Thursday, May 31, 2007

Groan, creak, (insert knee exploding sfx)

-Oh man, am I ever having a hard time adjusting to my summer schedule. There might be another bumpy week ahead, friends. We'll see.

-Great thanks to Chris Mautner for summarizing the Badman/Santoro exchange re: Yukiko's Spinach. I'd been aware of the controversy for days, but I just couldn't bring myself to actually check it out--it seemed to much like having to eat one's vegetables (GET IT? SPINACH? VEGETABLES?), and I was more in the mood to read actual comics than read people's thoughts on a comic I had never heard of, and which looked unbelievably boring. I mean, I just hate, hate, hate photorealistic art in comics. I feel like I'm stuck in an a-ha video or something. Plus I like actual cartooning. Anyway, thanks Mr. Mautner. Now I feel better informed about the less enticing issues of the day.

-Did Matt Brady (Newsarama version) write this?

-One more Blogorama item--this whole thing is making me question my willingness to read comics anymore. First, Takeshi Miyazawa calls manga "J-Comics." Oh my god, do we ever not need that term. Are other people calling it that? Is there anyway we can get them to stop? Second, some comment-leaver named "Kent" left the following gem, which I will not comment on other than adding some emphasis:

"It’s not indifference–it is perspective. This cover is no more offensive than many other artworks done through the ages. From works of the Old Masters to more recent Pulp illustrations of the 30’s and 40’s. It is finding offense when there is none to be found–it is nonsense. It remains a tempest in a teapot."

Where is Matt Brady (Newsarama version) to add some Marvel stockholder-approved sanity to the proceedings?

-I'm shocked Michael Netzer hasn't shown up to defend Neal Adams' scientific credentials. He might very well have done so by the time you're reading this.

-Fuck you, commenter who calls him/herself Reality Check. Also, God is Brian K. Vaughan ever overrated. In fact, his suckitude isn't relative, it's absolute. As in there's absolutely nothing I like about any of his comics I've read (which, as I've said before, does not include Runaways).

Seriously, Mark Andrew wrote way, way more than I could ever bring myself to say about Ex Machina, and reminded me of why I hated the series in the first place (it was the Lincoln art thing that really turned me against Vaughan). I would add that I really dislike the art, for reasons mentioned in the second item listed above. (Let me edit this to add that I really liked MA's review. I don't know if I made that clear enough before.)

-Via Heidi McDonald, Tim Leong's account of a recent Dave Cockrum tribute:

"Clifford Meth, Cockrum's longtime friend, started off the speeches, reminding everyone Cockrum died in his Superman pajamas and was cremated in his Green Lantern shirt. He also read a statement from Marv Wolfman, who was unable to make it in town. Next Meth introduced a prepared audio statement from Harlan Ellison, but not before making a light dig at Gary Groth. Ellison read from a humorous intro he wrote for a Cockrum tribute book. It actually drew a tear from Peter David — which actually came out of laughter, not sadness. Not everyone was into Ellison's enthusiastic but long speech, as Mark Waid jokingly pretended to cut his wrists halfway through."

1. Fuck you, Harlan Ellison. I mean, yes, this is an obvious response, and I would hope that anyone read this would feel similarly (ditto if the roles were reversed, and it was Groth "lightly" insulting Ellison at a tribute to, I don't know, Gil Kane or someone). Still, it bears repeating.

2. I'm not sure how to praise Mark Waid in light of all the jokes I've made about his repeated, allegedly jocular challenges to physical combat. It's kind of in poor taste, but then so was Ellison's comments from the sound of it. (And it might not have even happened, so who knows.)

3. I probably shouldn't say it, but the comments about Dave Cockrum's clothing were really sad. And not in a noble way--I mean, I'm really disturbed at the thought of Cockrum wearing Superman pajamas as an adult, especially on his death bed. I generally try not to dwell too much on the latter days of Cockrum's life because they're so horribly, crushingly depressing. Kind of unrelated: He died in a small South Carolina town where my aunt used to live. I've always wondered how he ended up there, cause it's really not a place where you'd seek to live (unless you're attracted by low housing costs or something). There is a pretty nice comics store in the county seat, though--my current pick for Best Comics Store in South Carolina. The competition hasn't really been that fierce the past couple of years, truth be told.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Some of you are making me feel depressed on your behalf

-Hey, it's kind of officially summer now! What does that mean for you, gentle readers? More erratic posting schedules! Some days where I don't even have time to post! And probably some other things!

And let me just say, I was really saddened by the number of posts that came in over the holiday weekend (non-Americans excused, of course). Don't you people have anything better to do? Were any of you actually reading blogs this weekend? I wasn't and now I've got an enormous backlog of wacky scans and assorted other bullshit to wade through. Thanks a lot, fuckers.

-This post makes me think that DC editors in the 90s were exposed to some gases detrimental to brain cells, perhaps via an dangerously outdated air duct system or something. Geez, what's not to get? And frankly, I don't get the disgust at "Mary Provost," which I mostly just find funny. It does gross out my wife, but at least she likes funny cat pictures. (Wait...does this mean my wife shares two separate similarities with Johanna Draper Carlson? I really need to ask her what she thinks of young girls reading superhero comics.)

-Not that anyone's asking for my take, but I do think Matt Brady (Newsarama version) was a total weasel in the latest Joe Fridays thing. I'm reminded of the recent series of Newsarama interviews with the 52 creators, in which interviewer Vaneta Rogers referred to negative fan reaction as "unfortunate." Maybe this is the new interviewing protocol at Newsarama--mention criticism so that powerful figure can dismiss it, then praise this dismissal as just and wise. Maybe Newsarama is more like Wizard than I thought! Blogorama folks, be prepared to start preparing features on which robot babe is the most boobalicious!

-Isn't it about time for another mind-numbing convention, full of infuriating "news" and absolutely revolting preview art? Is anyone planning on going to any conventions? If so, will you please do all us convention-phobes a favor and put DiDio and Quesada on the spot for all the stupid shit they've pulled recently? Extra super bonus points for anyone who can do so in a creative way. I've got an extra copy of Pyongyang that I might be wiling to give away to an especially enterprising young lad or lass.

Speaking of conventions, I looked at these photos (and the other two sets, and we might as well throw in these Star Wars nerdstravaganza photos) and thought Thank God I'm Not There (And if You're Listening, J/Y-Dog, Could You Please See To It That I Never Have To Attend One Of These Things, No Matter What Nature of Fan Might Be In Attendance?).

-Eh, that's enough for now. I've still got like almost 60 entries I haven't plowed through yet. You guys need to change your compulsively blogging ways and find something else to do with your time (and I don't mean dressing like popular intellectual properties and cavorting with people dressed like intellectual properties from the same intellectual property pantheon).

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I don't know if I've ever been so thoroughly drenched

-Not exactly an interview dept (I didn't have my tape recorder handy, plus he was busy): I asked my friendly local retailer yesterday about his thoughts on print magazines covering comics. We didn't discuss the Comics Journal, mostly because I know he's a big fan (he says it's the first thing he reads the week it comes out). He's also very high on Comic Art. I asked him how Wizard was doing, and he said that it was a very poor seller, and had been trending downward since the relaunch. He blamed this decline on the availability of news and interviews on the internet. On the other hand, the Two Morrows line of magazines were doing very well for him--in fact (if I understood him correctly), their rise seems to have mirrored Wizrd's decline (though, I'm guessing, not on a 1-for-1 basis). As for the prospects of Comic Foundry in the direct market, he was very pessimistic. This was before I told him about Tim Leong's plans for it--once I explained these plans, he was even more pessimistic. Bear in mind that this store, though not usually included in Greatest Comics Shops in the World discussions, nonetheless stocks that $50 Dupuy-Berberian art collection. It's very, very indie/art comix friendly. Obviously one store won't make or break CF's print launch, but Leong is going to need the support of retailers like my friend. I'm sure the actual Previews pitch for CF will be better than my half-assed description, but selling it as a "comics culture" might not be the wisest path to take.

(For those worried that this discussion might have soured my retailer on Comic Foundry, please bear in mind that I'm not sure I ever mentioned the title to him. And even if I did, it's not the sort of thing which would stick with him or prevent him from ordering it, assuming the solicitation convinces him it's worth a try. In other words, his decision to order CF will be based entirely on their ability to convince him to do so in the pages of Previews.)

-A few brief reviews of the comics I've bought this week:

Captain America 26: There's something about the art at the beginning of the book I don't like. I think it's Perkins--I couldn't find any credits other than the ones on the cover. Anyway, Sharon Carter looks weird, like it's not plausible that she's the same person from panel to panel. More distressing is Tony Stark's body language on page 3--he looks like an 11 year old girl throwing a tantrum. On the other hand, Brubaker's writing is still phenomenal--the Winter Soldier is a legitimately compelling character. I don't think I've ever read any GA Captain America, but I'd be shocked if Brubaker hasn't done more for Bucky than any other writer.

Legion of Super-Heroes 30: This is the way to play to the continuity fiends--the issue makes sense even if you don't know the stories to which Waid is alluding (it doesn't hurt that he's alluding to some very well-known LSH stories). And it all makes sense in the context of the story at hand. I'm not thrilled about the upcoming fill-in run by Bedard, and I'm a little worried about the possibility of the book being canceled to make way for the triumphant return of the Levitz-era LSH (as part of DC's ongoing "The more it resembles the comics of my childhood, the better it is!" sales initiative), but this was a pretty good send-off for Waid and Kitson.

Spirit 6: I never considered myself a fan of Darwyn Cooke, mostly because I just didn't like The New Frontier--Cooke's style just doesn't work for me when he's illustrating superheroes. Plus, much like The Golden Age, it seemed more like a eulogy than a celebration. Thankfully, the Spirit is an intellectual property much better suited to Cooke's talents. I wasn't annoyed by Cooke's sort of goofy idea of what a punk scene looks like (plus it's been so long since I've been in anything resembling a "scene," I figured I had no right to complain about its inauthenticity). However, if my first exposure to punk rock had been the Clash's horrible re-working of "Police On My Back" (maybe the nadir of their painfully long series of terrible covers of great Jamaican (see comments) songs), I would have given punk such a wide berth that I might have written off all rock music in general.

Criminal 6: I'm not sure how I feel about the third person narration, but this was a pretty intriguing setup issue. The protagonist's background in the army is a great hook for the character. I wasn't crazy about the "he escaped through a hole in the fence" caption, but I did like flash forward at the start of the issue. As always, Sean Phillips' moody art is exactly suited to this material. My one complaint is my initial difficulty in identifying the thing on the side of Tracy's face/neck as a scar rather than a tattoo. Speaking of which, I'm actually glad they haven't called attention to this scar yet--Brubaker thinks his readers are smart enough to figure out that it's one of the reasons nobody recognizes Tracy once he returns to town. This respect for his audience's intelligence was also evident in this week's Captain America, in the scene where the Falcon met with the New Avengers. It's a refreshing approach--subtlety doesn't always work in comics (especially superhero comics), but Brubaker is pulling it off.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm really not in a bad mood today

-If the joke mentions me, it went on just the right amount of time. ("Don't be fooled by cheap imitations" cracked me up, actually.)

-I'm shocked more people (by which I mean Graeme McMillan) aren't covering round two of Tom Breevort's Simulation Madness. For those few of you unfamiliar with the concept, Breevort picks a few volunteers to serve as mock editors for existing series. This time he also added an editor-in-chief, whose duties include supervising the mock editors and trying to promote Marvel as a whole. Anyway, as you might expect, there are plenty of amusing highlights:

  • Mock John Byrne is offended very early on
  • Breevort's again expresses his real-life enthusiasm for a third major publisher to compete with Marvel and DC; in the simulation, mock Steve Wacker is the editor-in-chief of such a hypothetical company
  • Breevort has mock Quesada fired in a "coup executed by editors that he himself had hired"
  • Participants indulge in nostalgia fetishism: one editor hires David Michelinie on Spider-Man, and another hires Robert Weinberg (who?) to write Uncanny X-Men
  • The mock e-i-c fires the latter editor; this editor then goes to work for Wacker's company (which, I assume, brings an end to his mock editing days, unless Wacker has a blog I don't know about where he runs his pretend comics company)
  • Rich Johnston writes a mock Lying in the Gutters to comment on all this
  • The e-i-c (I think) proposes two different, major crossovers, including the incredibly lame-sounding Rise of the Defenders (and I like the Defenders as a concept--I even read New Defenders as a child)
  • Breevort may or may not think David Finch is a whiny prima donna and Ed Brubaker is a deadline-missing slacker
  • The mock e-i-c attempts to bribe Back Issue into running a retrospective on the Defenders; he's unsuccessful only because Breevort apparently thinks Back Issue would be happy to run advertorials for free.
  • Breevort calls Brian K. Vaughan (who refuses to write one of the crossovers) "Dr. No;" I'm unsure if this is a joke of some type or a rare glimpse at how Marvel editorial views its non-exclusive freelancers
  • The editors repeatedly try to defraud retailers and consumers by submitting false solicitations.
So here's what I gather from all this: Tom Breevoort thinks the participants are kind of dumbasses, and is constantly having the creators object to their heavy-handed editing style (including some interminable controversy over a softball sequence in Fantastic Four; I don't really get it either). The fan-participants are from the "comics reached their zenith during my youth" corner of the internet, as reflected by some of their bizarre assignments. They're also really kind of unethical. I have no idea how much longer this experiment will go on; hopefully forever.

You know, I really intended to throw my name in as a potential participant. The current mock editors have some really goofy ideas for promoting Marvel to the general public, like die cut bookmarks (no, seriously). My ideas are much more aggressive:

  • Have Spider-Man marry Dr. Octopus (but not divorce Mary Jane--this will be a polygamic marriage)
  • Produce a hardcore pornographic comic depicting their honeymoon, featuring extreme (yet consensual) tentacle action
  • Incorporate an extreme right wing political message into all comics; hire Steve Ditko as consultant
  • Kill off Spider-Man due to his immoral lifestyle; have replacement (Sean Hannity look-alike) fight in Iraq
  • Incorporate an extreme Fundamentalist Christian message in all comics; hire Jack Chick as consultant
  • Sell e. coli-infected gummi candies in the shape of all the Marvel heroes
  • Make amends for e. coli incident by giving away unsold copies of the Spider-Man-Dock Ock honeymoon comic
  • Claim to have produced a functioning Fanasti-Car; have Stan Lee drive it off the top of the Empire State Building
  • Put Jack Chick to work on a new tract speculating on Stan Lee's afterlife; have Michael Turner draw variant cover
  • Make up for Fantasti-Car and Chick tract incidents by setting self on fire in order to warn children about the dangers of imitating the Human Torch; distribute copies of the video as a premium for mailing in coupons running in all the August Marvel Adventures titles
Breevoort and Quesada should feel free to borrow any of these ideas. Upon the advice of my lawyer, I'll waive my usual consulting fee.

-On a completely different note, this is very, very encouraging, and sort of makes me feel better about being a human being.

-You know what strip I really like? Fred Basset. It's not funny--sometimes there's a Marmaduke-like anti-humor involved--but there's something very charmingly old fashioned about it. I'm under the impression that the quality has greatly suffered in the last few years, but (a) it still compares favorably to other newspaper (or online) strips, and (b) I had never heard of it until sometime last year, so I don't have first hand knowledge of the older strips to warp my perception of the current version.

BTW, this is a good example of how fucked up Wikipedia's comics editors are. Fred Basset gets a "low importance" rating, but something like Baron Mordo is mid-level importance? I guarantee you a whole fuck of a lot more people know about Fred Basset (even years after its apparent peak) than Baron Mordo. Is it any wonder that these fuckers went on a webcomic deleting spree? I guess if they haven't made it into a hideous action figure or garish statue, it must not be very important. Go fuck yourself, Wikipedia Comics Project editors.

-I don't think I've agreed with anything Tom Spurgeon has said lately more than this, and I tend to think Spurgeon is the single smartest comics blogger. You know, we should be able to enjoy something as weird and wonderful as Fletcher Hanks' oeuvre without having to seek shelter under the cover of irony. There's a broader point to make here, one that many of you could probably see coming, but I'll leave it alone for now.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Image and continuity porn

-For some reason, Friday's entry was set to "do not allow comments." Don't know how that happened, but it did. Sorry about that. My apologies to anyone who wanted to comment, especially since the post in question was rather critical of Tim Leong's plans for Comic Foundry. But the comments on said post are open now, and I'll be double checking all future posts to make sure they stay that way.

-Rich Johnston reports that DC's current Countdown series is counting down to something tentatively titled Final Crisis. Bleaugh. Final Crisis? And then there's the recent news that Marvel seems to be meandering down basically the same path of relentless eventeering.

Is this all the Big Two have left? Things were looking better at DC about a year and a half ago, when it efforts like the All-Star line and Alex Ross' Justice seemed like the evidence of a dual publishing strategy, combining short, out-of-continuity prestige projects (like Jeff Smith's Shazam) with more fanboy-friendly, continuity-heavy offerings (most everything else).* But here in 2007, the All-Star line is losing credibility and I never hear anyone talking about Justice (possibly because bloggers--including myself--tend to dislike Ross' tediously realistic art). Smith's Shazam is certainly an online favorite, but we all seem to view it as something of a hothouse flower, especially in light of the rest of the DC line. Marvel, meanwhile, is certainly winning the post-big event sweepstakes (at least in terms of sales), but it's too early to tell how much of this is easily-satisfied curiosity. It's telling that Marvel editorial is already starting a new Things Will Never Be the Same!!! hype cycle while the corpse of the last Things Will Never Be the Same!!! event is still warm (and, for that matter, while the Hulk mini-event is just getting started).

Sometimes I wonder if the direct market, ruinous speculation aside, was in better shape in the much-maligned early 90s. We look back at the attention given to the Image founders as laughable, but I would gladly trade Hot Artists for Event Fever. I mean, DC and Marvel might be reluctant to do so--after all, people can leave, while intellectual properties and years of accumulated continuity can't. But for the rest of us, I think an industry driven by popular creators is much more healthy than one driven by...whatever it is that motivates people to buy Geoff Johns comics. It's hard to imagine an equivalent of Image starting today, largely because there are no figures of comparable stature to Liefeld, Lee, and McFarlane c. 1992. Johns, Loeb, and Bendis all sell books, but only books featuring established, beloved characters. And there really aren't any unfathomably hot artists who weren't already hot in the mid-90s; the closest would probably be John Cassaday or Bryan Hitch, and they're nowhere near as popular as Todd McFarlane was in his heyday. The absence of new, mega-selling artists is part of this larger phenomenon of fans' seemingly contradictory fascination with continuity and change, which has all but supplanted the creator-as-selling-point model of the 90s (with the exceptions of Lee and Ross, two talents who managed to establish themselves before the current epoch).

On the other hand, I don't know that people appreciate the extent to which Image presaged the current, continuity-heavy era. We typically blame the downfall of Image on the founders' eagerness to play media mogul, particularly their horribly ironic embrace of work-for-hire practices. There's certainly truth to that, but I think it's worth considering how quick some of the Image founders were to put themselves in a position which necessitated hiring outside creators. These guys weren't satisfied to make their own bestselling, fully-owned comics--they all wanted to be world-builders as well. Youngblood and WildCATS weren't enough to fully shape out the convoluted mythologies Liefeld and Lee--easily the worst offenders--felt compelled to produce. It's one thing to develop a rich backstory in the process of making a comic, but too many of the Image founders apparently thought this was a prerequisite for making superhero comics. Having grown up reading Chris Claremont's X-Men, they just couldn't fathom producing comics without deep layers of intrigue, red herrings, mysterious strangers from the past, secret betrayals, unspoken alliances, and ornate taxonomies of aliens, mutants, mercenaries, and cyborgs. But while Claremont weaved this dense skein over time, the Image boys tried to do so right out of the gate. And so their comics were dense and colorful, yet utterly incomprehensible and totally unsatisfying.

So then, do we blame Claremont for the current predicament? Gardner Fox for integrating multiple continuities into the same "multiverse"? Roy Thomas for taking this seven or eight steps beyond what Fox had intended? Mark Greunwald and Len Wein (I think) for The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe and Who's Who, respectively? Carmine Infantino and Stan Lee for hiring fan-creators? Or do we just buy Josh Simmons' really awesome-looking House**, thank the appropriate deity that we like a rather broad range of comics, and hope this all blows over without doing too much damage in the process?

*Tom Spurgeon was the first person I saw advancing this idea, but it was so long ago that I'm not even going to try to find the original article. I do recall him alluding to Night of the Hunter in his framework, which might be why it sticks with me so long after the fact.

**Just to be clear, I'm going to do this regardless of what DC chooses to call its next mega-event.

-This was the saddest thing I read this weekend, assuming it's not a joke. I do so hope it's a joke--I mean, I'm not unrealistic about this kind of stuff, but it's the internet, for god's sake. Even if you don't want to lie, you can at least avoid these kinds of subjects.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Galvanized content

-Uncharacteristic positivity dept: Mark Engblom's ongoing Worst Cover Ever feature is exactly the sort of thing I enjoy, partly because he's skewering Silver and Golden Age covers alongside more recent targets. I love the Silver Age (and I'm pretty sure Mr. Engblom does as well) and I'm always annoyed that it's predominately treated as a wacky, whimsical era. There is a lot of whimsy and wackiness in SA comics, but we're doing them and their creators a disservice by limiting our appreciation to "Look how crazy/naive this shit is!" Mark is evaluating these covers on their own merits, and I greatly appreciate it. He's also pretty funny, which also helps.

-Tom Spurgeon interviews Tim Leong, who gives a more detailed explanation of what he's trying to do with a print Comic Foundry:

"...really it's taking a lifestyle approach to comics. Covering lifestyle and culture. Which I don't think anyone is doing in print. Some people say they are, by covering more pop culture things, but that doesn't equate to me as lifestyle. I don't think anyone has covered culture and lifestyle before. I don't think it was really possible to do so. It's only in that comics has become more mainstream, and has enjoyed widespread acceptance, that it's possible to cover culture and lifestyle in comics. That's our main focus, approaching content that way. It is kind of positioning ourselves between Wizard and The Comics Journal, trying to cover superheroes, indy, manga -- a little bit of everything in that regard."

There's an accompanying sample page which suggests content about cocktails and picking up people in bars. I'm honestly not sure what that has to do with comics culture. Actually, I'm not really sure what "comics culture" is supposed to be. Those two words make me think about sweaty guys playing Heroclix or maybe that oft-discussed Mary Jane statue. Maybe he means comics creator culture, but that makes me think of, I don't know, people staring at a monitor/drawing table and trying to decide if a few minutes of Gears of War (or, if you want a more sentimental scene, a few minutes of playing with their children) would eliminate all hope of beating the deadline. Honestly, the only aspect of comics culture I would associate with this cocktails and alcohol-fueled hookups is maybe a signing at some hip store in NYC or California, or maybe the kind of heroically drunken convention escapades to which Heidi MACDonald often alludes.

So if that's it, then, uh, I'm probably not interested at all. Which is no big deal, cause I'm just one person, and kind of a tightwad at that. But I'm really unsold on the mass appeal of this periodical. When I think "lifestyle magazine," I think either "magazine intended to help get you laid" or "magazine intended to make your home nicer, including the meals you eat in your home." From the look of the sample page, I'm guessing this veers closer to the former. Leong apparently is looking more toward Wired, a magazine I've never bought because (a) I don't think it's geared towards people like me, and (b) Thomas Frank eviscerated it too thoroughly in the pages of The Baffler for me to actually take it seriously (these two points are probably related). I can understand how Wired manages to exist as a lifestyle magazine which isn't about finding new sexual partners or what to do with your life after you've settled on a single sexual partner. Extreme technophilia clearly is a lifestyle, and I guess the people who live that kind of life read Wired.

But how on earth does that appeal transfer to reading comics? I could get my head around it much easier if Leong was trying to launch something more ambitious, like a lifestyle magazine appealing to people who read comics, play video games, watch cartoons, listen to punk rock, etc., long after they were supposed to have given up all these trivial pursuits. Something which can cover ground in between kitsch and genuine, unironic enthusiasm for these types of juvenilia--that's a magazine which I could probably convince my friends to buy, or which I might read while drinking coffee in a chain bookstore. But a magazine about comics culture, a term which I've never heard anyone else use? I just don't see it happening.

I could be completely wrong about all this stuff, since (as I have previously mentioned) I never read Comic Foundry in its online incarnation. I'd go back and check, but I'm having a hell of a time navigating their site. In fact, the only article I could access was one about the question of environmentalism in a (for now) inherently paper-based industry. It's an interesting angle, but I cannot fathom the long term success of a magazine devoted to these types of articles.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Best news of the week

-Almost-forgot-to-mention-it-late-breaking addition: In the worst blogging-related news of the week, Jeff Lester is leaving the Savage Critic. He's a big part of what makes it one of my five favorite comics-related blogs, and I'm very sad to see him leave. Here's hoping that he behaves predictably and returns to blogging very, very soon.

-I've been thinking a bit more about the Comic Foundry ordeal, specifically about the kind of people who would likely read the magazine in its printed form. It dawns on me: they're going to be the sort of people who read, and in all likelihood write, blogs. The current comics blogosphere is really the closest thing to the fabled middle path between Wizard and The Comics Journal. In fact, I would say that blogs are able to cover that ground far better than a single magazine ever could. I mean, it's an awfully big patch of real estate lying between Wizard and TCJ, and there's a pretty wide range of blogs covering it. And blogs have significant advantages over any magazine--price, immediacy, and interactivity being the biggest. This is not to say that Comic Foundry could not possibly succeed, but it would have to be a terrific product with a very distinctive and attractive voice and look (the latter supposedly being a given, due to Tim Leong's background in the magazine industry). Speaking as someone who doesn't know Mr. Leong and never read the online version of Comic Foundry (and thus probably closer to the demographic CF would have to attract to be a viable operation), I would have to be very, very impressed with the print version to feel the need to buy it on a regular basis.

-Oh thank goodness, ADD is still out there, and he's hinting that he might return to writing about comics (and, if we're lucky, cheering the industry onward to its inevitable oblivion). I was saddened by this, however:

"And I don't bother to read the shitty or otherwise aggravating blogs anymore, because really, I'm 41 years old and who has the time to spare for that sort of obnoxiousness?"

I'd almost think his pronouncement might include this blog, which I'm fairly sure has aggravated a few people before (but which, I assure you all, has probably never come into contact with any fecal material). But then I think, if he knows enough about this blog to be aggravated by it, then he must be reading it. But if this blog was, in fact, aggravating to him, he wouldn't be reading it. Ergo, Dick Hates Your Blog must not be an "aggravating blog" in ADD's opinion. In any event, Mr. Alan David Doane, I assure you that I have more to offer than "obnoxiousness," and you might find the comments section to be an appropriate venue for the unique blend of earnest promotion of good comics and occasional bouts of baffling rancor that you bring to the blogalaxy. In other words, welcome back.

-Political posturing dept: I saw this via Johanna Draper Carlson: a NYT article about the new prequel to Gone With the Wind, which will bear the repugnant title Rhett Butler's People. What an awful, awful name--"my people" was a euphemism for "my slaves" among the aristocracy of the Old South. I assume the writer (a "Civil War novelist" who resembles a slightly less dyspeptic Wilford Brimley) is familiar with this term, and he probably means it as some sort of clever play on words. But then I read this about the terms specified to the writer originally contracted to produce the sequel:

"Ms. Tennant’s contract specified that she retain Ms. Mitchell’s tone, vision and characters. It also forbade Ms. Tennant from including 'acts or references to incest, miscegenation, or sex between two people of the same sex.'”*

Man, who wants to read a novel about the Old South without all that baroque stuff? I don't know about homosexual or incestuous relationships being any more common in the antebellum South than the North, but miscegenation was part of everyday life. It was absolutely crucial to the gender dynamics of the period (and it still is in the modern South, thankfully to a much lesser extent). I mean, of course I realize this will be a fantasy version of the antebellum South, but it's kind of like having a fantasy version of Nazi Germany called Hermann Goering's People.

Anyway, it reminds me of my desire to pioneer The Southern as a new genre of fiction. Just as the Western's central theme of civilization vs. savagery is expressed in a multitude of forms (white man vs. Indian, lawman vs. ruffian, settler vs. frontier), I figure the Southern will revolve around the theme of "eductation," such as the white man's attempt to educate "his people" (Blacks, women, misguided Carpetbaggers) as to the virtues of hard work, Christianity, obedience, and communal violence. Anyone interested in collaborating on an epic, 22-volume series of graphic novels in this new genre should contact me ASAP.

*This may or may not have applied to the briefly-considered Pat Conroy, who the Margaret Mitchell estate lawyers apparently deemed too much of "an artist" to be interfered with. Conroy disputes this, and apparently planned to write a novel chock full of miscegenation, homosexuality, and icon murder. BTW, if any of you need a Pat Conroy autograph, I know a guy who can hook you up (which is to say, I'm related to a guy who works in a bookstore where he frequently appears for signings).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Exuma ain't got no leg, he walk with a wooden peg

-Guy LeCharles Gonzalez appears to be the only dissenting voice in the recent Diamond-rejects-Comic Foundry kerfuffle. I'm not quite sure what point Guy is making, other than it's hard to launch a magazine; towards the end he seems to be implying that the hypothetical failure of a print Comics Foundry could poison the well for a better magazine shooting for the same (possibly nonexistent) demographic in the future. I've never read Comic Foundry, aside from maybe that "What comics should you force upon your girlfriend?" article (or maybe it was a response to those kinds of articles; I can't remember and their website isn't letting me access articles right now). I always questioned Tim Leong's plan to take his magazine to print form, but other than that I don't really have too many thoughts about the issue. The question of finding a middle ground between Wizard and The Comics Journal, however, has made me think a little about the role of the former in the current comics journalism landscape.

Newsarama is clearly the industry leader among websites covering Marvel/DC, with CBR in a pretty strong second place. Newsarama offers few feature columns, often addressing points of continuity murkiness or ground-level independent comics. Thus the site's blog was a very welcome addition when it launched, as it added some much needed personality to the site. CBR has historically had a much stronger roster of respected and influential columnists, but hasn't been quite as strong in breaking news. The official site blog, the transplanted Comics Should Be Good, is similar to Blogorama in that it helps put a human face on the site, though I always feel like there's a wider gulf at CBR between main site and blog than at Newsarama. (I suppose there's also Comicon. I just visited the Pulse for the first time in ages, and it looks like there's more content than the last time I checked. The loss of Heidi MACDonald's The Beat certainly hurt Comicon; there's still a link to it on the main site, giving it a bit of an unkempt, derelict quality.)

By comparison, Wizard's newly-redesigned site every bit as ugly as everyone says. It looks to have the same number of articles as its competitors, at least one of which is written from the POV of a fictional character. So that's at least one distinguishing feature. At one time the site also featured roundtable discussions of comics and news (I'm not sure if they're still around or not). These discussions have the potential of selling the contributors' personalities to the reader, but I have no idea if they're effective in doing this for most visitors to the site. In fact, I have no idea if Wizard even wants such a thing; I'd assume Gareb Shamus, et. al., want to promote the Wizard brand more than any of the writers. Strangely, though, I don't see as many of the characteristics I identify as classically Wizardian on the website. There are occasional references to the physical features of female characters, but a lot less of the "10 most killer supervillain henchmen costumes" type material that I associate with the magazine. In reality, I have no idea if that's what's actually in the magazines anymore. The website sure isn't telling me.

That's what strikes me as most unusual about for the magazine is almost conspicuous by its absence (especially given the amount of hype for Shamus' IFL stockholder boondoggle). It seems like Wizard is trying to provide a website that's more than just a promotional vehicle for the magazine--it's just doing a half-assed job. There's little to differentiate the site from c. 2004 Newsarama, CBR, or Comicon (two of which are much more attractive than Wizard due to the addition of blogs). I think Wizard is trying to follow the model of sites like Sports Illustrated, which emphasize original content rather than hyping the magazine. There's a clear division of content at those sites--news and time-sensitive analysis goes on the web; investigative journalism and interviews are the domain of the magazine. Wizard hasn't quite perfected this yet, it seems--the website offers long interviews, and Wizard has never, ever pretended to be a venue for genuine journalism. Wizard's identity is much more linked to heavily-illustrated "best ever" lists, discussion of which superhero beats which in a hypothetical fight, cheesecake pictoral reviews, and fantasy movie casting. This means that Wizard is effectively competing against blogs, which is probably where this wacky stuff belongs. Or it would be, if we weren't such a cynical, Silver Age-obsessed lot. (To their credit, Your Mom's Basement occasionally features material like this, only much funnier than I remember anything in Wizard ever being.)

So Wizard the magazine might be filling that particular niche. But is it enough for people to pay for it? There are probably a few people still relying on Wizard for industry news, but the majority of its audience have to be buying it for other reasons. A blog replicating Wizard's brand of of drooling fanboy idiocy seems like an ideal addition to their website, but such an addition would surely harm sales of the print version. And yet Wizard's frequently anemic web presence suggests irrelevance in the face of sites like Newsarama, which offer instant gratification in terms of news and analysis (all the more enticing thanks to the long feedback sections for every article). It's hard to imagine Wizard lasting in its current form for another 20 years; its current readership will surely grow tired of its adolescent hijinks, while newer readers will gravitate towards the internet (especially blogs, I would think--we're going to have some exceptionally jaded youngsters on our hands in a few years). In the end, I wonder if Wizard itself will have to relocate to a middle ground between its current format and that of The Comics Journal in order to survive.

-Controversial, potentially anger-inducing* musical thought of the day: Is it time to rehabilitate the later work of Marc Bolan? Did this already happen and I missed it? I've been listening to one of those T. Rex boxed sets, and I actually like a lot of the later period stuff. Yeah, I realize that these songs have been cherry picked, but I've always been the kind of person who'd rather have an album with one or two great tracks and a bunch of dreck than an album full of inoffensive but forgettable junk. I think listening to the Descendents conditioned this behavior.

*I really don't expect any well-balanced individuals to react that way.

-Since I've gotten good video game information here in the past, I thought I'd pose the question to you folks: what's a good news-oriented blog for video games? I've been meaning to find a better news source for that stuff.

-Short Trader Joe's review: I don't think I'd ever had a proper tamale before today. Bear in mind I'm a vegetarian (I think I might have mentioned it a few dozen times in the past), and that the vast majority of Mexican restaurants do not offer tamales stuffed with substances other than cow meat. Also remember that I grew up in the rural South, where Mexican restaurants (especially ones making any pretense of authenticity) were still a bit of a novelty prior to my vegetarian awakening (or V-Day, as I call it) waaaay back in 1996.

So anyway, I bought Trader Joe's frozen cheese and green chilies tamales today, and I'm sad that I've missed out on these tasty things for all these years. I'm really starting to develop a taste for roasted corn, and these tamales are loaded with that flavor. I actually enjoyed the corn casing more than the cheese filling. No, I didn't eat the corn husk wrapping--the package warned me not to. My wife, whose Coloradan upbringing and omnivorous eating habits have granted her a greater familiarity with tamales, had the beef filled versions. She said they were good "for a microwave meal." She was also baffled by the presence of a solitary piece of carrot in one of the tamales. Take that for what it's worth (probably more than the words of a tamale neophyte like myself).

Jerry Falwell is playing air hockey with Augusto Pinochet now

-So I finally saw the new Spider-Man movie yesterday with my very patient, understanding wife. Everyone's criticism of it is basically right, I think--there really is way, way, way too much stuff in it. Contrary to most reviews I've read, we both thought Sandman was least essential part of the whole picture, and we both wanted more Venom (yeah, yeah, I wouldn't have guessed it either). Despite these reservations, I still enjoyed it more than nearly every other superhero movie I've seen. I've never liked the Superman movies, the Tim Burton Batmans haven't aged well (and I don't like Prince), and I'm not a big fan of the X-Men (or, for that matter, Bryan Singer). I liked the Christopher Nolan Batman and two much-maligned Marvel movies: the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. But I greatly prefer the three Spider-Man movies to any other superhero movie, simply because none of them are so entertaining. I'd love to see Sam Raimi direct more Spider-Man movies if he feels up to it. It's a perfect pairing.

-Disagreeing with Dirk: Mr. Deppey restates his "logic of the market" argument for sexism in Marvel/DC comics. Again, I totally disagree with his supposition that male superhero fans just aren't going to buy comics that don't feature the more egregious forms of objectification or weird, misogynistic writing. I guess it's possible that some of these readers would quit buying comics if they dropped all the cheesecake elements, but I don't think anyone's asking for that--spandex costumes will inevitably lead to at least some cheese- and beefcake. Actually, I strongly, strongly suspect that the rise of hypersexualized depictions of women was directly tied to more realistic, occasionally erotic depictions of roided up men in Marvel/DC comics. In that sense, I think the role of women in "mainstream" comics is similar to that of women in pro wrestling--they're there to provide cover for the screamingly obvious homoerotic displays of male flesh. "I'm not gay--I think Jean Grey is hot!", etc. However, comics are now such a niche market that I don't know how necessary those excuses are for the male hobbyist. Maybe there's some internal psychological rationalization going on. In any event, I really don't think Bill Jemas got fired because there wasn't enough T&A under his watch. It's kind of a silly assertion.

I also disagree with his market logic argument in that it takes a rather 19th century view of market forces. We're in a more mature period of capitalism where shareholder value often takes precedence over simple matters of growth and profit. Companies are responsive to pressure by outside activists because controversy can affect the value of its stock, which in turn leads to executives being fired. If bloggers are serious about changing the culture of "mainstream" comics, they should consider taking their complaints to executives who aren't knee deep in day-to-day publishing operations. This might be more effective at DC, due to the more diverse nature of the parent company's holdings (which is to say, some Time Warner execs are probably only dimly aware of DC's existence).

-Another funny review from Jeff Lester, this time re: Countdown. Don't sell coloring books short. My wife apparently learned of the existence of Green Arrow this way. Er, not that it set her off on a lifetime of reading comics. She liked that recent Stagger Lee comic, though.

(Also: Johanna Draper Carlson disses Mr. Lester in a sort of subtle way. Anyone else catch that?)

-From the realm of cookery, with minor Trader Joe's content: People will tell you that, in order to properly make homemade pizza, you need to (a) form the crust by pulling it out by hand, and (b) you should use a peel to transport the pizza in and out of the oven. I've tried to follow these laws of pizza making over the years, to occasionally disastrous results. So this weekend, armed with three bags of Trader Joe's refrigerated dough (more on that later), I decided to abandon these rules and make the pizza in a way that seems much more realistic. First, I rolled out the dough with a pin rather than stretching and tossing it. The result was a much, much bigger diameter without all the tearing. Second, I placed the crust directly on the heated pizza stone when I applied the toppings. I then put the stone back into the oven. So I was able to avoid the seismic waves which peel-shuffling usually produce, and thus the pizza actually kept its nice, round shape.

As for the Trader Joe's dough, it's all pretty good. The white and herb varieties are okay; I like the latter for garlic knots. The best of the bunch is the whole wheat dough, which is also surely the most nutritious of the three. They're all cheap (around a buck apiece), so I'd encourage my fellow amateur pizzaiolos to give them a try.

-Shit that no one cares about dept: Sorry to offend anyone with my orifice-derived lists yesterday.* To make it up to you, here's my annotated Let's All Be Friends List of Inoffensive Songs That the Writers for AMG Might Consider Punk If They Were Making a Similar List:

1. ??? (Can't remember the name of the woman who sang this)-"Turn the Beat Around"-I'm unsure if Disco is considered cool or not right now--it's hard to keep track of how the wheels of "I hate everything my parents hated, but I also hate anything remotely popular" are turning. But this is undeniably a disco song.
2. Pretenders-"Tattooed Apathetic Boys" This is the only Pretenders song I can remember, mostly because it was on one of the Guitar Hero games. I can't remember if I ever beat it. You know what song was fun on that first game? "Spanish Castle Magic," and I don't even like Hendrix!
3. Elvis-"Don't Be Cruel" Jerry Lee Lewis might have been a lot better, but Elvis is popular, thus he makes the list.
4. Dr. Know-(I actually can't remember any of their songs) I think there was a child actor in this band, giving them extra points for irony. Speaking of...
5. Old Skull-(I really, really don't know any of their songs because I've never heard them) I hear one of the members of this band now is a celebrated comics bloggger, but doesn't want any one to reveal his secret. Don't worry, dude, I won't spill the beans (and no, it's not who you think).
6. The Business-"Loud, Proud and Punk" This is one we can all sing along to in a moment of ironic white male hipster brotherhood.
7. Minor Threat-"Riot on Sunset Strip" I know some of you might deny the existence of this cover, but I assure you I have a copy. Ian McKaye turned it into an anthem about The Man trying to force the righteously nonconformist members of the band to drink beer and worship Jesus. I'll let you hear it if you agree to be my friend.
8. Social Distortion-"Mommy's Little Monster" That is a song and not just the name of an album, right? Anyway, Mike Ness is a haunted poet who totally never ruined a Hank Williams song.
9. The Rising Storm-"Don't Look Back" It's inferior to the Remains' version, but it's also more obscure.
10. DI-"OC Life" I wanted to put one I liked on here.

*I really, really mean it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

About to leave--no time for prooofreddig

-Johanna Draper Carlson thinks she's being criticized re: "superheroes are for boys" because she's a woman, and it's easier to criticize women. As proof she offers an excerpt from Dirk Deppey's thoughts on the subject. This is a pretty lame defense. Deppey is arguing a completely different point. Carlson started out talking about the immutable laws of genre, then quickly shifted into a much more defensible position revolving around sales figures. Demographics are the basis for Deppey's argument as well, but I don't think he's making any arguments about genre. Has Carlson just abandoned that tack?

Anyway, Deppey uses a "logic of the market" type argument and concludes that women who don't like what Marvel and DC produce should make their own comics. Two criticisms here (and Deppey's a MAN, guys!): (1) I think it's pretty clear that the people complaining about the Mary Jane statue, Power Girl's breasts, etc., have a strong attachment to Marvel and DC's intellectual properties. I don't know if this would doom any DIY solution (I would hope not, since mainstream comics written by women for women would be great for the overall health of the market), but this character loyalty is certainly an issue to be considered. (2) What Deppey calls "whining" is actually an effective way to promote change from big corporations. I really, really have to go, so I don't have time to give some examples. I'll supply some in the comments if anyone's interested.

-Seriously, does Carlson have some axes to grind with Two Morrows? I really don't understand what motivates her.

-Just want to note that Joe Rice is leaving CSBG for (I think) the second and presumably final time. Since Rice's reviews at CSBG are what initially inspired this blog, I thought it was worth mentioning here. Also, in the comments, you can see me use the word "perfunctory" in what I feel is the most appropriate sense.

-Okay--I watch anime on DVD as a way to make my twice daily stationary bike rides more appealing. I ride for about 20 minutes each time (it's at a pretty intense resistance, so shut up), about the perfect length for watching a single episode of most series (or two episodes of Cromartie High--what was up with that format anyway?). I've watched most of Ranma 1/2, but I've skipped over to Urusei Yatsura recently because I need to get acquire the 6th season of Ranma. Anyway, here's my point: my wife, who is only occasionally in the room while I'm exercising, says Urusei Yatsura is "weird" and generally inferior to Ranma. I've long thought that UY was the superior show. My wife's crazy, right? I mean, we all take Urusei Yatsura's superiority for granted, right?

Another, semi-related point: what other, readily available (like from Netflix) series are worth watching? I know this is an incredibly broad question, kind of like "what manga should I read on the subway," but I'm throwing it out there anyway. I know what some of you are thinking, but I don't like what I've seen of InuYasha (although I'd be willing to check it out if it's available in subtitled format, and if said format makes it much more watchable, as is the case with Ranma, IMO at least).

-Oh, and on the subject of Rumiko Takahashi, might she be an instructive case to consider in the current "superheroes are for boys, stupid" debate? My understanding (which might be way off base) is that Takahashi's real contribution to manga/anime was in creating crossover hits which straddled the line between shojo and shonen. Is there any particular reason DC or Marvel couldn't try such an approach? I mean, they like money, don't they?

-Brian Wood has bad taste in music (via the Blogorama interview with Cecil Castellucci, who also kinda has bad taste re: punk rock). Look at that list--it's like a catalogue of notoriously overrated bands! The Pogues! The Clash! Fugazi! Black Flag! Murphy's Law, for Chrissakes (though to be fair, I don't know that they're overrated so much as bad)! And one of Minor Threat's many covers of a 60s garage song which manages to sound far less intimidating than the original (see also "Stepping Stone;" cross reference with the far, far superior Paul Revere and the Raiders version). Look, here's a better list that I've just pulled out one of my orifices:

1. Raw Power-Raw Power
2. Ramones-Chainsaw
3. White Flag-Shattered Badge
4. The Kids-No Monarchy
5. Buzzcocks-Harmony in My Head
6. Undertones-Smarter Than U
7. Wire-Map Ref. 41 N 93 W (yes, I did have to look up the actual title to this song)
8. Wipers-Window Shop For Love
9. Nervous Eaters-Just Head
10. Misfits-Last Caress

I can even make a list superior to Wood's comprised of nothing but bands which may not be considered strictly punk by some purits:

1. Chocolate Watch Band-Sweet Young Thing
2. Real Kids-All Kindsa Girls
3. Husker Du-It's Not Funny Anymore
4. Jerry Lee Lewis-Long Tall Sally (the live Star Club version)
5. Sonics-Strychnine
6. Johnny Burnette Trio-Train Kept A Rollin'
7. Pleasure Seekers-What a Way to Die
8. Nerves-Hanging on the Telephone (MUCH BETTER THAN THE BLONDIE VERSION)
9. Replacements-Hayday
10. Remains-Don't Look Back

So really, I'm the one who should be writing the book about Vikings or whatever. I'll be awaiting Vertigo's response.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ax grinding! Processed food reviews! A couple of other things!

-Current raging storm in the blogoscape: Johanna Draper Carlson says comics aren't for women (um, make that superhero comics), so complaints about sexism in them are ultimately futile. Ragnell responds. Carlson responds to the response. This really seems to be about Carlson's ongoing vendetta against Marvel/DC more than anything. I think it's pretty clear Carlson wants to see these companies suffer, and any opposes any train of thought suggesting these companies could improve their products (in this case the suggestion that Marvel/DC could eliminate some of the more egregious examples of sexism). Take this recent post, where Carlson takes Tom Breevort to task for hinting at Marvel trying to attract some manga readers. I always suspect that Carlson's analysis of the "mainstream" is influenced by her husband's (apparently negative) experiences at DC (or maybe Marvel or maybe both--I can't remember). [EDIT: Or maybe she worked there too? I'm confused. Somebody help me out here.] I could understand if her position was "superhero comics are an inherently stupid and invalid genre, so the issue of sexism is secondary." But I don't think that's what she's going for. Consider the following statement:

"If 30 years of reading superhero comics and a master’s degree in popular culture focusing on fandom doesn’t give me some slack on 'knowing what I’m talking about' in terms of the genre, I don’t know what will."

See, this is trying to impose a descriptive framework on a prescriptive argument. No one is arguing that superhero comics aren't typically sexist*; they're arguing that they don't have to be. I think Carlson's trying to say that sexism is a fundamental aspect of superheroes as a genre, but this seems akin to an essentialist argument (eg, women are essentially caring, domestic creatures while men, evolutionarily designed for hunting, are better suited to hold positions of authority). I mean, Christ, these are genres written by humans, not the inexorable laws of physics. If we can't alter the parameters of something as artificial as "genre," what the hell is the point of human existence?

*I think Ragnell is arguing that superhero comics are not inherently sexist because they didn't feature overtly sexist art in the Golden and Silver Ages. I don't quite buy this, since female characters were written in an incredibly sexist way during these decades. In fact, I would tend to argue that the 1980s were the closest thing to a period in which sexist writing was in decline and sexist art wasn't quite as pronounced. Bear in mind I'm speaking in relative terms; in an absolute sense, these comics were undoubtedly sexist in both art and writing.

-I had no idea Duella Dent was such an obscure character (also see here). Well, I mean of course she's an obscure character, but I mean obscure by internet standards. I mean, I've heard of her, and I'm not particularly well-versed in late Silver Age DC. I wanted to say she was in that Mike Allred issue of Solo, and I even dug it out to confirm it. But I guess I was wrong. On the bright side, I re-read that Teen Titans party story, which was really a lot of fun. Why can't we have more stories like that? You know, comics featuring the four color process. That's a retro flourish I can get behind!

-Funniest review I've read all week: Jeff Lester on City of Others.

-More Trader Joe's reviews:

Gnocci Stuffed with Pesto and Cheese: I think I don't know how to cook gnocci. I boiled some water in our electric kettle and poured it into a pot with the gnocci in it. Maybe I was supposed to put the boiling water in the pot and then add the gnocci. In any event, I ended up with mashed potatoes with little swirls of pesto. I thought the pesto was maybe a little bland, though it did have nuts of some kind in it (which is better than a lot of commercially prepared pestos I've had over the years).

Dried Mangos Coated in Chile Powder: Like a sucker, I bought another product listed in the Trader Joe's advertising circular. Unlike the horrendous pomegranate cranberry bran muffins, however, this was very, very good. The slices of mango basically look like home style wedge cut fries coated in something spicy. They're fairly firm, giving them a nice bite. The chile powder isn't overwhelming either. I do feel compelled to refute the Trader Joe's circular writing staff's recommendation of eating these things with a cold beer. I found that this robs them of their flavor in such a way that they taste more like hot cinnamon candy, which isn't nearly as good as chile powder-dusted dried mango slices.

Frozen Mushroom Risotto: I really should have known better, but I wanted to pick up something fairly quick for lunch. This was not the right choice. The risotto had more or less the right consistency, but was creamy in the way that oatmeal is creamy. It was also very, very salty. The mushrooms were not especially tasty either.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

That's more like it

-Kudos to Brian Cronin for updating my blog description to more accurately reflect its immeasurable contributions to online comics discourse. Mr. Cronin, you did the right thing by quoting me directly.

-Finally, finally, one of these 52 interviews gives me something to work with. Maybe it's because Grant Morrison had been relatively quiet up until now. What's the biggest dish? Well, apparently the Vertigo office insisted he write the outer space stuff because they only trusted him to write Animal Man. There was supposed to be a "coda" for Super-Chief, but space limitations ruled it out. A few unnamed people considered quitting when Steve Wacker left the book. Morrison did not actually write any part of issue #24 (the one where Bulleteer was all out of character), which IIRC kind of contradicts the usual company line on the writing process as pretty seamless, all things considered. Not convinced? Morrison says he wrote almost all the Oolong Island stuff, which was probably the most beloved part of the whole series. I'm sure you'll hear a lot about these and other points in the days to come, but I don't want to overlook these gems either:

"Everybody always describes me as the 'big ideas' guy but they only ever mention one of my ideas (Skeets is evil...oooooo) and you rarely get to hear how much of my time was spent cheerleading my way through the weekly phone calls. Everybody likes to typecast Mark as the staunch traditionalist when in fact he's a supersmart, witty and literary writer with no respect for authority and he probably had more confrontations with editorial than any of the rest of us. Greg's supposed to be the angry, street level guy who grounds everything in reality but he also has a lurid pulp imagination and is very thoughtful and gracious team player. Geoff is often seen as the white collar go-to company guy at DC when he's actually a bloodthirsty, restless innovator who continually pushes for characters to experience the new, different and deadly and he has no real loyalty to previous ways of doing things at all."

Man, I was really tempted to take that out of context: "Geoff is...bloodthirsty." Well, duh. To be fair, I'm not sure if the line on Geoff Johns is that he's a traditionalist as much as that he has a Roy Thomas-like compulsion to tie together continuity in a nice little bow. And there's his fondness for dismemberment, of course. For that matter, Waid as pugnacious enemy of editorial is, uh, not all that surprising either. And sense when is a street level sensibility incompatible with "lurid pulp imagination"?

Okay, okay, one more highly amusing thing:

"[Morrison:] While we're on the subject of online commentary, I have to make one last point which has been amusing me recently and this seems as good a forum as any to bring it up. One of the most damning online criticisms I see of writers in comics is that he or she 'phoned it in'. Umm...has no-one grasped the irony or the concept of the internet modem here? You think we put our scripts and artwork in envelopes and send them pigeon post?

Here is wisdom - everyone phones their scripts in!!!!

NRAMA: Okay – good, if overly semantic, point."

It's at this point I noticed that Vaneta Rogers, who had conducted the interviews with Waid, Johns, and Giffen (but not Didio) was not credited for the interview. There was no credit, in fact, which leads me to conclude that Matt Brady was the interviewer. As much as Brady misses the point sometimes and is too quick with the Star Wars references at other times, he occasionally displays a pretty sharp, dry wit. I don't know how I would have reacted if I were interviewing Grant Morrison only to have him deviate from the subject at hand to make an incredibly lame (and somewhat inaccurate, given the prevalence of cable modems) joke, but this was as good a response as any. And if this interview was, in fact, conducted byVaneta Rogers, then I would have to say that exchange was the highlight of the entire series.

-After mocking the Transformers fans recently, I probably shouldn't admit this, but I'm actually looking forward to that Castlevania cartoon. If Warren Ellis screws it up I guess I'll finally be able to empathize with fans of Thunderbolts (and yes, there had better be whips).

-Brian Bolland: the Mark Waid of lawsuits? (Okay, that's the last Waid joke for a while. Also, if Bolland is serious about this, it's worse than Waid's bullshit macho posturing.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

My proper legacy (take notes if you need to)

-I hope everyone had a good Free Comic Book Day. I know I did--I stayed at home because fuck crowds. Also, I was able to get the free stuff a few days early--except that a great many of the things I was interested in reading were already gone! So I came away with Unseen Peanuts and the Spider-Man thing. The former was great, but I think I've promised my copy to my brother. The latter was fine, but ultimately kind of disposable, which I guess is appropriate given the nature of FCBD.

-Comics Should Be Good has an entirely new links page, this time featuring descriptions (which is a nice feature which I encourage others to follow). Here's what Brian Cronin (I assume) said about this place:

Dick Hates Your Blog
- Mocking people who blog about comics. A very fun look at the comic blogoverse.

This is the blogoverse equivalent of "a fun romp." Come on. In the short life of this blog (I think it's like 3 or 4 months old), I've given you:

-A controversial discussion of the place of 1970s American comics in the history of the medium
-Rock solid data indicating that comics fans really hate Joe Quesada
-Repeated (and sadly unsuccessful) efforts to bring ADD back into the fold
-Reviews of food sold at Trader Joe's
-Heated, thought-provoking debate over the correct definition of "triage"
-Hard-hitting exposes of which bloggers casually use the word "chicken head" and their profound explanations for doing so ("RU feminist LOL")
-Preliminary efforts to set up an NHB superfight between Mark Waid and Dan Coyle (current status: we're looking for a state with no athletic commission and a big nerd population with significant disposable income)
-A good soup recipe
-Gratuitous Rucka baiting
-An audacious new plan to make every comic free, every day of the year, by instituting an "everyone works for free" policy
-Probably some other stuff

This is dead serious, industry-revolutionizing, paradigm-obliterating stuff. It's not "Dick's fun romp through the blogosphere." I expect a new description by the end of the week.

-I missed out on this Asorbascon (NIM) post about "groovy" and "not groovy." It showed up in my RSS/feed/whatever reader thing, but the post appears to be gone now. Unfortunately, the pictures didn't come through, so I have no idea what things are "groovy" and which are not. It's all the more frustrating because he seemed to be bagging on somebody or something:

"Paul Winchell + Gary Owens + Mel Blanc + Paul Lynde = groovy.
Desperate attempt to capitalize in an absurdist fashion on things that weren't groovy to begin with = not groovy."

I know its (ugh) "Groovy Chick Month" at the Asorbascon (NIM), but I'm still stumped on this one. Somebody help me out! The only reason I follow this blog is to see Scipio talking shit!! I have no interest in what kind of toothpaste Batman uses on Earth-2 vs. Earth-1!!!

-The Harlan Ellison/Gary Groth/sundry supporters and sycophants BIG DEBATE at the Beat was truly depressing, mostly because I look at Ellison's rabid dog prose, consider my own prolix tendencies, and wonder, "Is this my future?" But then again, I guess Ellison had written that episode of Star Trek with the Romans or the gangsters or the Nazis or whatever when he was basically my age, whereas I've only managed to write a dozen or so full-length Babylon 5 fan fiction novels. So maybe I'm safe. Also: "It's not a First Amendment case because the CBLDF would be covering it if it was" is the worst argument I've heard in a while.* Also also: Didn't Ellison get outsmarted by the guys from Penny Arcade? I mean, if so, it's really kind of sad.

*To his credit, Ellison did not make this argument, but one of his fans/Groth's enemies did.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Darkseid is taking fashion tips from c. 1996 Ben Grimm

-David Brothers really does a favor for all of us who don't want (or can't even conceive of ever having) a MySpace account: he posts the 10 preview pages for Countdown. Thanks, dude.

So now that I've had a chance to read these pages, I have to express one major concern: Darkseid looks all wrong. Is this the current, official, on-model version of Darkseid? Cause it looks really, really bad compared to Kirby. What's up with the bucket head? Why does he have those weird fanning shoulder pads? Why is only the right one extended? I have to tell you, the Fourth World stuff is the only real attraction for me at this point. The Red Hood sequence is okay--I still think that character has the potential to be interesting, especially if he's out of Winick's hands--but the Mary Marvel section seems terribly, terribly misguided. Which, frankly, is what most of us are expecting based on the preview art. Oh well.

-Speaking of weekly comics, here's Keith Giffen's post-52 Newsarama interview, linked mostly for posterity because there's not a lot of noteworthy stuff there. The only thing that stands out is Giffen repeating his belief that criticism boils down to "I wouldn't have done it that way." I'm still not sure if he means this as a universal truth for all criticism or if it only applies to other creators. Honestly, though, there's a lot of non-creators (esp. on message boards) seem to take the former approach when criticizing comics. This kind of prescriptive criticism is especially common among the continuity-first crowd.

-Another stupid list from that college newspaper guy who wrote that terrible list of the five best comics of all time (hey, did any of you go to a college where the newspaper was awesome? cause I sure didn't), this time covering the worst comics of all time. Here's a better one, using the Motorbooty 100 Worst Albums of All Time Formula. As a bonus, it's over twice as long.

1. Kingdom Come
2. Y the Last Man
3. Sleepwalk
4. That Monica Lewinsky comic by Tom Hart and James Kochalka
5. Iron Wok Jan (bear in mind I'm a vegetarian)
6. Thunderbolts
7. Crisis on Infinite Earths
8. Penny Arcade
9. Everything by S. Clay Wilson ever
10. Li'l Abner
11. Mark Millar's Authority

-Hey, as long as I'm being a philistine, did anyone else think Ron Rege's "Then" was better than his "Now"? (Via Flog, BTW. Exhibit home is here, and the whole thing is pretty awesome.)

-I didn't expect both Gary Groth OR Harlan Ellison to manifest in the comments thread to this Beat post (thanks to Kevin Church for pointing it out). What I really didn't expect was for Shannon Wheeler to call Peter Bagge a "jerk." I first read about Too Much Coffee Man in the Hate letter column, which was probably the highest profile plug Wheeler had received at that point. Boo, Shannon Wheeler. [After Shannon Wheeler left a comment questioning whether TMCM was ever mentioned in Hate, I went back to check the issue I thought it was in. I couldn't find the plug, and now it's obvious I had the whole thing mixed up. My apologies to Mr. Wheeler. Boo, Dick Hyacinth.]

Dismembering 52

-The post-52 interviews begin! Mark Waid is up first, and he's showing remarkable restraint--no challenges to a round of pankratic combat or anything. But the interviewer is kind of a kiss ass, at least when it comes to Geoff Johns:

WAID:...whenever you need somebody torn in half [laughs], Geoff's the guy to go to!

NRAMA: [laughs] A body part removal expert.

MW: Yeah! He's really good at the dismemberment, at the limb-shearing -- whenever you need it bloody, Geoff's the guy to go to. [laughs]

NRAMA: He really needs to put that on his resume. [laughs] I'm sure some of the more negative fans are latching onto that label already, unfortunately.

First, why the equivocation? This isn't a matter of speculation; "fondness of dismemberment" and "continuity porn" are two damn near ubiquitous criticisms of Johns. Second, what's so goddamned unfortunate about it? Does anyone doubt that it's true? If someone were to run a case study on the tendency towards dismemberment among contemporary Marvel/DC writers, does anyone doubt that Johns would come out on top? The only way I could construe it as "unfortunate" is if it draws attention away from his far more annoying continuity porn tendencies (which, as of right now, is actually the more common complaint).

Also, I'm not sure Waid quite understands what "triage" means. Hint: look to the first three letters!

-Next up is Geoff Johns, whose interview begins with the following unfortunate words of introduction:

"At the risk of using too many 52-related analogies, there's no doubt after hearing him reminisce about 52 that if Grant Morrison, Mark Waid or Greg Rucka were falling, Johns would totally pull an Atom Smasher and catch 'em."

Is it too late to get in on this Transformers thing? Johns, for his part, plays the customary part of the company man, making his interview kinda sorta pretty boring. Really, this is the only thing that stood out:

"NRAMA: He's even more complicated now than he was before, though.

GJ: Absolutely. He lost his family for the second time.

NRAMA: As a result of that, he became such a bad-ass, and became so enraged at the world.


Anyway, there's presumably a couple more of these coming. Bring on the Rucka!

-I'm shocked by how many people are saying they've re-read all of 52 in the past few days. I thought that 52 was, at times, pretty okay; it's money that probably should have gone towards something else, but oh well. Still, I can't imagine trying to sit down and re-read it all. If the main attraction is the insanity of the ideas (as Matt Fraction suggests), then I'd probably be better off reading crazy Silver Age comics, which have the great advantage of actually being well drawn.

Taking aim at two very broad targets

-The thing that surprises me most about the Vince Colletta letter that's been making the rounds? The neatness of his handwriting. It's just much better penmanship than I expected from the infamous inker. As for the interview transcript: I just quit reading after a while. It seemed too much like an end-of-the-show Saturday Night Live skit:

VC: I told Galton that Jim Shooter was a saint, and that the editors' complaints were unfounded.
INT: But they were legit complaints! Shooter shoved Michael Higgins' head into Carl Potts' aquarium! The fish were flapping on the floor!
VC: Yeah, but Galton doesn't know that, right? I'm trying to save Shooter's job.
INT: Oh, yeah. I get it.
VC: So anyway, Galton tells me he heard that Shooter was calling Hobson a drunk.
INT: Ooh, that's not very nice.
VC: Who cares?!? I'm trying help out my buddy Jim. It's irrelevant.
INT: It's still not very nice.
VC: Okay, whatever. So I tell him that Shooter didn't understand how big companies work.
INT: But that's not true! Shooter is a genius of corporate intrigue!
VC: GOD DAMMIT, I know that's not true!! Christ, aren't you paying attention?
(Repeat for five minutes, ending with Colletta killing the interviewer and/or himself.)

Man, I'm going to laugh if the interviewer turns out to be fairly well-known in the comics community. Let me rephrase that: I really, really hope the interviewer turns out to be someone well known in the comics community.

-There are some things worse than being a superhero fan. All hardcore fans are pathetic on some level; I'm always shocked at the degree of deep, personal injury that some Marvel/DC fans evince when their favorite characters somehow diverge from their ideal type (which is, of course, a completely subjective thing depending on the pathetic fanboy in question, thus in turn assuring us that someone's always going to be unhappy about the color of Hawkman's suspenders). But seriously, I think Transformers fandom might be the most damning indictment of Western culture to date. Not that there's anything more ridiculous about the concept than any other object of fannish passion--actually, it's a really great concept for a toy line aimed at young boys. But man, I'm floored by the efforts of Transformers fans to somehow synthesize the disparate mythoi of this particular intellectual property into one true narrative-- it puts DC fans to shame, frankly. These guys have done so much with so little.

Really, is there any other group which has built up such an elaborate fan culture based on such triviality? Is there any cultural significance to the Transformers beyond nostalgia?

-I'm really shocked that freeloaders sitting in the manga aisle is a genuine problem, rather than a calculated effort by bitter Marvel/DC apologists to discredit manga sales in bookstores. I really have never encountered this. Bear in mind that I only go into the big chain bookstores once or twice a month. I do see people browsing the manga all the time, and they do occasionally get in my way, but I never see them just sitting around reading stuff. You know where I do see that? My local comics store, which even has a couple of chairs for the purpose. Actually, the only patrons who've ever truly annoyed me as I was browsing for manga were several RPGers who were talking loudly and ignoring my dirty looks as I tried to peer around them.* Not really annoying, more like embarrassing: One time a teenager shopping with her mother asked me what kind of manga I liked, but I didn't really want say, "The kind with teenagers struggling to survive after an earthquake or tsunami or something." I think I might have mumbled something about horror manga and moved along. Maybe I'm just a prude--I worry what people think when I'm the only adult male in an aisle crowded with teenage girls. Especially when I have to ask one of them where the tentacle rape manga is. (Just kidding! I know where it is.)

*Actually, the RPG fuckers at certain comics shops are exponentially more annoying than anyone I've encountered reading manga at the bookstore. Thankfully my retailer doesn't sell that stuff, but I do encounter it when I'm buying comics while at home or visiting the in-laws. Do these people have jobs? They seem to be in these stores all hours of the day, quoting Family Guy dialogue and drinking Diet Rite while lasciviously caressing their 10 sided dice with their greasy, stubby fingers, coated orange from hot wing sauce. Or, if you happen to be in the main Mile High Comics store in Denver, they're all goth kids.

-Little did I know that Dr. Doom was so well-versed in the Legion of Super-Heroes and the complicated fan-professional politics of contemporary DC comics. The fact that I'm not reading the current LSH thing in JLA/JSA is really a testament to how much I really don't want to read anything written by the Geoff Johns of 2007 and the Brad Meltzer of all of recorded history. Steve Flanagan confirms that this is the correct decision.