Larry Cruz, Author at Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
Video-game webcomics tend to gravitate toward the same crew of characters in general. Most everyone is going to do a comic about Mario, which also means that most everyone will eventually do that comic where Mario is a delusional plumber on mushrooms who gets stuck in a pipe.
Beyond that, however, it’s usually a roster of other visually recognizable characters: Pokemon, Kratos from God of War, Master Chief from Halo, Big Daddy from Bioshock, whoever is in Assassin’s Creed this year. These are the characters that populate the tribal knowledge of gamer culture. In a way, it’s not unlike superheroes. There are hundreds of pieces of fan art, video tributes and articles focusing on Batman, but who;s going to devote much time to, say, Silver Sable?
Cameron Stewart has a clean, distinguishable artistic style, with a hint of a manga influence, but with panel-to-panel transitions that are more delicate and subdued. His art has become quite popular, with his redesign of Batgirls costume creating something of an Internet sensation. While his artwork lends itself easily to all-ages comics, he’s frequently collaborated with Grant Morrison on such titles as Seaguy, Seven Soldiers and Batman & Robin.
However, his art has also appeared in strange psychological thrillers. In 2010, his webcomic Sin Titulo won the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic, after it had already won the 2009 Shuster Award in the same category.
Mash-ups are pretty easy to come by in the Internet Age. Flash as a Ingmar Bergman movie? Of course that exists. Hello Kitty as Darth Vader? Hello, new cosplay idea. Optimus Prime as a My Little Pony? I’m … I’m pretty sure that’s an official IDW thing. Everything’s a mash-up these days. In fact, you might be a bit sick of it. If I mention, for example, the phrase “Charlie Brown in a post-apocalyptic future,” you cannot be blamed for rolling your eyes so hard that your pupils disappear into your hear, resembling the blank ovals of Li’l Orphan Annie.
But what if I were to tell you it was also rather good? Jason Yungbluth’s Weapon Brown was something of a hit among the snarkier fans of comics strips, i.e. those of the Comics Curmudgeon variety. You know, the kind who enjoy taking a bite out of obsolete zombie comics that populate the funny pages, but deep down have a strong affection for them and an appreciation for the hard-working creators who made them. The comic was originally serialized at whatisdeepfried.com. After “one of the most successful comic book Kickstarter campaigns of 2013,” Weapon Brown was collected into paperback and hardcover earlier this year. On Aug. 13, Yungbluth will be on hand at Forbidden Planet in New York City to sign copies of his book.
Mountains seem to have been big theme among Eisner nominees this year. In High Crimes, the ever-looming presence of Mount Everest reminds the readers of the upcoming dangers posed by nature.
A similar thing happens in Melanie Gillman’s Eisner-nominated webcomic As the Crow Flies, although not to quite as perilous an extent. There’s no immediate danger here; the mountain is an expanse of wilderness that stretches as far as the eye can see. Long, wordless passages pause to explore the borders, which seem to stretch beyond the page to show that there is no visible end. No tiny towns dotting the landscape, no tiny outposts of civilization beyond a small camp. Just rocks and trees. While there might be a wild animal in that tangle of leaves and branches, that never poses an immediate threat.
No, the biggest danger in these woods is loneliness.
I’ve never been to a comics convention, but I can imagine it can be overwhelming — Comic-Con International especially, with its enormous exhibition hall, packed programming schedule and multiple venues. There’s a webcomics presence, but it remains something of a niche. A quick scan of events, for example, turns up more presentations on how to become big on deviantART than anything directly connected with webcomics.
There’s a powerfully strong digital comics representation, however. Perhaps this indicates a swing from the independent, comic strip-influenced world of webcomics to the formalized, floppy-inspired format of digital. Shoot, Publishers Weekly even arranged a panel to discuss that very thing on Friday morning with “Behind the Digital Line.” Mark Waid has an entire panel devoted to pitching ideas to Thrillbent. Monkeybrain Comics will have a roundtable about the benefits of publishing digitally. And on Sunday, “Digital Comics: Going Beyond the Page” will feature a discussion with a panel that includes Waid (Thrillbent) and Ron Perraza (formerly of comiXology and DC’s digital division).
I’ve a confession to make: I have no idea what’s going on in Dax Tran-Caffee’s Eisner-nominated webcomic, Failing Sky. Now, I admit =this could all be my problem; the webcomic, after all, has its fans. The “About” page, for example, has positive notices from two comic legends, Scott McCloud and Neil Gaiman. Maybe this is a Ulysses situation — you know, in the sense that literary critics find it to be the greatest book in the world, but I can’t force myself through the first 50 pages. The mysterious wandering Jackie character just may be the webcomics version of Leopold Bloom.
But then again, maybe my brain just can’t wrap around the avant garde techniques used in the comic. For example, take a look at the “Chapters” page. Failing Sky is intentionally created out of chronological order. While most of Vol. 1 (out of four) has been published, the rest of the volumes only contain two chapters at most out of several. Most are marked “(not yet funded — ETA unknown),” which I assume means the chapters won’t be written until enough money comes through Patreon.
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
Mash-up parody movie trailer may be one of my biggest guilty pleasures. Back in the day when it was novel, I loved watching videos of Mary Poppins as a horror movie or the 1966 Batman movie as a modern day action extravanganza. I learned to appreciate parody trailers thanks to Jim Emerson, a blogger at RogerEbert.com, who once cited the “Shining” parody trailer (which turned the psychological horror film into a sappy family movie) as an example of the fine art of film editing. The whole movie parody trailer craze may have fallen in and out of favor with the fickle whims of the internet audience, but I personally have never stopped loving them.
One upon a time, an entire subcontinent crashed into the largest continent. Tectonic plates collided, sending rocks jutting toward the heavens. Jagged peaks formed formed the Himalayas, and looming higher than any other was Everest. Sir Edmund Hilary famously journeyed to the top of the world, a feat that inspired generations of explorers to believe that no place on Earth is unconquerable. But they’re not always right, for on its icy, windswept cliffs, many an intrepid soul has succumbed to its perils. Everest is a mountain of madness. It’s a mountain … of death.
Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa’s Eisner-nominated comic High Crimes (Monkeybrain) follows the thrilling, high-stakes adventure of a lost soul named Suzanne “Zan” Jansen. She was an avid snowboarder until her Olympic dreams were cruelly crushed by an injury. Haunted by failure, her days are spent in an unbreakable cycle of drinking and self-loathing. She ends up involved in a sordid occupation: finding the missing bodies of those who disappeared on climbing expeditions. The dirty work is done by her grizzled, older business partner Haskell, who chops a hand off the dead, then returns to base to have it stored in his freezer. The fingerprints are traced by a corrupt police officer, and the identity lets them know which families to bribe.
One day, Haskell is dealt a bad hand. Literally. It belongs to a decades-old corpse who used to be Sebastian Mars. He’s not just a climber; he’s a person of interest. Inside the severed hand, Zan discovers a capsule containing a rolled-up microfiche of secrets. It turns out that it’s something like the Maltese Falcon: the stuff that dreams are made of, and a thing of extreme value to the wrong kinds of people.
This year, The Oatmeal dominates the Eisner Best Digital comic category as “the one that most people have heard of.” That’s pretty much in direct contrast to last year, which was populated by five relatively obscure titles. It’s a testament, I think, to the far-reaching diversity of webcomics, where few ever become pop culture superstars but many have devoted fanbase. You had indie-style comics like Ant Comic and It Will All Hurt, the haunting short story Our Bloodstained Roof and the classic Thimble Theater-inspired art of Oyster War.
The eventual winner, though, was the one that most closely resembled a traditional comic. Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Bandette (Monkeybrain Comics) was the first Eisner winner that had to be downloaded from comiXology — a true “digital comic” as opposed to a “webcomic.” I imagine that the familiar panel layout was the one least likely to send traditionalists into paroxysms. Heck, the tone of the story itself feels very much like a throwback to both Silver Age comic stories and European all-ages fare like The Adventures of Tintin. But so what? It’s old school, and in a way that made it refreshingly novel.
I’m not sure why I was so surprised that Matt Inman’s The Oatmeal received an Eisner Award nomination this year, but judging from some other online reactions, I wasn’t the only one.
It’s not like it doesn’t deserve it. The Oatmeal easily has a larger following than the other nominees. How many copies does a print copy have to move these days before it’s considered a success, 100,000?
The Oatmeal has hundreds of times more than that — 5 million unique readers according to a 2010 Seattle Weekly article. It’s even hugely profitable. That same article mentions Inman’s take-home pay in 2010 was a half-million dollars. A huge part of it is Inman’s expertise at SEO, which just means he played the same game that made BuzzFeed the household name it is today.
The Oatmeal covers a variety of subjects. Some of the entries have intentionally inflammatory subjects, such as ‘“How to suck at your religion” and “What it means when you say ‘literally.’” Inman tackles these subjects with the burning righteousness of an angry political pundit, depicting the wrong as googly-eyed fools and leaning heavily on the bold and italicized font settings. I thought for sure those would be the most popular strips on his site.
The Eisner Awards, arguably the most prestigious in the comics industry, will be presented July 25 during Comic-Con International. Among the assortment of awards given to artists, writers and colorists, there’s an odd little thing that’s a relative newcomer: the Best Digital Comic Award. Here’s the criteria: “The best digital comic category is open to any new, professionally produced long-form original comics work posted online in 2012.” They have to have a unique domain name, and they have to be “online-exclusive for a significant period” before being available in print.
Rather odd, considering that many of this year’s nominees barely qualify under those parameters. A “long-form comic” suggests an extended, dramatic story. The Oatmeal doesn’t really qualify (unless you consider the bid for a Tesla museum to be a real-life epic). High Crimes technically has a domain name, but it directs you to comiXology for digital download. It’s all part of the challenge in determining what, exactly, a “digital comic” is. Looking at previous nominees, there are several that don’t fit neatly within the rules.
Comic book awards. You can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. On the one hand, there are several challenges to clear. Who’s worthy of nomination? If it’s “Best Digital Comic,” what are you awarding it for — the way it takes advantage of its online environment, or the content? Generally, it’s the content, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t it be competing in the existing comic categories rather than be banished to the sidelines? (Several webcomics, including The Adventures of Superhero Girl, have been in contention in other categories … but only after their digital content has been converted in the traditional currency of ink and pressed wood pulp, as God intended.)
There’s been some criticism that the Eisner Award for Digital Comics tends to favor established creators from the print industry over those who made their names online. Or, in the case of Sugarshock … c’mon. Did you really think Joss Whedon wasn’t winning an award? You’d probably be struck down by lightning or something. (Incidentally, I tried to see whehter that comic was still online. I’d forgotten that it was on MySpace. Oh, man … the nostalgia.)
However, I think that, by and large, the winners have all been very good.
Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher was one of the webcomics that made a splash among readers before it attracted award attention (a Joe Shuster Award in 2010, an Eisner Award nomination in 2010, and a very deserved Eisner win in 2011). What made The Abominable Charles Christopher stand out from the pack?
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.
There were a lot of debut issues I was looking forward to this week. Grayson #1, because what can go wrong with the former Robin being a super-spy? Spider-Man 2099 #1, in which Peter David returns to writing my favorite future webslinger. While those comics were fine (with a slight nod to Grayson), I have to say my most satisfying read was once again about Giant Robots Who Transform Into Other Things. I’m talking about Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye #31.
Written by James Roberts, the issue kicks off with the crew abandoning the disintegrating Lost Light and scattered among several escape vessels. The story centers around the 20 robots stuck on the Rod Pod, a ridiculous contraption shaped to look like Rodimus’ head. Among the crew is new captain/new Autobot/former Decepticon Megatron, grizzled old doctor Ratchet, former antagonist Cyclonus and detective Nightbeat.
Virtually every year, there’s a high-concept Eisner nominee that utterly baffles me. In 2009, it was Speak No Evil, the undocumented-immigrant parable where a guy has a hole for a mouth, and last year, it was the weird Ant Comic. This year, it’s probably going to be Brian Fies’ The Last Mechanical Monster.
It’s based on Fleischer Studios’ 1941 animated Superman short “The Mechanical Monsters,” probably best known as the first time, in any medium, Clark Kent stepped into a phone booth to change clothes. The first few pages of Fies’ comic look like screen shots of the original cartoon. After that intro, the the story picks up 60-plus years later. We’re already in some strange territory: a fan fiction is now in Eisner Award consideration. Only … this isn’t fan fiction about Superman or Lois Lane; it’s about the villain.
We’re also informed that “The Mechanical Monsters” is in the public domain (a factoid that took me back to when I first watched the cartoon, on a VHS purchased for cheap at Woolworths that stopped functioning after two viewings). That gives the comic an added layer of trickiness, but maybe this is as legit an adaptation as, say, CBS’s Elementary.
Before you ask: Yes, Kayla Miller’s Creep does throw in a Radiohead reference. Our superhero, named Creep, gives his own version of the song when he’s confronted by reporters. In a way, Creep is a pretty good song for a superhero. There are lyrics about wanting a perfect body, having control and pining for someone who doesn’t notice you. Shoot, that’s, like, Marvel in the 1960s. Put that jam in the Spider-Man movies, Mark Webb!
Creep, though is less of a Spider-Man and more of a Hulk. Or a Stephan Urquel, or The Mask. His origins mix a dash of Silver Age craziness with modern indie-comic cartooniness. Riley Russell is a mild-mannered modern teen who’s a bit of shrinking violet. He prefers to never come into contact with his parents, and he’s too chicken to even approach Holly, the girl of his dreams. He is the keyboardist in a band that no one goes to see, however, so there’s probably some opportunity for him to venture out of his shell.