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.