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December 22, 2011


CR Holiday Interview #4 -- Tucker Stone

imageTucker Stone came to the attention of comics readers the old-fashioned way: by writing about comics in a unique voice on a homemade platform with enough energy and vigor people started to notice. The actor-by-training and comic shop employee may be the only comics critic as known for a series of review videos in which he once starred as he is for his writing -- which has since trickled out to a number of web sites, most notably a column at comiXology. I've read other bloggers linking to Stone the way old-timey radio hosts introduced segments from war correspondents. Stone is out there engaging with the art form -- all of it -- as it arrives on comics shelves every Wednesday. It's been a fascinating year for mainstream comics, and I thought Stone might provide a perspective that was valuable yet divorced from my own. He did not disappoint. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: Before we get into the year in mainstream comics, I have a question about the way you write and a question about the way you read comics. The first is that I always get a sense of performance out of your pieces, as much as I do from anyone this side of Abhay Khosla. Is that a fair characterization, do you think? Do you think that your reviews are different in any substantive way by the very aggressive style you use?

TUCKER STONE: I think that's a fair characterization. I hear it, I don't read it, if that makes sense. In a lot of ways, I've come to think that the best way to deliver most of what I put on the web site -- with the exception of the few things I've written for The Comics Journal -- would probably be best experienced if they were being performed in some capacity, because they really are... they're written to a cadence in my head, and that's a spoken cadence. In response to your second question, about them being different in a substantive way? I think they'd have to be. I'm trying to capture my own personal relationship with the text in reviewing comics, but I'm going about in a way that's primarily designed to entertain, and that places limitations on what I can accomplish on an intellectual or serious level. At the same time... I don't care. Funny beats serious every time. That's not even a contest.

SPURGEON: My second question comes from that I realized it's been a while since we talked. At that time, we talked a bit about your writing as a kind of active hobby, meant to entertain yourself and your wife. What we didn't talk about was your reading, and what motivates you there. Do you read in order to write, or are you a voracious reader of comics generally? Is it harder to read comics now that you're a few years into writing about them than it maybe was when you started?

STONE: I was all set to say "I don't read in order to write," and I don't think I do. But I do read a lot in order to keep up, which is sort of the same thing. I feel a sense of obligation -- in part because of the writing, nowadays because of the store -- to know what's going on in contemporary comics publishing. I don't feel it's necessary to express my opinion about every new thing that comes out, but I do feel a responsibility to have one, even if it's one I keep to myself.

imageIt is a bit harder to read as many of them now than when I started. I find myself less enthusiastic about new material as time has gone on, and while that makes the high points that much better, there's a wide expanse of tiresome comics that has to be plowed to get to the good stuff. I know I would not have inhaled a lot of the crap that I have over the last year if it wasn't for the store and the relationships that have sprung up out of that. However... I say that stuff now, and there's been plenty of moments where I haven't minded. Participating in that Hooded Utilitarian round-up got me back to late night marathon reads of [Jack] Kirby comics and Lone Wolf & Cub, and I was happy to be tired the next day. Sometimes it does feel like abandoning new comics for a while would not be a huge loss. It would be a loss, but not, necessarily, a life-changing one. To just sit around and re-read Kirby and Love and Rockets or whatever, Judge Dredd and Peter Milligan's Batman comics. That sounds attractive to me.

I was talking to [critic Matt] Seneca about Harold Bloom recently, whether comics has produced enough greatness that a guy could dedicate his life to them the way Bloom did to Shakespeare... I think it's easy to say yes to that, it's an attractive ideal. But I don't know if it's true, if there's enough in Little Nemo to re-read the way a guy like Bloom goes back to Hamlet.

So much of comics -- and I'm thinking the whole industry, not just Marvel/DC -- is dedicated to hyper-consumers, you know? It's all about buying this stuff immediately upon release, amassing these tomes and libraries and archives alongside the weekly installments of whatever genre stuff there is. Nobody can keep anything in print, there's so few people qualified to cleave the wheat from the chaff. It's just buy-buy-buy, X-9 hardcovers and 26 volumes of Peanuts and another re-release of Prince Valiant and 16 newly-translated softcovers from wherever [D+Q Publisher Chris] Oliveros went on vacation. I get sick of trying to play the democratic catch-all who gives everything a chance, sick of that feeling where I'm constantly staring off into the next few months, waiting to see what comes next. And it doesn't do service to the work, either. It just becomes an ingestion process, this thing where you're constantly shoveling comics into your head like an old school meat grinder. Reading years of work in days, binging on the stuff, and just checking it off and moving onto the next thing... it's gross.

Shouldn't there be stuff that I'm re-reading yearly?

So yeah, it's harder. I don't know that I have a point here. That question opened up a can of worms I'm struggling with. Comics used to be a part of my life, now they feel like they're too much of it, and yet the only positive force I find in them is when I read good ones. But getting to that is becoming a situation where the cons -- dealing with the scum that publish them, the sub-mental idiots who want to "break in," the rampant hate so many have for the few genuine artists, the constant assault on integrity and ethics from all sides -- sometimes it makes me want to bail out and divorce myself entirely.

SPURGEON: I hear what you're saying about the mental stress of having to put up with some of the cultural peculiarities that comes with consuming a certain kind of comic book. I'm not suggesting I had the answer to this when I was more immersed in them, either, but to put the same question to you that was always put to me: why do you have to have those experiences to read the comic, do you think? Why do you have to encounter those people, say, scrambling to break in if you're reading and reacting to those books? Why do you subject yourself to that?

STONE: I'm subjected to that because that's what makes up the lion's share of on-line coverage, Twitter, Facebook, my email inbox, New York City's convention circuit, etc. Let me be absolutely clear: It is my choice to participate in these things -- to read shitty web sites and get irritated by what people promote online and how they promote it -- but the only alternative, the way I see it, would be to quit the job I currently have and have a consumer-only relationship with comics. If you write about this stuff -- and I think you can take the modifier "certain kind of comic book" out of the equation, because art/alt comics people are as bad (if not actually worse) -- you're going to end up bumping into that part of the industry all of the time.

(And in case you're wondering, part of my lessened output in the last year is due exactly to this struggle, this sense that I'm just using the comics review model to criticize the people, audience and industry behind it, and feeling that's an unnecessary, unhappy place to be. I've had to pretty much abandon writing at all about alternative comics, as their publishers and their conventions have gotten me far angrier in the last few years than Marvel and DC's idiocy combined, because at least with Marvel and DC, they have the excuse that they're just supplying corporate products and advertisement.)

imageThe question of "why I subject myself?"... same reason you do. When comics work, when there's something new from Johnny Ryan, Jaime Hernandez or Kevin Huizenga, or when Fantagraphics digs up something like The Cabbie, or when somebody like [Michael] DeForge drops out of the sky... there's very little I find that can compete. When James Stokoe puts out an Orc Stain, or when [Mike] Mignola and [John] Arcudi and [Guy] Davis pull off a BPRD cliffhanger? [Naoki] Urasawa? Marcos Martin? Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol?

You've got your own list of specific examples, but the feeling I get is the same as the one that has you using your brain and talent and maybe even sacrificing a bit of your health (?) to keep The Comics Reporter going strong. I don't pay attention to a bunch of the comics Internet the way I used to, but when a situation comes up that is somewhat deserving of attention, there you are, responding in an intelligent fashion. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but you have to be doing that in some small bit because you think it matters to do so, whether anyone intelligent is paying attention or not. Your motivation -- which I perceive to be that business and ethics and simple decency matter, even if you're only talking about them with people who only care about comics as a way to get their shitty movie pitches taken more seriously, even if the only response is somebody like Torsten Adair going "at Barnes and Noble, we put comics next to green signs" -- is the same thing that keeps me going, although it's definitely in a matter of degree.

I will say this: if you're not struggling with the ethics of this business, then you're either completely unaware of how toxic they are, or you're a shitty human being. You can be ignorant for a myriad of reasons, but after you find out how this works -- how low-rent the gatekeepers are, or how much has been invested in catering to the sickest, worst parts of the audience -- there's only one ethical way to respond, and that's with disgust and anger. Anybody who just shrugs it off or buries their head in one corner of the medium's various genres immediately becomes a part of the problem, and they should be treated as such. Anybody who pulls the "Well, that's all fucked up over there but at least this corner is clean" -- they're maintaining the sickness as badly as the guys who screwed over Kirby. At least the guys who fucked Kirby had a financial motivation that makes some kind of dark sense. I don't know what this current crop of apologists gets out of it.

imageSPURGEON: How broad is your personal definition of the mainstream comic book? Is there still any market force behind genre comics, even superhero comics, from non-top two publishers? Do things like whatever Conan series that Dark Horse is doing and those Mark Waid superhero comics from BOOM! function like mainstream books, or do they function in an entirely different way?

STONE: For me personally, I use "mainstream comic book" to define just about anything that's genre-based and comes out regularly in comic book form. The only thing I really make exceptions for are things like King City or Uptight or Crickets or Lose... and I couldn't even tell you why. Serialized genre entertainment versus, you know, stuff. But that's really an after-the-fact explanation for the way I react to them. I don't think I always thought of them with that distinction, but it seems that way to me now, especially now that Image has moved so heavily into the failed Hollywood pitches production market while at the same time Dark Horse has amped up their status into a licensed production facility. They're a much classier version than the shit that Dynamite pumps out, but still -- it's a lot of Star Wars comics, a lot of Conan shit.

It's very difficult for me to ignore how very "product-y" all of that stuff is. It's stuff for people to buy and kill time with. I'm not going to criticize it solely for that, but there comes a point where I'm no longer going to pretend that discovering the differentiations between the "good" and "bad" versions of product out there. I'm sure there's a "best" one-hour television program, but finding it -- be it through my own research or any study of television criticism -- is a job I don't wish to expend any effort upon. I just want something to watch while I'm trying to put Nina's new desk together. That's what "mainstream" is to me -- the comics you read on the side. I make a space in my life for those kinds of comics, the same way I make a space for stuff that I don't think of that way. So yeah, I think of quite a few of those non-Big-Two, non-superhero comics as the same basic thing. That being said...

I have no idea about the market force question. Wasn't there a bunch of freaking out about Image's bank account this last year? Am I making that up? Hellboy stuff and Star Wars stuff still must turn a profit, and things like Locke & Key and The Walking Dead clearly make a good bit of money... but Dark Horse fired a lot of people this year, and I can't fathom to whom IDW is selling all those horrible horror comics it produces. Who can? I know of a lot of Image books that were complete financial failures, books that get dumped on the remainder market and disappear, and yet the creators still get work, there's still a public attitude towards them as being successful creators, with careers worth emulating. It's an impossible area to figure out from my perspective. I hope somebody is figuring it out. There's a lot of dreams hanging on those companies. I think comics would be the poorer for us if they were gone. They aren't for me, but that doesn't mean I think they need to be put down.

imageSPURGEON: Are there any quality books and/or solid performers in that genre books from non-Big Two sub-category of comics, to your eye? What do you like about them?

STONE: I love Hellboy and BPRD, and I'm keeping up with books like Butcher Baker Righteous Maker and a few others in that same category. I think Locke & Key is a pretty compelling series in a similar fashion to the way Walking Dead used to be, although it's better in a lot of ways because it's a more satisfying single issue experience, with stronger art. It's not something I'm ever going to be super enthusiastic about -- I think it's success with me has a lot to do with it being a competent, classically structured story amongst a sea of lesser imitations of serialized television shows.

Books like Casanova, Gødland and Butcher Baker Righteous Maker will probably always hold some interest to me, for as long as they're around. They just feel so unusual, and while neither of them feel like they've completely achieved whatever it is they're shooting to achieve, they're always gorgeous to look at, and there's something exciting about the fact that they exist. I love true indie/art/non-genre comics too, and I think the best of those works that get coded with those classifications are unquestionably "better," but I feel like you can look at Casanova and Butcher Baker and see where a lot of what we call the "mainstream" would have gone if superheroes hadn't taken over genre so completely. These are the steps -- ungainly, maybe -- that should have been taken years ago, if only so that the majority of the entertainment side of the business didn't get tilted so heavily in one direction.

I like things that are a little bit messy. Besides all that -- BPRD, Hellboy, Casanova, Butcher Baker -- what else looks as good as these comics? Color alone, there's nothing. There's no DC or Marvel book that's colored as audaciously as Butcher Baker; DC and Marvel can't lay claim to somebody like Dave Stewart. Casanova -- they're beautiful, messy books. I'd like them even if I hated them.

SPURGEON: If books like Casanova and Butcher Baker represent baby steps... why are we still taking baby steps in that direction? You may be able to argue me out of this, but as an older reader I connect a book like Casanova to a book like American Flagg! pretty directly. If you're describing them as correctives, why didn't earlier correctives take? Why do we need to reinvent this idea of genre comics with a creator's personal investment and unique creative contribution? Why can't the mainstream be broader than it is, you know, being the mainstream?

STONE: You could link to that Gary Groth thing, "Time of the Toad" here, I think. I found that an interesting piece of writing, and while it's pretty broad and wide-ranging in terms of what it's interested in, I think there's some stuff in there that has infected the way I'm feeling about some of these questions.

First things first: why didn't the earlier correctives take? Maybe it did, maybe books like American Flagg! helped posit the idea in those '90s superhero superstars that they could do it on their own. And they did: but they were still a group of idea-less dummies, and the best they could offer was tiny remixes on stuff they were already doing. WildCATS, Youngblood, Spawn, Savage Dragon -- I don't think this is the same kind of thing with [Matt] Fraction or [Howard] Chaykin. When those guys are free to play, they do other shit. Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, [Rob] Liefeld, whoever else from back then -- those guys weren't waiting for the doors to swing wide so that they could release their own West Coast Blues or Color Engineering or Dungeon Quest or ACME Novelty Library or whatever else. They weren't even waiting for somebody to let them do their own hyper-contemporary editions of Nick Fury and David Bowie references. Jim Lee wanted his own X-Men, and he got it. Erik Larson wanted Savage Dragon, and he got it. There was a lot of opportunity in those moments, and while I might think it was ideologically squandered, I don't think it was realistically squandered. None of those guys had -- or have -- anything else to bring to the table. Todd McFarlane didn't get into comics because of Love and Rockets. He does shit the way he does shit because that's all he wants, which neatly dovetails with the fact that it's all he's able to do in the first place. That's fine, it just sucks those were the guys who had the clout at the time to do whatever they wanted.

I don't think you should neglect the way some of the current "correctives" have worked, though -- Walking Dead, Preacher, Y The Last Man -- those books are proof to a whole generation of creators that you can have a (relatively) ethical career doing genre shit you like outside of superhero comics, and mainstream comics will embrace you. Didn't American Flagg! lay some of the groundwork for that? I think it's possible that it did.

imageOn the question of "why are we still taking baby steps" and "why we need to reinvent this idea"... because it still hasn't taken, I guess? Because there's still grown men whose only ambition is to draw or write a specific set of corporate characters made famous by far more talented people than them who are now dead. The other reason -- although I honestly think I don't need one beyond that first one -- is that comics would be a hell of a lot healthier and more diverse if there were 40 books like The Walking Dead and Criminal then there are now, where we have 40 books featuring Wolverine or Batman. Find that old Kim Thompson thing: "We need more crap." I'm not going to try to write a new song when the old one is still spot on, and the song where the comics industry is all fucked up because there's too many superhero comics about the exact same fucking thing that appeals to the exact same bunch of people proves itself truer and truer every single week. They should come out with a new Casanova/American Flagg! type of comic every week until it does take off. Say it were a baby: you have to give it time to learn to walk. Comics just keeps showing up and going "Nope, these are still baby steps" and then they throw the baby out the window.

This is actually a decent one, let's go with it: and each time comics says "Nope" the creators have to go back and have sex and take the baby to term and birth it and all that -- and the whole time they keep having to face the same bunch of people who have killed their last 16 babies, and they're on their way again to judge the new one, and if they don't like it this time... well, shit. Think about that: all the work that goes into coming up with a new, creator-owned, non-superhero type of genre comic. And think about how it feels to have that work ignored over and over again, while the guy down the street -- who is usually a nice guy -- has a semi-decent paycheck coming in, and all he has to do is come up with shit for Batman to do, and it doesn't even matter that the shit isn't that interesting and the comic looks like it was drawn by somebody with broken fingers where their working fingers should be. That guy doesn't have to deal with the struggle of having a baby and raising a baby and paying for a baby to go to college and get braces -- he just babysits other people's kids. And sure, eventually he'll be too old to babysit and he'll be all alone with nothing but memories of other people's children (children who have forgotten about him completely), but he will have been safe and okay for a while. Of course, that other guy -- now he's got real memories. Now he's got something he can look back on that belongs to him, and if he's lucky, maybe it'll take care of him a bit too.

On that front... if I knew why it doesn't work, why the superhero thing wins the day -- I'd tell you. I don't know. I think it's always worth mentioning that the guys who buy superhero comics aren't as fickle as the fans of quality genre tend to be, and comics just isn't big enough to severely mistreat the people who keep it alive through thick and thin. Vertigo books wax and wane in quality, and their audience numbers reflect that. Batman's a more stable base, his readers don't mind if he falls apart for five years at a time. We have the industry we have because that's the industry the majority of its audience wants. DC and Marvel are too fucking stupid on a general basis, and they always have been, to do anything to pilot the ship. They do what they're told, and when a bunch of people open their wallets and say "We'll buy Preacher," you get Preacher. When they say they'll only buy Catwoman if her tits are plastered across every page, then you'll see Ed Brubaker get teamed up with Paul Gulacy. Why is Marvel currently serializing Northanger Abbey? Because the Pride and Prejudice hardcover outsold Spider-Man collections, that's why. DC and Marvel are the easiest companies in the world to control, and if all of the bloggers and bitchy twitter people could get over their petty bullshit, they could dictate that entire portion of the industry tomorrow. That's how small this is: the Internet could actually matter! [Spurgeon laughs]

I'll probably say this again, but here's my current feeling: we have the industry we deserve, because it's the industry we made. There aren't more Casanovas and American Flagg!s because people choose to buy Invincible Iron Man instead.

imageSPURGEON: While we're on the subject of Matt Fraction, can you explain to me the negative reaction to Fear Itself? Someone I think of as smart flat-out described it to me as a "failed event series," and while I bet the numbers don't quite support that negative an assessment, I have seen the cutting remarks out there and it certainly didn't perform ahead of expectations. I read most of it, and it seemed to me perfectly fine -- I liked it better than any of the other Marvel event series core issues except for maybe World War Hulk. Stuart Immonen's art was pretty, too. It came out on time, even. So what's the basis of the reaction, do you think? What am I missing?

STONE: I'm not sure what it is you're missing, but I think you're probably missing something. The only person I know who liked that book was Benjamin Birdie, and I listened to a lot of people talk about that book. (At the store, I mean.)

It just wasn't what people wanted. Maybe it's because it was so Thor-centric? We're talking about a character that was dead for however many years, and was then resurrected by J. Michael Straczynski in a title that, from the little I know about it, never seemed to intersect with the rest of the Marvel universe in the way the rest of them do on a regular basis. All the last few years of cross-overs, even World War Hulk -- aren't they all, at their core, New Avengers related titles? Fear Itself was a Thor-heavy thing with a story so basic that most of the people reading it (me included) thought we were missing something because there was no way it was as simple as "Evil hammers have upped and crazified people's powers, also watch out for being scared."

That "on time" thing... that has to be bullshit, right? Civil War was a fucking insane success, it created this entire model that they've been dicking around with ever since, and that book was 15 kinds of late. DC's being crowing about being "on time" ever since the 52 thing showed up... come the fuck on. The kind of Green Lantern reader who quits Green Lantern because it's a month late is also the kind of reader who is going to quit Green Lantern the second he has to look at a fill-in issue by Philip Tan. "We put it out on time" is a loser's marketing ploy, it's another way for DC and Marvel to threaten the people who freelance for them.

And you know what, I like Stuart Immonen, too, but let's not pretend anymore that it matters how superhero comics look. Ninety-nine percent of the people considered critics pride themselves on some variation of the phrase "what matters most to me is that the writing is good," and they're just following the behavior pattern laid out by superhero comics readers. I'm surprised every time I see decent art in a superhero comic, because I can't figure out why the fuck the guy is working so hard in a genre where the audience almost universally would trade [Frank] Quitely for [Salvador] Larroca in a second if it meant All Star Superman would have gone on for another 60 issues.

Real quick: I doubt my Thor theory is correct. I'm just fucking around and wondering about it. I read Fear Itself in its entirety, and while I didn't like it, I'm not supposed to like it. I like superhero comics that are bombastic and more than a little ridiculous and uninterested in being taken seriously. The best version of Fear Itself probably wouldn't appeal to me. But there is an audience for these kind of cornerstone, deep-continuity comics, and it was Marvel's job to provide them with the thing that they wanted. That doesn't seem to have happened.

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SPURGEON: The reason I mention the timely nature of Fear Itself's publication is because that tends to be an avenue through which fans start to complain, and it didn't apply here. To a lesser extent, that's also true of art on a series like that -- it may not matter in the way you describe, but if the art is off-key or not well-crafted, that provides an avenue for fans to gripe.

Let's do a couple of the other Marvel series before getting into DC and maybe
Hellboy. The Rick Remender-written Uncanny X-Force seems to my untrained eye kind of the opposite acceptance-wise to Fear Itself. It doesn't seem like there were any expectations to it going in, and the reactions are pretty effusive. I've only read a couple of issues, and it seemed perfectly serviceable, but I'm surprised people are listing it as one of Marvel's best. What's interesting to you about that title, what makes it emblematic of this year?

STONE: First up, I don't think it's emblematic of this year at all. I think it's an at times very funny action comic with exceptional coloring and strong, unusual art choices. It's densely packed in a way that many of Marvel's comics currently are not, giving it a sense that it's "worth" buying in single issues in a way that so many of these comics are not. Shit happens in those comics -- most of it is just people dying, but there's an actual love triangle as well, and it's been proven time and time again that superhero comics can do pretty decent love triangles. It's the X-Men book you can read that practically prides itself on not interacting with any of the five other X-Men titles that exist.

But emblematic -- no. If anything, Uncanny X-Force is emblematic of The Teen Titans and older Marvel X books, those sorts of comics where there's always a massive world-destroying affair going on and all of the big dogs (the Supermans, the Captain Americas) aren't even in the picture. It's all up to the smart ass, the creep, the tortured girl, the rich kid and Wolverine. You remember how in Teen Titans, it always seemed like Trigon was about to annihilate all of humanity, and yet there was no sign of Superman on the horizon? They'd never do that now. They'd use Trigon in an event series, and Batman would somehow be involved, and there wouldn't be any time to find out if Donna Troy was going to break up with that bearded creepozoid.

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SPURGEON: Another talked-about Marvel series of 2011 is the revamped Daredevil, which I've just read. I liked it just fine, and I think Mark Waid is a smart guy who writes with a lot of integrity. That said, there's a bit of that "just a good ol' solid superhero book" feel to it, where it seems like that because it's well-crafted and has a point of view that runs against the grain, people are fainting in its presence. I'm not sure to an outside reader -- and I tried a couple -- it stands out. What works about it for you?

STONE: It's well-crafted superhero comics, that's it. I apologize in advance for being presumptuous, but I think you may not realize how rare that is right now. I think if you parse down those reactions -- what you're describing as "fainting in its presence" -- a lot of that is coming from people like Matt Seneca (people who barely read any superhero comics) and fellow creators (people who have to read a whole lot of shitty ones). The guy I work for -- he feels the same way you do about Daredevil. It's good, he likes it, but he's not as hyperbolic about it as I am. I doubt if it would stand out to an outside reader at all.

You know what would stand out to an outside reader? Nearly every other superhero comic book. They'd stand out because they look like shit, don't make any sense and aren't interesting when they do make sense. Daredevil gets to be special because it's an exception to all of those things. It's a good superhero comic that's drawn well, colored well. It doesn't take any cues from the Saw film series, it doesn't try to imitate [writer Brian] Bendis. It's a satisfying chunk each time... I think you would have always had to search for a comic book that was well-crafted, they were probably only available in great abundance during the first few years of the [Jack] Kirby Marvel comics. But right now, there's almost none.

I do think -- and I'm maybe a little surprised that you haven't mentioned it -- that the mere presence of Marcos Martin pushes this one ahead of the pack. Martin is such a fascinating artist, and there's so little opportunity (and I believe, there will not be any again) to see Martin draw superhero comics. This is a guy who loves the form, he's in love with sequential storytelling -- not genre. He loves the actual art form. Come on! When those kinds of people make genre comics, it's always worth looking at. [David] Mazzuchelli? [Alex] Toth? Those are dudes who dig drawing comics, they dig fucking around with how a page is set up, how you compose a sequence so as to manipulate a reader's eye across the page while manipulating the way they experience a story as well.

One of the reasons that I get exasperated with comics artists is because you meet so many of them who behave as if they're baby birds getting food pre-chewed and spat into their mouths, people who act like this Holy Writer bullshit is what makes comics awesome. And then you meet people like [Brian] Azzarello or Waid, and they describe how they figure their shit out and then let [Eduardo] Risso or Martin do whatever-the-fuck-they-need-to to make it work, it feels like a revelation, even though it shouldn't be. When Azz describes the way Risso works, or when you see how [Cliff] Chiang treats superhero scripts like a list of challenges and problems to figure out -- that's the way comics are supposed to be made. This other thing, where dudes sit around waiting on pseudo screenplay bullshit that they can storyboard, with all the shots pre-planned for them by a bunch of wannabe Vince Gilligans -- fuck those comics.

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SPURGEON: What were you expecting to happen with the New 52 initiative at DC? What are you expecting now?

STONE: I was expecting there to be a bunch of lousy comics that weren't much different from the lousy comics they were publishing in the prior months, except that now there was going to be more of them. I figured it would be a more extreme version of that thing that Marvel did, where that Onslaught character ate all of the Marvel heroes and Rob Liefeld drew Captain America for a while.

I wasn't expecting was for the first issues to do as well as they did, sales-wise. I figured they'd do okay because DC was offering such a good deal on them and making it so easy to return unsold copies -- there was really no good reason not to take a shot at ordering a bunch of them, you had very little to lose -- but I still didn't think they'd do that well.

What am I expecting now... I don't know, DC's choices don't make a lot of sense, do they? I expect them to stick with this for a while, but I also wouldn't be shocked if they cancelled a bunch of them tomorrow. You know what I mean? DC makes a lot of choices that don't make sense to me, and I've kind of gotten to the point where they feel like anything goes, all of the time. Why did they do this so quickly, you know? Why did they shoehorn it into Flashpoint? Why didn't they work harder at getting more books in the can in advance? Why does everybody who works there who isn't a bottom rung freelancer complain about the place all of the time? And honestly: why hasn't Time Warner licensed the production of these things out to somebody like BOOM! or IDW? They could keep the movie deals and pass the making of these things out the same way they do with the pencils and stickerbooks and wash their hands of the mess entirely. I don't get that place at all.

Sorry. I figure I have to say something, because you asked. I'm expecting that some people will get fired, but there will still be monthly Batman comics. Also they will probably do some randy shit that will offend people.

imageSPURGEON: So what happened? Who bought these comics and who enjoyed them? I've heard everything from restless existing buyers, to just-dropped-out buyers to 30-somethings that remembered the Image excitement and wanted an excuse to jump back in. The dozen or so series that I've read do kind of remind me of more sedate version of Image books.

STONE: They wanted to get back some of the people who bought stacks of comics in the '90s for speculation purposes, and they totally did, for about a month. The anecdotal bullshit I have is this: a guy came in and grabbed five copies of each issue, and since I'd never had anybody do that before, I wasn't totally prepared and just said "Oh... uh, let's not buy this many, okay?" Not to be an asshole, it's just -- that was the third week, by that point I knew well enough that there were a lot of strangers coming in, that all the stores in New York were selling out and DC was dragging their heels with reprints, and you would rather please five people than one dude, right?

And he said "No. No. No. I'm giving you a lot of money." And then he takes one issue of Catwoman off the stack and that's it, he's going to buy this many comics.

Now, I'm looking at this guy -- he's early 30s, he's wearing stained sweatpants pants and he looks kind of unhealthy, he's twitching a little bit, and you know what, he shouldn't be spending this kind of money on multiple copies of superhero comics that everybody knows are going to be worthless except him. But you know what? I'm not going to fight with him. I'd rather apologize to four strangers than argue with somebody like that, and I'd rather apologize to four strangers than make a fucking sign and police this shit, and hey, I can always just quit if this is the way the industry is going, if every week some lunatic is going to freak out because I'm standing in the way of him making a bad decision involving Judd Winick comics.

Now, that guy was a super-extreme version of that kind of buyer, a lapsed '90s speculation buyer. He was the crazy asshole version; most of the rest of them were just nice guys who had room in a safe deposit box to chuck some trash into. But none of those people -- the crazy dudes and the normal dudes -- stuck around for second issues. A couple of non-DC people that were already regular Marvel 'n' Indie readers added DC books to the things they buy, and most of the regular DC buyers kept buying DC books, and that's it. As far as I can tell from where I sit, there was huge success with the number ones, and none of that success carried over to the next few issues. And I'm sure it's different all over the place -- although it shouldn't be ignored that those first three issues of the new 52s are all returnable gimmies -- but I can't see why there would be a major general shift from the way things were before the whole thing happened. It's the same general group of people who were making the same general type of comics with the same general group of characters that people weren't interested in buying before.

For the New 52 to work in the long term, there would had to have been a bunch of people who wanted to read Johns n' Didio comics that were holding off because the numbers were too high, or because they wanted to pay to read them on a computer of some kind. That's it. There's nothing special about these comics that you didn't have before. The new ones aren't any less "confusing." The Green Lantern and Batman comics are essentially unchanged. This is the same stuff they were doing before. Any difference is cosmetic. Any additional money DC might be making has to be getting annihilated by the amount they're losing by increasing their output in this fashion.

SPURGEON: From a purely creative standpoint, what are the six best books in that line now? Can you talk a bit about the best of what they're doing? Is there a book that was really, really wrong?

STONE: I'm going to respond to this question, but I think you're buying into something that you probably don't want to by implying that there's six "best" books here. [Spurgeon laughs] Due to their production capabilities and the amount of money they have, DC is able to produce a bunch of professional looking products. But across the board, there's a general struggle in these comics towards simple competence, and it's become standard for the moments when they do achieve competence to see the books get ladled with praise they've done nothing to deserve.

imageThe only DC books I'm regularly reading from cover to cover are Wonder Woman and Hawk & Dove. Hawk & Dove I'm reading for completely prurient, eyes boggled entertainment -- I haven't read enough Sterling Gates comics to know if it's him that's making this comic as funny as it is, or if it's just the way Liefeld sets up a comic page, but there has yet to be an issue that hasn't startled me with how weird it is that the comic is seeing publication. It's not a huge gross-out trainwreck comic like The Rise of Arsenal, but there is a similar "how are so many adults signing off on this" quality going on. I took a look at that The Infinite book -- the one Liefeld does with [Robert] Kirkman over at Image -- and there's no carryover there, that book is just confusing and boring. Meanwhile, Hawk & Dove features Rob Liefeld drawing Barack Obama getting choked out by a guy named Condor and Deathlok rip-offs? It's not an art comic, but it isn't a superhero one, either.

Wonder Woman I read because it is genuinely engaging. Azzarello seems to be trying to play it straight in the only way he knows how, leaving behind his word games and sleight of hand plot reveals (both of those are components of his writing that I really like), and I can understand why he's making those choices, even if I might not particularly prefer them. Cliff [Chiang] is doing some really interesting stuff, especially with the way he's doing sequential action scenes and spotlight panels. It's a good-looking comic, but it's not a pretty comic, and I think that's a purposeful distinction that Cliff is making. All that aside? I don't find Wonder Woman an interesting character in the slightest, and so there's a part of me that wishes this same team was working on a different character. I'm certainly going to follow Azzarello and Cliff wherever they want to go, but there's an ceiling to how engaged I can be by the limitations inherent in a Wonder Woman comic.

Otherwise, I can tell you that people seem to really like [Jeff] Lemire's Animal Man comic, and I think I might as well if I hadn't read all of the [Grant] Morrison/[Jamie] Delano issues. To me, it just reads like an abbreviated version of their work, and while I'm glad to see DC is willing to publish superhero art that's not as cookie cutter as the rest of their line, I find a lot of what [Travel] Foreman's doing to be off-putting. On the same front, I think Morrison's Action Comics might be something I could genuinely enjoy if it wasn't so fucking ugly to look at, but that's exactly what it is: ugly. It's too bad, because that seems to be kind of the perfect situation for Morrison -- he's off in a cave somewhere, doing whatever the hell he wants, and nobody has to wait on him to do their Green Lantern comics.

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Then there's the [Scott] Snyder/[Greg] Capullo Batman... I can't do it. I really thought that was going to be the comic for me, you know? Not because those two guys are my favorite creators or anything, but just because it seemed like it was going to be the comic where a hungry young writer got teamed up with a cocky motherfucker who was being parachuted in like Seal Team 6 to show DC how they do it in McFarlane Town. Instead, it's just turgid nonsense -- the first issue opened with this corny bullshit about a column in the newspaper, with one of those weird meta-criticisms where Snyder revealed he doesn't know what "shock value" means, and then Capullo drew 115 versions of miniature Bruce Waynes. Now they're just playing around with "new villains," most of whom dress like Snake Eyes and have names like "Ammo" and "Reload". Again: people like that comic. I see them online, liking that comic. They come into the store, and they buy that comic.

That's one of the ones people dig. It might be because the other ones are so bad -- Detective and Dark Knight do suck a tremendous amount -- but I doubt that could count for all of the goodwill that comic engenders. And if I'm being honest, I would love to be alongside them. My first comic was an issue of Detective, I've bought and read more issues of Batman than anything else, and I was really hoping for something here, because I want to love that comic. I know how that sounds. I know how old I am. I know I can read the ones I already have. And maybe I'm a little hypercritical of Snyder because of all that personal shit, because I'm outside this thing I enjoyed, watching everybody else have a good time. Everything else, I can be objective about, but this is the series that I'm just a fan of, you understand?

imageThis is a stupid tangent to go down. I should kill myself for even having those feelings. I hope somebody kills me for having those feelings, and when my funeral happens, I'm going to ask my wife to read a short speech about how I deserved to die for being a grown adult man who wished that he still enjoyed new Batman comic books. And then I hope she goes and marries somebody who isn't a complete piece of shit.

What have I brought up, five books? I don't have a sixth one. I think Green Lantern has been very funny in the issues I've read, I think Aquaman is probably ridiculous enough to entertain a certain kind of reader, and Justice League will be a big deal as long as Jim Lee draws it, for obvious reasons. (It is a weird, tired comic though.) The Flash book is really pretty, and I think Francis Manupul is doing a great job writing, considering he's got less experience at writing comics than the five-year-old who does Axe Cop.

Very few of these books are out and out "wrong" or "horrible." They just aren't very good and special, and with so much else that is, I don't know what one gets out of them beyond the forward momentum of the overall soap opera that is the DC universe. Visually, all but the most boutique of the books are clearly being rushed along. Are some of the books more offensive than others, in terms of the way they depict women? Yes, of course. But at the same time, I think that focusing one's outrage on the specifics of that gives the other books a free pass they don't deserve. The reason that some of these comics are sexist has very little to do with women, it has to do with the entire culture in which these comics are made, with the company making them, and with the people in charge. The only reason there aren't more books doing things like Catwoman is that DC doesn't have more female characters to make comics with. This attitude of "fix Starfire" or whatever else implies that I should trust [Dan] Didio or whoever else is responsible over at DC, and I think that's fundamentally a misinterpretation of what should be done. It's a toxic environment. If they could do Starfire right, they wouldn't be fucking up the Blackhawks as well.

imageSuperhero comics is a funny business, because the reality of the situation is that their fanbase, if properly motivated and well organized, could actually make a change in the way these things are published. The numbers really are that small, and the retailers really are that dependent upon pleasing their customers. But the audience continually refuses to do that -- instead of actively using their spending dollar to dictate the content they want, they choose to buy things that offend them and talk shit on the internet. If you could convince Midtown Comics or Lone Star -- just those stores -- to purchase fewer copies of books like Red Hood and the Outlaws, they'd cancel those books overnight. That's how big those stores' accounts are. And to convince those stores, you merely need to organize, the same kind of organization that people do for a thousand other causes, some of which are as of little importance as the content of superhero comics.

That won't happen, though. Being part of a group is the last thing that comics fans on the Internet want. Change is anathema.

SPURGEON: How much of the New 52 books depend on fan service, do you think? I was surprised in the few I read how many of the moments weren't exciting in and of themselves but could be seen as exciting if you knew the background of the character in question, or the relationship two characters had in the old universe.

STONE: I would say quite a few of them. Take a look at the Batman/Green Lantern family of books... you could pretty easily enjoy the Batman stuff (if you like those kinds of comics, the ones that those guys make) without any knowledge of what Morrison or Snyder were doing before the relaunch. Some of it would be bumpy, but overall, you'd be fine. But the Green Lantern stuff? That seems impossible to comprehend, much less enjoy. Who those people are, why Hal doesn't have a ring, where they're going or why they're going there, the history of these various Lantern Corps... it makes for a laborious process of googling and wikipedia reading. I think that's the catch-22 of a lot of this though -- if you're somebody who is willing to do that kind of work, to do the kind of investment required to make sense of the first issue of Green Lantern, then you must already really like that comic, you must see something in it that really sparks your interest.

imageThat's the thing about all these sorts of problems -- the ones you're alluding to under the umbrella of "fan service" -- it takes a rare breed of person to even get to the point where these specific problems can occur. First, you have to be a comics reader: okay, that eliminates the majority of the population. Now, out of that minority, you have to have an interest in mainstream, continuity-heavy, superhero comics. Okay, that's an even smaller group. And you still have one more step to take, and this is where it gets even more specific: you have to have not read those kinds of comics yet, or in such a long time that you have only the most basic knowledge of what they're about and who appears in them. You have to want really badly to do something that very few people want to do, and yet you have to want it without ever having done it before. And then you'll have ended up with the kind of person who goes "why isn't Hal Jordan the Green Lantern anymore?"

You see what I'm saying? It's never going to be John Smith, the carpet guy, who is having these problems. It's somebody who is already invested in a very particular kind of genre, in an art form that's already very niche. And at this point, it's brutally obvious that the majority of people with a passing interest in superhero stories are getting their needs better met by film, television and video games. This is only going to get more niche from here on out. These kinds of stories are never going to be for Joe Average ever again, and that brings us to the next part: I don't know that DC has any choice but that fan service you're talking about. They certainly don't have the talent to offer anything else. As good as I think Azzarello is, he's always going to be at his best doing stuff that isn't superheroes. Grant Morrison is on record as having given up on doing anything with spandex but cashing checks. Fraction, [Ed] Brubaker... the difference in aesthetic quality between their superhero work and the work they actually care about is night and day. There's no Alan Moore waiting in the wings. The audience who was looking for The Winter Men or Watchmen or Batman: Year One... those people are gone, they got the memo; they know that nobody wants them around. The audience who has stayed, the audience who pays the bills, pays for fan service, and it's DC and Marvel's job to provide that. They aren't in the art business. They're in the business of producing more episodes of the soap opera. There's nobody else left.

SPURGEON: Was the DC line really as dreary and sleep-inducing before the re-launch as people and some of the publicity material right now suggests it was? I think you wrote me that you liked the Batman, Inc. books they were doing.

STONE: No, that wasn't me. [Spurgeon laughs] I liked one or two issues of Batman Inc., but the Morrison Batman had long run its course for me. I loved those comics when he first got started -- my initial unwieldy blog posts were on those comics -- but something must have happened after Final Crisis, because it just felt like the wind got taken out of him. Batman & Robin had all these brilliant moments, but as a whole, I had trouble giving over to the whole thing. I know a lot of people like them. I wanted to be there with them. I'm looking forward to seeing how he's going to resolve it, now that he doesn't have the umbrella of continuity hanging over him. I hope it's good.

The PR thing -- that's just DC. They'll admit to the truth when it serves their interest, and it serves their interest today to pretend that they think their previous work wasn't very good, that it was of the upmost importance for them to try something new. You can talk to DC guys right now about Mark Waid -- this happened to me after that interview I did with him -- and they'll tell you how lousy Kingdom Come was, and how they all hated his run on Flash, and blah blah blah his contributions to the 52 series weren't up to snuff. Jeph Loeb is the same to them: a traitor. I bet they talked shit about David Finch until they get him under contract. That narrative, the PR narrative that you hear from the actual staff (most freelancers don't seem to care) spit in public is the same one they spit in private.

imageTo some extent, I honestly think that they really do believe this shit. If this New 52 stuff gets bad enough that they have to make another big change, I'm sure the narrative will change then as well, and they'll talk about all the "lessons" they learned from publishing shit like Legion Lost and Mister Terrific. It's the same mentality as a crazy person, or a disease: whatever you're doing right now has to be correct, and all that excess feeling that comes up from your brain saying, "Wait, everything i'm saying is total bullshit" gets dedicated towards these venomous rejections of the previous lie. Remember when everybody was making fun of DC for that "Superman Walks The Earth" story, and they just kept saying, "It's really awesome, bloggers are snark factories, Tom Brevoort should grow up"? You're not going to see that conversation turn out that way now.

On the question of whether the books were as bad as they're saying... I don't know, yes? No? The previous books were the exact same books that they're publishing now! There's an offbeat Grant Morrison book with a key character, there's some internet favorites doing some C-list characters, there's some Scott Snyder Batman books, Dan Didio is pretending to be a writer, Geoff Johns and his acolytes are playing a role-playing game called Green Lantern that you're allowed to come watch... it's the same stuff as before. Instead of a Great Ten mini-series that five people want, there's a Stormwatch ongoing that six people want. I don't see anything having changed that much. They seemed pretty pleased with themselves when they relaunched The Flash right before this new relaunch of The Flash, you know?

SPURGEON: How much of their success so far has been due to DC's relationship with comic shops, and their ability to execute a campaign like this? And where are they one year from now?

STONE: It's huge. It wouldn't have worked without that relationship. For this to work, DC needed every store in the direct market to have enough money to buy way more issues of DC than they'd been buying. Common sense applies here: obviously, there had to be some stores that couldn't afford increasing their orders by that much. But when DC says "all of these comics will be returnable" and then they start goosing around with all the other goofy discounts and shit, that changes everything. That means stores aren't bearing all of the financial risk, and that means they can get on board. Without that, the store is the one who is on the hook completely for the success or failure of this whole thing.

Where are they one year from now? I assume by that point they'll have more information about who is buying these things digitally, whether they're getting the new readers they're going to need to survive. They'll know if this worked to bring in more customers for the physical comics. They'll know if they have built up some of these new creators they've pulled from Image (or out of retirement) have a fanbase that will support them. What they do with that information... who knows. It's not like they have a track record for great decisions. From a corporate standpoint, all of the best financial choices they've made in the last 20 years involve stealing from Alan Moore. This is the company that killed off Bruce Wayne the same year that [Christopher] Nolan's Dark Knight made more money than Apple, you know? I think it's a little silly at this point to pretend they're going to do anything that remotely approaches an intelligent decision.

SPURGEON: What should Marvel be doing that they're not doing now? How odd is it that they cut staff and titles at just the time they took it on the chops in terms of sales? Is the fact that they're 10 years into this current phase of serious, super-spy comics a hindrance to their getting back on top?

STONE: Some of that "they cut staff" stuff is sort of bullshit though, isn't it? Didn't they just move that Pond Scum guy to his house? Maybe that's just hairsplitting, but I got the sense that some of Marvel's moves on that front made sense -- they changed the way they pay people and changed the way their jobs are described so as to decrease their overall expenditures and increase their overall profits. Some people got fired outright though, so I'm probably just being an asshole by getting stuck on that.

imageWhat should Marvel be doing... I don't know, are we really sure they're getting their asses handed to them? Do we know they aren't making any money selling comics online? Have their numbers gotten that bad? I don't know any of that stuff. I know they've cut down on the amount of titles that they sell on a weekly basis, but that's a good thing, they were flooding the market with a bunch of low-end mini-series that nobody seemed to like. It's good that they're cutting back on the number of titles. But you can't buy into this too much -- Marvel may be publishing less individual titles, but they've ramped up production on what remains. Books like Thunderbolts, X-Force, Secret Avengers, one of the X-Men books, Amazing Spider-Man -- all of those books come out way more often than monthly, and they're planning to increase the amount of titles that do that. They've been pretty upfront about that.

History tells us that Marvel can beat DC in single issue sales regardless of quality, doesn't it? I'm not saying that to be funny, but my understanding on it was that Marvel generally wins the day in terms of single issues, and DC wins in the graphic novel department. I mean -- this whole thing that's been going on lately, where DC crows about their single issue success with the New 52... that doesn't count, at all, okay? It's totally meaningless. The New 52 might have outsold Marvel, but that's only because stores were buying without the normal amount of risk, they knew they could get 80 percent of what they paid back in credit if they couldn't see the comics before December 9th. None of that applied with Marvel's books. Until the returnability factor gets back to normal, it's not a competition between equals. There's zero conversation to be had about it beyond that. Zip.

On your super-spy question... I don't know how much that matters, I'd guess the more general problem is just that Marvel is now hitting the same wall that DC hit first, which is that the current audience has been around for so long that there's nothing new to show them. I like your theory that they're sick of the Bendis heroes-as-Delta-Force thing, but wouldn't they have gotten sick of something else? It stands to reason that superhero audiences are pretty well immune to "getting sick of," you know? It isn't like they'll stop doing superhero swat team comics tomorrow and replace it with Johnny Negron comics. It's still going to be Wolverine versus shit. That's the point of Wolverine.

I feel like I'm giving Marvel a pass after riding DC so hard, but the truth is that Marvel just makes more sense than DC. They make mean, cold-blooded decisions based off greed. I don't like them for that, but I understand them for that. DC makes choices based off things like "Eddie Berganza feels you betrayed him" and "Dan Didio ran his mouth about women at a convention." Marvel just does shit for money. They're easier to predict.

SPURGEON: What's your orientation towards reading comics digitally? Because it seems like if you see mainstream books as the comics you read while you're waiting for something else to happen, digital iterations would work pretty well for you.

STONE: My personal orientation is this: I have more physical comics than I need, and I already spend too much time with those. I like books, movies, going outside, my wife, my friends, Tony Horton and working. Reading comics digitally may someday be something that saves me time, but right now, today, it would only detract from my life. I already waste too much time on computers. I'm not saying never, but right now, it doesn't interest me in the slightest.

That aside -- if you only like the forward momentum of superhero comic soap operas, or you only get a boner for gag strips, I don't know why you aren't gorging yourself at the trough of digital comics. They have nothing to offer in terms of aesthetic pleasure -- modern DC/Marvel comics just aren't sexy items -- and keeping up with those universes would fill up five longboxes a year, at minimum. Unless it's the collection of a physical object, why not just read it on your computer? It doesn't make sense to me why one wouldn't do that. Detective Comics #3? Justice League Dark? What's the physical attachment to those things? What aesthetic pleasures are provided by the physical object? Hell, everytime I see somebody complain about the price tag of a digital comic, I start to imagine that there's somebody else out there who is happy to pay three bucks for the privilege of reading the story and not having to deal with the physical copy.

imageSPURGEON: Let's wind things down with Mike Mignola. I know one old-time comics fan, the Mignola-verse comics are the only comics he reads and buys. Is it possible to just spend time with that group of comics and get the old-fashion pulp entertainment scratch satisfied? How good are those comics, really, do you think?

STONE: Honestly, I think they're wonderful comics. For my money, I put what Mike Mignola has done with Hellboy and BPRD up there with Kirby's comics, and for me, that's the highest praise I have to give. I'm certain that a part of that is that they sort of belong to guys my age -- I was one of the kids who bought Seed of Destruction when it was in single issues, and that was one of the first series I came back to after my comics reading hiatus in early adulthood. Those are comics I've kept up with, comics that I've grown up with. Watching an artist develop over time like that forges an emotional connection, and it's one that has never been broken by substitute creators who aren't up to snuff, I've never had to struggle with the ethics of the thing. You don't read Hellboy and have to rationalize away the way the creators get treated. It's just a clean experience with a comic that only comes out when its creator has a story to tell, a comic that's progressively gotten smarter and better at what it does as the years have gone by.

If you can't get your "old-fashion pulp entertainment" scratch satisfied just by Hellboy and BPRD, I think that's because of some requisite attachments to something else, like specific characters or specific relationships. There's no superhero type comic that can promise the clean relationships that the Mignola-verse can. This is his house, it won't continue on forever after he shuts it down. There's nobody at Dark Horse who gets to come in and make Mignola do shit he doesn't want to do. In this kind of entertainment, he's singular in that respect. (If you want to make a case for Robert Kirkman and Erik Larsen, I won't stop you, but... let's just not. Let me have one response that isn't ladled with hostility.)

SPURGEON: You mentioned fans that disparage creative talent, and I think one thing to see as a through-line in recent events at those companies is a really aggressive stance reducing the money paid to these creators despite the billions of dollars these intellectual properties can generate. Is there a time when those companies may go too far? To put it in terms they might appreciate, are these companies leaving money on the table by trying to figure out ways to do Watchmen 2 rather than figuring out how to facilitate the closest thing their current talent might be able to do to Watchmen?

STONE: I think they've already gone that far. You look at the state of Vertigo, the books they're shutting down and the creators who have abandoned them... why would any creator give them anything of substance? I don't mean that as a way to sidestep your question, I'm trying to be as direct as I can: why would you trust DC or Marvel with your best ideas? The last few years are a constant horror show of their bad behavior. They undercut everyone they can, they humiliate people, they degrade them. CB Cebulski tells hopeful creators to bring him Five Guys at the New York Comic Con, for christsake, and nobody thinks that's fucking weird. Those are Marvel's gatekeepers. That's their public behavior. If you're that exploitative in public, I can't imagine how you treat people when you're indoors.

imageThe thing is this: does it matter? What are we losing here, if DC or Marvel never publish another Watchmen? It isn't the '80s, it isn't even the '90s. The best 2011 Kirby comic is Prison Pit; it's being published by Fantagraphics. The best long-form serials are Hellboy and 20th Century Boys; they're being published by Dark Horse and Viz. If I met somebody tomorrow, and they told me their dream was to do a book like Watchmen for DC, I'd think they were out of their fucking mind. Look at Alan Moore, look at Jack Kirby. Look at the guys who helped this industry make more money than it's ever made since.

And then ask yourself if you're half as good as they were. Because those two guys got up on the cross so that no one else has to, and if you aren't 10 times the artist they were, there's no doubt in my mind what is going to happen next.

SPURGEON: I was fired this year from a small freelance gig doing work for Marvel's web site -- a gig I'm not sure why I took other than I was super-flattered to be asked -- because, I'm told, I said something that wasn't totally on board with the company for a piece someone else wrote that appeared in the New York Times. I also occasionally have a hard time getting any cooperation at all from certain companies contingent on something I wrote at one time or another. So I know such pressures exist. Am I to understand you've felt pressure related to the content and tone of some of your comics pieces?

STONE: Oh, totally. There's a dude at DC whose tried to have me fired twice due to a Paul Levitz joke in one of the comiXology pieces. There's one of those other low-rent companies... I honestly can't remember what they were called, although I bet I could ask somebody, and they got pretty ranty about getting a negative review. D&Q spent the entirety of the last five years ignoring every mention I made of their products (which were all positive) until I participated in that Paying For It roundtable at Savage Critics, and then all of a sudden it turns out that making fun of my wife is fair game. CBR was going to be the initial home for that [Darwyn] Cooke interview about The Outfit.

It doesn't keep me up at night, but I'm not going to pull that card that people like Ivan Brandon or Brian Wood pull where you say "isn't it funny how ________ " and the blank is something that somebody is doing that you don't like, and what you're really saying is that your feelings are hurt. Fuck DC, fuck Drawn & Quarterly, fuck CBR. Fuck Marvel for doing that to you.

It's all on me, though; it's Charlie Brown kicking at the football. Pieces of shit act like pieces of shit. That's what they're supposed to do, it's why they're put on the planet. You don't get to be mad at D&Q for acting like D&Q, or at DC for acting like DC. It's the same rule for us as it is for creators: comics fucked Kirby, and it'll fuck you, too. I'm just a half-ass blogger with a small audience whose posting schedule got cut down by about 75 percent in the last year. I'm getting the exact treatment I deserve. The only difference is that I really don't care. I don't want to make comics, ever, and I don't ever want to have a professional job in comics past the one I have right now. They have nothing to threaten me with, nothing they can take away from me. I don't need review copies or advance previews or insider access. I don't need to be liked by people with no talent. I don't need to hear the gossip about who is sleeping with Paul Levitz' ex-girlfriend or the latest Scott Snyder office meltdown. Those are the things they try to ply you with: "Here's a story, the real story, about why Mark Waid doesn't work here anymore." Go away. Tell Rich Johnston. I don't care about any of it. Everything I ever hear about these people only convinces me further that I want nothing to do with them.

I would hate to lose the opportunity to write for comiXology, although the writing is clearly on the wall for that... but otherwise, I don't care about anything but the art form itself. As much as I love comics, that's also the amount of hate I have for the industry that makes them.

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* The Factual Opinion
* This Ship Is Totally Sinking

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* photo of Tucker Stone provided by Stone
* Kirby's Fantastic Four
* Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol
* a Conan cover
* Butcher Baker Righteous Maker page
* Casanova page
* Stuart Immonen's art on Fear Itself
* Uncanny X-Force (may be from 2010, actually)
* Marcos Martin and Mark Waid on Daredevil
* from the New 52 Justice League
* cover for the New 52 Catwoman
* Rob Liefeld's Hawk & Dove
* the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Batman
* Aquaman is goofy, Stone swears
* Red Hood And The Outlaws cover image
* from one of the Green Lantern titles
* a forthcoming Legion Lost cover image
* a Secret Avengers page
* from the Mignola-verse
* from 20th Century Boy
* what it's like reading comics (below)

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* A Kiel Phegley letter objecting to the characterization of CBR in the above interview can be found here

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