“Once, many years ago, as a very young child, I was delighted to discover a pile of comics in an attic. They featured a blond, orange-shirted superhero who could speak to fish. ‘Ah,’ I thought, settling down to read. ‘This must be this “Superman” of whom I’ve heard so much.’ I was intrigued that so many of his adventures were maritime.
As the years passed, I got a bit more systematic, but I never lost the excitement at the sheer chaotic variety of costumes, monikers and powers I might find fighting for justice, every time I opened a comic. It was always a surprise. This addiction to the proliferation of the superheroic is something many of us never grow out of.
In fact, inventing superheroes is one of the basic games of childhood. Tie a towel around your neck and come up with a powerset, all the abilities you think you’ll need. Justify that hot mess as coherent by some ingenious, tendentious argument. Finally, give your wonder a name. (Electrical blast and tiger stripes? Electrotiger!) This is what we do. Like countless kids around the world, I was a martyr to superherogenesis.”
– acclaimed author China Mieville, discussing Dial H and his early exposure to DC Comics canon
Every year, the Eisner Awards present a snapshot of the most significant comic books released in print and online. In 2013, the Oscars of Comics reflect a shift with the level of diversity possibly unprecedented in American comics.
As has been noted, Tuesday’s Eisner nominations have a remarkable number of nods to literary comics house Fantagraphics and creator-owned comics publisher Image, and a scarcity for Marvel and DC Comics, despite their majority hold on market share. The dominant genre of that same market has long been superheroes, but for the first time, there are hardly any superhero comics recognized by the Eisner judges. The notable exception is Marvel’s Hawkeye, which is tied with two other non-superhero books for most nominations. Despite Hawkeye‘s strong showing, the majority of nominated works are in the genres of drama, slice-of-life, humor and non-fiction, with a decent percentage of adventure, crime, fantasy and science fiction.
Hawkeye isn’t the only superhero title among the nominees: Chris Samnee’s work on Daredevil and The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom earned him a Best Penciler/Inker nod. J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart were nominated for Best Cover Artist and Coloring, respectively, for what they created in Batwoman, although Stewart’s is also for six other non-superhero books. Finally, Paul Grist was nominated for Best Lettering for Mudman, and IDW Publishing’s Daredevil Born Again: Artist’s Edition was nominated for Best Archival Collection and Best Design. So all told, there are only about a half dozen superhero comics that are Eisner-worthy enough to stand out from the pack.
Creators | Colorist Jordie Bellaire launches a protest against a convention that refuses to include colorists as guests. “Your one sentence, ‘this is not a colorists thing,’ was surely the most pigheaded and dismissive thing I’ve been told since I began professional coloring,” she writes, and then goes on to point out all the things colorists do to make comics great and make a forceful argument for including them (as many major cons already do). In a later post she explains why she won’t name the convention. [Jordie Colors Things]
Graphic novels | A study soon to be released by a University of Oklahoma researcher shows that students who read a textbook in graphic novel form retained more than those who read a straight prose textbook. [The Oklahoman]
Censorship | At least one comic, alas unnamed, was among the thousands of books removed this week from a Turkish government restricted list. Most of the bans were widely ignored anyway, but Metin Celal Zeynioglu, the head of Turkey’s publishers’ union, pointed out one important effect of lifting them: “Many of the students arrested in demonstrations are kept in prison because they’re carrying banned books. From now on, we won’t be able to use that as an excuse.” [The Australian]
Publishing | Tom Spurgeon’s latest holiday interview is with Shannon Watters, the editor of BOOM! Studios’ children’s comics line, which includes Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors and Peanuts. [The Comics Reporter]
Creators | Michael Cavna talks to cartoonist Richard Thompson in-depth about his Parkinson’s disease, its effect on his cartooning, and the brain surgery he had this year to combat it, and shows the cartoon Thompson drew during the surgery. The story includes an update on how Thompson has been doing since the surgery and interviews with other cartoonists, including a rare comment from Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, about Thompson’s work and his struggle against the illness. [Comic Riffs]
Publishing | The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed in 2011 after it published cartoons mocking Mohammed, has released a comic-book biography of the Muslim prophet. Editor Stephane Charbonnier, who has lived under police protection since the magazine first published the cartoons, says the biography is a properly researched educational work edited by Muslims: “I don’t think higher Muslim minds could find anything inappropriate.” [AFP]
One of the most interesting things about the big plot development in this week’s Amazing Spider-Man #700 isn’t its effects on the Marvel Universe, or even fan reaction, but rather the lengths mainstream media outlets go to find a different angle for their coverage of the story. Take, for instance, CNN, which paired an interview with writer Dan Slott and editor Steve Wacker with a rundown of “13 comics that caused controversy, ranging from DC’s reintroduction of Alan Scott as a gay man and Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s recent abortion storyline to Superman’s renouncement of his U.S. citizenship (I’d already forgotten about that) to the tea party dust-up over Captain America #602.
Publishing | More than 4,000 new comic titles were released in the European Francophone market in 2012, marking the 17th consecutive year of growth. According to the Association des Critiques et journalistes de Bande Dessinée, the French association of comic strip critics and journalists, more comics were produced in the Francophone market than in the United States. [RFI]
Comics | The death of Spider-Man hits the mainstream media, with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso asserting, “We didn’t make this move lightly.” Stan Lee called it “a helluva birthday present” but added “But then, a little voice in my head whispered, ‘never say never. Just go with it while you can because Marvel, the House of Ideas, will always have a surprise up its creative sleeve for you and the rest of Marveldom Assembled!’” Entertainment Weekly’s Geoff Boucher said the ongoing deaths of superheroes are starting to feel “a little gimmicky” but he also nailed why the publishers do it: “if you look at who’s buying Marvel and DC, it’s long term fans and those readers are going to complain about this and debate about it — but are going to buy two copies.” [New York Daily News]
“Comics have a problem, and that is continuity — the obsession with placing the characters in an existing world, where every event is marked in canon. You’re supposed to believe that these weepy star boys of now are the same gung ho super teens fighting space monsters in the sixties, and they’ve only aged perhaps five years. It eventually strains credulity, and can shackle a writer who wants to try a something new. Very few narrative forms have to deal with this principle, and a fan base that gets mad when it’s violated, except for maybe soap operas (which is what comics are). So there are these periodic memory wipes and start-overs. But to me, it never felt right with the Legion. There are just too many of these kids, none of them is iconic, the whole pleasure is the continuity– the evolution of comic styles and sensibility encoded in their being.”
– author, humorist and Legion of Super-Heroes fan John Hodgman, on why the DC Comics property has been rebooted so many times over the past 55 years
As Kevin mentioned earlier this month, Tuesday is the third annual Read Comics in Public Day. The reason it’s worth mentioning again (besides just as a reminder) is that Sue from DC Women Kicking Ass has put a spin on it that’s important and cool. This is the second year that she’s advocated for the particular need for women to read comic in public. In addition to talking about it on her own blog, she’s started a separate Tumblr dedicated to photos of women reading their comics in public spaces.
“The grimness is just absurd. It’s ‘how do we out-grim each other, how do we out-violence each other.’ Don’t get me wrong. I’m not offended because I want comics to be like they were when I was a kid. I don’t care. I don’t want comics to be like they were when I was a kid because I still have my comics. If I need that I’ll go look at those. What I need is for comics to not cheapen out and just do what they think a bunch of bloodthirsty 15-year-old fans want. Stop trying to gross us out with blood and violence. It’s just cheap. It’s bad storytelling. I’m not offended on a moral or ethical level, I’m just offended on a creativity level. There are other ways to create tension and drama than to have somebody stabbed through the back with a sword.”
– Daredevil writer Mark Waid, addressing the grim tone of many superhero comics in a Q&A with Paste magazine that touches upon a range of topics, including The Indestructible Hulk.
… a superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s comic book. It’s for kids. It’s adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, “Dark Knight Rises is, you know, supreme cinema art,” I don’t think they know what the fuck they’re talking about.
– director David Cronenberg, on the limitations of superhero movies
Although he’s focusing on whether superhero movies can be art, the part of that quote that most interests me is Cronenberg’s assertion that the superhero genre is for kids and is “adolescent in its core.”
My first reaction was that it’s Cronenberg who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Comics Aren’t Just for Kids Anymore meme has been going on so long that it’s now accepted fact. We should be clear that when we say “comics aren’t just for kids,” what we really mean is that superhero comics aren’t just for kids, but that’s still a fact, too. If anything, the challenge is to find superhero comics that are appropriate for children. This is not a new observation.
Passings | Italian comics artist Sergio Toppi has died at the age of 79. Most of his work seems to have been in Italian and French, but Archaia has plans to publish an English-language edition of his version of the Arabian Nights, Sharaz-De. [The Beat, Archaia]
Comics | Brian Truitt marks Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary by talking to creators from Stan Lee to Brian Michael Bendis about the 10 traits that make the web-slinger special. On a related note, Complex runs down the 50 most iconic Spider-Man images. [USA Today]
Publishing | If you’re interested in self-publishing, Todd Allen’s latest article about Ingram’s new, lower-cost color print-on-demand service is a must-read. Allen does the math for several different scenarios, in terms of format and distribution method, and boils it down into several handy charts. [Publishers Weekly]
Most comic artists are familiar with Wally Wood’s famous 22 Panels That Always Work. It’s a one-page manual explaining how to spice up panels in which people are talking or otherwise doing visually uninteresting things. That, of course, also makes it required learning for comic book writers who need to realize how hard artists have to work to make this stuff readable in a visual medium.
Not confident that writers learned the appropriate lessons from Wood’s advice, Mark Waid has partnered with Jeremy Rock to speak directly to members of his profession. Gutters has the entire lesson.
Although we’ve seen many new titles in DC Comics’ New 52, there really haven’t been new characters. Sure, we’ve been introduced to new versions of old favorites or new additions to larger, historic franchises, when you’re talking about wholly new concepts, with no years of built-up awareness, then the New 52′s titles are rather … old. That is, until September’s Talon series.
Talon spirals out of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman story arc “Night of the Owls,” in which Bruce Wayne discovers a centuries-old secret society named the Court of the Owls has been operating under his nose. The new series follows Calvin Rose, a member who goes rogue and tries to stay one step ahead of the organization. This isn’t a new character carrying the legacy prefix of Bat-something, Super-something or continuing the legacy of an entrenched hero like Green Lantern; Talon is a new character, cut from a new cloth. And that’s important.
DC and Marvel have been chided (and rightfully so) by fans and pundits for their inability to create new characters with new titles to join established stalwarts like Spider-Man and Batman. But just as Hollywood studios find it easier to produce sequels and retreads, the superhero universes of DC and Marvel create new feature characters largely by riding on the coattails of established ones. What would Daken or X-23 if they weren’t the children of Wolverine? Would Batwoman have as much impact if she didn’t share the Bat-emblem? And just look at the recent switch-up of Thunderbolts to Dark Avengers, to better align itself with the more recognized “Avengers” mantle.
And while Talon isn’t completely new, as he springs out of an organization introduced in recent Batman comics, he’s by far the closest thing to new DC or Marvel’s superhero universes have seen in some time. Let’s see how it works.
… I’m pretty familiar with marketing being done without impacting a brand. And that’s why the idea that DC [...] “risks” alienating boys by [...] marketing to women flies in the face of brands that were more testorone filled than DC Comics will ever be; more focused on “entertainment for boys.” The NFL and NASCAR [are] doing pretty damn good expanding their marketing and not alienating their core audiences [or] diluting their brand.
Sue’s quote is especially interesting as she’s one of the “superhero suffragettes” that MacDonald mentioned in her article. It’s also cool that she and MacDonald — while fundamentally disagreeing about the prospects for change — obviously respect each other and are presenting their arguments accordingly.
Sue goes on to show how things have changed at DC in particular, citing the publisher’s large number of female-led series, female-friendly programming on DC Nation, the success of the Smallville digital comic (based on a show with a large female audience), and a recent quote by Ann Nocenti in which the new Catwoman writer says, ““I think they reached out to me partly for that reason … as an effort to bring female perspective into comics.”