2014: THE PIPELINE YEAR IN REVIEW
For the longest time, my goal with Pipeline was to increase the number of reviews of collected editions. Those seem to have the longest legs and be the most useful. Discussing comics from week to week is still valuable and sometimes irresistible, but having a complete story to take a look at usually provides more fertile ground for discussion. They’re more work just because there’s more to read and discuss, but they’re worth it.
This year, I felt that focus shifting. While I’m still proud of those reviews, I’m not as excited to do as many of them as possible. I’m more excited to discuss the craft. Yes, it’s true that the average comic reviewer pays more attention to the writing than the art. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen into that trap, but I attacked it even more head-on in Pipeline this year, paying as much attention to the craft of comics creation and, in particular, the art.
I’ve always been interested in the visual side of comics. Growing up, I was more an art guy than a writing guy. I thought, as a kid, I might get into animation someday or do my own comic strip. I worshipped at the altar of “The Far Side” and Chuck Jones cartoons. That seemed a natural direction. To show an example or three, Pipeline was festooned with Smurfs early in the year.
For various reasons, that didn’t happen, but the curiosity about the visual side of comics remains. I’ve played with them, myself, including everything from lettering to drawing to coloring. I’ve reported back on that in various ways over the years, and I think focused on that more strongly than ever this year, as I noticed when compiling the 2014 Pipeline Year in Review list of links. (For comparison’s sake, here’s the 2013 list.)
2015 is going to be more like that. I’m already working on a couple of columns for January that go into the digital way of making comics, and some comparisons to the Hollywood process. I can’t help but analyze comics now in a new way, given what I’ve seen with my own experimentations in inking, coloring, or lettering things, not to mention doing it all on the computer.
I cannot stress hard enough how true it is that you learn much more by doing something than by reading about it. What seems obvious on a comics page is often the result of dozens of failed attempts, trial and error iteration, or the last minute panic of an artist on deadline who just has to go with his or her gut.
With those experimentations in mind, it’s also been more fun than ever to go back to the comic archives and read old favorites with a fresh eye. There’s been so much movement in comics in the last 15 years that it’s easy to forget about certain completed stories, or to take them for granted.
To that end, I’ve also been paying more attention again to the world of animation, and seeing how it might intersect with the world of comics. Besides the occasional crossover job for the creators, there are lots of lessons the comics world can learn from the development process in animation. And, also, some of it is just cool.
The industry has been going through its usual fluctuations this year. This is the year comiXology sold out to Amazon and cut off iPad sales. Dark Horse had to consider what to do with a Star Wars-less lineup. Marvel had to figure out how to create another dozen covers to bring those first issue sales up. Were Euro-styled comics on the rise here in the States? Was the success of television going to influence the world of comics? Is this the year Archie got its groove back?
And, the biggest project of all, it’s the year I decided to review Todd McFarlane’s run on “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Every issue of it. We’ll get to that and “All-Star Batman and Robin” in just a bit.
First, let’s look at the news and reviews of 2014:
We had the European album reviews:
- “Asterix and the Picts” (28 Jan)
- “Basil & Victoria: London Guttersnipes” (07 Jan)
- “Sybil: The Backpack Fairy” (18 Feb)
There were the books about making comics:
- “Brian Bendis’ Words for Pictures” (15 Jul)
- “Foundations in Comic Book Art” (12 Aug)
- “Make Comics Like the Pros” (09 Sep)
- Uncle Scrooge: (Don Rosa) “The Old Castle’s Other Secret” (02 Sep)
- Uncle Scrooge: (Don Rosa) “The Magnificent Seven (Minus Four) Caballeros” (09 Sep)
Hint: There’s another of these to come in the weeks ahead. Santa Claus was very nice to me this year…
A very small dose of the comics that came from Image this year, many more of which I mentioned on a single issue basis here and there:
- “Wayward” #1 – #2 (07 Oct)
- “Shutter” #1 – #6 (07 Oct)
- “Imperial” #1 – #3 (07 Oct)
- “Black Science “#1 – #3 (11 Feb)
- “Rat Queens” (01 Apr)
- “Chew” In Its Forties (02 Dec)
Some looks back at books of yore, most of which still stand up:
- “Batgirl: Year One” (26 Aug)
- “Captain America: Disassembled” (10 Jun)
- “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear” (25 Feb)
- “The Flash” by Waid and Wieringo (24 Jun)
- “Formerly Known as The Justice League” (13 May)
- Warren Ellis’ “JLA: Classified” Arc (20 May)
- “Rocket Raccoon” (26 Aug)
- “Spawn/Batman” (04 Feb)
- Another Comic in Sign Language (“Supergirl” #65) (12 Aug)
- “Transformers/G.I. Joe” (2003) (30 Sep)
- “Global Frequency” (25 Nov)
Marvel had a couple of fun multimedia presentations in 2014:
I also greatly enjoyed “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but never published a full review of it. By the time I got to see it, I think everyone had talked it to death already.
The night I saw that movie was interesting for another TV-related reason. It was the night before I appeared on a CNBC morning show to talk about comic books. You can see video of it and my little behind the scenes write-up in the Pipeline column from August 19th.
They haven’s asked me back yet, though I did answer a few questions for another upcoming web article on the subject of movies and comics. I’ll be sure to link to that when it appears on their website.
In the meantime, here are some books about animation, and a couple of movie reviews:
- “Maleficent” on Blu-Ray (04 Nov)
- “Big Hero 6” (11 Nov)
- “The Art of Blue Sky Studios” (21 Oct)
- “The Art of Penguins of Madagascar” (18 Nov)
One could even make the argument that “Maleficent” is an animated movie…
THE ART OF COMICS
While I focused pretty heavily on art in a lot of the reviews I just linked to, I spent several other columns talking about coloring, art styles, inking, and Smurfs. Yes, Smurfs. My exploration into art started with The Smurfs, as you’ll see in this progression:
- Judging a Book by Its Colors (21 Jan)
- Smurf Force (14 Jan)
- Drawing Shinku as a Smurf (18 Feb)
- Drawing Spider-Smurfs (01 Jul)
- The Fine Art of Overlapping (25 Mar)
- Liefeld the Inker (15 Apr)
- On Coloring Myself (27 May)
- “Global Frequency”: The Issue That Went Astray (When Art Fails a Story) (09 Dec)
This is a topic that won’t be going away. I’ll have more on the art of digital comics making in the weeks ahead. Hint: I want a Cintiq from Santa next year. Go big or go home, right?
I didn’t comment on everything that happened this year, including such notable events as Jack Kirby’s heirs finally settling with Marvel/Disney to what seems to be everyone’s satisfaction, and DC and Marvel conquering TV screens and announcing ambitious and far-ranging movie schedules that will prove impossible to keep. But I dipped my toes into the water several other times:
Digital comics had another interesting year, topped off by what I think was the biggest digital comics event of the year, comiXology selling out to Amazon. We still haven’t seen all the fall-out from that earthquake, though it did provoke a second column dedicated to the event as the tech press and others analyzed the move.
In happier news, comiXology jumped the DRM-Free bandwagon, where all the righteous distributors live. They did that right, at least. Without Marvel and DC joining that fray, though, the overall victory still feels somewhat hollow.
Speaking of digital comics, I found a quote from Carl Barks that seemed to pre-sage comics piracy on the internet.
And I learned to love Instagram for being an artist’s showcase, before discovering how much radically more popular Tumblr is. By the time this column goes up, I’ll cross 5000 followers on Tumblr after merely two weeks on the service. That’s ridiculous.
2014 is the year I realized that superheroes have entered the mainstream and Also, comic book conventions are judged by who they aim for, and this is why I don’t get angry over so much of the Hollywoodization of comic cons. Those cons aren’t for me; How should I judge their success?
My daughter got more comics at Free Comic Book Day 2014 than me, which is probably as it should be.
I’m knee-deep currently in what I refer to as “The Purge II”. That effort has ramped up over this holiday break, as I’m taking the time to pore through lots of long boxes and attempting to organize some things, as well as picking out more comics to dispose of. I’m still keeping far too many comics, but it’s become easier to put more of them on the “Discard” pile as I go. Just this weekend, I compressed a half dozen short boxes down to three. The total count on trade paperbacks I’m selling off is now over 250.
On the plus side, I’m also finding lots of new material hidden in those boxes for future Pipelines. 2015 is looking like a fun year.
One odd thing I keep noticing: My comic organization fell apart in the early 2000s, probably close to the time I opened up a storage unit to house so many of them. It’s interesting to see which series I find issues of in various boxes. “The Walking Dead” showed up in at least four different places, as did “Ultimate Spider-Man.” That makes sense as they’re both long-lasting titles. But why did “True Story, Swear to Go” keep showing up with issues in different places? How did Dan Slott’s “She-Hulk” wind up in three different longboxes? “The Boys” from Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson wound up with short runs in at least six different boxes. Whatta disaster!
Here’s a bit of advice to younger collectors: As hard as it might seem, keep your collection organized as you go along. Don’t assume you’ll get to it at a later date. Don’t assume that things will magically sort themselves out over time or with one simple reorganization. It’s never that easy, kids. Never.
THE PIPELINE RE-READS
My first comic was “The Amazing Spider-Man” #318 in 1989. To celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, I decided to go back to Todd McFarlane’s run on the series and review every issue of it, one a week. It was a feature that helped fill a lot of columns, and also one that was easily bumped when other more pressing issues came up. As I write this, I’m only two issues away from completing it all.
If you haven’t been following along, here’s the line-up, with issue number and story title included:
- #298: “Chance Encounter!”
- #299: “Survival of the Hittist!”
- #300: “Venom”
- #301: “The Sable Gauntlet”
- #302: “(Mid) American Gothic”
- #303: “Dock Savage”
- #304: “California Schemin'”
- #305: “Westward Woe!”
- #306: “Humbugged!”
- #307: “The Thief Who Stole Himself”
- #308: “Dread”
- #309: “Styx and Stone”
- #310: “Shrike Force”
- #311: “Mysteries of the Dead”
- #312: “The Goblin War”
- #313: “Slithereens!”
- #314: “Down and Out in Forest Hills”
- #315: “A Matter of Life or Debt”
- #316: “Dead Meat”
- #317: “The Sand and The Fury”
#318: “Sting Your Partner” (My First Comic)
- #319: “The Scorpion’s Tale of Woe”
- #320: “License Invoked”
- #321: “Under War!”
- #322: “Ceremony”
- #323: “Assault Rivals”
- #324: “Twos Day”
- #325: “Finale In Red” (06 Jan 2015, tentatively)
- #328: “Shaw’s Gambit” (13 Jan 2015, tentatively)
In the fall, I re-read “All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder” for fun. I didn’t intend to do anything with it. It was a ten year-old series that the internet hated and DC never finished. I figured I’d sit back, enjoy some Jim Lee art, have a few quick reads, and move on. No pressure.
The problem is, divorced from the political firestorms of the day, the staggered publishing schedule, and the expectations placed on the series in its lead-up, I found the series to be better than I remembered. And I LIKED it in the first place. Reading the ten issues of the series in a short time span increased my appreciation for it greatly, as each issue had something to recommend it. There was, as it turns out, a lot to talk about in those 220 pages.
So began the “Epic Re-Read” of that series. My excitement for it took over and I started the writing right away. The problem with this is, the write-ups grew very large, very fast. I couldn’t write about both it and “The Amazing Spider-Man” each week, for fear of this column turning completely retro. Instead, I’ve gone back and forth. Right now, I want to finish up the McSpidey reading and then race through the back five issues of “All Star Batman and Robin”. That’ll put us in February, so I’m starting to entertain notions for what series to review like this next.
Here’s the first five:
I read “The Builder’s High” blog post at least once a month in 2013. It’s a good reminder of what’s important and how “productive” isn’t a bad word. Call it “Get Stuff Done” or “Productivity” or “Creation.” It’s all the same. The piece is a better call to arms than I could explain here. It’s less than 900 words. In the end, the call is simple: Build stuff:
Turn off those notifications, turn your phone over, turn on your favorite music, stare at your blank slate and consider what you might build. In that moment of consideration, you’re making an important decision: create or consume? The things we’re giving to the future are feeling increasingly unintentional and irrelevant. They are half-considered thoughts of others. When you choose to create, you’re bucking the trend because you’re choosing to take the time to build.
And that’s a great way to start the year.
I couldn’t agree more. Now excuse me while I send this column in and go pick up the sketchbook for a bit…
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