The Cipher 03/02/11: “we’ve got a file on you”

March 2nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

brothers and sisters

created: Couple gooduns this past week. Did some more writing about art, something I don’t do often enough.

Cameron Stewart and Karl Kerschl formed like Voltron (they were both the head)

Dwayne McDuffie memorial

Kaare Andrews flips the script on Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis

Part two of my Marvel Black History joints. These were fun.

rebuild your lives

consumed: I’m growing increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of stuff I read online. I need to read less, and in doing so, read better works. Gotta stop clicking every link where somebody’s hopping mad or talking about some comic I never read.

-Right now, as far as I’m concerned, Black History Month is done. Four years and out, wham, bam, and Billie Jean is not my lover, no matter what she says. Thanks for reading, but I quit.

Tim O’Neil wrote a stellar McDuffie tribute, and his piece on the time Punisher went black is pretty good.

-Sean Witzke goes in on Seth Fisher with Jared and takes George Lucas apart in one neat post. I don’t mean that in a stupid “Oh I hate those prequels so much!” crybaby way, either.

-Sean linked this a long while back, and I finally finished reading it. The forgotten story of Marcia Lucas, George’s ex-wife and collaborator. Great read.

-Courtesy of Ron Wimberly comes these:

Audience Calibration Procedure from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery on Vimeo.

-Michelle & Melinda talk about the visuals of One Piece and NANA.

Frank Miller interviews Goseki Kojima and Kazuo Koike, of Lone Wolf & Cub fame.

Lupe Fiasco is an idiot, and you shouldn’t buy his album.

Four free issues of David Lapham’s Stray Bullets. You should definitely read these.

Jack Kirby does Frank Miller

Stop talking to me about Charlie Sheen

Sloane drew a comic. I liked it–there’s a bit with a tongue and a pill that’s super Akira.

-Vote in the Gylphs Fan Award for Best Comic. The correct choice is Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of our Fathers.

-I tired to work my way through Radiohead’s discography… it didn’t take.

-Amazon has some pretty ill five dollar albums up: Brown Sugar, Baduizm, Vol.2 … Hard Knock Life, Things Fall Apart, What’s Going On, Licensed To Ill, The Score, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

-I always want to change after I wrap up February. BHM is always stressful–both the schedule (I think only three posts didn’t publish at a minute past midnight) and the subject matter. Working through my own issues via comics is stressful enough, but having to pay attention to what other (frankly lesser) writers are saying is a pain in my neck. I just want a break, really, a chance to re-center.

-Usually that means deciding to take a week off from posting and then failing utterly, but this year… I think it means writing about music more. I just don’t have patience for a lot of the stuff that comes with talking or reading about comics online. Sometimes I read stuff and I just want to raze my RSS feeds to the ground. But music: music is new and interesting and I’m feeling my way around it. It’s like looking at someone with new eyes.

-C’est la guerre, right? Things change, people change, I change.

-Working with Graeme McMillan on that co-review of Blur’s 13 was a trip. I think it’s the first time we’ve collaborated on something. It’s crazy–six (or however many) years ago, I was just a fan who checked Fanboy Rampage regularly. Life is pretty okay sometimes. There’s more coming, too, with Graeme and others. I feel good about this.

-Video game update: The only thing I’m playing lately are the Netflix and Hulu apps on my PS3 and Killzone 3, whose online multiplayer is great fun. Me and a friend (Larry) get on just to fool around. We spent most of a game talking to each other about nothing while shooting dudes. At one point we were remarking how cool it is that when you’re squadded up, your teammates can’t hear you, when another player joined our server. This guy joined our conversation and we realized that, nope, turns out they can hear us fine, we were the only ones with mics, and that we’d subjected our team to about 15 minutes of chit-chat about kung fu movies and everything/nothing.

-Larry mutes people with a quickness. They get one chance and bam, gone. I’m lazier, and also, I didn’t bother to learn how to mute people in-game until recently, so I’d just talk through them. One guy kept complaining about how his missiles weren’t working, his gun was weaker than the enemy’s guns, blah blah blah my controller sucks, not me, I’m fine, they’re cheating. So I sorta started coaching him. “Shoot better.” “No, you can’t–that’s the wrong way, turn around.” “Shoot now! No, wait—awww, why’d you shoot?” “Wait, this isn’t Call of Duty? Are you SERIOUS? I thought I was playing on Shipment.” “Do you like turtles? Or pudding?” Eventually, the rest of the team joined in on heckling this chump.

-Larry got half the conversation and was therefore entertained. The chump… not so much. Can’t imagine why.

-Great game, though.

-I’ll be back to review the comics I bought in the morning. Feel free to review your books, too, or talk about them, whatever whatever.

we’re all drug takers

David: Heroes For Hire 4, Joe the Barbarian #8, Thunderbolts 154
Esther: Superboy 4, Secret Six 30 Possibly: Batman Confidential 53, Weird Worlds 2
Gavin: Axe Cop Bad Guy Earth 1, Azrael 18, Green Lantern 63, Joe The Barbarian 8, Secret Six 31, Darkwing Duck Annual, Irredeemable 23, Avengers Academy 10, Daken Dark Wolverine 6, Deadpool 32.1, Heroes For Hire 4, Secret Warriors 25, Thunderbolts 154, Ultimate Comics Captain America 3

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Black History Month 2011: Doc Bright Outrolude

February 28th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

(from icon: a hero’s welcome. words by dwayne mcduffie, pencils by doc bright, inks by mike gustovich, colors by rachelle menashe, james sherman, and noelle giddings, letters by steve dutro. i love how the big splash page that would’ve been a “to be continued” page happens two pages before the actual “to be continued” page.)

I’ve got no revelations, no grand statements, no explorations of personal racial trauma, no words to be wasted on pointless plot twists, and no praise for meeting a low bar. Not even any rap references. Just this:

Black creators have been in comics forever, involved in successes and failures, the heights of unfettered creativity and the lows of mercenary corporate comics, racist issues and uplifting issues, and everything else in between. People like to say that “black history is American history.” Turns out that’s true of comics, too.

Thanks for reading.

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Black History Month 2011: Khari Evans

February 25th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Khari Evans
Selected Works: Thor: Ages of Thunder, Daughters of the Dragon: Samurai Bullets, Shanna, the She-Devil: Survival of the Fittest, Immortal Iron Fist Vol. 3: The Book of Iron Fist

One thing I always kind of liked while growing up (and didn’t think twice about til I was older) was how black, or at least certain aspects of black culture, were automatically cool. Once you got past like, the Middle Passage and all that messiness in the 1800s, blackness (for whatever definition you subscribe or don’t subscribe to, and that’s the last disclaimer you get, killjoy) was cool, Jack. The Harlem Renaissance, negro spirituals, zoot suits, jazz, rock’n’roll, rap, dancing as close as you can get to a pretty lady without going to jail for public indecency… the United States would be an awful place without the cultural contributions of black folks, full of nerds insisting on listening to opera music and all types of wackness.

In comics, I can’t think of very many people with a cooler style than Khari Evans. Frank Quitely and Paul Pope have that ugly prettiness thing going on. Colleen Coover is tops as far as kid-friendliness and solid cartooning goes. Evans is the main man as far as cool goes. His people wear clothes that I could actually see someone wearing in real life. Girls change clothes. People accessorize. Hats aren’t just baseball caps. Sneakers have varied treads. Outfits are coordinated.

His faces, too. Sneers, scowls, smug grins… this guy can do it all, and he does it at maximum cool. I wish his style could do for cape comics what John Romita’s art did for Amazing Spider-Man: make it fresh and cool, with well-dressed pretty people doing interesting things.

He draws Pretty Girls, too.

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Black History Month 2011: Doc Bright

February 24th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

from quantum & woody, words by christopher priest.

Mark D. “Doc” Bright
Selected Works: Spider-Man vs Wolverine, Quantum & Woody, Icon: A Hero’s Welcome

Doc Bright is a classic superhero artist. Not in that he’s old, but in that he draws superheroes in a way that makes them feel natural and real. His style, or at least the style of his that I’m the most familiar with, is scratchy and rough, like his people were sculpted from blocks of wood without being sanded down. It makes for pleasingly weighted superheroic action, and it’s not quite as antiseptically clean and slick as some other artists. Probably a little Neal Adams in there, too.

Bright’s had a long career. ComicboookDB says his first work ins 1978’s House of Mystery 257, an issue that also featured Arthur Suydam, David Michelinie, Otto Binder, and Michael Golden. He’s worked on Thor, Falcon, ROM, Power Man and Iron Fist, Iron Man, Action Comics, Green Lantern, and dozens more. I was going to say that I don’t think he’s done any work with Batman, but nope, he’s been there and done that several times.

His work has been few and far between lately. It seems like it’s mostly been reprint work, the odd pin-up, and Milestone Forever, but it’s easy to see that he never missed a step. He’s still as good as he ever was, though perhaps not as flashy as some of the guys nowadays. His work is always worth looking at, though, because he was always good at body language, fight choreography, and simple layouts.

Quantum & Woody, his series with Christopher Priest, had a bunch of scenes that varied from a tense nine (or more) panel grid to something more free and loose. He made the page fit the story, which is another reason why he’s such a classic artist. He knows how to make comics go.

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Black History Month 2011: Jeremy Love

February 23rd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

(colors by patrick morgan)

Jeremy Love
Selected Works: Bayou, Bayou Vol. 2

To hear my education growing up tell it, “black history” means a few tools in Africa, slaves, Martin Luther the King, and the LA Riots. And those are about uncultured savages, severe emotional trauma that you must never mention, the right way to be black (peaceful, of course), and uncultured savages, respectively.

I had to do the rest of the legwork on my own, and I didn’t find many stories about slavery times, or that period after where American terrorism ran wild. I don’t know why–maybe the time period is sacred? “This is our suffering, don’t trivialize it?” Everything was very somber and serious and offputting, Beloved included.

Jeremy Love’s Bayou is something I’d wanted to see for a while. It’s a straight up fantasy tale set during (an alternate version of) one of the most hateful periods in American history. It deals with that aspect of the history, it takes it head-on in fact, but it doesn’t wallow in misery or black pathology. Love just takes a setting that’s rife with potential and creates a good story out of it.

No stories or periods of history or whatever whatever are sacred. Everything has the potential to be a good story, no matter how traumatic or damaging. It’s just a matter of being willing to look at an old wound in a new way, and finding a different way to exorcise, or examine, that pain. I don’t believe in sacred cows. I’d much rather read stories where black people of any time period have fantasies and adventures like everyone else over stories about how awful it was to be black back then (or now, word to Precious). I’ve got history books for that.

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Black History Month 2011: Carol Burrell

February 22nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Carol Burrell
Selected Works: SPQR Blues (first strip)

I didn’t know about Carol Burrell before Cheryl pointed her out to me a while back. I don’t even remember how far back–a year, two? Regardless, Burrell has been pumping out installments of SPQR Blues since 2005, all on her own. It’s about the citizens of Herculaneum, and is heading directly toward the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It’s essentially a soap opera or a drama, if those are different things. People live, things happen, and you tune in to check it out.

What made Burrell’s work finally click with me wasn’t SPQR Blues (which is good), but her work ethic. I happened across two strips she drew while checking out her web presence. Read “Not-Drawn-to-Scale Me Explains It All In 25 Panels” and “Closer-to-Scale Me Explains It All In 4 Panels”. To make a short story (seriously, it’s 25 panels and then four panels, go and read the thing) shorter, Burrell had been drawing all her life until a repetitive stress injury screwed up her hand. She ended up needing therapy and not being able to draw. Nothing worked, nothing doing, and then she took some advice that Donna Barr, a cartoonist, gave her: draw 10,000 drawings and then you’ll find drawing a comic easy.

Burrell’s response was a great one. She went from scoffing to being a believer, and that second strip shows that she understood the truth in Barr’s statement. Doing ten thousand drawings (in this case a drawing is defined as a panel) forces you to get over yourself and just do the job. Doing it properly also teaches you your own weaknesses, which results in you getting better.

I can respect that. It takes a lot to be willing to focus on bettering yourself, and to be public about it takes even more. Very cool.

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Black History Month 2011: Marc Bernardin

February 21st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

from women of marvel. art by romina moranelli(, whose style here has a little bit of humberto ramos-ness to it, but who also has a skinny style i dig a lot).

Marc Bernardin
Selected Works: Top Cow First Look Volume 1 TP, Genius #1, Monster Attack Network, The Highwaymen

There are a lot of different types of comics. Comics with crazy high concepts, cheesecake comics, autobio, and on and on and on. There’s this other lane I enjoy, too, which are basically just comics for the sake of being comics. Straight up comic books, no gimmicks. These are the sort of books that you can give to anyone, because they aren’t hinging upon decades of history. They get in, they get out, and you’re left entertained.

Marc Bernardin, with his writing partner Adam Freeman, is good at those kinds of comics. A quick flip through his ComicBookDB profile reveals a more or less even mix of original work and corporate comics, including a movie tie-in miniseries. The thing about this collection of one-shots and minis is that they don’t get to hinge upon past history. At best, you have a status quo you can tie into for a little extra punch, but you don’t get the momentum you would from delving into continuity porn.

You have to sit down and make your story good enough to be worthy on its own merits. Bernardin’s had eight(ish) pages on the low side of things, and six on the high side, to make his readers into true believers. That means that there’s no time at all to screw around. Bernardin (and Freeman!) uses a deft mix of humor, big action right out of the gate, and fast pacing to keep you hooked. On top of that, his books tend to be aware of the medium and genre they’re working in. There are little nods and hints toward other books or franchises, just enough to let your mind make the connection, but not so much that it interferes with the book.

Bernardin writes straight up comics, and that counts for a lot to me.

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Black History Month 2011: Marvel Interlude

February 19th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I had something pretty cool planned for this one, but those plans fell through for whatever (wack) reason. That’s given me a chance to hook up something else I’m doing this month that you might have missed–two Black History posts on Marvel.com. Here’s the first, which goes from Gabe Jones to Storm.

A couple guys at Marvel asked me to pitch something, so I gave it some thought, got distracted, and started looking at a Black History timeline. I see the Tuskeegee Experiments ended/were revealed in 1972… the same year Luke Cage was created. Cage, of course, is the product of (probably unethical) experiments on black men in jail, which is at least a slight parallel. It stuck with me, so I spot-checked a few other days for significant or interesting comics/life links. I found some good ones, and that sent me thinking, and bam, I had a pitch.

Marvel’s had such success with its black characters, over and beyond what DC has managed, for a few reasons. One, they had people who were willing to be like, “Yeah, dude is black, whatcha gonna do about it?” (I imagine that Stan Lee was the dude saying this, while Jack Kirby stood behind him with his arms crossed, cigar in his mouth, and a scowl on his face at whoever was giving them grief). Two, they had a bunch of black dudes who weren’t just sidekicks and knock-offs wearing somebody else’s costume. And three, they managed to tap into the mood of the day, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes intentionally but with results they couldn’t have possibly intended, so actual black people could look at these cats and relate.

Give it a read, tell me what you think. There’s one more coming, which will bring us from the ’80s into the modern day. Look for that on Friday.

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Black History Month 2011: Afua Richardson

February 18th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Afua Richardson
Selected Works: Genius, 24Seven

There’s a lot to be said for simply being dope. Being able to draw a comic that looks good, reads well, and is visually inventive is a skill that isn’t half as common as you might think, and it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised when you pick up a book. Afua Richardson is dope, precisely because she can do exactly that.

Her art is really attractive. She does pencils, inks, and color, which gives her almost total control over how the art appears in a book. There aren’t a lot of people I regularly read who are the total package like this (maybe just Frazer Irving and Brendan McCarthy?), and it’s cool to see how the various aspects of her art fits together. Her style isn’t overly realistic. It’s not like DC’s Ed Benes-by-way-of-Jim Lee house style, but it’s not full blown Joe Madureira-style manga homage, anything goes Chris Bachalism, or Humberto Ramos-style bigfoot, either. It reminds me of animation (which I realize is a hideously general and possible meaningless description but ride with me for a minute) more than anything, with bright, splashy colors, backgrounds that fade in and out as needed, and lines that wiggle on the page.

Splashy is a good word for it. If you look at her work in Genius with Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman (my main point of reference), you’ll see how there are these wide swathes of color splashed across the page, sometimes battling it out with bright lights. Dark panels often have at least one bright splash of color for contrast. It’s not neon, but she knows how to throw some bright colors down for maximum effect.

Richardson’s art is real splashy and raw. I really want to see what her finished PSDs or AIs look like and peel them back, layer by layer. I bet it’s crazy interesting to see.

“Fresh. For 2011.”

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Black History Month 2011: Spike

February 17th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Selected Works: Templar, AZ (chapter guide)

I didn’t intend for all of these entries to be about how every single one of these people are trailblazers or inspirations or represent some facet of black life, and make this all, or partially, about me. Really, I just wanted to talk about some black creators I dig and just sort of point out the fact that they exist. But that isn’t really possible, because everything I like holds some special significance when examined, and who I am is part of why I like what I like. So I’m gonna roll with it. Case in point:

I only really dabble in webcomics. I read a handful, probably somewhere between 10 and 15, but my ear isn’t to the ground with webcomics like it is with print comics. Despite that, one name I hear on a regular basis is “Spike.” She writes and draws Templar, Arizona, and has been doing it since ’05. She’s done well enough at it that she keeps coming up as an exemplar of the format amongst my friends and the writers I follow. She lives off it, which is something to be applauded every single time it happens.

But a big part of the appeal for me is that Spike did it her way. Templar, AZ is her comic, and hers alone. She writes it, she draws it, she letters it, she hosts it, and she gets money for it. That’s basically the American dream, isn’t it? Being beholden to no one but yourself, doing what you want to do, carving out a new lane for yourself, being able to survive doing it, and having the complete freedom that we all deserve. She’s doing what all of us wish we could do.

So, hats off for Spike and Templar, AZ. Much respect due.

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