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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

 
Text of Barry Windsor-Smith's Eisner Awards Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech -- This speech was written by BWS upon his induction into the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame, and delivered by Fantagraphics Books publisher Gary Groth during the awards ceremony at Comicon International last week in San Diego.
My sincere thanks to the creators, editors, publishers, and retailers who were instrumental in selecting me for this Will Eisner, Hall of Fame, award.

Over the years I’ve strived to create what I think of as GOOD COMIC BOOKS. Stories where characters and personalities are grounded in our collective sense of reality, while their adventures exemplify THE AMAZING and THE FANTASTIC by transcending the cliches known to the general public as super heroes and super villains.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN, The FREEBOOTERS, WEAPON X, ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG and sometimes more traditional characters such as The X-MEN and DAREDEVIL, have allowed me to express myself in a personal fashion not often embraced by the conventions of big business comics, where the disciplines and rigors of writing, penciling, inking, and coloring, are assigned to numerous teams commissioned to deliver products by the month, every month.

Gary Groth reads Barry Windsor-Smith's acceptance speech last week at The Eisner Awards ceremony at Comicon International in San Diego. (Photo from The Drawn and Quarterly Blog)

In the 1970s I was constantly asked when I would “do CONAN again.” In these latter years I receive e-mails imploring me to return to ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG. My short reply is “When pigs fly to the Moon and return home safely.”

But to those who really want to know, I say that the major companies’ standard contract, deceptively titled “WORK FOR HIRE,” is a legal but unethical instrument designed to rape and plunder young talents of every possible prerogative they would otherwise possess if they had the fortune to work for more scrupulous, morally invested, publishers.

“Pause for practically audible smirks and a smattering of light clapping from the back,” it says here.

All that said, I assure you that I am grateful for the privilege of joining the exemplary company of the Hall of Fame award. For this I offer my heartfelt thanks to each of you who made this possible.
Thanks to Tom Spurgeon for making me aware of the speech, and to Barry Windsor-Smith and BWS Studio Manager Alex Bialy for allowing me to post the text.

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The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard -- There will not be a more inventive or funnier comic book released in calendar year 2008 than The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best, published by First Second. And by "calendar year 2008," of course, I mean, "The 21st Century."

Holy hell, Eddie Campbell still has the ability to surprise me, and does so on almost every page here, defying my expectations for this work and making me laugh out loud quite a few times.

Monsieur Leotard is a fraud, first and foremost, but a most sincere and earnest one, who is bade farewell by his dying uncle's last, unfinished wish, "May nothing occur -- " which fails to come true again and again in the most astonishing, breathtaking manner over the book's 128 pages. Campbell, who writes and draws, and Best, who wrote some too, demonstrate that a deep literacy and love of language and history can stand side by side on the page with a boundless sense of humour, willing to make any joke, no matter how silly or profane, as long as it is funny. Take, for example, the saga of the bearded pirate, which winds its way through the story and ultimately -- well, that would spoil it for you. Instead, contemplate the brilliant cameo appearance from one of Campbell's most noted co-creations, as Monsieur Leotard crosses over Crisis-style with -- no, goddamnit, I won't spoil that either.

If you love great comics of almost any genre -- and The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard sits comfortably within most of them -- you will love this book. You will love rediscovering the joy of a wild adventure comic that you can't stop reading. You will love laughing at each inevitable change of fortune that makes Leotard's life so amazing, so remarkable. If you've ever loved any Eddie Campbell work, from the Alec stories to From Hell and everything else he's done, you will love once again letting Eddie (and Dan Best) take hold of your consciousness and imagination and turn them inside out and upside down on the wildest ride you'll find in comics this year, and very probably this century.

Buy The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard from Amazon.com.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

 
The Anemic Monday Briefing -- I got nothin', I'm telling ya. Go read Spurgeon's excellent Blake Bell interview, which pretty much answers all the questions I had about Bell's excellent book about Steve Ditko, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, which I reviewed recently and can't recommend enough.

Sorry to hear the new X-Files movie apparently was a huge flop over the weekend. I liked it a lot, and recommend you see it if you like the series, but I guess in the summer of Dark Knight and Iron Man, it's no surprise that an excellent, character-based suspense movie like X-Files: I Want to Believe doesn't blow away the competition.

Makes it seem even more unlikely that we'll ever see the continuation -- or conclusion -- of the alien invasion mythology that was woven throughout the entirety of the series. Well, maybe they can do it in comics form, like Buffy Season Eight. Which, if it was as good as that series, I would have few complaints.

Oh, one other thing to mention -- James Howard Kunstler writes about driving up Route 4 in New York's Capital District. This decrepit stretch of lost American highway is almost literally in my backyard, and I travel it a few times a year. Kunstler's description is evocative and dead-on.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

 
X-Files: I Want to Believe -- Extremely short version: I missed the hell out of Mulder and Scully since the end of the season where Duchovny left full-time duty on the series. It was great to have them back, and the story is top-notch, creepy-as-hell X-Files storytelling, as good as Tooms, for example, to compare it to an episode with a similar vibe.

For sheer viewer immersion, I enjoyed it more than The Dark Knight, although obviously it lacks a knock-out performance of Heath Ledger proportions.

It does, however, have one extremely gratifying cameo, probably two-thirds of the way through it, that just made me grin from ear to ear and electrified every scene this character was in for the rest of the film.

The story itself is hella grotesque, with one seriously hideous special effect that is only on-screen for a second, but it was enough to make my stomach lurch, just a bit.

Oh, and it has Leoben from Battlestar Galactica. Come on, you know you wanna see it.

I want to believe you do, anyway. And I'm glad I did.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

 
Be Short; Be Great -- Here's Warren Ellis on MySpace talking about the what Joss Whedon achieved with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (which I wrote about yesterday):
I can't tell you how many new hopeful comics writers I meet who have never finished anything in their lives because their intended first project is a hundred-episode epic that creates a whole new universe or three. And I tell them all the same thing: you're screwed. No-one will want it. Not until you've written something short, capable of being produced on a budget, and finished. Your epic may be worldchanging, but no-one will ever know because no publisher will gamble that kind of money on an unknown. And that's before you get to the vagaries of the attention economy. Production values are nice, but not necessary to producing compelling work. People gave Dr. Horrible 15 mins because it's Joss, but five minutes is a great length for net video. 500 words, 5 pages, whatever. Be short. Be great.
Better advice, would-be writers could not find anywhere. Click the link, and hopefully even though it's MySpace you might actually end up somewhere where you can read Ellis's entire post. I loved his last line, and you'll have to click over to read that.

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Roger Ebert Looks Back -- Maybe it's because I was a viewer of Siskel and Ebert in almost all their incarnations over the years, from the PBS days through Siskel's death and beyond, but I found Roger Ebert's essay, "The Balcony is Closed," one of the most bittersweet pieces of writing I have ever encountered.

Ebert's health problems have kept him off TV the past couple of years, but he still has more energy and insight than any other ten writers I can think of, and he remains our best living film critic. I hope you'll click over and read his first-person history of his and Siskel's TV adventure, from the very beginning, to its recent, unexpected and hopefully temporary end.

And if you haven't read his books, especially the amazing The Great Movies and The Great Movies II, I urge you to pick them up at your nearest bookstore or library. They provide endless inspiration to me, and I'm sure they will to you, as well.

Buy The Great Movies and The Great Movies II from Amazon.com.

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A San Diego Story Worth Reading -- Here's Roger Green's reflections on his visit to 1987 the San Diego Comicon. I love reading Roger's thoughts about just about anything, and in a week where there will be a lot of irrelevant stories with "San Diego" and "Comicon" as keywords (likely along with even worse words, like "Loeb" and "Johns" and "Exclusive"), it's nice to have a San Diego post to read that is interesting and worth reading.

Colour me ambivalent about the news that Darwyn Cooke will be adapting Donald Westlake's Parker series for IDW. Cooke's last adaptation/reimagining, The Spirit for DC, ultimately felt like a year of wasted time, with Cooke only catching fire in the last issue. Everything he does is beautiful to look at, but I'd like to see him do something of his own, infused with the energy and imagination he brought to Catwoman and New Frontier. I'll be first in line to cheer if the Parker comics are up to the high standards Cooke has previously set, because we could use another great Pop Noir crime comic on the stands alongside Criminal and Femme Noir. But given Cooke's recent Spirit run, I'll definitely have to wait and see how it shakes out.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

 
Must See: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog -- I just got done watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, created by Joss Whedon and starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and others.

I have no comprehensive review to offer; just trust me when I tell you that this brief, three segment "series" contains as many thrills, laughs and unexpected twists as a season of any of Whedon's shows, all of which are awesome.

You can get it on iTunes, or you can wait for the DVD, which I will definitely be buying. Whatever you do, make sure you see this fantastic, I guess I'll call it a short film. Altogether it runs a little under 45 minutes, and it's the best 45 minutes I've spent watching my TV in a long time.

And it gives me even more hope for January's debut of Whedon's new series Dollhouse.

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You can get more information and a much better review at Pajiba.com.

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Worst Slideshow EVER -- Click through this set of eight pictures and see if you don't agree. The tide starts to turn around picture #5...

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

 
The Red Star: Sword of Lies #3 -- I remember reading the original Red Star trade paperback collection years ago; if I recall correctly, it was published then by Image Comics. It's not anymore, now it's published by Archangel Studios, which both forgets to put a price anywhere on this comic book, and lists the publisher's city of residence in the indicia as "North Hollywood, Clifornia."

Because this is the third issue of a series apparently recounting "the origin story of the Red Star saga," I am late to the proceedings, having not read anything since that initial collection many years ago. I remember that it contained many full-page images of people and machinery, the people shouting, or grim, and the machinery large. Having read this new issue, I recall now that at least some of the machines use human souls as fuel. I don't believe there's such a thing as a soul, distinct from our earthbound biology, so already my baloney detector is going off. The people still seem grim. There are ghosts, and a Darth Vader-like guy who tears someone's soul out of them. I guess that would be bad, in the same way it was bad for Austin Powers when Dr. Evil stole his mojo. (See what I did there? I don't believe in mojo, either; actually, I believe people possess mojo more easily than I believe they possess an immortal soul, so, Austin Powers 1, Red Star: Sword of Lies #3 0, I suppose.)

(And no, at no time in thinking about writing this review did I think at all about Austin Powers, it just organically developed out of the writing process.)

Coming in to the universe of The Red Star this late in the game, with little interest in the previously established stories and even less in the origin of how they got there, I have to confess that clearly The Red Star: Sword of Lies #3 is not the funnybook for me. I feel a little bad about that because A) A lot of effort clearly goes into the creation of these very serious and portentous comic books and B) The woman at Archangel Studios who asked me to review this issue was both very nice about asking and very prompt in making sure it arrived at my house in a timely manner. But like someone with no interest or background in Freemasonry walking into a ceremony for experienced devotees of that tradition, I have no idea what is happening and can only note that everyone involved seems very committed to their work, although no one seems to be devoting any time whatsoever to making sure outsiders can understand or appreciate what is going on.

So, if like me you come into The Red Star: Sword of Lies #3 with no recent experience of the series, here is what you will find:

* Large machines that apparently use human souls as their fuel. I suppose this is a metaphor for the effect of Soviet governance on its people.

* A sequence involving stolen liquor that I think is supposed to be both funny and sad. Upon reflection, it recalls Captain Kirk calling down to Scotty in engineering on the original Star Trek, more than anything. Scotty liked a good, stiff drink, and was an engineer, and talked to his captain over the intercom, just like you see here. The engineer even looks a bit like mid-period Scotty with his big, gray mustache. And fondness for liquor.

* Someone being operated on in an operating room with one panel that looks like Alex Ross, the rest like full-colour manga.

* Soviet-style soldiers standing stoically in the snow.I suppose this is a metaphor for Soviet soldiers, who often had to stand in the snow being stoic.

* A guy who looks and acts like Darth Vader, or maybe Baron Karza.

* A lot of unmemorable and static painted-looking art.

* A giant red lady with a sword. She seems regretful, or resigned, or determined.

* Two people kissing. The girl seems not to have any nostrils.

The Red Star seems to be some sort of sci-fi pastiche/homage to the days of the Soviet Union. I have no idea if prime mover Christian Gossett was born there, or if his family is from there, or if he just thinks soviet-style costumes and saying "Komrade" a lot are just super-cool. From the available evidence, it could be any of those things, but there's so little to go on that I am forced to guess. I am sure one could craft brilliant historical fiction or historically-informed science fiction based in some way on the events or legends of Eastern Europe and its peoples. The Red Star: Sword of Lies in no way reflects that possibility. I apologize if Mr. Gossett has a genuine, profound and/or personal interest in the Soviet era, its people or symbols. If he does, I wish any of that translated to these comic books, which seem overblown, self-important, impenetrable, and deadly dull.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

 
Bummer -- The cartoonist Frank Santoro -- whose Cold Heat comic book series suspended publication after four issues due to low sales, and will see completion as a full-length graphic novel incorporating the four issues plus the rest of the material that would have seen print in future issues -- says the fact that people are "waiting for the trade" to experience Gilbert Hernandez's Speak of the Devil is "the bummer of this post-comics pamphlet era for alt and art comics," and indicates he may have more to say on the matter.

I've already asked my retailer to order a copy of the collected Speak of the Devil, eschewing its single-issue format, because I know that works by Los Bros Hernandez work best for me in collected form; but that's not to say Santoro is wrong, at all. I can, and do, totally dig his description of the thrill of the new, single-issue release of a series you love, which is why I am linking to his comments. And a few years ago, I would have been waiting for the single issues right along with him. In fact, I was doing just that with Cold Heat, the unfinished four issues of which sit in the "Santoro" section of my comics shortboxes like an open wound. Damn you, comics marketplace. Damn you, more attractive and durable collected graphic novel format. Damn you!

I kid; Santoro is not wrong. But neither am I for waiting for the trade on Speak of the Devil. I don't want to buy it twice, and a collected version was never in doubt. But in the market as it exists now, publishers should not commit to the single-issue format if they do not already have the resources and wherewithal to see through the single issue-run to its completion whether the single issues sell or not. I'm looking forward to the graphic novel version of Cold Heat, but those four orphans in my collection are an indicator of a real problem that needs to be solved by publishers. They, too, need to decide if the single-issue format is viable for them before ever releasing a single issue, or if it's in their best interest to "wait for the trade."

In the case of Cold Heat, the truth speaks for itself, sadly. The series read very, very well to me in single issues, once I read a few and got a feel for what creators BJ and Santoro were up to; but publisher Picturebox needed to be prepared for the indifferent reaction the series got from the marketplace (both readers and retailers), and needed to be prepared to ride that out and take the hit once they'd committed to single issues; clearly they were unprepared for the reality of the current market. How is Dark Horse and Speak of the Devil different? Clearly it is, although I expect to love Speak of the Devil as much as I love any other Gilbert Hernandez work (and I do love most of them), or as much as I loved the four issues of Cold Heat. It's a fascinating, and utterly unresolved dilemma.

But ultimately, starting a series in single issues is like opening a restaurant; you have a responsibility as a professional to be prepared to take massive losses until word of mouth reaches critical mass and you can expect to start, eventually, turning a profit. In the case of Dark Horse, I'd guess -- and it's just a guess -- that they have the capital shored up to withstand a financial loss on the single issues, and they believe in Gilbert Hernanderz's saleability enough in the collected, graphic novel format to be willing to wait to make most of their money on Speak of the Devil once it is all under one cover and being sold to bookstores and libraries.

And people like me, waiting for the trade. On Speak of the Devil willingly and consciously, and on Cold Heat, against my will and entirely due to the realities of the marketplace and Picturebox's failure to properly gauge the sales potential of single issues of the series. As I have often said, one of the stark realities of any commercial enterprise -- and artcomix are that, oftentimes, and obviously in the case of Cold Heat -- just because you build it, they will not come. There's more you have to do, if you expect to sell your non-superhero single issues through Diamond's almost-entirely superhero-obsessed network of stores. You must be patient. You must have capital shored up to protect against market indifference. You must be prepared to see your project through. Dark Horse was; Picturebox was not. As a critic, and as a reader, I have more at stake in the totality of Picturebox's line of books than I do Dark Horse's; Cold Heat represents the average, excellent Picturebox title; Speak of the Devil is something of an anomaly among Dark Horse's line of middlebrow, licensed titles with a somewhat built-in expectation of financial success (being that Dark Horse has a favoured position in Diamond's Previews catalog that Picturebox is unlikely to share in any universe that I can conceive of).

I was willing to support Cold Heat in single issues, because it's the format it obviously was built for from the very beginning. I preferred to wait for the trade on Speak of the Devil because I knew Dark Horse would collect it as a graphic novel. I would still have ordered the eventual Cold Heat collected edition, no question. But that's down to the fact that Santoro as an artist resides in a higher plane for me as a reader and a critic than Gilbert Hernandez does; I crave his work in all its iterations in which I can find it. I loved the hardcover Storeyville but would buy the newspaper-format edition from a decade ago in a heartbeat if I came across it in a comic book store. Hell, I would likely buy multiple copies. And yet I passed up Speak of the Devil every time I saw it on the stands in a comic book store. And, be aware, I do hold Gilbert Hernandez's work in high, high regard as an entity unto itself; I possess many of his stories three or four times over ("Poison River" being one example).

I have no conclusion here, and I apologize if it seemed I was leading up to one. Santoro's comments fascinated me and I urge you to click through to the link above and read what he has to say. I hope he finishes his thoughts on "waiting for the trade," because as a consumer of comics I am imperfect in my philosophy toward this issue, and I know it. I need more information. I need more good comic book stores that support projects I want without me having to advocate for them to the owner every single time. And I need more good comics like Cold Heat and Speak of the Devil.

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Hello, America.The Dark Nihilist -- The new Batman movie The Dark Knight works on a number of levels -- as a superhero movie, it makes almost all that came before, from Superman to X-Men and everything else, including its own predecessor, Batman Begins, seem hopelessly juvenile. As filmed adventure/fantasy fiction, it is as compelling and ambitious as some of the better superhero(y) movies of the past few decades, including The Matrix and Dark City.

Unlike most cape-based films, it works as a movie, with an epic scope and fantastic sequences firmly, even boldly grounded by its attention to character and genuinely first-rate acting by Morgan Freeman, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and especially, the very heart of the movie, Heath Ledger as the first, full-on believable Joker, a thing never before seen on film, and rarely seen in the comics. You want to spend time with this Joker the way you wanted to spend time with Hannibal in The Silence of the Lambs or Dexter on Dexter, or Vic Mackey on The Shield. They're mad, they're murderous, they're the life of the party with lampshade-on-head and razor blade in hand.

And because of Ledger's fully-committed, fearless willingness to explore the both the depths of nihilism and the heights of anarchy, the movie works as a nuanced and powerful commentary on the state of our world right now. Make no mistake about it, Ledger's Joker is both living terror and living terrorism, the manic, horrific spirit of the 9/11 bombers skull-fucking Hannibal Lecter in hell after their 72 virgins failed to show up as expected. The Dark Knight's Joker may very well have infected Ledger's soul and driven him to an early end; as "The War on Terror" has shown America the gaping hole at the center of its vapid, self-destructive militaristic-consumerist ideals, so too does Ledger's cheap, terrible and unknowable clown drive his enemies -- Batman and all of Gotham's would-be knights, from Jim Gordon and the tragic Harvey Dent to the very everyman on the street (in a marvelously constructed sequence involving game theory set on two boats, one filled with "good people," the other filled with hardcore criminals) to the very edge of their own personal ethics and beyond. "Any Gotham resident who sacrifices freedom for personal safety," it might be said "deserves The Joker."

Yes, more than anything, The Dark Knight speaks directly, violently to our post-9/11 world of paranoia and sacrificed liberties. Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox is every compromised American as he lets Bruce Wayne convince him to invade the privacy of literally every citizen in Gotham in his fevered zeal to bring down his enemy. Sure, Bruce Wayne means well when he abuses and misuses the technology at his disposal to battle the terror that is waging war against him; the Bush administration claims it means well, too, when it engages in illegal wiretaps and surveillance of a compliant and complicit populace. Batman means well when he tortures The Joker for information; he's trying to save the love of his life, freedom and the safety of us all. See also Jack Bauer. See also, America. What's left of it.

Heath Ledger goes dark like Chris Carter's Millennium or Trent Reznor's The Downward Spiral went dark. Down deep, shuffling and giggling and picking scabs and demanding all in his quest for nothing, for nihilism, for lost hope and bad jokes and shaggy dog stories by way of Dog Day Afternoon; call it Shaggy Dog Day Afternoon and there you have The Dark Knight. Watch it and you'll see what I mean.

The movie is about heroism like Bush's war is about righteousness; the fact is, both are about arrogance and mindless violence pretending to be about greed and torture and terror. Ultimately The Dark Knight is only about the black, empty hole inside Heath Ledger's Joker like The War on Terror is only about the black, empty hole inside George W. Bush and his fellow war criminals. And that is why the movie, and the war, fail on an epic level.

Both are filled with murder and mayhem and good guys and bad guys and supposed good guys who act bad and very, very bad guys who suppose they are good. The failure of Bush's war is obvious and needs no explanation; it has literally destroyed the US and Iraq and thus is a perfect storm of nihilism disguised as imperialistic idealism. The movie's failure is less distinct and comes, actually, very late in the proceedings. At the exact moment Batman leaves The Joker hanging instead of cutting his throat and letting him die, the movie betrays itself and its own dedication to exploring the darkest holes we all contain. The Silence of the Lambs was an artistic success because Hannibal not only got away at the end, but got away and obviously was going to eat his own nemesis, Dr. Chilton, for dinner. Think back to the glee you took as the camera pulled back to show Chilton being followed into a crowd by Hannibal, breezy and as determined as a lion stalking his prey, his bloody, frenzied victory never in doubt.

No wonder Ledger couldn't live with what he had created; obviously neither could Warner Bros., Christopher Nolan or the people who go to see this movie. The truth of it is too much to live with, and so Batman lets the Joker live and it all falls apart. It's a marvelous, invigorating ride to the very end, but in failing to succumb to the fact that all we've seen leads only to one, dead-end conclusion and yet does not, the movie ultimately falls flat and fails to embrace its own themes and fails to answer truthfully the questions it asks. The prisoners on one boat and the innocent on the other prove the value of humanity in their final choices, and the end of The Dark Knight by all rights and very obviously should have proved and justified the death wish of Ledger's Joker by allowing Batman to take his revenge and murder the clown; it would have been fitting revenge for the death of Rachel Dawes; it would have guaranteed a safer Gotham City; it would have shown Batman his true face and his true purpose. The Joker would have found it the funniest joke of all, but because Nolan and Batman fuck up the punchline, The Dark Knight fails to be the pinnacle of art being true to itself and its own inner logic.

It's a wild and imminently watchable ride. I just wish it had the courage of its convictions.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

 
Currently Reading -- Top Shelf sent along a preview copy of Veeps. It's not comics, but it's damned funny, and informative as well. I'm only up to the Civil War, and enjoying the hell out of it so far.

In the world of prose non-fiction, I'm about two-thirds of the way through Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World. His assessment of the next few decades seems unaware of Peak Oil and The Long Emergency, or maybe he just thinks iPhones and the Prius will allow the Easy Motoring Utopia to continue, just with the global focus moving to China and India. It's interesting for the many historical observations he makes, but I do doubt the continued growth he sees over a span of the next fifty years or so, unless space aliens show up with a solution for the confluence of problems that are clusterfucking all around us on a now-daily basis.

Did you see The Daily Show the other night, with the compare and contrast segment on simultaneous speeches by Bush and Bernanke? Scary, illuminating and funny as hell. Well, at least we get some yocks on the slow ride to hell...

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Dental Damn -- Have I mentioned how much I hate going to the dentist? Or even thinking about going to the dentist? Or even thinking about teeth?

It's a deep-seated fear and loathing, no doubt about it.

I went to the dentist today. And ended up with two appointments to go back, not to the dentist, but to an oral surgeon, in the weeks ahead, to fix two ongoing problems I've been trying very hard not to think about. But I got to the point that that wasn't possible anymore. Nuff said.

So, that's why I got nothing of substance written today.

I hate going to the dentist. A lot.

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Where is the "Liberal Media" as Impeachment Moves Forward? -- Why is it that I can't find the story about a successful vote on impeachment yesterday anywhere at all on CNN's website? Sure, our war criminal faux-president isn't impeached yet, but he's closer to it today than he was 48 hours ago.

What do you think CNN was reporting at this stage of the move toward Bill Clinton's impeachment? I have a feeling they might have at least mentioned it.

There is a liberal media, but it has no voice on TV that I can find.

By the way, I fully endorse impeachment, and hopefully, eventually, war crimes trials at The Hague, or anywhere else they'd care to hold them.

Here is Yahoo News on yesterday's vote, as well as the Associated Press, and Wikipedia's history of the movement to remove Bush from office.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

 
Christopher Butcher's Manga Prescription -- Chris's series of commentaries on the state and future of manga gets better and better, and in his latest post on the subject, he hits the home run.
So what do I want the manga industry to look like then? I think that Drawn + Quarterly has a good idea, with one prestige-format (meaning a format with actual prestige, like a hardcover book with lovely thick paper and a beautiful design, and not those flimsy little 48 page superhero comics with a spine) release of “mature manga” per year. If there were 3 or 4 publishers doing that, each with a nicely designed manga release per season (spring/fall), that’d be maybe 8-10 wonderful books per year, which I think that the market could bear, and that’d be lovely. Currently the number of high-end manga releases in a given year is about half of that, which accounts for the loud noises I make when they manage to drop.
Butcher goes on to talk about watching the tastes and purchases of young manga customers mature over time at his shop, The Beguiling in Toronto, and it's a very realistic and hopeful portrait he paints of how easy it can be to use a comic book store to build the industry you want.

I guess my fear is that the worst instincts of the direct market have already done that, that most comic book stores want a marketplace hinging on ephemeral, hyperhysterical junk like what Marvel and DC generally make their nut on these days (Secret Invasion, anything at all by Geoff Johns), with that precious, lofty 5 to 10 percent of comic book stores like The Beguiling or Modern Myths or Million Year Picnic or, closer to home, Earthworld in Albany, actually bothering to take the risk and spend the capital required to stock a truly full-service comic book store that welcomes the presence and buying power of readers of all interests, ages and genders. Those are the type of stores building the future Butcher describes, and they deserve every goddamned bit of support you can possibly eke out of your wallet.

Anyway, go read Butcher's latest post, there's a ton of great ideas and advice in there for retailers and readers alike, and it's absolutely essential reading.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

 
Ralph Snart Adventures #1 -- Ralph Snart has apparently been around since 1986, but this is my first exposure to the character, and I hope, my last. I'm stunned to see in the ads in the back that there are multiple trade paperback collections of earlier stories. Is there a possibility that those stories are somehow more nuanced than the overblown, one-note vapidity I found in this issue? Is it possible that people actually love this stuff enough to spend money on it? Repeatedly?

Marc Hansen is a serviceable enough cartoonist with a style somewhat reminiscent of Evan Dorkin. But this issue contains not one joke I found funny, or one sequence I found entertaining, or one panel that held my attention. Ralph is a stupid alcoholic who becomes famous (on "UTOOB," which is as sophisticated as the yocks get here, folks) and goes to Hollywood and drinks and goes to jail and becomes someone's bitch. Ralph says "I'm your bitch, aren't I?" His cellmate responds, "Yeah, pretty much." At one point Ralph observes "My butt itches." Hey, if that sounds TEH AWESOME to you, go buy some Ralph Snart Comics.

Ralph Snart Adventures #1 is all hysterics, all the knobs set to 11, apparently intended to be satire, but with no wit and really not even an apparent target; society at large, I guess. Waterboarding is mentioned on the back cover, as if at the last minute Hansen decided to get political and topical, but it's a throwaway reference in a comic that, at my house anyway, actually will be thrown away.

I don't mean to be a prick, and if this character has fans, they're free to enjoy all the Snart they can get with my blessing. But I am about as far from the target audience for this comic as it is possible to imagine.

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Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #1 -- I was about 2/3rds of the way through this issue when I realized I was having the same kind of fun I have when I read a new issue of Brubaker and Phillips's Criminal. That's entirely because of the creative team. Writer Christopher Mills, whose Gravedigger a few years back also grabbed me with its hard-boiled noir stylings, is here paired with Joe Staton, who is at the very top of his game in depicting the Eisnerian rain-soaked streets of Port Nocturne, home to the mysterious and vengeful Femme Noir.

This first issue involves the question of who, exactly, the blond crimefighter actually is, and if I again invoke Eisner and The Spirit, it's only in the very best sense. Femme Noir herself could be any one of three suspects, each one given a powerful origin story while moving the plot along nicely. Like Eisner, Mills and Staton create a completely believable environment as a backdrop for their sometimes dark, sometimes pulpy morality plays. The rain is a brutal, oppressive force of nature that hammers down on the guilty and the innocent alike, never playing favourites, soaking the city in a palpably wet and unforgiving atmosphere.

Joe Staton has been a favourite artist of mine since I first saw his work in E-Man in the mid-1970s. If you only know him from work for DC like Scooby Doo, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the dramatic staging and level of detail he brings to Femme Noir, with help from inker Horacio Ottolini. From the inner chambers of a gangster's mansion to a filthy warehouse populated by card-playing hoods, Staton brings Mills's story vividly to life, and colourist Melissa Kaercher gets the muted palette just exactly right -- not the murky browns and grays so much comic art is swallowed whole by these days, but a sensitive and thoughtful application of downbeat colours that are effectively offset by highlights in the rain, or the eerie green glow of a lunatic scientist's "super-science invention right out of a dime pulp magazine." I knew Staton had this sort of work in him -- parts of E-Man were incredibly dark for the time and the intended audience, but it's great to see him working in this style again. He hasn't lost a thing, and in fact his style seems more bold and confident than ever, the very opposite of photo-realistic, but altogether thrilling to immerse yourself in as a reader.

I can't tell you how many comics I've read in the past ten years that have tried and failed to achieve the sort of storytelling and atmosphere that Femme Noir gets just right. It's about as good as crime comics get these days, fine competition for my other favourite crime comic Criminal, with the added bonus that its tone and style are completely different. The Spirit may provide a bit of the inspiration for this series, but Mills and Staton take that inspiration and make something both new and familiar, something gorgeous to look at and wildly entertaining to read.

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More information is available at the Femme Noir website.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

 
American Splendor Season 2 #4 -- Latecomers to the world of independent and autobiographical comics could be forgiven for thinking that being in its "second season" means American Splendor is a relatively new comic. DC/Vertigo began publishing Harvey Pekar's everyman autobio series in the wake of the brilliant American Splendor movie, but rest assured, Harvey's been doing this for decades, and his writing is as sharp and insightful as ever.

I first read American Splendor in the late 1970s or very early 1980s, back when Harvey was publishing the title himself while he toiled in his day job filing at a VA hospital. That era provided him with plenty of stories about the weird and wacky people he encountered every day, but latter-day Harvey has retired from that job (as seen at the end of the film), and his comics these days often involve his daily routine, his health, and the people he meets as a result of the interest in the man and his writing that followed the movie's release.

These Vertigo issues (of which there are now eight, four each in two "seasons") don't have the same rough-hewn, streets-of-Cleveland feel to them that his earliest efforts did. Harvey's settled down and happily married, now, and while the artists chosen to illustrate his scripts these days generally don't have the brilliant artistry R. Crumb brought to the earliest issues, they do generally all tell his stories well and occasionally add genuine artistry to the proceedings, as with the story in this issue drawn by Rick Geary, one of the artform's greatest living cartoonists.

Transmetropolitan's Darick Robertson draws a story in this issue, his style actually fitting quite well with Pekar's story; it's one of those familiar tales where Harvey makes a small mistake with big consequences and is bailed out by unexpected decency and humanity from a stranger. Unlike his work on Transmet or The Boys, Robertson actually brings a real and welcome underground vibe to the tale, which could easily have fit in any one of the first half-dozen issues of Harvey's original, self-published comic books.

I should mention that this really is a great issue of American Splendor not just for longtime readers, but also for anyone new to the series (or the genre of autobiography) and wondering what it's all about. In an unusual narrative choice for this series, the entire issue is kind of a "concept album," with different artists (among them Ty Templeton and Dean Haspiel, in addition to the ones already mentioned) taking on different chapters, but one idea holding the entire thing together. Being Harvey Pekar, the high concept is nothing out-of-this-world, just a thoughtful writer applying an idea to his art and seeing it through with pleasing and entertaining results.

Being "only" a writer, Pekar has never really been acknowledged as a superstar of alternative comics, although most people with even a passing interest in the artform have certainly heard his name or sampled his work in some way by now. But his choices of collaborators have always been intriguing and wise, and his entire body of work is one that should be respected, explored and enjoyed. This issue is a fine example of why.

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Lucky Vol. 2 #2 -- Gabrielle Bell seems to open up a lot more in this latest issue of her mostly autobiographical series than she did in the collected Lucky Vol. 1, which I reviewed a couple of years ago. Bell's character even admits at one point that she doesn't "feel interested in anything...[doesn't] feel engaged in anything." This is an improvement over that Lucky collection (both it and this series are published by Drawn and Quarterly), in which Bell's character at times seemed disinterested and unengaged and didn't seem to know it. Even this small admission lets the reader into her world, making this issue seem more vital and interesting, as Bell recounts her days on the road in the Pacific Northwest, and at home in Brooklyn.

The standout story takes place in Brooklyn, as Bell brings her laptop into the shop for repair. Learning she has to leave it there for two days, she feels the powerful pangs of internet withdrawal, which leads to some genuinely insightful self-examination and some universally applicable observations about why some people feel the constant need to check their email for new messages: "So I've concluded that what I'm really looking for is love and money," she says, and she makes a good case. Bell's visual mapping of her MySpace experience is both funny and brilliantly to-the-point.

Bell's cartooning consists of almost exclusively medium-distance depictions of her characters and their situations, which does give her work a somewhat detached air; after reading her recounting of a robbery at gunpoint that she experienced, ask yourself how any other cartoonist might have zoomed in on certain moments or otherwise manipulated the images for maximum impact and drama.

The technique has the positive effect of allowing the reader to make their own judgments about a lot of what Bell depicts, but it also makes it harder to get a sense of her as a character, never mind the other people she depicts. You'd be hard pressed to describe their features no matter how many times you read these stories, and if you can't see people's faces except from a distance, you lose a lot of information about their expressions and therefore their state of mind. It's obviously a conscious choice Bell makes, and I don't know if it helps or hurts the reader relate to her comics, but it's impossible not to notice.

I do find the majority of Bell's stories interesting, but I'm addicted to autobiographical comics. How you feel about the genre, I think, will largely decide your feelings about Gabrielle Bell's work. But this issue is a good place for you to introduce yourself to it, if you haven't already. Her stories aren't like a lot of what you find in comics, autobiographical or not, and that alone is a good reason to give Lucky a look.

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Lucky is published by and available from Drawn and Quarterly.

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The Monday Briefing -- Well, contrary to the past couple of weeks, I didn't get much writing done over the weekend. In fact, here it is:

* I reviewed the first volume of Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts.

Other than that, I spent a good deal of time with my wife and kids; Saturday we dropped in to Earthworld in Albany, and I picked up some graphic novels, including the aforementioned Thunderbolts, Jack Kirby's OMAC hardcover and an independent comics anthology called Awesome, some profits from which go the benefit the Center for Cartoon Studies, which is a nice idea. The book had three or four entertaining stories but a lot of filler-type material that didn't really register. Roger Langridge has a solidly hilarious piece that seems out of place for its polish and professionalism, never mind its humour and ability to entertain. But, it's money spent and some of it goes to a good cause, so, enough about that.

I had one of the most unusual experiences of my life on Sunday; my wife asked me to go with her to a local gambling establishment because she wanted to pick up a gift card for her aunt, who likes the buffet at this place. We were hungry so we ended up eating there after my wife picked up the gift card, and I really felt immersed in the fin du monde atmosphere of this nightmarish monument to stupidity and greed.

The first thing I noticed was how the deafening cacophony from the thousands and thousands of slot machines almost immediately transports you into a dream-like state of non-reality, like listening to a concert or a marching band as you drown at the bottom of a swimming pool. I noticed the majority of the people playing the slots -- senior citizens literally throwing their futures away -- had proprietary credit cards connected to them by lanyards around their necks, each feeding into an individual slot machine. It was a disturbing visual to say the least.

I noticed that everyone seemed to be evaluating everyone else constantly, as if wondering if every person they saw was somehow stealing their good mojo, or perhaps telling themselves they are luckier and better than the bunch of losers staring for hours at the blinking lights and digital screens before them. And more than anything, once I figured out what it was, I noticed the smell of piss almost everywhere. Do people really pee their pants while playing the slots, afraid if they get up to use the bathroom someone will take their place and usurp the winnings that are obviously theirs and obviously just one more game-play away? Call me crazy, but once I pointed out the smell to my wife, she noticed it too.

I played a dollar at a nickel slot machine just to say I had the experience. It was gone pretty quick. My wife's dollar quickly turned into ten, and she was excited to have won so quickly. I pointed out that the only way to really win at that point was to take her ten bucks and leave, and we did. It was a good two hours before the smells, the sights and especially the dizzying, deliberate orchestra of disorientation finally wore off and I stopped feeling like I was going to throw up.

People seriously go to these places for fun?

I know I'm a downer with all my end of the world-watching and all, but a couple hours in a giant building filled with video gaming terminals and some of the most desperate, loathsome people I've ever seen, and it's hard not to feel that whatever is coming, we're asking for it, we deserve it, and it's long overdue.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

 
Thunderbolts by Warren Ellis Vol. 1: Faith in Monsters -- I wonder if Marvel was thinking of Warren Ellis's Stormwatch when they chose him to write this particular incarnation of Thunderbolts? The set-up of a group of somewhat unhinged loners trying to cohere together as a team reminds me of Ellis's work on that title for Wildstorm, back when it was still part of Image Comics. Of course, the idiosyncratic members of Stormwatch were mostly well-intentioned, while the new Thunderbolts, formed in the wake of the Civil War, are mostly serial killers and lunatics.

One of the prime movers that contributed to my Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics Theory was the revival of Norman Osborn; he was brought back, believe it or not, as a fix to Spider-Man continuity and as an end to the Spider-Man Clone Saga, a story that threatened to consume the entirety of the 1990s. You see, I saw Norman Osborn die, and to me he'll always be dead, like Uncle Ben and Batman's parents are dead -- but I have to admit that Ellis's Osborn, given a second chance by America's alcoholic war-criminal President (perfect!) and drawn by Mike Deodato to look exactly like Tommy Lee Jones, is something of a guilty pleasure, and probably the most entertaining thing overall about this volume.

The least entertaining is the amount of previous continuity you need to fully understand what's happening. If you haven't read any previous Thunderbolts series, or Civil War, you may feel a little lost. Ellis wastes not a lot of time with the whys and wherefores, but rather just drops us right into Osborn putting his team together and sending them out to wreak havoc. A lot.

The nihilism inherent in characters like Venom, Bullseye and Penance (formerly Speedball) is offset to a degree by the humanity Ellis infuses in the unregistered, rogue superheroes the Thunderbolts are assigned to hunt down. Third-rate also-rans like Jack Flag, The Steel Spider and American Eagle are given enough time and and space to lend a real sense of the injustice, inhumanity and obscenity that is Norman Osborn's Thunderbolts unleashed. I don't know if any or all of the superheroes Ellis and Deodato call up to fight off the Thunderbolts ever even appeared in print before; they have the same patina of believability you'd find in the iconic characters created by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson in Astro City, and that's vital in making these stories more than just an excuse for Venom and Bullseye to murder and maul people.

Actual Thunderbolts like Songbird, who was on the team pre-Osborn (and pre-Ellis), try to temper the damage wrought by her new and horrific teammates, and the effort comes off as noble, but the issues reprinted in this collection (#110-115, plus a bunch of crap at the end that you can skip, which Marvel acknowledges by shoving it all in the back of the book even though it takes place before and during the events of #110-115) represent only the first part of Ellis and Deodato's run on the series, so no one will be surprised to learn that by the end of the book (the good part of the book, that is to say -- the stuff from #110-115) much remains up in the air and Songbird's efforts remain, so far, mostly ineffectual.

I was entertained enough by Faith in Monsters (again, excepting the naff filler after Ellis and Deodato's stories, which the book would be far stronger without) that I will read the rest of Ellis and Deodato's run as it's released in collected form; since Ellis's last issue is #121, I assume that means Vol. 2, to be released later this year, will wrap up the run, collecting #116-121.

Thunderbolts is far from Ellis's very best work, but he clearly takes joy in letting his version of Norman Osborn out to play, the result being something like if Stormwatch's Henry Bendix had always obviously been off his rocker, and it is fun to read.

Deodato brings little to the proceedings other than a workmanlike professionalism, a photo-realistic style that evokes what you might get from a disinterested Alex Ross working in ink instead of paint. He tells the story and doesn't get in the way at all, but there's little of interest for readers who like some art with personality and spark in their superhero comic books. Towards the end of the issues reprinted here, Deodato seems to introduce a bit of an impressionistic Gene Colan approach, which adds some energy, but the real appeal of this volume is watching Warren Ellis play with a group of, as noted above, mostly serial killers and lunatics, with the oppressed humanity of the hunted heroes adding nuance and interest. One of them even gets the book's best line, almost certainly Ellis's reflection on the real-life condition of Los Estados Unidos circa 2008 CE: "Just get me out of this country. There's nothing here I want."

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Friday, July 11, 2008

 
Caffeine Dreams #3 -- This awful anthology says it's "for mature readers" right on the cover, but you'll find little of interest if you have the maturity of the average 10 year old or better. It's got three stories in it, all of them awful, and all of them infected with the most gawdawful font choices in the sometimes near-unreadable lettering.

"Shooting Dogs" is the lead story, and has the worst lettering, almost impossible to read. I made the effort so you won't have to, though. A Quentin Tarantino-style three way handgun standoff, terribly drawn and reproduced from the terrible pencils, seems to stem from a severed ear. The story eventually involves two severed ears, as someone seems to take some eye-for-an-eye-type revenge at the story's end, and calling it a story is a kindness.

"The Axe" has above-average amateur art from someone named Aposcar Cruz, who is too good for a sub-amateur offering like Caffeine Dreams.

"Once Upon a Time in the Dark: My Favorite Weapon," the last tale here, is drawn by SOJJ, who the text informs me "hopes [I] enjoyed" the story. I didn't. It's about vampires and werewolves and looks like it was drawn by someone dying after being attacked by both.

House ads in the back promote other titles offered by the publisher, DWAP Productions, which demands that I mention them in the press release that accompanied this wretched apotheosis of excess cash and deficient talent. I'd say to save your money, but you're smart enough to know to avoid a comic like this. I have faith in you.

I tried to find a scan of the cover, but there's nothing online about #3 that I could find, and the art from #s 1 and 2 might deceive you into thinking what you'll find in #3 is better than it is, so no images with this review. If someone from DWAP (the sound a wet turd makes as it lands in my mailbox, I suspect) wants to send me a scan of the cover or art from #3, I'll happily post them.

I can't tell you how depressed it makes me that this review alphabetically is now first in the C section of my reviews archives page. Someone do a comic book called Cabbies or Cads or Cadbury Creme Egg Funnies and send it to me quick. I don't care how bad it is, it has to be better than Caffeine Dreams #3.

Oh, and confidential to DWAP Productions: The link to your MySpace page on your website is seriously screwed up. You would know that if you bothered to click the link after you created it. It's the little details like that, that matter.

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Happy Birthday, Dirk Deppey! -- Lordy, Lordy, look who's not 39 any more. Don't worry, everything doesn't really start going to hell until you're 42.

Hope it's a good day, my friend.

 
Smallville Fan Going to Comicon? -- If that phrase describes you, drop me a line. A friend of mine is looking to get Michael Rosenbaum's autograph. So if you're planning to do the same and wouldn't mind asking for one more, get in touch. I'd be happy to hook you up with some swag from the CBG vaults in return. Thanks.

 
The Lost Ones Contest Winners -- Congratulations to the winners of the new Lost Ones graphic novel by Steve Niles and company, published by Zune Arts. The winners are Mike Thompson of Springfield, Massachusetts and Carla Pullum of Palmdale, California. Thanks to everyone who entered, and Zune Arts for making the giveaway possible.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

 
Frank Santoro Infodump -- Links to articles by and about the cartoonist Frank Santoro:

Derik A. Badman on Storeyville

Santoro on Colouring in Comics

Information about Storeyville

TCJ Storeyville Review

Blog@Newsarama Frank Santoro Interview Part One

Blog@Newsarama Frank Santoro Interview Part Two

Frank Santoro Interview on Picturebox website


Pittsburgh City Paper Frank Santoro Profile

Comics Reporter Frank Santoro Interview


Comics Reporter Incanto Review

ADD Incanto Review

Derik A. Badman Storeyville Review


Frank Santoro on Craft in Comics Part 1

FranK Santoro on Craft in Comics Part 1.5

Frank Santoro on Craft in Comics Part 1.75

Frank Santoro on Craft in Comics Part 2.0


Frank Santoro on Kirby's Mister Miracle

Frank Santoro on Formalism

Frank Santoro on Ogden Whitney


Frank Santoro on Archie and other comics

Frank Santoro on Steve Rude

Frank Santoro on Marshall Rogers

Jog on Cold Heat #1-2

Comiccritique.com review of Storeyville

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Email me a Frank Santoro-related link.

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Next-Door Neighbours -- NY Magazine has posted a new strip by Harvey Pekar and Rick Veitch about Harvey's next-door neighbours.

It's a great strip and worth clicking over to read.

Got me to thinking about our next-door neighbours. When my family moved into our current house, nearly four years ago, we never got to know our next-door neighbours, an older man and woman. All I can really tell you about them is that the man would mow the lawn seemingly every other day in the summer. It seemed crazy to me that anyone would spend that much time mowing their lawn, but I figured that maybe he was retired and lawn mowing was a way to keep himself occupied.

A few weeks ago, my wife noticed a moving truck in their driveway. Her theory is that one or both of them has been moved to a nursing home. In any event, our lawn was mowed this past weekend, and for the first time since we've lived there, our lawn looks nicer than the one next door. In fact, the lawn next door is becoming overrun with weeds, and I wonder with a mix of sadness and amusement how aggravated our former neighbours would be if they could see how high the grass and weeds are getting.

More sadness, really -- that guy clearly loved to keep his lawn looking nice, and now it looks like hell, and I bet it would really bum him out if he knew.

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Santoro on Drawing -- If you've seen Storeyville, or Incanto, or Cold Heat, you know Frank Santoro can draw like very few other artists making comics. There are panels and pages in Storeyville that I am sorely tempted to tear out and have framed. That's how well the man wields his drawing tools.

On the Comics Comics blog, following up to his much-discussed earlier post about photographic styles in comic book art, Santoro goes into his philosophy of drawing and how it was hammered into his head.

If the results are something as sublimely beautiful as Storeyville, I say it works. His comments on art are always worth reading and thinking about, but this post is exceptionally informative. Check it out.

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Joe Shuster -- The artist and co-creator of Superman was born today in 1914. His importance to comics can hardly be overstated. If he and Jerry Siegel had not existed, comic books would have had a very different history.

I first became aware of Siegel and Shuster's version of Superman when I read Superman from the '30s to the '70s, a lavish hardcover issued at the perfect time for me, when I was about 10 or 11 years old and curious about the history of the characters that had entertained and amazed me since I was six years old. Shuster's art on the earliest Superman stories was crude, but even in black and white, as most of that reprint volume was, his art contained an obvious vibrancy and enthusiasm that immediately told the reader that the artist loved drawing comic books.

DC Comics has made millions -- if not billions -- off of Siegel and Shuster's legacy, and even though they were shamed over the years into providing financial recognition of their key contribution to the company's success, they never really got any kind of reward commensurate with their contribution. It is to the publisher's ongoing shame that they continue to dispute ownership rights claims by Jerry Siegel's heirs, when all along they could have prevented the need for court action by showing just the smallest fraction of gratitude and corporate responsibility. If you've ever wondered why no new memorable superheroes have come out of Marvel or DC over the past few decades, the disgraceful treatment of creators like Siegel and Shuster, and the growing understanding among writers and artists that they can expect much the same courtesy sooner or later, is largely to blame. It's not that there are no great superheroes still to be created in those universes, it's that the corporations that hold the purse strings remain unwilling to be fair and equitable to the creators that make it possible for them to exist in the first place.

Joe Shuster died July 30th, 1992, but his character, and he, will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

 
Absolute Speculation -- Over at CBR, Augie ponders possible "Absolute" releases for DC to consider. Here are the ones I totally agree with:

Absolute StormWatch -- Ideally, this would include all the Warren Ellis-written issues with art by Tom Raney, Hitch and Neary, and others, even if that meant two separate volumes. Ideally ideally, either Raney or Hitch would redraw all the fill-ins that were done by far lesser Wildstorm lights of the time.

Absolute All-Star Superman -- Augie calls this "iffy," and leans toward All-Star Goddamn Batman and Goddamn Robin instead, but I wouldn't give you fifty cents for any of the Jim Lee-drawn Absolutes, even the ones not written by Frank Miller while high on cough syrup, as his All-Star effort clearly is. Nope, give me Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's all-you-need-to-know version of Superman, in a glorious, oversized hardcover.

Absolute Top Ten -- This is troubling because Alan Moore would likely be opposed to it, and I favour creator rights over reader wishes or corporate greed every time. But assuming Moore didn't throw eye-daggers at such a project, I'd like to see it include all 12 glorious issues of the original Top Ten, which really should have been ready by now by anyone who loves great comics, plus I would also include the five-issue Smax mini-series, which was very different in tone but would be a worthy addition to what would be a very heavy Absolute Edition, indeed.

In addition to the titles above that Augie suggested, I'd like to see:

Absolute Catwoman by Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart and others -- everything by Brubaker up to the point where Paul Gulacy came on as artist and the book went straight downhill. I think the first 24 issues, which would be great in two Absolute volumes.

Absolute New Gods -- I know they're readily available in the Fourth World Omnibus volumes, but there they're split up by the alternating issues of other titles as well. An Absolute version of this series is so obviously necessary it hurts.

Absolute Action Heroes by Steve Ditko -- DC's already remastered Steve Ditko's Question, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom stories for their Archives editions, now let's get them into a format they truly deserve.

And the obvious one for anyone who knows me at all:

Absolute Sleeper - Let's get Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's 24 masterful issues into the format they were born for, already. Imagine how shameful DC will look if Marvel gets to press first with a Criminal Omnibus? (Which I also would kill for, it goes without saying.) (Oh, and I worked up the image accompanying this post myself, using a Sleeper cover I found online. Don't you wish it was the real thing?)

Those are my Absolute thoughts, at any rate. Now click over to CBR to see Augie's Absolute wish-list.

 
The Eagle and The Dragon -- If you're not interested in the ongoing discussion here about the breakdown of the American way of life, feel free to skip this post.

On the other hand, if you are interested in current events, Peak Oil and all the other crises facing the United States and the world now and for the next few decades, I have some fantastic reading for you.

On his blog, James Howard Kunstler recently pointed to a series of articles published by the UK Telegraph titled "America and China: The Eagle and The Dragon." Writer Mick Brown and photographer Alec Soth are documenting, in astonishing detail, where the relationship between the two world powers is, and how things are going in each nation. It's scary, but brilliantly written stuff. So far three parts have been posted in the series, with more to come in the weeks ahead. I'll try to update this post as the series progresses, but here's what's available so far:

America and China: The Eagle and The Dragon: Part One

America and China: The Eagle and The Dragon: Part Two

America and China: The Eagle and The Dragon: Part Three

America and China: The Eagle and The Dragon Part Four

There's about forty pages worth of very good reading so far, and I encourage you to check the series out if you have any interest at all in the state of our world, now and in the near future.

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Good-Bye -- Some of the most soul-crushing sequences ever put to paper can be found in the pages of Good-Bye, the third collection of manga by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, edited by Adrian Tomine and published by Drawn and Quarterly. Despite that, the book feels like a crowning achievement.

And it is: When D&Q announced this series, I had never heard of Tatsumi. After reading the first volume, The Push Man and Other Stories, I knew I wanted to read as much Tatsumi as I possibly could, and readers seemed to agree. The series has sustained an audience through three hardcovers, and The Push Man has even gone into multiple printings.

Tatsumi's work feels familiar and welcoming to my eyes in a way that a lot of manga does not. Each volume collects several standalone stories of varying length; you don't need to know any backstory from previous volumes, or even much about Japanese culture, to appreciate each story, and each volume. Tatsumi's emotions are universal, even if their origins are sometimes unique to the Japanese experience; his emotions are raw, conflicted, embittered, sad, frustrated and hopeful in varying degrees. The way he makes them evident to the reader is a miracle of storytelling. The stories in these three volumes may date from the late 1960s and early '70s, but they feel fresh and new. Through Tatsumi's gift for attaching new heights and depths of emotion to his story construction, he invites and indicates powerful areas of comics storytelling that he alone seems so far to have explored.

If I make him sound like a genius, well, I kind of think he is. The sort of violent explosion of pain you'll find in "Good-Bye," the final story in the book it gives its name to, reminds me of the sort of thing Will Eisner wanted to evoke in A Contract with God, but only began to reach. Tatsumi gets the reader exactly where he wants him, in the guts, in the balls, and in the back of the head all at once. And not out of the creation of some clever supernatural creature or the depiction of wild, impossible events. No, Tatsumi devastates with the basest and most familiar of human emotions, lust, and twists it with its retarded cousins, jealousy and rage. "Good-Bye" is a mean motherfucker of a story, based on Tatsumi's real-life observations and extrapolations, and all the more agonizing for it. But I defy you to deny its power.

"Hell" is similar in its nihilistic ability to reveal human truth, if totally different in tone and subject matter. Like "Good-Bye," it is based on a uniquely Japanese experience, but no one will fail to recognize the basic human arrogance and venality that lie at its heart. I could see "Hell" easily fitting into one of Harvey Kurtzman's 1950s EC war comics, although the twist the story contains feels more like something Gaines and Feldstein would have cooked up. Tatsumi's handling is more skilled and nuanced than any of those folks could have managed, though I think they all would have recognized his gift for storytelling.

"Sky Burial" is perhaps the most uplifting tale in Good-Bye, although Tatsumi's visions of hope are not quite what you might expect. There's some despair and darkness to be found in it, but also a perhaps visionary observation about how nature never relinquishes its realm for long, despite what people might allow themselves to believe is the permanence of civilization. The story also features some very different techniques from Tatsumi from what we've seen in the other stories D&Q has published, especially in the awe-inspiring opening sequence -- Tatsumi's skill as an artist should be in doubt by no reader after experiencing this book.

Drawn and Quarterly are to be congratulated for seeing this three-volume project through, and thanked even more for promising us a huge, autobiographical work by Tatsumi next year. When you hear people talk about what a boom time this is for great comics, the availability of the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a key part of that. Good-Bye and the two volumes that preceded it are elegant collections of complex, mature comic book storytelling, among the very best comics I've read in nearly 40 years of reading comics, and I want to read much more of the man's work.

Buy Good-Bye from Amazon.com.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

 
Win THE LOST ONES Graphic Novel by Steve Niles -- Zune Arts (a creative collective curated by Zune, Microsoft Corp.'s integrated digital entertainment brand) is releasing the new Steve Niles graphic novel The Lost Ones this month. The book is a collaboration between Niles and visual artists Dr. Revolt, Gary Panter, Kime Buzzelli and Morning Breath. You can preview the book at the Zune website, and see the trailer on YouTube. Zune has made two copies available for giveaway here on The ADD Blog at Comic Book Galaxy.

The Lost Ones chronicles the adventures of four friends -- Duncan, Roxy, Rasheed and Cynthia -- whose seemingly harmless day of extreme planet jumping turns into a mind-blowing, white-knuckle race for their lives to get back home. They find that home is no longer where they left it and the alien race, hell-bent on destroying them, isn't getting any friendlier.

About the creators:

· Dr. Revolt, an original member of the historic New York City graffiti crew the Rolling Thunder Writers
· Gary Panter, an illustrator known for his surreal and raw style
· Kime Buzzelli, an emerging painter and fashion designer
· Morning Breath, a Brooklyn-based art and design duo blending a graffiti style reminiscent of early '80s street art
· Steve Niles, celebrated author of 30 Days of Night

Book Signing Tour Dates

· July 16, Boston, Bodega: Dr. Revolt, Gary Panter

· July 17, New York, Midtown Comics: Dr. Revolt, Gary Panter, Kime Buzzelli, Morning Breath, Steve Niles

· July 18, Philadelphia, Brave New Worlds: Gary Panter, Steve Niles

· July 19, Baltimore, Atomic Books: Dr. Revolt, Gary Panter, Steve Niles

· July 20, Washington, D.C., Big Planet Comics: Gary Panter, Steve Niles

· July 31, Los Angeles, Meltdown: Kime Buzzelli, Steve Niles

· Aug. 2, Chicago, Chicago Comics and Quimby's Bookstore: Dr. Revolt, Gary Panter

· Two dates and locations to be determined, San Francisco: Gary Panter

To enter to win a copy of The Lost Ones, email me your name and address and two winners will be chosen at random at the end of this week. On e entry per household, please.

Paperback editions of "The Lost Ones" will be available this month at select stores nationwide.

Update: The contest has now concluded, thanks to all who entered!

 
The Monday Briefing -- I hope my US readers got to enjoy a long holiday weekend, as I did. Here's what I posted here over the weekend.

* My review of Blake Bell's new bio/art book Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko.

* A review of Under the Radar's Protest Issue, which features a rather unfortunate piece allegedly about political comic books but really about the same old superhero/corporate comics crap.

* I reviewed Jack Kirby's Silver Star.

* I also wrote a bit about Charles Schulz's Happiness is a Warm Puppy.

* You can find me mouthing off about the issue of critics reviewing work by their friends and acquaintances at Blog@Newsarama, alongside other folks like Tom Spurgeon and Abhay Khosla.

* In not-me news, the best thing I read over the weekend was part one of Christopher Butcher's forward-looking examination of the evolving manga marketplace.

* Oh, and be sure to enter The Lost Ones giveaway, a chance for you to own a new graphic novel by Steve Niles and company courtesy of Zune Arts and Ye Olde ADD Blogge.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

 
Happiness is a Warm Puppy -- However many hundreds or thousands of books Charles Schulz was responsible for in one way or another, the inside front cover flap of Happiness is a Warm Puppy informs me that this was his first. Dating from 1962, it's a collection of minimalist aphorisms on the left-side pages and a full-page illustration of each concept on the right.

I remember having a copy of this book when I was a very young child, but like the majority of books I've owned in my life, I'd be damned if I could tell you whatever happened to the original copy. Most likely I outgrew it and some other child, my younger brother or a friend, maybe, ended up with it. I first spotted this reissue, from Cider Mill Press, on the shelves at Borders many months ago. Every time I would look at the section it was in, the one with Calvin and Hobbes collections and books by comedians like Lewis Black, I would pick it up and flip through it. Finally, a week or two back, I decided I should own it once again, now three decades or so on since the last time I had a copy.

It's a slight book -- in fact, its cover price of $5.95 is at least part of the reason I bought it. If I could not stop thinking about it and reflecting on whether I needed to own it or not, six bucks is a cheap price to stop that slight buzzing it was creating in the base of my skull. There are perhaps 40 or so concepts visited by Schulz over the course of its orange, pink, red and brown pages, and of course the reader will agree with some and wonder at others. "Happiness is sleeping in your own bed," is one that rings solidly true for me, and the illustration of a content and smiling Linus lost in the comfort of the deep slumber one can only achieve in the peace of one's bed strikes me as both simple and profoundly true.

"Happiness is some black, orange, yellow, white and pink jelly beans, but no green ones," seems bizarre to me. I'd take the green and gladly ditch the pink or black ones. Was Schulz telling us his own preference? Was it a random assortment of colours? Either way, he knew what he was doing when he drew the picture, which shows both Charlie Brown digging into the bag of candy, and Linus patiently waiting his turn. Friendship and shared pleasure are shown only through the picture, not the words, and I'm struck by Schulz's ability to introduce nuance even in a book seemingly meant for children, seemingly universal to anyone who might read it.

I suppose it's possible that the pictures in this book were harvested from existing strips, but I don't think so. They seem bold and purposeful, Schulz working his magic during the very best decade of his cartooning career to create illustrations filled with charm, loving portraits of our longtime companions at their very best. Even Lucy manages to control her crabbiness throughout, playing nice with her brother at home as she helps him remove a sliver, and with Patty and Violet in the sandbox. It's nice to see Violet and Patty here, although I note with sadness that Shermy wasn't invited to take part anywhere. I'm always sad when Shermy is absent. He had such potential...


"Happiness is one thing to one person and another thing to another person," Schulz finishes up with, showing Linus and Lucy each enjoying their own, separate, things. Filled with gentility, tolerance and wisdom, Happiness is a Warm Puppy is something that will bring happiness to anyone who opens themselves to its simple messages and lovely cartooning. I like this little book a lot, which is funny, because I really don't care much for puppies, warm or otherwise. Allergies, you see.

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Silver Star -- Jack Kirby's latter-day work could be wildly uneven, but Silver Star holds more than a little of the brilliance that informed New Gods and the other Fourth World titles, and his earlier Marvel work.

Silver Star himself is one of a number of members of a new species, Homo Geneticus, specifically designed to live through and beyond a nuclear holocaust. Man's headlong rush toward self-destruction was obviously weighing heavily on Kirby's mind as he developed this idea (which originated in a movie pitch, included at the end of this beautifully-realized Image Comics hardcover, released in 2007), and given the current state of the world, it seems Kirby, as always, was way ahead of his time.

Silver Star's suit is designed to prevent the fantastic energies that he possesses from escaping and destroying his body; his opposite number, a failed, previous experiment in creating Homo Geneticus, is Darius Drumm, who longs to bring about mankind's end a little sooner than on man's own timetable. Norma Richmond is Silver Star's love interest, but also his equal, and an unpredictable firecracker in the Big Barda tradition.

Kirby's story unfolds over the course of the six issues collected in the book, and it has a definite beginning, middle and end, something somewhat rare in Kirby's career. The narrative almost never takes a breath -- things seem to happen between the panels, so much so that when, late in the story, Kirby takes the luxury of three silent panels to depict a military leader making a decision, the sequence is as arresting as Kirby no doubt intended it to be.

The artwork in Silver Star is not the prime Kirby of his latter-day Fantastic Four, but neither is it the unsure and outsider-art look of The Hunger Dogs graphic novel that was Kirby's last word on his Fourth World stories. It reminds me most of Kirby's last go-round on Captain America -- looser and less weighty than his very best work, but still solid and confident with occasional flashes of his glory days.

The closest you can get to new Kirby nowadays is Casey and Scioli's Godland, and a lot about Silver Star, especially the villainy of Darius Drumm, will be pleasingly familiar to Godland readers. Drumm's fate is pleasingly reflective of the thought that Kirby gave to the true nature of man, no simple super-battle to bring things to a close, but a genuine insight into the urge to self-destruction and the ways in which it might be tempered.

At $35.00, the Silver Star hardcover is not for a reader who is unsure of their level of appreciation of Kirby's work. But for those of us who remain entranced by his work and the intellect that propelled it, Silver Star is a pretty wild ride, and one you might wish had continued further, at that.

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John Byrne in Panels and Pictures -- Comic book writer and artist John Byrne was born on this day in 1950.

Here is an article I wrote about Byrne recently for iTaggit, and a selection of panels and pictures representing the man and his art.









John Byrne


Saturday, July 05, 2008

 
Happy Birthday, Christopher Butcher -- One of the comics internet's most valuable commentators celebrates his birthday. Christopher Butcher maintains one of my few must-read comics blogs, comics212.net and was also the inspiration for one of the funniest elements of the Scott Pilgrim series, Scott's former roommate Wallace Wells.

Christopher is also the manager of the greatest comic book store in North America, The Beguiling, and is one of a handful of comics critics (along with Rob Vollmar and Tom Spurgeon) whose taste in comics I trust implicitly. I've spent a lot of money over the years on his say-so, and found many excellent comics I might otherwise have never heard of. As an advocate for quality and innovation in comics, Christopher Butcher is unequaled.

I've often said the goal of Comic Book Galaxy is to help push comics forward, and Butcher's managed to do this on multiple fronts; in his comics criticism, in his advocacy and work at The Beguiling, and in the occasional, groundbreaking thinkpieces he posts. He often says things many of us know are true, but figures out a way to express them months or years before anyone else can get their shit together. He sees the future of comics like few others, and it's a future I fully endorse and hope for mightily.

And a few years ago, on my most recent trip to Canada, he broke bread with me and Jason Marcy, taking us to a very cool Toronto restaurant where we got to have dinner in a former bank vault and eat some of the best garlic bread I've ever had in my life.

Chris and I haven't always agreed on everything about comics, maybe because we're both kind of grumpy bastards. But there's no one whose writing about the artform and industry of comics I admire more.

Happy Birthday, Christopher, and many, many happy returns of the day.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

 
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko -- There came a point in reading Blake Bell's excellent biography and artbook about Steve Ditko that I had to laugh at the irony; I had come to the first time that Ditko felt disaffected and betrayed by someone in fandom that had gone against his wishes. I laughed because I realized Bell probably fits that description now, and hell, by writing this review, I probably do too. It's almost impossible not to imagine you're displeasing the man if you choose to write about him.

I'm genuinely sorry that Ditko's fame has made him a fair subject for historical, biographical and critical writing. And I mean that, I'm really sorry for him that the course of his career so often has made him unhappy or uncomfortable or angry. It's clear throughout Strange and Stranger that Ditko was, from very early on, an extremely sensitive artist who had trouble coming to grips with the inevitable loss of control an artist must have once his work is out there for the world to see. After reading Bell's book, one is left thinking Ditko could only have been happy if he had created his work in secret, and shared it with no one. And of course, that would have been a sad fate, too. Ditko truly is trapped in a world he never made.

Or, perhaps, he could have been happier if he had worked in an industry that was fair to its writers and artists. If he had been properly remunerated and allowed creative control over his work, perhaps he could have been less frustrated, more able to take joy in the work he created, which, after all, has given millions of people untold joy now for decades.

But A is A, I remember, and I realize that this is the world both Ditko and I live in. "It is what it is," as people like to say when they have nothing to say. Ditko never had a problem finding something to say, but in his comics work, there was a definite sweet spot of expression and form, and Bell hones in on that pretty brilliantly as he talks about the earliest days when Ditko's Ayn Rand/Objectivism fixation influenced but did not consume his work.

It began with an issue of Blue Beetle that focused on art criticism and probably culminated with the early-1970s release of a Mr. A one-shot, independently released and violently iconoclastic in its content and impact. Bell recounts how poorly the book sold, and how West Coast comics retailing innovator Bud Plant bought up the remaining copies. Thank God, that's where I got my copy, by mail order, in the early 1980s.

As a teenager, I knew and loved Ditko's style, but was too young to fully process his single-minded determination and focus on his, and Rand's, beliefs. Mr. A did directly lead me to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and even some biographies of Ayn Rand herself. If half of what most histories of her life contain is true, she was batshit out of her mind, and hardly the type of hero she demanded others be. Ditko would probably dismiss such examination of her life as either lies or irrelevancies, but if you've read much about Rand and Ditko, you kind of think he better met her standards than she herself did. Sadly, it seems to have cost him a far better career than the one he ended up with in this world.

It's hard not to feel sadness and pity for Ditko, as Bell's narrative wears on into the 1980s and 1990s and Ditko ends up illustrating Transformers colouring books and meeting again and again with industry figures like Dick Giordano and Stan Lee and yet is unable to ever again find a place in the corporate comics industry that he had a key role in creating, and that his most well-known creation has had a large part in sustaining. But Ditko doesn't want our pity, and he seems to have navigated even the lowest points of his comics career on his own terms, prideful and determined to meet his own rigid demands, which only occasionally bent, it seems, and hardly ever broke.

Bell's chapters in Strange and Stranger are all discreet packets of important segments of Ditko's life, and they do create as complete a picture of the man as is likely to be created, barring some unlikely latter-day autobiography, which probably would not be be truly self-examining in any case. But what stands out are the weird little twists and decisions Ditko's career was built and then dismantled on; most noteworthy, perhaps, his battles with Stan Lee over the direction and scripting of Amazing Spider-Man. Most telling, perhaps, a scene (reprinted in the book) of Peter Parker angrily dismissing participants in a 1960s college campus protest. Ditko's real self, his real values, came more and more to the surface of his work, and for a few years, as Bell notes, that combination of stoic self-expression and his unbelievably fluid and trippy artwork resulted in some of the most beautiful and memorable comics ever created. Not only late Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but his bold, innovative black and white Warren work, often done in stunning inkwash, and his truly underrated Blue Beetle, Question and Captain Atom work for Charlton.

I said above that Ditko truly is trapped in a world he never made, and I believe he is. But based on the available evidence -- say, the Jonathon Ross BBC special from a few months back -- he at least lives out his days now in the way he has chosen for himself. Many people -- most people -- don't understand his need for privacy or his desire to be left alone. Blake Bell's Strange and Stranger may or may not be one more violation of his wishes, but for anyone who approaches it with respect for Ditko's art, it's a more or less balanced and even kind look at the transformational life's work of a very difficult, and perhaps very troubled, man.

And it goes without saying that the art on display is mind-blowingly beautiful and complex and almost impossible to fully process. John Romita Sr. admits in the book that he could never draw like Ditko, when he replaced him on Amazing Spider-Man, and no one else ever really could either. Much like his only peer in superhero comics, Jack Kirby, Ditko's mind and thought process and the visual expression of all they contained were a universe all their own. Ditko's art is a wonder to behold in the way very few other visual artists could ever even approach, in or outside of comics. It is at once utterly alien and strangely familiar, and the vast majority of Ditko's work was, whatever the era and whatever the circumstance, uncompromising and utterly arresting. Strange and Stranger captures, in words and pictures, as much of Ditko's world as it is possible for us to understand. It breaks my heart to think how unhappy he might be to hear how much I loved this book about him and his work.

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Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko is published by and available from Fantagraphics Books.

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Butcher on The Shape of the Industry -- Christopher Butcher's been promising something interesting for a few days now, and he's made good on his hints with a fantastic new thinkpiece on the evolving marketplace for manga and graphic novels:
"[O]lder customers would like a different shopping experience than trying to find the latest Tatsumi or Inoue manga jammed in-between Ultimate Spider-Man and Naruto whilst simultaneously trying to avoid the outstretched gangly limbs of sullen teens thoroughly immersed in the Universe of the Four Gods."
Much more, as they say, at the link. And a little bit more from me about Mr. Butcher and his value to the ongoing discussion about comics, on this blog tomorrow.

Update: Butcher has posted Part Two, and it's even more in-depth and insightful.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

 
Under the Radar's Protest Issue -- Indie/alt-rock magazine Under the Radar sent along their Protest Issue, which has a lengthy and informative section on politically-leaning bands and artists like Modest Mouse and Michael Stipe discussing their politics and how they navigate the minefield of being celebrity advocates for political causes they believe in. That section is fascinating and well-written...but it's not why they sent me the issue.

How disappointing, then, that the reason they did -- is on page 74, "Tights and the Good Fight," an article about what they call "political comics." It's a full-page, utterly bankrupt puff-piece featuring mostly toothless mid-level hacks suckling at Time-Warner's teat (plus one corporate comics temporary refugee selling to Image a title DC and Marvel likely rejected, but still not likely to be very good -- or politically significant) and passing it off as, gag, "political."

The three writers are:

* Brian K. Vaughan, who rarely creates a comic book I can stand and has changed the world not at all with his superhero book Ex Machina, the first issue of which was more than enough for me.

* Brian Wood, who has only held my attention with his most political work, Channel Zero (which he dismisses here as preachy and amateurish without acknowledging its immediacy and power), and with his least, Demo. The Under the Radar piece focuses on DMZ, which like Ex Machina, lost my interest before its first issue had concluded.

* And Mark Millar, who, Jesus, are his comics political? I like the guy as a human being and I love his Superman Adventures a lot, but any political message in his comics is usually buried in his wiseass self-satisfaction, and in any case the message is always lost in the joke he's made of himself over the years with his arrogant, desperate self-promotion. What was the political message of The Ultimates? The images that remain in memory are Captain America kicking a mentally ill monster when he's completely and utterly down, and Ant-Man assaulting his wife. Will War Heroes have anything valuable to say about the state of the world? Do you think I give a shit? Wake me up if it gets George W. Bush on the stand for crimes against humanity in the world court, or even calls for that to happen. (I will acknowledge that, published by Image, it's at least possible that could happen -- Time-Warner would sooner make Bruce Wayne a flaming homo for reals before they'd let Millar, or Vaughan, or Wood say anything true about our war criminal commander-in-chief.)

Fuck this shitty article on faux-political comics that utterly ignores vital comics with something genuine to say, like World War III Illustrated, The Filth, Shirtlifter, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Fun Home or even fucking Cerebus. This article might have had its origins in the best of intentions, but it's a slap in the face to comics creators who actually have something to say, and value that over the steady paycheck and ready promotional departments of two of the biggest comic book publishers in North America. Jesus Christ, they couldn't even include Garth Ennis in this sorry lot? Of course not, he might have said something true about something that matters.

It's amazing to me that a magazine that so obviously mines the most obscure labels and artists in rock music to find the gems contained in its music reviews pages, settles for the most facile, obvious and frankly shitty "political" comics to highlight in an otherwise excellent and important issue about the life and death issues of our time. No apparent effort was made to investigate the many political views of all stripes that can be found in mini-comics, alternative comics, artcomix or even goddamned Doonesbury.

But then again, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised at the tribute that Under the Radar pays to the most mediocre of corporate superhero comics and creators -- after all, look at the picture. Variant cover, anyone?

The rest of the magazine was fantastic. But it's not why they wanted me to cover it.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

 
Frank Santoro on Bad Comic Art -- Here's the creator of Storeyville (so you goddamned well better know he knows what he's talking about) on bad comic book art that some people mistake for good.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

 
Obsession -- William Rees writes and Jeff Clemens draws this new graphic novel published by Heavy Proton. Neither the writing nor the art rises to the level of professional, and the story is lurid and wildly scattered, but there's an unusual sense of commitment and ambition to the telling of the story that I don't see much of, and that alone propelled me through the book.

The story is about a 16-year-old girl, Clarissa Case, who is trapped at home, having to help her handicapped mother, who seems to have been driven mad with pain. The girl encounters what the script seems to want us to believe is a handsome older man, but who kind of looks like an ape, or a hobo. She falls immediately for this "George Simmons," but perhaps the meeting was not as coincidental as Clarissa might think, dot dot dot.

The overall plot is outrageous but not entirely unbelievable for the sort of gothic melodrama Obsession aspires to be. Rees's dialogue is frequently absurd ("Well, now, you sure are a ripe tomato." "Sigh. Well, I guess I can trust you not to kill me!"). It falls apart in the details, though, such as the ridiculous diary entries and fantasies Clarissa entertains throughout the story.

Note to all comic book creators, from the very worst amateur to Alan Moore and Grant Morrison: I don't ever, ever read huge chunks of text purporting to be the character's diary or some article relevant to the story when they are plopped onto the comics page as part of the narrative. And I suspect I am not alone. Sorry, I'm reading comics right now, I seem to say to myself as my eyes glaze over and I move on to the next panel. And that happened a lot in Obsession. I couldn't be bothered to read Clarissa's diary entries or the segments where she imagines herself a nurse and George a handsome doctor. And I don't feel bad about that, because if these narrative elements were compelling and well-done, I'd have had no choice but to be compelled to read them and realize how well-done they were.

I mention that Obsession is lurid, and it is, in both the script and the art, the latter of which seems to be a perfect melding of Doomsday+1 era John Byrne and an attempt at aping Graham Ingels, EC's premier gothic horror specialist. Clemens, who the text at the back informs me attended the Joe Kubert School, clearly has a little potential but a long way to go before he gets there. And I'm not sure, but it seems to me that the full-page spread of the 40ish and quite grotesque George Simmons having sex with 16-year-old Clarissa might be illegal in some places, what with all the concern about the violation of young, fictional girls. It's just kind of an icky scene.

There's not much to like about Obsession; at 93 pages, it's over ten times longer than the EC horror comics I kind of think it wants to evoke. If it had been seven pages, written by Bill Gaines and drawn by Jack Kamen or the aforementioned Graham Ingels, it might still not be a very good story, but it would at least have caught the eye of Dr. Wertham. The only good thing I can say about it is that it possesses obvious ambition. It's clear its creators want to make comics and have the energy and desire to do so. I just wish they'd created a comic book that I could recommend.

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