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Monday, November 28, 2005

 
Does No One Care About Claypool? -- That seems to be the general scuttlebutt, as typified by Warren Ellis's comments:

"We've established the level at which no-one gives a shit about a comics company going under..."

Ellis himself admits that might be a bit harsh, and certainly I think most sane humans sympathize with the people who will be economically impacted if Claypool has to close up shop due to Diamond's policies.

That said, my only experience with their comics was a photocopied review copy of an issue of Elvira they sent me a few years back. Having no interest in the character at all (at all, I must stress), I did manage to read through it because it was inked by Terry Austin, and I am always interested in seeing his inkwork in just about any context.

The comic itself was awful, and the covers I've seen posted since Claypool issued their cry for help a few days ago make it look like the line is one of the ugliest in the history of the industry. Further, not one of their titles engages my curiousity as a comics reader -- a point driven home by Christopher Butcher's comments on the situation.

No, when Fantagraphics and Top Shelf asked for help, it was after years of high-profile, quality comics and graphic novels that are beautifully designed and visually attractive to new readers. Claypool, from all available evidence, has absolutely no marketing plan beyond making some pretty mediocre-looking comics that have failed to gain traction with even a bare minimum of readers.

So again, all my condolences to those affected by the likely end of this company -- but it's hard to see any compelling reason why they should continue if they aren't able to make a go of it using the strategies they've stumbled along with up until now, or even better, are willing to concede that those strategies have failed and try to find new ways to keep their company alive.

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The Monday Briefing -- Hey, how you doing? Time to get back to work after the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend here in the U.S., and also the hiatus this blog has been on since National Scary Terror Day a few months back (see post just previous). So, what's been happening?

I've been spending a lot of time watching the discussion on Warren Ellis's The Engine, a moderated message board that combines ease of use with a strictly-enforced anti-bullshit policy. Ellis has run and/or been a part of enough self-destructing web communities to know how to maximize the benefits and minimize the flamewars, and so far the discussions have been good, whether it's creators rights, cover design, or the green bean recipe I grabbed from the food thread (man, were they good!). There hasn't been a landmark thread yet that announced THE ENGINE HAS WELL AND TRULY ARRIVED AS THE PLACE TO TALK ABOUT COMICS, but it has very quietly become, well, the place to talk about comics. There's no other alternative that doesn't allow sock puppets, flamewars and general dip-shittery, and as a bonus, quite a lot of my favourite comics people visit The Engine regularly, from Comics Journal Managing Editor Dirk Deppey to Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley. So if you haven't visited yet, you should stop in and give The Engine a look.

Speaking of The Comics Journal, I have a review in the new issue, #272. There's also a pair of interesting, in-depth chats with editorial cartoonists, a discussion with key Batman contributor Jerry Robinson that covers his previously (by me, anyway) unknown career as an editorial cartoonist (part one in #271 covered his Batman days and other comics stuff), a must-read essay on the state of comics news websites, and a whole lot more news, reviews and commentary.

The Michael Dean examination of comics news websites really brings me back to the earliest days of Comic Book Galaxy, when we tried, by default, to make a go of having a news section. Despite the fact that I have written and read news for broadcast outlets almost non-stop since 1985, the news section of The Galaxy has never come together. I see two big reasons for that -- #1 is time. Even when I was only working one job (I now have two, believe it or not), it was hard to devote the time needed to doing comics news in a manner that satisfied both my standards as a journalist and the needs of the audience, and certainly there was no financial incentive there to mitigate that important factor. Secondly, there simply isn't one whole hell of a lot of comics news on the average day, which goes back to what I said about journalistic standards. One reason most people readers think of as journalists who cover comics refuse quite vocally to call themselves journalists is that there is just too much need to fill out space and attract readers with rumours, opinion, press releases and commentary. Those four elements, in fact, make up probably 95 percent of what is passed off as comics "news" on the popular sites. And a lot of it is related to TV and movies, adding the further insult of genuine irrelevance to the mix.

Real comics news is not Creator A moving from Title Y to Title Z, or Character M causing a line-eide event that will change the (Company) Universe FOREVER!!! Real news in the comics industry is pretty goddamned rare, really. It's when a Golden Age creator sues for ownership of a character from a big corporate publisher. It's when publishers are screwing their creators out of their page rates and shafting their creditors while blaming creators for not being loyal team players. While the industry is full of perfidy and misery past and present, genuine news stories that effect the entire industry, the people within and without it and the product you're likely to buy as a reader, happen pretty infrequently. A company like Crossgen comes around, makes headlines and mostly bad comics and flares out spectacularly maybe once a decade (although Mike S. Miller is clearly trying mightily to make it a twofer with Alias). On a daily basis, the industry pretty much hums along, and the news sites therefore are forced to cover this small nation of comics by relying on press releases, feature articles and interviews, and (very much worst of all) message board postings associated with their stories that drain the stories themselves of any semblance of revelance, journalistic worth, or even entertainment value.

And it's not that they're not trying -- I worked directly with Matt Brady at Newsarama for a good stretch of time, and I can tell you he's a decent guy who tries hard to make his site relevant and entertaining. If I say that I personally have litle use for the site in general -- or its nearest competitor, The Pulse -- it's not at all to disparage the people running the sites. It's the flashing banner ads, overreliance on feel-good corporate comics features, and those damnable message boards that keep me away from these sites as a reader. I honestly shudder at the thought of what type of person makes those sites a daily part of his internet experience.

The closest thing to perfection in online comics news coverage in the history of the internet was Dirk Deppey's Journalista. Luckily the journalistic credibility and big-tent modus operandi of that late, lamented blog has been transplanted mostly intact to Deppey's stewardship of the only magazine about comics worth your attention, The Comics Journal. But for those of us who crave a daily online reading experience about comics, you can't do better right now than Tom Spurgeon's The Comics Reporter, a wide-ranging blog of news and commentary that is a must-read every day, even on weekends (a true rarity on the comics internet). Spurgeon's 2005 Holiday Guide is worth its weight in gold as both a set of guidelines for gift-buying this holiday season, and as a defacto Best Of column from one of the sharpest critical minds ever to engage itself in writing about the artform of comics.

The other Most Valuable Player in critical writing about comics right now is Christopher Butcher, and if I could have one wish this holiday season, it would be that he writes even more about comics in 2006 than he did in 2005. His insights into the industry are sharp and occasionally merciless, but they are also without peer. I recently referred to him as The Future of Comics Retailing, and I want to reiterate that point here. His blog and Spurgeon's are the two best ways I have to stay informed about what is going on in comics on a daily basis, and I treasure them both.

When it comes to reviewing comics, the only guy who approaches these two in both diversity of interests and quality of writing is Comic Book Galaxy's own Christopher Allen, and I continue to thank whatever Gods there be that he graces this site with Breakdowns on a weekly basis.

So, yeah, in just a few weeks, Comic Book Galaxy will have been active during seven distinct years, from 2000 to 2006, and that's pretty goddamned cool, I think. We'll be celebrating our sixth anniversary in September of 2006, and as the year ahead speeds rapidly toward us, I am thinking long and hard about what is good here, and what needs a little tweaking. I think this post, and the return of this blog, are the first of many changes to come. I hope you'll stick around to see what else develops.

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Friday, November 25, 2005

 
Dream -- I awake from sleep to notice that, through the blinds, I can see Susan A and someone else -- maybe Joe D, or her husband -- looking through the blinds at me. They think I am still sleeping and I pretend I am because it's so odd and I don't know what's going on.

I sense more people outside, and then I notice Jerry B and a second later his sister Amy, who I have long felt unresolved feelings of guilt and loss toward because of the way our friendship ended.

The window to my bedroom apparently in the dream is a sliding door, and she opens it up and boldly comes in (a very Amy kind of thing to do, now that I think about it) and sit on the edge of the bed, apparently realizing that I am awake.

I realize that Amy and all these other people must be here because today is my 40th birthday (actually two months from today, but today actually IS my son's birthday in waking life), and Amy tells me that I'm right in a way that suggests I am foolish to think all these people WOULDN'T come to see me on my 40th birthday.

We talk briefly, and Amy tells me that she's changed her name to Tara Lyn something -- she tells me the last name, but all I remember is that it makes me think she has gotten married to someone I don't know (our friendship ended years ago when I found out she was secretly dating a friend of mine, and even though we were not involved, the two of them both knew how much I cared for her and I guess didn't want to hurt my feelings...there were other issues, too).

When she tells me her new name, I am overcome with joy, as if she is revealing a deep part of herself that I have been denied access to for 20 years -- it signals both a new intimacy and a reopening of our friendship, which in the dream seems to be what I want more than anything in the world. In waking life I am not as concerned with the issue, but it feels like the dream was definitely tapping into a subconscious wound of some importance.

As Amy and I continue to talk, a group of kids comes in to wish me a happy birthday, and my son gives me a hug. I notice that a little girl has joined the hug and seems quite happy to be hugging Aaron -- then I realize it's Katie, who is the daughter of my wife's sister's boyfriend. Katie's a sweet girl who actually does seem to have a crush on Aaron, and hours before the dream my wife told me that she is going to be permanently living with her sister and the boyfriend after years of weekend visits, because her mother is giving full custody over to the girl's father.

Then I woke up.

The primary elements of the dream seemed to be closure of my unresolved feelings of loss with Amy and the renewal of a relationship with her, a great swelling feeling of happiness that all these people were coming to my birthday party, that I mattered that much to them -- and finally with Katie and Aaron a feeling of continuity and family, a love for and acceptance of the various connections and relationships between myself and my children and beyond that into their own possible futures.

Immediately upon waking I was overcome with a contemplative, lingering sense of joy. It lasted as long as it took me to rise from the bed and think to myself, quite realistically, "THAT will never happen."

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