Archive for January 31, 2011

Carnival of souls: Destructor interview, the Wizard diaspora speaks, more

January 31, 2011

* I was extremely flattered to be interviewed about Destructor by my Robot 6 colleague Tim O’Shea. This is the most depth I’ve ever gone into about the history of the strip, from how Matt Wiegle and I hooked up to the influences on the comic and characters from across the decades. If you’re interested in the comic, you’ll probably be interested in this interview.

* Over at Robot 6 I rounded up every post about the deaths of Wizard and ToyFare written by ex-Wiz/TF staffers I could find, and tried to draw what conclusions I could.

* Frank Santoro’s L.A. diary. That’s Johnny Ryan, Jaime Hernandez, Ron Regé Jr., Jordan Crane, Sammy Harkham, and Frank. Jeez.

* Michael DeForge’s Lose #3 is debuting at TCAF. The first two issues are completely sold out; you snooze, you lose Lose!

* In light of DC’s recently announced sixteen Flashpoint limited series, with tie-ins from ongoing series no doubt pending, which recent(ish) mega-event miniseries had the most tie-in issues? Douglas Wolk crunches the numbers.

* This Tim O’Neil post on the deaths of Supergirl and the Flash in Crisis on Infinite Earths is pretty good, but my favorite part is about a different comic entirely: the recent “New Krypton” storyline in the Superman titles, which I enjoyed quite a bit until I hit the ending. Put simply, when it becomes apparent that the only way your story can end is with every character who wears the Superman ‘S’ on their chest collectively failing to prevent a genocide — and hopefully that becomes apparent very early on in the brainstorming process — it’s time to rethink that story.

* Perhaps the best hyperfocused comics Tumblr yet: Four Color Taint, a blog dedicated to comics artists’ predilection for showing superheroes’ grundles.

* Renee French remains very talented.

* It’s VHS Box Art Week at Monster Brains!

* Sumptuous writing: David Bordwell on nothing but the facial expressions made by the actors in The Social Network.

From the depths

January 31, 2011

Longtime ADDXSTC readers will have little doubt as to how much I love the latest page of “Prison Break” on DestructorComics.com.

Comics Time: Snake Oil #6: The Ground Is Soft

January 31, 2011

Snake Oil #6: The Ground Is Soft
Chuck Forsman, writer/artist
self-published, December 2010
56 pages
$7
Buy it from the Oily Boutique

Last time we checked in with Chuck Forsman, he was chronicling a young man trapped in an unrewarding life by the demands of family and culture and his own inability to muster the gumption to really try to escape them. Here, he…chronicles a young man trapped in an unrewarding life by the demands of family and culture and his own inability to muster the gumption to really try to escape them. But you’d be surprised, stunned even, to see how far away from Snake Oil #5’s straightforward slice-of-lifer Forsman can get even within that basic tonal template. In The Ground Is Soft, Forsman employs a sort of late-model Dan Clowes kaleidoscopic-narrative effect to tell a vaguely alt-fantasy story about an abusive warrior-father, his hapless would-be-priest son, his two wives (one loving, the other a little too loving), and the customs that govern their society and their lives, which are largely inscrutable until the kaleidoscope is shifted in just the right way toward the end of the book, revealing something deeply unpleasant about the culture and (potentially) redeeming about the father, depending on how you look at it. It’s very smart work, with a sense of humor that’s more somber than traditionally black, and a degree of control over how the one- or two-page vignettes assembled out of chronological order to tell the tale play off one another and hold back the big reveal until the very last minute. As was the case with his contribution to Monster I’m really not sure why he chose to cap things off with the equivalent of the sort of corny joke accompanied by a wah-wah trombone sound — go ahead, be bleak, nobody minds, man! I certainly don’t. This guy’s good.

Carnival of souls: Brevoort, Flashpoint, fun Friday art, more

January 28, 2011

* No one in superhero comics gives better interview in terms of how the sausage gets made than Marvel’s Tom Brevoort.

* Whoa: DC is launching fully sixteen miniseries for its Flashpoint event. And when you look at last year’s sales charts, can you blame them? “Whither the midlist” is always the big question, but these things are going to eat up like half of the upper charts all on their own.

* This Axe Cop fan film looks beautiful and has an incredible theme song.

* Ooh, a lovely A Song of Ice and Fire art gallery by Gianluca Maconi.

* My collaborator Matt Wiegle is posting illustrations for Lord of the Flies at the Partyka site.

* Becky Cloonan posts a page from an unpublished “Abercomic” I commissioned from her for an abortive relaunch of Abercrombie & Fitch’s A&F Quarterly a few years back. Sexy, no?

* Via Matt Seneca, this comic Superwest by Massimo Mattioli sure looks interesting.

* I’m happy/sad to hear that Jeffrey Brown has an Incredible Change-Bots strip in the final issue of Wizard. Click the link for further Change-Bots goodies.

* Speaking of Wizard, my friend and former coworker Mel Caylo of Archaia talks to Sam Humphries and the gang at Meltdown Comics’ Meltcast podcast about the demise of Wizard and ToyFare. If there’s one thing we Wizard alums can do well, it’s talk about life at Wizard; Mel should give you some insight into what it was really like there.

Comics Time: Uptight #4

January 28, 2011

Uptight #4
Jordan Crane, writer/artist
Fantagraphics, December 2010
36 pages
$3.95
Buy it from Fantagraphics

It’s the details that distinguish what Jordan Crane does. He’s not breaking any conceptual or thematic or formal ground in the two stories comprising this fourth issue of his old-school solo-anthology alternative-comic-book series, both of which are continuations of previous stories: “Trash Night” picks up the misadventures of a working-class couple whose female half is conducting a secret affair, while “Dark Day” is another chapter in the saga of Simon and Jack, the school-hating kid and his giant cat who starred in Crane’s all-ages graphic novel The Clouds Above. The latter story is part of your basic “kid explores a magical world beyond the watchful eyes of adults” set-up, while the former presents love and sex through a sordid, hate-fucky lens, an approach I’ll always associate with the 1990s filmography of Jeremy Irons. But none of that accounts for the sticky, unexpected images he pours into these familiar templates. For “Trash Night,” that means the perversely sensual lifelessness of the wife’s eyes, mouth, and breasts as the husband cradles her dead body in a mordant daydream (a recurring theme for Crane at this point); the memorable specificity of the argument that sends her back into the arms of her lover (vegetable oil!); the out-of-nowhere suddenness and savagery with which he attempts to strip her naked when she returns home; the shadowy, samurai-esque way he holds aloft a rake before bringing it down on the body of a raccoon who bit him; the unexpected and believably unglamorous way their bout of make-up sex begins (with him sitting on the toilet as she puts neosporin on his wound); and even the multiple meanings of the title itself, which could refer not just to the husband’s chores but to his likely self-identification as white trash and to the quality of his experiences during the time period. “Dark Day” is equally cleverly named in that it quietly ties this much frothier all-ages affair to the grim day-in-the-life we just read about, and uses irony to draw our attention to how much lighter this strictly black-and-white strip feels compared to the dingy, depressive graytones of the earlier comic. Here, Crane uses his wispy line as a way to cram visual cacophony into each panel, conveying how seeing an adult-created and administered world in disarray can be frightening to a child — the principal’s office, all books and papers and plaques and diplomas precariously overhanging the principal’s ogre-like frame, is at least as menacing as the shadows and icicles and smoke that Simon and Jack and Rosalyn must navigate and escape. At this stage in his career it’s quite clear how impeccable Crane’s technique is, both as an artist and as a designer; I think it’s equally important to note that what he does with that technique is just as considered and just as well-executed.

Destructor update

January 27, 2011

Today’s page of “Prison Break” may be my favorite Destructor page so far.

Carnival of souls: More Wizard, more Fantastic Four, more

January 26, 2011

* The Wizard/ToyFare fallout continues:

* Heidi MacDonald has another fine round-up of reactions and analysis, including a deeply unappealing self-evaluation of the company’s strengths from a company document. The bit about “we don’t have any of our own employees; we contract them through Wizard Entertainment” is Scott Rosenberg-level unpleasant.

* iFanboy’s Jason Wood walks us through the way that Wizard owner — actually, I’m not sure that covers it; at this point it seems safe to say that Gareb (and perhaps brother Stephen) and Wizard are effectively synonymous, like Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails — Gareb Shamus assembled the shell company through which Wizard now manifests itself. Hmm, I wonder if Shamus’s previous enterprises have something on the ledgers that necessitates picking up stakes.

* On a more pleasant note, toy writer Poe Ghostal laments the demise of ToyFare, which in my experience is the one Wizard product no one ever complained about. And for good reason — it was very very good! I’m glad it will continue to exist in digital form.

* I’m about to write more about the “death” issue of Fantastic Four than I expected to. No spoilers, though, so don’t worry!

* As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been reading Jonathan Hickman’s run on FF, variously illustrated by Dale Eaglesham and Steve Empting, for some time now, for the simple reason that it’s good. Pairing Hickman with the Fantastic Four — not just Marvel’s oldest and most storied franchise, but the one constructed around distinct characters, and indeed around character dynamics, more than any other — is a great way to mitigate his tendency to make the “mad idea” king, as seen in his increasingly less impressive S.H.I.E.L.D. reimagining, a book that feels like some kind of experiment in eliminating character from the storytelling equation entirely. The art is meaty and solid, the pseudo-science is fun rather than merely dizzying, there’s lots of cool creatures and villains to fight or outwit, and of course there’s the recognizable and entertaining Thing, Human Torch, Mister Fantastic, and Invisible Woman (and Namor and Franklin and Valeria and Doctor Doom and Galactus) at the center of it all. So I was gonna read the death issue, #587, regardless. The hype didn’t bother me because, and I say this as someone who makes part of his living following comic book industry hype, there’s no such thing as inescapable comic book industry hype. If you choose to escape it, you can, even while you read the underlying books.

* So! I read the comic and it was a good comic just like the rest of Hickman’s FF comics have been. But I was quite surprised upon turning the final page that the hype machine had cranked up as high and hard as it had, given what I actually saw on the actual pages in question. Even given the transitory nature of superhero-comic deaths, this one — based on what we see and what we don’t see, based on what we know about how the franchise works in general and how Hickman’s take on it in particular, based on the fact that the series is about to start over with a new title and new numbering but its landmark, irresistible-to-marketing #600th issue is right around the corner — felt like a well-executed plot point in service of a larger, longer story much, much more than it felt like a “get me the Daily News on the horn, the people need to know!” pop-culture event.

* And interestingly, the book’s editor, Tom Brevoort, really isn’t pretending otherwise:

[Reader Question:] I think we’ve finally hit a point as a fanbase where a majority of the epople who actually read the books aren’t going “THIS DEATH WON’T LAST” and are instead going “How will the is change the status quo and lead to interesting stories for a while?”

[Brevoort:] Well, let’s hope so.

People aren’t even pretending that deaths will stick anymore; the choice isn’t between deaths that last and stunts that don’t, but between plot points that people care about and stunts they don’t, about stories assembled with care and skill versus meaningless cannon-fodder churn imposed from on high. Or as Hickman puts it:

The question is: Are we trying to have an honest, resonating beat within the telling of a story, or are we trying to shock the reader and score cheap points?

I think it’s a bad idea to completely devalue death in a genre built on the creation and solving of problems through violence, but if that ship has sailed, again, I think you could do a lot worse than treating death as Hickman has and as Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison did before him: as a door you can open to explore parts of your characters and concepts you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

* But leave it to Tom Spurgeon to move past that silver lining and find a dark lining around it:

the takeaway may be that Marvel has helped create a market that limits the reward that used to be due better-than-usual work, and that drastic ways to goose interest and sales in such titles may be the only tools left to them if they want to move more copies.

Good work relies on gimmickry to get over, is the gist of it.

* Anyway, death was already a commonplace for the Fantastic Four: Bully and Douglas Wolk show us just how common.

* Moving on, Tom Brevoort hated, hated, hated this comic. Place your bets, folks!

* Justin Green has a blog! The Pulse!-reading teenager in me is freaking thrilled.

* Jeffrey Brown talks Incredible Change-Bots Two.

* Yet another name change for the Greg Pak/Fred Van Lente Hercules comic. I wonder how long they can Atlas this thing before it runs out of steam. A long time, I hope!

* I normally don’t go in for geeky “who should play so-and-so” casting speculation, but I’ll make an exception for A Song of Ice and Fire’s Brienne of Tarth. That’s a real challenge.

* Jeet Heer leads this piece on Dino Buzzati’s 1969 proto-graphic novel Poem Strip by saying its 2009 translation and republication hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Insofar as I’d never heard of it until reading Jeet’s piece, I’d have to agree. The cover is gorgeous and the two interior panels Jeet reproduces look like John Hankiewicz 45 years before the fact.

* You can watch this Bollywood Tamil killer-robot action sequence from Shankar’s Robot ironically if you want, but I’d kill to see action this intelligently choreographed and impressively staged (for what I’m sure was a relative pittance) in any of the (non-Neil Marshall or Neveldine/Taylor) genre entertainments I regularly consume. Bonus: The Robot looks like Joe Pesci from toward the end of Casino. (Via Michael Kupperman, awesomely enough.)

Comics Time: AX: Alternative Manga Vol. 1

January 26, 2011

AX: Alternative Manga Vol. 1
Osamu Kanno, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Imiri Sakabashira, Takao Kawasaki, Ayuko Akiyama, Shigehiro Okada, Katsuo Kawai, Nishioka Brosis, Takato Yamamoto, Toranosuke Shimada, Yuka Goto, Mimiyo Tomozawa, Takashi Nemoto, Yusaku Hankuma, Namie Fujieda, Mitsuhiko Yoshida, Kotobuki Shirigari, Shinbo Minami, Shinya Komatsu, Einosuke, Yuichi Kiriyama, Saito Yunosuke, Akino Kondo, Tomohiro Koizumi, Shin’ichi Abe, Seiko Erisawa, Shigeyuki Fukumitsu, Kataoka Toyo, Hideyasu Moto, Keizo Miyanishi, Hiroji Tani, Otoya Mitsuhashi, Kazuichi Hanawa, writers/artists
Sean Michael Wilson, editor
Mitsuhiro Asakawa, compiler
Top Shelf, 2010
400 pages
$29.95
Buy it from Top Shelf
Buy it from Amazon.com

This is a tough one. I mean, as a Whitman’s Sampler of approaches to Japanese comics outside of the Japanese mainstream, this inaugural English-language compilation of comics from the fat, regularly released alternative-manga anthology series AX strikes me as wide-ranging and comprehensive, almost to a fault. In terms of known quantities for American altcomix readers, you’ll find both the straightforwardly drawn irony of gekiga pioneer and a A Drifting Life author Yoshihiro Tatsumi and the over-the-top visual and thematic crudeness of Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby‘s Takashi Nemoto represented here. You’ll see comics that look very much like the lavishly illustrated horror or porn manga you might have come across (Takato Yamamoto, Keizi Miyanishi, Kazuichi Hanawa) and comics that are so far removed from the manga tradition and so similar in bold graphic spirit to the first wave of North American alternative comics that they’d fit in RAW (Nishioka Brosis, Otoya Mitsuhashi). In perhaps the most marked deviation from work from the equivalent time period (turn of the millennium) here in North America, there’s a metric ton of crass taboo-shattering of the sort cartoonists here haven’t been all that interested in as an end in itself since the underground days (Tatsumi, Nemoto, Mitsuhashi, Osamu Kanno, Shigehiro Okada, Kotobuki Shiriagari, Saito Yunasuke, Hiroji Tani), but there are also twee little slice-of-lifers, modern urban fables, and O. Henry/New Yorker litfic that you could easily see populating a Petit Livre from Drawn & Quarterly or an issue of Mome (Takao Kawasaki, Katsuo Kawai, Shinbo Minami, Akino Kando, Shin’ichi Abe, Shigeyuki Fukumitsu).

So your preferred color of the alt/art/lit/indie/indy/underground spectrum is almost surely represented somewhere in these pages, and chances are you’ll find something you’ll consider a minor revelation. In my case, I was really impressed by the murky, inky body-horror dream comic “Conch in the Sky” by Imiri Sakabashira, the title of which gives a pretty solid impression of what you can expect. Brosis’s “A Broken Soul” combined off-kilter 2-D character designs, a wiry thin line, gray textures that looked like an artifact of photcopying, and a sort of whimsical ennui, to remind me favorably of Mark Beyer. And Shinya Komatsu’s “Mushroom Garden” is a real stunner, its bulbous, plush mushrooms evoking an array of psychedelic comics practitioners from Vaughn Bode to Moebius to Brandon Graham. In other words I don’t regret the time spent with the volume at all, and it’s given me several promising roads for further exploration, god and translators willing.

That said, AX Vol. 1 is consistently undercut not just by the heavy hand of many of its contributors, too many of whom rely on shock value or Tatsumiesque hamfisted irony, but by various production shortfalls. First and foremost among those is the translation work by Spencer Fanctutt and Atsuko Saisho, which is the epitome of the translated-manga tendency to emphasize fidelity at the expense of clarity. Here’s a representative passage from Shigehiro Okada’s sex farce “Me”: “However strangely I might dress, if I could really slip my existence, I could become a part of the cityscape like those ruins of decades ago. My instinct would explode if it took form. The light holds death. The darkness holds life. That’s what I’m waiting for. I…I would die for its expression.” If it’s not a sentence you can imagine a native English speaker coming up with, you’ve got to go back to the drawing board!

Meanwhile, while the design and font selection for the jacket, table of contents, and ancillary material (including Paul Gravett’s informative, if slightly overwritten, introduction) are all quite strong, the lettering for the comics themselves is frequently distracting, with inexpressive computer fonts and, often, vast empty spaces in balloons and caption boxes where kanji clearly used to reside. Finally, the decision to list creators first-name-first in the TOC and on each page but last-name-first in the who’s-who at the back of the book is a baffling one.

None of these things are dealbreakers in and of themselves. Heck, I don’t think they’re dealbreakers even when all added up. Like I said, there are a lot of intriguing comics in here, and a few excellent ones, and the cumulative effect is an eye-opening and educational one if you’re a reader with an interest in Japan’s equivalents to the American alternative comics you enjoy but few inroads into them. But in a field that’s increasingly crowded with impeccably conceived, assembled, edited, and packaged anthologies, AX isn’t just competing with scanlators and sporadic English-language apperances in long out-of-print publications, it’s competing with what the Eric Reynoldes and Zack Sotos and Sammy Harkhams and Ivan Brunettis and Ryan Sandses and so-ons of the world are putting together. It’s in that sense that AX could stand to be sharpened. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Carnival of souls: Wizard, Comics Code, Fantastic Four, more

January 25, 2011

* Kevin Melrose at Robot 6 rounds up links and commentary about the Wizard/ToyFare shutdown, including the shell game being played by Gareb Shamus’s various ventures.

* Excellent investigative reporting by Newsarama’s Vaneta Rogers, who attempts to unravel who, exactly, ran the now-defunct Comics Code Authority, and just how much “authority” he or she or they actually had. It ends with a terrific cautionary tale from retailer advocate Joe Field of how ratings systems of the sort that have replaced the Comics Code often have the paradoxical effect of decreasing the amount of all-ages content available to consumers. (Via Sam Humphries.)

* Tom Spurgeon worries that Marvel’s much-hyped death of a Fantastic Four character in this week’s issue #587 is taking something intended to heal years-old structural problems with comics’ Direct Market — monopoly distributor Diamond’s decision to begin shipping comics to retailers a day before they go on sale, to give those retailers more time to properly stock their stores — and transforming it before our very eyes into just another short-term sales-goosing gimmick (an issue so important we’re letting retailers break the embargo and sell it the day they get it instead of the day after!) of the sort that caused all those structural problems in the first place. I worry about that too. Silver lining, though? For the second time in recent memory, Marvel’s mainstream-media hype for a character death will actually direct curious readers to a good comic with a sizable run of strong quality behind it. There are much worse fates I could imagine than for someone to be duped into buying into the Jonathan Hickman/Steve Epting/Dale Eaglesham Fantastic Four run, or the Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting/Mike Perkins Captain America run before it.

* Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, whose Kaputt is an early candidate for Album of the Year, gives very good interview to NPR’s Matthew Perpetua and The Onion AV Club’s Noel Murray. Bejar made a tremendous record and talks about it with real panache.

* If you know someone who passionately dislikes Ween, chances are it’s because of the track from their 1994 masterpiece Chocolate and Cheese called “The HIV Song.” Here’s a fascinating passage about the song — gallows humor at its most awesomely awful — from Hank Shteamer’s 33 1/3 book on the album.

* Real Life Horror: The by-now comically transparent punitive mistreatment and overincarceration of WikiLeaker Pfc. Bradley Manning appears to be getting some news-media traction.

* A Della’morte Dell’amore sequel? Sure, I’ll eat it.

* Fuck you, there is NOT a Hawkeye story called “The High, Hard Shaft.”

* Finally, we are now accepting Destructor fanart submissions.

Carnival of souls: Special “Non-Death of Wizard” edition

January 24, 2011

* Well, almost: I’ve added a couple more links to my post on the shutdown of Wizard and ToyFare; I hope you’ll read them.

* Your must-read of the day: Matt Seneca reports from Frank Santoro’s “New Values” art show, complete with an interview. It’s even in audio form if you’d like to listen.

* Tom Neely says more Henry & Glenn Forever is on its way!

* Kate Beaton draws sexy Batman. Related: Comics fanboys are assholes.

* Damn this is weird.

* Josh Simmons calls this image “Connecticut.” Wow.

* Curt Purcell checked out Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja et al’s The Immortal Iron Fist based on something I said once about liking the martial arts tournament bit and didn’t like it. Jeez, no one man should have all this power! Seriously, Curt is right: He was clearly expecting something from that sequence that I never intended to imply it delivered. The question was where were superhero comics’ memorable fight scenes; the Iron Fist tournament was just one answer I gave in a short list of different fights done in different styles with different aims. If Curt had specifically asked me for some knock-down drag-out that redefined the use of combat on the page, I’d have come up with a different list; but I stand by my contention that the way the fights were done — the caption boxes with all those made-up martial arts moves, the sudden defeats of various major characters, the loveliness of Aja’s art — made them memorable, especially if you’ve seen things done in a more traditional way a million times as I have but Curt probably hasn’t.

* Related: Tom Spurgeon answers his own question, the very one that spurred my response that spurred Curt’s disappointing reading experience, by exploring five great superhero fight scenes. I especially appreciate his analysis of fights 1 and 2.

Carnival of souls: Special “Death of Wizard” edition [UPDATED with more links]

January 24, 2011
The amazing John Byrne "Days of Future Past" riff Tom Derenick and Nelson did for a Batman article in Wizard based on an idea I suggested

Above: The amazing John Byrne/Terry Austin “Days of Future Past” riff that Tom Derenick and Nelson did for a Batman article in Wizard based on an idea I suggested

Gareb Shamus has shut down Wizard and ToyFare magazines, and is taking his company public as a penny stock while relaunching as a digital magazine called Wizard World. I’ll be perfectly honest with you: It’s been an awful day because of this. So many of the details about the news rankle: How it was broken online by a disreputable gossipmonger who — quelle coincidence! — argues the magazine was at its all-time best during the same time period it was wining and dining him at its conventions and regularly feeding him the company line; the unceremonious and cowardly way the company broke the news to its employees, both the ones it kept and the ones it let go; the time spent with no idea as to the fate of some of those employees, since Wizard’s official press release didn’t see fit to mention them or their magazines’ cancellations; the fact that the company’s years of malfeasance and dubious taste overshadows so many of the wonderful and talented and ethical and comics-intelligent people who’ve worked there; the fact that wanting to celebrate those wonderful, talented, ethical, comics-intelligent people makes it harder, emotionally, to do the necessary work of calling out everyone who’s worked there who are none of those things; the tasteless way in which at least one of the survivors chose to mark the occasion; the unintentionally revealing legal disclaimer tacked on to the PR; the gamut of emotions experienced by those of us who used to work there and the occasionally uncomfortable way those different emotions have brushed up against one another; and, of course, the massive blow to the security and happiness of the people who were laid off, and even those who weren’t.

Before I worked at Wizard, it wasn’t as integral a part of my life as a comics reader as it was for many of the ex-Wiz employees with whom you may be familiar. But the only issue I can ever remember reading is one that played a pivotal role in my getting involved in comics at all: After flipping through a copy I found on my then-boss’s desk and reading about an intriguing-looking upcoming approach to the X-Men by this guy named Grant Morrison I’d heard of and this artist Frank Quitely I hadn’t, I figured I’d go to the store to pick it up. The rest is history — a history that includes three years spent in Wizard’s employ. It was a frustrating three years in many ways, and the way it ended was the most frustrating part of all. But in that time I learned a great deal about effective writing from the editors with whom I worked most closely, Pat McCallum and Brian Cunningham, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. If you’ve ever read a review of mine you liked, you have Pat to thank; if you’ve ever read a feature of mine you liked, it’s Brian. Moreover, I met, oh, between a dozen and two dozen of the best people I’ve ever known, people with whom I’m close friends to this day. You’d recognize their names as they’re in positions of prominence across the industry and the popcultjourno biz at large; I don’t care about any of that so much as i care about the fact that they’re kind, generous, talented people I’m privileged to know and be associated with. And there’s nothing I can say about Wizard and its management more damning than telling you how poorly so many of those people were treated there, up through and including today.

Since the Great Con War erupted, it’s become clear that the comics industry, at least, has less and less time for the management’s behavior. This seems to be at least somewhat mutually beneficial: The comics industry has divorced itself from an entity it clearly has disliked and distrusted for far longer than it’s felt comfortable saying so, while that entity is clearly willing and able to pursue avenues of exploration outside the confines of that industry, its characteristic self-promotional mojo still intact. But the conflict’s resolution has seen more than its share of collateral damage over the years, and this latest spasm of it is just the most obviously and publicly gruesome. I just feel badly for anyone who’s ever seen the people and the work they care about caught in the blast radius.

If you’d like to read more about the situation, I recommend the following articles and interviews:

* Kevin Melrose with the basic 5Ws situation

* Me on that press release disclaimer

* Brian Hibbs’s quick two-liner on the near simultaneous demise of Wizard and the Comics Code Authority

* Tom Spurgeon on what the press release’s silence on certain subjects says about Wizard

* Heidi MacDonald with the first official word of the magazine cancellations; Heidi and her commenters do some sleuthing about Wizard stock

* Andy Khouri on (among other things) an even-handed appraisal of the magazine and its legacy in terms of alumni across the industry

* Rob Bricken of Topless Robot on the cancellation of ToyFare and on the way Wizard World announced its decision

* iFanboy’s Ron Richards interviews a laid-off employee

* An industry-reax round-up at Newsarama that includes my friends and fellow Wizard alumni Ben Morse (Marvel), Mel Caylo (Archaia), and Alex Segura (Archie)

* My friend and fellow Wizard alumnus Chris Ward (Boom!, Bluewater) with a warts-and-all take on it not dissimilar to my own

* Vocal Wizard critic Laura Hudson with a kind and even-handed take on the news

* A testimonial by my friend Ryan “Agent M” Penagos (Marvel)

Destructor update

January 24, 2011

Page three of “Prison Break” is up on DestructorComics.com, and things are about to get pretty heated.

Comics Time: Johnny 23

January 24, 2011

Johnny 23
Charles Burns, writer/artist
Le Dernier Cri, December 2010
64 pages
$24.95 price
Buy it from Le Dernier Cri
Buy it from PictureBox

X’d Out: This Is The Remix. For reasons unknown and with results most welcome, Charles Burns decided to cut up, shrink down, re-order, and re-release his recent surrealist art-sex satire/Tintin tribute, substituting English for an invented alien alphabet and language (has anyone translated it yet?) and reconfiguring the story into something recognizable but still very different. The trick here is that Burns realizes that the recurring images that populate X’d Out — photographs, holes, voyeurs, fetuses, eggs, wounds, cats, vents, nudes — can be used not only as dreamlike leitmotifs but as Legos, basically — connective nubs that allow him to disassemble the original narrative and put it back together in a new way, with the material between those recurring images treated like interchangeable bricks. Couple this with the inscrutable lettering and dialogue and the effect is even more dreamlike, and even more overpowering. The book’s protagonist Johnny 23/Nitnit is tossed seemingly willy nilly from one reality to another; he’ll walk through a hole in the wall in one world as one version of himself and exit into another as the other; he’ll look through a window and see himself; he’ll pick up a photo, we’ll look at the photo, and then we’ll see that his alter ego is now holding it. The book’s new landscape format furthers the sense of relentless forward momentum now that the pages are longer than they are tall, and the luscious purple ink in which the now colorless line art is printed emphasizes the sensuality of the images even more powerfully. It’s some weird erotic nightmare constructed from raw formal mastery of comics. What a performance.

Review revue

January 22, 2011

I’ve begun the tedious yet strangely satisfying process of updating the links to my Comics Time comics reviews in the sidebar to your right. The past several months’ worth of links have been added, and I’ve started changing the links for some of the older revies to direct you to my current site instead of the old one. Eventually I’ll do this for my movie, TV, music, and book reviews, as well as interviews with me and by me, my little best-of selection, and so forth; for now, old versions of all those links may be found on the Links page. Thank you for your patience, and I hope you find it useful.

Carnival of souls: Tom Brevoort interviewed, drawings of monsters, Marble Hornets, more

January 21, 2011

* I think my friend Kiel Phegley’s latest Q&A with Marvel honchos Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort makes for meaty reading. Brevoort muses at length on Marvel’s difficulty with ascertaining how new readers are discovering their comics; ponders how to effectively communicate to the bookstore audience given its lack of centrality and mostly casual interest in the product vs. the “comic shops on Wednesday/message boards the rest of the week” hardcore; explains the to-me baffling maneuvers surrounding the Thor titles this summer; and pins some of the blame for Marvel’s slackening sales on overextension of four top editorial figures. He also basically becomes Marvel’s new official mouthpiece by announcing that newly minted Editor-in-Chief Alonso, whose responses here are almost all just one sentence long, won’t regularly be participating in these Q&As anymore, putting Brevoort in the Quesada carnival-barker seat.

* Tom Neely, killing it as usual.

* Remember when there was a line of children’s toys and comics basically centered around Cthulhu? No? Then let Monster Brains’ gallery of Inhumanoids comic covers remind you. That guy who was basically giant rotting crocodile with an exposed ribcage remains amazing to me even now.

* Whoa, I fully support this King Collection line of t-shirts based on classic Stephen King jacket art from Fright Rags. Needs that incongruous bird-guy duel from The Stand, though. (Via Dread Central.)

* TPM’s guide to prominent locations in yesterday’s big Mafia bust really does read like a bunch of black-comedy Sopranos subplots.

Two alleged mobsters in Rhode Island (one who’s 83 and another who’s 63) are accused of extorting two strip clubs in Providence for “protection money” dating back to 1993.

Luigi “Louie” Manocchino (also known as “Baby Shacks,” “The Professor” and “The Old Man”) and Thomas Iafrate are accused of extorting money from the Satin Doll and Cadillac Lounge.

* I’m sort of amazed by how extremely creepy the online horror project Marble Hornets remains even though the current storyline depends so heavily on actors who aren’t strong enough to get their improvised dialogue over. Actually, creepy doesn’t cut it — I’ll go ahead and say outright scary. The two most recent episodes went up while my wife was in the hospital, and I actually put off watching them while I was in the house by myself. I caught up just now on the train, and sheesh — at one point I full-out jumped in my seat, alarming the guy next to me. Something about the visual tools they’re working with, the way they locate the horror in the very means by which we’re seeing and hearing what goes on, hits hard and deep and overcomes any shortcomings in performance and filmmaking.

Comics Time: Monster

January 21, 2011

Monster
Paul Lyons, Jim Drain, Michael DeForge, Michaela Zacchilli, Brian Ralph, Chuck Forsman, James Kochalka, Jim Rugg, Peter Edwards, Andy Estep, Oscar Estep, CF, Brian Chippendale, Blade, Keith McCulloch, Mike Taylor, Roby Newton, Edie Fake, Leif Goldberg, Keith Jones, Dennis Franklin, Jo Dery, Erik Talley, Beatrice McGeoch, Tony Astone, Mat Brinkman, Nick Thorburn, Melissa Mendes, Aaron DeMuth, writers/artists
Paul Lyons, editor
self-published (I think), October 2010
88 pages
$20
Buy it from PictureBox

They’re gettin’ the band back together, man! From out of the rubble of Fort Thunder rises the surprise 2010 revival of the gigantically influential Providence underground-art institution’s house anthology, featuring mostly-about-monsters work from all six of the Fort’s core cartoonists — Brinkman, Chippendale, Ralph, Drain, Lyons, Goldberg. Plus Andy Estep, Peter Edwards, Roby Newton, and a lot of other people you’ll see listed as having lived/worked/played in the Fort. Plus fellow-travelers like Providence’s CF and Jo Derry and Highwater’s James Kochalka. Plus Jim Rugg and Michael DeForge and Chuck Forsman and other leading lights of post-Fort alternative comics. And a reunion tour is exactly what it feels like.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s fine comics in this beautifully printed navy-blue-and-white package, many of which take advantage of its unusually large trim size. (We’re not talking Kramers Ergot 7 territory, but the thing is big. Think the Wednesday Comics hardcover.) Brian Ralph uses his comparatively clean cartoony style for a hilariously violent giant-robot comic, “Voltron from Hell,” basically, with huge panels and splash pages taking perversely pretty delight in mass destruction and death. The final panel of CF’s weird tale about an ambulance driver-cum-cat burglar who sneaks into the house of a woman with a mysterious disease actually made me jump — just a beautifully done little scare. Brian Chippendale’s story ties in with his Puke Force webcomic and gives him a chance to draw some villains at full splash-page size. I thought Chuck Forsman cut himself off at the knees a bit with his punchline ending, but until then his contribution was a creepy little thing that reminded me favorably of the urban legend my Delawarean wife recounted to me about the zoobies, the inbred mutant children of the DuPont family who would roam around the woods waylaying passers-by. There are insanely METAL full-page illustrations from Brinkman (who’s by now made a wonderful career of such things), Tony Astone, and Dennis Franklin — I mean, I laughed out loud at how fuckin’ devil-horns they were. And Lyons’s wraparound cover portraits of various barfing beasts is breathtaking, one of the most impressive single comics images of the year.

But in a way, the Fort Thunder aesthetic is a victim of its own success. I lost track of the number of good-to-great comics that came out this year bearing its influence, and those apples-to-apples comparisons make it hard for the work here, which I think all parties involved would admit was done more for fun than for tear-down-the-walls boundary-pushing, to stand out. In terms of anthologies alone, you could stand this one right between Studygroup 12, Closed Caption Comics, Smoke Signals, Diamond Comics, and Mould Map. Fort Thunder and the Providence scene’s DNA is now deeply embedded in an array publishers, including not just the late and lamented Highwater, Bodega, and Buenaventura, but also PictureBox, Secret Acres, Koyama, Nobrow, Pigeon, Gaze, and even the mighty Drawn & Quarterly. Moreover, whether you call it fusion or New Action or simply slap an alt- prefix in front of horror or SF or fantasy, Fort Thunder’s pioneering jailbreak of genre from the mainstream American comics prison has subsequently allowed it to become almost inescapable in smart-comics circles. Finally, Chippendale, Brinkman, Forsman, DeForge, CF, Fake, and Rugg are all in direct competition with work they put out elsewhere last year, most of which was more ambitious. And understandably so! Seriously, I’m not complaining — Monster is what I think it set out to be. It’s seeing Floyd get together for an awesome Live 8 gig, rather than seeing Waters and Gilmour working together again, and as such it’s more a treat for the fans than documentary evidence of why we became fans in the first place.

Carnival of souls: Special “lots of real life stuff” edition

January 20, 2011

* Craig Thompson’s Habibi: September 20, 2011.

* DC takes a bold step into the ’00s by dropping the Comics Code.

* Michael May reviews Brecht Evens’s gorgeous Night Animals, which I think is even lovelier than The Wrong Place.

* Sorcerers Supreme Lose.

* As always, the 22nd Annual GLAAD Media Award nominees in the comics category are a fucking joke.

* Not unrelated: I think that when this piece first circulated, I only read the autobiographical section, and I think I even linked to it as a must-read without ever realizing it was just one-quarter of a longer essay. But anyway, here’s Dirk Deppey’s excellent essay “The Mirror of Male-Love Love,” which is about equally dedicated to the history of adult-male/adult-male homosexuality around the world, Dirk’s personal development and coming-out as a gay man, the physical and psychological mechanics of bottoming and male orgasms generally, and taking down an approach to boys-love manga that doesn’t leave a lot of room for actual gay men or the sex drives of the women who love reading about them. It’s really long, but you’re making a big mistake if you tl;dr it — it’s a wonderfully engrossing read on all four topics it tackles. (Via Tim Hodler.)

* And now, Real Life:

* Absolutely fascinating Economist article on the medieval Battle of Towton during the War of the Roses in 1461. If you want to get a good mental picture of what battles in the world of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire would have been like, start here. (Via Westeros.)

* Massive, massive Mafia bust by the FBI; Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, Bonanno, Colombo, DeCalvacante, and Patriarca family members rounded up in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The link above is for the Daily News; here’s NBC New York, and here’s . (Via TPM.)

* The Vatican directly discouraged Irish bishops from reporting systemic child rape by the Catholic Church. (Via John Cole.)

* Here’s an impressive/depressing list of roughly or explicitly right-wing domestic terror incidents over the past few years. (Via Emptywheel.)

* Khalid Shaikh Mohammed probably personally murdered Daniel Pearl. The odds that he’ll actually ever face this accusation in court are essentially nil.

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here

January 20, 2011

Meet the Mob in today’s Destructor page from “Prison Break.”

What would ¡Journalista! do?: Three reasons to rain on Dirk Deppey’s farewell parade

January 20, 2011

I meant everything I said about Dirk Deppey, the recently laid-off writer of The Comics Journal’s Journalista linkblog, online editor of TCJ.com, and former managing editor of the Journal’s print version. The earliest iteration of Journalista was indispensable to the formation of the comics blogosphere, and indeed the entire comics internet, as we know it today. Dirk’s stint at the print Journal gave many comics bloggers their first-ever print outlet for comics criticism, from yours truly to the great Joe McCulloch. It also opened that publication up to manga and “mainstream” comics like it had never been before — to my mind an under-discussed and key step in the past decade’s reclamation of genre comics from fanboys, nostalgists, and monomaniacs as an area worthy of genuine critical engagement. Speaking personally, Dirk’s frequently insightful criticism and impassioned industry-analysis polemics were touchstones for me as a growing writer, even if now that influence is less obvious (because he did so much less criticism in recent years in the former case, and because I’m less interested in guns-blazing writing in the latter).

But Dirk has never been a shrinking violet when it comes to warts-and-all appraisals of notable and beloved industry figures as they head for the exits — that’s a big part of why people liked him so much. And it’s in that spirit that I’m saying now that Dirk’s farewell Journalista post was the first one I’d read in months, and the first I’d done much more than skim in years. While my hope is that leaving the Journal will allow him to return to his early strengths, the fact is that they were very much early strengths; if anything, the work he did on the late-model Journalista and on TCJ.com generally represented a major step backward for, or even an undoing of, the valuable work he’d done in years past.

I’m not surprised that the news of Dirk’s ouster was greeted with near-universal sorrow over the move and well-wishes for Dirk himself — they were responses I shared, too. But it seems a shame, and inimical to what Dirk did at Journalista, to let a quickly deleted tweet from Drawn & Quarterly’s twitter account (written, I assume, by a person I’ll refer to as “Schmom Schmevlin”) and an extension of the years-old pointed silence from one-time Deppey sparring partner and blogospheric allfather NeilAlien serve as the only critical appraisals of Dirk’s tenure at TCJ.

With that in mind, here’s a quick list of three major problems I had with Dirk’s work.

1) By the end, ¡Journalista!, for all the hours Dirk put into it, was about as minimal a linkblog as you could think of. The critical and analytical content that drove it in the early years was long gone, and the supplemental stand-alone reviews he used to run were a distant memory. He’d write a few lines about the “Above the Fold” story, mostly paraphrasing whatever he was linking to; beyond that he only even provided a quote or any kind of context for one link per subsection of each entry — the rest was just name/topic, name/topic, name/topic. In the absence of a critical voice or all but the barest context, there was nothing at Journalista you couldn’t get with a fuller and potentially more enriching presentation elsewhere. Eventually, elsewhere is exactly where I got it.

2) I may not be the best person to speak about this, since as I said my engagement with Dirk’s writing was minimal in recent years, but on the increasingly rare occasions when Dirk did offer his thoughts on the issues of the day, his relentless contrarianism too often skewed and obscured his analysis. Perhaps this habit of thought was an outgrowth of his pox-on-both-their-houses Reason-style libertarianism, Dirk’s expressions of which were always redolent with pride for sticking it to both fundamentalist conservatives and latte-sipping Seattlites as though the two were morally and intellectually equivalent evils. (I’d comment further but I assure you I don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to poor politics; when I was at my worst, in fact, Dirk was one of the people who treated me with the most understanding and kindness, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.) Regardless, from his refusal to countenance the idea that the digital-comics landscape had substantially changed in the wake of the iPad despite multiple points of evidence and statements from the major players saying exactly that to his vocal disgust for Facebook-driven PR efforts despite that social network’s obvious utility and near-ubiquity, Dirk frequently rode his hobbyhorses right off the trail, misinterpreting and misrepresenting the positions of his interlocutors in the process.

3) Here’s Dirk talking to Tom Spurgeon about the institution he helmed in both print and digital forms:

Prior to the rise of the Web, the magazine was pretty much the only place where you could get bullshit-free reportage and commentary on comics as a medium and an industry, and the Direct Market therefore tolerated its presence. The Internet changed that, and rendered The Comics Journal essentially superfluous.

So here you have the former managing editor and longtime online editor of the most important comics criticism publication in the English-speaking world saying he didn’t much see the point of that publication once the web came along. I in no way subscribe to Om-tae Evlin-dae’s contention that Dirk destroyed the Journal — he put me in it, so obviously he raised it to heretofore unreached Olympian heights, and at any rate the magazine’s real crash-and-burn days came after Dirk’s departure — but that’s a goddamn bizarre attitude for someone who ran the magazine to have about the magazine. And it very well could explain a lot about the disastrous relaunch of the publication as a web-driven entity. TCJ.com is, frankly, an embarrassment — comically user-unfriendly (just by way of a for instance, I had to manually search it to find Dirk’s aforelinked post on Paul Levitz, which had been voted one of 2009’s best pieces of online comics criticism by one of TCJ.com’s constituent blogs, because the old permalink didn’t work anymore), spastically updated, intermittently focused, and almost entirely removed from the very discourse Dirk claimed had rendered it redundant. That vacuum allowed the emergence as The Comics Journal’s loudest and most prominent critical voice an approach to comics and comics criticism that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to the traditional ideals and values of both the Journal and its parent company Fantagraphics if it were made to wear a snazzy yellow union suit and call itself Professor Zoom, The Reverse Comics Journal. I’ve never had any clear idea who to blame for all this — Dirk, Managing Editor Michael Dean, Assistant Editor Kristy Valenti, or founder/publisher/longtime editor Gary Groth; frankly, I think the buck has to stop at the top. But here’s how Dirk responded when Spurgeon asked him “Is there anything you might do differently in terms of site development if you had to do the whole thing over?”

…As for site development, I think that Kristy [Valenti] and Mike [Dean] have done about as good job with TCJ.com as anyone could with the available resources.

If you had the potential to change TCJ.com for the better but can look at TCJ.com and think that — and absent yourself entirely from any role in it in the process — that seems to me the very model of malign neglect. And the downfall of what was once the biggest name in comics criticism has got to be discussed as part of Dirk’s legacy, even though the fact that I probably wouldn’t be here without him is part of that legacy as well.

Carnival of souls: Free/digital Duncan the Wonder Dog, Jim Woodring, Hellen Jo, more

January 19, 2011

* Wow, did you know you could read Duncan the Wonder Dog in its entirety for free on Adam Hines’s website right now? But only through March, because AdHouse is prepping a $9.95 downloadable version for sale.

* PictureBox and Comics Comics’ Dan Nadel has a fine Best Comics of 2010 list up at the Economist.

* Good Lord, Jim Woodring.

* Good Lord, Hellen Jo.

* Happy first birthday to the fun sketch blog Comic Twart.

* Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (maybe Catwoman, maybe not) and Tom Hardy as Bane? Sounds potentially delightful, which is probably the first time I’ve ever said that about a Christopher Nolan movie.

* Rob Mitchum’s essay on Pink Floyd’s album The Wall and Roger Waters’s recent tour “The Wall” starts strong with the title and only gets better. He’s definitely right to emphasize the confrontational weirdness of the album; the first time I ever listened to it, my senior year in college, I was stunned that something so insular and vicious was somehow so universal.

* Finally, here are a bunch of Marvel and DC job openings. I bet some of you are quite well equipped to do some of those jobs.