Sunday, April 11, 2004

Notable Links for 04/12

Well, did everybody have a happy Easter? Um, did you actually know it was Easter? If you're not Church-going folk, it's easy to overlook these things.

So, if you care, here's about the cutest Easter-related link you're likely to see. Don't blame me if you find it annoying.

Anyway, was that a tournament or what? I've been rooting for Phil to win himself a Major for years now, and for him to do it in Augusta, under such spectacular circumstances... wow. It reminds me why I love watching golf so much. Don't play it, but I watch it. Don't really pay attention to any other sport, either, but I do love me the golf.

* Well, I'll be damned. The rumors were true - "Powers" and "Kabuki" have jumped the good ship Image and have made their way to Marvel. Of course, they're not calling it Epic anymore, because in all honesty they'd be idiots to do that. Epic has twenty-five years' worth of baggage that they don't want to have to carry. It's called Icon - which I guess is as good a name as any. Perhaps not as good a name as "Captain Joey's Fun Time Four-Color Extravaganza," but what is? Anyway, read all about the sense-shattering revelations, including comments from all the major players, here (courtesy of Newsarama), here (courtesy of Comic Book Resources), or here (courtesy of The Pulse). It's all essentially the same story, but I don't want to leave anyone out. Meanwhile, Sean T. Collins has some of the best commentary on the announcement here.

In any event, someone really should point out to them that Icon is hardly the first time Marvel has offered complete creator ownership - last I looked, "Groo," "Elfquest," "Moonshadow," and "The Airtight Garage" were all still owned by Aragones, WaRP, Dematteis & Muth and Mobius, respectively. Hell, "Groo" has practically had more publishers than Alan Moore has hairs on his head.

But I am not going to be one of those who predicts Icon's quick demise. The fact is, Marvel is in the business of making money, and they wouldn't risk something like this so soon after the Epic V.2 fiasco if there wasn't an ironclad financial reasons for doing so. If they do it right, it'll work - and I'll be surprised if "Powers" doesn't at least double its' orders. That's a pretty cynical thing to say, I know, but that's the sorry state of this industry right now. Bendis and Mack aren't dumb.

* Also courtesy of the Pulse, we have confirmation of long-standing allegations made by "Dirty" Danny Hellman over at the Comicon boards that a recently terminated employee was fired for embezzlement. (The original allegation was made here.) Other than confirmation by Journal editor Dirk Deppey that the ex-employee in question was not Milo George, the alleged embezzler's identity remains unknown. Hmmm. Don't know what to think of this one - is it news or is it private? Well, that's a tough call. I imagine the answer to this question can only be found in the coming weeks - is anyone going to rise to the challenge and investigate this story? If not, we have no-one's word on the issue but Fantagraphics employees. Just on the surface of it there doesn't look to be much of a story - someone steals, they get caught and fired. Happens in business all over the country every day. But until and unless we know how much was stolen and by whom, it's basically a non-issue - empty speculation. It's not the Journal's job to open up potential litigation for the parent company (even though they've done that more than a few times over the years), so I imagine they won't write about it until the legal precedings are over and done, if ever.

Would we like to know what happened? Yes, the human desire for gossip is strong and sometimes overpowers common sense. But... do we need to know? Unless this impacts or has impacted parties outside of Fanta, I don't think so. But that's just my opinion, and I am a frequent contributor to the Journal and by extension a freelance Fantagraphics employee ('cause Gary Groth signs my checks!), so take that as you will.

* "For those who till now could only lust after the latest comic books brought in by “foreign” friends or cousins — be it the superheroes or funnies like MAD — can take a look around and see the local scene looking far brighter and better now. In the recent past, new titles from across popular labels such as DC and Marvel have been available at the neighbourhood newspaper and magazine shop every month, and often as soon as they are published abroad. All thanks to a small company quietly working away in its offices in Bangalore. Gotham Comics, a US-based company, has done a little more than revolutionise the Indian comics market, offering affordable comic books without compromising on production quality." Read more here, courtesy of the Calcutta Telegraph.

* "The increasing popularity of computer-generated animation hasn't erased the demand for animators skilled in the art of hand-drawn images. There are still jobs for recruits as nimble with a Macintosh as they are with a pencil. To prepare students for computer-driven work and keep them rooted in the traditional world of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' and 'Beauty and the Beast,' colleges are making sure they stay sharp in both techniques." Read more here, courtesy of the LA Daily News.

* Remember that Seth interview I linked to last week, from the Toronto Eye? Well, if you want to read an uncut transcript of that discussion, this is your lucky day. Link courtesy of The Cultural Gutter, via Sequential.

* Comic World News has a chat with David Yurkovich here, and has a look at Alternative Comics' output here.

* "Comic books are like wine. You can pick up a bottle at your local grocery store and trade expertise for price and convenience, or you can go to a wine or liquor store and become an oenophile. Drinkers of wine fall into three categories: those who like a glass of wine every now and then but don't really care about vintage, those who drink it socially and decide to cultivate their knowledge without being obsessive, and those who are introduced to fine wine by an oenophile and are seduced into the hobby." Torsten Adair speaks out on the recent retailer shuffles here, courtesy of ICV2.

* Over at Ninth Art, Alasdair Watson takes a look at the "baffling" phenomenon of talented indie creators abandoning their indie dreams to go play in the Big Two's sandboxes as soon as they possibly can here. It's just a fact of life - the American comics industry is a cesspool of stunted ambition. This surprises anyone? (Of course, this is not to say that I wouldn't write for either of the Big Two in a heartbeat, because I would, and anyone who isn't independently wealthy who tells you otherwise is L-Y-I-N-G...)

* Wow. The orders for "Conan" #4 were bigger than the orders for issue #1. That's, um, amazing. It's also similarly amazing - albeit in a depressing way - that that's so amazing to begin with. What an industry! Read more here, courtesy of ICV2.

* The always-interesting (yes, even when he's writing about all those stupid X-books) Paul O'Brien delivers about the best postmortem of the "American Power" fiasco that I have yet seen here, courtesy of Ninth Art.

* "Public Square Books has joined forces with Norma Editorial of Spain to bring a diverse collection of Spanish Language Graphic Novels to American shores for the first time. Public Square will release the first titles to major retailers and wholesalers nationwide in May 2004. Ten to fifteen new selections will follow each month. The publishing program features a wide assortment of books for children, young adults, andmature audiences. Book buyers will be able to choose from many different genres-- from sci-fi to crime noir, anime to autobiography. Monthly selections also include Spanish language versions of acclaimed and popular American series such as Hellboy and Sin City, previously unavailable in the United States... The capacity of popular comics to expand into other markets, such as the film and gaming industries, in combination with an explosion of fanzines on the world wide web, has created an unprecedented demand for graphic novels in bookstores today. Public Square and Norma Editorial seek to further this trend by reaching out to an under-served U.S. Hispanic readership." Read more here. (Link courtesy of Artbomb.)

* Courtesy of the Journal board, we have news that veteran cartoonist Carol Lay is in dire financial trouble and is having a fire - er - divorce sale over at her web site (and her store is here). She says it's 20% off everything. If I had some dough, I'd be all over that, because she has long been one of my favorites... plus I have had relatives in such dire straits, so I definitely feel her pain. As it is, I am poor, but I can certainly beseech you to go give her a helping hand, can't I?

* Courtesy of Shawn Fumo at Worlds Within Worlds, we have news of Dark Horse Comics' recent acquisition: editor Carl Horn. Read about it here, courtesy of Anime News Network.

* "It doesn't sound all that exciting: another college student writing about Homer's odyssey - until you realize this trip ends not with Penelope in Ithaca, but with Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart. Credit Steven Keslowitz, a Brooklyn College sophomore who turned his Sunday night obsession with 'The Simpsons' into a scholarly study of the Springfield scene, ruminating on subjects from Bart's bad boy persona to Marge's towering 'do." Read more here, courtesy of the Ocala Star-Banner (link via Thought Balloons).

* "You’d have had to be watching closely to see Gettosake’s rise over the past few years. This year, however, you’d be hard-pressed to miss them. A studio specializing in 'urban style animation, comics and illustration,' Gettosake is made up of three brothers, Jeremy, Maurice and Robert Love. 'We’re a bunch of self taught artists and animators, who decided to put our talent to good use five years ago,' Jeremy told Newsarama. 'We were frustrated with the lack of diversity in mainstream comics and animation at the time so instead of griping, we decided to do something about it. It's been a long road, but I think we are only just now ‘Ready for our close up.’ We actually started out on the film/tv side moreso than comics. It was only last year when we took the plunge into this crazy industry. Now that we're here we plan on staying for a while.'" Read more here, courtesy of Newsarama.

* Johanna Draper Carlson has updated her Comics Worth Reading site with a slew of new reviews. Ms. Carlson takes a close look at Myatt Murphy & Scott Dalrymple's "Fade From Blue," has another go at the latest issue of Tom Beland's "True Story, Swear To God," in addition to reviews of various and sundry books from DC, Image and a few indies for good measure.

Flip over to her Image reviews to read her take on "PVP" #6 - the issue that reprints the infamous "Grafimaximo" sequence. I'm tempted to just reprint the whol critique since its so spot-on, but I will refrain and merely reprint this key passage:

"I shouldn't be surprised that he suspects criticism of his work must be a personal attack, since that's what he's dishing out under the guise of parody. When that's all someone's capable of in terms of criticism, that's the filter through which they view responses as well."

Great, great stuff. I really have to wonder why someone like James Kochalka felt the need to legitimize this jackass by giving him a cover. Oh well.

* Also courtesy of Ms. Carlson, we have Matt Madden's web site. I don't know if you've ever been there, but I found it pretty interesting myself.

* "In cosplay, short for costume play, fans dress up as their favourite characters from Japanese animation (anime), Hong Kong comics, video games and even Hollywood movies. They parade around in their fancy costumes and have their pictures taken. This activity, which started in Japan more than 10 years ago, has attracted many loyal enthusiasts in Singapore, Hong Kong and even the United States." See, where I come from we call that LAME. I remember when I lived in Northern CA and every Friday the vampire/goth kids used to run around the Ashland park and play their live-action "Vampire" games, and it just seems so... well, did I already say lame? Sigh. Read about it here, courtesy of the Straits Times.

* Hokey Smokes, Bullwinkle! Jim Henley actually does some comics blogging! He's got some nice capsule reviews of the latesy "Queen & Country" volume, in addition to the latest issues of "My Faith in Frankie," "Batman: Death And The Maidens," and a few others.

* The San Francisco Chronicle reviews two new DC/Vertigo OGN's - "Lovecraft" and "It's A Bird..." here.

* Ninth Art takes a look back at "Marvels" here - man, has it really been ten years already? I feel old.

* MIT takes a gander at the recent "X-Statix" storyline, "Back From The Dead," here - and somehow isn't horribly disgusted.

* Shawn Fumo tries out Hellboy here. Does he like it? Stay tuned!

* Rick at Eat More People writes some reviews here, of comics such as "Batman," "Hellblazer," and "Demo."

* Johnny Bacardi continues the Blogosphere-wide focus on AiT/Planet Lar here, with looks at "Last of the Independents," 'Codeflesh," and the "Couriers" trilogy. Pop Culture Gadabout takes a look at that selfsame "Couriers" triology here.


You know, it just occurred to me that I don't want to do this anymore. Every day I sit here and spend anywhere from 4-8 hours every night putting together all these links... and it has occurred to me that I don't need to do this anymore. I don't get paid to do this. There's all sorts of wonderful people out there who post the news, to the point where this job has become filtering through all the other blogs to find all of their news. But really, I don't have to do that for you anymore.

When Dirk Deppey quit doing Journalista - er, put it on hiatus - I stepped in to start doing this daily linkblogging for a number of reasons. First and foremost: I felt that Journalista delivered an important public service to the comics world by assembling all the interesting and noteworthy material of the day - not just whomever is inking "Green Lantern" this month. He was not the first comics blogger but he was perhaps the best, and his example showed me that this whole thing isn't just a lark, that it isn't just a fan forum, it's an actual, living breathing community that needed to start acting in a responsible and conscientious manner. This means taking the plight of international cartoonists seriously, this means taking the defense of our own (for us Americans) First Amendment seriously - it means being aware of good work both in and outside the mainstream (for those more inclined to spandex), and being open to work both in and outside the indie spectrum (for those more inclined to the indie).

I believe very firmly in the stated goals of the Comics Journal as a guiding principle for my appreciation to the comics medium. Reading my first issue of the Journal changed my life, considering what a big part of my life comics were and remain. To this day, there is no excitement equal to getting a brand new issue of the Journal in the mail - there's always the possibility that there will be something inside that will totally uproot every established notion you've ever cherished about the industry and the artform. I refuse to approach comics in anything other than a rigorously critical but absolutely open-minded fashion. My prejudices exist to be demolished.

And I must reiterate: the Comics Blogosphere doesn't need me to do this anymore. Truth be told, I don't even know if we still need Journalista. The Blogosphere, aided primarily by this site here, has come into its own and reached something of a critical mass these past few months. More people are taking blogging more seriously, and they are blogging about a more varied and diverse set of issues than ever before. It's gotten to the point where the blogosphere is recognized as a legitimate, albeit proportionately small, force within the industry - or why else would Larry Young be giving away thousands of dollars worth of books in an attempt to garner some good word-of-mouth on the internet?

So, the long and short of it is: The Hurting is not going to be spending 4-8 hours every night doing this for free anymore. I just don't want to do it, plain and simple. I am adequately satisfied that I can do it - it was a big challenge and I think I met it pretty well. But in all seriousness, I've achieved my goals. The Blogosphere has reached the point where my not linkblogging is hardly going to make a difference for good or evil - it would be the height of egotism to say anything different. I've gotten my name out there a fair bit - I think it's fair to say that more people know who I am now than when I began. Hopefully I'll be able to capitalize on this and continue to gain momentum in my real job, that is, writing. And one of the biggest reasons I'm pulling the plug on the exhaustive linking is that I just don't have any time to do the real writing anymore. That's my job, even if I don't get paid too well for that, either. Plain and simple, I appreciate the positive feedback, but this isn't my job, and it's starting to take a toll on the quality of my life.

I'm not going to stop blogging. Travels With Larry will continue for the foreseeable future - I've still got a lot of AiT/Planet Lar books to wade through. Hopefully I will continue to receive books from people and publishers who want to receive a fair and balanced appraisal of their work (that wasn't a satirical jab at the Fox network, BTW, just a coincidence). I will continue to comment on whatever strikes my fancy. But I don't need - don't want - don't have to do all of this anymore, so I'm not going to.

Simple as that. Thanks for your patronage. If you like what I've done, there's a tip jar at the top.

Send me your thoughts, people.

Travels With Larry Part IV

I really wish I could say that “Abel” was a better book. It’s clearly a deeply felt work on the part or both creators, but it never achieves the artistic critical mass that separates the mediocre and the good.

There’s a lot going on here – perhaps too much for a single graphic novel of roughly 100 pages. It starts with a dead dog and ends with a lynching. In between we have rape, murder, slavery, incest and certain sociopathic tendencies. “Abel” is an unremittingly grim book, the kind of book that leaves you exhausted when you’re done. But it’s not the good kind of exhaustion, the buzz that you get from an exhilarating fictional experience, it’s merely the low buzzing fatigue of abuse.

William Harms has a keen grasp of the distended rhythms of life in the rural Midwest. None of the incidents in the story ring particularly false, but the narrative nevertheless staggers. The protagonist, twelve-year old John, is remarkably unsympathetic considering the repeated tragedies visited on him. It’s hard to be a sensitive boy growing up in harsh farm country, that much is understood. But it’s hard to sympathize with someone who seems to possess a clear understanding of good and evil but who fails to act according to his conscience, only according to his fear.

John has the chance to stand up and do the right thing twice in the course of the story. He doesn’t, not in the beginning when the dog is murdered and not at the end when his brother (accompanied by friends) rapes and murders a mentally retarded girl, and a local Chinese immigrant is lynched for the crime. Of course, his brother Philip is a budding sociopath, and of course, John is the only person who is fully aware of the length and breadth of his depredations. To belabor the biblical metaphor, Philip’s evil is the cross John has to bear.

I’ve received enough rejection letters to know that editors hate passive protagonists, and there’s a good reason for this: unless you’re Ralph Ellison, the reader wants to reach into the book and slap them. Life is depressing, yes, but art that merely recreates the surface sheen of misery that blankets existence, without offering any insight into the depths of feeling that motivates people to continue living, is callow and juvenile. People go on with their lives despite the constant presence of tragedy, and it is this phenomenon that captivates human nature, not the mere recitation of tragedy itself.

Mark Bloodworth is a perfectly competent artist, clearly capable but equally unprepared for the challenges of working in black and white (or, as is the case of “Abel,” dark sepia and white). He uses too many lines and has an uncertain grasp of the physical form. His faces and legs are sometimes vague and insubstantial. The kind of tightly rendered ink-brush hatching that Bloodworth employs without fail seems a cranky holdover from the mid-90’s, when dozens of comic book artists tried unsuccessfully to adopt the busy sheen of Image’s trademark textures. It usually doesn’t work in black and white, and it doesn’t work here. The inconsistencies of the line weight are equally distracting. Oddly, Bloodworth has a much keener grasp on the intricacies of architecture and landscaping – the type of details which usually elude comic book artists.

It would be wrong to say that “Abel” is a bad book. It definitely shows promise on a number of levels.. Ultimately, it’s just not a significant enough narrative to be truly disappointing. It’s a trifle. I look forward to reading anything either Harms or Bloodworth attempt from here on out. These creators will either build on the experience of producing it and make their next effort better, or not. The choice is theirs to make.

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