It was jarring to me. I respected and loved the work of all of them. I also liked them all on a personal but individual basis. But when I saw what the comic book industry was doing to them, I think I liked it a little less. Those men all deserved better.
– Mark Evanier, commenting on the observation by Howard Chaykin that Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino and other DC artists “regarded each other with distaste, frequently bordering on genuine loathing.”
It’s stuff like this that brings home to me how screwed up the comics industry was for so many years. I understand on an intellectual level that things were bad, but hearing how it inspired jealousy and soured relationships puts it into an emotional context that I hadn’t felt before.
I’m not saying we have a utopia today, but creators do have more options if they want more than what they’re getting from work-for-hire. Creator-owned comics are not only more welcomed than ever by readers, but they’re also proving popular with people outside of comics, which can turn into real money. Again, I’m not saying we’ve reached the Promised Land yet, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve at least left Egypt.
I’m reading Glen Weldon‘s Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and I’m still in the chapters on the Golden Age. What’s struck me was just how quickly Superman became a national phenomenon. Within a year of his first appearance in an anthology book (that he wouldn’t be on the cover of for another five issues after the first), there was a syndicated newspaper strip about him. According to Weldon, Time magazine called the character “the No. 1 juvenile vogue in the U.S.” Within two years, there was a radio show. Within three, Max Fleischer’s studio was making animated short films. And then there were all the dolls, games, puzzles, and coloring books. That was a stunning amount of success in a very short amount of time.
Sharaz-De: Tales from the Arabian Nights
By Sergio Toppi
In his foreword to Sharaz-De, Walt Simonson describes picking up Sergio Toppi comics in their original Italian during the ‘70s. Though Simonson doesn’t read Italian, he was attracted to the art, and it’s easy to see why. Every page invites the reader to stop and study. Toppi is a master at cross-hatching. He gives people, animals, and settings layers and layers of detail through thousands of short lines, all directing the eye to exactly the place he wants it to go. He pulls me in not just panel after panel, but figure after figure. Fortunately, Sharaz-De has large pages with lots of room, and as adept as Toppi is at filling those pages with ink, he’s equally skilled at using negative space to balance out compositions and give the eye a break.
I empathize with Simonson’s being so pulled into this stuff even though he didn’t understand the text. I’ve often been tempted to pick up European comics that I couldn’t read simply because they were beautiful. I’ve always resisted though, because I’m too interested in story to be able to enjoy comics purely for their visuals. That’s why I get excited when publishers like Archaia translate these books for English readers.
I read Toppi’s Sharaz-De back-to-back with another graphic novel, A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay and Friends. There’s a line in Guay’s book that was written by Holly Black: “Tricksters tell the truth in a way that makes it lies.” That stuck with me, because I think the opposite is true of great storytellers, who tell lies in a way that makes them truth. That’s an appropriate description of what’s going on in Sharaz-De. It’s not only what Toppi is doing, but his main character as well.
When comics entrepreneur Marc Arsenault announced almost a year ago that he had bought defunct Alternative Comics in order to relaunch the publisher, a lot of fans (me included) were thrilled. Under founder Jeff Mason, Alternative introduced readers to creators like Graham Annable, Brandon Graham, James Kochalka, Ed Brubaker, Scott Campbell (of Great Movie Showdowns fame), Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld. So with Alternative and comiXology announcing today that the publisher’s catalog is becoming available digitally on the app, I was eager to talk to Arsenault about their plans.
Michael May: For those who don’t know you, what’s your background in comics?
Marc Arsenault: Wow. Where to begin? I’ve been a pretty behind-the-scenes guy for most of my time in comics, but this year I’ve hit the quarter century mark for working in them.
I figured out that I wanted to make comics somewhere around eighth grade when I discovered RAW, Warrior and Heavy Metal. When I found out about the comics program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) my path was clear. I didn’t even apply to any other schools. I got to study with Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Joe Orlando, David Sandlin, Jerry Moriarity, Marshall Arisman and the very influential Jack Potter.
That experience was very relevant to Alternative Comics’ past and present because it was there that I met Sam Henderson and Tom Hart. I shared a studio space with Tom, and he and Sam had started an off-campus comics anthology called Tuna Casserole. By the fifth issue I became co-editor and we founded the first incarnation of my company Wow Cool. I ended up becoming an illustrator instead of a cartoonist, and did that freelance on and off up until about a decade ago.
I know I still get hammered via e-mail when I suggest something like, say, that there aren’t any superhero comics in any one of my year’s top ten, with a line of thinking that things should somehow be balanced between that particular form of expression and others. I kind of thought most fans were past this …
It wasn’t too many years ago that this definitely was an issue, at least for me. I thought of the stages in my comics life in terms of how much each involved superheroes. My childhood years were all about Harvey, Walt Disney and Looney Tunes until I discovered Marvel and DC and put away “childish things.” That lasted well into my 20s, until companies like Dark Horse and Vertigo opened the gate to other genres.
“Copyright is fundamental to creative industries, those who believe it’s not relevant are mistaken”
I find that interesting on a few levels. And by “interesting” I mean “bullshit.”
Konrath is an author who escaped the midlist wilderness of traditional publishing to do extremely well for himself (to the tune of about $3,000 a day) by self-publishing on Amazon. As you may expect, he’s become an advocate for self-publishing and a strong critic of the traditional model and those who defend it. His quote above is in response to a tweet by the U.K’.s Publishers Association from the London Book Fair.
Yale Stewart, creator of the popular “Justice-League-as-kids” fan webcomic JL8, has created some wallpaper that he’s selling to benefit victims of Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. There are three versions: the one above, a reversed image with the Flash running toward the left, and a left-running one sized especially for Facebook covers. A $1 donation (or more, if you like) gets you all three in a zipped file. Stewart will divide all proceeds equally between Boston Children’s Hospital and Red Cross of Boston.
I imagine that Dustin Nguyen’s cute, chibi-style drawings of the Batman cast in Batman: Li’l Gotham will weed out the segment of comics readers who truly don’t care for that kind of art. For those who like the style, though – or those who, like me, don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about it – the first issue of Li’l Gotham kicks off what promises to be a great all-ages series.
There’s a scarcity of DC and Marvel comics that are appropriate for kids, so I’m all for whatever new thing those companies want to try. Nguyen’s character designs for Li’l Gotham are so adorable though that when I first saw them, I expected a super-sweet tone that I wasn’t sure I’d respond to. I want comics that kids can enjoy, but I don’t want them to be slight or to change the characters’ personalities beyond all recognition. If Li’l Gotham was just going to be Batman’s Precious Moments, I wouldn’t be able to stay interested. But that’s not at all what it is.
Despite his shortened body and enlarged head, Li’l Gotham’s Batman is my Batman: overly serious and unswervingly dedicated to fighting crime. But his rogues gallery isn’t as homicidal or destructive as the current, canonized versions of those villains, so Batman’s able to be a little more relaxed about how he takes them down. They’re still lawbreakers, just not especially deadly ones. For example, Nguyen and co-writer Derek Fridolfs are able to get them together at an Italian restaurant for Halloween without murdering each other.
Things got a little unmanageable with the Hulk comics for a while: We had two Hulks running around, each with his own series (plus Son of Hulk) and I started losing track of the She-Hulks when Jennifer Walters was joined not only by Red She-Hulk, but also Thundra She-Hulk. It was too much and I checked out, even though Jeff Parker was writing some of those comics — and Jeff Parker comics are among my favorites.
In a roundabout way, his writing is why you should be reading Red She-Hulk (not that the gorgeous art by Carlo Pagulayan, Wellington Alves and Val Staples should be ignored), but I’m going to get more specific than that. My point is that I wouldn’t blame you for rolling your eyes at Red She-Hulk’s having her own series when the real She-Hulk doesn’t (not outside of FF anyway). I don’t think Parker would either, though. From the way Red She-Hulk is presented in the early issues of the series, it appears that Parker knows he has some work to do in making her a character that readers want to spend time with.
This is something that Red She-Hulk shares with Geoff Johns’ Aquaman, but Johns went meta with his story and all but included cameos of himself looking directly at the reader and screaming, “Aquaman doesn’t suck!” Parker uses more art. Specifically, he uses Machine Man, aka the Reason You Should Be Reading Red She-Hulk. Stay with me here, because I know Machine Man’s not usually much more of a draw than Red She-Hulk is.
Superman may have a reputation as a big pushover, but that’s because not enough people know Kerry Callen’s version. That Man of Steel screws with Batman for kicks, won’t put up with your sob stories and doesn’t care what kind of excuse you have for not wanting to do the dishes. Knowing that, you probably shouldn’t tease him about his costume.
But that’s what some jerk does in the latest installment of Callen’s hilarious Super Antics comic strip and, well, see what happens below. Following that: more about superman’s undies.
Animation and visual effects production company Blackmeal has created a 40-second video it calls “an homage to Marvel, which created most of the superheroes who entertained generations of children and adults for more than 80 years.” Using Captain America’s shield as a starting point, the cartoon sticks with the round shape and transforms it into iconography from various Marvel heroes, like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Cyclops and the Hulk. It’s an amazing, joyful piece of work that I’d love to see in front of every animated Marvel project from now until the end of time.
At least a couple of times over the course of the weekend, Bill Willingham talked about his goal for the Fabletown and Beyond convention he hosted in Rochester, Minnesota. He may not have actually used the term “bucket list,” but that’s essentially what the show seems to have been for him: an opportunity to throw the kind of comics convention he wanted to attend and to see if other creators and fans would enjoy it just as much. From the standing ovation he received at Sunday’s closing ceremony, it appears he was right.
Chris Roberson pointed out to me that Fabletown and Beyond was a lot like fantasy and sci-fi literary conventions. It had that feel from the opening ceremony (an idea Willingham freely admits to stealing from fantasy/sci-fi shows) to the final farewell. It was completely focused on comics and storytelling, and it was a uniquely intimate experience. The show was only designed to accommodate a maximum of 500 attendees, and it got 505. That meant I kept seeing the same faces over and over again all weekend — creators and fans alike — so that by the third day, even people I never talked to were familiar. Instead of a hectic event where people rushed from place to place trying to see and do everything they wanted to, it was a relaxed environment that felt more like just hanging out with friends. Really smart, interesting friends.
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Following events like last year’s ImageCon and MorrisonCon, Fabletown and Beyond is the most recent comic convention devoted to serving a specific segment of readers: in this case, fans of what Fables creator Bill Willingham describes as “Mythic Fiction.” Fabletown and Beyond takes place this weekend in Willingham’s community of Rochester, Minnesota, and celebrates comics that include and update “fairytales, folklore, myth, legend, talking animals, and characters from literature.”
The festivities begin at 3 p.m. Friday and run practically non-stop until 6 p.m. Sunday. Programming is scheduled to go late into the evening on Friday and Saturday with the convention’s bar (an even more important element of this convention than most) staying open until 2 a.m.
The convention will take place in two locations, connected by skyways to allow attendees protection from the Minnesota weather. The dealers’ area, Artist
Alley Boulevard, and programming rooms will be located in in the Mayo Civic Center, with the opening ceremony and other special events held in the Kahler Grand Hotel. The hotel is also the location of the Elizabethan bar (re-named the Kill Shakespeare Bar for the weekend) that will be taken over for the exclusive use of the convention.
For as long as I’ve been following the comics industry I’ve heard creators say things along the lines of, “I’m not in it for the money,” and, “I’d be doing this even if I wasn’t getting paid.” Those are statements of passion that drive deep into the heart of a conversation that’s receiving more and more attention lately, and not just in comics. The question that’s been raised is: Should creators have to make comics for free just because they would? And if so, for how long?
When an unknown writer or artist is trying to make a name for herself in the comics industry, one way of doing that is to create work for free. Give away a webcomic. Contribute to an anthology that won’t make any money but may get seen by the right people (especially if you put it into their hands). Work for a small publisher who only pays if the project makes a profit. These are all accepted practices. What’s going on lately, however, is that people are starting to question how accepted they should be.
In response to that line of questioning, defenders of the current system argue from tradition. Alexis C. Madrigal, senior editor of The Atlantic, wrote a long piece on the realities of digital journalism and why it’s often tough to pay journalists anything, much less a fair wage. His basic argument is that funds are limited, even for a digital magazine that’s doing pretty well. “The economics of our business are terrible in some ways,” he writes. “And like everything else, the worst of it falls on the workers, the people making the widgets, doing the journalism, making the beds. The money gets sucked upwards and the work gets pushed down.” He continues, “[E]ven when you have a generous owner who is not trying to make a gazillion dollars and skim the cream, this game is still really, really hard. You still have limited funds. You still can’t pay freelancers a living wage.”
Conventional wisdom has it that free webcomics are supposed to be leading us to print versions that we’re willing to pay for. In the case of K. Lynn Smith and Plume, it’s worked the other way around for me. I was unaware of Smith’s webcomic until it was announced as a series for the reinvigorated Devil’s Due, but the concept – and the samples I saw of Smith’s art – grabbed me. After reading the two issues out so far, however, I got impatient for more and headed to the web version.
The title of the comic comes from something the main character’s father once told her: “Revenge is like a plume of black smoke. It seems tangible, but when you reach for it, you’re grasping nothing but air.” That – and the story’s opening on the main character’s holding a gun and surrounded by dead bodies – is a huge clue about where the story is headed, but it doesn’t reveal the most interesting part of this supernatural Western. Vesper Grey is the daughter of a treasure-hunting archeologist who’s given her a magic amulet he found. The amulet is attached to the soul of a young man name Corrick, who’s received supernatural powers along with the obligation to protect whomever wears the talisman. No spoilers, but it’s not hard to predict where the revenge element will come in, even though that hasn’t explicitly been revealed by the second issue.
Except for Corrick and some magical artifacts, the world of Plume appears to be the Wild West that readers are familiar with. Smith gives it a touch of magic to help it stand out from other Westerns, but the comic’s real draw is Smith’s skill at creating memorable characters and making readers care about them. She hooked me with humor, often just by way of expressions and body language, and that’s what kept me going through the two, printed issues. There was so much foreshadowing around the revenge plot though that I got anxious waiting to see it start and hit the Internet.
Penny Arcade creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik had a great idea when they came up with Lookouts. If youth scouting existed in fantasy worlds, earning badges would be a lot more dangerous than just making fires and spotting raccoon tracks. It’s a clever concept that includes an ensemble cast of diverse characters and an endless supply of situations in which our heroes can find themselves. Getting Ben McCool to join the writing team is also a good thing. But the reason I most look forward to a new issue of Lookouts is the art by Robb Mommaerts and colorist Rainer Petter.
Mommaerts does several things exceedingly well, and he (and Lookouts as a whole) deserve to be talked about more than they are. First are the creature designs. Lookouts puts more thought into creatures than just sticking in a dragon or unicorn every once in a while, and even when the monsters are familiar, their looks are new and refreshing. Take, for instance, the sphinx that serves as the antagonist for most of the first story.