Thursday, February 28, 2008

The meta-list

At long last, here it is: the final meta-list compiling critical reaction from across the internet and print publications. Once again I'll point out the rules I established for these entries. I'd like to thank Chad Nevett for providing me with a formula for quantifying these lists. Also great thanks to all those who spread the word about this project.

I have a few comments on select titles below. I had commented on several of these in two previous posts analyzing my preliminary meta-list. In the coming days, I'll break down the list by category, but these are probably more than enough numbers to digest for one day. So, with no further ado:


1. Exit Wounds (1085)

2. Shortcomings (941)
3. All Star Superman (908)
The highest-charting superhero book; also DC's highest charting book.
4. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (850)
5. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (660)
6. Criminal (640)
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (541)
8. Alias the Cat (452)
Really picked up steam with TCJ voting. This is the highest charting title from a traditional book publisher.
9. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto (444)
10. Powr Mastrs (439)
Another one which did really well with TCJ contributors.

11. Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus (409)
12. Chance in Hell (386)
Superspy (386)
14. The Arrival (383)
15. The Blot (361)
16. Immortal Iron Fist (357)
Quite a drop once TCJ was factored in. Still the highest charting book featuring a Marvel-owned intellectual property. By a whole lot, actually.
17. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (343)
Not what you would expect given online reaction (this will be a recurring theme). Did equally well with sites devoted to comics and general interest sites/publications.
18. The Professor's Daughter (339)
19. Shooting War (323)
20. Essex County series (313)*

21. Apollo's Song (293)
The highest charting manga. Seems to have split the vote with MW; if you combine their points, it would have ended up tied with Buffy the Vampire Slayer for seventh place. Of course, there's an illogical assumption in this speculation. In any event, it bodes well for the upcoming Black Jack volumes, which will probably attract a lot of attention from bloggers and the mainstream media alike.
22. Achewood (290)
Now that it's official that Dark Horse is publishing The Great Outdoor Fight, I expect to see that collection somewhere in the top 20 next year.
23. Y the Last Man on Earth (275)
The top rated Vertigo book; owes its placement mostly to non-comics sites.
24. King City (274)
This might have placed in the top 10 had it been better distributed.
25. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (269)
This is way, way lower than I expected. I'm not sure if that's a failure on DC's part to get this in the hands of mainstream reviewers, or if folks were just not as into it as you might have expected given all the internet hype when the first issue came out. Maybe critics were turned off by the later issues, which introduced some poorly-received political commentary.
26. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (267)
The highest charting vintage comic strip collection.
27. Crecy (256)
28. Aya (251)
29. EC Segar's Popeye (248)
MW (248)

31. Maggots (241)
32. The Killer (237)
33. Alice in Sunderland (236)
I'm as surprised as you are. Another case where internet hype at the time of release was not reflected in the final ranking.
34. Tekkon Kinkreet (229)
35. Casanova (228)
36. The Umbrella Academy (227)
I'll be curious if the collection charts well in the 2008 list.
37. Fell (225)
38. Notes For a War Story (224)
39. Dr. 13: Architecture and Morality (219)
Very popular with sites devoted to comics coverage; literally no votes from general interest sites and publications.
40. Complete Persepolis (216)

41. Fluffy (214)
Did very well on lists compiled by Brits. I think an American collection is either out or forthcoming.
42. Captain America (212)
43. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (211)
44. Sundays With Walt and Skeezix (209)
Owes most of its support to TCJ. Pretty good showing for such a costly item (though I suspect that Absolute New Frontier would have made the top 20 last year).
45. The Complete Peanuts (208)
Not bad for a series which has been out long enough for people to take it for granted.
46. The Salon (206)
47. Nat Turner volume 2 (204)
48. Bookhunter (193)
49. I Killed Adolf Hitler (190)
50. Love and Rockets digest series (189)**
Micrographica (189)

52. Acme Novelty Library #18 (186)
Probably would be higher if it had come out earlier in the year.
53. Good As Lily (180)
Highest charting Minx book.
54. Empowered (175)
This seemed to have a lot more buzz earlier in the year. I get the idea that a lot of people were disappointed in the second volume.
55. Plain Janes (173)
Similar to LOEG: Black Dossier, except that it got almost all its support from general interest lists.
56. House (169)
57. Laika (167)
58. Silverfish (161)
I swear I never read a single review of this book.
59. Moomin (159)
60. Army@Love (156)
Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (156)
Elvis Road (156)
Army@Love did very well for a book with an unclear future. Those who are reading it obviously like it a great deal.

63. Spent (149)
64. Three Paradoxes (147)
65. Sentences (144)
66. King Cat Classix (142)
A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders (142)
68. New Engineering (137)
69. The Other Side (135)
Red Eye, Black Eye (135)
71. Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips (133)

70. Mister Wonderful (129)
Uptight (129)
I have to think Mister Wonderful would have done better if its last installment had come out in 2007. I doubt we'll see it on many 2008 lists, since only a handful of strips came out this year. I have a copy of Uptight #2 I still haven't read; obviously I need to do so.
72. White Rapids (128)
73. The End (126)
First of three Anders Nilsen books to make the top 100. His prodigious output in 2007 (including Big Questions, which did not make the top 100) may have split his vote. But that's a pretty impressive accomplishment, surpassed only by Ed Brubaker (whose Captain America, Criminal, and Immortal Iron Fist all made the top 50).
74. The Spirit (124)
This seems like it would have been higher. Maybe Darwyn Cooke's announcement that he was leaving the title sapped list-makers' enthusiasm for this comic.
75. Marvel Zombies 2 (122)
Some people will be irritated to see this so high.
76. Scalped (120)
Drifting Classroom (120)
78. Monster (118)
79. Complete Dick Tracy (116)
I wonder if this series will chart higher once it gets into the strip's classic era.
80. Dogs and Water (114)

81. Phonogram (112)
I'm guessing people might have forgotten about this series by the time they got around to making lists; also might have split votes with Suburban Glamor (which would chart just outside the top 100)
82. Walt and Skeezix (111)
Not to be confused with Sundays with Walt and Skeezix.
85. AD: New Orleans After the Flood (110)
Hack and Slash (110)
How to Be Everywhere (110)
Last Call (110)
Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic (110)
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (110)
Somewhere in this bunch is the first WTF book. I'll leave it to the reader to guess which one I'm referring to.
91. The Escapists (109)
92. American Elf volume 2 (106)

93. Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus (105)
94. Storeyville (103)
95. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow (100)
Dragon Head (100)
The Punisher (100)
98. Emma (98)
Nana (98)
I think Nana is the highest charting shojo manga. Emma is published in a shonen magazine in Japan, isn't it?
100. Garage Band (96)

*This encompasses results for both volumes--Tales From the Farm and Ghost Stories.
**This is only for those who specified the digest series, rather than the pamphlet series or any specific volume of the digest series.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Two brief points

-Hey, guess what I bought today? That's right, the issue of The Comics Journal with all those best of 2007 lists. I'll try to have the final master list up tomorrow.

UPDATE: The computation is done, but it will be tomorrow before I can put it all together with my comments. Adding TCJ data does change the bottom of the top ten, but the impact is greater on numbers 11-20 or so. At least that's my preliminary observation; I haven't actually done the ranking yet.

-Continuing the earlier discussion of the best of 2008 from the other day: I finished reading Blue Pills and Paul Goes Fishing this weekend. I thought the former got a little better in the middle, especially as more details about the reality of living with HIV came through. I really wasn't crazy about the ending with the mastodon, and there was something about Peeters' art which I didn't like--it's like the least attractive combination of Brian Lee O'Malley and Craig Thompson possible. I also found the characters hard to relate to, and there was something about the translation which seemed especially impenetrable ("Idiocies! Idiocies! Idiocies!" for example). Some people probably consider it a positive that the idiosyncrasies and rhythms of the French language remained intact, but I found it distracting. Blue Pills has its moments, but I found it disappointing on the whole.

On the other hand, I was really impressed with Paul Goes Fishing. I'd read a few of Michael Rabagliati's shorter Paul stories, and always found them winsome and engaging, but not especially deep. I really need to read the longer volumes, I guess, because Paul Goes Fishing greatly exceeded my expectations. I was especially taken with how subtly the ending recalled earlier themes about the intersection of technology with nature. I guess I still think Little Nothings is the best thing to come out in the first 1/6 of 2008, but Paul Goes Fishing is a strong second. Given that the most-ballyhooed releases are still to come, it's looking like a really good year for comics.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wishful thinking

-The debate over Bookscan numbers seems to have (a) found a home at the Beat (where thankfully the duller-witted folks seem to have moved on to other things), and (b) moved into the realm of semantics, what with the question of what constitutes art comics (or comix, if you prefer). Of special consideration: is Bone an "art comic"? If I were asked to provide a definition of art/literary comics*, I would probably say that they are comics for which creative expression outweighs market considerations. I could see someone considering Bone to be an "art comic," given that definition. Others might have a definition which precludes anything that smacks of genre, in which case Bone would obviously be excluded.

Also worth considering is how perception of Bone has changed over time. When it first debuted, it was so different, so much better than the vast majority of comics, that I think one might have been justified in lumping it in with Eightball or Yummy Fur (I know I did, back in my late teen years). Today, with the massive success of the Scholastic printings and the sheer number of similar works (many inspired by Jeff Smith), it's harder to classify it that way.

At another point in this debate, Dirk Deppey suggests that today's manga readers might be tomorrow's Fantagraphics/D&Q/whatever reader. Heidi MacDonald shoots this notion down, but I think that might be shortsighted. This kind of debate really needs to consider the role of art in comics consumption. Comics are not the same as literature; story is not the only selling point. Surely the average person who has not grown up immersed in the world of superhero comics would find the art of Jaime Herandez or Jim Woodring easier to follow and more visually stimulating than that of David Finch (or Tony Daniel or most of the Vertigo artists). I wonder if the appeal of attractive art might not be similar to the appeal of catchy music. In other words, potential readers might gravitate towards more serious comics if the art hooks them, just like a song might hook listeners with a catchy phrase. I would think this is an advantage "art comics" would hold over their prose counterparts. Of course, this wouldn't apply to someone like Gary Panter, but that kind of goes without saying.

*Assuming you don't consider these to be two separate categories. Maybe they are, but I've never heard anyone try to distinguish between the two. And I'm not terribly comfortable with defining "art comic," either. Seems like an exercise in frustration, especially for someone who doesn't really believe in concepts like "objectively good."

-One other point that emerges from this debate (which I'm going to give its own bullet point) is whether Marvel and DC are doing enough to capture potential readers who are familiar with their intellectual properties from movies, cartoons, etc. Deppey made this point re: the new Spider-Man cartoon today. MacDonald dismissed this point in a way I'm not sure is entirely fair; doesn't visual continuity between cartoon and comics matter (and I'm guessing that the characterization might vary a bit as well)? Of course, this all assumes that either company's corporate overlords really care whether or not the publishing division can exploit this popularity in other media. Maybe Levitz and Buckley's bosses are getting more interested in what's seeing print, given the recent rumors surrounding DC, but forgive me for being a little skeptical of how much the NYC-centered publishers mean to their parent companies.

But this brings to mind an important question about DC/Marvel readers under the age of 20 (in other words, those who were too young to have read comics before the mid-90s bust). How did you folks get started reading superhero comics, given that they were much, much harder to find by the point you reached literacy? And given the much higher cost of these comics, relative to what I paid when I was a tyke?* I'm serious about this--it's a question that's been bugging me for a while now. If you yourself are in this demographic, please tell me your story in the comments.

*One of the many reasons I've always leaned towards Marvel was that their books were 60 cents an issue when I first started buying my own comics. DC charged 75 cents. It's hard to believe there was a point in my life when 15 cents made such a big difference. I guess I really am that old.

-I'd like to direct everyone to this poll at Comics Comics asking whether or not you would buy a book devoted to Ogden Whitney's work. It was an easy answer for me--I'd buy volumes collecting the work of most of the artists included in Art Out of Time. Lucky for us, there are already at least three such books either forthcoming or already out, all released by Fantagraphics so far: the Terr'ble Thompson collection, I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets, and the upcoming collection of the comics of Rory Hayes (who, out of all the artists featured in Art Out of Time, is probably the one whose work I would most want to see collected). Actually, now that I think about it, Fantagraphics has also published a long-form work by Milt Gross, He Done Her Wrong. So that's 4 out of 29 cartoonists (5 of 29 if you count the possible Whitney collection).

Who else needs their own collections? I'm not sure what the likelihood of any of this is in terms of surviving work or copyright troubles, but I'd love to see collections of the work of Jack Mendelsohn or Harry J. Tuthill (actually, there was a Bungle Family collection in the late 70s, but I'm guessing that it's about as easy to find as the various collections of Polly and Her Pals). One might also suggest Howard Nostrand or his colleague Bob Powell, but my understanding is that their other work doesn't really reflect what we see in Art Out of Time.

Actually, what would really be cool is a second volume of Art Out of Time, maybe with a few underground manga artists included this time. Possibly even a global volume of "unknown comics visionaries." That would be pretty cool, right?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Early onset OCD

-No final tally for the meta-list yet--my shop didn't get in any copies of the latest Comics Journal. I know some stores did, but as Jog pointed out, it wasn't on Diamond's shipping list. Maybe it made it out to the west coast and not to the rest of the country. I do know that my shop carries TCJ, and it wasn't there this week. It's possible that Diamond missed filling it, since they were apparently missing a few other items as well. Hopefully it will turn up next week; as soon as it does, I'll have those rankings for you.

-And why not get the best of 2008 ball rolling? I'm going to try to keep a running tally from the beginning of the year, because I don't want to leave something off the list. Not that this was a problem with my best of 2007 list--I probably would have included Terr'ble Thompson if I hadn't thought it was a 2006 release, but that's about the only oversight. But my best of lists are my version of bagging, boarding, and indexing, I guess.

So--the best comic/graphic novel of 2008 thus far is...Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella by Lewis Trondheim. This is NBM's collection/translation of Trondheim's comic-format blog, which I struggle to read every time it's updated. Little Nothings consists of one page strips, often illustrating Trondheim's travels, particularly those related to his career as a prominent cartoonist. It's a very funny book, maybe the most charming of Trondheim's translated work. If it had come out in 2007, it definitely would have made my top 10. NBM has some sample pages here.

OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES VERY MUCH WORTH YOUR TIME: Reich #1, Hickee #4 (for the Graham Annable strip alone; also has a very nice cover)

NOTABLE STUFF WORTHY OF CONSIDERATION THAT I HAVE BOUGHT BUT I HAVE NOT READ: Blue Pills (I'm about 1/3 of the way in, and I'm not really digging it, honestly), Paul Goes Fishing, Crickets #2.

NOTABLE STUFF WORTHY OF CONSIDERATION THAT I HAVE NOT YET BOUGHT OR READ: the new Maakies collection, Hotwire vol. 2, the latest volume of MOME.

I'll try to update this as the year goes on, maybe once a month if I can remember.

-Do folks really expect Marvel's advertising to use the word "whom"? (Also: here, maybe?) Somehow I think that might elicit an unwanted reaction from the target audience.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Review: A Dangerous Woman

A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman
Sharon Rudahl

The New Press

I've been interested in anarchism in general and Emma Goldman in particular for a few years, so I was eager to read underground cartoonist Sharon Rudahl's biography of her life. Rudahl, as best I can tell, leans heavily on Goldman's autobiography, tracing Goldman's life from childhood to death. The first few pages of the book suggest that Rudahl will be using humor to cut against the bleak themes of the book. This was not the case for the majority of the book, which is unfortunate because Rudahl can be funny when she wants. That's not to say, however, that A Dangerous Woman is a slog. It's quite engaging if you're interested in the subject matter.

Rudahl isn't the most polished cartoonist, but she acquits herself pretty well here. Faced with a large cast of somewhat similar looking characters, Rudahl ingeniously distinguishes Emma Goldman by shading her hair with stippling rather than linework. It's an unusual choice, but it works--Goldman always immediately jumps off the page. I was equally impressed by Rudahl's judicious use of historical details--she effectively establishes a wide range of settings in a relatively small amount of space. Unfortunately, several of the compositions were needlessly complicated, laid out in such a way that panel and caption order was unclear. This tendency became absolutely exhausting about three quarters of the way through the book, at which point navigating nearly every page was a chore. Thankfully, Rudahl's delicate ink washes somewhat offsets her confusing layouts, making the book readable even on the most jumbled pages.

As a biography, A Dangerous Woman nicely balances the different aspects of Goldman's career. Rather than downplaying Goldman's anarchist ideology in favor of her crowd-pleasing positions on birth control and the Soviet Union, Rudahl constantly reminds us that Goldman remained a dedicated opponent of the state throughout her adult life. I do wish that Rudahl had emphasized the development of Goldman's ideology--when Goldman boldly states that the division between individualism and collectivism is a false dichotomy, it sort of comes out of nowhere. This is particularly disappointing because Goldman remains an enduring figure in American history precisely because of the complexity (and prescience) of her views. I also would like to have seen a bit more about the effect of Goldman's childhood and adolescence on the development of her unique ideology, but it's possible that the existing sources on Goldman's life don't allow for that kind of interpretation.

Despite these shortcomings, I'd recommend A Dangerous Woman to educators, particularly professors of American history, political theory, or women's studies. Rudahl accurately and engagingly traces Goldman's ideology and career, providing more information than one could fit into a 75 minute lecture. It's a fairly short read, and much less expensive than most academic monographs--two qualities that will surely please students. As a graphic novel, it also has the added advantages which come with a visual presentation of history (such as the subtle depiction of Goldman's aging, an accurate portrayal of the poverty of the era, and the visceral power of symbols such as swastikas or the Statue of Liberty). The book would also be appropriate for advanced high school students, but the R-rated depictions of sex might scare off teachers in the post-Nate Fisher era. As for casual readers, their reaction will probably be commensurate with their interest in Emma Goldman, turn of the century feminism, or the anarchist movement. If any of these things are of interest to you, I'd recommend reading A Dangerous Woman.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Interview: Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury on Aqua Leung

I'm excited that my first interview on this blog is with Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury, the creators of the forthcoming Image graphic novel Aqua Leung. I've been looking forward to this book ever since I saw the preview art on Blog@Newsarama. Mark and Paul answered these questions over the course of about a week.

How did this project originate? My understanding from Paul's Newsarama interview is that Mark had come up with the concept before Paul was involved. Just how fleshed out was Aqua Leung at that point? What kind of collaboration went on before the two of you actually started producing the finished pages?

MARK: Aqua Leung wasn't too fleshed out when I had started. I'd done a few pages of brainstorming and rough and fast ink drawings. When I start working on something new these usually get my mind to start working and it's a part of my creative process. So in my rough thumbnail style inks not much was fleshed out, I had some quick doodles of Aqua, Ringo his sidekick, and then King Calamari, and that was about it. With Aqua I knew that I wanted a boy with dark circles under his eyes that looked a bit like he never slept, I might have thrown the boxer wraps on his feet as well. Paul did a piece called Conquer and it's the one with Aqua and he's got several robots behind him. For me that became the character of Aqua Leung when I was working on the scripts, but even that changed and Aqua keeps evolving in his costumes and as a character. Originally the idea of Aqua Leung was meant to be more of a Saturday Morning Cartoon, but we were teetering back and forth between that idea, and doing something that's more like Titus with cute characters and just dark in feel and mood. We went with the later.

PAUL: I remember losing Mark's photocopied drawings of Aqua's characters before I really got a chance to look at them. Later after I had designed everything I found them and they were strangely similar to what I had done. I guess our ideas were pretty similar at the get go as far as what we wanted it to look like.

The early sketch alluded to above

Paul has said that he wanted to defy the usual expectations for a comic with an underwater setting. Was creating the overall visual style also a collaborative process?

PAUL: I think Mark pretty much trusted me to go off and do my thing. Once the vibe of the book was established by Mark and I, it was easy to start running with it, and the look developed really early on. I know some people might ask me why people aren't swimming, or why everything isn't blue, but I just didn't want to go in that direction. I wanted the characters you would find underwater, but not the physics or the kind of strict color pallet that kind of comes along with doing the "Atlantis" story. So thankfully Mark just let me ignore tradition and I think it worked out nicely for this book.

MARK: A lot of it was figuring things like that out. I knew that I wanted human style characters in there that exist in the sea, and shark fighters, but in my head it was more of a blend of half aquatic half human characters that walk as well as fish swimming around and then giant oversized bosses. But to give all of the fish human characteristics and sea people was Paul's idea. In a way it was stuff that I kind of half knew in my head when I was writing it but there was some sense of uncertainty, so Paul figured out the visual style and by doing that more of the physics for how it all worked. Colors are a very important part of the book and not doing a book that was all blue was a very good idea. The colors here in this underwater world are very vibrant and full of life.

What should readers expect from Aqua Leung? It looks more like a straight-up action/adventure comic than one might expect coming from either of you.

MARK: I think readers will be taken by Aqua Leung and it's got a wide range of emotion, moods, and tones throughout the work. It's definitely an action adventure comic in every sense of the word. But also there's a lot of our own personalities and humor that you can usually expect from us throughout the story. I think it's okay to just do full on action and let loose. The style and the material is also something that's very attractive. So I think it will defy all reader expectations in many ways but then satisfy them in many other ways.

PAUL: I admit to google'n up Aqua to see if anyone is blogging about it. There's a lot of people that are going to pick this up thinking of Mark's Amazing Joy Buzzards writing, and are looking for more of that. The rest seem to be drawn in by my colorful art and cover. Aside from that, we've kept this book under our hats big time. I think people looking for fish fighting each other and giant sea monsters will be pleased, but the book really isn't ALL about that. 200 pages of epic battle might be great for some people, but I had no interest in drawing one big fight scene. There's a whole lot of fun side quests, goofing off and character development. We actually get past the the traditional origin set up in this volume, and get down to the meat of the book, which I think is very important.

So Aqua Leung is going to be a series, rather than a one-off graphic novel?

MARK: Aqua Leung is a series of graphic novels. Most likely we'll do at least three and they should come out around the same time every year.

PAUL: Yeah, we were planning to do a 4 issue mini series and take it from there. Image smooth talked us into this new format, and I really think this way is much much better considering the way the market is these days.

The serialized OGN seems to be getting more and more popular, and it seems like there would be a lot of advantages in working in it. Has the increased page count affected your storytelling choices?

PAUL: Yeah action wise definitely. You can draw out a battle scene that would normally short change a monthly book buyer due to lack of story within the 22 or so pages. But in a graphic novel you can do all kinds of crazy stuff. As soon as we knew we were doing Aqua as a series of graphic novels, and not a monthly I immediately wrote in a 5 page splash. I love stuff like that.

MARK: Yeah Paul's answer says it all.

This is going to sound a little strange, but I'm curious: what are the dimensions of Aqua Leung? Is it going to be digest sized or what?

PAUL: It's typical Image style size. I don't think we ever considered doing the smaller Manga format. I think Aqua has a bit of American Manga flavor, but would probably get lost in the shuffle in that format I think. I'm not against smaller size books, but for a color book I really like a bigger presentation with shiny paper and loud colors. I'm totally a product of the early Image era, so that's what I'm used to.

Aqua Leung is presumably a play on the Jethro Tull song "Aqualung." Would you say that the interplay between electric guitar and flute exemplifies your collaborative process?

MARK: That's a good idea and I'd wish we thought of something that cool. I think the guitar in that song is amazing. So for our name we wanted to do something with water, or an Aqua Lung like the piece of scuba equipment. So I got it from there first and then the Tull song. But the guitar at the start of the song does kind of exemplify what kind of raw and dynamic energy you should imagine when reading the book. So to use your idea I could say yes and that the interplay between electric guitar and flute exemplify the creative process, as long as I can be the guitar.

PAUL: I was thinking about learning the flute just so I could do a little JT at cons. People would come up to the booth and I would just jump out from behind the curtains and start rocking out on top of the table. I would of course sign the book eventually.

That does bring up other possibilities for future collaborations: Thick as a Brick, Locomotive Breath.... I could definitely see myself buying a comic called Locomotive Breath.

PAUL: See, now why aren't YOU writing comics? Thick as a Brick would make a good autobiographical comic about myself I bet.

The first volume of Aqua Leung will be out on April 9. It will be 208 pages long and will retail for $17.99.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Presidents Day Rerun

I originally ran this on Presidents Day last year, but a lot fewer people were reading the blog back then. I always liked it, so here it is again. You'll see the vestiges of an uber-fanboy type character I was considering using here, but I've ultimately decided against it. The comments sections at the bigger blogs make that kind of parody redundant. There's also a reference to the not-yet-completed Civil War. It really seems like longer than a year since that wrapped up. Anyway, here it is:

You know, we don't do enough to celebrate President's Day in the DC/Marvelogosphere, which is a terrible shame. So we asked our crack research team, who we guarantee know more about history than you, to rectify this situation. What they came up with is a list of which president best corresponds to which corporate intellectual property. Hope you enjoy!

-Abraham Lincoln: Known as the father of our country, old Honest Abe only needed one nickname: the Rail Splitter. Now we've never been much for physical labor. I mean, occasionally our stepfather would force us to pick weeds on a Saturday afternoon, even though we told him that we were allergic to dirt. God, I HATE HIM SO MUCH....Anyway, we speculate that rail-splitting might have been something like swinging a hammer. So the obvious answer here is THOR.

-George Washington: Known as the father of our country, old Honest George was known for chopping down cherry trees just to prove how honest he is. Well, no superhero says "chop" quite like KARATE KID.

-Andrew Jackson: Waged war on the Indians, killed a man in a duel...sounds like JONAH HEX to us. Plus they kind of looked similar.

-Andrew Hamilton: This president is best known for appearing on a ten dollar bill, being secretary of the treasury, calling for the expansion of the federal government, and being killed by Aaron Burr. We're going to say IRON MAN.

-Aaron Burr: We'll continue our earlier line of thought and say CAPTAIN AMERICA. We guess we'll see this Wednesday--we can't wait!!!!!!!!

-Ronald Reagan: We always associate Reagan with our stupid stepfather, who made us wear a stupid Reagan/Bush '84 button to class. All the cool first graders called me us a nazi and made us eat dirt, which made our allergies act up. Our stupid stepfather had a stupid mustache like DOCTOR STRANGE, so let's go with him.

-Franklin Roosevelt: Well, Roger Stern says CAPTAIN AMERICA, so who are we to disa--wait, we already did Captain America. Uh, let's say USAGENT.

-George W. Bush: We hear he doesn't care about black people, and neither did GREEN LANTERN, HAL JORDAN VERSION. Bring back the other guy! [In all fairness to Hal Jordan and his gruesome legion of fans, I hear that he did care about the "purple skins." -DH]

-George HW Bush: Obviously must be GREEN LANTERN, ALAN SCOTT VERSION.

-John F Kennedy: Taken from us too soon. GWEN STACEY.

-Bill Clinton: The greatest player in the history of the presidents who dropped the bomb on many a phat ass. Clearly you have to go with that stud NIGHTWING. We bet they've even had sex with some of the same women! In the DCU, we mean. We know Nightwing doesn't really exist...yet!

-Warren G Harding: Known as the most handsome president, so we guess he'd be BATMAN. Well, we hear women think Batman is handsome. We can't tell, being totally heterosexual-type guys.

-Dwight D Eisenhower: We think he looks like METAMORPHO. Runner up: DON RICKLES.

-Grover Cleveland: Our greatest president, the man who freed the slaves, proponent of free silver. Clearly the best choice is SILVER SURFER.

And there you have it, every president ever, compared to a superhero. Happy Presidents' Day!!!! !!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Very important question

-Are there any decent comics shops in Oregon outside of Portland? I mean, like in Eugene or Salem or points in between? My research has been inconclusive, though this scared the hell out of me.

-I'm excited by the prospect of a Fantagraphics' FCBD offering for this year: an Ignatz sampler. This, in and of itself, would be nice enough, but the lineup suggests that we're in for a year of great Ignatz releases. The book includes excerpts from: Sammy the Mouse #2, Delphine #4, Babel #3, Calvario Hills #2, Niger #3, Grotesque #2, and Wish You Were Here #3. I'm really, really happy to see more volumes of Gipi's Wish You Were Here, Zak Sally's Sammy the Mouse, and Sergio Ponchione's Grotesque, but I guess I'm most excited by two things. First, it seems that we'll see two volumes of Richard Sala's excellent Delphine series next year. I assume this means #3 will be out before FCBD? Second, and apropos of recent discussion in the comments section here, we finally get another volume of David B's Babel. Those who liked Epileptic really need to seek out the first two volumes of this series, which is similar and yet better in a lot of ways. There's a sequence at the end of the first volume which is as good a demonstration of what comics can do better than any other medium as anything else I've ever read.

My one concern is that there are no new series represented in the FCBD sampler. Hopefully this is just a sign of Fantagraphics/Coconino publishing a sudden backlog of completed volumes, rather than a sign that the series is winding down. I'd say that the publication of a sampler volume indicates that Fantagraphics still has big plans for the imprint. Which would be great, because the Ignatz line might be my favorite thing in all of the comics industry.

-A few other FCBD offerings which bear mention: Drawn & Quarterly are releasing a very nice-looking sampler of their manga offerings, under the fitting title Gegika. Actually, there are only two titles being excerpted here: the third (and possibly final?) volume of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work, Good-Bye, and the much-anticipated Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi. There's also an EC Comics sampler, featuring the likes of Alex Toth, Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, and Wally Wood. Both of those should be worth picking up.

I see at least three high-quality all-ages titles: This year's Disney reprint focuses on Gyro Gearloose, one of my favorite supporting characters from the classic Barks era. Top Shelf is once again offering an Owly and Friends comic, the friends including Korgi and Johnny Boo, a new character created by James Kochalka. Finally, there's a Gumby coloring book featuring the regular creative team and a few other folks.

And for those who go to the comics shop for things other than comics, there's some Star Wars miniatures and even a Heroclix Iron Man. Don't let the kids mess them up!

-I promise you that I'm not Jog's roomate. Although I did house sit for Tom Spurgeon when he was at San Diego one year. (Quick question: is "house sit" the right word when you and nine of your friends occupy someone's home without their knowledge or consent when your bus breaks down on the way to Burning Man?)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More ultimate meta meta meta

Sorry about not posting for a few days--I was sick. And not the usual "I don't feel so great so I think I'll take a nap instead of posting" type of sick, but a more advanced type of sick. The kind where you just go ahead and move all your medicine into the living room so that you won't have to stumble back to the bathroom; the kind where you dread every sneeze or cough because you're fairly sure that their violence has bruised one of your ribs; the kind where your desire to bundle up to prevent chills does battle with your desire to keep your temperature under 102 degrees. But, mysteriously enough, my illness seems to have suffered a mortal wound yesterday, even after waking up with the worst fever yet (but not the worst fever of my adult life--I actually got up to a brain-threatening 105 a few years ago, necessitating an emergency room visit; that's another case where the virus just suddenly vanished). And so I feel well enough to return to the computer and blog, newly dedicated to the principle of not complaining about being sick unless I'm really sick.

(One comics related aside: While ill, I was reading the Patrick Rosencranz' history of underground comix, Rebel Visions (which sounds like the title of a yearbook for a high school with a Confederate-themed mascot, and it looks like it too once you take off the cover). This inspired some weird fever dreams, but not based on the content of the comics Rosencranz discusses. Instead, my dreams were all about the possibility of traveling back in time to take certain proactive measures to ensure the continued health of the underground comix industry beyond 1973. After a restless night contemplating how best to eliminate the Nixon/Hoover problem, I decided to feed my brain the intellectual equivalent of applesauce and dry toast for the remainder of the cold.)

One more note before moving on to the second half of the preliminary top 10--I've been rather distracted by pressing, non-comics related obligations for the last month, but that seems to be drawing to a temporary close. It looks like we will be moving far, far away from here in the next few months. This is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying; I'm eager to escape the midwestern tundra, but the prospect of vacating this apartment fills me with fear. Not because of any great fondness for it (the kitchen sucks, frankly), but because there's just so much stuff here. The thought of cleaning out the basement is particularly depressing. And then there's the cross-country trek, complicated by our need to transport two cats (one of them elderly) over the course of several days. What this all means is that this spring/summer might be kind of a low-posting-volume kind of time around these parts. We'll see.


For those new to this, I'm going through all the books which have appeared on the preliminary critical consensus meta-list. The first half of this analysis is here.

6. Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

I suspect Marvel would have expected the Dark Tower adaptation to be their best-reviewed comic of the year, but obviously the critics disagreed. The success of Criminal is pretty heartening, showing the advantages that can be reaped when a company with the pull of Marvel puts its muscle behind a non-superhero, creator-owned title. Icon initially looked like nothing more than the home for Powers and half-baked J. Michael Straczynski concepts, but Criminal seems to have changed popular perception of the imprint overnight. Now if only there were a few more titles coming out. I like Criminal quite a bit, putting it in my honorable mention-type section.

7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 by Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, George Jeanty, and Paul Lee

I've never watched more than five minutes of the Buffy television series (I did see the movie, mostly because it was one of the first post-arrest roles for Paul Reubens). It's kind of amazing how dedicated a following Whedon and his show have. Presumably this does a pretty good job at replicating the feel of the series, based on its placement. It's the kind of success which, a few years back, might have been interpreted as a potential savior for the comics industry. Some people might be spinning the success of Buffy Season 8 that way, but I haven't encountered that kind of rhetoric. That's kind of refreshing.

Having no interest in the series or the intellectual property in question, I don't really have any authority to comment on the appropriateness of its placement on this list. But I'd be very surprised if I would agree with its placement after reading it, even after a crash course in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Season 8 did about equally well with mainstream and comics-focused critics, so you can't attribute its high placement solely to lists made by non-experts*. I suspect part of this high ranking is due to a sense of exuberance that the series is back in some form or another. Maybe the TV version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was such a sublime work of art that its return in any form should trump all other concerns, but I worry that this high ranking makes comics look pretty lightweight to the outside observer. Surely our favored medium can aspire to loftier goals than providing a reasonable facsimile of a television series which has been off the air for years.

*A problematic term, but bear with me.

8. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories by Nicholas Gurewitch

While some might view it as a victory for webcomics, I think it might be worth considering that PBF is, at heart, a comic strip. With all the (almost certainly unfounded) fears of the impending Chris Ware-ization of comics criticism in the mainstream press, this is an interesting development. PBF is a gag strip, lacking much in the way of the kind of semi-autobiographical self-pity that supposedly will doom comics to a relentlessly mopey future. Maybe Ted Rall should rail against Nicholas Gurewitch the next time he has a manifesto to write.

The other part of this story demanding attention is the ink-and-paper nature of this collection. I recorded only one vote for the web version of PBF; the rest were all for The Trial of Colonel Sweeto. It's not that Perry Bible Fellowship was obscure before being collected; it's one of the most popular webcomics* around. Clearly, though, Dark Horse's handsome collection has a great deal to do with its placement. It will be interesting to see if the upcoming publication of the Great Outdoor Fight sequence from Achewood will achieve similar success.

*Again, a problematic term for a comic printed in such a large number of alt-weeklies and college newspapers, but please bear with me again.

9. Immortal Iron Fist by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja, and others

I neglected to point this out before, but it really bears mention: Ed Brubaker is the only creator with multiple entries on this preliminary list. That's a pretty significant accomplishment, especially in light of the diversity of this list. The other lesson to take away from Iron Fist's high ranking might be the critical success of the bubble world model. The only other superhero title on this list, All-Star Superman, is similarly shielded from the demands of continuity, giving the creators greater latitude.

Iron Fist is also interesting because it seems like one of Marvel's best chances to attract some of the manga readership which has been ignoring its comics for the last few years. The second storyline, in which Iron Fist participates in a plot-advancing tournament, shares a number of structural similarities to popular boys' manga. I'm not sure what exactly Marvel could do to make these readers aware of Iron Fist. Does Shonen Jump run outside advertisements?

10. The Arrival by Shaun Tan

For those wondering, the Angoulême Festival award did not factor into these rankings for various reasons.* Despite its high placement, I think The Arrival was the victim of poor timing--the real tidal wave of critical attention didn't seem to hit until Angoulême. If most of these lists were being remade today, I strongly think that Tan's book would have placed higher. Consider: The Arrival got almost all its support from mainstream sources--only 78 of its 353 points came from comics-focused sources. This book didn't seem to be on a lot of people's radars until recently. I don't expect that Tan's next project will escape notice so easily.

As to the quality of The Arrival--I still haven't read it, so I can't say. But there does seem to be a very lively debate over the quality of the book going on right now, with Matthias Wivel taking it to task for reasons that seem pretty valid to a dude who hasn't actually read the book. Tim Hodler reminds us that Tan wrote and drew the Arrival for children, a fact which I had either never heard or had completely forgotten. There are other all ages-appropriate books in the preliminary top ten, but this is apparently the only book specifically intended for a younger audience.

*Juried awards just don't seem to fit into the model of this project, at least not in my mind. It might be worth making an Awards Show Consensus list, but all the conflicting categorization makes me a little reluctant to try it. If anyone else wants to give it a shot, by all means....

I was thinking about going through all the titles which I was surprised not to see on this list, but I think I'm going to hold off on any further extended commentary until the master list is complete. Don't want you folks getting sick of this subject just yet.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ultimate meta-meta commentary

MarkAndrew at CSBG is the first person to really take up the initial meta-list, and he made some interesting points. I'd been meaning to say a bit more about the list, so I'll chime in with a few comments of my own. But just the top 5 for today; I'll get to 6-10 tomorrow, hopefully.

1. Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

I still haven't read it, but I haven't really been actively seeking out a copy (for the record, I'd been trying to catch up with all the 2006 books I hadn't managed to read yet, like Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators; I'm currently working on Rebel Visions, which I've owned for years but had only flipped through up until recently). MarkAndrew and others have suggested that it's not quite the best comic of the year. I expect that I'll agree after reading it--as my best of 2007 list probably indicates, I place a high value on works with a distinctive visual flair, particularly those which combine high-level cartooning, atmosphere, and symbolic content. I'm not sure that Exit Wounds fits my personal aesthetic preferences, but I'm reminded that Fun Home, a book similarly lacking in visual pyrotechnics, was my favorite release from 2006. Modan hasn't received the same kind of acclaim Alison Bechdel did, however. I'm not sure what to attribute that to--better timing, better publicity, a story which was of greater interest to an American audience, or simply overall quality. I would be shocked if I ended up liking Exit Wounds as much as Fun Home, but that's more about how much I enjoyed the latter than any misgivings about the former.

One last thing. I've only got the data for 2007, but I think it's a reasonable assumption that Fun Home would have been last year's consensus best comic/graphic novel and that Persepolis would have won in 2003. That's three out of eight for this decade so far. Would it be too much to ask for mainstream articles on women in comics to focus on this achievement rather than Wonder Woman?

2. Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

Another one I haven't read, but intend to do so at some point in the future. I think I've been pretty open with my disdain for Tomine's work, a feeling I've had since I first encountered his work in the mid-90s. I've tried reading Tomine off and on in the ensuing years, but I'm always underwhelmed. Maybe it's a weakness on my part. I like thematically similar work by Jaime Hernandez or Dan Clowes, but their comics are somewhat tempered by more appealing art; any bleakness is offset by overwhelming visual beauty. Tomine really never offers that. His line is much less fluid, his lettering more mechanical. He seems to eschew cartooning in favor of a more realistic style, but there's not sufficient detail to lose oneself in. He forces you to concentrate on his incredibly unsympathetic characters.

I guess it's fair to say that I don't get Tomine. But it's been a few years since I last read anything by him (I'm guessing that my most recent exposure to his work came c. 2004 when I read his contribution to one of the Best American Unrequired Reading volumes). I'm generally pretty open to revisiting things I didn't enjoy the first time around. I didn't get Kim Deitch when first read his comics about 10 years ago, but I now consider him one of the greatest living cartoonists. And I like the work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, one of Tomine's primary influences. I'm eager to give Tomine another shot, but I'd prefer to read Shortcomings before buying it.

3. All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

As MarkAndrew noted, I did declare this the "token superhero choice," but I also noted that it's the only viable Grant Morrison work from 2007. I think its high placement relative to other prestige superhero projects (most notably Jeff Smith's Shazam) is largely due to critics' eagerness to include something by Morrison on their lists. Morrison might be the most critically acclaimed writer (as opposed to cartoonist) working in comics today, but A-SS has been his only real bright spot since 52 ended.* With the exception of the rejuvenated Geoff Johns, all of the writers on 52 have kind of struggled with writing comics in DC's shared universe. Many of us were hoping that Morrison would thrive at Wildstorm, but that's been an unmitigated disaster. Batman has been surprisingly dull, hampered by sub-par artists. That pretty much leaves All-Star Superman, well-illustrated, unfettered by continuity, unquestionably the most Morrisonian of all Morrison's 2007 work. But still....

Surely I'm not alone in thinking the quality of A-SS declined in 2007. In its first year, Morrison was doing some incredible work, culminating in Clark Kent's interview with Lex Luthor in prison--probably my favorite Superman story of all time. This year kicked off with a good, if somewhat sappy, story about Superman's relationship with his adopted father. From there, however, we got two comics full of Bizarro Supermen. I have a pretty low tolerance for the whole Bizarro concept to begin with, and if anything Morrison's take on it was less interesting than, say, Jeph Loeb's. I found the latest issue, in which rogue Kryptonians chide Superman for protecting humans rather than dominating them, pretty dull stuff. I guess I'm more interested in this comic when it doesn't take my interest in Superman for granted. Cause I think Superman is pretty boring, really.

Having said all that, at least some of the votes for All-Star Superman (and probably the great majority of those coming from non-comics-oriented sources) were for the recent hardcover collection, which reprinted the earlier, better issues of the series. I'm reasonably confident that mainstream reviewers are going to be less taken with the subsequent volumes.

*I would say that it's his only bright spot since Seven Soldiers ended, but a lot of people out there liked 52. I thought 52 had many bright moments, most of which were apparently the work of Morrison; on the whole, however, I found it more tedious than wondrous. A lot of smart people loved it, but I think their love for superheroes as a genre comes with fewer conditions than mine.

4. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets by Fletcher Hanks; edited (w/ afterword) by Paul Karasik

I guess I disagree with MarkAndrew (and Johnny Bacardi, for that matter) in seeing this as a "so bad it's good" type of project. To me, Hanks' works represent the true wonder of Golden Age comics--these are stories from an era when the rules and standards (both moral and aesthetic) which would later restrict comics had not yet come into being. Hanks takes the illogical idea of superpowered crime fighting to twisted-yet-logical extremes, making much of Mark Millar and Warren Ellis' oeuvre seem rather limp in comparison. There is tremendous value in these stories beyond camp. Of course, I suspect that many of the people who included I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets on their lists value it primarily for reasons of irony. But that's their problem, not mine.

5. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley

When I first started reading comics again in the summer of 2004, it was largely as a way to comfort myself, a back-to-the-womb kind of thing. So I was mostly reading superhero books, even though I hadn't done so for years. Scott Pilgrim was one of the first non-superhero comics I read after returning to comics. It was kind of a jolt to the system at the time, a reminder of the many, many great books that have nothing to do with skintight costumes or crime fighting. I've enjoyed the series since then, but not as much. I'm increasingly conflicted by the popularity of Scott Pilgrim: it's very good for what it tries to do, but is that enough to justify its massive critical acclaim?

This kind of gets to the other side of the "fun" issue. Many of us (myself included) mock the relentlessly dour superhero comics which the big two produce, mostly because, as a genre, superheroes work best when they're fun. But the idea that "fun" is all that comics can aspire to is far more troubling than anything Marvel or DC publishes. Unlike Jim Blanchard, I'm not opposed to fun*, but my favorite "fun" comics have something else going for them: incredible craft, an underlying darkness, or a subtle commentary on human nature. O'Malley has grown by leaps and bounds in the course of making Scott Pilgrim, but the fourth volume doesn't change the fact that this is still a pretty slight series. It's a little more grating this time around, because the issues Scott deals with (commitment, poverty, adulthood) are perfect for some kind of deeper commentary. It's kind of funny--Scott's going through some of the things I was going through when I started reading comics again four years ago, but ultimately he has nothing to escape from (and thus no reason to start reading the comics of Geoff Johns). There are moments of doubt, but you always feel like nothing bad will ever happen to Scott Pilgrim. And so the fourth volume of the series feels more like (well-crafted) escapism than ever. I don't really like the implications of it being the fifth-highest charting graphic novel/comic in 2007.

Reading some of O'Malley's recent interviews, I almost wonder if he feels somewhat constrained by the need to maintain a tone he established years ago, when he was (presumably) a different person and a less skilled artist. I think O'Malley's first post-Scott Pilgrim project will be pretty interesting, but we've got two more crowd-pleasing volumes to go.

*OBSCURE JOKE OF THE DAY; for the record, I've never met Blanchard and know little about him outside of his (apparently fictional) depictions in the last issue of Hate.