Tuesday, June 19, 2007

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.

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.


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...


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.


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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