Monday, April 30, 2012

Whatzit?

A detail of Michael Chiklis' Thing costume from the Fantastic Four movie?
Or an extreme close-up of a dog's nose, colored orange?

Hint: Costume designer José Fernandez did zero work on this.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Books I'm Looking Forward To

I've got a lot I'm looking forward to in May. Loads of stuff going on around Castle Kleefeld. But in an attempt to look beyond just the next month -- and because I'm having trouble coming up with any real content -- here's a list of comics/graphic novels I believe are coming out sometime in 2012 and that I'm looking forward to. In no particular order...
  • Bakuman, volumes 11+
  • The Only Living Boy
  • Tails
  • Fairy Quest
  • Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman
  • The Beast of Wolfe's Bay
  • Runners: The Big Snow Job
  • Occupy Comics: Art + Stories Inspired by Occupy Wall Street
  • Little Heart: A Comic Anthology for Marriage Equality
  • The Summit of the Gods, volumes 3+
  • Scott Pilgrim, vol. 1 (in color!)
  • The Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes
  • Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independents & Underground Classics
I'm probably forgetting a few. Most of these I have on pre-order already, which is always fun for me because I tend to lose track of when they're supposed to ship. So I occasionally get a pleasant surprise in the mailbox when I get home from work: comics I didn't realize were coming yet!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Filmation's Flash Gordon

I believe I've mentioned previously how I spent many of my Saturday mornings as a kid glued to the television watching cartoons, and how most of those were themed around comics or superheroes. There were a few years when that included a Flash Gordon cartoon, that looked exciting and different from just about everything else on TV at the time. It also infuriated me to no end.

The show was put together by Filmation after seeing the immense success of Star Wars. It was for Saturday mornings, though, so they did quite a lot to cut costs. Reusing generic footage, animating characters as silhouettes, that kind of thing. I recall it being noticeable as a kid, but not nearly to the extent that it was on later Filmation projects like He-Man. And they did something that no other American cartoon was doing at the time -- there was one story for the whole season. Each episode was merely a chapter in a broader story, and the credits always started running just as you were really getting into it.

I thought that was fantastic. It seemed a lot more adult than the short, fifteen-minute adventures the Super Friends were getting into. The serial nature, while still fairly simplistic, meant that you had to follow for an extended period. There never seemed to be any condescension towards the audience, and the writers let the action unfold more naturally without a lot of unnecessary exposition.

So why did the show infuriate me?

Because the network never aired the episodes in order. At least not by the time I discovered it. It was very apparent, too, because the title of each episode was given up front with the chapter number.

When I first caught the show, I thought my problem was just getting to watch it every week. It came on at 11:30, I think, and I'd often get called away for lunch before it was over. Sometimes just as it was about to start. But I made a stead-fast determination once to pay close attention and ensure I at least kept track of the chapter numbers and titles for a few weeks, even if I couldn't see the whole episode. Sure enough, it jumped from 6 to 9 to 15 to 3 to...

Oh, there was usually a quick summary of what happened on the previous episode at the start of each one, so it wouldn't take that much to follow along out of order, but I was so irked at that they weren't showing them in order in the first place, I didn't really bother to sort it out. I think I ultimately only watched a handful of episodes in total.

Some decades later, I find the whole series is available for free on Hulu. I have to say that it really was an incredibly well-done series. It's not hard to spot the cost-cutting (not only re-using the rotoscoping from character to character, but I recall some of it being used in Filmation's Tarzan cartoon as well) but much of it was done very creatively to for dramatic effect. The spaceships in particular are fantastic.

(I've since learned that the spaceships were done by creating actual models of the ships, and painting them white with black outlines drawn right along the model's edges. These were then filmed normally against a white background. The frames of the film were then printed onto the animation cells and colored by hand. The effect is that the ship looks like traditional, flat animation, but the changing perspectives and rotations are done much more smoothly than any hand-drawn attempt. Here again, sequences are often reused, but they're creatively cut or jointed with other animations that it's not quite as blatant.)

More significantly, the story holds up very well. It does have a number of those pulp-y plot coincidences -- owing a great deal to creator Alex Raymond's original stories -- but there's some interesting things going on. Character morals are rarely black and white, and the dynamics among them relatively nuanced, especially for a Saturday morning cartoon.

I was happy to find it online to see if it held up as well as my imagination remembered it, and I was even more happy to see that my recollection wasn't even doing the show justice. It's well worth taking a look if you haven't seen it recently.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Foxtrot Experiment Is A Major Success

Two weeks ago, Bill Amend announced on his blog that he was taking his "first steps into the worlds of e-books and self-publishing." Amend's comic strip, Foxtrot, has been running since 1988 syndicated through Universal Press. Like just about every successful newspaper strip before, Andrews McMeel (which owns Universal) periodically published bound collections of the strip, in both smaller installments and larger anthologies. And, like traditional publishing ventures, the books' revenue is split among the bookstores, the publisher, the agents, the sales force, the syndicate, the paper company, etc. before Amend himself gets a share. Pretty standard practice.

Except now he's pushing out a few collections of iBooks.
I made them myself using Apple’s free iBooks Author software. Each $1.99 book contains 100 strips, some old, some new, some story lines, some stand-alone jokes, some black and white dailies, some color Sundays.
Three books. Exclusive to the iPad. That Amend put together himself with no outside help. Now let me share with you a Tweet from Amend a little earlier this evening...
Amend is selling his iBooks at $1.99 each, compared to $16.99 for his last print collection. If sales continue to do as well, that would mean that he'd make as much money on his iBooks in one month as he does in over two years via print. Because, despite the radically lower price of his iBooks, he doesn't have to share that with a ton of other people. Apple gets a cut (I want to say 30%?) but most of those $1.99s go to Amend. Think about how very, very little of those $16.99s go to Amend if he makes radically more on one month of sales of books where he only gets $1.40 for each one he sells, compared against the two years of sales on print one. That is absolutely astounding!

Now, granted, it's largely his long-time exposure in print that garnered him a following in the first place, but with profit margins like that, why would you NOT want to self-publish? Why would you want to keep the bulk of your books' sales for yourself?Why would you want somebody else to filter your work? It's no wonder traditional publishers are getting scared!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Closing Doors Review

You know that one holdout shop on the other side of town? It's a small place, run by one guy. He's really put his heart and soul into it over the past few decades. The shop's seen better days, but that's not due to a lack of willingness on the owner's part. It's just that business has slowed quite a bit these past few years with big box stores and the ability to buy anything online. He just doesn't have the income to do all the upkeep he wants to. Oh, the place is rarely empty. There's always at least a couple regulars who hang out there a lot, but they only just buy enough to keep the place from going into the red. Any profits come from the occasional customer from out of town who stumbles on the place accidentally. And every day, when even the regulars aren't milling about, the owner wonders why he bothers and debates whether or not he should close the place up for good.

That's the first story in Mark Rudolph's Closing Doors and Other City Yarns. It's a really powerful tale in large part because, even though it's specifically about Elvin Cherry and his record shop, it's not at all difficult to see any number of other stores facing the same issues. The story isn't meant as an analogy, I don't think, and that's part of what it makes it so powerful; it's a very specific story with very specific emotions about a very specific situation. It just happens to be readily transferable to so many others that we've seen over the years. The comic shop, the antique toy store, the bike shop, the diner... You've been in these places, some recently, some years ago, and many of them have gone away. It's easy to step in to Elvin's record shop, even if you were never even much of a music fan.

The book also houses two other stories: "Through the Cracks" and "Say It With Slugs." One is about a retired musician who is reporting a robbery to a police officer, and the other is a cub news reporter who stumbles onto a corruption scandal that's trying to be kept under wraps. Both of these stories are very good, but don't contain quite the emotional raw power of "Closing Doors." Definitely not to discredit Rudolph's ability, but he sets his own standard pretty high with "Closing Doors." The art and storytelling are top notch throughout, and it's primarily the deep emotional content of the first story that makes it stand out.

The one art portion I'll criticize is a change in tonal techniques part-way through. The earlier portions are done with what looks like an ink wash. Mid-story it switches to more consistent and harder-edged tones; I'm guessing this is from computer shading. While the ink wash doesn't reproduce particularly well here, the texture it provides is very warm and provides some depth to the environment. The computer shading, while not bad, doesn't add as much richness to the story, particularly the buildings and backgrounds. It would hardly be worth mentioning, except seeing how much the ink wash adds in the same book makes me wish it had all been done in the same manner.

"Closing Doors" and "Say It With Slugs" can be read for free on Rudolph's site, or the book can be purchased for $9.99 via Indy Planet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Time For Links!

  • Remember last week when I linked to a scathing obituary of Mort Weisinger? Well, his son Hank came back to defend him. Seemingly oblivious to the irony in light of the current ongoing discussion about creators' rights, his defense largely consists of the idea that the comics industry would have to be pretty fucked up to let someone without original ideas of their own make money off the backs of people who are actually creative.
  • The Khaleej Times has a report on the Middle East Film and Comic Con Convention that was held in Dubai last week.
  • Former Xeric winner Erik Evensen is Kickstarting his next graphic novel, The Beast of Wolfe's Bay. I reviewed his Gods of Asgard a little while back, so I expect Beast will be a good book as well.
  • On May 1, Big Dog Theater in Cleveland Heights is hosting a book release party for Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland. Guests include Joyce Brabner, Joseph Remnant, Josh Frankel, and Jeff Newelt. (h/t John Bauer)
  • Long-time comics guru Peter Sanderson revives his "Comics in Context" column. Although he reviews the movie Cabin the Woods, which isn't even a property based on a comic, there's quite a lot of comics context in there as well. Also, be sure to wish Sanderson a happy birthday today!
  • Will Brooker provides another Batman-focused piece for the Huffington Post. He concludes that, "Some Batmen are gay. Get over it."
  • Christopher Irving interviews Larry Hama in the second episode of The Drawn Word TV. The second half of the interview should go live sometime today.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Freddie Mercury, The Sub-Mariner

Last night, Jeff Parker relayed Steve Lieber's theory that adding a mustache to the Sub-Mariner turns him into Freddie Mercury. Let's put that to a test. Here's a picture of Mercury for reference.
And now, shots of the Sub-Mariner with a mustache.
Damn! That's pretty creepy how well that works, costumes and all!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Random Thoughts On Kickstarter

Don't worry, regular readers, I'm not going to make another sales pitch for somebody's Kickstarter campaign. But I was thinking, and figured I'd bang out a handful of not-entirely-connected, not-fully-thought-through thoughts about Kickstarter in geneal.
  1. We've quickly learned that it's a great way to fund projects, if you've got a reasonably sized audience to start with. Basically, the bigger your voice and the broader your reach, the more likely it is for your project to get funded. But what if you've got a decent audience to start with, but they know you for something OTHER than what you're trying to Kickstart? Say, if you're trying to Kickstart a graphic novel, but everyone you know through Facebook, Twitter, etc. follows you because you post videos of you doing clever song parodies?
     
  2. Is there a danger of Kickstarter funding becoming an insular loop? What I mean is: do the people who create Kickstarter projects try to help others by funding them as well? If so, doesn't that mean the money is basically just passing from one Kickstarter project to another, with Kickstarter itself taking a cut each time? That's clearly not the case yet as more people continue to discover Kickstarter and bring in new cash, but could things slide into that direction?
     
  3. Now that it's becoming a mainstay of independent comic creators, what impact will Kickstarter have, if any, on print-on-demand services like Lulu and Indy Planet? Or is it just another avenue that even more creators will take advantage of?
     
  4. How soon until corporations realize what they're missing and start making big donations (relative to the size of the projects) in order to get their name/brand emblazoned on the credits page, or whatever the top reward is? Conversely, could a company create a "false" Kickstarter project as an attempt to make a "viral" project in favor of whatever their issue of choice is?
     
  5. What type of intro videos work better? Art showcases or a more personal request directly from the creator(s)? Do production values of the video impact funding of non-video projects? I can't imagine they don't have an impact.
     
  6. "There is no Rule 6."
     
  7. If you are curious what I'm backing, there's a full list here.
     
  8. Not sure what this means, but of the 11 projects I've backed so far, nine have been fully funded while the other two are still in progress, but look promising with still a month left on each.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Comics 2012

Back in 2008, a number of cartoonists got together and themed all of their comics around Earth Day. They informally followed that up in 2009 but totally dropped the ball in 2010. Honestly, I didn't even pay attention last year because of it. But this year, we have at least a few folks who remembered, so I thought I'd try to collect all of the Earth Day cartoons I've been able to find...
Admittedly, a few of these might not have been actually intended for Earth Day, and just reflect a general seasonal message, but given the dearth of even those in 2010, I'll give these guys the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Today's Framing Project

I got a raise at work a couple weeks back and I thought it was high time to celebrate by getting some comic book art up on the walls. But I try to keep a somewhat classy homestead, so I'm not just going to tack up some posters with thumbtacks! I went out for some actual frames.

I've actually got quite a few pieces that could stand being framed. Some cool posters, prints, original art... But I do have a limited amount of wall space to work with, so I had to limit my selections to two. Both of which, in fact, ended up replacing pieces already on the walls!

First was a print of Jack Kirby's "Incan Visitation." He originally did this in 1975, and a bunch were printed up in the early 1990s for sale as well. I got mine when I got a membership to the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center. The framing on this was pretty straight-forward, though I did go a bit cheap by cutting the matte myself. Not the best job, by any stretch, but it looks decent from a standard viewing distance of a few feet away. Black frame and white matte so as not to compete against all the colors (which, oddly, matches the color scheme of the room) and it's hung in a position so it's one of the first things I see when I get home.

More interesting (from a trying-to-frame-it perspective) is a limited edition print entitled "Life is a series of compromises" from Curio & Co. They were kind enough to send me one shortly after their initial Eisner nomination. I debated a while on what to do with this, because of it's unusual size: roughly 26¾" tall by 5¼" wide. Not many ready-made frames could fit that. What I did find, though, was one of those plexiglass poster frames that might work. But, since the print doesn't lend itself easily to matting, I wanted to try a floating-frame type option. What I wound up doing is taking two of those poster frames and sandwiching the two pieces of plexiglass in one frame. This wasn't thick enough for the frame, though, so I had wedge some slim pieces of matte board along the sides to ensure everything stayed in place. I'm rather pleased how this one turned out.
So there you have my framing project for the day. Bringing comic art to the walls without making my home look like a college dorm room.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Has Anyone Really, REALLY Read The Galactus Trilogy?

Over at The Hooded Utilitarian, Ben Saunders ponders the question: has anyone really read Action Comics #1? He mostly looks at it from the perspective of the fact that, even as early as the mid-20th century, very few people had access to an original copy of the seminal comic book and the vast majority of us are relegated to reading reprints and digital copies. He brings up several salient points around the question, but only briefly touches on one that I think is quite significant.

When I first really started getting into comics as a kid, Fantastic Four was my favorite title. John Byrne was working on it at the time, and he was turning in amazing work month in and month out. In hindsight, it's really easy to see how I was hooked. After reading the book for several months, I realized that there were 200-some issues that came beforehand that I ought to read since I liked the characters so much. And the back issue hunt began.

Not surprisingly, my budget as an early teenager was limited, so I bought back issues in largely reverse order. The more recent issues were cheaper and easier to obtain, so my early finds were right around #200. Then, as I began working at McDonald's and started getting a semi-regular income, books around #150. Then closer to #100. I finally got an original #1 as a college graduation present from my folks. And I made a point to actually read those issues even though they were often in quickly deteriorating condition and I was already familiar with the stories via collections and reprints. (Keep in mind, too, that this was a couple decades ago. Well before the current crop of readily available reprints in multiple formats.)

But you know what I recognized even then? That I wasn't really experiencing the books "properly." By the time I read the famous Galactus Trilogy -- even the original copies -- I knew who Galactus was, how he operated, and much of his backstory. I'd already seen this world-eating giant physically beaten by Earth's heroes, saved by Reed Richards and legally defended by Odin! There was absolutely no way I could remove that context from my head while I was reading the character's debut. There was absolutely no way that I could experience seeing that character for the first time from his 1960s debut because I had already experienced him in the 1980s.

A few years later, Jim Lee was given the reigns of the book for a spell during Marvel's "Heroes Reborn" event. I was reading all the "Heroes Reborn" books at the time, and I distinctly recall getting excited about the impending finale with Galactus. Primarily because I didn't know what was going to happen. The way that series was set up -- essentially putting the old characters in an alternate reality with no ties to existing continuity -- meant that it could potentially even end with the destruction of the world and all its heroes, since it wouldn't impact/affect the "real" Marvel Universe. I believe I even said at one point that it would probably be the closest feeling I would get to reading the original Galactus Trilogy when it first came out.

But!

But that still happened in in 1997, not 1966. Over three decades apart. Galactus debuted before Watergate, before Star Wars, before MTV, before home computers... before everything that made 1997 what it was. There was no way I could experience the Galactus Trilogy in the "proper" context because I hadn't even been born in 1966!

Art is a reflection of the society in which it's created. Everything that was swirling around the collective social consciousness in 1966 informed how the Galactus Trilogy was created and how it was received. The further removed you are from that, the further you remove yourself from the original context. Even someone reading it in 1967 would have a slightly different context than anyone who read it the year before. Star Trek, for example, debuted a few months after the Galactus Trilogy concluded. So did The Monkees' first album. The Black Panther Party was created. Walt Disney died late in the year. Even within the span of a few months after the books were published, people were reading them in a different context because they had other things to contextualize the story against.

I specifically choose the Galactus Trilogy for my example here because it's a story that was quite powerful when it first came out. "Have the FF fight God" was the anecdotal inspiration for the story (and one that I dig up evidence for being reasonably accurate in an upcoming-but-not-sure-which issue of Jack Kirby Collector) and that made for a huge sea change in comic storytelling. At Marvel certainly, and eventually over at DC as well. The people who would've read it in 1966 and still working/playing in the industry are relatively few and far between, putting the book substantially into comics' past. But it's still recent enough that obtaining original copies is not all that difficult. So you can see/hear/feel the original and compare that against a reprint, but it's not something you're likely able to fully put into context. Because it's no longer 1966.

So, in that sense, does it even matter whether you read the original or a reprint or a digital copy? I don't know, but I think it's a relevant point that, as I said, Saunders touches on but doesn't explore very deeply.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Amazing Graphic Novel Reference For Libraries

Salem Press is finally releasing their three-volume Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independents & Underground Classics. It's a huge reference for many of the most important and significant graphic novels in the history of the medium. (I know it includes an entry for It Rhymes With Lust and I'm pretty sure He Done Her Wrong is in there as well.) It costs $395 but it was edited by Bart Beaty and Stephen Weiner, and I know that a lot of rigorous research went into it. I know that because I contributed several articles on it!

The essays about Alice in Sunderland, Fax from Sarajevo, Laika, My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill and You Are Here are all by me. Which means that I almost certainly appear in the first and last books, and probably the middle one as well. Also cool (to me) is that the cover uses art from My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill. I'm sure that had zero to do with my written contribution, but it's kind of cool that anyone who's intrigued by the cover image might jump directly to one of my essays.

Also cool is that, since these books are directed at libraries, there's a chance that my name starts showing up in their databases. I mean, technically, I'm already in there from my first book, but getting in based on the work and not on my hometown is pretty awesome.

So, hey, any of you librarians out there! See if you can this set stocked in your reference section. Great stuff to be had here! Hell, I'm going to order a set for own reference!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's Wednesday & It's Links

  • Ken Quattro, the Comics Detective, posts a previously unpublished "obituary" of Mort Weisinger, written by William Woolfolk. As Quattro says, it doesn't pull any punches.
  • Rob Steibel posts some scans from Excelsior, a fanzine started in 1968. Of particular interest is that it includes short interviews with both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Not particularly in depth, but there are some decidedly pointed questions about authorship.
  • Congratulations to Neil Cohn for successfully defending his dissertation and achieving a doctorate... in comics! Specifically a "PhD in Psychology studying the how people's minds and brains understand comics." More higher degrees centered around comics is just awesome in general, and I've been Cohn's work on it for many years now. Congrats!
  • Speaking of doctorates in comics, Will Brooker (who famously got his doctorate in Batman -- well, Cultural Studies, actually, but his thesis focused on Batman) has a new piece on Huffington Post about why the Catwoman suit worn by Anne Hathaway is wrong relative to the Batman outfit worn by Christian Bale.
  • Steven Brower does one of the most concentrated studies specifically focusing on Jack Kirby's collage work that I've yet read.
  • Kaleb Brown is a nine-year-old with Aspergers. But, with some encouragement from his mother, he's published his own comic book about a character called The Big M. Channel 4 out of Jacksonville, FL did a feature on him recently or you can go directly to his web site to check it out for yourself.
  • Doc Jenkins talks with Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Izumi Tsuji who edited the recently published Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Season 1, Episode 7 - Videoman

I learned earlier today that Videoman was officially brought into Marvel continuity a few years ago. I've been having trouble wrapping my head around that, so I'm just going to present the character's debut in its entirety.

And, for a little added perspective, this episode came out one week after "Seven Little Superheroes" -- arguably the best, most memorable episode of the entire series.

(Damn you, Gallaher!)

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Safety Purchase

If you buy Batman every month, you generally have a decent idea of what to expect. That's not intended as a slam against the writers and artists of the book, by any means, but as a reader, you know that some crime will be committed and Batman will have to hunt down the perpetrator and bring him/her/it to justice. Batman looks a certain way, moves a certain way, talks a certain way... You may not know any of the specifics when you start reading, but you have an expectation of what you'll find in any given book based on its history. The creators' job is to make that as interesting as possible within the confines of the "rules" of a Batman story.

The same is true at a company level as well. Even if you've never read Iron Man, but you have read Captain America and Fantastic Four, you can make some reasonable assumptions of what Iron Man will be like. You might not know all the "rules" right off the bat, but your familiarity with other books from the same publisher will have set up the basic "rules" of the universe all of those characters inhabit.

Even a publisher that doesn't have a bunch of interconnected titles. Say, Dark Horse. You can expect a certain overall style or level of expertise based on their overall output. You could might well be able to give Umbrella Academy a shot because it's from the same people who gave the go-ahead for Hellboy and The Goon.

In that sense, a purchase made in that manner is relatively safe. Even if it's not the best issue of Green Lantern in a while, it's still probably going to meet most of your expectations. You might decide to try a few more issues to see if that particular one you bought was perfectly typical or not.

But go up and down the Artists' Alley at your next comic book convention. Many, if not most, of those comic creators are folks doing stuff you've never heard of. And aren't connected to anything you've ever heard of. And aren't even from a publisher you've ever heard of. In fact, there's a good chance that all you have to go on is whatever promotional material they've got sitting on their table and the quality of their sales pitch. Neither of which are necessarily good indicators of the quality of their comics.

So the question is: is it worth gambling your money on a book that might not be any good? Even if you did read a review of one the creators' works online before-hand, what about the dozens of other creators at the show? The illustrations might be good, and the guy standing behind the table might have a golden tongue, but what if the dialogue is crap? Or the storytelling is illegible? Or it's got a great premise and set-up, but a terrible ending? Those are things you often can't know unless you read the whole book, and the creator isn't likely to let you do that without buying it first! Is it worth gambling you money on that?

Yes.

Let me reiterate that. Yes, it is worth gambling your money on a book you don't know much about at a comic convention.

Don't get me wrong. Some of what you buy will turn out to be garbage, and some will be mediocre. Some might be done well, but don't really grab you. There'll probably be only a handful that you'll wind up really happy to have discovered. But it's absolutely still worth that gamble.

Why? Because there's never been a comic so absolutely horrible that you couldn't get SOMEthing out of it. Even the ones that were just really poorly done all over provide the opportunity to study them to see what not to do or how things could've been done better. I have bought plenty of comics that I didn't like or thought were bad -- but I'm able to look at them and figure WHY they weren't done well, and what to look for the next time I'm in an Artists' Alley. Did I buy it expressly because of the person's sales pitch without really looking at the art? Did the illustrations remind me of another artist that I like? Did I purchase it based on the genre alone and, if so, what is it about the genre that I especially like and didn't find here?

And some of the books you find that way are real gems and make up for the other crap ones you had to sort through. It's such an incredible treat to find those, and I really cherish every one I discovered that way!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Marrowbones Review

Eric Orchard is launching his new comic, Marrowbones, tomorrow and sent along an advance copy for me to review. It's about an orphan named Nora who goes to work at her Uncle Barnaby's Ravensbeard Inn. Despite being surrounded by ghosts, vampires, werewolves and the like, Nora finds herself quite at home.

The main story is about how Nora and her vampire friend Ollie discover a lich in the kitchen making dough zombies. They try to take care of it themselves before Uncle Barnaby gets back. Despite their best efforts, though, they're unsuccessful and require Barnaby's assistance when he finally returns with some cheesecake.

Orchard is clearly attempting to straddle the line between a cute/clever kids' story and something ghastly/spooky. And he does a good job of that. It's not a slap-stick comedy like Beetlejuice, nor is it quite as emotionally dark and brooding as Nightmare Before Christmas. It's visually pretty dark, but with a kind of soft veneer over it. It floats in a nice middle-ground and seems like would be just scary enough for kids without freaking them out too much. I want to make comparisons to things like Death Jr. and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy but that's not really where this is coming from; it has some lighthearted moments, certainly, but it's not really played for laughs. My best analogy might be some of those old fairy tales before the 20th century sanitized them.

Orchard notes in the introduction that he's had Marrowbones rolling around in his head for a while now, and I think it shows. He's got a very clear indication of what he's doing with it, and obviously has mapped out quite a lot more than what's shown. Plenty of details to absorb.

The one complaint I might lodge against what I've seen so far is that, before the main story, there's seven pages of backstory exposition. It certainly shows the depth with which Orchard has thought this through, but I think that could either have been shortened considerably or been made a little more engaging instead of having everything relayed in the past tense by a skeletal narrator. Because of these first pages, I have to admit being a little concerned heading into the main story, though, fortunately, the storytelling in the latter is much more fluid and doesn't rely so heavily on straight exposition.

Beginning tomorrow, Orchard will be selling the 46-page book as a digital download. You can read more about it (and probably get a copy once he makes it live) on his blog.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dystopian Fiction VS Reality

I was reading Warren Ellis' Ignition City this afternoon. Good story, as is pretty typical with Ellis. The story, not surprisingly, mostly takes place in Ignition City which can probably be described as a shithole built largely with half-wrecked spaceships. Kind of like Mos Eisley, except where the Star Wars city might be described as far from the bright center of the universe, Ignition City really is the cesspool toilet that the universe crapped out, spit on and then decided to use as toxic waste dump.

A lot of Ellis' stories are set in dystopian societies of some sort. Ignition City just happened to have a decidedly more visible component to it. As is also fairly typical in a dystopian story (not just those from Ellis) most of the population just live within the confines of the dystopia, and try to make do as best as they can. It's usually only one person or a small handful people (usually the protagonists) who're able to affect change. Your Elijah Snow or Spider Jerusalem or whomever.

So I'm sitting here in southwest Ohio, pondering the nature of dystopias. Interesting thing about them: they're not really dystopias for everybody. If everybody were that bad off, people would be able to change things a little more readily. No, there's generally a small, elite group at the top of the food chain who are controlling some scarce resource(s) and living comfortably while forcing the rest of the population into some kind of dismal servitude. You look at 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 or THX 1138 or whatever, and there's a very clear, virtually insurmountable, separation between the vast majority of the population and the people at the top. Because they're able to control that resource, that gives them power to keep the other 99% of the general population oppressed.

Of course, most dystopian stories have a somewhat exaggerated locus of control. The ability to clamp down on all of the resources needed to have that level of control isn't functionally possible in this day and age, I don't think. At least not to the extent that we see in stories.

But they still exist after a fashion. Especially when you consider that one person's dystopia is another's luxury. This corner of Ohio is only just barely in the "Bible Belt" but I still find it far too religious for my tastes. (I pass a billboard on the way to work every day which posits the mind-blowingly absurd notion that Jesus was more responsible for my ability to read than my parents and all of my school teachers. Not to mention that I also live near the site of Touchdown Jesus -- built well after I moved here, by the way.) Not exactly "living in hell" for me since I can generally escape the torment from church-goers -- and Tea Partiers and bigots and the population of a district that always (and I mean, always) votes 180° opposite of me in each and every election regardless of the issue -- by holing up in my own home, but it's only a small island of respite. So you might call the overall area a dystopia for me.

But just like fictional dystopias don't exist in the same fashion in real life, there will not be a hero to come down and put things right. Because it's not just handful of people that are running things, but a larger group. One that can't be removed by one person, or even a group of them. It would take a significant population influx to change the area, and anyone who might want to live differently can just as easily go somewhere else that is more accepting of them instead of moving here.

Ultimately, dystopian fictions are like any other fictions in that they're an abstraction of reality. And while it might be easy to look at Doktor Sleepless and see parallels in the real world, they're not perfect analogies. Maybe it's not an problem that the rest of you have, but I'm enough of a cynic that I have to remind myself of exactly that from time to time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Appearances + Cameos

Since everyone else is off at C2E2 this weekend, I figured it'd be a good, relatively unobtrusive time to do some self-promotion on what I've got coming up in the near and semi-near future...
  • Flying Pig Marathon
    OK, this has nothing to do with comics, but it's taking a big chunk of my time and is why I'm not attending C2E2. I'll be running in the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati on May 6. It'll be my first marathon -- my first official run of any kind, for that matter -- so I'm not entirely sure what to expect. If everything goes super-smoothly, I'll finish up in just over four hours; I'm guessing four and a half is more realistic. I don't know that it'd be very exciting to watch, but if you're in the area, feel free to do some cheering from the sidelines if you see me.

  • The Avengers movie
    Last summer, I spent several days as an extra in The Avengers movie. I'm not sure how visible I'll be in the final cut, but there's a scene where Loki shows up in Germany during an Oktoberfest-style celebration. I'm in among that crowd. Consider it a "Where's Waldo" type of game. It also occurred to me that it's entirely possible that I could conceivably appear in some of the print material associated with the movie as well. It doesn't look like I'm in the The Avengers Storybook from the leaked pictures I've seen, but it's possible I make the trading card set or some of the other ancillary material. The movie itself has a formal release on May 4.

  • MTV Geek
    I'm still cruising along with my weekly column, Kleefeld on Webcomics. I've been very pleased with how well people have been responding to this series. I've been having a lot of fun with it and learning quite a bit. Some of my recent columns include an interview with Brad Guigar, a look at the taxonomy of comics and webcomics, and a review of Adventures into Digital Comics.

  • The Drawn Word
    Christopher Irving's new digital magazine about comics, The Drawn Word debuted last month and has 130-some pages of articles about comics. I'll be a regular contributor, looking specifically at European comics and creators. My first piece focuses on Enki Bilal's Nikopol trilogy.

  • The Jack Kirby Collector
    I've also still got my regular "Incidental Iconography" column for the recently-nominated-for-an-Eisner-Award Jack Kirby Collector. I'm sure my column had nothing to do with that nomination, but editor John Morrow always pulls together fantastic issues. I'm still thrilled to contribute in any way. The next issue (#59) is due out towards the end of May.

  • Comics: Philosopy & Practice
    I mentioned this conference earlier in the week. I'm certainly not one of the guests, but I'm going to make an ardent attempt at attending. If you happen to be there, ping me at some point to say hi. The comics conference runs May 18-20, although the S.O. pointed out this year's NATO Summit is May 20-21 and is held ten miles away. I expect this means traffic in/around the area will be a complete mess.

  • Harry Blackstone, Comic Book Magician
    I first announced my next book project way back in November, and it's still very clearly not out yet. The art clean-up was taking longer than I'd anticipated and I've had this on the back-burner for a few months now while I've been training for this marathon. I'm hoping to get back to it afterwards while my legs recover. On the plus side, I've recently found some more avenues for background research, so I should be able to make that portion a bit more robust.

  • The Only Living Boy
    You recall that Gallaher/Ellis Kickstarter project I mentioned a while back? It was successfully funded and, in accordance with my pledge to the project, there'll be a character in it named after me. I figured that sounded like a better incentive than having a monster in the book look like me -- wouldn't want to scare the children too much, you know! Regardless, see if you can catch Gallaher and/or Ellis on the convention circuit this year, and pick up a copy of the book if you haven't already ordered one.

  • Kleefeld on Comics
    Finally, let's not forget my humble blog! Daily updates continue and some of them are even coherent!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Does This Fit In My Lifestyle?

At my day job, they just spent a bunch of time and money on some market research, relative to our business. They're having meetings and distributing the results throughout the company now. I can't get into specifics, of course, but the broad theme was "Does this fit in my lifestyle?" That is, people these days are asking -- in broad terms -- whether or not a given product or service, as well as how much and how they pay for it, meshes with the lifestyle that they maintain.

For example, if you grew up on a meat-and-potatoes diet and you quite like meat, you're less likely to cut back on your meat consumption DESPITE news reports about pink slime or the health risks associated with eating a lot of red meat. Your lifestyle is based, in part, around meat and potatoes and deviating from that requires a change to your lifestyle. Frequently, our desire to adhere to a specific set of lifestyle choices trumps everything else when it comes to decision-making.

That's why so many people have trouble losing weight (to continue the food analogies). You can diet for a month or two or three, and you'll lose weight, but as soon as you stop dieting and revert to your "normal" eating habits, you'll gain back any weight you lost. I heard a nutritionist once say, "Diet is not a verb." What he meant was that you can't just diet for a bit and expect long-lasting results; you need to change your whole diet (a noun) to affect a real change. That speaks again to the notion of lifestyle; dieting isn't really a change to your lifestyle, but altering your diet is. Which is why so many people don't do it.

Now, the reason this is significant for comics people is that reading comics (in any venue) is a lifestyle choice. Whether you go to the local comic shop every week, or scan through the day's webcomics first thing in the morning, or soothe your way into a relaxing sleep every night by reading digital comics on your tablet in bed. Any of those is a lifestyle commitment in some manner. Different types of commitments, but commitments nonetheless. This is part of where comics (as an industry) have failed in the past couple of decades -- by relying on the direct market, it forces potential customers to substantively change their lifestyle in order to participate. They have to stop by an out-of-the-way comic shop specifically for the purpose of buying comics. When they were still on spinner racks in drug stores, it wasn't that much of a lifestyle change if you already had to go into the building to pay for gas and get a soda. But a trip to the comic shop requires not only going to the shop, but remembering to go to the shop. Once it's become a habit, it's not at all difficult to remember, but if you're just starting and have to remember when the one book you were looking for will be stocked next? Not likely to be top-of-mind.

This is one of the reasons why many people are looking to tablets as a savior of sorts for comics. Because it doesn't require you to go out of your way to a comic shop to pick up new comics. They're right there, just as readily available as just about anything else online. Click click click and you've got the latest issue of Batman without even leaving your comfy sofa.

Except for two things.

First, this only works for people who own tablets. The last numbers I saw from February put that at a little less than 20% of the population. Not insignificant, certainly, but I don't know that we can call them common just yet. The number of tablet owners will increase over time, almost assuredly, but we don't know when a "critical mass" might be at hand.

Second, it's still a lifestyle change. It's easier to buy a comic digitally, but reading still takes pretty much the same amount of time and thought as a printed version. Which may not sound like a big deal, but we live in a society where 1/3 of the population does not even read one book per year. Roughly 40% of households don't buy books at all. Getting those people to read in any capacity is a huge lifestyle change, regardless of whether we're talking about comics or prose or poetry or anything. For as much as you enjoy curling up to the adventures of Captain America, most people would much rather watch Chris Evans portray the character on a screen.

So the question for you, as someone who's trying to market their comic -- regardless of what venue, is how do you make it easier for potential readers to adopt a lifestyle that includes your comic? How to do you make your comic fit their existing lifestyle? Easy to remember URL? RSS feed? Email? Twitter? Facebook? Flickr? All of the above?

That's going to be a question anyone marketing comics needs to ask and, depending on what their comic is and who they're trying to market to, one person's answer may not be the same as the next person's.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Links! Links! And Links Some More!

  • Jim Shelly predicts an impending buyer's remorse for those folks reading Avengers vs X-Men. Although he doesn't say it expressly, he also suggests that there's more magic here than in DC's new take on Shazam.
  • Comics: Philosopy & Practice will take place at the University of Chicago on May 18-20. The guests "will explore comics autobiography and journalism, the current shape of the "graphic novel," the power of hand-drawn images to shock and provoke, historical print culture, the narrative impact of comics style, and where and how today's most exciting work is happening." Who are the guests? Well, they include the likes of Robert Crumb, Joe Sacco, Seth, Daniel Clowes, Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel to name just a few! I'm definitely looking to see if I can rearrange my schedule a bit to attend. (h/t Troy Hunter)
  • The Hershey Foundation is donating $100,000 to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. With a matching gift from Jean (widow of Charles) Schulz, this will put a nice dent in the Sullivant Hall's renovations.
  • Virtual identity advocate and thinker Botgirl Questi has posts a short fumetti-style comic called Love Doll. Personally, I think it's just an excuse to play with dolls.
  • The new comics magazine I write for, The Drawn Word, now has an online video channel as well. In the first installment, my editor Christopher Irving talks with World War III creator and "Spy vs. Spy" artist Peter Kuper.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

De-Syndicated

If you look at the comics in the newspaper, you'll find that many of them are strips that have been around for ages. Long-running strips are LOOOOOONG-running strips, often out-living their original creators. The Katzenjammer Kids, Blondie, The Phantom... I think one of the reasons syndicated comic strips were viewed as the end goal for cartoonists for so long was because it was almost a guarantee of a life-long career.

Of course, not every strip continues indefinitely. Gary Larson and Bill Watterson are probably the most famous semi-recent examples of cartoonists who deliberately discontinued their strips at the height of their popularity. And, even more recently, we've seen the official discontinuation of Little Orphan Annie and Brenda Starr.

But what about comics that fade more quietly? Ones that were dropped from syndication because they didn't garner whatever the requisite following was. The ones that never quite got into the public consciousness. I'm sure back when newspapers were a more dominant form of news delivery, seeing a comic disappear from the paper was seen as the paper itself discontinuing that strip. But a reader or fan would comfortably assume that it was still running in The Cincinnati Enquirer or The Miami Herald or somewhere, regardless of the accuracy of that assumption. I know the newspapers I saw when I was a kid changed up their comics line-up from time to time, and it always came under the guise of just switching one comic for another. Dropping Rog Bollen's Animal Crackers in favor of Garfield by this young upstart Jim Davis. Swapping The Born Loser by Art and Chip Sansom out for Aaron McGruder's Boondocks. Those strips that "disappeared" continued on, just not in the local paper.

But there MUST have been any number of comics that also disappeared from a local paper because the syndicate itself no longer distributed it, despite the original creator still working on it. The only instance I can think of where this happened was with Nate Creekmore's Maintaining, which started in 2007 and ended in 2009 when "Universal Press Syndicate has chosen to opt out of its contract" with Creekmore. Though he enjoyed working on the strip, Creekmore stated at the time that it wasn't financially feasible for him to even look for another syndicate. At least relative to other work he was doing. So the strip was discontinued.

I'm aware of that one instance because I was a fan of Maintaining during its short run. I check back on Creekmore's site periodically to see if there's ever any news about A) what he's been doing since then, and B) whether he decides to ever start the strip up again in some other venue. He continues posting scans of pieces he's working on, so it appears he's getting some commission work, which is great. But of course, I'm always disappointed to see reminders on his site about the comic that he isn't working on any longer.

Surely, though, Creekmore isn't the only person in that situation. A formerly syndicated cartoonist who managed to "break in" only to have the rug pulled out soon afterwards. I'm curious how often that happens. I suspect it's more frequent now than it was, say, fifty years ago as there's a seeming need for more immediate results (i.e. lots of papers picking the strips up). But does anyone keep track of how often comic syndicates de-syndicate a strip?

Monday, April 09, 2012

Image

Let's talk about image. Not capital-I Image as in Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, et. al. but lower-case-i image as in how people perceive you.

Everyone has an image of themselves in their head. You think you're smart, handsome, witty, talented, etc. But that may not be what other people see when they meet you. They might see you as ignorant, unattractive, dull and unskilled. In all likelihood, the truth lies somewhere in between. But why should you care?

We're coming up on another convention season, and a lot of comic fans and professionals will be gathering together for meetings, formal and informal, brief and extended. The image that you project at those encounters will be what the pros, media (if they're there) and other fans will see and respond to. Even if you're just a fan who doesn't even post comments anywhere online, and you don't even personally know anyone besides yourself that reads comics. Although the more well-known your name is, the more significant your image becomes.

Let's look at an obvious case: a comic book professional. They're sitting at a table trying to sell their books and t-shirts and whatever. A fan walks up and says, "Hi, I'm a big fan! I've got all your books! Can you sign some for me?" and then proceeds to hand over a stack of comics a couple feet high. Now if the creator shows displeasure in this, whether by curtly refusing to sign so many books or agreeing to sign them but grumbling the whole time, the fan could walk away with a negative impression and think, "Well, he was a jerk. I'm not going to bother getting his books any more!"

I met Jeff Smith well after he'd established himself with Bone. It wasn't done yet, but he was about 2/3 of the way through it. So he had a line of people waiting for him. Most of them already had material with them to sign and weren't buying much. (At least that I saw.) But he was there happily signing books that people put in front of him AND drawing a quick character sketch in every book as well. And the whole time he was cheerfully carrying on a conversation with the three or four people that were next in line. Every person in that line walked away with a memorable personal experience with Smith, and the impression of him as a great guy. And you know, I bought MORE of Smith's work later because of it.

"But," you're thinking, "I'm not a creator. I'm just a fan. Why should I worry about what people think of me?"

Because you still have an image. You're still interacting with hundreds, if not thousands, of people. And even if you don't care what the kid you pushed out of the way thinks of you, that event could be seen by one of the creators at the convention. Or maybe one of the increasingly large percentage of people with a camera or cellphone and an internet connection. Your acts of jackassedness could be online and ridiculed before you even get home that night.

I would like to think of myself as a Leonardo da Vinci level genius polymath. That's my self-image. But I'm pretty sure that most people don't see me that way. Which means that the image I project should NOT be based on the assumption that my self-image is the correct one but, rather, that my self-image is what I'm trying to become. The difference is that I'm projecting an aspiration, not an understood tenet. That's important because if I'm trying to project that tenet and I don't meet those ideals, then I come across as clueless and/or conceited. Neither of which are generally considered positive traits to showcase.

Even without the internet, we comic fans are a small community. Word gets around. If you get tagged as "that guy", you'll quickly find that becomes a reputation of sorts. Maybe it's not something you actually hear about directly, but it's there just the same.

Presenting yourself well at con (or anywhere else) is more than just bathing. It's everything about how you interact with others and how you present yourself. What you say, how you act, what you look like... I'm not saying you should change your whole personality, but just be aware that, right or wrong, you are absolutely being judged by each and every person who sees you at a convention. And even if you don't care about that one guy who's standing right next to you, your interaction with him could be noticed by someone whose opinion you do care about.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Saturday, April 07, 2012

AARPing Health Care Reform

My folks pulled aside the January/February issue of the AARP magazine that had a short article about Jonathan Gruber's and Nathan Schreiber's new graphic novel Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It's Necessary, How It Works. It's a short piece, barely a couple inches of column space. But it does include a short quote from Gruber: "I didn't think of a graphic novel as sort of a serious medium."

I don't know Gruber's age or anything, but that the article appears in an AARP publication is interesting in that it's directed towards an older audience who's conception of comic books is rooted in a decidedly pre-Watchmen, pre-Maus era. In other words, they're more likely to have an idea of comics that is based more in the 1950s and '60s in which comics were decidedly material for children.

I don't know who's writing for the AARP but I think it's great that they're willing to cover topics that could potentially challenge really long-held beliefs.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Buster Brown Erases Your Hips!

This Buster Brown ad circa 1946 suggests that wearing Buster Brown shoes makes your hips disappear. Perhaps, they should've been marketing to overweight adults instead of children in short pants.
In reality, it's likely that the inker just got distracted and missed a few lines since the pencil lines could well have still been showing on the original. But that nobody noticed before it went to press seems a bit odd.

(Image borrowed from The Ephemerist.)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tremendous Terence!

I'm always amused when a cartoon throws in some comic book references, particularly when it's clear that the writers are trying not to step on anyone else's toes legally. In the Count Duckula episode "The Vampire Strikes Back", Duckula, Igor and Nanny find their castle tower blasted into outer space. Duckula then relies on what the wit and wisdom of comic book space hero Tremendous Terence for guidance in his predicament.
He evidently has three issues handy, though this can only be picked up by looking at the covers. One showcases the hero's face on the cover, another sports a large thunderbolt logo, and the third is a bit abstracted but looks vaguely like a spaceship blasting off from a planet. As inferred from the dialogue, the back cover of the second two issues sports an advertisement for Crunchy Munchies cereal.
I presume that it was only intended to be one issue, but the animators were given little direction to work with and three different groups came up with three different covers.

Here's another curious bit. An interior spread is showcased and referred to repeatedly in the episode.
Duckula actually reads much of this sequence aloud and several of these panels are focused on.
Clearly, this was a portion that was worked out in the script and laid out by one/some of the designers. So where, then, does this next image come from..?
It's got a similar layout and structure to the original spread, and even some of the panel interiors are the same. But it looks like someone drew a rough sketch of the original from memory. Why would that be necessary, though, since clearly there was copies of the original to work from?

What I always find fascinating about this type of examination is that it provides a view of what other people outside comicdom think of our favorite medium. Or, at least, thought at the time. They frequently use parody to amplify the stereotypes and distill what is seen as the essence of comics. In this particular case, we're looking at how the British saw comics in the late 1980s. Quite a different picture, I suspect, than if the episode had been written in America.

Oh, and in the cartoon, Duckula encounters the real Oids from Mars but is soon saved by the real Tremendous Terence. I know you were wondering how the particular plot thread ended.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Spring Links

  • How about an hour and a half of video footage of Gary Groth interviewing Robert Crumb at the India Comic Con? Not enough? How about another hour of Groth by himself? And how about another 40 minutes of Chris Oliveros? Why have you not clicked the link yet?
  • The Food Junk blog takes a taste of 22-year-old Batman cereal. Although the author suggests the plastic has taken it's toll on the cereal after two decades, I recall having the cereal back in the day and it really wasn't that good in the first place. Even if I were 100% certain the foodstuff had remained completely unaltered since 1990, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't try it again.
  • The folks at io9 recently posted a bunch of scf-fi themed cosplay pictures from the 1970s. Of interest to comic folks are a pre-ElfQuest Wendy Pini dressed as a fairy/elf and the only Cheech Wizard costume I've ever seen. Fair warning, though, several images fall into the NSFW category.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Risk VS Reward

You ever see read the comic or see the movie Kick-Ass? There's this teenager named Dave who decides he wants to be a superhero. He buys a suit and starts training in a very amateurish Batman fashion. He eventually decides he's going to actually fight crime and promptly gets himself beaten to a pulp. He winds up in the hospital, and spends months in rehab. But once he's done, he puts the suit on again and tries to fight for justice.

As an allegedly "normal" teenager, Dave clearly doesn't have a good skillset to become a superhero. He only trains for a few months at most, and doesn't have any particular talent for gymnastics or martial arts or anything especially athletic. He's just some guy. He took a HUGE risk going out "on patrol" and failed in a big way. In fact, "failed in a big way" is probably an understatement here.

But then, once he healed up a bit, he took the risk again. And this time, it paid off. He got accolades, he got status, he got the girl...

Now, granted, we're looking at a work of fiction here, but let's look at some reality for a moment.

I have a co-worker who does what he was trained for very well. I like to think I do what I was trained for pretty well too. But we were working on a project today, rushing against a deadline, trying to tag-team parts of the project to speed things along. At one point, he got to a portion that I had worked on originally, but I was busy with some other stuff so I asked him to just take that portion. He declined, citing an unfamiliarity with the work in question. Now, because we were working against a deadline and really needed to get it right the first time, that was a good call on his part.

But that's a not uncommon refrain from him. He regularly backs away from projects that he's not familiar with, even if he has plenty of time to sort through them and ask questions and figure things out. He's very risk-averse and prefers to stick to what he's already comfortable with.

By contrast, I try to lend as much help as I can even if I start going outside my comfort zone. I'm by no means a programmer, but I've dipped my toes in that pond so often that I've been mistaken for one on multiple occasions. And taking those risks of pushing myself beyond my known capacities have been extremely rewarding. Not always a monetary or physical reward, of course, but almost always an emotional or intellectual reward of some kind. From pushing myself to my limits, and then trying to extend a bit further.

Oh, there are times when I try pushing my limits and fall short. My current challenge is running a marathon, and I've had a few days of training where I could barely run half the distance I was supposed to. But that doesn't stop me. I get back out there and push myself again the next day. I did the same thing writing my book; some days were miserable failures and some days were more successful. And even though I haven't made a lot of money on my book, I still consider it a success because... well, I wrote a book. A lot of people die never having written the book they claim is inside them, but I did.

A lot of the comics I read growing up had a lesson along the lines of "the best things in life are the ones worth fighting for." While that was often used in the sense of winning something along the lofty ideals of freedom, honor and justice, I think it applies more practically to happiness, self-satisfaction and personal pride. Yes, you still have to fight for truth and liberty, but you have to fight for love and happiness more often and more readily.

Kick-Ass was fighting for justice while he was in costume, but Dave was fighting for a his sense of self-respect and self-worth all the time. And, ultimately, Dave took more satisfaction in the latter.