Author Archive


What better purchase at Wondercon than The Comic Book Guide to the Mission?

March 31st, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

None, that’s what. 

The Comic Book Guide to the Mission was edited by my friend, Lauren Davis.  I saw her go from the idea stage (at a Wondercon Past) through various stressful editing stages, and finally emerge as a hollow-eyed, exhausted, yet gracious zombie at her very-well-attended book party.  She will be tabling at Wondercon – her coordinates are D18, and I know I’ll be heading over there regularly.

Now, to the book.  It’s a lot of little stories from artists about their experiences in the Mission district of San Francisco.  The district is named for its oldest building – guess what that is – and has since evolved to a neighborhood, an art center, a hipster hang-out, a culinary mecca, a thrift store shopper’s twisted paradise, and the warmest spot in San Francisco.  The best way to describe the book is as showing how different time periods in the Mission correspond with different time periods in people’s lives.  A self-conscious suburbanite at the SF Dyke March, a kid’s view of the homeless population, an artist reminiscing about ‘darker’ times in the Mission and a lawyer finding a way to feel welcome among the area’s notorious hipster population, even just a series of iconic unconnected Mission snapshots – it’s all there.

My father, a man of particular taste, who I don’t believe has read a graphic novel since Asterix in the late seventies, cracked The Comic Book Guide to the Mission, and not only liked it enough to finish it, but spent a half an hour on the phone with me talking about how the title was selling it short.  He believed that that many stories and stills, by that many artists, on such diverse subject matter was more a wider commentary on life than just a ‘guide to the Mission’ and said approvingly that the book was a ‘bargain’ considering all the wonderful little stories within.

I love the book as well, but for more practical reasons.  (We can’t all have a poetic soul.)  Although the book isn’t technically a ‘guide’, it does benefit greatly from being drawn by San Franciscans.  I don’t live far from the Mission as the crow flies, but unlike the crow I have to walk over quite a few giant hills to get there.  As a result, I haven’t spent as much time in the Mission as I’d like.  The Guide isn’t strictly a ‘guide’, but it does have maps to the thrift stores, addresses of the best tacquerias (and an official recommendation for Best Carne Asada Taco in the Mission), recs for cheap eats from sushi to thai, and maps to all the Mission murals put up by artists over the years.  Considering the neighborhood is readily accessible from Wondercon (with no pesky hills in the way), this may be the best way to get your money’s worth out of the Con.  Sure, you’ll have to put down a quick $15.00, but you’ll get a local’s guide to the best ice cream, the best street art, and the Pornarmory.

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Falling for the bad guy’s line

March 26th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you’ve heard me and David discussing Daken more than a few times.  Both of us have been both amused and bemused by his byzantine schemes that always seem to work out, but never seem to make sense.  In the latest issue his plans have come to a sort of fruition.  But I’m not sure I like them.  And I’m pretty sure that’s the way it’s supposed to be with evil characters.

What David and I found most hilarious all the way through the Daken series was the endless line-up of victims.  From the first issue, in which he murdered a guy for a nice looking suit, to the issue in which he charmed the Fantastic Four in order to steal some kind of mystery device from Reed, to this last one, in which he assured everyone that he was on their side before betraying the lot – he’s tricked an endless array of characters.  He’s done so while being the ‘hero’ of the book.  That’s not too unusual.  The villain being the protagonist of a story is a trope that’s been around forever.  And yet, those stories aren’t about how evil the villain is.  No matter how much wrongdoing is wrongdone, the readers, or watchers, or listeners, are supposed to be won over to the villain’s side.  There needs to be sympathy.

Usually that sympathy is gained the same way stereotypical ‘anti-heroes’ get sympathy.  Tough guys – and jerks – like Guy Gardner or Wolverine posture and fight and are obnoxious, but when a cute kid, or a gal in trouble, or a bus full of nuns, and they’re on board.  The villains might be a little more mercenary in their good deeds, they might only be in it because by helping out they stand to gain something, but they’re still on the side of the angels.  They’re still doing good. 

The underlying message tends not to be that sometimes they will do good, but that they’ll make an exception.  And if they’ll make an exception, won’t they do it for you, good reader?  A lot of villain-books, and movies, and tv shows, trade on this line of thinking.  They’re not overt about it, but the stories tend to line the villains up against unpopular causes, ideas, or even everyday annoyances.  A villain takes out someone who talks in the movies – oh *we* would never do such a horrible, senseless thing, but since it’s fiction, aren’t we on the villain’s side?  A little?  And if we’re on the villain’s side, then isn’t the villain on ours?

I’m not really against fashion designers, but they haven’t been making good headlines lately, so I don’t mind if a fictional one gets knifed up.  And although I’m aware that the Fantastic Four are heroes, I’m not exactly attached to them.  But Tyger Tyger, this last person to trust Daken, I liked.  I liked that she shot him in the heart the moment he ignored her warning that if he stayed she was going to shoot him in the heart.  I liked that she was a villain, but she was just trying to do her job.  I just generally liked her, so I felt a little put-off, betrayed if you will, when it turned out that Daken just stole her empire out from under her.  Sure he’s a bad guy, but – did he really need to do that?

And this is the bottom line of any real villain book.  The audience is meant to have sympathy for the evil character.  They are meant to like them, and confuse the fact that they just happen to be on the same side in one particular context with the fact that they usually wouldn’t be on the same side.   Maybe they secretly are good.  Or maybe they’re bad, but they can’t possibly find a way for that inherent badness to inconvenience *you*.  And this is exactly how the other characters in a villains’ book are meant to feel.  In the end, though, evil characters in fiction and in life aren’t immoral when they happen to go up against an unpopular character.  They aren’t immoral except when it comes to certain people who they actually like.  That’s not the way immorality or inherent evil work.  They’re just bad, and if you forget that, you’re going to get a rude awakening.

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All I want is . . .

March 16th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I was re-listening to the fourcast from two weeks ago, marveling at my own brilliance as usual, and I heard something that brought me up short.  David was explaining the various titles that are going to be released as part of the Flashpoint storyline.  I, after being skeptical due to always hating big events, was drawn in to the idea of Flashpoint.  Not the idea itself; I still don’t know what it is and unless someone can explain it to me in one sentence I will continue to not know what it is, but to all the other titles. 

As much as I hate to admit it, seeing as I’m an angry soulless person who doesn’t want to be happy, DC was pretty much giving me exactly what I always said I wanted.  I always wanted more ‘What if’ or ‘Imaginary Tales’ or ‘Other World’ type stories.  That’s why I love Superman/Batman so much – it had license to jettison canon and just go crazy.  I like fun and funny stories.  I like brief one shots.  From the covers and the small accompanying blurbs, that’s what Flashpoint seems to consist of.  Bruce Wayne owns a casino!  Hal Jordan’s a fighter pilot!  Here!  Have a DCU Aerialists book!  Here’s Lois Lane leading some kind of resistance.

What can I say but “Awesome!” 

And what did I say but, “They’ll screw it up somehow.”  Okay, that was a sarcastic aside at the end of the podcast, just to throw in a sting, but isn’t that what most fans say?  Half the point of being a comics fan is being cynical.  And often those cynical predictions turn out to be correct.

Why?  Well, let’s start with the inherent problems of any major undertaking.  I know, it’s just a comic book, but with an integrated universe with sixty years of history and a multi-media concept that has different versions in movies, TV, dvd, online gaming, books and comics, there is no minor undertaking.  Add to that the basics of trying to juggle art, dialog, story, and the relationships of the characters in 20-22 pages, and it’s a tough struggle to make it all work.

More important, though, I think, is the expectation of the fans.  When people get in to comics, they tend to like a lot.  Everything is new.  Everything is close enough to what they want that they can get something from it.  And if they don’t?  No big deal.  Drop the book.  I certainly wasn’t in a tizzy about Green Arrow continuity when I was first reading books.  I just thought he was a guy in a funny hat.

After a bit, that changes.  People fall in love with certain stories.  They fall in love with certain characters.  And when they fall in love, they do so with that character, and that story.  As far as they’re concerned – that is how the character is.  So if it’s just a momentary trend, or an extreme look at the character, either they are going to have to re-adjust their understanding of the character, or they are going to be chasing a dream forever.  Guess what most people will pick.  Guess how that makes them feel.

Still, though, I think the main problem with a lot of comics is people deceive themselves about how they’re going to feel.  I very much include myself in that statement.  I was talking to a friend who writes, the other day, as well as a friend who draws.  They both take requests.  They almost always regret taking requests.  I’m willing to bet the requester often regrets making the request.  Because no one ever gets what they want.  We can swear up, down, and sideways that we ‘just’ want something – Black Canary and Catman in a fight, Wonder Woman and Oracle going out on the town and having fun, Batman being a great, friendly guy.  We can get down on our knees and swear on our mother’s life that that’s all we want.  We’re lying. 

Most people even believe that one simple thing is ‘all’ they want.  I know I did when all I wanted was Birds of Prey to come back.  But that wasn’t all I wanted.  I wanted a different artist, and I didn’t want Hawk and Dove involved, and I wanted it to be a fun book with people having fun, and I wanted Oracle to get to talk to Zinda a lot because they never really connected.  I had a whole huge concept for the book in my mind without even knowing it.  Don’t get me wrong, I like that Creote and Savant are involved – love it.  And they’re getting a new artist.  And I’ve come around to Hawk and Dove.  I think they’re a good addition to the team.  But I said that “all” I wanted and when it came around I complained because I meant that I wanted the book and I also wanted some other things that seemed oh so obvious to me.

(Clearly the bat symbol should be more orange. Forget this.)

That’s what my friends get all the time.  They get requests, and they fulfill them, and then they get lukewarm thank yous because the character that lived in the person’s head was nothing like the character that these people wrote or drew.  They meant Black Canary in that blue and black swimsuit outfit she wore in the original Birds of Prey.  They meant black-haired Catman from the early Green Arrow series.  They meant Batman being friendly, but not that friendly with Catwoman, doesn’t everyone know that he’s actually all about Talia?  They meant this character with short hair or that character a little more aggressive, or sure they asked for this aspect but they would never have included that one. 

The more you know a character, and like a character, the more specific that character is in your head.  You know what they’d do, and how they’d do it, and how their stories go, and how they rate compared to other characters, and that they’d never do that.  I don’t feel sorry for comics creators.  (I’m too busy envying them.)  And I don’t think that fans should button their lips when they don’t like a story.  (I certainly don’t.)  But I can’t help feeling some sympathy with people who are trying to deliver exactly what the fans want – with characters they themselves love – but can never really do it.  Because everyone knows that Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman would never be in a story like that.

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Batgirl Play-by-Play #19

March 11th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Ah, another month, another Batgirl book.  And, like, eighty Batman books.  We’ll focus on the Batgirl, though.

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Batgirl 18 Play-by-Play

February 17th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Valentine’s Day craziness with no romance.

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A interesting Joker. Who would have thought it?

February 8th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

My eyelash fluttering crush on Paul Cornell and all his works continues in this month’s Action Comics.  In issue #897 he has done the near-impossible.  He has made the Joker interesting.  I would never have guessed that such a thing was possible.  The last person to do it was Grant Morrison, and that only lasted for a paragraph or two. 

Almost every other Joker story for the last twenty years has mixed up ‘interesting’ with ‘awful’.  The Joker did things like steal everyone’s babies and throw them around for fun.  He showed up in a story and gagged Robin before taking him on a joyride and running down Christmas shoppers.  He was the guy who shot the hero’s daughter, father, sister, school friend, or best friend.  He wasn’t made interesting; he was just given enough gore and horror to have a vague, sick, car-accident-type fascination for the readers.

This most effusive of characters, the guy who seriously can’t keep his mouth shut, never really had anything to say.  He shot someone, said something cold-blooded and with the word ‘joke’ scattered in somewhere, and then he’d laugh.  He’d be obviously killed off – killed off to the point where Superman could find no trace of him after an explosion, and always come back.  He made no sense, and without some sense to balance on, no joke can work.

Cornell takes the usual tricks and make them work.  (Or most of them.  Joker makes reference to boiling a baby, which is think is both distasteful and silly.  No one who picks up this comic thinks that The Joker is an okay guy.  He doesn’t have to prove how bad he is, and the line, “I’m frequently NOT in this box,” is a credible enough threat without any follow-up threat.) 

There’s the mystic thing that is impossible for The Joker to know/do, that he somehow does anyway.  Unlike most comics, the thing is explained, instead of just being slide because The Joker doesn’t have to make sense.  There’s the balance between sanity and craziness.  The Joker alternates between jokes meant as goading and actual explanations phrased in clever ways.  There’s the connection with Batman, hinting that one feeds off the other, without being too literal.  (At one point, Lex points out that if he killed The Joker, everyone would be happy and he’d get off free.  The Joker replies, “No.  The Bat would come after you.”)  And finally, there is unpredictable behavior.  A lot of comics about The Joker stress that, “Anything could happen,” but generally are very predictable.  The Joker kills, The Joker makes the most heart-wrenching scenes, The Joker causes pain in particularly gruesome ways, The Joker Makes Things Personal.  This happens every Joker comic and it’s never a surprise. 

If the hallmark of The Joker is the random behavior, if that marks him as truly different from Batman, then that character hasn’t really shown up in years.  He shows up here, and it’s actually interesting.  Pair it with a strong, logical character as Lex Luthor and you get the fascinating spectacle of seeing two characters look at each other, understand each other, and say, “You’re out of your mind.”  What’s more, we agree with both of them.  It’s nice.

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Batgirl #17 Play-by-Play

January 14th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Prepare to be spoiled.

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Batgirl #16 Play-by-Play

December 10th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Stephanie Brown: Fugitive.  For about a second.

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Sudden news about Daken

December 9th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Oh my god, he’s right.

I still don’t know how to pronounce it, though.

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Mark Chiarello is the DC VP of Art Direction and Design

December 7th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

It is customary for people to say nice things about the people they’re promoting.  Dan Didio had this to say:

“Mark is the kind of artist, editor and collaborator who is invaluable in not only his knowledge of the craft but his ability to inspire and pull out the very best work from the creators with whom he works.  He’s a true artist’s artist.  Mark Chiarello is one of the most respected figures in the comic book industry.  From NEW FRONTIER to SOLO to WEDNESDAY COMICS, he’s spearheaded projects that helped elevate our expectations for what the art form can accomplish.”

It’s rare to see a glowing review and completely agree with it.  So many words of praise are basically strained out through gritted teeth because something is good enough and it’s not right to hang anyone out to dry.  This isn’t one of those times.  I can’t tell you about the success of projects like Solo and Batman: Black and White, although the fact that Solo isn’t around anymore is probably an indication, but artistically they’re stand-out books.

Mark Chiarello has a good history of finding artists who can do thoughtful, interesting takes on characters.  He has a history of giving these projects formats that make them little sensations within the comics community, so that everyone has an eye out for them on Wednesday.  I often notice when people are really good writers, and occasionally I notice good artists.  It’s rare that I notice excellent editors.  I think that Mark Chiarello is one of them.  He picks good people to do work.  He gives them good projects.  And he makes sure that those projects have a fighting chance in a really tough market.  This guy is great at his job.

According to the DC Source post, “This newly-created position will oversee the operations of DC’s Editorial Art Department and lead in establishing the style, visual look and graphic design across all of DC’s imprints.”  Being a story girl, I’d prefer him to go nuts on storyboarding, but any influence is a good influence.  I’ve rarely been so happy about a press release.

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