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Pipeline #294

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline #294

SUPERHERO SUPER BOWL

The football game had its moments and the commercials were iffy. But as a superhero comics fan, you had to love the commercials in the first half. You had new ads for HULK, DAREDEVIL, and THE MATRIX. (Neo is doing his Superman impression in the commercial, and it’s been said that the next MATRIX movie is the Wachowski Brother’s take on superheroes. I’ll count it.) If you want to extend that out a bit, you can add in TERMINATOR 3, although the trailer that’s been available on-line for weeks now shows much more. That longer trailer, however, makes the third installment in the movie series to look like an expensive made-for-television movie and not the blockbuster franchise that James Cameron presided over.

The only thing to worry about this is if superhero movies are the dot.com ads of 2003. If HULK and DAREDEVIL (and X-MEN 2) fail to impress box office watchers, I doubt we’ll see any such presence in next year’s Super Bowl. Is this just a fad for the moment, inspired by SPIDER-MAN’s outrageous success? Or can it be maintained? If DAREDEVIL is even half the bomb that some trailers make it out to be, will it poison the well for all the rest, or just be seen as a stumbling block?

In the end, the cheaper independent movies based on non-superhero comics may have a longer lifespan. People expect less of them and the critics love them. GHOST WORLD was a critical darling, but the box office take didn’t quite equal the film’s budget. Now, AMERICAN SPLENDOR is wowing audiences at Sundance, but will it ever see wide distribution?

Movies, in the end, mirror the comics. The large blockbusters based on the best-selling monthly titles will boom big or bust awful. The smaller titles will curry more favor with critics and take in less at the box office. Since they’re cheaper to make with less money at stake (often by people with a personal interest in the material), they’ll continue to be made even after the blockbuster trend moves back away from Marvel Comics.

(I’m not sure where ROAD TO PERDITION fits into this commentary, quite truthfully. It made $100 million dollars, yet people still thought of it as a disappointing Tom Hanks film. We’ll have to see how it sells when it gets released to DVD next month.)

HIRSCHFELD

Al Hirschfeld is an institution. Who can remember a time when he wasn’t around? Given that he died this past week at the age of 99, that number would have to be very small. His art is something I always took for granted. He was a talented caricaturist who hid “Nina” in his drawings as often as possible. You never knew who he’d be drawing next, or where one of his drawings would pop up, aside from his usual spot at the New York Times.

This past Sunday afternoon, I ran across an interview with him airing on a local PBS affiliate. Art Spiegelman (sorry, “art spiegelman”) was the interviewer in a piece taped in October 2001. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen Spiegelman without a cigarette in his mouth. Hirschfeld was 97 at the time. I found it hard to believe. You watch this man talk and tell stories and he doesn’t act a day over 70. I know people in their 60s whose recall isn’t as great as Hirschfeld’s was at age 97.

If you get the chance to catch the show (“Theater Talk”) being rerun again anytime soon, take a moment to watch it. There’s some wonderful stuff in there about Hirschfeld’s work process, and how he learned to draw in the dark while watching plays.

In the meantime, you can take a look at the wide variety of people he drew over his lifetime over at the Hirschfeld Gallery.

X-MEN 1.5

The new X-MEN movie disc comes out in just a couple of weeks from today. This version of the movie includes a commentary track from director Brian Singer, as well as extensive behind the scenes video. The deleted scenes, sadly, have not been edited back into the movie as they were once rumored to be. An early review of the DVD can be found over at The Digital Bits. It’s a mixed review, but an honest one.

In the meantime, I have 5 copies of the DVD to give away to people, thanks to the promotional people out in Los Angeles associated with the movie. I won’t have them to send out until after the disc streets on February 11th, but if you’re OK with waiting a week or ten days to get your copy, here’s your chance to win one.

E-mail me your mailing address where I can send the DVD, with the subject header “X-MEN 1.5” and you’ll be entered. The deadline for entries is Friday, January 31, 2003 at midnight, EST. I’ll send all winners an e-mail over the weekend to let them know it’s coming so they don’t pre-order the disc. All other entries will be deleted, and your addresses won’t be shared with anyone.

This contest is open only to people in Region 1 of the DVD world, which means the United States and its territories, and Canada. Five winners will be drawn at random and the discs should ship out on Saturday, February 15.

MARIO AS COMICS?

The January 2003 issue of WIRED magazine contains an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto. He’s the man who brought us all Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda. He’s hailed as the godfather of videogames in some circles, but he’s having some issues with the changing nature of videogames. His predicament today is one that might sound familiar to a lot of comic book fans. Take this paragraph from the story, for instance:

“Miyamoto’s work has largely defined the medium, and thus created this enormous potential. Yet his cartoonish aesthetic has nothing to do with the darker, most complex and ambiguous flavor of contemporary existence. That’s a spice Miyamoto seems to have little use for. As the industry tests the boundaries of its traditional concerns and audience, many of Miyamoto’s peers have begun to wonder whether, for all his mastery, he can lead the videogame medium into the future, or whether he’s destined to loom only over its past.”

There is a sea change in mass media entertainment these days. A generation of children that came up with this new media now wants to continue to have it as they grow older, but they want new titles focused on them. Yes, that’s right: “video games aren’t for children anymore.”

Of course, videogames are such a large industry that the politicians notice them. I guess there is something to be thankful for when you consider the painfully low numbers in which comics sell.

RIDING THE WAVE

Marvel announced the Tsunami line last week, geared to emulate some of the manga model and appeal to female teenage readers. None of the titles actively excite me but I’ll give them a chance based on the creators involved. (The only time I ever appreciated Namor, for instance, was when John Byrne was starting his series more than a decade ago.)

Since Marvel is being forthcoming about their intent to reprint the series as trade paperbacks as soon as possible, I think I’ll be holding off for the collections before reading most of them.

Will the new series last? Maybe. I wouldn’t bet on it, but the comics industry can be a surprising thing these days. These books stand as much of a chance as anything new DC has released in the past couple of years.

MAYBE MARVEL KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING?

There’s a segment of fandom that likes to bash Marvel for every little thing. I’m not saying Marvel is correct in every single thing they do, but the knee jerk response from many astounds me. I wrote about it here last week.

Marvel gets the last laugh, though. Last week’s daily press conferences generated news reports that people were so interested in that it slowed down the major comics news sites to a crawl in the early afternoon as the reports went on-line.

Looks like Marvel marketing has people talking, after all.

RAIJIN COMICS OVERVIEW

If I haven’t reviewed many of the most recent comics lately, it’s because of RAIJIN COMICS. It, along with SHONEN JUMP, is attempting to bring the Japanese anthology manga magazine to American audiences.

RAIJIN is different from SHONEN in a few ways. Most prominent is that RAIJIN is a weekly magazine aimed at mature audiences (16 and up, I’d say), whereas SHONEN JUMP is monthly and aimed at the post-Pikachu crowd that’s now glommed onto Yu-Gi-Oh and whatever translated anime is on FOX Saturday mornings these days.

Aside from 200 pages of new comics arriving your mailbox every week, what’s the big draw to manga? First, you get up to 8 different stories in each issue. They’re illustrated in different styles and concern a variety of topics. You have teenage drama (“Slam Dunk”), political power plays (“The First President of Japan”), fight comics (“Bakki the Grappler”), private detective (“City Hunter”), political/action (“Revenge of the Mouflon”), and more.

Secondly, they’re relatively quick reads. A lot has been made of “decompressed storytelling.” Yes, it happens here. A single kick in a karate tournament can take three pages to deliver. The dropping of one bomb might be four pages across two parts of a story. Why is that a good thing? For starters, it helps to emphasize dramatic moments, not unlike overcranking the camera to slow down the moving image in a movie. That means an entirely different way of pacing a story than you get in most American comics.

Secondly, it means you can read a chapter of a story fairly quickly. You won’t get bogged down in anything, and the author is aware of that, often hurtling the reader through events to get to the crux of the matter. And that’s where I think American comic book storytellers have something to learn.

Each chapter of the series presented in RAIJIN COMICS fundamentally alters the direction of the story. Each chapter has a point. It’s not like so many American comics today where there are issues in protracted storylines that are marking time. We forgive them too often by saying that the story is being written for the trade and that must mean occasionally we’ll have a chapter that won’t include a defining moment for the story. Manga doesn’t assume that. Manga gives you something with each chapter, whether it’s 8 pages or 40. By the end of that story segment, the story will be different than how it started, and you will have missed something if you skipped it for the next issue. It’s a lesson more American comics writers could stand to learn. If you find your story marking time during any part of its serialization, perhaps it should go straight to a graphic novel. If you can tell a story with a new hook or twist in each chapter, then you can get away with serializing it.

RAIJIN COMICS currently offers 7 regular series, plus an occasional complete-in-one-part story, such as issue #8’s “American Dreams,” about a visiting Japanese baseball team just prior to World War II. I’m up to date on five of the series, so I thought I’d review them over the next couple of weeks. As I catch up on the others, I’ll throw in a few words here, as well.

The first serial is “Baki the Grappler.” It’s the series that has surprised me the most. At first glance, it’s an ugly cartoon set up as a series of silly kicks and punches. Itagaki Keisuke’s creation, however, is much better than that. Yes, the art style is much more open than the other serials. It has fewer panels per page, and the characters in them often look demented. The big bad guy, in particular, looks like a female Joker on steroids in a karate arena.

The story, though, is extremely easy to follow and runs on a very visceral level. This is a story that you feel. Baki is a new guy on the karate circuit, and his instant success provokes jealousy and hatred from his competition. None reacts more heatedly than the cocky champion, Suwedo Atusishi. The first six chapters is their fight.

The story is a real page-turner. There are kicks that take four pages to show, as Itagaki expands the action to stress the importance of each movie. The story flows quickly from page to page, and the tension rises continuously as the stakes get higher and higher.

“Baki the Grappler” is a smooth quick read. Inbetween the excitement of “Revengle of the Mouflon” and the political mind games of “The First President of Japan,” it serves as a nice change of pace.

I’ll talk more about those two serials, along with “City Hunter,” next week.

THE DANGERS OF PUBLICATION, REDUX

Last week, I wrote about RAIJIN COMICS’ warning to readers that their magazine may cause paper cuts.

It gets scarier. I received an e-mail this week from Dan Vado of Slave Labor Graphics. With his permission, I quote it here:

Last year, I was negotiating with a certain children’s network for the license on a particular animated show’s comic book. As we were moving along, they responded to my offer with a deal sheet which included the stipulation that I take out $2,000,000 worth of product liability insurance, naming them as additional insured.

Well, I saw this as kind of useless so I asked “What kind of liability am I supposed to be insuring against, paper cuts?” to which their rep said “Well, yes. Or swallowing the staples.”

So, there you have it. It’s not all that an uncommon concern for people with real money.

Some people will sue over anything. Make your own McDonalds coffee cracks here.

LOOKING AT WHAT’S TO COME

PLANETARY #16 is officially on the schedule for April. I almost wish Warren Ellis would re-open the WEF for a day just so people could post their huzzahs and get it over with. The monthly “Where’s PLANETARY?” posts over there were getting as bad as the aforementioned Marvel-bashing posts.

For a look at more of the releases in the month of April, check out the debut of PIPELINE PREVIEWS next Friday.

AROUND THE WEB

The first Birds of Prey website, Canary Noir, has been redesigned and updated. The new version looks pretty spiffy and has some nice content on it for fans of the comic book series.

Those looking forward to the return of the Uncle Scrooge and friends can find a good interview right now with John Clark at one of Diamond’s websites. He gives more details there about the release schedule for the first four titles.

Pipeline returns next Tuesday with more on RAIJIN COMICS and some reviews of recent comics. We’ll see what the week’s news cycle produces to fill out the rest.

VariousAndSundry.com was update all last week. Drop by for a review of APOLLO 13, thoughts on the idea of a “Radio TiVo,” new movie trailers, the irony of digital books, how The Supreme Court affects MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, the return of ska, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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