Tagged: Cliff Chiang

Mindy Newell: Days Of Yore

Presenting two real-life stories from my days of yore, although names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Story The First:

I knew a girl in high school – I wouldn’t say we were friends, but she was someone who had never participated in the Piggy horrors. Sally was an A+ student, on the track to an Ivy League school. Pretty (but not gorgeous) and popular (but quiet about it), she came to me one day and said that she needed to talk to me privately. I was surprised… and a bit suspicious. What did she want? But because Sally had never been overtly mean to me, even though she was part of the clique that instigated most of the callous cruelties upon me, and because I still hoped to be “accepted,” and I wanted to believe for some reason she was about to warn me of some new devilishness about to be inflicted on me – forewarned was forearmed – I agreed. But it had nothing to do with me at all.

Sally was pregnant.

I was, frankly, shocked. Not just about what she said, but also because I was thinking, why are you telling me?

She seemed to be reading my mind about that last part. “I can’t tell Laura, or Toni, or anybody. It would be all over the school in a second. You know how they are.”

Did I ever. Still –

“But they’re your friends.”

All she said was, “I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood in the city. Will you come with me?”

I know exactly why I said “yes.” Out of kindness, certainly. But to be totally honest, I also thought that this could be a way in. Hey, whaddya want? I was a teenager.

We had to cut school the day of her appointment. I met her at the corner bus stop, about an hour after classes started. Sally was very quiet, she didn’t say anything, but I remember she was very pale. As for me, I was sure I would see my father in his car on the way to work. I wasn’t so worried about my mom – I knew she was already at the hospital, where she worked in the ER. At any rate, both of us were very nervous and impatient, waiting for that bus to the PATH train into the city.

At the time – September 1971 – there was a Planned Parenthood in Manhattan on First Avenue between 21st and 20th Streets.  I guess – and I don’t blame her – that Sally made the appointment there rather than the one in Jersey City because Jersey City is too close to Bayonne… too close for comfort. Anyway, I don’t know what either of us was expecting, but it was modern and clean and the staff was professional, kind, and, most importantly, totally non-judgmental.

Sally’s name was called. I sat in the waiting room. It seemed like a long time, but the receptionist at the desk assured me everything was fine when I asked.

Interjection – as an RN in the operating room, I can tell you that the actual procedure takes very little time, especially in the first trimester [as Sally was]. Frequently I’m not even done with my charting before it’s over and I have to assist in transferring the patient to the PACU (Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, commonly referred to as the Recovery Room). Most of the intraoperative period is taken up with other things involved in any visit to the OR – anesthesia induction, proper and safe positioning, emergence from anesthesia, transfer to PACU, and monitoring in the PACU, which lasts about an hour or so on average, until discharge.)

Afterwards, as we had planned, we used our pooled resources and took a cab home. This was well before Uber or Lyft. Sally didn’t’ say much except to complain about some cramping – totally normal, btw – but the “worry” was off her face; she was visibly relieved. The cab dropped us off about a block from her house; I walked her home, and before she went inside, she turned and said: “See you in school tomorrow.”

No, we didn’t become best friends after that; things pretty much went back to normal, actually. Hey, we were teenagers, and there were rules of engagement. But I do remember that Sally was never around when it was time to “play Piggy with Mindy.

Sally went on to graduate in the top 25 of a class numbering 750 (I finished 145) and went on to that Ivy League school. I didn’t see her much after high school, a couple of parties and a reunion or two at the Jewish Community Center. I don’t even know what she went on to become as an adult, though I’ve heard she was “successful and happy.”

Story The Second:

Jack and Jill were my high school’s dream team. Every high school has one. Jack was the champion quarterback. Jill was the head cheerleader. Jack was the president of the Student Union. Jill was the editor of the school newspaper. Both had bright futures. Early admission to the colleges of their choice, with Jack receiving a full scholarship based on his football prowess to a Big Ten school, and Jill planning on majoring in journalism at NYU.

They were great people.

And they never treated anybody like Piggy.

Anyway, sometime in the late fall of our senior year, after the Thanksgiving holiday, Jill suddenly disappeared from the school hallways. First, we heard that she was sick with mononucleosis (the “kissing disease,” as it used to be called), but as January became March, rumors began spreading, rumors having to do with pregnancy and forced marriages. Especially after Jack dropped out – two months before graduation.

The truth broke free, as truth is apt to do, sometime in the fall of 1971. During the Christmas break when everybody came home from college, it was the talk of the town, the bars, and the parties.

Jill had become pregnant, and, since back in those stupid days, girls “in the family way” were not allowed to finish high school, she had been forced to leave under the cover of the mononucleosis story, though she refused to go to one of those “homes for fallen women” or whatever they were called. (Do they still exist?)  Her parents had gotten her a tutor so she could finish her high school degree, but not only had she disappeared from the school hallways, Jill had also been confined to the house to “hide her shame.”

Worse, when Jill wanted to go to Planned Parenthood for advice – and advice only – her parents would not allow it. They were very observant Catholics and the name Planned Parenthood was as abhorrent as the name Judas Iscariot. Jill’s pregnancy was treated as if it were a monstrous sin.

She had also finally admitted that Jack was the father because her father had beaten it out of her. Her father then called his father, and they decided that Jack and Jill would get married right away.

And in 1971, not only could you not be pregnant in high school, you couldn’t be married, either; which meant that Jack had to drop out, too, meaning, of course, that he lost his football scholarship and any hope for college. And in case you’re wondering – no college for Jill, either.

Of course, there was always the future, but…

After they got married and Jill had the baby, and Jack got some kind of job, nothing much, he started drinking. Drinking hard. And doing drugs. Hard drugs.

And that’s how the story stood that Christmas break, the last week of 1971.

But it didn’t end there. About 10 years later I met one of Jill’s cousins at the mall. We got to talking about high school, and eventually – of course – Jack and Jill came up. I’ll never forget that conversation.

Jack’s downward spiral had continued. He lost one job after another. The drinking continued, and he was chippinghttp://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chipping on some weekends, too.

Then he started abusing Jill, and it hadn’t stopped.

“But Jill was always so smart. Why doesn’t she leave?” I said.

“Jesus,” her cousin said.

“Jesus?”

“Jill’s become really religious. That’s why she won’t leave. I think she thinks she’s atoning for getting pregnant and fucking up Jack’s football scholarship. “

“Jesus.”

“Yep.”

That was the last time I ever heard about Jack and Jill. I have no idea what happened to them. Or their kids.

•     •     •     •     •

As if this writing (Sunday, September 10) there are five days to reach the $50,000 goal to produce Mine!: A Celebration of Freedom & Liberty Benefitting Planned Parenthood. We are almost but not quite there.

And, look, guys, I get it. This has been a summer and early fall of donating funds. I understand it’s a matter of priorities. I get the feeling of being “donated out,” too. And our hearts go out to the many caught up in the current round of hurricanes.

Even if it’s just $5, hell, even if’s just a $1, just think about what Bernie Sanders accomplished with an average of $27 to his campaign.

When people think of Planned Parenthood, they think “abortion.” But I’m telling you, and now I am speaking to you as a member of the professional healthcare community, the organization does so much more: Counseling and cancer screenings and preventative and maintenance health care. For women and for men.

The anthology features work by:

 And even more.

Just do it, okay? Because one day, you or yours could be just like Sally or Jack and Jill. Because, just when you or yours need it, Planned Parenthood could be gone.

Don’t let that happen.

Ed Catto: Baby Got Back

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but in comics we do. That’s what sells it. Oftentimes, comics retailers need to make pre-ordering decisions based largely on just a comic’s cover.

Comics, like people, should be enjoyed for what’s on the inside. Corny but true. But like the B-side of a vinyl record, sometimes there’s glory on the flipside, like with comic book back covers.

Emil Novak, Sr. runs a great store in Buffalo called Queen City Bookstore. It’s overflowing with comics and lost treasures, most reflecting Emil’s ravenous appetite for great comics. During my last visit there, I stumbled across The Spirit: The First 93 Dailies reprint comic from 1977. The front cover sported a heroic Eisner Spirit image, but the back cover, showing an exhausted Spirit collapsed in the snow was the cool part. And the courageous use of negative space really stood out. I really liked that back cover, and that sparked today’s topic.

We need not only reach back into the past for examples. There are so many clever back covers on comics today. Two, in particular, come to mind:

  • Cliff Chiang’s creating some gorgeous wrap-around covers for his Image Paper Girls series, written by Brian Wood. Essentially the back cover is part of the front cover, but with Cliff’s strong sense of design and deliberate use of color, the back covers have a life of their own,
  • Greg Rucka and Michael Lark swing the pendulum far in the opposite direction for their brilliant Lazarus This is a series set in the near future that provides a stark look at the impact of wealth concentrated amongst the few. The creators provide faux back cover advertisements each issue. The back cover adds to the story as if one of the storyline’s companies or ‘governments’ has created an ad. World-building via the back cover, if you will.

Back Cover Advertising

Advertisements can also create memorable back covers. I have fond memories of Silver Age back covers selling Aurora superhero model kits. The best ones leverage Curt Swan or Murphy Anderson art for on-the-nose authenticity.

And while Land of the Giants, Rat Patrol or The Invaders weren’t TV shows I was watching back then, I sure was fascinated by their back-cover model kit ads. The Aurora monster model kits back cover ads probably deserve an entire column devoted to the creepy thrill and chills they inspired a generation of readers.

Toys ads could be hit or miss. I never warmed up to – or even understood – Skittle Bowl, despite ads illustrated by Murphy Anderson or featuring Don (Get Smart) Adams, I really loved the back-cover ads for Mattel’s Hot Birds and rrRUmblers. They must have worked. All the kids on my block collected these toys for about half a minute.

Professional Backstory

Over the years, my fascination with back covers has spilled over to my professional career. I’ve helped develop a few back covers of which I’m proud. A few examples:

  • Pagemaster was the movie that had everything going for it – a great message, hot movie stars, and a top pop music performer. It was a “can’t miss.” I was excited to lead Nabisco’s promotional program with the picture. But then, the hot movie star got weird (Macaulay Culkin) and the pop music performer (Michael Jackson) got weirder. The picture fizzled, but not before we created a great comic ad for the program. We used one of the young actors from the TV ad and we ran on the back covers of Marvel Comics for a couple of months in 1994.
  • At Bonfire Agency, our geek-focused marketing firm, and GeekRiot Media, we ran quite a few ads on the back covers of comics from lots of different publishers: IDW, Boom! Studios, Archie, Dynamite, Aspen and more. It was invigorating, and personally fulfilling, to get big brands partnering with publishers beyond the “big two”.

Coming Next Issue

I think there’s something special about advertising the “next issue” on the back cover. I could go on and on about how we live in an anticipatory culture, always looking ahead to what’s next. Have we lost the ability to live in the moment? I don’t know. That’s a whole ‘nuther topic.

No matter: I still like using the back covers for next issues, or other comics by the same publisher. Recently, publishers like Titan and Black Mask started embracing this tactic.

Some of the best “coming next issue” back issues were on the flip side of Pacific Comic’s Somerset Holmes. It was a gorgeous comic with a gorgeous female lead, based on a gorgeous real-life female creator. (There’s an epic tale behind it all that I’d like to get into one day.) Somerset Holmes’ back covers were creative and memorable – some of my favorites.

Advertising experts used to say that the back cover of any magazine is valuable real estate, as there’s a 50% change that a magazine will be put on a table with the back side up, I’m not sure if anyone ever truly believed that, but there’s no denying the charm of the oft-neglected comic book back cover.

•     •     •     •     •

Oh, and in the spirit of “coming next time”: my next column builds off my recent Back Issue article on the 80s comic Thriller! I’ve finally caught up with author Robert Loren Fleming and we’ve got some long-lost secrets to reveal!

 

Ed Catto: Will Eisner Week Ramp-Up

Will Eisner Week is almost upon us. It’s become a fantastic time for libraries, schools, colleges and bookstores to promote graphic novels. And this year will be all the more memorable as we’ll also be celebrating the centennial of Will Eisner’s birth.

(It’s the centennial of Jack Kirby’s birth as well, but we’ll save that for another column.)

As you probably know, Will Eisner was one of comics’ visionaries. While he may not have actually created the first graphic novel (I tend to side with Jim Steranko on that landmark), he is clearly one of the most important people in promoting graphic novels and comics to the general public.

He was an innovative artist and an impressive entrepreneur. Looking through the lens of today, I think his most enduring legacy is as a champion of creativity.

With that in mind, I want to talk about three comic series that are fun, creative and imbedded with bit of Will Eisner’s enduring spirit (no pun intended) whispering to every reader.

And because we all live in the real world, let’s take note that there’s even a little more that’s impressive. While creatively inspired, each of these series is well packaged but still, comparatively, affordable.

There’s been a lot of frustration lately with the prices of the big two publisher’s comics. On one hand, Marvel is still charging $3.99 for comics but discontinuing the inclusion of digital versions. They will instead be offering snippets of longer stories that they hope fans will be interested in buying. Thus far, reaction to being served what essentially are ‘promo ads’ instead of content has not been positive.

On the other hand, DC Comics, despite a recent public declaration to hold their line at $2.99, is more frequently charging $3.99 a comic. And the comics that are still $2.99 are published twice month, so that’s really setting back fans $5.98 to keep up.

One can argue that these monthly prices are less important as fans migrate to enjoying trade paperback collections and digital versions. But it is all the more impressive when “smaller” publishers can offer great comics on better paper and charge only $2.99. And that’s exactly the case with these three series:

Television’s Riverdale has been generating a lot of buzz on the CW. The various Archie titles are lot of fun too. I just gave the new Jughead title a try for the first time and I’m glad I did.
This gorgeous pink cover caught my eye, but the story inside was fun and fresh and made me hungry for more. This comic, like many of the new Archie titles, offers fans a main story and a reprint back-up story, complete with an introduction to the classic tale from the series’ writer.

Also of note, and this is where we get to the Eisner part, writer Ryan North employs a clever new technique. Jughead, as narrator, provides a little extra narration at the bottom of each page. It’s snarky and surprising. This innovation is just like eating potato chips, once you start you just want more.

I’ve talked about Brian K. Vaughn’s and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls here before. But I what I really love most about the latest issue is the cover. It is striking, clever and courageous. The image is intriguing and the colors stand out from everything else on the racks. Special bonus points to the creators for having the conviction to wrap the cover design around to the back cover.

It’s this boldness and creativity that, to me, is the embodiment of Will Eisner’s vision.

Moonshine is a fantastic Image series that’s a mash-up of horror stories and Bonnie and Clyde. I wasn’t clamoring for such a mash up, but I’m so glad that Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso created it. These two are masters of their crafts at the peak of their games. And together, they have that Lennon/McCartney vibe that to which, as a reader, you’re just elated to have a ringside seat. I missed the first few issues so I started with issue #4. But you know what? That didn’t diminish my enjoyment one bit. I just snagged issues 2, 3 and 5 at Comics For Collectors in Ithaca last weekend (we were in town for the fabulous Chili Cook-Off) and I’m so glad I did.

My planned March efforts won’t be as creative as these three series, but they will be fun. I’ll be celebrating Will Eisner Week locally and leading a presentation at the local library followed by a screening the next night of the Eisner documentary. If you’re in the Finger Lakes region, stop by!

And during Will Eisner Week – and beyond – treat yourself to some creative and contemporary comics.

 

Ed Catto: Delivering the Paper

paper_girls_teaser_883_500_90

Print sales for the debut issue of Paper Girls were 75,000. That’s impressive. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you realize this story includes no capes, superheroes or zombies and was not published by Marvel or DC. But the more you understand the discerning appetite of Geek Culture; the more it makes sense.

papergirls_2Although it’s one of the hottest comics right now, at first blush it’s an unlikely candidate for such strong sales. As a monthly comic that will soon be collected into a trade paperback, Paper Girls follows the exploits of four middle school girls in suburban Cleveland. Their part-time jobs are part of an old distribution model for an outdated form of mass media – delivery morning newspapers. The story is set in the wee hours after Halloween in 1988. But quickly it careens from the ordinary to a wildly intriguing thrill-ride.

Paper Girls is published by Image Comics, a publisher dedicated to helping creators bring their visions to life. Brian K. Vaughn is the writer and co-creator, and as his ongoing series Saga is such a huge hit, it makes sense that his fans would follow him to this new series.

But this series offers so much more – there’s 80s nostalgia, Matt Wilson’s brilliantly innovative coloring, unconventional protagonists (tough girls who smoke and swear) and this crazy, keep-the-reader-off-balance story. This is one of those stories where you kind of think you know where it’s going, but you quickly realize you have no idea. And then you think, “it’s ok not know what the hell is going on.” And maybe it’s even more fun that way too.

There’s something to that tried-and-true entrepreneurial idea of “offering value” too. The creators clearly are innovative small business people. The first issue had double the standard number of pages, but was still priced at $2.99, less than a standard Marvel or DC Comic.

But even beyond the moody story, the stark, deceivingly straightforward artwork from Cliff Chiang is a huge part of what makes this series enjoyable and masterful. Cliff’s a brilliant guy with an impressive background, but you need only enjoy his comics work – from Beware the Creeper to the more recent Wonder Woman – to know he’s a real pro at the peak of this game.

SO15_chiang_comics_2Even when he’s busy, Cliff is one of those guys who is affably professional – so much so that he almost seems like he’s a throwback to a more civilized age. As you have probably guessed, I recently caught up with Cliff Chiang to get his thoughts on the series.

Ed Catto: Paper Girls employs such a unique, fresh and clear voice, especially in contrast to not only other comics but other movies/books/TV Shows. Was that your intent and what are you, and writer Brian K. Vaughan, trying to accomplish?

Cliff Chiang: We wanted to tell a different kind of story, both personal and unpredictable (hopefully). The book definitely harkens to the ’80s adventure films we all loved as kids, but it’s not purely that. As the series progresses, we’ll show more of an adult perspective, too.

EC: It’s easy to tell that you push yourself with this book’s composition, characters and even jagged lifework. How do you approach new projects and did you approach this one differently?

CC: I try to imagine what the book needs visually and see what I can do to adapt to those needs. With Paper Girls, we’re seeing a lot of everyday life, which needs to be rendered in a style that’s a little looser and more evocative than usual. It needed a lot more personality, whereas in superhero books, you’re often just trying to make things look believable.

PaperGirls05_Cvr-593x800EC: There’s a real 80s nostalgia in this series. What was it like when you were growing up and what was your favorite part about the 80s?

CC: I think everyone’s somewhat nostalgic about his or her childhood, but I really wanted the book to feel authentic rather than a caricature of the ’80s. Being a latchkey kid, I remember having a lot of independence in those hours between the end of school and my mom coming home from work.

EC: What’s next for Paper Girls?

CC: We’ll get a glimpse of the larger conflict surrounding Stony Stream, and the girls wind up in some very strange places.

EC: Thanks, Cliff.

Paper Girls is available at your local comic shop and issue #3 will be on sale this Wednesday. Give it a try and I’d love to hear what you think.

Martha Thomases: New and Bright and Shiny

PaperGirlsMy knee is feeling much better. Thanks for asking.

More than a year ago, I shared my resolution to sample more new books. How’s that working out?

Two comics I bought last week show why trying new stuff is great.

Well, I mean, if trying a new series by two talents who have proven themselves over and over again can be called “new” stuff. Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang are at the top of their game in Paper Girls. The story of a group of four girls who deliver the morning newspaper in suburban Ohio, these two men manage to capture a lot of what it feels like to be pre-pubescent and female.

Of course, it’s much much more than that, with dreams and fights and scary creepy guys wrapped in mysterious robes. The creative team has a lot to play with, even if they limit themselves to the toys in the first issue.

americatown(In an odd bit of synchronicity, the New York Times had an article this past Sunday about the disappearance of the word “tomboy”. I’m not sure if the main characters in Paper Girls are tomboys or not. The series is set in the 1980s, so they wouldn’t refute the Times’ thesis, which is too bad, because it is the kind of petty inconsequential fluff that the paper likes to equate with feminism.)

I also bought the third issue of Americatown, by Bradford Winters, Larry Cohen and Daniel Irizarri. When I bought the first issue, I was really proud of myself because I’d never heard of any of those guys. It turns out that Winters and Cohen have careers in television and movies, and are probably much more well known to the general public than the comic book talent I follow. I mean, Winters created The Americans, which I’m sure has more viewers than any comic book out there.

Airboy 4The premise is what intrigued me. In the near-future, the United States is no longer the economic and political utopia we present ourselves to be today. Large numbers of American citizens emigrate to other countries in an attempt to find a better life. The series looks at a group of people who sneak into Buenos Aires, and their attempts to avoid the law, find work, and take care of their families.

There’s a lot of entertaining detail here. The “Americatown” of the title makes me reconsider the stereotypes and downright racism I bring to a visit to Chinatown or Little Italy. And speaking of racism, I found it much easier to identify with the plight of the undocumented immigrants in this story because they look a bit like me and they speak English. Maybe this reflects poorly on me, but it shows the good stuff that can happen if more people read this series.

Have I picked up any duds lately? Yeah, probably. I didn’t like Public Relations at all, thanks to creepy sexism and jokes that weren’t funny enough. If you’re reading it and you like it, perhaps you can tell me what I’m missing. Please continue to enjoy anything that makes you happy.

Now, if only issue four of Airboy would come out ….

Mike Gold: The Wonder Woman Sensation

Back in the 1970s during my first tenure as a DC Comics employee, I rhetorically asked the question “who was relaunched more often – Wonder Woman or Captain America?” For you young’uns, in today’s lingo “relaunched” means “rebooted.” Even as a rhetorical question, people’s heads exploded. This, of course, did not stop us fanboys from counting.

It turns out in order to get a fair count we needed to summon the spirit of Milton Sirotta. Oh, okay, check it out here. Yes, I’m asking you to Google Googol.

My advice, offered at the time and I continue to offer today, was to treat Wonder Woman as though she were a genuine superhero and have her do all the other stuff the other superheroes, almost exclusively male, could do. It’s amazing how often she was just… lame. I’m not saying the mythological approach, as best presented by George Pérez although the present team of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is absolutely first-rate, is in any way wrong. Not at all. They-all use mythology in a manner similar to Jack Kirby’s Thor, and that’s about the highest praise I’ve got.

Wonder Woman did not get her start in the All-American Comics’ anthology title, Sensation Comics. She got her start a month earlier, in the DC/All-American hybrid, All-Star Comics #8. But it was Sensation Comics that was her launchpad to superstardom.

Wonder Woman quickly earned her own title, as well as a regular slot in Comic Cavalcade and the job of – wait for it – secretary in the Justice Society. As time wounded all deals, only the eponymous title survived the “Golden Age,” one of only three superhero comics to do so. And that’s about all of WW’s really, really strange creation history that I’m going to share right now.

Last week, DC returned Sensation Comics to the world as part of its much celebrated (well, celebrated by me, often, in this chunk of the Ethersphere) Digital First line. That means it’ll be reprinted, I think today, in traditional comic book form and then ignored by too many retailers who think “digital” is a four-letter word. Woe onto them: Sensation Comics is a pure superhero title. It is Wonder Woman the Superhero. Which is what she was created to be.

You couldn’t put this first story in better hands. Gail Simone is no stranger to the character and no slouch as a writer – in fact, she’s one of the best practicing the craft today. Artist Ethan Van Sciver is a fan-fave as well, and for good reason: he is great at handling superhero stories. He should be cloned.

Together, Gail and Ethan give us … well, a Batman story, except Batman isn’t in it, Wonder Woman is. Instead of the ever-expanding Batman family, we’ve got WW’s sisters-in-arms. We’ve got The Joker, The Penguin, Two-Face, The Riddler et al, and Wonder Woman is taking them all on, as any great superhero would.

This is one of the best superhero comics I’ve read in quite a while. More important, it’s the superhero comic Wonder Woman deserves.

Check it out.