Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I ain't dead yet motherfuckers.

So it turns out I’m not actually dying I simply have a really bad sinus infection. I feel like a bag of crap, but I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed into the office (in minus 40 degree Celsius windchill mind you) and am working up the courage to post today.

I was home on a sick day yesterday and watched Bubba Ho-Tep. This movie has the absolute best movie scene EVER put to film. Elvis calls President Jack Kennedy so they can team up and kill a rampaging soul sucking mummy. If you haven’t seen this movie you can no longer read my blog until you do watch it. Sorry, that’s the new rule. The fact that Bruce Campbell plays a geriatric Elvis should be enough, but no, he’s in a retirement home with a black JFK and they team up to fight an ancient Egyptian mummy cowboy that feeds off the souls of the residents.

I did get a chance to read some actual comics this weekend. I took a trip to Montreal with Allison and the soon to be in-laws. Although I was sick and pretty sure I was dying I read the first 3 Invincible trades on the train trip home. I liked them but I think I was expecting a bit more. They were really good and lived up to most of my expectations but I felt like they should have been a bit meatier. I’ll read them again when I’m less delusional and possibly hallucinating from the massive amounts of cold-medication. What I did like about them is that the reader is presented with a world and simply asked to accept it. The characters are all introduced as if you already know who they are. I appreciate that since it will either work terrifically or fail terribly. In this case it really worked because the world was introduced through Mark and his coming of age. Then his world was introduced and turned on its head fast enough that it just all seems like it should be that way. If that makes sense?

I’m glad I have them and I’m glad I read them. They are a good superhero fix. Powers on the other hand was a let down. I like it. I respect it. But the execution didn’t always work for me. I just felt like it should have been better. I can’t justify this feeling in any manner because I like the idea and the artwork but I just felt like it wasn’t as good as it should be. Although the second trade worked better as a whole than the first story arc. I felt it jumped around a lot less than the first trade did near the end.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I love the smell of comics in the afternoon.

Well this may continue in the “unprepared but won’t let that stop me from typing and seeing where it leads” posts that I’ve been putting up here lately. I’ll make a few random points. And I think I got my rabies shot. What was that last post about anyway?

Oh, and thanks to Scipio (who I will now refer to as The Fabulous Scipio for no reason whatsoever except I think it would be fun to give people who leave comments here random nicknames but I may get bored of this in an hour or so) for pointing out who came from Whiz Comics and who came from Crack Comics. Either way I think those would be very “interesting” themes to write into the respective characters.


I love this series. I think it allows us to see creators being flat out creative. There’s some neat little stories and original takes on familiar characters. But it seems to be more and more sketchbook like. You think maybe that will be the OYL take on Solo? It’s been renamed Sketch! Would you care? I think that would be fine by me but I doubt I’d continue to buy it. It’s sort of like the DVD you get that’s only extras – the extra pages in the trades, that sort of thing. I think maybe getting creators who are already swamped to do a Solo book means it gets put off and rushed thus becoming another notch on the internet bedpost labeled “things killing comics.” I still like the series even if this issue was weak.


JLA Classified
Still going strong but you already wrote about it and dreamed about your marriage to Gail Simone or Grant Morrison even if he isn’t writing this right now.


Mouse Guard
More please. Jon like.

It seemed to jump a bit but I think it’ll find it’s pace in the next couple of issues. I think it has more to do with me, the reader, getting bloated on decompressed stories. I think we’ve collectively got the bends and when you try to inoculate yourself your body initially rejects the cure because you’ve been surviving with the disease for so long.


And what’s the deal with me suddenly buying Hulk comics? Didn’t see that coming. I need a big old helping of W. T. F. WTF? Someday I hope to post only in acronyms and smilies. But yeah, I'm digging The Hulk lately.


Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl
I was enjoying this and cruising right along and then I think I entered some kind of time warp or something near the end because I’m pretty sure pages were missing or I was like the Flash and getting ahead of myself. I felt like I was reading one story then missed half of it and the credits started to roll. Again, WTF?

I know Bendis is criticized a lot (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) about his decompression. I just see the opposite here. Whereas in the latest New Avengers he took the whole issue to sort of gloss over something and not include any Avengers to lead up to nothing happening, at the end of this Powers stories it seemed to be the opposite. The story was cruising along nicely, focusing on some good character development and intrigue that is essential to any police whodunit then it had some kind of fit at the end and it was over.

I’m kind of left wondering why the hell that ending felt so rushed? I mean there was like four or five pages that were mostly black space, couldn’t you have added some kind of “plotting” or “dialogue” that could have mad the transition feel like it was A to B to C not A to B to F? I mean, I get the whole John Lennon connection but I feel like the two main cops being usurped in their abilities to suddenly stumble across the “perp” just took away from everything I was meant to feel and think about them. I get the whole passing the Retro-girl torch thing (which was cool) but it just seemed rushed at the end and it didn’t need to.

Otherwise I loved this story. It’s like Shaun of the Dead. I loved it up until they were in the pub which was still good but such a big turn that it was like I was watching a separate movie. That’s how the pacing felt here. Nice and good then bif bam boom over and the cops didn’t really figure anything out. I just hate seeing such a great idea get second thrift to something the guy gets ragged on daily for. I know he wasn’t writing New Avengers back then but it’s like a labour of love that was sidelined for some juicy contract – no biggie, it happens but don’t be a hack for your personal projects man.

This all said I’m still looking forward to the next trade. There is still much to love about this series.


Oh, and does anyone know what's the deal with Fear Agent, Northwest Passage and where I can get back issues of The Amazing Joy Buzzards? I don't seem to have access to them in Ottawa.



Black Wednesday.

February 22nd will forever be known as Black Wednesday in Canada. The national hockey team lost and is out of the Olympics without even making the medal rounds. Now we will be subjected to a national crisis because our boys can't play hockey (our women can though so not all hope is lost).

For my two cents, it was all Pat Quinn's fault. He had the team playing as if they were the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were dopey and well just plain awful. I also think we need a full time national coaching staff like they do for the national soccer teams in European countries. I was in England when they lost their national coach and nobody would dedicate enough time to the job so they hired a Swede Sven Erikson (sorry about the poor spelling) and are now contenders again. I think hockey in North America needs to learn from that example. That's why the European teams are winning - they have full time staff who do nothing but plan for the national team. It can't be a part-time gig if you plan to win.

The team that was picked was a good team, sure there were some omissions and oversights, but the fact that the coaching staff couldn't get them to work as a team is where I am laying blame.

In other sporting news today is Curling is Cool Day and when I left for work this morning the Canadian Women were in the lead for the Bronze medal game. Let's see how this plays out...

Next post will be about comics I promise.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 22 February 2006

Sort of a big haul in trades today, although not from the local comic shop. I got the first 3 Invincible trades and the first 2 Powers trades delivered from Zilla.

And since today is Inconvenience Yourself Day I decided that it's okay to purchase limited Marvel products, even if Iron Man: The Inevitable wasn't at the shop. After all, I forgot about Young Avengers which makes up for the Rawhide Kid debacle in my mind, plus apparently Colossus is now gay or bi or Russian.

Well, I have a teleconference in like two minutes. I got JLA: Classified, Solo, Mouse Guard, Showcase presents Superman and Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine. Yep, I'm a turncoat and have already inserted my foot into my mouth. Tastes like chicken.

And this has put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hobgoblins of the mind

Finally I will succumb to speculation and contempt of my own mind’s projections on things yet to happen. Hell, if comics can be marketed as the best thing ever before they are written I suppose it’s only fair we can call them utter shite before they are written. Or at least we can on the internet. Maybe I should post this to Wikipedia instead, because that’s such a balanced and unbiased playing field…

Nobody is really asking the right questions about Frank Miller’s Al Queda vs. Batman. Is Frank Miller a practicing Muslim? He should really think about this before he starts writing this. I know it didn’t help Salman Rushdie much but I mean, this guy works in media he should have a little bit of a clue on what can happen if he manages to insult an entire religion. And to specifically target extremist terrorist? Not something I’d think is considered ballsy or, well, intelligent. I hope he actually talks to a few Muslims and practicing Muslim scholars or religious practitioners before he does something offensive without possibly realizing it.

I’m thinking that there may be something here that I, and possibly people who have read more Frank Miller than I, have missed. Perhaps Miller was always portraying a very conservative right-wing agenda that was lost in the unique presentations he was giving us in his older work? But I can’t help thinking about how both Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns were both very anti-establishment while this reeks of Rambo III. Remember that one? He went to Afganistan with a bunch of bazookas and glo-sticks to help the Freedom Fighters keep the evil commies at bay. I think that’s where Freedom Fries come from?

Personally I’d try to avoid anything that may cause state sponsored bounties and riots that can kill you. But to purposefully go after the group that has proved time and again they are willing to kill massive amounts of innocent people makes me think you should consider taking a break until you get some decent story ideas. I’m all for addressing the real world in comics but I also like them with a nudge and a wink, overtones and undertones. I don’t need anything blown up and writ large, I’m not an idiot. I won’t buy this because it is treating the audience as if they’re idiots. I’m all for joking about freedom hating commies, but this should be called something like “Buy this comic or you hate America and freedom.” Yeah, I’m judging sight unseen, I’ll eat my words if this is the best comic ever. Until then…

Then on the other side of the gap is Marvel going all “real world” with their civil war. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll deal extremely well with the very things the Bush Administration is trying to get more power to silence. Again, this is the sort of thing I like to see in some comics but here it just reeks of being handled poorly. Bring the real world in but, holy shit, don’t beat us to death with it. Again, judging sight unseen and I think this series has WAY more potential than the Miller thing.

What I really hope for, is that Marvel has the balls to not pull any punches. This is their opportunity to print stories for a younger audience that explicitly say – US Government, the way you are operating is unacceptable to us, We are a nation based on freedom and respect but YOU have corrupted these to fit your needs and your greedy amoral goals. You hurt each and every one of us, and what this country stands for, each time you lie. And we all know your lying. We’d respect you if you told us the truth we already know. You think that’ll happen? I don’t and that’s why I can already tell I’ll most likely avoid this. I may not, but I’m trepidatious with good reason I think.

This is an opportunity to actually take a very powerful stance. I really hope they do it. I hope for a bit of a return to those Green Lantern stories that explicitly state things like “you care about everyone but why not Black Americans”? I only see the potential for watered down tripe because people are so scared to lose profit. I mean, I’m currently debating whether or not to sell off all my Marvel stuff and not purchase any Marvel products for the rest of 2006 because of their stupidity with Rawhide Kid being a Max book if they ever print one. That was an unnecessary slight to all their homosexual customers, because gay men have nothing to do with comics or the comic buying public. I don’t need folks to rally around this idea but my money will not be going to marvel for a while and I really like The Ultimates, the Wolverine vs. Hulk thing, this Planet Hulk event, and the Essential collections (even though I haven’t purchased many of the last one yet). I've been getting Marvel books I never would have bought before but I feel like I can't give them my hard earned money until they smarten the fuck up.

Wow, I get grumpy when I don’t sleep well. I should be fine by next week.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Late Blooming Bonehead

On Sunday I finally finished the Bone: One Volume Edition. What a read! I am now the latest Bonehead out there. I love this story. I love this more than I loved The Hobbit the first time I read it and it beats The Lord of the Rings for me as well. I haven’t read much other fantasy that I was very lovey dovey about. Until now that is. And thankfully there is a big lack of thee and thou in this book. I hate that crap.

I suggest you go out and get this collection if you haven’t ever read Bone before. I suppose if you haven’t it’s because you’re a dirty hippy or a Red. Or maybe you hate comics and/or can’t read. Whatever, get your illiterate arse into night-school so you can read this book. You will thank me. But who am I fooling everyone who reads this website is a freedom loving comic buyer for longer than I have been, or owns a comic shop, or bought this back when it was cool and new. I bet you all own t-shirts that say “Everything you like I liked five years ago” right? Well, I don't care. So there.

If you are behind the curve, like yours truly, and don’t want to search for dozens of individual back issues or old trades then get the one volume edition. It’s being reissued by Scholastic in color, which I’m told is good but everyone needs at least one black and white indy comic on their shelf to call themselves true fans. This is the best one for you since it’s both black and white but still fantasy enough not be thought of as “high brow” or “confusing-irrelevant-and full of crappy art.” However, you should be warned that if you have boney little girl arms you probably won’t be able to carry this book home. Unless of course you are a boney little girl, in which case I apologize for making fun of your arms. I like your arms, just not attached to a larger man. Anyway, this book is huge and will help you develop biceps or "pipes" if you can actually manage to lift it off the shelf without tearing something inside you.

What’s so good you ask? How about - absolutely everything! The story is long and engaging as any coming of age story needs to be. If you like any sort of fantasy setting you will appreciate the world created here. The characters are some of the best characters every put onto paper. There is depth to each of them yet none of them really change enough to be completely unrecognizable. It’s such a contrast to continuity comics in that these characters actually grow while maintaining a solid base instead of getting changed completely with each new creative team. The artwork and presentation is fabulous and will make you wonder why more comics aren’t toned down to this sort of effective presentation. The Bones are some of the simplest looking characters created but have more personality than 99% of the super-de-duper books out there. And the way the story is presented is reflective of the actual plot. As the world view of the characters grows so does the framing. It starts out tight on the characters but slowly draws further back showing more and more of the world. Where the focus starts on a few characters finding their way it ends showing how the actions a few affect the world of many. At first I thought it was a rush to finish but then I realized that the pages were showing more and more of the world as the Bones discovered more and more of the world and started to understand their connection to it.

The characters are simple yet wonderful in every aspect. This is probably one of the most charming books I’ve ever read. Fone Bone is so charismatic and heart warming that it was a welcome change from the other comics I’ve been reading. Then Phoney Bone is a rarity in characters these days because he never really learns anything. He is constant and while he does learn a bit and you want him to change you can’t help but still feel his heart is in the right place although he’s never given you a reason to like or trust that it is. You can expect him to act in a certain way and it’s hard to dislike someone who is so true to themselves. He’s pigheaded and greedy and almost completely amoral but you love him regardless. Hell, he’d make a better Batman than Bruce Wayne because at least this story ends with the reader still thinking this rude arse has some personality that’s charming. Phoney Bone is the literary descendent of Scrooge McDuck. And finally there’s Smiley, who could so easily be considered the loving dupe of the group but is probably the most loyal an understanding of all the characters. He refuses to ever think in black and white instead looking at the good in everyone no matter what side they choose or happen to be born on. He’s basically an innocent that won’t compromise his world view.

I’m very happy this book is being marketed to kids through Scholastic. It’s rare to get a great story that isn’t toned down and sugared up so parents can digest them. There are consequences to the actions of these characters. They smoke, people die, good guys do bad or stupid things and there are generally no easy answers. Yeah, that’s not a message we should tell kids. We should tell them nobody smokes and that if you swear you will have to live in a cave with bugs and a hood over your head because everyone will scorn you. The message here is that it’s okay to love people with faults and differences. There’s messages of understanding but also that it’s okay to accept things you can’t change. Mobs do bad things. People get bullied into doing bad things. People die and get killed for no good reason and that being a good guy who works hard and refuses to give up isn’t always the answer. Yeah, kids can’t handle that message. Let’s give them an antiseptic vision of a world where if you sing a song and believe in dreams you can get poor enough to win a new house and a trip to Disney World.

I’m just terrified someone like Disney would get their money grubbing hands on this and make a honey coated movie out of it. I mean think of all the stories that have stood the test of time. A wolf eats a grandmother, tries to eat a little girl and is chopped to death by a lumberjack. A princess is abused by her step-family. People are randomly turned into inanimate objects, eaten, put to sleep or turned to sea-foam. It’s a more primal understanding that won’t warp kids. Presenting falsely idyllic worlds that will never jive with reality may not be good – just maybe.

Sorry, losing track.

This is basically like taking your favourite comic strip characters Calvin and Hobbes or the Peanuts gang then giving them a sprawling fantasy epic. It's part road movie, part comic of age adventure, part fantasy epic. It's like a Tintin adventure that just won't stop. In fact the artwork reminds me a lot of Herge in parts with the realistic backgrounds but cartoonish and expressive characters.

To sum up. Bone = Goodness. Buy it or you are probably a freedom hating Red. If you haven’t read this yet, put down that X-book trade. Yes, you, put it down. I know, Psylocke is back. Nope, trust me. I know it’s hard but you will be stronger for it. Trust me she’ll be waiting for you in the future. You will be a better person for this. Your soul will go to Paradise if you buy this. Yes, you could even be resurrected like Psylocke if you buy Bone first.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

And the rest of the Wednesday stuff…

It seems that everything I bought this week was the continuation of some series I’ve been interested in. Action Comics is part 2 of the Superman this is your life arc going across all his titles, then the continuing issues of Justice and Sgt. Rock.

I find this to be an odd week. Only one new comic but in the end nothing was disappointing. I don’t know what’s worse the fact that I still get disappointing comics or the fact that I expect them?

First up I need to get something out in the open. I don’t know why people don’t like Alex Ross’s work. Okay there was one image I saw somewhere that made Wonder Woman look like a guy in drag, but otherwise I really like it. It adds to the stories he tells, and especially the one he is telling in Justice. The issue with Batman and The Riddler has the best ever Batmobile in my opinion. The only real issue I can take with this series is that the timeline is just way too long between comics being available. I tend to lose track on monthly comics that are released on time so this bi-monthly series is sort of a lost cause for me in some ways.

What I can’t seem to do is wait to read it though. That’s good. I don’t have the patience to read through the rest of the issues before I tackle the new one. In some ways I should to see if the story is holding together but I don’t feel I need to in order to enjoy the present issue. And what an issue this was. All the pieces have been placed on the board and now the villains are springing their ultimate trap. This book should be called Checkmate instead of whatever Rucka’s going to tackle (but I’ll pass judgment on that when I read an issue, or IF I read an issue). How’s the best way to describe this book? Metaphors with booze!

Justice League Unlimited is like an alcopop. It’s aimed at people who like sugary sweetness and a generally younger demographic. People who simply want to have fun and enjoy themselves.

JLA: Classified is like imported beer or wine in general. Sometimes you get one you like sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes bitter. Sometimes you simply want to retch while other times you binge and can’t wait for more.

Justice is like Scotch. You either love it or hate it. You can love it for what it is. If you hate it, then you can live happily without it. To me, it is smooth and with hints of sophistication. To others it's probably too stiff and bitter.

The recently cancelled JLA was like cheap liquor. It was good when you started drinking it but now it’s just sort of sad when you’re reduced to taking it in. Sometimes you could get the mixture right and live another day but mostly you would simply smell it and your mind would flash to moments when you were younger and puking in someone’s shrubbery which you’d swear you wouldn’t do to yourself again.

Much better than the first issue. This story seems to be a lot of quite before the storm. Interesting premise although it all seems very familiar to anyone who has ever seen a war movie. I can’t help but feel like I’ve been there and done that. Still, it’s a good book that if you don’t get now you may want to wait for the trade if you want it all at once. The art is all bleached out and faded like the beaten down men in Easy Company. It is wonderfully drawn although I feel there will be someone dying to save a puppy at some point. I had a feeling I would drop this after the last issue and I'm glad I didn't. I hasn't changed my life and is far from perfect but it is a nice change of pace and well presented for what it is and what it is trying to be. Now, if only there was a bazooka to kill a tank and Sgt. Rock can play dead to fool a Nazi then uppercut the Nazi. Without the bazooka or the playing dead it won't be a true Sgt. Rock comic and I will pretend it doesn't exist.

Action Comics
Continuing the Superman: This is your Life story is a heck of a lot of fun. I really like the triple take at the beginning that gets echoed throughout. However would I recommend this as an intro for noobs? Not a frickin’ chance. This is a good comic if you’re aware of some DC history otherwise you’d just be lost. This is a comic insider’s comic with a bit more of a populist appeal. A trippy jumping on point for someone who knows that there is a second crisis happening and that there is more than one Superman. If you were following crisis and knew about the first crisis then I could see how this arc would be an intriguing re-introduction. Otherwise I have no idea really. I feel like this is a good recap for the years I never bought and is presented in a very challenging way for what is considered one of the most mainstream pulp mediums ever – a frigging Superman comic that experiments with storytelling? You got to be kidding me? Nope that’s exactly what this arc is. Fun stuff that I hope to have a more informed review of when it’s done.

Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah Pope-man, I mean Batman!

Wow am I ever glad I waited to read Batman: Year 100. I knew I would like this comic when it was announced for two simple reasons. 1) Paul. 2) Pope. In that order.

I’ve been a fan of Batman since I was a kid who had the flu one Sunday morning and saw the sixties television show in reruns. I was a bit of a fan of superheroes in general but that really just worked for me. It was bright and funny and everything a kid-friendly superhero should be without needing to be able to read.

Then when I was in university my roommate was big into zines and indy comics. He had Buzz Buzz Comics Magazine and we spent the next three years trying to find out more about Paul Pope because both of us were amazed by this unique comic art. Buzz Buzz was then responsible for some horrible artwork and story telling in that household. Pot and beer don’t help improve your art if you can’t draw to begin with, by the way – well, copious amounts don’t.

Then I became hit and miss with Pope’s work. The One Trick Rip-Off was a decent enough caper with some cool ideas and artwork. I love the scrawling text and the new take on gangs in New York. But man the dialogue was pretty awful at points. I missed out on a lot of his other work THB or whatever it was, Heavy Liquid, but again, my old roommate came through with the full version of 100% for me. Again, this is chock-a-block with fascinating ideas. It’s nice to see him have come so far.

Whereas I couldn’t tell most characters apart, 100% showed a honing of Pope’s craft. He used different characters to clarify the storytelling. There was a lot of throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks but it was a bit more restrained this time around.

I’ve been wondering how the hell he could pull off a Batman story? And I remembered his issue of Solo. This guy has chops now. He’s better when he’s forced to limit himself. It reduces the amount of tangents that can deter from the story. The Batman universe is anything but free-form, which is where Pope has always tended to work. He’s more at home creating entire worlds from the ground up but Batman comes with a crap-load of baggage.

This really didn’t stop him did it? It works because you as the reader are experiencing this story as an outsider. Yes it’s the future, but not too different – think Bladerunner. You know the setting, you know the characters and while you know the history you still feel like you’re experiencing this story for the first time. That only works if the creator is allowed to completely build the world up from scratch. That is Pope’s strength here. He is still building his own world and he’s plopping the shared history of the Batman universe into his creation. It sounds like it could completely fall apart but that’s why it is so great. This story is like the downhill skiing races on the winter Olympics (sorry, I’ve been watching them a lot). The people who succeed need to go barreling down this hill on the verge of uncontrolled disaster but stay within certain boundaries. Pope does the same thing here to Gotham and the Batman mythos.

By creating a new Gotham we experience the old Gotham. Batman used to be an urban legend, and only in the future can he become one again. Only in a world where we don’t know the rules can myths and legends garner their strength once again. Too much has been said about Batman in current Gotham, in continuity comics. Only when he is presented in a new light, in a new city, in a new context can he once again be allowed the same power that he once had – power over the citizenry and over the audience reading the story.

This is a Batman we want to understand. A Batman we haven’t completely figured out yet. We haven’t figured him out because we just aren’t familiar with the rules of the setting. It’s the wild west, it’s a new frontier and while it remains familiar on some levels it is completely new on so many more. The newness of this imaginary border is what makes this story so freaking awesome. It’s kinetic, it’s dynamic, it’s tense, dirty and yet with glimmers of hope. It is Gotham how it is meant to be but can’t be if you are too familiar with it as an audience.

So, yeah, I liked the comic and I can’t wait for the rest. It’s a Batman that doesn’t look like the squared-jaw barrel chested Batman I’m used to. This guy looks more athletic than bruiser which bothered me at first but I decided it shouldn’t be something to gripe about but something to enjoy. This isn’t my story, so why is it being presented this way? I can’t wait to find out.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It's rhetorical question period kids.

Sorry for the lack of comic content - you can skip to point 3 for my derision of the medium I've dedicated a blog to.

Okay, when will people who meet on the internet then get married no longer be considered news? Is this like cartoons make you violent? Because the day I see a war being fought with anvils, cliffs, rocket skates and various see-saw contraptions I'll know the world is a better place.

Why do we care that Cheney shot one American ,more than the thousands of soldiers sent to get shot in Iraq by his administration? Maybe this guy had a weapon of mass destruction? I guess you don't need a seven dollar hunting license to declare war.

And because I generally make fun of Marvel covers, I've decided that this Outsiders cover is worth some serious making fun of.

It's like Grace can't comprehend how to make the "thumbs up" motion. Look at the concentration and frustration on her face. Metamorpho looks either mentally handicapped or on serious designer drugs. The new woman is apparently the singer from Roxette with more hair and less sex appeal, and Nightwing looks like the slimey guy who is still hanging out in college bars after he's graduated (if he's graduated) in order to grope women. How much hair grease does one superhero need? And I like Nightwing. He just looks like a slimeball here and he can't wait to tell you how his parents were divorced or that other women don't understand him the way you do. Yeah, they've got the look.

Wednesday's Loot - 15 February 2006

Four simple books for me. Action Comics, Justice, Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy and Batman Year 100. I'm saving the Paul Pope for later. Read the others should have some kind of review up tomorrow - got a staff meeting after lunch.

Apparently Eric Larson was the guest blogger yesterday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Getting the blood pumping on V-day.

So today is not just Pink Triangle Day and Valentines Day, it is also Quirky Alone Day, Ferris Wheel Day, Call in Single Day, Have a Heart Day and Race Relations Day. I will try to make my post refer back to each of these themes. Let’s begin.

There’s been a minor rumbling in the rumour mill, I mean internet these days. More specifically the comic book centric internet. Something about a multiverse returning and something about how Infinite Crisis was written with one ending in mind and how it’s being changed. Whatever, I don’t particularly care.

I have a feeling I am one of the few people hovering on the border between comic insider and public at large. I don’t give a rats ass whether there’s some kind of shared universe for fictional characters. Yeah, I like it when Batman and Superman team up or the X-men meet Spiderman. Does it need to reflect the physics of the real world? Hell no. These are spider powered people who have laserbeam eyes, you’re telling me they obey the rules of time and space? Fuck off.

One world, many worlds, it’s irrelevant if the stories are crap. I don’t care what sort of time and space these characters exist within as long as the stories are entertaining, well written and well drawn. Does event X need to take place before event Y and can character A meet up with character B if they are both doing something somewhere else. It makes my brain melt and it’s not important to whether or not a story is well presented. If it is vitally important then comics should be bar graphs. Each character is a different coloured line with points of action and interaction mapped out. I don’t look at bar graphs to be entertained. Sorry. I don’t.

I don’t think comic publishers need to create artificial boundaries that always result in a creative chokehold then gets ignored ANYWAY. Making big huge sweeping statements is fine if you only ever want to make big huge sweeping statements. I mean wasn’t the Crime Syndicate wiped out in the first Crisis? How could they come back (I haven’t read that series so I don’t know how it’s explained) and more importantly why would someone try to get them back? Simple, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater and will everytime a universe is defined by a publisher's mandate. It was more important to “streamline” an artificial universe than allow creators access to interesting characters. So what happened? Along come creators who simply ignore that the universe was streamlined. Or the big huge sweeping statement isn’t as flexible or as forgiving as the theory presented.

Now it’s possible that things will go back the other way - single mutli-verse or multi-multi-verse flavour? We can’t explain why a man with large bird wings is in space in one book, in a city in another and in some other dimension in yet a third book so let’s come up with something to fix this. Why? I mean, this is very obviously NOT real, why would time have to behave realistically? This is fiction where a celebrity in a bat costume can actually scare hardened criminals. If I can believe that without explanation then I don’t need it explained why he’s in separate locations in each book he appears in. As long as it works in accordance to the needs of the story then that’s all I need.

Now I hope I’m not sounding too hard on the type-a fanboy whose entire life is ruined because character X’s timeline isn’t accounted for. I just don’t think that should drive a creative endeavour. If keeping track of your favourite character's whereabouts (and whenabouts) is what floats your boat then go for it. Graph away. It should be left up to the fans, not the companies to worry about that. Companies need to worry more about the actually quality of the product they produce. Does a shared universe actually affect quality of product. Absolutely not. Storytelling and art do. That’s it. That’s comics. Without good stories and good art a comic is nothing. It is irrelevant whether or not it fits in with “current continuity.”

I think that it should be the responsibility of the fans to map out continuity – if they so choose. The only thing a comic publisher needs to be responsible for is good products. That’s the only framework they need to set up for the creators. Make good comics. It shouldn’t be, make good comics as long as you don’t use these characters or set it in this time or on that planet, blah blah blah. Hello mess and crap comics.

What would I like to see come out of Infinite Crisis you ask? I’d like to see the multiple titles for each character focus on some aspect of the character. Detective Comics should be about the detective side of Batman, Action Comics about the action side of Superman. * Their other titles can examine the other aspects of the characters or be continuity lode stones. That to me would be a shocking change. Thematic titles bereft of continuity that give us engaging stories using whichever characters suit the story.

We (audience and creators) are capable of creating continuity without multipart epics that unnecessarily drag on plotlines. Edit text with a paintbrush that way you only take away and don’t congest plots. If creators want to limit themselves in order to challenge their artistic chops then go for it. The musical Buffy episode managed to be a form exercise that was well done but also furthered the season-long plotlines. Comics are more than capable of this, and is where this idea started for the love of Pete. Get on with it. I know it can and will be done but let’s make it the rule not the exception.

We all bought those Marvel Monster stories. Why? Simply because they had heart. They were fun stories and well told. They didn’t rely on hours of studying minutiae or an intimate relationship with the characters that you couldn’t possibly have with another living breathing human being. I’d buy more comics if there were more like that being sold as monthly series. They don’t all have to fit my idea but some should. Well ,more than Jonah Hex and a few kid friendly titles. There can be some continuity laden books out there but not every single one of them should be forced to comply. That’s foolish. I don’t expect every single book I read, every movie I watch, or other entertainment I partake in, to comply to some ridiculous creation.

Rant out. It was a bit of a ferris wheel up and down, asking for comic companies to have a heart, I called in singly on this issue and I think I’m both quirky and alone on this topic so far. Nothing about race though, well 4 out of 5 ain’t bad.

* Although Captain Marvel, sorry, Shazam returning to Crack Comics could be problematic for today's audience. If it was in fact Crack Comics he started in, I know somebody did, maybe Uncle Sam. I'm too lazy to Google it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I like doing nothing on the weekend then boring you with a post about nothing

Today is Get a Different Name Day. So go read Nightwing comics in celebration since he’s the highest profile name change in comics that I can think of. Who else is there? Everyone in Nextwave apparently, I don’t really know any of them. This is like the perfect holiday for B or C list comic characters.

You can now call me Nyquil Uppercut after my two favorite things.

I don’t have much to update because I’m plowing through Jeff Smith’s Bone one-volume tome, the winter Olympics started, and I just watched the musical version of Buffy. I’ve discovered my inner diva because of that. Who knew?

I used to be so punk. Fuck. Bollocks. Arse. Gobshite. Now I feel better.

That should make all the parents who came here because of the childrens authors and illustrators stuff VERY happy.

Friday, February 10, 2006

CAI Week: 5 - Dr. Seuss

Okay I’m wrapping up the Childhood Authors and Illustrators week with my biggest influence outside of Jim Henson – Theodor Geisel better known as Dr. Seuss.

This is a guy who I was surprised to learn had a very active political cartoon career before he made the jump to children’s books. I’ve tried to include some of the favourites I’ve found around the web but there is plethora of good stuff out there. It’s all very biting and critical about the non-committal stance America was taking towards the war in Europe. It was something that was very obviously a war of good versus evil which makes the cartoons scary. I find them scary for their ability to invoke a time when America wasn’t so willing to jump into armed conflict. It just doesn’t jive with how things are playing out in the world today. It reminds of how much American businesses were turning a profit by playing both sides of the conflict. For instance, Coca-cola created Fanta to sell in Germany but they were one company. It shows how interest other than doing the right thing was very hard to overcome until Pearl Harbour. This tough stance and dealing with tough issues outright would always come back to Seuss and his work.

After 27 rejections, Dr. Seuss basically took up a challenge that was presented in an article on children’s school primers. The article, which Dr. Seuss agreed with, complained that these books aimed at children were to antiseptic presenting a world that is way too sparkling clean for children to identify with. The result was an agreement between to publishing houses to print Dr. Seuss’s school primer The Cat in the Hat. One publisher sold the book as a textbook to schools and the other sold it to parents. Next to none were sold to schools but parents grabbed copies off the shelves hand over fist.

Then the rest of the works went from there. Dr. Seuss was able to purchase an observation tower in La Jolla, California where he would hole himself up to work and work he did. He and his wife never had kids of their own but he would often say – if you keep making them, I’ll entertain them. Seuss basically had a tremendous work ethic and was incredibly insecure about the reception of his work. He was rejected as an artist on a number of occasions and hated that people referred to his work as whimsical. He laboured at it consciously using limited pallets with dark and black background that made the characters pop out of the page.

And for someone often thought of as a whimsical writer his books managed to tackle some very heavy issues. The Lorax is about clearcutting and polluting the natural environment for profit. In it the Once-ler is older and realizes that the only hope the world has is with the next generations because he has simply killed the place he lives. Yertle the Turtle is a retelling of the French Revolution and a bit of a critique on any form of repression and the priviledged classes living on the backs of others. The Sneetches is about race relations in America and how this is exploited for profit. It is when you get the money out of the politics of repression that people can live with each other. And his most controversial book was The Butter Battle Book. It’s about a misunderstanding between the Yooks and the Zooks living on opposite sides of a wall. One group eats their bread butter side up, the other butter side down. There is an escalation of arms between both sides until the last page which is left blank. This came out at the height of the Reagan administration.

For me, I loved how he simply made up words to fit the story. He simply ploughed along and you caught up even if he had to draw you a picture to show you what he meant. I loved how the worlds were never explained they simply existed and were populated by everything you could conceive of. The more his imagination took hold the better the images became. Who didn’t want the trumpet basketball unicycles and instruments that would put an entire orchestra to shame? He made the rules up as he went along and you simply wanted to be there.

Heck one of his most famous works, Green Eggs and Ham came into existence because a friend said Dr. Seuss couldn’t write a book that used 50 words or less. How many creators today can make a formal exercise into a timeless classic? Joss Whedon came close on Buffy, and Genndy Tartakovski came close with some of his Samurai Jack work, but no where near Seuss territory.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

CAI Week: 4 - Maurice Sendak

Maurice is really known for one book: Where the Wild Things Are. This is a classic kids book that almost needs no introduction. Growing up I was always wondering what the big deal was about. It was one of the first books that I had with a gold star on it declaring it the winner of some award or another. I didn't really care. What I did like was the actual layout of the book which completely differed from anything I was used to. Plus the art was this wonderful engraving style that made me realize I didn't have to be the most realistic artist to tell good stories. Something I hope still holds true today.

I don't have a lot to say about this book or this author, mostly because I'm pretty busy today. So here's some pictures of the mock ups to the final text as well as the Internet Movie Database entry for the film version being directed by Spike Jonze.

The book is oddly popular when you think about it for a second. It's one of the few books I can think of that have a kid who would be on ritalin today as the protagonist. This is a kid who hammered nails in his walls and hung stuffed animals from coat hangers. He then goes off to become king of the make believe monsters. There is no way in hell this book would get past an editor today. And yet it endures on its strength of character the same way Murphy Brown survived the cockamamy criticisms about her being a single mother. It's good to see adhd kids presented in a good light, that maybe it's not them but the situations they're forced to comply with that make them problem children? What Max needed was a space he could run, shout and stamp his feet. He gets this where the wild things live. Much like the Muppets I grew up with who encouraged you to simply have unequivocal fun. In fact I think the reason I picked up this book when I was at school was because I thought it was about those big monster Muppets.

At least it's not a penis joke...

...but doesn't this look like Cpt. America has atomic farts that blew his pants off so he's hiding his shame with his shield? Yuck. Maybe some time in the future I'll do a whole week of dick and fart jokes. You know, to give this site a bit of class.

So, in other comic news I can't seem to stop linking to Christopher's Comic.212 these days. He's got a great post about the nature of comic fandom/criticism and what not. The whole what's next, what's new syndrome. A Jedi craves not these things.

And Jog does a much better critique of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight than I could muster for today so be happy with the link instead of my words. The only thing I can add is just how fun it was to have this smoky abstract take on Batman. The way his cape flowed reminds me of how Aku from Samurai Jack was animated. The way Batman moved in the fight scenes was some of the best animation I've seen in comics in a long time.

I realized I lied yesterday. I previously bought the Devil Dinosaur comic with Hulk in it, but it wasn't part of any continuity so it doesn't count. My house, my rules bucko. I liked this story. I'm a sucker for the straight forward sell. It's gladiator in space. Sold. Now just run with it instead of trying to say to much. Keep it simple stupid.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 8 February 2006

Enough of the gateway drug, on to the main feature. A pretty big week for me in which I buy things I don't normally purchase. They are as follows: Jonah Hex #4, DMZ #4, JSA #82, Superman #226, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #200, and finally The Incredible Hulk #92. I decided it was time to branch out however slightly and this is my first EVER purchase of a Hulk comic. I will be celebrating with beer tonight - well that's really nothing special in my life.

Haven't read all of them yet and don't really have time to post on them in any great detail before tomorrow. DMZ was a real treat and I'm already a fan although I can see why it might leave some people flat. Same with Jonah Hex it was good but not my favourite. The JSA issue was fun but the jury's still out on it. And I liked the Superman issue - although there are some jarring art moments when person A stops and B starts.

CAI Week: 3 - Robert Munsch and friends

On the third day of my Childrens Authors and Illustrators bonanza I’m giving you all a bit of CanCon. Robert Munsch is responsible for a sense of humour and wonder in me and almost every English speaking Canadian to follow me. His books are generally illustrated by Sami Suomalainen or Michael Martchenko. Together kids are given tales of everyday wonder with simple and verbose words and friendly expressive characters. If you have kids you owe it to yourself to get these books or the audio versions. He is a fantastic reader for kids.

These are stories where kids start out doing everyday activities that quickly barrel roll into stupendously unreality. The lines of reality and imagination get blurred where a child’s imagination is sparked and expressed by these stories. They build sandcastles that grow into ever increasing sizes full of sand kings and queens with sand dogs and the winner in the impromptu contest gets a bathtub full of ice cream. The stories present what children are always trying to do, reaching for the stars, and are given a prize just as big.

Munsch has a fairly neat history in that his books have been constant sellers. In fact they are all basically invisible bestsellers in Canada and around the world. In 1994 the 'New York Times' did an update of their list of bestselling children¹s books that they had last done in 1978. They did not update the list often since it was very stable. GOODNIGHT MOON had been #1 since forever! They found LOVE YOU FOREVER at the top of the list with 8,000,000 sold. {It¹s at 18,000,000 as of 1999} This was very strange as they had never reviewed it, did not know it existed, and it was Canadian (foreign) title that did not even have a US publisher or distributor. Somebody from the Times called Munsch up and wanted to know, "Who are You?"

But personally I’ll always remember the miniature sized books I had as a kid. The Mud Puddle, Jonathan Cleaned Up and Then He Heard a Sound, Thomas’s Snowsuit, and The Paper Bag Princess. I always responded to books with my name in the title, so Jonathan was a no brainer for me. It's the story of a kid that keeps trying to clean up but his house literally becomes a train wreck. Same with Thomas’s Snowsuit, most Canadian’s know the trauma of new snowsuits then the pure joy because you can go do snow things in them.

The Mud Puddle was brilliant. The attraction to the story of a puddle who would hide in trees, jump off roofs and be defeated by bars of soap thrown into it is the same attraction people bring to superhero comics. Julie Ann is constantly defeated by the mud puddle in new and clever ploys that always end up with her being forced to take a bath. Until she uses her cleverness, and the repetition of soapy water to remove mud, to come up with the one thing that will destroy the mud puddle once and for all. When I was doing my undergrad friends of mine produced this story into a children’s play that was phenomenal.

And finally we come to the best of them all, The Paper Bag Princess. It’s a very simple concept – why can’t the princess save a prince from a dragon for once? Munsch’s notion was kids simply don’t care who their heroes are as long as they’re heroes. He was right. The audience didn’t care that Elizabeth was saving Ronald, Elizabeth was a great heroic figure. She lost everything and through that she discovered herself. Is it any wonder that this was almost instantly adopted as a feminist text? The message is great. Even if you’re not the biggest person you can put your mind to accomplishing anything. You don’t need fancy clothes or anyone else telling you what you are.

While Munsch only mentions the issues around whether or not Elizabeth calls Ronald a toad or a bum, there was apparently a bit of hubbub surrounding the last image in the book. Apparently the English publishers took offence to the word bum and claimed that the English never called anyone a bum. As a result you can get both versions of the text in Canada. As for the image it was originally a silhouette of Elizabeth dancing off into the sunset on her own, naked. It wasn’t clear but the publishers sort of flipped out and added the silhouette of the paper bag. I guess they didn’t like the fact that Elizabeth was shedding away her layers to a point where she was happy completely by herself. Or they just didn’t think it was a good idea to have cartoon butts in a kid’s book.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Gushing with pride

Thanks to fellow Canadian, Christopher at Comics.212 for linking to Derik Badman's rigamajig that ranks comic blogs. I'm gobsmacked that I'm at 23rd and I wanted to thank everyone who has been reading and linking here. I feel like I'm doing this in a vacuum most days wondering if anyone is out there who bothers to read this thing. I'm really thankful that you are. I'm shocked and amazed yet can't help but think this is the first step towards world domination.

Phase one: blog

Phase two: unitards

Phase three: phasers

Phase four: gathering the true believers

Phase five: building the hypnoray

Phase six: world domination

Phase seven: thank you party for the survivors - beer and pizza - suggestions welcome if you have dietary concerns.

CAI Week: 2 - Richard Scarry

"I'm not interested in creating a book that is read once and then placed on the shelf and forgotten. I am very happy when people have worn out my books, or that they're held together by Scotch tape."

Like a lot of people my age the first memory of anything close to a comic book I remember reading were the Richard Scarry books. While a had great collections of Nursery Rhymes, the Grimm Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Anderson’s works with beautiful imagery, it was the Scarry books that put the fun in fundamental learning. I think it’s from these books that I got a love for finding out how things work. The creative layouts that were more often than not cutaways of buildings, boats or anything where you might find people interacting are to this day still some of my favorite compositions.

These blurred the line between the educational textbook that would show you a cross section of a volcano and the grid of a comic book. When the layouts weren’t contained in some cutaway it was always this teeming chaos of everyday life. Where there was an economy of line in the drawings there was the polar opposite in composition. Every page in the big Scarry books were crammed with as much character interaction as possible.

Scarry’s life is like that of most artists when you imagine what an artist’s life should be like. He barely attended school opting instead to constantly go to burlesque shows. At some point his father discovered his cache of drawings he made of the strippers. Scarry tried to follow the straight and narrow but his non-existent scholastic achievement kept him from getting into any post-secondary education. He did get accepted to an art college and the Second World War broke.

His time in the army was as successful as his schooling. If it wasn’t for the draft he would have been kicked out since he didn’t really pay attention to the foolish lessons on how he had to walk and talk. When he marked artist as his profession he was assigned to the radio division and was more or less drummed out of it because he refused or couldn’t learn how to fix radios. He was then put on the pamphlet division where he created pamphlets to inspire the troops and remind them what they were fighting for.

Given no guidance on how to accomplish this Scarry basically copy and pasted Time magazine articles together. He met with raging success, got raises and extra time off to travel around the globe. After the war he suddenly had marketable skills and got a job with Vogue magazine. He was fired after 3 weeks because he didn’t fit the position. When he asked why he got hired the manager said she liked his suit.

Eventually he got work with the Little Golden Books and the rest is more or less history. When his big success came in books like Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever and Busy Busy World there were other movements taking hold – feminism and racial equality. Women began to take offense to the gender roles presented in his books and a letter writing campaign began. Scarry was not thrilled by this and argued that since these were animals in trousers there really wasn’t any gender assigned to most of the characters. It was a weak argument and eventually he went back to some of his more popular books and redid a lot of the art. Busy Busy World was a similar book of its time in that it started as a labour of love incorporating Scarry’s fondness for travel and other cultures but was seen as presenting unflattering stereotypes. It was suggested that characters like Manuel of Mexico (with a pot of refried beans stuck on his head), Ah-Choo the near-sighted panda bear from Hong Kong, and Angus the Scottish bagpiper were no longer acceptable role models for children. Random House quietly subtracted some of Scarry's best stories from future distribution, including the vignette of Patrick Pig, who shouts "UP THE IRISH" after kissing the Blarney stone. There is a comparison of the old and new version of The Best Word Book Ever here.

In a lot of ways this was a necessary controversy but it didn’t take away from the basic structure of these books. Instead of a traditional dictionary or word book, Scarry decided to gather words into groups and present them with one large image. Most kids books work from A to Z, whereas the Scarry books are formed on a thematic basis. This is because in a lot of ways the images came first and the words were simply added around them.

Scarry’s artwork is instantly recognizable. That is really the best compliment anyone can give an artist, especially one that was trying to help kids learn. If it’s not memorable then the art hasn’t done its job. This art does its job extremely well for a few reasons I can think of off the top of my head. The first is that Scarry simply hated having empty white space. While this can lead to clutter very quickly it is also one of the major reasons kids love the work. Have you ever tried to draw something with a kid who is at the learning to read age? Try it. I will bet you that the kid tries to fill every last space on the page. How many pictures of families have you seen where the image goes straight to the edges of the sheet? Almost every single one. Scarry’s work does the same thing. Each page is so full of life that it bleeds off the page in just the same way every kid’s drawing doesn’t limit itself to the borders of a sheet of paper.

And, not only are the images big, they’re crammed full of activity. Every character is doing something and all the mundane activities in life are presented with a subtle sense of humour and sense of wonder about them. People don’t just change lightbulbs, they have the ladders knocked out from under them and hang from the lightbulb. The images are basically huge and silly, yet the characters are always conscious of their situation without malice. They feel bad when they mess up, but even the characters in mortal danger seem to be rather stoic and understanding about it. After all, it’s just life.

Scarry also had an admiration for the works of Beatrix Potter and took his cue to use anthropomorphic characters from her work. Whereas Potter went for a hyper realism, Scarry went for the more abstract. His characters are simple. They are reduced to their core components with a reserved approach to using line art in much the same way an animator reduces characters to their essence with minimal lines. It allows for more expression and range of emotion, and again having pigs and hippos in mortal danger won’t accidentally traumatize a child if it was a human.

In a lot of ways his art works simply because it shouldn’t. These are huge uncontained images seemingly at random. Inside the images are almost utter chaos yet everyone is respectful and polite. Nobody is threatened because someone has messed up. They are accepting of other characters faults and it is one of the most racially diverse universes ever created. Not bad for a gateway into comic books. If only the adult versions were as knowledgeable of form, content and audience as Scarry’s books are.

The "Dear God" letters

My friend Brian has gotten over his fear of HTML and finally created a website. You can read his comics and get a feel for his sense of humour. If you like animals with personalities and a few observations about how we live on this planet, then please follow the links.

Yes, his name is Brian and he lives in Halifax, like that other Bryan that everyone loves who lives in Halifax.

Monday, February 06, 2006

CAI Week: 1 - Beatrix Potter

Since February 5-11 is Children’s Authors and Illustrators week I’ve decided to make a bit of a do about it here. I’ll be missing updates for the days that fall on the weekend. That’s just how I am.

So I’ve decided to start with one of the classic children’s authors and illustrators. Beatrix Potter. I’ve chosen Beatrix Potter simply because her life is absolutely fascinating. In fact the story behind her stories is just as interesting as their success.

I was never the biggest Peter Rabbit fan as a child. I had an English grandfather who I’m pretty sure bought me this book and I remember it quite well, but I was never in love with it. I think it sort of scared me. The constant threat of a regular person who was trying to kill and eat the protagonist (a cute little bunny) probably had a lot to do with that. But I was always drawn back to the book because of the drawings, ironically.

The message of listen to adults they’re right is both timeless and very Victorian. This was a time when children were seen, not heard. Looking at the Rabbit stories now you understand that it’s probably through similarly traumatic events that the parents have gained their knowledge. There is explicit mention of the death of Peter’s father at Mrs. McGegor’s hand. Like four and twenty black birds he was baked into a pie. It also reminds me of the Spongebob Squarepants episode where Patrick gets canned as tuna.

The art of the Peter Rabbit stories is the epitome of Victorian English storytelling. They are basically a repressed joyfulness. Potter uses watercolours, which anyone who has tried, requires patience. Patience to develop the skill of painting with watercolours and patience to actually complete a watercolour painting. In a lot of ways you need to be done before the first stroke hits the paper. These are slightly anthropomorphic characters, but remain unbelievably true to the source material. Yes they walk on their hind legs and dress up but the moment Peter loses his coat and shoes his portrait may as well be in a zoological textbook.

This realistic portrayal of the animals was honed over the years Potter was studying botany. She spent years dissecting and painting flowers and fungi. She wrote a paper called “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae” that argued lichens were a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungi. A man presented this to the society of scientists as they would not admit women and it was basically rejected outright. Her uncle later tried to get her accepted at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew where again they refused to accept women. Potter chose not to pursue this career after these years of frustration because she was simply a woman. She did manage to keep control over her paintings and diagrams she feared would be used in textbooks without credit to her. Years later her paper was proven to be correct and I believe her watercolours are still being used today in some textbooks over photographs.

It was this rejection because of her sex that prompted Potter to gather back some letters she had sent to the son of her ex-governess. These letters was the background story and sketches to Peter Rabbit. She sent him a letter about the adventures of her pet rabbit I believe along with sketches that would turn into the print version. She shopped this around to some publishers and was again rejected because she was a woman. Potter then decided to print on her own which caught the eye of a publisher. The rest as they say is history.

The Tales of Peter Rabbit was an instant success that allowed Potter an independent income. With it she purchased Hill Top farm where she began breeding sheep and preserving the natural history around the Lake District. It is also where she wrote the rest of her children’s books. I think some of the sheep she helped breed are still in existence today. She was simply one to never rest on her laurels.

I simply find her life fascinating. Her artwork is stellar, as I hope you can appreciate from all the images in this post. The simple fact that she painted with watercolours speaks volumes to the type of person she was. She was patient and enduring – both skills required to be a good watercolourist. And there is a healthy respect for nature in her prose. Potter was raised in London with summer vacations to the Lake District and Scotland. Her parents were the Victorian equivalent to the helicopter parent (always hovering) who thought other children were a bad influence so the Potter kids found solace in nature and pets. She even had a secret diary that she wrote in code where she would snarkily review other artists. The code was only broken fifteen years after her death.

Even as a child her sketchbooks show that she was simply skilled at observing the world of nature through her art. I know a kid whose obsessed with catepillars and even I can't draw the way young Beatrice did. When she left the botanists behind she moved to insects and animals which would later become the slightly anthropomorphic characters in her stories. They were equally fantastic yet realistic.

I’m sure that reading through this you’ve come up with a million parallel cases for comic book artists and writers (especially women). I know I have. Unique vision, unparalleled talent. Yet she wasn’t accepted because it challenged the social structure of the group she tried to participate in. Potter brought new ideas and tremendous skill to botany, but was rejected. She then brought those same ideas and skill to a new place and is one of children’s lit’s greatest success stories. I see her artwork being the basis for David Wenzel’s Hobbit or David Peterson’s Mouse Guard (yet to be released but on my “can’t wait” list).

The World of Peter Rabbit - has kid friendly histories and most of the art here.

Beatrix Potter Stories online

Beatrix Potter Society

Peter Rabbit Ballet

Friday, February 03, 2006

All-Star Jimmy Olsen or All-Star Lois Lane?

I wanted to have a long insightful post today but I forgot my notes at home. And it's raining. And I had to go to the walk in clinic because I can't hear out of my right ear. Apparently I'm growing a second head out of wax that will eventually explode out of my right ear. I plan to make a candle out of it, or vomit when I need to squirt warm water into my head. We'll see how that goes...

Anyway, I've been thinking about All-Star Superman again. I'm hoping that DC brings back the backup story for their All-Star line. How fucking awesome would that be? 8 page back up stories of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen or Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane would make me buy two copies so I could give one to a random stranger - in the hopes they can read English. I'd like to see some backup stories in the Batman book as well. Maybe some team ups with the outsiders. Or if DC wanted to be beyond Airwolf cool they could have Aquaman backup stories in the Superman book. Meta-cool.

What would you like to see? Me, I'd like the Jimmy Olsen stories.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Examining aspects of Local and Nextwave

So, a while back I was given a copy of Local #1 for free. I’m pretty sure it was from Chris Tamari whose excellent Comic Bloggers Poll was fun to participate in, especially since I’ve been around less than a year (not in life but in blog form). I think I put up a quick review when I received it but I’m going to write a bit more now. In fact I’m going to write about Local #1 because I can and I’m too lazy to search my own archive or anyone else’s to see who sent me the book and whether or not I’ve written about it before.

When I got Local #1 I was quite happy. The election just started and this was a nice little distraction because it was sold out of all the local comic shops. I read it and while I can appreciate the work I didn’t actually like it. I can understand why people like it, and I can see how new and refreshing it is but it didn’t make me want to rush out and buy more. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, especially since Nextwave #1 came out as I think they fit into a weird pigeon hole I’ve created.

I guess the best way for me to describe how I feel about these books is that I don’t like or dislike them. I completely understand why people love them, I just don’t. I don’t think this is a bad thing. We all have something we don’t like that others love. I know someone who has never seen any Star Wars movies and doesn’t ever want to. I have a good friend who doesn’t like The Pixies but likes the solo Frank Black stuff. Or as my better half discovered with her friends, there’s Mr. Big fans and Aidan fans. You’ll get that or you won’t, don’t worry about it.

What happened when I read Local is that I kept thinking this would be much better as a movie. I liked Run Lola Run, but Local – not so much. To me it’s because Local is trying to use tools that work much better in another medium. I don’t think the remixing of a situation is impossible or wrong in comics, I just think it works better in film, television or stage. There is a tonne of literature that uses the same technique and the internet is the electronic embodiment (how many similar stories have you read on different blogs, websites and message boards announcing exactly the same thing with their own spin?).

When I was reading Local I had that feeling like I was getting distracted and continually reading the same line over and over. You know how it is. You’re reading something. Get distracted. Read the same line over. It’s annoying. Well to me it is and I don’t think that’s the feeling or message the author and artist are trying to convey. For me, this type of art works better with live actors; or in cool media when the same situation is shown from different character point of views. It’s not a criticism, just an esthetic choice on my part.

I think both the author and the artist succeeded in their goals. They presented situations that slightly varied and conveyed it. The characters are acting appropriately. The are distinguishable from each other and they emote well. Which is sort of the point of characters in sequential art (unless they’re meant to look alike, obviously). It just felt too static to me. I wasn’t emotionally invested in the characters or the situations. I do think that part of this was because the stories were remixed too quickly. I got to see a situation play out differently again and again in rapid succession but wasn’t allowed time to make any emotional connection to the characters. Then again, this is called Local. It’s about the place and not necessarily the people involved. This is all good and well if you have made a connection to this place but to readers who haven’t it left me with little to connect to the story. The characters are meant to draw you into the story, to connect you to the place. I felt like I was never given a chance to do it. It was like an autopsy of technique.

To me this read like an exercise in craft. I’m very supportive of any creator wishing to push the boundaries of the comic craft. This is defiantly an unique comic and an unique voice in a media that severely dominated by one form of expression. So I find myself a bit torn when discussing this book. I appreciate it for pushing the envelope and having the balls to try something new. On the other hand I simply wasn’t entertained enough to want to put my dollars behind it. I know that this is contributing to the dominance of men in tights in a medium I want to see diversify itself, but I won’t buy something purely on principle. Yeah, I’m a sell out to all the teenagers now, I did my time only buying indy music until I found myself listening to an album I bought and thinking I needed more music that had talent involved. So while I have punk rock roots I’m simply more selective in my methods these days. I hope to be the same with comics.

So this is like the science of storytelling as opposed to storytelling. We can go to science to see what makes human beings tick or we can go to the stories to see what makes life interesting. I like people not human beings. Characters not a bunch of character sketches. In other words, simply having a good idea isn’t enough for me. I want a good idea with good execution. I’m not setting up any hard lines here. It is purely arbitrary what I define to be “good.”

Local, like Nextwave, are two books where I find myself actually liking the art more than the story being told. For me, good comics are a combination. One needs to work with the other, however, I tend to forgive a lot if the plot, characters and other bits where the writer has more sway are stronger than the art. That’s just where I come from and what I bring to the medium. I’ve got too many English degrees not be drawn towards that aspect of comics. I can forgive artists a lot because I don’t feel overly qualified to critique them too much.

So yeah, Nextwave. If Local is the experimental indy film, Nextwave is the slapstick comedy. Again I think a lot of what made Nextwave funny simply works better in film or other hot media. Whereas in Local I was drawn out by reading the same dialogue repeatedly, in Nextwave I think a lot of the humour involved would be funnier if delivered by live actors. Again, not that it isn’t funny or that comics can’t be funny – but the humour seemed to be based around character acting. I simply think it’s best if the characters aren’t static. Yes I think the art is dynamic and awesomely so, but even dynamic characters can’t deliver a line the way an actor can. It’s left to the reader to interpret too much. So while I think the art is dynamic, it still can't help but remain static on the page.

I do think that Nextwave is like the ultimate comic insider comedy. I just don’t feel like enough of an insider yet to get it all. So while a few of you will now call for me to be expelled from comic blogdom, that’s my bit. I hope it gives a balance to the overwhelming love these books have been given. I felt like a leper or a communist for not liking them as much as what I’ve read out there. But hey, I like All-Star Superman. I don’t completely suck.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 1 February 2006

Only two books today. Rex Libris #3 and my hidden shame, Rann-Thanagar War: Infinite Crisis Special. I haven't read Rex Libris yet. I have a strange relationship with that book. I wasn't in love with it at first and I'm still not completely sold but I like the ideas and the art enough to keep coming back to it. I feel about this book how I thought I'd feel about Local.

So without further ado....

Rann-Thanagar War: Infinite Crisis Special
This seemed like an expensive way to introduce the Ion series. And maybe if your book is about a pretty boy you shouldn't remove his face? I'm just saying. Again, this series proves that war is pointless. I like to think I'm not a sucker but I really do act like a sucker. I guess I'll have to go buy that Spiderman issue with the new costume now. Fuck.

Kurt Vonnegut was on the radio today. He was talking about how he wanted to write a book about a comet the size of the moon hurtling towards the earth and we knew it was coming. The way that people would deal with it is to pretend it wasn't happening. It's how he thinks we're dealing with fossil fuels currently. I agree with him on that. But it's how I felt when I read this. I knew the series was less than stellar but I bought this anyway, like I'll buy the Omac one, and just won't admit to myself that the whole thing is horrible as long as I can make a joke about it.

I rate this story: Not worth the price on the cover just to see Kyle Rainer's new costume that you've already seen online and made fun of snarkily.