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Saturday, June 30, 2007

 
My Daughter, The Blogger -- For the moment, I am typing her hand-written material for her, but my daughter is officially blogging. Are there any other second-generation comics bloggers? Visit Kira.X.Manga.

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Previews -- Just made my way through the newest edition of Previews, and I don't think I'm pre-ordering anything this time around. Maybe Mark Millar and Anthony Williams's Unfunnies #3-4, because I am curious how that story ends. I'd love to get the new Adrian Tomine hardcover Shortcomings, but I have the single issues it collects and am kind of broke at the moment. The real ache this month comes from the new hardcover Walt and Skeezix Sundays collection, which looks to be out-of-this-world gorgeous. But at $95.00, that definitely is not in the budget at the moment.

It's funny, when I see Previews is arriving in a given week's Diamond shipment, I get a little excited to see what it holds in the good section, the one past the Marvel/DC/Image/Dark Horse whatever section -- not that there aren't occasionally books worth reading in that part as well -- but every month, when I actually grab a pen and a piece of paper and start slogging through it, man, it's a relief when it's over. And that's even with ignoring the crap like t-shirts, toys and whatever else is past the section with the good funnybooks in.

I am curious about Dwayne McDuffie's run on JLA, which starts with the issue solicited in this month's Previews, and may take a look if the word of mouth is good, once it's collected under one cover. But the taint of Brad Meltzer on the title and the fact that they have frigging Ian Churchill drawing the multiple covers of McDuffie's first issue? That's a lot of negative factors that just won't let me give the nod to my retailer to set one aside for me.

And wow, those Spider-Man "One More Day" covers are godawful hideous. At the shop last night, my son surprised me by asking if I would buy him the newest issue of Spider-Man Adventures, and I did, and I'm glad there's at least one Spider-Man title that appeals to an 11-year-old boy, even if it is the ghettoized "Kiddie" version. Which is to say nothing at all against the Marvel Adventures line -- most of the titles seem well-crafted and appeal to the target audience -- I just don't understand why you can't apply those factors to the main Marvel Universe titles. Are they so afraid the superhero convenience shop junkies won't support comics that aim to entertain rather than arouse?*

* By "arouse," I don't mean sexually, I am referring to Marvel and DC's ongoing use of "events" and "deaths" to arouse interest in SCSJ** instead of quality comic book storytelling that would attract a far wider audience.

** SCSJ=Superhero Convenience Shop Junkies.

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Last Chance to Read Inanna's Tears Online -- Writer Rob Vollmar wants you to know Inanna's Tears will be coming down from the Modern Tales website sometime in the next 24 hours, so if you would like one last chance to read the graphic novel online before it's published in print, click here to read Inanna's Tears. Go forth and clickify!

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Friday, June 29, 2007

 
Viewer Mail -- My most recent review has garnered a couple of comments...like this one from Jim:

"Sigh. And me being a Green Lantern fan boy/continuity porn junkie who hasn't been too happy with Hal's regular series lately, I thought Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps was outstanding. Powerful, intense, full of big bombastic scenes of congregating evil and high octane unleashed drama (I thought the sniper sequence was 'cool' in an action-packed way), I loved the entire issue, and it felt good to be twelve-years-old again, if only for a few minutes. Oh, well. I did enjoy your thoughts on the book!"

See? You don't have to agree with me to be civil -- cheerful, even! More simpatico with my take on the book, Is uspect, was Andre, who had this to say:

"Hey Alan!

This…

'Johns's writing always reminds me of an 8-year-old playing in the tub, making up stories with his action figures as he neglects to wash his ass.'

...is probably the funniest line I’ve read on the Internet this year. Well done, sir."


Keep those cards and letters coming, folks!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

 
Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special #1 -- You won't find a slicker, more vapid superpeople comic on the stands this month than this one. It's created by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, and -- this gives me pause -- Dave Gibbons, who I would have hoped could find better things to do with his gifts than this. Johns and Van Sciver, I expect this sort of thing from. And in fairness to Van Sciver, his style here -- aping George Perez more than his previous style of aping Brian Bolland -- seems to find him more comfortable. The work reads as more of a natural outflowing of his talent. It's just too bad it's all in service of such garbage.

Oh, dear. Where to begin? Oh, that's right, I remember -- Johns said it all for me, right on page one:

"We live in a place rotting with hedonism and chaos. A place untamed and morally devoid. A place of darkness."

Johns's writing always reminds me of an 8-year-old playing in the tub, making up stories with his action figures as he neglects to wash his ass. Here, Geoff brings his entire collection of abused DC trademarks -- action figures, from the Anti-Monitor and the Reverse Flash to -- of course -- Superboy Prime. Yes, kids, if Infinite Crisis wasn't a big enough waste of time, money and mis-allocated creative effort, here's pretty much the direct sequel. This death-obsessed continuity porn is all that's left of the goddamned DC Universe proper, isn't it?

Ach, the plot.

Sinestro wants revenge, or something; a bunch of power rings are flying through the universe, which always seems a small -- tiny place, in the hands of unimaginative writers like Johns; the "secret of the 52" is invoked, and I discover my goosebumps-generator must be on the fritz, 'cause I got nothin'. What else? Hank Henshaw The Evil Cyborg Superman Fooled Ya Folks is back, in the custody of The Guardians of Oa, who were all far better off dead. All the GLs we all love so much get together for a family picnic. Here's Hal, John, Kyle and Guy, all hanging out and even giving each other noogies. I bet you think I'm making that up, don't you? One supposes Johns writes such scenes and thinks he's developing character.

Anyway, during the big picnic all of a sudden "We got a sniper!" and it's the grassy knoll all over again for the Green Lantern Corps. All your favourite Lanterns get a moment in the "spotlight" and then "OH SHIT EVIL SUPERBOY PRIME HAS ESCAPE THE TUB -- I MEAN, HIS 'SCIENCELL!'" What will happen next?!?

Well, as you may recall from the abominable Green Lantern: Rebirth, YELLOW IS THE COLOUR OF EVIL and also PEE. And bananas, this shit is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s. Now Kyle Raynor is all Parallaxed (FANGASM!!!111!) up, and then Dave Gibbons draws a Johns-written back-up story that is far more readable than it has any right to be, based solely on the power of Gibbons' artwork and the goodwill far better stories than this have earned his work.

Just to compare two spectacular corporate superhero events taking place this summer, World War Hulk went a ways toward mending my loathing for the current state of the Marvel Universe by telling a tight, logical story that intrigued me enough to want to read the rest of it. Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special #1, on the other hand, is a ham-handed, undercooked bunch of baloney that obviously took a great deal of misplaced effort to create. If I had one wish for corporate superhero comics, it would be that Geoff Johns's mother had never let him take his action figures into the tub.

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The Priceless Candy Bar -- I really enjoy The Simple Dollar, a daily blog about how to live more frugally. I've reduced or eliminated a lot of my bills over the past three years or so, but I'm not obsessed with frugality, so a lot of the penny-pinching blogs don't hold my interest. The Simple Dollar's philosophical approach and excellent writing have kept my attention since the first time I found it.

Today's post on a three-dollar candy bar is a great example of where the blog's thoughtfulness about spending meets the intangible value that can be found in something that seems too expensive. It's a wonderful post on its own, but it also reminded me of one of the most intelligent things anyone has ever written about the value of comics. Tom Spurgeon:

"I usually don't criticize anything for simply costing a lot. The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics."

People who buys piles -- literally piles of mediocre superhero comics every week because they are "keeping up their collection" and "don't want to miss an issue" are usually the ones that complain about a comic costing "too much."

I remember when IDW began publishing their line of comics at a base price of $3.99, and some people felt that was "too expensive." But if it's too expensive, don't buy it. Nobody holds a gun to anyone's head and forces them to buy funnybooks.

What I think they really mean when they say that is, "I want to add this to my giant mindless pile of crap comics every week, but it costs a buck more than most of the other crap." I remember when IDW hit the ground running with quality titles like 30 Days of Night (I speak of the excellent, original mini-series here, I can't say anything about the sequels as I haven't read most of them), that featured not only outstanding storytelling but top-notch production values as well. Another title I've sampled from IDW that met that standard was Supermarket. I liked the first issue enough that I decided to wait until it was collected as a graphic novel, and if I recall correctly that compiled three issues for something close to twenty dollars -- more than the cost of the individual $3.99 issues, but the added benefit of being a sturdy book I can put on my shelves made the price worthwhile for me.

No comic can be objectively "priced right" or "overpriced." I've picked up Free Comic Book Day releases that were a ripoff for free, factoring in the time and effort to find and read (or attempt to read) them. Multiple publishers have tried 9 cent, 10 cent and 25 cent stunt releases. Some, like the 25 cent zero issue of Conan by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, convinced me to continue on with the monthly title, which would have been a bargain at four bucks, or even five, because it featured quality storytelling and adventures that stand up to multiple re-reads years later. The vast majority of current series set in Marvel and DC's universes aren't even worth reading for free, as that recent V survey of comics downloaders definitively demonstrated.

Obviously if you're struggling with money, if times are tight and every penny counts, you should not be dropping 75 or 100 bucks on a Marvel Omnibus or an Absolute Edition from DC. In fact, if money's really tight, you hopefully eschew wasting money on entertainment until you can right your faltering financial ship, to brutalize a metaphor.

But if you've got a good job and a portion of your income can comfortably be devoted to pursuing an artform you love, then hopefully you're buying comics you truly enjoy. Comics that engage your mind and thrill your senses and will amortize their own expense by providing you with years and years of repeat enjoyment. I never get tired of re-reading Watchmen, or Love and Rockets, or The Authority, or Eightball, just to name four titles that I have bought in single issues, trade paperbacks and expensive hardcover collector's editions. "The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics," Spurgeon said, and by now he's probably sick to death of me bringing up the quote whenever the opportunity strikes. But it's true, and it speaks to far more than just comic books. The money you make is the direct product of time from your life that you've given up and will never get back.

Whether it's a gourmet candy bar shared with your family in a moment of mad glee, or a comic book good enough to totally immerse yourself in, its wonders to behold -- think about your spending, and whether its rewards will be returned to you in the future. Memories like that candy bar, or a great story, will provide a lifetime of joy. Is that what you are spending your money on? If not, why not?

Total coincidence, Zen Habits also writes about materialism and spending habits today.

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Thursday Afternoon Excuses -- Ach, an entire day got away from me. Sorry for the lack of updates today, but when I was not at work I was working on a brochure design for a friend of mine who just opened a new business. She was quite grateful at the way it turned out, but I was grateful she asked so I could learn a new skill. It's funny how those lending a hand can benefit everybody involved.

Comics-wise, still working on the Fletcher Hanks anthology Fantagraphics recently released; I managed to read one or two more stories last night. Hanks's mind must have been a bizarre and fascinating landscape.

Looking forward to next week; with the Independence Day holiday falling on Wednesday, I'm taking Thursday and Friday off from work, as I'd imagine a lot of people with accumulated vacation days will be doing. I also found a nifty Independence Day post of mine from a couple years back that I want to expand on and re-post.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

 
New Comic Weblog Updates -- No one at the new comics weblog updates page will answer my e-mails, but I sure would like to have The ADD Blog listed on there. Am I wrong in thinking there's a place for li'l ol' Doaney on there? If you like what you read here and think I should be listed, would you do me a favour and e-mail the site with your feelings?

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The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics -- Over at Dick Hates Your Blog, Mr. Hyacinth observes the schism between fans of Brad Meltzer's lousy superhero comics versus Brian Michael Bendis's. Meltzer takes the baton as the leader in the race to create the worst superhero comics available today, but Bendis makes a strong second-place showing. The fact of the matter is, both are guilty of being master planners in the current, awful Fan-Fiction Age of superhero comics. From Straczynski's Spider-Man to Millar's Civil War, from Johns's Infinite Crisis to Bendis and Meltzer's narrative ass-rape of Marvel and DC's two top team titles (or TTTT as I like to call 'em), any informed observer of the current state of Marvel and DC's "universes" can see that the past few years are populated almost solely by events and storylines that just cry out to be retconned out of existence by creators who are actually committed to telling good stories with every drop of their creative gifts they can muster.

Unfortunately, the days when top creators were willing to give their all to corporations servicing superhero trademarks seem long past. I remember vividly when Frank Miller came along and reinvigorated Daredevil; when Walt Simonson showed us why Thor was so goddamned cool; when Claremont and Byrne were humble enough to exercise their talent before their egos and create probably the best X-Men comics ever created; when Alan Moore took Swamp Thing from industry joke (sorry, Mike!) to the most compelling comic book being published.

Creators today -- the smart ones -- take their best work to companies that will allow them to own their own work. So it's hard to imagine who the next Frank Miller or Alan Moore or whoever will be. Not that we need anyone to rehash those creator's visions or steal their best ideas -- that kind of bullshit is what has gotten us where we are now in corporate superhero comics. No, what is needed is, to paraphrase Alan Moore, someone to come along and twist the knobs to a setting no one ever thought of before. A new paradigm that makes corporate superhero comics not only readable, but fun and entertaining again.

Marvel and DC will probably have to shift some paradigms of their own, first, though. It wasn't that long ago, but can you imagine Marvel giving Grant Morrison a free hand to do what he did with New X-Men in today's market? Sure, DC let Darwyn Cooke create New Frontier, but why not allow someone that gifted and committed to the genre to just take over one of the main titles? Why ghettoize the quality stories while dosing fanboy junkies with the sort of continuity porn found in Meltzer/Bendis/et al's "hot" titles?

Another observation Moore once made was that he tried to give readers what they needed, not what they wanted. It may be a subtle distinction, but it's at the heart of what is wrong with corporate superhero comics at the moment, and why the direct market is locked in the death-grip of The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics.

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The Wednesday Briefing -- There are a lot of interesting tidbits on the top-shelf comics blogs this morning.

* Beaucoup Kevin investigates and concludes that Gary Esposito has been using a fake name to troll his comments section. Esposito apparently denies it, and I wish it weren't true because he's been a loyal reader of The ADD Blog. But it seems like Kevin has done his homework, and I really hate fuckwit comment trolls, so the whole thing is very disappointing. If it's not Gary, I hope he can prove it, but the evidence seems pretty damning.

* Dirk Deppey leads off today's Journalista with as succinct a description of the blinkered Direct Market mindset as you're likely to find. It's a short quote from Kyle Baker, so click over and read it, right at the top. Baker may be a bit blinkered himself, in that he seems unaware of great comic shops like The Beguiling in Toronto or Modern Myths in Northampton, to name two which don't meet Baker's "Barnes and Noble/Filthy Superhero Convenience Store" divide. In fact, great shops like those are the solution to the problem, which I believe I wrote a little bit about here not that long ago.

* Christopher Butcher gets to the bottom of the problem with MOME. Now, I have followed the series since it began and I continue to look forward to every new volume, but Butcher hits the nail right on the head. It's a hard series to explain, and his suggested tweaks would go a good deal toward making it work better in the long term and find more of an audience. I hope the powers that be are listening.

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The Boys #8 -- Nuance isn't a word that immediately comes to mind when pondering The Boys, and yet this issue has plenty. A seemingly minor character bit about Hughie's distaste for Butcher's use of anti-gay terminology pays off later in the issue with a sequence that tells us a great deal about the two characters (and the series in general). The Boys is wicked fun, yes, but it's also Ennis and Robertson thoughtfully exploring the characters they've populated the title with.

Even the Tek Knight seems sympathetic to a degree here; he made his debut last issue with a disgusting and outrageously funny personal problem that was getting in the way of his superheroing; in this second part of that story, we see the mystery of his distress deepen, even as we witness the funniest "Superhero's Butler Gives His Notice" scene that you will ever see. You've never, ever look at Jarvis or Alfred in quite the same way.

It's gratifying that Ennis and Robertson are able bring so many emotions to the story -- it's clever and witty and dirty as hell, yes, but the superhero avatars resonate strongly and breathe all on their own. They're satire, but they ring true as characters, and that makes the world of The Boys a deeper and richer reading experience than I had expected when the series first debuted. The storytelling is confident and bold, and the more I get to know these people, the more effective the overall narrative becomes. The Boys, published by Dynamite Entertainment, is probably the best team superhero book being published at the moment. A moment in which, perhaps not coincidentally, Marvel and DC have mostly abandoned readers looking for quality in their superhero comics.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

 
Kicking Shit While It's Down -- I'd guess Tom Spurgeon got his copy of the final issue of the most recent, failed attempt at a Flash series the same way I did -- a review copy mailed by DC Comics. Spurgeon has posted a lengthy review of The Flash #13, and while I agree with pretty much everything he says, even I am shocked at the extent of his negativity.

"It was sort of like being dragged behind a boat for ten seconds after falling off your waterskis. There's no permanent damage, but it's unpleasant as all hell while it's happening."

Tom Spurgeon is more or less the best writer about comics who is currently blogging on a regular basis, and in this review he seems to me to be a bit more blunt than usual in his assessment of The Flash #13, which to my way of thinking pretty much defines the current state of corporate superhero comics: Utterly bereft of quality or entertainment value, marketable only to those who cherish trademarks over storytelling, and in fact may be incapable of even recognizing a story well told ("I don't know if it sucks or not, but I recognize that lightnng bolt on his chest!").

I know I aggravate blinkered superhero junkies who see my desire for better superhero comics as anti-superhero rhetoric. But the fact of the matter is that I don't hate superhero comics as a genre, at all. If you check out my pull list in the sidebar, you'll find a lot of superhero titles. I would love to have more good superhero comics to read, just as I would love to have more good crime comics to read, and more good autobiographical comics to read. I'll freely admit to hating bad superhero comics, though, and Flash #13 certainly falls squarely in that category.

DC sends me an occasional book for review -- not a lot, but they publish a lot of comics, and I appreciate whatever efforts they make to keep me and other critics current on what they think their best efforts are. Unlike Tom, I didn't see much reason to review Flash #13, because, well, what's the point? Not to disparage Tom's choice to review it -- he has a lot of things to say about the book and what it represents, and I'm glad he wrote about it -- but to me Marvel and DC's mainline of superhero comics taking place within their established "universes" are so universally poor that it's personally exhausting for me to spend much time reviewing them. Or even reading them, honestly.

Now, a few days ago I did review a new DC/Wildstorm comic, and my review was almost uniformly negative. But in this case, it was a first issue, and it was set outside the DC universe, so going into it I had hoped it would be entertaining. But it proved such a ham-handed pastiche of previous, better Wildstorm efforts that I found nothing much in it to recommend. Interesting that folks who mostly review superhero comics seemed to like Highwaymen #1, which says something about their critical faculties, or at the very least about the comparative value to be found in the average, say, X-Men comic vs. Highwaymen #1. The latter might be crap, but at least it's not X-Crap.

By the way, I was delighted that the writer of Highwaymen #1 didn't take my review personally, because it wasn't meant personally.

I wonder, though, how the Flash creative team will take Spurgeon's review? Did they honestly believe they were doing their best? I suppose anyone who has only read corporate superhero comics for the past 15 years or so could honestly believe something like Flash #13 represents quality storytelling. People who refuse to look outside superhero comics to all the vast riches the artform offers may think the current boatloads of shit offered up by Marvel and DC are actually the best "comics" has to offer. They could not be more wrong.

Maybe it's the editors at the corporate superhero companies, unable or unwilling to scout actual talent anymore. Maybe truly gifted creators just eschew the "Big Two" because they know they won't own their work or ever see even a fraction of what it earns for the companies, should it become popular and enduring. Maybe it's just that Marvel and DC are mostly staffed by a generation raised to think Image circa 1993 was radically good superhero comics. Whatever the reason, Flash #13 was shit. And while it's somewhat atypical for Tom Spurgeon to kick shit while it's down, I'm glad to see someone else speaking the truth about the sorry state of corporate superhero comics circa 2007.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

 
Monday, Briefly -- Not much time this morning, as I have to shower and run to the doctor's office for blood work this morning before I go to work. It was a busy weekend of blogging, though, so I hope you'll scroll down and see what I was yammering about if you are one of those folks that takes the weekend off from reading the internets.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

 
Big Who Season Finale -- Watched the two-part finale of the third season of the new Doctor Who with the kids at lunch today, after having missed the entire season due to lack of intense interest and other things going on. I guess with the internets, you know you can probably always catch up down the line later on, right?

Right?

Possible SPOILERS and definite NERDITRY beyond this point...

Except I don't think the season we missed could match the energy and inventiveness of this two-part trip from the end of time back to present-day Great Britain. I mostly decided to check out the season finale because of the rumoured reappearance of one of the Doctor's greatest enemies, a character I'd kind of expected to see back in Season One, with all its "The Doctor's gone dark" stuff. See, I was guessing after it was announced that Season One Doc Christopher Eccleston was only sticking around for the first go-round that he in fact was not the Doctor, but this other gentlemen in question, suffering from amnesia after the end of the Time War. I thought that would have made a great season finale, the real Doctor arriving to reclaim his TARDIS from Eccleston, who would have been able to play the very dark results of finding out his true identity quite well before making room for the sunshiny David Tennant in Season Two. And the audience would have been both outraged and amazed to learn they'd been rooting for you-may-know-who all season long. Oh, the angst!

Turns out The Powers That Be kind of thought like I did -- some of that stuff kind of played out in these final two episodes of Season Two, after all. The Master (I warned you up there with the SPOILERS and all!) has been suffering from amnesia in the wake of the Time War, and he certainly was a lovable old Time Lord type in the first part -- so much so, with the affected name ("The Professor") and the Companion, that I thought maybe he was the ultimate, final version of the Doctor, and that we were in for another iteration of Doc Meets Doc. I'd guess that we were supposed to think that, given the available evidence, and it's really too bad the BBC leaked the actual identity of the bad guy, because I probably would have stuck to my theory that Professor Yana was The Doctor until the real reveal came along.

I first started watching Doctor Who when it was airing on PBS stations here in the U.S. back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because I saw the transition from mega-popular fourth Doctor Tom Baker to fifth Doctor Peter Davison almost at the same time the British did, I always had an affection for Davison in the role over Baker, although I like 'em both. Certainly they're my two favourites, having seen little to nothing of Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy, as Who-fever seemed to dry up on American public television stations after Davison left the series.

I was one of the few who watched and liked the Fox TV movie with Paul McGann inheriting the mantle from Sylvester McCoy, and really, really dug Eccleston's work in his one and only season. Tennant has had some great moments in the episodes he's done that I have seen, especially his forced goodbye to Rose, and it was nice to see him given some really meaty stuff in this season finale, from explaining a few things to Captain Jack (who seems much less irritating now) to trying to build bridges with his last surviving fellow Time Lord.

Speaking of whom, John Simm was a bit of a revelation as The Master. The amusing but mostly two-dimensional mustache-twirling of Anthony Ainley in the Baker/Davison era and the dark mischief of Eric Roberts in the Fox movie were nothing at all like the trickster/master planner Simm introduced in these episodes. The whimsy and the perfidy were delivered in equal doses, and the political commentary toward the end was both welcome and well-done. Which came first, Warren Ellis's Black Summer #0 or the script for part two of this season finale? More likely, it's just the zeitgeist at work, The Master's actions on the SHIELD HELICARRIER -- UNIT aircraft carrier Valiant representing a violent fantasy that satisfies the desire of pretty much everyone in the world for the U.S.'s own evil government takeover to end.

SPOILERS END HERE

So, this two-parter had it all -- copious reference to Who history, actual, unexpected plot developments, and very good performances from actors obviously having a blast in their roles, especially Tennant and Simm. I may or may not catch up on previous episodes from this season, but there's no question I'll be watching with the kids when the fourth season gets underway. We all want to know how they're going to get out of this one.

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A Cappella -- Texas cartoonist Christine Pointeau has created two issues of A Cappella, which aims to explore the self through the intersection of whimsy, surreality, and mythology.

There's an irksome pomposity to the proceedings, an earnest and obvious belief that this is important stuff. And while such aphorisms as "open your heart to people," "thoughts create form," and "never apologize for love," might seem profound, they can also seem trite; and here, out of the mouth of a talking turtle lecturing Pointeau's cartoon avatar on her areas in need of improvement, they seem most of all like leftovers from Yoda's Book of Do, Things You Should.

Each page of both A Cappella: When Are You Coming Home and A Cappella: Open Heart is a full-page image, so the cumulative effect is more storybook than comics. There are arresting techniques here and there, but overall there's a wearying sameness to the depictions of our wandering heroine in her various ethereal environments. And to paraphrase Huxley vis a vis God and beetles, Pointeau seems to have an inordinate affection for drawing feet. Which, at least, puts her ahead of Rob Liefeld.

In the end I didn't much care for these efforts, although a reader with more appetite for whimsical fantasy elements than I might find value in them. If you crave the comics of Jennifer Daydreamer or those found in the Flight anthologies, A Cappella might work for you.

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Ten Years of Top Shelf -- Congratulations to Chris Staros and Brett Warnock on this weekend's tenth anniversary of Top Shelf Productions. Almost as long as I have been writing about comics, I have been writing about the comics they publish. And even before that, when Chris Staros was publishing The Staros Report (a great 'zine that probably would have been a blog if launched today), I was writing about them -- a letter from me appears in the second or third issue (circa 1996-97), alongside letters from James Kochalka and Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics Books, both of whom also went on to change the way I see comics as an artform.

Top Shelf has been home to some of the best and most inventive comics creators in the history of the artform, including Renee French, Alan Moore, James Kochalka, Eddie Campbell and many others.

To mark this milestone weekend, Comics Reporter Tom Spurgeon today posts a long and extremely informative and entertaining interview with Brett Warnock, Top Shelf's co-publisher and art director. Please click on over and read about Brett's life in comics.

Top Shelf's story is an important one in the overall emergence of comics as a mainstream artform over the past decade, and I hope you'll join me in congratulating Chris and Brett on ten great years. I'm looking forward to the next ten even more.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

 
The Highwaymen #1 -- Perhaps sensing what a creative loss it is for the excellent series Planetary to be mostly over (writer Warren Ellis says the final issue is written, but it's allegedly a PS to the already-concluded main story), Wildstorm inflicts this shoddy effort upon the world.

Conspiracies abound and a droll old guy in a white suit leads an effort to uncover the hidden BS that will be far less interesting than anything Ellis cooks up for the final issue of his far superior series. Highwayman guy in white suit, I knew Elijah Snow; you, sir, are no Elijah Snow.

An image here or there echoes Frank Quitely -- the lumpy visage of President Bill Clinton looks swiped straight from Quitely's first issue of The Authority, but for the most part the art here is rubbery and unimpressive and as dull as the story. Check out the fourth page from the end's final panel for the most blatant Planetary nod.

I found nothing to like about this first issue at all, from the generic cover art to the painfully forced "banter" between Elijah -- I mean, the white-suited Highwayman, and his reluctant partner. It all takes place in the future, at the request of long-dead President Bubba via video file, and it all has been done far better before. Save yourself the three bucks and re-read any random issue of Planetary, or even Planet Terry. You'll thank me.

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The End of the World is Nigh -- I haven't written much about it here, but it's something I am keenly interested in and tend to think is happening soon: The end of the world.

I don't think we'll be wiped out by space aliens, overtaken by zombies or even destroyed in an all-out nuclear war. Also, when I say "the end of the world," I mean it more in the REM sense: It's the end of the world as we know it. I don't, however, feel fine.

For over 100 years now, the human race has transformed the way it exists on this planet through the availability of cheap oil. The detrimental effects of the "happy motoring era," as James Howard Kunstler calls it, were predicted at least as far back as Orson Welles's never-properly-completed film The Magnificent Ambersons, which noted that the onset of motor vehicles had displaced the sense of community that had been a binding force in American culture prior to that. Welles's film was about much more than just that, of course, but that certainly was one of the key points.

I started to become aware of the destructive impact of the automobile after reading Kunstler's two magnificent books The Geography of Nowhere and Home From Nowhere, both of which make powerful cases for a return to a more sane and sustainable lifestyle, with people living in human-scaled communities which they can mostly navigate on foot. The obvious benefits of walking to and from work, home, school and local businesses almost go without saying, but at this late date most people have become so fully invested in the idea of their car as their main mode of transportation that it never occurs to them what the rates of heart disease, obesity and other illnesses might look like if we had all spent the past century walking everywhere.

I don't walk everywhere, but living half a block from a shopping center that includes a supermarket, video store, pizza shop, Chinese restaurant and more, I walk as much as possible. The accident that destroyed my last car opened my eyes a bit, and I decided the day that happened that I would not buy another car. For the six years previous to that accident, I had paid over $600.00 a month for my wife and I to each have our own car, but I was also commuting 100 miles a day to work in Albany. These days my wife and I both live less than five miles from our jobs, and while my not having a car of my own is occasionally an inconvenience, the cash savings are substantial. I also like knowing I am no longer contributing to the environmental problems and other issues associated with owning and operating a motor vehicle.

In addition to the environmental impact of the automobile era, Kunstler's most recent (and I think most important) book, The Long Emergency, also introduces a much more pressing issue into the mix, that of the peak oil phenomenon. Maybe you've heard about peak oil, and the fact that we're very likely running out of the fossil fuels that have so changed the planet in the past century. Optimists like to posit a future in which mankind has come up with an alternative fuel that will allow everyone to keep scooting around in their cars all day long, all week long, all year long, all their lives.

But a cursory understanding of peak oil shows that the chances of that happening have long since passed. Perhaps if an intense effort was made across the planet to conserve fossil fuel and create new sources of energy 50 or 75 years ago, there would be hope that mankind could mostly get through the end of the cheap oil era with its lifestyle mostly unchanged. I think it's pretty clear that that window has long since slammed shut, though. Virtually every alternative, from solar power to hybrid automobiles, depends largely on the continuing availability of cheap oil. And most optimistic theorists turn a blind eye to the growing hunger for cheap oil in other nations, especially China. Their increasing reliance on automobiles and the unbelievable mass-production mega-industry in China makes them the nation to watch in the Global Oil Sweepstakes.

And anyone who thinks high technology will rescue us from a lack of oil is probably unaware that everything from cell phones to home computers are made of plastic, which is made of -- you guessed it -- oil.

I used to think that America and the countries that have emulated its example could probably go on another 25 or 50 years before the scarcity of oil had a negative impact on the lives of the average citizen. Now I tend to think we have five to ten years at best before our lives are irrevocably altered by the end of the cheap oil age.

I don't have a lot to offer in the way of analysis or suggestions. For that, I would ask you to read some of the books mentioned above, as well as the one I read this week that got me started thinking about blogging about all this: Deep Economy by Bill McKibben.

The worst estimated end-result of the end of the cheap oil era really does look like the end of the world: Kunstler, I think it was, predicted that only one out of every six people would survive on this planet after we stop extracting oil out of the ground. Not run out of oil, but stop extracting it. Because you need oil to power the machines that suck it up out of the earth. And at some point, it will take more than a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil from the ground. At that point, obviously, there is no profit whatsoever in continuing to drill for oil. The point is somewhere down the slope from the peak of oil extraction, a time many believe has either already passed or very soon will. And that worst-case scenario? Five billion people could be dead within this century. In fact, it seems likely that this planet never could have sustained the numbers it does if not for cheap oil, which has essentially provided most people in affluent nations with the equivalent of thousands of workers, labouring away for them without complaint.

Think for a moment how many people and how much time it would take to get a message across the country if you didn't have internet and cell phone technology. How many people and how long would it take to carry your entire family six states away on vacation? People living in countries with cheap, available oil are the luckiest and wealthiest people on the planet. But as Grant Morrison pointed out in The Filth, the luxuries we enjoy come at a price. The mis-allocation of resources across the planet means that while Americans sip lattes in air-conditioned Starbucks locations, across the globe others live in miserable conditions, with not enough to drink, not enough to eat, and no hope in sight for an equalization of conditions. No hope other than the almost-certainly inevitable end of the cheap oil era, a global market correction that will change the playing field for virtually everyone alive today.

Kunstler is seen by some as too negative and cynical; I find his tone and analysis to be simpatico with my own point of view, but McKibben's new book puts things in a more hopeful perspective, and it is to be profoundly hoped that Kunstler's worst predictions can be avoided (not that much is being done so far to achieve that laudable goal). McKibben looks to communities to weather the coming storm, and believes that by relying on our families and neighbours, by re-connecting with our local environments through social and commercial undertakings, we can better withstand the worst of what is almost certain to be coming in all our lifetimes. McKibben is a good deal more optimistic and hopeful than Kunstler, but I think both of them have very valuable things to say about where we are now, where we're going, and most importantly, where we can be if we take responsibility for ourselves and our communities. I can't recommend enough both The Long Emergency by Kunstler and Deep Economy by McKibben for background and insight on the issues that face us all. If you can't afford to buy them, you should visit your local library and check them out. Given the way most of us have abandoned our own communities, it's probably a good idea to visit your local library anyway. And bring the kids. If we're going to make a better, more sustainable world, introducing your children to one of the most important parts of their local community would be a great place to start.

More: 2005 interview with James Howard Kunstler at The Morning News; 2000 essay and brief interview with Kunstler by ADD.

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Pictures from My Camera -- I got some good feedback on the photos I included in my ADD Comics file I posted for download this week, so I thought I would share the original photos for you to see without my writing all over them. Click the images to see the larger version.



This was taken two or three years back on a day trip to Syracuse to visit a comic and gaming store. The store recently changed its name and moved into the Carousel Center Mall and out of the very cool refurbished warehouse/factory building it had been in. This was taken at dusk in the parking lot.



This was taken a few weeks ago an hour or so before sunrise outside our local Hannaford supermarket. My wife and son were leaving for a field trip to the Bronx Zoo, and while I waited in the car outside, I took this shot just outside the entrance. I just like the way the pillar stands out, and the darkness in the background.



This is that same Hannaford, but maybe a year or so earlier. I got up before dawn one Saturday and just wandered around the neighbourhood with the camera. I like the feelings this one suggests to me about going shopping in the middle of the night at a nearly-empty 24-hour supermarket.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

 
Dirk and Comics Piracy -- Check out today's Journalista for Dirk Deppey's observations about the nature, availability and scope of online comics piracy via bit torrent sites.

"Virtually every genre-oriented comics pamphlet is scanned and posted online within a day or two of its release in stores. This includes everything released by Marvel and DC, of course, but also most of the material released by smaller publishers as well."

That's merely one of the eleven valuable points Dirk makes about this growing phenomenon. Much, much more in the link -- scroll down to the seventh section, "Digital Comics," for the rest.

I've dabbled a bit in downloading comics from bit torrent sites, and I don't have eleven things to say about it, but here's a couple:

* Many, many times I've downloaded a comic out of curiosity only to enjoy it enough that I have gone on to buy the actual comic. Recent examples would include World War Hulk #1 by Greg Pak and John Romita, Jr., and the entirety of Garth Ennis's Punisher MAX series, which I have liked so much I bought all the trade paperback collections, and then went on and bought those stories again in the oversized hardcover collections. In the latter case, this is an investment of something like $200.00 or so. Lesson? The availability of free, downloadable comics in .cbr or .cbz format can and will lead to large outlays of cash, but there's a catch.

* Many, many --the majority -- of corporate superhero comics I have downloaded are so ham-handedly amateurish and uninteresting that I haven't even bothered to finish them. And those are the ones that I bothered with, because like the vast majority of downloaders responding to this comics piracy poll at The V Forum, (quoting the poll here) "I cherrypick which titles I want to read so I don't waste time downloading crap I don't want." So yes, the availability of free, downloadable comics in .cbr or .cbz format can and will lead to large outlays of cash, but there's a catch.

The comics have to be worth reading.

As Dirk notes, the majority of available comics that you can download are corporate superhero comics. I'd submit to you that "I cherrypick which titles I want to read" would not be doing so well in that (admittedly unscientific) poll, if Marvel and DC would spend more time investing in and nurturing talented creators, encouraging them to do their best work and then rewarding them for it. Instead, they continue, decade after decade, to pander and pile up the crap on the shelves of the direct market -- crap that the V poll clearly suggests is not worth reading even when easily available for free.

There's an obvious business model for Marvel and DC to follow here, if they want to compete outside the direct market with the greater mainstream audience for comic books. Because surely not all the people buying comics on Amazon, at Borders, or Chapters, or their local independent bookstore, want to buy Fruits Basket or Persepolis or the other titles they choose; some of them would probably like to spend their money on quality adventure fiction, some of that even superhero fiction. So what's pretty clearly called for is more emphasis on quality, and less on overwrought continuity porn and bland trademark maintenance. One more time:

To be worth buying, the comics have to be worth reading.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

 
A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of The Bloody Benders -- The Benders were a family of alleged German immigrants who may or may not have been named "Bender." In fact, they may not have even been family.

What they were has been outlined in delightfully brutal detail by cartoonist Rick Geary, in the latest volume of his superb Treasury of Victorian Murder series of graphic novels for NBM Publishing.

Geary's ongoing library of bloody 19th century mayhem is one of the quiet treasures of modern-day comic-making. Each volume is meticulous in its research, and Geary's sui generis art is a sublimely effective blend of subversive, sardonic observation and rich, organic linework.

Geary varies his subjects from volume to volume, sometimes covering something as historically significant as Jack the Ripper or the Lincoln assassination, but Geary brings as much drama and inventiveness to his coverage of lesser-known horrors.

The Bloody Benders is one of those. I had never heard of this bunch, who seem like a 19th century mashup of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family and The Manson Family.

The scheme was this: The Benders established a small inn/grocery store right on a prominent, much-used trail in a Kansas that was just now being opened up in the wake of the Civil War. Geary doesn't say if he thinks The Benders planned what happened from the very beginning, and we'll never know for sure given how their story ended, but it seems like a brilliant criminal enterprise that was apparently headed up by a beautiful and seductive member of the "family" called Kate. "Ma" would make dinner for travelers stopping by (often with large sums on their person, as they were out on the plains to make their fortunes and begin new lives), while Kate would charm them during their meal, and "Pa," well...Pa had a big mallet and a great hiding place.

In those days, information didn't travel very far, very fast, and crucially, the whole serial killer phenomena was not the topic of bestselling novels and hit movies. So it took a good, long time for the victims' relatives and the local citizenry to put together the pieces of the puzzle, even though behaviour as strange as that displayed by The Benders would certainly send up red flags far earlier in our more "enlightened" age.

Geary's storytelling, as always, is informative, appealing, and addictive. From the quiet but sprawling beauty of the Kansas plains to the ominous depths of the family well, all is presented with a sense of dread and an offbeat tone that makes Geary totally unique in the pantheon of great cartoonists. A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of The The Bloody Benders is highly recommended, as are all the other volumes of this wildly entertaining series.

Preview The Bloody Benders at NBM's website.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

 
ADD Comics #1 and Only -- I've posted my own downloadable comic book, ADD Comics #1 and Only. Download here.

Totally thanking Abhay for the inspiration to put this up, although it is nowhere as interesting or cool as his Left Field. It's mostly just a bunch of drawings and a couple photographs I have taken over the years, padding out the two webcomics I created for online anthologies a million years ago. Also it has one aggravating typo my daughter spotted, but that was after I RARed it up and changed the extension to make it a .cbr, so, plus, as you know, I am old and not a well man. Also courtesy of Abhay, links to understanding .CBR files and CDisplay, a free and easy to use program to read .CBR and .CBZ comics in.

I hope it isn't too aggravating/disappointing/whatever. It's only 22 pages, so at least there's that. Thanks for checking it out, if you do...

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

 
Not Tired at All -- I am usually asleep by 9:30 in the evening, sadly. It's a remnant, I think, of getting up at 3 in the morning to go to work every day, which I did circa 1997-2004. But here I am at 9:38 PM all awake and everything. Exciting.

My son's Fifth Grade Recognition event went well -- he's off to Middle School next year, and while I think the idea of a 5th Grade "graduation" is a bit silly, I have to admit that the emotional speech by the principal and an entertaining and moving video presentation did get to me after all.

After the ceremony, Mom and I slipped the boy a cash-filled congratulations card, which he was thrilled to get. He was also genuinely grateful that both of us were there -- the above-mentioned hideous work hours kept me from being able to attend a lot of school events for either he or his sister in their elementary years, but now that I am a 9-to-5 kind of guy and also working much closer to home, it's a bit easier to slip out for an hour or so to be there for my kids, which increasingly I am coming to realize is the very best thing you can do for them.

If you poke around in the "contents" section of the sidebar, you'll find I added some older posts from 2002-2003 that hadn't previously been in the archives. I don't know if you care much about old posts one way or the other, but while surfing Comic Book Galaxy's saved pages at Archive.org, I found a goodly amount of stuff that I had thought lost. So I tried to grab as much of it as I could and post it, back-dated, into the ADD Blog archives. Have a look if you're so bored inclined.

I'll be adding older posts as time allows over the next few days. I'm also thinking of integrating the Kochalkaholic and A Criminal Blog stuff I've written into the archives here, just to have it all in one place...

One other thought I had today, you know what is kind of cool? Remember a few years ago when this blog, Dirk Deppey's Journalista and AK's Title Bout were all fairly widely-read internet thingies? It's kind of neat that after our various 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness(es) that we're all back and in b-i-bidness one way or another.

Hey, wait a minute, maybe I am getting tired after all. One look at the cat sleeping comfortably on the rocking chair in our living room, and I can feel the energy drain right out of me. I think I'll read some more Fletcher Hanks and hit the hay. You have a good night and we'll chat again soon.

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Tuesday, Briefly -- Not a lot going on this morning. I added a few more Make Mine COMICS! images and links to the gizmo on the top of the sidebar, if you're keeping score. I'm still welcoming your suggestions for images and links, so e-mail me if you like.

My son has his elementary school graduation this afternoon, as he is heading into middle school next year. My daughter, and it gives me pause to write these words, but she is starting high school. I think I must offically be very, very old. Having quit caffeine last week in the wake of my little health crisis, I certainly feel old. Or tired, at least.

I started reading the new Fletcher Hanks collection I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets from Fantagraphics last night, review forthcoming. But I'll say right out of the gate that anyone at all that enjoys comics storytelling or adventure fiction should pick it up, it's absolutely essential reading, in its own, unique way. It's pretty great to live in a time where there's enough of a market for comics that something like this can find a place on a publisher's release schedule, given the obvious amount of editorial and production attention that went into making the volume as beautiful as it is.

Hey, did you download and read Abhay Khosla's Left Field yet? You should.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

 
Coming Out of Left Field -- Abhay Khosla is reporting some interesting numbers (scroll down to the eighth message) about the free, online release of his graphic novel Left Field.

I'm sure other comics creators have release works like this in free, downloadable .CBZ format before, but this little experiment of AK's has the ring of a quiet revolution to it. Maybe it's because it's AK, a truly gifted writer; maybe because it's free; maybe because it's a long, rewarding and funny story. Maybe it's all of those.

Maybe others will pay attention and give this a try.

Like I said, it seems like the start of something interesting.

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The Plain Janes Discussion -- I've been having an interesting discussion with Abhay Khosla on the Image message boards about the recently-released Plain Janes, drawn-but-not-written by Street Angel's Jim Rugg.

The discussion began when Abhay said he almost bought The Black Diamond Detective Agency by Eddie Campbell, but then went with Plain Janes instead. That prompted me to say:

Well, the Eddie Campbell isn't his best work, but Plain Janes is REALLY dull and Rugg's art seems especially toothless for the most part. I would have rather had more Street Angel myself. Hopefully he made a lot of money on it, anyway.

As message board posts are wont to do, that made me sound a good bit more dismissive than I meant to be, which Ivan Brandon called me on, especially disliking my use of the word "toothless" and conflating it with "hackwork," which you may or may not realize is not a phrase I tend to use much. My response to that:

I mean it lacks the vitality and spontaneity Rugg evinced in Street Angel. It seems managed, calculated, and not anywhere near as interesting as his earlier work. If someone is interested in Plain Janes based on the excellence of the cartooning in Street Angel, chances are they'll be a bit disappointed. It's good, professional illustration and that's about all it is. I didn't say it's hackwork -- that's not a word I generally throw around much, and I'm sure Jim fulfilled the assignment with as much passion and professionalism as he could. I just personally found a hell of a lot more passion and personality in Street Angel. YMMV.

Once Abhay has read the book, he feels myself and others who didn't enjoy the book very much may be judging it too harshly...But his thoughts aren't uniformly enthusiastic, either, and says "I hope [Rugg] does a 180 from this material in his next thing because... because again, it just doesn't play to how much fun he can bring to... to.. to movement...? It doesn't utilize everything he's capable of."

My final thought on Plain Janes and similar efforts to integrate artcomix creators into the world of corporate comics is summed up like this:

I always wonder if Marvel and DC are deliberate in their habit of hiring great artcomix creators (Rugg and Horrocks come immediately to mind) and then tasking them with jobs that don't reflect their obvious true gifts, but which keep them busy NOT exercising those talents for their own benefit, however much it might pay in the short run. Or, do the "Big Two" just take a cog for a cog and not even think about anything other than forwarding their own "mainstream" agendas...

There's lots more in the link to the discussion above, but I wanted to get my own thoughts on the book and on the issues it raises here on the blog.

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The Monday Briefing -- Father's Day has come and gone, and as I mentioned in a conversation last night with Chris Allen, while I don't think I am as invested in the idea of a perfect Father's Day as my wife is in a correspondingly perfect Mother's Day, it's still nice to be the family belle of the ball for one day. A joke comes to mind, but it's kind of gross and I haven't had breakfast yet.

Roger Green mentions it's Roger Ebert's 65th birthday today. After a few years of very serious health issues, I'd guess he's glad, indeed, to be here to see this day. I'm not much of a celebrity-watcher, but I have to admit I've worried at times about Roger Ebert recently as much as I do my wife or kids when they are sick. He's managed to pull through some extremely serious health problems, and I am profoundly grateful for that. Roger Green mentions Ebert's great gifts as a film critic, and I'll second all that. If you have any interest at all in criticism in general or film criticism in particular, you should really take a look at Ebert's two "Great Movies" essay collections. They are fantastic reading that will send you off on an exploration of some of the best and most compelling movies ever made, even as they allow you to get to know Ebert and his sensibilities in a manner that is direct, engaging and most importantly fun.

Roger Green also points out that it's Paul McCartney's 65th birthday, but, you know, his big landmark birthday was obviously last year. Roger runs down a good list of McCartney post-Fab Four songs worth listening to, but I'll spare you the top ten and say that all of Band on the Run holds up really well, and at least half of Tug of War is really good, too.

Not much to say about comics at the moment -- scroll down through the past few days for plenty on that subject -- but I will say the comic that surprised me the most last week was World War Hulk #1. After browsing it for free at The Favoured Store, I broke down and bought it. It's a good, old-fashioned Marvel Comic in the best sense of the word, and even manages to make Iron Man not seem like a villain. Except to the Hulk, which is kind of the impetus to the whole kerfuffle. Good, fun superhero storytelling, the kind of which you don't much see in either Marvel or DC's main universes anymore.

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Just a Pilgrim -- As much as anyone, I was a cheerleader for Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim when it debuted through Oni Press back in the summer of 2004.

In my review of Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, the first volume of the series, I said O'Malley had created a new series that "is charming, funny, sexy and packed with creative power and the love of storytelling." Further volumes have confirmed all that even as they have explored O'Malley's fascination with his own self-imposed videogame structure.

As a now 41-year-old guy, I'll 'fess up that I don't much care for most video games. When I bought my most recent PC two years ago, and the one before that eight years ago, both times I had to work mightily to convince the sales person I didn't need a turbo-charged graphics system, eleventy-thousand terabytes of processing power, and no, thank you, I sure as hell don't need a goddamned joystick. I don't like video games, board games, mind games, or any kind of games. Although David Mamet's House of Games is a fun little movie.

My point is, I like Scott Pilgrim quite a bit, even while realizing I am a bit younger than either its creator or its target audience. I've mentioned before that what interests me most in comics, and in pretty much everything, is what's new and what's next, a phrase I first remember being coined by Warren Ellis in the late 20th century. And Scott Pilgrim was ahead of its time when it came out, and it still feels like forward-looking work from a cartoonist who is still developing his chops even while entertaining the hell out of me and a lot of other people.

So Tim O'Neil's curmudgeonly takedown of the Pilgrim series in the new Comics Journal did not strike a chord with me. It struck me as being reactionary and contrarian without providing either a solid argument or even food for thought for those of us that have happily swallowed the Pilgrim Kool-Aid. I use this last metaphor tongue firmly in cheek, because along with Street Angel, Scott Pilgrim seemed to be one of those books a couple of years back that, when you talked about how good they were in a review or message board post or in-person conversation, really aggravated certain folks who hadn't read them because they couldn't see past the corporate superhero racks in their local comic shop.

Upon reflection, I wonder if that irritation might, in part, have stemmed from the fact that both of those independent, creator-owned and black and white titles were full of more life, energy and colour than any 20 corporate superhero comics you could grab off the racks at random? If it isn't that, then certainly it's the fact that both series masterfully utilized superhero and other traditions to put a new spin on action, adventure and comic book storytelling in general.

Anyway, that's my two cents on Scott Pilgrim and Tim O'Neil's unconvincing and badly-constructed review, inspired by reading Chris Allen's thorough dismantling of O'Neil's piece. Chris manages to find some interesting new insights into Scott Pilgrim that truly had not occurred to me before, a feat I wish O'Neil could have pulled off in his review. A bad review of a work I like has value if it makes me look at it in a new light; O'Neil's piece, ultimately, just seems like he read the series in a poorly-lit room.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

 
AK Comics -- Abhay Khosla of Title Bout fame (infamy?) has made a comic called Left Field and is distributing it online in easy-to-read .CBZ format. Details and a link to download the comics for free in the link. AK promises a print version soon, as well.

I've downloaded it and am reading it now, but I had to edit this post to say, Left Field is something like The Golem's Mighty Swing by way of Street Angel. DEFINITELY worth downloading and reading. I had no idea AK had it in him. This release is an interesting development well worth keeping an eye on...

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Make Mine COMICS! -- Over on the top of the sidebar, you'll see a comics image that links to a related page. The image and the link change every time you stop by here or reload the page.

It's my way of pointing out the diversity that makes the artform of comics such a joy to immerse yourself in. Reload the page and keep your eye on the box at the top of the right sidebar to see what it does.

Think of it as a dynamic version of my 100 Things I Love About Comics.

If you'd like to suggest a creator or image for the Make Mine COMICS! box, or even better, add the script to your own webpage or blog, drop me an e-mail.

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What? -- Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, from a report at Newsarama:

An audience member brought up recent controversies like the Mary Jane statue and the cover of Heroes for Hire #13, and asked that given that most people who work for Marvel are men, they could possibly be seen as sexist. Quesada refuted such complaints and said that he believes Marvel has the strongest female characters in comic book history.

Whatever, dude.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

 
8,396 -- That's about how many words I wrote on this blog this week.

It's good to be back.

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What Do I Know? -- Over the past week, I've written about my experiences over the past thirty years of shopping for comics in the direct market, where the market is at now, and where I think it needs to go in the future.

Other than having been a broadcast journalist for two-thirds of that thirty years, and exercising my powers of observation and reportage, I can't claim any expertise. What I've talked about, I've seen first-hand, from shops that fail to open on time most of the time, to shops that deliberately alienate anyone who isn't an aging male superhero fan, all the better to not have to deal with the difficult tastes of women, children, or even other men who somehow prefer to read more than just power fantasies about men in tight pants battling in close quarters over and over again for decades on end.

But, as the title says, what do I know?

You know who might have some insight into the current state of the market? Maybe a guy who actually publishes them for a living, and has for the past few years.

Brett Warnock of Top Shelf Productions:

The dismal failure of 90% of the comics shop owner/managers to provide comics to a wider audience is mind-boggling to me. I won't say retailing is easy, by any means, but neither is it a rocket science.

So many times i've visited stores in new cities, with nary an art-comic on their shelves, where the dork behind the counter says, "Well, they don't sell." Duh, dude!! If you don't have them, people can't buy them! I'm not talking about somewhere in the middle of Kansas, i'm talking about super liberal college campuses (like where i went to school in Eugene, OR), where alternative comics would thrive.

One time, i checked back on a store who had purchased some comics from me at our standard wholesale discount, to see if they needed a restock. Sure enough, the comics had sold, but when i asked if he'd like more, he mumbled, "Thank god those are gone," as if he'd finally rid his store of a flea-infested stray dog. He MADE MONEY on my comics, but acted as if i were putting him in a bind. What the fu*k!@?

And what about those who say comic shops should just continue to sell what sells? They'll always be around, right?
It's somewhat hard to believe, but having polled other indy publishers, we've come to the conclusion that "maybe" 250 comics shops in North America represent 90% of our direct market sales. There's possibly 3,500 comics shops (or some weak iteration thereof, in the form of a baseball card store here or a hobby & games store there), and it's difficult not to wonder, and dream "what if?" even half of these shops truly knew the scope of PROFITS to be made in the emerging market for non-spandex comics? What would happen? Are you high?

Much more at the Top Shelf blog. I appreciate Brett taking the time to comment, because Top Shelf has published some of the best graphic novels of the past decade -- books accessible and entertaining to readers far, far outside the average superhero convenience shop.

But hopefully you already know that.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

 
The Friday Briefing -- Hello, good day and welcome to -- you know, I just want to say, it really does feel good to be blogging regularly again. Thanks to everyone who has dropped me a line to welcome me back. I really, really appreciate it.

Now then, as to the subject of the week -- no, not Zombie Mary Jane, although I will say I saw Chris Butcher's point crystal-clear once I saw the Zombie poster side-by-side with the original comic, which I vividly remember buying for my daughter a few years ago. I love me some Marvel Zombies as much as anybody, but for me the Suydam covers were never a part of the attraction, and I have to agree that this one goes over the line.

No, the subject hereabouts has been the future of comics retailing. I started off with a revision of an old essay on the subject, which didn't quite hit all the points I wanted to make. So I wrote more on what kind of shops exist now, and what kind of shops will likely survive in a changing marketplace. Basically I think that superhero-centric stores are living in the glorious past of the '80s and '90s, when it kind of made sense to emphasize superhero comics because that's all there were, and all they could sell. But in the 21st century, the world outside the direct market is gobbling up comics in ever-increasing numbers, just, superhero comics are not in the majority of what it is they're buying. Manga and artcomix have both made huge inroads since the century began, albeit in different manners and different numbers, but they're indisputably the comics that sell outside the insular (I always want to say "inbred," but I'm trying to be nice), misinformed (again see that David Beard piece in the new Comics Journal) and ultimately self-destructive world of the direct market.

One criticism angrily lobbed by hardcore superhero convenience store customers at me, one of the many mischaracterizations of what I wrote, is that I don't want superhero comics available at all, anywhere. Well, how would I buy my Marvel Zombies, then? Or Paul Dini's Detective Comics? All-Star Superman?

Engine member David Wynne really latched on to a point I guess I meant but kind of buried in what I wrote, and I'll confess that my distaste for dirty, disorganized comic shops that open late on a regular basis may have caused me not to see I didn't make this point clearly enough. So I'll let Wynne put it in his words. Responding to an Engine reader who implied that comic stores currently must rely on superhero fanatics to stay in business, Wynne gets it exactly right when he says:

"...but those customers are already hooked. As long as a shop continues to stock the crap they come in for, they'll still keep coming in. Which means it doesn't need to be pushed right up in the front window, making any casual passers by think that they won't find anything else inside."

When discussing this obvious fact in casual conversation, I usually say something like "You could stock all the superhero comics in a dumpster behind the store, and you wouldn't lose one superhero-oriented customer. If it's Wednesday, they know what they want, and they'll do whatever it takes to get it."

Have you ever experienced a superhero-heavy comic book store on Wednesday afternoon? It's quite a lot like watching addicts line up for methadone outside the clinic. Damn it, now I've cast another aspersion. It's like I have Aspersions Syndrome. But what I am saying is, all that space -- all that goddamned space -- retailers at superhero convenience shops devote to superhero comics? It's a total waste of their retail space. The vast majority of such shops could easily cut that space in half without dropping a single title, and devote the new space to comics other people would like. People like the wives, girlfriends, children and friends the superhero addict drags along with him to the store. What if those people find something to read? Would it really be so awful, Mr. Diamond-Centric Retailer, to get the money from both your regular superhero guy and his girlfriend?

Believe it or not, the answer in some cases is yes. A lot of retailers are extraordinarily comfortable with the established "Good Ol' Boys" atmosphere of their shop, and they would gladly eschew growing their business if they don't have to deal with women. Or kids. Or, oh my god, women and their kids!

Don't believe it? Then you haven't been in many comic book stores.

Speaking of which, yesterday I also posted about my favourite comic book stores. If you visit one or two or all of them, I think you'll see why my standards are so high for comics retailing. I mean, if your store meets most of my criteria for being a good one, then I have no problem with you. I am, in fact, not even talking about you. But if women and children feel unwelcome in your shop, if you are rude or deceptive to your customers, if you don't open on time and can't for the life of you imagine why anyone would want to read comics that you don't want to read -- or stock -- then yeah, I am talking to you. Well, talking about you.

Because, really, I am talking to people who buy comics. Not "Comics consumers," not "collectors," "fans," or little-z Marvel zombies. I am talking to people who like to read comics, who want to share their passion for the artform with their friends and loved ones, and who want to support stores that have a good chance of surviving the current transition from floppy monthly pamphlet comic booklets to the comics the whole world has said it wants to read: Comics with a spine and a complete story.

If that sounds like you, well, hello. I've been talking to you all week and haven't really said a proper hello. And what I want to say to you during this, The Friday Briefing, is this:

Please vote with your dollars. Please support the shops that work hard to present the best face for the artform we love, and who try damned hard to sell comics to everyone that wants to buy them, whatever country they originated in, and whatever format they are presented in. If your dealer presents a sloppy retail environment, or demonstrates unprofessional business practices, or worse, both, then find a better shop. They're out there. We're not really talking about stores that only exist in my imagination, they already exist right now. Some are better than others, but if you are buying from a dead-end retailer, you already know there's a problem. I've just been trying to help you put into words what the problem is, and suggest some solutions. I'm not trying to ban superhero comics, I'm just lobbying for a world in which superhero comics don't continue to alienate readers of other comics, who already exist, and who want to buy more comics -- from anyone who wants to sell them to them, in a welcoming and professional manner.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

 
My Favourite Comic Shops -- With all this talk of what comics should be -- and I'm excited to see folks discussing what I wrote on a few message boards and blog comment threads -- I thought I'd spend a few minutes writing about the comic shops I visit regularly and would recommend to anyone who wants to shop for comics and graphic novels in my part of the country.

Fantastic Planet in Plattsburgh, New York is a store that was pretty good the first time I visited it a few years ago, and has only gotten better since it moved locations a year or two back. The artcomix selection is not where I ideally would like to see it, but they have a good manga section and a huge collection of TPBs and graphic novels, as well as being extremely clean and well-organized. The folks that run it are nice, too. We live about two hours south of there, but I try to go up at least once a year and see what's what. I usually end up spending a hundred bucks or more on GNs I've missed elsewhere.

Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, Massachusetts is an awesome comic shop in somewhat cramped quarters. Extremely good for imports, mini-comics, and pretty much every graphic novel in print, and a few that aren't.

Modern Myths in Northampton, Massachusetts is probably the finest comic book store I have shopped at in the United States (keep in mind I have never been west of Ohio, so, no offense James!). The store is family-friendly, with sections for all ages, interests and genders, everything is clean, well-organized and logically laid out, and I really just can't recommend this store enough. It's a nearly-three hour drive for me, and it's worth the time and gas to get there, even now. Gamers will also enjoy the extensive selection of games, and I believe there are regular in-store tournaments. If you go, please tell manager Jim Crocker I said hi. He's a great guy and a pleasure to talk comics with.

Earthworld Comics in Albany, New York was my shop of choice for most of the past five years. A change of job means I don't get to Albany much anymore, and I recently and with great reluctance had to end my subscription there. Owner JC Glindmyer is a great businessman and an even bigger fan of comics of all sorts, and his shop's great diversity reflects that. You can pretty much bet on any given Wednesday that if shipped from Diamond, you can find a copy at Earthworld. If not, they can usually have it for you within a week. JC, Tom, Alicia and the rest are all friendly and know a lot about comics, and if you're anywhere near Albany, this is a great shop to spend hours browsing in.

Comic Depot in Greenfield Center, New York is a relative newcomer to the region, having opened about two years ago. They're along Route 9-N north of Saratoga Springs, and for the past few months I've had my subscription here. The store definitely focuses on superheroes, but there's a great variety of titles from diverse publishers like Dark Horse and Dynamite Entertainment as well, and most importantly for a small shop, Darren is extremely responsive to special orders. The customer service is among the best I have ever received, and if you're anywhere near Albany or Saratoga Springs, you should stop in and take a look around. Like Modern Myths, Comic Depot also appeals to gamers, and although they don't stock as much as Modern Myths, they do have in-store tournaments that seem well-attended and everybody seem to be having fun. (Can you tell I myself am not into gaming?)

Electric City Comics is in Schenectady, New York and is a longtime fixture in the Capital Region comics scene, such as it is. It's a small shop, but they have a large selection of graphic novels and a surprising stock of undergrounds and alternative comics. I had my subscription there many years ago and still try to stop in a few times a year, because you never know what you might find. The customer service at Electric City is also excellent.

The Beguiling in Toronto, Ontario is a special case for me. It's an eight-hour drive away, so I will probably only make it there every few years (the first and only time to date was in 2005, but I went back three times in four days because it was so awe-inspiring; and thanks for taking me, Jay!). I'm being as honest as I can be when I tell you it is the best comic shop I have ever been in, and very likely the best in the world -- certainly in North America. See, I have had dreams all my life of being in an unfamiliar comic shop and finding untold treasures on the racks, little-known or unknown works by my favourite cartoonists, and promising works by people I somehow have never heard of. I kid you not that my first time walking into The Beguiling, I was actually in the store I had dreamed of all my life. I can't imagine anything in comics that you can't find there, and the folks that run it (hi Peter, hi, Chris!) know their shit like you wouldn't believe. Take it from me that the things you're hearing about in comics right at this moment, they've probably had for sale for the past six months at The Beguiling. Worth a trip from anywhere in the world, I swear to God.

I can recommend any of these shops without reservation, and I hope if you're anywhere in the Northeast you'll try to give some of them a look. Tell them you read about them on the ADD Blog. Sure, they'll go "on the what now?" But it'll make me feel better.

If you want to share your thoughts on your favourite comic shops, feel free to drop me an e-mail and I'll post your thoughts here.

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Daniel Robert Epstein -- By now you've probably heard of the death of Daniel Robert Epstein, one of the comics internet's most valuable journalists. More often than not over the past few years, if someone somewhere linked to an interview with a cartoonist I was interested in, it turned out Epstein conducted the piece, and his work was uniformly excellent. Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics has compiled a list of Daniel Robert Epstein's interviews with Fantagraphics cartoonists. (Thanks to Dirk Deppey for spotting this).

Newsarama's Matt Brady also remembers Epstein, who was a frequent contributer to Newsarama.

Finally, here's one of Epstein's last pieces of comics journalism, an interview with Joe Matt upon the release of his new collection Spent, published by Drawn and Quarterly. I'm going to go read this piece now. I'm grateful for all the great reading Epstein provided all of us with over the past few years. His was one of the few names I automatically associated with excellence every time I heard it, and I hoped we'd see much, much more from him.

Update: Here's an interview Epstein conducted with perennial Galaxy fave Jason Marcy.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

 
Pointing to the Future -- So, what comic book stores reflect the best future for the direct market?

To determine which shops are good, first we must determine what kind of shops are out there. What is the definition of "comic book store?" Diamond claims there are thousands of "comic book stores" in North America, but I would guess they really mean they have thousands of accounts, many of which may be much like the "hobby shop" near my house, which makes its bread and butter on radio controlled cars, accessories, snacks and soda, but has a small selection of comics delivered from Diamond weekly. They have a couple dozen subscribers, they carry comics, but in my view this is not a "comic book store." It is run more as a hobby than a business, and that is one of the key problems in the direct market as it exists today.

Too many shops are run by former fans who never bothered to learn how to be professional businessmen. As opposed to the hobby shop above, these are actual comic book stores, but they have profound problems (that the people running the store are either not aware of or don't see as problems). Maybe you've been in one of these stores -- perhaps the owner/cashier was eating lunch at the cash register, maybe annoyed that you had a question for him. Perhaps the back issues have no prices on them, or the prices are subject to change because they've gone up in value since the last time anyone bothered to price them. Perhaps you can feel the dust caking on your fingers as you browse the back issues -- or even the new stock (!). And let's not even get into the hours the store is open -- they may be posted, but how often does someone have the door open and the store ready to welcome customers before or at the posted opening time? If it's not 99 percent (allowing for family emergencies and genuine traffic tie-ups), then it's not a professional business; it's a hobby.

These are the very worst kind of "comic book stores," providing a negative impression for customers, potential customers, and the people they may bring along with them, such as their friends or family members, any or all of which, under the right retail circumstances, may be driven to spend their money in the shop as well. But it's extremely easy to lose interest in a dirty, dark pit that your comics-reading friend/boyfriend/husband/co-worker may have dragged you in to. It is almost needless to say that virtually all of the shops that fall under this criteria focus almost solely on corporate superhero comic books, and if there are other interests in evidence, they will be similarly off-putting. For example:

I've been in shops that had bad VHS tapes of professional wrestling playing on a small TV on the counter all the time. Superheroes and professional wrestling, we get it -- whatever your entertainment, it must involve men in tight clothing locked in dramatic conflict. "Not that there's anything wrong with that," to coin a phrase, but when a young mother comes in looking for Persepolis because she heard a wonderful interview with Marjane Satrape on NPR and looked up "graphic novels" in the phone book, don't be surprised when she sees this environment and rightly assumes she probably won't find what she's looking for. I'll go so far as to say that if she asked nicely and the owner was in a good mood, he might order it from Diamond for her, but she'll never get to that step in the process -- the amateurish retail hell she has entered into is something she wants to exit, and try to forget. She may find what she's looking for at Borders, she thinks -- how often has anyone turned and walked out of that or any mainstream bookstore because of the environment they were confronted with upon initial entry?

And while I'm at it, have you ever been able to guess the main interest of the owner or manager of a mainstream bookstore simply by how the books are racked, or by what videos are in stock? Now ask that question about the comic book stores you've been in. If any specific genre dominates, with everything else abandoned to the manga or artcomix ghetto in a dark, inconvenient corner of the store, again, this is not the comic shop of the future.

There are stores that are slightly or significantly better than this, but which are still flawed. The owner or manager may have a more expansive view of comics as an artform, and may even be open to stocking comics from other countries. Certainly he should be, since those comics are building new audiences across all ages, genders and interests, and presumably they want to not only stay in business, but experience growth from year to year. But the limiting factor I see in a store like this is the continuing emphasis on corporate superhero comics, from the window displays to the huge waterfall racks to the posters, action figures and other items on sale.

Certainly superhero comics have a place in even a good comic book store, but if they are obviously favoured over every other genre of storytelling within the comics artform, then the store is limiting its potential income and very likely turning people off, if they even walk through the door. I've actually seen a comic shop that carried a decent starter stock of manga, but there was no mention of manga whatsoever in the window display, yellow-pages ad, or anywhere else. If you browsed the shelves in the back for a while, though, you might stumble over them. I submit to you that you should not have to stumble over a comic book store's manga selection. Not that it should be emphasized any more than any other type of comics, but certainly it should be given equal prominence. Like in a real bookstore. All of this applies to artcomix/alternative comics/undergrounds, what-have-you, as well. It's fine -- preferable, perhaps -- to have different displays and areas for all the different flavours of the comics artform. But a new customer coming through the door should not be able to guess which one is the owner/manager's favourite, and certainly they should not be hit over the head by such poor management of the store's retail space.

So those are the shops I think we mostly have now -- non-comics hobby shops with a Diamond account for a few interested customers; shops fun by fans who are unwilling to create a welcoming, professional retail environment for a wide range of potential customers; well-meaning, more expansive shops that still have an over-emphasis on superheroes for one reason or another. Not as off-putting as the previous two types, but still cutting themselves out of the growing market for all kinds of comics aimed at all types of readers. The chances of these stores continuing to exist in another decade depends, in my opinion, largely on whether they can adapt to the emerging marketplace for comics. The ones that don't adapt may not go out of business --although I think a majority of them will -- but the ones that survive may find themselves doing merely that: Surviving. I think if I owned a retail business I would want to do better than that.

By now you may have a pretty good picture of what I think is the type of shop that will exist in the future, after the superhero convenience stores have mostly burned themselves out. I'll grant you there may always be stores that traffic primarily if not solely in superheroes, but for them to genuinely compete with full-service comic book stores in the same communities, they will have to either clean themselves up and learn better business practices, or they will go even further to seed, looking like nothing so much as that adult book store the town council keeps trying to kick out of town by changing the zoning laws every six months. Either way, those superhero-oriented stores will still be welcoming only one kind of customer, while that customer's family and friends gets its comic fix elsewhere.

The comic book stores that will thrive in the future will have a number of things in common.

If the place you buy your comics at meets most or all of these criteria, be happy that you are supporting a professional comic shop that represents the best possible future for comics retailing.

If the place you buy your comics at fails to meet most (or all) of these criteria, you should probably start looking for a better shop. Not to punish your current shop, but because their days are very likely numbered. And more importantly, because you are probably missing out on a great many comics you would enjoy but have never seen. There's whole galaxy of worlds to be explored in the comics artform, and comic book stores that exist in the future will be your gateway to new experiences, new voices and new stories in comics. The great news is, some of them are out there right now, pushing comics forward every day.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

 
One part of the vast future of comics, my son Aaron.A Future for Comics -- It is my long-held belief that the direct market network of mostly superhero-oriented comic book stores is headed for extinction. The reason it is passing into history is because it excludes new readers and embraces only an existing “fanbase,” willfully ignoring the fact that comics as a vital, living artform are so much more than superheroes. At the same time, a minority of shops within the direct market are reaching out to a broader audience for comics, one nurtured by mainstream media coverage like comics receive on National Public Radio or in print publications like Time Magazine. The question is, will the truly full-service comic book stores that point the way to the future serve as an example to the majority of stores currently dependent on Diamond’s weekly shipments of superhero titles? Or will the backward, pro-superhero (but ultimately anti-comics) policies of such stores destroy the direct market before a transition can be made to a viable graphic novel-dominant marketplace that serves all comics readers?

In the 1970s and '80s, the direct market thrived because superheroes were about all there were in comics, at least in North America. Alternative/ground-level titles like Elfquest, Cerebus and Love and Rockets were curious sidebars to what most readers thought of as comics, but in the 1990s and especially since the beginning of the 21st Century CE, those comics as well as manga and some newspaper strips, have come to define what the average person thinks of as comics. Meanwhile corporate superhero comics have marginalized themselves through editor-driven, continuity-dependent, poorly-crafted "events" like Identity Crisis and its descendants. Such titles create a frenzy of interest in the minority of comics readers who value the sub-genre of superhero adventure fiction more than they value the artform of comics as a whole.

Such readers don’t consider actual quality much of an element in the debate over the future of comics at all, and have created an artificial sales bubble that is destined to feed on itself until the direct market itself collapses. The collapse of the direct market in the 1990s was based in large part on the fact that the comics that were selling weren’t very good, and therefore weren’t interesting readers in their contents as quality storytelling. The prime reason people were buying comics before the ‘90s collapse had more to do with issues of collectability and “investment.” But a comic book is worth nothing if it doesn’t contain a story that is well-written and well-drawn, and more importantly draws the reader into its world. And a comic that is worth nothing ultimately will drive its buyers away, however gratifying its short-term thrill of mere possession might be.

Looking at the most successful general-interest bookstores, both independents as well as chains like Borders or Barnes and Noble, I think it’s clear that the only comic shops that are sustainable and viable in the long term are those that cater to readers of all ages, genders and interests. Stores that welcome entire families of readers, as good bookstores do. Increasingly the superhero convenience stores that make up the vast majority of the direct market cater primarily – if not only -- to male buyers interested primarily – if not only -- in continuity-heavy superhero events. But Diamond, and the direct market, are not comics, anymore than one 7/11 on the corner of a main street in a medium-sized town represents the entire market for potato chips. Diamond and the direct market it simultaneously serves and cripples represents only a small fraction of the overall comics market, as demonstrated in David Beard’s revealing piece on Diamond’s distortion of the perception of what is the market for comics, in The Comics Journal #283 (June, 2007):

“There will be no impetus to reform the data collection system upon which the cottage industry of comic sales analysis is built if we keep pretending that the current Diamond data is reliable…as long as we are dependent on Diamond data, our ability to assess the industry, market and medium is crippled.“


Beard is critical of various “Top 300” lists and the like, and rightfully dismisses them as little more than public relations for a functioning monopoly that has every reason to foster the illusion that it is the comics industry, and no reason at all to provide good information about its true place in the overall comics market.

On a regular basis, articles appear online speculating about the sales number of comics and what their ultimate meaning is, and yet those sales figures are almost always based solely on Diamond’s sales to comic book stores (as opposed to those stores’ sales to their customers), most of which traffic virtually exclusively in corporate superhero comic books and associated items like t-shirts, action figures and other “collectibles.” But this “sales analysis” ultimately stands revealed as intellectual nerd-journalism, a blinkered and pretentious iteration of the old “Who’s stronger, Hulk or Thor?” argument. It pays little to no attention to the wider market for comics in mainstream bookstores and other outlets (manga in CD stores, Archie Comics in supermarkets, etc.) and therefore, ultimately, has little value above that timeless debate about Thor versus The Hulk.

In fact, Beard states in his Comics Journal piece that “A strong argument could be made that no data would be better than faithful reliance in the data presented by Diamond.” When one pauses to reflect that good information about the true scope and nature of the whole market for comics is crucial to the health and viability of comic book stores now and in the uncertain future, one sees it is more than a numbers game for superhero fans. The ability of shop owners to sustain their business and provide for their families is dependent on the accuracy of such information.

I have shopped at a lot of comic book stores since the 1970s, and stores that carry mainly the latest corporate superhero comics with a heavy emphasis on back issues increasingly fill me with indifference bordering on contempt. In the past few years, there has been more of an interest in comics among the general public than I have ever seen in my lifetime. And yet 9 out of every 10 comic book stores seem actively hostile to any potential customer that doesn’t reflect back the owner’s interests, attitudes and even appearance. For every clean, well-managed and professionally run comic book store I have been in, there are many more that are dirty, dark, ill-managed and altogether unpleasant places to shop. And if the lifelong comic book reader in me has learned to tolerate such deficiencies, getting married and raising two children has educated me mightily in what is or isn’t a welcoming retail environment. In my 20s, I may have been amused by my wife’s distaste for entering the average comic book store. Here in my early 40s, I not only understand it, I share it.

I do a lot of browsing of comic book stores in the company of my wife and children. That's four people in a given comic shop when we visit, and a savvy retailer should by definition want to generate interest in his wares from everyone that comes through the door. If my daughter can find a new issue of Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man, or even better, a new volume of one of her favourite manga series, then we're in good shape. Perhaps my son will find an issue of Teen Titans Go, or better yet his other favourites, Bongo's line of Simpsons comics. We know we're really in a good store if there are Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts collections -- you know, comics people have heard of in the real world, outside the narrow boundaries of the mostly insular, unreflective and very likely doomed direct market.

To truly run a professional business, viable comics shops must recognize that manga is comics. The Far Side is comics. Kampung Boy, Dennis the Menace Archie and Mr. Natural are all comics. And all of these, just a small portion of the breadth of the comics artform.

The very best shops want to sell comics to everybody, but most comics shops – that network of mostly poorly-run superhero convenience stores -- have seemingly abandoned the future of the industry and the viability of their own business. I see elements of racism, hostility, ignorance, stupidity, and/or fear in these attitudes. It's hard to see what else might account for such self-destructive, shortsighted business practices. It’s not like there aren’t professional business models to learn from, and I can’t imagine why one would start a business without making an effort to learn what the best practices are for the industry you want to be a part of.

After learning the ins and outs of rental contracts, insurance, vacuum cleaners, feather dusters and professional shelving, would-be professional comic book retailers should look at what it means to sell comics. What comics should be available in a good comic shop? Borders and Barnes and Noble have not created an enormous expansion of their manga aisles because they want to service non-buying browsers. Despite those deceptive “sales reports,” people out there in the world are buying comics in huge numbers. But the superhero-oriented fraction of the overall comics industry grits its teeth and closes its eyes and re-defines "comics" so that Civil War or 52 are falsely seen as best-sellers by readers unable or unwilling to investigate deeper into the reality of the comics market. The end result is a false sense of security for readers comforted by superhero (and sales) fiction – and more dangerously, a false sense of security for superhero convenience store owners.

Among consumers of American-made corporate superhero comic books, yes, event comics sell pretty well. They did in the early 1990s, too, until the speculators and fanboys deserted the direct market and thousands of stores closed. Given the insecurity evident in catering only to superhero hobbyists, is it not absolutely absurd to ignore manga, artcomix and/or newspaper strip collections that appeal to a staggeringly wider audience than poorly-crafted, spandex-obsessed revenge fantasies? So-called "best-selling" superhero titles are barely a blip on a vast cultural movement toward true mainstream acceptance of comics.

The best we can hope for at this point seems to be that new stores slowly emerge inspired by the few existing good comic shops, to service the new audience before the old guard collapses from within. We can also hope that at least some stores -- it seems definitely to be ten percent or less -- are canny and visionary enough to both explore new readership avenues and expand their product lines wisely, slowly, and in a professional, businesslike manner. Because as nice as it is to have graphic novels widely available at Barnes and Noble and Borders, I personally prefer patronizing stores (and store owners dedicated to the artform of comics. I think it’s good for the future of comics to have comic book stores, I just want those stores to want to sell comics to everyone that wants to buy them, not just people that look, sound and act like the store’s owner(s) and employee(s).

In an earlier, less considered version of this essay, I concluded by saying “In my darkest moments, I must say that the comics industry cannot die fast enough for me.” Upon reflection, and after the passage of a couple of years, I have to admit I don’t feel that way anymore. I will always value the artform over the industry – anyone who truly loves comics must -- but I don’t want the industry to die. I want it to thrive. And it will only do so through visionary, professional business practices and an ongoing, genuine desire to sell comics to everyone that wants them.

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And Now For Something Completely Different -- Minor medical emergency wrecked the hell right out of my Monday evening...I won't disgust -- bore you with the details, but needless to say the essay I was polishing up Monday afternoon may not be up for a day or two. I'm on antibiotics and hopefully will be all better in a few days. But if I don't post much today, I didn't want you to think I had crawled back in my cave, although hibernating sounds awfully good right now.

Sopranos Spoiler Alert...

I did get around to watching The Sopranos finale, and while I was a bit baffled at first (like much of the rest of the viewers), I did some online research and found out that if you watch carefully, and pay attention to what characters are in the restaurant at the end, there's little doubt about what happened.

I think writer/director David Chase deserves a little more credit than outraged but apparently very casual viewers are giving him. There were a couple of echoes of the original pilot, which I would not have caught if I hadn't watched it Sunday night, and I think the most important clue goes back to the conversation Tony and Bobby had on the boat when they were relaxing on Lake George a few weeks back, before they got mad and beat the crap out of each other.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

 
The Monday Briefing -- Hello, good day and welcome to the Monday Briefing for June 11th. June 11th?!? So the year is virtually half-over? That doesn't seem possible, and yet, I know the kids are almost done with school and summer is about to begin.

I kind of felt like my summer vacation already happened with Friday's trip to Northampton. Sure it was just one day, but my daughter and I had a great time. I'm still making my way through the comics and graphic novels I picked up at Modern Myths. Which is funny, because I browsed the shelves for something like three hours and still felt like I might have missed something. MM has a lot of books. Oh, one thing I failed to mention on Friday was manager Jim Crocker's hardcover policy, which I noticed right away and was blown away by. Any hardcover graphic novel that has a dustcover is reinforced with a library-style clear plastic sleeve. Every single one. It makes the books look classier and adds protection to the book that will extend its shelf-life and even enhance its re-sale potential, if that's your thing. And how much does Modern Myths charge for this feature?

Nothing.

Since the first time I walked in the door, I thought Modern Myths represented the best possible future for comic book stores, and that feeling has only grown over the years. If you're anywhere near Northampton, Massachusetts, stop in and see if you don't agree.

The Sopranos wrapped up last night, but I haven't seen it yet, so, don't spoil it for me. Hopefully I will get to it this evening after work. Last night my wife and I re-watched the pilot episode from the first season, and it was interesting to see what's changed and what hasn't. Paulie hasn't changed a bit, but guys like him never do, do they? James Gandolfini seemed to be talking in a higher pitch, maybe invoking Joe Pesci. He was also much less dark, both because Tony Soprano was trying Prozac for his depression and because the worst years of his life were to come in the next decade. Gandolfini's acting has been a consistent joy to watch over the course of the series, and if you somehow have never seen the series, add it to your Netflix pile or keep an eye out for an eventual complete series DVD collection. The individual seasons have been criminally (ho, ho) expensive, but if they make an affordable full-series set, it would be a great addition to the video library of anyone who enjoys quality storytelling.

Except the Columbus Day episode, yes, but that's the exception that proves the rule.

Over at The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon interviews Joe Casey again. I think this is the third time? At least? Spurgeon 'fesses up to a desire to interview Casey every few years, and that would be fine by me. Their original Comics Journal interview found Casey discussing the occasional disconnect between his ideas and getting them intact into his comics. Given how many interesting titles Casey has worked on that ultimately did not quite work out, he's a great case-study for what can go wrong and right when working in comics, especially corporate superhero comics.

I think Casey's greatest creative success was probably Wildcats Vol. 2 and Vol. 3.0 before the "Coup d'Etat" event destroyed not only that title but the Wildstorm universe as a viable storytelling milieu. Casey mentions his Iron Man: The Inevitable mini-series in the new interview, and, well, I'm sure there was a good idea in there somewhere.

Speaking of Iron Man, do you think Marvel will eventually reset or redeem the character, or will he just remain the outright evil supervillain he's been since Civil War began? You know what would have been a great ending for that? Garth Ennis writing the last issue, as Frank Castle blows away Tony Stark and everyone cheers, The End. (Andrew Wheeler nicely sums up the series' flaws in this post at The V).

I've been thinking about this since borrowing the first three issues of The Avengers: The Initiative from The Favoured Store. Is there a character left in the Marvel Universe that is actually a good guy?

I talked to Jim Crocker on Friday a bit about my conviction that the current era of corporate superhero comics will one day be recognized as The Fan Fiction Age, due to the poor quality of the storytelling, which often reminds me of an eight-year-old playing in the tub with action figures: "Then Superboy PUNCHES THROUGH TIME!" "Geoff? Make sure you wash behind your ears, now!" "Aw, mom!!!"

I can't remember the last time I read a Marvel or DC story that seemed canonical with the comics the companies produced in the 20th century. I fully expect a writer to emerge in the next five years or so who will successfully kick off a new paradigm that makes Marvel and DC's characters not only viable, but appealing again.

And sure, there are creators working today who could do that: Darwyn Cooke, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis all come to mind. But the companies either marginalize their best efforts, things like New Frontier, Nextwave or Seven Soldiers are off to the side and don't really have an impact on the universes proper. Or, like Morrison with 52 or Ellis with Thunderbolts, these creators choose to play in the fan-fiction sandbox the companies have endorsed, with the resulting comics not quite meeting the best standard the creators have proven themselves capable of.

Back in the early 1980s, Alan Moore, Frank Miller and some other folks came along and re-energized the Marvel and DC universes with storytelling that looked at the characters and their settings in a way far different from what had been the status quo. I doubt Moore would want the job these days, and God knows Miller isn't fit for the task, but what is needed is someone with that same sort of energy, intelligence and passion for comics storytelling to come along and inject superhero comics with those very qualities. Until then, folks like Johns, Straczynski and others will continue to create comics that damage the longterm viability of the characters even as they sell like hotcakes to borderline psychotic nerds who actually think these comics are any better than the crap Marvel and DC pumped out by the metric fuckload in the 1990s.

I'm pretty far from the John Byrne "Superhero Comics Are For Kids" bandwagon -- I think there should be all types of genres and storytelling modes available for readers of all ages, genders and interests. But what I see coming out of Marvel and DC these days, their core books -- they are about as far from what they could and should be as is even imaginable. Max Lord taking a bullet through the melon on-panel, and The Elongated Man's wife getting raped doggie-style both seemed to me like superhero porn at the time, and things have only gotten worse from there.

My kids are 11 and 13, and there's not a single Marvel or DC universe book that appeals to them. Check my pull list in the sidebar to the right -- anything with an asterisk (*) is a title I have reserved for them. I guess as a parent it makes me a little sad that they can't enjoy the superhero universes that entertained me so much when I was their age, because of the poor stewardship of the characters on the part of the current management at the two major corporate superhero publishers. And if you're thinking that the publishers have all-ages titles like Avengers Adventures for kids, my response is, why should they have to? When I was 10, 11, 12 years old, Avengers was a title any superhero fan could enjoy, of any age. I've tried the Adventures titles on my kids, but somehow I think they sense the pandering and condescension that is inherent in the need for all-ages versions of characters that are, by definition, meant to be enjoyed by readers of all ages anyway. I can't think of any other reason why most of those titles fail to generate any interest in my kids. Or in me, come to think of it.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

 
Labels -- It'll take me a while to label years worth of blog posts, but I've started using Blogger's Labels function to group posts. Click on the label at the end of each post to see other posts on the same subject(s). Labels include art, corporate comics, culture, equal marriage rights, essays, FCBD, five questions, good comic shops, industry, linkblogging, lists, memes, meta, movies, music, pre-ordering, pull list, radio, real life and reviews. As always, your comments and suggestions are much appreciated!

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Blogging About Blogging -- Since I resumed regular blogging here, I have learned a number of things.

1. Blogger seems a bit...diminished to me. Posts and especially template changes seem to take forever to go through, although I'm learning that sometimes it may just be my machine the changes aren't showing up on. Because...

2. Internet Explorer realy does suck like everyone says, and I've switched to Firefox. Firefox seems to be a huge improvement in internet browsing, but with Blogger there may be cache and cookie issues, which require workarounds for me until I figure thing out. Workarounds like...

3. Add a question mark to the end of a URL and then hit shift+reload, and you will actually see the newest version of a webpage. Something to do with making a dynamic call to the server, kind of like an agitated drunk in a bar. "Garcon!" Anyway, I learned much of this either because of switching to Firefox and Googling the problems I was having, or because of problems I've had establishing...

4. RSS Feeds. I'll be honest with you, I don't much see the point of them -- I'm really old, and I like my bookmarks just fine. If I like your site, chances are, pathetically, I check it several times a day to see what you're up to. And I guess I kind of assumed everyone was as bored/neurotic/desperate for information as I am. But no, Johanna let me know pretty clearly that a lot of people are hooked on RSS these days with no plans to go into rehab. Now, if you have been checking this site several times a day, you probably know I have had a number of RSS misfires, at least one of which required ointment to heal. I don't wanna make a big deal about it in case it once again doesn't work, but I have once again attemtped to create a working RSS Feed for The ADD Blog. Please try it out if you're RSS-savvy, and after a couple more updates here let me know if it seems to be working right. if it isn't, and chances seem to favour that outcome, there's always...

5. The Google Group. I've created one so you can subscribe to an updates mailing list for this blog. Subscribe here. Yes, I know it's the 20th century way of getting things done. But I was born in early 1966, so that not only makes me old, it makes me older than Star Trek. And anyone that old should know...

6. Blogging about blogging is a sin. Yes, Mike, I know!

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

 
Saratoga Springs Comicon -- I figure I'll check out the Saratoga Springs, NY Comicon mentioned this week by Roger Green. Which leads me to wonder, any other comics readers/bloggers/creators/etc. from the Upstate New York region planning to attend? Drop me a line if you're going, or thinking about it...

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Black Summer #0 -- One weekend sometime about a decade ago, I stopped in to a couple of Albany-area comic book stores and found then-complete runs of the first seven or eight issues of two titles I had been hearing some good buzz about, The Authority and Planetary. Both were written by Warren Ellis, a writer I hadn't encountered before, and both exceeded my expectations in being exciting and entertaining adventure comics.

The Authority, especially, found the writer blending a surprising mix of violence and politics. Surprising not because they worked so well together (which they did), but because the book was published by one of the two biggest corporate comics publishers in North America. If Wildstorm parent company DC eventually stepped in and destroyed the quality of the title (which they did), it was thankfully long after Ellis and artists Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and Laury Martin created an enduring set of 12 issues that are pretty much the best superhero comics to be published in the last ten years.

Ellis is mixing the kicking and 'sploding with the political again in Black Summer #0, a brief, bloody and blunt introduction to a series that is far more violent and far more political than not only The Authority, but any other title Ellis has written. Seven more issues are to follow beginning later this summer, and thankfully we can be certain neither the violence nor the politics will be moderated by anyone other than the creators involved (primarily Ellis and artist Juan Jose Ryp), because the title is published not by one of the corporate publishers, but by Avatar Press. Avatar has been criticized for reasons ranging from scheduling delays to the content of their titles, their variant cover policies and other issues, and I'll acknowledge all of that (full disclosure: I have in the past sold work to Avatar myself), but I'm relieved Black Summer is at Avatar because 1. I liked this debut issue very much and more importantly 2. Ellis and Ryp will get to tell this story their way.

I want to suggest why I liked the issue without going too much into detail. You may already have heard what the plot involves, but you won't hear it from me and if you haven't learned about what kicks things into action, I'd advise avoiding any spoilers until you can read it and judge it for yourself.

As with Fell, the extra material in the back is both entertaining and informative, and in this case probably a necessary element for Ellis to outline the origins of his story and the reasons it came to be. I'll try to moderate my own ongoing outrage and disgust at the realities that fuel Ellis's creativity, and say that after all these years, it's nice to see someone in comics (or anywhere) making the points that Ellis makes through Black Summer's protagonist, John Horus.

If Horus goes too far for some readers, they would do well to remember that it is the place of political fiction to fuel debate and motivate the reader to think and judge and act for themselves. Political debate and conscientious action are things that have been missing from the United States for years, and in my opinion there's only one truly fictional moment in this entire issue. John Horus's actions may be fantasy, but his reasons, and his specific complaints, all look like a concise, truthful summary of the 21st century to date, as I have experienced it, and obviously as Ellis has observed it.

Things have gone beyond the disgrace of pre-9/11 U.S. politics and well into a surreal era of obscene violence and greed that can all be squarely and fairly blamed on an entire nation that did nothing as its ideals and laws were plucked away like the bottom-most pieces in a game of Jenga. Anyone who has opposed the events of the post-Clinton era has been marginalized or worse, and if it's energizing to watch Keith Olbermann in real life or Alan Shore in fake life (on Boston Legal) remind us what America should be about, well, any change is coming too slow to stop the ongoing death toll nearing three-quarters of a million human lives that have been lost because of the U.S.-created nightmare that is current-day Iraq.

To say nothing of the contempt the U.S.'s own people have increasingly enjoyed from those who have seized power.

Hmm, I said I wasn't going to go into too much detail, and here I am invoking Keith Olbermann and James Spader. Well, all politics is local, and their spirit of outrage and justice is present in Black Summer #0. John Horus's actions are horrific, but they are to the point, and they both beg debate and suggest a powerful piece of political adventure fiction lies before us. Ellis has told enough good stories in this vein in the past that I trust his instincts and creative gifts, and I find myself really, really looking forward to watching this series progress. Ryp's artwork is tighter and in more full focus than I have ever seen him work. And it's more than just the colouring that makes the storytelling so clear -- perhaps the artists feels as passionately about the subject as the writer.

And I'll paraphrase Roger Ebert in pointing out that what matters is not what Black Summer is about, but how it is about it. Ellis and Ryp are making big statements about important things here, things that really matter. I'm open to it as a violent, well-told superhero story, but I'm far further gratified that it's also saying true things about the disastrous state of the world as it exists right at this moment.

Visit the Black Summer website.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

 
The Day in Comics -- My son had a field trip to the Bronx Zoo today that my wife accompanied him on, and faced with the choice of working while my daughter went to school, or both of us taking the day off and chasing comics around the northeastern United States, well, what do you think we did?

We left around dawn, and after a gigantic breakfast at Cracker Barrel (the one chain I don't try to avoid like the plague, although I am sure my doctor would be happier if I did), we jumped on the New York State Thruway and headed east to Massachusetts.

It's been a couple of years or more since I'd been to Modern Myths in Northampton, and believe me, it's been calling to me in my dreams. Probably the best-stocked store within three hours' drive of my home, and also one of the best-run and most attractive comic shops I've ever had the pleasure to be in. Luck was with me as manager Jim Crocker was on duty. Meeting and getting to know Jim and his store has been one of the biggest pleasures of my time writing about comics, and he not only welcomed my daughter and I to hang out for a few hours, but even treated us to lunch at an excellent Mexican restaurant right up the street. (There is an uncanny number of high-quality restaurants near Modern Myths, most of them really reasonably priced, too).

We had a good long chat about comics and the state of the industry, and Jim really went above and beyond by introducing my daughter to a manga and anime shop not far from his store. This is the first time ever, I think, that a comics-buying excursion ended with one of my kids getting as much or more than I did, but there were a lot of manga in Northampton that she was interested in, titles and genres you don't see much even in the Albany area. Nuff said.

Among my scores today were the new Ivan Brunetti collection Misery Loves Comedy (I was fence-sitting until Chris Allen convinced me it was worth picking up despite my having all the individual Schizo issues), the new Kev collection, and House by Josh Simmons, which I've heard many good things about.

Maybe the most interesting moment in Northampton was when Jim and I were talking politics and my daughter, nearly 14 now and becoming more and more aware of the world, asked what a liberal was. That led to a great discussion (over even greater ice cream -- ever had burnt sugar and butter flavour ice cream? Jim did not steer me wrong once during this entire trip!) about liberal vs. conservative and other subjects. Being in Northampton always feels like coming home to me, because of its culture, energy and the general character of the town. I'd long thought my daughter would really fit in well in a town like this, and by the time we were done with our trip today, she not only understood but agreed.

All in all it was a great day, one of those once-every-few-years kind of days where everything comes together just right. It won't be years before we return to Northampton again -- it's a great town with a truly first-class comic shop, and at the end of the day, that's all I really ask for.

Thanks to Jim and the gang at Modern Myths for being great hosts, and running one of my all-time favourite places to shop.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

 
Subscribing to The ADD Blog -- If you'd like to receive an e-mail notice whenever I update this blog, please join the ADD Blog Updates group at Google. Thanks!

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

 
The Three Paradoxes -- There are comics about what it feels like to be alive, and there are comics about comics. The paradox I found in Paul Hornschemeier's new graphic novel is that it is both of these at once.

The Three Paradoxes is published by Fantagraphics Books, and you can see the cartoonist's fascination with process right on the wraparound cover, seven distinct panels playing with time, mood, and perception. Further investigation of the dustcover -- that is to say, taking it off -- further uncovers Hornschemeier's techniques, as the hardcover beneath the dustcover rolls back time to an earlier, unfinished, blue-pencil and ink version of the cover. It could just be a talented book designer having fun with his newest project, or it could be a statement about his intentions for the work and its effect on the reader. Or, it could be both, and probably is.

Throughout his cartooning carrer, Hornschemeier has played with form and content far more deeply than most of his peers. Only Seth and Chris Ware come to mind as fellow travellers of Hornschemeier's, always conscious not only of the impact of plot, dialogue, art and design, but further journeying into the unknown country that is the tactile, almost quantum effect on the reader by manipulating such seemingly invisible elements as paper stock and binding. Hornschemeier seems to invest his efforts into an almost obsessive control over the finished product's look and feel, which is why later issues of Sequential and all of Forlorn Funnies (his two forays into periodical publishing) feel as much art objects as they do funnybooks.

When I interviewed Hornschemeier a few years ago, he expressed some dissatisfaction about his graphic novel Mother, Come Home, and I'd have to guess that he feels The Three Paradoxes addresses some of his concerns. A single story broken down into separate sections and techniques, it still feels more natural and graceful than Mother, Come Home. And while Mother, Come Home impressed me as an ambitious and well-done book, I have to admit the richness and variety in The Three Paradoxes suggests a work I will be pulling off the shelf more often, to revisit its subtle mysteries and marvel at its artwork.

If you've read Hornschemeier's work before, you may be familiar with his blue-line pencil work or his fascination with making some of his images look old, discarded. All of that and much more is on display in The Three Paradoxes, the actual story of which is quite simple: A young artist named Paul visits his parents while he works on some comics and prepares for a first meeting with a woman he met online. It sounds much simpler than it is, though, as Hornschemeier weaves all his above-mentioned obsessions -- time, mood, perception, comics -- into a rich, rewarding tapestry that makes The Three Paradoxes his finest, most complete and forward-looking work yet.

Flashbacks and flights of fancy are demarcated by a number of artistic styles that echo various periods and artists throughout comics history, suggesting influences as diverse as Charles Burns and Hank Ketcham. Where another artist -- or even this one, earlier in his career -- might have presented such work as well-intentioned but scattered, Hornschemeier is in full control of what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. This allows the reader to fully immerse in the cartoonist's technique without ever losing sight of the main point of this or any other story -- the theme. In The Three Paradoxes Hornschemeier unpacks his growing and impressive toolbox to reflect on his life, what he has learned, and where he is going.

The reader is not bashed over the head with obvious roadsigns, and neither are they forced to guess at Hornschemeier's intentions. Rather, the graphic novel unfolds its ultimate goal one panel at a time, one page at a time, the cartoonist in perfect tune with his art, saying what he wants to say, how he wants to say it, and in a way that is both a delight and a wonder to experience. The final panel suggests much about what is to come for Paul as a character and as a comics creator, and it says even more about the journey he has just allowed us to take with him.

The very best comics creators put their lives and minds right there on the page and invite the reader to observe, analyze, even judge. The Three Paradoxes is, as I said at the start, both about what it feels like to be alive, and about the process and wonder of creating comics. It's visually arresting, emotionally resonant work. On every page of The Three Paradoxes, Hornschemeier is telling you about his history, his fascinations and his future. This is a book by a cartoonist getting better all the time, and the best example yet of why Paul Hornschemeier is among the most vital and promising creators working today.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

 
Tuesday That Was -- Worked most of the day, left a few minutes early because I just did not feel well. I hope I'm not coming down with anything, as I am hoping to make a minor roadtrip over to Massachusetts on Friday, and being sick would kill that, because I am driving...

Heard from my comic shop that some of the titles I special ordered are on their way, so that's good news. It's amazing the stuff that I find out about after it's already been solicited, which is why I reluctantly jumped back on the Previews bandwagon. But keeping up is important, because the past few years have produced more great comics than any other decade I can remember, ever. My two large and one small bookcases are all bursting at the seams, there's a large pile over in the other corner waiting for a new bookcase (hey, Father's Day is this month!), and more good stuff comes out every week. It's uncanny. And that's just book-books, graphic novels -- don't even get me started about floppies. No matter how I trim the herd, there still seems to be three or four dozen floppies waiting to be put away as they pile up every few weeks. And I only keep the good ones!. Like I said, uncanny.

Tonight should be quiet -- I want to catch up on some TV watching, with episodes of Planet Earth and Boston Legal and Lost waiting for me. I ordered pizza because I didn't feel like cooking and no doubt the kids will soon be clamoring for food. At the moment they're playing or doing homework or whatever it is kids do at ten after five on a Tuesday. I have a feeling bedtime will come early tonight, at least for me. I'd like to grab some extra Zs and hopefully be recovered by morning from whatever it is that's slowing me down today...

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Monday, June 04, 2007

 
Johnny B on Sgt. Pepper -- One of my big disappointments this year at work was having a long weekend of Sgt. Pepper anniversary celebrations I proposed shot down as too complicated to make work on the radio.

So I was thrilled to see Johnny Bacardi's track-by-track analysis of the legendary LP. Go take a look, and then give a listen to what remain one of the most brilliant rock albums of all time.

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Five by Five -- Here's some Top 5 lists of mine at the moment...feel free to meme it along if you're so inclined!

Five Fave TV Series
24
The Shield
The Sopranos
Entourage
The Office

Five Fave Monthly Comics
Buffy Season 8
Punisher MAX
Criminal
The Boys
Conan

Five Fave Graphic Novels
King Cat Classix by John Porcellino
Punisher: From First to Last by Garth Ennis and others
Criminal Vol. 1: Coward by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Conan Vol. 4: Hall of the Dead by Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord and others
American Elf Vol. 2 by James Kochalka

Five Fave Songs
Young Folks - Peter, Bjorn and John
New Sensation - INXS
One True Vine - Wilco
The Love Parade - The Dream Academy
Love Should - Moby

Five Fave Movies
Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles)
Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)
Grindhouse (Rodriguez/Tarantino)
Harsh Times (David Ayer)

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The Problem with North American Superhero Comics -- Writing for The Comics Journal's weblog Journalista, Dirk Deppey pretty much explains why North American superhero comics suck so much (scroll down to the panel of Catwoman facing some swordsmen and read from there).

These days, my litmus test for whether anyone knows anything at all about the artform of comics is whether they use the word "comics" to mean comics, which includes everything from Naruto to Peanuts, from Abandon the Old in Tokyo to Tintin, and, yes, from Spider-Man to Kampung Boy. And lots more.

But I find myself tuning out completely when I hear or read someone say something to the effect of "Comics suck right now," and then go on to complain about Infinite Crisis or Civil War, betraying the fact that said commentator is dissatisfied (and rightly so) with North American superhero comics, specifically, as Dirk nails it, "New York corporate comics culture."

In the end, only one of two people can have ultimate authority over a story being created for the public: the creator or the publisher. If it’s the creator, than the editor’s job is to assist said creator in bringing the completed story to market to the best of his or her ability. If it’s the publisher, however, than the editor’s job is to serve as the publisher’s hands in guiding a corporate property to market in the most saleable condition possible.
-- Dirk Deppey

Dirk's example, and it's a painful one for me, is DC's destruction of Ed Brubaker's Catwoman.


When Brubaker and artist Darwyn Cooke relaunched the title, it had been an amateurishly-drawn piece of garbage for years on end. With a single, visionary stroke, Brubaker and Cooke turned it into one of the best superhero comics published in the past 20 years.

But that "corporate comics culture" inserted itself: A succession of good artists, including Cameron Stewart and others, continued the pop noir feel Cooke had infused the title with, but DC didn't think it was selling well enough, and chose not to nurture a creatively exceptional title long enough for its potential audience to find it. Instead, as Dirk notes, DC assigned Paul Gulacy to illustrate Brubaker's scripts, and the series immediately degenerated into a parody of its previous excellence.

The lesson will go unheard at the highest levels of corporate comics, but Brubaker's Catwoman is a fine example of the damage that can be done by short-sighted fiddling with what is clearly visionary work. Every once in a while something beautiful comes out of Marvel or DC, whether it's the first 24 issues of Catwoman or Grant Morrison's New X-Men. But almost inevitably, someone higher up than the title's creators or editors takes notice, makes some "suggestions," and good work with great potential is squandered.

In the long term, speaking as someone who's 41 years old and has been reading comic books since I was 6 years old -- it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth, and generates enormous ill will and profound doubt about the corporate companies' ability to shepherd their characters, many of whom have a sentimental or even profound importance to the greater culture at large.

So this is why I am always leery when a creator I respect signs on to a new project at Marvel or DC. I am always hopeful, but there's always that fear that even if the work is good, there will be no real creative control by those best equipped to weild it: The creators.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

 
Changes -- I'm fiddling with the template today. I've moved the very long "Recommended" list to its own page, because it was adding unnecessary length to the sidebar. I also switched the archives from weekly to monthly, in the hopes of that taking up less sidebar real estate too. Blogger is ungodly slow today, so the changes may take a while to go into effect. Drop me an e-mail if you notice anything terribly wonky.

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June Previews Pre-Ordering and My Monthly Pull List -- Well, since switching comic shops I've begun getting Diamond's Previews catalog again. Here's what I pre-ordered from the June catalog, presumably arriving in August...

* Pg. 293 Berlin #13 (Drawn and Quarterly) -- If I waited until this excellent series has enough issues in the can for a second collection, I might very well be dead.

* Pg. 298 Complete Peanuts 1965-1966 (Fantagraphics)-- One of the most gratifying reprint projects of all time, every volume is a delight to dive in to. And as an added bonus, this volume will include the strip that appeared the day I was born. Tell me you won't be jazzed to see the same when your time comes around!

* Pg. 330 Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4 (Oni Press) -- Probably the most exciting release in the catalog for me. Bryan Lee O'Malley's comics are energetic, witty and most of all they feel very much like what's happening in comics right this moment.

These are in addition to the monthly titles I have on my pull list...which looks something like this:

ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY
ALL-STAR SUPERMAN
AMERICAN SPLENDOR
ATLAS
AUTHORITY, THE
BART SIMPSON*
BOYS, THE
BUFFY SEASON 8*
CAPTAIN AMERICA
CHRONICLES OF WORMWOOD
COMICS JOURNAL, THE
CONAN
CRIMINAL
DELPHINE
DESOLATION JONES
DETECTIVE COMICS
EIGHTBALL
FELL
FRANKLIN RICHARDS*
FUTURAMA*
LOCAL
LOVE & ROCKETS
MARVEL ZOMBIES
NEW TALES OF OLD PALOMAR
OPTIC NERVE
PALOOKAVILLE
PLANETARY
PUNISHER MAX
PUNISHER PRESENTS BARRACUDA MAX
PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL
SIMPSONS, THE*
SIMPSONS MAGAZINE*
SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE*
SPIRIT, THE
SUPER F*CKERS
TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE
TEEN TITANS GO*
WILDCATS

Titles marked with an asterisk (*) are for my kids, or in the case of Buffy, for one of my kids, and also one for me...

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

 
Erstwhile -- Having seen this word misused at least twice this week on blogs I respect, I'm gonna just point out that this word means FORMER, not "intrepid," "awesome," or anything else. ERSTWHILE=FORMER.

Thank you.

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