Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cartooning Marketing Idea

I'm reading through British cartoonist Terry Bave's autobiography and came across this passage. It strikes me as an idea that, with the right people, could successfully be brought back in a YouTube type environment.
Denis also invited me to take part in a 'live' presentation of the television game Quick on the Draw (devised by Denis Gifford). Before a packed audience I joined fellow cartoonists Bill Titcombe and Peter Maddocks, along with Bob Monkhouse, the host of the show. The audience appeared to thoroughly enjoy the game as we sat at three large drawing boards penning 'quickly' cartoons in response to the host's quick fired quiz questions. The completed drawings were then sold to member of the audience. The proceeds went to The Society for Mentally Handicapped Children.
I'll just leave this out here, and let someone with more online charisma take a whack at it. (I'm looking at you, Ryan!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

End O' January Links

  • During the week of Feburary 17, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be hosting a series of panels, screenings, etc. called Black Geek Week "highlighting the achievements of African Americans in academia, STEM and the Arts who have pushed the boundaries of thought and technology." It's a mixture of media folks attending, but I note that Terry Grant, owner of Third Coast Comics, and Kevin Grevioux, who runs Astounding Studios and Darkstorm Studios and does some comic book writing, will both be guests. There will also be a gallery showing called "Black Kirby" which puts a decidedly African-American spin on the design stylings of Jack Kirby.
  • Aaron Albert reviews ComicLock, a system design to both securely store as well as display your old, valuable comics.
  • Gary Tyrell has seen some initial footage of Strip Search, the reality show about webcomickers, and talked with producer Robert Khoo. Lots of good info on the upcoming series over at Fleen.
  • Finally, a last-minute shout-out to the Dynagirl Kickstarter. There's only about two days left, so give 'em some love! It's a great series.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Comic Tributes Map Project

Because I don't have enough going on, I started mapping locations of comic-related statues, plaques, murals, museums, etc.

I think it was a year or two back, I realized, "Hey, I drive through Illinois all the time, I should see if I could swing by Metropolis for their Superman Celebration some year." So I looked up where Metropolis, IL was, and realized that it was an extra three hours out of my way from any trip I take through the state. That's an extra three hours on top of the three hours I would need to get to a point where it would start to be out of my way. No offense, but I've never been that much of a Superman fan.

Actually, when I'm headed to Illinois, I usually run through a good chunk of Indiana first. And I thought maybe a side trip to the Hall of Heroes Museum might be okay. That's about two hours out of my way. A little more do-able, but still not quite enough on most days for me.

The problem is that, while I know where a lot of big cities are, I don't know the whereabouts of the small towns that are home to some of the more obscure pieces of comic memorials. I've never heard of Pawnee, Oklahoma or Amesbury, Massachusetts much less know where they are relative to, say, Oklahoma City or Boston. So I started mapping them so that I would have a readily accessible record of where some of these places are, on the off chance that I happen to be in the neighborhood.

Being the geek that I am, though, I didn't want to peg these in a vague, "Oh, here's Naperville, Illinois" way. I wanted to be pinpoint the exact spot in Naperville where that Dick Tracy statue is located. So, now, if I'm wandering around St. Paul, Minnesota looking for one of the many Peanuts statues located in that city, I can find exactly where they are. Or I can walk down Hollywood Boulevard and know precisely where to find Stan Lee's star. So if I'm in town on business or have a tight schedule, I can more readily figure out if I have enough time to swing by. (One of the many cool things about Google Maps is that you can zoom in close enough to actually see most of these locations, if I only have an address instead of the exact longitude and latitude. Also cool is that their street views and user-uploaded photos provide visuals for most of these locations if you're never able to visit personally.)

I figured, naturally, that since I'm plugging all this into an online map anyway, I may as well share it with everyone online. It's still a work in progress, so there's plenty that's not included yet. (As I said, there are MANY Peanuts statues in St. Paul!)

I tried to figure a concise way to explain what I'm trying to include here. I don't want to include comic shops or publishers' offices, but generally more "in honor of" types of locations. Statues and memorials and such. But I've also included a few theme parks. And while I'm tagging individual locations that are part of a single theme (the bronze Peanuts statues in St. Paul) I'm not tagging every individual item of a large location, like a museum. It basically boils down to me tagging things how/as I think they'd be personally useful. If I'm at Islands of Adventure, I'm not hunting for all the superhero images because they're everywhere. If I'm in St. Paul, I'm going to be looking for random Snoopys among whatever buildings and traffic and whatnot is going on.

Anyway, with all that said, here's my (WIP) map of comic-related locations. Feel free to use it or not as you see fit.

View Comic Locations in a larger map

Monday, January 28, 2013

Thoughts on ComiXology Europe

The comic news item of the day, for my money, is comiXology's announcement that they're opening a branch office in Paris in order to start offering digital comics that were written in non-English languages. Let's unpack this.

The comiXology site launched in mid-2007, but they didn't really start doing the whole digital comic reader thing until mid-2009. They did reasonably well, and sales skyrocketed when the iPad was released not quite a year later. They currently have licensing agreements to distribute digital comics from many comic publishers, including Marvel, Image, IDW and Archie. They even have an exclusive agreement with DC.

The interesting thing about comiXology's success -- or at least the piece I find most interesting -- is that it's because of a combination of savvy and luck. They saw the need for a good digital comics reader, and no one was really doing anything decent, so they created their app. That wasn't their idea or goal when they started in 2007; that was something that they recognized was missing from the marketplace after they started.

The timing of the iPad was fortuitous, but they also knew well enough to get things rolling with it as soon as possible, so that when the iPad finally was released, they had an iPad app specifically ready to go on Day One, but they had also spent enough time courting many of the comic publishers so they had a good library of content on that same day. They took excellent advantage of the opportunity the iPad provided.

From what I've heard from them, they mostly look at the iPad as a lucky break. But whether they downplay their own work here or not, that they took advantage of that break speaks well to their business savvy. I think the only nut they haven't quite cracked here in the U.S. is getting Dark Horse on board, and that really boils down to the personal feelings and desires of Dark Horse founder/owner/president Mike Richardson who, to date, I personally haven't heard specifically address the "why aren't you on comiXology like everybody else" question yet.

In terms of the current state of European digital comics distribution, I know almost nothing. I seem to recall seeing a 2000 AD-specific app for iPhones more than a couple years ago and The Dandy went digital-only last month, but that's about the extent of my actual knowledge there. I get the impression that the European digital market today looks a bit like the American digital market from four years ago. That is, a handful of publisher-specific apps and no one with a good digital reader and a good library to work with. One might simplistically argue that the US is a more fertile ground for innovations like that but, while there may be some truth to that, I suspect there are a number of other factors at play here as well. But in any case, comiXology is stepping into this market, I believe, with almost no real competition.

Why open an office actually in Europe, though? Wouldn't the issue for them basically just be snagging some licensing deals and dropping those works into their current platform?

Well, there is that part of the equation, certainly. And there are probably some legal considerations. (Most countries have different rules for businesses operating with the country than from without.) But the other big concern that I expect they have regards digital developers. The people who work on and develop the apps themselves. If the comiXology guys are smart -- and I've seen plenty of evidence that says they are -- they won't simply drop their current app into a European market. Rather, they're likely going to go through and re-tool portions, if not the whole thing, to tailor it specifically to a European mindset.

Not that they've said anything about Asia, but let's use Japan as an easy example. Japanese kanji reads right to left, instead of left to right like English. And while comiXology does easily allow people to read a book in either direction, the panel focus portion wouldn't quite work with a simple "do this in reverse" script because the Japanese still read top to bottom. Simply reversing the current script would focus on the bottom panels first, and then work their way up the page. That would need to be entirely re-worked for a Japanese market. I don't know that the changes would be that drastic between American and European markets, but the best way to tackle whether or not that's even an issue is to get native developers. People who are embedded enough in their society that anything that goes against an assumed cultural norm stands out immediately. It's hard, almost impossible, to really get that from across an ocean by someone who just knows the language.

I'd also like to point out that the comiXology guys are looking beyond the American direct market system. I've railed against people for not doing that before, talking about "comics" and only meaning Marvel and DC. I want to make very positive shout-out to these guys for not only acknowledging but acting on a much broader and more diverse market than the superhero/fantasy pieces that fill U.S. comic shops.

And, if they're able to secure some really good deals, we might see them ALSO be able to distribute some translated European works here in the States! And if that happens, they will have a much, much bigger market available to them than Diamond does now, but without the exclusivity deal that currently has the hamstrings of retailers cut.

Kudos to the comiXology folks! They are proving themselves to be wicked smart on the business end of things, and I expect they're going to make some major leaps forward in the next year or two. Sign me up as soon as they have an IPO!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Resistance Review

I was debating whether or not I wanted to do a review today, but since the book I was kicking around takes place during World War II and it's Holocaust Memorial Day, it seemed kind of appropriate here. So I'm looking at the three books that form the Resistance series by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis. Though it debuted in 2010, the last of the books came out in the middle of last year.

The books take place in a small town in southern France after the country has been occupied by German forces. While there's no actual fighting taking place in the town, they definitely feel the effects of the war; food and clothing are re-appropriated to soldiers before it even gets to the town, what's made locally is frequently siezed, and Jews are being rounded up and herded off to camps. But the townspeople try to carry on with their lives as best as they can.

The three books focus primarily on Paul and his family. Paul's a young teenager; his father has been captured as a POW and his mother is trying desperately to keep the family vinyard in tact. At the outset, he's against the war mostly in general terms, but he becomes more and more upset about it, and even starts getting to the point of militant, as he sees more and more of his friends vanish. It's when his friend Henri's parents go missing that he begins taking an active role. As the books continue, we see how Paul and some of the others try to fight back against the Germans in their own ways and, almost as importantly, decide who to trust.

Wars are often depicted, both in news and entertainment, in a fairly simplistic manner. You're either a good guy or a bad guy; you're for us or against us. Possibly with the occasional self-serving opportunitist trying to play both sides. In the Resistance books, though, there is most definitely not a black and white set of arguements. Not so much in whether the French agreed with Hitler, but rather how they would best be served in disagreeing with him. Is it better to accept an occupation in the hopes that they wouldn't upset the Germans or, since they didn't have the resources to sustain a formal conflict, utilize guerilla tactics when they could to help the Allied forces that were coming? Was the retaliation from their covert efforts unleashed on innocent bystanders worth the lives that may have been saved because of the resistance's efforts?

Over the course of the three books (which can actually be read fairly independently) we see a pretty diverse range of thoughts and actions through Paul and his circle of friends/family. Everyone is coming to the table with a different set of values, and acting accordingly. Plus, we see several of those people re-examine their ideas throughout the course of the war. (The stories run from 1940 through 1945.)

It's easy to read the WWII histories that get into major battles or the holocaust. And to a lesser extent, in the US, we see some stories about people who weren't in Europe fighting, but trying to keep the home fires buring. Those are all good and valid stories. But what's not told nearly as often is what happened to the regular citizens in Europe who were right next door to Hitler's war machine. Not the folks in the trenches, but the people like Paul who were on the outskirts of the French countryside, largely removed from the day-to-day fighting, but still directly affected in a way that Americans never were. And that Jablonski and Purvis pull the story off with such nuance and subtlety makes Resistance that much more worthwhile.

The books are historical fiction. No doubt events similar to these occurred, but Paul didn't actaully exist. Paul is, I don't doubt, a bunch of little boys and girls rolled up into one character that represents them all. But, like any good story, the truths that come through in Resistance are more powerful than the fictions themselves.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Frans Masereel

A couple years ago, I got around to really looking at Lynd Ward's work. He was an American artist who created several graphic novels in the 1920s and '30s. (Yes, starting before the creation of actual comic books!) Ward was very clear, though, that his graphic novel work was inspired by the Flemish artist Frans Masereel. Masereel started his graphic novels over a decade before Ward. These works caught the eye of Vanity Fair's editor-in-chief, who published portions of them in the United States. These are likely where Ward would have first seen them.

I've only recently been able to really sit down and look at some of Masereel's work more closely. In particular, I picked up Dover's paperback The Sun, The Idea & Story Without Words: Three Graphic Novels. HOL! E! COW!

"The Sun" is basically a more modern version of the story of Icarus. "The Idea" follows the life and virality of an idea. And "Story Without Words" is a fairly straightforward love story. Each is abotu 60-80 pages long, and are all devoid of any text, relying exclusively on the illustrations to convey the tales. And that's what I'm super-impressed with.

I don't particularly care much for Masereel's actual illustration style here. Nothing wrong with it, certainly, but just not a personal preference. Although I am always impressed that people can work ANY level of detail into woodcuts, so that's worth looking at. But what I'm really struck by here is Masereel's storytelling ability. He does a phenomenal job conveying the action, one panel to the next. Not only the physical actions of people's movements or what-have-you, but the metaphorical actions as well. In none of the stories was I ever at a loss for exactly what Masereel was trying to convey at either the functional or symbolic levels.

And it's not like Masereel had much in the way of prior examples. His work predates Buck Rogers, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Gasoline Alley and any number of other comics. He wasn't entirely working in vacuum, of course, but I doubt many American comic strips got translated and shipped overseas and approximate contemporaries like Hergé would still be another decade or so before their work started getting published. So Masereel had to create a lot of the ideas himself.

Even more interesting, I found "The Idea" in particular still quite relevant and poignant. It clearly still has hallmarks of the early 20th century, most notably in the specific instances of media outlets (snail mail, old school printing presses, etc.) but the work is a bit heavier on symbolism anyway. In fact, the Idea noted in the title is actually depicted as a (usually) nude woman, so that a man photographs her with a daguerreotype camera instead of an iPhone is rather immaterial. The Idea character is only an avatar for an abstract concept anyway, so it's not a leap to assume the actual envelope the artist originally puts her in is a physical manifestation of the email icon on your desktop.

I linked to the edition I picked up, but I'm sure any version you might come across would be worthwhile. Definitely a fascinating aspect of comic history that deserves wider recognition.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Private Strong Original Art

Periodically, I call out a piece of original comic art here on the blog. Frequently, it's because I think there's something interesting to discern about the artist's choices. This time, though, I just want to say "Holy cow! It's an original pre-FF Simon & Kirby original page up for sale!" Possibly followed shortly by, "How come, as of this writing, the current high bid is less than $1000?!?"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Taking Cues From Outside Comics? Brilliant!

My friend Matt just published his first book, Brilliant Deduction. It looks at a number of real-life detectives whose work is right up there along the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. I haven't read it yet, but it sounds good and I know he's put a lot into ensuring it's extremely professional.

Now because I haven't read, I can't precisely recommend it, but that's okay because it's not why I'm bringing it up here. I'm bringing it up because Matt went the same self-publishing route that I did with Comic Book Fanthropology. Same vendor and everything. And the reason that's interesting in this case -- a lot of people have used Lulu after all -- is that one of the reasons Matt and I are friends is because we both have similar backgrounds in design and production. "Talking shop" for us can get into all sorts of esoteric printing techniques; we both know how print works from the production side of things. So in Matt's working on his book, we have been able to compare notes and get into some of the nitty gritty about the actual print process.

I ordered my copy from directly from Lulu around 10:00 AM last Thursday. I got his default "thanks for ordering" message around noon. Matt uploaded some minor updates a few hours after that. So the question here was: would the copy I get have Matt's most recent changes? Did Lulu pull the file he had already uploaded as soon as I place my order, or not until they actually had a chance to print the pages?

I received my copy in the mail on Tuesday. Five days from a non-existent book to having a copy on my doorstep. Keep in mind that there was a Sunday and a federal holiday in there which mail didn't move anywhere. I checked the mailing label, and it was date/time stamped on Friday around 1:30 PM. Now that could've been printed up at any time, but given that it includes the shipping weight, I have to believe this wasn't printed until AFTER the book itself.

Actually, books plural. I ordered another title as well.

Turns out that it took them just a bit over 24 hours to print and bind two 300-ish page books. A good commercial laser printer can run about six pages per minute. Multiply that by 600 pages and you get... 60 hours. Nearly three times as long as the absolute maximum that Lulu took. If you drop those two non-mail days out of the equation, it took Lulu the same amount of time to print and bind these books AND ship them to me as it would've taken me to print them here at home. Color me impressed!

Not surprisingly, my copy does not contain the updates that Matt had made that afternoon. They almost certainly were in the midst of actually printing in when he submitted those revisions. I suspect they started running it around the time I got that "thank you" message. But this was gleaned from our knowing production processes, and discussing ideas back and forth during his development process.

While the book itself has little to do with comics... well, really, it has nothing to do with comics... I think there's value in having discussions with authors like Matt who are consciously and actively involved in the production process. While his discussion of a missing colophon might seem immaterial, it might also shed light on a problem or concern that you, as an independent comic creator, are having.

The comic community is generally pretty great when it comes to sharing knowledge. One of my favorite podcast episodes recently was just all about printers that handle fairly low-run, independent comics. But while comic artists can draw wicked cool stuff, they're not necessarily as involved in the production process. It's always worth taking notes from people like Matt who studied this stuff in school and work with the exact same production issues in a professional capacity. As always, don't limit your circle to people IN comics -- some folks outside the biz can provide more than a few tips and tricks too!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How Is It Wednesday Already Links

  • The Golden Age Bakery makes some very special cookies... ones using images culled from Golden Age comics that are now in the public domain. Stardust the Super Wizard is popular, of course, but she also has images from horror and romance comics among others. I hear they're quite tasty, on top of being generally cool-looking.
  • Forbes has a piece questioning What Do Comic Books Teach Us About Gender Attitudes? Not a lot in the way of surprising revelations, but that appears in Forbes is note-worthy, I think.
  • ICv2 talks with Jon Nelson about getting Tintin to a larger American audience. I've read a couple volumes of the new Tintin book sNelson refers to, and they're quite good.
  • The NewStatesman ran some images from Marvel's quarterly earnings statements from the 1990s, declaring them the best thing about the decade. I know that, at the time, I really wanted to own some Marvel stock just so I could get these. Pity I was just a poor college student, and their stock was in freefall at the time.
  • This has been making the rounds, but it's worth pointing out again that Kyle Baker has put digital copies of all his books online for free.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Art Imitates & Influences Life

I try to be as open-minded as possible when it comes to comics. I certainly have my preferences when it comes to style and message and everything, but I try not to let them get in the way of appreciating comics that don't match those preferences. Whether its in an illustration style that I don't like or it conveys a message I don't agree with, I try to step back and look at the piece as objectively as I can. I'm not always successful, of course, but that's the intent.

I was probably most open-minded about taking in new experiences in college. There were a few reasons for that. First, I had moved away from the homogeneity of my hometown; I was forced into regularly meeting and interacting with people notably different than myself. Second, I was receiving a broader formal education -- my high school was small enough to not have much more than a general education, so moving to college meant I could take a history class focused exclusively on ancient Aztecs or a literature class focused on late 19th century female novelists. Third, living out away from parents meant that I had to start looking at the world in larger terms than my immediate home. I was being bombarded with new ideas and experiences at a rate I probably hadn't seen since I was a baby.

Of course, by the time I got to college, a lot of my personal identity had already been formed. Identity isn't a completely static notion, obviously, but the fundamentals are well set by then. But all the new (to me) and different media I was taking in -- whether through formal classes or informal relationships -- was helping to mold who I was to become. Seeing Atomic Cafe for example did a lot to reinforce my then-vague notions of government's corruption, and I gained a greater appreciation for classical music from Animaniacs.

Of course, beyond college I'm still influenced by art. After all, that's the whole point of marketing, right? To sway you to buy Pepsi instead of Coke because they've got a cooler logo or more fun music in their ads or whatever. And here's the interesting thing I've been running up against lately: they can have a cumulative impact on my overall mood.

I picked up a copy of Wilson not long ago because I found a cheap copy and it kind of seemed like one of those comics canon pieces that you're supposed to read. It was interesting and well-done, but kind of dreadful. I mean, here's the Wilson guy and he's miserable and has a crap life that he doesn't really do anything about, and he's kind of an asshole. I want nothing to do with this guy! I kind of felt the same way about Chris Ware's Building Stories.

I was recently doing some research on credits in comic book movies, and I watched Art School Confidential for the first time. Again, interesting and well-done, but kind of dreadful. The message is that talent has no business in capital-A Art, and it's all about who you blow. (Crudely put, but that's actual dialogue in the film.) It's a very cynical outlook, but not one I think I would've ever wholly disagreed with.

I'm also in the middle of Sean Howe's book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. My friend Joe recently posted his summary on Facebook that reads, in part, "I'm here to tell you truly, this book has been miscategorized. It's being sold as nonfiction and that is a mistake. This is a horror story... Just the section on the editorship of Jim Shooter in the 1980s read like the outline for the sequel to Cloverfield, and it doesn't get any better from there. I don't know when I've ever read anything so frightening. Anyone who wants to work in comics, and any creative person who even thinks of approaching this sinister, untrustworthy, lowbrow, anti-creative nest of ghouls, I would advise that person to read this book first, and "Be afraid. Be very afraid."" I can't say I fully agree with his assessment, but I haven't gotten to the Shooter section yet either.

All of which is to say that in the past month or two, I've somewhat inadvertently been imbibing some works which paint a very dark portrait of life. Logically, there's been no change in any circumstances around me, but my outlook has soured a tad recently. I blame Clowes. Yeah, perhaps a little seasonal affective disorder is to blame as well, but things haven't been looking as rosy lately. Certainly not in the depressed/pissed/hopeless sense that some of this media might imply, but a slight shift from my typical "full steam ahead" approach.

My "thing" lately has been making more deliberate choices about all aspects of my life. What I eat, what I wear, who I choose to associate with, etc. What media I consume certainly needs to be a part of that, and it largely has been. But I think I need to be more selective of TONE as well as craft and style. I don't want to read exclusively funny animal comics or anything, but I need to be careful to largely avoid extended, brooding, slice-of-life stories that leave me in a dark and hopeless place. There's nothing wrong with some measure of negativity, but the perpetual state of resigned misery and ennui these all head into is dreadful for anything more than a single, brief story.

At least for who I am, and where I am in my life. I don't have time to wallow in that crap; I've got a life I need to live. Like I said, I'm more careful now about who I choose to associate with, and that evidently has to include fictional characters.

Monday, January 21, 2013

King The Special Edition Review

In 1991, Ho Che Anderson began working on a comic book biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The three 70-80 page volumes would wind up taking well over a decade to complete, the last chapter not being published until early 2003. Later, in 2010, publisher Fantagraphics collected the series, as well as a great deal of ancillary material, in King: The Special Edition.

The basic narrative is, not surprisingly, the life of King. Unlike other comic stories I've seen of him (side note: how cool is it that there ARE multiple biographies of King in comic format?) they tend to focus on his work during the civil rights movement. That does make some sense since, after all, that's what he's known for, how he made a name for himself, and how/why he was killed. But Anderson broadens his scope considerably. After a brief prologue when King was a boy, the story picks up in earnest during King's years in college. And Anderson covers the entirety of King's life: moments with his wife and children, as well as other personal relations.

And because of that scope, Anderson present King in a very human way. For all the good he tried to do, he was still a man and suffered some of the same failings that many others do, including some issues with infidelity. King is not treated here as a legend, as he so often is looked upon as, but as a great -- albiet sometimes flawed -- man. Both the honesty as well as the scope of King easily make this the best comic biography of the man I have seen.

Though it should be said that the book is not without some flaws as well. Anderson's visual depictions of King range from photographs to lush paintings to woodcut-style illustrations to silhouettes. While the changing styles is done with an artistic eye, and make sense in the context of the story, in some of the depictions -- particularly the silhouettes -- it's difficult to tell which figure is, in fact, King. In some instances, I think that makes sense; at one of King's early marches, there's a comment about how none of the people who might want to do him harm will be able to tell which one he is because all black people look alike to bigots and racists. But in other cases, like some of the meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference leaders, it tended to make things a little muddled as it was difficult to determine which thoughts/opinions were King's versus somebody else's.

Some of the word balloon placements also made that a little confusing at times. The balloon's tails in some of the larger panels and splash pages weren't always very specific about who they pointed to. So even though you had no trouble distinguishing one character from the next, you still had trouble deciphering who said what. Some of the pages use some color-coding on the balloons to help, but that wasn't 100% consistent.

Speaking of coloring, I should point out that Anderson makes color a very powerful tool throughout the book. It's largely rendered in stark black and white with only very occasional panels of color. He uses this very well to emphasize the drama inherent in some of the scenes and, using it sparingly, that emphasis is heightened even more. High kudos for the amount of restraint Anderson uses in its effect.

This collection includes Black Dogs, Anderson's "prelude" to King's biography, and over 40 pages of extra content: preliminary sketches, alternate pages, character notes, and a new timeleine/commentary by Anderson that goes into detail about the long road it was to get King finished. The book clocks in at just shy of 300 pages all told.

Despite some of the problems I noted, I found the book very much worth reading. I am glad that King is honored with his own holiday every year, but it seems to me that a lot of people born after his death know little about him beyond his "I Have a Dream" speech. King goes a long way to rectifying that. A very worthwhile read, much more powerful and insightful than that Golden Legacy issue or The Montgomery Story which are more freely circulated this time of year.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Comic Book Cake

Over at Sunshine and a Summer Breeze, Michelle did a series of posts about putting together an Avengers-themed birthday party for her son last year. She made a piñata that looked like Captain America's shield, character masks for all the kids and, naturally, a cake decorated with the Avengers. Take a look at the cake, though...
What she basically did was find an image she liked from a coloring book, traced the whole thing with frosting and applied that on top of a sheet cake. I thought it was a brilliantly clever way to get something cool looking, particularly if you couldn't make a drawing as slick as, say, Adam Hughes.

Now, she used a coloring book image specifically because there were extra bold outlines and the coloring wasn't complex, like you might get with a modern comic that she may have had ready access to. But the cool part is that you don't actually need to wreck the original image to create the icing version. Which means that you could use actual comic books from anywhere in your collection -- including ones from several decades ago when the coloring was more simplistic. You could cheaply and fairly easily put anything on your cake from the likes of Jack Kirby or Curt Swan or Carl Barks or Charles Schulz. You might have some difficulty if you tried replicating the intricate details of something from a guy like Hal Foster, but most comic artists wouldn't be that hard to copy, I don't think.

And, of course, you wouldn't need to limit things to a single image -- you could replicate whole comic sequences and/or use multiple covers and pin-ups to create a mash-up of several different characters. Without needing to do any combining of the images in Photoshop or anything. The method she uses for the cake transference thing here is pretty old school, so you don't need any fancy tools that you wouldn't already have if you were baking a regular cake.

Like I said, I just thought it was really clever and wanted to share.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Old Labor Cartoon Still Speaks

This (sadly) still relevant cartoon and the text below (with my emphases) is borrowed from The Opper Project...
Creator: W.A. Rogers

Publication: Harper's Weekly Vol. 45, No. 2319

Publication Date: June 1, 1901

Description: One of the broad effects of industrialization was the new rivalry between workers and managers, or as it was phrased at the time, labor and capital. The powers of factory owners and managers increased as industrialization proceeded. Workers experienced long hour, low pay, and job insecurity but could do little about these conditions. Labor gained strength, however, as more and more workers joined together in unions. The political scene became more favorable to labor once Theodore Roosevelt took office following the assassination of Republican President (and friend of capital) William McKinley in September 1901.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Plastic Man Decoration Ideas

You know Plastic Man's schtick, right? He's a rubbery stretchy guy, but a bit kooky so he's got no qualms morphing his body into bizarre shapes. The thing is, though, while he can take the shape of almost anything, he can't change his coloring. Which means that the object he transforms into almost always displays his red costume and his black & yellow belt. Here's a few covers showing the type of thing I'm talking about...
OK, so with that in mind, you could take pretty much any object, paint it red with black & yellow stripes, and have a custom Plastic Man decoration. You could do lamps, chairs, bookshelves... whatever! I found one licensed shirt that takes this approach...
... but even applying the same idea to a simple board would work...
Not bad, right? I mean, for a simple rectangle, it's kind of neat piece to include around your comics. Of course, if you're a little more artistically inclined, you could put a little bit more effort into it and come up with something like this...
And you could tailor the idea to your own talents. Maybe you could make scarf or a rug if you're better with textiles. What about painting a bed frame, or even just the headboard? Your computer? A clock? A piece of abstract sculpture? Curtains?

C'mon, folks! Get as crazy as Plas! Let's see some great home and lawn decor!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

WANTED: Nyoka the Jungle Girl

Robert Beerbohm's daughter is evidently having some medical issues (Stevens Johnson Syndrome -- it basically "burns your skin from inside out") and he's trying extra hard to get some stuff sold to raise some much-needed funds. Check out everything he's got here.

Now, if you'd like to help but don't happen to see anything you personally like, I have a solution for you! It just so happens that he's got the original art from "The Path of Doom" story from Master Comics #118 starring Nyoka the Jungle Girl. And when I say he's got the original art, he has all of it. The entire story. It looks like it's in great condition and would make an excellent piece to have in somebody's collection: the original art of an entire comic book story from 1950. That's not exactly easy to come by.

But since you didn't find anything that you'd like for yourself (see above) I might suggest that you could purchase the Nyoka art and send it to yours truly for all the insightful and brilliant commentary I've provided here for the past several years. Beerbohm's had it for sale for a while now, but it's just a bit pricey for me to pick up myself even though I'm really intrigued by this particular "jungle girl" is actually NOT wearing an animal-skin bathing suit. So, you know, if you happen to be a wealthy and/or generous benefactory, I would not at all mind if you purchased it for me.

Only to help Beerbohm out, of course.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Linked Up & Raring To Go!

  • Kevin Hodgson looks at what Peter Gutierrez is talking about with regards to using webcomics in a formal education setting. That is, teaching using webcomics!
  • Last week, Valerie Gallaher posted a good flu-induced rant on why you should get off your ass and write.
  • I don't know how long this info has been floating around, but I just learned that this year's annual ComicsPRO meeting will be held on February 21-23 in Atlanta, GA. More details can be found here.

  • Jim Shelly takes Diamond's Top 500 Graphic Novels of 2012 numbers, and makes the numbers into easier-to-digest charts. A good read, particularly if you're not a numbers type of person.

  • Finally, congrats to The Grist for their 7 billion, unpacked webcomic winning a Global Media Award from the Population Institute.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Golden Age Of Fan Sites

Kuljit Mithra is celebrating this month. Seventeen years of working on his Man Without Fear website. Congrats to him -- that is one HELL of an accomplishment.

The site is one of those that came about in the mid-1990s like so many others. The world wide web was still pretty new and a number of us who were comic fans and eager to get out onto the web built electronic shrines to our favorite characters. Yes, "us." I was one of them, building a Fantastic Four fan site called "4 Freedoms Plaza" after the team's then-current headquarters. (Sidebar: when I finally got my own domain name a few years later, I shortened it for FFPlaza for two reasons. First, there was an issue on whether it was "4", "Four", "For" or "Fore". And second, the headquarters I had named it after had been taken over by a team of villains, blown up and then destroyed entirely.)

We all took different approaches, based on our character preference and skill set. Most of the earliest sites -- mine included -- were crude, hand-coded beasts with bad formatting. Any time one of us learned a new trick or had a clever idea, it tended to circulate through the other sites. We became a loose network of friends, and I'm still familiar with several of those guys, including Kuljit. (I use "guys" throughout this piece. Seriously, I did not know of any females making fan sites back in the day, although there may well have been some.) Well, I was familiar with the ones who ran Marvel sites. We didn't have a whole lot of interaction with the DC sites, though we certainly weren't unaware of them.

And what was interesting, too, was how several folks independently came up with doing sites for the same characters. We had something of a friendly competition on whose site was best, but just among Fantastic Four sites. Or Spider-Man sites. Or whomever. I was only just getting interested in the notion of fandom as a separate topic of study around that time, and I started to note how it seemed to mimic the dawn of comic fanzines in a lot of ways. In fact, there were more than a couple fan sites that were operating in a fanzine-esque manner.

As time wore on, there were two notable changes that took place. First, and most obviously, was the technology improved. Folks started running their sites through databases and providing more interactive experiences. They got better at (or called in help to) the site design and navigation, since people in general began understanding how the web worked differently than print. The sites gradually took on a more and more professional look and feel.

Secondly, we started getting older. I think a lot of us were in our 20s and 30s when we started, and I'm seeing birthday notices for these guys now who are in their 40s. More significantly, though, I'm seeing birthday notices for these guys' kids, many of whom are getting into their teens. And it's not so much an age thing, but it's a Life thing, where these guys are not quite as responsibilty-free as they used to be. They don't often have the free time they used to.

Especially over the long haul. I ran FFPlaza for over a decade (with another couple years of just leaving it online but not updated after that) and I don't mind telling you that it was a chore sometimes. Not that it wasn't without some perks, but it took a LOT to keep that going that long.

Especially in light of a lot of the same information being available in other forms elsewhere. Does it make sense to have a database library of every issue of the Fantastic Four, when the same information is available on Does it make sense to have a history listed out when it's just as available (and more likely to get seen) on Wikipedia? In my particular case, there were other personal issues too. My friend and issue reviewer, Gregg Allinson, died. The "Civli War" storyline absolutely killed my interest in the entire Marvel Universe. My divorce put a big strain on my finances. But that guys like Kuljit are still out there honoring their heroes, that's damned impressive. Congrats, Kuljit! Job well done!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Telling Your Story's Story

Storytelling is obviously a key component in making a good comic book. I mean, that's generally kind of the whole point, right? So creators (if they're any good at all) spend a lot of time crafting their stories, not only making sure the illustrations work and there are no gaping plot holes, but that the layout and format serve the reader's understanding and the overall experience of the comic is a positive one. These are the types of things good storytellers do.

So it wouldn't be a leap of logic to say that people who make good comics are good storytellers.

Except that's not necessarily true.

Let's take a look at one of my favorite creators and an unabashed master comic craftsman: Jack Kirby. Jack was an absolutely fantastic genius when it came to telling a story in comics. Say what you want about his illustration ability, but the man knew how to tell a story in comic book form so well that there is maybe -- maybe -- two or three other people in the history of comics who you could argueably say were as good as him. Not necessarily better, but as good as. Maybe.


Kirby is also known for basically getting financially shafted for very nearly his entire career. He created characters and stories that have garnered untold millions in revenue for multiple companies and, not only did he get bupkis for that, but he had to fight for years just to get his original art back! And even then only got a fraction of it! Siegel and Shuster selling the rights to Superman for $130 is sometimes called the "original sin" of comics, but Kirby got less than that over and over and over and over again throughout his entire career. What'd he get for the Fantastic Four? His page rate. What'd he get for the Hulk? His page rate. What'd he get for the X-Men? His page rate. What'd he get for Darkseid, Orion, Thor, Iron Man, Dr. Doom, Fin Fang Foom, SHIELD, Kamandi, the Eternals, Mister Miracle, OMAC, the Demon, Devil Dinosaur, Black Panther...? Kirby only ever got paid for the physical artifact of his pencil marks on pieces of paper. Siegel and Shuster at least got some compensation (admittedly an insanely insulting pittance) for the character separate from their artwork ; Kirby didn't even get that.

Now there are any number of reasons for that, but one of them is that Kirby wasn't a good storyteller when it came to himself. He could create a phenomenal story about how Galactus came down to eat the earth, and had this silvery herald announcing the planet's impending doom, and how a blind girl was able to get the herald to turn on his master... But as to how or why he did that? Those stories don't come out so well. As to why he deserved more than he got for that? Those stories came out worse.

One of the sometimes-overlooked aspects of Stan Lee's genius was that he has done a phenomenal job of telling you HIS story. You've heard that, right? His anecdotes about his wife convincing him to write the Fantastic Four because he was going to quit anyway, about how his boss wanted to nix Spider-Man before it even started because nobody likes spiders...? Lee has done fantastic job telling those stories over the years. That's partly where the rift between Lee and Kirby came from, in fact! (See my column in the next issue of Jack Kirby Collector for some of the info on that! It should be out next week!) Lee sold himself very well and Kirby, frankly, didn't.

Comic creators really need to be able to tell two types of stories well. They need to be able to tell a story about superheroes or zombies or barbarians or anthropamorphic rabbits or whatever their genre of choice is. And they need to be able to tell a story about themselves and their book. Why should I, as a reader, care about your book? Why should s/he, as a publsiher, care about you? If a comic creator can't tell that story, then it's going to make their job telling their other stories a heck of a lot tougher.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Go, Team Talented-&-Positive-Comic-Creators!

"No matter what you pledge, I'm gonna give you these comics. No matter how much you pay, even if you don't choose a reward tier, I will find you and I will give you comics. That's just a fact!"

That's what Ryan Estrada is telling potential Kickstarter backers as he's standing on a (I presume) Korean rooftop in the rain. And even though he's standing in one place for the duration of the video, his excitement and energy seems boundless.

I talked a bit about his Whole Story project from last summer. He basically said the same thing, "Pay what you want, and I'll give you these comics." I've caught in other interviews where he noted that some people paid him, got the comics and, after reading them, gave him more money because they liked them so much. Using Kickstarter to do the same thing is, at first blush, kind of an odd choice. Their normal rewards system is very much set up on a tiered payment structure; the more you contribute, the more you get. What Estrada has done with it, then, is basically make all his new comics available at the $1 level (the lowest a Kickstarer project will allow) but then provides stickers and print copies and original art as you increase your pledge. But his stated goal of giving you his comics is universal.

In fact, he's gotten so many pledges already and has been so thankful to those people that he's given them some of his comics already, more than two weeks before the Kickstarter campaign is complete! The comics I've read from him are good -- both the ones from last year and the review copies of Plagued and The Dog's Sins he sent me this past week. They're not all by Estrada personally -- as he notes in the video, he's basically going around asking people who's work he likes to do cool comics.

I could do a proper review of the books here, but I'm not going to. You want to see what you think of his comics? Go over to his Google+ page where he's posted a bunch of them; you can read a lot of them for free to see for yourself. What I think is more noteworthy here is that any sort of pledge will get you the collection of books. A bare minimum of 300 pages of comics, even if you only pledge one dollar. It's kind of an anthology thing, but the only theme really is people who make good comics. There's almost certainly something you'll like in there, since Estrada's interests are pretty diverse and he's just on the hunt for good work.

You know, after my divorce a few years back, I started making some changes in my outlook towards life. There was a lot of "playing it safe" and "doing what you're supposed to do" and all that. And, divorce aside, I had been doing okay for myself. But just okay. I've made no secret that it was Bob the Squirrel comic that kicked me off my ass, and got me back into the world of the living and I think I've mentioned once or twice that it was "what are you waiting for" post from Seth Godin that finally got me working on my first book. The last few years when I've been getting more into the idea of living my life in a deliberate way and taking more of a 'just do it' attitude have been very fruitful in many ways.

And what's interesting is seeing how that manifests in other people as well, Estrada being a prime example. He's been living a fantastic life and has really been making a name for himself in just doing some great comics work. From the standpoint of the stories he creates, of course, but also his experimentation with different publishing models. And it works! His Kickstarter, still ongoing, raised over double the funds he was asking for in less than 24 hours! He's at something like eight times over as of this writing, and he's not even half-way through the campaign.

I've seen a number of friends and acquaintences in the past couple years start letting go of old ideas and dogma, and living more on their own terms, and I'm seeing them achieve more success and (more importantly) more happiness than before. Now maybe that's partially due to my personal focus moving away from Negative Nellies or so-called "toxic relationships" and concentrating on creative people who are just out there trying to do good work, but it's uplifting and inspiring and energizing to see that going on more and more.

Some of the Kickstarters I've backed have been pretty-down-to-the-wire on whether or not they'd get funded. Estrada's set, like I said; whether you opt to back him or not, his project's funded already. But what I'd like to suggest is just supporting those comic creators who are doing great work and enjoying what they're doing. There are many talented folks out there who turn in fantastic comics, but can be miserable, bitchy SOBs. I'm not saying they don't deserve any support, especially if they can still turn out good comics, but let's put our energies in 2013 to helping make successes out of people who deserve it AND will be happy and excited to do more of the same!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

10,000 Hours Of Biographies

Over the holidays, I read The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. I was familiar with some of Tezuka's work, mostly his anime though I've read a few of his shorter manga works. I had a general sense of who he was and how important he was to manga, but I didn't have a solid appreciation of not only what he contributed but how revered he was in Japan until I read the book. He wasn't honored just by other mangaka, but by everyone. I mean, there are TWO different museums in Japan dedicated exclusively to him! I learned quite a lot about him and the manga industry in general just from that one book.

On December 30, I started reading 2000 AD: The Creator Interviews. Author Michael Molcher talked with Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Ron Smith and Mick McMahon and provided lots of background on the four men, as well as what they were doing more recently. I was vaguely familiar with some of their work, primarily their older Judge Dredd stories, but little beyond that. Nearly everything relayed in the book was entirely new for me.

A little over a week ago, I posted a review of the biography of Vee Quintal Pearson. She was a Golden Age artist who died in 1998. I had never heard of her before December 26 when I stumbled across the biography. I had never even heard of the comics she worked on, or even the publisher she worked for!

Michael "Doc V" Vassallo noted today that Golden Age comic artist Marion Sitton died on December 29. He was 92 years old. That same post includes a decent biography of Sitton, including many personal interactions Vassallo had with him in the past several years and links to other posts he's made about the artist. I'd somehow missed all of them; I don't recall ever hearing of Sitton before tonight. Long-time comics retailer and historian Robert Beerbohm noted that he had never heard of him either.

I don't claim to know everything about comics. I don't claim to know everything about American comics. I don't even claim to know everything about the comics I have in my personal collection. I like to think I know a bit more than most comic fans but, more often than not, I have a continual nagging feeling in the back of my head telling me that somebody's going to finally call my bluff and point out that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

A few years ago, author Malcolm Gladwell promoted an idea that, to a degree, gained a bit of traction. He claimed that to really become an expert in something, you have to practice at it for at least 10,000 hours. That's about 20 hours a week for 10 years. At 40 years old and having read comics and books about comics about as long as I can remember, I suspect I've hit 10,000 hours but it's not something I've kept very careful track of these past few decades.

But let me go back to Beerbohm's comment. What he actually said was, "Never heard of him [Sitton] afore so thanks for posting, Michael, as I am always open to learning more of the wonderful world of comics. I realized a loooong time ago each one of us will never learn it all."

Think about the history of comics for a moment. It's made up of people, right? Guys like Will Eisner and Charles Schulz and Katsuhiro Otomo and Alan Davis and Robert Crumb. has almot 1500 creators in its database, and I think it's REALLY light on non-American creators. And there are almost no references to webcomickers. So what are we talking? 3000? 5000 people who'e gotten credit for creating comics. But don't forget that there are also guys like Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Max Gaines and George Moonie and a host of other names of guys who weren't in the spotlight. Editors and publishers and folks that got the comics produced, even if they didn't contribute actual stories or art. We're easily talking thousands of people here; of course there's no way one person can learn about all of them!

But the interesting thing is that, because it's all comics, it all ties together. And the more you're able to learn about the Tezukas and Pearsons and Sittons of the world, the more you'll be able to connect the dots and paint a better picture of comics writ large. 10,000 hours of reading Superman or Spider-Man would only make you an expert on those characters. If you're looking to be an expert on comics (and I know I'm still looking) then that's 10,000 hours of biographies of obscure creators and histories of business practices and art techniques and everything else that might be connected with the medium.

And that's one of the things that I love about comics -- there is NO end of material to keep studying and learning about!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Silence Of Our Friends Review

I made the mistake of reading The Silence of our Friends during dinner tonight. Don't get me wrong; it's an excellent book, but probably not one I should've read while trying to relax on a Friday evening. I'll get to that in a bit.

The book covers about a two week period in 1968. Jack Long is a reporter for a Houston television station, and covers the civil rights stories for them. In the process, he meets and befriends activist Larry Thomas as he's organizing some of the local non-violent protests. Their friendship is a tense one, more than anything because of external social pressures that are encroaching on both their and their families' lives. During one of the protests, the police take overly aggressive action and begin firing wildly on the unarmed crowd. One of the officers is killed and another wounded by friendly fire, but they still round up nearly 500 of the protesters and try to prosecute five of them with the officer's murder. Though Long was unable to bring himself to help Thomas during the actual firefight, putting further strain on their friendship, he absolves himself in court by going out of his way to correct the prosecutions accusations. Though the five students are acquitted, they learn of Martin Luther King's assassination soon after.

That summary, needless to say, leaves out quite a lot. There aren't a lot of sub-plots or extensively detailed versions of those scenes, however. Rather, there are a lot of superficially unrelated character moments. One of Long's daughters is blind and there are scenes of her trying to learn a braille typewriter. Thomas takes his son out fishing one afternoon. The Long children re-enact a wrestling match they saw on television. Lots of small beats like that.

But, interestingly, while those bits aren't germaine to the basic narrative, they provide a great deal of social and emotional context. They wind up helping to serve the broader thematic narrative, and I think they enhance the book a great deal. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't resonnate quite so much had those not been in place.

The story in Silence is actually true. One of the writers is Mark Long, son of the reporter. In the afterward, he notes that he changed a few names and small details, but the events chronicled here are largely accurate. That is noticeable in the story, in fact; it has a great deal of authenticity about it. Again, this is partly due to those small beats that are throughout the book.

I learned very little about the civil rights movement in school. It was still too new be considered history, and too old to be considered current events. Most everything from 1950-1980 fell into that black hole of social studies classes for me. But, in trying to fill in some of those gaps in hindsight, my "studies" tend to come in the form of mass marketed materials. And, in the case of the civil rights movement, that largely means national headline material -- Martin Luther King, naturally, but also Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, George Wallace, the Black Panthers, etc. So smaller, though nonetheless significant, moments like these often get passed by or overlooked.

What I really liked, and thought was expertly done here, was how there was a very real and visceral sense of the mood of the country in mid-1968. Again, you hear about the house bombings and the beatings and such, but you don't often -- or least get a good sense of -- the day-to-day moments. The sideways glances. The slurs yelled from a car window just after you convinced yourself that they were going to drive by without incident after all. The anger taken out on your own children transferred from that bigot clerk, shortly followed by the realization how and why you lashed out at the wrong person. The news on television that reported a decidedly slanted version of events because the editor is a "goddamn racist jarhead." All of that, day in and day out, wears on a person. Death by a thousand paper cuts.

And it's not just the black people who experienced that. No question they got the worst of it, by far, but anyone who supported them, even tacitly, had issues to deal with. More along the lines of social ostracization and career suicide instead of getting run over by a truck, but still just because you had lighter skin didn't give you free pass.

And that's all why I shouldn't have read The Silence of our Friends tonight. Because it showcases just how many people are complete assholes. Yes, the story is primarily about two men overcoming emotional/social racial barriers they both have and the book ends with blacks and whites literally marching in hand in hand. But there is so much hate and prejudice shown in this book, and I can't help but see it reflected in where I live now over four decades later. No, I can't say I've seen black folks getting spit on or beaten up, but my neighbors do complain about kids "nigger-knocking" and how I should make sure I don't sell my house to any "colored folks." Actual conversations I've had with neighbors. You know what, asshole? Fuck you! Learn some fucking respect for people before you ever talk to me again!

The Silence of our Friends is an excellent book, and highlights a sorely under-represented slice of civil rights history. I have to recommend this book. I just don't recommend reading it if you've had any experience with racial tensions and you're trying to wind down from a long week.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Comics Is An Ass

Today's big announcement in comics is that Jennifer Holm of Babymouse fame has joined the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's Board of Directors. The full announcement is here. The CBLDF's board has included other noteworthy comic creators like Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Larry Marder and Paul Levitz to name a few, so that Holm is now one of them isn't terribly radical for the organization itself. It's a little of a departure in that, I believe it's the first creator they've had who's really operated completely outside the direct market, but Marder was a bit outside that as well once upon a time.

But what I find interesting here is that there's something of a conscious decision on the CBLDF's part to look outside the "normal" or "expected" candidate pool. What I mean by that is that Holm is a BIG DEAL. Three Newberry awards and a very successful book series that's spawned over a dozen sequels in a little over five years. In fact, 2012 was the first year there was only one Babymouse book, but that's because Holm had two books in her OTHER successful comic series, Squish. But you've never heard of Squish because there's pretty much ZERO coverage of it on comics/pop culture/geekdom websites. In fact, besides this CBLDF announcement, there's almost nothing on Holm in those same venues. Despite being selling a shit-ton of comics and getting untold hordes of children into comics in a way that Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, etc. are not.

It's not just that those publishers aren't producing material that is directed towards getting younger audiences involved in comics. Clearly, they know they're not good at that any more and don't waste their money trying. Especially when other book publishers like Random House and Scholastic are doing such a stellar job at it. And I kind of get that most of these comics news sites are catering to the same crowd that are into the properties more geared for adults. Why talk about Holm when most of your audience would rather see pictures of Jamie Alexander on the set of the next Thor movie?

It's a bit of fallacy in following the money. The crowd that's more interested in pictures of Alexander has more disposable cash that can go (directly or indirectly) to publishers and news sites. So it's easy to think that's the way to go. The crowd interested in Holm's work skews younger -- to the point where they don't actually hold jobs and, theoretically, have less cash. But while these people don't have large bank accounts, by and large, they do have a controlling interest in someone who does -- namely, their parents. If little Suzie wants the latest Babymouse book, she's not going to go to Amazon and buy it with her own credit card, she's going to ask Mom or Dad to buy it for her. Maybe she'll get a gift card or something, but the money -- in the ledgers -- looks like it comes from an adult.

And that, I suppose, is what bothers me most about the comics industry writ large these days. It's something that "regular" book publishers figured out decades ago, but comics people are just following the money. I know it's a business and needs to be commercially viable and all, but it's like the people running comic publishing houses these days are still looking at the market in a sophomoric or unrefined way. We can kind of laugh at the zillion-cover-variations style of tactics that keeps getting used, but that limited thinking is causing problems at a much larger level, I think.

Granted, book publishing as we know it is more than a bit older and wiser than comic book publishing, but in the 21st century when every piece of data known to man is almost immediately accessible from my desk, it seems like comic book publishers would be a little more mature in their approach to selling comics. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund seems to get it, why can't the rest of the industry?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Links Continue On!

  • On Thursday at 6:00 PM ET, the Creative Learning Factory will host a webinar on "how comic books, cartoons, and comic strips have addressed various social issues in American history." It's to be presented by Caitlin McGurk of BICML; registration is $20.
  • Robert Stanley Martin provides a very good overview of Jim Shooter's EIC role at Marvel. It's a piece that runs somewhat counter to "conventional wisdom" and one that more closely matches my recollections of that time period.
  • Last week, Garen Ewing (creator of The Rainbow Orchid) posted "a few new year's thoughts on creating stories, being a creator, and on comics generally." All of these are note-worthy, but one of his notes that readers should bear in mind while reading all the others is: "I'm an expert in how to make comics the Garen Way. As for how to make comics any other way, I'm rubbish."
  • Someone going by the name of "themadthinker" posted this piece on the state of European comics in the States. I don't know that it's comprehensive, but it's a similar frustration to what I've been having in recent years.
  • Finally, a couple of comics that struck me. Caytlin Vilbrandt uses her characters from Walking on Broken Glass to attempt a webcomic version of Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams." Meanwhile, Chris Guillebeau provides us with 11 Ways to be Unremarkably Average. No real commentary from me other than to say that they're both kind out asides to my normal webcomic discussions, but I still wanted to highlight them.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Not A Review Of A Book I Won't Name

I read a new graphic novel recently that was very well-done, and it's received some kudos in various circles. (Though I've also heard not nearly as many kudos as it should; it's been largely ignored by "mainstream" comics outlets.) It wasn't my favorite graphic novel of 2012 by far, but it wasn't anywhere near the bottom either. Critically, I can say it was very well done. But I didn't really enjoy it.

Here's the weird thing, though. The art? A little different, but I was on board with it. The story? Pirates, hell yes, I'm on board! Characters? Not all relatable for me, but definitely several that were interesting. My problem with it was largely the ending. It felt unfinished. It wasn't, but I was left with an openness that didn't sit well with me.

It was a book that I had picked up at Quimby's. And there was a lot of stuff there that I could see at a glance would be things I wouldn't care for. So when I got to the end of this book, I thought of all the other things there that may have been well-done, but weren't my thing. And many of the other books I've read over the years that seemed significant or worthwhile... but I didn't like because they had a strange ending or a message that I didn't understand.

I didn't care for Chris Ware's Building Stories despite being able to recognize the craftsmanship in it. But I was okay with that because I "got" what Ware was doing, and I could readily pinpoint that the reason I didn't like it was because of the depressing tone the stories all took. He wasn't trying to paint a happy picture here, and that's okay. It's just not my thing. I don't care for Friedrich Nietzsche either for similar reasons.

But the books where I just don't understand what the creator is trying to do or say? I have trouble with those. I don't know that I need an ending that's necessarily wrapped up in a tidy bow -- I like Stanley Kubrik's 2001 for example -- and I don't need to be spoon-fed the creator's message, but I need something.

If I get a book that makes no sense front to back, I can write that off as poorly executed. But this one made sense and I followed along perefectly fine -- even the visually challenging pages that were meant to convey the madness of a particular character -- until the last page. So I have to ask myself, "Did I miss something?"

Naturally, I'll go back and re-read the last portion to see if I did indeed miss something. But if I didn't miss anything and still don't get it, I find that I start questioning my own comprehension abilities. I don't generally think of myself as a dullard, but an allegedly good book that I'm not understanding will get me to that line of thinking. Obviously, that's not an idea that sits well with me.

Or maybe I've gotten so used to stories making things so easy that an idiot child could understand that I've turned my brain off to processing something that's a bit more complex. Maybe there IS a reasonable ending there and subsconsciously, I'm just not willing to think about it. That idea doesn't sit well with me either.

Furthermore, is it fair of me to dislike the entire book because I didn't understand the last page? I mean, I had a few other issues with the storytelling early on, but fairly minor ones. Does an uncomprehended ending -- seemingly due to a problem on my side -- warrant going from an okay opinion to a disagreeable one?

You'll notice, of course, that I haven't actually named the book I've been talking about. That's largely because I don't have answers to any of these questions. I didn't like it, but is that opinion really justifiable? Is it reasonable of me to try to convince you not to read this because I didn't like the last page? Even if it is, do I want to? I try not to post negative reviews because I don't want to be a guy telling you what NOT to buy: I want to stay positive and tell what you I think you might enjoy.

Theoretically, there are some books in the mail that I think I will enjoy. I believe I'll just save my reviews until I get a chance to read those.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Dress For The Job You Want

My buddy, cartoonist Frank Page, changed his profile picture on Facebook recently. It's a self-portrait of him at his drawing board. In a space suit. It seems a bit odd, of course. Kind of amusing, especially with Bob the Squirrel doing a face-plant off the helmet.

But I seem to recall him saying at one point that he wanted to be an astronaut when he was a kid. Which makes the suit a little more interesting. I'm not going to spend a lot of time playing armchair psychologist here, trying to suss out if he's harboring some long-repressed regret for signing up for the regular science class in high school instead of the AP one, but I am reminded of the maxim: "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have."

I can't seem to find the origin of the phrase, but I know I saw it in ready circulation last year with an addendum about wearing a Batman costume.

Of course, the phrase isn't meant to be taken precisely literally. Wearing a space suit or a superhero cape alone doesn't get you your dream job. The phrase is more metaphorical. You need to see yourself in whatever role you're attempting to get into before you actually step into it, and to make that step, you need to convince others that you're prepared for it. You need to show the people who might elect to put you in that role that they may as well put you in that role because you're as good as in there already. You think the way you need to, you act the way you need to and, yes, you dress the way you need to.

In the field of comics these days, there's fortunately a pretty minimal dress code for creators. But how you dress still affects how you're treated. You ever see fans come up and talk to Seth in person? There's a distinctly different tone and style than when fans come up to, say, Mark Waid. Waid's appearance is not that far removed from most fans, while Seth tends to look like he stepped out of a 1930's accountant's office. Consequently, fans tend to address Waid more casually.

Some of it is personality and attitude, of course, but creators' appearance is both a reflection of that and a signal to others how they want to be seen. Take a look at pictures of notable comic book creators. Robert Crumb, Jim Steranko, Stan Lee, Lynda Barry, Frank Miller, Art Spiegelman... They don't wear uniforms per se, but they showcase a distinctive style every time they go out. And I know in at least half of those cases I just cited, that's very conscious and deliberate. That's part of who they are, and how they're treated.

As a creator, you certainly can go around wearing jeans and a t-shirt with your favorite superhero on it, and it's not a huge deal. But now that we're living in a particularly media-savvy age, I think your appearance has more of an impact on how you're received by both fans and other professionals. You maybe don't need to go to the lengths that James Sime does, but just throwing on whatever happens to be in your closet seems like less and less of a viable option any more.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Definitive Credits Model

I finally got around to seeing Dredd tonight. I don't want to really talk about the story or the characters or anything like that, though. Instead, I'm going to highlight the end credits.

You know how films generally work these days, as far as credit sequences go, right? There's the big movie climax, the closing theme music begins and then they splatter the biggest names of those involved across the screen in huge letters before getting to the long scroll of grips and best boys and everything.

With that said, here are the first three screens of credits after Judge Dredd literally rides off towards the horizon...

That's right; the very first names shown -- before ANY other part of the credits -- are the guys who created the character. Before Karl Urban, who I'm sure is more widely known, and before the actual name of the movie, they list John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra as the guys who created the character the movie was based on and named for. "Judge Dredd created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra" in letters as big as the biggest star of the movie.

I don't know how much money (if any) Wagner and Ezquerra are receiving for the movie, but THAT is how to properly credit a comic book creator when their characters are turned into major motion pictures! I would've been hooting and hollering in the theater if I'd have seen Jack Kirby's name like that in Avengers!

You know, credit sequences are pretty much the last thing to get put into the final edit of a film. There's still plenty of time to get Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in there for Man of Steel and Kirby, Stan Lee, Don Heck & Larry Lieber in for Iron Man 3. C'mon, movie prodcuers, don't be dicks about this!

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Venus Daedalus One Review

One of the interesting things about Kickstarter comic projects is that you often don't know what you're getting into. I mean, sure, they've got their video and additional copy explaining what they're trying to do but, typically, the projects aren't done yet. So unless you're really familiar with the creator already, you're often taking a good chunk of the project's success on faith. It sounds good and the previews are enticing, but you (generally) can't flip through an actual copy of what they're purposing.

Of the completed projects I've backed so far, I've been at least reasonably happy with the final result. I was happy to help the folks out monetarily, so even on the ones that struck me as being a little less successful, they still turned out okay.

That's me going into Venus: Daedalus One. I got a copy of it for backing Mars: Daedalus Two, which they're still working on. As writer Jeffrey Morris describes it, "The story centers around an engineer named Dez Clarke and a team of explorers who travel to our deadly neighboring world... There to witness a historical geologic event, the scientists have brought along a number of exospheres -- cybernetic organisms with artificial intelligence." The drama comes from both the problems inherent in the scientific study of space, coupled with some of the tensions that arise between the humans and their AI workmates. It's a little along the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey but only at a really high level.

There used to be bit of an argument in science fiction fandom (well before "science fiction" was shortened to "sci-fi") about the emphasis of the genre. Some folks claimed that it should focus on the science end of things, while others preferred the fiction end of the spectrum. This is basically the rift between Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Popular culture seems to favor the fiction side, with the commercial successes of Star Wars, Star Trek and the like. Consequently, you don't see nearly that much of what's called "hard" science fiction. But Venus: Daedalus One (and presumably Mars: Daedalus Two) fall more into that less travelled category. While the inclusion of AI robots might be a bit into the straight fiction, the rest of the book is very rooted in real (and current) science theory. Offhand, I think this is the first comic I've ever read so far into the hard science fiction category.

But what struck me was that, despite a clear effort to get the science right throughout the books, that wasn't actually the focus. There was a very real and well-thought-out discussion about the rights of (for us in the real world, potential) AI beings. What is sentience? What is it about the possibilty of computers gaining it that really scares the crap out of some people? How would those types of people act if/when AI is made a full reality, and why would they act that way?

This is what really good science fiction does. It presents us with the possibilities of our future, both in terms of the technology itself but also the social and ethical implications of same. Venus: Daedalus One does that well.

As far as I've been able to determine, this is the first comics work of co-writers Jeffrey Morris and Ira Livingston. And they knocked it out of the park! I was really impressed with not only the story itself, but the wealth of thought and consideration they put into all the implications of the future they created. I'm really eager now to see Mars: Daedalus Two and hope that they're commercially successful enough that we see (what I'm spit-balling would be titled) Io: Daedalus Three.

Venus: Daedalus One can be ordered now for $16.95 through their FutureDude website. Mars: Daedalus Two should be available through there as well in a couple months.

Friday, January 04, 2013

A Trip To Quimby's

I was in Chicago for a few days around New Year's and, while I was up there, the S.O. happened (without me) to get into a discussion about comics. Despite not being into comics or science fiction herself, she somehow manages to find friends who frequently are. Anyway, somehow the conversation went more towards indie comics and Quimby's came up. She thought it sounded kind of neat, and figured I'd be interested, so she suggested we head out there the next day. I love visiting new (to me) comic shops, but I try not to force that on the S.O. too much, so the only Chicago area shops I've visited are the ones which she's found out about independently of me.

At any rate, Quimby's, in case you're not familiar with them, is something of an institution in their long-standing support for comics that are NOT published by Marvel and DC. It's known for having a great indie selection and is very friendly to self-published and mini-comics. I was eager to see the place in person. After all, they have a guarantee on their website "to satisfy the soul beaten flat by our mainstream culture's relentless insistence on dumb pictures and insulting syntax."

The clerk gave us a friendly greeting when we entered, while we stared around a little blankly taking in what was in front of us. Books and zines. Lots and lots of books and zines. There was a table up front with new releases -- which I only knew were new releases because I was familiar with some of the titles. The rest of the shop looked like a mish-mash of bound papers, and there was little I immediately saw that seemed to be comic related.

As we started moving about, we could start to recognize the labels on the different sections. There was a section of cookbooks. Another on GLBT issues. Another with just music zines. As I started getting towards the back half of the store, I found the comics and mini-comics sections. And another section for clearances books. And a photo booth.

The selection available in the store was, indeed, impressive. There were any number of books that I'd heard about, but hadn't bought yet because I wanted to at least flip through them first. I even found a copy of Eroyn Franklin's Xeric-winning Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory, which I honestly wasn't even sure had ever actually been published! I had $100 worth of books in my hands in short order, including the ones I had pulled from the clearance shelves.

I was surprised at some of what they carried. They did in fact have several Marvel and DC trades, which I wasn't expecting, thinking they focused pretty exclusively on non-superhero material. But at the other end of the spectrum, they had a decently large selection of Chick Tracts which I've never seen anyone actually sell. (I always felt part of the appeal of Chick Tracts was being able to just randomly find them in hospitals and malls. But I suppose I can see why someone would want them based on the stories alone.) Basically, Quimby's had at least one copy of every odd or off-the-beaten-path book that I thought to look for. And many interesting ones I happened to stumble across!

Here's the weird thing, though. Visually, it reminded me very much of many stereotypically crappy comic shops. It was dark, and not terribly inviting. The clerk seemed friendly and helpful enough, but I overheard him directing other customers to specific shelves as they were looking for broad categories of books/zines that they couldn't find on their own. Not that the store was disorganized, but the identification labels weren't always readily obvious to find.

The S.O. noted, after a while, that the store was "overwhelming" and she didn't have any idea where to go or what to even start looking at. Even being moderately familiar with about half of their stock (comics, I know; music zines and GLBT books, not so much) I have to admit to a bit of the same problem myself. I felt decidedly out of my element in the first half of the store, and it was only once I got to the comics area where things started clicking for me. I think the S.O. felt similarly once she found the one bookshelf of cookbooks; I think she spent most of our visit in that one spot.

It made for an interesting experience in that it gave me a sense of what it must be like for a non-comics person to walk into your average LCS. There's just so much there that is unfamiliar, it's difficult for your brain to ground itself and process things. Not that Quimby's was uninviting per se, just that the deliberate aesthetic they cultivate is one of a counterculture incongruous with even the subculture of comics I'm familiar with. (And I'm talking the old school comic subculture from before when being a geek was cool.) And what strikes me about that is that, in an era when comics has really been trying to clean up its act and present itself more reasonably to potential readers, Quimby's has taken a notably different approach.

More importantly, it's one that seems to be working for them. I'm not sure it's an approach that would be easily replicable. Much like The Isotope is so tied to James Sime's personality that it would be difficult to copy that. So, while there are many Best Practices out there, I think it always needs to be gauged against the specifics of your situation.

When we had our books rung up (the S.O. found a couple unusual cookbooks to her liking) the clerk scanned the barcodes using, I believe, the POS system made available through ComisPRO. They're not ignoring what other shops are doing to improve their inventory and ordering systems; they've just made a business decision to cater to a crowd who appreciates a different aesthetic.