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Sunday, February 29, 2004

 


Johnny Ryan -- Angry Youth Comics almost defies description,
but I always find it funny, defiant and outrageous. Its creator took the
Five Questions and took 'em like a man.


What's the value of anger in youth?

It's always been the natural way of things. Young
people reach a certain age when they look around at
their world and see how boring and shitty it is. They
want to destroy it. All the great movements in art
were a result of this.

Is there any subject you've ever considered doing a strip on but decided
it was too controversial to tackle?


Usually, if I second guess an idea as being too
controversial then I know for sure that I should do
it. I think part of a "comedian's" job is to get
people riled up.

What's the last really disgusting thing you did or saw in your personal
life?


My girlfriend's brother came to visit last night and
brought along a "co-worker." The "co-worker" smelled
like ass so bad I thought I was going to faint. Before
he left he left a big black loogy in my sink.

Who would you say are your biggest influences, and what did they
contribute to your style?


There's a lot, but I'll try and comment on a few.

Robert Crumb: Probably my main influence. His
sketchbooks are filled with lots of funny, wacky and
terrifying stuff. If people think I'm disgusting and
retarded they need to read this shit. This guy's the
master!

Peter Bagge: The best writer in comics ever. His
dialogue always seems so natural, sharp and real. I
try to aspire to that. I also worked on a couple
issues of the now deceased SWEATSHOP, so I'm sure a
few of his "tricks" rubbed off on me.

Kaz: This guy's been doing his weekly strip UNDERWORLD
for over 10 years and it's still fantastic. I love
his stubble-covered urban landscapes. When I'm drawing
the garbage strewn all over Loady McGee's shack I
usually use Kaz strips for reference.

Ernie Bushmiller: NANCY is probably my favorite comic
strip ever. I love the way it looks. I love the way
all the gags are completely retarded and simple. It's
just the way a comic should be.

Gary Panter: This guy's a madman. I love the way he
combines high-brow and low-brow art. I recently got
one of his mini-comics in which Henry "The Asshole"
Webb is trying to escape from a crazed squirrel that
really really wants his "nuts". It's such a brilliant
yet simple idea. A tale as old as time. Man vs.
Nature. I wish I thought of it. I often find myself
reading his stuff and thinking that.

Some others are Dan Clowes, Charles Schulz, Tony
Millionaire, The 3 Stooges, Sam Henderson, Ivan
Brunetti, VIP, Little Rascals, Mad Magazine, etc...

What do you see as "The Johnny Ryan Legacy" to the
comics artform?


Comics don't have to be serious, meaningful,
award-winning objects of art. They can be infantile,
ugly, retarded and stupid.

Stop by Johnny Ryan's website
and get a load of Loady.

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The Week in Comics -- Here's a look at stuff arriving in comics shops Wednesday, March 3rd, 2004. If nothing else, at least I am getting off cheap this week.

ABSENCE OF INK

FORLORN FUNNIES #5 (MR) $10.95 -- America's best funnybook, this time half-forlorn and half-funny. Creator Paul Hornschemeier's one-man tour de force of cartooning, and the first issue since Mother, Come Home concluded. Don't be left behind.

AVATAR

MARK MILLAR'S THE UNFUNNIES #2 (Of 4) (MR) $3.50 -- I was impressed by the thematic dissonance presented in the first issue, note-perfect funny animal cartooning accompanied by dark perversity and a hint of a greater oddness. Definitely interested in seeing where it's all going.

DC COMICS

SWAMP THING #1 (MR) $2.95 -- For the first time since Alan Moore left, I'll be giving Swamp Thing a try. Maybe I'm just in the mood, or maybe it was the preview I read of the first few pages of this issue, but my curiousity is raised.

Friday, February 27, 2004

 
Friday Reading --


It's not much, but I am still sick. Have mercy and hopefully by Monday we'll be back up to full power here at ADD Central.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

 
I Must be Nuts -- Sorry, nothing new today other than the usual mealy-mouthed excuses. In the past 24 hours, I have continued to be sick, completed the most interesting and exciting interview I've ever done (which you will see -- and hear, I hope -- very soon), and early this morning agreed to write a magazine article by Tuesday. Which I will do in-between editing said interesting and exciting interview for airing on the radio station next week.

Oh, and Igor Kordey, I am sorry Marvel screwed you, but that's what they do. Don't be so shocked.


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

 
More Applause -- CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP. (Happy anniversary, Neil!).

 
I'm A Wily Veteran -- Check out The Pulse's feature on who's likely to succeed Dirk Deppey as King Bloggy of Blogville.

 
Early Wednesday ADD -- I've now been sick since Friday morning, and I think my wife may be right that it could be pneumonia. In any case, I am not feeling my best at the moment, although I can't tell if I feel better, worse or the same as I did yesterday.

Later today I am set to record an interview I've been working on getting for months now, with one of the biggest names in comics history, and a personal favourite creator of mine. Wish me luck. Coincidentally, on the suggestion of a colleague, I proposed a Five Questions piece with another key figure in comics history, who is about to celebrate a unique accomplishment in the next few weeks. I just sent those questions off, so it's looking very good here at ADD Central for those of you who enjoy the 5Q. Judging from my e-mail, that seems to be just about everybody, and I'm very happy to see it's been so well received.

If you're a creator who reads this blog and would like to receive the 5Q treatment, or if you know a creator you would like to see interviewed, e-mail me and I'll get right on it.

 
Applause -- CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP. (Link courtesy of Progressive Ruin).

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

 


Chester Brown -- One of the best and most unique graphic novels of 2003 -- or any year, for that matter -- was Louis Riel. Chester Brown's insightful biography of one of Canada's most iconoclastic historical figures was also a huge leap forward for Brown, and for comics as an artform. This particular Five Questions originated as an interview for the radio station I work at, and can be heard through the station's website. My thanks to Chester Brown and Drawn and Quarterly's Peggy Burns for helping arrange this interview, and special thanks to Broken Frontier's Chris Hunter for transcribing the audio.

Many of your earlier works focused primarily on stories from your own life, autobiographical stories. What did you learn from autobiographical cartooning and what caused you to shift gears into this latest mode?

I learned that when you do stories about your own life, the people around you get mad at you for depicting them wrong. So, doing someone else's life is safer...they tend to think that I've gotten certain details wrong and don't like the clothes I have them wearing or the opinions I have them proclaiming or whatever...

Louis Riel is a key figure in Canadian history, but most Americans, I don't think, will be too familiar with him. Can you tell me a little about what attracted you to him as a subject?

Well, when I began the project, politically, I was an anarchist, and so I was attracted to the story of someone who had tried to, or who had led two rebellions against the Canadian government. That was probably the primary attraction, although, also I've had an interest in issues about mental health and schizophrenia. My mother was a schizophrenic and so the whole part of the story that dealt with Riel's own craziness and his incarceration in a mental institution, that part appealed to me, too. I felt that I'd be able to do something interesting with that. He considered himself a prophet. He called himself the "Prophet Of The New World" and he basically tried to setup his own new religion. And that had people thinking he was crazy.

You had to compress certain events and characters in telling this story...tell me why that was necessary and what kind of judgment calls you found yourself making in the process.



It was necessary because I wanted to limit myself to about two hundred pages and comics need more space than prose does. You know, in prose, you can describe something quickly in a sentence, but if you're to depict what happens in that sentence, it might take a page or more. So, to really tell a biography fully, you'd need maybe, like, a thousand pages to tell it rather than the two hundred that I gave myself, but I wanted to limit myself to around two hundred pages because I knew that it would take a while to do even that much because comics are kind of time consuming; it took me about five years to do the project as it was and if I'd have done a thousand pages, it would have been that much longer, so, yeah, I needed to kind of compress events and combine characters and all that kind of stuff...

The book was originally serialized in pamphlet form as a series of ten comic books before, ultimately, being collected in this hardcover graphic novel. Since the book holds together so well as a single lengthy work, how do you feel about serializing it? Would you follow that format again?

I originally wrote out a script for the book beforehand and I thought it was going to work well as just a single work and I didn't really want to serialize it in comic book form. That was done at my publisher's suggestion because it did help finance the project as it went along, but, probably my next work I'm not going to serialize beforehand, I'm just going to release it as a graphic novel and that'll be the first that the public sees of it.

This project took a long time to do and it may be some time before your next graphic novel appears...how does a cartoonist support himself in these periods, when you're working on these really lengthy works and you don't have regular work appearing on a regular basis in the meantime?

I do get royalties from my older books, the money still does come in from that and sometimes from unusual sources, like foreign editons and that kind of thing. And, also, while doing the book, I did get a grant from the Canadian government, so that helped, too. I think this might have been the first graphic novel that did get a grant from the Canada Council For The Arts, but it kind of opened a door there because now they have an official category in their grant system for graphic novels.

Learn more about Chester Brown at the Drawn and Quarterly website.

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Monday, February 23, 2004

 
Monday Reading -- Let's run down some of the highlights of the comics internet over the past day or two...


Now go forth and make with the clicky.



 


Paul Hornschemeier -- The creator of the recent graphic novel MOTHER, COME HOME, Paul Hornschemeier is one of my four or five favourite cartoonists of all time. With a new issue of his FORLORN FUNNIES comic coming up from Absence of Ink and a number of other projects in the works, Paul took some time out to answer Five Questions.

What spurred your interest in comics?

The first thing I drew, at age 4, was a cartoon. What spurred my interest in comics as a viable medium to tell something beyond a cliche was reading Ghost World one Christmas (1997) and realizing that this thing I had done since before I could spell my own name (which is a hell of a name to spell, let's face it) could be something so incredibly significant and stuffed with meaning and beauty.

What do feel you've gotten out of the artform, and what if anything would you like to give back to it?

I can't say what I've gotten from it, Alan, beyond intellectual excitement and some insight into other people's lives and beliefs, but I hope to give examples of different ways things could take shape, and, the BIG HOPE, a few good stories that escape simple gesturing and experimentation.

How have your artistic influences impacted on your development as a creator?

I think I have been very influenced by the film Yellow Submarine (yes, The Beatles cartoon), and by Jim Henson, as well as Maurice Sendek and Edward Gorey. There is something in the sad, drooping, floating worlds, sprinkled with explosions of manic color and heat, that seriously colored the ways I expressed things, even at a very young age. I think these people influenced the method by which I translate the world into images, even in my mind, before any paper is brought into the equation.

Why is design so important to you? What do you think the elegance your work and its presentation possesses conveys to the reader, if anything?

A cartoonist is a designer, if s/he is anything. A designer is simply taking elements and employing those elements to convey a message, bringing separate components together to form a unified voice, to play upon the mind of the readers in a certain way. I believe every element of the book needs to be analyzed: it is what carries and contains the story. And I think every element (paper color, paper weight, colors of ink, line quality, page layout, etc.) all serve as ingredients in the larger cognitive experience. Nothing should be ignored out of laziness. If you do not choose to address certain issues, let that be by choice, because it will certainly play a role in the perception of the audience.

What kind of relationship, if any, do you see yourself having with your readership?

In all honesty, very little. I see myself producing the stories to take care of something in myself, which is horribly selfish, and I can't understand why people support these sorts of things, but I thank them profusely for it. I care immensely for people and am very appreciative of any praise or criticism I receive, but I can't stop writing these things down. It's sort of awful, really.

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Short, Sharp Shocks -- Enlightened critiques of contemporary sequential art by one of the comics blogosphere's two biggest assholes.

Human Target #7 -- A three-part story focused on '60s radicals gone to ground begins here, and it's Peter Milligan's most expansive storyline in the title to date. In this first chapter, Christopher Chance is almost a bit player as we meet the people from a decades-old Weather Underground cell who are being picked off today as coincidentally Chris Chance decides to throw his fate to the wind. Artist Cliff Chiang has made the book his own, delivering an impressive realism with a gratifying economy of line. If you're someone who likes what Michael Lark is doing on Gotham Central or Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, you should also give Human Target a look. It's a top-notch suspense title that is also one of the best-looking on the stands. Grade: 4.5/5

DC: The New Frontier #2 -- Speaking of Darwyn Cooke, the second issue of his epic take on DC history continues the high standard set in the debut issue. As an added bonus, there's more superheroes here, too, if that's your thing. This issue we see the Martian Manhunter's arrival on Earth, conflict between Superman and Wonder Woman, the origin of the Barry Allen Flash, and other vignettes, concluding with one of the most visually and thematically stunning moments I've seen in a superhero book in a long, long time. Please don't be deceived by the $6.95 cover price -- ad free and double-sized, this is the biggest bargain in superhero comics today, and also the best, freshest look at DC's stable of superheroes since Alan Moore was romping around the DCU all those years ago. Grade: 5/5

Demo #4 -- "Stand Strong" is the story of a gifted young man stuck in a dead-end job in a nowhere town who has to choose between the paths of nihilistic chaos and mere decency. I felt a definite Love and Rockets vibe in both the story and the art, with Becky Cloonan delivering some especially impressive page layouts that show off her beginning mastery of inking and page layout. Brian Wood's story is another resonant slice of somewhat strange life, as we've come to expect from Demo. It's safe to say at this point that this is a series well worth your attention, either now in single issues or in the eventual, inevitable and much-welcome TPB collection. Grade: 4/5

The Couriers: Dirtbike Manifesto -- Wants to be a loud, super-cool action comic but falls down on the artifical, unconvincing cool factor of its two lead characters and silly, off-the-wall stereotypes. Brian Wood's Demo shows he has potential as a writer, but Dirtbike Manifesto plays to his worst instincts (see also, Pounded). The art here has a few nice panels, and the layouts are mostly fine, but the mostly lifeless ink line is only overcome by decent greytones. This will probably satisfy the hardcore AiT/Planetlar/Brian Wood axis, but otherwise it's pretty much inessential. Grade: 3/5

Supernatural Law #39 -- Batton Lash delivers the usual wackiness in his lead story, "The Appeal of the 800 lb. Gorilla," but it's the back-up story that caught my true attention. "The Scariest Kid on Earth" is a surprisingly effective homage to Chris Ware, with the title character a Jimmy Corrigan stand-in afflicted with lycanthropy. Lash doesn't capture the essential agony of a typical Ware character, but I'm not sure he was trying to. The story is just noteworthy for its ambition and how close it comes to fulfilling it. Art Adams contributes a terrific cover that plays to his interests. Grade: 3.5/5

Common Grounds #2 -- This is a book that wants to be like Astro City in the worst way, and very nearly is. Superhero vignettes that on the surface seem to have all the beats down pat, but are missing the essential humanity and thoughtfulness Kurt Busiek almost always brings to the party. The first story's over-the-top take on a woman pretending she's got powers in order to scare off a murderer is almost insulting in its inability to convince, and the second tale also fails in its ambitions, in this case to deliver a bittersweet take on generational heroism. Dan Jurgens gives the story more heft than it deserves, but Ethan Van Sciver's Brian Bolland imitation on the first story is earnest but stale. I know this book has won raves from some readers, but I find it inessential in the Geoff Johns style, and of course lacking decrepit corporate icons to let it slide by on nostalgia. Grade: 2.5/5

Spawn #132 -- Even shipping late as it always does, it's almost impressive that this title has reached 132 issues. I don't imagine anyone present at the "Image Revolution" (you know, the first one) thought their experiment was going to produce that kind of longevity. It's a shame, then, that Spawn is such a relentlessly ugly and uninteresting book. This one surprised me by having much more story than most of the issues that I've sampled over the years. A serial killer is bumping off people who look like Spawn's wife, Spawn (in his human form -- I have no idea -- or curiousity about -- how that happened) consults with noted cops Sam and Twitch (who are actually almost fun to read about in their own title, sometimes) and has a brief confrontation with the killer, to be continued. It all has an air of contempt for women (who are always just plot contrivances in this title anyway, unless Neil Gaiman is involved), and the recursive loop that the identity of the killer indicates makes it apparent that the only people that even exist in this universe are those that are needed to tell more bad stories and generate more action figures for Todd McFarlane's toy company. Spawn, meet Clown. Clown, meet Wynn. Wynn, meet Spawn's Wife. Spawn's Wife, meet Spawn. Lather, Rinse, Repeat for over ten years of mind-numbingly awful comics (plus that one interesting issue written by Dave Sim, of course). I don't know who is still buying this after all these years, and frankly I don't want to know. Spawn is violent, mindless superhero porn for those too meek to buy snuff films. Grade: 1/5

 


The Week in Comics -- Here's a concise rundown of prominent new releases arriving in stores Wednesday, February 25th 2004.

DARK HORSE

FUSED #3 $2.99 -- Oh, hell. Somehow I missed #2. My review of #1 is here.

MICHAEL CHABON PRESENTS ADVENTURES OF THE ESCAPIST #1 $8.95 -- I don't have any advanced info about this, but you can read my take on the novel that inspired it here. (And a big THANK YOU to the Simply Comics gang for hosting my Comic Book Galaxy archives, you guys seriously rock).

DC COMICS

CAPER #5 (Of 12) (MR) $2.95 -- The story shoots forward a few decades -- my Caper #1-4 review is here.

CATWOMAN #28 $2.50 -- I love Ed Brubaker's writing, I truly do. I find myself waiting for Paul Gulacy to grow on me on this title, however.

COUP D'ETAT AUTHORITY #4 (Of 4) (MR) $2.95 -- I'm not sure what it would take for this issue to convince me that The Authority is currently worth reading, but this four-issue crossover has been pretty entertaining up to now. I am curious to see where it goes in this final issue.

AMERICA'S BEST COMICS

TOM STRONG #25 $2.95 -- Is this the much-dreaded Geoff Johns issue? I really wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that the ABC titles had been exclusively written by Alan Moore. No one was as kind to his babies as he was.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

 
Early Saturday Morning -- Well, it's not too early, not for me, anyway. I've come down with a cold or something, and went to bed in a daze last night, tossed and turned between naps, and got up a couple of times to watch TV only to end up back in bed. All in all, a pretty lousy night. Wrote some reviews this morning, so hopefully we'll have a nice full review segment up on Monday, and hopefully a very special Five Questions unlike any I've done before.

 
Insulted and Injured -- Check out the newest group comics blog, Insult to Injury.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

 
Thursday Reading -- Lots of good stuff has gone up online in the last day or so:



 



Jim Crocker -- I first made the acquaintance of Jim Crocker on The Comic Book Industry Alliance's Delphi Forum, a discussion group for retailers, creators and other industry figures. I found his posts there to be insightful and intelligent, and was very interested in watching his experience as he guided what was then a new business, Modern Myths, a diverse and incredibly well-stocked comics shop in Northampton, Massachusetts. I've visited Jim's store a few times and gotten to know him in person and by e-mail, and have developed a great respect for his approach to comics retailing and life in general. I've visited only a handful of truly progressive comics stores that try to serve a full range of customers with as wide a range of comics as possible, and Modern Myths, as far as I can see, points the way to the future of comics retailing. After you've read Jim's answers to the Five Questions, see if you don't agree.

What drives you to be a comics retailer, and what would you say is the primary mission or vision that informs the way you manage your shop?

Like many careers, it’s something I ended up doing sort of by accident. In college, I was convinced I was going to take my theater degree on to New York and direct plays. A job on a small used bookstore that sold comics sidetracked that and I eventually figured out I really enjoyed the job more than the plays I was doing in the evening, and, possibly more significantly, was better at it.

The major motivating force behind my doing this every day boils down to the best effort to reward ratio of any job I’ve tried, including theater work. I work as hard at this job as anyone else does at whatever else they do, but retailing, or at least good retailing, means that a complete stranger walks into your place and leaves happier than when they walked in. It happens dozens or maybe even hundreds of times a day, and every time, it’s a reward for doing what I do, parceled out throughout the day. Whatever other petty hassles or daily grind I have to push through to get my work done is paid off by that particular dividend.

It’s also nice to see my cube-drone buddies sigh with wistful envy when they ask what I do for a living.

First and foremost, I want to run a store that looks and feels like a well-run independent bookstore you’d find in any relatively progressive college town or small city. We can write and speechify and blog until we’re blue in the face that comics are Ready for Prime Time, but if we don’t have places that women, kids, and new readers can feel comfortable and welcome, we’re not going to make much headway.

I spent several years working for the Borders mass-market bookstores, and after that it became pretty clear to me how a specialty store could succeed in their shadow by taking page from their own book, which was to look at what worked in independent bookstores and then replicate it on a mass scale using their size as an advantage. So we looked at mass-market bookstores and replicated what we could while using our size as an advantage. We offer everything they can that we’re able to: liberal return policies; no-obligation special orders; convenient operating hours; parking; clean public restrooms; racking by genre including a dedicated section for young readers; gift certificates; credit card acceptance; computerized inventory; and offset what we can’t with the advantages traditionally touted as the ways for comics shops to compete: a wide selection that includes used and O/P titles and a knowledgeable staff. Hopefully, the balance will appeal to both longtime fans and new readers, which is what we’re shooting for.

More generally, we’re an independent bookstore that happens to specialize in sequential storytelling, so we look to other successful independent bookstores for ideas about advertising, community outreach, and how to deal with competition from the chains, as well as cherry picking the best ideas from the Direct Market. It’s a genuinely mixed blessing when people walk in and remark that “I didn’t realize this was a comic shop… it looks like a regular bookstore.”

What is the biggest challenge facing you as a retailer?

In a nutshell, and not to be obtuse, it’s whatever I didn’t expect to be a challenge, because that means I won’t be prepared for it. The deck is stacked heavily in favor of large chain businesses in our economy, and every indication is that this situation is getting worse as opposed to better. There’s a reason that small businesses have such a high modern failure rate, and it’s that even the well-funded ones don’t have the capital to make too many mistakes or endure more than one or two unexpected sales-impacting events. Add on necessary but uncontrollable costs, particularly health care and weather-related stuff (our snow removal will cost a small fortune this year, for example), and that’s a lot of pressure that doesn’t have anything to do with actually selling comics.

The challenges inherent in the DM I deal with daily and they don’t frighten me because I can plan for them and have great resources (like the CBIA, Comics & Games Retailer Magazine, and private industry e-mail lists) to consult for help and bounce ideas off of. It’s the issues outside the purview of those discussions that cause the most trouble.

Or, with apologies, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

What do you believe the best method is to develop a growing customer base?

There are a number of ways to do this, and other retailers recommend many of them to me. I’m not nearly as good at guerilla marketing as I probably ought to be. We advertise less than we should.

Ultimately, my belief is that if I run the best store I can that word of mouth will go a long way to helping drive new customers to the store, because once they’re in the door, we’ll secure their business if they’re even remotely interested in what we’re selling, and that the viral nature of people with common interests will help without too much active intervention from us. When we ask how people heard about us, we get a majority answer of “a friend told me about you/I heard about you online/etc” over all the other responses. (My very favorite response is actually “I saw you when I drove by”, because it means someone stopped just because they saw “Comic Books” on the sign, without knowing anything else about us specifically, and they’re often the most pleasantly surprised.)

I am one of the people who believes that while we certainly need to expand the scope of our ambition beyond just our traditional fan base, chasing a mass audience like the kind enjoyed by, say, sports, or mainstream movies is not an efficient use of our time. We need to target the folks most likely to spend money in our store, as opposed to throwing ads at the wall to see what sticks.

That said, it’s my belief that the best effort that can be spent in ‘market development’ is in getting out of the store and into the Community to make your presence known in places where you’re likely to have an impact. One of the reasons we decided early on that we would have a staff is so that we could do just that. By attending conventions, especially ‘non-comics’ conventions like local SF and media Cons, we can actively go to potential customers rather than waiting for them to find us. Active participation in the local college events and various fandom groups means a potential pool of new customers every single semester, already predisposed to explore new stuff.

Separately, but related to this, is the fact that we sell graphic novels online. It’s a pretty simple site but it lists everything we carry new, and every sale we get through it helps support the larger mission of the store. Right now, it’s a very small portion of our sales, but it just about pays for all of our internet-related expenses, and is growing slowly. Internet outreach like our modest little proto-blog on LiveJournal and updates to our own website are particularly cool because they help keep in contact with both sets of customers at once and serve to reinforce the mission I mentioned above, but in a different context.

Tell me about the last great graphic novel you read.

The great GN I read most recently was Pedro & Me, which I reread in its entirety as a result of a contentious discussion regarding content advisories and warning labels on comics that’s going on in another forum. It holds up as one of the more human, affecting, and uncharacteristically emotionally vulnerable comics I can think of. Anyone who thinks that gays are somehow different than the rest of us should be tied to a chair and forced to read this book until they get it.

I read so much stuff that’s so different it’s really hard to nail down a single choice. Off the top of my head, I’ll say: LoEG 2 for collected GNs of genre stuff that’s appeared in periodical first, Planetes for manga, and Real Stuff for Literary/OGN.

I also just had a chance to really thoroughly read Peanuts: The Art of Charles Schulz, the retrospective by Chip Kidd, and I have to say it was like an epiphany… I haven’t gone back and read Peanuts in over 15 years, and rereading them now in the artfully designed context this book places them in left me nearly speechless with how genuinely seminal that work was. I was certainly looking forward to Fantagraphics’ forthcoming Complete Peanuts, but now I’m actually hungry for it, which is a good thing, because I think it’s a project that has a real possibility of generating some renewed popular interest in the classic comic strips more generally.

You live and work in a community (Northampton) that welcomes and embraces diversity, and in a state (Massachusetts) that is about to grant equal marriage rights to all, gays and lesbians included. I'm wondering how you feel about this and what impact you think it will have on your store and your community.

The specific issue of Massachusetts affirming equal rights for all citizens will have a pretty significant impact on my store in particular. Northampton has the highest concentration of lesbian citizens outside of San Francisco. This and the presence of the "Five Colleges" in the area make for a pretty progressive viewpoint regarding literature and the arts, and offers our store a unique opportunity to get comics into the hands of readers who are ready for them but would probably never have cause to enter a "traditional" comics shop.

We currently have one employee who is a lesbian in a long-term relationship who plan to get officially married when the state has worked out all the details, and two of the major stakeholders in the store are also a lesbian couple (who just celebrated their tenth anniversary!) living in Vermont under the auspices of the Civil Unions there who also plan to wed in Massachusetts when the option becomes available in May of this year.

Modern Myths specifically includes sexual orientation and gender status as protected classes (along with race, religion, physical handicap, national origin, etc.) in our diversity policy for hiring as well as companies we do business with, and has a standing company policy of offering benefits to domestic partners. Obviously, we're personally interested in the advancement of equal rights for gays and lesbians, but from our perspective it also makes very good business sense. We don't wear our political affiliation on our sleeves, and we do our best to leave discussions of contentious subjects like politics, religion, or the Red Sox at the door when we enter the store, but the obvious presence of a lesbian working in the store and a good selection of GLBT-friendly comics make it reasonably clear what our position is, and the community notices.

I think it's not unreasonable to expect that this situation will also mean a further influx not only of GLBT people seeking to gather in a region that respects their rights, but will also help to further build the larger progrssive community that will grow up as a consequence of the influx, as the friends, family, and support networks of those folks move to Massachusetts along with them in some cases. That we're set up to welcome them is not a coincidence, and a strategy that is not only in keeping with the spirit of the community of which we're a part, but also a sound business decision likely to help us secure new readers in a generally affluent, literate, and progressive customer demographic willing to spend significant entertainement dollars with businesses who welcome them and offer them something that speaks to their issues.

Stop by the Modern Myths website, and thanks to Jim for taking the time to wrangle the Five Questions.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2004

 
Byrne Art a Fraud -- From a reader:

[The art is from] Ganthet's Tale...Page Six, bottom panel. The slick bastards who did this recoloured the image (Byrne was showing him as actually charging the battery, and thus there was this green glow which shifted all the colours around), and then added a cover logo from the Gerard Jones era of the book (just a guess from the look of it....)...very slick.

Told ya.

 
Old Pros, Old Hat -- Take a look at this image...




Whether this is true or not may be hinted at by the cover date and issue number. On the other hand, Warren Ellis really apparently is taking over Ultimate Fantastic Four as of #7, with Stuart Immonen drawing.

 

The Week in Comics -- I overslept this morning and am disgustingly behind in everything. So here's a list of what looks good in this week's comics, mostly sans commentary.

COMING WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 18TH

FANTAGRAPHICS

COMICS JOURNAL #258 (MR) $6.95 -- Editor Milo George's last full issue, packed with Steve Ditko Goodness. A must-read. Next month's will be too, for reasons very close to my heart.

AIT-PLANETLAR

DEMO #4 (Of 12) (MR) $2.95

IDW

WAKE THE DEAD #4 (Of 5) (MR) 3.99

DC COMICS

COUP DETAT WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 #3 (Of 4) (MR) 2.95
DC THE NEW FRONTIER #2 (Of 6) 6.95
HUMAN TARGET #7 (MR) 2.95

IMAGE

GRRL SCOUTS VOL 2 WORKS SUCKS TP 12.95
JACK STAFF VOL 1 EVERYTHING USED TO BE BLACK & WHITE TP 19.95
SAVAGE DRAGON #113 2.95

 
Reloaded with Duds -- Here's AK's take on Marvel's X non-event.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

 
Replacemats -- I find this NeilAlien post both sentimental and amusing.

 
Should Scars Be A Movie? -- It's an excellent graphic novel and highly recommended -- Marc Mason opines on if it should be turned into a movie.

 
A Crumb Off the Old Block -- Good profile of cartoonist Sophie Crumb, link courtesy of Artblog.

 
Previews Review -- Haven't had time to write up this week's The Week in Comics yet, but check out Christopher Butcher and Scott Robins's Previews Review for notes on this week's new releases. And thanks for the namecheck in this week's column, Chris. I promise that book was naff. You can have my copy if you want.

Joe Lawler has also weighed in on this week's new releases.

 
Confidential to Jim Henley -- Why do you think I hate you? (Link courtesy of a particularly rich Sean Collins comix and match entry).

 

Short, Sharp Shocks -- Now shorter and sharper than ever -- this week, at least. Valentine's Day and a coincidental three-day weekend ate into my writing time a bit, but here's a brief rundown of recent comics and whether they were any damned good at all.

James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries Volume Four -- You probably already know that The Sketchbook Diaries represent some of the most entertaining and enlightening autobiographical cartooning ever. In this volume, we see the next chapter begin in Kochalka's development as an artist and as a human being -- he and his wife Amy decide to have a baby. The year's worth of strips here also include a trip to the San Diego Comicon and numerous rock concerts. Kochalka's fame is odd and endearing and highly personal, and in this bargain-priced volume (eight bucks for a year's worth of daily cartoons), you get to feel what it's like to be James Kochalka, Superstar from the inside out. Vital work from a talent that is expanding our view of comics and the universe year by year. Grade: 5/5

Monokuro Kinderbook -- This 202 page graphic novel by Kan Takahama caught my eye with its elegant and understated design and won me over with its intriguing and autobiographical tales of life in Japan. The book features ten black and white tales of varying lengths, focusing on the enderly, artists, young lovers, children, a bartender -- real people, in other words. The stories are told in the kind of sideways, oblique way that we figure out the stories around us -- observation is rewarded as the details begin to fill themselves in, and it pays to study the details. Takahama is part of something called the "Nouvelle Manga" movement, according to a text piece, and is scheduled to have a piece in the next Comics Journal Winter Special. Her style strongly evokes David Mazzucchelli's in its deceptive simplicity and elegance of design -- and if you appreciate the aesthetic of Paul Hornschemeier, you'll feel at home here, too. This is a beautiful book from a talent that I want to read more from. You can view an untranslated preview of the artwork here. Grade: 5/5

Chosen #1 -- Mark Millar and Peter Gross deliver a current-day take on Christian mythology that wouldn't be at all out of place among such revered Vertigo titles as Sandman and Preacher. This looks to be the highlight of the Millarworld experiment, a thoughtful and intriguing extrapolation of the Jesus story with the best artwork I've ever seen Peter Gross deliver. Chosen should prove once and for all if Millar is in it to shock and awe or if he has higher creative goals -- the first issue indicates the latter by way of an unexpectedly compelling opening salvo. Grade: 4.5/5

Hard Time #1 -- Ugly, irrelevant, and made redundant by much better, similarly-themed books like Demo or even NYX. A pair of high school nerds shoot up the school, and one of them manifests superpowers during the Columbine-like events. Writer Steve Gerber's attempts at sociopolitical commentary are painful and embarrassing, as in the overweight African-American talk show hostess named "Opina," ha-ha-ha. Brian Hurtt's artwork is too simple for the obvious gravity meant to be implied by the plight of the characters, and it's absolutely crippled by the ghastly colour scheme. I just have no need or desire (or even ability) to read a full-length comic about blue people whose lives are occasionally brightened by outbursts of red. Based on Hard Time #1 and a handy preview of other titles in the back of the issue, I will be uniformly avoiding all future DC Focus titles. Grade: 0/5

Coup D'Etat #2: Stormwatch -- Not as good as the Sleeper story that preceeded it, but better than I had imagined. This second chapter of a four-issue crossover involves Stormwatch defying the Authority's, well, authority. As a sampler, it gives a good sense of what Stormwatch is about these days, although Micah Wright's characters have proven too ugly inside and out for me to manage to stay interested them very long. Grade: 3.9/5

 
Early Tuesday Blogging -- Oh, man, it is too early to be up, even for me. But the heat was down too low in the bedroom and it was freezing and my wife was snoring and gah, here I am.

Later this morning -- in just under 11 hours, in fact, I am interviewing the creator of one of last year's most powerful and interesting graphic novels. Then one week from today, I am doing a second interview, one that I've been working to set up for many months now, and that is probably the most exciting interview, for me, that I have ever been involved in.

Hopefully I'll be able to tell you more about those very soon.

All right, I'm up for the day, way too early. I'm going to go finish up some reviews and get on with it.

Monday, February 16, 2004

 

Tony Isabella -- There aren't many people that have seen as much comics history as Tony Isabella, or who are so generous in sharing their experience and wisdom. Here he answers the Five Questions.

Your recent statements about Black Lightning seem to inflame a certain underinformed segment of the online comics community. Given the murky nature of many contractual questions in the comics community, and the enormous inequity between publishers and creators, what would you like readers to know when it comes to the issues, both as they apply to you, and in general?

I’d like the readers to know that creative issues are not always or even often the cut-and-dried “work-for-hire” which publishers make them out to be. I’d also like them to realize that they do a great disservice to creators and their creations when they attribute some sort of parental benevolence to those publishers. Both creators and publishers are looking out for their own best interests, but I believe the interests of the readers are better served by creators than by corporations.

As for how the issues apply to me personally, a quick Google search will doubtless bring readers more information than can possibly be good for them or me. I’ve answered questions over and over again, and answered them honestly. If some readers choose to disparage me as a result, so be it. I knew that was a distinct possibility when I went public.

What's your fondest memory of working at Marvel and/or DC over the course of your career?

I can’t narrow it down to just one.

Getting to work with Stan Lee at the start of my comics career was a youthful dream come true and I still remember the first time that he complimented me on some turn of phrase in something I’d written.

As an editor, it was thrilling to give first or early assignments to writers and artists who then went on to have long and fruitful careers.

I once had a fellow writer come up to me and tell me that a scene I’d written in a comic book spoke directly to the problems he had been having in his life and that my “advice” helped him get through those problems.

My Black Lightning writing, especially the second series of stories I did with Eddy Newell, remains something of which I am very proud, no matter how much DC shafted me in the process. My first series of BL stories inspired at least three readers to become teachers. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I got to work with many of my comics heroes and became good friends with several of them. Developing SATAN’S SIX with Jack Kirby gave me a chance to get to know him and Roz a little better near the end of their lives. If I could get a laugh out of Jack, I knew I was doing my job well.

This subject could be an entire interview in itself. For all that the comics industry does to demean, diminish, and destroy creative talents, I don’t regret devoting my efforts to it. I entertained a great many readers, made some good friends, and achieved enormous satisfaction from my work.

What's your least fondest memory about working in the so-called "mainstream?"

The day I got fired from BLACK LIGHTNING, the second series, by Pat “the Rat” Garrahy...and the weeks that followed.

I don’t want to go into much detail, but I was angry and depressed for months afterwards. There wasn’t a person at DC who hadn’t come to realize that hiring Garrahy had been a terrible move on the part of the just-promoted Mike Carlin. I was shocked that Paul Levitz and the other executives upheld my unjust dismissal...because they had admitted to friends of mine that they knew it was an unjust and unwarranted dismissal. Against all fairness and logic, they held to the company line that you had to back editors over freelancers, even knowing that Garrahy’s career as a DC editor was going to be relatively short. As it was.

To add further insult to the injury, I quickly learned that every editorial door at DC was closed to me. They circled the wagons in support of an editor - Garrahy - who most of them neither liked nor respected. It was absolutely insane, especially since, again, many of these editors were telling friends of mine that they thought my dismissal was unjust. It was a bad time for me.

I still get angry and even depressed about that stuff from time to time, but those are momentary lapses of mercifully short duration. I’ll talk about it when I feel I must, but I don’t expect anyone at DC to make it right...or to even recognize that they should make it right.

That would be the quickest way for DC to get rid of me once and for all. If they tried to make it right, the shock would probably kill me. And then they’d probably take out a nice ad in COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE mourning my loss. Cynical, aren’t I?

One more thing. I only answered this question because you’re a pal of mine. However, having answered it, I must now make my doubtless futile attempt to ward off the usual online idiots...

Yes, I have personal grievances against DC Comics. Those personal grievances are not as important an issue as DC’s mistreatment of so many of its minority characters or the mainstream comics industry’s mistreatment of creators. If you have a quarter of a brain in your heads, you’ll realize that.

Dismiss me as a bitter old crank if you must, but don’t allow that to be the end of your discussion of those issues. I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of one writer don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy industry that demeans its characters and their creators. Someday you'll understand that.

What's your assessment of the current state of the comics industry, in regard to its treatment of creators and in general?

In the interest of keeping this answer from becoming a book, I’ll define comics industry as the traditional DC/Marvel/Dark Horse/etc comics industry.

Certainly SOME creators are being treated well, some because they are the flavors of the month, and some because they keep producing successful (as defined by the diminished expectations of the 2004 market) comics. However, it should be noted that continued success is, by no means, proof against abrupt termination. Look how many great writers and artists of the past two decades can’t get work, not because their efforts didn’t sell as well as those of the newer kids, but because editors and publishers perceived them as being old-fashioned and of no interest to the readers. Not that the editors and publishers have much of a clue as to who their readers are and/or where they will find new readers.

I miss the days when one editor would work with one writer and one artist to create great comics. Even with three storytellers, there was a clarity and a unity to the comics. These days, creatively, it seems to be all group-think and mimicry. Manga is selling, so let’s clumsily weld faux-manga stylings to our classic characters. We oughta be in pictures, so let’s write our comics as if they were screenplays and cast aside some of our best and most unique ways of telling stories. We can’t just let comics be comics; they have to be like something else.

Keep in mind these are generalized comments as per your question. There are still some brilliant editors and even publishers in this industry. But, overall, I don’t believe the skill levels of comics editors and publishers have kept pace with the skill levels of the better creators. I’d even characterize this situation as a crisis, one which hampers seasoned veterans and promising newcomers alike.

Earth-2 died for nothing.

As for the current state of the industry in general, how sad is it that we practically orgasm when a comic book sells the hundred thou copies which comics routinely sold in decades past? We’ve lowered our expectations as we’ve raised our prices.

American comic books, especially most of the periodicals, are not a good value for customers. The minimalist storytelling styles now in vogue mandate mediocre stories stretched to fit as many issues as will fill a trade paperback. I completely understand the long-term importance of those collections, but these stories should be good and rich enough to justify six or eight issues instead of the collection being used to justify the six or eight issues. Many of them aren’t.

American comic books can overcome the value gap by either being so satisfying the customer feels he’s getting entertainment equal to what he pays for them...or by offering him as many pages-per-dollar as he can get from SHONEN JUMP or manga collections. Creators and editors have to be better and more productive.

American comic books can also stop repeating themselves endlessly. The multiple Batman/Spider-Man/X-Men titles are stealing sales from each other and from titles that could otherwise be a healthy second tier for the publishers. How many Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus mini-series and specials can we reasonable expect to sell in the couple months the second Spidey movie will be in general release? Why do we think successful movies based on comics will sell those comics when they’ve almost never done so in the past? And why am I asking the questions when I’m the interview subject?

What are your creative plans for 2004?

I’m counting on every editor and publisher in the industry calling me with offers of work once you post this interview.

Failing that, my plan is to create new characters and tell stories with those characters. I’m currently developing three comics which would kind of fit into the genres of super-hero, horror, and crime. When I complete the first scripts and series bibles, I’ll shop them around to various publishers.

Once these properties fail to sell as comic books, I’ll rework them into novels and/or screenplays. Because I think it will be a lot more cost-effective and time-effective if I can get rejected three times with the same properties.

In addition to my comics writing plans, I have signed to write my weekly “Tony’s Tips” column for COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE through 2004. I’m also working towards getting my “Tony’s Online Tips” columns to post every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at WORLD FAMOUS COMICS. Humble though these venues may be, the relationships are among the most satisfying and supportive of my career. I hope they continue for many years to come.

I should also mention that Bob Ingersoll and I are eagerly awaiting sales reports on STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST’S CORPSE. If this “Sam Cogley Mystery” of ours is successful, it could turn out to be the first in a series of Sam Cogley mysteries. Since we had a blast writing the character and crafting the ins-and-outs of this sci-fi whodunit, and since we received wonderful encouragement and support on this novel from our editors and publisher, we would love to go back to the future and do it again.

Keep up with Tony's opinions by reading his long-running Online Tips column, and stop by his message board to say hi.

 
There Has to Be a Morning After -- Looks like Tim O'Neil has decided to fill an important hole left in the wake of Dirk Deppey putting Journalista! on hiatus. Here's Tim's list of comics news links.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

 
Early Saturday Morning -- Early morning is when I am at my best, relatively speaking. In the 1990s I worked overnights, and even though I've been on a closer-to-normal schedule for the past four-and-a-half years, even on my days off I find myself getting up in what most people consider the middle of the night.

This morning I was up around 3 AM. My wife and kids obviously are still sleeping, so I went out in the living room and set out their Valentine's Day gifts, grabbed a handful of Cape Cod Reduced Fat potato chips and watched saved episodes of The Daily Show and Howard Stern from the DVR. There were two episodes of the Stern Show, but only one was entertaining. As soon as I realized the second one was a dud, I deleted it and prowled the list of stuff on the DVR.

I've had Donnie Brasco on there for a few weeks, and started watching that. Good movie about an undercover special agent played by Johnny Depp. I forgot how good it is. I'll probably finish the whole thing in segments over the weekend.

I tend to find it hard to stay in one place to sit and watch an entire movie, though, so I got up and surfed the web for a bit, finding the below-linked Fantagraphics Infodump. Lots of good news on there, especially that Eightball #23 should ship this summer. There are few cartoonists that entertain and excite me more than Dan Clowes. Interesting how many of those great cartoonists are on that same page. Fantagraphics is indeed home to the world's best cartoonists, and Drawn and Quarterly seems to have a good portion of the rest of them. I'd guess that over half of the true, great living cartoonists right now are associated with one of those two companies. And it might be closer to 75 percent.

Also while online, I decided to revise my list of links over in the right-side column, as I mentioned I wanted to do yesterday. I'm still not convinced this is the perfect iteration of the ADD Blog list o' links, but it's closer. Suggestions always welcome.

Don't know how much blogging will get done this weekend. Today is Valentine's Day and I want to spend it with my wife and kids, hopefully in activities both separate and together -- and Monday is President's Day, and we haven't even bought our tree yet.

For the interested ADD Blog fan, and I know there are dozen of you, the next few weeks will include a great batch of Five Questions interviews. I also have a decent stack of comics to review, but I don't know for sure if I'll get to that today or not.

Anyway, this is my early Saturday morning. Everyone else in the house is still asleep, so I am going to go back and watch some more Donnie Brasco. Enjoy your weekend.

 
Fantagraphics Infodump -- Tons of good information on upcoming projects by some of the best cartoonists in the universe right here.

Friday, February 13, 2004

 
Mixed Emotions -- First of all, congratulations and great good luck to Dirk Deppey, who has been named the new editor of the Comics Journal, and discusses how this happened in today's hiatus-announcing iJournalista!. Dirk's nose for comics news and his insights into the industry have made his blog the first stop for just about everyone who A) Owns a computer B) Is interested in comics and C) Isn't a frigging idiot, so this hiatus is a bit panic-inducing to say the least. Given my druthers, I would love to see somebody suitable step in and temporarily fill Dirk's shoes, but I have no idea what went into the decision to just shut it down for a month. Dirk is offering up a mailing list so you can be notified when the blog resumes, however. It can't be soon enough for me.

The mixed emotions come in seeing the end of the Milo George era of the Journal, which followed a disastrous run by the previous, incompetent Anne Elizabeth Moore that nearly destroyed the magazine, in my opinion. Milo brought a great deal to the table in his time as editor, but most importantly, he made the Journal matter again. I wish him well and I hope he finds a new job that suits his intelligence and passion for journalism. He and Dirk are two of the most vital advocates for the comics artform that I have ever encountered, and I continue to respect and admire both of them more than just about anybody in the industry.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

 
Thursday Blogging -- It's the off-week for Chris Allen's Breakdowns column, so, eh. Not much to talk about today in any event. I've got a lot going on behind the scenes, including lining up the next six or so Five Questions pieces, which will include some of the most popular alternative cartoonists around and at least one person I might call "the best writer ever to work in comics," if I wasn't afraid of jinxing the whole bloody thing...

For you process junkies, please note that I have revised the right-side column to move my reviews and the Five Questions into a higher and more prominent position. I also want to revise the links to other blogs, columns and sites in the next week or two, but I keep getting distracted by more immediate concerns. If you've got a link you'd like to suggest, e-mail it to me and I'll give it some thought.

Sadly, I think that's it for today. Sorry not to have more for you, but the next few days look to be pretty full, so hopefully that will make up for it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

 
Cartoonists on Distribution -- Yesterday's Five Questions for Jason
Marcy
prompted this reponse from True Story, Swear to God creator Tom Beland:

When he's telling you about his thoughts on distributers, who is he talking about? Because, if it's Diamond, they've been COMPLETELY cooperative towards my work. And you have to realize that when I submitted TSSTG for distributing, I didn't even have the actual printing.. it was photocopied pages put together in a white binder with the name hand-written with an El Marko. They told me they looked at it and wanted to carry it and I've been with them for eight issues now, without EVER being asked to buy ad space.

The same can be said for FM International and Cold Cut Distributers. They've been amazing to work with from the get-go. FM and Cold Cut even carry my zines, which is not often done by distributers.

I think the biggest failure by indie creators is that they put all the effort into issue #1... and then issue #2 never comes out. They have to remember that Diamond is ALSO publishing and spending money in printing the catalog and in developing orders. They get orders for the first issue and the rest never come out. THAT'S what I hear from distributers at conventions. Also, and this happens with the bigger companies, but when they advertise a book in April and that issue doesn't meet deadline, why should a distributer carry that book? I've had four months in between issues, but Diamond knows that when I tell them a book will be ready that month, it'll be ready to ship that month. And the bigger companies provide more titles that bring in big bucks, so a late book won't damage them as much.

It sounds more like Marcy is going off hearsay and not on actual experience. But if it IS actual experience, he should say who he's been having difficulties with and find out if it's the industry all together or just an isolated problem.

Other than that, good interview. I'm really liking the concept.


I obviously don't have any firsthand experience with distributing comics, and no knowledge of Tom or Jason's experiences in trying to get distributed -- I can only say that I'd imagine every case is different, with a huge number of variables to be taken into consideration, not the least of which is Diamond's virtual monopoly over the direct market. That came to mind as I was writing today's review of Optic Nerve #9, a comic that is finished and printed and available for readers everywhere, except that it hasn't shipped from Diamond yet so many (most?) shops don't have it yet and won't for weeks -- and I'd imagine more than a few retailers are unaware that the book is available if they go direct to the publisher (Drawn and Quarterly) and probably through some of the smaller distributors like Cold Cut. What irritates me (and I am sure the creator and publisher in question) is knowing that the book is printed and available and that many interested readers (and I have heard customers asking when this issue was coming out, after a two-year gap since #8) aren't being clued in to the facts and will have to wait weeks to see the book. Things need to change.

Oh, and thanks to Tom for writing in -- and look for his own answers to the Five Questions in the near future. In the meantime, read this profile of Tom from The Orlando Sentinel (link courtesy of Journalista!).

 

Optic Nerve #9
By Adrian Tomine
Published by Drawn and Quarterly

An ambitious three-issue story arc begins here, as Tomine embarks on his longest single story yet -- a graphic novel about race and relationships that the text piece tells us will likely be called "White on Rice" when it's collected.

The story is an examination of the life and obsessions of Ben Tanaka, a 20-something Japanese-American who works in a movie theater ("I'm in the industry..."), has a beautiful Asian girlfriend who he takes for granted ("Maybe I'll come to bed in a little bit," he says, ignoring her obvious sexual entreaties in favour of watching DVDs by himself), and has a growing obsession with white American girls. "We can both make an effort not to let these things get out of control," he says, and we recognize that, of course, they won't.

Tomine's cartooning is as elegant and controlled as ever. He obviously spends a lot of time thinking about the design of his books and the elements of his pages and panels, and his gift for convincing detail allows me as a reader to fully immerse myself in the details of his stories and the complexities of his characters. Tomine has a gift for sketching convincing portraits of his characters with just a few key words and images, and with the narrative opened up to three issues, he has room to use this to great advantage. When we see Ben's girlfriend hopefully offering herself to an indifferent Ben, we know this isn't the first time this has happened. A relationship disintegrating from repeated slights and hurt feelings is revealed, but Tomine skillfully manages to still make Ben human, and even likable. How could you not like a guy who pretends to be his lesbian best pal's boyfriend for the sake of her convincing her parents she's straight?

I don't know how strictly autobiographical "White on Rice" is, but Tomine's setting of the story within the Asian-American community brings a welcome verisimilitude, as when he mistakenly believes his friend's parents, who are Korean-American, could be deceived into thinking he is as well ("My family would spot your Japanese ass a mile away"). Tomine and his lead character clearly share some character traits, and I find myself not really caring if the story is actually based on events from his life -- like Raymond Carver, Tomine uses moments that feel real to evoke real feelings in his readers. Like Carver, Tomine's narrative successes provoke resonance and delight.

Tomine's characters here are in their 20s and not entirely certain what they want out of life -- Tomine himself is also in his 20s, and so it's not entirely surprising that he might choose to create a story about such characters. Where he impresses me is in how masterfully he depicts the characters and their conflicts. Scenes such as the confrontation between Ben and his girlfriend over his preference for porn featuring white American chicks rings painfully true, a young man who doesn't realize how obvious his desires are, and how much they hurt those who don't live up to his apparent standards.

Ben is finding his way and exploring his options in the way that young men in their 20s often do, and as it often does, disaster seems possible but not necessarily imminent. "White on Rice" begins as a compelling character portrait backed up with interesting and unique supporting characters, and some of the strongest and most confident cartooning Tomine has yet delivered. We've waited two years for this issue of Optic Nerve, and it's been worth the wait -- Optic Nerve should be on every reader's shelf, and Tomine's confident writing and clean, compelling cartooning demand attention. This issue is highly recommended and I'm anxious to see the next chapter of Tomine's first longform story. Grade: 5/5

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

 


Jason Marcy -- I love Jason Marcy's autobiographical
comics. Like no other cartoonist I can think of, he puts his
full and uncensored id out on the line in almost every story
he does, inviting your disgust, and sometimes your admiration.
No surprise at all that he'd answer the Five Questions.


Like my other favourite web cartoonist, you recently
had a child. Tell me how your son's membership in the Marcy
Family has affected your creativity?


Well, he's certainly added a whole new angle to it!
It's become really more about finding the time to be
creative, so most of my work gets done, well, at work,
while waiting for the pasta dough to mix. He's
certainly added a little more spice to my daily
journal strip, as he's become quite active and into
everything. If nothing else though, he's made me
realize I need to be far more creative, and start
bringing in more money from the cartooning. It's now a
real job to me, in a lot of ways, adding to the
household income. Only Xander could make me see the
benefits of that!

You're currently working on your third graphic novel
collecting your Jay's Days stories. Tell me how you see your
autobiographical work developing over the years you've been
doing it.


Hmmm...I see it as far more polished over the years. I
actually handed over the pages of the main story in
Jay's Days 3 to inker Joe Meyer, and he was amazed at
how well written and drawn it all was, calling it my
"best work to date" though I never know, though I do
get a feeling it's good. I think I've really grown in
both art and story. A lot of that comes from simply
studying the works of other autobio guys, and just
plain experience at knocking the stuff out, the whole
"just get down to brass tacks" thing of telling the
tale.

It's also a more refined process, involving full
scripting, then going over it as I draw to make sure
the essentials of what happened are there. Before I'd
just start with panel one and go until whenever. Now I
wanna make sure I get it as right and as real as it
happened, so the reader can feel he or she was there!!

How would you like to see the industry change to
make it a more hospitable environment for independent and
alternative creators and publishers?


The hot button topic!! I think the industry has to
have a far more fair process to allow indie guys in. I
hear a lot of bull coming from the major distributor
when it comes to the huge support they give indies,
and in some ways it's true, yet behind the scenes
there are a lot of talented people being turned away. I
see guys putting out work of such high calibre not in
the ditributor's catalogue because they can't afford
the ad space often required to get listed.

Obviously, we need a better system of distribution,
and that means we need good old fashioned real
competition again for the creator's revenues. Back when
there was more choice, I think there was a more open
door policy to indies, because who knew if the one
distributor didn't take a project and the other did
and it made money who would have that egg on their
faces? Wouldn't someone be made to answer for failing
to take a possible money generating book? Now it's a
lot of guys becoming comic critics instead of
distributors because they're the only game in town
taken seriously, and they often make decisions on a
project without any of the comic buying public's
input, in my view the final voice on what is "good" or
"bad." I think things should be listed and then judged
based on how orders go, not with shadowy "you buy this
ad, we'll carry you" backroom garbage. And I've heard
the horror stories from enough creators to know this
is how it works.

Tell me who your five favourite cartoonists are and
a little something about each one.


1. JAMES KOCHALKA: Pure genius. Very stylized, always
able to bring magic out of things I'd never see the
same way. He simply can find joy in everything the
world offers. Amazing. Owns the daily cartoon journal
format all the kids is imitatin' these days (yep, me
too). Made me call myself a "Kochalkaholic"!! And his
music is rockin' great stuff!! I will love to meet him
one day, though I'll probably be a fanboy geek...

2. JOE SACCO: Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde and The
Fixer should be required reading in every high school
or University, or both. Brings a brilliant art style to
report on stuff in the world most people barely get a
glimpse of in the news. Never flinches or pulls his
punches in any of his awesome works. Autobio that
really matters.

3. JOHN PORCELLINO: Like Kochalka, a genius in the
field. Everything he does looks so simple, yet it has
a complexity and poignancy way beyond its appearance.
Made me cry with one sentence in an issue of King Cat
Comics #60: "Jon...she's going to leave me." Should
have more trade collections than a hundred other
guys...

4. JOE MEYER: Without his inks, a lot of my work would
not have the power it does. His own stuff continues to
amaze me as well, with his upcoming "Slammin' Bunneez"
likely going to be a masterpiece, and his daily
journal work better steadily day by day. Truly my
right arm, and my best friend.

5. STEVE "THE DUDE" RUDE: Every artist should look to
this guy simply for his professionalism even if they
don't dig his art. Saw him do three straight days at a
con meeting and greeting, left the table only once or
twice and he was the most gracious guy in the world,
no matter who you were. As an artist has few peers,
his work on Nexus unsurpassed, and I'll say firmly
he's one of the few true masters of dynamic
storytelling in the field, yet also capable of making
those heroes very human and real. There's a story that
Jack Kirby (another favorite, right beneath Rude)
could draw the Thing battling it out with some beasty
and then equally have him sipping coffee and reading
the sports page like any average joe and make it
believeable. Rude has that in spades.

You once did a story about asking your wife to check
your ass for hemorrhoids. Is there anything that you've left out
of a strip because it was too personal, disgusting or embarrassing?


God yeah. Most of the time, it's based on my wife's
request (as in, "don't show us having sex!!"), though
I plan on doing a ton of embarrassing and even
disgusting stories, because a lot of them are funny to
people. I wanted to have a few stories in the upcoming
Volume 3 that showed my male pervert side, to me an
embarrassing thing, and even then I felt like I was
passing the buck so to speak. They likely don't go far
enough. I know I'll start crossing some bizarro fences
as time passes though, and I sort of stop giving a
damn. There's been stuff in all three trades I NEVER
would've shown in my early work, so I'm already
working out my taboo stuff.

Jason Marcy's all over the web. Read his Live Journal,
weblog and daily diary strips.

Monday, February 09, 2004

 


Anthony Williams -- Leave it to Mark Millar to have comics readers who might never buy a funny animal funnybook buying The Unfunnies in droves -- and then to deliver the shock and awe of realizing it's a funny animal funnybook about pedophilia. The artist of The Unfunnies agreed to answer Five Questions for me.

Tell me about your career and how it led to The Unfunnies.

I've been drawing comics for 16 years. Everything from Barbie to Batman.
Probably the most high profile American work is the X-Men movie adaptation.
I've worked with Mark in the past for 2000 AD.

What did you think when you read the script for the first issue?

I didn't realise it was going to be autobiographical.

The first issue has clearly upset some readers and retailers, but I
found it a fully-realized nightmare vision vividly brought to life by
you and Mark Millar. What do you hope readers of the book will come
away from it with when the final issue has shipped?


A bad taste in their mouth and a feeling that the world isn't quite as pleasant as we'd perhaps like it to be.
Also, I make no claims for this comic to be high art but at least we're doing something that differs from the mainstream which comics needs.

Have any of your friends or family members expressed an opinion one
way or the other about The Unfunnies?


My wife looks at me dubiously out of the corner of her eye and I choose my words carefully when explaining it to friends.

Do you have any future comics projects in the works?

I'm about to start a new strip for 2000 AD and another for Gamesworkshop's Warhammer. Both written by Dan Abnett. Plus loads of non-comics work.

Learn more about The Unfunnies and view some of the "offensive" covers at the Avatar website, and thanks to Anthony Williams for answering The Five Questions.

 
Short, Sharp Shocks -- Brevity is the soul of wit. You know, there's got to be a quicker way to say that. Anyway, here's some compact examinations of recently printed sequential periodicals.

Coup D'Etat: Sleeper #1 (of 4) -- Despite strong reservations about the likely quality of the rest of this four-issue mini-series, the first corporate comics crossover event of '04 begins with a highly successful first chapter. Ed Brubaker's script grounds his Sleeper characters firmly in the Wildstorm universe with a story about shadowy groups triggering an interdi(accidentally?) triggering an interdimensional catastrophe that sends The Authority into action -- the first time The Authority has read like The Authority since Mark Millar and Frank Quitely's time. More to the point, the characters feel like Warren Ellis's creations without relying on the shock and yawn of the current, shark-jumping version of the title. Artist Jim Lee inks himself here, and the work is a revelation. Echoes of Neal Adams and Frank Miller make themselves known, and Lee's panel-to-panel storytelling is a vast improvement over that seen in his recent Batman gig. Honestly, it's a shame that Lee doesn't seem to have the time or discipline to truly devote himself to a monthly title, because this single story is one of the better-looking superhero comics jobs I've seen in some time, and I could truly get interested in the thought of a Brubaker/Lee Authority run. Now, this is a Sleeper story, labelled as such at any rate, and it does move Holden Carver's story forward a bit from the end of the first "season" of the title in Sleeper #12. The main concern here, though, is setting up a world-altering event that looks to be establishing a new status quo for the Wildstorm universe. The end result will depend largely on whether the powers that be at the imprint understand that writers with a firm grasp of storytelling like Ed Brubaker should be the guiding force at Wildstorm. Should all the resulting comics all be as exciting and well-crafted as Coup D'Etat: Sleeper #1, they'd really be doing something. Grade: 4.5/5

Sam and Twitch #26 -- Paul Lee is a very talented artist, capable of depicting realistic environments and subtle emotions. He's too good for the average Todd McFarlane Productions material, certainly, but as with many gifted creators before him, here he is maintaining Todd's trademarks for him. This time out it's the final issue of Sam and Twitch, and the conclusion of Todd's muddled "John Doe" storyline. Since the poor quality of McFarlane's writing is axiomatic, let's quickly look at some of the deceptively difficult things artist Paul Lee handles with confidence in this issue: A rumpled bed, an old car, guns, Twitch's house, Sam looking sad, a rose in a garbage can. In an accompanying text piece, Todd tries to make the end of the title seem like it means something -- anything -- but since it doesn't, it rings extremely hollow and kind of silly. The adventures of the titular characters will continue in Sam and Twitch: Case Files, written and drawn by other people too smart and talented to be wasting their efforts on McFarlane material. Grade: (Art) 4.5/5 (Script) 2/5

Invincible #8 -- New artist Ryan Ottley mostly succeeds in continuing the visual style established in previous issues, although his thinking seems a bit more two-dimensional. This issue features the funeral of the super-team slaughtered in last issue's shocking departure from form, and also seems more packed with story than any other issue of invincible, perhaps due in part to a welcome parade of guest stars including Superpatriot, Savage Dragon and Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen's Superstar. By now writer Robert Kirkman has fleshed out the world of Invincible enough that the nods to continuity bear some heft, and the cliffhangers leave you wanting to know what happens next. As with Brit, Cloudfall and especially The Walking Dead, this issue reminds us that Kirkman is the real deal, a compelling and inventive comic book writer who hits a home run just about every time he swings the bat. Readers of Ultimate Spider-Man, Astro City, Hellboy and Savage Dragon are strongly advised to give Invincible a look -- it fully deserves to be compared to those other quality adventure comics. Grade: 4.5/5

Fused #1 -- After four artistically -- uh, diverse issues at Image, Steve Niles relaunches at Dark Horse with new artist Josh Medors. The good news is that the plight of scientist Mark Haggerty -- trapped inside a powerful cyberetic suit that he can't escape and that may have consumed his body -- is as compelling as ever. Niles moves the story along with some interesting revelations about how his body and the suit seem to be evolving in their interaction with each other, and the cliffhanger ending is a shock and a horror. The bad news, in my opinion, is that Medors isn't really suited to the story. Original artist Paul Lee seemed perfectly in synch with Niles and his story, but none of the other artists associated with the series have managed to win me over. The writing is strong enough to bring me back for future installments, but the synergy of the earliest issues of the original series definitely seems to have gone missing. Grade: 3.5/5

Gyo Volume One -- Junji Ito first got my attention with Uzumaki, an eerie, three-volume series focusing on the Lovecraftian goings-on in a village beseiged with spirals. Ito demonstrated an amazing facility for creating chilling imagery in Uzumaki, and that skill is called upon again in the first volume of Gyo, a tale of evolution gone awry. There's nothing so disturbing in real life than the sight of an evolutionary anomoly -- human beings seem programmed to react with fear and disgust to seeing nature gone wrong. While this can lead to an irrational fear that the intellect needs to overcome, in the case of Gyo, it provides an entertaining sense of terror as we see the bizarre genetic freaks that emerge from the ocean and terrorize a young couple, and soon entire cities. Ito has come up with a pretty convincing explanation for why such horrors would begin to walk the Earth, and is quite inventive in finding new ways to horrify us as these strange creatures overwhelm humanity. This first volume ends on an extremely downbeat and horrifying cliffhanger, one that left me eager to read more Gyo as quickly as possible. Grade: 4.5/5

A Sort of Homecoming #2 -- There's a fine line between compelling story and tiresome sentiment, and I'm not sure writer Damon Hurd doesn't cross it in this issue-long rumination on a lifetime pact between friends who pledge to go to the opening night of every single Star Trek movie. Artist Pedro Camello continues to grow, easily depicting convincing city and rural environments, and his way with body language is good, too, as in the pushy, lumbering Klingon here that he gets just right. His faces sometimes need a little work -- or a little less work, as it's in close-up where he seems a little off on the details of human expression. In middle-distance shots with more simplified features, he's much better -- indicating to me that he might want to consider simplifying his style for close-up shots to give a more unified feel to his style. Camello also displays impressive confidence and skill in splashing the black ink around to indicate space, setting and mood. Hurd's tale of friendship lost is probably worth telling, but it's not a story that demands three issues -- it could and should have been done as a single issue. As with the first issue (and unfortunately probably the third, as well), the story's time shifts (often spurred by ham-handed dialogue cues) are aggravating. Not that this device can't be done well, but here, it's not. One too many U2 quotes and the bios in the back indicate talent that thinks it's arrived, when it's still really just beginning to get going. This is a huge hazard for beginning comics creators whose first work is disproportionately praised (as Hurd and Camello's My Uncle Jeff was), and the smug shot of the author and his cigar is frankly too much to take. I'm interested in seeing how these talents develop, but each new release carries with it a sense of importance and quality that is not entirely deserved yet. Sample pages can be seen here. Grade: 3.5/5

The Bristol Board Jungle -- A graphic novel by two Savannah, Georgia college professors and seven of their students, The Bristol Board Jungle was probably published by NBM for noble reasons, like their similarly mediocre Rise of the Graphic Novel. It seems likely that if you're one of the nine people involved in creating this book, you'll be riveted by the dull goings on as the class supposedly learns how to create comics and shares page after page of their (understandably) amateur efforts. Clearly well-intentioned, and as I said, probably really compelling if you were directly involved in the project, The Bristol Board Jungle reminds me of the plodding lectures of 9 of 1: A Window to the World, only with a wider variety of mostly unappealing artwork. I'd tell you the one artist whose page sort of appealed to me, but the names of the students in the story and the names of the students listed in the credits are not the same, and one of the authors apparently was responsible for the artwork in the story that was supposedly drawn by the students, leading to an aggravating confusion over who drew what. There's a preview available at the publisher's website. Grade: 1.5/5

For additional comments on The Week in Comics, check out AK's response to today's ADD Blog.

 

The Week in Comics -- Here's a rundown of some noteworthy comics arriving in shops this Wednesday.

TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS

JAMES KOCHALKA'S SKETCHBOOK DIARIES VOL. 4 $7.95 -- Here's cause to celebrate. The Sketchbook Diaries are Kochalka's most intimate, spontaneous and revealing works, and because of the format you don't have to have read any of the previous volumes to get what's going on. It's just the life story of one of America's most fascinating cartoonists.

AVATAR

ALAN MOORE'S THE COURTYARD TP $6.95 -- A lot of Alan Moore's Avatar work is obscure, insignificant or badly drawn. Not the case in any way with The Courtyard, a creepy and surreal take on the Lovecraft style with first-rate artwork by Jacen Burrows. Highly recommended.

WARREN ELLIS SCARS TP $17.99 -- It's not often you get two excellent graphic novels in the same week from Avatar, and both with art by Jacen Burrows, who if there were any justice at all would be considered a superstar artist. In Scars he brings humanity and realism to Ellis's bleak, horrific police procedural. This is a substantial chunk of great comics, and probably Warren Ellis's best scripting outside of his work on The Authority and Planetary.

DARK HORSE

CHOSEN #1 (Of 3) $2.99 -- Mark Millar resurrects Jesus, just to make sure he's going to hell in the wake of The Unfunnies. So far the Millarworld experiment (multiple titles from the same writer published by different companies) is working creatively for me -- and I'm definitely interested in Chosen. You can read a preview at the Dark Horse website.

HELLBOY WEIRD TALES #7 $2.99 -- This anthology title doesn't always entertain from cover to cover, but there's always at least one or two stories that justify the purchase, and it's interesting to see other creators play with Mike Mignola's toys.

TALES OF THE VAMPIRES #3 $2.99 -- This surprisingly strong anthology should ditch the framing device in each issue, as it's really aggravating. Other than that, so far I've been shocked at how good each issue has been.

DC COMICS

BATMAN DEATH AND THE MAIDENS #7 (Of 9) $2.95 -- This mini-series started out with a promising setup (Batman and Ra's al Ghul vs. an old ally of the Batman villain), but has really run off the rails, with a full issue dedicated to murdering Talia again and again, and another one with an issue long chat between Bruce Wayne and his dead mother. I suppose these could be handled well, but in Death and the Maidens they just seem directionless and a bit misogynistic. Klaus Janson provides much better art than the story deserves, and that's the only reason I'm sticking with it to the end.

COUP D'ETAT STORMWATCH TEAM ACHILLES #2 $2.95 -- Loved last week's Sleeper tie-in by Ed Brubaker and Jim Lee. If they were doing the entire four issues, I would be buying it with no qualms. Unfortunately, the remaining three issues, including this one, each feature either a writer or artist whose work has disappointed in the past.

GOTHAM CENTRAL #16 $2.50 -- Thank God, the Joker story is over.

TOMORROW STORIES BOOK TWO HC $24.95 -- I've bought every ABC hardcover to date, because I love this Alan Moore-driven line of comics. Tomorrow Stories, unfortunately, is extremely hit-or-miss for me, and I'm not sure I'll be picking this one up. But hardcore Moore fans may feel there's enough good material to justify the purchase.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

 
Collins in the Middle -- Of Dirk and Neilalien, I mean. Right here.

 
Dirk Responds to Neilalien -- Right here (scroll to the last bit of today's entry).

 


Larry Young -- As the writer of ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE and the publisher of
many excellent comics and graphic novels through his company
AiT/Planetlar, Larry Young has shown himself to have
an eye for quality and a willingness to engage the industry in new and different
ways. He took the Five Questions like a man. One would expect no less.


What do you see as AiT/Planetlar's unique place in the comics industry?

I'm not sure we're as unique as all that. We're publishers, just like
Marvel and DC and whoever. The $12.95 it takes to buy THE INVISIBLES:
BLOODY HELL IN AMERICA from your local comics retailer is the same $12.95
it'll cost to buy yourself a copy of LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned from becoming a comics publisher?

Nothing's really "surprised" me. I had worked in advertising and marketing
and promotions and print publishing for sixteen or seventeen years or so
before we leapt in, and Mimi had ten years in print and digital and her
MBA, so "surprise" didn't, and hasn't, really entered into it at all for
us. There are always bumps in the road and little victories in ushering
any creative endeavor into a form that others can enjoy, but there hasn't
been anything the two of us haven't anticipated on one level or another,
yet. Knock on wood.

What's your greatest frustration as an independent comics publisher, and how do you overcome
the challenges of same?


I don't have any frustrations at all; being a comics publisher is the
greatest gig in the world! I mean, my talented pals and I can craft little
stories to instruct and entertain and engage a reader with our poignancy
and our humor and our elegance and our joy and our enthusiasm, and people
pay us for the privilege. And just when we get a little low and think our
efforts have been forgotten, someone buys another copy of a book we did
years ago, and lets us know that it's a vital and entertaining work,
still. I mean, c'mon, it's like raising a productive, tax-paying member of
society once a month. What's to get frustrated with? Publishing our great
comics is awesome.

From the level of detail and passion for the subject you bring to all
your Astronauts in Trouble projects, you clearly have an affinity
for the subject for space exploration. What's your take on the White
House space initiative recently announced?


Hey, I'm just a guy who reads the papers. But it's no secret that I wrote
AiT: LIVE FROM THE MOON because in 1969, when I was six, I thought I'd be
living on the moon in 30 years, and when I looked around in 1999, I
couldn't help but notice I was still on terra firma. There's a line in my
original proposal for it that the mozillionaire industrialist Ishmael
Hayes funded the whole thing because "he had a bug up his ass to see the
surface of the moon not through a telescope's eyepiece but from the inside
of a spacesuit." And that's me talking, right there, not the bad guy of a
story. My perspective? I suppose I'm pissed I got cheated out of my Pan Am
flight to the L-5 Hilton because in 1970 Nixon didn't have a vision for
space that extended beyond 350 miles up.

What's the best thing the comics industry could do to capitalize on the
increased awareness of comics and manga over the past year or two?


Well, manga are comics, right? And I'm not sure that you can count the
book trade's recent discovery of comics as a viable entertainment artform
as some sort of wholesale "increased awareness," although I'm sure many
people have a differing perspective on that. I *am* sure I'm not qualified
to answer what "the comics industry" could do to ride the gravy train
longer, because I don't think in those terms. Mimi and I are on course
with our company plan, and it really doesn't have anything to do with what
else is happening in "the comics industry." I had occasion to write
recently on a message board, "the day I realized that I view comics
differently than most was the happiest day of my life," and that's true.
We publish books that reinforce our vision for comics, and we've been
fortunate enough that lots of readers in the audience seem to dig what we
do. Slow and steady wins the race.

Stop by the AiT/Planetlar site,
and check out the company's DEMO by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, reviewed here.

 
Thursday Reading -- If you're as big a fan as I am of Chris Allen's Breakdowns, you check it out every week. Trouble is, he went bi-weekly recently, yet paradoxically seems to be delivering more words than ever. If you want to sign up for his mailing list, Allen now plans to notify readers when his new columns are up for your consumption. Today's nearly 10,000 word edition includes a raft of good reviews (including a different take on The Unfunnies than most reviewers are doling out), part two of his essential Publisher Report Card and an in-depth, full-length interview with Tony Isabella. Today's Breakdowns sets a new standard of quality and quantity in online comics commentary. Check it out.

Also, new on the comics column scene is Past Masters written by Clifford Meth for Silver Bullet Comic Books. The timely debut column focuses on Dave Cockrum, a longtime comics artist probably most well-known for drawing the first issue in which the new X-Men appeared, Giant-Size X-Men #1.

Past Masters looks like a column that should be of interest to any comics reader who believes creators should be treated like human beings. Here's a bit of a press release from SBC:

Neal Adams cared about the injustice done to Siegel and Shuster by DC over Superman royalties. No one else cared. But Adams fought the corporate monster and won.

Harlan Ellison continually bucks the trend by caring about matters no one else does - his current copyright fights with AOL are a case in point. He is one of the most tenacious, respected, and feared guys in multiple entertainment industries.

Adams and Ellison have now teamed up for another cause no-one else seems to care about - but not only are they doing the right thing, it's comics history in the making.

Who? Why? How? Where? When? Clifford Meth...and only Clifford Meth...has the details.

"I've been published by Billboard and The Literary Review, and syndicated by the LA Times. Barnes & Noble called me one of dark fiction's best secrets," said Meth. "Harlan Ellison digs me. Kurt Vonnegut, too. But an opportunity to write for SBC? Jeezus Murphy--that's better than giving Britney Spears a coffee enema."

"It's always heartening to see comic fans and creators living up to the ideals of justice as expressed by their four-color heroes," said Silver Bullet Comics' editor-in-chief Jason Brice. "Clifford Meth is going to bring us one step closer to those values in his weekly column at SBC, keeping a watchful and protective eye on those who have gone before us, celebrating their past triumphs and anticipating their future successes."


Give the premiere of Past Masters a look.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

 
Thanks to Sean Collins -- Thanks, Sean, for rounding up blogosphere reaction to the Dirk Deppey Five Questions. My favourite reaction comes from Ron Phillips:

Good job to the comic blogosphere's two biggest assholes.

I also really appreciate Dave Intermittent's comments about the Five Questions in general:

When every yahoo can give his opinions on things, it takes something more to make your blog stand out. And so we see ADD step up to the plate and give us essentially original journalism, interviews with James Kochalka and now, Dirk Deppey. ADD stays ahead of the evolutionary curve; while this site is a small furry animan scrounging for crumbs, Alan goes and gets himself thumbs.


Thanks, everybody. And remember, if there's a comics pro (or someone connected to the industry in some way) that you'd like to see grilled the Five Questions way, send me an e-mail with their contact information.

 
Dirk and the Direct Market -- My thanks to Tim O'Neil for his comments today on my Five Questions for Dirk Deppey, and for his kind words about the ADD Blog in general:

I think both Deppey and Doane have about as much insight into [comics] as you are likely to find, and its heartening to know that there are still people out there who know and care and think about comics in an intelligent manner.

Tim's got a good blog going on that I've been watching for the past few weeks, and I think it's time I added him to the go: section at right.

 
Neilalien Responds to Dirk -- Dirk Deppey made some statements about Neilalien in yesterday's Five Questions piece that Neil has now responded to. Given that these gentlemen are two of my favourite comics bloggers, and that they both obviously want better comics and better comics shops, I hope they'll come to a mutual understanding on the issues under debate.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

 
Kochalkulations -- On behalf of myself, my wife and our two children, I just want to express how happy we are for James Kochalka and the members of his band James Kochalka Superstar on signing with Rykodisc Records. A photo of the actual signing and a link to a video (!) of the same event are here.

The music of James Kochalka Superstar has, since I first encountered it back in the final days of the 20th Century, become an integral part of my life, and an essential bonding element for me and my kids, who love many of the band's songs and know every word of their lyrics (the clean ones, anyway). Songs like Monkey vs. Robot, Hockey Monkey, Frog on Top of a Skyscraper and the entirety of the Carrot Boy the Beautiful CD have brought infinite joy and delight to our family and to many, many other people -- and I'm thrilled for the band at the thought that even more people will be exposed to their music.

If you want to get a head start, a good place to begin investigating the music is with Don't Trust Whitey, the band's most recent (and in my opinion best) CD. It's available in many comics shops, or there are a couple of other JKS CDs available through Amazon.com.

Congratulations again to everyone in the band, you all deserve huge success and I hope this deal brings you a wider audience and the opportunity to further explore your musical urges in the future.

Monday, February 02, 2004

 


Dirk Deppey -- The Comics Journal's webmaster and weblogger is probably the most widely-read comics commentator on what Graeme McMillan calls "This, the comics internet." Certainly he's the most well-informed, curious and interesting. He not only agreed to answer Five Questions but formatted the HTML, too, without me even asking. Just another reason to love the man.

What drove you to create ¡Journalista!?

A desperate need to give TCJ.com a reason to
exist as something other than brochureware. I moved to Seattle, Washington from
Phoenix, Arizona three years ago, ostensibly to take up the position of "catalog
editor" for Fantagraphics Books, but also with the implicit understanding that
my skills would be needed to revive The Comics Journal's moribund
website. When I got here, I discovered that previous attempts to do something
with the site had left it with a reputation among staffers as an eater of time
and sanity -- a reasonable assumption, in hindsight, since there was no
site-specific staff, and work thus had to be performed by people who already had
full-time duties. As a result, no one was particularly interested in creating
new content for TCJ.com. At the time, it was clear that if I wanted to do
anything with the site, I'd have to do it myself.

My first experiment with the website was a message-board forum dealing with
comics theory, which went nowhere fast. After that, I gave the site a
top-to-bottom makeover, redesigning the homepage to place the focus squarely on
the print magazine and consolidating the content already online. My next step
was the Audio Archives,
which was an attractive idea for two reasons: (1) I foolishly thought that it
wouldn't require a lot of work on my part, and (2) The Comics Journal's
collection of interview audiotapes is probably the single largest oral history
of the American comics medium in existence, and really should be preserved in
digital form for historical purposes before it melts into magnetic mush. (Online
excerpts aside, I have my doubts as to my ability to complete the job. I've
produced over 200 compact discs of interviews in the past two years, and am
maybe 1/20th of the way through the collection. Clearly, this is a decades-long
job I've set for myself. Wish me luck.)

The Audio Archives brought more traffic to the site, but only on a monthly
basis. I wanted to make TCJ.com a little more indispensable than that, but had
few options given my budget (zero) and staff (me). I've long been a fan of
politically-oriented weblogs, and given how solidly superhero-centric most
comics news-sites were (and are), it seemed to me that there was a need for
something that kept people informed about everything else in comics --
especially the business side of things. Given this, a comics-related weblog was
really a no-brainer. I needed something that would bring The Comics
Journal
back into the online conversation concerning comics, and a regular
day-to-day look at the medium in its various permutations fit the bill quite
nicely.

I spent some time working out the kinks in the idea. At first, my biggest
concern was that I would effectively be turning the website into "Dirk Deppey's
TCJ.com," and my original plan was to write the weblog pseudonymously under the
handle "Journalista." Managing editor Milo George nixed that idea right away,
thankfully. Given budgetary and server-space limitations, I also decided early
on to handcode the blog rather than use a pre-existing software package. Since
my previous job as webmaster for a group of sports-related websites had turned
me into a fast HTML-coder, this was far less of a burden than it sounds, and the
weblog is still created without automation to this day: archives, RSS feed and
all. It's all done with templates, folks. Anyway, I blogged for two weeks
without formally linking it to the website, just to prove that I could handle
the workload, and then presented my efforts to Milo, Gary Groth and Kim
Thompson. All concerned were impressed enough with my efforts to give me the
go-ahead to continue, and I've been writing a weblog ever since.

(I should also point out that I've continued to receive strong support from Milo
and Gary for my website-related efforts, as demonstrated by the recent addition
of Dan Holloway's review column, and Kim's given me an astonishing amount of
leeway in scheduling my catalog-editor hours to accomodate all the
Journal-related work. It's their support and understanding which makes it all
possible, and I don't say that nearly enough in public.)

I think most people who are interested in this sort of thing consider your
weblog to be the one indispensible one every weekday -- Christ knows, I do --
what's the view like from up there at the top of the comics blogosphere?


I'm having a blast. ¡Journalista! has been far more successful than
I ever expected. In the past fifteen months, traffic has grown considerably, and
the weblog's homepage now attracts between 1300-1500 unique visitors per day --
small potatoes in Internet terms, but healthy enough for a comics-related
webpage where the biggest draw isn't a perpetual Marvel/DC blowjob. Furthermore,
if the online reaction and my own email is any indication, a major chunk of the
readership seems to be composed of industry professionals, as well as online and
mainstream print journalists who use it to keep track of day-to-day events. I
regularly get email from creators and editors from all of the major publishing
houses, from a wide number of retailers and others in the Direct Market
foodchain, from university professors and academicians, and from writers and
editors for magazines ranging from Publishers Weekly to The Village
Voice
, as well as over a dozen metropolitan newspapers -- someday, if I get
a spare moment, I may even have a chance to answer some of it. Like the print
magazine it represents, ¡Journalista!'s audience is small but
absurdly influential in proportion to its size.

¡Journalista! is frequently referred to as a news-site, but I think
this is a misleading label. The biggest reason for its success has been the
content aggregation it offers, rather than anything remotely resembling original
journalism. The weblog is first and foremost a means of keeping track of other
people's coverage of events in the medium, without having to wade through a lot
of press-release puffery, and it would be insufferable arrogance on my part to
pretend that my role in the internet ecosystem involves anything greater. I
seldom commit acts of original reportage. I've created several minor uproars now
as a pundit, but that's clearly not the key component of ¡Journalista!'s
success.

What do you think comics blogs offer readers interested in comics that they
can't get from magazines, websites and message boards?


If you follow comics as compulsively as I do, weblogs have become essential
reading, a fact due in large part to the democratic, almost Darwinian
opportunity they provide. Anyone can start a weblog, after all, but nobody's
forcing people to read them. It's only by having something significant,
informative and entertaining to say that one can attract a readership these
days; those that do it well earn their success accordingly -- write well and
write often, and other weblogs (and their readers) will notice, which in turn
will get others to notice, and so on. Because of this, there's an enormous range
of opinions and perspective available out there, and the conversations produced
in the blogosphere have often been quite valuable. I'm particularly fascinated
by manga-bloggers at the moment. I've been aware of manga for years, but I'm not
particularly knowledgable about the subject's intricacies, so I'm learning a
great deal from people like Shawn Fumo and Adam Stephanides right now. Likewise, there are a few comics retailers out there writing weblogs -- see Jim Crocker and Dan Shahin for examples -- but I'd really like to see more following suit. Given the enormous changes currently reshaping the industry, the perspectives retailers could offer are conspicuous by their absence.

Almost as valuable -- certainly as entertaining -- have been the reactions to
the rise of the comics blogosphere among pre-existing writers and journalists,
who'd clearly gotten used to being the only voices out there attracting readers.
Have you noticed how defensive such people have gotten about the perceived
encroachment upon their territory? Suddenly everyone has a printing press, and
this is driving some who'd been doing it for years more than a little nuts. The
fact that bloggers are just as likely to criticise the "legitimate" comics press
as they are anyone else in the field is undoubtedly a major component in this
state of affairs. Even Rich Johnston, a good reporter who got his start on
Usenet (and of all people should therefore know better), recently made a persnickety attempt to divide "the comics blogosphere" from "the comics stratosphere,"
almost surely irked by the perceived threat to his status as a celebrity pundit.
Do you think there are online yo-yo enthusiasts going through similar identity
crises right now? The longer you think about that, the funnier it gets.

You're a Fantagraphics employee and therefore subject to the presumption of
arrogant elitism -- yet you love Morrison's New X-Men and rightly
chastised me for spoiling the big reveal in my blog. Tell me about the comics
you love and what about each of them that you find unique and appealing?


Where my own reading habits are concerned, Morrison's New X-Men -- as
well as Ellis and Cassaday's Planetary -- are probably the exceptions to
the rule. My love affair with superhero comics was never all that strong to
begin with, even as a child, and ended during early adolescence. I can even
pinpoint the moment it ended: the second issue of Chris Claremont and Frank
Miller's Wolverine miniseries. The issue concluded with a fight between
the title character and a group of ninja on a kabuki stage, with Wolverine's
girlfriend seated in the front row. The fight was depicted as being a bloody
clash of blades, and ended with Our Hero ruminating over the pile of bodies he'd
just created: clumsily inserted into the interior monologue, in what was
obviously another letterer's handwriting, were the words "They're lucky they're
still breathing," or some such. I puzzled over this obvious and nonsensical
editorial afterthought for a few moments, until finally concluding that it was
only natural, given that Wolverine was, after all, a children's comic. I
then decided that I was getting a little too old for such things, and promptly
abandoned comic books for several years, only returning once I discovered that
there were other things artists were doing with the comic-book form.

Superheroes have always been a little ridiculous, a fact amplified by the way
the various tropes that make up the genre have accumulated and ossified over the
decades, to the point where their creators often forget why they exist in the
first place. Why masks and capes? Why secret identities and crimefighting? Why
secret hideouts, why attempts to take over the world? For the most part, it's
just assumed that This Is What They Do, and as a result the reader is given no
greater reason to accept such things. You're either already an initiate -- and
need no further explanations -- or an outsider, in which case there's no real
reason to buy into such clichés in the first place. I can appreciate
something like Moore and O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as
entertainment, but I have no real enthusiasm for the genre for its own sake; I'm
not so much "biased against superheroes" as simply disinterested in the topic
unless the results are especially entertaining and original. Only in a world
where superheroes are seen as The One True Genre could this be seen as an
elitist perspective.

I have no innate bias against most other forms of genre fiction, either, but if
I had to boil down what attracts me to literature into a single, snappy
catchphrase, it would be "give me something real." I don't care for Dave Sim's
early barbarian parodies, but his deft political and religious satires reward
multiple re-readings. I like Ennis & Dillon's Preacher not so much
because it's a modern-day Western as because it says something interesting about
the bonds and limitations of friendship, and for the interesting perspective it
brings to the table concerning American culture. I like Ellis & Robertson's
Transmetropolitan for it's knowing optimism in regards to technological
change as much as for Ellis' ability to successfully riff on Hunter S. Thompson
-- Makoto Yukimura's Planetes recently grabbed my attention for similar
reasons. By contrast, Jaime Hernandez really didn't have that much to say about
such things in his early "Mechanics" stories, and consequentially I greatly
prefer the ones he created after ditching the Rockets and concentrating
upon the Love, where he does have a significant and fascinating
perspective.

The more a work speaks to me as an adult, the more of an impression it leaves.
Eddie Campbell's Alec tells me something about life that is refreshing
and invigorating -- I always find myself appreciating other people more after
re-reading it. Chester Brown's I Never Liked You provides me with tools
that help put my own often turbulent adolescence in perspective. I go back and
forth on other merits of Craig Thompson's Blankets, but its depiction of
the author's early experiences with religion mirror my own, and resonate
meaningfully on that level alone. I could spend all day explaining why I
appreciate the comics of artists like Phoebe Gloeckner, Gilbert Hernandez and
Chris Ware -- or Garth Ennis' War Stories, for that matter. Such works
tend to stay with me more than most genre works not because there's something
inherently wrong with genre, but because they more fully provide me with what
I'm seeking. Literature at its best helps me to understand, appreciate and
engage the world around me. Give me something real.

One of my favourite ignorant quotes is this:

"¡Journalista! at tcj.com gets snobby praise but is
almost all but useless, filled as it is with The Comics Journal's biases
towards almost utterly obscure work."


Tell me why the uphill battle against this sort of stupidity is worth fighting
on a daily basis.


Even ignoring the insane notion that popularity is some weird sort of quality
barometer: Marjane Satrapi is obscure? Art Spiegelman is obscure? Joe Sacco is
obscure? Osamu Tezuka is obscure? Chris Ware is obscure? Harvey Pekar is
obscure? Jules Feiffer is obscure? Robert Crumb is obscure? Only if your sole
point of interaction with the world around you is a comics shop. Comics shops
are obscure -- that's the problem.

The attitude displayed in the above quote reflects an ideology which is at the
root of much which is generally wrong with the world of American comics. Neilalien
recently expounded upon the theory that comics shops were for superheroes, while
bookstores are for everything else. The big problem I have with this theory is
that it sacrifices long-term growth and stability for short-term satisfaction
and self-absorption. It essentially reduces an entire network of distribution to
the role of "secret clubhouse" for a small, stagnant group of afficianadoes by
maintaining a hostile and defensive front towards anything that doesn't fit into
their narrow field of interests. Meanwhile, an entire new generation of readers
is growing, convinced that comics are sold in bookstores, packaged in
pocket-sized digests and read right-to-left. At this point the notion that kids
just don't read comics, once held as gospel within the industry, has now been
decisively refuted. Teenagers, even teenage girls, have no problem with buying
comics -- they simply have little interest in anything the American comics
industry has to sell.

Where will the next generation of Direct Market customers come from?
Business-wise, it's a dead end. I have no doubt that the Direct Market can
maintain its current customer base for the next couple of years. Five years?
Likely. Ten years? Possibly. What about after that?

Right now, comics shops are a closed circuit; the products it sells are
overwhelmingly targetted towards a clientele that is exclusively devoted to a
single genre, and whose favorite titles require an enormous familiarity with the
minutiae of continuity in order to appreciate them. This satisfies the existing
readership, but at the expense of anyone else. The problem is that as time goes
on, tomorrow's comics readers will eventually supplant the current generation,
and there'll be no more of a reason for them to enter a comic-book store than
there is currently. If you don't already have a jones for superhero comics, why
would you be caught dead at Bob's Hero Hut? As the Direct Market's existing
clientele ages and withers away, so will the American comics shop. Any other
form of business would be alarmed at the prospect of never again attracting a
significant body of customers -- yet this is exactly what Neilalien is asking
creators, publishers, distributors and retailers to accept as a good thing. If
you value the weekly trip to your local comics shop -- and I do -- this attitude
is worth fighting on a daily basis because to do anything else is to place a
time limit on how long your local comics shop is going to be around. I have my
doubts as to the likelihood that such a fight will succeed, but I don't view
them as sufficient reason to give up. Mind you, I'm Arizona white trash, from a
family that never knew when to walk away from a fight; your mileage may vary.

Visit Journalista! every goddamn weekday for more of the same, and thanks to Dirk for answering Five Questions.

 
The Process of Comics -- If you're a process junkie, head over to the website of Ed Hannigan. Hannigan designed about a million covers for Marvel and DC over the course of his career, and you can compare and contrast his sketches with the finished versions, in many cases by other artists using Hannigan's design as a jumping off point. Ed also provides commentary on many of the illustrations, giving some valuable insight into how corporate comics covers are designed and implemented.

 
Boob Socks Suck -- That's the view of Alex, who wrote the following in response to my Catwoman review in today's Short, Sharp Shocks:

Boob socks suck. I do not dislike Paul Gulacy's art on Catwoman nearly so much as you (if at all) but I agree with your comments about his view of tits. Gravity exists therefore these skyward looking titties actually are more than irregular they are alien. I like breasts mind you, but this outbreak of impossible breasts is not amusing, just stupid.

Thanks for writing, Alex.





 
Father Jay -- Jason Marcy shares what he's learned from fatherhood today in his blog, charming the pants off you before making you puke with his daily diary strip. Ladies and gentlemen, the dual nature of Jason Marcy.

 
The Week in Comics -- Here's a look at noteworthy titles arriving in comics shops Wednesday, February 4th.

AVATAR

STEVEN GRANT'S MY FLESH IS COOL #1 (Of 3) (MR) $3.50 -- Violent action series about an assassin with an unusual gift that he uses to further his criminal career. My review of this issue is here.

DC COMICS

COUP DETAT SLEEPER #1 (Of 4) (MR) $2.95 -- I'm not too excited by the thought of this crossover event, especially since it involves titles and creators I don't care for. But starting it off with a Sleeper story written by Ed Brubaker (although unfortunately not drawn by Sean Phillips) has me checking out the first issue.

IMAGE

INVINCIBLE #8 $2.95 -- One of my favourite superhero titles, and with last issue's shock ending, writer Robert Kirkman has my full and complete attention.

IDW

30 DAYS OF NIGHT ANNUAL 2004 (MR) $4.99 -- After two highly entertaining mini-series, I'm ready for more. If you haven't read 30 Days of Night and the sequel Dark Days, you're missing one of the best and freshest horror comics to come along in years.

COMIC ART

COMIC ART MAGAZINE #5 $9.00 -- Every issue of this upscale comics magazine has had something that justified its high price for me. Top-notch production values, too.

 
Short, Sharp Shocks -- Concise critiques of recent comics and graphic novels.

The Cute Manifesto -- The element of capital-c Cute in James Kochalka's work can't be denied, and in this new mini-comic the cartoonist celebrates and explores his own fascination with it. Presumably Kochalka, who recently became a father, was inspired in part by his son Eli to investigate his own vulnerability to, and utilization of, cuteness. The mini-comic itself is, as you'd imagine, quite cute, and infuriatingly difficult to write about without using a word that I am somewhat uncomfortable with, "cute." That said, The Cute Manifesto falls into the same delightful semi-didactic mode as Kochalka's The Horrible Truth About Comics, Sunburn, and Reinventing Everything. I say "semi-didactic" because Kochalka is teaching himself as much as he is his readers, and it's fascinating to me to watch him explore his own ideas and see what he comes up with. The Cute Manifesto is unlikely to convert new readers to the joys of Kochalka's work, but the already-converted and the open-minded newcomer may find a measure of delight here as James looks at the inherent cuteness in babies and kittens and tries to find where that cuteness goes when adulthood and its accompanying lack of overt cuteness sets in. The Cute Manifesto can be purchased for $3.00 from James Kochalka, PO Box 8321, Burlington, Vermont, 05402. James, you really ought to use Paypal. It's convenient, and even sort of cute. Grade: 4.5/5

Walking Dead #4 -- While this is clearly a character-driven title, Tony Moore's artwork struck me this issue as reason enough to be reading The Walking Dead. In this issue, we find two characters getting clever and figuring out a way to walk among the zombies that have taken over the city. They go on a search for firepower, and the journey among the decaying city and its residents gives Moore a chance to really show what he can do. The level of detail on the buildings and the zombies themselves is enormously impressive, and the graytone work that Moore delivers actually enhances the book -- at this point I'm convinced colour would diminish the impact of the images. Robert Kirkman's script is completely engrossing, filled with drama and tension that arises not only from the circumstances the characters find themselves in, but from the characters themselves. The Walking Dead is among the best monthly series being published today, and is highly recommended. Grade: 4.5/5

Wanted #2 -- Amid all the controversy over whether Mark Millar actually ever uttered the words "Watchmen for supervillains" in regard to this title, the question of how supervillains might have gotten so much control over the world of Wanted has never been asked. Defying the apparent expectations of many, Millar remembers to put a story into Wanted, and in this issue we see how and why the bad guys have the power and freedom they do. The feel of an extended "What if" settles in, especially in the evocative final images of the last known superheroic artifact, which will be familiar to longtime comics readers and not surprising at all to those who known where Millar's true interest lies when it comes to superhero comics. It's enough to give me hope that there's more than shock and nihilism going on here, and JG Jones absolutely justifies my belief that he's on the top shelf of action artists working today. As I've said before, this is a logical and welcome extension to Millar's work on The Ultimates and The Authority, without risk of corporate editorial capriciousness but not without intelligence, focus, and more excitement than you'll see in 90 percent of Marvel and DC's torpid superhero offerings these days. Grade: 4.5/5

The Norm Magazine #2 -- More early Norm, collecting the witty and observant comics strip by Michael Jantze. Work, dating, holidays and friendship all are examined, with virtually every strip bringing a laugh and a nod of recognition. Jantze's The Norm is one of the few comic strips I truly enjoy reading, and the latest issue of The Norm Magazine is worth your attention if you're looking to be entertained while watching many of the sophistries of modern living get skewered. Tons of features and strips can be viewed at The Norm website. Grade: 4/5

Touch of Death #0-3 -- The most noteworthy thing about this ambitious mini-series is the unusual, eye-catching covers by Andrew Robinson that graced issues #1-3. Their elegant, spare design promises much more than the series ultimately is capable of delivering. The story is about a young woman named Keli who has the power to kill with her touch, and the rescue mission her husband falls into when she is kidnapped by an agency that knows the secret of her abilities. The basic structure of the plot is fine, but the frequently awkward artwork (which gets progressively worse after a fairly solid opening chapter in #0) and many, many typos serve to undermine the reader's ability to stay engaged in the story. Additionally, the story's middle section is crippled by seemingly endless, overly wordy exposition about the history of Keli's people and her abilities, and a reprint of the story from #0 is shoehorned into the back of #1 and 2 in a way that further serves to disrupt the narrative flow. Writer Brian Kirsten has some potential, but he needs a good editor and a better choice of artists than the ones here (from "Golden Goat" studios). Previews and purchasing information are available at the Touch of Death website. Grade: 2/5

Demo #3 -- Probably the best issue yet, and with the added storytelling challenge that most of the issue is a conversation between two people sitting in a car. Samantha Hurley is a young woman who hasn't seen her father or half-brother in years, and the story begins at the father's funeral, as she reflects on her family's disastrous history. Writer Brian Wood surprises with the concept at the core of this issue, and startles with the way he lets us in on it. Artist Becky Cloonan delivers artwork that, like The Walking Dead actually benefits from being in black and white. The sense of place and mood she brings, especially to some key moments, is impressive when you realize she's doing it all with a few splashes of india ink -- and a boatload of growing talent. So far every issue of Demo has left me wanting to learn more about the characters and their futures -- and looking forward to the next issue. Grade: 4/5

Steel Kitty #1 -- An awkwardly drawn and poorly written mini-comic from "Psi-Comix." The story involves a criminal clown whose evil activities force a female Wolverine-type character (except she has -- wait for it -- four claws on each hand!) into action. Bonus features include scribbled backgrounds, "cars" drawn in a vertigo-inducing perspective, and portable toilets that appear to be able to move by themselves. Generally I am inclined not to review books this bad, but I mean it in the kindest way possible when I encourage the creators of Steel Kitty to continue to explore other employment opportunities. This issue shows no potential whatsoever. For an alternate opinion you can read the Silver Bullet review. Grade: 0/5

Wildcats 3.0 #18 -- Dustin Nguyen's absence is felt this issue, as fill-in artist Francisco Velasco delivers what amounts to a subpar imitation that is extremely awkward in some spots and suggests an unwelcome Humberto Ramos feel in others. Unfortunate that the artistic change takes place at a key moment, as the federal government is noticing Jack Marlowe's world-changing activities and Marlowe delivers a chilling reminder of his message to the President. The Chief Executive looks nothing like George W. Bush, yet clearly is meant to be him, reminding the reader how stupid DC's editorial policies are, and how often they disrupt what is otherwise above-average storytelling. I'm still interested in Wildcats, but it's sad to note that the excellence that has marked this run is definitely lacking this time out. Grade: 3.5/5

Catwoman #27 -- This Ed Brubaker-written titled used to be really well drawn by accomplished cartoonists like Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido and Cameron Stewart. Three issues in to Paul Gulacy's tenure as penciller, I am, to the degree that it affects my life, a bit distraught at how, visually, the book has fallen. Gulacy delivers a hilarious boob sock on page 1, panel 3 and renders vital supporting character Holly (arguably the star of the book during the pre-Gulacy artistic Golden Age) utterly unrecognizable. Only so much of Brubaker's former energy and inventiveness shine through, which could be attributed to either his depression over the current state of artistic affairs, or more likely mine. Either way, what would have been a key and exciting moment -- say, Selina and Batman having a rooftop conversation -- is instead seen through a boob sock, darkly. Grade: 3.5/5

Caper #1-4 -- Judd Winick mostly leaves me cold as a writer, and I have given his work multiple choices to impress me. Based on the recommendation of someone I trust (Jim Crocker of Modern Myths in Northampton, Massachusetts), though, and also because of the strengths of artist Farel Dalrymple, I decided to give Caper a look. I'm glad I did, and even more glad that I picked up #1-4 all together, as they comprise the first story-arc of this 12-issue limited series. Winick's story concerns two brothers who end up working for a Jewish mobster in San Francisco in the early 1900s. The surprisingly affecting script involves love, jealousy and betrayal, enveloped in an extraordinarily convincing sense of place and circumstance. Dalrymple -- who you may know from Pop Gun War as a gifted and unique artist -- is well-chosen to depict the clothing, architecture and character of the era. These four issues contain a tight and involving story that moves quickly with no false notes or missed beats. Future issues will move forward in time to reveal the consequences and legacies of the characters in the first four chapters, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the saga of Caper. Grade: 4/5

Hulk: Gray #5 (of 6) -- Thankfully Iron Man doesn't appear in this issue -- if there's a character Tim Sale's art is more unsuited to depicting (as he did in the previous issue), I'd be hard pressed to think of it. So here's an issue-length conversation between an injured Betty Ross and the gray monster who injured her. "Hulk help Betty." "Eek! Monster! Hey, don't I know you?" That sort of thing. The story plays to Sale's strengths, lots of close ups, and a particularly impressive shot of an old-fashioned gas station. I'd mention Jeph Loeb's strengths if I knew quite for certain what they are -- they were best on display in Superman: Man for All Seasons (also with Sale), but appear to be absent in Hulk: Gray, which uses a six-issue conversation between Bruce Banner and his psychiatrist as perhaps the most aggravating and unnecessary framing device since Loeb mis-used an important historical speech for his christawful JLA: Our Worlds at War abortion with artist Ron Garney. The Banner/Samson chit-chat is filled with angst, ennui and portent, and yet five issues in we've learned nothing new about these characters or even had much fun tap-dancing all over decades-old tropes as familiar as the fart you just rattled out. Why did I buy this? Well, I liked a lot of Spider-Man: Blue, frankly. Grade: 3.5/5

Sunday, February 01, 2004

 
Weekend Update 2 -- Well, the final day of the Second Annual Weeklong Birthday Spectaculr is here. What lies ahead as the final hours tick away? Do hours tick, or is that just seconds? Hmm.

On the reading table, for possible consumption today: Junji Ito's GYO and Jim Woodring's The Book of Jim. Delights await.

Thanks, Logan. If I get 38 more, I will indeed be well pleased.

Coming tomorrow: Short, Sharp Shocks #2 and The Week in Comics.

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