Tagged: Neal Adams

Mike Gold: Batman Is Batman, and I Am The Sweetheart of the Donut Shop

Back in the mid-70s the astonishingly gifted Neal Adams pointed out – in context of something else – that the issues of Detective Comics he drew outsold those Frank Robbins drew. Let me state: Neal was not putting Frank’s work down.

Nonetheless, I felt that comment lacked veracity, so – being an honest-to-Crom obnoxious brat hotshot at DC Comics at the time – I looked up the sales figures. It turns out Frank’s issues actually sold slightly better than Neal’s on average. But in those days of newsstand-only comics, the all-important sell-through percentages – that is, the percentage of comics sold out of the total print run – was a couple points higher. And each point over breakeven is pure profit, each point significant to the publisher and to the success of the title.

I am not putting Neal down; I think most people would have suspected his work would outsell Frank’s. But, really, the marginal victories contributed by the artists are less significant than the mere fact that ever since Adam West donned the cowl, Batman is Batman. It’s possible that really bad talent could torpedo the character, but it would take a while and management would notice and hit teams would be assembled.

I mention this by way of Marc Alan Fishman’s discussion in this space last Saturday of the recent brouhaha between Rob Liefeld and Scott Snyder. Scott went on about how his Batman (which, in my opinion, is one of the best monthlies DC Comics publishes these days) sells 80,000 copies and how it outsells Rob’s work at DC, from which Rob recently resigned.

Rob’s position is that such stellar sales are not due to the craft of the talent within as much as the fact that the book is called Batman and that Batman would be a top-seller even if Jason Todd wrote it. Scott said horse hockey (I paraphrase), and lots of folks agreed, including our own Marc Alan Fishman – the son I never had and if there were any hint he was he’d demand a blood test.

At this point, I need to point out the following: It was Marc who turned me on to Scott’s Batman. As he has repeatedly made clear, Marc’s not a big fan of The New 52. Yet he personally took every opportunity to inform me that Batman was an exception. I read the first three issues and told him I agreed.

I also need point out that I have never met Scott. I’ve met Rob, although I haven’t seen him since a San Diego show about a decade ago and I don’t think we’ve ever had a real conversation. I personally do not find his work of late to be compelling, but that’s my taste. There’s a reason why DC gave him all that work this past year, and he’ll always be a hero for creating Deadpool. Rob’s managed to make an impressive number of not-friends during his career, but that can be a positive mark of distinction depending upon the individuals and circumstances involved. I, on the other hand, am well-known as the sweetheart of the donut shop. I have no axe to grind against any anybody.

Batman receives much wider distribution than Savage Hawkman or Deathstroke. The latter titles are pretty much restricted to the comics shops and to e-comics sales; you can buy Scott’s Batman at a great many convenient stores, truck stops and the more enlightened supermarkets. This is because Batman is Batman.

His Batman outsells Rob’s New 52 titles in the comics shops, to be sure. Quality is in the mind of the reader and, unfortunately, when you’re dealing with Batman or X-Men or Oreo cookies, who’s got the better stuff simply is not as important as the brand itself.

Rob Leifeld is absolutely correct when he says Batman is Batman.

But bringing rational thought to a flame-fight is a buzz-kill.

Mike Gold, Marc Alan Fishman, and our fellow ComicMixers Emily S. Whitten, Glenn Hauman and Adriane Nash will be at this weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con, mostly hanging around the Insight Studios and Unshaven Comics booths, annoying the innocent. Drop by and say hello.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

Dennis O’Neil: Who Are You?

You don’t exist. So I can advise or even scold you without worrying that something I say will, down the line, cause you to hide behind a therapist’s couch and whimper. (Yeah, I know that the Bhagavad Gita tells us that we have no control over the outcome of our actions. Stop showing off!)

You don’t know who you are? Okay, I’ll tell you. You’re a young comics artist (albeit a wholly imaginary one) and you’re trying to make your way – that is, get work. We’ve all been there. And someone has told you that you must establish your “brand” and you guess that this means you should make many people – hordes! armies! – aware of your existence and of the kind of work you do well. (Who’s your idol? Kirby? Kelly? Adams? Who would you pray to if you believed in prayer?) So, you suppose, you’ve got to get out there, raise your head above the foxhole (where, trust me, someone will shoot at it), clamor, shout, even grandstand like Tom Sawyer walking that fence for an admiring Becky Thatcher.

Since we can assume that you can’t afford television advertising, full page ads in the New York Times, or a great big billboard smack dab in the middle of town, you’ve got to work the internet, Get busy tweeting, Facebooking, all that cyberstuff.

But be aware that there’s a downside, here. No, not the cyberstuffing per se. Though I find such behavior slightly distasteful, believing, like other greybeards, that a gentleman does not call attention to either himself or, especially, his achievements, there is considerable precedent for tooting one’s own horn in the arts. I mention Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Freddy Nietzsche and invite you to complete the list.

But here’s what I wonder: Do you have enough time for both the self – promotion and the learning of your craft, particularly the storytelling aspects? (We know that you’re already a maestro of the number two pencil and the india ink bottle.) That can be tricky, that storytelling, and while it’s not rocket science, it is something that should be thought about and practiced. If a course is available in your area, take it. If not, find some books – and look at how your favorite predecessors managed the job. And will you have time to do that learning and still bask in the glow of the computer screen? You can network and tweet until your fingerprints vanish and you can tell yourself that your just doing your job.

The basking puts your own ego at the center of the enterprise, which is where the ego loves to be. What should be there is the work. The late, great Alfred Bester said it best: “Among professionals, the job is boss.”

I think that one reason our legislative apparatus is so shabby is that to acquire public office you’ve got to be a full time politician – that is, a good politician – maybe the most ego demanding of professions and one that requires a different skill set from being a wise and just governor. It’s a treacherous and vastly complicated world out there and to make decent laws for it you should be curious and well – read, anxious to be of service, and willing to learn, and not merely a gladhander and fund raiser with nice haircut.

Good politician, meet bad comic book artist.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


REVIEW: Astonishing X-Men: Torn

astonising_x_men_torn_motion_comic_middle-1005259Joss Whedon’s take on the X-Men is the series that keeps on giving. Winner of the Will Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series, it first it became a series of motion comics, adapting the 25 issue run, and in a few weeks, it will be turned into a series of prose novel adaptations (by Peter David, due out September 5). Why? Whedon understands character, action, and using larger than life people to work as metaphors for life. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was really about surviving high school and being a mutant in the comics is dealing with prejudice and fear of the unknown. But, unlike so many others, Whedon tends to leaven his work with humor and character traits that amuse and surprise.

Astonishing X-Men was created as a showcase series for Whedon but he was accompanied by acclaimed artist John Cassaday, who brought a photorealistic style to characters that have tended to be drawn with great exaggeration by artists ever since their 1963 debut. Grounding the visuals with Whedon’s writing style made for one of those magical pairings which seems to happen with less and less regularity.

Cassaday’s visuals work wonderfully on the printed page but less so given the limitations of the motion comic format. Serialized for the web, these have been collecting in a series of DVDs from Shout! Factory and Torn is the latest installment, out this week. As noted when we reviewed Dangerous, motion comics is this weird hybrid that is really a modern day version of the cardboard cutout animation first used in Marvel Super-Heroes back in the 1960s.

Wisely, they retained as much of Cassaday’s artwork as was practical and the dialogue has that Whedon ring, although as usual the voice casting leaves something to be desired. Cassaday worked with Atomic Cartoons and Neal Adams to bring some life to his four-color efforts.

Torn adapts issues #13-18 and pits the merry mutants against the less merry Hellfire Club – featuring Xavier’s twin sister Cassandra Nova, Emma Frost, Perfection, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and the deadly Sebastian Shaw. We learn that the enigmatic Emma Frost is conjuring up a psychic project of the villainous alliance because she was being blackmailed by Nova. Whedon also pauses to deepen Scott Summers by letting us learn of a childhood trauma that manifested in his losing control of his optic blasts.

Whedon’s affection for teen characters remains evident as it is Kitty Pryde who winds up saving the day this time.  He has some fun with the simmering Kitty/Colossus relationship, displaying some nice character-based humor. Similarly, when Emma plays mind games with the team, it mixes painful memories with humorous situations, giving us some fresh insights into the team.

The six chapters, totaling 81 minutes, are nicely adapted into animated installments and keeps the momentum moving even when the visuals are overly static. If you love this run in all its incarnations, then you want this. Or you could wait a bit and get all the motion comics series on a Blu-ray, coming later this year.

Martha Thomases: My Green Lantern Problem

If I’m reading their website correctly, DC Entertainment currently publishes three different Green Lantern titles, not counting the animated series tie-in. There is also a Red Lantern comic. The last several company-wide crossovers involved the Green Lantern Corps as major players.

It’s too much.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Green Lantern. I vividly remember when I bought my first copy. I was about eight years old (which would make it 1961, for those of you keeping score), and felt very grown up. I thought Green Lantern, being a science-based character, was much more intellectual than Superman or Batman at the time, with their dog pals and mischievous imps. Hal Jordan wasn’t a millionaire playboy nor an alien. He was a test pilot. He had a job.

A decade later, when Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams took over the title, I was mesmerized. They were using a character (one whom, by this time, I realized didn’t have much to do with science) in a comic book to express a point of view on the world in which I lived. How amazing was that?

By the time my son was reading comics, there were several Green Lanterns. He loved them. He especially liked Green Lantern: Mosaic, which featured John Stewart trying to assist a world that had a variety of intelligent life forms, immigrants from dozens of worlds. It seemed like a metaphor for life in New York, but I don’t know if that’s why he liked it so much.

I guess I’m trying to say that Green Lantern is a concept that different people, at different stages of their lives, can enjoy. A man (or woman) with a strong will, and a ring that can manifest that will, is a wonderful vehicle for imagination. With the introduction of the idea of the Green Lantern Corps, 3600 strong, each patrolling a different sector of the universe, the reader can see how different personalities affect the way the ring works. Some shoot green rays, some make green weapons, some create helpers. The stories are limited only by the imaginations of the creative teams.

Still, the heart of the stories was Hal Jordan. The supporting cast included fellow Lanterns Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, and the previously mentioned John Stewart. Sometimes one of them would replace Hal as the main Lantern for sector 2814 (that is, Earth).

Since the introduction of The New 52 last fall, the cast has expanded quite a bit. There are Lanterns of other colors of the rainbow, representing other emotions. Each color has 3600 champions (except orange, which is avarice, and its ring holder took all the other rings because, you know, avarice). The stories involving these characters, and the Guardians of the Universe who created the Corp, span all three books.

Believe me, I understand that this may be the direction that the creative teams want. They may enjoy having the cosmos as a canvas, and they may think that having different species as characters is a wonderful opportunity to comment on the human condition. If this is the case, I don’t think they’re succeeding.

I can’t keep up with everybody. Even worse, I don’t care.

I want some stories to take place on Earth. I want to see Carol Ferris, and not in her Star Sapphire costume. I want to watch John Stewart as an architect. I want to see how artist Kyle Rayner meets his magazine deadlines. I want to see Guy Gardner with Ice. Even better, I’d like to see story ideas that haven’t happened yet, but that engage me with situations with which I can relate.

I want to see humans. More to the point, I want to see human stories.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman, Gone Fishing

SUNDAY: John Ostrander, Friend to the Chickens


Blame it on Stan Lee

The subject of Creators’ Rights in Comics has been catapulted into the limelight in recent years with the sudden surge of blockbuster, comic related films taking in billions of dollars for the corporations that own the copyrights and trademarks while the creators or the estates of creators that conceived and created these gold mines,  struggle to get screen credit, let alone, some type of monetary compensation.

The current success of Marvel’s characters in all popular media has made Jack Kirby the posthumous poster child for numerous creators who are now victims of the comic industry’s tradition of work-for-hire agreements.

Stan Lee, Marvel’s long-time, imperial ambassador and co-creator on many of these characters, stands accused of benefitting enormous financial gain while failing to defend the rights of his various creative partners, most notably, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko who many contend deserve more than just art credit for their contribution to the actual creation of the characters that they are associated with.

Stan has and always will be, first and foremost, a company man having been brought into the business as a gopher at the ripe old age of 17 by his cousin-in-law, Martin Goodman, the publisher and former owner of Timely Comics. Timely evolved into Marvel under the stewardship of Stan who took over as editor, replacing Joe Simon who left Timely with Jack Kirby  in 1941. Nepotism goes a long way in comics and Stan Lee, since, has always been “taken care of” for his role as a stalwart, corporate soldier.

To be fair Stan Lee is  much more than the average, Marvel Monkey Boy. He is, unequivocally the Voice of Marvel Comics. The head cheerleader. The band leader of the Mighty Marvel Marching Society. Stan Lee, in many ways, has made himself into a Marvel character as epochal as any Spider-man, Avenger or X-Men. He has done so with a silver tongue, a witty pen, relentless salesmanship, unbridled enthusiasm, and a revisionist memory that defies the continuity strangled editorial policy of Marvel itself.

Stan Lee and his relationship to Marvel is his own greatest creation and he gets paid handsomely for it. Stan’s net worth is reportedly $200 million! This staggering figure infuriates co-creators and their heirs as well as comic fans focused on creators’ rights who all argue the unfairness that Stan Lee continues to acquire great wealth while his former collaborators are rewarded zilch. Most of them can’t even get a free ticket to see a movie featuring the character they created.

Is there, however, any evidence that Stan Lee is gaining that wealth from any type of royalty paid to him for his act of co-creating those characters either? If Stan got even a fraction of a cut from all the Marvel films and associated merchandise featuring a character that he is credited as a co-creator of , that $200 million would be a drop in the bucket.

Stan gets paid for being Stan the Man. Stan gets paid for being Executive Producer. Stan gets paid for his gratuitous cameos. Stan Lee has made himself famous. He is the Kardashians of the comics world and he is making himself rich, still, at 89 years old with the same vigor he had in 1961 when the Fantastic Four first hit the stands.

So why does Stan Lee catch so much heat when the subject of creator’s rights comes up if he is probably a victim of the same corporate greed, himself?

Well, it’s his own damn fault.

While Stan was creating a marketing atmosphere that sold Marvel to it’s readers as one big happy, zany Bullpen, he took it upon himself to make stars out of his creators by giving them credits with merry monikers that were intended to stick in the minds of the legion of fans that was growing faster than even he could have imagined.

As Marvel Mania grew, Stan boasted and told all. He was very open about who he collaborated with and happily shared the details of the now famous Marvel Method of creating comics. Not only did he talk; he wrote it down in his own words so that even if his memory would one day be awry, there would be a very clear paper trail.

In 1974 Stan Lee authored Origins of Marvel Comics followed the next year by Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. The success of these two books led to The Superhero Women and Bring on the Bad Guys. These books all detailed his perspective of his creative relationships with the artists in the Bullpen especially his dependancy on his numero uno illustrator, “Jolly” Jack Kirby.

Stan seemed to do all this with an intention of elevating the appreciation of comic creators with both the public and the industry. He assesses that the writing in comics prior to the inception of the Marvel style “…left just a little bit to be desired.”

To make his point he writes:

“Who were these people who actually created and produced America’s comic books? To answer that burning question we must be aware that comics have always been a high-volume low-profit-per-unit business. Which is a polite way of saying that they never paid very much to the writers or artists. If memory serves me (and why shouldn’t it?), I think I received about fifty cents per page for the first script I wrote in those early days. Comics have always been primarily a piecework business. You got paid by the page for what you wrote. the more pages you could grind out, the more money you made. The comic book writer had to be a comic-book freak, he had to be dedicated to comics; he certainly couldn’t be in it for the money. And unlike most other forms of writing, there were no royalty payments at the end of the road… no residuals…no copyright ownership. You wrote your pages, got your check, and that was that.”

We all know that Stan Lee values credits highly and was sure to plaster his own name on every Marvel comic. Stan Lee Presents and Stan’s Soap Box were as much of the part of the Marvel experience as anything else. His famed sign-off,“Excelsior!”, still brings a giddy rush to a generation of comic book fans. In an effort to instill some added pride to the work of the comic creators in the Bullpen, Stan began putting credits of all the creators in the comics Marvel produced.

“…I’ve frequently mentioned Jolly Jack Kirby as our most ubiquitous artist-in-residence. He wasn’t christened Jolly Jack –– sometimes he wasn’t even that jolly –– but I got a kick out of giving alternative nicknames to our genial little galaxy of superstars, mostly for the purpose of enabling our readers to remember who they were. You see, prior to the emergence of Marvel Comics, the artist and writers who produced the strips, as well as the editors, art directors, and letterers, were mostly unknown to the reader, who rarely if ever saw their names in print. In order to change that image and attempt to give a bit more glamour to our hitherto unpublicized creative caliphs, I resorted to every deviceI could think of –– and the nutty nicknames seemed to work.”

Joe Rosen

And it did work! Joe Rosen, a letterer in those days said in COMICS INTERVIEW #7, “That’s why I admire Marvel. By instituting credits, they made you feel prouder of your work. And by being so successful they revamped the industry and launched so many titles that they made it possible to have a professional career.”

Stan knew that to be successful you have to make those around you successful. He did this by giving credit and creating work. Most of which went to Jack Kirby.

Throughout the Origins series and, actually, most of his career, Stan always spoke very highly of Jack Kirby and his creative contributions. Some of those very telling remarks have been posted on the Kirby Museum website in Robert Steibel’s Kirby Dynamics but I have to refer to a quote in Son of Origins where Stan Lee completely asserts Jack Kirby’s role:

“Jack was (and still is)* to superheroes what Kellog’s is to corn flakes. When such fabulous features as The Fantastic four, the Mighty Thor, and The Incredible Hulk were just a-borning, it was good ol’ Jackson with whom I huddled, harangued, and hassled until the characters were designed, the plots were delineated, and the layouts were delivered so that I could add the little dialogue balloons and captions with which I’ve spent a lifetime cluttering up the illustrations of countless long-suffering artists.”

(*This was written during a period when Jack Kirby had left Marvel and gone to DC, unhappy because he was not being paid for what he considered “writing” at Marvel according to Carmine Infantino in his autobiography The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino. Kirby no longer wanted to be “second fiddle” and even declined an opportunity to collaborate with Joe Simon for the same reason though the pair did do a single issue of Sandman together.)

Stan recognized that his greatest resource was his talent pool and, short of finding ways to give them ownership in their creations, he looked for other ways to keep them happy. Stan was even the first president of The Academy of Comic Book Arts that he started with Neal Adams. The ACBA was to be the start of a comic creator’s union of sorts but did not last long.

Stan Lee has been in the comic book business for seventy-three years, probably longer than anyone else alive. He has done more for crediting comic creators than any editor who had gone before him, revealing his greatest sin. With his eye focused on glamour and recognition he failed to affect righteous residual compensation for the efforts of Marvel’s comic creators. His compliance with the business tradition that he himself recognized as insufficient destined generations of creators to teeter on poverty while their creations reaped gold for Marvel.

The victims of this industry-wide practice blanket the entire comics landscape, some tragically. Most recently Robert L. Washington III co-author of Static which is currently owned by DC Comics died of a heart attack in abject poverty at the age of 47. His contribution to the Heroes Initiative is a heart wrenching window into the reality of too many comic creators.

Stan, we love you man, but we need you now, more than ever, to stand up for comic creators or you will be always be cursed with the blame for Marvel cheating the same creators that you personally paraded as stars. You can still make a difference. It’s time to put an end to an archaic, unjust work-for-hire practice that keeps talented people impoverished while a soulless corporation bloats over the spoils of their creative efforts.

You have stood at the helm of a company that has created heroes your entire life. Be a hero to those that depended on you the most, the ones that helped you build that fabled “House of Ideas.”

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco

As an added Bonus here’s a link to Neal Kirby’s FATHER’S DAY tribute to his dad that ran on this site last year.

Comic Art, Trash or Treasure?

You sure wouldn’t know that the world is in an economic crisis by looking at the prices that have been paid recently for original art. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses, who’s  recent auctions collectively tallied $266,591,000, established record sale prices for pieces of art including the most expensive work ever sold at auction, Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ which garnered a whopping $120 million!

Fans of comic art began to scream themselves when Roy Lichtenstein’s painting, ‘Sleeping Girl,’ sold for $45 million, a record price for any of his works. Lichtenstein is often criticized by comic art enthusiasts for not having credited the long list of comic artists whose work he used as subject matter for his paintings. Comparisons of ‘Sleeping Girl’  and the Tony Abruzzo panel which it is derived from, as well as dozens of other comparisons,  can be seen here. David Barsalou deconstructs Lichtenstein with a vengeance and it is well worth following his crusade on the internet and in his facebook group.

The good news is that, though comic art has been generally viewed by the fine art community as “low brow” and is still not in a position to command the kind of money that Munch or Lichtenstein’s pieces do, original comic art is beginning to command some very respectable prices. It has long been known that there is value in collecting comic books. The highest price paid so far for Action Comics #1 being $2.16 million. The same comic book is estimated to be currently worth about $4.3 million.

Original comic art, on the other hand, is now gaining in value as well. The most expensive piece of comic art ever sold is reportedly a full page panel by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson from ‘The Dark Knight Returns.’ The piece sold to an anonymous collector for $448,125 as part of Heritage Auctions’  Vintage Comics and Comic Art Auction in 2011.

In the past week Heritage auctioned two more significant pieces that collected big bucks. Contradicting the earlier report Heritage claims that a Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott original from Fantastic Four #55 featuring a half page splash of the Silver Surfer and signed by scripter Stan Lee achieved the highest price paid for a page of panel art selling for $155,350, roughly one third the value of the Batman piece.

Another work of original comic art that proved its muster was the first ever drawing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird that fetched $71,700.

Forbes recently ran an article on their site that lists good reasons for investing in comic art  but neglects the obvious: Supply and Demand.

Though it may seem that there are tons of original comic art proliferating in the market, and there are, how many show significant images of major characters drawn by masters of the industry or are pages from historic works? Not as many as you might think and now that a lot of art is created digitally, the chances of hard copy future original art surfacing for sale are dwindling.

The idea that there are over seventy years worth of original art numbering in the millions of pages trafficking around the collectors market is false. Most comic art that was created prior to the mid sixties was simply destroyed by the publishers, considered by them as nothing more than waste once the printable films were made.

Flo Steinberg, secretary at Marvel during the early years of the ‘House of Ideas,’ was quoted in David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW #17 saying, “We used to throw it out …when the pile got too full…it was like ‘old wood’ to us.” Likewise, there are stories of Neal Adams dashing across the office at DC to rescue original art that was about to be destroyed in a paper slicer! Any art that survived that slaughter was generally given away as gifts or just managed to filter its way out of the office as random souvenirs. The scary part is that most of the artists just accepted this practice as the norm!

By the late sixties when fandom started to prove that there was a secondary market for the art through the establishment of comic conventions and comic shops, artists began to demand that their art be returned. This was a tricky process since several people generally worked on any given issue. The art would be split up among the writer, penciler, inker, and even the letterer. Colorists usually would get back the color guides that they made for the color separator.  Because of this practice entire issues are nearly impossible to acquire.

By the 1980′s the independent movement gave creators many more rights and more creators were responsible for their work in its entirety but still, usually, would sell off pages at conventions, one at a time,  to support themselves economically.

Today more and more comics are being created digitally and hard copy originals don’t even exist. The work and creative talent  that goes into creating a comics page is once again being trivialized as an unfortunate part of the process. Instead of ‘old wood’ it is now just a collection of magnetic data hogging up a hard drive, facing obsolescence with the next wave of new technology.

The printed version may remain as the only collectable hard copy of future comic works and even that is challenged by digital delivery of comics. The art of making comics is finally being recognized as something of value yet its new found respect is threatened with its own potentionally temporary creative process.

Criticize Lichtenstein as much as you’d like, but his copy of a single panel, swiped from a forgotten romance comic, will exist for a long, long time and will only become more valuable while the original line drawing it was lifted from has probably been trashed for fifty years. How can we come expect the art world, or anybody,  to respect comics as more than source material for pop art parodies when we continue to allow the originals it to be disposable.

Is comic art trash or treasure? As comic artists, we need to decide for ourselves.

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now go on… discuss!

SUNDAY: John Ostrander



Whenever my old employer, DC Comics, reprints some of my ancient work, it’s gratifying, particularly if what’s reprinted is one of the “socially relevant” stories Neal Adams and I did in the early 70s, but it can be a little disheartening, too.

The problem is, the stories are for the most part still relevant, and what does that say about the state of the nation? Environmental upset? Yep, still got it. Racism? The folks down in Florida could tell you about that. Addiction? That lovely singer is no longer with us. Overpopulation? Hasn’t improved. American Indians? Some of the nation’s worst poverty is found on reservations that don’t house casinos.

As one of Bill Maher’s guests said on his show last week, it seems unbelievable that birth control could be a factor in presidential politics in the in the twenty first century. I mean…birth control?

But occasionally a glimmer of light shows through the gloom. So let us smile and extend a salute to Batwoman.

Digression: Batwoman and I go way, way back. Fact is, I killed her 40-something years ago. Why? Don’t remember, exactly. Her demise was almost certainly a plot point in the days when comics stories were largely plot-driven, and she must have seemed to be good cannon fodder: a character who, although she was in the continuity, hadn’t done much in a long time and if we needed a snuffee, and I guess we did, she was a good candidate. I do regret ending her offstage; she probably deserved a death scene at the very least.

End of digression: Batwoman is back. Wait – make that a Batwoman, who has the same name(s) as the original, but a different lifestyle. She’s a redhead and…oh yeah, a lesbian. Big deal? In our world, it kind of is since, from the beginning of mass-marketed comics, redheads were forbidden.

Just kidding: it’s gay people who could not grace our little sagas and in this we were one with most other media. In television and most movies, sex of any kind was antiseptic – all those cardboard kisses! – and gay sex was way outside the limits. And if gayness was an element in a story, as in some of Tennessee Williams’ film material, it was no more than hinted at and its practitioners were going to suffer plenty before the last reel.

In comics? Well, one of the characters John Byrne created for his series Alpha Flight was gay, but not too obviously; John’s editor knew of Northstar’s orientation, but I’m not sure anyone else in the editorial department did, not at first. (I’m informed that later creative teams pulled Northstar further out of the closet.) And a couple of years back, Marvel let us know that the ol’ rannie from the western titles, the Rawhide Kid, was gay, news that managed not to shake any foundations. But on the whole, the Kid and Northstar and a few others, including the revamped Question, in private did icky stuff that wasn’t mentioned, except, maybe, in he gutters.

Now, Batwoman. Last week she received a media award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and nobody’s making any secret of the recognition.

Call it one of those glimmers I mentioned earlier. And be grateful for it.

RECOMMENDED READING: Free Will, by Sam Harris.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


MIKE GOLD: Important Advice For Comics Artists

Hardly a day goes by without my asking myself “How did all this crappy art get published?”

Now, before all you upstarts get bent out of shape, please appreciate the fact that I’ve been asking this question since about the time Freedom 7 was launched. (Note to self: After gawking at Brian Bolland’s Blog, please don’t look at anybody’s comics art for at least three hours. You’re not giving them a chance.) The difference is, there are a hell of a lot more comic books being published these days. Whereas I think the comics medium beats out Sturgeon’s Law, there’s a hell of a lot of crappy art out there, and much of it is below what I consider to be professional standards.

Over my career I’ve spent a great deal of time evaluating newbie portfolios, and while I feel doing this at the larger, crowded conventions generally gives the young wannabe short shrift, like most geriatric editors I’ve developed a mental go-to list of comments that, if followed, will likely give direction to the newcomer. Since I’ve grown anti-social of late, I’ll share some of these points with you.

Stare at something other than the comics you grew up with. And don’t spend all that much time staring at comic books published before your birth – yeah, study the classics like Toth, Kubert, Kirby, Kane, Maneely, Wood, Adams, Barks and Toth, but learn from the great newspaper strip creators like Milton Caniff, Frank Robbins, Floyd Gottfriedson, Alex Raymond, and Frank Godwin. Spend some time gawking at the great illustrators like J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, Howard Pyle, and NC Wyeth. Go to a few art museums. There is no more enjoyable way to pay your dues.

Get a large jar and label it “Photoshop Copy Machine.” Every time you use Photoshop or any other graphics program to copy your art so that you can use it later in lieu of drawing something new, put $20.00 in the jar. When you fill it up, donate the money to The Hero Alliance or CBLDF. The eye tires of the same old stuff, particularly when you repeat the same image within a few pages. Sometimes there is a solid storytelling reason to rerun your work within the same story, but like all dramatic effects these are few and far between and should only be used sparingly.

Get a smaller jar and label it “Son Of Photoshop Copy Machine.” Every time you use Photoshop or any other graphics program to copy somebody else’s art, put $10,000 in the jar. Then find some other fulfilling way to make a living. I suggest procuring a domino mask, a striped shirt, and a gun.

There’s an old adage that proclaims “color will save it.” More often than not, this statement is attributed to the late DC Comics production whiz Sol Harrison, who got his start as an engraver on Superman #1 and in his spare time did watercolors. Unfortunately, Sol was wrong. Color will not save bad art. Not even the most heavy-handed computer color. Bad art is bad art. Or, to be less subtle, shit stinks.

Go buy a copy of [[[Gray’s Anatomy]]]. Not the teevee show, silly, the book written and drawn by Henry Gray first published 154 years ago. Whereas the book has been updated frequently, the human body has not. I am not concerned with your religious predilection, but no matter which hoary thunderer or cosmic muffin you might worship, if you intend to draw the human figure for a living this is your new bible. I cannot stress this more highly.

Study storytelling. As the artist, you carry the burden of telling the story. You are not an illustrator illuminating somebody else’s story: you’re the person putting it across the plate. Your friend over there should be able to get a good sense of the story by looking at your unlettered original art. Go get Will Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Take these three books, add the aforementioned Gray’s Anatomy, and don’t pick up the pencil or the Wacom tablet until you have studied and thought about each and every word in these four books.

Do not stop drawing. Question your alleged need to watch television, play video games, associate with people, eat, and bathe. Each of these activities takes valuable time away from your perfecting your craft. Trust me; once you get an assignment with a deadline, you won’t have time to watch television, play video games, associate with people, eat, or bathe.

Don’t give up. A newbie comic book artist who had just blown a couple deadlines once told me “If I can’t do this, I might as well flip burgers.” Well, today this guy is not flipping burgers. He became a comic book writer.

Drawing comics is no different than any other vocation: you’ve got to learn your stuff. Don’t look at the worst people being published and say “I can do better than that.” We’ve got enough crap. Aim high and don’t jump into the water until you know you can swim to the other side.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

JOHN OSTRANDER: 101 Mistakes

Almost every mistake I’ve ever made as a writer comes down to what I call a “Writing 101” mistake. I’ve been writing for a living for umpty-bum years at this point and you’d think I’d have graduated to at least Writing 102 mistakes, but no. It keeps coming down to the basics.

It usually happens because I think I don’t have to bother with the basics because, after all, I’ve been doing this for umpty-bum years now and it should all be second nature to me. Or because I’m behind in my deadline and don’t have time to bother with all that stuff.

Here’s a helpful clue. When you’re running late, you only have time to do the job right. Take a deep breath, clear out the cobwebs, looks at the basics, and work carefully. It winds up saving you time.

I need to have that pounded into my head with a very large mallet every so often.

What are the basics? To start off it’s the classic questions of who, what, when, where and how. By who I mean not just the characters’ names but who they are – their background, their history, their backstory. Those around a character help define them – who are their friends, their family, who loves ‘em and who hates them.

Think of your own life and who you know. How does that define you? Do you act the same way with your friends as you do with your parents? No, you don’t – they are different roles that you play and your actions adjust accordingly. All the roles are you but they are different aspects of you. Bruce Wayne as Batman is different from Bruce Wayne in public who is different from Bruce Wayne in private. As with you, so with your characters.

What can be defined in many ways; some of the most basic include what does the character do, what is their function in the story – protagonist, antagonist, supporting character? For me, the What also comes down to What Does The Character Want and what are they willing to do to get it. That governs every scene, every line of dialogue. Also, What Is At stake? Life, money, fame, ruin, get the girl, get the guy – what?

When would seem a no-brainer, but taking it for granted is a no-brain mistake. One of the legendary changes that Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams made when they took on Batman was to clear away the muck connected with the campy TV show was to make Batman once again a creature of the night. It was that simple, that elegant, and that basic. When can include time of year, era, the season and so on. The amount of time elapsing also matters. How much later does one scene take place after the previous one – immediately, soon, much later, a few days? You have to know.

Where would also seem obvious but a generic location tells us nothing about the characters or the story; a specific setting reveals a lot. How big or small is the house/apartment/office/coffee shop? What posters or art are on the wall or the desk? Details matter. Look around your own abode; what you choose to put in it says something about you. Same with your characters. My office currently says I’m a lazy slob. It says it pretty loudly, too.

Why does the story happen in the order that it does? Why do the characters make the choices that they make? That’s motivation. More often than not, there is no single motivation and the multiple motivations can be in opposition with one another. Back in college I was seeing this girl and she, teasing me, said that if I had to choose between her and a chocolate cake, I’d have to think hard. I told her, “Nonsense, my dear. You exaggerate. I would always choose you – with infinite regret for having lost that chocolate cake.” See? Conflicted.

We often want more than one thing at a time and often try to have it all and usually fail – because we can’t make a clear choice. Why do people make bad choices? Because conscious and subconscious are both acting upon us and they are rarely in agreement; what the heart wants is not necessarily what the head insists on. As with life, so with your characters.

And then there’s how. How does your character go about getting what s/he wants or think they want? How far are they willing to go to get it? Do they use direct action, indirect action, do they lie, cheat, steal, kill? Are there boundaries they won’t cross or are there just boundaries they don’t think they will cross. What are the specific acts? If the character tries and fails to achieve their goals, do they come back and try again? The story is meant to show us how far the protagonist/antagonist will go to get what they want. It reveals what they need or think they need. Are these acts consistent with who the character is – not just who they thinks they are, but with who they truly are? Who they are dictates how the character acts.

Each one of these – the who, the what, the where, the when, the why and the how – influences the other and as you play one off the other, the character, story, and themes come more clearly into focus.

One last word about mistakes. You are going to make them. I know writers who got frozen because of being afraid to make a mistake. It has to be perfect. Got news for them – nothing is perfect. Everything a mortal can do is flawed somewhere. You just do the best you can at the time.

One of the best teachers I ever had in anything, a man named Harold Lang, advised us to make big mistakes; you learn nothing from small ones. The operative word here, of course, is “learn.” Make new mistakes; don’t keep repeating the old.

Now if I could just remember that for myself. Ah, well; I’m off to make some mistakes.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell