Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reflections From A Virtual Marvel EIC

Way back in May 2007, I participated in an online role-playing game hosted by none other than Tom Brevoort. The idea is that each of the four players (myself, Michael Heide, Patrick Cook and Philip Schaeffer in this case) took on the role of editors at Marvel, responsible for several books. We would try to direct the books, as editors do, and Tom would run things as the game master, acting as NPCs (i.e. the artists, writers, board of directors, etc.) and would tell us how well our decisions were playing out in the market.

It was actually the second time that Brevoort played the game, and he made some changes from his first, most notably that one of us would play the role of editor-in-chief while the others would act as line editors. The game was played on a very compressed timeline, running (I think) six months of comics in about a week and a half. The stated goal was to increase overall sales by 20%. All the main details are still on Marvel's site, but it looks like the time/date stamps got scrambled and everything older than a few years is dated to April 28, 2007. So you can find all the original "moves" we made and Brevoort's responses, but they're not really in any sort of order and mixed up with a lot of other stuff.

Anyway, one of the things we very quickly did was launch a giant crossover event. Increasing overall sales by 20% is a HUGE endeavor, and one that I immediately recognized as unattainable in the time period without adding at least one new title of some sort. Schaeffer was hoping to relaunch The Defenders with a team consisting of Black Panther, Namor, Dr. Doom and Magneto, but I countered that it's an interesting idea but the team didn't seem to have a good reason to exist. We all batted some ideas around, and I got everybody on board for a mega-event-crossover we ended up calling "Balance of Power."

The basic thrust of the story was that the Earth suddenly experienced a rash of natural disasters: earthquakes, floods, tornados... everything. All at about the same time. I talked a bit more about it back here, but it provided (I thought) a nice way to let everyone contribute without having to worry too much about what the next guy was doing, and then gave a more natural introduction into this new Defenders book.
Ultimately, we sailed past our sales goal and received some nice kudos from Brevoort. It was an informative (and fun!) experience, getting a taste of how books get created from an editorial perspective.

I recall that one thing Brevoort noted he was surprised about, in his wrap-up/summation at the end, was how quickly we went to the standard tropes for boosting sales -- new titles, crossovers, multiple covers, etc. It seemed obvious to me, given the timeframe we had to work within. Even back then, I was knowledgeable enough about comic sales to know that you can't goose an entire line by 20% without adding more product. You could increase the sales of maybe a title or two with a great creative team, but it would have to be a LEGENDARY run to impact overall sales that much. So we did an event book instead.

What's interesting about that now is that I've been hearing some rumblings around the internet the past few days with people complaining about how Marvel and DC aren't even trying to bring in new readers. All they're doing is tying to get the same fans to spend more, or drop the competition's books in favor of their own. That's kind of an open secret any more.

In the simulation, we were given a specific goal by power higher than the Editor-in-Chief. The real-world equivalent of that is that Joe Quesada, Jim Lee and Dan DiDio all have bosses they report to, and have to deliver against specific goals. Maybe it's not sales volume per se, but maybe revenue. Or profits. Something likely tied to how much they're selling. If Quesada, Lee and DiDio want to hit their goals (and keep their jobs!) they're going to direct their people in a way that they think will achieve those goals. And, if they're short-term goals -- say, six or twelve months -- they're going to take a short-term approach.

The same way we did in the simulation. We didn't have to think about long-term impacts because we knew the game wasn't going to last very long. We had to worry about the next ten days, and that was it. While there was an overall strategy to how we approached things, it was most decidedly a short-term strategy with most of the focus -- even at the editorial level -- on tactics.

I believe Brevoort also mentioned at some point that most of what he was doing as the game master was based on real events he actually saw/experienced at Marvel. One of the creators went AWOL, art pages that were getting mailed in went missing, some of our plans wound up getting leaked to Rich Johnston (who actually wound up playing as himself in the game!), our budget was slashed and I had to fire one of the other editors... Brevoort obviously changed and tweaked things as to make sense with the game narrative, but the thrust of the challenges we faced were based on real ones.

And, although I didn't ask specifically, I have to imagine "increase overall sales by 20%" was one of them. Again, maybe it was via revenue or profits or something, but I suspect that Quesada was at some point given a similar directive. If that were the case, it wouldn't be surprising if he went to the same conclusion we did, but without the benefit of having someone just getting done proving how well it works. (If I had to guess, I'm thinking that occurred around 2004/2005 and led to the "House of M" event. That's just a guess, though; I have no evidence to back that up.)

But, whereas our game ended after a short time and we walked away, Quesada still reports to higher-ups at Marvel. When his game finishes, he's congratulated and given a new goal. Often, probably, do that again. So we get "Avengers Disassembled" followed by "The Initiative" followed by "Civil War" followed by "Secret Invasion" followed by "Dark Reign" followed by... And, not surprisingly, Lee and DiDio have to do the same thing.

We like to think of comics as wondrous creative endeavor. That the writers and artists are out there, trying to express themselves and entertain us, with Wolverine and Wonder Woman as their vehicles. And that any crass marketing efforts are the fault of all those people who have "editor" somewhere in their title. But the reality is that those editors are making marketing decisions like that as a result of their superiors define their jobs. The editor's job is NOT to steer a great creative team to make a great comics; the editor's job is to sell more comics. More specifically, sell more comics NOW.

People will naturally adjust their behaviors based on what/how you reward/punish them. The No Child Left Behind law is a prime example. The students are told they have to pass a standardized test, or the school gets punished. So the teachers naturally start teaching only/exclusively to the test. The students only wind up learning how to take one specific test, and don't really learn critical thinking or applied logic. Similarly, if editors are rated against how well their books sell in any given month, they're going to work towards achieving that goal. Bringing in new kids now is, by comparison, a costly endeavor and takes years and years to really bear fruit. Which is difficult to track as well. So editors focus on what they can see/measure today -- how many more books did I sell this month over last month?

Fans bemoaned the 1990s for embossed, foil, die-cut, hologram covers but the sales numbers show those books sold better. So editors kept producing them. It wasn't until they stopped selling that we stopped seeing that nonsense. As long as fans continue to buy in to the big event books, similarly, Marvel and DC are just going to keep doing them. The editors really are doing exactly what they should be doing, given the goals handed to them from their bosses and the purchasing habits of their readers. Expecting them to do anything else would mean expecting them to walk away from their jobs.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Old Paul Ryan Interview

Paul Ryan was the penciller and co-plotter on the Fantastic Four for nearly five years. His first issue was #356, and his last #414 when he became a very real casualty of Onslaught. He worked on 59 issues, giving him the third longest artistic run on the series behind only Jack Kirby (106 issues) and John Byrne (74 issues). At the time of this interview, he was working on The Flash for DC and he is now currently pencilling The Phantom comic strip for King Features. This interview I conducted with him dates back to May 1997...

SKleefeld: I have been a long-time fan of the Fantastic Four and I would like to tell you that I thought you did an incredible job on the series. Your excellent ability to draw any and every hero as well as frequently create new ones makes your run on the book truely outstanding. I have found very few artists with your caliber and even fewer who have tackled "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine."

I was hoping you might be able to answer some questions about your nearly five year run on the book. I think it might provide some excellent insights to your outlook on both the Fantastic Four and comics in general. If I have offended you by asking this (or from any of my questions), I sincerely apologize.

Paul C. Ryan: I never consider it an insult when someone shows interest in my humble efforts in the comics field. Thank you for your kind words concerning my run on the FF.

SK:
How did Marvel first approach you about doing the Fantastic Four? What was your initial reaction? At the time, did you know Tom DeFalco would also be working on it?

PCR:
It is kind of funny how my tenure on the series came about. When word of Walt Simonson's decision to leave the FF was announced I got a call from John Byrne asking if I would be interested in working with him on the title. John and I had recently collaborated on Avengers and Avengers West Coast. I was very excited at the prospect of not only working with John again (his FF run was one of my favorites) but working on my favorite Marvel title. I bought the first issue at the tender age of 11.

What John failed to mention at the time was that editor Ralph Macchio had not offered him (John) the book. John was of the opinion that because Ralph knew that John wanted the book that Ralph should call John. In speaking with Ralph I discovered that Ralph was of the opinion that if John wanted the book, he (John) should call Ralph. I made repeated calls to both parties. They wouldn't budge. I could see the FF series slipping through my fingers. Finally I just gave up and continued to work on the two Avengers titles.

Not too much later John asked me to pencil Iron Man. I gave up the WCA to do Iron Man. The following Friday, Ralph called to offer me the penciling chores on the FF. DeFalco was to be the writer. I said NO, along with a few expletives. I had just taken on another series and I wasn't too happy at the prospect of having to give up the Avengers to take on the FF. That's how we left it on Friday. All weekend long I kept thinking about the FF and how much I loved that series. First thing Monday morning, even before office hours, I left a message for Ralph, "I'll take the book."

My timing couldn't have been better. On Friday, after I turned down the offer, Ralph called Dan Jurgens to offer him the book. Unable to reach Dan, Ralph left a voice mail message. I got through to Ralph first and the rest is history.

SK:
How did you feel about so closely following Walter Simonson's run?

PCR:
I never gave much thought to following Walt on the book. Walt is a great guy and we've have a good relationship for years. I heard that he left the book because of too many restrictions placed on him during his stay.

SK:
You and Tom seemed to collaborate quite well; how did the two of you work together?

PCR: I worked with Tom the same way I worked with all my writers. I would occasionally pitch ideas, some were used some not.

SK:
You received plot credits more often than not; did you have more input on the FF than other books you've worked on?

PCR:
Tom just liked to spread the guilt around.

SK:
Your stories have a similar flavor to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's FF; how intentional was that? Were you a fan of Stan and Jack's FF?

PCR:
If the stories had a Lee/Kirby feel to them it's because both Tom and I were big fans of those two giants of the industry.

SK:
What was the biggest problem that you ran into with the book and how did you work around it? Are there any issues or stories that stand out for you, either good or bad?

PCR:
One problem I faced were late plots. I tried for nearly five years to get that book ahead of schedule, turning down other assignments, to no avail. Tom was just too busy with other projects, not to mention his duties as Editor-in-Chief.

Another was changing plots. A story we discussed and which I found very exciting was frequently changed when it reached printed plot stage. I think Tom spent too much time second-guessing himself. Lyja and Johnny were supposed to actually have a child. I was shocked and dissapointed when Tom changed the child into an artificial implant housing a monster.

SK:
When Marvel had begun laying plans for Onslaught and Heroes Reborn, were you and Tom hurried in finalizing certain plotlines to accomodate that series? Why didn't you work on issues 415 and 416?

PCR:
The whole Heroes Reborn situation came as an unpleasant surprise to me. I learned through the internet that I was losing the FF. Tom and I were suppossed to work together through issue 416. Yes, we were told to complete our story arc as quickly as possible. The powers-that-be (executive level management) came up with the idea of luring Jim Lee back to Marvel in the hopes of recouping lost sales figures. Jim wanted the FF. Marvel gave it to him over the head of Editorial. Editorial decided to show that they also could do an Image style book without Jim Lee. Therefore I was unceremoniously removed from issues 415 and 416 and they were given to Carlos Pacheco.

This whole situation left a bad feeling with me toward Marvel. I was cast adrift after 11 years of loyal exclusivity. I have not followed any of the Marvel titles since then, so I cannot comment on their merits.

DC welcomed me with open arms. They seem happy to have me on board and are keeping me very busy these days.

SK:
Would you like to return to the Fantastic Four? What are your future plans?

PCR:
Nobody at Marvel has offered me the FF again and I don't think I would return to the title any time soon if they did. I have always been of the opinion that things happen for a reason. I am going forward with DC projects right now and I am content.

If some time in the future I was offered the pencilling AND WRITING chores on the FF.......who knows?

SK:
I appreciate your taking the time to answer these questions. I mentioned before that I have a great respect for you as an artist and creative thinker. I hope to see your work in some of my other favorite titles.

PCR:
Hope that answers your questions satisfactorily.

SK:
I think your answers have been quite enlightening. Thank you very much.

PCR:
You're welcome.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A.D.D. Review

I remember hearing about Douglas Rushkoff's and Gordon Sudzuka's A.D.D. well before it came out last year, but I only just got a chance to read it tonight. I don't recall exactly what I'd heard -- probably just the solicitation -- but I do remember thinking it sounded really interesting. I don't think I've seen any reviews or much in the way of PR, so I figured I'd throw my two cents in now, even if it's a bit late.

A.D.D. stands for Adolescent Demo Division. It's basically a group of teenagers that are employed by Nextgen to beta test and promote their games. These kids are the top players in the world and are treated like heroes in the real world, no doubt in part because of Nextgen's marketing of them through reality shows and action figures and the like. However, these gamers are largely isolated from the rest of the world, living exclusively on the Nextgen campus since before they can remember. Their entire world is experienced second-hand through a media landscape consisting mostly of games.

As the kids age, however, they start seeing "through" some of the media they're bombarded with. Effectively subliminal messaging to reinforce the existing hierarchical power structures in society. The adults who monitor them consider this a kind of immunity, and are actually using the kids as lab rats while they work to devise ways to counteract that resistance. But as a precautionary measure, once one of the teens progresses far enough to see through the patina of the games, they're elevated to the "next level" and graduate to the real world, one from which not-so-coincidentally no one ever hears from them again.

The story primarily follows Lionel, who currently ranks third among the group. Just as he's starting to catch glimpses of that subliminal messaging. He sets himself on a mission to find out just what's going on.

Rushkoff sets up here a different kind of dystopia than you usually see. Although probably thanks in part to Sudzuka's art, it doesn't feel nearly as dark and downtrodden as you might find in typical cyberpunk tale. Also, we see the world largely as it's experienced within Nextgen, who are effectively the ruling class of this world. There's only the briefest of glimpses beyond the Nextgen walls. which adds up to making the book feel like it's got a lighter and less ominous tone overall. The type of thing that might appeal to a wider audience than if the book were very dark.

There is a LOT going on in this book. Rushkoff's entry in Wikipedia says about him: "Viewing everything except for intention as media, he frequently explores the themes of how to make media interactive, how to help people (especially children) effectively analyze and question the media they consume, as well as how to cultivate intention and agency. He has theorized on such media as religion, culture, politics and money." All of that is in A.D.D. to vary degrees. Which makes it somewhat difficult to parse out a good take-away. I suspect Rushkoff would prefer readers just think and reflect on some of the ideas, rather than be able to regurgitate a single, simplistic theme, but it does make writing a review more difficult!

I like that the story is generally written smartly. Rushkoff does not talk down to the readers at any point, and doesn't flatly explain the set-ups or character backgrounds or anything. He assumes readers are smart enough to pick out enough contextual clues, and leaves them enough to follow along. That said, there were a few instances where it wasn't entirely clear what was going on, even after a few reads. It's one of those where you can't tell if it wasn't written particularly well (Rushkoff has only written for a sequential art format twice before) or if the fault lies more with Sudzuka's art itself. It happened just enough to pull me out of the story enough times to really prevent me from really getting into it.

Which was disappointing. I really wanted to like it, and I thought Rushkoff has some interesting things to say here. But it wasn't quite smooth enough, especially considering how much he's trying to say. I think I'll pass on trying to track down Rushkoff's other comics, but I am intrigued enough to see if I can track down some of his non-fiction prose. A.D.D. retails for $24.99 in hardcover.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A New Resume Format For Comic Creators?

In the business world, resumes are incredibly, incredibly dull. Largely by design. Many large corporations shun any real creativity in resume design, and prefer what basically amounts to a list of bullet points listing your previous employers with sub-bullets citing your roles and responsibilities. I've been on the hiring end of things before, and trust me, they're very tedious. Even the very well written ones.

On the other end of the spectrum are artists and designers. Their job is to be creative, and their artistic skills are therefore given more weight and merit than their credentials. So the focus tends to be more on their portfolios -- their actual work.

This holds especially in comics. Tom Brevoort doesn't want to see your resume; he wants to see a dozen issues you worked on for a smaller publisher. Like, actual published comics. Hell, even Jim Steranko had to do a stint at Charlton before Stan Lee picked him up.

But with so many options open these days -- with many small press operations, plus the ease of self-publishing, not to mention online -- it's hard to keep things up to date and in one place. A few years ago, an artist could put together a maintain a decent website, but that's gotten complex enough that you really need a separate skillset to do one worth looking at these days. And that doesn't even take into account writers, who often aren't as visually inclined in the first place!

Enter Vizify.

They said, look, you can easily post basic resume style information online already via LinkedIn or a blog or whatever. And you can post your portfolio work via Flickr or deviantART or whatever. But there's not a good way to really pull all your info together to present a more complete image of you as a potential employee that's informative (like a resume) but still visually interesting and engaging (like with art). The technology's there to be able to create something like that, but you'd have to be an expert in Adobe Flash to do anything. So why not create a tool that takes your data and make it into something interesting to look at, and do it in a way that's easy for users to work with?

So what Vizify does is connect with your existing social media accounts (notably LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare) and presents back what amounts to a summary of what it finds. Your job history becomes a visual timeline. Your Tweets get analyzed, scored by the number of times you repeat certain words, and placed on a graph. It brings in a couple photos from Facebook and highlights a Tweet to personalize things a bit. It does all this by default, so once you're signed up, you have a working presentation almost immediately. But you can go back in a make modifications -- correcting any data that was missing, for example, or changing photos, or adding/removing whole pages. Your options are not unlimited, but there's enough there to customize.

Now, I could provide you with a screenshot of what mine looks like, but I won't. Because it's laid out on the fly, based on your screen size, browser, etc. You're presented with the same information, but it's formatted differently to more closely match what you're viewing it with. But I will link to what I put together for myself. I think I spent maybe an hour putting everything together, and most of that was for a brand new image I created specifically for this presentation.

Interestingly, in developing this, I had a natural inclination to focus on my work as a writer-of-comic-book-stuff, as opposed to my day job as a designer or a broader picture of me in general. This is a result of the content that I post online, in most venues, centers around comics. By comparison, I simply don't talk about my work all that much, and Vizify automatically reflected that preference back at me. Which seems to run oddly counter to how the Vizify people seem to have wanted to develop things.

But as I thought about it, it makes sense. For me, at least. If I'm looking for a design position, I'm not going to send somebody to a site that's largely designed by somebody else. But as a writer, I'm not concerned about that. Furthermore, my typical day job circles still prefer the more traditional resume format anyway, whereas virtually all of my career as a writer has been decidedly less formal, several jobs beginning with an email, "Hey, Sean, you wanna write something for us?" So a more casual approach to a writer's resume here makes sense.

I don't know if Vizify will be the Next Big ThingTM but it's an interesting and engaging solution to creating something that's more than a resume for people who might not really want/need to work in a more old school format. Kind of interesting to look at, even if you don't want/need their services.

Also, if you know of anyone who might be interested in hiring me as a writer-of-comics-stuff, feel free to send them a link to my Vizify page: https://www.vizify.com/sean-kleefeld. I'm always open to doing more paid writing gigs in comicdom!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bill Finger The Boy Wonder Review

I would like to think everyone reading this knows who Bill Finger is. At least at a high level. Realistically, that's probably not the case. That's why Marc Tyler Nobleman's latest book is called Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. Finger was the man that Bob Kane went to to help design and develop his original "Bat-man" idea. Finger was the man who wrote nearly all of the original Batman stories while Kane (and increasingly frequently, ghost artists that he hired) drew them. Finger is also the one who was largely hidden away from the limelight that Kane eagerly accepted.

Nobleman's book chronicles Finger's life beginning in 1933, shortly after Finger graduated high school. It traces how he and Kane met and developed Batman, and then follows Finger's career largely anonymous career as a writer through the 1960s. Interestingly, Nobleman carries Finger's story on through 2005, despite Finger himself dying in 1974. He then adds an Author's Note at the end talking about some of his research and, perhaps most significantly, finding a previously unknown heir!

This is, I believe, the first real biography of Finger. The only other possible contender to that might be Jerry Bails' one page piece that ran in a 1965 mimeographed fanzine. I can't laud enough praise on Nobleman for tracking down everything he was able to. And Ty Templeton's art does a good job capturing all the personalities involved.

The one aspect that I'm a bit ambivalent about is the format itself. It's presented as a picture book, much like Nobleman's Boys of Steel. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with the format and it does make some sense given the topic, but as it's the first biography of Finger, the format does make the book seem a bit light. I don't know that that's fair to Nobleman, putting the weight of nearly three quarters of a century's worth of oversight on his shoulders when it should be the burden of all writers of comic history (myself included). Nobleman writes the book well but, as something of a researcher/historian, I wanted to see a lot more. But, again, not what Nobleman was aiming for in the first place.

On the other hand, writing it as a picture book means that kids are more apt to pick it up. Which, in turn, means that they'll be reading about Finger and have some knowledge of him at a much younger age. They'll grow up knowing that two men created the Dark Knight unlike, say, myself who never heard Finger's name until the first Tim Burton Batman movie came out. They won't have to overcome years of indoctrination (for want of a better word) into the mindset that Kane created Batman by himself.

I should mention, too, that the Author's Note at the end is just straight prose, and contains a lot of information about the legal issues surrounding Finger and his legacy. Not really kids' stuff, but very interesting and useful for guys like me. Nobleman also includes a bibliography with a number of relatively obscure sources that might be worth tracking down for more specific details and anecdotes.

The book is a quick read and contains more information about Finger that was new to me than Larry Tye's latest 400+ page book has new (to me) information about Superman. Until/unless Nobleman announces he's going to do a full-on, aimed-at-the-adult-comics-crowd biography, Bill the Boy Wonder is definitely worth picking up.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Silver Surfer Cartoon Review

There was a short-lived cartoon in 1998 titled and starring the Silver Surfer. I recall hearing about it before it first aired, and I think I may have caught an episode or two, but it lasted so very briefly that you never hear much about it. I recently stumbled across the entire series being made available for free on Marvel's website and sat through and watched the whole thing.

The show loosely follows Surfer's comic book history, with the first three episodes devoted to his origin. The primary difference is that the Fantastic Four aren't involved as Galactus comes to consume Earth, and it's actually Frankie Raye who helps the Surfer regain his humanity, not Alicia Masters. And instead of being trapped on Earth, Galactus instead banishes the Surfer from finding Zenn-La, so he's able to travel the spaceways, but remains a perpetual outsider. The remainder of the series mostly follows his search of his homeworld, with an ongoing subplot of Thanos trying to destroy the universe to win Lady Chaos' favor.

(Lady Chaos is a stand-in for Death. I suspect there was some concern about the living embodiment of Death being a little too dark for kids. Other characters' absences -- notably the Fantastic Four being gone from the Silver Surfer's, Nova's and Adam Warlock's origins -- probably have more to do with legal issues.)

The art for the series draws heavily on Jack Kirby's personal style. Many of the character and ship designs are blatantly influenced by him, if not outright lifted. They're generally animated well (for TV) which helps make for a pretty solid internal continuity. However, the instances when designs are not lifted directly (Silver Surfer, Galactus) or indirectly (Thanos, Beta-Ray Bill) but instead were developed evidently exclusively for the cartoon tend to stand out. There's a few alien races here and there that just look like they stepped in from another cartoon.

There's also a curious artifact of the show being made in the late 1990s. There was just enough technology that it was reasonable to create the show using a mix of traditional and computer animation. The characters are all old school cell animation, while Galactus, the ships, the space backgrounds and some of the effects were done using 3D rotoscoped images on the computer. Despite including some trademark Kirby squiggles and plenty of Kirby krackle on the designs, the two don't quite mesh together. The figures always seem superimposed on the other elements. Like watching an old movie that used rear screen projection; you get the intent and understand that's what they had to work with at the time, but it's not very convincing.

Despite some of the limitations in the visuals, however, the stories were very well done overall. Larry Brody is largely responsible having developed the series, as well as writing most of the episodes. The overarching plot of the Surfer looking for Zenn-La holds the series together well, but also allows for individual episodes to each have their own adventure component to them. Surfer can follow leads about his home all over the universe, and still be pulled aside at any way-station.

The characterization of the Surfer is interesting, too, in that he follows some of the early Stan Lee style speeches. There are plenty of sequences in which the character just flies around thinking to himself. It falls perfectly in line with the character, though, I can understand that some viewers might feel that lightens up on the action. The series, on the whole, is more pensive and thoughtful than just about any other Marvel series that I can recall and makes for a refreshing change.

The series was cancelled after only thirteen episodes, due to a legal dispute between Marvel and Saban Entertainment and has never been released on DVD here in the U.S. But since it's online, that's not really an issue! Thirteen 20-ish minute episodes with no commericals for free? And it's some well-written, stylish stuff to boot? Why would you not want to at least check this out?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Linkolympics

  • Paul Slade writes an extensive, well-researched piece on the history of the Andy Capp comic strip. I've only scanned it so far, but it has some fascinating details, like how Reg Smythe had stockpiled enough strips that they continued to run for two years after his death! Slade then goes into how the current creators came to the strip and explains that month-long sequence I noted back in March where Andy tries to get healthy.
  • Philip Schweier caught wind of one thing comic fans can look forward to seeing during during The Games: at the Cultural Olympiad, the cultural festival of the London 2012 Olympics, will include transportation by rickshaws featuring The 99. I continue to be amazed at how well this IP does everywhere BUT in the United States.
  • Ivan Brandon examines the notion of creative largess in comics and movies. "At The Avengers earlier this summer... the sky opened up and the first thing I thought was: Infinity's too small... by movie standards it’s a full-scale invasion. But by the standards of the comic books these characters have lived through for decades, it’s a tiny molded miniature version of its inspiration." Lots of love for Jack Kirby here.
  • With the new Batman movie, obviously Will Brooker has been getting a bit of attention as THE go-to Batman expert. Over at The Daily Beast, he has a smart and nuanced look at what The Dark Knight Rises says about guns and killing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aurora Tributes

Tonight, I thought I'd collect together some of the political cartoons drawn in response to the massacre in Colorado last week.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Brief Sea World Remembrance

From time to time, someone in comicdom pulls out a 1970s photo of several DC superheroes skiing in a human pyramid. Frequently, this one...
You may well have heard how the Sea World theme parks, for a brief time, did indeed have a water-skiing show themed around the DC superheroes. Marc Tyler Nobleman, the same gent whose biography of Bill Finger was just released, has been tracking down lots of information on the skiers and the show over at his blog.

I was a young kid when the show came about and got to see it when I was around six or seven years old. I don't know if I had pestered my folks about it, having seen the ads in some of the comic book from that time, if they found out about the show independently and took me, or if we just happened to go to Sea World when the show was running. The Ohio location was relatively close, and I recall going fairly regularly until my brother and I started getting into our teens. Somehow, we always wound up going on days with lousy weather, and it became a family joke that if we needed rain, we just take a trip to Sea World.

Strangely, despite going to the park, I think, every year for several years, I have very few concrete memories of it. I mostly retain general impressions of the park, and the look of specific tanks and exhibits, but without any particular notes about actual events. I do recall a few hurried dashes to some of the covered pavilions when the clouds suddenly dumped buckets on us, and my cousin one year having a fawn start eating his poncho in the petting zoo portion.

Regarding the superhero show, I mostly have vague notions of seeing the heroes ski around, and the kind-of-standard let-go-of-the-rope-and-use-your-momentum-to-get-to-the-shore thing. Most of the show itself, to my recollection, didn't stick because they were so far out as you could barely tell who anyone was. Or at least, I couldn't. I got glasses not long after that, so maybe my vision was bad enough at that point that I wasn't seeing clearly. I only really saw these skiers' costumes once they came on shore, and I vaguely recall thinking that the capes didn't work right. (They were, of course, soaking wet and didn't exactly billow out behind everyone.)

And then I remember this...
(The image is liberally swiped from Nobleman's blog.)

Amid the whole ski extravaganza thing, there was, in the middle of everything, a magic show. The plot, such as it was, such that I remember it, was a pretty simple riff from the old Adam West show: Robin was captured by the Joker and placed in a death trap. A curtain is drawn up, the hanging knives crash loudly and, once the curtain is removed, Robin is nowhere to be found! Pretty standard stage illusion, really.

But it scared the living daylights out of me!

I don't think I was scared at the Joker's super-creepy mask. (Seriously, take a look at that photo! Nightmare fuel is what that is!) I don't think we were sitting that close to the front, and I would think I would've had a lingering issue with clowns, which I never did. (Well, I have had issues with clowns, but none based on fear.) No, I seem to recall being really afraid that Robin was going to die. He was handcuffed under a bed of steel spikes! The Joker was going to slaughter him! I'm pretty sure I was in tears as those spikes fell.

I think it was my grandmother who did most of the immediate soothing there. I think she had been sitting on my immediate left, and I had to look past her to see the stage. She pointed out that, look, Robin was fine and now the other heroes are beating up the bad guys. I don't believe that led to a conversation about the difference between characters and actors portraying the characters. At least not immediately. Although I suspect it happened not long after because I was very clear on the point when I saw Star Wars for the first time. (There's some internal family debate on when we actually did see Star Wars. It certainly would not have been the opening weekend or anything, and my father seems to think that it may have even been a full year after it first opened because I would've been too young before then. And, thinking back on this incident, I can easily see that my issues at Sea World may well have precipitated my folks' idea to postpone taking me to Star Wars until I was older.) I vaguely recall leaving the pavilion mostly placated and studying a program or map or some printed material that had drawings of some of the superheroes on it.

I can't say how much I was into comics and superheroes before then. I suspect a bit, and the anticipation of going to see them in person amplified my enjoyment in the days and/or weeks prior to going to Sea World that year. Despite not really remembering much of the show, it obviously had an impact. It was around that time that I became deeply interested in superheroes -- mostly seen in comics at that point -- which eventually led to an interest in comics as a medium. And it's kind of hard to believe that seeing those heroes live and in person didn't resonate at some level.

Hmm. This is really the first time I've given that Sea World experience much serious consideration. I'm honestly a bit taken aback at the possibility that my earliest interests in superheroes comes from a water ski show that scared the crap out of me. Makes me wonder what other earlier experiences that I've never given much thought to had an impact on me like that.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Friendship Via Fandom

One of the webcomics I follow had the lead character get hit with a divorce right around the same time I did. As I read the comic, it was very helpful in getting my own life back together and moving on. The artist and I have since become friends, after he reached out to me to compliment on my work. Having recently posted my collection of original art online, it occurred to me that it would be kind of cool to have one of the original pages from that very webcomic that helped me. Kind of a reminder of where I was and what I needed to kick myself back into the world. Plus, I like helping out comic artists when/where I can, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind a few extra bucks.

The particular strip I wanted isn't online any more (he changed platforms and didn't want to re-upload all ten years of his strip; can't say as I blame him!) so I just dropped him a note to ask about it. He did indeed still have the page, and quoted me a price less than half of what he sells his originals for on his site. I'm not sure if that was because he likes me, or it's just an older work, but it was a great gesture on his part. I sent him the money, plus an extra 60-70% because the strip really did help me out at the time, and he's a good guy. When the art arrived yesterday, it included a second page of original art, just to surprise me again!

I've got another couple of friends who went to San Diego for Comic-Con. They boarded one of their cats with a vet because he hadn't been doing too well. They came home, only to find his condition worsened. So much so that the vet recommended they put him to sleep. Obviously, this upset them. I naturally offered my condolences, for whatever they're worth.

And, then, only a day or two after they said goodbye to their cat, some nut job in Colorado opened fire at a midnight screening of the new Batman movie. While much of comicdom is just trying to process what the hell happened, they're trying to process that amid the grief of losing their cat. Still with the stank of excess commercialization lingering from Comic-Con.

She seemed to be taking it harder that he is, so I left her a note about a Star Wars documentary I saw recently called A Galaxy Far, Far Away. It was filmed around the time Episode I came out, and showed much of the excesses of commercialization that accompanied that movie. But even as the people came out of the theaters, having waiting in line for weeks to see a movie they ultimately thought was crap, they didn't regret anything because they made some good friends in the process.

And that's really what fandom's about: making friends. You can latch onto Batman or Twilight or My Little Ponies or whatever, and share your enjoyment with others who enjoy that same thing. You can set aside political or philosophical differences and revel in Captain Kirk kicking Klingon ass.

And that shared bond then carries over into the rest of your life. You can take life lessons from comics. Truth, justice and the American way. Or whatever's appropriate for your tastes. But comics can educate and inspire in a way unlike any other medium. And most importantly, they can connect. They can reach out and say, "Damn; divorce sucks, but I'm there with you." They can say, "Damn; I'm sorry to hear about your cat."

It doesn't need to take someone spraying bullets into a theater to get you to reach out to others. You can just use comics as a bridge for making some good friends. Ones that can help you when you're down, and ones that you can hopefully help when they're down. That's what fandom is all about.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Nevsky Review

Alexander Nevsky was a Russian prince from the 1200s. (Although, obviously, the area wasn't called Russia yet!) He was basically the go-to guy for defending his town's sanctity and booting out anyone who tried to invade. Monguls, Swedes, Germans... he kicked everyone's tail largely by having an incredible latent talent for military strategy. He did such a good job, in fact, that one of the other nearby towns enlisted his help for an oncoming invasion of the "warrior monks" known as the Livonian Knights. He kicked their tails pretty solidly, drowning many of them in a frozen lake. He was a local hero and Nevsky's life literally became the stuff of legend.

Fast forward to the late 1930s. Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany, and Joseph Stalin was getting concerned the Nazis were going to invade the Soviet Union. Director Sergei Eisenstein was tapped to tell part of Nevsky's tale as a direct allegory for the commoners of the Soviet Union. That is, as the Livonian Knights came from what was had become Germany and Nevsky was from what had become the Soviet Union; it would be easy to draw parallels between Nevsky's battle and a possible impending one with Hitler's forces. Basically, it was Soviet propaganda borrowing a historical metaphor. When the film finally saw widespread release in 1941 (as Hitler was in fact invading) and was popularly received. Although the film's origins are decidedly political in nature, Eisenstein's skills as a film-maker were top notch and the movie continues to be hailed as one of the world's finest pieces of cinema.

On to the 21st century. Ben McCool and Mario Guevara have put together a graphic novel based on Eisenstein's film. Titled simply Nevsky, it follows the movie, even picking up the sub-plots and costume designs. At least, that's what I've been able to discern. I haven't actually seen the movie, but I did some research on the film, after reading a review copy of the book, and saw the same elements in both. So I can't say exactly how closely the two mirror each other, but it sounds closer than some movie adaptations I've read.

All that said, I was mainly interested in Nevsky from the historical perspective. You may find this shocking, but I know very little about 13th century Russia. So I wanted to see all the cultural aspects of the era -- social mores, clothing, weaponry, climate, etc. On that front, I was not disappointed. Despite being largely about a military battle, there's plenty in the book to look at all those things from McCool's handling of characters to Guevara's renderings.

The story flows very well overall. I did have a bit of an issue following the place names, but that's my own problem. I have a tendency to shoot past unfamiliar proper names, and I had to force myself to stop and focus on the slavic locations. Everything was clearly identified; I just didn't read those bits.

(As a total aside, I have trouble reading plays as well because the speakers' names are usually offset to one side. I just run right through the column of dialogue and stage directions without going over to the left "column" to see who's saying what.)

The one other issue I had was in Nevsky's ultimate strategy that allowed him to win against the crusaders. I'm not sure where the issue was here. I go the basic gist of his having a strategy to counter the counter-strategy that the Knights were using against Nevsky's original strategy, but I couldn't suss out exactly what that was. But I don't know if that was something missing in the writing, the art, or that I just don't have a head for military strategy in the first place. I suppose, though, that does highlight a strength of the book -- that there's enough information that you can follow the basic structure well enough even if you miss some of the specifics. I don't know military strategy, but I knew who was winning.

One more note I'll make. Not a compliment or a complaint, but an observation. The book was a lot more graphic than I anticipated. Guevara did not make apologies for showing the atrocities of war. Plenty of blood-soaked bodies in the battles' wakes, and more than a few beheadings. It was quite clear that these battles were hard-fought; and there was no real "honor" or "glory" in battle, just a pragmatic focus on what needed to be done.

It's a good book. Not one I'd recommend to everyone, certainly, but one which I can see a wide variety of people appreciating for a variety of different reasons. Retailing at $19.99, it's published by IDW and is out next week (I believe; I've seen conflicting release dates).

Friday, July 20, 2012

Inside The Mind Of Marv Wolfman

A two-page spread from Crazy Magazine #12 circa 1975. Writing and art by Marv Wolfman.
I have to wonder if his brain still works like that.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Congrats To Spurgeon

One of the takeaways from my Kleefeld on Comics Survey from last month was to cut down on the boy-that's-really-a-stretch-to-get-it-to-circle-back-to-comics posts. Which I've tried to do. But today I'm going to make a bit of an exception because it's prompted by Tom Spurgeon and it's kind of a big deal.

Spurgeon posted a detailed note this morning about his health/weight over the last 18 months. Here's two side-by-side photos of him, taken at Comic-Cons a few years apart...
It's the same man, I swear.

In his post, Spurgeon talks about a lot of different aspects of his health. His diet and exercise, naturally, and his emotions. But I really like that he also includes the more intellectual switch that he needed to throw. The switch that keeps you rationalizing what you're doing. The switch that prevents you from seeing your excuses for what they are. The switch that you're not ready to throw yet.

You may have heard about alcoholics or drug addicts that really can't be treated unless they want to be treated. Your health (weight, muscle, cardiovascular fitness... all of it) is the same way. Because there is no quick fix. It's not a matter of going on a diet for a few weeks or months, it's a matter of making a lifestyle change. And to make a change like that -- one that's going to impact you every day from here on out -- that takes a deliberate commitment to live your life differently than you have. "Diet" is not a verb, as I heard a nutritionist proclaim many years ago.

Spurgeon rightly says that losing weight does not necessarily equate with being healthy. He later jokes about having the core strength of a Moloid. There's not an end state for health or fitness. It's an ongoing journey. If you don't start working to better yourself now, it's only going to be worse tomorrow. And if you're already healthy and fit, but stop the behaviors that got you there, things are going to go downhill.

Many years ago, I was in a mall and two morbidly obese women passed me. It happened to be in front of some athletic apparel store, and there was a trim mannequin in the display window dressed in whatever the latest in running wear was at the time. The figure was then posed appropriately to look like a jogger frozen in time. The two women stopped to look at the model and one said, "Pfft! If you looked like that, why would you bother running?" They didn't get that you don't run in order to lose weight, you run in order to get and remain fit. Losing weight is just a by-product.

I've never met Spurgeon personally. We've communicated a bit electronically, but I wouldn't say we know each other well. Not really beyond the boundaries of our respective blogs. But I don't doubt for one second that the past 18 months have taken an enormous amount of courage and willpower on his part. He's stopped looking for those ephemeral quick fixes and done (and continues to do!) what needs to be done. I had a lot of respect for the man based on his knowledge of comics and abilities as a writer; I have a lot more respect for the man as a whole now. More importantly, though, I think he has a lot more respect for himself.

Go read his post if you haven't already.

Congratulations, Tom, on what you've achieved this past year and a half. That's a bigger deal and more impressive to me than that trophy do-hickey you picked up last week.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Non-SDCC (Mostly) Links

Believe it or not, there were some recent comic related posts around the internet not directly related to this year's Comic-Con...
  • Al Bigley posted several pages of Jim Steranko's MediaScene from 1977 with articles on the the new Spider-Man and Hulk television shows. Bigley points out the similarity in fans' reaction between seeing the wealth of superhero love on the small screen in 1977 with the wealth of superhero love on the movie screen today.
  • Nicholas Yanes interviews Jonathan "Swifty" Lang regarding his new graphic novel, Feeding Ground, which "uses werewolf folklore to examine the anxieties over Mexican/US immigration."
  • Doc Jenkins returns from Europe, and posts "Performing Our 'Collective Dreams': The Many Worlds of San Diego Comic-Con" which he wrote in response to last year's Comic-Con. Towards the end of the piece, he begins to wrap up, "As more and more stories are being told across media platforms, Comic-Con is the crossroads among entertainment sectors. As comics publishing is struggling to survive, here is where its future will be determined."
  • He ALSO posts several videos from the Future of Entertainment Consortium's west coast event, Transmedia Hollywood. Of particular interest to comics fans is the last one: "How Comics Fit into the Transmedia Ecology." The panelists included Katherine Keller (Sequential Tart), Joe LeFavi (Quixotic Transmedia), Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Comics), Mark Verheiden (Falling Skies, Heroes) and Mary Vogt (Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Men In Black); it was moderated by Geoffrey Long (Microsoft Studios).
  • CNN does a short video profile of artist J.C. Lee (Stan's daughter). Although I'm not exactly sure how/why she's taking credit for what's effectively just her father's signature.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Headline: Sean Works On Stuff

I haven't talked about what I'm working on in a couple months, so I thought I'd drop some quick updates...
  • This past weekend, I was a guest on Webcomic Beacon Newscast, hosted by Thomas Revor, Jason Strawsburg, Eric Kimball, and Alex Heberling. Ben Carver of Animation Aficionados was a guest as well. We talked about comic stuff not going on in San Diego with the Penny Arcade Kickstarter probably being the biggest discussion point.
  • The Jack Kirby Collector #59 just came out, and I'm once again in the issue with my "Incidental Iconography" column. This time out, I take a look at Captain America's shield. A more varied history than you probably think! You can preview the issue (including the first half of my column!) as well as order it from the TwoMorrows site. I believe #60 will include not only my regular column, but a second article examining all three surviving scripts from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four. (Yes, I said THREE surviving scripts!) Issue #60 is due out towards the end of the year.
  • MTV Geek continues to run my Kleefeld on Webcomics column. My most recent columns look at the Eisner and Harvey Awards for webcomics and the notion of having a buffer for one's material. This Friday's piece will talk about webcomic creators and when/if/how it makes sense for them to attend any given convention.
  • The Comic Book Adventures of Harry Blackstone, Magician Detective. I've finally gotten back to working on my next book. That's the good news. The bad news is that I've got over 250 pages of art that all need some heavy re-touching. I thought I might be able to get away with some broad Photoshop filters, but there's just too much clean-up work that has to be done manually. There's no original art to work from and many of the printed pages were just of really low quality to begin with. I swear the printers had three year olds cut the plates out of a wet sponge. I'm making progress, but it's a LOT slower than I originally anticipated.
  • And, naturally, the Kleefeld on Comics blog continues apace.
  • With Comic-Con still fresh in mind, I'm kicking around hitting one or two places on the convention circuit this year. The Cincinnati Comic Expo is a no-go (I'll be out of town) and I'm not seeing that much of interest at Wizard World Ohio or Wizard World Chicago. I might try for either Baltimore Comic-Con or NYCC; I've never been to either. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on them (or make other recommendations).
I think that covers things for the moment. I'm also going to try to stir the pot a bit and drum up some other gigs, but those're little more than ideas at this point. I'll keep you posted if anything pans out.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dirty Laundry

Here's a ten minute video Thomas Jane made. If you haven't seen it yet, take a look before I spoil it for you.

I'm not a huge fan of the character; I read more than my fair share of his stories back in the 1980s. But I love that professionals of that caliber are getting more and more willing to go out and produce a high-quality piece like this just for the love of it. I mean, this is basically a Punisher fan film. Made by Jane. With a not-insignificant cameo by Ron Perlman. Produced by the same guy who's producing the new Judge Dredd movie. Probably a bunch of other professional movie-makers as well -- the film's a little light on credits. (Including a distinct lack of creator credits to Gerry Conway, John Romita, Sr. and Ross Andru. But that's a whole other issue!)

But that people are going out to create something just for the sake of creating it is fantastic! My understanding is that's kind of how Joss Whedon's upcoming Much Ado About Nothing came about. "Hey, why don't I have a bunch of talented friends over to my house and we can film Shakespeare?"

There have long been people who create for the sake of creating. That, in and of itself, isn't new. And for the last couple decades, there's been a growing number of people who are able to produce professional-looking material, thanks to the decreasing costs of equipment (most notably, computers).

But those are people, generally, who create for the joy of it because they're not able to express themselves fully in their day jobs. Whether that's working retail or stuck in a cube farm crunching numbers or whatever. Also, their creative work tends to be isolated. They make a webcomic or run a blog or something.

But the number of people needed to make something like that video? I counted around 20 people who show up on screen. Plus the writer, director and producer. Maybe two or three camera operators. Some sound people. There's visual effects and a full score. It's only ten minutes, but there's definitely a crew of at least 30 people who directly worked on this.

Because they thought it sounded like fun.

These people are professionals who do this for a living. I think that's the key here. That's a significant change in thinking when what you do for a living becomes what you do anyway for fun. "Let's step outside the business aspect of this and do what we want to do." Especially in case like this -- where Jane has ALREADY done a Punisher movie -- there's something significant going on.

Back in the 1600s, technology evolved enough that people didn't have to spend every waking moment working on their survival. The word "hobby" came about because they needed something to describe what they did in their newly-found free time. The word "fan" came about in the late 1800s when, as technology continued to improve, people had enough free time to devote to hobbies for extended periods.

In the Star Trek universe, technology has advanced enough that don't need to put any real effort into survival at all, and their pursuits are based almost solely on personal motivations. (Of course, why Ferengi then had this whole Rules of Acquisition thing going on, despite having replicator technology, I don't know. But that's a whole other topic!) It always struck me as sounding naively optimistic, even by Star Trek standards, but as I watch "Dirty Laundry" I can't help but wonder if this is how it starts.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thoughts On SDCC By Proxy

Comic-Con International 2012 is winding down as I'm typing this. As I noted earlier, I didn't attend personally, but watched the events unfold online.
Coverage of the event has been fantastic. Between the more official outlets like MTV and G4, and the informal ones like what fans were uploading to Flickr and Twitter, it was easy to get a sense of what was going on, what was exciting people and what was new and different. With the added benefit of not having to deal with the crowds or the financial costs. I spent almost literally the entirety of my Saturday starting a computer monitor taking in Comic-Con, not to mention fair chunks of Thursday, Friday and today.

As I figured, both Marvel and G4 provided live video feeds, as did MTV (which I was not anticipating). Things From Another World didn't do as much video reporting as they did last year, but ultimately provided more valuable (to me) footage by posting the Firefly Reunion and Joss Whedon panel in full. Written reports from Comic Book Resources, Comics Reporter, ComicsAlliance and The Beat all proved insightful. And, again, "citizen reporting" via Twitter and man-on-the-street photos via Flickr were very helpful in getting the tenor of the various events at the show.

One of the interesting things about Comic-Con now is that little news breaks there any more. All of the announcements I saw from Marvel and DC were basically confirmations of what was pretty well guessed already. Most indie creators barely get heard between the big name publishers, who themselves are often drowned out by movie studios, so there's little desire to try to get announcements out amid the hyperbole of... well, everything. It seems to me a little like walking down the boardwalk with carnival barkers all hollering at you to try to win a Kewpie doll.

Ultimately, I didn't watch much of the Marvel feed because of that. Since it was in their own space on their own channel, it came across like those stereotypically cheesy and overly loud used car salesmen ads on television. Guys, you have microphones; you don't need to shout! (I'm looking at Jeph Loeb in particular here!)

G4 was about what I expected, with a parade of mostly TV and movie celebrities (though, to be fair, more than a few comics folks as well) answering very typical questions with very practiced talking points. It was a little useful for picking up on some projects I had been largely unaware of, but very corporate feeling.

MTV Geek did, I thought, the best job with their video coverage. (I should note that MTV actually had its own presence there as well, focusing more on the movie side of things, I believe. I should probably also provide full disclosure that I have a weekly column at MTV Geek.) But they had a good mix of folks they talked to, including Kevin Eastman, some guys from 2000 AD, and the Hernadez Brothers. I have to admit being skeptical of Steven Smith coming to the game -- despite his blog introduction, I was leery of his geek cred. But he pulled out a surprising (to me) amount of trivia in off-the-cuff conversations with a variety of guests, making the interviews feel more "us fans" and less "corporate shtick." Now several of the guests (like Stan Lee and Dan DiDio) still stuck to their typical talking points and didn't provide anything new or insightful but that tends to be what they do anyway.

In terms of written coverage, Comic Book Resources had it down again with any number of reports filed throughout each day. They have, I believe, a larger operation than any of the others, and I think that goes a long way towards making their coverage better. There's so much going on at San Diego that Tom Spurgeon can't hope to cover it all by himself. CBR's having several guys running around affords them not only the ability to be in different places simultaneously, but also the time to write their reports instead of having to race to the next panel.

I'm kind of to the point where I don't know if I really want to go to Comic-Con any more. I mean, the after-hours parties sound cool and being able to have a photo-shoot under three 12-foot-tall ogres would be neat, but I can get the bulk of what I want out of a con at smaller shows. And most of what's specific to San Diego is available online. Heck, I even bought two pieces of original art this weekend to celebrate San Diego while I was sitting comfortably in my office here in Ohio. There's only one panel I'm aware of that I would've liked to have heard what was discussed but hasn't been transcribed or been posted online, but that's hardly worth the time/effort/cost of doing the entire convention.

I still like the idea of the convention experience (I have yet to really execute it "properly" I think) so I'm still planning on attending cons in the future. I'm just not sure if I have any need/desire to go to one that's so well covered online.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Art Collection Is Now Online

I detailed how I first got a collection of original comic art started early in my blogging days. It's a little over a decade old now and, while it's not an aspect of collecting that I've pursued very strenuously, I have somehow wound up with over two dozen pieces of production art, including four splash pages and four covers!

Anyway, I finally got around to scanning everything in, starting up a Comic Art Fans account, and uploading my all my files. So I just thought I'd drop a quick note today to say that you're welcome to check them out here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Secret Lair

Your home is where you hang your hat. It's a bit of an oversimplification, but there's a truth there. Your "home" or "base" is where you've got a claim on some space that you can keep some of your stuff with at least a modicum of security. Your permanent residence serves that purpose most of the time, but other stations can work as smaller, temporary shelters of a sort. In the office, you might have your own cubicle where you can hang your coat and put up a picture of your significant other. It's not much, but it's your space where you can set down a pen or a soda, and be reasonably sure no one's going to walk off with it.

In the context of a comic convention, the only people who really have such a base are the ones with booths. Independent creators rent tables, and larger publishers sometimes bring enough curtains to section off something like a mini-warehouse for the folks manning the booth all day. If you've ever gone around a convention all day, carrying a bag full of stuff, trying to juggle what you need on the fly throughout the entire day, I'm sure you can appreciate the idea having a known place where you can drop your stuff off and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the con itself.

Some of the bigger folks, as I've alluded to, have a larger space set aside than a single table. An actual room set aside just for them. In the case of the larger conventions, they might bring their own structures and have them located like an island in the midst of the convention floor. Others rent out an extra meeting room just off the main floor. These often act as a sort of secret lair for the group, where they can physically remove themselves from the convention for a little while. Where they're not shoulder to shoulder with a hundred strangers. The picture here shows MTV Geek's video studio they set up in San Diego this year; I suspect they have another area set aside somewhere as well.

I first saw one of these rooms in 1999 when Gorilla Comics was launched. The creators had a meeting room set aside just for them, where they could step away from the huge lines of fans and take a break from signing autographs. It was just another innocuous door in the hotel, but I happened to catch a glimpse of Joe Casey going in and several of the other creators sitting around relaxing, chatting amongst themselves. I think I saw a cooler of bottled water. Nothing fancy, just a space for them.

I've always thought it would be cool to be a part of one of those groups. Whether as a professional or just as a friend of someone who was "in". I thought it would be great to just have a place where I could drop whatever I was carrying with me, and not have to haul it around over my shoulder all day. I think a lot of con-goers would appreciate that.

But as I think about it more, I realize that's not my main interest. Yeah, it would be nice to be able to drop stuff off like that, but that real draw is to be included in an exclusive group like that. They'll let anyone into the convention with an admission fee, but only a select group is allowed in the secret lair. It's not that you have a place to drop your stuff, it's that you've been given a place to drop your stuff. That you're liked and trusted enough to be a part of a group.

A lot of my book on fandom boils down to finding a sense of belonging in this world. And there's no reason why people wouldn't ALSO seek that same sense of belonging in the smaller microcosm of a convention as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Only Living Boy Review

I've backed about a dozen Kickstarter projects to date. About half of them are being finalized still, but I've gotten my "loot" for the other half. And so far, I have to say that The Only Living Boy rates as the best money I've spent on a Kickstarter so far.

The book is by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis, the same team that did High Moon, Box 13, Darkstar and the Winter Guard and other great books. This time, the protagonist is 12-year-old Erik Farrell, who's run away from home in New York City. He falls asleep under a rock and wakes up to be chased by some "bat-like-dog-ish things." Though he's able to escape them, he finds himself captured and thrown in a dungeon, only to soon be thrown out into a gladiator-style arena. Not only does he need to survive, but he needs to escape...

Reading this first installment, I got this mixed Kamandi/Flash Gordon vibe to things and, looking back, Gallaher notes that they were indeed inspired by the pulp adventures of the likes of John Carter, Tarzan and Flash Gordon. Only Living Boy has much of that action/adventure feel, but without many of the halting and sometimes bizarre plot twists.

Erik is a different type of character from what I think most people are used to seeing from Gallaher. Largely owing to the fact that he's still a child, Erik's not nearly as experienced and/or confident as many other protagonists, so it will be interesting to see how the story plays out in that regard. Gallaher also sets up some nice character moments that are fun and entertaining as well.

Ellis' work is particularly top-notch. He's proven himself a skilled illustrator and storyteller, certainly, but this is honestly some of his best work, I think. As I look more closely at it, it seems to have cleaner linework -- a different inking process maybe? In any event, it looks fantastic.

This is just the first issue of four, but well worth it for 46 pages of story. If you didn't already get one ordered through their Kickstarter, they'll have both standard and variant editions at Comic-Con (Booth #2206) or you can purchase a digital copy via comiXology.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pre-SDCC Links

Some comic related links for you just as Comic-Con International is getting underway...
  • Rodrigo Baeza uncovers some non-Marvel work by Artie Simek. It was long believed that he never worked for any comic company besides Timely/Atlas/Marvel, so it's interesting to see what he did during the Atlas implosion of the 1950s.
  • Following up on a tangent from the Simek post, Baeza also unwraps an odd, but minor, mystery of some old Davey Crockett stories that Jack Kirby ghosted for Ed Herron's and Jim McArdle's newspaper strip in 1957.
  • Ken Quattro is on the hunt for The Spirit radio shows. "The Spirit radio? As in, Will Eisner? On the radio?" you ask. Exactly!
  • Daniel Peretti points us to this interview with Joumana Haddad who has written a book called Superman Is an Arab: On God, Marriage, Macho Men, and Other Disastrous Inventions, due out in September. From what I gather from the interview, and what strikes me as interesting, is that her approach does not equate Superman with the ideal hero, but rather as a powerful being who uses that power to assume moral superiority. She doesn't come across in the interview at least as a "the West is evil and all it's symbols are blasphemous" type, so it'll be interesting to see how she approaches things in her book.
  • Michael Dambold has begun posting a series on Color Theory in Comics. I don't know the percentage of comic artists that actually studied graphic design, but I imagine even a refresher course in color theory wouldn't hurt anyone. Part 1, Part 2.
  • Marketing guru Seth Godin notes how you can't have a single marketing message going out to everybody, that different people respond to different messages in different ways. Why am I noting that here? Because his examples are Batman and Superman.
  • Matt Kuhns takes a look at the credits boxes in a recent Marvel comicand wonders why so many people get their names in the book beyond those who actively crafted the issue.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Comic-Con, Danger By The Numbers

Earlier today, Gisela Gagliardi, a fan waiting in an advance line for Comic-Con's Twilight panel on Thursday, was accidentally struck and killed by a driver. A more complete story is here if you haven't heard the news yet. It should go without saying that it's a great tragedy when anyone is killed, and my condolences go out to her friends and family.

Two years ago, at the tail end of a Resident Evil panel, one fan attacked another over an issue surrounding seating. That's the (in)famous eye-stabbing incident. (Although, technically, the pen only glanced near the victim's eye.)

Now, let's check out some stats. For the past several years, Comic-Con's attendance has floated between 125,000 and 130,000 over the course of the five day event. That's about 1% of the population of San Diego, where the show is held. According to San Diego government stats, the annual crime rate per 1000 people are as follows:
Murder: 0.03
Rape: 0.22
Robbery: 1.11
Aggravated Assault: 2.53
That translates to roughly one murder every 1.3 weeks, one rape every day, one robbery every eight hours, and one aggravated assault every two and half hours. That's for the entire city. (I suspect it's actually the "greater San Diego area" but I don't know how exactly that might be defined.) That means for every one of those incidents, statistically speaking, there's a 1% chance of it happening in relation to Comic-Con.

Let's assume a full 24 hour cycle for each day. (Since many con-goers gather well outside the confines of the convention itself.) Five days times 24 hours in a day = 120 hours. Divide that by the 2.5 hours per possible assault, and you have 48 instances where one might occur. (Again, we've been talking all of San Diego so far.) Now if you take each of those 48 instances as having 1% chance of including an assault, you come up with .48 assaults per year at Comic-Con. (1% of 48.) Since half an assault (rounding up slightly) isn't realistic, let's say it's one assault every two years.

The same basic math applied to the other crimes comes up with... one robbery every seven years, one rape every 20 years, and one murder every 130 years.

Now there are plenty of caveats here. The crime rates, population and con attendance change from year to year. The crime rate stats are of reported crimes, not actual crimes. Comic-Con itself is probably not a perfect microcosm reflective of San Diego on the whole. And of course, I'm not a statistician and I'm doing some back-of-the-envelope math here.

But those numbers should provide a rough estimate of what we're looking at. There are almost certainly folks out there concerned about their safety between the two incidents I cited at the top of this piece. They might believe the convention's grown too large and it's becoming inherently unsafe. Statistically, though, I don't think there's too much to concern yourself with outside of whether or not you brought a comfortable enough pair of shoes.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Tokyopop Returns With OEL Manga?

I don't normally post news-ish type items because that's not my forte, but I can see this sliding under many folks' radar as they're heading out to San Diego.

Earlier this evening, the Tokyopop manga Twitter feed posted the following...
Just came back from a brief meeting with Stu where we talked about our next step as a publisher.

So the question is: if we published more OEL in the very near future, what would you want to see and how quickly would you want to see it?

Would you like to see us release new volumes of our old OEL titles ASAP or would you prefer we stagger it over the course of a few months?

Just for clarification, we say OEL because that's what we can easily do next as a publisher, whereas manga will take more time to negotiate.
Tokyopop, for those who don't remember, decided to quit publishing manga in the United States a little over a year ago. Creators and agents began shopping their properties, many of which Tokyopop had published only partially, to other publishers. Some were picked up, some weren't. They continued publishing in Europe, I believe, but Tokyopop's presence in the US was substantially curtailed. Then, last month, Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy announced that they would continue publication of Hidekaz Himaruya's Hetalia, details to be forthcoming.

Now, it looks like they're trying to jump back into the manga market quickly, perhaps to make up for the past year in which they almost literally threw away all of their manga licenses. I'm not entirely surprised, given that Levy has something of a history of changing directions at the drop of a hat, but it still seems unusual to make such a drastic change to try to return from such a drastic change only a year ago. If other folks do manage to pick up this story amid all the Comic-Con business, I can almost guarantee someone will use the term "whiplash."

I think Levy and Tokyopop do deserve a lot of credit for helping to make manga popular here in the States. I doubt there are many people who would deny that. But with radical upsets like this, I can't help but wonder how much MORE they could have done for manga if they could keep the company focused. Levy's got a definite love of the medium and plenty of energy to market it, but damn if he doesn't seem to always be distracted by the nearest shiny object.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Whole Story

You know what I like about Ryan Estrada? The man has no fear. Or, if he has, he's repeatedly been able to push past it and live life as a grand adventure in the best way possible. Those of us who take a regular job for the security of a paycheck and/or health insurance, and dip our toes into the water by writing a blog or doing a webcomic in our spare time generally don't charge ahead because of the what ifs. "What if I fail? What if I'm not as good as I think I am? What if people think I'm a fool for trying this?" Yeah, it takes some courage to put yourself out there as a webcomic artist or a blogger or whatever, but that is nothing compared to Estrada. He just charges ahead with his ideas. They might fail, they might not, but either way he walks away with an experience.

And I mean that in the very literal sense. This guy makes Indiana Jones look like a wimp. When he says, "I thought I might die" he means it in a very literal sense. Ask him about his 2004 trip to Japan.

His latest venture, perhaps a bit more mundane than that, is The Whole Story. Fortunately for us, he loves online comics, which means even his mundane adventures lead to more material for us readers! What he's done is get together work from a number of indie comics folks, from Box Brown to Spike Trotman to Dorothy Gambrell to too many other people for me to remember offhand, and got them to make new comics. Not ongoing serials, but a bunch of done-in-one stories. However long the creators need/want to go on to tell the story they need.

And he's selling them online in a name-your-own-price, DRM-free format.

You want to pay a dollar for hundreds of pages of work? Ok. You think it's worth $10? Sure. $100? Great. And what you get is a file (or files, depending on how many different stories you want) that you can save to your iPad or laptop or desktop or whatever. Throw them on a micro-SD card to read on your phone if you like.

And, yes, theoretically, that means you could pirate them very easily. But Estrada is betting that you think it'll be worth more than that, and all the contributors will get paid fairly.

I haven't read ALL of the material he's making available, but there's quite a variety even in the ones I read. While I think his own The Kind is the most touching and fun, I like the concept behind the two Fusion books: with Korean artist Nam Dong Yoon's consent, he's taken some of his stories -- written in Korean -- and had other comic creators write scripts over top of them having no concept what the original story was or what other collaborators were doing. They make for a very interesting and diverse mix of material that still manages to hang together cohesively, in part thanks to Estrada's editing and in part to Nam's consistency in art. And just to prove Nam's a talented storyteller in his own right, one of the other options available is the more straightforward translation of You Can Do It, Dong Gu which has two original tales by the creator.

Given the creators involved here, there shouldn't be any real question about the talent or quality of stories here. The only question might be which ones' personal styles fit with your own preferences, and what you feel their individual contributions are worth.

It's a fairly bold online initiative, and I hope Estrada will see it succeed. The pay-what-you-want option will only be available through July 23, so you don't want to dally too long on this, but Estrada promises that he'll do a financial report-out afterwards, so it'll definitely be interesting to see how well it works and whether it might be financially viable as an option.

You don't see many folks charging forward with ideas like this. It might work fantastically. It might wind up gaining Estrada absolutely nothing. But it's that kind of bold thinking that I'm thrilled to see in comics. He's taking a chance that not many people are willing to take and, with the promise of relative openness in his financials, I think there's A LOT to be gained from keeping an eye on him. Not just in this initiative, but everything that he's doing. Because it's the risk-takers that push the boundaries and show others where the paths forward are.

But that's just my summary. Go check out The Whole Story for yourself!