ONE DECADE, 522 WEEKS, NO SICK DAYS
Be warned: This week's column is terribly self-indulgent. It's all about me, me, and me. Regular comic reviews will return next week. Right now, I'm more interested in a walk down memory lane. But WIZARD-bashers will love something a page or two down. =)
I do have to thank CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland, though, for surprising me last night with this bit of art you see above. Without telling me, he asked Chris Eliopoulos to draw up something for Pipeline's tenth anniversary. I wasn't expecting to have anything to show off in this column -- as you'll read a little later in this column -- so this brought a smile to my face.
Thanks, Chris and Jonah! And, now, on with the show. . .
'TWAS TEN YEARS AGO:
08 June 1997 -- Pipeline Commentary and Review #1:
I think I've finally found a form in which I can return to reviewing comic books. Maybe it's a sign of the limited attention spans of our time, but I like this way better than long-form reviews. What am I talking about?
One of my favorite editorials to read is in the Friday newspaper. Thomas Sowell does a piece called "Musings on the Passing Scene" in which he notes random things, brings up assorted points, makes good points. That inspired me. That, and a desire not to have to go on at length with my opinions. Sometimes, I just have something short to say and feel guilty about having to construct a whole long boring review in order to say it.
In these heightened times of political awareness, I can just imagine what a column opening like that would bring to its writer. I'd probably never have gotten out of the gate, and a couple of blogs -- if they cared -- would have written me off for all the wrong reasons.
The format I started out with didn't last that long. It's tough to string together a couple dozen random thoughts week in and week out. Long form reviews started creeping in, overtaking columns, and getting mixed in with shorter reviews, news analysis bits, and the classic "one-liners" that were rarely so short as one line.
The predecessor to "Pipeline Commentary and Review" was "Augie's Reviews," and it only lasted a year. Both columns were set up on the USENET message boards at rec.arts.comics.*. There was not yet a rec.arts.comics.reviews group at that point, so you had to do some funky cross-posting mojo between groups and hope you didn't anger anyone with it.
I couldn't imagine at that time that web-based message boards would take over. Why would you want the comics community to so thoroughly split itself up? Didn't it make more sense to have everyone in one place and get more cross-pollination in the discussion threads?
Maybe it does, but the sheer numbers of people coming onto USENET, combined with the rise of spamming and trolling, made USENET an inhospitable place. The signal-to-noise ratio was too low to bother with, and everyone found themselves in different corners of the burgeoning world wide web, where anyone could set up a message forum and host a web site and attract fans of a like mind. It wasn't nearly as easy back then as it is today, mind you, but it was doable.
15 June 1997 -- Pipeline Commentary and Review #2:
When VR.5 premiered, a show dedicated to exploring the subconscious, there were immediate rumors about comic book companies vying for the rights to publish the accompanying comic book. Ditto for Millenium. And Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, X-Files all have comic books right now. (OK, so B5's won't be out for a little while longer yet.) So where's the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book? I nominate Tony Isabella to write it (after his wonderful piece in the Comics Buyer's Guide about it) and Rob David to draw it. And I humbly accept the job of permanent fill-in and/or back-up story writer.
In the early days of writing this column, I was a college student and dreamed of one day being a writer. My studies were strictly computer science, but I lapped up any nugget of info about how writers work, whether in comics or prose or screenplays. So many comics columnists and bloggers over the years have used their perch as a transparent attempt to get a job in the comics industry that it hung over the rest of us as a cloud.
I wrote the column as a standalone thing, and my occasional rants were enough to prove that I wasn't always looking to make friends. I gave up the creative writing bug a long time ago now. Writing this column and the blog is fulfilling enough. I'd still love to write a comic script that sees print someday, but my lack of action in that direction is proof that it'll never happen.
Besides, today's technology makes that incredibly simple to do. The toughest part is finding an artist, though you could even get around that with some deft Photoshop or Illustrator work. The easy part is setting up a web site. If I ever write something for the rest of the world to see, I very much suspect that'll be how it shows up. If it's popular enough, the hit counter will tell me to print it up on paper.
But this column was NEVER written for the purpose of getting a job in the comics industry.
Hmmm, I wonder where Rob David is these days?
22 June 2007 -- Pipeline Commentary and Review #3:
What happened to all the comic book magazines? HERO ILLUSTRATED, AMAZING HEROES, COMICS SCENE, FAN, ARENA, INSIDE COMICS, etc. All gone. We're stuck with WIZARD.
We're not anymore. Don't know if you saw the press release this week, but WIZARD announced a series of promotions and new hires. The new editor for the magazine is Wizard insider, Mike Cotton. The press release credits him only with a series of "high-profile celebrity interviews." Brian Cunningham is now Executive Editor. Sean Collins is overseeing the web stuff, and a new office has been created in Hollywood for a "West Coast Editor."
Clearly, the only chance for the comics stuff to survive is on the web, while the print publication is now ENTERTAINMENT GEEKLY.
Hey, it's a tough market. Comic readers don't seem all that interested in a comics magazine. Maybe that's just the way of the world. But I'm not going to bash WIZARD for how poorly it covers comics anymore. There's no point. It's not a comics magazine. It's easily avoided.
I hope that Marvel and DC, et. al., wake up to this fact soon and stop granting the magazine exclusives, and stop wasting their money buying ads in the dead wood publication.
In the meantime, I'm pleased to announce that I started a new job last week. Thanks to one and all for your words of encouragement and advice. The better news is that it's a job at a much more stable company outside of the comics business, and has better long-term prospects. Thus officially ends the "Augie For Wizard Editor" campaign.
Also, please note that half the magazines I mentioned above have attempted to revive themselves in the interim. All failed.
03 August 1997 -- Pipeline Commentary and Review #9:
. . .most people won't read it because it's all found in UNCLE $CROOGE ADVENTURES #51. They won't read it because they'll pass it right up on the stands, ignorant of what lies inside. They won't read it because comic shops don't stock it because potential readers remain ignorant. And, hey, it's one of them there funny animal books.
Ten years later, and some parts of the comics industry just haven't changed at all.
Other parts have changed, and I've lamented them here:
Perhaps the biggest loss over the past decade has been the letters column. Check out Pipeline #276 from 24 September 2002 for my eulogy on DC's letters columns. I got my start with more than 300 appearances in various letters columns, starting with STAR TREK and MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS, to a lengthy run in SAVAGE DRAGON. People still occasionally recognize the name from those places before this column.
The second biggest loss was Marvel's temporary insanity when all-caps lettering was done away with in favor of across-the-board mixed case lettering. That was Bill Jemas' idea, supposedly to help children with specific learning disabilities. That was a load of bunk. Thankfully, it didn't last forever. And while some books continue to be mixed case, the all-caps letterforms have returned to most of the books at Marvel these days, while DC never got into it.
Truth be told, I can't imagine ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN in all-caps lettering anymore.
I suppose there are also some rants in the last decade against computer lettering, in general. (Link goes back to Pipeline #158 from 13 June 2000.) When I first started reading comics in 1989, there was no computer lettering. Now, there are no hand letterers left working for anyone other than themselves on their own books (Tom Beland and TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD comes to mind) or as special favors in specific circumstances (I can't even think up an example here.)
Read back to Pipeline2 #26 from 03 December 1999 for my take on lettering, as a whole, and my favorite letterers.
Yeah, there was a time when I wrote two of these columns a week. Pipeline2 happened every Friday, with the theory that it would tackle one topic a week, while Tuesday's regular column would cover the books of the week, the news of the day, etc. It was fairly successful at the time, but Real Life things eventually got in the way and I needed a break. Pipeline2 died on 17 January 2003 with its 185th column, covering THE ANNOTATED MANTOOTH collection from AiT/PlanetLar (by one-time CBR columnist Matt Fraction and Andy Kuhn, published by one-time CBR columnist Larry Young), and Sam Kieth's WOLVERINE/HULK TPB. For a while, Pipeline Previews took over the Friday slot once a month, until that got merged in with the weekly column, too.
Nowadays, of course, you have the Pipeline Podcast and monthly Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast to sub in for that.
But, wow, that's 185 Friday columns. This is the 522nd weekly Tuesday column. Add in the San Diego columns, the event weeks where Pipeline went daily, and a few special mid-week editions, and I'm well over 700 columns. Total up the podcasts and we're well above 800.
Five years ago, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of Pipeline with one of those Pipeline Daily events, including new art from Steve Lieber, Chris Eliopoulos, Tom Beland, John Gallagher, and Tracie Mauk.
So where's the tenth anniversary art? I ran out of time to commission it. Sorry. Besides, I couldn't very well ask Lieber for another Carrie Stetko drawing to celebrate ten years. She only has nine fingers!
I just read back to those columns for the first time in many years. I had a pretty thorough accounting of Years One through Five in those columns.
THE TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGING
I knew going into 2007 that this would be a year of great change for me. I knew that I'd be getting married, I wouldn't be heading to the San Diego convention for the first time in eight years, and I knew that I'd likely be looking for a new job. Two of those three have happened already. Comics are, as such, a much smaller part of my life than they were ten years ago or even five or three years ago. Who has the time? This isn't to say I'm forgetting comics or leaving them behind.
Pipeline has always been about change. While Pipeline might be a great reservoir of reviews and a minor historical reference for others for the last decade of comics publishing and history, to me it will always be a document of my relationship to comics. As Pipeline has always been driven by my own interests in comics, it shows me what and when I've been interested in certain things. You can see times when THE SAVAGE DRAGON would get a heavy focus, or the Duck books, or lettering, or the Marvel Universe.
Looking back, I can see the naivete of the early days as compared to the calmer criticism of more recent years, informed by a decade's worth of experience in observing the industry and everyone in it. I cringe at some of the things that outraged me "back in the day" that would only get me to shrug my shoulders today. At the same time, I remember the drive and the energy that went into all of that. Blame it on the excitement of youth or the tall soapbox, I don't care. It was just a lot of fun.
Thanks to this column, I've met amazing people, read fascinating books, and traveled on more delayed airplanes than I ever would have imagined. I've had my knowledge base expanded to other layers of pop culture and multimedia, from video games to movies to music to books. To all of you who've written in over the years or posted on the message board, or just maintained an entertaining blog, I thank you. Pipeline -- and I -- wouldn't be what we are today without all of you.
Like I said, life is changing. But my love for comics is not. While it may manifest itself in slightly different ways, I still can't imagine life without them in whatever form they show themselves, or in whichever way I consume them. Whether it's the thrill of a superhero comic, the humor of an ASTERIX (my current obsession) or a Duck book, or the insight of an autobiographical comic, they're always going to be with me. I just hope to have a house someday that's big enough to include a library that I can line the walls of with the stacks of books that are sadly under box lids in a storage unit somewhere else today.
Pipeline isn't going anywhere. Sure, my enthusiasm to plop my butt down in the chair on Sunday afternoon to start writing might occasionally wane, but the material I'm covering always jolts me back to life. I can't tell you how many times in the last year I was certain I'd be writing a shorter column, only to wake up 2000 words later with the need to add another 500 before all the gaps are filled. That's a good thing. Whether it's force of habit or inspiration of material, I enjoy every moment of it.
Besides, I haven't missed a week in ten years. I don't know what else to do with myself. I may not be the college kid with all the free time in the world I started out as, but I'm pretty happy with where I am and how things are going.
Who knew a couple of letter column appearances would bring us here?
Will Pipeline make it another ten years? I have no idea. I'm tempted to say not, but I haven't figured out how to quit it yet, either. Let's soldier on!
THE MANDATORY THANK YOU SECTION
I know I do this every time there's an anniversary, but I can't miss this one: Thanks again to Jonah Weiland for being the best web boss in the world, for putting up with me for the last eight years, for being my roommate at too many conventions, and for flying across the country just to attend my wedding.
Thanks to Beau Yarbrough for pointing me out to Jonah, once upon a time.
Thanks to Elayne Riggs, who was encouraging at a Philadelphia convention so long ago when I floated the idea of trying a column.
Thanks to all the friends I've made over the years through this column -- both those I swap the occasional e-mail with and those I see at conventions all the time.
Thanks to the professionals and the comic companies who've been gracious when the reviews weren't kind, and enthusiastic when they were. Thanks for the sneak previews, the back channel e-mails, and all the free comics. It's nice to have a second job with perks.
Next week: Back to some comic reviews. It's Pipeline; that's what I do.
The VandS Tumblr has the quickest blog entries a boy could make.
The regular blog, Various and Sundry, churns right along, though the new job might slow it down a tad. There's always stuff to cover, though.
The Pipeline Podcast page will give you links to subscribe to the podcast in a variety of places.
More than 700 columns -- maybe even 800 -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.