Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Oh, the Staggering Beauty of the Half Price Trades

One of the best things about the San Diego Comic Con are the those booths dedicated to the greater distribution of reading material to a public starved for more material than they can devour while sitting in the San Deigo airport for over 6 hours while Southwest tries to get them on a plane home. Yes, I'm talking about a business plan that makes no sense from a retailer's perspective, selling graphic novels and trade paperbacks for about pretty much wholesale prices to a desperate public. There are some amazing finds to be found here. My good friend Todd Severin and I make a point of doing some damage here.

What sort of damage you ask? Well thanks, I'll tell you:
  • Trinity by Matt Wagner
  • Captain America - Winter Soldier
  • Essential Fantastic Four #5 (so now I have all the Kirby work in black and white in one spot)
  • Astonishing X-Men - Gifted
  • New Avengers: Secrets & Lies
  • Spider-Man - Blue
  • Dr. Strange - A Separate Reality
A whole bunch of cool stuff, some of which I've never read before and wanted to (Spider-Man - Blue and Astonishing X-Men - Gifted), or they were a good bookshelf/studio version of work that I really enjoy (Dr. Strange - A Separate Reality, the great Englehart/Brunner work).

Probably the best of them was Spider-Man - Blue, a Loeb/Sale creation that puts an interesting spin on the whole Gwen and Mary Jane story, retelling the story in a disjointed fashion and adding bits and pieces that really expand the old Lee/Romita/Ditko work. Its a better creation than the Daredevil - Yellow book that didn't really add as much to the back story as this one did. One small nitpick was the replacing Mary Jane's clothes in the classic "Face it Tiger, You hit the jackpot!" scene. Why Sale needed to re-do that is beyond me, it seems like a bizarre decision when you consider that that is the only scene that most people know by heart. If they replaced anything else (except her clothes in the final Green Goblin/Brooklyn Bridge scene, which has also been done a number of times) there is no way anyone would know. But, face it tiger, you made an interesting executive decision.

We also can note that, yet again, the reproduction on the Marvel '70's books is probably simple scans from original prints that never are able to reproduce the real great line quality that was a feature of that work. The "Crusty Bunkers" inks and Dick Giordano inks used a lot of thin crow quill lines, and the early '70's comics were the last to be produced on metal plates as opposed to the plastic plates that were in use on the X books by 1978. Those lines either drop out or thicken up, and neither is a great way to really preserve the wonderful work that Brunner did back then.

Reading the Essential Fantastic Fours, in order, is great way to see the Lee/Kirby dynamic, and exactly when Jack shut down the idea factory that was his entire frontal lobe. For my money, it is the ending of FF#87, the three issues with the Fantastic Four trapped in Latveria, where Doom lets them leave, and turns his back to the reader, saying "We shall live to fight -- another day." From FF#88 to #93, the Skrull slaver saga and the Mole Man house, the artwork holds up, but drawing aliens fighting in gangsterville is almost Jack having a vacation, and the Mole Man house is the real start of Jack on full-on autopilot. Sad but true. I'm sure he was working at home on those early pictures of Orion by now, if designing the entire city of New Genesis.

Musing from San Diego: Part 1

Call it a reclamation project, a fanciful getaway with tens of thousands of the most interesting geeks possible, or merely a work trip, this is the reality of the San Diego Comic Con. Four days of the most wear and tear that your feet and back can handle, along with all the associated eye strain of thousands of properties vying for your full attention.

(Has anyone ever done a study of the effects of wall after wall of comic book covers on the eyeball? Even for the jaded among us, it has the ability to actually make you want to shut down and stop having to process the visual information that you’re being bombarded with. Seriously.)

Lis Fies and I spent the better part of two days winding our way through the convention to present a number of editors with proposals for our graphic novel Pistoleras, which was my prime focus in going down this year. Considering that I’ve been on the other side of the table at shows like this, (Defiant editors seemed to believe that I could give decent critiques of inking samples without making the prospective comic artist decide that its down, not across, with the paring knife, so I recall spending most of the day at a Chicago Con doing just that) I truly appreciate that time and consideration that we received from Chris Staros, Charlie Kaufman, Dallas Midaugh and Larry Brown, along with a few others, regardless of whether or not they find the project, my artwork or Lis’ script to their liking. Thanks to all who took the time to meet with us.

I was quite happy to meet for a moment with Valerie D’Orazio, whose blog, Occasional Superheroine, I enjoy reading.

I also picked up the new Star Lord by Keith Giffen, Tim Green and Victor Olazaba, which was so much damn fun that I read it twice. It was so much damn fun that I used it as today's graphic as well. As i've mentioned before, I'm actually making a point to follow the Annihilation: Conquest series, for better or worse, siince I love this type of cosmic story. The new Quasar is pretty good, but this issue is great. Giffen, when he holds back just a little before he enters Ambush Bug territory is at his best, and this issue somehow reminds me of the those old Defenders he drew with Steve Gerber, back when Scorpio committed suicide. Tim Green and Victor Olazaba take the art into Moebius territory, which a classic place to go for this story, well aided by Nathan Fairbairn's great coloring. "The Dirty Dozen" indeed, says Quill. If they go into hell to save the Kree, then I'm going with them.

Much more on Comic Con, and reviews on Quasar, the Wraith, Nova and a ton of free comics to follow. Also more on the original art market as well. Stay tuned. Pithy Observations ahead.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Off to New York!

A quick note that there may not be any new content for a bit while I'm away in New York. I hope to write some right before San Diego, and then do some blogging from the Convention itself. Lis Fies and I will be pitching Pistoleras to a number of publishers there, so we'll see if there is any interest in our work so far.

I'm clearly inferior to Valerie D'Orazio, whose Occasional Superheroine blog is taking over the world, if not the San Diego Comic Con.

Everyone be good and I'll catch up on the comic news soon with you.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mantlo: A Life in Comics

There were a host of guilty pleasures to be found in the morass of 70's Marvel, and many of those were written by Bill Mantlo. Mantlo never has as distinctive a voice as Don McGregor, Chris Claremont, or Doug Moench, yet when he was settled down on a book, he invariably did a great job of reinventing or reinterpreting the material, filtering it through some great new ideas, and putting together a solid run. Without that distinctive voice, however, he was doomed to be the man out of place with the fans as well as editorial, an thus never got the acclaim that he should have. When I heard that Bill had suffered serious head trauma while rollerblading, I was sad at the opportunity to never meet him and talk to him about his great redefining run on Iron Man from #98-115. David Yurkovich, a big fan of Bill's work, had put together a website where he was taking donations to put to Bill's care, as well as to put together a publication dedicated to Bill Mantlo the man, as well as the comic book writer.

David has done a pretty good job with this, giving your average comics fan a lot of good reasons to reassess what they think of Bill and his writing. For all the memories that I had of his a good fill-in writer, I really had forgotten how many great runs on books that he had written, besides the Iron Man run: Micronauts, Marvel Team Up, Jack of Hearts Mini-series, Rom and the Hulk.

Knowing the idiot politics that exist int he comic book market, you could make a case for Bill as one of the best Marvel writers from that time that never got the killer artist, and thus never got the killer rep. People marvelled (ha-ha) about his turning ROM into a really fun, well written book. You could also make a case that it was that lack of a singular voice in his writing that prevented people from seeking out his stories. You may cringe at the repetition of cliches when you read over the X-Men by Claremeont/Byrne/Austin, but back then, it was new and different and Chris had such a distinctive style that you really were taken by the prose as well as the plot. Bill had the plot but not the prose.

My personal favorite: Mantlo's reworking of Iron Man, at a time when the book was the laughing stock of the Marvel universe. The impending supervillian "War" from the issues 70 and up turned in into a fill-in ridden, Arvell Jones debacle, one that the writers were making fun of while it was being published. Mantlo came, brought in a top notch storyline with Madame Masque, Jasper Sitwell, the Wraith, Sunfire and proceeded to use all these classic characters in novel ways. Midas, the big villian, finally came into his own just as the Jack of Hearts came in asking for help so that he could get better. This let into a great little sci-fi storyline with the Recorder and, I think, the Colonizers. Great stuff really.

As soon as I heard about the book, and David's work to help Bill, I sent a donation to their website. After all, how often do we run across things like this and we think, "I'll do something later." and then we never do. And its not the $20, but a function of time, memory and laziness. So many of these artists that made our childhood fantasies come alive haven't had the best of circumstances later on in life. Bill's accident is a great reminder to put on your damn helmet
when cycling or rollerblading. He had already carved out a life that he liked after comics, and he'll never have the opportunity to continue that.

Thanks David. If you're in San Diego, look me up and I'll buy you a beer. The rest of you, check out the site and consider helping Bill.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Spoilers: Nova #4 - Annihilation:Conquest

"Why are you staring at me like that?"

Because, that costume just doesn't work on a woman's body, kree or human, that's why.


Welcome to Nova #4, the Annihilation:Conquest tie-in.

Friday, July 06, 2007

In Review Of: Locas by Jamie Hernandez

Where to begin? Its a good question. Lets put this up front right now: There are really only three candidates for the true graphic novel crown, Dave Sim's Cerebus, Jamie Hernandez's Locas and Beto Hernandez's Palomar. These are the greats long form graphic novels that have been done to date, and, on the personal side, it has been Jamie's work that has the most effect on me. So much so that the younger me wrote in and had a letter published in L&R #19 or so back in the day.

Having the Locas hardcover on the bookshelf is a joy since I hate having the originals get messed up and fall all over themselves. I also was less than a huge fan of some of the other material that would fill out the magazine, Errata Stigmata and Rocky to name two, and this hardcover boils it all down to the essence: the life and times of maggie chascarillo and hopey glass.

As two fictional characters go, they are about as filled out as almost any other fictional characters that I can think of. I found myself going through school and relationships and the bumps and pains of growing up less than enamored of being normal at the same time that I watch Maggie and Hopey winding their way from the grafitti scrawled walls of Hoppers to the flat open nothingness of Texas and all points in between.

Jamie's journey as an artist has a huge learning curve in the beginning, and then settles into a deceptively simple, but nearly impossible to imitate, lean style of storytelling. Economical is one word for it, but that implys that he has pared down everything in its essence and would not encompass some of the fun digressions, visual or otherwise, that he takes in places. This hardcover encompasses 15 years of material, a story that, in real time, took me from being a 15 year old comic geek in high school to being engaged to my now wife and being a professional artist in comics (and still a geek as my wife is quick to point out). I feel that a hunk of my life is there, square bound, just waiting to be revisited when ever I crack the tome open.

The emotional high point for me, when it is all read through again, and I hadn't sat down and read the originals in a while, is the story, "The Death of Speedy Ortiz", a tour de force of storytelling and character development whose final pages I still find chilling. And, yes, since this is a spoiler review, Speedy does die, but how and why are the least interesting parts of the story. Had the series ended there I would still remember it as being a triumph.

If there is any criticism of the work, it is that it flattens out late in the volume, mirroring the dilemma that Maggie finds herself in. We've all had points in our lives where we feel that we're spinning our wheels, and Maggie does so, both literally and figuratively, in the story "93 Million Miles from the Sun". Trapped by a series of long term bad choices with her old girlfriend Hopey, her boyfriend Ray, her friend Danita, her tia Vicki, friend Rena Titanon, and trapped in the wilds of Texas, the pace and storytelling mirror her problems: every decision seems wrong, and nothing seems to get her life back on track. Maggie doesn't even know what track to get, which is a large part fo the problem. L&R's publishing schedule back then was sketchy, you never knew when it would show up on the stands, and both Jamie and Beto were deep into very long stories, stories that would eventually stretch to two years real time. I fully admit, there are points where I want to smack Maggie and tell her to get on with it, but this is a measure of Jamie's writing: I sure as hell care enough about the Magpie to be frustrated with her, and to want her to get her life back on track.

Much of this is stating the obvious to folks that grew up with L&R, or who have caught up with the story later, but there are plenty of people who have never had the beautiful opportunity to dive into this world. And if I can get just one more person to take the leap, it will be time well spent.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Chewy Cosmic Goodness: Annihilation - Conquest

I fully admit it, I've been sucked in by the type of story that my brain and heart just love: the cosmic adventure story. And, yes, it has been created by Marvel Comics.

This is classic world building folks, and a beautiful build-up in the prologue issue to show me just where everyone stands. And we do get pretty much what appears to be the most interesting versions of Starlord and Nova and Quasar and, especially, Moondragon. She hasn't looked this interesting since the Jim Starlin origin piece from Daredevil #105 (not her wretched Madame McEvil intro from Iron Man for those still checking).

I've never understood why comics don't do this more often. Comic books are so good at this type of story, we can bridge worlds so effortlessly from panel to panel, that good sci fi is just a joy to behold. Its what Green lantern has never had the guts to really do: Go deep out into space and give us the full opera.

Welcome to the Jim Starlin Universe many years later: the man who took the cosmic genre into a deep noir place must be happy to see material following in his footsteps. Quasar follows the Captain Mar-Vells, Star Lord returns, the Spaceknights return, we have cosmic awareness, a quest in the heart of sequestered Kree space, and we all know that its going to get worse before it gets better.

Some people hate this type of story, and find it totally divorced from anything real: i.e. there is no Spider-Man hitting the malt shops before swinging off, nothing that they can relate to. And to this i say, who cares? This is pue imagination, pure space and cyborgs and force fields and kree frikkin' sentrys and quantum bands and we are out in fucking space trying to save everything. If we can't enjoy the sheer thrill of taking our adventure as deep into the unknown as we can, then we're better off picking up a new issue of the spider man clone saga and wrapping ourselves deeper into the confines of the Spider-man dune buggy. You want to talk sense of wonder? Well here it is. Welcome to Kree space. Hope that you live to tell about it. After all, it ain't over til the fat skrull sings. I'm all over this series til it either ends or they screw it up too much. I just hope, the little 9 year old that still dreams of flying through space, that they don't. You got Bug, Captain Universe, Groot and the Celestial Madonna on the way? I'm so in.

And, for the record, I always knew that Moondragon was gay. I'm just glad that they can show it these days.