Now then, if you aren’t familiar with Sina Grace I’m here to help change that. Especially since Sina has a few new comics hitting the shelves on Wednesday.
He’s someone entirely unique in comics. He’s worn nearly every hat you can in comics as a self-publisher, imprint editor, writer, and artist. His skills have graced most of the comics publishers here in the States that you can name, he’s edited The Walking Dead, put out deeply personal memoir comics, and is most recently taking on Iceman over at Marvel… but more on that later.
I first got into Sina Grace’s work as an artist with The Li’l Depressed Boy, written, colored and lettered by S. Steven Struble. He happened to be in Manhattan signing at Carmine Street Comics in 2014 just after my birthday so I picked up the first two volumes. He was incredibly sweet and welcoming. I even got a sketch of Jem (as in Jem and the Holograms) from him, which he seemed to look up reference for on his phone, but I like to think he could have done from memory. Fun fact about me; I prefer this version of the Jem theme song that basically everyone else hates.
Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked. Anyway, The Li’l Depressed Boy is a surrealist take on unreqited love with an indie film aesthetic filled with music and youth. It’s the kind of comic that checks a lot of boxes for me in terms of what I like, so it both was a comic I enjoyed and something that put Sina on my radar.
Self-Obsessed is a deeply person memoir. Prior to this, Sina had put out another memoir, Not My Bag, back in 2012. Whereas Not My Bag dealt with Sina’s personal struggles working retail, Self-Obsessed cuts deeper. It’s filled with comics, essays, photos, and interviews. It’s an incredibly blunt, raw, and unapologetic reflection on life. It’s a brave graphic novel and I have a great deal of respect for Sina putting this out. If you like memoir comics and the kind of books you see over at the likes of Top Shelf and First Second and you haven’t checked out Self-Obsessed yet, then you need to add it to your list. Seriously. Do it.
Sina Grace was back in New York for NYCC in 2015 to promote Self-Obsessed. Needless to say, I picked up a copy then and read it on the train home after. Self-Obsessed went on to become a web series starring not only Sina but Amber Benson, Colleen Green and more. It’s currently two seasons in.
I’m stressing how much I enjoy Self-Obsessed not only in the hopes that maybe you’ll go pick it up but because his new graphic memoir, Nothing Lasts Forever, is one of his new books hitting the shelves Wednesday and may turn out to be even more personal than his other memoirs. A lot has happened fairly recently in Sina’s life and he’s gonna lay it all out for us. I’ll be picking it up on Wednesday, and I hope you do the same.
One of the other books with Sina’s name on it coming at us on Wednesday is Iceman #1. This book is part of Marvel’s X-Men ResurrXion reboot. Now, I made my feelings clear the other month based on the first book in the series, X-Men Gold #1. TL:DR, I wasn’t a fan. X-Men Blue #1 was better, but still not quite there for me. And I’ll be honest, I picked Jean Grey #1 off the rack at a shop and skimmed through it only to find that in the first issue they are already talking about the Phoenix force so I’m gonna hard pass that one. No offense to the creative team, really, but the idea of dealing with the Phoenix force again is just too exhausting and a wasted opportunity to make Jean Grey something more. Because of all that, I’m relying on Iceman to restore my excitement in the X franchise.
Seriously though, this book has a lot going for it. Though editor Daniel Ketchum has been let go from Marvel, this is certainly in part his baby. I got to talk to Daniel briefly back at NYCC 2015 about Iceman and my reservations to how the character had been handled in All-New X-Men. Daniel told me to stick it out and see where the character was going. This book is where it was all going. Between Daniel Ketchum editing, Sina Grace writing, and Kevin Wanda doing the cover, we have three queer men of color working on a queer superhero. That’s really huge and means the world to me. Many of you familiar with my column know I bitch about diversity and inclusion here a lot, and Iceman is the kind of book I’ve been demanding over at that big two. Please, if diversity in comics is important to you, or if the X-Men are important to you, pick up this book. We all need Iceman to succeed.
No pressure, Sina!
Finally, Sina also did a pride variant cover for the latest issue of The Walking Dead and it’s gorgeous! Image is doing pride variants for multiple titles, and 100% of the proceeds will go to the Human Rights Campaign. Considering the kind of rollbacks in LGBT rights we see happening all across the country, this is an important stand for a comic company to be making and I applaud Image for taking a stand against bigotry.
This Wednesday, comic shops will be stocking up on three different projects that Sina Grace has poured his heart into. When you hit up your local comic shop tomorrow, go out and take some of those home with you.
Back in October, an inarguably simpler time, I got the chance to interview writer Matt Miner and editor Brendan Wright on the project they were promoting on Kickstarter, Gwar: Orgasmageddon. Since then, not only did that Kickstarter get fully funded, but it got picked up for distribution by Dynamite Entertainment. The first issue is scheduled for release next month. I got my hands on a review copy, and since I asked you all to support the Kickstarter for this comic I might as well tell you what I think.
Before I jump in there are a lot of credits to this comic, so let me get through that first. The main 18-page story is written by Gwar’s own Matt Maguire and Matt Miner, line art by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer with Matt Maguire, colors by Marissa Louise and Doug Garbark, and letters and designs by Taylor Esposito. The four-page backup, X-Cops/Zipper Pig, was written and drawn by Gwar’s own Bob Gorman with colors by Hank Jones. The two-page backup, Gwar Slave Follies “Pissing Match,” was written by Matt Miner, line art by Scott Wygmans, colors John Bailey and letters by Taylor Esposito. Interior cover by Megan Muir. Covers by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer with Josh Jensen and Scott Wygmans. Edited by Brendan Wright.
Now that I got through that, it’s time to talk about my thoughts on Gwar: Orgasmageddon! Gwar, as you may know, is a band with a lot of theatrics. It’s kind of like if KISS (which is also a comic book at Dynamite) was a Troma production. They’re a group of unapologetically violent and somewhat homoerotic aliens that fight against other unapologetically violent and somewhat homoerotic aliens, except their manager is not an alien. They also travel through time, so throw some Bill & Ted into my analogy earlier. Maybe some Conan too.
Anyway, the story starts out by introducing most of the characters with caption boxes on the first page like a Legion of Super-Heroes comic. Both Matts weave a story with breakneck speed as we start right in the middle of a Gwar show and goes right into murder and mayhem, and that’s before the bad guys get there! Once they do, we’re propelled into a time jumping murder spree in an overtly phallic rocket that’s called exactly what you think it should be called. Hilarity ensues as the bodies pile up.
Jonathan and Matt’s line art is absolutely wonderful. The pages are laid out primarily in four or five panels with most of it being very traditional looking. This makes for a good contrast to the absurdity throughout the story and reinforces some of the parody elements we see in the issue. Their expressive facial expressions really sell the tongue-in-cheek dialogue and the fourth wall breaks that occur sporadically throughout. It sometimes feels like I’m reading an X-treme Marvel type comic from the early 90s.
The best part about this story might be the coloring. The colors throughout this, heavy on greens, blues, and reds, really make this story pop. Honestly, the colors in this story make it feel so fluid that after you put this comic down for a minute you’ll swear that you remember watching a Gwar cartoon. Taylor Esposito’s lettering also sells how Gwar and the other characters talk in such a way that even if you haven’t heard of the band, you’d know their voice.
The shorts at the end are fun too, and really give it a throwback feel. X-Cop/Zipper Pig has a more simple art style and is done as an origin story. “Pissing Match” is a quick two-pager that helps flesh out a couple of characters you already saw in the bigger story, again like something out of a Legion of Super-Heroes comic.
I will say that if you are easily offended, this book is not for you. I don’t mean to say that as a slight to people who would be easily offended; it’s perfectly within your right. I’m just saying you probably won’t like this. The blood gets bloody, the gore gets gory, there may be a joke or two that comes off as culturally insensitive as well as some events that Gwar experiences in the past that they influence in a way that may upset you.
All in all, Gwar: Orgasmaggedon #1 is a fantastic debut filled with the kind of fun you miss in comics. It’s a wild ride that never tells you it’s sorry but does remind you to not take it too seriously. Everyone that wants to do a comic about a band needs to read this and take notes. And whether you read this because you’re a Gwar fan or just because it’s a fun time, you won’t be disappointed.
This past weekend was the inaugural Five Points Festival at Pier 36 here in Manhattan. It’s a brand new fan convention organized by Clutter and Midtown Comics. The festival focused on comics and toys on the Saturday and Sunday, with the Designer Toy Awards Friday night, which is run by Clutter. I went with ComicMix’s own Molly Jackson, and we both ended up enjoying the show.
In honor of this being the Five Points Festival, here are my five points about the show.
Great comics guests for a first time show! Midtown Comics really stepped up to bring in a few out of towners like Bryan Lee O’Malley and James Tynion IV, local or pseudo local heavy hitters that don’t appear here too often like Greg Capullo and Sean Gordon Murphy, industry legends that go back to the dawn of the Bronze Age of comics like Joe Staton who I just chatted with here at ComicMix a couple of ago, and indie comics people like Tee Franklin, a champion of diversity. Fans of Midtown Comics who have been to a lot of their signings over the years would be familiar with many of the names, but they went above and beyond to bring in a great line up for a first year show.
The toys. Molly is far more toy literate than me, but walking around the convention with her was like getting a 101 class in toys. Everything from Funko Pops for about $10 to one of a kind designer toys worth several hundred dollars were on display. They had toy sculptors at tables doing signings and incredibly designed and carefully detailed figures with lines just waiting to see them. It made me wish I was a bit more into toys, but then I remembered I don’t have that much room at home to put them anyway.
The food trucks. They had a nice fenced off area you could access after getting into Pier 36 with a good half a dozen food trucks. The first day we were there we went with some amazing BBQ sandwiches and the second day we had Phil’s Steaks. Molly’s order got delayed at Phil’s Steaks and they upgraded her sandwich and gave her a free order of fries. Couldn’t have asked for better service. Molly and I agreed that they could have used more tables and chairs outside for all the hungry con goers. Hopefully next year.
No panels. Okay, I know some people don’t care about panels and would rather just walk the show floor. I get that, and I’ve done that at my fair share of shows as well. I also get that the venue maybe wasn’t equipped for room big enough and quiet enough to hold panels. They are one of my favorite things to go to at a convention though, and with all the big names in comics and toys that were available it really would have been great to see a few panels. Nothing crazy. Maybe like how MoCCA Fest does it where they just have two panel rooms and a few panels in each room a day. I bitch and moan about conventions that have panels off site, but maybe next year having some panels taking place down the road from the venue would be a good idea. It almost feels like a waste to have Nick Spencer, Scott Snyder, Bryan Lee O’Malley and all these big names and to not get to see them talk about their latest projects. On the plus side, we didn’t have to endure panel audience questions in which people talk about themselves for minutes on end then don’t end up really asking a question. Maybe Molly and I should have a panel about panel questions one day. I don’t know if we’ll take any questions though.
The venue. Pier 36, while possibly not being able to hold panels in it, was a perfectly sized venue for this convention. The con felt well attended without it becoming impossible to move in the venue, you could hear everyone, easily accessible bathrooms without long waits, perfect temperature inside (for me at least), a separate area reserved as a lounge for guests, and a charging station for exhibitors. It really was a nice set up in many ways. A fancy press lounge would have been nice, but as I was there with a Press Pass I’m a bit biased about that. The venue only suffers in that it’s a bit out of the way for most people. The only train close to it is the F and it’s about a ten minute walk from there. And because the F was a bit of a mess this past weekend it took some people a while to get there. I know that’s outside of the control of the convention, but if it is at Pier 36 again next year make sure to give yourself a little extra travel time.
Overall, I really enjoyed Five Points Festival. It was a good show in it’s own right, many of the comic guests and other vendors seemed to do well with sales, and this show fills a void left after ReedPOP stopped doing Special Edition NYC which was a fun show that I miss and was in some ways more fun than NYCC.
Anyway, I haven’t watched the new Twin Peaks yet, so I have to get going. No spoilers please!
This week I’m covering Scout Comics and Ben Kahn. Ben had self-published a comic titled Heavenly Blues which I had picked up a while back at Carmine Street Comics here in Manhattan. Since then, Scout Comics has picked up the series. I got the chance to talk with Ben about his comics career and having Heavenly Blues added to Scout Comics growing roster.
JC: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your new series at Scout Comics, Heavenly Blues! Before we get started, you’re a fairly new face to comics, at least in terms of being Diamond distributed. Can you tell us a bit about your writing career leading up to this?
BK: Of course. Heavenly Blues is my first series handled by Diamond, but my work in comics stretches back over twelve years. In high school, I worked on a webcomic that ran for around 700 strips between 2005 and 2012. It wasn’t much. I took video game sprites and used them to make comics in MSPaint and Photoshop. For a shock-comedy webcomic it was pretty successful, but that’s not exactly setting the bar very high. I loved working on the webcomic and making it taught me a lot about writing dialogue, but it eventually just kinda ran out of steam. A big part of that was I had started working on Shaman. Production on Shaman ran from 2011 to 2015, when it was released. Shaman was actually distributed by Diamond as a trade paperback. So Heavenly Blues is my first series in Diamond, but it’s not my first rodeo with them. While I was working on Shaman, I was also working as a writer and designer for a mobile game company. Don’t ask me what games I worked on, they were all terrible. But working on those games gave me the resources to make Shaman, so all’s well that ends well.
JC: I’d like to expand on what you were discussing regarding Shaman. As someone whose self-published before I understand how daunting of a feat that can be. How did you go about making that happen and what were the challenges and rewards for you?
BK: Making Shaman was one of the most difficult, and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s a five-chapter graphic novel that I worked on with Bruno Hidalgo (who is working with me again on Heavenly Blues) and was about a necromancer and his teenage daughter going on crazy adventures and bringing heroes and villains back to life. Think Hellblazer meets Rick & Morty. I was very lucky to work with Philly-based publisher, Locust Moon Press. They helped me put together a creative team, find artists for covers (including Farel Dalrymple, JG Jones, and Jim Rugg). Really, they taught me everything I know about making comics. To get the book actually printed and into stores, I had to do a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign was successful, but man was that the toughest month of my life. Kickstarter’s great. The stories and creative voices it’s empowered are truly something to behold. But man oh man am I happy that I don’t have to do another Kickstarter. I’m so proud of the work Bruno and I did on Shaman. It was my first real comic book, the first time I really got to see characters I imagined come to life. It was beyond rewarding, and not just because seeing your book in a store in between Saga and Spider-Man is the coolest thing ever.
JC: Okay, now onto Heavenly Blues! How did you come about thinking up this idea, and at what point did your collaborator Bruno Hidalgo join the project?
BK: The original kernel of an idea was an old Irish proverb “may you be in Heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” It got me thinking of a heist on Heaven, where thieves had 30 minutes to break in and make the ultimate score. The story naturally moved away from that idea, but that’s where the idea of “heist in the afterlife” started. Rather than having present day, alive characters break into heaven, I realized that the characters could be much more varied and complex if they were already dead. Bruno came on board the very second there was a script done. He was the only artist I wanted to work with on this. There was almost no downtime between Shaman ending and Heavenly Blues beginning.
JC: Like Shaman, you went about self-publishing Heavenly Blues at first. Why did you decide on the self-publishing route for this series?
BK: Self-publishing was never the end goal. The idea was always to do a small print run to get the word out there while I pitched to publishers. Part of the reason I wanted to do a print run before pitching to publishers was to build up some early awareness and buzz. Judging by the existence of this interview, it worked! With Shaman, I wanted to have all five issues done before printing. But with Heavenly Blues, I decided to do a small print run of the individual issues. Part of this was wanting more content for conventions, and part was seeing just how easy it was when my life partner did it (Kathleen Kralowec of the wonder The Lion & The Roc webcomic).
JC: When did you decide to pitch the series around and why is Scout Comics the best home for Heavenly Blues?
BK: Pitching was always the plan. From day one, I wanted Heavenly Blues to have a real publisher. It was the same with Shaman. I pitched it to every comics publisher there was, but even though we got really close with some, it didn’t work out. But I pitched Shaman back in 2013 and 2014. And even though that feels like such a short time ago, the comic industry has really changed in just the last couple of years. There’s a whole new tier of publishers that just didn’t exist when I pitched Shaman. No Scout, no Black Mask Studios, no AfterShock Comics, no Vault Comics. Heavenly Blues simply entered a very different environment than Shaman did. I had a couple of publishers interested in Heavenly Blues, but Scout really impressed me from the get-go. Brendan Deneen and James Pruett have been fantastic to work with. Scout is young and hungry, and is putting out some really spectacular books like Solar Flare, Mindbender, InferNoct, and Girrion. It’s a library I’m very proud to be a part of.
JC: Some of the characters we see in Heavenly Blues are based somewhat on real people. What about those people and events in history inspired you to write this story?
BK: The nature of the story gives me access to all of history. I wanted to create the “ultimate” team of thieves and wanted to pull from the most iconic archetypes from around the world. I didn’t want to use real historical people though, I wanted more freedom in establishing their personalities and backstories. Some characters are based off more generic archetypes, like 16th-century ninja Hideki Iwata and ancient Egyptian grave robber Amunet. Others are inspired by more specific people. With the main character, Isaiah Jefferson, he’s a bank robber from the Great Depression. He very much follows in the John Dillinger model of the Criminal as Celebrity. Wild West outlaw, James ‘Coin Counter’ Turner, was based heavily on Doc Holliday with some notable differences (namely Coin Counter’s less than heroic morality and his queer sexuality). I think Erin Foley’s inspiration is the most interesting to me, as she doesn’t originate from a traditional ‘thief’ archetype. Instead, she comes from the character Pearl in Scarlet Letter. Scarlet Letter was one of my favorite books in high school, and I was excited at the opportunity to explore that kind of time period and culture.
JC: You tackle elements of Christianity in this story. Since that can be a sensitive subject for some people, how do you go about writing a story with a religious backdrop?
BK: Honestly, the religious aspect never really factored into it. I’m Jewish. Heaven and Hell were never presented to me in a religious context. The afterlife isn’t a big deal in Jewish culture. It’s almost never mentioned, and when it is there are very few details. When I was first told about Heaven and Hell, I had so many questions that there were no answers to. So Hell is just the torture dimension? Who decides who goes where? Does judgment change with modern morality, or is it fixed? Heaven and Hell never seemed like real places that people could exist in, so this is my attempt at answering those questions and creating an afterlife that feels, for lack of a better word, real. I think by now people have been exposed to dozens if not hundreds of depictions of Heaven and Hell that are relatively secular. And if someone is offended…*shrug*
JC: What comics and comic writers influence your work and made you want to get into comics in the first place?
BK: Oh man, I was just thinking about this today. Now I actually get to tell you my comics Mt. Rushmore: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Brian K Vaughn, and Geoff Johns. They each influenced me in major ways. Vaughn’s Runaways was the first comic I ever read, Johns’ Green Lantern was my first superhero series I followed month to month, Gaiman’s Sandman inspired me to become a writer, and Morrison’s everything turned my reality into a fragmented kaleidoscope of dream time. I think comics are greatest creative medium ever invented. I think it’s the perfect union of incredible writing and incredible art. I think every medium has its specialties and what it does best, but what comics do better than anything else is depict the impossible. An epic battle of the gods among the cosmos is just as easy to depict as two people talking in a diner, maybe easier. There’s absolutely nothing that can’t be done in comics, and that inspires me every day.
JC: What advice can you give to all the self-publishers that may be reading this?
BK: What advice can I give? Be obsessed. Like, crazy obsessed. Unhealthily obsessed. Be prepared to forgo social events and spend ludicrous amounts of money on a creative team. You want a professional book? Gotta pay people a professional rate. There’s no cheat or shortcut. I truly believe comics aren’t something you can do unless you’re willing to throw absolutely everything you’ve got at it. But if you’re obsessed enough, that’ll be a price you’ll pay without a second thought.
JC: Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me! Where can people pre-order Heavenly Blues and do you have anything else you’d like to plug?
BK: Heavenly Blues is out in stores on July 26th, and the Diamond order code is MAY171769. You can find Shaman on ComiXology or on my Etsy store. My next convention is Five Points Comics Festival, so catch me there in New York this weekend on May 20-21st. And make sure to check out all the other great books from Scout Comics!
Drew Ford has spent the last few years of his life dedicated to bringing classic out of circulation comics and graphic novels back in print in beautiful restored editions. A fierce advocate for creators such as Sam Glanzman, Drew has brought back multiple books of his work, a graphic novel from David Michelinie, another graphic novel from ComicMix’s own Denny O’Neil, and many more. This was originally done through Dover Publications until Drew founded It’s Alive! Press, an imprint of IDW.
Drew’s latest project is bringing Family Man, by Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton, back in print through a Kickstarter campaign. You can view the campaign here.
I got the chance to interview Joe Staton this past weekend about Family Man.
JC: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about today about Family Man! Before we get into that, you’re a comics veteran with over forty years of work under your belt. You’ve worked on comics like E-Man which you co-created, All-Star Comics, a long run on Green Lantern where you created the Omega Men with Marv Wolfman, and have more recently worked on the classic character Dick Tracy. Which of all your comics work is most meaningful to you and why?
JS: And thank you for the interest in our project. You’re right, I’ve been at this for a while. I suppose if I come down to what’s the most important to me it would be E-Man, the Helena Wayne Huntress, my runs on GL with Marv and Steve Englehart, and my current work on the Dick Tracy strip. I had the chance to develop characters sort of off on a tangent from what was expected. E-Man was somewhere on the border of funny and serious, Helena was the product of Earth II, where everything was an alternate take on DC history, my work on GL got me into visualizing SF aliens, always some of my favorite stuff. Tracy, I’ve always wanted to do. With Mike Curtis we’re trying to plug into classic Chester Gould while seeing Tracy as part of pop culture from the 20s up through now.
JC: Since I’m a big Legion of Super-Heroes fan and have read a lot of your work on it, I was wondering if you could humor me and talk a little bit about your time on that title.
JS: Paul Levitz brought me into the Legion without me knowing a lot about them. I was supposed to be part of a rotation with three or four other guys but for one reason or another, they dropped off and I wound up doing the most of a run. I was never able to get a handle on the characters as super-heroes so I got into the science fiction elements. It’s just lately that I’ve realized that the heart of the series is “teen romance in space.”
JC: Okay, now onto Family Man! What’s your elevator pitch for Family Man?
JS: One hour into the future, society and government in New York City are crumbling. The only forces that still maintain order are the Mob and the Church. Alonzo, a gangster, and his brother Charles, the monsignor, face each other for control.
JC: So how did you end up collaborating with Jerome Charyn, a very accomplished writer in his own right, but not so much in comics?
JS: Editor Andy Helfer was putting together a line of nontraditional crime books mixing regular comics types and people from outside. He knew that was something that I would be up for. I was originally scheduled to work on a book with Pete Hamill but Pete never got his script in and Andy suggested that I might work with Jerome. I had read Jerome’s work and thought that was a good idea. I’ve recently learned that Jerome had originally wanted to be a comics artist. But rather than go that way, he’s written around 50 novels and nonfiction. His earlier interest in art made it natural for him to describe visuals to tell a comics story.
JC: The vast majority of your published comics work at this point in your career was in superhero comics. What did you have to do differently to tackle a story like this? What was the same?
JS: Much of my work was in super-heroes, but partially that was just a function of what was being published. There was work in super-heroes. And even then, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve often wound up working on stories that are a bit outside the usual take on heroes. And I do have a history with crime and detectives. E-Man’s sidekick is Michael Mauser, the unsanitary PI. I worked on the Mike Danger comic strip with Max Collins. Chris Mills and I have our series Femme Noir, which was originally a tribute to The Spirit. My basic interests are SF and crime stories, rather than so much super-heroes. Turned out Family Man was a good fit.
JC: Much of your prior comics career was in monthly comics. Family Man was originally done as three 96-page digest comics. How did you approach working in this format? What were the challenges and benefits of it?
JS: I was drawn to comic strips when I was a little kid, especially Dick Tracy and ThePhantom. I learned to think in terms of comic strips before I came to comic books. Jerome had quite conveniently written Family Man as four-panel and it would be in a square format. Four panel, square, lay them out in a row, and you have a comic strip. There is occasionally a two-panel page, rarely a single panel splash, but the comic strip concept still fit. For me, it wasn’t a question of monthly as opposed to a limited format, it was going from comic book pages to comic strip. Since Family Man wasn’t going for super-hero exaggerated foreshortening or pyrotechnics, it was comfortable in the squares.
JC: What about Family Man makes it an important story to you?
JS: In terms of what a “graphic novel” actually means, we need to remember that Jerome is an accomplished novelist. A novel usually implies layered storylines and characters and that’s what Jerome has provided here.
JC: It’s been twenty-two years since Family Man first came out and it has not been in print for the vast majority of that time in between. What about this story rings true today and would attract a new generation of comics readers?
JS: “One hour in the future” turned out not to be the future when the book was written but with us turning away from the structures of government and society it may be a future around the corner today.
JC: Why is It’s Alive Press the best place for Family Man and why is crowdfunding the best way to fund reprinting it?
JS: Drew Ford is repackaging solid projects that didn’t quite find their audience, maybe because they never had a proper collection or came out from smaller presses or whatever. Things like Sam Glanzman’s USS Stevens stories, Trina Robbins’ Dope. Family Man should be right at home at It’s Alive Press.
JC: Before we wrap this up, I want to thank you again for taking the time to talk with me and ask you if there is anything else you’d like to mention about the Family Man Kickstarter currently running or if you had any other work you’d like to note?
JS: As we’re speaking the Kickstarter still has a bit of a way to go, a few days left and some cash still needed. I hope everybody will head over there and contribute and get some nice premiums. As for other things, keep an eye out for an upcoming issue of Charlton Arrow, which will start to feature a new three-part E-Man from Nick Cuti and me. That should be out this summer. And I continue to draw Dick Tracy with writer Mike Curtis, available here. We just lately finished the big crossover between Dick Tracy and TheSpirit. It’s all archived at GoComics.
And thanks again for the chance to plug Family Man, Joe.
In the past I’ve mentioned some of what AfterShock Comics has been up to in my column here, but I haven’t talked about them as much as I should. I really haven’t been talking about the good work they’ve been doing. Having recently read World Reader #1, I decided I need to change that.
AfterShock Comics gets it.
I’ll explain. I was having lunch with Noah Sharma who writes over at Weekly Comic Book Review and AfterShock dominated the conversation. We talked about the different titles we’ve been enjoying like InSEXts, Animosity, Captain Kid, and World Reader. Well, the conversation actually started when I brought up how much I loved World Reader so let me backpedal a bit and talk about World Reader.
World Reader #1 hit the shelves on April 19th. It’s written by Jeff Loveness, drawn by Juan Doe and lettered by Rachel Deering. Jeff Loveness is best known for being a writer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! as well as writing Groot over at Marvel. This is his first creator owned comic. Juan Doe has worked on many comics over the years including American Monster and Animosity also at AfterShock. on Rachel Deering worked on the Womantholoy.
Basically, World Reader is about an astronaut, Sarah, who travels around the universe trying to help figure out what is seemingly killing it. She’s helped in this effort by her ability to commune with the dead, whether she wants to or not. We read on as Sarah is pushed to limits of her own mind in her quest to save us all.
For being the first creator-owned effort by Jeff Loveness, it’s fantastic. We really get sucked into this dangerous world and Jeff is humble enough to not overload the book with dialogue when it’s not necessary. He lets the art tell the story. And damn, it’s a good story.
This is a good story is because of Juan Doe’s artwork and colors. This book pops in a way that most books just don’t. I’d say that Jeff wrote a hell of a page turner, but the book is so gorgeous that turning the page might be the last thing you want to do.
What helps push you to turn the page is Rachel Deering’s excellent lettering. It’s not often that the lettering in a comic pops just like the art does, but Rachel makes it happen.
This team really feels like lightning in a bottle and I truly feel like they are onto something here. I haven’t felt this excited to pick up a second issue in a while. If I’m picking up a second issue of a comic then, yes, I’m at least somewhat excited, or curious, or trying to give it a chance to let the story unfold, but here I’m pretty damn excited.
I admit that I’m a science fiction fan so maybe the kind of story they’re setting up here appeals to me more than it might to someone else, but anyone that likes sci-fi comics needs to pick up World Reader. Don’t think about it, don’t add it to your list, don’t put it in your big stack of comics that’s months old now that you just don’t know when you’ll get to it, read it! If you’re afraid if you get home with it it’ll end up in a pile then read it outside the comic shop when you get a chance, or in your car before you drive away, or put aside the eight minutes when you buy it on ComiXology when you buy it to read it right then and there. If you don’t normally like sci-fi, but you like pretty books with fantastic colors, you should give this a shot too.
What was I talking about? Oh, yeah! Lunch with Noah. So I talk about how I picked up World Reader #1 from Carmine Street Comics in Manhattan and after talking about how much I enjoyed it, we got talking about AfterShock in general. We talked about InSEXts and Marguerite Bennett and how that’s been absolutely fantastic, original, and one of the best books she’s writing. For me, it’s a flagship title for AfterShock, and a book they should be immensely proud of publishing. Animosity I haven’t gotten a chance to read, but it’s on my list. Yes, I’m being that person that I said you shouldn’t be about World Reader. I’m working on it, really!
One of the other books I really enjoyed that AfterShock puts out is Captain Kid. ComicMix’s own Ed Catto wrote about this book the end of last year, and I encourage you all to read it if you haven’t yet. Though it’s concluded as of April, it was a fantastic character driven story by creators Mark Waid and Tom Peyer, who oddly enough were both DC editors some years ago. The team includes artists Wilfredo Torres and Brent Peeples, colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, with A Larger World lettering. The book is about a character that’s a bit of a reverse Shazam (I wish I could call him Captain Marvel) and uses that as a device to create a very personal feeling character piece about aging and coming to terms with your life. It looks and feels like a comic from a time where the stories were a bit simpler, in a good way. If you love the Silver or Bronze Age of comics, or the kind of person who loves groups like DC In The 80s you should read Captain Kid. If you didn’t get a chance while it was coming out, the collected edition comes out in June.
Sorry. I keep getting off track. Lunch… that’s right. So Noah and I ended up talking about these different titles and we come to the conclusion that AfterShock really gets it. Though they’re working with quite a few established writers, they are trying to take some chances. They throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Sure, not every title is going to be the next The Walking Dead, and some titles are going to be duds; it happens, but it’s the drive and creativity they have that gives AfterShock Comics the feel that they could be revival Image Comics one day.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is, if you haven’t checked out AfterShock yet, there’s no time like the present.
Back in February, a new comics publisher debuted called Vault Comics They hit the ground running with Fissure by Tim Daniel and Patricio Delpeche. Focusing on telling fresh, fast paced science fiction and fantasy stories, Vault has managed the Herculean feat of launching six different comic book series within three months and I’ve picked up all of them.
One of those series, Powerless, gives us a fresh take on the idea of superheroes; something you’ll rarely hear me say. I got the chance to talk with Powerless creator/writer David M. Booher and artist Nathan C. Gooden.
Joe Corallo: Let’s start with the basics. For those who aren’t familiar, what’s each of your elevator pitches for Powerless? David Booher: Tough question because I could go on for days about this story. Here’s the 37-second pitch: We’ve flipped the idea of superpowers on its head. Every single person on the planet has some extraordinary ability, but a virus is spreading that takes away the powers of those infected. Using elite agents, the government has instituted Quarantine and the infected are starting to fight back violently. Our main characters find themselves caught right in the middle.
Nathan Gooden: Powerless is a world that asks the question: Do superpowers really solve any of the world’s issues? Does the ability to switch places with anyone or help the life of a depressed teenager, only add fuel to the flames of a brewing war? It’s a character-driven thrill ride that will answer these questions and many more. JC: What was the genesis of this project? When did you each get involved? DB: I created the series, but I’ve actually been nurturing the concept for years now. It sprang from my love of stories about people with extraordinary powers, from traditional superheroes to novels like Firestarter and Carrie by Stephen King. With so much out there, I took it as a challenge to create something fresh and different. It came to me – what if there were no superheroes because everyone had powers? What if I didn’t? From there it snowballed: How would I survive in that world? Where would I find power? How would others look at me? And on and on.
NG: I met David four years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con and we immediately hit it off. His pitch completely sold us on the idea of Powerless. We knew we were going to publish it, but I was even more honored and humbled, to have David ask me to do the art for the series. JC: Powerless takes place in a world with a wide range of existing superhuman powers. What kind of powers can people expect to see explored and why did you pick the powers that you did? DB: Again, it was about doing something that felt new. So, yeah, readers will see powers they’ve probably seen before – controlling elements, super speed, and telekinesis. But how about a million telekinetics? Or five million pyrokinetics? In a world where a superpower is no longer extraordinary, no one’s impressed that you can start fires. Now, how good you are with that power? That’s a different story. To use a sports analogy: I can throw a baseball over home plate, but will I ever be a pro pitcher? Hell, no. Pros have spent years training. The same with powers – lots of people might be able to do a certain thing, but you better believe there are pros who have perfected it.
Then there are the rarer powers. Switch is a modified teleporter who can swap places within anyone in her line of sight. Billy is a chronokinetic with the ability to go back in time 37 seconds. We carefully selected these powers because they have consequences for these characters as the story goes on. Our whole team has spent hours and hours talking about this world to figure out how it would really work. It’s been a ton of fun!
NG: I have always believed in taking the reader somewhere they have never been. So pushing the boundaries of super powers was such a treat. Without giving too much away, I’d like to call attention to one of my favorite characters, Grant Porter. He’s a mid level Serokinetic who can extract blood from organisms in a unique way. It will make for some beautiful, but gruesome brutality. JC: Why Vault Comics? DB: Long before Vault existed, I met Adrian Wassel (editor) and Damian Wassel (publisher) along with Nathan at conventions when they were publishing gorgeous graphic novels under a different imprint. I loved their books so much I pitched Powerless to them. The timing couldn’t have been better because they were already talking about creating Vault Comics. Then Nathan came on board as the artist and we were off to the races. They’ve been nothing but amazing from the very beginning.
NG: Well I have been a part of Vault Comics since day one, literally. Adrian and Damian are my very close cousins (more like brothers), so it was a no brainer to be part of the team and help the family. JC: A common critique of mainstream comics lately is that there isn’t enough story in individual issues. That’s certainly not the case here with Powerless which is dense in story as well as panels and dialogue. What drove the decision to pack so much into the first issue of Powerless and what were the benefits and challenges of that? DB: I’ll let Nathan talk about page layouts, since I almost always defer to him on that. For my part, I didn’t really make a conscious decision about how much or how little to put in the first issue. It was all dictated by the story. We had 28 pages to create a complex, nuanced world on the brink of transformation and characters who react to it in very different ways. And then we had to overlay all of that with superhuman abilities. There was a lot of ground to cover, and hopefully issue one balances all of that to hook readers. As the series moves forward, we do open up the pages and dialogue a bit now that the world has been established. NG: I wanted to get the readers into the world as fast as possible so we could prove to them that we are going off the beaten path. You won’t have to invest months only to get a small taste. I went with an almost kaleidoscope panel design to fill this issue with as much depth and detail as humanly possible, sometimes leaving Deron with the hardest job of all. As David stated, the issues do intentionally open up as they progress and the panels and compositions will reflect that. JC: To follow up on that, could you all discuss how you went about laying out the more complex pages and what was the most complex page to put together from the first issue? DB: One thing I love about Nathan’s art (among so many things!) is his use of nontraditional page layouts. This is a non-traditional story, so it fits perfectly. We didn’t make Deron’s lettering job easy at all, but he sure made it look that way. Beyond those things, I’ll let Nathan and tell you which pages in the first issue drove him nuts!
NG: Pages 13 and 14 gave me a very big challenge. This is the first major conflict and has several Quarantine agents using their powers at the same time. It was a struggle to not make it just a big glowing mess or fists and kicks. As far as layout, I really wanted to walk the line of overwhelming the reader, without kicking them out of the book. JC: While reading Powerless #1 I interpreted influence from events in American history such as the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, the AIDS epidemic, and politics post 9-11. How did these aspects of history impact the story of Powerless and what other historical and political events played a role in creating this story? DB: As I wrote the scripts, of course lots of these historical events were in the back of my mind. As a gay creator, I probably thought most about the AIDS crisis and the horrible treatment of LGBT people that still happens today. Honestly, it’s been hard to stay ahead of all the crazy social and political events happening right now. I mean, if I wrote some of our current events into a script, I’d get laughed out of my editor’s office. That said, the political and social aspects of Powerless are there, but they provide the backdrop for the very personal stories of these characters and how they react to each other and the world around them.
NG: I think David covered that very well. I would just add, those exact thoughts are what drew me to the series in the first place. JC: What fictional stories, comics or otherwise, influenced Powerless as well your other works? DB: I think everything I read or see influences me in some way. I was an 80’s kid and I still love just about everything from that decade. Lately I’ve been focused on reading a lot of what Image, IDW, Black Mask, and of course Vault have been publishing. It’s incredible to watch indie creators push the boundaries of comics and see indie publishers support that. I will give a shout-out to IDW’s Locke & Key by Joe Hill. A masterpiece of comic storytelling.
NG: I’d have to say, just my love for all things X-Men as a child. I’d have to give a huge shout out to Saga‘s creators, Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples for really reigniting my creative fire. JC: There are quite a few different factions in this comic leading to a wide range of outfits and uniforms. Can you discuss the process behind developing these outfits and uniforms? Any nods to uniforms from stories you love? DB: I’ll let Nathan field this one. Like page layouts, I left most of the character design in his capable hands. Seeing the amazing results, I’m glad I did!
NG: Oh, I could go on for days about the design of these characters but I will try and focus in on the most important among them, Quarantine. I wanted this to feel like an oppressive version of Apple’s marketing. Very recognizable logo that will be spread across the globe by force. The uniforms themselves, I wanted a modern Nazi feel. Crisp clean uniforms, where individuality is reserved for those of high rank. The boots and capes for decoration of higher ranking officials. I also had to think of how clothing would change in a world where people could burst themselves into flames or change their body mass in the matter of seconds. JC: Diversity has been a hot topic in comics lately. Judging by the diverse group of characters featured in Powerless, diversity is important to you all. How did you go about creating a diverse cast of characters and why is diversity in comics important to you? DB: For me, there was no question but to include a diverse cast. Powerless exists in a world very much like ours, and diversity is part of that. I also wanted to create characters that are relatable for all readers. But it’s not just about diversity for diversity’s sake. If I included characters with all the same background and experiences, they’d just agree on everything. How boring would that be? When characters start from different places, that’s when things get interesting.
NG: Powerless is an exploration into civil rights. It’s only natural to try and see it from as many sides as possible. Visually, I wanted every reader to have the chance to see themselves in at least one of the main characters. Diversity has always played a critical role in my life. I’m biracial, and often wondered as a child, why the heroes or characters didn’t look like me. Sure, there were blonde hair and blue eyed characters that look like my mother’s side of the family. Darker skinned characters that resembled that of my father’s side, but where was the character that looked like me?
Sorry for rambling, but diversity was important to me when doing all of the designs for the world.
JC: It’s fine, I don’t mind rambling! It was great hearing what you both have to say about diversity. Before we wrap this up, could you tell us where people can get a copy of Powerless #1 and when Powerless #2 will be available? DB: Issue #1 is on shelves now at comic shops. Issue #2 will be on shelves tomorrow!
NG: Issue #1 is available everywhere Diamond distributes, just ask your local comic shop. Issue #2 is out Wednesday April 26th. Also, A huge shout out to Oliver Ridge and Blood Moon, who helped make this all possible.
JC: Thank you both so much for taking the time to chat with me, and for everyone reading this interview, go check out Powerless from these guys and letterer Deron Bennett as well as the rest of Vault Comics’ line-up!
Last week I wrote an open letter to Marvel about what the X-Men mean to me, primarily as a reaction to X-Men Gold #1. If you missed it, you can read it here. Since then, X-Men Blue #1 has come out. I read it, so now you get to read me talking about it.
Although I’ll be avoiding the biggest spoilers, if you are looking to avoid any and all spoilers for this comic I suggest you go give it a read before you continue.
Oh, you already read it and can keep going? That’s great!
X-Men Blue #1 is written by Cullen Bunn, drawn by Jorge Molina and Matteo Buffagni, colored by Matt Milla and lettered by Joe Caramagna. Cullen Bunn is someone I’ve been a fan of for a while now; it’s really hard not to enjoy Bunn’s writing. I’m really looking forward to reading his, Danny Luckert and Marie Enger’s Regression over at Image Comics. You can read an interview with them on this new series here. It was Cullen Bunn’s involvement in this series that made me excited about this particular X title.
After reading it I have to say that Cullen Bunn did not disappoint. He took what could have easily been a rough start to a series and crafted a tight, fun story that didn’t take itself too seriously throughout. That way, when the reveal at the end of the issue is made, it hits you harder. Tone is important and Cullen Bunn knows how to make you feel every panel of every page without feeling pandered to.
The art of Jorge Molina and Matteo Buffagni creates exciting page layouts the move the story along at breakneck speed when it needs to and is aided by the primary use of wide across panels and tall thin panels. My only complaints are that everyone looks too young and pretty –especially Black Tom Cassidy – and I don’t care for the new Juggernaut design. It’s too Bane.
Matt Milla’s colors are bright and really pop. It only gets dark mostly when dealing with Juggernaut and on the last couple of pages, which helps the mood greatly and in particular moves the reader on the second to last page of the main story to start feeling the sense of dread before they even get to the reveal. Excellent coloring.
There are two problems that jump out to me from this book that are no fault of the creative team. First, that the book doesn’t necessarily fit with the 90s nostalgia that these X books represent. This isn’t the old Blue team, but rather the original team of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby years minus Professor X. While it made sense in the 80s to bring the original team back in X-Factor as the Lee and Kirby run was on only two decades old, it makes less sense when it’s five decades old. Anyway, after a few years they completely changed the X-Factor team back. You have so many great, compelling X characters to have a team limited like this seems entirely unnecessary. Now maybe the team will change in the next few issues or do, but the issue #1 is where you wanna grab people and it’d be a shame if people skip out on this because of this particular team, with the team on X-Men Gold being far more interesting character wise.
The second problem spins out of the first. We end up with a team that’s all cis white characters. A major problem with some of these older comics is that they are straighter, more cis, more male and more white than what people today would often expect. Even straight cis white male readers who are against diversity in comics at least expect their to be diversity, or else what are they going to yell about on Twitter?
That’s the danger with nostalgia. You can often go the route of nostalgia or go the route of diversity, but it becomes difficult to wed the two – particularly when the property in question is over fifty years old. There is a reason people like Len Wein, Chris Claremont, and Dave Cockrum made the team more diverse, and it seems silly to be taking steps back like this.
Despite how some people have reported on the Marvel Retailer Summit, Marvel has not come out and said they are anti-diversity. This particular team doesn’t ring true to what many X books have stood for the past few decades. You can’t point to Jean Grey being the leader as being terribly progressive when she’s the only woman on a team of five, and it’s hard to point to Iceman as being particularly progressive here when his orientation isn’t really discussed. That won’t be the case in Sina Grace’s Iceman, which I’m really looking forward to reading.
Look, nostalgia can be complicated, and can often be very, very white. That doesn’t make it bad reading. Like I said, I enjoyed reading this book. These problems with nostalgia still need to be looked at, and maybe a few issues or so down we will have a shake up with this team to have it feel more like a book in the spirit of the X-Men. And with Cullen Bunn at the helm and the reveal at the end of this issue, I feel like that’s a very real possibility.
Last week I read X-Men Gold #1 and, controversy aside which I won’t be getting into as you have gone above and beyond to address the issue properly and professionally, it really invoked a lot of strong feelings in me. Because of that, I’d like to talk about the X-Men and what they mean to me.
I first discovered X-Men on television when I was in elementary school. I remember watching the first episode and immediately being sucked in. To this day, the Sentinels are still menacing to me and I’ll always have a fondness for Jubilee, Rogue and Storm. I remember the time between Saturday morning after the episode finished to the next Saturday felt like an eternity. I was a shy kid who knew he was queer, but I didn’t understand it. I didn’t have a lot of friends, didn’t enjoy sports and couldn’t really connect to other kids on a lot of things, but one thing I could talk to the other kids at lunch in the cafeteria was about cartoons like X-Men. That meant a lot to me.
I was lucky to have parents that did well enough to get a lot of those action figures. It was very confusing to me, and I’m sure my parents as well, how they had action figures based on the cartoon as well as ones based on the comics. Why did my Storm action figure have a black costume when it was white on the show? I remember some of the times very clearly of being at Toys R Us in Levittown, NY with my parents specifically wanting X-Men action figures. It’s a DSW Shoes now. I really pushing hard for the yellow and blue costume Wolverine and how exciting that was for me to get it. Or how it took my mom more than one attempt to get a Phoenix action figure for me.
My parents also got me the VHS of the pilot that never took off, Pryde of the X-Men. I watched it over and over again. I once used all my quarters allotted to me to beat the X-Men video game based on that unsold pilot at the arcade in Bayville, NY. I’d got to beat it again in Walt Disney World a decade before Disney bought Marvel;the only character that worked was Dazzler. I’ve been obsessed with Dazzler ever since. I also had played that Sega Genesis X-Men game where it almost all takes place in the Danger Room – it was definitely harder than it needed to be. I was even in an AOL chatroom X-Men role playing game for a bit. I played Cyclops.
The first X-Men movie came out while I was in high school and watched some of the resulting X-Men Evolution cartoon. I saw that first X-Men movie opening weekend, and have seen each X-Men movie opening weekend ever since. College brought about a lot of nostalgia for the 90s animated series. Covered in scorpions was a running gag. A guy I met while in college, Jake, was the first openly gay X-Men fan I befriended. It was when Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassiday was coming out. I’d pick him up and we’d go to Fourth World Comics, our local comic shop. We’d go back, read it in silence, then discuss. We also went together to pick up X-Men Legends 2 the day it came out and played it as late as we could into the night.
Since then I’ve befriended people in comics, other LGBT fans of the X-Men, and have had all sorts of long philosophical and meaningful conversations about these comics. I’ve waited on long lines to get signatures at cons from people like Chris Claremont, Louise and Walter Simonson, Mike and Laura Allred, Peter David, John Cassiday, and Frank Quitely because of the work they did in the world of X-Men and have gotten original comic pages, con sketches and commissions of the X-Men.
I’m telling you all of this not to brag or claim that I’m a bigger fan than anyone else because it’s honestly no astonishing feat. I’m saying this to let you know how much the X-Men has meant to me over the years, how it’s impacted my life for the better, made me more social, and is one of the biggest reasons I’m writing about comics at all. I’m also telling you this because I read X-Men Gold #1 and it left me so frustrated I that I had to write this.
I think it’s fair to say that as an X-Men comics reader I’m within your target demographic and would take that one step further and say I’m likely be perceived as low hanging fruit. I have to be completely honest and say that there is something wrong here with this book. It’s not the writing, and controversy aside it’s not the artwork. It’s not even the editing. Marvel put together an impressive team to work on this book, and it shows. The problem I’m talking about runs deeper and doesn’t necessarily have an easy fix.
The weight of the X-Men falls heavy on this book. Because of the decades and decades of continuity, this debut issue spends so much time trying to explain what happened before this started that it’s basically all we get. We get reference after reference, explanation after explanation, and we are left with little story. And despite all of the references and explanations we still get six full pages at the end of the comic to further explain everything leading up to this issue. If you need six pages at the end of your comic to explain your comic then we have a problem. A big problem.
Writer Marc Guggenheim talks in his letter at the end of the issue about how this is going to be more of a throwback to an older time in X-Men history when it was fresh and new. This is also a problem. Nostalgia has been driving these books for a long time and it has to stop. It needs to stop or you’re condemning the X brand to never grow its audience.
I’m 31 years old and the X-Men has been a part of my life for well over two decades. I for one am absolutely sick to death of nostalgia, and I’m not the only one. I fell in love with X-Men when I saw the animated episode Night of the Sentinels Part 1 because it was inviting, explained enough of what was happening so I could follow it, and told an engaging story. Had that cartoon been a bunch of characters making references to things they did 30 years previous and took so long to set everything up that the first episode ended a few seconds after something started to move the plot forward, I might not be the X-Men fan I am now. Nostalgia has its place, but it is not why we fall in love with stories and it is certainly not what will grow an audience.
I certainly do not mean to diminish the works of everyone at the company. Marc Guggenheim is a wonderful writer whom I’m embarrassingly not as familiar with as I should be and will be rectifying that in the coming weeks. Daniel Ketchum is a great editor who took the time to chat with me after a panel at NYCC a couple of years back encouraging me to keep giving the Iceman storyline a chance and it’s really paying off now as I’m most excited for Sina Grace’s Iceman #1. Jay Leisten is an incredible inker whose work I first got into with Peter David’s run on X-Factor that is one of my favorite chapters in mutant history. Cory Petit is great letterer and a friend. Axel Alonso with Peter Milligan and Mike Allred put together what is easily to me one of the best things that ever happened to the X franchise with their run on X-Force/X-Statix.
These are amazing people doing spectacular things, and I honestly believe they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with.
As a long time fan I want to tell you that I acknowledge that X-Men has become too old, too bloated, and is crippling itself under its own weight in continuity. As a long time fan I want to tell you that it’s okay to let it loose, cut it free from its continuity and start fresh. It’s unsustainable how it is right now. Let it have that new fresh start it needs to survive.
I felt a certain magic when I first picked up X-Force/X-Statix, Grant Morrison‘s New X-Men,Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, Peter David’s X-Factor, and Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. I want to feel that magic again in an X book, not because they’re going back to what works, but because they’re trying something new and daring and they aren’t getting caught in the current of continuity and dragged under. I didn’t feel that magic in X-Men Gold #1.
That’s not to say it won’t ever come. I’m picking up issue 2. I’m going to be picking up the rest of the X books coming out in this new wave and I’ll see what sticks. However, the flagship title of a franchise relaunch should be blowing a reader away, and that wasn’t the case here; at least for me. Maybe I’m wrong and I’m the odd man out in this situation. Maybe my love of the franchise has set the bar unreasonably high and that’s not fair of me.
I just want the X-Men to continue to succeed well into the future. I want the queer kids in school like me who maybe didn’t understand they are queer and what it is to have a team of heroes to look up to, because they need a team of them. They need to see a world where there are a lot of people like themselves and they can work together and be special no matter how the rest of the world perceives them. They need to see a world where these characters who sometimes have vastly different philosophies and strategies on how to keep themselves safe can come together to protect each other because taking care of each other is most important thing. They need Northstar, Iceman, Rictor, Shatterstar, Mystique, Destiny, Karma, and more.
I know this was long, yet I have so much more I could say. Please don’t let the X-Men crush themselves under their own weight. I’m still going to be a fan, and I’ll keep giving these books a shot over and over again, but I’d love to have some of that magic back.
Saying a lot happened in the world of comics this past week is a gross understatement. Between MoCCA Fest in the east, WonderCon in the west, the poor performance of the Ghost In The Shell live action remake, and the reports coming out of the Marvel Retailer Summit, I could have column fodder well into May. I’ll try to touch on a few of the points that are important to me.
For starters, I wasn’t at WonderCon, but you should read about it here.
Let’s start with MoCCA then. I wrote about MoCCA last year as well. For those not in the know, MoCCA stands for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. It’s a festival that’s been going on here for the past fifteen years, celebrating the indie side of comics as well as illustration, fine art, and creative innovation. This year featured big name guests including David Lloyd, Becky Cloonan, and Gene Luen Yang.
I joined ComicMix’s own Molly Jackson at the diversity panel MoCCA Fest put on titled Reading Without Walls: Diversity in Comics with panelists Gene Luen Yang, Damian Duffy, Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and moderated by Jonathan W. Gray. This panel is named after Gene Yang’s The Reading Without Walls Challenge he set as The Fifth National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. The challenge, as detailed in the previous link, is to read a book about someone who doesn’t look like you or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know much about, and/or a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun like a chapter book, graphic novel, and so forth. Diversity in format and topic is important too, and if you have a child this is a challenge you should consider giving them. Even if you don’t have a child, this is a challenge we should all give ourselves to make us more well-rounded people.
The panel was absolutely packed, with all the seats taken up and people standing all around the back and sides of the room. The discussion was engaging with all the panelists representing a different background and personal experiences informing their opinions on the importance of diversity. While not everyone saw exactly eye to eye on every aspect of the discussion, it was clear that everyone agreed that diversity is not only important in comics, but it’s crucial for future success of the medium. The room seemed to agree as well, with little challenge to the notion that diversity is important. And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you the amount of people, young and old, that looked on at Gene Yang completely awe struck.
This moment at MoCCA was a sharp contrast to the discussion going on at the Marvel Retailer Summit. Again, for those of you who don’t know, ICv2 was given access to cover the Marvel Retailer Summit. The coverage revealed that in many cases, according to what was discussed at the summit, retailers were not able to move books that would be described as diverse. In order to remedy that, Marvel Comics would try a more “meat and potatoes” approach that helped DC Comics find success with DC Rebirth.
Part of this discussion has to deal with legacy characters and who should identify as whom. This is nothing new as well. Yes, it’s new in that Marvel seemed to quickly be replacing top tier characters that have counterparts in multi-billion dollar movie franchises, but DC did this decades ago swapping out Hal Jordan with Kyle Rayner, Barry Allen with Wally West, all the different Robins, and so forth. Hell, Steve Rogers had replacements before Sam Wilson. All of these changes had some degree of success.
The real problem that I heard come up in all the many conversations I had on this topic were not that Thor was a woman or Captain America was black now, but that the changes wouldn’t last, which discourages people from diving into those books. I know that there are readers who are genuinely racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and Islamophobic, but it is more complicated than just that. It’s hard to throw yourself into a character and a story that you know isn’t going to end well.
I understand the frustration with Marvel over what has been reported from that Retailers Summit, but it really is more complicated than that. Many of the problems that have persisted in comics have been problems for decades, well before Axel Alonso and David Gabriel were in the positions they currently hold. The course corrections they’re talking about making aren’t radically different from anything that DC Comics has tried in recent history.
There is no easy solution to the problem of representation in comics because it involves multiple entities. How much of this is on Marvel to recruit diverse talent and invest in promoting diverse books? As part of Disney, the money should be there somewhere. What would it have to take and who would have to embrace that investment? How many characters could they invest in? In order to procure and retain talent that could create characters that could be diverse and a big hit, will Marvel have to change how they handle creators and the rights they hold on their creations so they don’t just take those amazing characters elsewhere? Is some or all of this a responsibility Disney and other corporations have and if so to what extent is all this their responsibility?
Retailers play a big role too. How much of a diverse comic’s success is on retailers promoting certain books more? And how much of this is on readers? If more readers tried taking Gene Luen Yang’s The Reading Without Walls Challenge would some of these books be selling better?
This can be a long discussion with a lot of nuance that I could keep going on about, but I know you have other things you’d like to read today so I’ll start wrapping this up. Before I go, I’d like to bring this back to MoCCA Fest. This year, like all the years I’ve gone, was filled with incredible talent that made me wish I could have dropped so much more money. Two graphic novels I did pick up are Everything Is Flammable from Uncivilized Books by Gabrielle Bell, a powerful graphic memoir, and Trish Trash: Rollergirl Of Mars Volume 1 by Jessica Abel, from Papercutz’s Super Genius imprint. It’s a gorgeous science fiction sports with a diverse cast of characters. If diverse comics and graphic novels are important to you, you should really check these books out too.
I already can’t wait for the next MoCCA Fest. Oh wait! I didn’t even get to Ghost In The Shell! Real quick, I’m not surprised it didn’t do well at the box office, but they’ll probably blame Scarlett Johansson as a woman lead in an action movie and/or the source material they adapted instead of acknowledging the problems with white washing.