Archive for August, 2011

31
Aug
11

Classic EBI #106: Comic Book Culture Gap

Today is the day: DC Comics relaunches their entire line with 52 new first issues. Everybody from their heaviest hitters to obscure characters with potential are being polished off and given a spotlight. But why stop there? Today, I present to you 52 OTHER properties DC owns that, with little tweak, may fit in with the New 52.

Everything But Imaginary #413: The New(er) 52

But it’s time now to step into the ol’ Wayback Machine and go to March 16, 2005, when I observed the fact that, although Manga comics definitely enjoyed a certain popularity in the United States, the same wasn’t as true for European comics. And I asked that vital question: what up with that?

Everything But Imaginary #106: Comic Book Culture Gap

If you’re looking for comics outside of a regular comic shop these days, unless you’re an Archie fan, you best bet is at one of those big chain bookstores that all the kids are talking about. You know, the sort of place that lets you get a cup of coffee, listen to CDs, select movies, buy gift cards for your mom and play around with that magnetic poetry stuff. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find some books there too.

When you go to these big chain bookstores, though, you’ll notice a phenomenon that, frankly, disturbs me. There will be, in most such stores, about a half-bookshelf dedicated to American graphic novels. You’ll have the requisite Spider-Man and X-Men books, and probably some Vertigo stuff like Sandman and Hellblazer. If the shop is particularly good, you may even find some Bone or Strangers in Paradise.

Then, right next to that half-shelf of American comics, you’ll find approximately sixteen shelves devoted to Manga. Entire series collected. Dozens of copies of each volume. Enough to keep the Manga fan in clover for months while the other readers cry for sustenance.

Now I want to make it clear that I don’t have anything against Manga – I’ve read some and I enjoy it. And I don’t fault the bookstores for stocking it – you’ve got to stock what sells. I’m just perturbed that the bookstore audience is so utterly skewed in this fashion, and I can’t quite figure out the reason why. Is it just because it’s the “hot thing” right now? Is it just a fad? Is it like when I was a kid and suddenly everybody in the universe was in love with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Or is it because this audience is finding something in the Japanese comics that they don’t get in American comics? It’s possible, I suppose, but again, I don’t quite get what that is. From the Manga that I have read, I haven’t seen things that are substantively different from what’s produced domestically. The stories are serialized, and often involve sci-fi or fantasy elements. The social morés, I suppose, are a bit different, but not to the point where it’s difficult to understand. I don’t think it’s even a backlash against superheroes, because so much of the Japanese product – everything from Sailor Moon to Pokémon to Robotech – shares many traits of the American superhero.

Then there’s one more thing I don’t understand. (Okay, there are a lot of things I don’t understand – for example, I don’t understand why we drive on parkways and park on driveways, but there’s only one other thing I don’t understand for purposes of this conversation.) If the focus is on something different, something you don’t get in American comics, why are there ten bookshelves full of Japanese comics and maybe five inches of shelf-space given to European comics?

And I don’t mean comics written by a British author for an American audience, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Punch. Having a British writer doesn’t qualify if the comic is originally intended for Americans. I mean, why is it the only comics made for a European audience ever to show up on a shelf are the rare Asterix or TinTin volume? Not that I have anything against either of those, but they’re not all that’s out there any more than superheroes are the only comics produced in America. (Or, for that matter, any more than Yu-Gi-Oh are the only comics produced in Japan.)

American audiences have been slower to embrace European comics, save for the odd 2000 A.D. imports. NBM, of course, has long been bringing European comics to the American market, but a lot of that has been of the… um… “less mainstream” variety (in that they involve certain situations that would never be allowed on basic cable, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more) and they’ve gained a reputation as being a house that prints mostly erotica, an image that they’re now combating with their highly Manga-influenced American-produced kid’s line, Papercutz.

DC, to their credit, is trying to change this with their new deal with Humanoids publishing to reproduce their stock of graphic novels here in America. I’m not sure how much this will help though. Except for the aforementioned Manga fans, who are proving to be reluctant to try anything new anyway, most regular comic book readers have a very fixed budget for their comic book reading. It has to be a pretty special project to get them to drop a large amount of cash on it – like a new Sandman graphic novel, or the JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice hardcover. The chances of getting a regular comic book reader to pay hardcover prices for an unknown (in America) property with unknown (in America) characters by unknown (in America) creators… that’s going to be a pretty steep hill to climb in a lot of cases.

Part of it comes down to personal preference. Even more so than with the Japanese product (at least what I’ve seen of it), I find that American and European expectations of entertainment are different. (And I’m going to use comedic examples here, but this applies to other genres too.) I’m a big fan of the works of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and of course the geniuses that comprised Monty Python. But I recognize that their brands of distinctively British humor are different and frequently drier than American comedy, which all too often feels the need to bang you over the head with the jokes.

I’m rehearsing a play right now called “The Butler Did it Again,” a murder mystery comedy, and the director keeps telling the actors to punch certain words in their lines, because that’s the word that sets up the next joke. And every time he does that I want to scream, “you’re killing the humor! The audience is smart enough to get the joke, don’t beat them in the face with it!”

Contrast this with a comedy like Shaun of the Dead, which I contend is the funniest movie I’ve seen in the past year. Possibly all millennium (which, I admit, is still young). So much of the comedy in that movie was subtle. Dry. Gags that are happening in the background or buried in the lines that the director and actors trusted the audience to pick up on. That’s British comedy at work.

Then again, that brand of comedy doesn’t necessarily translate very well to a comic book page. Last year John Cleese – one of those aforementioned Pythons, co-wrote an original Elseworlds graphic novel, Superman: True Brit, which was a dry British comedy that showed what Superman’s life may have been like if his space capsule had landed in the British countryside instead of in America’s breadbasket. As big a Superman fan as I am, I don’t know if I would have been willing to pay hardcover price for it if not for the fact that it was written by Cleese and I was outrageously curious as to how well he would do writing a comic book.

The answer, as it turned out, is that he frankly just did okay. It was a cute story, it was a fun story, but that dry wit that works so well for him on TV and in the movies didn’t come across as well while I was reading it. I very much felt like I was reading an illustrated screenplay. If I closed my eyes and imagined the jokes being delivered in the inimitable John Cleese fashion, they were very funny, but when they were just being read… well… not so much.

What is all boils down to, folks, is that we should all be out there making an effort to try some new things, to broaden our horizons, to see what else the world of comics has to offer. And we should be trying to get people outside of that world to peek inside and see what they like. I’m no different than anyone else, I’m guilty too. Heck, if it weren’t for Swedish and Norwegian Uncle Scrooge comics that have been translated into English and reprinted here, you could count the European comic book stories I’ve read on one hand.

Part of me thinks the solution would be to break the comics down into monthly magazines like American comics, but they weren’t written for that format and it may not work. And even if it did, it doesn’t conquer the problem of people being reluctant to try something new. Another idea would be to break them into logical chapters, which may not be right for a monthly comic, and print them in a digest anthology on a regular basis. That might make it easier to sample, but anthology comics just don’t sell anymore, not to American audiences at least – unless it’s an anthology of Manga.

There’s too much great product out there to ignore any one segment of it. I don’t really know what the solution to this problem is, I just wanted to get it out there. Maybe this is one of those times we can figure it all out together.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: March 9, 2005
It’s continually one of my favorite comics every month, and this month’s JSA #71 clawed its way to the top of the pile. Geoff Johns’ time travel story, with the Justice Society of the present meeting the Justice Society of the early 1950s, has been a real favorite of mine. I love the classic heroes, and seeing some of the ones that didn’t have the longevity of the Green Lantern and the Flash getting their moments in the sun is really a treat for me. With just one issue to go, I stand by what I said in the 2004 EBI awards – this is the best superhero comic on the market.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginnerand 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. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.comand visit him on the web atEvertime Realms.Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.
30
Aug
11

A wealth of ideas

The hard part of writing is writing. It’s the part where you actually sit down, stare at the blank page, and make something come out. For me, at least, the fun part is the initial part, where you churn out ideas. I set myself a task this week for my Everything But Imaginary column, something that snowballed into something much bigger than I intended it to be and turned out as an interesting assignment that made me generate a lot of ideas. Not stuff I can use, as it turns out, but it was a fun exercise nonetheless. And as Mur Lafferty would tell you, ideas are cheap.

But they are fun.

29
Aug
11

Counting down to the New 52…

Three months after the announcement was made, on Wednesday, everything changes. DC Comics is relaunching its entire line with 52 new #1 issues. And while I certainly won’t be getting all of them, I will be getting a lot. And I’m actually very excited for most of them. Still, questions persist… the history of the Flash(es), the connection to DC’s multiverse, whether Booster Gold will ever learn the truth about Rip Hunter’s parentage, where the Marvel family fits in, whether Steel ever armored up after the death of Superman, if Stephanie Brown ever was Robin or Batgirl, how Barbara Gordon is walking again, how the Martian Manhunter came to join Stormwatch, if Superboy was ever a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes… I could go on and on, and if you understood even half of those questions, you probably can too.

But the important thing is, I’m anxious to find out the answers. This week, even more than usual, I can’t wait for Wednesday.

28
Aug
11

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 234: A Day With the Dark Knight

Erin comes back this week to talk about her day as an extra on the set of The Dark Knight Rises! There’s no real spoilers here, but if you want to remain 100 percent pristine, you may want to skip ahead to the second half of the show — when Blake gets his nerd on and dissects the most gripping part of DC’s New 52… the logo redesigns! In the picks, Erin enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Blake doubles up with Avengers Academy #18 and Batgirl #24. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 234: A Day With the Dark Knight

27
Aug
11

The Doctor is In…

The second half of the sixth season of the second run of Doctor Who began tonight. In the first ten minutes or so, I went from irritated at the introduction of who I thought was the most irritating character in the last six years to totally thrilled at how cleverly the writers had fooled me. And by the end of the episode, I once more on the edge of my seat. Man, I love this show.

Without getting into any spoiler territory, this episode answered several outstanding questions about the series, featured a few nice callbacks to adventures of the previous Doctors, and helped firmly establish the truth about one of this series’ most interesting characters. We understand the true nature of the Doctor’s great enemy from this series a little bit better now, there were plenty of moments that were simply hysterical cutting right through the ones that could have been heart-rending.

All in an episode titled “Let’s Kill Hitler.”

Erin, I’m telling you, you gotta watch it.

26
Aug
11

Reading about Stories…

I’ve been on one of my rare nonfiction kicks lately in my personal reading. But as is often the case when I read nonfiction, I’m reading nonfiction about fiction. That’s how I roll. And very often, you can get an idea of what my current writing project is based on what I’m reading while I’m working on it. These are some books that have contributed — influentially if not directly — to my big Halloween Project:

Make of that what you will.
25
Aug
11

Phineas and Ferb: The Spin-off?

As you may have heard by now, I love Disney’s Phineas and Ferb. I think it’s the best cartoon to come on the air in a decade, if not more, and I eagerly await each new episode, which premiere far too infrequently for my taste.

Earlier today, I saw a post at Geek Tyrant that seems to indicate the show’s creators are indeed working on a big-screen Phineas and Ferb movie — not a surprise, it’s been rumored for a while. More interesting to me, though, is the notion that Disney may be in the hunt for a spin-off.

My.

Whenever a TV show creates a spin-off, you have to ask yourself which character(s) will be involved. And if the spin-off happens while the parent show is still on the air, how will it impact the series? For example, the most obvious character to get his own spin-off would be Perry the Platypus, the semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action. While it would be fun to see longer adventures with Perry and his best frenemy, Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, I don’t think I’d want to see that if it means they’d leave the core show. It’s too woven into the DNA of the show. Removing them from the series would be a terrible blow, and I don’t know if the resultant “new” series would be the same.

Would it be the second bananas? The Adventures of Buford and Baljeet? It sounds funny, sure, but could that particular odd couple sustain a show by themselves? The dynamic between them is funny, but if it was the main element of the show I could see it getting old quickly. What if they went with recurring characters instead of regulars? I could see a show about the rock band Love Händel. They’re on tour, travelling the world, having adventures… that could possibly work.

Or maybe it’ll be something totally new. I really don’t know. But I know that if Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh are in the steering wheel, I’ll at least give it a try. Let’s just all hope that if and when the P&F spin-off happens, it’s more Frasier than The Tortellis, more Laverne and Shirley than Joanie Loves Chachi, more Pinky and the Brain than The Cleveland Show.

Yes, I know The Cleveland Show doesn’t have the same parent as Pinky and the Brain. It just sucks.

24
Aug
11

Classic EBI #105: Getting in on the Ground Floor

With next week’s historical realignment of the DC Universe, I thought today would be an appropriate time to look back at the DCU that was and give a proper send-off to those books, characters, and creators that I’ve enjoyed in recent years that I think deserve a fond farewell.

Everything But Imaginary #412: The Old DC Farewell Party

Going back in time, though, we look at my column from March 9, 2005. This week, I talked about how hard it can be to get into long-running series, and made my recommendation for a book I thought could be the Next Big Thing. I still think it’s a great book, and it lives on as a webcomic…

Everything But Imaginary #105: Getting in on the Ground Floor

In theory, a new reader should be able to jump into a long-running, iconic series at just about any time and get into the action. This isn’t true in practice, of course, but let’s talk about the theory for a moment. In theory, Spider-Man comics should be perfectly accessible to people who just start reading because they love the movie. In theory, people who want to try Fantastic Four should be able to hop on to that title as soon as the new writer takes over. And in theory, if you’re one of the three people on Earth who doesn’t know Batman’s origin, just stick around, because it seems to get recapped every other month anyway.

The reason for this is that these characters have been around for decades and have become part of the constantly-expanding mythology of comic books. Amazing Spider-Man does not tell one complete story, it tells hundreds of stories in short installments that have been added to by hundreds of writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists, letterers and editors over the years. So if you missed the beginning of the current story, or if you don’t like it, all you’ve got to do is wait around for the next one to start.

This is not true of all comics, however. In the last few decades, there has been an increasing focus on comics that tell one, extended story, usually the product of a single cartoonist or a single writer collaborating with multiple artists. A comic book series with a beginning, a middle and an end — as opposed to comics like Superman, where you know you’re in a state of perpetual middle.

Now because these single-story series can almost never involve an iconic character, and often are done by a creator who is relatively unknown as the series begins, the titles that fit into this category quite often start off small, with a handful of readers who spread the word. The book gains critical acclaim, rolls on, and eventually may be known of as a classic. But only those handful of people who were there at the beginning got the story the way it was intended. Others scrambled for the trade paperbacks or scoured the back issue bins, or sometimes just jumped in the middle. It’s impossible to predict which of these series will take off, so the speculation doesn’t really work.

Perhaps the best known example of this kind of comic is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Gaiman, at the time, was a little-known writer with a handful of credits to his name who pitched a series about the Jack Kirby incarnation of the Sandman, the one who lived in a sort of space station and monitored people’s dreams. DC liked the idea but, alas, that Sandman was already in use in the title Infinity, Inc., so they asked him to create a new character.

Fast-forward 75 issues and you have one of the most acclaimed comic book series of all time, about the King of the Dreams, his undying siblings, the power of story and imagination and everything else. It’s regarded as a classic. It’s the only comic ever to win a World Fantasy Award. And most importantly (for purposes of this discussion), it’s a book that DC let Gaiman end when his story was done.

Dave Sim’s Cerebus took this form of storytelling to the extreme, setting out to do a 300-issue series that would chronicle the entire life of his aardvark hero, and he succeeded. He riled up a lot of people, got a lot of people mad, but he told a tale that, like it or not, is unparalleled in scope in comic book history.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get in on that ground floor. A few years ago, thumbing through the Previews catalogue, I noticed a new series in the works from the Vertigo imprint about fairy tale characters living in the modern world. The premise intrigued me and the writer, Bill Willingham, was somebody I’d grown to respect for his work on various Sandman Presents projects. So I put Fables in my pull folder, reasoning I could just ditch it after the first story arc if I didn’t like it. Oh, but I liked it. It’s now my favorite comic every single month, and when I listen to people talk about how great it is and other people ask when they can start reading it, I just smile because I lucked out enough to get into it from the very beginning.

My favorite example of this kind of story, though, has to be Jeff Smith’s Bone. This was one where I was lucky enough to get in relatively early, with issue #13. I picked up the trade paperbacks of the first 12 issues and I was set to follow the Bone cousins for about the next ten years in their adventures through the valley, against the stupid, stupid rat creatures and the Lord of the Locusts and unravelling the mysteries surrounding Thorn Harvestar.

When this remarkable series finally reached its conclusion last year, I told as many people as would listen to pick the thing up, to get the trade paperbacks or the color reprints or the big mama-jama one-volume edition.

But last weekend it occurred to me, as much as promoting Bone is a good thing, perhaps it would also behoove me to try to find that next big thing, that new comic that nobody knows about yet but is rife with potential, and tell people about it while they still have time to get in on the ground floor.

That thought came to me because I was reading that next comic nobody knows about yet. And it’s Runners by Sean Wang.

Published by Serve Man Press, the first Runners miniseries, Bad Goods recently concluded its five-issue run with the promise of more to come. The basic premise of this miniseries is that a group of outer-space runners — a crew that transports cargo from one planet to another — discovers a mysterious blue woman that they suspect may have come from the vats they’re transporting, meaning someone is using them in a slave ring. Despite that kind of heavy premise, the comic is really a rip-roaring, old-fashioned sci-fi adventure, with plenty of lighthearted moments, wonderful artwork that’s just begging to be made into an animated movie, and some of the coolest alien designs I’ve seen in a very, very long time.

While I was reading those first five issues, though, I felt like there was something deeper here. It read as though Sean Wang has serious plans for this title, and he was just sort of easing us in on the lighthearted stuff before launching into the full-on space opera that this title has the potential to become. I haven’t felt that way about a comic in a long time.

Not, in fact, since those early issues of Bone where we had a goofy cow race disguising the fact that the valley was about to be plunged into war.

Yeah. I think it could be that good.

So I’ve got to thank Sean Wang for passing the first four comics into Ronée’s capable hands, I’ve gotta thank Ronée for letting me read them, and I’ve got to thank the manager of BSI Comics for going to great lengths to snag a copy of the final issue for me. Otherwise, I may never have known about this comic.

And I may never have had the chance to tell you to try it out. The first five issue miniseries is available at the www.SeanWang.com, and a trade paperback is in the works… and Wang promises that the story will continue. I can’t wait.

So how about an assignment, folks? Kind of like with my “best comics I’ve never read” columns, I want you guys to suggest some of the best new comics out there, ones you think nobody knows about yet but that you want people to try because you see real potential. A miniseries can qualify if it’s the sort of thing that’ll be a series of miniseries, or it can be an ongoing, but let’s say anything less than 12 issues into the run. Anything beyond that and it’s not really the ground floor anymore, is it?

And check out Runners: Bad Goods! It’s worth the hunt.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: March 2, 2005

From the ground floor to the skyscraper, last week’s favorite is kind of the opposite of what we talked about this week, the final issue of a comic that told one story from beginning to end. Although the title was hurt by a forced hiatus to deal with some legal matters, Rising Stars #24 ended J. Michael Straczynski’s epic in real style. The story is resolved, questions are answered, and things all really come full-circle. In typical Straczynski style, this final issue was really more of an epilogue than the actual finale, but it did give us something I never thought we’d get — the truth about the flash that gave the Specials their powers. And it was a simple, beautiful explanation. Now that this series is over, now that people can read the whole thing, I feel confidant that this will make its way alongside the acknowledged masterpieces of the superhero genre.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginnerand 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. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.comand visit him on the web at Evertime Realms.Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.

23
Aug
11

The Evercast: A Practical Question

I’ve got something to talk to you folks about, something I’ve been turning over in my brain for some time now. I kicked off my Evercast podcast in 2009 with the full intention of making it a regular series where I’d release fiction projects of all sorts in audio form. And while I definitely believe in that, the last several months (which — you may notice — have gone by without an Evercast episode) have taught me that it may not necessarily practical for me to do that on any kind of a regular basis. I’ve got an enormous amount of things to work on in every other aspect of life — from my job, my theater group, my family, my duties as a “Geek Pundit” for CX… to say nothing of completing the actual writing the Evercast was supposed to feature in the first place.

As I look at other writers who podcast, I notice that few of them do it with the frequency I hoped for with the Evercast. Most of them do it in spurts, then revert to other projects (often other kinds of podcats) before returning months or even years later with the next fiction podcast. Only Scott Sigler seems able to do it week after week, 52 times a year, and he’s a bloody madman. (So is Grant Morrison, of course, which makes me wonder if the biggest obstacle to creative success is my thick, wavy head of hair. But I digress.) And even Sigler has two other shows on his feed. (Both related to his fiction, true, but still.)

I don’t want to throw out the Evercast. It’s a fun and useful way to put stuff out there on those rare occasions I’ve got something worth putting out. But it seems silly to me to continue to support a second full-time podcast feed that only gets used a few months out of the year.

So here’s my thought: why not put the Evercast episodes — when they come out — on my existing 2 in 1 Showcase feed? I’ve usually got enough extra space each month that I could fit it in easily, and for those of you who download either show directly either here or at CX Pulp or Facebook by clicking the posted link, you won’t notice any difference at all. The only people who would notice would be those people who subscribe to the shows via iTunes or another podcatcher, and I strongly suspect that the majority of the Evercast audience is already comprise of Showcase listeners (although the reverse does not necessarily hold true).

I’m not putting this up for a vote or anything — my podcast feed isn’t a democracy — but I would like your input. If a lot of people are violently opposed to this for some reason, I may reconsider. But if the strongest negative reaction is more along the lines of “whatever,” you may hear the next strains of the Evercast theme through the Showcase feed.

22
Aug
11

A D23 Comment-In Defense of Marvel

Here’s something you don’t hear from me often: a defense of Marvel Comics. This weekend, the Walt Disney company held their second biennial D23 expo, an enormous convention and promotional event about all things Disney. And since D23 only happens every other year, this is the first time Marvel Comics has been a part of the Disney empire for the party. There were two Marvel-centric events: a panel about the upcoming Avengers film, and a discussion with Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada, where he talked about the history of Marvel Comics and the current direction of the publisher. Since then, I’ve heard some rather harsh criticism of the presentation from some of my fellow geeks. People — Marvel fans who went to the expo specifically for the Quesada panel — have said that he didn’t divulge enough information about Marvel’s future plans, their new plans for publishing Disney Comics, upcoming movie projects, and so forth. And I read a recap of the panel and thought about the comments. And I’ve got to say this: to my fellow geeks…

That panel wasn’t for you.

D23 isn’t the San Diego Comicon. It’s not Wizard World or Hero’s World or even Dragon*Con. D23 is an event specifically for fans of Disney.

And yes, Marvel is now part of that family, but it’s a big family. A damn big family, and there isn’t necessarily that much overlap between fans of Winnie-the-Pooh and Deadpool. Quesada wasn’t there to do a comic convention Q&A, he was there to explain to Disney fans how Marvel Comics fits in with its new home. And for the most part, I can’t complain about anything he said or how he said it. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t there, but assuming the very detailed Newsarama recap I read was accurate, he did everything just fine.) Yes, Marvel is a comic book publisher, and I’m sure that when he next appears at a Wizard World or one of those other cons I mentioned it’ll be business as usual. But when he’s there to be a part of Disney, it’s a different story, and it has to be.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.




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