Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Experiment: Girl #1

Been a long time since i've experimented with color, but getting the new Robert Maguire book (Dames, Dolls and Gun Molls by Jim Silke) for Chanukah, i've felt the need to play around a little bit.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Event Marketing vs. - gasp- Actual Stories

So its come to this has it? The Event loving chickens have come home to roost and sales are down at retailers for 18 months straight and suddenly the retailers and publishers are wondering where the readers have gone. And they both have different ideas of who to blame.

Johanna Carlson comes in with a short but succinct post about it, comparing quotes from Brian hibbs and marvel's Tom Breevort concerning cutting back the publishing line, since Brian believes that it is just such a glut of overlapping titles that has sapped the will of the consumer to buy. The Robot 6 post puts the two of them head to head.

Now, I know that i'm not the average superhero consumer. Quite the opposite it seems, since i tend to despise the event marketing and feel that it simply disrupts the actual writing of good stories, since there is so much crap that each issue has to do to make sure that it links in with the other issues properly. And, as we all know, they NEVER interlink properly.

So i've been buying Thor and Fantastic Four AS LONG AS THEY DON'T INTERLINK WITH THE REST OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE. And because there were some interesting stories going down there. But now I'm seeing multiple Thor books and FF appearsl to be coming out sporadically and Marvel is, once again, pissing me off. So yes, the local retailer is going to have a harder time getting my money because they are once again making my life difficult.

Why is it that hard? Because nothing succeeds like copying success, and if the event strategy has worked in the past, you're not going to convince the heads up at marvel with their sales charts not to do it again, despite the general blog-o-sphere showing that the public is tired of the events. Companies, constantly looking ahead by checking out the past are notoriously bad at taking the temperture of the general public. otherwise we wouldn't have seem so many Disco albums released after 1980. Or so many Secret Wars after the wars were no longer... um... secret.

So here's the deal guys: I don't quite believe in Brian's hypothesis that the event marketing has conditioned me to ignore titles that weren't part of the cross over, it has done the opposite. It has made me want to only look at titles that weren't part of the crossovers. But he's right in that the missing ingredient in comics right now is that they're not giving me my series heroin: a series so good that i'm there for it each and every damn month and if I don't get it I'll explode. And while Tom is busy asserting that sale don't aggregate if you were to consolidate the different Spider Man (and I'm sure that he has the data to back it up), i wish that he would answer the other unspoken question of whether or not sales would go up if you had a dedicated writer and artist creating a better product rather than a product noted for simply interlocking. Or a comic noted for being a great read rather than a comic noted for crossing over to other cross overs.

Either way, in a shitty economy, you're lost readers and that's never good.


Blown Away: the Tanuka's Hard Apple

I hate them.

The Tanukas that is. Asaf and Tomer.

I first fell in love with their work in small spot illos in the New Yorker. I was clipping them and putting them up on the idea wall in my studio. I soon realized that i totally dug their aesthetic. It was Jewish and unorthodox with regards to color and visual viewpoint.

Now I've been working on crime comics now for about 2 years and made some progress, but then Asaf and Tomer come along with some bad ass character designs and stunning panels on a Jerome Charyn adaption and blow me the fuck out of the water.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Colleen Doran and Techdirt redux

There is an excellent follow up to my Colleen Doran post on live journal that effectively says it all, in a fairly short period of time:
What sort of fandom demands so much from creators without being willing to meet them halfway, or in fact, to even so much as click a link or type a URL? Whatever Colleen Doran's failings may be as an Internet entrepreneur, how much more the failings of the fans who let their own apathy and greed prevent them from supporting things they say they supposedly like?
and its interesting that, in the comments section of my post, the writer of the Techdirt post, Tim Geigner, tries to get out of how harsh he was to Colleen. Tim tries to get people to back off by saying, in effect, "look, I write fiction too. I'm in the same boat as you guys." Except that its not the same boat. Never will be. Different people have different levels of financial commitment and time commitment, and there simply isn't an excuse for the level of anger towards Colleen in the comments section, nor for the level of snarky sneering towards someone who hasn't somehow "monetized" the internet properly.

There is no single justification for hating on an artist who is tired of getting ripped off. None. They have a right to be angry. And a right to want to be paid for their hard work. Because it is hard work, and it takes time, and there are only so many hours in the day and so many years in an artist's life to do the work.

Why does everyone want to try to defend the pirates and not the artist? No one else here has potentially been wronged, not the scanner of the work in question, not the person who downloaded the jpegs, not the server host, not the website owners. No, the only person with any skin the game at all is the artist and no one at Techdirt wants to stand up for them. "Well, what we write can be posted anywhere and we won't have a problem with that."

"I can't be a racist. I have lots of black friends."

Defend the person who is getting hurt here, without mealy mouthing about losing your free download privileges. Go download someone else's work who doesn't care that you're doing it. Go buy something from their store. You like to consume content over the internet? Put you damn money where your mouth is and go buy something to support the artist. For once.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oliva: in sketch form

We interrupt this Starlin-fest to bring you something from my sketchbook: my youngest daughter reading my wife and me a story.

I kinda like this one.

We'll get back to the Starlin art orgy soon, and I want to start to put down some thoughts on Levitz's Coffeetable DC book. No, its not a book for the coffeetable, it IS the coffeetable.

I also want to welcome new visitors from Belgium, Sweden and Uruguay!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Captain Marvel #29: Starlin & Milgrom - The Real Cover!

And in honor of the review of the Starlin book, here is the ORIGINAL cover to Captain Marvel #29: one of the most iconic covers in Marvel Comics history.

Not owned by me but by Len Gallo. Don't be jealous of me. I've only seen it up close once.

...and I think that Len either has, or knows the guy who owns the splash to issue #29. He had it at San Diego a few years ago. I should have asked him if he wanted to trade for the splash of issue #30.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In Review Of: Jim Starlin - A Life In Words and Pictures

This is an interesting book to be reviewing, given that its finally a retrospective by one of the two major influences in my artistic life. Starlin and Gulacy were to the two men who really changed my life by providing art and stories that I was dying to try and compete with. The irony, of course, is that you'll never top those formative stories. They tend to take on far greater significance in your head than just being issue #30, or #40.

Now, having worked with Gulacy on and off since 1996, I have less issue with making comments on his work. I guess having pages that i inked included in his art book gives me the chance to be making those comment for a place of knowledge.

Starlin, on the other hand, is a whole different kettle of cosmic fish. We've met a few times, but he wouldn't remember me from any other artist/fan, so I've no other connection with him other than continuing to read over his work on the periods that i've enjoyed. I was looking forward to a "Behind the Music" approach to some of my favorite comics. What i got with this book, both fed that desire, but also left me terribly hungry for more. I'll be curious to see if other Starlin-ophiles like my buddy Alex Sheikman feel the same.

Gems to be found here: Jim admitting that we started the whole Thanos story with a bunch of characters in mind and nothing resembling a plot. That Roy Thomas wanted Captain Marvel to have the glittering trail behind him. He added the guest stars on the book (Iron Man and the Avengers) on a whim. He demanded to have a say over the inkers on Captain Marvel and the resulting demand got him off the book.

And now the quibbling on my part: We are treated to a number of panels of artwork and even full pages being reproduced here, but very little original artwork. Now, i know that after all this time the art has been long since sold, but lets look at who this book is for. Not the casual fan. No, this book is entire for the long devoted, cosmic cube loving Starlin fan. So why print a number of panels that we already know and love and give us more original art to look at? The only original of the entire Captain Marvel run reproduced here is the cover for #30, which Jim sold only recently. And its the size of a postage stamp. Why not put the call out to the artistic community? I alone could have provided a print read version of three different pages from issue #30, including two splash pages. I've seen the unaltered cover for issue #29, Jim's original version without the Romita head. Why isn't that in there, as large as could be? (The original artwork for Captain Marvel is concentrated primarily in the hands of about about 6 individuals, and we're all fairly well known, it wouldn't have been that hard.)

And why is there a ton of art from the late 1970's printed before the chapter on Captain Marvel 1973-1974? It comes at exactly the wrong point in the book. Its out of chronology and even messes up the narrative flow of the text.

Warlock fairs better, with a couple of great scans of original art, and a more precise storyline of exactly how working with Marvel went on that series. What is missing is a dissection of just how the Universal Church of Truth came from his being in a strict Catholic school growing up, and how the inventive time travel story ending came about. Its a deep storyline, one with more emotional gravitas and thought than most superhero stories. I guess that i'd love to hear Jim go deeper into the work.

Metamorphosis Odyssey comes off better here than it did at the time in the Epic books, I think partly because the art isn't a complete and utter muddle in the printing, and it comes off less as "The Grand Artistic Statement" and more as someone stretching out and trying something new.

Another gem: Jim dislocated his finger playing volleyball and had to tape a felt tip pen to his hand to ink the book. Which is why it looks different. And why the originals have all turned blue and purple over time. And that the book was part of the game changers on royalties to artists. As was Dreadstar.

Jim goes on to delineate any number of other projects over the next 20 years, many I'd seen, and some that i hadn't, but i won't spoil your chance to dig into the book for yourself. Certainly it does an excellent job of spelling out the much more of the editorial insanity that continually pushed Jim away from comics, or completely scuttled series that would have been worth reading. Why? No idea other than it was something that i saw in the comics industry every damn day taht i worked there. Now, this is just Jim's side, and he is nothing is not at opinionated figure, which was presented to me when i showed him a portfolio of work back in '89 or '90 and he told me in fairly straight forward terms to keep my day job. Always.

Jim makes the point of saying on page 294 that he doesn't want to come off "like a bitter old man, ranting about all the things that went wrong with his final job in commercial comics", but after a while it hard to make excuses for why so many creative people constantly have to do interviews to explain how editorial messed up their most recent project. I have no problem believing Jim when he writes, "There was no longer any fun in the job (working for Marvel or DC)." And that's so sad.

Jim came in when comics were chaos, and an ex-viet nam vet who would still get drunk or loaded could go home and create a bunch of crazy fun shit that has clearly stood the test of time. And that time is long since past. Rock and Roll has moved on.

I appreciate the reprint of more obscure short stores in the back, at least one that i hadn't seen. And I like the few pages of proposals that didn't go through as well. I suppose that none of the sketches from back in the day could have been used to round out the pages from earlier in Jim's career. Are there no long lost sketches from Captain Marvel or Warlock for us to check out? No old script pages? Nothing else to let us peak behind the curtain? After all, we're the die hards; we'd appreciate stuff like that.

And, unlike many other popular comics figures, Jim's best work deserves that level of dissection. At his best, Jim posed philosophical questions of his villians, and existential queries about not just his heroes but all his protagonists. He used off-handed Kirby creations like the cosmic cube in throughly creative ways, and did so in a time when the use of corporate comics as a means of personal expression was becoming the norm for the young mavericks of the 1970's. The proof of Jim's genius is rooted in the fact that there have been very few legitimate additions to the cosmic pantheon of Marvel that haven't been branched off of Jim's ideas. With two failing heroes, Jim created a storm of ideas around them. Ideas that are still being traded off even today.

Soul Gem? Check. Titan, a hollow moon of Jupiter? Check. Cosmic awareness? Check. Thanos. Gamora. Pip. Infinity Gems. Inbetweener. Chaos. Order.

Thanos. Villian who didn't want to knock over banks. No, he worshipped Death. Try saying that over in your head a few times. He was Darkseid done better.

I'd have loved for Jim to address some of his own, reportedly, dissatisfaction with his art, and his switch to writing in the 1980's. What prompted his change in style? Other than Kirby and Ditko, who else influenced his early art? The change of only doing pencils instead of inks in the mid-1980's? Who got him to have the vast majority of his characters constantly ready to pounce? Where did this delicate inking style on his book plate illustrations come from? Inquiring minds want to know on a $50 book.

i've been meaning to do an appreciation post on Starlin, as i had Gulacy for the blog. As a nice history piece. Perhaps this will be a good push to do that. In the meantime, this is one fun book. And while shorter on substance that i would have liked, I still enjoyed it quite a bit, even if it wasn't quite the behind the scenes look that I would have loved.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Is It Really A Bomb If It Goes Off And No One Knows It?

If the tastes change, can we all start to complain that the general public likes our little college indy band? Retorically, I feel like that is a little of what Frank Santoro is lamenting in his Comics Comics column. Frank riffs on how the general public has taken over what used to be our little corner of the world and, a little annoyingly, moved on without us. And that's OK.

A few points that he makes along the way:
So, I thought I’d riff a little bit on what I think Evan is getting at – because I definitely remember when the L ’n R Sketchbook came out and how big of a deal it was for many of us at the time
Really? Perhaps it was in your comic shop at the time. I was reading Love and Rockets from issue #5, and when the sketchbook came it, it was like, "Cool, an artbook with Jamie's work." I don't know why it would have been seen as a "minor bombshell", but clearly both Frank and Evan Dorkin saw it at the time, so it just goes to show how different the reaction was. But it makes the point that, given the scarcity of the material back in the day, that each new work that WASN'T superheroes was a revelation, something to be held up and examined by the light from all angles. There was that little out there.

(edit: It has been pointed out by Evan Dorkin, who originally started this chain of thoughts that I was trying to be totally snarky, which points out that tone is damn hard on the internet sometimes. I meant to come off as a bit surprised by the comment, which i was. No nastiness intended in this post. In general, I was quite in agreement with Frank's original thoughts on his post.)

And now... well, now there isn't. Now we've become what we always wanted: practically mainstream, and respectable. Wow, who would have thunk it? We're in book stores, in sometimes big numbers, we have entire conventions that feature monographs and graphic novels and objects d' art like MOCCA and APE, we get reviewed in legitimate publications like the NY Times book review and even win Pulitzers.

And we're so large that there is no longer the one "Book of the Show" that everyone in talking about. Which is great. It does mean that our audience is so fractured that there can no longer be consensus within the community, something else that Frank brings up:
It was a bitter pill to swallow when I had to “sell” Love and Rockets to a new reader when I worked at a comics shop. It is hard to remember a time when I thought Los Bros.’ star would dim in the hearts of new fans. But I would just do just my best Bill Boichel impression and would explain that it was like The Beatles, insomuch as they changed everything. “Well, I never liked The Beatles,” said the twenty-year-old college sophomore. And as a retailer or a guy working for a retailer, what am I supposed to say to that?
and its a good analogy, given that you could make the case that The Beatles kinda changed everything within rock and roll, fracturing the audience so much that it was no longer easy to say which kind of rock and roll you liked.

But if you take it back to 1990, you had a real dearth of work. There was so little out there. And now its easy to have a book shelf full of complex, fascinating work that you can show off. Remember, as a retailer you can work with what the person likes to introduce them to all sorts of things. Every record store owner had a kid who loved Led Zeppelin who eventually got turned on to Willie Dixon because they wanted to work their way back to the roots. All Star Superman can lead a reader back to Doom Patrol and Flex Mentallo.

Finally there are roots and levels of strata to dig down to. Prior to this there was nothing. Nothing at all. To paraphrase Frank Miller, "Everyone wanted to believe that we had this long tradition to talk about, when all we had behind us was 50 years of shit." The Hooded Utilitarian had a long post about a lost Toth Enemy Ace story that made me realize that while i loved Toth's design sense, the vast majority of stories that Toth had to illustrate were utter dreck. Its not's Toth's fault that he was an artist with a capital "A". He never had an audience that would have read his work next to Asterios and Big Numbers and Sacco and Tomine, and now he would have. Its a shame. I would have killed to have Alex Toth work on mature material worthy of his talent level!
I feel like I meet people who are new comics readers all the time – and when I ask them what they like, they invariably say, in one form or another, “all kinds of things.” They like Sin City and they like Ghost World. They like Naruto and they like Barefoot Gen.
And its that short of range of material that, hopefully, can keep things going for graphic novels: that there is a degree of love for the artform and all the different types of things that it can present. And while we can never put the worms back in the can, never re-piece together our audience like it was in the old days, we'll still have our memories of seeing R.E.M. with about 10 other people in a coffee shop.

Ah the good ol' bad days. Long may they be gone. (edited to add: Bad in that it was superheroes and more superheroes and very few avenues besides the direct market, which was flourishing in the period before the B & W collapse put some many shops under. While no one is happy with current economic climate, i.e. Colleen's post in The Hill that i commented on recently, certainly we can agree that comics are finally no longer just "Pow" and "Bam" and "comics aren't just for kids, Batman!" in the local paper anymore.)