“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.”
Well, all conspiracy theories, corporate DNA and the WB’s own woman problems aside, the simple fact is that on a meta level, DC Entertainment produces entertainment for boys. That’s its place within Warners, its demographic slot and I’m sure at some point Diane Nelson has overtly been tasked with keeping the boy audience engaged for films starring Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern.
We may think this kind of pigeonholing is stupid, but in a world run by branding, the message matters. By addressing female readers (and also younger readers), DC risks alienating its core audience of teenaged boys and men 25-35.
Heidi MacDonald hits the nail on the head: Publishers are in the business to make money, not make the world a better place, and of course they are going to cater to their core demographic. This is just one of a number of solid points that Heidi makes in this essay, which links to the other women-in-comics articles that have appeared in the past two weeks, ties them together, and frankly, makes a lot more sense than the two news pieces that were linked. It’s well worth reading the whole thing, including (especially!) the excerpt from former Drawn and Quarterly staffer Jessica Campbell’s essay on why the whole question of “female artists” is bogus at its core. And there’s a great discussion in the comments section as well (I thought Jesse Post made a particularly good point), so keep on scrollin’!
In a wide-ranging interview with Comic Book Resources, Grant Morrison revealed he will finish his tenure on Action Comics with January’s Issue 16, followed later next year by his departure from Batman Incorporated with Issue 12.
“The idea was always that I’d keep doing it as long as it gave me a lot of pleasure and allowed me to express myself ,” the writer said, expressing a desire to move beyond superhero stories. “And it still does, but I can see the end coming closer. I’m coming to the end of long runs and stories I’ve had planned in my notebooks for years and the stuff I’m developing now is quite different. The Action Comics run concludes with issue #16, Batman Incorporated wraps up my take with issue #12, and after that I don’t have any plans for monthly superhero books for a while. Multiversity is eight issues, and I’m 30-odd pages into a Wonder Woman project but those are finite stories.”
Multiversity is the long-promised miniseries — it originally was set for release in 2010 — that spans seven different Earths, featuring characters from the DC Comics catalog as diverse as Shazam, the Charlton heroes, a pulp Justice Society and Captain Carrot. And the Wonder Woman project is his frequently discussed take on the heroine that seeks to reintroduce the “weird, libidinous kind of element” prevalent in the early stories by her creator William Moulton Marston.
Since the publication of his superhero novel Prepare to Die, Paul Tobin’s been answering a lot of questions about whether he’s leaving comics. The short answer is “no,” but he goes into some detail in a comic strip he made. It’s cool not only because Tobin drew it himself, but because of the insight it gives to the difficulty of writing compelling superhero comics.
I was going to file this under “Wish This Was Real,” but it probably needs a “Wish This Was Complete” first. Matt Cowan does great, minimalist posters and other art, and he’s turned those talents toward the beginning of a superhero alphabet with clever designs and charming “rhymes.”
The scare quotes are because the alphabet isn’t finished, so none of the phrases that accompany each letter actually matches up with a phrase from an adjacent letter. Geek Art has helpfully collected all the pages (“so far,” I say, optimistically) and — as Cowan’s done some letters multiple times — it suggests this is more of an experiment than something he plans to complete. It’s so delightful, though, that I hope he reconsiders that.
Last month, Tim Marchman let loose with a scathing article in The Wall Street Journal criticizing the superhero-comics industry that was the talk of the internet for a couple of days and kicked up a few Twitterstorms, most notably with writer J. Michael Straczynski. But then people pretty much moved on.
The thing is, Marchman was supposed to be writing a review of Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner’s book Leaping Tall Buildings, a collection of interviews with, and photographs of, famous comics creators. You can get a taste of their work on their Graphic NYC blog, and as one who has been following them for a while, I can tell you, it’s awesome.
Although Marchman’s article appeared in the Bookshelf section of the Journal, he mentioned the book only in passing — and while his comments were positive, he billed Irving as the editor, not the writer, and skipped Kushner altogether. Now Kushner has posted a response to the piece, titled Who Reviews the Reviewer? at the Trip City site. Actually, Kushner says straight out that he isn’t reviewing the reviewer, but he does have some things to say about the article:
“The first issues of Before Watchmen will be published next month. Among the writers working on it is former He-Man scripter J. Michael Straczynski, who once penned a comic in which Spider-Man sold his marriage to the devil. (This is the rough equivalent of having Z-movie director Uwe Boll film a studio-funded prequel to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.)”
– Tim Marchman, in a broadside to the superhero-comics industry that began as a nominal review for The Wall Street Journal of Leaping Tall Buildings. Straczynski wasn’t the only comics creator targeted, however: Marchman also took aim at Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrison and Dan DiDio, characterizing them as “the men most responsible for the failure of the big publishers to take advantage of the public’s obvious fascination with men in capes.”
“Your behavior was dickish. I became a better writer after He-Man. You will always be a dick.”
– J. Michael Straczynski, issuing his “final word” in the ensuing Twitter exchange with Marchman that began with JMS confronting the reviewer on “a cheap shot.” “You had to go back to 1984 to insult me? Really?” Straczynski wrote. “And ['One More Day'] was Marvel’s decision not my call.”
“There was no master plan behind it all; we certainly had that character storyline in motion months ago before President Obama had come out with his statement, and the timing of the Marvel thing was coincidental because it was at Kapow that someone asked the question. You can’t necessarily manufacture that kind of attention in the mainstream press. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own, and this was a story that was literally picked up and went on its own. But that said, the point it raises is really good, it’s an interesting discussion. Dan’s answer came out of someone asking, ‘In the New 52, you’ve had a chance to change heroes ages and their origins and their race — why didn’t you change any sexual orientation?’ Basically Dan decided, you know what, maybe this was an opportunity to do some of that. The storyline comes out of that rethinking of what our standard policy was before.”
“This past year, 2011, I was asked this question a lot, and here we are into the first quarter of 2012, and it’s happening again (or still, if you rather). Most frequently, it comes up in regard to my work in the comics industry. Last year was not banner for the ladies, and this one isn’t off to a strong start, either, in fact. Wasn’t good for women within the industry itself, nor within the pages of the stories being told. Those who’ve had the unmitigated temerity to actually comment upon this state of affairs publicly have ended up paying a surprisingly heavy price. The gender of the speaker has been largely irrelevant, though to be sure, it’s the women who’ve stepped up have taken the harder hits. But all who’ve pointed out the absence of women both on the page and behind it have been ridiculed, insulted, and, absurdly enough, even threatened with violence. Conversely, those attempting to defend their mistreatment of women within the industry have revealed a staggering lack of understanding, empathy, and self-awareness, while seeming to rejoice in an arrogance that is near heart-stopping in its naked sexism and condescension.
To say there are those who don’t get it is an understatement; it would be like describing the Japanese tsunami as ‘minor flooding.’”
– Greg Rucka, in an essay addressing the frequently asked question,
“How Do You Write Such Strong Female Characters?”
Although readers will have to wait until sometime in June — perhaps not coincidentally, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month — to learn which established DC Comics character will be reintroduced as gay, we already know at least two details: It’s a major character (better luck next time, Doll Man), and it’s a guy.
“One of the major iconic DC characters will reveal that he is gay in a storyline in June,” Courtney Simmons, DC Entertainment’s senior vice president of publicity, confirmed to ABC News following the weekend revelation by Co-Publisher Dan DiDio that the formerly heterosexual figure will become “one of our most prominent gay characters.”
With those 18 words, Simmons drastically narrows the list of candidates, eliminating such popular guesses as Vibe (he’s neither a major character nor an iconic one) and Hawkgirl (she’s a … she). However, Simmons’ quote also raises the question of just what DC considers “major” and “iconic.”