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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

 
More on Tom Snyder -- Oh, this is good. Click over to Isn't Life Terrible's Tom Snyder audio archives, MP3s of some noteworthy Snyder radio shows.

Things like this make me love the internet more than words can easily express. Thanks to Don at ILT for archiving these great segments.

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Me and Tom -- Tom Snyder, who died this week at the age of 71, will likely be best remembered for one of two things; either his groundbreaking late-night Tomorrow Show that followed Johnny Carson for years, or the Dan Aykroyd parody Snyder inspired. Aykroyd’s depiction of Snyder was fevered and bizarre, all tics and mannerisms, cigarettes and waving hands, but it had the ring of truth: Tom Snyder was strange to watch on TV. He was riveting, to be sure, and a damned good interviewer. But he looked odd on television, and Aykroyd’s shtick was as much homage as it was parody.

I was seven years old when Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow debuted on NBC, and while I did tend to stay up late to catch Carson as a young teen, Snyder was mostly known to me as the show that was coming on as I shut off the TV at 12:30 to go to bed. Tomorrow ended in 1982, still a little ways off from when the 12:30 slot would draw me in, not coincidentally because of the man chosen to succeed Snyder, David Letterman.

Letterman’s first NBC series had been a daytime variety/talk show that followed The Today Show sometime around 1979-1980. I was 13, I think, when the show debuted, and completely open and ready for Letterman’s subversive, deadpan sarcasm. It imprinted itself on my mind, and was a formative influence on my personality. So now you know who to blame.

But Snyder was someone whose cultural impact I had just missed by inches. I was just too young to care about his interviews, which skewed more to current events than to the laughs I would have been looking for in my early teens. Letterman was much more my cup of tea. So Snyder’s heyday flew almost entirely off my personal cultural radar.

But fate had other plans.

I started working at my first radio job in 1986, while still enrolled in college working toward a radio broadcasting certificate from the local Community College. The job was at WKAJ/WASM, a family-owned and operated AM/FM combo in Saratoga Springs, New York. The AM station was the more popular and influential of the two at the time, with a live air staff most hours of the day and a two-person full-time news department strongly focused on community news rather than national issues. I joined the news staff part-time to supplement the efforts of the two full-timers, Mike Hare and Dina Cimino. As a fill-in anchor and reporter, I never knew from day to day whether I would be spending hours at a City Council meeting hoping for an interview with the mayor, or anchoring morning or afternoon news, or any number of other tasks a part-time radio station employee will have visited upon him. It was a time of great learning, though, and I liked the people I worked with and the jobs I was asked to do.

In 1987, I left WKAJ for my first full-time job, as the overnight guy at a country station coincidentally owned by Mike Hare’s cousin Ed Stanley, WSCG in Corinth, New York. That job lasted less than a year, in large part because I hated it. I hated the music, I hated the building, and I hated the stench of Stanley’s cigars, which permeated every molecule of the building, and anyone and anything trapped within its cheap, airless confines.

I returned to WKAJ/WASM, which was now under new ownership. WASM, which had been an older-skewing Music of Your Life station was now transformed to WQQY, 102 Double Q, a pop/top 40 station. For the first time, the FM station was emphasized over the AM, and live DJs were brought in. The AM station, WKAJ, was set to carry a new late-night radio talk show hosted by Tom Snyder, and I was tapped to be the board operator for the show.

What that means is that I had to be behind the controls for the full three hours of the broadcast every night from 10 PM to 1 AM, turning the live feed up and down when demanded by the format of the show, to play local commercials and read the weather forecast.

Being a part-time board op at a small-town radio station is perhaps the lowest rung on the totem pole of radio. But I was 21 years old and full of enthusiasm for my chosen career, radio broadcasting. Soon, I found myself equally enamored of Tom Snyder. The show was a blast to listen to, and I was getting paid to do it.

As I say, this was not anyone’s definition of a dream radio job, but I loved it. And more than that, I had a grandiose, if self-parodying image of my importance in the grand scheme of things. I appropriated an unused, dusty desk in a far corner of the newsroom and transformed it into The Snyderdesk. A publicity photo of Tom on the wall over my workspace looked down in approval on what I was creating. I began issuing memos to the staff about what “Tom and I” needed to properly perform our jobs, and the staff at the radio station found it amusing that this young kid was making so much out of so very, very little.

I was joking, of course. I still took my actual job duties seriously; in addition to running the board for Snyder, I still did part-time news reporting and anchoring, filled in for vacationing disk jockeys, and whatever else management asked me to do. During this time I worked with some of the most dynamic and unique individuals ever to work in radio in our part of the country, including the aforementioned Mike Hare, the very British David Baker, and account executive and later general manager Jerry Shepard, who was to become someone I admired more than just about anyone I ever worked with in radio in the entirety of my career. I’ve often said of Jerry that he was “the only man I ever knew,” and I still think this is true most days.

But when I wasn’t working on actual radio station business, I was spending a good deal of time building up my Snyderdesk mythology. And one day, on a lark, I sent a sheaf of my Snyderdesk memos off to Tom Snyder. I thought he’d get a kick out of them.

Apparently he did.

One night, while running the board for the show, Tom started discussing my Snyderdesk memos during the somewhat free-wheeling third hour from midnight to 1 AM. He may have eased into the topic sideways, if I recall correctly, so that it only gradually dawned on me that he not only had received the memos, but had actually read them.

As that realization began to sink in, the telephone began ringing in the studio. Moments later, I was talking to Tom Fucking Snyder coast-to-coast on national radio.

I’d be lying if I said I remember much about the conversation. Wikipedia notes that Snyder often used his third hour to chat with his “legion of fans,” occasionally including well-known admirers like David Letterman and Ted Koppel. No doubt Tom sensed the genuine adoration that was a part of my Snyderdesk hyperbole, and he was warm and full of laughter as he read some of the memos on the show and asked me about the reaction to my efforts among my co-workers. This conversation, which lasted maybe 10 minutes, remains one of the highlights of my broadcasting career, just one of the most thrilling and enjoyable moments of my life. And certainly the first time I realized that if you enjoy the work of a well-known celebrity and approach them with honesty and no hidden motives, amazing things can happen.

I think I may have had one more on-air chat with Tom Snyder before the short-lived radio show came to an end, but it could not have been as magical or memorable to me as that first, incredible Snyderdesk chat. I did remain a genuine fan, and always made it a point to check out his later TV efforts, which were every bit as odd, unique and compelling as anything else Snyder ever accomplished. On radio or TV, he was a good host, but he was a great broadcaster.

One last anecdote that doesn’t really fit anywhere, but I am sure this happened in the latter days of the Snyder radio show.

When you are a radio board op, the rewards are few (if any), and the burdens many. Snyder seemed to understand this well, and often talked about the network of radio stations and dedicated board ops that made it possible for him to speak to the nation. If any of them were like me, they lost a lot of sleep due to the show’s odd hours, but they felt amply rewarded by the fact that Snyder cared enough to mention us on the air on a regular basis. You could tell he was a decent, empathetic soul.

As time wore on, Snyder began actually talking to the board ops after the broadcast each night. When you would turn down the knob that made the show live on the air, if you turned it all the way to the left until you felt a mild pop on the knob, you had turned it into “cue,” which meant you could now hear what was happening on that channel on a private speaker in the studio. Only someone standing in the studio could hear what came out of the speaker when it was in cue, and Snyder, a longtime broadcaster, knew that some of us would have the knob in cue, and he started talking to us every night.

It only went on for two or three minutes, after the show ended at 12:58:10 every morning. Tom no doubt was ready to go home, and certainly he knew we board ops were, but it became a nightly ritual for him to entertain just us board ops, just for a few minutes.

One night he was talking to us (we couldn’t talk back, this was strictly a one-way conversation) about a new publicity photo the network had ordered. “You should see this thing,” Snyder said, in his loud and blustery, yet intimate manner. “I’m wearing the biggest goddamned set of cans you’ve ever seen!” Cans, for those not in broadcasting, are headphones. Because it was a radio show, they wanted Snyder to wear headphones for his publicity headshot. This is how stupid network executives can be.

Snyder’s tale of the headshot was funny and delightful, as his board-op pep talks almost always were. But what Tom hadn’t counted on was that some board ops might not have turned the knob all the way to the left to put the show from live into cue. In fact, apparently some stations didn’t turn off the feed at all that night. Whether it was a sloppy or confused board op, or perhaps malfunctioning automation at stations that didn’t have live board ops, Snyder’s profane complaint about the “goddamned cans” and probably more damning, his implicit criticism of his higher-ups, was apparently broadcast on some percentage of stations that carried the broadcast.

So, that was pretty much the end of the private board-op pep-talks. Snyder humbly apologized soon thereafter, and no longer did turning the knob into cue at the end of the show provide the small measure of private joy it once did. Our secret little clique of board ops across the country, all led by Tom Snyder, had been disbanded by circumstance.

Like the entirety of Tom Snyder’s broadcasting career, it was fun while it lasted.

This one is for you Tom, in sincere admiration and love. You were, as I said, a great broadcaster, and I will never forget those late night chats with all us board ops, or the one special night that you took the time to talk only to me, and made me feel like I mattered, like I was somebody. Tom Snyder was a great broadcaster because he understood everyone in the chain, from himself to his guests to his viewers and listeners down to his part-time, small-town board-ops, mattered.

In his latter days, Tom liked to tweak the clichés of technology and hype, and tell his fans to “Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.” Go ahead, Tom, fire one up. You earned it. Thank you.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

 
The Monday Briefing -- Here's all the news that came out of San Diego that interests me...

* Conan is ending with #50, and relaunching as Conan The Cimmerian. Writer Tim Truman is staying on. I'll probably keep reading, but I wish the end of the first series had coincided with Kurt Busiek's departure, it would have been a cleaner break, somehow. I'll miss Cary Nord's artwork, but it hasn't looked as nice since Richard Isanove started colouring it anyway.

* Warren Ellis is writing Astonishing X-Men after Joss Whedon and John Cassaday wrap up their run. Title to be relaunched as Astonishing X-Men: Second Stage to provide a discreet existence for Whedon's run. That makes sense. This one could go either way, but I'm willing to give it a chance.

* Seems like it's all superhero news, but the big one for me, and I hate to admit it, is Grant Morrison and JG Jones as the creative team for DC's Final Crisis. Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis were utter shit, to be sure, but both of them were written by writers who have failed to entertain me every single time I have tried to read their godawful hackwork. Seven Soldiers didn't bowl me over like I hoped, but Morrison and Jones were utter magic on Marvel Boy, so I am hopeful this will rise to something close to the standard that title set back in the glory days when Morrison was re-imagining the Marvel universe as adventure comics for grownups. Man, that was a long time ago, huh?

* The San Diego Comicon news was exhaustingly spandexy, as you might expect, but if you want it all in one place, Newsarama's San Diego summary page has links to all their stories.

* After looking at that page, I am more convinced than ever that, if I were to make the effort to attend a major comic book event, TCAF clearly is the one for me.

* By the way, I've seen the new Babylon 5 straight-to-DVD movie, and I have to say that J. Michael Straczynski writes better B5 than he does comics, these days. If you liked the show in its glory days (specifically seasons 2-4, but, all of it is worth watching), the new DVD is like coming home. It's two stories, one about Susan Ivanova Elizabeth Lochley and a literal crisis of faith, the second about President John Sheridan tasked with a nightmarish choice just as he thinks he can finally settle into enjoying his post-Shadow War life. The second story is better than the first in the sense that it invokes more of what was great about the show at its best, but both stories are riveting stuff, well acted, well written, and well directed. The effects look miles better than what was possible in the 1990s, too. After a couple-three failed attempts at a sequel, it seems like Straczynski has finally found a way to keep the series going in a way that doesn't seem tangential to the spirit of the original five-year story, and I'd be happy if we got many more DVD movies at this level of quality storytelling.

* Oh, my invoking Susan Ivanova there was not me being snarky: I suspect the first story may have originally been conceived with her character in mind; it just seems like something that would have fit if the actress playing her hadn't left the series way back when under less-than-perfect conditions. But it worked with Lochley's character just fine, too. One of the things I enjoy about B5 as a whole is the ways Straczynski had to deal with real-life realities crashing into his five-year plan for the show, such as actors and actresses leaving before their character's arcs were complete. It was sometimes messy (Ivanova into Lochley), but sometimes made for a far better show (Sinclair into Sheridan).

* I spent most of my weekend working on the ADD writeblog, which is stories and essays of mine you may have read before, but that I wanted to have in one discreet place with a different design than anything on Comic Book Galaxy. It'll probably only sporadically be added to, but I'm pretty happy with how it looks. Let me know if you have any thoughts, and have a good Monday.

Friday, July 27, 2007

 
The Near Future and The Long Emergency -- Vancouver's Daily Reckoning has details on a talk given yesterday by author James Howard Kunstler on the rapidly-approaching end of the cheap-oil era. As the piece notes, Kunstler is a very, very good speaker and if you ever get the chance to hear him, I urge you to do so. You can read an article and interview I wrote about seeing him speak at Crandall Library in Glens Falls back in 2000; coincidentally, I posted it yesterday as one of my pieces up now at thisisby.us.

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Cooke Off The Spirit -- Kevin Church has the worst superhero comics news of the year: Darwyn Cooke is leaving The Spirit after issue #12.

With Cooke as writer and artist, DC has done the impossible in continuing Will Eisner's characters in spirit without wallowing in nostalgia or aping Eisner. It's been a rollicking, exciting adventure comic, and I'm gonna miss the hell out of it.

Like I say in the comments section, it's impossible to imagine continuing to buy the book, unless the publisher announces some amazing creator or creators that could do as well or better than Cooke has.

Somewhat related: I saw the first post-Millar/Hitch Ultimates art posted somewhere. I won't even bother posting a link, just trust me: The Ultimates ended the moment they were off the book (if not the issue before, ahem).

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

 
Quote of the Year -- I realize there's a lot of year left here in 2007, but I love how this quote from Tom Spurgeon perfectly captures everything that is wrong with 95 percent of startup comic book publishing efforts:
"It's nice to be reminded that a publisher can contribute something to the making comics beyond good intentions, a childhood desire to be involved in the comics industry and a vague desire to become a movie producer."

The number of failed publishers from the past ten years that spring immediately to mind is almost mind-boggling, isn't it? Man, if I could hold any would-be publisher's face to the screen and make him study just one sentence that exists on the internet, that would be the one.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

 
ADD Elsewhere -- Hey, I've just posted my first essay to thisisby.us. The essay itself may or may not be familiar to you if you spend any amount of time here, but I'd appreciate if you would click over and maybe give my debut effort there some support. I just learned about this site, which pays for content based on the feedback from readers, and it looks like a great place to get your ideas out and possibly pick up some beer money.

If you like what you see and decide to post your own writing, let me know. I'm curious to see what develops now that I've dipped my toe in.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

 
Two to Get in San Diego -- I won't be at the San Diego Comicon this year (my unbroken streak continues!), but two graphic novels spring immediately to mind as worth recommending to you if you're going and you see them up for sale.

* I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets (Fantagraphics Books) -- This big collection of truly freaky superhero comics by Fletcher Hanks is edited by Paul Karasik, and includes an illustrated comic-style afterword about how the project came to be. Hank's talents combine the rubbery stylings of Basil Wolverton interpreting the twisted scripting of Michael Fleischer, with a singleness of purpose to each and every script that at first seems like laziness or a lack of imagination, but by the end of the book will have you realizing in its own way, this one-track mind of Hanks's may have been his greatest gift to comics. He apparently wasn't a very nice guy, if you believe Karasik's afterword (and there's no reason not to), but in his own way his comics seem like a distillation of everything that is possible in superhero comics, and everything that is utterly retarded. This is one of the essential books of the year, without question.

* Spent (Drawn and Quarterly) -- The four issues collected here seemed somehow more monumental when I was buying them in single issues over the years they took to come out, but Joe Matt's latest collection is still, in some ways, his most personal and interesting. The intimate details of his repugnant private life when he was living in Canada are all on display, and no doubt many who knew what he was up to may be glad he's living back in the States now. Matt, Seth and Chester Brown (the latter two are characters in the book) all make up a sort of mini-movement in artcomix, and I find just about everything all three do to be revealing and progressive comics that move the artform forward no matter what their individual tics and foibles. I can't say you'll like the guy once you close the covers of this very well-designed hardcover, but if you're like me you'll find it impossible to stop reading and even admire Matt's ability to depict his own worst nature with what appears to be brutal, if elegant, honesty.

* San Diego Bonus -- Here's Christopher Butcher's Five Favourite San Diego Memories; tell him I said "hi" if you see him there, would you?

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Monday, July 23, 2007

 
Pull List -- Here's a quick rundown of what I plan to pick up at the comic shop this week.

* BLACK SUMMER #1 (OF 7) -- Avatar releases the "first issue" of Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp's look at superheroes who call bullshit on the political status quo. Here's my review of Black Summer #0. Also arriving this week, in real bookstores, anyway, is Ellis's prose novel that I recently reviewed, Crooked Little Vein.

* BONE VOL. 6 OLD MANS CAVE COLOR ED HC -- I think this came out a week or two back, but I was lax in ordering it, so I get it this week.

* BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 8 #5 -- Not much to say about this one, except that if you liked the show, you will like the comic book sequel very much.

* DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #1 -- Another Ellis title from Avatar. I haven't read any preview copies or anything, so I have no idea what the quality of it will be like, but I'm always up for an Ellis #1. Fingers crossed.

* FUTURAMA COMICS #32 -- For my son...

* HEARTBREAK SOUP PALOMAR VOL 1 TP
* MAGGIE THE MECHANIC LOCAS VOL 1 TP -- I hadn't realized these were going to include material not in the gigantic hardcovers of a couple of years ago, so now I am onboard with buying all these softcover re-releases as well. This will mark the fourth or fifth time I've bought some of this material, but you know, it actually is just that goddamned good.

* LOVE & ROCKETS VOL 2 #20 -- Giant-size, this one is gonna be awesome.

* MARVEL PREVIEWS #48 AUGUST 2007
* PREVIEWS VOL XVII #8 -- The less said about these, the better.

* SIMPSONS CLASSICS #13 -- Again, for the boy.

* TEEN TITANS GO #45 -- And ditto.

Three collections (Bone and the L&R volumes) mean this is a pricier than usual week, but luckily I have a doctor's appointment Wednesday, so the exorbitant co-pay will make me even poorer. Yay comics! Yay corrupt, inefficient health care system! Yay!

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The Monday Briefing -- And we're back. If you're wondering what I did all weekend, well, I ran for President, but was met at dawn by angry villagers carrying pitchforks and torches. It wasn't pretty.

* I don't know what to think about The Next Issue Project, which Image Comics announced late last week. It seems like kind of a cool idea to me, and the format freak in me loves the idea of using non-glossy paper stock and adhering to the original specs of Golden Age comics. But. Even if the copyrights have lapsed, it still seems to me a bit ethically questionable; like, some of the works they're following up on, their creators may very well still be alive, and certainly a greater number will have living descendants. So while legally they can do it, I wonder if ethically they should?

There's a part of me that really wants to see what they do, and another part that would like to see them establish a fund of some type to benefit the original
creators or their families. It seems to me like that might be the right thing to do.

* I made some adjustments to my pull list last week. Two books I dropped have been on the bubble virtually since they began, Punisher War Journal and Midnighter. The former's storytelling just isn't working for me, so I'll retreat back into my Ennis-Only Punisher Paradise for the time being. On the latter, if Ennis and Chris Sprouse had stuck to the title more than three or four issues, I'd probably have kept reading, but almost from the beginning it's been compromised, and not really very good. Which saddens me, because I think The Midnighter is a great character who still possesses a lot of untapped potential, not necessarily in any direction he's already been handled in. (Anyone interested in trading for complete sets of either Midnighter #1-9 or Punisher War Journal #1-9, or both, email me).

In a related note, two other titles I dropped won't financially affect my wallet or my comic shop's budget at all, as they have just been vaporware since their first issues: The Authority and Wildcats, both to have been written by Grant Morrison. If these had kept up their schedules, they would likely have been my favourite two superhero comics currently running. As it stands, they are two major embarrassments, and DC, Wildstorm and all involved ought to be ashamed of themselves.

* Hey, James Kochalka's new book comes out August 28th. I feel like I should call it his "first children's book," but given how long ago Peanutbutter and Jeremy came out, that seems wrong. His first children's book from a major-publisher? I have no doubt that all the aging children in my house will love it, in any case.

* Related: James Kochalka made Monkey Covers Day at Yet Another Comics Blog. Neat. Also, Comics and More reviewed American Elf Vol. 2 last week, where you'll also find a good review of Mome Vol. 8, the most recent volume.

* I just found out (via the Blog@Newsarama) that Jim Rugg has a LiveJournal, and it has tons of gorgeous art posted to it. Like this Superman drawing. Have a look.

* Over the weekend, Christopher Butcher posted some comics reviews, which is increasingly rare for him, as usually he's more commentator-y than review-y. But I was delighted to see what he thought of recent releases, and agree with him on a lot, like World War Hulk and All-Flash and The Programme, and phew, now I don't have to review any of those, thankfully.

Butcher did mention the entirely bizarre Tom Crippen-written piece on superhero fetishism that appeared in the new Comics Journal. Like Chris, I totally fell for it, and now I feel like I should go back and read it again, but I'm exhausted just thinking about that prospect. I did find the analogy about cut-out superhero figures being tiny like walnuts, here in the real world, extremely powerful and thought-provoking. Maybe because, like the I-Guess-He's-Fake subject of Crippen's piece, I remember clipping out superheroes from my comics when I was 6, 7, 8 years old, and using the resulting paper dolls like one-dimensional action figures. I got over that habit pretty quickly, as you might imagine.

* Tom Spurgeon's Sunday Interview with Adrian Tomine is another in an excellent series of conversations. Being 117 years old, I still think of Tomine as a relative newcomer, so it's odd to me to see him reflect on a "new talent" like Dan Zettwoch (whose work, I agree with Tomine, is exceptional). Tomine also talks to The Spurge about keeping Optic Nerve as one of the last floppy artcomix, making the great point that it's one of the few (if not the last) left that is still recognizable if you held it next to its first issue from years ago. That's certainly not true of Eightball or Acme Novelty Library, so I thought that was a thought worth noting. They also talk about Tomine's work on the Yoshihiro Tatsumi series of hardcovers from Drawn and Quarterly, and it comes as no surprise how much Tomine loves working on those fantastic collections. Go read the whole interview, it's fascinating reading.

* Over at The Savage Critic, Johanna nails an ongoing problem with Ed Brubaker's Captain America series, the visuals: "Visually dull" and "gloomy" are the descriptors she invokes, and they are apt, indeed. As I said in the comments section, "I always buy the book, because I think Brubaker's scripting is very good on Cap, almost as good as Sleeper or Criminal, but the art is so flat and dreary that I often find myself reconsidering keeping the title on my monthly pull list." If one could harness the energy I expend worrying about the titles on my pull list, you could provide a year's worth of power to, well, a small, dimly-lit comics shop.

* Not comics, but fun: I remember when Lora and I took the kids to Canada back in 2005 (hi, Canada!), she ate at McDonald's once and told me the food was far superior to the U.S. offerings. I think it was d. emerson eddy who told me that was because of stricter health regulations? Which, you know, of course. Anyway, check out these McDonald's entrees across the globe. Some of those look pretty good, certainly better than what they serve in the United States.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

 
If I Ran for President -- Another Presidential election is pending in the United States, and I am forced to wonder if it's even possible that this one, unlike those in 2000 and 2004, might possibly be allowed to reflect the will of the people without the fraud and conspiracies that have tainted and corrupted the U.S. government for nearly a decade now.

There's a website that lists all the major candidates and their stands on the issues; at least, the issues as designated by whoever created the site. I wondered, as I looked at it, where I would stand on the issues if I were running for President?

* Abortion Rights -- While I want every woman to have the power to decide for herself, in every instance, whether she should or should not remain pregnant, I believe the issue would be far less troublesome if every citizen of the United States were educated about reproduction and human sexuality beginning at a very early age. And even before that, parents should be frank and honest with their children about these issues, so that by the time they learn the facts in school, they already have a solid grounding in reproductive ethics and realities. This is one issue on which the entire structure of the country is utterly broken, and we've been paying for it forever.

* Death Penalty -- I used to favour the death penalty in cases of extremely aberrant criminal behaviour in which there is no doubt whatsoever that the perpetrator is guilty. Not for revenge, not as a deterrent, but just to remove the most dangerous people in society from society. But as I have gotten older I have come to realize that no one ultimately has the right to end the life of another person unless that person presents a direct and immediate threat to their own life or the lives of others. So I am opposed to the death penalty.

* Education (No Child Left Behind) -- "No child left behind" is one of the many programs the current, illegal government created as smoke and mirrors to mask its true intentions. It has done nothing to improve the education of the nation's children, and it has allowed the military unwelcome access to private information about children for the purposes of coercing them into military service. It's a fraud and a disgrace.

* Embryonic Stem Cells -- I favour any and all ethically sound medical research that does not involve involuntary, uninformed harm to a living human being.

* Energy & Oil (ANWR Drilling) -- This is another issue on which the majority of citizens is hopelessly undereducated. We're at or past the point of peak oil right now, and there's every reason to believe that a catastrophic reorganizing of human society will be forced upon us within most of our lifetimes. No alternative energy or conservation effort can hope to change the one inarguable fact, which is that the lifestyle of the vast majority of United States citizens will change in ways few will enjoy. The solution is a return to more local economies operating at a human scale, and the fact is that this will happen eventually no matter what anyone says or does; it simply has to, there are no other possible outcomes. The only question is whether people wake up to the realities in time and manage to adjust to the difficulties that lie ahead. If not, the world is in for horror unprecedented in human history. Unfortunately, I expect the latter outcome, and I expect it within the next 10 to 20 years.

* Energy & Oil (Kyoto) -- See above, with the added comment that the U.S. flouting of the Kyoto Accords is another example of how the rogue government of the country has disgraced the entire nation before the eyes of the world.

* Guns (Assault Weapons Ban) -- No human being should be allowed to possess these weapons, and the companies that produce them are guilty of crimes against humanity.

* Guns (Background Checks) -- I am opposed to private ownership of guns of any kind, but if gun ownership remains legal in the United States, there should be a one-year waiting period during which the applicant undergoes extensive psychological testing, gun safety training, and pledges to never allow their weapon within a mile of anyone under the age of 18.

* Homeland Security (Patriot Act) -- This should be repealed immediately and anyone who voted in favour of it should be removed from office and put on trial for treason.

* Homeland Security (Guantanamo) -- This surreal nightmare should be closed immediately, and a full, U.N.-led investigation should occur in the run-up to war crimes trials for all involved.

* Homeland Security (Torture) -- Anyone who has tortured another human being for any reason should be put on trial in the World Court. If found guilty, they should be imprisoned for life with no chance for release.

* Homeland Security (Wiretapping) -- I'll profess ignorance of the details of this issue, except to say that wiretapping was always legal in the United States as long as a warrant was secured from a judge, and I don't see why that should not continue to be so, as long as the police agencies involved provide genuine probable cause that the wiretap is needed to prosecute actual criminals.

* Immigration (Citizenship Path for Illegals) -- If someone is living in the United States with a family and ties to their community, they should be allowed to become citizens, period. Ignorance and racism are at the heart of the anti-immigration movement, and it needs to stop.

* Immigration (Border Fence) -- Once a fair and workable immigration system is in place, this racist pipe dream should no longer be a viable idea. But solving the problem starts with educating those who are in favour of it.

* Internet Neutrality -- No one should have any say whatsoever in what legally happens on the internet, unless it is on their own website(s). There is no greater place to test the ideas of a free market and freedom of speech than on the world wide web.

* Iran (Sanctions) -- It's time to say no to this bullshit.

* Iran (Military Action as Option) -- It's time to say no to this bullshit.

* Iraq (War Support) -- It's time to say no to this bullshit.

* Iraq (War Troop Surge) -- It's time to say no to this bullshit.

* Iraq (War Withdrawal) -- Immediately and with all perpetrators within the government to stand trial in the World Court. If found guilty, they should be imprisoned for life with no chance for release.

* Minimum Wage Increase -- The entire minimum wage system needs to re-evaluated with an eye to determining what a true, living wage is -- allowing for all necessary expenses and basic human rights. The minimum wage should reflect this, and perhaps it's time to institute a maximum wage as well.

* Same-Sex Marriage -- The right to marry is a basic human right all consenting adults must be free to exercise.

* Same-Sex Civil Union -- The right to marry is a basic human right all consenting adults must be free to exercise.

* Same-Sex Constitutional Ban -- It's time to put an end to this ignorant bullshit.

* Universal Health Care -- Free, available health care is a basic human right every person is entitled to. It should be one of the primary purposes to which our tax dollars are spent. If this country cannot afford to look after the health of its citizens, it certainly cannot afford to wage war against other nations or provide obscene salaries and tax breaks to the country's wealthiest citizens.

In short, and as evidenced by many of my responses, I believe the resources of the United States have been criminally diverted away from carrying out the basic tenets under which this country was founded. It's time for the United States to actually allow its citizens to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I fear that a complacent and uninformed populace will not seize those rights for themselves until blood is running in the streets, if we continue on as we have. The coming end of the cheap-oil era means we'll see the ideals of America put to the test sooner, rather than later. I'd like to believe there's hope. I wish there was someone with a plan that suggests there might be.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

 
Old Times -- I had a hard time justifying linking to a wonderful reminiscence of the glory days of local TV news in Albany by former anchor Ed Dague (the best news anchor Albany, New York ever had), but then I noticed Roger Green was in the comments section, so it all comes back to comics, sort of. Give it a read.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

 
Thursday Comics Headlines -- Ach, I didn't sleep much last night. Dreams of ex-girlfriends and annoying ex-co-workers and bees, big fat fluffy bees stinging me. Bastard bees.*

So, today you're only getting headlines I am interested in.

* Best reading of the day: Comics retailer Mike Sterling answers questions from readers about the 1990s crash of the speculator market for comics. Really good. I love it when retailers share their personal experiences selling comics. Related: My son got some pogs at that comics convention in Saratoga Springs last weekend and is now fascinated by them. Hey, Mike, you got any Spider-Man pogs left in the back room?

* Dick on The '90s Part Three.

* Joss Whedon Finds Writing Comics More Rewarding Than Movies and TV. While Astonishing X-Men is not really doing it for me like I hoped, Buffy Season 8 delivers everything it promises.

* Jog Looks at Rogan Gosh, at the new Savage Critic. I haven't read this piece yet, this is actually my reminder to do so later when I am more awake.

* This is just bizarre. Have you no sense of quality control, corporate comics industry? Have you, at long last, no sense of quality control?

* I swear I actually had all those dreams last night.

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Wednesday Comics Headlines -- All right, I'll be honest with you. This "getting-comics-headlines-cuz-Dirk-is-on-vaycay-and-I-thought-it-would-be-an-interesting-experiment?" I'm exhausted already, and the week's only half over. Onto the goddamned headlines:

* Abhay Khosla Posts First Savage Critics Column. We may very well all have died and gone to heaven, valhalla, whatever. FUCKING AWESOME, from the first sentence on. Note to Hibbs or Lester or whoever: The logo should be a link back to the main page, for ease of navigation. But other than that, so far, so very good.

* Blogcritics Looks at Harvey Pekar's New Graphic Novel Macedonia.

* Mobile Comics Daily Launches in Taiwan.

* Dick Says Millar Was Right About DC Needing Saving.

* CBR's Homosexuality in Comics Part Two. Part Three promises to examine "whether homosexuality is a lifestyle choice or a genetic predisposition," then presumably in Part Four, they'll argue over whether water is truly wet.

* Fantagraphics Posts San Diego Comicon Plans. If I were going to San Diego, this is the only information I would need.

* Christopher Allen Reviews The Black Diamond Detective Agency.

* DC and Marvel Fail to Top List of Best-Known Brands. Again.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

 
A Decent Nation -- I haven't bothered commenting on the Michael Moore/CNN brouhaha, because it's just so goddamned obvious how biased CNN's piece was, and how badly they wanted to discredit one of the few people standing up and asking for the United States to become a decent, humane and mature nation.

But I did want to point out Moore's plain-English retort to Dr. Sanjay Gupta's baloney about how health care is not "free" in countries that actually put a priority on taking care of their citizens:

"All of the media should start saying how much it costs to go to a doctor in these other top industrialized countries: Nothing. Zip. It's FREE. Don't patronize Americans by saying, 'Well, it's not free -- they pay for it with taxes!' Yes, we know that. Just like we know that we drive down a city street for FREE -- even though we paid for that street with our taxes. The street is FREE, the book at the library is FREE, if your house catches on fire, the fire department will come and put it out for FREE, and if someone snatches your purse, the police officer will chase down the culprit and bring your purse back to you -- AND HE WON'T CHARGE YOU A DIME FROM THAT PURSE! These are all free services, collectively socialized and paid for with our tax dollars. To argue that health care -- a life and death issue for many -- should not be considered in the same league is ludicrous and archaic. And trust me, once you add up what you pay for out-of-pocket in premiums, deductibles, co-pays, overpriced medicines, and treatments that aren't covered (not to mention all the other things we pay for like college education, day care and other services that many countries provide for at little or no cost), we, as Americans, are paying far more than the Canadians or Brits or French are paying in taxes. We just don't call these things taxes, but that's exactly what they are."

And that's that with that, as a wise man (well, a wiseguy) once said. Fuck you, Dr. Gupta. You've violated your Hippocratic oath, your distortions have done harm, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

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Five by Five -- Once upon a time, Tom Spurgeon used to ask a new question at the end of every workweek and ask for a list of five answers. The feature was succinctly called "Five for Friday," and I enjoyed responding to it in its day. Since he's not doing it anymore, and since answering the questions was always a thought-provoking exercise, I thought I'd post some of my favourites here.

* Five Desert Island Comics

5. THE COMPLETE CRUMB COMICS. The older (and wiser) I get, the more I appreciate Crumb's skill as an artist, and more importantly, his fearless reportage about his own life and the world around him. Few artists have so completely, evocatively and fearlessly chronicled the era in which they lived, and how they lived in it, and I would want to have the Fantagraphics series with me on my desert island because it's literally every comic Crumb has ever done. You'll note that few creators in the history of comics could easily compile such a project, but Crumb's visionary retaining of all rights to his work have, no doubt, made the legal end of such a massive undertaking as easy as pie.

4. THE COMPLETE PEANUTS. If I'm limited to five series, you can bet that the previous entry and this one are my way of making sure that I have a ton of reading material to wile away the long days and nights with. THE COMPLETE PEANUTS will, by the time it's over (around my 50th birthday, egad!), collect a half-century of some of the very best comics ever created, by one of the artform's sublime masters. The Seth-designed hardcovers will look great on the shelves in my hut, too, in-between my coconut-shell bookends.

3. STREET ANGEL. Yeah, it's only five issues and a trade paperback, but STREET ANGEL is among the most inventive entertaining comics I've read in the past couple of decades; I literally despair at the thought of never being able to read them again, so, I'm bringing them along to the island. Yar!

2. ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY. One thing I will need as the years "ware" on is a challenge; Chris Ware's unique, literary series will provide me with a number of them. The work itself is challenging, requiring close attention in order to fully immerse oneself Inside the worlds he creates. But even more challenging will be my years-long effort to build all the paper toys that are a part of almost every issue of ACME. Hopefully there'll be some Elmer's Glue on the island, or at least an old horse I can render down in order to make my delicate, ephemeral playthings.

1. EIGHTBALL. Issue #22 of this series, featuring the story "Ice Haven," is widely regarded (in my house anyway) as the finest single issue of any comic book ever produced. Epic in scope, filled with flawed, endearing and human characters, and encompassing a mystery that re-engages me fully every time I read it, the issue (or the Pantheon hardcover version titled "Ice Haven") is absolutely indispensable to anyone who wants to experience the greatest joys comics can contain. But the rest of the series holds wonders, as well, from the Ghost World stories to the snarky short pieces about Christians, the secret gayness of sports and Jim Belushi (!), to such landmark serials as "David Boring" and "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron." One of the very best comic book series ever created, I absolutely would be lost without a complete set of EIGHTBALLS to keep me company, there on the island.

* Five Artists I didn't like as a kid but appreciate now:

1. Mike Sekowsky
2. Don Heck
3. R. Crumb
4. Nestor Redondo
5. John Buscema

Plus, five I didn't appreciate then and my opinion hasn't substantially changed:

1. Alex Saviuk
2. Alan Kupperberg
3. Vince Colletta
4. Rich Buckler
5. George Tuska

And yes, it is a mystery to me as well why I have come to appreciate Don Heck's artistry while still not caring for Tuska's work, despite what seem to be a lot of similarities in their work to my eyes...

* Five Cartoonists I Just Don't "Get."

Here are five cartoonists I can't read even if I try real hard.

1. Jennifer Daydreamer -- Harmless, but every story I've read leaves me wondering why anyone but her needs to read them.

2. Andy Runton -- I get the appeal for anyone under 10, but am mystified by the adoration adults lay at his doorstep. I can't even ready all the way through one of his stories, and I've tried numerous time. My kids love his stuff, though.

3. Marc Bell -- A nice ink line, but too far removed from the boundaries of my
perception to be readable to me.

4. Danny Hellman -- A dead ink line, a bitter spirit I interpret as a self-recognition of an utter lack of talent, and a toxic effect on the greater community of readers and creators. More than anyone else, Hellman is a cancer that should be excised from comics.

5. Doug TenNapel -- Contemptible co-opting of the style of Will Eisner and others in a transparent attempt to bring Jesus to the heathen comics masses.

* Five Things That Crucially Changed How I Saw Comics

1. The Comics Journal, circa 1979
2. The Passiac Book Center's 100 Comics for $10.00 deal in the 1970s
3. The Bud Plant Catalog, circa 1980
4. A circa-1978 visit to Heroes World in New Jersey
5. Fantaco in Albany, NY (first visit, 1981)

* Five Things I'd Like to See Happen to Comics in the Future

1. All comics retailers adopt standards of excellence for the appearance and upkeep of their shops, to make the stores as welcoming to children, women and brand new readers of every stripe as most currently are to developmentally stunted Geoff Johns fans.

2. Stores that (admirably) carry a full(er) line of manga and alternative/indy/art comics actually mention that fact in their advertising and on the outside of their stores.

3. Retailers insist that their staff actually follow news in the artform and industry of comics, so that uninformed clerks can not look ridiculous to their customers who read newspapers and the internet and can actually, you know, take more of the customer's money when they are begging to give it to the store.

4. Retailers get out to Borders, Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores once in a while and see what their real competition is doing to serve their customers in the area of comics and graphic novels.

5. Retailers stop wasting so much display space on superhero comics: The fucking things are nerd heroin. The nerds will find them. Better use the space to display, face-out, the graphic novels that are making news so that when the bored wives and girlfriends are looking around the shop, they actually recognize something they might
actually want to read -- and buy.

* Five Comics That Comics Right Now (May, 2005)

1. Or Else -- The status quo of artcomix is represented in this experimental, lovely ongoing title from Drawn and Quarterly; one of the best things they've brought to the marketplace in years. Kevin Huizenga joins the pantheon of creators I'll follow for life, in the footsteps of Crumb, Clowes, Moore, Hornschemeier and Ware.

2. Sea of Red -- Would this even exist if not for The Walking Dead, and the entire Steve Niles/IDW axis of horror comics? There's a large, untapped market for nicely-illustrated horror comics, and Sea of Red typifies what that market is looking for.

3. The R. Crumb Handbook -- We are in an era of beautiful, landmark collections and retrospectives concerning some of the greatest talents in comics history. From B. Krigstein Vol. 1 to the Chris Ware monograph to Comic Art magazine and Levin's Rebels and Outlaws book, now is the time to read in-depth examinations of the greatest works in the artform and the creators that made them happen.

4. Sleeper -- This one is representative of corporate comics' inability to nurture and grow quality titles by some of their most gifted creators. That Sleeper, or Human Target, to name a similar case, are unable to find an audience is an indictment of the approach and priorities of the powers that be at the highest levels of corporate comics. The failure of these great books is a dark stain on the records of incompetent executives and marketing personnel, and heads should be fucking rolling, not to put too fine a point on it.

5. Comics Festival -- This Free Comic Book Day offering, which I recently reviewed, is a joyous "So what?" to my point about Sleeper: Here's Darwyn Cooke, who should be all rights be a superstar in corporate comics, delivering in just a few panels the definitive statement on current trends at DC and Marvel. Here's many of the best comics creators working today giving their all in a free comic that shows the world how great an artform we have.

* Five Recommended Editorial Cartoon Collections

1. Anything by Tom Tomorrow
2. The Bush Junta
3. Freedom Fries
4. Attitude edited by Ted Rall
5. Attitude Vol. 2 edited by Ted Rall

* Five Recommended Anthologies

1. Kramer's Ergot 5
2. Zero Zero
3. The Top Shelf anthologies
4. Comics Festival!
5. Origins of Marvel Comics

* Five Recommended Porn Comics

1. Dirty Stories Vol. 1-3
2. Small Favors
3. R. Crumb's "Joe Blow"
4. Birdland
5. Fucklesuckle Funnies

* Five Titles I Looked Forward to in 2006

1. Bluesman - NBM
2. The Ticking - Top Shelf
3. More Ganges and Or Else from Kevin Huizenga
4. My Day in the Life of Jay by Jason Marcy
5. The Paradoxman and The Thing GN by Barry Windsor-Smith

* Five Things I Miss About Comics

1. Superhero art one-one-hundredth as dynamic and engaging as that in Byrne and Austin's Uncanny X-Men or Miller and Janson's Daredevil.

2. Amazing Heroes.

3. FantaCo, the Albany shop and publisher I got my books at in the 1980s.

4. Spinner racks. The ones in comics shops don't count, they make it worse.

5. Raoul Vezina, Wallace Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby and Gil Kane, among too many others.

* Five Recommended Superhero Comics, 1938-1964

1. Wallace Wood's Daredevil
2. The Spirit in Outer Space by Jules Feiffer and Wallace Wood
3. Steve Ditko's Blue Beetle
4. Steve Ditko's Captain Atom
5. Carmine Infantino and John Broome's The Flash

* Five Important Figures in Comics Not Primarily Creators

1. James Sime
2. Jim Crocker
3. Christopher Butcher
4. Jeff Mason
5. Eric Reynolds

* Five Recommended Runs, Four Issues or More, of Superhero Comics, 1980-2005

1. Street Angel #1-5
2. Promethea #1-32
3. X-Man #63-75
4. The Authority #1-12
5. Wildcats - Vol. 2 from where Joe Casey takes over (#5? #6?) until Vol. 3 ("Wildcats 3.0") when "Coup D'Etat" rips the shit out of what was a great book for a long, uninterrupted run. Also Alan Moore's Vol. 1 run of Wildcats.

* Five Living Cartoonists I Wish Published More Frequently

1. Robert Crumb -- I know he has a literal boatload of work in print, but the recent magazine pieces he has done have given extremely promising hints of what his current style is like. I would kill to see him do a complete, original graphic novel right now.

2. David Mazzucchelli -- Probably one of the greatest cartoonists alive, and yet we hardly ever see anything at all from him. The three issues of Rubber Blanket and the occasional anthology contribution leave me wishing for more, a lot more.

3. Adrian Tomine -- If he could put Optic Nerve out on a bimonthly basis, I could call my wife a regular comics reader and not be lying. The industry needs a New Mainstream that looks more like Tomine's blend of naturalistic humanism.

4. Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo -- The Castaways was nominated for an Eisner, and BLUESMAN showed that not only was Castaways not a fluke, but that the creative team was capable of quick and measurable growth.

5. Gary Spencer Millidge -- I know Strangehaven's meticulous approach is demanding and time-consuming, but this is another yearly-or-so effort that I wish came out much more often.

* Five Comics with Great Cover and/or Production Design

1. The Maakies books from Fantagraphics -- the perfect format for these strips.
2. American Elf HC
3. Blankets HC
4. Project Superior HC
5. Mother Come Home

* Five Titles I Loaned or Lost and Never Got Back

1. ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS -- Loaned to the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend who shared an interest in comics. He moved away and took the book with him. The book was a Christmas gift from my parents in the late 1970s that I read in utter wonderment by the light of the Christmas tree as everyone else slept that morning. There's not much I wouldn't give to have that copy back, although I do have a later printing that I acquired a year or two back. It's not quite the same, though.

2. CEREBUS, near-complete collection -- File this under "lost," when I sold it cheap to my friend Marshall in one of my periodic exoduses (exodii?) from comics. He later lost it, too, and probably regrets it as much as me.

3. FACTOR C -- A hand-drawn and hand-stapled comic book that I created in high school and college, thinly veiled autobio that integrated a fictional local crime ring (headed up by the aforementioned Marshall as "H the Unspeakable") and owed a heavy debt to Frank Miller's Daredevil. I have no idea whatever happened to those.

4. THE COMICS JOURNAL, near-complete collection. When my wife and I moved house in the mid-'90s, some 150 or so TCJs were left in the trunk of my car. I meant to bring them in eventually, but had no idea the trunk wasn't waterproof. One rainstorm later, here's a trunk full of multi-coloured cornflakes.

5. Autograph Book -- In the 1970s, my parents mailed a blank autograph book to the offices of Marvel Comics. It was signed and sketched by Stan Lee, Dave Cockrum, Jim Shooter, and at least a dozen other Marvel stalwarts -- some doing full, pencil-ink-colour finished drawings in it. Later I had Dave Sim draw Cerebus in it (I think at a FantaCon in the '80s in Albany). Again, no idea whatever happened to this book. It was blue and about 4X6 inches, so, if you have it, that's where it came from, whoever you are.

* Five Comics Industry Events You Would Have Liked to Have Witnessed

1. Gary Groth interviewing Todd McFarlane for The Comics Journal
2. Paul Levitz finding out LOEG was going to Top Shelf
3. Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb conceiving American Splendor
4. Alan Moore writing the final chapter of Voice of the Fire
5. Deni saying to Dave whatever it is that made him the way he is

* Five Places I've Purchased Comics

1. Earthworld Comics, Central Avenue, Albany, NY
2. Electric City Comics, Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady, NY
3. The Comic Depot, Route 9N, Greenfield Center, NY
4. The Beguiling, Toronto, Ontario
5. Modern Myths, Northampton, Mass.

* Five Recommended Stories 16 Pages or Less

1. "Street Angel" by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca from the 2004 Slave Labor Free Comic Book Day comic

2. "Standing Behind Old Jewish Ladies in Supermarket Lines" by Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb

3. "Fistophobia" by Renee French

4. "The Thirteen Fingers" by Richard Sala

5. "It's Just So Cute" by Paul Hornschemeier

* Five Things I Enjoy in Comics, Not Writing or Art

1. The smell of the paper and ink (most often with Drawn and Quarterly)

2. Letters pages (genuinely a lost art these days, even in comics that think they get it right)

3. Quality reproduction of great artwork. Thank God for Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, Alternative, Top Shelf and AdHouse.

4. Reliable schedules, be it monthly or yearly, it's nice to know the next one will be there when you expect it.

5. Appendices -- especially Chester Brown's and Alan Moore's.

* Five Completely Random Comics Related Things

1. Learning the meaning of "Erstwhile," which many comics writers still, apparently, haven't.

2. The Passaic Book Center "100 Comics for Cheap" deals from the ads in 1970s comics,
which included comics far more entertaining and well-done than any such deal today would likely provide buyers. I discovered work like Kirby's The Demon this way.

3. Mustard dripping off my hot dog onto the comic one day when I was reading a George Perez-era 1970s Fantastic Four comic while eating lunch.

4. Marvel Value Stamps. I never cut out even one of them.

5. The Mad Maple, AKA "T.M. Maple," one of the most famous letterhacks of all time.

* Five Things I Remember About My First Comic Shop

My first regular comics shop, other than the few I visited once or twice in my pre-teens, was FantaCo in Albany. Here's what I remember most:

1. Being amazed that (the now sadly departed) cartoonist Raoul Vezina had to work in the shop; wasn't he living it up off the huge profits from SMILIN' ED COMICS?

2. The copy of World War III Illustrated (#1 or 2, I would guess) that I had in my pile when I checked out on my first visit in 1981, only to find somehow I left it behind in the store. It would be nearly two decades before I crossed paths again with the work of Peter Kuper.

3. Buying the counterfeit Cerebus #1 there, knowing it was fake, but thrilled to finally be able to read that story, then only available in the high-priced back-issue market.

4. Seeing Wendy and Richard Pini at a signing there and being surprised at how normal they were. It was as if the people who made comics were just, you know, people.

5. The copy of Metroland I would always grab from the left side of the door on my way out every week; FantaCo is gone, but Albany's free alternative newsweekly is still chugging along.

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Tuesday Comics Headlines -- With Dirk on vacation all week, I thought I'd try to cover at least some of his bases. Let's see if I can keep it up all week, shall we? As an actor said to the bishop...

* Despite All Available Evidence, Zuda is A Comic Creator's Dream Come True, This Site Says.

* What Are The Consequences of Cartooning Being Named A Fine Art in India?

* New York Magazine Previews Percy Gloom.

* Funnybook Funk Briefly Brightens.

* Bible Stories in Comics Form.

* Pekar Travels Outside Comfort Zone in Creating New Book.

* Butcher Excited About THEREFORE REPENT. I loved Salgood Sam's Revolver.

* Comic Book Resources Begins Series Titled Homosexuality in Comics. Lengthy interviews with gay creators, and creators who have portrayed gay and lesbian characters in their stories. Also: Mark Millar says Ron Stoppable is gay? I'm going to have to ask my kids about that.

* Johnny Bacardi Rolls Out More Sexist Batgirl Covers.

* Image Founders Reunion Needs Twice the Space Originally Planned. Perhaps they measured the collective egos involved before making this adjustment? I kid because I love. I love Savage Dragon.

* Spurgeon Says Tales From the Crypt Revival is "A Great, Heaving Collapse on All Levels." He's not wrong.

* What Randy Lander's Doing at The San Diego Comicon.

* Comics and More Reviews Dragon Head. People keep saying this is good.

* Rob Clough Reviews Comics Comics.

* Comicbloc.com Interviews Mike Wieringo. He says he'd like to draw The Flash again if Mark Waid were to write it. Mark Waid is currently writing The Flash. Note to DC: Make the magic happen!

* Johanna Says All-Flash #1 Not Magic, Not Happening. And I had it right here to review when I found her review, too. I was going to say something about how the book is more like a flushing away of the turd that was the failed Bart Allen Flash series than the fine meal I had been hoping for from Waid's return to the character. Like Johanna, I think this issue was narratively necessary given the circumstances, but not anything you need or want to read. Wait for August's Flash #231, Waid's real first issue back.

* Mutts Creator Opposes Animal Traps.

* Wildstorm Plans Authority-Related Comics I Won't Be Buying; Where The Hell is Grant Morrison?

* Beetle Bailey Creator's Free Magazine Sells Out.

* Editorial Cartoons "Darker and More Pungent," Says Editorial Cartoonist.

* Adult Filmmaker Who Was Friend to R. Crumb and Hunter S. Thompson Dies.

* Former Marvel Writer Lobdell Writing Screenplay. As long as he's not writing comics, I'm happy.

* Presidential Candidate Creates Graphic Novel, I Think.

* Almost Comics: How to Wrap a Burrito.

* The Pet Shop Boys Are to Kevin Church What James Kochalka is To Me, Apparently.

* Kochalka Posts Vacation Landscape Paintings. I really like me some James Kochalka.

* I Also Like This Andrew Foster Self-Portrait.

* Tuesday Reading: Abhay Khosla's Title Bout Archive. It's gonna be great to have him talking about comics regularly again, isn't it?

So, seriously -- Ron Stoppable is gay?

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Monday, July 16, 2007

 
Five Questions from Roger Green -- You can also view this at Roger's blog, but I wanted to get these up here as well: Five questions for me written by Roger.

1. When you tell people that you do criticism of comic books, and they giggle or say something inane, after you sock them in the jaw, what quick-and-dirty response do you give to explain that comics are worthy of serious exploration?

Maybe I only tell people that already know or respect me, because I can't remember ever feeling I have to justify comics being worthy of criticism.

2. You used to listen to Q-104 in the day, didn't you? If you did, explain to someone who never heard it why it was such a great station? (And if you didn't, why the heck not?!)

I did. I think what made it a great station was the sense that the DJs had some input into what music they were playing. The closest I think any station in the Albany area comes these days to that era is probably WEQX.

3. You've been writing about customer service, et al., in comic book stores. How would FantaCo have fared?

I don't remember anyone ever being anything other than friendly and helpful at FantaCo, except maybe toward the very, very end of its run, when unfamiliar faces were manning the cash registers. Not a week goes by that I don't wish the store was still there, so that's got to count for something.

4. How many FantaCo publications did you own, and how many do you still have?

Whoo. At one point I probably had 75 percent or more of them -- I bought all the Hembeck, Chronicles, Gates of Eden and stuff like that. The horror magazines/books never really appealed to me. I still have most of the Chronicles, which I find to hold up really well, and Gates of Eden #1, which more than anything really takes me back to those days, when it seemed like anything was possible in comics. Kind of like now, except back then there was far less evidence.

5. Beside the counterfeit Cerebus story, what are two or three of your fondest FantaCo memories?

The first day I shopped there, I was 15 years old and my family had just moved back to upstate New York after living in Florida for most of the 1970s. When I told whoever was working that day (might have been Mitch and Raoul?) that FantaCo was the first place I wanted to go when we got back in New York, and that FantaCo had seemed like Mecca to me from the ads I saw in comics, I was more or less treated like royalty.

Also: Being amazed that cartoonist Raoul Vezina had to work in the shop; I thought he'd be living it up off the huge profits from SMILIN' ED COMICS. Little did I know what the realities of comics were!

Also: The copy of World War III Illustrated (#1 or 2, I would guess) that I had in my pile when I checked out on my first visit in 1981, only to find somehow I left it behind in the store. It would be nearly two decades before I crossed paths again with the work of Peter Kuper.

Also: Seeing Wendy and Richard Pini at a signing there and being surprised at how normal they were. It was as if the people who made comics were just, you know, people.

Also: The copy of Metroland I would always grab from the left side of the door on my way out every week; FantaCo is gone, but Albany's free alternative newsweekly is still chugging along. I wish I was still picking it up at FantaCo every week!

Thanks, Roger!

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The Week in Comics -- Looks like some very good stuff is arriving in comics shops this week...

BOOK OF THE WEEK

* Lone Ranger HC and Lone Ranger #7 (Dynamite). I sure would not have expected this title to grab me the way it has, but it's always a fun, dynamic and gorgeously-rendered title. Here's my review of Lone Ranger #1.

OTHER TITLES OF NOTE

* Bone Vol. 6: Old Man's Cave (Scholastic). I never read much Bone until the mammoth one-volume collection came out a few years back. The colours in the new Scholastic editions are absolutely beautiful and add even more to what was already an exceptionally well-realized vision.

* The Comics Journal #284 (Fantagraphics). I never miss an issue of this, the most essential periodical on the subject of comics. In fact, I don't think I've missed more than a handful since I started reading TCJ circa 1980. The issue's Roger Langridge interview should be worth the price of admission all by itself.

* Conan #42 (Dark Horse). Am I enjoying this as much as I did when Kurt Busiek was still writing it? I'm not sure, but I think Tim Truman has exceeded my expectations in his efforts so far to fill Busiek's big, big shoes. I think this is part 2 of "Rogues in the House."

* Godland Vol. 3: Proto Plastic Party (Image). This is one I dropped from my monthly pull list, because the floppies just weren't doing it for me. In a nice, big chunk, Joe Casey and Thomas Scioli's Kirby pastiche reads much better and is far more satisfying.

* The Spirit #8 (DC). Man, I really missed Darwyn Cooke last issue; I think only one of the three fill-in stories really held my attention, and just a month later, I couldn't even tell you what it was about. With Cooke back in the saddle, though, things are sure to be much-improved.

* World War Hulk #2 of 5 (Marvel). Like Lone Ranger, this is a title I would not have predicted ahead of time that I would enjoy. The first issue felt more like a Marvel Comic in the best sense of the word than anything I can remember reading in a long, long time.

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The Monday Briefing -- This past weekend seemed to go by faster than usual, probably because of:

* A comic book convention smack dab in the middle of it. I wish it had been one of those conventions where you come home with piles of mini-comics and graphic novels and other goodies to occupy your time, but the truth is my son spent more money on comics (and action figures) than I did. I bought three books at an "all for a dollar" table, including an Ed Brubaker Batman annual that ended on a cliffhanger (kind of aggravating) and that I soon realized I had already read when it originally came out (really aggravating). I also got a cheap copy of the Roy Thomas/Wayne Boring/Jerry Ordway Secret Origins #1 featuring the Earth-Two Superman, and a DC Millennium Edition reprint of Detective Comics #1, just out of historical interest.

* The dealer I bought those from had a huge box of Millennium Editions for a buck each, which has to be selling them at a loss, as most of them were $2.99 to $3.99. That's a shame, because that brief reprint program put some of the most significant superhero comics in history back into print, and while it's nice to be able to buy them for a buck, it's too bad dealers seemingly took a bath on them.

* I would have loved to spend more money at the convention, but I didn't have a lot to spend, frankly, and (I guess thankfully) there weren't many of the kind of things I am likely to drop coin on anyway. It was mostly back issues, and I'm not into those at all, as you might have picked up on over the years.

* Local newspapers covered the convention. Here are day-after reports from The Glens Falls Post Star, The Albany Times Union and local Saratoga Springs newspaper The Saratogian.

* What else did I do this weekend? Well, I reviewed Tyler Page's new graphic novel Nothing Better Vol. 1, and the comic whose title tells you literally everything about its contents, Martha Washington Dies. As someone once said, "I read it so you don't have to."

* Matt Brady looks at some great, silent panels in American Splendor Presents Bob 'n Harv's Comics, an absolutely essential collection. If you've never sampled American Splendor, or have read a story or issue here or there and thought it wasn't for you, Bob 'n Harv's is the one book that will make you understand why Pekar is one of the most important and entertaining writers in North American comics history.

* You know, at one time I kind of liked Alex Ross's work. Both Kingdom Come and Marvels had some real storytelling high points, and even came by them honestly. But this solicitation for an upcoming issue of JSA is enough to convince me Ross is strictly in it for the money, now, not a love of superhero comics: "Alex Ross joins Geoff Johns as co-writer for Part 1 of 'Thy Kingdom Come,' the epic story years in the making, springing from KINGDOM COME! Not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an imaginary story! Welcome the newest member to the Justice Society of America: the Kingdom Come Superman! Coming from an Earth plagued by heroes-gone-extreme, how will this Superman react to an incarnation of the Justice Society he never knew? This Superman’s world needed better heroes. So does ours." Well, this world needs better superhero writers than Geoff Johns, that's for goddamned motherfucking certain. Isn't Ross the guy who once criticized Mark Waid for his sequel to Kingdom Come? And now here he is working with the chief perpetrator of The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics, on a storyline that could not be more fan-fictiony. Pardon me while I choke on the sad, pathetic irony.

* At Comic Book Resources, Todd Allen examines DC's public statements to date about Zuda Comics, with special focus on how to protect your rights and what sort of money you can expect to make (hint: not much, at least at first) if you decide to participate.

* Roger Green talks about Albany, New York and other issues in a new Five Questions meme; I'm hoping Roger throws five at me. (Update: he did).

*Tony Isabella looks at Comics in the Comics. META!

* Comic book retailer (and all around good guy) Mike Sterling talks about the rise and fall and rise again in value of a key Marvel comic from the 1970s. This is of interest to me both because I remember buying that issue new off the stands, and more so because of what it says about "hot" comics and their grand place in the scheme of things. Also, note to Mike: Those Punisher comics that tanked in the 1990s? That had to be in part at least because they weren't very good, like most Marvel comics prior to the Heroes Return event that briefly ushered in an era of quality storytelling in some of Marvel's core titles. Briefly. Then Chuck Austen came along...

* With Dirk on vacation this week (have fun!), I thought I'd grab some interesting comics news headlines. And here they are:

* Red Sonja Ownership Trial to Begin.

* Retailer/Blogger Christopher Butcher Rips DC's Sexist, Misogynist Batgirl Cover.

* Tintin Book Called "Racist" Sees Skyrocketing Sales.

* Graphic Novels Aid in SAT Prep.

* High Schoolers Advised to Read "Something Other Than A Comic Book".

* Doug Marlette Laid to Rest

* Nerd Know-How Required to Work in Specialty Shops.

* Sean Penn and Iggy Pop Voice Persepolis Characters.

* New Site Needs You To Sell Your Comics There; Thousands Waving Cash As They Wait For You To Click This Link.

* Read Yourself Raw July Edition now Online. Go read it.

* Star-Tribune Reviews Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds.

* Christopher Allen Reviews Invaders Classics Vol. 1.

* Tom Spurgeon Interviews Cartoonist Graham Annable.

* The Savage Critic Gets New Look, New URL, New Critics. ADD faves Abhay Khosla, Jog and Johanna are all signing on to the new incarnation of this long-running review blog. Abhay talks about joining the new Savage Critic site here; Johanna does the same here. Good luck, gang!

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

 
Nothing Better Volume One: No Place Like Home -- I'm somewhat astonished to realize it's been five years since I reviewed Tyler Page's first graphic novel. I still think of him as just getting started, but he's been busy working on his craft: Nothing Better Volume One is substantially better than Stylish Vittles, which was a fine debut in and of itself.

But in that debut volume, Page displayed some arty mannerisms that detracted from his storytelling. I still vividly remember the lengthy sequence that prompted me to write "a journey through the cosmos to arrive at the college after many, many pages is a bit much," but I also remember the pleasure I got from reading the book, which had me noting in the same sentence that "on the whole I found the novel engaging and irresistible."

So how has Page improved? He does still cover much of the same ground -- the tenuous connections formed in new relationships, grappling with young adulthood, and questions about the existence of God -- but his storytelling is far more direct. In Nothing Better, Page creates a variety of characters with a variety of beliefs and personalities, and at no time does he seem to favour one over the other. Jane and Katt are as different as two young women can be, but both of them are likable and appealing -- sexy, even -- but they are complex characters who can both delight and infuriate with their actions.

Page's exploration of early college life is flawlessly convincing, too. A moment when a character returns home and is shocked to learn her parents expect her to follow her high school curfew feels expertly observed, as do many other moments.

I am not a religious person, and I wondered when the book's intentions came into focus if it was going to turn me off. But Page plays completely fair with both his characters and their beliefs. One character, known as "Jesus Gene" to Katt, Jane's atheist roommate, seems creepily insistent on dogma over intelligent inquiry, but it's not like there are not people like that in real life. And other characters who do believe in one religious philosophy or another don't do so to the exclusion of every other element of their lives, just like most religious people. These aren't extremists, they're just people. They believe what they believe, and some of them ask questions, and all of them are growing up and finding their own way. Page's depiction of their journey is fun and compelling to read, and his characters are impossible not to root for. This first volume does not conclude their story, but it does have a very nice final sequence that leaves the reader both satisfied, and ready for more.

In fact, you can read more -- the three chapters that follow the events of Volume One, as well as all of Volume One -- are available for reading at Tyler Page's website.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

 
Saratoga Springs Comicon 2007 -- The first of what is hoped to be an annual series of comic book conventions was held today at the Saratoga Springs City Center. I brought along my digital camera, so here are some images from the event. Click the pictures to open a larger version.



A good-sized crowd browsed the tables all afternoon.



My daughter Kira and her friend Connie meet a local author.



I'm not sure who gave better tips to whom.



Another view of the tables.



My son Aaron browses original art for sale.



Some colourful DC recreations/reimaginings were on sale.



More of those.



Best friends at the end of our day at the con.

The City Center's capacity of 2,500 was not sorely tested by the crowds we saw, but the attendance seemed encouraging to me. I hope the event comes back for a second year in 2008, because our area of upstate New York is sorely lacking in comics-related events, but has plenty of people interested in coming out to socialize and spend money.

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Martha Washington Dies -- The final chapter in the life of the dystopic war hero created by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons has been released as a single issue comic book, and it strikes me as pretty symptomatic of the ongoing transformation of the comic book industry from a floppy, periodical-based enterprise to a graphic novel-centered business. It undeniably wraps up the saga and will, probably, make for an acceptable "final chapter" in the eventual collection of the entire series; but as a standalone comic book, it is less satisfying than half of a Pringles potato chip at snack time.

For $3.50 USD, readers get acolytes and followers of a now-ancient Martha Washington sitting around the fire listening to one last, lengthy inspirational speech. Gorgeously illustrated by Dave Gibbons, all you need to know about the contents of the issue are found in the title: Martha Washington Dies. Is Frank Miller yet again thumbing his nose at his longtime readers? More likely, again, Dark Horse just needed a final chapter. But as a single issue, this one feels like it's worth about $0.35 USD, not ten times that.

I'll admit I've long since given up on the idea that Frank Miller can write a comic book I will enjoy on a purely visceral (or any other) level. His tics and tropes, at this late date, seem as automatic and uninspired as his early Daredevil work seemed energetic and unpredictable. Clearly this was a comic meant to inspire, and if it's writer had remembered to give us a story to care about, it might have.

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The Business of Comics is Broken -- That's Top Shelf Productions Co-Publisher Brett Warnock's assessment following this week's news about the possible end of Cold Cut as a distributor of artcomics to the direct market:

"[T]he BUSINESS of comics is broken. This is the sentiment with the recent announcement that Cold Cut Distributors are selling their company...in fact my experience would seem to indicate that the glut of Marvel and DC titles currently flooding the market, as well as an overabundance of weak comics everywhere else has created a situation where it's really very difficult to get much support from the retail community for indy comics, except for only the biggest A-List books in a given season."

Few are in as ideal a place to diagnose the current situation as Brett Warnock; he and co-publisher Chris Staros publish both some of the biggest artcomics you could name, such as Blankets and Lost Girls, and some of the very smallest and least likely grab mainstream headlines or score NPR interviews. And more power to them for continuing to support less major (if not virtually unknown) creators, by the way, in the face of the existing market conditions.

Warnock goes on to say:

"Clearly there needs to be more efficient methods of both retail and distribution. I love what i do, so i want a healthy marketplace. And God only knows, i'm NOT a believer in comics' sole future domain being online. I want to hold a book in my hands, feeling its pulpy goodness, the smell of ink on my fingers. And those are the kind of books i want to publish."

So, is there a way for direct market retailers and creators to better benefit from the increased readership for comics out there in the real world?

As I said yesterday, the revolution is over and comics have clearly won. But it takes time and many adjustments before that victory can be fully felt. Clearly a first step is needed.

I wonder how much would change if Diamond initiated a first-phase toward making its product returnable? A first step toward growing up and actually being a responsible, professional book distributor? It would take a lot of unnecessary risk off of comics retailers, and it would force Diamond to take ownership of its own place in the grand scheme of things. The current, dying system obviously allows Diamond to possess all the power and virtually none of the risk -- so much so that operating a comic book store with Diamond as your only source of product is clearly a sucker's game -- if not the ethical equivalent of being the black-eyed wife in an abusive marriage, shrieking at the cops "But I LOVE HIM!" as the cops haul him into the back of the squad car once again, certain he'll be back at home with all forgiven within 24 hours. Wednesday's always just around the corner, after all.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

 
The Golden Age of Now -- That's what Tom Spurgeon calls the current moment in comics history in this examination of the current comics boom and its lack of immediate benefits to some of the creators and retailers who make it happen.

Revolutions can be painfully slow; it's clear Bush and his cronies are crashing and burning at an ever-accelerating pace, but I've wanted them in prison since December of 2000, so imagine my frustration. What's happening now in comics -- what's been happening for seven years or so -- is a slow but almost-certain transformation from the direct market model of the '70s through the '90s, to a more holistic and global appreciation for and recognition of comics as just another artform.

I think we've long since reached a tipping point from which there is no return -- but that doesn't mean more distributors, creators and publishers won't fall between the cracks as things continue to develop. The best thing anyone in comics can do right now is be as aware and educated as possible about what has happened, what is happening, and what is likely to happen in the near- and far-term. That's no guarantee of survival, but it's the best and most practical way to prepare for an expanding but still-transforming marketplace for comics.

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FAQ ADD: Frequently Asked Questions about The ADD Blog -- Here's a handy primer to the who, what, where, why, when and how of The ADD Blog.

* Who are you? I'm Alan David Doane, a radio broadcaster since 1986 and a husband and father of two. I live in Upstate New York.

* What's this blog about? Comics, mostly. I've been reading comic books since 1972, and writing about them since the mid-1990s for a variety of websites such as Silver Bullet Comic Books, Newsarama, and this one here, Comic Book Galaxy. In print I've contributed to The Comics Journal and other magazines. On this blog, in addition to writing about comics I also cover anything else that interests me, including real life, music and movies. But since my main interest in life has been comic books for 35 years, mostly what I write about is comic books.

* How long have you been blogging? Since June 2nd, 2002. There have been a couple of lengthy hiatuses along the way, but I never stop writing about comics for long.

* So you really like superheroes? You must be new around here. It's a fairly common misperception if you say you like comic books that you must mean superheroes. But superheroes are only one genre among many that define the comic book artform, so equating a love of comic books with a love of superheroes is like assuming someone loves only westerns because they like movies. Probably my favourite genre within the comics artform is autobiography, like the works of Robert Crumb, James Kochalka, Harvey Pekar and Jason Marcy.

* Wait, you're the guy that hates superheroes, right? No, some of my favourite comics of all time are superhero stories, like Miller and Mazzucchelli's Daredevil: Born Again or Ellis and Hitch's The Authority. I do hate bad superhero comics, though, and these days, that's mostly what the corporate comic book publishers are turning out. I'd like to see that change, so that future generations of comics readers can enjoy the drama and excitement that the very best superhero comics can offer.

* But you are the guy that hates the direct market, right? Not really, I just think now that the whole world is reading comics again, it's time for those who claim to be professional comic book retailers to actually be professional. I wrote extensively about this in a multi-part essay called "A Future For Comics."

* So what kind of comics do you like? Well, there's no one word that encapsulates the comics that excite and engage me the most, although I tend to call 'em artcomics or artcomix. You might think of them as undergrounds, alternatives, or even "black and white independent filth." I don't universally love any form of comics, though -- there are good and bad comics in every category, and I'm most committed to finding and writing about good comics, no matter what label someone might want to slap on them.

* Who makes the kind of comics you like the most? You can take a look at my fairly extensive list of recommended comics, graphic novels and related publications, but offhand the creators I almost always enjoy include Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Robert Crumb, Eddie Campbell, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Warren Ellis, Renee French, Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Harvey Pekar, Paul Hornschemeier, James Kochalka, B. Krigstein, Jason Marcy, Barry Windsor-Smith and Yoshihiro Tatsumi. To name a few. The publishers that seem to release the books I like the most include Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, Top Shelf and Pantheon Books.

* How can I find out what kind of comics I will enjoy the most? Find critics whose tastes clearly intersect with your own, and follow their recommendations into places you might previously have avoided. If Critic A's explanation of why they like a book you like makes sense to you, then find a book they recommend that you haven't read, and try that one. Watch the magic happen. This is a large part of why criticism matters in every artform, including comics.

* How much are my comics worth? On average, if you're lucky, you'll get about 12 cents from a dealer for any random comic book. That's half of what they'll charge when they throw it in their quarter bin. There are comics that are worth a lot of money, but the chances are that you don't have them. Because the comics that are worth the most money are some combination of old, in excellent condition, highly desirable, and extremely rare. If you must put a price on your comics, go to your library and check out The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. It is far, far from perfect, but it will give you a rough idea what your books may be worth. Remember that condition counts for a lot, and grade your comics accurately. Finally, remember that if you try to sell your comics to a comic book dealer, chances are, at best, they will give you 50 percent of the values listed in the Overstreet guide. Why? Because they have bills to pay. If you want to get the maximum return on valuable comics you may own, you'll have to sell them some other way, such as through an auction service or on eBay. This is much more time-consuming, though, so think about what's most important to you: Selling them fast (to a dealer for less money), or getting the most money (selling them to individual collectors).

* Which comics should I be buying as investments today? None. Occasionally a new comic book will be highly sought-after and demand high prices, but the vast majority of comic books being published today are published in enough numbers that they'll never be worth more than cover price, if even that.

* Why should I buy comics? There's only ever one real answer to that, and that is because you like to read them. If everyone bought only the comic books they genuinely love, then the publishers will make many more of those sorts of comics. Multiple covers and other schemes designed to make people buy comic books they don't read may be good for the short-term bottom-line of the corporate sector of the comic book industry, but they are disastrously destructive to the longterm health of the comic book artform. That's because they sour the suckers who buy into the "investment" aspect of comics on the idea of comics in general. So for your own best interests and those of comics as a storytelling medium, please, buy only the comics you enjoy. And tell your friends about them.

* I want to make comics. What should I do? Make them. Do your best to improve your craft, whether it's writing, drawing, or both. Tell stories that have the most personal meaning and importance to you as a human being. Educate yourself about the pitfalls of working in comics (low pay, companies taking your rights away without proper compensation and benefits, etc.) and be sure you always watch out for your best interests. If a publisher offers you a contract, go over it with your own attorney to be sure your interests are protected. Corporations will always protect and promote themselves over the interests of any individual creator. This doesn't mean "don't work for corporate comic book publishers," it just means "know what you're doing before you do."

* Will you review my comic? I'll certainly consider it. The address to send me review copies is near the top of the sidebar on the right side of this page.

* Why didn't you review my comic? Although I try to review every comic I receive, it's not always possible or even desirable to review every single thing that I read. If I didn't review your comic, it doesn't mean it's no good. But good or bad, the comics most likely to get reviewed by me are the ones that elicit a strong reaction as I read them. The least likely comics to get reviewed by me are ones that are simply average, mediocre comics. If they're spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, though, chances are very good they will be mentioned here.

* Where do you recommend I buy comics from? If you're talking mail-order, I strongly recommend Amazon.com and Lone Star Comics; they both offer excellent and timely service, and because if you click over to them from this site and buy something, it helps support my own efforts here. If you're talking about specific comic shops I recommend, there is a list of outstanding comic shops in the links in the sidebar. I've visited every one of them, and they're all worth a visit.

* I'd like to advertise on The ADD Blog. Can I do that? Sure. Just send me an e-mail and we'll talk.

* I want to publish comics. Any advice? Loads. First, realize that no new comics company can be expected to make any money whatsoever within the first five years of its existence. If you do not have the capital shored up to protect against that fact, and do not have the confidence that your books will be of such high-quality as to ensure a large readership that builds over the first three years, then do not start your new comics company until you can meet those marketplace realities. Wishing will not make it so, and if you build it, history has shown that they will not come. Be aware that no one wants your new superhero universe or American-created manga-style comics. No one.

Also: Just because you like a writer or artist, that does not mean that readers will like their work. The worst thing an editor or publisher can do is be buddies with the talent they publish. If your judgment is thus compromised, you owe it to yourself, your creators and your readers to seek out blunt, critical analysis of the quality of the work and its likelihood of success before publishing it. If you must publish comics and are not already an established company with a well-known line and a reliable slate of books, then start your new company with one bulletproof book that is so well done and wildly entertaining that it can serve as the foundation of a steadily-growing company over the course of the next five years. History has shown time and again that this is the most reliable way to build a brand and create a publishing company. Finally, if you cannot afford a full-time publicity department that is dedicated to getting your books the maximum exposure possible, then you cannot afford to be a publisher. Hiring the talent and printing the books is no more than 50 percent of the equation that results in a successful book.

* As a reader, how can I make comics better? Don't continue to buy and support comics that do anything less than dazzle you with their ingenuity, their quality storytelling, and their elegance of purpose and design. The only reason any publisher can continue to produce bad comics is because people buy them out of habit or to have a "complete collection." Just stop, and comics will get better.

Also: Go through your collection regularly, and pluck out any comics you haven't felt the need to re-read for a year or more. Set them aside, and evaluate whether you really want to spend a portion of your rent money providing space for comics you no longer want or need. Throw them out, trade them, give them away, or sell them on eBay. Make room for better comics in your home, and in your life. Make careful note of the creators and publishers who tend to create books that you are not still excited about months after you first read them. Reconsider investing your money in their books in the future. Would you return time and again to a restaurant that served you bad food? There's so much more out there, waiting to be discovered. What are you waiting for?

* How often is this blog updated? 14 times a week, according to one statistic I saw recently, which averages out to twice a day, every day. Sometimes it's more, sometimes it's less. You can always subscribe to The ADD Blog RSS Feed if it makes your life easier.

* Who are your favourite critics and bloggers? Roger Ebert, Tom Spurgeon, Chris Allen, Rob Vollmar, and Johanna Draper Carlson all come to mind. They, and other favourites of mine, are linked from the sidebar on the right side of this page.

* How can I become a critic? Probably the best information I've seen on this subject is Johanna Draper Carlson's thoughts on how to review comics. My to-the-point advice is: Be passionate, be truthful, and seek out diversity.

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The Friday Briefing -- What a week in comics, from DC's hapless Zuda tap-dancing to Cold Cut possibly shuffling off to Buffalo...

* Christopher Butcher gets emotional about Cold Cut, offering up some insight into how important the artcomics distributor has been to one of the most important and progressive comic book stores in North America. I posted my thoughts about Cold Cut late yesterday afternoon, in case you missed it.

* Up now: The Comics Journal's guide to this year's San Diego Comicon, which could double, for those of us not attending, as a checklist of notable artcomics worth keeping an eye out for over the next few weeks.

* The new issue of The Comics Journal is arriving in at least some shops next week. I'm most looking forward to the Roger Langridge interview, conducted by Gary Groth. So much so that I am not reading the excerpt posted online, although you may want to. That's right, I avoid spoilers for interviews with artcomics creators. My true nerditry unveiled! Related: I really wish Langridge's The Thirteenth Floor would see the light of day as a printed graphic novel. Somewhat related: Happy Friday the 13th!

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

 
A Sea-Change for True Mainstream Comics? -- Tom Spurgeon posts an interesting letter from a comic book retailer about the possible end of Cold Cut's role in serving up non-superhero comics to the Direct Market:

"As someone who in the past has relied on Cold Cut in keeping perennial sellers like Blankets, Maus, or Persepolis on our shelves at all times, I now have to look elsewhere for those books."

Spurgeon recently covered the story about Cold Cut going up for sale and speculates on the non-reception to the story.

I sort of mentally red-flagged the news when it first appeared, but having had a day or two to think about it, I wonder what the ultimate impact on artcomics publishers will be. If Cold Cut disappears (or changes its business model enough so as to no longer be a major supplier of artcomics for progressive comic shops), this will have a definite effect on the bottom line of publishers like Drawn and Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and the other major players in North American non-corporate, non-superhero comics and graphic novels.

While the worst-case scenario would be publishers going out of business or severely curtailing their release schedules as a result of fewer orders from within the direct market, the fact of the matter is that the percentage of comic book stores that actively deal with Cold Cut is probably only 10-25 percent of those that get their stock mostly or solely from Diamond, a quasi-monopoly that prioritizes weekly corporate superhero product over the kind of artcomics readers like to buy in regular bookstores, or those progressive comic shops (and how many of those are there across North America? 50? 75? I wish to fuck I knew).

But in the past few years, artcomics publishers have demonstrated a canny knack for dealing with real book distributors, getting their books into mainstream bookstores (both chain and independent shops) sometimes weeks to months before Diamond can be bothered to deliver them to the stores they service.

So with advance warning that Cold Cut may soon cease to be a viable distributor of their product, what will artcomics publishers do? They could encourage a new, independent distributor, one supposes, or, and I think this is the more likely scenario -- they could focus even more of their efforts on dealing with mainstream distributors, who have demonstrated a better understanding of their needs, and certainly have provided better distribution than Diamond has, judging by what I see in mainstream bookstores.

Frankly, the progressive comic shops I have shopped in in the past five or six years, from Modern Myths in Northampton to The Beguiling in Toronto and others, have long since begun dealing with distributors other than Diamond to make sure they have the product their diverse customer base wants. No doubt they have relied on Cold Cut to a lesser or greater extent, but they are already ahead of the curve, in that they have been used to a multi-distributor business model for their stores and are probably far more prepared to deal with the possible end of Cold Cut as a player in the overall comics marketplace than the average superhero convenience shop owner, who wants to deal solely with Diamond anyway, out of either laziness, ignorance or outright hostility to any comics product that doesn't reflect their own narrow, backward-looking interests.

One thing is certain: If Cold Cut does end its distribution of artcomics to the direct market, things will change for certain. I hope they change to the benefit of artcomics publishers and the progressive stores that support them.

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Zuda Bongo Compare and Contrast -- Now, here's an excellent lesson for, say, a corporate comic book company looking to hire new creators. It's a lesson in being upfront and honest, it's a direct appeal from Bongo Comics, and it comes to us courtesy of Beaucoup Kevin:

"Bongo Comics is looking for pencillers and inkers to work on our line of books, (Simpsons Comics, Bart Simpson Comics, Futurama Comics, Super Spectacular, etc.). We are not looking to publish any original material, and you must be 18 or over.

As far as what you should submit: drawings that are Simpsons or Futurama related would be great, of course, but they don't have to be if you don't have any handy. Ideally, any non-Simpsons/Futurama art would be of other licensed creations, so we can see your ability to draw to a particular model. But although we'll use these drawings to check out your general skill level, we will more importantly be looking closely at your Sequential Art/storytelling skills, so we don't want to receive just pinup or spot illustrations."

Note, please, that there's no need to go into contract details or make vague promises of the fabulous results of accepting Bongo's offer. Just a corporate comics company looking to hire some new creators, who will know going in pretty much exactly what is expected.

Any corporation looking for new work-for-hire talent might want to try this approach and see what happens. What won't happen? Internet Shitstorm 2007.

 
Zuda Doobie Doo -- What, you thought we were finished with this subject?

Over at Comixmix, Glenn Hauman has some extremely apt observations about the non-rollout of DC's new attempt to poach unwitting amateurs in their web of webcomics.

"We have no idea what they'll be launching with, they have nobody lined up that they're willing to talk about. Way to build confidence, guys. You couldn't find anybody? Every other time there's been a launch of a line from DC (Piranha, Paradox, Vertigo, Helix, Minx, CMX) there was content to go with it, to show what they were talking about. Here, nothing."

Also worth noting is this comment from myideais.com:

"I remember reading a longish historical essay about Marvel’s attempt to put out an 'underground' comic in the early seventies, which was called 'Comix Book.'

I have a vague thesis floating around in my head that Zuda Comics from DC, an attempt to emulate existing webcomics collectives, might be comparable to Marvel’s effort back then, in that they’re trying to to take on the hip new kids on their own turf. I’d like to read that essay again and see if I can look more closely for parallels."

In my original post on Zuda, I was quite explicit in referencing Epic Comics and DC's New Talent Showcase as other historical examples of the corporate companies trying to lure talented amateur creators more with the promise of greater exposure than any solid offers of a prevailing wage or (Good God, Y'all!) creators rights. There's no question in my mind that Zuda is just the latest, if by far the most under-developed and ham-handed iteration of this somewhat sleazy and pathetic scheme.

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Imagine Superman in the Public Domain Since 1952 -- According to one expert, the world would be a better place if this were so.

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The Days of Our Lives in Comics -- Now threatening to become a meme, but at least a fascinating and entertaining one, Johnny Bacardi digs into his archives for the story of his life in comics, prompted by Dick Hyacinth's recent forays.

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Dick Doesn't Hate the '90s -- Part Two of Dick Hyacinth's journey through his life in comics is up now. I love it, but I would love it even more! if he would include the apostrophe in the term '90s.

I should be grateful he isn't spelling it 90's.

I sure do miss literacy.

Speaking of literacy, I finally seem to be RSS literate, after years of struggling with why people are so damn worked up over syndicated feeds. I spent some time on bloglines.com yesterday, and set up feeds for my favourite blogs (both comics and non-comics). I even added some RSS options to the sidebar over on the right. So, yes, Johanna, I think I finally get it.

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Alive -- I love the surge in comics reading that has happened in North America as a result of the manga revolution, but I have to admit that few multi-volume series have personally engaged me as a reader over the long haul. Probably the longest I stuck by a particular series was Battle Royale. I loved the first volume of Battle Royale, and bought maybe the first eight or nine volumes. But I loved the concept enough to want to see the film (both the manga and the movie were inspired by an original novel, I believe), and when a friend sent me the movie on DVD, I was thrilled. I enjoyed the hell out of the (demented and wild) movie, but it compromised my ability to be patient through the eventual 14 or 15 volumes of the manga series (I "knew how it ended," basically), and I dropped the title from my pull list. Bad critic; bad, bad.

My taste in manga seems to run more to short stories and single volumes. If you were to ask me what the most essential manga in my graphic novel library is, I'd immediately say the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi collected by Drawn and Quarterly, The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo. Those aren't generally the manga I see teenagers gobbling down in the stacks at my local bookstores, but Tatsumi and I are both older than they are. I bet eventually some of them will see the same depth and power in his stuff that I do, weaned as they have been on an international and cosmopolitan worldview of comics (something I am glad, indeed, to have lived long enough to see come to pass).

Alive is a new series written by Tadashi Kawashima with art by Adachitoka; it's published by Del Ray Manga, and it reminded me a bit of Battle Royale: Both series feature likable teenage protagonists revolting against an insane, deadly set of circumstances. Alive is more humanistic in its approach, though. It takes less glee in the gore, and therefore the violence it does contain seems somehow more consequential.

There's the usual teasing sexuality, one panty shot being oddly intersected with a moment of horrific despair, and another moment in which a sister flashes her brother, to apparently bring him out of a funk (and apparently it works). I don't know that I'll ever fully understand the differences in our two cultures, not that I am casting aspersions one way or the other. I just thought it was worth noting -- the feeling of not quite being in a world you understand is inherent in even the most pedestrian of manga, and I'm not altogether certain that isn't one of its appeals, if not one of its greatest strengths.

The world (not just Japan, that's clearly spelled out) has been caught up in the grip of what some believe is a "suicide virus" (the term is in big bold letters on the back cover, so, this is not a spoiler), causing some people to just suddenly off themselves for no apparent reason. The strangeness of this turn of events is brilliantly captured in the extended sequence depicting the first suicide we see. The tone of the scene is both sublime and horrible at the same time, wondrously captured through words and pictures.

Another sequence stands out in my mind as one of the best in the book, and its one that takes full advantage of manga's ability to parse out a single moment over the course of many pages. The protagonist, Taisuke, attempts a rooftop rescue of a beautiful young girl as his actions are contrasted with his older sister witnessing a separate suicide attempt. It's a brilliantly-paced sequence that had me in a completely arrested state of suspense.

There are a couple of genuinely eerie scenes depicting the apparent initiation into the suicidal state of mind that is enveloping the world's peoples, moments that force you to stop reading as time stops for the characters involved.

Alive is pulpy stuff, with the feel of a story that is meant for serialization. I'm okay with that, though. It's off to a compelling start, and I want to read the rest of the story. Then I'll find out if there's a movie.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

 
A Life in Comics -- I love reading about other people's experiences discovering and reading comics in their formative years. Today at Dick Hates Your Blog, Dick Hyacinth posts part one of his life-in-comics memoir.

If you're curious what I might write on the subject, here's My Inner Child's Favourite Comics, which I probably need to overhaul and expand one day soon. Note to self, etc.

By the way, belated birthday high-fives to Dirk Deppey, whose big day was yesterday, but somehow I missed it. Hope it was a good one, Dirk. It's sublimely good to have you back online on a daily basis.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

 
Best Comics News of the Month -- Turns out Greg Sadowski is planning a third B. Krigstein volume. The previous two -- one a heavily-illustrated Krigstein biography with selected remastered stories, the other a massive slab of even more remastered masterworks by comics' smartest visionary -- are both absolutely essential for anyone who loves the artform of comics. A third volume automatically goes to the top of my list of highly-anticipated works-in-progress.

Via The Comics Reporter.

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Zuda: Day Twoda -- So Newsarama has posted an interview with DC Comics Preznit Paul Levitz about Zuda Comics, the AOL/Time Warner International Entertainment Megacorporation's online webcomics initiative, the announcement of which broke the internet in half -- or possibly quarters -- yesterday.

Preznit Levitz hardly seems to be any kind of expert about comics and their relationship to the internet and computers. For example, he tells Newsarama:

"I haven’t seen a lot of evidence yet that people want to read 20 pages of a comic book on their computer screen."

Well, Mr. Preznit, I have. Try searching Demonoid or Z-Cult for comics sometime. You might find a few of your own on there, even. Here's some. The fact is, thousands of people read 20 page comics online for free every week. I wonder how much more positive press DC might have gotten out of this story if instead of the still-murky copyright questions and vague plans that have been laid out, DC had issued a bold and definitive plan for competing with BitTorrent sites, offering a legal, low-cost alternative to capture the attention of those who want to read their comics online in downloadable .cbz and .cbr format?

Ah, well. Coulda-shoulda-woulda. At least Preznit Levitz is effusive with his deeply moderated praise for people who blazed the trail Zuda hopes to ride on the coattails of:

"You do have guys like Fred Gallagher or Scott Kurtz that are just terrifically competent at building the business and technological means around that to do something that works not only creatively, but profitably for them."

I hope someday someone calls me terrifically competent. That seems like high praise, indeed.

And I realize that Newsarama's Matt Brady has to go along to get along with the AOL/Time Warner International Entertainment Megacorporation, but Jesus, Matt, you couldn't at least ask about copyright and creators rights? Oh, wait, I found two references to copyright on the page the interview appears on:

Copyright ©2000 - 2007, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright 2006 Newsarama.com, LLC

Well, at least someone understands the importance of copyright.

Update: Tom Spurgeon explains reaction to the Zuda announcement in plain English. Spurgeon wins.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

 
Tales From the Crypt #1 -- Papercutz revives the EC horror title in name only in this debut issue, which has a lot more wrong with it than right. To spoil the suspense, I'll say up front that Kyle Baker's cover is the only element that gets it entirely right, and even that is ruined with an ass-ugly word balloon.

A text piece promises two 20-page stories in each issue, "in the EC tradition," but the EC tradition is actually four stories five to seven pages or so in length. This gave EC's stable of writers and artists a narrow window with which to grab the reader's attention, and a lot of the time they did just that, creating at worst, lurid but entertaining pulp fiction, and at best, some of the most enduring masterpieces of comic book art ever.

The lead story here is called "Body of Work," and the script carries you along just fine up until the nonsensical non-ending, which demonstrates pretty definitively that the writer, Marc Bilgrey, has no grasp at all on story structure or dramatic payoff. The story does seem to be building to something, then it just ends in a manner that suggests Bilgrey was making it up as he went along, and either lost patience or ran out of pages. But there's no logic or irony to what happens, and both are essential if you are laying claim to working "in the EC tradition."

The art in "Body of Work," by "Mr. Exes," initially put me off; it looks quite a bit like Evan Dorkin's comedy work, actually. But, as inappropriate as the style seems for a comic called Tales From the Crypt, it works far better than Bilgrey's script ultimately does, and if the script had risen to a higher level than it ultimately does, the art could have worked despite being 180 degrees away from anything at all like what you might expect from an EC homage.

The second and final story in this debut issue is "For Serious Collectors Only," and I have to note that its writer, Rob Vollmar, is a longtime friend of mine. His story, about a rabid action figure collector, holds together better than "Body of Work," with some nice character moments and a compelling, if inside-baseball-ish script likely to appeal most to comic book nerds. But the ending, frankly, isn't much better constructed than Bilgrey's was, and if you're going to call your comic book Tales from the Crypt, man, your stories better have some fucking snap in their endings.

With four stories in every issue, the original EC Comics could get away with one or two clunkers; in fact, rare was the issue that had four uniformly excellent stories all in a row. With only two stories per issue, the series needs an editor and creators working overtime to make sure those two tales meet the standard you're setting yourself up for when you call the book Tales From the Crypt.

That, I think, is the main failure of the title. The 1950s Tales had a strong, unwavering (even heavy-handed) editorial mandate and oversight from William Gaines and Al Feldstein. There's little evidence of any editorial guidance here at all, from the top-level failure to make the stories as strong as possible, all the way down to the truly wretched lettering that is slapped onto both stories.

I'm all for a revival of EC-style comics, and I'm not so closed-minded that I think a new version has to necessarily be a rubber-stamp of the styles and techniques of Gaines and Company's work. But as someone who has a great love for the best EC had to offer, I'm actually offended by the lack of respect or comprehension this first issue demonstrates for what was special about EC Comics.

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Crooked Little Vein -- "Crime and sex are inextricably linked, I have found." So says one of the plethora of bizarre and sordid characters private detective Mike McGill meets over the course of Warren Ellis's first prose novel. Readers of Crooked Little Vein will find crime and sex are bound up in each other, in ways most of us probably are only peripherally aware of.

But we're more and more aware of the strangeness of the world, thanks to the internet and its ability to provide instant information to anyone who wants it and can score access to a computer hooked up to the web. Humans have been doing weird shit to themselves, others and farm animals since probably before spoken language was even codified, but we never knew how widespread sexual strangeness could be, or how much of an audience it could muster, until the internet came along and shattered all our illusions. Ellis -- and better him than me, I must say -- has spent years prowling the web for the worst of what is out there, and Crooked Little Vein works as both a gripping mystery novel and a more-or-less true-life travelogue of the perverse.

If you've read any of Warren Ellis's comics work, especially Transmetropolitan and Desolation Jones, the first few pages of Crooked Little Vein might seem familiar. Mike McGill is an embittered but ultimately good-hearted private eye -- an admitted "shit magnet" -- who is tasked with uncovering a hidden truth that goes to the very heart of American culture, and is set-upon by vile and outrageous obstacles. A rat pisses in his coffee. A cutting-edge cell phone is introduced. A young woman with tattoos and many lovers of both genders comes on the scene. It's not, as I say, unfamilar, at least to devotees of Ellis's comics writing (of which I am one, it should be noted). But it's also entertaining and even enlightening stuff. I had a hard time putting the book down, honestly, and that was a pleasant surprise.

So if you're familiar with Ellis's comics work, try to see past your initial instinct that this will be more of Ellis plowing the same Pete Wisdom/Spider Jerusalem/Richard Fell kind of character that he does so well, or at least so often, and give yourself over to a particularly delicious ride.

Ellis teaming up his curmudgeonly bastard with a hot bisexual young woman is not the plot of the story, anyway -- it's merely the setup for what unfolds. And even the setup, once underway, is an amusing bit of business. What makes it work is the honest humanity Ellis injects into private detective Mike McGill. Utterly charming is the way in which McGill comes to grips with his relationship with Trix, his unpredictable and straightforwardly lusty partner in his investigation. What happens between them doesn't seem entirely likely in the real world, but the way Ellis sketches out the dynamics of Trix's personality, it becomes not only possible but logical. There's a real energy in their interplay, and their scenes together are a uniform delight. Crooked Little Vein's hidden depths lie in the growth Trix forces on McGill, and in his struggles with having his eyes opened to more than just the bizarre antics he keeps stumbling into.

Over the 276 pages, Ellis takes McGill and Trix on a journey through America's not-so-secret perversions, which are recounted in excruciatingly convincing detail. If the saline solution sequence made me squirm in discomfort, well, it was meant to, and I have a feeling that every weird sexual practice we learn about has a firm basis in reality. You'll come away from Crooked Little Vein knowing perhaps more than you ever thought you would about what people are doing to themselves and each other out there in the world, and while some sequences are definitely over-the-top -- the confrontation on the Roanoke Ranch, for example -- Ellis has a hell of a lot of fun with McGill's resigned sense of horror, and even more with the shenanigans of the White House Chief of Staff, who gets many of the book's best lines.

McGill and Trix are surprisingly rich in their characterization, adding an unexpected but altogether welcome level of nuance. You may wince here and there, if you haven't been paying attention to what has become mainstream in American sexual life, and you may find this sequence or that just a tad convenient, broadly drawn or didactic (a funny word to use, given what we're being educated about). But the book is never boring, and the lead characters honestly earn our interest and even concern. Crooked Little Vein ultimately delivers on its promises, rewarding readers with a bizarre and twisted adventure story.

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Internet Officially Broken -- The Zuda Comics story has actually broken the internet in half, just as I predicted. Proof? Here's X-Axis reviewer Paul O'Brien agreeing with my take on the story in the commments thread of the Blog@Newsarama story. I don't have the energy to prove this is the comics internet equivalent of lions lying down with lambs, so if you're new to these parts, just trust me. Longtime followers of me or Paul or both will know exactly what I am talking about. Also eerie: So far all the comments in that thread are more or less civil.

Related: An attorney gives his first impressions of the whole imbroglio at Warren Ellis's The Engine.

Somewhat Related: My review of Ellis's new novel Crooked Little Vein is coming up, probably tomorrow morning.

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Alan David Doane's Recommended Comics, Graphic Novels and Related -- I started reading comic books in 1972, at the age of six. This is a list of the very best comics, graphic novels and related publications I have read in my lifetime of reading and a decade of writing about the artform. This is a work in progress; if you have a suggestion for this page, or if you have questions about any of these titles I've listed, please email me.



Alison Bechdel



Chester Brown

Ed Brubaker

Charles Burns

Kurt Busiek and Greg Ruth

Eddie Campbell

Dan Clowes

Jordan Crane

Robert Crumb

Joe Daly

Warren Ellis

Garth Ennis

Renee French

Gary Groth

Gilbert Hernandez

Jaime Hernandez

Paul Hornschemeier

Kevin Huizenga

James Kochalka

Bob Levin

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Jasen Lex

Jason Marcy

Joe Matt

David Mazzucchelli

Mike Mignola

Mark Miller

Gary Spencer Millidge

Tony Millionaire

Alan Moore

Grant Morrison

Bryan Lee O'Malley

Harvey Pekar

John Porcellino

Jim Rugg

Greg Sadowski

Salgood Sam (Max Douglas)

Frank Santoro

Charles Schulz

Seth

Jeff Smith

Jiro Taniguchi

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Adrian Tomine

C. Tyler

Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo

Chris Ware

Bill Watterson

Barry Windsor-Smith

Jim Woodring

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The Monday Briefing -- Back to work for me today after being off since the last half of last week. We had no major family events or trips planned, but I knew there wouldn't be much to do at work, and if I'm going to be bored, I'd rather be bored at home, frankly. That's where I keep my funnybooks, y'see.

* Internet-Breaker of the Week: At Casa Spurge, Tom Spurgeon gets the first headline on DC's newest new talent showcase, Zuda Comics. Or is that New Talent Showcase? DC and Marvel never do get tired of coming up with new schemes to let idealistic and untested creators do the heavy lifting for free (or close enough so as to not make a difference). (Maybe that guy in Ohio that did that awful book for Epic Comics before it crashed and burned can revive it online for DC! Yay, comics!).

Tom Spurgeon wonders (with tongue firmly in cheek, no doubt) if DC, a subsidiary of the Time Warner international entertainment megacorporation, will let new creators keep the rights to their work. I don't wonder that at all. Ask Alan Moore about DC's generous rights policies. Then duck.

Of course, nothing will apparently be online for readers to look at until well into this fall. I can see how announcing it now will allow them time to collect material from Epic Comics victims hopeful creators, but that's a long time for a whole lotta nuthin' to be sitting there driving away people who click over thinking there'll be comics to read. It's also long enough for savvy would-be creators to talk to, oh, a lawyer or two about their "deal," so, hopefully they'll do that going in, so they can't claim later on they had no idea that an international entertainment megacorporation might have the audacity to put its own needs and profits before those of would-be creators with stars in their eyes.

You can be sure the comics will be progressive as all hell, after reading this quote from DC's Ron Perazza: "If [creators want to do] a straight-on newspaper strip, like a Doonesbury or something like that, great. If [they] want to do something a little more abstract, like a Family Circus that’s all in a circle, fantastic." That's right folks, The Family Circus is abstract. Is their no boundary to their imagination?

At Journalista, the creators rights angle and chances of making a splash in the already-established webcomics nation are vetted by keen observer Dirk Deppey. I don't normally say things like "vetted," but since the Zuda Comics people like to say it, why not me?

The funniest quote in the New York Times article Spurgeon links to announcing the new initiative comes from DC Preznit Paul Levitz, who must have been shocked to learn: "We’ve seen a real wellspring of creativity [by people posting their online comics], and it’s been a different kind of material than publishers have been putting out." Of course, Levitz means different from the kind of comics superhero publishers have been putting out, because only the direct market is slavishly obsessed with superheroes to the exclusion of all other types of stories. The internet gets out to a far broader and more diverse audience, which is why there aren't many top-of-mind superhero webcomics out there. But don't hold your breath waiting for DC to bring you the new Achewood or Diesel Sweeties or American Elf. Here's a thought: Maybe they would have brought you the old ones if they were all that smart and interested in the future of comics.

* Also at The Comics Reporter, I enjoyed Tom Spurgeon's weekend interview with comics journalist Jeet Heer. Jeet is a fine writer, and even contributed a couple of items to Comic Book Galaxy a few years back. Here is Jeet Heer's review of McSweeney's #13, the comics anthology issue edited by Chris Ware.

* Unlike most comics bloggers, I did not take the weekend off; here's what I was up to: reviews of the new MOME Summer 2007, Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics and the fairly atrocious new Thor #1, as well as my thoughts on Nine Graphic Novels to Read Before You Die.

* Christopher Butcher weighs in on the whole what-manga-sells-and-does-not-sell-and-to-whom issue. Butcher knows more about selling comics than you or I do, so pay attention.

* Chris Allen recommends Patton Oswalt's new CD, and I could not agree more. I gave it a listen after reading his review, and I am not kidding when I tell you that I almost lost consciousness, I was laughing so hard.

* The fine folks at AiT/Planet Lar have posted a kind welcome back to The ADD Blog (thanks, gang!) and a handy roundup of links to my reviews of their books.

* Tony Isabella is back from hiatus with a new Tony's Online Tips. Glad to hear he's bouncing back from recent health problems -- click over for his story of trying to take a sleep apnea test, because I just know that's exactly how it would go for me as well. Get much better soon, Tony.

* By the way, here's a reminder that if you prefer to get The ADD Blog posts in your e-mail, you can subscribe through Google Groups. Also, if you have a blog or website and would like to set up a reciprocal link, e-mail me.

* Roger Green looks at nicknames he's been called. I'll plead guilty to having referred to him as "Rog," though I may not from here on out, insert smiley face here. As for myself, like Roger I will also eschew revealing nicknames I've been called in the context of romantic relationships, but in college a friend took to calling me "Webster" because he thought I knew every word in the dictionary (hardly; I just knew more words than he did). My friend Jake used to call me "DOANE" and it always seemed to be in all-caps, a blend of affection and exasperation: "Oh, DOANE." One ex-girlfriend's nickname for me (I'll reveal just this one, okay?) was "Doaney," which strangely I didn't mind. A girl I had a huge, utterly unreciprocated crush on in college called me "Al," as did the wonderful older gentleman who was our building manager from 1995 to 2004. Other than those two, though, that's where I differ from Paul Simon: You Can't Call Me Al.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

 
MOME Summer 2007 -- So we've had two years of MOME now, and every volume (this is the eighth) has contained a critical mass of good, forward-looking comics, enough so to make each one worth recommending to anyone interested in where comics is at, and where it's going.

Eleanor Davis is the star this time around, contributing a cover, incidental drawings sprinkled throughout the volume, an exceptional 12-page story and the subject of an interview with Gary Groth, one of the inventors of comics journalism and one of its finest practitioners (as well as the publisher of MOME, it should be noted).

Davis's story leads off the issue, and it is a gorgeous lesson in formalist seduction. "Stick and String" explores the primal intersection of like and not-like, and visual metaphors abound: male vs. female, dance vs. music, primitive vs. well, less-primitive. It's also a simple story about a sexual encounter, and it's hard to imagine any adult not finding meaning and resonance in it.

Tom Kaczynski's "10,000 Years" reads like the superintelligent bastard child of Adrian Tomine and Wally Wood, perhaps what comics would look like today if the Comics Code had not put EC Comics out of business in the 1950s, and the superhero had remained one genre among many in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

"Young Americans" by Èmile Bravo sticks its dick in your head and makes a milkshake of your mind's expectations, and is a dark highlight of the year in comics. To say any more would spoil the current volume's greatest moment.

There are two contributions from Sophie Crumb this time out, a one-pager that is a minor delight and a multi-page story that kind of makes me sympathetic with those who wish MOME were a Sophie-free zone. I do think her work would be better served in her own series, but I don't know if more Belly Button issues are planned. And maybe it's my bias toward autobiographical stories, but her dream comics (and those of most other cartoonists as well, it should be noted) tend to not interest me much.

Paul Hornschemeier closes out the issue with another chapter in his "Life with Mr. Dangerous" serial, which is a pleasure to read but difficult to assess on a semi-annual basis and may read better once collected under one cover.

Al Columbia, Lewis Trondheim and others also contribute, making for a good mix of established masters and progressive newcomers.

I kind of understand why Christopher Butcher wrestles with what MOME is, exactly. Each issue offers up a lot -- a lot of good work by great cartoonists. The next volume promises work by Jim Woodring, so there's no question that it's one of the most significant and even fun anthologies of comic art today. But each issue feels like another piece in a puzzle rather than a discreet comics event suitable for regular periodical placement on the magazine rack at Borders, maybe between AdBusters and ArtForum. With tweaking, MOME seems to me poised to be a real presence in the growing real-world interest in what is possible in comics. As it stands, MOME seems aimed at the already-converted artcomix lover, and I am without question in that camp.

I love MOME, but I feel like the world could love it too, if it didn't feel so much like something you needed to get in on the ground floor to fully understand and enjoy. I'd like to see Fantagraphics apply some knob-twisting to make each new volume feel like an event unto itself, with maybe one or two more articles complimenting the interviews, and perhaps less serialized pieces and more standalone works of genuine wonder, like this issue's "Stick and Stone" by Eleanor Davis.

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Reading Comics -- This new hardcover by Douglas Wolk is probably more a book you'd want to sample from your local library before you decide to lay out real cash for it. I think his intentions are probably sincere, but the ultimate product seems more like an opportunity to profit from the current and growing interest in graphic novels than any kind of paradigm-shifting insight into the artform.

Wolk's tastes are pretty close to mine when it comes to what he likes in comics, so I was surprised by how often I found my contrarian hackles were raised by his writing. I found his occasionally awkward or bizarre phrasing a genuine annoyance, and I don't think the book at all rises to its stated goal of explaining "how graphic novels work and what they mean." There's definitely room for a prose version of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, I think, but Reading Comics is not it.

Fully half the book is reviews of specific works, a lot of which is reworked from previous publications -- as if there just wasn't enough stuff in his head to fulfill the book's stated remit, so the "best-ofs" get dragged off his hard-drive to pad out the second half of the book. And a lot of those essays are worth reading, but they get in the way of what the book sets out to do.

I was a bit disgusted to see how fully involved Wolk was in the ridiculous "Jess Lemon" fraud that was perpetrated on the comics internet a few years ago. He goes into painful, self-satisfied detail about that sorry incident. Not that the fanboys Wolk and Heidi McDonald were tweaking didn't have it coming, but more that there was an opportunity there to enlighten some truly ignorant superhero comic book readers, and instead they just fucked with some pathetic fanboys to their own amusement. I hadn't known Wolk was in on it, but I have had pretty much zero respect for Heidi McDonald ever since, and now Wolk can join in that rarefied number.

Most off-putting of all is the marketing of the book as "The first serious, readable, provocative, canon-smashing book of comics criticism by the leading critic in the field." It's none of those things other than readable (pretty much the baseline for what you'd expect from any book, no?), and most exasperatingly, Wolk is very, very far from the leading critic in the field. Tom Spurgeon, R.C. Harvey, Bob Levin, Chris Allen, Christopher Butcher, Rob Vollmar and Jog all come immediately to mind as far better writers and more nuanced critics of comics and graphic novels. There are probably more good and persuasive reviews of comics in any single issue of The Comics Journal from the past three years than in the entirety of Reading Comics.

There are portions of the book that make it worth a read, but overall it feels undercooked and over-hyped, and I had hoped for far better. If you're interested, proceed with caution and prepare to be underwhelmed.

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Nine Graphic Novels to Read Before You Die -- It can be daunting, browsing your graphic novel collection in, say, your 40s, and wondering where they'll go when you die. In my head, I know which ones I would like my daughter to have, and my son. And which ones I would like send to which friends, and which ones I hope my wife will finally take a look at.

I've been reading comics since 1972, and the first time I acquired what we would now call a graphic novel was just six or seven years later. I'm brutally selective in what goes on my bookshelves, which is why I only have about 700 graphic novels at the moment, despite at one time or another probably owning five times that many.

If I read it and am certain it will be a lifelong joy to revisit its pleasures, onto the shelves it goes. If I read it and don't find much -- or any -- value in it, chances are it ends up in someone else's hands sooner, rather than later.

Few graphic novels have been so godawfully egregious that I actually throw them away -- books called "Tozzer" and "Americanjism" come to mind as ones that I despised and was certain no one else would find of value, either, so in the trash they went. But usually I am certain someone will get some pleasure out of even most books I don't much care for, which is why I end up giving away, trading or selling books that don't make the cut into my permanent graphic novel library.

I don't know if you're like me. I don't know if you have given this much thought into which graphic novels you own or have read. But I do know this: There are nine graphic novels you should indisputably read before you die. And here they are.

* The Filth. As recently as yesterday, I noticed an article on a popular comic book website claiming this -- one of Grant Morrison's very best and most mind-expanding works -- is "difficult to read." Bullshit. Start at the top left of page one, and make your way to the bottom right. Repeat until you're finished. It's fucking brilliant, and worth the time it takes to let it immerse itself into your consciousness.

* We3. Getting all the Morrison right out of the way up front, We3 is a gorgeous and thoughtful rumination on man's relationship to, stewardship of, and abuse toward our fellow inhabitants of Earth.

* Book of Leviathan. You'll find a lot of intelligent comics critics recommending this one, even though you may very well never have heard of it. Once you read it, you will never forget it.

* David Boring. Much more than the oddball mystery it appears at first glance, David Boring is one of Clowes's most dense and rewarding stories, and also paradoxically one of his most straightforward. You just have to pay attention.

* Diary of a Teenage Girl. If I could ask you to read only one book on this list, this is the one that I'd ask you to read. It will change the way you think about relationships and sexuality, and also demonstrate just how powerful comics can be as a storytelling medium.

* Fantastic Butterflies. James Kochalka says he probably won't do more longform graphic novels like this one, which is sort of an extended version of his American Elf daily diary comic strips. It's also one of his most entertaining and impressive graphic novels.

* Jays Days: Rise and Fall of the Pasta Shop Lothario. Jason Marcy is one of the most blunt and insightful autobiographical cartoonists alive today, and this is the book of his that you should read, if you only try one.

* The Journal Comic. Drew Weing was my favourite webcomics cartoonist during the time he was producing these strips. I wish he'd kept it up.

* The Ticking. Renee French contains multitudes within her talent, from eerie mindfucks to sincere and graceful children's books. The Ticking is her most definitive work (so far), and a true masterpiece of comic art.

There are graphic novels that are more accomplished, beautiful or in some other way more outstanding than at least some on this list, but these are nine books that I honestly think are under-appreciated, under-read and under-discussed. All of them deserve your time and attention, and I'd be surprised if you didn't enjoy all of them a great deal. If you decide to sample some of the books on the list, please e-mail me and let me know what you think of what you find within their pages.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

 
Thor #1 -- At least two moments in the opening pages of this first issue will remind you of Mark Waid and Alex Ross's Kingdom Come, but in all fairness to the creators of this new attempt to make a comic book about the Norse god of thunder work, Waid and Ross stole Ragnarök from Norse mythology more than Straczynski and Coipel are stealing from Kingdom Come.

Of course, Ross's best artwork had the proper sense of majesty to convey something of the enormity of a war between gods (or god-like beings), while Coipel's generic craftwork conveys precisely the fact that Marvel has a monthly series about Thor again, and here's an issue of it.

Any reader who rankled at the mystic hooey in Straczynski's dire Amazing Spider-Man run will be surprised only at how much further said hooey is ratcheted up in Thor #1. You'd think the character and milieu would easily accommodate such baloney, and perhaps it might, if it were not of the vague variety Straczynski hauls out to coax Thor from out of the narrative mothballs he's been in for the past however-long-he's-been-"dead." Lots of mumbo-jumbo between Thor and (I guess) Don Blake as they stand amidst the generic swirly-stuff of the void (Mr. Coipel, you're no Gene Colan when it comes to generic swirly-stuff) chit-chatting about how Thor has freed himself from the cycle of Ragnarök and is now free to rock out with his hammer out all the live long day, and by the way, all your presumed-dead supporting characters friends are just waiting for you to wish them back out of the cornfield.

Once Blake and Thor return to Earth, Straczynski shows us how clever he is by having a woman Blake rents a room from note that "Weatherman says we're expecting a thunderstorm." Blake grins and says "I wouldn't be at all surprised." Yikes. The era in which Straczynski was able to create genuine tension and humour in his characters -- around the second and third seasons of Babylon 5, frankly -- seem far, far away from what he delivers here. Well, a straight-to-DVD B5 release is pending; maybe he saved his good stuff for that.

The final page of this debut issue (with "to be continued" on it and everything) has to be the least-compelling cliffhanger I think I have ever seen in a superhero comic. No stakes are raised, no mysteries are offered, and unless one has been powerfully seduced by this most average of stories, it's almost impossible to imagine anyone saying to themselves "Man, what happensnext?"

Varying eras of Thor have risen and fallen in quality, as is true of any corporate superhero franchise unwinding over decades. The best-written was almost certainly also the best drawn, when Walt Simonson was following his bliss on the title in the 1980s. But Dan Jurgens's stories a few years back were serviceable, and certainly Mike McKone and Tom Raney delivered much better art than the thunder god enjoyed since Simonson's storied run ended so long ago.

This first issue delivers none of those pleasures, though -- both story and art feel uninspired and painfully, joylessly mediocre. Despite the sales figures of their other recent Marvel work, ultimately neither Straczynski or Coipel are much more than slightly-above-average talents when it comes to the creation of corporate superhero comics circa 2007. So you'd have liked to think they would have brought their very best efforts to the table in re-launching a key Marvel series, with the added bonus of a more-or-less blank slate upon which to make their mark. Instead, they deliver a run-of-the-mill effort that is impressive only in how mightily it fails to impress.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

 
The Friday Briefing -- I haven't gotten to the comic shop yet this week -- I'm hoping today's the day -- so let's see what everyone else is reading, shall we?

* Chris Allen reviews Two_Fisted Tales Vol. 1. One of the luckiest parts of my early teenage years was my mother's gift to me of the Russ Cochran hardcover, slipcased EC Comics sets. Decades later, not having those anymore is probably my biggest comics-related regret, so I'm glad to see that these new reprints are being released. Chris's take is interesting, in that he recognizes the greatness found in the book without paying automatic, reverent homage to Kurtzman and his crew. Chris's lack of reverence and respect is one of his major strengths as a comics critic.

* Rog observes the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the most important creative partnership in history. Roger's thoughts on music (or anything else, really) are always a great read.

* Rob Vollmar reviews Dragon Head Vol. 1-3 for Comics Worth Reading. This series was recommended to me by Jim Crocker of the great western Mass comic shop Modern Myths during my recent trip there with my daughter. Unfortunately, by then, my money was committing itself to buying enough gas to limp home after a great day of spending adventuring in Northampton. Jim and Rob are both people with impeccable taste (go ahead, I dare you to try to peck their taste!), so I have a feeling Dragon Head may be one to check out.

* Also of interest at CWR is Johanna's piece on adult-male-targeted manga not finding its audience. I'll be honest and say that while the manga revolution is a delight to me -- hey, I've waited all my life to find teenagers lounging about bookstores reading comics, I'm not gonna quibble about where the comics are coming from -- few manga series have grabbed and kept my attention. I like the horror manga of Junji Ito, but it seems like even in Japanese comics, my tastes tend to the artcomix fringe. My favourites tend to be stuff like Tatsumi's Push Man and Abandon the Old in Tokyo, and some of Ponent Mon's releases like The Walking Man. I do believe there's a manga for anyone who loves comics (and probably for anyone who loves to read, period), but there's probably not a manga for anyone who only loves superhero comics, and specifically North American corporate superhero comics. The core audience for those is too xenophobic, and trying to market manga to them through Previews while they lust after Geoff Johns continuity porn is like trying to sell a delicious cut of filet mignon to a vegan.

* I have a feeling there's much more hay to be made out of further exploration of the vegan/corporate superhero junkie comparison. I really do.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

 
Happy Butcherday -- Via Tom Spurgeon comes word that one of my very favourite comics bloggers, Christopher Butcher, turns 30 today. I hope it's a fantastic day, Chris.

Das Spurge notes it's also Bill Watterson's 49th birthday today. It seems surreal to me that the creator of Calvin and Hobbes and I can both be in our 40s. Here's a review of a Calvin and Hobbes book I wrote a few years back.

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Extras Season Two -- Very glad to see the second season of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's Extras (their follow-up to The Office) is coming out on DVD next week.

Now, Extras isn't as immediately, obviously brilliant as The Office was -- I mean, the first episode of The Office I saw was the first episode of Season Two and I was not only not lost, I was hooked for life. I love the entire original British series, both seasons, and I love the U.S. version, and yeah, I pretty much love Extras.

I'm more or less a comedy snob, in the same way I am a superhero comics snob -- I can and do enjoy comedy, but it's got to be intelligent and present a singular comedic vision. Gervais and Merchant tend to deliver that in spades.

Extras is a little slower-paced and deliberate than The Office, but it's much more about character. Other than Tim and Dawn, most of the characters on The Office (just like working in a real office, it should be noted) were somewhat two-dimensional twats who deserved whatever they got. Gervais's own character eventually acquired some genuine depth beyond being pathetic, arrogant and sad, but poor Sir David of Brent had to wait until the two Christmas special episodes to earn any real sympathy. Most all the lead characters on Extras are more nuanced and likable, and I think it's a slightly more thoughtful show as well. Which is weird, because I think I like The Office more, but they're do very different that it's almost apples and oranges directly comparing the two. I do love them both mightily, though. Added bonus: Gervais's co-star Ashley Jensen is exquisite.

So if you like good comedy, but perhaps haven't seen Extras as of yet, just a heads up, as of Tuesday, the entire series to date will be available on DVD and is well worth your attention.

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Thursday Link-O-Rama -- I hope anyone reading in the U.S. had a good Independence Day. I had zero expectations for the day, and since it was rainy and overcast in my part of upstate New York, those expectations were more than met.

I want to say thank you to everyone who read and responded to my essay Diabetic Again earlier in the week. As you can imagine, I was a bit hesitant to post something so long and so personal, but it seems to have struck a chord with many readers, and I'm gratified to hear from so many people that they're planning to take a good look at their own health and make some changes where needed.

Here's some good stuff to read.

* Matt Brady looks at Dan Clowes's Pussey. I feel so naughty just typing that sentence.

* John Byrne's passive-aggressive review of Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 1. Short version: It's great, but burned-out industry pariah Byrne would have been a much better choice to write the introduction than Grant Morrison, one of the two or three most gifted writers ever to work in corporate superhero comics and a guy actually smart enough to appreciate Kirby for his ideas more than just his surface thrills.

* Dumb Little Man provides great reasons for drinking mainly -- or only -- water, and how to get into the habit. Having just made the switch to mostly water, this was of interest to me.

* The Simple Dollar on the finances of good and bad parenting. Must-reading for anyone who truly loves their kids. Your time and attention is worth more than a hundred clown-and-pony-ride-filled birthdays. Also at The Simple Dollar, all the grilling tips you'll ever need. I'm saving this one for this weekend and buying some vegetables to grill.

* Roger Ebert looks at Michael Moore's Sicko. Ebert has been through the medical wringer in the past few years, so his words are worth paying attention to. Related: How Sicko is playing in Texas.

* Zen Habits has 20 ways to get free or cheap books. I'd add a 21st: Become a critic and start your own website. Warning: You'll actually have to be at least somewhat good at it to succeed long-term. Also, you'll receive far more awful books than good ones (ask any critic), but that's just Sturgeon's Law asserting itself. Not be to confused with Spurgeon's Law. Somebody should create a Wikipedia page for that one.

* Keith Olbermann's definitive statement on the obscenity that is the Bush administration. Olbermann should be president -- and at this point probably has far more support than the disgraced figure head of the catastrophic 2000 coup d'etat that the world has been paying for ever since. The tide is obviously turning, but it's damnably slow. When will this nightmare end? Related: Maybe there's some hope.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

 
Independence Day -- Happy Independence Day to all my U.S. readers. There's not much more I personally value more than independence, so I hope everyone, everywhere will take a moment sometime today to recognize genuine independence in some form and pay it the respect that it deserves, whether it's independent thinking, independent film, your local independent restaurant, movie theater, bookshop or comics store, and of course, independent comics. Those are the good ones, after all.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

 
Diabetic Again -- This is a post I've been thinking about writing for a week or so now, and I can tell you it won't have anything to do with comics, not directly anyway. So if you're here for the funnybook chit-chat, come back later.

I wrote a couple-three weeks back about how I had experienced a bit of a health scare -- I won't go into the gory details, but something happened one afternoon that sent me immediately to the doctor's office. I was diagnosed with a fairly simple and common infection, and given some antibiotics. Within three or four days, I not only felt fantastic, but I had managed to kick my major, major caffeine habit that I had fostered under many years of working in morning radio. The nurse practitioner that I saw told me that caffeine and alcohol would only aggravate my condition, and as it was pretty painful in the beginning, I didn't want to make it any worse. After the symptoms cleared up, it just seemed like a good idea to kick caffeine once and hopefully for all. So I have gone from drinking 4-8 cans of Diet Mountain Dew per day (the diet version because I am diabetic and sugared sodas are definitely not on the menu for me) to drinking nothing but water, lots of it, and about one bottle of Diet Green Tea (no sugar, no caffeine, plus hopefully some antioxidants) every day.

During my visit to the doctor's office, the subject of my diabetes came up, and here's where it gets complicated and hard to talk about for me. But since I resumed blogging here, I don't feel the need to stick solely to the subject of comics, and I feel like I want this blog to be an honest discussion of whatever is on my mind, so again, feel free to click somewhere else if this is not of interest to you. I'm writing this one for me, really, not for you. Although those of you that stick around, I am extremely grateful to you, and you might even learn something about the arrogance and denial that have fucked up my health a bit. And it even ties into Comic Book Galaxy, to a degree. If you've read this far and keep on reading, and you've followed this site a while, you may even find some questions answered.

Where to start? Well, I was first diagnosed with Type 2 ("adult onset") diabetes on (you'll love this) Friday the 13th of November, 1998. I had been overwhelmed with fatigue and peeing every 30 minutes around the clock for weeks, so I knew something was wrong, but even with a family history of the disease (my mother was diabetic), I was ignorant and arrogant enough to actually hope, when I first went to see the doctor because of these symptoms, that maybe I was just suffering some sort of urinary tract infection.

I wasn't, of course. I found out that day that my blood sugar was 307, 300 percent of what a healthy person's reading would be. The news that I was diabetic hit me, at the grand old age of 32, like a brick to the skull. It was raining that day, and as I drove from the doctor's office to the supermarket, I remembering crying and feeling quite a bit like I had been handed a death sentence.

A lot of that emotion stemmed from the fact that I knew little to nothing about diabetes, despite my mother having had it (at this time she had been dead for four years, a victim of Alzheimer's and brain cancer). When I went to the store I bought healthier foods for the most part, but having yet not had any education about my disease at all, I also bought a big jug of orange juice. Mom had always had one in the fridge, and I realize now it was in case her blood sugar went too low. Orange juice has an enormous amount of sugar in it, so while it's good for reviving you if you're hypoglycemic (as in-control diabetics can sometimes become), for me, hyper-glycemic, it was not a very good thing to be drinking.

Luckily for me, within a week or two I had seen a nutritionist and done everything in my power (thank God for the internet, even in 1998) to learn as much as I could about diabetes. So I soon learned not to drink OJ unless it was medically necessary (and even then, it wouldn't take much to get your sugar back up to normal), and I began a radical diet program that consisted of -- amazing, for an American -- eating fewer calories than I was burning every day. This strict meal plan coupled with mild but committed exercise -- usually a half-hour or so walk every day -- allowed me to lose a mid-size child's worth of weight in less than a year, my blood sugar returned to low enough averages that my doctor cut the amount of diabetic medication I had to take every day, my eyesight improved, my libido returned to an 18-year-old's level, basically, life was incredibly good.

I didn't feel arrogant about it at first. For quite some time -- two or three years, I would say -- I felt extremely lucky. Blessed. I had been diagnosed with an incurable illness (I heard diabetes lumped with AIDS and cancer as incurable illnesses in a radio commercial one day, and it brought me to tears), and I had, through modern medicine and what seems to me now an enormous force of will, managed to bring my blood sugar levels basically to normal. All the complications of the disease -- blindness, amputations, heart disease, death -- seemed a lot further away than they did on that rainy day back in November of 1998.

But, as they do, things changed.

My job changed in late summer of 1999, and I think that's where it began. I had made my 30 minute walk a part of my daily routine at work, using my break time to keep myself healthy. When I switched jobs and started working at an all-news radio station in Albany, I now had to sit in a chair basically for seven or eight hours a day with no opportunity at all for exercise. I more or less stuck to my meal plan, but between the lack of opportunities for movement at work and the two-hour, 110 mile or so commute every day, I was just too exhausted by the end of the day to consider exercising at home.

That all-news radio job lasted about two years, then I decided to move on to a Public Radio station in 2001. The new job actually began a week and a day before the attacks of September 11th. The pay was out-of-this world compared to my Glens Falls radio days, or even the Albany job that immediately preceded it. I was a producer, editor and anchor, and also assignment editor for reporters ("bureau chiefs") over a wide swath of the northeastern United States. So I had mad cash, a lot of responsibility, felt like I was genuinely making a better world through my work in radio (a first in what was then about 15 years in broadcasting), and more or less thought I was on top of the world. As you might guess, I would trace the beginning of my arrogance to this period.

Because I had previously had such great control over my blood sugar, I went from 1998 and testing three or four times a day, to maybe once a day by 2000, and probably once a week or less by 2002 or so. I left the Public Radio station in late summer of 2004 under what I felt were less-than-ideal circumstances, and that's where I think the depression set in, depression that I experienced I would say from that time up until maybe the beginning of this year, 2007. So, for two or three years, beginning in August of 2004, I entered what was probably the darkest and most hopeless period of my life.

I said that this post would intersect with Comic Book Galaxy, and here's where that happens. I'm not going to bother digging into the CBG archives to come up with specific dates, so I admit that some of this may be hazy on exact details, but the crucial point is that sometime in 2005 or 2006, when things started to go wrong here (during the "New Comic Book Galaxy" phase that introduced a ton of new columnists and features), I was just too depressed and up my own ass to keep things on course here. I tried the best I could, because there's nothing in life I love more than this site except my family -- but as problems cropped up and had to be dealt with, my main method of dealing with them was just to end them.

So I fucked up this site quite a bit during this time. Offhand, I would say I owe huge and sincere apologies to Derik Badman, Johnny Bacardi, Mike Sterling, JC Glindmyer, Marc Sobel, Ed Cunard and Shawn Hoke, great contributors all; and all of whom came onboard CBG only to leave suddenly because of my inability to think my way through the various issues that came up during this time. Chris Allen, Rob Vollmar and Chris Hunter were an unbelievable help in trying to help me keep this thing going, but as 2005 rolled into 2006, my posting and ability to manage this site were increasingly sporadic.

I took a new radio job in late April of 2005, a time that coincided almost to the day with the accident that destroyed my red car. And while the decision not to buy a new one was based as much on ideology as budget constraints, I have to say that the lack of freedom was yet another blow to my ego and sense of self. These days I am a lot more philosophical about being carless -- if not proud -- but when the accident happened, it was just more crap to deal with, at a time when I wasn't dealing well with all the crap that was already on my plate.

The new job was stressful at first -- there was a lot to wrap my brain around, because although I had been in radio 19 years at that point, I was now doing things and charged with responsibilities I had never experienced before. The learning curve was steep, but eventually I came to grips with it, and came to love it more than any radio job I have ever had. That was a big part of coming out of what I now realized was probably a pretty deep depression, and for most of 2007, I have felt pretty good about my family and my job, while more or less ignoring my diabetes.

I think it was a combination of arrogance stemming from how quickly and effectively I got it under control circa 1998, and the subsequent improvement I experienced in many areas of my health. And dealing with all the different things I did in radio from 1998 to 2007, I find that it was really easy to just forget the fact that I am diabetic. Any of my fellow diabetics may or may not be shocked when I tell you this, but I don't think I tested my blood sugar more than once or twice a year over the past two or three years.

Physically, I felt fine -- artifically propped up by all that caffeine in the Diet Mountain Dew I drank like water -- and I was actively avoiding my doctor, for a number of reasons. Primarily I assumed -- wrongly -- that my sugar was still under control. He had also been a huge fan of the Public Radio station I worked at, so I was a bit humbled by the fact that I no longer worked there. Also, his very pro-active (and very wise) approach to managing my diabetes was just not something I felt I could deal with during this time, late 2004 to early 2007. So, I went to ground, abandoned totally my monitoring of my disease, and as any diabetic will tell you, when it comes to monitoring your blood sugar, out of sight is out of mind.

When I went in to the doctor's office a few weeks back, that was the beginning of digging my way out of all this. Emotionally I feel much better than I have in years -- I don't think I'm suffering from clinical depression anymore -- and I've started monitoring my blood sugar multiple times daily. My highest fasting blood sugar has been 180, and the lowest, this morning, after a few days back on my proper meds and with some real adjustments to my diet, was 135. But I know I've probably done some damage to my body in the time I was out of touch with my diabetes, and I know I have a lot of work to do before I can start to feel that it's under my control again.

I will say that there could not have come a better time for Michael Moore's Sicko, about the abhorrent state of U.S. health care even for people with insurance. Just in the past three weeks, I have experienced some of the stupidity, contempt, bureaucracy and outright hostility the system here in Los Estados Unidos has for people with serious, life-threatening issues. I have been confronted with a lack of knowledge and thoughtfulness by people in a position to help me, that made me realize a meeker, or poorer person than myself might have just given up. Hell, maybe I would have, myself, if I was still in the depression I was in not that long ago.

There's a scorched-earth war on right now against the health and well-being of anyone in this country who needs health care but isn't spectacularly wealthy. Anyone who tells you different is either lying or incredibly naive. I really wonder how much longer I'll be able to afford to take care of myself and my family, even with both my wife and I working full-time jobs. But the lesson of the past few weeks, and of the past few years of my living in denial about a gravely serious disease I will have the rest of my life, has made me realize more than ever that if I don't take full command of my life and my health, no one else will. On this day before Independence Day, 2007, the message I am getting is that here in the United States, our leaders and our health care system are staggeringly indifferent to the health and safety of the people. Of course, I need to watch out for my own health. Because it's crystal clear that no one else is going to do it, and in fact, the current system would prefer if we all just quietly suffer and die while politicians and pharmacological companies and anyone who profits from this clusterfuck of U.S. health care gets richer, and richer, and richer.

This is not a compassionate nation. In fact, health care is our national catastrophe, and we should all be ashamed. And we should all demand change, right fucking now. The billions we've wasted on the lie that is the Iraq war could have saved millions of lives. Lives not taken in the name of U.S. aggression, and lives of those receiving poor-to-no health care right here at home.

I'm not depressed anymore, I'm just pissed off. And determined to get myself better. This is a big change for me, and I hope you'll consider what you can and should change, yourself. If you're in denial about your health, or if you are in a position to effect or demand change in the way this country cares for its people -- all its people -- I hope you'll do so. If the people of this country can't watch out for each other, it's not a country worth saving. And right now we're all in grave danger, because of a corrupt and dysfunctional health care system. A good country is one that cares for and protects all its people before it wastes it resources elsewhere. This one has a lot of work to do to get where it should be, but luckily there are great examples -- Britain, Canada and France, for example -- of countries that get health care much more right than this one. What's needed is monumental change, which I fear will only be effected by monumental outrage. I'm starting to feel it. Are you?

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Monday, July 02, 2007

 
Butcher on Advance Copies -- Christopher Butcher sorts out the whole deal with The Beguiling and advance copies from Marvel and DC in this post. Chris does say that Diamond occasionally gets it right when it comes to being a good retail partner, in his experience, but agrees with me that smart comics retailers should "source every book [they] carry from two or three different distributors and see who offers up the best deal, the best shipping, the timeliest turnaround." This is how, Butcher notes, The Beguiling "...get[s] the books in first and carr[ies] them the longest, and get[s] you the best price on them."

This explains why, in my February, 20065 visit to the store, I saw books that didn't arrive until a month or two later from Diamond, at the comic shop I was using at the time.

I have to say I am totally baffled why anyone who wants to serve his customers well and operate a profitable and growing business would rely solely on Diamond for the majority, if not the entirety, of their stock.

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Pitching to Vertigo -- Over on The V, comics writers Brian Wood and Alex de Campi get into an interesting and revealing discussion about pitching to Vertigo.

Wood points out that de Campi may be burning a few bridges with her honesty, but when it comes to corporate superhero publishers, I'd vote for lots more of that, thanks. Potential creators should have the sort of information de Campi is sharing available to them before they decide to cast their lot with a company that may eventually own all the rights to their work.

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Diamond, Dealers and Advance Copies -- Commenting on my post yesterday, Tom Spurgeon makes some observations about Diamond's First Look/Sneak Peek program (third item down in that post) and catches an angle that hadn't occurred to me:

"[W]hat I found valuable is [Doane's] note that the store The Beguiling doesn't use a first-look program of early shipping in order to better prepare itself for the ups and downs of the periodicals market. The thought that the maybe the best way to share information with stores about upcoming product -- giving them the product -- exists as a [Diamond] pay-for program instead of routinely used in the course of maximizing sales for a book speaks to a key dysfunction in that comics market...

I italicized the crucial phrase there, because I think it's important to note Spurgeon finds this situation unusual. Tom and I seem to often differ in our evaluation of the state of the Direct Market as served by Diamond; he often seems to think things are not that bad, while I, of course, think that 90 percent of existing comic shops serviced by Diamond are apocalyptically awful in the way they service (or fail to service) their customers, both real and potential. In fact, Spurgeon's very good point about how wrong-headed it is for Diamond to charge for the First Look/Sneak Peek books struck me as worth mentioning because I just took it for granted that everyone understands that Diamond misuses its monopolistic power virtually every chance it gets.

Spurgeon makes another good catch as well, in the same paragraph:

"...speaks to a key dysfunction in that comics market, as, from the other end of things, does word that a retailer used to sell those comics to Doane."

There's a whole, as I referred to it the other day, "semi-sordid" story there, and maybe I'll tell it all someday, but yes, around 2000-2001, the shop I was getting my comics from was selling me their First Look/Sneak Peek packs. In the interest of fairness to that dealer, he did sell them to me at his cost, which if I recall correctly was ten dollars each for the Marvel and DC advance packs, which arrived either Wednesday or Thursday the week before they were to go on sale.

At the time, my reviews were heavily-weighted toward Marvel and DC, and the arrangement I made with that dealer (who I am not naming, because he is still retailing comics, although I haven't been in his shop in years) was to take the advance packs off his hands at his cost, but he wanted to keep, I believe, any Spider-Man or X-Men titles for his kids to read. Given that there were five to seven or so issues in each pack, ten bucks was usually less than the collective cover price for one of the packs even with the Spidey and X titles removed from the equation. The biggest revelation to me in the year or so that I received the books was just how horrible the average week's worth of corporate superhero books were.

When the time came that I no longer bought the books, it was a huge relief to not be exposed on a weekly basis to all those mediocre comics. It was a rare week, indeed, when more than two or three total from Marvel and DC combined was actually worth reading, a situation which seems to have pretty much held steady in the years that have passed since then. "Same as it ever was," one supposes.

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The Monday Briefing -- And here we are again, the start of a new week. I hope it's a short one for you, if, like me, you're living in Los Estados Unidos. Some of my co-workers took today and tomorrow off and then will be off for Independence Day Wednesday (ever notice how the Fourth of July almost always falls on the same date every year? Cinco de Mayo, too, now that I think about it...), while I chose to take Thursday and Friday off as well as having Wednesday for a holiday. I found it moderately aggravating, then that people were referring to the weekend just ended as "the holiday weekend," and yet, I have a feeling they'll be saying the same thing next weekend. Society sure has a tough time with a holiday that falls on a Wednesday, doesn't it? Anyway, it's Monday, let's briefly look at some Monday Briefing sorta stuff.

* I'll admit that I'm as much of a format freak as Erik Larsen, and in many cases -- Origins of Marvel Comics and Superman vs. Spider-Man to name two -- my fetish for various iterations of comics stems from exactly the same source material as Larsen's. I miss the treasury editions, and something about the slick paper and modern art styles keep me from fully enjoying modern-day attempts at the format like those Alex Ross and Paul Dini produced, or Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch's big JLA thingy.

I shouldn't say I don't enjoy them; those stories are varying degrees of decent superhero comics, but what I mean is, I don't enjoy them as a replacement for the traditional format of treasury editions. There was something magical about the combination of the giant size, the regular newsprint, and the fact that they were reprinting stories that (at that time) were only otherwise available in the original comics. And who could afford, say, a hundred or 500 bucks for the first issue of Action Comics, or however much Golden Age comics were going for in the heyday of the treasury editions?

* One bone of contention I found in Larsen's otherwise enjoyable piece on comics formats was this quote about the world before treasury editions and other formats came along:

"There weren't dickheads out there throwing around derogatory terms like "pamphlets" or "floppies" at these four-color wonders, they were just comic books. And if you wanted to read comic books there was one format to read them in."

I don't know where Erik gets the idea that either of those terms is "derogatory." Maybe his inner fanboy remains a little sensitive from some schoolyard beating he took for reading his Wizard of Oz treasury edition while the other boys wanted to play touch football, or something. I use the term floppy because, well, they are, for one thing and also, to differentiate between monthly, floppy comics and the world's comics of preference, those with a spine and (usually) a complete story, graphic novels. What I personally hated was Steven Grant's "pamf," which always reminded me of nothing more than Nightcrawler making an exit. None of which is to deny, even for a moment, that I am, in fact, a dickhead.

* Steve Flanagan has some interesting stuff about the inspiration for some of the most interesting moments in recent Doctor Who history.

* Matt Brady looks at whether to keep buying floppies -- sorry, Erik -- or wait for the trade. I struggle -- to use an entirely too powerful word to describe one semi-affluent American's debate over how to spend his funnybook money -- with the same question myself. When I was raking in a lot more money than I am now, a few years back, the answer was a simple "buy 'em all, the singles and the collections." The budget has contracted a bit since then, so, for example, I find myself settling for the floppies on Optic Nerve's new collection Shortcomings, despite the fact that D&Q produce outstanding hardcovers, and that I have the previous HCs collecting previous issues of Optic Nerve. But it's definitely a case by case sort of thing -- I love Brubaker and Phillips's Criminal so much that I would have to be totally destitute to not buy both the floppies and the collected editions.

* One other note on Brady's post, which also includes reviews of single issues of the pamphlets he's debating continuing to buy in their monthly format: Matt seems to think a payoff is coming down the line in the "who's the homophobe?" bit in the most recent issue of The Boys (here's my review), but I think the payoff is right there in the issue, in what it says about Butcher and Hughie's offhand banter vs. their actual actions and feelings when confronted with the question up close and personal. It's a two-person character study that I found added an unexpected depth to what is generally seen as a satirical series. Ideas of the richness Ennis and Robertson are mining can't just be seen as merely satire, and that particular subplot shouldn't be seen as just the setup for a gag, the way I read it.

* Neilalien has posted his look at what he got and what he loved at MoCCA. Neil's got some of the best taste in comics, click over to read his thoughts.

* I feel like I am really "in the zone" in this whole back-to-blogging phase of my comics internet life. Not one but two pieces I originally wrote as short notes for today's Briefing actually turned into much longer pieces that I posted yesterday: Butcher, Beguiling and Early Books and Publish and Perish. With Chris Hunter's help, I managed to finally get some of my audio interviews back up online. In fact there's so much Blogospheric Energy in my house these days that my daughter is even blogging now.

* Comics and More takes a much better stroll through Previews for comics coming in September than I recently did.

* I feel like I missed the boat on Canada Day; I hope it was a good one, Jason, Christopher, d., Loren, Blake, and everyone.

* Hey, this is fun: Can you answer these six basic science questions?

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

 
My Radio Interviews -- A big THANK YOU to my buddy Chris Hunter for offering to host audio for me from here on out. I have a ton of interviews with cartoonists, writers and artists in the ol' Doaney Archives (i.e. a cardboard box in my closet), so I hope to get more of them converted to MP3 soon. In the meantime, the first batch are uploaded, so click these links to listen and/or download to your heart's content.

Peter Bagge
Chester Brown
Ivan Brunetti
Damon Hurd
James Kochalka (2000)
James Kochalka (2001)
James Kochalka (2006)
Alan Moore
Harvey Pekar
Seth
Tom Spurgeon

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Butcher, Beguiling, and Early Books -- Interesting, but I'm not sure it means anything: Christopher Butcher reveals in his comments on Fallen Son: Captain America: Iron Man: If Only We Had One More Colon in his comments on comics arriving in Diamond-serviced stores this week that the shop he works at, The Beguiling (certainly one of if not the best comic shops in the universe), does not subscribe to Marvel (and I'd presume DC's) Sneak Peek/First Look program(s).

You may or may not know that Diamond offers, for a flat fee, a varying number of titles shipped a week ahead of their release date. Supposedly so retailers can get a jump on "exciting" superhero "events," stores vary wildly in how they use these books, if they subscribe to the program. Some stores put them out on the counter for shoppers to browse, presumably to generate more interest for next week's books. Some shops don't share them with their customers, but use them as a guide for what they might need to re-order, should "events" merit. I even know of one Diamond account that sold them to a customer who wanted access to them for his comic book reviewing. I know that last one because it was me, circa 2000-2001. But let's not get into that semi-sordid story.

I do find it a little fascinating that the folks at The Beguiling don't participate. It could be that they just don't have time to review next week's superhero offerings, since they don't deal solely with Diamond are ordering and taking in new comics from multiple sources far more frequently than most Diamond-centric comic shops. It could be that they simply don't need to read or put out for display next week's books, because they have such a diverse customer base that superheroes make up only a piece of their overall retail pie. Now, there's a subject I would dearly love to see Chris Butcher or other progressive comics retailers address.

Ultimately I wonder, though, if it isn't just that those guys love comics, not just superhero comics, and since they live, breathe and eat the artform every day of the week, they're content to find out what's up in the Marvel and DC universes at the same time everyone else is? If at all?

One thing that really struck me on my three visits (over four days) to The Beguiling was this: Their pro-active approach to ordering and acquiring comics really positions them very well over any shop catered to solely by Diamond. I found books and comics in the shop on my visits that did not appear in Diamond-serviced stores for weeks to months later. Think I'm exaggerating? If, like me, you're lucky enough to have a graphic novel-friendly independent bookstore in your neck of the woods (you can find indy bookshops here, and check to see what their GN stock looks like), make note of what new releases they have by publishers like Drawn and Quarterly, Fantagraphics, First Second, Top Shelf and graphic novel imprints of mainstream book publishers.

Albany's independent book store is The Book House, and they have a fairly impressive graphic novel section. Often I notice they get books in weeks ahead of Diamond-only stores, because Diamond's focus is almost completely centered on those publishers in the front of the Previews catalog. I've found books at The Book House that I really wanted from publishers like those I named above, sometimes a month or more ahead of their arrival in even the best Diamond-serviced shop in the region. And you know what? I bought them there, at The Book House. If it's in your hand, the chances you'll buy a book (or anything) you want are far, far greater than if you look forlornly at the racks at your local shop and are told, "Yeah, we'll have that in a few weeks." To quote my friend Tim, and imagine him in an old codger's voice with his face all scrunched up as he says it: Whooo giiiiiiiives a shiiiiiiiitttt?

This is why I have long tried to explain to anyone that will pay attention that comic shops that want to make the most money -- the ones that want to sell comics to everyone that wants to buy them from their store -- will most certainly not be satisfied with only dealing with Diamond. Whether it's whatever independent comics distributors still remain, or dealing direct with actual mainstream book distributors (Fantagraphics was smart as hell jumping on that bandwagon), the best way to get comics and graphic novels into the hands of your customers, as a retailer, is to be incredibly active and interested in everything going on in comics, and crucially, to create relationships with every reputable distributor and source of comics that you can.

I remember when MQP released The R. Crumb Handbook, a hugely appealing little hardcover that gave new and old readers alike a thrilling journey through the life and work of Robert Crumb, one of the finest and most important cartoonists ever to take pen to paper. I found the book at The Book House, drove home 50 miles to find a review copy in my mailbox, and wondered what to do with the extra copy. I decided to give it away, and asked the publisher if they could provide extra copies to make it a major giveaway. Now, this is what happened, I shit you not: I had found the book in a mainstream bookstore, read and reviewed it, and given away a dozen copies on this website, at least a month -- and I think it might have been two -- before it was shipped to stores by Diamond. I'll never forget the day Jesse at Earthworld in Albany told me a "new Crumb book" had come in, big Crumb fan that he is. I could not believe it when he showed me a book that to me was practically ancient (although revered) history. I don't know if he believed me when I told him I had already reviewed and given away many copies of this book many weeks ago, but that's exactly what had happened.

Long story short, the Diamond method of distributing comics works great if they're floppies or graphic novels from one of their "premier publishers," the corporations that allow Diamond to have their monopolistic stranglehold on the less progressive and less powerful stores in the Direct Market. But I find what kicked off all this thinking of mine, The Beguiling not bothering with the First Look/Sneak Peek programs, kind of an interesting canary in a coal mine in terms of the attitudes and long-term vision of any given comic shop. I'd be interested to know how your shop (the one you shop at, or better yet the one you own or work at, if applicable) deals with the one-week-early programs.

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Publish and Perish -- As a commercial copywriter working in the radio broadcasting industry, I find one of the biggest surprises facing new business owners is that starting the business -- opening their doors -- is not enough. Startup is a huge undertaking, to be sure, but it's a total waste of time, money and effort if you don't spend an equal or greater amount of time advertising your undertaking. And I don't just mean on the radio (although that would be nice, my kids need to eat too, y'know). "If you build it, they will come" only works in Kevin Costner parables. In the real world, even if I would be interested in your efforts, whether it's a comic book or a pet store or a car dealership -- you have to tell me what you're doing, and most importantly, why and how does it affect me? This is the WHAM principle one of my favourite copywriting gurus emphasizes, and it directs virtually every piece of copy I create.

That's why I found one segment of Comic Reporter Tom Spurgeon's interview today with cartoonist and La Mano publisher Zak Sally so depressing:

SALLY: When I put out the Mosquito Abatement Man book, there's a feel that John Porcellino's work has importance. He's a really good friend. I don't think now, three years later or whatever after I put out that book, I don't think there's any question that John's work could appeal to more people than it does. But that doesn't mean I'm not sitting a couple thousand books in my warehouse.

SPURGEON: Do you do shows? Do you meet people at shows and hand sell?

SALLY: I'm finding I'm kind of shitty at that. [laughter] That's where for better or for worse La Mano's business sense, I'm finding that whether or not I like to admit it or not that's where my interest takes a precipitous drop. Working with this person on this project that I think is really great, after the project is gone, it's taken a long while to admit my interest drops. [laughs] Maybe that feeling that doesn't work to my credit, is that feeling that someday people will find out about this. It feels like I'm so busy all the time I can't breathe anyway, so spending more hours trying to convince people in a world that's already choked with people trying to convince people that shitty things are great, there's a feeling that people will someday find out about this, and when they do they'll come to me, and I'll have it for them. It's very warm and fuzzy.

It's a great, longish interview, so please do click over and read the whole thing. But that segment stood out to me as an example of the sort of blinkered presumption a lot of people who decide to publish comics (their own or others) fall into: "I've printed the comics, phew, my work is done!" No, I'm sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, but the work then begins. What happens if a farmer looks out at his expansive field of newly-ripe, sweet corn and says with satisfaction, "Welp, I'm done!" That's right, the corn rots.

Sally says he has thousands of copies of John Porcellino's outstanding Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man sitting in a warehouse somewhere, and that is a sad fact to ponder. One key point may be found in Sally's description of Porcellino as "a good friend," not that there's anything wrong with having good friends. But if you are going to publish comics, you have to approach it as a professional business and not as a nice thing to do for your friends. Otherwise you end up with thousands of copies of a great book, sitting in a warehouse.

Sadly, Sally seems to think he's solved the problem:

"The way I think about La Mano is sort of changing. The new book I'm doing with Jason Miles, I'm doing everything in-house. Every element is done by me, so my cost outlay is virtually nothing. It's all elbow grease. It's an edition of 500 and I think everybody's going to feel great with that."

So instead of doing the work and being a publisher, Sally will just print what he can afford with as low an overhead as possible, so as to not take up too much warehouse space with books he doesn't want to promote to the world. This wouldn't be quite so aggravating if Porcellino and Sally, both, weren't excellent cartoonists who deserve wider audiences. Comics publishers with obvious forward momentum in today's market, from Top Shelf to Drawn and Quarterly to (perhaps the best example) Fantagraphics, all know promoting the work is as important as creating it. All of these publishers devote incredible amounts of time and energy (and even -- gasp! -- cash!) to advertising and otherwise promoting their (you'll pardon the pun) wares.

Which isn't to say that you shouldn't self-publish your funnybook if you want, and then sit on hundreds or thousands of copies while waiting for the world to find you. Maybe that actually even happens once in a while. But if what you're doing is worth doing -- whether you're a cartoonist, a publisher, or in Sally's case, both -- please do try to understand the real-world realities of publishing. If it's good work, and if it deserves an audience, make sure you have the resources (financial and otherwise) to give it the very best chance it has in a world where there are more great comics to read every month.

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