Free Comic Book Day Musings


This past weekend was Free Comic Book Day, the nationally celebrated comics holiday that trends on social networks, makes the front page of the local newspapers your parents read, and brings millions of people into comic shops across the country for one day only because, hey, free stuff. If even a tiny percentage of the outreach works, though, it's all worth it.

Coincidentally, my five-year-old has taken an interest in comics in the last week. While I've bought her a couple in the last year or so that she's been reading, she's never taken to them. I'm not pushing. She knows they're there and she knows what Daddy likes to read. As with everything else in her life -- reading, riding a bike, swimming -- one day it'll click, and she'll be off to the races.

This past week, she decided she likes comics all of a sudden. I think it has to do with her expanded reading capabilities and vocabulary. There's a lot of words on the page of an average comic, even in a kid's comic. That can be daunting to someone whose sight word list is only double digits. But with Daddy there to help her out with the bigger words, she's loving cracking the code of comics. She continues to surprise me with the words she can work out at first read.

So when she asked to sit on my lap Saturday morning to read a "My Little Pony" comic book to me, my heart melted and had to be scooped up off the floor. Then I decided she needed to go to the comic ship for more. I brought her later in the afternoon after the madness had died down and all the free stuff was gone. The big sale was still on, though, and I treated her to a few one dollar "My Little Pony" comics. (I offered her a "Supergirl" comic, but she's not a superhero fan at all, so she passed. Where are the Disney princess comics? I have a couple of Fairy comics from NBM, at least, that she loves.)

I let her choose the comics she wanted, but I admit to steering her towards the work of Thom Zahler and Agnes Garbowska. A decade ago, I'd run into Zahler at all the comic-cons and pick up his books there; now my daughter is picking up his work for herself. It didn't earn me any cred, though, to tell her that I had met both creators in the past.

One funny aside: While standing in line to pay, my daughter started looking at the wall of new comics. The first one she liked the cover of enough to want to pick it up to read it? "Sex Criminals." This one, in particular:

I stopped her before she could open it up, then changed the topic quickly.

FCBD was, indeed, free for me. I didn't pick up anything. The only thing I might have wanted was the Don Rosa "Uncle Scrooge" comic from Fantagraphics but, in all honesty, I own the story reprinted in it in at least two other forms. I don't exactly need it again. I should just pull out the album and read it there.

The other comic she was reading Saturday morning was Dynamite's "Captain Action Cat" from Art Baltazar, Franco, and Chris Smits. It's perfect for her. The panels are large, the words are mostly simple, and the cats are cute. But the back cover is a buxom babe and a baby drinking blood. "The Blood Queen" is not the next comic for this book's audience. Maybe we'll have better luck with Dynamite's "Doodle Jump" comic. Let's hope there's not a "Game of Thrones" ad on the back cover of that one.

One neat thing I've learned from my daughter is that not every comic is precious. They are disposable things. I understand that when I give her a comic, it's going to get mangled. She'll fold the corners of pages to remember where she left off. Her small little hands will grab the covers and crinkle them in places. She'll leave them open face down in odd places, and maybe even step on one or two.

And I think it's the coolest thing in the world. The comic is part of her world. She treats it like everything else. She's using it. I love it. She knows not to touch Daddy's fancy books, and she knows there are ones for her, always, to read. So let's see how that goes in the years ahead.


Your tech podcast listening for this week, if you're looking for other angles on the recent comiXology shakeup:

  • Merlin Mann's Back to Work show last week reminds us that we don't know everything, even if it does stink and make reading digital comics slightly more complicated. Mann laments the loss of functionality -- which story comes next? -- that will most likely be returning to the app in the course of time.
  • The Accidental Tech Podcast takes on the issue, with John Siracusa delivering a well-reasoned rebuke of Apple for the situation. You'll need to fast forward to the 47:17 mark for that part of the show.
  • Finally, MacBreak Weekly #400 goes into it, too, with Andy Ihnatko providing commentary, amongst others. It's also fun to watch Leo LaPorte try to figure out which "Sandman" to buy, too.


Before we get to the fun of McSpidey for the week, one serious note:

Our condolences go out to the Comic Geek Speak family, who lost Jamie D. after a long fight against cancer last week. He was one of the first comics podcasters, and a distinctive voice and point of view on a show with so many voices. Our hearts go out to his family, his friends, and his extended comics and podcasting family. Let it be a reminder to all of us that life is precious and all too short, and that we should enjoy each other while we have the chance.

And, as has been said many times in the last few days, $%#^& cancer.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #305: "Westward Woe!"

The Black Fox has stolen a chalice that Spider-Man wants to get back, but The Prowler has a good reason to want it, too.

This week's sub-title: The Inkers of McFarlane

I have to start off with a correction from the last installment of this series. I mentioned that Todd McFarlane needed some help with the inking duties to handle the bi-weekly grind during the summer, but that issue #304 was the only one where he used guest inkers. It didn't take long to see where I missed something. "Amazing Spider-Man" #305 is inked by "The Magnificent Seven," a team of inkers Jim Salicrup outlines in the letters column of the issue.

Jim Sanders was originally scheduled to ink the issue, but the scheduling didn't work out. Sanders inked the first page and some random bits across the issue, but the rest of the pages were farmed out to all available hands. That list includes Mark McKenna, Ken Lopez, Rodney Ramos, Josef Rubinstein, Pat Redding, Chris Ivy, and Hector Collazo.

The Magnificent Seven is eight inkers. Whoops.

It's too bad Sanders couldn't ink the whole thing. His first page ink job is the most faithful to McFarlane's style. That could be because McFarlane spent more time on the page and provided more detail for the inker. We may never know. But it's a good look. Before I read Salicrup's explanation, I had assumed McFarlane inked that opening splash, too.

The nice part about this Inker Jam Issue is that it gives us a chance to look at a number of different inking approaches on McFarlane's pencils.

Mark McKenna handles McFarlane's line particularly well. He stays the most faithful to it, I think. McKenna handles all the niggling little details and the speed lines well, not trying to add extra thickness to the line to beef it up. He plays to McFarlane's strengths. Some of the art looks a little lighter, but that's likely because McFarlane didn't do all his usual noodling in pencils, so it's not like McKenna could replicate it in the inks, particularly under the deadline crunch.

Josef Rubinstein adds the most, using chunkier ink lines (as he had in his previous work over McFarlane) and the bits of toning, like on Hobie Brown's face when Spider-Man unmaks him. It's not pure McFarlane, but I like the final result.

Pat Redding's inks might be the most mismatched, but it's not fair to judge when Redding pulled the short straw and had to ink the Johnny Carson likeness. It's horrible. Like in a previous issue with Paul Schaffer, I don't know if someone else did that likeness, but it doesn't look like McFarlane's style at all. Carson looks more like H. Ross Perot here.

Michelinie never flinches from inserting pop culture references in this series. As the flagship Spider-Man title at the time (with two supporting series running, as memory serves, with "Spectacular" and "Web of"), Michelinie kept the series set in the most modern times. This issue not only features Johnny Carson, but even has a Church Lady line in it. As with most "Saturday Night Live" references, it's a forced catch phrase in search of a point, but it kept the book au courant, I suppose. I wonder if "kids" reading this today would miss a lot of the references. Heck, I missed the "L.A. Law" one already a couple weeks back...

Rodney Ramos' pages are too smooth. He tried to simplify McFarlane's line. It's structurally sound, but not exciting to look at. He even got to ink a smoke grenade's explosive smoke, which is the kind of thing McFarlane's ink line makes interesting. Here, it looks repetitive and too straight-on. There's not enough variety in the line weight or direction. It looks lifeless, like a repeated geometric shape and not an active smoke screen.

Chris Ivy's page is uninspired. He doesn't have too much to draw, besides one of McFarlane's trademark close-ups where McFarlane would almost employ a different classical inking style to draw strong shadows and feathering on the face. Ivy gets one of those and the whole thing looks stiff. Earlier panels use too thick an ink line for the art.

Collazo's page holds up very well. He even adds a slight bit of texture to the Prowler's cape. The rest of his page remains faithful to McFarlane's style and shows promise. I wish he had inked more.

Enough of the inks, what about the story? This is the second part of the story that began last issue, with Spider-Man chasing after the Black Fox. It's Spider-Man versus two sympathetic villains. One is a good guy who supposedly had hung up his costume but now has returned to clear his wife's good name. The other is an elderly man who just wants to retire and hang it up. Spider-Man's reaction to both of them is kindly and favorable. He knows the Black Fox is likely putting one over on him, but he can't be tough with an old man. Aunt May has softened him up too much. And he knows The Prowler deserves a second (or third) chance, and feels let down when the Prowler leads him astray. Still, he can't give up on him and helps him out.

It's a cute issue with a couple of fun costumes for McFarlane to draw. It mostly sticks to its prime story, which has a couple of twists in it to keep things interesting. Michelinie also includes some Peter Parker time, if only to let McFarlane draw Mary Jane in a bathing suit that leaves little to the imagination.

Spawn Watch: Just look at The Prowler. That cape, that mask, those pointy-fingered gloves. He has all the elements there.

Felix Watch: The Cat shows up twice in this issue, once on an outdoor billboard, and once on a sign in the store Peter Parker is signing his book at.

Next week: We hit issue #306, featuring McFarlane's inks and naturally cartoony style, a silly insect-based villain, and Spider-Man dealing with the paparazzi while on a book tour to promote photography of himself. So very meta.

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