Tagged: Brian Bendis

Marc Alan Fishman: In Defense of the Modern Comic, Part 1

Once again, my Facebook friend Jim Engel tipped me off to another jumping-on point for a rant. I think I owe him a Coke. Seems someone at the Wall Street Journal perked up at the news that the Avengers crossed the bajillion bucks meter, and it stemmed a very obvious question: If the movie is that popular, shouldn’t there be some kind of carry-over to the parent media? And the simple answer is one we comic fans hate to admit: Ain’t no carry-over cash coming through the doors of the local comic shop over this (or any other) movie. So the WSJ writer, one Tim Marchman, decided to take his book review of “Leaping Tall Buildings” and turn it into a tirade on the industry  I want so badly to call home. Now don’t get me wrong, Marchman makes a few solid points. OK, he makes a lot of them. But I know you guys like me when I’m pissy… And one point in particular boils my blood faster than Wally West got eliminated from the New 52:

“If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new Avengers comic, why don’t more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.”

First off? On behalf of the industry as a whole? Fuck you. And normally I refrain from the potty mouth, but here is one occasion I feel damned correct in using it. Second, let me clarify where my anger lies. I agree with him about location. The local comic shop is indeed a specialty store. One that carries a stigma of exclusivity that can’t be broken, except on very rare occasion. Most comic shops try hard to throw open their doors to the general public in hopes of enticing them in with their fictiony wares, but the general public doesn’t look to consume their books off the shelf anymore. Ask Borders. But I digress.

I won’t even argue his point about continuity. I could easily argue that, mind you, and if people respond violently enough to this article I may talk about it in a few weeks. Suffice to say, yes, it’s a big barrier to entry. Anyone walking in, fresh out of the theater, would be hard pressed to know where exactly to start reading an Avengers comic. The movie-roster tie-in isn’t well-liked by any reviewer, and the modern Bendis epic-arcs (Disassembled, Civil War, Dark Reign, etc.) are amazingly dense with history. Enough at least to perhaps scare off someone from really taking a leap of literary faith. Again, I digress.

The jab Marchman takes specifically toward the “Clumsily Drawn” aspect of modern comics. Frankly, I don’t get where he’s coming from.

Let’s talk about those clumsy drawings he’s obviously so urped by. Take a look across the racks of your local comic store. Do you see what I see? I see a breadth of styles more diverse than any other period of comic book publishing. Do you think, even for a nano-second, that years ago you’d see Travel Foreman’s sketchy macabre style sharing shelf space with Mobius-inspired types like Frank Quitely and Chris Burnham? Or the crisp and clean lines of the Dodsons bunked-up nice and cosy next to the loose and energetic John Romita, Jr.? No. You’d get 17 Rob Liefeld clones boasting whips, chains, impossible guns, and thigh pouches. Go back to the 80’s? You’d get a sea of house-styled Neal Adams / Dave Gibbons / George Pérez wanna-bees and an occasional Bill Sienkiewicz or Frank Miller thrown in.

I truly believe we are in an amazing time for comic book art. Artists and editors are finding a real balance between new styles, and composition to tell a story. Not every book is perfect mind you (and yes, there is still a house style to both Marvel and DC… but assuredly not as rigid as it once was). On the whole, a comic off the rack today has more chance of being an original artistic statement than a commanded tracing of “something that sells.” While comic sales have plummeted from the false peaks of the 90’s… I truly doubt it is the fault of the art on hand. Well, except for Scott McDaniels’ stuff. Yeesh.

Now, I know that there’s some debate amongst my ComicMix brethren about this point-in-question. I openly beg for some of that debate to happen in the comments below. I’m hard-pressed to believe that on an industry level that the artwork is to blame for comics’ dwindling sales. As I look across the smattering of books I’ve been reading these days – Daredevil, Invincible Iron Man, Batman, The Boys, The Manhattan Projects… and flip through the pages of artists truly giving their all to every panel – I get a little verklempt. I want all of you to go on with out me. I think about this Marchman, and all I can think is “Ver es kon kain pulver nit shmeken, der zol in der malchumeh nit gaien!”

Now go on… discuss!

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


The Point Radio: Bendis’ Big Book Deal

Brian Bendis has bagged a book deal outside of comics – sort of, plus more behind the scenes at HARRY‘S LAW with Nate Corddry and SYFY bags monster ratings with one finale.

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MARC ALAN FISHMAN: X-Men vs. Avengers? Pray for a Reset…

MARC ALAN FISHMAN: X-Men vs. Avengers? Pray for a Reset…

So we’ve all heard the news, right? The next big thing to be constructed by the architects of the House of Ideas is a doozy. “X-Men Vs. Avengers” touts the titular teams of the 616 waging war against one another in hopes of quelling Hope and her potential Phoenix Force powers. Now this may be putting the cart before the horse… so let’s go to the official release:

“The Avengers and X-Men have learned that the all-powerful embodiment of both death and rebirth known as the Phoenix Force is on a crash course for Earth… and it needs a new host to unleash its immeasurable power. But what is the shocking decision tied to the Phoenix’s return that will pit the Avengers against the X-Men? And when good friends become bitter enemies, what does this mean for the future of the Marvel Universe?”

Since I’m a betting fellow, and love to stick my foot in my mouth… I’m going to answer those questions. At best? I’ll nail what all of you are already thinking. At worst? I’ll piss the lot of you off, and Axel will send a goon squad to my house to cap me off at the knees. Let’s roll them bones!

What is the shocking decision tied to the Phoenix’s return that will pit the Avengers Vs. The X-Men? Well, most people round the interwebs believe it will tie to Hope Summers. For those (like me) who don’t know Hope from Adam, Wikipedia was kind enough to enlighten me. You see, the short and sweet synopsis says that when Scarlet Witch went bananas back in Disassembled, she reduced the mutant population down to 198 lucky losers.

The first mutant born after this mass de-powering was Hope. Immediately after she was born, Cable and Bishop came a calling. Cable said she was the Messiah. Bishop said she was a crazy cracker who would eventually murder over a million people. Herman Cain came forward to say he didn’t harass her. A whole bunch of convoluted continuity happened after that. Suffice to say all these prophecies, in line with the well-documented return of the Phoenix Force, can safely answer the question; Hope is most likely the target of the celestial upgrade. Let’s assume the X-Men think she’s gonna save humanity. The Avengers assume another crazy bitch gonna get some shiz. Let the mini-series unleash itself!

And when good friends become bitter enemies, what does this mean for the future of the Marvel Universe? Well this isn’t such an easy answer now, is it? I think there are two schools of thought. The conservative true believer might postulate that this will draw harsh lines between certain X-people and certain Avengineers. There will be many hard fought battles.

Since it’s hero on hero action, let’s assume some villains will try to get away with evil while the do-gooders pound each other on the street. Wolverine will have to choose a side. Cyclops will go toe-to-toe with Cap in a battle for who adds the perfect amount of starch to their unitards. Colossus will pound the Red Hulk in the middle of a well-populated area, causing millions of dollars of collateral damage.

What does a car insurance policy look like in Marvel’s Manhattan anyways?

At the end of the day, the conservative epic will end with more questions than answers. Hope will undoubtedly get the force within her. She’ll see all the fighting, and perhaps will sacrifice herself out in space or maybe shack up with Galactus. He’s got to be lonely, right? The dust will settle, and the heroes will be mad at each other. 15 new books will cover the epilogue. 12 new X-Teams and 459 new Avenger teams will emerge.

Now, let’s say Marvel’s been paying attention to the competition lately. What if they take a more ballsy approach? A universal reset might not be the worst ending, now would it? As we all know, Bendis is hanging up the Avenger cloak of writership after all of this hoopla. Marvel’s losing the battle at the stands (barely) to DC. DC is all fresh and new and shiny. Marvel is shoulder deep in crazy continuity. Maybe a Phoenix-level razing of the universe could become a Flashpoint to significant change? See what I did there… And while this is merely wild speculation, I for one would love to see Marvel do something this jarring. Picture it. One More Day? Gone. Age of Apocalypse? A faded memory. Secret War? A secret we can all forget. Now, of course a TON of Marvel backstory is simply amazing and untouchable. So is DC’s…and it didn’t stop them. The numbers don’t lie. Sometimes a big risk can garner big rewards.

Marvel’s mega-bucks in the multiplexes have meant a generation of kids are savvy to their characters; But still they may be queasy at coughing up the coin to catch up to convoluted continuity. With Hope decimating the universe, there’s a chance to keep the good stuff, forget the bad, and catch a whole new crop of fans wanting an easy jumping on point. After all the fighting over her, the X-Men and Avengers witness Hope rise above them. “Enough!” She’ll scream. We fade to white… and in the wake, the 617?

Now, if I were to wage a bet on this, I’m no fool. This crossover is like so many before it; An excuse to make extra mini-series, epilogues, prologues, tie-ins, et al. The series itself will be an excuse to the same excesses we’re used to by now. The book itself will be well drawn, sharply written, but ultimately a fluffy complicated plot to move the next batch of editorial mandates forward. Don’t believe the hype kiddos. Stick to the main book… enjoy the battle scenes, and pray Cable unleashes a gun that fires other guns (tip of the hat to LBFA). When the dust settles, we all know what it’ll really mean for the Marvel Universe.

Another epic event in just six months!

SUNDAY: John Ostrander’s New Year’s Thrills!


Math. Ugh. Hate it. Too real world for me. Unyielding, unforgiving, no sense of humor, and numbers don’t talk to me the way words do. My brain isn’t wired for it. However, numbers are a part of comics and comic book writing.

Certainly there are the important numbers regarding sales, but they also figure into telling a story. Let’s go through some of them. First number: the number of pages. Right now, your monthly comic book is 22 pages long. Let’s say you’ve been asked to do a fill-in story or a complete in one story for a given book. There are certain space limitations you need to take into account.

How many panels are in a page? Well, your first page is usually the splash page which means one big panel. This page also usually has the title of the story and the credits box for the creators. Here’s some rules of thumb for the other pages: when there’s a lot of action, you use fewer panels per page. If it’s a talk scene, you can have more. I generally figure that it will average out to five panels a page. The splash page is one panel so you have 21 pages times five panels. We do the match and the whole thing totals 106 panels in which to tell your story.

There are also limits to how much you can put in a panel. This includes speech balloons, thought balloons, captions, and sound effects, if you have them. You don’t want to crowd the art. I generally figure the limit of all of the above is three per panel.

Nor can you do that every single panel. If you do that, you have a wall of words and the reader usually will just ignore it and go on to the next page that hopefully has less verbiage. The exception to this rule is Brian Michael Bendis and, trust me, unless you are in fact Brian Michael Bendis, you’re not Brian Michael Bendis.

There are also limits to how much you can put into each word balloon, thought balloon, or caption. Again, I use a rule of thumb and it’s based on my font type and size. I tend to use Geneva 14 point (my eyes aren’t great and that’s what I can most easily see). So I figure the maximum is three typed lines per balloon or caption. Again, you can’t do that with every panel or you’ll wind up with the Wall of Words that gets ignored. Again, the Bendis Exception applies.

So, being generous, let’s say you average about 1.5 balloons/captions per panel. Do the math. If you have 106 panels per issue, that comes out to 159 balloons/captions with which to tell your story. That’s it. 21 pages, 106 panels, 159 balloons/captions in all. That’s plot, plot twists, characterization, theme, and snappy banter. Ladies and germs, that’s not a lot of space.

There’s a bit more math with telling a story as well. Each panel should have one clear definable action per panel. Batman leaps but he does not leap, land, spin, and hit the Joker in one panel. Asking your artist to draw that is grounds for justifiable homicide. I’m kidding. Your artist won’t kill you; he/she will simply ignore your instructions and find a way to make it work. But they will hate you… with justification.

You can have a secondary character do something in the panel as well but you can’t do that a lot unless your artist is George Pérez who will add more action if you haven’t. The Pérez Exception is the artist corollary to the Bendis Exception.

And you have to do all this without making it seem crowded or rushed.

That’s the mathematical reality to writing a single issue comic book, kids. If you’re doing an arc, then you multiply by the number of issues. The number of issues you’re allowed will depend on the price point (again, a number) the company figures the public will pay. It’s usually four or five issues. So, for an arc, you can multiply the above totals by those numbers. Still not a lot of space. Finally, there are deadlines, which are another set of numbers, namely the date by which it’s all due. Violate that at your peril.

And that, as our friends in the newspaper trade were wont to say, is -30-.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell