The Comics Observer Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
For the first time in 14 years, I’m not going to Comic-Con International in San Diego, not even for a day. I didn’t think this would bother me, but I have to admit that I’m bummed I’m missing out on the biggest week in comics.
There are numerous comics conventions across the country, and even around the world, that use the term “comic-con, but there’s just one Comic-Con. If you really need clarification, fine, call it the San Diego Comic-Con, or, as it’s becoming increasingly known, “nerd prom.” I scoffed at that nickname when I first heard it, because even after all this time, “nerd” still seemed derogatory (I blame my sister). But now I feel like it’s a perfect name for it, because just like your high school prom, everyone talks about it weeks and months beforehand, it seems like everyone is going, and if you aren’t, you feel left out of the fun.
Growing up in Massachusetts, I heard about two comic book events that were truly legendary, epic destinations that had to be experienced at least once in your life: One was in San Diego and the other was in Chicago. Only one of those two has really held on to its mythic status as a holy destination for anyone who loves comics, and the related family of genre and pop culture entertainment to which many of us have devoted so much. I moved to Los Angeles in 1999, and I knew an added bonus was that I would at last get to attend Comic-Con.
Superhero comics deal in extremes: Characters overreact, the world is in constant jeopardy, and the solution almost always involves physical combat. So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when the #FireRickRemender fiasco erupted. There was no conversation. Instead, people hurled accusations and argued over whether a writer should keep his job, while others mocked the whole thing. The rest of us silently watched from the sidelines, and that was pretty much it: That was how comics professionals, fans and industry observers handled a three-page scene from Captain America #22.
I guess I should be happy that people are so passionate about these stories and the creators behind them. If we were all so blasé and detached, sales would probably not just be flat so far this year, they’d be in the gutters. Yet I can’t help but feel disappointed, because I know we can do better than this.
For a long time, there were limited options to become a professional comic book creator. Option 1 was to just figure it out yourself, with lots of mistakes along the way. Option 2 was to go to a proper school to study fine art, which usually meant discovering on your own how to co-opt what was being taught for your own comics purposes. Option 3 was to buy How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema.
But as the years have passed, more options have surfaced, reflecting the richer comics field that now exists. More colleges have courses or majors that specifically focus on comics, but if that’s not a deep enough immersion, there are now a number of alternatives. Sure, you could still choose between those original three options, or you can consider one of these five venues of learning, each fitting different styles and budgets for all kinds of creators. After all, everyone learns differently.
1. The Kubert School
Originally named The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, The Kubert School was the first and remains the only accredited school in the United States devoted entirely to making comics. The three-year vocational college for cartooning and graphic art is located in Dover, New Jersey, about 45 minutes from New York City. Founded in 1976 by comics legend Joe Kubert (Sgt. Rock, Tarzan, Hawkman), it is now run by his sons Andy and Adam Kubert, who have had a string of hit comics at Marvel and DC.
Is there just too much to ever buy and read?
I remember when the CBR forums were young and spry in the late ’90s and early 2000s: People would share which comics the plan to pick up every month or every week, and a good number would have massive lists. Today, I see what people post in their replies to the solicitations, and most are more selective. It’s obviously a very narrow sampling, but I can’t help feel that it reflects a general shift in comics culture.
When I first got into comics, part of what fascinated me was the unknown history told in back issues I didn’t have yet, and I became obsessed with hunting them down. In those days, maybe 25 to 30 years ago, comic shops were on the rise and most stores had a healthy selection of back issues because that was really the only way to read those stories. As such, they tended to be pricy, but it didn’t matter when you could spend nearly your entire allowance on comics alone.
While the old trading card business in comics has never been the same since the 1990s, there is a vibrant off-shoot that’s caught hold for both artists and fans. Sketch cards have almost completely overshadowed mass-produced trading cards as a way for fans to buy original, one-of-a-kind art from both established and up-and-coming artists.
Can’t afford to buy the original art from a page of your favorite comic book? Sketch cards sell at a fraction of the price and are just as unique. Can’t make it to a comic book convention or pay commission prices? Sketch cards are like instant mini-commissions. They also retain the collectibility of trading cards because companies typically commission artists to do a finite number around a specific theme for a limited-edition series. Artists are also free to make their own sketch cards and sell those. As someone who used to voraciously collect Marvel trading cards in their heyday, I view this as a cool alternative that highlights and supports the individual artist more.
The ill-considered comments made last week by screenwriter David S. Goyer highlighted an embarrassment for an intrinsic part of older superhero characters and comic books in general: A lot of them are just downright “goofy.” However, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Goyer’s go-to ridicule of the silliness of Martian Manhunter’s name, concept and origin nicely encapsulated a school of thought that’s been running throughout comics for a long time. It most strongly peaked when all the wrong people misinterpreted the success of Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as due to an over-serious, grim-and-gritty take on superheroes that focused on distorted realism.
“What if superheroes really existed in our world?” is such a tired premise at this point, but it has proliferated to such a degree since the 1980s that it keeps getting recycled every year or so by someone, whether with an established property or new creation. I admit that, back in the day, I got caught up in that swirl of faux-maturity too. Comic books were still struggling to find respect and appreciation in broader pop culture, and this seemed like the easiest way to prove they could have artistic merit. If it wasn’t completely serious, it somehow wasn’t good.
Oyster War cartoonist Ben Towle posted an interesting consideration this week about how we discuss comics, and the tendency to rely on film terminology. From scripts to reviews to casual exchanges, we often rely on film language, referring to a panel composition as a “shot” or “camera angle,” for instance, despite the vast majority of comics never employing cameras (fumettis not withstanding). By Towle’s own admission, the post is a collection of disorderly thoughts, but it encourages an examination of how we think and talk about comics, and how we make them.
His “Let’s Stop Using Film Terminology to Talk About Comics” is likely to elicit responses like “I’ll use whatever terminology I want” and “What difference does it make?” That first reaction is of course true: We can all use whatever terminology we like. A blog post isn’t going to change that, and certainly the ubiquity of film won’t prevent its terminology being used in the context of comics from being understood. However, the answer to the second response might cause someone to reconsider that first. As Towle explains early on, how we talk about something affects how we think about it. It’s why politicians are so careful in the terms they use to describe opponents and allies. They’re hoping to establish terminology for a group of people, which in turn influences how we think about them as well. Is someone receiving welfare relief or government hand-outs? Was information obtained from prisoners or detainees, and were torture or extreme-interrogation techniques used? Obviously those are very politically charged examples, but to bring it closer to home, there’s a reason the term “graphic novel” was promoted over “comic book” to bookstores and other mainstream outlets. Words not only have meanings, but also connotations; they can imply judgment, status, and much more. They influence how we perceive the subject of discussion and how we’re likely to think of it in the future. So yes, it does make a difference.
With April sales numbers released from Diamond Comic Distributors, a subtle pattern has revealed itself: Dark Horse has reclaimed its position as fourth-largest publisher from IDW Publishing for three months straight. It’s a streak of growth in market and dollar share that hasn’t happened for Dark Horse since fall 2011.
It’s great news for an industry mainstay that seemed to be getting eclipsed by the younger IDW at its own game of mixing licensed properties with creator-owned titles. Whether it’s temporary or not, digging into the sales charts, it’s clear there’s more stability in Dark Horse’s catalog than there might first seem.
Obviously Star Wars is the property many know the company for, and when it was announced the license would move at the end of this year to Marvel, some worried how Dark Horse would carry on. However, most publishers realize that no license is forever, so Dark Horse has built a diverse library that seems to be lifting it up now. Despite such diversifying, Star Wars is still the big seller at comic shops, but it’s only the beginning. The back-to-back launch of The Star Wars, a comics adaptation of an early draft of George Lucas’ screenplay, and a back-to-basics Star Wars by Brian Wood provided two accessible titles; if you’d ever seen the original Star Wars trilogy, you’re all set. The last issue of The Star Wars comes out later this month, with a collection in both hardcover and softcover to follow in July.
Marvel announced on Monday that as part of its “Original Sin” event, the fate of the original Nova, Richard Rider, finally will be revealed in August’s Guardians of the Galaxy #18, by Brian Michael Bendis and Ed McGuinness. The character last appeared in 2010; since then, the mantle of Nova has been held by Sam Alexander, who’s yet to win over vocal fans of the original Human Rocket.
Green Lantern fans are probably having a ’90s flashback right about now. While Richard Rider wasn’t turned into a homicidal villain, he and Hal Jordan both were summarily shuffled off at the climax of a big event to make way for a younger replacement. Longtime readers initially hated Kyle Rayner, but DC Comics stuck to its guns, as over the following decade he remained the primary Green Lantern in the DC Universe. While a vocal minority never relented, the work of writer Ron Marz and others attracted a new following for the character, and converted some old fans too. Rayner remains a major character in the Green Lantern titles today, even after the return of Jordan in 2005.
Remember when all there was to read was Marvel and DC Comics? OK, those days never really existed, but I would bet a significant majority of us at one time read comics exclusively, or almost exclusively, published by the so-called “Big Two.” Some of you may even do so now. If recent studies are any indication, that’s changing. A growing percentage of people have been buying more titles from Image Comics and other publishers.
How about you? How is your comics diet? Going by direct sales numbers, many of us still live off a primarily Marvel/DC superhero diet. But we all know there’s more out there. Maybe we read The Walking Dead or Saga too. Those are good reads, no doubt about it, and there’s more where those came from. Lots more. Just a casual look on this site or any comics site will reveal a growing number of books from other publishers are receiving more attention, more positive buzz from readers, more good reviews from critics, and more exciting announcements. So how to jump in?
One of my favorite times of the year is here: the announcement of the nominees for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. I love poring over each category to look for surprises, seeing books I never heard of or never got a chance to read. I guess when you get right down to it, I love getting to celebrate awesome comics.
It seems that with each year, the Eisners get better at reflecting the comics art form and industry at that moment. The judges not only hit the fan favorites and critical darlings, but also unexpected choices and hidden gems that truly benefit from this kind of recognition. It’s where quality instead of sales rule, as it should be for an award recognizing the very best of the industry.
What did you do last weekend? Nothing much, probably; no real reason to get excited. After all, it was just another awesome Marvel movie opening. Granted, “awesome” isn’t an objective description, and surely some people had a pretty miserable time. But judging from reviews, user ratings and my own anecdotal observations, odds are a significant majority of the approximately 11 million people who watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier enjoyed it.
The film has been thoroughly reviewed — you can read CBR’s take here — so I won’t get into a big assessment. (Suffice it to say, I liked it.) Instead ,what I want to talk about is the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, and how it hasn’t just successfully adapted stories and characters, but the very experience of the Marvel Comics Universe.
It is now well-documented that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige is a big comics fan. The difference, however, is that he didn’t grow up with them, but schooled himself on Marvel’s stories while working under producer Lauren Shuler Donner on the first X-Men movie. That distinction might have given him the ability to view the characters and concepts without being hindered by nostalgia, and helped him to dissect how Marvel’s framework could be used for future movies. Hollywood is an even more collaborative business than comics, so it’s unlikely that credit rests solely with Feige. But he certainly was an advocate for leaning more faithfully into the source material.
Emerald City Comicon may not come with the metric ton of announcements that Comic-Con International does, but in a way it’s all the better for it. Comics still feel as if they’re front and center just where I like them, and the announcements have more charm because they aren’t screaming to be heard over the din of film and television rollouts.
One year, I’ll get up to Seattle to experience the event firsthand, but in the meantime, I get to absorb all the news and photos like everyone else, as they’re posted online. ECCC even streamed all of its panels on flipon.tv. Anything that happened in Room 301 is free for anyone to watch. Everything else can be purchased with a full archive pass for $14.95. Or if, you don’t want to sit through hours of panel footage, there’s CBR’s coverage or, heck, try Google or something.
A number of announcements jumped out as particularly noteworthy, so let’s run through The 6 Best Things from ECCC. And from my count, Dark Horse won Emerald City. Your miles may vary though, so post your favorites in the comments.
The story of Chris Romberger’s comics vending machine reminded me of an idea I had kicking around my head a couple of weeks ago: Here in Los Angeles, there has been something of a food-truck revolution going on for the past several years. And then I saw that last summer, Penguin Books launched a book truck. As Book Riot pointed out, bookmobiles and other ways to bring books to the people are nothing new, so I thought, why not comics?
A comics truck would be a fun way to spread the love of comic books, graphic novels, manga and all things sequentially artistic. It would probably never really be a replacement for a comics store, due to space limitations, but it could be effective as an outreach tool to drive buyers back to shops — plus be a dynamic retail outlet that can carry specific titles for the readers it will reach.
Remember when comic books had only one cover each, and they didn’t glow in the dark or feature moving images? When the cover was just a good-looking illustration that made you curious about the story inside? And it was by the artist who actually drew that story?
Yeah, me neither.
Like it or not, we live in the age of specialized covers, whether in the form of variants or, for lack of a better (and less-derisive) term, gimmicks. I’ve mostly made peace with that, but the near-simultaneous announcements of Valiant bringing back chromium covers and DC doing a second round of lenticular covers recently stirred it all up again.
I know I’m being kind of silly about it. I mean, who cares? If people want them, they should have them. Obviously they help to increase sales, otherwise publishers wouldn’t go through the trouble. But is there more to it?
The thing is that variant covers have never been more prevalent. People used to make fun of publishers like Avatar Press, which would flood each release with boatloads of different covers for the same story. It turns out the company was ahead of its time. That’s not always a good thing, of course. Variant covers can cause confusion with new or more casual readers who may not remember the issue number they last bought but can recall what was on the cover.