, in 2012, the team would have debuted almost 60 years after WWII ended! So what happened in those six decades?

Enter Marvel: The Lost Generation. The series was designed specifically around the idea of addressing not only those "missing" (at the time) five decades, but also any more time that might occur in the future. Each of the twelve issues hinted at what had been going on, but was left vague in terms of dates relative to just about everything else. A character who was a sidekick in one issue might be a grown hero in his own right in the next with no explicit explanation of what happened in between. Some characters would just stop appearing, and others would make obtuse allusions to their death/disappearance. There were a few characters who were effectively immortal that kept popping up, as did a time-travelling historian.

I thought it was a great solution to a very strange problem, and it was very well-executed as well. It was also one of the last really fun stories I read from Marvel. That's not to say the last one I enjoyed -- I enjoyed many stories after that, but there weren't many others that were fun. (The only other ones that spring to mind after that are the Waid/Wieringo run on Fantastic Four and Dan Slott's She-Hulk.)

The Lost Generation issues were numbered backwards. It debuted with #12 and counted down to #1. The stories, while all connected, are independent by design so the series can read either direction just as well. I talked to Stern shortly before the series came out, and he had argued to some of the folks at Marvel that it would be a benefit to do it that way, since they could theoretically produced two trade paperbacks from the series, one running in each direction. However, we're over a decade out now and it's never been reprinted in any form. I don't believe any of the characters that were introduced have been used since then either. Thematically, it seems to go very much against the grain of what Marvel is trying to do with their IPs now so I wouldn't expect to see a collected edition any time soon.

I'm sure one of the reasons I liked the book was because it felt very much like the type of comics I grew up on in the late '70s and early '80s. Not surprising given the creators involved. But since it was almost entirely new characters in a very different type of story than what I grew up with, I'm sure my appreciation for it isn't strictly nostalgic. I may just have to dig that series out again to re-read it. In both directions!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Curious FF Reprint Mystery

I stumbled across a minor, but curious, mystery this morning. Here are the covers for Fantastic Four #135, 136 and 137...

And here are the covers for some French-language Canadian reprints that came out about two months after the originals...

Most of the covers of the reprint series are lifted from the original comics, with just the English translated into French. But for some reason, the issue reprinting Fantastic Four #136 doesn't have use the original cover art, but a panel of interior art.

Now it's certainly possible the original cover art was lost or destroyed. But here's the cover to a British reprint of the same story from about four years later...
It's been modified a bit to accomodate a slightly wider format, but there was clearly some form of reproducible art still around.

The best I can guess is that the cover art for the Canadian reprint might have been sent up north separately. The issues were in black and white, so they would've only needed the black line art (probably stats) for the interiors, but the covers used color and it seems probable that Marvel sent the color separations for the covers up to Canada. Those could have been handled differently, or from a different department, so I can see a situation where the Canadian printers simply didn't receive the cover art in time to hit their production deadlines. In such a case, utilizing interior art like a splash page makes sense.

But, then, why the strange treatment? Why the odd angle? Why the red border? Why color some of the figures, but not the Human Torch? And why color the figures with the least intense color of the three chosen? Questions I do not have even speculative answers for.

UPDATE: On further study, I think that The Complete Fantastic Four cover is in fact an entirely new piece of art, recreated based on the original. The more I look at the two, the more discrepancies I see: Medusa's left boot, the Torch's flame aura, the placement of Thing's left hand, the number of steps on that statue, the placement of the upper bike rider... There are more issues there than would be touched up for the size difference. Which leads me to think that the actual cover art for FF #136 was lost in the mail, and John Buscema recreated it based on a printed version. Whether he did so specifically for the British reprint, I can't say, however.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's Wednesday! It's Links!

  • Harris O'Malley has a good piece on Nerds and Male Privilege. Judging by the comments, some of you may be sick of seeing these types of articles but, frankly, until things actually get better, we continue to need precisely these types of articles so the issue doesn't get swept under the rug. Also, don't read the comments.
  • Noturno Sukhoi has put together a downloadable pattern to make your own Weapon-X Wolverine.
  • Daily News & Analysis has this short article on the increasing popularity of old Indian comic book characters.
  • So, Google Correlate. Kind of difficult to figure out what the hell it is/does. Fortunately, they've provide a short webcomic by Manu Cornet to explain it.

A Cynical Comment On SOPA/PIPA

I'm feeling a bit of pressure to talk about SOPA and PIPA here, but I don't have much I feel I can add to the conversation. Everyone, to a person, whose opinion I respect that I've heard weigh in on the subject has said some variation of "these are horrible, horrible bills and should be killed." I agree. Completely. Nothing new for me to add there.

You'll note, though, I'm not taking the symbolic step of blacking out my site. Why? Because I rarely get more than 200 visitors a day, and I'm pretty confident that my regular readers probably share my opinions on SOPA and PIPA already. Blacking my site won't raise even a modicum of awareness.

I'm very, very cynical about the US government. What you or I say and do doesn't matter on this. Yes, I've written my politicians to let them know I'm against SOPA and PIPA, but it won't do any good. Because they're only listening to people who give them lots of money. Congress only started wavering on SOPA/PIPA after several major companies started taking action against it. The hearings on the matter where almost all the technical and legal experts said this was a bad move? Didn't sway Congress a bit. It's only when large sums of money started getting involved from groups opposing SOPA/PIPA did they care.

My opinion isn't worth shit in Washington. My opinion coupled with the opinions of every other person with a blog isn't worth shit. The only thing that matters is where the money is coming from. That's why these bills were introduced in the first place and why they're being contested now. Whether or not these pass in their current, or even modified form, has nothing to do with what's right or just or fair or what impact that has on you or me; it has everything to do with who lines politicians' pockets with the most money.

I think these are bad bills and should be stopped. I've written letters to Google, Facebook, etc. to take action. But that letter-writing is just to keep my conscious clear. The blackouts today are symbolic; the only thing that really matters is who ponies up the most cash. The rest of us can't really do anything of any consequence except try to work with/around/through the results. That's why I haven't said anything publicly on the subject before, and why I'm not going dark today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Support The Underpug -- Er... Underdog!

If I'm being honest with myself (which is what I usually strive for) I'm just a putz with a blog that gets read by maybe a handful of people. That this gets read at all never ceases to amaze me. Despite that, however, I'm going to make a blatant plug here to you handful of people to see if I can help someone else out a bit.

Ethan Young has been working on his Tails webcomic since 2009. It's a vaguely autobiographical comic which Young has characterized as "equal parts slice-of-life romance, comedy, drama, and epic fantasy." Last year, Hermes Press announced that they'll be publishing printed versions of the story with some updates as well as new features. I interviewed Young about it for MTV Geek at the time.

So, for those of you reading, take a moment to check out Tails online. If you like it, ask your Local Comic Shop to order a copy for you (Order #STK457317 in the Diamond catalog) or place an advance order on Amazon. I'm sure Ethan will appreciate the support!

(Also, if you're interested, I talked with Ethan back in 2010 about how race influenced him in creating his story. I really like his approach in the comic, and his rationale behind how he depicts race is pragmatically mature.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Biggest Superhero You Don't Know

The S.O. and I were walking through a section of town called "Little India" and came across the movie poster you see here. The movie is called Ra.One and came out late in 2011. It's about a dad who's trying to connect with his son and develops an incredible video game based on his son's ideas, but the video game characters break into the real world. (At least, that's what I can tell from the somewhat enigmatic trailers and descriptions I've found so far.) The protagonist is played by Shah Rukh Khan, sometimes called the "King of Bollywood."

The movie was allegedly the most expensive Bollywood film ever with a budget of $23.75 million US. While apparently not a complete critical success, it grossed $45.6 million worldwide. It was initially released in 3,100 screens in India and another 904 around the world, and had the biggest ever opening weekend in India. The marketing campaign last nine months. Related toy products included character sculptures, action figures, video games, and a wearable "H.A.R.T." (not dissimilar to the arc reactor from the Iron Man movies). The official website includes an online comic prequel to the movie. All in all, a pretty similar treatment to, say, any of the recent spate of superhero movies that have come out of Hollywood the past several years.

And yet, here in the States? Almost nothing about it.

Granted, Ra.One was originally in Hindi and was only dubbed into Tamil and Telugu, but how many Japanese movies came over to the US with only subtitles to enjoy some reknown? And wasn't The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a decent hit in the original Swedish before it got remade here?

I'm left wondering why IPs like Ra.One get so little attention? There are a lot of Bollywood movies, certainly, that don't get attention because they don't have any marketing budget. But this had a huge campaign behind it.

I have to assume that Hollywood distributors didn't feel they could market it to Americans. And I have to assume that's in large part because the people who are Hollywood distributors are white men. They didn't recognize themselves anywhere in Ra.One so why would anyone else be interested?

Today in the US, we celebrate the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to gain equal freedoms for everybody. Legally, that's largely in place, but we still have a LOOOOONG way to go before there's any real parity. As long as rich, white men control the messages, they'll keep making sure that their view is what's presented as "normal" and everything else is an aberration. Even if that aberration is only in the hero's skin color...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Note On Handwriting Fonts

The idea behind handwriting style fonts is to provide text with a more naturealistic, less machined feel. Helvetica, while an elegant font, tends to look a bit stiff and awkward when it's completed surrounded by and embedded in a full page of hand-drawn illustration. So handwriting fonts provide a nice middle ground, where they're still clean and recognizable letterforms, but their more organic design blends better with comic book style illustration.

There are, of course, any number of handwriting fonts out there, which can provide different nuanced voices and add to the flavor of a comic. Some creators make their own based on their personal lettering styles. On the whole, these work well. Easy reading and comprehension, but not as static as your typical serif or san serif. Here's a quick sample using Nate Piekos' Letter-o-matic...

Looks pretty good, right? That's in part because of the wording in that sentence. There's a good mix of letters there, with no double vowels or consonants. Now take a look at my name typed out in the same font...
Doesn't look quite as good. It doesn't feel like handwritten text any more. In large part because of the character redundancy. I've got three "E"s there, two right next to one another. The "E" form is very obviously identical across all three figures, making it come across as more planned, less spontaneous. And you notice this more because it's the only word you're looking at. You're not reading a full sentence and trying to process the meaning; you just need to understand the short blurb, so you can afford to spend more time looking at the individual letters. Because of that, the natural quirks that come with doing things by hand are more evident by their absence.

What if you made some substitutions, though?
The first "L" is an upside-down "7", the second "E" is flipped upside-down, and the third "E" is a backwards "3". All of the figures are now unique. A couple of problems remain, though. The "3" looks stylistically different than the other two "E"s, and the upside-down "E" doesn't feel quite right either.

What about actually modifying the letters, once they're put down?
Here, I've actually gone in and tried tweaking the characters more subtly. Changing the angle on crossbars by a degree, or shortening them a few pixels. It's not perfect by any means (I spent all of 90 seconds on it) but each character now has a unique form, but they still all look good as a whole. And the subtle changes prevent it from looking as machined as the first example above.

Obviously, doing this could be a tedious process, depending on how much you get into it. But for headlines and short exclamations, especially those with double letters, it makes a world of difference.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Graphitti As Comics?

Graphitti as comics? Has anyone seen this?

I saw a documentary on graphitti and graphitti artists back in high school and I was inordinately impressed with the skill some of the artists had. Where I grew up, though, we had no such cool art. In fact, the only graphitti of any sort I recall seeing in person was on a nearby underpass where the word "pharoahs" (yes, it was spelled incorrectly) was crudely scrawled out over the eight support pylons.

Now, I know there are plenty of examples of comic style illustrations in graphitti. A quick Google search will turn up images like these...

But these aren't really comics, are they? There's no story, certainly, but nothing to that even suggests sequential art. They're still images, and they speak more to the symbology represented by the characters than telling a story.

And then you've got projects like this...

... which is very cool and impressive AND tell a story of sorts but, again, it's not comics.

Now, admittedly, I've never really lived in an area where graphitti was really raised to an art form and most of what I do see is painted over very quickly anyway. So my question goes out to the folks who live in closer proximity to good graphitti: have you seen examples of graphitti being used as the medium for a comic story or sequential art? Where there are a series of still pictures conveying a deliberate sequence? (Wow. Sounds a little like I'm channelling Scott McCloud there. Not intentional, I assure you.) Are there good examples out there for comics created as graphitti?

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Intro To Fumetti

Fumetti, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is a form of comics where the images used are photographs instead of drawings. It's never been a particularly popular style here in the United States. I suspect this is largely because that the mass printing technology available didn't work on photos very well until the 1960s and, by then, the superhero genre was already doing a good job of crowding out other possibilities.

My introduction to it was in National Lampoon where the used to run short "Foto-Funnies." They usually seemed to center around the double entendre inherent in the word "strip" although I don't recall that reference ever being made explicit. The humor was generally pretty juvenile, and the comics seemed largely like an excuse for the magazine's producers to stare at naked women. Here's an example of the type of comic they often went with...
Really? Even when I was 13, I knew that didn't make sense and was an excuse to get a woman to undress in front of a camera. (Of course, I was 13 and didn't care because, well, I was 13 and looking at a naked woman!)

I don't remember seeing any that were actually sexy at all. There were some, in fact, that it was completely irrelevant who the people were -- there just needed to be two talking heads -- but they'd still have the woman topless for no reason. Still photos of boobs were pretty much the extent of the rationale behind the comics.

In that sense, I understood the benefit of fumetti (a term I wouldn't learn until years later) over illustration: you could get a greater sense of realism in depicting the human figure. If that was all you were really trying to show. It was easy to see you couldn't easily replicate, say, Spider-Man swinging through the New York skyline or an alien invasion that didn't look like guys in rubber suits. But if you just needed to have a couple people standing around talking, and you wanted them to look better than you could draw them, fumetti was the way to go.

This, of course, gave me a somewhat distorted picture of the style. It would be YEARS before I saw any real reason for fumetti besides the realistic depiction of naked people.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Flame #1

I just found that Farrell produced a comic called The Flame in 1954-55. This seems to be wholly unrelated to the more famous version published by Fox in the early 1940s. Not only are his costume and secret identity different, but this Flame does not need a flame gun, but can shoot blasts directly from his fingertips. Although in the one issue I've read, the only time he even does that is on the initial splash page which doesn't really take place in the story. He certainly doesn't have the panache of the Will Eisner/Lou Fine version that was more recently used in Project: Superpowers!

Technically, as noted in the indicia, it picked up the numbering from Lone Eagle so the first issue is actually listed as #5. But the second and third issues are simply called #2 and #3 (though none have issue numbers on the cover anyway). Also, interestingly, #3 was the first to sport the then-new Comic Code Authority seal, but it was also the last issue of the series.

Here's issue five/one, so you can check it out for yourself...