Funnybook Babylon

July 30, 2011

Avenging the Week – SDCC Leftovers

Filed under: Articles,Avenging the Week — Jamaal Thomas @ 11:02 pm

With the flood of news last week from San Diego, its inevitable that some things will escape notice. Here are two overlooked picks from the San Diego Comic Con, along with some other ephemera.

At DC’s Vertigo panel, Derek McCulloch announced Gone to Amerikay, an original graphic novel about Irish immigration to the United States over the last 140 years that he worked on with Colleen Doran and Jose Villarubia. McCulloch described the book as a “historial epic with a crime story and a ghost story and a couple of love stories and all kinds of things in it”. Sounds intriguing. Here’s a preview:

gonetoamerikaypreview

Nate Powell, author of 2009’s Swallow Me Whole, a critically acclaimed comic about young siblings struggling with neurological disorders, premiered Any Empire, a new original graphic novel for Top Shelf Comics. In Any Empire, Powell explores childhood, fantasy, violence and the pervasive presence of military culture in America. Check out Chris Mautner’s interview with Powell for Robot 6. Any Empire is due in stores on August 9th. I can’t wait.

any empire 03

I love his use of negative space.

One Soul. A book by Ray Fawkes that simultaneously follows the lives of eighteen individuals from a number of time periods from gestation to maturity one panel at a time and weaves them into a narrative about spiritual journeys. It’s the kind of narrative that would make an excellent prose book or film, but a comic book? Fawkes raises the stakes by telling the stories in a unique manner that brings a mosaic to mind. In the words of iFanboy’s Paul Montgomery, “every page is part of a two page spread of 18 panels. Each of those panels is devoted to one of the 18 characters”. Confused? Check out an excerpt below.

ONE SOUL PREVIEW 33 - 34

I admit it, this is a cheat – this book was announced at C2E2 and is currently available at your local comic book shop, bookstore or Amazon, but I found out about it during SDCC, so I’m including it anyway.

Other Interesting Links

One More Thing: On July 28th, the US Southern District granted Marvel Comics’ motion for summary judgment against Jack Kirby’s estate, concluding that Kirby’s work for the publisher from 1958-1963 were “works for hire” as defined by the Copyright Act of 1909. In 1972, Kirby signed an adhesive agreement in which he assigned any property interest in any of the works he created for Marvel to the publisher. The Kirby heirs sought to terminate his assignment of his federally protected copyrights in these works purusant to the Copyright Act of 1976. After negotiations failed, Marvel went to court for an official declaration that it owned the property in question, since the agreement signed in 1972 also contained an acknowledgement that the work Kirby had done for Marvel was as an employee for hire. The court decided that there were no material issues of fact and that Marvel was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Read the decision (pdf) here and commentary from Colleen Doran here. This is a tragedy for the Kirby family, but it’s hard to imagine a different outcome.

As Judge McMahon wrote, “this case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real “creator” of Marvel characters, or wheether Kirby (and other freelance artists who cerated culturally iconic comic book characters for Marvel and other publishers) were treated “fairly” by companies that grew rich off the fruit of their labor”. It’s important to distinguish between natural and legal rights – the court system is not the only (and sometimes not the best) way to resolve controversies. There are other ways.

Stephen Bissette (artist of Swamp Thing, horror anthology Taboo and Tyrant) recognizes this distinction, and advocates for a fan boycott of Marvel products:

“I don’t question the legal logic Marvel’s attorneys made, and the court decision reflects. However, nothing is being said about the conditions under which Kirby signed, and was pressured to sign, the contracts presented. I don’t think “extortion” is too unfair a word to use, particularly in the very public case of the Marvel artwork “return” contracts.

That is a moral issue here, and Marvel’s pattern of decades of effectively slandering, maligning, and dimissing Kirby and his legacy is, too.

If, in the 1970s, Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson hadn’t rallied around Siegel & Shuster, who had multiple signed settlement contracts with National Periodicals to wield against them, agreements they had signed over their lifetimes (agreements they and their legal reps—like Albert Zugsmith—had negotiated), nothing would have changed.

Adams and Robinson brought to the public the moral case, the moral outrage, over the treatment of the creators of Superman.

At that time, the legal matters were considered “settled.”

C’mon, folks: Jack changed a century, the medium, the industry, our lives, and Marvel.

Let’s change how the rest of this onfolding story goes.”

Read the whole thing. It’s an incredibly compelling argument. I’m tempted to say that this won’t make a difference. Marvel is an extremely profitable arm of a multibillion dollar media company and is far less vulnerable to collective action than it was fifteen years ago. I don’t know if readers would be willing to forgo entertainment for an abstract principle – the last boycott was about the quality of the books being published. I wonder if the majority of fans even know who Jack Kirby is, other than Stan Lee’s sidekick. I fear that any call to collective action will reveal the reactionary vein in comic fandom. I’m afraid that it won’t matter. But even if it doesn’t make any difference at all, I don’t know if I can justify continued economic support of an unjust system.

July 27, 2011

Fan Service – Setting the Table

Filed under: Blurbs — Jamaal Thomas @ 11:10 am

“Writers don’t do stories specifically to piss off fans. Writers write stories about which they feel passionate and invested. As a reader, you’re entitled to one thing and one thing only: a reading experience in exchange for your purchase. And if you like that reading experience, the expectation is that you’ll come back for more. But the audience does not and should never be in control of the stories. Writers are writers because they know how to do what audiences don’t know how to do—tell stories that affect you and move you. It’s way tougher than it looks. Storytelling isn’t a democracy, you don’t get a decision in how the stories go. All you get is your one vote, with your dollars or your feet.”

Tom Brevoort, Marvel Senior Vice President of Marvel in response to a reader question asking “why [] writers persist on doing controversial directions/stories that are disliked by fans?”

Sean Collins of Robot 6 singled this quote out as part of a growing creator backlash against ‘fan entitlement’, including some comments from Brian Lee O’Malley about George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series and some…interesting comments made by Grant Morrison in his new book Supergods. It’s a weird faux trend that gives creators, journalists and critics an opportunity to attack their favorite straw man – the entitled ‘bad fan’ who we all use to externalize our insecurities around comics fandom. There’s a lot to say about this trend, but let’s focus on a very basic point – the question above illustrates fan confusion, not entitlement.

There’s nothing particularly controversial about Brevoort’s response. He was simply stating a truism in the kind of brusque fake tough guy way familiar to long-time sports fans. I picture WFAN’s Mike Francesa putting Vinnie from the Bronx in his place.

One could imagine a more responsive, if somewhat simplified answer to the reader’s question – for the most part, writers of mainstream Marvel Comics don’t persist in writing books that most readers actively dislike. Marvel is your typical profit-seeking enterprise in the business of selling comic books that readers want to buy, which creates a disincentive to publish widely disliked comics. But I suspect that this reader knows this already. So, a more precise response – what makes the reader think that fans don’t like those ‘controversial’ stories? Which fans is he referring to?

A lot of fans assume that they know what fans want. It’s understandable. They’re fans. Who would know what a fan would want better than a fan? They assume that their views and preferences (and those of the other fans they know, whether in real life or on the internet) represent those of comics fandom. It’s a comforting lie. As readers of these books, we need to come to terms with the fact that we really don’t know anything about what other readers want. We can look at sales charts as an imperfect proxy for fan preferences or dredge up anecdotes about the people who frequent our local comics store or who we interact with on social media, but we’ll still be unable to identify reader preferences with any real precision. I don’t know what book this reader was referring to, but there’s a very real possibility that he’s talking about a book that has a widespread audience. The world is bigger than your store, your neighborhood, your friends list.

I know how it feels. I thought the end of Civil War was a cop-out, Secret Invasion a waste of an intriguing premise, and that One More Day was a solution to a non-existent problem. Many, if not most of my friends agreed with me – if I posted an incisively cutting comment about any of the above on Twitter, in an online conversation or in my local comic store, I’d get nothing but positive reinforcement. But my village is not the world. The truth – and granted, this is relying on the imperfect proxy of sales charts – is that all three of those books were immensely popular and in all likelihood, the majority of readers enjoyed them. It’s always dangerous to assume that we know more than we actually do, to universalize our limited experience – and that applies equally to creators who have bad interactions with misanthropic fans. A guy on a message board who’s unfairly critical of the last volume of the Scott Pilgrim series of books doesn’t represent anyone other than himself.

I guess that if I was in Brevoort’s shoes, I would’ve told the reader to chill out and to remember that the book they hate may be someone else’s favorite book. If he (or she) doesn’t like a particular book, there’s always another one that might be preferable. I know, I know, it’s more fun to mock people who don’t ask good questions.

One other thing – It’s tempting to conclude that those who disagree with you are the ‘bad fans’ – the marginalized ‘other’, those who buy comics out of a pathetic sense of obligation, or as a sad investment or because they’re obsessed completists. Those people are out there, but we all need to deal with the fact that reasonable people hold a broad range of opinions. There are people out there who don’t like King City, who didn’t think Asterios Polyp was a work of genius, who weren’t blown away by Mark Waid’s first issue of Daredevil. I think those people are mad. But that’s not really true. To paraphrase film critic Mark Kermode, other opinions are always available. More on the Great Strawman Witch Hunt of 2011 later.

July 25, 2011

2800 Miles From San Diego: The FBB SDCC Round-Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamaal Thomas @ 3:48 pm

Well, the 2011 edition of the San Diego Comic Convention is finally over, and if you’re anything like me, you have a RSS reader filled with dozens of announcements, previews and panel recaps from the Con. It’s a little overwhelming. Here’s a round up of the most intriguing announcements out of the Con this year.

All of the information below is cobbled from the enterprising folks who covered the Con in person – Laura Hudson, FBB4L co-chair David Brothers, Andy Khouri, Chris Murphy, Caleb Goellner and FBB alum David Uzumeri for Comics Alliance; Kiel Phegley, Dave Richards, and the rest of the Comic Book Resources news team; and Rich Johnston, Mark Seifert and Brendon Connelly for Bleeding Cool. I’m consistently amazed by the hard work that they do each year to provide us with news and capture the Con experience.

Let’s Go!
(more…)

July 19, 2011

DC: The New 52

Filed under: Articles — Tags: — Chris Eckert @ 1:08 pm

2011 will be a crucial year for DC Comics. In September, DC will relaunch its entire line of superhero books in a bid to expand its audience while holding on to the core of loyal readers. Over the coming months, we’ll see if DC has mastered the delicate art of pleasing everyone – the readers who abandoned the industry in the ’90’s, the potential readers who presumably want books that are both modern and accessible, and the core audience of existing fans with firmly established story and character preferences. It would be a significant challenge for the best run company. Oh yeah, and DC’s also introducing a “day and date” digital publishing initiative that’s scaring the hell out of some traditional retailers. It’s an exciting time for fans of mainstream American superhero comics. If a successful DC Comics emerges from this chaos, they may revolutionize the industry and become a real competitor to Marvel Comics. On the other hand, this could mark the beginning of the end for DC Comics as we know it.

In the middle of all of this tumult, we’re here to simplify things. The analysis of the digital initiative can wait for another day, as can any scorecards rating winners and losers within DC Comics. At the end of the day, the only thing we care about are good books. In that spirit, Chris and Jamaal have pored over press releases and early solicits to select the 17 books that may be worth picking up in September. (more…)

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