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“industry shady, it need to be taken over”

December 5th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I hate writing about writing, because it is the most stereotypical and annoying thing a writer can do, but I’ve become what I’ve forsaken and the irony’s wild.

I haven’t written about comics on here in a month. I wrote about comics on ComicsAlliance a total of eight times in November, roughly twice per week. I did this Judge Dredd thing with Douglas Wolk that was actually a whole lot of fun, since I rarely collaborate and Wolk is one of the sharpest dudes around. (This week’s dance partner is Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress, who completely outshines me.)

I haven’t done it at all this month. I burned out. I needed a break. I’ll be back in a while. Maybe a week, maybe less, I dunno. Hopefully this post doesn’t come off too self-pitying or whatever, but it’s been bugging me and if I don’t write about it it’ll keep bugging me so… reap the whirlwind, I guess.

I quit because comics journalism, or criticism, or whatever you want to call writing about comics, is essentially free advertising. Which is fine, I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. When I write about something, be it Brandon Graham’s King City or Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman’s Hulk, it’s because I want you to buy and read it. Well, first and foremost it’s because I wanted to talk about it, but the buying & reading goes right along with that. I want to talk to people about these books. It’s not hand-selling, but it is recommending, yeah?

And I quit because every time I saw a review of Grant Morrison and Rags Morales working on Action Comics, I wanted to scream. The thought of Marvel caking off Fantastic Four 600 and dedicating it to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee makes my skin crawl. I can’t pretend like a comic set in the Congo featuring child soldiers and a warlord named Massacre is something adults should take seriously. Batman is already a dumb idea, but it has seventy years of inertia behind it. (“Massacre?” Negro please.) Or a million other things. “Check out this cool Tony Daniel preview!” “Matt Fraction is breaking new ground in the Defenders! What if Hulk… had a Hulk!” Pshaw.

I felt complicit in something I hated, and I decided not to write about it any more, barring my obligations at CA, and I eventually sent Laura a sad sack email begging off those, too.

(I didn’t quit reading comics, mind. I bought Thickness #2, a porn comic, and it’s grrrrrrrreat. I finished Twin Spica 10 over lunch today and it had a twist that I saw coming that still knocked me off my feet with its finality. I bought comics online and in stores. I just quit blogging about them for a while.)

A lot happened in that month, personal and otherwise. I had a hilariously awkward conversation with a PR person after I wouldn’t play the game. I spent a lot of time thinking about this post about Black Panther and War Machine. I wondered if I’d screwed up somehow, but I read it and reread it and reread the reaction to it and… I’m appalled that people came at me like I was calling Marvel a bunch of racist scumbags. I don’t even imply it, not even close. But you know, mention that two black characters share a thing, and speak of that thing negatively, and suddenly you’re… I don’t even know, bizarro David Duke or something. (I can’t think of a famous black racist right now. Sorry.) That got me to thinking about how insular and toxic comics culture is, how Team Comics has people thinking that we’re all in this together and leaping to defend corporations that don’t care about them, how comic shops actively hamper digital comics, how people claim to ignore Rich Johnston but hang on his every word…
November was a month that seemed hellbent to make me hate everything, including comics. I thought about every encounter with pushy PR people, every time I got someone in trouble because of something I wrote that some PR person didn’t like, the gross quid pro quo of maintaining access, passive-aggressive emails from Bluewater’s president because I told him I wasn’t interested in his ugly, stupid comics, and years of beating my head against the wall. Everything I don’t like about comics, I ended up processing alone or with a group of close friends, all of whom have been remarkably okay with me being such a Debbie Downer about some dumb old comic books.

I realized that I didn’t need any of that. I don’t depend on comics. I have a job. Life is short. Why should I do anything I don’t want to do, within reason? So I’ve been trying to figure out how I can keep writing about comics and entirely avoid, shun, or ignore the business side of things. I’ve gotten books early or for free, which is nice, but not necessary. (It also makes me feel really guilty. Friends make friends pay retail, yeah?) I can talk about comics I love at any point. I’m on a ’60s manga kick right now, so I’ve been buying used copies of Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009. I can (and will) write about that at any time! (It’s wild racist, if you like/hate when I point that stuff out, but totally awesome, too.)

November was “How can I continue doing this thing I like doing when I’ve managed to surround myself with almost every aspect of it that I hate?” Sales figures, that thing where you read bad comics because you want to get your two-minute hate on or self-harm or whatever, paying attention to reviewers you don’t actually like in the name of… well I guess that’s masochism, too.

I ended up being The Digital Comics Guy somehow. Or A Digital Comics Guy, I figure. I think Brigid Alverson is the only other person to have really written repeatedly and at length on the subject. I’ve made some mis-steps (regarding believing sales charts, even!), but I’ve spilled tens of thousands of words on the subject. Maybe a hundred thousand, even. (Terrifying thought.) I’ve got a google alert for digital comics news and I’m on a bunch of mailing lists.

I saw an announcement that made me really happy. “Dark Horse Delivers Day & Date Digital Comics Same Day As Print!” They’re one of my favorite companies, they publish at least three of my favorite ongoing series (Usagi Yojimbo, Hellboy, and BPRD), and I own a bunch of their stuff. I’ve actually given away a bunch of DH stuff, because I had friends who I thought might dig it. Share the wealth, spread the word. I was really happy about this announcement, shot off a couple of quick questions to DH, forwarded the news to Andy at CA so he could write it up (being on my “oh poor me i hate writing about comics right now but am still gonna read comics news” vacation) and felt good.

On Sunday, Rich Johston reported that Larry Doherty of Larry’s Comics was refusing to shelf Dark Horse Comics over the price point. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a crybaby punk move. Digital comics aren’t physical comics. Digital books provide a different experience than print comics. This stupid “print vs digital” thing is a smokescreen, a garbage talking point. They aren’t direct competitors, and they certainly won’t be as long as the prices are so high.

But this guy Larry, this actual racist, this person who sent a friend of mine a picture of a woman with a bunch of hot dogs stuffed in her mouth after she rightly called him out on requesting DC do a XXX video fo Batwoman and Question “banging each other” because “chicks doing it is awesome,” this scumbag who two different people I know personally–and I live a few thousand miles from dude’s store–have been like “Oh yeah, Larry? I used to live around him, he’s a disgusting punk,” this guy, the last guy anyone should be listening to or hanging out with or associating with, period, is the one who’s banging the “WHAT ABOUT US POOR RETAILERS YOU OWE US” drum the hardest.

I read the news, rolled my eyes, had a few conversations about it, and moved on.

Today, I assume in response to Larry’s bleating on Twitter, Dark Horse caved. More specifically, they caved and said this:

Unfortunately, there has been a bit of miscommunication regarding our pricing strategy, and we would like to clear that up here. In our initial announcement, we did not come forward with any pricing information on our upcoming releases. However, some assumptions were made based on our current pricing model.

Earlier today, in response to some dumb DC news I shouldn’t have read anyway, I said “these could conceivably not be lies.” I instantly felt bad about being so cynical and skeptical, did a little more research, and proved to myself and a couple friends that the things DC said weren’t lies. Which is pretty screwed up, but that sort of shows you where I’m at with comics marketing. I’m conscious of the fact that it’s poisoned for me, and I’m working to correct it. But dang, man, almost every bit of news I read seems like more and more garbage. It’s not healthy.

But that thing up there, the quote? It’s, at best and at my most charitable, a falsehood. It’s a falsehood that offloads blame onto the press, onto the people who reported the news. Maybe there was some miscommunication, but there definitely wasn’t on my side. I was sorta surprised at how much I resented reading this, as if it were personal almost. But I take writing very seriously, even if I’m just doing research for someone else, so it is what it is and he said what he said.

And now I’m like… this is an industry where Mark Millar runs wild with comments about shooting people who don’t deserve it, wondering if black people can have Down’s Syndrome, telling people not to buy digital comics, and plotting “The Rape of Wonder Woman” for yuks. This is an industry where Alan Moore talking about comics he hasn’t read, and says he hasn’t read, and proceeds to talk about anyway, is front page news every single time. It’s an industry where people complain up and down the street about how inaccurate sales figures are, except when their own books sell out. Rushed events are blockbusters. Sub-par fill-in artists are something publishers pooh-pooh and downplay as necessary.

It’s where one of the best publishers in the industry publicly bows down to someone who has consistently been an embarrassment to what passes for the comics community.

And I’m having some serious trouble figuring out why I should even want to support this industry with my time and words. It’s not like I have a lack of stuff to talk about, things that don’t make my skin crawl. I’ll get past it, obviously–I want to talk about Cyborg 009 and Wonder Woman and everything else I’m reading and enjoying, and getting paid to write is really really nice this time of year, and a month is probably long enough to get over it, especially after this post–but right now, I’m seriously not feeling it at all. I hate it.

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The Cipher 12/01/10

December 1st, 2010 Posted by david brothers

if you smoke a dime, then i’ll smoke a dime
-I bought Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here last week and finally got around to listening to it (that’s what happens when you go on vacation, you don’t do things). It’s nuts, totally worth whatever it was I paid for it.

-Scott-Heron is gravel-voiced, astute, and clever. The production is tight, a lot more modern hip-hop than I expected, but with an eager nod toward the black blues/soul tradition. It sounds like what I want this kind of music to sound like.

-He hooked me from the first song, honestly. “On Coming From A Broken Home Part 1″ opens with a few bars that are like a shot directly to my dome:

I want to make this a special tribute
to a family that contradicts the concepts
heard the rules but wouldn’t accept
and women-folk raised me
and I was full grown before I knew
I came from a broken home

-Even better: it’s over Kanye’s “Flashing Lights.”

-I listened to it twice in a row, took a break to wrap up this music countdown thing I’m working on with my TFO family, and now I’m on listen three.

-I finally broke the spell Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had over me. Listening to it twice a day, minimum, had to stop. I put on OutKast’s ATLiens and Aquemini, two of my most favorite albums ever, back to back. I ended up running through Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Big Boi’s solo record, too. Feels like I just replaced one addiction with another.

-The new Gorillaz single, Doncamatic featuring Daley, dropped last week.

-I hadn’t heard of Daley before this song, but he seems pretty dope. I thought he was a she before I saw the video, to be honest. Apparently he’s an amateur gone pro, and that’s kind of cool.

-I like the song, but I don’t like every part of the song. The horns (though they’re probably from a keyboard, come to think of it) that sit on top of the drumbeat don’t quite work for me. It puts me in mind of circus music, or the guys with the accordion and a dancing monkey.

-The rest of the song, particularly the vocals (the “Talk to me talk to me talk to me” on the hook is pretty great). It’s laid back, and it fits well with the tone of Plastic Beach, or rather, a return to Plastic Beach.

-Doing a zillion things at once right now, and I’m New Here has switched over to Ski Beatz’s 24 Hour Karate School. I picked it up the other day, and the first track is pretty straight.

-Curren$y on the first track is reminding me that I need to pick up Pilot Talk II. I thought Pilot Talk was just aight. Spitta stayed in his comfort zone, which is fine, but a little boring on an LP. I like him enough that I’ll give him a second try, though.

-More on Ski Beatz: Is it just me or was the Dipset breakup the best thing that could have happened to Jim Jones? It forced him out of his comfort zone, which was being a voice in a crowd of many, and into something resembling the limelight.

-Jones was never the most lyrical dude in Dipset, or even the most interesting flow-wise, but he’s got an ill voice that’s just made for rap. That rasp really works.

-Having to go solo, or something like solo, has led to him linking up with Dame Dash, Joell Ortiz, and other cats who have pulled some good work out of him. He feels hungry again. I like that. He’s not great, but he’s interesting enough at this point that I’ll check his work out just off GP.

- /*-~~JETS~~-*/ fool

-There were two songs dedicated to weed this year that were just called “Marijuana.” Yelawolf did one on Trunk Muzik 0-60, and Kid CuDi had one on Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. Remember when we used to get at least one weed smoker’s anthem a year? Bone Thugs alone had that subgenre on lock.

-Cripes, remember when the phrase “Bone: Thugs-n-Harmony” wasn’t embarrassing on any level? When they fell off, they fell all the way off.

-Back to Ski Beatz: six tracks in and I’m well pleased. Production is on point.

-A larger post on music coming soon, I think.

-Pac-Man Championship DX CE on PlayStation 3 is hotter than the surface of the sun. They completely turned that game out.


but in the middle we stay calm, we just drop bombs
created: A couple joints this time… Marvel is already trying to screw up the digital comics market like a bunch of clowns and Dark Horse has their head on so straight it’s scary.

consumed: I didn’t do much reading over the past week. I was in Los Angeles and had other priorities. Despite that, I ran through:

-Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite: I bought the digital comic off iTunes by accident like four months ago and finally got around to it. This was my second time through the series, and I liked it. I do think that the art way outclasses the script, which is just sorta okay. I’ll read the sequel for the first time next year when Dark Horse drops its digital store.

-Jacques Tardi’s It Was the War of the Trenches: This was fantastic. Longer post next week, since I get some other stuff done first, but: yes, you want this. I let it sit for a couple months after reading the first twenty pages or so for some reason, but reading it all in a shot was a great experience.

-I picked up New Mutants 2: Necrosha by Zeb Wells and a whole gang of artists, including David and Alvaro Lopez, who I haven’t seen since their days on Catwoman with Will Pfeifer. In a way, this book is the best example of what I like and don’t like about corporate comics. Wells is telling a pretty good story and bam, a fairly crap X-Men crossover pops up. He treads water through that, managing to do some cool stuff with Doug Ramsey in the process, and then gets back to his ongoing plot. Except! After Wells gets two issues in and introduces his big bad villain and scripts a particularly fun issue for an old X-Force fan like me, we get a crossover with Siege that’s written by another writer entirely. And then, after that issue, is a three issue detour into X-Men: Second Coming. That’s gross. And yet, Wells is holding his head through all of this, and he’s created the only X-Men comic I’m even really interested in right now. Dude is good. I just wish Marvel would give him room to breathe, but I guess working with the X-Men comes with certain expectations.


nigga, I’m feelin’ better than ever, what’s wrong with you? you get down!
David: Heroes for Hire 1, King City 12
Esther: Yes: Action Comics Annual 13, Secret Six 28 Maybe: Batman: 80 Page Giant
Gavin: Secret Six 28, Ant-Man & Wasp 2, Chaos War God Squad 1, Heroes For Hire 1, Ozma Of Oz 2, She-Hulks 2, Taskmaster 4, What If Iron Man Demon In An Armor, (maybe) Wolverine Best There Is 1, Irredeemable 20

King City 12 this week? My my my.

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My Year in Comics: 2009

December 29th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I keep trying to do a top ten list, but I keep getting bored and wandering off partway through. It’s not that I can’t do it. It’s just that everyone has done it, and I wouldn’t be bringing anything new to the table. Sure, my list of ten books would be different from someone else’s list, and I’d probably inadvertently end up pissing off fans of Geoff Johns/Brian Michael Bendis/JMS again. What’s vastly more interesting, is looking at 2009 in terms of how my approach to comics changed. I stopped chasing the dragon this year, but that’s just half of it. I started, or re-started, a lot of things, too.

Amazon makes this easy. I can look at the 46 orders I placed in 2009 (which is completely ridiculous) and see what I bought and when I bought it. On 02/16, I ordered three books from Amazon. Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C., Black Panther by Jack Kirby Vol. 2, and Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1. I was very high on Kirby after picking up the first two Fourth World omnibuses, so that explains the two Kirby books. The outlier is Pluto. I hadn’t picked up any manga in some time before then, having stopped reading Monster when I moved to SF and already having a complete set of Dragon Ball. I’ve had a box full of manga chilling in my place for two and a half years now, with everything from Battle Vixens to Shaman King to The Ring waiting to be pulled out and reread, only for that to never happen.

The catalyst was Pluto, though. I’ve been watching anime since I was a kid, reading manga since I was a teenager. I remember picking up Super Manga Blast to read What’s Michael. Two days after reading Pluto 1, I ordered Monster 9-12, inadvertently giving myself two copies of volume 9. By February 24th, I had volumes 14 through 18, completing the series. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Monster, and reading the end of the series in a sprint like that was a blessing.

I live about six blocks from Kinokuniya, which is easily one of the best places to buy manga in the city. Large selection, decent back stock, and they’re on top of new releases. They’ve got an enormous selection of Japanese books, too. I visited it maybe twice my first year and a half here. Now, it’s more like monthly.

Pluto led to 20th Century Boys, which in turn led to Viz Signature. Other than a brief dip into and out of Black Lagoon (Nah, y’all can keep that one), Viz Signature has turned into my favorite imprint in any comics company. I’ve picked up Dogs, Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Jormungand, solanin, What A Wonderful World! and Vagabond, and enjoyed all of them. I’m looking forward to reading GoGo Monster (which is a very handsomely designed book), Real, not simple, and maybe Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega.

Viz Signature led to SIG IKKI, which led to Shonen Sunday. I rediscovered Yotsuba&!, which led to Yen Press, which has a few titles I need to try out. A friend’s recommendation led to Mushishi, from Del Rey, and a few titles out of that imprint, too.

I started paying attention to manga blogs, mainly via Brigid Alverson’s Manga Blog and Kate Dacey’s Manga Critic. That spiraled out into half a dozen other blogs, which led to more books. I started writing about manga more often, though nowhere near as often as I actually read it.

While all this was going on, I was growing out of slavishly following superhero books. David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp fell in my lap like a bomb, I fell in love with Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter, and scored several other books. I grabbed a used copy of Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter II on a whim and remembered how much I dig that series. Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai coming out a few weeks later was perfect timing, leaving me ripe for more. While the special edition by Fantagraphics collecting the first chunk of stories was pushed back to September 2010, I’m paying attention to Stan Sakai again and wondering why I ever stopped.

Dark Horse’s Noir and David Lapham’s Young Liars reminded me of Stray Bullets again, Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier rocked. I finally read Creepy, Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair, and a gang of other books.

I read Ganges #2, my first Ganges, after some goading from Tucker. I loved it, now I’m looking out for that, too. I can count the number of books by Fantagraphics I owned before picking up Ganges on zero hands. Now, I’m keeping my eyes open.

That was 2009 for me. I found a lot of new things, I learned more about my own tastes, and I started fitting my buying habits around that. I try more things, I’m open to more kinds of books, and it’s been fun discovering things that I should’ve known about all along.

2009 was a good year for comics. At this point, I’m reading American books of all types, a few Eurocomics thanks to Marvel’s partnership with Soleil, a lot of manga, a little manhwa… is there a word for that? Omnivorous? “Comics reader?” Either way, I feel better about comics than I have in a long while.

2010 is going to be a good year.

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Adam Warren Week: The Interview

July 23rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

gen13_numero_70_cover_by_adamwarrenAdam Warren was kind of enough to consent to an email interview, so of course I immediately bombarded him with way too many questions. As a result, we’ve got a long, and wide-ranging, interview that I think is pretty interesting. We cover a lot of ground, and Warren does it with good humor. And I do mean a lot of ground– this thing weighs in at over 5800 words. I went through and added in links for context or reference, in case you’re curious about a few of the topics that come up.

Thanks to Ken Kneisel for supplying me with the majority of Warren’s run on Dirty Pair, Jacq Cohen at Dark Horse for turning an offhanded Facebook comment into a fun interview, and finally, Adam Warren for answering a million questions.

After you finish reading, you should buy some Empowered (One, Two, Three, Four, Five), Dirty Pair, Iron Man: Hypervelocity, and Livewires. While you’re waiting for those to arrive, visit his DeviantArt to look at some art.

social_butterflystem_cell

Let’s get it in.

(and yes, adam warren week is just three days long. shut your face.)

At the time that I’m writing this, Empowered has been out for a couple of weeks. What’s your workday like now that it’s on shelves? Do you take a vacation between books or get right into working on the next volume? What do you do to relax?

Right now, I’m working on an Empowered one-shot (in conventional comics format, for once!) and frantically trying to wrap up a few other miscellaneous art jobs before I head off to the San Diego Comic-Con this week (ouch). This is more or less par for the course, as I usually try to work up other pitches or grind away at brief stints of better-paying work before I go back to full-time work on the next Empowered volume; in a way, though, this almost is a vacation, compared to the crazily long hours I often have to work as a volume’s deadline looms ever nearer.

As for relaxing, well, once the workday’s over, I might read some books, watch a DVD (starting over with The Wire season 1, at present), or crack a Sam Adams or two and catch some Craig Ferguson in the wee hours… (Though the latter’s not an option, of late. Since the spectacular onset of the digital TV revolution, my remote neck of the woods went from receiving about eight different TV stations’ signals to receiving a grand total of none whatsoever; yay, DTV! So, no Craig Ferguson for me, nowadays.) Ah, the manifold joys of the rural-dwelling freelancer’s off-work lifestyle…

How fast are you, art-wise? Do you do any digital work, or are you strictly lo-tech? What do you listen to while you draw?

I certainly wouldn’t claim that I’m an especially speedy artist in general… but, when working in the straight-to-pencil format used for Empowered, I can usually turn around at least two pages per full workday, which isn’t too shabby a production rate.

That’s the whole point of the format, really: to move on to the finished page as quickly as possible, leaving out all the intervening stages that used to slow me down as an artist. As in, my technique used to progress from scrawled roughs to very tight but undersized layouts to even more tightly penciled, full-size pages to final inks that were even tighter still; on Empowered, I jump from the thumbnail/rough stage straight to final, penciled pages (at the wee 8.5” X 11” size, BTW), a considerably more streamlined process.

gen13cov69While the technique I use on Empowered is indeed extremely “lo-tech”—nothing but graphite on letter-size copy paper, without resorting to such high-tech, cutting-edge, space-age innovations such as bristol board or inks or a separate lettering stage—I  can’t say that it’s strictly lo-tech, as the pages still wind up getting scanned into Photoshop, then tweaked and cleaned up (and lettering-corrected, as necessary) at Dark Horse. Contradictorily enough, only modern scanning and printing technologies make Empowered’s primitive process viable in the first place…

Nowadays, I listen to a helluva lot of talk radio when I’m working, mostly of the sports-related variety (I am a New England native, so Pats/ Sox/ Celts interest comes naturally to me), occasionally mixing in some books on CD for variety… I do, however, switch over to music from the ol’ iPod when working on scripts, due to the sad fact that talk radio’s babble frequently derails my train of dialog-related thought. (Unless I actually want to mix references to KG and Jonathan Papelbon and Randy Moss into my scripting, which is rarely the case.)   

While doing research for this interview, I realized that you don’t sell your original art. I don’t think that you travel to many cons, either, so genuine Adam Warren Sketches(TM) are pretty rare. Do you prefer to keep your art within the confines of published books, rather than sketches and such?

It’s not that I’m particularly opposed to selling my artwork; it’s just that I’ve never clawed out enough free time to set up some means of actually selling the stuff. (Plus, I am a tad paranoid that some Empowered material might need to be rescanned at some point; such are the problems inherent to working in the ever-tricky medium of grayscale.)

I should say that, back when I used to attend considerably more conventions than I do now (the invites dried up a long time ago, for better or for worse), I did crank out a goodly number of commissioned sketches every year… Empowered is descended from the last major clump of such commissions (mainly of the “damsel-in-distress” variety) I took on, after all. Now, though, I no longer have the time to deal with many (or any) more such requests along those lines.

Side note: Come to think of it, my attendance at San Diego this year will mark my first convention appearance during the entire time that Empowered has been coming out… Alert the media! Well, perhaps not.

In general, I suppose that I do prefer to keep my artwork within the confines of a published book, or at least within the confines of a story… Drawing as such doesn’t interest me all that much, save for as a means of conveying a narrative. I’ve never filled a sketchbook, I don’t draw people in the subway (er, that is, assuming I moved to a location that had a subway), I don’t hang around sketching with fellow artists after conventions (though the first part of the social “Drink & Draw” experience does appeal); in short, I don’t do the things that a real artist, someone who’s Crazy In Love With Drawing, should do. Luckily, this isn’t a major, psyche-twisting source of angst for me, as I pretty much see myself as a writer who happens to be able to draw.
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Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Path of the Assassin

July 5th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Path of the Assassin volume 1: Serving in the Dark
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 1593075022
320 pages

Yeah, I didn’t finish this one.

The biggest problem with Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s Invincible is the inconsistent tone of the series. Invincible veers from pretty enjoyable JRsr-era Spider-Man superheroics and drama to early Image blood-n-guts fairly regularly. And, well, the bits I like are like old Spider-Man comics. The bits that are covered in blood and severed limbs? Not my thing.

Path of the Assassin has a similar problem. It has a really interesting premise. It isn’t what I expected at all. Rather than being about a ninja steadily and stealthily killing dudes, it’s almost a goofy buddy movie. Hattori Hanzo is assigned to protect and serve Tokugawa Ieysasu, future ruler of Japan. Hanzo is a ninja, from a clan of ninjas, and is ordered to “serve in the dark.”

Pretty heavy, right? I thought so, too, up until Ieyasu plays with his wisp of a mustache in a mirror, frowns, cuts off a few of his pubes, and then fastens them to his face. Ieyasu is 16. Hanzo is 15. Ieyasu is pretty ineffectual and awful. He isn’t a bad person, exactly, just inexperienced. Hanzo isn’t all that much more experienced, but he’s a ninja, so he gets to do a lot of cool things.

I was digging it until the big tone shift came. Ieyasu is due to be married in a couple days, and he has no idea about sex. He asks his new ninja servant to show him what a man does with a woman. Not with a hooker, because you pay them to do whatever you like, but with a woman. So, Hanzo jumps in a river, drags a woman to shore, and rapes her. Later, after lying to and killing a few dudes Ieyasu still has questions. (Hanzo and the girl are still nude.) Hanzo gives Ieyasu some old fashioned knowledge from back home (“Sleep six times and listen to the woman’s bosom.” After that, you’ll know whether or not she loves you.), and then the girl, who actually saved Hanzo’s life shortly before, decides that not only is she going to take the fake name Hanzo made up for her when the guards approached, she is going to stick with him because now no man will have her. That’s amore, right?

Ieyasu later tried to apply those lessons to his new wife, who by the way had a previous lover he doesn’t know about, but found that he could only do it from behind. He pondered the reasons why, wondered why it worked fine for Hanzo, and blah blah blah this chapter is called “Oppressive Night of Ass” and is boring.

It’s not even the rape or dumb (and surprisingly explicit!) sex scene that really did it. I mean, they helped by being so terrible, but they were just a part of the problem, rather than my biggest problem. By now, about a third of the way through the volume, I’d realized that I was already getting bored, and a ridiculous twist like that wasn’t happening. The goofy interactions between Hanzo and Ieyasu were pretty good, if overly cute. But the switching between stiff samurai drama (which includes LW&C-style violence, rape, sex scenes) and the goofiness doesn’t work for me.

Like Invincible, it feels like a couple different books mashed together. The samurai stuff wouldn’t be out of place in Lone Wolf & Cub at all, and I think the relationship between Hanzo and Ieyasu has legs. The two halves of the story just don’t mesh well. The serious bits are too serious, the goofy bits are too goofy. I mean, every page of the fifteen page sex scene between Ieyasu and his new wife features Ieyasu pulling awkward faces, and he’s a George Costanza-looking chubby awkward guy.

Path of the Assassin can’t decide between being a light action comedy tale and a hardcore samurai drama. I’m open to either of the two styles. The mix of styles, though, doesn’t work for me. Lone Wolf occasionally does a goofy story with Daigoro, but it’s never quite so off the mark as the image of Tokugawa Ieyasu, of the brief pubic hair mustache, creepily observing his pet ninja raping a girl and taking mental notes. Path went on for fourteen more volumes, the latest of which was just released, so there must be some merit to it. Perhaps it improves later on.

Next week, we’re back to Lone Wolf & Cub, I think.

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Lone Wolf and Cub 06: Lanterns for the Dead

June 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 6: Lanterns for the Dead
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 1569715076
288 pages

(Pardon this being a little late again– I may move it to Sunday@6 instead of noon, depending on how this week goes. Blame the podcast, which took forever to edit!)

Volume 6 has five tales: “Lanterns for the Dead,” “Deer Chaser,” “Hunger Town,” “The Soldier Is In The Castle,” and “One Stone Bridge.” Once again, Daigoro provides the most interesting stories or scenes in the book, this time in “Hunger Town” and “One Stone Bridge,” with a brief appearance in “Deer Chaser.” I’ll get to those at the end, though, while I look at the other stories.

Notable, if delayed, realization this week: Ogami Itto is invincible, except when fighting nature or himself. The man has walked through a forest of blades at this point in the series, and escaped basically unscathed. The only time he ends up flat on his back is when he gets sick, or when he sets an entire field of grass on fire to trap a target, and then fights inside those flames.

I can see why Frank Miller enjoys these stories so much. Ogami is the manliest man ever, incredibly secure in his choice of livelihood, devoted to his task and family, and able to spout off important facets of his ideology at a moments notice. Every in the book spends their time being afraid of him, in awe, complimenting his skill, or all three. He spends a portion of “The Soldier Is In The Castle” explaining “kanjo,” which can mean either shield or warriors, depending on the situation (though the two are inextricably linked), to a gang of skilled and respected warriors. Though they brought it up first, he understands it better than they do. He employs a technique called “kanjo satsujin,” which I believe means “Warrior Killer” or “Shield Breaker” if you want to get lyrical, and destroys his enemy by way of a fire trap and skilled swordsmanship.

“Hunger Town” doesn’t focus directly on Daigoro, but he’s used to emphasize the crap nature of their lives. It opens with Ogami firing blunt arrows at a small puppy. He’s training the dog to dodge arrows and run to Daigoro. Of course, Daigoro is three years old and he gets attached to the dog. It’s clear that they have a real friendship growing, and Daigoro almost, but not quite, pitches a fit when the dog is taken away by samurai.

Ogami was setting a trap for a lord who is a fan of Inu-oi, dog hunting for sport. Most people use blunt arrows when doing this, but the lord is so corrupt that he uses real arrows for a thrill. His men demand Daigoro’s dog and deliver it to their lord. He gets set up in the area where he practices inu-oi, shouts the equivalent of “PULL!” and the dog dashes off. The lord tries and tries to hit the dog with his arrows, but the dog dodges all of them and sprints into the woods. The lord follows.

As soon as I realized what was going on, I became certain that the dog would die. In a completely unsurprising move, I was right. The dog catches an arrow through the neck just as he reaches Daigoro, licks Daigoro’s nose, and dies. Daigoro simply watches the lord as he approaches with something like pure hate in his eyes. It’s very clear that he’s his father’s son in this instance.

Another scene where that becomes clear is in “One Stone Bridge.” Daigoro is catching fish under a bridge. He’s amassed a pretty small collection, but he’s made the rod, stolen hair from a horse’s tail for fishing line, and dug up worms for bait himself. He’s trying to feed his father, who has been sick after the events of “The Soldier Is In The Castle” and unconscious for days. All the fish Daigoro has caught and grilled (!) sit beside his bed, untouched. However, he fishes every day.

When boys come to harass him, he takes their taunts and a beating to protect the fish. When they kick the fish back into the river and go back to beating him, he goes and grabs his father’s sword, which is taller than he is, and moves to kill the boy.

It’s awful, but I like seeing how strong the bond is between Daigoro and Ogami. Their lives are in terrible shape, and the only thing either of them have is each other. So, their bonds are amazingly strong. Daigoro is a very bright boy, smart enough to have been a scholar in another world, and capable of judging a situation correctly. He was willing to take a beating to protect his father, smart enough to realize that feeding his father was important, and a volume back, wise enough to build a fire break and save his own life.

There’s a word for this, I’m sure, but I don’t know it. It’s really nice to see a book that’s as much about the relationship between father and son as it is about the father killing several dozen people at a time.

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Lone Wolf and Cub: Black Wind

June 21st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

When I started this, I didn’t expect to read about Ogami Itto mowing down several people with a shotgun. However, he did, I did, and now I get to tell you about it.

Volume 5, Black Wind, has five stories this time: “Trail Markers,” “Executioner’s Hill,” “Black Wind,” “Decapitator Asaemon,” and “The Guns of Sakai.” I found “Trail Markers” to be pretty snooze-worthy. It’s a short tale, just thirty pages, and it’s almost like a recap/infodump of sorts. We find out how Ogami finds his clients, which seems to be based entirely around luck and being in the right place at the right time. The Yagyu clan reveals that it has been around two years since their last encounter, and that the shogunate has heard rumors of Ogami’s current status and how he came to be there. They’re beginning an investigation, which means that it may be the end of the road for the Yagyu clan.

And you know, this story was pretty boring. I realize that it sets up “Decapitator Asaemon,” but it could’ve just been left out with no issue at all. We see Retsudo, and he’s menacing, and they send people out to kill Ogami. He effortlessly dispatches him and reiterates the fact that he doesn’t care about the life of a samurai any more. His way is death, he knows only meifumado, blah blah blah.

“Executioner’s Hill” fares somewhat better, but still ends up being predictable. We meet the Zodiac Gang, they see Ogami, they realize that he’s the guy who decapitated their lord back when he was kogi kaishakunin, and decide that they want revenge. They lure Daigoro away with the sound of the drum that candy salesmen use, which was a fascinating reveal, and then attack Ogami. He dispatches them easily.

“Executioner’s Hill” had one moment that stood out to me. When Ogami realizes that Daigoro is being kidnapped, he rushes after him. Once he catches up to the gang, and they threaten Daigoro, Ogami simply tells them to kill his son. All that will remain are corpses in the sand. The Zodiac Gang call him out on this, since meifumado is supposed to be emotionless and hard. Why did he show concern for his son?

lw-c-05-01Ogami explains that he was simply following natural law. It is the nature of man to avoid danger and death. However, once you are in the midst of it, the only sensible thing to do is embrace it and approach the situation with a clear mind. I thought this was the best part of the story, as it explained something that genuinely needed an explanation.

“Black Wind” was my favorite of the book, for the exact same reason I liked volume 4 so much. It dealt with Daigoro more than Ogami, and in doing so, revealed something about the life the father and son are leading. It opens with Ogami working in a rice paddy with the women of a village. Daigoro is not confused, exactly, but he looks at Ogami as a “new father,” as he’d never seen this side of Ogami before. He enjoys it very much, and for the first time, he wants to do what his father does. He never gave a thought to being an assassin, but this looks good. It makes him warm.

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We’re treated to more of Daigoro throughout the story. He finally gets to pick with the women and his father, and he enjoys it. He eats dinner with some members of the village, and they’re all impressed at his poise and manners. He’s an exceptional child, and it shows. He smiles. And then, when men come to the village and threaten his father, the boy’s face turns empty again and shishogan sets in.
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The revelation of why his father is doing the planting, which is considered beneath the status of even a ronin, is fascinating, as well. A young girl was killed by accident during the course of his quest, and her dying words were thoughts of her family and hometown. While doing the planting, Ogami buried strands of her hair with the rice. It was a surprisingly tender turn, and shows that Ogami still has some sense of decency.

“Decapitator Asaemon” is straightforward. The shogunate sends Asaemon, the third best swordsman in the land, to investigate and find out if Ogami has genuinely become an assassin. Retsudo interferes with their battle, and Asaemon dies. Nothing particularly special here, though it does set up Samurai Executioner, another Koike/Kojima production.

“The Guns of Sakai” is… something else. There’s a lot of talk about what it means to be a man, to innovate, and to be honorable in it. I really enjoyed it. It features an expert gunsmith, one of the subordinates of the five gunsmiths of Sakai, the official gunsmiths of the shogunate. He’s under inspection because he is creating new weapons without the permission of the shogunate.

Ogami catches up with him, and grants him one last request. He speaks to his apprentices of honor, of innovation, and of what the soul of a gun is. He curses the shogunate and the fact that guns went from being killing machines to expensive ornamental pieces of stagnated junk. Later, he reveals that he knows that they sold him out and kills them. Before Ogami kills him, he declares that Ogami should use this new weapon and keep the plans for a repeating gun.

That, of course, leads to this, when the five gunsmiths catch up to him:

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And well, there it is. Volume 6 next week. I won’t be sick, so it should be up on time.

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Lone Wolf and Cub: The Bell Warden

June 14th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

The fourth volume of Lone Wolf & Cub, The Bell Warden, is excellent. I enjoyed it more than any other volume so far, in part because it got right into the things that I really enjoy about the series. Lone Wolf & Cub has a couple of major draws for me: the historical fiction aspect and the way Ogami’s quest affects Daigoro. The Bell Warden digs into both subjects, and is stronger for it. There may be a bit of buyer beware below, so, you know, be wary.

Parting Frost is the third of the four stories in this volume, and probably the best of all of them. Ogami only shows up toward the end, allowing the bulk of the tale to be all about Daigoro. It’s a very sad story, as it opens on Daigoro being left alone and wondering about his father. After he realizes that his father is late, he decides to go out and find him. If his father died in battle, so be it. Daigoro will simply die, as well.

What’s striking about the story is just how capable Daigoro is. He’s smart enough to know that no one will be inclined to help him, so he sets out on his own. He knows that his father goes to temples to pray after an assassination, despite walking the assassin’s road. He seeks out a number of them, before finally stopping at one, exhausted and hungry. He gives up and sits down under the stairs of one. The text doesn’t say it outright, but it’s clear that he’s prepared himself for death.

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Read the rest of this entry �

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It’s Real in the Field (Black Trinity 2)

May 18th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Cheryl Lynn has another entry in her Black Trinity run. This time, it’s on Martha Washington, one of my favorite characters, as the Black Reality.

For the Black Reality is that you have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition. Martha works four times as hard and gets all of it. She saves her country numerous times. She exposes her detractors for the dangerous and deluded beings they are. Not for glory, but because her will and desire for freedom is simply that strong. She is that special.

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Great Moments in Black History #10: Knowledge of Self

May 18th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

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from dark horse’s martha washington goes to war. words by frank miller, art by dave gibbons

(in honor of this)

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