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Pipeline2, Issue #155

PIPELINE CELEBRATES FIVE YEARS

Steve Lieber is the hardest working artist in comics. Nevermind the actual comics he draws; look at the frequent flier miles he's racked up. You can't call your event a convention unless you have Steve Lieber sitting behind a table with a stack of art supplies, a sport jacket, and a small stack of EDITH HEAD comics for sale at the low price of $2 a pop.

Lieber, a graduate of the Joe Kubert School, is probably best known right now for his work on the two WHITEOUT mini-series he drew for Oni Press (WHITEOUT and WHITEOUT: MELT), with scripts from Greg Rucka. The harsh black and white art beautifully depicted a landscape of pure white snow and little else. Lieber used all the tricks in his artistic box to pull off the effect and, from all accounts, succeeded.

While he's done runs in the past on HAWKMAN and a current run on DETECTIVE COMICS, it's the indie and creator-owned stuff that draws his interest. He's got MORNING DRAGONS to work on next, with a script by Warren Ellis depicting the meeting of the Vikings and the Samurai. Currently, he's promoting the heck of ME AND EDITH HEAD, a book he drew in collaboration with his wife, author Sara Ryan, about a high school girl who finds herself in the process of costuming a school play. I reviewed it here a couple of weeks ago, and you can find all the relevant ordering information plus special instructions how retailers can order copies for their stores at the web site linked to the title's name above. The third printing of the book just came in, so Steve stands ready to fill your orders.

Seen above is WHITEOUT's heroine, Carrie Stetko. Having unfortunately frozen her fingers to the door, she points out Pipeline's 5th in her own unique way.

WHAT'S COME DOWN THE PIPELINE - PART THREE

This column concludes a look back at 5 years and more than 400 columns of Pipeline material. I've forgotten how much of this stuff I had written, and I'm happy now that I'll always have this series of columns to point back to people who want to know more about Pipeline and its highlights. It's not the most easily indexed column on the web. This is as close as it'll get.

There's so much to cover and so very little time left. I don't want this to spill over to next week, so sit back. There's a lot of nostalgia about to kick in. I hear it's all the rage in the comic book industry.

MILESTONES

Some interesting firsts and milestones in Pipeline history:

  • Pipeline #1. This is a look back at the very first Pipeline, with updated annotations. Done 08 October 1999.
  • Pipeline #100. It's the last Pipeline before joining CBR, and gives the complete history of the early days of Pipeline.
  • Pipeline2 #1. I figured on giving it a try for a few weeks, or maybe the summer. This past Tuesday marked three years to the day of this column.
  • Pipeline2: 9/11. This was by far the most read column in the history of Pipeline up until that point. While it would need a certain amount of updating to account for the additional light that's been shed on what happened to Flight 93, it still holds up pretty well and I'm still very proud of it.
  • Spider-Man: The Movie. The night before the Spider-Man movie premiered I had a column due. I had planned on writing about something completely unrelated to Spider-Man. On the drive home from work that night I changed my mind. I had to have something for the movie, and so I wrote a Beginner's Guide to what was on the shelves for Spider-Man fans. Spider-Man mania took over that weekend, and I amassed more hits in that weekend than I usually do over the course of a busy two week period. Go figure.

LONG RUNS

In February last year, I began a series of columns. Each Friday, I'd look at a run of a given comic book and explain what made it so interesting. Taking into account the time it was produced, the agelessness (or timeliness) of the material, the creators behind it, and a healthy dosage of my own experiences with the material, I'd craft a column devoted to a single series. It lasted all of five weeks before dropping dead under its own weight. The column appeared on Fridays, which meant I had a late Thursday night deadline to finish it. Often, I'd read all the comics on the previous weekend and take notes, fleshing them out as soon as I'd finished Tuesday's column.

It happened, though, that real life, a confusing comic filing system, and other needs got in the way. I wanted to look at Peter David's run on the last STAR TREK series from DC. I couldn't find the issues, though. Then the Pittsburgh Comicon happened. I was away for a weekend, and when I got back I had other things to write about that took precedence. The routine had been shattered and hasn't returned since. I hope to give it a go again sometime. The columns were very popular. Here's a rundown of the titles I covered:

SPARKS is due out in completed trade paperback form in August. THE COPYBOOK TALES finally saw a collection released by Oni earlier this year. SUICIDE SQUAD was revamped and revised by Keith Giffen, although it's already (sadly) been cancelled. BLACK PANTHER continues to be a critical darling, but has had a couple of trades published to collect its first year.

I'm still waiting for ESSENTIAL JUSTICE LEAGUE from DC, though...

There were other occasions on which I looked at given series. The first would probably have been all the way back at the end of the first year of Pipeline, when I looked at John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake's SPECTRE series for DC.

In December 1999, I read through UNCANNY X-MEN #200-250 and filed this report.

CROSSGEN

It wasn't until I started putting together this column that I realized just how much I've written about CrossGen. Putting aside the regular on-going reviews of the monthly titles, there have been a couple of major overviews of the line since its inception two years ago. It's interesting to compare and contrast reviews of the titles from first impressions to current day.

On July 7, 2000, I reviewed the first month of the new line out of Florida. 6 months later, I looked at the entire line again, but this time it took two weeks, starting with SCION and SIGIL before moving to MYSTIC and MERIDIAN.

The whole line is due for another long-form overview, but with the number of titles CrossGen publishes monthly now, it's a daunting task.

At WizardWorld: Chicago in 2001, CrossGen invited a small number of comics journalists to a round table lunch discussion with Mark Alessi. At a hotel restaurant just across the street from the convention center, about six of us sat around a table in a free for all question and answer session with the personable and direct Alessi. He welcomed all questions, shied away from none, and was as quotable and witty as you could ask for.

I think CrossGen is doing an amazing job. It's nice to see a well-funded company with a definite business plan, both long and short-term goals, and a decent set of comics to wrap everything else around. Sure, I miss Chuck Dixon on BIRDS OF PREY already, but that's a small price to pay. ;-)

HOW TO DO COMICS

Pipeline is a spoiler-free column, as best as I can make it. While I sometimes make exceptions to that, I do so with plenty of warning. Part of the challenge to reviewing comics this way is that I can't talk too much about plot developments. I can talk about the story itself, but only in very cautious tones. I want to turn readers on to potential new comics more than I want to tell people what I think of the comics they're already reading.

It is a challenge. It means finding things to analyze and review other than the shocking cliffhanger or the major plot twist. From a very early time, Pipeline began exploring how the craft of creating comics is done.

It is also one of Pipeline's basic tenets that a good review will take into account what a comic creator was attempting with his or her comic. You don't want to analyze an over-the-top action comic in the same way you'd analyze a slice of life comics. You don't apply the same standards to GROO as you do ORIGIN.

It sometimes becomes necessary to learn a little more about the artistic process. While a story must, in the end, stand on its own, knowing the process behind it might help better analyze where it went right or wrong. Storytelling styles and methods became just as large a part of Pipeline's reviews as the story itself. I can talk about the use of a flashback in a story without giving away the entire story, for example.

It's also part of my role as a "process junkie." I love reading interviews with creators in which they talk about what makes them tick. I love reading columns by writers discussing their craft. I eat up analyses of comics by professionals. It's all a part of the learning process, and it's something that does make Pipeline special, I think. I won't slam a book without trying to figure out where the creators failed to make the impression they wanted to make. Often, trying to intuit the aim of the creator helps to explain where the story went right or wrong.

Over the course of the past five years, I've learned a lot about storytelling from the people who tell the actual stories. While I have little ambition to write my own fiction these days, I love reading interviews and books in which people talk about how they write or draw theirs. Some might think it a tad presumptuous for me to go on about plot structure or dialogue techniques, but I think I've taught myself a lot over the years. Through Pipeline, I've been able to pass that on.

There are two bits of storytelling business that I like to focus on as much as possible. They're not the obvious choices like plotting or pacing or page layouts. Oh, no.

The first is lettering. I've never lettered a comic in my life. Yes, I have attempted the art. I learned fairly quickly that it's not the kind of thing one learns cold. Mentoring or apprenticing is a great idea to learn the trade. Lettering is the most overlooked part of the comic, and I find that to be a great shame. The look of the lettering affects the overall look of a book so profoundly that it boggles my mind when people shrug their shoulders and look the other way on balloons that are malformed, words that are unevenly spaced, and fonts that are uniformly ugly. (But enough about Whizbang!...)

In December of 1999, I attempted to put as much thought as I could on the topic into a column discussing lettering and the best letterers in the business. It did OK in the hits department. (Warren Ellis' COME IN ALONE premiered that same day and I'm sure there was some carry over.) In any case, it's one column that I'm particularly proud of, and one that got some surprisingly high compliments from different corners of the industry. Lettering, in my mind, is an essential part of the success of a comic book. I'm going to keep banging away on that until you all realize how right I am about it. (Only I would take up lettering as a holy crusade.)

The second recurring topic is the art of sideways comics. I love the concept of a comic book that's read with the pages tilted 90 degrees to the right from where they usually are. Marvel has recently gone so far as to make a format out of putting the staples across the top of the book to facilitate this. It's been branded as "Marvelscope."

Since it's a big hope of mine to someday see a regular monthly book go sideways as its basic storytelling shape, I've given a lot of thought to the concept. In October 2000, I took a look at what it would take to make a successful sideways comic. That information got put to the test a week later with that month's sideways issue of PROMETHEA, and then a year later when the first of the Marvelscope annuals reached the stands, NEW X-MEN ANNUAL 2001.

In recent memory, only Jim Lee's DIVINE RIGHT comic has attempted a sideways format as a regular feature for more than two months in a row. You'd have to go back to CEREBUS issues from 20 years ago for the next closest thing.

Denny O'Neil wrote a book about comic book writing that I found disappointing. That article from last July gives some recommendations on what books might be better to learn the art of storytelling and comics writing. Rereading it today, it's a pretty neat summary of the books I'd recommend to this day.

In more specific terms, I've written columns analyzing what makes for a good fight scene in comics, why comics are like soap operas, and why banter comics are the next big thing, as widescreen comics phase out.

If you're looking for a case study for writing, check out this column from last January. It uses an issue of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN for analysis of plot, structure, homage, and more. I'm planning on another one sometime soon for Frank Miller's THAT YELLOW BASTARD. I reread it recently and was struck by a number of writing elements in it that are textbook examples for how to tell a story.

There are some writing topics that I do have experience with. The first is writing a comics column. This week shows that off. I haven't missed a single deadline since I started at CBR three years ago, and that includes 2 columns a week and countless special issues, Pipeline Daily columns, and con reports. And readership keeps growing. Last November, I reflected on what it's like to write Pipeline and advice I'd have for someone looking to do the same.

Then there's letterhacking. In the past decade, I've had more than 300 letters printed. This year, I've been in semi-retirement, writing pretty much only to THE SAVAGE DRAGON, as well as a few occasional letters tossed around here and there. My full letterhacking column came out Christmas week of 1999. About a year later, I added some more thoughts on the matter. I'm not sure what else there might be to add to that, but if I come up with something, I'll include it in Pipeline.

PROPOSALS

There are columns in which I've discussed how I'd fix specific books, or how I'd create specific books. The big title that's always disappointed me on a certain level is GEN13. While I've enjoyed the title off and on since its start, there are some fundamental problems I have with the book that I attempted to correct in this column from November 1999. MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS has been dead for a while now, but I think it's an idea worth reconsidering and a title worth bringing back. I wrote some specific recommendations for that in July of 1999. And a year before Joe Quesada took office and began to fix the X Universe, I offered up my suggestions, starting with the 'startling' one that there aren't enough X titles. In some ways, it seems Marvel is following along some of the same paths I considered. One last recurring topic in Pipeline for five years is the lack of the perfect comics magazine. Somewhere between THE COMICS JOURNAL and WIZARD lies the answer. Here's my outline of what would make the perfect comic magazine.

While I'm at it, I should also put a mention in again for a revival of Marvel's WHAT THE --?!? series. Marvel has a great staff of writers and artists who can handle funny material. I'd love to see them try it.

SPECIAL THANKS

Wow, I don't know where to begin. Thanks, first of all, to all of you who are reading this every week. It blows my mind when I look at the numbers every month and see just how many unique people are visiting this little venture. I don't think I would have lasted for five years if I didn't know that there was that many of you checking this column out as often as you do.

Thanks to Beau Yarbrough for pointing me out to Jonah Weiland when Jonah started thinking about adding a reviewer to his little CBR web site. Thanks to Jonah for putting up with me for these past 3 years and being the nicest boss a guy could ask for, not to mention a good friend.

Thanks to Chris Eliopoulos, Tom Beland, John Gallagher, Tracie Mauk, and Steve Lieber for their help with this celebration this week. I was mightily impressed by all of your creativity and professionalism in the face of my vague guidelines on what I was looking for. The professionalism shown is truly impressive. I hope this week has exposed some of your work to people who may not have run across it before.

Thanks to all the company people who've answered my questions, offered encouraging words, or just kind words of appreciation throughout the years, most notably CrossGen's Ian Feller and Tony Panaccio; Dark Horse's Michael Ring; Marvel's Bill Rosemann; and Image's Eric Stephenson (as well as his predecessor Anthony Bozzi). You all have made this work a little easier in the past couple of years.

Thanks to Ben Rawluk, who gave this column its name lo those many years ago... Thanks to Elayne Riggs who encouraged me to give this column thing a shot at the Philadelphia comic book convention, c. 1996.

Thanks, in particular, to Joe Torcivia and Dani O'Brien for all the great (and not so great) conventions, as well as the feedback, advice, support, ideas, proofreading, fact-checking, and ego checks.

And, of course, thanks to the other hundred people who deserved to be mentioned here by name for spreading the word, for writing in, and for helping in every little way.

It's been an amazing five years, and I'm just too stubborn not be looking forward to the tenth anniversary celebration in five more years. Just imagine the art I'll gather together for that!

THE GREAT PIPELINE COMICS GIVEAWAY: DAY FIVE

I've got multiple packages to give away today. The first is a small envelope of love from Larry Young and AiT/PlanetLar. It's a copy of Young's own TRUE FACTS book, reviewed here recently, as well as a copy of Rob Morrison and Charlie Adlard's WHITE DEATH. Both are fantastic books.

The next package is the Top Cow sampler, composed of a scattering of issues (mostly from recent months), including RISING STARS, MIDNIGHT NATION, APHRODITE IX, NO HONOR, UNIVERSE, THE AGENCY, and more.

The final package is an Image/Indy sampler. We've got CREEPS #3, REALM OF THE CLAW #1, PVP HAT TRICK (collection the original stories from the first three issues of Scott Kurtz's comic), SANDWALK ADVENTURES #3, STRANGEHAVEN #10, and another set of Image's DEFIANCE #1-3.

If you'd like a chance to take home one of these care packages, send me an e-mail with one of the following subject headers for the contest you're entering: "PlanetLar Giveaway," "Top Cow Giveaway," or "Image/Indy Giveaway." Yes, you can enter all three contests, but please send three separate e-mails. This will help me when it comes time to choose a winner. Include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. I'll be picking one e-mail for each contest at random next week at a random time. Goody bags will hit the post office in the following couple of weeks. One entry per person per giveaway, please. Entrants are not limited to North America. If you're overseas and would like a chance at these packages, you're more than welcome to enter.

I'm going to leave the door open for entries until next Wednesday night, 19 June, and I'll announce all the winners in next Friday's column. Take a look at the previous contests and enter them if you haven't already. It's not too late, and entries are still trickling in for Monday's and Tuesday's contests as I write this.

Good luck!

Next week: A return to the usual madness of reviews and commentary, as Year Six begins.

And please pardon a Freudian slip in Wednesday's column that indicated I had written 400 "comics". I did mean "columns." (Thanks to Erik Lehman, who gets the nod for pointing it out first.)

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.

More than 400 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, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.

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