Anyway, on with the show. I’m just glad there isn’t really all that much going on in comics at the moment, though some very interesting things look about to happen…
Got an email last week about the negative impact of bad reviews on tender psyches of budding talent. Way back when I took creative writing courses in college, where everyone has to critique everyone else’s stories, we were implored by one teacher to “be positive” about other people’s work because the creative spirit was a tender, fragile thing that should be nourished, not oppressed, and it would be ashamed if a harsh word from one of us caused another to give up writing. And my immediate reaction, unchanged in years since, was: anyone who’d quit that easily doesn’t want to be doing it. The fact is that bad work gets done – even excellent talents do bad work occasionally – and when people are asked to pay money for that work, they ought to know about it. It’s true that a review is only the reviewer’s opinion, but hopefully the reviewer does bring something at least vaguely resembling critical faculties and objectivity to his work, which makes the opinion as least somewhat informed. A reviewer has no obligation to be positive or negative about any work, only to be accurate. A lot of talent, in all fields, take good reviews as personal approbation and bad reviews as personal condemnation. And some turn out to be, but it’s usually best to assume they’re not unless there’s overriding evidence indicating otherwise. The person is the person, the work is the work. They’re not the same thing. Let’s face it, the main impact is economic. Creatively, you can view any review, good or bad, as an opportunity to reassess and adjust, or there’s the philosophy that all feedback is just noise in the system. Hemingway was once asked if he ever paid attention to good reviews, and he answered, “no, because then I’d have to pay attention to the bad ones too.” But bad reviews – believe me, I’ve gotten plenty of them – should, at worst, make you just want to turn out something so good you can stuff it down the reviewer’s throat and laugh about it. We all get bad reviews sooner or later, but it’s not the reviewer’s responsibility to worry about it. What you do with reviews, good or bad, is your business.
From Fantagraphics Books:
THE COMPLETE PEANUTS 1957-1958 by Charles Schulz (325 pg b&w hardcover;$28.95)
Continuing the ridiculously successful “Complete Peanuts” project. This is an interesting period in Schulz’s development; while the figures aren’t yet as stylized as they’d be for the bulk of the strip, they’re pretty much there, and the art is far surer and more consistent than earlier. He has settled in. So, too, has the humor, which becomes a little more predictable than in the more erratic earlier material as character material recurs, and is often more whimsical or bittersweet than genuinely funny. But here the characters also become what really cemented PEANUTS reputation, and made it indispensable daily reading. By not playing it a joke a day, Schulz gave them a reality of character that turned them into America’s kids next door. If you read pages at random in this volume, you might scratch your head over what the big deal was, but enough strips and it hits critical mass, and the only word for it is remarkable.
BLACK HOLE by Charles Burns (340 pg b&w hardcover; $24.95)
Arguably the best American horror novel of the last decade in any form. Burns’ writing and art are both creepy and exact, just enough off-kilter to create a real aura of crawling paranoia, as high school students deal with the personal and social effects of a STD that gives them idiosyncratic mutations, which triggers a bizarre string of murders and opens up some possibilities while crushing others. It works equally well as a parable of AIDS America, or an allegory on teenage alienation and sexual awakening. Either way it’s striking and haunting, a beautiful job with no pat endings or easy answers that really gets into your head. A lot of people tout Junji Ito’s UZUMAKI as the best horror story in comics, but BLACK HOLE, just as original (not a vampire, werewolf, zombie or alien in sight), has it beat, and the story even improves with collection. Just great.
Also received from Fantagraphics: the latest volume of THE ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY by Chris Ware, but this thing is so dense it’ll take me weeks to finish it. Review coming then.
From Boom! Studios:
ZOMBIE TALES: OBLIVION (48 pg color one-shot; $6.99)
Continuing from the very successful original ZOMBIE TALES anthology, which means more John Rogers, Andrew Cosby, Keith Giffen, Rom Lim, etc. and a slew of new zombie stories. As I said last review, I’m no fan of zombies, but these are pretty fun. Rogers and artist Tom Fowler produce an attractive piece on zombies in the Arctic that has some interesting ideas but ends up rather slight – there’s a lot there that could have been developed – while Mike Nelson and Andy Kuhn go for a straight action story featuring an innovative way to deal with the problem. Marks Waid & Badger do a straightforward vignette focusing, seemingly, on the economic and social realities of living in a zombie apocalypse world, but comes up with a lovely, vaguely upbeat kicker. Continuing series are Andrew Cosby’s comical “I. Zombie,” now drawn by Benjamin Roman, and Keith Giffen & Ron Lim’s “Deader Meat; both live up to their first episodes. No zombies in sight in the Johanna Stokes/Keith Giffen wrap-up, about a couple of Japanese kids coping with the reality of their new world. Looks good, reads good. If you like zombies, you’re unlikely to do much better.
From Devil’s Due:
FORGOTTEN REALMS: HOMELAND, The Legend Of Drizzt Book 1 by RA Salvatore, Andrew Dabb & Tim Seeley (color graphic novel; $14.95)
Jeez, how many titles can one book have? With art by Seeley and adaptation by Dabb, it’s an attractive enough book, but you have to be a real fan of the Wizards Of The Coast series to want to wade through names like Nalfein, Zaknafein and Menzoberranzan for long. It’s pretty typical sword and sorcery: conspiracy, prophecy and convoluted vengeance in a world of elves, dwarves and such, as an elf boy grows to be a warrior then rebels against his evil family. It’s okay; appreciation’s probably helped by being a fan of the original material.
BLACK HARVEST #1 by Josh Howard (32 pg color comic; $3.25)
Josh Howard’s follow-up to his popular DEAD@17 is a departure, and it isn’t. It’s mostly set-up so far: an Internet reporter tracks a UFO story to a desert town with a history of visitations only to almost run down a half-naked, scarred girl missing for three years. While there are a few mars on the story, notably a brutal hick sheriff apparently still living in 1935 who gets rough with the reporter hero for no discernable reason, Howard’s really again in Bible Belt apocalyptic mode, with another strangely mutated heroine bent on cosmic justice and a sinister secret organization dogging her tracks. As usual with Howard’s projects, it’s hard to make a solid judgment at this point, but so far so good. His art has improved too, with figures a bit less blocky and poses generally a bit more naturalistic.
HACK/SLASH #1 by Tim Seeley & Dave Crosland (32 pg color comic; $3.25)
Like BLACK HARVEST, this has first issue syndrome; so far so good but who knows? Our “slasher/hunter” heroes take a meeting with a fan of sorts who tips them to a case they can’t do anything about, a serial killer who murders children through their dreams. It’s mostly chat, a rarity for a horror comic, but it works okay, with a relaxed pace and some nice humor bits. Grosland’s art initial seems too goofy and inappropriate, particularly in an opening dream sequence, but by the end it grows on you.
PURGATORI #1 by Robert Rodi & Cliff Richards (32 pg color comic; $2.95)
Rodi and Richards, both doing excellent work, take us back to ancient Egypt for… well, for a pretty pointless story. A sex-crazed girl takes to wandering the Nile banks at night despite her mother’s constant reproval, until she encounters the vampire demoness Purgatori, who kills her. Plenty of fanservice, though.
EVIL ERNIE IN SANTA FE #1 by Alan Grant & Tommy Castillo (32 pg color comic; $2.95)
Occult serial killer Evil Ernie, teamed with a psychotic smilie button, explains his philosophy of life while prepping to torture and kill a victim as bounty hunters try to track him down. Turns out child killers are real low on the totem pole; even Ernie doesn’t like them. Grant and Castillo turn in good work – I haven’t seen that much Castillo work, but Grant almost always does (and, no, we’re not related) – but they’re trying a little too hard to find a moral core to Evil Ernie. Grant, who wrote passels of interesting Batman villains back in the day and has explored his share of moral ambiguity in JUDGE DREDD, can dig such territory out of Brian Pulido’s old concept if anyone can, but is it worth it?
STRONGHOLD #1 by Phil Hester & Tyler Walpole (48 pg b&w comic; $4.95)
Phil Hester tries channeling Warren Ellis and ends up with… Superman? STRONGHOLD is interesting, but it jumps through way too many hoops to set up its premise – a secret society (where everyone dresses like Byrne’s Kryptonians) nicking from the Amish by sending its young out into the world before they decide whether to say with the society or not, and guiding/watching over/worshipping an (apparently) amnesiac god insurance claims adjuster who’s really a god, while a literal devil orchestrates violence and sin around the world. Hester’s story is a bit too longwinded and fuzzy to be compelling, and Walpole’s art is adequate but inexpressive; it’d be helped immensely by color. Not bad but not very memorable either.
MEGACITY 909 #7 by Andrew Dabb, Kano Kang & Zack Suh (32 pg color comic; $2.95)
Pretty, violent Hong Kong comics. Demons overrun Hong Kong while one hero discovers his true supernature and others try to destroy the demon leader. And that’s about it. Once you get past the pretty pictures, it’s a pretty nondescript and predictable Armageddon…
HU: THE LOST PROPHECY #4 by Andrew Dabb, Manson Khan & Mark Lee (32 pg color comic; $2.95)
Hong Kong post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery comics, as near as I can figure. Like MEGACITY 909, this book could use a recap page because there are dozens of characters roaming around without a clue as to who’s who (no pun intended), who wants what, or what’s going on. Nice to look at, but thin in the story.
DRAGONLANCE CHRONICLES #2 by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Andrew Dabb & Steve Kurth (32 pg color comic; $2.95)
I know there were fantasy comics fans who were terribly disappointed when CrossGen gave up the ghost. For the most part, I find the stuff completely interchangeable, and DRAGONLANCE CHRONICLES, with its elves, unicorns, magical staffs, talking winged horses etc., doesn’t change my mind, but it’s drawn nicely and there’s nothing in the writing that’s particularly embarrassing, so that puts it ahead of many in the genre. If “heroic fantasy” is your meat, take a look.
DARKSTALKERS #6A by Ken Sui-Chong, Joe Vriens, Alvin Lee & Kevin Lau (32 pg color comic; $2.95)
Weird looking book; it’s got a coloring process that gives the art considerably depth but makes the printing look strangely off-register. As with many other comics being published by DDP these days, coming aboard in the middle of this is a nightmare. All I can say is the art looks nice; the characters are practically indistinguishable, the writing’s pedestrian and the plot – extradimensional gods and monsters at odds in their own dimensions visit Earth for various reasons, none of which are explained (“I had to” is as good an explanation as the main heroine (?) usually gives), and the plot, such as it is (the whole issue is a holey jigsaw of vignettes), reads like it came out of a cuisinart; I dare anyone to find a single idea here. Incidents piled on top of each other simply aren’t stories, and they don’t even write X-books like that anymore. Pass.
From Digital Webbing:
SWORD OF DRACULA #1 by Jason Henderson & Terry Pallot (32 pg color comic; $3.50)
This series had a previous run at Image that earned decent reviews and scant sales, strange considering the paramilitary take on Dracula is one of those clever high concepts a lot of people would kill for. This is obviously an attempt to make the concept more widely palatable, as the art this time around is cleaner, sharper and in color that shows it off nicely. Former anti-Dracula operative Veronica “Ronnie” Van Helsing is dragooned back into service as Dracula pulls a Dr. Doom and tries to get his own country for purposes of diplomatic immunity and other benefits. I don’t know how interesting a diplomatic storyline is going to get; it already seems to be scraping well-covered ground. Consciously or otherwise, Henderson has toned down his style considerably for this as well, making it feel underwritten. It’s not bad but it needs more oomph if Henderson wants the series to get noticed this time around.
HERO AT LARGE #1 by Eric Hogan & Jeremy Treece (32 pg color comic; $2.99)
More superhero parody, as “the greatest hero in Megalotropolis” finds himself cashiered by his agent, kicked off his superteam (by recommendation of “the network”), and bounced onto skid row – until the faith of a young boy reminds him what heroism is all about. The core idea – -playing superheroes on the same terms actors live by – is amusing, but, as if usually the case with superhero parodies, once you get the joke, you get the joke, and there’s nothing left but to be beaten over the head with it for the rest of the issue. It’s a borderline original idea, though Grant Morrison did the same sort of thing in ZENITH, but nothing original comes out of it.
PARTING WAYS by Andrew Foley, Scott Mooney & Nick Craine (154 pg b&w graphic novel; $12.99)
The misadventures of a suicidal stockbroker who experiences the torments of a bureaucratized afterlife and hell while his soulless revived body wanders through his daily life on earth. Foley rolls through the complications and implications with sure wit, nicely playing out parallels above and below. The art could be better, but the storytelling’s good. It’s a book not much can be said about without giving away much of what the humor depends on, but it’s good. Read it.
From Oni Press:
ARMAGEDDON AND SON by John Layman & Dave Dumeer (92 pg b&w trade paperback; $9.95)
A slacker meets his father, who turns out to be a James Bond-style villain who wants to bring the kid into the family business. Layman’s got a sense of humor that falls somewhere between MAD Magazine and Vince McMahon, mixed with a good sense of character. Oddly for parodies, everything comes together nicely at the end. The art’s not spectacular but it gets the job done. A good, tongue-in-cheek oneshot read. Check it out.
“In a recent column you wrote:
“the capitalist philosophy that the man who financially backs a venture should be considered the true creator of the subsequent work…”
There is no such capitalist philosophy. The popular fallacy is that labor is sufficent to secure profits. It is not. (And as a freelancer you should know this!) Just ask any novelist (when they type “THE END” do the royalties magically drop into their lap?). The truth is that labor is a necessary but not sufficient condition to gain profits. This is a fact of life. (Did our hunter-gather ancestors always catch something when they went out to hunt? Not even if they worked really, really hard?) People who have done nothing but earn wages all their life tend to think that there is renumeration is the inevitable result of labor. No matter what you’re doing, all you have to do is work money is guaranteed to magically appear in your bank account.
The factor that decides whether profits are made (or even if you break even) is whether the entrepreneur has correctly predicted the difference between cost of production and the prices people will pay for the product. If he can charge more for the product than he paid to produce it he earns a profit. But there is a gap (months even years) between when he pays the cost of production and when he receives any profit. Because he has SAVED however, he can afford to wait and can pay the people he employs immediately they have completed their work The entrepreneur provides a kind of insurance service to the employee – ‘I’ll save and as long as my capital holds out, I can pay you for the work you have done. You don’t have to wait for profits to be paid, especially since they may never actually materialize.’
The fact of the matter is if people don’t like the terms that companies are offering (and there’s no reason why they should) they are free to start their own comic book companies and keep the rights to their work. Of course once they do, they’ll realize just how much work must be done in addition to writing and penciling. They’ll realize that the lion’s share of effort goes into printing and marketing and distribution and on and on (Image creators like Arvid “Only 10 per cent of my job is writing” Nelson already know this). And that after all that work they may still not make a dime. And if they somehow do make profits, they’ll learn the hard way what happens if the lion’s share of those profits are not reinvested in the company.
Like it or not, companies take a big risk and do a lot of hard work when they publish a book. They will seek to mitigate that risk and obtain the greatest rewards they can. If creators don’t like the terms, they should never forget that they can take their toys elsewhere.”
I don’t recall anyone arguing the publisher does nothing, except in specific cases, or that the completion of creation of a project means the end of a project. But it remains that without the talent there is nothing to publish. A lot of talent are more than happy to be involved in the process and decisions of production but are never given the opportunity. And “the greatest rewards possible” certainly shouldn’t mean all the rewards, though that’s traditionally what comics publishers have accrued to themselves, and have more recently started to reaccrue. It’s not an issue of dominance, it’s an issue of equity.
“Just a word about watching DivX on DVD… Several companies sell DVD machines that can play the .avi files burned as .avi files onto a dvd (+r, -r, whatever). The Norcent I bought (the DP-220) cost me $45, and plays almost all the files beautifully (I use this to catch up on TV a lot, and it plays something like 98% of every file I’ve tried). This saves money on DVD media (you can generally fit a whole season of a half hour show on one disk, or an hour long show on 2), but, more importantly is soooo much more convenient (as in disk burned in 4 minutes as opposed to 4 hours, with rendering time). Plus Nero is the greatest burning program there is, but has a cheap and lousy rendering subroutine, so you’ll get a lot of errors (I find when the scene contains a lot of white or high albedo scenery, the audio will get ahead of the video in the burn, and catch up when the lights go down, and I’ll get occasional completely crashed burns). Philips also makes one for under 60$. Amazon has the Philips (DVP642), but is currently out of the Norcent. I strongly recommend this. The DR. WHO season plays at no loss from a disk and a half.”
Thanks for the tip. The cheap Coby DVD player I got a few months ago has terrific features and plays most formats, just not that one.
More on DR. WHO:
“‘but some press flak at the BBC stupidly let it leak ahead of time.’
I may be getting the timings confused here (it was several months ago) but: If memory serves, the announcement of Eccleston leaving at the end of the first new season was “leaked” roughly at the same time that ITV (the other mainstream terrestrial channel and the BBC’s main competitor) had announced that Tony Blair was going to be a guest on their show which was on during the same time slot as DR. WHO. Guess which announcement got more press?
Accidental leak, my foot!”
I had no idea. British politics are even sillier than ours…
“Next semester, I’ll be teaching a section of Freshman Composition 2 at the State University of New York’s college at New Paltz, where the theme will be Graphic Literature. I’m thinking of what to use in my book list, and aside from PERSEPOLIS, I can’t think of any female comic creators that are of a more literary bent (as far as intent, execution, or perception, I mean). I love Gail Simone’s work, but I’m hard-pressed to find any non-superhero (non-action, non-mainstream, etc.) work by her. Any ideas/suggestions?”
The only non-superhero work I can think of by Gail are her SIMPSONS stories, and I’m not sure she did more than one. Anyone have any suggestions for “literary” (as opposed to superhero comics) done by women? (Erotic fantasy probably isn’t what he’s looking for either.)
“You make a good point about serious discussions/debate about comics. If you were to identify some places where one could go to read and post in-depth, well, that would be very cool. You get tired of the ‘that rulz!l/that suckkksss!’ vibe on so many forums. If such a place were focused on more independent/non-mainstream books, so much the better. Give the creators, many of whom are cutting their teeth, a chance to get some quality feedback. Give careful insightful readers a haven for real analysis.”
I’m told it’s being worked on even as we speak, but you’re never going to eliminate the “that ruuuuuulz!” type of messages on public forums, and private forums tend to get too insular very quickly. We’ll see what happens…
“I never write letters and I don’t even know if you read your emails but I was reading your column and I saw that that guy that writes SHE-HULK emailed you about his book. I’m sure writers are a sensitive lot and I though it was really cool how he approached you I just couldn’t help feeling like you blew him off by not reading his book. Please give it a read. It seemed the courteous thing to do, one creator to another. He seemed like a nice down to earth guy, why don’t you give him a chance?”
I intend to at some point, but whether Dan’s a nice guy or not, and I’ve no reason to think he isn’t, I’m living on borrowed time as it is and one of the things I really don’t have time for right now is hunting down comics. I read and review pretty much everything that hits my mailbox, and I try to judge it all on its own merits or lack of them. That’s courtesy. I certainly have no intention of insulting Dan or impugning his writing – for all I know he’s the best writer in comics today – but none of that changes the fact that I only have so much time. That’s all I was saying, that’s all I meant. Rule of thumb: if you want me to read it, send it to me.
My occasional collaborator Mike Zeck (some of you might remember our PUNISHER work, or our LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT arc, or the DAMNED mini-series, among other things), has self-published THE ART OF MIKE ZECK VOLUME ONE. He’s been making a lot of money over the past few years doing cover recreations and commissions for private collectors, and ART collects quite a bit of that material, along with unused covers, pinups, portfolio pieces, original pencils of published material, and gobs of other stuff. Mike’s one of the best action artists in comics, and his talent’s in full bloom here. Even his static pieces seethe with impending explosions of motion. These will be limited edition volumes, so move fast; a lot of artists sell their “sketchbooks” (and this is no sketchbook) on the convention circuit, but Mike doesn’t often attend conventions, so direct order is the only way to get it. Click here for information.
For those who’ve considered trying their hand at horror comics, Steve Niles holds a pretty good discussion of the subject at Comic Foundry. Worth a look. Also worth a look is Joe Casey and Matt Fraction’s THE BASEMENT TAPES from last week here at CBR, where Joe talks candidly about the ups and downs of his recently cancelled Wildstorm book, THE INTIMATES, as he talks about the thought processes behind the book, what worked, what didn’t, where things slipped and what was done wrong across the board. I know there are some who will take it as whining, but Joe’s experience mirrors the experience of pretty much every other talent in comics at some point or another, and brings up lots of points and questions that aren’t voiced often enough. Finally, best of luck and get well soon to Mark Millar, who has taken himself offline and out of the picture for a few months to recover from a condition that plagued him on and off for the past few years. (You can read about it at Millarworld if you like.) No need to panic; the worst is apparently behind him, but r&r is exactly what the doctors ordered, literally. Looking forward to what you’ve got up after all that, Mark.
Happy Days of the Dead. Halloween was, of course, Monday night this year, with more trick or treating around these parts than in recent years. I’d always thought of trick or treating as something for little kids that’s meant to be outgrown by, oh, 14 or so. Teenagers should have Halloween parties instead. A curious number of angel costumes around this year – did the Religious Right give up on demonizing Halloween and decide to colonize it instead? Teenagers did come around trick or treating, and while I cocked a stern eye at it no reason not to hand them candy. And I certainly understand why parents would accompany their children door to door. It’s in the spirit of the night for the parents to dress up. No problem with that. What I don’t get is an apparently new trend for parents to dress in costume and trick or treat for candy themselves. Weird. Had at least three different moms and dads come around with their own goodie bags on Halloween. I didn’t make a fuss, just doled out the goodies, but come on. We all have to grow up sometime. Adults, go buy your own candy. Has this been happening anywhere else?
No one got last week’s Comics Cover Challenge, and for once no one even came remotely close. But I knew it would be a toughie: all the comics shown had stories inked by inking gangs rather than a single inker. The ringer in the group was The Crusty Bunkers, a fluid group of young talents (you’ll find a number of names like Chaykin among them) that hung out at Neal Adams’ studios in the early ’70s and helped each other make deadlines. I’ll make this one easy, though.
Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week’s Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn’t been an issue so far.) There’s usually a clue to the theme hidden somewhere in the column, but finding this week’s clue is critical. (No, “they’re all DC comics” isn’t it.)
And don’t forget my two books are available in pdf e-book form at The Paper Movies Store: TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting my Master Of The Obvious essays on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life; and IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS, a running commentary on American life and politics in the first half of the Terror Decade. 250+ pages each, $5.95@ or both for $10.95. What are you waiting for?
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.
I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
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