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January 31, 2008


CR Review: Life Sucks

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Creators: Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, Warren Pleece
Publishing Information: First Second, soft cover, 192 pages, May 2008, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 1596431075 (ISBN10), 9781596431072 (ISBN13)

imageFirst Second's disappointing Life Sucks brings to comics the same kind of listless quality that saturates a significant percentage of modern television and film. Once you have a grasp on its cute premise -- a vampire whose life is built around a degrading service labor job and quotidian, day-in and day-out, step-above-subsistence living -- you're stuck with a few uninspired riffs on that basic subject matter and some nice-guy, pretty-girl romance scenes straight from one of the new wave of nebbish TV shows like Chuck. The story even tries to get some dramatic mileage out of the concept that "real-life" vampirism isn't as glamorous as its fictional or on-screen counterpart, a trope that felt tired when other creators worked similar territory ten years ago. What's a shame is that Life Sucks is a solid, professional effort in most ways. It's recognizably well-crafted. There's nothing you can point at and say, "There. That's what's wrong with this," nothing that would cause you to isolate a moment and show it to a nearby friend as a shocking failure of craft. Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria have a keen, perhaps shared ear for empty-headed dialog. Warren Pleece's art juggles the required attractive elements of the story and its equally important minimum-wage realism with understated aplomb.

The problem with Life Sucks is that these craft elements serve an uninspired idea. "Slacker vampire" feels like the kind of thing that gets cooked up rather than the end result of creative impulse, the sort of artistic effort that if the concept really is awesome in the eyes of its creators then they've forgotten to let the rest of us in on why. If not for the luxurious way in which it unfolds, this would read exactly like the kind of poorly disguised movie pitch that drives way too many American comic books. The generous amount of time we spend with the characters in Life Sucks does not mean an equivalent level of dramatic development. The authors dance around refining or exploring their central idea past the tag line stage, at least in the thematic sense. There are hints that something should be made of Dave's attitude and unwillingness to invest in his own life as a parallel to those who are similarly disaffected only without the fangs, but that fails to build into anything at all beyond a cynical, overly facile point or two at book's end. Working with such a restrictive canvas, the creators would have to manage stellar set pieces throughout and execute every piece of the story with the skill and precision of a Spartan regiment for Life Sucks to be a rewarding read. They don't come close. Other than some giggle-worthy moments where we learn our protagonist Dave lacks proper vampire abilities because of poor diet and general laziness, there's nothing memorable scene to scene, nothing in the way of a surprising twist that might draw some thematic weight into play. I found it a chore to finish, and easy to forget. I wouldn't be surprised if its media rights have already been sold.

please note the art is taken from an ARC, not an actual copy, and is likely of a much poorer quality

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Maryland Bill To Curb Cartoon Speech?

imageThe American Civil Liberties Union is arguing that a bill up for passage in Maryland regarding the commercial use of soldiers' names and images may keep art using those things from being made. In a hearing before lawmakers in Annapolis, the ACLU representatives pointed to Mike Luckovich's "Why" cartoon as an example of the kind of art that might be threatened under the new law. Luckovich's cartoon, where Atlanta-Journal Constitution built the word from the names of the then-2000 American dead in the Iraq conflict, is believed to be significant contributor to his 2006 Pulitzer Prize win. The bill can be read here. I have no idea why a law in Maryland would have an effect on free speech in Atlanta, but I don't like the bill in principle. I also have no idea know why the usual protections for use of an image don't apply in most cases, nor can I gauge the significance of such use, which make me believe it's an issue being driven by politics.
 
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Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update

* The National Library in Denmark has announced plans to archive the original Muhammed cartoons that sparked worldwide riots, political turmoil and economic boycotts in the first few months of 2006. They will not be made available to the public for at least 10 years. The piece in the Guardian speaks to a moderate imam, the group that spearheaded protests in Denmark, and a Syrian ambassador with not unexpected but not alarming results.

* Arla Foods, perhaps Denmark's most high-profile major corporation and a target for boycotts in the period after the publication of the Danish cartoons, has recovered 95 percent of lost business and intends to have that figure up to 100 percent when figures are released for the end of 2007, this article says.
 
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Around the World in Hate Cartoons

* according to this report in Israelenews.com, cartoons are a significant element in a media incitement campaign by Palestinian cartoonists against Israel. Cited specifically is the cartoonist Omaya Abu Hamada, who works under the pen name Joha. This kind of article usually pops up whenever there's any instance of political significance in the Middle East involving Israel, like there is right now.

image* this article provides a decent if slightly histrionic summary of a controversy over a satirical ad decrying the recognition of the Hawaiian native people as an indigenous people. It gets sort of interesting in that several of the people criticizing the ad seem to be government officials of some sort or another; it's much less interesting once you look at the actual ad and try to figure out why they keep calling it a cartoon to the exclusion of any other description.

* a cartoon that outed a 33-year-old Philadelphia narcotics officers as having some serious issues regarding race causes one article to ask that since the officer probably didn't make the cartoon himself, how deep might a racist network go?

I fully realize that there are alternate viewpoints on the nature of these cartoons, even within the stories themselves, and trust on the readers' ability to process a headline in the spirit in which it was intended.
 
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Neil Kleid: NYCC 2008 Being Scheduled For Passover Is “Frankly Insulting”

imageThe creator Neil Kleid has written an open letter to organizers of the New York Comic Con, explaining why Passover will keep Kleid and other observant creators from attending the show, and why beyond his own feeling about it this is deeply unfortunate. NYCC switched from a February show in its first two years to its current April 18-20 dates for 2008, a move one guesses to place the convention in a month more amenable for people wishing to visit New York and to place it more directly in the mainstream of the yearly convention calendar.

thanks to Lea Hernandez
 
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Go, Read: Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal Vol. One, Chapter One at MySpace

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Go, Read: The War on Fornication

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Go, Bookmark: Scott Eder Gallery

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Go, Read: Guy Davenport As Cartoonist

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OTBP: Revised Edition of Tom Roberts’ Alex Raymond: His Life and Art

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* heads up: applications for the Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship are due today.

* Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie are making a joint appearance at Gosh! on February 2 to celebrate the UK release of Lost Girls; this is worth mentioning because of the extreme rarity of Alan Moore making this (or any, really) kind of appearance.

image* James Vance takes a look at the superhero comic book's connection with the older adventure/pulp tradition, including an unexpected mid-essay appreciation for Dell's Brain Boy.

* Nat Gertler writes in to cure my befuddlement over the Captain Billy's Whiz Bang publication arriving in Direct Market stores yesterday. "It's a reprint of the February, 1922 issue of that (in)famous mag. I'd used the term 'historical' rather than 'nostalgia', as it's not aimed at people who have fond memories of it (they'd be a little long in the tooth) and more at those curious about it."

* the cartoonist Adrian Tomine is on NPR's Fresh Air program today.

* unlike Mike Allred, Pia Guerra doesn't have a spinner rack.

* more coverage here of the forthcoming comics "sit-in" planned for February 10 by which several cartoonists plan on protesting the way their strips are perceived and purchased according to race. The participating cartoonists are Darrin Bell (Candorville), Cory Thomas (Watch Your Head), Lalo Alcaraz (La Cucaracha), Steve Bentley (Herb and Jamaal), Jerry Craft (Mama's Boyz), Charlos Gary (Working It Out and Cafe Con Leche), Keith Knight (K Chronicles), and Stephen Watkins (Housebroken).

* there's probably something profound in this anecdote about a comics retail employee making an AIDS joke to a customer who simply wanted to buy a comic book, but I'm not sure I want to think about it for as long as it takes to figure it out.
 
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Happy 48th Birthday, Grant Morrison!

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Happy 41st Birthday, Laurent Bidot!

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Quick hits
Exhibits/Events
Go See Loustal Exhibition
CBLDF's Y The Last Party Event Previewed

Industry
The Greatest Honor in Comics
Another Day, Another Comics Survey
I Am Greatly Confused By Your Cartoons

Interviews/Profiles
Mangaka Documentary
Newsarama: Pia Guerra
Newsarama: Mark Millar
Newsarama: Ed Brubaker
Newsarama: Ed Brubaker
CNN.com: Brian K. Vaughan
Newsarama: Brian K. Vaughan
Free Library of Philadelphia: Adrian Tomine
Tiamat's Reviews: Kurt Hassler, George Walkley

Publishing
Devil's Due Loses GI Joe
DC Bringing Ambush Bug Back

Reviews
Joe Decie: Life of Whiner
Patrick Greene: Civil War
Graeme McMillan: Various
Adam Prosser: Glamourpuss #1
Don MacPherson: Pax Romana #1
Richard Marcus: Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
Cory Doctorow: Nextwave: Agents of Hate, Vol. 2
 

 
January 30, 2008


CR Review: More Old Jewish Comedians

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Creator: Drew Friedman
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, Blab!, hardcover, 36 pages, February 2008, $16.99
Ordering Numbers: 1560979143 (ISBN10), 9781560979142 (ISBN13)

There are all sorts of things you can say about More Old Jewish Comedians. You can discuss the elegant art direction by Monte Beauchamp and this work's place in the Blab! series of thin, tightly-focused art books. You can talk about subtle changes in Drew Friedman's style 25 years ago to now. You may throw out a line or two about the whites that Friedman uses to suggest how skin sometimes reflects light in a photograph and how this forces the eye to take in the picture entire. You can compare this book to the last one on the same subject. You might mention the lengthy introduction by Larry Gelbart, or bring a little comics formal theory to the table and ask the reader to view this sequence of portraits as a comic whose images connected by a central theme rather than a narrative, and how they're at once funny and sad, the life force of so many self-made show business successes pushing through the wrinkles and liver spots. You could talk about the great atmospheric elements to Friedman's work, how his best portraits make you feel and sense and smell a moment and a place.

Or you can reprint Friedman's freakishly awesome depiction of Larry Storch and not have to say anything.
 
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This Isn’t A Library: New And Notable Releases To The Comics Direct Market

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Here are those books that jump out at me from this week's probably mostly accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.

I might not buy all of the following -- I might not buy any -- but were I in a comic book shop I would likely pick up the following and look them over, potentially resulting in mean words and hurt feelings when my retailer objected.

*****

OCT070044 PREDATOR OMNIBUS TP VOL 02 $24.95
Volume two?

NOV070275 Y THE LAST MAN #60 (MR) (NOTE PRICE) $4.99
Judging from the press coverage, this last issue of the successful series would be the release of the week not featuring Bucky packing heat. It's been interesting to watch the rush of people confessing their affection for the high-concept, serial drama -- does anyone know what Pia Guerra is doing next?

OCT071974 CASANOVA TP VOL 01 LUXURIA (MR) $12.99
Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's handsome and entertaining march through pop culture influences obvious and less so gets a softcover release.

NOV072137 CAPTAIN AMERICA #34 $2.99
A new Captain America. Unfortunately, I had Roscoe in the pool.

NOV073644 BADGER SAVES THE WORLD #2 (OF 5) $3.99
My brother's going to be mad if he hears this is up to issue #2 and I haven't gotten it for him.

OCT073486 BAGHDAD JOURNAL AN ARTIST IN OCCUPIED IRAQ HC (JUN052939) $34.95
I'd really like to see this one; it sounds lovely, and it's admirable concept.

SEP073718 AMULET HC VOL 01 STONEKEEPER $21.99
SEP073717 AMULET SC VOL 01 STONEKEEPER $9.99

Speaking of lovely, this should be quite nice-looking, and at a killer price-point.

NOV073239 CAPTAIN BILLYS WHIZ BANG $5.99
I assume this is some sort of nostalgia project or homage to the long-ago humor magazine with a small but obvious connection to comics.

DEC073303 KIDS OF LOWER UTOPIA GN VOL 01 $21.00
I've seen Toc Fetch comics around several times, but I've never read one. They're certainly distinctive-looking.

NOV073415 WHAT WERE THEY THINKING TP VOL 01 (RES) $14.99
Stan Lee once self-published some gag books with captions written over stock photos, and at one point later on tried to launch a syndicated feature with the same concept.

*****

The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry.

To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, try this.

The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock.

If I didn't list your new comic, you're welcome to assume the worst of me, but it's likely I just missed it. I am not a good person.
 
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Matt High: Cold Cut Closed; To Re-Open In Illinois Sometime In February

imageAccording to a post yesterday on Matt High's livejournal in what he calls "unofficial" news, the beleaguered distributor Cold Cut closed shortly before Christmas and will re-open in Illinois some time in February. The company, High's post says, will have brand-new owners. The decades-plus distributor and hardy survivor well into a Diamond dominance era that reduced what used to be a multi-distributor landscape into so much rubble made news last summer when they announced they were up for sale. The last several months could have been additionally difficult for the distributor, as in general because of the risk involved in passing material through a chain of distribution such companies operate in part on the confidence invested them by companies that they will be able to do this. The company's web site was active as of late last year, and little had been heard from them in a while.

thanks, James Owen
 
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Paul Eberhart: 1935-2008

Paul Eberhart, a journalist who moved into sales at King Features Syndicate and became the group's director of operations during a 20-year career at the company, died on Sunday. He was 72 years old.

Eberhart grew up in Pittsburgh, attending high school and college there. He began work for United Press International news service in 1961, and then moved to New York as news editor in 1966. He served as that news organization's managing editor from 1975 to 1979. He then went to King, where he put in 20 years during that organizations last great run as a company that not only syndicated an enormous amount of material including cartoons but processed that material through the offices. He retired in 1999 to the Jersey shore.

He is survived by a wife of 53 years, three children and eight grandchildren. Services will be held tomorrow.
 
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OTBP: New Jackie Ormes Book

imageThe new Jackie Ormes book by Nancy Goldstein, Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist, doesn't lack for fascinating subject matter: Ormes' laudatory career, the thriving black community in Chicago in the mid-20th Century, black newspapers and their role in the communities they were sold, the lack of merchandising aimed at black children, left-leaning politics of the era, investigations into the same, women working in fields where men dominated... kind of a laundry list of things I like to read about. It's also by a publisher that as I recall seems interested in doing some comics-related books, the University of Michigan Press. There's a web site here, and Editor & Publisher covers the release here.
 
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Go, Look: Ukrainian Children’s Book Illustrations Posted at The Comics Journal

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Go, Bookmark: The New Yorker’s Eustace Tilley Contest Flickr Page

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seen at FLOG
 
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Go, Look: Roy Krenkel Illustrations

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Go, Read: The Men From Mars

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Go, Look: Hombre Arana Covers

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Go, Read: Gary Groth’s 2005 Paul Hornschemeier Interview From MOME

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Go, Look: Exploding Head Man

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Go, Read: Eatniks Sketch Story

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* the cartoonist and humorist RK Laxman received the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year 2007 award last night during a function in New Delhi. His "Common Man" creation was cited in the wire article.

* I received this e-mail yesterday from Patrick Jodoin:
Dear Publisher,

We have been receiving many questions with regards to recent problems at Quebecor World. We wish to inform you that Imprimerie Lebonfon Inc. or Lebonfon Printing is a privately owned company and is completely independent of Quebecor World since March 2006. Our printing and distribution operations are not affected by the current situation at Quebecor World.

If you need more informations or have any questions I can be reached at [number redacted] or at [ditto e-mail]

Thank you.
I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but having to reach out to people to assure them because of someone else's well-publicized financial trauma has to suck.

* in the stuff for free department: Brian Wood is making available Public Domain, the design notebook from his Channel Zero series; Matthias Wivel points out how you can download PDFs of Alberto Castelli's history Eccoci ancora qui.

* the cartoonist Mike Allred owns a spinner rack and has his mail delivered by boat.

* is it my imagination, or is ICv2.com rolling their news stories out instead of loading them all up overnight?

image* according to this short piece I totally missed, Disney may go after the artist and magazine responsible for the cover of a satirical magazine cover that makes use of their conception of the Winnie the Pooh characters to make a blunt point about something else altogether. Does that make a difference? It seems to me that you should be allowed to satirize characters like that but it's actually sort of questionable to use the currency of someone else's creation to make a point unrelated to those characters, the same way you should be allowed to blog about a photo in the newspaper, but swiping someone's photo to illustrate your own story about the subject matter is wrong. That's probably just me, though, and that's certainly not a legal opinion for anywhere but nerd court.

* Thought Balloonists digs into Thierry Groensteen's The System of Comics but they do so in a way that suggests you still have to.

* the Seattle Times ran a short interview about the Frye Art Museum's hosting of Todd Hignite's R. Crumb exhibit. I think people should make use of the Frye every chance they can and everyone should see as much R. Crumb art as they can, so this works out kind of perfectly.

* the cartoonist Jeff Smith is making his only planned public appearance of the year at Symphony Space in New York on February 10.

* a couple of mentions on Euro-Comics news sites suggest that Casterman has a new site. I'm not familiar with the old one, so I could be totally wrong.

* the writer Calvin Reid takes a brief look at Simon and Schuster's efforts in comics publishing, both stand-alone books and planned comics series. I never know how to feel about stories like that. I'd like to see the Hope Larson book, but the rest of the books leave me cold. The thing is, they're probably supposed to. I'm not a 10-year-old kid with a pass to my school's library choosing a book to take back to class with me. I'm trying to imagine what I would felt about comics adaptations of my favorite prose books growing up, and I'm not sure I would have been all that into them despite my attraction to comics, especially once you removed the relative scarcity that made every comic sort of exciting back in the 1970s.

* if there was ever a story that made me want the entire modern industry to go away and be replaced by the industry circa 1974, warts and all, this is that story.

* the mainstream-focused pop culture commentary empire Wizard promoted longtime employee Joe Yanarella to Senior Vice President -- Operations. Unlike under-the-radar industry buzz that seemed to characterize other recent promotions amidst their Dresden-like pummeling of the company's creative departments (latest to give notice, I hear yet haven't confirmed, is Anime Insider designer Brad Bowersox) as perhaps more cosmetic than substantial or policy-changing, what I'm hearing about this one from a couple of people is that it may be important in terms of expectations regarding the convention side of Wizard's business, which in recent years has managed to accrue negative momentum.
 
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Happy 47th Birthday, Denys Cowan!

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Happy 37th Birthday, Robert Goodin!

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Happy 55th Birthday, Fred Hembeck!

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Quick hits
Craft
How a 9-Panel Grid Builds Tension

Exhibits/Events
Art In The Toon Age
Go See Patrick Oliphant
Ros Chast at Dartmouth
Gigantic Report From Alan Grant Lecture

History
Le Soir Sees Angouleme as Turning Point

Industry
I Hate Your Cartoon
Person Dismayed By Comics
Person Dismayed By Comics
Your 2007 BF Awards Winners
On Being an Unusual Customer
Augie De Blieck Jr. on Marvel-Soleil Deal
Retailer Sells 95 Copies of Tekkonkinkreet

Interviews/Profiles
PWCW: Jeff Smith
NPR: Ed Brubaker
Comicgate: Scott McCloud
Comics Waiting Room: Dan Slott

Publishing
M
This Is Slightly Creepy
Prince of Persia Page Previewed
More Star Trek Year Four From IDW
Character I've Never Heard Of From Show I Don't Watch Won't Be Appearing In Comics I Don't Read

Reviews
Alex Weisler: White Rapids
Sean T. Collins: I Killed Adolf Hitler
Jerrie Whiteley: Schulz and Peanuts
Sean T. Collins: The Last Musketeer
Shannon Smith: Candy or Medicine Vol. 2
 

 
January 29, 2008


CR Review: Watching Days Become Years #4

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Creators:
Publishing Information:
Ordering Numbers:

imageI have a total art crush on Jeff LeVine's series Watching Days Become Years right now, and I'm not sure I can articulate exactly why it hits me the way it does. I'd like to try. This is a comic book series from a very small publisher, Sparkplug Comics Books. Despite its familiar dimension the book itself is printed on slightly heavier stock than one might expect, giving it definite heft. The cover is half-photo and half-text block, with no indication of comics content inside. It's a solid object, not quite a book but absent of the ephemeral qualities we ascribe to classic funnybooks.

LeVine is probably best known for the 1990s series No Hope, and if you flip through an issue of the new series really quickly, the structure resembles that effort. There are several short stories, from one-pagers to multiple-page efforts, and LeVine lingers on almost of all the pages either placed directly within the action as a character or as the eyes through whom the reader watches the story unfold. What seems different about this work is that many of the stories LeVine chooses to tell are much more reserved, much less forced than some of the early work, both in terms of mood and the quality of the narrative. There are greater contrasts between moments where he seems to be gently reflecting on a moment and those in which he acts as a participant.

When this sense of distance and maybe even withdrawal rubs up against more humorous and direct anecdotes, it does feel a lot like the array of modes through which we view the world as we get older, the way memory collapses into moments -- a snatch of dialog, and an anecdote or two. Also, LeVine is a better artist now, which allows the sensibility with he depicts a street scene or a collection of object act as its own commentary, to suggest a moment of pleasure from seeing something arranged a certain way, or to evoke in non-literal fashion how a viewpoint felt beyond what was simply seen. LeVine's comics capture moments the way we seize on memories, those that come idly to us, those that reflect a certain mood of type of quiet engagement. I don't know of too many cartoonists that have been able to engage modern this delicately, and his confident use of some of comics' most appealing formal strengths adding resonance. I'm not sure it's for everyone; the effect I describe might not hit different people the same way and anyone divorced from that measured effect would no doubt have an extremely different view of the comic's content moment to moment. It's a very good comic for me right now, though, and I'm grateful for that.

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Angouleme Attendance Figure: 220,000

imageI'm not exactly sure where he got it, but Gianfranco Goria at the indispensable afNews site has a figure up for attendance at last weekend's Festival International de la BD Angouleme: 220,000. My understanding going in is that recent attendance had been around the 200,000 mark, so that would be a significant improvement.

News about the show is definitely in the wind-down, summary phase, but ActuaBD.com has a brief interview up with Grand Prix co-winner Philippe Dupuy that talks a lot about his current projects, both with and without longtime creative partner Charles Berberian. Dupuy says that the duo will continue their Monsieur Jean books through the milestone of the character's 50th birthday. The bit that popped for me is that Dupuy also has a book out with Loo Hui Phang at Futuropolis in May called Une Election americaine, which unless I'm completely whiffing the French seems to be about drag queens in Arizona. Matthias Wivel appraises the Grand Prix selection. This interview with the French minister of culture Christine Albanel done on site is fun if you want to read a high government official rattle off her comics reading past like your typical Comics Journal interview subject. It also suggests that French cartoonists may not enjoy the same status tax-wise as creators in other art forms, which surprises me.

Update: I'm told that Une Election americaine has been out since May 2006! I have no idea why they were talking about it. Mon francais est tres mal, although I should have enough on the ball to read a date on French Amazon.com. Sheesh.
 
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More Hints That The Jailing of Editor in Belarus Had Wider Political Context

This blog post suggests what seems to be cohering into conventional wisdom about the recent sentencing and imprisonment of Belarus newspaper editor Aleksandr Sdvishkov of the now-shuttered publication Zgoda, ostensibly for reprinting the Danish cartoons: that there is a wider political context centering around the office of the president. This would seem supported by the fact that the publication was shut down for what some articles openly state was supporting the losing candidate in the last presidential election. Sdvishkov is believed to be the only journalist tried and sentenced to prison for reprinting the controversial cartoons.
 
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Go, Look: Baby PSAs, Part Two

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Go, Look: The Human Powerhouse

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Go, Look: Israeli Comics UK Show Site

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Go, Look: Inventura

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Go, Bookmark: David Reddick’s Blog

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* go, read: three of the cartoonists working for the Nickelodeon publishing juggernaut have created Mobius comic strips.

* not comics: Marvel and EA decide to terminate their deal, which was basically that EA could make games starring characters not covered by individual deals elsewhere, along with one of those things where EA was going to create characters that Marvel would then put into comic book form that never seem to ever amount to anything. The articles suggest that the one product to come out of the deal, "The Rise of the Imperfects," was something of a failure.

image* publisher Chris Oliveros at Drawn and Quarterly shares the good news that Jason Lutes has been making a lot of Berlin pages, to the point where the comic book will be appearing in a fashion more like comics did in 1992 than the rate they tend to be released in 2008.

Although my inexact writing is at fault, I hope no one thought I was questioning the proper announcement of new issues of Berlin. It was more like I was wondering after a reaction of shared anticipation-to-read and excitement from fans and retailers that used to greet the arrival of popular new alt-comix comic books, including Berlin. I don't sense that to the extent I used to for any titles other than maybe Eightball and Optic Nerve, and as a fan of comics in the comic book format, I miss it. It may be that I'm at an age where I'm disconnected from that kind of reading experience, but I suspect it's further evidence that comics really is focused on the trade now. No matter the wider implications, more Berlin has me excited to hit a comics shop, and a flood of Berlin is terrific news.

* not comics: Joe Quesada crosses a picket line.

* a livejournaler named Jastor writes in amusing fashion about his early childhood obsession with being Spider-Man: "At my graduation from Kindergarten, I was actually very well behaved. For the first ten minutes. Ten minutes was about as long as I could go before I started to have extremely elaborate fantasies about being Spiderman."

* the San Jose Mercury-News talks to Darrin Bell about eight black strip cartoonists' forthcoming action designed to draw attention to the way their strips are perceived and purchased, and then reviews comics by black creators, both comic strip and comic book.

* the writer Ken Parille looks at an under-examined element of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's appropriation of comics imagery: the lettering.

* there are a lot of Marjane Satrapi interviews, but only one on The Colbert Report.
 
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Happy 32nd Birthday, Ryan Kelly!

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Happy 36th Birthday, Brian Wood!

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Happy 50th Birthday, Jeph Loeb!

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Quick hits
Craft
Sean Phillips Inks
Nick Abadzis Sketches
Sean Phillips Thumbnails
Dave Lasky Draws a Poster

History
Personal Takes On Superheroes
Don MacPherson on WGA Settlement and Marvel's Past

Industry
It's All About the Sales
David Welsh on Storefronts
Johanna Draper Carlson Leaves Savage Critics

Interviews/Profiles
ComiXology: Fred Chao
Shuffleboil: Bryan Talbot
Telegraph: Johnny Hicklenton
Shuffleboil: Gregory Crewdson
Las Vegas CityLife: Greg Rucka

Not Comics
Best List Ever
Best Video Ever
Chris Butcher in Japan Episode #243

Publishing
David Welsh on Omnibus Manga Trend
Run, Batroc, Run: Captain America's Got a Gun

Reviews
Paul O'Brien: Various
Chris Mautner: Various
Koppy McFad: Dear Julia,
Paul O'Brien: X-Men #207
Charles Yoakum: Local #8
Michael May: Astronaut Dad
John E. Mitchell: Percy Gloom
Al Kratina: Broken Fender #1
Charles Yoakum: Annihilation Vol. 3
Paul O'Brien: Astonishing X-Men #24
Leroy Douresseaux: I'll Be Your Slave
Graeme McMillan: Wonder Woman #16
Charles Yoakum: Gentlemen of the Road
Johanna Draper Carlson: Kagetora Vol. 8
John E. Mitchell: The Best American Comics 2007
Sean Kleefeld: Legends of the Dark Crystal Vol. 1
Douglas Wolk: Wizzywig Vol. 1, WWH Aftermath: Damage Control
 

 
January 28, 2008


CR Review: Lust

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Creator: Ellen Forney
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, hardcover, 168 pages, 2007, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 978-1-56097-884-8

imageThis book confused me. It's kind of freakishly gorgeous, running about the size of an address book and boasting a cover that not only features a smart, straight-forward design, but is smooth to the touch in a way where I kept picking it up and putting it against my skin. I suppose that could be my personal kink, and if I were one of the dozens of people from whose personal ads in the alt-weekly The Stranger this book is drawn, that might be the subject of my advertisement. And that's where things get muddled. For as much as you're likely not interested that I'm holding the book up to my cheek, that's how I feel about the content of every ad drawn by Forney that makes it into this book. Despite the usual cute, hinted-at warnings on the back cover and in the introductory text, there's little that interests about other people's desires put into print advertisement form -- unless , I suppose, reading such utilitarian confessions is one of your things. An attempt to bolster that material with a few interviews and an introduction that sets those interviews up doesn't go deep enough in providing specific human insight into what people want or why they want it or why the rest of us should be interested.

The way Lust proves most interesting is as the journal of a long-time freelance assignment, Forney putting her pleasing art style to use in a way that provides enough visual versatility neither she nor her regular audience gets bored. It's not stunt work, either. For the most part, Forney is restricted to a space that shares at least the same proportion from illustration to illustration, and she very frequently works within the confines of a ruled square. Forney draws lively, happy figures that I imagine works as a kind of positive grace note on a request or desire where some people might disapprove. Her lettering's attractive here, too, which is important given the central role of the text. If you like Forney's other work, you'll want this; it's really just an art book with a thematic twist. If you're looking for some sort of dissection of personals writing or left coast sexuality circa 2007, it's really just an art book with a thematic twist.

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International Press Institute Criticizes Legal Action Vs. Cartoonists in Turkey

The International Press Institute (IPI) has sent out a release drawing attention to a story that hit Turkish newspapers last Thursday: Musa Kart and Zafer Temocin were the subject of preliminary legal proceedings for caricatures of Turkey's president. This is slightly confusing in that past actions and threats of same against Kart and other cartoonists came from the office of the Prime Minister (currently Recep Tayyip Erdogan) as opposed to the office of the presidency (currently Abdullah Gul), although one supposes the result is the same. Oddly, the press release fails to mention the aggrieved party, which makes me think they may be holding back in case it is Erdogan and not Gul that's the offended party here, but that's just a hunch.

Both Kart and Temocin are cartoonists for the daily paper Cumhurryet, and the link describes the cartoons in some detail.
 
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First Peek Back at Angouleme Festival

imageAlthough there will be a collective memory and Bart Beaty may take a more ruminative look back in a future column, it's fun to look around at initial impressions from the just-completed Festival International de la BD in Angouleme. Wire stories from Agence France-Presse Australia's ABC News have news briefs that reflect their specific geographical interests. China View has posted a small photo array that emphasizes the way the town transforms itself in terms of comics material. I'd suggest that aside from the role played by commerce, the biggest difference between conventions here and festivals there is the size of the towns where they're held and how the shows settle into them. France 24 looks at the Chinese presence at this year's festival. French comics press mainstay ActuaBD.com profiles the Grand Prix winners in straightforward fashion. Paul Gravett reprints an interview he did about BD and related subjects that might be a good place to get an overall impression of that market, if it's one with which you're unfamiliar. And if you missed our own Bart Beaty's first, initial, affectionate sigh of an article on the weekend in southwest France, it's nestled below today's postings here.

from Best Album winner The Arrival
 
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Comics Chronicles: 2007 Was The Strongest Year in the DM Since 1995

imageJohn Jackson Miller sent me a note with this link to the Comics Chronicles Direct Market numbers for December, which allows them to do the fourth quarter of last year and the entire year 2007. The jist? All sales categories were up, including overall unit sales. They put Diamond's total 2007 at $429.9 million, which they say is a gain of nine percent. Overall, that makes 2007 the best year for the Direct Market since 1995, a time when the market was still receding a bit following 1993's astronomical numbers. If you're not a numbers person, the Comics Chronicles numbers are pretty easy to parse once you get past the initial visual impression of there being so many categories. If you are a numbers person, you hit the link 15 seconds ago and aren't reading this anymore.

December's issue of Thor, one of Marvel's high-selling 2007 titles
 
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Go, Look: Cool Max Illustrations

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thanks, Gil Roth
 
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Go, Worship: Aroc of Zenith

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Jog stumbles across a gigantic webcomic by legendary Flames of Gyro creator Jay "The First Cartoonist With An Original Comic Published by Fantagraphics" Disbrow
 
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Go, Read: The Ten-Cent Plague

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Go, Read: Lengthy Profile of the Forgotten Cartoonist Billy Ireland

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Missed It: Major TCJ Interviews With Major Alt-Comix Generation Talent

Franz Fuchs wrote in to point out that with the Fantagraphics web site re-design has come the posting of three great, long TCJ interviews in PDF form.

*****
Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez:
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*****
Peter Bagge:
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*****
Jim Woodring:
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*****

All three are really good; the Hernandez Brothers one came out in 1988 and had a major impact on a lot of young comics fans, including me.

There are more interviews with Fantagraphics cartoonists on this index page.
 
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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I had fun last night appearing on Fanboy Radio. For some reason I was super-paranoid that I was going to curse, which made me watch what I said a little bit. Also, it was funny in that while I spend some time in the morning writing about comics I don't have many friends with whom I talk about geek stuff, so I might have seemed a little too excited to sound off on some of those topics! My thanks to Scott and the gang for having me on, and for the nice words in their intro.

* this may be the most entertaining article to surface over the weekend, how longtime Judge Dredd writer Alan Grant surveyed his 1980s science fiction work and found that a lot of it has become true.

* it's also hard to go wrong with a Steve Duin profile of Colleen Coover, well-illustrated.

* or a profile of Lew Sayre Schwartz by Eddie Campbell. This is a strong day in general.

image* like this: the writer and critic Jeet Here wrote in to call attention to this post and its subsequent support pages over on Michael Barrier's super-popular site. It compare a breakdowns script for a 1949 Porky Pig comic book to the final product. Barrier also has some observations on the comic coming at it from an animation standpoint. I don't see a date on the essay, but I sure haven't seen it before.

* I'm not sure how I missed it, but Soleil and Marvel have signed an agreement by which Marvel will release several graphic novels into the American book market. This make sense in the way that Soleil is a big mainstream publisher I believe best known for its fantasy series and an approach to illustration and emphasis on figure drawing that should logically appeal to Marvel's core customer. Marvel finding material to introduce to the bookstore shelves makes a certain amount of sense as well. This might cause some trepidation in the way that North American audiences have almost never had an appetite for works from the French mainstream, let alone one that goes deep into anyone's catalog. It's almost to the point with these kinds of deals where even the fans are less "Wow, new graphic novels for me to buy!" than they are "Wow, new graphic novels for me to buy five years from now when they cost a dollar from Abebooks.com."

* Editor & Publisher previews the upcoming Anne Mergen exhibit at OSU. Mergen was the only female editorial cartoonist working in the US when she began working in 1933, and she enjoyed a 26-year career. It may just be my imagination, but it seems that OSU has been doing an admirable job putting its exhibit and curating spotlight onto forgotten or under-appreciated female cartoonists, which is a great thing. The Mergen exhibit opens Friday.

* not comics: they change comic book plots in adapting them to film in Asia, too.

* go, read: Evan Dorkin looks at some drawings in a housecleaning and ruminates on the DC rule against letting folks write and draw anything in their comics.

* speaking of strong days, the "go, look" section of this blog update, which will roll out soon after this post and remain placed above it in a spatial sense, has to be the best collection of things to look at we've had up here so far this year. So if by any chance you scroll past that section, please don't today!

* I'm told a great portion of this Murs video takes place at Golden Apple.
 
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Happy 57th Birthday, Todd Klein!

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Quick hits
Craft
Artist On Preparing Art For Zuda Project

Exhibits/Events
Go, See: Take The Bassa With Sabba

History
Punch 29
Punch 30
On the Smurfs at 50
Theories on Comic Book Death
Whatever Happened to Art Bouthillier?

Industry
Aurora and Yen Press Profiled
Convention Drought Over in Fort Wayne

Interviews/Profiles
The Star: Rem
The Observer: Chris Riddell
About.com: Brian K. Vaughan
The Journal Times: Stephan Pastis
The Oakland Press: Tiffany Peterson
Digital Strips: Scott Yoshinaga, Audra Furuichi

Publishing
Jason Aaron to Wolverine
Noting Wimpy Kid Success
David Reddick Launches Blog
Montreal Gazette Drops Strips
Notes From One Paper's Comics Survey
Dave Sim's Secret Project #1 Explained, Sort Of
Why is Doonesbury on the Editorial Page; Not Mallard Fillmore

Reviews
About.com: Y Square
Tina Tsai: Read or Die
Pauline Wong: Zig Zag Vol. 1
Richard Krauss: Death, Cold as Steel
Richard Crowson: Schulz and Peanuts
Richard Krauss: Tim Corrigan's Comics & Stories #17
 

 
January 27, 2008


Festival Prize at Angouleme Goes To Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian

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Various on-line comics news sources bring first word this morning that the Angouleme Festival has awarded its biggest, overall honor to Charles Berberian and Philippe Dupuy, the pair behind the Monsieur Jean albums and a concurrent autobiographical series about their creation. If true, this would be 1) an excellent choice based on the quality of work, 2) the capper on a sustained Festival endorsement of the 1990s generation that began with previous choices Zep and Lewis Trondheim, 3) the first time a pair of artists has been named together.

The festival's Grand Prix is a singular honor in comics: not only is it an international award, not only is a massive amount of press attention focused on the winners' work, he/she/they also act as a principal focus for publicity leading up to next year's festival and serve as that festival's president, having direct influence if not outright responsibility for such things as the composition of the prize jury and the exhibits at the event. Plus, if I remember right, you're announced to the Festival by standing on a balcony and drinking champagne, kind of like the comics version of the smoke that announces a new pope, but with alcohol. It's one of the coolest things in comics.

Dupuy and Berberian's comics are published in North America by Drawn and Quarterly, and I recommend them all.
 
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Go, Download Or Simply Read: Warren Craghead’s New Work “Lisboa, Lisbon”

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Five Link A Go Go

* go, read: Dustin Harbin reviews The Complete Persepolis

* go, read: Peter Simeti of Alterna Comics interviewed at ComiXology

* go, look: ComicsPRO announces their annual meeting details

* go, look: the creative outpourings of the Fantagraphics staff

* go, read: musing on the end of a comic book series
 
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FFF Results Post #106—Oh, Brother

Five For Friday #106 Results

On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Famous Comics Brothers." Here are the results.

*****

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Joe Ollmann and Tom Spurgeon

1. Hernandez
2. Hildebrandt
3. Crumb
4. Freak
5. Snoopy and Spike

*****

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Dave Ferraro

1. The Luna Brothers!
2. The Summers Brothers! Cyclops, Havok and Vulcan
3. Charles Xavier and Juggernaut -- half-brothers...
4. Linus and Rerun from Peanuts!
5. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!!

*****

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Will Pfeifer

1. Leiber
2. Buscema
3. Deitch
4. Van Pelt (Linus and Rerun)
5. The old Batman villains Tweedledee and Tweedledum (they had to be brothers, right?)

*****

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Marc Arsenault

The Leibers: Stan Lee and Larry
Speed Racer and Racer X (it was manga first)
The Summers: Havok & Cyclops
The Fabulous Furry Freak
Charles Xavier and Cain Marko (Juggernaut) (step brothers) from Berkeley, CA! And! No relation to Flint Marco the Sandman!

Freak on!

*****

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Joe Schwind

Wallace and Theodore
Lucien and Louis
Hector and Paris
Jesse and Frank
Moe and Shemp

*****

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Tom Bondurant

1. Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
2. Thor and Loki
3. Linus Van Pelt and Rerun Van Pelt
4. Jor-El and Zor-El
5. Adam Kubert and Andy Kubert

*****

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Dave Hook

Tom and Joe Ollmann, great subject! I may be forgetful, but this was actually rather hard to come up with. Some of the brother combo's noted are perhaps somewhat cheap or hopeful, but here they are.

1. Scott (Cyclops) and Alex (Havok) Summers
2. Matt and "Mike" Murdock, (Daredevil's imaginary twin brother!)
3. Juggernaut and Professor X (all right, Juggernaut is his step-brother)
4. Nick Fury and Scorpio
5. Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, and Midnight (yet another evil step-brother)

Hawk and Dove and the Furry Freak Brothers (both already taken) are among my favorites as well.

*****

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John Vest

1. Kim and Simon Deitch
2. Tom and Rick Veitch
3. Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon
4. Zippy and Lippy
5. Black Bolt and Maximus The Mad

*****

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Josh Fitzpatrick

5) Buscema
4) Luna
3) Pander
2) Kubert
1) Hanuka

*****

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Evan Dorkin

1) John and Sal Buscema
2) Huey, Dewey and Louie
3) Hans and Fritz
4) Stan and Larry Lieber
5) The Thompson Twins (some say not, but they're referred to as brothers or twins in several Tintin volumes. If Snowy says it's so, I say it's so)

*****

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Donnie Sticksel

Tomax & Xamot (GI Joe)
Black Bolt & Maximus
Matt & Mike Murdock
Don and Goody Rickles
The Trigger Twins

*****

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Don MacPherson

1. Nick Fury & Scorpio
2. Aquaman & Ocean Master
3. The Fillbach Bros.
4. Cyclops & Havok
5. Professor X & Juggernaut

*****

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Fred Hembeck

1. Stan and Larry Lieber
2. Herb and Mike Trimpe
3. Bill and Abe Vigoda
4. Matt and Mike Murdock
5. Adam and Stephen Strange (twins separated at birth -- and by galaxies and dimensions, too...)

*****

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Kurt Busiek

1. The Jordans -- Hal, Jack and Jim
2. The Brothers of the Spear
3. The Summers - Scott, Alex and, uh, the third guy. Vulcan.
4. The Blood Brothers, who usedta fight Iron Man
5. The El brothers, Jor and Zor.

*****

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Dean Milburn

1. Huey, Dewey & Louie Duck
2. Linus & Rerun van Pelt
3. Garth & Mekt Ranzz
4. Alex & Scott Summers
5. Orm & Arthur Curry

*****

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Sean T. Collins

Buscema
Summers
Hernandez
Kubert
Tomax and Xamot

*****

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Shannon Smith

Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Sal and John Buscema
The Kuberts
The Pander brothers
The Luna brothers

*****

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James Langdell

1. Caplin (Al and Elliot)
2. Murdock (Matt and fictional Mike)
3. Post (Russ and Ron)
4. Van Pelt (Linus and Rerun)
5. Bat (Bemitched, Bemothered, and Bemildered)

*****

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Chris Arrant

1. Kubert, Andy & Adam
2. Hernandez, Jamie & Mario & Gilbert
3. Luna, Jonathan & Joshua
4. Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
5. Goldman, Steve & Dan

*****

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El Tio Berni

1. Dupont & Dupont (Tintin)
2. Thor & Loki
3. David B & Jean-Christophe (Epileptic)
4. Sandman & Death
5. Dalton (Lucky Luke)

*****

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Booksteve

1 - The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
2 - Lightning Lad and Lightning Lord
3 - Sal and John Buscema
4 - The Hangman and the Comet
5 - Superboy and Mon-El (sorta)

*****

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Andrew J. Mansell

1. Rerun and Linus
2. The Liebers
3. The Caplins
4. Buscemas
5. The Raymonds

*****

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Dave Knott

* Beagle Boys
* John & Sal Buscema
* Joe, William, Jack, and Averell Dalton
* Peter Parker and Ben Reilly
* Stanley & Larry Lieber

*****

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Jeet Heer

Langridge Bros.
Friedman Bros.
Deitch Bros.
Brian and Greg Walker
Fleischer Bros.

*****

Bryan Munn

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Brothers of the Spear, Dan-el and Natongo
Ches and Wal Nut
Pierre-Francois and Jean-Christophe Beauchard
Dalziel Brothers
Lightning Lad and Lord

*****

Thanks to all that participated. As always, joke responses greatly appreciated but may or may not be published, or published as letters, for reasons you can e-mail me about, and missives with more than five responses truncated. Please be on the lookout for the next Five for Friday.

*****
*****
 
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Happy 43rd Birthday, Sean Phillips!

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Happy 46th Birthday, Richard Starkings!

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Happy 49th Birthday, Stefan Petrucha!

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Happy 54th Birthday, Peter Laird!

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Happy 56th Birthday, Steve Leialoha!

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First Thought Of The Day

I used to think that American culture split irrevocably with the 1960s, but the more that I think about it I think it really happened with Freud.
 
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January 26, 2008


Bart Beaty: Shaun Tan’s The Arrival Wins Best Album at Angouleme; Moomin Takes Home Prix Patrimonie

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Bart Beaty reports in from the Angouleme Festival's awards on Stephen Betts' Blackberry:

Prix Fanzine:
Turkey #16

Prix Patrimoine
Moomin

Prix Public:
Kiki de montparnasse

Essentials:
Exit wounds
Marie en plastique
Trois ombres
Ma Maman est en Amerique, elle a rencontre Buffalo Bill
RG

Prix du meilleur album:
La ou vont nos peres

Bart writes: "The Tan win came as a surprise. Off to dinner."

*****

Update:

"We just saw the awards on charlie orr's iphone and realized I forgot one. Prix revelation went to Isabelle Pralong for L'Elephant. The duck with foie gras was excellent and we're waiting for dessert." -- Bart
 
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If I Were In LA, I’d Go To This

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CR Week In Review

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The top comics-related news stories from January 19 to January 25, 2008:

1. The Angouleme Festival for 2008 gets underway.

2. Quebecor World's fortunes decline to the point of seeking protection from creditors.

3. Lynn Johnston announces the end of the current For Better of For Worse hybrid by September... to be replaced by another kind of hybrid.

Winner Of The Week
Jeff Kinney

Loser Of The Week
Quebecor World

Quote Of The Week
"And the smoking ban didn't make the beer at the Mercure cheaper, but you can at least breathe the air. OK, one cynic complained that it used to smell like an ashtray and now it smells like a cartoonist, but you can't have everything." -- Bart Beaty

this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
 
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Happy 43rd Birthday, Jacob Pander!

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Happy 72nd Birthday, Sal Buscema!

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Happy 79th Birthday, Jules Feiffer!

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January 25, 2008


Friday Distraction: Jeff Danzinger Discusses Editorial Cartooning



discussed here
 
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Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics Weighs In on Convention Pre-Sales Issue

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The first, lengthy response on the matter of pre-convention comics sales from one of the publishers that has embraced the practice. Gary Groth throws his two cents in on the end. Click through the image.

that's Eric on the left, in 2007 at San Diego with Craig Yoe
 
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Five For Friday #106—Oh, Brother

Five For Friday #106 -- Name Five Famous Comics Brothers (Suggested by Joe Ollmann)

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1. Hernandez
2. Hildebrandt
3. Crumb
4. Freak
5. Hall

*****

This Subject Is Now Closed. Thanks To All That Participated.

*****

Five For Friday is a reader response feature. To play, send a response while it's still Friday. Play fair. Responses up Sunday morning.
 
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Angouleme Moves Into Its Second Day

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As with many American conventions, there's a bit of a news lull about 24 hours into the Festival International de la BD Angouleme as several folks are still settling in for a big weekend, the prizes and the like have yet to gear up, and non-traditional reporting has to wait for most of its agents to return home. There's still some interesting stuff out there.

* co-founder Francis Groux received the commandeur des Arts et des Lettres honor yesterday from the French ministry of culture. I'm probably not phrasing that correctly.

* This video shows a lot of the buildings, some of the set up, and a lot of generally attractive French comics and festival folks. Plus, great artists drawing.

* finally, it looks like the Festival itself has quite the classy, first-day video report up, or at least there's one up it seems like they're endorsing. It looks like those will be assembled here. I enjoyed watching it.


 
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Go, Vote: Harvey Ballots Available Online

The nominations ballot for the 2008 Harvey Awards is now available for download at their site. I'm never sure what the qualification for a "professional" is and therefore what grants one the right to vote, but in past years I've just sent in a ballot with the appropriate information and had them sort it out.

imageThe Harvey ballot is an interesting creature in that it's a tough slog when compared to the click and e-mail level difficulty of other awards programs. You have to figure out what came out last year, and fill in a bunch of choice in areas that might not be your area of strict attention. They can sometimes spill over, too. Say you really love the way Charles Burns inks, then you look to see if Burns had anything out that might qualify, then you might second-guess if the project that's out is enough for consideration. That kind of thing. I still very much recommend that you take the time to do it. Even if the last time you voted on anything was Star Boy for Legion of Super-Heroes chairman, the comparative difficulty and relative obscurity of this assignment makes it one of the few, open, honest opportunities to make a positive impact on comics culture just by virtue of expressing (in ballot form) what comics and cartoonists you like.
 
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We Could Use a Few More Stories About Cartoonists Heading Into Retirement

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It strikes me that maybe we don't get enough stories like this one: the editorial cartoonist Michael Atchison is retiring after 40 years at The Advertiser in the Australian city of Adelaide. It may be that what seems like Australia's collective esteem for its editorial cartoon makers plays a role in this, or maybe it's that so many cartoonists pass away at the drafting table or maybe that so many shift -- or are shifted -- into other careers before the age of retirement. I'm not certain. This struck me as a nice story. The cartoonist will continue his strip and pursue other art pursuits. "It's time I got a proper job," he says.

As a bonus, the paper also has an enormous collection of Atchison cartoons.
 
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Go, Look: Mike Russell’s CulturePulp Comics Interview With Marjane Satrapi

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also: a massive text version of same
 
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Go, Read: Massive Jim Flora Article

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thanks, Marc Arsenault
 
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Go, Read: My Life as a Cartoonist

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Go, Bookmark: Madam & Eve

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Go, Bookmark: The Woodring Monitor

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This guy's encounter with Jesus is getting all the link attention, but there's a ton of great stuff on here that you should not leave to anyone to tell you about. Also, I realize I hadn't fully made the mental switch away from Woodring's more traditional site.
 
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Go, Look: Brendan McCarthy’s TMNT

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Go, Look: Wild Countersuit

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Go, Look: Paul Mullins Art

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Marvel is apparently among a pair of studios to reach a settlement with the Writers Guild of America (WGA). This is worth noting despite its non-comics status because the larger Marvel corporate entity is entering into a phase where it is making its own movies, and not having that string interrupted by writing delays plus the ability to do rewrites while in production may be important to keeping that effort going. While the traditional comic book business is largely insulated in a risk sense from the success and failures of these movies, the publishing side kind of bends towards successful movie franchises, particularly those that are launching.

* the writer and editor Kristy Valenti finishes her two-part look at Bill Blackbeard with a look at The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, one of the most influential comics ever published.

image* there are a lot of cartoonist profiles, but this one gets credit for picking a worthy subject and a worthy angle: Julie Doucet's career after leaving comic books.

* here's an example of something I was talking about the other day: a tendency by some to equate comics with mainstream American comic books. This is an innocuous article, but the claim is that it's about comics, when its focus is really on American mainstream comics and comics slightly to the side of American mainstream comics made by those companies.

* the writer Sean T. Collins caught this Ron Rege announcement of a new book and some of details concerning its publication. That's good news for the usual reasons and because some of Rege's best comics are found in the scattered, almost incidental work.

* it strikes me that there's something worth noting in an X-Men title being re-fashioned in order to actively feature X-Men adventures from the past. There's no superhero title that carries around the same level of nostalgic goodwill so close to its breast.

* it's only a rough notion that I have yet to develop, but this article by retailer Steve Bennett about his dissatisfaction with the content of certain comic book stories led me to think about the maturity of the comic book direct market and what that means in terms of that market developing its own, unique standards of good and bad. To look at it another way, I probably wouldn't agree with Steve Bennett about what makes a good comic, but at this point we may be talking about much different things than a similar critic may have been talking about with a retailer 25 years ago.
 
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Happy 35th Birthday, Geoff Johns!

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Happy 56th Birthday, Turtel Onli!

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Happy 70th Birthday, Leiji Matsumoto!

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Happy 42nd Birthday, Alan David Doane!

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Quick hits
Exhibits/Events
Report on Stan Lee Tribute Exhibit

History
On 50 Years of the Smurfs

Industry
I Hate Your Cartoon
I Hate Your Cartoon
I Find This Kind of Thing Slightly Depressing
Mainstream Comics Are Mostly Read By Dudes

Interviews/Profiles
NeenerNeener.net: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Not Comics
Peet's Honors Phil Frank
Is Minneapolis a Good Cartooning Town?

Publishing
School Makes Comic Appearance
Millar and McNiven to Do Wolverine Run
Post-Series Star Trek Adaptation Comic Previewed

Reviews
Van Jensen: Cairo
Steve Higgins: Paris
John E. Mitchell: Flood
Sarah Morean: Pinwheel
John E. Mitchell: White Rapids
Rich Cohen: Schulz and Peanuts
Sean T. Collins: They Moved My Bowl
Richard Marcus: The Complete Persepolis
Deb Aoki: Manga Bible vs. The Manga Bible
Graeme McMillan: Amazing Spider-Man #548
Charles Hatfield: page from I Never Liked You
John E. Mitchell: Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil
Sean T. Collins: The Black Diamond Detective Agency
 

 
January 24, 2008


Angouleme Gets Underway in France

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The ActuaBD.com article on the first morning of the Festival International de la bd d'Angouleme, one of the world's largest and most important gatherings of its type, provides an entertaining laundry list of goings-on: good weather for a change (after two years of snow), a visit by the Cultural Minister and the exhibits visited, a local mayoral race, continued infrastructure rehabilitation and improvement, how the show is marked by changes in the show's administrative set-up, a local strike, and the Smurfs.

This looks like a site worth a bookmark in terms of an easy interface for video, photo and written Angouleme coverage.

On the occasion of the Angouleme Festival getting underway, an article in Le Soir looks at the state of sales for BD, 2007, stressing a point that while various manga titles have launched an assault on the sales charts in terms of the frequency of publication, individual book to individual book the stalwarts of French-language publishing still do very well.

Who will be this year's Grand Prix winner? If I'm remember correctly, the usual pattern suggests older French-language industry guy. Could they go for an English-language artist for the first time since 1999? Who's the right age? Simmonds? Shelton? Feiffer?

Admittedly, I have no idea what I'm talking about, but guessing wildly is sort of fun. I do remember that people had been pushing for Jose Munoz for a couple of years before he won it, and I'm not aware of anyone with that kind of minority support in recent years that could be said is ready to go over the top. As far as I know there's not an obvious, perceived need for the Festival to connect to a certain readership that might drive the vote, either. Could they go with a manga-ka? Except for maybe Georges Wolinski, most of the recent selections are the kind where your guess is wrong but you kind of instantly get what they're going after.

above: Luciano Bottaro's art is on display in one of the main exhibits this year, and was visited by the French Cultural minister this morning
 
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All Hail The Comics-Prose Hybrid

imageIt looks like that no matter what book chart you care to utilize, Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules makes a impressive debut near the top of the charts, while Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret makes a impressive second move onto the charts after its recent Caldecott win. I don't think there's anything to analyze here other than that they're highly appealing books and there's no cultural flutter step that gets in their way, nor has there been for a while now.
 
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Your Comic Book Category Nominees in the 19th Annual GLAAD Media Awards

The 19th annual GLAAD Media award nominee list has been released. They've done a comic book category for the last few years, maybe the last several, which usually means one or two things outside the American mainstream comic book publishers and then a bunch of stuff squarely within that publishing realm including one or two that are sort of bizarre, at least on the surface. This list seems to meet those requirements up to the content issue. I don't have any idea if one or two of these choices will cause even the people who read them to go "Wha--?!" but I wouldn't bet against it.

* American Virgin by Steven T. Seagle (Vertigo/DC Comics)
* The Boys by Garth Ennis (Dynamite Entertainment)
* Midnighter by Garth Ennis, Brian K. Vaughan, Christos Gage, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, and Keith Giffin (Wildstorm/DC Comics)
* The Outsiders by Judd Winick, Greg Rucka, and Tony Bedard (DC Comics)
* Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore (Abstract Studio)
 
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Go, Read: The Kinship Structure of Ferns

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Go, Read: Wandering Hands

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Go, Look: The Museum Vaults Preview

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Go, Bookmark: Dash Shaw’s Bodyworld

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Go, Read: The Haunting Past

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scroll down a bit
 
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Go, Look: Sasha Peric!

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OTBP: Candy or Medicine, Vol. 2

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DC Counter Culture Festival III Video



I'm pretty sure there were comics here.
 
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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* according to this article, authorities in the Guangzhou province of China plan on pouring $100 million into developing local comics and animation industries over the next four years. This will include more cooperation with similar Hong Kong businesses, money targeted towards developing new talent and recognizing/rewarding talent in general, and what sounds like some infrastructure development aimed at housing businesses.

* here's a short essay that puts the Ezra Levant portion of the Danish Cartoons hangover into a Canadian perspective.

* Khalil Bendib is still running for president.

* the short but voluminous burst of writing on the subject of convention pre-sales and the Direct Market is now definitely on the wane, but I wanted to point out a few takes worth looking at all for themselves: Steven Grant, longtime writer and comics commentator, Matthew Maxwell, a self-publisher about to start selling his first book, and Joe Gordon on the highly useful Forbidden Planet blog.

* a few readers have sent in a link to this visual language conference, for which Scott McCloud will serve as one of the facilitators. I'm not sure exactly what's going on there, but it looks like fun.

* this isn't comics, but I already find myself similarly nostalgic for the look and feel of 1970s/1980s comic book shops. It's insane, I know.

* Matthias Wivel points out that Angouleme brings to the surface various disagreements and minor feuds between members of the European comics community, and then analyzes two such newborn flare-ups: an accusation that a few successful cartoonists act as a Eurocomics mafia, and a flap that started, sort-of, with accusations of misappropriation of Joann Sfar art.
 
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Happy 54th Birthday, Lorenzo Mattotti!

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Happy 78th Birthday, John Romita!

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Quick hits
Craft
On Lettering
Mike Manley Goes to Class
Paul Pope Draws the Build-A-Friend
Matt Madden's First Sketch of His Child

Exhibits/Events
Go, Bookmark: Bedeo.fr Coverage of Angouleme

Industry
Comic Shop Robbed

Interviews/Profiles
CBR: Rob Schrab
Pulse: Michael Allred
Pulse: Frank Espinoza
ComiPress: Fujiko Fujio
Comixtalk: Frank Cormier
The Dollar Bin: Rob Ullman
The Dollar Bin: Dustin Harbin
The Dollar Bin: Shelton Drum
The Dollar Bin: Wide Awake Press
Portland Mercury: Brian K. Vaughan

Not Comics
Fantagraphics Offers Avatars
Fantagraphics Offers Screensavers
Sometimes You're Glad It's Not The Guy In The Shirt

Publishing
Strangeways: Murder Moon Preview
Johanna Draper Carlson on the Northwind #1 Release

Reviews
Nina Miller: Fell #9
Paul O'Brien: '76 #1
Paul O'Brien: Various
Jog: Hotwire Comix #2
Chris Mautner: Various
Sean Kleefeld: Snow #1
Brian Heater: Midnight Sun
Christine Pointeau: Bug House
Jog: Here Is Greenwood Vol. 1
Greg McElhatton: Gutsville #1-2
Brigid Alverson: King of Thorn Vol. 2
Chris Barsanti: The Will Eisner Series
Shannon Smith: Nobody Likes Tony Pony
David P. Welsh: Manga Bible, Manga Sutra
Al Kratina: The Legend of Wild Man Fischer
Don MacPherson: Chiaroscuro: Patchwork Book 1
Leroy Douresseaux: Top Shelf: Under the Big Top
 

 
January 23, 2008


If I Were In Michigan, I’d Go To This

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Michael George Released On Bond Pending February 26 Murder Trial

The Pennsylvania comic shop owner and convention organizer Michael George has been released on a $1 million bond pending his trial February 26 on charges including murder related to the 1990s slaying of George's then-wife Barbara in his Detroit-area comic book store. George is under house arrest at his mother's residence, surrendered his passport and is wearing an electronic tether. He face life in prison if convicted. That George has secured released to his mother's home could be seen as a preview of the expected in-court battle between George's lawyers and the current prosecutors trying the case, which local media earlier tried to portray as something of a heated, antagonistic relationship above and beyond the particulars of this case.
 
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FBoFW To End Current Hybrid Form by September and Start New Hybrid Form

imageThe increasingly complicated final act for Lynn Johnston's much-liked and strip sales juggernaut For Better or For Worse will have yet another chapter, according to this interview of Johnston by Editor & Publisher's Dave Astor. After initially announcing the strip would become frozen in time and then become a re-run strip with framing sequences, then when the time changing plans so that FBoFW ran selected re-run stretches of strips interspersed with news strip wrapping up various storylines from the modern run, Johnston now plans a variation of the first plan. The strip will wrap up its storylines no later than September, freeze in time, become a re-run strip with framing sequences -- except that the re-runs will be interspersed with update versions of those storylines or tweaks on same done by Johnston in the older, looser style. Johnston says some stretches of re-runs will not be re-worked in order to give her some time away from the feature.
 
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Go, Look: Gary Panter Provides Cover to Marvel’s Omega The Unknown #7

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This should be a big publishing year for the great Gary Panter, with an early-year Picturebox Inc. release and a late-year Fantagraphics release providing a staggering number of new pages to look at. However, his providing the cover for Marvel's Omega the Unknown #7 might be the oddest of his publishing projects. Dirk Deppey caught this Panter blog entry about delivering the cover to Marvel.
 
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Go, Look: Sean Phillips Previews Blast of Silence DVD Cover and Comic

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Go, Bookmark: Super-Sam Comics

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Go, Look: Thought Balloonists Reviews The Crap Out Of The Immortal Iron Fist

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Go, Read: Alpha Male In… Don’t Be Gay!

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Go, Read: Nishizaka Hiromi’s Okami

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I don't really follow mainstream American comic books, but this list of upcoming projects for the writer Matt Fraction notes that his post-Civil War Marvel title The Order will end at issue #10. I think that's the one that was going to revive Marvel's Champions name but someone had registered it as a comics title under Marvel's nose. It's also another failed attempt to set a superhero team in one of those worlds' equivalent of Los Angeles, which may interest only me.

image* this interview with Jeff Smith about his forthcoming RASL sets some general parameters for the cartoonist's first indy comics project since Bone: 250 pages or so, probably between two and three years worth of serial publication.

* the cartoonist Jeff Bacon has received the Surface Navy Association's highest honor for "devotion to the Navy." Bacon draws strips for Navy Times and Marine Times and is a blogger for NavyTimes.com.

* Joe Williams wrote in to note that the recently canceled They'll Do It Every Time, to end February 2, reported to have 100 clients, may have some or all of them as part of what sounds like from his description the classic NEA package where a number of strips and panels and related features are put together and targeted to smaller newspapers. If true, that would make it less surprising from a financial standpoint for the panel to end.

* if you like industry stories about cartoonists and critics griping at each other, you could do worse than to use google or something equivalent to rough-translate this odd piece at ActuaBD.com.

* there's a certain sophistication and thoroughness that keeps this piece from being a bad article, but I have to say that it's weird reading an article about female comics readership where manga is the 11th graph below Wonder Woman, Minx and the Smurfs. One of the odder things in general about the shape of modern comics is a viewpoint that processes every comics concept through the agents of the American mainstream comic book industry, sometimes when it's applicable, sometimes when it's not.

* ICv2.com and the writer and retailer Chris Butcher each take a look at ADV's successor manga to Newtype USA, called PiQ.

* widespread link of the moment: How To Get a Book Deal Without an Agent.
 
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Happy 56th Birthday, Klaus Janson!

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Happy 74th Birthday, Don Wright!

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2007-08 CR Holiday Interview Series

Because of the temporary interruption in service, I wanted to make a post with all the CR Holiday Interview links in one place. There may have been some art that didn't come with us to the new server, but we'll try to find replacements. My thanks to all the patient readers and the even more patient interviewees with whom we worked.

1. Cartoonist Joe Sacco
2. Jason Thompson of The Complete Guide to Manga
3. Cartoonist Simon Gane
4. Writer Will Pfeifer
5. Tom Devlin, Creative Director at Drawn & Quarterly
6. Critic Timothy Hodler
7. Cartoonist Julia Wertz
8. Chris Pitzer, Publisher of AdHouse Books
9. Eric Reynolds, Director of Publicity at Fantagraphics
10. Cartoonist Frank Santoro
11. Writer and JHU Events Director Vito Delsante
12. Vertigo Executive Editor and DC VP Karen Berger
13. Francoise Mouly, Alternative Comics Publishing Legend
14. Writer and Critic Sean T. Collins
15. Alan Gardner, Editor of DailyCartoonist.com

Bonus One: Writer and Reviewer Graeme McMillan
Bonus Two: Cartoonist Richard Thompson
 
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Quick hits
Craft
It Is Better To Offend Than Bore

Exhibits/Events
Go See Hilary Price
Comics Events Hitting Seattle
Asian Cartoon Exhibition Opens
SPLAT!: A Graphic Novel Symposium
Preview of Berryman Exhibition Next Month
Highland International Comic Expo Previewed

Industry
I Love That Cartoon

Interviews/Profiles
Paul Gravett: Moomin
About.com: Keiko Takemiya
ComixTalk: Blank Label Gang
Pulse: Tom Beland, Lily Garcia

Not Comics
Batton Lash Interviews Lloyd Kaufman

Publishing
Blue Pills Previewed

Reviews
Matthew Brady: Yotsuba&!
Paul O'Brien: New Exiles #1
Bill Sherman: Black Diamond
Paul O'Brien: New X-Men #46
Cris Skokna: Schulz and Peanuts
Cameron Archer: Groo: Hell on Earth #1
Shaenon Garrity: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
 

 
January 22, 2008


Exit Wounds Wins Prix France Info

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I totally missed this, but ActuaBD.com has a brief report up that Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds, one of the near-consensus choices on year-end lists from critics in North America, has been awarded this year's Prix France Info, a juried award given to a comic that draws its subject matter from current events.

Past Winners of the award include Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo (1998) , Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (2002), Joe Sacco's Palestine (1999) and Jean-Phillipe Stassen's Deogratias (2001).
 
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Quebecor World, Inc. Files For Bankruptcy Protection In US and Canada

I've been avoiding writing about Quebecor World Inc.'s financial woes, because 1) most analysts seemed to believe that the operations which include printing a huge number of traditional-format comic books was likely to be protected no matter what happened on the financial end, and 2) there was something I didn't trust about the surge in journalistic coverage for what seemed more like an ongoing story that had been around for a while.

However it's hard to deny that the company filing Monday for bankruptcy protection in Canada (under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act) and the US (Chapter 11) isn't a major issue. Bryan Munn has a succinct write-up with plenty of links on the subject, including both a dissection of the company's problems and last week's financial maneuvering which shuddered and collapsed leading to Monday's move. The company concurrently received a $1 billion line of credit to cover its current shortcomings.

Employing more than 28,000 people, Quebecor World, Inc. is one of North America's largest printing companies and one of Quebec's major corporate entities. One article notes that parent Quebecor, Inc. has asked that Quebecor World remove "Quebecor" from its company name, one guesses so as not to have a deleterious effect on its own fortunes -- a potent symbol of how bad things have become for the embattled company.
 
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ICv2.com: December ‘07 DM Estimates

imageThe comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com offers their usual array of lists, estimates and analysis regarding the performance of comic books and graphic novels in the Direct Market of comic and hobby shops, this time for December 2007 and also the entire year 2007.

* Overview
* Analysis
* Top 300 Comic Books
* Top 100 Graphic Novels

Their big news is that the Direct Market of comics and hobby shops was up in combined graphic novel/comic book sales nine percent from the year 2006, mostly due to big gains in the first half of the year. This was due to a seven percent increase in comic sales and an 18 percent increase in graphic novels. The gains weren't as significant as those experience in 2006.

As far as the monthly news, the DM seems to have rebounded from a decline in November to show a three percent bump in comics sales and an 11 percent gain in graphic novels, the latter of which sort of make sense given the Christmas gift-giving season, although maybe there's no relationship there at all.

Nothing much occurs to me looking at the various lists, which admittedly are sales estimates and not sales figures. At least nothing new occurs to me. I'm sure a lot of people will note that the two top comic books, Ultimates Vol. 3 #1 (a new volume in a popular series featuring brand new creators) and Amazing Spider-Man #545 (Spider-Man and his wife make a deal with the devil to return the character to its classic status quo), were unpopular with a lot of fans, the latter for its controversial plot elements and the former for sucking. That tends to put a sour spin on the general fan mood, and may have consequences for how sales match orders for subsequent books in those series.

What else? The DC weekly series Countdown doesn't seem to have found a bottom in terms of its slow sales bleed even as it begins to wind down. This puts DC in a weird place of on the one hand enjoying an extra 300,000 comics sold in a month and people still seeing it as something of a failure when compared to the last weekly project. It's probably worth noting that some of the X-Men titles are creeping back up to the top of the charts based on the lean and serviceable "Messiah Complex" crossover. Chris Ware's latest ACME Novelty Library sold about 3350 copies through the DM at $18 a pop, and the last wave of Naruto Nation (whereby multiple volumes of the Naruto series were released this Fall) had a presence at the top of the charts. There also seems to be growth at the bottom of the comic sales chart, a slight shift of 20 or so place for equivalent sales, which is a phenomenon I don't know that I've seen convincing analysis on, but I would imagine has to be encouraging.
 
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Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update

* this article on the newspaper editor Aleskander Sdvizhkov, sentenced last Friday because of re-publishing the Danish Muhammed Cartoons in 2006 in the now-defunct Minsk newspaper Sgoda has a few details I hadn't seen before. The paper claims that the three-year sentence is one of hard labor, not just time in a maximum security facility. It also includes details of Sdvizhkov's statements in the courtroom, and the reaction of Jyllands-Posten representatives. The article notes that Sdvizhkov may be the only newspaper person jailed for reprinting those cartoons -- journalists in Yemen and Jordan were tried and found guilty but only fined.

* I missed this Ezra Levant piece in the Globe and Mail where he describes his experience appearing before the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Although this material has already been presented in terms of other articles and testimony by Levant on his own web site, this is a nice piece to get a done-in-one impression of what Levant has been talking about in terms of his objections to the experience.
 
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Go, Bookmark: Brendan McCarthy’s Blog

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via Comics Comics
 
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Go, Read: Call The Corners

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Go, Look: Lilly Carre Art

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* the editorial cartoonist and Dick Tracy artist Dick Locher has been invited to join the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame. I just sort of like the fact that there's a Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame.

* that's one big comic book

* I missed this: USA Weekend is running a site-specific web cartoon called Thurbear. To my understanding, the print versions of the various weekend magazines are a pretty lucrative market for the strips they run. They certainly have the eyeballs. I have no idea how high-profile their web sites tend to be.
 
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Happy 53rd Birthday, Dennis Mallonee!

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Happy 38th Birthday, Alex Ross!

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Happy 50th Birthday, Howard Mackie!

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Quick hits
Craft
Your Pshaw! For The Day
How To Ink With A Razor Blade

Exhibits/Events
TK Sujith Exhibition On-Line

History
The Age on That Spider-Man Thing
Looking Back at Terry and the Pirates

Industry
Seinen Manga Readers Poll Winner
Shonen Manga Readers Poll Winner
Piece on Graphic Novels and Kids Books

Interviews/Profiles
Comics Comics: Ed Piskor
Firefox News: Kazu Kibuishi
Complete Meal: Dean Haspiel
Inquirer.net: Filipino Comics Folk
ActuaBD.com: Charles Berberian

Not Comics
Comic Book Publishers' Websites Suck
Handelsman Brings Them Into Newsday

Publishing
Archie Sales Figures
On Working With a New Printer

Reviews
Graeme McMillan: '76
Don MacPherson: Various
Don MacPherson: Scorn #1
Brendan Fitzgerald: Achewood
Leroy Douresseaux: Aria Vol. 1
Shiva Rambali & Bravo: Various
Greg McElhatton: Papercutter #5
Don MacPherson: The Twelve #1
Jason Thompson: Manga Salad #1
Sean T. Collins: Big Questions #10
Graeme McMillan: Booster Gold #6
Michael Vance: Growing Old With BC
Koppy McFad: The Octopi and the Ocean
 

 
January 21, 2008


Newspaper Editor Jailed in Belarus for Publication of the Danish Cartoons

Aleksandr Sdvishkov, who as editor of the now-closed Zgoda weekly newspaper in Belarus reprinted the Danish Muhammed cartoons in February 2006, was sentenced in Minsk City Court on Friday to three years in a high-security prison for "incitement of religious hatred." Compounding the horror with which the decision was greeted by journalists and press advocates worldwide is that Sdvishkov wasn't indicted until November 18 of 2007 when he returned (after fleeing the initial investigation) to Belarus to attend his father's funeral, and his trial, which began a week earlier, was held behind closed doors. The decision was also condemned by a former Zgoda editor who now edits a successor newspaper Novy Chas, who noted that the defunct newspaper's staff apologized to the country's Muslim community soon after the cartoons were reprinted and the staff thought that the matter was closed.
 
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Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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I wouldn't presume to know how anyone should celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but I hope that people do. There's some talk this year that many US citizens have a hard time connecting to Dr. King and his legacy. This is surprising because as a modern figure there's so much there to which we can connect: his dreams for racial equality, his work towards social justice, his flawed character, his celebrity, his status as an icon through which we appreciate the contributions of all black Americans, his devotion to prayer, that he put into action principles he learned about and considered as a student, that he had to deal with being his father's son, that he was a husband and father himself, that he was a central figure in a movement just as if not more important for the contributions of its rank and file, and so much more. As an opportunity to reflect on modern society and so many important ideas that drive our daily living I think it should be a more important holiday than it is, and hope that more people will come around to my way of thinking.

There are some comics and comics-related things on-line:

* Ethan Persoff's posting of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story
* Sean Kleefeld presents that same comic
* Persoff's presentation of the Spanish-language version of that same comic
* Sean Kleefeld presents Golden Legacy: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
* Ho Che Anderson's site includes a look at several pages of his book King
* page for Ho Che Anderson's biography, King
* Martin Luther King, Jr. coloring page illustrations
* another coloring page
* although not comics, Dr. King has been the subject of several visual interpretations in children's picture books: here's one list containing some of the better-known examples.
* here's one such book aimed for kids, built around a visual-verbal blend
* Martin Luther King, Jr. page at Cartoonstock
* Cagle index of Martin Luther King, Jr. cartoons
* cartoon from The Black Commentator
* another cartoon from The Black Commentator
* Steve Greenberg on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
* Joel Pett on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
 
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They’ll Do It Every Time Ends in 79th Year Following the Passing of Al Scaduto

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The Connecticut Post notes that King Features Syndicates had decided not to continue the long-running panel They'll Do It Every Time after the passing of its current cartoonist, Al Scaduto, on December 8. This is slightly surprising considering that the feature still had approximately 100 clients. They'll Do It Every Time was one of the few newspaper cartoon offerings to successful brand its own humorous take -- kind of a shaken-head, half-appreciation, half-condemnation of excesses of human behavior so ingrained they seem inevitable as well as universal -- and to call on readers for material in exchange for a small credit in the panel. It was created in 1929 by cartoon juggernaut Jimmy Hatlo, was nationally syndicated starting in 1936. Bob Dunn followed Hatlo on the feature and Scaduto followed Dunn, giving the strip a strong creative continuity during its multiple decade run.

The final panel runs February 2.
 
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Go, bookmark: Salgood Sam’s Livejournal

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Go, Look: Barry Windsor-Smith Site

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I'd never been, but reading Patrick Rothfuss' book over the weekend put BWS in mind
 
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Go, Bookmark: The Gay Utopia

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I'll be running links to material on this site all week.
 
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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* the Fantagraphics PR guru Eric Reynolds writes in to say that it seems many folks have yet to adopt the new URL for Fantagraphics' blog into their RSS feeds. The above link seems weird to me, more like an item link than a general blog link, but it's what I got when I went to their new web site and clicked over via the available link.

image* speaking of Fantagraphics, I received in the mail a copy of The Comics Journal #288, the first of the reformatted issues intended to better bring the Journal to bookstores (and bring it under the beneficial influence of distributor WW Norton). I don't follow the Journal enough to know if this issue is out yet or has yet to arrive in stores, but it's a nice-looking package. In addition to the shrinkage in overall size that makes the long-running magazine look more like a literary journal, it seems like there's a paper upgrade, and the squat pages seem more amenable to holding comics art at a flattering proportion. Best of all, the box of text you can see in the accompanying image is on a sticker that can be removed. That's pretty cool. Forthcoming cover features are Robert Kirkman and a roundtable on David Michaelis' Schulz biography.

* the writer Scott Witmer e-mailed to note one more Art Spiegelman project in the midst:
McSweeneys 27 comes to you as three separate books in a windowed slipcase, presenting six different possible faces to the world, in order to best match your home decor. Book One plunges into the grayish, faintly understood area of the art world involving oddly drawn objects coupled with uncertainly spelled text. Book Two is a never-before-seen 72-page sketchbook by the legendary Art Spiegelman. Book Three collects new stories by Stephen King, Jim Shepard, and fiveish others.
Sounds good to me.

* there is still plenty of hard-to-verify, take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt buzz about changes at Wizard firing back and forth across the Internet. The latest rumor has ToyFare Senior Editor Justin Aclin and Wizard Associate Editor Eric Moya giving notice recently. According to one source's count, Wizard's total turnover in creative may be as high as 16 of 39 positions from mid-summer 2007, with an unknown percentage of those folks being replaced.

* some days I still find it weird that people are opening up major newspapers and finding reviews like this one without much or any fuss made over its presence.

* it looks like Vancouver's Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium, known in comics circles for its fight with Canadian authorities over the importation of gay-themed comic books featuring explicit imagery, is up for sale. It looks like the keys to the Mid-Ohio Con might be up for purchase as well.

image* James Sime wrote in to point out that he's been running recurring mentions on his blog of The Masked Mutant mini-comics creator Basie S, of whom Sime says:
"I thought you'd get a kick out of reading about this 7 year old mini-comic creator who is doing a really exceptional job at marketing his book and restocking my shop with copies. He's just gone into his 4th printing on his first issue and surprised me with a hilarious publicity stunt this morning to celebrate it.

He's inspired inspiring other kids to bring me comics to sell as well. It's just jaw-dropping watching this 7 year old boy understanding and actually doing a better job of promoting (and restocking) his Xerox comics than 99% of the comics industry. I'd question what this says about the industry... but am too afraid to find out the answer!
I have no comment beyond noting the whole thing is awfully cute.
 
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Happy 51st Birthday, Bob Weber, Jr.!

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Happy 52nd Birthday, Mark Martin!

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Quick hits
Exhibits/Events
Win Lunch With Mark Waid
Go See Rahim at Asian Cartoon Exhibition

History
Punch 27
Punch 28
On Thomas Rowlandson
Archie's Recent Brush With Madness
British TV on That Spider-Man Comic
Matt Maxwell on That Spider-Man Comic

Industry
Save J'Onn J'onzz!
I Hate Your Cartoon
New Store in Somerville

Interviews/Profiles
NJ.com: Kevin Friel
Overspill: Matt Smith
Overspill: Rob Williams
Strip For Me: Ian Gibson
Strip For Me: Evan Dorkin
Gothamist: Anthony Lappe
Courant.com: Steve Kuster, Matt Ryan, Steve Kanaras

Not Comics
Book of Russian Posters

Publishing
This Is Very Cute
Fight Gangs With a Comic
I Always Like These Stories
David Horsey Site Launches
E&P on Last Boondocks Book
Alert Nerd Does a Broadsheet
Ascend Coming Back From IDW
What Draws Novelists to Comic Books?
Jason Thompson Debuts Column at ComiXology

Reviews
Don MacPherson: Various
Richard Krauss: Comic Fan #1
Richard Krauss: Papercutter #6
Koppy McFad: Justice League of America #17
 

 
January 20, 2008


Five Link A Go Go

* go, read: Eric Berlatsky on Alan Moore

* go, read: excerpt from Dame Darcy screenplay

* go, read: Michael Manning on Aubrey Beardsley

* go, read: Bert Stabler on shojo

* go, read: Alexander Stewart on early animation and The Gay Utopia (not comics)
 
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FFF Results Post #105—Bliss

Five For Friday #105 Results

On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Things In Comics That Make You Happy." Here are the results.

*****

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Tom Spurgeon

1. Those scenes in 1970s and 1980s superhero comics where the heroes are on their way to a fight and have time to sit around and solemnly contemplate the adventures just ahead.
2. Whenever Gorgon talks in Barnaby
3. Arcade, world's least cost-efficient assassin (phrase TM Gil Roth)
4. Herb Trimpe's Hulk Covers
5. That Tom Toles cartoon where he kidney-punched the proposed Disney historical park by drawing Goofy into that photo of the kids running away from napalm.

*****

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Richard Thompson

1. That incredibly kind introduction to the interview.
2. Whenever Albert the Alligator shows up in Pogo.
3. Hobbes turning into a poker-faced stuffed toy in the presence of adults.
4. Reading a stack of the old British Viz magazines late one night years ago and just about suffocating with laughter.
5. The way every line Herriman ever drew looks like it would go twang like a banjo string if plucked.

*****
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Daniel Mata

1) A killer cloud that randomly shoots people
2) Jim Steranko's romance comics
3) 1960's and '70s Jimmy Olsen
4) Judge Dredd
5) Crazy Jean Loring

*****

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Charles Hatfield

1. Bernice, the African whiffle hen
2. Coconino landscapes
3. Ditko hands
4. Lockjaw
5. "If you were really hardcore, you would have thrown a full bottle."

*****

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Patrick Dean

1) The old World's Finest Comics covers from the 40's. Batman, Robin, and Superman ignoring crime and looking like they're enjoying a loopy Sunday afternoon off. I think Superman and Batman planting a "Victory Garden" is in DC continuity and should be addressed.
2) Hercules running amok and living it up in New York City in '60s Thor comics. The guy's grinning from ear to ear in practically every panel.
3) The scenes in Peanuts strips where the characters are safe and warm in bed and reflecting on the day. Charlie Brown's quilt looks like it's the coziest thing in the world.
4) Superman going out of his way to pull elaborate pranks on Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane just to teach them some lesson he could've expressed without moving planets/thinking they're turning into werewolves/faking a death/etc.
5) The cabin Rick Jones lives in out in the middle of the desert. If he ever sells that place, I want to move in.

*****

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James Langdell

1. Covers where characters are interacting with the logos.
2. Obscure joke in additional headlines on a drawing of a newspaper's front page.
3. A series of silent panels with a big payoff (like the Justice League scene with the punchline "What does that cat find so interesting about a toilet bowl?").
4. Anything by Walt Kelly, including (to my surprise) Our Gang.
5. Seeing the name of someone I know in a letter column, back when that really seemed to mean something (and back when there were letter columns in comics).

*****

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Eric Knisley

1. "Calculus Cat" by Hunt Emerson. Any story, any panel, any line of dialogue.
2. The first ten issues of "Love and Rockets".
3. Krazy Kat's pronunciation of "little darling".
4. Popeye's bowlegged strut
5. The way Frank Quitely draws chins.

*****

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Sean Kleefeld

1. Those stupid jokes and insults Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm used to shoot back and forth regularly.
2. Any Don Martin comic.
3. Any time I hear that an older comic master (John Romita, Joe Sinnott, etc.) comes out of retirement to do a new story because they thought it would be fun to do just one more.
4. Self-deprecating cameo appearances of the Marvel Bullpen in the comic stories themselves.
5. Groo.

*****

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Tony Collett

1) New comics day on Wednesday. There's nothing like seeing all the new books that came out that day.
2) Previews catalog every month. It's like getting the Sears Wish Book, but every month instead of around Christmas time. It sometimes doesn't live up to the hype, but before you first look at it, there's the anticipation.
3) Finding a book you've been looking for marked down a lot lower than the retail price you'd be more than happy to pay.
4) The online presence of comics fandom. Whether it's a news source, someone in comics, fans talking about what's on their minds, there's a few that pop up when you think about them.
5) That there's a lot of the classic stuff (Walt and Skeezix, Terry and the Pirates, etc) and newer classics (Peanuts, Grimjack, etc.) that's being collected and in such high quality.

*****

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Shannon Smith

* The way John Romita (Sr.) drew the ladies. Especially their hair.
* The way Dan DeCarlo drew the ladies. Especially their hands.
* The way Carmine Infantino drew anything.
* The smell. Old newsprint smells great but a lot of newer books smell good too. The Best American Comics 2007 book smelled great. Most of D&Q's books smell really good.
* That a comic book could either be about a guy fighting cosmic threats in tights or about the Holocaust or about some mid-western kid's sexual insecurities and it would still just be a "funny book" to my dad. I take a lot of comfort in the fact that the average person has no idea what is going on in these things I'm reading.

*****

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John Vest

1. The Thing's expressive face when Jack Kirby drew him.
2. Little Orphan Annie's companionship with Sandy.
3. Mr. Tawky Tawny.
4. El Borbah's slang in Hard-Boiled Defective Stories.
5. Claude Funston's conversations with Zippy and Griffy.

*****

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Christopher Duffy

1. When superheroes (especially the Thing and Nick Fury) play poker.
2. When Wimpy cons anyone.
3. When the over-affectionate dog Woofy in "Mutts" pins Mooch the cat and covers him with licks.
4. When Gyro Gearloose's helper does almost anything in a Carl Barks comic.
5. There's this Quality Comics hero called the Jester who was in Smash Comics I think. He has a rubber ball with a face on it (and it might be attached to a string, and it may have a string attached to it too), and the ball's name is Quinopolis. You know this because once per story he refers to the ball by name while hurling it at some bad guy, tripping him or knocking a gun from his hand. It usualy goes something like "Quinopolis thinks you're being rude." I like that.

*****

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Matthew Wave

1) The moment in Ghost World where Enid sits down on the sidewalk.
2) Superhero stories in which not a single person dies (or perhaps that is relief rather than happiness...).
3) Alex Toth's work printed in black and white (tho I'll take it in color).
4) The Golden Age Red Tornado.
5) Every damn line drawn by Francesca Ghermandi.

*****

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Leif Jones

1. The lack of sound.
2. Anything drawn by Dave Cooper
3. Hand lettering.
4. Jim Woodring's Frank.
5. Word balloons that just contain a question mark or an exclamation mark.

*****

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Fred Hembeck

1. Any 1964 Marvel Comic written by Stan Lee, penciled by Jack Kirby, and (here's the secret key to my bliss) inked by Chic Stone.
2. Either going on vacation (especially to Mexico or Hollywood) or waking up Christmas morning with Dennis Mitchell and his family, courtesy of travel agents Fred Toole and Al Wiseman.
3. Watching Tubby Tompkins -- aka The Spider -- successfully pin the blame on Mr. Moppet (Lulu's dad) for a seemingly endless list of petty crimes and misdemeanors EVERY SINGLE TIME!!
4. Witnessing love bloom behind a desk on the floor of the Daily Bugle editorial offices between a bespeckled Peter Parker and a smitten Betty Brant, long before it all went tragically sour...
5. Jimmy Olsen discovering, after an adventure wherein the freckle-faced cub reporter went undercover dressed as a woman to nab a crime boss, that the one thing he learned from the whole crazy escapade was that he really, REALLY liked taking bubble baths!!

*****

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Jeff Parker

1. All Weisenger-era DC comics, but mainly a Jimmy Olsen where he became Brainiac's pal instead of Superman's and Brainiac gave him a smiling photo of himself. This is on the first page, I may be able to find it.
2. The mere mention of "Little Iodine."
3. Strips that end with characters falling off panel, ie all Archies prior to 1968. Exception: Sad Sack, which was statistically incapable of producing humor.
4. Any time Yiddish hatred is vented at J. Wellington Wimpy in Segar's POPEYE.
5. That Kliban cartoon. You know the one.

*****

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Stergios Botzakis, Ph.D

1. Yotsuba&!
2. Marvel Annuals from the 1980's where they had done-in-one, enjoyable stories (like the Art Adams X-Men ones, the Alan Davis New Mutants Annual #3, and Web of Spider-man Annual #2, with Warlock!)
3. Cromartie High School
4. The Ambush Bug History of the DC Universe
5. Jughead's hat

*****

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Jason Michelitch

I might have gone to town a little bit on this one... most of my bliss comes from really specific moments, though.

1. The Julie Schwartz jokes from AMBUSH BUG NOTHING SPECIAL, including but not limited to the page on which a xeroxed photo of Schwartz rants to the reader about how the Editor is the only important person in the comic-book process, and in the process his head slowly rolls off his shoulders and away.
2. The silver-age Superman story in which Batman breaks into the Fortress of Solitude and plays terrifying mind-games with Superman for days under the guise of giving him a puzzle to solve as an anniversary-of-landing-from-Krypton present.
3. In MAGE, how worked up Edsel gets at Kevin Matchstick when he makes fun of her car, an Edsel, and how sheepish he is in response.
4. The B-plot in the Stern/Byrne Captain America run where a group of people run Cap for President without asking him and he ends up giving a speech refusing out of a sense of principle to his role as a symbol.
5. "Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures."

*****

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Kristy Valenti

1. The covers for the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service series
2. Comics from the 1800s or early 20th century with jokes that are just as funny today as when they were first created
3. Anthologies with tables of contents and page numbers. Indicia with all of the copyright information, the "official" name of the book and a proper fair use blurb
4. The way that Jack Kirby drew the Hulk; Ditko's Green Goblin
5. Historical and/or cultural endnotes

*****

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Scott Dunbier

1) Dan DeCarlo Betty & Veronica stories from the 50s.
2) Wally Wood EC Science Fiction covers.
3) So Many Splendid Sunday's--the greatest collection of Little Nemo pages by Winsor McCay, finally in a format worthy of the material.
4) Calvin & Hobbes
5) Tie: Fantastic Four #51 (This Man This Monster) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott/Daredevil #7 (Daredevil vs. Submariner) by Stan Lee & Wally Wood

*****

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Evan Dorkin

1) Bill Elder crowd scenes
2) Whenever Segar's Popeye is shot multiple times, proclaims he's dying, and then recovers
3) Skeezix as a baby doing baby Skeezix stuff
4) Batman and Robin's nervous reaction whenever Bat-Mite appears
5) "Good lord...choke!"

*****

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Don MacPherson

1. Those one-paragraph bios of the starring heroes in DC's team-up books of the 1970s and 1980s (DC Comics Presents and The Brave and the Bold). As a young, new reader, those little opening captions would tell me what I needed to know about characters who were new to me. DC has brought them back in a few titles, notably in the new Brave and the Bold.
2. Zatanna's backward spells.
3. Potentially offensive stories that can be told only in comics rather than any other pop-culture medium since comics tend to fly under the radar (Ennis and Dillon's Preacher comes to mind).
4. Ambush Bug.
5. Marvel's assistant editor's months during the 1980s.

*****

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Matt Maxwell

1) The Starjammers.
2) Clark Kent as appearing in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN.
3) Guy Davis' monsters. Any of them.
4) Jack Kirby eyeball closeups.
5) Silent panels from Marvel Comics up until the mid-80s. Always a surprise.

*****

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Sean T. Collins

1) Changing the color scheme of a superhero costume
2) The Hernandez Brothers' jumpcuts
3) That shot from The Dark Knight Returns when Batman pops out of his tank and he's all excited to rumble with the Mutant Leader
4) The sex scene in Hans Rickheit's Chloe
5) Teratoid Heights

*****

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Matthew Springer

1. The smell. Whether it's the muskier newer stuff or the sweet sweet acidic mold growing in old newsprint.
2. Double-page spreads.
3. Phone-book sized black-and-white reprints of stuff originally printed thirty years before I was born.
4. Quarter bins.
5. Jim Aparo's Batman.

*****

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Michael Nicolai

1. Stories about Golden/Silver Age superheroes that are set in their time period of origin (DC's New Frontier, The Golden Age, Martian Manhunter: American Secrets, etc)
2. Tearing the plastic off one of those giant weekly phonebooks that Japanese kids get their comics in and finding stickers, stationary and other little extras stuffed inside like a pinata.
3. The better part of an afternoon spent foraging in quarter bins.
4. Phillipe's Friday Facts.
5. Knowing that I'll never be able to read every great comic that comes out. I'll take flood over famine any day.

*****

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Chris Marshall

1. The smell of a brand new DC Archive Edition
2. Trying to piece together Punisher continuity
3. The funny banter between Human Torch and Spider-Man
4. All the extras in the Absolute Sandman editions
5. Anything Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale do as a team

*****

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Russell Lissau

1. Tim Sale drawing Catwoman. Or Poison Ivy. Yesssssssssss. The greeeeeeeeeeeen.
2. Cliffhanger endings that are so exciting, you can't WAIT until 30 days pass and you go to the shop and get your hands on the rest of the story.
3. The Umbrella Academy. The story, the art, the way it's disproved all the critics who slammed the book because of its famous writer even before the marvelous first issue hit.
4. Books like 100 Bullets, the Walking Dead and Criminal that are more than happy to turn the medium on its ear.
5. The Batcave. I love writing scenes in the cave. I love reading scenes in the cave. It is a character in and of itself.

*****

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Frank Santoro

* Kirby machinery (all)
* Beto drawn female thighs and asses (all)
* Richard Corben ad in Price Guide 1978
* Lynn Varley colors on Ronin
* Gary Panter: Cola Madnes pool scene

*****

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Rod DiManna

1. Whenever Reggie Mantle laughs 'Yok Yok Yok'
2. Anytime Charlie Brown says that his stomach hurts.
3. Buddy Bradley having a meltdown.
4. The Talking Blob stories in old Cracked Magazines.
5. Groo fight scenes.

*****

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Mike Manley

* Steve Ditko's expressive hands
* Jack Kirby
* zip-a-tone
* Old Warren magazines
* Hostess Fruit Pie Ads

*****

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Dustin Harbin

1. Any time -- and EVERY time -- I "turn on" to someone's work (usually years after everyone else), realizing I have to immediately RUN DON'T WALK and find everything I can by that person. Recent examples include Jonathan Bennett, Eleanor Davis, and Scott Campbell.
2. Re-reading the same stack of falling-to-pieces Richie Rich comics I owned as a kid, recently discovered by my mother in the attic, and remembering exactly how it felt to reread them over and over when I was ten.
3. Having my faith in comics, which is tested sorely each and every day, especially Wednesdays, rekindled by something good. For instance, Chris Pitzer -- what a nice guy! If only Ultimates 3 and "One More Day" could have been as good as Chris Pitzer.
4. Last year's SPX -- the best time I've ever had at a comic book convention, hands down. Not included: post-SPX hangover.
5. The recent increase in quality all over the place in comics. Especially: increased translated stuff (Ignatz/Coconino, :01, Pantheon), increased cool stuff (Beasts!, MOME, cloth-backed reprints), increased strips (Popeye!).

*****

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Loris Z

1. The sense of wonder, the overall wackyness in old superhero comics. I was lucky enough that my first exposure to the genre was with the old material at a very young age, so instead of reading Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man, I was reading Lee & Ditko's.
2. Minicomics and independents.
3. The sheer insanity of authors like Francois Boucq.
4. The smell of a new comic coming out of a printer/photocopier.
5. The medium itself. For it has this vast, untapped potential.

*****

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David Brothers

1. Iron Fist kicking a Hydra agent through a train
2. Discovering, or rediscovering, a talented artist
3. Jubilation "Jubilee" Lee
4. Hardcover reprints of comics
5. Every single Calvin & Hobbes strip

*****

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Eric Reynolds

1. Little Orphan Annie (in Harold Gray's hands)
2. Anything drawn by Jaime Hernandez
3. Mr. O'Malley's dialogue
4. Charles Burns' feathering
5. A new Eightball

*****

Thanks to all that participated. Be on the lookout for the next Five For Friday.
 
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Happy 58th Birthday, Keith Pollard!

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First Thought of the Day

Sometimes I think the only way to get more stuff done is to take even more stuff on.
 
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January 19, 2008


If I Were In Michigan, I’d Go To This

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If I Were In DC, I’d Go To This

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CR Week In Review

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The top comics-related news stories from January 12 to January 18:

1. Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant brought up in front of Alberta Human Rights Commission for publishing the Danish cartoons in his publication back in 2006; he's not happy about it.

2. The temporary hybrid new/old version of FBoFW wasn't intended to last forever; end may be closer than we think.

3. The retailer group ComicsPRO releases a position paper on pre-sales of comics by publishers before they're available in the DM. They're against it.

Winner Of The Week
Johanna Schipper

Loser Of The Week
Traditional, decades-long stability on the local comics page.

Quote Of The Week
"A mere profiterole to the fabulous layer cakes of Porto and Buenos Aires, but the Secret Headquarters more than holds its own." -- Sean Dodson

this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
 
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Happy 60th Birthday, Joe Staton!

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Happy 53rd Birthday, Tom Yeates!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Frank Cammuso!

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January 18, 2008


Five For Friday #105—Bliss

Five For Friday #105 -- Name Five Things in Comics That Make You Happy

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1. Those scenes in 1970s and 1980s superhero comics where the heroes are on their way to a fight and have time to sit around and solemnly contemplate the adventures just ahead.
2. Whenever Gorgon talks in Barnaby
3. Arcade, world's least cost-efficient assassin
4. Herb Trimpe's Hulk Covers
5. That Tom Toles cartoon where he kidney-punched the proposed Disney historical park by drawing Goofy into that photo of the kids running away from napalm.

*****

This Subject Is Now Closed. Thanks To All That Participated.

*****
Five For Friday is a reader response feature. To play, send a response while it's still Friday. Play fair. Responses up Sunday morning.
 
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ComicsPRO Releases A Position Paper On Convention Sales of Comic Books

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Via an e-mail from Joe Field of ComicsPRO comes what is presented as the text for a position paper on the phenomenon of publishers selling comic books at conventions and shows before they're made available in the Direct Market.
Issue Presented:
Direct Market retailers purchase their inventory under a non-returnable arrangement. With very few exceptions, Direct Market retailers are obligated to pay for the material they purchase from a wholesaler, regardless of their ability to ultimately sell that material. This non-returnable arrangement is one of the cornerstones of the current distribution system.

Some Direct Market-oriented publishers gain a significant portion of their sales from direct-to-consumer sales at conventions and other fan-driven gatherings. ComicsPRO acknowledges that publishers should have access to as many revenue streams as possible in order to become and remain profitable. ComicsPRO asserts that direct-to-consumer sales of material prior to their release to retailers adversely affects potential sales in Direct Market stores belonging to our membership. When customers have already purchased products directly from a publisher before the retail channel is even able to stock these items, the cash flow and bottom lines of Direct Market retailers are noticeably impacted.

Market Efficiency
In order for a market to function efficiently, all market participants should have equivalent access to the goods offered. If one or more participants has early access to market offerings, all other participants in that market are affected, whether through realization of full sales potential, or from less tangible concerns including reduced consumer confidence in a product line or a manufacturer.

Convention Sales
Conventions, even regional ones, will have national sales impacts. East Coast-based customers frequently travel to West Coast conventions (and vice-versa). It should not be assumed that sales impacts are limited to the region where the event is hosted.

Request for Action:
ComicsPRO requests that publishers refrain from selling direct-to-consumers in any manner until the same product is received and available for sale by all members involved in Direct Market retailing.
You know, I'm all about ComicsPRO, but this is a terrible paper.

1. It doesn't stake out a new position or provide any explanation for the informally existing position that isn't already widely known among the people to whom it's directed.

2. As direct convention sales have been around for a number of years now, and retailers have complained every year, the lack of any numbers on the point of sales lost even on a limited case, limited store basis, as a side paper or a resource even, makes it look like a phantom issue.

3. As much as you can assert a compact exists between stores and publishers on the basis of non-returnability, most publishers who participate in convention sales can assert the retailers as a group haven't held their end up of any such compact by the group's almost complete lack of interest in their product. Many publishers feel that the majority of their show sales go to people who are not served by comics shops. Without any evidence to the contrary, why shouldn't they?

4. Personally, I think the position paper barks up the wrong tree. No one owes any specific market fealty. Adopting the position paper would almost certainly have a drastic effect on certain publishers' bottom line, if their public rhetoric is to be believed, for nothing in the way of concrete reward by a neglectful, sometimes disdainful retailing community. A position paper that relies on the idea that retailer are owed something here might bolster ComicsPRO's position among the rank and file, but it isn't going to convince anyone of anything. One compromise that might be more fruitful to pursue is asking that companies declare or otherwise communicate their intention to sell a book in other channels, or ahead of a drop date, so that orders could be adjusted if someone really thinks advance availability is going to cost them sales.
 
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Please Go Listen To Me On Inkstuds

I was on the radio show Inkstuds yesterday. I show up late and I'm not sure I bring much to the table, but I love listening to Dan Nadel and Jeet Heer talk about comics, and the hosts are pretty whip-smart, too.

imageOne thing that I was thinking about after the show is my inability to get back in the swing of writing about comics in this new year, which to a certain extent comes down to a lack of conviction that I have anything useful to say about comics right now. I wonder sometimes if I have a sharp enough, fully-realized enough view of the art form to be as specific and discerning as I need to be when it comes to fashioning an initial take on the comics I'm confronting. In short, I think I may like too many comics. This was an advantage ten years ago when liking a lot of comics allowed one to string together the best works from a lot of places into the most positive face for a struggling art form. It was easier to make those individual distinctions back then because good comics were so much more rare and thus stood out with greater clarity against the heaving background of awfulness that was the art form.

Now a lot more comics are at least good, indicating that a primary task of the critic working at this historical moment should be to make consistent distinctions between good work and excellent work. That's a very specific skill set, and I'm not sure the old one applies. One obvious solution, and one I've seen other writers embrace, is simply ratchet things up, force oneself to become more discerning and change one's language to reflect a new, stricter standard. However, shitting on books that ten years ago I would have been writing Hit List entries to support seems like an abandonment of a core value of reacting to art: an honest engagement with each work. In the end, the only to do is either quit or jump back in and do the work and learn to read more effectively and develop those muscles, and the latter is what I'll do. Still, it's a curious thing to criticize an art form that's doing a lot more of what you wanted it to do when you first started criticizing it.

Please don't think that any of this self-indulgent kind of nonsense makes it onto the fine InkStuds show, where we talk about art and perception and comics' history with the same.
 
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Go, Look: Virgil Partch’s Wild Women

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Go, Look: Dan Nadel & Frank Santoro


 
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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* the Thought Balloonists blog unpacks another one of its features -- close readings of individual comics pages -- with a look at a page from Carol Tyler.

image* Whenever Disney intersects with comics you usually end up with a few long articles, usually from the Disney side of the equation. I enjoyed this article on the nearly three-decade life of the Uncle Remus strip.

* this profile of Louise and Walt Simonson should be read if only for Louise's succinct take on comics' cyclical popularity.

* the editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett holds forth in a Tennessee business magazine whose logo makes it hard for me to figure out exactly what it's called on a variety of issue: his own surprising move from Boston to Chattanooga, what papers need to do to get readers back, how the Internet has changed everything. Solid, smart responses from Bennett.

* the writer Dave Astor surveys a bunch of white cartoonists about a move that black syndicated cartoonists will make next month to satirize and therefore draw attention to how they're perceived and purchased as "black strips" above and beyond any of their individual merits. I'm kind of with Mark Tatulli on this one, but I'm sympathetic to the idea and the effort.

* I know, I know, it's cretinous: Bobby Fischer on historietas.
 
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Happy 46th Birthday, Mike Lynch!

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Happy 36th Birthday, Scott Mills!

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Quick hits
Exhibits/Events
E&P On Jeff Parker Show

History
AP on That Spider-Man Thing
First Korean Newspaper Comic: 1909
James Brown Enjoys Werewolf By Night

Industry
I Hate Your Cartoon
E&P on Webcomics Story
Snapshot of Manga In France

Interviews/Profiles
CBR: Chris Ryall
ComiXology: Marty Links
Dallas Voice: Abby Denson
Newsarama: Pascal Blanchet

Not Comics
Tokyopop as Part of Japan Cool
New Virtual World Blog From CR Pal

Publishing
Marketing Your Work
Supernatural Tie-In Comic Continuing
Winston-Salem Adds Pearls Before Swine
Thomas Nelson Doing Ted Dekker GN Series

Reviews
David Welsh: Various
Saori Kan: Death Note
Chris Mautner: Various
Deb Aoki: Hollow Fields
Brent Sprecher: Hulk #1
Erik Hinton: Life, In Pictures
Jason A. Swiker: Black Hole
Avi Weinryb: Banks/Eubanks
RJ Carter: Our Gods Wear Spandex
Alasdair Stuart: Slaine: Warrior's Dawn
 

 
January 17, 2008


The Best Sort-Of Tangentially Comics-Related Thing You’ll Read All Day

From the obituary of Brice Mack, a noted Disney background artist, occasional magazine cartoonist, the president of a small studio that employed many Disney 1941 strike refugees, and a live-action director late in his career who recently passed away:
"Along with cartoonist pals Dick Shaw and Virgil Partch, Mack threw notorious parties, once aboard a train car loaded onto a barge in route to Catalina Island. Another time, they put wheels on a character boat and drove it Las Vegas, where a crane lowered it into the pool at the Sands hotel. In 1961, they partied on the last Red Car ride from Los Angeles to Long Beach while animator Ward Kimball played with his Dixieland jazz band, The Firehouse Five Plus Two."
I don't like to romanticize the social interactions of cartoonists, but the thought of tossing a few back with Virgil Partch on a boat on the pool at the Sands holds a lot of appeal.
 
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CBLDF Benefit Party for Y The Last Man Conclusion; CBLDF Ups Its Party Profile

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) has announced that MySpace Comic Books and Meltdown Comics will throw a party on the occasion of recent Vertigo stalwart Y The Last Man's last issue. On hand will be writer Brian K. Vaughan, artist Pia Guerra and toastmaster Joss Whedon. Noting that the CBLDF seems to be increasing the number of parties it does outside of conventions, I asked CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein if there were specific advantages to this kind of fund raiser. "In general, we're finding that properly planned special events are a good way to augment our fund raising on top of conventions and premiums, while also involving a different group of supporters than you'd necessarily meet in a convention context," he replied. "This is especially important in the stretch of months when there isn't a convention to bring in the money to pay the legal bills that keep coming in."

imageBrownstein further suggests that such social events have PR and social networking advantages above and beyond traditional auctions and through-a-booth fund raising. "One of the goals we all had when we moved to New York was making the Fund a bigger part of the cultural life of comics, first in New York, and then across the country. This is a goal because it helps us to interact with a wider range of our supporters, and to introduce the Fund's work to people who wouldn't have otherwise known about it. Beyond the comics press, our events have been written up in Wired, Boing*Boing, PW, New York Magazine, and a host of other outlets where their readership wouldn't necessarily have heard about the Fund.

"Beyond PR, though, these events really engage the community that makes the Fund what it is, and bring home what the Fund is fighting for in a visceral way. Our mission, of course, is to pay for the defense of Free Expression in the comics medium, but we also have a mandate to educate people about the First Amendment issues comics face. Sometimes the best way to do that is to rally people around the celebration of Free Expression as manifested in the comics they love, because that can illustrate how lucky we are to live in a country that sanctifies Free Speech in its Constitution and why that is something worth fighting for."

Y: The Last Party is scheduled for February 8.
 
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Your 2007 Day Prize Nominees

imageAs released in this post, which includes direct order information:

* Skull Pen #1, Robert James Algeo
* Mr. Big, Matt & Carol Dembicki
* W.Y.S.I.W.Y.G Technical Pamphlet, Ed Piskor
* The Ineffables: Political Science, Craig Bogart
* Victims at the End of the World, Rickey Gonzales
* Day Break Vol. 1, Brian Ralph

A winner will be announced in February.
 
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Jacob Zuma Sues Newspaper One Day After Settling; Cartoon Suits Still Pending

This article is one of a few on the wires today describing a recent pair of developments in South African politician Jacob Zuma's $9 million (USD) suite of defamation lawsuits against a number of newspapers: he settled out of court with one paper over a lingering charge, and then turned around and sued them for something else the very next day. This would indicate that Zuma will be quite determined to seek legal satisfaction against those papers where cartoons were at issue. Unless I have the math or the attribution wrong, the newspaper employing the world-renowned cartoonist Zapiro is being sued for almost $2 million (USD) total for three such cartoons.
 
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Go, Look: Various Posters for the SUPERTRASH Show Begin To Pop Up

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Joseph Cross, Tom Neely, Alex Holden, Jim Rugg, Mathew Grigsby; show information here
 
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OTBP: Invincible Summer

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Go, Look: Photos From “Rebel Vision” Exhibit at Fantagraphics’ Flickr Page

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* the cartoonists Ted Rall and Matt Bors are going after Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart for crossing the WGA picket line, but they want you to feel as bad as possible about their cartoons, so they've announced their intentions in a press release.

* from deep in Amish country comes news that the Lancaster, Pennsylvania location of Captain Blue Hen Comics has moved from normal operations into a kind of periodic opening for sales phase, one supposes to burn through as much stock as possible before closing (Larry's on Devon in Chicago enjoyed a similar half-life before it shut its doors).

imageOne of the few places to buy comics in Lancaster in the 1990s, Captain Blue Hen was famous in my family for 1) having a deeply stocked ten cent room, and 2) having the scariest looking front facade of any comic shop in history. Captain Blue Hen was in the basement of a church, and its front door to the side and back of the main building barely announced its existence, going for a the kind of three steps down into a shady front stoop and perhaps into a lurking serial killer's hands feel that you used to see in TV movies starring Andy Griffith or Eric Baden. CR pal Chris Mautner says that the look and ambiance of the 10-cent room has overtaken the entire store for its last throes phase, so fun times for all. Goodbye, Captain Blue Hen. I never felt braver to enter a comics shop.

* the great Dave Astor reports that the Christian Science Monitor has narrowed down its replacement list for Clay Bennett to 12 candidates. Bennett leaving CSM to join the staff of the Times Free Press in Chattanooga was one of the surprise moves of the last year. The article notes that staff cartoonist Brian Barling has been providing the paper with cartoons in the interim, buttressing the paper's use of syndicated cartoonists.

pictured: one of a couple hundred comics I bought at Captain Blue Hen's infamous 10-cent room
 
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Happy 75th Birthday, Roger Leloup!

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Happy 51st Birthday, Ann Nocenti!

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Quick hits
Exhibits/Events
Go See Unseen David B
Gillray Exhibit Previewed
Go Spy On Herge Museum
Go See Jeff Parker's Exhibit
Mike Lynch Visits the European Cartoon Center

History
FOXNews on That Spider-Man Thing

Industry
Go Apply For Scholarships
Graphic Novels Are Popular

Interviews/Profiles
OPB: Jan Eliot
Dwell: Chip Kidd
CBR: Tom DeFalco
PWCW: Nickelodeon
This Headline Kills Me
Newsarama: Mike Bullock
Newsarama: Kazu Kibuishi
Panels and Pixels: Brian Wood
Trekweb: Andrew Steven Harris
Occasional Superheroine: Miss Lasko-Gross, Kevin Colden

Not Comics
Missed It: Brad Renfro, RIP
Go, Listen: Dennis the Menace

Publishing
It's Good To Be Paul Gilligan
About the Cloverfield Tie-In Manga
Mister Wonderful Keeps Rolling Along
Dark Horse Publishes More Serenity Comics

Reviews
Jog: Wally's World
Graeme McMillan: Various
Charles Yoakum: Local #8
Jillian Steinhauer: Fishtown
John Jakala's Daughter: Gon
Greg Burgas: Wolverine #61
Sean T. Collins: The Last Call Vol. 1
Mark Stoddard: Mighty Avengers #7
Henry Chamberlain: Stuck In The Middle
Greg McElhatton: Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief's Tale
Douglas Wolk: Up, Up, and Oy Vey!, Disguised as Clark Kent

 

 
January 16, 2008


This Isn’t A Library: New and Notable Release to the Comics Direct Market

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*****

Here are those books that jump out at me from this week's probably mostly accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.

I might not buy all of the following -- I might not buy any -- but were I in a comic book shop I would likely pick up the following and look them over, potentially resulting in mean words and hurt feelings when my retailer objected.

*****

I just noticed that all of the comics I've pulled out have dates in their Diamond codes ranging from May '07 to November '07. That can't be good.

MAY071848 FELL #9 $1.99
It's been a while since we've seen one of these, which is too bad in that I think it was just beginning to find its feet in the last two issues.

OCT072100 IMMORTAL IRON FIST #12 $2.99
NOV070047 UMBRELLA ACADEMY APOCALYPSE SUITE #5 (OF 6) $2.99
This week's major superhero titles of seeming specific interest for fans that buy a wide variety of discriminating material. An no, I couldn't defend that statement in nerd court. I enjoy the first series enough to pick up new issues if I can when I'm in the same town as a comic book shop, and haven't quite caught up with the second despite its growing chorus of fans.

NOV072234 ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA TP VOL 01 NEW PTG $16.99
OCT070251 DOOM PATROL TP VOL 06 PLANET LOVE $19.99
I like the superhero comics reprinted here, for very different reasons. The first offers up a lot of short stories drawn by Jack Kirby and solid veterans drawing like Jack Kirby: they're straight-forward, energetic and fun, with stand-outs featuring Batroc the Leaper back when he was just as loopy and a lot less tired and a George Tuska-drawn story of giant robot "Sleepers" that haunted my childhood. The Doom Patrol stuff is I think late-period Grant Morrison on the title, after a bit of the steam had left the title but still highly amusing.

NOV073422 BONE COLOR ED HC VOL 07 GHOST CIRCLES $19.99
NOV073421 BONE COLOR ED SC VOL 07 GHOST CIRCLES $9.99
These are really pretty, almost unfairly so given that the series was originally intended for black and white.

OCT073509 MOME GN VOL 10 $14.95
This has been lingering for a while before showing up in the shops; a solid issue that shows off the second wave of talent editors Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds have brought on board the anthology.

OCT073919 GYO GN VOL 02 (2ND EDITION) (MR) $9.99
This is the best of the manga serial volumes out this week.

SEP073637 INSOMNIA #3 $7.95
I think this one may end the series; like most of the Ignatz titles, it's quite pretty.

OCT073506 LAST MUSKETEER SC $12.95
A new Jason book, more and more an event with every title. Very few industry partnerships have been as consistently entertaining as Fantagraphics' long roll-out of Jason's comics.

SEP070037 GROO HELL ON EARTH #3 (OF 4) $2.99
I haven't seen this yet; is it good?

*****

The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry.

To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, try this.

The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock.

If I didn't list your new comic, you're welcome to assume the worst of me, but it's likely I just missed it. I am not a good person.
 
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Go, Look: YALSA’s Just-Released Graphic Novels For Teens List, 2008

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* Top Ten List
* Full List of 43 Titles

I don't have any entry point into a discussion as to what's appropriate for teens and what isn't -- I don't even have myself as a teenager, as my own reading in comics and prose was wide open at this point -- but looking at the list of 43 there were 11 books on there that I liked of the 30 or so I'd read, which isn't a bad ratio for this kind of thing.
 
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A Few, Brief Objections to George Khoury’s Article on 1990s Turmoil

To launch a new column at CBR, the writer George Khoury has posted an essay culled from a book he wrote about Image Comics. That short essay describes in summary fashion the trauma, much of it self-inflicted, that beset the American comic book industry in the 1990s. One of its aims seems to have been to mitigate against the primacy of Image's role in causing the industry's decline in the second half of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, which isn't surprising considering how the piece was first used in a book about the company. As a portion of Image history, it may read differently than it does as the general industry history it becomes in this new context. It's certainly the best recent thing on the subject of comics' last bout with ugliness that I've read on-line, at least that I can recall this morning. That understood, based on my initial reading I have some objections to the history as presented in Khoury's piece.

1. Some of the general history feels less than authoritative, particularly in terms of tracking cause and effect.
I'm sympathetic to anyone having to make strong decisions in order to create readable comics history, but in this case it seems like too many things are left out that may have made some arguments untenable or may have provided alternative to some of the causative links. For example, both Marvel and DC engineered events before Image Comics came on the scene; it's just as easy to argue the most severe examples of that publishing phenomenon as the culmination of a cycle that began back when Todd McFarlane was drawing fan art for The Comics Journal as it is to suggest it as something that happened in order for the companies to better compete with Image. Ditto various publishing stunts and line expansions. I'd argue that while the success of Batman material had a big effect on the shape and size of the DM experiment, so did things like the outcome of the black and white implosion, the growing consolidation of retail distribution, the growth of publishing across the board in terms of number of offering, the fall of first generation indy publishers and the nature of how the big companies partnered with their comic shop outlets. These are all missing. Some of the arguments that are presented work at cross-purposes: mid-'90s Marvel is accused of both not having any stars and not promoting their stars. I think the general historical through-line could have been more sophisticated than Seuling-Batman-Collapse, and made for better history.

image2. A flimsy case is built against Marvel as 1990s Big Bad.
I can't believe I'm in a position where I have to defend 1990s Marvel, or any of the magnificently stupid decisions they made that helped put them into bankruptcy, but I disagree with a few of Khoury's characterizations. For one, Marvel bought Fleer in 1992, before the decline that Khoury argues drove them to start buying card companies. Khoury asserts that the aim in Marvel's acquisition period was to combine and corner the hype. Now, I'm not even sure what that means, but the general thinking of the time was that it was just as much straight-up overpayment, a failure of those individual markets, and Marvel's overestimation of a non-movie-driven Marvel brand that screwed Marvel, not the collapse of some combined PR enterprise I'm not aware of happening. For another, "desperation" hardly drove Marvel to buy Heroes World, at least not according to what I could see covering the industry at the time; they were still overpaying for companies at that point and planning restaurants and crowing about their industry dominance. It seemed more like arrogance than desperation. Desperation would come later, for sure. I'd need to hear more evidence that Marvel was scrambling at this point despite their public stances and outward behavior for me to find it credible. Khoury doesn't go so far as some pundits who foist the horrors of that entire period on Marvel's bankruptcy and Marvel's bankruptcy alone, for which I'm glad. But a better case needed to be made that Marvel was first among many indictable souls than Chuck Rozanski's awesomely laugh-out-loud, damning characterization of Marvel's men in suits.

3. Some of the quotes are weird.
Technically, Marvel's distribution arm wasn't just carrying itself; it also carried Bongo, for instance, so I have no idea why Steve Geppi says Heroes World was only carrying Marvel. That's a quibble, though; in the sense of companies that matter, you can say it was an all-Marvel deal. More confusingly, I don't have any idea what Geppi is talking about when he says that Marvel didn't have enough volume to justify nationwide distribution. Distribution was only a few years removed from viable companies that carried much less volume than mid-1990s Marvel. The issue discussed at the time wasn't volume but certainty of coverage: every comic shop in America would conceivably want Marvel comics, so they were covered there. In fact, it wasn't until the last every-shop, must-have comic left the table -- Spawn -- that most folks thought any of the other distributors couldn't make a long-term go of it. Heroes World was certainly a terrible choice, and there's some great stuff in Khoury's essay describing just how bad a choice it turned out to be. But if there were volume issues, it seems more logical it was that Heroes World couldn't handle the volume of material presented to it, not that Marvel didn't have enough books. That really seems like a self-serving quote given Diamond's relative size, and doesn't seem like it should be presented as reliable testimony. I'm equally baffled by a quote from Chuck Rozanski that suggests, if I'm understanding it correctly, an approximately 80 percent drop in comics sales during the year 1993, when the most severe reports I've read suggest a still-astounding 50 percent drop between 1993 and 1998.

4. Why the Other Companies Had to React Is Fudged Over
Like Paul Levitz's recent comments on the matter where he painted DC's sweetheart deal with Diamond as the last stand against Comics Armageddon without caring to explain why, Khoury's essay, despite a killer quote from Jim Hanley that calls out DC for making a cowardly move by starting the run to Diamond, still seems to want to rightfully bury Marvel's ridiculous decision to self-distribute through Heroes World but also continue to lift it up as some sort of industry bogeyman that somehow forced the other companies to all climb into bed with Diamond or face guaranteed total destruction. This makes no sense, and given Hanley's view it's something that maybe should have been worked through in a more authoritative way. I contend that the evidence suggests DC used this opportunity not to stave off destruction but to press an advantage, whether driven by fear or opportunity or both, and that the other companies followed suit by thinking in terms that to varying degrees mixed self-interest and short-sightedness. Unless someone can present compelling, specific reasons why these companies had to do what they had to do, starting with DC, there's no reason to allow them to assert an imminent threat years later. Besides, if these companies were only acting to stave off industry destruction, now that we're in the clear I can hardly wait for these companies to give back all those negotiated advantages.

5. On No Planet Was "Everyone to Blame" for Things That Happened in the 1990s
While the other points are disagreements, this one is more of a strong objection. While there's indeed plenty of blame to go around for the degree and nature of the industry's slow period in the late '90s and into the 2000s, to even suggest that somehow "everyone" was to blame is such even-handed for the sake of being even-handed nonsense it makes me suspect that Marvel and Ron Perelman were punked on more than DC and Image simply because they're not around anymore to get upset about being singled out. Let me suggest that some people were way more to blame than others, some of them are still around, and many of them profited handsomely for doing so at the same time their direct actions contributed to lots of people losing livelihoods and businesses. Let me further suggest that some people were totally without blame for what happened in the 1990s, and that a few people hoisted on their own petards doesn't change that many more were simply knocked to the floor. Heck, some people might even deserve credit for fighting against the greed and madness of those few brief, unpleasant years and hanging on for dear life while doing so -- not just against people who were actively screwing them but in the face of many more who made a big point of shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Hey, what are you going to do?" As appealing as it must be, I tend to distrust any history without victims, especially when I remember so many by name. Khoury ends his essay by pointing out that things are better now despite a few obvious bugaboos of the past raising their heads. Me, I'm not sure if we can't come to grips with what happened during a time when exploitation was open and celebrated that we're going to be able to deal with all the ways the industry can be fundamentally unfair -- if more benignly so on the surface of things -- today. I'd suggest that it's one thing to remember history, and another thing altogether to understand it. We need to do both.
 
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Comic Strip Pages In State of Flux?

imageAlan Gardner looks at comics page changes in Colorado Springs and San Antonio; Editor & Publisher talks about how they were e-mailed when For Better or For Worse was canceled; add the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to those looking for replacements for legacy strips in which they're no longer fully invested. All of these stories have interesting aspects in and of themselves, but this seems to me like a lot of papers adding and dropping strips -- the stories mentioned don't even include moves from a week ago like the Raleigh paper "super-sizing" their comics section. It could be that the bigger story is less about FBoFW or things like paper costs or syndication fees and more about a major casting around for new and better comics page solutions, including a greater willingness to change out strips if they're deemed superfluous.

I'm not sure how this might develop, but in addition to a continued increase in news about comics polls and major re-shufflings, I would look for more stories about cartoons being paired against each other in the marketplace, like Ollie & Quentin against Lio, or Family Tree as a potential gainer as papers might move away from For Better or For Worse as it moves from hybrid to full-on re-run. You also might see article on syndicates taking steps to best capitalize on a more volatile market -- here's a Piers Baker post about finding old strips to fill in a gap so that his strip could snag an open slot in Cape Town -- although I believe most of them will stay the course more than re-adjust and react.
 
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Go, Bookmark: Steve Gerber’s Blog

My favorite creator blogs have tended towards providing insight into what life at home and at the office is like for professionals working in the comics industry, no matter in what part of it they're employed. The balance between work and other, more universal aspects of life, given comics' unique benefits and frustrations, seems to invest such blogs with a tension that those stressing polemics or publicity can't come close to matching.

The writer Steve Gerber's ongoing health problems have been the subject of his blog for a while now; the level of to-the-point clarity he brings to what's going on around him make it one of the best I've ever perused. All good wishes his way.
 
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Go, Look: Marvel Zombies Art

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It's never occurred to me to read a Marvel Zombies comic book, nor can I ever imagine it sounding like a good idea, but I sure like looking at some of the pictures that Sean Phillips has up in his blog. I'm not sure why, beyond the fact I like Phillips art generally, but it may have something to do with how sturdy some of those costume designs are and how effective those designs look marched through their paces like this. Or perhaps in a world divided between fast-moving and slow-moving zombies (well, it was a few years ago), I prefer them so slow as to be frozen in place.
 
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Go, Read: Steve Lafler Asks, “Is Print Dead? Or Does It Just Smell Funny?”

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If You Click Through One Link Today…

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Go, Listen: Toon Books’ Francoise Mouly and Columbia’s Michael Bitz Interviewed

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Go, Read: Joe Sacco Interviewed

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All Hail The Great Gus Arriola

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one of the great treasures in all of North American newspaper strip history is being honored by the Arts Council of Monterey County; I don't have any right to use the photo, which runs with the article, but I hope no one will yell at me for using it to bring greater emphasis to the link and the honor due Mr. Arriola.
 
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Go, Look: Killer Prize Comics Ad

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* The comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com has a smart story up about the small press distributor Biblio Distribution being moved from National Book Distribution to BookMasters and becoming part of the latter's AtlasBooks distribution company, to which I can add almost nothing. Among the publishers effected are Exhibit A Press, Knockabout Comics and Fanfare/Ponent Mon.

* Thought Balloonists kicks off its comics reviewing coverage with The Arrival: Charles Hatfield goes first; Craig Fischer replies. With Comics Waiting Room going to a web magazine model, I wonder if there isn't going to be a mini-trend in non-daily updated comics coverage and blogging given the sheer volume of material out there right now.

image* Frank Santoro's post about a Marshall Rogers sketch at the Comics Comics blog led to a killer comments thread and another pretty fun follow-up post from Santoro. If nothing else, the Steve Rude/Frank Cho comparison is hilarious.

* Brad Mackay wrote in after reading this contributor's note for Hillary Chute that mentions the Art Spiegelman project Meta Maus. Following what he calls "a bit of googling" he came up with this run-down of Mr. Spiegelman's plans:
A new edition of Art Spiegelman's 1978 anthology, Breakdowns, will be published in Fall 2008; it will include an autobiographical comix-format introduction almost as long as the book itself, entitled Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!. Also in the fall of 2008 a new children's book will be published with Toon Books, called Jack and the Box. Additionally, in preparation is a book with a DVD about the making of Maus, entitled Meta Maus.
I don't think any of that is new, but I haven't seen it all in one place in a while, if at all.

* for those of you out there keeping track, Pajamas Media has the count of journalists facing "potential criminal prosecution" related to publication of the Danish Muhammed cartoons as nine in four countries.
 
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Happy 48th Birthday, Frederic Boilet!

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Happy 25th Birthday, Eleanor Davis!

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Quick hits
Craft
Paul Pope Recognizes Jack London

Exhibits/Events
Report From Cult Fiction Show
Report From Stan Lee Tribute Show

History
Greg Rucka Really Hates That Playboy Cover

Interviews/Profiles
PWCW: Jamie Delano
The Believer: Charles Burns
The Capital Times: Local Artists
Friends of Lulu: Martha Thomases

Not Comics
Clay Jones Loses a Bet
Sean Kleefeld on What Marvel Should Do

Publishing
PWCW: Top Shelf
Comic Strip Crossover
WSJ on End of Y The Last Man
Creators Launches Daddy's Home
Shakespeare Comics Project Profiled
Issue of All Star Superman Previewed
Your 2007 Broken Frontier Award Nominees
DC Keeps Saying They're Printing More WoW Comics

Reviews
Steve Duin: Blue Pills
Andrew Wheeler: Paris
Brian Heater: 365 Days
Julie Gray: Big Clay Pot
David P. Welsh: Various
Michael May: Vampire Loves
Sean T. Collins: Skyscrapers of the Midwest #4
Johanna Draper Carlson: Walkin' Butterfly Vol. 1
 

 
January 15, 2008


CR Review: Awkward & Definition

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Creator: Ariel Schrag
Publishing Information: Touchstone, softcover, April 2008, $15.
Ordering Numbers: 1416552316 (ISBN10), 9781416552314 (ISBN13)

Not Your Brother's Autobiography
By Noah Berlatsky, Special to The Comics Reporter

I'll miss Slave Labor's edition of Ariel Schrag's high-school freshman aubobio comic Awkward. The rudimentary cover art was charming, and it was cheap -- cheap enough that over time I probably purchased ten copies as gifts for friends, family, and neighbors. Now, though, Touchstone Books has bundled that first crude effort with Schrag's sophomore-year book, Definition,under one glossy and decidedly ugly cover (yellowish orange... Why?) No matter. The stories are still there, and they remain a joy -- one of the most undervalued treasures of American comics.

imageI tend to loathe guy autobio comics; they are, as a whole, boring, storyless, solipsistic, and afflicted with the misconception that the author's genitals are of wide and general interest. But Schrag avoids that whole sensitive-new-age-guy cesspool. Her comics aren't in the male agonistic tradition of romantic/sexual Bildungsroman -- instead, they're inspired by that most female of forms, the adolescent diary. Thus, where the guys are all about (tragic, repetitive, ultimately self-satisfied) disengagement, Schrag's comics are a chronicle of connection. Whether it's the cute boy in her gym class, film star Juliette Lewis, or Chemistry, Schrag is intensely emotionally engaged with the world outside her head. It's not exactly a surprise when Schrag decides she's bi at the beginning of Definition -- every relationship she has, whether with boys, girls or bands, feels like a crush.

imageIn Schrag's later stories like Potential, all of the free-floating obsession and desire coalesces into a harrowing miasma. Here, though, the tone is lighter; less angst, more goofy anecdote. The feeling of the volume is not insular, but cozy -- like chatting with a good friend. Indeed, the style is so relaxed that it's easy to miss the care Schrag brings to her storytelling. The art is crude, especially in Awkward, where the characters are little more than sketches and the backgrounds are nonexistent. But within her drafting limitations, the comics are remarkably sophisticated. In one sequence, for example, Schrag describes sneaking out at night to do graffiti, and notes that she and her friend Elizabeth "practiced closing the front door 50 times." Underneath the text, there's a panel tilted to the side, nicely indicating that it's a flashback, and you see Elisabeth standing beside a door which, as it closes, makes a slight click... to which Elizabeth responds "heard something." Elizabeth's eyes are rolled up and she's drawn without a mouth -- she looks like she is listening intently, but she also looks exasperated. In the context of the story, it's a quick, charming moment -- a small but perfect use of the comics form.

In Definition the art takes a huge leap forward -- cartooning is leavened with caricature, and solid blacks are used to much better effect. Schrag even starts to vary her style from scene to scene; a kiss is rendered in more realistic detail, while for an icky drunken three-way she moves the drawing towards the semi-grotesquerie of someone like Jhonen Vasquez. With her attention to the way story and art interact, and with her focus on relationships, Schrag really is much closer to something like shojo than she is to her alt-boy autobio peers. No wonder Touchstone wants to reissue these. As the comics audience becomes younger, more female and (dare I say it) more discriminating, it seems like, at last, Ariel Schrag may get her due.

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our thanks to Noah Berlatsky for his review; please consider bookmarking his site The Hooded Utilitarian for more like it.
 
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I Had Yet To See The Angouleme Poster

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So maybe you haven't, either. As expected from Jose Munoz, it's gorgeous. The big show begins next week.
 
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If I Were In Brookline, I’d Go To This

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Sudan Leader Declines Troops From Countries That Can Boast Of Muhammed-Related Cartoon Incidents

Flemming Rose notes that 400 troops from Sweden and Norway about to deploy in Darfur in support of the UN were refused by Sudan President Omar al-Bashir because of Scandinavian countries' place in recent cartoon-related incident regarding depictions of Muhammed. Rose notes which incidents the countries in question were and weren't a part of. It's gratifying to hear that things are going so well in the Sudan that government officials can pick and choose via sweeping national characterization who can and can't be a part of such efforts.
 
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Brian Selznick Wins 2008 Caldecott

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The long-time illustrator and now author Brian Selznick has won one of the major awards for kids literature, the 2008 Randolph Caldecott Medal, for his The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The win was among the headliners in a massive and slightly terrifying "Sorceror's Apprentice"-type march of award-winners announced Monday morning at the American Library Association's midwinter conference in Philadelphia. That conference ends tomorrow.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is split between text and "silent" visual storytelling sections, both by Selznick, both of which contribute to the main story. The visual sections not only move the plot forward but support and reinforce the work's overall engagement with silent film.

Sometimes comics maker Mo Willem (You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons) won twice for his children's book work: his book Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity was a Caldecott Honor book, his book There Is a Bird on Your Head! won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for beginning reader books.

imageThe Viz translation of popular author's Miyuki Miyabe's fantasy Brave Story won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for the work of Alexander O. Smith. (Viz of course is known to comics audiences for their industry-defining work in translated manga.) One of Phaidon Press' Goscinny/Sempe Le Petit Nicolas works, Nicholas and the Gang received a Batchelder Honors designation for the work of Anthea Bell. The Nicholas translations are part of a massive Jean-Jacques Sempe publishing project that includes cartoon books.

Jeff Lemire has announced that his Essex County Volume One: Tales From The Farm has won a YALSA Alex Award, designed to go to books for adults with specific teen appeal, making it the first comics work to be so honored since Persepolis.
 
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2008 = 50 Years of Schtroumpfs

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Because my life hasn't worked out the way I'd planned I already knew this, but for some reason today is the day the Peyo creations' caretakers decided to hit the news wires.
 
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Not Comics: Writer’s Strike and CCI

imageThe San Diego Union-Tribune's Peter Rowe asks after the potential effect of the Writer's Guild of America strike on Comic-Con International, given that the show has benefited greatly the last few years in terms of public exposure and some of its attendance swell from the presence of Hollywood studios and various celebrities promoting TV shows and movies. By summer, the article notes, several unions could be striking. The article's answer seems to be "it could change a lot of things," and reasonably explains which things, although I'd have to agree with the con's David Glanzer that the con would do just fine rolling with whatever punch the lack of studio presence would cause. CCI has partnered with the big studios these last few years in mutually beneficial ways, but I've never thought them so invested in that arm of programming in a way the fate of the show depends on how many cast members of whichever show up, or if it came to it, any at all. I'd also guess that if the strike is settled and the related others averted that there will be a rush of energy to get back on the promotion stage, especially for whatever the Fall television season looks like, by which the con would conceivably benefit. My interests are such I won't notice either way.
 
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Go, Bookmark: Thought Balloonists

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Go, Look: Howard & Nester Comics

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Go, Look: Austin Kleon’s Blog

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OTBP: Ropeburn

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Go, Look: Richard Thompson on Drawing Senator Hillary Clinton, Then and Now

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Sometimes I Fear My Own E-Mail



thanks, I think, to Gus Mastrapa
 
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Go, Read: Scans of 1948 Collier’s Article on Dr. Wertham’s Comics Crusade

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Go, Look: Wrightson Fanzine Covers

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Go, Look: Draw Like Brian Ralph

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Go, Look: Fell #9 Previewed

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Missed It: Achewood Does ACME

Once:

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Twice (although less so, so maybe not):

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* the new Fantagraphics web site is up. The old one really showed its age there at the end, so this is great news.

* all you SVA, SCAD and CCS students clip this one and send it to your poor, worrying mom: Ranan Lurie has bought a $11.25 million dollar apartment.

* admittedly, I'm getting this e-mailed to me from people who almost as one say they love the shop but maybe like another of LA's fine comic book shops just as much, but the Guardian has Secret Headquarters listed as one of the finest bookstores in the entire world. Now that's good press.

* I don't recall the author, critic and comics writer Paul DiFilippo writing reviews of graphic novels, or Barnes and Noble publishing any, so this was a doubly pleasant surprise.

* massive introduction to (my) indie comics thread on Warren Ellis' new site.
 
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Happy 47th Birthday, Zoran Smijanic!

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Happy 28th Birthday, Calvin Wong!

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Quick hits
Craft
Sean Kleefeld on Speech Balloons

Exhibits/Events
Austin Scene Profiled
Go See: Sex and Sensibility

History
Sun-Times on That Spider-Man Thing
Canada.com on That Spider-Man Thing
Andrew Goletz on that Spider-Man Thing

Industry
I Hate Your Cartoon
I Hate Your Cartoon
Comics As Literacy Aids
The Story of Manga in Three or Fewer Pull Quotes

Interviews/Profiles
Comix Talk: Ryan Estrada
Sunrise TV: Jason Chatfield
Herald-Dispatch: Beau Smith
Chronicle-Herald: Tim Lasuita
The Hooded Utilitarian: Ariel Schrag
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Ed Piskor

Publishing
Raleigh Paper Starts New Comics Section

Reviews
Paul O'Brien: Various
Paul O'Brien: Hulk #1
Paul O'Brien: Wolverine #61
Paul O'Brien: Youngblood #1
Richard Krauss: Cosmic Man #1
Mel Odom: Green Lantern: No Fear
Don MacPherson: The Foundation #1
J. Bowers: Manga: The Complete Guide
Paul O'Brien: Amazing Spider-Man #546
Richard Krauss: Tales of Woodsman Pete
Adam Stephanides: Iron Wok Jan Vol. 27
James Vance Responds to LOEG: The Black Dossier Reviews
 

 
January 14, 2008


Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update

* Reason leads us to the late Western Standard's still very much with us publisher Ezra Levant and his running afoul of the Alberta Human Rights Commission because of his publication publishing the Danish cartoons a couple of years a back. I'd really suggest taking a couple of minutes and clicking through to Levant's blog if this story and its outcomes hold any interest for you at this point.

No matter what you think of the circumstances of their original publication, and I've been critical of that action, re-publishing the cartoons when they became world news was in every instance I know about the fulfillment of a basic journalistic responsibility. In my judgment, the only way for people to learn about the cartoons was in their being seen; how they looked and what they communicated was at issue. I mean, I believe Levant and everyone else should have had the right to publish the cartoons even if they were doing so to simply be jerks, but the fact that Western Standard appears to have been doing what a journalistic entity should -- provide their readers with the best information about issues of immediacy and importance -- makes what's happening here 100 times more unfortunate.

* meanwhile, the former deputy editor of a newspaper near or in Minsk, now banned because of the Muhammed cartoons being published in the paper and some unrelated actions regarding government officials, faces charges.

* Voice of America profiles a new book that looks at the Danish Cartoons and other such incidents using cartoons as the access point.
 
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Schipper Wins First Prix Artemisia

imageToutenBD reports that the premier Prix Atemisia, designed to go to a comic written and or drawn by at least one woman, has gone to Johanna Schipper for the Futuropolis book Nous Ames Sauvages. The book was selected by a jury from a 10-book nominees list, and the award will be formally presented on the Saturday of this year's Angouleme Festival (January 26). According to the press coverage, Schipper was born in Taiwan in 1967, and much of her past work was on comics albums designed for children.
 
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FBoFW Leaving Current Hybrid Form?

I had written the following as an item in the random news story post:
one of the great perhaps not-to-be-stated true things about Signe Wilkinson's new Family Tree strip is that it will be positioned as a potential replacement for For Better or For Worse as that strip goes from a new/old hybrid status that continues story-lines to more full-on re-runs where whatever new material exists supports the older work. One paper has seemingly purchased the new feature with that in mind.
imageAlan Gardner read the same article more closely than I did, and notes that it seems to indicate an end sometime in the future to Lynn Johnston's hybrid experiment -- at least in a way that can be communicated to newspaper editors -- where Johnston's old strips were going to be followed by brief periods of new strips wrapping up dangling plotlines.

Where this gets more confusing is that Johnston is essentially talking about dropping the hybrid as originally announced, which were going to be re-runs with framing sequences where the Pattersons were at a set age, and going to more of a straight-up re-run system like Classic Peanuts. She then risks turning all of our brains to jelly by suggesting that new storylines still my be possible with a couple of the characters if the right cartoonist can be found.

So what we have basically is:
* an initial announcement that the strip would shift to classic sequences and framing sequences, but the framing sequences would have the Pattersons at a set age.
* the actual move made starting last Fall into a blend of classic sequences and current-day sequences wrapping up storylines like the Anthony/Elizabeth romance. This was announced really close to when it started happening, as I recall.
* a future where either a) those current-day sequences will end and the strip will become a "classic" strip all the time, b) For Better or For Worse stays a current-day, classic-run mix with someone else doing the current-day run, or c) something else that has yet to be decided on.
So I don't think the information in the Ventura paper is news except to suggest there may be another turning point in sight and that the exact future is a bit up in the air again.
 
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Raphael Carlo Marcello, 1929-2007

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Raphael Carlo Marcello, a workhorse of European comics series and newspaper adaptations for decades, died in late December just before Christmas. He had turned 78 in November.

Marcello was born in Ventimiglia, Italy, and began work with a rush in the late 1940s, dropping out of school and moving to Paris. He produced covers and worked with an advertising agency, splitting his time between newspaper and magazine work. Series work and adaptations included Ben Hur, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist and the Bible. His longest early run on a series was Le Cavalier Iconnu, which ran in Pepito from 1955 until 1970.

Moving to the magazine Pif Gadget in 1970, Marcello saw his greatest success with writer Jean Ollivier on the series Docteur Justice, which would continue until 1993 an in the mid-1970s during its heyday be the subject of a feature film. He also created several series for the magazine. Among several prominent assignments in the second half of Marcello's long career were L'Histoire du Far West (1976-1985) and a Michael Jackson comic for Hachette (1988). He would by 1990 return to his home town in Italy. He remained prolific to a time near his passing, employed by Bonelli with gigs on the series Tex Willer and Zago.

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Retailers on Northwind’s Twin Release

JK Parkin interviews a few retailers about BOOM! Studios' release of a comic book for free on MySpace the same day as its comic shop arrival. As is increasingly common with such stories, there are one or maybe two nuggets of actual contention between retailers and BOOM! surrounded by wave after wave of heat from general issues and geek consumerist philosophies of the kind that people seem to love to talk about on the Internet until pulled screeching from their keyboards.

imageI would suggest that the core nugget is that publishers and creators should feel enough of an ethical obligation to anyone ordering their books on a non-returnable basis* to be upfront or at least transparent about how it's going to be sold and distributed elsewhere. (Frankly, I don't know how upfront or transparent BOOM! was here, but I'm guessing it wasn't 100 percent from the retailers' standpoint; if it was, someone please tell me so I can start kidney punching retailers. Part of the confusion may have been BOOM! seeing this as a marketing move and the retailers a publishing one.) I've always thought this should be true of those planning to sell books at conventions, too, before they were available to the Direct Market, or even for those who were working with bookstore distribution. Please note: the notion that people should not sell or distribute in whatever available avenue they decide to pursue out of deference to the Direct Market is insane; what I'm talking about is being upfront about doing so.

If someone doesn't do this, they don't get their hands lopped off in nerd court, but it probably will and arguably should affect how these shops order such books in the future. That seems fair. Of course, that's also where you run into the first wider issue -- very few shops order books like the one being talked about here, so almost anything used to goose sales is going to work out better for an enterprising publisher not Marvel or DC than playing ball with an historically disinterested entity. Then you get to the issue of to what degree retailers are obligated to pay attention to what they're selling to know how they're being sold elsewhere, and then the issue of what constitutes competing product or a PR maneuver in terms of how much material is available for free, and whether this works and for whom and why and so on and so forth, and then you're 28 posts in a thread and hating yourself and someone just walked into the office asking for the monthly QA reports and you're screwed.

All of these things are interesting issues, but there's so little known and so few people participating in such efforts despite the press attention paid them that it would be hard to know what's going on for the sake of one of those trumpeting declarations of widespread industry truth even if all the information were freely traded. It looks like it's worked for BOOM! this specific time; wider applications of "on-line dissemination for free" have worked for other publishers and creators, certainly.

* for those of you who just gasped, this is how the Direct Market works -- on the basis of non-returnability
 
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Sometimes When You Work In Comics Renee French Sends You Pictures

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Go, Watch: P. Craig Russell at OSU

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OTBP: The Art of P. Craig Russell

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Go, Read: Paul Grist Interview

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Go, Read: Jeet Heer Reviews Julie Morstad’s New Book Milk Teeth

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Go, Read: Abhay Khosla Reviews Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow

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Go, Bookmark: Chris Sanders’ Kiskaloo

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Jeff Lester and Ian Brill, two longtime comics fans who occasionally write about comics, have a short conversation about the nature of comics buying in the era of event storylines. I think the notion that emphasizing a certain kind of storytelling may have an effect on all of the kinds of storytelling a company offers is well worth considering.

* Dick Hyacinth is making one big list of everyone's top comics lists: read here and here to participate.

* Dax Delap sends along a link to this description of an early promotional effort on behalf of David Mazzucchelli's forthcoming book.

image* the writer and critic Douglas Wolk writes on archival comic strip reprint projects for the Washington Post. Instead of going for a currently syndicated strip as his modern example, Wolk throws a spotlight on a collection of Christopher Baldwin's Little Dee.

* you might not join me in finding stuff like this totally and completely fascinating, but here's a piece on continuing attempts to archive the office effects and related materials from the late Carl Giles.

* this may be old and just re-surfacing on the web site again, but I liked this Mother Jones interview with Adrian Tomine.

* a media analysis blog digs into the Black Cartoonists Action story from last week.

* the Guardian runs a small piece on the Ashcan Artists, one of the first artistic movements to have been influenced by commercial comics production.

* someone gave Dan Nadel Shooting War for Christmas; Dan Nadel gives Shooting War a big lump of coal.
 
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I Missed Dave Kellett’s Birthday 1-6

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Quick hits
Craft
50 Tools For Starting a Webcomic
Neil Gaiman on the Experience of Writing

Exhibits/Events
Go See Pulitzer Winners Speak
Chris Butcher Visits Kyoto's International Manga Museum

History
Eric Burns on Retconning
Dave Fiore on Super-People
The Latest Comics Publicity Stunt
When The Funny Pages Were Funny
Paul Pope Presents a Tony Salmons Drawing

Industry
Graphic Novels in Schools
On Comics in an Adult's Life
Raincoast to Focus on Distribution

Interviews/Profiles
du9: Shaun Tan
Daily Yomiuri: Keiko Tobe
ComiXology: Bill Blackbeard
Time Out Chicago: Marjane Satrapi

Not Comics
EW's Best Comics Sites
Iron Man: LA's Superhero
Win Dinner With Chris Browne
Steve Bissette Really Likes Twin Peaks
Jack Black Wearing Graham Annable-Designed Shirt
I Was Wondering When Someone Would Use This Headline

Publishing
Reviews
Sibin Mohan: Unbeatable
Koppy McFad: Conversation #1
Mel Odom: Green Lantern: Rebirth
Paul Little: LOEG: The Black Dossier
Sean T. Collins: Incredible Change-Bots
Richard Marcus: Attitude Featuring: Stephanie McMillan -- Maximum Security
 

 
January 13, 2008


CR Sunday Interview: James Turner

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*****

I'd been putting off asking James Turner to interview with me for more than a year. I've been interested in the Canadian artist since his Nil, a long satirical fable told with meticulously constructed flat set pieces and stock designs, showed up unannounced on my desk at about the same time as I launched this site. His follow-up series, Rex Libris, another humor comic driven by a simple idea (tough-guy librarian), an appealing line of thematic inquiry (libraries as a repository for human knowledge and achievement), and an attractive mix of shading techniques and angular design, was an interesting departure when certainly more Nil would have satisfied most fans, myself included, and thus that choice became a potentially interesting interview question.

My problem was I didn't have a lot of those. While I've always enjoyed Turner's work, I'm not sure that I had any special insight as to what made it tick -- you'll note I whiff below Dave Kingman-style when it comes to suggesting influences. Luckily, by the time I worked up the courage to ask, Turner was interested in doing this short piece and he seemed to be a very nice and forthright guy. I worry that the peculiar, isolated health of the current comics industry may not extend to artists like Turner; if he ends up being a case of someone who's only around for a few years, I hope that you'll learn to enjoy the not-insignificant stack of his comics to date.

*****

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TOM SPURGEON: James, I hadn't heard of you at all until Nil crashed down onto my desk. I know that you went to illustration school and I believe that you were working a related job until fairly recently. Can you talk about the factors that prompted you to make comics?

TURNER: I work as a freelance illustrator, but the dot com bust, coupled with the uncertainty created by the 9/11 attacks, sent the industry into a bit of a tail spin in 2001. Advertising dollars dwindled, magazines closed or went from bible thick to pamphlet size. Things got a little tougher, and I found myself with extra time on my hands. We have to make our own opportunities in the creative field. We are supposed to be creative, after all. I wanted to try and explore narrative, so I did.

imageSPURGEON: I realize it may be kind of hopeless to ask considering how broad the answer could potentially be, but can you describe how you built your initial comics style? There are a lot of individual aspects that I find interesting especially in Nil if you wanted to pull them out that way: the flatness of your worlds, the use of degrees in shading to place characters in the background and foreground, the minimalist character designs. Were you looking at anything that made you think this could work?

TURNER: I looked at some of the graphic novels that were coming out, I guess four or five years ago. There was a lot of very diverse material, much of it rendered in a far from realistic manner. That made me think there was a chance for something like Nil.

For the most part it was an exercise in adapting my illustration style for the sequential format. I don't have a stock way of rendering people, and I tend to vary shapes, figures, and the like from piece to piece. With Nil I had to standardize. Objects couldn't change or be distorted from frame to frame, or people might interpret the change as a story element.

The black and white format led to the outlines; in my illustration work, I don't usually use outlines on objects. I use forms and lines but not lined forms. The black and white format made them seem like a necessity, as there would often be white objects on white backdrops. Outlines were an expedient solution which I've largely done away with now in Rex Libris (with mixed results).

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The death motifs and the generally dark look evolved out of the material.

As the work progressed, it got less expressionistic and more formal and right angled. The figures became less abstract, arms and feet were added, and I tried to be more faithful to the environment and keep it consistent. That hadn't been a high priority when I started. I was more interested in the general ambiance than in continuity. By the end, I was paying close attention to such details. Well. I tried to. I'm sure there are lots of inconsistencies if you go looking for them.

The program I use, Adobe Illustrator lends itself to flat environments. So I'm being channeled both by preference and the medium I'm using. I learned as I went, and had to go back and forth and modify and adjust as the visual look matured. It was pretty amorphous at the beginning.

I've attached an image of the first set of digital sketches I did for Nil.

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SPURGEON: Did you work backwards from your story and create that world or did the world suggest that story?

TURNER: The story came first, definitely, and the world flowed out from that. It was a lot of fun to do. Right now I'm having fun designing Hell for my Puk and Muk spinoff book. That's an environment you can really go nuts in.

SPURGEON: In answering questions about your work in the past, I found it interesting that despite the precision of your two major works thus far in both cases you cited emotional factors, that you were responding to a sense or a set of feelings in the air. How important is that kind of writing from mood or reacting to an idea important to your process?

TURNER: Feeling passionate about an idea or an issue is something that compels me to work. Having something to say is vital. Without that driving imperative, there's not enough energy to get it all done. That's why the children's book I started about seven years ago is still sitting on my hard drive unfinished. I'm just not invested or passionate enough about it to finish the thing.

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SPURGEON: I can see Jack Kirby in your work, particularly Rex Libris, in the nature of your set pieces, the way you utilize contrasts in size, and the way your figures work on the page. I'm having a harder time seeing Herge; is there anything more specific that is Herge-like in your work beyond that you both have a really controlled sense of place?

TURNER: In Nil, I think the attention to environmental detail and the like is a commonality, as you note. In Rex, I tried to look to Herge for the faces (dots for eyes, half-moons for noses). The graphic nature of Rex's jet black suit always makes me think of Captain Haddock. The poses Herge picked were always so filled with movement, and the black ink (with Haddock) gave it a real graphic strength that I hoped to capture with Rex. So there's a kernel of influence buried in there somewhere.

I've tried bringing in other influences, but either it's not been noticed or I've aborted the process because it wasn't working (or would have required a major overhaul of everything else).

SPURGEON: Are there any influences that might surprise us in your work? Just as an example: I've never heard you mention them, but I could potentially see a bit of Lorenzo Mattotti and/or Richard McGuire in your work, in the way that you use color and the way you place shapes within a central drawing. Who do you read and are inspired by?

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TURNER: I'm not familiar with either of the gentlemen you mention, but I took a peak at their work on the net, and it's great stuff. I deliberately don't pay much attention to what's going on in the industry, either in comics or illustration.

There's good points and bad points in this: I miss out on successful trends, but at the same time I'm less likely to blindly accept the principles the core "herd" is operating by. If I'd really known what was going on in sequential art, Nil and Rex would probably be different, less eccentric. Adhering to convention (and people often do because the conventional usually works) can make it difficult to produce the remarkable. Whether it's remarkably good or remarkably bad is another question entirely.

In terms of reading, there are many. On a certain level, I'm inspired by anyone who can complete a novel and get it published. That's an accomplishment in and of itself. Writing a book is a hell of a lot of work. I've written 1.75 of them, both of which should never see the light of day.

These days I'm mostly reading non-fiction, so I'm often attracted more by topic than by author. Some who do inspire me are Richard Dawkins, Harold Bloom, Thomas Friedman, Philippe Gigantes, Fareed Zakaria, Christopher Hitchens, David Brin, Jared Diamond, Carl Sagan, Amartya Sen, and Bertrand Russell. They may be right, they may be wrong, but they're always interesting. I am by no means an expert on any.

I hope to read more fiction this year.

Incidentally, Chester Brown is a very well-read fellow.

imageSPURGEON: I know that you considered self-publishing and had contact with Dave Sim -- he wrote the introduction to this volume. Does self-publishing hold a certain amount of appeal to you? Have professional friendships in comics helped you orient yourself better now that you've entered that field. Since you took a second project there, I assume you're happy with SLG: can you talk about the experience of publishing through them. What is your relationship like?

TURNER: Self-publishing holds very little appeal for me now that I know more about the industry and how difficult it is. I'm very happy to have a publisher. I'd only self-publish at this point if I had a project I felt passionate enough about to sink several grand worth into while expecting no return whatsoever. I really like the idea of my comics being printed objects you can hold in your hand, but the lower overhead of internet comics makes that an attractive alternative.

I think connections with other comic book artists are most beneficial if you are self-publishing or you are at the core of the industry, and do collaborative work with other artists. On the other hand, both Chester and Dave have given me good advice about the industry.

SLG has been awesome. Their publishing slate is diverse, sharp witted, and well worth a look. It's good company to be in. I've seen no reason to look elsewhere.

SPURGEON: You have the rare distinction these days of publishing in comic book form these Rex Libris issues before collecting them. Is it important to you that your work is serialized before collection? Does putting work out there that way help you at all creatively, say to make course corrections from something you see or something that's pointed out to you?

TURNER: I think I can do more course corrections if it's put out first as a graphic novel. Putting it out issue by issue sets things in place. I wouldn't go back in and restructure/remove/alter major elements in the trade collection, for example. I think readers would feel cheated by that.

In fact, I refrained from doing any changes at all in the Rex trade. For some weird reason I had the idea that I should just let it stand with all it's warts as my initial point of "artistic departure," so I, and others, can see how my work evolved (and hopefully improved) as it went on. I must have been on drugs or something.

imageSPURGEON When I've loaned out Rex Libris the reaction I usually get is people prepared to flip through it really quickly based on the art and then this kind of shock settles on their face as they force themselves to slow down and read everything that's there. Some of your pages seem dominated by text. This seems to be a stylistic choice in the manner of your decision to make Rex Libris' figures more representational than those of Nil. That being said, why such dense pages? What effect do you hope to impart with text that's much fuller page to page than with other authors.

TURNER: I think Rex has become legendary for being text heavy. If one cannot achieve fame, go for infamy and take kickbacks from ophthalmologists.

There are two reasons for its text heavy nature: first, it's about a librarian. Second, it's a reaction against text-light -- screenplay light, in many cases -- comics.

I liked '70s comics with their copious amounts of redundant explanatory text. That's a part of the genre for me.

I also wanted something that people could go back to and look at a second or third time and always discover something new. I have no objection to people skimming the text.

Comics with little text have little re-read value. That's one reason why I was so fond of Mad Magazine: they threw in all sorts of neat extras, from bogus product info to Sergio Aragones in the margins. You could reread a Mad Magazine a dozen times and always come away with value. I liked that. Great accompaniment for a bowl of late night cereal when you're a kid. You don't get that with the mainstream titles, some of which read like storyboards for movies. I could read one all the way through in five minutes while standing in the comic book store. Not that I'd do that, of course. We all know that would be wrong. You'd need several of these comics to last through a single cup of coffee.

Like most revolutionaries I swung the pendulum too far.

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SPURGEON: Was it hard not to want to do more with Nil considering the complexity of the world created?

TURNER: I'd thought about it as a trilogy, actually, and I have an arc for it. I briefly thought about condensing the two sequels into one book, but that wouldn't work quite as neatly as a dialectic, which is how I planned it. Right now I'm having fun creating Hell for the Puk and Muk spin-off. There are lots of cyclopean stone edifices and spikes and chains and such. Hell's a great visual playground. Demons are a lot of fun to design. So many sources of inspiration, and no limitations.

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SPURGEON: With Rex Libris it's as easy to see high concept -- tough guy immortal librarian! -- as it is to see the series as a thematic structure regarding knowledge and art and how ideas survive their usefulness. Which one is more important to you in building a story? If neither one, is tension between those kinds of storytelling modes appealing to you?

TURNER: That's a really interesting question. I do like the idea of a multi-layered text. I think it enriches the experience if you can engage the reader on multiple levels. It makes it more distinct, and gives it a drive and purpose that might otherwise be lacking. If it was absent, I'm not sure I could turn out anything interesting.

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SPURGEON: There's a manic quality to the humor in Rex Libris that you don't really see in a lot of comics: there's also a mix of humor both in terms of the range of complexity in your references and the degree of delicacy in how a joke is constructed. First of all, what or who do you find funny? Second, what do you think working in terms of being funny, or writing comedic material allows you to do that are a more straight-forward satire of exploration of the same ideas might not?

TURNER: Tough question. Humour is so subjective. What I find funny can change according to my mood. Stuff I thought was hilarious five years ago I don't like now.

One of the reasons I lean towards humour rather than a more dramatic approach is that I think the world is in many ways absurd and ridiculous. That view tends to seep into my work.

I think Monty Python and Douglas Adams are influences. The Pythons were well informed fellows, and some of their skits work on multiple levels. Their screenplays are devastatingly funny -- sometimes funnier than the final film. There's depth there as well as absurdity. I think the same goes for Adams.

I've always thought Dr. Strangelove hilarious. Some people feel you shouldn't joke about such things, but I tend to think the whole concept of Mutual Assured Destruction is, in a way, ridiculous. Humour to aspire to.

SPURGEON: The intricate backgrounds and some of the shading effects -- I assume these are done totally on computer or are assisted by the computer. Can you talk a bit about how you work? How long does it take to do a page? A complete issue?

TURNER: It's all done on the computer, bezier point by bezier point. Pretty much the three months to do a complete issue, as I have to fit it in between commercial jobs. Sometimes I get it done a little early, sometimes a little late. The amount of time varies per page depending on the content. I'm not sure exactly how long, but a page a day isn't bad. I will do sketches for more complicated shots, scan those in, and then go over them in illustrator. I may do a bunch of poses/shots at a time, and another day assemble them into the final frames and layouts and add the dialog. It's a combination of cut and paste and drawing. It has advantages and disadvantages, like most things.

imageSPURGEON: What kind of reaction -- and I'm going to assume there has been reaction to both of your SLG works, at least -- has been most gratifying for you to hear? Do you have a sense of who's reading? To what are they responding?

TURNER: I think some of the letters I got about Nil were the most gratifying, especially from the people who really got what I was trying to say, and understood what the graphic novel was really about. Some people didn't think it even had a point. The positive feedback really helps keep you going. Rex has had a more mixed reaction, but there are some people out there who enjoy the humour, and that's enough for me.

SPURGEON: Do you plan on continuing to make Rex Libris for a while yet? Returning to Nil? What might we see in 2008?

TURNER: The quarterly comic will end with issue #13. It would have ended with issue #10 but I talked to [SLG's] Dan [Vado] and he very generously agreed to keep it going until issue #13 so I can wrap up a story arc. That's a pretty good run for an independent comic. SLG is also interested in doing a second trade which will include issues #6 to #13. After that, I'll probably work on the Hell piece, but I don't know how long that will take or if it will even be published. We'll see what happens. There might even be more Rex material in direct to trade format.

SPURGEON: When you, Dave Sim and Chester Brown have met up, who picked up the check?

TURNER: All separate.

*****

* cover to the Rex Libris trade
* from Turner's illustration work
* cover to Nil: A Land Beyond Belief
* screen-saver prepared using Nil art
* the early designs Turner mentions
* planet ahead; page from Rex Libris
* action scene
* Rex Libris comic book cover
* lots of words
* more from Nil
* Rex is a tough guy librarian
* one of many approaches to humor on display in Rex Libris
* humorous promotional image in support of Rex Libris
* a study from Turner's fun map work -- click through for a larger example

*****

* Rex Libris: I, Librarian, James Turner, SLG, 176 pages, May 2007, 9781593620622, $14.95
* Nil: A Land Beyond Belief, James Turner, SLG, 232 pages, $12.95.

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Five Link A Go Go

* go, look: a page of Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

* go, look: Mike Manley misses newsprint and dots

* go, look: MODOK the Barbarian

* go, read: Shaenon Garrity reviews more out of print Viz series

* go, read: the last four or five posts as of this writing (1-12) at Craig Thompson's blog have been pretty great
 
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FFF Results Post #104—Hooray, 2008!

Five For Friday #104 Results

On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Comics You Look Forward To Reading This Year." Here are the results.

*****

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Tom Spurgeon

1. Willie & Joe: The WWII Years, Bill Mauldin
2. Modern Swarte: Joost Comics, Joost Swarte
3. Haunted, Philippe Dupuy
4. All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, Vol. 1, Frank Miller and Jim Lee
5. Alan's War, Emmanuel Guibert

*****

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Matthew Maxwell

It's still Friday where I be.

1) Battling Boy -- Paul Pope (this one should be good)
2) Unnamed Original Graphic Novel -- Darwyn Cooke (this one may not come out this year)
3) RASL -- Jeff Smith (this one is very, very big)
4) The Unknown Soldier -- Josh Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli (this one probably doesn't appear on any other list)
5) Final Crisis -- Grant Morrison and others (this one with some trepidation)

*****

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Robert Goodin

1. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
2. Le Grand Autre by Ludovic Debeurme
3. Complete Peanuts 1967-1970
4. Popeye vol. 3
5. Bernie Krigstein Comics Vol. 2

*****

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Cole Moore Odell

1. Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga
2. Popeye Vol. 3 by EC Segar
3. Final Crisis by Morrison and Jones
4. more Little Lulu volumes by Stanley and Tripp
5. The Education of Hopey Glass by Jamie Hernandez

*****

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Will Pfeifer

1. The Complete Humbug (yeah!) by Harvey Kurtzman and Co.
2. The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archive Omnibus by Fred Hembeck (who else?)
3. All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
4. That Noel Sickles book due later this year
5. Does Al Columbia finally have a book coming out in '08? If so, I definitely want to read that

*****

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Tony Collett:

1) Terry And The Pirates vols. 2-4
2) Zot! manga-style collection of all the black and white issues
3) Incredible Hulk Omnibus
4) Starman Omnibus vols. 1-2
5) The return of Crossfire and Journey in Many Happy Returns

*****

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Stephen Frug

1) Lynda Barry, What It Is
2) Scott McCloud, Zot!: the Complete Black-and-White Stories
3) Art Spiegelman, Breakdowns
4) Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Y the Last Man #60
5) The comic that will result from the script and vast files of as-yet-uncompleted art on my hard drive -- assuming (knock on wood!) I can finish it in 2008!

*****

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Joe Schwind

* Humbug Two Volume Set
* Some New Kind of Slaughter
* Walt & Skeezix 1927-28
* Lobster Johnson: Iron Prometheus
* Al Capp's Complete Shmoo: The Comic Books

*****

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John Vest

1. Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure #1, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
2. The Education Of Hopey Glass, Jaime Hernandez
3. Complete Little Orphan Annie Volume 1, Harold Gray
4. Captain American Annual, Ed Brubaker and Gene Colan (no release date yet but hopefully this year!)
5. Che: A Graphic Biography, Spain Rodriguez

*****

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Patrick O. Watson

in no particular order,

1. RASL by Jeff Smith
2. Glamourpuss by Dave Sim
3. Mouse Guard Winter 1152 by David Petersen
4. Nexus #s 100-102 by Baron and Rude
5. Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure by Lee and Kirby

*****

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Jason Michelitch

1. RASL by Jeff Smith
2. 2 Cool 2 B 4 Gotten by Alex Robinson
3. Young Liars by David Lapham
4. Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece
5. and if I'm honest with myself and extend "look forward to" so that it includes "perverse curiosity," Final Crisis by Grant Morrison and JG Jones

*****

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Art Baxter

1. Baobab #3, Igort*
2. Interiorae #3, Gabriella Giandelli*
3. Chimera #2, Lorenzo Mattotti*
4. Love and Rockets Vol. III #1, Los Bros. Hernandez
5. Justice League: The New Frontier Special, Darwyn Cooke

* The comics of these three Italians have been stunning but the incredibly long periods of time between issues is just killin' me.

*****

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Matthew Wave

You stole the Swarte collection, so my list would be:

* The Dairy Restaurant, by Ben Katchor
* Edison Steelhead's Lost Portfolio: Exploratory Studies of Girls and Rabbits, by Renee French (altho it's not really a comic book, more like an art book?)
* Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 4, by Jack Kirby and others
* The Doom Patrol Archives Vol. 4, by Arnold Drake, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown and others
* That fabled, supposedly-on-the-horizon-sorta David Mazzucchelli graphic novel???

*****

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Tim Broderick

* Against Pain, Ron Rege, Jr. (D&Q)
* Black Jack, Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
* Kaput and Zosky, Lewis Trondheim (:01)
* Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby, Takashi Nemoto (PictureBox)
* Humbug, Harvey Kurtzman et al. (Fantagraphics)

*****

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Josh Fitzpatrick

1. Love & Rockets Vol 3 by Los Bros Hernandez -- looking forward to the new format.
2. RASL by Jeff Smith, Echo by Terry Moore and Glamourpuss by Dave Sim -- I know it's three comics, but the idea of three brand new properties from these creators around the same time, is almost too good to resist.
3. The Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw -- I have enjoyed what I have seen from Dash in the Meat Haus anthologies, hope this can live up the amount of hype it seems to be having heaped on it.
4. Final Crisis by Grant Morrison/J G Jones -- Have a strong dislike for what DC has been doing the past several years, but Grant Morrison writing what he promises to be his be all end all on the superhero genre makes this a must read.
5. Zot! The Complete Black and White Stories by Scott McCloud -- Just a little late getting around to this.

*****

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David P. Welsh

The Rabbi's Cat Vol. 2, by Joann Sfar
Awabi, by Kan Takahama
RASL, by Jeff Smith
Life Sucks, Jessica Abel, Gabriel Soria, and Warren Pleece
Chiggers, by Hope Larson

*****

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Evan Dorkin

* Blackjack vol 1-2 -- Tezuka
* Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles -- Noel Sickles
* Complete Little Orphan Annie vol 1 -- Harold Gray
* Popeye vol 3 -- Segar
* Walt and Skeezix vol 4 -- Frank King

*****

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Dick Hyacinth

1. The Rabbi's Cat volume 2 by Johann Sfar
2. Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa
3. Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka
4. The Trouble Makers by Gilbert Hernandez
5. Delphine #3 by Richard Sala

*****

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Sean Kleefeld

1. The Nearly Complete Essential Fred Hembeck Archives Omnibus
2. Captain Victory in hardcover
3. Jack Kirby's "lost" Fantastic Four #108
4. Scud: The Disposable Assassin Omnibus (or whatever it ends up getting called)
5. The Rainbow Orchid in hardcover

*****

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Michael J. Grabowski

In order of anticipation:
1. Glamourpuss -- Dave Sim, Aardvark-Vanaheim
2. The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard -- Eddie Campbell, First Second
3. Ganges #2 -- Kevin Huizenga, Fantagraphics/Coconino
4. Crickets #2 -- Sammy Harkham, Drawn & Quarterly
5. Speak of the Devil #4-6 -- Gilbert Hernandez, Dark Horse

And a publication about comics I can't wait to read: Rebel Visions, 2nd edition -- Patrick Rosenkranz, Fantagraphics.

*****

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Austin Kleon

1. lynda barry -- What It Is
2. joann sfar -- rabbi's cat 2
3. sammy harkham -- crickets #2
4. ray fenwick -- hall of best knowledge
5. whatever anders nilsen and kevin huizenga put out

*****

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Frank Santoro

1. Goddess of War, Lauren Weinstein
2. Nexus, Mike Baron/Steve Rude
3. Special Forces, Kyle Baker
4. Real Madness Comics, Bobby Madness
5. Lynda Barry, What It Is

*****

Thanks to all that participated. Be on the lookout for the next Five For Friday.
 
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First Thought Of The Day

I love the bleakly-lit, cold days of January.
 
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January 12, 2008


If I Were In Seattle, I’d Go To This

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If I Were In LA, I’d Go To This

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CR Week In Review

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The top comics-related news stories from January 5 to January 11, 2008:

1. Amnesty International takes up the cause of jailed Bangladeshi cartoonist Mohammed Arifur Rahman.

2. Black cartoonists announce a February 10 action to draw attention to the fact that their strips are perceived and purchased as black strips rather than as strips that happen to be by black cartoonists.

3. At least three comic strips debut in the important early January publication slot.

Winner Of The Week
Signe Wilkinson, author of the most celebrated of the new year's launches.

Loser Of The Week
Anyone who thinks that comic book back issues are going to move by themselves, at any price selected for them, the way they have for the previous 35 years.

Quote Of The Week
I am easily the least-intellectual of the reviewers on Savage Critics now; Jog and Doug [Wolk] and Jeff and everyone else write these smart, witty, essays, and then I come along and go "Hey, that's Spider-Man's radioactive spunk!" -- Graeme McMillan

this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
 
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Apparently, Today is Diabolik Day

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Why Isn’t More Made of New Issues of Jason Lutes’ Berlin Coming Out?

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I thought about telling a friend of mine that I didn't believe the above even exists, as I didn't even notice it on comics lists, but he swears he just bought one and I believe him. Is this simply a sign that no one buys more traditional alt-comics not from Daniel Clowes or Adrian Tomine?
 
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Happy 40th Birthday, John Jackson Miller!

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Happy 41st Birthday, Takehiko Inoue!

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Happy 46th Birthday, Joe Quesada!

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I always seem to get this one wrong, so take it with a grain of salt
 
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Happy 105th Birthday, Scott Nickel!

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I usually don't wish folks a happy birthday without their birth date, but I like Scott and I'm pretty sure he was born in 1903.
 
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January 11, 2008


Five For Friday #104—Hooray, 2008!

Five For Friday #104: Name Five Comics You Look Forward To Reading This Year

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1. Willie & Joe: The WWII Years, Bill Mauldin
2. Modern Swarte: Joost Comics, Joost Swarte
3. Haunted, Philippe Dupuy
4. All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, Vol. 1, Frank Miller and Jim Lee
5. Alan's War, Emmanuel Guibert

*****

This subject is now closed. Thanks to all that participated.

*****

Five For Friday is a reader response feature. To play, send a response while it's still Friday. Play fair. Responses up Sunday morning.
 
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Friday Distraction: Ad Reinhardt

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our thanks to Jeffrey Meyer for the suggestion
 
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Black Cartoonists’ 2-10 Action Discussed

imageTwo must-reads for those following news that on February 10, various black cartoonists plan an action designed to make note of how their creations are perceived and purchased as "black strips" to the detriment of their being considered for their other virtues: a long discussion thread at Alan Gardner's Daily Cartoonist site, which should give you an idea of the array of opinions on the matter, and a brief, recent history lesson about the issue at Editor & Publisher, which shows how the syndication landscape was changed by similar attention to representation issues 20 years ago.

art by one of the action's participants and one of the people involved in the Daily Cartoonist thread: Cory Thomas
 
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Raleigh Paper Expands Comics Coverage

The Raleigh News & Observer's decision, post-newspaper strip poll, to not cut back or replace but expand the number of comics offerings in its pages, has unsurprisingly instigated a series of positive reaction in various on-line venues including kudos from people whose job it is to place as many strips as possible (January 9 entry). Alan Gardner noted correctly I think that one of the best pieces to come out of it is this patient explanation of how they worked through the process, and what lessons they took from their poll. I think it's also worth noting that this is a print decision; the paper doesn't seem to have comics on-line as of yet.

I'm not really that surprised by the move, to be honest. Even though the general downward trends experienced by the newspaper industry and (I believe) the rise of on-line alternatives make cutting print comics more likely, it's also clear that what to do to mitigate against that general decline is up in the air. I would imagine that some people might expand their comic coverage in the same way that others might pay more attention to what is being offered there.
 
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I Miss People Not Writing About Comics

Valerie D'Orazio makes a fine point: this Newsweek article about Wonder Woman has more than its share of cretinous elements, from its goofy title to the writer's decision to depict the widening gap in female readership between superhero comics and other expressions of pop culture including other comics at this point as little more than a quirky outcome of a wacky sub-culture. My guess is that this is another outcome of a tendency by arts writers to treat peccadilloes of what people see as non-mainstream art as authentically representative of American culture while people more immersed in that culture see the same things as crappy, uncalled-for and unfair. My first reaction, however, is that it's just another not-good mainstream-publication article in a recent avalanche of them.

imageI'm not the best person to make such a criticism. As a writer that works within comics rather than on the outside looking in, I may simply be jealous that I'm not getting these gigs myself, or that my way of looking at comics becomes less dominant with every widely disseminated piece on Spider-Man's dating habits, or that my own writing career where it touches on comics isn't more financially rewarding. Still, I bet I'm not the only one disappointed by a lot of these pieces. I can't imagine anyone letting someone write about theater, say, in the dismissive and vaguely hostile voice that Robert Julian brings to this piece on Blue Pills. My prose is clumsy and my ideas lack clarity when compared to the skills of the many quality culture writers that string for the New York Times, but let's be serious: 80 percent of their many articles on comics in the last two years read like trend-massaging blowjobs, not insightful arts coverage. Actually, eighty percent is probably too nice. I don't think I'm overstating the case to suggest that more and more of the art form's public perception and even its self-image is being shaped by articles driven by assumptions and takes on industry history both recent and far-reaching that many of us find questionable at best, potentially harmful at worst.

Why is this the case? I can only hazard a guess or three. Part of it is likely people being asked to write about an art form for which they're not prepared to say anything meaningful. There were very few writers like Jeet Heer and Douglas Wolk waiting in the wings when comics-related articles became more prevalent. I bet very few arts editors would assign an uninformed writer to other, more established forms, but it doesn't surprise me. Besides, there's no reason such an article can't be a good one if some degree of rigor is brought to the writing and some editorial standard is maintained. Another reason is likely that as an not-respected form comics tends to breed local experts as much as it does those for the local stage. There are "comics people" on staff at many publications, and although that has probably contributed to the degree of coverage, it also means you get top comics of the year lists that look like they came from a spinner rack circa 1992, not the fruits of 30 years of artistic flowering in multiple genres. There are also wider issues, such as that a lot of people see arts writing as useful only in how it assists them in publicizing new work, and a lot of arts writing is happy to comply, including that about comics.

All that said, it remains amazing to me that comics receives the attention it does. It really does. At some point, however, comics needs to stop being flattered and start being covered, pulled apart, questioned, challenged and dissected. That may be impossible to expect of any arts coverage, let alone that surrounding a newer one like comics. But one thing more of us can do is to read and disseminate articles for their content and not simply for their pay rate, brand name and reach.
 
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Missed It: SPX Sets Its 2008 Dates

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I'm waaaaaay behind on this one, but thought it deserved a mention. There is likely a story in how this grand old man of focused alt-comix shows has gone from a Friday-Saturday to a Saturday-Sunday show, but it's not one I think intriguing enough to wade through what is likely to be multiple views on the matter. The explanation on the site's front page sounds right, although my hunch is the decision was made easier by the once-intended use for Sunday as a kind of a combo "pro con" and informal networking day never quite working in a significant way for the exhibitors, particularly the newer ones. And hey, I could be wrong.
 
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The Year in Manga News 2007 Discussed

Head of the Class comics commentators David Welsh and Chris Butcher work over some story-of-the-year candidates from the world of North American manga publishing. On one matter: I would agree with both men that the Naruto Nation effort by which Viz capitalized on attention to the worldwide hit and a desire to move the story to a kind of more standard jumping-on point in North America to sell tons of comics over the last four months of '07 was an important one. The idea that scheduling has played a role in manga's success similar to that played by format isn't something I'd considered, but it makes total sense. However, my gut tells me that that the Naruto story's not quite over until there's a grasp on whether or not, positively or negatively, pushing that much Naruto through the marketplace that quickly has on sales of the remaining episodes in the long serial.

Also, Kurt Hassler shows up in Butcher's commentary thread to give his take on Yen Press. What are you waiting for?
 
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Go, Look: Johnny Ryan Draws the Howard Stern Show’s Extended Cast

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click through for the whole amazing thing
 
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Not Comics: Space Pancake Launches

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it's cartoon-related t-shirts
 
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Go, Bookmark: Dan Piraro’s New Blog

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Go, Look: Amulet Book One Previewed

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These Trailers Are Commonplace Now, Right?



I would assume they're pretty common now; the publisher says that a PDF offer at the end of the video is not typical.
 
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Go, Bookmark: Paul Gilligan’s Blog

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via Editor & Publisher
 
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Not Comics: Ann Telnaes Animation

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Richard Thompson suggested this link
 
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OTBP: Blueberry Boat

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Go, Look: Pirate Rats in Pageant

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Go, Look: Jason Overby

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Collective Memory: The Best of 2007

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Various comics lists of all sizes and shapes on the subject of the best works for 2007.

*****

Standard Lists
* Aaron Ragan-Fore (PDF)
* Alan David Doane
* Angouleme's Official List
* AV Club

* Carlo Ruiz
* Chris Barsanti
* Chris Mautner
* Collected Comics Library

* Dave Lartigue
* Dirk Deppey's Top 50
* Douglas Wolk for Salon
* Drawn!

* Eye on Comics

* Gabe Bullard
* Garen Ewing
* geniusboyfiremelon

* Jason Green
* Jason Michelitch 01
* Jason Michelitch 02
* J. Caleb Mozzocco
* Jeff Lester
* Jelle Hugaerts
* Joe Gross
* Jog
* Johanna Draper Carlson
* John Judy
* Johnny Bacardi

* Ken Parille
* Kevin Church 01
* Kevin Church 02

* Marc Arsenault
* Marc Sobel
* Matthew Brady
* Mel Gibson and Marc Baines
* Mike Carey

* New York

* Paul Gravett
* PJ Holden

* Richard Bruton 01
* Richard Bruton 02
* Richard Bruton 03

* Sean T. Collins
* Shannon Smith
* Steve Duin

* Steve Higgins 01
* Steve Higgins 02

* Time

* Washington Post
* Whitney Matheson for USA Today

Offbeat Lists
* Bryan Munn's Best By Way of Canada
* Chris Mautner's Best Criticism Survey
* Derik A Badman's Best Comics Criticism
* Shaenon Garrity's Various Lists

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+ added in the last day

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Happy 50th Birthday, Terry Beatty!

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Happy 49th Birthday, Bob Harras!

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Happy 45th Birthday, Sam Kieth!

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Happy 37th Birthday, Gil Roth!

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Quick hits
Craft
On Marshall Rogers and His Kind of Drawing

History
Newsweek on Spider-Man Plot
USA Today on Spider-Man Plot
I Didn't Understand Any of This
On Bubble Worlds in Mainstream Comics
Manga Is Eating The World's Pop Culture

Industry
I Hate Your Cartoon
New Zealand Herald on Marvel UN Comic

Interviews/Profiles
Dan Nadel: CF
PWCW: Kio Shimoku
Newsarama: Dan Slott
The Beat: Marv Wolfman
Newsarama: Kazu Kibuishi
Blog@Newsarama: Chip Mosher
Tribune & Georgian: Jack Davis

Not Comics
IDW Launches Division, Kids Book Line

Publishing
You Are Lazy
Free GNs Profiled
Ten-Cent Plague Previewed
Newtype USA Comes to an End
Steven Grant on DC/Marvel in 2008
Ramos Previews Art on Runaways Run

Steve Duin
Bat Lash
Satchel Paige
L'Art de R. Black
The Last Musketeer
The Vinyl Underground

Reviews
Jog: Nog a Dod
Brian Hibbs: Various
Dick Hyacinth: Various
Mel Odom: The Spirit Vol. I
Andy Doan: Box Office Poison
Sarah Morean: Big Plans #1-3
Don MacPherson: Afterburn #1
Sean Kleefeld: Maintenance #7
Richard von Busack: Black Hole
Alan David Doane: Mome Vol. 10
Jog: Teen Titans: The Lost Annual
Noah Berlatsky: Tranceptor Vol. 2
Mel Odom: Teen Titans: Titans East
Sean T. Collins: They Moved My Bowl
Sean T. Collins: Multiple Warheads #1
Douglas Wolk: Amazing Spider-Man #546
Graeme McMillan: Amazing Spider-Man #546
Noah Berlatsky: I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!
 

 
January 10, 2008


Difference of Opinion: An Interview With Graeme McMillan on the Year In Mainstream Comics, 2007

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Some of you may have noticed that the URL title for the 14th CR holiday interview, featuring Sean T. Collins, bears the name of Graeme McMillan; that's because I asked Graeme to do my mainstream comics year in review interview first. As the piece was creeping towards its due date, Graeme experienced the unavoidable family conflict that he mentions below. When hearing of it, I sent him a note along the lines of "let's do something next time" and immediately shot an e-mail to Sean to see if he'd step in. I was lucky in that Sean was a 1b choice instead of a second one; had he and not Graeme been on a panel with me this summer, I'm certain I would have asked Sean first.

As it turns out, Graeme didn't get that last "let's wait for the next opportunity" e-mail, so he answered the questions when his schedule allowed and sent them to me on Sunday evening. Although it means everyone can now see how thoroughly I swiped from the interview below before sending questions over to Sean, I'm pleased as punch to provide a different columnist's view on how the year 2007 went on the mainstream American comic book page. Two perspectives have to be more valuable than one.

Graeme McMillan ran the now-legendary comics site Fanboy Rampage, which focused on the more outrageous and frequently untenable statements made by devoted comics fans. He is a currently a contributor to three sites with passionate comics -- or at least comics-related -- audiences: Savage Critics, Gawker's new io9 and Blog@Newsarama.

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TOM SPURGEON: Graeme, I don't know anything about you before you showed up on-line. Is there a cocktail party version of how you went from reading comics to posting about them?

GRAEME McMILLAN: I haven't a clue about cocktail parties but the short version is pretty much that I was vain enough to think that I had something interesting to say about them that other people would be interested in reading. I'd blogged before Fanboy Rampage!!!... In fact, I met my wife through the blog I'd done previously to that, which wasn't a comic blog, but just a me-talking-shit blog that I'd done around the year 2000, so I was already into the idea of writing online and it being an easy way to get your voice out there. I started writing about comics for Broken Frontier, back when that site was getting started; I knew a guy online called Chris Hunter who was involved in some nebulous way to the site, and he introduced me to Frederick Hautain, the editor of the site. Fanboy Rampage!!! got started after the whole comic blogging thing started out. I remember enjoying John Jakala's blog and Journalista, and thinking "I could do that."

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SPURGEON: Why did you end up closing down Fanboy Rampage and how did you end up working with Brian Hibbs? How did you get your gig at Blog@Newsarama?

McMILLAN: I have this thing about two year stretches. I have no idea why, but after doing something for two years, I have this weird feeling of "Is that enough? Should I stop now?" So, as FBR got close to its second birthday, that was something I was thinking about a lot. It had also become this popular thing, and I was really aware of that, about living up to the collective consciousness ideal of what it was supposed to be, both the good and the bad... That kind of thinking was beginning to take over when I was doing it, I was more aware of that and less aware of it being fun, if that makes sense. I'd pretty much decided, somewhere around a couple of months before the second birthday, that I'd probably stop doing it as I had been, and when I got a promotion at my real job that gave me less time to surf the internet for material, that kind of sealed the deal.

And then I got bored.

I missed... not the attention, really, but the feeling of being part of the whole conversation, I suppose. Before I stopped doing FBR, I'd been thinking things like "And when I stop, I won't feel this pressure (mostly from myself) to keep writing all the time! I can just read comics and enjoy them again!" but, instead, I stopped FBR and really missed it. I can't remember if Brian had asked me to write for him while I was still doing the blog or just after I stopped, but I'm pretty sure that he asked me to write for the Comix Experience newsletter first, and then invited me to join Savage Critics. I was really flattered, although I probably didn't give that impression at the time because I'm an asshole; Hibbs' reviews were some of the first comic writing that I really loved, and Tilting With Windmills
kind of put me in awe of him. He's just this smart, funny, kind of amazing guy, so for him to be "Hey, you want to write for me?" was ridiculous. I said yes, and then went through this stupid period of "I can't do this!" as soon as I sat down to do my first reviews.

Newsarama had started earlier... I have a vague recollection of Matt Brady getting in touch while I was still doing FBR, and the two of us making this exceptionally vague I should write for the site one day plan. It didn't really go anywhere until Blog@ started being a possibility, and that was much more down to Alex Segura and JK Parkin. I was pretty much just a hanger-on who was invited in, there.

SPURGEON: You still do some posts at Blog@Newsarama that reflect that interest in fan culture... what is it that fascinates you about those kinds of expression within fandom? What makes a good incident of that type a great incident of that type?

McMILLAN: Despite what may seem to be the case, I actually am really jealous of the hardcore fans. You know, the ones who get so upset about Spider-Man's marriage disappearing that they drop all Marvel books? If nothing else, they're passionate, you know? They have this great faith, which is insane, but it's real, and that's kind of wonderful to me. That said, the incidents I remember are almost always terrible ones. The whole Rape/Marry/Kill thing from the Bendis Board spin-off forum, where the people involved didn't really seem to know the difference between fucked-up-fantasy and real life, or something like that. That's an extreme, but so extreme as to be fascinating. Why do people do that? What's going on in their heads?

Maybe I'm just really cynical about everything, and that's why I'm so into this kind of thing. Fanboy Rampage initially started as pretty much pointing at weird behavior in a half-"What are they doing?" and half-laughing at them way, and I think that's still what I'm doing a lot of the time. It's all so alien to me that I'm in this amused, horrified, awe about a lot of the behavior -- the self-belief, the self-centeredness, the binary thinking. How many times are there variations on "I don't like this, therefore it sucks" or "I don't agree with you, therefore you're wrong." There's no middle-ground most of the time. It's superhero thinking, with the whole "Good guy/Bad guy -- Let's fight!" thing.

I have no idea if I answered your question or just went off into my own little world there.

SPURGEON: I guess this question might have come first, but can you talk about your comics reading habits as you grew up and how they might have been different than, say, most of the people you're writing for now?

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McMILLAN: Well, I lived through The Broons. I was just home in Scotland for my dad's funeral, and one night we somehow ended up talking about The Broons and Oor Wullie, which were both these one page strips that appeared (and still appear, I think) in a Scottish newspaper called The Sunday Post when I was a kid. They were really, really crap in terms of writing... Set in this fictional version of Scotland where it's always 1950-something no matter what celebrity or technology from the present somehow makes an appearance. Everyone talks in broad Scots, which no-one really spoke in even when I was a kid, all "Jings, crivens and help m'boab!" and the baby being called "The Bairn." The one good thing about them was the artwork, which in the annual collection reprint books were often by Dudley D. Watkins, who was the spiritual forerunner of Frank Quitely; really, really nice stuff. Looking at the old strips this past week for the first time in years, I can see a line from American newspaper strips in terms of the visual aesthetic, but obviously, as a nine-year-old, I had no idea about that. It was just a comic strip that I was brought up on.

I don't know. I think the UK has better children's comics? We had things like The Beano and Whizzer and Chips, cheap things full of one-page comedy strips about kids being anti-establishment (in the safest ways), which were perfect primers for something like 2000AD. When you're a kid, comics were -- and, judging by my nephews, still are -- more of an accepted (required, maybe) part of your world than they seem to be in America. Comics were always there, and they were nothing like American comics. I can remember buying Uncanny X-Men #185, and it feeling like it wasn't a comic, but something else, because I knew the characters, but the format was something else.

That may be a long-winded way of saying "I didn't grow up on superheroes," which is true, but there's more to it... The comics I grew up on -- British comics in general -- have shorter story length, and different visual language. They pace themselves differently, have different intent and different subject matter. So many of the traditions and cliches are different. Which isn't to say that they're better, but you end up with a different sense of what's important or even how to read comics, I think.

SPURGEON: Tell me about how the Savage Critics gig works. Are you buying these comics? Is there ever peer review of what you're writing, or give and take after you've written something? Do you write from home, or on a certain day of the week? What in your case is the reward for what looks like an awful lot of work?

McMILLAN: I'm not buying all of the comics, but I buy a lot of them. I pick up a lot of what's come out in a particular week from Hibbs, and then read through them and try to work out which are worth writing about -- I don't write about everything I read every week, for the most part (I'm not being given free comics, by the way; the ones I don't buy go back to the store). There's not an organized peer review system, but we're free to comment on each other's reviews -- We have an email group, and I see Jeff Lester and Brian on a fairly regular basis. I used to, pre-blog-break, write most days at home in the evening for the following day's posting, but now that I'm doing io9, that'll probably change.

I don't really know that it's an awful lot of work, to be honest. I mean, it's reading comics and then talking shit about them. I am easily the least-intellectual of the reviewers on Savage Critics now; Jog and Doug [Wolk] and Jeff and everyone else write these smart, witty, essays, and then I come along and go "Hey, that's Spider-Man's radioactive spunk!" As for my reward... I don't know. Isn't having the ability to spout off in public its own reward?

I meant that last question genuinely, which is kind of worrying.

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SPURGEON: How do you decide what you're covering at Blog@Newsarama? In fact, can you paint a general picture about how that gig works? Are you expected to blog a minimum amount? Do you and the others communicate with each other about blog matters?

McMILLAN: Blog@ is pretty hands-off in terms of what each of us cover -- A lot of that is down to John [Parkin] and the way that he runs things, I think. He definitely doesn't get the credit he deserves for keeping that blog running the way that it does, which is a shame. He's smart enough to give us enough rope to hang ourselves, but also know when to reel us back in, to mix metaphors. Part of it is probably that we've been doing it for so long now that we know what we can and can't do, but there's also that he's assembled a pretty fantastic team there. I mean, Kevin [Melrose] and Chris [Mautner] alone should have Dirk Deppey green with jealousy.

We do communicate with each other about blog matters, and other things, as well. It's another email group deal, but one that's probably more heavily-used than the Savage Critics one. There's a lot of back and forth, not only about what we should be doing on the site, but also just about comics in general. There's not really a stated minimum amount that we're expected to post, but we're all aware of how much we think we should be posting, and if we don't meet those self-imposed goals, we'll apologize to the team. When I put it like that, it sounds like a bad sports movie, which is kind of embarrassing. We don't have Blog@ uniforms yet or anything.

Io9 works differently again -- It's much more organized, in that everything I write goes through Annalee Newitz, the editor, and she decides whether it runs as is, whether it needs to be rewritten, or whether it just isn't worth running it at all. Part of that is that it's such a new blog, though; the longer we keep at it, the less Annalee will have to do, hopefully.

SPURGEON: How did you get put into the kind of heavy-lifting role that you seem to have at Savage Critics, where you're writing briefly on a broad array of comics. Do you like that kind of interaction with comics; do you notice things about comics reading a bunch of them that you may not have noticed were you to read just a few.

McMILLAN: I have a heavy-lifting role? That's probably the result of what Hibbs called my self-indulgent guilt... I have this feeling that I should always be doing more than I am for the blogs, even if what I'm doing isn't actually any good.

imageI like reading a lot of things, and find especially with Marvel and DC books, that they're a different experience when read in the context of each other. I mean, yes, both companies are crossover-crazy, but there's also the times when you notice books that are dealing with the same subjects without realizing it. Like Geoff Johns' books last year, for example, all turning away from straight superheroics and into science-fiction books (Booster Gold as time-travel, Green Lantern as space-opera, Action as other dimensions/time travel again, and now JSA as parallel earth book), or all of the Marvel books trying to move on from the pretentious political allegories of Civil War in their own way by self-consciously rediscovering "a sense of wonder".

It's also just... I like to know things, you know? If I wasn't reading Spider-Man, I'd want to be reading Spider-Man because everyone's talking about how crap it is, you know? I don't expect to enjoy it, but I want to know what everyone else is on about.

SPURGEON: Both of your major critical outlets are group efforts. Does belonging to a group like that suit you? Can you a name a peer or two at your various gigs that you particularly enjoy and why?

McMILLAN: Jeff Lester. Jeff Lester Jeff Lester Jeff Lester. To completely fan his ego for a second, Jeff is completely who I want to be when I grow up. His writing is hilarious and insightful and completely a joy to read. He wrote the column for Comix Experience's newsletter for years, and it was always a highlight of the month, and the fact that he's not more well-known or well-loved is a crime. Me, I think he should have shrines built in his honor. He's really, really fucking great.

On the Blog@ side, you're kind of spoiled for choice. You've got Kevin Melrose and Chris Mautner, who are a couple of the more interesting comic bloggers around, you have Lisa and Melissa doing their columns, you have Tom and John... but I really love Carla Hewlett's column. She's more of a Marvel fan than I am, but there's something about the way that she just attacks subjects and really gets into them that make me a massive fan of hers.

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SPURGEON: A day before I'm sending you these questions the writer Gail Simone popped up on Savage Critics and in the course of responding to a view let it slip that she didn't think much of the new all-star Savage Critics and kind of preferred the old days when it was just a few of you. That's also a minority opinion I've seen expressed on the commentary threads. Do you feel your writing has changed at all now that it's viewed in the context of other writers?

McMILLAN: I think my writing has changed since everyone came on board, but I don't think it's changed because of that, or because the context has changed... I think I started to phone it in for awhile without really realizing I was doing it, mostly because I was doing too much (So, of course, after realizing I was trying to do so much, I start blogging for io9. Smart move, me). Hibbs and Jeff were the first ones to really point it out to me, albeit in the nicest ways possible, but it was only when they did that that I looked at what I'd been doing and thought, "Oh, shit." I'm pretty much an anti-craft writer anyway, but I really was lazy for awhile there.

(Insert cheap shots about no-one noticing here.)

I think that the all-new, all-star Savage Critic is getting a lot more criticism partially because it's drawing a lot more attention to itself -- we re-launched, went to a specific URL as opposed to part of the CE site, and brought in a spectacular team of reviewers. Isn't that the kind of thing that's supposed to get people complaining about you taking yourself too seriously and having lost the fun of it all?

SPURGEON: Who in comics do you suppose is the most happy to see 2007 go away and who is the most sad? Why?

McMILLAN: Dan Didio's got to be pretty happy to see 2007 go away, if only because 2008 has the promise of Final Crisis, which people seem to be generally excited about, as opposed to the unpopularityfest that Countdown became, not to mention other unpopular moves like Amazons Attack and delays meaning that the resolution of high-profile stories get bumped months down the line into annuals instead of where they were originally supposed to go. There seemed to be this weird kind of "Hey, let's not talk about 2007, we've learned from our mistakes and wasn't Sinestro Corps War great anyway? Look! Grant Morrison is doing Final Crisis next year! It's shiny!" vibe from DC at the end of the year.

On the other hand, Joe Quesada's got to be missing 2007 already. With Civil War, World War Hulk, and killing Captain America, the majority of Marvel's 2007 was pretty successful, but I think that the overreaction to the Spider-Man reboot shows that there's a vocal backlash brewing for them this year, and you can only kill Captain America to get on CNN so many times.

SPURGEON: So is DC really replacing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman with General Zod's kid, Dick Grayson and Donna Troy and re-launching all of the original characters and concepts in an "Ultimate"-style universe? And if that's not where they're doing, where do you see the "DC Universe" titles one and three and five years from now? I can't see a future past of all this Infinite hot-shot stuff and events. Where is DC heading? Is there ever a new status quo?

McMILLAN: Of course they're not doing that. Dude, it's Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman. They're always going to be who they've always been, bearing in mind differing interpretations for whatever's current ("It's 1985 and Lex Luthor's a corrupt businessman!"). The suggestion that they're going to kill off Bruce Wayne or whatever is the most ridiculous thing ever; even if it happened, Bruce would be back within two years at most. He's too big to make any real changes to, and why would you? He works fine as is.

DC's heading where it always heads -- They have a cycle of having a great period for a couple of years with solid superhero stories without any major changes, and then a few years of wobbling around as they try out new things that don't work (often coinciding with new creators as their stars disappear over to Marvel), and then back to a couple of golden years. They were great around 1999-2001, they were pretty solid around 2005-2006. I'm sure that Final Crisis will be fun and then they'll fuck that up for awhile before remembering what they do best.

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SPURGEON: How do you generally see DC's overall creative effort right now? What works and what doesn't?

McMILLAN: DC had an odd 2007. Even though they're the most interesting imprints, I think that Zuda and Minx are well-intentioned but not necessarily there yet, wherever "there" is; I liked all of the Minx books, for example, but didn't really love that many of them. Sure, they're not meant for me, but still... there seemed to be a failure of execution in all of them, for some reason, as if all the creators knew what they wanted to do but didn't quite manage it. Vertigo, as an imprint, feels like an afterthought, there but not really doing that much of note, but at least that's better than the constant cycle of reinvention while never changing anything that is WildStorm these days.

The DC Universe books are in one of their down cycles as they lack the excitement and momentum to be that interesting as a line, but individually, they've put out some of the best books of the year. Mark Waid's The Brave And The Bold is an incredibly good superhero book, and his Flash was good as well. Geoff Johns' Green Lantern really did peak with the Sinestro crossover. Johns, Kurt Busiek and Grant Morrison are all doing really good Superman stories, and I was one of the few who really liked Allen Heinberg's Wonder Woman and am excited about Gail Simone's take... If you take the whole Countdown hyper-storyline and tie-ins out of the picture, DC's line looks pretty good; it's just that Countdown is such a misfire that it feels like a black hole sucking in all positive feelings about the publisher.

That said, they put out Darwyn Cooke's Spirit and Jeff Smith's Shazam in 2007; how can that seem like anything other than a success, you know?

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SPURGEON: How do you generally see Marvel's overall creative effort in 2007? What worked and what didn't?

McMILLAN: Well, if you are prepared to follow all of Marvel's books and dig people frowning, then you probably loved Marvel's 2007. Me, I think that it's interesting what they're doing, but not really enjoyable. They've really dived into the inter-connectedness post Civil War, but I'm not sure what that's really achieved aside from sales (Yes, yes, I know)... There's such a sameness to almost their entire line in terms of tone and subject matter that it feels less fun or worthwhile. I don't think it's really an accident that the more talked-about books from Marvel this year (outside of Captain America getting killed) weren't the ones centrally tied into their Initiative initiative... Things like Immortal Iron Fist, the Annihilation: Conquest books, even One More Day at least felt as if there was more to Marvel than just one story spread across 72 books.

And I don't know if it's a comment on me or Marvel that I completely forgot about their other publishing lines until right now. Criminal's good, though.

SPURGEON: You mentioned "One More Day. From the outside looking in, the plot of that "event" seems like a massively bizarre take on things, and your review of the story arc was pretty brutal. What's your sense of why they're doing something like this? Is it really, as asserted, just the desire of certain individuals at Marvel to see that marriage undone? When all is said and done with these kinds of things, does Spider-Man remain a viable comic book character?

McMILLAN: Oh, I think it's entirely about Joe Quesada wanting to make the character more like he was when Joe was a fan. I don't think fandom at large was that bothered about the marriage before he started talking about it at any given opportunity as if it was a terrible thing, and the other changes are even more needless (Sorry, harryosborneshouldbebackaliverightnow.com).

imageWhat's amazing to me is that it's turned into such a clusterfuck. When you have J. Michael Straczynski saying that he wanted his name pulled off the books but didn't because he didn't want to hurt Joe Quesada's feeling and that's just the kind of stand-up guy he is (but talking about it in public is entirely okay, of course; I love the "And when did you stop beating your wife" school of public relations) and it turns into a he-said he-said public argument, then somehow the Marvel PR machine has seriously broken down, and that's before you see the advert released before the end of the series that doesn't seem to have anything to do with what finally happened, or realize that no-one got "one more day" in the story, or that the reboot is the most confusing thing Marvel has done in most recent memory (Let's get this straight. Apparently, everything happened the way it had happened before, except for the fact that Peter Parker wasn't married. And he may or may not have been in a relationship with Mary Jane for all that time. And Harry Osborn didn't die, but also didn't seem to go nuts, and may not have been married or had a kid. Oh, and Aunt May wasn't shot. And there weren't any organic webshooters, but no-one really liked them anyway. And Spider-Man did unmask, but no-one remembers who he was, and there's no recorded footage or paperwork about who he was, and no-one seems to think that that's odd. Flash Thompson didn't go into a coma or get retarded, either. So we're left with the idea that everything happened, apart from the bits that didn't, it's just that we don't know which is which)... Normally, Marvel are completely on top of this shit. How did this end up so out of control?

The saddest thing is, Spider-Man probably could have done with a reboot, and the people behind the re-launch are pretty talented, but the whole thing has a crappy reputation now because of what led up to it. Sorry, Steve Wacker.

Is Spider-Man still a viable comic book character? Sure, why not? Maybe not this particular version of him, but Ultimate Spider-Man is pretty enjoyable and successful. If he can be the star of multi-million dollar movies, cartoons and merchandise, why can't he be a viable comic book character?

SPURGEON: What happened to the X-Men books that they kind of tumbled down the charts? Are they on their way to being restored?

McMILLAN: People stopped caring is what happened. The books became so insular and disconnected from everything other than themselves that no-one had any reason to read them anymore. These days, Mike Carey and Ed Brubaker are doing some good work on the comics -- as is Joss Whedon, when it comes out -- but their good work is in service of doing Chris Claremont impersonations, and I'm not sure that's really enough to make anyone care, either. It's one thing to remember the guy who created the franchise, but something else to just try and be him over and over again.

(Personally, I'm enjoying what Carey and Brubaker are doing, but I've been feeling nostalgic for Claremont-esque comics for awhile now. I'm even buying the Essential volumes of X-Men, despite their reaching the somewhat crappy issues.)

SPURGEON: Have we reached the point that the length of times these characters have been around and the number of stories in which they've been involves is more a detriment in terms of the characters and their stories being exhausted than an advantage in terms of depth and meaning? It just seems to me like these characters are at the end of their conceptual rope in a lot of ways.

McMILLAN: But isn't that a problem of the readers and their expectations, rather than the characters? Characters like Superman and Iron Man and whoever were never really built with a complexity to sustain them in the eyes of the same people for fifty years or whatever, and I think it's kind of unfair to expect them to constantly entertain or grow, which is what I think is what you're talking about. I mean, on one hand, I think someone like Nova was exhausted in terms of depth and meaning within a year, but it depends on what the reader is looking to get out of them.

Mind you, maybe the problem might be with creators who take this stuff too seriously and, because of that, don't add anything to the characters because they're too busy deconstructing to take the risk of looking dumb and adding something. I mean, Geoff Johns' "Green Lanterns are just one of a spectrum of cosmic ring-based organizations based upon abstract concepts each with its own animal totem -- in space" thing from this year is both gloriously dumb and a genuine attempt to do something with the concept behind the character. Same with Grant Morrison's New Gods revamp -- killing them all and then moving them to the "Fifth World" is on the face of it a stupid idea, but it's also trying something else with them...

God, I sound old and fanboyish. "There's nothing wrong with the characters except that everyone takes them too seriously! Everyone should be like Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison!" Sigh.

SPURGEON: In a way that explainable to a fan that knows the characters and concepts but maybe doesn't follow them anymore, why did World War Hulk seem to work so well with its target fans?

McMILLAN: It was the other shoe dropping. Having set up the idea that at least half of your superheroes are ideologically opposed to you in Civil War, Marvel got to say "now you get to see them get beaten up for it". Also, for the first few issues, it was purposefully brainless action, which Marvel had been lacking for a long time by that point. You can't get by on ideological allegories alone, after all. People want to see smashing.

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SPURGEON: Why has Countdown not worked as well as 52? I get the sense from your writing that you kind of see Countdown in a negative light as well.

McMILLAN: For most people, I think it's that it lacks the coherence of 52, which was pretty incoherent in its own right. For all of 52's messiness and misdirections, there was at least a throughline for each of its storylines -- sometimes too clearly, so that you knew how the Steel/Lex Luthor storyline would end by the fifth issue -- that's entirely missing in Countdown. Ignoring the fact that the series seemed, at times, to exist purely to spin out or tie-in with other books -- meaning that storylines would get started in the series, and then be dropped entirely as they moved into another comic altogether -- you have storylines like the Pied Piper/Trickster one, which goes like this: Villains are on the run, get handcuffed together, keep going on the run, banter and then one of them gets killed and the surviving one has to stay on the run, chained to a corpse. Spot the unexpected plot twist there. It's just such an uneven reading experience.

Also, it seemed to learn the wrong lessons from 52 -- fans put up with the round-robin artists because they had a stable writing team. Replacing that with a round-robin writing team in addition to revolving artists, then, was an interesting move. Similarly, replacing the biggest name writers you have with a collection of (with the best will in the world, especially because I actually like Adam Beechen's other work) the writers who happened to be available. Also also, 52's core plots were easy for anyone to understand, even if you didn't know the characters: "What does it take to be a superhero?" "How do you deal with grief, especially in a world where people get resurrected all the time?" "Why is a giant talking egg kidnapping mad scientists?" What does Countdown have, really? "Where is Ray Palmer?" "Jimmy Olsen gets lots of superpowers randomly!" "Captain Marvel's sister goes goth!"

It's like they weren't even trying.

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SPURGEON: We're about to get a big nostalgia comic with 1985, we just got away from one in the Brad Meltzer Justice League of America run, and some of the critical favorites like The Brave and the Bold evoke older modes of storytelling. In fact, there's at least one element of nostalgia in every single big project, some sort of tip of the hat to a previous reading experience. Why do you think such projects continue to work even though so many people dismiss them? Is it just the value of the kind of storytelling be reclaimed, or do comics act as such powerful nostalgia objects that they have an extra oomph that way? Your reviews of The Brave and the Bold suggest the former.

McMILLAN: Can't it be both? Yes, I think that Brave and Bold, in particular, is reclaiming a lot of storytelling techniques that aren't really used anymore, but you can't discount the power of nostalgia, especially when it comes to superhero comics. I mean, isn't nostalgia the reason that most adults are still reading superhero comics in the first place, at least on some subconscious level?

I think you're conflating two very different things here -- Brave and Bold isn't a retro comic in terms of subject, but in terms of approach, but there's no way that 1985 will be anything other than a Mark Millar comic in terms of construction all the way, and it's retro-ness comes from its subject matter. Similarly, I don't think the two projects "work" in the same way; one may be a sales success but a creative flatline (Hi, Brad Meltzer's JLA), whereas the other is creatively fulfilling but not a big seller (B&B)... I'm not sure that there really is much of a link between the two, other than creators who want to evoke nostalgia in different ways. Which is to say: I'm not sure I'm buying what you're selling, Mr. Spurgeon.

imageSPURGEON: I'll peddle elsewhere! Speaking of something that's sold, what do you think we should we take away from all the death in mainstream comics, the cruelty and inhumanity that drives a lot of the major titles and storylines? Is it possible to muster a defense of superhero comics that their makers compare to snuff films?

McMILLAN: I'm sure you can muster a defense, but I'm not sure that it'll stand up to cross-examination, if you'll let me abuse the courtroom metaphor. There's no real need for the death, nor the rape, nor the sexual innuendo in Judd Winick's Green Arrow comics, in superhero comics, after all. The first two, at least, are just there because of the need for stories to "mean something" and "have long-lasting consequences" these days for fans -- the stories themselves are less important than their importance to the greater continuity for a lot of fans these days, and it's the easiest way of making something seem important -- kill someone off. Or, better yet, a lot of someones.

I'm not sure if it's really driven by cruelty, because there's also an inbuilt disbelief or distancing with deaths these days -- Characters die, and the countdown starts almost immediately for their resurrection, and why not? They're even bringing Bucky back these days. Is it really that cruel when death is meaningless in the grand scheme of things (and not even in a nihilistic way)? Isn't that like saying that it's cruel and inhuman to wish that your enemies end up with really bad colds? No-one stays dead anymore, apart from Sue Dibny, so what's the problem with people dying for cheap shock effect?

(Well, yeah, there's the whole "it's just cheap shock effect" thing, but that argument only really holds water if you assume that the creators of these stories are looking at them in terms of artistic credibility or sales figures.)

Whatever happened to bad guys who just wanted to rob banks, that's what I want to know. Where are those happy-go-lucky villains in these troubled times?

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SPURGEON: Are the Joss Whedon TV-extension comics good comics? What about the Dark Tower mini-series? Do they need to be good comics?

McMILLAN: The Dark Tower comics were really, really not good comics. Even ignoring my disinterest in the subject matter, the comics just didn't really work as comics. They were decent illustrated stories, I guess, but from the first few issues I read, they lacked any real use of what comics offer as a medium, and so, what was the point? The Whedon comics are pretty good, however, for pretty much the same reason -- they make sense as comics and use the language and coding and energy that comics offer. But in both cases, it doesn't really matter to most of the people who're buying them; they just want more Stephen King-related stuff, or more Whedonverse in whatever format they can get it. I don't think it's really specific to this cross-media thing, though; you could argue that something like Brian Bendis' New Avengers: Illuminati isn't good comics, but it's being bought by people who just want more Iron Man being a bastard product.

On the one hand, that's very sad -- Comics as a medium can do so much! -- but on the other, it gets back to me thinking that fans' devotion to characters or creators or whatever is a great thing. If you don't care whether or not something works in that particular medium because you're just so excited that it exists in the first place, then good for you. Take your enjoyment where you can find it and don't listen to grumpy bastards like me trying to spoil your fun.

The whole cross-media licensing thing amuses me; it's as if, just as the comic medium has grown up and takes itself very seriously these days, so do all the licensing deals. When I was growing up, the Indiana Jones comic was just a comic that starred the cool guy from those movies... It wasn't viewed with such self-importance or scrutiny. Really, Buffy or the Dark Tower comics are just this year's version of Marvel's Xanadu comic, but with better coloring and no Gene Kelly.

SPURGEON: You were accused of being "swivel-eyed" with rage whenever the writer Mark Millar's name is mentioned. Can you break down that thing, why it happened and what became of it from your end? Do you really dislike that particular writer? What about his work and/or public persona interests you?

McMILLAN: Ah, the words of Hibbs come back to haunt me... I think that my reputation as Mark Millar's stalker is part-urban legend, part-accurate if it were a few years ago, and part-politics on behalf of other people. The time Mark called me out publicly for being obsessed with him was pretty much down to other people's agendas, I think... but there was definitely a time when I was, to be euphemistic, somewhat outspoken about both the man's public persona and his work. It was -- and I don't think this is really true anymore, for a few reasons -- his dogged faux-humble portrayal of himself as someone who'd just been really, really lucky that really got to me, I think... He had this ability to both play dumb and boast about himself at the same time, doing the "I'm just like you, honest, I don't know how I ended up being so famous and rich and having so many celebrity chums, it's so great being me!" thing, and that really pushed my buttons for some reason. It didn't help that he was given to making comments about black people being exotic to him because he was Scottish and working class or equally stupid things, all in the name of trying to be some kind of lowest common denominator "everyman"... Something that his work constantly does, even now. I never disliked him personally -- something that I had to explain to him, which made for a strange and awkward experience -- but I disliked what I took to be this manufactured, false, persona, definitely. I used to dislike his work, but something happened around Civil War-time, when I realized that it was actually hilarious if you look at it in the right way. It's still bad writing, but enjoyably bad, as if Grant Morrison's idea machine was running out of batteries and doomed to regurgitate the same blockbuster movie cliches over and over again.

The strangest thing was, like I said, having to explain to Mark that I wasn't going to try and hunt him down in the middle of the night and kill him to wear his flesh. We had an email conversation that started with him being very concerned that I needed psychiatric attention, and within three emails, he was sending me links to movie trailers and acting as if we'd known each other for years. Pretty much all I needed to say was "You do realize that I'm not actually obsessed with you, and it's okay for me to think that Civil War is shit, right?"

SPURGEON: Don't the trailers for the movie Wanted make it looks like Chuck: The Movie?

McMILLAN: No, but only because I kind of like Chuck. The Wanted trailers look like one of those Scary Movie-type things where they put every single cliche from the last five years of a particular genre into one film, only it's still really dull. But it makes sense that it's not going to bear that much resemblance to the comic, because if it was, DC would sue their fucking asses off and win.

SPURGEON: As a fan of his autobiographical work, what did you think of Eddie Campbell's turn at adapting fiction in The Black Diamond Detective Agency?

McMILLAN: I kind of feel bad for saying that I didn't like it. It's not really Eddie's fault; I think that the parts where there's a particular Eddie Campbell-ness there are easily the best parts of the book, but the story itself just didn't really appeal to me. The art's really nice, though, and there are parts where it felt as if Eddie was trying to do something different with the way his work looks, but storywise... Ehh. I'm pretty much a writing person. No matter how good the art, a book stands or falls based upon what it looks like for me.

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SPURGEON: Can you name five titles or comics authors that you read that you think are being under-read and would urge people to try?

McMILLAN: Nick Bertozzi's The Salon was one of my favorite books of last year, and should be beloved by all instead of kind of ignored. Same with Matt Silady's The Homeless Channel (Disclaimer: Matt's my friend). Nick Abadzis's Laika was easily one of the most thoughtful books I've read recently, which didn't really surprise me as I've loved his work ever since he was doing Hugo Tate in Deadline (which is a perfect segue into my now traditional plea for some publisher, somewhere, to collect all the Hugo Tate stories so that I can re-read them again). Is Casanova under-read, even though it's the taste of the internet? Probably not, but it's something I'm madly in love with and wish that everyone shared my tastes (same with Fraction and Brubaker's Immortal Iron Fist, but I'm pretty sure that's more talked about than Casanova these days. Mark Waid's The Brave and The Bold would be too obvious after our talking about it above, so instead I'll go for his recent Flash run, which was a nice stab at a family-friendly family book; when Daniel Acuna was doing the artwork in particular, it was a pretty perfect superhero title.

SPURGEON: What's the future like for Graeme McMillan one, three or five years from now? Do you have ambitions to write about comics in different venues or to write comics themselves? Do you see yourself holding down the same gigs five years from now, and if not, where will we find you?

McMILLAN: I really, really doubt that I'll be holding down the same gigs five years from now. If my neuroses haven't gotten the better of me by then, I'm sure I'll have been asked to leave from each of them. Unsurprisingly, I'm not the greatest planner in the world, so the idea of "where will you be in five years" sounds like the kind of thing that scared the shit out've me during job interviews when I was younger. That and "Why do you want this position?"

Three years from now, I'll be living in the country with my wife having finally escaped the urban sprawl that is San Francisco in favor of a more pastoral life, raising pigs and chickens that I'll then slaughter to eat in delicious sandwiches. There may be writing involved somewhere, in amongst all the blood and meat; despite being bad at planning, there really is a plan in place that involves me being able to quit my day job in favor of writing for a living, so you never know.

One year from now -- I'm moving backwards into the realms of probability, as you can see -- you'll probably find me in the same gigs. io9, at the very least, will be a home unless Annalee or Gawker want rid of me... I've only just started that, after all, and it's nice to try and stretch my writing wings outside of pure comics-commentary (although I do that there, as well). I'm a member of San Francisco-based writer's collective Writers Old Fashioned, alongside Matt Silady, Kirsten Baldock, Jason MacNamara and other local talented folk, and as part of that, I'll be attempting to put out at least one mini-comic for this year's APE, so, yes, there will be writing of comics themselves. I've been approached by a couple of publishers to do things (and owe them horribly-overdue work, for which I publicly apologize), but I have a very real fear of both failure and success that manages to make me retool almost everything I've written along those lines constantly before showing them to anyone else. Even my wife, Kate, doesn't see half of the things I write because I'm so freaked out about it.

Outside of Blog@Newsarama, Savage Critics and io9, I have a regular column in British comic mag Comics International when it comes out, and I think there's something from me in the next Comic Foundry, if I didn't screw up the deadline during all the family drama. For some reason, writing about comics doesn't scare me as much as the idea of writing comics themselves does, so I'm perfectly happy to say yes to anyone who wants me to do that for them, but who knows? Maybe the APE mini will get me past The Fear and this time next year, I'll finally get to do my long-cherished JLA versus Darkseid Super Powers revival for DC. DeSaad makes this virtual version of the Anti-Life Equation, you see, and programs it into Prometheus's DVD-Rom-friendly brain...

*****

* cover to an issue of World War Hulk
* some bit of John Byrne-related weirdness from Fanboy Rampage
* Dudley Watkins
* Blog@Newsarama logo
* Booster Gold, time traveler
* Savage Critics logo
* cover to an issue of The Spirit
* cover to an issue of one of the Annihilation: Conquest books
* cover to an issue from the One More Day storyline
* cover to an issue of Countdown
* cover to an issue of The Brave and the Bold
* blood in the face!
* cover to an issue of Marvel's Dark Tower book
* interior art from Laika
* cover to an issue of Jeff Smith's take on Captain Marvel

*****

Blog@Newsarama
Savage Critics
io9

*****

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*****
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posted 4:20 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Bob Zahn, 1934-2008

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Bob Zahn, a versatile, widely-read and well-liked panel cartoonist who carved a lengthy career drawing cartoons while working as a full-time commercial artist and then in a long and fruitful "retirement," passed away in Inverness, Florida on Sunday. He was 73 years old.

Born in Phoenix, New York, Zahn worked for General Electric in nearby Syracuse for the majority of his professional life, in that company's military equipment manufacturing division.

imagePublishing under his own name and I believe occasionally as both Carroll Zahn and as Carroll, Zahn was widely published, and his clients included but were not limited to the Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, Punch, Field & Stream (Zahn enjoyed to fish), and two of the great markets for cartooning of the 20th Century, National Lampoon and Playboy.

His books included The Difference Between Cats and Dogs and Fly Fishing Tales of Terror. His cartoons appeared in several volumes of the popular Chicken Soup series of self-help books.

Like many gag cartoonists, he enjoyed an active career in greeting cards, working for a variety of publishers in that field including American Greetings.

A syndicated panel, Bigg's Business, ran from 1972 to 1979. Zahn had two features on the site ComicsZ.com: Hap Hazard and Zahn, both of which published installments as recently as January 9.

Bob Zahn is survived by a wife of 53 years, a brother, one daughter, two sons, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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Go, Look: Old Man Musings’ Massive Flicker Set From A Tribute To Stan Lee Show

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Go, Read: Lou Fine on Black Condor

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Go, Enter: Eustace Tilley Contest

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Go, Look: Brad Mackay in This Magazine on Investigative Reportage in Comics

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Go, Look: Nate Neal In Mome Vol. 11

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Go, Bookmark: PictureBox on YouTube



go here for the overall channel page

 
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Go, Look: Heart of Empire CD-ROM’s Second Edition Previewed

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Go, Look: Coppervale Opens a Store

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Go, Look: Lou Romano

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I Still Miss John Buscema

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the sublimely talented American comic book artist passed away six years ago today. For a look at some of his best covers, go here.
 
posted 2:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Happy 86th Birthday, Bob Lubbers!

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Quick hits
Craft
Lark Pien on Style

Exhibits/Events
Stan Lee Exhibit Opening Reviewed

History
1000 Jokes Profiled
In Praise of Stan Lee
Reading Samson By A Tree
I'm Just Old Enough a Burning Comic is Scary

Industry
Kids Are Reading Comics?
Comics Shop Closes After 19 Years

Interviews/Profiles
Shuffleboil: Jeff Lemire
TalkAboutComics.com: Irony-chan
10 Zen Monkeys: Nicholas Gurewitch

Not Comics
The Bully Chronicles 01
The Bully Chronicles 02
The Bully Chronicles 03
The Bully Chronicles 04
The Bully Chronicles 05
The Bully Chronicles 06

Publishing
Drew Friedman Draws The Candidates
China Publishes Comic Book To Fight Graft

Reviews
Paul O'Brien: Various
Paul O'Brien: Various
Chris Mautner: Various
Johnny Bacardi: Various
Paul O'Brien: Exiles #100
Shaenon Garrity: Various
Paul O'Brien: Ultimate Human #1
Paul O'Brien: Ultimate X-Men #89
Paul O'Brien: Wolverine: Firebreak
Paul O'Brien: Cable & Deadpool #48
Paul O'Brien: Wolverine: Origins #20
Paul O'Brien: Ultimate Iron Man II #1
Paul O'Brien: X-Men: Die By The Sword #5
Paul O'Brien: Exiles: Days of Then and Now
 

 
January 9, 2008


I’m Sure Some of You Were Wondering

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posted 7:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
This Isn’t A Library: New and Notable Release to the Comics Direct Market

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Here are those books that jump out at me from this week's probably mostly accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.

I might not buy all of the following -- I might not buy any -- but were I in a comic book shop I would likely pick up the following and look them over, potentially resulting in mean words and hurt feelings when my retailer objected.

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NOV070013 BPRD 1946 #1 $2.99
SEP070080 BPRD TP VOL 07 GARDEN OF SOULS $17.95

I tend to buy these handsome franchise titles based on Mike Mignola's work when they get discounted at some small-town comics shop or not at all, but I'd take a peek at one were I in a story today.

OCT073572 STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY GN $22.00
This is a new Harvey Pekar/Gary Dumm project I could have sworn came out six months ago. This week is like that.

JUL070032 GOON #20 $2.99
This issue number surprised me; I thought there had been only half this many.

SEP070206 SPIRIT #12 $2.99
Darwyn Cooke and J Bone's last issue of The Spirit; I have all of these, and I don't think I can say that about any serial adventure comic published in the last year.

NOV072235 ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA TP VOL 04 $16.99
I'm a sucker for these cheap bundles of black and white versions of old Marvel comic books. Someday I will own this one, too.

NOV072226 NEXTWAVE AGENTS OF HATE TP VOL 02 I KICK YOUR FACE $14.99
I have no idea if this is a reprint or a different edition or what, but that subtitle still kills.

NOV070170 TEEN TITANS THE LOST ANNUAL $4.99
That's a curious definition of "lost," since it always seemed as if they simply didn't want to publish this Bob Haney/Mike Allred collaboration, but the results should be awfully cute.

OCT073571 GRAPHIC BIOGRAPHY J EDGAR HOOVER GN $16.95
Didn't this come out a decade ago? Okay, not really.

Jog says that a softcover edition of Black Hole is out this week. I tend to believe everything Jog says that doesn't involve the word "Golgo," but I didn't see that book on the shipping list. I mention it here because not only would it be the best purchase you could make this week but it would be the only top of the line alt-comix release out today.

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The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry.

To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, try this.

The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock.

If I didn't list your new comic, you're welcome to assume the worst of me, but it's likely I just missed it. I am not a good person.
 
posted 12:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Martha Arguello, 1917-2008

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The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that Martha Arguello, who as "Marty Links" enjoyed a 35-year run on the feature Bobby Sox (later Emmy Lou), passed away in San Rafael on Sunday. She was 90 years old.

Arguello was born in Oakland and raised in San Francisco, where she lived the majority of her life. She attended the city's Fashion Art Institute and worked as mural painter and advertising artist before becoming a cartoonist. She would marry her high school sweetheart, Alexander Arguello, and stay married to him for 25 years until his death in the mid-1960s. Their two daughters would provide fodder for Arguello's cartoon efforts.

Legend has it that the idea for her strip, one of a growing number of entertainment offerings of its time to focus on the phenomenon of teenaged life, came from a rejected fashion drawing assignment featuring teens. In fact, Arguello was a successful local cartoonist for the Chronicle for almost a half-decade before being syndicated. Her recurring character "Mimi" can be seen as a definite precursor for the Emmy Lou to come. The Chronicle estimates that between 1940 and 1946, Arguello drew nearly 600 cartoons for the publication. I love this photo, but can't simply republish it here in good conscience.

imageBobby Sox began its run in 1944, from Consolidated News Features. It became a successful if not overwhelmingly popular strip, picking up 100 clients back when that meant something, and was marked by a kind of gently wry look at the foibles of its protagonists. The character proved appealing to television producers, with a segment on Shirley Temple's Storybook, an attempted spin-off from Mr. Ed called The Trials and Tribulations of Emmy Lou Harper that didn't take, and a slot in the Filmation animated series The Fabulous Funnies.

The term "Bobby Sox" indicated a specific fashion element of short socks and clunky shoes, and would be retired as a title (either in the early or late '50s according to different sources) when the fashion faded, in favor of being named for its lead, Emmy Lou. While many read Emmy Lou in its later years as a kind of nostalgic take on elements of life remaining from simpler times, it also seems that Arguello was sensitive to not becoming totally anachronistic. When she quit the feature in 1979, she gave the columnist Herb Caen one of the best quotes in comics history: "Everything I know about teenagers today is unprintable."

After retirement from comics, Arguello had a successful second career in greeting card design. She retired from that field eight years ago, but continued to paint until her passing.

She is survived by two daughters and six grandchildren.

A reception in her honor will be held at the Cartoon Art Museum from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday. Several of her comics can be seen by searching "Marty Links" at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco site.

caption to top: "I know they're our boyfriends' initials..."
 
posted 7:30 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Some People Prefer Antiquated Systems When It Can Buy Them a Giant House

I'm not sure why the webcomics community puts up with exhortations about webcomics vs. print newspaper comics this shabbily constructed, let alone takes them seriously, except perhaps that it makes people feel good about their own certain-to-be-forthcoming roll in the money bin. No one is more thrilled than I am about the growing number of cartoonists being able to base a career in comics from producing work on-line. After all, I'm a writer that makes part of my living on-line through my own self-published effort. Similarly, very few people have written more about the ongoing decline of the print newspaper market than I have. But placing the two markets in opposition seems totally goofy in the head to me given how much they don't have in common, and fudging things by dangling ideas instead of examining them so it looks like we're about to enter a period where the financial fortunes of the bulk of print newspaper cartoonists and the bulk of webcomics cartoonists switch places is just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric of the worst kind. Can this just stop now please?
 
posted 7:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Black Cartoonists Taking Action; Issue: How They’re Perceived, Purchased

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David Astor at Editor & Publisher reports that a group of black cartoonists "plan to take part in a Feb. 10 comics-page action" in order to focus attention on how their comic strips are perceived and purchased. It's an interesting article, if only because it shows some of the fundamentally uncomfortable ways that exist for talking about stuff like this. For example, the term "action" is being used to describe whatever it is that's coming, despite seeming like a generic and maybe even clumsy term, because "protest" has a specific connotation in terms of real-world stakes that perhaps shouldn't be applied here.

At issue is the categorization of strips by black cartoonists as black strips, with resulting limitations both in number of series offered (15 of 200 overall features available, Astor estimates), and in the number of such strips that are offered on any one comics page. The group plans a number of press releases and related material, one assumes to supplement the effort as the strips participating aren't in a ton of papers, as per the action's general point.

This is tough material, and I admire Astor's handling of it. I have no doubt this form of racism exists in an institutional form on the comics page. Still, I don't know that any of the strips done by the cartoonists involved or those whom the intention of the February 10 effort might encompass clearly demand a major general audience. That's a horrible thing to say, I know, and it's only my opinion, but newspaper strip cartooning is rough that way: you can always look at so much uninspired work that does well and think your strip could do better, but it's a whole different world to suggest your work should be doing so. While the kind of action planned can make its point without getting into the prickly issue of appraising certain strips, it's going to remain very easy for an editor to defend how they assemble a page unless it's somehow keeping in check a transcendent work.

(As an aside, 200 features seems ridiculous to me. I'm surprised that any rational decision to run anything can be made when the syndicates are flooding the market like that.)

Participating cartoonists at this point are Darrin Bell, Jerry Craft, Cory Thomas, Stephen Bentley, Charlos Gary, Tim Jackson, Keith Knight and Steve Watkins.

Kudos to the group on selecting a date near the great Ollie Harrington's birthday and emphasizing that point.

an offering from Candorville; if you're surprised that the joke didn't depend on the expression of a specific cultural identity, you may be a target of February's action
 
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OTBP: The Book Of Other People

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OTBP: VQR Winter 2008

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OTBP: Doodle Daze

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Go, Look: The Strangely Compelling Cartoon Mascots of the Beijing Olympic Games

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Go, Look: Christopher Cilla

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Go, Look: On The Road Of Knives

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the odd but enjoyable webcomic has been re-launched
 
posted 4:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Happy 56th Birthday, Frank Margerin!

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posted 2:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Quick hits
Exhibits/Events
M. Todd Hignite on Curating Crumb

History
Prince Valiant Reaches 3700
Douglas Wolk on Contemporary War Comics

Industry
Happy Birthday, Inkstuds!
Filip Sablik Publisher at Top Cow
Your 2007 Cybil Awards Nominees
Glyph Awards Submission Deadline January 20

Interviews/Profiles
Mr. Media: Mark Tatuli
Dark Horse: Eric Powell
YourHub.com: David Saindon
Comic Book Bin: Chris Staros
Bangor Daily News: Piers Baker
Yakima Herald: Signe Wilkinson
TalkAboutComics.com: Steve MacIsaac

Not Comics
Letters From Jay
Another Darling Comics Baby

Publishing
BC Book Sells Out
Mike Manley Launches Strip
SLG's Haunted Mansion Project Profiled
I Guess Three Strips Were Launched Yesterday

Reviews
Tucker Stone: Various
David P. Welsh: Various
Sean T. Collins: Batman
Derik A Badman: Murder Dream
Valerie D'Orazio: The Flying Friar
Johanna Draper Carlson: Various
Sean Kleefeld: Alice In Sunderland
Beatrice Smigasiewicz: House of Clay
Benjamin Jacob Hollars: Ghost Stories
Richard Bruton: The War of the Worlds
Michael May: The Professor's Daughter
Rob Clough: AAEC 50th Annual Datebook
Jog: The Complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend
Brendan Wright: Fantastic Four: Isla De La Muerte
 

 
January 8, 2008


If I Were In LA, I’d Go To This

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posted 12:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Shhh! Two New Comic Strips Are Out!

This week marks the launch of both Signe Wilkinson's Family Tree and Piers Baker's Ollie and Quentin; there may be another or two new offerings of which I'm unaware. The January launch point is an important one for comic strip syndicates for several reasons, including a tendency to see some turnover at the end of the year -- TK Ryan's Tumbleweeds became a ghost town on December 29.

imageIt's a sign of the great disconnect between comic strips and comic books that I know more about a random alt-comics book coming out Wednesday than I do about new, mainstream offerings that are going to have tens of thousand if not hundreds of thousands of readers on a daily basis right out of the gate. Part of this is the way comic strips are sold: they're sold to newspaper editors who buy them after hearing from a sales force. Because the key measurable isn't unit sales but editorial satisfaction buttressed by the direct support of readers within that market, many feel -- or act in way that indicates a certain set of priorities -- that there's little to no need to launch a national campaign that only indirectly has an impact on these individual markets. My really liking Arctic Circle isn't going to keep it from being dropped in Goshen, Indiana if the local readers don't take to it.

Still, it feels like a missed opportunity to me that I was able to tell readers and potential local strip advocates how much I enjoyed, say, Franklin Fibbs, but I had a hard time directing people to a site where they could see a bunch of it. Baker has that taken care of, and Wilkinson's status has driven a lot of coverage, but it feels like something that needs to be fixed in the years ahead. Comic books have aped movie and book release advance publicity in a way that's proved fruitful even though comic books and graphic novels are rarely released in a manner that's similar to movies. Comic strips, on the other hand, really are national campaigns; I long for the day when they start acting that way.
 
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Amnesty International on Rahman Case

The Associated Press is reporting that the human rights group Amnesty International has adopted the cause of the Bangladeshi cartoonist Mohammed Arifur Rahman. Rahman was detained last Fall after a cartoon he created for the newspaper Prothom Alo that contained wordplay around the name "Muhammed" angered certain political and religious groups. What was originally believed to be a 30-day period of detention made possible under laws allowing officials to bring controversial figures into custody to deflect threats against those persons and to mitigate against extremes in the protests themselves, has become a months-long ordeal with Rahman still being held and officials saying little about how a case against the twenty-something artist might be processed or when this might take place. Rhetoric from the human rights organization seems to reflect the harsher realties rather than the specifics of what is admittedly pretty open-to-abuse law. The article cites AI as pointing to one potential outcome for Rahman a two-year jail sentence, and although I can't figure out their source on that, it seems to match up with what I generally recall about non-cartoon cases of a similar nature.
 
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Missed It: Is the Comic Book Back Issues Business In a State of Freefall or Flux?

A few articles up at the comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com indicate an uncertain future for the comic book back issues business. Basically, the rise of a number of factors ranging from on-line sales avenues and trade paperback collections has diminished the effectiveness of some store's back issues sections to the point they're considering their elimination, or have already done so. This is exacerbated by increasing rent in several locations and the desire by many establishments to make all of their physical space more active in terms of making money for them. What seems to me the through-line here is the inevitability of a greater variety of sales models by which old comics can be put into the hands of those who want them. One of the pieces mentions small shops going through a bigger house like Lone Star Comics as a way to meet local collectors' demands; I would also suggest that discount pricing as opposed to collectible pricing is one way retailers commonly get some sales churn out of that portion of their store, a strategy that wasn't quite as commonplace 20 years ago.

imageI think this potential slow transformation of the back issues market is a bigger story than it appears at first glance. Back issues were an important part of the Direct Market formulation that kept a proper comics industry afloat in the 1970s and into the '80s -- one reason one was supposed to not mind so much buying non-returnable comics because anything that didn't sell immediately could be sold as a back issue. Ironically, for as much as all those white boxes have come to symbolize collecting over reading comics, the recent growth in more comprehensive tastes by older fans with economic power has driven a lot of reader-interest purchases of old comics in the last decade: things that aren't collected, like John Stanley's Thirteen Going On Eighteen, or items which someone may desire for some element of the reading experience that doesn't survive into a re-publication form, like Jack Kirby's 1960s Marvel comic books and the way the colors sit on the page.

It's hard for me to imagine most comic shops will be best served in the long-run by ridding themselves of old comic sales altogether. As more and more traditional comics readers become more savvy about and comfortable with on-line sales, and more folks enter into comics reading being served in their new comics purchases in a dominant way by everything but comics shops, stores devoted to comics will need every unique opportunity to distinguish themselves as they can find. My hunch is that many retailers are finding themselves only partially up against a shift of reading and buying habits on an institutional level, and more on the wrong side of a system defined by several unfortunate, indicative-of-unconscious-collusion peccadilloes in terms of pricing and market assumptions that could stand to be brushed from comics' coat like so many burrs. I might be concerned if I thought comics shops could no longer sell someone a great old comic book; I don't think I care as much if they have to sell it for a $5 flat rate in a rotating display as opposed to getting $32 for it just by virtue of putting it in a box underneath a card table in a corner of their floor space.

I'm not naive enough to think that old comics buying will someday be totally reflective of actual market demands for such items or that the industry will develop an equivalent to the lower entry point of used books that so deftly serves a lot of passionate readers. I do find myself thinking that any correction that takes us closer to fair transactions and wider reading opportunities is a cause for celebration, not discouragement.

pictured is an old comic I recently bought to read from a store that had it priced to sell; this would have been priced out of my hands even ten years ago
 
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Great Power Brings Great Annoyability

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The roll-out of this month's Spider-Man comics featuring a new narrative baseline designed to return the character to what Marvel perceives are core elements of his appeal -- single guy, no money, older relative for whom he feels responsible -- has led to a few feature articles worth noting like this interview with writer Dan Slott that practically shakes with Slott rubbing his hands together over the thought of penning Spider-Man's adventures or these kind of posts where people see a massive entertainment company placing a pop culture item in a big newspaper as something worth noting, or this parody comic that sees the controversial aspects as purposeful moves to generate publicity. You also see a lot of one-more-time running up and kicking the prone body of the plot mechanism that got Marvel there: Peter Parker making a deal with the devil.

I like Spider-Man comic books OK, and have great admiration for the extended initial, approximately 150-issue thematically cohesive and engaging run by Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, John Romita, Gerry Conway, Gil Kane and others -- particularly Ditko's work. That being said, I have no interest in tracking the latest permutations of the character's long-ago established function as a manipulable licensing totem. I get the attention. It's fun to play Monday Morning Quarterback with big pop-culture companies when they decide to do things like this, and to watch other people turn red in the face over the results, but it's tough to become invested in what at its heart is little more than a new actor being cast to play Ronald McDonald. I feel for those who are invested -- albeit with a healthy dose of "if this is a life problem for you, you must have a great life" -- but there are enough Spider-Man comic books out there for a lifetime's allotment of reading, and I'd like to suggest that maybe most of us have already experienced ours.
 
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Go, Look: New Yorker Cartoonists Blog

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Go, Look: Massive Hotwire #2 Preview

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Go, Look: Grady Klein’s Cartoon Essay

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Go, Look: Ollie and Quentin

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Piers Baker's strip from King Features launched yesterday
 
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Go, Look: Jim Blanchard’s New Blog

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Happy 42nd Birthday, Joe Pruett!

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Happy 42nd Birthday, James Pruett!

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Happy 87th Birthday, Lee J. Ames!

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Happy 53rd Birthday, Ken Steacy!

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Happy 67th Birthday, Boris Vallejo!

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does Boris have some comics connection of which I'm unaware, or did I just get drunk and put his name on my list for no particular reason?
 
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Quick hits
Craft
How to Draw Manga With Osamu Tezuka

History
Punch 25
Punch 26
Pulling a Bobby Ewing

Industry
Glass Eye Awards: Comics
Glass Eye Awards: Creators
Columnist Muses on Whether or Not to Shelve Lost Girls

Interviews/Profiles
AV Club: Dan Clowes
Newsarama: Mark Waid
Newsarama: Jamie Delano
Paul Gravett: Bryan Talbot
ICv2.com: Mike Richardson 01
ICv2.com: Mike Richardson 02
ICv2.com: Mike Richardson 03
Playback:stl: Shannon Wheeler

Not Comics
Chris Butcher in Japan 52

Publishing
James Vance Takes On New Project

Reviews
Jog: Golgo XIII Vol. 12
Richard Krauss: Satyr #7
Don MacPherson: Various
Noah Berlatsky: Lost Girls
John E. Mitchell: Milk Teeth
New Statesman: Alias the Cat
Hervé St-Louis: Creature Tech
Richard Krauss: Levels of Insanity
Matthew Brady: Stuck In The Middle
Byron Kerman: The Fun Never Stops
Richard Krauss: Comics and Sequential Art
Alan David Doane: Palestine: The Special Edition
Brian Doherty: XXX Scumbag Party, Misery Loves Comedy
 

 
January 7, 2008


CR Holiday Interview #15: Alan Gardner on the Year in Newspaper Strips and Editorial Cartooning

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Alan Gardner produces the blog The Daily Cartoonist, which in its brief lifetime has become the most reliable and effective aggregator for news affecting the newspaper strip and editorial cartooning worlds. It is one of a half-dozen can't-miss stops on the link-seeking rounds of the modern comics blogger: between The Daily Cartoonist and Dave Astor's work at Editor & Publisher, the interested reader will find somewhere between 98 and 100 percent of everything they'll want to know about that corner of the field.

This year saw Gardner's site deepen its reputation as a must-visit repository of strip and panel news with extended commentary threads -- those on the "Lisa Moore Dies From Cancer" storyline in Funky Winkerbean were required reading by any measure -- and a few key editorials by Gardner himself. I was pleased he allowed me to pick his brain on the state of newspaper cartooning from his unique and well-informed point of view, and thank him profusely for his time. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: Alan, I came to your blog late. Can you describe how you ended up blogging comic strip news? Did you start out with your current output in mind? How long have you had this interest in the strips?

ALAN GARDNER: I had always intended on cartooning for a living either as an editorial cartoonist or with a comic strip. I did both in college and worked at a daily paper as their editorial cartoonist. This is back in the mid- to late-'90s. When my wife and I found out we were expecting triplets, I left the newspaper for a higher paying job in web development. Then in 2005, I started to get that itch to start cartooning again, but with the current state of the newspaper industry, I wasn't sure where I should focus my efforts. I started the blog as an excuse to get caught up on the market place and to experiment with blogging in general. Since most of my experience in cartooning was newspaper based and I knew who the players were, it was an easy leap into this space.

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SPURGEON: How was your 2007? It seems to me that you engaged more complex issues and took advantage of your increased talkback traffic. How is Daily Cartoonist different than it was one or two years ago?

GARDNER: I think this year could be described as the year that The Daily Cartoonist became a community. The number of visitors getting involved in the comments has grown and so it makes the site a much more interesting read. My audience consists of cartoonists, syndicates, fans, and newspaper editors and to varying degrees they're all commenting on the blog, so it has opened up the discussion a bit on a lot of topics. Often in this industry you have the three parties (cartoonists, syndicates, and papers) and they all make assumptions about each other and what I'm starting to see is a genesis of where the three can have conversations about issues of interest.

Another change is the perception of The Daily Cartoonist. It's been cited as a source in a couple of major publications this year and became a popular sounding board for anyone wanting to comment on the Funky Winkerbean/Lisa Moore story.

imageSPURGEON: At the very beginning of 2007, FoxTrot went from dailies to Sundays-only, opening up hundreds of daily slots. Other than a few strong gainers like Lio, the dailies openings seemed to go to a lot of different strips instead of one perceived replacement, as had been seen in the past when a popular feature reduced its output or retired. What do you think this says about the state of the market right now?

GARDNER: Janet Grimley, assistant managing editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal story that features editors should look at the comics page like a stock portfolio and diversify. I think that's what we saw earlier this year as a large number of features editors were forced to take a look at their "portfolio." The market offerings for years have been heavily tilted toward family features, so in hindsight, it's easy to see why editors would begin to explore other features.

On a related note, I think the FoxTrot retirement as a whole as been positive as it allowed some really good talent like Mark Tatulli, Stephan Pastis, and Paul Gilligan to gain clients faster than they normally would. Makes you wonder what the landscape would look like if more of the larger features retired rather than become legacy strips.

SPURGEON: For that matter, how do you look at the strip market overall? At the end of the year a couple of major papers -- the Houston Chronicle, the Washington Post -- radically altered their commitment to that section. Can we expect more such adjustments in the future?

GARDNER: There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the number of spots on the comics page is shrinking. When I talk to the syndicates about this, without exception they all tell me that business is good and that they're gaining or selling more of their comic features than before. Well, I don't know how all syndicates can say they're increasing their sales in a declining market unless they're either lying or they're counting internet sales as separate clients -- much like selling the Sunday version of a strip is counted as a separate sale than the daily version to the same paper. If that's the case, then I think it confirms the trend demonstrated by larger papers, like the ones you cited, which seem to be dropping printed features and increasing their web offerings. Papers win three ways -- they cut their print costs, they can tell their readers that their beloved feature is still available, and they can use the feature to increase ad revenue on their web site.

On that last point, I don't know how well that is going. Historically comics pages are ad-less so newspapers haven't been able to generate ad revenue on one of the most popular pages in the paper. But on the web users expect advertising so, at least in theory, the comics page could be a revenue generator for once. I think I strayed from the question a bit. Yes, expect more adjustments.

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SPURGEON: What do you take away from the intense interest in the content of two strips, the Lisa Moore storyline in Funky Winkerbean and the Anthony/Elizabeth storyline in For Better or For Worse? Is this proof of the continuing strong appeal of the strips or a kind of focused interest that shows they're only being read by a kind of intense fan and not the general public?

GARDNER: I think the source of interest in these storylines are a bit different. Interest in the Lisa Moore storyline had a lot to do with the publicity it generated because of the topic and controversy of having a main character die from cancer. The Anthony/Elizabeth story was probably more homegrown with longtime readers. Regardless of the source of the popularity of the storylines, both features demonstrated the power that comics can have on people. We, and I'm talking the general reader, can become very passionate about comic characters that is not shown for book, TV or movie characters. I don't claim to understand the phenomenon, but it's real.

SPURGEON: Where do you stand on the appropriateness issue that came up with the Lisa Moore storyline, where people felt it was simply too awful to have to deal with issues surrounding cancer in what might usually be seen as a respite from such real-world difficulties?

GARDNER: I'm not sure where the moniker "funny pages" came from or when it started, but it has been a stumbling block for many features that want to branch out beyond the gag-a-day world. Comics, like I mentioned, have a great deal of power to impact readers and when they're pigeon-holed into mantras like "comics are supposed to be funny," then comics can't reach their full potential. To me there is a larger question raised with the Lisa Moore storyline and that is why did this have to be so controversial? Every other media has the freedom to tackle any topic it wants, why not comics? That's more depressing to me than a comic character dying.

imageSPURGEON: After all the back and forth, where do you think your readers stand on the Schulz biography? Flawed? Downright manipulative? Goes with the territory? Was the reaction different to the American Masters program, do you think? What's your opinion on either?

GARDNER: I think most of my readers have already read or will probably read the biography. There's been enough evidence provided by the Schulz family that the book is flawed and most will read it knowing that this is not the definitive volume on Sparky. That in my mind is the greatest disappointment of this whole book -- that Michaelis' unparalleled access to so many sources and material that he could have written the authoritative book the man who's had the most impact on comics ever -- and he didn't. The American Masters program did present Sparky more fairly based on the comments on the blog.

SPURGEON: Is there anything we can take away from Berke Breathed being pulled from papers in August for what seems to me at least like some really benign humor regarding Muslim dress? Are papers over-sensitive to this kind of material?

GARDNER: Mostly it shows how our society has become overly sensitive and politically correct. We can't talk about race, religion or many cultural issues without being branded as a anti-this or anti-that and if we can't have those kind of honest discussions in real life -- it can't happen in the comics where stereotypes are often used as a quick way of setting context for the punch-line. A related event happened in November when the Beloit Daily News (WI) temporarily dropped Non Sequitur for [what] really amounts to a misinterpretation of a weak joke mentioning the KKK.

SPURGEON: Alan, do you think the recent wide and high-profile availability of a lot of classic material has had any effect on the modern consumption of strips? Do you enjoy any of those series? Do you have any favorite ongoing strips?

GARDNER: I've been amazed at the number of classic compilations have been made available in just the last two years. The box sets are so much nicer and provide a richer experience. If I didn't have to wait decades for a current feature to show up in a box set, I'd get rid of all the paper back collections I have in my library. The week leading up to Christmas this year, I pulled out the Calvin and Hobbes box set and read all of the Christmas story-arcs with the kids. That would have been incomplete and time consuming with paper backs. Now you asked about the classics having an impact on modern consumption of strips. That's harder to pin down and I'm not privy to the type of data one would need to say that authoritatively. I look at it this way -- the books are doing very well, or well enough that they keep coming out with them. That has to show that there is a high interest in comics. Why then are editors reducing their comics instead of increasing them? What marketing genius thinks they can offer less at the same or increased price and expect people to continue to buy it? As to what I read, I signed up for two of the three comic subscription services and get 53 comics and editorial cartoonists delivered to me each day -- too many to mention here.

SPURGEON: Is it my imagination, or between the Clay Bennett to Chattanooga story and the kind of aggressive stance on promoting their strengths that came out of the AAEC meeting, did editorial cartooning news seem more hopeful this year than maybe the last few? You wrote about the editorial cartoonist as victim stance in August; what was the reaction to your piece?

GARDNER: I'm not sure that much has changed from 2006 to 2007 and I don't think there was any organized effort coming out of this year's convention. That's why I wrote what I did. There is a cyclical story that appears without fail each June before the convention -- usually in the local paper where the AAEC is holding their convention. It's always how the staff jobs are dwindling. While there has been a great deal of talk on how to reverse the trend, the only thing that is presented to the public is the "hey feel sorry for us" story. It's depressing. There was less reaction, at least publicly, than I had anticipated to what I wrote. There were some who felt that there are efforts to paint a better picture of editorial cartooning, but I don't think there was much disagreement that the current messaging is working.

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SPURGEON: Do you have an opinion on whether or not the Pulitzer should have animated cartoons as part of its judgment slate?

GARDNER: I think it was a big deal this year because of the absence of something bigger to talk about -- no Mike Luckovich "Why?" cartoon to merit the prize. I believe the impact of an editorial cartoon is greatest in pen and ink form and the award category should reflect that. Animation is new and raises questions about fairness -- the biggest being that not all cartoonists do all the animation themselves. Preferably, I would have liked to see the board wait a couple of years more to see if animation really becomes something more than side projects for cartoonists and if so, then to give it its own category.

SPURGEON: How big a story was the transition from the late Jay Kennedy to Brendan Burford at King Features, in your opinion? How have you felt about Ted Rall's work with United thus far?

GARDNER: Aside from your interview that you did with Brendan a month or so after he assumed Comics Editor, there wasn't a great deal of ink on the topic. Perhaps it didn't seem right to hype him up right after Jay's passing.

As far as Rall's work, it's clear he's aggressively looking for talent and not just reading the submissions. That gives United an edge over more passive syndicates. With Family Tree in January, he will have launched three features and each represents one of his sources -- the web (Diesel Sweeties), his network (Family Tree) and submissions (Secret Asian Man). Of the three, I don't see a clear soon-to-be-classic, but they're stable offerings which is about par for the other syndicates.

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SPURGEON: Do you feel there's still work to be done to prepare comic syndication for the increasingly on-line presence of daily newspapers?

GARDNER: In some regards, I wonder what work has been done. The big three syndicates have their own online presence with subscription services, but why they have product offerings to compete with newspapers instead of support them, I haven't figured that one out. I don't know when they will launch, but I know two of the syndicates, Universal and United both have significant upgrades to their web sites that will roll out in 2008. I've seen Universal's and it has more community features like tagging and commenting. Again, the syndicates are investing to in make their own sites destination spots, but how that helps their cartoonists get into more papers or online papers where they make money, we'll just have to see.

SPURGEON: Have you any thought about what we're going to see in 2008? What might we expect to see on your site?

GARDNER: I haven't really thought about it. Last year I made few predictions that failed to realize, so I'll skip making any more. As far as the site, I have four major feature enhancements that I hope to roll out next year to help boost the blog's community. I'd really like to reach out and bring more newspaper editors into the discussion and hopefully some of these things will help out in that regard.

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* Lisa Moore passes away in Funky Winkerbean
* Alan Gardner's Daily Cartoonist logo
* from the last FoxTrot daily
* Anthony and Liz from For Better or For Worse
* cover art to Schulz and Peanuts
* one of Walt Handelsman's winning Pulitzer cartoons
* panel from Ted Rall-selected Diesel Sweeties
* Berke Breathed being forced out of some publications for an extremely innocuous joke or two about Muslim cultures made getting kicked out of the papers somehow less cool (below)

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The Daily Cartoonist

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this marks the final entry in this year's CR Holiday interview series. Thank you to all that participated. Several interviews originally planned for the series will appear on this site in the near future.
 
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CR Holiday Interview #14: Sean T. Collins on The Year In Mainstream Comics

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imageIt's been a long year in North American mainstream comics, as DC and Marvel continue to do battle for the largest portion of the Direct Market revenue pie, the market for books and trades of that work continues to grow in significant fashion and have a greater say on how comics are published (although most of that success fails to match the heights reached by popular manga), and event book after event book primes an audience that is beginning to show signs of Armageddon Exhaustion. Having started as one of the prime forces behind the comics interested articles in the Abercrombie & Fitch Quarterly, having most recently worked for Wizard before being let go this year, and being an adult superhero comics reader who came to them with almost no experience with them as a child and therefore maybe the only writer-about-comics out there lacking the nostalgia gene, the writer and one-time anchor of the on-line comics commentary world Sean Collins offers what I think is a unique perspective on events in the costumed corner of the comics world. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: Sean, I don't know a whole lot about you before you showed up on-line.

SEAN T. COLLINS: Ha, I like the way you phrased that. Sort of like how one fine day a ship arrived at the Grey Havens and off hopped Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and those two blue wizards who would be my lead characters if I ever wrote Tolkien fanfic.

SPURGEON: Bonus points, then, if it involves being sent East to combat Sauron, but is there a cocktail party version of how you went from reading comics to writing about them at Abercrombie & Fitch? How did comics gain a foothold there in the first place?

COLLINS: Actually, before I worked at A&F I was barely reading comics at all. I'd only started reading them in high school and mostly stopped in college, except for anything by Frank Miller and the occasional thing by Alan Moore and eventually, thanks to a roommate's donations, ACME Novelty Library and Savage Dragon. Then one day I flipped through a copy of Wizard that was on the desk of my boss at A&F, Savas Abadsidis, a fanboy through and through. I forget which issue it was but there was a piece on the upcoming Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely/Joe Casey/Ian Churchill relaunch of the X-Men franchise. I remembered Morrison's name from Arkham Asylum and decided to swing by the store, which was Jim Hanley's a couple blocks from Penn Station into which I commuted every day, to pick up his and Casey's first issues. The rest was history. Being in Hanley's on a regular basis exposed me to the whole panoply of alternative comics, and since I was spending Abercrombie's money I vowed to buy one book a week by someone I'd never even heard of before. That's how I picked up The Last Lonely Saturday by Jordan Crane, which led me to Non, which led me to Highwater, and blammo, comics nerd.

So comics got a foothold at A&F simply through Savas and I being readers. He'd already been running reviews of graphic novels pretty much one per issue when I got there, and I just brought another voice saying things like, "Hey, let's interview Brian Michael Bendis or Art Spiegelman" to the table. He and I also liked to use comics artists as illustrators, which led to guys like Jordan and Nick Bertozzi working for us.

As you can tell, I am for shit at cocktail parties.

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SPURGEON: Why did you end up leaving A&F and how did you end up with the gig at Wizard?

COLLINS: The Quarterly came under regular fire from Christian conservatives for its, oh, let's say relaxed attitude toward sex, as evidenced by both Bruce Weber's racy photos of naked collegiate types and by the editorial content, which was my bailiwick. Right around the time that Joe Scarborough did a segment echoing the Catholic League/Concerned Women for America line that the Quarterly constituted "porn for kids" or whatever the fuck, I believe the company's bottom line was taking an unrelated and ultimately short-lived downturn, and the Quarterly was canceled, I think mostly as an effort to show the shareholders, "Hey, we're doing something." To quote Shogun Assassin, it was a bad time for the empire.

While I was at the Quarterly I made the acquaintance of X-Men and Transformers producer Tom DeSanto. He had a relationship with Wizard for obvious reasons and put in a good word for me there. They liked the freelance assignment I did for them, an interview with Geoff Johns about Green Lantern: Rebirth, and brought me aboard to work in their Special Projects department.

SPURGEON: How would you describe your specific interest in comics? What core elements drive your interest in the art form?

COLLINS: Wow. You know, those are hard questions! It's like asking me what drives my interest in rock and roll or movies. I honestly couldn't tell you why I'm so focused on comics as opposed to, like, prose fiction. I guess it's the sense that comics is the last Wild West medium. You can pretty much do whatever the hell you want, be as weird as you want, and still be published and find a passionate audience for it. That makes me feel passionate. The feeling I get when I crack open a comic is pretty close to that feeling I get when the lights go down in a movie theater or the opening notes of a really great record come on, only if anything I think I get it more often and more viscerally from comics than I do from movies. Comics are fun, even or especially when they're really just brutal and dark and awful.

imageLately there are two sort of vibes that get me going in terms of comics. In genre comics, it's what I've come to call "the art of enthusiasm" -- a creator taking all sorts of stuff that they find awesome about the art they enjoy and presenting it for your enjoyment as filtered and expanded through their own imaginations. Things like Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction's Immortal Iron Fist, Geoff Johns's Green Lantern, Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim.

In art comics, I find the way I interact with them getting closer and closer to the way I interact with music. So I like the short story format because it's like listening to one good song. I get fired up by the tension and rhythm of repetition. I like the elements to sort of jangle against each other at angles, almost in abstract fashion, so that the impact is primarily emotional rather than intellectual, which is how I listen to music -- I mean, I can really really love a song and not be able to tell you what it's "about" at all, maybe not even be able to sing more than a lyric or two, but I really really love that song. I'm thinking of Anders Nilsen's comics in Mome, The End, and Monologues for the Coming Plague, Kevin Huizenga stuff like "Sunset" or "Untitled," John Hankiewicz's Asthma. I can't even tell you how much all of those excited me this past year. And yet I also loved finding out that there's a whole rainbow of Lantern Corps floating around the DCU. It's still rock 'n' roll to me.

SPURGEON: How have your comics reading habits changed by the kind of work writing about comics that you do? How has writing about comics changed the way you read comics?

COLLINS: My reading habits I'm not really sure about, but my buying habits definitely have, because I've been fortunate enough and successful enough in writing about comics to be granted free access, in one way or another, to around 75 percent of anything I'd want to read. This has decreased somewhat since Wizard let me go, but I'm still better off than most. So I tend to only buy alternative comics at cons like MoCCA where I'm coming across books I didn't have access to before, and I never buy pamphlets at all if it can be helped. I buy trades from the big superhero and manga companies at DCBService.com.

I don't know if writing about comics have changed what comics I read or how I read them. I think it's like Jog told Chris Mautner -- when I write about comics, or anything else, I'm basically just jotting down thoughts I'd have had anyway. I do feel like the more I read comics the more I understand what I like and don't like about them. And there are a handful of critics who've unlocked pathways in my brain toward understanding such things better than I did before.

SPURGEON: I've never talked to anyone who worked at Wizard before. What was the atmosphere like at Wizard? What was the office culture like? Was there anything that linked all of the employees there -- say a certain age, or a love for a certain kind of comic -- or drove employees into various camps?

COLLINS: The thing that linked every person I knew there on the creative end of things -- editorial, design, and research -- is that they loved comics. I think there's one exception and he knows who he is and probably wouldn't mind if you knew who he was either, but he dug the pop culture stuff we covered just as much as the rest of us dig funnybooks. No one on the creative end was there for a paycheck. Heh, to a fault.

imageThat said, definitions of "comics" varied wildly. There were and are certainly people there who fit the stereotypical Wizard-fan mold in terms of viewing Vertigo as "indie comics" and not reading anything black and white, who love Identity Crisis and early-'80s Marvel but think Jack Kirby's Fourth World books suck because Granny Goodness is a silly-sounding name. Then there are the people who you've probably heard about because they'd write things that'd get linked to by yourself and Dirk Deppey -- the Brian Warmoths and Kiel Phegleys and David Paggis and Rickey Purdins of the world -- who like independent comics, alternative comics, and webcomics and fought to cover them. And then in between you have people who are predominantly superhero readers but tackle them the way a normal critic would tackle art, rather than the weird insular approach where they're only ever judged against other superhero comics and by some standard of "accuracy" in terms of whether or not Wolverine would actually say that or what have you.

Those are the creative types. Then there was the business end, advertising and conventions and the online store and production and finance and marketing and the head honchos, or what we referred to amongst ourselves as "upstairs" because they occupied the second floor of Wizard's two-story office building in semi-upstate New York. Discretion is the better part of valor here, methinks. It is safe to say that upstairs is a culture unto itself.

I think in terms of the way Wizard's internal culture affects its coverage, the biggest problem is an unwillingness to look or fear of looking beyond the direct market comics buyer for potential Wizard buyers and readers. That leads to a self-fulfilling mandate in terms of what kind of books are covered and what isn't, even when the folks making the call would just as soon cover something that they're saying no to. It's not just non-superhero comics that are affected by this, by the way. This mindset kept the magazine from really covering broader non-superhero nerd-culture phenomena like Lost until a couple years ago, too.

But it's obviously changed in that regard, and it's possible it'll change further under Scott Gramling, who's a bright and talented guy. I always defended Wizard's coverage by saying it's basically just a mirror to the DM with, if anything, more coverage of non-Big Two stuff than sales merit, but I'd obviously love to see the magazine and website set a new agenda. In part it depends on whether there'll be a new crop of alt-comix people to take the place of guys like me and Brian Warmoth and Rick Marshall so that there's a critical mass of voices speaking in favor of that material.

SPURGEON: Now that you've had a few months to reflect, how do you think you're going to look back on your time at Wizard?

COLLINS: I will mostly focus on the friends I met there. I've never ever worked with a better class of people. I could rattle off a dozen names easy of co-workers who are among my favorite people on earth.

SPURGEON: Did you enjoy the immersion into American mainstream comics culture that you received at Wizard?

COLLINS: Oh, yes and no. So much of it is garbage, obviously, just soul-deadening crap that makes me angry and hateful inside. My big catchphrase while I was working there was putting down some terrible comic in a huff and gritting my teeth and screeching the word "RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGE!" But then there's a lot of great stuff that I'd never have read if it weren't for having an enormous pile of weekly comics from the big companies to go through every week.

SPURGEON: Did you notice things about those kinds of comics that you may not have noticed before, simply by virtue of having so many pass through the offices?

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COLLINS: Definitely. I think it helped me figure out what superhero comics do well, and then note how to do them well. So for example, everyone knows that superhero comics are full of fights, but I really grokked how important it is to root combat in a described physical space, and give each stage of that combat palpable physical consequences. It's the difference between the big throw down with Bullseye at the end of Bendis and Alex Maleev's Daredevil run and any given X-Men comic from the '90s where a bunch of squinty-eyed people with poorly defined energy powers in purple and blue costumes shoot lasers out of their bodies in random directions. Example number two: Superhero comics use costumes and powers as an exciting metaphor for the liberation of your secret self, so having costumes and powers that make a visual and mental impact on the reader aren't just gravy, they're part of why a character works or doesn't work, and there's no shame in that game. To use Bendis as an example again, his work on Ultimate Spider-Man suffered once he'd cycled through the major Lee/Ditko/Romita bad guys plus Venom and Carnage, all of whom are really marvels of concept and design, and then tried to build story arcs around the likes of Silver Sable and Deadpool. And I'm more sure than I ever was that superhero comics are like operas where the fighting takes the place of the singing -- an ecstatic, spectacular representation of dangerously powerful emotions. Most of the dreary superhero comics that the internet makes fun of these days have superheroes shouting or crying where they should be punching, and that's where they go wrong.

Reading a double-digit number of superhero comics every week for three years also exposed me to some specific things I wouldn't have seen otherwise. For example, I reappraised Geoff Johns. He's obviously the online whipping boy for modern superhero excess -- I think Alan David Doane has threatened to stab him with the arctic shit-knife. Now, not everything he's done is to my taste, but I
 
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Happy 44th Birthday, Aaron Lopresti!

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Happy 49th Birthday, Karl Kesel!

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Happy 55th Birthday, Bob Wiacek!

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Happy 63rd Birthday, Jay Lynch!

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January 6, 2008


CR Holiday Interview #13: Francoise Mouly

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*****

Francoise Mouly [seated, right] is a co-founder of the landmark art-comics anthology RAW and was its co-editor from 1980 to 1991, enough in the way of comics credit for any industry Hall of Fame one can imagine. She is also art editor of The New Yorker, a position she assumed in 1993, and the moving force behind a number of artistic and publishing projects spiraling out of those two cultural institutions. A Raw Junior initiative she founded in 2000 resulted in the Little Lit anthologies at HarperCollins. Mouly thought that the Little Lit books might be a springboard into a line of hardcover comic books for children. When publisher after publisher took a pass on working with Mouly on such a line, she returned to her self-publishing roots and began to put together what would become Toon Books. Toon will release six volumes over a Spring and a Fall season in 2008. Coming from a number of different artists, it's hard to describe the Toon works beyond their prospective target market except perhaps to say that they're very confident in their comics format; reading them feels new yet also brings with it a notion of "Well, of course this is what chapter books for kids in comics form would look like." Finding a place for comics in a publishing world that appreciates but maybe not quite yet embraces them seems a sizable challenge, but one that Mouly is meeting head-on. I spoke to her on a Saturday morning, months from the formal launch and she still sounded more busy than I've ever been in my life. I greatly appreciate her time. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

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TOM SPURGEON: The Toon books you sent out, the advance copies of the Spring line, they look really nice. They're very assured.

FRANCOISE MOULY: Thanks. I'm amazed that I'm where I'm at. I always assumed that I would be doing this with an established children's book publisher. HarperCollins, with whom I did Little Lit and so on. I've been working on this for years and lo and behold the logical trajectory was to go back to my source and self-publish. Which is very amusing but also terrifying. But here we are.

SPURGEON: Were you surprised that the booksellers wanted to cherry pick the books a little bit?

MOULY: More than a little bit. It was strange that 30 years ago when I was doing RAW I did it because we had tried, Art [Spiegelman, Mouly's husband and partner at RAW] and I, to talk to anybody who was a magazine publisher or editor or other publisher, and nobody else was doing that. So it was by default -- "Okay, we'll show them." It was easier to just do it, and then show them what it should be like, than to talk people into doing things. And here I assumed that we were way past that moment. That it was going to be easier to publish comics and certainly among the children's book publishers that I approached, that they would not argue with me. "Oh yeah, it's a great idea."

They all said "It's a really wonderful idea. It's beautifully executed." Every single one of them was really impressed. "Oh, of course. It's obvious. Comics for young kids. It's really well done. [pause] We wish we could do it, but we can't." That was a surprise to me. I went to see every publisher in town at one point or another, kids book publishers, and consistently what they ended up saying was that they don't have the means to start something new. So over and over again it was, "This isn't what we do, and there's no place for it in the bookstore." Which is exactly where we were at 30 years ago when Art was submitting Maus to publishers. It wasn't anything they were doing, and there wasn't any place for it in the bookstore. One of the publishers I talked to felt they didn't have the means to start a new category. Then they would start looking at my books and then they would say, "Maybe we can take this one and change it a bit and reincorporate it into a format that exists." It wasn't always the same one that they would pick. They didn't want to start a new line of books.

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SPURGEON: Where are you now in terms of day to day work on the line?

MOULY: [laughs] You want a short or a long answer?

It's backbreaking. It's because we do everything. I have a day job. It's not inconsequential being the art editor of the New Yorker. In my spare time, we basically are talking to artists about developing books for a year or two from now. Doing the production on the books that will be published in the Fall of '08. I'm overseeing the printing of the Spring '08 list. And dealing with the so-called marketing plan with a publicist and with Diamond. All at once. With no real staff. Bill [Kartapolous] has been helping me with a month or so. I had other people before. I have interns that help me at my day job at the New Yorker. I make them fold dummies as well. I use every resource I can to put all of this together.

What is surprising to me is the amount of work and attention. I knew that I would have to parts of it that I am doing, the editing and the back and forth with the artist, and the shaping of the work, and then I would have to do the production, but I like doing the production. Part of making books for me is making the object and dealing with the printer. Even when I did books with HarperCollins, the Little Lit books, I actually delivered printed books to them and supervised the printing. With the Toon Books the part that I am directing again, it's good because otherwise I probably wouldn't have jumped into doing it myself, is making the marketing plan. That's something that's far more money and time and brain cells than I ever expected.

SPURGEON: One thing I wanted to ask you, you just mentioned your editorial process. I know that you're big on giving your artists the maximum amount of freedom. But there are very specific aims I'm guessing you would have with books like these.

MOULY: Exactly. Part of what's interesting to me is the learning curve. Again, I've done this for so many years. Editing pictures that have meanings, narratives. Pictures and words, I've done this for many years. In the process always with the New Yorker, it's one kind of baseline, which is my response to see, art has to do her work or his work as clearly what he intended or she intended as possible. If it's a New Yorker cover it has to be instantly readable, it has that kind of presumption in terms of the audience. You don't dumb it down. The audience has to bring their own understanding into the image, otherwise there's no fun to it. That's true of the works that we put in RAW. At the time when we were doing RAW there was another magazine, Heavy Metal. They had constraints, such as a specific theme, science fiction. For us, there was no common denominator in terms of "This is all going to be adventure," or whatever. The common denominator is that the artists were true to their own artistic endeavor. And as editors we were trying to make that as clear as possible.

imageNow when you're doing stuff for children, it's like that and it's completely different. There's also a stage where it matter that the artist is true to her stated intention, but it also matters that a child of a certain age can decipher it. The reading of words and pictures is different than that of work for an adult. For example, very simple things such as the balloon order has to be consistent and clear. The positioning on the top and the left, from the left to right, this is not the time or place to start playing with this, however it might work for a different audience. The visual storytelling has to also be very self-contained. You can't presume that a child knows that this is a reference to a Winsor McCay picture or whatever. That doesn't mean it has to be dumbed down any more than the works that we are doing for adults. It means that when someone writes a story, the first stage for them to do a paragraph description and to do the first breakdowns, and then after that, once it's written, I go over the language with a teacher, and make sure that we try to keep within a certain amount of vocabulary, depending on the complexity of the book.

Part of doing a line, what's interesting to me is to do quite a range of different books. So there are some that are first books, and some that are for kids that are already a bit more advanced. In all cases, I go over it first with a teacher who will say to me, "This word is hard to read." And offer suggestions as to other phrasings that might be easier to decipher in terms of the reading level. I work back and forth with the artist to incorporate those suggestions. Then I'll do what I just did recently with our Fall books: I'll go to school. I tend to go to schools with kids not like my kids or my friends' kids whose parents have read to them ever since they were in theirs mothers' bellies. These are kids that haven't had any kind of exposure to books or to comics. Just to make sure that everything is decodable for them. I went to school in the Bronx and we read the Fall line with first graders and the couple of the second graders. It's wonderful. Teachers give us a lot of feedback on the word part, but the visual is something that we only see in the reading of it. The kids are far more sophisticated visually. As we were hoping, they read so much of the story in the facial expressions and body gestures and the staging of the books. They were able to read and do the voices at the same time, which is unheard of at that age.

Somebody asked me, "Are you doing market testing?" I said, "No, no!" It's more that I'm refining my editing process. These are things that I do without realizing they need doing. There was a sequence in one of the books that we read that had some kind of cross-cutting. Where one of the characters likes the other and then they remember, "Meanwhile..." And we'd get there and I'd realize, "There's a lot of inference here." So we needed to straighten it out. So we straightened it out and we're re-writing one more time in the captions to make it clear to the reader. I don't think it's fair to say, "I'm doing this for young kids," and then to have a kind of cross-cutting. I prefer for it to have a straight-forward narrative. Clean and clear.

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SPURGEON: Is there anything about the way kids develop their visual skills these days that you've come up against? I would figure that kids today would develop their visual abilities not so much through reading but through video games or television.

MOULY: That's a really good question. I knew that I wanted to capture the interest of kids that had never seen comic books. I put the books on the table at the various schools I've been at. And again, I'm going to schools where I know the kids don't have any kind of book or print support at home. They grab the books right away. There are some that are more appealing to little boys, and some that are more appealing to little girls, but this isn't that hard to figure out. There's one, Silly Lilly, with a girl dancing on the cover, and boys will stay away from that. But the bears by Geoffrey Hayes are more unisex in the sense of their appeal. In the Fall we have a book by Jay Lynch and Dean Haspiel, boys gravitate to it and girls are a little more reluctant, and so on. I did ask, What do you think of this" The kids all say, "this is just like cartoons. We like this drawing because it's just like cartoons." That is part of our intent when calling them Toon Books. It's a frame of reference for them. Even though they've never seen comic books -- Geoffrey Hayes looks like comic books of 40 years ago, and Dean Haspiel's book looks like a superhero book -- those things have been put in front of their eyes often in the form of Saturday morning cartoons. They have positive associations with that. Because of two things: 1) it's pleasurable, and 2) it's for them.

One little boy this week interrupted the reading in the middle and said, "Can I say something? I noticed something about all of these books. They all have the speech bubbles in them. That is all what people are saying. That's really good, because I am interested in what people are saying. The books that they give us, there's a little bit of text over here and a little bit of text over there, but these books, it's all about what people are saying." This is like, "Wow, I'm going to hire you as my literary critic here." [laughter]

They clearly respond to it. They think of it as something for them. Many, many, many kids grow up without any print around. There are no books, there's no magazines, there's no comic books at home. At school they're told they have to learn to read or they're an idiot. The books that are put in front of them are on two sides of a divide. These are the picture books and these are for babies... they are supposed to grow out of this. They are supposed to learn to read god knows how and then get to the point where they can read without pictures. They're to get beyond needing pictures. A couple of the kids look at our books and say, "These are chapter books?" And I say yes. That's one of the things I picked up from talking to the teachers. That the process is for the child to become so literate that he actually doesn't need the pictures anymore and he can read a chapter book. By definition, they're not illustrated. At that point you can drop the pictures because the kid is literate enough. And for the child, in a way that's such a loss. Because it's something they do like, and it's easy and natural for them.

The other thing that works very well, is that even though they may not have seen comics, they know comics are for an older kid. They know that big boys or big girls read comics. That the 8-12 year olds read comics. The child very often wants to have something that's not something that's his or her age but something that's for an older kid. If you want do a traditional children's books for six-year-olds, you don't use a six-year-old character, you use an eight-year-old. You put it one step above, because the motivation for the child is to discover something they don't know. They want a world that's slightly ahead of where they're actually at. Similarly, even though they might be more comfortable reading a baby book, picture books tend to be dismissed by them as baby books, but comics are for big kids.

When we were doing Little Lit we were talking to the publicist at HarperCollins about the age bracket. They said we publish for specific age brackets. And we said, "We're doing it for all ages. From 7 to 77." We got our way, and Little Lit is all ages, but the truth of the matter is that in terms of distribution there is a reason for what they're doing. It didn't help us to buck this trend. Kids that are seven and kids that are nine aren't at the same stage and don't want the same thing. We live in a wonderful world where kids can be surrounded by books and comics, and it's great to have something that's all-ages. I've seen a lot of instances of parents giving kids Little Lit that are two or three years apart and each one of them gets something from it. But in terms of the world we actually have to deal with, with comics not getting into the hands of kids, it's more acceptable to be specific as to what age group. It's the same for video games and so on and so forth. It's not the same to get a video game for an 8 year old and a 12-year old.

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SPURGEON: Your Spring line-up of authors has that kind of classic RAW feel of bringing authors from multiple places within comic books and visual culture. One of them, Geoffrey Hayes, I take it is a children's book author?

MOULY: He's Rory Hayes' brother. I don't know if you know about Rory Hayes.

SPURGEON: Oh, my goodness. That's who that is.

MOULY: They both grew up as kids reading Golden Age comic books, and they both became cartoonists. Rory is dead now, but as you know, he was an enormous influence on underground comix. It's certainly not work that I would show anybody in the kids' book world. Geoffrey continued being a cartoonist and a children's book artist. He did a lot of work in children's books and always wanted to do comics but was not encouraged to do that because a lot of the publisher he was working for wouldn't publish comics. He was more than pleased when I got in touch with him because it's something he always wanted to do.

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Agnes Rosenstiehl is a French cartoonist. She's hugely successful in France and completely taken for granted. She's done over a hundred books. The character which is the one that we're publishing here and which we call Silly Lily here and is called Mimi Cracra in France is read by everybody early on. Her talent is not recognized. I think she's terrific and her work is very sophisticated and deceptively simple.

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Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch: you know their two backgrounds. Jay is probably Art's oldest friend. I think they met when Art was 13 or 14 and Jay was 15. They were both doing fanzines. He's wonderful, quirky... he works for Topps when he's not doing his own books and his own strips. It seemed very natural to call on him. Frank, as you know has done his own books as well as his being a political cartoonist in Syracuse. They collaborated well... it's good to have two cartoonists working together.

On the other end I worked with Jonathan Bennett for the design of the books. Jonathan is really a treasure to work with. We got exactly what we wanted: something that feels like a classic, and feels like a children's book. We've done some conventions, and librarians and teachers stop by the table at Diamond Comics. And they say, "Oh, we didn't know you also had regular children's books." They were completely dismissing the fact that they were comics. Which is exactly what we wanted them to do. That they would look and feel like real hardcovers. We want the kids to discover not just the pleasures of the comics, but also discover the pleasures of a book. The tactile pleasures of a book. When we were reading books with the kids, they would fight over who would get to turn a page. They would want to go back, they would want to read it again. Which is what you do when you're reading a book, and is a very different process than when you're watching a movie. It's not the first thing a kid will say: can I go back? Kids get eager for it. It's a different experience than when you're watching something.

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SPURGEON: Did you go with the size of your books to emphasize the carry-along aspect of having a book?

MOULY: Yeah, there was another consideration. At some point, we defaulted on the horizontal format for Lily because it was intended as a first step. We had a version of the book formatted the same as Benny and Penny and Otto, and it wasn't as clear that she was going left to right and then top to bottom. The landscape format mandates that it's read left to right. It was very helpful. We had a larger format for books with more panels per page, but we ran into a contradiction in that the library, the bigger books were for younger kids. Again, the kid is pushed to read a more portable chapter book. So we stayed with that smaller format because it's more like a "a real book." It's not that different from the kind of thinking which we did with RAW when we decided to do a larger format because it was more suited to take a measure of the work, or Maus when Art decided on a paperback size for the book that didn't exist at the time. He wanted it be received like a literary novel.

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SPURGEON: One thing I've always wanted to ask you... You've been doing this for a long time, Francoise, both just generally making books and even now working with children's books, and I wondered if there was a core interest you could identify, a driving interest in doing this work for so long?

MOULY: Making a book is a magical thing for me. I've been doing it for 30 years. Before that I was studying architecture. Before even that I thought I would grow up to be a surgeon because my dad was a surgeon and I decide that that's what I would do. And then naturally I got to the point where I wanted to find my own thing. I started in architecture and I got very frustrated at the gap between what we were told as art students, which is that we were the artistes. "Design a new city" is an assignment we got in our third year. I had such a problem with the assignment. I was arguing with my teacher, "Wait, it's completely presumptuous to design a city. What do you mean? Cities don't get designed by an individual." And so on and so forth. That got me really bad grades. [Spurgeon laughs] I was very frustrated.

I came to New York as a way to step away from a destiny where I would inhabit the past which was right in front of me, where I would spend seven to eight years school designing new cities and designing a museum for this and designing a school of that. And then the reality was I would work in an architectural agency and basically do drafting for nice house with slanting roofs. Especially in the '70s when I was a student there was such a gap between what we were told to do and what we could do in the real world.

imageWhen I came to New York, I fell in with a milieu of artists. I was in a play by Richard Foreman, I was hanging around the Collective for Living Cinema, Stan Brakhage and independent filmmakers. I really loved the whole process of the art and the intellectual challenge of what was being done. The problems I had had to do with the difference between what the artist was doing and that in order to accomplish this they had to apply for grants. There wasn't really much of a connection between what the artist made and the interest of any kind of public audience for it. In order to be in the art world, you had to be part of a small group. It created a kind of difficulty for me. There would be four and half hours show of very difficult work. When I met Art, and I discovered the work he was doing at the time -- he was in the middle of doing Breakdowns, gathering the strips he had done -- something clicked. There was something wonderfully intelligent and challenging, but it was also funny and perfectly readable. And it didn't dismiss its audience. It communicated.

I learned about graphic design and production working on Breakdowns and went to a printer and immediately fell in love with that. You could actually make something that had the qualities of an art object and a literary work, and it could be sold in a store for $5. I thought, "Oh my God. This is so magical." I learned printing at a trade school at Bed-Stuy and bought myself a press. I started making things I then printed and folded and stapled and brought it into stores and put on the racks. That was so exactly what I wanted. If people wanted it, they would go it. I didn't need to go and beg someone to give me a grant to make my art object. It could be gotten by somebody who wanted it.

imageThat has been my driving desire. I could conceive of something, make it happen and if anyone wanted it, they could get it. It was true with my work at the New Yorker. I could do something like the black on black cover I did with Art. A million copies were printed and it could be seen on the newsstand and that it would have the resonance of art. That's magical for me. It really is. It's not a rarefied experience. It's something that's available.

After a few years at the New Yorker, I had the need to do something that was on the scale I understand. I could have taken RAW to a bigger scale magazine, but I chose not to, because I like doing things with my hand. My father was right: I like doing things with my hands. I want to be able to hold the object in my hands. I had to write a proposal when I was going to the publishers, but what I really had to do is work with the authors and make little dummies. It was at that point I realized, "I know what I want. I might as well do it myself."

*****

* photo of Francoise Mouly and her family, provided by Mouly
* various supporting panels and covers taken from Otto's Orange Day, Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons and Benny and Penny in Just Pretend -- Toon's Spring 2008 launch books
* Breakdowns
* post-9/11 cover on The New Yorker
* one of the line's fine looking support publications

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Toon Books

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the CR Holiday interview series continues through Monday with two interviews scheduled for each day. Tuesday, January 8 marks a return to this blog's full array of regular features. We thank you for your patience.
 
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CR Holiday Interview #12: Karen Berger

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*****

imageKaren Berger split her time this year between the launch of DC Comics' Minx line and continuing care for the Vertigo imprint, solidifying her position as one of American comic books' key players. I thought that the contrast between the caretaker role over a mature grouping of books like Vertigo, where you can argue for the emergence of a fourth or fifth generation of writers and which came about to reflect a run of books DC had been making for years preceding its launch, and a project like Minx, with several brand new writers and informed/influenced by DC's re-furbished marketing and sales department in a way that simply wasn't available to comics in the early 1990s, might prove to be an interesting line of inquiry. Plus I don't get to talk to folks with titles like "Senior Vice President -- Executive Editor, Vertigo" very often, so even if I knew before hand I wasn't going to see a monster I still would have slid into my seersucker suit, hopped into the Mustang and roared over to DC's offices. Unless I'm wrong, 2008 marks both a 15th anniversary for Vertigo and a 30th year in comics for the popular editor, and I was also happy to speak to her on the eve of these two important personal milestones.

DC publicity manager Alex Segura, who arranged the interview, sat in the room with Karen, one supposes to be fired more immediately if things turned ugly.

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TOM SPURGEON: I realized when I was preparing for this interview that 2008 is the 15th anniversary of Vertigo as a formal imprint. Vertigo famously had a long ramp-up period as a group of books within the DC line. Do you have any insight on how having the formal imprint has had an effect on that element of DC's overall publishing efforts?

KAREN BERGER: I think that doing an imprint in the first place just focuses the material, the point of view and the sensibility. That was obviously the reason we decided to do a separate imprint from DC. In terms of does it change things from the time before we had an imprint...?

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SPURGEON: It's a very high-profile imprint, a very recognizable comics brand... almost exceedingly so within the traditional comics realm. Has having a line had a specific impact on the comics that were developed after it was established?

BERGER: I think it's definitely helped. I think in life we all search for groupings or collective ways to describe with something. I think because with Vertigo the six titles, the monthly titles that started Vertigo -- like Sandman, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, etc. -- plus all the new books we've done since then, a very long list, I think the purpose was to create a home where the artist could do significant creator-owned work, although we do do some licensed characters, but to explore the medium in ways you can't do in traditional mainstream comics.

SPURGEON: In a way, its success has made Vertigo something against which other company's imprints, similar and even not so similar, have been judged. Have you seen or had any reaction to efforts over the years to replicate the success DC has enjoyed with Vertigo?

BERGER: I know Marvel has tried, and always tried a different take on it. I think the reason they haven't been able to pull it off, and not to sound snarky or conceited about it, is I think you have to be willing as a company to really make in a stake in the creative people who are going to be writing and drawing the material, in terms of the freedom you give them creatively and the ability to really go the creator-owned route and original-idea route. I think that has distinguished what Vertigo has done from any attempt Marvel has tried. Even smaller companies... there has been a lot of great stuff put out by small presses. At Vertigo we've been lucky to have the backing of a large company to do a lot of stuff, too. It does make it easier.

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SPURGEON: Has keeping the imprint small been a key? It seems like you've kept a core group, a reasonably limited number of titles and projects, despite the general impulse in comics to inflate things once there's a measure of success.

BERGER: We try to keep it to anywhere from 10-12 a month. There have been some years with more, and some with less, depending on what's in the pipeline, what's developed and what's ready. We don't want to overstay our welcome. [laughs] I think we put out a lot of strong material, but we don't want to cannibalize ourselves.

Some retailers tell me, "Oh, you publish too much." It all depends on who you talk to. I like to think we publish what we can support, and we definitely don't want to cause a glut.

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SPURGEON: 2007 seems marked by an increased emphasis on original graphic novels.

BERGER: We definitely amped up that side of our publishing plan. We've always done them, but we're purposely targeting that area more.

SPURGEON: This might be a really dumb question, but what exactly is the appeal of doing OGNs over the traditional model of spreading the cost over a series and then bringing it into a trade?

BERGER: It's really a difference between the types of story that you're telling. The long-form stories versus the episodic stories. It's really the TV movie. Sometimes you have a great HBO series that you'll watch episodically, and sometimes you'll have a great feature film. I'd like to think that the books that we're buying as original graphic novels are self-contained novels in the comics form. The reason we don't do them as a five or six issue mini-series is because we don't feel we have to break them down. That always was the mentality. We worked towards specifically the Direct Sales market and a certain kind of reader. But now that more and more people are getting hip to the idea that comics are this cool thing to read and it doesn't have to be about superheroes.

You see the success of things like Maus and Watchmen 20 years ago -- even Watchmen was episodic at the time, though I don't think a lot of people realize that.

SPURGEON: Maus was serialized, too, in RAW.

BERGER: You're absolutely right. Forget that argument. [laughter]

SPURGEON: Okay.

BERGER: Take Persepolis. The success that book has had -- it's brought a lot of woman readers and young woman readers to the form -- says that you can have great comics but not episodic in form. Look at Will Eisner -- he's the guy! -- and Contract With God.

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SPURGEON: One of the things from your 2007 that I thought was a really interesting publishing venture was Sentences. I thought that was a compelling publishing story, the fact that it was done and how it was received. How was it perceived in the office?

BERGER: I love that book. We got great feedback around the office, and we've received primarily pretty great press on it. Not everybody's going to love something, but primarily the press has been pretty favorable on it. The book actually made three top ten lists. It was on Time's Top Ten list, it was on Washington Post's top ten list, and it was on CNN.com's -- it was runner-up for best comic, actually. I think they had two -- Green Lantern was best comic and Sentences was runner-up. That really blew us away.

SPURGEON: Was there a learning curve at all in getting that book out there? A book like Cairo, to contrast, is more traditionally Vertigo-like in terms of theme and basic approach.

BERGER: You mean in terms of it being a memoir?

SPURGEON: Primarily, sure.

BERGER: Not really. I think what distinguishes a lot of the books that we do is that even though they might be fictional they draw a lot on real life. The reason that our books are so effective is that the reader relates to the character. In any good story or film you feel like you know the characters. In terms of working with Percy [Carey] and him writing his memoir... really, no. There was no difference. I will say this. As an editor, even though I didn't line edit the book. Casey Seijas is the editor in-house who brought the book in and edited it. In my role at Vertigo, if I think something is not working at a script stage or even looking at a book I'll throw my two cents in. With a book like this, I was more reluctant to. If there was anything that was unpolished, I found that to be part of the charm of the book, or part of the personal style. I think there's a real brutal honesty to Percy's work, and he's an excellent storyteller in comics given that this is his first comic. He's a great songwriter. A great writer. A great guy.

imageSPURGEON: Now Alcoholic is a memoir, too, right?

BERGER: Yes.

SPURGEON: Has that been interesting for you as an editor? The memoir has been a hot bookstore category over the last half-decade to a decade.

BERGER: That's one of the roots why we're looking at more material that way. It's popular -- not just a book like Persepolis but in book publishing in general. People like to read memoirs. I think if you've got an interesting story to tell, and you can do it well, graphic novels is a great place to do it.

Actually, Alcoholic is not entirely autobiographical. It's semi-autobiographical. There are a lot of things that are true. But then there are some things that aren't. When we promote the book, you'll hear all about it. It's a great script, a really great script.

SPURGEON: This might too broad a question, but in the last three years DC's sales and marketing departments have transformed themselves, or at least they've appeared to from the shifts in personnel and responsibilities that have been made public. Has this been beneficial for you as an editor and as someone with responsibility over an entire line?

BERGER: Oh, totally.

SPURGEON: Can you describe how that might be beneficial?

BERGER: Beside that we've really amped up our publicity efforts, particularly outside the Direct Market with the book market, and just amped them up in general to the real world, the fact we've been able to get such awesome coverage, I can't tell you how rewarding that is. For someone like me who's been doing it for a long time, to have that press, to have so much of it, and to have the interest has been really great. The publicity efforts have had a huge, huge impact.

SPURGEON: Do you get information coming back in that's helpful as for as building your knowledge as to who's reading?

BERGER: That's trickier, actually. [laughs] That's the other end, in terms of who's buying them.

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SPURGEON: Maybe this is a way to phrase it. I was wondering how the Minx launch compared to the Vertigo launch. If I remember, it was Death: The High Cost of Living #1 with which you launched Vertigo, a choice that seems to reflect a certain way of thinking, and the Minx line was a whole run of books, brand new, which reflects more a of a departure, or at least a different way of thinking. In fact, top to bottom it seems like a wholly different effort.

BERGER: It's totally different. With Vertigo we already had our audience. We had people who were already reading comics at the time who were into innovative, edgy, irreverent, smart literary stuff we were already doing this. So it was saying, "You love this; we're going to give you even more of it and we're going to give you your own imprint."

So it was much easier. When we launched Vertigo it was at the height of the comics boom. It was crazy. It was right around the time of Death of Superman and when Image first launched. It was an insane time where the collectors' market was crazy, and all our sales were wonderful but way too high. [laughs] It didn't mean anything at the end of the day, but we enjoyed it while we had it.

Obviously with Minx we're going after the teenaged girl who is not historically a comic book reader. We were looking at success that manga has had with attracting young women. We said, "Hey, we know there are teenaged girls reading manga. We also know there are teenaged girls that are reading books like Persepolis. We know that there are teenaged girls that read books like Sandman and some of Slave Labor's stuff." We also know that teenaged girls are adventurous readers, and read more than boys. So why don't we come out with a line, really an alternate to manga, that deals with real girls in the real world, real stories, real situations. Give it that human touch with very strong protagonists and independent thinkers.

imageSPURGEON: You've had a few months now to appraise the Minx line. How did the launch go from your perspective? Was it successful?

BERGER: Creatively, creatively we feel it was very successful. I don't think we're reaching a large enough audience at this point, and that's something we're working on to develop. We've gotten great press on the books, and we get great word of mouth. We're finding it harder to build the initial swarm of readers you hope to get when you launch something. We're optimistic with Minx that we'll be able to reach the market that we're intending to reach. Again, it's tough. We're going out with a line of book for an audience that we don't historically we have. We're aiming for the girl that goes into the bookstore and not necessarily the comic book store. There still aren't too many girls going into the comic book store, although it's better than it used to be. We sold fine in the Direct Market on the Minx books. We're hoping to sell more in the book market. We're working very closely. Our marketing and sales people are working with Random House, who is our new book distributor, to really escalate our efforts there with the line -- both what's out and the new launches coming out.

SPURGEON: Did you take to heart any of the complaints about the lack of female creator participation on the launch books? Did you hear any of that?

BERGER: Sure I did. Yeah. We expected it on some level, because it wasn't like we didn't try to ask women writers. We really did. Ultimately we went for the best material at the time that we had. We approached many people. A lot of it as well is that we had a specific point of view in mind. We're really looking for people who could have a sensibility for the books we were trying to produce. Once they came out, we started to find or be approached or be solicited by more female creators who were more unknown, but who had a flair for writing comics. People outside of comics. That has worked out well for us. In our second year we have many more female creators on the books.

I think that like with anything, you can be of any gender. A good writer should be able to write convincingly about the gender that they're not part of. I think that the writers that have worked on the Minx books, the man, have done terrific jobs. End of story. End of my defense. [laughter] It was natural to get that complaint. I wasn't surprised by it. Totally natural.

imageSPURGEON: What is your take on the serial comics market right now? You're still very aggressively launching series -- Brian Wood's new book is one of them, as is Rick Veitch's book, although that's a bit further along. A lot of folks feel that the lower end of the serial comics market may be more volatile than usual. Do you perceive a difference?

BERGER: For Vertigo?

SPURGEON: Yeah, particularly for series to launch in terms of this market as compared to five or ten years ago.

BERGER: As far as the industry in general, numbers are lower than they were. We've always sold lower than superhero books with rare exceptions, like Sandman or something. With Vertigo our sales are in the trades, and that's where we've really built up our... power, I guess. Our force in the market has been the fact that our books stay in print, that we're attracting a reader that doesn't go into the comic store every week. There are many people that don't buy the single issues. From what I've been able to gather all anecdotally, no hard evidence, from conventions, fans I've talked to, retailers, over the many years I've been doing this, the Vertigo reader really breaks into two camps. You have about half of the audience who read the monthly comics and go into the store every week and buy the trades, and then half the readership goes in every few months and buys the trade, waits for the trade to come out. It's tougher to gauge the periodical sales.

SPURGEON: I imagine you would have a longer period to look at sales on a title, too.

BERGER: It takes longer for us to gauge a title because the title might do well as a trade but not so great as a periodical. I give DC a lot of credit for giving us a lot of time, and giving creators the time to see if a book can find its audience before cutting them off. Before they can walk or swim [laughs] -- whatever expression you want to use.

SPURGEON: Is there a signature event or series of events we should look towards in 2008 Vertigo-wise? You have a couple of long-running series coming to close.

BERGER: Yeah, in January.

SPURGEON: Does that set the tone for the year?

BERGER: Absolutely not. It's pure coincidence. I didn't even notice until you mentioned it. With any series, it will run its course creatively or from a sales perspective. Historically, we've known many of our series will end at some point. And that's fine. You get a great series and a creator has so many stories they have to tell. You work towards that. We're always looking at new ideas and new concepts and launching them every year. If I had anything to say about the 15th year of Vertigo is that we're even more committed to giving a showcase to original voices and original visions for the creators and really amping up our original graphic novel as well as producing some good compelling and entertaining monthly books as well.

We have such a diverse line-up of so many new books-- just looking at the first half of the year, there's Brian Wood's action-fused, thinking-man Viking's series Northlanders, Young Liars, written and drawn by David Lapham, a fast and furious read about a girl living with a bullet in her head, new takes on The House of Mystery by Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges and Madame Xanadu by Matt Wagner and talented newcomer Amy Hadley.

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SPURGEON: Let me ask you a kind of silly question. I was looking at forthcoming books and the issue number on Hellblazer made my eyes pop.

BERGER: That's our longest-running title.

SPURGEON: It's kind of an underplayed success story in comics, for a character that's not a superhero character or attending Riverdale High to have a comic for that long -- not just in terms of modern-day books, but for the history of comics, period. I was wondering about this the other day: is John Constantine just a demented version of Dr. Who, in that the appeal is to see all these different writers play him, or is it something else?

BERGER: [laughs] I'd never heard it put like that before.

SPURGEON: You always hear about various writers' versions: Warren [Ellis]' or Jamie [Delano]'s and now Andy [Diggle]'s... Seriously, though, do you have any special insight as to what's appealing about that character? Because very few characters of any kind with that level of recognition and potency, that kind of pop culture weight, have been created in the last 30 years.

BERGER: Beats me. [laughs] He just happens to be a great character. He's got the great fuck-you attitude we want all of our anti-heroes to have. He's got that haunted deep side that makes him more complex. His stories have social relevance -- starting with what Alan [Moore] and Jamie did back in the day. That's always been part of the series, the political backdrop. Some writers mine that differently than other. Some play into the straight, supernatural aspects, too, which is great. I think it's a great horror book, and different writers bring out different aspects of that. He's just such a cool character. That's my take on it.

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* panel from the upcoming Incognegro, one of the line's most anticipated 2008 releases
* photo of Berger supplied by DC Comics
* two pieces of art from upcoming releases: Young Liars, Madame Xanadu
* cover to Cairo, part of the the Vertigo line's emphasis on OGNs in 2007
* from the forthcoming Alcoholic
* from the Minx title Re-Gifters
* cover to Minx title Good as Lily
* cover art to Northlanders #4, one of Vertigo's series-to-trade model titles
* Mr. John Constantine of Hellblazer, as depicted by Glenn Fabry

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Vertigo
Minx

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the CR Holiday interview series continues through Monday with two interviews scheduled for each day. Tuesday, January 8 marks a return to this blog's full array of regular features. We thank you for your patience.
 
posted 1:30 am PST | Permalink
 

 
January 5, 2008


CR Holiday Interview #11: Vito Delsante

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Vito Delsante is the Events Coordinator at Jim Hanley's Universe, one of a dozen or so leading comic store establishments in North America. He's also a comics writer, having penned various stories, some published and some inventoried, for characters ranging from Scooby-Doo to Wildcat to Albert Einstein, for clients ranging from big comics companies to little comics companies to prose book publishers. He even has a new work on-line. I liked the fact that Vito has experience as both a retail employee and as creator, and the fact that he's at that point in his career where the work in front of him is a mix of gigs scored and interests explored. I enjoyed talking to Vito for this interview just as I have enjoyed talking to him in the past under less formal conditions, and I wish him nothing but the best in his various pursuits. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: I was looking at the time line of your career, and am I right in thinking you adjusted the vocational aspects of your life after 9/11?

VITO DELSANTE: It was kind of post-9/11 that it happened. What happened was I was working at Hanley's part-time. I was trying to do the writing and stuff as it came. I was trying to learn the industry at that point and I had a bunch of friends that worked here. I had three friends, actually, and two of them are still here. I'd come in on my lunch hour because the office was on 26th street and Hanley's is on 33rd. I would just walk up here and during lunch hour hang out with my friends. Then one day I saw that they had a sign to hire somebody. I said, "Hey, if you guys are hiring, I'll come in and start working." That was May of 2001.

I was dating a girl who lived in Sacramento. She said, "My dad needs to hire somebody to work for him, and you're planning on moving out here anyway, so why don't you come out here? So I went out there. He wasn't hiring anybody. [laughter] It was wishful thinking on her part. I had quit my job -- my company installed fire alarms in buildings like the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building. We did check-ups on them, run alarm tests and stuff. I quit that job right before August 2001 and I came back from Sacramento, with a part-time job at Hanley's, on September 6. And five days later I was scheduled to work and it was, "Don't come into work today." It didn't change anything; it was a matter of the focus becoming a little more focused.

SPURGEON: You mention your friends are still there and that you've been there several years yourself.

DELSANTE: Yeah, it'll be seven years in May.

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SPURGEON: Is that the kind of shop that Hanley's is? Do they retain long-term employees like that?

DELSANTE: Yes and no. I think that by and large we try to foster good relationships with people, but we always know it's a transient job. We employ three musicians, four artists, and three writers. Evan Dorkin worked for us at one point. We know there's going to be another Evan Dorkin at some point. Jamal Igle worked for us at one point. We know there's going to be another Jamal Igle at some point. We know somebody's going to get a job in the industry but outside of the retailing end of it. We try to foster that and encourage everyone to follow their aspirations.

At the same time, when guys are here for 20 years it's because they've been here since day one. Myself, as I said, I've been here for almost seven. Nick Purpura, who is one of the head managers, he's a musician that plays in at least two bands. He's got record deals overseas and stuff. At any given point he could say, "The band took off; we're going on a tour around the world." We're going to say, "Good luck to you."

I think we try to foster a little bit more of a friendlier attitude towards stuff like that. Hanley is always really good about that. He's always been really supportive of everyone. When I first started working here and he knew that I wanted to start writing, he made sure I knew who Alex Toth was, he made sure I knew who Steve Ditko was. He wasn't like a teacher, and maybe a little less of a mentor, but that kind of relationship. When he knew that that's what you were trying to do, he knew to keep your focus in retailing to find what interests you with the end result of making you a more informed creator.

SPURGEON: Your official title is Events Coordinator, am I right?

DELSANTE: Yes.

SPURGEON: Is it possible for me to ask about the year in events coordination?

DELSANTE: Better than last year.

SPURGEON: Is the in-store event a growing concern as opposed to a few years ago? Retailers have told me that they're seeing more events than they did two to five years ago.

DELSANTE: When I started doing the job, it was because Mike Mignola walked into the store. He lived around the corner at the time. I said, "Hey, can we have you in for an event?" He said, "Sure." I turned to one of the managers, I wasn't a manager at that point, and I said, "Who does the events?" And he said, "You do, now." [Spurgeon laughs] Once my name is up on the web site, people want to promote their books, so they'll get in touch with me.

Everyone always wonders about the rivalry between Midtown Comics and us, or Forbidden Planet and us. We three are the only ones that I know of in the city that do events other than Barnes & Noble or the Virgin mega-store. We're the only three comics retailers that really do events here in the city. It's one of those things where's it's not so cutthroat sometimes, but, say, we've gotten wind of Midtown getting somebody and so we ask, "Hey, how come we aren't getting this guy?" We'll call up Marvel and say, "You have this guy going around and he's been there four or five times, when are we going to get them to come in here?" I find myself utilizing MySpace a lot more often in that respect. Saying, "You haven't been to Hanley's in five years. We'd love to have you." Put out open invitations to people. It's starting to heat up a little bit in that now that New York's got its convention. I think the clientele and fans and customer base are expecting to meet people a little more often than not.

SPURGEON: What distinguishes a good event over a bad event? Is it in the reaction from your patrons? Is it in pleasing the guests?

DELSANTE: I go out of my way to please the guests no matter what because I want them to come back. We always invite them back; we give them a perk like having a discount in the store or something like that.

imageI think how I know an event's going to be successful is that I try to have two weeks promotion on something. If we promote it on a Wednesday two weeks before the event and people are calling and asking, "Do you have this book in stock?" Or "Do I need to get in line early?" If I'm getting calls about an event and it's not even close to the time of the event, I know. We had a World War Hulk #1 signing that was phenomenal. We had a Claudio Sanchez signing a couple of weeks ago that was phenomenal. We had Nicholas Gurewitch for Perry Bible Fellowship, and that did great. We couldn't get enough books. We never want to turn anyone away.

There have been events... we had Steve Niles and the director for 30 Days of Night come in, and customers had been clamoring for Steve Niles. That was a quick rush and it died. We anticipated people hanging around and talking to them and stuff and we had a signing right after, and it was a ghost town. I felt really bad. I said to the creators, "This is atypical. The weather is terrible. It's just something that happens. If you have something promote you are always welcome back here, just give me a call."

SPURGEON: How has Hanley's changed to adapt to this latest shift in the way comics are published now, say something as fundamental as the increased emphasis on trades?

DELSANTE: I don't think there was a shift necessarily, but there was more of a concerted effort to look at the trends going on. We deal with Fantagraphics directly, we deal with Drawn & Quarterly directly. We deal with all these publishers on a name to name basis. We've always sought out the next big thing before it happens. But we still support the floppies. I don't know if it's bread and butter so much, but it's something we have a client base for, that are still coming in on Wednesdays. So we're not going to abandon that.

I think we also got burned a bit by manga. Where everybody was experience growth, we started experiencing the opposite. We were getting stuck with Naruto or whatever the big ones are. So we scaled our ordering to hit everyone that we knew was going to buy it but also have a couple of spares. There are still days where we'll sell out of One Piece or Death Note really quickly and we didn't anticipate it so we rush to re-order. But for the most part we've always tried to look ahead and just say, "Graphic novels? We're in. This is what we want to do."

SPURGEON: I think of your store as having a reputation as a store that operates on the feel of its managers. Is that fair?

DELSANTE: We have Ron [Hill], who's been here for 20-plus years. We have Nick, who's been here about ten years. Myself, I haven't been here as long, but I actively work in a different end of the industry. Out of the three of us, two of us go to San Diego every year. We all see what's coming next. We also have an idea how we would run the store if it were our store. We try to live vicariously that way. Say, hypothetically, we know that Marvel Zombies is going to sell 60 copies the first month; let's get 120. Ron especially is really good at predicting those trends.

SPURGEON: Am I right in that your inventory isn't computerized?

DELSANTE: It is but it isn't. We don't have a Point of Sale system, but we do have a computerized inventory system that's kind of antiquated. But if it's not broke, why fix it? We are trying to upgrade and go a bit further.

SPURGEON: The first time I can remember seeing your name was during the end for Speakeasy.

DELSANTE: Oh, yeah.

SPURGEON: How was that experience, for you to be there as the Hindenburg crashed and burned around you? It wasn't the ugliest crash and burn, as I recall; I think they tried to pay some people... wait a minute, I'm not sure I remember exactly how that turned out. How did that turn out?

DELSANTE: I think there are people still waiting to be paid, but I'm not sure.

SPURGEON: What was that experience like for you, as the public face for the fall a little bit?

DELSANTE: Yeah, totally. There are still web sites out there with my name on them regarding Speakeasy.

SPURGEON: Was it... interesting? Was it a real pain in the ass?

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DELSANTE: Interesting is one way to put it. [laughs] It was one of those things where, let's be honest, if it could have been someone else I would have been a lot happier. It's one of those things where you're relatively young as a creator, and you're wanting to get your creation out there, you turn a blind eye to certain things. I'll be honest. I wasn't privy to people not getting paid, I wasn't reading the [accounting] books, I was asked to assist in sending out press releases and raising the profile. I started doing that in the December prior to them going out of business [December 2005]. I started to create an awareness of the product, but then they were cutting titles and I didn't know about that. I would look at their future plans and go, "They're doing this and that and it doesn't look good, but it looks like they have their head on straight about this and the other thing." Again, I'm turning a blind eye to some of it because I want my book to succeed. I want to be a creator there because I believe in the product. I hesitate to say I was drinking the Kool-Aid, but I believed in what they were trying to do.

SPURGEON: You had your own flavor of Kool-Aid you were hoping to get over.

DELSANTE: Definitely. Again, in the press release that I sent out where I said Speakeasy was closing down, I didn't realize until that day that anything was wrong.

SPURGEON: [laughs] Oh, God.

DELSANTE: It was the first New York Comic Con. Adam Fortier was supposed to be there and meet with me. I'm sure a few other creators as well. And no one could find him. Then I heard little rumors about him being behind a pillar and then ducking out. I had come to create a friendship with Adam. I'd stayed in his house. I went to his Christmas party. I was one of the guys he would call whenever he had a question about the retailing end. We had done phone meetings up until then, and two weeks prior to the New York Comic-Con was the Toy Fair. Adam and I had met with a couple of other guys and started going through the Ardustry Entertainment deal and the books they were going to do. Basically at that point they had asked me to edit any and all licensing properties. At that point I'm thinking I'm going to be moving up to Canada soon because I wanted to be closer to them. Then the New York Comic-Con happened. No sign of Adam.

I get a phone call on Monday about 11 o'clock, prior to me coming to Hanley's. He laid it all out. I was like, "Hoo boy." And I said, "Look, are you calling all the creators?" He said yes. I pointed out that the general populace out there didn't know that this was going on, and did he mind if I tell everyone? He was fine with it. I guess he didn't want to be the fall guy at that point, but I think he did an interview or two following up on some of the stuff that I had sent out. It was one of those things that even when it was happening, I don't want to say it was an out of body experience, but it was, "Hey, why wasn't I in the loop, why wasn't I informed?" I've since become very cautious of start-ups.

SPURGEON: Sure.

DELSANTE: I remember meeting Ross Richie when Boom was starting. He's a smart guy. That's the only reason they're succeeding, because Ross isn't the kind to just throw everything out there and let's see what sticks. He's very selective. He knows the products he wants to put out, and what he wants to represent Boom. Ross has become a little more canny than Adam was at that point. I contend that Adam loves comics so much he wanted to do it right and maybe didn't think it through? I put a question mark on that because he didn't call during all of this so I didn't really know. I've only seen him one time since, and that was at the San Diego prior to this year's where we had a lunch and tried to talk things out.

I'm so bummed out right now. [laughs] Just kidding.

SPURGEON: What do you have on your plate heading into 2008? Say we were to meet at a comics event in January and I was to politely ask you what you were working on.

DELSANTE: I have the Before They Were Famous series for Simon and Schuster. I've completed writing Albert Einstein, and I'm finishing up Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth should be out in 2009 and Einstein should be out in July . These are stories of their childhoods. It's based on their Childhoods of Famous Americans series. It's funny in that Albert Einstein's not American. Than they did a Dalai Lama one, too. I guess that's why their changed the series name.

SPURGEON: We'll take 'em.

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DELSANTE: Other than that, I have a new strip I just started with Rachel Freire, a newcomer that no one's ever heard of before. She's fantastic. It's really cool when you go to a CBLDF party and everybody's talking about this girl that's no one ever seen. It's like, "Well, good. They're going to read my strip, I guess." I just got asked to do a two-part story for Savage Tales from Dynamite. That's pretty much it right now. There's a bunch of things I did for DC that may or may never see print from DC. I got paid for them. I can't complain too much. But I would love for these things to come out and people to see them and judge me on my merits for that. That's pretty much it. I'm also writing a novel based on a teenage con man. That's a wait and see kind of attitude.

SPURGEON: Is it difficult at the stage you're at to keep a core identity? Can you pick and choose some of your projects or do you just take what you can get?

DELSANTE: Yes and no. I'm not offered a lot of stuff. [laughs] But I'm pretty aggressive. These editors at DC and Marvel can tell you I send them an e-mail at least once a month if not once ever two weeks, saying, "Is there anything going on? Do you need me for something?" It's dried up now, but it usually picks back up around February.

Going back to the whole identity question, I think the problem with my identity is I'm linked to the store. That's not entirely a bad thing. It is when you're trying to be taken seriously. Hence me trying to do more of my own stuff than trying to do stuff for DC and Marvel. Don't get me wrong: I'll take the work. But it's really one of those matters where I've impressed the right people but I've not impressed the other right people.

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SPURGEON: To pick at that point a bit, the suite of work you just described, is that work that will show off an aspect of your writing ability, or what? How do you look at that work? Is it work to get you from one place to another? Do you think about it in those terms? Are they going to serve you well in the years ahead or do you focus on what's in front of you?

DELSANTE: I don't know. The stuff I just finished doing is mostly Scooby-Doo. This past year was mostly Scooby-Doo. I've done stuff for the DCU that might not see print this year, if ever. It might be in a drawer somewhere for perpetuity. [laughs] I think had that stuff come out it would have shown off a little more what I can do. As I said, one of the things I have coming out is a series of kids' books and it might paint me into a corner as a kids' author, which isn't a horrible thing but it's not the only thing I can do. I'm trying to do a YA novel about teenage con man because I read Lawrence Block novels every couple of month because I love his style of writing and it's what I know. I know the James Ellroy kind of writing and the Elmore Leonard kind of writing.

Going back to Speakeasy for a second, the last thing I did for Speakeasy was a superhero noir story with Dean Haspiel. It's the thing we want to finish the most. If it were my last collaboration with Dean, it'd probably put me on a map somewhere where people say, "This guy can do this, this guy can do this, this guy can do this." However, it's so mired up with Speakeasy rights and intellectual property and creator rights. It's so crazy right now, it's something I can't talk about, really, except to say it in passing.

imageSPURGEON: Would you say that project is the closest to an ideal for you in terms of all the projects you've done?

DELSANTE: Definitely. Fallout was only a six-page story over six parts, for a 36-page book. Waiting in Dean's drawer ready to be published. It's one of the best collaborative moments I've had in my career. It's beautiful to look at. And I hit every note. It was like watching Jimmy Page in his prime. It was perfect. From the letter of the first sentence to the period of the last; it was perfect. The only thing I've done close to that was a JSA Classified story that I wrote for Eric Wight. It was about Wildcat. It had the same tone... I liked to say a Pal Joey type of knockaround guy story about Wildcat. It was perfect. Another perfect collaboration that I had with an artist where we're sitting in a room: myself, the editor and Eric on a speaker phone. We're all excited and jumping up and down. "Yeah, we'll throw that in." It was such a great synthesis. The only other place I've had that was in Dean's living room doing Fallout. So I know that Fallout is exactly what I want to do. That type of story. The dark, edgy, Point Blank, Lee Marvin type characters. That's why I gravitate towards JSA characters whenever people ask for my ideal DC book. That kind of aged, wisdom type? That's got some type of bloody knuckle Charles Bronson to 'em?

SPURGEON: What is the exact quality you're responding to there? Is it just that specific edge to it?

DELSANTE: If I say it's what I know, I sound pretentious, right?

SPURGEON: Maybe. A little bit.

DELSANTE: But it is. It's not based on my own personal experience. I'm not Slam Bradley. I talked to Darwyn [Cooke] a couple of weeks ago at the New York Comic-Con, then I overheard someone else talking to him while I was talking to Amanda Conner. They said, "Are you Slam Bradley? It looks like you're drawing yourself." Darwyn said something like, "Well, Slam and I have a lot in common."

I don't have anything in common with Wildcat except that I used to box. I'm not that old. He reminds me of my stepfather. Having seen my stepfather in action, having read JSA and JLA stories that had Wildcat in them, I can relate to Wildcat because I know that guy. If you ask me who I relate to, it's any sidekick. From Robin to whomever they're killing these days. When I was a kid I called my dad Batman and I called the car the Batmobile, so I was always Robin to myself. An ideal story for me to write would be a Robin or a Nightwing story. The reason why I love those other characters is that I have a template in my head for who they are based on the adults I've grown up with, or the friends I've had and their parents. Our drug-induced adventures or alcohol-fueled rages that we've had in bars. That kind of thing. I almost put that in the Savage Tales story I wrote, but they asked for a different story. Those experiences wouldn't be too off base in that world.

I'm fashioning a proposal right now for Mark Waid at Boom! and the idea was that I wanted to do a story with nothing but villains. No heroes whatsoever. There would be a protagonist but there'd be no crisis of faith; he's a bastard and bastard from beginning to end. Dean Haspiel read it and said, "What you need to do is put yourself in there." I don't want to put myself in there! I don't want to be that much of a prick that people will read it and think, "What's wrong with you?" [Spurgeon laughs] But I may have to for the greater good of the stories. I like characters that are darker, that can go either way. I like exploring the line and why people go one way or the other.

SPURGEON: As someone who boxed and who knows that world, do you ever think that superhero comics are too casual about physical violence and its repercussions? Or does that just come with the genre?

DELSANTE: Jesus, what a good question.

I think it's part and parcel of the genre, but I think you also have to look at the entire American entertainment genre. Ultimate Fighting is doing bigger numbers than WWE on pay-per-view currently, so think about that for a second; real fighting is outselling choreographed fighting. The Vietnam War was televised; our current situation comes in snippets. So if you look at any stack of superhero comics and tell me that someone isn't getting punched around, and I'll tell you it's a book that doesn't have the numbers to support it and it will be gone in six months. Violence sells and has always sold. There's a reason why you can't do a superhero romance story. Marvel tried it with the I Heart Marvel one-shots. There's got to be a reason why they haven't done it every year like they're doing the new What If? comics, right?

I have this theory that the FCC, who should be regulating this kind of stuff on television, and the MPAA are working in cahoots with the current government to churn out violent heroic fantasy in order to increase recruitment for the armed forces. Now, I don't know if comic publishers have the same agenda, although the more I read current superhero comics, the more I see writers mixing in political themes into their stories. These themes seem to support the war in Iraq and support our current president, and while I have no problem with someone supporting Bush (as much as I don't), I have a problem with someone selling their own personal politics as if it's the policy of that character.

The best book to show the repercussions of violence, to me, is Palestine, and there's not much violence actually portrayed on the page, it's all in the aftermath of it or, for that matter, the fact that the folks in that area of the world have to live with the idea that they can die at any second. We're so sheltered here; we don't have to live in that environment! So, we'll live vicariously through these two characters punching each other. It's the way its always been done.

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SPURGEON: What drives your interest in the kids' books? Is it just working those muscles you might not otherwise work?

DELSANTE: That's part of it. It is a challenge. You don't try to write down to anybody, no matter what audience you're writing to. I'm not Gore Vidal or Hemingway or whatever writer you respect -- I'm not that guy. [laughter] I'm not saying that because I'm a terrible writer but because I haven't earned that title. A guy I respect is Greg Rucka. Greg and I will go back and forth on writing in e-mails or on LiveJournal. Every time he writes about writing, I want to shut the world off and write. Because I respect him so much and he inspires me. To say that I'm trying to exercise the muscle, it's more like I'm trying to develop it first. The kids books are challenging. Even though you're not trying to write down to somebody, you're trying to tweak your language to make it simpler. When I was doing Albert Einstein the notes I usually got from the editor were, "Hey, you don't have to write in this ancient wording. You can write in modern language because modern kids are reading it." I can write "hey" instead of "ho." [laughs] Albert Einstein never said that. I could write like a normal person instead of dumbing it down or writing it for Albert Einstein's family. That's the challenge, really.

The idea of writing a four-page Scooby story that has comedy and mystery and some kind of resolution with a monster is incredibly tough. You're trying to work with three-act structure, remember everything you learned in screenwriting, and do right by the story. To sit down and hack it out, I don't know how anybody could hack out a kids story because they're so tough. I can see hacking out a superhero story because they're hackneyed. They've been done. They've been done since '38. It's the same story every year. I'm not saying anybody does it, but I'm sure if you look at a list of 2007 books that people think were hacked out, there's definitely more than one. With kids books, I don't think you cheat. It is tough. You go through these moments where you're wondering if a kid is even reading them. You assume an adult is buying it for their children, but you can't hack it because you just don't know. You really need to sit down and figure it out.

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SPURGEON: What do you next the step entails for you? Is it just getting a chance to write a book closer to your heart and getting it out there for people to see? Is it continuing to press the context you have for more work of whatever kind?

DELSANTE: Ideally, because I dislike thinking ahead too far, but I think for me what I want to do is do something other than what people think of me. That could be doing fantasy instead. That could be talking animals -- although I've done talking animals with Scooby. That could be straight science fiction. As long as somebody says, "Here's six issues of something." I'm saying it in terms of Marvel/DC/Dark Horse franchise type character. What's your idea for Star Wars? I don't claim to have the best ideas, but I love working with people so we all come to some kind of agreement about a story. We all come in with one version of a story and leave with a different version that we're all excited by and can't wait to create.

All I really want is for people to see the work I've done that hasn't been released yet like the Wildcat story. I think we all want to write our own ticket where we do creator-owned stuff more so. The thing I started losing touch with this year was having fun writing. It started getting to the point where I had difficulty writing because I was trying to write these franchise characters and make money. I chased money a little bit. I was getting frustrated and angry when people were getting opportunities I wasn't. I don't want to live like that. Does anyone want to get to the point where they're writing out of spite. I want to enjoy myself and at the same time tackle these characters I really enjoy. They say a lot about me, but at the same time, I can say a lot about them, and maybe discover something no one ever knew.

I think I told Johanna Draper Carlson if the JSA Classified story I wrote came out it would change continuity a little bit where people look at Wildcat a little bit differently and say, "Oh, now it makes sense." That's the kind of story I think deserves to be read and published, because if you don't change these characters every couple of years -- and I don't mean crossovers or killing of characters. I don't remember who said but I agree with somebody out there that you don't have to kill a character to make him or her interesting. You just have to write a good story. I think that story I wrote was an exceptional story -- I'm trying to be as objective as possible because I did write it. It's hard for me to be, because it was fun writing it. The fact that I had fun writing it led to this incredible piece of work sitting in a drawer right now.

If I were to prognosticate further, maybe editing. I have some ideas on how to make a good book.

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* photo provided by Vito Delsante
* JHU logo
* a Claudio Sanchez comic
* the Speakeasy logo
* a couple of panels from the FCHS webcomic
* cover art from a recent Scooby Doo comic to which Delsante contributed
* from the orphaned superhero noir story Fallout
* cover and then interior art to forthcoming Einstein childhood biography
* studies by Dean Haspiel related to Delsante's work with Wildcat character

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Vito Delsante
FCHS
Jim Hanley's Universe

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the CR Holiday interview series continues through Monday with two interviews scheduled for each day. Tuesday, January 8 marks a return to this blog's full array of regular features. We thank you for your patience.
 
posted 2:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
CR Holiday Interview #10: Frank Santoro

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Frank Santoro's Storeyville may be the book of 2007, which is doubly amazing when you realize that it may have been the book of 1995 as well. Back then it was a haphazardly seen but much discussed tabloid newspaper by a maker of splashy mini-comics about whom little was known; today it's an over-sized hardcover from the boutique publisher Picturebox Inc. by an artist about whom we're still eager to find out more. The story of a drifter who longs to re-ingratiate himself with a treasured mentor that slips ever so quietly into becoming a story about someone who needs to be sought, what most people take away from Storeyville is the evocative coloring and the deeply personal style of picture making and pacing which dominate throughout. Frank Santoro is used to walking in two worlds, coming back to comics from a place in the world of gallery art in part by reconnecting with the unburdened, unaffected art of the 1980s black and white crush. His comic book with Ben Jones, Cold Heat, may not have sold enough to continue serial publication, but after startling readers all over its map it will once again have the chance to impress when a single volume collecting work printed and work yet to come is released sometime in 2008. I could have talked to him for hours. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: You're in Pittsburgh now, right?

FRANK SANTORO: Now I'm in Pittsburgh.

SPURGEON: Is that an area of the country to which you have ties?

SANTORO: Yeah, I grew up around the corner from where I am now.

SPURGEON: How did you end up back in your home town?

SANTORO: It's a confluence of events where I was in New York working for this artists, this super big-time artist whose name is Francesco Clemente. Then I quit. I stayed on while the new person came in, and then I wasn't focused on my job and I hired a goon who threw a painting out. It was under my supervision so I got canned. It was a horrible situation. I had this super cheap sublet forever, for like five years while my friend went to LA. It was downtown, $200 a month, for a tiny little room. But it was perfect. That dried up. All these things...

Then my uncle in Pittsburgh was like, "I'll sell you my house for a dollar." "All right." He was sick of paying the taxes on it. So my girlfriend and I moved to Pittsburgh. We said fuck it, and took a break.

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SPURGEON: How is Pittsburgh as a town for an artist?

SANTORO: It's different than it used to be. I remember the old days. It was really hard to be an artist, getting spit on and beat up at school. For having dyed hair or being an art fag or whatever.

SPURGEON: I spent an afternoon in a shopping mall south of Pittsburgh and came away with the feeling that our nation will never be defeated in war, just for all the uniformly buzz-cut, muscular, slightly psychopathic-looking guys everywhere. Everyone looked like Shute from Vision Quest.

SANTORO: There's counties in Western Pennsylvania that are number one in terms of enlistment in the army, and also in the amount of deaths. Pittsburgh itself is different because it's this Rust Belt Detroit-like thing in the city. It was Italians, Irish, Polish and Blacks. That's it. My dad's Italian and my Mom's Irish, and that was like a scandal. The Italians are the on opposite side of the tracks with the blacks. The Irish were on the other side. My godfather was black. He lived down the street. It wasn't like my uncle or somebody who was my godfather, it was a neighbor. He was awesome. It was a real degraded mill town city. The '70s in Pittsburgh were great because the mills were pumping and there was a lot of money in Pittsburgh. When Reagan came in, it was all over.

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SPURGEON: Has Pittsburgh done that thing where they emphasize the arts to try and move out of a decline caused by loss of industry?

SANTORO: Kind of, but it always had this cultural center because of Carnegie Mellon and stuff like that. So there was a lot of art stuff in Pittsburgh. That was my saving thing because I took these classes at the Carnegie museum on Saturday mornings ever since I was a little kid. That just sort of grows into these sort of pre-college high school programs that kind of set you up for school. And then I went to an arts high school, where I had art every day from 12 o'clock on.

SPURGEON: I'll stop asking questions about Pittsburgh soon. [laughs] I guess I always loved the look of these tracts of row houses that you'd see up on the ridge. They looked like they'd been there since the 1870s -- not just been there, but had been punished every day.

SANTORO: That's my bread and butter, though. As an artist. There's this Faulknerian... that famous advice he got from Sherwood Anderson, that the postage stamp of the land where you're from is more valuable than anything else. It can sometimes be a crutch, but Pittsburgh is this really easy landscape in which to situate every narrative kind of thing I've ever done. It's easy.

SPURGEON: Storeyville starts there.

SANTORO: Yeah.

SPURGEON: How does it feel to have that work back in printed form?

SANTORO: It feels great. I think it's aged actually kind of well. I don't think it could have come out even two years ago.

SPURGEON: How so?

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SANTORO: It took until 2000 for Jimmy Corrigan to come out and turn people's heads a little bit about comics in a larger, broader sense. For me, it's like most comics are pretty narratively tame. And then you have straight-up art comics like RAW or something. In terms of just turning a story inside out and doing something different with it, the same narrative "strategies" are still employed. For Ninja to come out a year ago, and BJ and Da Dogs the year before, it just feels like the audience is changing. They've understood Chris Ware and Seth and Chester and Clowes. The broader audience I'm talking about. Everybody on the inside has known about it for ten years, but I don't think it could have been reprinted and had a mass push until now.

SPURGEON: How involved were you in the book's production?

SANTORO: Pretty involved. Circle and Square and Dan designed it, and we were all sharing an office.

SPURGEON: I'm sorry you had to share an office with Dan. [laughter] That must have been a horrible thing.

SANTORO: That was fun. We tried to do the bullpen, actually. It was cool. It was this fantasy I'd had. It really helped a lot for a million reasons.

SPURGEON: Quite obviously, the new Storeyville is an over-sized book, whereas it famously had its origins as a tabloid. That would probably be the way that most people would describe it -- the tabloid comic that Sirk fella did back in the '90s.

SANTORO: I wanted that. I definitely cultivated that. I could put it out as a tabloid again, but I already did that. I wanted to try something different, reach a different audience and a broader audience. Giving it away for free after we sold as many as we could at Green Apple in San Francisco or these great movie theaters that were around. I literally met people who said, "I found that on the bus. It was great! I read it. It was awesome." To me that was really exciting. That was the mid-'90s when you were just dying for comics to be in bookstores. How can we get them out there? What can you do? It felt like a whole different approach. I couldn't afford a nice hardback volume or even an over-sized volume. I could just do newsprint.

SPURGEON: But now the game has changed.

SANTORO: [laughs] We're still not making any money on it!

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SPURGEON: Or maybe the game hasn't changed so much.

SANTORO: I don't think it has. For me it's gone full circle, for a lot of different reasons. It was Chris Ware that suggested it. He suggested it somehow in passing, in a letter that I had exchanged with him. "Why don't you do a nice, handsome volume of Storeyville with some of your old mini-comics in the back." I thought about it. I mentioned it to Dan, and I think I had already done Chimera and Incanto at that point. It just didn't seem like the right moment. Something changed. The more we talked about it. Once we secured -- secured sounds horrible [laughter]. Once Chris agreed to do the intro. That's the reality of the situation. Chris's name on something... I shouldn't even be saying this, but his friendship, Storeyville wouldn't exist in this form without Chris's friendship.

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SPURGEON: That introduction he gave you is pretty remarkable. How did you feel reading it?

SANTORO: It was an e-mail or something, and I remember printing it out and going for a walk and sitting by this dirty canal in Brooklyn. I was stunned. [laughs] Ten years on, Chris is in a different place now.

It's so hard to explain. It was huge just to get his phone call in '95. I came home and there was a message from him for me. That was huge. We were pen pals for a couple of years leading up to Storeyville and to read that intro ten years on is just... I don't know. It's tender and kind of pulls at my heart, actually. I appreciated it more from the personal standpoint as a friend more than I did an endorsement of a book or anything. He really got me. Of anybody, he got it. And that's a big deal, feeling your work is understood, and especially by somebody of that caliber. I mean, Chris knows comics. [laughs] That was a huge thing. I'm kind of speechless about it, but I'm beyond thankful. I'm humbled by it, and I know that sounds corny. It feels great.

imageSPURGEON: When you say that Chris "got" you, does that mean you feel your work has been misunderstood?

SANTORO: Oh, for sure. I remember when I did Storeyville, it was "You shouldn't do it like this, you should do it like Rubber Blanket. Have you seen Rubber Blanket? Check this out." Or "If you could just tighten up your drawings." Everybody had something to say as opposed to, "Hey, cool comic." It was raked across the coals. Even John Porcellino, we were exchanging letters. He was like, "I just don't understand it. I don't like the ending. I don't get it. It just ends." I remember James Kochalka wrote me a letter and said, "It's too many pages; there's so much you can cut out." [Spurgeon laughs] That's fine, but I didn't invite that kind of criticism. I just sent it to people. You're welcome to criticize it whatever you want, but it was people telling me what I should do.

SPURGEON: What do you think about the work invited so many prescriptive reactions?

SANTORO: There's a baroque craft [phase] that comics is in right now, it's like this mannerist style of painting. Like a painting done of The Goddess Diana in the hunt, some allegorical painting from the 18th century. If you know the symbols and the back story and the way it's drawn and the referenced this artist making to maybe to an earlier work that's of a similar vein, it means something to you. Otherwise it's just something in the Met. It's a landscape with Diana in it. That's what comics is, it's so much about being this coded symbolism in drawing and rendering and all the little marks and shading. You have to have the same style from the beginning of the book to the end of the book. This uniformity.

I never understood that. I never strove for that, really. Whatever the scene dictated, whether it was a painting or a drawing or anything, you always just tried to pull out the feeling and the meaning of the piece through the media. I saw comics as the same thing. You can have some pencil and some charcoal and some paint and some ink and some Zip-a-tone and whatever and mix it up and match it up and see what you get. But people were like, "Why are your backgrounds in pencil? You didn't ink your backgrounds?" It was ridiculous the things that people were saying to me. There was this standard to be adhered to or something.

SPURGEON: Where does that come from? Is it just that it's a highly commercialized art form? Is it a creative culture thing where people feel you have to do A and B to find success?

SANTORO: That was the mistake I made after Storeyville. I tried to tighten up. It's good work. Everybody was like "Hey, Storeyville looks good. Let me know what you're doing next." It was encouraging. I did try. I didn't know what Brian Chippendale was doing. If I had seen what Brian was doing in '95, I would have felt galvanized by it. SF was different. My peers in San Francisco were like Steve Weissman; Ed Brubaker was around, he was friends with Steve. Mats Stromberg, Dylan Williams, Jeff LeVine. We were all doing really different stuff and everybody was encouraging of each other. I felt a little more outside. They're cartoonists. When Adrian and Dan Clowes and Richard Sala would get together, I remember Ariel Bordeaux's birthday or something, and they're all drawing. They're all cartoonists, they can just draw and draw and draw in this particular way. I can't. I'm not saying that one's better or worse. I remember feeling jealous I couldn't draw like that. Just watching them crank stuff out on a jam drawing, it was pretty amazing.

I didn't feel like there was much I felt a kinship with. They were friends of mine, of course. We were all doing our things. Everybody was doing such different stuff. Everybody was doing such different stuff. Everyone sort of let each other alone, it was this period where you could sell stuff to Comic Relief, and put out a cool mini and a couple of things, and maybe you'd get into Drawn and Quarterly or something like that. What else was there really to do? I had friends that were working for Marvel, my friend Ricky Mays did work with David Mack on Kabuki. He was part of Gaijin Studios in the early '90s. So I had friends who were doing a lot of professional stuff. I don't know if that was option for me.

I remember I had an interview with Disney in the late '90s. I knew somebody that knew somebody and I got an interview. I could do the drawing but I didn't go through their animation school, so they told me to go back to school. I was going to try anything just to keep drawing. There was no money in comics. Not that there was no money in comics, but people were encouraging about the work, but there was nowhere to go. So you do your minis, you do your 'zine, and you do your thing. It was great. I miss it. All the distributors changed. I sold 1000 Storeyvilles without even trying. It was a whole different world. Capital was still around. Bud Plant... I could sell to three or four different distributors at least.

The tabloid I thought would work because I could get on these newsstands. But the newsstands told me they wouldn't carry a comic book. I was like, "It's a tabloid." They were like, "We don't care. We don't carry comic books." Even if I could have done another Storeyville, I wouldn't have had the money.

It was fine. I started doing book fairs in California. People would be selling art, also. I was selling some small paintings and then some collages, and it was easier to sell a small painting here and there than it was to do comics. Which I think is a pretty common story. I had friends that worked in galleries in New York and I just moved to New York. I worked for a lot of really great galleries, and then got this great job with this artist who was one of my favorite artists when I was in school. That was five years of hardcore Art with a Capital A. I got to go to a million different places and meet a lot of interesting people. It was an eye-opener in terms of broadening my artistic vision of something. It was great, but it was a whole different world. That was a learning curve, too. There's definitely money in it. People would buy your work, but they weren't really interested in your work. They were hedging their bets. They thought, "Okay, maybe this kid will become famous down the line, so I'll buy his painting now for this much." Whereas in comics there was a more honest feedback and interest in your work. That was great.

I really owe it all to Dan [Nadel]. If I hadn't met Dan, I don't think I would have come back to comics.

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SPURGEON: What about your interaction with Dan re-sparked your interest?

SANTORO: We just became friends. Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics told me about The Ganzfeld. He thought that Dan's in New York, and here's this interesting magazine that's sort of this intersection of art and comics. Maybe this was a good forum for me. So I took a look at it, and wrote Dan a letter. Dan knew my work. He knew Storeyville, and that was great. We met up for beers and we started talking about Kevin Nowlan comics and shit like that. It was pleasant. Dan became this really good friend. We would go to Time Machine, this great comic book store in New York, and buy old ACG comics. It was fun. Art's so serious sometimes, and comics are a release from that. That was the big thing.

So many different things happened in those short years. He got this grant. He published BJ and Da Dogs. He went from doing The Ganzfeld to doing all these different projects, which is awesome. There's finally a publisher more towards my sensibilities. Dan's got a really sharp eye. There was a pile of Kim Deitch drawings at MoCCA, because you know Kim carries that briefcase around. I looked through that fucking briefcase, and I thought I got a really good one. And then I saw the one Dan pulled out. "Where did you get this? This is the best!"

SPURGEON: I hate people like that.

SANTORO: I passed it right by, and he nabbed it.

SPURGEON: Is there editorial back and forth when you work with Dan?

SANTORO: For sure. He's a great editor, too. Every artist has these weird temperaments, and Dan can be very even keel at those moments. He knows what to say without forcing it. It would be more like a coach and less like an editor, because he's able to coach all these different personalities through their process. Everyone from Marc Bell to Ben to myself. We all struggle through shit at times. But in terms of Ben and I doing Cold Heat, not so much. We might show him some layouts and he'll comment. It's not until things are shaping up and there's a transition that doesn't work or something.

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SPURGEON: How did your partnership with Ben Jones on Cold Heat come about?

SANTORO: I never met Ben until SPX 2005, actually. I went to MoCCA in 2003 just because I was in New York. I bought a dog spraypaint print from him. That was my favorite thing in the whole show, this print that he had made. I bought a Low Tide off of him I think. I didn't really know his work, and I wasn't really familiar with Fort Thunder at all. Through Dan I got to know it, but in 2003 I didn't know it. In 2005 I met Ben and BJ and Da Dogs was just about to come out. I don't know. We both had ties in Pittsburgh, so we were talking about Pittsburgh. The real idea were these vague things that had been kicking around for both of us and then just united. I wish I could tell you. It was this vague, insane thing and the one day it's this girl ninja comic. [Spurgeon laughs] I wish there was this secret history it. I wish I knew. By the end of January 2006, we had the first issue laid out and ready to go.

SPURGEON: Is there anything about the way you two work worth noting?

SANTORO: I think a lot of people think about what he's drawing and what I'm drawing, and I'd like to keep that mysterious. But there's definitely tension between his layouts and my execution. That's the real tension. His pacing is just impeccable and the way he organizes a page is subtle and dead on. He gives me cushions to speed things up or slow things down and room to organize my own transitions, but for the most part he's shaping the script and talking about the script, and then he's doing these layouts and then I send my version back, and he sends those back. We go back and forth. A lot of the layouts is this tension between Ben's skeleton and my skin.

SPURGEON: Were you surprised by the reaction that the book got? There was an expected reaction where people freaked out and didn't know what to do with the art. There was one retailer who described it in absolute negative terms.

SANTORO: Brian Hibbs was the guy who told me I had to do Storeyville like Rubber Blanket. [Spurgeon laughs] I went into the story and I was like, "Will you sell Storeyville?" And he was like, "Look, you can't do it like this, you gotta do it like Rubber Blanket. This is what will sell." He's right. He's a smart guy. He's a retailer. But it was this "Don't do it like that, do it like this" again. When he said "This is the most unprofessional comic..." or whatever, I kind of relished that.

SPURGEON: Wizard reviewed it positively, Diamond was carrying it for a while... there was an element of acceptance.

SANTORO: Sure. I think a couple of blogs came out for it. Jog wrote an early great review of it, and there was one in the Journal. It's funny how people were defining it. We never set out to do an action-adventure thing. We didn't sit down and say, "Let's do an action-adventure take with an art comics spin." We didn't set out like that. It sounds so corny, but it was genuinely sincere. This is what we want to do. I'm surprised by the reaction where people are like, "I can't stand the way this is drawn. It's horrible. It's crude! You can't do this." Obviously these people have never seen any of the comics from the black and white explosion like Shuriken or Ninja High School. There's so many comics that are the most retarded comics of all time that are great for their own reasons.

I think with Cold Heat we're trying to go through our influences. Everyone in alternative comics is trying to go around this behemoth of 20th Century comics and what 20th Century American comics are. We're going right for it. Right through the heart of it. Right to the other side. You get to use all of your influences, and all of these things that inform you, turn them inside out and just open the throttle and go. Without any hesitation. For me, that's what Cold Heat is. It's supposed to be fun. I'm kind of quoting Dan. "Do we have to have this 'Can Gary Panter Draw' argument again?" I'm not comparing myself to Gary, but so much of comics criticism comes from the person's ability to draw a particular style that acceptable to a certain element of the audience. It's not so conscious but when that reaction comes back it's funny. I'm having fun.

SPURGEON: Remind me of the status of the Cold Heat collection.

SANTORO: It will come out this summer. 240 pages. The binding will be a bit like the Yokoyama book.

SPURGEON: Does removing Cold Heat from serialization affect your process at all?

SANTORO: We opened it up. There was a possibility of doing longer chapters because there were a few issues at the end that weren't scripted. We could change it, but we decided no, we'll just do it as originally planned. It's awesome: 24-page installments. I'm really bummed about this. [laughs] I've always wanted to be a regular comics artist. I'm super-bummed that for all these stupid factors it couldn't have happened.

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SPURGEON: Is there anything other than the obvious, that it didn't click with an audience?

SANTORO: I think it could have clicked with the marketplace, but you have to wait until issue #6 or #7 to know what the numbers are. We probably should have put out a graphic novel to begin with, but somewhere you have this secret hope that somehow it's going to catch on or something. Dan, God Bless him, he took it on the chin for four issues and then he was like, "Look, we can put out a really great graphic novel. I can keep doing this, but that just means the idea of a collection or anything extra will be impossible." He was like, "There's this much money left in the budget for this project." And I agreed. It didn't make sense to put it out as issues and people see it here and there and they're going to want a collection anyway and then we're not going to be able to collect it.

It's just hard. It's just a bummer. The market is so different than when I was growing up. I grew up basically in the black and white explosion, and I saw everybody doing comics, and everybody selling comics. You'd go to cons when you were a kid and everybody had some sword and sorcery character they were making a comic out of. You know? Not that that was what I wanted to do, but it was an exciting time in terms of you doing it yourself. I'm such a huge comics fan, I even talked to David Mazzucchelli. "How can I do it? Can I actually do it? What does it take?" He was giving me words of advice. I was excited about the prospect of doing it for a year. I have a completely different appreciation for Guy Davis, Kevin Nowlan -- Nowlan's not usually a regular book guy, but all the guys who do regular comics. I think that's really more comics than Dan Clowes or Adrian Tomine and 36 pages every year and half. Comics to me is 24 pages a month, bang it out and get it done. That's comics. The other thing is graphic novels.

SPURGEON: Is it something about the quality of the art that comes through when you're doing it that quickly?

SANTORO: Cold Heat #4 was everybody's favorite so far, but that was the one on which I spent the least time. By issue #4 I got it done in 30 days, on schedule. You channel this whole different work ethic than when you're making Storeyville. You know what I mean. I just read Adrian [Tomine]'s book. It's awesome. It's airtight. It's perfect. But it's a graphic novel. It's not a comic book.

SPURGEON: I get you a little bit. There is something that's very affecting, a kind of fundamental sense of the medium when someone's working quickly. Even the junkier black and white stuff.

SANTORO: I have a lot of that stuff. I really cherish it. It's such a different animal. I wouldn't call it great art.

SPURGEON: There's a definite quality when a guy is trying to create this entire universe in 24 pages. If you reduce it, you could see those guys as Lords of their Universes, and what you have now is a bunch of folks trying out to do the next children's book adaptation at Scholastic.

SANTORO: My friend Jim Rugg of Street Angel fame is, well, I wouldn't say struggling with that right now but he’s in a weird place and I fell for him. He has this audience that loves Street Angel, but he's like, "I've met every Street Angel fan." He's doing some inking jobs for DC and they pay, and I understand what he needs to do. He sees doing Street Angel as a lot of labor and not enough to live off of. But if he does these inking jobs he doesn't have enough time to do Street Angel on the side, so he's pitching these other projects. And I hope he can make that work. It seems really precarious.

On the other hand, there's my friend Tom Scioli who does Godland who works a full time job and pencils Godland. I couldn't do that. That's why I moved to Pittsburgh, to live cheaply while I finish my graphic novel. Nobody's getting rich off of this stuff. Tom is doing a comic book. The book comes out regularly. He's going for it in this particular vein. It's like a conceptual art statement that he's making. And Jim... I see what he's trying to accomplish, I really do. But I don't have those kinds of chops. He has a great hand and he can get jobs doing the jobs he wants to do beyond the characters he wants to do . I don't think I could be less idiosyncratic than I am. I would love to do Cold Heat where it came out regularly and had an audience and had spin-offs, but it's not 1988 anymore. Did you know that for the first issue of Yummy Fur, 10,000 copies were printed?

SPURGEON: You can argue a calcification of the market away from a loose, rambling system in the late 1980s where you could move a lot more copies than you can now, at least until that system was abused.

SANTORO: I've been around comics enough I've seen it come and go. I was always involved even when I wasn't making them. I'm interested in the form, but once the illustration jobs dried up -- my friend Marc Weidenbaum at Pulse was really great -- those were the things that got you through back then. But by the millennium people weren't using illustrations anymore, you're not in your 20s anymore, and there's mini-comics, but to me a lot of that was old hat. It wasn't anything exciting.

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SPURGEON: You sound like a man who can see his own exit. A man who can see the end game.

SANTORO: I don't know. Maybe. What does that mean?

SPURGEON: That you can see a day where you might not be doing comics to the extent you are right now.

SANTORO: Maybe. Not necessarily.

SPURGEON: [laughs] I could just be wrong, Frank.

SANTORO: It's just that I've been through it once before. I feel like I'm still pretty idealistic and hopeful, but I'm not naive anymore about the numbers. That's not what's keeping me away from a commitment to it. It's a pretty crazy life to be a cartoonist. It's hard. It's a whole different world. It's a whole different world. Every comic artist will say that. It's a lonely life.

*****

* cover to the new PictureBox Inc. edition of Storeyville
* interior image taken from Storeyville
* 2005 collage and marker work by the artist
* interior image taken from Storeyville
* an image each from Incanto and Chimera
* cover to the original tabloid version of Storeyville
* a strip of art from Storeyville
* Cold Heat print by Ben Jones and Santoro
* Cold Heat #2 cover
* two interior images from Cold Heat

*****

* * Cold Heat #s 1-4, PictureBox Inc., $15.
* * Storeyville, PictureBox Inc., hardcover, 48 pages, $24.99

*****

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the CR Holiday interview series continues through Monday with two interviews scheduled for each day. Tuesday, January 8 marks a return to this blog's full array of regular features. We thank you for your patience.
 
posted 1:30 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Happy 67th Birthday, Hayao Miyazaki!

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posted 1:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
January 4, 2008


CR Holiday Interview #9: Eric Reynolds

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*****

Eric Reynolds was the first person I met when I moved to Seattle in 1994. We worked together on Fantagraphics' The Comics Journal for about 18 months. He then moved into a marketing and publicity position at the famed alt-comics publisher and has been there ever since. If the comics industry employed Q ratings, Reynolds would score somewhere near the top. I don't know of anyone else so universally liked in the alt-comics end of the industry; in fact, I can't think of anyone off the top of my head that comes close, although surely someone does. He's good at his job, too; one cartoonist who's worked with several publishers and a few film studios told me last summer that Eric's the best and most personable publicity person with whom he's ever worked.

imageReynolds, a sometimes-cartoonist, illustrator and musician, has also edited a few of his publisher's better releases over the last few years, including most prominently a co-editing gig with Gary Groth on the quarterly MOME. I thought it might be a good idea to talk to Eric because even if the interview turned out to be terrible he might spill the beans on stuff coming out from his publisher in 2008. He did provide some quality information on that front -- I sure didn't know the name of Bob Levin's next book or the fact that the Comics Journal was moving to a literary journal format -- but I thought the interview went extremely well, too. Thanks, Eric! -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: If I'm right, 2008 will mark your 15th year at Fantagraphics. Is that parking space pretty much yours now?

ERIC REYNOLDS: I don't know, but I'll admit that I am so petty that if I pull up and someone is in it, I get annoyed. The funny thing about that spot is that when I started at Fanta, Scott Nybakken always parked there. The day he left, in like 1994, I started parking there and nobody ever said anything. So I guess it's kind of mine by seniority now, but I assumed it when I was barely an ex-intern. Maybe that says a lot about how I've lasted.

SPURGEON: Have you ever come close to leaving?

REYNOLDS: I think the closest I ever came to leaving was when I was still the TCJ news editor. I was still contemplating a career in journalism, and had done some decent work for TCJ, and looked into internships at Mother Jones and The Nation. But I really didn't want to leave, I think I was just burned out on the Journal. Since I moved over, I've truly never come close to leaving. I do think about it, but it gets even more abstract over time. I'm in a pretty good spot. I wouldn't mind having my own office. I'm like Les Nessman.

SPURGEON: What do you know about your current responsibilities that you didn't know your first year doing them? Do you think of stuff that you could maybe do better?

REYNOLDS: I think there's tons of stuff I could do better. I know there is. I'm 36, I'm not quite willing to go to the extremes I would have 10 years ago. I think about what I and we can do better all the time. Sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. Time and money are the biggest concerns, if we were rich we could do all sorts of awesome things, but because we're not, we all here spend a lot of time covering a lot of bases that in a bigger company would be entire departments of people. Jacob [Covey] and Adam [Grano] would have a team of assistants and not have to stop everything several times a day to create a simple PDF for me to send to a magazine on deadline. Jason [Miles] would have a fleet of sales reps to pound the pavement. Gary would have an assistant -- tell me Gary doesn't need an assistant! But anyway, there's always room for growth. It does get hard to tell sometimes, but I know I'm way better at my job now than I was in my first year.

SPURGEON: How's the mood at the company going into 2008? What were some of the more positive aspects of 2007?

REYNOLDS: It's good. Fanta is in good hands. Jacob and Adam are the greatest, Zuniga, Jason Miles and Mike Baehr are, too. It's probably the most dedicated staff I can recall in a really long time. That sounds corny, but I think they would all agree. As for 2007... the lawsuit's over. That's a good thing for everyone involved. We had a good year. Peanuts, Popeye, Los Bros, and Fletcher Hanks probably led the way, though Laura Warholic will be racing to the end of year finish line. We had success with a lot of new books, from folks like Friedman, Brunetti, Hornschemeier, Jason, Medley, Malkasian, Simmons, Forney and others I'm forgetting.

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SPURGEON: What can we expect major books and initiatives-wise from 2008?

REYNOLDS: A lot of new graphic novels. Ray Fenwick's Hall of Best Knowledge is one of the funniest, most unique approaches to comics I've ever read. I pushed this one on [Fantagraphics co-publishers] Kim [Thompson] and Gary [Groth]. Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button is going to hit like a bomb, it's over 700 pages and has a Blankets-like density. Josh Simmons' Jessica Farm begins a 50-year epic that sounds almost as ludicrous in this day and age as Dave Sim's original goal for Cerebus, but that worked out pretty well. A second Billy Hazelnuts book from Tony Millionaire. Tim Lane's Abandoned Cars. Tim reminds me a bit of Charles Burns but is working in more of a Jim Thompson vein. An original Gilbert Hernandez graphic novel in the same format of Chance In Hell, called The Troublemakers. A new Steven Weissman book. A new Jason book. Jason has quietly become one of our best and most popular authors. Anyway, that's through September -- we haven't set the rest yet. There's a few books I'm super duper excited about, but can't yet mention.

On the vintage side, there's more Peanuts, Our Gang, Arf, Dennis, and a new, expanded and re-designed softcover edition of Patrick Rosenkranz's definitive history of underground comix, Rebel Visions. Oh, and Blake Bell's big Ditko book, which will turn heads. Plus, Dan Nadel's big Rory Hayes collection, which is going to be amazing, I just read a bunch of this stuff and didn't realize just how good Hayes was at his peak. What else... more Los Bros books. Oh, Jesus: the complete Humbug! In a two-volume, hardcover slipcase with new covers by [Arnold] Roth and Al Jaffee. Greg Sadowski's second and final [Bernard] Krigstein book, a Joe Kubert bio by Bill Schelly, and probably something awesome I'm forgetting.

There's also Daniel Clowes' Ghost World Special Edition, a la the recent Palestine treatment. It'll include the screenplay and a few dozen new pages of other stuff from the Clowes vaults, possibly including a fax from me that I sent him in 1996 or so with a list of quotes from comic book retailers who told us that Ghost World would never sell. Speaking of which, we just went into a 15th soft cover printing.

We also have two other non-comics books I'm particularly excited about. The first is Bob Levin's Most Outrageous, a prose book about "Chester the Molester" creator and Hustler cartoon star Dwaine Tinsley, which you may have read already since you know Bob. I am stoked we're doing this. It's an amazing story that I can't even begin to do justice by describing here, but basically Tinsley was a rags to riches success in the Flynt empire who later was ruined by accusations of sexual abuse by his teenage daughter. It was a very complicated story that Levin navigates with his usual wit and sophistication but this has more gravitas than anything he's ever written.

The other book is a collection of artwork and lyrics by Robert Pollard, the guy behind Guided by Voices, one of my all-time favorite bands. It's called Town of Mirrors: The Reassembled Imagery of Robert Pollard. I've been pursuing this for a few years and it's finally happening and I'm kind of in fanboy heaven. He sent this notebook completely filled with hand-written lyrics and notes that I've been transcribing at home in my spare time for the last couple months.

One semi-big initiative is that the Journal is moving to a 200-page 7 1/2" x 91/2", 8 times per year journal format. It will have book trade distribution a la MOME (though with twice the frequency). They've got some great cover features lined up on Charles Schulz, Maurice Sendak, the Deitch family, and more in the next few issues.

SPURGEON: Will you miss Greg Zura, who recently left the company? Greg was there during a crucial period in Fantagraphics history; how would you explain his contributions to the company?

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REYNOLDS: Of course I'll miss Greg! He was my partner-in-crime for over ten years, since Chris Jacobs left. We had a lot of good times and my respect for Greg is huge and I hope we stay friends.

SPURGEON: What has Jason Miles brought to position thus far?

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REYNOLDS: What Jason lacks in experience he makes up for in sheer, unabashed enthusiasm for comics and a fairly thorough understanding of the nuts and bolts of our inventory, having worked in the warehouse for a few years. Jason was a good friend of mine before he took Greg's job so that's great for me. One thing I'll say is that Jason has one of the better grasps of comics of anyone I know. He's smart. I probably talk more about comics with him than anyone. He's a very good cartoonist. But yes, I will very much miss Greg and was sorry to see him go, and I wasn't the only one.

SPURGEON: How do you feel about the Hernandez Brothers' decision to go to annual form? Is there an aspect to that story that you feel was misunderstood or not played up as much as it might have been? How will this have an impact on your ability to promote the material?

REYNOLDS: I wrestled with the idea of the annual for a long time. It worries me, because change can be scary. But we've been going over it for months and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that economically, it makes absolutely no sense not to. And the fact that it ultimately plays into the longer-form nature of their work, even better. The only reason not to do it is because we have a nostalgic affection for the old format. But this makes more sense for everyone. I think some comic book retailers disagree, but the annual will improve my ability to promote the material exponentially, and will have a longer shelf life.

SPURGEON: As a reporter, you covered a couple of really important moments in comics history. One of them was the rise of Image Comics and the beginning of the distributor wars. I read a lot of material that seems to swallow the line that Image was all about creators rights; do you have a different perspective on their effect on comics having covered them?

REYNOLDS: You're baiting me.

imageSPURGEON: Sort of. I guess I'm just interested in your view on a couple of your big stories after ten years of gaining what might be a different perspective as someone working within the industry.

REYNOLDS: Image was less about creators rights than creators profits, I guess I'd say. But whatever. I don't begrudge Image for their treatment of intellectual property rights, per se. I'm not close enough to that to know anymore. But I don't think Image had any profound effect on creators rights, and perhaps more to the point, I do think their business practices had an adverse affect on the industry, between their chronic late-shipping through their early years and their decision to go exclusive during the distributor wars. I still think that moment was kind of a potential comics Watergate-in-the-making that never happened, but I barely remember the details anymore. I'm getting old.

imageSPURGEON: How do you feel about the current state of free speech issues? You covered Mike Diana, and unlike many reporters who cover those issues, you're an artist who's worked on some really out-there stuff yourself, like Slime. Have things gotten any better since that day and age in terms of the prosecutions you're seeing, or the comics industry's support of same?

REYNOLDS: You know, I don't know. Ask Charles Brownstein. I'd like to think it gets a little better all the time, but then you have cases like the Gordon Lee trial come up. The Patriot Act makes going after something like Slime more plausible, which would be more scary if it weren't so absurd. But boy, it's hard to imagine anything being actionably offensive in this day and age, short of outright hate literature or child porn.

SPURGEON: Tell me about MOME's 2007; it seems you had a strong year in terms of recruiting a second wave of talent. Has it been difficult to keep people working on that material considering how many opportunities there are out there right now?

REYNOLDS: Yeah, I guess, but I feel like we're in a good groove now, just by widening the pool a bit so people can take an issue or two off, here and there. Most of these folks have jobs, and ten pages every four months is a lot to ask, I can tell you myself. But I thought this was our best year so far (out of what, two?). I'm really happy with a lot of the newer people like Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Joe Kimball, Ray Fenwick, John Hankiewicz, Robert Goodin and Tom Kaczynski. I wish Kramers and Comic Art would fold so I'd get more pages out of guys like Jonathan Bennett and Tim Hensley. Plus, maybe then I'd get some stuff from Sammy, too! I need to work on this. Anyway, I was happy with this year. I've even managed to squeeze in friends like Al Columbia and Jeremy Eaton and even Jim Woodring. This is good. Next year we've got Killoffer, David B., and maybe even a newly unearthed story by this young cat named Fletcher Hanks. Plus a lot of actual living folks I am reluctant to mention because I'm not sure who is in which issues too much beyond #11, but there's a lot of stuff cookin'. I just commissioned a new story from Olivier Schrauwen, who you turned me on to, actually. He's doing a 15-page story for #12.

SPURGEON: Has Sophie Crumb's work in MOME been unfairly maligned?

REYNOLDS: Well, of course I think so. Sophie's still finding herself as a cartoonist, but I thought her "Lucid Nightmare" serial was a great step forward. So yes.

imageSPURGEON: How important to you is your own creative, both musically and artistically? You're so laid back about your stuff I can't tell how you look at it. Is it a process you enjoy. Do you have ambitions for either? For that matter, do you have plans for any new projects at Fantagraphics editorially?

REYNOLDS: No real ambitions with that stuff. The music has been more important to me for the last few years than the art, but that will probably change at some point. It is all important, though, very much so. But just for me and my friends I enjoy it with. As for new projects, sure! The Pollard book is the big one, that's in June. I have plenty of dream projects but none too far on the front burner beyond Pollard right now.

SPURGEON: How important was it for the company to really lock in its art director positions the last few years? What does having a high total level of skill in that department enable you do?

REYNOLDS: Very important. Those guys are huge. Jacob, Adam, and Paul Baresh. It enables us to make everything look better, which means everything sells better! Go figure. But really, those guys are all hugely valuable and good pals.

SPURGEON: Your on-line marketing seems very conservative for such a cutting-edge company. Will that change with a new web site? Will Fantagraphics ever offer downloadable versions of its comics and graphic novels? Has that been discussed yet?

REYNOLDS: Yes. Maybe. Yes.

SPURGEON: What's the secret to being able to work with Gary Groth and Kim Thompson so successfully for so many years?

REYNOLDS: My secret files.

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SPURGEON: This year you guys published what some feel was the high point of Charles Schulz's long run on Peanuts. How will marketing that series change as you get into traditionally less well-liked material in the '70s and '80s?

REYNOLDS: I don't think people think that much less of the '70s. The next ten years we're entering now is probably the most identifiable period of Peanuts for anyone under 40. That's what I grew up on and loved and so did a lot of gen-xers. But, I know for myself, in a weird way I'm more curious to read the last 20 years of The Complete Peanuts than the first 30, because it's the era I'm much less familiar with, because I stopped reading the funny pages by that point. I've actually heard several other people say something similar to me at conventions. And I will wager that revisiting these later years will be worthwhile. I sort have this sense from my own limited recollection that he had a bit of a renaissance in the 1990s. But I only read sporadically during that decade and I've certainly read more 1960s strips than 1990s strips since any of the latter were published. So I'm curious to find out for certain and I think others will be, too, because the 1980s and up is kind of virgin territory for a lot of folks.

A lot of us just want to see how the strip evolves as this massive, undulating body of work, reflecting Schulz's entire life and worldview. That was impossible to do before this series. As it stands now, we're through 1966 and Schulz is very much at the top of his game. But what does that mean? That he wasn't in the early 1950s? Because I really love that era, too. So what does it mean if it turns out he wasn't at the top of his game in the 1980s? It's all good. I still want to read it and bet it will be better than 99 percent of other strips. One thing about Schulz was that he never really got stuck in a rut. I think there is a lot of differences in Peanuts from decade to decade, and that development will be interesting to see.

SPURGEON: What 2008 book that you're publishing do you most look forward to reading?

REYNOLDS: Well, I've already read most of them. Probably Billy Hazelnuts 2 or The Troublemakers.

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SPURGEON: Where are you in terms of where you thought the shop would be by now?

REYNOLDS: The shop is way ahead of where I thought it would be. I had my doubts about the store for a bunch of reasons and yet it's been a pretty solid success. I think it's already made back its initial investment. Larry Reid has been instrumental in this. It's a fun place and neighborhood to hang out in.

SPURGEON: Is Seattle a better place to live now than in the still-heady '90s when you first traveled up the coast? And have you really given up the west coast comics crown to Portland?

REYNOLDS: No, and yes. I love the Northwest in general but kind of like Portland more at this point. Maybe the grass is greener. I have a lot of good friends in Portland, we go down there quite a bit and love it. If Gary and Kim wanted to move down there, I would probably be for it. It's cheaper there. Maybe we will and put Dark Horse and Oni and Top Shelf out of business. Just kidding, Portland pals. Actually, that's way too many comics publishers in one town, we'll stay up here, we have a good relationship with Seattle, I think.

But really, the old Seattle was more fun. Probably just because it was a lot cheaper. And I was younger. But we still have our moments.

*****

* Eric Reynolds curries favor with the Kingpin of Crime, Halloween 1998.
* portrait of Eric Reynolds by the great Jim Blanchard
* Ray Fenwick's Hall of Best Knowledge, one of Fantagraphics' forthcoming releases.
* Greg Zura
* Jason T. Miles, via Mike Baehr
* an early Image comic; the early days of Image was a story Reynolds covered as a journalist
* Eric Reynolds' Eros comic, Slime
* portrait of longtime Fantagraphics cartoonist Dame Darcy by Eric Reynolds
* photo from Fanta's flickr page of the Fantagraphics storefront
* portrait of Ben Katchor by Eric Reynolds

*****

Fantagraphics Books

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the CR Holiday interview series continues through Monday with two interviews scheduled for each day. Tuesday, January 8 marks a return to this blog's full array of regular features. We thank you for your patience.
 
posted 3:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
CR Holiday Interview #8: Chris Pitzer

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*****

It was surprising to me while researching this interview that in 2007 Chris Pitzer's AdHouse Books celebrated its fifth anniversary. It feels like they'd been around for twice as long a time, a testimony to how quickly and efficiently Pitzer has assembled cartoonists that feel like a cohesive publishing group, and how many of them have progressed in significant fashion since publishing under his banner. For many comics-reading people, AdHouse is the publisher of fine indy-comic driven anthologies like Project: Superior For others, they're primarily a force behind the specialty art books like this year's Pulphope and the beautiful James Jean collections Process Recess. I like them as a devoted publisher of high-end alt-comix like Skyscrapers of the Midwest. No matter your access point, at the company's center is Chris Pitzer, a skilled designer and editor in addition to his formal publishing duties. He's one of my favorite people to see around at cons: he always looks so pleased to be around the AdHouse cartoonists and otherwise provides a smart, affable presence. Let hope that the next five years for AdHouse feel just as momentous as the first five.

*****

TOM SPURGEON: So how was your year, overall? When people talk about 2007, what's going to be the first comics-related thing to pop into your head?

CHRIS PITZER: My year was good. With AdHouse, this was our busiest, most productive year to date. I'm very happy with what we accomplished this year. Our biggest moment had to be having James Jean and Paul Pope signing at the same time at San Diego. Our trying to "crack the universe" in half, if you will. So, I guess that is the first thing that popped into my head. To have their two books make it to the show, and have them there to meet people was pretty cool.

SPURGEON: What about not comics-related?

PITZER In the "not comics" part of life, I'm happy to say that our oldest child-girl-dog has made a pretty big recovery. She's getting up there in years, and right after SDCC and before TCAF, she came down with what we think is a fungal infection of her sinus. It was pretty bad. I won't go into the gory details, but we were pretty scared. Because of her condition, we had to cancel our TCAF trip, which I felt bad about on many levels. I love that show. But the upside is that our girl is doing much better... which is fantastic.

SPURGEON: You know, Chris, I'm trying to think of what I know about you and I'm coming up with a blank. Were you a comics reader growing up? A creator of comics? How did you make the transition into publishing?

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PITZER: Yeah, I read comics as a youngster growing up in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Picking them up from Drug Fair or the local news stands. Once, while sick, I recall trying to explain a Fantastic Four cover to my Dad so that he could pick it up for me. It was the one where the team was walking over a newspaper headline. Like most, I'd fall into and out of love with them. Right before I move to California to work at Eclipse, I sold off most of my collection to friends. I think it was 10-13 long boxes at the time. I forgot to mention: one year my Dad had a T-shirt made that said "President of the John Byrne Fan Club" in brown felt lettering on the back. Oh to still have that thing.

So, I went to work at Eclipse for around a year. It was then that I had my first story published in the PETA benefit book Born To Be Wild that Val Jones had put together. It was about how pigeons can drive you crazy. I made friends at Eclipse that I still have to this day. So, when I tried to get Pulpatoon Pilgrimage published by others, and they all passed, I took the sparse knowledge I had gathered and jumped into the fun world of publishing.

SPURGEON: You've put together a group of talented artists pretty quickly, and while your group is a distinct one, I'm not sure how I'd describe it. How would you describe your overall pool of talent, the artists with whom you're working? What makes a project of interest to you that might not be of interest to another publisher?

PITZER: I forget who came up with "whimsy" to describe AdHouse. It was probably Joel Priddy. He's good at that type of stuff. So, while we publish what some consider one of the most depressing comics created -- Skyscrapers -- I think there are still elements of whimsy to be found within its pages. When people ask me to describe why I publish certain books, I usually fall back to what Jeff Mason said to me once: "Publish what you love." So, first I have to love the book, since it will take time, money, stress, etc. to make it all happen. That said, I like bringing new voices to the people when possible. Other buttons of mine that can be pressed: smart, funny, designy, original. The sad part is that I'm interested in many more books than I can publish. At some points, I've had to pass on certain things that I'll see published elsewhere, which is one of those sad/happy moments. It's probably in their best interest, though.

SPURGEON: Your books are also generally well-designed. However, I'm unsure as to how you work. Are your artists doing their designs themselves? How much input do you have? Is there someone, maybe one of the artists, that you lean on for design decisions? How important is quality design to what you're trying to do?

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PITZER: Well, one of the reasons I got into this in the first place was a chance to stretch my design wings. As the years went on, and more artists started working with AdHouse, there were a few that came in who were capable of bringing their own skills and visions to the table. For instance, J Chris Campbell pretty much just hands over a complete Zigzag package. I like what he does, so I'm cool with that. The hardest I've worked on a book had to be Pulphope. To start from the ground up with so much information and to turn it into what I feel is a very accomplished publication is very pleasing. There was a good bit of back and forth with Paul, but certain ideas I had made the cut. The spreads that essentially show the Napoleon serigraph being "screened" onto the pages was one of those proud ideas.

SPURGEON: Josh Cotter revealed in his interview here at CR that Skyscrapers of the Midwest has only just now sold 1500 copies, which I think based on what they were saying in the correspondence that followed depressed a lot of people, considering the quality of Cotter's work and the overall, appealing package. Is that pretty typical of the performance of comics in your line? Why do you think there's resistance to some of the obviously high-quality comic books like this one? Are you going to continue doing comic book comics? What if anything in the market has you hopeful?

PITZER: If I recall, we've never broken a quantity of 1000 on initial orders for a comic. Just lately we've had some "floppie" success with Johnny Hiro. We've received initial orders of close to 900. So, in my mind, there are many factors at work. I've struggled with this for years, trying to find the right formula to sell more and more comics. The big question... Who is your customer? The retailer or the person who asks the retailer to order the comic? I think the retailer is the customer since they place the orders. So, I've tried to listen to them in regards to making comics in standard sizes, trying to keep a price point as low as possible, keeping them on schedule.

But it's a tough battle. For us to eventually turn a profit on a comic, we need to be able to overprint and then warehouse, which isn't as easy as it sounds. Another part of the equation is the AdHouse "brand." While some love us and swear by us, we fly below the radar of many. I've tried to fix that by advertising, attending the shows, keeping a blog/flickr/forum going with information. But sometimes I feel that I've let the creators down when their books haven't turned a profit yet. I'm sorry to ramble. It's just not an easy question to answer. Or I don't have the right thoughts and words. Back on track: I'll continue to publish comics, but on a very limited basis. For me, I don't think anything in the market has me hopeful, other than some people really digging what comics we've published.

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SPURGEON: Are you done with the anthologies now? How important were the anthologies in terms of things like of your being able to work with variety of artists, and getting your company's name out there, and moving some units? Would you return to them in the future?

PITZER: Well, I'm done with the big book anthologies. I'm so happy with all of them. I have at least one more special issue of Superior Showcase -- our floppie overflow anthology from Project: Superior -- that will come out next summer. There's a very cool twist in regards to that issue. I think the anthologies were very important for AdHouse. It enabled me to work with a good many of my favorite creators of all time. The Project books also garnered us some industry award nominations and wins.

The sad part is that some of the times we couldn't really take advantage of that, since the books would be out of print by the time of the nominations. And yeah, I can hear Rory Root saying "Reprint Superior!" but that would entail a lot of work & money, which I'd rather focus into new things. I'm 99% certain I'm done with publishing big anthologies. Remember that I helped Jeff Mason with one, and then worked on a few of the SPX ones. That, combined with what seems to be a market that is full of them -- Flight, MOME -- and I don't see my need to work on another.

SPURGEON: Did that Paul Pope art book [Pulphope] come out as you'd hoped?

PITZER: Yeah, I think it did. Better than I hoped, really. I mean, I knew it was going to be a pretty book, but the essays really knock it out of the park.

SPURGEON: What's it like working with Paul?

PITZER: Paul is a very interesting individual. Layers and layers. I think he'd give me the shirt off his back if I needed it. He's a rockstar, though. He's got the image, the entourage, the vibe. I think he and James Jean are stepping into the next levels of their careers. Working with DKNY & Prada, attending world design or art conferences... It will be interesting to see where they are a few years from now.

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SPURGEON: Am I right in that that book changed a bit from conception to final publication? How much of a working progress do you have with the cartoonists on most of your books?

PITZER: I guess certain details changed. At first, it was a hardcover and then changed to a softcover, since Paul wanted it to have more of a "textbook" feel. We edited a few of the pornographic images, and discarded a lot of art. If we didn't have a chance to sit down at SPX in 2006 and go through what we had, the book would have been even later in release! I consider Pulphope the exception when it comes to working progress. Since it's more of a monograph, there was a lot of work to be done on that book. I have almost no work involved within the creator driven narratives, except on the production end.

When it comes to collections, I tend to have more input. Process Recess 2 was interesting in [terms of] format. Originally, I think we were planning a limited type of book that would have Chicago-post style binding. Then, while talking it over, we decided it should be a mass release, so we flipped it to a Half-Canadian spiral binding. So, while the size pretty much stayed the same from the beginning, we had some fun and headaches trying to come up with binding that we thought worked.

SPURGEON: How did you end up in Richmond?

PITZER: After leaving Eclipse back in 91 I had decided I wanted to go back to school to obtain a Masters degree in graphic design. I had narrowed it down to either SCAD in Savannah, or VCU in Richmond. The timing was such that I had to pick a place to live before hearing from the schools as to whether or not I got accepted. So, we picked Richmond. Ended up I was accepted to SCAD but not VCU! I really should have seen it coming, though. VCU is a very formal type of school that stresses the theoretical and strong typographic skills, neither of which was my forte. So, I freelanced for a bit, and then ended up doing the job thing.

SPURGEON: Is there a rich, local comics scene in Richmond?

PITZER: Given the size of the city, I think there's a huge comics scene. I've always been surprised at the amount of strong comic stores we have in the area. Then you have people like Tom DeHaven and Thomas Inge, who give lectures or gallery shows that blow my mind. Richmond really does have what it takes to put on some type of national comic festival. The resources at VCU alone have almost brought Schulz, Spiegelman and Gaiman to town. Disclaimer: I think they haven't come to town. I'm famous for missing stuff that happens right under my nose. Granted, we're no Portland, Brooklyn or Seattle, but the flip side is that I can also afford to purchase a home instead of rent. It's also close to the beach, which is usually a factor in my life. I love the beach.

imageSPURGEON: We talked earlier this year about your statement than just realistically, you might start doing fewer shows... Has your opinion changed on this at all? What makes a show work for you, and why do you think you've had difficult reaching that plateau at a lot of shows in the recent past?

PITZER: Well, by fewer, I think you mean SDCC. It's really just my hesitation to invest in a west coast show to that extent. With APE or Stumptown, I could probably get in and out for little damages. SDCC is a major investment in time, money and work. Sure, it can be worth it, but as I said in the past, I'm kind of stuck in the middle. Not small enough to get in easy, and not big enough to afford the help I would need. I think I've reached most all the plateaus I wanted in the shows I've attended. Y'know... To be honest, every show gives me those few minutes of doubt. What am I doing there. Why am I doing this. I think SDCC just takes it to the extreme, and with my turning 40 this year, I voiced those doubts. I still want to attend SDCC, but even that has become a challenge of late. Due to workplace seniority, I don't know if my wife will ever get that week off from her employment ever again. And the trip just isn't fun without her there.

SPURGEON: What's coming up for 2008?

PITZER: Johnny Hiro #3 looks like it will be coming out in January, which is a month late. After that, we have the collected Skyscrapers of the Midwest in May, which I'm hoping will do gangbuster's for Josh. Then Superior Showcase #3 in June, just in time for HeroesCon. At some point during the year I hope to help my old college pal Dave Plunkert get his new book out to a few stores. Currently, we're planning for it to be an "off the grid" type of project. Nothing's in concrete, but I think Scott Morse will have a new Southpaw book out this year, as well as a second edition of the Ancient series. After that, I'd like to do at least one more Process Recess with James... Since three is the magic number. And, more than likely, we'll collect Johnny Hiro into a trade paperback. But that's really all I got planned at the moment. Well, actually, there's always more stuff planned, but those projects only get serious when I get the goods from the creators.

imageSPURGEON: Five years from now, where would you ideally be with your AdHouse projects? Bigger sales... more artists... same artists, more books... do you think that far ahead?

PITZER: Unh.. Well, my joke with Josh Cotter is that once we get the collection out I'd be fine with turning the lights out. Sometimes I mean it, and obviously, sometimes I don't. So, yeah, I'd love bigger sales. Probably less books. It's that ol' warehousing issue!

SPURGEON: Have you ever thought about the company's overall legacy, or is that just ridiculous at this point?

PITZER: I'm not sure about the endgame either... I heard rumors that companies have talked about purchasing AdHouse, but I don't think that's real. A while back, the wife said she thought I could be doing AdHouse once we retire, and I just laughed. If our legacy is a blip of quality books within the history of comics, I'll be happy. I think you might have compared us to Black Eye a while back, and that is the only legacy I could hope for. I love Black Eye.

SPURGEON: Is the interpersonal part of being a publisher important to you? When we meet up in person and we talk about the cartoonists with whom you're working, there seems to be a certain amount of affection in your voice. Has working with these artists become an appealing part of it to you?

PITZER: Oh yeah. I consider most of the creators real friends. I wish I could see them more than the few times I do throughout the year. Also, I wish I could do more for them.

SPURGEON: You've celebrated a fifth anniversary this year. How has your perspective changed from year one to now?

PITZER: Probably my belief that anything is possible. If someone would have told me back in 2002 that I'd have the year I just had, I'd have a tough time believing them. That, and I'm a bit more conservative with my print runs now days. Warehousing!

*****

* photo of Chris Pitzer by Whit Spurgeon
* early company definer Pulpatoon Pilgrimage
* J. Chris Campbell's Zigzag
* cover to the limited edition of Project: Romantic
* Process Recess cover
* photo of an AdHouse booth set-up at SDCC; Doug Fraser on the left
* Skyscrapers of the Midwest cover
* image from Paul Pope

*****

AdHouse Books

*****

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*****
*****

the CR Holiday interview series continues through Monday with two interviews scheduled for each day. Tuesday, January 8 marks a return to this blog's full array of regular features. We thank you for your patience.
 
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Happy 59th Birthday, Takumi Nagayasu!

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posted 1:20 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Happy 49th Birthday, Yoshitomo Nara!

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posted 1:15 am PST | Permalink
 

 
I Want To Wish You A Happy Birthday

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I enjoy wishing comics industry people and artists a happy birthday here at Comics Reporter, but there are many birthdays of which I'm totally unaware. If you're a working pro and would like to have people know to wish you a happy birthday, or you know someone for whom this applies, please send me the name and the birth date. And yes, I need the year.

I can't guarantee every e-mail will result in a posting -- I have to have heard of you, for one thing, and there has to be room -- but I could definitely publish two or three times the number of these I'm doing now.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
 
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January 3, 2008


CR Review: Snaked #1

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Creators: Clifford Meth, Rufus Dayglo
Publishing Information: IDW, soft cover, 24 pages,
Ordering Numbers:

imageI'm not exactly the primary audience for Clifford Meth and Rufus Dayglo's Snaked, which as usual is not a bad thing. In fact, this comic logically builds on an underserved customer of the comics market: folks who enjoyed really heavy, nastily-tinged, brutishly handsome comics made possible by the direction of the comics market 1988-1995 or so. Works like these often play well with classic outsiders, say by economic circumstance or by race, and in doing so often touch off a number of subliminal triggers in addition to the stridency and appeal of the surface text. Snaked has all of those signs. Here we see figures a constant half-degree over-heated and sexualized, violence much more horrific and damaging than anything in the genre prepares us to face, and government conspiracies which are less whispered over in austere corners of power than boasted about at the company watercooler and bandied about as a subject of concern during pillow talk.

A story about shadowy programs, political maneuverings, revenge and supernatural killer-types can hardly be new no matter how they're combined. What puts Snaked above the vast bulk of similarly-targeted comics is that its creators know that it's one thing to present such a story through an ugly point of view, and it's quite another to present it as if it's a beautiful thing, so that what seeps into the consciousness isn't just the the horror of an event but the sensuality of experiencing it, the exposure to the kind of soul that would make something like that happen, the thought of a world where something so far over the line so as to exist a lifetime's travel from that line can be presented as heroic on some level. Snaked gets the highest recommendation I can give a title exploring this bleak a series of human impulses with barely hidden-glee: I'm not sure I want to see this comic in my house.

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Well, That Sucked

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We're hoping to pick up where we left off tomorrow.

Thanks for your patience and well wishes.

Tom and Jordan

this is the expression we've had on our faces since 9:30 AM December 23
 
posted 9:27 am PST | Permalink
 

 
January 2, 2008


I Want To Wish You A Happy Birthday

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I enjoy wishing comics industry people and artists a happy birthday here at Comics Reporter, but there are many birthdays of which I'm totally unaware. If you're a working pro and would like to have people know to wish you a happy birthday, or you know someone for whom this applies, please send me the name and the birth date. And yes, I need the year.

I can't guarantee every e-mail will result in a posting -- I have to have heard of you, for one thing, and there has to be room -- but I could definitely publish two or three times the number of these I'm doing now.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
 
posted 8:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
January 1, 2008


Happy 30th Birthday, Neil Swaab!

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posted 9:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
I Want To Wish You A Happy Birthday

image

I enjoy wishing comics industry people and artists a happy birthday here at Comics Reporter, but there are many birthdays of which I'm totally unaware. If you're a working pro and would like to have people know to wish you a happy birthday, or you know someone for whom this applies, please send me the name and the birth date. And yes, I need the year.

I can't guarantee every e-mail will result in a posting -- I have to have heard of you, for one thing, and there has to be room -- but I could definitely publish two or three times the number of these I'm doing now.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
 
posted 8:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
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