Tagged: GrimJack

John Ostrander: Details, details, details

There’s an old maxim that says “God is in the details.”  So is a story and especially in comics.

I’ve said and I believe that a good writer can write any character. I don’t have to be African-American to write an African-American character; I don’t have to be female to write a good female character. Gail Simone, for example, writes terrific male characters. So did Kim Yale. Our own Mindy Newell does a terrific job as well with this. What you have to be able to do is have empathy and to understand what is universal – the common humanity. If you don’t connect with your characters, neither will the reader.

All that said, there is a need for what is called the telling detail. Something specific that helps the reader feel the story you’re telling is based in some kind of reality. You can do research and come up with a ton of details but not all of them are necessary for the story. It may be necessary for you as the creator to know them but they’re not necessary for the reader to understand the plot or the characters.

It’s what I call the “iceberg theory.” The bulk of an iceberg is underwater. That bulk is necessary for the part of the iceberg that shows. In the same way, you need to know a lot about the characters, the setting, the story but only a certain percentage of it needs to show. So you select which details help make the story real and convincing to the reader. Those are the telling details.

A writer needs to be able to describe the scene to the artist; likewise, the artist needs to pick the details that he or she will draw. An example is what the character is wearing. That is how the character chooses to present him or herself to the world and that says something. What Peter Parker chooses to wear as Peter Parker says something about him just as what Bruce Wayne wears as Bruce Wayne says something about him. They shop in different places. The look, the texture and the drape of an Armani suit is going to be different than something from Wal-Mart. The reader may not be consciously aware of those changes but, if those details are not there, if everyone dresses the same, the reader is going to pick up on that as well. It will feel false.

What we choose to wear says something about us. You may think that doesn’t include you; many guys – and sometimes I am one of them – will say they just pick what is clean, or cleanest. That, however, does say something about that person and how they wish to be perceived. Do you have a power tie? Do you wear something special when going to meet someone important? What are you projecting about yourself? How do you want to be perceived? It’s true in our lives and so it should be true in our stories as well.

In the past few decades, many people have opted to become walking billboards for a particular brand. It might be a cola company or a sports team or even a comic book character or comic book company (be sure to buy your GrimJack stuff at the ComicMix store, btw – end of shameless plug). By wearing that apparel, we claim a tribal affinity. Stuff like that used to be given out as free advertising; now you have to pay real bucks for them – and sometimes its not cheap – to say you belong. It becomes part of the wearer’s identity. Details like that matter.

When I taught classes at the Joe Kubert School, I tried to make the students think about character design, the costume. It’s not just a matter of what “looks cool” or is easy to draw. The character is telling something about themselves when they choose what they wear. It is a choice they make that says something about themselves and what they are trying to project. At least, they should.

When Jan Duursema, my partner of many Star Wars stories, draws the martial arts fights or sword or lightsaber fights, there is an authority there because Jan herself has studied martial arts, including swordplay. Jan thinks out her locales as well and includes all kinds of information in the background.

When I first met My Mary Mitchell and she showed me her portfolio, I was floored by the amount of telling detail in the panels. Her heroine’s bedroom looked like someone’s bedroom – there were details in the pictures and what the woman hung on the wall that made me think of her as a person. A few panels later, when the woman was walking down the street, there were all kinds of people in the panel, all different body shapes, all wearing different clothes. The clothes reflect what the weather is as well.

Mary also was conscious of the buildings in the background; like any real city, there will be different types of buildings one against another. It gives a visual texture. Too many artists draw a generic background and that makes the story a generic story. Cities are characters in the story; New York is different from Chicago which is different from Memphis or Detroit or Los Angeles or Portland. I’ve been in all those cities and you can tell.

It all matters. The storytelling needs to be universal and, at the same time, it all needs to be specific. It may sound like a contradiction but I’ve found throughout my life that truth lies in the seeming contradictions. God is a contradiction; he/she is in the details and so is the story.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

Marc Alan Fishman: Exclusivity Is For the Devils

For those not paying attention, this week Paolo Rivera broke the shackles that bound him to the House of Mouse. That’s right, after a 10+ year career at Marvel, he ended his exclusive contract. Presently, you might know him from his absolutely stunning work on Daredevil. And if you’re not familiar? Go down to your local comic emporium, and partake in a few books bearing his name. You won’t be disappointed.

So why the departure, here in what most critics would dub his “ascension to the A-List?” Ownership. Rights. Long-term gains. As he makes it clear in his blog detailing his decision, it comes down to surveying his body of work and seeing no island on the horizon. Let’s be clear, he’s not mad. Or sad. In fact, he’s very grateful for the decade of work he’s been thrown since the dawn of his career. At the end of the day though, he puts it best:

“…the sum total of that work is not enough to support me in the distant future. My page rate is essentially the same as when I started at 21, so I’ve decided to invest in myself.”

Now, this brings up a debate I know we’ve all had here on ComicMix in the past – that of creators’ rights, and compensation. It seems we as an industry can’t last more than a few months before yet-another-creator is irate over the profits gained on their blood, sweat, and arthritic hands, that never see their own pocketbook. On the business side of things, we know the rub already. To work as an artist or writer in comic books for “the Big Two,” the work you do is theirs. They pay you a fee (and a small percentage of royalties of the sales of the book) for your creativity. Now, when you have a mortgage, insurance, and a rumble in your tummy… do you try to negotiate for the best deal, or do you sign your life away to stay alive? Of course no one is in such dire straights these days, but Marvel and DC certainly have more lawyers and iron-clad contracts than Stan Lee has catchphrases. As Paolo makes clear, he’s done with that side of the business. It’s time to invest in himself.

Certainly there are creators out there who are kicking ass and taking names doing their own creator-owned books. Mike Mignola, Eric Powel, Robert Kirkman, Warren Ellis… All great men who once (and on occasion still do) made a living working for “the man.” But each of those men now can rest on their laurels that their main source of funds comes directly from material they created, they own, and they see to market. Certainly when Hellboy made a second profitable movie, many an indie-creator must have taken note. Yes, Dark Horse had a lot to do with the success of the property on the business end, but Mignola is the crown prince of Anung Un Rama. Without his blessing, nary a product makes its way past a marketing meeting.

The same doesn’t hold true for Mr. Rivera. Should Marvel decide to make a tee-shirt with some of his art? He may see some royalties back from the sale – but he’d get laughed out of the office if he opposed them selling merchandise with his work on it. And when they reboot the movie franchise… he’ll see a blind eye if they use any of his striking work as reference or source material. Blind eye. Heh.

Ultimately, Rivera’s made a move that I hope works out for him. Admittedly I’ve come to the Daredevil party a bit too late, but I plan on picking up the issues as they are collected. Wherever Paolo roams from here on out, may his legion of fans follow. According to his musings, he’s kicking around an idea for an “original story, sci-fi in nature, with primal themes and a compact cast of characters.” He’s also looking into “experiments in both distribution and funding” a la Kickstarter. Thanks largely in-part to the interwebs, this very idea even exists. The last time artists with this much clout left Marvel, they made Image Comics. Certainly that won’t happen ever again, but in its place is something far more rewarding. Not necessarily in up-front hype and profits mind you, but rewarding none-the-less.

With Paolo Rivera setting his sites on the creator-owned market, I see the opportunity for a more level playing field. When the artists and writers have both a creative and monetary investment in a project, there is a passion that simply doesn’t exist on the other side of the aisle. As an Unshaven Comic, I care far more about The Samurnauts than I ever will about Kyle Rayner or GrimJack, even if I’m ever allowed to write or draw either of them. When I put my head to pillow, I know that my creations (made in part with two brilliant co-creators) are my own. And should the day ever come that our creation becomes “something,” it’s only fair that I (we) see the complete fruit of those labors.

Good on you, Paolo. May others follow suit as well.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Mike Gold: Where’s Our Next Buck Coming From?

There was a time when if you were reading comics as an adult, it was generally assumed you were too stupid to understand real literature. Many of us wouldn’t read comics in public venues for this very reason.

Not me; I couldn’t care less. When it first came out, I even read Hustler Magazine on Chicago’s vaunted “L” trains. But many of my friends felt that way, and that’s why Phil Seuling’s early New York Comicons were so liberating. In the late 1960s there would be less than one thousand of us talking to one another in an elegant Manhattan hotel ballroom, and each and every one of us were awestruck by the fact that there were so many of us.

As we became the first generation since Fredric Wertham torched the medium to get into the business, we used this feeling of isolation from society to promote the level of storytelling. Comics became more character-driven and less Pow! Biff! Bam!. Before long adult fans would be able to point to a more mature level of story and art. We believed our medium was becoming sophisticated.

In retrospect, I take issue with that. We’re telling stories about people with ludicrous abilities who dress up in fantastic, gaudy costumes to either commit or fight crime and/or evil (to borrow from Dick Orkin’s Chickenman). There’s a limit to that “sophisticated” brand that we were too proud to notice.

Popular culture works like a snowball atop a mountain: by the time you hit ground level, that snowball has grown to a boulder the size of Colorado. Grim and gritty – a term I came up with to help sell GrimJack ­­– became dark and disgusting. Heroes became as ugly on the inside as the villains were on the outside. We evolved to excess.

Before long the American comic book medium, still overwhelmed by heroic fantasy, had driven out all the stories that work for the younger audience while limiting the older audience to a steady diet of redundancy. It is possible to create a story that works for 12 year-olds (and their precocious younger siblings) as well as for 24 year-olds, 36 year-olds, and even 61 year-olds. Off the top of bald pate, I can think of a few writers who did just that, and did so brilliantly: Steve Englehart, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Louise Simonson, Archie Goodwin, and our own Denny O’Neil… to, indeed, name but a very few.

All too-many comic book store owners became the villains of their own childhood: “Hey, kid, this ain’t a library!” Driven by admonitions from certain of the larger comics distributors in the 1980s, kids were perceived as not having enough money to be worthwhile customers. They took too much time making their purchases. They didn’t know what they wanted. They couldn’t engage in a conversation about who stole what from whom when it came to The X-Men and The Doom Patrol.

Kids were shooed out of comic book shops, and publishers – again, at the insistence of certain comics distributors – pulled away from producing comics that were marketed towards the younger audience. Instead we started cranking out a steady diet of R-rated superhero comics, many of which were quite good and worthy of publication. But they became the snowball that ate the comic book shops.

I always thought this was a mistake, and I thought so for one simple reason: if you chase away today’s 12 year-olds, who’s going to be your customer or reader in five or ten years?

Today, we have a small fraction of the number of brick-and-mortar comic book shops we had just one generation ago. Go figure.

But, today, it appears we’re beginning to see some drift towards retro-expansion. More on this next week.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil


John Ostrander: Death and Comics

At a convention I was at some years past I was having dinner with, among others, Howard Chaykin and Joe Rubinstein. Howard is always an interesting dinner companion; whether you agree with him or not on a subject, the conversation is going to be interesting. I didn’t know Joe Rubinstein much before that – except by his talent – but he raised a serious point with me. Joe knew about my late wife, Kim Yale, and her death and what he was interested in seeing coming from me was a story or stories about how you cope with the grief and the mourning that comes with the death of a loved one. It’s an interesting challenge and, while I’ve had some ideas about how to do it, I have yet to answer it.

I don’t think that comics, as a medium, deals well with death. It’s become a plot device, a sales gimmick, since we all know the character who has died is going to be back. I was staggered at the time of the Death of Superman storyline and by the number of people I knew who contacted me and breathlessly asked, “Is he really dead?” I pointed out that DC had too much money to lose from Underoos alone to let Kal-El stay dead.

Sure enough, Superman got better.

I will say that DC dealt well with the aftermath of Superman’s apparent demise in the World Without Superman follow-up storyline. There was real feeling, real emotion, by individuals and by the general population. And life went on without Superman.

That’s what happens. Your world ends; life goes on. The one you loved doesn’t come back. You cope however well or badly. You recover or you don’t.

I’m not saying that killing off a character can’t be effective or shouldn’t be done. When I was doing Suicide Squad over at DC, I was something of a literary mass murderer. I killed off lots of characters – mostly villains. I even killed off my own GrimJack character and brought him back albeit in a different, cloned body. I then reincarnated him somewhere further down his own timeline and, eventually, killed off that incarnation as well. So, how is that different, you ask.

Reincarnation doesn’t give you back the same body; it gives you a different one. The resiliency of the Doctor Who series rests on the title character’s ability to regenerate or reincarnate. Completely different actor, very different personality traits. There is change. That’s the difference and a key one.

Over at Marvel, the Pearly Gates is a revolving door. Captain America dies; oops, he got better. (Okay, it was really a “time bullet” but it was sold as the death of Captain America.) His teen sidekick in WWII, Bucky, dies in action. Oops, no, he gets better decades later. Both “deaths” generated interesting stories but is there anyone who really thought that the original Captain America wasn’t coming back?

Actions have consequences and death does as well. Grief should be shown; tears should flow. One of the major flaws, for me, of the first Star Wars film is that Luke barely sheds a tear at the death of the only parents he’s really ever known but then gets mopey about a mentor he’s known only a few days. Whereas, in the Harry Potter films, especially the later ones, when a character dies we see real grief and sorrow. It matters to the characters and therefore matters to us. And, yes, Harry dies and comes back to life but that doesn’t change my argument. His death grew out of the story and was, in fact, demanded by it; it was the way to resolve the story. That includes his resurrection. My gripe is with deaths that simply are “events” and meant to push sales.

Death in comics is too easy because resurrection is too easy. It doesn’t mean anything most of the time. It’s a cheat. Life – and death – doesn’t work that way. If death doesn’t mean anything, does life?

Monday: Mindy Newell and how she got that way.

Marc Alan Fishman: In Defense of the Modern Comic – Continuity

One more time to the well I go! As with my articles over the last two weeks … I’m taking to task one Tim Marchman of the Wall Street Journal. He quipped that the comic industry is in a tailspin in part because of “clumsy art, poor writing, and (and I’m paraphrasing…) the clinging-to-continuity.” I’ve defended the art. I’ve defended the writing. I might as well finish off the trifecta of telling this putz where to shove his opinions, right? Even if it gets Mike Gold in a tizzy.

It’s the argument I hear (and honestly have made myself… whoops) time and again; Modern comic books are too hard to get into because they have a nearly-impossible-to-grasp forever-changing mythology. In fact, this very argument was brought to life (and a live audience) to WBEZ (Chicago’s NPR affiliate) at a well-attended debate. At that debate? Tim Seeley, Mike Norton, and a handful of other local comic artists and writers. Suffice to say, the argument has legs. Long, tall, sultry legs. Legs that start at the floor, and go up to the heavens. The kind of legs that keep lesser men at bay. OK, I’ll stop with the leg analogy. I get it. Really, I do. “If I want to read Spider-Man, I need to read decades worth of stories to understand what’s going on!”


Sorry, my son is watching me type.

Huh. Now there’s something to latch on to – my son. Soon, Bennett will gain the power of language and communication. And I plan to read him a comic book every night before bed. Why? Because I want to teach him, from as early an age as possible, that comic books (and their never-ending back-stories) are entirely accessible. From the simplest base of knowledge – sometimes rooted only in the musings, opinions, and un-fact-checked thoughts of another comic book fan – enjoyment is not hindered by a lengthy back story. In fact, when handled well, a story with a rich history only yields further desire to immerse ones’ self in the adventure further.

Case in point? GrimJack

When “The Manx Cat” hit shelves, I nabbed it, tepidly. Knowing nothing of the adventures of the beret-wearing, bar-owning, sword-gun-and-sorcery-using mercenary, I still made the purchase. The issue was clearly meant to attract a new reader (as DC did with relaunching their entire line, and Marvel does when they append a “.1” to a book’s numbering). As I recall, the inside front cover didn’t have a lengthy history report. Over the course of six issues, I learned what I could from what John Ostrander presented. Some of it was easy enough to latch on to. “This guy’s been around the block a few times. Seems to have an elaborate network of operatives, friends, and history around this universe.” Other things made me scratch my noodle. “He’s obviously referencing a previous adventure the older fans know. Hmm. Sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll go back and check it out…”

And therein lies my point. All it took was a spark of interest, and I dove in. Comic books are akin to other serialized mediums – Professional Wrestling and Soap Operas come to mind. Before your eyes roll, and you snort loud enough to make the cat wake up, hold tight. When I uttered (err, typed) those phrases, did the hair on the back of your neck raise up just a little? Well, suck it up, nerdlinger. For the “big two” in the industry… their wares aren’t really all that different from Vince McMahon’s steroid showcase, or the major networks’ never-ending dramas of soapy nature. The fact is the very root of comic books is tied to the idea of serialization. To proclaim it being part of the reason the comic book business is failing is like saying wrestling is failing because it’s fake.

Now, to be fair, Marchman may very well be commenting on modern books being “written for the trade”, which I covered last week. When you walk into the store today, and want to check out The Avengers (cause you just saw that kooky flick, don’t-cha-know…), the first issue you pull off the shelf may be right smack dab in the middle of some zany plot you’ve no clue about. Reading 20 pages of content piling on top of two, three or four previous episodes makes for an nearly impossible-to-enjoy experience. I guess you’d throw up your arms, and leave the shop. Maybe go into the back alley. Buy some drugs. I mean drugs don’t care about history, do they? And they’re just as addictive… Damnit comics! You made another near-fan a drug addict.

Here’s the rub: It’s a lame excuse. If you came out of the movie theater jazzed about the Avengers, a quick jaunt to your local fiction house would help satiate your new-found-taste for muscles and fights. A well-picked trade, or handful of issues later (let’s say about $20 worth, or less if you go digital), you can then start pulling off the rack, right afterwards. Will you know everything going on? No. But if the books are written and drawn well enough? I bet you go back and fill in the gaps. I did with the Fantastic Four, not that long ago. Without any knowledge of the years Hickman spent building his nuanced epic arc, I jumped in head first (right after Johnny “died”). And over the course of the following year? The book rose to the top of my pull list. And now, I’m going back through his entire run. Because I want to know more. All it took was the first step – and admitting my previous excuse for not buying the book was just that… an excuse.

Suffice to say, Marchman’s point about barrier to entry is just a sly dodge away from the real issue (which is more about the Direct Market, availability, and proper marketing by Marvel and DC to potential fans). For those people who say “I’d get into comics, but there’s too much backstory to get through,” what are they really telling you? Jim Gaffigan had it right all along:

“You know my favorite part about that movie? Not reading.”

SUNDAY: Did Somebody Mention John Ostrander?


Mike Gold: Old Farts Are The Best Farts

In this space last Saturday, my dear friend and adoptive bastard son Marc Alan Fishman stated “modern comics are writing rings around previous generations. We’re in a renaissance of story structure, characterization, and depth… I’d like to think we the people might defend the quality of today’s comics as being leaps and bounds better than books of yesteryear.”

Simply put, the dear boy and my close pal and our valued ComicMix contributor is full of it.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a hell of a lot of great writing out there today, and I agree with his opinions about most if not all of the young’un’s he cites. Today’s American comics reach a much wider range of readers. There’s also a hell of a lot more comics being published today – although those comics are being read by a much smaller audience in the aggregate – and I take no comfort in saying there’s more crap being published today as well: Sturgeon’s Law is akin to gravity. Marc’s comparison to the comics of the 1960s and 1970s is an apples-and-oranges argument: the comics of the pre-direct sales era, defining that as the point when most comics publishers virtually abandoned newsstand sales, were geared to a much younger audience. Even so, a lot of sophisticated stories squeaked through under the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” technique of writing on two levels simultaneously.

As I said, there are a lot of great writers practicing their craft today. Are they better than Carl Barks, John Broome, Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, Archie Goodwin, Walt Kelly, Harvey Kurtzman and Jim Steranko … to name but a very few (and alphabetically at that)? Did Roy Thomas, Louise Simonson and Steve Englehart serve their audience in a manner inferior to the way Jonathan Hickman, Gail Simone and Brian Bendis serve theirs today? Most certainly not.

Then again, some of the writers he cites are hardly young’un’s. Kurt Busiek has been at it since Marc was still in diapers. Grant Morrison? He started before Marc’s parents enjoyed creating his very own secret origin.

Marc goes on to state that John Ostrander and Dennis O’Neil would say that the scripts they write today are leaps and bounds better than their earlier work. I don’t know; I haven’t asked them. But I can offer my opinion. Neither John nor Denny are writing as much as they could or should today because they, like the others of their age, they are perceived as too old to address the desires of today’s audience – which, by the way, is hardly a young audience. I wonder where this attitude comes from?

But let’s look at the works of these two fine authors from those thrilling days of yesteryear. John’s Wasteland, GrimJack, Suicide Squad, and The Kents stand in line behind nothing. As for Denny, well, bandwidth limitations prohibit even a representative listing of his meritorious works, and I’ll only note Batman once. Let’s look at The Question. A great series, and he wrote that while holding down a full-time job and while sharing an office with a complete lunatic. Then there’s Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Iron Man, The Shadow… hokey smokes, I wake up each Thursday morning (in the afternoon) blessing Odin’s Bejeweled Eye-patch that Denny is writing his ComicMix column instead of spending that time doing socially respectable work.

I am proud of this medium and its continued growth – particularly as its growth had been stunted for so long. And I’m proud of my own service to this medium. But, as John of Salisbury said 953 years ago, we are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants.

And, standing on those shoulders, we swat at gnats.

THURSDAY: The Aforementioned Mr. O’Neil!


Marc Alan Fishman: Compress the Decompression

Just for funsies, I cracked open my DC Archives: Green Lantern hardcover the other day. An hour later, I’d reminded myself why I was never the biggest fan of Hal Jordan. But that’s a discussion I’ve bemoaned about here before, so I’ll spare you. What struck me, though, was the sheer density of the material presented. Oh, how have times changes. Some argue for the better. Others say nay. Concerning the amount of plot presented today in the standard off-the-rack rag we all love so much, it’s a debate I’m willing to fill a few inches of babble about.

I can’t personally put a pin at the exact moment of time when comic book writers started decompressing their material. My best guess is that it was a slow burn starting in the mid-eighties, that reached critical mass somewhere around the time Brian Michael Bendis was being knighted by Joey Quesada. Truth be told, I’m not a comic historian (like the incomparable Alan “Sizzler” Kistler) and I’m inspired by Michael Davis’ Lazy-Man, so I’m not doing the research to find out exactly when. Suffice to say, it’s no difference to me when this all happened, so much as whether it has been for the better of the medium. And that answer isn’t exactly black and white.

The thing is, when I read through those Silver Age reprints I couldn’t help but feel slighted. Huge problems for the titular hero were dispatched in a matter of a few panels. Why? Because by the turn of a page, we were already onto the next plot point / problem / story beat. In one story, Hal is called to a prehistoric world where he must save the blue skinned Neanderthals from evil yellow dino-birds. One panel? He’s punching them. Next? He’s blasting them with a big green canary. Next? He’s home. In less than a handful of pages, the entire story is wrapped up. For anyone out there that wants to defend that as being higher quality that last months’ issue of GL… come see me behind the shed. Simply put, this “gotta cram an entire story in 12 pages!” mentality may have suited people 20 years ago… But not now.

When it’s done right, modern comics have the pacing, depth, and content akin to a good movie. Take the first arc of Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. Not only do we get origins for Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant Man, the Wasp, and Captain America, but we get true moments of cinematic glory. When the Hulk rampages in the city, horny and angry, it’s a moment earned through the build up of tension across the four books it took to get there. If the same book were made in the Silver Age? Hulk would have been tearing up a building in one panel, booted out of it in the next, and laughing about the lessons learned before the page turn. In other words? Decompression gives the reader a chance to absorb characterization and depth.

When it’s done wrong, a book becomes a banal burden. How many times in the modern era have we plunked down good money to read a book that doesn’t move a story forward, for seemingly no reason? When an arc is immediately all too familiar, we can end up purchasing six or more issues of a story despite our ability to glean the entire plot beat for beat.

Case in point? Justice League International. In the very first issue, it was as clear as day: The team would assemble for the greater good, but show terrible cooperation. The big bad guy would do increasingly bad things and the team would eventually have to unite in order to win the day. And because I knew that this would be the arc they’d travel on, I simply dropped the title. The idea that all stories must “write for the trade” is a double-edged sword. When the plot comes out of the box of “been there done that,” all you’re doing is wasting ink and paper.

Let me not poo-poo the Silver Age without pulling back my anger just a bit. These older tales had something modern comics lack. Balls. Big brass ones. Do you think, even for a second, Batman of Zur-En-Arrh could have been pitched and published as an original concept in 2012? Not on your life. The older books had a mentality to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. It allowed ol’ Hal Jordan to be on a primitive planet fighting dinosaurs on one page, and then be whisked away to the anti-matter universe for a skirmish with the Qwardians on the next.

With the way modern books are published, those two concepts alone might take up the better part of a year to explore. Modern books slow time down to a visceral crawl. Case in point? For as good as Ultimate Spider-Man is… did you know it took Bendis five-plus years of bi-monthly issues to cover a single year of Peter Parker’s life? In 60 issues in the 60s, Spider-Man had fought 47 villains, went to college, teamed up with the Avengers, became a lounge singer, and still had time to forget to bring the eggs home for Aunt May.

The key here, in this carpy columnist’s opinion, is balance. Not every book needs to “write for the trade.” Some of the best comic books I own are single-issue stories that aren’t anchored to one trade or another. When done well (for example, GrimJack: The Manx Cat), a dense story across six books can feel like a novel in and of itself. When done poorly (the middle 30s and 40s of Irredeemable), a decompressed story can feel more like a worthless stall and cash-grab.

Far be it from me to spend so long pontificating about the pacing of a story as my article gets longer and longer. I guess when it comes down to it… to summarize… or in other words, wrap things up: Pacing in modern comics has never been more important. As a fan, all we can hope for is a feeling that we’ve gotten our money’s worth by the time we place the comic in its bag and board.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Mix March Madness 2012 Webcomics Tournament Finals: Gunnerkrigg Court vs. Goblins!

UPDATE: Comments here are closed and a new thread for comments has been started here. You can vote at either page.

It’s here– the final battle of our webcomics tournament between Thomas Siddell’s Gunnerkrigg Court and Tarol Hunt’s Goblins!

Both strips pulled off tremendous upsets in the last round, beating such webcomics as Homestuck and Order Of The Stick, to make it to the final showdown. We remind you that the second place winner will get $50, with the grand prize winner walking away with $100. (We’d also like to point out that if you’re a fan of either of these strips, you may enjoy our own GrimJack: The Manx Cat by John Ostrander and Timothy Truman and Demons of Sherwood by Robert Tinnell and Bo Hampton. End of soft sell.)

The finals start right now, and ends this Monday night, April 9, at 11:59 PM, Eastern Daylight Time. (Yes, we’re making allowances for Good Friday, Passover, the sabbath, and Easter). Go vote! (more…)

JOHN OSTRANDER: Christmas Treasures, Part 1

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… or so the song goes. Except when it’s not.

I have my Christmas favorites on DVD or TV that I watch every year. They include A Christmas Carol (the Reginald Owen version and the much better Alastair Sim version as well as, oddly, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol which adds songs and does a pretty fair job of summing up the story in less than a half hour), It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and the cartoons – How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Karloff beats Carey hands down) and, of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

And, a day or so after Christmas, I add in Bad Santa just to wash all the treacle away. Your choices may differ and that’s fine – these are mine.

My best Christmas was probably the one when I proposed to my late wife, Kim Yale, on Christmas Eve. I had bought the ring and I was pretty sure she would say yes but I was still nervous. Kim and I opened presents on Christmas Eve so I mapped out my strategy. My gifts included a Tim Truman sketch of GrimJack (one of Kim’s faves and part of our becoming a couple), signed by Timbo and carrying the Gaunt message: “You’ve done right by my pal so far, sweetheart. How about makin’ it permanent?”

Then she got a specially made teddy bear (Kim was huge on teddy bears) that was a  GrimJack teddy bear and he was holding a poem from me, a sonnet that would up with my proposal (I made her read it aloud) and as she finished reading it, I brought out the ring. Kim took a dramatic pause (she was great at dramatic pauses) that were the longest seconds of my life but then she said “Yes!” and we off to the races.

That was our first Christmas together. The hardest one was our last.

Kim had breast cancer and she was dying of it. I knew that but she didn’t; her cancer doctor had called me with the news but insisted I not tell her. It might make her give up, he insisted. So, for a while, I went along with that.

Kim was in the hospital a lot at that point; her immune system was in bad shape from the chemo and the radiation. She didn’t like being there alone so I spent a lot of nights there with her. It wouldn’t have been possible without our friend, Mary Mitchell, who spelled me many nights. We were joined later on by my friend Joe Edkin, who would spell us both.

It was trying some times. People would come to visit and Kim would rally her energy, putting on what we referred to as “the Kimberly Show.” This is no criticism of our visitors, who gave lovingly of themselves and were very welcome, but afterwards Kim would have no energy left for me, Mary, and Joe, and sometimes that was hard.

It came to a boil at Christmas. Holidays bring out the best and worst of us. Kim’s final Christmas brought a bit of both in me.

More next time.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Hello all. Welcome back to my angry little corner of the interwebosphere. Last week I bitched and moaned about variant covers… and well, you all agreed with me. Thank you. Not that we’ll see that stop mind you, but at least I know I’m not alone when I scoff. I know everyone this week has the DCnU on the brain. But honestly? I’m tired of it. Some books are amazing (Action Comics, Animal Man), some are profoundly underwhelming (Justice League, JLI), and some defy all logic for being printed (Voodoo. I know it’s not out yet, but come on.). Six months from now, when 1/3 of these comics are poop-canned, will anyone be surprised? Nope. DC has never shied away from gimmicks. So enjoy the ride. But I digress. Instead of adding to the tidal wave of blather about DC this week, I want to talk about something far more important. I want to talk about my son.

This past Tuesday, September 13th, my wife and I got our 20-week ultrasound. Breaking tradition (we’re totally into SPOILER ALERTS) we decided to find out the sex of our baby. I can’t tell a lie (ok, I can, but for the sake of argument… I won’t.) – I wanted a boy. And right there, in blue and black, my little guy waved hi to me. It was an experience I’ll never forget. The fear, the joy, all of it combined in that little hospital room. My best friends (Matt of Unshaven Comics and his lovely wife, Amy) are two weeks ahead of Kathy and me. They found out last week they are having a boy too. Thus the scions of Unshaven Comics will be here in January/February of 2012. When they enter this world, there’s no way to escape it: comic books will be an integral part of their lives. The question is… what comics will be?

Growing up, my parents didn’t read to me. I don’t have a single memory of my parents sitting by my bedside reading Goodnight Moon. My folks aren’t readers, honestly. It’s never bothered me. I myself don’t consider reading all that much of a hobby. Every moment I’m awake I’m generally working. For my employer. For Unshaven Comics. For ComicMix. For my wife. For your wife. Confession time kids. The only time I read (and 99% of the time we’re talking comic books here) I’m on the can. Only an idiot like me would try to be double productive when I’m pooping. Why just defecate when I can be entertained at the same time?!

All this being said though, I’ve made it a point to myself to share the joy of the written word (and the drawn picture) with my son. The escapism, imagination, and craft of a good book, or good comic for that matter is something I want my son to enjoy as early in his life as possible. Not just cause his daddy loves it mind you… Because in this day and age where 140 characters has come to represent a complete thought, stopping to read even 20 pages of muscly guys punching other muscly guys is better than the ADD-riddled alternative. The TV, the computer, the cellphone? All have a place in my son’s life, but it’s not going to be the end-all-be-all for his entertainment needs.

So what’s my evil master plan? First and foremost, Daddy is gonna read Fishy 2.0 all of Unshaven Comics. I yearn for the day my son is on the playground and an exchange goes something like this:

Random snot-nosed other kid: Superman would beat the Hulk!

Lil’ Fishman: And Liberty’s Torch would beat Superman!!

Random snot-nosed other kid: Who’s that?

Lil’ Fishman: Just the coolest super-est hero that ever lived! Duh! (Little Fishy then proceeds to detail all he knows about his Dad’s super-hero creations. Soon, the entire elementary school is ready for The Samurnauts… and I’m a millionaire.)

All ego-stroking aside, when introducing my future son to comic books, the plan is simple: What Dad reads, the son shall read as well. As soon as possible, I want to introduce my son to great “all-ages” books like Tiny Titans (or essentially anything by Art and Franco) and a little Archie. As he grows up, I’ll open up my collection to him. If he’s receptive to it, I’ll proudly read just about any book I own with him.

Obviously I’ll turn on my parental V-chip to ensure the content is kid-appropriate. But one thing that I’m a huge proponent of is not shielding my eventual child from the world. I’ve never smoked a cigarette. Simply put, child rearing scares the hell out of me. Last night I read for an hour about baby poop, how to help a child say his first word, and how to look for warning signs if baby is gonna spray you when changing a diaper. But when it comes to entertaining my son, there’s no question. The entire world of comic books is open to him. I’ll start small, and simple, and slowly introduce him to all the great genres – be it superhero, western, sci-fi, horror, love, fantasy, pulp, noir, and maybe even a little of all of it (i.e. GrimJack). Ultimately, my son will gain his own identity, and I know it’s my job then to nurture it, and let him find his own way. Even if he ends up liking the X-Men. God help me.

I’ve never been drunk. I’ve never taken an illegal drug. And my parents never once had to sit me down to explain any of it. I watched what I wanted to watch. I read what I wanted to read. And they were always quick to explain to me anything that was confusing or “adult.” I intend to do the same. Does that mean my son will read the Watchmen at 8? Probably not alone, but his dad will gladly read it with him. He’ll learn about history through the lens of fiction. It will create a curiosity about the world… and I can’t think of a better way to help my son learn, grow, and come into his own.

And when he turns 16, I’ll lend him The Pro. That outta’ keep him… interested.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander