Ben Towle Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
After four years and an Eisner nomination, Ben Towles’ Oyster War is coming to an end. The webomic is based on an obscure chapter in American history, in which oyster pirates and legal fishermen fought over the rights to the harvest in Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. (Apparently, oysters used to be much larger and way cheaper before overfishing devastated the entire industry.) Don’t expect a straight history lesson, however: Towles’ version is visually more cartoon; he also embellishes his story with some fantastical elements, like a witch who turns into a seal, and a sea monster.
The old-school aesthetic of Oyster War recalls a style popular during the early 20th century, and the seaside town of Blood’s Haven, with its narrow corridors and piers that stretch past the shore, resembles Thimble Theatre‘s Sweethaven. While backgrounds are simple and minimalistic, close-ups are lovingly textured. The characters are simple cartoony designs: bulbous noses, brush-like mustaches, block-shaped heads and stocky bodies.
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.
Legal | Daniel Curry, the actor who was seriously injured in August during a performance of the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages, claiming the producers and other defendants knew a mechanical lift could be dangerous. Curry was hurt when an automated door pinned his leg; he suffered fractured legs and a fractured foot, and had to undergo surgeries and unspecified amputations. The producers have insisted the accident was caused by human error and not malfunctioning equipment. [The New York Times]
Events | Japan’s ambassador to France has expressed his country’s displeasure with a South Korean exhibit at the Angouleme International Comics Festival devoted to “comfort women” who were forced into sex slavery during World War II by the Japanese military. Ambassador Yoichi Suzuki said the exhibit, which attracted about 17,000 visitors, promotes “a mistaken point of view that further complicates relations between South Korea and Japan.” [GMA News, Yonhap News Agency]
Conventions | The San Diego Chargers are opposing the proposed $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center — viewed as crucial to keeping Comic-Con International in the city past 2015 — saying it will interfere with plans for a new football stadium. Instead, the NFL franchise proposes building a second venue a few blocks away, which would be part of a complex that included the stadium but would not be contiguous with the existing convention center. [Los Angeles Times]
Conventions | Meanwhile, on the other coast, New York Comic Con is about to begin, and Luke Villapaz has seven tips for surviving the con. One additional point, though: While it’s nice that NYCC has its own mobile app, chances of its actually working inside the Javits Center, which is notorious for its many cell phone dead zones, are slim. [International Business Times]
Retailing | Naruto topped the May BookScan chart of graphic novels sold in bookstores, followed by two volumes of The Walking Dead, the latest volume of Sailor Moon, and Yen Press’ latest Twilight adaptation New Moon. Just three volumes total of The Walking Dead made the Top 20 (down from eight last month), and as usual, DC and Marvel got clobbered: DC had three titles on the list (two volumes of Court of Owls and Watchmen) while Marvel had one (Hawkeye), and none was above No. 15. Or to put it another way: Vol. 14 of Dance in the Vampire Bund, a high-numbered volume in a fairly niche manga series, placed higher than every Big Two book on BookScan last month. [ICv2]
Creators | With the second issue of their digital-only comic The Private Eye recently released, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin talk about their story, why they decided to do it digitally, and what the response has been so far. [The Verge]
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, where the Robot 6 crew talks about the death of … oh, wait, we already did that. In fact, nobody brought up [REDACTED] in their write-up this week. But they did talk about a bunch of other comics.
Our guest this week is cartoonist and teacher Ben Towle, creator of Oyster War, Midnight Sun, Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean and much more. Check out his website for all kinds of fun art and pin-ups (Alien Legion!).
To see what Ben and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
It’s become an annual tradition here during our birthday bash: No matter how much stuff we line up, people we interview, etc., there are still tons of folks we like to hear from and include in our giant New Year’s/anniversary/birthday activities. So, as we’ve done in past years, we asked a cross-section of comics folks what they liked in 2012 and what they’re excited about for 2013. We received so many this year that we’ve broken it down into two posts; watch for another one Tuesday.
But for now, check out all the great stuff people shared with us, including hints at new projects and even some outright announcements. Our thanks to everyone this year who responded. Also, thanks to Tim O’Shea, Michael May and Chris Arrant, who helped collect responses.
JIMMIE ROBINSON (Bomb Queen, Five Weapons)
What was your favorite comic of 2012?
Image’s Saga, Fatale, Hawkeye‘s reinvention is fresh and exciting, Peter Panzerfaust, Enormous by Tim Daniel. It’s hard to pin down just one because there is SO much good work coming out nowadays — from many publishers across the board.
Retailing | ICv2 analyzes the August direct market numbers and comes up with some interesting patterns: While the market as a whole is up, the number of comics with sales of more than 1,000 has been declining; sales dropped a bit for most ongoing comics series in the Top 25, but strong sales of Before Watchmen and two annuals more than compensated for that; and graphic novels sell in far lower numbers than comics, but because many of them are backlist titles, the numbers still increase from year to year. ICv2 also posted lists of last month’s Top 300 comics and graphic novels. [ICv2]
Publishing | Yet another big publisher spawns a graphic novel imprint: This time it’s Penguin, whose Berkley/NAL division will launch a graphic novel imprint, InkLit, next month. Helmed by former DC vice president and Yen Press co-founder Rich Johnson, InkLit will publish both original graphic novels and adaptations of prose works. The line will begin with Vol. 1 of Patricia Briggs’s Alpha and Omega, which collects the trades published by Dynamite; the second volume will be all new material. Also in the works are books by Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Sage Stossel. [Publishers Weekly]
Conventions | David Glanzer, Comic-Con International’s director of marketing and public relations, looks back on this year’s WonderCon, which was held in Anaheim, California, rather than in San Francisco, touches upon the uncertainty about the location for next year’s show — “we just don’t have dates at the Moscone Center yet” — and discusses changes to pro and press registration for Comic-Con. [ICv2]
Conventions | Grant Morrison talks about MorrisonCon, the Sept. 28-30 convention billed as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” “It’s not going to be ‘Come here and buy some comics and listen to a few panels,’ ” he says. “After two days you will be a changed person.” Tickets for the Las Vegas show, which is limited to 1,000 attendees, cost $767, and include a two-night stay at the Hard Rock Hotel, access to the guests and after-hours parties. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, UF’s Comic Conference series this year carries the theme of “Monsters in the Margins” for its April 14-15 event Gainesville, Florida. The papers and panels being presented this year will explore the representation of monsters and the monstrous in comics around the world.
Organizers have tentatively planned talks on subjects as diverse as “Hulk as a Metaphorical Monster,” the portrayal of God as a monster in Preacher, and the works of Hitoshi Tomizawa. In addition to scholarly talks, the biannual conference will also host panels with comic creators such as Jim Rugg, Jonathan Case and Ben Towle. Another interesting event is a workshop by cartoonist Tom Hart, who recently set up the Sequential Artists Workshop school in Gainesville.
Unbeknown to many comic fans and Florida residents, including myself, the University of Florida has a focused “Comic Studies” track inside its English department, led by Dr. Donald Ault. It’s also home to an expanding special collection of comics that holds many gems. So if you’re in central Florida next month, it’s worth a visit.
Ben Towle (Midnight Sun, Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean) has been posting pages from his current project, the seaside adventure webcomic Oyster War for a while now on Tumblr. The trouble is, Tumblr’s not all that friendly an experience for webcomics readers. Pages are difficult to navigate and since Oyster War is a “graphic novel in progress” (and new pages go up every two weeks) it’s good to be able to flip back a page or two to remind yourself what’s going on.
Fortunately, Towle’s realized this himself and has switched the comic to its own site with traditional navigation buttons. He just started Chapter Five (reading 45 pages will catch you up), so it’s a great time to jump in on a cool, fantastical comic about oyster pirates and the ragtag crew intent on ending their pilfering ways.
Retailing | Rumors have begun to swirl that online retail giant Amazon plans to open a brick-and-mortar store in Seattle within the next few months to help gauge the profitability of a chain. The store reportedly won’t just sell e-readers and tablets, but also books from Amazon’s newly launched publishing division. [Good E-Reader, Gawker]
Publishing | Japanese publisher Shueisha Inc. released the 65th volume of Eiichiro Oda’s pirate manga One Piece last week with a first printing of 4 million copies, tying the record set in November by the previous volume. [The Mainichi Daily News]
Retailing | Howard Ackler writes about the final days of Dragon Lady Comics, the Toronto retailer that closed last week after 33 years in business. [National Post]
[Note: this post was assembled by both Tim O'Shea and JK Parkin]
This is our final post for our big birthday bash, and what a post it is. No matter how much stuff we line up, people we interview, etc., there are still tons of folks we like to hear from and include in our giant New Year’s/anniversary/birthday activities. So, as we have in past years, we have asked various comics folks what they are excited about for 2012 in comics–something they aren’t working on and something they are.
There’s a lot of great stuff here–hints at new projects and even some downright announcements. Our thanks to everyone this year who responded!
I’m most anticipating the 30th Anniversary of HEROES CON (June 22-24, Charlotte, NC) . For any convention 30 years is an amazing run, but the fact that Shelton Drum and his extended family have put this show together every year with nothing but blood, sweat and tears is flat out super heroic.
On the personal front, the challenging and exhilarating ride that’s been Loose Ends will come to a close with issue 4. It’ll be bittersweet to send our child off to into the real world but I can’t wait for you guys to see the work Brunner & Renzi are doing.
I’m also super excited to dip my own toes into the Mignola-verse with the BPRD: The Pickens County Horror [March 28, 2012] and to read the end of Jason Aaron & RM Guera’s Scalped, which is my favorite series in years.
This sounds politic, but it’s genuine: what excites me about comics in 2012 is what’s exciting every year, the work of the talent. Seeing what the best are up to and how the up-n-comers have grown as artists and writers. In the new year, I’m also excited about illustrating several books and covers that feature my favorite Avengers.
Just like we did with Black Friday, we’ve rounded up various deals on comics and comic-related stuff that you can get on Cyber Monday. And since at least one of the deals kicks off at midnight Pacific time, I thought I’d go ahead and post the list now instead of waiting for tomorrow morning. I’ll add any additional deals I discover throughout the day.
Also, if you did check out our Black Friday list, some of these are repeats from it, as several places have deals that have been running all weekend and go through Monday. I’ve put the new stuff up top, after the deal that starts at midnight …
Dark Horse Comics has another digital deal set up for Cyber Monday: the first 500 customers through Dark Horse Digital will get a 50 percent discount. There’s a $20 minimum, and the deal runs for 24 hours beginning at midnight Pacific Time on Nov. 28; you’ll also need a coupon code: dhcyber. You can find more details here.
And if you buy $100 worth of stuff from Things from Another World on Monday, they’ll give you $10 worth of digital Dark Horse Comics.
Ben Towle has posted some sketches on his blog of a work that is not so much in progress as on hold: A graphic novel adaptation of Cherie Priest’s steampunk zombie novel Boneshaker. Towle has an interesting perspective:
As I looked to working up some drawings for this, I made a deliberate effort to avoid for the most part visual references that dealt with steampunk and instead sought out historical imagery from the American Civil War. My approach to this was just to forget about “steampunk” entirely and to approach the project as an alternate history of the Civil War.
In the end, what got him was the zombies, or rather, the daunting task of coming up with a visual take on zombies that hasn’t been done a million times before. He hasn’t given up, though, just put the project on hiatus for now… and he’s looking at some other books as well. In the meantime, enjoy the art—he has a few more pieces posted at his blog.