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GLENN HAUMAN: Literature of ethics, revisited

I’ve been kicking around these ideas around for a while but never codified them until Jim Henley wrote his famous blogposts and essay on the Literature of Ideas. Henley’s thesis boils down to “If science fiction is the literature of ideas, the superhero story is the literature of ethics. Or say, rather, it should be.”

Now for the backstory. This isn’t verbatim, but as I know and at least briefly worked with all the people here, I suspect it’s pretty close.

In the early 1970’s, the late great Julius Schwartz took over editorial duties on the Superman comics line from Mort Weisinger. Julie hired Dennis O’Neil to write the series, and O’Neil knocked Superman’s power levels down to about the level of his earliest appearances — no heat vision, no x-ray vision, no super-breath, no flying through space unaided, and so on. O’Neil was quoted saying that the reason for the change was that he found it difficult and/or uninteresting “to write about a character who could destroy distant galaxies by listening hard.”

O’Neil’s tenure on Superman lasted for about a year, and then the reins were handed over to Elliot S. Maggin. Elliot bumped Superman’s power levels back up to where they were, and approached writing Superman this way: if you have a character who can do anything, the only story avenues left to you are ethical ones. But in this area, there’s a lot of ground: “What was Superman’s relationship to his charges, the people of the Earth? To the authoritative functionaries of the rest of the Universe like the Guardians and, by extension, those who might be considered deities? What were the limits of Superman’s responsibilities? Were there differences between the real limits of his responsibilities and his perception of those responsibilities? What role did his heritage, both on Earth and among the stars, play in the determination of his actions? What long-term effects were coming about as a result of his intercession?”


Erin Go Bragh!

Erin Go Bragh!

We were casting about today hoping for an appropriate St. Patrick’s Day comic-related post, and the Redhead Fangirl didn’t disappoint, calling our attention to a company called Cló Mhaigh Eo in Claremorris, County Mayo in the West of Ireland.

They’ve been around a dozen years, and publish "books in Irish for children and young people as well as a series of acclaimed Irish graphic novels… Many Irish language learners throughout the world make extensive use of books from Cló Mhaigh Eo, particularly our children’s picture books."

Here’s their graphic novel list, and you can even click on several pages for translations from Gaelic into English.  Tip o’ the tweed cap for this one, redlib!

Tom DeFalco speaks!

Tom DeFalco speaks!

Marvel writer and former editor-in-chief sits for an exclusive ComicMix Podcast interview and talks about "the last true Marvel comic book" and long-time comics fan Gene Simmons becomes a comics publisher. Buffy #1 gets re-Buffed as lots of first printings sell-out.

All this plus TImeline, more news, and we dip into the ComicMix mailbag. It ain’t easy being green, except on St. Patricks Day – you’ll find out how on this weekend’s ComicMix Podcast, available by pressing this button right here:

Booty call, fandom style

Booty call, fandom style

Via Cheryl Lynn, yet another online meet-and-greet club has burst onto the scene with ambitions toward dispelling stereotypes about fans being weak in the social skills department.  This one’s called OtakuBooty, and specializes in bringing together "intelligent, funny, sexy" aficionados of Japanese animation, manga and gaming.

They claim, "Not all Internet communities are overrun by 13 year-olds arguing about DragonBall. Most OtakuBooty members are in their 20s and 80% of our members over the age of 18."  Which of course means a fifth are still legal minors. They continue, " OtakuBooty has a tight-knit community that has banded together for countless activities: a Full Monty-style fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina victims, raising money for a member who lost his apartment in a fire, and even clothing themselves in custom-made OtakuBooty hockey jerseys… And then there are the infamous parties."

Seems to me if you have that many underage members, you might want to be more careful about advertising Full Monty-style charity events and calling your parties infamous.

Comic Abstraction at the Museum of Modern Art

Comic Abstraction at the Museum of Modern Art

The good news is that a big name, first tier, grown-up institution, the Museum of Modern Art, is doing a show on comic art.


The bad news is that we’re still being nibbled to death by ducks; the show is a rather narrow view of the medium, a look at how 13 artists are using the visual conventions associated with comic art. Sometimes it’s one convention to a practitioner; sometimes they can handle as many as a half a dozen.


The Modern ( is spiffy enough to have an online exhibition, which can at least let you in on the main ideas. I don’t have to tell you the value of staring at a wall-sized painting vis a vis a reproduction on a screen, but in this case especially you can understand the ideas at work here. If you don’t buy the idea, then you can probably skip a trip to the show. It fits in one of their smaller temporary exhibition spaces, fewer than two-dozen pieces altogether in about four rooms, artfully arranged, like spaces in the primate habitat at the zoo to seem like a few more.


It took me a half hour to look at it closely, most people were in and out in less time than that.


The Museum feels the need to expand their scope to “slapstick, comic strips and films, caricature, cartoons, and animation.” This says, to me, that, they still need to add things to comic art to make a show. It also says they are still bedeviled by the use of “comic” to refer to both the medium and a point of view. They are in sight of the transcendent critical vision here: that comic art is a medium, not a genre.


But that’s their contribution to critical literature; the show makes a lot more sense looking at it than reading about it.


As usual, the artists are ahead of the museums. They know the comic artists have great powers, most of them have been reading comics all their lives, just like the rest of us, at least in the Sunday paper. They know a speedline from a thought balloon, clean line from brushwork. They have such respect for comic art technique that most of them don’t go near it, as such, exploring instead the equally wide seas of painting.


Lawsuit happy

Lawsuit happy

It’s beginning to look like ComicMix needs a Lawsuit Watch correspondent.  Reuters has the details (hat tip to IESB).

On Thursday, two NY-based artists filed suit against NBC Universal and the creators of Heroes claiming the popular TV show stole one of their plotlines from them, basing it "on a short story, a painting series and a short film the couple exhibited in 2004 and 2005." The 2005 exhibit at Hunter College was attended by two people identifying themselves as writers from Crossing Jordan (also developed by Heroes creator/executive producer Tim Kring) and who were believed to have taken copies of the artists’ work, thus lessening the likelihood that coincidence is not causality.  As Heroes has tried to depict, nothing’s coincidence anyway.

Also on Thursday, Carol Burnett filed a copyright infringement suit against the makers of Family Guy over an episode shown last April featuring an 18-second sequence depicting a "slightly altered version" of her signature cleaning-woman character in a segment last April, basically saying they used the charwoman-clone without her permission. A 20th Century Fox spokesdroid responded that the references amounted to parody, which shouldn’t even need to be said.

ROBERT GREENBERGER: Super-Heroes D2DVD to your home!

ROBERT GREENBERGER: Super-Heroes D2DVD to your home!

We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at how Hollywood operates, optioning properties, including comic books, which they think might work as a movie or television series. With the success of 300, we also paused to examine how full the calendar was getting the next few years and wondered if a glut was coming.

If that’s the case, what alternatives might there be?

Television remains skittish with comic book properties despite the runaway success of Heroes. Beyond Smallville, there are no comics-related shows on prime time and none likely to be added to the 2007-08 schedule (to be announced in May). Cable, with dozens and dozens of channels, has one: Painkiller Jane on Sci-Fi.

Animated fare, either for Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons, has turned away from comic books for source material, preferring anime imports or original productions. The last handful of attempts have not been resounding successes such as the WB’s Legion of Super-Heroes.

But there are new signs of life in the still growing Direct to DVD market, a.k.a. D2DVD. Here, producers go for the familiar as they crank out sequel after sequel on shoestring budgets and churn them out like so much shovelware, clogging the shelves at mass merchandisers from Sam’s Club to Best Buy. In 2006, D2DVD releases generated $1.3 billion in revenue, and that’s expected to grow 5% to 7% this year, according to Variety.

This is fertile ground for all the comic book publishers but so far only the majors are exploiting it to the fullest.

The earliest releases were not from DC, but from Warner animation, starting with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The story worked and the look matched that of the successful Bruce Timm/Paul Dini animated series and played better than expected so got upgraded to feature film release. Unfortunately, the subsequent efforts: Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, Batman vs. Dracula and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman fared less well both creatively and financially.

The nadir may have been hit last year when they rushed out the ill-conceived Superman: Brainiac Attacks which resembled neither the animated continuity nor the Superman Returns feature film. Both were played off on the Cartoon Network.

Fortunately, it came and went with little fanfare and was totally eclipsed last summer when DC announced they were finally working as full partners with Warner animation in creating animated adaptations of classic DC stories from the company’s rich and deep library.

The first four announced releases, for those who missed the news, are:


R2D2 handles your mail

Yahoo News has blown the pants off the USPS’ latest promotional gimmick, as it teams with Lucasfilm on March 28th, the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie, to remake some mailboxes in a familiar image.

About 400 mailboxes in 200 cities across the country will be wrapped in a special covering to make them look something like the droid R2D2 (judge for yourself at right).

The post office isn’t saying which ones, but they have a somewhat tepid teaser about the event.

The pants references above?  If you’ve never played Star Wars Pants, you’re really missing something.  Let’s hope it’s not those trousers, or I’d find your lack of pants disturbing.

(And if you didn’t catch the Annie Leibovitz photos from the Star Wars edition of Vanity Fair two years ago, they’re making the rounds again… love the group shot!)

Estrogen month update

Estrogen month update

Maybe it’s because of Women’s History Month, or maybe it’s the time of (wo)man.  But for those of us who like to idealize (rather than fetishize or objectify) women superheroes, there’s a lot of good stuff online right now.

Besides getting their fill of Buffy and Wonder Woman, readers can linger over Alan Kistler’s exhaustive two-part profile of the Amazon princess (here’s part one and part two).  On the artistic end, Project Rooftop and are co-sponsoring Supergirl Week, featuring entries from last month’s Draw Supergirl online artfest. And in the area of personal epiphany, Marvel artist Brian Denham talks about his moments of revelation and self-education about drawing women in comics.  Even the lone woman character with a speaking role in the movie 300 gets a nice review/analysis from Purtek at the Hathor Legacy.

As ever, When Fangirls Attack is your best bet for links to posts on the worlds of super-females.

Jay Kennedy RIP

Jay Kennedy RIP

According to an announcement from the Hearst Corporation, King Features Syndicate editor-in-chief Jay Kennedy died yesterday while on vacation in Costa Rica. He was 50 years old.

"Jay had a profound impact on the transformation of King Features as a home for the best new and talented comic strip creators in the country," said Bruce L. Paisner, executive vice president, Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. "He was an extremely creative talent himself and we are indebted to him for all he did."

Kennedy joined King Features in 1988 as deputy comics editor and became comics editor one year later. He was named editor in chief in 1997. He previously served as cartoon editor of Esquire magazine,and was a humor book agent and a cartoon consultant and editor for magazines and publishers, including People. In 1985, Kennedy guest edited r the "European Humor" issue of The National Lampoon.

Kennedy wrote articles about the history of cartooning, and profiled cartoonists and contemporary comics for magazines including New Age Journal, Heavy Metal, New York, The IGA Journal, and Escape, an English bi-monthly. He was also the author of "The Underground Comix Guide," published in 1982.

Before graduating with a sociology degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Kennedy studied sculpting and conceptual art at The School of Visual Arts in New York City.

I recall having corresponded with Kennedy on several occasions, probably asking some questions or other about women cartoonists at King Features, and always found him knowledgeable and pleasant.  ComicMix offfers our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.