Five For Friday #111 -- Name Five And Only Five Elements (Situations, Plot Points, Relationships, Etc.) Of The Marvel Superhero Universe That Should Be Set In Stone -- Use the Following X Should Y Format
suggested by Chris Opinsky
1. Reed Richards should feel an element of guilt for what he did to his friend, Ben Grimm.
2. The X-Men should be persecuted.
3. Bruce Banner should want to not be the Hulk.
4. Spider-Man should have personal problems.
5. The Sub-Mariner should be a dick.
This Subject Is Now Closed
Five For Friday is a reader response feature. To play, send a response while it's still Friday. Play fair. Make sure you answer the question as directed. Responses up Sunday morning.
* Kurt Westergaard is selling the original bomb-in-turban drawing that was perhaps the most notorious of the original Jyllands-Posten Muhammed caricatures (at least the most controversial one that was actually one of the drawings and not one of the drawings used by agitators to stir up crowds) and a dramatic part of recent events whereby some of the political turmoil was rehashed. Seeing as the last we heard from the cartoonist he and his wife were homeless after being booted from their hotel as a security risk, I supposed he could use the money.
While I'm talking about editorial cartoonists, let me take this opportunity to pull this profile of Henry Payne IV from the Charleston Gazette out of the miscellaneous and quick entries. I don't think I'd ever read a profile of Payne before. It's a pretty good one, too, talking a lot about his background as a favored son of Charleston as opposed to the usual blank slate such articles claim for artists, when they bother to talk about a cartoonist's upbringing at all. I also didn't know he was a wire editor for cartoons at one point, nor did I know that he supplemented his political cartoons with a weekly cartoon about cars.
That last thing is what interested me the most, because I think we're going to see a lot more of that kind of regionally focused special feature in the future, as newspapers struggle to compete with as much unique content as they can get out there, and as papers with staff cartoonists press that advantage as best they can.
The articles also notes that sister of victim Barbara George, the then-32-year-old wife of retailer and future convention organizer Michael George whose death is at the heart of the trial, testified as to her observations of the accused after his wife's passing and at her funeral. The two men who found the body also testified. The article describes the evidence against George as "nearly all circumstantial."
* the writer and critic Dick Hyacinth has released his top comics of 2007 meta-list, compiling a number of various lists from various places and weighting them according to a system he's happy to explain to you.
* you can support the comics charity HERO and remember Steve Gerber at the same time by buying their Howard the Duck print, drawn by the artist Frank Cho. And also it isn't the main point, this is the first time I've seen it suggested that Gerber might have been the target of aid by the group.
* Titan has apparently purchased Egmont's various older kids titles/properties Roy of the Rovers, Buster, Action, Johnny Red, Major Eazy, Tammy, Misty and Rat Pack in order to do a series of collections. I'm only guessing that Buster and Action are two separate thing despite the linked-to article because I can't find another mention of such a title. I like how clear the publishers are about what constitutes a viable property for children and what is essentially a nostalgia property. the first book, The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s will be published in June.
* cartoonist Henri Arnold retires from his popular newspaper feature after a run of 48 years. Haven't heard of him? You've heard of his feature.
* a letter writer defends the treatment of soldiers and their various issues in Doonesbury; the way that Garry Trudeau has become a champion of certain issues is one of the more remarkable turns by any cartoonist, ever.
That's what this article says, anyway. My high school's version was in the Fall and held every year instead of every four, but the article kind of suggests that was the case with Al Capp's version, too. How did the matching shirts thing start? Was that in the strip? Why is there no Andy Capp day?
This article describes opening argument in the trial of former retailer and prominent convention organizer Michael George, accused of the murder of his then-wife Barbara in his comic book store in Michigan in July 1990. Prosecutors painted a picture of a man who wanted to escape the marriage and who stood to profit from insurance both on his late wife and theft insurance for books claimed to have been stolen in a robbery attempt pushed as the cause of the slaying. Defense attorneys focused on the lack of physical evidence placing George in the comic shop at the time of the killing. The case has become a high-profile one for central Michigan due to the cold-case nature of it coming to trial, the local personalities involved on both legal teams, as well as the lurid nature of the crime and the sensational aspects of evidence to be entered as to George's potential motives.
According to their press release, Chris and Teri Crosby have acquired the remaining 50 percent stake in webcomics publisher Keenspot Entertainment from co-founders Darren Bleuel and Nate Stone of Orthnormal Systems. The company was created in 2000. Bleuel and Stone will maintain the site's technical services while they train replacements to handle that function. Dan Shive was named the company's Chief Technical Officer and "major changes to Keenspot's structure and business model" have been promised. Eric Burns wonders about the fate of Bleuel's strip at the site, Nukees (pictured).
Go, Read: Long Post And Discussion of Dave Sim’s Legacy at The Beat
Heidi MacDonald has written a very long post about Dave Sim and his artistic and industry legacies heading into the publication of his Cerebus follow-up projects, Glamourpuss and Judenhass. A cantankerous comments sections follows. If the subject interests you at all, it's a must-read if only for the variety of opinions on display and the inarticulate fan fury with which many of them are expressed. If it interests you greatly, you'll probably know going in that MacDonald was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Sim's work.
There's one thing that I've always found a bit confusing. When some folks boil down the way they feel about Sim, they do so in terms of a construction whereby we should consider separating one's judgment of an artist from one's appraisal of his work. I have yet to sit down and read Cerebus in its entirety, so maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that his philosophy finds frequent purchase in his comics. Now, certainly the support material plays a role in how Sim and his comics are perceived. I suspect the essays and interviews are a big reason why the tone of the discussion about Sim feels different than similar discussions about R. Crumb. And I'm not equating the art from each that's come under criticism. I think they're very different. I'm saying I think people might have done so more frequently -- and maybe to Sim's advantage -- if Sim were a mostly-silent recluse instead of active within his industry and (especially) so vocal on his own behalf. My point is that I'm not certain there's a line to be drawn between artist and art with Sim the way there might be with other artists. If Sim had created Mutts, say, I can see that line of reasoning being more relevant.
I'm also not certain why anyone who holds the view that Sim should be denounced and shunned can be surprised that comics hasn't already done so. The vast majority of the American comics industry was built not by people who hold views folks might find objectionable or abhorrent -- they may or may not have held such views, I don't know -- but on the outright unethical and immoral exploitation of artists. It's an industry where members sitting on a board can receive money for a creator credit on a toy they only in the barest sense supervised while the person who actually created the character that led to the comic that led to the toy gets nothing at all. Comics: not exactly big on moral stands.
Additionally, I'm always a little perplexed that people don't make stronger distinctions between the issues around enjoying and consuming a work, the issues of public support and advocacy versus personal relationships, and the issues of honestly appraising art and adjudicating industry history. They seem to me conflated in a lot of these arguments, and not in a good way.
What do I think about Dave Sim? I think he's clearly a talented cartoonist and I believe he's historically important as both a creator and an industry figure. He's been nice to me at times, grumpy with me at others, but I've only had severely limited contact of any kind with Sim, most of which was positive. I find repugnant a great deal of what I've read of his philosophies, although I admire what I've read about his asceticism. I don't wish him harm because of those beliefs and don't know him personally in a way I could even begin to formulate an overall opinion about the man. As a matter of rule, I distrust interacting with cartoonists as if I know them when I don't. I haven't finished reading Cerebus, so I don't have a valid opinion on its overall level of achievement, but I enjoyed a lot of the stuff I read when I was buying the comic book (through #150) and didn't care for a lot of what I read in random comics after that. I disagree with a lot of his views of the comics industry, particularly the degree to which he believes certain things. A little bit of what I've seen and read makes me think that Sim has brought the curious brand of regard and disdain with which he's held onto himself, although given the kind of casual intimacy with which he engaged fans in his work and especially its supplementary material for so many years it might be hard for him to adopt a new way of interacting with the comics public. I'm not in a position where I'd have to decide whether or not to buy his work for enjoyment, so I don't know if I would or not. As I had stopped reading Cerebus before the flashpoint issue #186, I suspect not. Still, I'm happy to cover his work and his industry efforts, and I hope I can do so fairly, the same courtesy I'd afford any other cartoonist. Anything else, I'd have to make a decision when it came up.
I also think that's a really high number of thoughts to have about one cartoonist I don't even read anymore, even when trying to make certain distinctions. Sometimes I wonder if Dave Sim is of a time, not so much for his comics but in the way a specific generation of readers came to interact with them.
* this editorial is pretty typical of one way of thinking that's prominent after these instances, asking that we see recent events in the context of more directly terrorist acts against artists and politicians.
Editor & Publisher: Semi-Retired Perry Bible Fellowship To Become A Monthly
A staff report at Editor & Publisher indicates that Nicholas Gurewitch's popular The Perry Bible Fellowship, which recently made news for its cartoonist ending its run as a weekly in order to better pursue other projects, will continue as a monthly. I hadn't seen anything firm before that piece on how PBF would be published -- the initial reports indicated that it wold irregular rather than on any schedule at all.
The Post-Intelligencer editorial cartoonist takes up the flag waved by many journalists and well-respected newspaper folk who have worked under Tribune Company and real-estate mogul Sam Zell and proceeds to, well, plant it. I found the original cartoon and blog posting brutally forthright for someone whose livelihood depends on media owners like Zell, and encourage you to follow the links in this post.
I'm as critical of the culture of the American Newsroom as anyone who has ever helped put a daily newspaper to bed, but Zell's statements on journalism and the news itself seem loopy if not outright damaging to any value that journalism might hold other than a bottom line. Editor & Publisher discusses Horsey's statements here. They interview Horsey and get commentary from the Tribune Company here.
The student newspaper at Clearview Regional High School in Harrison Township, New Jersey, has been halted after school administrators objected to a cartoon about a school sex education program. I'm not sure there's much more to the story than that, but I wanted to pull it out because of it's the first such story I can remember about a high school in a while, after tons of stories in 2006 and 2007 about cartoons in university newspapers. I also can't imagine such a move won't magnify the power of the cartoon about 10,000-fold than if it had just been published. It's also one of those things where one suspects the administration objection isn't to the content or to its effect on the students but in anticipation of potential parental complaints.
Cartoonist Rachel Nabors needs expensive dental surgery, and like many cartoonists -- like many US citizens -- she lacks insurance that covers dental and doesn't have the resources to pony up that much money on her own. I hope you'll consider helping her. I plan on giving a small amount myself; I have to imagine anything helps.
* as long as they're not from 23-year-olds trying to impersonate Hunter Thompson, my favorite con reports are personal meditations on the whole experience with a heavy dose of alienation mixed in for good measure. Ladies and gentlemen: Mathew Maxwell -- 1, 2, 3.
* here's a link to all the various videos and trailers like the Mattotti one yesterday; I knew it was some sort of movie project and that it had been around a lot of places, I just couldn't remember what it was or where it was.
* the release of RASL, Jeff Smith's self-publishing follow-up to his mega-successful Bone series, has brought with it a battery of interviews and press coverage. One of the more high-profile pieces is this New York interview, which is accompanied by this exclusive preview. We're also starting to see reviews of the first issue: Jog, Don MacPherson and Sean Kleefeld. One thing that I think worth noting: Jeff Smith isn't debuting a graphic novel but a comic book, and to have press focus on that kind of release is becoming a rarer and rarer thing.
* it's sort of surprising that a lot more people haven't done this kind of thing: David P. Welsh describes how he buys his comics in terms of what he buys where. Given the multiple options available to comics readers these days, I think that's a very important thing to discuss. I know that my own comics buying changed forever for the good when about 18 years ago I stopped buying at the comics shop every week, cut the amount I spent every week in half, began depositing that amount in a no-cost checking account, took six weeks off, and then started buying from multiple sources. I recommend that strategy to everyone. I saved money and had more comics I liked and wanted to keep. There's an argument to be made that one thing that's kept a number of people from becoming lifelong comics readers is that the mode of purchase which they're most encouraged to pursue by several agencies may lead in many cases to dissatisfaction and burnout.
* the critic Don MacPherson writes about the newer Brian Bendis comics as compared to the old one. I'm not as up on the later comics as I am on the earlier ones, but MacPherson's assessment suggests that Bendis may be making certain stylistic choices that stand in opposition to some of the comics by which he made his name. I find that kind of thing fascinating, actually, and I don't think I've ever seen a writer with Bendis' skill set completely seize on how to do "big screen" fight-scene driven comics of the kind that Marvel used to surge into its market lead the 25 years ago.
* just about the only thing missing from the various reminiscences of Steve Gerber was one from someone who knew him growing up. This fine, slightly mournful piece that ran on STLtoday.com fills that void.
* I enjoyed this appearance by David Lasky in a brochure (PDF) about Seattle artists and how awesome Seattle is for artists.
* the writer Chris Butcher ends his long series of photo-stuffed travel posts on a 2007 trip to Japan. Butcher has a great eye for comics retail, so there's a bunch of material in the series showing how various retail establishment rack and display their comics. Here's a link to the whole series.
* another article on the cartoons a man has claimed were done by Adolf Hitler. The problem with the story, to my eyes, is that Hitler wasn't a skilled enough artist to do the cartoons claimed for him. Most of his work was really crude; these look like a professional animator did them.
* Anime News Network confirms the cancellation of the anthology Dengeki Comic Gao!. The magazine ran for 15 years.
* mediabistro.com blogger Ron Hogan shares a brutally negative assessment from a literary agent/reader of his blog concerning the importance of the various on-line initiatives of the Reed Business Information properties that as a group are up for sale.
* this New York Times article has an interesting perspective on the use of a comic book as a textbook to teach German kids about the Holocaust. Instead of the initial articles about objections that concentrated on comics' suitability to convey the amount of information necessary to grapple with the subject matter, and the potential vulgarization of the topic, this piece talks about the comic as an aid for students to talk about that historical event in light of years of what sound like dysfunctional talks and lectures in German schools.
* finally, if you're already signed up with the Fantagraphics web site or can be persuaded to do so, you should check out this preview of Jessica Farm, Vol. 1. The self-published version of Josh Simmons' comic was extremely affecting.
The legal proceedings swirling around former prominent Pennsylvania retailer and convention organizer Michael George enter a new phase today as jury selection begins for the trial, which includes a murder charge. George is accused of the 1990 slaying of his then-wife Barbara in their Michigan comics shop. The trial has garnered a lot of attention for its "cold case" status -- George was arrested last August -- and the lurid nature of both the crime and some of the racier circumstances prosecutors will enter into evidence as potential motivation. The Detroit News has a classic big-newspaper write-up.
“Shall Be Deemed To Be Obscene”: Canada Denies Comics And Anime Imports
Canada's Border Services Agency has made public its latest ruling on what adult-themed comics and anime can and cannot pass into their country. Denied are a number of books from publishers like Eros Comix and Icarus. On the other hand, the article notes that various others were approved to enter the country, which has a long history of deny entrance to adult comics of all types, which tends to become a bigger piece of news when the items of question are believed to have a greater or more obvious literary value.
* the protest and political statement action seems to be focused on the Sudan, where there was an at-least sizable protest and the president agitated against the cartoons generally. The severity of tone keeps me from making any jokes about the relative severity of not being allowed into that country, so please make up your own.
* one thing I've been tracking about the Danish Cartoons Controversy since its inception is how it has changed our perception of artists who work in the more out-there areas of free expression. This article is pretty typical of a piece not about the Jyllands-Posten cartoons that is informed by the discussion surrounding those cartoons.
* newspapers of Europe, German's Minister of the Interior has your back.
* your media brother and cousins in Jordan, not so much.
Three CR readers wrote in expressing various degrees of dismay at this article at PopMatters. At one point, Monte Williams' opinion piece draws a comparison between Alex Ross and Norman Rockwell, and suggests that such is the power of Ross' art that the Justice League of America fighting Starro takes on at least an element of the same reaction we afford to Rockwell's depiction of Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by US marshals. I agree with the e-mailers that that's an unfortunate conflation no matter how many caveats one makes, and I'm also in concurrence with what I think is their related, collective implication that processing art demands that we grapple with what is being depicted even as we allow ourself to be swayed by an abstract artistic effect.
Going a bit further, I don't think I would afford Ross' work as much authority and effectiveness as the writer does no matter how we each might believe it works on its audience. I'm not a great Rockwell fan, but I think that "The Problem We All Live With" is a far more satisfying work of art than any of Ross' covers with which I'm familiar. I would also point out that despite its age, Rockwell's painting was published a couple of months after Bridges walked the line. This means it's probably not the best Rockwell picture to be used in this comparison in the first place. But that may just be me. I agree with the writer's point that art made in a time beyond our memory can have a power that art made within our experiences cannot, and find interesting the notion that Ross' work functions at least a little bit in the same manner propaganda might. Unlike at least one of the e-mailers, I wish him no ill will.
The Bookstore Vs. Comic Shops Nerd Blather Cage Match Post-Game Show
There are a few what look like final writings on the subject of Brian Hibbs' use of Bookscan numbers to make points about the Direct Market compared to the bookstore market for comics popping up. Dick Hyacinth muses on the implications for how readers come to comics and how their tastes change within their comics reading habit, Alan David Doane argues further that superheroes aren't mainstream, Brian Hibbs sums up by accusing Dirk Deppey of moving the goalposts and re-stating some of his original conclusions. Heidi MacDonald has what looks like one more post as well.
I stopped having a horse in this race a long time ago, when the subject matter turned to the indy/alt/mainstream nature of various comic book properties and what that means. As far as that goes, I don't know and I don't care. Concerning the rest, I stand by my original take. These numbers vary much too wildly from a) the actual numbers and b) from book to book that they render useless anything but the broadest of broad claims, and make silly any kind of comparison that involves applying assumptions to mitigate those shortcomings -- let alone a conclusion drawn from such a lumpy stew.
I also find the thrust of the argumentation on both sides depressing, and the nature of the apparent advocacy wrong-headed.
Ten years ago we used to hear from a significant number of Direct Market retailers and their advocates that the American comic shop was an ideal marketplace for comics and as a result they reflected with a great deal of accuracy the national appetite for specific creative offerings. If ACME Novelty Library sold 3500 copies and X-Men sold 120,000 copies, this was a fair and relative measure of the grasp each had on the pop culture consciousness. The fact that ten years later top alternative comics publishers and creators can show me royalty statements and sales sheets that say they sell more through their book distributors than they do through Diamond, and the fact that what I've seen is generally reinforced by statements from company officials with unimpeachable industry reputations, indicates to me that this line of thinking was wrong.
Hashing out issues raised by Brian's original article over days and days may have redefined the word tedium, but it's been useful for me in one significant way. I realize now I'm about as interested in "who's stronger -- the DM or the bookstore market?" as I am in my late 30s to know the answer to a similar question about Superman and the Incredible Hulk. All of the noodling about various factors that feed into who wins that argument are about as compelling to me as whether or not we're talking Weisinger-era or Byrne-revamp Superman, or if the Hulk gets access to a kryptonite light saber.
Both of these markets are vitally important to comics. That's because all markets are important to comics. These markets -- and all markets -- can be improved upon.
I suspect what's deeply frustrating to many publishers and their advocates is that they now see comic shops through the lens of their recent experiences with bookstores. Despite the lack of saturation in the bookstore market and the fact they're competing with so much product and it's tough there and all the many, never-denied problems with book sales, over the last decade they've been made to feel much more welcome in that market than they have ever felt in the comics market. Their bookstore distributor probably hasn't signed massively unfair and restrictive contracts with their other clients that puts them at a structural disadvantage. They're treated with respect and enthusiasm at BEA compared to the disdain or begrudging acceptance that greets them at comics conventions. Their bookstore distributor doesn't try to sell them services as much as it seems to work with them as a partner in selling as many books as possible. Their retailing partners at the bookstore level don't spend hours trying to convince them that they're doing better or at least as well as another market. There is no framework by which the idea that anyone owes anyone anything is ever floated. No one from Amazon.com has ever to my knowledge publicly ripped into a comic book publisher for allowing a comic shop to take one of their sales. Can you blame many publishers for simply making room for a market that has in the last decade moved so many books, treated them professionally in doing so, has been the avenue for their biggest hits, and whom their records now indicate serves more than 50 percent of their bottom line? I can't.
The thing is, there is very little keeping these companies from serving all of these markets and serving them well. Publishers don't make decisions on where and how to promote and what to invest based on people ranting on the Internet; they make decisions based on returns from past experience. And there is certainly nothing in any percentage breakdown that should keep any of these markets from growing independently of one another.
In fact, there are huge obstacles ahead in both bookstores and comic book stores for those publishers that have come to count on both.
In bookstores, comics may cycle off of their current public goodwill and stop being a hot category as soon as a few months from now. Competition for bookshelf space continues to be fierce and will only get worse. No one really knows what will happen to the manga market. It takes more money to operate within the realm of book publishing than it ever has to enter and thrive in comics, which may have a drastic impact on who enters the field. Major book publishers are beginning to push some really shitty, thrown-together or otherwise uninspired books that may over time pollute that marketplace and the public's perception of it. Print by several measures is in overall decline and traditional avenues for selling books could therefore be in jeopardy. No one really knows if the economies of the Internet will have a positive effect on that sales avenue or how that positive effect may make itself known.
In comic book shops, it's distressing that five years of sustained, positive press for many publishers hasn't had a similar sales effect in comic book stores or even much of an effect at all. It's depressing that saturation levels remain so low with the quality of certain books so high and that significant percentages of the market can wear as a badge of honor a limited selection and fealty to a rigid definition of the medium. Diamond is broken in that scary, daunting and systemic way that we see when our national power grid sometimes stops working, and there is nothing in the way the market operates that makes an incentive of acting in a manner that facilitates slow, overall growth and general health. Manipulating the market and cynical publishing ploys that burn away goodwill are consistently rewarded; unprofessional behavior is almost never punished. This becomes reflected in industry values, and thus more people in comics proper know Scott Rosenberg's name than know Chris Oliveros'. Core economic injustices are more frequently defended than they are moved against. Adding more elite stores hasn't yet had the effect that conventional wisdom once suggested it might.
Those who proselytize on behalf of their favorite market by pointing out the mini-comic stuck in the eye of the supposed competitor have several longboxes in their own they might be urged to concentrate on instead.
I love comic shops -- they're entire shops that sell almost nothing but comics! -- and I love the fact that comics are available in bookstores and that an additional market has opened up in the last decade for many artists I admire. I think manipulating admittedly wildly inaccurate numbers and implying that a market sells more copies of certain kinds of comics when valid testimony of better numbers supported by many numbers known outright says otherwise is ridiculous. I find equally ludicrous front-running statements about comic book shops being worthless or declarations related to that notion -- such as saying that spending time in the pursuit of ways to make that market grow somehow isn't time worth spending. It's hard to imagine a more useless dialectic, including Superman vs. the Incredible Hulk. At least in the case of the big S and the green goliath we might get a decent comic out of it.
* the writer and critic Jeet Heer follows up yesterday's post on this site linking to images of "The Krazy Kat Club" with some analysis and perspective.
* Martin Lilja wrote in to point out that the Mat Brinkman show at Loyal that starts March 7 "is focused on new original pen and pencil works on paper," which I agree is very exciting. Pictured is one of the old drawings, which I also find exciting.
* here's the information on that Great Outdoor Fight hardcover from Dark Horse we talked about yesterday. September 2008.
* the Quill Awards have been suspended, after Reed Business Information, currently in the market for a new buyer, withdrew support. The Quills were a book awards program with the backing of a television network that honored comics in its own category. The article at PW makes them seem like a really top-heavy entity, with a 40-person advisory board, which is something I hadn't known. It makes sense that such an awards program couldn't survive without its backing; its backing was the point.
* speaking of Reed, Ron Hogan has a nice piece on how potential buyers might perceive the company's future.
* the huge comics industry news and discussion site Newsaramahas signed into a media partnership with the New York Comic-Con for coverage of the event. CR would like to announce that we have entered into a similar though slightly less formal partnership with the North American beer industry for that same weekend.
* an anonymous, only roughly-identified source at The Beatsays that yesterday's $600,000 venture capital figure mentioned for Boom! isn't money on hand but the upper limit of money that's being made available to them. Or something.
A Short Interview With Joe Casey About The Act of Promoting His Comics
You see them all over the comics Internet: mainstream American comic book creators doing short interviews and profiles in relation to a new project, a kind of comics version of the talk-show circuit. What's that experience like for the creator? Is it time well-spent? How does one walk the fine line between promoting your work and overselling it? Is creator-directed promotion a necessary evil? Is it necessary? Is it evil? CR pal and writer Joe Casey is one of the more prominent comics creators out there in terms of maintaining a public presence through hyping his latest works -- or is that maintaining the hype for his latest work by fashioning a public presence? In the midst of his latest campaign, for a Marvel Comics project called The Last Defenders, Casey answers some questions about feeding the publicity machine and keeping sane while doing so.
TOM SPURGEON: First, let me get some context. How important do you think being active in publicizing your work has been for your career? Have you ever considered just withdrawing from that element of the industry?
JOE CASEY: Every moment of every day, Tom. I mean, it's not exactly part of my job description, is it? Here's some hyperbole for you... self-marketing is a necessary evil, emphasis on "evil." But in today's Direct Market, awareness is everything. Back in the day, I would spin my wheels to gain awareness for myself as some sort of entity in the industry, which was an attempt to help build my career, but now it's all about the work. Doesn't make it any easier. OK, maybe a little easier. Nevertheless, it's damn important. Unfortunately, these days it seems like it's almost as important as the work itself actually being good. A sad state of affairs, my friend...
SPURGEON: At what point when you're working on a project do you start to think about how you can support it in the marketplace. Do you have a menu, a basic plan that you adapt to individual books?
CASEY: For my own creator-owned stuff, as soon as I get a sense of when it's going to come out, when we're going to solicit. For work-for-hire stuff, as soon as its green-lit. Different projects demand different promotional agendas. For instance, the promotion I'm doing for The Last Defenders is as extensive as any pimping I've ever done, all of it geared specifically for this particular book. That is to say, I couldn't take that marketing plan and superimpose it onto another project.
SPURGEON: Can you describe in a bit of detail how you conceptualized your promotion for The Last Defenders, then? Have there been any mid-course corrections, or do things tend to work out pretty well according to plan?
CASEY: I guess I figured, in the midst of what I'm sure will be a massive marketing campaign for this big Skrull story that Marvel's doing, I should go for more of a grassroots approach... doing what I can to speak directly to readers -- and, to be honest, retailers -- who might dig this kind of superhero team book. At least, as directly as the Net will allow. And I want it to be interesting, as well. So, working with Newsarama, it'll be a series of interviews with various members of the creative team, it'll be individual character profiles, it'll be process stories (how we actually put the book together), it'll be Q&A's with the Newsarama posters. All of these are simply different ways of disseminating information about the book, even as each issue is coming out. Some of it, folks have already seen. We're just in the opening stages of this thing. So far, so good.
SPURGEON: Does part of how you hype a book depend on accessing non-comics sources or is most of what you do tied into the comics press and comics-interested press?
CASEY: I might be somewhat short-sighted, but I really have no interest in outreach promo anymore. That is, I abandoned chasing anything that stinks of the "mainstream media" long ago. The thing about the dedicated comic book press is simply this... those guys like comics. They like to talk comics and so do I. My aim for creating awareness for something like Defenders is to hook in those readers who want a cool Marvel superhero team book. I know they're still out there, because I'm one of 'em. I talk to the comics press because we speak the same language. And I like that language.
SPURGEON: Do you or any of the creators that you know feel pressured by the companies you work for to go out and hype a book? If someone was to refuse to do interviews for whatever reason, would that have an impact on their career or your ability to get work? How much is expected of you guys?
CASEY: That, I really couldn't answer. I certainly never feel any direct pressure by publishers to interact with the press. Formal requests directly from marketing departments are few and far between. Even "mainstream" print journalists pretty much find me on their own. Now, having said that, I would think that a creator who does get out there and shoot their mouth off is more attractive to publishers because it can often aid in the marketing of a particular project. It certainly worked for me at a certain stage of my career.
The pressure you can feel is when you're not getting boatloads of marketing support from the publisher. You do want to create awareness for what you're working on... so you ask yourself, "Do I put myself out there and try to move the sales needle, or do I follow my own personal sensibilities and shut the hell up and let the chips fall where they may?" Look what I'm doing with The Last Defenders. It's a full court press, countless pieces that will hit Newsarama over the next few months. Is Marvel asking me to do it? No. But, then again, they didn't ask me to do the book in the first place. I pitched it to them. And, having pitched it to them -- in a sense, convinced them that the book was worth publishing -- I want it to succeed.
SPURGEON: Would you prefer for your publishers to provide a more concerted effort in publicizing your books?
CASEY: The easy answer to that is, "Of course." I say that because it would mean I could spend more time writing comics. But I'm too aware of the limitations of marketing departments, even at the big publishers. There's just not enough manpower to promote everything with equal vigor. And I'd be completely naive if I blamed them for that, not to mention a real asshole. So I don't blame them at all. Some of these people are friends of mine.
SPURGEON: What about the notion that's been floated that you guys don't know about sales and therefore the market would be better off if this were taken out of your hands and returned to professional sales people? Are you really your best advocate?
CASEY: That's a really good question. I honestly couldn't say whether or not I'm my best advocate for myself or my work. Probably not. But most of the time, I don't have a choice. Comics is still a relatively small business in that respect. My version of "market research" is simply to ask myself whether or not the book I'm pimping is something that I'd want to read. It's really an extension of why I'm doing the book in the first place. Having said that, nothing would please me more than having crack marketing departments that were laser precise in targeting their promotions and knowing the unique virtues of every project... but it's just not practical.
SPURGEON: How big a role does timing play in setting up hype? Is there such a thing as mistiming the hype for a book?
CASEY: As they say, timing is everything. There are definitely windows of opportunity. We announced the Defenders book a week before March '08 solicitations hit the 'Net. We did that to give both readers and retailers a chance to digest the idea of the book and the fact that its on the way before the onslaught of March solicitations hit. In Marvel's case, they're pretty much Skrull crazy at the moment so anything outside of that publishing initiative has to fight even harder to grab eyeballs. You need to hit people with a lot of press right when retailers are ordering the book... which is three months before the book hits the stands. On the other hand, almost two years ago I announced a new Image book I'm doing called Charlatan Ball. It ended up taking a lot longer in production so I stopped talking about it because I didn't want to blow my wad before I had to do real promotion for it when it does get solicited. Constantly talking about a book that was still quite a ways off would've let all the air out of the balloon.
SPURGEON: Is promoting a work at Image any different than publishing one through Marvel? Is there a difference in terms of the support you get from either company, what they can do for you?
CASEY: For me, at this point in my career, the promotion is pretty much the same, in so far as I'm still talking directly to comic book press. Oddly enough, the support issues are the same, as well... I wish both companies had more personel in their marketing departments. Just form a manpower standpoint, there's too much product and not enough hours in the day to give all of them the attention they deserve. Right now, they're doing the best they can with what they've got. Once again, it's pretty much down to the creator and his (or her) enthusiasm for getting the word out, getting it out there on time. With Image especially, it's very much a partnership between the publisher and creator. Granted that puts an onus on the creator to be somewhat savvy in the marketing of their product, maybe more than some of them are comfortable with... but that's the world we live in.
SPURGEON: You sort of began to touch on this earlier, but is there a two-tier approach to hype -- is some hype aimed at the buyers/retailers, and others at fans? How are those kinds of hype qualitatively different?
CASEY: Absolutely... although right now I'm experimenting with something that breaks away from the two-tier approach. With Last Defenders, I'm working with the guys at Newsarama to keep the light on us for the entirety of the run of the series... from first issue solicitation until the release of issue #6. That's basically a nine-month period. The balancing act there is not to be obnoxious about it. And, the great thing is, the "hype" doesn't have to differentiate between reader and retailer... mainly because the best retailers are readers, too. I like it when retailers are excited by a new project as a fan, not just as a businessman. That's when the industry can really be fun for everyone involved.
SPURGEON: How do you "not be obnoxious about it"? What is the kind of hype that goes over the line, in your opinion?
CASEY: Hell, Tom... it's all around us. Mainstream comics sold with a Pro Wrestling mentality. There's no point in pointing fingers or naming names. Even the solicitations read like they were written by slicko used car salesmen. Now, c'mon, when solicitations come across as obnoxious, something's gone horribly wrong, don't you think...?
SPURGEON: Beyond the garishness of some hype, do you think creators have the responsibility to do their best to make sure what is written about them is the truth, or is allowing people to write things about you that may or may not be true just part of the publicity game?
CASEY: I think this is one of the few entertainment-related fields where -- in the absence of bone fide publicists on anyone's payroll -- a creator can control what's written about him (or her). We can have a message board, we can have a blog, we give lots of interviews to a multitude of news outlets. Lots of opportunities to speak.
The point is, we're able to represent ourselves quite a bit in our own words, so in a very real sense, we're able to shape our own public personas. Comic book journalists -- the ones who pride themselves on being journalists -- seem to me to be a pretty principled bunch. They don't make shit up that doesn't have some basis in reality. Even a guy like Rich Johnston, who traffics in rumor and gossip, applies pretty high standards to what he does. So it's the creators themselves who set a tone for how they're perceived.
There was a time when I could actually get behind the old chestnut, "any press is good press". But it's just not true. The "garishness" you're mentioning... it comes from our side, the creators, the professional side. The press isn't goading us into talking like pro wrestlers. Obviously, there are nice guys and assholes on every block, but oftentimes it feels like the assholes are outnumbering the nice guys, because the assholes make more noise. These days, how many times do we see a creator spout off about something, causing massive amounts of general eye-rolling? Okay, none of us are running for public office here, but I sure as hell didn't grow up reading articles about -- or interviews with -- my favorite creators where I somehow ended up resenting them in the end. Hearing about how much money they're making, how much their books sell, how they're the envy of the rest of the industry... I don't think I would've been very inspired to try and get in the game myself. That's kind of where it all falls for me.
SPURGEON: Have you ever been upset about something that's been written about you or a way you've been presented or a reaction someone's had to you in the course of getting your books out there to be promoted?
CASEY: Not upset, really. But it's definitely happened. The X-Men relaunch I was a part of in 2001 was a hyperbolic clusterfuck on many levels... lots of grand, sweeping statements flying around and I definitely made more than my share of them. I certainly said things that went overboard in the hype department and I was called to the mat on it, even before the books came out. And rightly so. I look back now and realize that the only positive thing to come out of that experience was that the Morrison-Quitely X-Men book was so good. Mine certainly wasn't. It sold well enough, I guess (which might be an argument for hype)... but ultimately who cares if the quality of the work's not there? I suppose I wasn't upset because I realized everyone was right. Tough pill to swallow, but sometimes the truth hurts. I was more upset at myself because I didn't bring my A-game to the gig. Hopefully, I've learned a lot since then.
SPURGEON: Is there any prioritizing that goes on when you're publicizing a new work? For instance, do you target a couple of magazines over the rest?
CASEY: I've got a pretty good relationship with the Newsarama guys, one that stretches pretty much over the entirety of both of our careers. We started pretty much around the same time, and it just so happens that they are the top site for comic book news. No one else comes close. Christ almighty, there are folks who work at major movie studios that cruise that site every day...! Now, I'm happy to talk to almost anyone who seeks me out, but I personally go to Newsarama well in advance to plan things out strategically.
SPURGEON: Does anyone ever ask for exclusive access, or a story or interview first? Has Newsarama ever asked for an exclusive or for something first? How do you negotiate that when it comes up?
CASEY: Those situations can crop up between publishers and news outlets. Mainly, I know it happens between major publishers and WIZARD Magazine. And, of course, there was a time when Rich Johnston was a severe pain in publishers' asses (and God bless him for it), so there would always be a bit of negotiation going on with him. But the fact is, I don't really work on projects that command the kind of attention or interest on a level that would necessitate any kind of exclusivity with any one news outlet.
SPURGEON: How much is hyping your work a subject of discussion with your and your fellow comics professionals? Have you ever received a worthwhile tip or pointer from another pro that you use in taking a book out?
CASEY: Honestly, I can only speak for myself here. I've joked about it with a few of my friends in the business, but I haven't talked to them enough to know for sure if anybody thinks about this stuff the way I do, or as much as I do. More than likely, everyone has their own way of dealing with the press.
SPURGEON: How much are you conscious of building your own name brand in the process of discussing a work? Is there ever any conflict between those two things, is it possible to get yourself over and have people leave with a positive impression of you but not the book. How do you balance that?
CASEY: For better or worse, I think I built a brand for myself a few years ago. I did what I had to do at the time, and now I'm kinda' over it. Not to date myself, but there was a time when only a few of us were really using the 'Net (and the press, as well) to create that kind of creator-specific brand, that cult of personality. And basically we were all following in -- what were at the time -- the still-fresh footsteps of Mr. Warren Ellis. So, I've been there, done that. Here's what I'm conscious of... it's not the game I like to play anymore. I'd rather talk about the work exclusively.
In the past few years, I think I've become more and more of a private person. So, unlike most creators who you see online a lot... while my company has a work blog -- updated semi-regularly, I'll admit -- I don't have my own creator-centric message board, I don't engage in the excessive name dropping/back slapping that's gotten ridiculous, I don't talk about my family, I don't brag about what I got for Christmas, I don't try to turn a news piece into a lifestyle piece. I don't want to be famous. That is to say, I don't desire large groups of people to be envious of me because I'm constantly -- and painfully -- trying to convince them that I'm living the life they wish they were living. Actually, I find that kind of thing pretty distasteful, but different strokes for different folks. When I talk to the comic book press, I'm talking to them as a comic book writer, not as a faux celebrity who assumes that the readers give a rat's ass about what I had for breakfast or who I hung out with at San Diego last year or what meetings I'm taking in Hollywood. These days, all I care about talking about is the work. What it's about, when it's available, where it came from, etc.
SPURGEON: How has this change in attitude had an effect on the hype itself? Do you feel you'd have more opportunities to hype your work if you did play that game?
CASEY: I don't know. That's a interesting question, though. Is a potential reader more inclined to pick up something if the creator comes across as some kind of rock star? Are we really at that point where, the bigger the asshole (in public, I should clarify), the bigger the sales figures? I'm probably enough of an asshole in private... so I do my best to not be one in public.
Now, I don't think it limits my opportunities, because that's not how the Net works. If you or I say something either 1) overly perceptive or 2) completely incendiary... then it'll spread all over the place. Other news sites, message boards, blogs, etc. Just like a virus...
SPURGEON: Do any of the news sources ever edit the material you provide them, like answers to interview questions. How frustrating is it to have that kind of material changed, or taken out of your hands?
CASEY: It happened recently with an interview I did -- not for Newsarama -- talking about, of course, Last Defenders. I guess I was having a good day, so I had a little fun with that one, just taking the piss out of things, having a laugh... and those were the bits that were cut out of the final article. Even if it's a goof, it can be entertaining and sometimes that's all you can ask for in some of these interview articles. It's a different type of performance... but then they cut out the performance. Lesson learned there, believe me.
SPURGEON: What lesson is that?
CASEY: Probably to avoid talking to guys I don't know all that well. The guys I do know wouldn't cut anything, they'd know when I was having a laugh. And they damn sure wouldn't do it without talking to me about it first.
SPURGEON: How much of what you do in hype is spin? Have you ever been in a situation where you've had to negotiate the way something was received at the initial announcement stage, or from a rumor? How do you approach those moments?
CASEY: I'm not a fan of spin, Tom. It's a goddamn parlor trick. Spin means staying "on message" to such a ridiculous extent -- sticking with your story and never backing down -- that you drown out the truth. You replace the truth with your version of it. And it's infected the way our industry interacts with the readers to such an intense degree, it's kind of horrifying. I think it's gotten so bad that it's a "boy crying wolf" situation now... that even an honest admission comes off as spin. Although it usually occurs more after a particular work or book has come out.
And it's really a wider issue... spin is the product of a media-saturated culture. And the comic book industry -- the "mainstream" area of it, anyway -- is always in such a hurry to be a part of the wider entertainment landscape that it ends up adopting the worst, most superficial aspects of it. And when I see other professionals -- people I respect, in some cases -- resorting to it, I just shake my head. It devalues what we do.
Look, here's the thing... back in the 60's, in Marvel's creative heyday, there were more than a few missteps taken. It happens. Books went through creative ups and downs, series were canceled, creators came and went. And I don't know if anyone can go back and point to an instance where Stan Lee didn't step up and -- in his own affable way -- take it on the chin. Stan gave us a window into Marvel... its successes as well as its failures, always with the vibe of, "We screwed up, but we'll try harder next time!" He kept it light so the readers kept it light... kind of a mutual agreement to keep it fun, to not act like it's a tragedy if something came out that people didn't like. But spin is manipulation that suggests that the stakes are incredibly high. And maybe they are... maybe jobs are on the line and guys in positions of bona fide power have to go out and perform massive amounts of damage control. But, jeezus, the world's not going to end if a bad comic book escapes the printer. Not every issue or storyline or "event" is going to resonate with readers. So let's not act like it was the readers' fault when that happens.
But, at the end of the day, I can't help but look at it like this... the industry exists in a climate where readers, after reading the books, start asking questions, they demand the dirt, they request editorial motivation, they want the story behind the story more often than not. And, for whatever reason, the industry is moved to respond, to acquiesce, to give explanation. But it reminds me of a saying I read somewhere: "Failure has a thousand explanations. Success doesn't need one."
Then, of course, there's the possibility that makes me shudder... that there are quite a few drama queens in our industry that couldn't live without the juice, the constant tension between pro and fan. Me? I prefer to keep the drama in the comics themselves.
Hell, I have no doubt that people reading this will accuse me of spinning right now.
SPURGEON: Have you ever caught yourself slipping into an insincere voice when doing promotion?
CASEY: Early on, yes. Mainly because I was inexperienced in talking to the press -- such as it was back then -- and when you're in that circumstance your default position is usually to take on some sort of pose just to get through it. You fake it till you make it.
These days, any time I'm confronted with an interview question that treads on "sensitive" areas of my career, like canceled books or franchise runs that weren't well-received, there's definitely a temptation to avoid looking bad. The temptation to spin. But I do what I can to get over myself and just deal with the truth, whatever that may be. I haven't been telling the readers that The Last Defenders will change their lives or that they're f**king morons if they don't buy it. I'm simply saying, "I've having fun working on this book and, if you like the characters or the ideas or the history of the team, you might have some fun, too." That's as sincere as I can be, Tom.
SPURGEON: Are there benefits to the exercise of participating in a book's promotion beyond getting more people to buy it? Has it helped you as a creator to boil down or think of your work in that specific way? Have you ever created differently because of an experience in promoting a work?
CASEY: No, because it's all part of the same conversation, the one I'm having with the people who read the stuff I write. Certainly, the more you deal with the press, the more savvy you get in how you promote your work. But I look at being more savvy as an opportunity to be more direct, to be more honest with the readers. In the same way my writing evolves over years in this business, so do my pimping techniques.
SPURGEON: How many of the non-prose avenues (video, podcasts, radio) to promote work have you explored? Is there anything different about that experience, either doing it or the result?
CASEY: Y'know, I've done my share of radio, podcasts, etc. Don't get me wrong, I love the medium. Things like John Siuntres' Word Balloon program are generally outstanding. I, Fanboy's got some life to it, too. But I've learned over time that I'm probably better off being a listener of those shows rather than a participant. A conversation is a fleeting form of communication. It works in the moment... to record it for posterity's sake, or for public consumption... I don't know, it's just don't think it's for me. Unless I get really stoned beforehand, I can't see myself doing them.
SPURGEON: What do you think about social networking systems as a way to self-promote? Have you used them? What have you thought of what you've seen or experienced with people using Facebook or MySpace?
CASEY: I'm sure it's fine for certain people, certain creators. For me, it's not something I'm too interested in... primarily because those sites are designed more to promote the artist as opposed to the art. It's personality-driven, not work-driven. I don't know, maybe I'm cynical but I can't get over the fact that, fundamentally, all these social networking sites are really just the latest way to get laid over the Internet.
SPURGEON: As we're doing this, the writer Ed Brubaker's on a big publicity jag for the re-launch his Criminal series. One of the things he's done is write letters directly to retailers, complete with a free item or two. What do you think about direct contact with retailers in this fashion? Have you ever done it? What was that experience like?
CASEY: I've done it before, on a much smaller scale than Ed has. It wasn't a negative experience at all but I don't know if it moved the needle at all. But it's good fun watching Ed campaign for his book, because on a lot of levels, it works for him. It works for Criminal. Not to mention, Ed's one of those guys that's pretty genuine, even when he's in heavy promo mode. I've certainly got nothing against that kind of direct contact with retailers. Of course, you might want to ask the retailers if they'd have anything against that kind of direct contact with me. You never know...
SPURGEON: Where do you see the future of creators promoting themselves? Is it something that is likely increase or decrease? Is it something that will be focused on the Direct Market? Will there be independent PR people hired on a project to project basis? How do you plan to continue pursuing it?
CASEY: Jeezus... I have no idea. I've got three creator-owned books coming out in the next few months, so I'm doing a lot of promotion for them. And then there's the massive Last Defenders orgy of pimping. That's a lot of time spent under the spotlights, much more than I generally do these days. I do know that certain publishers have hired outside PR companies to help spread the word about their product. But I think those examples are more about manpower than insight. Let's face it, someone who majored in marketing might have some really wild ideas about how to promote, but if they're not intimately involved and aware of the various levels of our industry, what good are they? I'm a firm believer that you've got to be in the trenches to know how to navigate them well. Having said that, it's probably safe to say that creators will go on hurling themselves into the public eye, mainly because ego gratification never goes out of style, does it?
SPURGEON: You approached me with the idea for this interview... if someone were to only read this one question and answer, what would you have them know about today's promotional landscape for comics and your feelings about it?
CASEY: Are you asking me to boil this whole thing down to a sound byte, Tom? Can't do it. Not in this forum. But, then again, I didn't do this interview so I could boil it down into a nice, chew-able tablet. The pimping I'm doing for The Last Defenders is a method of communication that is hopefully very direct: a superhero comics writer talking to superhero comics fans about his new superhero comic book. But I guess I had to balance that out with something like this. Because there's another level of creativity to it for me. There has to be, otherwise it's not worth doing. It's got nothing to do with the book itself, it has everything to do with the process of creation.
I saw a TV show where Deepak Chopra was being interviewed and he said that the most creative people he knows are the ones that are the most comfortable with their own insecurity. A pretty fucking powerful statement, because creativity is everything to me. Whether it's an idea about the nature of the Universe or it's an idea about Nighthawk or Iron Man, just being able to conjure up these ideas in the first place is something I don't take lightly. Talkng about this stuff, pulling back the curtain a little bit on an aspect of our job -- a strange aspect that's rarely talked about -- isn't the most comfortable thing to do. Maybe I'd be better off just keping my mouth shut about some of this stuff. I guess I'm admitting an insecurity here because I could easily adopt the kind of pose I used to project when talking about my work or I could simply fall in line with the kind of pose that other pros seem to project these days. Instead, I chose option #3. Because it is all about the work, but it's also about me, too.
SPURGEON: This was all just a ruse to have me promote The Last Defenders, wasn't it?
CASEY: Guilty as charged. I hope you'll be reading it when it comes out.
* in the best-traveled, sort-of Danish Cartoons-related news of the day, mostly I think because people love typing "YouTube," the Great Pakistani YouTube Nightmare is over.
* in what seems like a much more significant move, Sudan has banned import of Danish goods. It's interesting to read articles like this one, because while the recent triggering incident was the republication of a Kurt Westergaard cartoon, these articles just make various political faction mad all over again at the whole darn thing. Which I guess they are. And how bad are a things going when a country filled to the brim with flashes of genocidal murder and other craziness puts a ban on you?
* this thinkpiece allows that radical Islam is being attacked -- by rational thought.
* religious minorities call on the International Court of Justice to try Danish authorities and various media people for publishing the blasphemous cartoons. I know none of this is funny, but International Court of Justice sure does sound like something from a cartoon.
DHC To Expand Its Publication of Print Compilations Of Popular Webcomics
I guess this means we can all stop guessing the publisher with whom Achewood creator Chris Onstad is going to be doing his remarkable The Great Outdoor Fight, as cryptically announced in an article we linked to here a while back. In what I'd say was the publishing news of the WonderCon convention just past, Dark Horse Comics announced an approximately 100 percent expansion of their interest in various webcomics properties. According to Comic Book Resources, DHC will add books from Achewood, Keith Knight's The K Chronicles and David Malki's Wondermark to its line. This builds on past successes the company's had with Megatokyo, Penny Arcade and The Perry Bible Fellowship -- the last of which seemed to crush sales-wise, immediately selling out a first printing in what I recall was the late 20,000s.
Those six books together seems like it could make its own start-up line, so I can't imagine them not being a boon to DHC's bottom line over time -- if they're handled well, of course. It also seems to me a significant endorsement of the on-line comics/print trade (and sometimes comics) publishing strategy.
Here's a bit of interesting news for those following the growing on-line distribution of comics: Archaia Studios Press is allowing its work to be distributed through a popular gaming download site, Indie Press Revolution. This is a relationship that one guesses was built on a pre-existing relationship from ASP's flagship title, Artesia, having a well-liked role-playing game spin-off. I mention it here because I don't recall too many comics making their work available this way on sites either 1) not their own, or 2) not totally comics-focused. Also, it's my impression that this particular corner of the gaming market has been much more aggressive about offering PDFs and other types of downloads for a bit longer than comics has. Here's a note from the guy making room for ASP at IPR.
Dave Sim has announced his other new project, after the previously-announced Glamourpuss. This one is called Judenhass, about the root causes of the Holocaust. It will be 56 pages, perfect-bound and released at Ohio's SPACE show. Sim will not be doing PR for this project due to its subject matter.
* I didn't hear back from anyone at Wizard about why Jim Silver's not on the masthead of issue #198 when Gareb Shamus told ICv2.com that Silver's fulfilling the same role at the company he always has. I did hear from someone that they've dropped a lot of their archived, on-line content. Sean T. Collins noticed. Gary Tyrrell noticed, too. I also wanted to note that they have been running more comics-related interviews and other types of content on their site recently, after a brief period when it was difficult to find much of anything comics related.
* I think this is from that long-promised and perhaps even already-released movie of short animations from a score of great world artists: Lorenzo Mattotti animation clip.
* in other comics history news, Christopher Moshier continues his History of DC Comics at Comic Book Bin. Or is it just starting up with a built-in backlog of pieces? I can't tell.
* I greatly enjoyed Jog's summary review/profile of Hideshi Hino at Savage Critics, particularly the analysis of where certain works fit into Hino's overall career in terms of his simply being able to make money and work in certain genres. It sounds sort of silly to mention this now, but Hino's translated work was important for a lot of folks in the mid-'90s whose exposure to manga was split between loftier works and science fiction/fantasy stuff aimed at kids and teens. Plus his stuff is crazy-nuts, and at its best potent, affecting and memorable.
* best line I've read so far today: "Five years ago we used to say that selling comics in Romania was like trying to sell ice-cream to Inuits. Four years later we can proudly state that it now resembles selling pork in Palestine."
Steve Whitaker, a well-known, well-liked and influential figure in the British small-press comics scene and a skilled artist and colorist perhaps best known for his color work on the DC Comics edition of V For Vendetta, died on Thursday, February 22 after what may have been a stroke while in a cab on his way to seek medical help. He was 52 years old.
According to his own testimony, Whitaker spent much of his early childhood split between Kent and London, and went to school in Northampton, Bedford and finally Chelsea, where he received a BA Honors Degree in Painting. After a period of what he termed "odd jobs including gardening, working in a toot shop, specialist decoration" he would eventually move into comics and build a coloring portfolio with clients including Marvel UK, Marvel, Harrier, Fleetway, Tundra, DC Comics, Valiant, and Oberon BV.
His highest profile coloring jobs were with projects featuring prominent British writers, two of which were re-coloring efforts. This includes the re-packaging of the Grant Morrison/Paul Grist collaboration St. Swithin's Day, and the enormously well-received muted color work on the DC Comics edition of V For Vendetta. Whitaker was also part of the coloring team along with Nick Abadzis and John Buckle on Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell's notorious New Adventures of Adolf Hitler serialized comics story. In his blog entry on Whitaker's passing, Neil Gaiman notes that Whitaker could have been the colorist on his series Sandman but failed to turn in the sample pages on time. Whitaker says in his livejournal biography that he won awards for the work on V For Vendetta and New Adventures.
Whitaker was also an illustrator, publishing prolifically through British amateur press outlets and fanzines where his admirers included the writer Warren Ellis. He also provided artwork to Harrier's Swiftsure in the mid-1980s and provided artwork for the first two issues of and more artwork in support of a Trident series titled Man-Elf. (A credit for some comics-property related book for the publisher Ladybird in the mid-1980s may have been art or color; the credit itself is unclear.)
Whitaker was also an active member of the comics-related press and heavily involved in arts-writing coverage of the comics scene. He worked on two art magazines in the 1980s, Cipher and Atlas. He was a contributor to Fantasy Advertiser and Chain Reaction. He penned obituaries for cartoonists for a variety of outlets including the Independent and the Guardian. His crowning achievement in the writing about comics was likely the publication of Encyclopedia of Cartoon Techniques in 1993 with Running Press Books. Subtitled "A Unique A-Z Directory of Cartooning Techniques, Including Guidance on How to Use Them," an edition of the book was published as recently as 2002 by David & Charles. Whitaker was a respected teacher, holding classes at the London Cartooning Centre, in workshops at comics shows, and on an informal basis in a number of places.
Judging from theinitialoutpouringofgrieffromavarietyofsources upon Whitaker's passing from both friends and acquaintances, it's clear that he's remembered as much as an influential presence within the comics scene as he is for any set of surpassing works using the medium. Those tributes paint a picture of an enthusiastic, articulate friend and sometimes even mentor figure to a variety of artists and writers, a man imparting a broad range of knowledge of and passion for a wide variety of artistic expressions, including comics in a number of forms. Many of those friends and colleagues point to Whitaker's active webpresence as continuing proof of his skill with and devotion to visual media.
Whitaker was an enthusiastic supporter of Oxford's alt-comics convention CAPTION and the British Amateur Press Association (B-APA), a now-disbanded organization that will reform to produce a special issue in Whitaker's honor.
* Reuters reports that jailed newspaper editor Alexander Sdvishkov has been freed after Belarus' supreme court reduced his sentence from three years to three months. Sdvishkov, the only journalist sentenced to prison for his role in publishing the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed caricatures, in his case in the now-defunct newspaper Zgoda in 2006. Sdvishkov benefited from two forms of pressure: one, the United States had tagged Sdvishkov and and two others as political prisoners that must be released for the sake of continuing relations between the ex-Soviet State and Western powers; two, the country's Supreme Court has recently released a number of folks believe to be opposition advocates jailed in part or solely for those political views.
* Meanwhile, the recently renewed flash of political and cultural turmoil over the Danish cartoons in this year continues at a modest but still alarming and heartbreaking pace.
* as if in an attempt to cover all the bases from the 2006 Danish Cartoons controversy, one report has multiple Danish web sites being hacked as a result of the Kurt Westergaard's cartoon being republished recently.
* another player from the 2006 political turmoil and riots heard from: Sudan isn't happy with the republication, either. This is the first Indian reaction I've read. And a first from Qatar. Nigeria, you're on the clock.
* like many an American head of household, Pakistan has banished YouTube, for reasons that may or may not include that site's ability to broadcast the Danish cartoons.
* I hadn't read that all 12 cartoons were republished by some papers -- I thought in most just the Westergaard bomb-in-turban cartoon was republished -- but that's what this article says, plus they provide a dire-sounding quote from an official of the OIC.
* this year's Reporters sans frontieres annual report includes updates on a cartoonist discussed in past versions of these updates: Bangladeshi cartoonist Arifur Rahman, jailed at first to protect both himself and the public and now simply being held for the crime of creating a cartoon with wordplay that includes the word Muhammed. Unfortunately, that update says he's simply still being held.
Nominees for the third annual Glyph Comics Awards were announced over the weekend. The awards are designed to honor the best in black comics and creators.
Story of the Year
* Hunter's Moon, James L. White, writer, Dalibor Talajic and Sebastian Cardoso, artists
* Nat Turner: Revolution, Kyle Baker, writer and artist
* Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, James Sturm, writer, Rich Tommaso, artist
* Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, Percy Carey, writer, Ronald Wimberly, artist
* Welcome to Tranquility, Gail Simone, writer, Neil Googe, artist
* Percy Carey, Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm
* Dwayne McDuffie, Fantastic Four
* Gail Simone, Welcome to Tranquility
* James Sturm, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow
* James L. White, Hunter's Moon
* Kyle Baker, Nat Turner: Revolution
* Olivier Coipel, Thor
* Georges Jeanty, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
* Jeremy Love, Bayou
* Ronald Wimberly, Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm
Best Male Character
* Emmet Wilson, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow; James Sturm, writer, Rich Tommaso, artist
* Luke Cage, New Avengers; Brian Michael Bendis, writer, Leinil Francis Yu, artist
* MF Grimm, Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm; Percy Carey, writer, Ronald Wimberly, artist
* Nat Turner, Nat Turner: Revolution; Kyle Baker, writer and artist
* The Spectre, Tales of the Unexpected; David Lapham, writer, Eric Battle & Prentis Rollins, artists
Best Female Character
* Amanda Waller, Checkmate; Greg Rucka, writer, Joe Bennett & Jack Jadson, artists
* Lee Wagstaff, Bayou; Jeremy Love, writer and artist
* Martha Washington, Martha Washington Dies; Frank Miller, writer, Dave Gibbons, artist
* Saida Nri, Adrenaline; Tyler Chin-Tanner, writer, James Boyle & Fabio Redivo, artists
* Thomasina Lindo, Welcome to Tranquility; Gail Simone, writer, Neil Googe, artist
Rising Star Award
* Marguerite Abouet, Aya
* Marc Bernardin & Adam Freeman, Monster Attack Network
* Mark Haven Britt, Full Color
* Klio, SPQR Blues
* Korby Marks, Stormbringers
Best Reprint Publication
* Aya, Drawn & Quarterly; Chris Oliveros, publisher, Helge Dascher, translator
* Beyond Premiere HC, Marvel; Tom Brevoort, editor
* It Rhymes With Lust, Dark Horse; Mike Richardson, publisher
* Storm Premiere HC, Marvel; Axel Alonso, editor
* Stormwatch: Post Human Division V1, DC/Wildstorm; Ben Abernathy, editor
* Blade #5, Marko Djurdjevic, illustrator
* Highwaymen #1, Brian Stelfreeze, illustrator
* JSA Classified #28, Steve Uy, illustrator
* Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, Ronald Wimberly, illustrator
* Special Forces #2, Kyle Baker, illustrator
Best Comic Strip
* Bayou, Jeremy Love, writer and artist
* Candorville, Darrin Bell, writer and artist
* Funny Cartoon of the Week, Kyle Baker, writer and artist
* The K Chronicles, Keith Knight, writer and artist
* Watch Your Head, Cory Thomas, writer and artist
Fan Award For Best Comic
* Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four, Dwayne McDuffie, writer, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar, artists
* JSA Classified #28, Fabian Nicieza, writer, Steve Uy, artist
* New Warriors #1-6, Kevin Grevioux, writer, Paco Medina & Juan Vlasco, artists
* Squadron Supreme: Hyperion vs. Nighthawk, Marc Guggenheim, writer, Paul Gulacy, artist
* Stormwatch: Post Human Division, Christos Gage, writer, Doug Mahnke and Andy Smith, aritsts
The nominating committee consisted of Rich Watson, GCA Committee Chair and writer for PopCultureShock.com; Cheryl Lynn Eaton, comics journalist and founder of the Ormes Society; Prof. William Foster, comics historian and lecturer; Tony Isabella, comics writer and columnist; and Katherine Keller, editor-in-chief, Sequential Tart.
The winners will be announced at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in Philadelphia on May 16-17.
FreakAngels Week One: Warren Ellis’ Webcomic Pulls In 75,000+ Vistors
The writer Warren Ellis has a (custom-designed for me) post up with statistics on the first week of his new webcomic FreakAngels. I have no idea what constitutes a good showing on-line, let alone what constitutes a good showing on-line for a first week, but the number provided sound impressive to me, and the work is almost certainly passing in front of more eyeballs than a similar print project would have under any conceivable scenario. Besides, as the post notes, I'm a fan of transparency and numbers where there's little leeway in interpretation other than suggesting they're all lies.
While "webcomics gets a lot of visitors" isn't really news, FreakAngels is worth watching from a publishing standpoint for a lot of reasons: 1) it's a stand-alone site with its own related messageboard, which distinguishes it from works that are parts of larger sites or on-line anthologies, 2) it's still rare for a writer of Ellis' stature in the print comics world to work on a webcomic, 3) I believe it's Avatar's first webcomics effort, too, and therefore important in that publisher's overall business plan, and 4) Ellis has a significant on-line presence that seems perfectly suited to draw attention to such a project.
TOON Books Opts For Simultaneous Release of Initial Offerings on April 7
TOON Books, the children's comics in book form series being launched by Editorial Direct Francoise Mouly and Series Advisor art Spiegelman, has announced that they will release all three of their initial books on the same day, April 7.
The three books are Benny & Penny, by Geoffrey Hayes; Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons, by Agnes Rosenstiehl; and Otto's Orange Day by Frank Cammuso & Jay Lynch. They had previously been announced as being released on a staggered schedule.
The press release also mentions some of the ramp-up to the debut: a presentation at the ALA mid-winter meeting, reviews in the various and expected booktrade publications, the previously announced inclusion in Maryland's Comics in the Classroom Initiative and one I don't remember seeing before, participation in Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader quiz program. They've also announced that Art Spiegelman's contribution will appear this fall and Harry Bliss' in Spring 2009.
After learning on Friday that Dave Sim's secret project is about the Holocaust, I went in search of another secret project I remember hearing about, the one cartoonist T Edward Bak spoke of in our interview a while back. This is it, or, perhaps more accurately, it's a web site in support of that project, The Last Hotel. The blog itself looks to be about ephemera of various kinds in support of that as-yet unsold project. I really liked Bak's last book, Service Industry, which took me by complete surprise. I look forward to this new book, whenever it's published.
* hey, maybe someone at Wizard can explain this to me. If Jim Silver's role at Wizard "is the same as it has been," as Gareb Shamus told ICv2.com, countering a ton of whispers that Silver's role had definitely changed, how come he's not in the masthead of Wizard #198 as having that same role?
* the great Metabunker site has the cartoons up that a man claims were made by Adolf Hitler. This story just went from being "intriguing yet not likely" to "no freakin' way."
* the NYT critic and journalist Steven Heller reviews a couple of comics-related books as part of a suite of works that are linked by their being "visual" in nature, the kind of thing that makes a certain sense even though I can't remember seeing it before.
* we've added a advertisement to the right-hand column hoping to draw your attention and traffic to the sale of the late Dave Cockrum's personal collection, where you can find items on sale like his personal copy of industry milestone Giant-Size X-Men #1 -- although in the case of that comic it's apparently already gone. If you have the time, and especially if you have the inclination, I'd greatly appreciate your considering a click through at some point to see what else is there.
* this profile of Gene Yang provides a snapshot of his forthcoming projects, including a book about the Boxer Rebellion.
* this article seems to claim that the recent enforcement of child pornography laws in Japan hasn't, and perhaps shouldn't, have an impact on manga.
* in the I didn't know that department, Peter Wong writes in with a note about the great Ralph Steadman. "For its February 22, 2008 issue, The Week magazine asked cartoonist Ralph Steadman to list the best books he's ever read. The Hunter S. Thompson collaborator listed the following: The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac, Rembrandt's Jews by Steven Nadler, Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers and Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein."
* there are two more big pieces out there on retailer Brian Hibbs' analysis of Bookscan numbers, from Heidi MacDonald and Dirk Deppey. Andrew Wheeler backs me up on why I've been dismissing the whole argument as one even worth arguing in the first damn place -- you can't manipulate numbers to good effect when they vary wildly book to book.
One of the many crappy things about plunging ahead and arguing these figures anyway is the constant risk of distortion. MacDonald gives a figure for Adrian Tomine's sales on Shortcomings straight from Bookscan. This isn't fair to that book. 1) This figure could all by itself be off by a multiple of three. Three! 2) Shortcomings came out late in the year, and it's clear from the number of brand-new reviews that it's still in a primary sales cycle. This makes perfect sense given the crowded graphic novel book shelves and the size of the publisher -- neither D&Q nor its distributor FSG is going to be able to flood the stands with copies; its sales are likely to be slow and steady. But instead this figure is utilized and therefore gains momentum and credibility as "the sales figure" on Shortcomings.
I urge you to join me in giving manipulation of individual Bookscan numbers the finger and only trusting Bookscan the way we trust Diamond sales estimates -- as a broader than broad indicator of market trends and check on extravagant publisher claims, both roles coming with multiple caveats.
On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Things In Comics That Confused You At One Time Or Perhaps Still Do -- Just The Source of Confusion, Not An Explanation Of Why You Were Confused Or What Turned Out To Be The Answer (Unless You're Fred Hembeck)." Here are the results.
1. Sand Superman
2. Ditko's Killjoy comics
3. Was that a vision of Maggie's Mom as a young person that stops by the picnic in Chester Square?
4. An egg in a FOOM parody saying "I Am The Walrus"
5. What was that tuning fork on Black Bolt's head for?
1) Earth 2?
2) No one in the Marvel Universe smokes?
3) You can breathe in the Blue Area of the Moon?
4) The first time I read Eightball in the middle of Like a Velvet Glove and never having read an indy title before.
5) We don't have to explain it, it's magic.
1. Bluto or Brutus?
2. Was the Our Boarding House panel really the same one every day?
3. How did the Puzz Fundles pages connect to the main story in The One?
4. Who was Junior a junior of in Dick Tracy?
5. Why didn't Perry White also have his own comic book?
1. "Captain Marvel"
2. Al Milgrom's inking
3. A really only semi-invisible jet
4. Every time travel comic I ever read (e.g., Superboy in the Legion)
5. How Spider-Man stuck to walls through his costume
1. I had to think about what Maybonne Mullen meant by an "F.U." and an "Elvis."
2. Huh? Jack Kalo is made up? My whole world is upside-down!
3. Why John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, Bill Watterson?
4. Why have I never seen a graphic novel by Scott McCloud before?
5. I used to think Kramer's Ergot was pronounced like escargot.
1. Infinite Crisis
2. The rules of the Superhuman Registration Act from Civil War
3. Keeping track of the cast of Berlin
4. Why everything below Nova's belt seems to vanish when he flies
5. How Spider-Man's wall-crawling works through his costume
1. Tintin calling on the Sun God Pachacamac to "display his power" in Prisoners Of The Sun.
2. The Umbra Sprite portraying himself to Rashem as the Gros Bon Ange in Mage Volume 1
3. Rick's "casting of a container spell" on Cerebus in Rick's Story.
4. Suenteus Po's brief appearance in the trial at the end of Church & State (Cerebus again).
5. Karen Breughel's temporal lobe seizure / "falling into the floor" experience in Promethea Book Five.
1. Alternate Earth U.S. President Nelson Rockefeller
2. The last panel of the EC story "Shoe Button Eyes"
3. Howard the Duck #16, the "Dreaded Deadline Doom" issue
4. Jimbo: A Raw One Shot
2. Composite Superman
3. The Spider Mobile
4. Jack Kirby
5. Any hero who didn't wear long pants
1. Fantastic Four #319 -- A long continuity mind twister about Doom jumping minds and through time during Secret Wars. Sudoku on HARD is easier to figure out than this.
2. Why all of Barefoot Gen hasn't been published in English yet.
3. DP7 #2. Lenore "froze" people when she took off her mask. Before and after that she would put them to sleep.
4. DP7 #9. The Non-Linear dream issues. What was real, what was fake and how did the story go chronologically?
5. Where Doomsday (from Death of Superman) came from and why did he go on a rampage?
1. Crisis on Infinite Earths
2. Multi-colored kryptonite having different effects on Superman
3. Why the original Earth-2 Hakwman went from having that awesome hawk headress to a dorky yellow mask.
4. How Peter Parker's spidey powers allow him to walk on walls -- but his feet and hands don't stick to other things.
5. The Fantastic Four -- how did they each get different powers from the same cosmic rays?
1. The Invisibles
2. The Black Freighter stuff in Watchmen
3. Whether or not the main character in Loveless was dead or not.
4. Why did Craig Thompson and his brother piss on each other in Blankets?
5. What was the actual problem in Crisis on Infinite Earths?
1) Everything about the whole Clark Kent being a baby, then Superboy then Superman without ever having been Superboy or without people in Superman's adult life remembering Superboy.
2) How come the other characters that got costumes and accessories from the same machine as Spider-Man in Secret War did not also have the Venom problem.
3) If Spider-Man was in the (I think) 3rd issue of the Transformers comic then doesn't that make them part of the Marvel continuity?
4) Why can't James Kochalka drive a car?
5) If Connor isn't the kid Green Arrow had with Shado, then what happened to that kid?
At the outset of my comics buying days, apparently I was VERY confused. Here's only five examples...
1. The lead story in the first issue of Our Army At War I ever bought was titled "Meet Lt. Rock." I knew what a sergeant was, but had NO idea what an "el tee" was...
2. The backup story in the first issue of Superman I bought had the Man of Steel going back through the time barrier and changing several historical tragedies, such as stopping Lincoln's assassination, which confused the big guy himself, since he'd never previously been able to accomplish such feats. At the tale's end, it turned out that he'd accidentally slipped into a parallel universe, which satisfied Superman, but still left eight year old me asking, "WHAT'S a parallel universe??"
3. Looking at the cover of my first Marvel comic -- Fantastic Four #4 -- I wondered why the good looking guy in the red bathing suit carrying off the girl was being chased by two other heroes along with a bad-guy monster.
4. Reading my first issue of Betty and Veronica, I caught on pretty quick that Archie dug both Betty and Veronica, but who was this third girl he'd talk about with Reggie named "Ronnie"?
5. The origin of Wonder Woman included in the 1961 Secret Origins Giant: let me see if I understand this -- she was made from CLAY? Huh? Actually, pretty much the entire run of Robert Kanigher's take on the Amazon Princess made me scratch my head--and unlike the previous four entries, still does to this very day...
Thomson and Thompson - Are they or are they not brothers?
Bizarro loves Lois Lane instead of hating her
Huey, Dewey, and Louie - Which is which?
What happened to the parents of Terry Lee (of Terry and the Pirates)?
Any comic cover depicting a scene that has no connection to the actual contents of the comic
* Peter Parker's clothes stashed in web-bundle, wouldn't they be gooey?
* wings on Namor's feet
* does The Thing get a "hard on"?
* Crisis on Infinite Earths, period.
* the ending to Mazzucchelli's "Discovering America" in Rubber Blanket #2
The top comics-related news stories from February 16 to February 22, 2008:
1. Although not the cause of riots in Denmark, the republication of Kurt Westergaard's bomb-in-turban caricature of Muhammed is cited as the cause of violence and arson there. It is legitimately the cause of protests and minor political action in Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Jordan and Indonesia.
Quote Of The Week
"My publisher, Chris Oliveros, is also a very good cartoonist, which most people don't know. I think he's pretty hesitant to promote himself as an artist because he feels it would be a conflict of interest. The irony being if he wasn't the best publisher in comics he'd probably be one of the most prominent cartoonists." -- Adrian Tomine
this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
Five For Friday #110 -- Name Five Things In Comics That Confused You At One Time Or Perhaps Still Do -- Just The Source of Confusion, Not An Explanation Of Why You Were Confused Or What Turned Out To Be The Answer
1. Sand Superman
2. Ditko's Killjoy comics
3. Was that a vision of Maggie's Mom as a young person that stops by the picnic in Chester Square?
4. An egg in a FOOM parody saying "I Am The Walrus"
5. What was that tuning fork on Black Bolt's head for?
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. Make sure you answer the question. Responses up Sunday morning.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan Files His Fifth Cartoons-Related Lawsuit
Hitting the wires late last night is news that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has filed suit related to what he feels are damaging cartoons. He is demanding (I believe) over $16,000 USD in compensation.
The object of Erdogan's ire this time is the satirical magazine Le Man and the offending cartoon is a fumetti-style cover on its February 6, 2008 issue featuring a quote from the prime minister and him giving the finger. The magazine editor claim that the suit is frivolous, a waste of public time, and that a public figure must learn to accept criticism.
The article linked to above also notes the details of four previous cases lost by the lawsuit-happy Erdogan.
1. Attending the Sergio and Mark Show Panel (Friday, 3:00) -- Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones are old hands at convention panels, and this year they have a lot of new work to talk about.
2. Attending the Darwyn Cooke Panel (Friday, 4:00) -- Cooke's San Diego panel was the only panel I stood in line to see (okay, it was the only panel I went to with a line, but still). Best question and answer: "What character do you want to re-do next?" "I sort of like that Reggie guy from the Archie comics."
3. Not Comics: heading to The Mary Blair Exhibit at CAM. It looks like it could be really cool, you can check out anything else at the space, and it gets you out of the convention hall for an hour or so. Only a two-block walk.
4. Attending the Kirby King of Comics Panel (Saturday, Noon) -- Mark Evanier's new book is out which means you get a panel of a lot of comics folk talking about the great Jack Kirby. This is like the Weekend Update of classic convention programming.
5. Attending the Creig Flessel Panel (Sunday, 3:00) -- Flessel drew covers for Detective Comics before Batman appeared in it. His father was a blacksmith. If I had to choose one panel to go to, this would be it.
* does this headline seem slightly snotty, or is it just me? At any rate, there's some news in there about the proceedings against the three men reported to be plotting the assassination of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.
* preachers in Yemeni decried the recent republication of Westergaard's bomb-in-turban Muhammed caricature during Friday prayers, although I'm not exactly sure how that works. Here's a summary of what's going on in Yemeni, seemingly the most politically active of any country this time around.
* the Canadian Association of Journalists is calling for amendments in national and province human rights legislation in part for the recent application of those laws to Ezra Levant and the now-defunct Western Standard for their publication of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed caricatures.
* speaking of Western Standard, here's an article that touches on the Muhammed caricatures, asserting at least one article I'd never heard before: that from what we know of history, you could argue the caricatures were accurate.
* Justin Hudnall writes on the matter entire, although he's on shaky ground by accepting without caveat that certain riots were caused by the republication of the cartoons. As has been pointed out a number of times, this is seriously doubtful, although there is quite a bit to right about the cartoons being used in a political way as a cited cause of such actions, even if they're not the real cause.
Gary Tyrrell directs his readers to this now widely-linked and disseminated story originally from Lasagna Children about what they feel is another obviously plagiarized cartoon design, this time by Hot Topic or one of their suppliers on a t-shirt from a previously existing t-shirt design by Jess Fink. It's hard to argue with them. Hopefully, the copyrights are all in place for this to be a quick lawsuit and/or settlement and people will eventually stop doing this because it costs more money to steal than it does to come up with original designs. The fact that the original design is ten times funnier shouldn't be lost on anyone, either.
Backlash In Germany On School’s Use of Comic Book To Teach On Holocaust
I'm getting a lot of questions about this story via e-mail, and I think even though they don't all reference it they're all probably based on this video from CNN International. Apparently, there's a bit of a backlash against the comic book being distributed by the Anne Frank Center into some German schools. It's sort of delicate issue even before you add in the political and personal weight of the Holocaust. Comics can be light on facts and exhibit the same shortcomings in terms of quality and effectiveness that any book can. They're not an unfit teaching tool because of the medium for any subject, depending on the quality of the material and the use to which it's put in the classroom. Comics don't even have to be held to a rigorous standard of thoroughness, if they're not being used that way. When I was in school back in 1888 they used other media (semaphore, steam-powered puppetry) to introduce kids to a new work of literature or a new historical subject. It didn't serve as a substitute for that material.
More on Editorial Cartoonist John Sherffius Winning 2008 Herblock Prize
The Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado celebrates their cartoonist's win of this year's Herblock Prize, a juried award given out to cartoonists whose work matches the strength and daring of the late Herb Block. Editor & Publisherinterviews the winner. You can see his winning entries, I think a strong bunch including the above, on Cagle.com. The interview corrects my false assumption yesterday that Sherffius had been at the Daily Camera longer than the length of time represented by his March 2006 joining date, and notes that he's a regular contributor rather than a staffer.
Lynn Johnston Announces FBoFW Plans, Perhaps Even For Good This Time
We kid because we love, but here's yet another article on Lynn Johnston's plans for the popular For Better Or For Worse comic strip. In fact, there's been so many of these I'm only 99 percent sure this one is brand new. The positives: what Johnston discusses is the same plan as the last wave of articles, meaning nothing significant has changed; that the article goes into great details, which makes me think the plan is further along; and there's already been a consideration of the negatives, which means it likely that at least the elements they're considering won't surprise the artist and syndicate and push them in another direction. Also interesting is a note that readers have complained about Johnston's cruder art style in some of the re-run dailies.
* the comics business news and analysis site notes that Reed Elsevier PLC is selling of Reed Business Information. Among comics coverage sources that stem from the mighty Reed empire are Publishers Weekly, PWCW, The Beat and Variety. They're keeping Reed Exhibitions, which do New York Comic-Con, New York Anime Festival and Book Expo America.
* Joey Weiser announces his follow-up to The Ride Home.
* although the article uses a question mark and puts it into the form of a question, I'd say any information that showed newspaper web sites moving downward in terms of unique visitors is definitely a "worrying trend." One much discussed escape hatch for declining print papers has been some sort of second life on-line, with perhaps non-daily publication, or reduced print publication of some sort. If readers end up moving past the newspaper model on-line, that could be industry-altering and not in a pretty way. At the very least, this is a blow to anyone who thinks the newspaper Internet model has been settled. In another trend article that bears watching, four more publishers join the Yahoo group.
* it's probably time to move Boom! all the way out of the fledgling publisher category some still see see it in, I think due to its launch proximity to some less successful start-ups: the company announces it has received some sort of venture capital funding from DFJ Frontier, Tim Draper and Gideon Hixon. I would assume that if the money is spent as wisely as Boom! seemed to conduct itself during its initial months, they should be able to benefit greatly.
* the tributes to the late comics writer Steve Gerber are down to trickle, but there's a greater percentage of long, considered pieces. Here's Franklin Harris and Stuart Moore. The Moore one in particular is worth reading for its insight into the writer's later career.
* can we just name Stan Lynde our Most Esteemed Senior Cartoonist Elder or whatever and start inviting him to all the conventions and giving him all the awards? If for nothing else, nobody in comics looks that cool wearing a hat.
* remember that story last week where James Sime noticed that a Marvel video for a new Wolverine-driven X-Men cartoon had used a Foo Fighters song without their permission? The likely lawsuit to follow has followed.
* in another follow-up story the artist Hideo Iura and his publisher Shogakukan held a news conference to deny the copyright violation allegations made by lawyer and media figure Masatoshi Uchida. Uchida claims that the serial Bengoshi no Kuzu, which ended its run in Big Comic Original on Wednesday. On the one hand, it's my understanding publishers take copyright violations quite seriously in Japan, so if the publisher is backing him up, I have to imagine that's a good thing. On the other hand, he admitted at the press conference that he referenced the prose work in question and only that prose work when creating his stories.
* my go-to guy in terms of mainstream comic book numbers -- meaning I send him e-mails that say, "Help me, I have no idea what this means" -- John Jackson Miller of The Comics Chronicles, has made a move into a column at Newsarama. Great pick-up; Miller's a smart writer on this subject.
* I enjoyed this opinion piece by a retailer saying he's keeping his back issues, thank you very much, trend towards comics stores as bookstore or no trend towards comics stores as bookstores. Where at one point I thought that most comic book store were going to have to move into more of a bookstore model in order to ride the crest of publication that favors that form, I've more recently been convinced that several bookstores may be able to use unique elements such as back issues as an advantage to distinguish their establishments from big box bookstores and the Internet-only booksellers.
I met Jaffe two years ago at WonderCon 2006, when Gahan Wilson was a special guest of the convention. Prior to the film's screening at WonderCon 2008 (Friday, February 22, 6:00-8:00pm), Jaffe sent me a preview copy of the film, and I conducted a brief interview with him via email. -- Andrew Farago
ANDREW FARAGO: Out of all the documentary subjects in the world, why did you choose Gahan Wilson?
STEVEN-CHARLES JAFFE: I've been a fan of Gahan Wilson's work since I was 11 years old, when my best friend showed me a Playboy magazine -- so in an instant I saw naked photos of women for the first time, and then Gahan Wilson (not naked!) and while I was flipping back and forth between Gahan and playmates, my friend had set fire to the field we were standing in... Never forgot that first memory, and I remained a devotee of his work every month, ever since. After seeing the movie Crumb, I felt Gahan deserved to have a documentary made about his work and life.
FARAGO: What's your background in the film industry? Had you worked on any documentaries prior to this?
JAFFE: The first movie I worked on was a documentary about boxing that was also to be a promo film for John Huston's movie, Fat City. I'm a fan of documentaries that don't employ a voice over narration that is not organically part of the main character or characters within the movie. This was an opportunity for me to get back to personal, hand made, indie film making -- a big departure from the large movies I've produced in Hollywood like Star Trek VI, Ghost, Strange Days, etc.
FARAGO: Had you met Gahan prior to pitching the documentary idea to him?
JAFFE: I met Gahan in 1989, and we became good friends and shared a mutual desire to do something together on film. We currently have a 3D animated script co-written by me and Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II, IV and VI; The Day After). It was written to be a large-screen 3D IMAX movie based on Gahan's illustrated novel, Eddy Deco's Last Caper. A very exciting project, which we hope the documentary will help promote.
FARAGO: Was Gahan receptive to the project right away?
JAFFE: Not completely. We actually started talking about it in 1999 when we were in Montreal checking out a 3D Animation process that IMAX had invented. In fact, there's a brief shot of Gahan testing the system at the beginning of the documentary -- he's wearing the 3D goggles while drawing and there's a strobing series of colored lights behind him. Eventually, four years ago I proposed it again in earnest. When Gahan said "yes," I stopped producing and focused all my time and energy on making the movie.
FARAGO: How long was the filming?
JAFFE: Three years. I shot over 175 hours of footage and then of course had a daunting task of editing it down to 100 minutes. There will be many truly cool DVD extras on this one, as I just couldn't include everything about Gahan's life and work within the framework of a feature doc. I am very happy with who and what ended up in the movie.
FARAGO: Who financed the film?
JAFFE: Me and my brother, Robert Jaffe.
Mel Brooks screened the movie and loved it. As you know, he's famous for many things, among them his mantra, "NEVER PUT YOUR OWN MONEY INTO A PRODUCTION!!!" After seeing it, he admitted, there are a few exceptions to the rule, this being one of them.
FARAGO: Some of the interview subjects, like Hugh Hefner (Playboy) and Bob Mankoff (cartoon editor of The New Yorker) are obvious choices for a film about Gahan Wilson. What was the reasoning behind the inclusion of Stephen Colbert, Lewis Black and Randy Newman? Was there anything in particular about them that made you feel they'd be fans of Gahan's work?
JAFFE: I asked myself, if I weren't making this movie, who would I want to see in it? So I made a list of people that I admire who have a distinct sense of humor and then I set about contacting them and their representatives to see if there would be any interest in giving me an interview. I only guessed that they were fans of Gahan's.
In fact, I've been astonished at how many people in so many different walks of life, have been touched by Gahan's work. Although not in the movie, Al Gore is a big fan of Gahan's and has one his cartoons in his home office! I knew Neil Gaiman and Gahan had collaborated in the past, so it wasn't totally guesswork, but I was so thrilled when Neil agreed to be interviewed.
FARAGO: One memorable segment of your film focuses on Gahan's visit to the offices of The New Yorker, and the audience gets a surprisingly in-depth look at the cartoon selection/rejection process, among other aspects of editor Bob Mankoff's job. How did you convince them to let you film this behind-the-scenes look? Have they ever allowed anyone to document this process before?
JAFFE: Yes, it was a remarkable day, and I hadn't really expected it to be so dramatic. Thank goodness, Bob rejected all of Gahan's roughs that day. It would have seemed fake if he hadn't! It's never been filmed before and there will be a longer version on the DVD extras. It was actually Bob's idea, and it turned into a Dickensian/Arthur Miller event. The funny thing is the cartoonists have no idea what the others go through when they are in [the office] with Bob. It's a totally subjective experience, until now.
FARAGO: I'm sure that most people who are familiar with Gahan's cartoons will be surprised at just how normal he is. What has the reaction been like from friends and colleagues who've seen the film?
JAFFE: People in all walks of life are not only surprised how "normal" he is but how remarkably caring and responsible he has been in his work from the first cartoon he sold: "Look Daddy, the first robin!" which could have been used as an illustration in Rachel Carson's book, The Silent Spring. I was also surprised at how many people's lives he has touched.
FARAGO: What was the biggest revelation/surprise over the course of documenting Gahan's life?
JAFFE: How his childhood influenced his life's work and how he survived through art.
FARAGO: Now that Born Dead has wrapped up, what's your next project?
JAFFE: I'm hoping we'll now get our 3D IMAX animated version of Gahan's Eddy Deco's Last Caper into production.
FARAGO: How is the film being distributed? When will people who can't make it to WonderCon be able to check it out?
JAFFE: We're talking with distributors now and there's definitely a building buzz. The next screening after WonderCon will be March 4th in New York at the IFC center as part of their "Stranger Than Fiction" series of documentaries.
* Jakob Illeborg brings word that a bomb exploded in downtown Copenhagen yesterday morning, and also digs into the issue of whether or not the Danish cartoons are at the heart of the violence and fire-setting in Denmark.
* one letter-writer suggests that before anyone can justify the republication of the bomb-as-turban cartoon based on the arrest of the three men accused of trying to assassinate cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, it might be worth finding out if that arrest was 100 percent just.
* original Danish Muhammed caricatures Editor Flemming Rose has a fascinating post up about one of the foreign publications banned from Egypt for republishing the bomb-as-turban cartoon being the Wall Street Journal. First, he (correctly, I'm certain) identifies this as the first time a major US newspaper published any of the cartoons. Second, he notes that another newspaper republished the cartoons without incident. Whereas I think he may be getting at some sort of fundamental hypocrisy or capriciousness in the protests, I think this supports the theory that to a certain degree, in some cases, what's being protested isn't just the simple fact of publication but the circumstances by which such publication takes place.
* one political prisoner targeted by the US released in Belarus; Alyaksandr Zdvizhkow still imprisoned.
* a lot of folks are joining this person in chastising UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for his statement that free speech needs to respect religious belief. I'm with the chastisers. Free speech doesn't need to respect anything, although I do believe that folks who practice in free speech that's harmful or upsetting to other folks are certainly fair game for lawful and non-violent protest, objection and even reprisal.
* more on the demonstrations in Indonesia here, here and here.
John Sherffius, the editorial cartoonist for the Boulder Daily Camera has won the 2008 Herblock Prize for Editorial Cartooning. The prize is given out by the Herblock Foundation to honor "distinguished examples of original editorial cartooning that exemplify the courageous independent standard set by the late Washington Post cartoonist." It was founded in 2003.
The winner receives a $10,000 tax-free prize, and will be honored at a March 18 ceremony at the Library of Congress that includes the yearly Herblock Lecture, this year to be given by Tim Russert. The prize was created in 2003. The write-up at the Foundation's web site indicates that Sherffius' cartoons commenting on President Bush were highlighted in his package.
Sherffius has been at the Daily Camera since leaving the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2003 over editorial differences. He is distributed by Copley News Service.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of the three-day WonderCon show, the first major US comics convention (the Europeans are kind of set up like Nascar, with January's Angouleme Festival as the Daytona 500) of the year. Because of its position on the calendar and the growing relationship that the show's organizer has enjoyed with Hollywood studios one guesses in part because of their experience with San Diego's big summer show, WonderCon is probably set up as well as any show to drive advance buzz for various summer movies and final runs on this season of various television shows than other conventions. It's also a smaller, more moderate show in terms of getting out and meeting the various comics-related folks on hand, including a lot of creators on the West Coast and drawing from the Bay Area's rich local scene.
One trend to watch for is certain comics entities and creators targeting shows of this size rather than the shows in San Diego and even New York because of the relatively reduced cost and lighter competition for eyeballs.
* I'm pretty certain that it's been known for a while that Viz was going to put Slam Dunk into serialization in Shonen Jump as part of its attempt to revive the license here in a more successful way than its initial translated to English run for another publisher turned out. I hadn't heard until now that it will be taking the place of Hikaru no Go.
There are several things that interest me about this. First of all, that's certainly the easiest way for SJ not to have two serials in the popular magazine in the mostly not-yet-popular sports manga genre. Second, that's one of their best and most appealing serials, so the move probably brings with it a bit of a twist. Third, I swear from reading it that Hikaru no Go has more comics left in the series, that last run that manga serials usually go through when the ostensible major plot goal is achieved and various sub-goals need to be encountered and conquered that will resolve the manga's thematic issues. Maybe that was an unpopular part of the Go-related sports saga? Maybe it comes back at a certain date? Fourth, my hunch is that Hikaru no Go may have more of a crossover audience with female readers. This may or may not make me totally sexist, especially as I can't exactly articulate why, but the hunch is still there.
* something that struck me while I was reading this press release on the new Naruto volume, which I believe is the first post-Naruto Nation promotion offering, focuses on the trade market as if it were its own publishing event with its own audience for whom this is a premier event. Compare this to American publishing, where the emphasis is on the serialization to the exclusion of the trades being seen in this exact light.
* these are the entrants making it past the first screening in the International Manga Competition held by Morning 2 magazine. The initially geographically challenged Brigid Alverson comments here.
* the comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com talks a bit more about what folks can expect from the new Borders concept stores, and where they can expect to find them. They seem to agree with me that the thing worth noting here is that comics are still perceived as a strong category, perhaps even as a growth category, and thus perceived as something that should be at the center of such a new effort.
* Ian Brill writes about X-Men comics as a kind of alternate, safer cosmology in a piece that looks like it may be continued somewhere.
* for those desiring to work in comics: Disney Publishing World is looking for a designer with experience in comics, while both Viz Media and Tokyopop seem to have entry-level positions available as well.
* the industry bible Editor & Publishernotes the decision by Nicholas Gurewitch to end The Perry Bible Fellowship as a weekly strip. Tony Millionaire comments on comics' recent quitters.
* the Albuquerque Journal, one of fewer than 700 afternoon dailies still operating in the US will close this Saturday. This is important to note because as two-newspaper towns become one-newspaper towns, this changes the competitive landscape for both editorial cartoons and syndicate strips.
* sometimes you read a link and you know it's going to be posted in a lot of places whether you decide to pick it up or not: such is the case with the Dilbert strip turning its narrative attention to the recent situation whereby an office worker was apparently fired for putting up Dilbert cartoons.
* not comics: these posts by Paul Bradshaw about the basics of on-line journalism will eventually be the spine of a book.
* in what's turned out to be sort of an Editor & Publisher day, they take a close look at the Newark Star-Ledger's decision to go from eight pages of Sunday Comics to six, which they were able to do by dropping one comic and shrinking the whole bunch. Shrunken Prince Valiant is almost always a bad idea. They also note that Jump Start is the only strip in the paper by a cartoonist of color despite Newark's demographics. I would add that the decision to go to a smaller comics section is also worth noting simply as a trend story, and that in this case extra attention might be paid because the Newark is one of those half-dozen markets that seems to pay a lot of attention to its newspaper comics.
* the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, the target of a foiled assassination attempt and the author of the cartoon that was republished in part to support the cartoonist and his newspaper after that assassination attempt, has been asked to leave the hotel he's been staying in since November when threats against the lives of the cartoonist and his wife became legitimate enough for Danish authorities to step in.
* the majority of wire coverage seems focused on stories that are a day old: Egypt banning a few foreign publications that republished one of the Danish cartoons, worries that a violent incident involving a Gaza strip library can point to the republication as an instigating factor and a large protest by Egyptian students.
* Pakistan has joined the parade of nations calling in their Danish representative and being assured that the Danish government had nothing to do with the republication.
* according to this news report, precocious Yemenis are already boycotting Danish products. The economic portion of the original Danish Cartoons controversy was just in the last few months completely healed.
* the Guardianreports on a very big protest in Beirut. There's something odd about the article that I can't quite place.
Chicago Sun-Times Celebrates 60-Year Anniversary With Editorial Cartoons
I wanted to post about this article and accompanying slide show concerning the power of political cartoons that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times because they were done in a context I couldn't appreciate without the actual newspaper or E&P informing me: as part of the publication's 60th anniversary. Not only am I a proponent of the Sun-Times' under-appreciated history with the cartoon and its frequent employment of heavy hitters and skilled practitioners, but I think we're going to see a trend in future years towards the expanded, creative utilization of a newspaper's cartoon resources like this. The multiple ways the Chattanooga newspaper is going to use Clay Bennett is one sign of this, I think; the use of animation created by staff cartoonists is another (although not without some potentially unpleasant repercussions).
This seems to be a hot topic among the cartoonists themselves, perhaps because the situation is for the moment a little more stable than in past years when an analysis of the state of editorial cartooning almost automatically became people looking around at the papers closing and all the positions being eliminated and the only thought that came to mind was "Oh, crap!" Jim Borgman asks some sound, fundamental questions. Henry Payne provides an answer or two from his perspective here.
Nicholas Gurewitch Announces Reduced Production of The Perry Bible Fellowship
Following an option made possible in part by the success of a hit book collection and apparently in order to better facilitate the pursuit of multiple options in other entertainment media, the breakout cartoonist Nicholas Gurewitch has announced he'll be slowing production on his Perry Bible Fellowship offering. In this piece, Gurewitch says that many papers are still interested in carrying the feature on a less regular schedule. The article also goes into a recent Gurewitch appearance on Fox News in amusing fashion. Personally, I think this is great news -- a very young cartoonist taking control of his career in a way that facilitates his doing exactly what he wants to do without the drama caused by the back and forth with the implied commitment of newspaper syndication that made a similar and eventually more complete break by Aaron McGruder seem so dramatic and slightly unpleasant.
* the comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com offers a succinct analysis of Marvel's most recent financial report, which once again shows how the company benefits from the licensing boost instigated by a hit movie. The most interesting non-comics part of the coverage is that the WGA strike has scotched Marvel's plans to do two of their own movies a year starting this year, basically by causing a hiccup that will cover most of 2009. I guess that's also an indication how fragile those plans were in terms of their having to hit on all cylinders to get that work done. The most positive spin on a mostly positive day of news comes once again from The Motley Fool, the Duckie to Marvel's Andie Walsh.
* yesterday's installment of Jeff Smith's guest-blogging series on comic book self-publishing in the 1990s feature Rick Veitch talking about how he used what he learned during that period to set up his current publishing efforts, and a few dream comics from prominent self-publishers back in the day, like this sample from a cartoon by James Owen.
* Chip Mosher from Boom! does a follow-up interview with Comic Book Resources about that company's controversial decision to release the contents of North Wind #1 at the same time as the print issues without informing retailers before they made their initial orders: they're working hard to make sure it doesn't happen again, and there was a 30 percent swing in the title's favor for the next order period that applied after the promotion.
* the science-fiction focused io9notes the high sexual content in the first book in Marvel's book-release partnership with French publisher Soleil, Sky Doll, and wonders if the company will be as conservative with it as they were with past titles.
* this may be the most interesting and out-of-left-field article I've ever read at PWCW: Diamond enters the remaindered books business and attends that aspect of book publishing's big convention.
* there's a story that's raging through the superhero sites right now about a rumor made public by Rich Johnston that DC is going to crack the whip in terms of getting artists to finish books on time. Here's where I found out about it.
I haven't read a bunch of the commentary, but I have to guess it splits into two camps: the idea that the successful serial publication of comics depends on on-time comics sprinkled with a liberal dose of the kids today don't have the professionalism of artists who used to get it done vs. the concept of you can't rush really good comics covered with a thick sauce of too many fill-in issues and other such swap-outs destroy the flow of a series and accompanied by a small side order of this could be solved if editors just did their jobs. In a potential piece of cross-media irony, NBC is going to an endless season strategy in part to better deal with similar peccadilloes in TV show production. (last via Sean T. Collins)
* the major action is in Egypt today: four international newspapers were banned by government officials for recent republication of the images, the Danish ambassadors were summoned, and thousands of students protested. Also, two soccer matches canceled.
* here's a criticism of Reuters for calling the youths torching things in Denmark youths instead of calling them something else based on the fact that the three arrested in the Westergaard plot weren't youths. I think.
* one article suggests in no uncertain terms that the recent unrest in Denmark widely credited to the republication of the cartoons is about police harassment, according to what the protesters themselves are saying. They're now back in school, 600 fires or so to their credit this last week.
* this call to expel the two foreign national being held on beliefs they participated in an assassination plot against Danish cartoons cartoonist Kurt Westergaard intrigues me because I thought officials were planning to expel them immediately. Guess they haven't.
* this Guardian blogger suggests that while some newspapers seemed cautious in republishing their cartoons, others seem to have delighted in doing so, mentioning that Jyllands-Posten actually used the turban-bomb guy as the "O" in "Posten"! I'm sympathetic to that writer's differentiation between the right to publish something potentially offensive and the obligation to publish something potentially offensive.
* as a personal note, I find interesting the debate over whether the re-publication of the bomb-in-turban cartoon is really the cause of some of the recent actions, and/or which ones they might be cause of, and/or to what extent other factors play a role. I think claims of direct causation have to be taken with a grain of salt, particularly when an article tries to paint a picture of a group of people being so upset about the cartoons' publication or re-publication that they take to streets or organize a protest filled with passion and rage about that specific incident. It's a lot tricker than that, and I think that while perhaps for some it could be that kind of passionate motivating factor, for others the publication of the cartoons may simply serve as a trigger incident or a timing factor or even a masking circumstance for a variety of motivations that get shorter shrift. Still, even if the cartoons were simply being scapegoated, that's interesting in and of itself as well. I'm not sure we're even close to nailing down the broader issue of exactly what upsets the people who are upset, for instance to what degree the simple publication angers some people and to what extent the anger is about the hostility they feel is behind a public institution doing this.
* Fox News checks in on Aleksandr Sdvizhkov, the editor in Belarus jailed for publication of the Danish cartoons in March 2006, near the height of the initial international riots and political turmoil.
Your 2008 Prix de la BD adaptable au cinema ou a la television Nominees
There's something about the Prix de la Bande Dessinee adaptable au cinema ou a la television that cracks me up rather than makes me feel depressed. Somehow the open nature of giving an award to comics on basis of what awesome movies or TV shows into which they might be adapted makes plain an unstated subtext to so many American comics that in a lot of cases makes those comics less interesting to read. We need to have one of these in America, pronto.
Just a quick policy note to all you comics site editors and contributors out there. There's really no excuse in this day and age not to run entire articles at once unless the article itself truly demands multiple parts, like Chris Butcher's recent Japan travelogue. I'm convinced that in 90 percent of all cases, it's stat pumping. Anyone that's loading this site and its graphics can load an entire article from you.
Much more importantly, however, my readers hate going to half-completed articles. Due to numerous and ongoing reader complaints, I am going to make an extra effort not to link to your articles until they're posted in their entirety, which in some cases will mean I end up not posting about them at all. I don't drive much traffic to sites, but I do drive a little, and I thought some of you might want to know why you're not getting linked on a regular basis.
* "For us, convention debuts truly are a matter of survival." -- publisher Brett Warnock speaks on the subject of convention debuts, which is worth noting even at this relatively late date because Top Shelf is one of the handful of comics companies that openly engage in this practice. Warnock goes on to say that he would consider participating in some sort of set-up by which retailers could find out about probable convention debuts, which is something that if it came to pass I'd support, too.
* the cartoonist Adrian Tomine covers The New Yorker this week, which is probably as good a time as any to mention that he's going back on the road again, if only briefly. Supporting cartoonists on tour leads to more cartoonists on tour.
* this review of Jack Cole's Betsy and Me slips into a compelling area of inquiry: the potential effect the strip may have had on Cole's suicide, and whether or not this is a fair topic on which to speculate in the first place.
* not comics: I caught the first half of this story, but not the second half: following news that Lucasfilm sued the big-time gaming convention organizer Gen Con, LLC on the basis of what may or may not have happened to funds involved with running a show related to Lucasfilm in Southern California, Gen Con has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Their flagship gaming show in Indianapolis is expected to go off in August without being drastically harmed. It's weird, I've never been to one nor do I have any reason to go to one, but I thought of Gen Con the other week when the subject of moving Comic-Con International to Las Vegas or Anaheim came up: it made me think of GenCon's move a few years back (might be several at this point) from Madison to Indianapolis. I think I'd rather go to Madison. thanks to Lea Hernandez for letting me know the story had continued
* here's a nice, long, and thankfully for some of us English-language article on the 70th anniversary of Spirou and how that magazine shaped the formats and tastes in French-language comics. If there's an anniversary in French-language comics, there's probably an exhibit.
* if you take a look at the Quick Hits section, which were all collected this morning during my regular rounds -- rounds not as thorough as some folks' circuits -- I think it supports my contention made yesterday that comics coverage has exploded in terms of volume and number of sources covering the medium. Today's list is like three weeks' worth of quick links from when I started, and three days worth from the time I expanded that section to better accommodate the flood of daily articles.
* you used to see this kind of article, about the hidden comic-book collecting hobby of some person or another, with greater regularity. I have no idea why.
Violence Erupts In Denmark After Re-Publication of Danish Cartoon
According to police reports over 30 people were arrested last night in various Danish cities following the eighth day of local unrest that some folks, particularly international news agencies, are tracing to events including last week's foiled assassination plot against cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and the subsequent republication in Denmark newspapers of his 2005 cartoon featuring Muhammed wearing a turban that was turning into a bomb, one of the infamous Jyllands-Posten cartoons that led to worldwide turmoil in early 2006. Almost 90 fires where reported during Sunday night in the affected cities.
As far as international repercussions go, the biggest reaction seems to have been in Iran, where various political leaders seem to be calling for a two-tired approach of a) reconsideration of current diplomatic relationships with Denmark, and b) the flat-out murder of the people who made, printed and published the cartoons. A scheduled trade mission of Denmark representatives to Iran was canceled.
At least some international organizations like the Organization of the Islamic Conference urged peaceful protests, still citing the re-publication of the cartoon as an incitement to hatred. There were also a few editorials over the weekend reminiscent of 2006 in that they cast the events in terms of the larger issues of free speech rights and how to blend societies with completely different views on such issues, or at least how to get along.
I still think that a key issue is that part of the offense as it seems to be conceived by those who object to the republication is that many entities reprinted the cartoon in order to show solidarity with Kurt Westergaard, not because they're newspapers and the republication of the cartoon was necessary in order to completely tell the story facing Mr. Westergaard. While free speech demands that both forms of expression be allowed, it's harder to argue that newspapers are compelled to show solidarity with anybody than it is that newspapers must be allowed to present whatever information is out there in a way that best fulfills their mandate to educate and inform. I think this blending of motivation weakens the position of the papers who participate, and if this were simply about non-violent protests being made against institutions for their acting as public advocates distinct from their journalistic mission, I think that would be an interesting discussion to have. It would also be a lot less depressing than this one, or at least less tragic.
I don't put much if any stock in Brian's manipulation of numbers, for reasons I've stated over and over and over again. In this case, I've grown to believe that drawing any conclusion using information from different measures that is off unit to unit anywhere from 35 percent to 75 percent may indeed do more harm than good. To buttress these kinds of figures with multiple layers of supposition and inexact comparison seems to me guaranteed to make for a landing miles away from the truth. At that point I don't even think the "well, this is the best analysis we can expect" defense should be applied.
I started to read Hibbs' article anyway, but almost immediately I swear Brian was a) comparing a Top 100-derived figure to a Top 750-derived figure and b) using a 75 percent figure despite his own pull quote stating the number was 65 percent, and at that point I gave up on a line by line analysis and went off to find some aspirin. Dirk Deppey soldiered on.
When I got back, I skipped to the end. So I can say this with some confidence. No matter how you get there, to state at your conclusion that the comic book Direct Market of comics and hobby shops sells more Western books "with only a handful of exceptions" is completely ridiculous. There are now publishers whose entire trade lines are believed to sell more copies book by book through their book distributors than they do in the DM. There are at least two well-known publishers whose trade sales through their bookstore distributors in aggregate have outweighed DM sales in aggregate for between a half-decade and a decade now. There's one major American comics publisher for whom more aggregate sales and greater sales by individual item has always been the case.
I also don't get why manga sales should be left out of any attempt at an overall picture, but maybe that's just me.
I'm a big booster of the DM, and an even bigger booster of its possibilities. It's a great market that does a lot of things well, and plays a crucial role in sales across the board, even in areas it doesn't excel. Still, this kind of self-interested, non-rigorous advocacy seems to me not worth anyone's time. Worse, it puts everyone on the defensive. To question such arguments (let alone counter them) is to come across as anti-comics shop or summarily dismissive of all the things that that market does well, sometimes for a few genres and publishers, frequently for all of them. Why should any publisher publicly counter such assertions when to do so risks the ire of opinion-makers in a key market? Why should they do so again when their past attempts at providing such information have been ignored?
Heck, I wouldn't blame any publisher for seeing a major current advantage of the bookstore market over the DM in the fact that prominent people from the bookstore market don't feel the need to aggressively proselytize for their relative worth compared to comics shops, let alone repeatedly agitate for and struggle with publishers over receiving their due or for specific concepts like the "lost sales" argument ventured recently.
The fact that Brian Hibbs shows his work in the midst of plowing ahead as opposed to an entity like DC Comics that publicizes things like single-issue sell-outs without releasing crucial contextual sales information first may make Brian more admirable than your average big-company press release writer, but it doesn't make him any more convincing.
* the writer and critic Alan David Doane interviews the San Diego-based retailer Robert Scott here. My name is brought up about an aside I made in an old posting about how comic book retailers should conceivably be able to sell all categories of comics better than a general bookstore can sell them. Scott claims this shouldn't be true, but doesn't provide a very convincing reason why this has to be so. DM comic shops seem to sell more superhero books and comics together than the general bookstore market, and certainly do so store by store. Therefore, none of the general reasons given -- there are more bookstores, the system is abusive -- seem to me to apply specifically to the problem of why certain categories aren't better supported. It's an interesting interview in general, though.
Michael George Trial To Begin February 26: Salacious Details to Be Admitted
The Macomb Dailycontinues their solid coverage of the murder trial facing former retailer and convention organizer Michael George over the 1990 slaying of his wife in their Michigan comic book store. According to the latest update, the trial begins one week from tomorrow, February. The piece goes on to analyze a decision by the court to allow the prosecution to enter into evidence details about extra-marital affairs, some of them quite salacious, in order to probe into the questions of motivation and state of mind. Barbara George was shot to death in July 1990. Michael George remarried in 1992 to former Michigan store employee Renee Kotula, the couple moved to Pennsylvania where George opened another comics store and became a driving force behind Pittsburgh's sizable comics convention.
* the Steve Gerber collective memory entry has moved to its permanent home, but will continue to be added to if anyone wants to submit something.
* an analysis of an Alan Moore interview, specifically those moments where Moore puts forward interesting, humorous takes on the television show Heroes -- an awful TV program made worse but its open mining of "serious" superhero comics 1975-1990 while denying this is being done -- and Frank Miller. Also included is a much less compelling but still worth listening-to Moore argument about the shape of comics following the 1980s opportunity created by a handful of books for artists to make inroads into the book market back then the way they have over the last five years.
I don't think the missed opportunity of the late '80s was about rigidity of genre as much as there simply weren't enough good books to fulfill expectations and no mainstream-reaching genre like manga to provide basic sales legitimacy to the entire category. In fact, you could sort of make the argument that what happened is that instead of translated manga as a sales force in the late '80s, early '90s there was a new wave of porno comics which supported a better-than-it-used-to-be appearance in the DM of a bunch of books that missed that bookstore window: 1994-1995 was a really good period for the kind of books that do well now -- Stuck Rubber Baby, My Cancer Year, the first Palestine book among them. If those books appeared in this market, there's no telling how well they would have done.
* not comics: I've been taking a peek at the Comic-Con International hotel reservations page every morning since they went on-line earlier this month. You may recall much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the ineffectiveness of the reservations system to handle the initial traffic and a general lack of perceived-quality rooms. Despite the Bethlehem on Christmas Eve disclaimer on the TP/CCI front page since that morning, a lot of really good, walk-to-the-show hotels have already dropped single-nights back onto the chart -- rooms that have been snapped up pretty quickly. I try to stay in as many hotels as possible because I want to write about them, so word of single-day openings may not be as helpful to you as it is to me, but this is significantly more action in terms of hotels popping back up with at least some availability than there was at this time last year -- last year this didn't start until late April.
* I doubt this was the intended effect, but this BBC article on an outsider's view of the French-language comics market that asserts the pride with which some French folks embrace their comics comes from a place of general cultural inadequacy mostly made me want to push the writer in front of a bus. It's an interesting enough theory, I guess, as far as it goes, but the article is 99 percent arched eyebrow and 1 percent substantive point.
* not comics: thesetwo essays on artistic maturation in the video game industry might be interesting for anyone that looks for parallels in comics' struggle with the same issue; or you can read it for the implied insult!
* this is the kind of thing that may only interest me, but I had over 200 gathered news links awaiting me this morning before I started reading through the articles; on a similar morning roughly two years ago, according to a journal entry, I had 19.
* this article at MediaBistro about the relaunch of an on-line cartoon character called Breakup Girl suggests that it took the creators almost two years to get the rights to the character back when Oxygen Media's early, ambitious on-line initiative collapsed. I hadn't heard about any problems with this material getting back to creators, but I guess it's not surprising.
Douglas Wolk is easily one of the most influential and widely read writers about comics working in North America, with a client list to die for and an attentive audience to match. Among his great strengths is an ability to write equally effectively about art comics and the latest offerings from the mainstream superhero comic book companies. He has also maintained a profile in both older media, such as daily newspaper and alt-weekly magazines, and newer, at the group blog Savage Critics and his focused, single-series blog 52 Pickup. Wolk's 2007 book Reading Comics brought to print a mix of general comics theory and specific comics/cartoonist reviews, hitting the difficult mark of proselytizing on behalf of the art form while maintaining a stance that comics is at a point where its great art should justify itself. The book was very well-received, I think initially for the achievement and cultural advancement signified by its existence. The content of Wolk's essay by essay snapshots of various comics and their creators will be discussed for years to come, and hopefully this interview contributes to that process. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: I know that you worked in a comic shop... is there anything about that experience that still informs your present-day interaction with comics?
DOUGLAS WOLK: For one thing, it meant I had virtually unlimited access to old and new comics for a few years (and whatever I didn't read there, I read at Michigan State University's library -- the folks in their Special Collections department were very, very kind to a young, obsessive reader). But I think what I liked best about it was getting to see people's deep attachment to and joy in comics as a medium. Like most comics stores, we had a lot of regular customers, and the day they got to go in and buy the new arrivals -- it was Friday back then -- was a happy day for them. I still get at least a little excited about Wednesdays now.
SPURGEON: How did you go from the comic shop to writing about comics?
WOLK: There was a gap of a few years in there. I moved to New York at the beginning of 1992 and drifted, almost accidentally, into writing (mostly about music) and editing; in 1993, I became the managing editor of CMJ New Music Monthly, which had a tiny freelance budget and a lot of pages to fill, so I started writing short comics reviews every month. That led to a gig writing longer features about cartoonists for a glossy Australian art magazine called World Art, then (after I quit the magazine in 1997 to go freelance) to other opportunities.
SPURGEON: I first became aware of you in the late '90s through a couple of your pieces on comics in I think the Village Voice. What was it like being a writer about comics in that era? How was it different than it is now?
WOLK: Writing about comics was a bit more of a hard sell then, although it was easier at the Voice than other places. (Alternative weeklies always need content, and if you can put together a decent paragraph and are willing to work for very little money, it's not hard to write for them.) There was usually the sense that you had to make a case for why a general-interest publication's readers would be interested in comics in general, let alone the specific thing you wanted to write about. It's gotten a lot easier over the last decade, though -- partly because there's more good stuff to write about, and partly because there are some editors who've opened up space for comics coverage. A number of publishers have mentioned that Calvin Reid getting Publishers Weekly to expand its graphic novel coverage was a big push toward the cascade of bookstore shelf space, public demand and publishing acquisition budgets we've seen since 2000 or so, all of which makes it easier to write about comics in mainstream publications.
SPURGEON: Can you talk about the impetus to put together a book of critical writing about comics? Why Da Capo? Were you approached or did you approach them?
WOLK: The idea of putting together a book of comics criticism came out of discussions with my literary agent, Sarah Lazin. She knew me mostly through things I'd written about music (and she works with a lot of other music writers), but she was interested in this idea. I assembled a proposal, and she shopped it around. I'd actually worked with Da Capo once before, when I edited the first volume of their Best Music Writing series back in 1999, and they'd never really done a book on comics before, but they've been very helpful every step of the way.
SPURGEON: What led you to the structure you used with Reading Comics? Were there inspirations you were looking at? Because you were going to use some past material, did that dictate the tone or did you have an idea of how you wanted the book to read going in?
WOLK: The structure of the book -- general essays first, reviews of particular books later -- was modeled on a few books by critics I like: Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, John Updike. A lot of them seemed to group together longish reviews that had been written over the span of a few years, and also group together pieces that deal with broader ideas. The tone mutated through rewriting and tinkering as the project went along -- I was aiming for a Susan Sontag-ish epigrammatic-academic sort of voice at first, but I couldn't pull it off, and if it seemed unnatural and dull to me, I couldn't very well inflict it on anyone else. So I ended up going back to the kind of casual voice I use for Salon pieces, since I was going to be using a bunch of them anyway.
SPURGEON: Am I right in thinking that all of the essay on individual works and creators had a previous life elsewhere? If there were new ones, which ones were they and how did you select them? Was there any piece that re-written? Can you talk about your process in going over the essays to be re-used?
WOLK: The Gilbert Hernandez, [Craig] Thompson/[James] Kochalka and Tomb of Dracula chapters were entirely new -- they were all things I wanted to write about and hadn't really gotten to before -- and some of the other essays have only a few sentences or paragraphs left over from older pieces. (I think the Chester Brown chapter, for instance, cannibalizes a 250-word Village Voice review but is otherwise new.) The Grant Morrison chapter actually began its life as an academic paper about The Invisibles, although it was very heavily rewritten for the book. I think at the beginning of the project I made a list of about 40 possible essays for that section, and ended up picking 18 that I was eager to tackle or that would be easy to adapt from available material. When I realized that I could specifically not try to be comprehensive or definitive -- that I could write about what I wanted to write about right then instead of worrying about "completeness" -- that really freed me up.
SPURGEON: In Reading Comics, you kind of push the discussion of superhero comics into an area that you find valuable -- superhero comics marked by interconnected, shared worlds. That being said, I'd like to know what you think of the success of writers like Kurt Busiek and Robert Kirkman, who have created works that don't have this shared history on which to draw. Is it that they've been able to approximate that feeling in their comics? Does their work operate differently than things like Civil War or even Seven Soldiers?
WOLK: Well, they do and they don't have that shared history: both Kirkman's Invincible and Busiek's Astro City are very much commentary on the conventions of Marvel and DC continuity, and both operate in ways that mean they don't have to deal directly with that continuity. Invincible specifically evokes '70s-'80s Marvel, to the point of having its own Official Handbook, and I can't read Astro City without thinking "Oh, Samaritan, he's the Superman type." But Civil War and Seven Soldiers provide particular perspectives on a bigger picture; with Astro City, you're getting the only perspective on an implied bigger picture, if that makes sense.
SPURGEON: Your chapter on emerging seemed to me more about categorization than discussing anyone's work. Could you identify maybe one or two cartoonists younger than 35 whose work specifically interests you? Or maybe one or two books from younger cartoonists that you think are really valuable. You touch on it lightly at the beginning of the chapter, but do you think the way these artists are coming up, for instance without the market opportunity for many of them to do one-cartoonist serial comics, is going to have an effect on how their work develops?
WOLK: As far as younger cartoonists go, besides Kevin Huizenga and Hope Larson, who got their own chapters in the book (both practically unaltered from their Salon incarnations!), and Bryan Lee O'Malley, who's not exactly a big secret... I follow Laura Park's Flickr page, and I'd love to see her do more narrative stuff, but I'll happily look at anything she draws. Tom Neely's The Blot makes me eager to see what he's going to do next. (Also: Anders Nilsen's 35, I think, but a couple people have mentioned that I seemed to be dismissive about his work, and I'm sorry to have given that impression--I love a lot of his stuff, and even when I don't I'm impressed with how hard he's pushing himself.) Yes, I think the market conditions for non-mainstream serial comics are making a lot harder for some kinds of young cartoonists to develop their voice across a substantial body of work -- I can't see something like Neat Stuff or Lloyd Llewellyn flying now, for instance. On the other hand, when people really, really need to make comics, sometimes it happens even without decent market conditions, which is why The Blot exists.
SPURGEON: Any chance for a paperback? Are you happy with how it did? Anything about bringing the book to public you might do differently were you able to do it all over again?
WOLK: There's a paperback edition coming out at the end of June (which will correct some gruesome factual errors I committed in the hardcover). I have no idea how it's sold, and probably won't know until late this year, but Da Capo seems very happy with it, and I'm really happy with the response it's gotten. If I had to do it all again... I'd probably rewrite the entire damn thing, since every time I open it up I see some sentence or argument that I want to tighten. But that's what deadlines are for.
SPURGEON: I know I've kidded you about this, but do you have any idea why you've authored the lightest-feeling hardcover in the history of my reading books? I have socks that weigh more than your book.
WOLK: I think those Fourth World Omnibus books might be lighter! My guess -- and I could be totally wrong about this -- is that when Da Capo was budgeting for a 110,000-or-so-word book, they didn't take into account that there would be about 100 images (and I had stupidly resisted the idea of including images until fairly late in the process, when some friends convinced me that I was out of my mind). That bumped up the page count considerably, so maybe they went with a less expensive stock? I don't know.
SPURGEON: I apologize in advance for the length of this, but you sent a lot of my flags up in your section on what you call "nostalgia de la boue." For one thing, you call the term "nostalgia market" a former name for comic collecting when it wasn't -- it was a term used for a wide number of activities that included collecting items related to, for instance, old movies and radio programs. For another, when you talk about the tendency of art comics to reference old comics you bring up [Dan] Clowes, [Robert] Crumb, [Chris] Ware and Seth and then make reference to their being a lot of others, which I thought was really loading your point.
So let me ask you: can you rattle off 10 or 15 of these supposedly numerous other art comics artists who reference older, feeble comics as significantly (or at least approaching that significance) as the aforementioned? When you say that Crumb hasn't quite let go of MAD from 50 years ago, can you cite an example where you see this as a detrimental element in a recent work? Considering that MAD informs all of modern satire, from The Simpsons to Chappelle's Show, why shouldn't a satirist have recognizable elements of [Harvey] Kurtzman appear in his work? Isn't this just natural? Why is this a drag?
WOLK: Thanks for the correction on the "nostalgia market" thing. For a list of others who fall into the art-comics-referencing-pulp-comics category, and please note that I love some of these artists' work: Tim Hensley, Johnny Ryan, Ben Jones, Glenn Head, Ivan Brunetti, Onsmith, R. Sikoryak, Mark Newgarden, Kaz, Rick Altergott, Archer Prewitt... For a Crumb example -- well, "recent" is relative with him (I confess I haven't read The Sweeter Side, and I'm looking forward to his Genesis book), but that "Super Duck" story in the third Mystic Funnies seemed like 2002 Crumb channeling the same strain of MAD he was channeling in 1968, to no particularly interesting effect. I agree that Kurtzman is always in the air, but influence has degrees -- Chuck Berry informs all of rock, but that doesn't mean I hear "Sweet Little Sixteen" every time I go see a band play.
SPURGEON: I'm a little confused by your summary of the significance of Seven Soldiers. The idea that these characters in fantastic stories are different ways of describing the human experience and the idea that fantastic stories have their own reality that can imbue our experiences with the fantastic, aren't these concepts that have been around since the first Tarzan story was published? Is it that he addresses these ideas directly instead of unconsciously that makes Grant Morrison specifically interesting to you?
WOLK: In part, yeah. I think another thing I really like about Seven Soldiers is the suggestion that it's not just that these stories and characters metaphorically address particular aspects of existence, but that a whole lot of them can systemically form a broader, interconnected web of metaphors for the human experience--the idea that the value of a "shared universe" is greater than the sum of the individual sets of stories that make up that shared universe. Also, it's incredibly entertaining, which counts for a lot.
SPURGEON: I thought one of your better chapters was on Tomb of Dracula, in that you really get at this moral hopelessness that pervades the book and the way that certain artistic choices and publishing factors underlined that element of the work. While I got a bit of a sense as to what effect, I kind of missed out on the why. Do you think the effectiveness was an unintended consequence? An outcome of doing an old-fashioned vampire story? A passing along of nuclear dread or economic despair?
WOLK: I'll optimistically chalk it up to the deliberate consequences of artistic decisions--the fact that the [Marv] Wolfman/[Gene] Colan/[Tom] Palmer team was able to work together long enough and well enough to have a kind of control over the tone of their collaboration that takes a while to develop. Tomb does take a while to kick in, but it keeps getting more assured (and more morally dark) over time. There's some of that tone that stayed in place for Wolfman and Colan's later Night Force, although by then it seemed more forced. I don't think Tomb really had much to say about the '70s, as entertaining as it is now to see some of the outfits people are wearing in it. And yeah, it absolutely got a lot of its power from being a by-the-book vampire story, although there are plenty of those that aren't nearly as good.
SPURGEON: Reading the Tomb of Dracula and Warlock essays in particular, it seems like you avoid talking about them or framing them in terms of influences and factors outside of comics. Ditto Morrison, whose ideas I've always thought of as very much of a time. Is that not a line of inquiry that interests you? Do you think that most comics exist in relation to other comics?
WOLK: It's probably more neglect than avoidance, although I do think [Jim] Starlin took a few cues from the prose science fiction of the late '60s and early '70s -- there's definitely some P.K. Dick in there. (Actually, I'd love to read the kind of takes on that material you're suggesting.) I don't know whether I think comics existing in relation to other comics is something I'm interested in or just something that seems nearly tautological: movies exist in relation to other movies, poetry to other poetry, etc. But one thing I was trying to avoid was the habit -- which I know I've occasionally indulged in -- of justifying comics (or implying that I'm justifying them) by tracing their influences from and parallels to art in other media. (I remember, many years ago, reading a terrible book about indie-pop whose thesis was that indie-pop was good because it was inspired by and/or alluded to Modernist art, Beat fiction, etc.)
SPURGEON: Are there any other older comics suites of work that you think are as interesting as the few you include here that you just have yet to write about?
SPURGEON: Is there a danger in being a fan of works and then writing about them that you might presume elements that aren't in evidence? For instance, in your Jim Starlin piece you talk about the death of Adam Warlock being shattering, and I couldn't help but feel that we were just supposed to trust you there.
WOLK: Well, where does "admirer" end and "fan" begin? I suppose it's the critic's job to win the reader's trust -- to try to communicate not just our responses to a work but how those responses happen and why, and that's true no matter what the work is. If you as a reader don't buy into what I'm saying, then the problem isn't that one of us is misexperiencing something, it's that I'm not communicating my experience of it well enough.
SPURGEON: Why does manga have such a limited presence in your book? What are your own manga reading habits like?
WOLK: I'm a manga dilettante at best, and figured I should keep silent about what I don't know about. I feel like I haven't really developed a taste for a lot of manga; some of the work championed by people whose tastes are otherwise more or less aligned with mine doesn't do much for me -- Yoshihiro Tatsumi, for instance, leaves me cold. I loved Death Note, enjoyed the first few volumes of Monster but haven't kept up, really like a lot of what I've seen of [Osamu] Tezuka, thought New Engineering was terrific, etc. But if you'll forgive me yet another music analogy, enjoying a couple of Mahotella Queens records doesn't make me qualified to write think-pieces about mbaqanga.
SPURGEON: I think I understand the distinction that you're making when you compare Chris Ware to Charles Schulz and Frank King and George Herriman in terms of what you designated as being impressed by vs. enjoying a work, but I'm not sure what you're getting at when you suggest this keeps Ware from that pantheon. Can you unpack that a bit more for me in terms of the value you place on those gradations of expression?
WOLK: The reason Schulz and King and Herriman are in that particular pantheon is not just their craft and originality but the enjoyment to be had from reading and looking at their work; it makes people happy to read Peanuts. And it's that particular pantheon -- the masters of a strain of art whose primary purpose is light diversion, as far beyond that as it goes -- that Ware keeps hurling himself against. He defines his work as separated from their work's values every time he mocks the idea of light diversion, which is why a Jimmy Corrigan toy is ironic in a way that a Snoopy toy isn't. Pleasure, fun and joy are tough for me (and for a lot of other people) to deal with critically; a lot of the fine art of the last half-century or so has tried to get away from them, to draw a boundary between itself and uncritical experience of uncomplicated kitsch. But they're really important to me, and one of the things that draws me to criticism is the opportunity to try to puzzle out how they work for me.
SPURGEON: There was a rumor/gripe that was going around at the time of the Reading Comics' publication that you chose a cover that looked like a Chris Ware in order to capitalize on Ware's success, while the book didn't have a particular focus on Ware nor are you a particular booster of Ware. I noticed that none of Ware's eligible books made it onto your Salon notable books list. Would you like to speak to that accusation?
WOLK: I actually had next to nothing to do with the cover design of Reading Comics -- Alex Camlin from Da Capo designed it. (I say "next to nothing" because I did request one small change: the eye on the cover that was initially presented to me looked exactly like the eye on the cover of Understanding Comics, and I asked if it could please be any other eye... which is why it's looking to the right on copies of the finished book.)
As far as the year-end Salon list -- I don't think I made it anywhere near clear enough that that was a list of "some stuff I liked a bunch in 2007 that I didn't write about at length elsewhere," not a comprehensive list of my favorite books of the year. If it had been a Top Ten of '07 piece, and more to the point if I'd actually gotten to put it together after 2007 was over, I'd very probably have included Acme Novelty Datebook, vol. 2 -- but I didn't see a copy of Datebook 2 until I bought it on December 12, when it came out, and I'd turned my piece in on the 7th (it ran the 17th). And I think I've managed to give a lot of people the false impression that I dislike Ware's stuff; it's probably more correct to say that I'm fascinated but deeply frustrated by it.
SPURGEON: Similarly, was the title selected in similar fashion to put potential readers in mind of Scott McCloud's series of books?
WOLK: No, although I realized almost as soon as I'd thought of it that it had the same structure -- hence my embarrassment over the eye! But I couldn't think of a better title (and discarded some much worse ones). Reading Comics is also the title of a postcard book published a few months before mine by Denis Kitchen, who was incredibly kind to not kick my ass about it. He just sent me a copy of a new postcard book he's publishing of political-horror images, with a little note saying "Hope your next book's not going to be called Capitol Hell!"
SPURGEON: You've stated that you wanted your book to start conversations. Did you succeed? Can you point to some conversations perhaps on-line that were instigated by your book that pleased you? What were they like?
WOLK: I think one of the ones I was happiest about was a conversation that drew some ideas out of the book and applied them to theater--see this and this. (And I was also delighted by that "Comics Are Not Literature" panel at Comic-Con, and the conversation that spilled out into the halls after it.)
SPURGEON: I'm mistrustful of the goal of starting conversations because I think it can be used to absolve the critic's responsibility to say something with clarity and precision and force. Why in your opinion is starting a conversation a goal in and of itself a valuable goal for criticism separate or at least distinct from providing insight into a work? Is there something about the quality of a conversation that a critic starts that is different from the conversation started by the work itself?
WOLK: I don't think the goal of conversation-starting can absolve that responsibility -- a muddled argument is a lot less likely to engender discussion, anyway. ("Honestly, I don't know what I think about All Star Batman; how about you?" Crickets.) I see a whole lot of arts criticism of all kinds every week, and most of it is totally inert: it doesn't affect what art people choose to experience, or the way they respond to it. If a piece of criticism leads to a conversation, then it's acting in the world, and deepening its readers' engagement with its subject. I also think the value of conversation-provoking criticism is probably greater on the Web than in print: readers of a book or newspaper don't think of themselves as part of that publication's community, but the discourse on a lot of good Web sites is one-to-many-to-many. To put it a different way, "good post kicking off a worthwhile discussion" beats "good post." And conversations started by work itself tend to be small and low-key: it usually takes a reaction stated with clarity, precision and force to get them moving, at which point we might as well call that reaction criticism. I suppose trolling is a sort of guaranteed conversation-starter, too, but I think there's a big difference between phrasing one's actual opinions in a way that's likely to provoke a response and randomly jabbing a pointed stick into a crowd.
SPURGEON: You have one of the on-paper great gigs right now, writing about comics for Salon's art-interested but perhaps not comics-centric audience. How did that gig start? Are you limited or have you limited yourself to discussing a certain kind of comic there? What has the feedback been like from their regular readers?
WOLK: It started when Hillary Frey, who was then editing Salon's books section, wrote and asked if I'd be interested about doing a monthly-ish column on comics. It's been a trial-and-error process finding out what Salon readers care about and don't -- there were a ton of comments when I wrote about Lost Girls, almost none when I wrote about Brian Chippendale's Ninja. Generally, if it has to do with history, prose literature, sex and/or politics, that's a good bet for Salon. I usually run a few possibilities past my editor each month, but if there's something I'm really into I can usually cover it.
SPURGEON: You also write for Savage Critics. How does that fit into the overall scheme of your writing about comics -- is there a certain kind of comic you can discuss there that you're not discussing elsewhere? How do you feel your work has been received there?
WOLK: I don't even think of it as "work" (much less "my work"), not least because it doesn't pay! Writing for it is something I do to relax, kind of like a plumber getting together with co-workers on the weekend to do a little plumbing; I really enjoy the hanging-out-at-the-comics-store-chatting vibe of the site and its comments. I basically think of Savage Critic(s) as a place to write about stuff that nobody would pay me to write about -- pamphlet comics, small-press things, oddball items like Alphabets of Desire. I suppose I could post about them on my own blog, but SavCrit feels more communitarian, and it's a place that people go to read about New Avengers or The Brave and the Bold as opposed to what I'm writing for Blender or cooking for dinner or the band I saw last night or whatever.
SPURGEON: Without forcing you to rank all of the writers, and with the idea you aren't damning anyone by not mentioning them, are there any writers on Savage Critics to whom you think people should pay particular attention? What is it you like about those writers?
WOLK: I have no idea if Abhay [Khosla]'s read Richard Meltzer or not, but I get the same kind of feeling from his writing -- he cares as much about making his critical writing interesting and original in itself as he does about the work he's dealing with, and he's hilarious, too. And Jog's stuff is just a joy to read -- he's curious, enthusiastic, totally engaged, and a brilliant close reader of comics. And he's read everything. I don't know how he does it.
SPURGEON: Now that you've had some time to reflect, what did you learn via your experiment of blogging about the DC superhero series 52? Was there anything that was particularly enjoyable about it? Not-so-enjoyable? Surprising?
WOLK: I loved doing the blog -- the regular pace of it, the challenge of coming up with something to say every week, the cover-link-heavy writing style, and especially the community that developed around it. I'd originally decided to do it as a sort of five-finger exercise to make myself write in a way that wasn't constrained by professional obligations, and to contribute something to the comics blogosphere I'd been enjoying a lot more passively, but it was really surprising and gratifying to see how much the people reading the blog were enjoying it and responding to it. It was a little weird to have people introduce me as "the 52 Pickup guy" -- spend all those years trying to build up my professional rep, and end up known for something I do for free! -- but I also got some good gigs out of it, so I'm not complaining.
SPURGEON: Given your insight, why in your opinion hasn't the follow up series from DC enjoyed the same degree of positive reaction as 52 did?
WOLK: It probably has a lot to do with the fact that Countdown is stone terrible. 52 was a mess a lot of the time, but it was a very interesting mess -- it kept me invested week-to-week in what was going on, it had a lot of really entertaining incidents and characters, it had the heat of collaborative invention and the sense that its creators were trying to make something really fresh and having fun in the process. I look at Countdown every so often, and I've yet to see anything in it that makes me care about it. (I like Dirk Deppey's phrase "extruded-comics product.") I was enjoying both Downcounting and I Was 28 When I Heard the Countdown Start, but both blogs got so bored with the series they couldn't go on.
SPURGEON: The last couple of years have seen the rise of a lot of woman writers about superheroes, or at least an increased visibility for a critical voice coming from female writers on the basis of the social and cultural implications of superhero comics. Have you read any of these essay or posts? What do you think of them? Are there voices you would still like to see come to the table in terms of those writing about comics?
WOLK: I don't always follow When Fangirls Attack, but I read Laura Hudson, Cheryl Lynn, and a few other bloggers who address women-in-comics stuff; Ragnell's posts on Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight gave me some particularly useful perspective on that story. (I don't know if it exactly counts as writing-about-superheroes, but I found Pam Noles' long series of posts on the Golliwogg's appearance in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen pretty eye-opening too.) Yes, I'd absolutely like to see more voices in comics criticism that don't fit my demographic profile. I'd also like to see more voices in American comics themselves that don't fit my demographic profile. I've been thinking a little about something Valerie D'Orazio said in your interview with her -- "the question is, who is going to be the female Grant Morrison?" I think the opportunity is there now in a way that it hasn't been as much in the past, and I bet we'll see something along those lines the next few years. But I also don't know if there's a male Karen Berger or Francoise Mouly.
SPURGEON: You received some backhanded criticism recently for saying that you were looking forward to Dave Sim's new work from those who believe that his writing on women and politics is repugnant in one way or the other. Do you share these folks' negative assessment of Sim's views in those areas? If so, do you think you can be fairly criticized for still anticipating and enjoying other aspects of his work?
WOLK: I'd hope it would be clear (and if it's not, it's my fault for being too subtle about it) that my own politics, and especially my sex-and-gender politics, are pretty damn far to the left. But I'm praising the guy's cartooning, not endorsing him for political office. I understand why Sim's politics, and the exhausting way he rattles on about them, would drive people away from his art -- when he writes prose, I scan it for anything he says about cartooning, and otherwise, as Linus said about long words in The Brothers Karamazov, just "bleep" over it. I also think that to avoid his comics is to miss out on something really special. (Sean T. Collins compared Sim to Richard Wagner, and not in a good way, but I think he was pretty much on the mark -- when I used "gesamtkunstwerk" to describe Cerebus, I meant it as a compliment with a little bit of a backhand.) If I had to limit myself to art by people whose world-views matched mine, I wouldn't have a lot left, and if I couldn't enjoy art by people whose world-views I find repugnant, I'd lose some things that mean a lot to me.
SPURGEON: I was intrigued by a recent article in Washington Post about archiving strips, where you wrote, "The next wave of first-rate comic strips may be less likely to come from newspaper funny pages -- where they're thumbnail-sized and crowded by the persistence of ancient franchises -- than from the Internet." You cited Little Dee, which is a nice strip but I can't quite see it standing alongside work like Gasoline Alley and Peanuts at any future date. Do you really believe Little Dee is one for the ages, and if not, what on-line strips or what about on-line strips make you believe that they're a breeding ground for future classics?
WOLK: I don't know if Little Dee is for the ages, but I enjoy it a lot, and figured the Post's readers probably would, too. And I think Chris Baldwin is a good example of someone really talented who's using webcomics as a kind of R&D tool (Little Dee is very very different from his Bruno, for instance) -- I wouldn't be at all surprised if he did come up with some kind of lightning bolt in a few years. (Bobby Make-Believe had to come before Gasoline Alley, Li'l Folks had to come before Peanuts...) What I think makes on-line strips a potential breeding ground is that right now they're a playground: cartoonists have space to romp around and stretch in ways that are nearly impossible within the physical and conceptual confines of newspapers. There's no way Achewood could fly as a daily newspaper strip, but it's way funnier and more inventive than virtually anything that is in papers right now.
SPURGEON: What's next for you, Douglas?
WOLK: I'm figuring that out now. Most of my income actually comes from writing about stuff other than comics -- I just wrote a cover story for Billboard about Starbucks, and I'm spending most of February writing a short history of new wave for a nonprofit organization that's developing a pop-music-history curriculum for schools, and putting together a lecture about the political history of "The Ballad of the Green Berets." I've got a handful of book possibilities in the hopper, mostly not comics-related (and not called Capitol Hell), but I'm also trying to work out some ways of writing about comics for a general audience that aren't just, "Here's a new graphic novel! it has pictures! isn't that cool?"
SPURGEON: Finally: what's the last good comic you read? What's the last potentially great one?
WOLK: The last good one? I really enjoyed Kate Williamson's At A Crossroads, which I think comes out in a few months -- it's a diary of a couple of years she spent living at her parents' place while she worked on her first book, and she pulls off the John Cagean trick of staring at boring things so intently that they become interesting again. Potentially great? I love Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze, even though I don't find myself paying much attention to the individual issues -- it takes a while to get into every time -- but that new collection is fantastic.
* cover to Reading Comics
* photo of Wolk by Tom Spurgeon
* Wolk's previous Da Capo book
* image from one of Kurt Busiek's Astro City series
* Laura Park
* from R. Crumb
* Marvel's Tomb of Dracula
* Marvel's Warlock
* from Death Note
* a Jimmy Corrigan doll
* from DC's All Star Batman and Robin
* from DC's Brave and the Bold
* from DC's 52
* from DC's Countdown
* Dave Sim's Cerebus
* Little Dee
* one of the Age of Bronze trades
On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Vehicles From Comics You Like." Here are the results.
1. The Saturn Stiletto
3. The White Cord Coupe drawn by Alex Toth
4. The Toyota AE86 from Initial D
5. Cave Carson's Mole Machine
1 - Captain Harlock's Arcadia
2 - Space Cruiser Yamato
3 - Galaxy Express 999
4 - Archie's red Model-T
5 - The Spider-Mobile
1. The Newsboy Legion's Whiz Wagon (only one Kirby vehicle per list, please)
2. Doofus's little "kar"
3. Archie's Jalopy
4. The Bubble Truck from Marc Bell's Monsieur Moustache & Friends
5. The Phutney-Creech Land Yacht owned & operated by the Fabulous Furry Freak Bros.
1. The Spider-Buggy
2. The US1 truck
3. Space Cabby's taxi
4. The Forever People's Super-Cycle
5. The Batmobile, of course. I'm partial to the Breyfogle design.
1. Legion Time Bubbles
2. The Joker's Ho-Ho-Home on Wheels mobile home
3. The SHIELD Heli-Carrier
4. Buddy Bradley's monster truck
5. Any cardboard box Calvin uses as Spaceman Spiff's flying saucer
1. Crumb girls.
2. Those flying vespas from Jaime's "Mechanix" strips.
3. Modok's flying little rascal.
4. The Silver Surfer's board. Way cool.
5. It's really hard not to pick all Kirby, right? I mean, come on! (See Above)
1. The post "bathtub" modular Kirby Fantasticar
2. Judge Dredd's Lawmaster motorcyle
3. Green Arrow's Arrowcar
4. The puppy dog head police cars from Astro Boy
5. Tintin's shark submarine from Red Rackham's Treasure
1. The original Fantasticar (aka the Flying Bathtub)
2. Archie's thirties'era jalopy (which he drove well into the seventies at least...)
3. Blue Beetle's Bug
4. TV's Batmobile, the one totally cool thing about that otherwise often dubious program
5. Nick Fury (and SHIELD's) flying sportscar
The Batmobile from 1950 (as drawn by Dick Sprang)
The rocket that carried Superbaby to Earth (as drawn by Curt Swan)
The Cord from Hot Wheels #5 (The Case of the Curious Classic)
Skeezix's baby buggy
1. LSH Time Bubble
2. Avengers Quinjet
3. The Arrow Car
5. Enemy Ace's Fokker
5. The big airships in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
4. The Haunted Tank
3. Thor's wicked awesome goat-drawn chariot
2. The various ships sailed on by Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby
1. Metron's Mobius chair
1. The Fantastic Four's Fantasticar
2. The car that Mr. Natural is driving on the cover of Zap #1
3. The Thing's jet cycle
4. Flakey Foont's bathtubmobile
5. El Borbah's muscle car
* Breakworld's gigantic bullet -- Astonishing X-Men 24. Probably not a vehicle, but Kitty is currently riding in it so I think it counts.
* Ghost Rider's motorcycle
* Wonder Woman's invisible Jet
* Sidekick's Shitmobile
* The S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier
1. Judge Dredd's Lawmaster bike: Death on two very big wheels.
2. The dragon-powered train that Excalibur used to cross between timelines during the original Claremont/Davis run.
3. Albert Hoffman's bicycle, which the Brotherhood of Dada used to spread peace, love and hallucinations, until the US Government beat them up while the Doom Patrol watched.
4. The baby-cart from Lone Wolf and Cub.
5. Superman. Who needs a car when he can just wrap you up in his cape and get you to the other side of the world in a second?
* The Haunted Tank (the M3 Jeb Stuart version)
* The classic Cord automobile Alex Toth drew in Hot Wheels (and also in 77 Sunset Strip, years before)
* Russ Manning's teardrop-shaped starship from the Aliens back-up feature in Magnus Robot Fighter
* The Kirby/Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-Carrier
* Rip Hunter's Time Sphere.
* The wetwired Rolls-Royce driven by Freddie (Data) Martin in THRILLER
* The Whiz Wagon from JIMMY OLSEN
* Doc Savage's Roadster, complete with running board in case I felt like standing on it as someone else drives...
* Black Mariah from Chaykin's TIMES SQUARED
* Nick Fury's HOVERCAR, I'm assuming a Porsche, designed by Steranko...
1. The Legion of Super-Heroes' Time Bubble
2. Ghost Rider's Chopper
3. 1980s Batmobile
4. Brainiac's Skull Ship
5. The Supermobile (with fists)
1. Felix the Cat's Magic Carpet
2. Mr. O' Malley's Magic Wand
3. Anything drawn by Big Daddy Roth
4. Donald Duck's car with the rumble seat and the 313 license plate
5. Andy Gump's Old 348 (sold to him by Old Doc Yak)
Mort Grim's old-skool police motorcycle
The moon rocket from Tintin
Buddy Bradley's truck from the cover of Hate #1
Rip Hunter's time sphere
1. Buddy Bradley's monster truck
2. The lysergic bicycle of Albert Hofmann from Doom Patrol
3. Dick Sprang's Batmobile
4. The Haunted Tank
5. Ghost Rider's flaming motorcycle
1. The Tumbler Batmobile (especially the vr-vr-vr noise the engine makes)
2. Vigilante's 1980s-era motorcycle
3. The Millenium Falcon
4. Virtually any car from Sin City
5. Baby Kal-El's crystaline escape craft
1) Paul Pope's Bat-cycle from Batman Year 100
2) Forever People's Super-Cycle
3) S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier
4) S.H.I.E.L.D. Flying Car
5) Johnny Storm's customized Fosse "Road-Wrecker"(as drawn by Paul Pope in Fantastic Four # 543)
1.) The Batmobile (What kid didn't want to drive that sucker?)
2.) The S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier
3.) Ghost Rider's motocycle
4.) The Fantasti-car
5.) The Haunted Tank
1. Tetsuo's bike from AKIRA
2. The Carrier from THE AUTHORITY
3. The Green Goblin's Goblin Glider
4. Captain America's Bike
5. The Haunted Tank from THE HAUNTED TANK
Sean T. Collins
1. The Bat-tank from The Dark Knight Returns
2. The Glory Boat from New Gods
3. Nite Owl's blimp from Watchmen
4. That big cruise ship that's a microcosm of the world from The Filth
5. That hover-scooter that Maggie kept falling off of from Love & Rockets
1. Kaneda's sweet red motorcycle from AKIRA
2. The X-Men's Blackbird (when it was still an SR-71)
3. Whatever that thing is that NEXTWAVE flies around in
4. STREET ANGEL's skateboard
5. THOR's chariot - the one pulled by the giant goats. Simonson always made it (and everything else in the comic) look so cool
J. Caleb Mozzocco
1.) Superman's Supermobile
He's Superman! He can fly! Why is he flying in a ship?
2.) The Joker's Jokermobile
(the one with the bubble top and big, huge Joker face)
3.) Daigoro's baby cart
4.) The Bat-Cycle from Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100
(which was folded up into a bat-shape and hung upside down in a net to look like a giant bat).
5.) The Whirly-Bat
1. The Saint of Killers dead horse from Preacher
2. The Fantasticar
3. The Newsboy Legion's Whiz Wagon
4. The Authority's Carrier
5. that huge limousine from Peter Milligan's Skreemer, the one with the delorean style doors.
1) Rocket Racer's rollerskates
2) Snoopy's doghouse Sopwith Camel
3) Bonaparte the tank from Dominion
4) Tintin's moon rocket
5) Archie's jalopy
Thanks to all that participated. Everyone got a pass this week, but those who don't answer the question directly in future Five For Fridays will be left out -- please, no letters of complaint for this week's inclusions. Check out the site next Friday for another episode.
Quote Of The Week
"I could not possibly know for how long I have to live under police protection; I think, however, that the impact of the insane response to my cartoon will last for the rest of my life." -- Kurt Westergaard
this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
In a news development, it looks like the Danish courts are going to hold two of three men arrested rather than immediately deport them as had first been believed. The article says that the two Tunisian nationals will appeal the deportation order.
This article at the European news clearinghouse puts into one place a bunch of information about the Soleil/Marvel "strategic alliance" announced the week before this year's Angouleme. It starts with an interesting piece of trivia -- Soleil was interested in doing this in the late '90s, and apparently spoke with Image Comics, but it was too difficult to convert Soleil's various series into comic books. This would add emphasis to the fact that it's growth in the trade paperback format market that makes this deal attractive enough to do. The article also notes that Soleil also now partners with Marvel's French-language market publisher Panini, which not only encompasses Marvel's comics but a few cherry-picked other series that have been translated over there.
The first series will be Sky.Doll, Samourai et Universal War One.
Here's a quartet of trend stories for two industries that support a great number of cartoonists, newspapers and bookstores:
* bookstore trend story one: bookstore revenues showed moderate growth for 2007, while book sales overall showed a slightly more significant upswing in sales.
* bookstore trend story two: graphic novels is one of the categories getting the spotlight at the newly-configured Borders stores, starting to roll out nationwide in select market. How graphic novels will be treated in the context of store structural changes isn't a topic I've seen broached.
* newspaper trend story one: even the New York Times, which has done an admirable job generating a high-profile web site the last few years, will be downsizing in terms of jobs.
* newspaper trend story two: two newspapers cease daily publication for a combination of weekend or free tabs supplemented by an active web site. The thing here is that this is a radical move but given the state of newspapers it doesn't feel radical, which is kind of astonishing.
* speaking of Marvel, perhaps the funniest piece of art published by that company in the last 36 months is up for sale on eBay. Everyone is MODOK!
* the second of Larry Marder's contributions to Jeff Smith's series of guest blog posts on 1990s self-publishing suggests that the group's embrace of the trade paperback form, the example of self-publishing as an option to creators, and how these two things have become part of the small press understanding of the comics world are among that time's most important legacies. There's also a half-hint of a social component to these kinds of things, if only in how it's been supplanted by the Internet.
* has portraying someone as a monkey ever been a good idea?
* Sean Kleefeld compares Jack Kirby's version of a Fantastic Four comics story recently restored and released as Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure with a version that Stan Lee refurbished and put to use in what became Fantastic Four #108 and suggests that this shows off some of Lee's skills as a judge of what works and what doesn't on the comics page.
* the great Forbidden Planet International Blog features an interview with a group of small press creators who are manning a table at the Camden market on the weekends to sell their books.
* the period during which writer Alan David Doane is collecting prize-eligible surveys regarding individual experiences in Direct Market stores will continue through the weekend, but that's all.
* man, is that a group of heavy hitters in the birthdays today or what?
* I quite like this cover to the Spanish Edition of Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks.
* one of the things that's come out of posting links to various Steve Gerber tributes this week is that I've begun to realize just how many people and sites out there are devoted to writing about comics. I'm usually a little skeptical of blogs until I see if they're blogging at those early posting rates six months later, and the focus of a lot of the more formal sites seems redundant and uninteresting given my particular tastes. Anyway, despite a post there on Wednesday, albeit the first one in over a month, Brett Warnock heard that the site Comics Alliance may soon go away. As reported earlier, Comic World News is calling it quits, and I'm going to spend part of this weekend moving that site's David P. Welsh over to this site to augment CR's manga coverage. Also, the great alt-comics linking and events site Egon Labs recently went dark after a lack of posts for months preceding that. So despite or maybe because of the entry of more and more people into the writing about comics market, it looks like there's still a lot of movement and change to come.
* two museum closures, one temporary and permanent: MoCCA (the temporary one) and the Chester Gould-Dick Tracy museum in Woodstock, Illinois (the permanent one). The latter news comes in an item about Gould's daughter Jean Gould O'Connell receiving an Edgar nomination for a recent biography of her father.
Muslim Leader Drops Human Rights Complaint Against Publisher Ezra Levant
Calgary's Syed Soharwardy, the president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, has announced that he has withdrawn his complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission regarding Ezra Levant of the now-defunct Western Standard and that publication's decision to run the controversial Muhammed caricatures that appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and led to worldwide protests and political turmoil in early 2006. Levant made a strong statement in response saying that this was a "tactical truce" and that he plans to launch a civil lawsuit against Soharwardy to gain back money spent on defending himself against the Commission.
Originally named in the complaint as another magazine publishing the cartoons, Jewish Free Press and its publisher Richard Bronstein had already come to a resolution through mediation in March 2007.
Here's something that reader David Puchard brought to my attention: the French-language version of Art Spiegelman's new Breakdowns looks like it will debut next month from Casterman, meaning it will be out more than a half year in advance of the Engligh-language version of the same book from Pantheon. This strikes me as something that's a little bit different than how most books from English-speaking cartoon authors are treated, but I don't really have the evidence to back that up or disprove it. The book will be in three parts: the original work, a new series of autobiographical strips parts of which (or maybe all of which) have been running Virginia Quarterly Review, and an essay by the cartoonist about the original work and its re-issue. Considering what the original book goes for when you can find it, it should be a welcome publishing event in both language.
NYT BLOG: Some Newspapers Printed Danish Cartoon As Act of Solidarity
This post at the New York Times blog notes that at least one of the newspapers that printed Kurt Westergaard's Muhammed with bomb-in-turban cartoon as part of its coverage of this week's foiled assassination attempt on Westergaard did so out of solidarity with the original newspaper that carried the cartoon, Jyllands-Posten, and in support of that paper and Westergaard who are obviously under assault -- literally. The sentiment is kind, and yet I can't help but think we might all be a lot better off if newspapers began to show less interest in publishing such material in terms of showing support or making free speech statements and much greater interest in rigorously and without blinking displaying the resolve to show any and all images when their mission to inform their readership calls on them to do so. The world needs rights advocates, but I think it has an equal if not greater need for journalists to be journalists.
* Bryan Munn takes a look at a thorough report on Canadian comics production, which marks a slight downward move from 2006's ridiculous levels but if you accept that year as a positive aberration the general trend shows eight years of increased growth in number of books published.
* in an ongoing story I think worth tracking, 2000 ADis expanding its digital offerings of complete issues of its comics. Not only is it an aggressive program thus far, 2000 AD has a seemingly ready to exploit mix of passionate fans lacking easy access to new issues, a deep back-issue catalog and offers recognizable characters.
* for as much as Boom! took it right in the nuts from some of the Direct Market elite for their unannounced simultaneous free release of Northwind #1 on the Internet (it sold out of its first print run), there's something they do that everyone should agree is a good thing that gets little attention: a DM retailers-only blog, complete with sign-ins and password. I imagine everyone will be doing focused blogs in a couple of years, and perhaps it's already happening. I've seen the blog but I don't think I'm supposed to tell anyone where it is.
* Valerie D'Orazio takes a brief look at some testimony by Herb Trimpe about the corporate nature of modern comics and the way that artists are treated as a result.
* there was a time about two or three years ago, I think, where I had a long discussion with a prominent retailer about what seemed like the heat death of the comic book store signing, at one a point a staple of comics promotion. It may just be my imagination, but it seems like such appearance have made a comeback, aided in part by the appearance of company-owned stores in cities (Montreal, Seattle) that didn't really have stores that hosted signings. Chris Butcher's write-up on a recent appearance by cartoonists Kean Soo and Kazu Kibuishi seems a pretty typical example of the newer kind of event, including the fact that the artists may do multiple appearances in a single city, sometimes with a more public function as part of it, such as doing a talk at a local library and a signing at the store.
* speaking of Butcher, he's also posted a long and entertaining think-piece on a recent comic book store singles night, and its inclusive elements, that's worth a read if only to note the changing face of comic shop community outreach -- in some places, anyway.
* congratulations to my local (well, 150 minutes away) comic book store, Dave's Comics and Paintball, for enjoying enough success they're opening a second store in nearby El Paso. In addition to abusing his fine back-issue bins and the shop's Spire Comics-containing quarter boxes, I buy all my Iron Fist and Umbrella Academy comics at Dave's whenever I'm in town.
* the writer Tony Isabella shares his readers' choices for comics-related presidential candidates, and like this year's real-world Democratic party the choices are a diverse lot including a black man, a bronze man, a woman and a possum. I can hardly wait for the hard-hitting debate night questions about the nature of Robbie Robertson's cauliflower ears.
* a Tokyo-based lawyer named Masatoshi Uchida claims that an ongoing serial in the anthology Big Comic Original called Bengoshi no Kuzu Law is plagiarized from his novel and has asked a Tokyo court to stop the comics publication's distribution.
Sergio Angeletti, an Italian artist and designer who created cartoons under the pen name of Angese, died on February 11 after a two-month stay in a hospice in Perugia. He was 55 years old.
Angeletti was born in Rome and found his first home for publication in the newspaper Paese Sera. He became known as an author of comic strips and cartoons of satire published by magazines and newspapers. His highest profile gig may have been in Angelo Pasquini's Il Male where he was a founding cartoonist for that publication influential as both political satire and a home for great Italian cartoonists. Among his subsequent clients were Linus (probably his best venue during this period), Tango, Cuore, l'Espresso and the newspaper supplement Satyricon. According to a laudatory piece La Stampa, Angeletti would eventually become disillusioned with politics and move to the countryside, producing cartoons mostly for his own web site.
He was a two time winner of the Premio di Satira politica, in 1982 and 1993. In 1994 he published the illustrated book Ciao vacca!, and in 1997 the comic book Sono un azionista Telecom. A service will be held one week from Saturday and the artist's ashes will be scattered in a public space dear to his heart.
Danish Muslim Leaders Critical of Publication of Turban-Bomb Cartoon
A day after federal officials arrested three men in connection to what has been reported as a plot to kill the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard for drawing the most notorious of the actual Danish Muhammed cartoons (as opposed to the alarming few that were made up and disseminated with the actual cartoons), a side issue has assumed some of the headlines: widespread criticism of the decision by Denmark newspapers to run the offending image along with their story. According to the Reuters article, a total of fifteen papers in Denmark ran the image, along with one in Sweden.
While I'm sympathetic to the notion that this is an offensive image, I think any journalistic entity is completely justified in running such a thing if by doing so they better inform their readers. That's what newspapers are supposed to do, and it's a distinction I think is important to draw especially if like me you're critical of the original stunt of commissioning and publishing the art by the newspaper Jyllands-Posten and don't feel that was done in service of a journalistic anything.
* here's another follow-up article on Sunday's protest strips concerning how comics by or featuring people of color are perceived and purchased. Here's a more general appreciation of the idea of diversity on the comics page.
* there's a nice article in the PWCW mailer this week about two smaller publishers taking their periodicals to Chinese printers. This is interesting because almost of the Asian printing used to date has been for trade paperback publications. Periodical formats tend not to be done overseas because of the basic timeliness factor compounded by the uncertainty involved in getting each book back and into circulation.
Heidi MacDonald wrote in to say that she wrote the piece and PW dropped her byline and asked if I could add that information to this mention.
* in a sign of the times, the Christian Science Monitoris placing a great emphasis on animation skills in finding a new editorial cartoonist. In what I would like to be a sign of the times, the University of Nebraska newspaper advertises for new editorial cartoonists and provides a nice little case for what such offerings can bring to the newspaper page.
* this article about an exchange of cartoonists between Switzerland and Indian is worth reading if only for the hilarious griping by the Swiss contingent that there are no cafes to draw in.
Three Arrested In Denmark In Plot To Assassinate Danish Cartoons Cartoonist
Three men were arrested earlier today in order to stop their plans to assassinate the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew the most notorious of the actual Danish Cartoons for Jyllands-Posten in the Fall of 2005: that of Muhammed with a bomb for a turban (pictured).
According to wire reports, the arrests were made in the city of Aarhus where Jyllands-Posten has its offices and the men broke down nationality-wise into two Tunisians and one Dane. It was revealed that concrete threats had been made against the 73-year-old Westergaard starting three months ago, causing he and his 66-year-old wife to seek official, focused protection.
In an interesting twist, By late Tuesday it had been announced that the three would not be held for charges. The Danish suspect would be charged under anti-terror laws and released; the two other men would be expelled from the country. The New York Times article speculated that this may have been because police acted before having enough evidence to justify holding and trying all three men.
The Prime Minister and Jyllands-Posten stressed that this incident be seen in terms of attacks on freedom of speech, while moderate Danish imams asked that it be seen as a stand-alone criminal incident and not reflective of the country's Muslim community. Things had been mostly quiet in Denmark in recent months regarding such issues, and the BBC describes the mood of the country upon having the story revived in such dramatic fashion as stunned.
In an official statement Westergaard termed the reaction to his cartoon, which he says was intended to show how some used the Prophet to justify terrorism was "insane," admitting that its implications would likely follow him to the end of his days.
Peru began in comics by doing odd jobs for the publisher Semic. A self-taught artist, he began a creative partnership with his brother Olivier. They did Shaman for Nuclea, then went back to Soleil where they started the series Zak Blackhole. They also worked on the sixth book in the series Kookaburra Universe: La serment dakoid. Their most recent collaborative work was Guerres Paralleles (Parallel War).
Peru began work in America after meeting the artist Yanick Paquette at a workshop in Montreal. His coloring credits in American comics include 52, All Flash, books in the various Annihilation series, Avengers: The Initiative, the re-worked Hulk title Incredible Hercules, Teen Titans: Year One, and Ultimate X-Men. He had scored an exclusive working arrangement with Marvel that allowed him to continue to work in Europe. He and his brother had recently colored the album La Loi des 12 tables under the shared (and open) pseudonym Perubros.
Soleil's Jean Wacquet communicated the news to ActuaBD.com, Newsarama and other news sources on Monday, describing the passing as a tragedy. Most reactionfromprofessionalswith whom Peru had worked who wrote for public consumption upon his passing cited the young artist's precocity and general enthusiasm for comics. His future plans included a novel and many more comics for publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.
(above) a panel from Ultimate X-Men colored by Peru (below) a page from the Shaman series
* Calvin Reid takes a look at Thomas Nelson's plans to publish graphic novels, and if you can make it through the self-serving quote in paragraph two without puking in your mouth a little bit, the way the books break down proves to be pretty interesting. Looks like RealBuzz Studios is a big winner in these plans.
* in discussing last Sunday's cartoon protest, Glenn Jeffers at the Chicago Tribunetalks a bit about how the paper selects its comic strip and mentions something I hadn't thought of before: the papers that needed to hear the protest the most wouldn't have heard it because a) they don't run any of these comics, and b) they certainly don't run enough so that the point sinks in. The newspaper industry magazine Editor & Publishertakes their own look at Sunday's protest regarding how the comics by black cartoonists or those featuring characters of color are perceived and purchased.
* not comics: Marvel's planned MMO game is a no-go, this article says. This is worth noting because Marvel's surge this decade was not only just because of the movies but also because of their savvy in signing various licensing deals of a much higher class than they used to be able to sign. If these deals start to peter out without anything beneficial happening, that might be something to watch in terms of the company's health down the line.
* no one works the traditional comics publicity machine as effectively as the writer Mark Millar. This Wizard interview also contains some honest to goodness publishing news, primarily the status of his forthcoming 1985, perhaps the nuclear bomb of nostalgia comics, which at one point was going to be a photo comic.
* cartoonist and former pop entertainment company executive Larry Marder weighs in with his first contribution to Jeff Smith's blog-o-rama on 1990s's self-publishing, with a slight history lesson and then one of those weird corporate flow charts that always seems odd when applied to comics. Also: Joshua Smeaton.
Creator: Jack Ziegler Publishing Information: Harry N Abrams, hardcover, 128 pages, 2004, $19.95 Ordering Numbers: 0810956020 (ISBN10)
Twin bastions of great 20th Century cartooning, The New Yorker and MAD have a specific cultural process in common that rarely gets much play. Because their greatest contributors are idiosyncratic creators who made singular work at the relative edges of each publication's respective overall output, it has over the years become something of a struggle to appreciate the solid craftsmen and effective artists working the middle ground. Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder overshadow Al Feldstein and Don Martin, William Steig and Saul Steinberg receive attention that cartoonists like Sam Gross and Jack Ziegler don't. What's amusing is that in both cases it's the latter pair that often make the more commercially successful works, the kind of cartoons that drive the greatest periods of the magazine's success and come closest to defining a house style in the minds of devoted fans.
Coming from the New Yorker portion of that equation, Jack Ziegler's How's the Squid? collects a bunch of the veteran cartoonist's food-related jokes, the kind of arrangement that only makes sense if you get into the head of a harried gift-buyer. It's a handsomely mounted book, and Ziegler's contributions are consistently amusing. Ziegler has the core elements of classic New Yorker cartooning down. This means there is a clash of elements used to positive and sometimes briefly startling effect. Clever wordplay throughout is its own pleasure but also provides a humorous contrast against fairly goofy conceptual work. In Sempe-like fashion, a few of Ziegler's drawings depict a scene view in sort of a wide perspective where one small detail turns the meaning. The verbal-visual blend introduced to the magazine and some would say cartooning in general by Peter Arno is pushed at almost all times, the pictures dancing off of the words and vice versa in a way that causes the reader to puzzle out a third meaning, almost like one of those elements is the straight man offering up a line and the other is a the comedian taking things in an entirely different direction.
How's the Squid? proves to be generally solid work, hampered by a few factors. As hinted at earlier, the gathering of cartoons according to the topic of food works on a gift-giving level, but reading it the lack of cohesion or even a consistent viewpoint regarding the subject matter makes the book feel scattered, arbitrarily assembled and slightly mercenary. Ziegler's drawing lacks the beauty of some of his contemporaries. He's much better working out of his own designs and proclivities for stylized figure drawing; the worst cartoons in the book tend to be those that find Ziegler having to approximate someone else's characters or their style in order to make a point. Also, and this may be a function of having to include everything in Ziegler's output that's food-related, a few of the jokes feel overly obtuse, as if they might have made more sense viewed in the time during which they were originally published and informed by whatever was going on in the world at that specific moment. If you can pick up How's the Squid? as I did at a library sale or in a used book store, it's a sturdy volume that should settle in your library with a modest amount of pride, if nothing else a kind of summary statement on the New Yorker cartoon from the William Shawn era of the magazine.
Steve Gerber, a leading light in 1970s American comic books, a singular writer of odd and affecting comics for mainstream publishers, an advocate for and icon of creators rights, and the creator and co-creator of several characters including Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown, died Sunday in a Las Vegas hospital. The cause of death is believed to be pneumonia, although he had been suffering from a long-term illness, pulmonary fibrosis. He was 60 years old.
Gerber was born in St. Louis in September, 1947. A comics fan as a youth, he began to correspond with legendary fanzine figures Roy Thomas and Jerry Bails at an early age. He participated even more directly in the early fanzine movement by creating the publication Headline as a young teen. He attended at school as the University of Missouri -- St. Louis and the University of Missouri, finishing his degree and doing some graduate work at St. Louis University. He found early employment as a copywriter for a St. Louis advertising agent and wrote short stories at night.
Gerber became an associate editor at Marvel in 1972 through Roy Thomas, at a time in which the roles of writer and editor were blurry in that most of the editors, like prime Marvel mover Stan Lee and Thomas himself, were also writing books. His initial page rate may have been as low as $13 a page.
Gerber began to find fill-in work on Marvel's second-rung titles such as Sub-Mariner, Iron Man and Daredevil, branching out into more traditional assignments like Fantastic Four as well as stories for Marvel's newer horror titles such as Creatures on the Loose and Chamber of Chills. He began editing Marvel's MAD knock-off Crazy with issue #14, and found a twist on the classic EC through Marvel formula of exaggerated glimpses of the comics' creators by portraying himself and his fellow creators as straight-up crazy themselves.
A creative run on The Defenders featured one of the first deconstructions of the superhero idea and its conceptual nephew the superhero team concept that was actually done in the course of a narrative that also worked as an adventure story. Gerber was a fruitful creator or co-collaborator for many other titles and characters, including but not limited to Morbius, the Living Vampire, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Son of Satan, Tales of the Zombie, and Shanna the She-Devil. Those concepts he didn't create he often fleshed out. In many cases, his supporting characters were better known than the headliners, such as his title-jumping everyman, Richard Rory.
His scripts for Man-Thing, a classic swamp creature character of the kind that had been in comics since the 1940s, only this time portrayed as an empathic monster that used his burning touch on the fearful, are well-regarded even today for their concentration on psychological humor and touches of the absurd. It was in building an unlikely cosmic odyssey for the shuffling muck creature that Gerber created his signature character, Howard the Duck.
Howard the Duck was an unlikely twist on another classic comics archetype: the anthropomorphic duck (he would later wear pants after Disney threatened legal action, a story that if it's not true is better than truth). In the course of the story being told with Man-Thing in Fear, Howard played a more utilitarian role. His stepping forward from the bushes was put into the story to provide a weirder character introduction than the barbarian (Korrek) Gerber and Val Mayerik had just debuted by having him pop out from a can of peanut butter. A classic straight-talker slightly out of step with the time, an archetype that appears a lot in 1970s pop culture but never more effectively, Howard's debut proved popular enough with fans for Gerber and Marvel to bring him back, first in a short story or two, then in his own comic.
Imbued with an underground comix sensibility but as overground as the spinner rack at your local supermarket, Howard became a mini-sensation, allowing Gerber and his collaborators the opportunity to use a classic outsider character to riff on the ridiculous excesses of that decade's pop culture landscape: kung fu, the moonies, self-help gurus, Anita Bryant, KISS, religious fundamentalism, and Star Wars among them. It also turned out to be a perfect vehicle for Gerber's acerbic worldview, and in some of the best comics, such as when Howard ran for President -- something Marvel milked for all it was worth in terms of mainstream coverage -- Gerber turned his comic into maybe the most formally daring book ever put on the market by one of the big two publishers. Howard would eventually spawn a newspaper strip, which Gerber initially wrote, and a film version in 1986 by American Graffiti collaborators George Lucas, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz that has gone down in history as one of the all-time Hollywood bombs. Gerber had only a minimal amount to do with that project and, truth be told, the resulting film had nothing to do with Gerber.
Another fondly remembered title, Omega the Unknown, came about in partnership with the writer Mary Skrenes and the long-time industry veteran Jim Mooney. It was many things: an odd but extremely affecting meditation on childhood as it rubs up against some of the sadder and isolating elements of adulthood, an out of the corner of one's eye snapshot of the post-Kirby Marvel Universe, a walking tour of Gerber's own Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and another dissection of the superhero. The briefly-lived comic series gained much of its power through Gerber and Skrenes' modern, even arch take on comic book writing dancing in and among Mooney's classic, square-jawed comic book dynamics. Although there were admirable attempts to resolve the character's story by other creators once the series had been canceled, the resolution desired by Gerber and Skrenes apparently never saw publication. A currently ongoing re-telling of the story with additional layers by writers Jonathan Lethem and Karl Rusnak working with artist Farel Dalrymple has put the character back into the consciousness of comics fans, although there were complaints after the project's announcement that Gerber and Skrenes should have been given a chance to tell their story either additionally or instead of this new effort. As with Howard, there has never been a comic book quite like it.
Gerber left Marvel in either 1978 or 1979, and immediately entered into dispute with the publisher over the Howard the Duck character he created a few years earlier. In a letter that appeared in The Comics Journal #41, Gerber explained his situation to that magazine's editor, Gary Groth: "I was dismissed from the Howard the Duck newspaper strip in a manner which violated the terms of my written agreement with Marvel. Marvel was advised that I was contemplating legal action which would likely result in my ownership of the Howard the Duck character and all rights therein. As a consequence of the notice given Marvel by my lawyers, the company chose to terminate my contract on the comic books as well. Marvel's action was not unanticipated, and my only regret is that, for a while at least, the Duck and I will be traveling separate paths." In an interview that followed the publication of that letter, Gerber painted what was at the time a startling picture of the mainstream comics industries, its rivalries and petty jealousies, and what he described as a plantation system in terms of how the talent was treated by the corporations.
"What disgusts me even more, though, is that I think the writers and artists have largely brought this on themselves," he told Groth in 1978. "They don't want to know about the business end of comics. They prefer to remain ignorant. They've allowed the publishers to convince them that they're a bunch of no-talent bums surviving on the goodwill of the companies. Very few people in this industry really believe that their work has any artistic merit, or that it's sale-able elsewhere. Or that they deserve more than they're getting. You will actually hear them defend the publishers' ownership of their creations, the low page rates, the cowardice of the companies to explore new markets. That's why it's startling when someone like Gil Kane or Neal Adams or Don McGregor or Barry Smith -- or Steve Gerber -- shoots his mouth off. People in the industry find it disturbing that one of their number might actually take his work seriously, take pride not only in being fast and dependable, but in the work itself."
Steve Gerber did not win back Howard the Duck. He settled with Marvel and even returned to the company by the mid-1980s, although not in as devoted or prolific a fashion. Although the terms of the settlement were sealed, he told Art Cover in 1985 that, "It's no secret how mad I was during and before the lawsuit. The terms of the settlement are such that I am no longer angry." As part of the protracted legal battle, Gerber and the legendary Marvel Comics creator Jack Kirby created the lead feature in an anthology sharing the name Destroyer Duck, from Eclipse, with proceeds from various professionals doing stories going to Gerber's war chest. As Mark Evanier points out in his memorial post regarding Gerber, there was no shortage of professionals willing to contribute. "People did that because they knew, first of all, that Steve was fighting not just for his own financial reasons but for matters of principle relating to how the comic book industry treated its creators." The Gerber/Kirby feature is fondly remembered as comics apart from its industry implications. Marvel was satirized in the comic as Godcorp, the merciless corporation that exploited and then killed Destroyer Duck's best friend in a blunt swipe at Marvel's treatment of Gerber's Howard. That character would go on to make brief appearances in future comic books from Marvel and Image, and the original material is to be collected by Image Comics.
The notions that Marvel would take a character away from a creator, even the one best suited to it, and that a creator might fight back, became powerful ideas among a growing tide of younger creators asserting a series of creators' rights in regards to their work with big, mainstream comic book companies or their moves to smaller companies or self-publishing where rights might be attained. One element of the cautionary story was that Marvel was more interested in keeping and controlling the character than it was in fostering a relationship with the creator, even when the benefits were obvious to both. Also, the fact that Gerber had created Howard in an offhand manner but that the character had come to be a valuable mouthpiece for the creator became a key part of the thinking of a lot of creators rights advocates, and spoke as a powerful counter to an argument often expressed that some characters you created for the big companies and some characters you kept for yourself. As many have cautioned in a thousand hushed conversations since, you never know.
The remainder of Gerber's comics career was devoted to primarily mini-series and a few short runs on series comics. He had worked sporadically for DC Comics and Hanna-Barbera even while still at Marvel. He created the early graphic novel Stewart the Rat for Eclipse. An Epic Comic series refashioning a Hawkman proposal became the sex and violence-filled Void Indigo, one of the first comics to run afoul of the hands-on series of single proprietors approach that drove growing Direct Market network of stores in that, as Gerber put it, "Certain distributors themselves, personally, found it objectionable." This was also an opinion shared by some retailers and a few comics reviewers. He would write Howard the Duck again, a series starring his Foolkiller character, and pen a number of stories for the anthology magazine Marvel Comics Presents. Gerber was one of the veteran writers brought on board by the then enormously successful Image creators to provide some scripting stability for a title or two, and he was in the group of writers that created a superhero line at Malibu, eventually sold to Marvel. His Nevada was the last after Stewart the Rat and Omega the Unknown in a series of comics that were as much about a place as they were a set of characters, an under-appreciated aspect to his career and something he did as well as any writer to work in comics. One of his last notable creations was the superhero-in-prison saga Hard Time at DC Comics. He was at the time of his passing working on a revival of the difficult Dr. Fate character.
Gerber's main vocation during the 1980s and its sporadic comics output was as an animation writer and story editor, working for such successful franchises as Dungeons and Dragons, GI Joe, Thundarr, Transformers, Mr. T and The New Batman Adventures. It was in that role that he was famously parodied during the period of antagonism between himself and Marvel, in Marvel Secret Wars II #1, a comic book that Gerber said later he enjoyed.
Gerber had in recent months turned to blogging as many writers in the industry have, talking openly and honestly about his various projects, his state of mind and his declining health. It was there that first indications he may have passed were posted, in the commentary thread under Gerber's last entry.
Steve Gerber's role as one of the best and emblematic writers of his generation can't be overstated. He was a crucial figure in comics history. Like some of the all-time great cartoonists of years past, Gerber carved a place for self-expression and meaning out of a type of comic that had no right to hold within itself so many things and moments that were that quirky and offbeat and delicately realized -- except that Gerber made it so. His Howard the Duck comics remain amusing when read today, perhaps more poignant now, laying into their broad targets in a way that communicated a kind of critical consciousness into the minds of many devoted superhero comics readers, fans that simply wouldn't have been exposed to those kinds of ideas any other way, the concept that media might lie to you, the notion of absolute self-worth in the face of a world that seems dead-set against it. Steve Gerber's superhero books were a tonic to the over-seriousness of most of their cousins, and his horror-adventure books were frequently classy and reserved in a genre that tends to reward the blunt and ugly. No creator save Jack Kirby has as a cautionary tale and a living example saved so many creators the grief of turning over their creations without reward or without realizing what they had done. Few creators in the American mainstream were as consistently fascinating as Steve Gerber. Even fewer have been as outspoken and forthright, or in that way, as admirable.
"I wouldn't describe myself as fearless, but I think you have to accept the possibility of failure if you want to achieve anything, in any field." -- Steve Gerber, 1985
West Bank Newspaper Closed, Cartoonist and Editor Sentenced in Absentia
Although I'm a little unclear about the news reports' distinction between restricted distribution and closure, it appears a court decision yesterday from what is described as a "Hamas-controlled magistrate's court" closed down the Ramallah-based Al-Ayyam newspaper by banning its distribution in the Gaza Strip following accusations of libel centering around the publication of a cartoon by Baha' Bukhari last November, reports the Jerusalem Post. Both al-Bukhari and his editor Akram Haniyeh were sentenced in absentia to six months in prison for the crimes of libel and slander, as well as fine (the editor more severely). The cartoon, abobe, showed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh meeting an over-adoring Palestinian Legislative Council, captioned "The Illegitimate."
The article notes that other newspapers have been restricted from publication in the area and that other journalists have been jailed. The decision has been decried by the organization Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.
French Publishers to Pay Internet Provider After Lack of Liability Shown
An article at afNewsnotes that nine French comics publishers -- Dargaud, Lombard, Dupuis, Delcourt, Glenat, Audie, Lucky Comics, MC Productions, Sefam -- and the publishers sydnicate SNE have been charged to pay 30,000 Euros to the major Internet provider Free after accusing them of liability in the unauthorized on-line publication of copyrighted material by users of their services. If you read the article or a translation, afNews' Gianfranco Goria seems to leave little doubt as to what side of the issue he's on! I have no sense of this decision in the context of the French language market or European attitudes regarding on-line publication and/or sharing of this type, but I think it's worth noting as a stand-alone.
At the bottom of this document are links via sample art to various individual efforts in yesterday's comic strip protest, where a group of cartoonists created variations on the same script in order to point out how they believe their are perceived and purchased: as interchangeable members of a minority strip category.
* the big news in terms of this story may have come on Friday, when Editor & Publishercalled attention to a February 8 posting by Karisue Wyson at the Washington Post Writer's Group groupblog where they offered up some of their numbers about strips that feature minority characters. Those numbers are brutal, including one that indicates several states don't have a single newspaper running any of these strips and another that 76 percent of newspapers overall fail to run any such strips.
* This article explaining Sunday's protest to readers of the Detroit Free-Press notes that Robb Armstrong and Nate Creekmore did not participate and allows that several other cartoonists expressed sympathy with the protest but could not participate because of deadline issues. Here's the Honolulu Bulletin coverage of the protest.
* my own position is roughly the same as it was when the protest was first announced. I'm sure this happens, and it sucks, but I'm not certain there's any strip in this category that is so overwhelmingly well done and broadly appealing that given a marketplace made magically free of biases via a wave of a wand it would perform extraordinarily well. In fact, given the Wyson numbers, I think it can be argued that if every newspaper took seriously the idea of running strips to satisfy a demographic group, the involved strips as a group might very well gain more clients than they would in a strict meritocracy.
* Valentine's Day is apparently a bad day to be one of the comics-reading, fantasy-indulging cloistered single males that live in Taiwan, which I mention here because the name "Home Boy" makes me laugh.
* here is an interesting sales analysis of the Direct Market concentrating on how individual comics increase or decrease in sales. I'm not sure I understand it thoroughly, nor am I quite wrapping my mind around its explanation of how the market grows while most series are selling worse than they did the previous month, but it's a compelling take on things.
* Newsarama has a short interview up with Dan Didio about DC launching a third weekly, year-long limited series this June, to be called Trinity. The first DC series of this type, 52 was an excellent performer for the company; the second one, Countdown was a solid performer sales-wise but a disappointment when compared to 52 both in terms of sales and general reactions to the content. The weekly books have become important for a sales-struggling DC whose last major attempt to roll the sales momentum and excitement from a top-selling event series into increased interest for their regular line of comics pulled a Vinko Bogataj. If nothing else, even the poorer-selling second series when bunched together into one month's worth of comics is a blockbuster's worth of units moved. Judging from Didio's statements, while 52 was more of a stunt in and of itself and the second one was tied more directly to a forthcoming line-affecting "event," this one seems designed right up to the title to buttress the major ongoing storylines for its "big three" characters of Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman.
The same site has a similar piece up about a transitional book between the current weekly series and the event series, which also sounds like it will be used to provide a narrative baseline for all of DC's superhero books.
* this light-hearted feature on superheroes that didn't quite seem to work reminds me that the nearest retailer to me reports that G4 is the biggest drive of non-regular comics reader traffic to his store, which is something I'd never heard before.
* barely comics at best: more Lars Vilks, of "Muhammed's head on a dog's body" fame.
* Dick Hyacinth continues discussing his meta-list of compiled critics' take on 2007's best books, which means that there's discussion of some of the best books of that year that continues into the commentary thread. An interesting comment or two there: you can't really compare this kind of list 2007 by projecting such a list back into 2000, because the critical landscape is completely different now. Also, Jog mentions that either Black Hole or Epileptic was at the top of lists in 2005. I don't disbelieve him, but my memory is that neither one of those books fired the imagination of American writers about comics, and Epileptic in particular didn't seem to hit with most devoted comics readers, period.
* the writer Clifford Meth sent the site e-mail suggesting that some widely-disseminated (including by me) information on Marie Severin based on his original post didn't quite capture the spirit and intention of that piece -- you should all go read it yourself.
Valerie D'Orazio worked as an assistant editor at Acclaim and then DC Comics, leaving the latter position in a cloud of dissatisfaction that saw expression in a much talked-about series of on-line postings called "Goodbye to Comics." That group of essays dissected in brutal, unsparing fashion comics culture as D'Orazio had experienced it thus far. She painted a portrait of an unhealthy if not outright damaging world of widespread obsessive behavior, behavioral dysfunction and unrealized expectations. This helped gain her a new and attentive audience that has since made her blog Occasional Superheroine one of the can't-miss stops for mainstream comics commentary on the Internet. She's recently announced plans to expand the site.
In September 2007 D'Orazio was elected President of Friends of Lulu, the advocacy group designed to encourage female readership of and participation in comics. I think D'Orazio is one of the most consistently excellent of both comics blogging generation 3.0 and of a growing group of female writers finding voice in comics commentary, and I was pleased that she agreed to an interview. I wish we could have run it back during the holidays as originally promised, but I'm just as happy to run it now. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: Can you describe the impulse that drove you to run for President of Friends of Lulu? What opportunities did you see there? I think a lot of people were surprised when your name showed up on the ballot.
VALERIE D'ORAZIO: Well, nobody was as surprised as I was. It turned out that my boyfriend secretly nominated me for the position. He knew how strongly I felt about supporting women in comics and thought the experience would be good for me. When I was in comic book editing my dream was to get in a position where I could really make a difference in terms of equality for women in the profession and the creation of more strong female characters. And what I actually ended up doing in that job was to try to fit in with the "boys" as much I could -- the reason being, if I didn't rock the boat I could really come into a position of power where I could help my gender. In the end, this doesn't really work -- but I am not the only woman in comics who has ever possessed this ass-backwards reasoning. Oh, and I helped introduce cheesecake art to Supergirl. So, a big FAIL.
Then I started the blog, and I suppose it sort of helped put a spotlight on issues regarding women in the industry. But, it was the sort of change (if that is the right word for it) that is impossible to quantify in terms of any sort of real-world results. We can all express our outrage in the blogosphere about a perceived slight against women. We can even get The New York Post to run a little article on it. However, how has that really changed things for women in comics? I was tired of arguing over semantics and just wanted to see real-world results.
As President of Friends of Lulu, I now have an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and produce tangible results. Whether it's mentoring a young comic book artist, or helping produce a panel on women of color in the comic book industry, or even just getting our blog up and running again with new content. It's real. It feels great.
SPURGEON: A lot of times when someone runs for something, itâ€™s with a criticism of the office or organization in mind. What was your assessment of the group before you came on board? Do you think some of the historical criticism of Friends of Lulu have been fair? Iâ€™ve heard everything from people proclaiming its irrelevancy to castigating its methods to suggesting that itâ€™s a scheme to subsidize the con attendance of its members. How do you assess the organizationâ€™s history and what do you hope to change or enhance?
D'ORAZIO: The "origin story" of Friends of Lulu is, simply, a bunch of women who were tired of feeling marginalized and without community getting together and creating a group of their peers to communicate with and support one another. I think that's awesome. That is what is at the heart of Friends of Lulu, then and now.
You have to remember the context and era in which Friends of Lulu was founded, the mid-'90s. This was not a golden age for women in comics. Personally, and I could be wrong, that golden age was more like the 80s, because you had more female comic creators and editors working, and the comics largely reflected a level of maturity (especially regarding females) that I don't know if I have seen since. But by 1994, when FOL was founded, you were still in the middle of the T&A era of fan-favorite, two-dimensional heroines.
The first criticisms of Friends of Lulu I heard was around the DC editorial offices in isolated comments of derision. Certainly I do not think this was the position of the company towards the organization as a whole; they have donated generously to FOL in the past. But, there were a couple of people who labeled the organization as just a crazy group of man-hating feminists. And, I'm thinking at the time "well, it's not popular for me to get involved with them." The irony being that had I really been a part of Lulu at the time, it probably would have helped me a lot -- which is part of why I'm so passionate about the organization now.
Then there is the big elephant in the room, the Female Empowerment Fund thing. I think the basic kernel of that idea, to help women out with the legal costs of pursuing a sexual harassment case, was nobly-intentioned. But, you had those noble intentions versus the organization and the woman spearheading the fund not fully comprehending how complex and delicate those situations really are. And so the Fund did not work out. The question is, does Friends of Lulu get defined by that incident -- does the countless hours of volunteer work, the mentorships, the women in comics discussion panels, the anthologies, the awards, the scholarships get washed away?
I think an organization or an individual is defined by how they respond and grow from negative experiences. In the wake of the Empowerment Fund situation, Friends of Lulu returned all the donations and spent a substantial time examining what went wrong. Moreover, the women who continued volunteering for the Board of Directors felt battered by the experience, alone, and misunderstood. They felt like throwing in the towel, questioned their mission, felt defeated and back at square one. But, instead of giving up they chose to regroup, get stronger, and keep the flames alive. As I can vouch for, the organization examined and implemented much stronger methods of intra-group communication, choosing not just to vote on all decisions only during official meeting periods -- thereby recording them in the minutes of each meeting -- but also to come to unanimous agreement before proceeding on the implementation of each decision made. Lulu got older and wiser. They refused to give up even in the face of a lack of outside support (though it should be noted that there was still a core of members who stuck with it through the long haul).
I believe the tenacity of Friends of Lulu comes from their passion about support women in comics. And I believe that this is the same tenacity that keeps women in this industry despite the odds.
As what I can contribute beyond my basic duties as president... well, I would like to add original content to the website in terms of research, blog posts, and interviews.
SPURGEON: How's it been so far? Has anything been surprising or disappointing?
D'ORAZIO: It's been a blast so far! I work with a really great group of women, and they inspire and teach me a lot. I feel being involved with Lulu makes me a much better person. If there is something surprising I've encountered, it is just what a hunger there seems to be out there for a group like Lulu -- and, in a larger sense, a need among female comics professionals to be counted.
At the same time, there was an incident that greatly disappointed me. I had a situation recently where a fairly high-level woman in the industry made it very clear to me that she wanted nothing to do with our organization, to the point where she requested not to receive any mailings or other contact from us. And I had to wonder if it was the specter of the "it's unpopular to be associated with a women's organization when you are in a male-dominated industry." But, how can I criticize her when I failed to get involved with Lulu seven years ago myself? The only thing I can say is that, at the end of the day, it really really helps to have a support base of your peers, if only because you never know what is going to happen.
And yet I don't know if that stigma is really the case anymore. Female readers are becoming a bigger and bigger part of overall comic book readership. We have an editor from Marvel Comics -- which is about as mainstream comics as you can get -- on our board. As far as I've heard from her and others, the publisher is supportive of her involvement. DC has a line of books targeted largely for women. The editorial staff of publishers like Dark Horse and Tokyopop are heavily female. And we're doing things to promote the readership of comic books in general, like working with the libraries and with children; this benefits the entire industry. I don't see the problem.
Then there are some outspoken online critics of FOL. Some have been formerly involved with the organization. I respect their prior involvement and the time they put into the organization. And so I sit down and am honestly interested in what they have to say. And I explain what we're doing now, and just maintain a dialog; just ask, "what in your opinion would make us better?" So they don't disappoint me at all. They are asking questions, which is good. I hope to encourage them to participate again in our organization.
SPURGEON: This time next year, what would you like to have accomplished?
D'ORAZIO: Well, when I first started I had this big, ambitious "wish list" of things for Lulu to do; reinventing the wheel, and all that. But, then you look at the big picture objectively, and say: well, here are the things that need to be done first. And so this year is largely about building our infrastructure. The basics: updating the website, reaching out to the public & the industry, restarting our mentorship programs, looking for more volunteers, all while maintaining our existing stream of up-to-date industry information directly to our members through our newsletter and blog. So a year from now, I'd like to have all that heavy lifting done. Then we can start to really brainstorm and really get ambitious and implement some of the wonderful new things we'd like to do.
SPURGEON: It took me a while to kind of come to a full appreciation of what you do on Occasional Superheroine. How do you describe the blog and what you do with it to people?
D'ORAZIO: I just see the blog as a place where comic book fans can hang out and discuss their hobby. I just speak my mind, and I think people respond to -- and crave -- that honesty. The outspokenness, especially on industry issues, is also quite appreciated by some professionals within the industry, a number of whom have come up to me personally and thanked me for being brave. Because this industry is so small, it's very hard to "talk back" out of fear that you will get blacklisted. So maybe I provide an outlet to "bitch." It's important, I think, to let this stuff out.
SPURGEON: You wrote a post on the one-year anniversary of your Goodbye to Comics series where you marveled at being in a better place vis-a-vis comics despite abandoning any and all what might be called careerist impulses. This might be a totally ridiculous question as phrased but Iâ€™m not sure how to get at it exactly, but what are the specific qualities of where you are now that pleases you more than where you were 15-18 months ago?
D'ORAZIO: When you are an assistant editor -- at least from where I sat -- your contrary opinion is not encouraged. And, if you're female, that contrary opinion is not just discouraged -- it's seen as downright gauche. At any rate, you can be replaced pretty easily. You stay because you hope and dream you will be promoted. You see how cut-throat things are and you vow to swim with the sharks and get-ahead. Always there is this fear that if somehow you "screw up" and lose the job, you will never find another one in this small small industry -- and that you are only competent to edit comic books. And that, in your sort-sighted view, no job could possibly be as cool as working in comic books. All this fosters a very conservative viewpoint, at least as far as work is concerned.
I contrast this with what I think my essential nature is, which is to stir up people with my words.
Now, my whole living and vocation is built off of me expressing myself. I'm a professional blogger/online promotions strategist in my day-job. I'm told to stir people up with my words, wake them up. I'm told to express myself. That's my job. How cool is that? And then I work on comic writing stuff, and I'm asked to be myself. I'm asked to pour more of myself into my work. I'm told to take chances. And then I work on my own blog, which is all about that as well. It's such a release. It is me embracing my essential nature.
SPURGEON: Building off of that post, it seems like a big life lesson that is repeated over and over in your writing is that itâ€™s important to make oneâ€™s own way, to not always color between the lines if it suits you. Is that fair?
D'ORAZIO: What is that ancient bit of wisdom? "Know Thyself"? That's been the lesson I've learned over the past five years.
SPURGEON: One of the more interesting undercurrents in your writing that's critical of the comics world, including that essay, is that you seem to have a keen awareness of your ability to suffer through some of these things until you've reached a point where you couldn't. Is there any further reflection you have on the fact that you kind of endured all of these things for so long until finally making a break or dealing with some of the more pernicious aspects of it? Are they the same factors that keep you in comics now?
D'ORAZIO: I think a lot of that "stick with it until it almost kills you" mindset stems from my childhood. As a child, I was taught not to complain. So then you don't complain about wretched things that happen -- you just sort of go on auto-pilot. You "zone out" and pretend nothing is going wrong. I also have this very strong part of me that wants to get outspoken about injustice -- but, I grow up learning to suppress that. Complicating matters, exploitative people can pick up on which people will be most likely not to "fight back" -- and so they prey upon you. Now it's twenty years later -- and the cycle continues.
The only wrinkle is that as the years go by, the part of me that wants to be outspoken gets more and more insistent. When you're not true to yourself, one of the places that gets expressed is through your body. So my body was like: "Hey, I'm really unhappy. I'm going to destroy your stomach lining" and "I want out of this situation; pumping shitloads of excess adrenalin into your system just might get your attention."
So I finally got to a place where I broke past "auto-pilot" and refused to tolerate the intolerable. The only problem was, my life -- job, associates, home, etc -- was mostly built around the "me" I was, the meek one who didn't complain. So when you make a personal breakthrough like that, very few things survive it. My job at the time certainly didn't survive it. It's when you know who your real friends truly are.
Now I just sit back, look at a lot of the exploitative stuff that is still happening in the industry, laugh and blog about it. Sometimes I include little pictures with captions.
SPURGEON: I've never spoken to anyone who worked for Acclaim once upon a time. What remains with you about that office culture, that period in your life?
D'ORAZIO: Acclaim Comics was a utopian experiment in comic book publishing. I think the EIC Fabian Nicieza had witnessed a lot of the brutal bloodletting that had been going on at Marvel at the time, and decided that he was going to do things differently. He cared a great deal about his employees, and treated them more or less equally. I remember he really gave a lot of respect and credit to the assistants, which I really appreciated. I also appreciated that my gender was not an issue at the company. We had two very strong female editors out of a editor staff of about seven, and they were great role models for me. We all had a sense working there that this was as good it would ever get for us in comics, in terms of a great working environment and camaraderie with our fellow employees. And when we get together in reunions, which are at least once a year, we still echo those sentiments.
Our staff was very young -- I strongly remember the youth aspect of it. We were so idealistic and so -- I know this is going to sound corny -- joyous. It's an optimism I never saw again. I see and hear snippets of that level of optimism sometimes at Marvel, and sense it very strongly at DC's Zuda online imprint. I think it boils down to the boss/corporate overlord not crushing your nuts with their boot. From what I hear, the Zuda staff is pretty much told to just be creative. There needs to be more of that, before mainstream comics dies of a petrified intestinal tract.
SPURGEON: Some of your best writing has painted an absolutely brutal portrait of the culture within DC Comics. Assuming it's a distinction you'd even care to discuss, how much of what you described do you think is specific to DC and how much is universal to comics? Are there significant differences in different pockets of the comics world?
D'ORAZIO: I would like to take this opportunity to say that, for the most part, most of my observations about DC have been in regards to their "DC Universe" editorial department, not DC the Huge Entity. DCU editorial is where I worked. Before and after DC, I worked in retail, academics, advertising, public relations, marketing, and another comic book company. In comparison to these other jobs, I have to say working in DCU editorial was some of the most dreary and unhealthy years of my life. There were also some really fun times. But, it was like we worked under this big gray cloud -- it sucked the energy out of you.
If I can put my finger on a reason, I would say it started when a trio of editorial staffers resigned or were let go within a short time for reasons, in the minds of some staffers, that were unfair and indicative of a level of capriciousness on the part of management. This happened in the year right before I arrived. That produced the gray cloud, killing morale. Breaking up Denny O'Neil's "Bat-Office" was another depressing incident. Jenette Kahn leaving added to the cloud. And there was just this palpable sadness, and fear of getting fired.
I initially saw Dan DiDio's entrance as a good thing. I thought it was the sort of shot-in-the-arm we needed. Dan exuded a very Fabian Nicieza-like sense of optimism. I assisted him for a few months and got to know him. I really thought things were getting better. And then Mike McAvennie, whom I was assisting on Supergirl, suddenly got fired. And it was like it was all happening again. I was reassigned to Dan Raspler -- who I really liked as a boss. He gets fired, along with Andy Helfer, on the same day.
Everything after that point, at least for me, was just awful. Working there was awful. I remember I had this little nameplate on my door in the shape of a word balloon. And one day it just fell off. And it was magnetic, it was supposed to stay on. It wouldn't go back on. And then I started taping it onto the door. And it still fell. And so I kept it in my desk drawer. And people would stop by and say, "Hey, are you still working here? Your name isn't on the door anymore." Symbolically, that's pretty much how my last six months were like.
So no, I think that level of sadness and dread is not specific to the comics industry or even DC as a whole. I think there was just some bad energy in that department that came in at some point. And, I can't even say that Dan DiDio was part of that. Because it was there before he arrived. He was invited to DC to fulfill an express purpose, and he did what he was asked to do. Anything that came after that was just him reacting to what was already there.
But, I do think that the comic book industry is problematic to an extent because it is so small, and tends to get "clubby" and "incestuous." Also, I think a lot of people come into the business with this idealism that is part-and-parcel of the idealism of the comics they read as a kid. They think that comics the business is going to treat them differently, more kindly, more fairly, because they produce the adventures of our modern heroes. And then it doesn't turn out that way and they are crushed.
SPURGEON: Is it fair to say that another recurring message in your work is that the violent and sexist art on the page and violent and sexist behavior in various comics' workplace draw from the same well? What led you to make that connection?
D'ORAZIO: I think the work cannot help but reflect their makers and the environment that they were created from. It's just like kids. Children will have dysfunctional parents, and there is a good chance they will end up being dysfunctional to some degree themselves, reflecting their own parents' flaws like a fun-house mirror.
SPURGEON: You've drawn some pretty compelling portraits of people whose "life in comics" has been bad for them. What is it about comics people that they seem so frequently exploited?
D'ORAZIO: Many comics people I know are, in a sense, still childlike. Including, to an extent, myself. It's the damn comics, I tell you. They preserve your youth (in this weird slightly-unsettling Olsen Twins sort of way, but why be picky) in exchange for making you a bit naive. To my knowledge, there is no entertainment medium that quite does that to people.
SPURGEON: I have nightmares that the level of exploitation in comics is so deep that we're going to wake up 15-20 years from now and every single day is going to be a telethon for another person whose life in comics has led them to ruin. Is it possible to interact with comics on such a devoted level and not have it sap away some other part of your life, not have it cause cumulative damage?
D'ORAZIO: I think it is key that any person working in comics either maintain a day job or a non-comics skill-set. Why are people working in comics frequently exploited? I've seen many cases where a person will break into comics right out of high-school or art school, spend 5, 10, 15 years in the business, and feel it is the only thing they know how to do or that they will get paid well at. And so they depend on that job for everything. They've got bills to pay, often a family to support and a mortgage, all that -- and they are depending on Comics to see them through. What happens when their job is threatened? What happens when they're not the flavor of the month anymore? What happens when the calls stop? Panic sets in. "It's the only thing I know how to do."
I talked to this one middle-aged artist, he's not getting the call-backs anymore and he's panicking. He's telling me, "if I can't get work in comics anymore, the only job I'll be able to do is civil service. I'd rather have a bullet in my head." After working with the funny books for so long, sorting mail by zip code may seem like a fate worse than death.
But, what this single-minded investment in comics as a vocation also does, especially on the publishing side, is make people ruthless. If you've been working in comics for for 15 or more years and you're a senior editor and you don't have another skill set, if you've been doing this since you were 20 years old and you've got the big office and all the shibboleths, you are going to do whatever it takes to stay in that job. Because what are your options? If you haven't developed another skill set, and the only editing you know is comics...
I remember applying for jobs at mainstream publishing houses after Acclaim Comics went under. And I would show them what I was editing -- Classics Illustrated, Magnus Robot Fighter, Disney Adventures, etc. And I had one interviewer refer to them patronizingly as my "school projects." That is some scary shit.
That's why, after Acclaim, I started studying marketing and advertising. I mean, on my own, buying books. Because I knew that to depend solely on comics for my living was dangerous.
I feel like at the San Diego Comic-Con, when they have these workshops -- they should have one to educate both veteran and new comics people about this subject, about diversifying one's skill-set.
SPURGEON: Your writing is frequently very funny. Who do you find funny?
SPURGEON: How much has writing in a very personal voice with a lot of humor become your natural voice, and how cognizant are you as a writer of achieving a certain effect by playing up those elements when you write? Using humor as you do, do you worry about what you write being dismissed?
D'ORAZIO: I really think that what I write, to a large extent, is my personal voice. My everyday persona is kind of mild-mannered. Writing is my outlet to be myself. To use a superhero metaphor, the writing me is Superman, non-writing me is Clark Kent.
SPURGEON: Are there things -- in comics, out of comics, wherever -- you'd like to pursue in the future writing-wise?
D'ORAZIO: I originally got into comics way-back-when to write comics, and I would still like to do that. At the same time, it is not a driving obsession of mine -- if I can publish some stuff great, if not that's okay too. I'm involved in steps right now that will perhaps take me in that direction. But, having been a comic book editor myself, I take it all with a grain of salt and just try to have a good time. Outside of comics, I would like to develop my comedy-writing skills, maybe write Mad Magazine-type parodies. Or a horror novel. Or a Mad Magazine-type horror novel.
SPURGEON: You seem to draw a distinction between attractive art that employs sex and art that exploits it? Why are such distinctions so often blended and confused in comics?
D'ORAZIO: Well, the forerunners of comic books were the pulps that often had lurid illustrations of half-naked women in dangerous, titillating situations. The histories of those pulp/men's magazine publishers and the comic book publishers are often intertwined. DC's own publishing ancestors were producing that "Spicy Tales" stuff. So it's just a natural progression.
Then you've got the situation where a lot of those "childlike" comic fans/creators I mentioned grow up on the comics, never grow out of them. But have hormones. And then Witchblade is born. It's that simple.
But, I see nothing inherently wrong with these erotic comics. It's just that they are Erotic. They are for adults. It's when I see that imagery in a mainstream comic with no "mature readers" label that I get my hackles up. Or if a comic publisher with pretensions of being mainstream offers nothing but those sexualized images in terms of their female characters. I don't want those T&A comics in the hands of children. I don't want iconic characters like Supergirl or Mary Jane, who have such potential to inspire girls, being turned into sexpots. I think there needs to be boundaries.
As far as what erotica is considered "art" or not... one person's porn is another person's wonderfully ironic artistic masterpiece. I know I've made fun of certain T&A comic artists, etc., and explained why other works are "true art." But, that's a little pretentious. The person who is slaving over the pinup with the engorged breasts cupped by demon hands thinks it's art; him, and the thousands of people who drop money to buy the image. Ayn Rand may disagree. Of course, some people think Rand's work is not "real" art either. We can play this game all day.
SPURGEON: You've written that a feminist point of view in comics is important but at the same I remember you chastising someone for conflating a comics issue with real-world exploitation and abuse. How do you personally negotiate finding a place between over-inflating an issue and the way people blow off issues by declaring "it's just comics."
D'ORAZIO: Honestly, I think I've been a bit pretentious in this regard as well. I don't know who am I to tell people what and what not to feel passionate about. Fandom & computer life has become such a big part of people's lives now. Fans get so emotionally connected to their fandoms. And then somebody poops on their fandom, and they freak out. And I can say, "Well, that's not real-life. Let it go." But then I'm spending three hours on eBay looking at old Popeye memorabilia. At least their passions have a social justice context; mine just involve a sailor with one eye.
SPURGEON: Is there any issue in the last three years that you think has been underplayed? Overplayed?
D'ORAZIO: I understand a lot of the outrage some readers have about stuff like T&A in comics. But this stuff is never going away. The primal need to look at a pair of breasts is never going away. Now, saying something like "I don't want this cherished comic book heroine to be a slut" or "kids shouldn't read that stuff" or "mixing images of women with sexualized violence can be dangerous" makes sense to me. But take the case of Top Cow's Witchblade. It's erotica. It's like our generation's Vampirella or Barbarella. I can laugh at this or that aspect, but the title isn't a menace that needs to be stopped. It serves a function for men, the same function Laurell K. Hamilton's books serve for women -- the blending of horror/fantasy with erotica.
SPURGEON: You mentioned this briefly, and I thought it intriguing: why hasnâ€™t there been a major-major female comic book creator in North American comics?
D'ORAZIO: Well, I think there has been major-major female comic book creators -- just not in mainstream comics. I think Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel, just to mention a few, are major comic creators. But the question is, who is going to be the female Grant Morrison? As a fan of superhero comics, that question is important to me. Until there is a female Morrison or Jim Lee or Alex Ross or Alan Moore, until there is a female mega-star in mainstream comics, I think we haven't arrived in that genre. Gail Simone and Amanda Conner are the closest comic creators we have like that.
What is holding things back for my gender in that regard -- is it the gender itself or simply the material? Is it because we are being oppressed or because the work is really not to that level yet?
Readers aren't stupid. When they see the really great stuff, they will react to it. If the stuff is quality, it will last. See JK Rowling.
Now -- might there be a problem for female creators getting past the "gate-keepers" at the comic companies? Is there built-in bias against female creators? It depends on the editor. Some editors are absolute sexist assholes. And some honestly want to bring in more female talent.
Past all those factors -- I think the mega-successful female mainstream comics creator might be the one that can write things male comic fans would want to read. Because apparently at least 75% of mainstream comic readers are men. Maybe it's that sadly simple.
SPURGEON: You just mentioned Satrapi and Bechdel, and earlier you referred to Popeye... so much of your on-line commentary is focused on American mainstream comics, I wondered what your overall comics reading is like. How great a proportion of what you read is devoted to mainstream comics? Who do you read out of the American mainstream? How much manga do you read? Do you read solely for enjoyment at this point?
D'ORAZIO: I would say that two-thirds of the weekly comics I purchase are mainstream, though I do purchase a certain amount of mainstream comics in order to stay topical on my blog. And from those mainstream comics, I'd say half I keep or plan to upgrade to collected editions on, and half I discard in one way or another. I have lost all sentimentality in terms of buying comics for future investment, and so I often bend the covers back and treat the "floppy" editions pretty much like a magazine.
I do try to keep up with the independent offerings; for instance, when I read about Tom Neely's The Blot on your site, I immediately purchased it online and enjoyed it very much. But on a weekly basis, I am sometimes shy to spend $10-25 dollars on one non-mainstream graphic novel, which will only leave me with $5 to spend for the rest of my books. Sometimes, it comes down to the review needs of my blog.
I would say that many of my readers are interested in straight mainstream superhero comics -- and so am I! Consequently, I do cover a lot of those topics. But, I also introduce independent comics my readership might not have thought of, like Jeff Lemire's Tales From The Farm series. And so I'm trying to be a nexus-point between the mainstream and the independent, between the so-called "fanboy" and the feminist.
Manga, I could really use more knowledge of than I have, especially since so many females read them and I'm heading an organization that promotes women in comics. And so I'm trying to learn more about that.
As for reading for enjoyment -- I had stopped reading for enjoyment when I was 16 and had my first job working in a comic book store. The speculation boom was in full swing and everybody was buying comics for investment. I'd pick up comics two, three of each issue at a time and not read them. Working for actual comics publishers actually made this worse -- I was so sick of comics by the end of the day that I had no interest in reading them as entertainment.
It was only when I met my boyfriend that the true love of reading comics for pleasure was reawakened in me. He is very passionate about comic books and that passion was infectious. And he would just sit me down with a stack of comics, new and old, and just say, "Take a minute from what you're doing and just read these." And then we'd discuss them, debate them, take them apart, read what other people had to say, and even rewrite them. It's a relationship built, in part, on a mutual passion for the art form.
SPURGEON: What's the last good comic you read? What was the last great one?
D'ORAZIO: I really like the direction the Hulk books are going into. Yeah, I realize I've just alienated a bunch of the people reading this. But I do like those damn books. They're just plain old fun. They keep hitting bright green globs of Dumb Fun at me, and I keep saying, "More dumb fun, please!"
The last great comic I read was an advance copy of a graphic novel that should be out by the end of February called Skim by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki. It's a coming-of-age story of sorts, but avoids all the cliches of a coming-of-age story. The art style is like traditional Asian art... used to tell a story taking place in the 1990s. Original in every which way. Why aren't the big-budget places printing stuff like this? Fact is, there are a whole bunch of breakout talents out there, many even with finished graphic novels lovingly displayed in three-ring binders. Why aren't the big-budgets finding these people?
The irony is, a lot of these new young talents, they don't even have working for the mainstream comic publishers on their agenda. They tell me, "I'm not doing some project I don't have my heart into. I gotta do something that means something to me. Life's too short." God bless them.
* photo provided by D'Orazio
* various Friends of Lulu spot art
* an issue of Shadowman for which D'Orazio served as assistant
* an issue of Magnus Robot Fighter for which D'Orazio served as assistant editor
* Witchblade, an example so nice she gave it twice
* cover to one of Gail Simone's Wonder Woman comic books
* Skim, the last great comic D'Orazio read
2. The Invisibles
3. Poison Elves
4. The Red Star
5. Conan the Barbarian
1) Nurture the Devil
2) Y: The Last Man
4) Six Hundred and Seventy-Six Apparitions of Killoffer
5) The Alamo: An Epic Tale Told from Both Sides
1. From Hell
2. Y the Last Man
5. Dragonball Z
Michael J. Grabowski
Your topic strikes me as slightly vague this week, like thereâ€™s some missing criteria that should be used to narrow my list down from infinitely many down to five. Anyway, these are five items that at certain points in my comics-reading life I would probably have picked up regularly and re-read often, but due to accidents of timing and my changing tastes, I missed them, have never read a single issue/story aside from excerpts appearing elsewhere, and have little interest in picking up and reading now or probably ever.
Strangers in Paradise
Angry Youth Comix
Bone. I've had the first color collection for a couple of years but I have not read a panel.
The next four are comics I always heard about "back in the day" but never laid eyes on because I did not grow up anywhere near a comics shop.
I still have not gotten around to reading a page of any of them.
Persepolis (But that will change soon, I think.)
300 (Reflects my disenchantment with the output of Frank Miller in recent years)
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (This came out at about the same time I had had enough of Claremont's writing, and the art by Bingham, I think? was underwhelming. But a lot of people cite this GN as a great comic, so I guess I'll take their word for it.)
Cerebus (Well, I did read one issue, a Flaming Carrot crossover. Another series which is considered classic, and probably for good reason, but I just don't really care)
Warlord (Again, a lot of folks loved this long-running series, but I've always hated Mike Grell's art, and nothing about the warmed-over ERB premise sounded
interesting. His costume was ludicrous.)
Stuart and Kathryn Immonen
1. Elephant Men (trying to get the issues, but I may have to go for the trade)
2. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth
3. In the Shadow of No Towers
4. Fables (and this KILLS me, because I love the covers and hear such great things about the stories)
5. Safe Area Gorazde
1. Prince Valiant
2. The New Teen Titans
3. Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born
4. Xenozoic Tales
5. Penny Arcade
El Tio Berni
1. 2001 (Kirby)
2. How to be an artist (Campbell)
3. Pogo (Kelly)
4. Akira (Otomo)
5. Sleeper (Brubaker & Phillips)
2. All-Star Superman
3. Scott Pilgrim
5. Usagi Yojimbo
1. Persopolis. It's on my shelf, waiting...
2. 52. It sounds like a fun thing to help make, but my interest in superheroes doesn't need to be fed on a weekly basis
3. Buck Godot. I was drawn to the Starblaze edition when I was a kid, but couldn't afford it
4. Naruto. Sounds like fun, though. A friend's daughter assures me it is the best manga of all.
5. Bondage Fairies. A realtor I knew pulled it from his shelves once he actually flipped through a copy.
3. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
4. Fruits Basket
5. Eno and Plum
Thanks to all that participated. Because of voluminous participant complaints even though I'm simply trying to be a nice guy, entries that don't quite answer the request as asked may be moved into the letters section at my discretion. That happened a lot this time, with a lot of great answers: they can be found here. Please check out the site next Friday for another episode.
The top comics-related news stories from February 2 to February 8, 2008:
1. International rights agencies and press advocates rally to decry the potential criminal prosecution of two cartoonists in Turkey who drew caricatures of that country's president.
2. One of the great comics craftsman of the 20th Century, the cartoonist Gus Arriola dies at age 90.
3. A Kentucky state representative seeks to re-classify reporters and editorial cartoonists as lobbyists, thus barring them from the statehouse floor. That there are roving bands of editorial cartoonists on the statehouse floor comes as news to everyone.
Loser Of The Week
Kentucky State Representative Jim Gooch.
Quote Of The Week
"I'm sorry to say this, all the science fiction producers making stuff in America, they are way too engaged with their fandom. They all need to step back." -- Doctor Who producer Russell T. Davies, describing why the TV show's web site lacks a message board.
this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
Five For Friday #108 -- Name Five Specific Comics Series or Graphic Novels You Haven't Read
1. Magnus, Robot Fighter
2. Buck Rogers
4. All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder
5. Queen and Country
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. Make sure you're answering the question. I have little to no interest in jokes riffing on the concept. Responses up Sunday morning.
Kentucky Lawmaker Seeks By Law To Label Editorial Cartoonists as Lobbyists
Kentucky State Representative Jim Gooch is apparently pushing legislation that would re-classify journalists and editorial cartoonists as lobbyists, thus banning them from the statehouse floor. The article at E&P notes one of Gooch's unflattering portrayals in editorial cartoon in recent months. It's only a brief article, but the move by the Representative to drive the press from the floor of the government seems pretty clearly idiotic from the first word, and loaded with all sort of unfortunate potential outcomes, so it still does the job. Also, I had no idea there were editorial cartoonists roaming the floor of the Kentucky statehouse.
Jeff Smith on His Self-Publishing Series and The Criticism of Alt-Publishing
After my initial post about the Self-Publishing Movement of the '90s series that Jeff Smith is doing at the Boneville blog, Jeff sent me a note about one of the points I made that I thought was worth sharing. Smith agreed to let me publish it here:
"Saw the nice write-up you did on the announcement of self-publishing guest blogs over at Boneville. Thanks for picking it up.
"I want to respond to your comment about self-publishers knocking reputable houses like Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly just because they were publishing houses.
"I know a lot of self-publishers were more dogmatic than me, so I don't doubt you ran into this snarky type of thing a lot, but speaking for myself, I always thought of good, small publishers like Fantagraphics and D & Q as partners in crime... rebels advancing the cause of good and different comics.
"I've always maintained that there were financial advantages to self-publishing -- if you could make it.
"Clearly, though, Fantagraphics and other smaller art houses led the way in terms of creator's rights, and more often than not, I'm sure the wants and needs of the artists were put first.
"I'm just curious about the period now that we can look back at it. There has been very little written about it. I don't think it was a mere blip. There was a huge flowering of interest in non-mainstream comics, and in trade book formats that wasn't there before.
"SPX, the backbone of the current Indie scene grew out of a self-publishing tour. In the early days of the show, Fantagraphics didn't even exhibit there, but the self-publishers were there. And so were the people who would shortly begin to create the boutique houses, like Jeff Mason, Chris Pitzer, and Chris Staros.
"Anyway, just wanted to say Fantagraphics is good."
The reason I wanted to publish this is because I think one of the interesting things about that period in comics was this bizarre attack by self-publisher on creators rights-supporting small publishers on what seemed like purely dogmatic grounds. What was fascinating about this kind of rigid assumption that all publishers were corrupt no matter what is that I think self-publishing as its existed in American comic books can be seen as an effective criticism of certain publishers -- who unlike the best alternative comics publishers -- seem to operate without providing the kind of fundamental capital and services (publicity, printing, warehousing) that one might reasonably expect of someone taking a cut of the final product.
Today's entry in the series from Colleen Doran hints at that notion in this funny line. "I was 20-ish and had no business skills, and only one-year's experience working as an unpaid gopher in a trade publishing house. All of which made me about as qualified to publish as anyone who had ever published my work in the small press."
Go, Read: Matthias Wivel on Shaun Tan’s Award-Winning Book The Arrival
There have been plenty of smart, positive reviews of Shaun Tan's The Arrival that I welcome this negative review by Matthias Wivel because it's equally smart and represents, I think, a lot of not-complimentary buzz I've heard about the book that no one's really put into words.
Missed It: Eddie Campbell Omnibuses Coming From Top Shelf in 2009, 2010
I totally whiffed on this piece of happy publishing news: Top Shelf Comix will be releasing huge omnibus-style volumes from Eddie Campbell's signature series, Alec and Bacchus. The Alec book is first, due up in 2009 and will include:
The ALEC (LIFE-SIZE OMNIBUS) will collect all the stories from THE KING CANUTE CROWD, THREE PIECE SUIT, HOW TO BE AN ARTIST, AFTER THE SNOOTER, as well as the very early out-of-print ALEC stories and tons of bonus material. It will definitely be the definitive ALEC tome.
while the Bacchus books promise:
The BACCHUS (TWO-VOLUME OMNIBUS) will collect all 1,000 pages of the BACCHUS saga -- yes, that's ONE THOUSAND PAGES!! -- the entire epic in two giant 500-page volumes.
Those are both excellent series and in my opinion the Alec material is an easy top 100 all-timer.
* it could just be my reading into it, but this feeling I got from this short article was less about the "Japan: Culture and Hyper Culture" exhibit and more a reminder of how important the world market has become to Japan's publishing companies.
* you should really go look at Seth's new New Yorker cover. It wouldn't be fair of me to republish the visual here.
* like many artists, the cartoonist Olivier Taduc has a work blog. Unlike many such blogs of that type that I've seen, Taduc uses screen captures instead of scans to show his progress because he works digitally. via actuabd.com
* this piece at Editor & Publisher about a themed book from Zits makes me wonder if that popular feature has done themed books before. I can't tell. Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman's strip has been very successful in both smaller, more immediate collections and larger collections, so this would make a third format.
* is new of DC Comics securing another period of exclusive services from a writer as productive and key to the overall efforts as Geoff Johns worth noting. Despite my suspicion of exclusives and sell-outs in general, I think this one is probably worth a nod.
* the writer and critic Jeet Heer writes about language in Krazy Kat, which gets a pull-out from the Quick Hits post because of Krazy Kat being the greatest comic of all time and everything.
* judging from a few slightly worried e-mails I've received about what Stan Lee is up to these days, this standard POW! press release about a version of Stan Lee's Stripperella going into digital form for download by mobile phones may be the first release involving Lee that's been out there for while.
* the long-time Fantagraphics presence Eric Reynolds has a ridiculously eclectic and cool original art and art-related oddities collection. He has begun posting samples here.
* the writer Tim O'Shea notes that March 1 marks the 10-year anniversary of the much-liked and well-respected comics writer and editor Archie Goodwin, and initiates a discussion about him.
* the comic site ComicMixhas a small piece up on another well-loved mainstream American comic books industry figure, Marie Severin, and her full retirement since suffering a stroke last year as reported to the site by Clifford Meth.
* although I'm never quite convinced it's much of a story, if one at all, and the water gets muddied further when certain comic fans and pros treat snagging a hotel eight blocks away instead of one block away as a dramatic disaster on the same level of the potentially more interesting issue of a certain class of comics fan being frozen out of the Con entirely, there was plenty of spill-over talk about Wednesday's Comic-Con International hotel grab at places like The Beat and Bags and Boards. One solution floated by Tom McLean is moving this to a social networking site, which I don't quite understand but certainly sounds cool. Another potential solution being bandied about is to make people put down deposits which would eliminate double and triple reservation-making.
* it has kind of slipped my attention in these daily posts, but the letters pages of the newspaper serving the University of Georgia seems to run a lot of pieces discussing the comics they run and what is appropriate for a student-run paper.
* in one of those stories that makes you want to fly to the place in question and start punching people in the face, graphic novels in one school system will be scrutinized thanks to the anger of parents over a reading assignment. Where were my parents when I was forced to read Silas Marner?
Although it's slightly unclear if it took place in late January, early February or even a year ago, Gianfranco Goria at afNews informs that the cartoonist turned successful Italian cinema screenwriter Vittorio Vighipassed away. This piece notes that Vighi was a cartoonist for the satirical newspaper Marc'Aurelio in the early 1950s, but then moved full time into film when the newspaper closed. That same article also mentions cartoons done under the name "Cip e Ciop" for Topolino in the early 1960s, and contains some really cool cartoon art cited as being done in his retirement.
As usual, even my brief descriptions suffer from a limited skill with French much more suited to asking for the location of the library or declaring my name, so be careful. I'm sure even a complete reading of these pieces are going to miss out on much-needed context when coming to grips with what they imply, but I think it's worth knowing about the kind of issues that European publishers face right now after several years of swelled returns.
Stephen Bentley Speaks to E&P On Sunday’s Comic Strip Protest
A talk with cartoonist Stephen Bentley of Creators' Herb and Jamaal strip provides Editor & Publisher the opportunity to preview this Sunday's "action" by several cartoonists designed to bring attention to how strips from African-American cartoonists in particular are perceived and purchased as interchangeable filler for a newspaper slot. Bentley is identified as the longest-syndicated of the participating African-American cartoonists, with Herb and Jamaal making its debut in 1989. He stays pretty much on the message as it's been communicated by that group to date, so it's a good place to go for a summary of the issues involved. The article also points out that open categorization also exists for female cartoonists. It's a difficult and fascinating issue.
* a short post at ActuaBD.com indicates that the huge publishing concern MediaParticipations and the small journalism start-up MediaPart settled their legal tussle over whether or not the latter could be confused with the former when MediaPart agreed to change their name to Mediapart.
* in my haste to get my posts down yesterday, I mis-identified the crime writer and alt-weekly editor turned Marvel comics writer Duane Swierczynski as another person with a much smaller and easier to spell name. To make up for it, here's an interview with the writer.
* just the other day I was wondering out loud why, with all the alt-comics personalities becoming new parents, there weren't more comics- or illustration-related alphabet primers in the spirit of Tony Fitzpatrick's wonderful Max and Gaby's Alphabet. And then, lo and behold, this book shows up. I'm now wondering out loud why I never win the lottery, but I would also love to see a few more books of this type.
* yesterday was the day when San Diego's Comic-Con International traditionally releases to the public a few available hotel rooms at a discounted price for their big mid-summer show. As the number of people attending has swelled in the last few years, and a lot of companies with deep pockets now attend that are willing and able to sweep in and seize blocs of rooms up to a year beforehand, this last chance for rooms under $200 has become something of a madhouse for comics folk who could really make use of any discount for the somewhat expensive to attend summer convention. The result is a lot of posts about reservation "horror stories," like this one. Heidi MacDonald reports on yesterday's reservation crush and makes a few nice points that economic data about the con's effect on the San Diego economy seems woefully underplayed.
I apologize for not writing yesterday's question with more clarity, although I was still surprised that no one took into direct account the majority of the phrasing around which the question was built -- the fact that sales of comic books in the DM seem to have gone down despite there being a lot more comic shops of the type that we've always been told were keys to selling such comics. I know alt-comics are a tough sell in general, but I'm speaking about a very specific phenomenon. If 15 great comic book shops could once upon a time sell 80 percent of 1500 comic books, why can 40 great comic book shops only sell 80 percent of 800? Something doesn't add up.
Yes, it's just as difficult as ever to convince devoted superhero comics fans to buy alternative comics at comic book shops. It's also clear that comics in book format sell a lot of copies through bookstores -- Brian Hibbs tosses out Bookscan figures that alternative comics publishers have vehemently and repeatedly denied come anywhere close to telling the full story when it comes to their bookstore sales, and unless these cash-strapped operations are in the habit of paying extra royalties as a cover-up to win some nerd board battle, I believe them, not Bookscan. I also give credence to a lot of the general factors readers cited about a loss of interest in art-comics comic books -- diffusion, an interest in trades over comics, alternative avenues for buying such comics, a shift in who is doing such comics, the lack of a critical mass of alternative comics of the kind that draw people into a store on a regular basis.
What makes me wonder if it's something deeper than an accretion of minute changes in customer behavior and publishing strategy is the kind of thing that nobody really likes to talk about because it's sort of rude. But here goes. The fact that so many trades have sold so many copies in bookstores comes after a period where the conventional wisdom in the Direct Market was that these books simply wouldn't sell because there was no audience for them. Not no audience among my customers; no audience, period. Could it be that comics retailers -- the people who should be selling the most comics in any format but no longer do so for certain key publishers and entire categories of comics -- are underestimating the potential for alternative comic books as well? If retailers are willing to sign their names to a sheet of paper in attempt to "recover" one or two "lost" sales, why isn't there a wider effort to boost sales of a neglected category that could generate new-found sales, if only one or two at a time, in a category that the DM served to a much more effective degree book by book at one time in their history? And maybe the biggest question of them all: are comics publishers and retailers jointly moving away from a traditionally unique form of publication and purchase that might serve to distinguish them in a field of publishers and outlets devoted to the book format?
RSF Condemns Potential Criminal Prosecution of Two Cartoonists in Turkey
Add Reporter sans frontieres (RSF) to the group of international press agencies condemning the potential criminal prosecution of cartoonists Musa Kart and Zafer Timucin for late-November 2007 cartoons satirizing President Abdullah Gul. The article notes that the cartoonists face a potential five-plus years in prison on charges of "insulting the president" which is actually its own article in the country's criminal code.
Jack Barrett, a longtime newspaper illustrator and successful painter, passed away in St. Petersburg on Sunday. He was 78. The Carnegie Mellon educated artist wrote two books of cartoons that were released in the 1960s and was illustrator at the St. Petersburg Times from the early 1970s until computer-aided art began to make its influence known in the 1990s. He is survived by a wife Louise.
* the Washington Postcovers the protest made by a group of cartoonists about the way newspaper strips by minority cartoonists are viewed and purchased. I hadn't seen the protest itself described -- it looks like the cartoonists will be doing the exact same strip, to underline how their comics are viewed as interchangeable.
* Wizard has apparently re-launched their web site. The initial impression will surely be that it's much less hideous than the abortive last re-launch and its aggressive up-top video loop. It may be worth noting that they're going with a Joker-related Dark Knight story at a time when a lot of folks are stepping around such coverage in deference to the passing away of the role's actor, Heath Ledger.
* the cartoonist Colleen Doran kicks off Jeff Smith's series of posts on '90s self-publishing with a fairly intense but still ultimately balanced look at the pros and cons of the period from her perspective: "Making self publishing look good was more important than the objective reality that self publishing was unlikely to be good for almost everyone trying to do it."
* the manga publishing veteran Dallas Middaugh corrects a claim or two made in an article about a new manga bible adaptation.
* the writer Tony Isabella sent me a note suggesting that many of you would like his superhero/election poll. I'm still drunk from yesterday's pre-voting party outside the elementary school, so I'll be joining you later on.
* mediabistro.com notes that Marvel's picked up another new writer, the mystery author Chris Gray, who until recently also happened to be a prominent alt-weekly editor.
Creators: Jim Munroe, Salgood Sam Publishing Information: IDW, softcover, 160 pages, January 2008, $14.99 Ordering Numbers: 9780968637343 (ISBN13)
Jim Munroe and Salgood Sam's Therefore Repent! bills itself as "a post-Rapture graphic novel." This is obviously a reference to the story's plot, which details the lives among those left behind when a number of Christian believers around the world ascend into heaven via a scenario that seems to prove the popular Christian Right public prophecy to be 100 percent true. It could also be a joke about this being the kind of book that would come out after such an event, in the same way that a few books and plays wrestled with 9/11 either directly or indirectly in a manner that placed the book within that specific historical context, or even a reference to the Rapture as a series of beliefs by millennial-obsessed Christians that many have processed and come to a different set of conclusions. I think there are elements to all three, and as a tribute to the sturdy, focused quality of the dark fantasy in the book, multiple interpretation aren't only possible they're kind of the point.
The plot for the most part settles in on two under-40 lovers named Mummy and Raven, card-carrying members of North American outsider culture who settle in a Chicago neighborhood to deal with the changes the new landscape of reality has laid on them. Magic is now real, but its practitioners risk deformity after its use, which provides a clue to the protagonists' names and their respective, dramatic appearances. The most affecting part of the book shows their daily routine as they deal with the strain on their affection and the general breakdown of society that followed the departure of the various believers. One clue that Munroe and Sam are shooting for a broader point than a march through biblical exegesis is that their event far exceeds the 144,000 many believers in a Rapture believe will experience one to a point at which cities are actually fairly depopulated (one person refers to the number of souls fleeing upward as half the population). Munroe's strengths as a writer seem to come through most overtly in this section: his way of delineating Mummy and Raven's relationship through incidental moments rather than explication, and the way he uses fantasy to craft a large metaphor about widespread, post-event trauma, such as the feelings of rootlessness, fear and desire to function on a very basic level (staying home, watching the news, going out for food only) that enveloped a lot of people after 9/11. The fantasy itself isn't always captivating or compelling on its own -- it feels staged for an effect rather than the kind of sloppy confluence of events through which most of experience reality -- but it allows the two creators to present some of the more delicate themes and idea work against a fairly standard "world writ large" limited community stage. I would have enjoyed a lot more of life in the neighborhood stories, to be honest.
Salgood Sam's work proves mostly strong throughout. There are moments of visual sumptuousness that should keep the reader's attention, and those readers who feel an artist should draw everything and not drop backgrounds or atmosphere for a lighter workload or to emphasize certain foregrounded actions should be pleased with the pages placed in front of them here. Sam's work with figures isn't as consistent as his backdrops or his displayed skill in building narrative sequences, particularly when it comes to playing out emotion or a feeling across the faces and bodies of the protagonists. There's a cartoon pliability to some of the designs and faces that at times popped against the dominant shading and backgrounds which a half-dozen times drove me right out of the book and its otherwise naturalistic storytelling. But style-wise the work in Therefore Repent! seems like a closed circle; I don't think it's an approach that will change but perhaps become sharper if there are more volumes, as seems to be planned.
The book is a lot like that, too. My many problems with it -- a dull acceleration into magical confrontation between the left behind folk and angels, its interpretation of the Rapture as devastation signified by physical absence as a kind of blunt cheat away from the more interesting issues of how people interpret something that may not affect them directly, its self-satisfaction in the overly-clever way that various gimmicks are put forward like the female mystic to mystic "she-mail" -- resemble disagreements more than they do criticism. I may see a grander and potentially more interesting book that could have been done, but I recognize the singular nature of Munroe and Sam's work. I think most people will see Therefore Repent as solid pulp, with enough of an idiosyncratic take on grief and confusion and self-worth when it comes to grappling with universe-changing events that it will satisfy the impulse that many fantasy readers have that their reading at least touch on greater issues. The book's abundant, mordant humor and offbeat pacing aren't quite enough for it to transcend its dark fantasy elements in a way that will make it appealing to a wide, discerning audience, but those elements should allow for readers who may not be interested in such material something on which to hang their own reading. It remains to be seen if the story itself will have the kind of dramatic weight to become a vital book rather than simply a diverting one; it could also be that the artists are overtly making a case for diversion over significance in narrative art.
If, as nearly two-decade old conventional wisdom would have us believe, the vast majority of art comics that move through the Direct Market are sold through a small percentage of diverse, elite stores (such as Comic Relief, The Beguiling, Chicago Comics), and if, as a general look at the retailing landscape suggests, there are more of these kind of diverse, elite stores than ever before (such Comix Revolution, Secret Headquarters, Rocketship), why do art comics sales suck worse than they used to?
Sadly, art comics sales suck because most buyers spend what money they have on all those ultra high priced hardcovers from the big boys.
I suppose it's not fair to answer a question with a question, but I have to ask: do we know that "art comics' sales are down? It's easy to say that DM sales of pamphlet-format art comics are down, or to hear from a given smaller publisher, but we have to weigh that against sales of Persepolis or Flight. Extrapolating from Diamond figures overlooks the fact that many of the full-range or "art"-oriented shops like the ones you cite rely on other sources for much of their art comics stock.
More competition? Isn't it the golden age of comics publishing? There seems to be a greater number of things being published now days. Maybe the percentage of things being published has pulled ahead of the percentage of art comics readers.
In my store, we're selling more art comics overall than we used to. However, there are a couple of major differences between sales now and say, ten years ago:
1. Most of our sales on this material is in book-format, as opposed to
2. There's a lot of stuff coming out right now, so while sales are up overall, I'd say individual unit sales are down on low- and mid- range sellers because there's an awful lot to choose from, and folks do have a limit on what they'll spend.
You mean art comics sales through DM comics stores, right? I haven't been to a comic store this century (Mandarake doesn't count, and believe me, it can cause far deeper, more lasting trauma to random passersby than any DM store). There are no longer regular series that hold my interest, so bookstores & mailorder work much better for me.
Oh, wait, I went to a store while killing time in NYC, but went back out after verifying the nonexistence of Ponent Mon/Fanfare's "Doing Time."
Can you define terms a little better? Are combined art comics sales lower than they have been in the past? Or are the total number of art comics about the
same, but spread out across different titles? What exactly are you counting as an art comic?
ps. My guess is that with more art titles available people are spreading their money around. Second, I'd say art comics were, in the past, the only alternative to superheroes and now there are several alternatives (including manga, web comics, and stuff that might not fit into whatever your definition of Art Comic is?)
This is really short and surface because I'm swamped (and sick as a dog)
It is my belief that the decrease in frequency of publication (and near-elimination of periodicals, in favor of "books") of art comics means there are fewer "magnets" to pull the "art comics only" customer into the stores in the first place, on a regular basis.
I discussed this in last month's TILTING AT WONDMILLS -- http://www.newsarama.com/Tilting2_0/Tilting48.html
There was a whole class of customers who used to come in every few weeks, because there used to be something published "for them" every couple of weeks. That pretty much isn't the case any longer, so those customers are only coming in every few months (or once or twice a year)
Further, looking at the BookScan numbers (they'll be in my Tilting in a week or two -- I'm writing the analysis now) it appears to me that, outside of a very few high-profile items, the bookstores aren't even carrying "art comics" in the first place.
Just one quick example: looking at FBI books that had most of the year to sell, I see Jason's THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, released in February, sold a total of 522 copies through Bookstores (and Amazon, Powells.com, B&N.com, etc.!) -- that's with something on the order of 7500 BookScan-reporting outlets (and Amazon!). That's 1 sale per about 15 venues, which would seem to suggest that most bookstores never even racked a single copy.
(Meanwhile my one single, medium-volume DM store sold 13 copies since release, or nearly 2.5% of the total in Bookstores [and Amazon!])
PS: not directly related but an interesting factoid for you to mullâ€¦ the growth in BookScan year-over-year was about 2%; The growth in Diamond's reported book sales? 18%
As a retailer, I'm more likely to promote things I'm a fan of, and I am only now sliding sideways into an appreciation of art comics. I just got a big box of stuff from Picturebox yesterday, which to me is exciting; but to many "regular" comics customers, most retailers, and myself a few weeks ago, these books would be inscrutable. Even for me, as a longtime reader of "indie" books, RAW, etc., this relatively new genre of comics-as-art--and I'm referring specifically to things like Maggots, Ninja, et al -- has been difficult to jump into. I can only imagine it's even harder for most comics retailers, a famously recalcitrant bunch. Baby steps, baby steps...
J. Chris Campbell
Technology has made everyone a publisher, giving us an over saturation of "art comics" of an unbelievable variety. Making it an incredibly difficult task for stores to offer one of everything.
The percentage of comic readers who like super hero books and "art books" isn't that big. But larger cities would be able to sustain shops that catered to that niche market. I'd be interested in seeing what the area population numbers look like for those elite stores who are able to support themselves on "art comics."
I can only speak for myself:
- I see so much stuff online. It's no longer a special occasion to come across some wild looking art comic. There are so many artists blogs, online shops, cool art sites, etc.
- The "art" in a lot of art comics is too similar. I'm using the term "art comics" in the context of that nebulous post-Fort Thunder/Kramers Ergot thing, mind you. It's becoming a kind of party (as in political parties); Very similar sensibilities and concerns. Not exactly diverse or unexpected.
- Because of the ubiquity of this kind of material, and easier access to it via online shops, I tend to wait for something truly unique to pop up -- New Engineering, for example. Another Mat Thurber comic, or minis full of weird creatures rendered in cool ways, like, doing stuff ? -- Not so much. I do this instead of the grab-bag approach I used to employ in retail shops where I'd pick up anything under $5 that looked relatively "arty."
- Low standards. I'll catch grief for this, I'm sure. Maybe I should say that standards have not risen in proportion to volume; very little rises to the top, so to speak. It's a catch 22 with art comics; the interest comes ( for me) from the distinct vision of creators, but part of the deal seems to come from this 'natural' approach, were creators just kinda do what they do and look upon editorial or commercial concerns with skepticism. Some appreciation for questions like "Is this something I'd be excited about buying?" should come into play. A silk-screened mini is no longer a rare object. In fact, I'd trade 20 of them for a collection of the best material from the best of those in magazine form ( my wish-list here, I realize). This is where an editor would come into play.
It's time the art comics crowd accepted the fact that they're selling stuff in the marketplace and doing that well is the best thing for the artform.
Also a short missive, as I am rushing to get ready for a business trip.
In addition to Brian's reasoned arguments, and it was very nice of him to save me some typing, As an example take L&Râ€™s switch to an annual format, thatâ€™s three less visits to the store where other quality books may well be discovered.
Age of readership is also a factor as the folk who had developed the habit of frequent visits to a good comic store left college, found careers, got married, and perhaps moved to the suburbs, they lost time to spend and in many case easy access to their favorite comics. Also for such folk, book format probably works better in a more crowded schedule.
But that can lead to a narrowing in choices and certainly adds to the difficulty of discovering that new work that will bring you back, well it used to be next month, and now is often next quarter.
Now there are still event books being released, but Adrian, Chris, and Dan can't carry the whole load. And I do believe we need more frequent rewards for folks looking to sample some new comics, though the new crop of anthologies does give me hope in that regard.
It seems to me that the audience for 'art comics' is more interested in buying a lasting product, and therefore more likely to want a hardcover or a collection. Now that most stuff published as pamphlets eventually comes out as a collection anyway, people either wait for the collection or don't even pay attention to things coming out as pamphlets. I think this has something to do with art comics receiving more literary/artistic esteem in general. These are items people want to have, and to own for a long time, in a form that can take some abuse -- when I read a good graphic novel, I want to feel OK loaning out to a friend, knowing that I'll get it back in decent shape. Let's not underestimate the collector mentality that tells people not to loan out, or let anyone touch, a pamphlet. That carries over to the art comics world as well, whether anyone admits it or not.
Being someone who works in a store that sells art comics and attempts to make and push their own art comics you'd think I'd have some insight... I don't. I do have personal experience (as previously mentioned) and can contest that selling art comics, your own or other peoples, is really hard. Convincing someone that they should spend time on the new, women-rific anthology Sexy Chix, which is amazing, instead of buying nothing but Marvel and DC books is harder than chewing off your own arm. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Marvel and DC books, but having said that there is nothing wrong with art books either... so why don't the majority of customers who come into the store I work think otherwise? What the hell is it that makes it so hard to push even established artists like Adrian Tomine on to a customer who normally only buys Superman, Batman and Teen Titans? I don't wonder why people don't buy art books, I wonder why a good amount of people avoid them at all costs. I apologize for the fact that I didn't actually answer any questions... though I hope my failed answer can lead to a besterer one.
I'm answering your question from yesterday just to waste everybody's time.
Gotta go with Brian Hibbs on this one; used to be I could go into the shop every two or three weeks and there would be something new and cool from Fantagraphics, from Drawn & Quarterly, from Slave Labor, from any number of indie publishers who were putting out regular books that were kooky and fun. Slowly the number of titles started to dwindle and eventually I found myself buying more 30 year old Archies and Harveys than whatever Fanta was putting out.
Plus, let's not forget that sometime in early 2000 people got really serious and instead of HATE or DORK we were handed some artsy scribbly thing with full-color artsy scribbles that apparently I'm supposed to drop $30 on.
There's a whole slew of artists who have vanished from the comic book racks - where's Jim Woodring? Mark Martin's back but for how long? Where's Carol Tyler? Where's Krystine Kryttre or however her name is spelled? What happened to Dennis Eichorn and his ability to round up legions of talented cartoonists to illustrate his crazy life? What the fuck happened to Pete Sickman-Garner? Where is Sam Henderson? Is Lloyd Dangle so busy knocking out a weekly strip that he can't do a comic story every once in a while? Where's Paul Mavrides when we need him? Is Diane Noomin even still drawing? Colin Upton can't get anybody to publish him? Ivan Brunetti is too busy editing? What happened to you, indy comics? You USED to be cool.
Bookstore sales are all well and good, but what alt-comics needs is a new WEIRDO, a new BUZZARD, a new HYENA -- now THAT was a great comic! -- that comes out like clockwork, doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and features fun comics for adults that might like to read something that isn't manga or Chris Ware. Glenn Head can't do this alone, guys. Patrick Dean is only one man. If we let things continue we'll never have comics by people who get laid and smoke dope every once in awhile -- it'll all be webcomics by basement-dwelling trolls obsessed with Nintendo games whose idea of edgy fun is humiliating furries or cosplayers.
Possibly reiterating some of the points being made before and writing this from South Mars, anyhow, but:
a) Can't blame the retailers. The imperial stormtroopers combined with Al-Qaeda couldn't make your average customer buy a book he's not interested in. So the retailer's job is to push what already sells and hope that it will cover the loss on the books that don't. It's noteworthy if a retailer is an enthusiast and gives a push to the titles she likes but let's not expect miracles here.
b) Alt comics do not exist anymore. The alternative has been co-opted and is just one more genre with a pre-set audience and with a limited appeal to a casual reader. Just as you need to speak in capes to understand superhero comics so you need a certain mindset for an alt-comics to attract you. In my case, I'm getting to old to care about angst of the young without the added incentive of - oh, I dunno - competent art? Exceptions to the genre rule are possible here as with the supes: a comic-book so gorgeous that it will attract indiscriminatively across all the boards. But how often do you see something like this? Once in five years?
Clarifications on Objections to Actions Against Cartoonists’ Caricatures in Turkey
This article appearing on Bianet provides a clearer picture as to the actions against two cartoonists in Turkey, Musa Kart and Zafer Temocin, and includes a great deal of context about free press struggles in Turkey generally. These were cartoons that appeared in late November of last year, which I'm not sure I knew before. Also, there's a difference in kind between this action and earlier ones, including some involving Musa Kart. Despite previous controversies being aimed at another office holder who pursued civil action in the courts, these cartoons were critical of Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul and the Ministry of Justice pursued preliminary action. One thing that seems roughly the same is that there's a considerable amount of international pressure on Turkey to comply to a Western standard of tolerance for the press in order to better cement desired relationship between those countries and Turkey.
The artist Robert Testu who began his artistic career as a painter before becoming a cartoonist, passed away on Friday at the age of 94, according to a post at the French site Pure People. Among his clients were such major, mainstream publications as Paris Match, Le Figaro and Ici Paris. Two collections of his work were published through Glenat: La Vie est belle (Life is Beautiful), and La vie a deux (Life Together).
* the Ottawa Citizenweighs in on Ezra Levant's appearance before an Alberta human rights commission for re-publishing the cartoons in the new defunct Western Standard and the resulting controversy.
* one of the more significant outcomes of the Danish Cartoons Controversy is how officials in London efficiently and rigorously used the protests to help identify and pursue action against individuals believed to be involved in potential criminal activity in general, in this case the search of living spaces by those appearing in some protests.
* this review claims that the Danish Cartoons provided such a clear and weighty perspective on the idea that what is funny to one person might be offensive to another that it obviates the need for thing "dire exercise in curatorial self-indulgence." That's a killer phrase, by the way.
* several participants at a Civil Society Organizations conference in Yemen refused the support of the Danish Institute for Human Rights because of the 2005 Muhammed caricatures and resulting firestorm.
* two Indian Muslim organizations have condemned the recent decision by Danish national archivists to collect the original cartoons for posterity.
Jeff Smith Begins Series of Guest Essays on ‘90 Self-Publishing Movement
Jeff Smith announces that he will be hosting a series of guest essays on the self-publishing movement of the 1990s. Self-publishing in comic books was made possible by the Direct Market the same way that boutique publishing was made possible -- without returns, a creator could publish his own material without having to risk returns. This was further encouraged by a general comics press that focused on personalities and expressions of a creator's personality in a comic book tailored to that artist, in part I think due to a rejection of mainstream comics values of the '70s and '80s. During the 1990s, with Dave Sim's continuing success on Cerebus and Jeff Smith's then new-found success with Bone acting as kind of twin lights, a number of creators put out enough self-published that it could be seen for a time as a cohesive movement within comics.
An analysis of this time could be interesting for its own self -- the criticism of even smaller publishers with solid reputations like Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly as exploitative simply because they were publishers was a heated flashpoint, for instance -- but also in discussing the market conditions and other factors that contributed to it not lasting, at least at that level of exposure and general interest. I remember there was one time for the sake of some snark at The Comics Journal I was able to rattle off like 15 prominent self-publishers who had moved into other arrangements in the space of a year. It's also important in that self-publishing hasn't gone away. Jeff Smith, Dave Sim and Terry Moore will all be self-publishing various projects this year, and there are still folks around like Batton Lash of Supernatural Law. On the whole, I think the option to self-publish and a chance to have a book catch on in the marketplace is a great sign of a certain kind of market health. So I'll be reading the series, and will link to the essays of interest here. Sounds like fun.
I took that drawing from Dave Sim's site and will take it down if that's not cool.
* here's one to bookmark: a primer on comics legal issues, focused on copyright/ownership and the current Superman lawsuit scheduled for trial in May.
* this isn't permalinked, but Jim Kingman has an article up on remembering the KISS comic books and KISS music in general. The point about certain kinds of music to which you listened while reading certain comics bringing back memories of those comics is something a lot of comics readers have in common, I think. Plus it gives me an excuse to run a thumbnail of their Marvel Super Special comic, featuring one of the top ten all-time tag lines (in yellow): "printed in real KISS blood."
* if I'm following this correctly, Media-Participations, the company that owns the companies Dargaud, Dupuis, Le Lombard, and Kana, has apparently sued an on-line journalistic start-up called Mediapart for the obvious reason: its name. I couldn't judge the merits of this dispute if it were taking place in Des Moines, let alone France, but I thought it was worth noting.
* this is the kind of thing that may only interest me, but I was looking at the Wizard web site just now, and their first comics-related story is the 13th story down.
* speaking of Wizard, their former Online Editor/Content Manager/undeserving staff purge victim Rick Marshall has landed at ComicMix. I think this was sent out in a press release I didn't get.
* the cartoonist and writer Mike Lynch notes that nominations for the National Cartoonist Society's divisional awards is now open, and open to everyone in terms of submitting their own work or someone else's. These are sometime called the Reuben divisional awards after the ceremony's big honor, open only to NCS members.
* this interview basically functions as a kind of Michael Leunig 101, if you're unfamiliar with the cartoonist. Also, it's hilarious to me that there's actually an honor in Australia that names people national treasures.
I almost automatically enjoy little homemade books like the first issue of Moulgar Bag Digest but I only have to cast my eyes a little bit to one side or the other to rattle against the publication's limitations. A collaborative effort by Rusty Jordan and Brent Harada, artists and it looks like occasional cartoonists in their 20s, Moulgar Bag Digest features the almost required oddly-textured creatures acting out towards their space and one another in almost rigidly fundamental ways -- a little bit of Mat Brinkman, a little bit of painterly reference, a little bit of Mumenschantz.
While the cover is probably the most impressive piece of illustration (it's off-register on purpose, not because of my scan), my favorite picture is the one below, with the two different creatures interacting with one another in a way that draws attention to the thin lines which make up their respective surfaces. I think for most people, however, this is going to be a case of a kind of work one's seen before, used to a more rigorous effect. I should say the scans here don't do total justice to the crisp Xeroxing/printing, and there's enough visual accomplishment on display that if you like this sort of work as a general rule, you'll want one for your own. But in all honest? This is the sort of modestly aimed effort that one look at the art tells you everything you need to know.
Gus Arriola, the enormously well-respected cartoonist behind the long-running Gordo and by virtue of his own ethnic background and the Mexican setting of his strip one of the 20th Century's leading lights of Hispanic culture, passed away on Saturday at his home in Carmel, California after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 90 years old.
Arriola was born in Florence, Arizona, approximately two hours from the Mexican-American border. His father had been born in Mexico and imparted knowledge of that country's culture to his nine children. The Arriolas moved to Los Angeles when their youngest child was eight years old, which gave a teenaged Arriola access to the Mintz and MGM animation studios where he learned and applied his craft.
Arriola sold Gordo to United Features in 1941, converting an existing cartoon bandit design into the bean farming, not-so-bright protagonist. Several of the obituaries mention that Arriola slimmed Gordo up, changed his accent and became somewhat smarter in part due to criticism about the potential stereotypical nature of the character. At its height, Gordo was in 220 newspapers, making it a solid performer but never a hit. In the early 1960s, Arriola changed the strip from a story strip into more of a gag feature, started to place an even greater emphasis on Mexican and Mexican-American culture than before, and began to create done-in-one Sundays with impressive design qualities. It is that two- to three-decade run by which Arriola made his reputation not only with a general readership lucky enough to have Gordo in their papers but with comics fans and fellow professionals.
Cartoonists generally would agree with Malcolm Whyte, founder of the San Francisco Museum of Comic Art, who just yesterday told Wyatt Buchanan at the San Francisco Chronicle that "Arriola's Sunday strips were a tour de force of rich, vibrant color, lovely line work and dazzling artwork -- stunning pieces of art." And all of that is true. But what is seldom realized is how gifted a storyteller Arriola was.
Most of his reputation rests on the "design quality" of the strip since about 1960. About then, Gus stopped telling stories from day-to-day and would go for weeks supplying a gag-a-day. That's what most people remember. He ran continuities occasionally, interrupting the daily jokes, but before 1960, the strip was a thorough-going storytelling strip, week after week, month after month, year after year; and Arriola's plots were stunningly complex, tiny details contributing to their tangled skeins. And many of the details were entirely pictorial, little insights into personality conveyed with body language, say.
That admiration for Arriola's work is shared even by today's cartoonists, decades after Gordo ended. Mark Tatulli of Lio told CR on Arriola's passing, "A sad day for cartoonist's everywhere. A unique voice and a great pen has been silenced." He added "I remember seeing a Gus Arriola original Sunday strip. Huge by today's standards. Lots of detail and beautiful illustration... more like a painting than a comic strip... but I was struck most by there was not one single mistake on the whole page. Nothing patched with bits of paper or white cover-up. Amazing. I remember thinking, 'Now here's a cartoonist with confidence.' Would that I could have that kind of confidence."
Gordo continued until 1985 when in the traditional ending for a comedy there was a marriage between Gordo and housekeeper Tehauna Mama. Like many long-running strip, Gordo was informed by elements of its creator's life, which found particular voice in the lead character. This may have been most noticeable in the relationship between Gordo and nephew Pepito, which the San Francisco Chronicle obituary I think rightly points could be compared to Arriola's relationship with his son, Carlin. After Carlin died in 1980, Pepito's last appearance was in the final cartoon as a tape recorded voice.
Harvey says that Arriola spent much of his time retirement drawing for local charities and was social with cartoonist friends in the area like the late Hank Ketcham and the late Eldon Dedini. He also participated in securing his own legacy. Arriola assembled books of Gordo strips, two of which were published. The publication of Accidental Ambassador also threw a spotlight on the cartoonist's accomplishments. "We became good friends," Harvey told CR. I sent him copies of my bi-weekly website effusions and phoned him every couple months. And I always stopped in Carmel for a day to visit him and his wife Frances on my way back from the San Diego Comic-Con every summer. Much to my surprise, my book brought him a certain recognition that had somehow passed him by until then -- or so I judge from comments he made, expressing delight and appreciation at not being entirely forgotten. And I think he felt my book revived people's memories."
No matter if people came to Gordo for the first time or in a subsequent visit to a feature carried by a local paper in their circle of influence, what many fans saw is a well-designed, sturdy and amusing strip with frequently stunning Sundays on a level with very few in the second half of the 20th Century, and unmatched in their versatility. One such person who came late to Arriola's work was the cartoonist and comics commentator Mike Lynch, who immediately saw their value. "The cartoonist had a wonderful command of design, and light and dark. A gentle wit, a true cartoonist, a guy who made it all look easy." Scott Saavedra recalls the cartoonist having an almost regal bearing, but "swung a brush like nobody's business." In analyzing a few of Arriola's Sundays, the cartoonist Brian Fies remembers, "The strip had swell characters and an easy-going charm, but what really caught my eye was the way Mr. Arriola played with the language and iconography of comics in ways I'd never seen before. His use of graphics was masterful."
It's my memory that in recent years work by Arriola also began to be included in comics art shows, which would surely add to his legacy. In 2006 UC-Berkeley's Bancroft Library acquired the Gordo collection from the cartoonist. A reception honoring the collection is still scheduled for March, although without the cartoonist in attendance.
Says Harvey: "I'll miss the sound of his voice on the phone (we're both hard-of-hearing, so we shouted at each other a lot), his wit, his appreciation of artistry in cartooning -- in Dedini, in Ketcham -- and elsewhere -- in the illustrations of another friend, Al Parker. In writing my book about Milton Caniff, I "lived" closer to Caniff than I did to Gus: I phoned Caniff more often with questions and so forth. But I'll miss Gus more."
Gus Arriola is survived by a wife of 65 years, Mary Frances, at his side as he passed away.
It's my understanding from multiple sources that the editor and sometimes comics writer Bob Callahan passed away in San Francisco last week, although I'm unable to confirm with an official obituary from the likely regional sources or via a national search engine, which provides at least some element of doubt. A few friends have begun to eulogize him on-line, however, which I suppose makes it an interesting story if it turns out not to be true. As a writer and editor, Callahan was an important figure in a few key expressions of comics over the last two decades: the emergence and recognition of alternative comics, the continuing work of underground comix artists into a fourth and fifth decade, prose book publisher's relationships to comics, and, perhaps most surprisingly, webcomics.
Callahan was a looming figure in Bay Area prose and poetry during the 1970s and 1980s in particular, co-founding the Turtle Island Foundation and the Before Columbus Foundation. He edited a number of pieces on Irish-American culture, most notably The Big Book of Irish American Culture, and published a periodical called Callahan's Irish Quarterly. He was at least recently an adjunct professor in humanities and director of the New College Press at San Francisco's New College of California. He is survived by his wife Eileen.
* this article at the Wall Street Journal about a pair of fantasy graphic novel project perhaps being positioned as next books for readers of the Harry Potter series, Bone and Amulet, contains a bit of news that I don't think I've seen before: that Scholastic's version of the Bone books have a cumulative two million sales thus far. I remember writing a brief when they crossed one million, but I don't think I'd seen the two million figure yet. That's pretty amazing, and relatively quietly done.
* Dan Clowes' serial in the New York Times seems to be rocketing towards a conclusion. I'm enjoying it so far. Free comics is a great thing.
* the BEA blog's Lance Fensterman replies to Neil Kleid's complaint that the New York Comic-Con was being held during Passover this year by apologizing but stating that those were the only dates at the Javitz Center available to the con. I found it to be a measured, polite response. He also lets slip that NYCC 2009 will be in February again as opposed to this year's more attractive except for the Passover thing April, which makes me glad to be going this year.
* it looks like Chris Onstad has a publisher for a book collecting the excellent "Great Outdoor Fight" storyline from Achewood. According to his "Achewood Winter 2008 Town Newsletter":
In other news, we're having a busy little winter. Ray almost ran for President, and Nice Pete has started work on his third novella, A Marvelous Romance, due out this spring. Oh, and we're in the final stages of signing a contract to have The Great Outdoor Fight printed by a major publisher. Ninety-six pages, hardcover, with loads of new material. Details as they become official."
That was a really good sequence, and deserves as big an audience as it can muster. (thanks, Gil)
* not comics: the Seattle Timeshas a brief note on Fantagraphics' first prose fiction novel, Laura Warholic or, The Sexual Intellectual.
* here's a marketing publication's analysis of Marvel's on-line subscription initiative.
* publisher AdHouse Books has announced a hardcover collecting Josh Cotter's series Skyscrapers of the Midwest, which in comic book form sold a lot fewer copies than it deserved to. It will be 288 pages long for $19.95 and will be available this summer.
* those of you enamored with information about the graphic novel's place in the world of children's literature will find the subject dropped more than once into this conversation with Jon Scieszka.
* there's no permalink that I can find, but here's a lengthy interview with Evan Skolnick here that seems a bit wonkier than most interviews, such as how Skolnick watched the various styles on display at Marvel editorial to develop his own method of editing, or how writer turn in their version of a script even after agreeing with an editor on the phone to change things.
* both Heidi MacDonald and Dirk Deppey spend some time with a sort-of superhero publishing story whereby there has been launched into the market a much asked-after and protested-for in-story tribute to a female character named Stephanie Brown that died while fulfilling the role of Robin in one of the Batman books. I find it creepy that Batman would keep any costumes of dead partners around under glass (I hope to god Jerry Lewis doesn't do this), but I'm not really invested in that whole world so it's difficult for me to pass judgment on someone for whom this is a really important thing, or the storytelling implications of same.
I mention it here because there's all sorts of interesting geek culture grist for the mill in such a story if you want to start punching through the links, everything from the framing of the fans' demand for such a plot point as a feminist issue to how comic books can be shackled by extended plots that don't otherwise make a ripple in such characters' convoluted histories. I would probably stop short of using it as a springboard to make a criticism of the mainstream companies' collective inability to gain and keep a certain kind of audience, but that's mostly because I don't care if these companies maximize their sales and cultural reach or not.
CR Sunday Interview: Bernie Mireault… Interviewed by Bernie Mireault
I've received several interviews where a publicity person -- or the artist themselves playing a publicity person -- had prepared the text beforehand. The frustration comes not in reading such pieces but in how adamantly many of those people refuse to be convinced I don't want the result. Bernie Mireault's self-interview, which you'll find below, was a slightly different case in that 1) he sent it with no expectation I'd actually use the thing, 2) I'm interested in Bernie Mireault generally, and 3) it's not half-bad. Throw in the fact that I could decorate it with Bernie Mireault art, and I was happy to post it.
Bernie Mireault is a cartoonist's cartoonist, working a variety of projects over three different decades since entering into comics consciousness with his 1985 series Mackenzie Queen. He is probably best known for The Jam, the best work in the superhero tradition marked by the stripped-down heroics and inner nobility of The Spirit produced by the indy comics generation. Mireault is a first-rate color artist and an all-around, fine cartoonist. I suspect that after we die all of us that were in comics at any time in the last twenty-three years will have to answer for his not being a bigger star.
So. Please nobody try this again, but here's Bernie and Bernie. -- Tom Spurgeon
An Interview With Bernie Mireault
By Bernie Mireault
This interview was conducted by Bernie Mireault with himself on the first day of January, 2008. Montreal, Quebec, Canada is in the process of receiving another two feet of snow and pedestrians have been sighted wearing cross-country skis.
Bernard Edward Mireault signs his work with a distinctive "BEM" monogram and has been writing and drawing comic since around 1978. His work reflects the unique blend of North American superhero, American Underground, Japanese and European comic art influences available within the Montreal comic art environment and ever-increasingly throughout the world.
Click on "biblio" for a laboriously compiled work history, which we will spare you here.
The innovative qualities of his work have earned him a small cult following among comic art enthusiasts, some of them being his fellow cartoonists. It is in gratitude to those that are interested that he makes the effort here to document what's going on for him at the moment.
We join him now in his tiny, smoke-filled back-room studio.
INTERVIEWER: Happy New Year!
MIREAULT: Thanks! Back to work.
INTERVIEWER: What are you working on?
MIREAULT: I've got a lot of things going. First of all, way back in 2003 I received a Canada Council grant to make a graphic novel, and I'm still working on it and trying to get it finished! It's called To Get Her and features Gordie and Janet, the main characters from The Jam, my chief narrative to date, chronicling the adventures of a low-rent version of a superhero with no superpowers complete with puzzled girlfriend and dog, in a "dystopian romantic comedy" to be about 150 pages long. I'm at pg. 102 right now and have to squeeze the work in between rent-paying jobs. This work has no publisher yet and is being represented by Kitchen, Lind & Assoc. LLC. Their web site is at www.kitchenandlind.com.
One of those current rent-paying jobs I referred to is a newspaper-style strip featured on a web site dedicated to the ribald computer-animated Sci-Fi comedy, Tripping the Rift -- check it out on the Space Channel in North America or SIC Radical in Portugal -- produced right here in Montreal by Cinegroupe Animation, with a little bit of help from China. I've been contracted to produce 52 strips for them to feature on their web site weekly and have just completed # 26. Halfway done! Check it out at www.trippingtherift.tv. Click on comics/graphic novel.
It's been fun to work on. The print sizes of some of those strips are over six feet long and they'd make good scrolls. Notice I use feet, not meters -- or metres, as they say around here. No metric stuff for this guy, though! I grew up on feet.
INTERVIEWER: Hahaha. you --
MIREAULT: Wait, wait! I'm not finished yet and I don't want to forget what it was I was going to say! Going off on tangents and never returning to the original thread is a big problem for me in live interviews and one of the main things that I was trying to head-off here by interviewing myself in written form. So much for that! I can't even control my writing. Oh well, at least I'll own the interview rather than someone else.
Okay, that was our first and last digression.
Back to the original thread: What I'm working on these days...
Another big job I'm doing simultaneously along with Tripping the Rift has been the design and illustration of a 120-page book for young readers about the history of aboriginal land claims in Canada, titled Your Home on Native Land, written by Alan Skeoch and to be published by Jack Fruit Press, out of Ontario, in Canada. I've incorporated some basic comic art elements into the overall design of the book: profuse illustrations and the use of word balloon tails. Hopefully the result will be a friendly-looking, easy-to-read primer on the very worthy topic of aboriginal land claims and their history, to be published in Summer '08.
Last year around this time, I illustrated a book for the same company in their "Canadian Prime Ministers: Warts and All" series, on Canada's 8th Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, and it's just been published. I'm finding that I enjoy doing this kind of historical-type stuff and hope to do more in the future.
What else? I've worked with local Montreal film producer Ari Cohen and his company Rotating Planet on developing an adult 2D animated series for television called SpaceHeads. Working with local Montreal fine artist/musician/radio personality/cartoonist Howard Chackowicz on character designs and with Cohen himself, a bible for the series was created. The project is shelved for now, but who knows? I liked it.
I can do animation using Flash and get odd jobs in that department occasionally. One relatively recent job was to create a series of short animated "bumpers" -- little vignettes leading in and out of commercial breaks -- for an aboriginal version of the TV show Pimp my Ride, called Rez Rides, by Beesum Communications here in Montreal. It was broadcast on APTN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, last year. On that job I helped animate the designs of another Montreal cartoonist, Jesse Bochner.
I also do illustrations for John O'Neill's Black Gate magazine several times a year. It's the reincarnation of a pulp magazine from the days of yore, published out of Illinois in the USA, and a lot of fun. I love reading through the short genre stories it features and look forward to doing more illustrations there.
Sometimes I color other people's comic art. The two jobs I've had there lately have been for MR.Comics, a new Canadian publisher. I colored issues #1-4 of the six-issue Revolution on the Planet of the Apes series they put out last year and I colored the lead story in an upcoming issue of Hover Boy, a great political/superhero satire. Hopefully MR.Comics will grow into a permanent fixture in the Canadian comic art publishing environment, which desperately needs settlers.
I'll get the occasional commission via the internet and I'll sell the occasional piece of art that way as well but I still have pretty much everything I've done over the years. Scanning and backing up everything was/is a huge project.
I also have a band called Bug-Eyed Monster. Fellow Montreal cartoonist Howard Chackowicz plays drums, Andre Asselin plays bass, Chris Burns will sometimes lend a hand with guitar and I sing and play guitar. Mostly original music written by me. I've got around 30 of them. Never much more than three minutes long as a rule, with some clocking in at under two minutes. Rock ditties. Howard and Andre both play together as the rhythm section in two prominent local Montreal bands: The American Devices and Nut Sak, Chris Burns also plays in Nut Sak and many other bands besides. It's a great deal of fun playing with these guys and I hope to have some decent recordings soon.
Thatâ€™s pretty much what I've been up to lately, unless you want to talk about the various challenges involved in family life with two older teenage boys, Isaac and Eli, and my lovely partner and fellow artist, Kathryn Delaney.
You know... All this talking. It's thirsty work.
INTERVIEWER: Would you like me to get you something to drink?
MIREAULT: A six-pack of St. Ambroise Pale Ale would be lovely. Made right here in the city. Flush out the pipes and grease the wheels. Pip pip, toot toot!
a bit of muzak. Listen... Wow! It's a robot version of the theme music from the old TV show, Love Boat! Sounds like a hundred different doorbells playing in sequence. Interesting in a post-modern, ironic kind of way.
INTERVIEWER: Here you go. I hope you appreciate them. I was almost flattened by a cross-country skier getting them back here in one piece.
MIREAULT: I know, they're crazy. Thanks! I am now ready for the next question.
INTERVIEWER: You've been a cartoonist for around 25 years now and you've yet to have any commercial breakthrough whatsoever. What keeps you going?
MIREAULT: Obviously I just love to make comic art. Something about the combination of words and drawings put together just seems like great fun to me. I'm a storyteller and I think that comic art is the best tool in the toolbox. As far as making money goes, I come from a lower-middle class family here in Quebec. What's down for you may well be up for me. The economy here has been screwed as long as I've known it due to a bizarre, medieval-like political environment. The current government has pretty much outlawed the use of English in business and I feel that it limits development within that community, to say the least.
Now, I'm French myself, though I was raised as an Anglophone, but I find it impossible to identify with these people -- admittedly, only a very small, very vocal minority -- who cry oppression while trying to tell the people what language to speak, when and where. If we have to pick a language then I think we should all be speaking Mohawk! They say they do it because they wish to preserve their particular culture, while Quebec's aboriginal people, the people whose land we all live on, are not even considered in the equation. It's an embarrassing mess that needs to be resolved asap before we can even call ourselves civilized, but there's no solution to be had as long as people continue to be selfish. And that's not a social behavior that's going to disappear overnight.
Personally, I believe that justice will continue to slowly evolve towards actual fairness and that eventually simple peer-pressure will keep us in line where it used to take police. As we work towards becoming better organized and better civilized, we'll solve problems like aboriginal land claims, housing and water and I believe Canada has a special role to play there. The eradication of world hunger will soon be technically possible and I believe that we can see this happen during our lifetimes if we all work towards it. Then, of course, things will go too far the other way and people will yearn for mayhem. Stupid humans!
Here's to us! To a good 2008 for the whole planet. To the whole Universe!
INTERVIEWER: Cheers. We don't know about space, but what's it like to be a cartoonist in Canada?
MIREAULT: In a way it's the same thing. Lots of emptiness. It would be nice to be able to work locally here in Montreal, or even simply for any Canadian comic book publisher on a regular basis but there are so few and they come and go, in some cases leaving behind a huge mess. The Tripping the Rift strip is local work and might see print sometime in the future but it's not certain how and where it would be published, or even if. Perhaps it will appear as a DVD "extra" somewhere. It's a work-for-hire project and owned by Cinegroupe.
There's Drawn and Quarterly, of course, one of the best comic book publishers in the world, located right here in this city, a few blocks away from my home. Over the years I've gotten to know Chris Oliveros and he's a great cartoonist, a fine gentleman and even more rarely, an ethical businessman. One of the good ones! As fate would have it, his tastes lie in other directions and my work can find no purchase there. Sometimes I might help with production stuff, but that's about it. You have to be philosophical about these things.
Eventually a Canadian cartoonist will be drawn to the United States or Europe to try and find work. However, working with the larger publishers is far more regimented; you usually have to follow a certain style and there are editors and unrealistic deadlines. These editors are often in charge of distributing the work and the process of approaching one can be very political. I've spent a great deal of time listening to work/horror stories and considered that particular environment and I have come to the conclusion that it's not for me. It's far more important to protect my inspiration, the odd quirk that makes doing this labor-intensive thing actually fun, than it is to work on [insert famous superhero character's name here.] and be paid a bit of money but told what to do every step of the way. I believe that would destroy my inspiration, which is all I've got and has made my life good up until now, money or no.
The money will come when I create something that people want and can mass-produce it myself. I'll figure it out eventually.
So I'd say that to be a cartoonist in Canada is good if you're doing it more for art's sake. There are certainly less distractions. Comic art publishing is in its infancy here and there's a lot of room in the field. You just have to learn to walk through a lot of snow.
INTERVIEWER: And watch out for the skiers! Tell us about your art training.
MIREAULT: Then I have to tell you about my life, because there was very little schooling involved. My schooling was pitiful. I was taught Math by English teachers and Geography by nuns. There was the odd good teacher but most were at best, simple disciplinarians and at worst, abusive despots. I'm sure there were the standard art classes, but zero stands out in my memory. The typical Air Force military base elementary school was meagerly staffed.
My father was a sergeant in the Canadian Air Force for a time and our family moved to a different base every three years. My dad is a Francophone from St. Come, Quebec. My mom is an Anglophone from Ontario. They were both military police when they met and got married. My sister and myself were born on a Canadian armed forces base in France in the early nineteen-sixties. We moved to Canada a couple of years later, where my two other sisters were born. We lived in St. Bruno and St. Hubert near Montreal, then went north to Val'Dor, Quebec. From there we moved to North Bay, Ontario.
My father retired from the forces after hitting the 20-year mark and took us to Rawdon, a small town nestled in the Quebec countryside about 60 miles northeast of Montreal. It was close to his hometown of St. Come -- notice the religious theme in the majority of place names in Quebec -- and he had family close by. He comes from a family of 12 children, typical of Quebec 70 years ago.
Once installed in Rawdon, My parents took up the operation of the local bus terminal /municipal beach restaurant and had the whole family working behind that counter throughout our teenage years, peeling potatoes, flipping burgers and selling bus tickets to friend and foe alike. Not that it wasn't delicious! I learned a keen appreciation for the Quebec French fry.
Moving so often had prevented me from putting any roots down and it was nice to finally live in a place for more than 3 years in a row. After about 8 years in Rawdon, I moved to the nearest city, Montreal, and here we are and have been for the last 27 years! I love Montreal.
The first activity I remember really enjoying was building WW I and II airplane models, which I believe taught me the rudiments of patience and which inspired the first drawings I can remember really sweating over. They were done trying to copy the profile and frontal view of each of the airplanes I built from the technical drawings usually found on the side of the box that the model had come in. I loved all that artwork and the precisely drawn technical illustrations of the assembly instructions. My favorite manufacturer at that time was the British company, Airfix. Very well made. Cheers.
I remember spending so much time up in my room building those things that my parents became concerned about why I wasn't running around outside with the rest of the kids. My dad questioned me about whether or not I was sniffing glue. I have never used glue as a narcotic and indeed would've thought it both moronic and physically dangerous to do so, but upon reflection I suppose that it might have been an element in my enjoyment.
In any case I tried to explain to my parents how it was far better for me in my room then outside, where everything was like Lord of the Flies and I was Piggy. I'd had to wear glasses since the age of eight and it was very difficult keeping them in one piece. I had hung out with my mom a lot up until then, no day-care for me, and she had imbued me with her pacifistic values, which are good and fair and I still hold, but which left me completely unprepared for the somewhat less agreeable reality I would soon find myself embroiled in beyond the doors of our home.
Lacking in any sort of harm myself beyond that borne of awkwardness or stupidity, my fellow kids were always quick to pick up on it and take advantage of it. Hierarchy among my peers seemed based on the possession of a tangible amount of aggression, and I had none. Girls among my peers would volunteer criticisms such as "too nice" and "creepy" when asked. The way I said "thank you" so often -- or even at all -- would drive my companions up a wall. I rationalized that it was just natural selection at work, knowing what I needed far better than I did myself and guiding me away from the successfully average towards things perhaps more profound than the fucking and fighting that seemed promised through any sort of social "success." I would follow that other path. The path of the nerd.
Classic cartoonist-making stuff: your social environment seems to reject you, so you find solace in a solitary hobby. You practice the hobby until it becomes a real skill and gives pleasure to do, and then you turn around and go back out there to try to make a living doing what you have come to love. Now that seemed like it would be a success far more worthy of the struggle. Making a living doing something you enjoy! Once the money was happening, all else would fall into place with alacrity.
But I wasn't there yet. I went from plastic models to wooden ones, building balsa wood kits of Spitfires, Messerschmidts and Sopwith Camels. I could never resist trying to get them to fly rubber-powered and they could never withstand the punishment. I gradually lost my interest in model building and finally got into social things. Partying, music and motorcycles became more important and a couple of years went by with no art being done at all. The occasional drawing for a girl, a mural on the wall of the gym in my high school.
We had always had comics at home, but no superhero stuff, only Mad magazine, Archie comics, Harvey comics, Disney comics, Peanuts; stuff deemed okay for kids. I read them and enjoyed them, but they never stirred me to make comic art.
It was at the age of 17 that I began to travel to Montreal for school and it was commuting back and forth from the city that caused me to discover superhero comics, having only them to pass the time on the bus. That's what did it. I read them and enjoyed the form but not most of the half-assed content, at least as it was being dished out by the North American mainstream publishers of the 1970s and '80s. For some reason I was sure that I could do it better. I resolved to become a comic artist and to try to make better use of the medium. That's when I began to draw a lot. That's really my art training, drawing as much as I can and even just spending time thinking about it. The hard part has always been maintaining the inspiration required to really work hard. That can be tricky.
I'm still in the middle of training and always will be. The main thing I'm trying to do these days is to preserve my inspiration via keeping the conduit between my conscious and subconscious mind as wide-open as possible and using the themes found there as the springboard for any work I do, providing as powerful a motivation as possible to actually spend those hundreds of work-hours often needed to complete any given project. It takes a lot of strength to get through a job. I find it helps a lot to be able to have the freedom to follow and see where your impulses lead. To have that amount of control provides a very satisfying work experience that I've become used to, spoiling me for the assembly line-type work to be had from mainstream publishers. I'll usually take whatever work the mainstream offers, but it's never regular and that suits me fine.
As an artist, I've always been dedicated to creating entertainment. I think comic art is the most potent form of low-tech communication there is and I seek to more successfully actualize that inherent power and use it to broadcast a persuasive, positive message. To try envisioning a peaceful society that respects the social contract; where we all agree not to harass each other so that we can all stop worrying about simple survival and get on with the business of building our civilization together, perhaps even surviving long enough as a species to eventually travel to other planets and meet other inhabitants of the universe, as advertised in our science fiction. To try and create interesting role models and better systems and hope that life will imitate art.
So it was superhero comics that got me drawing and I've learned by doing and looking at what others do. I've discovered the whole art world since then. I had gone to college for a year and a half in Montreal and taken some formal art classes for the first time, which I greatly enjoyed, but comic art was universally rejected by my professors as a worthy endeavor and money was tight, so school soon fell by the wayside as I went through different jobs to pay the rent, doing comic art at night when I could. It was during those days that I made my first graphic novel, Mackenzie Queen, and started work on The Jam.
Then, in 1979-80, I got my first art-related jobs, a real excuse to draw all the time. One of them was working as an assistant animator on the Heavy Metal movie. It was made in pieces all over the world but the Taarna sequence was made here in Montreal. That was the Moebius-style portion of the film, although in true Hollywood-style they decided to replace his character, Arzach, with a sword-wielding babe wearing a tiny metal bikini and an eye-patch. It was a great work environment, with artists from all over the world sharing their skills. And the pay was far better than I was used to. It was a very exciting time for me. That led to a string of jobs in the local animation business that phased out as I began to get more work doing comics. Some of the people behind the TV show Tripping the Rift I've known since the Heavy Metal days. Bernie Denk and Michel Lemire were animators at Heavy Metal, now Michel is the producer and B. Denk is the director of Tripping the Rift.
The other major job I got was working on Matt Wagner's Grendel series, issues #13-15. Matt Wagner lived in Montreal briefly while courting his soon-to-be wife and we shared a studio. There I learned a great respect for his drawing abilities and his creative energy. I worked on Grendel in various capacities for the next decade.
INTERVIEWER: So your art training was always of the "on the job" variety.
MIREAULT: Pretty much. And in that light I suppose that I've had hundreds of teachers, some of them very good indeed. School may be the best life but life is the best school. Gong.
INTERVIEWER: Who do you count as your major artistic influences?
MIREAULT: Other cartoonists. The work of Wally Wood was probably the first stuff that I really noticed as being well-executed. We only had kiddie comics at home when I was young, but my parents would buy Mad magazine every now and then. While the magazine itself didn't really thrill me all that much, occasionally they would include a reprinted version of one of the original comic-sized Kurtzman issues. It was there that I first took in Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman's "Superduperman." I was pretty young and it never occurred to me to seek out those other original issues but I sure enjoyed it when one would find its way into my hands. They were the funniest thing out there, and I've always loved funny.
I had previously discovered the Tin Tinseries -- written and drawn by Herge & co. -- in my elementary school library, greatly enjoying getting to read through the whole series with no gaps in the stories, as was never the case with North American comic books. The Adventures of Asterix, written and drawn by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, was another great series that really entertained me. I was aware of Spider-Man and Superman comics but I only ever got to read the occasional issue at a friend's house and saw no great appeal in collecting them carefully to eventually have an actual complete story. It made you feel like a donkey following a carrot dangling from a stick, luring you ever further down the road and eventually making you feel like an idiot. Though I was beginning to feel compelled by the work of Jack Kirby.
Then I got my hands on some Pilote magazines from France and discovered Moebius and a host of other European artists at about the same time that Heavy Metal magazine first started appearing. I saw Richard Corben's art for the first time. I've always been completely blown away by his work and he's another one of my absolute favorite storytellers. At this point I was 17-18 and rapidly awakening to the whole world of comic art that was out there. All the old strips from the beginning of the 20th century, Hugo Pratt, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby, Robert Crumb, Will Elder, Bernie Wrightson, Michael Golden, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Carl Barks, The HernandezBrothers, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, The entire E.C. crew; these people have all inspired me in a big way. There's so many more but it would be six months' work trying to remember and name them all. Sometimes it's about their visual style, sometimes it's about their subject matter or even simply an impressive rate of productivity. Matt Wagner and Michael Allred have both had a huge influence on me through our collaborations together. Over the last few years I've also done a lot of work with Max Douglas -- aka Salgood Sam -- and can feel his influence too.
Always it gives me energy to read a well-made comic book. These people charge me up and I have them to thank for my desire to make comic art in the first place. Then there's the whole other world of Japanese comics and animation! Lots of influences for me there, especially in the color department. Of course by now, 25 years in, there's also everyone I've ever associated with in this field. Fellow cartoonists, writers and comic art enthusiasts are usually more than willing to discuss technique and it all has an influence, whether conscious or subconscious. Many of my friends are cartoonists here in Montreal and we chew the fat about comic art all the time. I just listen and collect all the storytelling bits that I see and like and then try to assemble them all in one place, in my work. I don't feel like I'm creating anything new so much as simply voting for what I think works well and should be carried forward as a comic art storytelling convention. For example, I think the Japanese have been ingenious for -- among many other things -- their creation of numerous emotional symbols for use in their comic art; the oversize sweat-drop that symbolizes embarrassment, the stylized veins on the side of a character's forehead symbolizing anger. I think these really work and have long-since adopted their use myself.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of equipment do you use to make your comic art?
MIREAULT: These days everything I do is digital except the odd commission that I'll get through the internet asking for a custom-made piece. Working on paper is always fun and you don't forget how to do it just because you've been on a computer for the last decade. I find that experience with paper translates to digital and visa versa.
When I work on paper, I like to use a C-6 Speedball -- or something like it, with a small square tip -- pen nib. Originally I would use it only for lettering but I soon became enchanted with its line, using it for all major contours. It was no good for fine lines however, and I eventually settled on a permanent marker, The Pigma Micron .005, for making those. Paper was always an issue. The better the quality, the less bleeding the ink would do. Good Bristol board is expensive however, and due to financial constraints I found myself often working on the cheap stuff and having lots of problems. Eventually I started working on Vellum; the same stuff architects use to draw plans on. It really has the best surface for inking and its transparent qualities make it well suited for light-table work and tracing pencil art. It also makes a much more compact pile of art than three-ply Bristol board might, and so is easier to store.
I would always use a brush for different things, experimenting with it inspired by the beauty of Chinese calligraphy and the feathering of Bernie Wrightson and Charles Burns, but it was a maze that I would get lost in, spending hours on things that should've taken minutes, and I eventually just went with the pen nib, using a brush only to fill in blacks. When I was working on the original Heavy Metal movie, I spent a lot of time in the cel painting department and was soon coloring my own comics on cel, using leftover paint from the movie production, inspired by the coloring in Japanese animation. When I wasn't using cel paint, I liked to watercolor stuff using Dr. Martin dyes. Hardly lightfast, but beautifully clear colors! I once splurged on a 50 bottle set and they served me well for years.
Eventually computers trickled down to consumer level and I got one. Since then I've slowly come to depend on them as an unending source of the best paper, opaque ink, vivid colors and brushes I've ever had. Finally, a white-out that works! Finally, I don't have to go to the photocopy shop for paste up stuff all the time. It puts a lot of power into your hands. And it's an incredibly efficient storage system. And an art delivery system! All-in-all, a wonderful democratic advance to a cartoonist. Now everyone has the same tools and the playing field is more level.
Now when I draw, I'll open up either Photoshop or Flash, depending on the look I want and using a small Wacom tablet, do my drawing. I'm using more reference, thanks to Google Image search, and sometimes venture into the realm of collage. In the case of Tripping the Rift, an established property, I've been using a lot of reference provided by Cinegroupe Animation. The computer just makes it all possible.
INTERVIEWER: So you're pro-computer as far as art goes.
MIREAULT: Very much so.
INTERVIEWER: That pretty much wraps up the interview. Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
MIREAULT: Well, I was recently contacted by Oni comics and writer Joe Casey to work on a four-issue series called Romantic Unbound, to feature the relationships/adventures of Hercules in modern-day Los Angeles. That sounds fun and I hope it works out. I've always had a fondness for Greek mythology, ditto romance comics.
I have to finish my current jobs first, though.
I hope 2008 is a good one for everybody and that I'll see you in the funny papers.
* illustration from Mireault's site
* panel from a webcomic featuring The Jam
* page from the as-yet-unplaced Jam graphic novel
* panel from Tripping the Rift work
* illustration from Black Gate
* illustration featuring Mike Allred's Madman
* classic The Jam cover
* illustration of Frank Zappa
* another The Jam cover
* Hi-Hat webcomic
* Johnny Carson illustration
* Mackenzie Queen cover
* page from Grendel work
* Grendel illustration
* well-traveled illustration of Jack Kirby
* illustration from Mireault's site
* another panel from that The Jam webcomic
* Wonder Woman illustration
* fantasy illustration
On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Memorable Plot Lines From Comic Strips." Here are the results.
1. Charlie Brown gets a baseball-pattern rash on his head.
2. Calvin believes he brought a snowman to life... and it's evil.
3. Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs are impressed into service on a whaling ship.
4. Thompson is in trouble.
5. Farley dies.
1. Mr. O'Malley leaves Barnaby
2. Mr. Am
3. Plunder Island
4. There was a great Bloom County storyline that I followed daily as a teenager where Bill the Cat (I think) manufactured and distributed an illicit hair tonic; it was a brilliant satire of the War on Drugs. It really blew my mind as a 16-year-old (or so). I've never read it since, but would like to.
5. Maggie and Jiggs on vacation
1. Linus keeps forgetting to bring the eggshells to Miss Othmar's class.
2. Calvin greases up his hair, paints a face on his belly and gets his school picture taken.
3. Dick Tracy battles the Brow, who ends up getting his misshapen head stuck in his own spiked-clamp torture device, then finally dies impaled on a flag pole flying (what else?) old glory.
4. Matt Groening reprints his junior high journal in "Life in Hell." (Collected in the old "School is Hell" book)
5. The Garfield sequence where he might have died.
1. B.D. loses his helmet -- and his leg.
2. Tracer Bullet.
3. Rob heads to Canada to forget the Red Sox and to introduce Satchel to his parents.
4. Thor invents the wheel. And the brake. Kinda.
5. Duke as governor of Samoa... no, wait as Ambassador to China. Redskins' coach. Trying to rescue the Iranian hostages. Or the zombie storyline...
1. Frosty the Snowman, the Stoopid Jerk and Tuffy conspire to blow up the Rockerfella Mansion with snowballs packed with sticks of dynamite.
2. Boner and several members of the crew of his ark are so bored they have a contest to see which of them can become the filthiest slob.
3. Steve Canyon gets amnesia while undercover and is tricked into working for nazis. He sports a bald head, a big bushy blond beard, glassy blue eyes and a nazi tattoo on his back.
4. Marcie gets so fed up with the "male chauvinist pig" remarks of Thibault during a baseball game that she finally punches him in the head, knocking him for a loop.
5. Mooch the cat is visited by an angel and looses one of his nine lives.
1. The last stand of Flattop Jones
2. Snoopy faces death by icicle
3. Mr. O'Malley runs for Congress
4. Walt Wallet finds a baby on his doorstep
5. Popeye becomes a dictator
* Achewood -- The Great Outdoor Fight!
* Doonesbury -- Hard to pick just one, but the extended storyline involving B.D. coming home crippled from Iraq is currently the best thing on your daily comics page.
* Calvin and Hobbes -- Calvin finds a dead bird
* Dick Tracy -- The Pruneface storyline (I think he appeared only once)
* For Better or For Worse -- Lawrence comes out of the closet
1. The monster icicle hanging from Snoopy's house.
2. Andy Lippincott Dying of AIDS (coinciding with the release of Pet Sounds on CD)
3. Opus rescuing his mother
4. Spaceman Spiff
5. Not Me and his floozy cohort Ida Know (what I like to call a reoccurring plot line)
1. Calvin transmogrifies himself into a tiger
2. Little Nemo tours Slumberland with the Princess
3. Sky Masters returns from space and lands on an island of cannibals
4. Jason Fox prepares for Halloween (any given year)
5. Brent Sienna tries to buy an iPhone
1. Calvin and the baby raccoon (Calvin & Hobbes)
2. BD meets Phred the terrorist (Doonesbury)
3. The tragic tale of Aldo Kelrast, Mary's would-be suitor (Mary Worth)
4. Charlie Brown's ill-advised attempt to steal home (Peanuts)
5. Liz reconnects wtih Anthony (For Better Or For Worse)
1. Farley's death (For Better or For Worse)
2. Jason awaits opening of Star Wars Episode One (FoxTrot)
3. Brent proposes at Jade at Comic-Con (PvP)
4. Charlie Brown pines for red-haired girl (Peanuts)
5. The Adventures of Spaceman Spiff (Calvin & Hobbes)
1) Terry and Pat meet Burma for the first time -- after hearing St. Louis Blues playing on a phonograph on a "deserted" island.
2) Skeezix is kidnapped.
3) Moomin finds his parents, having thought them lost in the spring cleaning.
4) Popeye beats the crap out of a cow to show how tough he is.
5) Nemo, Flip, and a Jungle Imp utterly destroy a miniature New York City doppelganger.
1. BD loses a leg in Doonesbury
2. Opus goes in search of his mom in Bloom County
3. The Great Pumpkin, Peanuts
4. Calvin fights Moe the Bully, in C&H
5. Duke gets stranded on an island with Miss Huan, Doonesbury (yes, it's two from the same strip, but it's classic)
1. The death of Raven Sherman
2. Popeye's search for his father.
3. Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs return home after their first adventure together (a very impressive storyline, often overlooked in favor of the strip's more action-packed sequences, in which Wash Tubbs slowly discovers he's no longer interested in his old life and hometown sweetheart. I think this is more or less at the same time in which we learn Easy's real name, William Lee, but I may be mixing up two different stories in my mind.)
4. Willie Garvin thinks Modesty Blaise's dead and methodically wipes out a house full of criminals (at the end of "The Gabriel Set-Up")
5. Fearless Fosdick gets married, leading to Li'l Abner's marriage.
Five For Friday #107 -- Name Five Memorable Plot Lines From Comic Strip
1. Pogo -- "The Jute Mill Is Exploded!!!"
2. Luann -- Bernice gets involved with a guy who turns out to be a druggie
3. Peanuts -- Deadly icicle hangs over Snoopy in his doghouse
4. Odd Bodkins -- First trip to Magic Cookie Land
5. Lil' Abner -- The Kick-Me Shmoos (a Shmoo story with an unexpectedly chilling ending)
1. Little Orphan Annie is on trial for the murder of Mrs. Bleating-Hart and faces the death penalty.
2. Popeye goes searching for his long lost dad.
3. The residents of Coconino start drinking Tiger Tea, with fascinating consequences (Krazy Kat).
4. The Wallets hire a white maid who starts bossing around Rachel Brown, causing her to quit in anger (Gasoline Alley).
5. Charlie Brown's head develops a stigmata that makes it look like a baseball.
1. Plunder Island
2. Michael's best friend reveals he's gay
3. Calvin clones himself and makes his angelic doppeldanger do all his work for him.
4. A butterfly lands on Peppermint Patty's nose. Marcie tells her it turned into an angel after it flies away.
5. Aldo stalks Mary Worth.
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.