Archive for August, 2010

31
Aug
10

Time Travel Tuesdays: Down and Out in Gotham City

For this week’s Time Travel Tuesday, we’re going back to the bygone days of 2002. Spider-Man’s second movie was coming out, Disney did not yet own the Muppets or Marvel Comics, and there were still enough people who didn’t own cell phones yet to make collect call services worth advertising on television. And this conversation started with a strange discovery from a vending machine…

Down and out in Gotham City

This week’s column began with a possessed soft drink vending machine.

Bear with me, folks, I really am going somewhere with this.

You see, the beverage machine here at the newspaper office has a mind of its own. No matter what button you press, you have about a 75 percent chance of being awarded a Diet Dr. Pepper. Some people, some wild, pie-in-the-sky speculators, have attributed this to the fact that the Diet Dr. Pepper button sticks. Being more rational, I prefer to believe that evil gremlins reside in the machine and, having read the recent studies concluding everyone in America except Callista Flockhart is overweight, want us to continue to feel bad about ourselves.

At any rate, I have surrendered the battle and pretty much drink Diet Dr. Pepper all the time. As I like Diet Dr. Pepper, this is not a big deal.

A few days ago, when I retrieved my beverage from the machine, I got an additional shock. The can, usually white with little silver flecks and red lettering, had an additional graphic element: Spider-Man. That’s right, the blockbuster webslinger was crouching on the side of my beverage, glaring at me with those big spider-eyes, the message supposedly being, “That’s right, tubbo, drink this Diet Dr. Pepper before you wind up looking like the Kingpin.”

Now I know that crimefighting probably isn’t the most profitable endeavor. The hours are long, the work is thankless and you’ve got to put up with questions from sewing store employees who wonder why an 18-year-old who looks like that kid from Wonder Boys keeps purchasing red and blue fabric by the yard, but to see Spidey shilling soda was kind of a blow for me.

And it’s not just beverages — Spider-Man is currently featured on a commercial for one of those digital telephone companies. He’s also lent his name to cereal, clothing, a major motion picture and lots of toys (one would imagine the residuals would offset at least the cost of that plastic webbing on his costume).

Not long ago he also did a commercial with several of his crimefighting comrades — Captain America, the Hulk, Thor — telling kids to drink their milk. Apparently Avengers Mansion needed some renovating.

And it’s not just Spider-Man who’s feeling the pinch. Evidently, being a billionaire playboy isn’t as lucrative as it once was either, because recently we’ve seen the Caped Crusader himself, Batman, on TV selling the OnStar anti-car theft system. I guess it’s nice to know who to call the next time some kid from Crime Alley boosts his tires, but I hate to think of him down and out in Gotham City.

And there are non-superhero celebrities forced to do endorsements to make ends meet. Charlie Brown and Snoopy have been hawking Met Life for years. Bart Simpson has told us time and again that nobody better lay a finger on his Butterfinger. ALF spends his time extolling the virtues of 10-10-220 and, proving that the beloved Muppets may be feeling this worst of all, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are doing Denny’s commercials while at the same time Pepe the King Prawn is trying to coax us into Long John Silver’s.

As I stared at this offending beverage can, the thought crept into my mind — when did times get so tough for fictional heroes? Oh sure, we’ve had characters selling products for years, but for the most part they’ve been unknowns until they got their gig. The Qwik Bunny escaped from a Loréal testing lab. Ronald McDonald was a clown college dropout with no prospects and a giant purple best friend who kept crashing on his couch. Cap’n Crunch spent years on a garbage scow before being given stewardship over a tasty breakfast cereal.

But Spider-Man… Snoopy… Kermit… these guys were big time! Since when do guys like this need that kind of financial assistance? Perhaps it’s time we started some sort of government aid program for Fictional Americans. We could try to get them job packages, tax breaks, college tuition waivers — I for one wouldn’t want to live in a world where Kermit can’t afford to put his little nephew Robin through frog school. The last thing we need is another adult amphibian with only a tadpole education.

Yes, all these thoughts ran rampant through my mind… and then I remembered a snack food of my youth I was fond of. Perhaps you remember it too: Superman peanut butter.

I guess some things stay the same after all.

Blake M. Petit wonders how he could go about getting endorsements for the characters in his novel, “Other People’s Heroes,” now available from Amazon.com Contact him with comments, suggestions or a Superman peanut butter jar, because he misses that stuff, at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com

30
Aug
10

Universal Rule of the Universe #67

Blake’s Universal Rule of the Universe #67:

67. Teachers have to keep in the relative ages of their former students in mind at all times. One of the most uncomfortable phrases a human being could hear would be, “Welcome to Hooter’s! Oh… Mr. Smith… it’s you…”

Read the rest of the Universal Rules of the Universe right here!

29
Aug
10

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 185: The Unsung Heroes

This week the boys line up another top ten (or seven… or eight…) episode, as they get together to discuss some of their favorite underrated characters from comics, television, movies, video games, and even a book or two without pictures. Which warriors do the guys say just don’t get the respect they deserve? And in the picks, Blake selects Superman/Batman #75 and Kenny digs on Booster Gold #35. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@comixtreme.com!

Music provided by the Podshow Podsafe Music Network.

Episode 185: The Unsung Heroes

Inside This Episode:



27
Aug
10

What is The Curtain?

As of late, in-between recording Other People’s Heroes and rewrites on Opening Night of the Dead, I’m been furiously writing away on a new project I call The Curtain. As I’ve mentioned it here several times, I thought it may be interesting to tell you a little about it. What is The Curtain, you may ask? Well… it’s not a novel (although it may someday be seen in book form) and it’s not a podcast (although I may someday run segments from it on the Evercast). It’s a different sort of writing experiment, but it all stems from one very specific incident.

At exactly 8 a.m. on October 15 (Greenwich Mean Time), monsters begin to arise around the world. Zombies, vampires, werewolves. Japanese yokai and Gaelic draugr. Giant beasts from the bottom of the sea and angry men from the center of the Earth. All. At. Once.

Despite so many events happening at once, many people refuse to believe in the phenomenon, dismissing it as hysteria or publicity stunts gone awry. For many others, though, the news of the attacks comes as confirmation of something they’ve believed deep down their whole lives — the dark places of the world are real, and the things that inhabit those places are beasts. These aren’t misunderstood monoliths or passionate lovers living under a curse. In this world, the zombies crave flesh, the sea-beast will destroy whatever disturbed it, and if a vampire looks at you with lust in his eyes it’s the same lust a starving man has when he sees a perfectly-grilled steak. For these people, the curtain has been pulled aside to reveal the truth about the world in which they live.

The Curtain will be an ongoing experiment in presenting multiple stories simultaneously, each existing in the same world. There will be no single protagonist in this world, but rather, we will follow the adventures and exploits of several people as they survive and, in some cases, thrive. Heroes, everyday people and monsters alike will take center stage for a time, then fade into the background as someone else’s story will be taken up. Installments will be brief, and will range from one-off tales to chapters of a longer saga featuring one or more of our characters. Some stories will run along the horrific, others will be funny, others will be action-adventure at my humble best. The multiple stories will be free to intermingle with one another whenever logic (or the writer’s sense of fun) demands it. That’s not to say there will never be a novel set in the world of The Curtain. In fact, I’ve already written two… and published one. (I’ll give you a hint: it’s the one that’s not Other People’s Heroes). There may also be short stories — one of which you’ve heard if you’ve listened to The Evercast since the beginning.

And this is not a story that has a specific ending in mind. Oh, each of the individual story arcs will end. I won’t begin an arc without an ending in mind. But even though this is prose, the structure will be more like a comic book or television series, with an eye towards the long term and the intention of telling stories in this setting indefinitely, allowing it to grow and mature as the storyteller’s imagination does. There will be larger arcs — in fact, much of what I’m thinking of as “Act I” will be about uncovering just what happened to cause all of these incidents to begin at the same time — but as of right now, I’ve got no “final act” in mind. Nor do I want one.

I’ve written the first five “scenes” already, and I’m looking at other stories that I’ve started and abandoned (including, yes, that one) to see if they can be adapted to fit into this new experiment. And most importantly, I’m excited as I work. And that may be the most important element of all.

I don’t know exactly when I’ll begin sharing the stories of the Curtain with you, but each time I sit in front of the computer, I feel confidant that it will be soon.

26
Aug
10

Other People’s Heroes: Issue Nine (Evercast #28)

Last issue, Josh Corwood saved a kid’s life, got chewed out for it, and discovered the boy he saved is the younger brother of the lovely Miss Sinistah. This week, he encounters the real Miss Sinistah and her family, mends some fences, and gets thrust into a new adventure he wasn’t planning on.

Other People’s Heroes: Issue Nine (Evercast #28)

Theme song, “Last of the Superheroes,” by American Heartbreak, courtesy of MusicAlley.com. Cover art by Jacob Bascle, FreemindGraphx.com and VisionaryComics.com. Evercast theme by Jeff Hendricks, JeffHendricks.net. Evercast logo by Heather Petit Keller.

E-mail me at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com

Creative Commons License
Blake M. Petit’s Evercast by Blake M. Petit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.evertimerealms.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.evertimerealms.com.

26
Aug
10

Everything But Imaginary #364: What If… DC Comics Merged With Archie?

Comixtreme is back! Kind of! You can find it at Comixtreme.net for the time being, while we try to sort out the .com issue. But this week’s Everything But Imaginary column is waiting for your scrutiny. This week’s column is based on what happens when my mind starts wandering. What If?-style questions get asked. And we’re looking at a big What If this time… what if DC Comics merged with Archie Comics?

Everything But Imaginary #364: What If… DC Comics Merged With Archie?

Oh, and don’t worry, Other People’s Heroes fans. This post isn’t replacing that one for today. I’ll be up a little later. I’m editing even now.

25
Aug
10

Classic EBI #62: From Peanuts to Spandex-Why Comics Will Never Die

Comixtreme.com is suffering from a temporary failure of service, which means no new Everything But Imaginary column tonight. Hopefully we’ll get the problem sorted out and I’ll get the new one online later this week. For now, though, it’s time for your usual Wednesday blast from the past. From May 12, 2004, it’s time for a glimpse at… well… everything I love about comics, and why I think we’ll always have them.

EVERYTHING BUT IMAGINARY 5/12/04

From Peanuts to Spandex: Why comics will never die

As I think I may have mentioned once or twice or a trillion times, I love Peanuts. And not the salted, honey-roasted kind, although I do love a good PB&J sandwich, which my doctor says is bad for my triglycerides so I’m going through withdrawal right now and thank you very much for bringing it up.

No, friends, I’m talking about the comic strip Peanuts, four panels of brilliance (more on Sundays) that graced the pages of newspapers all over the planet every day for almost five decades, the idea that spawned countless books and TV specials, cartoons and greeting cards and put words like “security blanket” in the global lexicon. I mean Peanuts, the brainchild of the brilliant Charles M. Schulz and the greatest comic strip of all time.

Well… in my opinion, anyway. Everybody’s got their own and is entitled to it, but I doubt anyone can logically argue that Peanuts isn’t at least the most important comic strip of all time. It’s a global phenomenon, universally recognized, beloved every day for nearly 50 years with no reruns or ghost writers and, most importantly, it brought a wise, philosophical tone to the newspaper page that many have tried to emulate and most have failed at. To my mind, the only two comics that even come close to Peanuts in terms of sheer intelligence without sacrificing the endearing humor that draws you in the first place are Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and Walt Kelly’s Pogo.

A few weeks ago, a discussion erupted here at Comixtreme about comic strips versus comic books — as this is a comic book site, that’s what we spend most of our time discussing here. Strips and books aren’t the same, but they aren’t completely different either. It’s sort of like the difference between a movie and a television show — one is more frequent but shorter as well, one is something you pay for while the other is free or part of another package you buy (cable TV or newspapers), but the storytelling tools and language are the same. There have been overlaps in the two since the beginning — the very first comic books were reprint books of newspaper strips before someone got the idea to create new material. Dozens of comic strips, from Peanuts to Pogo to Dennis the Menace and Heathcliff, have all graced the comic book page at some point, whereas some comic books like Superman (initially a pitch for a newspaper strip before National Periodical Publications put him in Action Comics), Spider-Man and the Hulk have appeared in newspapers. There is even more overlap today, with Liberty Meadows abandoning newspapers entirely to focus on a comic and webtoons like PVP and Dork Tower enjoying a healthy coexistence as both a strip and a comic book. Artists have even crossed over, with Kelly doing the occasional Disney comic way back when and John Byrne doing a guest run on Funky Winkerbean some time back.

But Peanuts is still the ruler of them all, as we all saw last week when Fantagraphics Comics published The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952, the first of planned a 25-volume series that will finally reprint every single Peanuts strip in sequence, including hundreds that have never been reprinted since they first appeared in the newspaper. That was the greatest thing, for me, as I read this book: for the first time in four years I was reading Peanuts comics I’d never read before. The strip only had four characters at first — Shermy, Patty (the non-peppermint kind), a wordless Snoopy and good ol’ Charlie Brown. In the course of this first two and a half years, Violet moved in to the neighborhood and Schroeder, Lucy and Linus each made their debuts — as Sally would later — as babies, eventually aging to the point where they were peers with Charlie Brown and then freezing at that age with him. We see Snoopy’s first words, Schroeder’s first concert and Charlie Brown’s first baseball game (when he was a catcher).

Several of these characters would fade over the years as new ones would be introduced — Peppermint Patty and Marcie, Woodstock (who started out not only nameless, but as a girl), Franklin (whose appearance actually angered some readers because it showed the kids attended an integrated school) and dozens of others who have become part of this national treasure.

As Schulz got older, the strip got simpler, sliding from four panels to three to meet newspaper syndicate demands, and sometimes consisting of a single long panel. His line began to shake and the characters started to wobble. But even with the Golden Age over, they were still Peanuts and still beautiful.

In an interview in the back of this book, Schulz talked about comics in general, and what he considered a mistake in several. He said it was easy to destroy a comic with one mistake. He came close, he said, when he began introducing Snoopy’s brothers and sisters (and in fact only one sibling, Spike, appeared with regularity after that). He said Bob Seager destroyed Popeye when he introduced Eugene the Jeep. And he said Superman himself was destroyed a very long time ago, when he first learned to fly.

When I read this, I was jolted out of the book, because it made me realize something very important. This man, one of my heroes, still someone I consider one of the wisest men who ever lived… I thought he was wrong. I still do. I don’t think you can destroy a good comic, not one with a real heart and soul to it, the way Peanuts and Superman both do. His argument is that Superman’s flying power unhinged him from reality and made him less relatable. And perhaps that’s true, for people who knew the character at the beginning. But for younger people, for me, that was always part of the appeal. Who wouldn’t want to fly? I can’t tell you how many hours I spent as a child (almost as many as I have as an adult) dreaming of being able to take to the air, go where I wanted, unfettered by borders or rules. Does that make Superman hard to accept? Perhaps. But only if you’re unwilling to open your imagination.

Superman has suffered from some terrible storylines over the years (let’s not get into the Blue/Red fiasco), and a lot of people gave up on him. But new stories, great stories are currently being told by the likes of Jeph Loeb and Mark Waid. And even if they weren’t… well… a bad storyline now, even a thousand bad storylines now, can never take away the wonder of the stories we loved in the past.

I’m using Superman as my example because Schulz did, but I think the same holds true for any truly great comic concept: Batman, the Fantastic Four, Captain America. Someone told me recently that, after the last few years of Uncanny X-Men, they didn’t think they would ever enjoy the characters again. And it’s true that a comic’s present can be shattered and possibly even destroyed for that one person. But as long as the heart still exists, there is always the possibility that some new writer, some new artist, some new child who has never read the comic before will find it, breathe life into it again, and make it new.

And the same goes for the great strips. Even if the last few years of Peanuts weren’t as good as they were in the glory years, they were still better than 90 percent of the comics in the newspaper. And it’s why thousands of newspapers still run Classic Peanuts every day. It doesn’t matter if we’ve read them before. Everything that strip taught us is still true: unrequited love is the hardest; a watched mailbox never produces a Valentine; just because a kid has a blanket doesn’t mean he’s not smarter than you; happiness is a warm puppy; there is no problem so immense that it can’t be summed up with a “Good grief.” And most of all, no matter what, never, never stop trying to kick that football.

Charles Schulz knew all that. And he taught it to me.

And maybe somewhere out there right now, some new kid is picking up the newspaper for the first time, and seeing today’s Classic Peanuts

…and smiling.

Because a great comic, a true comic, can never die.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: May 5, 2004

And speaking of Superman, in a comic week with no real jump-out-of-your-seat awesome comics, Superman: Birthright #10 took favorite of the week honors for being the most consistently entertaining. Mark Waid and Leinil Yu have done an incredible job of reinventing the man of steel. In this issue, Lex Luthor launches a fake invasion of the planet Earth by Krypton, Superman is down for the count and everyone thinks he’s part of the invasion force. He’s ready to quit. He’s ready to give up.

The last page sells this. The last page reminds us what Superman means. Oh, if only Waid were writing Action Comics

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.




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