Funnybook Babylon

April 8, 2008

Comics Foundry Spring 2008 Review

Filed under: Reviews — Chris Eckert @ 11:00 pm

PEDRO SEZ:I still can’t get over the jaggies here. They hurt.

I really disliked the Comics Foundry preview I got at the MOCCA Arts Festival last year. I had high hopes for it: Wizard has been fucking up the job of being a comic magazine for so long and The Comics Journal has moved away from covering the superhero stuff in any way that wasn’t attacking it. I was hoping for something that was in between.

Last summer’s CF preview wasn’t it. It was printed in black and white, I hated the paper stock and the main article about how Buffy was the greatest pop culture heroine of all time just rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed way too focused on the pop culture stuff and instead of the medium. I pretty much had no desire to pick up a full issue. But then Chris told me about their launch party, and the promise of a free copy. I figured I’d give it another shot.

Matt Fraction has a secret. This issue is better than the last one.The party was a nice display of your typical well functioning and well dressed comic fan that may never dispel the myth of Oscar Wao. I did get a weird look at the bar from a woman when I complained about missing my pull and liking the ending to All Star Superman, and we were the butt of one harmless but awkward joke about Chris and I’s sex life (pssh I wish) at the hands of CF‘s editor, but we did get free copies of the new issue.

Chris has some thoughts on this second issue after the jump:

CHRIS: I think this issue is a quantum leap forward from the first. The whole magazine is redesigned, and while it looks kind of like Wired from four years ago, Wired is a very classy magazine. I don’t have a copy of the first issue in front of me, but the lineup of interviewees and subjects is just as good, if not better than the first issue. Most importantly, the interior is full color, and color really helps when you’re covering a visual medium, particularly if, for some reason, you insist on doing multiple pages of “fashion” in each issue. Dedicating a page to some Voltron-themed tennis shoes in a “comic book” magazine (as CF did in their debut issue) is baffling enough to me, but it was even more mindbending when the spread was published in black and white. You shouldn’t have to use captions to help people differentiate the “blue lion” shoe from the “yellow lion” shoe.
I\'m not sure why either picture needs to be in a comics magazine, but one is a clear winner.

See the difference? There were no Voltron shoes in the second issue, but there’s four pages of adult Underoos, Jimmy Olsen/Link cosplaying, and t-shirts with nerdy shit on them. These all would’ve looked terrible in black and white. These four fashion pages speak to both of the problems I still have with CF in general. The first one is really my own personal nitpick, not anything they’re doing “wrong”. It doesn’t really feel like this is meant to compete with TCJ or any other magazine that focuses on comics, and if it’s competing with Wizard it’s at its own game: the cover design minimizes the word “Comic” and adds the tagline “THE #1 MEN’S & WOMEN’S POP CULTURE MAGAZINE”. This not only serves as a jab at Wizard, but lets you know that the magazine isn’t really all about comics.

That’s fine, not everything has to be about comics. But when the first impression an entity gives that it is about comics, as this magazine, comic conventions, comic shops, etc.) do, I tend to think they ought to be about, you know, comics. Instead they usually serve as All Purpose Nerd Emporiums. I realize that there are economic factors at work, and that many comic shops could not survive without a sideline in statues, action figures, role-playing games, Beanie Babies, DVDs or whatever Nerd Commodity is hot at the time. That’s also probably true of comic conventions, who need to bring in The Guy Who Played R2-D2 and some Playboy Playmates and a video game developer in order to maximize attendance and profits.

But for a specialty comics magazine, it seems like it’d make sense to hone in on the one thing that they know best, and could do best; comics. Look at their mission statement:

The market already has comic magazines talking to the two very opposite ends of fandom, but no one is speaking to the wide and growing number of fans who find themselves somewhere in between. Personally, I read a mix of superhero comics, indie comics, and manga. My reading isn’t limited to just one category—I like to mix it up, and I think most readers do too.

Comic Foundry is also different by approaching comics from a lifestyle perspective, with stories about how comics can influence your everyday life, through fashion, decorating, music, nightlife, and more. Comic Foundry defies traditional stereotypes about comic book fans with a smart and stylish package designed to draw readers of every stripe into the fold.

Maybe some of this other nerd stuff if part of “the lifestyle”, but if people want to know about Battlestar Galactica, Venture Brothers, upcoming summer blockbusters, hot video games, or even LARPers, there are plenty of venues that will cover those, probably in much greater detail. Those places likely won’t cover comics in such depth, which means there’s a niche for CF there. By my count, there’s a good seven pages worth of editorial material that have at best a tenuous link to comic books.

This isn’t even counting a number of small pieces that at least have some sort of marginal comics link; the page of “album covers by comic artists” isn’t the most info-rich thing in the world, but it’s kind of cool, and not something another magazine is likely to do. Likewise, the celebrity interviews interspersed through the magazine talk up various people’s fandom in a way unlikely to show up in a mainstream interview. That stuff is all well and good, but when it’s nerdery completely divorced from the comic book medium, it takes away from the purported mission statement by reinforcing the All Purpose Nerd Festival concept, that if you enjoy comics then it is obvious you’ll also enjoy role-playing, video games, science fiction, cartoons, action figures and all the other nerd merit badge activities.

My other big beef goes back to the fashion section: for a magazine all about comics, a medium dedicated to the interplay of words and pictures, they spend way too much time using their newfound color printing to show us things that don’t play up this medium at all. The creators CF choose to spotlight are definitely right in their (and generally, my) wheelhouse, people stuck between the rampant pandering of Wizard and the insular “artcomix” world of TCJ. A magazine like this is a great opportunity to let these guys and gals strut their stuff, and entice people into checking out books they otherwise may not have heard of.

But if you’ve never seen the art of Simone Bianchi, Molly Crabapple, Gabriel Ba or Fabio Moon, their profiles in CF won’t help you out; the only one of these articles to have any artwork attached is the Ba/Moon profile, which features a tiny, postage-stamp sized Ba Casanova cover, along with, bafflingly, a piece of clip art spotlighting Moon’s fondness for Jeff Smith’s Bone. Each article does feature nice looking photographs of the creators, which is nice, but especially for Ba/Moon (who both work on cover-boy Fraction’s Casanova), you’d think you could squeeze some artwork in somewhere, right? I mean, I know Fraction is cute and all, but did we need six interior photos from the same shoot as the cover?

If you look at this you're getting more exposure to their art than if you buy the magazine.

Check out the graphic above, or better yet click through to all these artists’ respective workblogs. This will provide you with 100% more exposure to these artists’ work than their coverage in CF. Isn’t that kind of odd?

I know, especially when printing in color, that space is at a premium. That’s why every time I saw a giant splash page announcing an article, I saw another page of “fashion” material (mostly just letting you know you can buy t-shirts with nerd shit on them, if you weren’t aware), or anything else that seemed like a waste of space, it hurt me. Not because I’m a hater or trying to be a dick, but because I wanted more of the content I enjoyed. I’d have loved to have heard more from Kevin Huizenga, Chris Onstad, Dave Sim, Percy Carey, Peter Bagge, Ed Brubaker or any of the other cool people who were squeezed into sidebars. More reviews would have been cool. I loved the Milestone bit, but if it’d been given a little more space, maybe there would’ve been room to explain what made Milestone so great to all the people who never read their line.

I feel like this is coming off as a denouncement, and I want to make clear it isn’t; the feature interviews with Fraction and Dinosaur Comics dude Ryan North were cool, and the “Eight Breakout Creators of 2008” piece was nice, though again, could’ve used some breathing room that it wasn’t allowed because it was bookended by Fraction photos, a giant pixel-art splash page announcing its presence, and then a page and a half of clip-art of North’s Titular Dinosaurs: the entire gimmick of Dinosaur Comics is that he uses the same half dozen pieces of clip art in literally every single strip, something aptly illustrated by the half-page reprinting of one on page 57. Why dedicate all of 55 and most of 56 to the exact same clip art?

Given the amount of blurby coverage of Nerd Culture and the extraneous art taking up so much of this issue’s 64 pages, I really can’t say you get a lot of bang for your $5.99. But what bang you do get it some pretty nice bang, and it’s the sort of bang I think a lot of people out there would like to see more of. The Foundry Crew have gotten their design elements on lock, hopefully next issue their bang/buck ratios will be resolved.

1 Comment »

  1. […] • Variety.com – Bags and Boards: ‘Comic Foundry is the new must-read comics mag,’ • Funnybook Babylon – Comic Foundry Spring 2008 Review, • Living Between Wednesdays: Comic Foundry Rules, • Go Read Comic Foundry… Now. – Graphic […]

    Pingback by • Comic Foundry: The Best Comic Book Magazine EVER? « The Life & Work of Hudson Phillips — April 11, 2008 @ 11:33 am

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