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Friday, February 27, 2009

The Secret Lives of Comic Store Employees -- Wish I had thought of this. A great photo essay up now at Wired.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Definitive Cla$$war On Its Way -- I'm excited about the soon-to-be-available graphic novel collecting the previously-released issues and a new conclusion of Cla$$war, written by Rob Williams with art from Trevor Hairsine and Travel Foreman. It hits the stands in March. Here's what I had to say when I first reviewed the debut issue back in 2002:
Cla$$war features a team of government-sponsored superheroes who discover the government is a corrupt, treacherous entity and decides to go public with what they've learned. With an illegal coup having destroyed over two-hundred years of lawful government in the U.S., you could not ask for a more timely storyline. Rob Williams and Trevor Hairsine's work is compelling and confrontational, clearly inspired by such titles as Astro City and The Authority. Both Williams and Hairsine are developing talents, and it'll be fascinating to see where they are in five or ten years. In any case, their work here is way above average for an independent book of this stripe, and I'm looking forward to future issues.
Well, the future is now...or at least, this March.

Com.X's Ben Shahrabani tells me that when it was initially published, "Cla$$war was one of our most successful titles when we launched. After the first three issues we went and published a TPB of the first three issues due to demand, and that sold out. The decision to release Cla$$war in collected form was to push the Com.x brand back into the market and make sure the entire comic fraternity now has the opportunity to be able to purchase some of our most influential books."

You'll note that I compared the title to The Authority in my 2002 review, and I want to emphasize that at the time I was thinking of the action-packed and altogether excellent initial run of that title by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, not any later, lesser incarnations.

Shahrabani tells me the Cla$$war collection will please readers, saying "We want to make sure that we created something that we'd want to own in our personal book collection. We have sketches, posters and cover art, extra sequences and original script pages, amongst other stuff. We've also cleaned up the lettering and re-edited both books to sharpen them up. Call them 'Director's Cuts,' if you like! These will be the definitive editions."

Click the images accompanying this post to see larger versions, and for more information on Cla$$war, check out the Com.x blog.

Buy Cla$$war from amazon.com.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Reading Recommendations -- A couple of pieces that caught my eye in the past couple of days and may be of interest:

Tom Spurgeon looks at the various modes in which one can read Watchmen. None of them will be particularly compelling to anyone who hasn't read it yet, but all his points are of interest to those of us who have and are still thinking about the book's many layers all these years later (speaking as someone who bought issue #1 new off the stands).

Roger Ebert remembers Gene Siskel on the 10th anniversary of his death. This is one of those links I post and wonder if my readers are as interested in it as I am...I link to Ebert frequently, because he's a brilliant and crystal-clear critic and an engaging, top-notch writer, but also because in recent years as his health has suffered he has become even more vital and reflective a talent. This piece on his longtime friend and partner moved me more than anything I've read in a long time, and while I don't know if it's the type of thing you come here to be directed to, I really kind of hope that it is. I long ago stopped feeling bad about not writing much about superheroes, and as my interests have moved on to other concerns, I hope yours have too. I'll always write primarily about comics, but pieces like this Ebert one are sort of the real-world essay version of the comics I love: profoundly human and filled with humour, insight and a frank look at genuine life experience in all its sad and wondrous facets.

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The Dismantling of The Bookscan Analysis of Brian Hibbs -- This has been coming a good long time: Dirk Deppey definitively explains why Brian Hibbs is full of shit in his yearly "analysis" of Bookscan's mainstream bookstore graphic novel sales. This comes on the heels of last week's more moderated dismissal/recommendation from Tom Spurgeon.

We suffer through Hibbs's skewed view of the mainstream book world every year (here are my comments from 2008), and I strongly recommend you read all of Dirk's comments in the first post linked above, but if you're short of time, just read the brilliant year-by-year quoting of Hibbs's dogmatic and objectively wrong belief that mainstream bookstores can't and don't excel at moving artcomix product.

In 2008, I spent more on graphic novels in Borders than in any other single store, because the kind I want (non-spandex/autobio) was more widely available there, and because through the Borders Rewards program they regularly offer me discounts of anywhere from 25 to 40 percent off on books I already wanted to buy anyway.

Dirk's piece today should finally put to rest the idea that Hibbs has anything of value to offer to the discussion of graphic novel sales in stores that are not his own. I am not saying he is not a good writer (his weekly reviews are highly readable and often insightful). And I am not saying he does not have something of value to say about sales in his own shop, and to a lesser degree about sales within the dying direct market that he loves so much (so much that he refuses to ever admit it is mortally wounded and needs to work toward a future for comics, a goal it is uniquely positioned to work toward if only it wanted to).

But I am saying, and have said for some time, that Hibbs is at the very least ignorant and at the very worst highly biased against any outlet not within the direct market that is selling graphic novels, whether it's your local independent bookstore or monolithic corporate giants like Chapters, Borders or Barnes and Noble. Like many tens of thousands of consumers, I buy graphic novels in those outlets all the fucking time, which is the very reason why stores like that carry such product. Of course they make returns, it's how their system has been set up and how it has operated for decades. The direct market for comics does not return its unsold merchandise, a fact which creates problems and benefits of its own.

But the biggest problem with the direct market, as I have been saying now for years, is its largely insular and unwelcoming-to-outsiders (women, girls, children, men like me looking for non-superhero reading material) environment. For every comic book store that welcomes me and my wife and my son and my daughter and wants to sell something to each one of us (and carries product varied and diverse enough to meet that goal), there are at least ten (and sadly, maybe more) that actively work to exclude anyone who isn't a spandex-obsessed male of a certain age. And that is the market Hibbs is telling us is better at selling artcomix than any Borders or any independent bookstore.

In short, on this topic, Brian Hibbs is full of shit, and Dirk Deppey has laid out the proof pretty definitively. Anyone who chooses to continue to believe his Bookscan baloney from here on out deserves what they'll be eating: Baloney. And it's been sitting around for years, as Dirk's opening quotes demonstrate.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Varying Degrees of Salt -- More interesting to me than the piece he is linking to is Tom Spurgeon's heavily-qualified recommendation to read the latest Bookscan "analysis" by retailer Brian Hibbs.

While Brian is an undeniably smart guy, who literally wrote the book on comics retailing within the direct market, he has proved monumentally -- I would go so far as to say fatally, at this point -- blind to the realities of the developed and developing markets for comics and graphic novels outside the stunted, inbred and mostly bumbling direct market. That Hibbs's thunderbolts from the mountain are to be considered with varying degrees of salt is no surprise, but that the mostly tolerant and big-tentish Tom Spurgeon would go to such lengths to explain (quite accurately) why Hibbs's commentary is of limited value but worth reading, seems kind of extraordinary to me.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

20 Men I Admire -- A meme imported from Roger Green's blog...

In no particular order, but numbered so I can keep track:

1. Carl Sagan, for bringing knowledge to a world that embraces ignorance.

2. Charles Darwin, ditto.

3. Roger Green, for sharing his blogging tips with me and also being a great human being.

4. James Howard Kunstler, for calling it as he sees it, and usually getting it right.

5. James Kochalka, for living his dream.

6. Alan Moore, for calling bullshit on corporate servitude, and for bringing good writing to comics.

7. Ed Dague, for being a genuine journalist even after his retirement.

8. Hunter S. Thompson, for Truth, Justice, and Gonzo.

9. David Gilmour, for bringing poetry to his guitar.

10. Roger Waters, for creating Dark Side of the Moon with Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright.

11. My son, for being a far better human being than I could have ever taught him to be.

12. Rob Vollmar, for seeing comics more clearly than I ever can.

13. Chris Butcher, for speaking more clearly and intelligently about the comics industry than just about anybody.

14. Orson Welles, for insisting on the purity of his brilliant vision.

15. Michael Moore, for getting frustrated and actually doing something about it, again and again.

16. Jon Stewart, for being one of the last real newsmen in America, and being very funny as he does it.

17. Roger Ebert, for plainly explaining the sublime and wondrous for decades.

18. Barry Windsor-Smith, for sharing his incredible gifts with the world.

19. Steve Ditko, for being one of the greatest comic book artists ever, and for insisting on doing it his way no matter what.

20. Bernard Krigstein, for bringing intelligence to comic book art.

Sorry it's so comic-centric, but, you know, that's my life.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Diamond Challenge -- Let's see, Drawn and Quarterly has received copies of A Drifting Life, which I am excited beyond words about, and which I pre-ordered through the Direct Market via Diamond's Previews catalog.

Today is February 17th. The book has been printed. When will I have the book in my hands? How many copies will I see in mainstream bookstores before it arrives at my comic book shop? I'm giddy with anticipation of Diamond falling all over itself to get this non-superhero offering to me with all due haste.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Flimsy Final Crisis Thoughts -- Here's an email I received from Dave:
I'm generally against these "big event books" although I did enjoy the concepts for House of M, Civil War, and Secret Invasion (the execution, not so much...and the tie-ins...CHRIST, the tie-ins...). I haven't bothered with any DC stuff aside from All-Star Superman since Grant Morrison is the best kind of acid trip.

Which leads me to my question: have you checked out Final Crisis at all? Amazon has the HC up for pre-order for $16.99 which seems ridiculously cheap. I've only read sample pages but for that price I decided to give the HC a shot. I know you enjoy Morrison as well which is why I've been hoping to see a Final Crisis review and get your take on it. Your two cents are often worth a great deal more.
I read all of Final Crisis, and ultimately I think the only worthwhile thing that came out of it was the Final Crisis Sketchbook, which had a pure view of Morrison's ideas and plans. Those plans went pretty seriously awry in the actual series itself. That, coupled with the unfortunate inability of JG Jones to do all the art for the entire series, resulted in what I thought was a profoundly disappointing final product. Getting it at a discount is certainly a wise idea, and you may get more out of it than I did, but I far prefer to just re-read Marvel Boy and remember how good the combination of Morrison and Jones once could be.

By the way, now is as good a time as any to remind you that if you buy something from an Amazon.com link or through the Lone Star Comics/MyComicShop.com ads and links on this site, it helps support this site, and is much appreciated by me.

Buy Final Crisis from amazon.com, or better yet, buy Marvel Boy from amazon.com.


Quote of the Day -- Tom Spurgeon, on Diamond's self-destructive new policies:
"It's as if Diamond is finally admitting that offering the widest variety of comics via an array of ordering options was a marginal game all along. Yet instead of coming to their senses and working to make those books less marginal to the underlying mission, treating a sudden interest in, say, Scott Pilgrim as an opportunity to give their clients another sales anchor as opposed to treating it like some unwelcome party crasher, they're moving to cut them off entirely."
Much more at The Comics Reporter.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One HC -- I've been patiently waiting for the beginning of the "archival" hardcovers of Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben's Swamp Thing to hit stores, and now they have. I picked up the first volume Friday night after work, and was amused/disgusted to note that the slimmer-by-half All-Star Superman Vol. 2 hardcover -- which I also picked up -- weighs about twice as much. If you see the Swamp Thing book, pick it up and I think you'll be amazed at how little heft it has. DC went for the el cheapo newsprint-style paper stock on this, similar to the stock used for the Jack Kirby's Fourth World volumes.

Now, I guess it's slightly less galling here, because the Swamp Thing book, at $24.99, is half the price of the Kirby volumes. But when compared to the heavy, nigh-ideal white paper stock Marvel used for its recent Daredevil: Born Again hardcover, well, DC looks pretty cheesy. Fact of the matter is, this Swamp Thing series should be the ideal presentation of some of the best comic books ever published (Swamp Thing is in the same league as Alan Moore's other great works like Miracleman, Watchmen and the cream of the America's Best Comics titles, if not quite in the greatest-graphic-novel-ever territory of From Hell), and this shitty, easily-damaged paper stock is quite at odds with the meant-to-be-elegant design of the book itself.

The dustcover is also an odd case. It has the tacky feeling of not-quite-dry paint, and I kept checking my fingers to see if the black was coming off the book and onto me. The actual cover art is simple but quite nice, a (new, I believe) profile shot of Swampy by Bissette and Totleben.

Strange that the essay Alan Moore wrote for the trade paperback collection of this material is replaced by a new essay by Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein. Deliberate slap at Moore, nice gesture to Wein, or maybe Moore's essay is no longer timely? I haven't checked yet to see. It is definitely a good thing that for the first time, DC is including Moore's actual first issue of Swamp Thing, #20's "Loose Ends." It may tie up the previous storyline, but it's integral to where Moore went with #21's "The Anatomy Lesson," and has nice art by Dan Day to boot.

The presentation here is far from perfect, as I've noted, but these are vital comics that anyone with an interest in the artform should own, read and even study. Moore was discovering a lot of his own processes in this run, and if his prose runs more to the purple than it does in his work of the last decade or so, it is also lyrical, poetic, and richly entwined with the art it accompanies. I wish DC had bothered to do it better, but I suppose it's a miracle they did it at all, and I'm more grateful than not to have the book on my shelves. If only it could be joined by a hardcover collection of Moore's Miracleman...

Buy The Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One from amazon.com.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mother Come Home Hardcover Preview -- Longtime readers may be aware of my love for all things Paul Hornschemeier. One of the greatest days of my comics-reading life was the day Rob Vollmar told me about his work (leading me to forever assume that if Rob likes it, it must be good). Additionally, the first article I ever wrote for the Comics Journal was a Paul Hornschemeier profile. So needless to say, I'm fully invested in his stuff.

Despite this established interest, man, the preview of the new hardcover edition of Mother Come Home blew my mind. That is one fine looking book. Congratulations to the cartoonist and everyone at Fantagraphics for finally giving this story the presentation it has always deserved.

Buy Mother Come Home from amazon.com.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 -- Well, golly, it's good to have a new Alan Moore comic book in my hands at last. Better still to have that comic book be in the form of a new issue of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which with artist Kevin O'Neill's wonky, angular visual contributions is among the finest works in Moore's oeuvre.

At one point in this first chapter of "Century," a planned three-part series in the LOEG saga, Mina Murray says "Do you know, for the first time in my life, I feel stupid." Moore's visceral, brilliant use of language often leaves me feeling the same way; my first try reading his extraordinary prose novel Voice of the Fire, for example, left me feeling quite dumb and inadequate. When I revisited it with a couple of years more life experience, I found it a breathtaking, wild ride through history and the power of the imagination to change the world. I've said this before, but if you find an Alan Moore story unrewarding, the chances are very, very good that it's you that is the problem, not Moore's writing. He's always been ahead of his time, and the impact of that can be quite disorienting.

I felt a bit of this effect early on in the story, because it's obvious that Moore uses many, many references to historical and fictional people and events, and in such a breakneck manner that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by just how much information is being processed in any given panel, on any given page. But no matter how many references, in-jokes and allusions you do or do not pick up on, there's no question that no more baroque and diverse intelligence has ever written for comics, and after years of mistreatment and abuse by DC and Marvel, frankly we're lucky to have him writing any comics for any company at all. Better still, he's now writing them for Top Shelf Productions, known for visionary projects and extraordinary production values.

Being out from under DC's corporate thuggery allows Moore and O'Neill wide latitude to ply their trade as they truly see fit, so the language and violence found in this story are ramped up a bit from what came before in this series. LOEG was never children's fare, but Moore and O'Neill both seem a little freer in their imaginings than previous volumes might have suggested. The overall effect is one of added maturity, narrative depth and creative freedom. Additionally, using Bertolt Brecht lyrics throughout establishes a brutal Greek Chorus effect that culminates in a disastrously marvelous conclusion to the issue, and one that, despite the story being set a century in the past, seems devastatingly current in its observations and implications for our modern world. I doubt very much this is coincidence.

Like the previous release in this series, The Black Dossier, LOEG: Century 1910 feels like a departure from what went before. Some familiar faces are present, at least for a time, but some are gone and some are changed from how we last saw them. There's an exciting sense that the world Moore and O'Neill have created is a living thing, ever moving away from its own past and its own status quo, and speaking as someone who likes his comic books to reflect actual life experience rather than emotionally stunted fantasy, I find this element quite satisfying. It's good to catch up with old friends, but far more rewarding to share new adventures with them than stagnantly reflecting on old victories. No one feels safe or comfortable in Century 1910, and there's a feeling that anything can happen. New characters and ideas, like The Prisoner of London and a certain sea captain's righteously vengeful daughter, infuse the story with a power and immediacy that makes the long wait for this new release well worth while. LOEG: Century 1910 is everything this series has led you to expect: Fast-paced, visually dense and wildly imaginative. It feels to me like having comics back again, in all their unkempt glory. The League is back, and so are Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. I haven't read anything better so far this year, and I urge you to lose yourself once more in this extraordinary series.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 will be released in April, 2009 by Top Shelf Productions.


Friday, February 06, 2009

"Hey, What Are You Reading?" -- It was as recently as two or three years ago that I was astonished by the discipline of friends of mine in comics that started "waiting for the trade," eschewing monthly floppy comics in favor of their sturdier, often more handsome collected versions. I had been making weekly treks to the comics shop (in one form or another) since I was 8 or 9 years old, and the thought of actually waiting months, or even a year or more, to read stories I could read in serialized for right now (well, once a month), seemed beyond the limits of my imagination.

Then bad writers seemed to take over superhero comics, packing once-beloved titles with mediocre (or worse) stories, often tied into "events" that mattered not a bit to me, whether it was House of M, Infinite Crisis, or any one of a dozen other gimmicks that drove me away from current-day superhero comics. These "events" are designed to increase sales, but in my case, the proliferation of truly lousy comics just made me throw my hands up and give up on the North American corporate-owned superhero comic as something I needed to keep up with on a weekly basis.

So it's always a weird moment for me when someone asks -- and they do, from time to time -- "What are you reading these days?" I genuinely have to think about it to remember what I've read recently that I enjoyed. More often than not it's a standalone graphic novel, probably of the artcomix variety, but of course the person asking my opinion is usually a superhero comics fan and is interested in knowing what I think is good in that neck of the woods. "Nothing much at all," would be the answer these days, of course.

But there are regularly-published titles that still jazz me up -- just, very few of them are monthly. The Scott Pilgrim series of manga-sized books is as good as comics get these days, completely deserving of all the hype it gets, and better than sex, pizza and the new Battlestar Galactica combined.

It's easy to take Love and Rockets for granted after all these years, but the new annual format provides an amazing slab of great comics. There are no better living comics creators than Los Bros -- a few equals like Clowes and Ware, but no one is better. Do I love the idea of waiting a year between "issues?" No, of course not. I'd like my L&R fix weekly if possible, and there was a time a decade ago or so when it seemed like that was actually happening -- but I'll wait that year, knowing that in the end I'll be rewarded with comics that are among the best and most entertaining ever created.

I'm looking forward to the Cold Heat collection from Picturebox -- I was just starting to "get" the floppies when they canceled it, due to Diamond's inability to properly market and distribute single issues of non-superhero comics. Frank Santoro (one half of the Cold Heat creative team) is pretty amazing if you like artcomix; Storeyville was superb and Incanto, a mini-comic he did, was beautiful and mysterious.

Then we come to the actual, traditional stapled, floppy, monthly-type comic books. Godland from Image, Buffy from Dark Horse and Criminal and Incognito from Marvel/Icon are about the only monthly floppies I still bother with. I am, indeed, waiting for the trades on Conan (not as transcendent as it was under Busiek/Nord, but still very good, and fun to read, adventure comics).

I'd talk about the horror/detective procedural Fell if I thought it was ever coming out again. And speaking of Warren Ellis, I wonder if the last issue of Planetary will be published this decade.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Today's Required Reading -- Top-shelf comics retailer and advocate Christopher Butcher on how Diamond is accelerating the destruction of the Direct Market, and why it should stop. Read this one, folks.






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