Friday, May 29, 2009

I've got a Giant Sized Man-Thing for ya baby...

Noah Berlatsky and Tucker Stone are blogging their way through the classic Man-Thing series of Adventure into Fear and Man-Thing, and given that I was reading those front and center when they were coming out, I realized that someone had to go along and blog with them on this (especially since they're doing all the scanner work so that I don't have to).

First off, they have parts 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 up already.

And lets face it, someone clearly dug through the half price trades bin at the con and picked up that Essential Man-Thing trade.

Of course, I couldn't wait to see what they said about the bizarre acid trip that is Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1. Here are the comments on Howard the Duck's first appearance:
Oddly enough, the Conan-stand-in [Korrek] seems to share my feelings, because he likes and respects him immediately as well. Considering that most of Korrek's speeches and actions so far have painted his character as an aggressive jump-first type of character, it makes Howard that much more interesting when you see him tell the barbarian to shut up. Why does Howard get to order around Conan and treat Man-Thing like a retarded golden retriever? Gerber doesn't say. He doesn't need to. Howard gets to do that stuff because he's Howard The Duck.
Now, this is the fun of revisionist history here, knowing that Howard became a media sensation, as well as getting spun off into his own book, but at the time, we were simply witnessing all weirdness that Gerber and Mayerik could come up with. Any you know what? It made as much sense as Crisis on Infinite Earths did all those years later. What is intersting is Gerber's take on the entire thing, which is to almost to admit that the insanity level would be so high that the rational being would basically have to either lose his marbles or just roll with the entire thing.

Tucker wonders why Howard is there at all. The answer is simple, as simple as Ben Grimm in the FF: someone needs to be the voice of reason and ground the whole frikkin' thing or it really does spin so far out of control that we, the reader, could really care less. Howard allows Gerber to have his cake and eat it too: all the weirdness that Gerber's right brain can come up with, his left brain can make a clever, Give me a fucking break." kinda comment, and thus the story moves.

As far as villans go, the Nether Spawn was pretty fun, even if he didn't have the snappiest lines of all time, he was rather sinister if you bought into the whole panethon that Dakimh did. Anytime i drive around California and see "Dog is my co-pilot" bumper stickers, i'm reminded of Man-Thing #1. After all these years, scary I know, but that's the way my brain works.

After basically lambasting Gerber for some real by the numbers issues of Fear, I'll be interested to see what Noah and Tucker think about the issues when Gerber finally gets his brain wrapped around the sorts of stories that he wants to use Man-Thing for. Man-Thing #5 is about where is gets good. Steve creates a level of Brechtian pathos that most comics would never even dare attempt, let alone create on page after page. The death of the clown? Either brilliant pathos or inspired lunacy depending upon your vantage point. Hard to say where they will fall.

Part of it, of course, is the art. Val Mayerik did a good job, but was always inked so roughly that it missed the mark of being anything classic. When Ploog comes on, things get better by leaps and bounds, even if they would never hit the high notes that Wrightson would hit on Swamp Thing. Brunner's Man-Thing covers hint at how devastating the creature could have been in the right hands.

Looking forward to the next post from Tucker and Noah...

Rogers Art at Diversions of a Groovy Kind

Just a quick note to show my appreciation for Ol' Groove putting up his scans of the early Marshall Rogers work on the Calculator series over at his blog, Diversions of a Groovy Kind. Marshall was unique, and an incredible talent for this medium, and I'm so sorry that he's gone well before his time. Go check out the pages and realize that they're a couple of months before he literally redefined The Batman for an entire generation.

A couple of months.

And don't forget to also go over to YoComics to read the beginning of the black and white detective story, The Carnival: The Human Hourglass, with artwork not a little inspired by Marshall's underappreciated work on Detectives Inc.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tekno, Defiant, Broadway: the Comic Book Shellgame

James Vance is chronicling his Brilliant Career at Tekno Comics over at his blog, and it should be required reading for everyone at the same time as Tim Perkins early days at Defiant Comics. Welcome to the 1990's my friends, or practically any other era where the dreams fly high, the money seems like it could actually come in, and the sales look like they might actually happen.

We creative types always fall for it. We're prone to it by virtue of creating fantasies in our heads for everyone else to read and live. And we keep thinking that, at some point, we might live one too.

I read Vance's columns and had a horrible amount of deja vu, listening to the editorial nit-picking that would ruin his Gaiman-bibled comic. I worked under Ed Polgardy at Defiant, and, sadly, Ed got himself into the same position at Tekno that he had at Defiant. He only knew one way to produce the comics, it didn't work the first time, and there was very little reason to assume it would work the second time. Training under Shooter was not the best thing that could have happened to him. Ed's boss at Defiant, Deborah Purcell knew next to nothing about creating good comics. Her background in editing may have qualified her for working with words, but there was nothing in her resume that would show that she could understand, nurture and comment correctly on the unique verbal/visual mix that is comics. Her later replacement, Pauline Weiss, came from an entirely different background, but Pauline knew, in her DNA, what could make good comics better, or fix crappy ones. Its a unique talent.

I vividly recall a meeting with JG Jones, Jim Shooter and Joe James in the Defiant era that would define the sort of "this will put you in your place" get together that you would have: I was asked to drop by the office for them to criticize the one line on the interior of the mouth of a character's face that was on a nine-panel grid page. Seriously. I'm sure the Joe knew it was a ridiculous meeting, but he had to go in with a straight face and critique it.

The worst phrase in corporate America is "value added", because it assumes that everyone has a valid opinion. And they don't. I hire someone to fix my sink, my comments, no matter how well intentioned, are not "value added". I'm not a plumber. And any number of editors and money men and financers and backers and girlfriends of publishers and wives of editors can have an opinion, but all they will likely do it ruin things worst than they already are. Your book may be crap, but now its committee crap, which is clearly worse crap.

I will eagerly follow Vance's next post, so that we can all follow the trail of failure and its lurid smell. And once again I will say, given all the talented people that I"ve met in the comics world, and the good will and the desire to do work that isn't crap, why does it all turn to shit every time we turn around? Read all the creative type's blogs and you'll see that the blame seems to fall squarely on the editorial shoulders, but its not that simple and you and I know it. I do know that if any of the editors have a blog that addresses their time in the comic world I would love to read it. Might balance things out just a little bit.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hard At Work: The Human Hourglass

My sister in law was in town and took a couple photos, one of me that proves, despite the slow pace of pages, that I'm hard at work on the first Carnival story. I think that the glass on the screen needs at bit more airbrushing....

while my youngest daughter, drawing a Cyberman on the same drawing table right next to me, looks skeptical.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dr Strange and Clea by Craig Hamilton

Only came back from Super-Con with one piece of artwork this year, but its a doozy. Already up on the wall of the studio. Its a prelim of the a Dr. Strange piece Craig is working on, and it takes me back to the heady Englehart/Brunner days of Doc in Marvel Premiere. Great stuff back then, great stuff now.

If anything, you could argue that Steve matured the character a little too quickly really. He killed off the ancient one, had Strange go back to beginning of creation and meet God (in the form of Sise-Neg), and battle and escape Death in the silver Dagger series. Not bad in about 12 issues in all, but geez, leave the guy something to do. These days, Steve could have taken the slower path and run that to two years at least. Gaiman could have turned it into 5 years given the opportunity.

Talking about Englehart, one of the best writers in comics over the last 35 years; his novel the Point Man has been on my book shelf for almost as long, and I'm delighted to see that he will finally have a sequel coming out next year, even if it has been delayed from this year. Given that I've waited this long, I think that I can wait a few more months. It does appear that there will be a new version of the Point Man as well, so I can finally replace the image of that 1979 haircut that I've for all these years.

Keep your eyes on Steve's official site, linked above, for further progress.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Super-Con: quick hits and first impressions

Back from San Jose and just about to crash. Super-Con was richly attended by artists, so the folks that came had a great selection of folks to talk to and artwork to check out. Essentially no original art dealers, but artwork to buy from the artists themselves. The best piece belonged to my table mate, the great Craig Hamilton, who had a simply astonishing full color piece with him showing off the entire Starlinverse. It was just breathtaking, the amount of work that Craig had put in. There are many more close up shots over at Craig's gallery. Certainly plenty of the other artists agreed, and spent time coming over to check it out.

One of the best things that the Steves who run Super-Con do is to put together a good mix of established stars and new folks and to mix 'em up. Our row of tables had a healthy mix of veteran and newbie, giving the convention goer a chance to see some new material while in search of some of their favorites. I was happy to be down the row from Craig Hamilton and Mick Grey, who is always good for some killer artwork and good music talk. And it that means a few more folks who saw the new flyers for, more the better. Besides being nice guys, its great to talk art with them and learn some new things.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Getting Ready: Super-Con and

Just a quick post while I get the site ready to launch, listen to old Concrete Blonde and sip a little tequila, and get set for Super-Con this weekend. (Here is just a panel from the first story: The Carnival: The Human Hourglass)

If you're going to be in San Jose, I'll be there saturday, sketching and with some artwork to sell as well. If you read the blog and enjoy it, please stop by and let me know.

There is, of course, other art at the site to check out, some of which has been here on the blog, some that hasn't.

I'll be back tomorrow to debunk Tim Perkin's personal memoir about the early days at Defiant Comics as well. Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Getting Into The Business: Defiant Comics and The Commune

I've blogged a couple times over what it was like to finally get accepted into the world of being a comic professional, (just search my blog with "defiant"), and primarily to see if i could capture the sense of wonder and accomplishment that came with finally "making it" past the velvet rope. Now, my old friend Tim Perkins has started to do the same thing, and it is, of course, very interesting to read from his perspective. Worth a read, as he goes into more detail than I have done in my particular case, but his is rather more interesting as he was an Englishman coming to America for the first time, so there is an extra sense of "fish out of water" in the telling.

Pop on over if you get the chance!

Also, the underground instant classic horror film The Commune (reviews here and here)is showing opening night at Dances With Film in LA. For a solid dose of Wicker Man type horror, you need to get your butt over to the theatre to see this one. Those with sharp eyes will see my artwork for Pistoleras in the background of one scene, which will be pretty cool to see. This, however, is a badass film that is scarier in a far deeper way that another maniac running through the woods with a saw/drill/disc sander. Go check it out!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Miracleman Redux: the penultimate chapter

I've been following the Miracleman saga for some time now, both with posts in appreciation of the work that was done on the character, and interesting tidbits of news that have popped up over the years regarding the ongoing rights battle (and this one has a badass Totleben sketchbook piece with it), so here, in the interests of completeness, is one more bit, from the UK's Forbidden Planet website interview of Mr. Moore:
I mean, other than the fact that I was happy to do everything that I could to help Mick Anglo, who is the person who has always owned all of the rights to Marvelman, as far as I now understand it, that we never had the rights to do those stories, even though Mick really liked the stories that we did. We didn’t understand at the time that Mick Anglo was the sole owner of the rights. We were misled. So I’ve done everything that I can to clear all that up. I’ve said that, they talked about the possibility – what they want is money quickly, because Mick’s a very old man, he’s got a sick wife to look after, and they could use some dosh quite quickly.

I mean, I believe that the Todd McFarlane thing, his ridiculous claims to the character have now been dropped, so it can move on. I believe that they’re going to be reprinting some of my stuff, but I’m not sure of all the details, I’ve just said, “Yeah, go ahead,” and all the money from the first book, from the first printing of the book, should go to Mick Anglo. They’ve also said that what if there’s a possibility of some animated Marvelman cartoons, and I’ve said, again, “Don’t put me name on them, and give all the money to Mick Anglo.” So I hope that some of it turns up in time to do Mick some good, because he’s a great artist, you know, the British comics scene would be poorer without him, and I’m making great use of Captain Universe – oh, I’ve given it away!

Yes, Mr. Moore has created a Miracleman stand-in in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which, no doubt, will be created and handled with the same verve and delightful lack of respect that he has accorded to many of the other figures that have popped up in the League books. (Edit on 20 May 2009: I have been corrected by the interviewer below in the comments section about this, so my apologies for misreading and misreporting this.)

But what is great is that Mick Angelo being alive and being, hopefully without dispute, the sole owner of the rights is literally the only possible solution to the Gordonian Knot (howabout that for a Watchmen reference?) that the Miracleman rights had become.

Here it is: its all his. Every creator out there that worked on the series: you got your page rate, and you get no reprint rates out of the goodness of your heart and it all goes to Mick and his heirs in perpetuity. Give the man something. I want my hardcover edition of the Miracleman saga and I'll pay for it up front to give Angelo the money. Get it reprinted and out there. And if it sells well enough, see if Gaiman and Buckingham want to finish their run on the title.

This is likely the best ending to this that i could have imagined. Lets hope that it sticks. Any lawsuits by Dez Skinn and I'm going to go punch someone out.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Direct Market Fails Yet Again

Excellent post by Tom over at The Comics Reporter regarding the disaster that is the direct market the way that it exists today.
I know that Warlord of IO is only one comic book, but a long time ago that what's the Direct Market was set up to do: give people a chance to buy the one comic book they wanted to buy... It's one thing for an evolution in the marketplace to replace a high-end delivery system with something better: more efficient, with more choices for the consumer and greater reward to the artists. But whatever gets the chance to replace a system that's this broken won't have to be anything special at all.
No, it won't. The "direct market" as we have it now is a monopoly that is continuing to serve less and less the people who were the ones that had clamored for the market in the first place. 1977, and those of us who loved comics had to travel to 4 different locations to get the next issues of the books that we loved. (In my case, the 7-11, Guasco's Market, Stop N' Go and a fourth place whose name has completely escaped me) Getting specialty shop that would actually bring in the books that we loved as well as other things that we didn't know that we would need but soon couldn't live without seemed like a dream come true.

Little did we know that the eventual ghetto-ization of comics would mean a further reduction in the number of people reading them, nor would we know that financial hi-jinks o fthe mid '90's would lead us to the disaster that we have now: a monopoly in bad financial straits giving us and the retailers that we would like to keep around less and less incentive to actively order or stock anything new or different.

Same ol', same ol'.

As Tom mentions, the idea of a specialty store seemed like a great idea, until the people ordering for that store ran into a few obstacles: namely, the conservative nature of the standard comic goer (a distinct unwillingness by a huge chunk of the audience to move beyond the comic format and type that they were used to, which creates its own problems along the way, as they grew up... and the X-Men didn't, which led to the storytelling dilemma), the conservative nature of the usual comic book store owner, and the general rattiness of the post superhero market in the 1980's.

Part of the difficulty here is the store owner needing to potentially branch out to a new audience that will come in asking for what, essentially, Borders is trying to do by mere proximity: sow the rest of the world that there are a ton of comics out there other than Marvel and DC. And your average store owner has neither the time, budget, knowhow or ability to get to that public. And Diamond, the sole survivor of the distributor wars, is doing less and less to help grow that audience.

This is part of the slow suicide of Diamond. Shrink your bloated entity of a catalog down so that the is less diversity, less reason to get new customers, less choices for shops already selling the same product to the same customers week after week. Eventually these shops will close down, as there are less and less people to keep them open. Thanks Diamond, your smart short term solutions are working as well as Phil's idea to take them out of the 7-11's. Only the fall out will be faster, because this whole process is speeding up in this economy.

And because there are a whole host of other places that people can get their comics now. The fact that you're reading is part of that revolution, since i never would have had a voice in the old media.

So quit bitching you say, what's the answer? There are no easy answers here, except that the Direct Market, or really, Diamond needs to be different. Period. And the shops that can only get their stuff from Diamond have to be unhappy with the current climate. Eventually it will have to be different, there are simply too many different places to get the comics, and too many other possible business models that can come to exist, and the minute that one of them over takes the others, it will mean more comics for the rest of us, and a lot of pain for the small businessmen in the trenches of comic retail-dom. And, as Tom predicts, the revolution won't have to be large and noisy, but it will be swift in places, so swift that it will be like the newspapers: where suddennly the reading/buying habits change all across the board and those left standing behind will wonder what happened. And you won't notice it that much until the day that Marvel jumps in.

Now, Brian Hibbs from Comics Experience has joined in with a post over at Savage Critics that discusses consumers as well as retailers and publishers in connection with the Direct Market, as well as making suggestions that Diamond might want to consider. Many of which I agree with, but, as always, whenever I get into Brian's blogging, I find something to disagree with.
CONSUMERS: Honestly, a fair chunk of the issue is your own fault -- you, collectively, have decided that you aren't as interested in buying serialized comics as you once were. That's fair enough, and I Get It -- there's more being produced than you can possibly keep up with, and the Collected Edition is (nearly) always a better package: no ads, no waiting for the Rest, typically cheaper than its components, and so on. Like I said, I Get It.
As someone who does retail as the main paycheck these days, and not comics, I can honestly have a business owner's take on this: Blaming the consumer, unless, like with newspapers, they want something for nothing, is complete bullshit. The people are your lifeblood. They have the power as a market to keep you in business or in that new tent city springing up in the parking lot of Pac Bell Park. As every business in the last 100 years has proven, you can't tell people who want a new fangled "horse-less carriage" that should stick with their horse and buggy. Those people will want their automobile and they don't want the old product. Shockingly, there are few horse and buggy dealers on the 101.

Yes, you get it. Trades have taken over. So, no, its not their fault. And, yes, if you do get it, then you get to stay in business, as opposed to closing your doors, because you're giving your patrons what they want.

How to keep the buying habit you ask? Good question. Taking a look at other media shows that they don't expect the retailer to solely market their products. Warner Brothers will actually market a new CD and not expect that the owner of Bob's records to have the budget or time to promote that one new CD in favor of the other 87 that came last week. How do people keep coming back to other stores? With different frequency is probably the right answer, even if its not the answer that you want to hear.

I blame the consumers for much of the newspaper problems, but in this case, I don't blame the consumer one bit. They've spoken and the retailers might want to listen.

Look, saying that "alternative" and "art" comics are a lost cause sounds a lot like someone giving up really. You ceertainly have more press being generated these days in the San Francisco Chronicle (someone in their Datebook section really does like comics and comic book culture) by alt comics, even if it may not drive the numbers in to your shop that X-men do. I'm not a comics retailer, and i don't access to your figures, but i refuse to believe that given the very nature of superheroes (i.e. most people outgrow them) that there can't be something more to those sales, a sense that you might continue to build another audience.

Look, Brian's comments on publishers and Diamond slimming down their catalog are right on, but the reality is is that there has to be a better way to do this. So we can all get our comics.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Hulk by Steve Ditko circa 1964

Just a little something: the only Hulk pencils that I've ever seen by Steve Ditko, from a time, judging by the notes, when Ditko's work on Hulk #6 was going to then transition over to Tales to Astonish. No idea where this came from, but it is truly amazing to have survived all these years. Take a good look, since this piece will be going up for auction and probably never coming out once it gets into some collectors hands!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Captain America: Kirby & Yoakum for SuperCon

This is the second Kirby piece that i've inked via lightbox (the first one for the Heroes and Villians black book) and blue pencil (this one). The first i tried to do this Syd Shores thing (ala Captain America #100-103) but this time its a Frank Giacoia thing, albeit with a bit more delicacy on the brush. I suspect that Frank used a much larger sable brush than i'm using. I'd use a larger on if I was working twice up as well!

This piece could be yours if you want to win that auction for it at SuperCon in San jose in two weeks!