This is Why: The Authority

Today, Comics! The Blog is proud to present a contribution from guest writer Ben Mayfield of the Chesterborough Mayfields. He’s going to talk about things that explode good.

They think there’s no one left to save the world”.

Those were the first words in a little Wildstorm book called The Authority. Warren Ellis had been writing a book called Stormwatch for several issues when his new artist Bryan Hitch give him the inspiration to show these characters in a new light and in a new direction. Stormwatch was disbanded after the deaths of most of the members Ellis hadn’t created for the team, and soon after, The Authority was born with those words, meant to reflect the normal man’s view of that world.

I can’t help but think that’s what he was saying to the entire comic book industry as well.

01. HUMBLE BEGINNINGS ARE FOR NANCIES

When The Authority #1 was released, I was a heavy and exclusive DC and X-Men comic book reader, and things were getting as stale as an opened pack of Saltines in the desert. Comics needed some changing. I was shifting my pull box around quite a bit, trying more Marvel and indie stuff, searching for that book that would re-energize my love for the medium. At the time, my friends had been telling me to try Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch stuff, but I hadn’t made the effort other than random issues they put in front of me. I didn’t know those characters, and wasn’t into much of that universe at all despite my friends constant book pushing attempts.

But still, it was obvious to me that my comics needed some life, some kind of kick in the pants. Mainstream superheroes comics needed a little saving themselves, basically. Enter The Authority. It was an easy jump-on point since almost everyone Ellis didn’t have plans for was slaughtered most conveniently.

02. MAN I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO MY FRIENDS SOONER

What came next was a book that changed the very language of comics for its readers. The conflicts were bigger, the scale was grander, the concepts and ideas behind it both some effortlessly simple and infinitely complex all at the same. Warren Ellis took whatever highly caffeinated spitball idea he had and injected a dose of human growth hormone in it. After adding his trademark snark and that super science pyshco-babble that sounds like poetry when he does it, he just sat back and everyone watched it grow into an industry standard, almost overnight.

Though it ages me, I have to say I don’t think a lot of people really realize just how differently comics were portrayed before this book opened the floodgates. The Authority used spreads and splashes with reckless abandon at every opportunity, was highly decompressed, and often used violence for violence’s sake. The threats they faced had an absolutely over the top gravitas about them. I mean, they fought God, and kicked his ass. It didn’t use the same old tired clichés of making team superheroics work, it stomped them into the dirt and took their freaking lunch money. Even when concepts that had been used in comics for decades were breached, they felt fresher, from communication techniques, to team transport, and all the details in between – everything felt new and so very 21st century. The title showed readers that you didn’t need an event for a comic to feel like one. It asked the question: Why shouldn’t a monthly comic feel large scale on its own? It felt like a bargain compared to the books with which it was sharing the shelf. It was like getting a movie for three bucks you could keep forever and Ellis didn’t mind breaking down or jabbing at the ridiculousness of standard comic book tropes. Its heroes’ problems became solutions. Sexuality of its members were open and honest, but not the focus. It was in a word, revolutionary, for comics as a whole.

Before you know, the rest of the industry caught on and well, rip-offs, homages, whatever you want to call them: the other guys did the shit out them. I mean, REALLY did the shit out of them – but as they say, imitation really is the best compliment. New X-Men and The Ultimates started Marvel’s adoption of the style to critical and commercial success using similar writers. The style breathed a new life in the company’s purpose, and it continues to be the house style they employ on most of their titles in some form today, whether they’d like to admit it or not (and probably a little TOO much). Super heroic event books even morphed as both of Big Two took notes, and it’s no coincidence that Epic Things Are Happening event titles became cool again. The work had been done for them. Ellis and Hitch had decoded the language of the “nu comic reader”. The customers and critics responded in droves.

Now, as we know….all good things eventually come to an end. Warren Ellis, an excellent writer for sure, has never been a “commitment” guy. He is an “ideas” guy, a “bores easily” guy, not a “I’ll be writing these for the next five years, sure” guy in any stretch of the imagination. But the show must go on, right?

03. THE NEW SCOT ON THE BLOCK

Upon the previous creative team’s departure, Mark Millar and Frank Quitely took over the book. At the time, Millar was mostly known for his works co-writing with the acclaimed Grant Morrison and writing the kid-friendly Superman Adventures book, and was ready for the challenge of the empty writer’s chair of the hottest new super team in comics. Hitch had changed the look and the feel of comic book storytelling with Ellis, but the new writer wanted to take it to its next evolutionary step. If Ellis and Co. were changing the game itself, Millar was changing the thought process behind it.

His stories were about the questions it dared to ask. What if superheroes went after the real villains of the world, and not just the moustache twirling superfreaks? What if superheroes didn’t fix everything that they broke? What if didn’t they didn’t mind getting their hands dirty for what they thought was the greater good, not their governments? What if they enjoyed it?

The book imagined a world where superheroes acted the way we might act with superpowers, not some holier than thou, pseudo-religious boy scout attitudes or following some kind of self-defined mantra and rules. It didn’t shy away from politics. Ellis had hinted at views, but left most of the thinking to the readers themselves. Millar displayed them in HD quality, thanks to the grittier but similarly dynamic art of Quietly, one of the few in the industry who could have believably followed Hitch’s amazing run of issues. The Authority weren’t going to answer to some higher moral authority and had a swagger and confidence about them that they knew they were doing the right thing. The things that needed to be done. The new team had done the impossible task of aptly carrying the torch Ellis lit, and somehow, some way, managed to take it a step further.

Most were unsure of how and if it would work, but the added political charge and focus on change actually increased The Authority popularity to new levels. I enjoyed those kind of comics immensely, but I wasn’t sure if the comic world as a whole would embrace it. But, boy did they. It was the first time I realized that the internet wasn’t a clear representations of what all the comic fans wanted after all. It sold like never before, and my fears were vanished.

04. TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

Remember how I said all good things eventually come to an end? Well, if you’ve been reading comics long enough, you’ve had a team or concept that you love snatched from you. This was the case with The Authority. After a time, you could see the writing in the wall. In the middle of an arc, Quitely left the book to start drawing New X-Men over at Marvel and a fill-in arc was commissioned while Wildstorm scrambled to find a new artist. In the end, they did end up nabbing Art Adams to finish Millar’s story, but by that point, the book was dying. Millar was pushing the boundaries of gore and subject matter to levels most comics wouldn’t dare touch, and DC was growing increasingly uncomfortable with how far he was taking the book with each arc. There had been some reported censoring of images for the book on the way to print and mandates for future arcs were planned an arc beforehand. Millar wasn’t so much a fan of this (nor was a good chunk of his audience), which lead to the comments from the writer the company probably didn’t appreciate from an employee.

It became a real problem after the unfortunate, tragic events of 9/11 and was the title was purposefully delayed. The writer (and I) felt that defeated the very purpose of entertainment and not letting the real world stop it, but I think everyone can understand the thinking behind it even if they don’t agree with the choice to censor. They had a profitable company to protect and controversy could harm you just as much as it could help with violence in media being a scrutinized focal point at the time. Nevertheless the wheels fell apart, with Mark Millar leaving for Marvel, and DC deciding that in light of the tragic real life events, there would be no room on their schedule for a book like The Authority. This scuttled plans for the book’s immediate “mature readers” relaunch with arcs from Brian Azzarello and Garth Ennis on tap.

The book was never the same again, but to be fair it wasn’t for the lack of trying. DC/Wildstorm tried numerous relaunches when the pressure died down with varying degrees of success. As it stands now, the book has been missing from the shelves for almost a year (after various other starts and stops), though a comeback of sorts is being mounted in September when DC launches a new Stormwatch book by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda. It’s the first attempt in a while that has me convinced it will capture the essence of what made The Authority so special when it started – but those first twenty or so issues? They changed my life and the way I thought about storytelling, and I was never the same.

This is The Authority. This is why I read comics.

Drunk Comic Recaps: All-Star Batman and Robin #3-4

What is up, sex lemmings? I am doing this feature this week, because Brandon is not drunk and I ammmmmm! This is… DrunkComicRECAAAAPS! Basically, I am drunk as all hell on some organic wine that has cherries in it, full of delicious food (aka food drunk), and I am gonna read the fuck out of some comics. In the morning, I can’t do anything except look at the tags and pictures and make sure it shines like so many commemorative Sir Patrick Stewart rubber foreheads. That’s right, if I look at this in the morning and decide that I don’t like what I wrote, well, Drunk James can go fuccckkkk himselffff! That’s a Sober James Guarantee! Even if it’s actually Drunk James saying that. Suck my ballsack, Drunk James!

Wait, is that weird?

Whatever, you’re just gonna have to deal, because I am gonna read the shit out of issues #3 and #4 of Frank Miller‘s opus All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, and I don’t have time for you being weird about time travel autofellatio and teabaggination.

Woo!

Everybody wang chung tonight!  Also, All-Star Batman is an asshole.All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #3, aka:

ISSUE #3: HOP ON THIS PARTY BAT-BUS, THINGS ARE GOING TO GET NIPPLED

This issue starts after All-Star Batman kidnapped All-Star Dick (ha!) Grayson, who promised to be brave, “Sir,” which is basically a sex offense right there. Don’t try and deny it, Bruce; you just decided to take a kid to your CAVE OF WONDER AND ALSO DONGS and I am reading this right now!

To give Bruce time to get down, y’all, this issue starts with Black Canary! She works at a bar called Black Canary, which is kismet, or something! I think I’m using that word correctly. Fake Yiddish ancestors, give me strength!

The narrator describes this as a “rotten joint” which is like something a horse would poop, which I probably could have figured out because part of the neon sign is burnt out and there is a fat dude with his belly showing slobbering while leaving and complaining about a “little piece of sass” who thinks she is something, amirite?

Jesus, everybody in this comic is an asshole.

Anyway, this bar is at the corner of (Carmine) Infantino and (John) Broome, which is literally as subtle as I think Frank Miller gets. It’s also a place the narrator says you wouldn’t want to leave your sister unless you didn’t like her, but even if my sister wasn’t awesome (she is), I wouldn’t leave her to get raped. Fuck, the narrator is a goddamn douchebag. Also, “Great town, Gotham. You gotta love it. No, you don’t.” Frank Miller, don’t you go trying to say Gotham city isn’t wonderful, you’ve had a hard-on for it since 1986 at least.

Second page! Whoops, that dude threw up. The narrator says he is a loser.

Also, some dudes show up at The Black Canary, talking about how a certain woman is fine, ignoring the fact that Dorothy is the name of a lady. I bet he gets that a lot. Goddammit, one of the guys is named Dorothy. Did I say that?

I am actually getting creeped out with how “Oooh. Oh. Ooh,” and “fully packed” Dorothy says this woman is, I think I am going to drunkenly disapprove of him. All these dudes in the bar are fucking assholes, it makes me feel bad to be a dude. This is the comic they probably show at the classes where they teach office workers not to sexually harass their female coworkers, because every man is a prick. I am officially renewing my feminist membership, because I hate these assholes so much.

The Black Canary here is Irish (hooray!) and also a bartender at The Black Canary (hooray subtlety!), and the narrator (it’s Miller, let’s be honest) says that maybe she is cranky because it her “her time of the month” and not because a bunch of drunken Miller stand-ins are saying she should fuck them because they are one eighth Irish. I’m on her side, and I think she is going to start hitting people. They are actually drinking Jager, so you know they are tough or douchebags or something.

Fuckkkkk.

Is “Are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only ten I see” a fucking real pickup line? I am going to go hang myself. Also, “one of the older ones” just pissed his pants. Stay classy, comics!

Uh-oh, the narrator just talked about how maybe the men’s bathroom will need to be cleaned of vomit and semen in the morning, so I guess I spoke too soon. The Black Canary is talking this all in stride. Or is she?

Goddammit, the phrase “love chunks” just got uttered. Also, the picture of slowly burning dynamite that has been been used as all sorts of a subtle metaphor for Dinah’s dwindling patience has burnt out right when a dude touches her ass, things are going to get real.

I was right! Now the Black Canary is punching and kicking motherfuckers, and shit is getting real just like I said. Hooray, Dinah! Kick these assholes! But seriously, why does the narrator keep saying “CHUNKS” all over again? Truly, that is a mystery for the ages.

The narrator makes sure to say that it’s not actually these assholes that have gotten her all uppity, it’s a man (Batman). Also, he says she kicks the last of the dicks harder than she has any right to, which seems a little unfair. He fucking deserves being beaten, he is an asshole. Frank Miller stand-in, don’t be an asshole!

Dinah’s tall leprechaun boss takes the whole she-just-destroyed-the-bar–thing in stride and calls her “sweet chunks”, which is what the assholes called her, so she hits him through a window while hopping on a motorcycle. Feminism, fuck yeah! Or something. Whatever. “The Harley is a roaring lion between her legs.”

Fuck youuuuuu!

Aaaaaand cut to Batman! He reminds us that he’s kidnapped a kid, then he says “Aqualung” like he’s just done a flute solo while I wasn’t paying attention. Dick talks about how the car is going towards the rocks like a HARRIER JET and a STONE and a KNIFE and a SUBMARINE and those are all quotes and oh my god all these manly similes have worn me out.

Dick asks what a “ward” is, which he asked in issue #2 and apparently Batman never told him. Christ, what an asshole. Batman tells him to shut up and then tells Dick that he is in the BATMOBILE, because Dick asked what he called it (it talks in a British accent!). Dick says that it’s queer and Bruce doesn’t like it, or something. Does he like anything, besides manly stubble? We may never know.

Cut to Superman! He squishes a milk carton that has Dick Grayson’s name and picture on it, because apparently that milk carton was made FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO WHEN BATMAN MET DICK GRAYSON, FUCK YOU. After, Supes reads the inside of a newspaper whose cover says “BAT-NAPPED” , so I guess the story from the cover is continued on A17, or something? I don’t know. What I do know is that Superman burns the newspaper with his eye holes because he is angry, so he says, “DAMN!”

This is actually how the issue ends.

ISSUE #2: DINOSAURS IN A CAVE, ALL MANLY-LIKE

A Batsymbol is burning! An EKG machine makes shapes! Vicki Vale writhes on a gurney, yet her breasts look awesome! Yes, this is still a Frank Miller comic! These are things that are happening!

Also, I think Vicki Vale might have just died.

Meanwhile, Bruce and Dick are underwater in the Batmobile which is also the Batsubmarine, and Dick talks about how crazy this all is. We’re reminded yet again that the car talks with a British accent. Maybe it will make us some tea, amirite?

I literally just picked up the comic and realized I was reading it upside down. I thought this only happened on TV! Apparently, I was wrong. Maybe I’ve been reading it upside-down the whole time and if I just read it properly, it will make sense!

Nope.

Jesus Christ, Bruce is talking for the second time this article about how he’s had his eye on Dick for a long time, which is a little rape-y. I used to work at a program for people like that, maybe he should turn himself in and admit he needs some help. He says that he would have waited until Dick was older and could shave (hooray subtlety!), but since all this parent-murdering crap happened on his watch, Dick is his responsibility. Which might be a cognitive distortion, Bruce. Now, are you doing this because you have to or is there some other reason? Is it possible that maybe you want to take this underage boy back to your secret cave for another reason?

I’m a professional, folks.

OH MY GOD THIS BOOK IS FALLING APART IN MY HANDS OH WAIT IT’S JUST A FOLDOUT SECTION. Whew.

So, yeah. There was a 6-page foldout of the Batcave and it wouldn’t end (which, thankfully, Dick’s narration kept reminding me of). I just folded it all back up, which is a bit too much work for me when I’m drunk. I don’t like this comic any more.

While Dick talks about how expensive it would be to heat the Batcave, Alfred calls Batman! It turns out, Vicki Vale isn’t dead, though “the doctors seem somewhat at a loss,” and Alfred is taking this in stride, all things considered. Meanwhile, Bruce plays some Bach because he is classy as all shit.

Oh my god, Dick just thought about his parents’ “brains splashed all over my feet,” what the fuck is going on? Get over it, kid! I’m too drunk to be empathetic about a 12 year-old (thank you, milk carton from issue #3) whose parents just got murdered. Punch somebody or call Batman gay or something! That’s it, repress it. That’s a good Batman Junior. Just sublime it all into homosexual urges or something.

Batman gets Alfred to get Superman to get a German doctor from Paris (Vichy Regime, y’all!) to save Vicki Vale, then gloats about how he’s so smart and knows who Superman is, but Clark doesn’t know who Batman is, because he’s an asshole. Dick wants to get some new clothes without his parents’ blood on it, which gives Batman an acid flashback to Crime Alley or something.

Really, though, you’d think they’d change that name, right? I mean, it’s been how long, and they don’t fucking rename it to “Thompkins Drive” or something like that? Way to go, City Hall. Your refusal to change a street’s name is probably encouraging the never-ending cycle of crime, or something. How Calvinist. Or something.

Guys, I’m drunk.

Meanwhile, Bruce is touching Dick’s shoulder while having a flashback in a way that’s “weightless as a falling leaf” or something, so I guess he’s a nice sex offender? Doesn’t mean he won’t be on a registry. I know who you are, Bruce Wayne. I’m gonna talk to the cops.

Also, Dick thinks. Bruce is gonna cry or something. WIMPPPPPPP. WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS NOW?

Oh, right.

At the end of the issue, Batman goes off to talk to a corrupt cop while telling Dick to kill and eat a rat. Alfred gives him a bacon cheeseburger and Bruce comes back and gets mad, because I guess after his parents were killed he decided to live in the cave and eat rats? Whatever. Alfred tells Bruce he’s not his slave (take that, Malcolm X!) and not to rape/touch him, and Bruce says that means Alfred told him to “take a flying LEAP,” which doesn’t seem to, strictly speaking, be correct. Bruce blames this all on Dick, who “is going to ruin EVERYTHING.”

So, to recap: I am drunk, everybody is an asshole.

Until next time, chochachos!

You Read These With Your Eyes – June 29th, 2011

Can you hand me that cheese?

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #664 (Marvel Comics)

I’m going to be totally honest with you: I don’t actually know what this issue is about.  I imagine that, as we move closer and closer to that big ol’ Spider Island event that’s going to be showing up pretty quickly, we’ll probably see some of the lead-up to that.  Maybe even some sarcastic Spidey quotes and a bit of webslinging.

See?  I don’t really know.

What I do know, however, is that the slight delay on this issue has me absolutely clamouring for more of Dan Slott‘s remarkable take on the character, because any more than one consecutive week without it and I start going loopier than usual.  When we last saw Peter, he was trying to deal with Anti-Venom and the Wraith and a bunch of other complications in life, and I’m desperate to find out what happens.  Maybe punching!

Please let there be punching.

But mommmmm, *I* wanted to ride the buffalo!BATMAN INCORPORATED #7 (DC Comics)

I don’t think it’s any secret that both of us here at Comics! The Blog are big fans of Grant Morrison‘s epic run with the character of Bruce Wayne.  For all of the various bits of mindfuckery Morrison has done since taking over the character’s direction a few years ago, one of my favourite arcs was the “Club of Heroes” that revisited the long and basically forgotten Batmen of All Nations.  Not only was it Morrison‘s Silver Age lovefest at its best, but it also (re)introduced a bunch of fantastic characters that are absolutely ripe for increased attention.  We’ve already gotten to see several of them again as part of Batman Incorporated - not to mention Paul Cornell‘s brilliant Knight and Squire miniseries, which is also released as a trade paperback this week – but this week, we finally get to see what Morison does with the Native American characters of Man of Bats and his sidekick Robin Red.  Aboriginal people aren’t really one of the more visible minorities in mainstream comics, and a couple of issues devoted to two of them sounds absolutely wonderful to me.  Chris Burnham has been stellar so far, and this looks like yet another issue that won’t disappoint.

DETECTIVE COMICS #878 (DC Comics)

Damn, the Bat-books have been on kind of a roll lately, haven’t they?  Morrison‘s doing his thing in Incorporated, Bryan Q. Miller has been pitch perfect on Batgirl, and Gail Simone‘s Birds of Prey has been wonderful, because that’s just the way she does things.  Then, throw in Detective Comics, which has been one of the best books month in and month out since Scott Snyder took over as its writer.  The A-story for the issue, drawn with the usual mind-boggling skill from Jock, looks to be another strong one.  I mean, a villain named Tiger Shark?  Explosives?  Gotham City as a twisted mirror into the soul of its denizens and its foremost protector?  I am honestly surprised I’m not gripping my wallet already.

The series’ “secret” weapon, however, has been the Jim Gordon story illustrated by Francesco Francavilla.  Francavilla‘s art is like nobody’s I’ve ever seen before, and every new instalment of his and Snyder‘s look at the relationship between Gordon and his estranged sociopathic, maybe-serial-killer son is simultaneously creepy beyond words and a celebration of art.  The news that the two will continue working together after the DC relaunch on Swamp Thing has me suitably excited, but four (yes, that’s correct!) more issues of stories like this in the meantime?  That’ll do, pig.

You’re welcome, internet.

ROBO-FUCKING-DINOSAURS, PEOPLESUPER DINOSAUR #3 (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

If you don’t like this comic, there might be something broken inside you.  For chrissakes, it is a comic about a boy genius and his best friend WHO IS A TALKING TYRANNOSAURUS REX WHO WEARS A ROBOTIC SUIT THAT HAS A JET ENGINE AND GIANT ARMS THAT T-REX CONTROLS USING HIS OWN ADORABLY TINY ARMS.  If you don’t like this, well, you need to reconsider a lot of life decisions.  Maybe even see a therapist.  I mean, just… wow.  Wow.  I feel bad for you.

Writer Robert Kirkman has talked about how Super Dinosaur came into existence because he wanted to write a comic that his son (WHO IS NAMED PETER PARKER, SUCK IT NICOLAS CAGE, BUT PLEASE MAKE MORE NATIONAL TREASURE MOVIES THANK YOU) could read.  Because, well, as wonderful as The Walking Dead is, it’s not really all-ages, what with the murders and rapes and undead and all.  Did he know that when he sat down to write a simple tale about a boy who fights evil with his dinosaur best friend (!) that he’d be stumbling onto something that adults everywhere would start hyperventilating over?  Maybe.  He’s pretty savvy.  But I like to think that this whole series is just one big happy accident, a perfect combination of content suitable for all ages and a concept that is too incredible not to love that just kind of came together.  Whatever the case, this is a comic that brings out that pure, childhood love out in adults, and that is something that should be applauded.

THE WALKING DEAD #86

If I were to be completely honest, I’d have to admit that I kind of thought Rick Grimes’ son Carl would be “safe” in The Walking Dead.  Yeah, I know that Rick’s wife and newborn daughter were horribly murdered already.  I know that there have been so many beloved characters that were horribly murdered along the way that as soon as I saw Lori take a bullet, I should have just figured anything was fair game.  Call it Robert Kirkman‘s storytelling skill, then, and not my incredible gullibility, that when Carl took a bullet to the head a few issues ago, it caught me completely off guard.

No, I don’t think that’s a spoiler at this point.

In the end, that’s the real strength of the series; that after 86 issues of murder and gore and the absolute worst things that people can do to each other, I was still shocked by something as simple as a stray bullet.  The fallout from that one event looks to be massive, and with this week’s issue, we should see things develop even more.  Are the survivors safe where they are?  Pull your head out of your ass.  Of course they aren’t.  Even if they’re not in any danger from zombies for the time being, the series’ big lesson can probably be described as “people are fucking awful,” and Rick, Andrea, Glenn and the rest aren’t exactly living with cuddly penguins right now.  I think it’s safe to say that things are going to get sticky pretty quickly.  I can’t wait to crack open this issue and find out how.

Does that make me a bad person?

These are just five books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below.

C!TB: A Restatement of Purpose

In the past few weeks, thanks to the unfounded and bewildering attention we were given by some legitimate comic book creators, we’ve seen quite a traffic jump here at the ol’ blog. This being so, we felt it was time to take a look at the foundations of the site, in order to give new readers the basics on what we’re hoping to accomplish with the site, and to remind ourselves about why we’re doing this.

So.

WE LIKE COMICS

Because what’s not to like? It’s a medium in which everything is possible, and anything can happen. The real world is far to mundane to settle for – give us the fantastic, give us the amazing, give us something perfect and explosive that could never, and would never happen within the confines of reality. Cause our minds to reel and we’ll be yours forever.

HE-MAN WOMAN HATERS NEED NOT APPLY

We’re not going to be precious or protective. Yes, we all love the art form, but you know those assholes who smirk at you when you don’t know that awesome band, or haven’t read that really cool book? You know how absolutely off-putting and annoying those too-cool-for-school kids are? Well a lot of the time, our entire industry acts like that. We put up smirking roadblocks, whether it be the person who rolls their eyes at a bombastic issue of Thor or that douche bag that clucks at your lack of pre-Crisis knowledge. You shouldn’t need to know a secret handshake to enjoy comics, and more importantly, there’s no wrong way to enjoy them. This is an industry in which a relatively small amount of money is made, from the editors to the creators, all the way down the the retailers. They could all be swimming in a Scrooge McDuck money bank filled with Loonies if they smartened the fuck up and went into movies and the like – but they don’t because they love this medium. We love this medium. And while we all might enjoy different things, never forget that we’re here, because we love comic books. We try and get this across with everything we do here, and we think it would be keen if you all endeavoured to do so as well.

IT’S NOT CURRENCY

Obviously, we’re not afraid to like things – but many people are. While there are those out there who carry fandom around as though it were some kind of currency, there are others would discard fandom for the appearance of importance – as though somehow appearing to like something deadens the importance of a work. The result of this is a noisy tangle of internet that feels the need to pick apart the books that they are reading – not for constructive purposes, but to give their opinions weight through deconstruction. Not only does it seem ridiculously pretentious, but it does active harm to an industry clawing for respect.

And so we always endeavour to be positive, though not to a fault. Certainly, there are books out there that we don’t appreciate and for the most part, we allow them the courtesy of existing for the people who will enjoy that book. We don’t operate under the pretension that all books were made with us in mind specifically (though we do operate under the assumption that all books written by Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen and Nick Spencer were made with us in mind specifically) and we leave those books to the mercy of those who will enjoy them. On the rare occasion that we do feel the need to talk about something that didn’t quite work, we always, always, always make an effort to be constructive, to note intent and to present our thoughts as exactly what it is: not high brow criticism, but the opinions and thoughts of a fan.

IN SUMMARY

Comics are awesome, and we should all really stop telling the world how much we hate them – because we don’t. At worst, they amuse us and at best, they amaze us. We’d like them to stick around for quite some time and provide us with stories brimming with the impossible, but that won’t happen if we keep trying to tear them down for facetious reasons. So let’s talk about the things we love. Okay?

Okay.

This, is Comics! The Blog.

C!TB's Best of the Week | June 27th, 2011

Your mother was an attractive lady. Also: I hate you.

I don’t want this weekend to eeeeeeennnnddd!

Oh, hello there.

Welcome to Comics! The Blog and the customary weekend-ending Rebecca Black-a-thon, which is absolutely a real thing.  Man, this weekend was over in the blink of an eye, and I really wish that wasn’t the case.  However, it’s another week here, and we’ve got some good stuff for you.  Take this, for example: the best comics of last week, all in a healthy travel-sized entree size.

Like the Tonys, but more flamboyant.

Seconds later, Batman threw somebody through the stained glass window, ruining the moment forever.DAMIAN WAYNE AND THE GATES TO MY HEART

Man, how lucky are we these days?  We go about our days, doing our things, and then we get two different Batman comic book series written by Scott Snyder!  It hardly seems fair; I mean, I didn’t get DC anything at all.  Well, except my money.  I… didn’t think this one out.

One of the things that makes Snyder‘s Bat-comics (including this and Detective Comics, plus Batman after the relaunch) so great is that he makes the city itself a character.  In “The Black Mirror”, his opening arc for Detective, it was about the corrupting influence of the city, the Abyss that you gaze into.  Here, it’s about the city as a living, breathing piece of history, a place where families grow and build around them.  Snyder‘s choice to use the entire group of Wayne kids, Cassandra Cain included is an inspired one, because it gives the issue and series a sense of purpose: these are the city’s future, swinging from pieces of its history to try and preserve it so that it lives to loom and grow another day.  And in honour of this and so much more of its genius, we officially give Batman: Gates of Gotham #2 the I See What You Did There Award. (J)

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK HAD A BUNCH OF HITS, CHINESE FOOD MAKES ME SICK

But I think it’s fly when girls stop by for the summer! For the…

WHAT. What are you staring at. Is it me? Is it me, because I’m singing Summer Girls by that band I can’t remember? Yeah, okay, I’ll admit, that’s a little strange, even for me. You can blame this asshole, who posted the song to his facebook on the first day of summer, thereby ruining my life for a day. Anyway, what am I doing? Right, the awards thing.

Okay, so this week saw the long long awaited (by me) release of All Nighter, a refuge from DC’s failed Minx line of original black and white graphic novels. Much like the rest of the line, it featured stories geared towards a more atypical comic reading audience – that of teenage girls. This book hits that demographic quite well, focusing on characters just out of high school, trapped in a situation featuring a bit of heightened reality. See, Kit’s trying to live life on the straight and narrow, but her douche canoe of a boyfriend keeps trying to pull her into a life of sexy crime. Which is bad. Anyway, the story here is quite good, and doesn’t tip over into melodrama. The characters are well realized, and despite their flaws, don’t come across as annoying – or at least unintentionally. That one guy is kind’ve a dick. Anyway, for his efforts, David Hahn is hereby rewarded with our Wears Abecrombie and Fitch Award. Because if I have to have this pain, I might as well share it with all of you. (B)

Like James Van Der Beek in comics form.

The Spider is dead! Long live the Spider!

Come on, could it really be anything else?  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: since its inception over a decade ago, Ultimate Spider-Man has been just about the most consistently fantastic comic of that period (that doesn’t mean there weren’t other consistently wonderful ones, so don’t even start with me).  The series’ consistent quality is almost improbable.  160 issues?  As this era of the title ends, I look back, and… goddamn, this is a pretty unbroken stream of quality.  How does something like that even happen?

Take a look at this issue, the culmination of the whole Death of Spider-Man arc.  This is not a spoiler; this whole arc’s primary outcome was spoiled by its title months ago, and yet, as I turned those pages this week in Brandon’s store, because no, I was not going to wait until I got home?  I teared up.  It was just so moving and so wonderful.  This could basically be a summary of the series and of the whole Ultimate line: we think we know what’s going to happen, because, hey, we know Spider-Man, right?  But page in and page out, I’m just so surprised by what the series is able to do with something I think I understand, and it’s all due to the incredible talent of Brian Michael Bendis and his artists like Mark Bagley, whose return to the series he spent over a hundred issues on could not be sweeter and more beautiful to look at.

This whole “death” thing, we think we know that, because this is a comic book and we know all about comic book deaths, right?  Well, fuck that noise, because the storytelling here is so sublime and so wonderful that it caught me off guard with every page.  Brandon can attest to it, because he was there: I gasped, I muttered, and the pollen in there got ca-razy.  That’s the mark of a good comic; taking something we’d swear we could telegraph in advance and proving us wrong every step of the way.

And that ending?  The one that so perfectly calls back to the beginning of the series, to the very distilled idea of who Spider-Man is?  It’s perfect. (J)

This is Comics! The Blog. We now commence our broadcast week.

You’re Welcome, Internet | June 20-24, 2011

Steven Alan Gorbachev wants your eyes.

Dear internet. We’ve known each other for how long? A week and a day, at least. And in that time, we’ve gotten pretty close. Shared some laughs. Shared some loves. Shared some viruses. The whole deal. Anyway, in that time, I don’t think you’ve once… not once… thanked us for our contribution to you. Not. Once. And it hurts, okay? It’s hurts hard. So maybe… maybe this time, you might give us a little something back? Please, just a little? We’d… we’d really like that.

You’re welcome.

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Toby Keith has really let himself go.

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Been there, unless you're my sponsor.

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Let's see Johnny Depp play this.

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I'll take eight!

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God, I bet he'll find a way to make this THEIR fault.

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Mustache powers, activate!(From Three Word Phrase)

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I'll take eight!

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I'll take less.

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Where it's at!

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SCHATZ: Alright, so it probably goes without saying but, this week was pretty rad. We talked to Scott Kurtz about the postal strike, the Immonens about Ernest Hemmingway and Gail Simone about… well, about completely legit comic book happenings. Not sure how that happened exactly, but there it is. Also, we were finally adopted! Which was great.

Now look, I’d say next week we’re going to top it, but let’s face it. That’s not going to happen. But we’ve got a few neat things lined up, so who knows? Until then…

LEASK: People, I certainly hope that whenever today and this feature roll around, that you immediately get Rebecca Black’s song “Friday” stuck in your head.  That’s the only way to live, my friends.

Basically, this was an awesome week.  On Sunday, Brandon and I went down to the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, and in between all the purchases and signings, we were lucky enough to talk to a bunch of creators we really admire.  Somehow, these interviews have gone over well – which is, frankly, baffling – and we get to end another strong week full of nothing but good feelings and that comforting sleep deprivation that comes from three late nights transcribing interviews.

Guys, I’m tired.

You have been reading Comics! The Blog. This concludes our broadcast week.

Interview: Scott Kurtz

Wouldn't you kiss those lips?

Interview: Scott Kurtz

One of the creators that we had a chance to talk to on the weekend was Scott Kurtz.  Scott is a true pioneer in the field of webcomics; his strip, PVP (Player Vs. Player) began in 1998 and, 13 years later, has grown and evolved to be one of the most successful webcomics in the business.  He is the co-author of the book How to Make Webcomics and, with Kris Straub, creator of Starslip Crisis and Chainsaw Suit, he makes Blaminations, which air on Penny Arcade TV.

Until July 8, 2011, you can pre-order a signed DVD copy of the first season of Scott and Kris’ Blaminations, complete with bonus features, including three bonus Blam Knights episodes, commentary from Scott and Kris on each episode, video of the duo’s live panel from PAX East 2011, and The Alliday single “Scott’s Song”, and that’s not even to mention the crazy awesome, limited edition map of Rivenshire, which is totally a thing you should watch the Blaminations to learn about.  Basically, this is an embarrassment of riches, and I can’t believe you haven’t ordered it yet.  Why haven’t you?  Come on!

Our conversation with Scott was a lot of fun, ranging from the current Canada Post strike [Ed note: Yes, really] to digital comics and the Reuben Awards.  Scott’s role as one of the primogenitors of webcomics means that he has a lot of useful insights about the medium, and we were lucky enough to talk to him quickly about that and more.

James: So how’s Calgary treating you?

Scott: Oh man, the show was insane!  I mean, like, I sold out at eleven on Saturday morning!

J!TB: Yeah!  I got here at noon yesterday, and I was thinking, I’m going to buy a bunch of your books!

Scott: Nope.

J!TB: And they were all gone!

Scott: I did not bring near enough.  Completely underestimated how much to bring.

J!TB: Once the postal strike is over, I’ll have to order a bunch of stuff from your store.

Scott: Yeah, what is up with that?

Brandon: Uh… shenanigans.  It doesn’t really happen that often, but when they do…

J!TB: They might be getting back to work legislation this week, though.

Scott: There was an airline strike, right?

B!TB: Yeah.

Scott: And then a mail strike?

B!TB: Yes.

J!TB: Mmm-hmm.  And the airline strike used to be our national airline that we owned.  It was an odd week: one crown corporation and an old crown corporation both go on strike.

Scott: Oh, wow.

J!TB: And then Vancouver rioted.

Scott: Yeah… that’s really…  that doesn’t count, that’s just a bunch of assholes.

B!TB: That’s a bunch of people fucked up on hockey, that’s what that is.

Scott: Yeah.

J!TB: So how has the move to Seattle treated you?

Scott: I love it in Seattle.  It’s an amazing city, I wish I had moved there earlier.

J!TB: I’ve only been there twice, but I really liked it.  I went there for PAX 09 and another time just for fun.

Scott: Yeah, PAX is great!

J!TB: So what kind of things are you reading right now?  Like, comics, books, anything.

Scott: What comics, books or anything am I reading right now?  I’m not reading anything right now actually on a regular basis, I’m not picking up current titles. I haven’t been to a comic book shop in a long time.  I’m reading mostly online stuff.  And I’ve kind of been reading novels again, so I’ve been really into A Song of Fire and Ice, I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin stuff.

J!TB: I recently had Patrick Rothfuss recommended to me.

Scott: Yeah, The Name of the Wind, I need to read that.  [Mike] Krahulik [of Penny Arcade] loves that.

J!TB: It’s great.  I’m about halfway through it and I’m loving it.  But speaking of reading a lot of things digitally, you’ve long talked about digital comics being just as important as print ones,

Scott: Sure.

J!TB: So what do you think about the big announcement from DC, that they’ll be publishing everything digital day-and-date?

Scott: I think they’re completely different animals, I think that for the comic book companies, that digital is a secondary market, and for us it’s our main form of monetization, so they look at it – and have to look at it – completely different from the way we look at things.  They are making comics and then remonetizing them, so I think it’s really smart.  I think the trick is going to be them letting go of having to help the retailers.

B!TB: Yes.

J!TB: Yeah.

Scott: Because I think that’s going to doom everybody.

B!TB: Everyone was asking why the price point, and the moment that they can make it work otherwise, they’re going to drop the prices, and they’re still going to do $1.99, which I don’t think is right either, but the moment that they can make it work without kind of the retail numbers being so important to them, they’re going to do it.

Scott: Yeah, they’re going to.  They’re going to have to.  So I think that’s going to stall things for a while.

J!TB: So I heard you went to the Reuben Awards recently, what was that like?

Scott: Yeah!  It was amazing, we had a really good time.  The NCS [National Cartoonists Society] is really open to learning about webcomics and how they work, and that kind of monetization, because their main business model is dying off.  And pretty much all the cartoonists there are just really excited and open that webcomics are comic in, and it was really good.  And it was fun to meet all my heroes and stuff!

J!TB: I know Bill Amend [of Fox Trot] is pretty big on digital comics.

Scott: Oh yeah, Bill gets it.  Bill has no problem understanding it.

J!TB: I liked seeing that as soon as he went to digital production, you could see the shift in his work a little bit; some of those references became a little more obscure, a little more nerdy.

Scott: Yeah.

J!TB: And so now I read Fox Trot and think, Yessssss, I have loved you since I was a kid and now I love you even more.

Scott: Yeah, Bill is in a position where he can take a couple more chances these days.

J!TB: Definitely.  Well, thank you very much!

Scott: Yeah, no problem!

J!TB: And, of course, our customary final question: will you adopt us?

Scott: Will I adopt you?

B!TB: Yes.

J!TB: We’re willing to relocate.

Scott: Um… alright.  I don’t have any kids.  I hope you like dogs, we’ve got two.

J!TB: Of course!

Scott: Alright, we’ll adopt you.

B!TB: Hooray!

Thanks again to Papa Scott for taking the time to talk to us and for agreeing to adopt us, thus ending our gruelling daylong search for comics parents.

Interview: Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen

Before we got there, there were many more books for sale.  We fixed that.
Photo courtesy of Kris Twyman, via http://immonen.ca

Interview: Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen

Over the weekend at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, Brandon and James had the great fortune to be able to talk with husband and wife writer/artist team Kathryn and Stuart Immonen.  The resulting conversation was absolutely wonderful, with constant laughter and wild gesturing.  It ranged from Patsy Walker: Hellcat to Ernest Hemingway, to Hemingway! The Musical and back to Patsy Walker: Hellcat, who stars in it.  Somewhere in the middle, we talked about the pair’s upcoming graphic novel, Russian Olive to Red King, as well as a certain Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock film about a time traveling mailbox.

Assume that everybody involved was constantly laughing, and join us as the RECORD button finally got pushed, a minute or two into a discussion about planets.

James: The industry should be dedicated towards more Patsy Walker: Hellcat.

Kathryn: That’s what I think!

Stuart: Yes!

Kathryn: If there should be crossovers, they should be with Patsy Walker: Hellcat.

Stuart: It should be Patsy Planet; all super heroes resemble her in some way.

Kathryn: That’s right.

J!TB: The Patsyverse!

Stuart: Yes!

Brandon: We need to get Axel Alonso on the phone.

Stuart: Yes!

B!TB: Because we’ve got a crackerjack idea for him.

Kathryn: That sounds like a winner.

J!TB: So what is your favourite thing that you’re reading right now?  Books, comics…

[Stuart signs an autograph for a fan, apologizes.]

Kathryn: What is on the bedside table right now?  Oh, it’s Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, which is the most lovely and beguiling story.  But really, you know, comics right now, it’s for work.  It’s one of the unpleasant side effects of working for Marvel or for any of them.  The amount of reading you have to do kind of eclipses the reading that you might want to do.

J!TB: Whatever brings you joy, I mean that’s what we’re about at Comics! The Blog: things we like.

Kathryn: I like Hemingway… I like Hemingway!

B!TB: There you go, that’s what we needed to know.

Kathryn: He’s an okay writer, right?

Stuart: I think he’s going to go places!

Kathryn: I think that too.  He’s got potential.

Stuart: He’d fight you to prove it.

B!TB: That would be fantastic, I would love that story.

Kathryn: Apparently he wasn’t that good of a boxer.  It was all a lot of bluster, not a lot of technique.

J!TB: But a story about Ernest Hemingway, the failed boxer?  That sounds wonderful.

Kathryn: Well, didn’t they do a movie that was about the fight – the so-called fight – between Hemingway and… on come on… help me out…

J!TB: It wasn’t Faulkner… I know they had an odd, occasionally–

Kathryn: I think it was in Toronto, and they were in the ring, and it’s like… aw, I can’t remember who it was.  I don’t think it happened the way he talked about it.

Innocent bystander: Wasn’t it called Fighting Hemingway?

Kathryn: I think it might have been.  That was a very longwinded answer.

B!TB: No worries, this is exactly the thing we’re interested in.

J!TB: So what kind of things are you working on right now?  That you can obviously talk about?

Kathryn: Yeah, you know, I hate that so much.  People online say, “Aw, I wish I could talk about-“ Oh, shut up.  If you can’t talk about it, then don’t talk about it.  “Look at me!”

B!TB: “You know, this thing’s coming, and it’s–“

Stuart: Oh, look at you!

Kathryn: “–It’s just fantastic, but I can’t!  I wish I could tell you!”

Stuart: “–Way too important.”

Kathryn: “It’s way too top secret.”  I am right at the beginning of working on something that’s just one issue, I can’t, It’s not… whatever.  So I can’t tell you, but what’s happening is that in the fall, Stuart and I are taking a little break, hopefully, to work on our next book together, so it gets a little–

Stuart: Not hopefully, definitely.

Kathryn: Yeah.  Definitely.

J!TB: It’s a working vacation.

Kathryn: Yeah. So, it’s Russian Olive to Red King and that’s really the next thing on our list of things to do.

Stuart: Actually, it’s already been scripted, and I did the first 20 or so pages in pencil form, and then I started Fear Itself and had to put it aside, but it’s always been sort of in the back of our minds that we had to find time to do it.  And then, you know, I got the email from Tom Brevoort, who’s the editor on Fear Itself, just a few weeks ago, saying, “Oh, we’ve got something in mind for you,” which of course I can’t talk about.  But it won’t start until later on in the year, maybe in 2012, and I said, “Well, that sounds perfect, because I want to do this other thing.”  It all works out.

J!TB: So would this project you’re working on together be something like, will it be serialized like Moving Pictures or will it be a book that people buy?

Kathryn: A book that people will buy.

B!TB: It’s true.

J!TB: We’re going to force people to on the site.

Kathryn: Nice! When we serialized Moving Pictures, it was not really because we wanted to do a webcomic, it was just because we needed a way to have a deadline in between all the Marvel stuff to make sure that it happened.  As a result, it took three years, which is a very long time, so this book will take three months and then it should be basically done, so it could be out sometime next year.

Stuart: Well, that’s a little bit optimistic; we don’t even have a publisher yet lined up for it, but the same way that Moving Pictures was completed before we shopped it around to different interested parties, Russian Olive to Red King is going to be completely done before we ask anybody to look at it.  And that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for the editorial process, because we’re very keen on that, we’re very keen on getting some fresh eyes to look at the material and tell us where, you know, we might have gone astray from the original idea.

Kathryn: And where we forgot to have a car chase and a gunfight.

Stuart: We deviated.  But at the same time, we’re very much aware that publishers at every level in the industry are really interested in having complete works that they don’t have to wait on before they can decide whether it’s good for them or not.

J!TB: Any word on what Russian Olive to Red King will be about?

Stuart: I’ll let Kathryn handle that.

Kathryn: It’s a scorcher.  It’s basically a love story.  It’s about loss, I guess.  It’s wrapped up in a delicious package that looks like a ghost story.  It’s two parallel narratives: it’s about a man and a woman, and they are together, but in this story he’s at home, experiencing writer’s block and also a lot of personal trauma, and she’s just been in a plane crash in Northern Ontario, which she may or may not have survived.  It’s uncertain, it becomes more clear as you go along that at one point she may have actually died, and it may not be until the end.  So it has all the hallmarks of a love story.

Stuart: A love story in which the two main characters never interact with each other at all.

J!TB: Oh, The Lake House!

Kathryn: Oh god!  Yes!  It’s like The Lake House-meets–

Stuart:The Time Traveller’s Wife.

Kathryn: Oh my god, I’m sorry–

J!TB: That’s the pull quote!

Kathryn: Oh dear… talk about a beguiling tale.  Inspired by Hemingway, and then she fights a marlin… and Faulkner.

Stuart: That sounds like a Patsy Walker story.

J!TB: She’s already fought Oppenheimers. [Ed note: in Heralds #1]

Kathryn: That’s right!  I am so happy.

B!TB: That happened!

Stuart: Punch that fish on the nose!

Kathryn: That’s right!  Patsy Walker fights Hemingway.  That’s where we’re going with this one.  Nice!  Patsy Walker is Hemingway: The MusicalHemingway, exclamation point!

B!TB: Exclamation point, exactly! I would see that!

Kathryn: Dancing fish?

B!TB: Yeah yeah!

Kathryn: Awesome!

Stuart: They won’t be able to capture the physical element of this conversation. [Ed note: it was incredible]

Kathryn: That’s right! Bracket, dancing, close bracket!

B!TB: No worries.

Kathryn: Oh my god.

B!TB: That was fantastic.

J!TB: And now our customary final question at Comics! The Blog: will you adopt us?

Kathryn: Well, do you know what?  Andy Belanger, Kill Shakespeare artist, has already asked, so you’ll have to get in line.

Stuart: We have one slot available.

Kathryn: That’s right.

Stuart: And he took it up, earlier on, just earlier this weekend.

Kathryn: If only you’d gotten here a little bit sooner.

B!TB: Well, I guess that’s fair enough, because then we would have had to fight and that would have been bad.

Stuart: Yeah.

Kathryn: That’s right, unless you know–

Stuart: –Unless there were marlins involved.

B!TB: Exactly.  We were not prepared.

Stuart: Waterproof boxing.

B!TB: Awesome!  Thank you very much.

Stuart: You’re welcome.  Thank you!

Kathryn: I’ve gotta find a way to add Wolverine to it, that way it’ll sell.

This was maybe the greatest day ever.  Thank you to both Kathryn and Stuart for their time and for being much, much funnier than us.

Something About The Death of Spider-Man

Yet another warning for all who have entered: there are spoilers ahead. Adjust your brainspace accordingly.

01. IF IT BLEEDS, IT LEADS

I stopped watching the news when I moved to the big city. Up until that point in time, I lived in a small town, away from the hustle and bustle, and when the newscaster appeared and started relating “local” events occurring 200 km away, I felt a sense of detachment – and rightfully so. That murder that happened? That was something that happened in other places, in fantastical locales with their tall buildings and their hustle and bustle. Thinking about it now, I’m pretty sure I relegated the news to the same part of my brain that watched and enjoyed things like Gilmore Girls, watching things happen as though they were a form of entertainment. To be fair, this is how a lot of news is relayed anymore. There’s no real statement of fact, no basic need to let you know what’s going on in the world. Sure, that’s part of the equation, but a bigger piece of the pie involves cash money – in that a newcast’s first goal, is to make sure they are making the most money, and to do so, they have to create a sense of sensation to get people to watch. Anyway, when I moved the whole process became too much for me to handle, because that shit was no longer just happening in some kind of fictitional funland. It was happening across the street. And the people who were telling me about these horrific events? They were doing a song and dance, winking at the camera as they spoke about a decapitation and not two seconds later, started talking about a water-skiing squirrel with equal aplomb. Now, I can’t really blame them for taking this tactic. Whenever someone makes an attempt to deliver the news in a more in depth and/or dry manner, they are usually met with a complete indifference. People don’t just want to know the facts, they want to feel them, and if you can’t crack through to something that interests them, they’re not going to watch – and the circus of death sells tickets. It appeals to the base emotions, either in the way we all like to take a few seconds to watch how brutal a car crash looks, or in the way that it makes us weepy to think of our own mortality and how fragile all this shit can be.

Which brings us to the nutmeat of this article.

02. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Today at your local comic shop, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #160 is on the stands. Yesterday (as has become custom when “big things” happen) Marvel took to the news sites with a press release denoting the fact that good ol’ Peter Parker would be taking one of those extra long naps, all permanent-like. Naturally, the internet was upset. Spoilers the day before the issue hits? Scandalous. Forgetting the fact that the story was titled “The Death of Spider-Man”, this kind of behaviour is… well, it’s slightly questionable. Undoubtedly, its about bumping up some sales, goosing the numbers and creating a bit of a newscast death circus. It seems like its in poor taste, but let’s try and remember something: as much as we don’t like it when things are spoiled for us, we are definitely, absolutely asking for it.

Take a look at any convention panel, or any interview with a creator working at the big two. A large chunk of the questions are gentle probes, asking the creators to cough up details on their upcoming books. I know we were certainly guilty of a little of that in our interview with Gail Simone, and a lot of that just comes from a place where, as fans, we’re just bursting with excitement to see what’s coming up next. That said, when creators actually cough up details, the result is usually… deflating. On the one had, you’ve been given a nugget of something new and different that will happening soon. But on the other hand, now that you have that information, you don’t get to experience it fresh, smiling with surprise when the big change hits. Herein lies the problem.

03. SPOILERS AHOY!

The industry is in such a place where spoilers are needed to move books. Previews come out months ahead of the issues they are selling, spoiling details of upcoming stories here and there. When this happens, people get pissed that they weren’t able to experience a certain plot point without being spoiled. Conversely, when comic book companies attempt to hide details, readers and retailers freak out, because how are they going to know how to spend their money? We’ve seen in the past how a lack of information can harm a book. Recently, I can think of Marvel’s new book Mystery Men by current Black Panther writer David Liss. When the book was listed inside the Marvel Previews, there was nothing but a picture of the first cover, some names of the writer and artist (Patrick Zircher, for the record) and a big ol’ stamp that said “Classified”. And while its true the details of the book were handed out by the time orders were due, how many retailers do you think went out and sought that information out? Or how many people do you think attempted to look up information after the point? Fact is, from moment one, people knew nothing about the book, retailers, readers, etc, and as a result, I know I’m selling far less than what I would like to. Given some time and information, I would’ve set about plying the old sales technique to readers getting Black Panther on board with the book. After all, Liss is killing it on that book, to the point where our sales of that book outstretched the Daredevil: Reborn mini series that dealth with similar aftermath. But here’s the thing. You can not – can not hand sell a book to someone, if you don’t know a thing about it. It’s just not possible. Sure, there’s the odd occasion where you can drop the name of a creator and have a person add it to their file sight unseen – but people like that are in the minority. This is why before the store opens on Wednesdays, I like to make sure I’ve read every jumping on point book – be it a new number one, the start of a new creative team, or arc. Some weeks, its hard and others its impossible (I’m looking at you, September) but at the end of the day, when I have customers asking me about comics, I need to be able to tell them something. Anything.

But I digress. The spoiler culture that exists in comics today is something of a problem, though a necessary one. Born out of a need for sales and perpetuated by results, it’s not going away anytime soon. Many have stated that a way to stem this tide would be to only give retailers the information about upcoming books and leave it at that, but there’s a couple of problem with that. The first, is the fact that retailers would just turn around and feed that information to the internet and their customers anyway. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, when DC sent retailers an e-mail containing the complete solicitation information for their 52 new September ongoings three days before they were meant to go live, that information was posted to the internet almost instantaneously. I know that one Dick at that Bleeding site had it all up in short order, followed by Newsarama, as a few retailers saw fit to push the info out there, in direct conflict with their agreement with Diamond and the publishers.

But truth be told, why would a retailer want to keep that kind of information to themselves? Why wouldn’t they want to share it with their customer base so that they could get a sense of what to order, and in what quantities? The comic book industry is rocky enough, as the majority of the product is ordered without the option of returns to help stem risk – and even when customers are in the know, its hard to gauge just how well or poorly a book will sell. So as it stands now? We will probably just have to deal with the cards that we’re dealt and roll with a few spoilers. At least until the way the industry drifts towards more towards the digital market, wherein the whole scarcity thing isn’t really a major thing and publishers can just announce things day of release and watch the numbers roll in.

04. SO WHAT IS IT YOU’RE GETTING AT, EXACTLY

This:

Comics don’t sell if readers don’t know what they are about.

So:

Comic book companies and retailers are going to spoil the shit out of them.

What can you do:

Close your ears when you know you’re going to buy something. Open them when you’re not sure.

And seriously:

The whole series was called The Death of Spider-Man. What exactly did you think was going to happen at the end? Hugs? (Actually, I’m pretty sure there is a hug.) No. And besides, they way it all comes together? Is pretty damn poetic.

But more on that later.

Interview: Gail Simone

ALL HAIL GAIL.

Interview: Gail Simone

This last weekend, C!TB attended the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, the largest event of its kind in Western Canada.  One of the highlights was meeting one of C!TB‘s favourite creators, the esteemed Gail Simone.  Gail is known for her work on DeadpoolBirds of Prey and Secret Six, as well as being one of the leaders in creating and advocating a diverse comics industry.  Gail was generous enough to take time from her busy convention schedule to talk about the DC relaunch (where she’s writing Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and collaborating with Ethan Van Sciver on The Fury of Firestorm), the opportunities presented by digital comics, and being told she’d never make a living as a writer.

James: So, any big news recently?

Gail Simone: Are you kidding me?  Everything new is happening, are you kidding me?  Coming out in September is Batgirl #1 with Barbara Gordon as Batgirl again, and also I’m working on The Fury of Firestorm with Ethan Van Sciver and Yildiray Cinar, I’m very excited about both projects.

Brandon: I may have gotten my facts confused, but Wildstorm is in a wheelchair, right?

G: Wildstorm is in a wheelchair, what? [Laughs]

B!TB: Firestorm is in a wheelchair, I mean.

G: [Laughs] No.  You’re… you’re confused.

J!TB: So how do you write Babs differently as Batgirl than you would as Oracle?  Is there a different psychology to it that you’re finding?

G: I don’t want to say too much to answer that question because a lot of that is definitely story elements that we want to reveal as the reader’s reading it.  She’s still Barbara Gordon, she’s still very much the smart, compassionate, take no crap and kick ass kind of character, just like she was in or out of the wheelchair.  There’s a different take on it, it’s all very positive and I feel there’s changes in her that will effect her psychologically a little bit, yes, and we’ll reveal that as we’re going through the story bits at a time how she’s feeling about being Batgirl again.

B!TB: So at the comic store that I work at, for the past few weeks, whereas people in comics to a certain extent will talk comics, when a person goes to the comic store that’s where they have to talk

G: Right, exactly.

B!TB: So for the last two weeks, a lot of what I find is when I’ve told people about Batgirl, because it is one of the bigger things in the relaunch, is I find first they’re a little, like, “No, no, no,” but actually, when they hear that you’re writing it, they kind of step back and go, “…I will read that.”

G: [Laughs] That is very flattering and great that people will have that kind of trust and I’m hoping that I’m honouring that when they read the work, because we all worked really hard on it, it’s an absolutely stunningly gorgeous book.  One of the things we’re seeing is true joy in it and I’m having a lot of fun writing a character that’s just so full of joy even though there may be some bad things going on, so I’m really enjoying that and every panel that Ardian [Syaf] turns in is just a joy.  He’s so good with facial expressions and action and the designing of the costumes and the new villains, it’s just all very exciting.

J!TB: Our big site ethos is talk about what we like, and so we like finding the joy in comics so I’m really glad to hear that, because there’s a lot of joy and that it’s fun.

G: There is.  I mean, not to say there won’t be things other than joy.

J!TB: [Laughs] It’s all going to be rainbows and sprinkles.

G: [Laughs] Of course! Because it’s a girl book, right?

J!TB: Yeah! [Ed note: No.]

G: The art that they showed yesterday here at the convention for the first time, just a full page of her in the new Batgirl suit, and it’s just so beautiful and so, you could just feel the exhilaration when you looked at that page, that she must be feeling, being able to do that, so I’m excited for people to see the rest.

J!TB: Is it a difficult situation?  I mean, there are verystrong opinions on both sides with Babs returning as Batgirl.

G: I don’t know if I would call it difficult, because I certainly understand everyone’s concerns.  I was concerned about it as well.  I went back and forth on whether this was a good idea and I would not have agreed to it if I did not think that it was a positive thing, that I could hopefully handle it well and do everything justice.  There has been a strong reaction and that is such a compliment to all of the people who have worked on Birds of Prey and written Oracle in the past, how she has just really become such a large part of the DCU, and I’m excited about that idea as well, and I think with what we’re doing with the new Batgirl, with her as Batgirl, is every bit as exciting.

B!TB: A lot of people have been skipping over the Firestorm of it all, which makes us sad, because I have a feeling that book is going to be great.  Ethan Van Sciver is not a person known a lot for writing, but how does that sort of collaboration work out?

G: First of all, don’t be afraid to pick this book up.  This book is something completely different.  It has Ethan’s energy; probably the closest thing I can relate it to is the very first issues of Green Lantern with Geoff Johns and Ethan.  The stories are huge, large scoping stories that build and build and build, and the way that the project is working is that I turned down the project quite a few times [Laughs] and Ethan literally kept saying, “Gail, no, this is going to be awesome, you have to do this, you have to write it, no, this is going to be awesome.”  I was, “No, I don’t want to, I have nothing to say about this character,” and I can’t write a book if I don’t feel like I have something anything to say or something new to add or something, you know?  And he just kept saying, “No, it’s going to be awesome,” and so finally, he just talked to me enough and I really respect his work and his ideas enough that I finally sit down and listened.  It just sparked all these ideas and he and I went back and forth quite a while and put together a pitch.  He’s co-plotting and doing the covers and kind of looking at the art as it comes in – which has all been fantastic – and I’ve been scripting and also co-plotting.

J!TB: That’s really cool!  I know I didn’t really know a lot about Firestorm before Blackest Day. [Ed note: Let’s just pretend this was a deliberate portmanteau, how about?]

G: Right, and you don’t have to start with this, either.

J!TB: And that’s the good part about the relaunch.  There are DC books that I pick up, but there are a lot I don’t, and now I’m looking at the 52 titles and thinking, oh man, I am going to be poor.

G: [Laughs] That’s a good sign.

B!TB: Yeah, mostly because I am going to sell them all to him.

G: We’re all going to be eating spaghetti for months now and nothing else.

B!TB: Living the high life.

J!TB: So what’s your take on, say, the digital side of the announcement?  That’s one thing that I think – I mean, I’m very interested in it and I’ve written about it a few times for the site – but people kind of talked about it that first day or two and then once the announcements and the solicits happened, nobody talked about the digital part of it.

G: I think that’s probably just because of who’s talking loudest on the internet, might not be talking about the digital part.  I think a lot of people are really excited about it, the creators are excited about it, and I’m excited about the fact that we have this opportunity now, that we can read an audience, that’s not to take away from our local comic book stores or anything like that.  There’s a lot of places that don’t have a comic book store, my hometown didn’t have one until very recently, and so we don’t have access to the comics or we can only go to the comic book store – because this one is an hour and a half away – I can only go every once in a while.  Sometimes when I got there the new cool stuff that I didn’t know was going to be cool was sold out.  So, if something is sold out, you can get it.  If you don’t have access to it regularly, you can get it.  You can get back issues that aren’t available.  I think that a lot of new readers are so used to reading things via computer, and the way video gaming works, that I think it gives us a great opportunity as creators and readers to put more content out.  Like, maybe you are reading along and maybe a story that’s taken place previously is mentioned but you didn’t read that; you could have a little link to that story if you’re interested, or we could tell you more about the city of Gotham or more about Lois Lane, her background.  By pushing at different things you can get deeper into the story and deeper into the characters, and I’m excited by that and I think that stuff that’s come out digitally on the DC app on the iPad in particular, which is what I have, is amazing.  I think that Welcome to Tranquility in particular looks great on the iPad because it’s got different art styles and panel arrangements, and it just looks gorgeous on the iPad.  So I’m excited about that too, and I know a lot of artists I’ve talked to are pretty excited about the possibilities of what they can do digitally as well.

J!TB: I know Tim Seeley has done Double Feature on the iPad.

G: Right!

J!TB: That was so much of a revelation, with the commentary and the different stages of the art.  That’s something that you used to get if you got the hardcover deluxe version of something, and now I can see that and it’s wonderful.

G: Yeah! I think it’s great.

B!TB: From the retailer’s standpoint, I get a lot of people coming up asking about it, as to like, “Oh, are you worried?  Is everything going to collapse around you?”  I think there’s always that thing in, let’s just say our heads – in nerds’ heads – that’s just like, “I like this so much, I need it.  I need it to take up space in my life.”  Which is what the collections are for.

G: Yeah, and not only that, but to hold it, to interact with it.  Some people are not as comfortable doing that digitally as they are with an actual paper cover, and each thing… I see the art come in in stages; I see the pencils, and then I see the inks, and then it’s the colour.  Well, at each stage it changes, and it’s still fantastic at each stage clear on up to the final project, and no matter if we’re seeing it digitally or on paper, it’s still going to be great and worth seeing, but it’s not going to be exactly the same.  I think if people really love that tactile experience with the paper and the ink and everything and the collecting, they’re not going to give up and just go straight to digital.  I think people are going to use it more as a supplement, per se, and then maybe some of the younger crowd, that’s how they’ll get their comics.  But I feel it will all still get people to try things that they wouldn’t try normally and then maybe come to the store and buy more of it–

B!TB: Yes!

G: –I really think it’s going to have those kinds of effects.

J!TB: I’m interested in seeing what happens with the combo packs.

G: Yeah, I’m interested too, I think it’s going to be well received.

B!TB: It’s… a bit of a tricky situation, because I know on the one hand it’s sort of, well, now you have your comic and you can go read your digital copy, but it’s very interesting to try and figure out what to order, from an ordering standpoint too, because I guess we can order a whole bunch of the regular copies, but does it really, do you order 50 of the bonus packs?

G: Right, and you’d have to talk to somebody more experienced with the comics retailing that I am to help you through that, but I think if people really love something, they’re going to buy a hard copy of it and keep it in good condition and I think they’re going to buy a digital copy with them to carry around and read on the train or the bus or wherever.

B!TB: I’ve had one customer, just be like, “Well, it looks like I’m done,” but that was to be expected.  He’s very into, like, he gets his Silver Age collections, those big expensive hardcovers, and he gets the series that he’s been collecting.

G: These things are still going to happen, guys.  These products are still going to be available.  I don’t think we’re cutting back those types of things at all.

B!TB: And for that one customer that we’ve had, six of seven people will be like, “Well, I need to have half the DC comic books.”

G: [Laughs] I’m so sorry, guys.  Not really.

B!TB: It’s a balance.  We lost 8 monthly books [from that customer] and gained like… this. [Ed. Note: Brandon’s hand gesture here is too much to show on the internet.] It’s a fantastic market opportunity to go around to the community and be like, “Hey, if you like your Batmen, here’s a new #1 issue of Batman.”  It’s everything, across the board.

G: I agree, and I also think that making stuff available, like I said, if you happen to go into a comic book store and you see Issue #4 of something that looks great, and you pick it up and you like it, and maybe your comic book store is sold out of 1, 2 and 3, then they can go back digitally and be caught up story-wise.  I think that it’s going to be used a lot of ways and I’m excited to see how in a year where we’re at.

J!TB: I know you started off, as you refer to it, as a depraved hairdresser–

G: [Laughs]

J!TB: –How did you move to working in the comics industry?

G: I actually came to a point in my life where I felt like I needed something a little bit more creative.  Hairdressing is very creative and I loved being a hairdresser, but I had aspired to be a writer and possibly a screenwriter or actress – I was really involved in theatre – and then, you know, I had to eat, for one thing, and I was always told growing up that I’d never make a living writing, so I got way sidetracked.  I just got to that point in my life where I was like, “Whoa, I need something more creative, what can I do?” and I started listing things.  “Well, I certainly can’t draw, I’m not a sculptress, I don’t really sew,” you know, I went through all these things that I can’t do and, “Oh, I used to write, I wonder if I can still do that?”  Also, at that same time, we were having comic book chat rooms and like I said we didn’t have a comic book store in my small town, nobody to talk to about comics, so I was going on the chat rooms and I was writing these weird little parody pieces that people thought were funny.  They started circulating, and then that led to a column that I had weekly on CBR called “You’ll All Be Sorry!”  I wrote that weekly, and that just caught a lot of people’s attention, a lot of editors’ attention.

The first professional comics work I did was for The Simpsons #50, and then I did Killer Princesses and Deadpool and then shortly after that I started writing Birds of Prey at DC.  And I had my salon for the first probably 5 or 6 years of my writing career; I’d cut back one day at the salon and add more writing, and then another day, and then eventually… because I was told I couldn’t make a living writing all my life, so I was terrified because I made a living as a hairdresser.  So eventually, it just got to a point where I was having to cancel people, I was getting so many phone calls in the middle of doing hair, I was having opportunities to travel, and it just seemed like… and then I was offered an exclusive contract for a decent length of time, and I decided, “If I’m ever going to try to make a living writing, now is the time to do it.”

J!TB: We have one more question: will you adopt us?

G: [Laughs] I’ve adopted the whole comics community, what are you talking about?

J!TB: Well, thanks!

G: I’m not wealthy enough to leave you a big inheritance, so if that’s what you’re going for, sorry.

J!TB: We write about comics for free on the internet…

G: [Laughs] Yeah…

C!TB would like to thank Gail for taking the time to talk with us and for being just as awesome as we always hoped she would be.  It was a delight and an honour.