Posts Tagged ‘The Simpsons

18
Mar
12

Why writing stinks

I hate writing.

This confession will be astonishing to most people, as the sole overriding desire of my entire life, the one constant from about the time I was ten years old until today, is a burning desire to be a writer. This, of course, requires me to write. But as anybody who has ever tried to do it will tell you, writing isn’t easy. Many people (who have never written a complete paragraph and think it’s perfectly acceptable to use “U” when you mean “YOU”) assume that it’s a terribly simple process that any Tom, Dick, or Harriet could accomplish if only they had the time in their ever-so-busy schedules to sit down and do it, because really, you’re just making stuff up. How hard could that be?

The truth is, when someone says they want to be “a writer,” what we really mean is we want to have written something. Because that’s a great feeling. Looking down at a story that feels complete, that feels finished, that draws a little praise and (if you’re extremely lucky) a little money is a feeling that doesn’t compare to anything else I’ve ever experienced. And the act of coming up with an idea, similarly, is wonderful. When a good one hits you like a bolt from the blue, or when a thought that’s been mucking about in your head for a long time finally breaks free and takes a life of its own, it comes with an intense feeling of power. You’ve become a creator of worlds, and that’s awesome.

Everything in between those two stages sucks the big one.

Those moments when you stare at the blank page, trying to figure out where to go next (or even worse, where to go first). You don’t know this story well enough, you don’t know these characters, you don’t know this place. You’re not black/a woman/short/Methodist/a six-tentacled alien from Grimbullax XII… how can you possibly get across in your writing of what it’s like to be any of those people? You’re conjuring it all up and it’s all horribly inauthentic and nobody will ever want to read it and you wish you could just lie down behind the sofa and die before anybody calls you out on it.

Then there are those times when you begin to realize you’re a worthless hack. Okay, this sounds pretty good, but didn’t they do that same joke on an episode of Seinfeld once? This concept is brilliant, but c’mon, Isaac Asimov must have written virtually the same thing. These are the times when you’re certain, at any moment, the Literature Police are going to break down your door with a battering ram and someone will point at you and scream, “HIM! THAT’S HIM! EVERYTHING HE’S EVER WRITTEN WAS ALREADY DONE BY SHAKESPEARE AND EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS AND J.R.R. TOLKIEN AND THE SIMPSONS! GET HIM!” And you will calmly hold up your wrists and allow them to cart you away.

These feelings are awful, most of all, because you know on some level that they’re justified. Every creator in the world is influenced by their experiences — either by what they’ve lived through, which makes you question how you can convey the feeling of being marooned on a desert island since you’ve never done it yourself for any extended period of time, or what media they have consumed, which means that every book you have ever read and every movie you have ever watched is in your subconscious somewhere, and it may well crawl out onto the page without you even realizing it.

Several years ago, a friend of mine read an early draft of a story that eventually turned into Lost in Silver. Upon finishing, she asked me if I’d been reading a lot of C.S. Lewis lately. I had no idea what she was talking about, until she directed me to the penultimate book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew, where Lewis described a “Woods Between Worlds” that sounded a hell of a lot like my description of Evertime. Not having read that book in about 15 years at that point, I rushed out and found a copy, read it, and immediately began bashing my head against the wall. Clearly, although virtually everything else about the story had leaked through my brain like a sieve, the Woods stayed there and, lacking context, my brain started to adapt it to the story I was trying to tell. T.S. Eliot once said that “mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal.” Eliot forgot to mention that theft is sometimes like robbing a bank in your sleep, waking up surrounded by piles of money, and deciding you must have won the lottery.

Ultimately, I kept most of that original Evertime concept, after doing what writers have been doing ever since there was a second one: I rationalized the hell out of it. It was, after all, only a small part of the grand Narnia mythos, while it was a vital part of the story I was trying to tell. And I couldn’t come up with a way to accomplish the same thing that I liked nearly as much. And it wasn’t exactly the same, it was my take on the idea. And part of the main theme of the Evertime stories is that there are enough worlds in creation for everything ever imagined to co-exist, so naturally there will be elements that seem derivative of classic creations. And they’re never going to get around to making that book into a movie anyway.

All writers do this. We have to. Because when the brain creates it needs building blocks, and it gets those blocks from every bit of information you’ve ever fed into it. Every writer is influenced by every other writer whose work they have ever experienced. And this is true whether you’re blatantly copying somebody else by moving Kevin Costner to another planet and turning the Indians blue or whether you’re intentionally throwing away every element that made vampires threatening, entertaining, or interesting to read about and replacing all that with sparkle paint. In both cases — and in every case in between — you’re still reacting to an earlier work. It’s impossible to escape.

So the hard thing about writing, you see, is trying to think of something to say that hasn’t been said before. And when you realize that’s impossible, trying to think of a way to say it that hasn’t been done.

It’s just not easy.

But if you honestly want to be a writer, you eventually shove all that crap out of your brain, sit down in front of the computer, and start hitting keys until you’ve got something that may be worth showing to someone.

Which, if you’ll excuse me, is really what I should be doing right now.

30
Mar
11

Classic EBI #83: Spoiler Space

The world is full of comic book nerds, especially in Hollywood… but why don’t we see a lot of original superhero characters outside of comics? Can superheroes only thrive in one medium?

Everything But Imaginary #392: Medium Defiance

And in this week’s classic EBI, let’s look back at Oct. 6, 2004, when I thought about all the spoilers that were invading the internet… and I… struck… back…

Classic EBI #83: Spoiler Space

Now that we’ve all had a chance to read Detective Comics #799, wow, what a shocker, huh? I never suspected that Robin’s father, Jack Drake, would be killed by the Joker and a hermaphroditic gerbil on PCP. Talk about a shocker!

What? Oh, you mean you guys haven’t read it yet? You mean it won’t even be available to purchase for several more hours? Oh, gosh, I feel terrible now. Wow, it’s a good thing that everything I said there was complete and total rubbish, isn’t it? But now that I’ve got your attention, this would be a good time to talk about spoilers.

A “spoiler,” of course, is any piece of information regarding the plot of a story that you didn’t know yet, in essence, “spoiling” it for you. The term “spoiler” was coined because “ruiner” sounds funky. And before we go on much further, in case you didn’t get it, I was lying in the first paragraph. Being the kind, benevolent, dashing, callipygian, modest columnist-type-person that I am, I would never actually tell you what happened in Detective Comics #799 because that would spoil it for you. Also because some of you may know where I live.

For as long as there has been fiction, there have been spoilers. If you go back to the 1500s you can find scrolls written by people talking about that startling new play wherein, at the end, SPOILERS AHEAD! Romeo and Juliet both kill themselves. But since the invention of the Internet, spoilers have become a much bigger problem because now people have the ability to opine from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world as fast as the information can be processed in their brains. Or, more frequently, their mouths, since often people on the Internet have found ways to bypass their brains altogether.

This problem, of course, is not exclusive to comic books. Websites like Ain’t It Cool News make their name by giving out juicy spoilers for movies far in advance (and conveniently forgetting about it when the spoiler turns out not to be true), but at least they have the courtesy to stamp a big warning label before the spoiler appears. This, unfortunately, will not stop idiots from e-mailing it to you or blabbing it in a chatroom, but in this day and age, that’s the price you pay for daring to get out of bed in the morning.

You can also spoil books – I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and frequently visit a message board devoted to such. When the advance review copies of the last book in that well-loved series began to circulate a month or so ago, there was a massive storm on that board between the people who were hurling spoilers around right and left and the people who didn’t want to know. One jerk actually went so far as to post the entire plot of the book in the middle of a thread where people were congratulating the administrator for pulling the plug on spoilers. Another popped into a chatroom and spouted out the ending to people who hadn’t read it yet. And this is for the end of a series that some people have been reading for 22 years. There is a word for people who do that sort of thing. However, I will not tell you what that word is since the CXPulp.com filter would most likely block it out anyway. (HINT: it ends in “weed”.)

Now some people don’t mind spoilers. Some people are perfectly happy knowing that SPOILERS AHEAD! “Rosebud” was the name of his sled before the movie even starts. And if that’s your thing, hey, that’s fine. But there are an awful lot of us out there, myself included, who prefer not to know the ending. You’re the kids who always snuck into your parents’ closet looking for Christmas presents, whereas we’re the kids who just looked at the 18-inch box under the tree and hoped against hope that a puppy could fit in there somehow. If you want to discuss spoilers, you’ve got every right to, but you should also have the respect and courtesy to keep them amongst yourselves and not go blabbing that you find out in Amazing Spider-Man #512 that SPOILERS AHEAD! Norman Osborne is the father of Gwen Stacy’s children to anyone who hasn’t heard it yet.

Just last week a thread appeared here which started with the phrase “Well, now that we’ve all read Superman/Batman #12…” and proceeded to give away the entire plot. The trouble with this thread was, not all of us had read Superman/Batman #12 yet. This appeared on Friday. The book came out Wednesday. Not everyone gets their comic books the day of release – or even the same week – and you can’t just assume that they have. If I hadn’t finished reading the book about five minutes before, I may have had to go to the guy’s house and hit him with a frozen halibut.

Even worse was an incident a few weeks ago in the forum of our own Chris Sotomayor. Soto, one of the best colorists in the biz (and I say that out of genuine admiration, not just because he hosts a forum here), was discussing his upcoming work on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Book of the Dead. Fans were speculating as to who would appear in that book, since the current Avengers Disassembled storyline was resulting in many casualties. Then someone appeared in the thread and asked Soto if he could post some pictures since, by now, we all knew that SPOILERS AHEAD! Hawkeye was the character who died in the much-touted Avengers #502.

The problem with this? He posted this message nearly a week before Avengers #502 even went on sale!

Oh, I was ticked.

Now to his credit, he’d tried to do something, at least. He changed the font color to white. Unfortunately, since the background text on the site is various shades of gray, that was worse than useless and the book was seriously spoiled for me. And it didn’t help that everybody else was talking about the death like it was common knowledge soon afterwards.

The obvious question to ask here is, how long is information considered a spoiler? Technically, I’d say any time before you, personally (or to be more specific, I personally) have read the comic. But that gets a little ridiculous. I mean, just because someone has never read Avengers #4 doesn’t mean they don’t already know SPOILERS AHEAD! they found Captain America frozen alive in a block of ice, thawed him out, made him a member of the team and he served proudly for at least 500 issues.

So how long is a reasonable amount of time to consider something a spoiler? When do you have to stop putting information like SPOILERS AHEAD! the boat sinks and Leo drowns in those little gray text boxes we use to shield the masses? I know some fans would prefer something remain a spoiler until the trade paperback comes out – this specifically applies to those fans who wait for the trade paperback. But I don’t think that’s always necessary. If you’re writing in a thread about Identity Crisis #3, you can reasonably assume people have read Identity Crisis #2 and know that SPOILERS AHEAD! Dr. Light raped Sue Dibney already.

Rather than cruising on a set period of time, I think it’s fair and logical to assume something is a spoiler until the next issue of that title comes out, whenever that happens to be. When Birds of Prey went biweekly, by the time #74 came out it should have been acceptable to reference how, in #73, SPOILERS AHEAD! Oracle defeated Brainiac.

And if that means you’ve got to talk about NYX #5 in spoiler blocks for the next six years or so before #6 comes out, so be it.

Some people don’t mind spoilers. Some people even like ‘em. And those people have plenty of opportunity to talk about them. But if you’ve got spoiler info, make sure you present it as such for a reasonable length of time. Otherwise, you’ll be like Homer Simpson walking out of The Empire Strikes Back and saying, SPOILERS AHEAD! “Wow, who would have thought Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father?”. This would, by extension, make the rest of us the people standing in line outside the theatre who wanted to kill him for saying it, and since very few of us have yellow skin, four fingers and an overbite, it’s not a fair analogy.

Like so many problems in the world of comics (and the rest of the world too, when you get right down to it), you can solve this one if you just apply a little common sense. Try it sometime. You might even like it.

Favorite of the Week: September 29, 2004

It’s a darn good thing that I had read Superman/Batman #12 before I read the spoiler, because this was a fantastic issue. (And considering how long it took to come out, it better have been.) Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Barda have stormed Apokalips, hoping to rescue Kara from the clutches of Darkseid… but what if she doesn’t want to be rescued? There’s plenty of action this issue, and then just when things seem to have settled down, Jeph Loeb hits you in the gut with a knockout punch, a real shocker. Granted, it’s the sort of shocker that you’re certain will be resolved in one of two ways, but it’s a shocker nonetheless. Now let’s all just hope Michael Turner manages to turn out issue #13 before Kara is old enough to have grandchildren.

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 BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.

16
Feb
11

Classic EBI #77: Days of Bile and Venom

It’s that time again, friends. In this week’s Everything But Imaginary, I take the time to discuss a miraculous event in my classroom and how it ties into the world of comics through Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

No. Really.

Everything But Imaginary #387: For Once, the Witch Hunt Works Out

But in this week’s classic EBI, we’re going back to August 25, 2004, when I got fed up with the juvenile behavior certain fans displayed over the internet and took them to task for it. As the internet is down the pinnacle of class and civility, I was clearly successful.

Everything But Imaginary #77: Days of Bile and Venom

I try not to rant too much in this column, friends. I try to keep my comments constructive. I try to shed light on the good things about comics, because I think ultimately the way to help comic books become a more popular artform is to convince people who don’t read them of all the incredible things comic books are capable of.

But I can’t do that right now. Right now I’ve got to address one of the problems, one of the biggest problems in terms of perception, one that’s been gnawing at me for some time now and that I really can’t keep to myself anymore. I’m talking about some of the bitter, nasty, venomous attitudes a lot of comic book fans — and even a few professionals — seem to have when discussing our favorite medium.

It seems there are an awful lot of people out there — especially since the internet made it so easy to talk to people — who are simply incapable of having a civil discourse with one another. Sometimes they hate a character. Sometimes they hate an idea. Sometimes they hate a creator. Sometimes they just love another character/idea/creator so much that if someone proposes something that contradicts it, they lash out. Whatever the reasons, I don’t care. It’s got to stop.

First there’s the character issue — everybody has their own favorite characters. Everybody has characters they don’t like. That’s just fine. But discuss it in a rational way. I’m sick and tired of people saying “Captain America is so stupid. I hate him.” “Superman is too perfect. I hate him.” “Kyle Rayner is such a n00b. I wish he would die.” (You know what I hate? The “word” n00b and all derivations thereof.)

If you want to talk about what’s wrong with a character, what stories you don’t like, what aspects of that character don’t work for you — fine. But back it up. Don’t just start namecalling and then sit back and order martinis as though you’ve just given an argument that would win the Lincoln-Douglas debates and you need to relax.

The character debate is asinine anyway, since I don’t really believe there are any characters so fundamentally flawed that you can’t tell good stories with him or her if you have a good enough writer. Case in point: Speedball. A second-string Spider-Man guest star whose only power was that he could bounce. Whooptie-freakin’-doo. Then Fabian Nicieza decided to put him in New Warriors and you know what? He got a personality. He got his powers more fully developed. He got interesting. If it can be done for Speedball, it can be done for anyone.

Then there are the fans who are so obsessive about certain characters that they refuse to accept anything they deem to be critical and instead rail against someone who is trying to have a rational discussion. Magneto is a good example here. A complex character, a hotly debated character, and a good villain when used properly. And it’s okay to like him as a villain. But when people start trying to justify a character’s genocidal actions and paint him as some sort of misunderstood hero, and furthermore ignore any arguments or evidence to the contrary and stoop to denigrating the people who are supporting a different position, that’s when it has gone entirely too far.

Also a source of frustration to me is when people pull a passive aggressive maneuver. What makes this particularly irritating is that, when done well, someone can be utterly infantile in a passive aggressive fashion, but if you try to call them on it you are the one who looks childish. Take the tendency of certain fans to insist on referring to Billy Batson, the original Captain Marvel, as Shazam (which is actually the name of the wizard who gave him his powers and use name is usually used as the title of the comic these days). When I asked one person about this, he proudly announced that Marvel Comics’ character with the same name, Genis-Vell had taken the title away from the original forever. So quite simply, this person had managed to say that a beloved character that has been around longer than he’s been alive is inferior and not worthy of the name he originated, and imply just a little that anyone who disagreed was stupid. And yet if someone tried to point this out to him, all he’d have to do is invite the person to “chill” and then the other person would suddenly look foolish.

As bad as it is when people lash out at a character they don’t like, it’s far worse when they lash out at an artist. (And by “artist” I mean anyone involved in the creative process — writer, penciler, colorist, even actor if the discussion comes to movies or TV shows.) CX Pulp, for its part, is much better about policing this sort of venomous behavior than other comic book websites I could name, but even here some attitudes go too far.

There seems to be a lot of heat right now over John Byrne’s reinterpretation of Doom Patrol. Sometimes the argument is that the dialogue is bad. Sometimes they don’t like the characters. Sometimes they don’t like that the book has rebooted the franchise, essentially nullifying previous stories from continuity. These, again, are valid points of discussion.

Other times the only argument people seem to have is that it’s not Grant Morrison and therefore, by definition, is an inferior, and that’s not a valid point. And when I tried to convince people to cool down, saying “I DO get really tired of people calling for John Byrne’s head,” I was utterly shocked by one of the responses. Someone whose posts I read frequently, someone whose opinion I usually value, replied, “He can keep his head. I just want his hands so he will stop trying to write comics.”

Oh sure. He put a little smiley face at the end. He meant it as a joke. But it’s not a funny one. Not to me. The guy who said this is better than that, and he knows it.

Then there are the personal assaults against an actor or actress when a comic book film is in the works. One person says he doesn’t like the choice for Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four movie, and someone else replies that she’s better than “that trailer trash Kirsten Dunst.” Dunst, from the Spider-Man movies, has absolutely nothing to do with this conversation, but was apparently injected into the topic just so the poster in question could make himself feel big by slamming someone who isn’t around to speak up in her defense.

Then there are those instances where someone manages to insult both a creator and a fan. On another message board that I read from time to time, I saw one fan say he liked Olivier Coipel’s artwork and was excited he will be doing an upcoming run on Uncanny X-Men. Now if you happen to disagree with this, there are a number of rational responses. “I’m not really a fan of Coipel” would be acceptable. So would “I prefer Alan Davis.” Even “his recent work on Avengers wasn’t up to speed.”

But the actual response was “I believe that all diseases, including this one, can be treated.” Very clever. In one post, this guy managed to insult Coipel’s artwork (which I, for the record, think is pretty good), and state that anyone who likes it is a sick individual. Classy, isn’t it?

And finally, we come down to the personal attacks against someone who doesn’t like a title. A few weeks ago our own Craig Reade came under fire for remarks he made about Peter David’s Fallen Angel title. Craig merely meant he was surprised that the book hadn’t been cancelled, but due to some poor wording, fans of the title took it to mean he was calling for it to be cancelled, and they swarmed on him en masse. Even David himself joined in the debate. Craig, to his credit, went out and read the first several issues of the comic, even devoted a Still on the Shelf column to it, but since his conclusion was that he just didn’t care for the title, people started screaming that he “didn’t get it.”

This infuriates me. I get this almost every month when I review Lucifer in the DC Comics advance reviews. I’m not a fan of the title, and I explain why I’m not a fan of the title – it would be an unfair review if I didn’t explain what I think the problems are. Some can accept my opinion, even if they don’t agree, and I have no quarrel with them. But others conclude that anyone who doesn’t like their favorite book just isn’t smart enough to understand it, and they don’t mind telling you as much. I get it with Lucifer. Craig gets it with Fallen Angel.

So I tried to step to his defense — I said I’d read the first several issues (six, in fact), because I am a fan of Peter David’s work, but this title simply didn’t interest me. David, to my surprise, actually replied with a challenge — read issue #14 and if I didn’t like it, I could send the issue to him and he’d refund my money. I respected that enough to get the book and give it another shot.

And you know what? I still didn’t like it.

The issue consisted mainly of the various characters in the series parading past the lead and updating her on their lives or situations, concluding with a twist. None of that changed the central problem I had with the title, though, which is that I still didn’t connect with or care about any of the characters. Although the offer was made, I don’t think I will try to send the book to David, because I don’t think he owes me anything. All a comic book creator owes any reader is the story he puts on the page, and the buyer beware. Nobody made me read the issue, I chose to. And for those of you who do enjoy the title, that’s perfectly fine with me, and I hope you get to continue to enjoy it for a long time to come.

But now that I’ve said this, I’ve no doubt that somewhere, on some message board, someone will be buzzing that I’m just not smart enough to get it, because that’s what a lot of these anonymous internet trolls do. They hide behind manufactured identities without the guts to use their real name and spit at anyone who dares disagree with them.

Are you mad yet? I kind of hope so, because if you are, that probably means you’ve been guilty of what I’m talking about at some point or another. All of us have. I know I have — I’m not exempt. But I’m riled up now, friends. I don’t want to tolerate this sort of thing anymore. When I see this nonsense I’m going to call people on it, and I hope they do the same to me if I ever cross the line.

And here’s why — I know I’ve given a lot of examples here, but I haven’t explained why it infuriates me so much, and that’s the most important part. It’s because of Comic Book Guy.

You know the character from The Simpsons, the fat, balding loser who runs the comic book store. He’s a funny character, but he perpetuates a stereotype that cripples comic books. Whenever anyone starts any of the crap I’ve mentioned in this thread, I hear Comic Book Guy’s voice in my mind intoning “Worst issue ever.” A lot of people who don’t read comic books honestly do believe that all retailers, fans and creators are like that guy. And when you start spewing nastiness, all you’re doing is reinforcing that idea.

So go ahead and talk about comics. Critique them. Debate them. And for Heaven’s sake — disagree.

But be an adult about it, because no matter how much you complain about comic books being looked down upon as a children’s medium, that is never going to change unless we all grow up.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: August 18 2004

This week’s favorite was a sure thing. Bill Willingham has been doing great stuff with Robin for nearly a year now, but issue #129 was possibly his best yet. Tim Drake has quit, is Robin no more, but when the mob war that’s tearing apart Gotham City comes into his high school, he’s got to remember what it meant to be a hero. This one issue does more to define Tim’s character than some writers can accomplish in years. It’s the best Batman family book on the racks right now, and if you’re skipping it due to the “War Games” crossover, you’re cheating yourself.

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 BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.

13
Oct
10

Classic EBI# 135: Halloween Happenings

In this week’s Everything But Imaginary, I take a look at the recent announcement that DC and Marvel Comics, finally deciding they’ve got enough of my money, are going to be lowering the prices of many of their comics in the coming months. And may I say: wah-hoo.

Everything But Imaginary #370: Another Price Point

But in this week’s Classic EBI, we’re going back to Oct. 26, 2005, a time when I (and all of the Gulf Coast) were still suffering from the recent shock of Hurricane Katrina, and we needed a little Halloween to get our minds off it. This is also the reason, by the way, that you’ll find no “favorite of the week” in this column. At the time, I had no shop from which to get my comics weekly, and thus couldn’t make regular picks…

Everything But Imaginary #135: Halloween Happenings

Well gang, here it is, October 26, just five scant days before Halloween. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that Halloween is one of my three favorite times of the year (the other two times being Thanksgiving and Christmas – January through September are basically just the months I have to slag through to get to the good stuff), and I enjoy it for many reasons: the opportunity to dress up as some outlandish character, the chance to embrace my dark side even just for a little while, and of course, the fact that you can eat enough candy to choke a camel and nobody looks at you funny.

Another major reason I like Halloween (and Thanksgiving and Christmas) is the surfeit of holiday-themed storytelling you get this time of year. In the case of Halloween, it’s scary stories, monster movies and cartoons about kids waiting up all night in a pumpkin patch hoping to see an enormous gourd that never quite materializes. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but if I brought it up I’m liable to invite a whole plethora of armchair analysis, so I think I’ll leave that alone.

As comic book geeks, of course, we don’t just look to the television or the silver screen for our holiday offerings. We look to comic books as well. In past years, we’ve had lots of comics to choose from. This year, not so many. I’ve only come across three specifically Halloween-themed comics so far this year. Would you like a rundown? Heck, I knew you would.

First and foremost, we’ve got to mention the Donald Duck Halloween Ashcan from Gemstone Comics. This was a stroke of brilliance on Gemstone Comics’ part – a comic book, a trick-or-treat giveaway, a promotional item. Sold in bundles of 25 copies for a really cheap price, this comic reprints “Hobblin’ Goblins” by the immortal Carl Barks, and is intended to be given away on Halloween night to trick-or-treaters. Personally, I want this to be a huge thing. I love Gemstone comics and getting them into the hands of their core audience – kids – is a great thing. We all trick-or-treated as kids. The point of the night, admittedly, was to get as much candy as humanly possible. But we always thought it was cool if we got one or two little trinkets that had a little more permanence – toys, trading cards or comics.

The Donald Duck ashcan, of course, isn’t the first comic ever printed as a Halloween goodie. In the late 80s, Marvel comics put out a set of ashcans reprinting issues of Captain America, Spider-Man and Heathcliff (part of their STAR Comics line for younger readers). These comics enjoyed a pretty healthy life and were circulated for several years. I, of course, got them all. Comic books make a great giveaway, although they’re far too expensive to give out in their full-sized editions. Kind of like Snickers bars. So I’m really glad to see Gemstone putting out this special. I hope some of the kids lucky enough to get it in their treat bags will look for more of their titles.

Next up is Bongo’s annual offering, Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror. This year we get issue #11, which begs the question, what’s harder to believe? That the Simpsons TV show is in its seventeenth season, or that the Simpsons comics have been around for over a decade?

Just as each year’s Treehouse of Horror TV episode is an anthology of cartoons (usually spoofing popular horror movies and the like), the Treehouse comic is an anthology of Halloween stories, typically done by the biggest name comic creators (or other celebrities) they can get. In the past, Treehouse has featured the works of Chuck Dixon, Gail Simone, Sergio Aragones, Gene Simmons and – I’m not making this up, folks – Pat Boone. This year’s crop includes a vampire story by Blade co-creators Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, a Swamp Thing parody by Len Wein and the inimitable Bernie Wrightson, and a great parody of classic EC comics written by Chris Bonahm and Steve Ringgenberg, with art by James Lloyd, Angelo Torres, John Severin and Mark Schulz. It’s definitely one of the better offerings, and a lot of fun.

The only other specific Halloween-themed comic I’ve seen this year was Action Comics #832. It’s tradition for one of the Superman comics to offer up a Christmas story every December, but a Halloween offering isn’t unheard of either, and this one (although it isn’t marked as a tie-in) links up with the Day of Vengeance miniseries. The Spectre, on a crusade to eradicate all magic from the universe, has set his sights on Metropolis, where a Machiavellian demon called Satannus has been hiding for years. And I mean years in real time – in the early-to-mid 90s he was a fairly major villain in Superman’s universe, but he sort of faded away, with his major plotline (the fact that he was disguised as Newstime magazine’s publisher, Colin Thornton), left dangling. I’m not really sure why DC (or writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning) decided to bring him back at this time, new readers certainly won’t know the history there, but it’s a nice nod to some unanswered history for longtime fans.

What makes this more of a Halloween story, however, is the Lois Lane subplot in this issue. As ghosts swarm Metropolis, she finds herself coming face-to-face with a very personal ghost. It’s a really strong story for her, and one that sets up a couple of good plotlines for the future as well.

Although I haven’t seen Marvel put out any specific Halloween-themed comics, they have taken advantage of the season with other projects. They’ve launched a new version of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos starring some monstrous soldiers and put out a “Horror” edition of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. They’ve also got a Marvel Zombies series coming up soon by Robert Kirkman – would that they could have squeezed that out in time for Halloween.

My favorite Marvel Monster project, though, are the four “Marvel Monsters” comics – a set of four one-shots spoofing the classic monster titles they put out back in the 50s and early 60s, before the superhero genre took over with Fantastic Four #1. They wisely decided not to play the genre seriously, doing a Fanastic Four spoof with Fin Fang Foom and having the Hulk tussle with Devil Dinosaur.

The only one of the specials I’ve been able to get my hands on so far is actually the one with the weakest ties to the current Marvel Universe, Where Monsters Dwell. The theme of this issue is to bring back some of those goofy monsters from the past in new stories. The prize of this issue is Bring on the Bombu, by Keith Giffen with excellent finishes by Mike Allred. This tells of Bombu’s second attempt to invade Earth (the first having taken place way back in Journey Into Mystery #60), which comes across with very comical results. Peter David and Arnold Pander supply a new Monstrollo story and Jeff Parker, Russell Braun and Jimmy Palmiotti give us a surprisingly strong tale of the monstrous Manoo. There’s also a reprint of another classic tale, I Was Trapped By Titano (not the super-ape with Kryptonite vision from DC comics), which is actually my only beef with this issue – not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I wish Marvel had provided us with credits for the story, or at least noted where it had been originally printed. (I eventually located that information in the text page that, presumably, is running in all four Monster specials.)

So you do have some choices for Halloween this year, friends, but you know what? It’s not enough! I want to see more Halloween offerings next year. I’d love to see a new Batman Halloween special (although with Jeph Loeb exclusive to Marvel now, it wouldn’t be the same). I want to see Halloween editions of Looney Tunes and Marvel Adventures. I have no idea who currently owns the reprint rights, but I want to see some nice archival editions of the old Tales From the Crypt comics in the vein of the DC Archives or Marvel Masterworks. (2010 Note: This was later achieved by copyright owner Gemstone Publishing.)

There’s lots more that could be done, folks, and the comic book industry has a whole year to get ready for it.

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 BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.

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

14
Dec
08

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 97: The Spirit of Will Eisner

On Christmas day, movie theaters will burst open with Frank Miller‘s big-screen adaptation of The Spirit. This week, Blake and Chase talk about the character’s history in comics, his current status in DC comics, and how the legendary Will Eisner turned a guy in a blue three-piece suit into one of the most innovative superheroes ever created. In the picks this week, Blake recommends Archer and Armstrong: First Impressions, and Chase is still loving the new Flash Gordon series. Don’t forget to send us your votes for our Best of 2008 episode! You can find the categories and nominees in Episode 95! E-mail us with your votes, as well as comments, “Ask Chase Anything” questions, or anything else at Showcase@comixtreme.com!

Episode 97: The Spirit of Will Eisner
Inside This Episode:

PLUS: In Week in Geek #3, Blake picks up the microphone to discuss the recently-announced Fables TV show. How does he feel about his favorite comic book being made into a weekly TV series? And then, he gives a quick review of the new DVD release of a childhood favorite, Jim Henson’s The Christmas Toy.

Week In Geek #3: Fables TV and The Christmas Toy

New Reviews:

Just so you guys don’t have to go through this day with no new Christmas content from me, why not check out my review of this year’s edition of Walt Disney’s Christmas Parade? Gemstone Comics has upheld the classic tradition of Disney Christmas comics, and this year’s book is a fine one.

And while we’re at it, here are a few more comics I’ve reviewed lately:

10
Dec
08

Everything But Imaginary #288: Christmas Tales From the Longbox I

It’s Christmas once again, and how better to celebrate than by sitting down and reading a thick stack of Christmas comics? Here are a few of the books I’ve read this year — so far!

Everything But Imaginary #288: Christmas Tales From the Longbox I
Inside This Column:

AlphaInventions.com

Recently, I noticed a big uptick in traffic to this website coming in through a site called AlphaInventions.com. I’m not entirely sure how the site works, but it appears to produce a scrolling, up-to-date slideshow of lots of different blogs. It’s a neat way to find a lot of various blogs in a short period of time. I don’t know how exactly they found me, but I’m glad they did.

29
Oct
08

Everything But Imaginary #284: One Last Ghoulish Gasp

One last Wednesday before Halloween friends, and this week I talk about a couple of creepy comics that have just recently come to my attention. Take a look!

Everything But Imaginary #284: One Last Ghoulish Gasp
Inside this column:

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to update you guys on the reviews I’ve been writing over at Comixtreme.com. Partly because, what with the play and all, my review output has been slowed down considerably. Still, there have been several reviews up there, so here’s the ones I’ve done since last we updated. Oh — and comics with Halloween or creepy content will be in orange, just for you. Because I care.

24
Sep
08

Everything But Imaginary #279: Time to Carve the Pumpkin

Halloween is fast approaching, and while I’ve been prepping myself with horror movies and spooky novels, where are all the creepy comics? I’ve got a few suggestions for you this week…

Everything But Imaginary #279: Time to Carve the Pumpkin




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