Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why Do Adults Read Comic Books?

Why do they indeed? R. Fiore ponders the question from the viewpoint of someone who has been writing about comics since he first joined the literary heathens at the Comics Journal in 1979, the dark distant days of 1979. I had started reading comics in 1973, and grew up with all the various starts and stops that he talks about in his article, but with a different viewpoint. Perhaps because he was integrated into the comics criticism culture, or perhaps because his natural inclination was to prefer classic newspaper reprints at the time, but i had a slightly different take on the situation, as well as that question: Why would a grown man read comic books?
A question that has occupied my mind ever since I began writing about comics: “Why would a grown man read comic books?” I was never satisfied with the conventional answer, which had to do with the potential of the medium to be a great art form. While it does have that potential, and part of the reason to champion the medium is to give it the prestige it would need to one day attract the caliber of artist that could fulfill it, the potential doesn’t explain why you’re reading them now. You don’t eat hot dogs because you think they’re going to turn into steak someday.
Classic last line that. No, would answer, I read comics because they gave me a type of escapist fiction that i'm not getting anywhere else. To further R's analogy, I didn't give up hot dogs for steak, I happen to like both at different times. I was absorbing the acutely developed melodrama/roller coaster ride that was the Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men at the same time i took an entire 3 days of summer vacation and read Sophie's Choice by Styron. And I knew that one day there would be comics that matched that same punched-in-the-gut feeling that i got from that book. As holocaust literature, I will certainly read Sophie's Choice as well as Weisel's Night as well as Spiegelman's Maus. I don't need to pick and choose one as better or more relevant. Al three are powerful works.

The same collections that interested Fiore, such as The Hyperion Library of Classic American Comic Strips, were both interesting as artifacts and boring as examples of how much the current form HAD NOT advanced to me back then. They also pointed out a time, and perhaps reinforced a time, that believed in comics as juvenile art when i was sure that you could do so much more with the medium. I argue that Smith's Red Nails was as good as the damn Frazetta covers that everyone fell in love with. Certainly the newspaper artists knew how to advance a narrative slowly, keeping the tension as long as possible, which was just the opposite of the DC artists who had one panel in Superboy to portray a mind numbing interstellar war. I knew that somewhere in the middle of all that were artists that would both give us a narrative with greater consequences and more acute insights, and I was willing wait while enjoying some cheap fun with the Avengers or Iron Man or The Teen Titans.

We didn't have long to wait really. When Fiore started to write, Sabre was already out by Eclipse, and Detectives Inc by the masterful Marshall Rogers was soon to be out, as was A Contract With God. Maggie and Hopey and Luba were also right around the corner. American Flagg teased with becoming the great American Satire for a moment or two before Chaykin succumbed to the needs to produce 22 pages each issue and things went flat. His far greater work, Times Squared, was never appreciated and should be revised any day now if there is any justice.

As to why comics created by grown adults to resonate with children should still attract us, in to parse the adult from the child in each person, and that's bound to be difficult with the sharpest of scalpels. Many of the same things that we expect to attract children: a silly but well timed joke, an imaginative other world, interesting and unusual characters, should certainly attract adults as well. Adults appreciate well done comedy and drama, and it would be the rare movie goer who didn't appreciate dropping into a totally new world for two hours for their ticket money. Early comic strip creators knew that their work was going into the family home and would be read by Dad and Junior alike, and as the later Looney Tunes cartoons, so that work that could be enjoyed on more than one level would have the greater chance of staying in papers. There is also the nostalgia factor, which is always difficult to predict.
We think about them [omic books] and write about them because we perceive we like them not in the way we like, say, chocolate ice cream or pictures of naked women, but because they mean something to us that we can’t readily define.
Why did a grown man read comics? Because it is a unique medium, a combination of words and pictures that operate on both two or three different visual levels at once of meaning that, in skilled hands, can convey more together than separately. And because there are a host of stories to be told, and now, more than ever, more ways to tell them. I can readily define why i've been reading comics for 36 years: I enjoy then tremendously when they're well done, and I've seen a lot of well done ones, regardless of genre, regardless of critical acclaim, regardless of format in that 36 years. If the creation of critical language means anything (and the Comics Journal has played a huge role in that) then it has given us the means to describe why enjoy certain comics so much. Explaining why I like chocolate ice cream is actually a lot more difficult once you get beyond the word "yummy".

And for the record, in the original piece, Fiore does an excellent job on the next paragraph of explaining exactly why he does love comics as a medium, and I suggest that you take the time to read through the piece.

Happy New Year all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Meditations on Women's Faces and Difficulties Thereupon

How do we represent the faces of women? Are we culturally bound to try to duplicate what pleases our eye thinking that it will please the eyes of others? But isn't it culturally different when we compare standards of beauty?

The Illustration Art blog has a discussion on the difficulty of protraying women's faces, along with a number of fairly current examples of comic art (and one illustration piece) to give us visuals to discuss.

Comparing comics alone from the 1950's to today should point out just how different the make up that is generally accepted is, not to mention hair styles. How many lines can you put on a woman's face before she looks like she has crow's feet? Well, the answer is, how old is your character supposed to be?

My wife hates it when i put heavy shadows on my female character's faces, and my arguement is thus: if the men have heavy shadows on them, it will look awfully weird to not have shadows on the woman's face. If i am doing nothing by drawing beautiful women in the mid-20's then perhaps I should be drawing nothing but very idealized features with minimal shadows. But to do so leaves the reader with a far more vaccuous presence: you're not allowing the female characters to participate as fully in the story by making them always be beautiful and well lit. Screw that. Let them get hit by shadows and be a part of things. Life in not built around standing pretty and looking pretty, and the characters shouldn't be stuck in that role either. Besides, some of the sexiest stuff that i've ever seen in both illustration and photography has features hidden in shadow, cheekbones or lips lurking beneath the darkness.

If your character is a woman in her 30's or 40's, both of whom has basically vanished from both your movie screen and TV set, then its likely she has a few wrinkles and its up to you as the artist to show that. And make it work.

Besides, it was only 100 years ago that Charles Dana Gibson was drawing some of the most beautiful idealized women of his time, and creating them out of linework!

The beauty and intelligence of this woman have been captured for an entire century, and through beautiful use of delicate lines the structure of her face is delineated, including her cheekbones. That this very linear style has fallen out of favor says something about our media (what will and won't reproduce) as well as art tools being used.

Could Leonard Starr have created a number of delicate sweeps of a crow quill to further render his artwork? I've no doubt, but it wouldn't have played in the newspaper reproduction room, so Starr, just like Caniff, developed a style that could reproduce well. Within comics, there was a distinct shift in ability to print line work when the metal plates started to get thinner and thinner before being replaced by plastic ones in the late 1970's. Vinnie Colletta's Thor linework simply wouldn't have been reproducable only a decade later, let alone Gibson's.

Here's your homework: find a way to produce emotion on the face of a 17 year old girl. How many lines do you have to do that? And still make her look 17? A quiz will follow later! Class dismissed!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Carnival: The Human Hourglass page 13

Just posted three new pages up on The Human Hourglass storyline. This is the largest single update that I've done yet! And it contains some of the work that i'm most proud of, so go take a look when you've got a second.

Only 7 pages to go on this first Carnival story. When finished, it will be available on print on demand. Best suggestions for who to go with? Anyone? Bueller?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avatar and Into The Abyss

My short review of Avatar: I never thought that i would see Michael Whelan's fantasy covers brought to life. Not like that. Cameron is the only director that has a solid 2 hour and 40 minute formula that doesn't feel padded, and he's done it on Terminator 2, Aliens 2, Titantic and Avatar.

Floating mountains. Right. Straight out of Metal Hurlant.

Longer review later. Still processing.

Indy filmmaker and Horror aficionado Todd Miro is blogging over at Into The Abyss. Very few people are as good at ripping apart a film to see why it works or why it doesn't work as he is. The man also sports some cool Hendrix Sienkiewicz artwork in the studio. Go do a little reading.

Reviews to come: Marian Churchland's Beast!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Human Hourglass!

The next page is up!

Hell, if I'd known that it was going to go this fast i'd have ditched the tones a while ago.

No, seriously, I just really wanted everyone to actually read the thing.

Editorial Jibing: Who Edits the Watchmen?

Among the creators that we can term as "very influential", I doubt that anyone would argue with me about having Dave Gibbons and Frank Quitely on that list. I was perusing their conversation over at the Comics Journal when I was struck by their comments regarding editors among the comic book set.

Specifically, as I've noted before, just within my time in the industry, I've watched interns who became interns simply because they really, really, REALLY loved comics, become assistant editors and then editors because, well, they stuck around. Not because they may have learned anything aobut what makes good storytelling, but because they survived the fall out along the way.

Quitely: ...Only 10 years later, by the time I got there, there was no real editorial input at all and there have been very, very few editors that I have worked for who really have much more of an idea about how to go about telling a story, visually, than your average artist who’s only been working for a few years. I think in the past — before royalties and the rest of it — artists and writers who became very good at their craft then went on to become editors. I think one of the things that’s changed is that there isn’t actually this mentoring or this apprenticeship any more; it really is just learning by your own mistakes.

Yeah, it’s true, I was lucky enough to come in at a stage — which you were there at the end of — when the editorial staff was much older and much more experienced than the contributors. But now it’s kind of funny to be working for DC or Marvel and somebody maybe a third of my age, certainly half my age, is telling me how to do it. I must say, though, that if you’ve got a really good editor — no matter what their age — it’s a really, really valuable thing.
Now, part of this, I can understand. If I'm at DC, I probably have a Watchmen Absolute on my shelf in my office. How easy is it to then tell Dave that his page isn't working?

But, how much of this (for the rest of us ordinary mortals) is the reason that we have the schlock that we have now? I feel like i'm wading through it as I work my way past pamphlet after pamphlet trying to find something to read. Is this because no one is editing anything anymore? Its not that these people don't have a love of comics, but who out there has the training or the ability to get the best out of people, to push them past their mistakes into doing better work?

I recall the level of the critiques that i used to get from the submissions editors of the comic companies, where the same thing that one would praise you would be slammed for unmercilessly by the other. As long as your ego could take it, you'd move into the next phase: realizing that you learned very little along the way. It is rare to receive solid, constructive criticism and have it take you to the next level. That is the sad part.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Pages Up at

Here is reality: there are only some many hours in the day, and while i've been concentrating on making art, i've been not doing some of the things that i need to be doing in the real world. I'll be posting the rest of the pages as they exist up to the point that i have to stop production, just to get them out there. Just in black and white, no tones. That way you all can at least see how far it went. Hopefully i'll get to finish things later.

sadly, the real world with a terrible economy is calling right now.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Earth One Initiative Launched: Earth Prime Yawns

Superman and Batman make new inroads to the book stores with the DC Comics EarthOne Graphic Novels, modern retellings of the origins and yet again, we say, so? Joanna over at Comics Worth Reading makes her comments known here. Lets, once again, talk formats and what they want to put into that format. DC continues, yet again, to try different things, although it will likely come to no avail. Kudos to them them, they keep trying to do something, anything different, and it always seems to come just a little wide of the mark.

Oh you can see the marketing meeting: "Lets do something that will cost some money and maybe soemthing brand new for the book stores. Lets play it safe and use our most popular characters and we've got a better chance for sales." And yet, doing Batman's origin AGAIN or Superman's origin AGAIN is precisely the wrong tact to take. Anyone who cares about the characters knows the origins and doesn't need to buy the book. You new superhero reader, someone younger perhaps, isn't going to go for that price tag. Their parents will likely buy them a regular $3 comic. You average bookstore buyer is far more likely to walk buy and pick up the new Fables book or Sandman trade than grab the long underwear hero. Its DC going the safe route and coming out with, yet again, that wide of the mark product.

Try Minx, for instance. Once you get past the name, there was the lack of fantasy in the line up, a mysterious omission given that the manga market had long since given you all the demographic and story data that you needed. And yet, based in NYC, and looking over at the Tomine graphic novels and the Spiegelmans, they decided to go with urban books, and ones that were'nt all that good to begin with. You know what graphic novel i see in every book store i go into? the new Rapunzel one. Smart use of the name, a good story, some fantasy and a great heroine and the kids will have no problem devouring the story again and again, and convincing the parents to buy them the damn thing.

The best thing that DC did was the wednesday comics format from this summer, but unfortunately it didn't get into enough hands, into prime space in the stores. Once again a promising format change that got stuck into the Direct Market ghetto.

It should be noted that my Borders shelves their graphic novel area into: Cool stuff alphabetical, then DC alphabetical and then Marvel alphabetical. Tell you truth, its realllllllly easy to stay in that first section.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Work In Progess: Page 14 of The Human Hourglass

Just about done here, except for the background work. Can't wait to tone this one so that i can really direct the lighting the way that i see it in my head.

Mostly brush, #1 sable Rafael 8404, #4 sable for big areas, Koh-i-noor .35 technical pens.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Giving Tuska His Due: of Inkers and Editors

It is not a stretch to say the George Tuska, during his long run on Iron Man, was never accorded first class treatment when it came to his artwork. While he could and did pencil superheroes for many decades, his work was stronger in the crime genre. Like Don Heck, he was an artist who simply didn't have superheroes as his strong point. But he could do, and did, them.

Marvel never gave him the best inkers however. Kurt Busiek supposes that perhaps it was because while not flashy, his work was sturdy and workmanlike and they didn't need to fix things up too much. I'm not sure about that. Perhaps he's right. My supposition, however, is that back then Marvel saw Iron Man as a "B" level hero, and they gave him what they conceived of as a "B" level artist. There wasn't anything flashy about him then, from sales on up, and saw no need to have a Joe Sinnott or Tom Palmer work on the book. The real tipoff is that we never saw Tuska covers on the books that he did by 1970. There was always a Kane/Esposito or Kane/Giacoia or Kirby or Starlin piece if we were lucky on the front. That right there tells you what the powers that be thought of George's work really.

I also think that, by the 1970's, George's work had settled into a certain rut, certainly the stories that he was drawing in Iron Man #60-75 had little of the verve of issues #10-18, when they introduced The Controller and Midas and a mad Stark LMD. Shockingly, his work looked great then; he was being inked by EC veteran Johnny Craig. Search my blog for "Tuska" to see a copy of an original from Iron Man #18 that has some real beauty to it.

Where was the Terry Austin inks on a Tuska cover in the 1970's? Terry had become the preeminent inker in the biz by 1977. Why not give him a Tuska cover to ink? Oh yeah, the didn't do Tuska covers.

This then is the conundrum that has faced inkers for years: you're a "B" level inker, and you keep getting put onto "B" level pencillers who don't draw as well, and, shockingly, your work doesn't look as good as the "A" list guys. You have to luck out to get to ink someone who can draw really well. And in most every case, it will be a rush job since the superstar inker will likely blow the deadline and still get work, you can't take that chance. So your opportunity to do really outstanding work will be compromised by the deadline. Welcome to comics. Kurt's story of what happened to the first story that he and Tuska were working on is a horrible example of what happens. I feel bad for the new kid who was rushed into it, and sorry for Kurt having his plans scuttled and sorry for the readers who ended up with a severely compromised product.

It's a shame that they chose to do that, because it would have been nice to have seen Tuska's pencils with a nicer sheen on them. I had George do an Iron Man sketch for me years ago strictly with the idea of inking it properly and showing it to him. Sadly, I never got the chance to do so.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Work In Progess: sketches for The Carnival

Not having a good time trying to make this figure work. Not sure why, I "saw" the body language in my head, but when I tried to draw it, the figure simply didn't work, making me wonder if I had perhaps exaggerated the movement in my head... resulting in a stilted and unnatural figure on the paper. The second scan if a more finished version of what i went with.

Anyone else ever have this trouble?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Do We Care: Do We Never Learn?

I'm reminded of the old Oingo Boingo song while I read through this series of messages on Live Journal and found myself thinking, again, about the level of emotional investment that we get in what are, lets say it out loud, CORPORATE PROPERTIES.

Hell hath no fury like the scorned fan, and yet, should be surprised? We put all this love into these characters yet they don't love us back. No matter how much the authors love them, even, one day they will have to turn them over to someone else, someone else who will retcon everything that you love out of existence. Jean Grey fans I'm talking to you. Birds of Prey fans, I'm talking to you too.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that suddenly girls read comics, especially now that there are more options other than superheroes out there (not that they don't read superheroes as well). And it should come as no surprise to anyone, although I think that it has, that women fall in love with well written characters and they blog and write shipping stories and they email and they communicate far more than men do about these characters. They care passionately about the characters they love and they get PISSED when those characters are doing things that make them look idiotic, or make them fall back into the morass of poorly written characters, or perhaps worst of all, marginalize them. That last seems to be particularly galling given the lack of strong female characters in the two majors.

Is that why they hold onto Birds of Prey and Manhunter? Given that Wonder Woman, the only strong female character with her own marketing plan of the Holy Trinity at DC is a cypher that has been rebooted so many times that she should have footprints in her logo, no wonder they hold on to the few books that have actually had characters taht they can care about and believe in.

Please note on that LJ thread, when one poster basically tells another "to relax", it sets off a whole chain that the original poster is basically never going to talk his/her way out of, whether they wanted to troll or not. If they're not a troll, then on one side i can agree with them somewhat. "Yes, I know you care, but its a comic and its a property and they're subject to editorial whims that can derail even the best characters and the strongest storylines. Try not to have a heart attack." And yet, they're on a board where the people care passionately about these stories and these characters and saying that is like waving a flag in front of a bull. Its the wrong audience and a very, very bad idea.

I alternately care and don't care as much as i used to. Working in mainstream comics and being part of the assembly line, you just do the work and move on and you try to care and control the part that, basically, you have control over. I cared too much and it made me a pain to deal with because I wanted to the work to be better, and that was pushing against the editor's inflow and outflow. And because they didn't think that the work NEEDED to be better. You go back and look at some of the Acclaim Comics and let me know what you think. Did they need to be better?

And this is why I quit working in mainstream comics. I could sit there with a new book on my board ready to ink and I desperately wanted to work to suddenly become the Byrne/Austin X-Men and for all the sweat that I put in to reflect in the final product. And it didn't. And I got a mental ulcer getting as angry as the people on Live Journal to no avail. It didn't make a damn thing better.

Now I care deeply about the art that i do on the webcomic and it can be reflected in the finished product. You may not like it, or care, or you may, but at least its worth having an opinion about. When i see my friend Tim Perkin's work on his graphic novel World's End I don't have to wonder if its what he wanted his work to be, I know that it is. And then its worth investing some emotional energy into. Personal work, love it or hate it, usually is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Irene Vartanoff and Romance Comics

Over at Sequential Crush Jacque Nodell has posted a wonderful interview with Irene Vartanoff who had worked at both Marvel and DC back in the early '70's. It covers a variety of topics and is just great reading both from the sociological aspect as well as the comic aspect!
DC Comics made a heroic effort to produce modern, relevant romance comics. But they never dared cross the line into the sexual revolution (or even the social revolution) that was the key to reaching the mass of women. All the comic book heroines were still crying over men and living soap opera lives and hanging out at the country club.
and Irene goes on to make her case as to why the romance comics died in a very conclusive manner. Comics could not approach sex, premarital sex, whatsoever, and so lost the little relevance that they had.

What I have always rather discounted was the effectiveness of the Gothic Romance culture from the 1960's, something that Irene brings up:
A strong line of female-oriented Gothic romances might have worked a few years earlier to transition the romance comic audience, but the Gothic comics eventually produced were mostly male-oriented weird mystery tales. And they were all started too late, after the subgenre had peaked, and after the romance comic audience had wandered away.... This would be like doing vampire love stories à la Twilight (but from a male point of view) five years from now. Too late.
Ah yes, this is comics all over. Late to the party and poorly done even when they finally show up.

The discussion in the comments section then veers off of this question from Pat:
One question I would have asked her is whether she feels that the reason comics are so male-dominated is that men are much more visually oriented.
And that is an interesting question. My personal take, without having the time to go research things on line and see what studies might or might not have been done: men are more visual when it comes to sexually oriented material, but certainly not more visual over all. Far from it. I think that women are extremely visually oriented, and that there is a likelihood that they will process visuals differently, taking different cues from them.

I believe that romance comics suffered from being stuck in a male oriented industry: male writers, writing from a male point of view, with male artists doing their level headed best to do comics that they might want to look at (and thus with a male-centric point of view when it comes to storytelling as well as character design). Certainly 40 years ago you wouldn't have had a huge stable of female artists with the chops and skills to draw from when putting together your gothic romance comics, even if you could have found a distributor. You only have to go find a collection of female written porn edited by Suzy Bright to see that there while there are certainly similarities to porn written by men, there are clearly differences as well.

The reality is that, had you founded a magazine (so as to get around the comics code) in 1972, and found someone to print it and distribute it, you'd have had a tough sell to put enough sex into the romance to have found an audience.

I also think that very few artists in comics excel at the smaller moments which are easy to describe as a writer, but harder, much harder, to pull off in a comic format. Anyone who has read Love and Rockets thinks it looks easy because Los Bros. pull it off so easily... and pretty much everyone else fails miserably. Since comics oriented towards women wouldn't be about people punching each other through walls, you really would have to find artists who could communicate on a more sophisticated level as well as making art stylish enough to intrigue the readers. Some of the Filipino artists in the 1970's that DC employed certainly had enough style to do that (although everyone looks a bit swarthy, but the women were always very sexy.).

Manga sales demographics have shown us that the old chestnut that women don't buy comics, don't like comics or aren't visually oriented is just that: an old cart before the horse myth brought to you by the old men of comics who couldn't figure out how to sell comics to girls. Way to go guys, way to go.

Figure Study: The Carnival page 14

A marker and pencil study for a panel of The Carnival: The Human Hourglass page 14. If you've not gone over and read the story, click here and submerge yourself for a bit in some future nior.

Let me say it right here and now: the regression on the head for this shot is incredibly difficult to do. Gil Kane made it look way too easy.

Gil Kane was a badass.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Unused Layouts

They got this far before i started to rethink the information on the page. How much did i really need to show? Was this the most effective use of the third of the page?

I decided it wasn't. Partly because the action is in pantomime, and partly because it doesn't set up what happens to Lauren in the following pages. I do like the upshot of that would have been the second panel... but it was not to be. This is one case where the thumbnails that I was so sure would work really didn't once i got the page to full size. That hasn't happened too much recently, but this certainly is the case here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Work In Progress: The Human Hourglass page 12

...not finished, but getting there. Added the trash can in the lower left foreground to create an additional layer of depth that i saw in my head, but realized that i was missing in the pencils. I tend to want to creat a three level depth system every couple of panels or so as a visual orientation system. Gives you a sense of spatial identity, especially when you're asking the environment to be one of your characters.

Also started to change the shadows on the gunman. Certain things that worked in pencil aren't working in ink, so, well, you start to make the changes as you go. Original pencils are a few posts back if you want to compare.

Was doing an interview on inking and, more specifically, the work that I did in the 1990's on the Black and White series The Grackle: Doublecross with Paul Gulacy. Answering the questions certainly made me think of the aesthetic choices that I made over 10 years ago and also got me looking at my current work through those eyes again. Looking over some of that artwork made me see some fairly ballsy choices that Paul made with spotting blacks. But then, thats why he's a master at this stuff.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Work In Progress: The Human Hourglass page 13

halfway through the inks.

Sometimes a panel will surprise you and become far more interesting without visible effort. Usually it is working and working and sweating and using craft to get it to work and become special.

I believe in work and work and work to make things good.

They don't call it artfun.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Everything that is wrong with modern comics...

Well, no, not really. That would take a lot of work and time to go over. But i feel a rant coming on.

Ran across this page over at and I have one question to ask: has this artist ever even seen a real woman's body?

That stance in the 4th panel practically says it all: I've learned to draw comics by looking at cartoons and if I've ever been to an anatomy or life drawing class in my life then I'm not carrying it over into my comic work.

Not mention that relying on the computer to take care of almost all your textures and colors means that you've done very little to make the blacks and negative space on the page interesting or even work well. The tilt on the final panel is meant to convey something, perhaps that the Widow is off balance in her assessment of the mission and that bad things are going to happen soon, but the crop on the panel makes it not even work well.

As well, the artist shoots himself in the foot on the size of the air duct. He shows up how large the air ducts are in the second panel, giving them a size relationship to Natasha, and then completely destroys that relationship on the final panel. No way that she can stand up in that vent, as shown in the 2nd panel.

And this is professional work?

Work In Progress: The Human Hourglass page 12

Panel is process of being transferred from my rough layouts for The Carnival: The Human Hourglass page 12.

Friday, October 30, 2009

In Review Of: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

There have already been any number of penetrating reviews of Asterios, a tour-de-force graphic novel by Mazzucchelli, whose growth into a true arteur from middling Marvel penciller is almost unprescedented within the industry, and this review will not only try to bring up any number of things that I like about the GN but also try to address the need/desire/aesthetics of the "formalist" Graphic Novel.

David has taken the baton from the esteemed Will Eisner, whose graphic narrative books address the idea of thinking beyond the panel into the page and all of its associative elements as being visual components that can be used to further the story. We're all familiar with the elements that he pioneered in The Spirit, the lucic panel borders, the lettering flowing within visual elements to approximate the intimacy of sound echo that movies have done such a good job of since Citizen Kane, the movement of the panels themselves to try to imitate the movement of the jostling subway car. Mazzucchelli has taken those not only to heart, but to further with differentiated art styles and colors, allowing him to work on any number of different levels withing the same scene. The scene where Asterios meets his future wife Hana at a party is loaded with multiple layers of subtext not only by drawing style, by color but also by the naming conventions used.

The question that Eisner never asks within his books, and that he wouldn't have probably thought to ask, is "does the use of these visual devices make the reader so aware of the page itself and the tricks being used that they ask as a visual distraction?" To this reader, whose last 36 years have been to try and understand all the best possible visual ways to tell a story, this formalist approach may simply be to distancing at times. And it is, make no mistake about it, an aesthetic choice all along the way, one that belies my belief that for the GN format to work it needs works of this level of sophistication and complexity. There is a dearth of works out there that one needs in hardcover, but this is one of them.

So I put out there that while we can debate the names used in the novel (Hana, a flower whose petals only open later in life, Asterios, whose last name places him as an extraneous bit of tissue, knicknames her Daisy, a lightly regarded flower as opposed to a rose or lily), and it is of more importance that we have the debate, in public thank you very much, so that the layers of the onion can be peeled back to reveal the work below. I don't think that this is a book of Joycean levels, and, in fact, believe that the artist who is trying to create "the great work" often misses the fact that he or she will have already created a master piece elsewhere (but it usually came so easily that they regard it much more lightly). Rubber Blanket #2 contains a story that within a much smaller number of pages contains a loose brushwork that has lost none of its visual appeal along with fomalist "choices" such as the deliberate use of minimal and sometimes over-printed colors to make a solid character study with as much depth as the well-regarded "500 Days of Summer" currently playing at a multiplex near you.

While I enjoy that David put as much work into the back story, I'm afraid that that the storyline lacks a lot of punch. More important than the resolution of the story is the trip to get there. Asterios and Hana's love and marriage are the put under the microscope in enough detail to tell you everything that you need to know about many of the choices that the characters make. I question that I need a color overlay to tell me that Asterios moves the spotlight towards himself, literally in Mazzucchelli's vision, while obstensibly praising Hana's art. I'm not sure that i do, but then again, i'm not sure anyone else outside of Eisner would have done it that way.

There is much to admire, and while I'm thinking the work through, I know that it will come off like I disliked the book. Things to love: the lower tier of panels that take in a range of Hana's behavior, depicting all the very human parts of her existence, at once invalidating the unique vision that we men have of the women that we fall in love with, at the same time rounding her out as a fuller being beyond all the incidental character bits that we're used to seeing. It compresses time in a different way than the standard montage. There are any number of interesting vingnettes that will stay with you far longer than the actual story will: the picnic at the meteor crater, that scenes with Hana's Broadway producer, the ordinary and yet revealing moments in the marriage that will ring true to practically any married couple. Alternately I thought that some of the storytelling devices we heavy handed and yet hadn't been done to death, or done at all, by others, and thus were worth doing.

Is it the masterpiece that some are calling it? Or is it merely a really, really good project that might get a little buried under the weight of everyone's expectations? Personally I think the latter, and thats a shame, because many a good project was lost under the heavy pressure that comes with audience expectations. David deserves major props for pulling it all off and creating a solid and inventive book. Only time will tell how many times it gets taken down and read.

Can we revisit this in about 10 years?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Selling Marvel to the Ladies and to the Masses: David Gabriel

Just a few random thoughts on Marvel Senior VP of Sales David Gabriel, who has a long interview running in the retailer only Diamond Daily, parts of which were excerpted by Heidi in The Beat.

"Everybody is in absolute agreement that the longer these stories play out, the less likely people are to be interested in them,” but denies this means “event fatigue”.

Really? That sounds like a very easy way to try and avoid the negative connotations associated with the phrase, "event fatigue", but if you have to double talk your way out of doing another Secret Invasion, then fine. I mean, my inner fan boy liked Secret Invasion, but too many books, too long, too much. I found myself really enjoying only the books that didn't tie in. David, while everyone talks up Secret Wars as the beginning of Marvel's infatuation with big crossovers, remember that Shooter made it so that you didn't have to get every other book to keep reading.

Later on in the year, we’re going to do an omnibus with full runs from things like Night Nurse, Hellcat, and some other things you really wouldn’t collect anywhere else. Because this a big omnibus celebrating the Marvel women, we can get the full runs into that and make an event out of its release.

Which will hopefully filter down into editorial not saying "Yes" to any new covers featuring tentacle porn. It is interesting that Marvel is clearly acknowledging that there is female readership that they haven't captured. I'm just not sure that they can overcome their desire to appeal to the regular fan boys who like their Ms. Marvel in a thong. It should be an interesting tug of war to see how much female readership they think that they can get with only a year long initiative. In publishing terms, I don't see a year as being a very long period to try and convince female readers that Marvel is actively interested in courting them.

Besides, who is the target audience that they're printing the Omnibus for anyway? I don't know of any women that even know about Night Nurse, much less the Claws of the Cat, and know none that are going to want to buy it out of some misguided nostalgia for comics that they don't even know exist. Hell, I HAVE the Claws of the Cat and I don't need it in omnibus form.

Now here's one that makes even less sense:

There’s a gap there because the idea is we want to sell out of the Premiere hardcovers first, making those the collectibles for readers that have to get a story right away and can’t wait on. Then those that wanted to wait could get the collection in paperback a few months later.
Now, however, they’re going to have to wait a little longer, as we’re going to push back the release of trade paperbacks out to about four to five months after the Premiere hardcovers’ releases. That should really give retailers that are selling those Premiere hardcovers an extra couple of months to sell them.

So lets attack this for a Sales perspective: the industry trend is going towards the TPB model, slowly but surely, so you're moving back the TPBs believing that you'll sell more hardbacks? The reality is that everyone that i know makes a quick internal decision: this is something that I want in X format. Classic Kirby FF? Worth it in hardback. The Brubaker Daredevil material? Softcover. And I'll read the heck out of it, but I'm not buying it in hardback, no matter how you make me. All the great sci-fi Annihilation material? You too forever to get it out in softcover. And i'm not buying that in hardcover. All you did was annoy the hell out of me and get my money later, not sooner. Wouldn't you rather have it sooner?

And thats the key here, you can't make me buy anything I don't want. If you only released the Daredevil in hardcover, I likely wouldn't buy it at all. By giving me the different formats you're more likely to get my money, one way or the other. In the music format analogy, don't just release it on cassette. Release it on CD, cassette, vinyl, and on iTunes and you'll get ALL of us to buy it. Would the average retailer want to sell two hardbacks or a greater volume of soft and hardbacks combined? The better strategy is to release both at once and let the retailer and customers decide the appropriate type of media.

On “The Heroic Age", coming in 2010:

If you remember the first pages of the Marvel books from the 70s, Marvel always had these lines at the top of the page, month after month, giving a synopsis of what the comic was all about. We have something already written up that explains what the Heroic Age is, and we should be ready to roll that out sometime in January.

The Heroic Age took place between 1963 and 1969 or 1970 and your synopsis should use words like "Kirby" and "Ditko" and "Lee" and "Kane" and "Steranko" and "Heck" if you really want to get it right.

New Work: The Human Hourglass Page 8

If you head on over to, you'll find that I've got a new page up. Now, mind you, its been a bit since I've updated, but i've been trying to get a head on my own internal deadline and at the same time provide you with the best work that i can produce.

Its all a learning experience. This whole writing, pencilling, drawing and toning thing. yeah, one big hairy learning experience. Slowly but surely, I'm digging it.

If you've not clicked over to the yocomics site, take a look and let me know what you think of the story so far. I promise to keep a regular flow of pages for a while. As well, soon I should have some new commission pieces with Red Sonja inks as well as some Bruce Timm inks. I'll post those soon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

10 Panels That Always Work

One think that I remember going into the comics business was seeing photocopies of this sheet of paper floating around the Defiant offices... and wondering just how many years that thing had been photocopied and copied again...

Wally Wood was a masterful artist who ground himself down into the ground with comics and deadlines and hitting his head against the wall in an effort go gain some, hell, ANY recognition and financial renumeration for his work. And he'd pretty much fail, time and again. Read the biography, Wally's World and see the sad deterioration of a really great artist. Just seeing his classic EC work is one thing, but there are other pieces out there, a beautiful western painting that i don't necessarily have the link to, that show just how damn good he was.

Interesting, when you look at this sheet, just how many panels of comics that you've read and loved will pop into your head! There is a great deal of suggestion in this layouts themselves, tension and mystery hiding in some of the crops, sturdiness or reassurance in other framing devices that can really add (or detract as the case may be) to the story they are used in. It just goes to show that, like chords in pop music, these elements can be recombined over and over again in new and interesting ways to make endless variations.

I have never reached a panel and found myself pulling this sheet out and going, "Hmm, what is the next cool panel going to be?" but, having assimilated it, its like having a good amount of tools at your disposal, so that you can look at the thumbnails and see that action that needed to be contained in the panel and pick subtly different ways to emphasize the action or the mood. Having these panels down in one places is like knowing those chords by heart.

Thanks Woody.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Iron Man #18 page 4: Tuska and Craig

As promised, Tuska doing a great issue of Iron Man before the writers started to phone it in allowing George to do the same for a lot of years. here is the original, cleaner than you'll find on the original printing and miles better that you'll see in the Essentials issue of Iron Man.

The penciller in me enjoys the establishing shot in the first panel, and how dropping the border on the second brings our attention from the prone Tony Stark to his cousin, Midas and Madame Masque. Excellent technique in leading the eye.

Take a good look at the delicate inking on Tony's face in panel 2 or the face of Madame Masque in panel 3. George wouldn't get any inking that delicate for the next 20 years or so. And its a shame.

Friday, October 16, 2009

R.I.P. George Tuska

Just learned from Danny Boy's blog that George Tuska has died, and it brought back plenty of memories of his Iron Man's, as well as a host of other series that he worked on.

George was the artist on the first issue that I ever brought (Iron Man #64), only the second comic that I had ever seen, and I was completely and utterly perplexed by being thrown into the middle of a confusing Dr. Spectrum story. My seven year old brain was trying desperately to understand some of the visual language native to comics (speed lines, pointers on word balloons, certain visual shorthand that unique to Tuska) and try to understand the story at the same time!

None the less, i did figure it out, and would go on to buy up a ton of back issues with George's work, as well as following the series going forward. George was never my favorite artist, his work as a bit stiff and as he went on in his career ( a career that had been going on for a long time!) he relied on many of the same poses and faces. It was a revelation to come across Iron Man #11-18, where a number of the issues were inked by Johnny Craig, the grand EC veteran, and they brought a finishing skill to Tuska's work that was missing from most of his inkers. I think that George was very poorly served by his inkers over the years, and the evidence is right there.

I have an original from Iron Man #18 that I'll scan and post later so that you can see the work in all its black and white glory.

None the less, I met George for the first time just about 6 years ago, and he was an extremely nice man. I continue to stress going out and meeting your heroes before they pass away, and in this case i'm glad that i got the chance to chat with him. He did a great Iron Man sketch for me that i have to this day.

Someone with more material to scan should really go back and some of George's work from the 1950's so that we can see it. That would be cool.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stalking the 70's Artists

Steven Grant writes today one of the finest overviews of the 1970's comics art scene that I've ever run across, and its worth your time to read it both if you were there, and if you came along later and want a little history behind the 1980's. A couple of thoughts on his post:

Steven posits that its an oddity that the early 1970's rush of talent resulted in such a meager showing of great comic art from those involved, even though they laid the groundwork for the 1980's. I think that while he talks later in the article about how this is partly because it is easier to make a living in comics by imitating another's style, it also misses the point about those involved being either driven out by the deadlines, or the editorial style or simply having already given their world the initial gift of their art.

I've made the case in an earlier post that without the '70's groundwork, there would be no '80's comics. There would be no "All New, All Different X-Men" by Cockrum to make a Billion dollars at the box office, no Englehart/Rogers Batman to rip off, without Starlin, there would be no Marvel Sci-Fi comic universe to surf outside of the one that Kirby invented. Many of the creators that Grant talks about had no other choice, business-wise, but to conform to what was being offered to them. Either make those deadlines and conform or leave. Steranko left, Gulacy stayed, Starlin kept trying to leave and coming back, Adams left and found more money in advertising while keeping a toe in comics, Weiss stayed but turned in relatively small amounts of art. Smith left, Kaluta kinda left but only somewhat.

And yet this storied group left a great mass of artwork out there. It may not seem like it given the amount of dross that those pages are surrounded by, but that doesn't take into account the selective memory of their work. I've long since forgotten the other comics that I bought the same day as the Kaluta Shadow, perhaps an Ernie Chan Batman, perhaps something by Irv Novick, but I remember almost every panel in the Shadow book. God knows what other issues I bought the day that I picked up Captain Marvel #30, but I can quote almost every panel by heart from that Starlin comic. As Lou Reed once said, only 1,000 people ever listened to the Velvet Underground, but all 1,000 of them started bands. You didn't need to have Kaluta or Smith or Steranko produce like Kirby and Kane for them to galvanize another generation of comic artists to get drawing. Those pages have been burned into the memory of every reader of that time period.

And it set the stage for Chaykin to move on and produce American Flagg! later on for First. I wouldn't have wanted to see him try that series any earlier. He wasn't ready for it, and neither was the market. Steranko had to go out and produce "Red Tide" for Preiss and fail miserably to put a crack or two in the wall. Eventually the wall would fall, but it would take repeated efforts to bring it down, and, as usual, the pioneers are the ones that suffer.

Peaks? You could argue that Adams was never better after 1971, or Starlin after 1975, but Chaykin was at his best in 1982, and Gulacy in 1976 or 1980 depending. Different artists peak at different times. And their influence will extend differently because of that. There mass of Americans in the 1970's did produce fascinating work, and did so under the guise of mainstream comics, which, in itself, is a trick.

And, since I don't believe that the decades meet perfectly on the calendar either, I say that the 1980's comics started with the first issue of John Byrne on the X-Men: #108.

I agree with Grant on the Filipino artists, whose work, while many times technically more accomplished than the Americans was also claustrophobic when printed, and more "illustrat-y" and inhibited the readability of the comic story.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Human Hourglass Page 12 sketch

Sometimes I just love the energy in the pencil sketches.

Pencil on 8.5 x 11 paper, photocopied to darken the lines. For The Human Hourglass page 12.

Monday, October 12, 2009

These truths we hold self evident...

Tom over that Comics Reporter has spent a great deal of time thinking about assumptions that he has had in regards to comics, and put together a rather thoughtful column about them. While we both have come to comics from a similar perspective, I find that my idea of comics has changed radically in the last 20 years to encompass both my experiences with becoming a professional in the comics industry (and all the revisionist/disillusionment that comes from that), as well as having children and watching them come to comics from a number of different angles rather than one direction: the spinner rack.

We hold these truths self evident: That comics will come out each week in a serialized periodical format in the corner drugstore. Well, yeah. 30+ years ago. One of Tom’s sacred cows is that the serialized form of comics will continue, and yet he scans one of the lovely paperback books that collected Peanuts in the “foursquare” panel format, a format that was in all the bookstores of the 1970’s and had a lot to do with the continued availability of the older Schultz works while other comics artist’s work languished and disappeared from the public consciousness. To me, the serialized work makes little difference in the impact of the work. My own daughter reads each issue of wonder Woman as it comes out and sees no difference between that and the New Frontier work, which to her is only two issues long. All she knows is the TPB version of New Frontier and it makes absolutely no difference to her whatsoever. It makes little difference to me know except that I can see the seams of the collections: the artificial breaks ever 22 pages to cliffhanger out, the occasional change of artist as the story arc needs a break.

Whereas Tom found himself reading and collecting the Celestial Madonna storyline, yet was even more intrigued by the Kree/Skull War, I found that it is hard to imagine loosing my science fiction cherry to anything by the Thanos War. Instead of the making the Kree/Skrull war into more than it was in my head, I can’t possibly extricate my childhood brain from being melted by Thanos’ desire to use the Cosmic Cube to become God. I can’t be nostalgic for someone else’s loss of virginity while experiencing my own.

The Kree/Skrull war also finished completely unspectacularly, whereas Englehart actually got to finish the Celestial Madonna storyline in much better fashion.

Tom talks about wanting comics to fashion as an entertainment for a child, which is something that I agree with, having two daughters, but in writing the sentence “Whether or not there are comics for kids, I still want comics to function as a pastime for a child.” Tom falls into the trap of seeing “comics” as a thing, not as a medium. Try substituting “movies” for that sentence and you’ll see how quickly it falls apart. More than ever before, I want comics that entertain my children and comics that they can move to as teenages and comics that we can discuss as adults. I want my children to love the cinematic form enough to go from Nemo to Harry Potter and Star Wars and then on to countless movies after that. Same with books, same with comics. The medium should make no distinction between ages. The material presented in the medium is the distinction, that’s all.

Tom’s last point, about material lasting forever is an interesting one. At what point have Superman and Batman run their course? There have been plenty of other characters that have had their day and since moved into sustained existence only in the presence of back issue bins and Yahoo chat rooms. That last great new Doc Savage book? Didn’t buy it. Same thing with the last new issue of The Shadow, Tom Mix, Furry Freak Brothers and Longshot. Had the discussion with my wife the other night about why Neil Simon’s work seemed to work so well in the 1970’s and not so much after that. There are times when the artist’s work finds favor with the current cultural zeitgeist and then peters out and the nostalgia factor starts to kick in. I don’t know where I stand on this, given that I prefer stories that have beginnings, middles and ends (and to do this with my favorite Marvel characters, I just pretend that the book ends at a certain point and move on. Should I like the direction that a book goes later, I’ll just pick it back up.) but then I get used to having those different artists and writers moving in and out of the books, so its easy to abandon that completist mentality that I used to have. Captain America seemed like a great idea in 1940, wasn’t relevant again til Kirby made him fun in Tales of Suspense, made some interesting points in the 1970s with Englehart and then pretty much dropped off of the radar of interesting (Stern/Byrne aside) until the Brubaker/Epting run.

Nothing lasts forever. Great stories do last though, and maybe one of the reasons that they last is satisfactory conclusions that leave the audience feeling, well, satisfied. Satisfied that they got the story, whether they liked the ending or not.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Random Thoughts: Kirby, Marvel and Watchmen: Ultimate Cut

In no particular order...

Joanna Carlson is passing on the information on The Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut.
Coming out November 3, this is the package that I've been looking forward to. Do the companies realize that instead of making us hungry to buy the DVD of a particular movei that we enjoy, they're essentially making us wait so that we don't have to keep upgrading the packages. U2 had it right when they released all the deluxe versions of The Joshua Tree at once. Instead of waiting, I read through all the versions, picked the one that I wanted and bought it. Immediately. I haven't bought a damn Watchman related thing and now I'm glad that I didn't. I'm sure that's not what they wanted to hear but it's the truth.

Steven Grant goes on at great length on the Kirby Family's potential leg to stand on in their suit with Marvel. Steven can get cranky with the best of, but his first paragraph stands at the top of the all-time cranky opening rants that have ever issued from his keyboard. Get past that, however, and there is a ton of great information of the concept of Work For Hire, the legality of forcing someone to sign away rights on the back of a check, and the precedent of whom the assumed author and copyright holder is, which is different from trademark. He boils it down nicely, and as someone in the game for over 15 years now, I learned some new things in regard to how the changes in the 1976 Copyright law effected comics.

To all those who have been across the internet spewing anger and venom against the Kirby estate, wise up and take a good look around you. Do any reading of history and see that the publishers in this game called comics pretty much fucked over anyone that they could in each and every way possible. They deserve for their bad business practices to come back and get them, and they have only themselves to blame by not being proactive when they should and could have. Will Eisner had it right, we're all Dreamers, hoping for that one magic moment when our creation will allow to be rich and happy and live well off of our art. It rarely ever happens, and when it does and has, each and everyone of those artists and writers have been screwed. I believe that it was Mark Evanier who, and i may be wrong so don't kill me, said in his Kirby biography: All Jack wanted to do was make a publisher rich with his art and ideas and have the publisher do the right thing by him. And one by one, they all failed to do so. Jeanette Kahn and Paul Levitz can be considered the only decent people here, allowing Jack to "redesign" the 4th World characters in the 1980's so that he could be a co-owner and get a piece of the New Gods.

For all those that assume that, should Kirby's heirs get ahold of the rights to the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, the original X-Men, Captain America, (um... do I need to go on?) that they'll pull the rights from Marvel, I humbly put to you that they are far more likely to want a piece of the franchise, not disable it. This is about money and recognition, in that order. And I don't say that in a bad way at all. If Jack were here and knew that his heirs could finally get what he should have, he'd most likely have been all for it. He knew the value of providing for his family.

Who really benefits from the Marvel Disney deal? The upper brass, the stockholders, not you, not me, not any of the creators unless they make a deal on a new character that Disney/Marvel gets behind, then the sky really could be the limit. Despite all the hand wringing it will likely be business as usual until the distribution apple cart is upset.

And then, all hell is really going to break loose.

Why haven't I been posting more? Been working diligently on the writing, pencilling and inking of the Carnival, trying to get ahead of my own deadline so that i can post the whole second half of the story on a schedule. Thinking about storytelling, researching shots and how to make the whole thing work. Comics have been completely on my mind, my brain is just full of comics stuff, just not in a way that i've been blogging about. Or in a way that i think that anyone might care. I could be wrong. My friend Alex, creator and artist of Robotica, has done some great one a day posts that he encouraged me to do.

There have been some good comics come out, but not in way that inspire me to write about them. Been forever since i've done a review of a regular monthly comic. The only one that really almost made me sit down at the keyboard has been Guardians of the Galaxy, which has been, and continues to be, a ton of fun. Pick it up if you can find the thing. Best read in tandem with Nova, which is good, but not nearly as fun.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

East vs. West: Making The World Safe For Manga

Icarus Publishing has a small tidbit buried in the bottom of today's blog that I think is right on, and I liked it so much that I wanted to give it a little more thought as well.
I’m a firm believer that the public’s embrace of the “Japanese style” and the manga boom enjoyed by Tokyopop and Viz could not have happened any sooner… it was the complete dominance of Japanese console video games during the 80s and 90s that really introduced – and accustomed – masses of kids to the Eastern cartoon aesthetic.
I'd go with that being the best explanation that i can think of. There was a time when the Manga look was instantly "Astro Boy" or "Starblazers" and that was about it. No self respecting comics fan liked the stuff. But wait, there were bootleg copies of the Yamato adventures floating around, and if you got a hold of one of them them then you realized just how bad the animation in the '80's was here in America. Ralph Bakshi was unwatchable to me after seeing "Be Forever Yamato". Or a better translation of "Galaxy Express 999" or "Black Magic M66". This was good stuff.

But your average public wasn't going to swallow the change in relationship to the character. It flipped everything that Disney told us to love on its head: If you put all the work into the main character then the backgrounds are secondary. Its like hiring a name lead actor and that's pretty much your budget. Anime has the opposite: amazing world creation and characters that were a blank face of cartoonish expressions, so that the audience could, in theory, project themselves on the leads. I'm not sure that I buy it honestly. I tend to believe that you can get anime when you've had enough education on their facial "shorthand", so that you no longer are thrown by the bizarre glyphs that the faces turn into and also no longer have to decode that expression.

Without the cheap labor to produce the games so that they could get marketed at easy toafford prices, I doubt that it would be as accessable to the American audience. It also helps that the cable channels needed to fill time and there was ready made product that probably could be bought fairly cheaply. Repeatition is key here. I have no doubt that without the videogames we would never have a generation of kids for whom the complete over the top cartoonishness of DragonBall Z seems completely normal. (Please note that i actually read the blog, not just stared at the girl's butt in the graphic at the top.)

Now we're going to have to deal with the cultural differences in nudity and sex that have caught more than a few countries with regards to child porn and censorship. The case in Germany is extremely troubling, but not more so than some of the midwestern busts that the Comic Legal Defense Fund has had to get involved with over the years. Whose attitudes will change first? the Laws, defined by prescedent or the publishers?

I do believe in truth in advertising, and enjoy that Icarus continues to be upfront over their Manga porn. Whether you choose to buy or not, at least you can't say that they hid their publishing intentions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Sandman: An Appreciation Roundtable

Noah Berlatsky over at Hooded Utilitarian, is holding a round table discussion of whether The Sandman series holds up over time, and with the second such column today by , I wanted to jump into the frey with a couple comments. Not that i have any reason to defend the series, but out of desire to, as someone who was there buying the sereies as it happened, throw in my two cents.
The consistent refrain in recent years is that The Sandman as a whole doesn’t hold up. This would suggest that The Sandman represented some high watermark at the time among the comics “cognoscenti” but I don’t remember it ever actually achieving such adulation among readers with a restricted diet of men in tights. I could be mistaken of course. Its reputation among the comics agnostic was and is immense, a fact which was perpetually enshrined by Gaiman’s honoring with the World Fantasy Award in 1991 for his tale with Charles Vess in The Sandman #19 ("A Midsummer Night's Dream")
The short and quick answer to the series achieving such adulation is that the boys who like men in thights weren't the ones buying the series whatsoever. Women, ignored, hate and feared by boys in comic shops everywhere, were the ones who bought Sandman. Goth girls suddenly had someone to cosplay, none of the major conflicts were settled with punches, there were gay and lesbians among the straights and there were good and bad people and pathetic people and good people who did bad things when they were angry. They were, by a long shot, the most diverse cast in comics period.

And there was horror and it was dark and the Anne Rice devotees and the mothers of the girls who are now reading Twilight were sucked in. And it wasn't the people buying Jim Lee's X-Men for the most part at all.

Noah makes a long point about Gaiman's idea of Love in the series, which, considering how the entire series is essentially about relationships, is a fairly key point. And I think that he misses the point with his analysis. Quoted in part below:

In "A Game of You" the cuckoo casts a love spell by talking; in "Brief Lives" Desire does more or less the same thing. That seems to be how Gaiman sees love; a verbal whammy that comes out of nowhere to make a clever point or set up a clever scene, rather than as an actual relationship which is maybe worth exploring in its own right. Destruction accuses Orpheus of loving the idea of Eurydice more than the actual person...but is that really Orpheus' failing? Or is it Gaiman's?

Just as the point of your life is not that you can fall in love, which seems to be the main point of Hollywood's current "rigid women" plotlines (can you fall in love? do you have the right to?), but what happens after? There are consequences to relationships and those ripples of the decisions that you make will ripple long after you do. The scene with Desire is not aobut anything other than the aftermath of "LOVE". Gaiman moves around the usual scenes of relationships to show us how some of the best decisions made out of love and passion can reflect in unusual and sometimes cruel ways. Freed from the code, we could have characters that could have sex if they wished in ways that didn't make them terrible people. Hazel's old girlfriend has fantasy make up sex with Hazel in the 24 Hour diner issue and it doesn't make here a "bad person". The Sandman who Brute and Blob are living with in the isolated section of Jed's dream is living a lie, but its a lie that allows him more time with his wife and unborn child. Its not a healthy choice, but one made out of love and ignorance in equal measure.

How many of us whave had short, intense relationships with people and the aftermath of the relationship ends up affecting our lives for years when the relationship itself lasted only months or weeks? Showing the short and passionate relationship Dream has with Thessaly makes less sense, but showing the effect of that upon the rest of the universe makes a lot of sense story-wise. Gaiman's idea of love isn't the antiseptic "movie kiss roll credits" version, but the "realistic, unromantic where do we go from here?" version. Gaiman resists sex as an easy sell in or solution to problems.

Given the serial nature of the series, there are bound to be issues where the art isn't a match for the writing. There were a number of artists that i might not have picked for the series, but many that i would have. You have to deal with the episodic nature of the work and take it with a grain of salt in that respect.

Personally, I give the first story arc a wide berth, as Keith's art was truly unsuited for where the series went. It is the 24 Hour Diner issue that brings in Dringenberg and Jones and the finding of the voice and look for the series. The Doll's House story, while loose, is excellent and almost works. The Dream Country and Season's of Mists are excellent, and almost perfect in tone and art. (Save for the horrendous inking job that Dringenberg has to suffer on the final issue of Seasons).
For me, Morpheus and his sister, Death, have always remained cyphers and plot devices meant to push forward the narrative and communicate simple homilies - characters for which I have never felt any real warmth or affection.
And this again is an interesting reading of the series which missed a bit of point with them. Dream fully understands that, for all his power and free will, he and the rest of the Endless are there because WE CREATE THEM, and not the otherway around. He understands that as part of the myth he has both power and will and yet is caught by being part of the myth, and his responsiblities tie his hands quite cleverly. He is the narrative, but he is one of the only characters to understand that, and he actually spends a hell of a lot of time bemoaning his fate at that. Gaiman is at this best on plot and narrative, but many of his simple homilies are both heartfelt and appropriate, so we need to excuse them their place in the narrative.

Some other time: a discussion of the second half the series, which is a lot more problematic than the first half, as well as the secondary characters that shine.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quesada on the Graphic Novel

This most likely qualifies as piling on.

And I'm not sure that Joe really cares, but what the hell.

Comics Alliance posted this interview the other day, and I was so flabbergasted by the quotes that i almost thought that I was reading the comics version of the Onion.
"I've stated publicly on many occasions that I've never seen the benefits of original graphic novels. The economics just don't work and are poor for both the publisher, retailer and the creator, especially during this Marvel regime when so much of what we do gets compiled into a collected edition anyway..."
I guess that if you operated out of sheer tunnel vision than this quote would make sense, except that i think that Joe is smarter than that. While i suppose that the Editor in Chief of Marvel is supposed to act like theirs are the only comics that matter, but even Stan, the absolute master of self aggrandizing would refer to the "Distinguished Competition", so Joe can do better than that. There is simply no reason to act like no one that is not currently employed by Marvel sucks (the old "they can't be any good or they'd be working for us" nonsense).

In fact, it makes more sense that the independent Graphic Novel will lead us to the next Paul Pope, the next indy star who decides to grace your covers with his street cred rather than the other way round.

And if he does mean it, and I don't know Joe personally so I'm making suppositions here, it shows a disregard for any other type of creativity and authorship out there so broad as to be stupefying. You might ask yourself, is this why we have Marvel OK'ing tentacle porn on covers? Or 4th generation Sal Buscema clones on the current Ms. Marvel storyline?

I give up. Wait, isn't that just what Joe wants?

The Human Hourglass Page 10: The Process In Full

This post is a sequel of sorts, where i posted parts of the work on page 10 and i decided to do more scanning along the way so that I could really post a full page from script to finished product.

The initial thumbnail is pretty small, and this is my "script" for the story: part words and initial layout/visual cues as they hit my brain. Mostly dialog however. I end up with pages of these that are small and scribbly.

then its only to doing a full size page on paper with rough figures including the X'd out panel where i realize that my initial idea for the panel wasn't going to work.

Then, using tracing paper, I create tighter versions of the panels, drawing through the figures, getting a little bit better about the crop of the panel borders. Occasionally I blow the panel up on the photocopier to simply stop myself from getting too boring by drawing everything the same size. I believe in zooming in on the drama to intensify the story points. I don't want everything to be the 1960's DC mid shot. Yes, Mr. Shooter, you can get an initial read on what's happening in the panel, but it doesn't make for an exciting story.

The light box on to bristol and using the construction lines on the tracing paper to pencil real panels. Change this crop, move this balloon, futz, futz, futz.

All inked up. Ready to scan in and create tone on it in Photoshop as well as add the dialog.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Levitz's Leaving: What Does The Future Hold?

While all the Marvel/Disney news has been dominating the news early in the week, the DC?Warner restructuring has been having a far bigger impact to the comics community, specifically the resignation of Paul Levitz from the Publisher's post at DC Comics.

As far back as 2006 I was discussing Levitz's role in the development of the graphic novel, and not in the most favorable terms. (While I don't know Levitz personally, I've been following comics since the days that he decided to not keep Marshall Rogers on Detective Comics with the line: "Believe it or not, a Marshall Rogers Batman does not sell better than an Irv Novick Batman.") It seems that Levitz leaving is one of those things that will upset some of the old guard who knew him, but I also finally see a chance to get DC to get things a lot more right. They have made multiple mistakes over the last 20 years, mistakes that have clearly shown a "don't change too much" mentality which has hamstrung them horribly for two decades.

In the prior post back in 2006, i referenced an interview with Levitz where he talks about the reprints that DC put out (and I'm making the assumption, which could easily be wrong, that the movement to try these other formats was with Levitz and then-publisher Jeanette Kahn) and how they failed. What was so obvious to everyone else, which is why they didn't sell, is that none of the reprints with the crappy flexo coloring passed the smell test to anyone except those so intrenched in the halls at DC.

While it may be true that Levitz lobbied hard for creator rights on the back end, which is admirable, he also has to be considered behind the disaster that has been the recent DC initiaitives such as Minx. Basically, almost anything that would have stretched beyond the normal bounds of comics "as we knew them" has been scuttled behind the scenes. And it didn't have to be. Perhaps trying to keep DC from being sucked into the Time/Warner monolith was a noble but misguided intention. Perhaps trying to keep their little small world small wasn't a good idea. In fact, I'm sure it wasn't.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the new DC will accomplish. Because the last time we had a new DC, when Kahn had taken over, we saw actual growth and ingenuity. And that was 20 years ago.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Time Warner Comics and the Mighty Disney Avengers

I was asked about the Warner/DC moves in conjunction with the Disney/Marvel purchase and how it might affect artists working for the companies. Here is my answer:

I believe that Warner has long treated DC as the bastard stepchild that they inherited, and did not appear too eager to actually plumb the creative resources that they had at their disposal. They followed the old adage, "Well, Batman is popular, but now we'll do it RIGHT!" conveniently ignoring all the great stories that had been done in the comics because, to them, comics were crap.

Marvel hired people who took a chance and used the properties to make movies that took directly from the best elements of the comics themselves and thus used their acquisitions to their best advantage. X-Men 2 is Chris Claremont's X-Men and no one elses... and its by far the best comic book movie ever made in my opinion.

Time Warner is just making adjustments that will allow them to use their properties as best as they can, something that they should have been doing 20 years ago. Neither corporate move would stop me from doing work from either company, they may actually become more professional in their dealings with artists as time goes on. We writers and artists can get screwed by a much better class of people.

As our little niche media is recognized by the rest of the general public for what we comic fans had always known- i.e. that we're a media with a lot of entertainment to give - we should expect that with greater dollars comes greater responsibility, and greater corporate overseeing.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

DC and Kirby: dialogue to die for...

If there was anything that stood out in the DC comics of the early 1970's, it was, perhaps, that their idea of "hip" dialogue was so far off the mark as to send up an ugly flag saying "we're old white men who don't understand you hippies! Buy our comics anyway!" A quick read of the Jimmy Olsens from Kirby's New Gods Omnibus should give you a pretty good idea of what we're talking about.

So I was a little shocked to see this example show up of the cover from the revived Sandman by Simon and Kirby from 1974. Clearly the final cover was taken from this art and simply manipulated by enlarging and cropping the stats to make the final image (with perhaps a little reinking by the DC bullpen, i can't tell exactly from the small image), and the dreamer at the base has been changed, but take a look at the word balloon to see the dialogue change. Jack or Joe's original dialogue is a fairly straightforward "Come see what I've dreamed up for YOU!" while the printed version contains an entirely new noun brought to earth from Apokolips: "Come see what weirdies I've dreamed up for YOU!"

I've always blamed material like that on Jack's notoriously tin ear when it comes to dialogue, but I have to say that there is a likelyhood that this is editorial sticking its head in and taking what is a fairly straightforward and simple piece of text (while not the most exciting) and making it about 10 times worse. No wonder people headed for the exits in droves, whether to the Avengers and the FF or just away from comics in particular, but still to the exits.

What is most interesting is, given all the Kirby material that we've been exposed to in fandom, especially through TwoMorrows Kirby Magazine, is just how bizarrely he was edited. Yes, he had a tendency to compose word jazz, not dialogue that anyone would actually say, and introduce characters and ideas willy-nilly as they occured to him rather than by any defined structure, but the heavy handed nature of the later Marvel editing and the later DC editing certainly was no better than the hands off approach that was tried as well. It is clear that Jack's idea for the Surfer would have yeilded a more satisfying character arc than Stan's exceptionally over-wrought one, but it is also clear that the 4th World series needed guidance to have achieved more than what we got. Sadly, the industry nor the personalities involved seemed to find a happy medium. Alas.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Disney and Marvel: A Marriage Made in Heck

Oh Wow.

That was my terribly sophisticated reaction on Monday to the news that Marvel Comics had been purchased by Disney. And I stand by it. I really didn't know quite what to think. Mainly because this has NOTHING TO DO WITH COMICS. This does have everything to do with properties and distribution and pre-existing contracts vs. new contracts for uses of those properties. The actual pamphlets here have little or no cash value intrinsically, since the numbers are so small, but using those X-men or Spider-Man characters and we're dealing with millions and billions of dollars.

Which makes this an interesting analog to the DC-Time Warner deal, a deal that always promised to give us greater integration of the DC universe into the real world and yet only gave us two good Batman movies, one forgettable Superman movie and a bunch of Teen Titans Go! cartoons. Somehow it always seemed that Time Warner saw DC as the bastard step child of material and just couldn't bring itself to care too much, they certainly seemed like they looked at the catalog of properties that they had bought and gagged. There was never that moment where they said, "Hey, Birds of Prey thing? We can get behind that!" And when that didn't succeed, where is the next one? Where is the TNT Challengers of the Unknown series? Where is the Secret Six series?

You can bet that Disney is licking their chops over some more obscure Marvel characters that they can repurpose and rennovate and recreate and remarket. There are, lets face it, a ton of them.

The best analysis over the deal, and all the different contracts that Disney will have to contend with, is here, at Nikki's blog. Fascinating stuff, given that they're discussing contracts and character usage that I've never even known about, and it makes you realize just how ugly this contract situation is if Universal didn't cover enough territory over eventualities like this in their theme park contracts. Yikes.

It will be verrrrrrrry interesting to see how the rest plays out. More later as I dig into more of the Hollywood stuff.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to The King

A simple post. i won't bother typing out my interactions with Jack Kirby, all one of them as it was, frankly, completely unremarkable in the grand scheme of his life. (My favorite personal Kirby story can be found here, actually.) It was, however, remarkable in mine only for the chance to actually talk with the grand man of comics for a while. No great anecdotes were shared I'm afraid. I knew Jack, like most, through his art.

Jack was one of the great creative forces of American culture in the 20th Century. It simply took much much longer for anyone to realize it given the poor status of comics socially. But millions of people read his books. Millions. And then another generation came and read them and passed them around... and then another generation... From 1939 in the 1980's we had a creative genius who struggled to make ends meet and never reap the rewards of his fertile imagination.

Think about that. The Beatles changed culture with their music world wide and they were recording for six years. Six years. Jack was active for well over 40 years. Astonishing.

Reproduced here is one of my favorite Kirby panels of all time, from Fantastic Four #55 just to say, well, thanks Jack. You were one of a kind.