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Friday, November 30, 2007

Last Thought of the Day -- Now that Marvel and DC are not listed on Z-Cult FM, the ratio of good to bad comics has increased exponentially. It's just gotten much better to be a comics downloader. Thank you, corporate comics companies!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Yearbook Stories 1976-1978 -- Top Shelf co-publisher Chris Staros became well-known in comics thanks to his Staros Report, an engaging and highly personal fanzine/checklist of his favourite comics that he published in the 1990s. In addition to his reviews and commentary, he also included some value-added autobiographical comics which were fun to read. The material collected in Yearbook Stories, which originally appeared in the 2001 SPX Anthology, are as much fun as his previous efforts.

There are two tales, one longer one illustrated by Bo Hampton in lush black and white, and a shorter one drawn by Rich Tommaso. "The Willful Death of a Stereotype," the Hampton-drawn story, is about Staros attempting to reinvent himself by running for 6th grade class president. Of such stuff are Afterschool Specials made of, but thanks to Hampton's brilliant artwork and Staros's forward-driven narrative, "Willful Death" becomes something special. Great, truthful little moments and a genuinely reflective conclusion leave the reader with real insight into Staros's personality -- hell, even into his inclusive vision of comics. Good autobio comics tell you something about their creator while they entertain you, and "Willful Death" does both.

"The Worst Gig I ever Had" is the pleasant after-dinner mint of the book, a short story about the weird things that can happen to high-schoolers who form a band. Tomasso illustrates the story in an inky sort of Paul-Grist-Meets-Kevin-Huizenga groove, and it ends on an amusing note that would shock and awe the Staros found in the previous story.

Top Shelf has priced Yearbook Stories at a hugely reasonable $4.00. It's a nicely-formatted slightly-larger-than-digest-sized pamphlet that will make for a good stocking stuffer for anyone you know who's into comics, or just a fun and thoughtful addition to your own reading pile. And given that it's subtitled "1976-1978," I hope there may be more issues to come. I'm sure Staros has more stories in him, and we could use more comics like Yearbook Stories.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Tom Spurgeon's Holiday Shopping Guide -- In a word, wow.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Criminal to Relaunch with New #1 -- After two excellent story-arcs, Marvel/Icon is relaunching the title in February with a new Vol. 2 #1.

Probably a marketing move, and probably a good idea. More people are likely to pick up a new #1 than a third story-arc beginning in what would have been issue #11.

More details at the very bottom of this post at Warren Peace Sings the Blues. (Apologies for earlier mis-identifying the source).

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Doctor Who: Time Crash -- The annual charity broadcast of Doctor Who is eight minutes of pure joy for me. It's been a day or two since it aired, and if you're somewhat net-savvy, it's pretty widely available at this point.

I won't spoil a thing for you, other than to say that David Tennant's Doctor makes a speech right at the end that perfectly sums up my feelings about the guy he's talking to (and about), and this little short episode pretty much made my entire weekend. Seek it out if you're at all a fan of the series.

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Hunter's Best of 2007 -- Over at Comichacks.com, Galaxy alum Chris Hunter responds to my Best of 2007 list and provides his own. As I mentioned in my comment following his post, I did consider Ellis's Black Summer for my Best of list, but I want to see how it plays out to the end. Ellis's 12-issue arc on the original Authority run was a masterstroke of tension-building with an awe-inspiring finish, and I'm hoping Black Summer is as well-constructed and entertaining a ride all the way through.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Highwaymen "Correction" -- I made somewhat of a misstatement the other day in my year-end wrap-up, saying Wildstorm's Highwaymen had been canceled. Not that I was the first person to state this, but since I also pointed out how mediocre and unimpressive a comic Highwaymen was, I got the writer's attention. Of course, even he has already gone on record explaining that, while the initial arc may always have been planned for five issues, if it didn't suck, there would have been more:
A fella could ask himself, "Why?" Not, "Why isn't Wildstorm going to do another arc worth of Highwaymen stories." I know why. Because it didn't sell. We moved a hair under 10,000 copies of issue #1. At the time, we were told that was as good a number as one could expect for a book about two characters no one had ever heard of, created by three guys no one had ever heard of. But issue #2 took a 40% dive—which would be fine if we were a movie; that's considered a pretty good hold in week two. However, we're not a movie. And it's not enough to warrant doing more. I get that. So, the question is, "Why didn't it sell?"

Of course, Planetary, which Highwaymen kind of desperately wanted to sort of be, when it wasn't aping The Authority (specifically Frank Quitely's bloated-but-presidential Bill Clinton talking to the protagonists via high-tech), was also about characters no one had ever heard of and created by a mostly unknown creative team. And it was one of the best things Wildstorm ever released. It's also largely why Highwaymen failed; it called too much attention to its "inspirations" (government conspiracies investigated by a team led by a white-haired guy in a white suit, hello!) not to beg comparison in the minds of its readers.

But in all fairness, as a completely fair blind taste-test, I left Highwaymen #1 on a table in my house, where either one of my children -- both of whom love good comics -- could easily find it, read it, and ask for more. Possibly based on the cover, about which a fellow critic privately told me "you can tell right from the cover you're getting watered down goods," neither of my kids -- who again, like good comics and are willing to give just about anything a chance -- ever even bothered to pick it up, never mind ask me to get them more. Which I would have, if they asked, because my policy is to buy any age-appropriate comic for my kids that they ask for. I'm just a good dad (and good comics evangelist) in that way.

In short, don't blame me because your comic got canceled wasn't good enough to continue past a limp, initial story-arc -- blame yourself. Or blame Warren Ellis, John Cassaday and Laura Martin, if you must deflect the blame that is so obviously yours and yours alone.

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Jog on Betsy and Me -- Every once in a while, you read a review you wish you wrote. I wish I was even capable of writing as insightful and nuanced a review as Jog's review of Jack Cole's Betsy and Me. I mentioned earlier this week that I thought the book was worth reading, but damn if Jog doesn't explore why in unimpeachable terms.

I can't remember the last time, as a writer, that I was as jealous of someone else's gift as I was when I read Jog's observation that "I think there's a risk with a book like this, an admirable and informative book, to let the sadness behind this material permeate everything, so strongly is it broadcast by the collection's contours." (Emphasis mine).

Anyone worried that we don't have enough language to criticize comics as a distinct artform needs to read more of Jog's reviews, especially this one. To quote Kevin on The Office:



Thursday, November 15, 2007

Canary in a Coalmine -- The news that Love and Rockets is moving to an annual graphic novel format is more interesting than surprising.

What will be surprising and interesting, is when and if DC and Marvel make the same canny, forward-looking and industry-redefining move.

They should have done this already with titles like The Punisher and Fables, of course.

I wonder which titles and companies will follow suit next?

Me, I'm up for any Love and Rockets in any format I can get it in. Speaking of which, the two new phonebook collections are out from Fantagraphics, Vol. 3 in each series, collecting hundreds and hundreds of pages of some of the very best comics ever. Buy them already, if you haven't yet.

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Alan Moore's Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths TPB -- I got my contributor's copies of this new Avatar Press release yesterday, and damn, is it an impressive package.

It's about twice the size it was originally solicited at, and in addition to collecting the Alan Moore miniseries, it also has stories by Antony Johnston also working in the Lovecraft-inspired vein that Moore tapped for the series. There's an impressive roster of artists including Juan Jose Ryp, Oscar Zarata (on a From Hell tie-in story that is must reading for fans of that series) and my personal favourite, Jacen Burrows.

Of interest to Comic Book Galaxy readers, the volume contains a number of text features, including the complete text of my 2004 interview with Alan Moore that was originally broadcast (in greatly edited form) on NPR affiliate WAMC in Albany, New York. I've never had a better time interviewing anyone in my life than the time I spent talking to Moore, and he touches on a great many topics, from his interest in magic and mysticism to the legal entanglements of Marvelman/Miracleman, and most fascinating to me, we talk about how Moore kicked off the transformation of superhero comics in the 1980s, a subject he has very mixed feelings about. Re-reading the interview last night, I was delighted to remember springing my theory on him about the precise moment (in an issue of Swamp Thing) that Moore unintentionally inaugurated the grim 'n gritty era in a fantastic scene that still gives me chills every time I read it, but which was the unwitting inspiration for a thousand less gifted creators to mishandle other creative properties for decades afterward.

But my interview is just a dozen or so pages in a mammoth slab of great comics and other features, and I hope you'll consider adding it to your bookshelf. I'm thrilled to finally have it on mine. Also having read the fantastic new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier yesterday, it was a great day in my house to be an Alan Moore reader. Either or both would make great holiday gifts for someone you know who loves great comics created with unbounded enthusiasm for the artform.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ADD's 2007 Year in Review -- Let's look back at a great year for comics. First up:

THE BEST of 2007

* Crecy, Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres (Avatar) -- This one took me by surprise, and ended up being by far one of my favourite comics of the year. The way Ellis uses the lead character's narration is pretty unique in comics, and adds a layer of comedy and depth to the true story of a crucial historical battle. This is one you have to experience to really appreciate how accomplished it is. [Full Crecy review].

* Criminal, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon) -- Although I didn't review any single issues of this in calendar 2007, it was still my favourite monthly read and a more entertaining and well-crafted title than any other five comics you could name from either Marvel or DC. The second story arc, "Lawless," just wrapped up, and it was one of Brubaker's best pieces of character work ever, with Phillips contributing his usual amazing artwork -- he's the very best artist currently creating monthly comics, no question. [Criminal #1 review].

* Marvel Zombies: Dead Days and Marvel Zombies 2, Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips (Marvel) -- Nothing captures the real spirit of Marvel's heyday better than this perverse reimagining of their core characters, which has become a franchise unto itself. Stick with the books by Kirkman and Phillips, and know you're in for a grand time. [Marvel Zombies 2 #1 review].

* I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets, Fletcher Hanks (Fantagraphics Books) -- Junky and presumed-forgotten comics by one of the artform's weirdest minds were recontextualized by Fantagraphics and editor Paul Karasik into one of the must-read collections of the year. You may never look at superheroes the same way again, and never have as much fun reading them. [I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets review].

* A Treasury of Victorian Murder: Saga of the Bloody Benders, Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit) -- This was one of the finest and most fun original graphic novels of the year. You don't hear much about Geary on the comics news sites, but he quietly has become one of the most unique and dependable storytellers in the entire medium. [Bloody Benders review].

* Please Release, Nate Powell (Top Shelf) -- If there's a more thoughtful and interesting artcomix practitioner than Nate Powell, I don't know who it would be. He's someone you'll be hearing a lot more about in the years ahead, and the stories in this collection are a good indicator why. [Please Release review].

* Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (Marvel) -- I didn't review this, but I don't think there was a better value for your superhero dollar than this 99.9 percent perfect collection of possibly the greatest superhero comics of all time. The misspelling of Steve Ditko's name on the last page is the only flaw I could detect, but Jesus, what a flaw to have in an otherwise exquisite presentation of these essential comics.

* All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC) -- The most fun I've had since, well, any other Morrison and Quitely project you could name. One of the greatest, most entertaining teams working in corporate comics.

* Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly) -- Any other creator delivering a novel this dense and entertaining would probably be hailed in every corner of the blogosphere, but the excellence of Shortcomings is by now expected, and therefore possibly not as thrill-generating. But rest assured, this exploration of race and relationships is Tomine stretching, even if just a little bit, and that makes it more than worth your attention. [Optic Nerve #9 (Shortcomings Chapter 1) review].

* The Complete Peanuts, Charles Schulz (Fantagraphics) -- This series is well into the most glorious era of the best comic strip ever, and you should definitely be reading along to see how the magic happened, day after day, for half a century. I recently reviewed David Michaelis's Schulz biography, Schulz and Peanuts, as well.

* Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty (Dark Horse) -- I don't know if this title will bring any new readers to comics, but if you were ever a fan of Whedon's TV work, this is the most note-perfect adaptation/continuation you could possibly have asked for. Even writer Brian K. Vaughan's arc is keeping me entertained, and that's quite an accomplishment considering his stuff usually not only leaves me cold, but makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

* Spent, Joe Matt (Drawn and Quarterly) -- I suppose this is the sort of story anti-artcomix folks are talking about when they damn all artcomix with the "navel-gazey/autobio/masturbation" accusation. Fuck them, I love Matt's stuff. [Peepshow #13 (Spent Chapter 1) review].

* The Boys, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson (Dynamite) -- Anyone who dismisses The Boys as mere foul-mouthed satire is missing one of the wildest and best superhero rides around. The book just gets better with every passing issue. [The Boys #8 review].

* Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni), and Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (DC/Wildstorm) -- All right, I haven't read these yet because they come out today. I admit it. But by this time tomorrow I will have likely read both, and based on previous volumes in both series, I have no doubt they belong on this list. If I'm wrong, I'll happily come back and edit this post. But I don't think I'll have to. Related: As much as I miss Moore's ABC line, I am pleased as punch for him that he's out from under his indentured servitude to DC, a company that has gone far out of its way to shit on him time and time again. And I look forward to supporting every project he chooses to create with any other publisher. DC really, really fucked up when they decided (multiple times) to alienate the best writer ever to work in comics, and they will likely lose hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in future revenue as a result of their petty, vindictive bullshit. Fuck anyone who had a hand in Moore's decision to separate himself permanently from the company.

And now, because there was just a lot of it, here's some of:

THE WORST of 2007

* Martha Washington Dies, Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons (Dark Horse) -- I don't know what I was expecting from this, but having really enjoyed the original series back when it debuted, this came as something of a shallow, pointless kick in the teeth. [Martha Washington Dies review].

* Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Special #1, Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver (DC) -- Noogies. Fucking noogies. Who does Geoff Johns have pictures of, and what farm animal are they sodomizing, exactly? I can't believe anyone would even have to ask if Geoff Johns still sucks, but there it is. He sure as fuck does. [GLSCS #1 review].

* Tales from the Crypt #1, various (Papercutz) -- Very possibly the worst idea of the year, if not ever. [TFTC #1 review].

* Thor #1, J. Michael Straczynski and Oliver Coipel (Marvel) -- "How mightily it fails to impress," I said, proving just how pervasive Thor's pseudo-Shakespearean dialect might be. This was one big, malodorous turd in the mighty small punchbowl that is "what I expect from Marvel these days." [Thor #1 review].

* The Highwaymen #1 (DC/Wildstorm) -- The creators of this exercise in generic tedium were shocked when the title was canceled after a handful of issues. I sure as hell wasn't. [The Highwaymen #1 review].


What am I looking forward to in 2008? Hopefully more surprises like Crecy and I shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets, and more expected excellence like Criminal, All-Star Superman, Scott Pilgrim, anything by Rick Geary, and The Boys. And I really hope Dark Horse collects (in hardcover, goddamn it!) Kurt Busiek and Greg Ruth's Born on the Battlefield, one of the most compelling Conan stories ever presented. I'd also like to see Barry Windsor-Smith's Paradoxman collection from Fantagraphics, and see Marvel get its head out of its ass and release BWS's Thing graphic novel.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Monday Briefing -- With no set agenda, here I am just typing away...

* So the cat's out of the bag with the plot of next year's Star Trek movie now online. Huge spoilers in the link, be warned. I'm of a mind to think this could be a very good movie. I do hope that all the "Shatner's not in it" talk is a bluff, though, and that he gets to play J. Tiberius at least one more time. His Shatnerverse Kirk novels are really good reading, too, if you're into that sort of thing, which I have to admit that I am.

* Currently reading Kevin Smith's My Boring-Ass Life, a collection from Titan Books of Silent Bob's navel-gazey blog postings. It's compelling reading in its way; there's no question that the guy knows how to make the mundane interesting. But make no mistake, I'm a third of the way into the book, and it is pretty mundane stuff -- what we ate and where; orgasms he had and whether they were solo or with his wife; who's hanging out at his house on any given day. If you're into Smith's movies and his sort of mega-mensch bigger-and-smaller-than-life persona, you might enjoy it too. I'm up to the point where he's acting in a Jennifer Garner movie called Catch and Release, and I was interested enough to check out the movie. It's a bit sappy, but with some sharp moments, and Smith is very good as one of the surviving friends of a guy who died an untimely death and left behind his wife-to-be and a secret or two that come to light over the course of the movie.

* I also watched, as a result of Smith's book, the Jason Mewes-leading film Bottoms Up. You might remember it as a movie that Paris Hilton "acted" in. Unlike the other movie, Bottoms up is pretty much Teh Suck. I gave up about halfway through it. I like Mewes as Jay in Smith's movies, but I couldn't sit through this movie to save my life.

* I read the new Betsy and Me collection from Fantagraphics Books over the weekend. It collects all of the newspaper strips by Plastic Man creator Jack Cole that he created in the months before he killed himself. Critic RC Harvey writes a good, informative introduction that hints at the secrets that must have tortured Cole and ultimately led him into the woods with a rifle, but far more interesting is the subtext that develops as you read the strips themselves and compare and contrast with the known facts of Cole's life. Betsy and Me is a slim collection, but it's must-reading for anyone interested in the history of comics.

* Had a great night Friday night with my wife and some mutual friends. Lora picked me up about from work and we went over to Davidson Brothers, a small, classy brew pub in downtown Glens Falls to have a quick drink with my boss and one of the radio station's salespeople. After about a half hour we had to get going because we had reservations at a swanky bed and breakfast about 35 minutes from Glens Falls. We went using station trade, since I could never afford dinner there. We got there about 5:35...we were early, but we were the only people there for dinner, so we got in right away. No one else was there for dinner the whole time we were there, although a group of sorority sisters from 30 years ago arrived late in our meal for a reunion weekend they are having, they are staying at the inn. Very movie-like, I thought.

The dinner was pretty much the best I've ever had. After we ordered, they brought out a small plate of crackers with an eggplant/fennel dip that was quite tasty. Could have used about five times as much of it as they brought out, but you could tell by portion sizes alone that the chef knows exactly what he is doing. After the crackers, they brought out Lora's french onion soup (the real thing, with expensive smelly cheese on it) and I had a chopped salad that had field greens, walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and pear slices and was quite delicious.

Lora got fettuccine alfredo for her entree, and we both enjoyed the handiwork of a chef and staff that actually cared what they were doing and did it well.

I got a NY strip steak au poivre with cracked peppercorns on top, an almond-slivered rice and a huge piece of fresh broccoli. Steak was very possibly the most flavorful and tender I've ever tasted; I'd say more, but I am starting to feel like a food perv.

Lora was shocked when I suggested dessert, but as I said "It would be insane not to see what they do for dessert here." We both got cheesecake, which was either made there or by some gourmet bakery not far away (Nuns of New Skete in Cambridge is a local gourmet cheesecake bakery, I'd guess it was from there). Presented with raspberry and chocolate sauce around the plate and one succulent strawberry sliced thin on top of each of our slices. I'm sure I didn't need it, but at least it was Friday. As I like to say, "Friday is pie day."

After dinner, on the way back home, I called my friend Tim to see if he was going on his second date with a girl he met online that Lora coincidentally works with. I had a feeling he would blow it off if he could (shy and nervous), so I wanted to give him a push. Did THAT ever work; it ended up that the four of us met at the jazz bar downtown that I have been trying to get someone to go to with me for the last year and a half. Lora and I had two drinks each, Tim and Kim had one each and mostly bickered and flirted throughout the two hours we were there. It was like Tim meeting his female equivalent and being aggravated and turned on all at once, and the same on her side, and there the two of them were. God only knows where that goes from here.

The jazz band was really good -- five guys, guitar, stand-up bass, drummer, bongo player and sax -- and they did some numbers I knew and some I didn't, and the last one they did, there was this extended jam at the end where they were just SMOKING -- the whole bar shut up and watched in wonder, and when it finally came to a close, they stood there grinning at each other like idiots in amazement -- I don't think they quite knew they had it in them -- and someone shouted out, "What are you gonna do after THAT?!?" and the whole band cracked up. It was funny and amazing at the same time. Tim and Kim left, and then Lora and I did the same maybe five minutes later, and it was kind of neat because the band was right by the front door and all of them said thanks to us for hanging out and have a good night and like that -- I guess because we were closest to them in the whole place they had taken notice of us sitting there and enjoying their work.


Friday, November 09, 2007

New at The ADD Writeblog -- I've posted a short story called Like Every Other Night on The ADD Writeblog. I wish it was fiction, but...

The Answer is Yes -- The question, asked by Dick Hyacinth: Does Geoff Johns Still Suck?

Thanks to Dick for the props for my early and enthusiastic loathing of Johns's retarded, unnecessarily violent and damaging-to-comics-as-an-artform-and-an-industry "writing."

There's not a Johns comic I've read that doesn't bring to mind a brain-damaged middle-schooler playing in the tub with action figures while his mother begs him (to no avail) to wash out his ass-crack.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Michaelis and Schulz and Peanuts -- Over the weekend, I finished reading David Michaelis's Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography; I'd like to say I came away from it knowing which side is right in the controversy over the book, but Schulz was too complex a subject with too large a life to make it as easy as declaring his family to be right or wrong in their displeasure with the book.

It's undeniably well-researched, and Michaelis obviously talked to many different people from all the eras of Schulz's life to get a picture of who he was. But Michaelis admits late in the volume that he never personally met Schulz, and ultimately the picture painted of the man feels like it lacks some vital elements. We learn a lot -- or at least, a lot of times -- about Schulz's stoic distance from others and his inability to give and receive affection in the way most of us understand and process it. But this seems highly at odds with the clear fact that the man had five children, two wives and numerous relationships ranging from lifelong friendships to brief flirtations and everything in-between.

What ultimately resolved itself for me in the pages of the book is a portrait of Sparky Schulz as a master manipulator of people's emotions and actions. Michaelis, deliberately or not, creates an image of a not terribly palatable human being who uses his own melancholy and neediness to get everything from sex to recognition of his genius as a cartoonist. It seems like revenge is what motivated Schulz from very early in his life -- revenge for the death of his mother and the abyss that created for his ego, and revenge for all the slights he received along the way from being a fan of the newspaper comics to becoming the artform's most gifted and sublime practitioner.

Having read Peanuts for virtually the entirety of my life, it's extraordinarily difficult for me to process the contradictions inherent in believing that a comic strip so rich with human feeling and insight could have been created by someone as wretched as Michaelis's book ultimately suggests Sparky Schulz could be. But the long record of interviews Schulz left behind suggests that he did, indeed, have a difficult time coming to grips with how much his work was loved. I suppose it's no big leap to assume he could have had an equally hard time accepting love in his private life, for all the years that he lived.

Moreover, Michaelis presents many comic strips to back up his assertions throughout the book, and it's unlikely anyone who reads the entire book and the accompanying strips will ever quite be able to perceive its totality the same way again. Peanuts ultimately may have been far more autobiography than anyone could ever have known, perhaps most depressingly Schulz's first wife Joyce, who it seems would have had a far greater understanding of her marriage and her husband if she had just bothered to read the funnies every day.

Sometimes Michaelis's research seems to drive the narrative in ways that lend little or no insight into his putative subjects; the occasional list of performers at the ice hockey rink Schulz's wife championed, or a list of licensed Peanuts merchandise, finally reveal nothing more than that they are, in fact, lists. We all know Snoopy and Charlie Brown and the rest of the cast of the comic strip was merchandised and licensed ad infinitum. Such moments highlight what I think is the book's greatest flaw, especially given that the title is Schulz and Peanuts: Michaelis tells us nothing about a fifty-year run of comics that doesn't support his Citizen Kane theory of Sparky Schulz's life.

Michaelis seems to know virtually nothing about comics. At one point, Schulz is quoted saying something about the quality of his linework; over the course of this biography, Michaelis offers no insight at all about Schulz's art past some very facile observations about big, round heads and tiny little bodies. Reference is made to how the interior of Charlie Brown's home was based on the home the Schulz family lived in, but readers will learn nothing much at all about Schulz's ability to depict space and time in black and white on the comics page, about what made his art so very different and unique from what other cartoonists were creating at the same time. That Schulz's art was unique may be granted by Michaelis, but he seems to lack a critic's ability to explain and explore it.

If you come into Schulz and Peanuts thinking you will learn anything at all about what it takes to create comics, especially an unprecedented success like Peanuts that revolutionized an artform, think again. You will learn that Schulz went to his studio with great, even obsessive, discipline. But you will learn virtually nothing about what went through the man's mind as he sat at his drawing board for hours on end, every day of the week. Perhaps, in the end, he was driven by nothing more than a need to get away from other people and a need to reinforce his own sense of melancholy; that's what Michaelis supposes, but I choose to believe the author makes that choice not because it's all there is to know, but rather because it supports his thesis.

Charles Schulz, in Michaelis's interpretation, spent his life suffering from, reacting to, and living inside his own pain. Pain stemming mostly from the death of his mother. "'Rosebud,' Schulz sighed, and then he died." Michaelis's research and interviews are valuable, and the book is worth reading, but the Citizen Kane model of Schulz's life does not explain everything that made Peanuts a comic strip that will endure as long as there are books, and people to read them.

Schulz and Peanuts tells us a lot of facts about Schulz, and some analysis of Schulz as a man. But it seems to leave out a lot about Schulz, suggesting he was either as simple as the public record suggests, or unknowably complex. And we learn painfully little about Peanuts. There's still a book out there waiting to be written that will open up all our perceptions about what only Sparky Schulz could do with comics. I hope someday to read it.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Transitioning Into The Future -- Christopher Butcher once again proves to be the smartest retailer writing about the industry with his essay on the ongoing move away from periodicals in the comic book marketplace.

His view is that of a reasoned expert with a longterm view of what he wants his business to be, and a love of comics fueling his desire to keep the artform alive and healthy. His prescription for the future will do just that.

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Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko -- If you saw the recent BBC special on Steve Ditko, this news will be about the most exciting you've seen all year. If not, it probably still is. Here's the press release from Fantagraphics Books:



On his 80th birthday, Fantagraphics Books is proud to announce the
June 2008 release of the first critical retrospective of Steve Ditko,
the co-creator and original artist of the Amazing Spider-Man.

In the wake of the astonishing success of Sam Raimi’s three Spider-
Man movies, Steve Ditko’s status as a driving force behind the pop
culture icon has been revealed to an audience the world over. But, in
the context of Steve Ditko’s 50-year career in comics, his creative
involvement with Spider-Man is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Ditko is known amongst the cartooning cognoscenti as one of the
supreme visual stylists in the history of comics, as well as the most
fiercely independent cartoonist of his generation. From his earliest
days in the 1950s, working for the notorious low-budget Charlton
Comics (the Roger Corman Productions of the comics industry), Steve
Ditko broke every convention in comics, with his innovative special
designs and imaginatively hallucinatory landscapes of Dr. Strange,
the almost plebian earthiness of The Amazing Spider-Man, and his
black-and-white views on morality and justice through his
uncompromising vigilante of the late 1960s, Mr. A (inspired by the
work of Atlas Shrugged author and Objectivist philosopher, Ayn Rand).

Why will this book appeal to such a broad readership, to those who
may not even be comic-book, or Steve Ditko, fans? “For the non-comic-
book reader,” says author Blake Bell (author and essayist for the
Marvel Comics’ line of Ditko-related Omnibus reprint projects), “we
tell the narrative of Steve Ditko, the artist, from humble beginnings
in Johnstown Pennsylvania; to the dizzying heights of co-creating
Spider-Man; to the spectacular Howard Roark-like determination, and
tribulations, in bringing his personal and philosophical vision to a
recalcitrant audience. There’s a fantastic, dramatic storyline
running through Ditko’s career; the artist having walked away from
the Spider-Man franchise (and the billions it was to generate) as it
was reaching the height of its popularity. What price did Ditko pay,
and what was the impact on his work?”

Comic-book fans have also been waiting for a definitive examination
of Ditko the artist; a chance to have the entire artistic scope of
his career in one volume. “Fans of Ditko, and comic art, will not be
able to put the book down,” says Bell, “as we explode many of the
myths surrounding key moments in Ditko’s career, as well as present
reams of rare and unpublished Ditko artwork. For the comic art
scholar, we also break down the “hows” of Steve Ditko as a great
sequential storyteller, dissecting his work in depth for the first
time, also with analysis and commentary by some of the most skilled
and articulate comic creators of the day.”

While Steve Ditko himself remains absent for the World Wide Web
(minus a summer back in 2001, when Bell himself worked for Ditko as
his official web site designer), Strange & Stranger will assault the
’Net with similar intensity to that of the creator himself.

In addition to updates to Bell’s unofficial Steve Ditko web site at
www.ditko.comics.org, readers will be able to keep abreast of updates
with pages on Facebook, MySpace, and a dedicated feature page at the
Fantagraphics web site, found through the portal
www.steveditkobook.com and launching soon. This will have a web log
offering on-going commentary on the process of creating the book,
with commentary by Bell and the staff at Fantagraphics. It will also
publish commentary by professional comic-book creators on Ditko’s
career and artwork, and feature artwork that won't make it into the
book. As the book speeds to its June 2008 release date, teasers,
convention appearances by Bell, as well as book store signings will
be featured on the site.

2008 will mark the year when Steve Ditko fans the world over will
have the opportunity to celebrate the artist’s 50-plus year career
with this definitive volume from Blake Bell and Fantagraphics Books.


Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko
By Blake Bell
$39.99 Hardcover
220 pages, full-color, 9” x 12”
ISBN 978-1-56097-921-0

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