www.cbr.com

Pipeline, Issue #351

MAGAZINES WITH A SILVER PLATTER

I love comic book magazines. Read a lot of them. Skim through more. Today, we have more than ever, but there's always room for another, particularly if they come in a different format or from a different angle.

ANIMEPLAY MAGAZINE is a quarterly periodical dedicated to "otaku culture," or anime and manga. New editor Robert Silva is expanding the scope of the magazines coverage to include more American creators with the fourth issue, due out this week.

ANIMEPLAY includes a DVD with video interviews, anime previews, and more. Some of the Linux magazines I subscribe to come with CDs or a DVD, but those are just programs and occasional article archives. ANIMEPLAY brings the interview subjects into my home theater. Now that I like.

Let's talk about the hard copy magazine first. It's oversized by American standards, coming up just a half inch shorter than the standard size of most British magazines. The cover stock is the heaviest cardboard stock I've ever seen short of a children's book. This thing could stand up on its own, just by the strength of the cover. I assume that's to keep the DVD packaged in and safe.

The interior magazine, at first blush, looks a lot like so many magazines today: Lots of big art spreads with very short articles to accompany them. When I sat down to read through it, though, I found something better. Those lush double-page spreads were previews of upcoming anime that relied on their looks to get people interested up front. The text accompaniment was short and to the point, not verging off into tangents like just about every review I write. And there were plenty of longer-form interviews and articles. The artist interviews are invariably Q&A style, which is an odd format, I think, for interviews that need to be translated from the Japanese. A well written segue or summation can do a lot to cover up any awkward translation phrasings. Even the interviews with American creators -- Scott Morse and Jim Mahfood -- are written up as Q&As.

The American artists are chosen wisely. These are the kinds of creators who should appeal to the demographic this magazine draws. Each artist also has an interview segment on the DVD, but I'll get to that a little later.

The magazine does a lot of previews. All those big glossy images are teasing at books, DVDs, and games to come. There are many reviews of interactive videos, which I've never run across. You learn something new everyday. I had that CLUE VHS game 15 years ago and never understood the point of it, or how to use it. I imagine with DVDs, that's a much easier problem to solve now.

SAMURAI CHAMPLOO is the next project from Shinchiro Watanabe, who is best know for his work on the excellent COWBOY BEBOP. I can't praise CB enough. It's the anime that got me into the artform. I don't watch too much anime, but I've watched episodes of CB multiple times, which is a rarity given time constraints these days. SAMURAI CHAMPLOO is a "hip-hop historical samurai" drama. Looks like Watanabe is keeping the music in his anime. The character designs look cool. There is no word as to when we might be able to see this in America, or even if it's premiered in Japan yet.

LUPIN III fans -- and I'm a relatively minor one -- will enjoy the interview with Monkey Punch, who is eager to move into computer art. The man has been drawing manga for 36 years. Most people would not bother with computers at this point in their lives. He's already successful with his little lecherous thief character, and could stick with the old pen and ink forever. But he's still working at drawing on a Mac.

The most interesting part of the magazine, for me, is the interview with THE LAST EXILE director, Range Murata. It's a new anime (in America, at least) that's always looked very pretty up on the shelves, but whose high price provides a nasty barrier-to-entry. After reading this interview and looking at the sample images, though, I think it'll be worth a rental.

There's a lot more, but I don't want to run it all down. Six pages at the end give you reviews of a cross-section of manga and anime. There's relatively little advertising in the mag, which runs 64 very glossy pages. It's a good read, and the addition of more American creator interviews might help it raise its profile a bit and spread out to new readers.

The DVD that comes with the magazine (and accounts for its $10 price tag) contains an hour of video on it. While it has some routine anime previews, it also contains some CosPlay interviews and a video gallery, in part from last summer's Big Apple Anime Fest. If you thought the comic book conventions were filled with costumed critters, you ain't seen nothing yet. Unfortunately, the video gallery is chopped together so quickly, it's almost headache inducing.

The highlights for this column's purposes, though, are two ten minute interviews. The first is with Scott Morse, who gives a look at his artistic process. Starting with a pencil sketch, he moves on to the fully painted image and takes us step-by-step on how he layers the colors until he gets the image he wants. It's an amazing process to watch. He's resolute in getting his hands dirty and not relying on digital trickery to pull off his art. The camera follows his progress over his shoulder, standing so close that Morse knocks the camera with his brush at one point. It's a fascinating look at Morse's process.

Morse, by the way, apprenticed under Maurice Noble. The first time I heard that, it explained everything. Take a look at BAREFOOT SERPENT sometime, or any of Morse's full color work, and you can see the famous Warner Bros. layout and background man's skills leaking through Morse's paintbrush. I love that stuff.

The second interview is with Jim Mahfood, which includes another over-the-shoulder look at a convention-type sketch, using a pencil, a Sharpie, and a couple of highlighters for color. If you're a Mahfood fan, you'll probably like this interview a lot. It even includes some video clips from a live mural drawing he did.

There could be more to this DVD, though. It includes a gallery of designs from THE LAST EXILE, but it's a really tedious thing to cursor your way through any series of still images on a DVD. The images never look large enough to be fully appreciated. Printed images -- or even web-based images -- are much better in resolution and clarity. Some of the menus drove me nuts with a standard DVD trick: When you move to the next item on the menu, the preview window at left changes to show video from that item. The problem is that it leads to a slight pause while the DVD lines up that next video preview. If you want to cursor down to the fourth item on the list, you have to suffer through this pause three times.

I'd like to see even more of the interviews with comics creators. Ten minutes is a great start, but another five or ten minutes each could put this magazine over the top. I'm actually surprised WIZARD hasn't tried something like this. With all their conventions, surely it wouldn't be difficult to record some of the panels or get new interviews and edit something together quickly to create an hour of video once a quarter for a DVD to be included with the magazine, or another spin-off mag.

I've never picked up an Otaku type of magazine, so I wasn't sure what to expect. ANIMEPLAY surprised me with the amount of content it had that I was interested in. If they can keep this up and continue to find interesting interview subjects from the American comics field, then I think they'll stand a good chance at getting more of my money in the future.

More info can be had off their web site at AnimePlay-Mag.com.

MARCH MARVEL PREVIEWS

It will be interesting to look at the CrossGen exiles as they pick up work at other comics companies. I don't think there's a one of them whose artistic skills didn't grow tremendously for their time spent in Tampa. Many talented people took the chance in Tampa to shine and made bigger names for themselves, complete with rabid fan followings. This includes artists as well as writers, inkers, and colorists. I think the pencilers and the colorists will see the biggest boost from their days at CrossGen, where the reproduction values were so high and tightly controlled.

CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON #1 signals Bart Sears' return to the Big Two, and features a CrossGen mini-reunion. Although Priest is writing it, Sears is joined by fellow CrossGen alumni Rob Hunter on inks and Mike Atiyeh on colors. The look is very detailed and sometimes busy. Sears is back to his "native" style of illustration. That means over exaggerated anatomy and extra-large jaw lines. This is the return of "Brutes & Babes." He isn't using the Sharpie markers he used on THE PATH. It wouldn't really suit the book's style. He does use long and thin panels throughout the book, though, so some of the layout lessons might have carried over.

The odd layout feature he uses here are nearly random character pin-ups along the edges of pages that would otherwise be 'boring' storytelling pages. Captain America leaps out of the left side of the page while he's seen on a smaller scale racing across the landscape on the wide panels to the right. This is more a layout choice than a storytelling choice, as it was in the early 1990s. I can remember Rob Liefeld back then talking about how he liked to have one panel with one large image to anchor a page, and then draw the rest around that. Sears doesn't go that far, but it is an interesting choice. I'm just not sure it works. At first, it distracts you into asking yourself what order to read the panels in, or if this one larger image even fits in anyway. It does, in a way, but you have to teach yourself to look past it.

Priest's story sends Captain American to Guantanamo Bay, a storytelling choice that hasn't been used since -- oh, it's also being used over in the other monthly CAPTAIN AMERICA series. So far, it hasn't turned into an ugly political farce, but I'm guessing it won't be too long. We'll see.

I can't comment much on the story because most of what Priest is doing in this first issue is meant to distract the reader from the twist at the end. (That twist, thankfully, explains some badly out of character actions prior to that.) This issue is all set-up. The Falcon has seemingly gone rogue in Cuba, and it's Cap's job to reel him in as quickly as possible. The rest is a series of jumpcuts, action bits, cute moments, and political hey. Stay tuned to see how this turns out.

THANOS #7 is the first issue written by Keith Giffen. Thanos, the introduction tells us, has been thinking for a few months. This issue leads us into the action as the powerful blue-skinned god-wannabe goes back out and into the world. I didn't read the Jim Starlin issues preceding this one, so I'm a bit lost as to whether or not the supporting characters in this book are supposed to be known to me. I'm thinking not. Giffen does do some level of introductions for them, although I'm still a little lost on their larger story.

It's nice to read a full color science fiction style comic book that's filled with colorful art, imaginative architecture, and oddball alien characters to populate the pages.

The storyline is slated to be six issues long, so Thanos' quest for enlightenment begins slowly, although it has a few nice moments along the way. It's enough of a tease to get me back for the next issue, but unless something more concrete happens, I'll be dropping it.

Ron Lim is drawing the series with Al Milgrom on inks, which brings me back to some of my earliest days of collecting. I loved Lim's work on THE SILVER SURFER, both with Starlin and Ron Marz handling the writing. It's more than ten years later, but Lim's art hasn't changed a bit. You probably won't look at this issue and say, "I liked his old stuff better." You can't. There is no difference. I'm not saying this is bad or good, although I'm sure people will have strong opinions about it. I just find it odd. You don't see it that much.

HULK UNCHAINED #2 is, as the cover blurb puts it, "Inspired by Vivendi Universal Games Smash Hit The Incredible Hulk." It's not the Marvel Universe Hulk, nor the Ultimate Marvel Hulk, nor the Movie Hulk. This is something different, and wasn't even solicited with the Marvel PREVIEWS solicitations. I don't have much to say about it except this: Tom Mandrake's artwork in it is stunning. It's reproduced directly from the pencils. The book is worth flipping through on the stands just to admire the art.

Scott Lobdell is taking ALPHA FLIGHT in a silly direction, more Giffen than Byrne. The new revamp is a lightweight and breezy affair. The first issue is a quick read, with characters ranging from silly to demented. When Sasquatch runs around to recruit a new team, he meets with much more frustration than success. Lobdell plays this for laughs, including a lot of Canadian jokes that are sure to grate on some people's nerves. They didn't bother me, but I did wince once or twice at the reactions I'm sure he'll get for this.

Lobdell is working around the kind of cliches that superhero team books generally fall into. While this first issue is dedicated to rounding up the team members, it falls far short of everyone raising a fist and joining the battle cry. Even The X-Men Question ("Why fight for a world that hates and fears you?") is answered in a completely different -- and some might say more realistic -- way.

Clayton Henry's art is suited to the story. It has a cartoony feel to it, with characters that can act emotionally with some extra rubber faces for good measure.

I'm sure this book will be getting panned and become the new whipping boy of on-line fandom. In a way, it can't help itself but to become that. Lobdell is going off in a completely different direction from the one the readers of the old series remember. And it's those readers who will be looking forward to this the most. Instant dissatisfaction. ALPHA FLIGHT will need to find an entirely new audience if it is to survive. That'll be tough in this market.

I'm enjoying it for what it is: Mindless chuckleworthy entertainment.

If you want the second coming of John Byrne, there's a JLA storyline starting soon you can pick up. . .

EVERYTHING ELSE THAT WOULDN'T FIT IN

Belated congratulations to NeilAlien for four straight years of comics blogging.

Friend of Pipeline and All Around Great Guy Larry Young kicked off a new column at Comic World News this past week. He's giving aspiring artists a pretty cool chance at being published. If you're up for a little work, he wants to give you a shot. Good luck!

An update to last week's story about interviewing Dave Sim. Hey, everyone else is linking to the story now, so I have to keep rolling with it. (Credit where it's due: I first ran across it at the Oni message boards.)

Side note to Oni as regards HYSTERIA: Page numbers in the table of contents are worthless if page numbers aren't included at the bottom of the pages in the rest of the book.

Special thanks to Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the assistance with this week's column.

Pipeline Previews returns on Friday (March 5) with a look at some books shipping in May 2004. Yes, this includes X-MEN RELOAD, but don't count on that being the center of the column. Aren't we all sick of talking about that one by now? Surely, there's something else in those 500 pages of PREVIEWS that we can talk about. I'll be looking for that on Friday.

Various and Sundry continues its weekly analysis of AMERICAN IDOL and brings the usual batch of DVD release highlights. Plus: Oscars talk, SUPERMILLIONAIRE, timeshifting your life away, another cure for diabetes, SLEDGEHAMMER to DVD, an Intellivision celebration, and more. It's quirky. It's random. It's VariousAndSundry.com.

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.

Nearly 500 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.

Was The Killing Joke A Reworked Unpublished Batman/Judge Dredd Story?

More in CBR Exclusives