Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
* Torture links of the day: We tortured multiple prisoners to death. Shouldn't that be a bigger deal, especially given how the torture debate has come to center not on the morality of abuse generally, but whether the way we abused people wasn't that severe?
I suppose there's a degree to which we must give superheroes beating criminals for information a pass just by the nature of the genre, the same way we give their vigilantism a pass but probably wouldn't approve of anyone in real life kidnapping a criminal, pounding the shit out of them, and hanging them unconscious from a lamppost outside One Police Plaza. But I think that a good writer, on some level or other, owns up to the ickiness of this behavior. After all, superheroes routinely do things to criminals in their power that we would classify as war crimes if the Bush Administration did them. Far be it from me to impose a political litmus test on fiction regarding this or any issue, but I like to assume that thinking people who make up stories for a living have given this topic some thought (hopefully even before America started routinely doing this), and thus if a writer doesn't comment in some way on how profoundly fucked-up this aspect of superheroic behavior is, it's on them.
A case in point is Justice League: Cry for Justice #1. For real, there was a major, major disconnect between how awesome Ryan Choi kept saying Ray Palmer was in the comic, and how awesome writer James Robinson kept saying Ray Palmer was in the supplemental material, and the fact that his main action beat in this issue was torturing Killer Moth. That's not awesome!
I often think of the scene in The Dark Knight Returns where Batman throws a guy through a window, informs him that he's bleeding out, and the only way Batman will bring him to a hospital is if he coughs up info. Miller's writing is such that even though we're obviously supposed to see Batman as a hero, we are also to understand that he is a dangerous, disturbed man, and that this conduct is not particularly honorable--it's something his demons have driven him to do.
Another case: recently Ed Brubaker had a scene where Daredevil tortured some nigh-invulnerable supervillain by lighting him on fire or something like that. Now it turned out that he wasn't actually doing this--I forget how it worked, but I think it was one of those "power of suggestion" deals, like how you read about in frat initiations when they tell the initiate that they're going to be branded but then touch them with an ice cube, the burn mark appears anyway. But still, Brubaker wrote the scene in such a way that there was no doubt that what Daredevil was doing was a seriously messed-up act by a seriously messed-up man.
And of course there are any number of similar examples, from Rorschach even to that horrible, horrible JMS Spider-Man storyline after Aunt May got shot where he was like "no more Mr. Nice Spidey, I'm going to break fingers and make deals with devils and abandon my marriage every day until I get my octogenarian aunt back."
The Atom's conduct in this issue, on the other hand, was just gross--extra gross, given his torture technique's resonance with his and his wife's own history, as a friend of mine pointed out.
At any rate, isn't torture what bad guys do?
Then there's the whole issue of the unreliability of information extracted through torture, which no one seems to want to address in comics or anywhere else. But that's another story, I suppose.
* Meanwhile, fellow NCtaTNY critic Leo Goldsmith reviews Joseph Zito's Invasion U.S.A. Goldsmith does not play it straight, but hey, with scenes like this, it's tough to blame him. It's still a fun review, and let's face it, Chuck Norris's Matt Hunter does not invite the level of commentary that does John J. Rambo, Sylvester Stallone's Vietnam Frankenstein. Points for locating the film within the Golan-Globus oeuvre.
* Next, Dan Nadel takes a look at Grant Morrison's Batman run, specifically Batman & Robin (which he likes) and Batman R.I.P. (which he doesn't). Like many readers, Dan blames the discrepancy in art, here between the great Frank Quitely and the, well, less great Tony Daniel, for the discrepancy in quality. I've defended Daniel's work on R.I.P. before and will do so again--no, he isn't Quitely, but not many artists in the history of superhero comics are, and I think the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh was quite obviously intended as a riff on the "extreme" Image heroes whose artists are a clear influence on Daniel. (Actually, now that I think of it, TBoZEA functions a lot like Image's similarly decrepit, in-house Image parody character, the Maxx.)
* Back on the Frank Santoro beat, keep your eyes peeled for Cold Heat Special #9 by Santoro and Closed Caption Comics' awesome Lane Milburn.
* Finally, Santoro's new blog presents highlights from his comics collection, which often end up for sale at the PictureBox table at conventions.
Watching a billionaire Batman disarm poorly-trained, poverty-stricken muggers effortlessly or beating up skinny junkies might be fun for a scene or two but does tend to raise thorny issues of class and privilege that the basic adventure hero concept is not necessarily equipped to deal with adequately.
Morrison says this by way of explaining why he's focused on Batman's weird/super adversaries rather than doing street-level stuff. It reminds me a lot of what I was talking about earlier regarding superheroes and torture. I think there are several perfectly legitimate approaches to dealing with these sorts of unpleasant situations, and while heightening the contradictions"by doing one of those "logical conclusions"-type stories is one, simply bailing and addressing some other aspect of the genre seems valid to me as well.
* I've been trying to stay as spoiler-free about The Descent 2 as possible--y'know, beyond the spoiler inherent in the existence of the film itself--but here's a big gallery of Descent 2 stills to whet your appetite if you're in that market.
* I'm glad they've instituted Supergirl's bike shorts as her official under-skirt covering, because besides being exponentially less loathsome than showing her panties all the damn time--let alone comics superstar Jeph Loeb's decision to reintroduce this underage character into the DCU by way of a protracted nude scene--it's actually fairly realistic. I've spent my fair share of time around Catholic high school girls in my day, and they almost always wore boxers under their skirts (in large part, let's be honest, because of spending their fair share of time around Catholic high school boys like me).
* Brian K. Vaughan is off Lost. The fanboy in me always reacts to announcements like this by thinking "B-b-b-b-but doesn't he want to stick around till the end?!?!?"
Tom Spurgeon's recent review of this book centered on whether or not it was (apologies to Elaine Benes) spongeworthy. Of all the Jason books released by Fantagraphics, this short story collection is the first one to get the hardcover treatment, obviously due to the titular story's serialization in The New York Times--but does it really deserve the extra frou-frou and increased price point? Does the format flatter the work? With all due respect to the Spurge, shit yeah. And I say that as someone who casually dislikes hardcovers as a rule. But you could do much, much, much, much, much, much worse than to spend 25 bucks and an inch on your bookshelf on yet agoddamnnother collection of murderously bleak and astonishingly well-executed high-concept existentialism, drawn with an unimpeachable clean line and colored like unto a thing of beauty. Time and time again during these five stories I was almost physically impacted by Jason's skill as a storyteller: A character spits a mouthful of something spoilery into a sink in "Emily Says Hello," relationships are established and upended with the tiniest possible handful of panels in "Low Moon," petty and heinous crimes are paralleled Crimes & Misdemeanors-style with chilling results in "&," another mouthful of something spoilery is forcibly ejected in "Proto Film Noir," a strange plant fires spores into the sky indifferent to the plight of an observer in "You Are Here"...his skill and his bravado left me shaking my head with amusement and/or amazement time and time again. He's one of the best, as is this book.
* Plug time: I don't think there's a single freelance assignment I do from which I get more enjoyment than writing for Twisted ToyFare Theater, so I'm super-psyched that Twisted ToyFare Theater Vol. 10 is now available. If you have a nerd-culture funnybone somewhere in your body, I really do think you'll find it a hoot.
* San Diego Comic Con is coming up in less than two weeks, and while an almost comical amount of personal and professional stress has kept me from getting too excited about the fact that I'm now going to it, I'm starting to feel a few tinges. Anyway, the schedules for Thursday and Friday are up, though I haven't looked at them yet, and apparently you can still get a room in a good hotel if you want. (Heh, I just clicked the schedule links to copy the URLs and seeing phrases like "Friday is Star Wars Day" gave me butterflies. Yep, starting to get excited.) As for me, I will be the Andy Samberg to Jonah Weiland's T-Pain: I'm staying on the motherfucking boat!
* Speaking of cons I love, MoCCA's Karl Erickson speaks with Robot 6's Tim O'Shea about the festival's problems and plans to solve them. I'm excited to see this being addressed so directly--to the point of moving the festival to the spring in an attempt to avoid heat problems entirely, no less. I also suspect that Erickson reveals the source of many of this year's problems when he notes that there was virtually a 100% staff turnover prior to the show, forcing them to start from scratch in many ways. I wish them all the luck in the world getting things back on track for 2010 because MoCCA is my favorite show. (Good get for the Robot 6 gang, too!)
Doom Force #1
Grant Morrison, writer
Keith Giffen, Mike Mignola, Steve Pugh, Ian Montgomery, Brad Vancata, Richard Case, Walt Simonson, Paris Cullins, Ray Kryssing, Duke Mighten, Mark McKenna, Ken Steacy, artists
DC Comics, 1992
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Obviously, this is an in-the-moment parody of the ever-more-extreme (with a capital "E," at one point) superhero-team comics of Rob Liefeld and his peers and imitators. The gags are all a lot stronger than you'd think they might be, actually, which is surprising even given the talent of the writer. The Crying Boy's nebulously defined bad-luck powers and emo demeanor, Flux's girl-superpower of amorphousness and her sperm-covered form-fitting unitard, The Scratch's corporate branding and badassness that passes fully into the realm of douchebaggery, etc etc etc.--I chuckled at each, and that's even before you get to Shasta The Living Mountain or the list of trademarked names for characters who may appear in future volumes, which is really one of the funniest things I've ever read in a comic (Gridlock! Campfire! Timesheet!). But I think the most rewarding gags are the ones that tug things in either goofier or weirder directions than necessary. In the former category, there's Shasta's transformation into said Living Mountain--complete with not just a ski slope and chairlift, but actual skiers. In the latter category, there's the way the comic pretty much stops short a couple of times so that the brother/sister villain team can get into uncomfortable shouting matches about proper feminine attire: "Every strong woman must feel free...to express her femininity by wearing exotic lingerie..." (You've got two guesses at to which sibling says that and the first guess doesn't count.) As for the Liefeld-manque art, I never actually read (or even just bought) his comics so I can't tell you how effective a lampoon it is. I do however remember Mark Millar's much-repeated insistence that Kids Love Rob Liefeld, and it's true that the cast of thousands assembled to knock Rob off here do a great job of conveying Liefeldian EXCITEMENT and VOLUME and BARELY CONCEALED NIPPLES AND LABIA at the expense of any vestige of storytelling coherence. Overall it's a hoot that holds up well. I like it better than Batman: Gothic. PS: Mickey Eye cameo!
This year's San Diego Comic Con will be inundated with Twilight fans, mostly young girls, and the accepted fannish reaction to this demographic, almost entirely untapped by the North American comics industry, will be unremitting hostility.
Wednesday Comics #1
Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Dave Gibbons, Ryan Sook, John Arcudi, Lee Bermejo, Dave Bullock, Vinton Heuck, Kurt Busiek, Joe Quinones, Neil Gaiman, Mike Allred, Eddie Berganza, Sean Galloway, Paul Pope, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Dan DiDio, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Kevin Nowlan, Ben Caldwell, Adam Kubert, Joe Kubert, Karl Kerschl, Brendan Fletcher, Walt Simonson, Brian Stelfreeze, Kyle Baker, writers/artists
DC, July 2009
No sense beating around the bush: I don't like newsprint. It's flimsy and icky and doesn't look nice. It doesn't hold color well. You get a big fold-out broadsheet made of newsprint like this thing and fold and unfold it a couple of times and it becomes more messed-up and harder to do anything with each time. I don't like it when newspapers use it, I don't like it when PictureBox uses it, I don't like it when Paper Rodeo uses it, I didn't like it when that Comic Shop News thing they'd stick in the bag with your weekly pull list used it (they still around?). To paraphrase James Murphy, I don't get the borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered '30s. I don't like paying $3.99 for a comic that self-consciously evokes its own disposability with the stuff it's printed on, either. (Hell, I don't like paying for a single issue of anything.) Basically this project is designed, aesthetically, to press a lot of buttons I don't have.
That said, Wednesday Comics #1 works perfectly well as a sort of My First Kramers, an astutely curated experiment in what happens when you tell a bunch of auteurs to do they thing on a gigantic canvas. As with Kramers Ergot 7, you get a few different approaches to how to use all that space. Some of the creative teams, most notably the father-son team of Joe and Adam Kubert, just blow up a regular grid, resulting in an eye-arresting sequence of Nazis playing the captured Sgt. Rock a chin-music symphony and giving you that "Lily Tomlin holding a giant book" sense of the object's sheer size. Others cram the page with extra information: Ben Caldwell's Wonder Woman strip, a far less nostalgia-inclined affair than most in the book, is riddled with tiny panels and minute twists and turns, while Karl Kerschl and Ben Fletcher's Flash effort takes a cue from the likes of Dan Clowes and tells its story through a pair of self-contained but interconnected funnies-style strips. Other creators tip their hats to the newspaper strips of yore as well: Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook's Kamandi story is done Prince Valiant-style, while Paul Pope's Adam Strange effort is a less direct but still recognizable homage to classic adventure strips and sci-fi pulps. Even the modern era earns some tips of the hat: Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones's Green Lantern strip references Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier in era, tone, look, and even a mention of its title, while the awe-inspiring naturalist Kyle Baker Hawkman art that took the internet by storm is employed in the service of a disappointingly direct and unfunny 300 parody. (He's riffing on that long opening sequence from the comic version--"We march."--that Zack Snyder didn't use in the movie, so maybe people will miss it. I'm kind of jealous of those people.)
When you print comics this big you have a lot of space to fill, which draws your attention to coloring even more than normal, and in this case that can be a blessing and a curse. Trish Mulvihill escapes the dreaded Vertigo Brown with some lovely golden hues in the Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso Batman piece that opens the issue, Ryan Sook provides some interesting purple-orange sunset scenes for his Kamandi strip, Joe Kubert's palette on the Sgt. Rock piece is refreshingly and effectively subdued, and Jose Villarubia's gray skintone for Adam Strange meshes with his purple jumpsuit and bright blue enemies for an effect that looks appropriately aged and weathered. But I think in most other cases, the paper stock betrays the color work. You can practically feel Amanda Conner's Supergirl wanting to be a bright red, blue, and blonde, Laura Allred's normally radiant work looks in her husband Mike's Metamorpho strip like you're looking at it through sunglasses, Sean Galloway's Teen Titans art is dialed way down (those graytone or nonexistent backgrounds don't help)...even the great Dave Stewart is undone with colors for Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck's Deadman strip that just don't quite click.
As for the stories themselves, who can judge at this early stage? I suspect that for the most part, how you react to these meager one-page morsels at this stage in the game depends on your preexisting feelings about the characters and the contributors. (Spoiler alert--I'm excited about the Paul Pope strip!) I think Ben Caldwell's Wonder Woman strip, which is so different both visually and narratively from what you're used to seeing from DC with regards to this character--and from everything else in the comic--is the one that's most likely to surprise in the long run, though for good or ill I don't know. Also, clever of John Arcudi to open his Superman strip with Supes flying backwards at the audience, no? I do think it's rather delightful that DC, or at least series editor Mark Chiarello, turned to a bunch of talented creators and told them to write about their respective characters in whichever way they chose rather than hewing to on-model continuity or overall vibe. (Hey, remember when Marvel did that more or less line-wide in 2000-2001 or so?) Of course, the thing about these kinds of non-continuity short-story "tone poems" in honor of this or that superhero character is that it's hard to get them to stick, and harder still to get a sense of what you'll get out of them in the end, other than "Hey, Metamorpho's neat" or whatever.
That, I suppose, is the problem. Four bucks for 15 one-page slivers of story, 12 weeks in a row, is an awful big investment for an uncertain return. (And I'm already let down something awful by the Baker Hawkman thing.) This is why I think it's fair to spend so much time kvetching about the paper stock, because Wednesday Comics isn't a series, not really--it's an object. The size, the format, and most especially the newsprint were selected to stand out, to impress the physicality of the object upon you. Seeing the burst of publicity for the book last week made it clear that this was a smart choice in some ways: Tying a high-profile comic book launch in this day and age to a way of doing comics that's almost completely outmoded, with bonus points for resonating with the overall death of newspapers, was bound to attract the attention. Meanwhile, within the world of comics, this is the sort of project, and the sort of talent line-up, that's bound to win plaudits from bloggers and award committees--if this thing doesn't clean up at next year's Eisner's I'll eat my hat. The point of Wednesday Comics is for you to note how different, how unique, how special it is. Which is well and good, but it's all undercut if you just don't like newsprint, you know?
* Thank you to everyone for your well-wishes. It means a lot to us.
* Jeez, I have a lot of catching up to do!
* World War Z author Max Brooks tells Fangoria that the screenplay for the WWZ adaptation is now being written by Matthew Carnahan, best known for chin-scratching political thrillers (okay, "thrillers") like The Kingdom, State of Play, and Lions for Lambs.Amazing Spider-Man writer/NorGwen StaceBorn shipper J. Michael Straczynski previously took a shot at the script. It's worth nothing, however, that in Hollywood these days JMS is better known as the writer of Angelina Jolie's Oscar-baiting Changeling than as a nerd guy, and obviously Carnahan plays to a tonier crowd as well. That's great news as far as I'm concerned. The beauty of World War Z was that you could envision it being made into a Ken Burns documentary, and I'd really love to see a zombie movie with all of Hollywood's resources behind it take a High Drama approach to the genre.
Paper Rad isn't a sexy story either. I'd like to be able to talk about it like a young New Yorker might talk about dance parties or graphitti or doing drugs, but when you ask me about Paper Rad I am going to have to tell you about how it was and is just a desperate vital exercise in finding meaning in life. The day to day was about trying not going crazy, about not giving up, it was about being happy. I am sure thats not what people want to hear. They want me to talk about neon jamz, cardboard robots, inflatable bears covering Boston songs, wearing 2 pairs of sunglasses, Volvo's full of trolls, nintendo mind-melts, or the Doo-Man Group, but again, as someone who was creating the content that fueled the expression and celebration that surrounded Paper Rad, for me the experience isn't summed up in a 3rd generation Dan Deconesque youtube video, or any superficial reduction or interpretation, the experience was an attempt at an honest and clear artistic expression. But I guess we package that expression in a candy coated outershell so its fair to react to the shell. But I insist that there is a deeper meaning beyond the clutter and noise and color on the outside. And that deeper meaning was "don't worry, be happy". Also don't forget about the 20 foot Bart Simpson mural at Pace Wildenstien. I don't know, I guess I am sad this week cause I lost my cat.
* I love Stephen King's short story "The Raft." When I was a kid my grandparents had a cabin near a lake, and there was a raft anchored out in the lake a ways just like there is in the story. It was a ton of fun to swim out there and jump off and such, but it was also a bit on the creepy side--fish would swim underneath and nibble at you, seaweed grew up the anchor lines, and of course if you jumped or dove in too deep you'd end up in the morass of vegetation on the lake floor, which was indescribably gross. So the setting for this story was instantly recognizable to me, and the horror of it instantly understandable. The story also features one of my favorite of King's trademark "we're probably going to be eaten by monsters soon, so why don't we have some illicit sex to blow off some steam" scenes--quite a climax, too! Anyway, I bring all this up because there's a miles-long blob of apparently organic mystery Arctic goo floating down the Alaskan shoreline, and at least one report of a seagull stripped to the bone by it. Maybe this is why Sarah Palin resigned? (Via Ryan Penagos.)
* Finally, boys and girls, action, na-na-na-na-eeeee...
I'm grateful for books like The Lagoon, where things happen without neat resonances with other things that happened, where you can't always locate the part within the whole. The Lagoon is a horror story, if a low-key one; like much of the best horror it makes the connection between horror and the absurd. Whether you're talking about a giant gorilla climbing the Empire State Building or a puzzle box that unleashes S&M demons, horror's iconic images frequently boast a lack of inherent logic that rivals that of video games. Carre gently (and I do mean gently--don't expect the surrealist nightmares of Tom Neely or Josh Simmons here) applies this throughout her story. The characters don't appear to know where the creature who lurks in the titular waters came from or why it does the weird thing it does, and neither do we. Nor are we presented enough information to determine the true nature of the creature's relationship with one member of the family at the center of the story. The context provided points to something illicit, but perhaps that's just the lingering effect of the story's eroticized, somnambulist qualities--so much takes place at night, in bedrooms, in still waters, against thick and sticky blacks...and heck, one character is an actual somnambulist. And finally, the story's coda (more like its final third) doesn't appear to directly address the preceding events in the way we'd expect. Carre's sinuous, snaking treatment of sound provides a through-line; there are windows that get opened and shut and lied about; the characters are of course the same; but it still feels disconnected in ways that few writers today are gutsy enough to attempt. The overall effect is like Clive Barker fed through a twee filter. This'll stick to you.
Like Ditko Hands or Kirby Krackle, Kate Beaton Eyes are a signature achievement in cartooning. They widen, they narrow, they leer, they roll, and (god bless Tyra Banks for introducing this concept to the world) they even smile. If it's possible to make eye contact with a comic, Beaton's comics are prime candidates--you lock eyes with them and you're instantly drawn in. If eyes are the window to the soul, then Beaton's comics, like James Brown, have soul to burn.
Once you're finished saying jeepers creepers over those peepers, the rest of her cartooning's elegant gestalt has a chance to make an impression on you. Beaton's line is loose, even rough at times, yet sinuous and whole--it's like cursive handwriting. It feels both sketchy and deliberately fancy, really a perfect complement to her subject matter, which more often than not plays history's great men and women (and the women and men in their lives) for laughs by feeding them through a precocious 14-year-old's priorities, sense of humor, and keen observation of adult absurdities--the kinds of gags you might find passed back and forth in notes between smart kids during third period history. Fans of Shakesperean actor (and brother of Abraham Lincoln's assassin) Edwin Booth shriek and moan during Hamlet's soliloquy like Twilight fans over Robert Pattinson taking his shirt off. Lord Byron is a slut. President James Monroe drops the Constitution, then bends over to pick it up, in order to show off his ass to an appreciative young lady. Rebels, revolutionaries, and rabblerousers from Robespierre to Louis Riel to Tadeusz Kosciuszko to Patrick Pearse to George Washington come across like the kind of bumbling heroes or simpering villains you'd find in a kid's action-comedy superhero cartoon. She has a real knack for their body language, too, as they proclaim and lounge and get shot in the face by arrows and come onto each other and so forth--their movements and poses are nearly as distinctive as their eyes. (Her self-caricature is a real peach, too.) Meanwhile there's something about Beaton's dialogue delivery that really suits the Internet--the strips sort of slowly wind their way up to the joke, at which point lots of punchlines seem banged out in all caps with no punctuation by hysterical messageboard people who are all too aware of their own hysteria, if you follow me.
Not every joke is a winner, and even many of the best gags don't really make you laugh out loud--I was already familiar with some of these strips from Beaton's website, so I think that during this read-through, the only bit that made me LOL was this hilarious drawing of a drunken Santa Claus. And I have to assume that the Pythonesque history-major humor is an acquired taste. (I remember when I was a kid and first discovered Monty Python that I assumed all adults knew the ins and outs of the history of philosophy and made jokes about Kant all the time--this was the humor I pictured existing somewhere out of reach.) Some of the slowly accruing jokes never quite seem to accrue. But the gestalt is so good-natured that you don't even mind the bits that are just semi-funny, and the cartooning is an absolute pleasure. Soak in it.
* I've been waiting for this for a long time: Entertainment Weekly's Lost correspondent Jeff "Doc" Jensen runs down the 15 mysteries the show must solve, as nominated by the fans. Interestingly, he says only the top three were suggested by more than 5% of the fans, which I guess means there are a shitload of mysteries overall. But I think it's a very strong list, and though my brain's a bit fried I didn't notice any glaring absences. Obviously the creative team pays attention to Jensen in particular and the hardcore fanbase in particular, so it seems safe to assume that they'll use this as a guide to, at the very least, include at least a throwaway line or two of explanation for each mystery. (In-show explanation of the Numbers' significance FTW!)
* Topless Robot's Rob Bricken is a great nerd-culture blogger, but his admitted weak spot is American comics. Watching him try to blog about the latest superhero sensation is always a bit like listening to your six-year-old cousin try to explain the plot of The Lord of the Rings or what have you. Still, his remove from the teapot-tempests that we hardcore readers get involved in gives him fresh eyes and a valuable perspective, which is why I enjoyed his review of Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis's Blackest Night #1--he's able to see the zombification of various superheroes for its in-story ramifications regarding superheroes' frequently realized hopes of resurrection. Interesting.
* I've long had a soft spot for Rick Trembles' Motion Picture Purgatory movie-review comic strip, to the point of wondering aloud whether or when it would be collected. But I think someone pointed out to me that this had already happened, and lo and behold, they're up to Volume 2--and that cover is a doozy.
Ultimately, though, this doesn't work for me, because of a problem that I think plagues a lot of "creepy" horror--the creepiness is evoked by piling details on each other in a way that ends up feeling ad hoc, and that never quite coheres into any really substantive sense of menace. One guy seems to have been reduced into obsessive-compulsion and paranoia. Creepy! One girl cuts off her boyfriend's hair while he sleeps--then eats it. Creepy! [etc.]...Creepy horror works, to my mind, when the details function as a system of symptoms, and the punch comes when we get the big reveal of the underlying illness, so to speak.
I totally get what he's saying here. I think maybe the best example of this is The Ring 2--lots of lovely creepy imagery in there, but as opposed to the first film, this imagery failed to cohere.
DJ, please pick up your phone--I'm on the request line
I will not have much to do over the next week or so but read and review comics. Which comics would you, the readers of STC's ADDTF, like me to read and review? Post your requests in the comments (they're slow as shit, so be patient). If I have it I will try to read and review it. (NOTE: Please do not request a comic you yourself made or edited or published mmkay?)
* Yesterday I put out a call for review requests. If there's a comic you'd like me to review, let me know in the comments and if I have it I'll try to review it. (Try not to suggest a million things, though, and please don't request stuff you worked on. Also, please be patient--I've got a backlog!) Thanks to everyone who's made suggestions so far!
* While I'm talking about my stuff, I want to remind everyone of my various Web 8.0 ventures:
* Continuing Not Coming to a Theater Near You's series on action movies, Leo Goldsmith reviews John McTiernan's Die Hard. I think he makes a little too much of the notion that Bruce Willis's physique was shockingly relatable--maybe compared to Stallone or Schwarzenegger, okay, but they didn't throw in the glass-in-the-feet business because Willis wasn't enough of a physical specimen for people to relate to. Still, good stuff, especially about how likable the bad guys were (not even in a "love to hate 'em" way--they were genuinely likable!).
* In a pair of posts inspired by my own post on the topic, Gene Phillips talks torture and superheroes. In addition to correcting my memory of the "criminal through the window" scene in The Dark Knight Returns (the guy throws himself through the window to get away from Batman). I'm not as sure as Phillips that it's advisable, or even possible, to divorce the physical torture of criminals by superheroes for information from thinking about what that would mean in real-world terms, but he's certainly right to argue that this was, in the words of The Wire, "all in the game" for many decades, unexamined by creators and audience alike. I wonder if that's good or bad.
Comics Time: The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite
The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite
Gerard Way, writer
Gabriel Ba, artist
Dark Horse, 2008
$17.95 Buy it from Amazon.com
When you think of how many indie superhero titles are abject failures of imagination and innovation, The Umbrella Academy becomes all the more impressive. I'd imagine that as with most creator-owned superbooks it's the product of a life-long love of Marvel and DC (and by now, '90s Image). But most creators who are thusly smitten wind up barfing out some dishwater-dull origin story involving types rather than characters and fixated on producing iconic moments for copies of copies of copies of icons. Writer Gerard Way, who as the lead singer of My Chemical Romance can't even claim that doing comics is all he's ever wanted to do creatively, is beating such people at their own game. He's produced a weird, sad comic about superheroes, with sophisticated pacing that trusts in the intelligence of the reader rather than insisting on serving them nothing but what they've already seen. Essentially, the seven members of the Umbrella Academy are to their adoptive father Hargreeves what Michael, Janet et al were to Joe Jackson, with similarly dispiriting results in terms of the disconnect between talent, even talent used optimally, and happiness. There's no happy ending for them, either. It's superheroing with sharp edges.
He's done this with the help of Gabriel Ba, whose work here reads like a cross between Mike Mignola (perhaps enhanced by the presence of Mignola's longtime go-to colorist Dave Stewart) and The Incredibles. He's produced solid character designs (based on concept sketches by SVA grad Way) that transition well between superhero and soap opera, he frequently draws his panels utilizing zesty, infrequently used angles, and his action is coherent and dynamic. For his part, Stewart is brilliant as always, throwing huge splashes of eye-melting colors (oranges, pinks) into the mix in a way that's both exciting and slightly alienating--much like the comic itself.
Now, to be sure, the characters themselves are more sketched than fully rendered at this point. And I've heard criticism that the thing reads like a Grant Morrison Doom Patrol tribute album, though not having read much early Morrison I can't comment on that. But from where I'm standing this thoughtful, engaging work all around.
///I don't know much about what's going on in the global comics scene these days, I'm sorry to say. I have to confess I'm not a huge comics fan in the wider sense of comics as an art form. Apart from the absurdist comics like Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed To Thrizzle and Steve Aylett's The Caterer, I just like superhero stuff. I've never paid a great deal of attention to the undergrounds or the indie scene.
Isn't that depressing? What alternative comics or manga or webcomics or anygoddamnthing that isn't Marvel or DC would you suggest Grant Morrison read? Tell me in the comments. Let's find Grant his gateway comic! I'll start: Acme Novelty Library #19! (Link via Whitney Matheson.)
* Anyone else think it's weird that MGM's upcoming 3-film Hannibal Lecter Anthology blu-ray doesn't feature the three movies in which Anthony Hopkins plays Lecter, instead including the Hopkins-less Manhunter rather than its Brett Ratner-directed Hopkinsy remake Red Dragon? I didn't say "bad," mind you, just "weird" from a major studio.
* This is interesting: Friend o' the blog Sean B. notes in the comments that the solicit for James Robinson's Justice League: Cry for Justice #4 makes it sound like the issue, unlike the series' debut, will tackle the morality of torture by "the good guys" head-on. Seriously, it makes it sound like this is in fact the whole point of the series. Um, wow? Of course, now the problem is one of potentially overdoing the sociopolitical stuff in the fashion of countless genre works pandering for relevance with critics who use such sociopolitical content as their sole barometer of genre-art quality, but whatevs.
Carnival of souls: special San Diego Comic Con Day One edition
* The problem with being on the East Coast during Comic Con is that very few newsworthy things actually happen during your day. Maybe that will change tomorrow and Saturday. But other than the ongoing Twilight war (and I must say I've been impressed by how the comics commentariat has largely maintained a policy of shrugged shoulders at the very least and chanted "gabba gabba we accept you" at best rather than screaming "I CAST YOU OUT! THE POWER OF STAN COMPELS YOU!" at them) Thursday has been dullsville.
Immortal Weapons #1
Jason Aaron, Duane Swierczynski, writers
Mico Suayan, Stefano Gaudiano, Roberto De La Torre, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba, Michael Lark, Arturo Lozzi, Travel Foreman, artists
Marvel, July 2009
You don't have to look around the comics blogosphere too hard to find praise for how Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction retooled the mythos of the heretofore largely ignored kung-fu superhero Iron Fist into one of the sturdiest and most expansive in the entire Marvel Universe. Like Geoff Johns did with Green Lantern by introducing a rainbow of multicolored Lantern Corps, Brubaker and Fraction took a key component of Iron Fist's existing backstory--he's the warrior champion of a mystical city--and simply multiplied it in a couple of different directions--Danny Rand is just the latest in a long line of such champions, and his mystical city is just one of seven such cities, all with long lines of champions of their own. Suddenly, writers had access to a whole new array of allies and antagonists, mentors and successors, settings and story possibilities. It was veritably the birth of the Iron Fist Universe.
Since Frubaker's departure for greener, better-selling pastures, the book has continued under the direction of pulp writer Duane Swierczynski in much the same rewarding vein. In addition to keeping up the Frubaker traditions of stand-alone issues spotlighting past (and future) Iron Fists and supporting roles played by the Fist's former Heroes for Hire chums, he's continued rolling out natural-seeming expansions of the original Iron Fist mythos: For as long as the Iron Fists have existed, so too has a being whose sole purpose is to kill and devour Iron Fists; the Seven Cities have kept an Eighth City as their secret gulag, ruled by the fallen First Iron Fist. The shock of the new may have subsided, but the ideas and execution mesh rather seamlessly with the relaunch.
The one weak spot has been the art. Frubaker's run was anchored by the great David Aja, perhaps the best exemplar of the naturalistic New Marvel House Style pioneered by Alex Maleev during Brian Michael Bendis's wonderful Daredevil run back in the day, and sported any number of strong (and schedule-saving) guest artists. Sweirczynski's counterpart has been Travel Foreman, a bold and distinctive stylist, but one whose angular, inky figures, frequently adrift amid wide empty backgrounds, run counter to the cinematic-pulp feel of the previous run, and can make the action, an all-important component of a kung-fu superhero comic, difficult to parse. It's not bad art by any means, particularly considering how easy it would have been to saddle the title with something bland and unremarkable, but without the first-round-knockout quality that Aja brought to the book (I vividly remember how impressed Wizard's weekly review roundtable was with that first issue), I'd imagine it's been tough to stop Frubaker fans from jumping ship.
Which is why, it seems, The Immortal Iron Fist has been at least temporarily canceled, replaced with Immortal Weapons. This miniseries focuses on each of the Iron Fist's mystical-champion counterparts, a terrifically named bunch including the Bride of Nine Spiders, Dog Brother No. 1, the Prince of Orphans, Tiger's Beautiful Daughter, and this issue's star, Fat Cobra. He's been the breakout member of the bunch, a sumo-lookin' dude with a ceaselessly cheery demeanor and insatiable appetite for wine, women, and food. (Not sure about song, though I wouldn't be surprised.) Guest writer Jason Aaron plays this to the hilt, initially surrounding him with a posse of beautiful masseuses and filling in his backstory with comical imagery: A tubby baby born in a pigsty, the Cobra became an opera singer, then embarked on a decades-long ass-kicking tour of the world and beyond, complete with besting Hercules and Volstagg in a competitive eating contest in Olympus. In one sequence that riffs on a Frubaker trademark and had me laughing out loud as I read it on the train, Cobra and a female sparring partner suddenly switch from exchanging exotically named blows (Elbow of a Thousand Agonies, Giant Squid Spine Squeeze, Hell's Dentist) to exotically named sexual maneuvers (Tongue of a Thousand Passions, the Peddling Tortoise, the Wheelbarrow of the Gods). But a twist that plays off the Cobra's womanizing ways, initially for comic effect, suddenly turns deadly serious, complicating our understanding (and that of the amnesiac Cobra himself) of who the Cobra is and what he's capable of. Aaron is joined on this journey by an array of talented artists, each responsible for a different era in the Cobra's life: Mico Suyan's framing sequence gives the Cobra a rounded, lifelike feel, while Daredevil regulars Stefano Gaudiano and Michael Lark each evoke the book's past artistic glories. There's even some gorgeous coloring (love those purples!) by the always welcome Matthew Hollingsworth. Compelling one-and-done stories are not easy, but you wouldn't know it from reading this one.
The book is rounded out by a story from the regular team of Swierczynski and Foreman and starring the Iron Fist himself; this will be continued throughout the miniseries. With ace inker Gaudiano backing him up, Foreman suddenly comes into his own: His art gains in detail and in evocative power, with a memorably bug-eyed, strung-out junkie, an adorable kung-fu urchin, and Danny Rand's girlfriend and partner Misty Knight looking as real and as beautiful as ever. The action is easy to parse, and the costume choices (from kids in kung-fu training togs to the aforementioned junkie in his tighty whiteys) are memorable. It's quite an effort, and with any luck, the Immortal Weapons will last, if not forever than for a few more arcs of work of this caliber.
I tried to divert my mind to a new track and got thinking about how I had wanted to paint Brent Norton yesterday. No, nothing as important as a painting, but...just sit him on a log with my beer in his hand and sketch his sweaty, tired face and the two wings of his carefully processed hair sticking up untidily in the back. It could have been a good picture. It took me twenty years of living with my father to accept the idea that being good could be good enough.
You know what talent is? The curse of expectation. As a kid you have to deal with that, beat it somehow. If you can write, you think God put you on earth to blow Shakespeare away. Or if you can paint, maybe you think--I did--that God put you on earth to blow your father away.
It turned out I wasn't as good as he was. I kept trying to be for longer than I should have, maybe. I had a show in New York and it did poorly--the art critics beat me over the head with my father. A year later I was supporting myself and Steff with the commercial stuff. She was pregnant and I sat down and talked to myself about it. The result of that conversation was a belief that serious art was always going to be a hobby for me, no more.
I did Golden Girl Shampoo ads--the one where the Girl is standing astride her bike, the one where she's playing Frisbee on the beach, the one where she's standing on the balcony of her apartment with a drink in her hand. I've done short-story illustrations for most of the big slicks, but I broke into that field doing fast illustrations for the stories in the sleazier men's magazines. I've done some movie posters. The money comes in. We keep our heads nicely above water.
I had one final show in Bridgton, just last summer. I showed nine canvases that I had painted in five years, and I sold six of them. The one I absolutely would not sell showed the Federal market, by some queer coincidence. The perspective was from the far end of the parking lot. In my picture, the parking lot was empty except for a line of Campbell's Beans and Franks cans, each one larger than the last as they marched toward the viewer's eye. The last one appeared to be about eight feet tall. The picture was titled Beans and Perspective. A man from California who was a top exec in some company that makes tennis balls and rackets and who knows what other sports equipment seemed to want that picture very badly, and would not take no for an answer in spite of the NFS card tucked into the bottom left-hand corner of the spare wooden frame. He began at six hundred dollars and worked his way up to four thousand. He said he wanted it for his study. I would not let him have it, and he went away sorely puzzled. Even so, he didn't quite give up; he left his card in case I changed my mind.
I could have used the money--that was the year we put the addition on the house and bought the four-wheel-drive--but I just couldn't sell it. I couldn't sell it because I felt it was the best painting I had ever done and I wanted it to look at after someone would ask me, with totally unconscious cruelty, when I was going to do something serious.
Then I happened to show it to Ollie Weeks one day last fall. He asked me if he could photograph it and run it as an ad one week, and that was the end of my own false perspective. Ollie had recognized my painting for what it was, and by doing so, he forced me to recognize it, too. A perfectly good piece of slick commercial art. No more. And, thank God, no less.
I let him do it, and then I called the exec at his home in San Luis Obispo and told him he could have the painting for twenty-five hundred if he still wanted it. He did, and I shipped it UPS to the coast. And since then that voice of disappointed expectation--that cheated child's voice that can never be satisfied with such a mild superlative as good--has fallen pretty much silent. And except for a few rumbles--like the sounds of those unseen creatures somewhere out in the foggy night--it has been pretty much silent ever since. Maybe you can tell me--why should the silencing of that childish, demanding voice seem so much like dying?
First, he rightly points out that the quality of the art in this crossover, specifically that of Doug Mahnke and Ivan Reis, is quite strong (though Reis has looked better in the past, IMHO). To the credit of both DC and Marvel, the current cycle of event comics that kicked off with Infinite Crisis and continued with Civil War, World War Hulk, The Sinestro Corps War, Final Crisis, Secret Invasion, and Blackest Night have all featured talented stylists at the helm, although this leaves them frequently plagued by fill-ins, lateness, or both. (I actually think Blackest Night could end up going without either problem; we'll see.)
Second, he articulates a problem with serialized superhero comics that not even Jim Shooter-style "new-reader friendliness" can overcome, namely that even if a superhero comic uses exposition to provide you with all the information you need to make sense it, it still "presuppose[s] a history of emotional attachment to these characters" to connect with it. And frankly there's no more of a way around that than there would be to make latecomers to The Sopranos instantly connect with the plight of Christopher Moltisanti. It's just the nature of long-form serialized storytelling. The key is to avoid plot points that are simply "Hey look, it's That Guy!" in favor of "Hey, look what that guy is doing!"
Third, I think it's interesting that he started his read of the event with an issue of Green Lantern Corps because it had the tagline "Prelude to Blackest Night" on the cover. The thing is, every issue of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps has had that tagline on the cover for months--at least two full storyarcs, in Green Lantern's case. As a hardcore superhero comics reader, I knew that this was intended a) to goose sales, and b) to establish a tenuous connection to the upcoming event, and not c) to mean that this was actually a prelude to Blackest Night in the literal sense. But of course an outsider would have no way of knowing that. This was something that never would have occurred to me.
I saw at least a half-dozen lines to a few random panels that ten years ago would have had a hard time putting together 40 people that were dauntingly long this time out. One story that three people told me was that one mainstream comic book writer had a signing so stuffed that security was involved in processing the line.
It seems that San Diego is a big con for everything, including comics.
With the release of his Fantagraphics graphic novel The Squirrel Machine slated for this fall, perhaps Hans Rickheit's days with the most lopsided talent-to-recognition ratio in alternative comics are nearing their end. Or perhaps not. "Alternative" certainly describes what he does but does not do it justice; "underground" comes closer, as it does with Josh Simmons, who in recent years has become the closest thing to a comparable figure to Rickheit that exists. Actually, "somewhere between Josh Simmons and Jim Woodring" wouldn't be a horrible way to describe Rickheit's work. Like those artist, Rickheit's comics are often exploratory in narrative, with guileless naifs--Rickheit's Cochlea and Eustacea, and his anonymous teddy-bear-headed protagonist; Simmons's Jessica Farm, Cockbone, and the House guests; Woodring's Frank, obviously--wandering through a wondrous, slightly nauseating, frequently eroticized, even more frequently horrifying environment seemingly constructed with raw shards of the artist's own unconscious. In place of Simmons's squalor and Woodring's psychedelia, Rickheit has fused together a singular amalgam of Victoriana and body-horror, like Videodrome gone steampunk. His elaborate structures and machines are frequently revealed to be of inscrutable purpose and surrounded by vast expanses of nothing in particular, outposts of a forgotten or unknowable civilization. His line is crisp, perfect for the ornate detail of his machinery or the endless desert of rocks that surround them; his character designs, from Cochlea and Eustacea's revealing tutus to the teddy-bear man's natty ascot, gloves, and boots, are rock-solid; his environments and action are always easy to parse; and his central images, from a skull-headed rabbit towering about on giant Cloverfield/The Mist legs to a floating bed tethered to a tower to keep it from soaring away to countless instances of tiny worlds hidden within orifices, are dreamlike in the most direct and impactful sense. He's one of my favorite cartoonists. If you're curious about The Squirrel Mother and looking for Hans Rickheit 101, buy this minicomic and your search is over.
Carnival of souls: special San Diego Comic-Con wrap-up edition
* Many of my friends aren't yet back and/or mobile following Comic-Con, but the consensus seems to be that it was a slow-news con.
* Marvel's Marvelman announcement, though light on details regarding the character's most contentiously litigated material, seems to top the comics list. I'd imagine a lot of folks are excited about Fantagraphics' plans to reprint Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy, and I was pretty struck by Daniel Clowes's move to Drawn & Quarterly with Wilson. DC's biggest announcement appeared to be the foregone but welcome conclusion of Geoff Johns writing an ongoing All Flash series.
* That said, I haven't heard much grousing at all. The main complaints I've heard--aside from the usual aesthetic/philosophical objections about what Comic-Con has become, some of which strike me as reasonable, others like a race to be the first person to stop applauding--seemed to be overzealous security, an overcrowded floor on Preview Night (due to the lack of an aggressive programming track in the panel rooms), dauntingly long lines for even more things than usual, and an organizational clusterfuck at the Iron Man 2 panel. It's still early, though, and maybe we'll get a wave of press-access complaints like we did last year, perhaps backed up with more specifics this time.
* A very busy boy indeed, Kiel also spoke with Comic-Con PR maestro David Glanzer about this year's show. I was interested to hear Glanzer's response to Kiel's question about press run-ins with security couched in terms of dramatically increasing the number of personnel to help manage traffic. It does seem to me, however, that press passes probably need to be afforded more privileges, perhaps accompanied with more stringent guidelines as to who can get them.
* By popular demand, Chris Butcher liveblogs the July 2009 Previews catalogue. It's very funny and angry as usual, particularly regarding Marvel's decision to give work to serial robber of freelancers Pat Lee, but sprinkled in there are a couple of genuine news items (at least they're news to me), namely that Ex Machina is ending with #50 (less than a year from now if it resumes a monthly schedule) and original artist Cory Walker is replacing subsequent mainstay Ryan Ottley on Invincible.
1) "A successful convention rarely leads to increased industry success because the infrastructure is damaged in fundamental ways -- or has a hitch step -- that keeps this from happening."
Tom's right that the San Diego Comic-Con offers an ability to put comics-friendly asses in seats, to make mainstream-media waves, and to provide people with an enjoyable experience that runs the gamut of comics as both an art form and a cultural phenomenon, that is not just unequalled but completely unapproached by the comics industry and its organs for the other 51 weeks of the year. This isn't really a criticism of cons, and actually Tom's not really phrasing it as such. But there's not much to disagree with there, either in general or in the specific areas in need of improvement that Tom cites.
That said, this is just one thing I'm focusing on out of many that I totally agree with, but I think Tom curiously downplays the ability of online retail to compensate for the lack of a real, durable, nationwide, catholic comics retail infrastructure. To cite a similar case, it's a shame that there are entire regions of the country where the only record store around is the odiously censorious Wal-Mart, but assuming people in those regions have an internet connection, or a library card that gives them access to that library's internet connection, they actually have better access to every piece of music in the world than I did back in 1994 when I could roll into Halo Zero and pick up whatever KMFDM singles they happened to have in stock. By that same token, it'd be nice if everyone had a Jim Hanley's or a Comix Experience or a Beguiling within biking distance, but everyone does have an Amazon.com. Perhaps I lack the nostalgia gene for the ideal comics shop experience--I loved my local shop when I was buying supercomics in high school, and they steered me to things like Sin City which was nice, but I don't remember seeing much Love & Rockets there. But I think the new generation of potential comics readers is going to be accustomed to shopping online anyway. Are we losing something that could be provided by a vibrant Direct Market rather than the two-publisher tango we have now in all but a handful of stores? Absolutely, the same way we lost a lot when mom-and-pop video stores staffed by knowledgeable movie buffs were destroyed by Blockbuster--only in comics' case, there's no Blockbuster either! In terms of developing lifelong consumers of comics, I'd imagine that even Amazon's best sales and marketing program isn't worth one Chris Butcher or Brian Hibbs or Vito Delsante. But I wouldn't simply consign "shopping online" to a list of things people are unfortunately forced to do because of the inadequacy of America's Android's Dungeons. Online is a vibrant market of its own. And as digital comics increase in prominence, that market will only grow more robust.
2) "Conventions are growing in popularity not because of their subject matter but because of the intensified nature of social interaction with the advent of on-line communication."
Well, yeah, but since that social interaction stems from a shared love of comics, isn't it kind of six one way, half a dozen the other? Also, hasn't the purpose of cons always been social interaction with your fellow travelers? Perhaps what Tom's saying is that if you come to Comic-Con with "I can't wait to hang out with my friends I never get to see anywhere else" as your priority, your dollars are more likely to be spent at Dick's Last Resort than at Comic Relief, your time more likely to be passed at Jeff Katz's party than at Lewis Trondheim's panel. I'm not sure if I'm 100% persuaded of that. Every year I've gone, I've spent plenty of time and money on both.
I do appreciate Tom's call for a more curated, festival-style approach to be incorporated into the big shows, however. Obviously there's an effort made along those lines at the small-press shows, while I think Dustin Harbin's altcomix outreach at Heroes Con 2008 might well have qualified in terms of the mainstreamy mid-level shows. On the other hand, you can obviously write off all the cons run by the Shamus Brothers and their current and former associates. For all intents and purposes that leaves the shows run by the Comic-Con organization and Reed, and you know what? I think there's potential for both if someone seizes the initiative and works his or her ass off for a festival component. That's really worth thinking about.
3) "The more successful a convention becomes, the more it may preach to the choir."
Last year, pre-Twitter (or at least pre-me-on-Twitter), I would have agreed to this without hesitation. 2008's five-day sell-out and dire hotel-vacancy situation indicated that in the future, the only people who could rely on even getting into the Con at all were the people who knew enough about it and were sufficiently motivated about it to buy tickets weeks, even months, in advance.
This year, though, clicking on the Comic-Con trend tag on Twitter revealed tons and tons of "civilians" who seem even more interested in Comic-Con now that it's become a Cannes-style phenomenon. Obviously we're probably mostly talking about people who are interested in the Hollywood component of the show rather than checking out what Boom or Buenaventura have at their booths, but at the very least the awareness of the show is at an all-time high.
Whether that will translate into non-lifers buying their passes in March or whenever it is they go on sale is another issue. The show, and comics as an entity, probably ought to try to ensure that they will. Perhaps the show could reserve a sizable block of tickets for day-of purchases, or at least for advance purchases that are nevertheless within a reasonable time frame for non-nerd awareness of the show to peak.
To back Spurge up wholeheartedly, though, there's Eric Reynolds's sobering con report. Eric explicitly states that the increased attention to the Hollywood component of the con is both keeping people who might be interested in the small press's wares away from the show altogether, and preventing those who are at the show from using their time to do anything but wait in line for and attend Hollywood panels, thus leading to a surprising and shocking sales drop-off on Saturday--once the busiest sales day of the show by a country mile, it's now seeing the merchants crushed by competition with the big-ticket studio and network presentations. I know that by "festival component" Tom means an arts-celebrating aspect of the show divorced from mercantile concerns, but I can't help but feel that the former would help the latter here.
4) A flea market is still an odd way to meet the world.
That's true. It IS weird going up to heroes like, I dunno, Los Bros Hernandez, people who you just wanna shake hands with and say hello to and stand in awe of, all the while cognizant of the nearby pile of their books and employees (or even the creators themselves!) ready to take your cash in exchange for those books. Then again, with the exception of that country music Fan Fest, is there any other art form in the world that provides this level of access to the giants of the field? I've long said that going to a small-press show in particular is a bit like going to a family reunion where every time you end up making smalltalk with a distant cousin, you have to pay him five bucks for his minicomic, but to me that awkwardness is a small price to pay to be able to get a Seth sketch of David Bowie for free.
Still, this is entirely unobjectionable and admirable:
The only thing I might suggest is that the wider culture and industry entire make it a goal at their major shows that the experience be worth having if not a single dime is spent on purchasing anything once within the walls -- paying close attention to programming, bringing in more festival aspects, having focused signings that aren't in a commercial context and may even feature giveaways.
It's important to remember that Tom isn't one to pronounce Comic-Con "nerd Altamont," nor share in Chuck Rozanski's annual obituaries for the event, nor kvetch about how Comic-Con is a misnomer due to the presence of Twilight or Lost. Just take a look at his regular con report, where he trumpets the various extremely comics-y news stories that broke at the show (from Nancy to Parker to Wilson to Marvelman to Bone) and rightly points out that if you have a mind to do so, you can have an absolutely kickass comics experience with minimal effort. Somewhere between cheerleading and doomsaying lie the posts and policy prescriptions we'd do well to take heed of.
The most inscrutable of the Cold Heat Specials thus far, which is saying something, this second Santoro/Milburn CHS collaboration in a row is also the least action-oriented thus far. In its 17 story pages (I tend to count minicomic covers for the official page count up top), Cold Heat heroine Castle putters around a castle, appropriately enough. As light from a fireplace, a candle, and eventually dawn illuminates her and her surroundings, she gazes upon a painting and into a mirror, whereupon the figure from the painting appears to come to life...or does he? Whether the sword-wielding horseman is a ghost or just a figment of her imagination is immaterial: The point is to use Castle and her surroundings to evoke the experience we've probably all had of being up late at night, alone in the barely staved-off dark, our thoughts running wild in the emptiness.
With each page done in a two-color silkscreen riff on Cold Heat proper's pink and blue color scheme, the book is a thing of beauty--unsurprising, for comics-makers of Santoro and Milburn's obvious talents. What is surprising is Milburn's proficiency for this sort of tone-poem of a story. Most of the Closed Caption Comics veteran's work that I've seen thus far has been geared toward the monstrous, so watching him work off Santoro's layouts in an experiment to see how best to convey firelight and insomnia is a treat (even if I had to read the thing twice to make sure I understood what was happening--or what wasn't happening). As is frequently the case with PictureBox products, the price point appears designed to actively punish the casual reader, but to be fair this is about as geared toward someone whose bookshelf's only graphic novel is Maus as Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink is aimed at someone who bought The Dark Knight off an endcap at Wal-Mart. It's for we few, we proud, we artcomix aficionados, and lucky for us.
Carnival of souls: special San Diego Comic-Con post-op edition
* Nothing has made me regret missing the San Diego Comic-Con this year more than taking a gander at Rickey Purdin's eye-melting gallery of his Watchmen sketchbook haul for the show. Gabriel Ba, Ross Campbell, Travis Charest, Jordan Crane, Nathan Fox, Matt Furie, Sammy Harkham, Derek Kirk Kim, Fabio Moon, Tom Neely (not pictured for NSFW reasons), Johnny Ryan, Jeff Smith, Mark Todd, Esther Pearl Watson...insane.
* CBR's George A. Tramountanas has posted a report on the Lost panel. It sounds like Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (and Jorge Garcia and Michael Emerson and Josh Holloway and Nestor Carbonell and Dominic Monaghan) primarily designed the panel as a comedy-hour payback for the SDCC faithful^. It's a smart way to go, given how pretty much anything they could really reveal about the final season of that show would be a spoiler by necessity--the season is short and the dangling plot threads that need to be tied up are so many that it will probably occupy every available second of airtime. Anyway, the panel sounds like a scream, particularly the gratuitous dig at Heroes, which I still resent for its mercifully brief but grossly exploited and ultimately ridiculous and unsustainable eclipse of Lost in the fickle hearts and minds of nerddom circa Lost Season Three and Heroes Season One.^^
* Holy smokes, check out the partial table of contents for The Comics Journal #300. In conversation: Kevin Huizenga and Art Spiegelman, Sammy Harkham and Jean-Christophe Menu, Dave Gibbons and Frank Quitely, David Mazzucchelli and Dash Shaw, Alison Bechdel and Danica Novgorodoff, Ho Che Anderson and Howard Chaykin, Denny O'Neill and Matt Fraction, Zak Sally and Jaime Hernandez, Ted Rall and Matt Bors, Jim Borgman and Keith Knight, Stan Sakai and Chris Schweizer. Seriously, holy smokes.
* Writing for the Onion AV Club's "Gateway to Geekery" column, devoted to giving newbies starting-point recommendations for various nerd-beloved but daunting series and oeuvres, Leonard Pierce tackles Love & Rockets in what strikes me as an inaccurate and ill-advised fashion. For one thing, the comic hasn't been "reputedly monthly" in years, so it's weird to even discuss it in those terms. But more importantly, if you're trying to give people a starting point, why recommend the gigantic, unwieldy, expensive hardcovers (don't get me wrong, they're awesome, but they're not for beginners) when both Gilbert and Jaime's work has now been collected in a less expensive, more complete, more welcoming series of softcover digests that can give you a taste without breaking either the bank or your back? Try reading the Palomar or Locas hardcovers on the subway, I double-dog dare you. For pete's sake, the place to start with Gilbert/Palomar/Luba is Heartbreak Soup, the place to start with Jaime/Maggie/Hopey/Izzy/Locas is Maggie the Mechanic, and the place to start for both brothers' other stuff is Amor y Cohetes. You're welcome, world! (Link via Curt Purcell.)
* The AV Club acquits itself more admirably with Scott Tobias's latest New Cult Canon column, on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice. Pre-Hot-Topic-hackdom^^^, Tim Burton really was a wondrously inventive and funny director--his first Batman film is still the best superhero movie ever made by a comfortable margin--and Beetlejuice was really a doozy. (The Missus and I wonder aloud why Otho isn't an oft-quoted cult hero on a regular basis.) I was particularly intrigued by Tobias's linking of Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight to Michael Keaton's turn as the title character here.
^ Being in the audience for the sneak preview of the show's pilot episode at Comic-Con 2004 remains one of me and the Missus's great geek claims-to-fame.
^^ I was in the belly of the nerd beast at that time, running WizardUniverse.com's weekly roundtable discussions of Lost, and the way some of the company's, let's say, "aesthetically challenged" staffers kicked the show to the curb in favor of slobbering all over the Save the Cheerleader nonsense was enough to make you chew your own foot off.
^^^ This is not a slam on Hot Topic, which I love. But you know what I mean.
This is pretty much exactly what the minicomic was invented for: A lovely little object designed as a showcase for an entertaining idea expressed through formal play. It's a comic book, not a graphic novel or an anthology, and you get the sense that Mark Burrier, a talented illustrator who's been serving up gorgeous minis like this for some time, wouldn't have it any other way. Content-wise, it reads like a stand-up comedy version of Anders Nilsen's Monologues characters--barely-there stick-figure outlines falling apart, only instead of spouting philosophical snippets in order to show the inadequacy of such frameworks in light of their plight, they're just being dicks to each other. Various legless characters say things like "You think you're better than me?" or "I don't feel like getting up today," while the more fortunate in the leg department either self-deprecate ("You only love me for my leg") or condescend ("I'm so embarrassed for you"). My favorite gag, however, is a non sequitur: Standing on his single remaining leg and speaking into a microphone, one figure says "This is such a surprise! I don't want to forget to thank anyone." Maybe that's a statement about how even the elite have their inadequacies, or maybe it's just a funny thing to do with a one-legged stick figure. Who cares when the cardstock covers have such a killer endpage design? This is a slight thing, but it's the slightness that makes it feel like your 300 pennies were well spent.
Last year there was a lot of kvetching from the nerd press about access, a lot of which I thought was a simple failure to take into account the size and scope of the 21st-century Comic-Con experience. And honestly, I was pretty surprised that Rob's corporate overlords expected him to cover the thing all by himself--that's exactly the lack of realistic expectations I was talking about. (They could at least have sprung for a guestblogger to keep the home fires burning with links while Rob was out and about at the show.)
But I also pointed out last year that the show's press pass is pretty much useless as anything but a regular pass that sometimes can get you into the building, though not the exhibit hall or panels, a little early. When you're handing out 3,000 press passes out of a total attendance of 125,000, why bother? So I agree with Rob and Tom Spurgeon and (I think) Heidi MacDonald and probably plenty of other people that the Con needs to be way more stringent about press credentials, scale back the number of press passes they issue accordingly, but then scale up the rights and privileges afforded to the press they do let in. I appreciate the show's egalitarianism w/r/t the pass policy currently, but I think the costs outweigh the benefits at this point.
Meanwhile, the way I was able to get done all the coverage I needed to get done last year was by sitting on the floor and posting stories using the convention center's free wireless whenever I could. When you're on deadline in the midst of an event the sheer physical size of Comic-Con, being able to post wherever, whenever as opposed to schlepping to the press room or god forbid your hotel can be the difference between success and failure. This year, not only was the wireless completely unreliable, but I've also heard that security would prevent people from simply sitting down in the hallways from time to time. Either one of these scenarios would have been a complete dealbreaker for my ability to get my work done last year, and it's imperative that the show solve these problems next year.
Finally, between the Iron Man 2 debacle Rob describes, in which the room wasn't cleared beforehand and therefore thousands of people who spent hours waiting in line in the sun to get in couldn't get in, and Tom Spurgeon's anecdote about how halfway through cartoonist Richard Thompson's panel security started letting in people for the next, very different, panel, it seems that the increased number of security personnel/traffic wranglers didn't translate into an increased quality of security or traffic flow. Now, moving that amount of people around quickly enough to start things on time is a very difficult challenge; and suppose you really want to see two things in a row, you're not just in the first thing to save yourself a seat for the second thing, but you're forced to choose because they clear the rooms each time? So maybe they need to make exceptions with obvious crowd magnets like Iron Man 2, I dunno. But it's a problem, and in that particular case it seems like it was an anticipatable problem. If they can shuffle around panels on the fly to avoid a Twilight/Avatar collision, surely they can put a little thought along similar lines into everything else going on in Hall H at the least.
First, how do you know that the majority of fans at the Twilight panels didn't buy comics--or any of the many, many other products on sale at the Con?
Second, how do you know that if they were all magically vaporized, their thousands of tickets would be snapped up by comics fans, as opposed to people who are just there to see James Cameron or Peter Jackson or the Venture Brothers guys or any of the countless other non-comics fandoms at the show?
Third, now that I mention it, why single out Twilight in the first place of all of said countless other non-comics fandoms? I don't think Chris is at all on the "ewwww Goths/girls/tweens" tip that lots of other Twilight critics are on, but at the same time, how many members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion do you see at the Fantagraphics booth?
Now, you could easily answer the above questions like so: "First, I don't care about the non-comics stuff on sale at the show, only comics matter; second, and third, we should try to reduce the presence of all those other fandoms too." This is what Chris appears to be advocating with his call for an ideological litmus test to be applied to potential Con exhibitors--an Office Space-style mantra of "Is This Good For The Comics?" This is more coherent point of view than simply singling out the Frowned-Upon Fandom of the Year, but it's not a terribly valid or useful one.
Comic-Con has always been a cross-media extravaganza--it's just gotten much better at being one in recent years. It never was and will never be Angouleme, or Heroes Con for that matter. You could look at the Hollywood/videogame/assorted-nerdery component as the tail that wags the dog if you want, but at this point the dog is a chihuahua and the tail is like one of those 200-yard-long Batman capes drawn by Todd McFarlane. It doesn't make sense on a business level, or on an overall customer happiness level, to start asking Robert Pattinson if he read Asterios Polyp before you allow him to attend the show. And it doesn't make sense to hold Comic-Con to a "for comics, by comics" standard which has little basis in the fact of the show as it's existed for years, and which would make it an entirely different and less successful show.
That said, there are a lot of things that can be done to preserve and enhance the comics component of Comic-Con within the Con's current identity and framework. Most of them involve not penalizing the movie fans and gamers and Klingons and whatnot, but boosting cooperation between the Con and the comics industry, or just within the comics industry itself, to make sure that the art form's anchor presences at the show are respected and perpetuated. Here's another idea: Nine Inch Nails is releasing tickets to its final concert tour in three waves--first through a NIN.com members-only presale on the NIN.com website, second through a password-protected presale on the Ticketmaster website, and third through the usual Ticketmaster/box-office procedure, all staggered by a week or two. Plus, most venues hold back a handful of tickets that they release only on the night of the performance. Couldn't Comic-Con do the same in order to accommodate different demographics with different levels of advance awareness and interest in the event, thus (ideally) giving casual fans who are more likely to swing by and browse for books rather than camp out overnight for the Lost panel a foot in the door?
The point is, pointing the finger at specific fandoms isn't the answer any more than pointing the finger at all fandoms is. Comic-Con is what it is; it's easy to go there and have a tremendous show as a comics reader; it's harder but still eminently doable to make the comics component of the show stronger and more accessible. Twilight has nothing to do with it.