That’s a wrap.

November 17th, 2014 Posted by |

4thletter! turns ten next year; this post is the last post on the site for the foreseeable future. It’s been limping along for a couple of years, and it’s always better to call it than stick around after you fall off.

Over the course of 4l!’s run, I got to write alongside Thomas Wilde, DB “Hoatzin” Cooper, and Esther Inglis-Arkell. I got to have fun with the Funnybook Babylon gang, Chris Eckert and Pedro Tejeda and Joe Mastantuano and Jamaal Thomas. I got to terrorize comic conventions with Cheryl Lynn Eaton. Tucker Stone and Sean Witzke are fellow members of the Class of ’05, and they’re two of the best folks around. Graeme McMillan & Jeff Lester, Joe McCulloch, Los Mindless Ones, the Blog@/Robot6/Great Curve crew, Brigid Alverson & Deb Aoki bka the dynamic duo of manga blogging, Tom Spurgeon…

4thletter! got me blogger beef, creator beef, editor beef, publisher beef, marketer beef, and, of all things, rapper beef.

I did what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it, and folk seemed to feel it. I did it alongside friends.

This dumb site gave me a chance to write alongside Gavin Jasper, the funniest guy on the internet, continuing a friendship that started because of video games and fanfic. I love that guy. I can see site stats on our dashboard—he’s got the top 19 posts on the site for all-time. He owns the top 50. He runs 4thletter!. Gavin’s one of the best writers and guys around. You’re a fool if you’re sleeping on him.

Gavin: thank you.

Thanks for reading.

Well. I guess the writing was on the wall.

I still remember when David asked me to join his site. We had known each other for a few years online and one of the forums we frequented was Higher Voltage, a now-defunct site dedicated to fighting games. There was a comics thread and around that time, I was getting back into comics for the first time in six or seven years. I had a soft spot for the 90’s Venom anti-hero comics and I decided to read through the entire run. I remember there being a website called “Life of Reilly” that was dedicated to the history of the Scarlet Spider and going through the whole Clone Saga in great detail. To go with that, I started writing posts called “Life of Brock,” which was about talking up the various Venom issues as I went through them. I got about halfway through before losing steam, but people seemed to dig it.

David was moving his “guerilla_grodd” Livejournal into a blog and recruited me to help out, saying I could use it as a home for Life of Brock and write about whatever. I took him up on the offer because I grew to absolutely love writing. I had no plans to be a writer or anything. I was just a dude in college with a lot of time on his hands who really, really loved giving himself massive writing assignments. I wrote a 200-page Word document about the plot of the Mortal Kombat for GameFAQs at one point. Just because!

I mainly just fucked around on the old site. I seem to remember one of my earliest posts was about writing a weird fan-fiction-y thing about trying to make narrative sense of all the Marvel vs. Capcom games. Like explaining Akuma showing up in X-Men: Children of the Atom and why Anita from DarkStalkers was in the Saturn version of Marvel Super Heroes. Really, most of my stuff was garbage.

It was my love for self-imposed writing projects that led to me doing the Top 100 What If Countdown back in 2007. Seemed like a fun diversion. Then it changed when I saw the traffic. I always figured we got maybe a couple dozen people visiting 4thletter a day. Instead, it was in the hundreds. People actually gave a damn about what I was writing. That gave me a real shot in the arm and I started putting more effort in my writings. We started going from hundreds to thousands and it was a major thrill, causing me to compete against myself to see what kind of harebrained article idea I could do next.

But of course, it’s all about David. While my articles are high-concept clickbait, David’s always been the heart of the site, even if it wasn’t already his and wasn’t named after him. David was quality and I could never compete with that no matter how funny my jokes supposedly are (note: I have to add “supposedly” so I don’t sound like a dick). One of the things that always irked me is when he would do some thoughtful post on race and people in the comments or on another site would misread his tone and label him as some kind of angry black man, constantly looking to find stuff to be angry black about. Nothing can be further from the truth. I know David. I love David. David is — and will ALWAYS be — my friend. He may be passionate, but he is far from being just some angry dude. I’ve known him for well over a decade and the maddest he ever got at me was, I shit you not, me telling him that the actor who played Mad Dog in Raid: Redemption shows up in the sequel in a different role. He got annoyed because he didn’t want any spoilers and that counted.

David’s given me a stage to showcase my creativity and for that I will always be thankful to him. I’ve offered to help chip in for the site and he’s never taken me up on it. Instead, he’s just let me do my thing, never censoring me or telling me what I couldn’t write. Over the past ten years, I’ve written a lot of stuff that I’m incredibly proud of. The What If Countdown, Ultimate Edit (and thanks to Nick Zachariasen for making that happen), This Week in Panels, the Top 200 Fighting Game Endings, We Care a Lot, Darkseid Minus New Gods and so many other things. Maybe I’m a poor man’s [insert popular internet comedy writer here], but I made people laugh and put people in a good mood now and then. That’s all I could ask for.

It could only last so long, I suppose. The articles I’ve written here have led to my hiring at Den of Geek US and that’s where my focus is. As much as I hated to discover, when it comes down to writing something that will get me paid and writing something similar that will just be for fun, I need to go with the dollars. My 4thletter writing has dwindled to nothing and when David suggested pulling the plug, I didn’t even blink. Still, thanks to Michael Stangeland for helping keep This Week in Panels afloat in these final months.

While I’m thanking the revolving door of “third guys” at 4thletter, I’d like to thank the original third guy, Thomas Wilde. I’ve known him longer than even David and he was really the first dude to ever see any potential in my writing. He gave me a lot of good advice over the years and I don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for him. Thanks to Hoatzin, who was always the raddest, most awesome dude and Esther, who… okay, I honestly didn’t know Esther all that well. But she did get me a Christmas present one time and David vouches for her, so she’s good people.

Follow me on Twitter if you don’t already and if you can stand it. You’ll see me constantly posting links to my new home at Den of Geek. Other than that, it’s been a blast and I thank every single one of you who read anything we’ve written and enjoyed it. I did something right.

Been real, Brothers. Been real.

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This Week in Panels: Week 269: The FINALE!

November 16th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Yes, that’s right folks – you’re joining us for one more week full of panels, and one that’s the last Week In Panels for the foreseeable future.

Sad news is I got an email from Gavok earlier this week telling me he and David Brothers decided it was time to put 4th Letter out to pasture. Expect to see a farewell article from DB up in the very near future with details. Between This Week In Panels being a 4th Letter thing and not having a suitable blog of my own to fall back on, this means the end of ThWIP for the foreseeable future, too.

On the bright side, I’m joined for one last session of out-of-context images by Gaijin Dan, Matlock, and of course Gavok. Amusingly, Gaijin Dan’s panels also see the last of the long-running Naruto, which has me jokingly blaming the end of that series for the end of This Week In Panels.

Shall we get to some panels, then? Yes, let’s get to some panels.

One more time into the breach we go!

All New Cap America 1 [Matlock]

All-New Captain America #1

(Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen)

Avengers X-Men axis 5 [Gavok]

Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #5 [Gavok’s Pick]

(Rick Remender and Terry Dodson)

Avengers X-Men Axis 5 [Matlock]

Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #5 [Matlock’s Pick]

(Rick Remender and Terry Dodson)

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This Week in Panels: Week 268

November 9th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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I am Groot!

I am Groot, I am Groot, I am Groot.

I am Groot; I am Gaijin Dan, I am Gavok, I am Matlock, I am AnarChris.

I am Groot, I am Groot, I am Groot, I am Groot, I am Groot.

I am Groot.

Action Comics 36 [Matlock]

Action Comics #36

(Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder)

Amazing Spider-Man 9 [Matlock]

Amazing Spider-Man #9 [Matlock’s Pick]

(Dan Slott and Olivier Coipel)

Amazing Spider-Man 9

Amazing Spider-Man #9 [Jawa’s Pick]

(Dan Slott and Olivier Coipel)

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Me, on the internet.

November 7th, 2014 Posted by |

I’m on the internet!

-You can see me on Independent Sources: Diversity in Comics, about 21:40 in.
-You can listen to me moderate I Is For Infinite at New York Comic Con 2014, featuring Kieron Gillen, Amy Reeder, Scott Snyder, Megan Levens, Josh Williamson, Antony Johnston, and Chip Zdarsky.
-You can listen to Grave-vid Smothers celebrate HELLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR 3: SPECIAL TREEHOUSE OF ENGINEER DENNIS MEMORIAL 666 SPECIAL with Truckasaurus Stone, Season of the Witzke, Wet Donut In Aliens Jeske, Satanic Horror-ocks, The (understandably) Unretrieved Cremains of John K.O., and Jared the Atomic Space Ape Lewis. It’s a good time.

More soon.

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This Week in Panels: Week 267

November 2nd, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , , , ,

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Welcome to this weeks special Post-Halloween Pre-Election Day edition of THis Week in Panels! Part of that absolutely terrifying stretch of time between two of the scariest days of the year!

Helping me haunt the site with panels this week are the Gerrymandering Gaijin Dan, Attack Ad Matlock, Lobbyist AnarChris, and Gridlock Gavok. BOO!

In other scary news this week, it’s absolutely terrifying how good the AXIS Carnage miniseries started out. Gavok and I both agree it’s the best comic of the week, and if the rest of the mini-series is as good as the first issue, I’d be inclined to say it’ll make the whole AXIS thing worth it regardless of how bad the rest of the event is.

For that an other haunting, decapitated panels, let’s get on with the show!

Archer and Armstron 25 [Matlock]

Archer and Armstrong #25

(John Layman and Ramon Villalobos)

Axis Carnage 1 [Matlock]

AXIS: Carnage #1 [Matlock’s Pick]

(Rick Spears and German Peralta)

Axis Carnage 1

AXIS: Carnage #1 [Jawa’s Pick]

(Rick Spears and German Peralta)

Axis Carnage 1 [Gavok]

AXIS: Carnage #1 [Gavok’s Pick]

(Rick Spears and German Peralta)

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This Week in Panels: Week 266

October 26th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , , , , ,

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And we’re back with another WEEK IN PANELS!

Feel free to insert your own Kermit ‘yay’ gif here.

Joining me this week are Gaijin Dan, Matlock, AnarChris, and – after an unplanned two week hiatus – Gavok! And in addition to returning, he also matched up panels with Matlock on not one, but two different comics this week. And then AnarChris matched up a panel with Matlock, too.

It’s always fun to see that happen and find out which comics have that one golden panel that really tells you what it’s all about.

For that and more, let’s get on with the show!

All New Ghost Rider 8 [Gavok]

All-New Ghost Rider #8

(Filipe Smith and Damion Scott)

All New Invaders 11 [Matlock]

All-New Invaders #11

(James Robinson and Steve Pugh)

Amazing Spider-Man 8 [Matlock]

Amazing Spider-Man #8 [Matlock’s Pick]

(Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Humberto Ramos)

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Tite Kubo’s Bleach 601: violence comix

October 23rd, 2014 Posted by | Tags:

tite kubo - bleach 601

Look at that chapter page. Bleach, chapter 601. Tite Kubo on the wheels of steel.

This is Oh-etsu Nimaiya, originator of the magic soul swords Soul Reapers use in Bleach:

tite kubo - bleach 601 - 01

tite kubo - bleach 601 - 02

tite kubo - bleach 601 - 03

I like animation-like action storytelling the best, where you can chart every move as the character progresses from one to the next. Fluid continuity, maybe. Akira Toriyama does it well. But this stuff is great too, this sorta Jim Lee and Jack Kirby approach to storytelling moments, where it’s the pose and pause that matter more than the flow. Action scenes that still make sense, but function differently than giving you every slice of information.

Here, Kubo’s playing with chanbara blood spray, held poses, and the illusion of speed. Nimaiya’s blade appears in another character’s head before his partner even notices. By the time the partner notices, the blade is out and sliding across his throat. The speed lines help the sense of motion some, particularly the payoff of the zoom on the hooded figure’s face on the next page, but these images generally feel “static.” They’re discrete moments in time.

It’s all in the staging here. That long shot of Nimaiya walking away after taking a man’s arm from him, already so far away after having swung his sword. Nimaiya with his foot on the hooded figure’s chest, ready to pull the sword out (it’s hilt-deep!) and swing simultaneously brings to mind iaido, though it’s a little different. But every panel here builds Nimaiya up as a threat, as a murder machine.

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Stuff I Like, 10.21.14

October 21st, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , , ,

I like Zainab Akhtar’s look at the Lakes International Comics Art Festival. Con reportage in comics tends to be of the “I went here and got this” or “a publisher or creator said this on a panel” varieties, which are good, but not holistic the way Zainab’s report is. The vibe of the area, the prejudices, the interests, all of that makes sense to include in a trip report. New York Comic Con has more aggressive crowds than San Diego Comic-con, the nightlife at Emerald City Comicon is more focused than New York Comic Con, and so on. The area and culture around the con matters, and if, as Zainab saw, that culture is hostile to certain groups of people…it’s well worth discussing. I saw on Twitter that Zainab received pushback for including comments about how the town treated her…embarrassing. Better to listen and learn to recognize truth. We can do better. It’s never “just” comics.

Kate Dacey joins Brigid Alverson at MangaBlog, securing that blog’s status as one of the best comics blogs in the land. Kate & Brigid are absolute powerhouses at sifting for good information, and I’m glad to see Kate back on the manga internet. Brigid’s interview with Takeshi Obata (Death Note, All You Need Is Kill, etc) is good, too.

My friend Katie Longua released a new comic recently, Munchies. She’s running a contest (which ends on Monday) to celebrate the release of her book, which was an APE debut. Entering is easy and highly recommended.

Munchies is the story of a young lady with a killer case of the munchies. It’s short and sweet, with an ending I didn’t see coming. A cool thing about being around comics but not making comics myself is that I get to sit on the sidelines and watch as my friends make comics and just get better and better. Katie’s got a cool cartoony style that lends itself well to eruptions of heavy detail, like the popcorn in a bowl, stacked junk food shelves, and wolf monsters erupting from bellies. Here’s some promo art from her tumblr:

munchies-00 munchies-01

munchies-02 munchies-03

Katie’s style feels “cartoon-ready” to me, like if someone picked it up and animated it it’d look just as good. She does simple designs very well, like the Munchie Lady’s halter top and shorts, but she’ll also throw in real-life fabric folds or weathering into the mix for added detail. Each character is distinct, with unique designs even when they share similar aspects…Katie makes good comics.

You can buy Munchies and her other works in print at her Storenvy, or you can buy any of her comics digitally for just a dollar or more. She did a whole risograph thing for Munchies—it looks good. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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This Week in Panels: Week 265

October 19th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: , ,

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You’d think that with Comic Con behind us, things would be back to normal. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Gavok wanted to join us again this week, but his computer tried to launch a rebellion against mankind this week so he had to spend his free time trying to put a stop to that before it turned the world into a post apocalyptic wasteland.

You know, priorities and all.

Even with Gavok busy trying to save the world, I’m still joined by Gaijin Dan, Matlock, and AnarChris, so things are still a lot closer to normal all the same.

I think my own computer may be thinking of joining Gavok’s in rising up against me, so how about I get on to panels so I can take care of that before my own week is eaten up, too.

Avengers X-Men Axis 2 [Matlock]

Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #2

(Rick Remender and Adam Kubert)

Batman and Robin 35 [Matlock]

Batman and Robin #35

(Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason)

Batwoman 35 [Matlock]

Batwoman #35

(Marc Andreyko and Georges Jeanty)

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Spawn #1: Todd McFarlane on Respect

October 15th, 2014 Posted by | Tags: ,

Before I worked at Image, I grew up a fan of stuff like Spawn and Wildcats. I found this essay while re-reading old Spawns and liked it enough to transcribe, since apparently that’s where I’m at in my life right now. It’s from the end of Spawn #1, by Todd McFarlane. Any typos are mine. I added the date to his sign-off, but otherwise, I believe I transcribed this correctly.


Why Image?

This is a question that will be asked a hundred times over the next few months. The answer will be as varied as the creative people involved in this somewhat historical undertaking. Though I wouldn’t profess to speak for any other creator, I can give you some insight as to why I stand with Image.

The entire reason that I am here doing what I am, can be summed up in one word: RESPECT. Or, more appropriately, the lack of it.

Traditionally, comics companies have been the moving force in this industry. They had the name, financial backing, creative pool and characters. Because of this combination, it was almost suicidal to try to ply your trade outside of the company boundaries. (This fear started in the ’30s.) As time went by and options became fewer, the creative pool became more convinced that we couldn’t survive without the big corporation backing us. Luckily there were a few shining lights along the way. The biggest of them, for me, was Jack Kirby.

I was born in 1961 and was too young to be there when Mr. Kirby seemed to be electrifying the industry with his literally thousands of creations. By the time I started collecting at age seventeen his legend had grown to almost mythical proportions. Here was a man who had created, co-created, or at least had a hand in the conception of nearly every character I had ever heard of. In almost any other occupation, a person of his esteem would command respect from both the people he worked for and from those who follow his work. Unfortunately, as far as I could tell, this wasn’t true.

By the mid ’70s, I had heard and read about some of the struggles Mr. Kirby had endured. It was this rude awakening that was always in the back of my mind during my entire career working for Marvel and DC Comics. I mean, if Jack Kirby could be shuffled to the sideline and generally ignored, what chance did I have? The answer was none. Armed with this reality, I kept a close eye on the further advancements of the comic industry as a whole.

New companies seemed to spring up at the end of the seventies, such as Eclipse, Pacific and First. All of them had their time in the sun and all of them ran into a few obstacles too. One of the things they accomplished for the creators was to offer a choice, offer ownership and more importantly, offer the acknowledgement that we mattered. People like Kirby, Mike Grell, Frank Brunner, Jan and Dean Mullaney and a host of other talented people helped to pave the way for a much needed change in the industry. It is these people, along with others such as Steve Ditko, Don Heck and Curt Swan who put in years of service, with Marvel and DC, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. Their work affords me the luxury of having creative control and a royalty payment on my work and it is my hope to acknowledge that what they did mattered to me.

Sadly, I do not think Marvel and DC feel the same way. They insist that their characters are always more important in the creative process than the creators. Almost all of us would probably agree that the characters are very important, but not at the expense of forgetting those whose visions led to the popularity of those characters. Somewhere along the process the companies seem to have lost sight that actual human flesh created every one of the characters that they now own. I think you will find that rarely do the companies make mention of the people who initially created the characters. I am not looking for them to go out of their way to give the life history of the creator. However, I have read ten page articles with information on characters given by the companies, without ever a mention of the creator.

As the years went by, my heroes turned into the likes of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, John Byrne and George Perez. I got more enjoyment from these four people than I thought I would at an age when comic books are usually the furthest thing from a young man’s mind. But again, I stood by and watched as one by one they built up enormous popularity and readership for the companies that changed the rules half way through the ball game. Suddenly the company had all the answers as to why the books were selling, with no credit to the creative team that brought the books to the attention of the public. None of these four men are currently working full-time for the “big two.” Frank Miller, in the beginnings of his career—his passions, his visions, his opinions and his convictions—turned out to be the things that the companies couldn’t deal with, or were actually negative factors as the process continued. If he wanted to change the look and feel of a bad selling comic book ten years ago, why didn’t those same things count eight years later? What it amounts to is, when a book isn’t selling it doesn’t matter what you do on it and when the book is a success new ideas are squelched and suddenly a status quo with a bag full of rules is attached to it. Mentally, I wasn’t willing to accept these conditions any longer. Whether that is a lack of character on my part or seeing that there were other options available is irrelevant. I made my decision.

I thank Marvel and DC Comics for giving me the opportunity to provide my family with a living and a large forum to expose my talent. But the fun had gone out of it for me. It didn’t matter that they were paying good money. My mind was wondering: In most other occupations the foreman will ask the workers how to improve the working conditions. That has never happened in comics. And why should it when the creators didn’t count as much as the characters? I can honestly say that in the six or so years I’ve been in this business, other than Jim Salicrup, no one at the office ever solicited my opinion on anything. Not that I had any great vision, but given that I experienced some success, it seems reasonable that they might have wanted to tap into some of my ideas.

What I am trying to say is why wouldn’t comic companies ask Ditko in 1963 why he thought his books sold? And Kirby in ’64? Buscema in ’65? Starlin in ’72? Byrne in ’75? Claremont in ’78? Miller in ’82? Moore in ’85, etc. etc.? Every year, heck, every few months, there is a new hot guy. Why not tap into those people? Because, as far as the companies are concerned, it really doesn’t seem to matter what we think.

Am I being a bit harsh on the big companies? Probably. Were there not any good times? A thousand of them. Then why couldn’t I turn my cheek a few more times? To tell you the truth, it would have been far easier to stick with Spider-Man, collect a big check, fly to conventions and act like a big shot. Instead i am turning my back on a sure thing for some, perhaps, unattainable goal. My wife and I have a new daughter and I know that because I am following my heart I will be a better husband and father. No amount of money could buy me that. Also, I’d like to present a nice atmosphere that I work in to my daughter so that she isn’t turned off by the whole comic process. Some day I hope she will be proud of me instead of thinking that I’m getting the shaft.

Now is the time for me to sink or swim. No one to blame but myself. The future has never excited me more. I can draw cool characters, monsters, silent issues, wordy issues, as a matter of fact no issues if I don’t want to, and better than all that I don’t have to answer to anyone. Sound egotistical? Call it what you will. Doing what I want, when I want, where I want. I call it exciting as hell.

In the future I hope to do a Spawn/Spider-Man crossover. An Image Comics team-up with Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, Tundra, Valiant or whomever. Different characters. Different companies. Different creators. The list is almost endless. I’m excited at the possibilities and I hope that you are, too. It’s time for us in this business to all play together and not divide the ranks. We at Image are not out to burn anyone, quite the opposite. Given that we feel so excited about our work, it should show through on the printed page.

With people working at different companies, such as Liefeld, Lee, Silvestri, Larsen, Portacio, Valentino, Claremont, Miller, Moore, Simonson, Keown, Byrne, Baron, Gaiman, Romita, Breyfogle, Gerber, Layton, Perez, Grell and on and on and on, topped off by the “King” himself, Jack Kirby, we now have the potential to have all of us play in the same playground with the same rules…1) Don’t screw your neighbor and 2) Turno ut the best damn comics that have ever been on the stands.

You out there now have the most important job. Let us, the creators and the companies know what you want and hopefully we’ll be able to pull off a few of them.

In closing, let me leave you with a thought:

If someone gave you something that helped you grow in your life, would you think them for their concern or figure that you would have done it eventually.

I’d let them know they helped. That’s good. That’s honest. That’s respect.
—Todd McFarlane, May, 1992

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