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Business | Bitstrips co-founder and CEO Jacob “Ba” Blackstock, whose DIY avatar and comic strip app exploded in 2013, reflects on the lessons of the year, and sketches out the Toronto company’s goals for 2014. Unsurprisingly, those include finding more uses for its comics and, y’know, making money (earlier this month, Bitstrips confirmed a $3 million injection of venture capital, which will go toward more engineers, artists and designers). [Entrepreneur]
Creators | Tom Spurgeon interviews Nate Powell about his work on March, the graphic novel memoir of Rep. John Lewis’ experiences in the civil rights movement, and one of the most acclaimed books of the year. [The Comics Reporter]
Researchers for Canada’s Department of National Defence spent more than $13,000 U.S. on an online survey that asked respondents whether superheroes can fly, walk through walls, turn invisible and perform other feats. We can only presume it was the work of Department H.
The Canadian Press reports the questions are part of a study completed in October to help Canadian Armed Forces “win the hearts and minds” of local populations when troops are deployed overseas: “Some of the questions were designed to probe people’s expectations about – as the study put it – ‘supernatural categories that are so prevalent in popular culture and religion.'”
“It surprised me that outdated norms like those could still persist — especially in the cartooning world, since I think of cartoonists (at least the ones I know!) as exceptionally nice, sensitive people. I suspect there may be big-picture reasons for it — entrenched theories about what the comic book fan market is looking for, or maybe mainstream publishing houses still dominated by people or attitudes from an older era. But it’s hard to imagine that a concerted effort to make the comics world’s female characters more substantive and realistic wouldn’t pay off for male and female readers alike, making for richer, more interesting stories, and ultimately benefiting publishers’ bottom lines.”
— Sage Stossel, talking with Hero Complex about her new graphic novel Starling.
Stossel wrote the story because she was interested in the double-life aspect of being a superhero; her lead character is a working woman who has to deal with real-life problems in addition to fighting crime. After the first draft was done, Stossel, who was not a regular superhero comics reader, started researching other comics to see how her story would fit into the market. “It was at that point that I became keenly aware both of how two-dimensionally, and often demeaningly, women are depicted in many mainstream comics, and also of growing efforts on the part of some fans and creators to reverse those tendencies,” she said. In the graphic novel, Starling chooses a practical uniform, dismissing the other choices with “Who’s your costume designer? A 13-year-old boy?”
“Now, see, I haven’t read any superhero comics since I finished with Watchmen. I hate superheroes. I think they’re abominations. They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to 13, it’s nothing to do with them. It’s an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year old men, usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. This is a significant rump of the superhero-addicted, mainstream-addicted audience. I don’t think the superhero stands for anything good. I think it’s a rather alarming sign if we’ve got audiences of adults going to see the Avengers movie and delighting in concepts and characters meant to entertain the 12-year-old boys of the 1950s.”
— Alan Moore, addressing modern superhero comics in an interview with The Guardian about Fashion Beast, his collaboration with Malcolm McLaren. Moore also touches upon the influence of his work on other writers, and gets in a jab another in the process: “Grant Morrison has actually self-confessedly made a tactic of not only basing some of his narratives on my style or my work but also trying to make himself more famous by slagging me off at every opportunity. I have nothing to do with him.”
“Superman was the start of the whole superhero thing. He had the superpowers and wore that costume with the bright colors and silly cape. It’s the costume that was different. Zorro didn’t have superpowers, Doc Savage didn’t have superpowers; they could just do things a little better than the rest of us. The Shadow could be a superhero because he could make himself unseen, and if he appeared in a comic book today, he might be a superhero, though he doesn’t really wear a costume. I’m not an expert on the Shadow, but I think he just had a dark business suit and a sort of raincoat and a slouch hat. Superman’s costume was different because of the bright colors, that silly cape, those red boots, his belt, and his chest symbol. I mean, it’s ridiculous, because you really don’t need a costume to fly or fight bad guys. If I had superpowers, I wouldn’t wear a costume. [...]
Although a costume isn’t required of superheroes, the fans love costumes. The characters are more popular if they wear costumes. (Don’t ask me why.) In the first issue of the Fantastic Four, I didn’t have them wear costumes. I received a ton of mail from fans saying that they loved the book, but they wouldn’t buy another issue unless we gave the characters costumes. I didn’t need a house to fall on me to realize that — for whatever reason — fans love costumed heroes.”
– Stan Lee, from his essay for What is a Superhero?, from Oxford University Press
(For the story on Lee’s 1983 “centerfold” photo, visit Sean Howe’s Marvel: The Untold Story blog.)
We’ve spotlighted the artwork of Ilias Kyriazis before, including his failed Doom Patrol pitch and his vision of what the Avengers might look like in 15 years. And now, to celebrate the launch of The Sandman: Overture, he’s aimed his talent for re-imagining superheroes at the Endless.
Kyriazis, whose professional work includes his self-published graphic novel Elysium Online, has been debuting each member of The Endless over the past few days — so far we’ve seen Dream, a Kirby-esque Despair, Destruction, Desire and Delirium, my personal favorite, with her floating fish bowl.
Check out a few of them below, and be sure to head over to his blog to see the unveiling of Death and Destiny over the next two days.
Painter Andreas Englund certainly has a unique take on interpreting superheroes. The Swedish artist has created an ongoing series of oil paintings called “The Aging Superhero,” which follows the journey of a nameless crimefighter in his twilight years. Englund’s paintings depict everything from the man’s superheroic efforts — like beating up a pile of thugs or sparring with what looks to be a supervillain — to his everyday accomplishments or lack thereof, like dropping groceries on his way to his super-car or peeling an orange in his empty home.
“I see a kid superhero like Battling Boy or Aurora West to be symbols of the potential of youth to do something new and different, to invent a new solution to old problems. [...] Too often, I think the superheroes we see in films and comics are too perfect, too established, too impervious to real fault or challenge. I like the idea of writing a story focusing on kid superheroes who mess up and must learn from their mistakes.”
If you somehow missed Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle when it aired Tuesday, or you simply want to watch it again, PBS has made the entire three-hour documentary available for viewing online.
Hosted by X-Men Origins: Wolverine actor Liev Schreiber, the documentary by Michael Kantor features interviews with the likes of Stan Lee, Adam West, Lynda Carter, Michael Chabon, Jules Feiffer and the late Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson, and chronicles how comic books “were subject to intense government scrutiny for their influence on American children and how they were created in large part by the children of immigrants whose fierce loyalty to a new homeland laid the foundation for a multibillion-dollar industry that is an influential part of our national identity.”
All three episodes — “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” “Great Power, Great Responsibility” and “A Hero Can Be Anyone” — can be viewed below.
It’s been a while since the announcement, and subsequent postponement, of Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, so it’s worth noting that the documentary will air tonight on PBS as part of a three-hour block of programming called simply “Superheroes Night.”
Hosted by X-Men Origins: Wolverine actor Liev Schreiber, the documentary by Michael Kantor feature interviews with the likes of Stan Lee, Adam West, Lynda Carter, Michael Chabon, Jules Feiffer and the late Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson, and chronicles how comic books “were subject to intense government scrutiny for their influence on American children and how they were created in large part by the children of immigrants whose fierce loyalty to a new homeland laid the foundation for a multibillion-dollar industry that is an influential part of our national identity.”
You can read a description of the three one-hour episodes below. Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle premieres tonight at 8 ET/PT on PBS.
Publishing | This may seem a little inside-baseball, but it’s actually pretty significant: Dark Horse will switch from Diamond Book Distributors to Random House for book-market distribution, effective June 1, 2014. The publisher is sticking with Diamond for comics, but a lot of its line has appeal outside the direct market — the Avatar graphic novels, the Zelda guide — and Dark Horse wants to expand its presence in bookstores. This also makes for an interesting consolidation of manga distribution, as Random House also distributes Kodansha Comics (with which it has a strong business relationship) and Vertical books. [ICv2]
Comics | Superheroes may rule on television and in film, but comics continue to be a niche medium. The Associated Press reporter Melissa Rayworth talks to a comic-shop owner whose customers skulk in on the down low, an opera singer whose friends are surprised she reads comics, and Comics Alliance writer Chris Sims, who does a good job of putting things in perspective. [ABC]
After the last week or so of “We don’t publish comics for kids” and “[Depicting rape] is the same as, like, a decapitation” and “comics follow society, they don’t lead society,” among other chestnuts, I’ve been thinking about the mentality and philosophy that produces those positions, and how it reflects on the state of comics.
Reading those quotes in a vacuum, you would think the last 10 to 20 years of progress in comics never happened. They did, of course; it’s just not easy to tell sometimes.
All of the creators involved in the unfortunate remarks come from the so-called “mainstream” of comic books. While Todd McFarlane and Mark Miller are more well-known for their creator-owned comics, they still play within the superhero genre primarily defined by DC and Marvel comics to the majority of the populace. They may not be actively steering mainstream comics these days, but many of the actions of those that do reinforce the same disappointing opinions. There are plenty of beacons of hope in nearly every other sector of the industry, and even a scattered few pinpricks of light within the superhero mainstream, but the makers of our highest-profile genre are still holding back the slowly improving public perception of comic books.
Despite competition from cinematic upstarts like Iron Man, Wolverine and Captain America, Batman reigns as the most popular superhero on YouTube, with more than 3 billion views of a staggering 71,000 hours of video. But the character at No. 2 may surprise fans, and undoubtedly please Marvel Studios. Verily.
That’s according to research released today by the video-sharing website as part of its “Geek Week” celebration. The breakdown is based on keyword searches since 2008 for everything from film trailers to fan originals to video-game play.
Legal | Singapore cartoonist Leslie Chew apologized today for four comic strips that were formerly posted on his Facebook page Demon-Cratic Singapore. In a statement released by his lawyers, Chew said, “I accept that (the) comic strips had misrepresented to the public that the Singapore Judiciary administers differential treatment to individuals based on their nationality, social status and political affiliation, and that there have been specific criminal cases in which decisions were made by the Singapore judiciary on the basis of the above factors rather than on the merits.” In light of the apology, and the fact that the strips have been taken down, the Attorney-Generals Chambers has dropped contempt of court charges against Chew. The cartoonist was also charged with sedition in April, but those charges have been dropped as well. [Straits Times]
Dark Horse has been making a concerted effort over the past year to develop its superhero line, with titles like Ghost, X and The Victories. On Wednesday, the lineup expands further with the launch of the Captain Midnight ongoing series, written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Fernando Dagnino.
I can’t help but be excited by the potential appeal for this new series, which throws the World War II scientist-hero into the present day — particularly after Williamson praised James Robinson’s Starman: “It’s one of the few books that — it made me cry.” My cautious optimism for the series was cemented in the midst of my interview with the writer, when he said of the Dark Horse superhero approach: “There is a subtle way to handle the superhero universe, and that’s what Dark Horse is doing.”
Once you’ve read the interview, be sure to enjoy the preview the publisher offered for Captain Midnight #1, on sale Wednesday.
Tim O’Shea: You leap right into the action with Issue 0, in which Captain Midnight lands in the present day, after just having been in the midst of World War II. What does it say about the character that he wasn’t thrown by being flung into the future?
Joshua Williamson: We knew that we wanted to separate Captain Midnight from other time-lost characters and set up two aspects: 1) He was disappointed by the future; 2) He was not surprised by time travel. Midnight was a genius first and a superhero second.
Midnight is a very interesting character in that he is no-nonsense and has such a black-and-white outlook on the world — very matter-of-fact. We wanted to get that across to our readers quickly in the zero issue and found that was the best way to do it.