Cinamon Hadley, whose appearance inspired the look of Death in the Sandman comic series, passed away today according to Sandman co-creator Neil Gaiman.
The body-piercer and goth icon whose portrait was immortalized as the second eldest in a family of anthropomorphized forces called the Endless, Hadley was described as extremely tall, extraordinarily thin, with bone-white skin, impeccable make-up and thin, black hair.
According to Gaiman in The Sandman Companion, he imagined the character as looking like ‘60s singer Nico as she appeared on the cover of Chelsea Girl. But the comic’s artist, Mike Dringenberg, had other ideas, and thought of a good friend in Salt Lake City. Gaiman writes, “He sent me a drawing based on a woman he knew named Cinamon—the drawing that was later printed in Sandman 11—and I looked at it and had the immediate reaction of, ‘Wow. That’s really cool.’”
Cinamon was diagnosed with the advanced stages of small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the colon in 2017. After a brief remission, the cancer returned and spread.
Our condolences to her family, friends, and fans. We hope she’s well met by someone who looks a lot like her.
Before we move on to my regularly scheduled column, I have to plug the Kickstarter going for a ComicMix comics collection running through September 15th. It’s got a lot of great talent like Neil Gaiman, Gabby Rivera and Gerard Way. Check it out!
Now that that’s out of the way, let me get back to my hot takes on the comics biz.
Last month I wrote about Spider-Man: Homecomingand how I wish they had more comics the reflected that interpretation of the character. There isn’t really a comic they put out recently that does, but I heard Spideyis kind of close so I picked up the first trade.
Spidey originally hit the stands back December of 2015 at #25 on the sales charts equating to 65,503 copies sold. The idea was to do an out of continuity Spider-Man that went back to basics; Peter Parker is back in high school, he’s back to crushing on Gwen Stacy, he’s back to taking pictures of Spider-Man for JJ, Aunt May is back to struggling to pay her bills, the bad guys aren’t quite as deadly serious, the book is more light-hearted and the stakes are lowered.
The series is written by Robbie Thompson and the first three issues are illustrated by Nick Bradshaw with Jim Campbell and Rachelle Rosenberg coloring. In the first three issues we have run ins with Doc Ock, Sandman, and Lizard. All three of them are doing what you normally expect them to do; Doc Ock is trying to steal technology, Sandman is trying to rob banks, and Lizard is trying to make more lizard people. While it’s all pretty goofy and at least somewhat self aware, Nick’s art is very sleek and his heavy inks with Jim and Rachelle’s colors really make the pages pop. It feels like Saturday morning cartoon quality work. Some of the characters could look a little more different from each other as I felt his Peter Parker and Harry Osborn look too similar, but I also acknowledge that’s a bit overly critical.
After issue three, the series takes a bit of a turn.
Nick Bradshaw has a very distinct style. Once he leaves after issue three, the rest of this trade is illustrated by Andre Lima Araujo. Andre’s style is drastically different from Nick’s. Gone are the heavy inks and Saturday morning cartoon look. In its place are very thin line inks, and the kind of art you may expect in a Top Shelf or Pantheon type graphic novel. Facial expressions and other little details like sweat are more prominent. The teenage angst and awkwardness spills out of the pages more, but the tone is so different from this art style that it’s jarring. On top of all that, in issue six Iron Man teams up with Spider-Man to stop Vulture from stealing things and it felt like such a push to do something that might tie in somewhat to Spider-Man: Homecoming that it immediately sucked me out of the story.
The most disappointing thing about reading Spidey after seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming is seeing how few liberties they take with a comic that isn’t in continuity. They don’t really change up the characters too much, everyone is still white who was white, all the characters are back doing exactly what you already know they do. What’s the point in taking another shot at retelling the early years of Spider-Man if you’re just going to give me everything we already knew and how we already knew it? This is likely at least part of why the series ends at issue twelve, making it only two volumes on trade paperback.
Overall, Spidey Vol. 1 was fun, had a few exceptional moments, but overall fell a bit flat. If you absolutely need more simple Spider-Man stories, you absolutely should pick this up. Or if you have a child in your life around ages 8-12 this is probably the most appropriate Spider-Man title for them to read. Spidey also gets bonus points for not having parallel universes, time travelling, and clones. Especially for not having clones.
It feels good to write about comics I’m reading again. So good even, I may just do it again next week!
Have you ever wondered what could have been? What if Key West seceded from the mainland? If the state of Wyoming ended up in the middle of Pennsylvania? If freed slaves were given the state of Mississippi after the Civil War? Perhaps you would like a Brief Explanation as to how Budapest became the Taco Capital of the World? Or, if you prefer, there is one story that is a fight to the death between the governor of North Alaska, Sarah Palin, and the billionaire orange haired governor of South Alaska…
You can wonder all of these no longer with ‘Altered States of the Union: What America Could Be’; An American alternate history anthology (say that five times fast) that features a varied and fantastic line up of first time authors, New York Times best selling authors, and Hugo and Nebula award winning authors, coming all together with their own stories of alternate American history and describing what could have been if circumstances were just a little different. (And a little more crazy.)
It will be making its debut on July 15th/2016 at the Shore Leave Convention – aptly, the weekend before the Republican convention. For anyone that grabs it on Indiegogo, copies of the book will be mailed out shortly thereafter, if you’re not at the show to pick it up and get autographs in person.
This anthology wants to show you how we could have gone other ways, how we could have been very different than what we are– yet still be America. For anyone wondering how the Indiegogo will be spread out, they’re taking pre-orders to finance printing costs and generally passing along more money to the contributors— all proceeds after production and distribution costs go to the people whose work drew you to the book in the first place— which, after all, is how it should be.
The array of authors that are in this collection of historic proportions are:
A mixture of NY Times best sellers, Hugo and Nebula winners, WGA award winners, president of American Atheists, and an editor of the Sandman comics is a sure win. Any anthology that includes the writer of “The Trouble With Tribbles”, a writer of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”, and the president of American Atheists is an interesting mix that shouldn’t be missed out on.
First a show of hands, how many of you think the Puppet Master is dead?
No, I mean really dead. Sure Puppet Master’s always been a second-tier villain. After all, anyone who had access to his radioactive clay and a grade school art class could duplicate his powers. But how many think he’s really never-coming-back-from-the-dead dead?
Probably the same number of people who think that the Thingreally killed him. However, as things sit in Fantastic Four v5 #13, Thing was sitting in Ryker’s Island waiting trial for murdering Puppet Master. Until Thing recruited his own version of the Impossible Mission Force and broke out of prison.
Step One: Thing met with his lawyer, She-Hulk. Step Two: Ant-Man shrank down to subatomic size so he could navigate along the wiring of Ryker’s Island and use a pulse bomb to shut down the cell cubes and power dampeners that Ryker’s used to keep its super-powered inmates under control. Step Three: Sandman used his sand powers to hamper the efforts of any of the other inmates who tried to escape during the power outage. Step Four: Thing and Sandman ran along one of the prison’s supply tunnels to the prison wall. Step Five: She-Hulk and Darla Deering– who was wearing her Miss Thing exoskeleton – knocked down the wall from the outside, because Thing’s strength hadn’t returned to full power yet. Step Six: They all went outside, where Medusa and the Inhumans waited with an airship which flew them to safety. Thing, why’d you stop there? Six more steps and you could have had an intervention.
The whole operation was a big success, although Sandman wasn’t always sure it would be. Still, he joined anyway. “What’s the worst they can do if it fails? Send me to prison?”
Well, yes, that’s exactly what they can do to you.
Escape is a crime in New York. According to New York Penal Law § 205.15 when a person charged with, or convicted of, a felony escapes from a detention facility that’s escape in the first degree. Thing was charged with murder. Sandman had been convicted of a felony – several, in fact. Both escaped from a detention center. Nuff said? Escape in the first degree is a class D felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
So yes, Sandman, they can they send you to prison. But it’s not the worst they can do.
Most judges’ view on escape is dimmer than a ten-watt bulb. Judges tend to sentence people convicted of escape consecutively to whatever sentence the criminal escaped from. So the worst isn’t that they’ll send you back to prison. The worst is that they’ll send you back to prison for even longer.
And it’s not like She-Hulk, Ant-Man, or Darla Deering would get off scot free. N.Y.P.L. § 115.08 calls helping a person to commit a crime criminal facilitation in the fourth degree. In addition, N.Y.P.L. § 105.05 says a person is guilty of conspiracy in the fifth degree when he or she agrees with one or more persons to engage in a felony.
Okay, both of these crimes are Class A misdemeanors so the possible sentence is anything up to one year. It may not be the seven years Sandman’s facing, but give them one year on each crime, run those sentences consecutively, and that’s two years. That’s more time thanAnimal Practice got and Animal Practice was a crime against humanity.
(BTW, I left out Medusa and the Inhumans, because they might have diplomatic immunity. I’m not sure what the Inhumans’ diplomatic status is. Just as I’m not sure what the status of their home city Attilan is other than blown up.)
Oh yeah, She-Hulk also joked about getting disbarred for her involvement in the escape. Not a joke, Shulky. Look at what New York did to Matt Murdock. If they catch you, they’ll disbar you, too. Then you can laugh all the way to the bank. The blood bank. Because you’ll be selling your blood to earn grocery money.
Then there’s Thing. Like Sandman, he’d be facing seven years for escape. Unlike Sandman, he wouldn’t have any underlying sentences that his seven years could be stacked on consecutively. But seven years is still a long time. Still, seven years in comic-book time is an eternity.
Which brings up an interesting question. In books, comic books, TV shows and movies, prisoners who are wrongly accused of a crime frequently escape in order to prove their innocence.Richard Kimble escaped more times than Harry Houdini on tour. And once they prove their innocence, everything is hunky dory. They’re never prosecuted for escape, even though the escape charges would still exist, even if they were actually innocent of the other crime for which they had been arrested.
Do fictional prosecutors feel the innocent people suffered enough by being charged with a crime they didn’t commit so don’t bother charging them with a crime they actually did commit? I say fictional, because I certainly never met find any real-life prosecutors who felt that way back when I was practicing. Those prosecutors tended to press charges.
See, escapees escape from a prison or detention center or police custody. The guards, correction officers and police tend to be embarrassed when escapes occur on their watch. So they try to discourage escape, by making sure prosecutors file escape charges on anyone who escapes. That other detainees won’t get the same idea.
But that’s not how it’s going to happen. The Thing will be exonerated. Then neither he nor any of the people who helped him escape will be prosecuted. And they’ll all live happily ever after.
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.
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.
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.
A friend of mine has multiple subscriptions at multiple comic book shops. He gets excited for every new issue, and has been consuming comics this way for most of his life. Try as I might, I just can’t understand this, though not because this fervor for comics is foreign to me. It’s the issue by issue thing that I’ve never been able to come around on.
Maybe some of this stems from the way I was introduced to comics. Years ago, I saw Neil Gaiman do a reading of short story and poetry material at the Printer’s Row Book Fair, and the first booth I stopped at afterwards had the The Sandman graphic novels for sale. It was the first time I’d seen the name of an author I knew on a graphic novel, and having been so entertained by that author only minutes before, I figured I’d give this foreign format of storytelling a shot. I read it in one sitting and couldn’t get my hands on the next trade fast enough. By the end of the month, I’d devoured the whole series and become interested in finding other comics I’d enjoy even half as much as I had loved The Sandman.
But even as a comic book convert actively looking for more to read, I just couldn’t bring myself to start with anything short of a trade or graphic novel because single issues of comics have always struck me as unfulfilling, just bite-sized bits of big stories. (more…)
George Harrison once said to Eric Idle, “If we’d known we were going to be the Beatles, we’d have tried harder.”
That’s the phrase that comes to mind when I look back on that fall day when the pages first came into the darkroom at DC Comics. I’d been working there no more than a month or two.
Back in the day, pages of art that had bleeds were drawn on 12×18″ boards, which were too big to photocopy. To make copies for the colorist, every page had to be shot on a stat camera. Hundreds of pages a week. With photochemicals. It was a mind-numbing job, and I know one person who simply left one day for lunch and never came back.
And so one day, this book came in to be shot. Great, an oversized book, and it looked double-sized– 40 pages. There goes my break. I started to shoot the book.
Ooh, Sam Kieth art. I knew his pencilled stuff from an APA in the early 80’s, but I mainly knew him as the inker for Mage and later, penciller on Manhunter. Mike Dringenberg I knew from Adolescent Radioactive Black-Belt Hamsters (Don’t ask. Please.) And the writer– Neil Gaiman? That new guy, the one who wrote Black Orchid? Hmm…
Word of Lou Reed’s death spread across the Internet on Sunday. For me, it was Sunday afternoon, so I can’t make this allusion. Nor will I call ita perfect day.
That’s what Lou Reed was to me. From the time his first album came out, he provided not only a soundtrack for my life, but a running commentary. His New York-inflected nasal vocals seemed to perfectly capture my own yearning for something I couldn’t define, but wanted desperately.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this made me unusual, especially in Ohio, where I lived. Lou had a hit in the mid-1970s, but there still weren’t a lot of people who would admit to liking him. I can only believe that people bought “Walk on the Wild Side” without acknowledging that they knew it was about drag queens.
He wrote about drag queens, and heroin, and despair. He also wrote about domestic violence, video games, and Doc Pomus. It didn’t matter. It felt like he was talking to me. It felt like he knew what mattered and who cared what anybody else thought. A valuable point of view now, but absolutely priceless to me when I was younger and even more insecure.
I’m not the only one. There were millions of us. Even though his sales never reflected it, he had millions of fans worldwide. He played for a pope. It’s possible to argue that he was part of the inspiration for the people’s revolution in Czechoslovakia.
It always seemed to me that Lou would like comics. Maybe he’d like Marvel superheroes, or maybe he’d just like cool, outré stuff like World War 3. He was in a comic as himself. And, according to Neil, he was an important inspiration to another.
Despite his reputation as a serious poet (or maybe because of it), he could also be hilariously funny. He was the reason I went to see what would turn out to be one of my favorite movies, Get Crazywhere he played Auden, a singer-songwriter clearly satirizing Bob Dylan. If you don’t have time to watch the whole movie, you should still take ran minutes and look here.
(In our family, when we’re running, we sing, “We’re late for the show.”)
I only saw him perform a few times, not enough, and I never met him. If I had, I don’t think he would have liked me. He had a reputation for being mean to people he didn’t like. A woman I know who attended the dinner Neil describes above says he was vicious and dismissive to her and to the other woman at the table.
He didn’t have to sit for an interview with Punk. Lots of musicians less famous than he would have refused to talk to a couple of kids with no published clips. He didn’t have to perform at Farm Aid.
In “Sweet Jane,” one of my favorite songs, he sings,
“Anyone who ever had a heart
they wouldn’t turn around and hate it
anyone who ever played a part
they wouldn’t turn around and hate it.”
Thanks for the life and the work, Lou Reed. I’m glad I spent it with you.
Last weekend, I was in New York City with the ever-wonderful Neil Gaiman and the extremely personable Adam Rex. Bestselling author and illustrator were in town to do a marathon signing at the delightful children’s book store Books of Wonder for Chu’s Day, their new children’s book. Although it was planned as only a signing (seeing as a million-billion people showed up), they did, in fact, decide to stand up on stepladders and do an impromptu reading of Chu’s Day first. It was exceptionally fun, with Neil, writer of the story, narrating the story and some illustrations, and Adam, the book’s illustrator, expertly doing Chu’s sneezes. (He’s very good at dramatic sneezing.)
They also answered some questions from the crowd, which is how we learned that Neil’s favorite picture books as a child included The Cat in the Hat Comes Back: “I didn’t have the first one, just the sequel,” he said, “so I thought, “‘Comes back?’ This is the first time I’ve met him! This is weird.” He was also a fan of the English Ladybird books, including Robin Hood, Snow White, and What to Look For in Autumn. Adam’s favorites included The Monster at the End of This Book (a favorite of mine, as well), which he proclaimed “an excellent postmodernist story, years ahead of its time;” as well as The Bike Lesson, a Berenstain Bears book; and Where the Wild Things Are.
I spoke with both author and illustrator during their NYC visit, and happily, have the pleasure of sharing those conversations with you now.
Interview with Neil Gaiman, author of Chu’s Day
On Twitter, the excellent cartoonist John Kovalic was saying it would be interesting to hear about the process of working with Adam Rex on Chu’s Day, and I agree. Please tell us a little about that.
Chu’s Day began when I was in China. It began with the Chinese telling me that none of my children’s picture books were in print in China, because they showed disrespect for authority, and children doing bad things and not being punished for it, and children being wiser than their adults; so they couldn’t be published in China. And I thought, I want to do a story that has all of that – and that the Chinese will like.
One of the things I’d loved most about being in China was actually having a panda sit on my lap, and going to a panda facility. I’m a sucker for pandas. So I was sitting around chewing this over in the back of my head, and then I pulled out a piece of paper, and wrote a story about a baby panda, using pretty much the words that are in the book. Then I got it home, and thought, “I don’t know how to write a children’s book, because the only way that I know how to do one of these normally would be like a comic script. But if I do it as a comic script, then it’s long and it’s big and it’s complicated and…let me do this the easy way.” The easy way for me was, I got a pen brush and a little book, and I drew the story out. Beat by beat, with the words that I wanted. Because I thought, “If I’m pitching this to a publisher, I want them to be able to see what it is.” So I did my drawings and they said yes, and once they said yes, then we had to find an artist.
And how did you end up with Adam?
Adam had been sort of crossing my path vaguely for many years, so I was kind of aware of him. In fact, he even crossed my path before I was aware of him crossing my path, because when he was an art student he gave me a Morpheus meeting the Kirby Sandman painting. After we were working together, he sent me a jpeg of it and said, “Do you remember this?” and I said, “Yes! That was in my house for a long time, and then it was auctioned, for the Fiddler’s Green (Sandman) convention, for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.” So he’d crossed my path, and every now and then I’d get a book from Adam, for a blurb, so I knew who he was. And I liked him. I’d never actually met him, but I liked his style and what he was doing.
Then I was talking to my agent, Merilee, and I said, “I have to find somebody who can draw really good animals. I have this vision; I know I want to do the world populated by animals, and I know they have to look like real animals. They can’t be cartoon animals; but they also have to do very funny, sort of human things.” And she said, “Well why don’t you go and look at Writers House [which is my agency]. We’re also representing illustrators these days. See if there are any illustrators on the website that you like.” So I looked, and thought, you know, Adam’s stuff is brilliant, and that’s absolutely perfect, so I asked Harpers if they’d be okay with Adam, and they loved the idea and said they’d ask him, and he said yes. And when he finished the book, we all looked at it and went, “Ohmygosh, this is great!” and I said, “Can I do another one?” and they said, “Sure,” so I signed a contract and Adam signed a contract to do another two Chu books.
The next one, which is already written, is called Chu’s First Day at School. And for the third one, I have two different ones in mind. I might want to do Chu Goes to the Beach, and I might want to do Chu’s Very Bad Day. The beach has some really surreal stuff in it. They’d both be a little bit older than the first Chu book, because the first Chu book is for kids who can barely read. You know, kids who get stuff read to them.
Are they being published in China?
There is definitely interest in China. I’m very much hoping that Chu’s Day will be published there. And that nobody’s actually going to notice that Chu doesn’t get punished, and he actually does kind of know more than his parents.
Where does Adam live, and how does that work when you’re working with an illustrator at a distance?
Arizona. It works pretty well. For Sandman, over the years, I would talk to people on the phone, and talk in email, and that all kind of works. Adam and I have actually never met. We’re meeting tomorrow morning for the first time, and then we’ll go over and start signing books and posters and things.
Since we’re speaking of Sandman; tell us about the new one. I just saw that someone has been reading the script for it, so I guess the first part is written now?
Yes, the first episode has finally been finished…probably about eight months late! Because I kept getting scared.
Well, it’s been years since you wrote the original series. I don’t even know exactly what this new story is about; do you want to talk about that?
No! I’m not telling anybody what it’s about! Other than, well, it begins before Sandman #1. Sandman #1 opens with Morpheus being captured; he’s traveled unimaginable distances, he’s dressed for war, and he’s exhausted. And one of the things that is kind of strange about Sandman is, I always thought a lot of people would want to know: why? Why was he dressed for war; where was he coming from? I kept waiting for people to go “Why? Why, tell us, for God’s sake!!” But nobody ever did! So I will be telling that story.
Well I will be excited to hear it, because when I first read it, I didn’t know you, so I couldn’t ask, but I did always wonder, “How did he end up there? You know; he’s Sandman, he’s Dream!”
He should not have been captured, exactly. And why was he dressed like that, and what was going on? So now people will find out.
Excellent. I can’t wait! So one more Chu’s Day question. The story is filled with talking animals. If you were a talking animal, what animal would you be and what would you talk about?
I would almost definitely be a large black cat. But what I would do is never talk when anybody had a microphone or a camera, or there was more than one person around; so it would always be deniable. Because the last thing you want to do if you’re a talking animal is talk in public, because at that point suddenly you’re a celebrity, and they’re taking you apart and they’re examining your brains…
What you want to do is just drive people nuts, by sort of padding over to somebody as they’re sitting there, you know, looking at their computer, and getting really, really upset about something not working; and you just sort of walk over, and you just say: “Ctrl+Alt+Delete.” And then you walk away. And they go, “What? What!! The cat is saying Ctrl+Alt+Delete, oh my God!”
That is truly Machiavellian. And awesome. (And thank you for the interview, Neil!)
Interview with Adam Rex, illustrator of Chu’s Day
Adam, tell me…is your last name really Rex?
It really is, yeah; I think I kind of lucked out. Everybody asks me if it’s a pen name; because it sounds like a pen name. Growing up, I didn’t think it was anything special, because I don’t think anyone ever thinks their name is anything special at that point, but now I realize it sounds kind of like a superhero alter ego.
It does! So when did you first start getting into drawing in the professional sense; and when you were a kid, were you always drawing?
Yeah, but you know, all kids start drawing at about the same age. I think all little kids are illustrators. They all draw, and they all draw to tell stories; so when people ask me, “When did you start drawing?” I feel like the real question is actually, “When did you stop drawing?” – and I’m good at it because I didn’t stop at the age of ten or twelve or fourteen like everybody else does.
At a very early age I decided I was going to be an artist when I grew up, because when I was about five years old, I overheard my older brother, who was eight at the time, complaining to our mom that it wasn’t fair that “Adam draws better than me even though he’s younger;” and I wasn’t at better than him at anything, so I just decided right then and there that this was what I would do. I don’t know that everybody gets that moment of clarity when they’re five! So I always wanted to be an artist. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I worked at a Waldenbooks when I was a teenager and kind of fell in love with picture books all over again. In my teen years I wanted to either do comics or picture books; anything that would let me synthesize telling stories and doing art.
When you first got started, did you do some work for comics, or did you start in picture books and stay there?
I never really did a whole lot of comics work. Where I actually got my start was in role playing and trading card games. I did a ton of stuff for D&D, and for Magic: The Gathering, and that’s what paid all my bills while I was trying to get into the kids’ book industry. Those were great clients to have, but what I really wanted to do was the kids’ stuff.
How did you end up doing the kids’ books?
It was persistence; but it was also lowering my bar a little bit. When I realized that nobody was giving me a book to work on, I started looking for work from the kids’ magazines, like Cricket and Spider, and that got me refreshing my portfolio with new pieces. I always think it’s important to refresh your portfolio with assignments that other people are giving you, because otherwise, you just tend to play to your own strengths, and you can be lazy with yourself. But it was actually a piece that I did for Cricket magazine that led directly to my getting my first picture book assignment. That was a book called The Dirty Cowboy, published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, and written by Amy Timberlake.
And when was that?
That came out in 2003. I got that assignment in 2001.
So you’ve been doing picture books for about twelve years now; and the latest is Chu’s Day, and you’ve signed on for two more Chu books?
Yes; Neil is on the short list of people I would drop everything for.
When you first got the job with Neil and Chu’s Day, what was the first thing you did when you sat down to think about how you were going to approach it?
This was kind of an unusual case, because Neil had actually sort of made a book dummy himself, where he had given some indication of where he thought the page breaks would be, and I don’t think I really messed with that too much. I may have stretched it out a little bit; or condensed certain parts. But usually when I sit down with a manuscript, I’m going through and drawing brackets around the sections of text, and deciding, “Okay, that’s a page; that’s a page; that’s a page,” and then I review it the first time, count them all up, and see if I actually ended up with a viable page count. All kids’ books are pretty much either 32 or 40 pages, so if you can’t make it work in that format, then you have to go back and try again. So I do that, and then once I figure out what text is going to go on each page, that’s followed by a bunch of really messy thumbnails; planning the whole book out on maybe one sheet of my sketchbook. Those sketches are so messy that really only I can tell what I’ve laid out there. And then it’s just refining from there. Larger messy sketches, and then a good sketch that goes off to the editor, and then the comments back, or lack of comments; and only then do I actually start painting.
I think my favorite part of the process is figuring out what all the characters are going to look like. So there are a lot of totally self-indulgent days of just character sketches. I realize I can spend way too much time doing that; so at some point I have to cut myself off.
When you got to the destruction scenes in Chu’s Day, what was your favorite part to draw?
I think I really enjoyed, not so much the actual action scenes, but the aftermath. Just the shell-shocked employees of and audience at the circus, with their various expressions. There’s a lion-tamer in the crowd who just has this soul-searching, thousand-mile stare. It’s clear he’s just, like, re-evaluating everything he ever thought about life and the universe. I think it was actually the reaction shot of everybody afterwards, after the dust settled, that was my favorite thing to draw.
I liked the gumball machine that was in mid-explosion. I like little details like that.
It’s funny you mention that, because I think my wife said the same thing. “That’s the sort of thing,” she said, “that I would have obsessed over. I would have wanted those gumballs as a little girl. I would have spent a lot of time looking at that gumball machine.”
Do you prefer drawing people or intelligent animals?
A little of both, really. I don’t know why I dig drawing animals in waistcoats and hats so much, but I really seem to enjoy it. It’s a total pleasure, because if you take certain liberties with panda bear anatomy, people are very forgiving. If you take the same liberties with a human being, people say, “That’s not right.” So it’s all the fun of drawing characters and getting at what’s important about each character, without having to worry too much about whether or not you got that perfect anatomy down.
You said you had originally been interested in comics. Do you want to stay with picture books? Do you want to keep branching out and do other things? And what’s your newest project? Well; I know you have the next two Chu books…
Right, another Chu project is coming. My first novel that I wrote actually has about fifteen pages of comics in it, that I just sort of shoehorned in there, and so one of my upcoming novels, which is a sequel to that one, will probably be the same way. Whether or not I actually ever commit to doing something like a genuine graphic novel, I don’t know. It’s really daunting. Although because I happen to be friends with Scott Allie over at Dark Horse, I did end up doing a cover to the Free Comic Book Day issue of The Guild.
Last question: One line of advice for young illustrators.
Keep your receipts.
That’s excellent advice. (And thank you for the interview, Adam!)
Well! I hope you all enjoyed these interviews…
But wait! There’s more! I also interviewed Neil regarding his myriad of other exciting projects! So if you’d like to read the rest of the Neil Gaiman interview, head on over to the DC Books and Authors Blog, an affiliate of The National Press Club, and check it out!
(In honor of Banned Books Week (September 30-October 6, 2012) we are reprinting this list from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and will be reprinting lots of stuff from them over the coming week to highlight their efforts. Donate now! —CM)
Banned Books Week is upon us, and it’s telling that the event is more relevant than ever in its 30th year. Given their visual nature and the rampantly held misconception that comic books are for children, comics are among the most challenged and banned books in libraries and schools. Let’s take a look at some frequently challenged and banned comics…
Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations by J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita, Jr., and Scott Hanna
• Location of key challenge: A middle-school library in Millard, Nebraska
• Reason challenged: Sexual overtones
The parent of a 6-year-old who checked out the book filed a complaint and took the story to the media; the parent also withheld the book for the duration of the review process rather than returning it per library policy.
• Location of key challenge: Stark County District Library in Canton, Ohio
• Reason challenged: Sexism, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
Despite the challenge, the library retained the book and now holds two copies, which are shelved in the Teen section.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
• Location of key challenge: The public library in Marshall, Missouri
• Reason challenged: Obscene images
CBLDF wrote a letter to the Marshall library on behalf of Blankets and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, playing a key role in keeping both books on shelves.
Bone by Jeff Smith
• Location of key challenge: Independent School District 196 in Rosemount, Minnesota
• Reason challenged: Promotion of smoking and drinking
A letter from Jeff Smith decrying the attempted ban of his book was read aloud at the library review committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smith and the CBLDF.
Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama
• Location of key challenge: All public school libraries in Wicomico County, Maryland
• Reason challenged: Violence and nudity
The library review committee recommended that the books in the Dragon Ball series, which were recommended by the publisher for ages 13+, be removed from the entire public school library system, including at the high school level.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
• Location of key challenge: The public library in Marshall, Missouri
• Reason challenged: Obscene images
CBLDF wrote a letter to the Marshall library on behalf of Fun Home and Craig Thompson’s Blankets, playing a key role in keeping both books on shelves.
Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes
• Location of key challenge: A high school in Guilford, Connecticut
• Reason challenged: Profanity, course language, and brief non-sexual nudity
A high school teacher was forced to resign from his job after a parent filed both a complaint with the school and a police complaint against the teacher for lending a high school freshman a copy of Eightball #22, which was later published as the graphic novel Ice Haven.
In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
• Location of key challenge: Multiple locations
• Reason challenged: Nudity
In the Night Kitchen was not often removed from shelves; instead, librarians censored it by painting underwear or diapers over the genitals of the main character, a precocious child named Mickey.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
• Location of key challenge: Jessamine County Public Library in Kentucky
• Reason challenged: Sex scenes
Two employees of the Jessamine County Public Library in Kentucky were fired after they took it upon themselves to withhold the library’s copy of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier from circulation because they felt it was pornographic.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
• Location of key challenge: Pasadena Public Library in Pasadena, California
• Reason challenged: Anti-ethnic and unsuited for age group
Nick Smith of the Pasadena Public Library describes the challenge as being “made by a Polish-American who is very proud of his heritage, and who had made other suggestions about adding books on Polish history… The thing is, Maus made him uncomfortable, so he didn’t want other people to read it. That is censorship, as opposed to parental guidance.”
Neonomicon by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
• Location of key challenge: The public library in Greenville, South Carolina
• Reason challenged: Sexual content
Despite giving her 14-year-old daughter permission to check out the book, which was appropriately shelved in the adult section of the library, a mother filed a complaint, claiming the book was “pornographic.” CBLDF wrote a letter in support of the book, but it remains out of circulation pending review.
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon
• Location of key challenge: Various
• Reason challenged: Sexual content
Despite receiving high praise from the ALA and Booklist and featuring a cast consisting of animals, the book has been challenged at libraries for sexual content.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists
• Location of key challenge: Various
• Reason challenged: Anti-family themes, offensive language, and unsuited for age group
When asked about how he felt when Sandman was labelled unsuitable for teens, Gaiman responded, “I suspect that having a reputation as adult material that’s unsuitable for teens will probably do more to get teens to read Sandman than having the books ready and waiting on the YA shelves would ever do.”
SideScrollers by Matthew Loux
• Location of key challenge: The public school district in Enfield, Connecticut
• Reason challenged: Profanity and sexual references
The school district removed the book from non-compulsory summer reading lists, possibly violating its own review policy, which states in part that “no parent nor group of parents has the right to negate the use of educational resources for students other than his/her own child.” CBLDF wrote a letter in support of the book and is still awaiting a response from the school board.
Stuck in the Middle, edited by Ariel Schrag
• Location of key challenge: The public school system in Dixfield, Maine
• Reason challenged: Language, sexual content, and drug references
CBLDF wrote a letter in support of the book, and the school board voted to leave the book on library shelves with the caveat the students must have parental permission to check out the book. “While we’re pleased to see the book retained in the library’s collection, we’re very disappointed that it is retained with restrictions,” said Executive Director Charles Brownstein.
Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse
• Location of key challenge: Montgomery County Memorial Library System, Texas
• Reason challenged: Depiction of homosexuality
The book was challenged alongside 15 other young adult books with gay positive themes. The book was ultimately retained in the Montgomery County system, but was reclassified from Young Adult to Adult.
Tank Girl by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett
• Location of key challenge: Hammond Public Library in Hammond, Indiana
• Reason challenged: Nudity and violence
The Tank Girl books are meant to entertain an adult audience, frequently depicting violence, flatulence, vomiting, sex, and drug use. After the 2009 challenge, the Hammond Public Library chose to retain the book, and it remains on shelves today.
The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
• Location of key challenge: Various
• Reason challenged: Nudity, sexual content, and unsuited to age group
When the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom released their list of the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011, the second-most challenged book on that list was The Color of Earth, the first book of a critically-acclaimed Korean manwha, or comic book, series.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
• Location of key challenge: Various
• Reason challenged: Unsuited to age group
Watchmenreceived a Hugo Award in 1988 and was instrumental in garnering more respect and shelf space for comics and graphic novels in libraries and mainstream bookstores. The inclusion of Watchmen in school library collections has been challenged by parents at least twice, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Given their visual nature, graphic novels and comic books are among the most-challenged books in libraries and schools. CBLDF is an official sponsor of Banned Books Week, which takes place September 30 – October 6, 2012. Please help support CBLDF’s defense of your right to read by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!