I Used to Love H.E.R.

December 8th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

In the end, 2009 is going to be the year that I stopped caring about superheroes.

As a kid, I loved them. Then I hit my teens and realized how bad they were and quit them. Then I came back to the US after high school, discovered Frank Miller’s Daredevil for the first time, and got back into them in a big way. Gimme everything you got about Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the X-Men. Add in some Flash, too. And now? Now, I’m bored and tired of them.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Dwayne McDuffie was fired off JLA after being hired, hamstrung, and toyed around with. Hiring McDuffie seemed like a no-brainer. He did a stellar job writing and managing an entire DC Universe, one that’s almost universally loved, and there’s no reason to expect that he wouldn’t bring that same magic to the comic series. Except he was hampered right out of the gate, forced to tie in with the wedding of two C-list characters, and then with every other DC event after that, including such unreadable crap as Tangent, Salvation Run, and Countdown. Then they started picking off team members. The most famous characters? Gone. Flash? Gone. Anyone you’d actually expect to see in a book called JLA? Gone. I’d mention Ed Benes’s art, but I think I’ve talked about him enough recently.

And then there’s the bit where DC made a big deal out of bringing Milestone into the DCU, only to flip the script and stick Static into a book that hasn’t been good in three (or more) years, shuffle the characters off into Brave & the Bold, and then step back like “Oh, we only wanted Static, anyway, you keep all them others.” In other words, “This guy made some other people a fat stack of cash, now we want that stack of cash.”

The thing about the JLA, DC, and McDuffie situation is that it is what is wrong with mainstream comics in miniature. It was an eye opener for me. What is important is not the stories, not growth or evolution, but the trademarks. The characters are what matter. As long as Hal Jordan makes a giant boxing glove and is the manliest man ever, as long as Superman has a spit curl, as long as Wonder Woman is in that stupid looking costume, things are okay. What is important is that books with these characters are on the shelves, because if they are on the shelves, they might get noticed, and if they get noticed, we get a movie or money or a game or something.

This year has seen Geoff Johns repeatedly trying to bring childhood nostalgia in line with adult sensibilities and cranking out books that explain why superheroes wear bowties or that feature dudes having sex with corpses. It’s scare quotes edgy, the sort of thing a teenager draws on a binder when he wants to rebel but isn’t sure how. Of course the love army are a bunch of shrill, possessive, needy women who don’t wear clothes. Of course these anger dudes just vomit blood uncontrollably. Doesn’t all this gore and sexiness makes these books grown up, instead of barely adolescent? Look at it, they’re drowning in it.

(Blackest Night is fundamentally stunted from a storytelling, emotional, and craft perspective.)

Brian Bendis and a few other Marvel writers spent a decent chunk of time this year hammering home the childishly binary view of “Villains kill, heroes don’t.” Meanwhile, their top villain was shooting passenger planes out of the sky, having government employees back handtrucks full of gold bars to known mass murderers and antisocial types, ordering assassinations of American and foreign citizens, and stocking the roster of a government agency with criminals who have pretended to reform. But hey, heroes don’t kill. They just kinda sit around and beat people up a little and sleep the sleep of the just. And in the opening pages of Marvel’s Siege, the newest big ticket crossover, Norman Osborn orchestrates the murder of sixty thousand people at a football game. But hey, in Siege #4, Spider-Man will punch him in the jaw, throw him in jail, and feel good about being a hero.

Have you ever seen the cover to Amazing Adult Fantasy #9, the series that eventually gave birth to Spider-Man? It’s a Steve Ditko joint, apparently. It’s got this giant monster with underpants, a helmet, and boots on, and the cover copy says “Ever since the dawn of time, nothing can match ‘THE TERROR of TIM BOO BA!'” Below that, the copy declares “The magazine that respects your intelligence!”

The Avengers books don’t respect your intelligence. It’s another entry in this absurd game of “Can you top this?” where the villains are getting exponentially more vile (Dr. Light goes from goof-off idiot to stone cold rapist to rape addict to a guy who is doing something vile off-screen to a recently murdered young girl’s skull, the villain of Blackest Night literally has sex with dead bodies because he’s ka-razy go coconuts, even though before he just kinda shot laser beams at people, Moonstone suddenly wants to put it on anything with a third leg when before she was just a scheming psychologist-type) and the heroes are… stuck in 1961.

Put plainer: Spider-Man could pull Norman Osborn’s whole head off at this point and it would be much, much better than watching him and his buddies circle jerk about how “heroes don’t kill.” Man up, you child.

Marvel and DC’s books, with a few notable exceptions, are ugly, stupid, cruel train wrecks that are busy trying to recapture past glories. I love Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner’s Power Girl, but for every one of those, you get a Ms. Marvel, a Mighty Avengers, and a JSA. For every New Mutants, you have to wade through Uncanny X-Men, Dark Avengers, and Flash Rebirth.

And I’m bored. I don’t care why Barry Allen wears a bowtie. That is the exact opposite of what I want to see in a comic book called Flash. I don’t want to see a villain who gropes corpses and has all the depth of the worst of a high schooler’s dirty drawings. I don’t want the fifth version of Superman’s origin to be told in ten years because who cares? Who wants to read this?

I’m bored to death. My pull list for singles is Amazing Spider-Man, Criminal: The Sinners, Hellblazer, King City, and Unknown Soldier. Everything else I either cop off the racks or follow in trade because it just isn’t worth picking up monthly.

I was thinking about this post while I was at work and went poking around for something. The last time I felt invested enough to write something positive about a Marvel or DC tights & fights book released this year, outside of linkblogging-related material, was September, when Black Cat returned to Amazing Spider-Man. I’ve made five negative posts about 2009-era superheroes since, and a whole bunch of posts about old superheroes or books from Viz, Boom! Studios, Image, Dark Horse, and other companies.

There are Marvel and DC cape books that I enjoy and purchase regularly. Spider-Man Noir was a great read and well worth the 15 bucks I spent on it. I like Eric Trautmann’s The Shield, Charlie Huston and Lan Medina’s Deathlok, the Fraction/Larocca Invincible Iron Man is aight, Rucka/JHW3 on Detective Comics is okay, Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin is hilariously uneven… but by and large, I’m bored. I’m reading most of these in trades and I’m not reading B&R at all right now because Philip Tan is terrible.

Marvel and DC did a pretty good job of chasing me out of their universes. I didn’t even really notice it happening until it was done. They don’t want my money, and I’m not in their target audience, and I recognize that now. They’ve built a world that doesn’t interest me at all, and I’d be a fool to keep trying to force myself to care and be a part of that. Talking and blogging about it kept me in the world longer than I probably should’ve been, but I’ve finally learned.

So, like Tim and Chad and Geoff and Cheryl, I’m off that and looking for the next one. I’ll catch the good capery when it hits the trade, read books only when it’s clear the company cares as much about it as the creators do (i.e., no Peter David, Greg Land, Ed Benes, Tony Daniel, army of pencillers/inkers, crossover tie-ins, and so on), and keep on reading comics like I been doing.

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Hi hater.

October 14th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Let me tell you a story about words and accountability.

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Yung Berg. He got a little bit of status, and you know what that means. Suddenly, people are paying attention to his words! Things he says matter.

So, Yung Berg gets to talking. He talks a lot. He says a lot of different things. At one point, he talks a bunch of trash about Detroit’s rap scene and one rapper in particular. He mentions how he doesn’t like “dark butts.” He says a lot of things.

And then, one day, he visits Detroit for a show. The rapper he dissed has a posse, and this posse stomps out Yung Berg, takes his Decepticon chain, and sends him packing before he can even perform.

A couple weeks ago, something similar happened. Yung Berg was talking, and said the wrong thing to the wrong man again. This time it was Maino, and Maino left a hi hater handprint across Yung Berg’s face for his trouble.

One thing rap has excelled at is accountability. If you talk out the side of your face, you are going to either get called on it or catch five across the eyes. No one gets to talk reckless and get away with it.

Is it wrong of me to wish that comics blogging was the same? Could you even imagine how incredible that would be? It’d force bloggers to up their game. You wouldn’t be able to get away with making outlandish accusations about people’s personal lives because that person, or someone else, would call you on it.

All of the tasteless jokes and insinuations and knee-jerk reactions and hysterical shouting and death threats and all of the other terrible garbage that low class bloggers get up to would end. You’d have to be grown up and responsible and actually intelligent. It would be like an entry fee, only it comes after you’ve already entered the blogging arena. That makes it into a tax.

I’m 100% for this, if only because everyone who has ever suggested that a comics creator or company should die horribly because they dared to make something that someone else didn’t like would end up laid flat, and hopefully in public. Own your words like an adult.

If you’re wishing death on somebody because of a book, you’re a clown. End of story.

Comics blogging should be more like rap. It would be a better world by far.

Hola, bonjour… hi, hater.

Y’all got to do better.

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Comics & Criticism, Part II: Comic & Critic Harder

August 18th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Artist Mike Choi noticed my post on criticism and art the other day, found it interesting, and wondered this:

A lot of people are taking offense to the ideas that Scott Kurtz and David Kellet bring up, that there is no room for critics in the creative process, and that all criticism is to be deflected, not used to correct. A lot of those people are critics though, so there might be some motivation to assume that position, but it doesn’t make it wrong.

However, I will pose this: Why do critics do what they do? What is their impetus to sit down and write a critique on something? I’ve heard many answers to what critics do and what purpose criticism serves, but what is the reason that they take it upon themselves to fulfill that function, without solicitation or compensation?

Before I get into it, I do want to say that I wish the argument hadn’t been framed and linkblogged in various places as Critics vs Creators, because that instantly causes people to choose sides and throw down (or is it put on?) dueling gloves. I’m not speaking from a position of enmity here. I love comics. I spend a considerable amount of my free time reading and talking about comics. You can’t really do that and hate creators.

And there, I guess I kind of answered Choi’s question. I don’t even really think of myself as a critic, to be honest. But, I talk about comics and things in them, be it positive or negative, because I enjoy them.

I feel like all great art involves audience participation. I don’t mean that as in being involved in the creative process, but more in the sense of actively participating in discussions about, interpreting, and generally poring over the work itself.

I’m an English major at heart. The most fun I had in high school was doing those essays where you take a poem or passage from a book and take it apart piece by piece, figuring out what each part of it means and where it fits into the greater whole. I like Grant Morrison. Most of the reason why I like him is that his stories encourage this behavior. I liked Seaguy the first time I read it. I read it a second time to see what I missed the first time. And a third time. And a fourth time.

I like being able to converse about these books. David’s annotations for Batman RIP are a ton of fun, because they’re the outcome of these conversations.

It isn’t so much taking it upon myself to fulfill that function as growing into it due to being a fan. It’s no different than spitballing comics at the comic shop, though the internet allows you to put some deeper thought to it, and hopefully not say stupid things. It’s fun and hopefully interesting.

I kind of balk at the assertion that all criticism is to be ignored, not because of job security (I don’t do it for a living, it’s almost strictly on hobby status right now), but because that shows a frightening lack of foresight. Positive comments from fans and negative comments from critics, or vice versa, are all the same thing. It’s feedback. It’s letting the artist know what has been working and what hasn’t, and it’s letting the audience of fellow readers know what to expect.

I don’t think that you should have to listen to all critics ever, but I think that checking out positive and negative feedback and deciding what’s valid or not (a different scale for everyone, to be sure) is important in growing.

I’m not even coming at this from the position of “Ugh, why do those guys get to make comics and I don’t?” I’m not a comics creator. I’m part of a group that has creators and soon-to-be creators alike. I like being able to go to them and get advice/criticism on my writing. But, right now, I have so many hustles (1, 2, 3, 4, amongst others) that creating comics has been pushed to the wayside.

I’m coming at it from the position of “I love comics and need to talk about them with somebody.” My friend Larry Young has a catchphrase. It’s “Making comics better.” I think that talking and discussing all this stuff, be it race, sex, violence, or even simple stuff like the quality of work, helps to make comics better. It isn’t a calling or a job. It’s just something I fell into, or grew into, and realized that I enjoyed.

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On Criticism and Art

August 11th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

I saw an interesting conversation on the blogohedron last week. It was about criticism and its place in art. It started here, with Johanna’s review of How to Make Webcomics, which was written by Brad Guigar (Evil Inc.), Dave Kellett (Sheldon), Scott Kurtz (PvP) , and Kris Straub (Starslip Crisis). It’s an overall positive review, though she dings it for proofreading errors (which is totally fair and most likely warranted), but the controversy (or whatever you want to call it) arose from this paragraph:

Oddly, the promotion chapter doesn’t mention either press releases or getting reviews, both sources of free coverage; instead, dealing with critics is covered in the audience chapter. The author of this section, Dave Kellett, breaks them into four categories and says, “each one can be diffused or made impotent by kindness and politeness.” So the goal here is not to listen, but to deflect. And that’s reflected in his categories; not one covers someone pointing out a legitimate flaw or place for improvement in the work. In other words, he doesn’t think critics are ever right. (The categories are the person who’s mean without meaning to be and really loves the comic; nitpickers correcting “useless details”; the hater; and the troll. This section, by the way, was the first piece of the book I read — it’s where the copy I was browsing fell open when I first picked it up. Fate!)

Scott Kurtz talked about the review here, and says this:

I’m not sure how I ended up in so many tug-of-war competitions with bloggers, where the outcome of our match determines the superior position: creator or critic. But it seems to be cropping up again. There is a strange sense of entitlement, an eerie assumption of an unspoken working relationship that I am happy to inform does not exist. Why we insulate ourselves from the notion that the external critic can EVER be right, is because their critique is moot in regards to the progression of our work.

Click through for the rest of the post. I’ll have some excerpts here, but not the full text.

I’ve got kind of a huge problem with this statement. The biggest problem I guess is that no one has ever said this in the history of ever. If anyone has actually said it, they were probably a pretty terrible critic.

I don’t think that any critic believes that he or she is a part of the direct creative process. Indirect? Yes. Direct? No. Critics do not exist to tell you how your work should go as you’re making it. They exist to tell you how you work has gone after you’ve finished. My mental image of a critic is still that first bit from History of the World Part I. The caveman paints on the cave wall, his friends and family praise it, they cheer, and then the critic walks in. And the critic pees on the drawing.

It’s probably a bad example, because the critic pees on the work and I can’t think of anything that’s really worth all that trouble, but it fits my view of a critic. Critics come along after the work is done and judge it. Whether they’re judging the literary worth of the work or just whether or not it made them laugh, they’re there to judge the finished work in whatever form it may take. Whether they pee on it or praise it is up to them.

Kurtz goes on to say–

Think about Star Trek and the Prime Directive. Sometimes, civilizations take a left turn in their natural progression and things go tits up. Sometimes there is a dictatorship or a famine or a plague that is going to steer this civilization into trouble, but the crew of the Enterprise CAN NOT ACT. They can NOT interfere. To interfere with those hardships would be to damage the natural progression of that civilization.

I feel like this is a labored metaphor, but maybe that’s just because I’ve never been a trek fan and had to actually ask someone about the Prime Directive. Anyway, his point here, boiled down and hopefully not misrepresented, is that you can’t interfere at all in the creation of art because that will kill the creativity inherent in it.

Again, I can’t agree. I think he has half a point, here, but feedback is important in the creation of anything. The best teacher I ever had was my senior year IB English teacher who wouldn’t hesitate to hand you a paper back with “rewrite this entire terrible thing” scrawled across the top. Critics exist to point out what you have done that didn’t work. It can give you pointers on what’s succeeding and what’s failing with your audience.

No critic is going to, or deserves to, stand over your shoulder while you’re at the drawing board or your typewriter and go, “Hey hey, hold up! You should change this word here and that line is way too heavy. Lighten that up and try this specific brush. Also make his cape blue.” That’s not why critics exist.

It might just be the critics I read, but I don’t get a sense of entitlement from any of them. It’s more about reading a book and giving your opinion on it. These opinions come in a lot of different forms, be it free association, measured responses, retailer-oriented, rambly new journalism, fairly highbrow, irreverent, worthless fanboy/fangirl screaming at the heavens (too many examples to count), or whatever. It’s up to the artist to read these and decide which ones are valid and which are not. Some of them may valid, all of them may be valid, or none of them may be valid.

The trick is being discerning. Not everyone’s opinion is going to make sense. Discounting the idea that any critic can ever be right seems kind of silly. No one is perfect yet, which Kurtz seems to agree with, but how exactly do you figure out what you did right and wrong? I’ve had things that I think work that turn out to be opaque and terrible. I’ve read interviews with creators who have had things pointed out to them that they never would’ve realized otherwise. Alternate points of view are important.

It’s not that we don’t realize we’re making mistakes. It’s not that we’re oblivious to the fact that our work is imperfect. But if we play it safe and never risk those imperfections, then we’ll never grow as artists. Ultimately, we can’t chart our course based on what our readership or critics thinks is working. We have to go with our gut.

Kurtz seems to be thinking that critics exist to encourage (or force) artists to work inside little boxes and never grow. “Nine panel grids or death! That person better be five heads tall! Why isn’t this three act structure?” There are critics who do that, yeah, but they aren’t the end-all, be-all. Honestly, I don’t even think those critics are any good.

This is kind of how I approach reviewing. I’m not there to try and diminish it, so much as to try and spot what went right and what went wrong. Sometimes comics outstay their welcome. Sometimes clunky dialogue kills an otherwise fun story. Sometimes someone writes a story where two adults with superpowers don’t realize that they’re upside down until eighteen pages in. Sometimes you get a sublime mix of words and art like JLA: Classified 1-3.

If anything, the critic should be a help to the creator. It is something the creator can go to, check out, and judge himself. Maybe they have a valid point. Maybe something wasn’t as clear as he thought it was. Maybe he’ll find something to take away from it, maybe he won’t. That’s the luck of the draw, I guess.

Recently, I called Mike Krahulik to compliment him on a new coloring technique he had used on a recent Penny-Arcade strip. I opened my phone conversation with the following statement: “Mike, Ignore all emails about the new coloring. It’s awesome. Pursue it.” But it was too late. He had already read all the mail and had been sufficiently discouraged enough to just drop the matter. “That’s what I get for trying to innovate.” he said to me.

He was joking, but there was some truth to his statement.

And that’s why there is no chapter in our book on when to accept that, sometimes, the critic is right.

This is kind of a terrible anecdote, though. Kurtz liked something that Krahulik did, other people didn’t, and Krahulik already decided to quit it, deciding that it wasn’t worth the hassle. I’m not sure exactly why that is why there is no chapter on when to accept that, sometimes, the critic is right, but okay?

It did illuminate one thing for me, though. It made me realize that Kurtz holds fans and critics to different standards. Critics exist to give negative feedback and fans exist to give positive feedback. It’s a thoroughly false dichotomy, and kind of an intellectually dishonest one, as well. What Kurtz told Krahulik is just as much criticism as what JDC displayed in her review of the book. It’s offering a critical opinion of a work. The idea that positive feedback is valid while negative feedback shouldn’t be paid any attention is a terrible one. Feedback is feedback, whether positive or negative, and both can help to grow a work.

I’ve got a friend who just screened his movie, Yeah Sure Okay. It’s something new and innovative, both for him and possibly for movies in general. I know that he co-created it with that idea in mind. After the screening, he went around soliciting feedback. What worked, what didn’t, what was hokey, what was awesome, and so on. He did it because he needs to know if he succeeded at his goal, and if he didn’t succeed, what parts weren’t hitting with the audience. He didn’t decide that he should never listen to critics because critics will alter the natural course of his creativity. He decided that it’s important to get feedback so that you can be sure that you’re on point.

That’s what the critic is for.

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Return of the Wrath of Comic Con

April 22nd, 2008 Posted by Gavok

The weekend of chunky guys dressed like Colossus and hot women dressed as Slave Leia has come to an end. I myself had a great time, spent with hermanos from this very site and a whole bunch of guys from Funnybook Babylon. Sadly, Thomas “Wanderer” Wilde deemed himself “too broke” to consider joining us and Hoatzin would have probably involved a gigantic plane ticket paid in rare diamonds, since he’s from Europe. I don’t know. I really have no grasp on how that type of thing works. Besides, Hoatzin seems to have vanished from our planet. What happened to that guy?

This one movie sent the other movie into space.

Day One

Last year I got to New York the day before the con started, which allowed me enough rest and whatnot. This year I had to come in the first day of the event and kill time until David Uzumeri came in from Canada, since he was in charge of dealing with the hotel. I walked straight from the Port Authority bus terminal to the Javits Center, which tired me the hell out.

After getting my swanktastical press pass, I met up with hermanos and Joseph of FBB. They were at a panel starting up that was a screening for a new Will Eisner documentary. Since I was tired from all that walking, I decided to stick around and watch it. I found it interesting in the sense that I honestly didn’t know all that much about Eisner, which is almost a sin if you’re a comic fan. The four of us (David U. showed up towards the end) mostly agreed that while it had some fantastic stuff in there, such as taped conversations between Eisner and guys like Kirby, the sum of it was incredibly dry.

Shortly after, we went to the panel on online journalism, with guys from Newsarama and CBR there. It wasn’t as good as the comic blogging panel from last year and mostly focused on arguing over criticism vs. getting press releases. Once that was done with, I was rested up enough to do some wandering.

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Let the King Have Some!

March 17th, 2008 Posted by Gavok

Seeing as how Hoatzin and hermanos have been getting so much attention for the criticism pile-on for Greg Land in light of him being the sour milk in the bowl of X-Men cereal… whoa! I’m not sure how I feel about that metaphor.

Anyway, I too have made a discovery about Mr. Land. I found an old sketch of Land’s from Ultimate Fantastic Four and noticed it looked a bit off. There’s something strangely familiar about this scene.

Maybe I’m just looking at it too hard. I don’t know.

By the way, Solenna updated her Peabody Award winning Greg Land/X-Men #500 gif. Good for her.

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