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.