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Monday, March 30, 2009

Pain and Drugs -- Anyone who thinks they understand public health policy and the "war on drugs" needs to read this extraordinary essay by former Albany-area news anchor Ed Dague.

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Dan Clowes Makes Me Nostalgic for Floppy Comics -- Perhaps the most melancholy reflection on the end of the comic book format that I've read:
"Nobody wants to deal with selling the comic format any more in America, it’s just an antiquated format. It’s mainly because it has to be inexpensive, people expect them to be — to not cost a lot. So stores make no money off of them, so they’re not interested in promoting them. And I could do it in that way, but it feels somehow like its time has passed."
Much more in this interview at du9.org.

[Via The Comics Reporter]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Albany, NY Comicon is One Week from Today -- The latest in a series of Albany comic book conventions is Sunday, April 5th at the Holiday Inn on Wolf Road in Albany. Full disclosure: the show is advertised on Comic Book Galaxy (via the banner ad at the top of this page).

John and Matt from Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa have made each show bigger than the last, and this one looks to be the biggest yet, with plans for a panel discussion and an expansion into an additional room. I got some huge bargains at the last show and am still making my way through some of the books that I picked up that day. In addition, if you live anywhere in the Upstate New York region, you're pretty much guaranteed to run into a Who's Who of area people involved in some way with the artform and industry of comics. At previous shows I've run into Gene Kannenberg, and FantaCo alumni like Roger Green and Rocco Nigro, to name a few. Pictures from last fall's show are here.

This year's guest list includes Marvel Comics legends Herb Trimpe and Joe Sinnott, writer Ron Marz, cartoonists Fred Hembeck and Joe Staton, and others. My wife and I have brought our kids to each one of these Albany Comicons, and we're all excited for next Sunday to get here for the Spring, 2009 edition. the FantaCons of the 1980s were some of the best days of my teenage years, and I'm incredibly grateful to John and Matt and everyone that supports their efforts for bringing back a great area tradition so I can share it with my own children. I hope to see you there.

Full details on next Sunday's Albany Comicon are here.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

What I Really Need is One More Blog -- I don't know how regularly I'll be contributing, but I've signed onboard The Deadmalls Blog. If you're at all interested in the slow death of American culture, pop on over and have a look.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The One Thing You Should Do Today -- If your comic shop is carrying it, please buy A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. If your shop is not carrying it, please buy it from Amazon.com or anywhere you can find it. It is amazing and beautiful and you'll be glad you did. And don't just take my word for it, trust Tom.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chris Allen Turns the Tables on Me -- It never even occurred to me that someone might find my new e-book Anhedonia worthy of review, never mind one of my favourite critics (full disclosure: and bestest pals), Chris Allen. Here's Allen's review of Anhedonia. Thanks, Chris!


More on DC and Marvel's 1980s Baxter Reprint Series -- Many thanks to Bob for pointing out in the comments to yesterday's post on Baxter Paper comics of the 1980s that DC actually had a regular schedule of reprints on this excellent paper stock that included many of the publisher's most worthwhile and historic superhero stories. Here's the list Bob posted:

"DC's 'Baxter' reprint line actually ran almost monthly, with a few small gaps and one big gap, for about 5 years from 1983 to 1988 (at which time trade paperbacks were becoming more common). I think these are all of them, in published order."

Green Lantern Green Arrow 1-7
Manhunter 1
New Gods 1-6
Man-Bat 1
Immortal Dr. Fate 1-3
[one month gap]
Deadman 1-7
Shadow of the Batman 1-5
[two month gap]
Roots of the Swamp Thing 1-5
[thirteen month gap]
Saga of Ra's Al Ghul 1-4
Wrath of the Spectre 1-4
[one month gap]
Best of the Brave and the Bold 1-6

Moments after originally posting Bob's list here, good buddy, amazing retailer and all-around know-it-all Mike Sterling added a comment with a link to a list of Marvel's "Special Edition" Baxter Paper reprints. The list is obviously someone's labour of love so I won't re-post the whole thing here, but click on over and have a look.


Monday, March 23, 2009

New ADD E-Book: Anhedonia -- The followup to my first e-book Strange Whine is now available in PDF form. It's a collection of reviews, essays and assorted other stuff that has appeared here and in other places. Click here to download Anhedonia (2MB), and if you do give it a look, feel free to email me your comments. I'd love to know what you think, and you might just end up in the introduction to the next one.


Baxter Building Your Collection -- Tom Spurgeon has posted a terrific piece on alternatives to buying current serialized comic books. A couple of thoughts.

My first thought reading the piece was that when Frank Santoro recommends reading old issues of Marvel/Epic's Coyote, I suspect he is thinking of the sublimely illustrated first batch of issues drawn by Steve Leialoha. Then I started thinking about buying that series, which was on printed on something then referred to as "Baxter Paper," which got me to thinking about Tom's reference to old comics as a "tidal wave of decaying paper," which is not a characterization I'd argue with -- the deterioration of old comics is one reason I generally eschew buying them -- but that brings me back to Baxter Paper.

If you weren't there in the 1980s you probably don't remember what a big deal this particular paper stock was -- but it's become significant to me in recent years specifically because it doesn't seem to be decaying like regular newsprint comics of the same vintage.

I recently snapped up DC's six-issue New Gods special edition reprints for less than cover price. Sure, the hardcover Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus editions are great (if pricey, at 50 bucks a pop for four volumes), but I've been wanting a nice reprint of just the New Gods stories by themselves, and the Baxter Paper reprints fit the bill. Even after 25 years or so, the paper remains white and sturdy, the colours vibrant and bold, and far more pleasurable to me to read and experience than either the hardcovers or the original, decaying comics.

Both Marvel and DC published a lot of Baxter Paper projects -- Thriller, mentioned by Tom in the piece linked above, was another one (and well worth seeking out) -- and if, like me, you hate spending lots of money on flimsy old newsprint comics slowly turning into smelly cornflakes, then the Baxter Paper comics of the 1980s are a great place to look for some great reading. Here are seven titles you should be able to find cheap:

* Doctor Strange Classics -- Four double-sized issues collecting Lee and Ditko Dr. Strange stories.

* Thriller -- Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden's weird, wild adventure comic. Thrills somewhere between Lost and Twin Peaks.

* Captain America Special Edition -- I think there were three issues of this, vibrantly reprinting Jim Steranko's hyper-masculine, psychedelic Cap stories.

* Conan Special Edition: Red Nails -- Lacking the undesirable "remastering" of Dark Horse's recent Conan Marvel-era reprints, this double-sized one-shot has wall-to-wall gorgeous Barry Windsor-Smith art on probably the most acclaimed story of the Thomas/BWS Conan run.

* Deadman -- Seven issues collecting the gorgeous, mostly Neal Adams-drawn stories of ghostly circus performer Boston Brand and his afterlife adventures.

* Warlock Special Edition -- I forget if there were five or six of these, but they gathered together all the Jim Starlin Warlock stories, with their weird ideas and the stunning, guest-star-spangled two-part conclusion that originally crossed over between double-sized annuals of Marvel Two-in-One and Marvel Team-Up.

* The Elektra Saga -- Four issues resequencing Miller and Janson's most notable Daredevil storyline from its very beginning to its then-definitive end.

In keeping with the spirit of what Tom is talking about in his piece, these should all be available for not much more than cover price. I don't know why these and the other Baxter Paper books aren't more sought-after (and I'm not trying to start a run on the bank, believe me -- I want them for my collection much more than I want them for yours!), but given the quality of many of the titles, the way the paper they're printed on has held up over the years, how many of them were printed and how they're largely available dirt-cheap (I guess those last two points might be connected), I felt like it would be wrong not to point out to you how many great comics are out there not decaying and waiting to be rediscovered. If, like me, you lack the Collector Gene and just want to read the stories with good reproduction and without spending a fortune, with the Baxter Paper books, if you know what you're looking for, you can't go wrong.

The challenge lies in that phrase, "if you know what you're looking for." None of the Baxter Paper titles had the phrase "Baxter Paper" in the actual name of the book, but look for reprints from Marvel and DC circa 1984-1987, frequently slugged "Special Edition," almost always double-sized, and make sure you get a look at the insides to see if the paper is still white and the colours still vibrant and bold.

Just in the past year I've been seeking these books out, and reimmersing myself in the Conan: Red Nails and Kirby New Gods books -- for less than two bucks per issue -- has provided some of the most visceral comics-reading thrills I've had in a long time. Mister Baxter, whoever you were, I thank you.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chris Allen Bonanza -- Three great pieces in a row: A frank, insightful review of Eddie Campbell's Monsieur Leotard, a direct and amusing take on the Mike Sekowsky Wonder Woman, and an engaging riff on engaging with how others engage with the comics artform. Don't look now, but I think CA and Spurge are, y'know, engaged. I kid because I love. Pizza.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Monday Briefing -- Didn't read much comics-wise over the weekend, as I am in the final stretch of reading the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy of novels by David Mack. It was recommended as epic and well-written in a message board post somewhere recently, and turns out that is completely true. The novels (I started the third last night) tell a millennia-spanning, post-Nemesis tale that features Captains Picard, Riker, Dax (Ezri, now promoted) and Hernandez (the USS Columbia captain from Enterprise) and their ships and crews on the eve of the worst invasion the Federation has ever faced. The story is perfectly paced, more grown-up in tone than older Trek novels, and the perfect appetizer for May's movie release. If you have any interest in Star Trek at all, check 'em out, they're terrific.

Kind of hard to believe that the finale of Battlestar Galactica is now just days away. Like some viewers whose comments I've read, I've found the last couple-three episodes a bit scattered and off-point, but hopefully Ron Moore and company are saving the best for last. Apropos of nothing, I DVR'd (as we say) an episode of the original series (the Ship of Lights episode, as it turns out), and my wife fired it up yesterday thinking it was the latest episode of the new series. "I didn't understanding any of it of who the characters even were," she told me. "All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again," I cryptically told her. She was not amused.

Comics-wise, check out Chris Allen's look at some Captain America collections, both Brubaker-written and not, as well as some comments on a new line of Marvel action figures.

Tom Spurgeon has posted his Best of 2008 list. As you might expect, it's pretty hard to argue with. I still need to read Omega the Unknown, though.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Jog Blogs the Hell Out of Cold Heat -- I agree with everything Jog says in his new review of Cold Heat #5/6, and I wish I could write one-tenth as well as Jog does about why Cold Heat is such an extraordinary series.


Very Cool Illustrated Barry Windsor-Smith Bio Online -- I don't know if I've ever linked to this or not, but yesterday I stumbled onto a liberally illustrated biography of Barry Windsor-Smith on his website that, if you're as into his art as I am, could provide an hour or two of interesting reading.

Click "Next Page" at the bottom of each page -- it goes on for about 32 pages, and best of all, more is promised in the future.

Lots of art, behind-the-scenes info and insights into the man's career that I found fascinating. Click on over and see if you agree.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Who Botches The Watchmen? -- Anyone who's stopped in here a time or two knows I love and respect Roger Ebert's writing a great deal, so I find myself in the somewhat unusual position of siding with comics critics like Tom Spurgeon and Tim O'Neil in not really much liking the film adaptation of Watchmen, while Ebert loved the film so much he has already written about it twice, once in a formal review and again in his more personal online journal.

Watchmen is a graphic novel I hold in pretty high regard, despite the oft-mentioned weakness of its ending, somewhat analogous to the ultimate revelation of Orson Welles's Citizen Kane: both works are so entertaining, engrossing and (most importantly) formally ambitious that they represented paradigm shifts for their respective artforms, film for the better, comics usually for the worse. When I interviewed Alan Moore a few years ago for an NPR-affiliated Public Radio station, he mentioned that he felt somewhat responsible for the dire turn superhero comics made in the wake of Watchmen. To be certain, that phenomenon is not Moore's responsibility, no matter how much he regrets the end result of the book's influence. Director Zack Snyder, like all the awful superhero comics writers that have aped Moore's superhero masterwork, sees the surface but barely comprehends the underlying complexity. More urgently, Watchmen's imitators in comics can create all the dark, grim, moody, crappy murder mysteries they want -- from Meltzer to Straczynski, from Johns to Bendis, none of the superhero writers who've tried to tap that vein have ever demonstrated even a tenth as much understanding of the medium of comics as Moore possesses, or a hundredth of his imagination.

Snyder's film is virtually all about grabbing the facile elements of the book and pretending to be much better than it ultimately is, kind of like an eight year old dressing up in Dad's clothes. They don't fit well and the kid can't figure out how to tie a tie, but at least the shirt's on top and the pants aren't backwards.

Which is to say, as I did on Twitter immediately after seeing the film, "Sort of like a live action trailer for the book. OK, but doesn't capture the beauty of Moore and Gibbons's collaboration." Many moments were fun to see up on the screen, like Rorschach and his end-is-nigh sign, or Rorschach eating Dan's beans, or Rorschach...well, you get my point. I did think the actor playing Dan did a great job of conveying the innate schlubbiness of the character, but the choice of going supercool-Matrixy with the costumes instead of staying true to the material cuts the guts out of one of the main themes of the story, that putting on a costume doesn't changes your essential nature, as much as you might want it to. Just as, I guess, getting the job of turning Watchmen the graphic novel into Watchmen the motion picture into a movie doesn't mean you'll necessarily get it right, as much as you and a million nerds might want you to.

Someone said that the movie is probably the best adaptation that could have been made from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's work, and that might actually be true. But the point only serves to highlight the stone-cold fact that, as a movie, Watchmen is most of all irrelevant. The book represents a high-water mark for creative ambition in its native medium, an achievement unlikely to ever be matched or exceeded, especially in the superhero genre. The movie represents two hours I spent one Saturday in a theater, and nothing more. If Snyder wanted to translate a few cool scenes from the comic book onto the big screen, well, he did that. If he wanted to demonstrate why people still read, analyze and adore the comic book 25 years after its debut, he could not have failed more completely.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Cold Heat Returns in Serialized Form -- While everyone and their brother are canceling their low-print-run floppy funnybooks because Diamond doesn't know how to distribute comic books (only corporate-owned superhero comic books, y'see), Frank Santoro, Ben Jones and Picturebox are saying "Fuck all that," and publishing comics anyway. They've released a 48-page combined issue #5-6 of their extraordinary series Cold Heat and you can must buy it now at the Picturebox website.

Yes, it's 20 dollars. And yes, it's worth it. I know I'm the guy who questioned Kramers Ergot costing a week's worth of grocery money, but you know, this is different. This is lunch for two at Applebee's if you go in during their 2 for 20 special they have running right now. Plus, this is Cold Heat by motherfucking Frank Santoro and Ben Jones, the single best argument for the survival of the floppy, stapled, non-graphic novel comic book as art object all by its own self.

And there're only 100 copies in existence, so you need to go get yours now. Someday the story will be collected in a big graphic novel, and that'll be nice, but you know what? Like Lee and Ditko's Amazing Spider-Man or Rugg and Maruca's Street Angel, this is a comic book that's meant to be read and experienced as a comic book.

So go buy it.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Mindfulness Reminder -- Created at Wordle.com (click to embiggen):

Huge Star Trek Movie Spoilers -- Readers of IDW's Countdown series already know what I consider the biggest spoiler, but a new synopsis of the movie's novelization spells it out in black and white as well. DO NOT CLICK THE LINK IF YOU DON'T WANT A MAJOR PLOT POINT SPOILED.

I'm usually fine with spoilers -- I read the entire script of the sixth Trek movie -- a murder mystery, no less! -- and still loved seeing the film when it came out in theaters, and still love it to this day (despite a couple of major mistakes in the script that sadly made it to the screen*).

This one, though -- maybe it's the old, old Trekker in me speaking, but I wish I didn't know the villain Nero's motivation going in. It's so huge for the Trek universe, and so enmeshed in the post-Nemesis world in such a delicious way, that I really do wish it was going to be a surprise when the film plays out before me for the first time in May.

All that said, if you're really, really okay with spoilers, click on over and have at it. If this isn't a genuinely exciting movie and a real revival of all things Star Trek, I am going to be very surprised and hugely disappointed. So far, everything looks right to me -- even the comic book prequel I didn't think I'd care about at all is pretty much essential -- and I can't wait for May to get here.

* Scotty would not have called the Klingon Chancellor's daughter a "bitch," and the character Valeris's origin as Saavik remained painfully obvious in at least two sequences.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In Stores Tomorrow: Humbug -- I have this on-hand but have not had a chance to crack it open: Humbug from Fantagraphics is a lush, two-volume, slipcased hardcover compiling some of Harvey Kurtzman and company's best satire comics ever. This one is going to end up on a lot of year-end best-of lists, so be sure to grab up a copy before they're all gone.


Top Shelf's Remaining 2009 Publishing Plans -- Here's a list of what Top Shelf Productions has planned for the rest of this year. Titles I am especially looking forward to are in bold.

Mar WORLD WAR 3 ILLUSTRATED #39 Edited by Peter Kuper

Apr THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN (VOL III): CENTURY #1 ("1910") by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill (here's my review)

Apr VOICE OF THE FIRE (All-New Paperback) by Alan Moore

May LOST GIRLS (Single-Volume Hardcover Edition)
by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie

May FAR ARDEN by Kevin Cannon

May SECOND THOUGHTS by Niklas Asker

Edited by Indie Spinner Rack's Charlito and Mr. Phil


by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele


Jul New-Cover Edition of THE SURROGATES (VOL 1)
by Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele

Aug THE COMPLETE ESSEX COUNTY Hardcover by Jeff Lemire

Aug JOHNNY BOO (BOOK 3): HAPPY APPLES by James Kochalka


Oct MOVING PICTURES by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen

Nov THE MARSHAL LAW OMNIBUS by Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neill

Edited by Sean Michael Wilson and Mitsuhiro Asakawa


Tuesday Visit to The Comics Waiting Room -- Old buddy and Comic Book Galaxy co-conspirator Marc Mason and I recently had a back and forth on Twitter that resulted in my writing a guest column for his site, The Comics Waiting Room. The subject is reviewing comics, and of course I get a Captain Kirk reference in there, excited as I am about the forthcoming Star Trek movie release.

Thanks, Marc, for letting me come in and play!






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