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Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Warren Ellis's Scars -- Imagine NYPD Blue as directed by David Lynch or perhaps David Fincher. That's my high-concept description of Warren Ellis's new Scars, a mini-series with artist Jacen Burrows coming from Avatar Press.

I've always enjoyed Ellis's Avatar titles. They're not as polished as his work for other companies, but they have a raw, nasty attitude that perfectly suits their black-and-white horror sensibilities. Burrows is a perfect artist to handle this project, equally capable of depicting normal life and the hideous underworld that Ellis quickly introduces.

Warren sent along the script to issue #1 last night, and I think this will be his best Avatar effort yet. The script finds a bitter cop encountering about the most horrific drug dealer scenario imaginable -- and the true horror is in how very possible Ellis's ideas are. This could happen; maybe it already has.

Between Global Frequency and Scars, Ellis looks to be seriously back and working in a variety of genres. This is very good news for readers, indeed.

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Sunday, October 27, 2002

My Pet Peeves -- This was inspired by a generally hilarious thread at the Comics Journal message board.

* Drivers who turn left from the right lane at the end of a one-way street going onto a two-way and then look at me like I'm doing something wrong when I pull into the left lane to turn left, like you're supposed to (at least in New York).

* People (and it's usually women, dunno why) who check out at a cash register and the exchange is done and instead of getting out of the way, they stand there and arrange their money in their wallet/purse.

* Right-Wing Extremists -- especially gun nuts and anti-abortion zealots. These dangerous terrorists would be #1 on the Most Wanted list of any REAL "War on Terror."

* Drive-Thru Fuckery. Wrong sandwich. Forgotten items. Joe Pesci was right, "They fuck you at the drive-thru."

* Businesses that don't salt and/or sand their sidewalks after an ice storm. Do they LIKE being sued?

* The Stealth Christianity Movement.

* People who can't control their children -- but refuse to remove them to somewhere private to deal with the effects of their disastrous parenting skills.

*People who dog-ear pages in books to mark their place. What the fuck is wrong with them?

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Friday, October 11, 2002

Indie Press Titles On the Silver Screen -- This is an article that first appeared at the site Independent Publisher.

"A Conversation with Alan David Doane of Comic Book Galaxy and Chris Staros of Top Shelf -- Comic Book Movies Score Hits and Misses."

Comics have long played a part in movie making, the obvious examples being Superman and Batman. But do the films really capture the essence of the authors' and artists' original creations?

A breakthrough occurred in 1994 when the movie version of The Crow seemed to bring the comic's dark mood and look to the screen, and this spring's Spider-Man wowed audiences with high-tech special effects. But what about the "alternative" comics being published by independent presses, many of which deal with real people, true crime, or teen angst.

Over the past year film adaptations of indie comic and graphic novels have been made: From Hell, Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys, Ghost World, and Road to Perdition.

"We've seen pretty definitively that movies based on comics lack the depth and gravity of the comics they're based on," says Alan David Doane, Editor-in-Chief at Comic Book Galaxy. "For example, while From Hell is probably the best, most complex, challenging and progressive work ever created in comics, it became on film a mildly interesting horror story, despite an obvious desire on the part of the filmmakers to create a serious, high-quality film."

Doane feels that lighter weight material like Spider-Man and X-Men seems to fare better, translating their simplistic good vs. evil themes into compelling, if forgettable, popcorn movies.

"Ghost World is probably the best film I've seen made from a comic book, and the key thing there was that Dan Clowes was intimately involved with the movie's production. I think the more the creator is involved the better the chance that the resulting movie will be a work of enduring excellence. No one is going to remember Batman Forever in ten years -- hell, no one WANTS to remember it now -- but Ghost World (the 2001 movie was directed by Terry Zwigoff and starred Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) is an excellent translation of a comics story that will be well-regarded for decades."

Comics have always been cultural and social barometers, often expressing views and opinions "not ready for prime time." Just like independent films, this raw and impulsive form of expression is somewhat intimidating to consumers, many of whom act more as collectors than art-lovers. But the overall trend has to be encouraging to a genre that's been fighting for respect and shelf space.

"I think that the recent movies based on comics so far, like From Hell, Ghost World, X-Men, Spider-Man, etc., were all quite good," says Chris Staros of Top Shelf Productions and publisher of From Hell. "More importantly, they did well at the box office, which insures that Hollywood will keep their interest in basing movies on graphic novels and comics." Indeed, Staros reports that two new Top Shelf comic book adaptations are underway: Mephisto and the Empty Box and Creature Tech have just been sold to Hollywood.

"For me, the most significant benefit of all of this is the fact that great comics are being re-introduced to the public at large again, showing people the potential of a medium that they've pretty much forgotten over the years," says Staros. "Sales of graphic novel to the bookstores and libraries are on a big upswing right now, and that's fantastic, as this will help comics become on par with film and other media as a source of entertainment for everyone."

Doane is not quite so optimistic: "Progressive and visionary creators are usually marginalized in the marketplace at the time their social commentary is most vital," he says. "When R. Crumb was creating his masterpieces, the most popular comic books were Spider-Man and Green Lantern. While Dan Clowes was brilliantly spearing middle America's lethargic complacency, comics fans were "investing" in fifty copies of Youngblood #1 in hopes of someday buying a second mansion with their profits."

"That's part of the reason why Comic Book Galaxy is so committed to seeking out the diversity in the small press, alternative and independent comics community. Visionary creators like Rob Vollmar, Paul Hornschemeier, James Kochalka, Farel Dalrymple and others are creating works that comment on the vast scope of human experience and selling to an audience in the low thousands, while absolute garbage sells in the tens or hundreds of thousands to a delighted audience of willing suckers. So, yeah, the great, forward-looking comics are out there and always have been, but they're pretty hard to find under all those copies of Uncanny X-Men."

"The reason the most progressive creators have the edge over mainstream comics, and over the mass of pop culture in general, is that they are creating intensely personal and visionary work grounded in human experience and with the simple ambition of making a human connection to the readers. The guys doing Spider-Man are looking to entertain some overgrown children while stashing away money to buy a second house or a new TiVo recorder."

Although comics artists responded quickly and powerfully to the Sept. 11 tragedy, Doane doubts that this will have a lasting impact, or that comic book artists at large have developed a stronger social conscience.

"September 11th comic books may have gotten Joe Quesada (Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics) on the Today Show, but I don't think the vast, untapped potential audience for comics was reached because of it. What will change society's (non-)relationship with comics is the creation of works with adult appeal -- stories grown-ups can be interested in and entertained by and want more of -- and getting them into the hands of those potential readers. I see recently an expansion of the graphic novels section in stores like Borders, but discouragingly, the biggest and best independent bookstore where I live has marginalized graphic novels in-between kids' books and science-fiction. So there's work yet to be done."

Does Doane see any rays of hope on the horizon?

"The Internet is bringing about a sea change. Creators are in closer contact with their readers -- and editors and publishers and fellow creators -- than they have ever been at any time in history, because of the Internet and the ability to send large files of comic book artwork out over a broadband connection. The Internet's impact on comics -- and everything else -- has been huge, and it's still at the very beginning stages."

"As connections and computers get faster and more and more people get online, look for even more visionary and personal comics to come out of it, because publishers are also, in a sense, becoming secondary. Any talented creator with a computer and a halfway decent connection can get their work directly to their readers with no middleman at all. It's amazing. Now all we need is a visionary micro-payment system to fulfill that particular potential of comics."

"That said, I'm always going to prefer to have my comics on paper. It's some sort of tactile thing."

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Flashback: April 1st, 2001 -- This remains one of the high points of the Galaxy's existence.

Comic Book Galaxy Partners with CrossGen

CrossGen Comics publicist Ian Feller today announced the company has signed the entire staff of Comic Book Galaxy to exclusive contracts.

The acquisition of The Galaxy's talent is seen by CrossGen's owner as the next, logical step in their positioning in the comic industry. "This is the jewel in the CrossGen crown," said company president Mark Alessi. "These writers have held out longer than any other artists in the industry."

The exact figure settled on in the contracts was not disclosed.

Galaxy Editor-in-Chief Alan David Doane said "This is the natural progression of comic websites. With this move we can assure our continued existence for our readers, while allowing key Galaxy staffers to finally get what they deserve. Plus, we get to move to Florida!"

The site will also maintain its journalistic credibility, though it will now only review CrossGen books. "This is an unusual move, but it makes sense from a number of perspectives," said CrossGen writer Mark Waid. "Alan, Caleb, the two guys named Chris, these guys are the guys who ultimately shape public opinion on everything I do. Knowing they get paid by the same guy I do, it seems to me, levels the playing field and ensures a more fair journalistic atmosphere for everyone involved."

If I recall correctly, the "press release" was the idea of Joe Lawler, and then I tweaked it a bit. It was apparently pretty convincing, as more than one comics news site picked it up as genuine news. The last paragraph still makes me laugh.


Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Working for the Man -- You may recall a few months back that the financial problems of comics creator William Messner-Loebs came to light -- he and his wife had suffered some setbacks and were in serious trouble.

A new online comic -- an e-comic readable on a free, downloadable reader -- is coming out soon from the folks at Unbound Comics. Here's the line-up of talent:

William Messner-Loebs
Mark Campos
A.J. Duric & Salgood Sam
Donna Barr
Lorna Miller
Tatiana Gill
Greg Vondruska
Sam Kieth
Greg McCann
Stephen R. Bissette
Jed Alexander
P. Craig Russell
Dirk Deppey
Neil Kleid
Janet K. Harvey & John Roberson
Eric Millikin & Casey Sorrow
Alan David Doane
Charles Alverson & Sam Henderson
Charles Alverson &John Roberson
Klaus Pendleton
Peter Kuper
Joe Blackmon & John Roberson
David Lasky
Chad Parenteau
Gary Groth
Ted Rall
John Garcia

Now, what my name is doing on there amid people like P. Craig Russell, Ted Rall, Gary Groth, Peter Kuper, Donna Barr, Steve Bissette and the rest, I have no idea -- but you have to admit that even with my name on the list, it's still an impressive lineup of talent. You know you want to read this book, and you know that your purchase (I don't know how much this will be, but I guarantee you it won't make a huge dent in your wallet) will go toward making Bill and Nadine's financial situation a little less dire.

More details on this as they come, but I'm asking you now to please consider setting aside some money for this project, which should be coming your way in a few weeks. Stop by Unbound Comics now and download the free reader so you'll be read to roll when Working for the Man goes public, and maybe drop a buck or three now and see what Unbound has to offer.


Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Spraino, Soprano -- My wife fell down the stairs of our apartment building on Saturday, spraining her ankle and giving us an opportunity to spend some quality time in front of our DVD player. We rented most of Season Three of The Sopranos, and as of this writing have gotten through all but the last episode. Hopefully we'll find time this afternoon.

My wife is recovering nicely, although there was some Poison Control intervention after she accidentally ingested my diabetes medication Saturday night instead of her painkillers. Suffice to say that Saturday was not a very nice day for my poor wife -- but again, she's recovering nicely, and the only long-term problem I see is, well, she's still stuck with me.

As for Tony Soprano and company, wow, what a season. The highlight (barring the not-yet-viewed final episode) was Pine Barrens, directed by the brilliant Steve Buscemi and featuring Christopher and Paulie lost in the woods, starving and eventually at each other's throats. The brilliance of this episode is in the set-up. They come to be in the woods through perfectly ordinary (for this gang of crooks)
circumstances -- just another day at the office, essentially. But a cascade effect of mistakes sets in, and the next thing you know the boys are in big, big trouble. A riveting episode, extremely cinematic, and all the more impressive for the lack of emphasis on the character of Tony Soprano.

Other highlights of this season included Tony hooking up with a frenzied, troubled but irresistible car dealer -- the tension as she drove Tony's unsuspecting wife home from the car dealership was one of the best scenes in the history of the series. Also of note is the eerie coincidence of Anthony Jr.'s brush with trouble, mirroring the legal trouble the little bastard got into in real life.

The DVD format has really been revelatory in the case of a show like The Sopranos or Buffy, where the excellence is obvious, week in and week out, and is enhanced and emphasized by the commercial-free, high quality sound and picture. The only flaw in the developing system is the insistence of some companies -- including whoever does The Sopranos -- of overpricing the sets. I'll rent but not buy stuff like The Sopranos when it sells for $100.00 a set. But when I can get twice as many Buffy episodes for about half the price, those I'll shell out the cash for. If the companies would price the sets a little more reasonably, I'm quite sure they'd be
getting a lot more of my money than they currently are.


Friday, October 04, 2002

An e-mail from Mark -- And here it is:

Dear Alan,

You suck! You suck, you suck, you suck!

Yes. Yes, I do.

And before you go thinking this is just a stupid hate-mail from a
stupid reader, let me say that it's your writing style that brings out my
belligerence. I can't stand your haughty attitude, and the fact that I
have to sift through your political opinions (whether I agree or not) and ramblings about your personal life on a site about COMICS consistently irritates me. I really enjoy a writer who can add a personal touch to a piece, but the touch has to relate to the subject matter. If it's completely off-topic, it's just distracting. If you want to complain about the president, or talk about your life, open up addpolitics.com or addlife.com, and just shut up and stick to comics on CBG.

Okay. Sorry. I apologize for letting you down. It won't happen again. I promise.

Sorry for the rant. I also have to say that you strike me as one of the most passionate and honest men out there, and there are no two qualities in a person that I respect more. So while I might disagree with some of the content you put up, I admire the resolve with which you do it.

I'm not an in-depth comic book reader like yourself. In fact, I'm a
poor college student with meager funds to spend, and I mainly stick to the "sooperhero" books, as you like to call them. Feel free to heap your disdain on me. I can take it.

I actually depleted my last heap of disdain on Thursday, and the delivery guy won't be here until Monday. Sorry again. I keep letting you down, and I feel really bad about that.

I found the Galaxy by way of "Life of Reilly" (Which was a great column), but I've stuck around since then, obviously.

I liked "Life of Reilly." I'm not sorry we had it here. The people that were interested in it loved it and the people who hated it really hated it. What more could a passionate ball of suck like me ask for?

The reason I'm writing is not to bitch at you (though, I couldn't help myself... I guess you just bring that out in people, if your reputation is to be believed), believe it or not.

I have a reputation?

It's actually about Frank Miller.

Ah. I really liked Klaus Janson's inks on Miller's Daredevil run.

Let me just say that YOU WERE RIGHT about DK2. It was atrocious. But now that all the hoopla has died down, I'm curious about your comments on his previous Batman works, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One. I know you hold Year One in higher esteem, and I disagree. I think Dark Knight is a better story, because it's as much about Bruce Wayne as it is about Batman, whereas Year One focuses only on Batman. However, I'm really curious as to why you prefer Year One.

I don't agree that DKR is about Bruce Wayne but that BY1 isn't. Firstly, I subscribe to the theory that Bruce Wayne as a personality died when his parents were killed before his eyes, and that Bruce is merely a tool of Batman. Second, I think BY1 focuses more on the humanity of Batman, in large part thanks to the humanistic and naturalistic art of David Mazzucchelli, who, along with J. Michael Straczynski and Bill Sienkiewicz, I am happy to say, I know how to spell without looking up.

I'd love to see you do a detailed comparison of the two. I suppose this is nothing more than a request, really, but I'd appreciate it ifd you'd at least consider it.

I won't say it's not possible, but it's not going to happen any time soon. But I appreciate the suggestion.

Thanks, and keep up the passion.

Okay. Sorry again about the letting you down with the sucking and all.





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