Archive for the ‘Comic Books’ Category
Everyone knows that when you go to San Diego Comic-Con, you spend a lot of time standing in line. You stand in line to get your ticket. (Luckily, this is a process that has speeded up quite a bit the last few years.) Then you stand in line to get in. Then you stand in line at booths for signings, merchandise, swag, whatever. And a big part of all of this is knowing that just because you stand in line for hours does not mean that the thing you are standing in line for will still be there when you get to the front of the line.
Standing in line for hours to see someone present what amounts to nothing more than a promo for something that they want you to buy tends to put you in a philosophical mood. It certainly makes you more conscious than you ever were of lines outside of Comic-Con. Is there any place where we don’t find ourselves standing in line: waiting for the bus, waiting at the bank to withdraw or deposit; waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store; we stand in line at the traffic light. Wasn’t it Socrates who said: “Life is just one fucking long line to the graveyard?”
But it also makes you more aware of something else: that there are many, many people who do not even have the privilege of standing in line. The truth is that many people never get into Comic-Con. Most because they don’t have the money, but many simply because there aren’t enough tickets. In other words, there’s a shortage of resources at Comic-Con. There’s just not enough to go around. But isn’t this true everywhere we look? We live in a society of scarcity.
However, the mother of all lines is the line for Hall H. This is a relatively new development at Comic-Con. I believe Hall H opened for the first time in 2006, and it was built mainly because of the demand for certain panels which were relatively new to Comic-Con: movie panels where directors attempt to generate buzz for their latest films. I say directors because most of the time the directors are there. The first ones I remember seeing at Comic-Con came before Hall H was built, and the big one was Sam Raimi for Spider-Man. He was all by himself. I don’t even remember him showing any footage. All he did was answer questions. That was in 2001. This year Raimi returned to Comic-Con with Oz, the Great and Powerful.
I don’t go to panels to see footage. I go to panels to see the people behind the products, whether comics, films, TV; and I go especially to be entertained. This year any panel that was hosted by Chris Hardwicke fulfilled the entertainment quotient, but there were no panels (if you don’t count Trailer Park) where I was thinking, “I wish I was somewhere else.” They were all at least a little entertaining or of interest in some way. However, there were still a handful of panels that stood out. Here are the best ones I attended. (Everyone talks about how much Comic-Con has changed since its origin as a comic book convention. The fact that most of the best panels I attended were not comic book related suggests that the time has come to change the name of this convention. The most obvious? Nerd-Con or Geek-Con.)
- The Campaign. This had the ideal combination: great host in Chris Hardwicke, entertaining panelists Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and entertaining footage. They didn’t just show a trailer; they showed footage; and it was fucking hilarious. So, I’ll be first in line to see the movie, right? Nope. Why ruin the Comic-Con experience by seeing the film? And why ignore “The Comic-Con Effect, the scientifically proven psychological effect whereby all crap looks great at Comic-Con? (The people who line up to ask questions also help make panels entertaining. I felt sorry for the guy who said he was a failed stand-up comedian. They skewered him. Hopefully, he was a studio plant being paid to be humiliated.)
- The Expendables 2. We saw the first Expendables panel two years ago, and were entertained enough to be looking forward to this year’s version. Stallone and his friends did not disappoint. If only he could bottle the spirit that comes through on these panels and put it in a film, we’d really have something. (We were saddened to hear about the death of Mr. Stallone’s son on Friday.)
- Kevin Smith. There were a few dead stretches, but considering that this was mostly one man going non-stop for 90 minutes, it was amazing. Smith manages to be entertaining in a gut laughing kind of way without being a stand-up comedian. How does he do it? Perhaps it has something to do with his obsessions: body functions and fluids.
- Jackie Chan. I loved it when he used his mouth like a jazz musician to make sounds describing what he said should be the rhythm of an action scene. (Unfortunately, the panel ended on a dull note when Chan introduced someone he brought in from France.) This was the only panel I heard anyone discuss later on when I overheard the owner of Giant Robot talking to Matt Groening about the panel. Groening’s reaction? “Jackie Chan was here?!” That was probably the reaction of many people when they heard the news. Sorry you couldn’t be there.
- Marvel’s movie panel. Three words: ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. ‘Nuf said. But just in case it wasn’t enough, there was also Edgar Wright with the Ant-Man test footage we had heard about (the footage apparently was designed to answer the question: Can a ant-sized man still kick ass? A more interesting question: Would the Comic Con guards have been able to keep an army of ant-sized aliens out of Hall H? Of course, Wright should have shown his footage again); and Jon Favreau giving advice to new Iron Man director Shane Black (and Edgar Wright, wherever he was): “If you want to connect with the fans, you have to show your footage twice.” Black took the advice. (Is stuff like this scripted or truly impromptu? In any case, watching the footage again enabled me to confirm my first impression: it’s boring.)
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. If you’re going to live or die with your footage, this is the way to do it. Peter Jackson came all the way from New Zealand with more than 10 minutes of footage from The Hobbit. Bonus: we didn’t get to see Benedict “Sherlock Holmes” Cumberbatch on a Star Trek 2 panel because Paramount decided they didn’t have anything to show, but we did get to see Martin Freeman, Cumberbatch’s Watson in the BBC series Sherlock, who, of course, plays Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.
- The other Warner Bros./Legendary panels. Zack “Awesome” Snyder and Man of Steel; a Godzilla concept trailer with narration by J. Robert “I am become death” Oppenheimer; and Del Toro and giant robots. What more do you want?
- I was entertained just watching the hands of the directors as they talked.
We were disappointed that there was no Entertainment Weekly Visionaries panel this year. Hope they weren’t implying that there were no visionaries in attendance.
A note on the Firefly panel, which shows up on some lists as among the best of the show: I’ve never seen Firefly and I didn’t even try to get into that panel, but I have to wonder if all those people trying to get in were there as fans of the show or primarily as fans of the post-Avengers Joss Whedon. I’ve seen Whedon in action before, and I doubt he made his panel as entertaining as any of the panels on my list. Even though we passed on the panel, we did have a Firefly related moment Thursday morning. While in line for Hall H, we happened to end up immediately behind a friend of my wife who happens to be the wife of one of the crew members on the Firefly panel the next day. We hadn’t known she was going to be in Hall H, and we never saw her again at the show. Weird coincidences like this happen a lot at Comic-Con. Why not? It is, after all, a magical place, a Brigadoon for geeks and nerds.
A note about the first panel of the show, the Twilight panel. As most everyone knows, Gisela Gagliardi, who had been camping out with other Twilight fans, was killed after being hit by a car earlier in the week. David Glanzer, who I had heard of, but never seen till then, came out and said a few words about it, then the show started as if nothing happened. The truth is that what Glanzer said, or the way he said it, was a bit distasteful. Perhaps it would have been better if nothing had been said.
On Friday we found ourselves standing in line next to Matt (Life in Hell/The Simpsons/Futurama) Groening. Here’s a making of video for the painting Brecht Evens did for Matt Groening. (I could have put up the video of Evens making the watercolor sketch he did below, but isn’t it more fun to use the one with Groening? Hopefully, Mr. Groening agrees.) Don’t expect to hear much talking – the audio mostly gives you an idea of how noisy it can get on the convention floor.
Here are some of the sketches that artists were kind enough to do for me:
The Image Comics 20th Anniversary panel was our last panel. I was at the first Image Comics panel at Comic-Con, which must have been in 1992. Robert Kirkman was not with Image back then and joked that he was filling in for Todd McFarland, who also was not on the panel in 1992. I only remember Liefeld, Valentino, and Silvestri from that panel, but it’s also possible that Jim Lee, whose name was not mentioned during this year’s panel, was there twenty years ago as well as Larson and Portacio. I hadn’t seen any of these guys since that panel 20 years ago. They’ve aged better than most.
Every year people complain about this or that about Comic-Con. Some say they will never come back. I’m sure there are legitimate complaints to be made, but my only complaint was that it had to end.
But at least we know when the Geek Brigadoon will appear again: July 18-21, 2013. The countdown has already begun.
1. Every year people lose their badges. It even happened to me a few years ago. But there’s something you should do that will make it more difficult to lose your badge. This tip I comes from my wife’s friend.
When you register you get a badge and a badge holder. The reason most people lose their badges is because the badge holder falls off of the lanyard. But you can make the connection more secure by attaching the hook to the badge holder so that it goes through the hole in the holder AND through the metal latch/pin, as shown in the picture below.
2. My wife, Kelly, has more words and pictures about SDCC 2012 here.
UPDATE: JULY 19, 2012:
3. Even though I said above that I have no complaints, recent developments have led me to write this. My son desperately wanted a My Little Pony figure from the Hasbro booth. He stood in line for hours Saturday morning only to find it sold out when he got to the front. (He also wanted a Bruticus, which was also sold out, but that’s another story.) Not only was it sold out for the day, it was sold out for the convention. But somehow Hasbro has dug up some more and has been putting them on their site the last couple of days, but they sell out within minutes. The problem is that many of the people who buy these “exclusives” are not buying them because they want them. They are buying them to sell them on ebay. This Pony figure, for example, is going for more than $200. Even at the Convention you will see booths selling the “exclusives” at inflated prices. Hasbro has limits on the number anyone in line can buy. For Pony, it was three. Why not one? At least for the first couple of days to give everyone who wants one a chance to get one. (Image sold a collection of Walking Dead comics that could only be bought after winning a lottery. But they stopped using the lottery after the first two days.) And why not scan badges so that the same people cannot get in line again and again?
But this has been the status quo for years about which many have been complaining for an equal number of years. Therefore, I will not be holding my breath in expectation of any change in this system for the better.
4. I’ve heard that some vendors did poor business this year. This doesn’t quite jive with my experience of finding so many sell-outs, but in any case vendors should obviously note what does sell at Con: exclusives, or at least the perception that you are getting something rare and wonderful. The easiest way to do this is with a personal appearance by an artist who signs the book. Exclusive means rare. Habro’s Con exclusives turned out not to be exclusive to Con. As I said, they are selling some of them on their website. But they remain hard to get and rare. Vendors who come to Con with nothing more than what Amazon offers, especially if it’s at a higher price, than what Amazon charges, are unlikely to attract much interest at a show like this. We go to see things that we can’t see elsewhere. This includes toys, books, comics, as well as panel events and even swag. We don’t want to be reminded of our ordinary lives before and after Con. It all has to be special. Offer me something special, and I will not only buy it at Con, I will line up hours in advance just to get a ticket that gives me a chance to buy it. If you are not offering me some kind of magic for my cash, you might as well stay home.
5. I might as well mention this, too: we had problems connecting to the internet with our Droid this year. This was a new development. We ran into at least one other person who had the same problem, but someone with the same carrier, Verizon, did not have the problem. He suggested that it was because he had 4G whereas our phone used 3G. Who knows? But the problem was real and persisted throughout the show. Hopefully, the cause will have vanished by next year.
I first learned about the book that would become The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories when Steve Bissette cryptically who wrote in Taboo #8:
There were so many, many more [stories that had been completed, but not published in Taboo]: Michael McDowell and Tim Burton’s sardonic “The Oyster Boy,” completed but lost in the shuffle of Burton’s post-Batman career.
That comment was dated May 1995. The Oyster Boy story appeared in Burton’s book two years later, the longest and most substantial piece by far in the collection. However, Michael McDowell’s name did not appear as an author or co-author, and only made an appearance on the Acknowledgments page at the end of the book. Somehow, he had lost his status as an author of the story. This is the Michael McDowell who is credited as a writer on the scripts for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. What happened? Unfortunately, McDowell cannot be asked because he died in 1999.
In 2000, Bissette wrote:
My only problem with this collection is the solo credit on the cover and title page proferring Tim Burton as the lone author. This seems deceptive at best. Through the events I’ve just described to you, I can attest to the fact that Michael McDowell wrote the Oyster Boy story; if you’re at all familiar with Michael’s own work, his voice rings loud and clear. I’d sure like to know who really wrote the rest of this book. Buried on page 115 are the acknowledgments, with “Thanks to” a number of writers — prominent among them Michael McDowell. It seems fair to assume the others listed had a hand in the rest of the stories and verse, too. Can anyone out there provide some credits and credentials here?
Here’s the acknowledgments page from the first edition:
(Eva Quiroz was Burton’s assistant through Sleepy Hollow, and Rodney Kizziah has a credit in Ed Wood as “Vampira friend.” Neither has a credit that would suggest having written anything in this book. But what of the other two?)
Despite suggesting that Burton stole McDowell’s credit as a co-author, Bissette concludes by saying:
Those misgivings aside, this is RECOMMENDED, and makes a great gift.
This is the same Bissette who recommended people boycott Marvel’s The Avengers movie due to authorship issues related to Jack Kirby. Why the double standard when it comes to Tim Burton and Michael McDowell?
1. This curious case of disappearing credits on a Tim Burton project cannot help but remind me of what happened to Barry Purves on Mars Attacks!. Purves wrote about his experience here. Writing for Animation World Magazine in 1997, Wendy Jackson wrote:
To create the intricate Martian puppets, Burton contracted the services of model makers Ian Mackinnon and Peter Saunders. Mackinnon noted that, “It seemed a rather brave route to be taking, but Tim has always been a great believer in the artistry of puppet animation.” Within a few weeks, Mackinnon and Saunders had amassed a large team of sculptors working in L.A. and the U.K., who were busy building hundreds of identical 15-inch Martian puppets. Mackinnon, overseeing production in Los Angeles, was soon joined by contemporary master puppet animator Barry Purves, creator of such festival award-winning short films as Next, Screenplay and Achilles. With Purves acting as animation director, elaborate sets were constructed and filming began. “We spent months working on bizarre little Martian gestures and ways of moving,” Purves recalled. “The animation tests were looking good and suitably creepy.” But the newly formed “dream studio” of a stop-motion facility, dubbed “Stickman” was short-lived.
In November 1995, Warner Bros. decided that the time and technical demands of blending stop-motion animation convincingly with live-action were just too challenging a task to be dealt with in the year left before the film’s scheduled release. And so, nine months into the stop-motion production, the model animation team was dispensed with and replaced by 3D computer animation.
Not all of the model work was done in vain. Movements and gestures developed by Purves’ team were adapted to the computer characters. Mackinnon and Saunders’ puppets were digitally scanned and rendered into computer models, while the 15-inch puppets were cast into enlarged full-scale Martians to be used in several of the film’s live-action scenes.
While Mackinnon and Saunders and some of the people on their team received a credit under a “Special Effects by” heading, Barry Purves did not receive any credit at all, despite, as Jackson wrote, having developed movments and gestures that were adapted to the CGI characters. Recently the Tim Burton exhibit that originated at MOMA included some of the stop-motion test footage produced by Purves and his team. Some of the footage featured Purves playing a victim of a Martian raygun. Why can’t Warners release all of the stop-motion footage produced by Purves and his team? Burton described it to me, at a 1997 Oyster Boy signing, as being “beautiful.” Am I the only one who would love to see it?
Purves’ website is here.
DC Comics is publishing a “prequel” to the famous graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wich was published in 1986-87. They are calling it Before Watchmen. A lot of people are against the idea. The main issue is said to be that of creator’s rights. Moore’s and Gibbon’s contract stated that the copyright to Watchmen would revert to them when the work went out of print. There was no expectation that the work would not go out of print and thus there was no feeling that something more specific needed to be put into the contract which would have specified when the work would go out of print. Unfortunately for Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen proved to be very popular and DC has seen to it that the work has never gone out of print. While DC has acted strictly according to the letter of the contract, it cannot be said that they have acted in accord with its spirit.
The passage below is the best commentary I’ve seen on Before Watchmen, apropos the creator’s rights issue, and it doesn’t even mention the comic. It’s an excerpt from Joshua Glenn’s book, The Idler’s Glossary, posted today at hilobrow.com:
Marxist theory explains that alienation is a systematic result of wage slavery. Deprived of the opportunity to conceive of themselves as authors of their own destinies, deciders of their own actions, and owners/users of the value created by their work, workers in a capitalist social order are alienated from:
1. the work they produce
2. from working itself (which, in a factory setting, tends to be an interminable sequence of repetitive, trivial, and meaningless motions — as parodied by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times and Lucille Ball in the I Love Lucy chocolate factory episode)
3. from themselves as producers (an important aspect of human nature, or “species-being”)
4. from each other
Moore and Gibbons, when it comes to Watchmen, are mere wage slaves, JUST LIKE THE REST OF US. The privilege of being exploited is not reserved for the few. It’s a right guaranteed for all. I’ve written about this before here and here.
Sword’s Edge by Sanho Kim (“with” Michael Juliar) was published in the US in 1973, five years before Will Eisner’s A Contract with God.
Kim had been working for Charlton Comics after already having a substantial comics career in his native Korea. His book is an early example of the graphic novel format in this country, yet our histories have unjustly ignored it.
Although Kim did not call his book a graphic novel, a graphic novel it clearly is. It’s clear that he knew that his book was something new and not just another “comic book,” and felt the need to come up with a new term for it. What did he call it? “A montage book.”
Here’s his definition of “montage” from inside the book:
Finally, here’s his introduction in which he states what he set out to do with Sword’s Edge.
Although he uses his term “montage” in this introduction, he still ends up using “comic book” more often. Perhaps he wasn’t entirely happy with the term, which, of course, did not catch on. One has to wonder if sales failed to fulfill Kim’s hopes. Although the final page of the book promises a volume two of Sword’s Edge, another “montage” book never materialized. But that’s no reason to forget Sword’s Edge Part One: The Sword and the Maiden, one of the earliest published graphic novels in the US.
Everyone’s talking about what Frank Miller has to say about the Occupy Movement. If you don’t know what he said, read about it here.
Here are some of my thoughts:
1. How likely is it that Miller’s screed is not an honest, authentic op-ed, but instead a bit of PR? That is, he did it to bring attention to himself and his new book. If so, mission accomplished!
2. Miller was and still is a Libertarian. Some people seem to be shocked by his “turn to the right.” But he hasn’t made any turn because he’s been traveling the same road for a long time.
3. Libertarianism is the philosophy of the 1%, just as Ayn Rand is the philosopher of the 1%. Miller identifies with the 1%. In fact, technically, he probably is a one percenter.
4. Here’s what Grant Morrison says in Supergods about The Dark Knight Returns:
Frank Miller brought the Dark Age style into line with a newly confident right-leaning America. His monumental Batman was no bleeding-heart liberal but a rugged libertarian. (Supergods p. 190) (I wrote more about Morrison’s book here.)
The casualness with which Morrison locates Miller’s work on the ideological spectrum contrasts with the apolitical attitude of many, if not most, Americans. For example, here’s what Tom Spurgeon says, in his post about Miller’s rant:
I am more grateful than usual this morning to have grown up reading comics without ever having to be exposed to, say, Don McGregor’s rants against Gerald Ford signing the Helsinki Accords. Or whatever, I mean, come on. Yuck.” (Source.)
Does Spurgeon sound like a Yahoo, or is it just me? However, the point is that his attitude is typical.
5. Learning how to see the political messages in all works of entertainment is a form of empowerment. It’s like waking up with Superman’s X-ray vision, or finding the glasses used by the heroes of John Carpenter’s They Live. A book that will help you acquire this super power is Peter Biskind’s Seeing is Believing. Here’s how Biskind describes it on his site:
Samuel Goldwyn is usually credited with the phrase, “If you have a message, call Western Union,” which was gospel in Hollywood for decades. But there are messages and there are messages. It is the contention of this book that all films carry messages, overtly or not. Seeing Is Believing examines Hollywood films of the 1950s that everybody saw but nobody really looked at, classics such as Giant, On the Waterfront, Rebel Without a Cause, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Blackboard Jungle, and so on, and shows how movies that appear to be politically innocent—westerns, weepies, science fiction movies—in fact bear an ideological burden.
Why not read the book and become a superhero today?
If you are too busy to read the book, Jim Hoberman, film critic for the Village Voice, covers some of the same ground in “The Fascist Guns in the West” in Radical America Vol. 19 No. 6, p. 53. Download it here.
Two recent books, Alan Moore: Storyteller (which my wife was lucky enough to win from this site) and Grant Morrison’s Supergods, have re-sparked a question I’ve had regarding the connection between England’s social welfare system and the Eighties invasion of American comics by British writers and artists. There’s no doubt there were several factors, with perhaps the emergence, in the late Seventies, of comics magazines such as 2000 A.D., Warrior, the Marvel U.K. line being especially important. But the most intriguing factor? The dole.
So what is my hypothesis? That comic book artists such as Alan Moore and Grant Morrison would not exist without having had the benefit of being supported for several years by the British unemployment benefits system, otherwise known as “the dole,” thus giving them time to develop their skills such that they could survive without the dole.
Alan Moore: Storyteller:
Moore left the financial security of the office job [in 1977] and signed on at the Department of Health and Social Security for unemployment benefits. (p. 44)
Grant Morrison’s Supergods:
Perhaps at last, this [ie, superhero comics as represented especially by Alan Moore's version of Marvelman, which first appeared in 1982] could be a way of making enough money to quit the dole and get noticed doing something I loved. (p. 186)
At twenty-four ,… I was still on the dole and living at home… (p. 208)
I do not know if Morrison and Moore are typical or exceptions, but I’m leaning towards their being representative of the writers and artists who constituted the British Invasion of American comics in the Eighties. The unemployment system in the USA in the Eighties did not allow anyone to continue collecting benefits for several years and, unlike Alan Moore’s case, it was not possible to obtain benefits after quitting or refusing a job. Another requirement was to have worked (on the books) for a certain number of weeks during the previous x number of months. In other words, to qualify for unemployment benefits in the USA, you had to have been employed a minimum amount of time, laid off (not fired), provide proof every other week of looking for work during the previous two weeks, and, even if you could not find a job, after a period of about six months the benefits would cease. The British system appears to have been very different.
Imagine an Earth-2 where Great Britain had no unemployment benefits. Would Alan Moore and Grant Morrison have been able to become Alan Moore and Grant Morrison without the benefit of the dole?
Most of the innovations in British popular music which happened between the 60s and the 90s would have been unthinkable without the indirect funding provided by social housing, unemployment benefit and student grants.
Above is from “Time-Wars” by Mark Fisher. If what he says is true for British music, why not comics?
1. Is there any significance to Morrison mistakenly calling the Quay Brothers English (they’re American):
I had a lot to prove, and I wanted to make my mark. Arkham Asylum would be dense, symbolic, interior–a deliberate response to the prevailing current of Hollywood realism. Instead of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Scorsese, and Roeg, we’d be influenced by Crowley, Jung, Artaud and Marat/Sade, by the Czech surrealist filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, and by his English disciples, the Brothers Quay. (Supergods p. 225)
2. I don’t have much love for Morrison’s post-Doom Patrol work, feeling it works on a lower level, so I was interested to learn how he re-created himself after his run on that title ended:
I’d already made my mind up to accept complete surrender to a process of transformation, an ego-dissolving ordeal that I felt sure would give me new things to write about, new things to say, and a new way to see the world. (Supergods p. 253)
As I brought Doom Patrol to a close after four years of monthly surrealist folderol, Lonely Planet guides were being spread on the carpet to help map out a year away from comics and routine.
I plotted an immense path around the world via India, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Java, Bali, Australia, Fiji, Los Angeles, and New Mexico before coming home, I hoped, transformed. (Supergods p. 254)
On my first night in the dull hotel near the airport, I celebrated this personal rebirth by taking an electric razor to hair that was undeniably thinning. (Supergods p. 254)
Back home, I felt reborn, more confident, creative, and alive than ever before. (Supergods p. 255)
In other words, after reading the above passages, I learned that there is a good reason for my feeling that Morrison’s post-Doom Patrol work does not seem to be by the same person.
3. There have been some who have taken issue with a statement Morrison made while promoting the book which suggests that he had little sympathy with Siegel & Shuster as creators who were ripped off by DC:
From Siegel and Shuster through later chapters on Kirby or Jim Starlin, you cover a lot of the creative life of the people behind comics and how one informs the other, and you make some particular observations about Siegel and Shuster’s desires as artists as well as professionals. There’s so much chatter over the lawsuits over Superman and what not, but for you, did you feel like the characters transcend some of those debates on their own terms, or is that creative personality something that informs how our whole industry works even to today?
Well, to me it’s never been honestly what’s interesting about this stuff. I think the stories outlast all of those complications. You look at the people who created those characters, and they’re all dead. But the characters will still be around in 50 years probably – at least the best of them will. So I try not to concern myself with that. These are deals made in times before I was even born. I can say from experience that young creative people tend to sell rights to things because they want to get noticed. They want to sell their work and to be commercial. Then when they grow up and get a bit smarter, they suddenly realize it maybe wasn’t so good and that the adults have it real nice. [Laughs] But still, it’s kind of the world. I wouldn’t want to comment on that because it was something I wasn’t around for. I can’t tell why they decided to do what they did. Obviously Bob Kane came in at the same age and got a very different deal and profited hugely from Batman’s success. So who knows? They were boys of the same age, but maybe some of them were more keen to sell the rights than others. It all just takes a different business head.
However, there are passages in Supergods that makes it clear that Morrison views the relationship of comic book company and creators, of yesterday as well as today, as being one of exploitation:
The parasitic relationship of universe to creator that saw the rebellions of people like Siegel and Shuster or Jack Kirby had become a little more symbiotic; following changes in the business in the eighties, creative people adding to the DC or Marvel universe would be ripped off with a little more reward on the back end. (Supergods p. 118)
And many pages later:
Superhero stories are sweated out at the imagined lowest levels of our culture, but like that shard off a hologram, they contain at their hearts all the dreams and fears of generations in vivid miniature. Created by a workforce that has in its time been marginalized, mocked, scapegoated, and exploited, they never failed to offer a direct line to the cultural subconscious and its convulsions. (Supergods p. 416
Note the words: “parasitic,” “ripped off,” “exploited.” He’s saying that the comic book companies are parasites who not only ripped off Siegel & Shuster years ago, but are still ripping off comic book creators today.
So why didn’t Morrison say this in the interview? Perhaps because he works for DC and is smart enough to know what he should say and not say when the subject of the current Superman lawsuit comes up. Do you really think these companies would continue to employ him if he said what they consider to be the wrong thing? No wonder he says: “So I try not to concern myself with that.” Is Morrison the only one who realizes that if we want to make a lot of money, it’s best not to bite the hand that feeds us?
UPDATE APRIL 23, 2012
An example of what happens when you speak out and “bite the hand that feeds you” came up recently when writer Chris Roberson publicly criticized DC Comics:
What did he say? Pretty much what people accused Morrison of not saying.
As I said, Morrison (as well as many others) have been “smart” enough not to say what they really think because they want to keep their gigs. (If you think that you don’t do similar things, you must live in a far better world than I.)
4. But Morrison is not without contradictions:
I stopped piling up rationalizations and instead dealt with what could be proven about this event, which was its undeniably positive effect on my life. Kathmandu fundamentally reprogrammed me and left me with a certainty stronger than faith that everything, even that which was sad and painful, was happening exactly the way it was supposed to.
All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. (Supergods p. 278)
Unfortunately, this is the kind of thinking that has been favored by the powers that be throughout history because it can be used to justify any atrocity. If Batman or Superman thought like this, why would they bother with anything that The Joker or Lex Luthor did?
5. Near the end of the section in which Morrison recounts his encounter with a Superman cosplayer at San Diego Comic-Con late one night in 1999, he says:
By choosing to frame my encounter as a pop-shamanic vision quest yielding pure contact with embodied archetypal forces, I got much more out of it than if I’d simply sat there with Dan sniggering at the delusional fool in tights. By telling myself a very specific story about what was occurring, I was able to benefit artistically, financially, and I like to think spiritually, in a way that perhaps might not have been possible had I simply assumed that our Superman was a convention “cosplayer.” (Supergods p. 404)
Morrison is not unique in this by a longshot, but the idea of looking at everything in terms of how it can be converted into a paycheck is more than a little off-putting. If Morrison was exploited, it seems he did his own bit of exploitation. The above passage is just one of several in the book in which Morrison talks about how he could exploit his experiences for financial gain. A big one is his Kathmandu experience:
The next day, Ulric and I flew home via Frankfurt, where I locked myself n an airport hotel room to fill dozens of journal pages with my attempts to describe what had just happened to me in Nepal. If nothing else, I was left with enough ideas for comic books to keep me working for another fifty years. (Supergods p. 274; my emphasis)
In an imagination economy, where ideas, trademarks, and intellectual property held incalculable value, the coruscating quarry face of the interior world was the place to be. There was gold in them thar ghost mines. (Supergods p. 280)
The second passage above comes after several paragraphs in which he describes the Kathmandu experience as a mystical experience, so it’s a bit jarring when he comes back to Earth thinking of how it will affect his bank account. Throughout the book, he comes back to money again and again in this way. Perhaps it’s part of a conscious strategy by Morrison to contrast the sacred with the profane aspects of human life, but it makes Morrison appear to be interested foremost in whether his experiences will convert to money in the comic book marketplace. It’s ultimately a vision of life in which humans are constantly interacting with the world and each other foremost with an eye towards financial exploitation. Perhaps this is the curse of the commercial artist in our society, but it nevertheless places Morrison closer to Supervillains than Supergods.
6. I’ve heard Morrison tell his Kathmandu story in person. The version in the book comes across differently. Besides being more detailed and without the benefit of his Scottish accent, there are two big differences. First, the written version lacks the humor Morrison brings to it when presenting it to a room full of his admirers. Second, the book lacks a story that Morrison appears to use for dramatic contrast. After he tells the Kathmandu story, he tells how he accidentally swallowed a ring and ends up going through his bowel movement in a sink to retrieve it. On the one hand, you have the story of the sacred in Kathmandu; on the other hand, you have a story of the profane which takes place in the W.C. That is, he tells two stories which represent the two aspects of being human. He uses this method in the book when he follows up the story about the Superman cosplayer with one about a Bizarro cosplayer, but not for the Kathmandu story. Why?
7. My favorite line in Supergods? This:
The San Diego Comic-Con is an event that everyone should experience at least once. It’s a big rehearsal for tomorrow, where Second Life becomes real. (Supergods p 373; my emphasis.)
”It’s a big rehearsal for tomorrow.” I nominate that for the Con slogan.
In 1972, Marvel Comics launched a new fan club called FOOM (Friends of Ol’Marvel). The goodies that members received included a subscription to FOOM Magazine which was edited by by Jim Steranko for the first year.
The editorial of the first issue included a contest announcement:
I entered the contest with a villain called The Liquidator:
I neither won nor received one of the many honorable mentions:
This villain possessed several of the powers that I had given The Liquidator. According to Wikipedia:
Hydro-Man is able to bodily transform himself into a watery liquid substance; he can access secure areas and small openings with relative ease; when his bodily mass is dispersed in this form it simply reforms, albeit slowly depending on how far apart the mass was. All of Hydro-Man’s cells remain fully under his control when he is in his liquid state. Hydro-Man can also merge with and manipulate larger bodies of water when he is in his water form. He can increase his mass and cause tidal waves. He can turn parts of his body to liquid while retaining the rest of his human form, allowing him to slip from a foe’s grasp or have projectiles like bullets harmlessly pass through him. Through great mental exertion, Hydro-Man can also turn to ice and steam. Other examples of manipulating his watery form include firing off small streams such as a fire hose, shaping parts of his body into ‘solid-water’, constructs, and mixing himself with other compounds for different effects.
The contest winner’s character was supposed to have guest starred in a Marvel comic. According to Wikipedia (again), Humus Sapiens did appear in a Marvel comic, but it was one that was published 28 years later in Thunderbolts #55 (Sept. 2001)!
UPDATE: November 10, 2011
Bleeding Cool Comics put up a post in which it’s pointed out that the current co-publisher of DC Comics, Dan DiDio, was one of the entrants, as “Danny Didio, ” although I was actually more interested to see James (The Crow) O’Barr’s name near the middle of the last column on the right.
Here’s the list of entrants from FOOM #4 (which does not repeat entrants already published in #2):
My list of top ten comics was rejected by The Hooded Utilitarian for their recent poll of comics creators and critics, asking them to list their top ten favorite comics. Their poll result is here, but my list is below. Despite being rejected, it’s interesting to me to see how many of my faves were mentioned by those who were invited to participate. I also thought it interesting that even the top vote getter, Peanuts, received only 24% of the vote (50/211). Is that enough to claim that there is a consensus for this list of best comics? I don’t think so. All that you can say is that the largest minority grouping thinks Peanuts is tops. But the much larger majority (76% of the vote) disagrees. The headline should refer not to Peanuts being number one, but to the fact that there was no agreement about which title should occupy the number one slot.
Anyway, here’s my list. The one I submitted was limited to ten titles, but I’m not bothering to meet that limit here.
There are always more comics to add to my library. My want list is here.
In this excerpt from an interview with Lorenzo Mattotti, one of my favorite comic book artists, Mattotti gives Guillermo Del Toro a run for his money in the Cool Quotes About Monsters Department. The interview was posted on the Fantagraphics Books blog site in conjunction with Fantagraphic’s release of The Raven by Lou Reed and Mattotti, a book that adapts works by Edgar Allan Poe.
Eric Buckler: The book is full of creatures. Can you talk about where some of these come from, how you craft those creatures?
Lorenzo Mattotti: Creatures are always our insides. It’s part of a long work that I have always done in my sketchbooks. I think in 30 years, I’ll continue to make drawings like that in my sketchbook. They are always drawings about my insides, so they are metaphor, they are symbols, symbols of our natural inside. So, I don’t think they are different creatures from us, they are not animals, they are us. They are our brains, they are our ideas. The drawing gives us the possibility to change the form to make signs that interpret the reality. They are the concretization of our imagination. So, maybe sometimes they explain much better than a realistic image would. So, the creature from inside you. You may think that they are creatures of another world but they are creatures of our world; the spider, the monster, the stranger, the character. The distortion is the distortion of our brain.
Buckler: So, you lent the creature inside of yourself to this work to help translate it?
Mattotti: To what?
Buckler: You said that the creatures were a concretization of the creature inside of you?
Mattotti: They are a concretization of ideas, of sensations, of emotions. I don’t have an animal in my brain, I have emotion, contradiction, tension, pieces of sensation and emotion. And when I draw, my creatures are the concretization of emotions. I do not know before I draw what will happen on the paper, they go out in a very natural way. They are the symbol of sensations that I have inside.
For What It’s Worth Department:
My USC Film School adaptation of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” can can be viewed here.
Everyone is linking to Stephen Bissette today. Why? Because Bissette, like many of us, is upset by the Kirby vs Marvel decision (in which Marvel won and the Kirby heirs lost) and is calling for a boycott of everything from Marvel that is derived from characters or stories created by Jack Kirby. Bissette wants to make noise during Comic-Con next year at the Marvel related panels. (Do Marvel executives even do panels?)
It sounds nice and all that, but ultimately, I think, it will not change what needs to be changed.
1. Jack Kirby is dead. The court decision changes nothing. The status quo prevails. If Bissette is upset with the court’s decision, then he should boycott the judge. If he hasn’t been boycotting Marvel all these years, why is he so eager to start now? This decision has changed nothing and if he has been angered by Marvel making money from the creations of Jack Kirby without Kirby having received proper recognition or compensation years ago, then he should have been boycotting Marvel starting all those years ago.
2. Jack Kirby is still dead. His heirs did not create the Marvel characters; he did. Giving them money is not going to help Kirby now or redress the injustice Kirby experienced. (It wouldn’t hurt to give him proper credit, though. Even Brad Bird did not acknowledge Kirby, or Stan Lee, when he did The Incredibles.)
3. I sure wish we could get someone such as Karl Marx, who would surely be on our side, to say something about this and similar matters regarding comic book creators. Perhaps Grant Morrison or Alan Moore can conjure him up with their magick. Marx might explain how artists and creative types are not the only ones who are exploited in our society. Practically everyone is exploited. Most of us, not just Jack Kirby, make others rich through our work for them. Since we cannot survive without the job that someone else usually provides, we have little choice about it. This is why Jack Kirby apparently signed away the rights to his work, but, as I see it, this happens to most of us. Boycotting Marvel is not going to help workers throughout the world live better. It may help Kirby’s heirs live better, but are they really in need more than the homeless people I could not help but notice this year during Comic-Con?
4. What about the fans, the “early adopters” of the Sixties, who bought Kirby comics and provided feedback in the fan mail columns, etc.? Kirby did not create in a vacuum and I’m sure that fan mail helped inspire him. Without fans there would have been no Kirby (or Marvel or Stan Lee). If fans had not responded to Fantastic Four, X-Men, and the rest, Kirby may have been drawing Fin Fang Foom-type comics for the rest of his career. This year at Comic-Con, I heard a lot of lip service paid to fans. As my grandfather would say, if I had a nickle for every time I heard someone say, “We wouldn’t be up here without you fans,” I’d be as rich as Rockefeller. If only they’d back those words up with real action! Marvel is what it is, not just thanks to the work Kirby did, but thanks to fans with pocket change who bought and continue to buy Kirby or Kirby-derived work.
5. Boycotting Marvel is not going to change the system that each of us must deal with every day. The system simply cannot survive without the kind of exploitation that Kirby, as well as each of us puts up with every day. Each of us is born into this world that we never made, but if we don’t like it, why don’t we really do something about it? You may say that a Marvel boycott is one small step on a very long journey, but that’s all it is, one very small step. There have been many boycotts throughout the years, but here we are, and the game has not changed much, if at all. Let’s not lose sight of the larger picture, our world, where billions of Jack Kirby’s are toiling away in obscurity at this very moment without proper credit or compensation.
6. The Kirby case is seen by most as a creator’s rights issue, but if we look at it as a worker’s rights issue, we will see that we are all creators in one way or another and we are all exploited by our employers. Employers hire us because they can exploit us. Of course, this is perfectly legal. It’s the basis of our system. But just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s just.
Every one of us is Jack Kirby.