I HAVE A DREAM. And it Involves Elvira. And Skottie Young. And The Hero Initiative . Look, just read it, will you?
No, this isn’t the weirdest slash fiction ever.
Here are some concepts people LOVE: Elvira. Variant Covers, Buying Stuff To Do A Good Deed. And laughing at really, REALLY bad old comics. Like Mystery Science Theatre 3K but with bad colouring instead of terrible cinematography
There are a plethora of bad comics out there, many of them in the public domain. IDW reprinted quite a couple for their ‘What Were They Thinking.’ line. Lots, LOTS more can be found here, for your perusal, enjoyment and/or general mockery. Just bear the sheer amount of this material available in the back of your head for a couple of minutes.
So, there have been a few attempts at Elvira comics over the years. They’ve been ….ok, but the covers were usually the best thing about them, after that, they would descend into poorly written slapstick, and it would never read nor be as funny as the real thing. The mistake was that Elvira is her best when she’s either mocking the thing she’s watching OR she’s doing the Fourth Wall breaking thing in her own story. When she was written as part of a comic story, she didn’t have the chance to address the reader as well as she would in her films ‘Mistress Of The Dark’ or ‘Haunted Hills’ as she wasn’t doing her own act, but being written by people who didn’t quite get it. This style CAN be done well in comics, though. As proven by John Byrne’s groundbreaking run on She-Hulk run from the 90’s. Which at one point featured The Jen skipping naked as a result of an argument Byrne was having in the letters page. As Meta-Textual as comics could get back then without involving 3-D technology or Smell-O-Rama.
So here’s what I’m thinking:
An Elvira hosted ‘So Bad It’s Good’ Comics Anthology. The comic runs two or three of those clunkers from yesteryear, but each strip has a new two page bookend sequence where Elvira introduces and closes the story, and also pops in to the story via captions or a cut-away panel by the likes of Kaluta, Wrightson, Adam Hughes, Jason Pearson,Adam Warren, Tula Lotay, Adam Hughes, Kyle Baker, Amanda Connor, Hilary Barta, Becky Cloonan, Kevin Maguire, Jaime Hernandez, Tara McPherson, Adam Warren, Ty Templeton, : Gals and Guys who give good boob but also know how to draw their funny.
Stick in a reprint from the DC or Claypool days which can lead to new trade paperbacks of the older material they created. Then the comic finishes with an original short story by contemporary writers and artists, like a behind the scenes skit, interviews with comic characters or just some satirical commentary on the stories of the time. If this whole idea means at some point there would be an Elvira strip written by Alex DeCampi and drawn by Frank Cho, I would die happy. (more…)
So, like everyone else working in comics in the last couple of weeks, my newsfeed has been an absolute torrent of news. Fantastic Four, Secret Wars, A-Force, Convergence, all kinds of speculation to where all this is actually going and what the endgame is for both Marvel and DC once their big events end.
Looking at Marvel’s actions over the last couple of years and the line-up of the ongoing titles DC are launching during and post-Convergence, I think its fair to say that The Big Two have finally woken up. They’ve realised that there is an audience to try to draw in, rather than placating the Buys New Comics Weds Morning 36+ White Male demographics as they have been since the launch of the Direct Market. This HAS to be a good idea, because as things stand, we’re all on a train that makes a lot of noise but doesn’t run very well.
Let me digress here, because I get some grief for my continued belief that the Weds regulars are the thing that’s holding the medium back.
First off, I need to say ‘Thank You’ to that crowd. A genuine Thank You. Before the films, cartoons, Anime and such made the world of comics cool again, you were there without fail, every Thursday and then Wednesday, you kept the industry going through Wizard, through Image, the summer of 93. through Heroes World,, through Diamond becoming the exclusive distributor of comics, through no end of price rises, event books, The New 52, Marvel NOW! and everything else. Every person working in comics today owes you a debt of gratitude for sticking with the business when so many have left.
I do mean that, but I also mean this:
We are at crisis point with the state of modern comics. We;re edging closer with every month towards the standard issue of Batman or Avengers being $5 an issue. Print runs are at shockingly low numbers (Ignore the glitch that was Star Wars 1. A fair amount of that print run was Gamestop buying copies to generate their own variants and even if it wasn’t, what other comic on the horizon do YOU see breaking 1 Million copies in preorders?*.) and unless radical steps are taken, there can’t be a way to keep comics as we understand them going. The maths just won’t add up. Plus, both Time Warner and Disney own DC and Marvel, so if the sales figures get too bad, I have to imagine someone at Disney will say to whoever Marvel’s CEO would be ‘Look, we’ve let you do it your way, and it isn’t working. Now we’re doing this.’
The first step was finally accepting the internet is part of most people’s lives, and rather than letting the pirates get all the income of digital comics (Meaning neither publisher nor retailer saw any profit.), letting things like Comixology, Sequential, Dark Horse Digital and Marvel Unlimited happen. The next was bending the books away from standard playing to the guy who knows the difference between Azrael and Talon and creating more accessible, all ages,woman friendly content Things like Hawkeye, Batgirl, Young Avengers, Grayson, Harley Quinn, Captain Marvel, Journey Into Mystery. None of these books have sold particularly well, but they are selling to a different audience than the guys picking up all of the Original Sin crossovers, I’ve noticed.
Ultimately, as I’ve said many, many times before, a 45-year-old can appreciate an issue of Batman, but an issue of Batman should never, ever be written for a 45 year old’s appreciation. Which is where the difficult bit is going to come in.
For American Superhero comics (And by virtue, everything else, because I love Love & Rockets, The Goon, Stray Bullets and Sex Criminals very much, but you can’t run a shop on the profits of work like that alone, unless you’re very rich to start with.) to survive, there needs to be an understanding that the writers on those books need to stop writing to you, the afore-mentioned 45 year olds. You’ve had nearly fifty years of being catered to, but Batman has to be a tween book again. Not just Batman, either. Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Flash, Wolverine, Thor, the lot.
And you need to shut up and let it happen. No Gatekeeping. No more demanding that Cosplayers aren’t allowed to dress up as Female Green Goblin unless they know who Lefty Donovan is. This random influx of younger readers who love the material so much they actually dress up as Kate Bishop or Batgirl are the best hope for the survival of the industry. Please, please don’t drive them away because you resent that Batman isn’t written for you and your extensive knowledge of Joe Chill and The Drake family anymore. The truth is those comics should never have been written for you in the first place.
Kelly Sue DeConnick was quoted in a post over at Badassdigest explaining the hurdles with attempting to launch comics in today’s market. On the whole, I tend to agree with her assertion that the main problem is trying to sell radical ideas to a conservative audience, where things that aren’t WASP HeroGuy and his pals and gals (Or New WASP HeroGuy and his pals and gals, or Uncanny WASP HeroGuy and his pals and gals, etc) just don’t sell. I believe she received a bit of stick for essentially blaming the consumer base, but I can’t see who else there is to blame. Publishers respond to what sells and attempts to duplicate that formula, Diamond can only offer what publishers print to retailers who can only sell what their customers are willing to buy.
DeConnick also raises the rise of sales of Manga to young women in America, pointing out that it is actually easier for them to get into Manga, a translated medium than it is to start reading comics about characters they’ve seen in American made films. She points out how simple it is to walk into Barnes & Noble and get into One Piece, which is true. Even walking into any comic shop and picking up her own Captain Marvel isn’t very simple when you realise that there are seven different volumes with the same title, no two of the trades necessarily relate to each other, not all of them actually feature Carol Danvers and that’s without the whole Shazam! thing tied into the name, and as she rightly says, that’s assuming you’re dealing with a friendly & knowledgable member of Comics Retail who isn’t trying to shun any women from entering the clubhouse.
The problem with seeing Manga’s working model as a situation to aspire to is the main problem that The Direct Market gave us.
Comics are sold firm sale to retailers from Diamond. Waterstone’s or Barnes & Noble could take a chance of getting a full run of Ultimate Muscle in stock. A quick Wiki tells me that’s 29 books, and that’s a fairly short run for most popular Manga. If the books don’t sell. No big, they can just be returned to VizMedia and it becomes their problem.
If a comic shop tries that, it’s a firm investment of maybe $250. Once the shop has them, they can’t be sent back to Diamond. Take that risk and crap out too many times and that’s the end of your shop. Assuming the audience you would have had for those books don’t realise that you can read almost any popular Manga these days for free online and aren’t obligated to keep buying the books from you. (It literally took me two minutes to find a site that ran perfectly translated scans of Bakuman, and I didn’t know what I was doing or what the hot hub sites are for this material.)
So, some major problems there: The content is too expensive, it’s inaccessible to new readers and the comics aren’t written to the target audience, who aren’t willing to buy outside of their comfort zone anyway.
I have a couple of ideas on this:
First Off, Marvel and DC need to brand ALL their comics with volume numbers as fast as is humanly possible.
You don’t know much about comics, but you’ve just watched Daredevil on Netflix, and decide you quite like it, so you’re going to learn more about Matt Murdock. You go to a comic shop and the person there sells you Daredevil (Devil At Bay.) Volume 1 by Mark Waid. You take it home, read it, decide that’s quite good as well and go back to the shop. It’s a different and less helpful member of staff on duty, so you search the shelves to find Daredevil Volume 2 by Mark Waid. When you look, you find Daredevil: Volume 2 by Mark Waid, Daredevil Volume 2: West Case Scenario by Mark Waid and possibly also the hardcover called….Daredevil Volume 2. By Mark Waid.
You see the problem here, and that was a fairly simple example featuring a character who only has one title. Keeping up with the volumes of Avengers, New Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Avengers: A.I. and their multitude of relaunches is an absolute nightmare**. Customers come into the shop having seen the films, innocently asking ‘Got any Avengers books?’ and my heart sinks realising the two minutes of explanation this is going to take, made worse by the fact that there are no Avengers comics that are anything LIKE the film that made the franchise desirable to the outside world in the first place. (‘I realise you liked The Black Widow and Iron Man, but I can do you a comic where the Black Panther kills Namor instead? No?’)
I’m aware that Marvel have been attempting to emulate the season format from Television with their comics in recent years, but the thing is, if you put a DVD on sale that reads ‘Breaking Bad: Season Two.’ on the cover, that doesn’t hinder sales because people don’t buy them for their investment value. The comics and subsequent trades are too difficult for any new reader to get into, to the point of their giving up on the entire medium. Just take the books and add ‘Volume 7: Book 3’ or whatever to the spine and cover. It’s not difficult, and to bring up the Manga comparison again, you start reading Death Note with Volume 1. It’s quite simple to both buy and sell.
Make the first three issues of any new series returnable. And preferably cheaper than average.
There are no fixed commodities in comics. None. For every Amazing Spider-Man, there’s a Web Of Spider-Man, a Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Peter Parker, Spider-Man Unlimited, a Spectacular Spider-Man, a Sensational Spider-Man, an Avenging Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man Team Up, Marvel Team Up, books designed to cash in on the popularity of a title. More often than not, it just doesn’t work, because of the refusal to believe that the creative team are responsible for the resurgence of interest in -Men, or Hulk or whatever, so there’s just the daft idea that the punters have suddenly decided they really like Batman, with Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb creating the content having nothing to do with the increased sales. (And you wonder why Image happened?) Just sticking the brand name ‘Avengers’ on a comic doesn’t guarantee high sales.
I, for one, am ecstatic at the risks being taken at the moment. A female Thor, A black Captain America, Ms Marvel, a rise in female-led books, more than ever before, but if they’re fed through the same filter, they’re going to die on the shelves and two years from now, we’ll just see more Avengers and Justice League spin-offs dominating the shelves.
What we need here is the ability to properly promote these books. More than a couple of unlettered pages in Previews and maybe an artist publishing a cover on their personal Tumblr. Say what you like about Image, but when soliciting new comics in Previews, each book gets a couple of pages of story art, the cover, a synopsis in the solicitation and also more content in their newsletter. That’s the best way of doing it, for my mind.
Compare this to DC, who’ll write flimsy ‘An all new start for The Flash as he buys a puppy. $3:99’ or Marvel either releasing as little information as possible so to avoid spoilers and returnable books or just writing snarky text to presumably amuse themselves. It’s all well good to keep the actual events of a comic from readers, but retailers need more to work with than that.
The thing is, we can only guess how well a new comic will sell until it actually hits the shelves, and for all the PR dick waving of Pre-Order Numbers and buying huge quantities of a print run for investment purposes, (Try selling a copy of Rob Liefeld’s X-Force 1 from 1990 today.) how the books sell from retailer to customer are what determines the book’s fate. Chucking comics at us with no preview material, high cover prices and the frankly arrogant assumption that the customers will buy it because it features someone from the Batman family leads to…well, where we are now. But if the new titles were solicited with decent preview material, a cheaper cover price to entice new readers to taking a chance and that 3 issue returnable window would mean retailers would order more copies and wouldn’t be taking such a gamble from their own income should the book tank (You can only lead a horse to water, and we’re a bit tired of paying out ourselves every time it doesn’t drink.)
So, ideally, if Marvel were to launch, say, a Black Cat comic by Terry Dodson and Kathryn Immonen comic spinning out of Secret Wars, the 1st and 2nd issue would cost $2:50, we’d have spoiler free preview material to show customers and we’d be able to see how well the book actually sold in shops and order subsequent issues based on that information, rather than having to do the ’40 for 1, 25 for 2, 15 for 3….Actually make it 30 for 1. People don’t buy female lead comics ‘ formula that can kill books before they even get started.
With cheaper access comics, featuring material written to the correct audiences and a back catalogue filing system that’s much easier to understand, the industry could start to flourish again, keeping the old material in print and embracing a young audience who are demonstrably keen to get into our business, but literally don’t know where to start.
Because if we don’t start thinking along these lines, nothing will change. The audiences will continue to decline, and the rest of us too stupidly devoted to funnybooks will end up paying for those who’ve left or never started in the first place. I’m 37, and I fully expect to see a regular issue of Amazing Spider-Man costing $10 before I die.
I hope, and pray, I’m wrong.
* Now wait and see Secret Wars get pre-orders of 1.5 Million just to prove me wrong…
**Or as a colleague put it last week: ‘Another Powers Issue 1. Huh, I guess it IS Tuesday.’
END OF YEAR TOP TEN BLOWOUT BECAUSE NOW IS CHRISTMAS NOT COLUMN WRITINGMAS!* GUEST STARRING IVY DOOMKITTY FOR REASONS THAT ARE WEAK TO SAY THE LEAST!
*(Unless Marvel’s Axis finishes before Christmas, because man, do I have stuff to say about that comic. I’ll postpone wrapping presents to do that column.)
‘Every time I lace up my boots, I learn something new.’ -Bret Hart
HOLD ONTO YOUR HATS, AS I RUN THROUGH THE TOP TEN TOTAL BESTEST COMICS OF 2014, BE SURE TO TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS SECTION IF I’M WRONG AND-
No, Bollocks. I can’t do it.
Look, I understand the whole Top Ten thing is very popular at this time of year. It’s an easy gig: Slap together a couple of sentences explaining why chosen thing is good, throw in a couple of adjectives and add a dash of suggestion that you’re not quite keeping up with the Joneses and you probably shouldn’t say anything else until you’ve bought THIS slice of entertainment. It’s quick, easy web traffic and all that. The success of sites like Cracked, Upworthy, Bored Panda and such would suggest that lists are popular with humans. But here’s my issue (The LULZ! ISSUES, THO!) with the whole process
Taste is entirely personal. I might have gone off on this before, but really, I don’t take my tastes as something to get too worried about, and it doesn’t really bother me too much if someone doesn’t share them anymore than I get insecure if I like banana & bacon sandwiches and you don’t.
I mean, what am I going to do? Shout ‘HOW DARE YOU NOT LIKE BACON & BANANA SANDWICHES?’ at you until you eat one? You didn’t enjoy eating it, and now I’ve wasted a sandwich on someone who didn’t want one in the first place. Achievement, and sandwich…wasted.
Also, while these kind of pieces do generate a degree of feedback, it’s usually the most banal conversation in the world. Either: ‘I’m glad your reviewer, clearly a humanoid of fine taste enjoyed ‘All New Strumpet Lass. I also enjoyed it. Now there are two of us who enjoy each issue of ‘All New Strumpet Lass.’ (To which I can’t really think of a response beyond ‘Good?’) or worse, the kind of response that always runs something along these lines.
I have just read your review of ‘Construction Tales’, and can only conclude that you clearly weren’t reading the same comic as I. While you are certainly entitled to your, ahem, subjective opinion, I enjoyed every single panel hugely. I delighted at the nuances, drank in the splendor of the artwork and a great many of my friends, whose opinion I greatly respect, also had lots of good things to say about the work. I am stunned that you would only rate ‘Constructive Tales’ 8 out of the ten best comics of the year when it should be 2, or perhaps even, dare I suggest, Number 1.
Mr Tony Bloggs, Falkirk.’
This sort of shit was so frequent in music magazines, that when I worked in a record shop around the turn of the century, we’d scour Mojo, Uncut, etc to see who had filled their letter with all those elements first. The last person to get all of those components from the month’s feedback would have to go out and buy coffee for everyone else.
First off, what’s the point of this? Are any of these people actually expecting some kind of retraction to happen?
‘Dear Readers. Last Christmas, we published a top ten list of comics released in 2014. After receiving a letter from Tony Bloggs, Falkirk, we’ve seen the error of our ways and have repositioned ‘Sexy Violent’ at the number 1 spot, rather than the number 4 place it had been in previously. We apologise for our error and would like to thank Tony for pointing out our mistake. We shall be consulting Tony with all our opinions from now on and also have set him with a night out at Hooters with Ivy Doomkitty, on us.
Thank you, The editors and our mothers. Who are very ashamed of us.’
Also, you know, it comes back to the same argument I’ve been making since the last time I did acid. All stimuli is experienced subjectively. Your personal history denotes your personality and what you like and don’t. Since all human lives are utterly unique, there is no possible way any two people can see the same thing since your filters are retaining the information in a totally different fashion. I can not make you like bacon & banana sandwiches if you don’t already have a taste for that kind of thing. You’re either attracted to a thing or not, and when you think of comics in these terms, all the arguments for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art become fairly…ludicrous.
‘YOU DO NOT LIKE VANILLA ICE CREAM. THIS IS BAD. MANY OF US DO LIKE VANILLA ICE CREAM, THEREFORE WE HAVE AGREED NOT LIKING VANILLA ICE CREAM IS A BAD OPINION.’
So, I’m afraid I’ve got no real desire to rate comics on a 1 to 10 scale of quality, since there’s nothing really tangible to suggest that score. At least with football, the team at the top of the league has scored an amount of points at this point in the season that is more than all the other teams. If it were a sales chart, I could show you the pre-orders for Death Of Wolverine 1 that were greater than any other comic published in 2014. How do I allocate quality points to a medium that publishes thousands of new books every year on a huge number of subjects across several genres? I can’t even work out how to compare ‘All New Doop’ to All New X-Men’ without empirical evidence that would suggest one is greater than the other. My argument would come down to ‘Doop is much funnier and less of a twat than Cyclops. Therefore I like All New Doop more.’
But here’s that list of my favourite comics published in this calendar year, in no order, just so I don’t mislead anyone with the title:
(A special mention must go to Spider-Woman 1. While it isn’t even my favourite comic spinning out of the surprisingly entertaining Marvel cross-over ‘Spider-Verse’, it has confirmed my theory that quite a lot of Fandom would happily resurrect The Comics Code Authority, as long as they could redraw offending artwork themselves. Cheers, Milo. Still one of the greatest people to ever draw comics, and his ‘Take the money and run’ attitude to Marvel only solidifies my opinion of him. Check out his work here.)
Okay, so, formality out of the way, but let me get into what I think is a more interesting angle than ‘One more pop culture obsessive tries to tell you how you should spend your money.’
If there’s a question I get that totally confounds me, it’s ‘But how do you know all this stuff?’ Which, I dunno, I don’t want to be sarcastic about it, but there are two reasons I ‘know all this stuff.’
One: I’m a lot older than I look, and I’ve been reading books, fanzines and professional magazines about comics since I walked into Avalon Comics in 1992 and the latest issue of Comics International screamed ‘McFarlane, Lee, Liefeld Leave Marvel To Form Image Comics’. I didn’t know you were allowed to leave Marvel back then, or why you’d want to. A read through the issue woke me up to the fact that if I wanted to spend any amount of time in the comics business, I better wake up really fast and stop drinking the Kool-Aid that Marvel Age and Direct Currents were trying to sell me on a monthly basis, because all that would leave me with is a house full of bad crossovers, an empty wallet.
So, I guess the answer is I know all this stuff is because I sat down and studied it. Given the option of new comics or new magazines about comics, I’d probably go for the magazine. You can’t know where you are unless you know how you got here, and while every opinion is valid, you can’t really tell me you know much about Image Comics unless you know the joke about the Pizza Delivery Man and The Kirby Awards.
Two: I’m lucky enough to balance a voracious appetite for information with a humility and understanding of how much I don’t know about the history of comics. I’m constantly hunting down things like Inside Comics, Amazing Heroes, The Will Eisner Quarterly as if I were doing a life-long degree on the medium. Attitude will only get you so far, but if you can’t back it up, eventually you’re just sneering at everything.
So instead of ‘Here is why you’re STUPID unless you bought Image Comic X.’, I thought ‘Here are ten magazines/publications about the history of comics that are good starting points for anyone wanting to look behind the press releases. I’m having to miss out far too much, as I’ve tried to keep this to things you’d be able to get hold of directly from here and why they’re worth reading, and there are far too many things that will just never be translated to digital form because they’re just not relevant to anything anymore.
This is one of this columns where I’d actually like feedback of the ‘Oh, I have Number 3 (or whatever), have you read this magazine?’ kind. Because I LOVE learning new things, and I thought that was the point of the Internet. To share information on interests with like-minded peers, not to try to set ourselves up as Opinion/Information Gods. We’re alright for Wannabe Messiahs in Comics, really. Thanks.
(Note, I would have added later issues of my beloved Hero Illustrated here, as it really found its groove once it dumped the price guide and wannabe Wizard aspects of the magazine, but as far as I’m aware, nobody has legally translated the content into digital format. Shame, but certainly worth picking up any issues you find in cheap boxes. The writers were a bit saltier and happy to let creators vent about problems than Wizard’s ‘EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! BUY OUR NEW COMICS!’ interview approach. Also the 1st issue of Sub-Media magazine, which featured the full, unlettered art for Big Numbers issue 3 and early work by Ashley Wood. Good luck finding a copy, though.)
Just to totally contradict the whole point of this column, I will argue to my dying day that the comic medium peaked with William Gaines’s Entertaining Comics line. There has never been anything better than them in the industry. Not Lee & Kirby’s Marvel work, Not Eisner’s Spirit strips, not even Jodowrowksy’s er, anything (There are no bad, or even mediocre Alejandro comics, and I don’t think you can say that about any other professional comics creator’s output ever.) Sandman? Watchmen? Fables? Scott PIlgrim? Do one, will yer? Pick your choice of the best five comics from any publisher’s history and stack them up against Vault Of Horror, Mad!, Tales From The Crypt, M.D and Shock Suspenstories and see your beloveds stagger home with a bruised eye and in need of tissue for a snotty nose, battered nose.
Here, Gaines talks us through the history of EC, including the Wertham trial, the fall out with Kurtzman, how he ended up running Entertaining Comics in the first place and how it sadly ended with Time-Warner acquiring Mad! Fascinating stuff.
The Comics Journal collects all of their interviews with ‘The King into one handy if somewhat bloody awkward sized volume. Worth it for Jack’s thoughts on Stan Lee alone, but also as good an introduction into the man’s full body of work as I’ve read. Honourable mention must also go to The Jack Kirby Collector, a magazine dedicated to trying to reprint every single thing Jack worked on and keep thousands of anecdotes alive and in print.
Evan Dorkin explodes at EVERYTHING!
The industry needs more creators with the insight and rage of Evan. I once quit a project in comics because the other members of the project got upset at one of his Eltingville Club strips. Seriously.
Man, THIS magazine started with a bang. Written before the recent settlement between the Kirby Family and Marvel, the issue went at great length to illustrate Jack Kirby’s contributions to Marvel’s movie output and just how little the Kirbys had seen in response to the huge amounts taken at the cinema. Always good to read from when wishing to make Marvel hacks feel awkward, and the next step for Jon B. Cooke after the late, lamented Top Shelf version of ‘Comic Book Artist’. Also a cracking panel between Neal Adams & Denny O’Neil.
BOY, was this issue appreciated by me, if possibly not the majority of the Image Seven, Marvel Editorial and certainly not Scott Rosenberg and anyone working at Malibu at the time.
Unconvinced (Unlike 99% of the comics press circa 1992 and no end of mail order comics retailers at the time.) that Image was the final blow in the war against Marvel and DC regarding Creator Rights, Gary Groth writes a both funny and vicious overview with his editorial ‘Tarnished Image’, covering the events that led to the formation of Image, explaining the massive hypocrisy or potential ignorance of setting up with Malibu. Followed up a couple of years later by Groth’s stunned interview with Todd McFarlane which is still one of the funniest things I’ve read, if only for Todd’s ever inventive use of the word ‘Fuck!’
Not the deepest magazine in the world (Features tend to run along the lines of ‘Which costumes did Supergirl wear in The Bronze Age?’ or ‘The Legion Of Super-Heroes: Their Greatest Battles!’) but the Pro2Pro section is usually informative and their ‘Rough Stuff’ section collects an interesting sample of lost sketches on a given theme. I selected this issue as it’s a run through the slightly odder end of the mainstream comics industry, with a full history of my beloved Spider-Ham. Also an interview with John Byrne regarding his run on She-Hulk, Reid Fleming and an awesome Pro2Pro interview concerning Ambush Bug, containing the funniest Fan Letter story I’ve read since ‘Man Of Action’ from Punisher 19….
An incredibly comprehensive interview with of National Lampoon fame, taking in the movies, his contribution to the film Ghostbusters, how the most ripped off cover of the 20th century came about, how he got work out of the likes of and even the bitter end of the magazine, when it had become a terrible Maxim knock-off and his thoughts on that. Also chats with cartoonists Gahan Wilson, Neal Adams and a conversation on the great Vaughn Bode. And exactly what the fuck was going on with those John Lennon/Yoko Ono pictures.
Sadly, BWS doesn’t seem to say much to the comics press anymore. Damn shame, as Bazza’s always both a funny and frank interview when the shackles are let off. Here, while he’s meant to promoting the sadly never completed ‘Storyteller’ project for Dark Horse, he lets loose on his love for Kirby, the, er, awkwardness of Stan Lee’s storytelling in the early Marvel days, explains what happened between him, the Conan ‘Wank’ scandal and why Marvel censored Red Sonja’s arse, Jim Shooter and Valiant, how his Weapon X project for Marvel came together, what the hell ‘Rune’ was meant to be and accidentally takes the total piss out of both Joe Kubert’s ‘Fax From Sarajevo’ and the early Image comics while sheepishly trying to justify why he ended up taking on ‘Wildstorm Rising’. Good work from Gary Groth for being as funny as Bazza the whole.
Published by Dark Horse not long after Eisner’s death a few years back, Frank and Will talk their way through their respective careers, their feelings on where the industry could go. Totally informative, even for those of us with no desire to draw any comics ever. Features some rare con sketches and just an entertaining and often both funny and equally heartbreaking run through the history of comics, how Cartooning Studios were set up, and even a few glimpses into their working processes.
Features the final interview with Dave Stevens. Nothing much to be added to that, really.
And unless anything else happens, that’s it for 2014, I think. I have things involving Tinsel, Lego Batman 3, Longboxes full of bad Marvel comics from the turn of the century and Ladies to do. The older and more informed of you will have noticed a glaring omission from my rundown through ‘Comics Magazines What Were Good, Like.’ and there’s a reason for that which I can’t talk about here, yet. Thanks to all of you who’ve shared, commented, argued the toss either online or in person or have been there for me to hit up at all hours for research purposes.
Special shout outs go to Owen Michael Johnson who apparently reads these words and thought it was worth offering me a blurb gig on the back of it and also getting me a chance to interview one of my heroes, Alan Martin for being one of the humblest, funniest people I’ve ever met despite my babbling all kinds of ‘BUT YOU WROTE TANK GIRL!’ at him, Dave Taylor for just being sound as fuck, Sarah Taylor-Harman for being a grounding influence and getting where I actually come from,David Hine for the free stuff and the story about the artwork in a skip, Colin Bell, John Lees and Iain Laurie for their Twitter rants at each other that make me laugh shit through my nose, Dave Elliott for being a good mate through everything, Jon Browne for the common sense and ability to quote Pete N’ Dud at any given moment, Guy Lawley for actually getting half of my stupid comics jokes and being very good at pub and medical advice.
Alex DeCampi for agreeing to do an interview for Grindhouse despite being knackered, Amy Brander for believing in me far more than I do, Sarah Gordon whose constant genius keeps me humble, Bellan Dye for carrying on listening and being one of the good fans, the London Love Comics boys for encouraging my stupid Spider-Ham jokes and abusing a pub dog into becoming Lockjaw, Alasdair Cooke for general support and being a sound bloke. Amie Barron for keeping me in video games and scandalous stories of her sex life that I can’t begin to go into here, George Khoury for being an inspiration, gossip and mentor, Carly Zombiie just for being one of my oldest friends who’s always up for daft comics gossip at 4am, Eini because…she’s Eini and that’ll have to do for this life, sadly, Simone Borgia & Ana Stevenson for reading through to tell me if I’m making sense before the rest of you see this and any number of ladies who’ve both encouraged me and left me to it enough to get on with writing this, Will Morgan for being who he is and keeping me steadily employed and Jessica Kemp who made it clear that she thought giving me a chance was better than listening to gossip. And that little group of little people who give me dirty looks and scuttle off whenever I show up. Pissing you guys off gives me the strength to go on.
If I’ve missed you in here, it s because I’m a twat.
I leave you with a picture of my favourite comics movie moment of 2014, The banned poster featuring Eva Green for Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For. MERRY CHRISTMAS, YER BASTARDS, YER!!!!
So, obviously, this happened.
I had a few things to say about it. I posted them on my Twitter account. Here’s the expanded ‘Not bound by 140 Characters version for those for you daft enough not to follow me. (Which you totally should: https://twitter.com/Filthy_Nevs
So I’ve given this whole ‘No More Cosplayers’ mindset some more thought. Maybe it makes sense? Just a little bit.
Oh, wait, No. Of course it doesn’t. It’s fucking stupid.
Fact One: Comics sell really, really badly. To make up for this, they are stupidly expensive. Readers moan about this. Rightly. Your entertainment dollar is not best spent on a £6 issue of Detective Comics when you can get Batman: Arkham City for a fiver.
Fact Two: Because they sell badly, working in comics pays really badly. You really have to want to do this job and you’re a bit silly to, because there’s no pension. For every Grant Morrison, there are a hundred, maybe a thousand people who didn’t make it, didn’t save their money. Their characters are on the movie screen while they’re stacking shelves in Tesco or Wal-Mart. Most people cannot live on the money comics pays you to draw a comic a month and end up taking other commission jobs.
Fact Three: To supplement the low-income comics pays, many professionals attend cons to try to boost their profile and sell their books and original pages of art.
Fact Four: Much like Goths, You can NOT be a poor cosplayer. You just can’t, Conventions cost a lot for tickets,,hotels, table outlay. So do the materials to make said costumes,plus maintaining them. It also takes a lot of time to actually make said costumes in the first place, etc.
Therefore: Cosplayers must be generally well off. They’re also coming to a comics show. with MONEY! (Some of you may have seen where I’m going with this.) Out of nowhere, a well off, excitable demographic has entered comics circles with money to spend whilst DRESSED AS THE CHARACTERS YOU DRAW!
This is not a thing to complain about. This is the Tenth Wonder** and the business ought to be thanking God for this…miracle. Because I think this is something that needs recapping on the grounds that we appear to be dealing with dumb people who think that it’s 1987, that fans should just rock up to your table, genuflect on how bloody amazing you are for turning out a comic on a schedule that the Japanese would laugh at, give you all their money, and bugger off.
Can cosplayers be annoying, squawking attention seekers? Sure, SOME of them. I’d rather headbutt The Rhino than get on the tram to Canning Town on a Saturday morning for MCM ever again. On the other hand, Do you honestly think you lot behave any BETTER than that? The amount of comic artists and writers I’ve seen sulking behind their table is astounding. I know your job mainly revolves around staying in all day and your social skills might have atrophied a bit, but it if we’re calling out cosplayers for their behaviour, than this cuts both ways, doesn’t it?
(True story: I saw a…fairly high profile comics creator at a show this year sitting behind a table with a vicious scowl on his face. At first I thought well, fair enough, maybe I just caught him at a bad second, but every time I passed by, he was sill angrily glaring whilst sketching Spidey. A mother took her kid up to him and asked ‘So…er..what did you think of Amazing Spider-Man 2?’ He replied, in the most passive-aggressive way possible: ‘Yeah..I’m not really into THAT STUFF anymore.’
Again, WHILE DRAWING SPIDER FUCKING MAN.
That creator has gone on tweet at great lengths that he finds Comic Cons largely to be a waste of time, unprofitable and that he can’t really connect with the fans there. Presumably because of Cosplayers and not cognitive dissonance.)
Is ‘You don’t know the difference between Tim Drake and Jason Todd!’ actually a reason to try and drive away money? Are you…stupid? Have you deluded yourself so much that this world of fiction is so important that you have to be mean and patronising to real living people as though you were the guardians of some profound knowledge which is basically ‘Comics don’t want to deal with consequences of time and charge customers for that.’ anyway?
‘Yeah, there was this Amazonian girl dressed as She-Hulk wanting to spend money at my table and learn more about comics, but she couldn’t tell me how many times Jen had been in the Fantastic Four. The FAKE! I didn’t get any money out of her and I’m DANG PROUD!’
And even if we were hit in the head and decided ‘No More Cosplayers’ was a good thing, How would you enforce this? A test? What? ‘Can you tell me how many times Jean Grey has died? THEN YOU CAN’T COME IN!’ Honestly, how does this even work? Are we saying we actually WANT to reject young, paying, affluent customers from comic shows now? Because….they aren’t really into comics in the same way as you? Obviously, that’s a stupid idea to start with, but even if it was true….
How is that any of your business, exactly? So some lad is dressed as Dr Strange and doesn’t know who Steve Ditko is? Don’t reprimand kids for not knowing as much as you. Get them chatting, take a chance to educate them. Maybe they’ll think kindly of you for giving them more avenues of entertainment to explore and buy some of your stuff, rather than scolding them like a priest having a go at an altar boy for not knowing his psalms.
I mean, do you actually WANT to pay $10 a month for a comic? I remember when comics went up from $2:99 to $3:99 and thinking ‘They’re not going to stand for this.’ And they didn’t. It was a time when online comic pirating had just started and while there are still the zealots who’ll buy Batman, Detective, Batman ’66, Arkham Manor, Batman And Robin, Legends Of The Dark Knight, Batgirl, Batman Eternal and whatever else every month, there aren’t nearly as many of them as there were a decade ago. Whatever anyone tells you, the reason for every new crossover, relaunch, etc is because this shit cannot support itself and all of this junk spiking is try to make up the profit that’s being lost on these books.
So, instead of bitching about what has already happened as if you had any power over it, fucking adapt, will you? Offer sketches of the cosplayers for £20 a pop. They’re vain buggers. Stick your Twitter/Deviantart/Tumblr address in the corner of your sketch. They post the sketch online as a selfie. Four of their mates come over and ask you to draw them.
You get a free ad, (because I guarantee you the lowliest cosplayer dressed up as Power Girl has more followers than you.) You just made £100. You’re fucking welcome, like.
Jesus, I wonder why this business is dying on its arse. Oh, because we’re fucking stupid and want to wallow in nostalgia for 1980 Secret Crisis. ‘Where will the new readers come from?’ THEY’RE…THEY’RE RIGHT THERE, IN FRONT OF YOU. DRESSED AS DEADPOOL AND SUPERGIRL. You’re too busy moaning about the old days to notice. Get their attention.
*NOTE: All of the Anti-Cosplayer rhetoric is MUCH funnier if read in the voice of Foghorn Leghorn.
*** The lass lounging on the comics (Probably devaluing them and never reading them, the hussy!) is Naomi VonKreeps and she’s a mate of mine. You’re surprised, I know. (Find her here: http://www.naomi-vonkreeps.com/) She is bloody awesome and much better at being a fan than most of the people I know. How she isn’t a special guest at cons, given her range of costumes and ability to discuss Star Wars, Assassin’s Creed, Batman and all other bits of Fandom is beyond me. Get her to the UK as a special guest, will you, Con organisers. Probably more entertaining than one more drunk British loser whoring out his pages in a Sainsbury’s carrier bag.
Eeeh, Blimey, it’s like the anniversary of Punk all over again, innit? So many great things coming out of the woodwork across all medias. New episodes of Elvira, Twin Peaks are in our future, we’ve seen the return of Stray Bullets, Zenith, Miracleman over the last twelve months and obviously we’re here to look at Strangehaven, which is returning as part of Soaring Penguin’s new anthology ‘Meanwhile…’ A return in itself from. but before we get there, I’ve noticed a resistance towards these returns.
Usually these comments are made with an invisible eye roll, a sneer and the inevitable pairing of ‘Oh, how dare they remake this thing?’ and ‘I guess there aren’t any new ideas left, HUH, Hollywood? HUH!’ Except I think the problem isn’t inherently to do with the very notion of remakes. I don’t have any problems with remaking anything myself, I’d rather some ideas and stories remained in circulation and even if the remake isn’t as strong as the original, it means more people are being made aware of the initial concept.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit, and I think the problem is this: Most of this material wasn’t produced for a long shelf life, literally. When Ditko was producing Amazing Spider-Man, there was no thought of trade paperbacks, omnibuses or such. This stuff was dropped off at the newsstands, bought and chucked away. Equally, all the film classics were made the same way. Get your ‘The Harder They Come’, your ‘Pink Flamingos’, your ‘Evil Dead’, your ‘Easy Rider’ into as many cinemas as possible, because once that run was over, that was it. No VHS, No DVDs, No Blu-Rays. No retrospectives in Sight And Sound. Done then gone. Forever.
Obviously this is totally different now, and I’m still amused that my local W.H.Smith has Miracleman collections in stock, and while it’s a great thing we live in a time where so many of these things are easy enough to come by, it has created a new problem. When you get old enough, you start to see new things entirely by their influences. I first noticed this when watching the band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and thinking ‘Hold on…. Aren’t The Jesus And Mary Chain still going?’ Once you start down that road, you start seeing the genealogy of everything and while everyone has start from somewhere, this becomes a problem. Everything looks like identikit recreation of things that have come before.
Previously, pre the archiving of everything, this was fine. You could recycle the art styles, the storylines, the musical trends and such and most people simply wouldn’t be aware that The Hangover is American Pie is Police Academy is Porky’s is M.A.S.H etc because they barely knew the previous films existed. Now we’re aware of everything, and I can imagine that makes life a little difficult when you’re essentially a stand up comic doing Bill Hicks riffs and changing the punchline from ‘Debbie Gibson’ to ‘Miley Cyrus’.
I don’t have an answer to this, but I suspect something’s going to give here. For every return full of both promise and quality, like Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland, a genuinely clever twist on older material like Bates Motel or Frost/Lynch coming back to Twin Peaks, quite a lot of what is to come is going to be spinning the wheels. After all, how many times can Peter Parker and Mary Jane explain to each other why they’re not shagging anymore or suchlike. Eventually Marvel will post one ‘This Year: The Death Of The Hulk.’ and the collective audience will shrug and say ‘Heard it.’ Perhaps then we’ll see more of a focus on finding older properties reprinting them at a decent price point and less clickbait style storylines
Me, I’m just hoping to see Big Dave and Honkytonk Sue reprinted by someone before I die. Preferably each with a Milo Manara cover.
So, yes. Meanwhile.. is back. Shout Out to Jon Anderson at Soaring Penguin for literally coming to visit me at work to make sure I had a copy and Mark Stafford for, er, the other thing. It’s honestly a toss-up between Meanwhile and the relaunch of Dark Horse Presents for Best Anthology of 2014. The return of Stafford & Hine on their new series ‘It’s A Bad, Bad Place!’ reads like Raymond Briggs and Hunt Emerson in a vicious, funny mood is a great thing that made me laugh coffee through my nose and there’s new material from Sally Jane Thompson, Chris Geary, Yuko Rabbit and the winning strips from this year’s British Library and Arts Thread Comics Unmasked competition. That, for a fiver, is not bad going and the 1st issue is on your shelves soon.
The return of Strangehaven is the star of the show, though. Gary’s nailed his story-telling down to Ultimate Ninja Form since issue 8 of the previous series, and he wasn’t exactly a slacker then. There’s a hell of a lot of story in this first chapter, with everyone being reintroduced and a fair chunk of new story as well, so n00bs won’t be lost and people who’ve been waiting to see what’s been going aren’t having to wait for everyone else to play catch up.
I caught up with Gary Spencer Millidge to ask him a few questions …
So, being as tactful as you like and to get the elephant in the room out of the way, what’s been going on. It’s been nearly ten years since Strangehaven 18.
Yeah. It would have been nicer if it had been ‘just over five years’ rather than ‘nearly ten’ because that sounds really bad, doesn’t it? I was still heavily promoting the third Strangehaven volume Conspiracies, and having foreign editions published in several different European countries throughout 2006 and 2007, and I started negotiating with John over a year ago now, so it feels more like five to me. Not that five years isn’t bad enough.
I suppose the simple answer is that self-publishing an issue of Strangehaven once or twice a year wasn’t enough to survive on by itself. It always made a modest profit, but certainly not enough to support a household. My lucrative, if brief, association with Bongo Comics made me think that there was a possibility that I could find freelance work within the comics industry that would supplement my income from my own material.
Instead, I ended up losing a sizeable chunk of a year being invited to write pitches and synopses for a couple of publishers for projects that weren’t eventually picked up. The intention was to write and let the publishers find an artist, so it wouldn’t take up too much of my time. Initially the editorial feedback was very positive but for whatever reasons they didn’t happen.
What did happen was I ended up getting a gig by recommendation from Bryan Talbot to write a couple of How-to-draw type books for New Holland Publishing. I got the amazingly talented James McKay to do most of the illustrations for me, and we knocked those out pretty quickly.
I’d also put together a proposal for a book on self-publishing comics at the behest of Tim Pilcher who was commissioning editor at Ilex Press at the time. That didn’t work out either, but led to my doing Comic Book Design for the same publisher.
Obviously we need to remind people that Comic Book Design exists, because it’s automatically one of those books that needs to be on every aspiring comic creator’s shelf, next to Will Eisner’s Comics & Sequential Art, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Dave Sim’s Cerebus Guide To Self Publishing. How did the book come about, did you have any problems putting it together and would you consider doing a Volume 2?
It’s very kind of you to say so. All of those books you mention are the most-thumbed on my shelves. Comic Book Design was great fun to do, as a lot of time was spent rummaging through my own comics and books and scanning the best examples of comics design and storytelling. It’s not so much of a how-to book, but more like an exploration of the different choices you can make as a storyteller, and to showcase the best examples the medium can offer to inspire the budding creator.
There certainly were frustrations. It had an editorially defined fixed chapter format, so that was restrictive; I had so many words per spread that I could use, regardless of how much I wanted to say about a certain aspect. I had gathered together many gorgeous examples that there simply wasn’t room in the book for; it was heartbreaking to leave them out. Initially we didn’t think we could use any images from DC as their copyright department was being distinctly difficult at the time. Thanks to a tip-off from Joel Meadows though, we discovered that they might allow us to reproduce some images so long as they didn’t exceed a certain percentage of the book’s total number – something weirdly arbitrary and miserly like 13%. So at the last minute, I started substituting various images for DC-owned ones, just to add some balance.
Nevertheless, I do think it’s a pretty lovely-looking book. I’m not a fan of the cover on the American Watson-Guptill edition, but it’s the same interiors. Ilex had plans for a whole series – Comic Book Lettering, Comic Book Anatomy and so on, and I actually produced sample pages for a potential Comic Book Color (sic). But none of those ever came to pass either.
So, not only is a second volume unlikely, I’m not sure I’d want to undertake anything further that I ultimately don’t have copyright ownership of. The books I’ve done for Ilex were essentially work-for-hire, and while they paid pretty well (compared to what Strangehaven brought in), the problem is everything I do turns into a labour of love. I always put my heart and soul into a project, and as a result spend too much time and effort for too little reward…which is fine if I can reprint it years down the line, sell foreign rights, convert it to digital or whatever, and create additional income. That’s the arrangement I have with Soaring Penguin for Strangehaven. But Ilex operates on a different publishing model, and I’m not sure it’s right for someone like me who’s so meticulous and precious about their creative work to sign up for that sort of deal.
While it’s been a while since the last issue of Strangehaven, you’ve clearly been busy, putting out not one but two books on Alan Moore. Talk me through that, because both projects sound like an insane amount of work. I’d like to suggest either Soaring Penguin or someone else reprints ‘Portrait Of An Extraordinary Gentlemen’, please. Those conversations between Moore and Sim were fascinating.
Everything I do turns into an insane amount of work, it’s in my DNA. If I’m set a task, I try to figure out the most complex, time-consuming way of completing it. Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman was pitched to me by the translator (‘smoky man’) and publisher (Omar Martini) of the Italian language edition of Strangehaven while I was still working on the third book Conspiracies. They were producing a 32-page comic-book sized tribute book to celebrate Alan Moore’s 50th birthday, and would I like to publish the English language version?
Somehow this turned into the 352-page volume that was published in Spring 2003. It was always to be a charity project in aid of various Alzheimer’s organisations, so I took no money for my work on it, and it ended up taking about nine months to produce. The only reason I could afford to do it was that I had just completed the Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror strip for Bongo, and I was paid handsomely for it. The Portrait book raised almost $37,000 though, and I’m very proud of that fact.
I think a reprint is a non-starter. It would be hard to get permission to reprint everything for a start, and the financing of it would be very tricky – you would have to either find a publisher willing to donate many man hours into it as a charity project, or somehow negotiate fees with 150+ creators and dozens of image rights holders to ten-year old material. Smoky man intermittently continues to post many of the contributions (with permission from the creators) on his blog Alan Moore World. http://alanmooreworld.blogspot.co.uk/
By the end of it, I had bags under my eyes, my hair was streaked with grey had neglected to shave for months, and when I looked in the bathroom mirror I saw Alan Moore staring back out at me. So I swore off ever doing anything Alan Moore-related ever again.
Then about a year after I had finished Comic Book Design for Ilex – I’m guessing this would be 2010 – Tim Pilcher called me and offered me the opportunity to write what turned out to be Storyteller. I was a little reluctant to take on the same subject again, lest I be forever characterised as some sort of Moore-obsessed groupie rather than a comic creator who did a bit of writing on the side. But the money was pretty decent (albeit under the same no-ownership flat-payment terms) and I figured I could pretty much just use the twelve-page biographical strip I’d created for Portrait as a basis, and Bob’s your uncle. How wrong I was.
It turned into an intense, year-long excavation of Moore’s life and work, and the man himself couldn’t have been more helpful or more gracious. I think there was some amazing visual material unearthed, and the book ended up looking spectacular. Nick Jones and everyone at Ilex really put a lot of effort into making it a thing of beauty. Even the bonus audio CD was a work of art in itself. There were similar frustrations of word count limitations, and as each section had to be sent off for design and proofing as I wrote it, I ended up blathering on a bit too long about Captain Britain and not enough about Moore’s performance works. Although one review did criticise me for the complete opposite of that.
But again, with the help of people like Dave Whitwell, Pádraig Ó Méalóid and Gary Lloyd, I managed to create a work that I’m very proud of.
I’m afraid I’m not one of those interviewers who wants to talk to you about which kind of pencil or graphics tablet you use, but I am intrigued by the look of Strangehaven, because it looks like literally nothing else, and I’m always wanting to know about the thought processes of people who aren’t just looking at comics for their work. There’s a number of guesses I could take to your influences, but illuminate to our audience at home who had an impact on you?
I’ll take the comment that Strangehaven doesn’t look like anything else as a compliment. I think it’s important to try to be yourself, and to allow your personality to show though in everything you do. I don’t see any benefit in trying to replicate someone else’s style because you inevitably end up being an inferior version of that writer or artist.
I don’t really study how-to books. I buy all of them and flip through them, but quite frankly, it all sounds like a lot of hard work. That’s why I didn’t attempt to demonstrate to anyone on “how to draw” in Comic Book Design. You either have the aptitude and patience to practise and figure it out for yourself, or you don’t. I’m sure there are people who will say I ought to read a book on how to plot properly, or whatever, but I always wanted Strangehaven to be non-conformist and quirky. I never wanted to tell a story the same way as everyone else, and I can’t help but think that these types of books lay down too many rules which can stifle intuitive creativity.
As for the visual aspect, I’ve always appreciated a wide range of different artists, and I hope the work I featured in Comic Book Design reflects that. I enjoy work by James Kochalka as much as I do Becky Cloonan’s or European artists like Miguelanxo Prado. There are honestly far, far too many artists whose work I love to start listing them, and it’s not something that would entertain anyone but myself.
But in terms of actual influences, I think I can probably trace my love for heavy rendering back to Alfredo Alcala’s inks over John Buscema’s pencils in the Savage Sword of Conan black and white magazine back in the 1970s. I used to trace the linework and try to figure out how he did it. It never occurred to me that he used a brush. I had been given a Rotring rapidograph by my older brother who said that it was a professional inking tool, and I tried to replicate Alcala’s lines with those things for years, so I was fucked from the start.
I always loved the solidity of Buscema’s artwork. Everything he did looked balanced, like it was taking up physical space, perfectly proportioned and in perfect perspective. But it was the flashy late 60s/early 70s Marvel artists like Jim Steranko, Frank Brunner and Jim Starlin that really inspired me when I first seriously started drawing my own comics.
It’s probably hard for anyone to believe now, but when I first started plotting Strangehaven, I was hugely inspired by Keith Giffen’s Ambush Bug mini-series. That’s where the nine-panel grid came from. I wanted to use a high-contrast black and white, craggy Ted McKeever/ José Muñoz line so I could churn the pages out quickly. For whatever reason, I took some photographs for reference and decided that a more photorealistic style would work better, and once again I was fucked.
As for theme, I’ve often stated that my original intentions for Strangehaven was to create a sort of 60s television style English rural mystery along the lines of the Avengers and the Prisoner. But I was also buzzing about Twin Peaks which had just aired and I thought I could transplant some of its elements into the English countryside. Also at that time comics had been moving towards more slow-moving, reality-based stories, like Love and Rockets (particularly Heartbreak Soup), Dave McKean’s Cages and Moore and Sienkiewicz’s Big Numbers. I was particularly fond of McKean and Sienkiewicz’s illustrative styles, as well as their use of photo reference, and their level of skill and imagination is something I still aspire to.
My whole approach to self-publishing itself was greatly informed by Dave Sim of course, and Martin Wagner, Jeff Smith, Terry Moore et al, as well as Paul Grist and Nabiel Kanan in the UK. Those guys showed me the way.
I was so happy when you brought forward the notion of the Golden Section, because I’d been looking at pages of comics art for years and trying to quantify why they were ‘wrong’ in their composition without being an art-snob about it. I literally read the theory and said ‘YES! That’s why a Bryan Talbot or Moebius page instincitvely works and someone whose just putting together a swipe file from last year’s comics isn’t going to get it!’ I think this a thing that needs expanding on. Can you talk us through this, please, Gary?
I think it is instinctive. I don’t think you need to create precise measurements and laydown dozens of construction lines to figure it out. I know Bryan Talbot does this on occasion, and he’s pretty much an expert on the Golden Section’s use in comics. He used it a lot in Heart of Empire. The American comic book page is pretty much the Golden Section proportions, and the common tendency to split the page into three tiers follows the classic rules. The nine-panel grid splits each tier into three again, and so conforms to the ratio.
But if you have any natural design sense it comes naturally. In Comic Book Design, I analyse a Gilbert Hernandez panel which conforms beautifully and precisely to the Section, which I prove with the use of an overlay. A while after the book came out, I saw Gilbert at San Diego Comic-Con and told him that I’d used his work to demonstrate the famous ratio. He said he’d never even heard of the Golden Section.
It’s a fascinating subject because it’s also found everywhere in nature, in things like flowers, shells, DNA and galaxies. But there’s no point in me going on about it as you can just Google it.
Finally, it’s Winter 2014. The STATE of Comics. What do you reckon?
I reckon it’s in a pretty healthy state. Sure, there are challenges, and the marketplace is constantly shifting, but doom mongers have been announcing the death of comics pretty much for as long as I can remember.
Has there ever been a more diverse or prolific time for comics? Yes the direct sales market is shrinking, and the product is getting ludicrously expensive, but Marvel and DC are primarily character licensing entities these days anyway. Image though, has been a revelation in recent years, and they are producing some beautiful material, allowing seasoned professionals to do what they want to do, free from corporate restrictions and pointless cross-overs.
The growth of independent book publishing and the diversity of material they are producing – particularly in the UK – is astonishing. The sheer number of lavish hardcover graphic novels and ongoing archival projects is mind-boggling. Who the hell is buying all this stuff? The growth of digital platforms is something I know very little about, but that all seems very promising as well.
Never in the history of this medium has a potential creator had such sophisticated professional tools at their disposal and so many publishing outlets for their work…and it’s bringing out unprecedented numbers of fresh and exciting comic creators into the public gaze.
I’m excited. Aren’t you excited?
Meanwhile… #1 is published by Soaring Penguin Press and is out to buy in all better comic shops soon.
(Full inspiration for this column goes to Amy Brander, who writes as The Frog Queen. We were chatting about Batman comics and she said she was bored of the regular recommendations….)
I hope Milo Manara is spending the Marvel Money on Coke and Whores, myself.
Anyway. Holy Lists, Folks, its Batman. I thought since this is BatBirthday year, I’d highlight some Batman comics you might not be aware of, since Lord knows I’m sick of the usual LongHallowDarkKnightEarthOneYearOneDarkVictoryKillingJoke that get pulled out every time. There’s nothing wrong or bad about any of those comics, they just get a bit…well, familiarity breeds contempt, you know? So here was my criteria: Pick ten comics or runs that would be easily accessible to someone who’d only seen the movies or cartoons. No worrying about NU-52 stuff, crossovers, continuity glitches or such. You could open he comic armed with knowledge that there’s’ a rich bloke called Bruce who beats up people dressed as a bat after his parents were killed and lives in Gotham.
Oh, before we start. Let me make it clear this is an exercise in Taste, more than anything else and if you’ve been reading me for a while, you’ll know my enjoyment runs towards the esoteric and wrong. I’ve not read every Batman comic ever because life is short enough If you want to call me out on a factual error, like I’ve said Dave Gibbons drew Batman:Year One, that’s fine. If you want to go into ‘My taste is better than yours.’ then…No. That kind of viewpoint is the sort of thing that makes talking about comics not fun, but just another stream of fossilized academia or quasi-religious zealotry that demands one has read ALL of ‘Knightfall’, all the way through to Knightsend AND all the tie-ins before you’re allowed to talk about anything Gotham related. It’s BATMAN, For Zod’s Sake.
This run was such a massive relief for me. After years, literally, of Bane, Azrael, Bruce being tired all the time, general falling over by everyone, visions, five o’clock shadows, magic ninja spine fixing sequences and Tim Drake whining more than Lisa Simpson, Bruce beats up Azbats, gets a new costume (celebrated with an embossed cover where you could …touch Little Bats. If you wanted. Seemed fair. DC had put out Catwoman 1 a year or so previously with Embossed Selina Touching Options.)
The Moench’Jones run returns the set up to Bruce fighting a series of insane and amazing villains, essentially a tour de force of Kelley Jones’s amazing, Wrightson/Mignola art. Batman fights Monsters in a big brooding Gotham City free of outside continuity. This run not only has J.H. Williams III as pinch-hitter fill in artist, but also introduces us to Agent Chase, one of the more interesting characters DC created in the 90’s. Her ongoing only ran a few issues, but is well worth checking out, being the story of a Government Agency designed to keep tabs on Meta-Humans. If you want a Batman comic that’s outright fun, start here.
Really, I could have picked any of the Animated DC comics here. They’re such a world apart in terms of quality from the regular DC titles and have been from their inception back in the mid 90’s. I’d really have no problem if DC Editorial said ‘Okay, we;re using this approach for all of our DCU Books from now on.’ They follow the simple formula of clean, simple but clever artwork, stories working on multiple levels that can be read independently of any of the other books and have an awareness of the overall DC Continuity without ever being bogged down by it. I imagine doing a cartoon book is a much easier gig for a freelancer (and more fun when you don’t have to deal with wondering if you can use The Joker because he had his face torn off and is meant to be hiding in the sewer according to last month’s Detective.) which is why there’s been such a high quality of contributors doing stuff there over the years, and critics of Mark Millar are invited to check out Superman Adventures 41, which features an astounding tour through every aspect of Superman’s life in 22 one page stories drawn by…well, you’ll see.
Batman: Brave And The Bold was the peak of that. The cartoon is my favourite Batman thing that has happened in a very long time, with the possible exception of Lego Batman 2. It’s very, very silly and I have no idea if anyone beyond people who’ve spent far too long reading DC Comics are getting half the jokes in there (And if I ever meet the person who wrote the baseball short featuring Batman giving a pep talk that concludes ‘We have to do this. For…for Little Julius Schwartz and Frankie Miller!), I’ll buy them a drink. Batman: B&B is a fun run through the history of the DCU featuring all the good characters without having to worry about Flashpoints, Zero Hours or Crisises.
Also recommended: L’il Gotham.
Superman/Batman: World’s Funnest. (No, not the claymation thing.)
Heh, alright, this one breaks all my rules about being accessible, but I’m hoping a mention here will kickstart someone at DC to consider reprinting this. Here’s the pitch. Mr Myztyplk and Bat-Mite get into a row and try to one up each other tearing through the DC Multiverse. That’s it. Written by Evan Dorkin, this is an extended episode of Itchy & Scratchy. What makes it worth reading is the amount of utter…love poured into this. Evan’s frightening knowledge of the history of DC’s publishing os on full display as Myzty and Bat-Mite go through The Dark Knight Returns world (As drawn by Frank Miller). Kingdom Come (Art by Alex Ross) the Animated Universe (Bruce Timm pencils here.) and a fair amount of Universes drawn by Ty Templeton. Jaime Hernandez, Frank Cho, Doug Manhke, Phil Jiminez and Dave Gibbons all show up to provide pages also. It’s either as deranged an introduction to the DC Universe you could possibly wish for or a haunting realization of just how much you know about very silly comics featuring some daft superheroes.
This is just gorgeous.
Quite possibly overlooked when DC realised they were onto something with ‘Elseworlds’ and flooded the shelves with as many Elseworlds as we could handle, Batman/Houdini is one of the amazing Mark Chiarello’s very, very few forays into drawing interior covers. He’s one of those people who really ought to have had his own Solo book and I almost wish DC would stop Mark being an Art Editor and make him draw some more bloody comics instead.
Saying that, thanks to Mark, we did get Wednesday Comics, Solo and Batman: Black & White. The story of how he actually got Jim Lee to draw ‘Hush’ with Jeph Loeb is also worth finding out, although I’m not telling it here, as I suspect it might be a bit legal now. This particular prestige format Batman is daft, camp stuff. Somebody’s kidnapping kids and Batman teams up with Houdini to find out who;s doing it Written by Howard Chaykin whose attitude towards superhero comics drips from every line of dialogue Harry utters. I can only assume that this was written with a mindset that declared ‘Forget it. They’re all going to be looking at the art and it doesn’t matter what I write.’
A couple of years previous to this on shot being published, Alan Grant and Kevin O’Neill decided to bring back Bat-Mite in his 1st Post Crisis appearance. Bat-Mite shows up in Legends Of The Dark Knight 38 and harasses a junkie called Bob Overdog who blames a massacre on Bat-Mite’s actions. Given this is the proper super serious DCU where things like Bat-Mites, Arm Fall Off Boy or Supergirl having a relationship with a lad who turns into her horse just don’t happen there, nobody believes Bob, who goes to prison. As with most of Legends Of The Dark Knight stories, it was an entertaining story that no one had reason to think would go anywhere. After all, the only other LDK story that had impacted on the regular Bat-Books was ‘Venom’, and that didn’t really turn out too well for anyone.
Well, er…turns out we were all wrong. ‘Mitefall’ is a plain unreasonable parody of Knightfall and contemporary comic cliches featuring Bat-Mite. Either you’re going to laugh coffee out of your nose at this kind of thing or think it’s some kind of evil, spiteful dig at Batman. I think it’s both. That’s why I like it.
It was a toss-up between this and the first one, which features amazing Simon Bisley art, but Die Laughing (Painted by Glenn Fabry) added Victor Meldrew as a guest star, so that wins out instead.
Probably the most well-known on the list. While some of us had seen Mike coming a while back on his Cosmic Odyssey mini and, oddly, a fill in issue of X-Force. But nothing really prepared any of us for this. ‘Gotham By Gaslight’ was the first DC Elseworlds comic, a story of a Victorian era Gotham featuring Batman taking on Jack The Ripper. Mignola draws the hell out of this dark and lurid thriller. Not for the squeamish, but a great read nonetheless.
I can hear your inner monologue already.
So, let me stop it there by answering the two criticisms I always hear whenever I dare say I really, really like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Strikes Back.
1) ‘It’s shit.‘
Yeah. The thing is, we haven’t quite reached the point where anyone’s subjective opinion is recognised as an absolute judgement just yet. Art isn’t a light bulb that can be deemed ‘on’ or ‘off’. I’ll accept that my tastes might not kick off your genitals, but to dismiss things that aren’t your cup of Black Forest Hot Chocolate as rubbish is to suggest every single thing ever created only has merit if it appeals you personally, which sounds incredibly arrogant to me. No two people are ever seeing the same thing, and one man’s trash is another’s treasure. I’d literally trade every X-Men related comic published this century (Alright, maybe not the first series of Wolverine and The X-Men.) to own a page of art from The Bulletproof Coffin. (Preferably one featuring Ramona, though.)
2) ‘I wasn’t expecting…this!
Really? Well, you weren’t paying attention, then.
The thing that made Dark Knight Returns so distinctive in the first place was how totally out of left field it was when it first appeared. Batman was a bit grim in his regular comics, but social commentary? Being old and drinking? An old Catwoman? Bats looking vulnerable? Punching Superman in the face? The idea that The U.S. Government would use Superman as a military deterrent? Holy Unheard Of In 1986, Old Chum! Sure, that kind of idea of how superheroes would touch upon Humanity had been touched on previously (Most strikingly and effectively in the early days of Miracleman.) but never in something as big a deal as Superhot Frank Miller doing Batman in a Prestige Format series.
If you’d not been paying attention to anything Frank had done since Dark Knight Returns, then I could see why you thought you were going to get more of the same, but it was obvious from things like ‘Tales To Offend’, ‘Hard Boiled’, ‘Spawn/Batman , ‘Give Me Liberty’ or the hallucinogen issue of ‘Sin City: Hell And Back.’ that his mindset had changed from the gritty to the ridiculous and he was more interested in the use of characters as symbols and avatars rather than depicting every last fold of Batman’s cape. Beyond that, I can never take people who see a thing with a preconception in their head of what it ‘should’ be too seriously. This seems to be the thought process of ‘I have this idea in my head of what this comic/film should be, and if it doesn’t match up to that, then it has FAILED ME!’
I love Dark Knight Strikes Back because it is clearly taking the piss out of everyone’s expectations. (Chucking away the Batman/Superman rematch people had waited over 20 years for in the first place was a hell of a start.)It’s also about what defines Bruce’s motivations beyond all the trappings of the Batman character, it’s hugely imaginative redesign of the DC Universe looks stunning. Frank got some flak for the change in his art style, but I like it because it’s representative of ideals. Concepts of heroism bursting through an amazing bombardment of noise and clutter. There’s a pretty good explanation for why the shift in his art in the much recommended (by me, anyway) Eisner/Miller.
Also, in the same way that Dark Knight Returns predicted the next few years of society and superhero comics, I have to say, considering there wasn’t a Twitter, an Instagram, a Buzzfeed or such when he put DK2 together, he didn’t do a bad job of predicting a total stimulation future, also, his explosion of colour isn’t too far off how comics look now (particularly Image, Dark Horse and IDW.) A great tale of Batman. Possibly better enjoyed after reading what you can of All Star Batman.
If there’s one thing that bugs me more than people presuming to be The GateKeepers Of Taste, it’s the last 40 years of listening to people attempt t justify liking comics. ‘Oh, it’s not “just” a comic, it’s really a book about The Holocaust told in…GRAPHIC NARRATIVE format!’, ‘Really, The X-Men are a metaphor for so many other things!’, ‘Ah, THIS! This issue of adoration And Nukes is finally, finally the one that shows Comix can be as deep or meaningful as anything in Books or Films!’
Which is essentially shorthand for ‘Look, I know most people think comics are odd, but please don’t think I’m..you know..one of them.’ And honestly, as a community, we need to get over the effects of the Batman TV Show From 1966 now, for two reasons:
1) I realise there was a bloody long period of stupid people assuming that ALL comics were exactly like the Batman TV Show. Yes, it was annoying. It was ignorant, it was also a daft assumption that doesn’t work when you use it on other mediums (‘Did you watch “Utopia”?’. ‘No. All television is like Eastenders.’) and it led to a deep-seated, self-esteem crippling shame across the comics industry that I still see to this day. That shame is what’s led to all this horrendously earnest effort to validfy the whole bloody medium. Green Lantern isn’t just a space copper fighting evil and governed by Blue Midgets In Red Dresses anymore, now he has to have a DUI because social relevance, innit? We’re just as capable of knocking out overpriced autobio nonsense or terrible forays into ‘Why Everyone Is Horrible Except Me Who Is Lovely!’ Of course having a whole wealth of adult and interesting material alongside yer ‘POW| BIFF!’ stuff, but there was never a need to make everything quite so bloody po-faced and grim. Watchmen was meant to be a comic that utilised the full possibilities of the format, not a model for how everyone was meant to approach the super-hero genre for the next thirty odd years.
Take some pride in your entertainment choices. Do I like the Adam West Batman? No, I bloody love it. It has a great theme tune! It has its own dance moves! Frank Gorshin portrays The Riddler like a kid who’s been given ALL the sugar! There are terrible puns! Cesar Romero wears Joker make-up over his moustache! How sexy are Catwoman and Batgirl? It’s daft FUN and Batman’s a big enough character that there can be an Adam West Batman, a Scott Snyder Batman, a Lego Batman, an Alan Moore Batman, a Grant Morrison on, etc, etc. It’s alright. It’s not blasphemy. You ran around your back garden with your towel around your neck singing The Batman theme tune as a kid, or even at the last comic con. It’s just fun, not a sacred text that Adam West and Burt Ward have blasphemed against, and besides….
2) Most other media isn’t any better..
Come on. It is. The problem with this whole ‘We need to validify comics as a legitimate art form’ nonsense is that you’re trying to appeal to people who consume total crap to start with. Do you seriously need to run your collection of The Metabarons or The Boondocks against a populace who made ‘Friends’ one of the most popular TV Shows ever made? Whose critical faculties apparently totally elude them whenever Justin Bieber farts out a new song? I’m writing this on Jack Kirby’s birthday, and the popular thing is the #ReadAComicInPublicDay hashtag, but really? Is that a thing where in 2014 we feel embarrassed to read the new Sex Criminals, Stray Bullets or Dark Horse Presents in front of people reading Dan Brown novels or pre-ordering tickets to see 22 Jump Street or whatever South Park knock off Seth MacFarlane is hacking out next? Am I being unfair? Hey, if comics is going to be judged by its worst habits, then I claim full right to shout ‘DALE WINTON, THO!’ whenever somebody tries to tell me how amazing TV is today. These are just my personal examples, obviously. Feel free to replace with your own symptoms of nullifying mediocrity.
Batman ’66 is simply how it sounds. It’s a comic based on the TV Show. It runs a new episode on three weeks of the month on Comixology, then those three digital bits are published in hard copy form on the final week of the month. There’s a running sub plot concerning Dr Harleen Quinnzel going on, but beyond that, every issue is like a Poptastic new episode that can be read on its own. It has that Mike Allred/Troy Nixey/Joe Quinones look to it that screams Warhol and The Archies and has featured literally the greatest sound effect pun about Russia ever. With the possible exception of Batman:Black And White, the greatest DC comic this decade.
With all this free publicity I’ve just given DC, it only seems fair to encourage people to check out Legends Of The Knight screening. It’s a film about various people who’ve used Batman as an inspiration to better their own lives, The screening is a fundraiser for both Refuge. and Action Duchenne.
That about wraps things up for this week. I don’t claim to be a Batman expert or anything and I’m sure there are dozens of Gotham related things I’ve never read. Hit me up with your suggestions in the comments.
On the list of ‘Damn it, I really wish I hadn’t sold that part of my collection to Jon Browne.’ includes my run of Viz Manga’s Pulp’ ‘Pulp’ was a life saver for me. I didn’t know anything about Manga when I started working in comics beyond watching a 3rd generation VHS of ‘Akira’ and had read a few issues of ‘Ghost In The Shell’, but ‘Pulp’ was a crash course in Manga that I sorely needed at the time. ‘Pulp’ was also fun, serialising the likes of ‘Uzumaki’, ‘Black And White’, ‘Cinderalla’ and the genre splitting study in violent deconstructionism that was ‘Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga;. ‘Pulp’ also featured interview with the people creating the work, essays on the culture pertaining to the strips and previews of stuff that Viz would be publishing.
So, Yeah, £4 a month, meant I could talk intelligently about Viz’s output and push their books through the shop, as I can sell a comic to anyone if I like it (And,by the way, The Goon, Sex Criminals, Shaolin Cowboy, Pretty Deadly, Afterlife With Archie, Eltingville Club, Batman ’66, Stray Bullets? You’re Welcome) Anything beyond five quid/$8 on a new concept is a bit more difficult, and if I know more about the comic, it’s an easier sell. Wanna know the reason Uzumaki was a big deal in London long before the Manga explosion happened? Wotcha!. I read ‘Pulp’, I explained why ‘Uzumaki’ was amazing to customers and it sold. Simple.
For new readers, this edition is a one colour super deluxe reprint of the original Barbarella strips, but with rewritten text by Kelly Sue DeConnick of Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly and Ghost fame. The dialogue is suitably flirty and camp, and it reads like One Thousand and One Nights (Not the Green Lantern comic.) starring an intelligent and fun heroine in Barbarella, with one set up and storyline quickly shifting into another and another imaginative and fleshed out scenario with snappy, intelligent dialogue. I was rather worried when I read that the text was going to be ‘updated’ that Barbarella was going be referring to LOLcats, sending Snapchat messages and receiving awkward Tinder suitors but it just means that the previous awkward translations aren’t making the story unintentionally funny die to poor understanding of English.. (I particularly liked the Blind Angel and Cannibal toys bits, myself.) The original art by Jean-Claude Forest is a lush mash-up of Joe Kubert and Jim Holdaway.
Now, I enjoyed reading Barbarella. The difference between most of you and me is that I get to read this for free because I’m on Humanoids’s mailing list (Or I was when I wrote this, anyway.). Can I really, honestly recommend this to someone for the £50 you’d have to pay for a copy? No. I can’t. But that’s not a dig at the work in any way. I just couldn’t tell you that I thought any one graphic novel was worth £50. A deluxe edition HC of Liberty Meadows featuring the strips, the unreleased ending to The Wedding Story plus University Squared, any other bonuses or cameo appearances, all the covers, sketches and suchlike bonus features would still have me thinking ‘But it’s actually Fifty British pounds. Fifty pounds that is a bit more than what I get paid for a day’s work for some jobs I do. Just less than Unemployment benefit for a week. I could get a 500GB Hard Drive for my PS3 for that. That’s more expensive than a Triple A game being released at Christmas. Even if I bought it at Sainsbury’s, though.’
So as I try to be more of the solution than the current vogue of criticism that suggests ‘This is bad because I don’t approve of it.’ (COUGH SPIDER-WOMAN BY LAND & MANARA COUGH!) I’m sure there are people who are both well off enough and enamored of the things that they’re publishing to stump up the best part of £100 to buy 2 or 3 books, and that’s fine. I’m sure it does them well enough to coast off the good feeling people have towards Jodorowsky, Dodson, Jose Ladronn, .
But THEN what? Once those books are sold to people with fond memories of the authors or have a desire to own every edition of *something*, how do you expand your market, because I don’t think ‘Here, try this thing you know nothing of for £50.’ is going to work.
I own The Incal, (Ta, PM Buchan) because if pushed, I’d probably be tied between that and The Invisibles as the greatest story ever told. (Sandman? No.) in the comics medium. (Defining a story as something with a designed beginning, middle and end, not something wrapped up because of cancellation.) It took a fair bit of work to settle on one version of it, and almost to the day that I finally got the HC Trade edition , I was informed of the publication of Final Incal. being released. something I very much would like to read as a physical object, but I’m going to be waiting until the HC drops way below the £60 asking price it currently goes for.
One solution to this problem (And it IS a problem, I’ve already noticed these books starting to gather dust in shops and being remaindered at London Marts.) is for Humanoids is to put out a reasonably priced anthology aimed at the weekly/monthly comic market seriaiising the stronger parts of their output and then releasing those works in a softcover format, similar to what DC produced when they had the license to publish Humanoids’ output. Maybe get a new strip by Jodorowsky serialized in the mag as an incentive for those well off people who can actually had the money to buy the HCs in the first place.
If I’m not ripping into them as you might expect, it’s that I’ve found Humanoids to be one of the publishers whose work I can sell to real people because they don’t put out work that’s a quagmire of its own continuity, super-hero comics that don’t understand their own audience or such. ‘This is The Incal, it’s about a man who discovers who he really is. Oh, and it’s drawn by Moebius.’ I can do that kind of pitch with most of their books and it worked a treat with the Softcovers. I want them to thrive as a genuine publisher of comics for adults, who can be there to keep people reading the medium once they’re grown out of the superhero stuff. Basically, Humanoids here it is: serialise your work in a monthly anthology in something akin to Heavy Metal without the porn ads and put out softcover editions of your books and I’ll have something to work with as a retailer and a reviewer. As it stands, the quality of the output is overshadowed by the price points.
Since the original posting of this, Jo from @Humanoids has been in touch. He tells me two things
1) There will be a standard edition of Barbarella released after the HC. Price will run around $35/£22 or so. Humanoids are planning to make it standard practice to have the HC/SE editions released, spaced out by a few months like the book industry. Also, purchase of any physical edition of their books from their website gives you free access to the digital copy. If you haven’t checked out their huge range of stuff that ought to be on your bucket list of ‘Comics You Should REALLY Read Before Death’, their website is here. I’d start with ‘Madwoman Of The Sacred Heart.’ by Jodorowsky & Moebius.
2) Volume 2 will follow in the New Year, which has never been published in English previously. Translations will again be provided by Kelly Sue DeConnick.
Shoutout to Jo from Humanoids, by the way. I’ve had publishers blanket blacklist me from talking to their creators after a far less rough review of their product than what I said. Jo took in what was discussed and responded in a fair and intelligent fashion. So fair play to them for being able to take their ego and PR head out of the equation and be able to discuss the points I made rationally and even give me some good news, which I’m sadly sworn to secrecy about.
And on the extreme opposite, the right way to promote an old work being brought to a new generation of readers.,Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland by Eric Shanowar (Age Of Bronze, The Elsewhere Prince) and Gabriel Rodriguez (Locke & Key) brought to you by IDW. This is a bit of a year for the Little Nemo franchise. Not only is there this rather lovely ongoing series but also the Kickstarter project ‘Little Nemo:Dream Another Dream‘ produced by Locust Moon with probably the best line up on one comic you’re going to see in 2014. There’s also something called ‘Big Nemo’ by Alan Moore and Colleen Doran on the way via Electricomics. IDW could have taken the total piss with their new comic and only released it as a Popbot format hyper expensive thing, or maybe as an Artist’s Edition, hoping the faithful would show up with their $60 odd.
Instead, they put out a preview as part of Free Comic Book Day, and knocked out the regular comic as a $4 thing. You get a full story, a bunch of script and pencil art. It looks beautiful. If I have a regret about this title, it’s that IDW don’t have a cheaper priced Younger Readers line. This really ought to be sitting and shining next to the likes of Archie, The Muppets, Ben 10, Adventure Tome because, really, this is the top of the line children’s comic that we should be selling cheap to the next generation of readers. Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland is a gorgeous, charming comic, and a faithful continuation of the work of Windsor McCay. One of those rare moments where something so idiosyncratic as a strip like this is actually worth reading, even if you are a fan of the original. A simple story of a child lost in a dreamworld with incredible art. Order the inevitable 2nd printing (It was already sold out in various shops when I had to go hunting for it yesterday.) and lose yourself in imagination for a while. Here, see?