Tuesday, March 29, 2005

All Hail Alexa Kitchen

[sam]

Slight change of pace...

You've heard of Denis Kitchen, right? Former head of Kitchen Sink Press, the guys who originally published stuff like From Hell, Understanding Comics and Violent Cases, as well as stuff by guys like Robert Crumb, art speigleman and Will Eisner?

He has a daughter. Alexa Kitchen is 7 years old. Alexa draws comics. They are very funny.

This is the comics visionary of the next generation. All hail.

Go visit. Now.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Middle Ground

[sam]

I'm going to take the opportunity to get a little anecdotal here. Bear with me; I have a point.

Way back in '98, I picked up Iron Man vol 2 # 3. The Heroes Reborn stuff was getting going, and Whilce Portacio, crazy-scratchy-line-man that he is, was drawing up a storm, along with the Wildstorm Colouring guys, on this book. I hadn't read a comic for years, at least not a superhero book, and the difference between this frankly extraordinary-looking book and the standard Marvel and DC books of the late 80s and early 90s was unbelievable. I'd been reading stuff like Thor and Batman and New Warriors and Guardians of the Galaxy, bought with pocket-money from the local newsagents, and could not believe the difference in quality between that and this.

Skip to the end; I went and tried to hunt down more of the same. Oxford's Comic Showcase was less than helpful. Banbury's Comic Connections was helpful and friendly and only too-glad to take significant chunks of my cash in exchange for Rob Liefeld's Captain America. (thanks guys)

(I'm going somewhere with this - bear with me)

However, living an hour away from my regular comic shop, I tended to grab other stuff to keep things ticking over. Waterstones, Borders and Oxford's Comic Showcase got some spare cash from me when I wanted something amusing to read, and because I couldn't buy what I wanted to read (coz that was being held for me in Banbury), I ended up grabbing a lot of random stuff, to try out different things. Sid's already mentioned my Oni Press reccomendations below - almost all born out of the ads at the back of Barry Ween Vol. 2 # 1 (the Star-Wars issue). In searching around for something different to read, I came across all sorts of interesting things and people. Scott Morse, Jim Mahfood, Andi Watson, Chynna Clugston-Major, all the stalwarts of Oni's output. Also picked up a little book called Whiteout written by Greg Rucka, who quickly because recognised (through, I'd say, No Man's Land and Detective Comics after that) as one of the significant writers of this decade. He even wrote Elektra better than BMB (says Sid).

(Honest, I've got a point here...)

So Sid was reading all the Marvel and DC books that came across his desk, and I was readings less and less mainstream stuff as I became excited by more and more non-name creators. And a funny thing has happened since then. Because both of us are kind of evangelical about what we enjoy reading, there's been this cross-pollenation of interest. I've been turned on to a bunch of marginal-but-mainstream books, and he's now reading the solid core of the indie press. (And, apparently, pushing them on his customers.)

And there, bang in the middle; that's the useful space for comics.

There needs to be a migration of ideas between company-owned comics and self-published books. Many of the great and exciting writers of today (I include Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis) came to comics through self-publishing. And their enthusiasm and passion for the medium is borne through from those early days. These guys wrote and drew comics not for big paychecks or fame and fortune. They did it because they were slightly stupid in the head for them. You read something like I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League (which, I know, not everyone wants to do), and one this is startlingly clear; the guys doing this series LOVE DOING THIS SERIES! They're damaged in the head for it. Nobody's getting rich, nobody's furthering the art form, they're doing it because they love it!

And THAT'S THE COMMON GROUND! The great mainstream books are made readable not just by the reader's passion, but by the creator's passion. Brian K. Vaughn makes Ex Machina available free to those who vote in the Presidential Election. Brubaker says that, if people don't like Sleeper, he'll give them their money back. STUPID, STUPID PEOPLE! That's not the way to earn a living! That's the way to get shafted by irritating fanboys! But, as it turns out, that stupid passion for their book spills over into the writing (and, in Tony Harris and Sean Phillips' case, the art as well).

And the books I'm less crazy about? X-Men and the Age of Apocalypse revamp? A new stab at New Warriors? Batman spiralling into alienated and inhuman rage? Fucking Spawn?!?

Where's the love there man?

(this post has been brought to you by sugar, unemployment and inarticulate rage)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Question. Please comment.

So who reads the current Azzarello / Lee Superman and what do you think of it honestly? I will keep my opinion to myself (for once) on this while I wait for the hundreds of responses from our loyal blog fans.

[sam]

(I'm gonna post here, coz I've not written anything for a good week or so... njah.)

I'm about 6 months behind on this series, but I've got to say that I've enjoyed it. Yes, it's written for the trade; yes, it's slow-paced; yes, it's not quite in keeping with the whiz-bang action of a lot of the stuff going on in Superman / Batman. But in the first half at least, it's a look at a character who can do anything being unable to do anything. Superman has often been rendered impotent by events - it's practically the only way to challenge him, by making his powers irrelevant - but over the first half of this arc, I've felt for him quite genuinely.

He's afraid and angry. Haven't we all been?

I'll have some words vomited on a page please Carol.

I had time to vomit words on to a page, this was the result. It was this or fill out a police witness form, and I am putting that off.

For those who give a shit, the 6th quarterly Comic Connections newsletter came out today, don't all rush at once.

Got to thinking about just how many non-mainstream comics I am reading (I define non-mainstream as non-Marvel / DC or Cape related adventure, if you disagree, then thats fine, obviously this makes Kabuki mainstream so there are some inconsistencies but there you go, thats life, get over it. Move along.). Oni, AiT / PlanetLAR and Image Central (not Top Cow) are putting out some fucking great titles, and best of all, they keep (most) of them in print.

AiT / PlanetLAR: Anything by Brian Wood, this includes Demo #1-12, the fantastic Channel Zero, Tourist (coming soon) and a few others that I have yet to read and thus refuse to recomend. Ellis' Switchblade honey is good for a giggle, as is Larry Youngs Planet of the Capes. yet to read Astronauts in Trouble but I do own it.

Oni Press: Love Fights (thanks for the recomendation Sam), Complete Soulwind (thanks for the rec Sam), love as a foreign language (thanks for rec Sam), Whiteout (thanks rec Sam), Barry Ween (thanks Sam) and nearly everything else they publish (sam). Not got around to Queen and Country though, and I know I should.

Image Central = Robert Kirkman. "Brit" especially, 3 self contained one-shots, cheap too. Nice to see Negative Burn in print. All the Noir Bendis collection which i still consider his very best work - except killing Hawkeye.

IDW: Nice assortment, I don't really do horror comics, read 30 Days of Night because I kind of had too. But the choice is excellent and its another genre in comics, so yay IDW. Getting some nice licenses too, could be making Dark Horse sweat a bit, especially after their Episode 3 faux pas (books sent out one month early, spoiler alert!).

Avatar: A loooooooot of shit. too many variants. Pervy tittie books. But some great Ellis and Moore. The Courtyard, Scars and Strange Kiss.

Running low on time, this was supposed to be quick...

Wildstorm: Ex Machina. Random Ellis books.

Vertigo: Check out the tpb section anyuwhere, just read Mystery Play = good. Need to number the Hellblazer tpbs sequentially though DC!!!!

Manga: Battle Royale seems good so far, will keep you posted.

Others: Strangers in paradise. Generic Comic Book. Dogwitch. Gah, read too much, head melting.

The Pulse???: It just does'nt sell as well as it should so I threw it in here.



Any comic retailer can get you in any of these titles. Every month Diamond sends out a list of the complete Star System most of which is in stock at Warrington (Diamonds UK warehouse). If your retailer won't, he is a dick. Leave a comment if you have any retailer problems, please.

Any to wrap up, I finish with this.

Brian Wood: Seriously, he is the finest comic writer who won't "make" it, because he is already there. He achieved brief notoriety and immortality by becoming part of the then disasterous X-line writing the stories that Mr. Ellis plotted during the questionable "Counter X" period. Y'know, when X-Man stopped wearing shoes. No fault to Ellis or Wood, those characters were damaged beyond repauir and all Counter X did was alienate the "hardcore" (read; stupid) X-fans. Mr. Wood has since left Marvel to work on books that really matter and say something new in the realm of comics.
I would like to say he will be a big name in comics like I predicted with Azzarello, Bendis and Rucka years ago but I don't think he will.
He has too much integrity.

(all typos intentional, honest)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Some Comics Suck...and thats okay

Been an interesting few years for comic books, I have found so much good stuff which has changed my perception of the entire industry, which people are finally starting to realise is multi-faceted. And within this multi-faceted industry, I like nothing more than finding a really good comic book that I personally don't enjoy.

Why?

Case in point: Ghost World.
Fantastic Comic really, great dialogue, clear detailed artwork with easy panel breaks leading the reader down the writers path. But does nothing for me.
Now I see this book is relevant, it fills a gap in the market and as I can see through sales at my store, it has a viable audience. Just personally, it does nothing for me. I tried reading it and although I enjoyed the craftsmanship, I didn't care about the two protagonists enough to keep reading, unless they go the whole hog with the latent lesbianism thing later in the book.
Maybe I have no soul.

The movie itself kicked ass though, for me, it worked better that way. Sorry. I know what I like to read, I know what I like to watch and I gave both versions of Ghost World a try.

But where is it written that we must enjoy everything? I have no problem with the book (Ghost World), I see its place in the market and respect it as an indie comic (although how this is indie and something like DC's Monolith is considered mainstream is beyond me, more on that another time), but I don't enjoy it. Does everyone enjoy Othello? No. Does everyone enjoy Planetary? No. Does that make them any less important as works of fiction? Of course not.

There is nothing more important to the longterm survival of the comic book industry than diversity, if the comic book was sustained by five or six equally recongnised and succesful genres than they could help support the industry when one genre goes out of favour with the public. Everything is cyclic, comics would do well to remember this before the latest superhero-trend takes a downward trend. After all, Bendis and Millar can only relaunch so many monthlies.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Me





This is me, it took about 1/2 hour to post this picture and even then it didnt go to my profile where I wanted it to, but there you go. Back to the Warren Ellis 12 Hour forum.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Batman Animated Thing

Check out

http://stevenegordon.com/presentation_art.html

Artwork for a Batman animated project that never happened. Looked interesting, But the WB went with a Batman beyond project instead.

Shout out to bingorah for this!!!

Ellis: Swings and Roundabouts

IDC2
[sam]

I think I'd have to agree that Warren's success in his work at Marvel has been mixed. Personally I feel the difficulties have come about due for different reasons. Yes, Johnny Storm via. Michaelangelo the Party Dude is a strange choice, (although you've gotta admit that, if there was an analogue between the FF and the TMNT, that would be it), but more than that, I'm wondering if the research-heavy approach to the science in UFF is hurting the storytelling. Without question, the books are smartly written - whether you like the pace or not, the Writing-For-The-Trade technique he uses is consistent and engaging, and certainly there's lots of ideas flying around.

But my concern (and this is one I felt occasionally during Global Frequency also) is that, in focusing on the crazy ideas behind the story, the comic itself becomes... transparent? Yes, I can see where he's coming from; playing with the superhero genre as a sub-set of Science Fiction (an irony, considering Orson Scott Card is currently doing exactly that over on the now-10-issue Ultimate Iron Man), getting quantum physics and space-flight and body-shock all the other things Warren's interested into a mainstream book. But is there enough interpretation going on? I worry that there's a fusion of Internet Research and Internet Speak going on, but the rest is left to languish.

The trouble is, for a writer who's so passionate about the medium and who's been so prolific and produced so much solid work, he seems cautious about writing another long, big story. Looking up at the shelves behind me, I think you'd have to call it a draw between the size of the Ellis shelf and that of the Alan Moore one. My collection of both is nudging the edge of comprehensive (there's some of the WildCATS stuff Moore wrote I haven't found, and a lot of his smaller indie projects which are a little too expensive for me at the moment), and a lot of the Ellis stuff I've re-read quite recently (Transmet, Global Frequency, Ministry of Space and Planetary).

But his latest salvo of books have all been very conservative in duration - 3- and 6-issue minis with Wildstorm and Image, Global Frequency's 12 self-contained stories, Orbiter (and soon Stealth Tribes) OGN from DC, the Apparat line (with second phase coming later this year)... I know Desolation Jones is ongoing, and Jack Cross is longer-ish, but this is from the writer who hammered out 30-odd very inventive Stormwatch issues, 70 plus of Transmetropolitan, who wrote Hellstorm with a long-game in mind, who wanted (and should have kept) Hellblazer for significantly longer than 12 issues...

You read the pitch for Planetary, the unpublished Marvel stuff from the 90s, even the concepts behind Morning Dragons; and it's super-dense with story ideas. The Authority had a new moment of madness (and character-driven madness at that) pretty much every issue, if not more often. Even stuff like Superheroes vs. Mounted Cavalry! I Love It! And all moving towards a longer goal.

I miss that.

Having said all that:

Planetary is a fusion of the most brilliant ideas, solid and innovative characters, big stories told with little stories; a meta-textual critique of pop culture with the potential to become iconic in itself. (and you can go to the end of the Millarworld Planetary Thread to check out my / others' ranting theories about THAT.)

Strange Kisses is a much bigger story than anyone, even Ellis, first imagined it to be, and you're right, it is the Hellblazer he didn't get a chance to write.

Apparat produced four books, all of completely different tone and approach, which made me excited about pulp archetypes again. And there's a lot of non-superhero-escapist-power-fantasy stuff being produced at the moment; he hit the nail on the head.

Perhaps what we have to admit is that the Ultimate stuff he's writing is a chance for him to play with some characters, make some money and carry on doing the projects he's passionate about. And, let's face it, no big Marvel franchise like the FF is going to be irrevocably hurt by 12 issues of slightly strange SF and silly names. Millar's back with issue 19, right?

(Of course, Mark Millar's another kettle of fish altogether...)


(Sid)

Undoubtedly, if Marvel keep paying Ellis lots of cash to churn out his stuff then that's a good thing, I want Ellis to do well because he seems like a decent guy (if not cantankerous) who genuinely cares for the industry - and that's a rare thing. Which is probably why i feel like an asshole for picking faults in his work.

Incidentally, Mike Carey is taking over UFF. Woop-de-doo. His Hellblazer is marginally better than Azzarellos, but most of his Marvel stuff is pretty poor. Still, one of my friends knows him and says he is a nice guy, so, sorry Mike : ) and I will keep buying it.

And Ult. Iron Man, so far, does seem to be negating the need for Ellis' Iron man, if there was an Ultimate book I have been really surprised by its that one.

But the most prudent point you came up with Sam, was in the comment replying to Pete on my first Ellis post, where you pointed out that UFF is venting readers at a fair old rate. Even in my shop where people know not to cancel Ellis in case I shout at them we have had a few people can it. Maybe if Marvel let Ellis run rampant, the sales would come back in.
Or are the sales still there, having just migrated to Tpbs?

So, Mark Millar huh? Next. I'll let you start the ball on that one.

The Talented Mr. Ellis

(Sid)

Okay, this could be the most one sided post ever, as both Sam and I are quite big fans of Mr. Ellis, so lets at least try to be objectional. Take it on faith that I adore Planetary, Transmet, Authority, Scars, hellblazer, Available Light, the Strange Kissesess (Kissi?) series, Red, Tokyo Storm Warning, Mek yadda yadda...I even have the bookend of the 2099 series that Ellis wrote.

A few years ago, Mr. Ellis was just about ready to give up the comic side of things and pursue TV / animation writing, but as events conspired against him, he realised he better stay writing comics for a while. Before anyone knew what was going on, Marvel was bending over backwards offering him a variety of work on some of their core books.

Now Mr. Ellis has repeatably noted his disdain towards the superhero ilk, maintaining (quite rightly so) that super-heros are part of the industry, not the entirity. A genre within a medium, as opposed to a genre defining a medium. As such, most of Ellis' finest work has been produced without super-heroism, such as the Science Fiction Political Comedy Thriller Cautionary Tale which is Transmetropolitan or his variety of pulp work with Avatar.

So it came as something as a shock when he announced his arrival as writer of Marvels "Ultimate" Fantastic Four, a perhaps unfortunate name for a book which hasn't been able to measure upto the Worlds Greatest Comic Book during Mark Waids tenure, and with the arrival of Straczynski impending, it might be sometime before the "Ultimate" franchise catches up to the "bog-standard Marvel" title (this has already happened with Amazing Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man).
Now Ellis' excuse, or defence for taking the writing duty was: "to help out a friend", the friend in question being Mark "wasn't Millar World supposed to launch four books in one month?" Millar, the man who took over writing chores on Authority just as people had started to hear about the book.

Now don't get me wrong, Ultimate Fantastic Four is a good book, especially with art teams like Immomen and Kubert, but a great book? Ignoring the standard Marvel policy for Ultimate books (with the exception of Ultimates), which seems to be: have an issue worth of events happen over 6 issues then stick it in a Tpb within 2 weeks of the final issue shipping. Ignoring that, the book is still flawed, but only in that it is not pushing the skills of the writer in any way, shape or form. Its comics by the numbers and that is one thing that Ellis has always avoided doing. I think it was Denny O' Neil who said: "with any comic book you have to ask yourself how will this improve the industry? What does it do that hasn't been done before?"
We know Ellis is better than that UFF, we know he is better than Johnny Storm saying: "Awesome Dude". If there was one thing I never expected Ellis to do, it was to package Johnny Storm as a fucking Mutant Turtle.

Onto Ellis' other recent Marvel properties. Ultimate Nightmare started well, but after the delay between issues 4 and 5, the whole publicity hype surrounding the second Series - Ultimate Secret - was ruined by the announciation in Marvels Retailer Mailer that the first Series was being packaged as Tpb under the title Ultimate Galactus Book 1: Nightmare. This meant by the time the big revelation at the end of issue 5 was "revealed", it held no gusto. The cat was already out of the bag that Secret meant Galactus, and the worst thing was I don't think anyone cared, I don't think the majority of the comic wolrd knew that "Ultimate Secret" was a working title to keep Galactus hidden.
Couple that marketing goof with the late shipping of what was shaping up to be an excellent series: Iron Man Volume 68, means that Ellis Marvel books are really not doing all they could be doing.
Granted,its not all Ellis' fault, and even on UFF I can put that down to writing to a formula, after all its one of Marvels top sellers, they cannot risk alienating their audience by unleashing raw Ellis upon its younger readers.

So the solution...I don't fucking know! I will keep buying the Marvel stuff because a) I am a Marvel whore and 2) I am an Ellis whore. So am I part of the problem not the solution? Probably. All I know is I would be happier if as many people who are buying all the Marvel stuff were buying the Planetary and Transmetropolitan Tpbs, they are two of the best-selling tpbs we have ever had but I think they should be in every comic fans collection, without exception.
The worst part is that people won't take a risk on the Avatar or the AiT / PlanetLAR titles: Scars, Apparat, Switchblade Honey, Bad World and that one with the SAS version of Constantine that I can't pluralise. Ask your retailers to stock them god damn it, or I will post the STAR codes for them and you will have no excuse.

(Please remember people, I am an Ellis fan. When Hunter S Thompson pointed out the short-comings of America its not because he hated the country, its because he cared so damn much)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Comments have been Activated

"User-Only Commenting" has been turned off - anyone can now post comments on The Counter-Culture.

Start calling us wankers....

(wait for it....)

...nnnnnnnnnnnnnNOW!

Identity Critique 5

IDC2
(Sid)

I will say my last few pieces and try and wrap up this thread, its about time we moved on to a different subject matter methinks : )

Do superheroes work?

Thats the question isn't it.

Obviously, Watchmen dealt with that subject better than most and 20 years on is just as relevant today as it was then. But just because "Romeo and Juliet" is arguably the greatest Romantic Comedy doesn't mean other people shouldn't give it a go. After all, it has often been therorised that there are only 7 unique story concepts.

At the end of ID Crisis, we are left feeling that Superheroes are flawed, but you have to look at ID Crisis as part of the journey, not an insular 7 issue series with no ties to the DCU. What Brad has done is created a shit storm of conflict, and left the resolution hanging.

The conflict mainly comes from the League within the League making a mistake, this is good as it humanises the characters creating recognition in readers (people tend to make mistakes, they don't tend to fire painted arrows or talk backwards). Out of the rather shiny history of the DCU, we have a murky secret arise, a secret which threatens every thing that the heroes have worked for and urinates on the legend surrounding the Barry Allen Flash. The characters are going to have to deal with this in the coming 2 years and it looks like DC has a plan, tying together the last three years of stories. I know I will be there to see it coming together.

Time was, Marvel led the way, with more realistic (occassionally grim and gritty, or at least heavily shoulder-padded) characters who had troubles in their life. Indeed, this was what seperated the Spider-mans and Fantastic Fours from other superheroes of the '60's. Coupling that together with a shared setting (NY, NY) created a cohesive Universe that the characters existed in, this is what put Marvel on top of their game for the last 40 years.
But in a time when Marvel is foresaking continuity for creative freedom and the Marvel Universe drifts apart faster than a Yoko infesting Beatles, DC has put the Unvierse back into comics, and in the center of that universe, there are characters.

(Why do I sense this is going to open a string about creative freedom???)

So, in conclusion: The fat lady has not sung, or talked backwards. The events of ID Crisis have not reached there climax, let us see where DC take us over the next few years and then open the debate again.

All right, forget the "next few years" thing, we will surely have something to say after DC Countdown, shipping March 31st and only $1!

[sam]

Absolutely, I get what you're saying, and you (and Pete) are absolutely right - this shouldn't be viewed as just an isolated story. If anything, this series (and its followers; Countdown, OMAC Project, Society of Super-Villains etc) *is* the DCU at the moment, considering how it's touched upon most of its core elements.

We'll see how it pans out (Look - Robin is crying now that this discussion's over...)

I say Planetary, Ultimate FF, Ultimate Nightmare, Ocean and all the other Ellis projects going on ATM next... :)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Identity Critique 4

IDC2
[sam]

Absolutely Ellis, Ennis, Morrison & Millar are forward-looking; re-inventing and interpreting, and most definitely not re-hashing old stories. But their superhero work is clearly about what superheroes are about.

The dispute I have with this book (which I enjoyed greatly in execution, which I bought and read and do not wish to sell off at the earliest opportunity) is that the superheroics stuff, however well-written, is almost completely incidental to what happens in the book. Of course it's great that it sells well, of course it's great that it gets press and so on, but the core of the story is destructive, it's short-sighted and it's not sustainable.

Sure, the Deathstroke scene is fantastic - what a rockin' way to kick off a second issue. The art's exemplary - I know exactly what's going on throughout that scene, there's no confusion despite the presence of 8 or 9 people, all seriously involved in the fight. I Love it! A serious draftsman with a solid comprehension of anatomy and composition is drawing a top-selling book. FANTASTIC.

But it's destructive. It tells us, essentially, that Superheroes Don't Work.

The JLA can't deal with the real world. Sure, they can stop Darkseid from bonding with the source, they can stop the Queen Bee from taking over the planet, they can even travel to the 853rd Century and stop an evil Sun from destroying Superman as he emerges from his Solar Fortress... but a bad man fucks a nice lady, and they have to attack each other.

I love comics as a medium - I think it's an exciting way to tell stories. And I like non-superhero books a lot, I think that, to survive, there needs to be a better balance between men in tights and everything else in this industry.

But I also love superheroes - you know this as well as anyone else.

When Batman is, essentially, TOO MORAL; when Superman has to walk away from problems because he doesn't want to hear about them; when Dr Light is terrifying to the JLA because he has a dick and Jean Loring can go around destroying lives because she's not getting any...

... then superheroes don't work.

And if that's the core of the story that's gotten all this press attention, that people are buying in their droves (and I know that that's a simplistic interpretation of the book, but that's what I see when I strip away to the core ideas), then that's just a self-inflicted wound by an already shakey medium.

Again: It's well-written. It's got great art. It has some kick-ass character-driven super-hero stuff, and nothing happens in the story that isn't consistent.

But I think it's too easy to break superhero comics.
"Superman hasn't stopped world hunger - he's pointless."
"One lucky shot, and Batman dies."
"How old is Spider-Man again? Coz he's gotta be in his 50s at least, all the stuff he's done. And BTW, radioactive spider bite - that'd kill you. Just FYI."

The book is about what doesn't work in the genre. Watchmen did this, did practically this exact story, 20 years ago. And did it in such a way to provide an answer to the question as well.

(ID Crisis is in my "To Re-Read" pile at the moment. Countdown is on order.)

Identity Critique 3

IDC2
(Sid)

Okay fine, but I still think Matt Fraction sounds like a bad wrestling gimmick!

Lets get straight into it...

Anyone who can write such a well-thought out fight-scene between the JLA and Deathstroke, make Green Arrow interesting again (the first time since, oh, Meltzer wrote him), fit the book into current continuity so well and tell an interesting and compelling story is all right in my eyes. But he gets accused of not writing in the superhero genre?!?

Jesus, Millar made Giant Man slap piss out of his wife and no-one said a peep. Is it just because Meltzer and Straczynski made careers outside of the comic book industry that people criticise their stories which involve real-world ideas? I thought Ellis got people past superheroes giving villains super-wedgies every issue for ever and ever until the end of time?
Meltzer even gave Calculator a purpose other than to be a walking advert for abortion.
But, lets say that he is writing outside of the genre, which I don't think he is but that's just me. Why would that be a bad thing?
Ellis, Ennis, Morrison, Millar and other forward-thinking Brit guys have all been writing out just to the side of the genre for years, with much success. Gaimans 1602 was hardly standard Marvel fare was it?

Incidentally, your plot for a movie doesn't sound too abstract, I could quite easily imagine Mr. Shyamalan making a movie like that.

"(Having said that, the ending *did* seem lazy. "She tricked and murdered and ruined lives... because she wuvs her widdle ex-husbwand. Awwwww... isn't that just typical of those crazy mixed up emotional women? Tsk-tsk." Colour me unconvinced...)"
As far as that goes, both Scarlet Witch and Jean Loring have a history of mental problems in the comic, but they are two of the only females with mental problems in comics (not including villains), there are a shit load more male heroes with mental problems, such as Green Lantern, Giant Man, Tony Stark, hell Superman has been to a shrink and Spiderman has had a mental breakdown.
But isn't that just typical of those crazy mixed up emotional men living out personal male adolescent power fantasies ; )

This is one of those points that will always inevitably boil down to personal preference (as with most arguments really). I loved ID Crisis from a personal Point of View, it was the first book I read the third week of every month for seven months, I loved the art and I loved the story, even if the covers were a little shoddy. From a business point of view, ID Crisis was very, very good, in our store it outsold every book for seven months, outstripping its nearest DC rival (Superman Batman if anyone cares) by two-to-one, easily. It was an excellent book for DC as it managed to bring in a lot of new readers to the DCU, and we've tripled our orders for DC Countdown.

In a time when Marvel is pulling a 1995 throwback, with variant covers, foil covers, 2nd prints, Age of apocalypse and 80 titles a month most of which are X books selling way below 40,000, DC is moving the industry forward and bringing in a lot of new readers to its little corner of the industry and at the same time maybe, just maybe, bringing in a few readers from outside of comics.
And that brings me to the most important part of ID Crisis. Like most comics in the Marvel and DCU, its part of a continual narrative, and like all good ongoing dramas, it left as many questions unanswered as it did solved. Keeping people coming back for more.

Identity Critique 2

IDC2
[sam]

Yay! We're off and running! (Ok, you be Joe Casey, I'll be Matt Fraction. Deal?)

There's two things to say about this. First- "realism" in comics is a tricky one to pitch. I think that Credulity is the thing that people are referring to here. Naturally Superman flying around is almost ignored in his titles (I think it'd look kinda unnatural to see him just walking for an entire issue), but people get bent out of shape about what it means for the continuity when Batman has a yellow oval on his chest or not. Realism isn't one of the traditions of the genre.

That said, I agree that people shouting "Rape? Pfft, lazy writing" are not really looking at things properly. The fact is that sex and death are pretty much all the mainstream fiction is selling, and it's not lazy to try and make human brutality relevant and affecting to people who can play pool with planets. That's a tough gig.

I think the problem so many people had with Meltzer was that, without question, he wasn't writing within the genre. And possibly that could be considered, if not lazy, then perhaps ill-advised. To reverse the situation; movie thriller, a sexual predator stalks the streets. The female lead is pursued, threatened, taunted and intimidated. The police can't catch him - he seems to know their every move. Is there a mole in the department? Is the girl's cruel elder brother involved somehow? Did we ever see the body of her father. Finally she confronts her foe, and it turns out, the reason he always got away, the reason the victims never saw him coming, the reason there were no foot-prints at the crime-scene;

He can fly.

No matter whether it retains the essential Serial Killer vibe or feel, no matter how well-written the film is or how well executed the direction (and yeah, I know, that'd be a tough one to write well and maintain the tension, go with me, it's an analogy fer cryin' out loud...) it's not really a reasonable way to resolve the story. No comic-book reader would, having read a few hundred Superman stories go "Oh yeah, now that's writing outside the box!"

The credibility of the story rests, to a certain extent, not on meeting the expectations of the audience (and a lot of the audience had their expectations challenged by IDCrisis, and if they didn't like that, tough booties), but meeting the expectations of the genre. And the DCU has been around long enough to have established fairly clearly its own rules of conduct.

And, y'know, I'm not saying that the DCU shouldn't be shaken up - it totally should. If Sandman proves anything, its that a reinvention can work beyond the dreams of all men. But there's something about it that seems to be less about showing us a new facet of these superheroes, and more about generating a great big shock-and-awe assault on them instead.

"SHE GOT RAPED!"

"BOO!!!"

"Ok, that's got the column-inches, back to the conflicted superhumans."

I'm not saying it's unrealistic, I'm saying that maybe there's better ways of starting and ending stories. It IS big, but not clever? :)

(Having said that, the ending *did* seem lazy. "She tricked and murdered and ruined lives... because she wuvs her widdle ex-husbwand. Awwwww... isn't that just typical of those crazy mixed up emotional women? Tsk-tsk." Colour me unconvinced...)

On the flip-side, the great value of that book was the elaboration of Superman's character. Yeah, we know he has super-hearing; he MUST filter stuff out, conciously or unconciously.

What else might he not have wanted to deal with?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Identity Critique

comicscode
(Sids Note)

So, Sam and I were discussing the whole Rich Johnston thing and it started to diversify into talking about people who say things that have a negative effect on the industry, this kind of overlaps the last post a little, bear with us.

(Sid)
The problem with this type of thing is its so difficult to quantify, you can only guestimate Rich's influence on the industry as a whole. People might dismiss a lot of what he says as crap. A lot of retailers probably don't even know who he is. Seriously.
And while we are on the subject of people who have a negative effect on the industry, what about Mr. Ellis? He usually means well with what he is saying or has some kind of point which is important, but his hatred of ID Crisis was something I could only perceive as being irrational, and he didn't justify it with a single argument, it was a case of he hated it, and no-one else was allowed to like it.
The last thing we want is a great comic, which has genuinely picked up a lot of praise from the outside world, being demeaned by one of the industrys greatest creators, on the eve of aforementioned creator doing some of the worst work he has done in years for the big money (copyright Sam Pay) payoff. "Lets name the Ship: Awesome.", no, Warren, lets not, lets feed you up on Redbull and Amphetamines and burn your pubic hair and get you motivated again.
And I only say that because I love the man. I think he is the best writer in the comic industry bar none, so much so that I even have Doom 2099 in my collection, if I say anything negative about Mr. Ellis its not because I dislike the guy, its that I care too much.

(Sam)
Slagging off a series which brings in new readers and
press attention is a bad thing. Using rape and a "Womb-Crazy" villain
as the core of a big event book is not so great either - it smacks of
some of the grim'n'gritty imitators of the 80s / early 90s which we're
only just pulling free of now. There's a balance to be struck though.

identitycrisis1
(Sid)
The funnist thing about this industry, is that if people write a story where people shoot peoples faces off, run up the side of the building, jump off, develop wings, fly to Uranus and develop a death ray that eliminates the primordial ooze on prehistoic Earth, people think thats great high concept writing. But if you write a story where a woman gets raped or a high school chick goes to bed with an incredibly rich philanthropist, comic fans seem to have a hard time accepting this. This shit happens in real life, you can make all your arguements you need about escapism, but nearly every work of fiction has itself grounded in reality somewhere or other, wether its a setting like New York or the fact that the characters are bipedal and affected by gravity.

People always say write what you know best, but how can you do that whilst providing escapism, unless the story is completely 2 dimensional? The only way you can achieve that is if the author is a quadruped methane breather from the planet Blarghus (or maybe Morrison and Ellis get so mashed they just think they are!).
And the best thing about ID Crisis is nobody expected an ass-rape, and most of the fans didn't know who Sue Dibny was. This meant Meltzer really had to make the readers care about the character in the same issue they killed her, otherwise the story would have been worthless, a feat which he managed quite well. Any schmuck can kill off Superman or Batman and get column inches in the "real" press, and have a shock story for the sake of it, but it takes real talent to kill of a z-list support character and make people give a shit.

But of course, the bigger story of ID Crisis wasn't the ass rape, it was the fact that the league within the league went too far, and crossed the line that heroes arn't supposed to cross, and they did it to Batman too (mindwipe, not ass-rape). The rape was part of the story to get to the bigger story of the mindwipes, and it hat to be pretty big to make the league cross the line, if Doctor Light had just slapped her about a bit, heroes show up, prison, job done, reset button, happily ever after, no call for the mind wipe?
But I suppose the people who wrote the book off as Identity Ass-rape Funnies probably never got past issue 1.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Vendetta against Marc Silvestri


(The following is the core of what we thought the blog could be used for; this is a conversation, stitched together from a pretty intense day's worth of e-mails. [Tags] at the top denote who's saying what. Weigh in at your leisure...)

[sam]

Amusing thread over at Newsarama about the Wachowiski's V for Vendetta adaptation.  Rich Johnston attracting controversy wherever he alights...  The article's pretty good, and definitely remains, I think, my favourite complete mini/maxi-series, bar none, but the vitriol, paranoia and fear thrown around in the comments is genuinely funny.

[sid]

This V for Vendetta thing, is it actually going to be set in Berlin, or is it just being filmed there?  Because quite frankly if its set in Berlin they have kind of missed the point more than Michael Bay missed the point when he made Pearl Harbour (to paraphrase Team America - which is a great film).

[sam]

The location thing isn't clear, as far as I can see. Contradictory statements. Read a lot of the responses to Rich's article though, which are interesting, and have a few cogent arguments from both sides.  But I don't know how much shrift I can give Rich - he seems to cause a lot of problems simply for the sake of causing problems.  It's interesting to read, but based on what Mark Waid said a couple of weeks ago, LITG is actually something that damages the industry (or at least, damages certain books), which I'm not crazy about.

[sid]

Rich Johnston does certainly make waves, thats for sure, but from my experience, i have never found him to be particularly offensive or overly criticial or the industry, and if he ever is its evidently because he feels so passionately about the industry, and I kind of have to respect that.  But I might not have read the same stuff you have :)

[sam]

HK#0cover
There's just this really interesting series of discussions (which I think were over in the LITG forums on Comic Book Resources) where people were responding to something that Rich had written.  And Mark Waid weighed in (no pun intended), describing how Rich was the scum of the earth, etc.  Lots of people came to Rich's support, asking what was the harm, that a lot of good was done by the LITG column, bringing the Crossgen-Owing-Money-To-Freelancers issue into the light etc (which, at the time I agreed with).

But Mark cited a rumour that Rich started about Marc Silvestri dropping pencilling duties of Hunter-Killer from issue 3 onwards. Rich suggested that, with him breaking his leg, he wasn't going to be able to keep up with the art, and it was going to be handed off to someone else.  LITG comes out on Monday, and Rich had asked for confirmation from a general Top Cow PR guy on Saturday afternoon (so naturally, he hadn't gotten confirmation or denial of any kind).

Monday morning, Top Cow Editorial, Top Cow PR, Marc Silvestri and Mark Waid all get a few hundred e-mails asking whether this is true, what's the problem, who's the new penciller, what's this mean for the book, etc etc.  And Mark's (absolutely fair) argument was; Rich spends 30 seconds typing, and dozens of industry workers, both in company positions as well as freelancers, spend a whole day fielding stupid questions and reassuring retailers and checking facts in order to stop pre-orders for issue 3 from dropping by several thousand copies.  And that's a day of work they're not working on actual comics, and so a day of unpaid effort.  Writer, Penciller, Inker, Colourist, Editorial are all robbed of a day's work because Rich spends 30 seconds typing.

And, while I definitely think that people should be allowed to write what they want, Rich is paid by the hit rather than a flat rate. So the more sensational the story, the more money he gets.

Sooooo....  y'know.  Rich is smart, educated, interesting and has similar tastes in comics as I do.

But possibly he's a dick.

[sid]

I think you could make a graph, on the Y axis you could put people like Rich Johnston and Gareb Shamus and their "news storys" and on the X axis you could put have something that charts their news stories as being negative or positive and use the graph to chart the effect they have on the industry and it would prove one thing:  Statistics are bullshit.

You could say the whole Silvestri thing ended up getting a lot of publicity for the series, you could say it had a lot of negative effects, but I bet when the sales come through one thing will be clear, sales didn't really care, it just inconvenienced a lot of industrial professionals who think there jobs are a lot more difficult than they really are and obviously havn't grasped the concept of mass-emails.  And isn't that what publicists, editors and gophers are for? And if they were so concerned about losing a days work, they would have got Aphrodite IX out more than 4 times in 2 years.
 
Besides, Mark Waid played along with Marvel with that whole "being kicked off of F4 thing", I think that was bollocks, hyperbole as imaginary as the '60's Sentry stories, constructed purely for the purpose of launching the new Knights 4 with a lot of cheap publicity and no criticism, because Marvel listened to their fans. 
 
And you can't really blame people for thinking Silvestri might jump of a book before issue 3.
 
However, his "outing" of Dreamwaves unpaid creditors was a little over the top, and I don't think necessary, there is a fine line between agressive journalism and, as you so quaintly put it:  being a dick. 

[sam]

No question, stats often aren't terribly useful.  But you can't really deny that if (to take an example that's surreal, but I hope vaguely relevant) someone wrote that Comic Connections was going to stop stocking Image comics, and a whole bunch of your customers called and wrote to you, suggesting that they might want to shop somewhere else, you'd want to work pretty damn hard making sure that your customers weren't walking away from you.

I don't think that anyone would contest that Silvestri's record in the industry is still shakey ATM.  And certainly Waid reaped the rewards of comic-book rumour-mongering as far as FF was concerned (genuine or otherwise, I don't know, but he's stayed on the book, so consequently has gotten paid money).  But I think it's fair to say that, if you're in a position of influence (as Rich clearly is) and you're covering an industry populated almost exclusively by freelancers, you're picking people's pockets by writing about them quitting books because retailers (as I'm sure you're aware) know that a book pencilled by a Top-Cow pinch-hitter is not going to sell as well as a book pencilled by Image Founder Marc Silvestri.

And, depending on the timing, you don't want to fuck around with that shit.  I don't know when H-K # 3 was solicited, but the more comfortable about a creative team retailers are, the more likely they are to be comfortable ordering significant quantities of their books. Yeah, the difference of a few thousand copies doesn't look like much in the context of the industry as a whole, but you've got to remember that Image creators are not paid a flat fee - they get a percentage of the final sales.  So 5,000 less sales due to retailers being cagey with their ordering is a chunk of change for everyone concerned.

Remember Gorilla Comics?  Producing Crimson Plague (a great book by a classic creator), Shockrockets (written by the then-hot-as-shit Kurt Busiek) and Empire (I think we'd both agree a classic-in-the-making)? Too few initial orders, and it went down the pan.

It's funny that we disagree over both this and the Dreamwave / Crossgen "outings" - I think Rich is absolutely a stand-up guy for publishing those details.  Putting as much pressure as possible to get freelancers, y'know, actually PAID for the work they do can only be good, don'tcha think?

[sid]

No, you get me wrong, I think trying to do everything to get the freelancers paid is spot on, I just think showing the breakdown of all the money to everyone in the world isn't the way to go about doing it. The people who really need to see the list can get it through the courts, it really is none of my biusiness if Pat Lee bought his parents a car, I like to think i would if I could too, most kids would if they were in a position to.

I think a better way to go about it would be to report the facts, not the numbers, put the pressure on Dreamwave and make it clear to people that Dreamengine is not a company to be dealing with in the future.  But in the long run, what Rich has done hasn't acheived anything, Pat Lee is still getting freelance work and the court will work through the bankruptcy case like any other, and in the land of the free, there's a lot.  It will be tied up for a while and the big boys will get paid first, sad but true, and the plight of the freelancer in any industry. I think Rich had done everything right about Dreamwave up until the full publication of the list which honestly only concerns 25-30 freelancers, some of which might not like seeing their names on the list as it could make the more heavily owed creators appear silly for not voicing opinions earlier about the lack of payment.
 
Besides, as far as Hunter Killer 3 goes, in the US the law has changed, if the creators on the final product differ from solicitation then the books are fully returnable, so if they did alter there orders beacuse of hearsay and speculation, then that is another example of comic shop managers/staff not being fully aware of there contract of sales and the industry around them and being a little silly, that said, I can see it happening with a lot of retailers so I know what you (and Waid) are saying.

Gorilla Comics was an interesting endevour, spawned a lot of good comics, but they wern't A list creators (should have been considered it I know, but) people always prefer bags of wank like Michael "Cancer" Turner or Joe "Who" Madueira-Cake.  It just shows that great creators don't always know what the public wants, as they didn't make a single honest to god lacklustre superhero comic in the range, they were all good, thats why they failed (a little negative I know), they asked people to take a chance with something new.  You look at the sales on early Authority / Planetary, not great by any means, but it was the industry people that loved them, and thats why they were so prolific (there's that use of the word again haha).

The problem with this type of thing is its so difficult to quantify, you can only guestimate Rich's influence on the industry as a whole.  People might dismiss a lot of what he says as crap.  A lot of retailers probably don't even know who he is. Seriously.

[sam]

Fair comments - and yes, I see what you mean about the Dreamwave stuff completely. And I'm sure you're also spot on with HK#3 being returnable if the creator line-up changes.  But that doesn't alter the fact that, regardless of this, if retailers reduce their order for whatever reason, the creative team are paid less. And they don't want that, sothey spend a day on damage control.  And none of us want to spend a day doing unpaid work.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Starting Out




[sam]

Ok.

The idea is this.

Sam lives in London. He's been there for about 6 months now, and one of the things that he does is read comics. He used to live in Oxford, and shopped regularly at Comic Connections in Banbury.

Sid lives in Banbury. He's been there... for a while. And one of the things that he does is read comics. He works in a shop in Banbury called Comic Connections, and for the last 5 or 6 years, has had a customer called Sam.

Sam and Sid have been having an irregular but fairly continous conversation about comics for a while now. It's changed in nature quite a lot over the years, but now they seem to have settled into this fairly consistent argument.

It is occasionally interesting.

Because they're both interested in writing about what they're thinking about, the short e-mails have turned into huge fucking essays, batted back and forth several times a day, on a variety of issues including recent announcements in the industry, concerns for retailers and customers, reading lists and recommendations and also sometimes, at odd moments, just the flicker of intelligent debate.

This is the plan:

The relevant portions of their recent e-mails will be stuck up here, pretty much verbatim. As time goes on, the conversation will continue, in this public forum. Pretty pictures may be appended. Other people will be encouraged to comment. Agreement will be reached. Satisfaction will be attained. Fame, fortune, and a cessation of self-loathing will probably elude all concerned, but we can dream.

I'm Sam. You can also find me on the web at http://www.livejournal.com/users/sam_pay

I'm going to try and make this work.

Post below if you've got something to say.