Grotesque Anatomy
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
  Spiffy "New" Site
Check out the newly-redesigned Comic World News:  It's a site I occasionally visited in the past, mainly for a couple of their columnists (including Rich Watson, who doesn't appear to have made the move to the site's new look, but his "A View From The Cheap Seats" column can still be found at the horrible-to-navigate, extremely ad-heavy UGO (never has an acronym been more appropriate), as well as several other sites, apparently).  CWN suffered from sporadic updates (something I can certainly sympathize with), but from the looks of their line-up of features and columnists (including upcoming "name" contributors Richard Starkings and Larry Young) they should have plenty of material to keep things fresh.  And the proposal to offer a "60/40 I/SP [Independent/Small Press] focus" sounds smart:  As CWN's Editor-in-Chief Dan Wickline says, "the best chance you have of getting them [mainstream readers] to look at the Indy titles they might not otherwise seek out" is by offering some familiar content to lure fanboys in.  I'll be curious to see if CWN can maintain that balance, as well as what they consider "Independent/Small Press."  (There's a fun classification to argue over.)

Best of luck to CWN on the revamp, congrats on the corporate sponsorship (as part of Comicraft's Active Image network), and a big thanks to Ed Cunard for the heads-up!
  And The Expert Hallway Navigation Is Only Enhanced By The Skimpy Hospital Gown Outfit
From Newsarama:

Scene from BLOODSTREAM #1

Yeah, it looks pretty boring so far, but soon Amber will seduce the lab assistant, escape her bonds, and navigate expertly through the BioGenCo complex.  Then you're in for a treat, my friend:  Fully painted scenes of expert corridor navigation.  I just worry because in the Newsarama interview creator Adam Shaw reveals that [SPOILER ALERT!] the BioGenCo complex burns down during Amber's escape.  Hopefully Shaw will still be able to figure out creative ways to place Amber in more hallways, corridors, and passageways, even with the loss of the series' distinctive BioGenCo locale.
  Now This Is What I Call Loose Continuity
Considering all of the (unintentional) humor my 2003 Marvel desk calendar has given me throughout the year, it seemed fitting that this was the final entry:


Happy New Year, Everyone!
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
  Broken Frontier's Year-End Interviews
Broken Frontier has a number of year-end wrap-up interviews with reps from various comic companies, including:
Interestingly, when asked which trends this year were important for the industry overall, several interviewees answered "Manga," including CG's Rosemann:
Personally, I loved walking into bookstores and seeing so many young readers looking through shelves and shelves of manga. This is what's going to bring in the next generation of readers and (hopefully) feed them into the direct market like the newsstand racks used to.
I don't know if the success of manga in bookstores will translate into much business for the Direct Market, but it's nice to see other companies acknowledging the gains manga made this year.
  Getting Back In The Swing Of Things
After nearly a week offline, there's so much to catch up on.  I'm sure I've missed a lot, but here's what caught my eye while wandering around the web today:
I'm still hoping to put together a "2003 in Review" entry, but it's looking more and more as though that won't happen until 2004.  So just in case I don't blog until then, Happy New Year, Everyone!
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
  Season's Greetings from All of Us Here at Grotesque Anatomy
Before I forget, I'll probably be taking a break from blogging for the rest of the year.  I have work off, and many family obligations throughout the holidays, so I doubt I'll have much time to blog anything.  I do hope to have a "Look Back at Comics in 2003" wrap-up at some point, but no promises or guarantees.

And if I can get sappy for just a moment, I'd like to thank everyone who read this blog over the past few months.  I wasn't sure I'd stick with it for long, as I have a tendency to get really gung-ho about something new but then lose all interest once the novelty fades.  Instead, I've been enjoying blogging about comics more and more.  I don't know if that enthusiasm always shows--I know I lapse into snarkiness a little too often, and I'm not immune to the malaise that makes its way through the comics community every few months--but writing and thinking and reacting about comics has really re-energized my interest in comics, both as a hobby and as an art form.  So thanks to everyone who participated in this and the many other fine blogs out there:  I know this is coming dangerously close to schmaltzy "Team Comics" sentimentality, but you've all made me believe that we really can save comics.

Especially if we all buy more manga.

Happy holidays, everyone!
  Stupid Rings Critics, Part 4:
I've been searching for a way to undermine whatever critical credibility I might have, and I think I've finally hit upon it.

I did not like The Retun of the King.

Now before we get into it, there are a couple things you should know.  First and foremost, I did not do the required homework for this movie.  Yes, I did see the first two movies when they originally came out (and even enjoyed the second one, more or less), but I had not watched them since then.  Which means I probably forgot a lot of details that were important for King.  And it means that I didn't really see all of the first two films, since I never watched the extended versions.

Even more damning, I've never read the books.  I think I tried a couple times in high school, but I could just never get into the stories.  I know this is going to discredit my opinion of the movie in most people's eyes, but shouldn't the film--even if it is the third part of a trilogy--be able to stand on its own right to a certain degree?  And if we're considering how well ROTK worked as a movie, I really don't think it's germane to point out that the movie was faithful to the book.  That's like constantly citing the Bible during an argument about the existence of God with a nonbeliever.

I should also point out that this is by no means intended as a serious, considered rebuttal to the legion of glowing reviews singing the praises of this film.  It can't be; I was so bored by the film that my mind began to wander somewhere during the first hour.  So I'll probably make all kinds of mistakes in this rant--like mixing up Eowyn and Arwen and Arwyn or whoever the fuck it was--that will irritate true Tolkien fans.  I'm not claiming that I'm right and you're wrong--at least not on the details.

So what didn't I like?  What can I remember?  It's probably helpful to start with Sean Collins' list:  It might help jog my memory, and I'm sure I hated everything on it.
Anything else?  OK, since you asked:
There was probably more than annoyed me, but if I go on any longer, I run the risk of overstaying my welcome just as ROTK did.  And while it feels good to get all of this off my chest, I really don't want to become the pariah of the comics blogosphere, at least not over an overrated fantasy flick.

Say, how about that Mike San Giacomo guy and his outrageous opinions about the new Catwoman artistic team? What's up with that??? [he asked, not at all trying to change the subject or anything]
Monday, December 22, 2003
  Tokyopop: Plans For World Domination Proceeding Apace
Very interesting interview with Kristien Brada-Thompson, TOKYOPOP's Marcom [Marketing Communications] Manager, over at The Pulse.  Some choice quotes:
"In the beginning, it was a challenge convincing TOKYOPOP's investment partners that manga could sell and actually profit in the United States ... and that people would not only be willing to read authentic manga (right to left), but would actually prefer it. When TOKYOPOP initially launched its line of nine 100% Authentic Manga titles, many of our competitors shook their heads, some held their breath and others watched quietly expecting failure. Today this format and price point are the industry standard."
Hard to believe that there was a time when people doubted the appeal of manga, but I do remember Studio Proteus'  Toren Smith being fairly negative about the prospects for unflipped manga in the American market.
"TOKYOPOP is now the leading U.S. publisher of manga," Brada-Thompson continued. "In many ways, I believe we have provided the fuel to ignite this explosion, but there are several key factors to consider: 1) manga has achieved a greater penetration into the book trade, 2) there is a much larger public awareness of manga and anime overall, and 3) manga appeals to a male and female demographic, thereby expanding its reach beyond that of typical American superhero type comics."
Testify!  Can I get an "ah-men"?
"Here and there, we'll publish a title that didn't get the predicted response from fans," Brada-Thompson admitted. "We're not always sure why this happens, but when it does, we have to try to learn from it and improve, whether that be in our choice of titles, their marketing strategies or overall production quality."
Mind...reeling.  A comic book company taking time to learn from its ventures, rather than just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks?  Or, worse, giving up and resorting to the same old tired concepts?
"I believe its continued penetration into the book trade, mass market and other new avenues of distribution, along with a wealth of great stories published in an affordable, convenient format will contribute to even more manga growth in 2004," said Brada-Thompson.
But what about the Direct Market?  Why didn't she specifically mention the Direct Market?  Oh yeah, right.

Much more in the link, including a reference to Tokyopop's revenue doubling every year since its inception.  Very much worth a read.
  Most Coincidental Timing Ever
Marvel's March solicits are up.  Graeme has already beat me to mocking the project that most needed mocking, but this is pretty cringe-inducing as well:

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Covers & Pencils by Mark Bagley

“Spider-Man: The Movie” Parts 1 & 2 (of 5)
A major movie studio is making an unauthorized summer blockbuster about Spider-Man, and the Ultimate wall-crawler swings by the set to give the producers a piece of his mind. But someone else is even hotter about being in the film than Spidey — Doctor Octopus — who just may shut the production down if he doesn’t get final edit!

Marvel:  We will attempt to ride the coattails of mainstream celebrities in any way we can.  Jesus.  Just when I thought Marvel couldn't get any more desperate with its endless Spider-Man 2-related tie-ins for the Spider-books.  Let's hope the story is as classy and entertaining as that backup feature "guest-starring" Jay Leno.
  Worst. Manga. Ever.
So they finally did it, those crazy bastards.  Gutsoon actually went through with their plans to collect the atrocious series Bomber Girl into trade paperback.  Damn them! Damn them all to hell!   Shawn Fumo links to a negative review over on the AnimeOnDVD forums, but that review is much too generous.  Although the reviewer gives Bomber Girl a D (still too generous), he slips from time to time and writes things like "it's pretty funny to see the characters Niwano thinks up" and "if you are into cheesy corny violence this might be entertaining."

This is incorrect.  There is absolutely nothing redeeming about Bomber Girl in any way, shape, or form.  As Paul O'Brien once said, "I can prove it with graphs."  But since making graphs would take time, I'll take the easy way out and excerpt some old reviews of mine.  Here are my thoughts on the first four installments of Bomber Girl as serialized in Raijin Comics:
BOMBER GIRL: The weakest of the four stories, both in terms of story and art. Storywise, it's little more than a flimsy vehicle for the gratuitous depictions of sex (or at least T&A) and violence. In a sense, then, the creator can be complimented for utilizing his story and art to serve each other so seamlessly.

BOMBER GIRL: I wouldn't have though it was possible, but this installment was even worse than last issue's chapter. The art is even cruder and more amateurish than before. Look at the perspective (or lack thereof) on the car in panel 51: It looks like a drawing a grade-schooler with no formal art training would make in the margins of his math notebook while bored. I'm sure Niwano Makoto, the creator of BOMBER GIRL, is earnest in his affection for this series, but I don't want to pay for material of such unprofessional quality. According to the letter column in the first issue, the ongoing line-up of RAIJIN COMICS will be determined by reader votes, with unpopular titles dropped from the magazine. There's a questionnaire on the last page that directs readers to the Raijin Comics website to register their opinions, but so far the survey is still directed at the preview zero issue. I'll keep checking back to cast my vote against BOMBER GIRL.

BOMBER GIRL: I was going to go through and count all the panty shots once again, but even that seemed unamusing and unappealing at this point. Instead, I decided to pick out some of my favorite bad lines from this chapter. "How do you spell 'sex'?"; "But feel free to show us your panties!"; "My customized tonfa, 'Yashamaru.' are invincible, cuz all I need to do is beat the crap out of people with them." Yes, Emi, but I still doubt that even your customized tonfa could inflict as much pain as your series does.

BOMBER GIRL: Dear God this is bad. This issue Niwano attempts to engage in a bit of self-parody, introducing a character who makes fun of Emi's "big boobs" and breaks the fourth wall by asking things like, "Is the main character allowed to say that?" Self-aware meta-humor is tricky to pull off, and it's doomed to fail when your satirical character is just as objectionable as the character she's supposed to poke fun at. And on a completely nitpicky note: It's annoying when the "secret weapon" Emi was supposedly carrying all along was *clearly* not visible throughout the story. What a cheat, not to mention it was yet another excuse for a gratuitous shot of Emi's breasts. The plot device offends on so many levels...
Bomber Girl was so bad it affected my overall enjoyment of the Raijin anthology, as evident in the closing of my review for issue #4:
Overall: Strong chapters of MOUFLON, SLAM DUNK, and BAKI get this issue off to a good start, but it's all marred in the end by an especially bad chapter of BOMBER GIRL. Like a bad dessert that ruins your memory of a good meal, BOMBER GIRL once again leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Setting that series aside, I'd still recommend this book, but I can't wait until BOMBER GIRL is replaced by something else that matches the quality of the other serials in this anthology.
Normally I'd feel guilty for reusing old material to fill up a blog entry, but recycling feels appropriate for trash like Bomber Girl.  And if my warnings prevent even one person from purchasing this waste of paper, then it will have been worth it.  Please, please, please avoid this manga, unless you're purposely looking for something bad, like for a manga drinking game or something.  If so, make sure to buy lots of alcohol:  You'll need it blot out the pain once you start reading.
Friday, December 19, 2003
  Manga Reviews for the Initiated
Here's a blogger who's reviewing manga from a more informed perspective than mine:  Mitch H. reviews Dark Horse's Hellsing.  (And in a similar-but-reversed vein of complaint, I note that Mitch's review isn't very useful for me, a manga newbie, since it doesn't tell me much about the manga itself.  But the review may be useful for fans wondering how the manga compares to the anime.)

EDITED TO ADD:  Mitch has since upgraded his review to include more background information on the Hellsing series.  (I'd like to clarify that I wasn't trying to press Mitch to flesh out his review.  I was just trying to make a point about different reviews being useful for different audiences.  But I do appreciate his adding more info about the series -- it definitely makes me more interested in checking out the manga now.  It also makes me realize how often I "review" something without recapping the basic plot for readers who might be unfamiliar with the work.)
  Also, Jughead's Goofy Hat To Be Replaced With Big Spiky Hair
Several bloggers made note of news that Archie Comics' Sabrina will be getting a "manga makeover" thanks to Rising Stars of Manga winner Tania del Rio, but Neilalien's summary was my favorite:
Archie's Sabrina to get big eyes, big teardrops, and show more panties

(Runner-upGraeme McMillan for his "Archie jumps on a bandwagon possibly for the first time ever" heading.)
  In Defense of Laziness
I started a thread over on the Dark Horse manga boards to pimp my manga reviews and received a reply that got me thinking.  In response to my negative Berserk review, a poster named Shinji Mimura wrote:
How much of the story have you read? Just the first volume? Because I thought your review on Berserk sounded pretty ignorant. Berserk brings up great philosophical ideas and is a great story in general.  It doesn't really pick up until the Golden Age arc, though.
I answered that I had only read the first book, admitting that I was ignorant of what happens in later volumes. (25 volumes have been published so far in Japan, with no end in sight.  For more information about the Japanese manga, see this site.)  But the comment made me wonder if I should have done more research on the manga to be fair.  After all, I knew it was a reprint, and I knew it was a popular series in Japan with multiple volumes.  It wasn't a brand new series where I had no information about forthcoming storylines.  I'm sure if I wanted to learn more about the series--such as whether any depth to Guts' character is ever revealed--I could have found that information online.

I think part of the reason I don't track down such information is because I don't want to spoil the enjoyment of reading the work itself.  When I finally got around to reading Akira this year, I was hooked after the first book.  I ordered the next couple volumes online, which meant that I had to wait for the books to arrive.  And because I always choose the Super Saver shipping, it was going to be awhile.  Now since the series was completed long ago, I could have looked online to find out what happened next.  But I didn't want to ruin the thrill of discovering the details as I actually read the story.  I would worry that knowing what was going to happen in advance would lessen the impact of having it all unfold before me.  After all, look what happened when I got impatient with the delay between the second and third volumes of the Battle Royale manga:  I read the novel, so by the time the next edition of the manga came out, the events were no longer as shocking or surprising as they might have been otherwise.

I suppose in the case of Berserk I could have looked up the info before writing my review, since I'm not planning to read any future volumes.  But even there too much knowledge could have colored my reaction to the work, and therefore altered my review.  I generally try to avoid reading others' takes on things I'm planning to review for much the same reason:  I don't want their perspectives to influence my own opinion too strongly, especially if I don't "get" something right away.  I'd rather put out my reactions, expose my ignorance, and have others fill me in on where I'm wrong.  (Which has been working rather well so far:  Readers in the DHMB thread have informed me of some of the deeper issues Berserk deals with.  And in the comments thread of my original reviews, Christopher Butcher has helpfully pointed out a couple areas where my analysis of Buddha wasn't as close or careful as it should have been.  When something is contrary to my expectations, I always forget to consider that the whole point may have been to challenge my assumptions.  Thanks to Christopher and others for taking the time to help me refine my thoughts.)

This is probably a good point to remind readers that I'm not an expert on manga.  I've only started reading it recently, and I've only read a handful of titles so far.  As I said when I was reviewing for Anime News Network, I'm new to this particular section of the sequential arts, so please forgive me when I make errors and omissions that seem obvious to a long-time otaku.  And just like a typical, stubborn-headed male begging for forgiveness, I'd also like to acknowledge that I'm not likely to change any time soon--or at least not very quickly.  This will probably sound as though I'm wearing my ignorance like a badge of honor, but I think my approach to reviewing manga will remain largely untouched:  I'll continue with the same "lifelong reader of American comics gradually exploring manga" routine. (I should check with Bill Sherman to see who used this schtick first.) 

Why do I like this approach?  Well, for one thing, I think it can be useful, since there are probably other readers out there who find themselves in a similar boat.  I'm sure there are other places to go if you want manga reviews from fans who know everything about the entire Japanese run of a title.  But as Dave Lartigue and others have indicated to me, there aren't many sites that review manga from the perspective of someone generally familiar with comics but still pretty green when it comes to manga.  I know I can't be all things to all people, but I'll at least try to be honest about who I'm trying to be.  (I'll also try to work in second opinions to offer perspectives other than my own; I tried to do that in earlier reviews but I forgot to do it in my negative reviews (aside from the reference to Bill Sherman's Ring review and the other Buddha reviews).) 

And of course the other reason is that I'm lazy. 
Thursday, December 18, 2003
  Moore Mainstream Coverage
Slate has an article on Alan Moore titled "Please, Sir, I Want Some Moore" with the sub-heading "The lazy British genius who transformed American comics."  I was intrigued by this line in the article:  "His work is alternately groundbreaking and painfully lazy; he often coasts on his cleverness for a quick paycheck."  I'm trying to think of which works Moore did simply for the paycheck.  The Image and Awesome stuff?  Also, can one coast on cleverness?  "Gosh durn it!  I'm just so sick of this Moore fellow's cleverness.  I wish he'd do something different and dumb it down for once!"
  Archie Manga?
Dang it, Dirk Deppey beat me to the story about Sabrina's "manga makeover."  I had a post ready last night (the story appeared earlier on Comics Continuum) but my home PC crashed before I could publish it.  Dirk got in one of the cracks I wanted to make (about Archie Comics craving a slice of that manga magic), but I was also wondering if the audience for Sabrina will be as resistant to changes in art style as superhero fans often are.  My guess would be that Sabrina's readers (who I'm assuming are mainly young girls) might actually like the new look, since it would combine two of their favorite things (Sabrina and shoujo) in one package.

In any event, it's a shrewd (or is that cynical?) move on Archie's part, and I'm happy to see that Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga contest is leading to work in the American comic book industry for winners such as Tania del Rio.
  Video Games and Comics: Underdogs Unite!
The latest issue of Game Informer (#129, Jan. 2004) has a fair amount of comic coverage, including an "exclusive first look" at the 100 Bullets video game.  Other comic-related mentions include:
Comic-related games also placed strongly on a top ten list.  Unfortunately it's a list of the ten worst games of 2003:
But of course the biggest comic-related story in GI is the 100 Bullets feature article.  It spans six pages and features plenty of art from the comic in addition to screen shots from the forthcoming game.  And there's a sidebar on the comic itself encouraging readers to check out the series.  One of the reasons listed was news to me:  According to GI, 100 Bullets is used in three American Literature classs at Northwestern University.

Interesting note:  Twice in the magazine reference is made to the lack of respect faced by both comic book readers and gamers, first in the table of contents listing for the 100 Bullets article and later at the close of the 100 Bullets feature. The first line seems to call for a sort of geek solidarity, but it's an appeal laced with self-loathing:  "Comic books and video games should be much closer friends.  Neither medium gets the respect it deserves from our snooty parents."  (Yeah, because we all still live with our parents.  Ha ha.  That joke never gets old.)  The second quote is much more grandiose:  "Individually, neither comics nor video games tend to get the respect they deserve as legitimate art forms, but when the two come together, the quality of the results should be undeniable."  Hmm.  You might want to check that math again.  More than likely the result of combining two marginalized media will a more insular product, not some transcendent "third way" art form.  Consider the converse melding of the two media:  Have any comic books based on video games ever achieved "undeniable quality"?
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
  Image Solicits for March
From Comics Continuum:

Written by Mark Millar, art by J.G. Jones, colored by Paul Mounts, cover by Jones.

It's mayhem in the underworld as the factions of the world-controlling super-villain cadre known as The Fraternity square off against each other. Who will live? Who will die? And what do the Dollmaster's psycho-killer dolls have to do with it? Superheroes as you¹ve never seen them before.

But comic book hype exactly as you've always seen it.  ("Who will live? Who will die?"?  Wasn't that on the cover of every comic from the 80s, especially if it was a John Byrne comic?)

Written by Mike Sangiacomo, art and cover by Mitchell Breitweiser.

Jack Baxter is a New York newspaper reporter who always seems to get the impossible stories. He has a gift (or is it a curse?) to become invisible at will. Sometimes he uses his powers for good, other times for selfish gain. Despite his success, though, he's not a happy man. He carries the guilt of letting a friend die in a foreign land, a friend he could have saved if only he had the courage. And now he must go back.

"Roach Motel." Meet the man who is not there. What would you do if you were unseen? Jack Baxter confronts his fear to release the hero inside, but no good deed goes unpunished.

Finally!  And speaking of superhero clichés that never go out of style, it's nice to see the powers = gift + curse formula is still limping along.

But the award for strangest solicit info has to go to...

Written by Adam Shaw and Penny Register, art and cover by Shaw.

Amber seduces the lab assistant and escapes her bonds. She then navigates expertly through the BioGenCo complex as if guided by some mysterious, unseen force.

And then she runs into some guards in the complex.  And there's a struggle.  And I'm bored.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
  2003 in Review: The X-Fan Version
Thanks to Kevin Melrose, I read ComiX-Fan's picks for the Top Comic Events of 2003.  I love some of their comments for their picks:

On the 80s nostalgia books:
"But is this really what comic readers want? It seems that everyone gets excited at the announcement of a new 80s revival project. Come release time, the #1 issue may do well, but with the exception of a few, sales quickly decline. Freud would have a field day with the nostalgia factor being the big decider. Perhaps the quality doesn't match up to our expectations; perhaps it does but we quickly realise we're not getting our childhood back. One thing's for sure: These 80s properties are a great way to lure in the mainstream consumer into the comic industry. So hopefully, they'll stick around for a while."
Yeah, because if dedicated comic readers aren't even willing to buy these series, obviously the mainstream audience will eat them up!  (Then again, look at the popularity of properties like 'Scooby Doo.'  Maybe X-Fan has a point:  If the fanboys won't bite, maybe the public-at-large will!!)

On "Hush":
"Everyone was talking about it. All the buzz in the industry was focused on it. It was the reading event of the year."
Was anyone really reading this, as opposed to simply looking at the pretty pictures?  ("Look, now Jim Lee is drawing a completely different Batman villain this issue!  AWESOME!!")  It seems that those who did read the series were pretty disappointed in it, so I think it's a stretch to refer to it as the reading event of the year.

On DC signing creators to exclusives:
"With the new millenium, Marvel has regained its #1 position in the comic book industry with the strategies of its notorious former President Bill Jemas. So what's an underdog to do? Why, ask Papa Time and Mama Warner to provide. Finally, it seems DC's parent company is willing to provide for its comic properties, not just in all the blockbuster movies, not just in statuettes and miscellaneous memorabilia, but where it counts -- in the comic book field."
(I have no idea if "Papa Time and Mama Warner" really footed the bill for DC to sign all these creators, but I know posting this will get a rise out of Graeme.)

On the Princess Di X-Statix brouhaha:
"Marvel felt cornered into giving the storyarc a makeover, and the true genius (if you will) behind it, award-winning scribe Peter Milligan, had no choice but to make altercations of the inclusion of Diana into something entirely different and almost unrecognisable, that was ill-received by most X-Statix readers -- the only ones who ever truly mattered in the whole debacle." [Emphasis added]
Typo or meaningful malapropism?  U-DECIDE!!

On the Jesus Castillo case:
"But in August, 2003, the Supreme Court denied the appeal to hear Castillo's case. Not only was this the final blow to the comic industry, but comic fans as a whole were discouraged more than ever that the society they live in still cannot open its mind and move past the stereotypes of the clique in this day and age."
Stereotypes?  Which ones?  You mean the same ones X-Fan used to open discussion of the Castillo event?:  "Just when you thought it was safe to live in your parents' basement and be a comic geek away from the rest of the world..."
  "I Am Reborn, Like A Cheap Plastic Action Figure."
Disturbing Trend:  Toy lines devoted to specific storylines.

Not content with making action figures based on each and every character they publish, DC is now putting out action figures based on each and every slight variation of every character they publish.  First it was the Kingdom Come action figures, now it's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS ACTION FIGURES:
Frank Miller’s seminal work on the gritty, ground-breaking DARK KNIGHT RETURNS changed the landscape of comics forever and inspired a new generation of comics creators. Now, DC Direct celebrates that immortal series with a quartet of figures beautifully sculpted by Tim Bruckner that capture the look and feel of Miller’s Batman, Superman, The Joker, and Robin!
  • THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: BATMAN ACTION FIGURE measures approximately 7 3/8” tall, features multiple points of articulation and comes with a Batarang with rope. This figure also includes a sidewalk base and comes packaged in a 4-color window box.
  • THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: ROBIN ACTION FIGURE, which portrays Carrie Kelly as the Dark Knight’s apprentice, measures approximately 4 7/8” tall, features multiple points of articulation and comes with a slingshot and rope. This figure also includes a sidewalk base with street lamp featuring a glow-in-the-dark street lamp and comes packaged in a 4-color window box.
  • THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: THE JOKER ACTION FIGURE measures approximately 6 5/8” tall, features multiple points of articulation and comes with a two pistols and a Joker doll. This figure also includes a sidewalk base and comes packaged in a 4-color window box.
  • THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: SUPERMAN ACTION FIGURE measures approximately 7 3/8” tall, features multiple points of articulation and comes with alternate hands holding a crushed Bat-armor helmet and a Kryptonite arrow. This figure also includes a sidewalk base and comes packaged in a 4-color window box.
This project is supported with trade and house ads and a full-color promo poster.

What do these toys do?  I imagine the Batman figure complaining about being too old.  And why is there no Mutant Leader figure, with Mud Pit / Operating Table Battleground Arena (sold separately)?  I really want some Mutant Gang figures that say the classic lines "BALLS nasty" and "Leader don't shiv."  Now there's a toy I might seriously consider buying.

  Back To The Nineties
Disturbing trend:  Too much Top Cow (Image? Aspen?) art on DC books.

I know Marvel is determined to turn back the clock to the 90s, but does DC have to follow suit?  Did I miss the DC memo announcing their own "Heroes Reborn"?
Monday, December 15, 2003
  Fun with DC Solicits and Covers
From the DC website:

"WONDER WOMAN #202:  Veronica Cale had a plan to discredit Wonder Woman, but she was betrayed. Now Cale is going to close the leak...permanently. Why does Cale hate Diana so intensely?"

WW 202

Answer:  Wonder Woman upstaged Veronica Cale at a gala event.  You know how catty women are!  Ha ha ha!!

"BIRDS OF PREY #65...cover by Greg Land and Jay Leister"

BoP 65

Hey, Greg Land is drawing a Birds of Prey cover!  Hey, Dinah suddenly looks just like Arwyn from Sojourn!  Gee, I wonder if there's a connection!

"EYE OF THE STORM: COUP D'ÉTAT AFTERWORD:  As the dust settles from last month's massive COUP D'ÉTAT crossover, here's a primer for where things stand in the Wildstorm Universe!"


And to kick things off, the cover features the fabulous new costume for Holden Carver from SLEEPER! AWESOME!!
  Tokyopop's Epic Plans
Kevin Melrose and Shawn Fumo have already linked to news that Tokyopop is expanding its presence into more retail outlets (Wal-Mart, Stop and Shop, Sam Goody).  Now Newsarama has an article up about how Tokyopop is going to be publishing original content in addition to manga reprints.  Shawn should love this news:
“This is a place for creators to do something different from what the traditional comics fans are used to—stories about kids and their crazy pets, girls and their otherworldly boyfriends, or teens playing ancient games in magical worlds,” Paniccia said. “Sure, the industry has produced a wide variety of stories, but it’s usually the exception in this super-powered avenger-centric industry.”

That last part leads to one of the rules of Tokyopop’s expanded line of new, original projects – no capes or tights. “There’s a strict rule here to avoid anything that remotely smacks of traditional superhero comics in either story or art,” Paniccia said. “Tokyopop is not competing with DC or Marvel. Superheroes are not the company’s strength, nor is there a desire to move in that direction. It’s not our audience.”

And if you’re thinking that this is starting to sound like an open call for talent...well…Paniccia’ got a publishing schedule for 2005 that he’s looking to fill.

Epic contributors!  Quick, time to rejigger your proposals as black-and-white, non-spandex projects!!

And once again I love how thoroughly Newsarama proofs its articles:  "it reads left to right rather than left to right."  I'm assuming they meant that the new material, which will be done by Western creators, will read in the left-to-right format, while Tokyopop's manga will continue to be published right-to-left.
  Pondering Prophecy
So did Prophecy Anthology ever come out?  Their website said it was "set for release on November 30th, 2003" but I don't remember hearing anything about it.  Anyone get it?
Saturday, December 13, 2003
  EW Comics Coverage
In the December 19, 2003 edition of Entertainment Weekly (#742), the subscribers-only supplement "Listen2This" offers a page of comics coverage.  Since the comics section is only a single page this time, fewer comics are reviewed, and there's no "a comics creator discusses his favorite comic" feature.  The four comics reviewed are:
Upcoming comics mentioned are:  My Faith in Frankie, Freaks of the Heartland, and The Clock Maker: Act 1.
Friday, December 12, 2003
  Too Lazy To Come Up With A Decent Title Even
You know how it is:  Bored at work, but too lazy to write anything substantive.  What to do?  Answer:  Link to what other people are blogging.

First up, Dave Lartigue reports on some of the manga he's read recently.  More cheers for Planetes, more jeers for the "misogynistic streak" running through Sanctuary, and comments on several other manga.  Also, Dave reproduces a number of synopses from the Tokypop site in an effort to show that "a load of the manga they're bringing over here is crap."  Maybe I just have really lowbrow tastes, but the sheer goofiness of some of the summaries really appeals to me:
"When Mink rushes to buy the latest CD by her favorite pop star, Illiya, she winds up instead with a software disc from the future that allows her to become whomever she wants."

"Hideki's luck changes when he discovers Chi - an adorable but seemingly stupid Persocom - tied up in a pile of trash. His first robot companion turns out to be a lot more responsibility than he expected, and she gets him into quite a few embarrassing situations."

"When he sees his crush, Risa, he transforms into his alter ego, the phantom thief Dark Mousy. Unfortunately, when Dark Mousy sees his crush, Risa's twin Riku, he transforms back into Daisuke."

That last one in particular sounds like something straight out of a Silver Age DC comic.  Maybe it's the nostalgia talking, but I like goofy Silver Age stories.  I'm not saying I want a return to a period where every comic reads in the same stilted yet strangely endearing manner, but I do like the occasional comic that's just unabashedly fun.

Anyway, Dave ends his piece by writing "There's a lot of bad comics and some good comics, and some of each is American and some of each is Japanese. Rather than having idiotic discussions about which format and country is better, why not point out which titles -- from either source -- are worth reading?"  Aside from the characterization of certain discussions as 'idiotic,' that's a sentiment I can get on board with.

Next, Shawn Fumo, recently returned to blogging, points to a site that's come up with a few more Manga Stacks of varying degrees of Intimidation.  Start sending your requests for future matchups to Alex at Keromaru:  I think his Photoshop skills are much more developed than mine.

Finally, Sean Collins did the legwork and found that, according to the US Supreme Court, virtual kiddie porn ain't kiddie porn.  But as the soon-to-be-wed Dave Intermittent points out, individual communities could still find comics such as Blankets or Battle Royale obscene by local community standards.  So be careful out there, especially if you're a retailer in Jesus Castillo's old neck of the woods.  And, Tokyopop, a little more info would be nice so readers and retailers know what they might be getting into.
  WARNING: You May Be An Italian Website And Not Even Know It
This Onion article made me think it was time to google myself.  Who knew that I was an Italian website?  Some of the buzzwords remind me of my Chinese zodiac sign:  Yep, the dog is loyal, so I know this site must be about me.  And the logo confirms it:


I especially like the exclamation point:  It just says, "This guy grew up reading superhero comics!!"

I'm a little vague on what Jaka!a does.  Google's translation says "Jakala - An only service three times for your campaigns of regalistica and boosting." The full mission statement reads:  "Jakala helps the companies to establish and to consolidate the relations of business towards the own customers, the consumers, the distributors and the force of sale, through plans innovated you of boosting and fidelizzazione."  Finally, "Moreover Jakala offers to the own customers also the possibility to ad hoc study articles and confection in function of the occasion and the requirement."

I don't know what it all means, but I'm impressed.  I think I'm going to start using regalistica, fidelizzazione, and boosting as buzzwords at work.  I'm sure they'll catch on in no time.

Be sure to ask for your Jakala gift, by the way, which promises "Only, sophisticated and prestigious: the Jakala selection is studied in order to offer the appropriate object to you for every occasion."  And order with confidence:  Remember, "Jakala guarantees you a chosen width imprinted to the quality and to the originality."  Prego!
Thursday, December 11, 2003
  Manga Misfires
OK, now that I've shown that I don't hate all superhero comics, let's go in the other direction and show that I don't love all manga.  Here are some manga that fell flat for me:

Sanctuary 3Sanctuary 2-4 by Sho Fumimura and Ryoichi Ikegami (Viz • ~316 pages • $16.95/$17.95)

After thoroughly enjoying the first book of this series, I was very disappointed in the next three volumes.  Part of that was due to repetition--after a while, the pattern of the story became much too familiar:  Hojo is backed into some unwinnable situation; Hojo easily resolves unwinnable scenario in his favor; flashback to Hojo and Asami's horrific and formative past; cut to close-up scenes of modern-day Hojo and/or Asami exclaiming "Sanctuary!" (yes, I know that's the book I'm reading, but I really don't need the constant reminders).  Another disappointment was that the quality of the art seems to have gone down a bit from the first installment.  I don't know if this is because of issues with the reproduction of the art, or if the original manga suffered the same dropoff, but the art in these volumes seemed less detailed (perhaps more rushed or loose?) than before. 

But the biggest reason Sanctuary now leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth is the repugnant, excessive misogyny in the comic.  Although it seemed obvious from the first volume that this would be a "manly man's man" manga, I was hopeful that the series would have some gender diversity thanks to Deputy Police Chief Ishihara, who seemed like a strong female character.  Boy, was I off.  Instead of providing a formidable opponent for Hojo on the side of law enforcement, Ishihara is reduced to yet another measure of Hojo's charisma.  Ishihara is depicted as literally weak in the knees when she thinks of Hojo, at one point squeezing her own breasts because she's so aroused by Hojo's skill at beating his adversaries.  Mind you, she's doing this while at work, in her office, in full uniform, with her male partner sitting only a few feet away in the same room.  Because, you know, women get so turned on thinking about "bad boys" that they can't contain themselves or concentrate on their work.  Nice adolescent fantasy.

Even worse, shortly thereafter, Ishihara declares that she's willing to give up her entire career in law enforcement in order to follow Hojo.  Never mind that she has no idea what Hojo's ultimate plans or motivations are.  None of that matters because Hojo is hot.


Also repulsive:  The way that women are depicted as objects for Tokai to rape while lightheartedly declaring his homoerotic attraction to Hojo.  Ha ha!  It's funny, you see, because Tokai really loves Hojo, but he can't bring himself to consummate that desire, so he rapes nightclub workers instead.  Ha ha!  Charming!!


I don't think I'll be reading the rest of this series.  I know the series is about individuals choosing to operate outside the law, so it's bound to be unseemly to a degree, but the pervasive sexism in this series crosses a line for me.

Berserk 1Berserk 1 by Kenturo Miura (Dark Horse • 224 pages • $13.95)
All style and no substance.  I imagine this manga might appeal to fans of the original Image-school of comics (the protagonist Guts sports a sword even bigger than any weapon ever wielded by a Liefeld character -- see below) but there's not much beyond some detailed renditions of people losing their heads (or limbs or torsos) to hold the reader's interest.  I know that mysterious characters with dark pasts often make for engaging entertainment, but after reading this, I simply didn't care what Guts' background or motivation might be:  By making Guts so thoroughly unlikable throughout the book, Miura squanders whatever goodwill readers might extend to the character.  Others might disagree, arguing that Guts' gruff exterior heightens the mystery, or adds to his anti-hero air, but I need some hint that a character has some redeeming (or at least intriguing) traits to capture my interest. Perhaps such traits will be revealed in forthcoming volumes, but I also lack the patience to wait for something that may never come.  In the meantime, I have no desire to read about a selfish, thuggish, unsympathetic character, even if his sword is ridiculously big.

BERSERK 1 sample panel

Ring 1Ring 1 by Hiroshi Takahashi and Misao Inagaki (Dark Horse • 304 pages • $14.95)
I was going to write more about this, but Bill Sherman beat me to it with his excellent review.  I'll just quickly summarize what I see as the two main failings of this book:
(1) It's a movie adaptation, in the worst sense of that tradition.  If you've seen The Ring (either the Japanese original or the American remake) you're already familiar with the basic storyline, and this manga only seems concerned about hitting the basic plot points ("Yep, now she'll watch the tape.  Yep, now her ex-husband will watch the tape.  Yep, now her kid will watch the tape...."); it offers nothing new or different to distinguish it as a work worth reading in its own right. 

(2) The art in the manga simply isn't scary, which means that it works against the story it's trying to serve.  The art isn't horrible in it's own right, but it's simply mismatched for the material:  The open art fails to establish a sense of dread or unease--it's simply too comforting and relaxed for a horror story.  Example:

Ring sample page

So the protagonist sees...what?  A tiny, faceless doll?  How is that frightening?  And then when she turns, the room appears bright and open.  How is this disturbing or unnerving?  Imagine if Junji Ito had illustrated this scene and you can begin to appreciate just how spectacularly Inagaki's art fails.

Battle Royale 3Battle Royale 3 by Koshun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi with English adaptation by Keith Giffen  (Tokyopop • 224 pages • $9.99)

Geez, it's like a completely different comic suddenly.  Some possible explanations for my shift in feelings regarding this series:
Once again, thanks to the perils of pre-ordering, I'm locked into the next two volumes of a series I suddenly have no interest in.  My only hope is that Tokyopop continues to delay this book, thus leading to resolicitations, thus giving me an opportunity to bail.

Buddha 1Buddha 1 by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical, Inc. • 400 pages • $24.95)

This really surprised me.  So many reviewers I respect raved about this, I really expected to enjoy it.  I suppose part of my disappointment can be chalked up to "the backlash effect" (most recently seen with Blankets), but I swear I'm not just trying to be contrary:  I really thought Buddha was a substandard work, and I'm left wondering why everyone else seems to love it.  I'm fine leaving it at "I don't get it," but I figure I may as well lay out my two main complaints, if only to offer an alternate opinion:

The Art.  What constitutes "good" comic art is an area where differences in opinion have been known to get heated, so I'll do my best not to slip into objective-sounding pronouncements about Osamu Tezuka's art.  With the comics blogosphere now seeming to have come down from DEFCON 1, I'm wary about setting things off again, so please let me make this very clear:  WHAT FOLLOWS IS ONLY MY OPINION.  Anyway, I think my complaint with the art in Buddha resembles the problem I had with the art in The Ring:  It just doesn't seem to fit the material.   I'm not opposed to Tezuka's style per se, but it doesn't seem to work with the historical setting, especially those scenes that call for a less cheery approach (such as depictions of extreme poverty or class stratification).  I don't feel like I'm reading about history (or a story based loosely on historical events); I feel like I'm reading a Disney comic that decided to use historical characters to give the story gravitas.  (And, yes, I'm aware of the influence Disney had on Tezuka.)

Aside from matters of style, which obviously involve issues of taste, I also have problems with some of the mechanics of Tezuka's art.  In this sequence, for example, Tezuka breaks the 180-degree rule, and there seems to be no reason for composing the scene this way:

Sample page from BUDDHA #1

If Tezuka had drawn the page with the characters lining up on the same side consistently, it would have been much easier to follow the flow of events.  (Interestingly, the top portion of this sequence was featured in Greg McElhatton's review of Buddha, but he omitted the page's final panel.)

The Parable.  Toward the end of the book, a monk is punished for failing to grasp the full meaning of a parable--the Riddle of the Self-Sacrificing Rabbit.  In the tale, a monk (Master Goshala) traversing a difficult mountain pass collapses from hunger and fatigue.  Three animals come across the monk:  A bear, a fox, and a rabbit.  Each creature goes off in search of something for the monk to eat.  The bear returns with a pile of fish he caught in a nearby stream.  The fox returns with some berries that he found by digging in the snow.  But the  rabbit returns empty-handed (empty-pawed?)  Meanwhile, the monk has revived, and now builds himself a fire, presumably to prepare the fish.  Once the fire is burning, however, the rabbit suddenly throws himself onto the flames, sacrificing himself so that the monk may eat.

So what is the point of the tale?  In the beginning of the book, the other monks appear bewildered by the tale.  One monk even objects that the story cannot be true.  The monks are reassured by a different master (Master Asita) that the tale is true, for it was told to him by his master, none other than Goshala himself!  Furthermore, Asita tells his pupils that "there are but few who can solve the riddle; he who can has the power to become a god, or ruler of the world."

At one point in the story, yet another monk (Naradatta) thinks that he has come to understand the riddle when he witnesses the selfless sacrifice of another character:
Master Asita!!  O teacher!  I grasp the meaning of your tale!  Master Asita!  This child has shown me the way!  Until now, I've only considered the human world.  That is why I could not understand why a rabbit sacrificed itself to save a human... In nature, humans and beasts, even snakes, are all kin.  Helping each other is the law of the living.
Later on, however, Naradatta is reprimanded by Master Asita for sacrificing several animals to save one human:
To save just one human, you mindlessly harnessed numerous beasts to an impossible task...and killed them one by one!  The beasts you bent to your purpose all suffered greatly and died cruelly!  You believe that human lives are sacrosanct while animal lives are worthless?! .... Life is sacred whether or not it is human!
OK, fine.  All life is sacred.  That still doesn't explain why the rabbit was justified in immolating itself simply to feed Master Goshala in the original tale, especially since the bear and the fox had already found food for the monk.  Maybe the rabbit should have held off a bit to see if the food they had found was enough for the monk before committing suicide.  And even if the monk had needed more food, why should the rabbit die to save the monk if all life is sacred?  The riddle seems structured to lead to the conclusion that human life is more valuable than other life, so I'd say Naradatta learned the lesson of the parable perfectly well.

It may seem as though I'm nitpicking on this point, but the Riddle of the Self-Sacrificing Rabbit is obviously supposed to be of central importance in the narrative, so it's a little annoying that it isn't treated consistently.  Or perhaps I just don't get the riddle, either.  I have been known to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to religion.

So there you have it:  Five whole manga I wasn't crazy about.  Tune in next week when I suddenly develop an appreciation for the writing of Brian Michael Bendis and the art of Rob Liefeld.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
For those who might think I'm a superhero-hater (or at least too negative about mainstream comics most of the time), here's some unrestrained enthusiasm for a spandex 'n' capes book on my part:
I now await ADD's derision.  (If being excited for THE MOTH doesn't strike you as grounds for mockery, remember that The Power Company was one of my favorite books in 2002.)
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Chris Weston has also been talking about his and pitches for a "Bizarro" book.

"I really want to work with Tom Peyer next, and together we pitched a 'Bizarro Vs. Brainiac' mini-series to DC, but it got rejected. Think about it, the DCU's dumbest character fights the cleverest... it would have been great! Here's my character design for Bizarro, whose skin I saw as being chrystalline and transparent."

"The plan was to follow that up with "World's Freakiest: Bizarro-Superman teams up with Man-Bat" which Grant Morrison wanted to write. Grant and I even got Bizarro's personal blessing when we summoned him up in a shamanic moment during last summer's San Diego convention. But it's not to be! Apparently, DC have 'other plans' for the character... whatever they are. They won't be as good as ours. All together now: aaaaah.....


  Alan David Doane, Evil Genius
Apparently ADD realized the easiest way to destroy the entire Comics Blogoshpere was by getting it to self-destruct in an argument over what qualifies as "good" superhero comic book cover art.  You fools!  Don't you see that's what he wants??  Can't we find something that we all agree on?  Need... superheroes... to save us with dramatic POWER OF LOVE ending!!
  Reviews I Agree With
Once again, too lazy to do my own comic reviews, so here are some good reviews I've run across recently:

Greg McElhatton on Drawn & Quarterly Showcase Book One:  Greg reviews the latest anthology from Drawn & Quarterly.  I've read it, and I think I basically agree with Greg's final thoughts on the book:  "Does Drawn & Quarterly Showcase Book One succeed in showcasing two up-and-coming comic creators? Very much so. After reading this book you'll definitely want to buy more comics from Huizenga sight unseen, and certainly want to see more of Robel's works as well."  I qualify my agreement because Greg may be a little more enthusiastic about wanting to see Robel's future work than I am.  I think Greg's earlier statement about Robel's piece was fitting:  "It hammers its points home a little too much, though, and what could have been a powerful shorter story seems to overstay its welcome by just a little too much."  I definitely agree that Kevin Huizenga's three-chapter tale is a winner, though:  Alternately mundane and mystical, it's an engaging, powerfully-presented story.

Christopher Butcher on Naruto vol. 2:  I like this so much I'm just going to reproduce the whole bit:
Meanwhile, back at ENERGY! Along with its fellow Shonen JUMP serialized title ONE PIECE, NARUTO is leading the way in the high-energy-comics sweepstakes! Every illustration and emotion leaps off the page, making for some bloody visceral comics reading. It’s interesting to compare-and-contrast with North American Comics’ best-selling “High Energy” title, THE ULTIMATES. Last week’s ULTIMATES issue featured Thunder Gods tearing space ships out of the sky, lightning strikes and robots and all that. Very pretty, very BIG stuff. But it was all… It was very much as if you were looking at the motion as a series of stills from a movie. Lovely, impressive, even dynamic to a certain degree, but it was only screen-captures of what must be a hell of a movie. Something like NARUTO or ONE PIECE, the characters dance across the page. There’s speed and motion and energy, you’re watching the movie, you’re playing the videogame, you ARE the protagonist, that barrier is removed. It’s a hell of a big difference and I think it’s phenomenal, and I think that’s one of the primary reasons that manga’s rising-popularity in North America is so popular. We’ve got big-budget-blockbuster movies already, we don’t need to see single-frames from them blown up and turned into a comic. What we need is comics that use being comics to their full advantage, and it seems the vast majority of the books delivering on that are coming to us from overseas.
I felt the same way when I read Akira not too long ago:  This was how to convey kinetic, high-energy action.  Naruto, while not one of my favorite serials from Shonen Jump, definitely succeeds in capturing a similar sense of motion.

(Aside:  In his comments on Walking Dead, Chris comments that he can't think of any other zombie comics out there to exploit the untapped SURVIVAL HORROR market.  Here are some recent ones that came to mind:  Lone, Goon, and several recent issues of Metal Hurlant.)

Chad Boudreau on Club 9 vol. 1:  In reviewing Club 9, one of my favorite manga, Chad captures part of what I think makes this series so appealing (at least from my heterosexual perspective):
The women of Club 9 have real-life sensuality to them, something that is missing in a lot of comics, whether North American or Japanese....The women that work in the club are not your stereotypical manga women. Sure, they have the wide eyes but these women are pleasantly plump and curvaceous, not muscled, long-legged and disproportionately endowed in boobs.
No wonder I'm so drawn to this manga:  I'm being subtly seduced by the charming, non-conventional beauty of Makoto Kobayashi's characters!

Closing Thoughts:  It should be obvious, but I'll come right out and say it just in case there was any doubt.  Because I agree with these reviewers, they are therefore RIGHT.  QED.
  The Objectiveness of My Opinion
Just getting caught up on blog-reading and noticed the escalating dispute between Alan David Doane and Laura Gjovaag.  ADD has spurred a lot of discussion by nominating this Seth cover as "the best superhero cover of the last decade."  While others have joined in to wonder just what criteria ADD is using in order to reach this assessment (nostalgia? simplicity? staticness?), Laura seems to be the most flummoxed by ADD's pick, writing that ADD must be "pulling people's leg" (I like the thought of many people sharing one collective leg--a leg at peace until ADD started tugging on it).

What interests me most in this ongoing argument is that both sides seem to think their opinions are objective truth, yet neither offers any support for his or her position.  Why does ADD think Seth's superhero covers are even worth looking at, given that he also pronounces "superheroes are dead"? No idea!  Why does Laura think that portraits of Aquaman surrounded by small fish are "tons better at being superhero covers" than group shots of the X-Men or JSA?  Beats me!  Neither side has seen fit to explain the criteria behind his or her evaluation.

I know it's natural to lapse into objective speak when writing about art or entertainment.  I'm sure I do it too (or at least I've been trying to, since I'm told my overly qualified subjective statements are too passive and boring), but it'd be nice to see some reasoning behind those opinions.  Laura, if you simply assert that your picks are obviously better than ADD's, how are you being any less snobby or dismissive than ADD?

Plus, you're both wrong anyway.  This is the best superhero cover of the past decade:


Dude!  Look at the size of that gun!!  AWESOME!!

EDIT:  Damn.  Just after I posted this, I noticed that ADD did explain why he thinks the Seth cover is worthy of praise in this entry from 12/6:
Seth's subtle, post-iconic treatment captures the lost innocence of the Silver Age with grace and an appealing sentimentality, being far kinder to the characters and their fans than anyone who has been officially charged with maintaining the franchise in the past 15 years or so.
My apologies to ADD for missing this.  I guess he is willing to back up opinions no one else agrees with.  That's what I get for slacking off on my weekend blog reading.  (I'm now off to re-read Laura's blog, where I fully expect to find a passage explaining how the Aquaman portrait covers grab readers' attention by causing them to wonder, "Wha--?  How can that man be surrounded by fish??  And why does he look so...regal?  It's almost as if he were King of the Seas or something...")
  Interview Reviews: CBA and Back Issue
Last week Kevin Melrose lamented the sad state of online interviews.  I was thinking about his complaints as I read two new(ish) comic magazines, Back Issue and Comic Book ArtistBack Issue is a new magazine from TwoMorrows Publishing--the first issue just hit stands a couple weeks ago.  Comic Book Artist, on the other hand, has a bit more history to it:  Originally published by TwoMorrows, the magazine has now moved over to Top Shelf.  The second issue of the second volume also came out in November.

Back Issue #1
Back Issue #1 • TwoMorrows Publishing • $5.95 • B&W • 96 Pages
Interviews are featured prominently in both magazines.  CBA, in particular, devotes most of its space to interviews:  Issue #2 features six interviews of varying length (Julie Schwartz, Mike Allred, Rags Morales, Frank Cho, J.J. Sedelmaier, and Mike Friedrich).  Back Issue only features one interview, but it constitutes nearly half of the issue.  Plus, it's an interview with a twist:  Titled "Pro2Pro," the format features "either an exchange between two (or more) comics creators with a moderator, or a pro interviewing a pro, each talking about their [sic] respective work."  This issue, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez are interviewed by Andy Mangels about their Marvel and DC work during the 70s and 80s.

While the interviews in both mags are better (or at least more in-depth) than the typical Pulse puff piece, they still have their flaws.  "Pro2Pro" interviews seem intrinsically doomed by their format:  How many creators are going to speak freely when in the presence of their peers?  The Wolfman-Pérez piece quickly devolves into fawning back-patting (Pérez himself even refers to the mutual admiration society feel of the interview at one point).  Moderator Andy Mangels doesn't help matters by lobbing out softballs like "[Y]our book [New Teen Titans] is one where fans can remember issue numbers and stories with uncanny accuracy."

CBA relies on the more traditional interview format of one interviewer and one interviewee, but even here interviews aren't without problems.  The Mike Allred interview is derailed at several points by the interviewer's attempts at humor.  While I can appreciate that the interviewer was perhaps going for a more conversational tone, I found the constant use of bracketed "stage directions" (e.g., [laughs], [laughter], [make rimshot noise]) annoying.  It probably would have been less distracting had CBA just let the transcript stand on its own without all the unnecessary cues littering the text.

Comic Book Artist v2 #2
Comic Book Artist vol. 2 #2 • Top Shelf • $7.50 • B&W • 112 Pages (16 in color)
Ultimately, the biggest problem facing each magazine is timeliness.  Several interviews are marred by hopelessly outdated material.  In the Mike Allred interview, Allred still refers to Princess Diana being part of the X-Statix team in the "Di Another Day" storyline.  There is an editorial note that "[s]ince this interview was conducted in early July, Marvel has decided to omit Princess Di from the storyline," but no follow-up to see how Allred feels about the changes to the subversive storyline he had been so excited to work on.  Without such a follow-up, the piece feels four to five months old, which is ancient in this wired age.

Which makes me wonder:  What is the lead time for this magazine?  Are all interviews going to be done four to five months in advance?  I don't want to appear insensitive--the editor indicates that part of the reason for the extreme lateness of CBA #2 was "an extended, six-week bout of acute, chronic bronchitis"--but I think a magazine covering the comic industry is going to face problems if it feels like old news when it finally hits shops.  Especially in this age of immediate news on the Internet, print mags need to be faster if they're going to compete with free websites.  (Although sometimes the lag time leads to unintentional humor:  In their "Pro2Pro" both Wolfman and Pérez go on and on about how returning to Teen Titans--especially to complete the unfinished Games GN--would be "anti-climactic" and "reliving past glories."  'Nuff said.)

Aside from these limitations, each magazine has strengths that will likely appeal to different audiences.  First and foremost, what will probably attract most fans is the artwork:  Each mag offers plenty of pictures to look at.  I found that CBA was stronger in this area:  In addition to having better production values overall, CBA also includes a 16-page color section.  CBA also has a much stronger design, with crisp, easy-to-read layouts; pleasing design elements; and a sharp-looking perfect bound format.  Back Issue, on the other hand, looks much more amateurish:  Artwork is tilted for no reason; images are faintly repeated behind text, making it difficult to read at times; and a lot of space is simply left blank, causing the book to feel padded.  Surprisingly, publisher John Morrows reveals that the emptiness was intentional:
[W]e needed a designer to break new ground with the mag's look.  My old college pal Robert Clark has been after me to involve him in a TwoMorrows publication for a long time, and this was the perfect place for his cutting-edge design sensibilities.  He's a master at using white space to give the eye a resting place, perfectly complementing Michael's silky-smooth text.
A master at using white space?  I suppose, in the way that a high school student desperate to meet the minimum page requirement is a master at using white space.  (And even with all those empty areas, Back Issue was still four pages shy of its advertised 100-page length.)  Here are sample pages from Back Issue (Attn. Kevin Melrose:  Features Games artwork you may not have seen yet!) and CBA so readers can see what I'm talking about.  (The bad crop job on the CBA sample is my fault:  I couldn't get very deep into the gutter due to the perfect bound format of CBA.)

Beyond aesthetic considerations, each publication has a distinctive editorial feel.  With its title, Back Issue pretty much wears its editorial vision on its sleeve:  This magazine is dedicated to covering the past glory of comic books.  If, like publisher John Morrows, you feel that "[t]he 1970s-1980s still have a lot of great material to be documented," then Back Issue is the mag for you.  In addition to the aforementioned "Pro2Pro" feature, Back Issue will also feature the following departments:  The Greatest Stories Never Told (looks at comics which never saw print); Back In Print (reviews of recently released reprint volumes); and Beyond Capes ("examinations of non-superhero comics or comic-book trends").  In the first issue, Beyond Capes focused on Tarzan--both the DC and Marvel versions.  (Although to be fair, "DC vs. Marvel" was the theme of the first issue, and next issue promises to be less "Big Two"-centric, with a spotlight on Comico.)

The focus of CBA can also be found in its title:  Whereas Back Issue seems more excited about the characters and companies of yore, CBA seems more focused on the creator--the comic book artist.  As CBA editor Jon B. Cooke put it in his editorial from the Top Shelf debut:
Y'see, it's fundamental in the philosophy of Comic Book Artist that it is NOT about things; it's about people.  While we may have been using hyperbolic subtitle, "Celebrating the Lives and Work of the Great Cartoonists, Writers & Editors," I always preferred the feistier--and more correct--banner "Price Guide NEVER Included," but only used it once or twice.  What me, a wuss?

But no, I've always been adamant--and hardly shy about expressing my contempt--about the things I hate in this business.  I hate the coveting, selfishness, greed, speculation and slabbing coming hand-in-hand with the collecting bug.  I despise the adoration of the hero (i.e., the "property") above respect for the creator of said character.

Do the titles of the mags matter?  Are they really indicative of each mag's approach to its content?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps Cooke's rant is all a bit of after-the-fact bluster and posturing.  Whatever the case may be, it's probably more instructive to look at the end results and make one's judgments based on actual content.  With that in mind, I have to be impressed with a magazine that can give me a deeper appreciation of a "shallow" subject such as Frank Cho.  I'll be even more impressed if CBA can succeed in humanizing unlikeable interviewees  such as John Byrne, who will be featured in CBA #3.  Then again, I probably shouldn't set unrealistic expectations for the magazine.

UPDATE:  Graeme McMillan pointed out in the comments section that the contents of CBA #3 have been changed from what was originally announced in the back of CBA #2:  The John Byrne interview has been postponed til issue #4, with #3 now featuring a Darwyn Cooke interview (presumably rescheduled to better coincide with the release of Cooke's DC series New Frontier).  So anyone wanting to see if John Byrne has it in him to be lovable in an interview now has to wait a little longer.


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