Apr
2

Conflicted

Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 at 06:11:37 PM

Top Cow Productions recently completed its first international Talent Hunt competition, and today CBR News announces its winners with an exclusive look at their art and story pitches.
……..

Top Cow eventually selected writers Eugene Ward, Hannibal Tabu and Kenneth Porter, and artists -Rom- and Martin Gimenez as the winners of the 2012 Talent Hunt.

-Comic Book Resources (CBR) News Team. Top Cow Publishing’s Talent Hunt is a way to find “amateur writers and artists who’ve never been published by one of the big publishing houses and giving them a chance to be published and showcase their work to a larger audience”.

Pretty awesome, right?

As indicated above, the three writers are Eugene Ward, Kenneth Porter and Hannibal Tabu. If you follow the big sites, you’re familiar with the third guy. He’s a journalist and writer who writes a weekly column (“The Buy Pile“) for CBR and does some con coverage on their behalf. In the Buy Pile, Tabu reviews and rates a selection of comics released in a given week. It’s not always my cup of tea, but it’s respectable service journalism for fans overwhelmed by the flood of material available at their local comics shop every week.

So, what’s the problem?

As David Brothers helpfully pointed out on twitter, CBR failed to note that Mr. Tabu is also a writer that reviews comics and occasionally covers conventions for CBR in their announcement of the Talent Hunt winners (which was accompanied by an exclusive interview with Top Cow President/COO Matt Hawkins.

What they did was add a hyperlink to Mr. Tabu’s name that would lead an interested reader to his author page.

Was that enough? Did CBR discharge it’s duty to notify readers of the various conflicts of interest? Did it seriously consider the implications of Mr. Tabu entering and winning this competition?

On first blush, I thought disclosure was sufficient. CBR was clearly not trying to conceal their link with Mr. Tabu (by adding a link to his work), and assumed that interested readers would click through and realize that one of the competition winners was a CBR writer.

But then I wondered: what about the people who didn’t read this press release/interview and only read the Buy Pile or Mr. Tabu’s coverage of Wondercon? Why didn’t CBR follow the example of most other modern news outlets and give a standard disclosure of Mr. Tabu’s potential conflicts of interest within the text of the article? There’s something about a major website giving favorable coverage to a publisher that just hired one of its long time writers who reviews books from that publisher on a regular basis that’s a little unsettling.

I don’t know if Mr. Tabu’s selection would have any impact on which books he selects for review or how he reviews them (or how he covers publishers at conventions), but I think CBR should’ve done more to equip readers with the information to decide for themselves.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Mr. Tabu writing for both Top Cow and CBR. Plenty of comics creators and other professionals in the industry cross (and straddle) the line between creator and critic with some regularity. The perspective of an ‘insider’ is valuable. At the same time, we should be clear about the limits of that viewpoint. Even though I think it’s fair to assume that Mr. Tabu is a professional and will try his best to avoid bias or impropriety, I’m not sure if he would feel free to be critical of a book penned by Marc Silvestri (ceo of Top Cow). Maybe he wouldn’t review it at all, which would create a different kind of problem. Or maybe he’ll be entirely fair. I think the decisions should ultimately be left to the individual reader, which is why transparency is important.

We don’t (and shouldn’t) expect objectivity from our critics, but I think it’s reasonable to expect fairness, transparency and a lack of bias. I hope Mr. Tabu discloses his potential conflict to regular readers of his column and that CBR does better in the future.

This is part of a bigger problem with comics journalism – it’s completely captured by the industry that it covers, so it never really developed some of the basic norms around conflicts of interest and transparency that you’ll find in other sectors of journalism. It’s easy to find out about how to advertise with Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, Comics Alliance, the Comics Beat, Bleeding Cool, the Comics Journal or iFanboy, but it’s awfully hard for the average reader to find their policies on ethics and potential conflicts of interest.

But that’s a story for another day.

Posted in Blurbs · 5 Comments »
Mar
29

Life Hasn’t Been Very Kind To Me Lately

Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Friday, March 29th, 2013 at 01:25:09 PM

I’ve spent most of the last six months thinking about trauma. In my day job, we’re investing a lot of time and effort to identify the ways in which the traumatic experiences of our clients (individuals from vulnerable populations with some involvement in the justice system) affect their lives and develop interventions that can help them process those experiences and clear obstacles to a successful, independent life in the community. I’ve also thought about this in a more personal context, as the cycle of life and death has hit pretty close to home lately.

During the same period, I’ve been listening to a lot of music. Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve you More Than Words Ever Will is still in the rotation, as is Amy Winehouse’s Frank, the new Cody ChesnuTT (Landing On A Hundred) and the newest Bruno Mars album (Unorthodox Jukebox). But there are three albums that have had a dedicated place in the rotation over the last couple of months – Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, Killer Mike and El-P’s R.A.P. Music and strangely enough, the Django Unchained soundtrack. One day, I heard good kid from Lamar’s album, Willie Burke Sherwood from R.A.P. Music and Freedom from the Django Unchained soundtrack in succession and something clicked.

good kid is a soundtrack for trauma that evokes the experience of being a young black man in the inner city. A narrative about the intangible rents extracted by two forces struggling to establish a monopoly on the use of force in the community. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first thing that always strikes me about this song is how Kendrick uses his cadence to convey emotion. Kendrick finds different ways to build momentum throughout the album, from using a progressively more complex flow to shifting from soft to more percussive words or simply increasing the pace of his delivery. On good kid, he layers his vocals on the last third of each verse so that you feel the pressure build until you almost feel the foot on your neck.

The references to a foot on the neck evokes Orwell’s 1984 (“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever”) and serve as a visceral reminder of the physical brutality behind the metaphors. The phrase also helps puts the listener in the position of a victim of neighborhood violence and terror, someone who might think that the line between corrupt police and organized crime is gossamer thin.

Radicals have argued that the only difference between police and gangs are badges for decades, but good kid focuses on the psychic impact of this toxic dynamic on noncombatants. It’s the feeling of being stuck between two minority groups that make you feel like a stranger in your own neighborhood. When I was a young man, it felt like they were in an abusive, yet oddly symbiotic relationship. Even though they sincerely hated the other, it seemed as if both were invested in a vision of the poor/working class community as war zone/occupied territory, a narrative that crowded out competing views of the neighborhood.

If you drove by my grandparents’ neighborhood of Bed Stuy in the late 80′s, you’d assume that it was the kind of wartorn dystopia that Charles Murray warned us about, a ‘truth’ that lost its power if you entered the brownstones or saw the trains fill and empty during rush hour. I imagine that in areas where mature gangs were deeply entrenched in the community, it would be incredibly difficult not to accept the gang/cop vision of the neighborhood. The corner boys were pervasive, but they weren’t part of mainstream culture like the Bloods, Crips or Folk.

That made it a little easier, but the ever present threat and reality of violence was hard to avoid. I was lucky. I had the right friends, knew when to appear tough and when to seem invisible, managed to avoid the wrong conflicts with the wrong people. It wasn’t a traumatic experience, but it was an emotionally draining one. I don’t think I realized how exhausted I was until I moved away to college. I had become so used to being guarded all of the time, to the pressure and stress related to maneuvering through neighborhoods, that its absence felt almost alien. There’s this moment in the song where Kendrick says that he got ate alive the other day, and while he might be talking about getting jumped, I know that Ive felt that way at the end of a day without anyone laying a hand on me. I guess that’s why the third verse (which explicitly references drugs) feels inevitable. The ever present threat and reality of violence has a traumatic impact on the body, the mind and the spirit. It fills you with despair and animosity. It’s only natural to search for an anesthetic, something to numb the pain, ease the pressure. A little drink, a little smoke, a handful of pills. The only problem is that the cure is worse than the disease, an illusory balm that “release[s] the worst out of [your] best”.

Killer Mike comes at this from a different angle in Willie Burke Sherwood, his autobiographical song from the classic R.A.P. Music.

In the brilliant first verse, Mike breathlessly recounts the string of violent tragedies that led him to adapt to the realities of violence in his neighborhood by creating a persona that would be respected in the streets. An identity equally informed by the Lord of the Flies and the music of Tupac Shakur, narratives on the anger that fuels endless cycle of violence/trauma. While Kendrick hints at escape through narcotics, Mike copes by becoming harder, by becoming “like an iron man“. Mike went on to become a working class guy before going into music, but it’s easy to imagine how his decision to become hard could’ve had tragic consequences. Prisons and graveyards are filled with men who decided to become hard in that narrow way that garners respect in the street. Although Mike’s choices were different than mine, there’s something about the “and I bought my first tape by Tupac and I got hard” line that reminds me of how effective Tupac was at articulating the righteous anger that I felt through most of my teenage years. I distinctly remember what struggling to control my anger felt like. How hard it was to not overreact to every perceived slight. It starts as a defense mechanism, but ends up as a crutch, especially once I realized that I was carrying those feelings around with me where ever I went. As Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote, “even if you are not out in The Street, it’s very hard for none of The Street to live in you“.

So what’s the answer? Kendrick suggests a number of them in Good Kid, most notably in Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst, Black Boy Fly and the skit at the end of Real. But the one that speaks to me the most right now is Freedom, by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton. The yearning for escape that is implicit in good kid is brought to the surface in the gospel tinged duet from the Django Unchained soundtrack.

Freedom was one of the many perfectly placed (if on the nose) sonic accompaniments to the film, but it’s power grows on repeated listening. When I first heard it, I thought that it helped situate Django within the legacy of American folk heroes and the African American community’s long struggle towards freedom while reminding us that his struggle was an intensely personal one. It’s a song about desperate hope in the face of impossible odds, a brief intrusion of reality into Quentin Tarantino’s heightened fantasy.

It’s a painful song, but there’s something about it that fills me with optimism. It’s the slight tremor in Boynton’s voice when she sings that the sun’s gonna shine on her nicely. Hamilton’s declaration that there’s got to be a winning in his bones. The echoes of spirituals and freedom songs that remind me that in some small way, my struggles for inner and outer peace mirror those of earlier generations. The block presented its own challenges to my parents and grandfather as young people. My father spent his youth trying to embrace his neighborhood without being confined by it while my mother gingerly navigated the invisible land mines of her neighborhood as a young woman. In contrast, my maternal grandfather was determined to abandon it for the suburbs. That reminder of a greater struggle helps fuel the hopes and dreams that may give us the power to process our pain.

Next: I dunno, I’ll think of something. It will probably be comics-related. In the meantime, check out FBB on tumblr and twitter. I also tumbl at Infected Worldmind.

Posted in Blurbs · 2 Comments »
Mar
25

Private Eye: An Extraordinary Ordinary Comic

Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Monday, March 25th, 2013 at 12:41:50 PM

If you’re reading this post, you’re almost certainly aware that Brian K. Vaughan teamed up with Marcos Martin to announce a mysterious independent comic project last Monday. People were excited. The excitement only grew when Vaughan announced that the book would be available for download, DRM free at the Panel Syndicate website on the following day, and that fans could pay what they want. In a FAQ for the project and in an interview with the NY Times’ George Gustines, Vaughan noted that the continuation of the series was dependent on financial support from readers and that the proceeds would initially go towards paying Martin and Muntsa Vicente (the colorist) for their work, with any additional profits shared by Martin and Vaughan.

This raises two obvious questions.
(1) Is this important?
(2) Is this book any good?

I think the answer to the first question is a qualified yes, at least for high-profile creators. As to the second question, it’s a slickly produced, briskly paced book with a clever script from Brian K. Vaughan and gorgeous artwork from Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente.

Issue01 04 eng

There’s been a lot of excitement around this project, which can be attributed to the popularity of the creators involved, Vaughan’s marketing savvy and the appeal of the “pay what you want” model. The Private Eye also serves as a timely reminder that there are viable alternatives to the lease model of digital comics distribution. In the last few weeks, readers were disappointed by the limits of Marvel’s Netflix-like Digital Comics Unlimited IOS/android app (subscribers can only download 10 comics for offline viewing) and the open-ended leases offered by Comixology and JManga. Vaughan, Martin and Vicente reminded us that there is a simple, consumer friendly alternative. Just sell the comic to people who want to buy it. No shell games or cleverly worded contracts. No deceptive ‘crowdfunding’ campaign on Kickstarter. Just click the link, contribute what you want and download your book.

It’s not the most original idea in the world (note that the best book of 2010 is available for download in pdf and cbz formats on My Digital Comics), but illustrates that the traditional gatekeepers are far less necessary than they were in a pre-digital age, particularly for high-profile creators. There’s something tremendously appealing about the notion that Vaughan and Martin are making these issues available to readers right after they are finished (as Vaughan suggests in the backmatter of the first issue). It’s as close as a reader of mainstream American comics can get to the creative process – two incredibly talented creators making and sending their art to us without any intermediaries. There are still a number of unknowns. In his NY Times interview, Vaughan mentioned that a sizable number of consumers paid about 2.99 for the first issue, but I’d be interested in knowing more about the financial side of this project. What was the average price paid by consumers? How much did they earn for that first issue? I think transparency around the economics of the Private Eye project wouldn’t only be fascinating to observers, but to other creators. I’d also be curious to know more about the financial threshold for completing the ten-issue series and how subsequent issues will be announced/marketed. I’m almost certain that I will never know the answers to these questions, but that’s okay for now. After reading the first issue, I know that I want more of this.

The premise is appealingly simple – a noir set in a near future world obsessed with privacy. A private detective like figure is hired to help a person ensure that the skeletons in their closet stay where they belong. Complications ensue. There’s an interesting twist in the first issue that I won’t spoil. I think it goes without saying that Marcos Martin’s art is brilliant in this issue. His figures, his storytelling…

Untitled 2

I just finished reading this wonderful post by Jesse Hamm about Alex Toth’s brilliance as a designer and there’s something about his description of Toth’s commitment to simplicity and clarity that remind me of Martin. The first thing I noticed about this book was how easy it was to read. I just glided through the thirty pages and was at Vaughan’s backmatter in what felt like a matter of moments. At first, I thought that I was skimming or distracted, but when I revisited the issue, I realized that it was just because Martin made everything so simple. Every panel (and every image in the panel) has a defined purpose. Everything’s clear. You absorb the information without even thinking about it. It’s pretty amazing.

Issue01 17 eng
Martin and Vicente create a world that feels plausible by blending futuristic elements (hovering cars and holographic projectors) with familiar anachronisms like Walkmen and telephone booths. I know that there’s a specific reason in the plot for this weird mix of analog and digital, but it also helps sustain the absurd futuristic noir atmosphere. On some level, it even grounds the story in a recognizable reality (as do the familiar brands that Martin places in the background). Our present is filled with echoes of the past, so it’s only natural that our future will look a little bit like today.

Untitled 3

The pages are all slightly oversized, which might be annoying on a computer, but is perfect on a tablet. Gently swiping across each page to get to the right quarter of the image almost creates an illusion of motion, one that’s far more appealing than all the motion comics initiatives (which tend to distract me from the story). The weird size of the pages also gives the story a sense of scope that’s pretty entertaining, particularly during an early chase scene. It also gives Martin the space to play with panel placement and perspective in an incredibly entertaining way.

Issue01 01 eng

I wasn’t very familiar with Vicente’s work (a quick check of his website indicates that she’s a talented illustrator who’s done work on Captain America and a recent I Heart Marvel anthology), but was blown away by her coloring in this issue. I particularly loved her use of color to reflect the emotional state and actions of the characters, as well as to establish atmosphere. Vicente’s color choices help underline the impact of the violent sequence at the end of the first issue (I love how the muted aquamarine room shifts to red and then a brighter aquamarine at the end of the issue). I read this issue on a first generation iPad, and the colors were rich and impressive. I know that this might come out in trade at some point in the uncertain future, but I can’t imagine reading this in any format.

Vaughn’s writing is less awe-inspiring, but effective. He’s just mastered the art of writing an individual issue of a comic book. He sets up the premise, introduces the main characters, lays the groundwork for the conflict, and all with a minimum of exposition or unnecessary dialogue. It’s a showcase for Martin and Vicente, and Vaughan gives the two space to work. His dialogue is typically strong, clever and fast-paced without being too artificial or self-indulgent. He embraces the satirical elements of the story while establishing a believable set of stakes.

Private Eye is potentially revolutionary because it should be ordinary. An original story that’s told well by three extremely talented craftspeople. No gimmicks. No distractions. No complicated debates about lease terms and economic models. It’s worth thinking about why this is so unusual in the digital marketplace for mainstream American comics.

Next Up: Music. In the meantime, you can follow Funnybook Babylon on tumblr and twitter.

Note: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Muntsa Vicente as a male (in the third to last paragraph). Thanks to Carey for pointing that out. I apologize for the error.

Posted in Blurbs · 2 Comments »
Jan
2

Jamaal’s Day of Reckoning With Judge Dredd

Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 at 12:00:49 PM

Welcome to 2013. Hope everyone’s had a safe, fun and relaxing holiday.

I was recently invited by Douglas Wolk to discuss Tour of Duty: Backlash, the impressive first part of a lengthy Judge Dredd storyline in 2000 A.D. by John Wagner with art by Carlos Ezquerra, Nick Dyer, Pat Goodard, Colin MacNeil, Kevin Walker and Carl Critchlow (with a fantastic fill in by Al Ewing). If you’re not familiar with Wolk, you should be – he’s a talented pop culture critic who reviews comics for the likes of the New York Times. He’s also the proprietor of Dredd Reckoning, a very cool blog reviewing all Dredd books.

Backlash and its sequel, Mega City Justice, focus on the consequences of Judge Dredd’s decision to advocate for the elimination of Mega City One’s ban on mutant emigration. In the world of Dredd, mutants are treated as outcasts forced to live in the radioactive Cursed Earth on the outskirts of the city.

misery

I think we had a pretty nice discussion. I probably should’ve spent more time discussing Al Ewing’s brilliant parody of our favorite mutants and the corruption of the judge council, but c’est la vie. As a longtime reader of superhero comics from Marvel and DC, I was impressed by how Wagner and his collaborators dealt with an aging Dredd. I’m eager to read more latter day Dredd (I’m even considering a 2000 A.D. subscription).

dreddnogo

Tour of Duty: Backlash is incredibly good. Highly recommended. You can pick it up directly from 2000 A.D., Amazon or at your local retailer.

Go check out our conversation here.

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Oct
15

NYCC Has A Cold: A Look At NYCC 2012 From Afar

Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Monday, October 15th, 2012 at 09:52:23 AM

New York Comic Con.

This is the first year that I’ve missed the Con since we started Funnybook Babylon about five years ago. I’ve always found a way to enjoy NYCC, despite the overwhelming crowds and inane panels, but the tension between my preferences for a comic/pop culture convention and the reality of NYCC became impossible to manage. Every year, it felt like the Con (not the people who run the Con, but the Con as was determined to heighten and highlight the contradictions. The booths for major publishers and toy manufacturers and video game companies kept getting larger and the booths for smaller publishers shrank or disappeared. The show started to attract real celebrities and real media coverage. The crowds got bigger. Artist’s Alley went from a highlight of the show to something of an afterthought. Attending the Con began to feel like experiencing a gauntlet. I valued the Con as an opportunity to connect with other people about comics and discover new things. It was a chance to talk to friends, creators and other readers about comics and pop culture. I loved the experience of wandering around the Con and finding something unexpected, whether from a creator’s table at Artist’s Alley, an obscure publisher’s booth on the main floor, or a dollar box. It’s a lot harder to do that when you’re navigating a giant crowd. NYCC is a fantastic promotional and sales opportunity for the pop culture industry and a great place for consumers to buy things and get excited about buying things in the future. I just want something more like the kind of enthusiast-driven OpenSpace conference recently suggested by David Wolkin . Or something like a Morrison Con without the cult of personality.

Enough blathering. What were the highlights of NYCC? What things should we be excited about buying in the future? While I may have missed the Con this year, I have read many, many accounts, press releases, recaps and samizdat mimeographs about the convention. So, without further delay, the ten most interesting announcements/developments from the 2012 New York Comic Con!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Blurbs, Events · 2 Comments »
Sep
30

5-10-15-20: Comic Book History for August 2012

Posted by Chris Eckert on Sunday, September 30th, 2012 at 10:15:31 PM

Yes, this is terribly late. I spent the end of the summer consumed with two tasks:

  • Packing, moving, and unpacking the truly excessive volume of books, comics, and ephemera I have accumulated (Mission Accomplished!) Thanks to all members of the FBB Army for helping me move, and even the people who have never appeared on the podcast and did not murder me for asking them to lug around boxes full of old Comic Buyer’s Guide clippings and Ultraverse trading cards.
  • Job Hunting! That’s still ongoing, but if you’re hiring feel free to drop me a line.

I nearly scrapped this, but had already completed all of the research and half of the writing, and I could not imagine shelving this for an entire five years: who knows what sort of crazy Web 4.0 technology will have supplanted blogs by then? Plus, what if the comics industry is dead by 2017? — so here it is, just a month or so late. So travel back with me won’t you to August 2012, so that we can travel back even further!

FIVE YEARS AGO – AUGUST 2007

The Number One Comic Five Years Ago was World War Hulk #3
2007-wwhulk

Another month of WWH in the top spot. I don’t have anything significant to add about this comic, so let me tell a story about drop-in tutoring at 826NYC, which for Brooklyn parents/kids’ information, started last week ! I was tutoring a first grade boy who for some reason had been given a Childrens’ First Biography style chapbook about Anne Frank as a homework assignment. From what I could tell, the student’s class had not covered World War II, nor the concepts of Nazism, anti-Semitism, or concentration camps. This made the Anne Frank biography — which glossed over all of these issues to talk about a little girl hiding out from the police and eventually being caught and killed — a baffling read.

I did my best to explain all of this to a seven year old, and he expressed appropriate confusion as to how such things could happen. Every time I would try to explain something in World War II in the context of World War I, he would interrupt me and get angry, insisting that we were talking about World War II, not World War I. After I insisted that the first World War was important to understanding the circumstances of the second World War, he paused, thoughtfully.

“Does World War Hulk happen before or after these World Wars?” Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 5-10-15-20 · 1 Comment »
Sep
21

Who’s Going To Bring the Game Back?

Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Friday, September 21st, 2012 at 01:00:33 PM

About two years ago, David Brothers recommended Brandon Graham’s King City in a conversation and in a series of great posts at 4th Letter. At that time, there was no collected edition, and only selected issues were available in my local store. I nodded, politely smiled, and bookmarked the posts (which also include these three gems). I made a mental note to pick up King City if it ever came out in a collection. I was in the middle of reading something or watching some “epic”/”novelistic” television show, and had a long list of things to read and watch in one of my queues so I was in no rush. I read an issue or two, but didn’t really connect with the book until I picked up the collection published by Image Comics earlier this year. After I read the first issue, I was hooked. When I was reading the fourth issue, this song came up in my shuffle:

For a few minutes, I was transported back to 1995. There was something that just clicked. I navigated to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and pressed play. As I saw Pete compromise his principles and walk home in the rain, Ghostface told Raekwon that “this is my last time god, I’m hanging this shit up if this shit don’t work right here god.”

Image 1

Something hit me, and this is what came out when I tried to speak.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Articles · 4 Comments »
Sep
19

I Know I Contradicted Myself. Look, I Don’t Need That Now.

Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 at 12:00:48 PM

“They try to find some hidden darkness or something like that,” he sighs, “or ‘this proves, this proves!’ – naw, it just proves I said something that day, you know, which either I still agree with or don’t. Why do I have to defend all of this? I think people just want to be mad and want to fight all the time, so I’m gonna join in now!”

-Grant Morrison

Oh, Grant.

Sometimes it feels like Grant Morrison’s spent the last year and a half on a bad will publicity tour designed to disappoint people like me. I’m one of those readers who were persuaded to return to the superhero genre by Morrison and Quitely’s (seemingly) audacious take on the X-Men. There was a moment when I thought that Morrison fulfilled the potential of the genre for an adult audience – a writer who specialized in witty layered narratives and who understood the importance of visual storytelling. Morrison managed to appeal to those who hungered for meaning from the culture they consumed while spinning an entertaining yarn.

That appeal was complemented by the public persona that Morrison constructed over the years: a new-age counter culture icon. He talked about Buddhism and aliens and psychedelic drugs. He espoused anti-corporate philosophies. He evinced radicalism. We were tempted to think of him as some kind of post-modern pop culture Gnostic visionary. A philosopher. A chaos magician. In the last year and change, Grant made a series of comments in interviews and his Supergods book that seemed to come from a different place. A guy who used to embrace the paradoxes of the human condition in books like the Invisibles and Seaguy sounded like he was more interested in the mythology around pop culture icons than the struggles of the men who created them. It felt like he was turning a blind eye to what Tom Spurgeon’s described as the original sin of the American comics industry to embrace the stories.

David Brothers has tackled Morrison’s hypocrisy over at 4th Letter, but I’d like to approach this from a slightly different angle. I think Morrison’s heel turn has been incredibly helpful for comics readers and fans.

A few words on the substance of his comments:

Morrison has become the master of the disingenuous bad faith argument. All of his critics are clownish strawmen. Matt Seneca’s transformed from an impassioned critic into some kind of performance artist who ate Supergods out of incoherent mania. I may not agree with all of Matt’s points, but he deserves engagement, not condescension. Morrison’s critics werent holding him personally responsible for the Siefel/Shuster suit, they were just holding him to account for the things he actually said or wrote. But I guess it’s easier to pretend otherwise.

But that’s not my favorite part. The best bit is when he doubles down on his position on the relationship between creators and the ‘Big Two’ publishers and drops a subliminal Alan Moore dis that would make Jay-Z proud. We’re supposed to ignore the fact that Moore wasn’t some yokel who signed his ideas away for magic beans, but a guy who thought that DC violated the terms of its contract with him and acted in bad faith after benefiting from a windfall (long story short: the rights to Watchmen were supposed to revert to the creators after the book went out of print. Neither party anticipated the explosive growth of the trade market). I find it hard to believe that Morrison doesn’t know that contracts are always subject to interpretation and frequently fail to address unforeseeable advances in technology or changes to the marketplace.

At the same time, I don’t want to completely dismiss Morrison’s comments. As I’ve written earlier, I suspect that Morrison was trying to suggest that “modern creators should go into contract negotiations with their eyes wide open, and appreciate the risks of opting for short-term gains (immediate compensation) over long-term uncertainty (the property which may be more valuable than [the creator] thought)”. On the other hand, if that’s what he wanted to say, then wouldn’t he have just said it? It’s impossible to believe that the misrepresentations weren’t deliberate, that the whole point was to get us to forget why so many Golden and Silver and Bronze Age creators signed such terrible contracts.

So, I’ve reached the conclusion that he is mostly full of crap. At the same time, I think the Morrison heel turn can be a teachable moment for comics fans (and I’m including myself in this). We need to reevaluate our relationship with creators.

One of the best things about the comics industry is that the line between creator and audience is a lot fuzzier than it is in other American cultural industries. American comics is still a pretty cozy industry. It’s pretty easy to engage with creators at cons, comic stores and online. If you have the talent, the barriers to entry to becoming a creator are pretty low. So it’s easy to forget that the main reason that the public personae of constructed by most creators (and almost all other entertainment figures) are essentially fictions. They’re created to evoke specific responses from the audience and to generate revenue. I know that sounds cynical, but it’s a perfectly natural phenomenon, especially for creators who work on books published by Marvel or DC. Most of the interviews we read are arranged to promote a particular project or the creator’s personal brand. There’s an inescapably commercial element to most of our interactions with creators at store signings and conventions – even if you’re not going to buy a specific product, you’re being cultivated as a potential audience for a future product. This shouldn’t be mistaken for an ethical judgment of any kind, it’s just reality. Creators are in the business of selling the cultural products they create to an audience who will appreciate them.

So it stands to reason that a rational creator would present the public with a version of themselves that’s most conducive to selling those products. It makes sense for Grant Morrison or Alan Moore to emphasize the more radical, countercultural side of their personalities when selling products to an audience that would be most receptive to those ideas. Neither man would gain from reminding the audience that they are also hard-nosed businessmen. But we forget. We confuse an advertising campaign with reality. We never should have assumed that Grant Morrison was anything more than “a freelance commercial writer who sells stories to pay the bills“.

I’m not sure if the version of Morrison that inspired a thriving online community of freethinkers and radicals represents all or any of the real Grant Morrison, and I don’t think it matters.

These interviews should inspire us to rethink the notion of fandom. We shouldn’t stop loving the books or respecting the people who create them. We can still value online and in-person interactions with creators, and pore over their interviews and profiles. We just shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed when they change their public persona. We should resist that sense of false sense of familiarity or intimacy with people who are essentially strangers.

Sometimes creators modify their public persona because they want to emphasize a different part of their personality, or because their views on a subject have evolved. Or maybe it’s just part of a public relations campaign of some kind. We shouldn’t stop pointing out hypocrisies or falsehoods, especially since most journalists covering the culture beat are hopelessly compromised (either because they are enthusiasts or because of the commercial interests of their employers who rely on the industry they cover for advertising revenue). But we shouldn’t kid ourselves.

We never knew Grant Morrison. If we’re disappointed in him, that’s our problem. It says a lot more about us than it does about him.

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Jul
31

5-10-15-20: Comic Book History for July 2012

Posted by Chris Eckert on Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 at 11:08:36 PM

It’s the end of the month, so that means another installment of 5-10-15-20. Not a lot of blockbuster debuts to discuss this month, although Vertigo has a couple of big scores that I probably don’t spend nearly enough time discussing. Do you have strong feelings about either book? Let me know in the comments!

FIVE YEARS AGO — July 2007

The #1 Comic Five Years Ago was Thor #1

2007-Thor1 Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul
16

Doubleshipping Gone Good: Jeff Parker on Hulk

Posted by Chris Eckert on Monday, July 16th, 2012 at 07:39:21 PM

hulkchartfina<br />
As I mentioned <a href=last week, I’ve been doing some research about Marvel’s recent headlong dive into doubleshipping many of their titles. As has been discussed elsewhere, the accelerated scheduling is most often noticed when it derails a book someone is enjoying with an inconsistent revolving door of creators. But if you’re not a regular Weekly Wednesday Shopper, it’s easy to overlook situations where everything falls into place.

Assuming no last minute derails in the production of the final two issues, Jeff Parker will have written thirty-four issues of Hulk before the title switches over to She-Hulk in October. By the time the final issues ships (scheduled for August 29) there will have been twenty-three months between the first and last issues of the run. That’s eleven extra issues above and beyond the standard monthly output.

This sort of frequency is increasingly less unusual at Marvel, but what does seem unusual is the consistency at work: every single issue has shipped with the solicited artist on board, and the changeovers between artists has occured at logical storyline endpoints. With only a few exceptions, even the inkers, colorists, and letterers have remained consistent and worked on all the same issues as their associated pencillers. And to top it off, there have only been six pencillers — Elena Casagrande, Dale Eaglesham, Gabriel Hardman, Ed McGuinness, Carlo Pagulayan, and Patrick Zircher — across nearly three dozen issues. The recently relaunched Daredevil hit that number within twelve issues, Ultimates had EIGHT artists on itsfirst dozen issues.

All of the creators and editors involved deserve kudos, and beyond simple logistics and work ethic, Hulk has continued to be an entertaining read, performing the seemingly impossible trick of taking an incredibly goofy and gimmicky Jeph Loeb “creation“/murder mystery and turning it into a compelling story I look forward to reading.

All joking aside, I am still pulling together information on the doubleshipping, and I wanted to work on my chart making. More to come!

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Jul
12

What’s Going On With Marvel NOW!? Nine Thoughts About October 2012′s solicitations

Posted by Chris Eckert on Thursday, July 12th, 2012 at 06:55:40 AM

Marvel released their October 2012 solicitations earlier this week, with numerous mysterious gaps that will presumably be filled in this weekend at the San Diego Comic-Con. In the meanwhile, here are nine things about the information they did release that I apparently found interesting enough to blog about! These mostly boil down to complaints, but I tried to keep it balanced, and I am interested in reading at least half of the books I discuss. Expect a longer post about double-shipping titles after all the SDCC hoopla dies down. But for now, check out these Covers ‘N’ Comments!

UncannyAvengers 1 Cover

Uncanny Avengers #1: I’m not about to speculate on what will shake out of the Avengers vs. X-Men mega-event, nor am I going to crack wise about putting John Cassaday on a flagship monthly book — his track record shows that he’s one of the more prolific artists to get tagged with the “slow” label — but I do want to comment on one of the eight variant covers announced for the book: the “Deadpool Call Me Maybe” variant by “TBA”. I’m not the target market for variant covers or for Internet Meme Jokes, but I find it amusing that this is clearly a joke someone at Marvel came up with too close to deadline to actually commission the cover before soliciting it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul
1

5-10-15-20: Comic Book History for June 2012

Posted by Chris Eckert on Sunday, July 1st, 2012 at 11:05:59 PM

Like sands through an hourglass, this is the latest installment of 5-10-15-20. I know this is a little late, but how am I supposed to remember that June only has 30 days? It’s not like there’s a children’s rhyme about it. Or calendars.

As always feedback, particularly about how you’d like to see more ____________ or less ____________ is appreciated! On with the history.

FIVE YEARS AGO — JUNE 2007

The #1 Comic Five Years Ago was World War Hulk #1
2007-worldwarhulk1 Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun
27

Baseball, Then Mass Suicide: My First Favorite Comic

Posted by Chris Eckert on Wednesday, June 27th, 2012 at 11:05:21 PM

Most of my posts lately have been trawling through comic book history, and this is no exception. This month marks the 25th Anniversary of me being an active comic reader. In June of 1987 I had just finished up 2nd grade and began deliberately following contemporary comics with Avengers #283. As detailed in the Origin Stories podcast with David Brothers, the Avengers were my entry point into superhero comics: my dad’s collection was low on Spider-Man or X-Men content, and most of the 1960s DC stuff seemed hopelessly corny, even for a little kid. But the Avengers encompassed the whole Marvel Universe, with a sprawling rotating cast and guest stars. When I checked in a decade and a half after my father’s collection cut off, there were still familiar faces — think anyone who turned up in this summer’s movie — along with a bunch of new faces. It was exciting to see tradition and innovation side by side, and I know I thought in twenty five years newcomers like La Espirita and Captain Marvel could be my generation’s Captain America and Iron Man.

Well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun
23

Dredd Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)

Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Saturday, June 23rd, 2012 at 10:03:15 AM

The first trailer for Dredd.

For the uninitiated, Dredd is an adaptation of the famous British comics property created by John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra (and serialized in 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine) about a police state in a post-apocalyptic world. In this world, the varied actors/stakeholders in the criminal justice system have been reduced to a heavily armed ‘judge’ who acts as law enforcement, prosecutor, judge and fact-finder.

I first got hooked on the Dredd books through the Eagle Comics reprint series (titled Judge Dredd) and story collections picked up at comics conventions. I’ve always viewed Dredd series of stories as a high satire of the Reagan/Thatcher era, specifically that strain of neo-conservatism that produced the so-called “broken windows” theory and the modern carceral state, but it also works as a celebration of that period. Although citizens of Mega City One don’t have many of the civil liberties that we hold dear, Wagner and Grant depict a world crippled by the kind of urban decay that could have only existed in Rudy Giuliani’s worst nightmares. In this world, the idea that the proper role of law enforcement is not to solve crime, but maintain order must be incredibly seductive. Mike Konczal explained the logic behind this ideology with the following :

There’s an important rhetorical trick that the Broken Window ideology brought to the table, one that caught progressives off-guard and brought in liberals hook-line-and-sinker. As Bernard Harcourt has noted , it transforms the idea of offensive acts into harmful acts. Public drinking and loitering aren’t harms, but they are offensive to some. Broken Windows allowed people to believe the notion that offensive behavior created (by creating the potentials for and inevitability of) legal harms. It also became backwards compatible, with people being able to think that harmful acts were obviously preceded by an offensive act; criminalize and ruthless prosecute the offensive acts, and you can prevent the real harms from taking place.

The more you read Judge Dredd stories, the more attractive his worldview becomes, especially if you alternate between the longer arcs (Apocalypse War, Block Mania, the Judge Child storyline) and the shorter stories which frequently featured Dredd punishing a citizen for some quality of life crime. Dredd faces more traditional villains in many of the longer stories, which makes it easier for the reader to start thinking of him as a heroic super cop. By the end of these stories, Dredd’s saved the lives of millions, and one would almost forget that this is the same guy who punishes people for ridiculous things. At it’s best, the series made me hate Dredd (and the system he represented) and want him to succeed. I felt drawn into a queasy complicity with a eerily familiar police state.

As a reader of long-form serialized superhero comics, the serial’s unique blend of worldbuilding, long-term plotting and (close to) real-time storytelling within the confines of a procedural also present an interesting alternative model to the Marvel/DC approach. You can have a popular quasi-superhero procedural where the characters age and the series progresses in real time.

This is the second attempt to adapt Judge Dredd as a feature film. The first (released in 1995) tried to toe the line between satire and action, but ultimately failed because the scope of the story was just too large . In the film, Dredd has to combat an existential threat to the status quo while attempting to clear his name of false murder charges. It’s an interesting premise, but the audience didn’t get enough of an opportunity to experience the status quo. Director Danny Cannon sets incredibly high stakes, but I had no investment in the outcome (other than the generalized non-specific support for the ‘good guys’). We needed to see more of Judge Dredd being Judge Dredd, not ex-Judge Dredd. It looks like Pete Travis is going to try to avoid this problem in Dredd by keeping it simple. Dredd and a rookie (Judge Anderson) take on a drug-dealing gang that’s occupied a city block. Contra Alyssa Rosenberg , I think Dredd stories are most effective when the character just does his job. If the filmmakers give the audience a look into the lives of the ordinary citizens of Mega City One, I think they’ll question the nature of the system in a more organic way.

I love that the trailer starts with the criminal (played by Lena Headey , who is an excellent ‘villain’ in the Game of Thrones series). The high stakes are set immediately. It’s a dark, post-apocalyptic world. One city. Many criminals. A strange (and illegal) reality altering drug. We need Dredd.

The trailer looks like it’s heavily influenced by Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption, which was one of my favorite action movies of the last couple of years. There’s something incredibly compelling about watching someone face impossible odds.

I haven’t read the script, but I hope that the film will also prod the audience to examine their feelings about the criminal justice system, state sanctioned violence and the increasingly blurry line between counterinsurgency doctrine and domestic law enforcement. We all want to see Dredd kicking ass and taking names, but a great Dredd movie would make us question that impulse.

One other thing that I forgot to mention: although Judge Dredd stories are very dark (particularly if you have a strong commitment to civil liberties), they are frequently hilarious. I hope that the film captures some of that black humor as well.

If you’re not familiar with the Judge Dredd comic, I suggest the following:

  • Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 05, by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with art from Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra and Mike McMahon. This collects Judge Death Lives, Block Mania and the Apocalypse War.
  • Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 02, by John Wagner and Pat Mills, with art from Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and Mike McMahon. This one features Cursed Earth and The Day the Law Died.
  • Judge Dredd: The Complete America, by John Wagner with art from Colin MacNeil. The first part of this story is far stronger than the second and third, but it’s a classic Dredd story.
  • Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 14, by John Wagner, with art by Carlos Ezquerra and Will Simpson. This one features the brilliant Necropolis.
  • 2000 AD #460 (“Letter From A Democrat”), 531-33 (“Revolution”) and 661 (“A Letter to Judge Dredd”). Letter From A Democrat and Revolution were written by Wagner and Grant, with art from John Higgins. A Letter to Judge Dredd was written by Wagner with art from Simpson. You can find these issues in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 09, 11 and 13.

I’d also strongly recommend reading Douglas Wolk’s Dredd Reviews blog project, where he reviews every Dredd book in chronological order. It’s a fun read and features appearances from Alyssa Rosenberg, Joe McCulloch, Tucker Stone, David Wolkin, Graeme McMillan and FBB4L compatriot David Brothers, among others. If you’re completely new to Dredd, or if (like me) you’re not familiar with the modern Dredd books, Wolk provides an excellent guide (along with some great commentary – the discussion with McCulloch about Ennis is fantastic stuff).

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Jun
14

The Thrilling Adventures of the Absolutist Spider-Man

Posted by Chris Eckert on Thursday, June 14th, 2012 at 01:20:06 AM

So apparently “Ends of the Earth” wrapped up in Amazing Spider-Man today, a big story about Doctor Octopus wanting to murder seven billion people so that everyone will remember him after his death as History’s Greatest Monster: “a mass murderer worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, and Genghis Khan combined!” He actually says this.

Never mind that seven billion people puts him pretty safely into the realm of “a mass murderer worse than all mass murderers ever combined”.

Never mind that I’m not sure anyone — Hitler, Pol Pot or Genghis Khan included — ever sat down and went, “This is what I’m going into the history books for, boys. Being a mass murderer!”

Never mind the nauseating “heroes don’t torture, if you pretend that torture means cold blooded murder and nothing less” scene from a few issues back.

Never mind that the entire story felt like a video game with a bunch of ‘quests’ that were immediately invalidated because Doctor Octopus had secret contingency plan after secret contingency plan.

You’ll all be glad to know that Spidey saved the day, and kept Doc Ock from turning on his Doomsday Satellite and murdering 99.992% of Earth’s population. The good guys won! But don’t try telling that to Spider-Man!

absolutist-spidey Read the rest of this entry »

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