WILDE ABOUT PCR
The fourth volume of P. Craig Russell's on-going adaptations of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales is now out through NBM Publishing. The thin hardcover book contains two stories, each of which is entertaining and works against the blunt moral trauma that most fairy tales inflict upon you. They are, in fact, quite dark and pessimistic in their own ways. Maybe that's the reason I enjoyed them so much.
The first story, "The Devoted Friend," is done in a cartoony style, telling the tale of a young man who follows his so-called friend's suggestions at every turn. Blinding himself to the man's selfishness, the desperate-to-please boy runs every errand and gives every gift that he can to the haughty man. In the end, a valuable lesson is learned, but not quite in the way you'd expect it to be learned. Russell uses anthropomorphic animals as a framing device to tell the story, and then carries through with two human characters that the story is about. They are expressive, at times exaggerated, and always enjoyable to watch.
The second story, "The Nightingale and The Rose" has a few talking animals, as well, but is drawn with much more realistic human beings. It's a tale of a young man longing for a love who requires only a red rose to be properly courted. His romantic longing inspires the bird to make the ultimate sacrifice to see to it that true love is rewarded. It's a tender and at times melodramatic story that is just as unpredictable as the first. The storytelling is sharp and crisp. You won't be watching the clock as you slide through this one. This one even has a touch of the classical and more interpretive art style that you might be used to from PCR's OPERA work.
The lettering for this volume is done with a computer, so don't expect the lavish attention to detail you might be used to in PCR's opera adaptations. It is, however, a solid lettering job using some nifty storytelling techniques. The adaptation is very straight forward, including many of the "he said" and "she said" directions from the text. A pair of straight lines burst out of a balloon to point to those indicators, which float adjacently. Text varies between free floating and caption boxed style, depending on where it best fits in with the art. More importantly, PCR pays attention to where the lettering lands throughout the book. Panels are designed with the word balloons and captions in mind, leading to an overall page design that is never crowded.
Lovern Kindzierski's coloring is bright and deceptively simple. It's a soft color palette, filled with brighter colors. The only real Photoshop effects present in the book are gentle gradients for backgrounds. It's a great exercise in restraint, and how sometimes the appearance of less is truly more.
As both of these stories were done in the recent past (2001, 2003), you also don't get the painterly style of coloring you saw in PCR's recent OPERA hardcovers. The printing quality here is extremely crisp and detailed. Nothing is lost, and no color blocks look murky.
This is the fourth collection of PCR's Oscar Wilde adaptations. It's the first one I've read, but definitely won't be the last. These stories are inviting and easy to read. Russell's storytelling skills are magnified in this format, utilizing short stories and slightly larger page dimensions to contain everything that needs to happen. Wilde's source material is like nothing else being done in comic book format today; this book was a wonderful break from the usual runaround of bright and gaudy books. I'll be looking for the rest of the volumes on store shelves and at conventions this summer.
In the meantime, judge for yourself! You can find a five page preview of the book right here.
HELLBOY: THE MAN, THE MOVIE, THE MERCHANDISE
I saw the HELLBOY movie last week and enjoyed it. It's not high art and it's not the greatest comics-to-film translation ever, but it is definitely entertaining, highly faithful to the look and feel of the comic it's based on, and not insulting. Its only failure is in the last twenty minutes, when it seems like the scriptwriter had no idea how to finish the movie, so he just repeated himself on a grand scale to get it over with.
I'm not a rabid HELLBOY fan. I read and enjoy the books as they come out, but I'm not fanatical about it. My eyes often glaze over when Mignola goes into deep mythological lore and ancient mystic practices. Those are not the kinds of things that capture my interest, so I try to read through it and move onto the next interesting bit. As such, I'm not fixed on a certain definition or vision for these characters. That probably made it easier for me to accept the Liz Sherman/Hellboy romantic connection, or Hellboy's impression of a lovesick teenager moping in his locked room. Oddly enough, the movie's Hellboy sounds like a gruff Spider-Man, spitting out one-liners like he was a comedian in the Catskills.
The overall look of the movie, though, is frighteningly close to Mike Mignola's comic. Obviously, having a director who worships the source material and includes the creator on the movie's creative team helped that along a great deal. The muted color palette and heavy shadows sold the movie to me. That opening scene that brings Hellboy to life should have been enough to sell any comic book fan that the movie was going to be faithful to the comics. Plus, it wasn't campy, although the soundtrack worked against it in places, emphasizing a campier attitude than the material portrayed.
The one-liners are a lot of fun and I had a couple of good belly laughs in the movie. They're not without their faults, though. When Hellboy is fighting a monster in the subway and the phone rings, I muttered under my breath, "It's for you" before Hellboy answered the phone, used the line, and slammed it into the creature. It was right up there for Most Obvious Punchline with Casey Jones in the first TMNT movie yelling "Fore!" before slamming a bad guy with a golf club.
And, yes, Hellboy's Right Hand of Doom does show up on his left arm in at least one shot. I have a feeling they flipped the scene to keep the action moving in one direction, and figured nobody would pick up on that brief switch. Oh, well.
If I were the type to grade movies or rate them on any scale, I imagine I'd give this one a solid 3 stars, perhaps even three and a half.
HELLBOY: THE ART OF THE MOVIE is an inspired companion piece for the movie. It features the entire shooting script, but throws in enough extras and production material to make this the best bonus DVD the movie could ever have. The book is both gorgeous and indispensible for the explanations it provides from Del Toro. Deleted scenes are included in the book, some of which are even storyboarded out. There are plenty of Mignola sketches here for production, and Rick Geary contributes a series of one page biographies for the main characters. It's an awesome book.
There's a wealth of detail you never would have noticed in the movie strewn throughout the book including, for example, a note from Del Toro about the design of Hellboy's gun. It was configured, at Mignola's suggestion, to be as much a sledgehammer as a gun. Hellboy uses it more often to clobber someone with than to shoot them. Little things like that made it into the design of the movie, and it's always interesting to look behind the curtain for those things that aren't always self-evident.
HELLBOY: THE ART OF THE MOVIE is published by Dark Horse. Running a couple hundred pages, the full color book is only $25.
If you're a bigger fan of the comics than the movie, though, THE ART OF HELLBOY might be more up your alley. The hardcover has been out for a while now, but Dark Horse printed a softcover edition to capitalize on the movie. It's the same size and all the same material, but for one $20 bill less. This one is only $30. There's a wealth of material in here, so much so that I don't even know where to begin. There are black and white reproductions of original art from the series, abandoned covers, full color reprints of key covers and story sequences. There's sketchbook material, rare covers, and unusued art. All of this is annotated to put it in its proper historical context, and all of it looks great. The reproduction values here are top notch, whether you pick up the hardcover or the softcover. It's a heavy book in either case. Besides being oversized, the book uses a heavy glossy stock of paper. It's an impressive production job, but leads to a solid and heavy tome.
Dark Horse is doing fine by Mike Mignola and HELLBOY. Along with the redesigned HELLBOY trade paperbacks, this is one of the most straightforward and direct marketing campaigns to tie into a movie as I've seen in the past couple of years. Too many other companies -- Marvel -- try to print someone for everyone when a given character has a movie come out. Dark Horse is concentrating on the core HELLBOY fan demographics. Perhaps not having a fanbase spread out over 40 years helps them with that.
COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE CHANGES FORMATS
COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE, a newspaper to which I've subscribed now for more than a decade, is switching formats. Unlike the last switch, which brought it from a traditional newspaper format to a tabloid format, this one is major. CBG will now be a monthly magazine, clocking in at 244 pages.
My subscription to CBG started at a time when CBG was the paper of record. It was timely, appearing every week ahead of the monthly magazines of the time. I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on it was in a Waldenbooks bookstore. The headline across the front page was of the first announcement of Image Comics' formation. I went back to that same bookstore for a few weeks to get the latest updates on what was going on with my favorite Marvel artists, until finally I begged my parents for a subscription. For $14 a half year, it was a pretty good deal, so they consented.
Times change, though, and so must we all. In the Internet age, even a weekly newspaper is too late to break any news. To be honest, I only subscribe to the newspaper anymore for the columns and the occasional letters column of interest. The news is irrelevant, although sometimes they have interviews with different people than the Internet sites might cover. Aside from rebranding CBG as a comics portal web site, this might just be the best thing for them to do: create a destination product that ships monthly, thus relieving the burden of producing news on a weekly scale behind the internet world.
There's something almost disappointing in this announcement, though. It's the "end of an era." You can't find CBG on the newsstands or comic shop shelves anymore. I can't blame retailers. At $2.50 a week, it would hardly be a valuable addition to anyone's reserve list. Potential readers are more likely to discover the newspaper once or twice and then subscribe to it. Retailers won't really benefit from that arrangement. CBG has, I imagine, always relied on its substantial subscription base to keep it going. It's not really a casual purchase. Now, though, it might become one.
And who doesn't like getting something in the mail every week? That's a contributing factor to my subscription, to this day. As much fun as the immediacy and the give and take of the Internet can be, there's something cool about holding a comic book newspaper in your hands every week. It's fun to get something other than the latest car insurance bill in the mail.
Squarebound upscale magazines seem to be the next big thing. THE COMICS JOURNAL and COMIC BOOK ARTIST have both taken to that format lately. They present handsome additions to the bookcase, if you're looking forward to holding onto them. Both of those magazines are worthy of any comics library, though. Can CBG compete with that, or will it rely on its near-timeliness to carry a readership through? CBG has always been disposable to me. I read it and recycle it. As a squarebound magazine, it begs to be collected, preserved, or otherwise held on to. Will it manage to create the content necessary to establish that place in a comic fan's household? That's their challenge. They'll need to create timely and informative material that doesn't rely on the hot topic of the day that they can't possibly hope to cover quickly enough.
This shift won't be a big challenge to WIZARD, I fear, but it has potential. I think the price guide might prove to be more interesting for those, like myself, who pay no attention to such things as a general rule. CBG knows how to make comics fun, with a breezy nostalgic look at books from days gone by. Perhaps with the added lead time, they'll be able to set up more previews and exclusives to challenge WIZARD. It would be nice to have a magazine not unlike WIZARD, but with a more mature sensibility to it.
Time will tell. I wish Maggie Thompson and her gang of co-conspirators the best of luck with this venture. I hope it works out. I know I'll be reading. And I think now, for the first time in many years, there's a good chance many of you will be giving them a chance.
THE WEEK AFTER ICON
Thanks to everybody for stopping by to read the column last week. I understand it was a Herculean effort, and your thoughts and comments on the column are much appreciated.
There was one boo-boo which we corrected as soon as we found it, but many caught it before then. I referred to STRIKEFORCE MORITURI as an Epic book. I meant to refer there to ALIEN LEGION, which is being reprinted by Checker right now, and may even have a Hollywood deal in place as we speak. It's only a matter of time, if not.
I've had some requests for recommendations of the "relatively obscure" titles that regularly are ignored amidst the drowning masses of comics in the front half of the PREVIEWS catalog. You can count on the P. Craig Russell book I reviewed this week to fall into that category. I review such books in this column all the time. It's probably just the section you've always skimmed over. I'm definitely going to work harder to put more such books in this column, though. We'll see how that goes.
Of course, the bloodbath started at DC soon after last week's column saw print. WILDCATS Version 3.0 (a book I've reviewed here positively before) and STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES were both cancelled within days of each other. This prompted Ed Brubaker to announce that SLEEPER is safe for the time being, thanks. That last bit is very good news, but the loss of WILDCATS is a damned shame. Did people think the book was still filled with the kinds of characters and stories that Brandon Choi and Jim Lee populated the book with at the beginning? Did they find Joe Casey's storylines of superpowered world domination through commercial markets to just be too cerebral? I don't know. The book was amongst the best for the past three years running, and it's a great loss for WildStorm and the direct market, in general, to see it go.
Nobody has said a word about further details of the ICON deal since the column last week. Joe Quesada has been uncharacteristically quiet. Brian Bendis is the proverbial church mouse. And it seems that on-line comics fandom has already moved onto the next thing, mostly related to WildStorm's lemming-like rush to jump over the cliff last week.
This isn't the end, but it sure is a speed bump. Expect more hubbub when the next PREVIEWS with the POWERS solicitations is released.
In the meantime, a thread is running on the Pipeline message board to give you the chance to plug a title you're enjoying that perhaps isn't getting the attention it deserves. I'm not gong to pretend like this thread is going to save a book or change the industry, but every little bit counts. And you have to go person to person in this market to start things moving in the right direction.
QUICK THOUGHTS AND NEWS
STAR WARS TALES #19 includes a very funny BREAKFAST CLUB-like take on Star Wars, as written and drawn by PVP creator, Scott Kurtz. You can tell it was a labor of love. Being the lettering geek that I am, the first thing I noticed about the story was Robert Kirkman's lettering, which blended in beautifully with the cartoony art style.
Looks like SPIDER-GIRL has been relettered for the MARVEL AGE books. It's in mixed case style now, whereas the original issues were in all caps.
Flipping through the SENTINEL and RUNAWAYS digests, though, I can see plenty of examples of bad reproduction at smaller sizes. The coloring gets muddy, and the color dots begin to show up. CrossGen didn't have this problem with their reprints. For $7.99 a pop on these Marvel Age books, though, who am I to argue?
The new WRITE NOW! Magazine includes what is the best Chuck Dixon interview I've ever seen. Good job to interviewer Scott Hileman on it, getting Dixon to discuss how his prolific writing gets done, some history about how it came about, and some more secrets behind the production processes at CrossGen.
David Carradine is a big comic book fan. Check out an interview with him here I haven't seen it yet, but I'm not surprised to hear there's a comic book discussion in the middle of KILL BILL 2. That's on my Must See list for next weekend.
This year's Small Business Administration's Entrepreneurial Success of the Year started out as a comic book show dealer. Now he makes MUPPETS action figures.
A Nashville newspaper briefly interviews GOON's Eric Powell. Very briefly. Really, it looks like someone's IM conversation.
One Maine newspaper discovers local comic strip artists, including Lincoln Pierce ("Big Nate"), Corey Pandolph ("Barkeater Lake"), Josh Alves ("Zeek and Dent").
I can't believe Dirk Deppey used to do these news snippets five days a week. He's insane. I found four and was impressed with myself.
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with more news, reviews, and the inevitable corrections.
Over at Various and Sundry this week, you'll get more AMERICAN IDOL commentary, worries on ALIAS' future, more on Weird Al Yankovic, and just generally more more more.
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.