For almost 20 years (since I was five, Jean) I’ve given a party, a dinner, or both. For nearly that long I’ve hosted the Black Panel.
I’ve had some fantastic events to be sure, but I must say 2012 was my best event year ever. My best party, my best dinner and my best Black Panel.
That, if I say so myself, is saying something.
The party and my panel were reviewed by many news outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Comic Book Resources and the powerhouse Machinima.
Every year after the Black Panel, the haters come out in force. There are black people that hate the panel; there are white people that hate the panel.
Guess what? I win.
Until you haters get your own panel at Comic Con, throw your own party and get reviewed by some of the biggest news outlets in the world you are more than welcome to hate me.
I will endeavor to do what I can to continue to give meaning to your small life. I will continue to do great things so that you can go on the net and bitch that way you will feel important and in your mind you are.
You are a legend in your own mind.
I’ll be happy to comment on your success if in fact you were successful at anything except being a legend in your own mind.
So, haters continue to hate, because I win. Why do I win?
Because you are talking about me.
Who is talking about you?
Tuesday Afternoon: Emily S. Whitten and the Civil War
Wednesday Morning: Mike Gold, Creators’ Rights, and One Big Wrong
One more time to the well I go! As with my articles over the last two weeks … I’m taking to task one Tim Marchman of the Wall Street Journal. He quipped that the comic industry is in a tailspin in part because of “clumsy art, poor writing, and (and I’m paraphrasing…) the clinging-to-continuity.” I’ve defended the art. I’ve defended the writing. I might as well finish off the trifecta of telling this putz where to shove his opinions, right? Even if it gets Mike Gold in a tizzy.
It’s the argument I hear (and honestly have made myself… whoops) time and again; Modern comic books are too hard to get into because they have a nearly-impossible-to-grasp forever-changing mythology. In fact, this very argument was brought to life (and a live audience) to WBEZ (Chicago’s NPR affiliate) at a well-attended debate. At that debate? Tim Seeley, Mike Norton, and a handful of other local comic artists and writers. Suffice to say, the argument has legs. Long, tall, sultry legs. Legs that start at the floor, and go up to the heavens. The kind of legs that keep lesser men at bay. OK, I’ll stop with the leg analogy. I get it. Really, I do. “If I want to read Spider-Man, I need to read decades worth of stories to understand what’s going on!”
Sorry, my son is watching me type.
Huh. Now there’s something to latch on to – my son. Soon, Bennett will gain the power of language and communication. And I plan to read him a comic book every night before bed. Why? Because I want to teach him, from as early an age as possible, that comic books (and their never-ending back-stories) are entirely accessible. From the simplest base of knowledge – sometimes rooted only in the musings, opinions, and un-fact-checked thoughts of another comic book fan – enjoyment is not hindered by a lengthy back story. In fact, when handled well, a story with a rich history only yields further desire to immerse ones’ self in the adventure further.
Case in point? GrimJack
When “The Manx Cat” hit shelves, I nabbed it, tepidly. Knowing nothing of the adventures of the beret-wearing, bar-owning, sword-gun-and-sorcery-using mercenary, I still made the purchase. The issue was clearly meant to attract a new reader (as DC did with relaunching their entire line, and Marvel does when they append a “.1” to a book’s numbering). As I recall, the inside front cover didn’t have a lengthy history report. Over the course of six issues, I learned what I could from what John Ostrander presented. Some of it was easy enough to latch on to. “This guy’s been around the block a few times. Seems to have an elaborate network of operatives, friends, and history around this universe.” Other things made me scratch my noodle. “He’s obviously referencing a previous adventure the older fans know. Hmm. Sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll go back and check it out…”
And therein lies my point. All it took was a spark of interest, and I dove in. Comic books are akin to other serialized mediums – Professional Wrestling and Soap Operas come to mind. Before your eyes roll, and you snort loud enough to make the cat wake up, hold tight. When I uttered (err, typed) those phrases, did the hair on the back of your neck raise up just a little? Well, suck it up, nerdlinger. For the “big two” in the industry… their wares aren’t really all that different from Vince McMahon’s steroid showcase, or the major networks’ never-ending dramas of soapy nature. The fact is the very root of comic books is tied to the idea of serialization. To proclaim it being part of the reason the comic book business is failing is like saying wrestling is failing because it’s fake.
Now, to be fair, Marchman may very well be commenting on modern books being “written for the trade”, which I covered last week. When you walk into the store today, and want to check out The Avengers (cause you just saw that kooky flick, don’t-cha-know…), the first issue you pull off the shelf may be right smack dab in the middle of some zany plot you’ve no clue about. Reading 20 pages of content piling on top of two, three or four previous episodes makes for an nearly impossible-to-enjoy experience. I guess you’d throw up your arms, and leave the shop. Maybe go into the back alley. Buy some drugs. I mean drugs don’t care about history, do they? And they’re just as addictive… Damnit comics! You made another near-fan a drug addict.
Here’s the rub: It’s a lame excuse. If you came out of the movie theater jazzed about the Avengers, a quick jaunt to your local fiction house would help satiate your new-found-taste for muscles and fights. A well-picked trade, or handful of issues later (let’s say about $20 worth, or less if you go digital), you can then start pulling off the rack, right afterwards. Will you know everything going on? No. But if the books are written and drawn well enough? I bet you go back and fill in the gaps. I did with the Fantastic Four, not that long ago. Without any knowledge of the years Hickman spent building his nuanced epic arc, I jumped in head first (right after Johnny “died”). And over the course of the following year? The book rose to the top of my pull list. And now, I’m going back through his entire run. Because I want to know more. All it took was the first step – and admitting my previous excuse for not buying the book was just that… an excuse.
Suffice to say, Marchman’s point about barrier to entry is just a sly dodge away from the real issue (which is more about the Direct Market, availability, and proper marketing by Marvel and DC to potential fans). For those people who say “I’d get into comics, but there’s too much backstory to get through,” what are they really telling you? Jim Gaffigan had it right all along:
“You know my favorite part about that movie? Not reading.”
Welcome back to the ranting and raving, kiddos. Be forewarned, some time has passed since my last article – one week to be exact – but I’m still angry as all get-out. For those just joining us: Tim Marchman’s review of “Leaping Tall Buildings” in the Wall Street Journal was an incendiary piece of trash. The review meant to blame the lack of universal love (and sales) of comic books due (in part) to the “clumsily drawn” and “poorly written” books themselves. Last week, I argued on the side of the artists. This week, I mean to tackle this asshat’s jab at the scribes of our pulpy tomes.
To say that, on the whole, modern comics are “poorly written” is just about the silliest opinion I’ve heard since my buddy told me “Ranch dressing tastes bad on chicken.” First off, ranch is delicious on chicken. More to the point, modern comics are writing rings around previous generations. We’re in a renaissance of story structure, characterization, and depth. Writing, much like art, is largely subjective when it comes to collective opinion. That being said, certainly anyone with minimal brain power might be able to tell good writing from bad. Easy enough for us all to agree that the Avengers was better written than the Twilight movies. OK, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Axe Cop is better written than Twilight… and it’s penned by a six year old. Either way, I’d like to think we the people (of Comic Landia) might defend the quality of today’s comics as being leaps and bounds better than books of yesteryear.
I know this might be daring (and insane) of me to say… but for those old farts and fogies that proclaim comics “aren’t what they used ta’ be!” – and imply the scripts are worse now than they were in the 60s or 70s – should go back to the nursing home, and yell at the TV until dinner. Call it a sweeping declaration. Call it mean-spirited. But I call it as I see it: Modern books are simply written better. Today’s comics – when they are good – embrace pacing, motif, and intelligent payoffs by and large far more than ever previously. I assume Marchman, while researching for his article, was only reading Jeph Loeb books. And if that’s the case? He’s probably right. But I digress.
Open a book today. You’ll see things that previous generations simply failed to execute properly. A modern comic is unafraid to let the art speak for itself. Not every panel needs an explanatory caption box anymore. Gone are lengthy thought balloons that explain away every ounce of subtlety. Writers allow their characters time to emotionally deal with their actions, and end books on a down note when needed. And as much as terrible crime against nature it is, modern writers are even willing to ret-con, reboot, or reexamine the past of a character to better flesh out their drive or motive. It’s been done before, I know, but never as good as it’s being done now.
Comic writers today (again, “by and large”) embrace risk like no other generation before them. Guys like Kurt Busiek and Robert Kirkman channel their love and admiration of tropes and stereotypes, and drill down to new and unique concepts that spin old ideas into fresh ones. Dudes like Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman layer super-psuedo science and lofty concepts within their stories to transform the truly implausible to the sublimely believable… a metamorphosis of story that a Stan Lee would not have ever delivered to the true believers. And what of our own ComicMix brethren, whose bibliographies aren’t complete… Would John Ostrander or Dennis O’Neil say that the scripts they write today aren’t leaps and bounds better than their earlier work? As artists (be it with brush or word), we always strive to evolve. That equates to the present always being better than the past.
Simply put, Marchman’s postulation that the scripting of current comics is to blame for the lack of sales in comparison to alternative media (like movies or TV) is hilariously wrong. While he’s quick to back his point with the cop-out “continuity” argument, he lacks the niche-knowledge necessary to know how idiotic he sounds. With the advent of Wikipedia, friendly comic ship owners, digital publication of archive materials, as well as countless other online resources… the barrier to entry for someone truly interested in buying a comic is the commitment to seek out the backstory. To blame the lack of sales on an arbitrary assessment of the quality of the stories, was made without considering the avalanche of amazing material being published today.
If I can use a trope from the bag of Seth MacFarlane, I’d like to end on hyperbole. You see, Mr. Marchman, if you want me to believe that comics today are poorly written? I’d like you to read current issues of Action Comics, Batman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Invincible Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Boys, Dial H, Saga, Irredeemable, Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Justice League, Green Lantern, Powers, Monocyte, The New Deadwardians, Batman Incorporated, Courtney Crumrin, Saucer County, Fatale, and Batwoman. Then get back to me. Until that time? Suck-a-duck.
SUNDAY: The Aforementioned Geriatric John Ostrander
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!”
In our continuing coverage of comics crossover with #OccupyWallStreet, we have this photo by Marcus Santos for the New York Daily News on how Zuccotti Park protestors spent their Halloween, as well as this appearance last night from Countdown With Keith Olbermann on Current TV:
With e-books now making up about 20 percent of sales for many big publishers, it’s essential for bestseller lists to include them in order to give an accurate picture of what is selling. The Wall Street Journal will start running e-book bestseller lists starting this weekend, following a move by the New York Times earlier this year and USA Today in 2009. But there is something unique about the WSJ‘s e-book lists: They are powered by Nielsen BookScan, which has not publicly tracked e-book sales until now. Nielsen BookScan tracks print book sales, and is believed to cover about 75 percent of hardcover and paperback sales. The company had said earlier this year that it would begin tracking e-book sales at some point.
The WSJ is running four lists: “Combined e-book and physical sales for fiction and nonfiction, and e-sales only for fiction and nonfiction. Eligible releases will include self-published books, children’s books and ‘perennials,’ older works that continue to sell strongly.”
So in a very short time, BookScan will have data on electronic sales. The next question: will E-Comics sales be included in Bookscan numbers? If so, when? Will it include individual pamphlet sales, or will it only be for graphic novels? And will Comixology and Graphicly share their data with Bookscan? (Can they? Comixology has already said that various non-disclosure agreements are in place with publishers that have prevented them from releasing sales figures.)
This has been one of the biggest blind spots in the comics industry in the last year— with all of the digital initiatives that have been undertaken, we have no idea how they’ve been selling or changing the marketplace in general. If we’re going to have any idea where the comics medium is heading, we need this data.
The original [[[Wall Street]]] was a reflection of the times, showing how enticing working in the financial sector can be and how the huge sums of money involved can blind people to depths they will sink to chase it. It was a story about seduction and about family. That it came out when the markets were in the headlines gave it additional strength coupled with Michael Dogulas’ winning performance as Gordon Gecko. His “Greed is Good” was the most overused catchphrase in America until “Show me the Money.”
The sequel was almost demanded by the public because they needed some way to better grasp the enormity of the financial market meltdown that began in 2008. Director Oliver Stone was only too happy to respond. Revisiting the former lion of Wall Street in a new era would have made for a fascinating character portrait.
Unfortunately, the sequel, [[[Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps]]], doesn’t know what it wants to be. In some ways, its a repeat of the original as Gordon Gecko once more seduces a hungry, nave trader, this time played by Shia LeBeouf. In other ways, its a story of second chances as Gecko watches the situation that he prophecised and hungers to get back in the game and the choices he makes to accomplish the goal. It’s also a semi-documentary, retelling the Goldman Sachs story, but the message is clouded over with all the other storylines, notably Susan Sarandon as Shia’s mom, a nurse turned real estate speculator who is in over her head. While it reflects a true issue of the times, it doesn’t add anything and actually detracts from the core storyline.
The movie is packed with characters and events and threads but the film doesn’t mesmerize as the first did. Instead, it plods along and feels overlong, making one thankful for the scenes Stone did delete. Screenwriters Alan Loeb and Stephen Schiff needed to decide who to focus on and what was important rather than give us too much. Was it a story of family? Redemption? Second chances? Revenge? We got some of all those themes without feeling it was really about any of them.
Douglas is a welcome treat any time on the screen and he makes Gecko a far more sympathetic figure showing that eight years in prison really did change him. His efforts to reconnect with his daughter Winnie are strong. Played by Carey Mulligan, Winnie is also strong but can’t see that she has fallen for Jake (LaBeouf), too closely resembling her father. Emotionally hardened, Mulligan lets the shell crack bit by bit out of love for Jake and eventually her father. But she remains fiercely independent throughout but needed to have more of a point of view, rather than drift through the story. Josh Brolin is the real bad guy this time and he does a fine job, giving us someone to hiss and pin our personal economic misery on.
Overall, the story needed to be tighter and it needed to avoid repeating threads from the first film. Still, the Blu-ray, now out from 20th Century Home Entertainment, makes for an entertaining way of spending a cold winter’s night.
The blu-ray comes with a variety of extras that you won’t find on the standard DVD. As usual, Oliver Stone provides a fact-filled commentary track that is informative and enjoyable. Stone also conducts a roundtable chat with his cast so hearing the actors hold forth on the complexities of finance seems unnecessary. More fascinating is the 50 minute “Money, Money, Money: The Rise and Fall of Wall Street” feature that is a solid documentary on how the film reflects what really happened and touches on how business and Hollywood intersect. The Fox Movie Channel offers up five mini featurettes that can be skipped. As mentioned earlier, there are 15 deleted/extended scenes, none of which are missed from the final cut. Stone’s commentary here, though, nicely explains his choices.
Overall, the movie helps crystallize the issues we’re still grappling with and is better than one had feared but it still should have been better. The disc’s extras help provide valuable information but you really need to be a serious fan of the material to own this.
Greed is good, the saying goes, but free rides in New York City are better. Hedge your bets against the holiday madness as 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment offers free rides as they celebrate the release Tuesday of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps on DVD and Blu-ray.
WHAT: Money never sleeps and neither does New York. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will do its part to create a bull market by offering free rides throughout Manhattan. Throughout the city, ten Wall Street themed cars, branded by diversified media company Show Media, will be available for use to businessmen, shoppers and Manhattanites alike. Because while there may be no such thing as a free lunch, from December 20-24, there is such thing as a free ride.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is available on Blu-ray and DVD on December 21. Also available is the Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps 2-Pack, which includes the iconic 1987 classic with the 2010 sequel in a two-disc DVD set.
“Greed is good” and “Lunch is for wimps” became the two catch phrases that helped turn Oliver Stone’s [[[Wall Street]]] into a smash hit. The feature film also debuted at just the perfect moment as Wall Street blazed across the headlines with a serious financial collapse. The film cemented Michael Douglas as the leading man of the decade and gave us a stellar cast of newcomers, most of who have gone on to do other good work.
In time for the unexpected sequel [[[Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps]]], 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has released [[[Wall Street: Insider Trading Edition]]] and it’s a greedy cash grab without delivering the ultimate edition for fans. Several features found on the standard DVD, 20th anniversary edition, and the Blu-ray release are absent, which is a shame since “Greed is Good”, the nearly one hour documentary is worth seeing.
On this standard DVD set, you get the complete film on the first disc (with Stone’s so-so commentary track) while the second has the Fact Exchange, which is the entire film with a bonus trivia track. There is a constant running commentary placing musical cue and cultural references into perspective. After all, newcomers today may not recognize the early reference to former baseball slugger Dave Winfield. So, this is a nice, welcome addition.
We don’t get the deleted scenes or “Money Never Sleeps: The Making of Wall Street” but do get a trailer for the new film, [[[Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps]]] – A Conversation and “Fox Movie Channel Presents: Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman”. These are fine but are aimed at the new film so the featurettes that help explain why the original is so well-regarded should have been here.
Wall Street depicts an energetic New York City, filled with rich and fashionable and those desiring to be rich and fashionable. The offices of Gordon Gecko are sleek and scream money as does his home and suits. He is knowledgeable, charismatic, and cut-throat, typical of a class of businessmen Tom Wolfe called “Masters of the Universe”. His stratospheric career is enticing to young account exec Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) who allows himself to compromise his morals and principles just to breathe the same air as Gecko. In so doing, he uses insider information from his dad (Martin Sheen), a 24 year veteran mechanic for a small airline. Dad is centered and content with his place in the world, always having a few bucks to lend his constantly strapped son, who is never content. Gecko and Fox the Elder are competing father figures with Bud lost between them.
Gecko has his own rival in a fellow ruthless wheeler and dealer, coolly played by Terence Stamp. Their enmity plays out across the film and while they say its just business, it’s also clearly personal. Stone plays with the characters and the Wall Street business world with verve, drawing from his experience of watching his father survive in the financial sector. The film is filled with actors such as James Spader, John C. McGinley, Saul Rubinek and others who have gone on to their own fame and fortune. On the other hand, this was one of the final strong roles for Daryl Hannah before she withdrew from an active acting career.
While the film is well-worth watching, owning yet another version is not called for. The $14.98 list price, though, makes this worth investing to fill the void in your library.