Salvatore Pane

Category: Comic Books

Comics Roundup X: I’m Still Doing This

Ok. So I haven’t done one of these in awhile. The reason is because bi-weekly was just too much. I don’t discover that many new comics, and most of my roundups were becoming “Hey. Read The Walking Dead, Sweet Tooth and Amazing Spider-Man” over and over again. Moving forward, I’m only going to do one of these if I have five new books to mention, or if one I’ve previously hyped is launching some mega storyline or something that’s especially new reader friendly. Get it? Got it? Good.

1. Morning Glories #1 written by Nick Spencer with art from Joe Eisma

Morning Glories is about two things near and dear to my heart: cardigans and ties.  Actually, it’s a cross between LOST and Richard Yates’ A Good School (or any prep novel really). I don’t want to dive into too much of the premise because the discovery is half of the fun, but Morning Glories centers on a group of high school students with the same birthday who are brought to a mysterious prep school. The first issue floored me. Jump on this train before you have to trade wait.

2. Taskmaster #1 written by Fred van Lente with art from Jefte Palo

I fell in love with Taskmaster as a character during Christos Gage’s awesome run on the sadly canceled Avengers: Initiative. When I heard Fred van Lente–whose Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Zombies stories must be read to be believed–would be picking up this character post-Siege, I was instantly intrigued. But this first issue is better than I could have imagined. So many strange gangs! Look at that Revolutionary War-era militia! If you want an off-the-wall superhero story filled with levity and a dash of insanity, pick up Taskmaster. This one’s a miniseries too, so if you’re not down with the never-ending stories of most superheroes, there are no worries about that here.

3. 5 Days to Die #1 written by Andy Schmidt with art from Chee

Mark Kleman and I interviewed Andy Schmidt about 5 Days to Die a few weeks back. Go read that, then pick up Schmidt and Chee’s noir-soaked romp. It comes out weekly, and the final issue comes out next week. That gives you just enough time to catch up before the big finale. Don’t wait on the trade for this one. Support single issues, and we’ll see publishers take more chances on stories like this one.

4. Fables vol. 1 written by Bill Willingham with art from Lan Medina

Sometimes I get into things really late. I started watching Twin Peaks in 2010. I began my descent into Battlestar Galactica last fall. Fables is another of those examples. It’s pretty much a holy text in comics but I never read it, never even knew the concept. I’ve been sick the last few weeks and picked up the first trade on a lark. Everything that’s been said about it is true. This one’s a knockout. If, like me, you don’t know Fables, it’s about a cast of fairy tale characters who are exiled from their homelands because of an unseen Adversary (think Diaspora) and relocated to a small apartment complex in New York City. They self-govern while trying to conceal their magical natures from human, who they call the Mundane. If you like Harry Potter, jump onboard the Fables bandwagon.

5. Archie #616 written by Alex Simmons with art from Dan Parent, Jack Morelli and Digikore Studios

If you don’t read this, you hate America. Ball’s in your court, playa.

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A Lot of Action and a Lot of Emotional Consequences: An Interview with Andy Schmidt

Mark Kleman–my Black List co-writer–and I recently had the opportunity to interview Andy Schmidt of IDW. A prominent face in the comics industry, Schmidt edits the G.I Joe and Transformers lines at IDW, runs online courses focused on comic creation, and writes the occasional mini-series. We specifically wanted to talk to him about 5 Days to Die, his new five-part series with the artist Chee that launched earlier this week. Read the interview, then buy the book at your local comic store.

Salvatore Pane: Your new comic launching this month is 5 Days to Die, a five-part mini-series with art by Chee and covers from Gabriele dell’Otto, David Finch, Michael Avon Oeming, Pablo Raimondi and Ben Templesmith. Give us the pitch. What’s the story about?

Andy Schmidt: It’s about a police officer named Ray, who is in a car accident that nearly kills his wife and daughter and critically injures him. The doctors give him five days before he dies. He’s hurt and he believes that the big crime boss in the city has put a hit out on his family. So, he’s faced with a decision: Stay and be with his family in the hospital, trying to repair their strained relationship, or go find and stop the people trying to kill them. It’s a tough, emotional decision for Ray, and it leads to a lot of action and a lot of emotional consequences.

SP: What’s your reasoning for releasing 5 Days to Die weekly over the course of five straight weeks? Why not go the traditional monthly publication route? On the flip side, why not collect all the material at once and release everything as a graphic novel?

AS: There are five Wednesdays (comic book day) in September so it all comes out this month. As for why the accelerated schedule, it just fits with the story. Each issue takes place over one of Ray’s final five days, so the increased schedule just was my idea to help add to the urgency of it all.

I didn’t want to do it as a graphic novel by itself. I like traditional comics and I thought releasing an issue as a day and making people wait the week adds to the fun of it.

SP: Tell us what it’s like to work with Chee. What specifically drew you to his work for this project?

AS: I’ve worked with Chee before and he’s an amazing storyteller. I like working with him, we had similar ideas about the kind of stories we like to tell and what’s most important for an artist to do, so we just click really nicely. And his style is a perfect fit for the crime, thriller, noir type genre.

SP: Hard-boiled crime stories are seeing a resurgence in mainstream comics through the work of Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, Howard Chaykin and a few others. Why do you think that is? Do you think it has anything to do with a turning away from the more lighthearted crime offerings of Hollywood like Cop Out and The Other Guys?

AS:  I don’t think it’s related much to Hollywood at all, at least not what Hollywood is doing now. I think a lot of us grew up enjoying crime stories. I love them. And I love film noir. So, for me, my main influences in terms of genre come from the stuff I grew up reading and watching, not what’s being produced now. And ultimately, there’s just a lot you can do with the hard-boiled stories that is a lot of fun to write and draw.

Mark Kleman: 5 Days to Die is a creator-owned project. Unlike Cobra Commander and Wolverine, the characters are yours and you have ultimate control over them. Does this make writing more or less difficult? What do you want readers to see in the characters of 5 Days to Die?

AS: It’s a bit of both. It’s easier to write in the sense that you’re creating them, so they don’t sound wrong to anyone because there is no pre-conceived notion of who they are or how they talk. That’s not the case for, say, Spider-Man. So that’s easier, but what’s harder is that they are mine and I have to create them. I can also rely on the back story of pre-existing characters to draw from, I don’t have to build the world as much, but all of that stuff is up to Chee and myself to build from scratch here. So it’s tougher and easier at the same time.

I’m hoping that people will see a bit of themselves in the characters of 5 Days to Die. Ray and Matt, the two main cops are both pretty complex and relatable. Ray’s sister-in-law has a pretty big roll and I think she evokes a point of view that much of the audience will share. But there’s real, genuine emotion underneath these characters, and I think that’s what carries the book (if anything does) from just being a fun concept to becoming a good story.

SP: Let’s move on and discuss your editorial work at IDW. You oversee the newly-revitalized GI Joe and Transformers franchises among others. G.I Joe in particular has seen a lot of reimaginings over the years, but the IDW-verse seems to be really sticking. What’s your vision for the line overall? How do you pay homage to the great Larry Hama stories of old without falling into the trap of the continual remake?

AS: G.I Joe is a very malleable franchise. It fits comfortably into a lot of different genres and lends itself to a wide variety of kinds of stories. Part of that is due to the varied history of the years. I try to make sure that comics feel grounded. So even when some big scifi element pops up, it still has a level of reality to it, that it works. And in other stories, we keep those elements out altogether. Ultimately, I just try to make sure the creators are telling good, honest stories that they’re passionate about.

SP: I think a lot of people were shocked by the brutality in the G.I Joe: Cobra series. It’s definitely one of our favorites from the line. Can you talk about the genesis of the series and what it’s been like to take a former gag of a character, Chuckles, and turn him into something really formidable and interesting?

AS: The use and development of Chuckles is due almost entirely to Mike Costa. He picked Chuckles, he developed the character for the series along with Chris Gage. The series itself came out of a phone call I was on with Michael, my Hasbro contact and Chris Ryall, the editor-in-chief here at IDW. On the phone, we knew we had two weeks to create the 16-page #0 issue. We didn’t think we’d have time to do one story with one creative team, so on the fly, I pitched a three-book launch with Origins and Cobra being the two books we I just made up on the spot. Michael liked the ideas. Chris and I hung up the phone and asked what I had on the two new books already. I guess I bluffed pretty well.

We figured out those two books in about two days and had 5-page scripts a day or two after that and all the art was done for the #0 issue a week after that. All that to say, we got darn lucky.

MK: You and Chee worked together on a comic adaptation of the motion picture classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Was it intimidating to bring the most honored story of Star Trek cannon to comics? How do you consider fans when approaching famous source material like Star Trek, G.I Joe, and Transformers as a writer or editor?

AS: Fans are a huge consideration. Not just because I like fans and am a fan of most of this stuff myself, but also because, that real core audience is the foundation of fandom. If they are really excited about something, they can get other people talking and something can really build.

Ideally, we’re building stories that appeal to long-time fans and potential new fans at the same time. That’s the goal, and it’s a tough one to hit sometimes.

SP: The famous saying about breaking into comics is that it’s like Fort Knox: every time someone gets inside, the authorities fix it so no one can ever use that route again. What’s the best way of getting your foot in the door these days? Self-publishing? Web comics? Going to conventions and making connections?

AS: That’s a bit over-stated. Breaking into comics is no harder (and I’m paraphrasing Brian Bendis here) then breaking into being a doctor. It often takes years and it takes training and practice but it can definitely be done. My other business is called Comics Experience where I teach online courses about comics writing and art and lettering along with other professionals. They’ve been a huge success and in large part because of all the strategies that we talk about on how to break in.

But honestly, all the strategies in the world don’t matter if you don’t have something professional to show once you get there. And that’s the major focus of Comics Experience, we help you figure out your art and your writing and give you the tips and strategies that are repeatable so you can create professional-level work every time out of the gate.

Self-publishing is probably the most popular way to get noticed in the industry right now. But it’s not as simple as just publishing something, you’ve then got to market it and sell it at conventions and get it into people’s hands so it gets noticed.

SP: Similarly, once someone has that first published work–be it via the smaller presses, self-publication, or the internet–what is the best method on contacting the bigger publishers like IDW, Image or Dark Horse? What is IDW specifically looking for in new talent?

AS: Send them the book! Put a cover letter in, talk to them at conventions. We’re all just people here. I suppose IDW looks for the same things all the other publishers are looking for, the right person, to fit the right project, at the right time. A great writer for Superman may not be great on Transformers, for example. But it could happen. You’ve got to fit the right talent together on the right project.

So, if you’re a writer, always be writing, and always be coming up with new stories that fulfill those basic story requirements and then add something on top. You’ve always got to be better than the guy next to you in line. And as an artist, always be doing your art, growing, and trying new things. A lot of people forget to experiment and challenge themselves. Again, this is something we do a lot of at Comics Experience. We’ve got an ongoing Creators Workshop with monthly challenges and critiques by professionals and all kinds of cool stuff to help people continue to improve and succeed.

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Culture Death Match #1: The Golden Girls vs. Batman: The Animated Series

Earlier this week, The Rumpus ran the first in a series of articles co-written by myself and Amy WhippleCulture Death Match is a point, counter-point feature where Amy and I argue over the merits of various trinkets from the culture at large. For our first feature, we take a look at the gay marriage episode of The Golden Girls and the first Mr. Freeze adventure on Batman: The Animated Series.

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Flashback Monday: How I Single-handedly Fixed the Comics Industry in 2005

The worst paper I ever wrote in college was for a graphic novel course I took in 2005. I was at the height of my literary snobbishness, and the sheer idea of reading a comic book made me rip off my monocle, slam it on my mahogany desk, and announce that “This is preposterous!” I read a boatload of comics growing up–the entire 200 issue run of the Spider-Man Clone Saga–and those were all pretty awful. So imagine my surprise when I ended up genuinely loving almost everything we read in the course. My position totally changed, and there were some weeks during my second comic reading heyday where I’d spend fifty dollars on new releases alone.

Unfortunately, this newfound enthusiasm didn’t translate into a decent paper. I started writing one that compared and contrasted Cather in the Rye and Ghost World, but about two pages in, I realized I had nothing else to say on the subject and wrote the rest of the paper about the comic industry’s notoriously low sales and how that newfangled iPod and iTunes store might be the key to salvation (five years before the release of the iPad and digital distribution). I’ve attached a portion of the second half of the paper below. What was so odd to me while rereading this is how close it is to what actually happened once the iPad was released. However, it wasn’t the indies taking advantage of the new medium, it was the major companies, the Marvels, DCs and IDWs of the world.

Below is the second half of my 2005 paper. Don't worry, I won't bore you with the Ghost World/Salinger stuff.

….how can the graphic novel capture a wider audience? Scott McCloud spends much of Reinventing Comics discussing the complete and utter failure of the current comics distribution method: the direct market. “The readers are just as abandoned by the corporate system as the creators, despite the importance supposedly given their hard earned dollars. The average comic shop can offer only a tiny fraction of an industry wide selection that is itself extremely limited in scope,” (McCloud 77). The graphic novel has not reached its mass market potential because it is using a more flawed version of the corporate distribution system that prose books have being using for years. As a newer medium, graphic novels require a newer method of distribution. Later in Reinventing Comics, McCloud discusses the possibilities of the internet and how that can one day be the future of distribution for comics. Originally published in 2000, McCloud simply was writing from a point of time which could not possibly suggest the method I am about to propose.

In November, the Apple Corporation announced that it will have sold a total of 37,000,000 iPods, their biggest handheld entertainment device, by the end of 2005.  The latest version of the device, the fifth generation iPod, has the ability to display video and pictures. Realizing that an installed base of 37,000,000 users is an astonishing opportunity, ABC quickly cut a deal to allow television shows, including recent hits Lost and Desperate Housewives, to be bought through Apple’s online store, iTunes, for $1.99 each and then be allowed to be viewed on the user’s iPod. Within two months ABC and Apple had sold 3,000,000 videos, as a result, NBC, CBS, and FOX are currently scrambling to pursue deals of their own with Apple.

This device is targeted at the 15-24 age group predominately, and is quickly changing the way we consume media. No longer are we shackled to our televisions to catch the latest episode of whatever primetime show is our current favorite. Even radio is changing and moving into two distinct camps, the satellite radio stations and Podcasts, which are free radio programs you can download from iTunes and listen to on any portable media player. The reason I bring this up is not only because of the cross section between iPod users and the readers necessary to bring the serious literary graphic novel out of obscurity, but because I believe the iPod itself is a possible solution to McCloud’s distribution problem that caused “a huge number of America comic book retailers [to] shut down,” (McCloud 10).

The current iPod and its cheaper variation, the iPod Nano, have the ability to display pictures. If the comics industry, specifically the independent comics industry, applied a similar method of distribution on iTunes as ABC has, a whole new golden age of comics would occur. Comic shops, delivery, stocking, and paper consumption would be completely eliminated. Also, the problem of knowing what to buy but not where to find it, a problem McCloud also brings up, would be abolished to as the iTunes database is literally limitless and could hold everything from Jimmy Corrigan to Wacthmen and back again. Prices could be fixed by the individual creators, and amateurs could upload their work automatically, just in the way that iTunes handles free Podcasts. With this system in place, creativity would flourish, as readers would have the choice to buy from the big two comic companies, Marvel and DC, the independents like Image and Fantagraphics Books, and weekend cartoonists. Also, the stigma associated with comics being a geeky medium would be shattered by combining it with an item, the iPod, so closely connected to what is hip and cool. If Ghost World was released today as a $9.99 download direct from iTunes to your iPod, I would highly bet that its readership would increase tenfold from its current measly 90,000.

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Why Did Scott Pilgrim Fail at the Box Office and What Does That Mean for Stories About Aught-Era Twenty-Somethings?

In 1998, I went to see The Truman Show in theaters. For those unaware, the turn of the century dramedy starred Jim Carrey as an unwitting participant in a reality show that encompassed his entire life. His hometown is merely a Synecdoche New York-esque sound stage and his wife and best friend are actors paid for by the corporation who adopted baby Carrey. I walked out of the theater adjacent to the Viewmont Mall utterly stupefied. Never before had I experienced a story that so perfectly encapsulated the modern day loss of privacy in the digital age. Never before had I seen a movie that so obviously shoved in our faces the idea that in America, stardom no longer had to do with talent, but had become attainable by even our most average of citizens, a harbinger of the rise of social media and reality television. I assumed that The Truman Show would be remembered along with other popular films of that era, The Matrix, American Beauty, Fight Club. And although Jim Carrey’s first real dramatic turn did surprisingly well at the box office, I rarely hear the film mentioned these days, and instead, see the DVD in the five dollar bins at department stores, occasionally connected via plastic to Ace Ventura 2 or Black Sheep. In most ways that matter, The Truman Show has been forgotten.

I know that pain once again.

Longtime readers of this blog know my fanatical devotion to all things Bryan Lee O’ Malley and Scott Pilgrim. A generational anthem in the vein of Bright Lights, Big City, the Scott Pilgrim series is for my money the defining text of what it means to be in your mid-twenties during the aughts. Like most comic nerds, I became protective when the movie was announced, positive that Hollywood would screw up what is arguably the best comic series of the past decade. There were pluses and minuses along the way. I was shocked and delighted when Edgar Wright was hired to direct and utterly confused when producers cast deadpan Michael Cera as the hyperactive titular character. The first trailer looked pretty awful but the global one seemed to paint a more representative picture of what the film would actually be like.

I went to see Scott Pilgrim on opening night here in Pittsburgh. The movie opened way in the back of the megaplex, in one of those tiny theaters where the speakers fuzz whenever the soundtrack gets too loud. There were maybe twenty people there tops–and this was a Friday 7:20 showing–and a couple in their fifties walked out after twenty minutes. They mumbled. They grumbled. They reminded me of my reaction to Juno, in which I sat angry and confused, blinking wildly whenever the audience broke into laughter.

Ok. But how about the actual movie. Like many reviewers online, I sat nervously through the first awkward five minutes, but the moment Sex Bob-Omb bursts into their opening song I was completely relieved. Here was the comic I’d spent so much time reading and thinking about brought perfectly to life. This wasn’t the Dark Knight, a distillation of the very best of an 80 year old franchise into a 2.5 hour movie. This was a straight up adaptation–with the emotional development sadly cut for time. This was Bryan Lee O’ Malley’s frenetic vision brought gleefully to life by a totally self-aware cast and director. I loved just about every minute of the damn flick–I saw it a second time two days later–and thought for sure, FOR SURE, that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World would signal a sea change in not only the way movies are made but also who movies are made for–SP targets the holy 18-34 demographic but never panders to its audience; it feels genuine and completely formed by the twenty-something hive mind. Here was the first time where I felt my generation was honestly represented onscreen.

I woke up on Saturday morning, happy with life, happy with the world, only to discover that Scott Pilgrim had flopped. We’re not even talking Kick-Ass flop. We’re talking full on Heaven’s Gate fucking implosion. The movie didn’t come in second behind Expendables. It didn’t come in third behind the greatest travesty in human existence, Eat Pray Love. It didn’t even come in fourth behind The Other Guys. Scott Pilgrim came in fifth in box office totals behind Inception, a movie released an entire month ago!

How could this have happened!? Was it the marketing campaign? Most of my friends who didn’t previously know about Scott Pilgrim were confused by the trailers and marketing, thinking the film was a dopey romance in the vein of Nick and Norah or the scum of aught-teen pandering, Juno. iFanboy lamented the fact that SP ads ran during Baseball Tonight on ESPN, a far cry from their target fanbase. And none of the ads for the film played up the indie rock, 8-bit gamer, hipster comic vibe.

But maybe that’s too narrow a reason. Maybe the film’s box office failure had to do with competing against Eat Pray Love and The Expendables, movies that had the potential to divide popcorn audiences by gender lines. Maybe the failure was because SP had no bankable stars and few recognizable faces other than the still fringe Michael Cera. Or maybe, like many reviewers have said, the video game/comic book/indie rock language of a movie like Scott Pilgrim is a generational dog whistle, a totally incomprehensible mess–there’s literally a cut every five seconds–to anyone beyond the age of 35. Or maybe, as has been suggested, nobody cares about the relationship drama of slacker hipster douchebags (say it isn’t so!).

I imagine that SP will make back its 60 million budget via overseas ticket gross and the home market, but its initial box office failure means Hollywood won’t be attempting a bombastic experiment ala Scott Pilgrim anytime in the near future. And that’s probably the most depressing thought about the entire debacle. I hoped that the Scott Pilgrim film would open doors for other thematically similar properties in comics and television, film and literature. But the Edgar Wright picture is doomed to cult status like my beloved Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey or the great Norm MacDonald picture Dirty Work. And until the powers that be figure out a way to make the graphic-laden, gamer-inspired visuals of Scott Pilgrim for less than 60 million, I wouldn’t expect to see another film like this for a long while.

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The Case For Unlikable Characters in Literary Fiction: Thoughts on Scott Pilgrim 6

The final volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comic series dropped last week. Entitled Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, the last chapter of the six-year long saga concludes appropriately enough with Scott Pilgrim’s finest hour. For those unaware of the series, it’s about a Canadian slacker who falls for a mysterious American woman who has a legion of evil ex-boyfriends that have to be defeated in order to win her heart. Luckily, Scott’s “the best fighter in the territories” which leads to a bunch of insane Dragonball Z-esque battles. The books are composed of entirely realistic scenes of twenty-somethings (drawn in lovable anime style) getting drunk, having sex, and being generally aimless. Often these scenes are punctuated with a bizarre, otherworldly battle lifted directly from old Nintendo games. But don’t let this concept fool you. The Scott Pilgrim books are deep. The league of evil ex-boyfriends is an obvious metaphor for the baggage we carry with us after each new relationship, and Scott’s quest to rid himself of these former suitors is as much about him learning to become a better person as it is about the crazy fighting (Side note: I once loaned the SP books out to a girl I was dating and she claimed to love the first volume but not the second. When asked why, she said the second didn’t have as many engaging battles. To reiterate, anyone reading SP for the fights is totally missing the point. It’s like going into Inglorious Bastards only for over-the-top action set pieces).

But this post is not a forum for me to air out my grievances about readers who don’t “get” Scott Pilgrim. Instead, I want to talk about Scott’s journey and what it’s actually managed to teach me about literary fiction. The first thing you need to know is that Scott Pilgrim, until maybe the final 30 pages of the last volume, is an utter douchebag. Forget how Michael Cera plays him in the trailer. The Scott Pilgrim of the books is arrogant, narcissistic, selfish and utterly terrified of responsibility. When the series opens, he’s an unemployed 23-year-old dating a high school student. He sucks.

I watched a video review of the first volume of SP recently where the reviewer hated on the book precisely because Scott is so unlikable. Surely, we’ve all heard this before. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a workshop where somebody doesn’t bring up the fact that the characters aren’t likable. I don’t know about you, but this has never been a problem for me. When I think of my favorite characters in literature, I think of Frank and April Wheeler from Richard Yates’ masterful Revolutionary Road. They’re utterly flawed human beings who do terrible things, and they’re not particularly sympathetic. They’re the types of characters I relate to most. And maybe that says more about my own self-image than anything but when presented with a character who’s inherently decent or wonderful, I recoil. I can’t relate and often don’t care about their problems. Show me a character at their worst. That I understand.

There are inherent pleasures in reading about unlikable characters. Their stories usually go in two directions. They either A) redeem themselves in the style of Scott Pilgrim and become fuller, more complete humans or B) completely fail every one around them ala the Wheelers in Revolutionary Road. Option A is the type of story we as humans need to experience continually over our lives. Who doesn’t want to believe in self-improvement, that despite all of our very human failings, we can become new and better versions of ourselves? That’s what Bryan Lee O’Malley delivers in the Scott Pilgrim books. Scott’s slow and steady growth is a reminder that we too are capable of becoming better than what we presently are. Option B is the darker world view (I can’t imagine anyone who would argue that Yates has a brighter vision of humanity than O’Malley). Option B tells us that self-improvement is an illusion, that no one can ever change for the better, that we as a species are in a constant state of decay. This is also reassuring in a bizarre way, because if it’s true, then we have no real agency, and therefore, no true responsibility to become better people.

And what do we get with likable characters? Usually victim stories. Charles Baxter wrote an essay a few years back (I can’t find it, or I’d link to it) talking about how much he hates novels and stories where things just keep happening to the protagonist, where the protagonist continually reacts. These are the types of stories I hate, the ones where main characters refuse to get their hands dirty. I want books where people fail. I want stories where characters make bad decisions. For me, those are the works of fiction with the most complex emotional centers, the fullest landscapes of meaning. As strange as it might sound to some, Bryan Lee O’Malley accomplishes this over six volumes of graphic fiction. His work stands as a reminder of why we desperately need stories about flawed human beings, because in the end, they are the closest we have to mirror images of ourselves.

 

Writing Comics and Other Alternative Careers for Literary Writers

Most people know I’m a fan of Scott Snyder. I’ve blogged about two of his comic book series, the oft-praised American Vampire co-written by Stephen King and the less appreciated Iron Man: Noir for Marvel. But I’ve also written about his short story collection, the excellent Voodoo Heart published by the good folks at Dial Press. The reason I became aware of Scott and his work is Cathy Day. During one of her classes maybe a year ago, we got to talking about career aspirations, and somehow we got on the subject of how one day I’d like to support myself financially (and also, artistically) through mainstream superhero work while also focusing on my literary fiction endeavors, namely short stories and novels. She put me in touch with Scott via Facebook and after a brief conversation, I sought out his story collection. A few months later, American Vampire came out which I liked almost as much as Voodoo Heart.

The reason I bring this up is because we’re close to San Diego Comic-Con which means a lot of the big comic-related news is going to come out now as to not be overshadowed by all the movie buzz. One of the biggest stories to break today? Scott Snyder signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics and will write a year-long run on Detective Comics (one of the oldest and most prestigious Batman books on the racks).  What does this mean? Scott gets a salary and is no longer a freelance writer for DC. Scott can’t write for Marvel. Scott gets health benefits (I think).

What else does this mean? It means Scott might not have to teach college. I don’t know any more than what’s in the above interview, but from what I’ve researched independently over the years, it would seem that contracted comic book writers easily make more than adjunct teachers. So many writers are pushed into teaching writing workshops after getting the MFA, and for many (potentially myself), it’s really what they love. But what few people within MFA programs talk about are the alternative careers. And by alternative, I don’t just mean desk jobs. I mean jobs that fulfill creatively in the same way teaching writing does (I’m not saying desk jobs are inherently uncreative). Obviously, Scott Snyder believes that writing comics is one of these alternatives, a job that allows writers to be compensated for doing what they love. Obviously^2, I agree with him. But what I’m curious about are other responses. Do alternatives to teaching exist for working writers in the 21st century? And if so, what are they? If not, why the hell not?

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup IX: Art Curators During the French Occupation and Donkey Kong Versus Batman

1. Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen

I don’t want to say too much about Moving Pictures because I’m going to be reviewing it later this month for The Rumpus. But if you’re one of those high-fa-looting members of the new intelligentsia that believe comics are still all about superheroes, I dare you to read the latest graphic novel from the husband and wife team of Stuart and Kathryn Immonen. I’ve seen much of Stuart’s work penciling Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers and I’m vaguely aware of Kathryn’s Pasty Walker: Hellcat miniseries, but nothing prepared me for Moving Pictures, a story of a dangerous love affair between a Canadian art curator and a Nazi during the French occupation. This book is serious, literary and moving. You need to buy this.  

2. Avengers: Children’s  Crusade #1 written by Allan Heinberg with art from Jim Cheung

Allan Heinberg is best known as executive producer of such shows as Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C and Party of Five, but nerds know him for his thirteen issue run on Young Avengers. If you’ve never read the original series, go pick it up immediately. Heinberg is a master of the teen voice and the high school drama that goes with it. Young Avengers deals with race, legacy, and easily the most interesting, not to mention serious, gay superhero couple in comics. Children’s Crusade is his return to the book and he’s brought with him original collaborator Jim Cheung whose art is spectacular. Marvel’s publishing a glut of Avengers books at the moment, but for my money, this is the one you absolutely must read.

3. Scarlet #1 written by Brian Michael Bendis with art from Alex Maleev

I intentionally know very little about Scarlet. The book came out yesterday, but I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet and I’ve really tried to avoid all spoilers. But here’s why it makes the list anyway: the creative team. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. BMB is the man who got me back into comics. I stopped reading comics for a decade after the dreadful nineties and it was BMB’s run on Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers that brought me back in. His take on Daredevil with the spectacular Alex Maleev (look at that drawing above) is another must read. And a re-pairing of that  team is more than enough to get me interested in a book about a kickass female assassin. Trust these guys. Trust me.

#4. Action Comics #890 written by Paul Cornell with art from Pete Woods

Paul Cornell is a writer I admire. He’s most famous for scripting episodes of Dr. Who, but I know him best for his run on Captain Britain and the MI-13, you know, the series where Dracula hung out on the moon with Dr. Doom. He’s brilliantly funny and quite dark, which is why I was so happy when DC announced he would be writing a multi-issue arc in Action Comics about Lex Luthor. The first issue does not disappoint. Lex is on the hunt for a Black Lantern Ring. His sidekick? A Lois Lane robot that turns into a gun. Sign me up.

#5. Image/BOOM! Studios Artist Dean Kotz

Look at this. LOOK AT THIS! I hadn’t heard of Dean Kotz before this image (sadly not of a real book) leaked onto the web, but I’ll be following him now. Check out his printed work in Poe and Outlaw Territory.

Mark Kleman Reviews Green Lantern #55

Mark Kleman is, among many other things, my co-writer on The Black List which will see publication later this year from Arcana Comics. When he asked me to write up a little something about the recently released Origin of Dex-Starr (a cat of whom I’m a huge admirer), I couldn’t refuse. Below is Mark’s review of Green Lantern #55 where the story appears. Listen to this dude, Mark. He knows what he’s talking about. Oh, and I would like to point out that I think Firestorm is awesome.

From Mark:

“I’m going to be honest–I am not the biggest fan of Brightest Day.  The storyline does not live up to the clear direction and mega action of its predecessor, Blackest NightDay’s main book has been concentrating on resurrected ancillary characters like Firestorm and Hawkman—who only deserve a supporting role in a Justice League comic at best and probably should have remained absent from comics all together.

See, even Superman agrees. Firestorm is lame.

That said, the Brightest Day events occurring in the pages of Green Lantern are outstanding.  It has everything a true fanboy wants: heavy ring-slinger action, intrigue, and Lobo.  That’s right, you’re favorite “bastich” bounty hunter from the 1990s is back and he has run afoul of Atrocitus, leader of the Red Lantern Corps.  A massive battle ensues on the streets of New York City between Lobo and an alliance of Hal Jordan, Sinestro, and Atrocitus.  Using meat hooks on chains, flaming space-motorcycles, and giant yellow skeleton hands, Geoff Johns did a great job making this issue an action packed adventure—definitely worth picking up.

However, the best part about this issue is the inclusion of a 6-page short at the end of the comic that regales us with Dex-Starr’s origin.  For those of you who don’t know, Dex-Starr is the Red Lantern Cat and fan sensation that first appeared in Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns.  Seen here:

AWESOME

Given his blue fur, many assumed that he was an alien cat from a distant planet of ruthless felines.  But to my supreme enjoyment, it was revealed that Dex-Starr was once Dexter, a normal house cat from Brooklyn.  Until tragedy shaped him into an unstoppable engine of hatred and revenge, Dexter was a silly cat who loved playing with yarn and eating dried bits of processed meat.  Despite the fact there are literally hundreds of Super-Villains on Earth, this little cat was chosen as the being that had the most rage in its heart out of all living things that existed in Earth’s sector of the galaxy.  I don’t care who you are, that’s awesome. I found this brief story to be quite charming and funny.  Now I can only hope that one day my cat is chosen by the Red Lantern Corps.”

The Most Raged Filled Being in the Universe

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup VIII: I Am the Terror That Flaps in the Night

1. Darkwing Duck #1 written by Ian Brill with art from James Silvani

In the year 1993, I won a Darkwing Duck trivia contest at my local Blockbuster. The prize: a television. That never made sense to me as obviously I had a TV if I knew so much about Darkwing. Regardless. DW is a touchstone for most kids born in the eighties and the wonderful BOOM! Studios (the folks behind Irredeemable), have brought Drake Mallard back as an ongoing comic. You want to know the best part? Like a Pixar film, the book’s aimed at children and adults alike. The first arc is titled “The Duck Knight Returns”, a play off the Frank Miller classic, and begins with a retired Darkwing working a soul crushing office job in a cubicle he shares with Mega Volt. It’s depressing. It’s awesome. It’s a comic book with Launchpad McQuack. If I haven’t yet convinced you to buy this, then please stop reading this website. You and I have nothing left to say to each other.

2. Soccer Comics written and drawn by Steve Gillies

Not only is Steve one of my fellow graduate students, but he also works with me. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve ended up in long, drawn out conversations about comic books that end up making everybody else leave the room (once, famously, he used props to explain Dr. Who’s Tardis to my then girlfriend. She broke up with me seven minutes later). So it delights me to see that Steve is working on his own webcomic. Check it out. It’s about soccer, and people like that now because of the World Cup and the US finally being declared a better country than Algeria. It was a long campaign, guys, but we did it.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #634 written by Joe Kelly with art from Michael Lark

Most people know that my obsession with Spider-Man borders on the insane. I followed him weekly for years during the 90’s and have to say Spider-Man’s better than ever. Aimed 100% at adults, the new thrice-weekly Spidey’s been spectacular ever since it launched in January 2008. But issue #634 marks the beginning of a new six-part storyline, “The Grim Hunt”, in which the Kraven family attempts to resurrect their fallen patriarch. You know who else is there? Kaine. The evil Spider-clone (seen above) from 1993. HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN! But seriously, if you have even a passing interest in Spidey, this is the story to read. It’s a landmark arc on the title and the culmination of a project that managed to successfully revamp most of Spidey’s villains (Vulture, you still suck).  And that Michael Lark art? Superb!

4. Gorilla Man #1 written by Jeff Parker with art from Giancarlo Caracuzzo

Hi. Do you see the above image? Ok. I don’t have to sell  you on buying this one. Just look at it.

Let’s move on.

5. Jurassic Park Redemption #1 written by Bob Schreck with art from Nate Van Dyke

Remember Jurassic Park? It’s back! In comics form! Usually, licensed comics are terrible, so I might be careful about picking this one up, but the buzz is good. It follows the two kids from the first movie about ten years later which is a nice connection and nod to the original film. Plus, Frank Miller’s doing covers. That’s pretty impressive comic lineage for a licensed book and proof that the fine folks at IDW are really getting behind this one. Definitely worth picking up the first issue.