Archive for April, 2012


Here’s How You Break Your Thumb Playing Tekken 3

April 19th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I mentioned breaking my thumb playing video games in passing when I was talking about Kids on the Slope, and Ross Campbell rightly called me out on it. I started this post as a comment, but I realized it was probably worth embarrassing myself in front of everyone, because I figure somebody’ll laugh.

Man, this is such a dumb story.

I was sixteen and thought I was the best at Tekken 3. I could beast my friends, my family, whatever whatever. So my uncle took me over to his friend’s house to hang out. Tekken came up, the PlayStation came out, and I got destroyed. Like, manhandled. I don’t even remember who I played, probably Eddy, Jin, or Xiaoyu. Maybe “savaged” is a better term. And when you’re sixteen, getting blown out like that is devastating. I’d have felt better if I’d like… I don’t even know, tripped on a banana pill and fell into a pie in front of the hottest girl in school.

So on the way home, we stopped by the grocery store (I think it was a Food Lion) and I was poking around the books section, super bummed out. I saw the Versus Guides Tekken 3 book, bought it, and spent the next week studying King for hours at a time. I learned all the throw chains (though I had to map the shoulder buttons to pull everything off, a decision that’s messed me up to this day), reversals (I remember being really disappointed that he just had kick reversals), everything. I can still tap out his ten string just from muscle memory. I think I also took a brief detour into Paul and Xiaoyu for variety’s sake. I wanted to get good with King, but I wanted to be competent with others, too. Plus, Xiaoyu looks like poetry in motion. She uses a mezcla of various Chinese martial arts at this point, but she’s always had this nice focus on smooth movements from point A to B.

For a week, that was all I did. Practice, practice, practice. Consulting the book, sitting on my bed, playing PlayStation, and learning. One day during that week, my mom is like “Hey David come eat dinner” so I stand up from my bed, trip over my controller cables (this was pre-wireless!), and fall to the ground, catching myself on my hands. I stand up, dust myself off, go eat, and then get back at it. I make it back to my uncle’s friend’s house, we go at it, and,, it wasn’t as triumphant as it maybe should’ve been. I didn’t get wrecked, but I held my own, which was good enough. Got mad respect points for learning King’s throw chains, too.

(My favorite chain is probably just the standard sidestep->1+3 or 2+4 chain with the Muscle Buster after the Victory Bomb for a finisher, whatever that’s called. I really like the Scorpion Death Lock throw chain, too, and of course pulling off the Rolling Death Cradle is the ultimate.)

But yeah, I showed and proved and was feeling real good. A couple days later, my mom noticed my left thumb and was like, “We’re going to the doctor right now.” Apparently accidentally breaking your thumb while falling off a bed, not realizing, and then ODing on PlayStation makes your thumb super, SUPER swollen. I had a hairline fracture on the long part of my thumb, so I had to wear a wrist brace to keep my thumb immobile for weeks. Basically as I was leaving Georgia and going to Spain.

Still the only bone I’ve ever broken.

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got the internet goin’ nutz

April 18th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Hey, so I quit corporate comics (& their superhero movies, but none of the ones this year looked good anyway) and wrote about it for ComicsAlliance. It’s probably worth reading. The past few days of posts came directly out of that post, actually. I wrote that last Friday in a burst, and then the weekend blew up on me and I wrote a lot more. if I had to guess… I’ve probably done around eight thousand words on the subject over the past five days? blaow

Anyway, I did that thing I said I did and wanted to link it here in case some peeps read 4l! but not CA. I think I’ve said all I really wanted and needed to say on Before Watchmen & creators’ rights, so enjoy the next couple weeks of posts about fart jokes in comics or Leiji Matsumoto or Dr Slump something!

I also made the font on 4l! bigger, ’cause I heard that some people thought it was too small.

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Frank Miller on Jack Kirby & Creators’ Rights, 1994

April 18th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The earliest point in time I can remember hearing about Jack Kirby’s legacy and how the comics industry treats its creators didn’t come from the Marvel comics I’d save or trade for. It came in the first adult comic I ever read, Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Big Fat Kill #5. As a kid, I was much more interested in the nudity, blood, violence, language, and art. As an adult, and after putting a lot of thought into this subject over the past couple years, I can appreciate Miller stumping for Kirby a little better.

I didn’t see this anywhere online, and I’m pretty sure that you can’t actually buy this issue new any more, so here it is: “Keynote Speech By Frank Miller To Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar, June 12th, 1994”. I’ve pasted the images and OCR’d text below. If you’re gonna quote it, please check against the images. I used Adobe Acrobat’s OCR function to get this done, and may have missed an error or two.

I’ve gotten a lot of requests from readers who heard about what follows and would like to see it. The speech kicked up quite a ruckus- and inspired some wild exaggeration, and at least a few lies by people who didn’t like it. This transcript includes all of my many, many ad-libs and is only lightly edited to remove redundant phrases.

Allow me to set the stage. The hall was gigantic. Somewhere around 3,000 comic-book professionals were there, predominantly retailers, but including representatives of nearly every major publisher, as well as dozens of writers and artists. Following a very generous introduction by Diamond boss Steve Geppi, I stepped up to the podium, stomach lodged squarely in throat…

Let me get started by asking you all to join me in honoring two good men we recently lost. I’m corny enough to ask you to stand up for this part. A round of applause, please, for as dear a friend as comics ever had: Mr. Don Thompson. And another round — let’s make this an even bigger one; I want the walls to shake this time — for the greatest artist in the history of comics, Mr. Jack Kirby.

Well, it’s a pretty big room, but I think you did it. The walls had to shake for Jack, just like they would have on one of his pages.

An age passes with Jack Kirby. Us comics folks, we’re all fond of naming “ages” of comics. We’ve come up with a halfdozen names for them in the last half — dozen years. But a very big age of comics is coming to an end now, and, I’ve got to say, I can’t call it the Marvel Age of Comics, because I don’t believe in rewarding thievery. I call it the Jack Kirby Age of Comics.

By saying this, I mean no disrespect to the outstanding and remarkable works of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and many others. We are in their debt as well. But it was Jack Kirby who defined the style and method of every comics artist who followed him. There is before Kirby, and after Kirby. One age does not resemble the other.

The King is dead. There is no successor to that title. We will never see his like again.

There are many others we should honor tonight. Too many, far too many. Comics have been around long enough for us to lose the generation that gave us the art form and the industry we celebrate tonight. They leave us with their example of the best thing about our weird little corner of art and commerce: their love, their love of comics.

For most of you and me here, I know that love has been lifelong. And to our families, schoolmates, and acquaintances, it’s seemed a little unnatural, hasn’t it? It’s always seemed a little weird, hasn’t it? Bear with me while I tell you about Frankie Markham, and how I fell in love with comics.

I was a skinny kid in grade school. The gangly kind of kid who grows tall too fast and falls down too much playing softball. Frankie Markham was my nemesis. Frankie Markham was mean and ugly and a number of years older than me, a tough-ass farm boy, a bully. He must’ve been all of twelve years old. You know what I mean. A grown-up.

Me, I started out wanting to be Superboy. My mom was kind enough to sew me a Superboy suit, and I often wore it under my school clothes. Only to a crowd like this would I admit that.

There came the day when I had to stop being Superboy. That was the day Frankie Markham slapped me around and punched out my buddy Craig. He punched him so hard it dislodged his braces. Craig was a bloody mess, and I was bawling like a baby. It was all could do, bawl like a baby.

The fantasy was shattered. Superboy would’ve flattened Frankie Markham, or at least used his heat vision. I knew that I couldn’t be Superboy anymore. It was time for this third grader to grow up, so I did. With a new, pragmatic world view, I did the realistic thing. The mature thing. The grown-up thing: I decided I was Spider-Man.

Spider-Man had trouble with bullies, too. They embarrassed him in front of girls. They called him names. But he put up with it, concealing the secret of his awesome power. He put up with it and put up with it, just like me, he put up with it and put up with it, until —

And now my story moves towards its sense-shattering climax. At least I wish it did. I’d love to say that I kicked Frankie Markham’s ass from Vermont to Wisconsin, but I never did that. I never had a fight with Frankie Markham, and I’d have lost it if I had. But I did learn to fight back against the bullies, with my fists and my wits, and Spider-Man helped. I gained courage, I learned to control my arms and legs, and I fought back. Somewhere along the way I even earned Frankie Markham’s respect.

And Spider-Man helped.

It was years later, the last time I saw Frankie Markham. I was driving then, so I must have been about 17 years old. I was driving down some back road of Vermont, and there he was standing by the road, hitchhiking. I pulled over and picked him up and drove him over to some other back road. On the way, he told me that he’d heard I was moving to New York City, and that I was going to become a comic-book artist. He thought that was really cool.

I let him off. I watched him lumber off. I watched Frankie Markham lumber off, down that back road. My old nemesis. All of a sudden he seemed small and sad. Not very often at all, I wonder about what happened to Frankie Markham.

Comics have always been desperately important to me. As a refuge. As inspiration. As a vehicle for my fantasies. As a career. I know I’m not alone, not in this room, in loving what comics are and what they can do. It’s that love that built this industry.

Jack Kirby was the biggest and brightest of a generation that brought so much love to the page that our entire industry is built upon it. It was an amazing generation. An epic generation. When you think about what they did … They clawed their way out of the Great Depression. Just this month, we were celebrating how they stormed the beaches of Normandy, beat Hitler, and quite literally saved the world. And along the way, they, in their generosity, gave us the comic book.

And now I’m lucky enough to be enough of a player in this field to be invited to speak to you all about the future of comics. And I will. But there’s no way to talk about the future of comics without addressing its past. There’s no way to properly understand where we are now and where we are going without looking at where we have been — and our history is so clouded by misconceptions and outright lies that I have to dispel a few of them just to help us all think straight.

Too often our villains have written our history. It’s very important that we keep in mind that up until very recently everything that’s been any damn good about comics has been done in spite of the rules of the game, not because of them. Men like Jack Kirby and Joe [Shuster] and Jerry Siegel and Wallace Wood and Steve Ditko — they brought such generous love to the page, and such joy to our lives, and so much money to our bank accounts, that it is easy to forget, way too easy to forget, that they were treated disgracefully.

Ours is a sad, sorry history. We have to keep that in mind while we’re in this room enjoying this. It’s a story of broken lives. Of suicides. Of brilliant talents treated like galley slaves. Talents denied the legal authorship of what they created with their own hands and minds. Ignored or treated as nuisances while their creations went on to make millions and millions of dollars.

An industry kept alive by love, in spite of all this. The love they gave the page. It’s a powerful thing. We must honor our dead, and we must understand our history. We cannot move forward without looking very clearly at where we have been.

Misconceptions. Outright lies.

Misconceptions. Here’s a whopper. One that has cost us dearly. The dreaded 1950s. Fredric Wertham. The outside world. It seems a week doesn’t go by where I don’t sit down with my Comics Buyer’s Guide and read about somebody, somewhere, fretting about the almighty outside world and how it is bound to notice our adventures are getting more adventurous. Nobody’s come after us in any big way, but there’s a little bit of the stink of censorship in the air, isn’t there? There’s all this noise about Janet Reno and Paul Simon and Beavis & Butt-Head, isn’t there? And we all know what happened last time, don’t we? In the fifties, with Frederic Wertham and the Senate hearings. They shut us down, didn’t they?

The outside world went and noticed us. The United States Senate held hearings and decided comic books caused juvenile delinquency, right? So we had to institute the Comics Code, right? Our backs were against the wall, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. They didn’t. The Senate vindicated us. Frederic Wertham failed.

This is how screwy our sense of our own history is. Most people in comics don’t realize that the Senate vindicated us. After due consideration, the United States Senate decided comic books were not a cause of juvenile delinquency. We were vindicated.

Why, then, the Comics Code? Abject cowardice, maybe? Maybe, partly, but not entirely.

We were vindicated. Why did the comics industry go and adopt a code of self-censorship far stricter than any in entertainment? Why would a healthy, vital industry selling comics by the truckload — hell, by the trainload — and castrate itself? Why?

The answer may just make you all a little sick to your stomachs. You see, comics publishers in the 1950s had a problem. This problem had a name. Its name was William Gaines.

William M. Gaines was the rarest of creatures, a brilliant publisher. His EC Comics outsold everybody else’s comics by a long shot because they were better than anybody else’s comics. By a long shot. The other publishers couldn’t compete with him. Not fairly, anyway. So they used the free-floating fear of the time to shut him down. If you read the Comics Code — and I have — you’ll see that it was written with no purpose more noble than driving EC Comics out of business. That was its purpose, and it succeeded at it [waving a copy of Americana in Four Colors, a booklet published by the Comics Code].

I can back this up. I’ve got a copy of the Comics Code right here [ripping the cover off the booklet].

Excuse me, but I’m having some trouble opening it. Here are a couple of examples of the Comics Code. General Standards, Part A, Paragraph 11: “The letters of the word ‘crime’ should never be greater appreciably in dimension than other words contained on a cover. The word ‘crime’ should never appear alone on a cover.” See ya, Johnny Craig [ripping pages from the booklet, throwing them away].

And here is General Standards, Part B, Paragraph A: “No comic magazine shall use the word ‘horror’ or ‘terror’ in its title.”

A noble effort, folks.

That’s why we had that damn stupid Comics Code for all these years. Not to protect children. Not to satisfy the United States Senate. Not to mollify Frederic Wertham. We were stuck with the Comics Code for all those dumb decades because a pack of lousy comics publishers in the ’50s wanted to shut down Bill Gaines.

Misconceptions. That one continues to haunt us. Because of something that never happened, our industry cringes like a battered child every time there’s a hint of a threat from the outside world. Every few years, the fear talk starts again. Every few years, the producers of stories about heroes who never give up start whimpering that we should fold up our tents and surrender to an enemy who hasn’t even shown up.

These days, the fashionable form of self-censorship is a rating system, so that’s what people suggest. Cover advisories are waved like a magic wand that will chase away the censors. Cover advisories. Little apologies printed on the corner of covers. Nobody will bother us if we apologize … if the storm troopers come after us, we’ll be safe if we say we’re sorry …

Come on! What kind of self-delusion is that? Did cover advisories help Omaha the Cat Dancer or Yummy Fur or any of the other comics seized in busts? No! It pointed them out, if anything. That’s the first reason why cover advisories are a bad idea: they simply don’t work. All they do is save the censors a little time.

Please understand: I believe you should know what you’re ordering. Solicitation forms should tell you if a given comic might be trouble, so you can make your informed choice in your shop in your community as to how you want to handle the comic — or if you want to carry it at all. That’s your decision. And it’s my duty to put together my comic so that the format, the price point, and the cover honestly represent the contents.

It’s a matter of choices, yours and mine, and whether or not we’ll be left free to make our own.

I know I’m not out there on the front lines like you all are. Nobody’s going to storm into my studio and take my brushes and pens and paper away. But we are in this together, and when you lose, I lose.

That’s why I’m happy to report that I’ve been given at least some opportunity to help. Denis Kitchen broke the cowardly tradition of comics history by creating the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the first organization designed to fight censorship rather than surrender to it. Denis invited me to join its board of directors, and, not giving them a chance to come to their senses, I accepted the post.

We have to be brave, when and if the censors come. We have to stand up and stand together and give the bully a bloody nose. Apologies will only encourage the Frankie Markhams out there to come back for more.

There’s another reason, more serious and more subtle, why cover advisories are the first step toward disaster in our future. We are not part of the electronic media. We don’t play the same game with the censors that Hollywood does. We’re part of a smaller, better industry: publishing.

Bookstores don’t apologize for selling books for adults. Writers of prose don’t submit their works to a pack of rating system bureaucrats, or sit down with their notepad or computer when they get a good idea and think “are we talking about an ‘R’ here?” Book publishers use the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as a shield against censorship.

Cover advisories have a corrosive effect. I’ll be bold enough to say that every time a publisher uses one — every time an artist allows a cover advisory on his work — he is, in a small way, cutting away at the tether that connects us to the book industry and its First Amendment protection. Every cover advisory is a signal to lazy parents and opportunistic politicians that we are theirs for the taking.

We’re better than that. We’ve got too much love for that. We won’t let misconceptions about our own history ruin our own future. We’re better than that.

Misconceptions. Outright lies. Too often our history has been written by its villains.

Lies. Here’s a string of them, and all about the same man: Neal Adams is crazy. Neal Adams just didn’t like to work. Neal Adams was just being a troublemaker.

I can testify, as a firsthand witness: if there’s ever an accurate history of comics written, Neal Adams will be recognized not just as a brilliant and influential artist, but as a visionary, as a pioneer. As one of the heroes of the field. And if our future is as bright as I believe it can be, Neal Adams will be appreciated as the man who helped us turn a crucial corner toward that future.

I was there. I can testify. Neal Adams recognized that the talent was treated disgracefully. As much as he loved the doing of comics — l’ve never seen anybody work harder! Anybody who saw him can testify to this. Even the flu didn’t stop this guy — as much as he loved the doing, Neal was willing to sacrifice hours and days that amounted to years of a brilliant career, all to gain some measure of justice for Siegel and [Shuster] and others.

These days, cartoonists negotiate over how high a royalty is to be paid, not whether or not any will be paid at all. Neal came into a field where royalties were unheard of. A field where publishers routinely allowed original artwork to be stolen or shredded — did you know that at least one major publisher used to routinely shred the original artwork?

Picture something from the Golden Age. Something by your favorite artist. Joe Kubert, whoever, Carmine Infantino. Back then the originals were bigger [gesturing to indicate page size]. Now imagine taking this Joe Kubert page, and shoving it into a shredder and watching the little fingers come out the other end [miming action described]. I’ve just described to you the first work that one publisher gave to several comic book writers I know.

Neal was one of the very few people who helped change all this — and along the way, he taught a younger generation, my generation, that our work was worthy of respect. That our efforts deserved to be rewarded. That our families need not go hungry while our creations went on to make millions.

He taught me. He showed me that company loyalty at that time was an oxymoron that only a moron could believe. He had to be very patient. We don’t really learn until it happens to us, do we? And there’s always that little voice that says, “That was a long time ago, what they did to Siegel and [Shuster] and Kirby and Ditko… ”

So it’s no wonder that a lot of us were surprised when we learned that seventeen years of loyal service and spectacular sales didn’t buy Chris Claremont one whit of loyalty from Marvel Comics.

That was just one of many lessons learned by my generation, and now that we’ve learned them, it’s astounding to find out how many allies Neal Adams had — and how well they disguised themselves. A few months ago, I read a release from Defiant Comics and found out that Jim Shooter has spent his whole career fighting for creators’ rights. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I knew Shooter was talented and accomplished. I knew he had something to do with the Legion of Super-Heroes. I had no idea he was Duo Damsel.

Misconceptions. Lies.

Here’s one lie you can almost forgive, given the current condition of its source. Marvel Comics is trying to sell you all on the notion that the characters are the only important component in comics. As if nobody ever had to create those characters. As if the audience is so brain-dead it can’t tell a good job from a bad one. You can almost forgive them this, since their characters aren’t leaving them in droves like the talent is.

For me, it’s a bit of a relief to finally see Marvel’s old work-made-for-hire, talent-don’t-matter mentality put to the test. We’ve all seen the results. They aren’t even rearranging the deck chairs.

And the way Marvel’s treating you all — the things I’ve been hearing about… I’d half expect that if I snuck past Terry Stewart’s secretary and through his office and into the board room and saw who the real boss is at Marvel, I might just find out what happened to Frankie Markham after all!

Marvel Comics has been caught flat-footed and dumbstruck by a sea change in our industry. They are paying the price for separating the talent from the characters. As if one is worth a damn without the other. They’re showing why creator ownership is so important, not just to me — that’s obvious — but to you as well.

Work-made-for-hire isn’t just bad for artists. It’s bad for business. Your business.

When I’m out on the road at conventions or store signings, there’s one question I get asked just about every time. Comics fans are generally a very polite bunch, but some anger usually shows when they ask this question:

“How come people don’t stay on books?”

“We loved your Batman. Why didn’t you stay? We loved your Daredevil. Why didn’t you stay?”

There’s a whole pile of answers to that one. You run out of steam. You have a fight with your collaborator. Blah, blah, blah. Things happen. But the main reason a lot of us leave best-selling titles for work-made-for-hire publishers is simple: You get sick of feeling like a schmuck.

Don’t get me wrong, here. Like everybody else of my generation, I knew the score coming in. I knew that I was playing with the company’s toys. I knew that any characters I created would be turned into cannon fodder for other people. I knew that when I was promised that nobody else would be allowed to write Elektra, I knew that promise would be kept right up until the moment it was convenient for them to break it, which is exactly what they did. I knew all my efforts wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if some editor wanted my job. or had a buddy who did, and fired me. No matter how well the book was selling.

Don’t take my word for that one. Ask Chris Claremont. Ask Louise Simonson. Ask Jo Duffy.

Yeah, I knew all that. And I knew that I was strip-mining the past instead of building the future. That was the game, and I knew it, and I played it, and I had a ball. But after a while I did start feeling like a schmuck. So I took the risk and broke away and signed on with a younger publisher, Dark Horse, one of many new publishers who has come along to offer better terms. Publishers not trapped in the old grab-it-all, keep-it-all ways.

And I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I own Sin City. Nothing can be done with Sin City without my permission. I can’t keep my hands off Sin City. I love Sin City. The love we give the page. It’s a powerful thing.

And now I can finally give that angry fan an answer he might like. An answer I could never have given him before.

If it’s Sin City, I write it. If it’s Sin City, I draw it. That’s a promise. No exceptions. No fill-in issues. That’s a promise. It’s a promise I can make only because I own Sin City.

The creator bound to his creation. The creator in charge of his creation. It’s better for me, and it’s better for you. Things are on their way to getting a whole lot better for both of us. But, still, the old, fearful mindset persists. The old self-contempt. And never has it been more shamelessly displayed than in the resentment and hatred that’s been aimed at Image Comics.

For decades, rotten business practices caused a steady, slow brain drain, driving talent away one by one. One by one. Each individual artist or writer, more or less replaceable. There were always new kids to come along and feed the machine.

Then along came ringmaster Todd McFarlane and his amazing friends. Instant millionaires, I’m told. Their popularity at a fever pitch. They had it made. They had money. They had fame. They had no reason to leave — except that they were smart enough to realize that the best you can get under work-made-for-hire is the status of a well-paid servant.

So they left. Brilliantly, they left all at once.

Consider this: Todd McFarlane and his pals turned their back on guaranteed wealth. Guaranteed fame. They risked all of that on something that had never been tried before — an imprint that represented a group of artists rather than a bankroll.

And it was a gamble. It never seems that way when a gamble works out, but I am sure Todd and Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld each had long nights, when they wondered if they’d made the biggest mistake of their lives.

They gambled and won. They shattered the work-made-for-hire mentality, showing how unnecessary it is. Even more surprisingly, they broke Marvel’s stranglehold on the marketplace. The kids went with them.

And people hate them for it.

Consider this: The best-selling comic book in the country is creator-owned. And artists aren’t celebrating. Too many of us are acting like galley slaves complaining that the boat is leaking.

Consider this: I wrote an issue of Spawn and was called a sellout — but nobody called me a sellout when I did Dark Knight and made more money from Batman than Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Dick Sprang ever made combined.

Consider this: Because of Image Comics, artists enjoy new opportunities and are paid better, even at Marvel Comics.

And nobody’s said “thank you.”

Let me be the first, then. Gentlemen. Thank you.

And, speaking as one of us who was out in the trenches a few years earlier, you’re welcome, too.

And now Image has inspired Legend and Bravura and, I’m sure, other talent-based imprints to come. We are headed for better times and better comics.

There are new self-publishers, and new publishers ready to offer fair and honorable terms. New homes for new creations — in a field that has been starving for something new and fresh. The future of comics.

I know this has been a scary time for many of you, maybe all of you. The Marvel Age of superhero universes, the Jack Kirby Age of Comics, is coming to an end. It’s gone supernova and burned itself out and begun its slow, steady collapse into a black hole.

We couldn’t feed off the genius of Jack Kirby forever. The King is dead, and he has no successor. We will never see his like again. No single artist will replace him. No art form can expect to be gifted with more than one talent as brilliant as his. The rest of us, we will build upon what he gave us. We’ll bring our best efforts, our own quirky, mischievous, and rude efforts. We’ll screw up, we’ll get lucky, we’ll do right, we’ll do wrong. We’ll make comics that are diverse and wild. We’ll take chances.

We’ll need you to take chances, too. When you hear about next week’s new work-made-for-hire superhero universe, please don’t stifle that yawn. Take a chance on the new comics. Look for the ones where the creator has every reason to stay and can’t be fired because he owns it, because it is his, and it is him.

It’s a scary time because change is always scary. But all the pieces are in place for a new, proud era, a new age of comics. And nothing’s standing in our way, nothing too awfully big. Nothing except some old, bad habits and our own fears. We won’t let them stop us. We’ll drop them off on some back road, like I did with Frankie Markham. We won’t wonder what happened to them. Not very often, we won’t. We won’t let them stop us.

I don’t post this to pretend like it’s Miller’s opinion today (though I figure it probably is still pretty close) or that it’s something I believe in 100%. I do think it’s fascinating that most of what he says still applies to the industry today. Even the Image stuff has kinda come around back to this point, with Image being new and exciting and Marvel feeling like yesterday’s toast a little too often.

It’s sort of depressing, actually. Legend and Bravura are no more, though a few of those guys are still making new work. We didn’t really enter a new age, as near as I can tell, as let the Jack Kirby Age limp on and on while the real world caught up to comics. Comics was forced into a new age, instead of pioneering a new one. Manga, webcomics, the internet as a discussion and delivery system, archival projects, book publishers taking notice… I don’t think Miller, or anyone, saw any of that coming, and Miller even had a hand in trying to get manga mainstream over here.

I’m maybe being unfair when I say it was forced into a new age, though. I thought of Image publisher Eric Stephenson’s post about the past twenty years in new comics while I was editing this, both as counterpoint and complement, and I realized that we’ve got a wealth of great comics now and an incredible comics culture. Maybe The Jack Kirby Age went away and now we’re in… I don’t know, I hesitate to name it because it’s so formless and open. The Chaotic Age of Comics.

Anything goes. I’ve spent the past couple weeks obsessing over Leiji Matsumoto (who has skipped in and out of the conversations I’ve been having online), reading One Piece and Toriko a couple weeks after they’re published in Japan, plotting the best way to binge on these three Peanuts hardcovers I have without burning myself out (I think burnout is impossible, but anything can happen), gawking at art books by Katsuhiro Otomo and Katsuya Terada, checking out the Extreme relaunch (which is introducing me to new artists), buying old Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz comics used off the internet, reading Moebius and Jodorowsky’s The Incal for the first time ever, stocking up on 2000 AD, and more besides. I know the specifics of what I’ve been consuming are pretty idiosyncratic, but I don’t think my habits (the fact that I’m pulling from then and now and here and there simultaneously) are that weird, are they? Maybe that’s selection bias, but most people I know take in all types of comics from various periods of time. Even the cape lifers mix it up.

I think what I’m trying to say is that in this new, post-Kirby age, is that all, or at least a significant portion, of comics history is at my beck and call, and that the various types of comics — Japanese, European, newspaper strip, tights and fights, crime, romance — exist on basically the same plane. When I reach out to my shelf or look to my Amazon wish list, there’s this incredible spread of stuff for me to read, all of it different from its neighbors. I just went and looked at my list and like… there’s a short story manga collection, there’s a Wolverine comic I’m not gonna buy, there’s a manga about The Lourve drawn by Hirohiko Araki, a manga about geisha, a Sergio Aragones hardcover… there’s a level of choice in what’s out there for me to read that I never felt growing up. It’s spread across genre and style and country of origin, and even books that share three out of three might be totally different from each other in execution. That feels good. That feels like the epitome of what Stephenson is talking about.

But at this point, I’m rambling and Sandman Sims is on the way to rush me offstage. I hope you found Miller’s speech interesting or enlightening, and I’m curious what you think this age of comics is defined by. For me, it’s the embarrassment of riches. Is it something else for you?

As a sidebar, this essay actually warped my understanding of exploitation in comics as I grew up. Miller’s mostly on point here, and 100% on point from an emotional/justice standpoint, I think. He’s not quite right about a few of the specifics, though, and Chris Eckert has the much-needed corrections over here and more besides. It doesn’t dilute Miller’s overall point by much, though, but it’s worth mentioning if only to keep the conversation about this basically fact-based.

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Kids on the Slope: You know what this feels like. It feels good.

April 17th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I moved to Madrid, Spain in the middle of spring in 2000. I was sixteen, I’d recently broken my thumb (playing video games, of all things), and I was suddenly transported from Georgia, where I’d lived off and on forever, to another continent where I didn’t speak the language and knew no one.

It was strange. I made friends, thanks to meeting people in the embassy. I went to a school with Americans and Spaniards, too, so adjusting was a daily process. I ended up picking up conversational Spanish pretty quickly — I found Frank Miller’s 300, of all things, in a grocery store and learned Spanish alongside it — so my social life wasn’t too bad. One thing that brought my group of friends together, and kept us together, was music.

We all had slightly different tastes in music. I was hard on my backpacker tip at the time, while secretly making way for music from Georgia. We all liked rap, though, from OutKast to the Kottonmouth Kings. We learned to breakdance together, some of us having better luck than others (read: not me) and went out to rap clubs on weekends. The jam was Kingston, because they played mostly rap and R&B stuff. It wasn’t upscale enough for the girls, I guess, so we’d also go to Capital (Capi), which played different music depending on what floor you were on. (There was another club we’d go to regularly, but I don’t remember the name of it. It played techno, though, and one night I fell asleep on a couch there.)

I met one of my best friends from high school, James, because he wanted to borrow my Jurassic 5 CD and wouldn’t give up when I put him off. Later, when the homey Nick was being honored for something (I forget what–I think we were all acting in a play?) we pulled our shirts off, twisted ’em round our hands, spun them like helicopters, and yelled “Raise up!” Why? ’cause he was from North Carolina. And we all loved this:

It was like that, man. Music was something we listened to, absorbed, and expressed ourselves through, whether via awkward, halting freestyles or turning songs into personal anthems. It felt good. It felt right.

There’s something amazing about music. I went to Spain and one of the first things I heard on the radio was an uncensored Tupac song. I think it was “Letter to the President,” but I’m not 100%. I heard a bunch of Spanish rap. Friends put me onto cats like Frank T and 7 Notas, 7 Colores. I branched out into French and German rap like DJ Tomekk (that one via his GZA collab, “Ich Lebe Fur Hip-Hop”). Today, in 2012, I’ve own a few hundred songs and maybe a dozen albums in languages I don’t speak. Graeme McMillan put me onto Camille, a french singer, and I think Sean Witzke was the guy who showed me Charlotte Gainsbourg first, who sometimes sings in French. But past that, I’ve got Yoko Kanno, Yuji Ohno, The +2s, that one Miho Hatori album she did with a Brazilian guy, a different Miho Hatori album… I’ve got a lot.

I don’t understand a lot of it. But that doesn’t matter. The music just turns me on. It doesn’t matter where it came from or who did it. The only thing that matters is if it knocks. If it’s hot, it’s hot. And if it’s hot — and this is the important bit so pay attention — there’s somebody else out there who likes it, and you can talk to them.

That’s the part that kills me every time. When you meet somebody who is into what you’re into, or knows what you’re into, and you just chop it up for a while. They reveal crazy connections between songs, like how I’m pretty sure that there’s a way you can crossfade from David Bowie’s “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” directly into Saul Williams’s “Black History Month” and have a transcendental moment as you bridge Ziggy Stardust to Niggy Tardust. You trade trivia and lists and you bond. You talk about how the piano (pianoing? piano playing? piano riff?) that opens Kanye West’s “Runaway” is the loneliest thing ever. You can bond over a lot of things, but music seems to be that one thing that works better than anything else. And it’s amazing.

Crunchyroll is streaming Kids on the Slope. Here’s a trailer. Don’t worry about the Japanese text. Just let the visuals and sound wash over you.

I didn’t know a lot about Kids on the Slope before I watched the first episode. I did know that it is based on a josei manga I’ve never read by Yuki Kodama. I knew that Shinichiro Watanabe directed it, and that the show features music production by Yoko Kanno. I know that it takes place in the ’60s in Japan, and features jazz as a major aspect of the setting. I like the director and music producer a lot, mainly due to Cowboy Bebop, so I was already on the hook.

It turns out this show is really good, and uses music in a really familiar and comforting way. Kaoru Nishimi arrives in small town Japan friendless, nervous and depressed. Sentaro Kawabuchi is feared by the other students because he’s a big brawling jerk. Ritsuko Mukae is Sentaro’s childhood friend, and is really the only one who likes him. Kaoru plays classical piano. Sentaro plays jazz and is a killer drummer.

There’s a scene in the first episode where Kaoru watches Sentaro play drums. He covers one ear at first, trying to shut out the noise. Then he pulls his hand down. Then he loosens up. And then he listens. It’s this hugely powerful moment, and you watch this epiphany we’ve all had happen behind his eyes. He tries to play some jazz on piano, almost immediately, and Sentaro is like “Nah son. That’s not jazz. That’s got no swing.” The two characters are set at odds immediately. Kaoru plays classical music and is pretty strait-laced. Sentaro is a big bruiser and plays jazz, so he understands the importance of improvisation. You have to feel the music, rather than replicating it.

Kaoru has to descend into darkness in order to hear the jazz. There’s this tiny room below Ritsuko’s record shop. I like this, because it presents jazz, and the relationships that will undoubtedly follow, as something special. It’s top shelf, rather than just being a regular old thing you trip over.

I think that’s how we all feel about our favorite type of music. Our favorite music is revelatory, whether about the world or ourselves, in addition to being something that you can bounce to. In the case of Kids on the Slope, jazz represents freedom. Freedom from constraints, from conformity, from depression, from anxiety. Freedom to enjoy life. There’s something raw in jazz that Kaoru doesn’t get out of classical music.

I liked this cartoon a lot. The animation has this strange 3D quality to it that makes regular people look a little more exciting than they normally would in such a simple coming of age story. It’s very pretty, but in a very natural way. There’s no glamour in the characters, but the music scenes have this swing to them that I find really attractive. Sentaro is introduced not by face or cool pose, but by how he drums with two sticks on his way to school. His drumming is great, and there’s a palpable difference between his piano playing, which came across as earnest but inexpert, and Kaoru’s, which is talented, but stiff.

I also love the added texture that jazz brings to the series. Jazz is a black art form, or at least it started that way. But Japan is several thousand miles away from the birthplace of jazz. Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue gets a visual shout-out in one scene, lurking behind Kaoru’s head like the most obvious and menacing foreshadowing ever. That’s 1959. Kids on the Slope takes place in summer, 1966. In the US, 1966 was President Johnson sending more American boys off to die for no good reason, The Beatles playing their last live performance, and the founding of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense by Huey P Newton and Bobby Seale.

I don’t expect Kids on the Slope to reflect any of that, but there’s such a cross-cultural thing going on (black and American to Japan and Japanese) that it makes considering the context really interesting. I keep a set of black anti-war songs on my iPod, I think the bulk of which were recorded between ’66 and ’72, so that period is one that I’m extremely curious about. I’ve never seen it from this point of view before, and that has an attraction in and of itself.

I don’t know jazz like I know other types of music, and this is going to be an education for me, too. I know the greats or whatever, I guess, but that’s not knowing jazz. That’s just knowing somebody else’s top ten list. The centerpiece for the first episode is Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ “Moanin’.” I wasn’t familiar with it before I watched the show, and they don’t really play the entire thing, but I like it a lot.

I really like the idea of watching Kaoru open up as he dives into jazz. It’s clearly not going to be finished by episode two, and I think the ongoing transformation is going to be fascinating. I’m hooked, basically. It’s intensely relatable, well-written, and the music stuff is, as expected, fantastic. There’s something so nice about discovering something new and finding that it’s not only extremely emotionally resonant, but well done and educational, too. And yeah, it worked: I’m going to start listening to a lot more jazz.

You can see the official site here, or stream it on Crunchyroll.

Let “Moanin'” play while you go about your biz online. It’s nine minutes long, but so good. It sounds like sunshine feels. You can’t help but bop to it.

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New York People: Check Out my Improv Show This Sunday

April 17th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Bit of a personal history lesson to start this off. Years back, I went to college at the Rochester Institute of Technology. By the end of it, I was in kind of a depressed rut. I lost interest in my degree a long time ago and the hardest classes I had to take part in had incredibly little to do with what I was working towards. This was right around the time when David asked me to start writing on this site and that helped me out mentally more than he’ll ever know, which is one of the many reasons why he’ll always have my friendship and loyalty.

Once I was done with RIT, I was in a bad spot where I had no prospects and no direction. A high school friend of mine, Roger, invited me and some others to check out ASSSSCAT in New York City at the UCB Theater. UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) is an improv comedy organization that’s been in NYC for years with the main attraction being an improv show called ASSSSCAT, featuring the same people who spun UCB into its own Comedy Central skit show for three seasons. Otherwise known as “Amy Poehler and those other dudes” to your average Joe. I went to a couple of ASSSSCAT performances and even got to see Jack McBreyer there before he hit it big. It was a blast and it was brought to my attention that they had their own improv school. It was something I thought would be great for me, but in my current situation, it wasn’t viable by a long shot. I didn’t have a job and no way was I going to be able to take care of the cost of both the classes and the constant trips into the city (I live about an hour away).

Eventually, I got a job at Barnes and Noble. It was something I figured was going to be incredibly temporary, but I was surprised by how much I took to it. Something about the people and the atmosphere of the place washed away the funk from my latter days of RIT and I’ve stayed there ever since. It made me feel content for the first time in years and it’s always been good to me. Still, in the beginning, I didn’t feel financially comfortable enough to do the UCB thing. After a short while, the idea faded away, completely forgotten.

My brother Geremy never lost his faith in me and surprised me last Christmas by revealing that he had enrolled me in Improv 101 at the UCB Training Facility. I was overwhelmed that he never forgot and I agreed that it was definitely time to get my ass into gear. Every Tuesday, I’ve been hitting the city for eight sets of three-hour classes as taught by experienced improv comedian and eerily chill guy Tim Martin. Other than attending class, I’ve also been tasked with seeing at least two UCB improv shows, most of which are free for me, so that’s some homework I can get behind.

I’ve been having the absolute time of my life and I’ve enjoyed learning alongside my other classmates (plus there’s a 4:1 female-to-male ratio, so giggity and all that). I’m already set to sign up for 201 and go as far with this as I possibly can, hoping to be all that I can be on the comedy front. With my time with 101 winding down, we have a big graduation performance thing coming up. The way it’ll work is that the class will split into two groups. Each group performs for about 20-25 minutes. Someone in the crowd says a word and someone in the group steps forward to tell a monologue about that word. Then once that’s done, skits happen off the cuff loosely based on the ideas from that story.

The show is on Sunday, April 22 at noon at the UCBeast Theater. I have friends and family planning to check it out, but if there are any readers out there in the area who have nothing going on that time of the day, by all means check it out. It’s only $5, so that’s not bad. Just keep in mind that there are two different UCB Theaters in NYC and this one is at the East Village. 153 East 3rd Street, to be exact.

If not, that’s cool too. I’m trying to have the thing filmed and put on YouTube. Unless we suck completely, in which I’ll just have the camera burned and buried at sea.

It’s time to prove to your friends (and readers) that you’re worth a damn. Sometimes that means dying (on stage). Sometimes that means killing a whole lot of people (with laughter).

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if newsarama knew better, it would do better

April 16th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I wrote a thing this weekend about some frankly laughable and odious comments Joseph Michael Straczynski made about Alan Moore and Dan Didio made about Before Watchmen on a DC panel at C2E2. I wrote about it because like… it’s obvious, right? They’re actually saying stupid and demonstrably false things in public and expecting us to nod our heads. That’s worth pointing out.

I took a trip around comicsinternet to see who else noticed and remarked on what JMS had to say. Here’s my answer, from an interview between Vaneta Rogers and Brian Azzarello, two people whose work I’ve greatly enjoyed in the past:

Newsarama: Brian, I know this is a little weird. But I’m going to do a Before Watchmen interview without talking about the so-called “controversy,” because I think we’ve covered that pretty well, don’t you?

Brain Azzarello: Yeah, and you know, everyone talked about this controversy, but there really hasn’t been much of one. I mean, I don’t read everything that people are saying.

Nrama: Obviously, the project’s moving forward no matter where the discussion goes. So let’s talk about the project instead. And to start, let me admit that I’m one of those people who read Watchmen years after it was published. A newcomer, I suppose.

This is the opening exchange in the interview. And… cool. I guess this is how it’s going to be. Any dissent to Before Watchmen classified as a “so-called scare quotes controversy scare quotes,” doubly negating it (because it isn’t a controversy, you see, and also, it isn’t a controversy), and as a controversy, something that has been hard to notice.

Actually, you know what? I’ll actually give Azzarello that point, that thing about there not really having been much of a controversy. I mean, I read a lot of comics news sites, people shoot me links to ones I don’t read when juicy stuff goes up… and here’s, as near as I can tell, the sum total of the organized dissent (meaning extended posts that are explicitly about the subject, rather than passing jokes/hate/whatever) against Before Watchmen in the comics media:

-Tom Spurgeon’s “Sometimes They Make It Hard To Ignore Creators Issues” and “Twenty-One Not Exactly Original Notes On More Watchmen, Written At A Slight Remove”
-Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson’s “NO FUN”
-Chris Mautner’s “We’ve come so far: On Before Watchmen and creators rights”
-Rich Johnston’s “The Ethics Of Before Watchmen”
-Mindless Ones’ “‘The Second Coming of Night Owl’, and other stories…”
-Tom Bondurant’s “Grumpy Old Fan | Set your clocks back”

Newsarama’s top dawg editor Lucas Siegel is on record as preferring to use Alan Moore’s great big British wizard tears instead of alcohol when he needs to get tore up, so the lack of dissent there is understandable. But unless I missed something major, even CBR proper (Robot6 being a subordinate but separate blog), The Beat, and my beloved sometime employer ComicsAlliance are thus far mum on the issue as far as dissent goes, but have still posted all the promo images, making for de facto approval.

There’s been a real failure of the comics press to address Before Watchmen from any angle but that of a hype man. Sure, some of us have tweeted about it, but where are the essays? We all know it’s going to sell gangbusters, but that’s no reason to avoid facing the issue head on.

So, in the interest of turning phrases like the “so-called ‘controversy'” into something that’s actually worth discussing like adults, here. Here’s (an abbreviated version of) my argument against Before Watchmen, which is shared in some form or another by many other comics readers and creators I know. The specifics may differ, but that’s on them. Here’s where I’m coming from. Your mileage may vary, but after this, you don’t get to deny a single solitary thing.

The Facts

1. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen is an enormously successful comic book, on creative, critical, and commercial levels
2. Moore and Gibbons both signed a contract that gave DC the rights to Watchmen until the book went out of print for a year (I believe), at which point they’d receive the rights back
3. Watchmen was an unheralded success, and the book has yet to go out of print. As a result, Moore and Gibbons never got their rights back.
4. DC promised to share revenue from Watchmen-related merchandise, and then went ahead and produced merchandise and classified it as promotional and didn’t give M&G anything
5. These shenanigans, along with a coming ratings system that Moore disagreed with, led Moore to cut ties with DC entirely
6. DC brought Wildstorm, which came along with America’s Best Comics. Moore felt that leaving DC again would screw his artists over, so he stuck around
7. DC continued screwing with Moore over the years, from pulping his comics to either sabotaging (or botching to such an extent that it might as well be sabotage) the release of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
8. Moore cut ties again, and has consistently refused DC’s money, overtures, and renegotiations.
9. Before Watchmen is a series of prequels to Watchmen, some thirty-five issues that will shed light on characters from the book
10. Alan Moore gives grumpy, hyperbolic interviews, but his basic point is that he’d prefer it not happen (and not because he wants money [he doesn’t, by his own word] but because it’s shameless and ugly).
11. For all his faults, Paul Levitz refused to let Before Watchmen happen on his watch. As soon as he left, it was on.
12. Before Watchmen has an economic motivation, not an artistic one. No one said “Boy, I have this great Nite Owl story.” Dan Didio said, “Hey, we need to make more money, and Watchmen is just sitting there. Who do we have who wants to sign on for fat cash?”

I think we can all agree on all of this? If you don’t agree, sorry bro. Open whatever history book they hide comics history in. I’m no scholar and even I know all of this is on the record as being true and consistent, barring the quotes, which I’m sure are true in spirit.

There are a few things that people, mainly DC staff and Joseph Michael Straczynski, like to bring up with scabrous intensity and frequency.

Not The Issue

1. The comics aren’t going to be good as the original! (Who cares? It’s not about quality, and maybe they’ll be enjoyable on their own.)
2. The creators involved suck! (Yeah, Darwyn Cooke, Brian Azzarello, Amanda Conner, and Jae Lee are b-list now? Get real. They do great work. I can give you a list. I’ll grant you JMS and Len Wein, though.)
3. Alan Moore copies peoples characters, too! (It’s not about working on someone else’s properties, and this is a false equivalency, anyway. Moore isn’t writing Dracula 2 or Before Moby Dick. He’s using public domain characters — meaning characters whose creators enjoyed the fruits of their labor before dying and the characters passing into public domain, not characters who were effectively stolen by way of shady contracts and lawyering — in new ways. When he does use non-PD characters, it’s never by name. If you don’t know who they are, you won’t know who they are. That’s demonstrably different than some dude writing Nite Owl: What Happened Before.)
4. Alan Moore is just greedy! (If he was greedy, he’d have taken a quarter million dollar [or however much] payout when DC offered it.)
5. Alan Moore is arrogant and sitting on the moral high ground. (“Please stop screwing me” is the opposite of arrogance and the moral high ground.)

These are false arguments. People might have said them in passing, or as part of a larger argument, but they aren’t the meat of why so many people have problems with Before Watchmen. These are strawmen that DC has propped up to be shot down, so as to murder any dissent in its crib. Last weekend, DC brought out a “mildly skeptical fan” (read: paid plant, shill, scrub, faker, liar, fool) who expressed concern. They showed him some art on the panel and WHOA! They beat the skeptic! Everybody, they beat the skeptic! They win! Before Watchmen is a good idea now!

That’s how strawmen work. You beat them up for a cheap victory in front of the rubes. The rubes, in this case, being whoever it is you think isn’t quite convinced by your press rollout just yet. Alongside these strawmen, DC staff, Dan Didio especially, has been crowing about how opposition has been minimal. How everyone who had concerns was soon convinced otherwise. He never names names. Who was concerned? Who was convinced? Where are these paragons of virtue, that they might deliver unto us wisdom?

The Controversy

Here’s the controversy, put as plainly as I can muster right now. You might have pedantic issues with specifics of this due to my phrasing, but suck it up. We’re all adults here. You know what i’m saying.

“The problem with Before Watchmen is that DC Comics cheated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons out of the rights to Watchmen. Gibbons is fine with this, as is his right to be, and Moore is upset, as is also his right. Before Watchmen, therefore, is exploiting characters gained through the same shady means that have punctuated the comics industry over the years. The comics industry has screwed over dozens of creators, and Before Watchmen is just another screwjob. The broadsides against Alan Moore from JMS are disgusting, and Dan Didio’s dog and pony show to ameliorate doubts are laughably see-thru.”

Get it? We all feel strongly about creators’ rights. At least, I hope so. This is, at its most basic level, a creators’ rights issue. It’s about respecting creators, their work, and the product of that work.

I had a conversation with a pro creator at Emerald City Comicon. He explained the Before Watchmen situation like this: Alan Moore is one of the most respected writers in comics. He has co-created, revamped, or introduced tons of things that have enriched both the medium and the artform. His books are routinely some of the best-crafted works around, even if they’re not to your or my tastes, and he’s one of the few writers in the running for GOAT. But when he says, “Hey, listen. Please don’t do more Watchmen. I’ve been mistreated by DC, and I think the book stands very well on its own besides,” the response from DC and the creative teams involved is essentially, “No, fuck you, Alan.”

I don’t know how to feel about a lot of creators I respect and like working on these books. On the one hand, do what you gotta do to feed your family. But on the other… isn’t there some better way to go about doing that? I’m conflicted. But this is an ugly situation.

I don’t know how to put it any plainer. DC Comics is screwing Alan Moore right here in front of us, and the best Newsarama has to offer is that it’s a “so-called ‘controversy'”? One, it is a controversy, and two, you don’t just not talk about the controversy because the books are going to come out anyway. What kind of fatalist, ridiculous garbage is that? I mean, gosh, you don’t tell somebody with cancer, “Look, we both know you got some cancers up in there, so why don’t we talk about the weather, instead?”

And no. You don’t do that. You talk about the cancer, you treat the cancer, you tear it out and stamp on it until it’s gone. Until it’s a memory of a time when Marvel could tell Jack Kirby to give up any rights he was owed, when Marvel could promise Frank Miller that Elektra was going to stay dead and then bring her back anyway, when Ditko disappeared from mainstream comics, when Moore & Gibbons were cheated out of what they’re owed, and when editors used creators like chess pieces because they were eager to get the books out on time, instead of like people who they thought could do a great job.

It’s 2012. A lot of things have changed since Siegel & Shuster got their raw deal. But not enough has changed, clearly, if we’re still having this same old stupid conversation.

“Should comics companies get to screw over creators? Sure, as long as I get my tights and fights on time.” Okay then. If that’s your position, fine. I don’t think you have to agree with me. But to pretend like there isn’t any real opposition to this, from both fans and peers, makes you a liar, so you should maybe keep that in mind when talking about this. And if they don’t want to answer your questions, you ask them why they don’t want to answer your questions. Why why why. Make them go on the record.

“DC Comics screwed, and is screwing, Alan Moore.”

That’s the controversy. Now let’s talk it out instead of pretending like it doesn’t exist.

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This Week in Panels: Week 134

April 16th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Late update and I’m honestly kind of slumping over as I write this up. Today I took a trip to NYC and watched the Upright Citizens Brigade show ASSSSCAT, which had special appearances by Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers and Bobby Moynihan. Awesome time.

This week I’m helped out by Space Jawa, Jody and my old friend Gaijin Dan Mastriani. Nothing from David, but on the subject of my boss who hates it when I call him boss, he has a really fantastic Comics Alliance post that should be up any day now. I got to read it ahead of time and I suggest you check it out once it’s published. It takes his JMS post from the other day and turns it into the tip of the iceberg.

Avenging Spider-Man #6
Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Marco Checchetto

Batman and Robin #8
Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

Carnage USA #5
Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain

Read the rest of this entry �

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“Don’t worry if I write rhymes. I write checks.”

April 15th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Y’all have probably seen this clip from The Wire before. I think Matt Maxwell tossed it on Twitter a few weeks back, and I know I put it on tumblr shortly after. It’s about chicken nuggets and being rewarded for innovation. I’d embed it, but HBO hates the internet, so here’s a transcript:

Wallace: Yo, D, you want some nuggets?
D’Angelo: Nah, g’head, man.
Wallace: Man, whoever invented these, yo, he off the hook.
Poot: What?
Wallace: Mm! Motherfucker got the bone all the way out the damn chicken. ’til he came along, niggas been chewin’ on drumsticks and shit, gettin’ they fingers all greasy. He said later for the bone, let’s nugget that meat up and make some real money.
Poot: You think the man got paid?
Wallace: Who?
Poot: The man who invented these.
Wallace: Shit, he richer than a motherfucker.
D’Angelo: Why? You think he get a percentage?
Wallace: Why not?
D’Angelo: Nigga please. The man who invented them things just some sad-ass down at the basement of McDonald’s, thinkin’ up some shit to make some money for the real players.
Poot: Naw, man, that ain’t right.
D’Angelo: Fuck “right.” It ain’t about right, it’s about money. Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down in that basement and say, “Hey, Mr. Nugget, you the bomb. We sellin’ chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I’m gonna write my clowny-ass name on this fat-ass check for you”?
Wallace: Shit.
D’Angelo: Man, the nigga who invented them things still workin’ in the basement for regular wage, thinkin’ up some shit to make the fries taste better or some shit like that. Believe.
Wallace: He still had the idea though.

edit: Whoops, found an embeddable:

What sucks about this is how it shows both how the comics industry isn’t special — down here we all float, baby — and how… poisonous and mercenary and amoral this sort of thinking is. You can argue justice til you’re blue in the face, but that’s not what matters. When you’re a business, right isn’t even part of the equation. You’re only responsible for making sure that the money you make this year is more than what you made last year within the letter of the law. If the law doesn’t explicitly say you should treat your people well, then hey. Guess what: you don’t have to do it. You can strip mine a man’s ideas and give him the boot when you’re bored.

Did y’all know Frank Miller used to get a “created by” credit for Elektra? You can see it in that borderline unreadable Elektra: Root of Evil book that DG Chichester and Scott McDaniel produced in ’95. Part of his deal with Marvel was a promise, I dunno if it was written or verbal, that they wouldn’t bring Elektra back to life after she died. He left, and they brought her back to life. At first, they gave him a creator credit. Then they stopped. And just like that, the guy who made Elektra matter was stitched out of the narrative. She’s intellectual property now.

What’s so bothersome about McDonald’s vs Mr Nugget is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Common sense tells you that if you reward invention, you’re much more likely to get more of it. When a toddler poops in the toilet for the first time, you laugh and cheer and smile to show him he did good. (This analogy is terrible.) That encourages his behavior and makes him more likely to keep it up. We put kids on the honor roll to show them that there’s a reward for getting good grades, a certain level of prestige. You buy your old lady a wedding ring because she’s better than all the others out there, and it is important to you to maintain that relationship forever. (That’s what we call love, kiddo. You’ll understand when you’re older.) It’s gratitude and support, yeah?

Work-for-hire is fine. That’s not the problem. You can work on other people’s property and do a great job and create something with artistic merit or just really great drawings of bathtubs or whatever. It’s the culture around work-for-hire that’s the problem, where innovators are just cogs in the machine to be spun until they wear out. It’s where Batman is bigger than the people who make him.

Look at it like this. Alan Moore put his name on the map with Swamp Thing, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Miracleman, right? There were others, but I feel like those are the biggest milestones. DC published three out of those four, along with other books like Batman: The Killing Joke and that one Green Lantern story about sound. He gave DC a lot, especially since you can basically draw a line from Swamp Thing to the birth of Vertigo, but contract disputes and a foolhardy ratings system chased him out in the late ’80s.

Outside of DC, but still in a similar vein, he worked on books like 1963, Supreme, WildCATs, Youngblood, and more. He eventually launched his own cape-y line with America’s Best Comics, at which point DC promptly bought ABC’s parent company Wildstorm and began publishing Moore comics again. When Moore left again, the ABC comics were tainted and faded away.

Now imagine if DC had bent just a little and done some work to keep Moore under their wings. It takes a minimal amount of work to see how any of his cape-oriented ’90s work could easily be transplanted to the DC Universe. I mean, Supreme was “He’s Superman, But A Dick” and Moore switched him up to be more Silver Age. Imagine if Moore had been around when Vertigo kicked off, and DC would’ve been more open to works like From Hell. They probably wouldn’t have published Lost Girls, but if they’d thought “right” before “profit” just once, they could’ve reaped the rewards of having one of comics’ best writers in their stable for the next twenty years.

But, nah, that’s all hypothetical. It’s very easy to sit around and make things up about what could have/should have/would have happened. If we’re dealing with the real, then we’re dealing with Before Watchmen, a prequel to a twenty-six year old comic. We’re dealing with Swamp Thing being stuck in a cycle that keeps coming back around to shed further light on “The Anatomy Lesson” because the shadow Moore cast on that book is so large.

I’m not saying that the Big Two have gotta give up all rights to the characters and content. But throw some incentives at the creators, give them greater input into how these characters and stories are gonna shake out, push the creators as hard as you push the characters, give them a bonus if something blows up huge… do something to keep them happy. You’d gain so much goodwill from your creative staff, you’d have a lot more property to exploit, you’d have people getting even more invested in the work they do for you even if they don’t own it because they know you’ll take care of them.

It’s such a no-brainer. It’s so obvious that it can’t possibly be true. Marvel having Icon lets them keep Matt Fraction and Brian Bendis on lock even while they write Marvel’s marquee IP. Why not expand that?

My favorite part of that scene is when Wallace goes “He still had the idea though.” ’cause in the end, behind all the business and exploitation and sadness… these people had some amazing ideas. The Black Racer, John Constantine, Elektra, Howard the Duck… Marvel and DC can’t claim creativity, no matter how many crappy contracts they’ve churned out and creators they’ve burned. That belongs to Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Steve Gerber, and dozens more.

I don’t have a new or profound point here, I guess. I just wanted to talk this out, while I’m figuring out where I stand and where I should be standing.

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7 Elements: Carnage USA

April 15th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

The whole 4 Elements article concept is David’s baby. The four ties into the four in 4thletter and 4thletter comes from David’s name because he’s an egomaniac, an Eggo maniac and possibly a Lego maniac. You can also say that the four comes from there literally being four elements, but I’m pretty sure there are like a hundred of those things, so that’s definitely wrong.

This is David’s site and all, but Carnage USA is my comic. It’s a comic specifically made for ME. Me. Gavin Jasper. And since I’m Gavin, which starts with the seventh letter of the alphabet, that means I need to talk about the 7 Elements.

Carnage USA is the sequel to last year’s Carnage, both by Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain. Carnage was the story that returned Carnage from his grizzly death of being torn in half in space by the Sentry back in 2005. It acts as a loose sequel to the character’s most mainstream adventure Maximum Carnage while introducing yet another symbiote anti-hero in Scorn. By the end of the story, not only is Cletus Kasady alive and reunited with his blood-red costume, but he’s also on the loose and nobody knows where he’ll end up next. All we know is that he has something bad on the horizon.

The plot of Carnage USA has Cletus venture to Doverton, Colorado, where he goes to a slaughterhouse and kills the entire stock of cows. The symbiote grows off the meat and expands to the point that he’s able to infect and assimilate the entire town through plumbing. A handful of the Avengers (Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Hawkeye and Thing) are sent to go deal with it and find a town of frightened human puppets before Carnage takes them too. Spider-Man gets away and the government goes to plan B… while trying real hard not to move to the dire plan C, which is to blow the county to kingdom come.

This miniseries helps support the idea that in comics, there are no bad characters, but bad writers. For such a mainstream villain who got his own popular videogame back in the day, Carnage’s death was met with little backlash. For years he’s been seen as nothing more than 50% shallow Venom mixed with 50% shallow Joker. Nobody’s ever really tried to write something decent with him and whenever he got the spotlight with his own one-shot, it was usually a bunch of gory dreck that didn’t do anything for me.

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“Trying to guard the fortress of a king they’ve never seen or met”

April 14th, 2012 Posted by david brothers


“I’m happy to say that every single person sitting on this stage right now was at the top of the wish list,” he continued, saying he had “complete faith” in executing the series. DiDio also said he expected “more of a negative reaction” to the initial announcement. “What happened was incredible. Everyone I talked to was excited about it,” saying “all the concerns went away” when people heard about the creative talent.

After calling up a “mildly skeptical” fan to meet with Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne, Wayne began showing the fan some material shown at the Diamond Retailer Summit.

After calling up a “mildly skeptical” fan to meet with Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne, Wayne began showing the fan some material shown at the Diamond Retailer Summit.

“It tells it from his early childhood and becoming the Owl, his partnership with Rorschach and how that went badly,” said Straczynski, who specifically referenced the moment in “Watchmen” where the Silk Spectre found a signed picture of the Twilight Lady.

For “Minutemen,” DiDio said he felt Darwyn Cooke was the best choice for the book before Joe Kubert made a surprise appearance as a late addition to the panel.

Straczynski, characterized working with the Kuberts as “extraordinary.” “The work has just been phenomenal,” he said. “It’s so tight, you see such emotion in the characters, it’s just an awful lot of fun. What tickles me enormously is I get to see everyone else’s stuff and you guys have no idea what’s coming at you.”

The mildly skeptical fan was brought onto the stage after Wayne’s mini-presentation and said, “My skepticism has been put to rest and the artwork is beautiful.”

Good news, y’all. All of your concerns about the dubious business practices of DC Comics and how they basically robbed Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons of the rights to Watchmen have been resolved! DC found a paid shill to sit in the audience and pretend to be skeptical, all so that they could put on a song and dance to show us that the art looks nice!

Let me be the first to say WHEW! I’m glad that they managed to get the people at the top of their list, too, since Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison, and Frank Quitely all turned them down. That’s how you know they’re being truthful: there’s no hype, just hard-hitting facts. Funnybook Babylonian Chris Eckert has more on DC’s effective and inspiring marketing scheme here, and a hint for what JMS’s book might be like!

Our worries have been all for naught, so please rest assured that the art looks nice, and therefore the work is legally and morally correct! I don’t know about you, but I’m sure glad that this was resolved with a minimum of bloodshed and mealy-mouthed, spineless justificatiowhoops, hang on, I’m getting another transmission…

Straczynski addressed the online criticism of Alan Moore and said he got it on an emotional level. “Alan Moore is a genius. No question,” said Straczynski. “On the other hand, he’s been using characters like the Invisible Man, Peter Pan, Jekyl and Hyde in what one fan basically called fan fiction — in ways their original creators probably wouldn’t have approved of. … You stand on a slippery slope when you use the moral high ground.” “Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Segal and Shuster, worse was a lot of people.” The writer went on to credit Dan DiDio for pushing the project through, despite the fact that most would not touch it.

He’s right! You know he’s right. Just admit he’s right. JMS has said this before, but since Alan Moore sometimes uses characters created by people who got to enjoy the money, fame, and recognition of the full lifespan of those characters before they died and the characters lapsed into public domain and therefore belong to the culture at large, enriching all of us, Moore is a hypocrite! Worse than that, he’s the most odious type of hypocrite! A fanfic hypocrite! I mean, what kind of writer works on things he didn’t invent himself? Slip and fall down your slippery slope, Alan, and take your moral high ground (how do I type with a whiny baby voice? is there an html tag for that?) with you.

I mean, who does he think he is? Have you seen this amazing moral high ground that he apparently has claimed? “Hey fellas, I got screwed over, and have been regularly screwed over the past dozen or so years by DC pulping my comics, interfering with my work, and hassling my friends. Please don’t help them screw me even more. I would like it very much if they would stop screwing me so that I can go back to smoking weed and writing books and hanging out with my wife instead of answering interminable interview questions about things that I’d like to put behind me.”

The nerve of this guy. All of us sign bad contracts, Alan. Siegel and Shuster and Kirby and Gerber and JMS, the creator of much-beloved space ships and lasers show Babylon 5 and dude famous for walking off comics because he gets bored or writes bad comics or something, got screwed, Alan. Do you think you’re better than us, Alan? Do you think you don’t deserve to be screwed like the rest of us, Alan? Huh? Do you? Are you saying that you deserve to be treated better than Jack “King” Kirby? Is that it?

Whatta prick.

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