Friday, April 02, 2004

Notbale Links for 04/02

Hope everyone enjoyed the "April Fools" day content yesterday. Unlike many of my fellow bloggers, I didn't post a practical joke as such, but I hope everyone got a kick out of seeing an in-depth report on "Secret Wars II", of all things! Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag at Bloggity-Blog-Blog Blog does a pretty good job of highlighting all the jokes across the blogosphere here - but come on, doesn't twenty typed pages on "Secret Wars II" count as a joke?

I even seem to have inspired some inter-Blogosphere lovin' of my own. Mark Hale, owner & proprietor of Chaos Monkey's Abysmal Pit, was so inspired by my weirdo nostalgia that he was inspired to alter one of those covers I posted yesterday. It's funny, it really is. Maybe I would have showed some more of what actually went on inside those wacky books if I had had the opportunity - there are some real winners - but most of my comics are actually in storage in California. I wrote that whole thing from memory - pretty pathetic, no?

On a more disturbing note, it seems as if my reading comprehension skills are also abysmal. The last few days there has been some discussion over the future of indie distributor Cold Cut in the wake of Tokyopop's exclusivity deal with Diamond. Well, there was some misunderstanding whether or not this was actually bad for Cold Cut, and whether or not this would affect the back-end distribution in which Cold Cut specializes. Well, for me, Brett Warnock at Top Shelf, and everyone else across the myriad message boards and blogs, the answer seems to be fairly simple. Someone wrote in and told me to examine the actual original story posted at ICV2 - so I did. We were wrong, it is a bad thing for Cold Cut, and uniquivicably so - considering that Tokyopop hadn't even informed Cold Cut of the deal before the news broke online. Cold Cut doesn't sell any Tokyopop anymore - period. Seems as if we all need to go back to school, folks, because its pretty plain. That's the last time I listen to the peanut gallery!

* "Hobby shop owner Douglas Karsten, 44, of 525 W. Deerpath in Lake Forest, was arrested March 25 after he sold adult magazines to a child under age 18, said Michael Vukson, commander of investigations of the Lake Forest Police Department.

"Vukson said a parent called to complain March 11 that her 12-year-old son had bought Playboy magazine at Doug's Hobby Connection, located at 950 N. Western Ave. in Lake Forest, that day. On March 24 police asked the same boy to purchase another adult magazine from the store. After the youngster came out with an issue of Penthouse magazine, police issued a warrant for Karsten's arrest before arresting him the next day.

"Police seized more than 30 different adult magazine titles from the store and charged Karsten with two counts of distribution of harmful material. After he was arrested, Karsten posted a $2,000 bond pending an April 12 court date in Waukegan.

"If convicted, the misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to one year in jail, said Vukson.

"State law makes it illegal to sell pornographic magazines to anyone under the age of 18.

"Karsten said he opened the hobby and gaming shop 15 months ago to sell comic books, sports cards and other games to both adults and children. He began selling adult magazines after mostly college-age customers would request to see a catalogue that contained listings for collectible comic books and the magazines." Read more here, courtesy of the Pioneer Press.

* "The annual Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Columbus East (I-70 and Hamilton Road). Guests will include David Sim and Gerhard, creators of Cerebus." Read more here, courtesy of This Week Ohio. If you want more information on SPACE, go here.

* "Southwest Missouri State University is once again being accused of stifling free speech on campus. The controversy involves a cartoon meant to poke fun at a common Thanksgiving tradition. The faculty advisor and student editor of The Standard, the campus newspaper at Southwest Missouri State, are being investigated by the school and threatened with punishment for publishing an editorial cartoon that an American Indian group found 'offensive' and a 'form of harassment.' The cartoon, printed on November 21, 2003, and labeled 'The 2nd Thanksgiving,' depicts two Indians meeting a pilgrim woman with a gift of canned corn. The pilgrim responds: 'Gladys, the Indians are here and it looks like they brought corn ... again.'" The article can be found here, courtesy of Agape Press. Read the offending strip here.

* "Marvel Enterprises, Inc., (NYSE: MVL) a global character-based entertainment licensing company, has recently signed agreements that effectively consolidate its licenses into single marquee partners for the underwear, candy and costume categories. These new arrangements represent Marvel's strategic approach to category management whereby Marvel seeks to enhance the caliber of its partners while expanding the marketing and promotional support for its product lines, resulting in higher returns to all parties. The license partners include Hanes apparel for underwear, R.M. Palmer for confection and Disguise in the costume category. Marvel is currently evaluating several other categories in which to pursue similar broad partnerships." Read the press release here, courtesy of Business Wire.

* Sequential Tart has updated their site, with a report on this year's Alternative Press Expo, an interview with "WJHC" creator Jane Fisher, a more nuanced travelogue of APE, a new column by Ms. Deanna Lytle examining gender issues in the communications field, an examination of the recent "spandex vs. leather" debate by Mr. Kirk Boxleitner, and an article by Ms. Kim DeVries on the trials and tribulations of teaching Warren Ellis' "Transmetropolitan" at MIT.

* "Studying the 'magazine-cover curse' is a favorite pastime of many a market analyst. The idea is that by the time a phenomenon or a person reaches magazine-cover status, it's often all downhill from there. Such may be the case with Japan's war against currency traders. Only, the yen isn't experiencing the curse of the magazine cover, but of the comic-book cover. Loads of salarymen riding Tokyo's subway system are reading an unlikely 'manga' comic series on Japan's yen sales. Part of the popular 'Golgo 13' action-hero serial, it spins a sinister tale of U.S. officials pressuring the Bank of Japan to buy dollars. The reason: To avoid a meltdown in the world's biggest economy." Read more here, courtesy of

* Newsarama talks with Ian Edgington about his Crossgen experiences here.

* While you're there, Newsarama also talks with animator-turned-cartoonist Michael Gagne about his upcoming "Parables: An Anthology" here.

* Daniel Epstein over at UnderGround Online chats with Image publisher and "Savage Dragon" creator Erik Larsen here.

* The Comics Journal has updated their main page with the skinny on the forthcoming Winter 2004 Special Edition - I'm drooling already, I tell you. If you, like me, can't wait, then you can take solace in this preview of the comic strip portion, a strip by none other than Mr. Gilbert Hernandez.

* They've also got a new edition of Dogsbody up over there - and this week Daniel Holloway sticks it to Sonny Liew's "Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues," Farel Dalrymple's "Pop Gun War," Ben T. Steckler's "Get Bent" #10 and Tom Manning's "Runoff" #2-#5.

* There was a new edition of The Beat at The Pulse this week... but not a lot of interest therein, save for news of a new Colleen Doran documentary, and a few scant details about Compgate II.

* So, Tony Millionaire's "Maakies" was pulled by 23 papers for the use of the word "boner." Or, at least it would have been if it weren't - APRIL FIRST. Link courtesy of the Journal board.

* OK, I don't think I'm alone in just not getting what Alan David Doane is saying today. It's good to see him back, but it's not good that I can't really understand what's going on here. Looks like some kind of find/replace exercise but I'll be damned if I can figure out of what... thought it might be one of Dave Sim's "Tangent" pieces but I skimmed through the whole essay and didn't see this passage. I'll be damned if I know what's up.

* Bill Sherman at Pop Culture Gadabout doesn't know what to make of these new-fangled "X-Men" all the kids are talking about these days...

* Austrailia's Age profiles turntablist extraordinaire and part-time cartoonist Kid Koala here.

* Flat Earth gets zapped by Mr. Mxyzptlk!!!Oh no! Now we have to get Billy to say his name backwards or the Family Circus will never leave...

* Over at Newsarama, Ryan McLelland takes a look at something quite possibly more horrifying than even "Secret Wars II"... that's right - Rob Liefeld's "Captain America." At least he only paid a quarter for it...

* "Jeffrey Brown, Paul Hornschemeier, and Matt Kindt will be giving a 'Special Lecture on the Graphic Narrative' (that's what the flyer says: three people, one lecture) at the Dr. John D. Stull Performing Arts Center at Olney Central College, Olney, IL on Friday, Apr. 2 (tomorrow) at 1 PM." I mentioned this before but if you're in town it can't hurt to mention it again - link courtesy Adam Stephanides at the Journal board.

* I did not know that Jordan Crane was doing a weekly serialized strip for Reddingk - but now, thanks to the Journal board, I do.

* Erick Hogan interviews Xeric-award winner Neil Kleid ("Ninety Candles") in this week's Open Your Mouth at Comic book Resources.

* Courtesy of Poopsheet: News, we have word of the forthcoming Providence Zine Fest. The fest will be from 11-5 on Saturday, April 24th. Sounds fun... if you want more info, go here.

* "Books are great but require a lot of dedication, magazines are easy reads but can lack the substance of books, and newspaper subscriptions are hard to keep up with during a busy quarter. Lost all hope? Try comics. They can have the emotional depth of a book, the visual appeal and readability of a magazine, and like episodes of 'The Simpsons,' never get boring. The world of comics goes beyond spandex-clad superheroes and daily newspaper strips. It encompasses everything you could ever find in a movie - from humor to emotional turmoil to plots that leave you sitting on the edge of the seat." Read more here, courtesy of the California Aggie.

* "Robert Sarnoff, noted local artist and [Rockaway, NY] Wave editorial cartoonist will soon be honored by the United States Postal Service by having his painting of a Rockaway jetty used as a cancellation cachet that will be postmarked at the Rockaway Beach Post Office." Read more here, courtesy of the Rockaway Wave.

* "For nearly half a century, Irene Ford Henschel thought it was no laughing matter to help her husband, Robert, haul his childhood comic books around the country to follow his career as an aircraft engineer. 'He was definitely a pack rat. I was a farm girl and didn't want to save too much because you had to keep it clean,' she said. 'We packed up the crystal, the china -- our wedding gifts -- and the comic books. Every time,' she said. They moved from Michigan to California (twice), to Atlanta (also twice) and finally to Wichita 23 years ago. But she'll have the last laugh Saturday when 121 of her late husband's more than 300 vintage comics from the 1930s and 1940s go on the auction block. He died in 1999 at age 75, three months short of their 50th wedding anniversary. Read more here, courtesy of

* Strong Bad has answered his 100th e-mail (link courtesy of

* Eve Tushnet again replies to my reply to her... you know, every time we go around about this, I start to get really frustrated and hope this is my last word on the subject... but when people are as polite, thoughtful and courteous and Ms. Tushnet its hard to get too upset about it.

She might be on to something when she points out that a more recent convert to the world of spandex fiction might be much more accustomed to lend the books some slack than a lifelong devotee such as myself. Again, I find myself agreeing with her for the most part. If you look into things with that kind of hindsight, being able to cherry pick the good and the great from the decades of mediocre and crap product that many of us have been exposed to - well, I suppose it'd be hard not to see a genre of limitless expectations. But the sad fact is I've just read too many comic books. I have been reading comic books since I was just a wee lad - growing up on Barks before I ever got to the spandex books, but taking to the spandex like a duck to the water. When I think of super-hero comics I don't think of "Watchmen" or "Animal Man," I think of "Secret Wars II." The fact is, that's what the fans want. That's what the companies want to produce - crap. Crap is uncontroversial, crap keeps the status quo, crap creates the illusion of change when it's really just trademarks moving around on a chessboard.

Perhaps, if we lived in some sort of perfect world, these would not be insurmountable obstacles. Eve is right to point out Sturgeon's Law - the bit about the 95% or whatever being crap. Well, the difference when you're applying Sturgeon's Law to superhero books is that the market has dwindled to such that crap is all the market wants. If you ask the average moviegoer whether or not they'd rather see a good movie or a crap movie, most will tell you they want to see a good movie. Same with novels, music, theater, dance... any art you can mention. Crap is produced, and crap sells, but there's at least the ghost of a definition of good and bad. In superhero comics, its not like that. The fanbase is so small and warped that their standard of what is really good has nothing to do with what any sane person might actually think is good or bad. It has to do with strange standards of reality of which you seem to be blissfully ignorant. This is the reality of the mainstream comics industry. They want to spend the rest of their lives replicating either Claremont & Byrne's "Uncanny X-Men" or Moore's "Swamp Thing" - and mostly it's the former.

Which is why I was not surprised by the post-Morrison X-Books. "New X-Men" was fun, but it was a lark. If they could have possibly reinvigorated the franchise without resorting to Morrison, they would have done so in a heartbeat - because taking the chance to publish something that might be good is taking the chance to publish something that might be controversial or unpalatable to the baby birds of fandom. As I've said all along, if it were possible to separate the truly good works from the bad - to slice out a corner of the medium to actually explore the "genre of ethics" - I would leap at the chance. But it's just not possible. Good books are the exception, not the rule, and furthermore, they are an unwelcome exception - unwelcome to the fanboys who consume the majority of the books and pay the bills and unwelcome to the corporations who would be just as happy never publishing anything more challenging than "Spidey Super Stories."

Sometimes good stuff is produced. Sometimes - very rarely - but sometimes you actually get a whiff of the same kind of revelatory freedom Siegel and Shuster must have felt. But, I stand by what I've said: the genre is limiting. Genres are interesting in inverse proportion to the generic constraints placed on them. If you look at all the constraints behind mainstream superhero books, it's enough to make you despair that anything decent and worthwhile will ever come out of the genre. The fact that good things do occasionally... well, that's just a minor miracle.

So, yes, you could say my experience has biased me. I've seen too much that cannot be unseen. The industry is a steaming cesspool of stagnant ideations and retarded memes. The people who buy the vast majority of books want nothing more than what they've been buying since they were twelve. The genre wears the chains it has forged these past forty years, and it has no one but itself to blame that it can no longer move.

On this topic, I came across this post by Adam at Completely Futile which I seem to have missed the other day when it was originally posted. There's a lot of good stuff here, but the real money quote is this:

"This isn't to say that superhero comics don't offer anything that superhero movies don't. They do: they offer elaborate multi-hero universes, endless soap-operatic plotlines, and continuity stretching back decades, which movies can't match. But these features have no intrinsic link to superheroes: it's historical contingency which explains why superhero comics came to display these features, rather than, say, funny-animal comics. I'd go so far as to say that it is these features, rather than superheroes per se, which are the real attraction of superhero comics for their current readers. To back up this assertion, or even to make it plausible, would take another and longer post. But as a small piece of supporting evidence, I'll point to the persistent failure of comics like Batman Adventures, which are intended to be general reader-friendly, and so steer clear of these features, in the direct sales market."

Not only is he right, but he says it much more succinctly than I have so far been able to. Perhaps the great Platonic ideal of the superhero has great potential, but the superhero as he exists now does not. And I don't believe anyone who doesn't have an obsessive interest in the latter will care about the former.

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