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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Truth and Actual Justice -- Amazing news on the Superman legal front. Here's good commentary from:

* Christopher Butcher

* Uncivil Society

Expect tons more from everyone on Monday.

My take is basically that, contracts and legal niceties aside, whenever a company or corporation benefits from its employees' or contractors' work in a way that neither party could have anticipated, and which results in unimagined and unimaginable magnitudes of revenue for the company or corporation, it's not just the ethical thing to do to recognize the actual creators of the unexpected windfall; it's good business. A large reason why DC and Marvel have been so creatively bankrupt for decades (save the occasional, almost accidental Moores and Morrisons) is because generations of creators have now seen that there's no real reason to give your creative best when working-for-hire in the virtual superhero sweatshops.

This is how we have ended up with truly, indisputably shit superhero writers like Loeb, Johns, Bendis, Straczynski and the rest of the Fan Fiction Age of Superhero Comics seen as visionaries, when they are just enthusiastic typists exercising wrongheaded stewardship of international storytelling treasures on a massive, tragic scale.

In the 1930s, '40s, '50s and '60s, the ideas good and bad flew fast and furious, a decades-long surge of new characters, settings and tropes that endured for years and years and years. In the 1970s and '80s, when creators saw how criminally awful people like Siegel and Shuster and Simon and Kirby were ultimately (mis-)treated by the companies they allowed to exist and thrive in the first place, the floodwaters of creativity receded to a trickle of new ideas. How many enduring characters have been created, work-for-hire, at Marvel and DC since 1975? Elektra comes to mind -- along with Marvel's ultimately going back on any promises they made to her creator, Frank Miller. How many successful superhero movies are being made about characters created work-for-hire in the past thirty years? Face it, the good superhero ideas were virtually all created by writers and artists who got the shaft from the corporations they made the mistake of trusting with their best interests, their livelihoods, their very ability to feed their families.

So, I don't know exactly what the consequences of this decision are, but it can only be seen as a landmark day for creators rights, and a shot across the bow to two arrogant, shortsighted corporations that, if they had better treated the people that created the entire foundations of their existence, would be far better off these days and facing far less ill-will, among intelligent readers, among the creative community, and inside the legal system, which has finally meted out a little truth and justice in a seemingly never-ending battle.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Best Current Comics -- This thread at The V has me thinking of what current comics I am enjoying the most at the moment. This is actually a tough one of me, now that I am out of the habit of weekly comic shop visits but not quite in the category of "waiting for the trade." But here's my list:

Punisher MAX
All-Star Superman
Love and Rockets
Scott Pilgrim
D&Q's Yoshihiro Tatsumi reprint series
Anything Frank Santoro touches (Cold Heat, Storeyville, Incanto)

Not many regular titles are grabbing me these days; I was loving Conan under Busiek and Nord but not so much now they're gone. I want to love everything Ed Brubaker touches, but Captain America's art is a total turnoff to me, and Daredevil hasn't really excited me as a character since the end of Born Again.

I've ordered Steven Grant's Two Guns in trade, but some of the issues were sold out so I was unable to read it in singles once I heard it existed. Tom Spurgeon is quite right today when he notes that a lot of publishers aren't getting enough word out about their books.

I am still getting Morrison's Batman, but I haven't liked an issue since the JH Williams trilogy of issues. Since it's Morrison, I am holding on in hopes it will come together again, a privilege I reserve pretty solely for Moore and Morrison.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

David Brooks on Hillary's Fall -- Here's a good piece on why Hillary's days are numbered no matter how you slice it, and why she should get out of the way now to ensure that the right thing happens on Election Day, 2008. Every day she stays in the race against Obama at this point endangers us all and puts us at risk of another four years of the kind of illegal thuggery that has defined the past eight years of American politics under the obscene, lawless Bush "administration."

If you had told me a decade ago that I would be praying for Hillary to fail even as Rush Limbaugh urges his listeners to vote for her, man, I'd have had you institutionalized. But that's just how upside-down and inside-out current political reality is. Hillary -- a woman who once championed universal health care for all and is now in the pocket of the idea's most vicious opponents -- is Al Gore and John Kerry all over again, weak in will but resolute in her refusal to get out of the way of better candidates because it's her "turn." And the last vestiges of hope I have for this destroyed American political system lies solely in the hands of Barack Obama.

Not that President Obama is facing any glorious future either, as these pieces at Market Watch, CNN and Jim Kunstler's blog indicate.


Monday, March 24, 2008

That Salty Air Shipping This Week -- Good first graphic novel from cartoonist Tim Sievert, available starting Wednesday in better comic shops and bookstores. Here's my review.

Bending Comics Clarification -- Just a note to make sure everyone understands my post earlier today about the clerk bending the comics as he checked out my purchases was not about a comic book store. It happened in a mainstream newsstand/drugstore-type outlet (one which I imagine has been gone for decades).

Seems some have misunderstood both the post and my intentions in posting it. More than anything, it was just an exploration of a strong memory from my early teens, with no greater agenda than that.

The Monday Briefing -- Hi, I'm back and feeling better. Thank you.

It was a busy weekend of posting, so I thought I'd summarize what's new here the past couple of days:

* I reviewed Mark Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics.

* I wrote about the forgotten foods of my childhood; then Chris Allen did, too.

* Finally, I wrote about the trauma of bent comics, which in retrospect I noted was my first experience with comics activism.

* Also of note today, Tom Spurgeon presents his Best of 2007. It's a good, long piece about great comics. And I agree with him about Paul Karasik's story at the end of I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets, it really does not belong in the book and takes away from its near-perfection. Well, Tom doesn't think it's near-perfect, he didn't care for the format, either, apparently, I'd guess because it looks like a museum catalog of what are essentially dog-eared old pulp comics. And he's not far from wrong, although I loved the book (and still do). But now that I've seen it, I bet the perfect format might have looked something more like Image's Next Issue Project #1? A facsimile-style effort would suit those comics just wonderfully. And since they're presumably public domain...hey, I'm just sayin'.

Before I got sick I was compiling the results of my poll on your comics retailing experiences, and I hope to wrap that up and present it to you here in the next week or so.

Enjoy your Monday.


Bending the Comics -- Reading Occasional Superheroine's nightmarish comic shop story (which includes a nice plug for my piece in the next Comics Journal; thanks, Val!), reminded me of one of my real horrors from buying comics in my teens.

My family lived in Florida in the 1970s, and in 1980, when I was about 14, we moved back to upstate New York from whence we came and where we belonged. Now, I had discovered all sorts of wonderful things between, say, 1978 and 1980: The Bud Plant Catalog, Cerebus, Star*Reach, The Comics Journal, hell, the very existence of comic book stores probably hit in there somewhere, in that formative 12-to-14 year old time in my life.

And while there were no "good comic shops" (as I like to call them) where we lived (St. Augustine, Florida -- this may have changed since 1980, I've never been back and would not know), there was one used coin shop that both bought and sold comics and had maybe 5 or 10 longboxes full of back issues. This was the first store ever where I experienced bringing in my unwanted extras and stuff I no longer cared for and walking out flush with cash.

In my memory, that store paid full guide for back issues, but knowing what I know now, that seems sort of impossible. Maybe they paid some crazy figure like 80 percent of guide and kept a low profit margin; after all, comics were just a sidelight in this shop. But at any rate, I probably sold many hundreds if not thousands of my accumulated comics to that store in a two-year or so time period -- all my Bill Mantlo/Sal Buscema Incredible Hulks certainly ended up there: Incredible Hulk by Mantlo and Buscema was one of those comics that seemed awesome at 10 and incredibly lame by 12, you know?

But between that shop and the great number of 7/11s and Jiffy Marts that were in our area (one within walking distance of our home in St. Augustine Shores, a middle-class housing development built on swampland on the outskirts of town -- that one was a jiffy Mart that became a 7/11), I never wanted for comics. They were always available, either new in the convenience stores or used at that coin shop. In fact, not a weekend went by, probably from the age of 8 or 9 right up until we moved when I was 14 that I would not take a buck or three and walk down to the Jiffy Mart (it was Jiffy Mart most of the time we lived there, in my memory) and get some comics, a Slush Puppy (later a Slurpie once it became 7/11), and walk home with my bounty, set for the weekend of reading. And in the early part of those years, when comics were 20 cents? Two bucks bought a lot of comics. Toward the end I think they were closer to 35 or 40 cents, so, then, not so much. But I digress...my memory is wandering all over the place looking back.

So, living in Florida: Plenty of comics to be had. Flash ahead to 1980, back in upstate New York (where my comics addiction had begun, at the age of 6, recovering from having my tonsils out): After she had the good sense to leave her husband, my mom moved us (me, my brother and her) to the very small town (literally one red light in those days; it might be three, now) of Greenwich, in Washington County. And like in St. Augustine, we lived not "in town," but rather on the outskirts. And rural Washington County is pretty damn rural. Not Deliverance rural, where we were, but closer to that than to any sort of Gilmore Girls small-town idyll.

Greenwich had no comic shops. Unicorn Comics in Saratoga Springs, probably the second most significant comics shop of my teenage years after FantaCo in Albany (40 miles south and reserved for special trips, maybe once a month), would not open for months, so as we settled in Greenwich, I was parched for comics with nothing but desert all around.

Downtown in Greenwich one day with mom and my younger brother, we went into Hughes Newsroom. Ah-ha! There on the bottom tier of a two-tiered magazine rack were the comics. Well, you knew they had to be here somewhere, right? 1980 was still in the beginning years of the direct market, and comics were living out their dying breaths in the mainstream magazine distribution chain, so they generally could be found in most towns, but you had to look.

I grabbed as many as I could afford (read: talk my mom into buying for me) and went up to the counter. And here is the meat of this tale, which laid buried in my mind until Val brought it back for me in her post (linked above):

The old man, Hughes himself, took the stack of maybe half-a-dozen comics. He put them on the counter. He put the palm of one hand on the bottom half of the cover of the top book on the stack, and then, one by one, he bent the covers back to see the prices and ring them up on the cash register.

Again: He put the palm of one hand on the bottom half of the cover of the top book on the stack, and then, one by one, he bent the covers back to see the prices and ring them up on the cash register.


In the store, a young teenage boy smiled meekly as the old man, Hughes himself, handed me a bag with my now-ruined comics and no doubt told me to "have a nice day." A day he had just destroyed by KILLING MY COMICS.

It was no different than bringing a hamster to the cash register of a pet shop, having the clerk break its neck, take your money and hand you the dead hamster in a paper bag. In fact, this is exactly what it felt like.

And I'd like to tell you that I either spoke up next time, or never shopped there again, but as I say, other than once or twice a month trips to FantaCo (hi, Roger! Wish I'd said it then!), I had no comics and I was hooked on comics. You may be able to relate, but from the age of 6 until, well, now, my whole life in any retail environment is basically where are the comics? Are there comics here? No? Anywhere nearby? Have you any comics? Come on, there must be some comics here someplace! And in those days, that was a successful strategy more often than not. Every garage sale, thrift shop, drug store and supermarket had the comics; you just had to look. And look I did.

But no, it was many weeks -- maybe months -- before I screwed up the courage to take my stack to the counter at Hughes Newsroom and meekly say to to the old man, Hughes himself, "Could you please not bend them?"

You could have heard a pin drop, as they say.

Total silence.

In my memory, he was smoking a cigar. That may be my brain playing tricks on me, but intimidating and big is how I remember this old man, and I swear to God I think he was smoking a cigar. A short, stubby one. Which he would have had to take out to ask me, "What?"

And there it was, in my first moment of comics consumer activism (that's right, blame old man Hughes), I repeated my plea that he please not break my hamster's neck. I mean, please don't bend my comics.

Boy howdy, did he ever look at me like I was out of my fucking mind. I guaran-goddamn-tee you that every comic book he ever sold, from probably the 1940s when that store probably opened up until the chubby teenager spoke up in spring or summer of 1980, every comic book that old man ever sold had its spine broken by his checkout method. Palm on lower half of cover of top comic: Check. Comics bent back one by one to verify prices: Check. Comics ruined: Check.

And thinking about it, back then, every goddamned comic cost the same! Always! Unless you were buying some outsized Warren magazine or Heavy Metal, they were all the same price! All he had to do was count them. That old son of a bitch!

It was some tense moments, there, in Hughes Newsroom there in early 1980. But after I explained, no doubt with many stutters and stammers and a good deal of flop sweat, that he was destroying any resale value the comics might have had (and by then, as noted, I had a good deal of experience reselling my old comics), he came around. Never again did old man Hughes destroy my comics when I checked out there, which I did at least twice a week. See, his distributor dropped off the new comics twice weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I think it was, so I was in there twice a week. And from then on, there were no more broken spines on my comics from Hughes Newsroom.

At least, not for me. I wonder now if he extended the same courtesy to anyone else who bought comics there. If anyone else even did.

It was some months later that my mom found an article in The Saratogian newspaper about Unicorn Comics opening up, and once that happened I don't remember ever going back to Hughes Newsroom again. I thereafter had my first real pull list at a real comic book store, and later on even a part-time job "working the register," which was an honest-to-God cigar box. But that's another story altogether.

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Chris Allen's Forgotten Foods -- Reading my post and then his is pretty much as close as most of you will ever get to listening in on one of our late-night, long-distance phone calls.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Forgotten Foods -- A discussion with my wife over dinner Saturday night got me to thinking about foods that were common at my family's dinner table when I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s, and I came up with the following list. Most of them are foods my wife and I have never served our kids, a lot of them because they're gross, but others for other reasons, as you'll see...

Rack of Lamb with Mint Jelly -- I can remember enjoying this dish when my mom made it, which was probably three or four times a year, but I always passed on the mint jelly. I hate mint. That aside, the main reason I've not had this dish since childhood is that is just seems too close to game meat, too much of a reminder of exactly what it is you're eating. And it's probably fairly complicated, as well.

Harvey Wallbanger Cake -- Oh, man, I loved this when my mom would make it, and seeing the recipe, it's not hard to see why. We rarely bake anything in my home, but it's tempting to give this a shot (pardon the pun), because I remember it being incredibly moist and flavourful.

Liver and Onions -- I tried this exactly once as a child, because it looked like steak. Never again.

Chipped Beef on Toast -- This was probably a depression-era invention; my parents were both products of that era and the cuisine often was a reminder of how to make something out of virtually nothing. I'd probably never bother making this myself, but I remember it being creamy, salty and actually pretty tasty.

Codfish -- As a child I dreaded this dish being served up, but I think I ate it more often than not. It wasn't a favourite, but it was edible. I remember it being salty and having a strong, strong flavour that wasn't quite fishy, but reminiscent of something else altogether. Bonus memory: The fish came from the store in a wooden box. Anyone remember that?

Turkey Soup after Thanksgiving -- Again, as a product of The Depression, mom never let anything go to waste. In my modern-day home we use all the meat off the turkey for sandwiches and whatnot, but we don't go so far as to make stock from the carcass to make soup. I'll give mom credit on this one, it's probably pretty wasteful not to do this, but again, as pathetic creatures of 21st century America, it just seems like so much work. Oh, also: Turkey a la king was another dish that would be served after Thanksgiving -- turkey in a white sauce with peas, served over toast or with mashed potatoes. Which, amazingly, were always from the instant flakes that came in a huge can. This amazes me because when my wife makes mashed potatoes, she always makes them from real potatoes; there's one curious inversion of the pattern!

Spam -- I know we always had cans in the cupboard. Generally slices would be fried up in a pan and served on sandwiches. I have never purchased spam or eaten it in my adult life, although I assume they still make it, along with...

Vienna Sausages -- I can remember these being packed in my school lunches sometimes. Ears and assholes were no doubt the main ingredients, but of course pure beef ears and assholes. Or maybe pork, who the hell knows?

Beets -- Mom would make them, I wouldn't eat them. Sorry, Dwight, but beets have never passed my lips and never will. I think I heard once that they taste like dirt, and I for one believe it.

Mincemeat Pie -- Always served with Thanksgiving dinner. I might have taken a bite once, and that was more than enough for me.

Filet Mignon -- This was a once-a-week dinner in my childhood home, and probably my favourite meal that my family would eat. I would go to the butcher with my parents, who would buy individual filets wrapped in butcher paper. Each one came with a strip of bacon wrapped around it, for added flavour and moisture, I remember my mom telling me. And get this: Each filet cost a whole dollar, meaning four filets for my parents, me and my brother cost four dollars. Oh, did my parents complain about that cost! The last time I saw filet mignon in a supermarket I believe each filet cost around ten dollars. We've never made it in my home as an adult, but I often order it when eating out, as recently as last night, which is where this whole discussion began. Interestingly, other than the filets my parents would buy when I was a child, I have never seen it served with the bacon strip around it.

Raw Oysters and Frogs Legs -- No, I never ate either of these, but my parents often did when we went out to eat. The oysters were served raw on the half-shell and were accompanied with lemon to squirt on them before you slurped the snot-like raw animal out of its shell. No mealtime ritual ever grossed me out more.

Any of these bring back any memories for you? Feel free to share in the comments, or write it up on your blog, and let me know. I'm interested in whether anyone else remembers unusual foods that their family would have as a child that as an adult they don't eat anymore.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Kirby: King of Comics -- Author Mark Evanier mentions at one point in this generously illustrated biography that one could have filled ten such volumes full of Kirby's art, and of course that's true. I don't know if anyone has ever estimated how many pages of art the man born Jacob Kurtzburg produced in the seven or so decades he drew comics, but it's safe to say it was more than nearly anyone else of his time. Or any time.Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier, from Harry N. Abrams Publishing.

Virtually every one of those pages was dynamic, and packed with a powerful sense of emotion. More importantly, almost from the very beginning, every page Kirby created was uniquely Kirby. There's a page in this wonderful book that shows covers featuring three different Kirby creations (The Demon, Machine Man and Captain America, I think) in strikingly similar poses. And unlike lesser artists who slide by on a limited skill-set, Kirby's stock images still arrest the eye with their drama and immediacy.

Mark Evanier was friends with Kirby from the time he was a teenager; he was there for the humiliations (Marvelmania, DC doctoring his artwork to conform to the house style) and the triumphs (Jack finally getting his art back; Jack finally getting his due, albeit from the animation industry, not comics). Kirby's vision and contribution to the comics artform so transcend normal boundaries of accomplishment that even his most cherished and sought-after victories in life tend to seem pyrrhic. Yes, he got his art back, but how many hundreds or thousands of pages were first stolen from Marvel's warehouses? Yes, he lived to know that he was truly respected as the King of Comics (and how he got that title and what it really meant to him is wondrously told by Evanier over the course of the entire book); but was it ever enough? Did Jack Kirby get his due?

From most readers of comics, I'd say he did. From the comics industry, the debt owed Kirby could never really begin to be repaid. His imagination, and perhaps more importantly his work ethic, were too staggering and too constant. Comics could never keep up with him, from the publishers, to the sales outlets, to the readers. From almost the birth of the artform as we understand it today, Kirby was always decades ahead of his time. Look at the recent, successful repackaging of Kirby's Fourth World work as a series of expensive hardcover omnibus editions. Kirby knew before the original comics were even created that this was their ideal form. It took over 30 years for readers, comic shops, bookstores and publishers to "get with it."

As I say, Mark Evanier spent a good portion of his life as Kirby's friend and colleague. No one save his wife Roz probably had more of Jack's trust and understanding. And Evanier even admits there's still aspects of Kirby he is trying to understand today, over a decade after we lost him.

Kirby: King of Comics. The book is a treasure, a celebration of the greatest superhero artist who will ever live and one of only five or so true geniuses of the comics artform entire. Kirby: King of Comics. The title reminds me of the first time I heard Evanier's name, watching the Tonight Show one night, as Johnny Carson read a letter from Mark Evanier (Carson said his name wrong) explaining why Jack was "the King of Comics," a title Carson had mocked on an earlier episode because he thought the title was referring to comedians, and Carson had never heard of Kirby the comedian and so made fun of the very idea.

Mark Evanier set Johnny Carson straight about Jack Kirby that night, and I've been a fan of his ever since. Mark's done a lot of things in life aside from set people straight about Jack Kirby, but there's nothing more noble he's accomplished that I know of. In words and pictures, Kirby: King of Comics is the official record of the life and work of one of the greatest, most unique minds to ever grace us with its workings. Evanier lets us understand Kirby to the extent that understanding is possible, and in its way, that is as remarkable as Kirby himself.

Kirby: King of Comics


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dick's Bookseller Interview -- Essential reading, especially for his definition of "mainline graphic novel." The li'l bastard in me wishes he said "mainstream," but, it's still a great piece.

Dick Interviews The Happy Bookseller.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Update -- I appreciate the comments and emails about my lack of posting, and I apologize for my absence these past days. As noted previously, I was pretty seriously ill, and although I am mostly recovered I still have a bad cough, fatigue, and most damning of all, an inability to concentrate enough to write anything of substance here. Bear with me and hopefully I'll be back stirring up shit within a few days.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Midweek Update -- I'm still alive, and over the worst, but still recovering from the flu. Sorry for the lack of posts this week; hopefully I'll be back up to speed by the start of next week.






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