Tagged: Graphic Novel

Martha Thomases: Here Comes The Judge!

The secret is out.

I’m an Eisner judge next year.

Me me me me me me me!

It hasn’t been easy for me to keep this to myself, especially since telling it would enable me to enjoy so much bragging. I had basically told only my knitting group and my cat sitter. With one exception, none of these people cared.

Besides reading even more comics than I do already, I’m not sure what this job entails. I expect a certain amount of graft, although that will probably take the form of free books that I need to read to do my job properly. Thus far, there have been no offers of fat envelopes of cash, nor has anyone sent any nubile young boys to my door.

(If you would like to send a nubile young boy to my door, or if you are a nubile young boy who would like to meet me, please make the case for yourself in the comments. Don’t just show up. I have a doorman.)

I do take this responsibility seriously. Which means I have homework. Lots of homework.

Even though I’ve been reading comics for more than 55 years, there is so much I don’t know. There are so many corners of the graphic-story medium that I just pop into now and then. Biographies? Non-fiction? Memoirs? These are not part of the pillar of books that topple from my night-table.

So far, I have only stuck my littlest toe into the waters, reading a few things from year-end “Ten Best” lists. It is possible that, through random chance, I chose the wrong books first. Or perhaps my feelings about the current state of world affairs colored the tone of voice in which I read.

Those first few books I read were so dreary!

There is every reason in the world for artists to want to tell stories that might strike me as dreary. The purpose of art is to illuminate the world in new and different ways, some of which will be scary or sad or pessimistic. Art might be entertaining, but it does not have to be.

Still, sometimes I think that there is a bias in our culture against pleasure. If something is fun, it can’t also be serious and important. I see this most in teenagers, who embrace despair with the kind of zeal that one can only feel when rejecting everything one’s parents ever said. Certainly, that was true for me.

And then I got older, and lost people I loved to war and disease and disagreements, and, eventually, pessimism didn’t seem so romantic anymore. I embraced my love of laughter and super-heroes.

I continue to do so.

It is my fondest hope that I will find books like this among those clamoring for my attention this year. I feel like I owe it to comics.

I certainly owe it to 2017.

Martha Thomases: School Daze

Fun Home

When I was a kid in Ohio, the school year would start the Wednesday after Labor Day. I can tell it’s Back to School time because I want to buy pens.

Originally, I thought about writing a column that was a curriculum guide for classes comic book characters might take. Interlac 101, Latvarian History, that kind of thing. Or perhaps I would suggest a class in California History for the newly-arrived DC crew.

That might have been funny. I reserve the right to use those ideas at a time and place to be negotiated.

Instead, I want to talk about graphic storytelling and its role in modern education. For real. When I was a kid (when we took class notes on papyrus), the conventional wisdom held that comics books were for stupid kids. Bringing one to school (and getting caught) meant a public humiliation and confiscation.

Now, comics are not just cool, but literary as well. They are part of an Ivy League education.

And there’s good reason for this. For one thing, it’s fun to read even the most pessimistic graphic novel. To quote the link: “Comics and graphic novels are a great source of entertainment, and that is, without a doubt, this medium’s most utilitarian strength. Modern education system thrives on selling grades, and completely ignores the love of learning.”

“The Love of Learning.” That’s what school should be about. Unfortunately, in these United States, it is not.

Nothing is simple anymore, and that includes treating graphic story as something worth reading. The politic divide that encourages textbooks like this encourages a fear of conflicting ideas that, in my opinion, is antithetical to a true education.

When the texts are comics, the battles look like this and like this, or like the protests at Duke over Fun Home. It’s interesting to note that, in the second link, the book was banned over the protests of the people who objected to it.

Education has become such a battlefield that the threat of possible controversy is enough to shut down any exchange of ideas at all. We aren’t talking about students hurling insults at each other, or teachers who flunk students for expressing a difference of opinion. We’re talking about books. In many cases, we’re talking about award-winning books that have been lauded in the public marketplace for decades.

I know there is a faction of people out there who would like it if children never questioned authority, who want kids to learn the lessons necessary to be good little workers who obey the bosses, the religious leaders, the cops and the president. Kids who can read enough to understand ads for products they don’t need, who are happy with watching a screen all day and drinking Budweiser.

To me, that’s a form of child abuse.

No one can read everything, of course. We all pick and choose. Even at Duke, Fun Home was on a suggested summer reading list, and not required. The fundamentalist Christians who felt it was an assault on their beliefs remain free to go through life wrapped in their sanctimonious ignorance.

I hope their parents think that’s worth the tuition money. They’re certainly shelling out a lot of dough to make the rest of us to suffer.

You might ask yourself, “What’s the big deal? A bunch of kids in an academic ivory tower are acting like spoiled brats. That’s what college is for. They’ll find out soon enough that the real world doesn’t have time for that kind of self-indulgence.” And I would agree that a lot of us (well, me anyway) who were self-righteously full of ourselves in college eventually found out that our ideals didn’t always translate into reality. I’d even argue that lessons learned that way stay with us longer than if we had gotten it right the first time. One of my favorite things that I learned in school was that life is more interesting and fulfilling when we know people who are different from ourselves and who will challenge our assumptions.

The alternative is to turn out people who all think and act the same way, who think that majority rule is more important than defending the rights of the minority. And if you think I’m exaggerating, check this out.

I bet they haven’t read Fun Home either.

Toolbox: Robot Justice Is Efficient Justice

I’m Kyle Gnepper, writer for Unshaven Comics on the books Disposable Razors and The Samurnauts since 2008. I’ve recently launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for the production of the all-ages graphic novel Toolbox: Robot Justice is Efficient Justice.

TB cover with logo (1)

Toolbox is the story of an inventor on an off-world human settlement who reprograms a construction robot to protect them from the planet’s dangerous wildlife and the ruthless bandits that terrorize the area. Equal parts Science Fiction and Western Adventure, Toolbox is a story about technology, sisterhood, character, and what it means to be a family.

We see the story unfold through the eyes of Sem and Merry, two orphaned sisters whose village is constantly under threat of roving gangs, led by the sinister Crim. Their only hope for salvation rests in the mind of genius but eccentric inventor Willy, whose fantastical ideas could be the key to wresting control of the town away from Crim and his men.

TB pg 3(3)

Changing technology and its daily impact have been a pervasive part of my life. I grew up loving stories like Caves of Steel and Bladerunner for their use of robots as something other than mindless machines. In recent years, we’ve seen fewer stories showing mankind’s mechanical creations as something other than bringers of doom. I wanted to develop a story in which robots could be trusted and even loved.

The artwork is provided by Kristen Gudsnuk, the New York City-based creator of the webcomic Henchgirl. You can see her amazing work online at www.henchgirlcomic.com

Pledges as low as $15 will get a physical copy of the graphic novel sent to you. We also have an array of awesome packages for those who love getting swag and personal interaction with creators.

I’d love it if you’d give the kickstarter a look:


Martha Thomases: Yeah, Baby!

My son is 30 years old today. And while this is a wonderful thing and I’m thrilled to have the experience, it also demonstrates one of the great failures of my lifetime. He stopped reading comics before I did. When I was a kid, before the direct market, before cable television, before the discovery of fire, kids might read comics for a few years but usually stopped around the time they started high school. There were a lot of reasons for this (puberty, team sports, rock’n’roll) but I’ve always thought a big reason was the spotty distribution. It was more difficult to be a dedicated fan when you couldn’t be sure that the magazine racks would have the same titles every month. Still, I was an unusual child. I kept reading comics, despite the hardships, despite my gender. I’ve always enjoyed a quest – especially when said quest involves shopping. Of course, I wanted to pass on these values to my child. We spent many happy hours in his youth, walking to the comic book store on Comic Book Day, reading comics, discussing comics. He met Stan Lee before he started school. When I applied for a job at DC, I remember telling Paul Levitz that my five year old kid could explain Crisis on Infinite Earths and the multiverse, and Paul wanted to arrange for him to come in and explain it to the editorial staff. After I got the job, my kid could sit in the DC library and read the bound volumes of back issues because the librarian knew he would take care of the books. My son learned important lessons from his father, too. By the age of three, he could tell a Tex Avery cartoon from a Bob Clampett. Family values were important to us. And now, this. He’ll explain that it’s not his fault. The monthly comics that he read all of his life left him. The Flash that he knew (Wally West) is gone. So is the Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner). I could have said the same thing at his age, when The Powers That Be took away my Flash (Barry Allen) and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). The difference is that TPTB made new characters who had new stories. I might like them or not, but they were new. My son’s heroes were replaced by the characters his parents liked. That’s a problem. The market for superhero comics (and I love superhero comics) isn’t adapting to a new audience. It’s adapting to the old one. My boy still enjoys a good graphic novel. He likes a lot of independent, creator owned series (which he buys as trade paperbacks). He can still speak with great wit and insight and humanity about the socio-economic and political implications of Superman and Batman. If we’re in the same city at the same time, I’m sure we’ll go see Guardians of the Galaxy together. He’s turned me on to some great books. I’m loving Saga based entirely on his recommendation. But I wait for the trades. Maybe I’m not as old as I look

Martha Thomases: Book… Fair?

When I went to my friendly neighborhood comic book store last Wednesday, they offered me a free copy of DC Entertainment Graphic Novel Essential and Chronology 2014.

“No,” I said. “It will just piss me off.”

They put in my bag anyway. And it did.

If you click on the link above you get a review of last year’s edition of this book. I was not aware that this was an on-going series. Thus, I have been spared years of rage.

The volume suffers from the kind of schizophrenia common to the comics industry: it doesn’t know its audience. Is it readers of comic books? That might explain the jumbled cover, which is otherwise incoherent to someone unfamiliar with members of the Bat crew other than Batman. Is it new readers that, somehow, get past the cover and look inside? Perhaps, but once these new readers page further in than the first chapter (which is “25 Essential Graphic Novels”), the book is a confusing listing of collections from the New 52.

By the time you get to the recommendations for “All Ages,” it’s collections of stories from series that have been cancelled. I’m sure the books hold up, which is more than one can say for the New 52.

If I had to guess, I would say that the book is aimed at booksellers, particularly those who plan to attend next week’s Book Expo America . The order information in the back is for booksellers. Graphic novels remain a growth area in the book business, and DC Entertainment would be foolish to ignore a growing revenue source.

However …

Back when I worked at DC, there weren’t many people who saw bookstores as a market for our wares. Comic book stores were our primary outlets, and some thought we shouldn’t do anything that competed with our best customers. I understood this perspective, but disagreed. Comic book stores are wonderful places, but comics, especially those with good, satisfying stories, are things that bring people joy. I thought we needed to expose our books to people who didn’t know about them, and the bookstore market was the most obvious place to do so.

The graphic novel was not a new product in the 1990s. Maus, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were all available and selling well. The challenge was to publish other books that would sell as well and yet still fit into the business patterns DC relied upon in terms of paying for work in advance. It was easier to publish the work serially first (as all three of the aforementioned books had been) than to spring for a fully-formed single volume.

Hence, the trade collection.

Here’s the thing: A trade collection is easy for the publisher. Just take four, or six, or eight sequential issues of a comic, put them together and bind them with a spine and – voila – it looks just like a graphic novel.

However, it doesn’t read like a novel, graphic or otherwise. There is not necessarily a beginning, a middle and an end. There is sometimes not even a clear protagonist, a person who has a character arc that leads him (or her) to a more developed character or personality. Quite often, there is so much backstory that the new reader is too confused to read past the first few pages.

Let’s compare a book like, say, The Flash volume 3: Gorilla Warfare, a book I like a great deal by a creative team I admire, and compare it to the third book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Both books provide the reader with certain expected tropes (speed, quidditch, scary enemies) but one is much more inviting to a newbie. J. K. Rowling always alludes to the previous books in such a way that the reader can follow the characters without reading the other books in the series (although having read them makes the experience much richer). DC Entertainment? Not so much.

I can cite lots of other examples: James Bond, the 87th Precinct, even The Hardy Boys.

The point is not that books are better than comics. The point isn’t that the examples I cited are great literature. They may be (I doubt it, YMMV), but that’s not my point. My point (and I do have one) is that when a reader is looking for something to read for pleasure, to pass the time on a plane ride or on the beach or by the fire on a rainy day, that reader doesn’t necessarily want to do homework first. He or she wants to sit down and get swept away by a story.

I used to argue that, while great literature is a wonderful thing, and I was proud to be working for the company that published Sandman and Stuck Rubber Baby, we should be user-friendly. A person who walks into a bookstore, interested in this graphic novel phenomenon s/he’s heard so much about, is most likely to pick up a book that looks a little familiar. When I thought I might like mysteries, for example, I started with Chandler and Hammett, whose work I knew a bit about from the movies. Someone looking for graphic novels is likely to pick up Superman or Batman.

We should make the best damn Superman and Batman graphic novels we know how.

Most of the graphic novels in this DC Entertainment catalog fail this requirement. The Year One books are pretty good, but they are in the minority.

I’ll be curious to see how the DC reps work at Book Expo this year. Last year, I didn’t see any, subsumed as they were as part of Random House distribution. There was no signage I could see, except at the Diamond booth.

Which is all they’re going to get if they keep up this kind of marketing.


Martha Thomases: Love Your Friendly Neighborhood Comics Shop

thomases-art-131213-150x120-4698758Have I mentioned lately how much I like comic book stores? Even as more and more of my friends buy their comics digitally (and I buy more of my prose books digitally), I still like to get my comics in hard copy. I like to get them on Wednesdays when I can. I like to get a big stack and find a comfy chair.

And yet this morning, when I woke up with an uncharacteristic and bewildering tummy ache, I didn’t reach for a pile of singles to take with my to the bathroom, or to my comfy chair. Instead, I wanted to read original graphic novels.

So I was interested to read a conversation among comic shop retailers about how they like original graphic novels – or OGNs, as they call them.

If I might over-simplify, most don’t. I mean, they like them, but most of their business comes from customers like me, who buy single issues month after month. Some say that, even among their regular customers, the higher-priced items are bought online where the customer can get a bigger discount (often bigger than retailers gets from their distributors).

I get this. Stores find their customer base and then do their best to serve that base, providing the products they want and, with luck, also providing products they don’t know about but will love when they see them. A great store will look for ways to broaden its base, attracting more and more customers over time.

Perhaps I am inferring more than is intended, but I also sense that some of the retailers are saying that since OGNs don’t do well for them, that it is a waste of time for publishers to print them. And that kind of thinking makes me crazy.

When I worked at DC Comics in the 1990s, the marketing department spent a lot of time, money and effort working with the direct market. This makes sense, because it represented something like 85% of our sales. At the same time, to satisfy this market, we would often delay shipping books to other markets (that is, bookstores) so that comic book shops could have a month to six weeks to exclusively offer the product.

And this made me nuts.

I’d like to say it made me nuts for altruistic reasons, that I favored a free market or equal opportunity or something. Instead, my ire was selfish. It was hard to get critical attention for a book that wasn’t available in a bookstore.

Leaving the plight of publicists aside, however, there are lots of other reasons for publishers to offer OGNs. Comic book stores no longer serve every possible customer for graphic story. One retailer mentions Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, saying its a best seller for him, but not doing nearly as well as most collections. And yet, the longest line I saw at the Book Expo trade show this year was for Pope’s autograph, primarily booksellers and librarians.

Those markets also move a lot of books, frequently to an audience that wouldn’t go to a comic book store. Artists and writers (and publishers and publicists) should be encouraged to make money in every possible market available to them.

Which brings me to what I read today. I don’t think any of these are designed to be direct market bestsellers, but I bet they each have a sizable potential readership.

Rick Geary’s Madison Square Tragedy is the story of the murder of Sanford White by Henry Thaw, a story I was familiar with mostly because of Ragtime. Geary’s storytelling is straight-forward, full of detail that brings New York City in the early 1900s to life. With very few words but a deft use of faces and body language, he conveys the tensions among the high society of the time.

And then I reached for Harvey Pekar’s last book, Yiddishkeit, which is two years old but I’m just getting to it now. It’s a history of Yiddish culture going back to the Middle Ages, but my favorite parts are set in New York from the late 1800s to the present. There’s some chronological overlap with Geary’s book, but I don’t think any of the players knew each other. My knowledge of Yiddish comes from Lenny Bruce, Philip Roth, Sholom Alecheim and Isaac Bashevis Singer (whom Pekar loathes), but I loved this book. It reminded me that my people have a long tradition of fighting for social justice while arguing amongst themselves.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my tummy is better but it’s snowing out and that comfy chair is calling. I’m going to check out the highly recommended Cursed Pirate Girl. With luck, I’ll also have a cat in my lap.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Noir Casts a Shadow!

New Pulp Publisher Dynamite Entertainment has announced Noir, a new comic book series featuring The Shadow, Miss Fury, and The Black Sparrow. NOIR #1 is written by Victor Gischler with art by Andrea Mutti and a cover by Ardian Syaf. Noir #1 will arrive in comic book shop on November 13th.

Prelude to Miss Fury! When thieves steal from other thieves it always causes problems, doesn’t it?  So when The Black Sparrow is hired to steal a mysterious “Moon Stone” from a museum in New York, her decision to keep the thing for a better payday annoys her former employers who then steal it back from her.  Now it’s The Black Sparrow who is annoyed, and that’s a dangerous thing.  All she wants is what she stole fair and square, but she needs help.  She needs The Shadow!

Martha Thomases: The Hotel… Library?

Thomases Art 130802

Do you have to do much business travel? I tend to go for long periods without it, and then have to do a whole bunch. It can be fun, but it’s also, you know, business. I’m staying in a strange place, seeing people I don’t see at home, eating foods I don’t usually eat at hours when I’m not usually eating. And, unlike when I’m working at home, I have to keep my pants on when I do it.

And then there is staying in hotels. The good parts: I don’t have to clean up after myself, I can try new shampoos, and if I get a king-size bed, it’s so big it’s like sleeping on the ocean. The bad parts: no kitty, the towels aren’t big enough, and there is nothing to read that I haven’t brought myself. Also, even with a big bed and a gigantic bathroom, I can feel closed in after a while.

So I was delighted to read in The New York Times that a variety of hotels, from highfalutin’ boutique inns to affordable chains, have added libraries to their list of amenities.

It would be nice to say that the hospitality industry has decided to encourage reading for the sake of the public good, to improve the literacy of the American traveling class. However, as the article states, the purpose of the library is to encourage customers to spend more time in the hotel’s lobby and bars, buying food and drink. At the same time, some of the hotels are making deals directly with publishers to promote their titles, even allowing customers to take the books home and return them during their next stay.

This is an incredible opportunity for comics. And by comics, I mean graphic novels.

If I’m in the lobby of a hotel looking for something to read, the most likely reason is that I’m tired, and I want something to occupy my attention while I’m eating or having a drink. I travel with my Kindle, but maybe I don’t have the attention span to stare at words (usually because I’ve been staring at words for hours already). A self-contained graphic novel, with a whole story, can engage my imagination without causing eye-strain.

In general, I don’t want to start up a conversation with strangers when I go to a hotel bar or restaurant. However, if I was so inclined, a graphic novel is a much better ice-breaker than a prose book. It’s easier to point to an image in a conversation than to read a narrative description. And it’s easier to share a book with a spline than a pamphlet.

It’s also easier to find an audience for books with spines. A businessman (or woman) enjoying some downtime might not want to read about a guy in spandex, but might get a kick out of the source of that new movie he’s heard so much about.

To my mind, the best publisher with whom to make a deal is Abrams Comic Arts. A bar where people are talking about Mars Attacks, My Friend Dahmer and The Carter Family is a fun place to be.

If I was managing a hotel near the Baltimore Convention Center, I would be checking this out.

SATURDAY MORNING: Marc Alan Fishman’s Main Woman

SUNDAY MORNING: John Ostrander



Cover Art: Darwyn Cooke

It was teased yesterday, but now IDW has released an official press release about the upcoming graphic noel adaptation of Donald Westlake’s Parker novel, Slayground by Eisner Award winning creator, Darwyn Cooke.

Official Release:

Darwyn Cooke’s Newest Adaptation Coming In December

San Diego, CA (July 20, 2013) – Darwyn Cooke’s acclaimed Parker series from IDW continues to expand with the classic Slayground. In this newest graphic novel, Parker is put to the test against crooked cops and sleazy gangsters after a heist goes south and he finds himself trapped in an amusement park closed for the winter, and embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse… a game that slowly starts to favor the mouse.

“A boarded up amusement park was an inspired setting for Parker,” said writer/artist Darwyn Cooke, “and Westlake made the most of it. A great story that I’m enjoying the hell out of adapting.”

Based on the influential novels by Richard Stark, AKA, Donald Westlake, Parker is a coldly calculating master criminal, one with a very rigid code. The IDW adaptations by Darwyn Cooke of The Hunter and The Outfit have received multiple Eisner and Harvey awards. The Score, released last year, is nominated for an Eisner Award at this week’s San Diego Comic-Con International. Slayground will be the fourth Parker adaptation in the popular and much lauded series.

Darwyn Cooke’s distinct style has made him a premier writer and artist in the comic book industry. A former animator, Cooke entered mainstream comics in 2000 with his critical hit Batman: Ego for DC Comics.

Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark, was the acclaimed author of the Parker series. He was a three-time Edgar Award winner, as well as being named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, that prestigious societies highest honor.