Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Bill Mantlo Experience

David Yurkovich is a big Mantlo fan, and, good for him, he's putting together a tribute book to benefit Bill, who suffered permanent brain damage after his rollerblading accident years ago. It took me about 5 seconds to decide to donate and that only because my browser was moving slowly that day.


Bill made The Micronauts and Rom:SpaceKnight a guilty pleasure for a whole generation of kids and wrote a lot of fun comics and he certainly deserves this. Every little bit helps, and I hope that when this is printed that it will give him some pleasure to see that his writing is remembered.

Go and donate and you'll get a copy of the book with some interviews, some new prose and a new story that David adapted.

The Editor Gets the Last Laugh

Comic Treadmill has a good post, one that goes a step beyond my lament last month about the changing Marvel Universe. They actually try to make a good stab at why Quesada and the others at Marvel have so thoroughly ripped up the status quo that has been in place since Stan and Jack and Steve put it there.

I've written before of my distaste for the current editorial attitude toward readership, which consists of flipping the figurative bird at anyone who doesn't like what is going on by dismissing him or her as an old fogy and proclaiming that Marvel Comics are for the hip younger crowd. To emphasize that Marvel is only for the new, cool kids, current Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada is going to great lengths to soil the appeal of the older generation of characters. The strategy? Today's Marvel heroes are unlikable but tres cool and that's what matters. Or so the thinking goes anyway.

I get it, or rather I'm not supposed to entirely get it, since I'm no longer young and hip, which is ok, but I'm not sure this isn't a scorched earth policy for the characters... er, the properties.

Here is the reality: I'm not sure that what is going to be left over is going to be anything that we're going to want to read. If there has been any constant through the FF over the years, it has been that we will want to know Reed and Sue and Ben and Johnny (hell, I still want Johnny end up with Crystal). I no longer want to know Reed, he isn't a character I know, recall or like. Iron Man was one of my two favorite heroes of all time, and I'm really sure that when Civil War is over that I'm NOT going to want, know or like Tony Stark.

Where does Quesada think that this is going to leave the properties? Somewhere that they can make more million dollar pictures off of? Spider Man is just about done. I'm willing to be that the 2008 Iron Man movie is going to be a lot closer to the Iron Man that I remember, than the one that we'll end up with in Civil War. If they had just made the FF as the Incredibles we'd have another billion dollar franchise to watch. No one is going to make this FF into even a fan film.

How can this be a good idea?

The Last Temptation of Mark Millar

Tamora Pierce has written a fairly scathing critique of Sue Storm from Civil War #4 that, lets be honest, is:

a) right on the money, and
b) no different than a ton of others that have been written out there in cyberspace.

Tamora has has been murdered, absolutely murdered, by people on the internet over this. She's even issued an apology over this, for no good reason than I can assume than she see's the lack of work looming over her from Marvel.

Sad, sad, sad. Since when is calling a spade a spade unprofessional? When it interferes with work politics. And with Marvel's biggest product.

Personally, I've never met Mark Millar, and I've actually liked a ton of his writing over the years. I've loaned my Ultimates trades out to a number of people. I have no vendetta against him at all. Mark will probably never want to work with me after I say that Tamora is absolutely correct in her remarks.

Yes, I know how the system works, how you can never savage someone doing bad work as you might be there sitting next to them in a con trying to make nice and sell your next product, but I also think that this system lets a lot of really shitty comics get created and sent down the pike to us, the readers. And it shouldn't have to happen this way.

I never got into comics to make shitty comics. And, oddly enough, neither did almost anyone I ever met in all my years in the industry. So why so much bad work?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Wally Wood & Jack Cole: A Few Thoughts...

In the discussion of comic's greatest artists, and its a short list really, the usual names crop up: Kirby, Eisner, Raymond, Foster, Miller et al. But when we start to look at the completeness that makes one not just a comic artist, but an all around great illustrator, I think that we move on to two names: Cole and Wood. Jack Cole, who is well served by the Chip Kidd designed book, Plastic Man: Form Strectched to its limits, is shown to have conquered not just the four-color comic book in the superhero form, but also the humor and crime genres, and then moved on to his exquisite single panel humor watercolors for Playboy, something that I cannot begin to imagine Jack Kirby or Alex Raymond doing. Cole was the complete package as an artist.

I don't think that Cole was as good as Woody.

This all comes up because I picked up the book Wally's World by Steve Starger and J. David Spurlock the other day, and got the chance to refresh my appreciation for the breadth of Wally's talent. Superheroes, iconic American humor in his parodies for Mad, premiere science fiction artist for EC, elegant horror, spy stuff in Cannon, porn in Sally Forth, and paintings, whether for advertising (as in an award winning Alka Seltzer ad) or with an eye, I believe, towards the paperback book cover market, in a gorgeous painted western scene. Woody, for all his personal demons, was the real deal.

I'm looking forward to getting deeper into the book, with all the associated sadness of knowing how the story ends. This comic business has drawn its share of troubled, tortured talented souls to it, and Cole and Woody perhaps remain the undisputed kings in both arenas.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

In Review of: Desolation Jones by Ellis and Williams

sorry to have been away for a bit. Was down in LA having a confab with my friend and writer, lis Fies aka Kid Sis in Hollywood, about Pistoleras and taking the kids to Disneyland. I should probably put together a whole blog entry on California Adventure Theme Park.

Founda few things to read however. Desolation Jones, a one off project by Warren Ellis and JH Williams the 3 fresh off his work for Promethea. A curious noir project that i picked up on the stands occassionally but never bought, I grabbed the trade a week or two ago and read it.

And didn't blog the review, because I wasn't sure what I thought of it entirely. Went back to it, read parts of it again, looked over the artwork. Had a sontinuing flirtation with saying something about it. Think that I've finally got it a bit down.

initially picked it up as I love William the 3's artwork. i have a Promethea double page splash on the wall behind me as I type this. Found myself warming to Ellis's characters on the way to the conclusion. Philip Marlowe, er, Jones is drawn into a family squabble that involves beatings, LA porn, shady doctors, ex-agents and 3 sisters of an old bastard of a man. We've seen this before, but Ellis makes it work, which is a huge trick honestly. We've seen this plot so many times, but there is nothing like the oldies but goodies, especially when it's played straight and done well.

William the 3's artwork is graphically inventive, and for all the intense illustrative conventions that he worked over in Alan Moore's service on Promethea, i somehow feel that he's having more fun here than in the other book. There is just a feel of someone with some serious chops being let loose. When he doesn't have to go over the top he doesn't, as in the beautifully understated three panels that I've scanned here. I appreciate that.

I realized that I had a hard time getting a handle on the series, as, in a six issue collection, I somehow thought that first 2 were very different than the last 4. Not sure why, but the depiction of Jones in those first two was almost Williams the 3 finding his feet, and then settling in for a good run on the later issues. Somewhere towards the end of 3 everything clicks and you're go to the end of the run.

Reading reminds me of working on The Grackle with Mike Baron and Paul Gulacy; we knew that we had a stand alone story, but if the damn thing sold than more were to come. the ex-cop (or spy), the odd collection of friends/hanger ons/accomplices, the political intrigue, the familial battles. good stuff. I still find people at conventions who loved the Grackle. It's one of the things that I'm most proud of having worked on. I wish that we had done more.

Push comes to shove, I really like this work, and I wasn't sure that I was going to. but it's forced me to go back and really get more out of it. Sure, I'm a sucker for this stuff, but there's more here than I first thought. And once the creators found their feet, I wish there was more coming, when I know there isn't.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

the Best Damn Batman Cover Ever.

Oh yes. Full of scary foreboding Darknight Detective goodness. Coutesy of Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Bob's pulp collection.

How should i post on my dislike for Bob Kane and what he did to Bill Finger? The Batman should have a "Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane" on every splash page, and somehow the millions of dollars that weren't paid to Bill should be used to fund attorney for all the others who have their one shining moment of creation stolen by a lousy work-for-hire contract.

Again, Not the Best Batman Cover Ever...

... but sooooo damn close. Courtesy of Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin.

Not the Best Batman Cover Ever...

...but damn close. Coutesy of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Sound of Her Wings

These are the things that I remember.

We use art, as a people or as an individual, to speak a collective language, to be moved by a common visual or a remembered turn of phrase. Moreover, we use that bit, the memory of the Mona Lisa's smile, the oft-spoken shakespeare line, so often that it becomes a cultural meme, embodying far more than it originally had. Can we help it that those of us who read comics find ourselves drawn to these stories, and we can call up the covers or individual panels that moved us with tremendous clarity.

A good friend of mine died tonight. I return from sitting shiva by his body in the hospital, and I'm responding by dealing with it the way that I choose to: listening to a slow blues by Led Zeppelin, and hearing bits of dialogue from Neil Gaiman's Death in my head.

"Is that all I get?"

"You get what everybody gets. A lifetime."

Steve never read Sandman, he believed that Pop culture pretty much stopped at 1956. But whan I arrived, there was no question that She had been there, and that the part of him that leaves with Her had already gone.

These are the things that I remember.

Friday, October 13, 2006

In Memory of: Zipatone

JG Jones used to say that he hated the look of the stuff, Dave Sim probably used more of it during his run on Cerebus than any one individual in the entire world, I particularly loved the look of the stuff from the early 70's when inkers would us it to add texture or a special effect to a panel. Terry Austin was great for using it on clothing so that not every person had the same damn suit on in the comics.

RIP Zipatone. RIP Letraset.

In the same way that the early '90's look dated by the early computer color, there is no question that certain inkers overused the stuff to create a quentissential "look" to their work in the '70's and '80's. But, what the hell. Zip was a tool, and like any tool you can overuse it or use it to great effect.

This all came to a head, of course, on the Pistoleras project. Working Manga size, I found myself jealous that much of the manga work that I've been looking at uses the venerable Zip, and I realized that I still love that look. Its fun. Looks like comics to me, not comics trying to be painted. Maybe Zipatone sent all their trademarks overseas and you can still find the stuff in Japan. Who knows. I do know that Akira wouldn't have looked the same without zipatone.

I'll end up mimicing the stuff on computer, but it's not the same as being able to actually touch and cut and scrape the stuff like you used to. Tactility is control more often than not, and I miss that in the computer age, even while loving so much other stuff that I now do in Illustrator and Photoshope that would have been impossible just 10 years ago.

RIP Zipatone. You'll be missed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In Praise of: MiracleMan #15 by Moore & Totleben

Among the great debates over the last 20 years has been over Alan Moore's signature work: which would be annointed the most moving, most innovative, most influential? Saga of the Swamp Thing, Watchmen, Lost girls, From Hell, 1963, Promethea? just typing those names all in the same line puts Moore in a different space from literally every comic writer ever. A Frank Miller might have two pieces to put on the same level, but I can't think of many other names that might even stay in the same room as the works from that prior sentence.

My catagory tonight: most disturbing, most cathartic, most brutal. Miracleman, which has sadly been moved into the purple realm of gossip due, to non-reprinting and rights issues. The issues, read straight through are uneven in art, which is jarring, as Alan's writing is consistantly innovative and powerful. And by the time john totleben takes over the last chapter, we just know that it will all end in someone's tears, but we never, not for a minute, believe that it will culminate in the most horrific comic ever committed to paper.

"Nemesis" gives us all that we thought we would never see: the true horrible savage tale of what a true superhero battle between supermen would be like: one the noble hero of folklore, the other the bizarro reflection, "hating life, shitting skulls." They destroy half of London and more humans than we can possibly ever begin to dream of, and yet John draws it all, never panning away from the butality of the conflict.

The modern mythology of Moore and Warrior magazine, much to Dez Skinn's eventual chagrin, is pulled together with the Miracle family, Warpsmiths and a Firestarter all together in the pitched combat. In the world of Supermen, Moore correctly concludes, we don't stand a chance. It must take a supreme degree of control to get to write a superman annual and not think that things must always end thusly. The uberman takes over, we are insects to them. Miracleman will always have his doubts, but he notes that there is no god to wish to, since he, alone, is god. In the final moments of the conflict, it is a warpsmith, with,
"...eyes gone somewhere cold, somewhere beyond the pain, faced death like some albino samurai and insolently stared it down for just one vital instant longer."
who saves us by taking care of Kid Miracleman. A creature not of, never having seen, this earth who takes the last final step to win.

It's cost is something that once read, those of us who live a vital life of 4 color fun and escapism never can quite retreat from. Those moments of believing that if our fantasies were to take life and breath of this warm, real planet, that they would unerringly end up on the path to this one horrible place.

My catagory tonight: most disturbing, most cathartic, most brutal.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What do we do when the Universe leaves us behind?

Paged through civil War again at the shop. i refuse to actually spend money on it. and I was struck by how sad I am to see the Marvel Universe so altered into something so completely unrecognizeable. characters acting so far out of character that they cease to have any relevance to me as a long time reader.

Its sad, really. now I know what all those long time silver age fans who adored Green lantern felt when the writers made it necessary to make Hal Jordan go nuts. Makes you just want to walk away and not look back.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

In Praise of: Captain Marvel #30 by Starlin & Milgrom

Captain Marvel #30 may not be the issue that most people remember from Starlin's amazing run on this book, the most discussed is most likely #29, where Jim decided to put the good Captain's life on the earliest of all Ret-Cons: he wasn't just a kree soldier that changed sides by going native, he was born to have the chance to become the universal protector. Did I mention that part before? Nope, don't think that I did.

Doesn't matter, for here is the chance to see Marvel kick some ass on a Ret-coned Controller, suddenly massive and powerful. This is Basil Sandhurst as we've never seen him. And the new first battle for the new cosmically aware universal protector.

Starlin is still juggling his sub-plots, Rick Jones' singing career, his girlfriend Lou Ann, while we're embroiled in the middle of the Thanos War. All this is akin to worrying about Wyatt Wingfoot's football career in the middle of the Galactus Trilogy from FF #48-50. Are you kidding me? This issue ends in a brutal fight that demolishes a fourstory building, Mar-Vell bleeding from his nose, having fought the Controller to a small standstill.

Starlin is at the height of his powers here, and Al Milgrom does a beautiful job on the inks. Milgrom's inks had a huge effect on me, and I've yet to run into him at a convention to tell him so. Perhaps one day I'll buy him a few drinks and we can talk shop if I ever get the chance. Starlin also colors the issue, and makes some fascinating decisions to add to the effect on the panels, decisions that I doubt that any outside colorist would make. More than once he pushes the fairly limited printing of 1973 by putting a filter color over the viewers eyes:

The effect is sublime, and adds an unearthly feel to the story.

Starlin only 4 more issues in him on this title before moving over to even more completely redo Warlock. But this is the run that pushed my young brain over the edge to see that there was far more that comics could go after than the latest villian of the week. Don't ever get me started on my proposal for a new version of Captain Marvel, or my plans to remake Jack of Hearts as a universal protector. Just don't.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

NCC 1701 and a Bird of Prey

We'll see if this scene shows up in the final version of the show. What show, you ask? Good question, not one that I can answer right now....

Monday, October 02, 2006

Absolute Sandman Volume 1

DC comics just announced another of the absolute books, this time volume #1 of the Sandman series. now, I have nothing against the "deluxe" treatement of classic series, in fact, I'm all for it. I'm the target audience really.

The question remains, however, of how many times we need the same material. I already have the original series issues, which I never look at because I have the trades, my favorite being The Doll's House, which is just a superb statement of a team of artists finding their voice, all at the same time. I'm starting to feel like the CD strategy is effecting comics. How many "remastered" discs do i need of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti? (Umm, plenty, actually) How many times can you continue to improve the Sandman series for me?

Well, apparently, the major bugaboo that i always had with the series, the coloring is finally being addressed. one need look no further than the "Mid Summer Nights Dream" vs issue #8 the classic "Sound of her Wings" to see the quality of the colors. For those who have never been lucky enough to see Mike Dringenberg's pencils, or the artwork with the late, great Malcolm Jones' inks, there is a delicacy in the work that I don't think was captured well at all by the scans of the time. Like Jimi Hendrix's original masters, the quality wasn't there in the original recordings, so remastering the same crap sounds really isn't the attraction that you might think it is. Having seen much of the original artwork, and been stunned by the quality on those pages, I sincerely pray the black plate is worth the new color work.

Which leads to the next question: why doesn't DC or marvel put the word out to try and get better scans of the originals that survive before the put together a deluxe edition? I was dismayed to see the Life of Captain Marvel trade had horrible 4th generation scans of pages that I own the originals of, and would have happily made beautiful stats for Marvel of those pages. I suspect that many others would dig into their collection and do the same given the chance.

Why did I choose this page to scan? I bought the original from Dringenberg long ago for a girlfriend at the time. It's been over 12 years since I've seen the page. I hope that she still has it.