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Thursday, November 12, 2009

 
Carver/Hopper -- I've been working on a short comic strip extrapolating what a collaboration between writer Raymond Carver and artist Edward Hopper might have been like. Click here to go to Carver/Hopper.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

 
Mazzucchelli Market Correction -- Blogger and comics creator Geoff Grogan provides a market correction for the nigh-deified Asterios Polyp.

As I noted in my comment after Geoff's post, I love most everything David Mazzucchelli has done, but Asterios Polyp was not the earth-shaking, career-defining revelation I think most of us were expecting.

Mazzucchelli probably doesn't get enough credit for his visionary superhero work on Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again, both of which expanded the visual possibilities of the superhero sub-genre; but his most personal and visionary work in anthologies like Drawn and Quarterly and his own self-published Rubber Blanket set some pretty high expectations for Asterios Polyp, I think, and those expectations weren't quite met. The few short pages of Mazzucchelli's "Discovering America," contain more emotion, passion and straightforward visual genius than the entirety of Asterios Polyp, the totality of which to me felt ambitious but sterile, sprawling but ultimately not taking me anywhere new, or even anywhere I particularly wanted to go.

I'm a huge fan of Mazzucchelli's comics work, and "fan" is not a word I use often, or lightly. From X-Factor back issues to Batman statues and Italian collections I can't even read, I've spent lots of dollars trying to have everything the man has been involved in. But there remains, in the wake of Asterios Polyp, a feeling that if his career will eventually hit a previously-undreamed-of peak, it won't be with his most recent (and first solo) graphic novel. Maybe his best work is behind him, but I kind of doubt it. I do know that when he exceeds what he accomplished with Asterios Polyp, it will be with a work that feels more personal, more passionate, less sterile, and far less meticulously constructed.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

 
Abstract Comics: The Anthology -- It seems almost beside the point to say that yes, here's a book you can judge by its cover. But other than the introduction by editor Andrei Molotiu and some notes about the individual contributions at the back, the cover image -- chaotic, mysterious, and hinting at hidden dimensions of meaning -- describes the experience of reading the book pretty succinctly.

Needless to say, one could study the art found within Abstract Comics: The Anthology (published by Fantagraphics Books) for months, or one could flip through the entire thing in five minutes, and the conclusions one could draw from either experience of the volume could easily be justified as informed and insightful. Here are hundreds of pages of inexplicable lines, colours and visions, at best open to interpretation and at worst inviting John Lennon's definition of Avant Garde, "French for bullshit."

Having now lived with it for a couple of days, I can't say I love Abstract Comics: The Anthology, but considering that it includes contributions by R. Crumb and James Kochalka, two cartoonists I hold in the highest esteem, and considering that their works are among the best-realized and most thought-provoking in the book, well, I can't dismiss it out of hand either.

Some artists challenge more than they enlighten. Alexey Sokolin's, murky, hairy panel progressions seem to emulate comics form without speaking to it. On the other hand, the images by Elijah Brubaker, Geoff Grogan and Janusz Jaworski use the panels and pages to create a sense of meaning and movement that invite multiple readings.

Just creating panels and putting stuff in them is not always successful, though -- Jason Overby does just that and the resulting images reminded me of nothing more than marginal doodles from an 11th grader's math notebook; diverting for the artist but not necessarily as rewarding for the rest of us.

Mike Getsiv's "Shapes," defines space with lines and colours inside irregular panel borders in a manner that appeals to the eye and is not wholly unsimilar to James Kochalka's stylings. Both use the tools at their disposal to suggest passion and emotion, and Getsiv's striking images are worthy of a collection all their own.

I really liked former Galaxy contributor Derik Badman's rambling, dream-like creations, too, suggesting partially obscured views into a world unseen, unknown and unknowable.

In a sense, there's a lot of art in Abstract Comics: The Anthology and almost no real comics per se. I was blown away, however, by my son's recognition of a Sentinel (a giant mutant-policing robot) from Marvel Comics' X-Men in a page by Noah Berlatsky that the artist says is abstractly based on images originally created by the late Dave Cockrum. I studied the page for quite some time and could not see a damned thing other than amorphous shapes and lines, but when I told my son (who was curious about the book I was reading) that the page I was on was originally based on the X-Men, he casually blew my mind with his comment "Oh, yeah, there's one of those giant robots, what are they called? Sentinels?"

If that isn't proof that meaning is in the eye of the beholder and that the work within Abstract Comics: The Anthology isn't absolutely open to interpretation by every single reader that encounters it, and that every opinion it generates has some validity, than I don't know what else to tell you. I still can't see a frigging Sentinel on that page.

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Learn more at the Abstract Comics blog. Noah Berlatsky kindly provided a link to both the original Dave Cockrum page and his own abstract interpretation of it, which you can see here.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

 
Nadel on Mazzucchelli -- Dan Nadel writes a great overview of the career in comics of David Mazzucchelli. Mazzucchelli is responsible for some of my favourite superhero comics and artcomix, and I like the insight Nadel brings to the table in looking at his fascinating development as an artist. I find what Nadel describes as Mazzucchelli's interest in "the movement of solid forms in space," to be the one thing that binds together all his comics work, from the 1980s Marvel stuff right up to Asterios Polyp. You can feel that obsession in almost every panel, no matter what point in his development Mazzucchelli is at in any given work.

Apropos of nothing, discovering the very hard to find Rubber Blanket #2 for cover price in a forgotten corner of an area comic shop was one of the highlights of my comics-buying life.

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Download my free new eBook of nearly four dozen interviews with comics creators, Conversations with ADD, by clicking here. A full list of interview subjects can be found here.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

 
Harvey Pekar Conversations -- I'm a bit stunned to find out via Mike Rhode's blog that his book Harvey Pekar: Conversations has only sold 600 copies. I'd guess ten times that many people went to see the American Splendor movie in its first week.

In the interests of full disclosure, my interview with Harvey Pekar appears in the book, along with many, many other great chats with the man. The book's prime mover, Mike Rhode earned a thank you in my new eBook Conversations with ADD because he was the one who originally transcribed the interview using an MP3 of my chat with Pekar.

Now, Mike doesn't seem particularly ruffled that the book has only sold 600 copies, but my gut tells me that far many more people would be interested to read it if they knew it was available. So if you're one of those people, click here to go to the University Press of Mississippi page for Harvey Pekar: Conversations and consider buying one of the remaining copies. It's a vital oral history of one of the most important areas of comics history of the last 50 years, outlining the struggle to find a place in the comics market for genuinely adult comics, and highlighting Harvey's passion for stories about his life, stories that carry a universal appeal to anyone who reads them.

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Download my free new eBook of nearly four dozen interviews with comics creators, Conversations with ADD, by clicking here. A full list of interview subjects can be found here.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

 
In Case You Think I Hate Superheroes -- This is coming in to the comic shop for me on Wednesday of next week:


Batman: Black and White statue, based on the art of David Mazzucchelli. From the solicit: "This pose, designed by David Mazzucchelli, was used in one of the original promotional images for [Batman: Year One], and the artist himself was consulted for the production of this statue. The statue measures approximately 7.75" high x 4.5" wide x 2.75" deep, is painted in monochromatic tones, features a Bat-logo-shaped base and is packaged in a black and white box."

Can't wait for this!

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

 
Hot for Cold Heat -- Tucker Stone's look at Frank Santoro and Ben Jones's Cold Heat is one of the best damned articles about a comic book I have ever read. That it's about one of the best damned comics around is a bonus.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

 
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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Friday, September 05, 2008

 
Guardians of Justice Frame Job -- Here's my Guardians of Justice lithograph (by Bruce Timm), as framed by AC Moore and hanging on my bedroom wall.



I've been in love with this image since it was the cover to the Dwayne McDuffie issue of Write Now, and am thrilled to finally have it framed and hanging in my home.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

 
Roger Ebert: How to Read a Movie -- Here's Ebert with the best piece on visual storytelling techniques you'll read today, many of them applicable to the composition of comics panels and pages.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

 
Critic or Blogger? -- Alleged cartoonist Scott Kurtz (hey, if you wanna call that cartooning, I guess it's a free country) says Johanna Draper Carlson is a blogger, not a critic. So reading critic Roger Ebert reflect on the joy blogging has brought to him really brought a smile to my face.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

 
L. Nichols Exhibiting in Albany in September -- I'm psyched as hell for this. L. Nichols of Jumbly Junkery fame will be exhibiting her art at a show at a Lark Street gallery in Albany next month.


Details on the exhibit here and here.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

 
Jim Crocker on Kramers Ergot #7 -- I know, I know, I said I was done with this subject. But when the owner of my favourite comic book store in the United States weighs in on a subject as controversial as the $125.00 price tag of the next volume of Kramers Ergot, I have to give him the floor. Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Crocker of Modern Myths in Northampton, Massachusetts.
How many will you order for your shelves?
BWAAA HAAAA HAAA HAAA HAAA HAAAA! None.

How many would you guess you may preorder by request of regular customers?

MAYBE one.

Do you think $125.00 for a 96 page anthology is a reasonable price for your customer base?

$125.00 for 96 pages is pure art-house gimmick pricing. It's comics removed from any even remote expectation that they're going to be read by ANY sort of mass audience and reduced to elitist art-world gallery projects. They're not comics at that point, they're basically museum catalogs of contemporary works that happen to have a narrative joining the pieces.

Will you offer it at a discount, either to customers pre-ordering it, or on your store shelves?

I don't offer anything else at a discount, why should I offer this? At that price it's basically a convention/Amazon exclusive in all but actual name.

How do you feel about Amazon's discounting of the book (currently over 30 percent off) and how it might impact your store, or the direct market in general.

Meh. When you've got hundreds of millions in venture capital and can lose more money than I'll see in my entire life for 5+ years, how does the market actually apply to you in any real way? Amazon isn't retailing, it's using something that looks like retail to move stock. Nearly everything they do is destructive to the long-term health of publishing, but the same can be said of most publicly-traded, solely profit-driven companies in any field they operate in. 'Hating' them accomplishes as much as 'hating' aggressive childhood leukemia or those little voles hating the dinosaurs did. We just scamper around scavenging for what they miss and try not to get stepped on.

Bottom line: Amazon discounts EVERYTHING. The impact they have on any individual title is just part of the mix these days, like hurricanes, UPS truck breakdowns, and convention pre-releases.
My thanks to Jim for letting me know his plans and thoughts regarding Kramers Ergot #7. And anyone who has not set foot in Modern Myths has no place casting aspersions at Jim's opinion. He is the savviest and most forward-thinking comics retailer I have met in the United States, and his store runs a very close second behind The Beguiling in terms of being the very best comic book store I have ever set foot in. For him to respond so negatively to the price point of KE7 should be food for thought for anyone involved in the publishing of this book. Modern Myths the most alternative comics-friendly shop I've set foot in in the US, and for him to regard the book with such reluctance, tells me the vast majority of comic book retailers will not be supporting the book at its currently-expected price point.

As for me, and the process of deliberation I've engaged in these past few weeks trying to decide whether to order the book was decided this past weekend, when I re-read Kramers Ergot #5 and #6. Both were priced about $35.00, both had far more than 96 pages, and both had more than 50 percent of their contents flipped quickly through by me as I realized that either they weren't comics, or weren't good enough comics for me to bother reading. The occasional appearance in the pages of KE volumes 5 and 6 by artists like Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch was not enough to offset the self-indulgent tripe contributed by alt-comix divas like CF, Ron Rege and Paper Rad.

So, no, I will find better things to do with my comics-buying money this fall than spend it on KE7. And given the likelihood of a print run in the high hundreds to very low thousands, I'm guessing the creators whose work I do want to read, such as Dan Clowes and Chris Ware, will be smart enough to collect their KE pieces down the line in future volumes of their own work. And like Jim says, if they don't, chances are very few people will ever see those stories. And what would be the point of that?

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Friday, August 15, 2008

 
Kramers Ergot #7 Dialogues -- Here are posts on the subject of the week, at Jason Marcy's LiveJournal and a comics retailing blog called Comics are Serious Business, which I hadn't heard of but now have subscribed to.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

 
The Beguiling's Peter Birkmoe on Kramers Ergot #7, and Some Final Thoughts -- There's not a better comic book store that I have ever been in than The Beguiling in Toronto. It's an inclusive, progressive shop that has exactly what I've always said a good comic book store should have, something to offer for every age, interest and gender. And I should have known that they would have an excellent plan for retailing an expensive artcomix hardcover, too. Here's Beguiling owner Peter Birkmoe's thoughts on Kramers Ergot #7 and its $125.00 price point.
While I’m reluctant to give out precise numbers on what we order on any item, I would say that our orders on this are going to be very high, both in high in terms of a anthology and high for something that expensive. We don’t really operate on a preorder basis for item like this that the store supports, and by supports I mean items that we are ordering with the intention hand-selling, offering additional promotion for, and stocking for as long as the item is available. Preorders for us are for things we wouldn’t stock unless specifically asked . . . Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose, Toys, etc. An anthology with new work by Sammy Harkham, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Jamie Hernandez, Chris Ware, Carol Tyler, and Kim Deitch is not a preorders-only item for us at any price.

We have ordered every Kramers since the first issue, usually pretty deep, and have yet to regret it. Still having stock on now out of print books like that is one thing that helps our reputation as a great store. In all likelihood, we will have some sort of event for this book, further increasing what our initial order would normally be. There is no doubt that this is an expensive book, and out of the price range of many people, but for those that can find a way to afford it, it will be money well spent.

Amazon discounts like that have been around long enough that I would imagine it affects my sales on just about everything I sell, so it won’t affect my ordering on this one any differently than my normal ordering, and I can’t say how great that effect is. I don’t feel great about this, but one can’t lose sleep over it.

Peter Birkemoe, The Beguiling
Thanks, Peter, for sharing your thoughts, and thanks as well to Christopher Butcher at The Beguiling for passing them along to me.

I'm not at all sure why this subject has resulted in such heated discussion over the past few days; when I first posted about the book and its price tag, I just wanted to explore my own reluctance to lay out $125.00 (or $100.00, after a retailer discount that was offered to me) for a book that seems aimed square at the market I have been a part of for most of my adult life -- artcomix readers with a taste for experiment and a willingness to pay a little extra for the sort of comics I crave.

Off the top of my head, I have in the past paid $40.00 for books of sketches by Chris Ware, and $50.00 for hardcovers reprinting Love and Rockets comics I already owned, and I never once questioned such expenditures or regretted them in any way. Last year I spent $100.00 on The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, but that's not artcomix. At least, not what we typically think of as artcomix. But I bought it, make no mistake, because of the art, by Steve Ditko. If a Volume Two were to be published with an equal number of pages of John Romita Sr. art, I wouldn't even think about buying it. To me Ditko's entire Spider-Man era is worth a hundred bucks. I like Romita's work to an extent, but not a $100.00 extent.

Sorry, there I go exploring my own spending habits and comics interests again, and that's kind of what started off this whole magilla. I do think its very important for all comics readers to think about what they buy and measure their own enjoyment of it -- if we all bought what we truly valued and stopped buying bad comics out of habit or to "keep the collection complete," we would have a better comic book industry in very short order, I think. There's not a superhero title I am a completist about, except maybe Street Angel, but even then, if Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca turned the title over to Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, I would have to call it a day and occasionally re-read my old Rugg and Maruca issues. And how does collector completism figure into this?

Well, I have the last few volumes of Kramers Ergot, you see. I think I have either three or four of them on my bookshelf. And I decided some time ago that, like Love and Rockets and Eightball and some other artcomix titles, Kramers Ergot would be a title I would always support and always want to read, craving as I do "what's new and what's next" in comics.

Then that philosophy met the $125.00 price point of the new volume.

I got a funny email last night from an old internet pal, one of the most well-known comics bloggers and a guy I like a lot. He was having some well-earned fun with the idea that I, who have always subscribed to Tom Spurgeon's axiom "The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics," had finally met a comic that was too expensive.

I don't think KE7 will be shitty comics. I don't think it costs $125.00 due to greed, or hubris, or cruelty. I hope it costs that much because it has to in order for the creators, editor and publisher to make a modest profit. I don't imagine anyone is getting rich off this book. I do agree with whoever it was at Johanna's blog that said something to the effect of, "it's like getting 96 art prints for 100 dollars." And I'm sure that is true. Except that if I could buy them individually, I seriously doubt I would want all 96. But of course, there is no a la carte option, nor should there be.

I have no doubt Kramers Ergot #7 will be great, progressive comics. A beautiful book that may expand the boundaries of what is possible within the artform of comics. And costs more that what I pay for a week's worth of groceries for a family of four.

I think an expense like that needs to be considered. Weighed. Thought about and pondered. And given my decades of support for artcomix as a medium of expression, I have to believe I am not the only one unsure if it's a wise expense. The economy hasn't even begun to sink to the levels it ultimately will settle at. I ask myself if I have the right, as a father and husband, to be so selfish as to spend $125.00 on fewer than 100 pages of comics. "But they're great comics," I could tell my wife, as she beats me to death with the tombstone-sized hardcover (I don't imagine more than one or two whacks would be needed).

Well, I've been told many times in the past few days that the book will be a huge success. It will be a huge success because people will want to read it. And I'm sure many will want to read it, whatever constitutes "many" in the realm of boutique artcomix hardcover aficionados. 500 readers? 2,500? As a longtime observer of this artform and industry, I can see the book selling fewer than a hundred copies. And I can see it selling thousands. It all depends on the zeitgeist and the marketing, probably much more so than it does on the quality of the work. Because, while I do not believe Kramers Ergot #7 will be shitty comics, neither have I yet been convinced that it, or any single anthology volume of any creative lineup or production quality, is worth $125.00 to me personally.

Maybe as we get closer to the date of the book's release, we'll know enough about the book that my mind will be changed. I'd love to be convinced that this is a must-buy book for me, and that I'll forever regret not spending $125.00 (or $100.00, as noted above, if I buy from the one retailer that offered me a discount) on it. As Peter Birkmoe's comments above prove, the way to make this book worth the pricetag is to make it an event, and I have no doubt that The Beguiling will be very successful in making a big thing out of this release.

But I don't know how many retailers will go to that trouble. The Beguiling can do it because it's the best comic book store in North America, if not the world. I have only set foot in two other shops (in 36 years of buying comics) that even come close to the savvy and expertise and sheer quality of The Beguiling. So maybe KE7 isn't for me or readers like me. Maybe it's for shops like The Beguiling or Modern Myths or Million Year Picnic, who have paved the way for the future of comics and presumably made a nice living doing so. Peter Birkmoe and his crew will make the book something to be celebrated, and I think that is very cool, and a very good thing for comics. I hope it helps make the book a big success in shops forward-looking enough to carry it and smart enough to market it right, to the people that can afford it. I hope Tom Spurgeon is right and that all these factors combine to make Kramers Ergot a monster hit.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

 
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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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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Sunday, May 25, 2008

 
Gary Groth Explains Why I Love Comics -- Or, conversely, you could look at this quote (from an interview at Newsarama) as a great example of why "superhero fans" actually don't like comics, despite the fact that the artform is the delivery system for their drug of choice.
"[W]hat I look for is an interpretation of the world, using all the tools and tricks and vocabulary of the medium to most imaginative advantage. The canvas can be minute and interior -- as in Jonathan Bennett's work -- or vast and politicized -- as in Tom Kaczynski's stories. What's important is that the artist has a take on the world, realized with a degree of artistry. And that's different in kind than merely explicating or describing or transcribing the world as he sees it or understands it — it's different than journalism or sociology -- because the imagination can get at something deeper or stranger or off-kilter in a way that a straight recitation of facts can't. Personally, I also look for potential, so it doesn't have to be an artist whose vision is necessarily fully formed, but someone who has that touch of insight and ought to be encouraged and cultivated -- so, in a way, MOME is like an ongoing laboratory experiment."
I couldn't imagine a better explanation of the value of artcomix in general and anthologies (like MOME) in particular.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

 

10 Things I Love About The New Mome -- The tenth volume of the Fantagraphics comics anthology Mome is in my hands, and to celebrate its tenth volume, here are ten things I loved about it:

10. Dash Shaw's mind-fucking backward/forward robot war tragicomedy "Look Forward, First Son of Terra Two." FANTASTIC.

9. The textures in the Jim Woodring piece; the story (continued from Vol. 9) is up to the usual Woodring standard of psychedelic excellence, but the textures on display in the neighbourhood scenes are astonishing.

8. The final panel in the Woodring story: study it carefully. How long have these kids been weeping, and what are they mourning? A lost world of wonder? Their own ability to function in a universe they no longer understand?

7. Tom Kaczynski's interview, conducted by Gary Groth. Groth is one of my personal heroes, whatever his perceived flaws, and no one can doubt his ability to paint fascinating portraits of the people he interviews, virtually every time out. Kaczynski is no exception -- his life story is interesting stuff, and his inclusion in Mome has improved it measurably.

6. No surprise, then, that his story in this volume is one of the highlights. He takes the Clowes/Tomine ball that he references in the Groth interview, and he runs off in unexpected directions with it.

5. Kaczynski's portrait of The Lizard bursting out of Spider-Man's costume is worth noting all on its own.

4. Ten volumes in, and no price increase.

3. The Sophie Crumb full-page portrait right at the front of the issue. I am finding her strips a little out of place in Mome and I wish we'd see more of her solo series Belly Button Comix, but this is a nice piece of art and a stretch from her usual Mome offerings.

2. John Hankiewicz's "Success Comes to Westmont, IL" is a change of pace for the cartoonist, a little more direct than his usual fare, but also using stylistic change-ups to add depth and nuance to the narrator's bitter complaint.

1. Al Columbia's cover -- there are cat people and dog people, and I am a cat people. The front and back covers are both cat portraits by Al Columbia, and both are extraordinary and chilling in very different ways. I think the thing I love the most is the phantom claw just barely visible on the right side of the image; is Columbia showing us a bit of his process, or suggesting the speed with which cats move, or both? Also of note: This is the first original cover the series has featured, instead of a blown-up image from the interior. I liked that idea, but I love Columbia's cover more.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

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

ANNOUNCING “STRANGE & STRANGER: THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO”

COMING IN JUNE 2008 FROM FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TITLE INFORMATION:

Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko
By Blake Bell
$39.99 Hardcover
220 pages, full-color, 9” x 12”
ISBN 978-1-56097-921-0
PUBLICATION DATE: June 2008

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

 
Random Thoughts on Fixing Comics Anthologies -- Here are a few thoughts that have been kicking around in my head as a result of the recent unpleasantness regarding comics anthologies such as Houghton-Mifflin's Best American Comics series.

* Multiple-pages-on-one page. This is the thing I hate the most about these anthologies, and it's been in a lot of these books. In the most recent example, Jeffrey Brown's autobio strips have four pages reduced and presented on one page. Is his artwork so simple that it can be reduced like that and not have a negative impact on the perceptions of the reader? Maybe Chris Ware or whoever thought so, but I didn't even bother to read those strips, because putting more than one page on one page is BULLSHIT and an insult to the artist and the reader.

* No excerpts. A short story should really be a short story, not 15 pages of a 275 page graphic novel. The current BAC volume has excerpts from Fun Home and Shortcomings, and in neither case did it do the longer work any favours to present such a short portion. But if you must present excerpts, this problem could be solved by my next complaint...

* Lack of context. Something I hate about most of the high-end comics anthologies of the past three or four years is the manner in which the stories are just thrown in there, one after another, relentlessly and without context. I realize this may be in order to cram as much comics into the volume as possible, but all the works in these anthologies would be better served by a one-page introduction by the editor, creator or someone else familiar with the work, who can succinctly put the story we're about to read onto some sort of continuum, with the other works we're reading, and with where the story fits into this current moment in time. To go from one excerpted story to another with no editorial transition is just jarring and extremely off-putting to me as a reader.

* New material. I'm all for presenting previously-seen material from little-known creators or total unknowns, but thanks to McSweeney's #13, the BAC volumes and the Brunetti-edited anthology, I think I own some pages of some stories two or three times over. It certainly feels that way, which is my essential point. I have said, and continue to believe, that these volumes are primarily created for and marketed to non-comics readers, but at some point we have to accept that even those folks are going to tire of seeing Crumb, Tomine, Brown, Ware, ad nauseum, in volume after volume after volume. At the very least, these deservedly-respected masters of art comics should be participating with new material created specifically for a given anthology.

And if that flies in the face of the remit of the BAC volumes, I don't give a shit. I want good, enduring comics anthologies. And while the effort is clearly being made to offer up just that to a waiting public, the points I've made here indicate to me that there's some work to be done before we can plunk down our $25.00 and be relatively secure in the knowledge that the books will be satisfying to our need for great works presented with excellence and vision.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

 
Quite Improved -- Tom Spurgeon pointed out this illustrated essay on how Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman art could easily be improved. As someone who has greatly enjoyed the title but is not happy with the -- balllessness? -- of Quitely's work in recent years, I found this essay quite eye-opening. I think the ultra-thin digital inking worked okay on We3, but on superhero stuff, the bolder line evinced in this piece really is called for. Take a look if you're at all interested in the process of creating assembly-line comic book art.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

 
Pictures from My Camera -- I got some good feedback on the photos I included in my ADD Comics file I posted for download this week, so I thought I would share the original photos for you to see without my writing all over them. Click the images to see the larger version.



This was taken two or three years back on a day trip to Syracuse to visit a comic and gaming store. The store recently changed its name and moved into the Carousel Center Mall and out of the very cool refurbished warehouse/factory building it had been in. This was taken at dusk in the parking lot.



This was taken a few weeks ago an hour or so before sunrise outside our local Hannaford supermarket. My wife and son were leaving for a field trip to the Bronx Zoo, and while I waited in the car outside, I took this shot just outside the entrance. I just like the way the pillar stands out, and the darkness in the background.



This is that same Hannaford, but maybe a year or so earlier. I got up before dawn one Saturday and just wandered around the neighbourhood with the camera. I like the feelings this one suggests to me about going shopping in the middle of the night at a nearly-empty 24-hour supermarket.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

 
ADD Comics #1 and Only -- I've posted my own downloadable comic book, ADD Comics #1 and Only. Download here.

Totally thanking Abhay for the inspiration to put this up, although it is nowhere as interesting or cool as his Left Field. It's mostly just a bunch of drawings and a couple photographs I have taken over the years, padding out the two webcomics I created for online anthologies a million years ago. Also it has one aggravating typo my daughter spotted, but that was after I RARed it up and changed the extension to make it a .cbr, so, plus, as you know, I am old and not a well man. Also courtesy of Abhay, links to understanding .CBR files and CDisplay, a free and easy to use program to read .CBR and .CBZ comics in.

I hope it isn't too aggravating/disappointing/whatever. It's only 22 pages, so at least there's that. Thanks for checking it out, if you do...

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Monday, June 18, 2007

 
The Plain Janes Discussion -- I've been having an interesting discussion with Abhay Khosla on the Image message boards about the recently-released Plain Janes, drawn-but-not-written by Street Angel's Jim Rugg.

The discussion began when Abhay said he almost bought The Black Diamond Detective Agency by Eddie Campbell, but then went with Plain Janes instead. That prompted me to say:

Well, the Eddie Campbell isn't his best work, but Plain Janes is REALLY dull and Rugg's art seems especially toothless for the most part. I would have rather had more Street Angel myself. Hopefully he made a lot of money on it, anyway.

As message board posts are wont to do, that made me sound a good bit more dismissive than I meant to be, which Ivan Brandon called me on, especially disliking my use of the word "toothless" and conflating it with "hackwork," which you may or may not realize is not a phrase I tend to use much. My response to that:

I mean it lacks the vitality and spontaneity Rugg evinced in Street Angel. It seems managed, calculated, and not anywhere near as interesting as his earlier work. If someone is interested in Plain Janes based on the excellence of the cartooning in Street Angel, chances are they'll be a bit disappointed. It's good, professional illustration and that's about all it is. I didn't say it's hackwork -- that's not a word I generally throw around much, and I'm sure Jim fulfilled the assignment with as much passion and professionalism as he could. I just personally found a hell of a lot more passion and personality in Street Angel. YMMV.

Once Abhay has read the book, he feels myself and others who didn't enjoy the book very much may be judging it too harshly...But his thoughts aren't uniformly enthusiastic, either, and says "I hope [Rugg] does a 180 from this material in his next thing because... because again, it just doesn't play to how much fun he can bring to... to.. to movement...? It doesn't utilize everything he's capable of."

My final thought on Plain Janes and similar efforts to integrate artcomix creators into the world of corporate comics is summed up like this:

I always wonder if Marvel and DC are deliberate in their habit of hiring great artcomix creators (Rugg and Horrocks come immediately to mind) and then tasking them with jobs that don't reflect their obvious true gifts, but which keep them busy NOT exercising those talents for their own benefit, however much it might pay in the short run. Or, do the "Big Two" just take a cog for a cog and not even think about anything other than forwarding their own "mainstream" agendas...

There's lots more in the link to the discussion above, but I wanted to get my own thoughts on the book and on the issues it raises here on the blog.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

 
More on Toth and Krigstein -- The following letter is from a reader named Daniel, in response to my post The Ghost of Toth:

I have to respectfully disagree with your recent posting about Alex Toth and your comparison of him to Krigstein. I love Krigstein's work (I have both of the Fantagraphics books you reference), but Toth was, by a wide, wide margin, the single greatest and most innovative cartoonist the medium has yet produced. As a draftsman, a designer, and a storyteller, no one has yet surpassed him. He is the only cartoonist whose work has literally made my jaw drop when looking at it, and he
did it again and again and again.

Krigstein brought a complexity to the medium when it was in its (relative) infancy. Yet Toth's work was equally (if not more) complex. The difference was that he pared his work down to its barest essentials till it was as simple as it could be. It almost seems like an oxymoron, but the complexity of Toth's work was masked by its simplicity.

Based on everything that I've read, I think there is a dichotomy in the assessments of Toth's work between the views held by practicing artists (cartoonists, illustrators, designers, etc.) and the views held by the lay audience. The people who always praised Toth the loudest--in life and in death-- were other artists: Darwyn Cooke, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Chiarello, Steve Rude, Bruce Timm, Howard Chaykin, Ronnie Del Carmen, Paul Grist, etc. As a practicing illustrator and graphic designer
myself, I think it takes someone who is a practitioner of the arts to understand just how unbelievably hard it is to do what Toth did, especially since he made it look so easy.

In some of Krigstein's best stories ("Master Race" comes to mind first) it looked as if he was showing off on the page, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. It was as if he was raising a flag for everyone to see and take notice of exactly what the medium was capable of producing. You can almost see the blood, sweat, and the tears on the page. Toth, on the other hand, made his work look effortless. He never
showed off. There was no flamboyance in his work. He used the bare minimum number of lines, panels, shapes, and images. He was like the master craftsmen who made Shaker furniture: the work is perfect at first glance as well as at 100th glance.

Anyway, as I've written before, I love your site and enjoy visiting it.


I stand by my opinion that no artist has done more to (to coin a phrase) push comic art forward than Krigstein, but if Toth is behind him, it's by the narrowest of degrees, and as I noted in my earlier post, a lot of the perception involved is down to the circumstances of the availability Toth's work -- I'd gladly pay just about any price for a book on Toth that is as comprehensive and well-produced as B. Krigstein Vol. 1.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

 
The Ghost of Toth -- At Warren Ellis's message board The Engine, there's a very good discussion about the legacy of Alex Toth, both in terms of his influence on comic art, and what is and isn't available for modern readers.

When I think of Alex Toth's art, three stories come immediately to mind -- Bravo for Adventure, which was a superbly drawn backup series in one of the 1980s Warren black and White magazines, perhaps The Rook or 1984; the Superman/Batman team-up Toth pencilled and Terry Austin inked that appeared in a DC annual somewhere around 1983; and an aviation-based war story that appeared in an EC Comics titled edited by Harvey Kurtzman, either Two Fisted Tales or Frontline Combat.

My memories of Toth's art coincide with the thread at The Engine because, as you may have noticed, I can't remember exactly what title and issue number any of those stories appeared in. Contrast that to another masterwork discussed in the thread, Bernard Krigstein's "Master Race," which I know appeared in Impact #1; or Lee and Kirby's "This Man, This Monster," which I immeditely remember was published in Fantastic Four #51. Or "Ice Haven," which was featured in Eightball #21.

Those latter three stories are all great examples of the very best of what has been accomplished in comics, and information about them is seared in my brain. Yet, where some of Toth's best work appeared somehow has not been so specifically imprinted on my brain. Why is that?

As noted in the thread, he did a lot of stuff for a lot of publishers, but it's hard to pin down anything you'd call a landmark run (perhaps his Eclipso, which is invoked in the thread, but I think I've maybe seen one of those stories, in an old reprint somewhere, and no real impression remains).

Digression: I just remembered another fantastic example of Toth's artistry: A Black Mask story that was a backup feature in an Archie superhero title in the 1980s; The Fly? How many of those did he draw? 2? 3? End of digression...

So Toth's influence was pretty wide -- as mentioned in the thread, we'd hardly have Steve Rude without him, and countless other very good artists have learned volumes by studying the way Toth used black ink and negative space -- but it seems unlikely any publisher would be able to put together a truly representative volume of the very best of the man's art. Too many copyrights, too many publishers, too many stories, not enough landmark moments or key runs.

I don't agree with the poster in The Engine thread that claims Toth was more of an innovator than Krigstein; I don't think the next ten guys in line thought as much about what could be done in comic art or accomplished as much, with as many obstacles in his way, as Krigstein did. And luckily Fantagraphics has two enormous and vital books dedicated to Krigstein's achievements, B. Krigstein and B. Krigstein Comics, which are mandatory reading for anyone who wants to enter a discussion of the peaks comic art has reached, and the potential yet untapped.

But Toth was a master artist, there's no doubt about that. If I were writing it today, certainly I would include him in my essay Ten Great Comics Artists, but perhaps it's this diffusion of Toth's impact over time that led me to neglect to include him.

It's telling, though, how many of the artists on that list demonstrate at least some, and in one case very powerful, influence by Toth's artistry.

I'd love to own the thousands of scanned pages Steven Grant talks about in that Engine thread; maybe someday, it will be legal and possible for such a project to happen, whether on a CD ROM, or more preferably in print, where Toth belongs.

In any case, at least people are talking about him again.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

 
Jaxon Dead at 65 -- I was sorry to read at The Engine the news that Jack "Jaxon" Jackson has died. He was a true pioneer of the graphic novel form, and I hope that his passing results in more of his work coming back into print for readers to see just how gifted a storyteller and historian he was.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

 
Alex Toth -- As you may know by now, Alex Toth has died.



The image above represents not only one of my very favourite images of superheroes created in my lifetime, but one of the key images of my childhood. But back then it looked like this:



Either way it's a wonderful piece of art, but I do prefer to see the top version, with its unaltered Superman (I guess having him look more like an Alex Toth cartoon than the Curt Swan model that was standard at the time was considered too much of a change by the editors back then).

I just want to say thank you to one of the artists who made my childhood a joy, and who, in my adult years, I have come to realize is as vital and important a part of comics history as Jack Kirby, Bernard Krigstein, Gil Kane or Robert Crumb.

My deepest condolences to Alex Toth's family and friends.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

 
Not that great, but it was already in the Comic Book Galaxy images directory: Adi Granov's cover to Iron Man Vol. 4 #1Covering Iron Man -- Tom Spurgeon highlights a classic Gil Kane image as a springboard to discussing how Iron Man has had a lot of bad covers over the years; I thought I would separate the wheat from the chaff (or the Iron from the Man?), and look at some of the few great* Iron Man covers from throughout the character's history (click the issue numbers to see the covers):

Iron Man #1 -- Of course, if you can't get a striking cover for the first issue of your own ongoing title, you know you have a problem. Actually, as eye-catching as this one is, that's more to the (overwrought) sense of drama artist Gene Colan gave to the character; the first-issue ribbon/banner (it looks slapped-on, har-har!) does nothing for the design, and the tiny background elements would distract from the overall design if not for the colour choices made to make Iron Man himself pop out. So, while the cover achieves the goal of likely luring the eyes of potential readers scanning racks full of comics, it's more down to the primary element of Iron Man himself and the way the colours play down everything else in the image. Hmm, Spurgeon may be on to something.

Iron Man #47 -- It only took 47 issues to give us a virtual repeat of the cover to #1, but at least here Gil Kane delivers a body shot that has power and grace without the melodrama inherent in Gene Colan's cover for #1. Vince Colletta's intention-destroying, time-saving, fine-line inking actually looks okay on the primary cover element (Iron Man), and this is about as iconic a depiction of my favourite Iron Man costume as you're likely to find.

Iron Man #54 -- This cover just looks great, no caveats at all. The poses are dramatic and fluid, the jagged lines of the bursts of water reflect the rage of Namor, and the backgroud perspective works perfectly to enhance the excitement of the image. A great example of why I think Gil Kane is one of the best artists ever to work in comics.

Iron Man #80 -- I've always been a sucker for this image, probably my favourite Iron Man cover of all time. Sure, the perspective is wonky (if not downright awkward -- why do we see the bottom of Iron Man's ill-advised 1970s-style "nose" in the way that we do, as his body angles downward and away from us? Why are his arms posed like that?); despite everything, though, the figure, the spectacular background images and the colouring all work to present a virtually 3-D portrait of the Armoured Avenger that is powerful and suggestive of a thrilling adventure that was almost certainly not found within the actual pages of the comic that it was wrapped around.

Iron Man #118 -- The Layton era had some of the series' best and worst covers. This one was one of the best, in terms of accurately reflecting the comic's innards and providing an arresting visual image that stood out on the stands.

Iron Man #128 -- Probably the best-remembered and most evocative cover in the history of the series. This one is so convincing in its seediness -- can't you just smell what a wreck Tony Stark has become? -- that it's almost a wonder this EC-like depiction of addiction got by the Comics Code. That it did is probably due to the clear message the creators thought they were sending -- that alcoholism is a devastating disease that destroys the lives of those who have it and those who love those who have it. Unfortunately, if memory serves, the simple-minded actual message was that alcoholism can be overcome in less than 30 pages if you have a hot girlfriend, clenched fists and a fashionable sports car. The End.

Iron Man #142 -- Another outer space scene (see issue #80, above), nicely contrasting the shiny precision of the armor (a new variation, another interesting element) against the blackness of space (much less dynamic a place than in Kirby's #80 cover, and yet it seems to make Iron Man stand out oven more if he is not competing with galaxies a-borning). The boot-jets are meant to add a sense of motion, but actually detract of the power of the figure work.

Iron Man #243 -- As you might guess from the huge gap between this entry and the previous one, the title entered a long, dry spell of really bad covers; this one actually isn't much better than average for the time, but the design element of the newspaper makes it stand out from a large crowd of lousy covers, and extra points to whoever decided to provide actual text for the newspaper rather than the more-standard gibberish or straight lines. The art on the inside is worth noting for having Barry Windsor-Smith's inks over Layton's pencils; it's clear from the art that BWS more than likely extensively revised Layton's work in some places, making for a much better than usual issue as far as the art goes. The script, if memory serves, was the usual overripe melodrama that weighted down the character long after the brief, now terribly dated-seeming heyday of the original Michelinie/Layton run.

Iron Man #256 -- What is it with me and these outer-space shots? I just think this one grabs the eye quite well, and the repulser rays and boot smoke actually work this time around. The most striking thing about this image, I think, is the well-placed use of shadow to suggest power and drama.

Iron Man Vol. 3 #1 -- Sorry, Heroes Reborn fans, but unsurprisingly Vol. 2 of the title turned out no covers worth noting (the current Vol. 4 has likewise failed to grab the eye with its samey-samey designs and washed out colours). But this energetic image suggests the character in full motion, charging into an exciting new era. As it turned out, the Busiek/Chen era was mainly highlighted by very good artwork (Chen was born to draw Iron Man). But it's worth noting that Busiek's handling of the character is probably the best extended run he's ever had storywise, consistent and informed by an obvious love of the character and his setting.

I didn't start out intending to make this my Ten Favourite Iron Man covers, but as it turns out, ten good covers is about all the character can claim since its inception. As I said, it's pretty clear Spurgeon is on to something...

###


UPDATE: Johnny Bacardi threatens to turn Covering Iron Man into a meme, but luckily he's a canny enough observer that his choices are worth checking out. Especially noteworthy are this genuine classic by Johnny Craig and this lovely offering by Barry Windsor-Smith (marred, I think, by the garish purple background; imagine the effect if Iron Man was presented in front of a background of (you'll pardon the pun) stark white, a la this classic Frank Miller Daredevil cover.

* Grabs the eye, stands out on the racks, exceptional depiction of the character or story, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah, your mileage may vary, member FDIC.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

 
Chaykin on New Avengers -- As a fan of Howard Chaykin's art from almost the very beginnings of his career, I have to say that the Chaykin art from New Avengers #21 (at Newsarama) looks like some of the best work he's done in years.

City of Tomorrow intrigued me until I read the first issue, Mighty Love didn't hold my attention even that long, I just can't get interested in Hawkgirl, but: Chaykin drawing an angry Captain America for a complete issue? Looks great.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

 
AK Talks Comic Art -- You remember AK, right? The auteur whose "Title Bout" at Movie Poop Shoot was the Greatest Comics Column Around when it was around?

Here he is looking at some current comic art. The NYC Mech board is a good place to see what AK is thinking about; along with Chris Allen, Chris Butcher, Tom Spurgeon, Jog and Rob Vollmar, AK's way of looking at comics is always compelling reading.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

 
Butcher on Comic Art and Cultural Divides and Hope for the Future -- God damn, Chris Butcher is on fire again. Great essay from one of the finest minds thinking about comics in my lifetime.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2003

 
The Comics Journal Library: Frank Miller -- I've discussed before how formative an experience it was reading Frank Miller's work as a teenager; he was rising to stardom on Daredevil around the same time I was discovering the greater world of the comics artform beyond the narrow parameters of Marvel and DC. Even within those parameters, Miller managed to bring a singular new sensibility to his comics work, and I maintain that his Daredevil work with Klaus Janson, David Mazzucchelli and others is among the best superhero comics ever created.

The latest in the Comics Journal Library series focuses on Miller, with all his various TCJ interviews re-presented, a new interview, a career overview, and top-notch design throughout.

What comes through primarily is Miller's fascination, love and loathing for New York City -- which in retrospect is what his Daredevil run was all about. No surprise, then, that the attacks of September 11th, 2001 had such an impact on his work -- resulting in the fractured, divisive DK2. Miller discusses that work at length with Gary Groth, and that alone is worth the cost of the book. I still think DK2 was a massive failure on just about every level, but I have more sympathy for Miller's intent after reading his thoughts, and I hope that his struggle to deal with September 11th someday manages to coalesce into a work more worthy of the subject, and worthy of Miller himself.

He's a great talent, and one of the biggest influences on how I think about comics. He's not without flaws, but you'll find in some of the earlier interviews that he was positively prescient about the current state of the American comics industry, and I think this book is something every comics reader should study carefully. It's one of the most important pieces of comics journalism to be released this year.

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Saturday, August 17, 2002

 
The Quality to Crap Ratio -- A regular visitor to the Comic Book Galaxy message board said:

"Top Shelf [is] a publisher whose standards are leaps and bounds above most other companies out there."

That got me to thinking about the ratio of quality to crap, and it reminded me that just because you're in the top ten or top 50 or top 100 sales chart every month doesn't mean you're any damned good at all. Hey, I remember when Wham! had a shitload of top ten hits -- every one of them shit.

Top Shelf, Absence of Ink, Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics are the true "Big Four" of quality comics. They don't put out as many books as, say, DCMarvelImageDarkHorse, but look at the quality to crap ratio. For every 100 books from Top Shelf, Absence of Ink, Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics, how many will be entertaining, thought-provoking and move the artform forward rather than back? Now, how many out of 100 from DCMarvelImageDarkHorse will be able to say the same? How many of those, in fact, will be any goddamned good at all? How many of them will even be readable?

We live in a time when some of the best comics ever published are coming out at a blinding rate. Anyone who can't see that is being distracted by the flurry of shit regularly dumped on the market to deceive you into thinking comics are only about superheroes and cape fetishizing and zombie meat and lining the pockets of self-deluded business executives living out their bizarre and perverse childhood fantasies and calling women sluts.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2002

 
Entry 0027 -- Just finished reading the David Mazzucchelli-drawn City of Glass graphic novel -- a story about stories, much in the mode of Burroughs's Naked Lunch -- only I enjoyed City of Glass. Other than Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again, Mazzucchelli seems off the radar of most comics readers; you ought to do everything you can to rectify that mistake. His work is narrow and hard to master, to quote Jim Morrison, and it's also goddamned hard to find, but City of Glass and Rubber Blanket #1-3 are all brilliant, experimental masterpieces of the comics artform, and your appreciation of what comics can be will be considerably widened if you expose yourself to more of his stories.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2002

 
Entry 0017 -- Things That Make No Sense At All: When you put comics on the Internet to be read, people are all reading it on a landscape-oriented, horizontal screen. So why would you put vertically-oriented pages up that have to be scrolled through and constantly remind your reader that they're on a computer, experiencing a poorly-designed web page?

I'm not saying that my web comic is any goddamned good at all -- I'm pretty sure it isn't, actually -- but the design is what works. The panels fit on the the screen. There are other, more complex examples of how to do comics on the web at Scott McCloud's web site, but for the code-challenged (me very much included), one horizontal panel that you click to go to the next panel is really the easiest, most reader-friendly way to go.

In my opinion.

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Monday, June 17, 2002

 
Entry 0014 -- Inking is a fairly disrespected art, mainly because it inherently corrupts the primary artist's creative intention. When the factory system of assembling comic book pages was developed, though, it became a necessary evil.

Some pencillers, notably Jack Kirby (and including the Galaxy's own Jason Marcy) prefer to have someone else ink their pencils, often to better effect. Many great artists are obviously great inkers as well -- Mike Mignola and Mike Avon Oeming spring to mind -- but being a great inker of yourself is not what I'm talking about here.

Some inkers have a destructive or otherwise distasteful effect on every penciller they touch. Vince Colletta, known for actually erasing Kirby's pencils to save himself time and energy, is certainly one of the worst inkers in the history of comics, although many actually like his inks on Kirby's Thor.

A few, like Terry Austin and Klaus Janson, bring a true artist's sensibility to their work. I don't think I've ever seen any work inked by Janson that wasn't better for his involvement. Compare, for example, the Janson-inked DK1 to the Jansonless DK2. I doubt any but the most rabid Frank Miller apologists would fail to concede that the current series would be better if Klaus was involved.

I personally am fascinated by good inking. There's not been a lot of it in the history of mainstream comics -- probably fewer than 20 people are worthy of note -- but the ones that are good are really good, and always make the artwork fascinating to study.

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Saturday, February 02, 2002

 
Remembering Gil Kane -- Gil Kane was probably one of the first comic book artists whose style I recognized as unique when I was a kid.

He died in Florida January 31st, 2000 at the age of 74.

His amazingly fluid, dynamic figure work stood out brilliantly from other artists of the 70s, when I began reading comics. Later, of course, Curt Swan would be readily recognized as being different from, say, Ross Andru--but Kane's style was so singular, so--visionary--that it's hard to imagine a comics reader of any age wouldn't be able to pick up on him pretty quickly.

Kane's work on Spider-Man and Daredevil for Marvel Comics was what first caught my attention. His depictions of these characters was perfect--not a line was wasted. That was true of most of Kane's work.

Later I sought out his earlier work, the work I was born too late to buy off the racks. Green Lantern, the Atom, the extraordinary His Name Is Savage--Kane always had it, it seemed, that ability to illustrate the human form at a state of perfection. And then to cast those perfect superbeings into the chaos of violence.

Unlike many of the greatest artists of the artform, a company in which Kane certainly belongs, he was recognized as a master. I don't know if he received the financial reward his work deserved (probably not, I'd guess; few comics artists born before the mid-60s ever got what they deserved from the companies that profited off them)--but he received many accolades over the years, and one hopes he knew how much his work was loved.

A great recent example of that is the story Alan Moore wrote for him that was published as Judgment Day: Aftermath by Awesome Comics. Moore created a story that celebrated Kane's imagination and skill, and best of all we got to see the story drawn by Kane himself. If you haven't read this issue, seek it out; it's a treat for the eyes and Moore's ending is touching.

It's ironic that Rob Liefeld's Awesome published that story, because I've often said I'd give my left arm if I could draw like Kane. I've also said I'd gladly give both arms to not be able to "draw" like Liefeld. It seems even a lucky, talentless oddity like Liefeld recognized what a great comics artist Kane was.

Kane's talent was best served when he inked himself, as he usually did in the latter part of his career. I still remember the crushing disappointment I felt after discovering Danny Bulanadi had been hired to embellish Kane on Marvel's Micronauts series. I never much cared for the stories in that comic, but the artwork was nothing short of amazing when the title was introduced with penciler Michael Golden. When Kane took over, I was thrilled at the news, but Bulanadi's heavy-handed inking was wholly inappropriate to the task at hand, and Kane reportedly preferred his own inking in most cases anyway.

It's been reported Kane completed a two-part Atom/Green Lantern story for Legends of the DC Universe, set to be released beginning this March. That is very good news indeed. It's good, because Kane's work will once again be in the spotlight on two of the characters he helped define, and good because perhaps it will lead to greater awareness of Kane's importance in the artform of comics.

DC has announced it will be sponsoring a memorial to Kane, and that is very nice. I think an even nicer memorial would be for Marvel and DC to get more of his work into print for today's readers to pore over and enjoy. What form might that sort of tribute take?

For starters, Kane was Marvel's main cover illustrator for quite a stretch in the 1970s. A hardcover collection of the best of those covers would look great on any collector's bookshelf, and if any penciled versions of those covers could be included for comparison, the book would truly be a valuable historical document of the artform.

Kane did some wonderful, Pre-Crisis Superman work, which could be collected in a hardcover with perhaps some of the production sketches he did for the 1980s Superman cartoon. That would be too cool.

I expect we'll also be hearing in the coming weeks from some of the great artists who were inspired by Kane, including John Byrne and George Perez, just to name two--maybe a tribute comic could be put together by these and the other artists Kane inspired with the proceeds used to provide a scholarship or grant in Kane's name.

There is a generally recognized elite of comics artists of the 20th Century: Kirby, Kurtzman, and Kane are now gone, but their work lives on. Let's hope the major comics companies find a way to get it into the hands of a new generation of readers, and rightfully provide some benefits to the families these masters left behind.

It's the least they, and we, can do.

Originally written for Comic Book Galaxy prior to the launch of the ADD Blog.

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