Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Notable Links for 03/31

First, I'd like to apologize for any inconvenience that might have been caused by the fact that yesterday's link to the "Sartre and 'Peanuts'" article did not work as it was supposed to. The article can be found here, and is brought to you courtesy of Philosophy Now. Special thanks to Mike Sterling for bringing this to my attention - be on the look out for your "No Prize"... or rather, I wouldn't hold your breath.

And secondly, I have been remiss in my solemn duties - I forgot to mention that "Gone And Forgotten," just about the funniest comics-related site in the universe, has posted a huge update. In this pulse-pounding edition, GAF takes a brave look at the abject stupidity of "Wonder Woman" #211, the abject stupidity of The Legion of Super-Heroes' wardrobes, and also a brief look at the wonder and awe of Zombie Daredevil. It is must-read stuff, people.

* Ah, finally, the complete Reuben Award nominations, courtesy of Mike Lynch at the Journal board.

* Did I already mention Tokyopop going exclusive with Diamond? I can't even remember anymore. Anyway, the story is here, courtesy of ICV2. I wonder just how much indie distributers like Cold Cut were depending on manga? Not too much, I hope. In any event, the fact that Tokyopop's material is now non-returnable through the direct market could prove interesting... but as with many things, only time will tell.

* "Linktone Ltd., a provider of wireless media, entertainment and communications services in China, today announced that it has signed partnership agreements with two Chinese handset manufacturers, Bird Communication Technology Co. Ltd. and Eastern Communications (EastCom). Under the terms of the contracts, Linktone's wireless value-added services will be embedded in the handset vendors' products for end users' easy access. Beginning March 2004, handsets manufactured by Bird will have wireless access protocol (WAP) links specially created for three of Linktone's products, namely Mobile Pet (a proprietary virtual pet game), 'Tom and Jerry' (Cartoon Network's famous characters) comic strip and icon downloads, and Shin Chan (a popular Japanese cartoon character) comic strip and icon downloads." Read the press release here, courtesy of China Tech News.

* Relative newcomer ADV Manga has acquired the American publishing rights to 37 new titles. That's a lot. I'd remember that the next time you complain about how many titles Marvel publishes. The Pulse has the press release here.

* "eigoMANGA has succeeded in securing a distribution deal with the company Source Interlink to supply eigoMANGA’s comic book series, RUMBLE PAK respectively to Barnes and Nobles, Borders, Tower Books @ Records, Virgin Megastore, Waldenbooks, Musicland. A seconding edition of RUMBLE PAK will be available to chain bookstores throughout North America starting in the late Spring of 2004 while the comic book’s first edition published last February will continue its circulation in comic book stores nationally and in the UK which is distributed through Diamond Comic Distributors." Read the press release here, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

* John Jakala over at Grotesque Anatomy takes a look at the recent hubbub that saw Scholastic Books removing "Shonen Jump" from their catalog here - and foresees a possible crackdown on manga as possibly in the cards. I wish I could say he's being an alarmist... but American history doesn't work that way. Meanwhile, here's the Associated Press' version of events, courtesy of News4Jax.com.

* Planning on being in San Francisco this Thursday? Swing by the "Save Zippy" rally in front of the San Francisco Chronicle offices. Read all about the campaign at Zippy's own website (the pertinent page is here), and you can even read a letter of complaint penned by none less than the ever-reclusive Garry Trudeau here. (Thanks to Eric Reynolds at the Journal board.)

* The Dave Sim Fun Parade continues. First, it seems as if the Onion's AV Club finally got that pesky interview... and I have to say I think Ms. Tasha Robinson deserves the Purple Heart for Journalistic Bravery. I almost wish Ms. Robinson had let herself rise to his bait a bit more - but as it is she did an almost superhuman job of ignoring his condescendingly belligerent tone. Secondly, the Village Voice takes a look at the history and legacy of "Cerebus" here. Meanwhile, Salgood Sam does a brave job here of trying to fight the unfightable: the horendously tortured house of cards Sim calls his logic. I love "Cerebus" but I gave up on trying to fight this years ago... I never sent that letter because I realized it just would do no good. If you set yourself up as soul arbiter of all that is Good and Righteous, it's kinda hard to hold a rational debate.

* Meanwhile, here's a Village Voice review of Bob Levin's excellent "The Pirates and The Mouse."

* Courtesy of Thought Balloons - Underground Online has a talk with one of the true wild men of mainstream comics, Mr. Steve Gerber, here.

* Ah, it seems I missed this one yesterday. Jamie S. Rich talks about last week's Wizard World LA, and relates his monumental disappointment at the industry’s myopia. I feel his pain, I really do. Read it here, courtesy of Oni Press. Meanwhile, MJ Norton over at Miraclo Mile (love that title, by the way) has a reply to Mr. Rich here.

* Planning on being in Montreal this Saturday? Then check out "Comix: A Blue View," featuring R. Sikoryak's "Carousel" presentation, as well as appearances by "Dirty" Danny Hellman, Billy Mavreas, Marc Ngui, Bernie Mireault and Sherwin Tjia, Read more about the event and how to attend here, link courtesy of The Pulse.

* Courtesy of Ken Avidor at the Journal board, we get probably the best "dark" Peanuts tale I've ever seen, here. It's great, it really is... amazingly, he manages to keep everyone pretty much in character despite them all killing themselves.

* David Fiore continues his descent into the madness of Morrison's "Doom Patrol" here.

* "True to form, the launch of Graham Kirk's new show, Superheroes in Auckland, was brimful of characters to rival the greatest of comic strips. And not just on the walls. One gallery-goer, who likened the painting Rupert and the Westhaven Marina to a view from her apartment, wasn't fooling anyone; she was, in fact, The Vendor, a super-vigilante charged with keeping the real-estate industry in check. And Frank, who claimed his rough-housing at the hands of police and a television network had forced some kind of legal precedent back in the 80s, was none other than The Computer Pirate. At the eye of this heroic hurricane was, of course, mild-mannered Taranaki artist Kirk, working the room, keeping tabs on his super-cadre." Read more here, courtesy of The New Zealand Herald.

* "THE DURHAM TOWNSHIP FESTIVAL of the Arts will kick off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Durham-Nockamixon Elementary School cafeteria with Marvel Comics' Spiderman illustrator Scott Hanna. Hanna will conduct a free hands-on workshop for children on storytelling through illustration." Read more here, courtesy of the Morning Call.

* Marc Singer replies to JW Hasting's recent - and very interesting - essay on the neoconservative politics Kirby's "New Gods" here.

* Jim Henley's essay here continues to spawn interesting debate. Ms. Eve Tushnet has some pretty interesting thoughts on the great debate here. Basically, she points out that superhero critics such as myself are being, well, too damn literal minded... which is not a label I would particularly dispute, at least in this matter. Critics such as Tushnet see superhero stories as vast tapestries of interlocking metaphor and allegory, as far removed from naturalistic narrative, in their own way, as Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress." To a degree, I can buy this, and also, to a degree, I can see how this has served some of the more intelligent superhero creators in good stead over the years. This is not an argument that is entirely barren of interest to me.

The problem is that, for one, this is an argument that is entirely barren of interest to the vast majority of fans and creators. Most superhero works are just not constructed to withstand this deep an examination. They exist to perpetuate trademarks and characters. You have to ask yourself after a certain point whether or not you're reading more into the works that actually exists. I mean, I went to college, I can wax poetic about the sociological significance of a can of Coke as well as the next guy - but there reaches a point where you are staring at the magic picture waiting to see the sailboat and you realize there might not be a sailboat, just abstract shapes and patterns assembled at seeming random intervals in an attempt to produce a pleasing aesthetic effect.

Second, the metaphor and allegory in superhero stories is usually very simplistic. Sure, there are a few dozen good works we can all agree on... but then you start doing stuff like analyzing the significance of the mid-70's "Avengers" line-ups in relation to Cold War politics or something like that. Sure, you could do that, but wouldn't it be more interesting to just write about Cold War politics? Similarly, while the metaphor and allegory inherent in the average spandex book may strongly appeal to the adolescent and juvenile instincts for self-aggrandizement, I believe there reaches a point where these metaphors should lose their efficacy in all but the most extraordinary cases (ie the proverbial "Animal Man") - and that point I estimate to be right about where most people get laid. I believe that most people, if they want to read a book about inner-city crime, would much prefer to read a book on inner-city crime than a comic book with a man in black tights and a cape musing sullenly about inner-city crime. The metaphor becomes uninteresting because anyone who's been around the block knows every trope they could possibly trot out at this point. By that same token, in most cases, if I want to read a nice adventure comic, I'm going to prefer one that doesn't make too many deep philosophical statements - because chances are, unless that adventure comic was written by Mr. Alan Moore or Mr. Grant Morrison, its going to come across as ham-fisted and hopelessly bad (there are a few others I will trust with my metaphorical well-being in the realm of spandex funnies, but not many). Rare is the writer who can find something interesting to say about a limited subject that has been turned over by hundreds of writers before him. When such a writer comes along I will gladly give him my well-earned money in exchange for an enlightening reading experience, but I will continue to believe that such reading experiences are few and far between, and I will also continue to believe that the reasons for this have as much to do with the genre's inherent limitations as any shortfall of ingenuity.
Notable Links for 03/30

* "A Japanese comic book sold at a Scholastic book fair in the Norwin School District that contained questionable material is being pulled from the company's sales list, a spokeswoman said Monday. The magazine, 'Shonen Jump,' an offshoot of the Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards and television cartoon popular among elementary and middle school students, showed a hero crediting his defeat of an opponent with the power he gained from smoking cigarettes. Other story lines included mild profanity, violence, a character with a swastika on his forehead, and a female character who asks readers to pick up the next issue to see which 'hot guy' would be the next to die." Read more here, courtesy of Pittsburgh Live.

* The Pulse has more information on Steve Geppi's mysterious illness here.

* "Marvel Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE: MVL), a global provider of entertainment content, announced that effective with the commencement of trading today, the share price for its outstanding common stock will adjust to reflect shares issued Friday, March 26, 2004 pursuant to its 3-for-2 stock split. As a result of this stock split, which was announced on March 2, 2004, Marvel's common shares outstanding have increased to approximately 109 million. Marvel's stock split was in the form of a dividend of one additional share of the Company's common stock for every two shares held at the close of business on March 12, 2004. Fractional shares will be paid in cash." Read the press release, along with some surprisingly intelligent commentary (at least for us non-fiscally-oriented types) here, courtesy of Newsarama.

* "Diamond Comic Distributors and TOKYOPOP Inc. have announced a distribution agreement that makes Diamond the exclusive distributor of the publisher's English-language graphic novels to the comic book specialty market and hobby stores in North America. As part of this new agreement, the two companies have committed to working together to achieve timely release of TOKYOPOP's titles in these markets." Read the press release here, courtesy of The Pulse.

* "Mitsubishi Corp and publisher Shufunotomo Co said Monday they will set up a joint venture in Shanghai in April to distribute Japanese magazine articles and comics to local publishers. The move is in response to the growing popularity of Japanese fashion and music among Chinese people, officials of the two companies said." Read more here, courtesy of Japan Today.

* There seems to be a lot of venom pouring over Marvel's recent decision to utilize Souce Interlink to be their rack jobbers for "big box" retail chains like Borders, Barnes & Noble and their ilk (if you don't know what a rack jobber is, ask your mom). In case you missed the original story, you can catch up here, and then read a disgruntled retailer's take on matters here (links courtesy of ICV2). The key quote here is Rich Keefe's assertion that "Marvel has absolutely no interest in supporting the current specialty market model." To which I say: very astute, Mr. Keefe. Of course, I can't possibly imagine why a successful business like Marvel would want to look outside the direct market for their business' future... I mean, we've all seen the incredible economic gains the direct market has made the past few years, with all these great new stores being opened everywhere, right? And we've all seen what a great job the existing retailer base has done of selling Marvel's product to anyone but the dwindling hordes of fanboys, right? Why just today I saw a six-year old down the street curling up with a nice copy of "Ultimate Spider-Man"...


* "When it comes to exporting popular American kidculture to other parts of the planet, the Walt Disney Co. is the out-and-out, hands-down, no-doubt-about-it world champ. Now Disney is turning the tables and importing a fad. You heard right. Batten down the hatches and lock up your young ones. It's a book! It's a TV show! And it just might be a multimedia, money-minting onslaught coming straight from Italy. It's 'W.I.T.C.H.'" Read more about the fad-in-the-making here, courtesy of the Washington Post.

* Lots of crunchy tidbits over at Lying In The Gutters this week (link courtesy of Comic Book Resources). First, and most importantly, he's got rumors of DC Comics being effected by the Time/Warner megalith attempting to move closer to the FCC's current decency standards - which could be interesting for Vertigo and similar "Mature Readers" projects. Also, there's more fuel to the fire that Walt Simonson might be making a return to the pages of "Thor" (can't say whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing - on the one hand, he's pretty much the only creator short of Kirby who made "Thor" a must-read book... on the other hand, its kind-of "been there, done that." Time will tell, I guess.) But most interesting, at least to me, is the news about Crossgen's upcoming "American Power."

This, ladies and gentlemen, is Crossgen's "Hail Mary." Taking their most popular artist off their most popular book (and cancelling said book in the process) in favor of what seems to be a frankly exploitive and controversial project - I think that reeking stench wafting up from Florida is the pungent smell of flop sweat. And is this the Crossgen who swore up and down they'd never do superheroes? I knew from the beginning that this wasn't going to be a satirical or nuanced take on the genre - that it wasn't going to be anything worth reading at all - because of Chuck Dixon's involvement. Now, I make it a point not to buy Crossgen comics, because I don't think they're very good - and I make it a point not to buy Chuck Dixon comics, because I don't think they're very good, either... so it goes without saying I would never even consider picking this abomination up. There was some discussion a while back about the political alignment of superheroes - I can assure you that "American Power" will be a superhero book aligned as far to the right as "Channel Zero" was to the left. From the looks of things this is just going to give the average Muslim another reason to think that Americans are at war with Islam as a whole, while giving the real villains - al Quaeda and their ilk - ever more glee at the widening cultural divide between the west and Islam (which was their goal all along). But, if it makes you feel better to play cowboy, go right ahead. It's a free country, at least for the time being.

* Well, I'll be damned: here's an actual article profiling Mr. Gary Barker, the man who actually draws Jim Davis' "Garfield" strip. I remember a conversation with someone or other a long time ago wherein the consensus was that the ghosts who worked in modern strip cartooning would never be allowed to talk to the press while still employed... well, that looks to be changing some. But notice they still didn't show the guy's face? Link courtesy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

* "The timing could not have been better. As the April-May polls are approaching fast, a cartoonist in Andhra Pradesh captured the politicians in their true colours. Sekhar does not spare anybody. Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party are cheek in jowl with the main oppositon leaders and those from the state's ruling Telugu Desam Party.
The huge crowds at the exhibition were enthralled by the cycle- handle moustache of sandalwood smuggler and the uneasy crown-like head-gear of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. The visitors had a hearty laugh at the expense of political leaders who they said had lost probity associated with public life." Read more here, courtesy of WebIndia123.

* Paul O'Brien, writing for Ninth Art, examines the question of why superhero audiences are reluctant to by other types of comics here. It's an interesting essay, and I would say that just looking off the top of my head he makes a lot of good points - or, at least, new points. I'll leave off any judgement until the Greater Blogosphere has had the chance to chew on it for a while. Meanwhile, Franklin Harris, who you might remember was the fellow who started this particular leg of the Never-Ending Battle, weighs on on O'Brien's essay here. The thing is, I don't see how what O'Brien says is necessarily mutually exclusive to either point of view... but again, I'll have to mull this one over for a while.

* David Fiore posts the first of hopefully many essays on Grant Morrison's "Doom Patrol" here. I will say I love reading Fiore's take on this stuff, but I gotta stick up for my homie Dirk here. I think just abour everyone misunderstood what Dirk was saying about pornography in relation to superheroes. Porn isn't "cooler" than superheroes because more people buy porn that superheroes... hell, porn probably isn't cooler than superheroes anyway. But porn is something that appeals to people... something that most people have some affinity for, whether they admit it in public or not. Porn exploits a very basic human urge, and there never has been and never will be a want of customers in the porn industry - whereas superheroes are just sort of a weird hybrid genre that doesn't have much of a following outside of the occasional successful movie or TV show. Dirk was not arguing that porn was better than superheroes (although Steven Grant has been known to make a pretty good argument for just that opinion), merely trying to put the limited scale of superhero comics' success in the context of a genuine cultural phenomenon. (If I'm wrong, Dirk, feel free to correct me.) And anyway, superhero books are repressed... the things are just full of sublimated sex and misplaced aggression, the type of stuff that appeals to - ahem- sexually repressed tweens and teens (not to mention those sexually repressed members of the electorate who are old enough to vote and drink). If you don't see it, I don't know what to say, other than I have no more time or desire to discuss this now. (Was that a weasel answer or what?)

* The Toronto Star talks to cartoonist Seth about the impending release of two books - the first volume of "Clyde Fans" as well as "Bannock, Beans and Black Tea," a biography of his father - here.

* "Which literary characters have done the most to promote Britain across the Channel? Not Hercule Poirot, Oliver Twist or even Noddy, but two middle-aged toffs whose favourite expressions are 'By Jove' and 'The devil.' Their names? Blake and Mortimer. For close to 60 years, the comic strip adventures of Captain Francis Blake, the dashing head of MI5 perpetually in his RAF uniform, and Professor Philip Mortimer, a red-haired Scottish nuclear physicist never far from his pipe, have delighted French-speaking children." Read more here, link courtesy of The Guardian.

* Johanna Draper Carlson has updated "Comics Worth Reading" with this month's "Previews" rundown as well as a review of Steve Rolston's "One Bad Day." Also, over at Comics Unlimited, Ms. Carlson takes a gander at a pile of manga, including "Chobits" and "Maisan Ikkoku" here.

* Jennifer Contino at The Pulse talks to leading Christian comics creator Jamie Cosley (Megazeen Online), here.

* Meanwhile, since we're on the Christian Comix tip, eMediaWire has a talk with Jerry Yu Ching and Mike Onghai on the occasion of the release of their new non-violent children's book "The Greatest King" here.

* South Africa's Praetoria News takes a look at Tintin's 75th birthday, and the character's unique cultural cache, here. Reuters takes another look at Tintin's anniversary here.

* Courtesy of Mike Sterling, here's an essay published at Philosophy Now with the promising title "Sartre & Peanuts."

* "What has happened to the animated "make-believe" violence on television? When we were young, the cartoons we watched were loaded with exaggerated animated graphic violence! But in the innocent Looney Tunes era of our youth, we were able to distinguish reality from cartoon reality. We knew that Daffy Duck's buckshot-blasted bill would be restored when the next scene started, and we took for granted that the coyote's mangy fur would be singe-free seconds after being blown up with 250 tons of Acme-brand TNT. But with today's super-real animation, we're not sure that the children know how to distinguish between the two." Read more here, courtesy of The Toque.

* "As a high school student, Brett Popplewell saw bullying at first hand. As a university student, he's done something about it. The 20-year-old has produced an anti-bullying comic book to help elementary school pupils understand the pain bullying can cause and the ways in which they can defang bullies. The comic is titled the Misadventures of Bully-Boy and Rumourgirl, reflecting the fact that while boys tend to bully by hitting and kicking, girls tend to snipe verbally with gossip, innuendo and insults." Read more here, courtesy of The London Free Press.

* Jane Bowron, writing for New Zealand's Stuff, examines the lonely lives of cartoonists here.

* Courtesy of Steven Stwalley at the Journal board: "The Minneapolis Cell of The International Cartoonist Conspiracy meets at 6:30pm on the first Thursday of each month at Spyhouse Coffee, 2451 Nicollet Ave. Minneapolis, MN, unless otherwise noted on our website. The next meeting is Thursday April 4th. Generally we meet, draw jam comics, drink caffeinated beverages, and socialize. Once we're happy with the jam comics, we usually either go home or go get non-caffeinated beverages somewhere." Read more here. That has been today's social calender.

* I have to admit that when I first heard about this I thought it was a joke. What is this crazy world coming to?

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Notable Links for 03/29

Selling out is fun.

OK, cats and kittens, in case you haven't noticed, there have been some changes around these parts lately. I have sold out to The Man. Hopefully, for the measly price of My Soul, I will be able to retire in luxury to the French Riviera, and all I had to do was put up a couple of banner ads.

That might be a slight exaggeration. Long story short, this blog is full of 100% Free Content, put up for your amusement, edification, entertainment and occasional arousal. But I am not independently wealthy - not yet, by any means - so if I can make a few bucks on the side I'm going to. There's a "Paypal" button to the left if you want to make a straight donation. Also, I've joined forces with Amazon.com to try and separate you from your money. I was really surprised with how user-friendly and adaptable the Amazon partner system is - as a result of this you will never see a product in one of those Amazon boxes to the left that I do not 100% approve for your purchase. Consider it a commercial endorsement from yours truly. I have no shame.

All things said, I'm happy with how the site looks now. I have a tracker installed so that I can actually see how many people are coming every day - and that number is a lot bigger than I would have guessed. If people care about what I have to say, I am humbled and will try to use such meager power as responsibly as I can manage. In the meantime, you can show your appreciation for me by making your next Amazon purchase through the portal I provide over to the left.

* Diamond owner and most powerful man in the direct market Steve Geppi has bee hospitalized following injuries sustained while >cough< kissing his daughter. Read about it here, courtesy of the Maryland Daily Record.

* "A Virginia law limiting the online display of sexually explicit material to minors violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court ruled in a split decision. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that the law, while seeking to restrict juveniles' access to indecent material on the Internet, imposes an unconstitutional burden on protected adult speech." Thanks to Artbomb.com for pointing this out. The full story is here, courtesy of BizReport. Now, I'm as thrilled with this as anyone, but every time I see a story like this a part of me cringes because just the fact that a law like this had to be combated means that there's someone out there on the lunatic fringe who thinks left-leaning civil-liberties advocates want small children to have access to hardcore porn. I hate stupid people.

* "[Maryland] Diamondback cartoonist and junior general business major Silvio Olivieri died Wednesday after a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis. The 19-year-old, whose comic strip Open Forum was popular among university students, had been battling the fatal lung disease since birth. It ultimately caused him to leave the university a few weeks before his death, although he still penned the comic strip from the hospital and his Adelphi home." Read more here, courtesy of The Diamondback.

* Former Red Sox pitcher and one-time newspaper cartoonist Robert Cremins has died at the age of 98. Read more here, courtesy of the Journal News.

* Broken Frontier continues to chronicle the ongoing disintegration of Crossgen comics. Seems like former Crossgen freelancer Andy Smith has taken the overdue step of suing the company for unpaid wages. Here's hoping that the case succeeds - from the sounds of it, it seems as if Smith's case is seen by some as a "litmus test" for the success of possible future lawsuits. However, its unlikely to happen in most cases, for the simple fact that most freelancers affected by the shortfall are probably scrambling for money and employment, and possess neither the time nor the funds to pursue a potentially costly court battle. Also, Smith points out that any amount over $5,000 can't be pursued in Florida small-claims courts, and must pass into conventional court proceedings, which probably cost a lot more. This sucks, because that means the people who are most in need of legal remuneration are going to be least inclined to seek it. Sigh. I would highly recommend reading the full article, because there are just too many weird and scandalous rumors coming out of Crossgen for anyone to dismiss it all as mere hearsay. Crossgen's representative Bill Rosemann partially refutes the charges here (link courtesy of Fanboy Rampage).

* AZ Central takes a look at the rising population of unemployed animators here, many having been fired by Disney in recent years as the "Toon Titan" has scrambled away from traditional animation and into the realms of CGI. On a similar note, the Longview, Washington Daily News takes a look at how the phenomenon of outsourcing has impacted American anmiators here.

* Adelaide Advertiser's editorial cartoonist Michael Atchison, was inducted into the South Australian Media Awards hall of fame. Read more here, courtesy of ABC News Online.

* Editor & Publisher reports on the announcement of this year's Rueben Award nominations here. It should be noted that E&P are only running a partial list - I can't seem to find a more comprehensive report, though.

* "Pantheon Press will publish Rodolphe Töpffer's 'Essay on Physiognomy' and 'Essay on Autography' in English-translation as part of a planned volume of Töpffer's work, Chris Ware reveals in an e-mail forwarded by Bob Beerbohm to the Platinum Age Comics mailing list." Courtesy of Egon (sorry, they don't seem to link to individual articles.)

* Harvey Pekar made a recent appearance at the University of Minnesota - The Minnesota Daily has the story here.

* "Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose has named award winning cartoonist, Bil Keane, its 2004 recipient of the Legacy for Children Award. The award is presented annually to an outstanding individual or organization whose efforts have considerably benefited the learning and lives of children." Read more here, courtesy of Yahoo! Finance.

* "When George Bush Sr made that remark about how the American family should be more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons, one presumes that Matt Groening instantly realized that his ship had come in at last, and that it was, moreover, a superliner strewn with bunting and with the massed bands of several continents all playing a glorious fanfare. Bush had obviously not seen the cartoon, but had he been basing his judgment on Groening's pre-Simpsons cartoons, which is, admittedly, hardly likely, then you can understand his pre-emptive hostility. For pre- and post-Simpsons Groening are two quite different beasts, to the point that anyone coming to these strips fully Simpsons - conscious may feel slightly puzzled: how could something so rudimentary provide the basis for something so monumental? For these drawings are famously rudimentary." The UK's Guardian reviews "Work is Hell," a new book of "Life in Hell" cartoons by Matt Groening, here.

* Courtesy of The Pulse we have news that Peter Bagge is going to be a busy boy this coming week - with personal appearances in Columbus, OH and New York, NY. Read all about it here.

* "Chunky Monkey fans have reason to celebrate! The popular flavor is marking its 15th birthday! It also happens to be the 30th birthday of the fun-loving cartoon character, Chunky Monkey, created by cartoonist Pauline Comanor!" Read more here, courtesy of Business Wire.

* "The Scripps Howard Foundation recently awarded Lipscomb University student Nate Creekmore a national award for 'Maintaining'. He won first place in the 'college cartooning' category of the foundation's National Journalism Awards, beating students from The University of Washington, the California Institute for the Arts and other schools. He will receive $5,000 and a trophy named for the late Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz." Read more here, courtesy of The Tennessean.

* "Can editorial cartoonists do a good job living hundreds of miles from a newspaper? That's a question that's been asked for years ... and a question that has come up again with North Carolina-based Doug Marlette freelancing for the Chicago Tribune." Editor & Publisher has the story here.

* Marc Singer writes about Rick Moody's "The Ice Storm" in both its original incarnation as a movie and its second life as a major motion picture, and both versions' references to 1970's Marvel super-hero comics - particularly "The Fantastic Four" - here. Moody also links to two essays by "Fortress of Solitude" author Jonathan Lethem related to comics. The first, and more serious essay, talks about the familiar Marvel heroes in more general terms, but the second takes a humorous look at the "Top Five Most Depressed Superheroes." I skimmed the first, but really dug the second. (This whole bunch of links was recommended by Ms. Johanna Draper Carlson - thanks, Johanna!) And speak of the devil - Jonathan Lethem also has a superhero oriented story in this coming week's "New Yorker," entitled "Super Goat Man" and available here. I'd comment but I want to wait until my issue arrives in the mail to read it.

* I usually try to avoid linking to comic-book movie hype articles, but this recent article by the Toronto Star is very interesting, because it points out some of the root causes for the current craze. There's a quote, courtesy of Comics2Film's Rob Worley, that puts its finger right on the nose of the phenomenon: "One thing comics bring is a certain level of market or audience testing. A property like Spider-Man has consistently been attracting an audience for decades, so from a Hollywood perspective, it's a lower-risk proposition. Even a lesser-known character like Daredevil has remained a viable comic character while many others fell by the wayside. There's something that makes that character appealing. So comics can be this sort of idea factory, where high-concept stories can be told very cheaply ... Hollywood can jump on the bandwagon."

* Phil Shannon of the Green Left Weekly takes a look at Marc Elliot's recent biography of Walt Disney, "Hollywood’s Dark Prince," here.

* Bulent Yusef of Ninth Art takes a look at comics piracy here.

* Also courtesy of Ninth Art, Antony Johnson takes a look at the myths and realities of writing comics here.

* Once again from Ninth Art - Marcos Castrillon takes a look at the career of Eurocomics legend Andre Franquin here. Sorry, folks, but if you think I'm going to try doing those accent marks in blog code, you've got another thing comics. Ain't gonna even try.

* Australian newspaper The Age profiles Art Spiegelman here.

* "Jayashree Rajagopalan is an artist, not by choice. Life forced her to take to art. Physically challenged - with just one hand and one leg - time hung heavy at first when she took to drawing cartoons. Now she is able to draw not only Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck but also other characters." Read more here, courtesy of New Kerala.com.

* Courtesy of Mr. Neil "Spangles" Gaiman, we have this story from Mr. Dwayne McDuffie concerning Mr. McDuffie's surprising influence on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It's a great story, one that further reinforces what I and many other people have always suspected: Clarence Thomas is, to say the least, quite removed from the mainstream of American thought in many subtle yet telling ways. I haven't read the entirety of "Icon," but I know enough to understand that Milestone Media's portrayal of a black conservative was, while not specious, certainly designed to pinpoint the fallacy of such a viewpoint through subtle satire. Reading comprehension: it's not just the law, it's a good idea.

* Also courtesy of Mr. Gaiman, here's a fun comic strip detailing Vertigo's "Secret Origins."

* "FROM royalty to political figures, celebrities and Bollywood stars, caricaturist and cartoonist Saadon Ishak has met, charmed and captured them all on paper. Saadon, or Don as he is popularly known, made a name for himself in the early 1980s as one of the pioneer cartoonists for the popular local comic series Gila Gila (Malaysia’s version of the famous Mad comics)." Read more here, courtesy of the Malaysian Star.

* Broken Frontier takes a look at the recent MAX relaunch of "The Punisher" from writer Garth Ennis here, comparing it favorably with Ennis' "Preacher." I'll have to reserve judgement - seeing as how the first issue of the MAX series sold out before I could even see it, I'm kinda forced into "waiting for the trade" on this one.

* Also courtesy of Broken Frontier, Steve Higgins discusses the thought processes that went into choosing three speakers for his "graphic narrative" lecture series here. Matt Kindt, Jeffrey Brown and Paul Hornschemeier all agreed - if I lived in the Chicago area, I'd be there, as the lectures are open to the public. If you're planning on being in Chicago next week, I'd e-mail Higgins and see if you could learn the details.

* "Kerry James Marshall always knew he would go after the big picture. But there came a day when his super-sized, story-telling painting wasn't enough. He decided to go for the big idea when plans for the 20-year career survey of this MacArthur fellowship-winning painter jelled into Kerry James Marshall: One True Thing, Meditations on Black Aesthetics, now at the Miami Art Museum. Rather than look back at his critically acclaimed canvases, many of which recount the legacy of the civil rights movement, the show is an exploration of Marshall's forays in the last few years into photography, video, installation art. There's also an intricately drawn series of comic strips called RYTHM MASTR about black superheroes inspired by Yoruba carvings and deities." Read more here, courtesy of The Miami Herald.

* "Ahmed Hoke found success as a graffiti artist. He's made it as a hip-hop producer. But as a comic-book artist, the L.A. hipster never got off the ground. So after years of drawing superhero stories, Hoke tossed the tights, forgot Superman and looked overseas -- toward Asia, to be exact, to a style known as 'manga.'" The Orlando Sentinel takes a look at the connections between manga and hip-hop here.

* Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin has posted an absolutely brilliant Grant Morrison promo poster from "back in tha day" - man, I actually remember seeing this crazy thing on the walls of more than one shop. Who could have thunk this man would one day be responsible for two of the most popular runs on "JLA" and "X-Men"? Not I...

* The Pittsburg Morning Sun talks with David Beach, a local comic book collector who put a small part of his collection up for display at Labette Community College, here. Link courtesy of Thought Balloons.

* Courtesy of Markisan Naso over at All The Rage - the recent Dave Sim Yahoo! conversations have been transcribed into a more-readable Q&A format and posted by CerebusFangirl.com. The first page (of three) can be found here. There's fun stuff for "Cerebus" fans peppered throughout the conversation - and some real juicy nuggets, such that he and Gary Groth are apparently on speaking terms again and that a two-part interview in the Journal is not out of the question if Sim so desires.

* GF Willmetts, writing for the Computer Crow's Nest, takes a look at DC's "Adam Strange" Archives here.

* Jim Henley actually - gasp - reviews some comics. (I keed, I keed - but it has been a while, hasn’t it?) Among them are "Tell Me Something" by Jason, and "Mother Come Home" by Paul Hornschemeier - a book that almost totally flew under my radar when it first appeared. Damn it, I'm just not used to Dark Horse publishing worthwhile OGNs - it makes me dizzy.

* JW Hastings - AKA The Forager - takes a look at the original Neoconservative superfolk - Kirby's "New Gods" - here. It's quite frankly a very persuasive argument. That might be one of the reasons, as I pointed out in my recent review of Walt Simonson's "Orion," that the New Gods family of characters have always "felt" palpably out of place in the regular DC superhero universe, and why their motivations and adventures have never really synched well - or at least convincingly - with those of their four-color cousins in the "Justice League." Interesting.

* Finally, Sean T. Collins weighs in on the recent Blogosphere brouhaha that erupted over the disputed status of superhero books in the direct market as elucidated by Franklin Harris, here. I agree with most of what he says, so I won't add to it - save to once again thank Mr. Tom Spurgeon for being gracious enough to add his significant opinion to this rather-lopsided debate.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Notable Links for 03/26

I have joined the 20th century. Due to overwhelming reader requests, I have installed one of them Atom syndicated feed thingies over there to the left. I don't know what it is, really, or how to use it, but if you want to read this blog on your cell-phone, I guess this is your lucky day. Never let it be said that I am not responsive to the demands of the hip young youth of America. Also, you probably did not notice this but I finally installed a site counter/tracker - there's a little banner ad at the bottom of the page so I don't have to pay for anything. Now I can see all of you! You're out there! I know you are!

In perusing the internet, my wife found this. I wouldn't reccomend watching from work, but it is definitely worth watching. It's amazing to consider that the internet has already been around long enough to feel nostalgic for the days of animated .gifs and crappy midi music files. It's a joke, but it's also kind of affecting in a strange, strange way.

Or I'm just insane, always a distinct possibility.

Anyway, yesterday I posted a link to this essay by Franklin Harris on the nature of superhero dominion in the direct market. I said something to the effect that it was a pretty decent try but he was missing a couple important facts that mooted his argument. I try not to be too mean about these things, you know? These disagreements can get pretty heated sometimes and despite the fact that I have different opinions than a great many of you I try to present them in as polite and concise a manner as possible. I've lived through many flame wars, I don't like them. Nowadays, I tend to just turn off my computer when they happen. Consequently, I am also perhaps a bit less harsh in this context than I would be if, say, I were writing for The Journal.

But Mr. Tom Spurgeon has no such qualms. In case you didn't know, he's a long-time contributor and former managing editor for the Comics Journal. He's also the co-author (along with Jordan Raphael) of pretty much the definitive book (so far) on Stan Lee. He's also someone who remains on very familiar and even affectionate terms with a great deal of the mainstream's output. He's a man who needs no introduction (although I've already wrote one), and when a letter from him shows up in my inbox I pay attention.

Let's get one thing straight: he knows a lot more about the way mainstream comics do business than either you or I. There's no debating this, just get over it. And when he says Franklin Harris is wrong, and not only that but articulates it in a much more cogent and authoritative fashion than I could ever dream, I think you should pay attention too:

"I’m not really all that into the whole superheroes vs. non-superheroes on-line blogger quasi-debate – I think all you guys are a bit guilty of sloppy argumentation, particularly when it comes to matching up like concepts for comparison – (Oh, yeah, that's us in a nutshell - Tim) but I have to admit I’m paying some attention to it because I’m going to start writing about superheroes for the Journal this summer. But really, this piece you quote here is close to insane, and you're not nearly hard enough on it:

"...there is no evidence of this. Indeed, the evidence is the opposite. When publishers release more and more superhero comics, other superhero comics tend to get squeezed out, but that's all."

"I’m not even sure where to begin.

"I guess the first thing would be to point out something that should be self-evident, that by investing a company’s resources in one genre over all others you’re not investing those resources on other genres of comics. Most other genres have been effectively “squeezed out” at mainstream companies for years and years.

"Second, and I think you may hint at this, by releasing more and more superhero comics the companies enable a system of sales where virtually nothing but superhero comics are sold in a vast majority of that system’s retail outlets. Most genres are 'squeezed out' of these stores in a very real way. (So we have a situation like today, where the direct market as such is basically the super-hero comics market - no more, no less. I don't think you can really blame most retailers for this, because they order what will sell, and they've been taught by years and years of market 'wisdom' that nothing but super-heroes even belong in the direct market. Of course, those retailers that actively discourage alt- and art- comics buyers are just suicidal - Tim)

"Third, both Marvel and DC have used the release of more and more superhero comics as an intentional ploy to rid the shelves of other comic books. I attended a Marvel sales meeting in 1995 where their direct pitch was, “We will give you more product to sell that actually sells and you can rid your shelves of all this other worthless garbage.' Alternative and arts comics were specifically singled out as drags on shelf space and retailer energy. (Considering what most stores specialize in, that is true on a very basic level... if you are a super-hero store you would probably suffer if you ordered non-super-hero books. Just common sense, also something of a tautology... - Tim)

"Fourth, all of the superhero-dominated companies have used their place of dominance in the business to solidify their percentages in a way that’s hostile to many of those who wanted to sell something else. This is a vast, multi layered argument, but for a start look at the fact there were three or four self-published non-superhero modest hits in the couple of years before the distributor wars and ask yourself how many there have been in its wake. (Well, perhaps self-publishing is kind of a dodo at this point anyway... perhaps, to play the devil's advocate, it would be better to look at something like "30 Days of Night" or "Johnny The Homicidal Maniac" - both very successful through the direct market, both "indie" but neither "self" published - Tim)

"I know that a lot of this sounds like I’m indicting the companies rather than the genre, but really I’m indicting both. Here it is in a nutshell: maximizing the sales of a specific sub-genre of fantasy is often fundamentally antagonistic to goals that depend on cultivating a general readership. This is a more pernicious problem in comics than it is in other media because the sub-genre of choice has a unique appeal to a lot of Americans and because the people servicing the industry side of things are, in part because of the values imparted on them through the body of literature, willing to debase themselves in a way that helps keep some larger economic levers at bay. The retardation factor of the over-emphasis on superheroes is a big reason why it’s so startling when something happens outside of it that indicates that sales are to be had elsewhere – the underground boom, which petered out for structural reasons; the rise of humor strip collections in the 1980s; manga and bookstore sales of loftier comics works now. All of these things hint at a general appetite that was not being met by the more ingrained, ongoing and intensive market."

Well, I couldn't have said it better myself. I would go one step further, though, and repeat what I have always maintained: the direct market will not exist in ten years, at least not in its current shrinking and unstable form. It's just not a viable model for long-term success, or even long-term survival. It's a war of attrition, and every year more people decide they don't want to read superheroes anymore. That's just the facts of life. Of course, the medium has rarely if ever been in a better place (the general torpor of strip cartooning notwithstanding) - and comics are selling like literal hotcakes every place but the direct market. If I were a retailer or a publisher, I'd be working on ways to shore up my business in preparation for the next market contractions. Fantagraphics has "Peanuts"... what about you?

* Marc-Oliver Frisch, writing for The Pulse, has DC's comparative sales numbers for the month of February 2004 here. The numbers, as always, courtesy of ICV2.

* "THE police investigation into defamatory and offensive cartoons featuring four Wollongong [Australia] councillors and the general manager Rod Oxley has stalled because of a lack of evidence. The politically-motivated cartoons contain allegations of sexual impropriety and corruption and have been widely circulated since they appeared a month ago. They have been sent to business-people, the media, councillors and some residents and were timed to have maximum impact before tomorrow's elections." Read more here, courtesy of the Illawarra Mercury.

* "An International Republic Cartoon Contest is scheduled to be organized as part of the celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey." Read more about the contest here, courtesy of the Azer News.

* "Source Interlink, the nation's largest direct-to-retail magazine fulfillment distribution company, today announced an agreement with Marvel Comics to distribute comics to the major bookstore chains. Source Interlink plans to distribute comic titles including Ultimate Spider-Man, The Uncanny X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Captain America, and others to Barnes & Noble, Borders, B. Dalton Booksellers, Waldenbooks, and other specialty retailers." Read more here, courtesy of ICV2.

* "For the second year in a row, a University of Hawai'i newspaper cartoonist has run afoul of both the campus' Board of Publications and members of the public, some of whom say that some of his cartoons have racist overtones. The Board of Publications asked the editor of Ka Leo O Hawai'i last week to suspend publishing cartoons by Casey Ishitani while an investigation is under way. Ka Leo editor Lori Ann Saeki complied, and cartoons stopped appearing." Read more here, courtesy of the Honolulu Advertiser.

* "Good books work on many levels. But how many levels can we find in a children’s book using only 50 different words, Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham? Or The Cat in the Hat, with 220? Far more than you would imagine, is the answer. That is the genius of the Dr who was never a doctor, Seuss whose name was not Seuss, (and should rhyme with 'voice,' but never does) and a children’s writer who hated children and never had any. 'You have ’em, I’ll amuse ’em,' he said." Read more here, courtesy of Scotsman.com.

* Did you know that pro golfer Steve Elkington was apparently an amateur cartoonists as well? Yes, its officially a "slow news day" here at the ol' Hurting. Read more about it here, courtesy of Golfweb.

* The Oregonian takes yet another look back at Matt Groening and Lynda Barry's recent lecture/presentation as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series here.

* I missed this: apparently Drawn & Quareterly has three big artist signing/appearances coming up in Toronto and Montreal. If I were Canadian, I'd be there. Courtesy of the Journal board.

* I somehow missed Chris Allen's Breakdowns this week. I guess the fact that it's not posted weekly has kind of thrown me - I keep thinking "didn't it just come out last week?" and lo and behold it will be new. Go figure. But he's always worth reading, even if the majority of his reviews are skim-worthy, the criticism and commentary is mostly top-notch (although I could have lived without the indlgent Publisher Report Card altogether, but that's just me). Link courtesy of Move Poop Shoot.

* Mr. Allen also posts a link to this webcomic, which he labels as the worst of all time. You know, reading through this self-indulgent mess, I find it hard to disagree... this cartoonist has some serious issues and I would suggest that the internet is perhaps not the best place to deal with them. Kudos for some interesting use of photo montage, however.

* The Nashville City Paper has an interview with the other member of the "Phantom Jack" creative team, penciller Mitchell Breitweiser, here.

* "Project Linus 'blanketeers' across the region are stitching and sewing their hearts out - all for the love of children. Thursday, the Wichita County chapter of Project Linus recognized its members - or 'blanketeers' - and the children they help. Project Linus is named after the famous Peanuts comic strip character and his faithful blanket and is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing security, comfort and love to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or in need." Read more here, courtesy of the Times Record News.

* On April 1, cartoonists Gary Panter, Peter Bagge and Jessica Abel will sign copies of their books following a panel discussion at 4:30 p.m. at the Wexner Center For the Arts, Ohio. If I lived in Ohio, I'd be there. Yo. Here's more (scroll down a bit), courtesy of This Week News.

* David Fiore is shocked to agree with me again - and while I appreciate the sentiment, I don't necessarily agree with his thoughts on political satire and art. I'd argue that the distinction is ultimately immaterial, and almost smacks of some kind of high-art/low-art false dialectic. Of course, I may simply be misunderstanding... The Forager has some more comments about my comments about superheroes here. I am starting to tire of this topic again... what can I say?

You either want to believe that "X-Men" is endowed with great metaphorical significance or you want to believe that it's merely the literary equivalent of a Big Mac. Why do superheroes wear costumes? Why does the Big Mac have a "Special Sauce" that is so obviously just a tangy Thousand Island dressing? I would suggest, in answer to either question, that you ask the men in suits who own the trademarks to either property, because you aren't going to find a meaningful answer anywhere else.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Notable Links for 03/25

Remind me never to take a weekday off again.

Have I ever mentioned just how great Achewood is? I mean, seriously, I know some internet cartoons are just not that great, but Achewood is pretty much the first thing I click on every morning after my e-mail. I've been following it from just about the start (give or take a week) and it has never not been an absolute highlight of my day. If you haven't yet checked it out, you should. Forget my stupid chicken-scratchings: go now. I'll wait for you.

Anyway, before we get started, we've got a correction. Loyal reader Marc Chenault writes in to point out that on Tuesday I misidentified the The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia as being in West Virginia. You know, if I remembered my freshman year Geography work I would have known that, but hey, at least someone caught it so I don't look like a total maroon.

So, thanks to Mr. Chenault - your "No Prize" is in the mail. And hey, guess what, there really is "No Prize"...

* "Noted cartoonist of national and international fame B V Ramamurthy died in New Delhi past Tuesday midnight at 12.30 am, family sources said. The famed cartoonist of the Deccan Herald-Prajavani group had won several awards for his lasting contribution to the field of journalism through his cartoons." Read more here, courtesy of the Deccan Herald.

* "Royal Philips Electronics, Sony and display start-up E Ink announced on Wednesday that Sony would release an e-book in Japan in late April that uses a display based on E Ink's electronic-ink technology. The display aims to offer a paper-like reading experience with color contrast identical to newsprint. It is reflective and can be read in bright sunlight or dimly lit environments while being seen from virtually any angle." Read more here, courtesy of Techtree.

* Australia is on the verge of passing new anti-defamation legislation that could have a disastrous effect on the ability of Australian cartoonists to comment on their country's political happenings. Apparently, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock is proposing new defamation law that would bolster the ability of defamees to sue their defamers. The article states: "Existing state government defamation acts set out criteria for opinion and comment based on it being honestly held and that some facts exist to back it up. But for some unexplained reason the federal draft adds that "prejudiced, biased, and grossly exaggerated opinions" would receive no protection. At first glimpse this may seem harmless enough. Some who believe in expunging all potentially offensive comment from the public discourse may even support the addition. But these words are open to such harsh interpretation under the law as to jeopardise the quality of our national debate." The article further states that: "...even under existing law, comment-based defamation actions are difficult for media companies to counter. The last major successful defence was in the 1980s when architect Harry Seidler lost his case against then National Times cartoonist Patrick Cook." Dark days ahead for Australian cartoonists? Hope not. Read more here, courtesy of The Age.

* "The U.S. Supreme Court Monday let stand a ruling that left the copyright of art in the 'Tarzan' books with the estate of the author, not the artist. The artist, Burne Hogarth entered into an agreement with the estate of the author, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., in 1970 to create pictorial versions of 'Tarzan and the Apes' and stories from the 'Jungle Tales of Tarzan.'" Read more here, courtesy of the Washington Times.

* The San Francisco Chronicle has once again cancelled Zippy, which makes me very mad. Fantagraphics dude Eric Reynolds drops the news here (link courtesy of Comicon), and also posts a link to this nifty-keen letter by none other than Robert Crumb.

* The Eye has a talk with Seth about his design work for "The Complete Peanuts," and his general ideas about Schulz's life and work, here.

* Steven Grant's "Permanent Damage" is back this week after last week's car-accident imposed absence (glad to hear he's doing well). It is, as per usual, required reading. Especially noteworthy is his assessment of current Marvel policy - I wish every pro-turned-commentator was this sharp and cogent. But, I guess that's why he's not really writing much for the Big Two these days, isn't it? Read it here, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

* Loudoun, Virginia Times-Mirror cartoonist Paul Harrington received "Best in Show" among all cartoonists in the state at the Virginia Press Association awards. Read more here, courtesy of the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

* The Louisville Courier-Journal has an interesting talk with upstart comix-grrrl collective The Guerilla Girls, on the eve of the release of their new comic, "The Guerrilla Girls' Guide to Looking at Art Museums," here.

* "Local Democratic leaders were outraged and a handful of readers canceled subscriptions, but much of the reaction was favorable to an Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle editorial cartoon featuring John Kerry and Osama bin Laden. 'We received about 50 letters, phone calls, and e-mails -- and the positive responses outstripped the negative ones,' cartoonist Rick McKee told E&P. 'We're in a fairly conservative area.' According to a Chronicle story, state and county Democratic leaders called a news conference and demanded that the paper apologize for the March 18 cartoon -- which they said implied that bin Laden supports Kerry. Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn described the cartoon as a 'disgrace.'" Read more here, courtesy of Editor & Publisher.

* Like I wasn't going to link to this excellent Pulse interview with Eddie Campbell?

* The latest installment of Stuart Moore's "A Thousand Flowers" column looks at the hoary old topic of just where writers get their ideas, and actually approaches it in a semi-interesting manner. Kudos to him. Read it here, courtesy of Newsarama.

* The San Francisco Chronicle profiles cartoonist/rapper Keith Knight ("The K Chronichles") here.

* Courtesy of the Image Comics Community, we get a peak behind the curtain here that shows us a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes and inside the thoughts of one of the most powerful men in comics (ie, current Image publisher Erik Larsen). Fascinating, great stuff.

* "When the Internet animation boom was reaching its peak around the turn of the millennium, the Net looked like the promised land for animation artists. Flash and other affordable animation software had become an efficient way to create quality content with relative ease. It seemed animators would be in charge of their creations, not a room full of accountants and market analysts. The World Wide Web was the creator’s stage and smart animation was no longer relegated to festivals and Japan. It was the time when the quality of one’s toon was all that kept one from success. The shackles of animation’s corporate enslavers had been broken forever.

"But then the industry tanked." Read more here, courtesy of Animation World Magazine.

* "Eric Shansby left high school with a distinguished cartoonist résumé: five first place awards in at the 2002 Gold Circle Awards, three first place awards at the 2002 Maryland Scholastic Press Association, and second place at the 2002 Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association Editorial Competition, where he was the only high school student to place. But for Shansby, a 2003 Blair graduate, and current Yale freshman, the list of accomplishments that places him among elite talents in the world of cartoonists, just keeps growing. Shansby is now a cartoonist for The Washington Post, which has a readership of around one million readers. Shansby works for Post writer Gene Weingarten, author of 'Below the Beltway,' one of the most-read columns in the Washington area." Read more here, courtesy of Silver Chips.

* "Cartoonist Dan Piraro, whose satirical "Bizarro" strip runs daily in The [Indiana] News-Sentinel, was recently given the 18th Annual Genesis Award for Outstanding Cartoon. The Genesis Awards honor major news and entertainment media for producing outstanding works that raise public understanding of animal issues. The awards were given out last weekend by the Humane Society of the United States' Hollywood office." Read more here, courtesy of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

* The New Haven Advocate takes a look at the recent trend of playwrights becoming mainstream comic writers here.

* The San Jose Mercury-News speaks with respected cartoonist Bill Keane ("The Family Circus") here. And it's too bad I lost that link to the dirty "Family Circus" paste-ups, or I'd post it here...

* "Jim Davis, Marion, Ind., creator of the Garfield comic strip, was selected winner of the 2003 Pinacle Events/BWAA Cartoonist Award. The award honors individuals for meritorious service, devotion and contribution to the humorous side of bowling." Read more here, courtesy of Bowl.com.

* "Michael Pandolfo loves comics. Growing up in the '70s, your average comic book store was dark and cramped, often full of 'nasty and hated kids,' Pandolfo said. 'I didn't feel welcome.' After Pandolfo grew up and had a successful career as a Realtor, through 1988, he and partner Leon Cowan decided to open the first Dr. Comics and Mr. Games at Sixth Street and Eighth Avenue." Read more here, courtesy of the Contra Costa Times.

* Franklin Harris has a new essay up on how superheroes are not to blame for the industries woes here, link courtesy of Pop Culture Online. It's definitely well-reasoned, but there is one flaw I see in his thesis. As he puts it, the longstanding argument from the Superhero haters is that: "...the dominant superhero comics supposedly squeeze out other, more diverse comics." I'm with him so far. But then he says that "...there is no evidence of this. Indeed, the evidence is the opposite. When publishers release more and more superhero comics, other superhero comics tend to get squeezed out, but that's all." This is true, up to a point. But the point where it falls apart is the point where you see that the superhero fans and publishers have so conditioned their retailer base over the last twenty-five years (pretty much since the invention of the direct market) that there is basically no audience for stuff that isn't cape-and-cowl or some permutation thereof. Even borderline superhero stuff like the majority of Crossgen's output gets sidelined. The market doesn't sideline alternative offerings, it merely has no tolerance for them at all, and it really never has.

* Now, this was fun. Kudos to Mr. Zack S. for delivering an excellent column this week (courtesy of Silver Bullet Comics).

* Also courtesy of Silver Bullet Comics, The Panel takes a look at the thorny issues of Media Exploitation vs. Racial Acceptance here.

* Well, the topic du jour on the Blogosphere these days seems to be Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" finale. In all honesty, I am behind on my "New X-Men" for various and sundry reasons, and if all goes according to plan I probably won't be catching up on the story until the hardcover comes out. (Yes, I am "waiting for the trade" - which is not something I usually do, I mean, if a comic comes out that I want to read, I buy it, but I just got behind and then said "screw it, I'm waiting." I think I want those hardcovers on my shelf, they look ginchy keen.) Anyway, everyone and their mother is chiming on the story: Paul O'Brien at the X-Axis thinks the final storyline is "highly disappointing"; Gardner Lynn has a huge look at the entire series here (link courtesy of Insult to Injury);and Insult to Injury looks at even more X-craziness that I won't even attempt to encapsulate (mainly because I really don't want the ending ruined) here.

* The Village Voice has a review of cartoonist Ben Katchor and Mark Mulcahy's new musical, "The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island," here.

* The Arkansas City Traveller reports that "See Ya In Da Funnies" has been chosen as the theme of the 2004 Arkalalah. And no, I don't know what an Arkalalah is either. Read more here.

* Psychology Today chats with "Bloom County" and "Opus" creator Berke Breathed here.

* Rick Trembles' Snubdom takes a look at the recent "Dawn of the Dead" remake here - I've always liked these strips for some odd reason.

* Hey! New-school Brooklyn buzz band TV On The Radio have an authentic former/retired cartoonist in their line-up. Read more here, courtesy of the Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram.

* Call me an old softy but I really got a kick out of this article here (courtesy of the Pulse).

* Do you live in the UK and have a dog who looks a bit like Tintin's famous canine pal Snowy? Well, if so, the British National Maritime Museum wants to see you. Read more here, courtesy of icSouthLondon.

* Bill Sherman reacts to Jim Henley's recent essay on the nature of superheroes here. In doing so, he also takes an interesing look at Kurt Busiek's "Superman: Secret Identity" book, which I must admit I initially had no interest in, but that is changing with every positive review I read. Mainly, though, I just don't see that most superheroes are by any means reflections of a liberal/leftist mindset. I have traditionally thought of superheroes as reactionary in nature, which would definitely make them conservative in deed if not in word. I mean, I can think of two liberal superteam off the top of my head - the X-Men, whose liberal agenda is masked by generic ass-kicking, and the Authority, who skipped down the political wheel from liberal to facist pretty damn quickly. Maybe that's just me, though, I could very well be off in this estimation.

* And finally, a note to Mr. Sean T. Collins: I don't think that the superhero books you mention have been particularly good at critiquing foreign policy. I think it would be hard to fashion an accurate critique, for the very reason that superheroes are by their nature morally righteous and well-situated on the side of Good - they do Good things for Good reasons. With our current foreign policy, its more a case of doing Good things for very, very Bad reasons. The closest analogy I can think of would be the Authority (which is, again, a series I haven't read yet but I know the general gist) - wherein the "heroes" more or less do the wrong thing for the right reasons (but since I haven't read it I can't comment too closely).

America has never been - or at least has never aspired to be - a country where the ends justify the means. One of the worst legacies of the Clinton Administration was their almost wholesale abandonment of a number of left-liberal causes after the 1994 mid-term elections. If America would actually become a power concerned with the humanitarian good of the world, that would be an engagement I could get behind... but after both Haiti and Somalia failed, the Clinton Administration and the government as a whole (including, damningly, the United Nations) became pretty isolationist. The message from the electorate was plain and simple: we will not tolerate these foreign incursions where American interests are not directly at stake.

I wish more than anything that Bill Clinton had had the guts to get up in front of the world and have said: "There is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions developing in the African nation of Rwanda. We are witnessing a situation that stands to rival the Cambodian killing fields in terms of sheer brutality and genocidal madness. American political and economic interests are not directly impacted by the events in this small African republic, but I am here to tell you that the interests of American morality and decency are very much in jeopardy every moment we stand by and allow this crisis to continue. This is why I am authorizing the deployment of American troops...

But, as we all know, that speech was never given. We never went to Rwanda, and we were too late in Eastern Europe, just like we were too late in Iraq.

So, is it a Bad Thing that Saddam Hussein is gone? No. But the reasons we went were the wrong reasons. The way we did it was the wrong way. At every step of the line we did the wrong thing. It's our responsibility now, for better or for worse - we have to stay the course, because even the Hand Puppet's incompetent regime is better than the gaping chaos which yawns beneath the country.

So, yes, the left/liberal viewpoint does somewhat generally graze the same sphere as some Neoconservative thought in that we probably believe that America needs to have a much more vigorous foreign policy. But does anyone actually believe that we went to Iraq to avert a humanitarian crisis? No, twenty years ago would have been the time for that. We went to Iraq for every conceivably wrong reason that you can imagine, and the consequences have just begun to make themselves felt across our country and across our world. Iraq hasn't been a terrorist state since 1992, but it sure as hell is now. The best we can do is staunch the bleeding.

To bring this rant back to the subject of comics (I know, I just swore a few days ago I wouldn't blog political...), I think that Captain America would be able to understand pretty quickly how this issue parses out. We have a responsibility not only towards those who are weaker and unable to protect themselves, but also we have a deep and abiding moral responsibility to ensure that our motives and our means are never anything less than exactly what we purport them to be.

Which is why superhero books are such a canard in this respect: there's no moral vagary in the why's and wherefor's when the Avenger's stop the Kree from destroying Earth with a death ray. Even something like Millar's "Ultimates," which I do accept as satire from a left/liberal point of view, ultimately fails to make any sort of convincing argument against current policy. Where is the ambiguity when it comes to stopping the Hulk from smashing Manhattan or stopping the Chitauri (or, as we like to call them, the dirty Skrulls!) from making Earth into a giant pinata? Again, superheroes are inherently reactionary because, at their core, they exist to prevent change. Now, most of that change would be a bad thing - no-one wants the Hulk to flatten Manhattan (hey, that rhymed) - but when you boil it down, superheroes are really only any good when they are stopping things from happening. They can't actually work for change because A) in most cases they can't change the framework of their fictional universe that drastically from our own and B) whenever a superhero or heroes tries to change the status quo, it never ends up good. Just look at the Order (who only tried to conquer the world because they were being - wait for it - mind controlled!), or Force Works (whose premise was to try and root out evil before it reared its head, if you recall), or the Authority (is there any doubt that they are currently the Bad Guys in the Wildstorm U?). Admittedly, there are more effective ways to change the world than to conquer it, but most of those ways aren't very interesting to read about (who would buy a comic with 22 pulse-pounding pages of the X-Men handing out gifts to kids in the leukemia ward? That'd be pretty damn depressing, if you ask me).

There are exceptions. Joe Casey seems to be expounding on just these themes in his "Wildcats," which is another book I need to go back and reappraise. But on the whole, most superheroes are pretty much the definition of reactionary thought in action.

And, boy, did I write more on that than I intended to...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Notable Links for 03/24

Hey, guess what? No links today. Too much stuff on the burner. You get what you pay for, yadda yadda yadda. Don't worry, we'll be back tomorrow... or, at least, we should be... I might start to like this whole hiatus thing.

Anyway, just so you aren't totally disappointed, here's a new reivew I've had stashed for just such an occasion:

ORION #1-25

Its been a long time since the words “Innovation” and “Mainstream” have belonged anywhere near each other. The mainstream of the American comics industry these days seems designed for the express purpose of strangling ingenuity in the proverbial cradle. Truly gifted creators have, as can be imagined, gone their separate ways with the mainstream many years ago.

One of the few puzzling exceptions to this rule is the long career of Walt Simonson. Possessed of one of the most striking styles in the whole of the mainstream, Simonson has worked his entire career in the unforgiving and largely unrewarding salt-mines of corporate comics. Despite this, he has managed to retain a great deal of critical integrity simply through the creative virtuosity with which he tackles every new project.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics have been soiled almost beyond recognition by three decades of mishandling. The intense mythological drama that motivated the core of Kirby’s vision was replaced by standard-issue superheroics, turning Orion and Mr. Miracle into members of the Justice League and Darkseid into just another villain-of-the-week.

Most fans of Kirby’s work have probably long ago given up hope that the characters would ever again be treated with the dignity and respect of their origins. As such, they most likely weren’t playing attention when Simonson began his run on “Orion”. (The fact that “Orion”s premiere came on the heels of two years of solidly unintelligible spandex mumblings from John Byrne, in the form of the late and unlamented ‘New Gods’ and ‘Fourth World’ titles, probably did not help the title find its’ audience).

"Orion" faced an uphill battle from day one. It was placed securely outside the superhero ethos. Simonson understood something Kirby knew but no one else has bothered to remember: Orion and the rest of the New Gods aren’t super-heroes. For someone who is familiar with Kirby’s work but relatively ignorant of the incestuous cesspool that is modern superheroics, this may not seem like much of a revelation. Just try, however, to pick up any book featuring Kirby’s Fourth World characters from the past two decades and you’ll see what I mean.

Kirby’s gods are granite blocks of motion incarnate, massive figures representing primal conflict and inchoate morality. Kirby’s richly surreal representational style met its greatest zenith in the lushly jumbled action montages of the Fourth World books – thick black stabs of ink (corrupted only slightly by Vince Colletta’s finishes) that utilized motion and power as metaphors for existentialist conflict. This is certainly dangerous ground for most superhero comics to walk over, so most of Kirby’s “inheritors” simply ignored the concept’s depth in favor of exploiting the characters as action figures.

Simonson is smarter than that. His Orion had as much in common with Superman as nothing. The conflicts that fueled the book had no relation to the infantile morality under the surface of nearly every superhero comic: Orion’s conflict with his father Darkseid, with his own darker nature and, later in the run, with his own death wish.

The storyline involves, very roughly, the climax of decades of struggle on Darkseid’s part - his acquisition of the Anti-Life equation. Anti-Life here is portrayed as a soul-deadening antidote to Kirby’s primal dynamism – the key to complete mental submission throughout the universe, the end of free will, the true antithesis of life. Virtual facism. Over the course of the book’s run Orion discovers the key to the equation and succumbs to the temptation represented by its almost-infinite power. After he is finally defeated, he spends the remainder of the series dealing with his own inadequacy as he struggles to understand how he could have – despite his best efforts - become everything his father had been, and worse.

Simonson is no mere cipher. In translating Kirby’s characters into new situations and idioms, he translates them into his own style as well. More than just about any other living cartoonist (at the very least within the confines of the mainstream) Simonson understands the concept of pacing. The layout becomes an elastic, living creature under his guidance, stretching and contracting to communicate the story’s underlying tension.

He understands instinctively how to propel the action along through manipulation of the reader’s viewpoint. His panels are no mere windows into storyline, they are musical notes – abrupt and staccato to communicate jagged suspense, elongated and panoramic to indicate a pause or to establish mood. I daresay there are few artists in comics who could not learn something from his skill at pacing a scene or constructing a page.

It can be argued that no one could ever truly recapture what Kirby attempted to create with his Fourth World – certainly, most would agree without hesitation that the characters have known nothing but misery since their creator’s death. But Simonson has crafted a loving tribute to Kirby by simultaneously steering closely to Kirby’s original intentions and branding the franchise with his own unique sensibilities.

Unfortunately, none of this was enough to save the title from cancellation. It’s a sad fact that in the mainstream comics industry, anything even slightly new or different sometimes fails to find an outlet – sometimes fails miserably. Two years – 25 issues – is nothing to scoff at by any means.

Simonson will undoubtedly land on his feet. He hardly reinvented the wheel with his work on “Orion” but his ingenuity in reimagining concepts which had been almost worn to death, combined with his unmistakable flair for storytelling, should not be ignored.