Monday, December 31, 2012

And So Ends My Best Year Ever

I'm generally not a big fan of reminiscing, but 2012 was an absolutely incredible year for me. I wanted to take just a moment to reflect on some of the highlights.
  • The first win of the year came through my day job. We had a major project launch that, through no fault of anyone on my team, got repeatedly delayed. So much so that it it ran up against my boss' planned-in-advance-but-with-a-huge-safety-margin vacation. So I was able to step up and assume her role for this major launch (which, from our end, went off without a hitch) and generated a bit of nice corporate PR for myself. I'm certainly not one of those climb-the-corporate-zigguart guys, but it's still cool to prove to a bunch of co-workers that you can still be successful outside your typical comfort zone.
  • Speaking of stepping outside my typical comfort zone, I ran my first marathon in May. My first race of any kind, really. It's made all the more powerful by the fact that I was never particularly athletic growing up, favoring more intellectual pursuits. It really feels like I accomplished something that should have been impossible for me, and I can't tell you just how powerful that makes me feel. "I have done the impossible, and that makes me mighty."
  • Although I hadn't really planned on doing so, I followed that race with a 5K on Thanksgiving. Without really attempting to do so, I managed fourth place among my age group.
  • I appeared in The Avengers. Granted, it's for less than a full second and you can only see my back, but it's still pretty cool to have been a part of that. I was kneeling six or seven feet away from Tom Hiddleston and got to see him act from a closer vantage point than most anyone else ever. I have no intention of becoming a regular movie extra, but it was a great experience, especially in lieu of the movie being so well-done and well-received.
  • I'm making a variety of cameos in comics as well. David Gallaher has a character named after me in The Only Living Boy, I'm getting named checked by Erik Evensen in The Beast of Wolfe's Bay, and Humberto Ramos is drawing me into the second volume of Fairy Quest. Kind of silly since it really hasn't required any real effort on my part, but still fun. Although, I now have some really bizarre continuity to sort out.
  • This is also the year that I got my finances straightened out. My divorce from a few years ago left me saddled with a good chunk of debt, and I managed to pay that off this year. Despite having the unexpected expense of having to get a new car in 2009 when my old one got struck by lightning. I also managed to pay off that car this year, too, leaving my only debt of any sort being my mortgage. I'm sure I don't have to tell many of you what a HUGE burden that is off my shoulders now!
  • I had several of my essays published in Bart Beaty's Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independents & Underground Classics. Definitely a nice, little professional cred and some personal satisfaction in that one of the graphic novels I wrote an essay on is featured on the front cover.
  • You know that really cool Mars rover called Curiosity? It landed on the red planet to much fanfare back in August. My name's embedded on one it's microchips. There's a record of me on another planet! That's just cool!
  • Also falling in the "that's just cool" category: my column for MTV is still going strong. I mean, really? MTV? How much time did I spend watching MTV in my youth? It's totally not the same company that it was when I was a kid, but A) it still holds some measure of arbiter of cool clout, and B) I actually am more impressed by the breadth of coverage they have now.
  • And of course, the really big deal for me this year has been putting my house in Ohio up for sale and prepping to move to the Chicago area to be with my lady; we're finally starting our life together. That it puts me in that much more of a central location for the comics business is just icing on the cake! (Oh, hey, I just realized I might be able to attend CAKE next year!)
Like I said, a lot of this stuff was of little consequence and/or really had nothing to do with me directly. But on top of some of the big personal wins, it's made for a fantastic year! And, as I'm always shooting for an upward trajectory, I'm eager to see what I can get done in 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New POD Life For Out-Of-Print Comics?

Some of the earliest pieces of original comic art I obtained were several pages from a book called Prophet of Dreams, written by Julian Lawler with art by Rudy Vasquez, published by Broken Tree. I wasn't familiar with the book or its creators before, but the art was part of a prize package from a contest I won. I spent some time tracking down the issues and figuring out which pages I had. Some great work, but apparently only the first two issues were published, and some of the art I had was for #3 and/or #4.

Two of the other pieces that came were some covers from issues that didn't seem to be published anywhere. Still nice pieces, but I like to see how original art translates into a final, published product. Part of my art background, I suppose.

I finally managed to track down Lawler on Facebook and chatted with him a bit about the old books. He didn't go into the details about how/why they weren't all published, but he did point me to this page on IndyPlanet. As of this writing, he's only got a book called Trouble Point listed, but he says he's working on getting the entire Broken Tree library into their system to make all of those books available again. Or for the first time, depending.

Now, I've seen a few people who've taken old print comics and re-publish them as webcomics, hoping to sell off whatever remaining stock they had of the printed books, or help to generate interest in some of their current projects. I think these are the first instances I've seen of taking an out-of-print book to a print-on-demand format. Which actually seems to make a bit more sense, in terms of storytelling.

The rhythm of a page-at-a-time story for a webcomic is somewhat different that the rhythm of a story that unfolds over the course of a single 20-30 page pamphlet comic. Plus, the art that was produced for a pamphlet book in, say, 2001 (when Lawler's books were made) is already formatted more-or-less in exactly the way that's needed for a POD service, compared to a webcomic format which would need to be downscaled and possibly color-adjusted.

That's not to suggest that loading an entire backlog of story archives is an easy task, certainly, but it seems more viable for creators who have older work that they would still like to sell, but no longer have their original print runs. Whether or not IndyPlanet is the best option, I don't know, but they're one source among several POD providers who print comics. It seems like a reasonable way for independent creators to make use of their backlist without having to drop large production fees on work that may have largely (but not quite entirely) hit its target market. Use the POD option to take advantage of the long-tail of sales.

I don't know why it's not an angle I haven't thought of before or, more poignantly, why I haven't seen anyone else try it before now.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The More You Know...

I took my first real foray into manga in 2007. Before that, I'd read the First Comics highly Americanized versions of Lone Wolf and Cub and seen a handful of (again, largely Americanized) anime movies and shows, but that was pretty much it. Several years on now and I still know far, far less about manga than I'd like. More than I did back in 2007, certainly, but I still have a lot to learn.

I've also been trying to get more knowledgeable about European comics. I'd read a number of them as a teenager, but generally without the knowledge that they were in fact created on the other side of an ocean. Still lots to learn.

Same with Canadian comics. And Australian ones. And Indian ones. And...

One of the reasons I first looked at those Lone Wolf issues back in the day was because the covers were by Frank Miller. (Bear in mind that this was 1987, shortly after his Dark Knight Returns blew everyone's socks off.) I recall reading somewhere that Miller was happy to do the covers because he had seen some of those stories before and they were very influential on his Daredevil run.

And I think that's an interesting notion. That Miller's work on Daredevil and Dark Knight looked revolutionary to American audiences because it had a Japanese influence that most people in the States hadn't seen in any capacity. When you distill that idea down even further, that's basically what creativity is: putting together two or more ideas that no one has before. Miller took elements of Japanese manga and merged them into an American superhero story.

I don't say that to diminish Miller's achievements on those works. He understood the power of Goseki Kojima's art style/storytelling, and figured out how to adapt some of those elements to what was essentially the Jack Kirby method of storytelling. Not an easy task, certainly a creative one, and Miller was able to execute on that very well.

And that's why I try to see what's going on (and has gone on) in comics beyond those created in the U.S. You never know when/where something really cool and useful will come up, or in what capacity. Different cultures approach problems (like storytelling) in different ways, and they could well have ideas and methods unique to their culture. And those might be perfectly valid and usable in my own work. Even though I don't actually write comics themselves.

The more you know, the more you're able to make those connections no one else is making.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Library/Studio

I mentioned Bakuman last week how the character Mashiro from Bakuman spends a lot of time at his studio. Let's take a quick look at what I was referring to. Here are three shots from the anime based on the book...
You can see that it's clearly designated as a fairly clean, uncluttered workspace. All of Mashirio's drafting tools are at his table. There are two assistant tables off to one side, and a sitting area with a coffee table that they regularly use for editorial meetings. There's a photocopier/fax machine on one wall. Oh, and loads of manga. It's a little unclear in the first shot, but that doorway on the left goes to the stacks of shelving you see in the third picture.

Now, these two kids basically inherited this studio from Mashiro's uncle, who was also a mangaka. So they had a big leg up when they were just getting started. But it's proven exceptionally useful on multiple occasions, as they get stuck and use the library of books there to research what's worked (or hasn't) in the past.

The basic idea is hardly new. Academics frequently keep the books and journals they're referencing nearby while they're working on their own research. But, typically, space considerations tend to force those collections to be limited primarily to material that is of primary and immediate use. That's one of the big reasons I'm excited to put my library together. I've been writing and researching and blogging for over a decade now where my research materials aren't always in the same place I've been doing the actual writing. I've had to sort through a pile of comics or books, pick out which ones I think are relevant, and then pile them rather unceremoniously on my desk for the next few weeks while I work on whatever project it is. Of course, I inevitably miss something or find a secondary reference to look, and I found myself heading back down to the basement (or wherever) to sort through my collection again.

While I've no intention of drawing comics like Mashiro there, the idea of having ALL of my reference material within a few steps of my physical workspace is immensely appealing. Even though much more material is available digitally and/or online in various capacities, there's still a large collection of work that I've accumulated that is NOT available outside the print version I have. Part of what makes for good research, I think, is having that material available so that I can quickly and easily find it and not have to go rooting around in another room (or an entirely different building!) just to get the resources I need.

My library, once it's complete, certainly won't have everything that I'll need, resource-wise. But I'm sure it will cut down on the back-tracking and extended physical searching that I've had to do in the past, despite my collection being fairly well-organized. But I know, from past experience, that keeping it all in one place is a boon by itself and having ready access to it like Mashiro does can't help but making things easier!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fandom Portrayals In Media

I'd like to start off this post with a short piece that Christopher Wanamaker posted on Facebook a few days ago. Wanamaker, if you don't recall, won the title last year of "America's Greatest Otaku" in 2011.
I am all for Geek pryde but I feel that some of the shows could be done better. Says the guy who was on a reality TV Show. :p King of the Nerds, Geek Love, SuperFans. How about spotlighting the folks who are actually doing things in the fandom community from costumers who don't just cosplay and compete in contest but cosplayers who visit hospitals and charity events to put smiles on childrens faces knowing there fav heroes are looking out for them. Podcasters and writers to inform fellow geeks about what is taking place in the fandom industry to even fans who ACTUALLY became professtionals in the field. I am not trying to knock ANY of the above mentioned shows. I just feel that if your going to show geeks on television than why in a more favorable light where the myth that those into fandom are fat nerds living in there mom's basement who live life like everyday people. Not saying these shows are doing that just saying they could be handle better.
Wanamaker's point is well-taken, and I lodged a similar complaint back in November. In response to his note, I pointed out that a serious study of fandom is relatively new. The earliest books on it really dates only to the 1970s, and the number of authors who've looked at -- particularly those looking at comic or sci-fi fandom -- are few and far between. In fact, it's easy to scour Amazon to come up with dozens of books ABOUT Superman or Spider-Man, but a search on comic fandom turns up relatively few books actually about the subject. Most of the results are pretty tangential.

I think a lot of people -- geeks included -- never look beyond the superficial aspects of geekdom. Cosplay is about making more and more elaborate costumes. Comics is about getting more comics. And so on. Part of the reason for that, I suspect, is that studying fandom in any meaningful sense is fairly new, and still relatively unknown. I think it will take another decade or two before people really begin to understand what fandom really is about.

I've never met Wanamaker, but I feel a sort of kinship with him as "Comics' #1 Fan". I'd like to think we're both doing what we can to expand what people think of fandom, and what it means. And hopefully, in another couple decades, we'll have a more folks going around with more of a conscious understanding of what it means to be a Superman fan, rather than just knowing a lot about the man of steel or having a lot of S-logo memorabilia.

Drok! Now, I Am The Law!

Shipping from the UK delayed things a bit, but my folks just gave me this custom Judge badge for Christmas!
I'd seen them available here before, but I have to say that they are MUCH cooler and more impressive in person! A lot bigger, too -- almost 5" square! Thanks, Mom & Dad!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Yuletide Links

  • The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund provides this short comic online featuring Fredric Wertham in a Christmas Carol style story about comics censorship.
  • Keiji Nakazawa, the mangaka probably best known for Barefoot Gen and the autobiographical I Saw It: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima: A Survivor's True Story, died last week. ArtDaily provides a short obituary.
  • Neil Cohn posits that Scott McCloud defined too few components of graphic storytelling in Understanding Comics. He notes that McCloud was on the right path, but didn't go far enough.
  • Matt Kuhns has some thoughts around the notion of paper quality at Marvel and Image these days. He also tells you kids to stay off his lawn.
  • Finally, Galactus Saves Christmas! 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

Regardless of your religious affiliation (or lack thereof) enjoy the season! Fantastic Four art by Steve McNiven.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Double Shame!!

Christmas Eve greetings from the Katzenjammer Kids! This was a holiday card from artist Joe Musial in the 1950s.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Mis-Adventures Of Santa

I was going through the comics this morning and, to no great surprise, many of were holiday-themed. What struck me, though, was that several of the jokes made reference to an Elf Union that Santa was dealing with. And as I read through some more comics, there was a broader story that seemed to develop across a variety of different strips. So for today's post, I've collected some of today's comics (and I'd like to stress that these are all ones from today) to show the trevails that Santa is going through this year.

Our story opens with Santa's doctor changing his medication...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Days Of Yore

I received a box from my brother today containing some Christmas gifts. All of them were wrapped in some old DC superheroes wrapping paper from 1980. I have no idea where he found it, but he included about a three foot square, which I assume is what he had left after wrapping my presents...
The main figures are probably by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who handled most of DC's marketing pieces around that time. The Santa figure is obviously done in a completely different style; my guess is that it was basically clip art. Although why he wouldn't have been just drawn in, I don't know.

This was pretty typical of how DC sold itself up through about 1985. Plastic Man is included here because his cartoon show was on the air. The rest of the heroes were regulars on The Super Friends. Hawkman and Plastic Man are playing with hero-themed vehicles which were available to kids. (I believe they were all being produced by Corgi at the time.) It's something of a soft cross-sell, meaning that while you're being shown other ways to spend your time/money on DC, they still require you to do a bit of work on your own. If you didn't know who Plastic Man was, for example, there's nothing here to even name the character, let alone tell what time/channel his show is on.

But the broader idea of the DC universe is clearly present here too. All of the heroes are friends, smiling and chummy with each other, and they're eager to set aside battling Lex Luthor and the Joker to help Santa bring his goodwill message to all the hopeful boys and girls around the globe.

Now, lest you think I'm getting all nostalgic on you, I'll also point out that there's only one female repesented here and she's playing with a stereotypically female toy. And even blatant tokenist heroes like Black Vulcan, Apache Chief and Samurai are absent. That wasn't something I would've really noticed back in 1980 when my parents first used this wrapping paper (cut me some slack; I was eight!) but it's part of what made Marvel more appealing for me shortly thereafter. There was some attempt at representing everybody, and not just those in charge of producing comics.

It was actually just a year or two later that I began considering giving up comics entirely because the ones I was reading (almost entirely DC at that point) and the associated shows I was watching (again, based largely off DC) were getting very bland. The heroes' "personalities" were largely interchangeable with the main differences among them being costumes and powers. I had seen the introduction of John Stewart as Green Lantern, and the O'Neil/Adams team were making Green Arrow something of a stand-out from the crowd, but Superman and Batman tended to overshadow them.

Of course, things changed in 1986 with The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen when everything went all grim-n-gritty. Which I think was necessary for DC at some level; their stories had become pretty predictable by that point. Did they need to apply that thinking to everything they did? No, but they definitely needed to shake things up.

But the point I'd like to make today is to compare that image above to what DC is doing now. Their heroes are less friendly and don't seem like they'd be as likely to all join in for a merry celebration of helping Santa, but the cast looks pretty much the same. And if you've got the same cast, but they're angrier, that doesn't seem like much of a holiday tiding, does it? That seems like a step backwards to me.

I know Alan Moore, and I think Frank Miller, have both said that everybody took the wrong message away from their seminal 1986 books. Looking at this wrapping paper and comparing it to what DC is doing now, it seems to me that anyone would be hard-pressed to disagree.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Save Room For The Logo!

Here's the original art for Marvel Treasury Edition #13, also known as the "Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag."
The pencils are by Gil Kane with inks by Joe Sinnott. You can see "Seasons Greetings" and the Marvel banner material has been pasted on top of the line art, but there's been some room left for the "Grab-Bag" logo. Let's see what that looks like when we drop in the actual logo that someone in Marvel's production department (possibly Sol Brodsky) came up with...
It becomes the "Giant Superhero Holiday somethingsomething". Daredevil's arm flows nicely between the "O" and the "L" in "holiday" but he, along with Thing and Iron Man, block most of the "Grab-Bag" text. What to do?

Here's the final so you can play count-the-differences...
What's immediately obvious is that Daredevil has been eliminated entirely. And Iron Man has been moved down and his angle changed, so that his left arm doesn't cut off as much of that "A". It's also a little hard to see but the Thing's hand has been angled down a bit so it's coming up more between the "A" and the "B" and not just completely covering the "A". While the letterforms are still partially covered, there's still enough showing with enough context to let the reader fairly easily deduce the full text. Also worth noting is that Thor's cape has been redrawn so that it no longer breaks into the logo at all. While it wasn't hampering legibility much, it did add to the overall busy-ness of the logo area. Finally, a bit more snow has been added above the price tag and Treasury banner.

Bear in mind, too, that all that was must have been done using photostats and paste-ups. The production crew likely took a stat (kind of like a super-high-quality photocopy) of the original art and manually cut out Daredevil using an Exacto knife. Then cut out and re-positioned Thing's hand. Then cut out and repositioned Iron Man, followed by re-drawing his right hand, half of which wasn't originally visible. Then cut out and re-drew Thor's cape. All of this cutting would have had to follow the inked lines precisely, so they could slide the logo underneath all of it and make sure there weren't large gaps between the figures and the letters.

I can almost guarantee you that the production folks on this cover were doing more than a little cursing at all the changes that had to be made after Sinnott turned in his inks! Yuletide greetings, indeed!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tezuka & Mangaka

I've noted repeatedly that I've been enjoying the series Bakuman. I was initially intrigued by the concept because I was eager to see a little more of the production process involved in creating manga and, as the main story focuses on two kids who are trying to break into the business, this seemed like a great way to get a sense of how everything worked. It turned out to be really engaging story, but it's also revealed a lot more about how manga is created than I had even hoped!

One of the aspects that's touched on is how the life of a mangaka is largely one in the studio. That is, the ongoing and perpetual deadlines necessitate working extremely long and hard hours. They repeatedly show the artists eating and sleeping at their studios. As I'm thinking about, I don't think we've seen Mashiro's actual home since volume one, and he has expressly noted that his life as a mangaka precludes a lot of 'normal' life experiences, like just hanging out with some friends.

Now, I had chalked at least some of this up to artistic license. But I started learning more about Osamu Tezuka.

Amazon had a sale recently on The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. (The price varied a bit over the course of the day, but it was largely floating BELOW three dollars! It's back up to $26 now.) I got about half-way through before I opted to pop in the included DVD, which contains a previously unseen documentary about Tezuka.

I didn't see any dates on the documentary itself, but it appears to have been shot around 1987 or 1988. Tezuka was 60 years old. The documentary itself wasn't very good in and of itself; there's little in the way of context or a broader sense of Tezuka's own work, much less how he fits into the broader picture of manga. (It should be noted, though, that the book itself is EXCELLENT and covers this territory extremely well.) The documentary is more of a week-in-the-life look at Tezuka.

And while there's little context there, the footage itself is extremely useful for someone who does have at least a general understanding of how manga works. Like, say, if you've been reading Bakuman. Tezuka himself has a relentless work ethic, working any- and everywhere he needs to in order to hit his deadlines. Tezuka's assistants, too, find themselves working long hours, often sleeping at the studio and ordering bad take-out because there's not enough time to actually make even something simple in the attached kitchenette. Tezuka's editors are (to this Westerner's eyes) surprisingly unsympathetic to Tezuka as the legend he was even then, much less as a mangaka in general.

Tezuka is shown falling asleep at his drawing table, eating a riceball while working because he can't afford to stop penciling long enough to eat something with two hands, and he even pulls out a massage mallet that he smacks against his shoulders with one hand while he continues drawing with the other! Even though he has a very nice and luxurious house, he only stops in to see his wife there two days a week. The rest of his time is spent at the studio working.

It doesn't look like Bakuman was exaggerating much, if at all.

Towards the end of the documentary, Tezuka finishes his work on the one-shot he was working on. (Though he still had two ongoing series to keep up with.) He did take a moment to relax and enjoy the weight lifted off his shoulders by completing the job. And, while I'm sure there was some bit of deliberate editing at play here, there was a visible tinge of weariness on his face. He seemed almost to realize just how hard he'd been pushing himself and that maybe that wasn't a good way to live.

I'm sitting here in the United States with a decent job as a cube-jockey, where I can go home at the end of the day, every day, and be done with work. I might not have the creative outlet that Tezuka (or for that matter any freelance comic creator) has in how he made his comics but it's a life I enjoy. I expect you could catch a moment of wistfulness if you had a camera on me 24/7, but between what I've from Tezuka and in Bakuman, creating manga sounds like a HELL of a lot more work than in creating comics anywhere else in the world!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pre-Mayan Apocalypse Links

I try to be forgiving about a lot of people's beliefs, but I have NO idea how anyone in the 21st century can take this Mayan Apocalypse stuff seriously.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fun Stuff In The Mail

I had the odd experience today of getting nothing but useful things in the mail today. One of them was indeed a bill, but there was also a pay stub, so that part kind of balanced out.

But then I got a Christmas card from a friend of mine. Not so unusual in and of itself; I usually get Christmas cards from friends in December. But his came in a padded envelope. The card featured Santa delivering presents via a Santa-shaped hot air balloon, but the package ALSO contained the following...
A collection of buttons featuring my Kirby-fied avatar! That was a great surprise! Thanks very much, Matt!

Let me give a quick shout-out to Matt. I've known him for, I guess, about ten years or so. He used to write issue summaries on my FFPlaza website. One of the things I like about Matt is that he's got plenty of artistic talent, and has readily tackled a variety of creative projects. He runs MaskMasters.com where he makes custom latex masks, and he also runs DumpsterWear.com where he produces custom t-shirts. Not just t-shirt designs like I've done with CafePress, but he actually does the silk-screening himself! Very nice work on both the masks and the shirts, I must say! He's been doing more of the convention circuit the past couple of years, so I'm hoping to catch up with him in person in 2013.

Also arriving by post today was this sculpture that first came out in 1996...
It's not a great photo, but it's the LaserMach Fantastic Four piece. Made from several pieces of steel and cut and etched by laser. I'd seen and wanted one back in the day, but I was recently graduated from college and had no money, plus they were limited to 500 pieces and ran at least $100 as I recall. I had long since given up looking for one, but I completely stumbled across this by accident last week and it was dirt-cheap! I was really pleased to see it arrive today and, even though I don't want to overload on superhero stuff in my libray, this will be a welcome addition!

(I also just snared, for a slightly higher but still quite reasonable price, a similar sculpture LaserMach did of Cerebus. I expect that'll arrive early next week.)

For as much of a Scrooge as I can be about this time of year with all the idiot drivers and unyielding throngs of shoppers and wailing children and incessant holiday songs, a couple of nice, small pieces like this while my S.O. is here with me does make for some joyous times. If I just have to make it through the end of the year without having to leave the house, I'll be all set!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Tom Spurgeon!

Tom, not that I need to tell you this, but that you're winning an Eisner in this photo is not the coolest thing about the image. Keep up the great work on your blog and, more imporantly, not filling out your jacket! Let's see less of you in 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dating Comics With A Color Code

DanielBT asked a couple weeks back about this, and it took a bit to round up some good examples to share.

Let's start by going back to an era when you could only get comics from a newsstand. The guy running the newsstand was getting hundreds of periodicals on a continual basis, almost all of which were running on different schedules. Some came in daily, some weekly, some monthly, some bi-monthly, some quarterly... In the days before computers, this would be an incredible amount of work to keep track of what came in when. And it was important to keep track of that because most periodicals were sold to retailers on a returnable basis. That is, if the retailer didn't sell everything he ordered in a given timeframe, he could return them to his distributor for a refund.

Naturally, though, this wasn't a completely open-ended arrangement. You couldn't return something, for example, a year after it was published and expect anything back. You had a window of maybe a couple of months at most, depending on the frequency of the periodical.

Now you'd think that since most periodicals post their publication date on the cover, this wouldn't be an issue. The December 15th issue of the New York Times came out on December 15, right? With magazines and comics, though, publishers frequently tried to look more current than they actually were. So they'd print a date somewhat later than when the book actually went on sale; a book that was actually published in January would have a February date and would (theoretically) look more current than the other magazines next to it with the actual date.

(This got out of hand eventually, and you'd have comics' publication dates off by 6-8 months!)

So to keep track of when comics ACTUALLY hit the newsstands, retailers would literally write the date it came out right on the cover. Here's a copy of Fantastic Four #1. It's cover dated Novemeber 1961, but you can see the "8/9" clearly written on there, indicating it really hit the stands on August 9th.
(Note that local distribution channels worked on slightly different schedules, so not every issue of FF #1 across the country came out on August 9. Some might be hand-dated as much as a week in either direction. In a cursory image search for this post, for example, I came across copies dated 8/3, 8/4, 8/8 and 8/9.)

Writing on each and every issue was a bit tedious, though, and retailers no doubt complained to their local distributors. What many of the regional distributors started doing was slapping a bit of paint across the top edge of the comic. So, now, instead of having to make note of the actual date, the distributors could just say, "We're accepting returns on all red-coded books." As they'd change the color with each shipment, it became easy for a retailer to just scan through his inventory and pull out any comics that had a bit of red (or whatever the color was for that week) on the top. Take a look at the top of this Machine Man #10 where you can see a bit of red splotching above the "Marvel Comics Group" banner.
Now, this wasn't done at every distributor, so it's not universal. And since it was done at the regional level, there's no consistency in color or the... ah... delicacy of application. So you can find some issues with what's called "overspray" when the person who was actually putting the color on the books was perhaps a bit too generous...
This system lasted for about 10-12 years, primarily through the 1970s. As comics became more and more collectible, and with the emergence of the direct market, this was clearly unacceptable to readers. The publishers themselves then began color-coding their own books, so the regional distributors wouldn't have to. But, so as not to put an ugly color bar on their covers, which they viewed as a primary sales tool, the color bars were put on all the interior pages. But by running them at the very edge of every page, a retailer could still make out the colors without having to open each book.
Keep in mind that this was all done because comics were being sold on a returnable basis at least in some meaningful capacity. These color codes weren't really being used by the direct market because their books weren't returnable in the first place, but they still had to deal with the overspray and color bars because the books still came through the same channels. Once the direct market became, for all practical purposes, the only real way for individual customers to purchase comics, this color coding system was no longer necessary. This color system was only being used to tell retailers when they could return the books; with the non-returnable set-up of the direct market, this was a non-issue. Publishers eventually dropped the color bars entirely since none of their books were getting returned anyway.

Not coincidentally, I expect, the color bars ceased around the same time when publishers began emphasizing the collectibility aspect of their books with foil, die-cuts, embossing, and the like. It was part of a general realization that their comics were no longer going to a mass audience, but almost exclusively to people who were collecting them. But that's another set of issues entirely!

I hope that answers your question, DanielBT.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fingers & Foes Art

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I'd picked up the original art for Allan Salisbury's June 2, 1974 Fingers and Foes Sunday strip. It arrived in the mail yesterday, and I wanted to share the piece and some thoughts.

I'll start with the art itself...
I'm not really familiar with the strip outside this one page. I gather it mainly focused on the villain side of superhero genre (unlike what we see here), but largely poked fun at it like the joke we have here.

The joke isn't very good either. Not only is basic play on words pretty old -- even in 1974 -- but the execution is pretty weak too. The victim uses the exact same piece of dialogue twice, the two women's lines seem reversed, and pantyhose isn't exactly a synonym for spandex.

The art is not exceptional. There's almost no line weight variability at all. The perspective on the phone booth is horrible. The Mr. Kleeno figure isn't drawn very well in the first place, and is absolutely identical in the final four panels in the second.

Despite not really knowing anything about the strip or its creator, and finding the fundamentals of at least this particular strip lacking, I bought it for a few reasons. First, it was cheap. Less than fifteen bucks, and that included the shipping.

Second, the Iron Man reference. I don't particularly care for Iron Man as a character, but it struck me as a curious choice to drop in here. There's no visual suggestion that Mr. Kleeno there bears any resemblance to Iron Man. And, even if you had no idea what Iron Man actually looks like, there's nothing about Mr. Kleeno's costume to suggest the name "Iron Man." Also, this is 1974 -- well before the Robert Downey Jr. movies that gave the character any broad media attention. It seems like a completely-out-of-left-field name to drop in when so many others would probably work better there.

Then there's paste-up job. You can see the glue staining on the 5th and 6th panels. What you can't see very well is that the original art is actually wrapped around another board, and the original panels 5 and 6 were physically cut out. The new art, then, was laid between the original and this backing board. BUT THEN, a new panel 5 was pasted on top of that! And, while the border for panel 6 is drawn on the first paste-up, there's another paste-up on top of that featuring the new figure; but it doesn't cover the whole panel and you can see the edge of that paste-up about 1/4" in, where Salisbury tried drawing from one piece of paper to the next, and his pen got caught up for a second on the edge of the paper. It's just such a strange confluence of changes that I found it extraordinarily intriguing.

But, hey, that's just me. I find it really useful to understanding comics in general to study how all of it works, down to the physical aspects of creating them in the first place. Fascinating stuff, even in those instances where the end result is NOT as spectacular as something produced by a Walt Kelly or a Neal Adams.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Anti-Kickstarter

Let's say you want to make a movie about a comic book store. Not like a comic version of High Fidelity but something closer to a pseudo-documentary. Like, say, a kid from the south side of Chicago who doesn't aspire to go to college, but opts instead to open the first African American-owned comic book shop in Chicago. Let's assume that you're not new storytelling. Let's assume that you've been working as a writer for several years now, and have even done some projects for DC's animation arm.

So you've got the talent to make this movie, but not the budget. Perfect opportunity to dive into Kickstarter or a crowd-funding platform like it, right?

Wrong.

The movie project I outlined is a real one by Will J. Watkins. The movie he's attempting to make is called Mike’s on Mars and you can find out more about it with links to their Facebook and Twitter accounts at their website. There's a link in the navigation for a Rewards section, and it spells out tier levels of donations not unlike Kickstarter.

But there's no links to Kickstarter. Or IndieGoGo. Or PleaseFundUs. Or anything remotely like them. Just a link to PayPal, and a snail mail address in case you'd prefer to write a paper check. There's certainly nothing wrong with doing that, but I had to ask Watkins why he opted for eschewing the higher visibility, name-recognition, and (frankly) security of someplace Kickstarter.

His response was that he IS making the movie, and Kickstarter(et. al.)'s all-or-nothing model, plus the project funding deadlines, weren't appealing. He also added, "anyone who believes in this project enough to fund it doesn't want their money back if a fifnacial [sic] goal isn't reached... they want to see every dollar given put up on the screen. I aim to deliver!"

That suggests an... issue (?) that I've heard from these crowd-funded ideas before: that they tend to only work -- particularly on large projects -- if you've already got something of a name already. Basically, that you're relying primarily on existing fans of your work to fund and promote it.

I'm not sure how well Watkins' approach might work. It certainly gives him more time to raise the necessary funds (making a movie ain't cheap, after all!) and it sounds as if he'll be using what he gets more-or-less as it comes in. He might not have the name-recognition associated with Kickstarter, and perhaps not the broad network of existing fans to fall back on, but his project DID make it to my ears (h/t Mark W) and now YOU'RE aware of it from reading this. Is that enough? I don't know, but it'll be interesting to watch. Take a look for yourself.

And, while I'm on the subject of crowd-funding, let me put in another quick plug for Dara Naraghi's project on Kickstarter, Persia Blues. As I've mentioned before, I'm always interested in getting alternate cultural perspectives on things, so I'm really curious to see what this ultimately looks like.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Comic Links To Visit

  • ?What If! Innovation has posted a rogues gallery of real life villains set against creativity and innovation. Part One and Part Two.
  • Garen Ewing, of The Rainbow Orchid fame, reviews the new Young Reader editions of various Tintin books. "But, Sean," you might be thinking, "haven't Tintin books been around for ages? Why are you pointing out just another review for them?" Because Ewing focuses on the NEW companion material that's included in these editions, and I have to say that I'm sorely tempted to pick these all up now precisely because of that!
  • The latest issue of Participations: The Journal of Audience and Perception Studies has a special section on comic book audiences.
  • Ken Quartto runs a series of addendums, suggestions and corrections to Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, courtesy of Roy Thomas. Thomas was, of course, instrumental in much of what became Marvel Comics, having been hired by Stan Lee in 1965. Also, Thomas' memory is generally better than most folks working on comics from that period, so the updates are, while not always hugely significant, still note-worthy.
  • And lastly, a previously lost Will Eisner interview circa the early 1980s, in which he compares The Spirit to Magnum PI...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Comic Location To Visit: Idaho Springs, CO

I don't intend on making the Comic Location To Visit thing a regular feature, but I happened across a few curiosities lately, so I'm sharing a few of them here.
Founded by prospectors in 1859, Idaho Springs, Colorado the center of the region's mining district throughout the late nineteenth century. In 1947, the town of one square mile (with a current population under 2,000) decided to rename a nearby mountain canyon after one Milton Canniff's comic strip characters, Steve Canyon. I can't seem to find a solid reason why; the only explanation I can find at all is a snarky comment about being "awash in post-WWII patriotism."

Two years later, they paid $12,000 to have a ten-foot tall, limestone statue of the character carved for the center of town. It was officially dedicated on July 8, 1950 and Milton Canniff was in attendance, although he had had nothing to do with the statue's inception and/or creation. Also in attendance were Walter W. Johnson, (Governor, Colorado), L.P. Giles (Mayor, Idaho Springs), William Riley (President, Indiana Limestone Company), and Vernon Clark (U.S. Treasury Deptartment). The plaque mounted on the base reads, in part, "The United States Treasury salutes Steve Canyon and through him, all American cartoon characters who serve the Nation."

Canniff visited the state at least one other time, in 1959, along with Dean Fredericks who portrayed Steve Canyon on the television show of the same name. Presumably, this was done as a marketing push for the show.

The statue appears to be maintained well; however, I can't find any reference to it at all on Idaho Springs' web site. Which suggests that perhaps it's not as significant a point of pride now as it used to be. Which isn't surprising given that the strip ended in 1988 when Canniff died.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Comic Location To Visit: Crystal City, TX

"What the heck is in Crystal City, Texas," you may ask. The answer is the comic strip and cartoon classic, Popeye.
Incorporated in 1910, Crystal City is the county seat of Zavala County, Texas and quickly found spinach-growing to be its dominant industry. The town (which even today is home to fewer than 10,000 people) openly wanted to tout its ability to grow spinach beyond simply citing itself as the "Spinach Capitol [sic] of the World." So in the mid-1930s, they held a contest to design an appropriate statue. A practicing architect originally from Lithuania, Max Sandfield had his design chosen (although it was modified somewhat from his original submission). The statue was given the blessing of Popeye's creator himself, E.C. Segar.

The original statue is safely ensconced in the City Hall to protect it from vandals. A fiberglass reproduction is what sits outside. I can't seem to find reference to what the original is actually made out itself. Sandfield had originally suggested Texas limestone, but that was evidently nixed.

There are also Popeye statues in Chester, IL (Segar's hometown); Alma, AR ("Spinach Capital of the World"); and Springdale, AR (home of the Allen Canning Company which produces "Popeye Spinach"). The statue in Crystal City, however, is the oldest, debuting less than ten years after Popeye's creation. It is also the only one officially endorsed by Segar himself, as he died a year after it had been erected.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

(Not A) Real Review

I just read volume one of Real by Takehiko Inoue. I picked it up because I saw someone (can't recall who) reference it as possibly the best sports manga ever. Now, while that was only one opinion, and probably subject to a bit of hyperbole and/or bias, I figured I'd give it a shot because I've never read any sports manga before. In fact, I've deliberately strayed away from sports manga because I'm not much of a sports fan in the first place, so why would I want to read about it?

That said, I was curious to see what exactly a "sports manga" is, since it's a whole genre that we really don't have here in the States at all. And since the reviewer did say that it focused on basketball, the sport that I'm most familiar with, I thought this might be as good of a shot as I'd have at figuring out what the deal is.

The story starts with a high school student returning to school to get his things after being expelled. Turns out he was a star basketball player, but also kind of a dick and a bit of a bully. On his way off the property, he removes his clothes and takes a dump on the front step. Oh, and we learn that he recently caused a motorcycle accident with some random girl he picked up one night, and she's now hospitalized, paralyzed from the waist down. Not an auspicious beginning for someone who seems to be the protagonist.

He eventually runs into a wheelchair-bound student who's also really good at basketball. But he left the local wheelchair basketball group because he felt they weren't taking the game seriously, and what's the point of playing if you're not out to win. The two strike up an uneasy partnership to hustle rich kids at a neighborhood court. So that's two protagonists who aren't terribly likeable.

Then there's the new captain of the high school team. He's definitely a bully and demeans most everyone he meets. He then steals a bicycle from in front of a store and, when he's seen and starts being chased, he pushes his girlfriend off and races away. Another unlikeable character, but at least he's hit by a bus in his escape attempt.

Now here's where it's a bit weird. We've got several main characters who are, to put it bluntly, assholes. We've got several characters who are wheelchair-bound. We've got this basketball theme that returns repeatedly, along with occasional references to current NBA players that I know next to nothing about. By almost any perfunctory examination, I should not care about this one iota. I can relate to nothing any of these characters are going through.

Except...

The one broad idea that seems to keep coming up is an unwillingness to give up. These characters are all facing tough challenges and they flatly deny the possibility that anything can stand in their way. It's something that you see in a lot of fiction, of course, but tying it to a sports story does connect with me in a way that I wouldn't have expected. Namely, that I find myself mentally yelling "Don't give up! Don't give in! Keep going!" when I'm running or working out.

It's an attitude that I think a lot of people like conceptually, but I wonder how many practice it? I mean, obviously, there are physical limits everyone has. (No matter how strong you are, your bones can only support so much weight before they break.) But the idea of continuing to push yourself physically is one that is really difficult to fully embrace and, I suspect, is one of the reasons why so many people are so overweight these days; they don't have to push themselves, so why bother?

I'm debating about picking up Real volume 2. It was certainly well-executed, and I think I can see where they might be going in making the characters likeable. I even didn't mind the sports part all that much. But it was just a little too far removed from what I can directly relate to really get into it as much as I'd like. By the same token, there's a lot to be said for a well-executed story that presents a point of view you're unfamiliar with. I've certainly touted that idea elsewhere recently, so it might not hurt to follow along for at least a couple more volumes here.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Defacing Old Comic Strip Art

I came across the original art for the March 11, 1936 installment of Gasoline Alley up on eBay. It looks to be in fantastic condition for as old as it is...
But you might notice a black line running through the whole strip about 3/4 of the way down. That's actually not uncommon to find syndicated comic strip art from that era defaced in such a way. Why? Well, I'll let the seller here explain...
The black line through the lower section of the art is typical for daily comic strips from the 1930s-1940s. During this period, strips were run in two different sizes (full and reduced). The full size strip was originally shot with the bottom copyright notice and made available to newspapers which ran the strip full size. The line was then drawn across the lower section of the strip (effectively creating a new bottom to the panels; with some strips, a blank piece of paper was glued across the bottom) and a second copyright notice applied for papers running a reduced size strip. This is why nothing much happened in the bottom of many 1930s-40s daily strips and why the artists made sure to sign above where the reduced size line would be inserted.
No bothering with marking up the copy because once the original was shot for use in synidcation, it had no further use as far as anyone was concerned.

It's not quite as blasphemous as using the acetate animation cels for Snow White to go "sledding" across the slick hallway floor, but it's still hard to believe shortcuts like that were taken.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Morrie Kuramoto's Raincoat

Mamoru “Morrie” Kuramoto worked at Timely Comics as a letterer and production artist until 1957. He returned to the publisher (now called Marvel Comics) in the late 1960s where he continued until his death in 1985. I'm liberally swiping the rest of today's post (and this accompanying image) from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Facebook page...

Timely offices, late 1940s. Morrie Kuramoto, center.

Rick Parker remembers: ""December 7th, 1941....a date that will live in infamy..."......I remember that every December 7th, we would mercilessly tease the one Japanese co-worker we had in the Marvel Bullpen, a fellow by the name of Morrie Kuramoto. Cartoonist, Marie Severin would annually do a hilarious cartoon of Morrie engaged in some type of war-like situation and we'd all gather 'round his desk when she presented the cartoon to him and we'd all have a good laugh....everyone, that is, except Morrie, who managed a tight-lippped smile or took a long drag on the Chesterfield King that hung permanently from his lips, making him look like some character in a B movie. One year, though, when Marie had him piloting a plane and dropping bombs on the Empire State Building, he just couldn't take it anymore. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. This time instead of bombs exploding, or peals of laughter bursting forth from the assembled multitude, it was Morrie who exploded. He really let us have it. We learned a lot that day. We learned that following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, as a young man, Morrie and his parents and sister were rounded up by the U.S. government and locked up in a prison camp in Arizona. We learned that his family's house and property were confiscated. And this was all done to protect them from possible repercussions to the attack on Pearl Harbor--or in case they were thinking of sabotage. Morrie was born in the U.S.A. He was an American citizen. Morrie did manage to escape from the camp by serving honorably with the United States Military in WWII. We learned that there is often more to that co-worker sitting quietly in the corner doing his job, than we thought. We also learned that freedom is not something we can take for granted, even in America. Morrie had a heart attack and died on the subway on his way to work one morning. I heard it said that his old black raincoat hung in the closet in the back of the Marvel Bullpen for many years after he died. I wonder if the person who eventually took it out and disposed of it realized to what kind of person it had belonged."