SPIDER-MAN STILL STUCK ON ONE MORE DAY
FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #24 rehashes a lot of plot already covered in writer J. Michael Straczynski's run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. For those who've complained that the last few months of his writing have featured a stalled out story, this issue will likely be more tinder for the blog fire. Whole pages relive previous scenes from relatively recent issues, from a slightly different perspective.
On the other hand, it's also pure Straczynski writing. He drops more blocks into the puzzle to help join otherwise disparate parts of his on-going story into a greater whole. It's just the kind of thing we saw on BABYLON 5, and it's working here, albeit on a much smaller scale. Straczynski pulls together little things in such convincing ways that you have to believe he planned them all along. It also gives more credence to the popular Loki-enabled solution that's been suggested in recent weeks. Straczynski doesn't forget anything and leaves no dangling plot thread untied.
Also, he took what might have been a six issue mini-series and found a smart way to do it all in two pages. I don't want to give too much away here, but it's a big help from Doctor Strange that helps move the story along in a forward direction. The reader will be grateful, in the long run, for the mystical device that helps push things through, even if Spider-Man is more traditionally a street-level character.
The star of the book, though, is Joe Quesada's artwork. As I remarked during his DAREDEVIL run with Kevin Smith so many moons ago, there aren't that many artists who draw stuff that just plain look cool. Just like that last time, Doctor Strange gives the artist the chance to incorporate elements of graphic design, art nouveau, and over-the-top superhero panache into a storyline that would otherwise be dominated by talking heads. Strange's cape flows like something we haven't seen since McFarlane graced the scene. Page layouts are often decorated with occult objects, or backed up by nouveau patterns. Two page spreads of Spider-Man swinging across the city are backed up by detailed buildings in perfect perspective.
Quesada's distortions and personal style won't appeal to everyone, but I really like them here, an awful lot more than I did in the premiere part of this storyline.
The back of the issue includes a four page text piece on the history of Mary Jane Watson-Parker, a reprinted tale by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #259, and some behind the scenes sketches and layouts from Quesada, which continue to show off his fascination with Google SketchUp.
The second part of the "One More Day" storyline is a solid installment, but it's the bigger picture we're all waiting to see. Maybe next month? The final part isn't due out now until Thanksgiving time. I fear all of our anticipation might not help the storyline. It's only with the finale that we'll be able to truly judge its effectiveness.
Welcome to comics in the modern age.
THE DIGITAL DELIVERY OF COMICS
Last week, I talked about Comic Book Lover, a Mac application for organizing and viewing your collection of digital comics. There aren't too many places just yet to buy those comics legally on-line, but this week I'd like to spotlight two that I tried out recently.
First, I ordered a bunch of comics from EyeMelt.com, the digital publishing arm of the scrappy Slave Labor Graphics. The selection isn't huge, but there are some titles you've heard of in there. All four issues of HALO & SPROCKET, for example, are available. That's the funny series I've reviewed positively in this column in years past. REX LIBRIS is also there, as is SUPER SCARY MONSTER SHOW, whose first issue I reviewed, but whose second and third issues I never saw on a comic shelf.
I ordered a couple of issues of the latter two, plus took a shot on NEXT EXIT #1-2, and splurged on the SLG 20TH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY. That last one is a book put together for Dan Vado by a group of SLG creators that's only available on-line. It'll set you back $1.99, which is still cheap by comic standards, particularly when you factor in its whopping 66 pages of content, much of which is in color. All other issues were 69 cents or 89 cents (for REX LIBRIS).
So for less than $7, I bought seven comics, one of which is original to the website. There is no minimum purchase. You can buy one comic at a time, if you'd like. (But, seriously, if you know you're going to want multiple, try to save them all up and buy them at once. You'll help the publisher big time on that one.)
It went pretty smoothly. I was disappointed that there weren't any preview pages attached to any of the comics. I took a flyer on NEXT EXIT based on the covers alone, since I couldn't get a sense of the interiors. (It turned out to not be my thing, but for less than two bucks, I can't complain.) Most of the comics were available in either CBZ format or PDF files. I defaulted to PDFs out of habit. SUPER SCARY MONSTER SHOW #3 was inexplicably only available in CBZ. They all showed up beautifully on my screen, regardless of the format.
I paid via PayPal, at which point in the checkout process I was shunted over to the PayPal log in for a quick couple of clicks before being sent back to the EyeMelt web page for a final receipt and notification that an e-mail was being sent to me with the download codes. I only had five days to grab those files. The e-mail came right away with clickable links that I immediately and without issue downloaded files from. I tested the system and downloaded a file off the same link twice. No problem. If your download is interrupted, you'll have no problem downloading it again.
Obviously, in a perfect world you'd be able to download the files straight from the website as soon as you paid. But this is a small beginning effort, and the "effort" of clicking on links from an e-mail instead of a web page is minor. I hesitated in even bringing it up for fear you'd think this is a dire warning against the site or anything.
The files are easily gobbled up by Comic Book Lover, both CBZ and PDF formatted. And while EyeMelt might not be the poster child for Web 2.0 sites -- or even Web 2001 websites -- it serves its function well, and its relatively small number of titles is searchable in multiple ways. If it were to ever grow to three or four times the current selection of titles, they might have to look into a redesign of the site. For now, it's OK. Does the janky drop shadow behind the "Recalculate" and "Empty Cart" buttons really throw you off that much? Nah.
The site also takes MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express, in case you don't have a PayPal account for your petty cash and internet spending like I do.
Pullbox On-Line is a far sleeker bit of programming. It even deftly merges an image of a comic box into its rounded corners. The color scheme is warmer and more inviting. The overall design feels more modern. Using company and title logos in the navigation leads to a slightly jumbled feel, but they're all accompanied by a text description of the title or company in question.
Selection is bigger and broader than EyeMelt. While Devil's Due leads the way, IDW also publishes a few books digitally through here. It's still nowhere near as deep a selection as you might like, but it's an interesting mix. You can almost feel the publishers dipping their toes into the water to see what works for them.
I'd recommend picking up the original DESPERADOES mini-series from Jeff Mariotte and a much greener John Cassaday. It's still beautiful work, but there are some rough spots that get smoothed out in the years following.
All six issues of Chuck Dixon and Dave Ross' BREAKDOWN are up for sale, at just 99 cents a shot. That was a part of a larger overall superhero initiative at Devil's Due that didn't last too long.
Most significantly, Pullbox On-Line offers trade paperbacks through its site, too. You can pick up the first three trades of Art Baltazar's PATRICK THE WOLF BOY through there, or Josh Blaylock's HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH COMICS.
The most surprising entry in the on-line catalog is FAMILY GUY. I never would have thought a major third party licensor like that would agree to publishing comics digitally.
Prices for comics start at 99 cents, and range upward depending on page count. The biggest trade paperback I could find ran $5, and a couple others are cheaper than that.
Comics are available in both PDF and CBR format at the same price.
I ended up going for a sampler including the DRAFTED Preview book (for only a quarter!), Blaylock's HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH tome, Tim Seeley's HOW TO BE A COMIC BOOK ARTIST, and LOVEBUNNY & MR. HELL #3. That last one featured a guest appearance by The Savage Dragon and art from Tim Seeley. For 99 cents, I thought I'd take a chance on that. As big a DRAGON fan as I am, I never picked it up.
The check out process is one step more complicated than a EyeMelt. At Pullbox On-Line, you need to register for an account first. More disappointingly, they don't take PayPal. It's only credit cards -- the same cards as mentioned for EyeMelt, leading me to believe both sites use the same system for their credit card transactions.
After that, though, the routine is the same. Complete your order, check your in-box, click on links to download the comics. With PullboxLine.com, I received the e-mail instantly and had downloaded the books within five minutes of their purchase. Gotta love digital distribution!
Again, I ordered all PDF versions of the comics, and they look great on my screen. Each comic includes a page at the end warning against piracy. It's a perfectly legitimate screen that just points out the book was purchased through the site and if you received it some other way, please consider going to the site to support the artists and buy a copy for yourself. It doesn't quote legalese or make threats. It encourages you to do the right thing. Smart move!
Right now, there's still no "iTunes for comics." Call me a cynic, but I doubt we'll ever seen one, either. There are too many companies (namely Marvel and DC) with big egos and pocketbooks that won't allow for building something together or sharing anything. You'll see some smaller publishers banding together here and there, but I'm afraid they'll never all realize the power of one stop shopping and cross-promotion. They don't have fleeting physical shelf space to compete with each other on when it comes to digital distribution. It's a shame. It reminds me a bit of the Blu Ray/HD-DVD battle going on in the home theater world right now. I think you'll just have dual formats there until digital downloads. And I think the comics world will have multiple download sites, too. The music industry is not terribly dissimilar.
But, for the relatively few options they offer, I can't fault either of the two stores I mentioned above for their ease of use and quality of end product. If you can bring yourself to reading a comic on a computer screen, they're very attractive options. I hope they're just the first step on a short road to greater on-line distribution. This is an industry that can use all the distribution it can get.
ONE QUICK LINK - TODD McFARLANE SPEAKS
I might have saved the best for last. Last week, a 15 year old recording surfaced in the blogosphere again. It's an hour of the interview Gary Groth did with Todd McFarlane for THE COMICS JOURNAL when Image had just started. Back in the early 90s in the age of Pre-Internet, you had to hope one of the comics magazines of the time would do an interview with your favorite creator if you wanted to learn more about him or her. McFarlane turned up in WIZARD #1 and AMAZING HEROES and COMICS INTERVIEW and, if I recall correctly, COMICS SCENE Magazine. I still have all of those magazines in a box with the comics of that era McFarlane did.
He also did one with THE COMICS JOURNAL at the start of the Image days that I could never track down. My comic shop at the time didn't carry it, I guess, or it sold out everywhere I looked. I can't recall. But I never laid eyes on it again. It's probably available from Fantagraphics if you want to order it as a back issue today, but I'm just too lazy and cheap to deal with that right now.
So hearing an hour of the interview -- for which McFarlane drew a cover of Groth's disembodied head -- is the closest I'll get to it for now, and definitely a keeper. It's not the entire interview, but there's enough in it to keep you entertained. This is a younger McFarlane, a new parent, with a mouth dirtier than a sailor's. Every other sentence is laced with profanity, and for that reason I can't recommend this MP3 file as Fun For All Ages.
The joy of it comes from hearing how scattershot McFarlane is. He has some interesting notions. He utters some bits of very unconventional wisdom over the course of the hour that made me smile. These are things that many creators, I'm sure, think of but would never verbalize for fear of ticking off the wrong people.
The problem is that McFarlane contradicts himself on an almost continuous basis. No two thoughts fit together, and when Groth calls him on it, McFarlane accepts the point and then tries to justify his contradiction. It's hilarious to listen to in action.
The real money moment comes around the 40 minute mark. After a spectacular bit of such contradiction, my head was spinning. So was Gary Groth's, who could only take a moment to take a deep breath and try to compose to the next question. You can picture the curious look on his face at that very moment, just judging from the silence and then "Hmmm" that comes out of his lips. It's hilarious.
For a while a few years back, THE COMICS JOURNAL was posting these audio interview excerpts on Journalista! about once a month. They stopped doing it after awhile, but I think they should bring it all back in this age of podcasting. I'm not sure what the rights issues involved might be, but it would be a Must Subscribe podcast for all comics podcasting fans. In the meantime, I'm very happy with this hour.
Next week: More comics. More commentary. And maybe even more ASTERIX.
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