Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creepy Halloween Links! Boo!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Really Clever Con Idea

I've used Ryan Estrada as an example of people who are doing some creative stuff in the business of comics before. (And his comics work ain't too shabby either!) Here's another neat idea that I'm going to unceremoniously swipe from his Google+ page and share with you here...
The drawing wall at my comic-con booth was a big success!

The idea was this- Jerzy Drozd talked about how looking busy at your table helps lower the pressure for people who want to stop at your table without feeling forced to buy something. However, I didn’t want to lose interaction!

So I made a plexiglass wall and bought a set of board markers. I drew on the back, and invited visitors to draw on the front! Together, we drew a monster party! (I live-colored their monsters as they drew them)

It got people to stop, and I could introduce my comics to their friends while they drew.

And while people rarely bought a comic right after drawing, they remembered the interaction and at the end of the day I had a whole bunch of people return to my table to pick up my book!

Next month, I’ll make some tweaks... add more wall, and get a white sheet behind it so it’s easier to see. A fun way to interact with potential readers!
I think Estrada's hit upon a fantastic idea, and one that ANY artist can set up at their convention booth!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Projects Update

Many of you have asked about the status of my various comics related projects, given the whole selling-my-house-and-moving-to-Chicago thing I've got going on. Well, actually, no one's asked, but I'm going to tell you anyway.
  • Revenge of the Comic Book Ads
    Not that I really have the time to work on this as extensively as I'd like, but I threw together a new shop featuring some classic gems from the world of old comic book ads. I still dig the clip art they used for some of those karate ads. They've been running in the Cafe Press scroll bar on the right of my blog if you haven't seen them.
  • MTV Geek
    I've still got my weekly column about webcomics running over at MTV. My editor recently had a nice post celebrating MTVG's second anniversary, and she also said some very nice things about all the contributors, including me.
  • The Jack Kirby Collector
    TJKC is still going strong, as is my column there. In fact, I got a very nice note from Jim Simon (son of Joe Simon of Captain America fame) about my last piece in TJKC #59. The next issue is due out in early December. (I should probably come up with a topic to write about before then. I should probably write that column, too.)
  • Hubris
    I'm told that I will be making a cameo appearance in an upcoming installment of Greg Cravens' webcomic. I don't know exactly when, but keep your eye out for any runners that look like me on a bad day in the storyline's Great Stanky Creek/Snake Oil Outdoors Fest.
  • The Comic Book Adventures of Harry Blackstone, Magician Detective
    This has been put on hold. Again. As much as I would like to finish this (seriously, I started it well over a year ago now) it's turned out to be a much larger project than I originally anticipated. I try to keep getting back to work on a page or two here and there, but given the size that it's already grown to, I keep putting it on the back burner running under the assumption that it sell about as well as my last book. (Which, technically, I'm still in the red on.)
  • Edward Lear & the Snargetted Flartlethants of Nonsense Poetry
    This isn't really comic-related at all, but I've got a small pile of stuff relating to nonsense poetry piled up on my hard drive, and I'm in the process of throwing it together as a book. Nothing terribly revolutionary here, I don't think, but it seems a shame to let some of this just sit around collecting virtual dust. Especially since it's fairly easy to put together in a single volume. The finished piece will have an examination of nonsense poetry writ-large, a short biography of Edward Lear, and a collection of Lear's nonsense limericks with his own illustrations. This is mostly written and laid out already; I just need to put some finishing touches on the biography. I'm guessing this will be available by Thanksgiving.
  • The Ages of the Avengers
    This is more of a prospect at the moment, but I'm submitting a proposal about examining Avengers Forever for an upcoming book about Earth's mightiest heroes. The broader idea is to show how particular eras are reflected by and reflect back the culture/society in which they were originally written. I likely won't hear back on whether my piece is accepted or not until January/February.
  • Bizarro
    This one is really a long shot, but Dan Piraro accepts suggestions for his sporadic Sunday Punnies installments of Bizarro. I had (I think) a really good one about a month or so back, so keep your eyes out for a possible credit in a future comic.
  • Kleefeld on Comics
    Of course, there's the perennial blog. Always something getting posted here!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Death Note Review

I've been so enjoying Bakuman that I went back to pick up the creative team's previous well-received effort: Death Note. It's only twelve volumes, so it seemed like an easy investment -- not too much of a cash outlay, plus a pretty strong creative team if their later work is any guide.

The basic story surrounds a brilliant teen-ager named Light Yagami. He one day discovers a notebook entitled "Death Note" with several rules written on the inside. In short, it says that writing someone's name down in the notebook will kill them. Yagami, skeptical but curious, tries it out when he catches a news broadcast about a terrorist who's taken several people hostage. Proving that it works, he decides that he is going to make the world a better place by killing all the really evil people of the world. Police and governments don't take kindly to someone setting themselves up as judge, jury and executioner (as Yagami makes no effort to conceal that it's all the work of a single individual) and a number of task forces are set up to apprehend this unseen killer that's been dubbed "Kira" by the media.

Much of the story then revolves around Yagami continuing his efforts while hiding his identity, and the world task force headed up by the mysterious genius known only as "L." Yagami and L are both pretty evenly matched intellectually, and there's an ongoing game of out-guessing each other. Yagami eventually wins, even managing to take the title of L for himself, but L's true successors (both geniuses themselves) then come out to try to catch the still-enigmatic Kira. Now Yagami/L/Kira must outwit two opponents, who are themselves in a race to see who can catch Kira first.

(For those of you who have read it: yes, I know I'm leaving out an awful lot, but we're talking about almost 2,500 pages of story here! Plus, I don't want to spoil some of the particularly clever twists that occur throughout the series.)

As in Bakuman, artist Takeshi Obata does a fantastic job throughout the series. Though the story is largely cerebral, he continues to find ways to make people thinking look engaging and dramatic. He also, as in Bakuman, defines a decently sized supporting cast in a definitive manner, making distinct individuals out of what could be seen as broad descriptions. By that I mean that there are several "30-ish year old male with dark hair and a medium build" characters that could be confused with one another, but Obata's illustration style ensures that no confusion ever takes place.

Regarding the story itself, there are few things that strike me. First is that Yagami is almost always shown to be several steps ahead of everyone. While that would be seemingly easy to do from a writer's perspective -- Tsugumi Ohba could just make Yagami 'predict' the logic other characters use -- the way this unfolds in the story is frequently very cleverly relayed. There are several instances, even early on, when Yagami is shown performing seemingly random acts while talking with other characters, but readers then only learn the significance of those acts several chapters later. It would be easy to show Yagami think of something and then act on it immediately, but that Ohba himself thought to plant story seeds quite significantly in advance shows him to be a very thoughtful and deliberate storyteller.

Another thing that I find striking is that, especially towards the end of the story, several characters are shown thinking and plotting based on what they think others will do and say. They're almost re-acting to actions that actually reactions to other actions, none of which have actually happened yet. This could have quickly devolved into something akin to "Well, I knew that you knew that I knew that you knew..." And while it does skate close to that on a couple of occasions with quite a few exercises in logic, Ohba never takes to it quite so pedantic a level. And the only times it really gets close, it helps to showcase Yagami's own mental state and he becomes increasingly desperate to remain anonymous and continue his role as Kira.

The series, as a whole, poses some interesting thematic questions about justice. And despite providing a pretty clear story resolution in terms of who holds the moral high ground during the climax, the denouement brings the question back into an area of ambiguity. Overall, I found it to be an incredibly well-written and highly engaging series. I understand Bakuman has recently wrapped up in Japan, and I'm eager to see what he comes up with next. (While I continue reading the English translations of that series as they're still coming out here in the States, of course!)

I happened to read the "Black Edition" version of Death Note, but you can of course purchase the shorter, individual volumes if you prefer a smaller initial sample. I strongly recommend the series as a whole, though, and the box set edition will provide you with the entire story for the cheapest price. Whichever version you might prefer, it's a fantastic series and I can easily understand why it was made into an anime and a series of feature-length movies.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dodge News 1953

Here's the cover of Dodge News volume 18, number 7 circa 1953...
It's one of those "kids reading comics in the 1950s" photos that are always neat to look at. You can spot Superman, Captain Marvel, Popeye, Donald Duck and others on the covers pretty readily. Rip Jagger went through and tracked down most of the covers last year if you don't want to hunt them all down yourself.

But the reason why I'm pulling this image out and calling attention to it is something that I haven't seen anyone comment on. Namely, the "PLEASE DO NOT HANDLE" sign hanging right over the boys' shoulders as they're sitting there reading the comics they're apparently not supposed to handle.

I suppose this is the type of rampant insubordinate behavior that parents were so upset about back then.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

That Ol' Comic Book Smell

You know the smell I'm talking about, right? That old book smell. It comes from the paper decaying with age, particularly the chemicals used in making the paper in the first place. The cheap newsprint often used in older comics decays quickly because there's a pretty high acid content in the paper -- acid that was used in helping to break down the wood so that it could be pressed flat as sheet. Here's a two-minute video from AbeBooks that gets a little more into the chemical process...
But why, then, do newer comics smell differently?

A couple of reasons actually. First, and most obviously, they're newer and thus haven't had time to start to decay yet. Secondly, publishers tend to use a higher quality paper than they used to. The higher quality comes from less acid being used in the paper's production. Of course, this comes with a higher price tag, which is part of where many of the price hikes that really began in the 1980s come from.

Third, and perhaps least obvious, is that the paper the comics are printed on are given a coating. When comics used to be printed on cheap newsprint, the ink was placed right on the paper. The paper then absorbed some of the ink, and it would spread through the porous material. So even new comics back then looked a little fuzzy, since the ink would bleed away from where it was initially put. In more recent years, the paper has been given a thin non-porous coating so that the ink technically never touches the paper; it sits on top of this coating just above the paper. Because the coating is non-porous, the ink doesn't have anything to bleed into and looks more crisp. So we can see more detail and get brighter colors.

The coating that's used is generally a substance called kaolin. The name is derived from Kao-ling, a village in China where the substance was found in abundance. Because of this location, that's why it's also sometimes called China Clay.

Yes, clay. As in, the same type of stuff you made that ashtray out of in grade school. It's a slightly different type of clay, and typical has a whiter appearance, which adds to the crisp look of the paper that it's coating.

But it's still clay, and still smells like clay. So, now, if you open a long box of mostly newer comics, it smells more like a pottery than a library.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Good Lord! *Choke* Links!

  • We last checked in with Wowio back in May, when Brian Altounian noted that they were two weeks away from a public IPO. Yesterday, they finally filed the required paperwork with the SEC. Note that's just filing the paperwork, not the actual IPO itself.
  • There was apparently a comic panel discussion this past weekend virtually in my backyard that I didn't know about until it was just about too late for me to see if I could attend. The article claims "It has been promoted at the local news area outlets and public libraries" but I missed all of that apparently.
  • That being said, though, there's this article about this coming weekend's Hero Bot Con in Elmira, NY. It's good that there's a little more advance publicity around the event, but that the writer never actually mentions the name of the convention or the website address where people can find out more information, it really makes me question if journalism students are actually being taught the basics any more. I mean, I'm not all that as a journalist and don't really even claim to be one, but I learned those kind of basics in a single, semester-long journalism class that I took in eighth grade!
  • Here's a scholarly article from our staple comics scholar Neil Cohn that details how learning how to draw is similar to the development of language skills. I think it suggests a reinforcement of the idea that "reading comics" is a distinctly different skill than "reading" as we typically define it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Heroic Display Idea

As I've noted before, I've been noodling how to put together a comic book library for myself. One thing that I've been leaning towards is getting some dimensionality in the room. Comics are largely about flat images, so most of the options that are available are posters, prints, wall decals, original art, etc. Now, you also get into some of the maquettes, which are quite nice, but not terribly large for an entire room. There are also some life-size statues available, but those tend to start in the several thousand dollar range and go up in price pretty quickly. Also, you tend to be really limited in which characters you can get a hold of unless you want to go all out and pay someone to sculpt your favorite hero from scratch!

It's coming up on Halloween, and there are plenty of ads floating around for costumes to no one's surprise. It's pretty easy any more to come by pretty decent comic-related costumes for not too terribly much money, and your biggest decision is often what character you want to portray. You could go all out for a really awesome cosplay number, but you don't need to in order to present a decent showing.

So here's the thought. You can get a decent full-body store mannequin for under $200. I haven't investigated prices too thoroughly to find out the best deal, but they don't seem to be too hard to come by. Less than $100 will get you some pretty good costumes as well. If you go the standard Halloween costume route, there's of course the standard Superman/Batman/Spider-Man options but one of the ancillary benefits to the comics-to-movies phenomenon we've seen over the past several years means there's also pretty good costumes for the X-Men, Hellboy, V, Kick-Ass...

Not to mention the increased availability of spandex body suits, you can get the basics of a good uniform for less popular characters like Blue Beetle, The Spot and the original Daredevil.

I'm particularly inclined to some of these full body costumes that would cover the entirety of the mannequin. That would mean that A) it looks less like a mannequin and more like a statue, and B) you could potentially get a used mannequin cheaper because the actual condition would be less of a concern -- chipped paint or a ding in the figure itself would be completely covered by the costume. If you're really inclined, too, you could just order individual parts separately (arms, legs, torso and head) and you would have more control over the pose/stance of the figure, to somewhat customize it to the character you're trying to put together.

I've seen one or two folks try to turn mannequins into superhero displays by just painting on them. Personally, I don't think this works nearly as well since you see the mannequin's seams very readily and details like belly buttons, individual toes and fingernails that would normally be concealed by the costume are apparent. Not to mention that it would be more difficult to farm out the artistic talent need to produce a piece like this since it has to be created on that specific mannequin, whereas a costume -- even a completely sewn-from-scratch custom one -- could be created and easily shipped from anywhere using just the figure measurements. If you're decent with a paintbrush yourself, it might be a bit cheaper but given the time involved and the pretty decent pricing on costumes any more, I think you're better off bypassing the painted route.

I think it'd be kind of a neat promotional idea if you're running a store and want a character to draw attention to a particular section of the store. Or perhaps setting in the front window to bring attention to the store itself. I'm still debating whether or not I would want one for my personal library. I think it would depend a bit on how much room I have to work with, and what character I might want to stand guard. I initially thought of the original Daredevil, but V is kind of an intriguing idea as well. Then again, that might be a little too menacing for what I'm looking for. I like the idea of Judge Dredd, but the various pads/armor for that costume tend to be a bit more on pricey side. Definitely not a priority for me right now, though, so I've got time to roll the idea around some more.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Incredible Elastika

So, I'm tooling around online and come across this image...
Evidently, the character's name was The Incredible Elastika and she was used as part of a promotion for Skechers in 2008. The yellow strand things are supposed to be elastic cords that she can mentally control. The tie-in gimmick here was that the sneakers she was being used to promote did not have traditional laces, but elastic ones that never needed to be tied; they would just stretch to fit as you put your foot inside the shoe. The statue was given (sold?) to shoe stores as a means to promote the brand.

But lest you think the company was just borrowing off the superhero trope without really understanding its origins, they produced two Incredible Elastika comic books that were given away with the shoes! (A third issue featuring Z Strap was also produced.)
As near as I can tell, the shoes sold poorly and both the line and the mascot were soon retired.
But doing some internet searches on the character leads one to a short-lived cartoon series from 2010 called Zevo-3. Elastika, with some slight re-tooling, has now been joined by Kewl Breeze and Z-Strap and the fight the evil mutants of Dr. Stankfoot, voiced by fan favorite Mark Hamill. Elastika, meanwhile, was voiced by Kari Wahlgren, who's also lent her talents to Young Justice, Steamboy, Naruto, Ben 10 and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Despite much smoother animation and more coherent -- which is to say "some" -- plots than the commercials, Zevo-3 lasted about as long as the original Skechers promotion and was officially cancelled in early 2011.

The characters were all created by John Massé. Massé has done quite a bit of work for Skechers and produced both the original commercials as well as the Zevo-3 show. I'm presuming Sketchers still owns the characters, however.

What I find interesting is that, even after the failed initial promotion, Skechers felt they still had something worth pursuing in the characters. In fact, I understand that it was the success of the comics themselves (in spite of the shoe sales!) that led to the creation of an entertainment division within Skechers.

What I don't understand, though, is why they didn't continue the comics, which they now had some experience with and had seen some success with, and instead moved over into animation, which is notoriously laborious but with equally slim margins as comics.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Covers History Project

I mentioned last week about my history of comics through covers project. This is basically just something for myself to decorate my comic library (once I get around to building it). My thought is to present a series of covers in chronological order that essentially tells the history of comics through it's big milestones. Then have prints of all those covers made and assemble them as a wall border around the top of my library.

Anyway, I thought I'd share an initial draft. I've broken it into two strips so they don't show up TOO small on the screen...

Obviously, one could debate the merits of of including some of these. Archie Andrews first appeared in Pep Comics for example, but that cover featured The Shield and would've been really close in proximity to Captain America. So I fudged a bit by using Archie #1. I would have preferred to use Wonder Comics #1 instead of Flash Comics to represent the first big comics lawsuit, but I couldn't find a decently high enough resolution cover scan. Did I need to include Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal? There's a lot of that type of thing that could be up for debate.

But, hey, I said it was a project just for me, so it's obviously biased towards my knowledge base. Interestingly, I managed to get four covers EACH for Jack Kirby (Captain America Comics, Young Romance, Fantastic Four and New Gods) and Will Eisner (Western Picture Stories, Spirit, Preventative Maintenance Monthly and Contract with God). Superman and Batman both show up twice as well.

Turns out that this is a lot longer than I anticipated, and will therefore be more expensive to produce. I was originally shooting for each cover being about six inches high, but I'm debating about scaling that back a bit to make it more affordable.

In any event, I've got my baseline put together, I think, so I can noodle my options while I actually get a room to put a library in!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Always Be Wonder Woman

You've seen this image floating around the net, haven't you...?
It works almost exclusively with Batman over any other character. Batman, since Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams and Jim Aparo got a hold of him in the 1970s, is pretty much the definitive badass. Period. Not just because he could kick pretty much anyone's butt, but that he did that all by himself. Superman has powers because he's an alien, Spider-Man got bitten by radioactive spider, etc. Even Captain America is super-powered thanks to the Super Soldier Serum. Batman just goes out and does his thing with just his own resources as a normal human. There's other "normal" powered heroes out there like James Bond, but he's got the backing of the British government. Batman wins because he's the epitome of human success; he built his wealth, he built his arsenal, he built himself. That's one of the reasons he's one of the most well-known fictional characters on the planet. Theoretically, if someone really, really, really worked at it for their entire life, anyone could be Batman.

Not that anyone has been realistically been able to do that yet. The combination of athleticism, intelligence and financial acumen needed to get to that point almost precludes doing anything else, including sleep. But it's still theoretically within the realm of human achievement.

But the idea of "always be Batman" is appealing in an idealistic way. Always be heroic and powerful and smart and just. In that sense, you could substitute in just about any hero of your choosing.

And that's precisely what Amy Cuddy did in her TEDTalk about body language. Cuddy is a social psychologist who's research has suggested that your broader body language, like posture, impacts both how others perceive you and how your body acts at a chemical level. That by assuming "power poses" it affects your levels of testosterone and cortisol. In her TEDTalk, she shares both her research and some personal anecdotes about how it works. And, more relevant here, she sums up by suggesting people take some time out to pose like a superhero with your legs spread and your arms akimbo. The final slide of her presentation is Wonder Woman.

This is science, people. The most important thing in life is to be yourself. Unless you can be Wonder Woman. Always be Wonder Woman.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Writing Character Motivation & Psychology

A lot of my reading filters back into comics in some fashion. Art, technology, history, whatever... it's frequently in service to getting a better understanding of comics. One book I'm currently reading for exactly that purpose is Alexandra Sokoloff's Screenwriting Tricks For Authors (and Screenwriters!). It's largely about the mechanics of writing and, while it's heavily geared towards movies, much of it is applicable to comics as well. (Not that I'm planning on writing a comic myself, mind you! This is so I have a better understanding of what writers are doing -- or trying to do -- in their comics.)

In any event, here's a passage I came across today, talking about how frequently a protagonist's main challenge in any given story is an echo of his/her own past...
This recreation and reliving of a past trauma is a staple of drama for a reason: a lot of psychologists would say that that's the human condition, the "repetition compulsion", Freud called it: we all unconsciously seek out people, events and situations that duplicate our core trauma(s), in the hope of eventually triumphing over the situation that so wounded us.
This is Batman seeking vengeance against the criminal who shot his parents, and Spider-Man stopping the burglar that eventually killed his Uncle Ben. You're probably familiar with the idea at some level, even if you've never had spelled out quite like that before.

One of the things Sokoloff returns to repeatedly in the book is making lists. Your top ten favorite movies, your top ten favorite heroes, your top ten favorite story endings, etc. His thinking, which he states quite plainly, is that you respond to a particular aspect of storytelling as an individual, and that will likely show up in your favorites. What type of stories do you prefer, what type of heroes are you attracted to. In making those lists, it becomes more evident where your preferences lie and you can study those particulars to make better use of them in your own writing since you clearly gravitate towards them anyway.

Here's a thought, then, that I haven't seen in the book yet. (Though I'm only on chapter eight; Sokoloff might touch on this later.) He asks you to make those lists as a reader/viewer. He doesn't ask what movie has the best cinematography or is the most tightly plotted, he asks what's your favorite. Though his thinking is get you to see patterns in your own reading/viewing preferences in order to better understand your own writing. But even though that quoted passage above was written to apply to your characters, it's based off very real psychiatry, so couldn't it apply to you as well?

What comic books are your favorites? Make a list of your personal top ten of all time. Are you seeing any patterns there? In theme? In character?

Now suppose you were writing a story with utilizing some of the same elements you saw patterned out in your lists. Suppose the plot of the story is something you're exceedingly familiar with: your own life right up to this very second. The only real difference is that, instead of you, your protagonist is a combination of your favorite heroes. Not any one of them in particular, but there's probably going to be some commonalities among many of them; make your character basically an amalgam of your top ten favorites. With that plot and that character, what would they do to get to the 'happily ever after' at the end of the story?

Now, why aren't you doing that?

I was reading Sokoloff's book to better understand and analyze the fiction I read, but it surprisingly turned out to have a self-help book embedded inside it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Creation VS Consumption

One of the things about selling a house is that you want it to look as good as possible. So you go through and fix all the little paint scrapes and dings in the walls and all that, and your real estate agent comes in and takes pictures, and everything looks as good as it can.

But then people come to visit your house in person. And it has too look AT LEAST as good as the pictures. Which means that you have to keep it as clean and tidy as it looks in the pictures... while you're still living in it. So that means I'm on pretty much constant cleaning vigilance, and trying not to do anything that might make a mess. But to cover my butt, and because I have a dog that leaves hair everywhere, I've got a cleaning service to come in once a week and scrub the place down top to bottom while I try to get my house sold. And since they come in the morning, that means I can take advantage of that the night before by doing whatever needs doing that might make a bit of a mess.

So I was driving home and realized that I could make pizza for dinner. I make my own dough and the whole works, so it can get a little messy. But it takes about an hour and half between when I throw all the ingredients in the bread maker and when it's ready to be used. With nothing else going on for the evening, I thought I could make a quick run to the bookstore and pick something up to read while I was waiting.

BUT! It occurred to me that there was a new granola recipe I wanted to try. It's a little messy as well, so it would be an ideal time for it. Except that's really only maybe 15 minutes of mixing ingredients and then leaving it in the oven for an hour, so the idea of hitting the bookstore was still on the table.

BUT! It occurred to me that I could work on my next (as yet unannounced) book project! It's not NEARLY as long and complicated as my Blackstone book, so I think I can churn it out pretty quickly. I'd gotten all the art clean-up completed already, so it just needed to be laid out.

So I opted against the bookstore. I chose to be a creator instead of a consumer. My pizza slipped as I was putting it in the oven, so it got a bit lopsided and I didn't get all of the page layout work done that I wanted, but I still wound up spending the evening making things. It ended up being quite enjoyable, for a longer period of time, at considerably less cost.

As much as I love reading great, well-crafted comics, some days you just have to forgo them to make sure you exercise your own creativity!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Haunt of Links

  • As the totally-out-of-left-field find of the week, the BBC ran this video report on chess boxing, a sport conceived of by French comic artist Enki Bilal and used in his famous Nikopol Trilogy. He does get a nominal mention in the video.
  • Gemstone Publishing digs out an interview with Bob Overstreet about the origins of the seminal price guide for comics.
  • Tom Mason digs out some comic circulation numbers from 1965. Worth pointing out is that the WORST selling titles of the bunch come in the 120,000 neighborhood.
  • There's an interesting local story about last weekend's New York Comic Con. What makes it different than most is an almost exclusive focus on digital comics, and was published specifically in their tech section.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kids VS Comics' Direct Market

I caught a couple of Tweets today that got me thinking. First, this one from Ron Perazza...
So the mysterious secret of getting kids into comics? Make good comics - stuff kids are interested in - and put them where kids buy books.
Seems fairly obvious, right? But that was only part of the conversation which included some thoughts about how the folks working comics' direct market seem to completely miss what other companies are doing well.

Here's an unrelated Tweet, then, from Faith Erin Hicks...
Whenever people start wondering "But HOW do we get kids into comics?" I'm like HEY don't u see @goraina over there selling a billion comics?
That's "@goraina" as in Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile and Drama. And Hicks is right; Telgemeier's books just go flying off bookstore and library shelves. And have you seen the pictures she's been posting on her blog from talks and signings she's been doing lately while promoting Drama? Huge crowds, and very devoted, adoring fans... and most of them are younger than 14.

Scholastic has been doing a FANTASTIC job publishing really great comics. Besides, Telgemeier's work, they've got Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series, Frank Cammuso's Knights of the Lunch Table books... they published Jeff Smith's Bone for crying out loud! And it's not just Scholastic. Random House has been very successful with Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm's Baby Mouse and Amulet Books is making a killing from Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Kids are reading comics, just not the ones that are being sold through the direct market.

Perazza has a great point, though, that a lot of the reason for that is getting comics to where the kids are. Scholastic, of course, has been in the kids' book market for decades so they've got that down. For them, I don't think doing comics (which, as I recall, primarily started with Bone) was much of a change, really. They use much the same marketing and distribution, it's just that the contents of the books have more than one picture at the start of each chapter. The stories are just as relevant and engaging, and that's what Scholastic is selling.

So it's not a matter of comics writ large having to crack the kids' market. It's been cracked and there's lots in there for kids already. It's that the publishers who have spent decades insulating themselves with the direct market system are unwilling/unable to take notes anything outside that same DM system. I read a quote from, I think, Alan Moore recently where he was complaining that American comics looked like copies of copies of copies of copies of stuff that Stan Lee had written in the early 1960s. It's a valid complaint in many respects, but what's also interesting is that the publishers have treated the business as a whole in exactly the same way. The marketing and distribution of "mainstream" comics are copies of copies of copies of copies of copies of ideas that have been in use for decades. Or have you all forgotten the variant covers of Spider-Man #1 or X-Men #1 from over twenty years ago?

You ever hear those stories of the comics publishers in the 1940s and '50s claiming that their readership was three or four times higher than the number of comics they actually published? Their thinking was that each issue that was sold was loaned/traded/re-sold several times. That's one reason (among many, to be fair) why so many older comics, which were printed in the hundreds of thousands, are rare today: kids kept passing them around to the point where the comics literally fell apart. With that in mind, let me leave you with this image swiped from Telegmeier's blog and ask when the last time you saw a copy of Action Comics published in the last 40 years that looked like this...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Curious Revelation

One of my personal projects that I'm working on is a history of comic books, as depicted exclusively through comic book covers. It wouldn't be every cover, of course, or even one cover from every title, but just the 50 or 100 covers that tell the story of comic books. So New Fun #1, Action Comics #1, Crime Does Not Pay #22, etc. I'm debating on more of a poster/mural thing or a wall border.

Regardless, I've collected scans of a little over 50 books so far, ranging in genre, style, country of origin, reason for importance... But two issues stand out for me because it's hard to believe they hold a place of significance in comic book history.
Dazzler #1 -- an adequate but completely forgettable comic by story and art standards -- is the first comic to be offered exclusively to the direct market, and Youngblood #1 -- a train wreck of story and art -- is the first Image comic, which helped shift how the comic market worked and responded to creator rights. I wouldn't expect every comic in my piece to be a stellar example of the medium, but yeesh!

Fortunately, my finished piece will have quite a number of good comics to counter-balance the overall tone. I'll post everything once I have all the cover scans cleaned up.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Books-A-Million Surprise

I'm not a big fan of the Books-A-Million chain. The ones I've been in (admittedly, only two) have been resoundingly disorganized. Things have always frequently mis-shelved and prove difficult to find there, and even what organization there is seems somewhat haphazard. But I still stop in to one of the stores periodically because it's only three miles up the road and near a lot of other stores that I use for errands.

On a whim, I opted to check the bargain books they had racked out front and was surprised to come across this...
I've read some Amelia Rules! before, but it's not a favorite of mine. Not that it's done poorly, it just didn't resonate with me. Which is fine because I'm fairly certain I'm not the target audience here. But, for three bucks? Well, it's a hard deal to pass up. Worst case scenario: I pass it along to my niece as a Christmas gift.

Now, for some reason I can't fathom, I opted to open the book one page at a time. Typically, if I want to scan through it, I'll just thumb through the pages back to front. But today, I don't know why, I started by actually opening the cover. Only to find...
That would be author Jim Gownley's autograph.

I've heard of some authors who surreptitiously sign their books while browsing bookstores, but I believe Gownley lives in California so that strikes me as unlikely here. My guess is that Gownley had autographed a number of books an early signing (this one was printed in 2010) and those got distributed to many Books-A-Million locations across the country. And, given the disarray their systems generally seem to be in, it wouldn't surprise me if the signature has gone unnoticed/unreported for the past two years. At best, the store might have known they had a copy of this book, but not of any additional value or significance. Most other bookstores I know make a point of calling attention to signed copies with an additional sticker or paper slip on the cover.

But, hey, if I can take advantage of Books-A-Million's lack of organization, I will not hesitate to do so!

(Oh, and of course I checked the other Amelia Rules! volumes. This was the only one that was signed.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Original Eisner For Sale

I see that a page of original Will Eisner art from A Contract with God is going up for auction at the end of this month. I don't know that I've ever seen an original Eisner, so I'm really curious to take a look!
The first thing I noticed was how rough it looked. Eisner's printed work has always struck me as very clean and polished, but looking closely at the original art, you can see there's a lot that got roughed in fairly loosely. There's also a decent amount of white out used -- the woman's face in the second panel looks like it was almost completely covered! It looks like, in most cases, though, Eisner was using the white out as a means to adjust larger areas of spotted blacks, rather than correcting errors. His individual brush lines are very smooth and controlled, so it would seem that his concern was in making sure the blacks didn't weigh too heavily on the art.

Speaking of smooth and controlled brush lines, compare those against his pen marks. Very hastily scratched in place with a very strong sense of urgency. As if they needed to be there, but Eisner really didn't want to be bothered now that he had already laid down all his brush work.

The next thing I caught was actually up in the description: "This moody page from the title story was drawn on vellum and then taped to a sheet of Strathmore paper. It has an image area of 7" x 10", and the art is in Very Good condition."

An image area of 7" x 10". Less than the size of a standard sheet of typing paper. This was in 1978 when comics were generally drawn at around 150% of what they would get printed at, and Eisner is working almost at 100%. The current edition on Amazon right now is, in fact, 7" x 10"! No room to hide your errors there!

As always, I find it fascinating to examine a master cartoonist's work in detail, and there's almost always something to learn from studying their work habits via their finished originals. Bidding for this piece begins at the end of the month and runs through mid-November.

Friday, October 12, 2012

They're Trying To Prove A Point, I Guess

I still read a number of newspaper strips. It's not discussed much in comic fandom because they have a reputation now for being terribly bland and unfunny. Plus, the size of the strips has shrunk so much over the past several decades that most of the classic adventure strips are no longer viable -- there's barely any room these days for anything beyond two talking heads. There are a few, though, that still make me smile from time to time, so I keep them in my feed reader along with the webcomics I follow.

But today, several of the cartoonists seem to be conspiring to prove that they're old, out-of-touch farts who scream at those young kids to stay off their lawns. Setting aside however funny you might think these comics are or aren't, here are some newspaper comics that ran today, showing varying levels of not-quite-with-the-times-edness.

Brevity is probably the most up to date of the ones I saw today, but making jokes about Apple screwing up their mapping functions is old news. The new software debuted a full month ago, and Apple CEO Tim Cook made a formal statement/apology towards the end of last month. Now, to be fair, creators Guy Endore-Kaiser and Rodd Perry aren't terribly far behind the rest of us, but it does seem a bit odd to even try to present your comic as being on top of current technological trends when you know what you're creating isn't going to see print for at least a month.

Moderately Confused is a couple years behind. Jeff Stahler has put in smart phones, but the characters are still calling them smart phones in casual conversation. Instead of, you know, phones. But more tellingly, the joke relies on the assumption that moving a lot of data from one phone to another requires a great deal of effort. But haven't most companies offered free file/data transfers for the past few years? You don't even do it yourself; the Verizon (or whomever) employee does it as part of your the service packages they offer. I think that's pretty standard any more because it's a way to convince you to keep with the same company when your contract is up for renewal.

Frank and Ernest has a similar problem. "You have a photo album on your phone?" is a question that may have gotten asked when cell phones were just coming into wide-spread use, but who doesn't have a photo album on their phone any more? Also, didn't pretty much all phones solve the problem shown below eight or ten years ago by putting locking systems in place so you couldn't accidentally butt-dial someone? Bob Thaves generally is more successful when he sticks with unusual puns.

Pardon My Planet has a simple artistic problem today. Vic Lee has depicted a young, trendy couple watching an old cathode ray tube television set with a separate cable box sitting on top of it. (It has to be a cable box -- VCRs and DVD players are too deep to set on top of a television set.) Seeing a set like that, I would almost expect to see a pair of rabbit ears connected to it.

Speed Bump is the most behind the curve that I've seen today. Custom painted running stallions on the sides of vans was indeed a thing... back in the 1970s. I'd like to ask Dave Coverly when was the last time he actually saw one. Perhaps in the precise setting he's depicting in this comic?

I also considered showcasing the Rubik's Cube reference in Zits, or the lack of basic understanding of Netflix in Non-Sequitur, but you could make an argument for both of those not being cases of behind-the-times. I'm skeptical, but I can see a counter argument's validity there.

I don't expect every comic to be hip and topical, and I don't expect the creators to be expert in the latest in technology. But the issues here have more to do with contemporary culture than with the technology itself. I spoke some time back about how comedy only works if you can provide it in the appropriate context. A joke from 100 years ago might not work today if the audience doesn't know all the components of it -- if it plays off specific individuals who are now long dead or broadly accepted societal norms that have since changed.

I don't know. Maybe these guys are catering to a specific audience and HAVE to use out-of-date cultural references because their audience is just as culturally out-of-date. There's that old saw about how a trend is officially over once a newspaper reports on it; maybe the cultural shifts that the rest of us have seen really are that much slower to reach someone who still reads a newspaper. Of course, even if that is the case, that means these cartoonists are alienating potential new readers who, like me, might read the strips online and find their way-too-late attempts at topicality unfunny. If that's the case, they'll soon find themselves speaking only to an aging audience who won't be replaced once they die off.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nostalgia Is Anathema To Evolution

I stumbled across this PvP strip from back in April...
It was actually the first two panels that struck me. "You're just trapped in nostalgia. Nostalgia is anathema to evolution." I don't know exactly what prompted Scott Kurtz to write that, but he's got a good point that is often ignored in fandom.

I happened to catch something from an older comics fan on Facebook in which he had nothing good to say about Mike Grell's Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. He felt that Grell completely screwed up the character that had such a great history under the likes of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.

What seemed to be lost on him, though -- at least at an emotional level; I'm sure he was intellectually aware of this -- was that the O'Neil/Adams version of Green Arrow was a complete overhaul itself! The angry progressive attitude was completely new to the character in 1969. He had a 28 year history prior to that which bore little resemblance to the goatee-wearing liberal he was known to be throughout the 1970s. What the commenter was, interestingly, reacting to was that Grell's interpretation was different than what he considered the "definitive" version, despite the fact the character had spent more time NOT being that fondly-remembered version. He was letting nostalgia color his view of Grell's work, seemingly oblivious to the inherent idea of Longbow Hunters being a deliberately "mature" re-interpretation in response to The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen from the previous year.

There's no reason to completely neglect the past and/or ignore memories of things you enjoyed. But nostalgia is when you focus on the memories of being happy or doing well; it's not actually being happy right here and right now. If you're that inwardly focused, it's more difficult to see what's coming and, therefore, more difficult to adjust course accordingly.

I ranted a bit the other day about Stephen Pastis' willful ignorance of webcomics, and I'm wondering now if there's some nostalgia factor involved there. He's well-known to have been a huge fan of Peanuts and I can't help but think that maybe he's trying so hard to follow in Sparky's footsteps that he can't see that the path in front of him has changed. He can't evolve because he's too wrapped up in nostalgia.

Like I said earlier, I don't know Pastis. I'm really just spitballing here as far as what his thinking might be. But he doesn't have quite the really long-term career investment in newspaper strips as, say, Mort Walker or Dean Young, so I just don't get why he's so invested against the web... especially since it helped launch his career as a cartoonist!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Links From The Crypt

  • Tom Scioli takes a look at Jack Kirby's first (and only!) drawing of the Supreme Intelligence and thinks everybody since then has gotten it wrong. Specifically, he thinks Kirby viewed the character as a giant slug, not a floating head. He provides sketches.
  • Peter Sanderson is working on a book entitled 1986: The Year That Changed Comics. Portions of it are being serialized over at Sequart right now. Here's the first part of Sanderson's look at The Hunger Dogs.
  • The Slate Book Review announced this week their first annual Cartoonist Studio Prize consisting of two $1,000 prizes: "one for the best graphic novel of the year, and one for the best Web comic of the year." The initial prize will be awarded in March. More money for doing comics work; that is awesome.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Gotta Be Inspired

Gotta go.
Gotta run.
Gotta read.
Gotta write.
Gotta strive.
Gotta create.
Gotta own up.
Gotta keep up.
Gotta do more.
Gotta go faster.
Gotta live fuller.
Gotta be mighty.
Gotta get better.
Gotta go farther.
Gotta try harder.
Gotta keep going.
Gotta learn more.
Gotta not give up.
Gotta get stronger.
Gotta climb higher.
Gotta stay positive.
Gotta keep moving.
Gotta be an example.
Gotta stay out of debt.
Gotta live on my terms.
Gotta believe in myself.
Gotta do the impossible.
Gotta take responsibility.
Gotta have my own ideas.
Gotta stop hearing "can't."
Gotta exceed my expectations.

The Thing was always near the top of my favorite heroes list because of scenes like this. He just did not give up. Despite being one of the most powerful guys on the planet, he would push himself past his limits. I've always appreciated that, but it's only been in the last few years that I've really taken that idea to heart. A lot of it had to do with my wife of ten years leaving me for still-no-adequately-explained reason. But finding a woman who loves me even more and getting struck by lightning helped more than a little, too. I was able to use all those things as an impetus to push myself to write my first book. I was able to use that achievement to push myself to run a marathon.

And even though the goals were all very different, as were the rationales for attempting to achieve them, the notion of really pushing my limits has provided a lot of satisfaction for me the past few years. And, as happy as I am with myself now, I do kind of wish I had started that journey a decade or two earlier.

I've been trying not to get overly philosophical (i.e. preachy) on my blog here lately, but use whatever successes you've got to go out and really push yourself beyond what you think your limits are. I gotta tell you: pushing myself beyond my comfort zone regularly really makes feel like a superhero, and it is a fantastic feeling!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Is It Really THAT Hard To Wrap One's Brain Around Webcomics?

I just read this piece about Pearls Before Swine author Stephan Pastis. In it, he's quoted as saying...
Now, to make it, you have to go that web route. Many of those guys, from Penny Arcade to Cyanide and Happiness to The Perry Bible Fellowship — which are all excellent — claim to make a living, but how do you know? I can tell you that even if someone does a strip and it’s fairly popular online, the money is not online. I question a lot of claims about the money being made, and the question remains that if things continue to go that route for newspapers, and you have to make money online, how do you do it?
Pastis has never struck me as a stupid man. Granted, I've never met him in person, but from the interviews I've read, he seems reasonably well-spoken and thoughtful, and he seemed to make a pretty good living as a lawyer before taking up cartooning. So why is it so hard for a newspaper cartoonist like himself to wrap his head around the idea that webcomickers can earn a living?

I mean, he's got to know it's a different business model, right? Even if he doesn't know what that model is or how to exploit it, he has to know that, because they don't have a syndicate paying them, they have to get their money from somewhere else. Why is it so hard to believe that doing something BESIDES syndication might work?

Look at television. (Conceptually. I wouldn't recommend actually watching it.) There are, and have been for several decades now, three basic business models at work. 1) Give the programming away for free and have advertisers pay to include their commercials amid the free programming. This is what the main networks do. 2) Give the programming away for free and periodically ask viewers for donations. This is what PBS does. (Despite what some politicians might tell you, government funding only accounts for 12% of PBS' annual budget.) 3) Charge for programming. This is the model cable and satellite services use.

Three very different approaches to making money, even though the basic audience experience -- sitting on the couch and turning the TV on -- remains the same.

Newspaper strip cartoonists get paid by their syndicate. Everyone is very secretive about precisely how much, but it's basically on a per paper basis. For every newspaper that picks up your comic strip, you get an additional amount of money. It's often a little more for larger newspapers and a little less for smaller newspapers. But it boils down to the syndicate paying the cartoonist based on how many people have access to your strip. (Not how many people read it! There's no way to judge how many people who pick up the paper actually read any given strip, nor is there any way to tell how many people pick up and read the strips without buying a paper.)

Webcomickers generally don't get money based on access or readership. In fact, how much they earn (Note: earn. As in, they do all their own work, not get paid for doing something for somebody else!) is largely dependent on what they do ABOVE AND BEYOND their comic strip! The strips themselves are a loss leader to get people to buy books and t-shirts and mousepads and refrigerator magnets and whatever else. They also get money through advertising. Sometimes freelance commissions. Sometimes donations.

None of this is news. This has been known and touted by many webcartoonists FOR THE PAST DECADE! This is not some arcane secret! This is not something so utterly bleeding edge that no one knows what they're doing! This is how things work! Not only is not hard to grasp the concept; there are plenty of cartoonists out there who expressly and openly talked about HOW they make money! What's more -- many of them EVEN PUT THEIR FINANCIAL INFORMATION ONLINE!

Side anecdote: Ryan Estrada just had his fiance uncomfortably ask him about his finances. He told her to Google it, and the first thing that came up was my column on MTV's website where I posted everything. (With his permission.) THAT is precisely how easy it is to find this information!

Seriously, why is it THAT difficult to understand? Why are newspaper strip cartoonists being that willfully ignorant/obstinate about this? Shouldn't they be investigating it MORE, knowing that newspapers are dying off and, hey, maybe their income stream might dry up in the next decade? Maybe not entirely, but enough that they'll need to look at other sources of income. All we're talking about is a simple Google search! Can't you guys even do that?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Building Stories Review

Building Stories is Chris Ware's new... book? What are we calling this thing anyway? It actually includes several books, but also some pamphlets, posters, strips, etc. It's certainly more than a book, and more than a single story; it sort of defies classification by virtue of its uniqueness. All of the individual parts work to form a collective whole, but they all stand on their own, within whatever specific format Ware chose for each portion.

Anyway, the title is very deliberate in that it refers to both the content AND the context here. All of the stories told in this collection revolve are a handful of protagonists that have/had some involvement with a very specific building. The various tenants, the landlady, a bee who's inadvertently trapped in the basement, and even the building itself take center stage at various points. But all of the individual stories are crafted in such a way that the reader can piece together these full life stories from the smaller, obliquely connected vignettes. A innocuous-seeming line of dialogue in one book make be the launching point for a deeply involved story in another. A few scenes are repeated from different people's perspectives. Stories from the past, present and future are all presented in a non-linear format, and Ware trusts the reader to make the connections necessary to build the broader tapestry of these characters' lives.

For what Ware is trying to do here, it's almost impossible not to take that approach. Since the stories he's trying to tell overlap and flow in and out of one another, a simple linear narrative for everything simply would not work. But by packaging all of these stories of varying lengths and depth into one box, he can craft a broader tale that makes sense, even if you can't experience it all at once.

Ware's sense of craft here is readily on display. Both at the macro- and micro-levels. The broader tale, as I've suggested, is complex but still readily digestible, and the individual page and panel layouts show a mastery of comics storytelling. The only complaint I might lodge in that respect is that the text seemed a tad too small for comfortable reading. This wasn't a problem, naturally, with his silent and near-silent passages, but some of the extended monologues put a bit of a strain on my eyes. (Gene Kannenberg joked last night on Twitter that he needed a loupe to read everything!)

Now, with all that said, I found Building Stories to be absolutely miserable. The craft was superb, as I mentioned, but the stories themselves -- every one them -- was filled with depression, misery, sorrow, anger and/or ennui. There was pervading sense that everyone's life was completely and totally unfulfilling, and we're all just going to die anyway. There was one, single instance where someone said they were happy in the 260 pages (the page count is listed on the box that way, but I have NO clue how they actually defined "pages" here) and on the VERY NEXT PAGE, the character's cat died. On her way to a memorial service for another friend who committed suicide two weeks earlier!

It just did not let up. The first bit I read showcased the idea that life with a small child sucked because you couldn't do all the things you wanted to do because you were taking care of the child. But then every other story was seemed to follow the whole "life is miserable" and "I'm not doing anything I enjoy" themes regardless of who the main character was or at what point in their life they were. From the more pedestrian ("I'm too fat to be loved") to the more esoteric ("I'm a male bee with female body characteristics that make me question my gender identity even though I have plenty of dreams reinforcing my heterosexual nature.") every story is about how tediously miserable life is.

You know, I had to read various books by the likes of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen in high school and college. And I didn't really care for them because most everybody was unhappy. I mean, it's called Bleak House for a reason, you know? But there were always some underlying hopes and dreams of a brighter future. A lot of the characters most decidedly did not live happily ever after, but there were always attempts at resolving whatever issues the characters faced. I didn't get that in Building Stories at all. Everybody seems pretty resigned to living crappy, meaningless lives and sure, it's sucks, but what are you going to do? Dreams are always talked about in the past tense ("Well, I used to want to be an artist...") and no one is motivated by much of anything.

The formal elements of Building Stories are fantastic and, not having much of Ware's work, I'm glad to have a good sized collection of it all in one place. As I said, he's able to play with both the smaller storytelling techniques as well as the broader form of the comics in a way that is very impressive on many levels. Worth reading through all of it to see what he does there. But I have trouble recommending the actual content. I wanted to read it all in one go, so I could make all the connections while they were still fresh in my mind, but I had to read it over multiple sittings just because it was so pervasively depressing. A great exercise in what can be done with comics, a not-so-great exercise in being entertained.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Spider-Man Game Ads

As a comic-reading, video-game-playing kid in the early 1980s, the prospect of a Spider-Man game that I could play in my very own living room was beyond exciting. Even though I wasn't a huge Spider-Man fan, he was a superhero and he had his own cartoon show that I watched every Saturday morning. So when the ads about this new game started appearing, I was eager (to put it mildly) to get a copy.

Here's what a 10-year-old Sean responded to back then...
And this sequence...
And then there was this TV spot...
The game ultimately turned out to be one of the dullest, most repetitive video games ever. Seriously, the only appreciable difference between levels was that they changed the color of the building! Given how bland the actual game was, the ad agencies who worked on these must have REALLY had their work cut out for them!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Science Fiction Land: The Documentary

I've backed over a dozen successful Kickstarter projects so far. More than half haven't delivered on everything they've promised yet. I don't mean that as a complaint; several are recent enough that I don't expect anything from them yet. And the others have done an okay job relaying progress and update messages. Not always great, but enough that I don't feel like anybody's totally shafted me yet.

That said, I decided that after that last two I helped fund at the beginning of September, I wouldn't help any more until that scale tipped further into the campaigns-that-have-completed-their-obligations-to-me-as-a-backer range. Nothing against any individual Kickstarter, mind you, I just don't want to have contributions out to more campaigns than I can keep track of. "Hey, did I ever get that book from...?"

Then, tonight, I see this...
There's a lot of interest in the whole Lords of Light/Argo/Science Fiction Land thing right now because of the Ben Affleck movie that's coming out. And it really is an absolutely fascinating story, one that I heard about several years ago in my ongoing research about Jack Kirby.

As I was noting just the other day, I'm a big fan of Kirby's work. I had my first piece run in The Jack Kirby Collector nine years ago, and I've been regular contributor for the past eight. I'm a member of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center. I just changed my avatar header to resemble a Kirby drawing.

So I'm all for more research in Kirby's work. Especially the less well-traveled corners of it. I love his old Marvel stuff, and the Fourth World continues to impress me, but I really get jazzed in seeing totally new (to me) works that he did at the very beginning and ending of his very long and industrious career.

So it looks like I'm going to have to back one more Kickstarter, tipping that scale further out of balance.

Damn it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Link Keeper

  • The International French-Language Comics Conference will be held on November 2-3 this year at Miami University in Oxford, OH. The keynote speakers are Clément Baloup, Zeina Abirached and Thierry Smolderen. Not sure if I'll be able to go, but it's (for now) really local so I'll make an effort to fit it into my schedule.
  • Little Heart is a comic anthology created to support marriage equality. It was created via a Kickstarter I supported, and they're continuing to try to raise awareness of the subject for the election next month. They have a Tumblr started now, and you should check it out.
  • Neil Cohn takes issue with a 1981 study that claimed people need at least 130 milliseconds to comprehend a typical comic panel. His own research points to more like 250 milliseconds at the bare minimum, but it could easily be north of 700. I know there aren't many people interested in hard scientific research along these lines, but I think it's fascinating that it's being conducted at all, much less that enough people are doing it to warrant a disagreement like this.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

On Kirbyfication

As you may have noticed, if you're actually visiting my site and not just reading this through a feed reader or whatever, there's a new header graphic up top. I got it into my head sometime last week that I should have a photo of myself with a bit of a Kirby hands thing going on.

I pulled together a few Jack Kirby drawings and composited them together in Photoshop to get a pose I liked, then shot it off to a photographer friend of mine to see how do-able it might be to take a picture like that. He said that it'd be about impossible without doing a lot of heavy re-touching after the fact.

I liked the pose, though, and figured, "You know, I could just re-draw this on the computer and drop my own head in place." And, not quite a week later, I came up with this...
(Larger version if you click on that image, and want to see some of the details.)

I heard a Neal Adams interview a while back where he was talking about Kirby's work. He said that many of the lines don't make sense anatomically speaking. Kirby would draw lines representing muscle and sinew where there weren't any on the human body, but it somehow still worked.

I've long known that at some level, but actually tracing over Kirby's linework really hammered that point home for me. Beyond those weird random squiggles on the legs or whatever, there were all sorts of lines and shadows that make no sense whatsoever. That whole right arm in the image above is a mess! That's not me; it's a direct tracing of Kirby. But, somehow, the image when taken as a whole, works.

Here's some work-in-progress images to show just how well it doesn't work until you get all the pieces together...
All of which is a long way of saying the Kirby was an amazing talent! I've long had a great deal of respect for him, but every time I do anything resembling more research into his work, I come away that much more impressed!

Monday, October 01, 2012

What Should My Library Look Like Anyway?

One of the exciting prospects involved in moving and getting new digs is the notion of starting fresh. A way to force yourself to break out of old habits and old thinking. That was the great thing about going off to college -- it opened up a lot of possibilities, not only in terms of a formal education but just by forcing you to perceive the world differently by virtue of the fact that you're seeing it from a different vantage.

Anyway, just the idea of getting a new house has really sparked some thinking for me lately. I've mentioned some thoughts about setting up my library, but I been doing some more thinking on the subject. One of the things that helped was actually setting something up digitally. I had already mostly decided on the type and amount of shelving I would need to get, and was playing around with Ikea's old planning software. I placed the furniture in a kind of generic room (obviously, I don't have any real dimensions yet, much less window and door placements) and then threw a snapshot of that into Photoshop to get a better sense of what things might actually look like. Here's what I threw together...
Nearly everything there is actually stuff I already own. In fact, the comic covers and book images are from photos of my old library. The only pieces shown above that I don't already have are the Asterix wall decal and the Strange Tales print.

This exercise has proved very useful in a couple respects. First, it shows that the basic structure/layout that I was shooting for generally works as I was hoping, by providing lots of storage space for my materials (comics, graphic novels, reference books, etc.) with a handy work area for actually doing whatever writing I'm trying to do. Plus, I'll have ample flat surfaces in which to store either items that don't fit on the shelves (oversized books, for example) or related items that I just want to display (like the handful of nerd hummels I have there). It also shows that I'll need an additional small work surface for my microfiche reader, but that can easily fit to the right of the chair.

The second noteworthy thing that this highlights is what the overall impression of the room is. One thing that I would very much like to avoid is having the room look like a shrine to superheroes. While I've certainly spent more time reading superhero comics than anything else, I want to ensure that a wider variety of formats and genres are represented. What we're looking at here, I think, is still pretty heavily weighted towards superfolks. I've got a statuette from One Piece, another from Fairy Quest (Although, technically, I don't have it my possession yet, Paul... just sayin'!), the Asterix decal and one piece of original comic strip art. Technically, the Jack Kirby piece is more of a science fictiony thing, too, but it's hard to escape Jack's connection with the superhero genre. The one newspaper strip reference I have is still tied to the Batman daily strip. I have some different original art I could put up in place of that Thing on the back wall, but few that work as display pieces. I could maybe put up one of my High Moon pieces, but those are horizontal, and I might not have enough space there for them.

As I noted in that previous post, I might try to procure a Winsor McCay print. And I've got a Hobbes plush animal being shipped. Those will help in the newspaper strip department. I don't have thoughts on much else, though. Most of the manga I read doesn't have much in the way of commercial products attached to them, at least nothing more than the occasional poster. Ditto with most European comics. I was hoping to see more materials around the new Judge Dredd movie, but I'm not seeing much there beyond a new statuette.

As I said, I spent many years reading superheroes, so it should come as little surprise that I have more stuff from that genre. And when I started really getting into materials outside that niche, I had largely stopped getting representations of those new pieces in favor of putting my money towards the new stories themselves. But taking a few moments to reflect on that (as I've been doing the past couple weeks) I think not doing that has skewed what my library will look like, and if I want it to reflect what I'm reading now, I might need to make a few additional decoration purchases than just some nice furniture.